California, Here I Come!

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If it wasn’t going to break in half due to a massive earthquake, I would move to San Diego.  I just spent three days there for a meeting and man, is it a cool place!

I first noticed the difference at the airport.  I take people watching very seriously when in public places.  And the people I watched in California were all beautiful!  The women AND the men!  I saw very few who were overweight.  Folks were walking around the airport with skateboards in tow and muscles bulging.

I swear that the Dali Lama and Shirley McLean were on my flight from LA.  “Shirley” looked to be a healthy seventy-something-year-old.  She sat in an airport chair wearing culottes with her legs tucked up under her behind.  She was more limber than my 13-year-old daughter.  Although she had a bit of dangly skin on the underside of her arms, and who doesn’t at that age, her biceps looked as if they could easily hold the weight of her body in an upside down split on a balance beam.

These Californians dressed casually, had unusually bright colors of hair, and seemed to enjoy open toed shoes.  There weren’t a lot of wing tips strolling around LAX, it was FLIP FLOP haven.

The lush plantings all along the 15 minute drive to my hotel were beautiful.  While it was a balmy 95 degrees at home, we ate outdoors each evening with a slight breeze and a refreshing temperature of 70.

I will admit, the local newscast took some getting used to.  One reporter shared that a man had been shot by his car while meditating on the side of the road.  Thankfully, he was going to be OK.  I wonder why he stopped his car on a seemingly busy highway for quiet and relaxation.  Perhaps the traffic was stressing him out.

I haven’t seen that many people mediate on the Raleigh Beltline, but I might try it.

The weather woman for the morning broadcast wore a short, puffy, bright pink skirt.  Her black blouse was fitted – VERY fitted (and there was a lot to fit.)  I sort of felt like Katy Perry was delivering the five day forecast.  Oh, and I swear she was wearing medium length black socks with her high heels.   It was early, and they only showed her feet once.  Maybe that was just a dream.  High heels and socks?  That’s not something you see at the Fayetteville mall much less on the news in North Carolina.

I return next year for a conference, and I think I’ll stay a while.  Just breathing their air makes me feel all tingly inside.

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Lights, Camera, Action

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I guess that other families do this too but perhaps we are an anomaly.  If they don’t, perhaps they should.

The smallest, stupidest, things can bring our simple minds so much joy.

Last week when visiting DJ in DC, we discovered that our reading light, when turned the right way, was equivalent to a Broadway Show spotlight.  A Tanner just can’t resist the limelight, even if there is but an audience of three!

This is our rudimentary work.  We call it A Night at the Hamilton, the name of our hotel.

 

 

Where did the hovercraft go?

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How sweet it would be to vacation without any concern for money.  In my life, we rely on grandparents for the really big stuff.  And if they don’t come through, it’s ugly.

Lisa once told me she wasn’t going to spend thousands of dollars going to Disney World and then spend the whole week listening to me moan about every Diet Coke she ordered.
I don’t think I really moaned.  I was just thinking about sending the kids to college.

“So, you gonna order another Diet Coke?” or would you prefer we send DJ to college?

This past trip, we lucked up. My brother-in-law, Matt, has a cousin who works in the park.  She hooked us up!  A MAJOR discount for ahhh, well, extended family.  Very extended.  I mean, didn’t we all come from Adam and Eve?

It was nice because we got the meal plan – so your drink came with it (no worry about the extra Diet Cokes.)  And my kids knew better than to ask for add ons.  Two square meals a day and a snack – that’s what was included, so that’s what we ate.

I’ve always enjoyed the mouse, but I think this year they’re sort of slipping a bit.

As we were driving in, one of the thousands of buses that transports the hoards had wrecked. Thankfully, we weren’t on that bus, but the crash did divert our course. We had to drive through a back lot to get to the main road which led to our hotel.

It was a mess back there:  Tilt-A-Whirl parts, a broken down bus, stacks of wood, chain link fence – looked like the back gate at the NC State Fair.  The place where the Pig Racers camp for the week.

I don’t want to see that.  It’s like your grandma’s underwear.  You know she’s got ‘em but you certainly don’t want to see them.

The Monorail was “Out of Order” three times during our short stay.  Heck, that’s the main reason I go.  It’s the closest I’ll ever get to riding in a hovercraft like in Star Wars.  And by day 3, one of the trains had disappeared.  I could tell because they’re color coded, and a new one was puddling around the circle.  It rides on a huge concrete track!  How did they move it? Where did it go?  Did it break and fall off in the lagoon?

I think some funky stuff happens at that place once the park closes.  Mickey Mouse walking around naked and stuff.

On the bottom side of the monorail track at the Transportation Center in the Magic Kingdom, a permanent sign that read, “DANGER, HIGH VOLTAGE,” had been replaced with a large sign that looked like it had been printed on a bubble jet.

I did that once at the Y and got in trouble. My sign read, “Please don’t spit in the shower.” A member asked me to put it up, and I was trying to be customer friendly.  Apparently some mannerless dude had hocked one right there beneath the Kohler Medallion 5-Sprayer showerhead.

Finally, the afternoon we headed to the airport, we walked outside of our hotel to wait for the airport shuttle and right in front of us was an enormous puddle of vomit. Probably too much Diet Coke followed by the Tilt-A-Whirl.

At any rate, the chunkiness sat there for the entire duration of our wait, like 20 minutes. People were nearly walking through it.

Now don’t get me wrong, customer service in central Florida still outshines the majority of other places I go on a weekly basis, and the grounds and facilities are very nice. Most importantly, we had a fantastic time. I was just surprised to see these few blemishes.

Perhaps I’m just getting cynical. Or, maybe they knew I was sliding in without paying full fare. You get what you pay for, huh?

New York

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Since Michelle didn’t go to Camp Seafarer this summer, she’d spend several weeks with grandparents and we’d take the money we saved for a sitter and invest in an inexpensive trip – just the two of us.  With racked up airline miles, the only costs I’d bear would be the hotel, food and entertainment.

We decided on New York – one of my favorite places.  Not cheap, but I am!

How we saved $$$:

1.  Stayed at the roach motel – book late, great deal. 

Hazards:

  • The shower was like being sprayed down by a fire hose.  “Michelle, stand back.  This showers gonna sting a little.  You got any open wounds?  Good!  Jump in.”
  • The room had apparently been the previous home of a drug bust.  The screws on the safety lock were dangling out of the woodwork – clearly the victim of an NYPD midnight intrusion.
  • Lots of cars backfiring???  Just pretend you left the TV on and there’s a Starsky and Hutch marathon running all night long.

2.  Carry your own bags.

“Michelle, when the bellman offers to carry your bag, tell him you’ve got it.”

“But dad it’s heavy.”

“Do you want to leave the tip out of your allowance?”

Everyone in New York wants a tip!  A big reason to live in the south.

Hazards:

  •  Angry stares from the hotel staff.
  • Hail your own cab on the way back to the airport brother!
  • No response when you report the broken safety lock.

3.  Subway or walk.  No taxis.

Unfortunately, Michelle inherited her paternal great grandmother’s aversion to germs.

“Michelle, hold on to the pole, not my waist.”

“Dad, I don’t like to touch stuff down here.  It’s nasty.”

As soon as we got to our destination, wherever it was, she’d ask me to go wash my hands.  We’re going to work on that prissiness.

I also noticed that my cute kid in a pink Lilly dress with a white monogrammed bow in her hair sort of stood out in the NY crowd.  One of these things is not like the others…

Hazards:

  •  Possibly a virus.
  • I could have been beaten up.

4.  Cheap attractions.

“I want to see the Statue of Liberty!”

“Great.”

“Dad, does this boat stop on the island?”

“Nah – this is the Staten Island Ferry.  Just look real hard, she’s over there somewhere.  We’ll get to see it again when we turn around and ride back.  Daddy got us a double tour.”

Activities for next to nothing:

  •  Teaching her to read a Subway map.  Took up lots of time!
  • Visiting the store Mood in the Garment District.  They sell ribbons for your hair, thousands of them – some are $2.50 a yard.  1 1/2 hours – check!
  • Macy’s – have to buy some back to school clothes anyway and they give a 10% discount to out-of-town customers.
  • Split a phat piece of NY cheesecake!  $8 and good eatin’.
  • Hot Dogs at Bark – a great, inexpensive restaurant in Brooklyn.  Takes a while to get there, but once you’re on the subway, you might as well ride (just wash your hands before you eat.)

Hazards:

  •  None that I can see.

We did do some stuff that cost money.  We saw Matilda and went to the Top of the Rock at night and both were fantastic.

The looks on her face as she experienced the city were priceless:  the edge of her seat in Matilda; her mouth wide open at the top of Rockefeller Center; her eyes bugged as she entered the ribbon room at Mood.  I’d pay $10,000 to see those again.

As much as I love Manhattan, the highlight of the trip had nothing to do with New York.  It was spending time with my kid, just us – laughing and discussing life.

Now I have to figure out a way to do the same with the other two.

 

 

 

Sunday Post 75: The Bird

Posted by Danny

Does God send signs?  I’m just not sure. 

I told Lisa before she died that if it was at all possible to come back and visit, I expected her to make that happen.  She told me she would not – she said she didn’t want to be stuck between here and there.  When she went, she was diving in with both feet.

But I sure have had some peculiar things happen since February 2010.

In June of 2009, three months before Lisa was diagnosed, her father took our entire family on a trip to Yellowstone.  About every three years he plans an incredible vacation where we laugh, grow closer and build significant memories.

In preparation for the trip, Lisa had t-shirts made up.  On the front it said, “The Katsopolis Family Tour.”  On the back, there was a list of places we’d been and the year we’d traveled.  The last entry on the tee was:  Hawaii, 2012.

That was Lisa’s way of encouraging her dad to keep the tradition going.  These truly are special occasions for our family.

So in true family tradition, Pops, as all the children call him, planned an incredible ten-day stay on the big island of Hawai’i!  We just got back.

On day 5, DJ received an email from a friend who said that her mother, who was a friend of Lisa’s, had a dream the night before.  In the dream, Lisa appeared.  As they were talking Lisa said, “Kathy, I just wish I could let Bruce know that the bird who has been following him is me.”

Interestingly enough, a bird had flown into our vacation home the same day that Kathy had the dream.  The bird flew in a second time later in the week.  And to top it off, as I stood on the lava rock in front of our house, a bird flew so close to my arm that I could feel a sharp breeze from his wing.  It startled me.   It almost felt like he touched me, but I didn’t see him until after he began flying away.

In no way do I believe that my wife has been reincarnated into a bird.  And I have absolutely nothing that could make me say the dream and our three encounters with Hawaiian fowl were anything more than coincidence.

And yet, I found it comforting. 

Maybe Lisa did turn rouge bird for a week.  Or maybe it was nothing.  Or maybe in some small way it is a sign, sent to me, to let me know she is OK and that she approved of our family’s time together.

In honor of our time, my mother-in-law sprung for Henna tattoos for the girls, and yes me.   Mine is the bird.

Forgot the Panties

Posted by Danny

So I forgot her underwear and bras, what’s the big deal?

I was in a rush.  The kids usually help me pack their bags for our weekend jaunts.  Last week there simply wasn’t time.  I had to go it alone.  Stephanie and Michelle receiving an incredible education on Friday at school while I stuffed the Totes.

I remember at one point, while digging through Michelle’s shirts, thinking, “You haven’t gotten underwear.”  I headed to that drawer and threw a few pair in her bag.  But when I hit Stephanie’s room, my main focus was picking outfits she’d be seen in.  Underwear were not a part of my mental  picture.

When we arrived at our destination, clothes started flying.  She dug to the bottom, opened all of the side pockets.  No sign of undergarments.  I  was in the shower when I heard the scream.

“Daaaaadddd!!!  YOU FORGOT MY UNDERWEAR AND BRAS!!!”

Ohhh.  Stay in the shower.  It’s nice in here.

I tried to explain the benefits of giving your skin a break from elastic.  “That stuff can hurt your circulation.  It’s good to have a break.  Your blood flow will be excellent on Monday.” 

She didn’t buy it.

“Did you know that Jesse didn’t wear underwear for about six years?  Believe me, I know – as does everyone else who came in contact with him during shorts season.  And you think he’s mighty cool.  You and Jesse – no undie buddies!” 

No takers.

“How about your bathing suit?  That could work.”

“Dad, it’s a one piece.”

“Covers top and bottom!  Sounds like a fix to me.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“In medieval times, women didn’t even wear panties.  And bras weren’t invented until the 1900’s.  Your great-great-great grandmother never wore one.”

“Why are you talking about my ancestor’s underwear habits?  What am I supposed to do?”

“Wear your sister’s.  Ya’ll are about the same size.”

A minute passes.

“These are like grandma underwear!  They come up to my belly button.”

“Your mom loved her granny pants.  Said those were the best undies she owned.”

I think that struck a chord!

The Vanishing Point

Posted by Danny

It was ego, sure male ego that made me do it.

Stephanie was invited to the lake with friends for the weekend and DJ, Michelle and I were looking for an equally exciting activity to fill our Labor Day hours.  As I pondered our time, interests and finances, I landed on a day trip to Water Country USA in Williamsburg, Va.  Not too close, not too far away and an outdoor experience (versus the indoor Great Wolf Lodge disaster from February) was all too appealing.  With some coaxing, Jesse decided to come along for the ride.

 The pinnacle of excitement for me came at 5:45, fifteen minutes before park closing.

We had walked by Vanish Point, a slide that takes off from a 75 foot tower nestled in the back corner of the park, several times during the day.  This was the description on the sign at the entrance to the attraction:   Get ready for the ride of your life on Water Country USA’s epic new drop slide: Vanish Point. Inspired by the point on a wave where water and gravity form a perfect partnership, this summit supplies a wicked wet way to drop out of sight.  You can step into a skybox where you fall down when the floor drops out beneath you.

Although I was curious, had Jesse not been there, I would have kept my 45-year-old, ground loving self at the bottom of that tower of terror.  But once he decided to take the plunge, my ego simply wouldn’t let me sit the attraction out. 

“I’m going, you in?”

“I don’t know, you know I’m not a fan of heights.  And the girls really need a father.”

“OK.”  He turned toward the long staircase.

“I’m in!”

We started the climb up the mountain of stairs.  My knees a bit wobbly from fear; Jesse and I tailed a gaggle of 9-year-old boys – excitement buzzing around them like bees on a honeysuckle vine.  Not only was I motivated by wanting to keep up with my brother-in-law, but there was also something motivating about this group of kids.  I could picture myself with Adam Fair, Jimbo Martin, the Mask boys and my brother – the Berkshire Road Gang – from my childhood.  If we’d only had the chance to conquer this challenge as kids.  Our closest adventure to Vanish Point was jumping off the dead tree stump in Adam’s yard with the sprinkler gradually dampening our bodies.  I had to do this for them.

The anticipation was palpable as we reached the staging area.  We were so high, I swear I could see Mt. Rushmore in the distance.

 An attractive college student in her bathing suit was at the helm.  One by one she loaded the boys into the Star Wars type tomb of doom.  My turn was nearing.

Jesse:  “Do you want to go first?”

Me:  “Yes, I need to get this over with.  Goodbye.”

She opened the door.  I gently pressed on the mechanical floor with my foot to make sure it was locked.  I knew within seconds it would fall out from under me, dropping me to what could be my death.  I climbed in – glancing at the lifeguard – a nice final image if this was the end.

“Cross your legs and put your hands over your chest.  And remember to lean back.”

I had entered an upright coffin, albeit a wet one.  

She closed the door.  The male guard at the controls glance toward me, my hangman.  I was guilty.  Guilty of stupidity.

Whoomp!  The floor vanished.  My body darted down like a missile heading toward Cuba, my stomach lodged beneath my tonsils.

I tried to open my eyes but the force was too strong.  Within seconds I was at the bottom, water permeating my body through every orifice I owned.

Stand up quick man!  Look cool.  People are watching.  You’re wet all over, they can’t see the tears.

And Jesse right behind.

“How’d you like it?”

An unconvincing, “It was great” fell from my mouth.

“Too bad the parks closing – we could do it again.”

“Yeah.  What a bummer.”

Stranded on I 95

Posted by Danny

This post is dedicated to my daughters who I’ve cracked on mercilously through the years for inconvenient bathroom stops.

I was trapped!  Heading down I-95 North to West Virginia, it was 9 pm and I was alone.  The kids rode with the grandparents earlier that day.  I was ready for the six-hour drive, my  i Phone newly filled with 1,900 of my favorite songs.  Kenny Chesney keeping me company.

I knew the urge to tinkle was coming, but I didn’t realize the traffic that was in front of me.  Nor did I understand the lack of exits between Richmond and Fredericksburg, Va.  I was in a hurry.  I’d heard bad things about stopping at rest areas at night, besides, the next one was 43 miles away.  There seemed to be no other option. 

I eyeballed my McDonald’s cup.  Yep, I still had the lid.

I didn’t realize how difficult it would be while in transit.  Moving, while moving, is nearly impossible.

I drank the last bit of Diet Coke and strategically placed my fountain drink holder.  Stop , then go – there were brake lights everywhere.  I glanced at the cars around me.  It was dark, the semi driver next to me couldn’t possibly see.  I’m sure he’s done the same thing, he drives for a living!

Almost…then a horn.  I’d forgotten to press the gas and was lagging behind the car ahead of me.  I sped up, my bladder contracted.

Think about something relaxing.  A day on the beach – not helping!  I don’t do that on the beach.  Picture the bathroom – yellow walls, a window, a tan tile floor.  Whew… relief.

Oh no, the cup is filling yet I’m not empty.  Can I stop mid stream?   

Brake!

Oh man. 

No wonder girls pee in their pants.  Sometimes there just isn’t a better option.

Two Guys and a Subaru

Posted by Danny and Jesse

Jesse and Lisa’s sister and her family are moving to Raleigh this week.  That is great news for all!  To assist with the move, Danny and Jesse flew to Boston this morning and drove one of their cars home today.  This was our trip:

5:15 am – Grandaddy Tanner wakes up to be sure we are not late for our flight.

5:30 am – Grandaddy Tanner wakes Danny and Jesse.

5:39 am – Danny is showered and dressed and ready to depart.

5:52 am – Jesse runs out of his bedroom, wet head and belt pending.

9:00 am – Danny has peed five times thus far.  

9:35 am – Sister and brother-in-law feed us well – pancakes and sausage – might not help the bathroom issues.

10:05 am – On the road – Danny at the wheel, Jesse with Google Maps.

1:15 pm – Driving through Manhattan, Pride Parade Traffic a significant problem.

1:27 pm – Wreck on George Washington Bridge.

1:30 pm – Honked at by a New York Cabbie; honked back just to fit in.

1:32 pm – Discovered Hot 97.1 Rap Radio

Morning Topics of Conversation:  Cuss words (which are most inappropriate), Voter ID Registration (got no problem with it), Gun Control (probably need it), sibling dynamics (we have some), Twitter (Danny needs to get with the program – would you follow him?), private school tuition (ouch), marriage (you can only imagine), what we’ll be doing in 15 years (we have some theories), rest stops in the North East (not a fan of the rest stop/fast foot/gas station combo), God – and other religions.

2:00 pm – Driver switch at a New Jersey rest stop (guess who peed?)

3:00 pm – Concert in the car baby! (Take me to the River – Talking Heads, Love in an Elevator – Aerosmith, America – West Side Story – didn’t expect that one huh?)

3:22 pm – About to run out of gas, Jesse says, “Let’s push it.”

3:25 pm – Stop for gas, Danny said, “Are you nuts?”

5:15 pm – Tears over Lisa

Afternoon topics of conversation:  Taxes (hate ’em), pick up basketball rules, skinny dipping (nothing recent), Is it ok for a minister to be gay? (both sides of the issue discussed), texting while driving (shouldn’t be doing it), pink shirts (can be cool), Churches (conservative, moderate and liberal), UNC football program (don’t won’t to comment until the investigation is final).

7:30 pm – Food finally.

Last four hours – since Danny has an affinity for Earth Wind and Fire, Prince and other soulful music, Jesse decided to expose him to Outkast and Kanye West.  Danny’s visiting itunes tomorrow!

11:15 pm – At grandma’s house looking for her cat (don’t ask).

11:30 pm – Home at last.

My Big Tent

Stephanie and Michelle entering the foyer

We just returned from our fourth annual Memorial Day Weekend camping trip.  We started this tradition with four other families and have hit different North Carolina parks each year.

I’m not sure why we go.  None of us are really camping people.  We’d be much more comfortable at the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne, Fla.  Of course, this is easier on the pocketbook, and I guess we all want our kids to spend some time outside looking at stars and enjoying nature and stuff.

One thing that keeps me from being a more frequent camper is the lack of adequate bathrooms.  In fact, on the way to Jones Lake in Elizabethtown, we took a 30 minute detour to my parent’s house in Fayetteville for one last pit stop before closing down the old plumbing until we got back home.  I called my dad to tell him we were coming and to stock each bathroom with a new roll of Charmin.  When we hit the driveway, we noticed the sign he’d hung on the door – “Clean Restrooms Available!”

I was glad we made that stop.  At the campground, the men’s bathroom had stalls but no doors; at least I didn’t see any from where I was standing (I didn’t actually go back there).  I have a phobia about no stall doors.

One time when I was the director of the Cary YMCA, I was making my nightly rounds.  I hit the men’s lockerrom and as always, began flushing all toilets since our male members seldom did.  I hit the three urinals and the first stall quickly – I was in a hurry as always.  When I flew into the second stall – the door was wide open –  much to my surprise, there was a man sitting there.  I didn’t really glance up until I was nose to nose with the dude.   

I ran to my office and stayed there until thirty minutes after the building closed.  I left all bathroom patrols to our maintenance staff from that day forward.

That incident scarred me.  I wonder how he’s doing.

Our family at the West Entrance

About six years ago my father-in-law asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  I suggested a pup tent built for two.  DJ and I had joined the YMCA’s Y-Princess program, and I knew we’d have to camp together once a year.  I told him there was a small tent, just our size, for $20 at Target. 

On Christmas Day, I opened my large box.  Inside was a $350 Sierra Design tent from REI – it slept six – adults.  David doesn’t always get you what you want – he often gets you what he thinks you need.  He makes up his mind, consults Consumer Reports and you get the top of the line!

I wondered what in the heck I was going to do with a tent that large.  It was more square footage than my first apartment.  The east wing had a closet and the dining room sat 8. 

To my surprise, I’ve used the dang thing 15 or 20 times over the years – often sleeping four or more folks.  David ws right, I did need a big tent.  One that I could be proud of.  In fact, one of my camping buddies had tent envy last year and showed up this year with an upgrade.  That made me walk a little taller around the campfire.

I don’t understand why they make tent and sleeping bag covers 12% smaller than the actual tent or sleeping bag.  I busted three blood vessels in my head trying to shove the dang sleeping bags back into the holders.  I nearly pulled my back out trying to squish all the air out of the blow up matress.  I was hugging it with both arms while I squeezed the middle with my legs.  I felt like a boaconstrictor; all this work to make a single matress fit in a carrying case the size of a sandwich bag.

My friend Martin can make wet wood burn. I think he's a Boy Scout or a Warlock.

At 2:30 am on Saturday night, my buddy’s truck alarm went off.  Lights were flashing and the horn was going nuts.  It scared the mess out of everyone – at least everyone in my tent.  I spent the next hour wondering what could have caused that alarm to go off.  I narrowed it down to three things – a mechanical malfunction, a theif, or a big animal.  The third potential was the most unnerving.  Heck, there was a bear walking around downtown Garner last week – imagine what could have been lurking in the woods in Bladen County, NC.

I saw Jeff walk by my tent to go check things out.  I briefly considered getting up and going with him, but I decided it would probably be better just to listen and keep my phone close.  Although I had a great tent, it wasn’t bear proof and we were the closest family to the cars. 

Last night after we were in our tent and the lights were out, the girls asked me to tell them a ghost story.  I shared about Crazy Nell who was killed right there in Elizabethtown many years before.  When I finished, DJ said, “I believe in ghosts.”  And Michelle added, “And the holy Catholic Church.” 

Our minister will be glad to know she’s been paying attention during the Apostle’s Creed.

I wish I could post more pictures but one of the moms there told me if I put a picture of her on this blog after a night of camping that Crazy Nell’s death would look tame compared to what she would do to me.  From her tone and the look in her eyes, I think she was serious.

Can’t wait until next year!  Thank you camping buds.

I'm allowed to publish this picture -these are the clouds that produced 10 inches of rain all over our camp site.