Monday, October 27, 2008

Thoughts on Blogging

My blog “Did Someone Say RV Road Trip?” chronicles the transition from being a career road warrior to living fulltime in an RV Prevost motorcoach/bus conversion and includes tales of my travel experiences like the “honeymoon” suite at Roger’s Rock State Park in New York, off-season travel in the Gaspe, a bloodless bullfight in Texas where the bull refused to fight, and more.

There are actually two reasons why I decided to start a travel blog:

One reason is that I would eventually like to write a book about traveling fulltime in our RV, and a blog seemed like a good way to get started. I believe that I can expand many of the experiences shared on my blog to create a fun read eventually. Also, reactions to the experiences and tales on my blog give me feedback on what my readers enjoy.

My second reason for deciding to write a blog is simply because I like to write. As a kid at age 8, I started a neighborhood newsletter for friends who had moved away – a blog of sorts in the 1960s. I edited my high school newspaper The Royal and my first real job was as a writer for an all news radio station, KQV in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Before the Internet, I wrote details of trips in hardback journals but only a few close personal friends ever read those. A blog is a natural release for this creative energy and wonderful way for friends and family read about my current travel experiences without spending hours on the phone.

The best way to start a travel blog is…just do it! Get started and discipline yourself to write. At first, I made a commitment to write in my blog every Sunday. Sometimes I faltered when living got in the way – selling our house, moving, and my career obligations. Now, that I live fulltime in my RV and move about often, I have more content – travel experiences - that I want to share and more time to write.

I use Blogspot. The advantages are that it is easy to use. Posting and editing are simple too. One challenge is in regard to photos. I like to add photos to my blog and sometimes I have difficulty placing them in the text where I want them to appear. I suspect it is my own lack of initiative to truly study the proper way to insert a photo and to understand the formatting technique.

Because I am on the road, I use Verizon Wireless Broadband Access to connect to the Internet. In remote areas, my access to the Internet is sometimes limited so I may have to wait a few days before adding a new post to my blog. It can also be frustrating when I lose the Internet connection while downloading photos. I try to have a reliable signal before adding a photo. I also have learned to write my text in Word, save it to my laptop, and then cut and paste it to my blog. I once lost my Internet connection and a consequently a blog entry because I wrote it online and had not saved it. I am happiest when I have access to wireless services at campgrounds. The connection is usually reliable, and I do not have to wait my turn for using the Verizon device that Ed and I share.

Don’t try to upload too many photos at one time unless you can move away from the computer and do something else for a while. Sometimes it seems like “forever” before the photos load. It’s like waiting for the water to boil. I have never added a video to my blog.

One blogging challenge is remembering details or thoughts to include. I overcome this by carrying a small notebook in my purse or backpack and jotting notes. I have a small tape recorder too. Sometimes I recite a story and transcribe it from my recording. This works well because I try to write my blog like I speak. Also, since a blog is chronological, I sometimes insert a sentence, photo and heading for a post that I have not had time to write completely. This becomes a placeholder for when I can go back and fill in the blank.

My advice is: Don’t try to capture every minute of the day, every meal, every move…Your blog will be more interesting if you capture the essence of an experience, record a conversation with a person you encounter, or write about an unexpected outcome to the day.

I write my blogs in the morning between 5 AM and 7 AM with a morning coffee and before my husband starts moving around the coach – we live in a 40’ x 8’ motorcoach/bus conversion. Typically, I write on the day after we have explored a destination, this amounts to 2 – 3 times a week. I have not had a fulltime job since September 2007 when I gave up my career as a Senior Consultant for the Dallas based fund raising consulting firm Ketchum. However, when I was working, I tried to write in my blog every Sunday morning.

I read other travel blogs. They are entertaining and give me a flavor of other ways to share my travel experiences. I like to read blogs about living fulltime in an RV for tips about this new lifestyle I have selected. Blogs written by others can also open you up to experiences that you might overlook when visiting a new destination – tips about a great local restaurant, the name of a guide, a unique venue. Lately, I have been posting some select my travel experiences or personal essays on CNN’s iReport site and IgoUgo just to expand my own readership and get more feedback of my travels and experiences.

I regularly send emails to family and friends who read my blog noting when I have added a significant number of entries. I do this about once every month. Also, my husband has a link to my blog on his business website – his is a travel company and he refers potential customers to my blog for a glimpse what they can experience if they book a trip through Private Motor Coach, Inc. When my blog includes information about experiences with other people, I send them a disc with photos and hard copy of the blog entry as a courtesy. This is well received.

I try to write my blog like I speak. So sometimes, I will call my best girlfriend Valerie and tell her about my travel experience of the day, like mistakenly following the black road on the map to a small town, creepy looking town in Arkansas. Her reaction gives me inspiration to write about the experience or place. Also, by verbally expressing the information, it is easier to write it.

I often think about bringing my blog to an end, then the day will pass with a new experience or personal encounter and I know that I will continue blogging. I hope you will keep on reading.

Bragging rights: Budget Travel gave mention of my blog in its November 2008 issue. Look for the article "Blogger on Board" by David LaHuta.

Here's the link:

Did Ya Vote Early? I Did

Rallies, negative advertisements, pundits, and not even a robocall can sway me now. I voted. I voted on October 14th - the same day that I received my absentee ballot from the Polk County Bureau of Elections. I had the privilege to cast my ballot this way because I live fulltime on the road in my Prevost bus conversion. I haven’t been in Polk County or Livingston, Texas, - my registered domicile - since January 2008. You see, I am an Escapee – someone who has given up a house in the country on a Texas concrete slab and trading it for a house on wheels. My husband and I have traveled over 10,000 miles this year through the US and Canada. I followed national politics while on the road and read several books about the candidates (and one who didn’t make it – Hillary) in making my decision for the presidential candidate of my choice. I felt less confident in selecting names for the Texas Railroad Commission, Senate, and Polk County Sheriff. Before coloring in the oval with a pencil as thin as a toothpick enclosed with my ballot, I had to research these candidates on the Internet. If their positions presented on their web sites aligned with mine, they got my vote regardless of party alignment. Yes, I voted early. It was easy. The tough part is waiting for Election Day and wondering if my candidate will be the one making an acceptance speech on November 4th.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Doing Oyster Shooters on the Oregon Coast

When I visit a new place, my curiosity draws me to the unusual. As if I am asking, “What is wrong with this picture?” I look around to check out my surroundings. This particular day, Ed and I ended up in Winchester Bay, an Oregon Coastal town with an active recreational fishing harbor. At the fish cleaning station, Ed engaged some Sunday sportsmen about their day’s catch. I averted my eyes from the gutting and filleting. That’s when I noticed it. I gave Ed’s jacket sleeve a tug, my signal to him that the fish cleaning station had no appeal to me and I was about to satisfy my own interests elsewhere. “It’s just a pile of oyster shells,” I heard one of the fishermen say who had heard me wonder aloud asking no one in particular, “What is that?” I had already walked away. The closer I got, the bigger the pile appeared. I guessed it to be at least 15 feet high. It was, in fact, a mountain of oyster shells.

Ed caught up to me. He found the peculiar stack of shells intriguing too.

The shells, we learned, belonged to Umpqua Aquaculture, Inc., a business occupying the two story building next to the pile. We wandered inside. Pint and quart sized containers of fresh oysters set in a refrigerated case. A counter sign offered oyster shooters at $6.50 each. Shelves held rows of frying batter, cocktail sauces, and souvenirs of lighthouses painted on what else but oyster shells.

We found a TV playing a continuous loop of a video. The short video was better than a tour guide. It explained how Umpqua Aquaculture propagates and nurtures oysters in a protected triangle of the harbor. They use a technique of suspending oysters on ropes so they never lay in the muck at the bottom of the sea. The narrator claimed this technique gives the oysters a better taste. When the oysters reach maturity, they are harvested and processed in a sterile room – the room behind us with a glass viewing window. Workers check the oysters in this room and make decisions about their processing. Some oysters remain in the shells to be shipped to markets. Others are shelled and sold on the premises or packaged for other retail sites. That explained the mountain of shells! Now, we needed to check out the oysters.

JP, short for Jean Pierre, greeted us from behind the glass window of the oyster processing room. When he came around to the counter, he smiled a shy greeting from beneath his bushy dark mustache. He pulled three oysters of assorted size from the cooler of crushed ice – small, medium and large. Even though his fingers looks big and clumsy in the neon orange rubber gloves, JP’s hands worked like a surgeons’ as he wedged the sharp knife point between the crack of the oyster shell and pried it open. He lifted the soft oyster meat free then set it gently back of the half shell. He told us he could open hundreds in an hour just as we’d seen him do for us with these three in a quick minute.

Ed didn’t wait for coaxing. He dabbed some cocktail sauce on the platter and dug in. “These are the best oysters I have ever had,” Ed said in testimony as he downed the third oyster shooter.

Later that afternoon, curious again, I climbed a rock jetty to get a better look at a section of beach called Salmon Harbor. To the south, a wide sandy beach and the Pacific Ocean stretched to the horizon. Turning north, I found the triangle of Umpqua Aquaculture’s oyster farm. A protective boundary of rocks broke the waves on its outer perimeter. Inside the triangle, the water lay calm. Pelicans and seagulls claimed solitary perches on the floating drums that held the rope suspended oysters. A boat anchored there set ready to hoist the matured oysters out of the water. Oysters that would eventually be shooters and shells that would add to the peculiar mountain of shells.

October 19, 2008

Umpqua Aquaculture, Inc.

723 Ork Rock Road

Winchester Bay, OR 97467


You Won't See This Back Home In Pennsylvania!

Some shops have guest books for tourists to sign. Sunday, I visited a souvenir shop in Winchester Bay, Oregon that had a guest book and something more. Visitors could stick a push pin into a map of the USA to show their hometown.

Now, I always claim Pennsylvania as home even though I have lived in Texas, so my eye went right to the Keystone State. No need for me to add a pin, Pittsburgh already had a mark. Then, I got to thinking about home and what a contrast there was between PA and OR.

In Pennsylvania, you won’t have a seal keep pace with you when you take a walk on the beach. There is only one beach back home, that’s Presque Isle on Lake Erie and there are no seals there. You won’t find giant pieces of driftwood around as nature’s very own sculptures. And, river estuaries do not flow through sand to the ocean as does the Siltcoos River in Oregon. Crab nets back home are only found in seafood restaurants like Red Lobster. There are no mountains made of oyster shells just out back. The popular wave pool called Sandcastle can simulate the ocean, but no one can surf the rhythmic man made waves.

Pennsylvania has lots of things that Oregon doesn’t – like the Steelers, perogies, the Liberty Bell, Steamtown, and more – but I have come to learn that if you’re not visiting new places, you are missing out on experiencing things you just won’t see back home.