We arrived here at Victory Camp, our February SOWER project, on January 31st . There will be two SOWER couples joining us to serve here for the month of February with the first work day on February 4th and the last on February 21st. There are SOWERS working a few miles around the corner at Hitchcock, Texas so I expect we will all get together at some point. Also, Juanita has many family members in the area with whom we are looking forward to visiting.
Victory Camp is in Alvin, Texas about thirty miles south of Houston. In addition to hosting kids' camps and retreats, each December they run The Christmas Train which thousands of people ride each night.
The men's work will include drywall and paint repairs, some tile work, engine repairs for the bumper boats and one of the locomotives and repairs to a caboose which is used as a snack bar. The ladies will be cleaning the dorms in preparation for the camping season.
Fifth Wheel Trailer Repairs
We arrived here on Thursday, January 31, as did the two bolts that Dexter Axle sent to make up for the ones missing from the parts kit they had shipped to Way of the Cross in December. The other parts I ordered from Dexter on Monday arrived at the camp on Friday. Also on Friday, between SOWER departures and arrivals, we dashed to Northern Tool and bought some jackstands.
Saturday, after fussing with jackstands and compensating for the slight slope on the pad, I was ready to replace the one pivot bolt on the door side of the rig. The task of removing the temporary bolt and putting in the new bolt took less than five minutes. Prepping for it (move stuff around inside, pull slides in, put trailer on stands, loosen wheel nuts, jack up axles, remove tires) and putting things back together took a couple of hours. That was side one.
Side two required the same process with the pivot bolt except, of course, the trailer was already supported with slides in. However side two also required removing the link bolt I wasn't happy with from last week's job. The nut that wouldn't torque also wouldn't back off. It just spun in place. After almost an hour of skill and finesse failed to make headway the nut yielded fairly quickly to the brute force of a cold chisel and a two pound hammer. Subtlety is overrated.
Then it was time to put the tools and supplies away. "A place for everything and everything in its place" is the RV'ers creed. The jackstands are new to the family and a bit bulky so they took a bit of thought and effort to stow.
Overall the operation was a success and removed a couple of items from my anxiety closet. The job went better because Bill McClintick wandered over from next door and helped, especially with the heavy stuff. He also had the good sense to go and find a task to do on his own rig when I took out the hammer and the cold chisel. Some things are best done in private.
Juanita and I joined her sister and brother-in-law at Dunn Bros Coffee one night in Friendswood. It seems to be a popular spot. It took a while to find a spot for all four of us to sit together so Gary and I stood while Ninabeth and Juanita sat until a table opened up for all of us.
There was a bit of a party going on in the patio out back and I ventured forth in curiosity. It was a book signing by a local author, Alyssa Goodnight. The book Austensibly Ordinary is described in Amazon:
Austin, Texas has little in common with the gardened country estates of Jane Austen's work. But Cate Kendall still daydreams about brooding men and fancy parties as she teaches her beloved Jane Austen novels in her English classes. As for real-life romance or adventure - the highlight of most weeks is Scrabble[registered] with her cute co-worker, Ethan. Then Cate finds a journal that seems linked to the soul of the great Jane Austen herself. Soon, Cate has invented an alter ego with an attitude, attended some chic soirees, and gotten tangled up with a delicious mystery man. Best of all, her Scrabble[registered] partner has taken to meaningful looks and unfathomable silences. It's a positively Austenite predicament, but with Jane herself to guide her, can Cate write her own happy ending?
It is Ms. Goodnight's third published book and the second of the same genre in the style of Jane Austen. The other wasAustentatious. Alyssa's first book was a historical fiction called Unladylike Pursuits
I have no idea if any of them are suitable or worthwhile reading, but it is an uncommon thing for this country mouse to stumble across a book signing so thought I'd mention it.
The books were available at a discount at the signing. I didn't take advantage of the opportunity to have signed copies of books I wouldn't read and wasn't sure would be suitable to give as gifts. I even declined the free cupcake offered. That is a historical fact which would fail the fiction test of fiction having to be believable.
A current fact is that Kindles and Kindle content are now available in Canada from Amazon.ca. No customs duty or exchange! I really like my Kindle Paperwhite 3G. Like all Kindles it works over wi-fi, but even without a wi-fi connection I can buy a book or pick-up a book from my cloud using the free 3G built-in. Even in Nicaragua.
The paperwhite can be read in direct sunlight or with the built-in light in a dark room or any illumination in between.
SOWERS Week One
The three couples, Dick & Toni Howard, Bill & Betsy McClintick and ourselves, Paul & Juanita Alton, kept occupied this week. Dick worked on one of the locomotives and on the engines for the bumper boats. Bill & I worked on getting some things fixed in the kitchen to be ready for the upcoming health inspection. We started out to seal the baseboard tiles and to reattach any that were loose, but that task expanded with the discovery of a spongy wall. The ladies cleaned dorms for the upcoming camping season.
One of the things that go with repairing engines is testing them. Testing bumper boats looks like fun. There may or not be truth in the rumour that the Howards are developing a program to use bumper boats as a means of resolving conflict.
NASA - Johnson Space Center
Our daughter, Rebekah and son-in-law Nick gave us each a Houston CityPass for Christmas. The passes are for our time in the Houston area. Our first stop on our first day off from the Victory Camp SOWERS project was the Johnson Space Center.
It has been about twenty years since we last visited this NASA facility. It has changed a bit, although they still show the old mission control room which was still in use twenty years ago using technology we had already gone beyond for controlling pulp and paper mills. They use newer technology on their actual mission control now, but you don't get to see that. You do get to see a lot of interesting stuff. however, and we spent a busy four hours there before heading to the second attraction on our list.
It was science teachers' week at the Space Center so Juanita managed to pick up a few teaching aids for the grandkids' home school programs.
Houston Downtown Aquarium
Our second stop with our pass books was at the Downtown Aquarium. It was interesting. I can recommend it for a couple of hour interlude. It is not particularly stiff competition for either New Orleans or Vancouver, B.C. aquariums (is that the pural), but the kids won't know.
Consensus between us was that the aquarium in Corpus Christi is probably better. Nevertheless, thanks for the fish.
When we were done with our tour we checked out the menu and prices at the Aquarium restaurant. It looked like a nice setting, but I'm too cheap to pay the tourist prices so we looked at a few options and decided to defer jumping into the rush hour freeway traffic and went to a Five Guys hamburger place a couple of miles away on surface streets. When we finished there we headed toward Costco on surface streets. Almost there, Juanita asked, "why are we going to Costco?" and we decided that it had been a place we discussed eating at and there was no burning need to go there now. So we got onto a still rush hour clogged freeway and waited it out until we were enough south on the Gulf Freeway that the traffic flowed freely.
The Museum of Natural Science was excellent. The guide said that the paleontology exhibit is only excelled by those in Chicago and the Tyrell Museum in Drumheller. Chicago is too long ago (1995) for me to comment, but both Juanita and I thought it was better than the Tyrell. After the paleo we checked out some natural history displays, and the gem and mineral collections before breaking for coffee. The others had had enough walking for now so they hung out at the table and visited while I blasted through the oil, energy and chemistry displays. No change there since last time, a few years ago, but a quick fun walk for me.
We all went to Costco with the intent of having lunch and picking up a few items. After working our way through all the sample tables none of us were particularly hungry so we skipped the buying lunch part and paid for our purchases and got back on the road to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Following our grand buffet of Costco try-me's we drove to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. We took our time viewing the exhibits in the first building. Mostly they were artifacts, rather than art as I think of it. When we took the tunnel to the second building and realized there was a whole building more of stuff most of the group retreated to the eating area and bought coffees.
I took the escalators to the top floor and speed walked the exhibits, stopping briefly at the artwork that caught my eye. I know, one can carry this contemplative life style a bit too far, but what can I say?
The first Sunday here in Alvin, we attended Living Stones Church, across the street from Victory Camp.
This week we joined Juanita's sister and her husband at their church, Sagemont.
Sagemont is a fair bit bigger than our home church in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. We don't need a shuttle from the parking lot there and our entire church body is somewhat less than the intimate Sunday School class we attended out of the many choices for adult Sunday School classes. The message in the class was on Micah 1:1-16. Chuck reviewed with us the great problems facing this country, pointed out the biggest problem and how Micah is relevant to solving it.
SOWERS Week Two
This week Dick continued on repairing motors and motorized equipment including working on the gator, one of the locomotives, a pressure washer and various sizes of lawn mowers. Bill and Paul finished wall and baseboard repairs in the kitchen and wall repairs in the cafeteria and chapel and began roof repairs on the caboose snack bar. Betsy, Toni and Juanita set up tables, chairs and room dividers for a conference this weekend and painted the walls in the lodge and prepared the lodge to be used for that coming conference.
Wednesday night we all went to the nearby SOWER project in Hitchcock and enjoyed getting together with the four SOWER couples there at a youth fund raising dinner. I sure was happy not to have to cook any thing for a pot luck! Dick, of course could not suppress his culinary skills and provided us all with two varieties of his famous scone recipe for break on Valentine's Day.
Friday, February 15, we met SOWER couple, Rick and Melissa Young at the Houston Zoo. The weather was absolutely perfect for the event and we passed a wonderful day wandering through the zoo visiting and enjoying the animals, displays and plants. At the end we got in our seperate vehicles and headed off into the fray of Houston traffic. I assume they faired well. We did. At least after we realized I had taken a wrong turn retracing our steps and recovered from that.
We proceeded on freeways masquerading as parking lots to the parking lot of the Galleria Mall where we cashed in the second to last coupons from our Houston CityPass booklets. We redeemed them for a book of coupons good at various stores in the mall. Most were for percentage discounts on purchases we had no intention of making. Acquiring more stuff is hardly a priority when you live in a fifth wheel trailer. Getting rid of stuff is usually more relevant. We did use one coupon to get a free sample at the Godiva Chocolatier. Yummy!
We walked through the crowds and enjoyed the buzz over the celebrities in the mall prior to tomorrow's All Star basketball game. Lego has a store in the mall as does Brookstone. Both were interesting to wander through before we ventured back onto the now kinda moving freeways headed home with dinner at Denny's on the way.
SOWERS Week Three
The third and final week of the February SOWER project the men worked to finish as much as possible the stuff already started and the ladies helped prepare for a weekend retreat for a group that had rented the camp facilities. The engine repairs are always ongoing and the caboose is a much bigger job than could be done in the time available, especially when we lost time to the kitchen wall that had revealed itself to be in bigger need of attention than first planned.
There will probably be an hour or two of work done on the caboose in the off week, It won't be complete, but it will mean the staff is freed up to work on other things a bit. There will probably be no more SOWER couples here at this project until next winter.
Each year there are a number of trail rides that converge on the Houston Rodeo, arriving the day before the parade and then participating in the opening parade. A couple of days the trail ride from Victoria, Texas went past the camp.
On Wednesday the host took all the SOWER couples to lunch and on Thursday, the last workday, the SOWER couples went out to gether for Mexican food. Friday morning the first of the three couples left for siteseeing between projects. The other remaining couple plans to leave for their project a week after that and we will follow.
Brazos Bend State Park
One Saturday afternoon we started to walk around the forty acre lake at the Brazos Bend State Park. We saw lots of birds and a few alligators. In the literature and maps handed out at the park entrance there were many warnings about not approaching the alligators closer than thirty feet since they move a lot quicker than anybody would guess. In case one had not read the literature there were frequent large signs with the warnings about getting close to the alligators.
In our walk around the first lake we noticed one mother posing her small children about ten feet away from a sunning alligator that was more than capable of dragging one of the children into the pond. The kids were small and shrill and very vocal and she was loudly exhorting them to line up and pose and they didn't seem terribly accustomed to being obedient. They come by it naturally, I suppose. We scurried around this fiasco on the side of the path away from the gator. Then stopped and looked back in horrified fascination from a safe distance.
The alligator was getting visibly agitated before the mother had enough shots and gathered her brood and left. We carried on toward the observation tower, glad we had no footage on our camera suitable for sale to TV news. After the tower we proceeded along a long trail to another lake.
Returning from the second lake I chose a different route to avoid retracing our steps. Once well committed to that route we came to a highway through the park and a sign on the other side of the highway saying the trail was closed. We walked about a mile and a half alongside the highway before the trail crossed back across the highway and we rejoined. Overall it was a pleasant three mile walk through swamps. We saw more birds and creepy Spanish moss and other plants but no more alligators. Also noticed that the demographic makeup of the park visitors seemed different than the nearby cities.
Three of Juanita's sisters lived in the Houston area. One still does as do many of the sons and daughters of the other two. We managed to get together with a number of them this time in the area. Mostly it involved meeting for meals. Once we went to the Kemah boardwalk with one nephew and his wife. Another time we went to the baseball season opener between high school teams the Pearland Oilers and the Clear Falls Knights. Juanita's nephew's son was the opening pitcher for the Oilers. His fastball is 92 mph. I'm told that's good. He has signed with the University of Texas at Austin on a sports scholarship, but there are big league scouts trying to change his mind. A few of them were there to watch him, radar guns and all.
In case you were wondering, the Oilers won. Or even if you weren't wondering, for that matter.
We received a disturbing phone call on February 27th that, Deanna, one of Paul's nieces, had died unexpectedly from a heart attack. She was 48 and as her mother said when phoned, "Yesterday we were planning what we would do for her 50th birthday next year and now we are planning a funeral." Everyone is most upset, of course, and trying to process the news. She leaves a husband and a daughter.