Travelogue: Spring 2005
North America


February 7, 2005

G'day from our spring tour 2005! This is a long one - six months in all, so you'll be getting somewhat irregular missives from us during that time. The tour started in Texas, and will take us to Louisiana, Florida, Virginia, New England, Ontario, and then parts west as we work our way home. We've been on the road for just over a month now, and there are many adventures to report already.

We left home on the 28th of December with the plan to catch the early ferry to Port Angeles to begin our 6 day drive to the first gig in Huntsville Texas. We missed it by 4 cars, which set us back a day's drive (there are only two ferries a day). Then we ran into snow in northern California. As a Canadian, Cathy has never owned chains for her tires (John has), but between Yreka and Weed, the California Highway Patrol required chains on our trailer. There was a 2 mile lineup of semi trucks and cars all either waiting for the chains requirement to be lifted, or putting them on their vehicles (a few clever entrepreneurs realized they could charge $20 to put chains on other people's cars). After installing our newly-purchased chains and then inching along for what seemed like two hours, we arrived at the checkpoint, only to have it lifted! There was a bit of compact snow on the road at the top, but I guess the Californian drivers are not used to that! More time wasted!! This meant our long drives got longer again.

Trucks without chains, as far as the eye can see.

After two days driving down through the soggy Central Valley of California, we spent New Year's Eve in Ehrenburg AZ, eschewing the truck stop food (the only place in town to eat) for home-made fajitas. We didn't make it to midnight before we hit the hay.

Eventually we arrived in Huntsville TX in time for the first gig of the tour. The campground we were supposed to stay at there (a State Park) was closed for the day for a public hunt. The thought of camping among armed Texans searching for deer was not very appealing anyway. Our sponsor found us a lovely camp on the edge of a lake instead. By the time of the show we were ready to be "on". Driving 11 hours a day makes one wonder why we do this kind of thing sometimes. We remembered why that night, with very generous people and a standing ovation from the Tall Pines Quilt Guild.

After Huntsville, we spent a couple of days with our friends Gary and Anne in Houston (great fajitas!). On our way down to Mercedes (near Brownsville) for the next performance, we stopped at NASA for a wonderful tour of the facilities. Fascinating to see the history of space flight so well presented. We saw the original Mission Control ("Houston, the Eagle has landed"), and also where the astronauts today train aboard the mockups of the International Space Station and the Space Shuttles.

The next day we were able to stop at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, where a large number of migrating birds winter. Although we were assured there were a few Whooping Cranes out there, they didn't show themselves to us. But we did see lots of other birds, including Roseate Spoonbills - hard for them to hide, since they are almost flamingo-coloured!

In Mercedes the audience was composed of more ladies from away, than permanent local residents. Lots of Canadians, and folks from Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota. This is as far south as you can go in Texas, and the Rio Grande valley is a snowbird haven. Although the weather was cool, they assured us it was normally warmer. (They had had snow at Christmas!)

Our next show was in Wichita Kansas (are you following on the map?), quite a drive north. They had just experienced a significant ice storm that looked to be as horrible as the one in Montreal/Ottawa a number of years back. When we arrived in town, there were broken trees everywhere. It still was cold and threatened freezing rain again, although the ice was gone. Cathy won the door prize of sunflower fabric at the morning meeting - in the Sunflower State. The first stash on the tour!!

Then back south to Tyler TX - where we're told they have the best smoked turkey in the world. We spent the next night with friends Peggy and Kyle on their property just south of Henderson. They raise miniature donkeys and have a lovely lifestyle.


Peggy and Kyle and friends

The Texas Hill Country, down around Kerrville is where we headed next. Kerrville is mostly known in music circles as songwriters' mecca, since they have a huge folk festival every year with a songwriting competition. They also have a wonderful quilt shop. We sang in the morning and were taken out for lunch at the local burger/soup/salad joint. Just behind us were two or three busloads of Methodist church camp teenagers wearing bright orange T-shirts. Timing! We stayed with friends from our last trip here: Betty and Ed Docekal. 

Still in Hill Country, Bandera TX styles itself as the Cowboy Capital of the World. Big name for a small place. However, mostly what we saw when we drove into town were goats and exotic animals in the fields. But y'all gotta be known for something, wha'?

The week of Jan 17th was a busy one, with 5 performances in different places. We finally made it up to Weatherford to stay with our friends Pam and Rich (I wrote a song about her for the second quilting CD). The Quilters Guild of Parker County in Weatherford is so far the only guild that has had us back a third time (although there will be another on this trip in Ontario). It felt like coming home a bit, and it was nice to see familiar faces everywhere.

Jefferson was next, almost over to the Louisiana border. It is their second year of a quilt show sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce. A charming town that was once the state's largest city and inland port. The cotton would be loaded onto riverboats from downtown. That was long ago, but many of the buildings are still there. We sang in Diamond Bessie's Saloon and Dance Hall, which was originally a riverside warehouse. The walls were covered in animal head trophies, and you could see daylight through the boards over the windows. The heating system wasn't working well, either, and people were hauling quilts and blankets from their cars to wrap around themselves during the show. It was a full 2 hour concert. Nice to stretch out after so many 1 hour performances.

The following day we were back in Fort Worth, doing an afternoon house concert for our dear friends Martha and Steve Stookey. We love doing house concerts - the food is usually great (and it was), and people are relaxed and congenial. A lot of the people Martha invited had already seen us, so they knew what to expect. (and came anyway!!!) Before we left the next day, Martha and John got their ukuleles out and we all played some songs together.

Our next big drive was up to Oklahoma City. Our first visit there, we had a great time with this very large guild. Two meetings during the day allowed us to spend some time there. Linda Jones and her husband met us the evening before and took us around town for a bit of a tour. As bizarre as it sounds, she believes the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh put OK City on the map. No longer was it just a place where Okies came from. The memorial they have built on the site is very powerful, especially seen at night as we did. A chair for each victim, lit from within, and a reflecting pool with large black plinths at either end, one with 9:01am, the other with 9:03am: the time it took for the building to come down. There's also a huge cowboy museum in Oklahoma City. Next time we're there we'll have to spend some time there.

The next morning, we awoke to 3 inches of snow on the ground and it was still falling when we left to drive back to Weatherford. Weather certainly is volatile in this area in January! In the campground while Cathy was checking the email, she met a man who told her about "snow ice cream", which you can make from fresh snow and tastes as creamy as store-bought, but doesn't keep. I think this is something we should know about in Canada!

The snow didn't phase us however, because we knew we were on our way to somewhere warm. With 10 days off before our next concert, Pam suggested we look into booking a tour to Mexico. What a GREAT idea! We found a 4-night/5-day all-inclusive trip to Cancun. Sun, white sand, all the food you could eat and drinks you've never heard of before (tried a "Miami Vice" - pina colada and strawberry daquiri combined - Yum!).

For a place that didn't exist 35 years ago except as a small fishing village, Cancun has come a long way. The 20 km strip of "playa" (beach) is now lined with classy, fancy hotels and timeshares. You can spend your time on the beach, by the pool, pub-hopping, shopping, para-sailing, or taking tours to Cozumel for example to snorkel on the second largest coral reef in the world. We were impressed with how well organized they are for tourists - it was all geared to us, and they have it down to a science (although you still shouldn't drink the water).

We mostly relaxed and read and swam, but we did take a tour out to Chichen Itza, Mayan ruins dating to about 600AD. We knew a bit about Mayans, but we didn't know how advanced they were in science and astronomy. It was impressive to find out they were using a correct calendar 1,000 years before Europeans. And that they understood about equinoxes and the earth revolving around the sun in the days when Europeans were still worried about sailing off the edge of the earth. It appears that a civil war that ended it all - the peasants rose up and killed off the ruling/priest class, where all the knowledge resided. There are still Mayans living there. They live in thatched huts, poor, growing a bit of corn to eat and selling souvenirs to tourists. Our tour guide said "The people are still here, but the knowledge is not". What might they have achieved had they found a way to live peacefully?

The ruins were impressive, having been reclaimed from the jungle stone by stone. Archaeologists are still working to unearth more structures. Every hillock contains more mysteries. It must be fascinating work. Hot, too.


John at El Castillo at Chichen Itza - Mayan ruins

Today we said "so long" to Pam and Rich and Brendan and Erin, and their newly painted kitchen and headed east toward Shreveport LA for two performances tomorrow. This is the last we'll see of Texas on this trip. It has been a marvellous time here. We like Texas - a BIG state where folks are extremely hospitable and friendly. They tell good stories, some of which may end up in songs someday, and want us to see the best of their towns. We look forward to our next visit here. On, on, now to new adventures ahead.


April 3, 2005

G'day again from soggy Pennsylvania!! A new month and Daylight Saving!!

It's now almost two months since our last report, and a lot of water has passed beneath the bridge! Especially here just now. We're in Pennsylvania Dutch country and there are flood watches on all the rivers and creeks hereabout!!

However, back to our travels. We motored out of Texas to Shreveport LA eight weeks ago, and had a very pleasant stop there with a quilter and her physician/artist husband. They took us out to one of three floating casinos on the Red River where we sampled some Louisiana fare at the buffet - crawfish, jambalaya, etc - but didn't sample the slots! We were there just after Mardi Gras, so missed all the festivities, but still scored some very precious beads as a memento of our visit.

On through Mississippi and down to the coast of Alabama to the Florida panhandle. This area was one of the places hardest hit by hurricanes last fall, and the damage is still very much in evidence. Our next engagement was in a large gated community in Ocala FL. From there we pulled our trailer down the east coast of Florida to Miami. We spent two nights with Joyce and Paul (sampling some very different Cuban cuisine and learning how to play "Canadian" railroad dominoes) before following Hwy 41 across the Everglades to the Gulf Coast. The ditch which parallels this road along its northern side was filled with hundreds of alligators and the trees along it were filled with the most amazing variety of storks, egrets, coromorants. And all this without leaving our car!


Along Hwy 41 through the Everglades

In Sarasota where we spent a night at the Sun 'N ' Fun RV park (a haven for snowbirds from Ontario and Quebec, as well as the northeastern states) we encountered a large number of Amish. Up to Brandon Fl (east of Tampa) for a guild show, and then back south to Pine Island, west of Ft Myers. Here we spent a week or so with friends from Wisconsin. The warmth of Florida was very welcome. Joanne and her mother Erika are of German heritage and spent the week translating five quilting songs into everyday German, in preparation for our trip to Heidelberg this fall. From Pine Island we visited the Fort Meyers and Naples quilt guilds. While we were here, Joanne's husband, Charlie, took us up in a small Cessna from Charlotte County airport for an aerial view of the area. The hurricane damage to the structures and trees around Punta Gorda, even from the road, was substantial, but from the air, there seemed to be nothing but blue tarps on every roof. Because there are a large number of mobile home and RV parks catering for the snowbird and retired population, the destruction was extensive, and in many cases, not much reconstruction has been achieved. John was taken back to the appearance of Darwin post-cyclone Tracy in early 1975. Joanne and Charlie's home on Pine Island lost a few roof tiles, and the screened lanai was shredded, but otherwise remained relatively unscathed, compared with homes in the Punta Gorda area.

The only fly in the ointment on Pine Island was that Charlie, and then Cathy, picked up a very persistent flu bug which, for Cathy, lasted the next month. Our next few gigs, in Satellite Beach and West Palm Beach, were somewhat problematic, but Cathy was able to get through them.  Following West Palm Beach we had intended to drive to Key West and watch the sunset on the Gulf of Mexico, but we only made it as far as Miami, before it became evident that Cathy needed to stay put for a day or two. So we've had to leave the Florida Keys for the next trip!! Maybe 2007!

After a weekend of recuperation, we headed north, to Flagler Beach. Our next adventure was finding that the left brake on the trailer had seized up and burned out the axle bearing. A replacement axle was ordered, but arrived two days later than promised, so Cathy had to hop onto Amtrak in Palatka to get up to Williamsburg VA for the next show. John stayed behind at the Bulow RV Resort which was booked out for Daytona Bike Week. The roar of Harleys filled the campground from 7:00 am until well after dark. The wayward axle finally arrived on Saturday morning and was installed in an hour, and the Astrovan and trailer (and John) headed north, arriving in Smithfield VA on Sunday afternoon, following an overnight stop at "Pedro's" in South-of-the-Border SC!

Meanwhile, Cathy had an entirely enjoyable overnight train ride to Newport News VA, remembering the glory days of Canadian train travel (alas, long past). She stayed with LaRetta and Larry, she having started serious quilting only eleven years ago, and having over 150 handquilted works to show for it! The guild in Norge, VA had to put up with a solo show by Cathy, sans "Quilter's Husband's Lament", to their great disappointment!

Our next campsite was at the Norview Marina in Deltaville VA, right next to the water of Chesapeake Bay. Lots of pelicans here, and not much activity, being that spring had not yet arrived. We spent a couple of nights here, with a show for the Stingray Stitchers on the Monday evening. On into northern VA on Tuesday, head-on into the winter front coming down from Canada!! The rain as we left the marina soon turned into snow with the 20C drop in temperature, and caked onto the front of the van and trailer as we ploughed into the 80kph headwind. That combination doubled our gas consumption on the journey into Vienna!!

We unhitched the trailer in Barb and Bill Tricarico's driveway in Vienna VA and made runouts from there to the rest of the gigs in Virginia. Their home was undergoing substantial renovation, so the little trailer became our dust-free sanctuary while we were in Vienna, although we still had use of the plumbing facilities inside. Shortly after we arrived Barb and Bill decamped to Maui for 10 days so we "house-sat" and "cat-sat" while they were away. We had a grand time with them despite the inconvenience and stress of the renovation, and were sorry to leave, before the cherry blossoms had exploded in profusion!!

Cathy and Barb - the blue girls!

The shows in Virginia were very well received, especially our return appearance at the Smith Mtn Lake guild in Moneta, and we managed to catch up with a number of friends from our previous visit, and a SCQuilter in Chantilly. We had previously met Kathryn Sheehan in Hobart Tasmania!! We only had to cancel one performance, despite the lingering effects of the Florida flu - a return performance in Fredericksburg VA. Everybody, including us, were very disappointed. We'll have to go back next time.

Now, we're in Pennsylvania. On Monday we'll be performing in Lebanon PA, and then high-tailing it to Chicago for a couple of days. We arrived in this area (Pennsylvania Amish Country) when the big Lancaster Heritage Quilt Celebration is on. This is one of the big shows, and is closest to the roots of quilting in America. The Amish are one of the few groups that continued quilting through all the ebbs and flows of quilt popularity. We saw lots of friends at the show, enjoyed some truly marvelous works, and Cathy did a little fabric shopping. We made the obligatory visit to quilters' "Mecca" at Intercourse, PA and Bird-In-Hand PA for fabric. There were lots of Amish buggies everywhere, and women and men dressed in black. At Zook's fabric shop, the Amish customers mixed with the rest of us and got in on the celebration. It was a precursor to our visit to Kitchener/Waterloo next month for the Quilt Festival there.

Yesterday we attended the Mennonite Relief Sale in Harrisburg PA. This is a huge event, celebrating its 49th anniversary, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Mennonite Central Committee's relief work overseas. Over 400 quilts were auctioned at quite good prices (no serious bargains here!). We assume people come from many miles around (even NJ and NY city) to buy the quilts. The highest bid while we were there was for a beautiful floral appliqued queen sized quilt on a black background (which made it glow). The bidding was incredible, raising in $500 increments until it sold for $9,000!!

The rain was pelting down yesterday, and there were announcements throughout the auction for people to move their cars from the west parking lot. Before we left we peeked out that door and found out why: it was a lake out there! The lone minivan that missed out on the announcements was at that point up to the top of the wheelwell in water. We can't help but wonder what happened to that van.


Do you have a canoe?

Perhaps we are a month too early in our venture north from here. The campgrounds aren't really open till the end of April, and we may have some difficulty finding a spot to park. We are taking notes for next time!

We hope you've enjoyed this chapter in our travels. We still have New England, Ontario and parts west to cover before we're home again at the end of June.

all the best,
john and cathy


Ontario - May 11, 2005

Since our last missive, John and I have been doing some serious driving, but being in a very densely settled area of North America, there's lots to see.

We last left you in Harrisburg PA at the Mennonite Relief Sale. Our next stop was the driveway of Rosemary and Philip in Lebanon PA prior to our next gig. They have traveled extensively and showed us their huge collections of a) camels, b) old Vaseline glass c) irons and d) Middle Eastern rugs. They have an incredible house, and it was lovely to stay with them. The squirrels are very smart in PA and have figured out how to raid their "no-squirrels-allowed" bird feeders. Following our performance in Lebanon we abandoned our trailer in their driveway and drove to Chicago for a show in Wilmette IL. (who books these tours?!?!?) 

Along the way both coming and going we had a quick stopover at Cathy's cousin's in Cleveland, and got caught up on the Ohio rellies' news. In Chicago we sang for the Illinois Quilters Inc. meeting. While there we were able to visit the most amazing Baha'i House of Worship, one of only 7 in the world. It is a place of peace and spirituality for an interesting religion we don't often hear about.

After returning to PA, we said our farewells to Rosemary and Philip and then drove through Connecticut (with a stopover at John's nephew and his wife, Larry and Elspeth and their two lads, at their beautiful home in the woods in Old Lyme) and Rhode Island to Scituate Mass. This is very near Plymouth Rock, where the first settlers arrived, so we had to make our pilgrimage to the place of the pilgrims. We also tried to get out to Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod. But it started to snow!!! We drove as far as Chatham, before the decreasing visibility made us turn around. It must be nicer there in the summer......

A replica of The Mayflower at Plymouth Rock
Not snowing here!

We had a number of shows in the Boston area, and camped at one of the few campgrounds open in April!! We are definitely a month early on this section of the tour. Tourist traps are not open yet. We zipped up to Laconia NH for a show there. This is near one of the USA's most celebrated quilt shop: Keepsake Quilting. After a stop there, we went in to visit a Shaker Village (closed) and then the farmhouse where Robert Frost lived from 1900-1911 (closed). Did he write my favourite poem "The Road Not Taken" there? Who knows? We'll have to go back later when they are open. Same for the Shaker Village - a most fascinating story. How could one not love a religion that takes in widows and orphans, and believes in worship by dancing and singing?

We almost got to attend a Colonial Ball at the Country Inn written about by Longfellow. There is so much history in this area of New England that every inn, old house and crossroads seem to have great significance for Americans.

Sometimes it's amazing to me how trusting quilters are. We sang a couple of songs at the Charlton guild to help them celebrate their 5th birthday. Afterwards, Deb, our contact, led us to the home of their president (alas, out of town with her husband for the weekend) who had offered us the use of their house in Sturbridge for the night. Sue already had the first two CDs and we were happy to leave her the third in exchange for our delightful night at their home. She didn't know us at all (although we met a week later in Lowell), and still offered us her home!

Our show at the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell MA on Saturday, April 23rd, ended our first visit to New England. The museum houses a significant collection of quilts, and were featuring a show of batik quilts. We promoted the show at every guild performance, and were able to entice 40 or so people to the museum on a rainy Saturday. Then we drove north toward Canada for a week off. We plan a return to New England in 2007 -- a month later so we can see all the things we missed!

A delightful week at John's brother's home in Woodlawn Ontario, where we relaxed, worked on tours and quilts, met up with old friends and played with Tiffany, their new 4-month old border collie. We saw lots of wild turkeys, deer and even one porcupine munching new shoots at the top of a tree! Spring was just beginning to sprung there - more daffodils! But, alas, no tulips in the Tulip Capital of Canada (Ottawa) while we were there.

We are now in the midst of our month in Ontario. It's keeping us busy, too. As well as the daffodils and tulips in bloom, there are trilliums (Ontario's provincial flower), and blackflies making their presence known in the forests of the mid-north. We've already sung in Ingersoll, Renfrew and Kincardine. We've visited Cathy's cousin Jane in Thornbury, and Cathy presented her with a quilted cowgirl boot wallhanging she has been working on for the last month between performances. It'll look great in her living room!

Jane's Wedding Boots 39x45"

In Ingersoll (only the second guild we've played three times) it was great to see so many familiar faces. In Renfrew the mayor introduced us and presented us with a book of the city and pins (but not keys...). In Kincardine we stayed with Betty Conlin, a marvellous fibre artist and the force behind the community's labyrinth. We slept under a magnificent quilt with the wall behind the bed painted to match. She is doing very interesting work, using a variety of media, but mostly hand-dyed silk. Yummy!

till next time,
cathy and john

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