Thursday, April 21, 2011

Graduation Day! WaaaHooo!!

My most amazing life partner. I love you.
My most amazing life partner. I love you.

This is definitely a benchmark day!

Merrily now has her Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and is a trained professional Over-The-Road (OTR) truck driver.

8 Hard weeks of 10 hour days learning Federal Safety regulations, practicing driving, parking, backing, maneuvering obstacle courses and many hours behind the wheel out on the roads and highways, has earned Merrily a diploma as a professional truck driver.

I am incredibly proud for her in accomplishing this achievement. I went through this 7 years ago and it remains the single hardest thing I have done in my 67 years.

Merrily receiving her diploma
Merrily receiving her diploma
Uh-oh, her nose is turning red.  Tears are not far behind.
Uh-oh, her nose is turning red. Tears are not far behind.

Acceptance speeches can get emotional.

yep, there they are, right on schedule. That is the Lead Class instructor, Chris Chappell. He was also Smith and mine in 2004. Chris is a real personable guy and a great supporter.
yep, there they are, right on schedule. That is the Lead Class instructor, Chris Chappell. He was also Smith and mine in 2004. Chris is a real personable guy and a great supporter.







There she is, Ms America!  The guy in front of her is
There she is, Ms America! The guy in front of her is "Catfish" and beat cancer to go through this class.









Wednesday, April 20, 2011

She works hard for this Honey..

Today Merrily finished the truck driving class and SHE NAILED IT!!!!!!! It took 8 weeks of 10 hour days but she never missed a day of class.

She set several benchmarks.

  • Oldest woman ever to finish the class
  • Only woman of the 6 originals, to actually finish and pass the class. The rest were in their 20s and 30s.
  • Only woman to take all of her final tests right after having survived a direct hit by a tornado! (ok, so maybe this is more of a Guinness book kind of thing… but it is definitely unique.
  • She did excellent on all of the written tests
  • She says, “backing a trailer is a guy thing because none of us girls could back worth a darn!”
  • She passed yesterday’s forward obstacle course, the Coupling/uncoupling and written regulations tests with no errors!
  • She managed to hang in there while 20 of the 43 original students failed the class prior to today.  That, alone, puts her in the top half of the class. 
  • Today was the 100 question final written exam and she only missed 3.
  • Today was also her last road test, which she passed with no problem.
  • She came in exhausted but elated at 1:00 PM and we ate lunch. Afterwards, she read for a bit and then said, “I am going to take a nap…. just because I can.”  … She was always gone to school by 6:40am and was not out of class most days before 6pm.. do the math.. she was never home during “napping” time.
  • I love her immensely and forever. God has blessed me almost more than I can bear.
  • Now the fun begins for real.

For the past 60 years, Merrily has been and always will be the key to my life.

Merrily, I love you, forever.

Tornado, Tornado, Tornado

Now that I have some connectivity, I wanted to get these pictures and some perspectives about what it was like being inside an RV while a tornado raged around outside.

The short answer:  Not Fun! But…

We are still not quite sure what exactly hit us. The winds had to be in excess of 160 mph to do the damage it did but the “swirling” damage typical of a tornado is completely missing. Although it is being called a tornado, it must have been ground level wind shear. Perhaps a horizontal funnel due to the very high ground speed (60+ mph) it had. Might have just drug the tail of the twister out behind it all the way.

We see plenty of damage like this:

This is the other side of DakotR.
This is the other side of DakotR.







All the better to see it with, my Dear.
All the better to see it with, my Dear.

There were other RVs that suffered worse damage but no one was hurt.


Just before it hit us, Phillip, one of the workampers at this KOA, knocked on the door to tell us that it was headed this way and we could go take shelter in the meeting room. Hail between marble and jaw breaker sizes was crashing down on him and he wore only a baseball cap.

He was very lucky to not be hurt but I am sure it was still painful.  I quickly thanked him, closed the door, walked back into the bedroom where Merrily was lying on the floor between the foot of the bed and the  bedroom storage drawers. I glanced out of the side window to see hurricane strength winds blowing all sorts of stuff past us. I knew it was too late to try to leave the RV, even if it was only to jump into the ditch 20 feet behind us. 

When we parked here 2 months ago, I had made a mental note that this ditch would be a good place to shelter in a pinch.  Had this tornado been much stronger, it would have definitely been better than the meeting house up at the entrance which got a direct hit and some damage.

For a moment, a 12 inch piece of pink insulation wafted up to the window and paused momentarily before instantly disappearing from view. Must have been a little eddy current there due to the Kitchen slideout protrusion.

The good fortune for us is that we were sheltered from most of the flying debris by the heavy bush and cedar trees lining the deep drainage ditch right behind us. The trees heavily covered in vines that blew over onto the rear of DaKotR acted like a blast shield and deflected the wind up and over us.

Looking at what the wind took out from directly behind us,

Notice the cedar tree stub just to the left of the transformer. That tree exploded and pieces landed on us and clear across the street.
Notice the cedar tree stub just to the left of the transformer. That tree exploded and pieces landed on us and clear across the street.

It seems that we got some of the strongest winds in the park blew right over us. This is the only spot that they were completely gone in that whole row.

I sure appreciate the workmanship and materials of the King of The Road we have. Despite the huge weight of the trees on the back of it and on the big slideout, it did not crumple, crush or warp at all. It’s really too bad they are no longer building RVs.

I have posted a lot more photos to view in a set of time ordered albums on my Picasa site. I hope you find this informative.

I am keeping this relatively short to encourage more readers to read the whole thing.  I will be filling in more information about this experience in the coming days.

Meanwhile, I hope this answers a lot of your questions.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hey… Anybody seen Toto?

This time it wasn’t Dorothy.. it was us!


Military training makes one just duck when the sergeant says DUCK!  It drills out of one the momentary hesitation to say why… even in one’s own mind.  DUCK means DUCK NOW and preferably SOONER than NOW!

If you ever hear a tornado WARNING…. go seek appropriate shelter. Don’t waste time trying to find out where it is at that moment because if it is close by, you have probably already lost access to current radar images on TV.  Cell phones, even smart ones will take time to use to try to get information.

DSC02855Trust me when I say, the time it takes for the best cell phone on the best WIFI or wireless service to find and pull in an image that is 2 minutes old can be the difference between life, death or disability.

TORNADO WARNING is the civilian equivalent of the military order DUCK! Do not try to second guess it or validate the source of 2 minute old data.

Tornadoes don’t appear at one edge of a tornado warning area and travel in a straight line to another edge. They can spontaneously spawn and die all over the Tornado Warning area. They are usually accompanied by hail in sizes from BBs to softballs and traveling as fast or faster than either. They can be slushy or rock hard and you may never know the difference if you are hit in the head by one.


If you think that they are interesting to see in storm chaser movies, ask yourself how big the stone was which was thrown by David to kill Goliath? It certainly could not have been traveling as fast as a single piece of hail.  Consider, too, that getting knocked out by a piece of hail immediately renders you unable to protect yourself or control the safety of yourself and your family.

Whether “stoned” to death by ongoing hail or picked up unconscious by the tornado and shaken ( not stirred) in a cocktail of rocks (yes, rocks), wood, roofing, masonry and everything else that is not part of a space shuttle launching platform, you will not survive and it will be because when you were warned, you did not DUCK!


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Got the CDL, now for the Diploma

Merrily now has her Commercial Driver’s License in hand and is fully legal and trained to drive big rigs.

Of course, her goal was to become a safe competent driver of our own home and that, she has accomplished through this 8 week truck driver training class.copy_of_img_0532

I am sure that she could have gotten a license on her own without the class through study and some practice with our own rig. But, what she wanted was to be safe, confident and comfortable doing it and that takes a lot of hands on time behind the wheel.


Most of her 10 hour days were spent on the practice field where they have the various field exercises setup with trucks and trailers, obstacles and simulated typical situations to learn to navigate.

Typically, 3 hours of each day was in the classroom learning terminology, technology, regulations, map reading and how to fill out log books. With the possible exception of the log books, all of other content goes to training a driver to be more aware even when a situation is not in play.

The rest of the day was spent getting hands on experience in their trucks with their instructors. That has trained her mind, eyes and muscles to reliably respond correctly in real time situations. This not something that one can get from books. Neurological patterning and muscle memory training has to be done through conscious repetitive actions and that means some long exhausting hours behind the wheel.

Prior to this class she had never driven a truck while towing a trailer of any sort. By itself, that makes for a huge confidence gap. Add to it virtually no experience backing any sort of a trailer and you have borderline panic just thinking about parking our rig.

Now, her confidence is solid and her fears are gone. Add some time on the road and she will be as comfortable handling our rig as she is running to the grocery store in our Smart car.

Congratulations, my Love!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Two down, One to go

Today, Merrily passed her DOT maneuvering tests (backing 100’ in a narrow channel and a 90 degree backing between two trailers).

She said that was easy compared to the equivalent tests to pass the class. They have less room, tighter limits and less allowance for slop and oversight.

She is happy. Still has just one more test to go, her on the road DOT driving test and then she can go pick up her CDL from the DMV and start driving solo on the road.

I am just about to bust a gut because I am so happy for her! This is just terrific!


Monday, April 11, 2011

And now.. A Double Wooohoooo!!!!

Merrily passed her 10 speed truck driving certification today!!!!   Momentous occasion!

At this point, at least 6 students out of 43 were unable to pass even a single truck certification and were dropped from the course.

Tomorrow and Wednesday they will take the two  90 minute tests (one each day) for Maps and for logs. If you ever thought that truckers don’t have to be smart, this course will change your mind.

Sure, a few rogues skip by for awhile and make a bad rep for the rest but a career professional driver has to be smart or have a short career, period. 

Merrily is closing in on the end of the class… less than 2 weeks away.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

WooHoo! Merrily qualified on the 9 speed… One more to go…

To most, this probably seems like … “….what?…”. But this is a really big deal.  In order to be certified and get her CDL, she has several tests to pass. Some are written but the hardest are the driving qualifications in the big trucks. They have 9 speed and 10 speed semis with 48’ trailers at the school and to pass the class and get a certificate to exchange for your CDL at the DMV, you have to qualify on both kinds of trucks.

She almost qualified on the 10 speed, yesterday, but due to a capricious decision by the instructor, she didn’t. Today, she did qualify on the 9 speed trucks so just one more to go.

To graduate the class, she still has to pass several different backing  tests (90 degree to a dock, serpentine offset to dock) and the 100 foot alley back (which is not as easy as it sounds). You only have about 6” on either side of your tires to work in to back a 48’ trailer 100 feet in a straight line.

She is very close, though. She has really worked hard at this course and will definitely be a better driver than I am when she graduates from the class in a couple more weeks.

I love her so much but I admire her equally so it is impossible to not be excited and proud for her.  I don’t know how many other 60+ year old women would even consider making this effort but she has and is owning the show and we are going to have an unbelievably great life on the road because of it.

WE, not just me, will travel the country, safely and comfortably and, as always, know that someone is always there to have our back


Good Morning Pandora!

I love Beegie Adair’s music style! Pandora (I love it, too) just pushed me a note that they have put up a new set of selections from Beegie Adair so I had to check them out.

Yep, Beegie is in there, somewhere.

Pandora, if you have not tried it, is Internet Radio thematically corrected by you for your own listening styles. it does not play just the specified artist but Pandora will find music that seems to fit the same style… Sometimes we don’t see eye-to-eye on what “same style” means but if I strongly agree, I give the piece it is playing a thumbs-up. If I really don’t want to include it, a thumbs-down click will sculpture Pandora’s selection criteria a little to better fit my preferences.

By building multiple playlists or “Radio Channels”, I can have a broad choice of music sources to match my mood. Because Pandora throws in “similar music” as well as the specific artists I choose, it gives me a taste of randomness, but not as uncontrolled as XM or Sirius Satellite Radio.

All-in-all, for a free service (yes, as usual, there is a “premium” version, too) Pandora is nice.

You can setup Radio channels that you configure for the type of music (style, artist, genre, etc.)you would like to hear.  At any time, thereafter, you can switch to that channel and start hearing that type of music.

I also really like GrooveShark which lets me build playlists of just the artist I want without contaminating the mix with similar artists. I can build playlists of pieces that fulfill my own music preferences without semi random insertions by the service.

Both have worked fine over both park wifi and Tethered phones and sound good to me. It is very nice to  not be limited to a specific set of tunes on specific CDs that I have to try to read the labels to pick from.  Heck, by the time I find the CD I want, I am too tired or frustrated to bother turning it on…. maybe next time?

Both are also available (Pandora is free but not Grooveshark) on Android phones and will let me use the playlists I built on my computer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Big Hand for the Little Lady

Merrily made another qualification drive, today. it was with a driving instructor that she had not driven with in a few weeks.

She did almost perfect and literally “stunned” the instructor with how much better she was than the last time he rode with her.  He really verbally praised her improvement and said he could not believe how much better she was doing than the last time.

She got kudos for getting up to speed, smooth shifting, great turns, just everything. She came off of that ride with a really big grin on her face, I am sure.

Then, while they were out on the practice field, one of the other students came up to her and put his arm around her and said “Miss Merrily, you are soooo nice. Everyone in the class just loves you. They respect you and if they happen to let a bad word slip out, they immediately apologize all over the place. No one else gets that kind of respect.”

I see that, as usual, she has really set the bar high for everyone and they know it.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lets hear it for the girl..

Merrily passed the first of a number of skills tests she will have to perform to get her CDL license and graduate from the truck driving school.

Before any driver gets into a truck and drives off, a pre Trip Inspection (PTI) of the vehicle must be done. This consists of visually and mechanically inspecting and challenging 100 specific points of the truck.

Some examples are:

  1. check to see that there is no more than 1” of movement in each brake slack adjuster.
  2. Make sure that none of the springs are loose or broken.
  3. Make sure that tire pressures are all correct.

Etc… for 97 more things.

The last few PTI items are done in the cab of the truck. Merrily got 99 of the 100 correct. These checks must all be done from memory, too. She only missed 1 thing…… she was sitting in the cab with her hands on the steering wheel at the end and still had about 3 minutes do go to complete the PTI test.(You only have 20 minutes to do it in).

She felt she was forgetting one thing but just could not think of what it was. She turns to the instructor and said that she was finished.

He said she missed one. She said “which one?”

He says “Steering Wheel Check!”


Sunday, March 20, 2011


68 days…. Not better than the record 100 days but still much better  than the typical 14 days between them she has experienced most of her 4 year life.  Katie had one this morning about 10am.DSC00888

I really hate it for her when they happen but thankfully the meds are working and the seizures that she does have are wayyyy  less intense and last only a few minutes instead of hours.

None of us slept particularly well overnight. I usually blame on a full moon because that is typically when I don’t sleep too soundly.

Looking back, Katie has had a few small cues that she might have been working up to a seizure. Little things, like a sudden involuntary flash-kick of a hind leg while she is resting or some pacing for no apparent reason.

She is fine, though.  it lasted about 4 minutes and then she was off walking it off. She seems to have discovered that walking around helps clear it out of her system and I can believe that. The normal Cross-crawl patterning that takes place in the nervous system when walking on 4 legs, is a powerful normalizer for the whole neurological system. 

Therapeutically, cross-crawl simulation, even while lying down, is used to stabilize unbalanced muscle tone and works for all 3 axis of the body (front/back, side/side, top/bottom).

I have not seen anything specific about its use in humans in seizure recovery but from what I have seen in Katie, it definitely shortens the number of bouts of rigor that she typically has (3 –6 per seizure to just 1 or two). It also seems to bring the slobbering and glassy eyed stark staring to an end much more quickly than if she does not walk.

Back when she was having them several times a month, I found that even if I carried her outside on a leash and helped support her while she tried to walk, she would return to normal much more quickly. You could just watch how her walking around went from that of a drunken sailor to a normal dog in a matter of minutes while she was walking, even just doing figure 8’s.

Although this day started off with a few minutes of angst it has turned out nicely.  Though a little cooler in the 50s today, it was still very nice to take a few walks and enjoy the filtered sunlight through the spring trees and a few clouds.

Maybe tonight will be a sound night of sleep for everyone.  Merrily is driving on the road tomorrow and is nailing the shifting so I can hardly wait unti we can climb into Clifford and share the drive to wherever we want.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Merrily got to drive a Volvo today

Yep.,, and she liked it better than any of the other trucks she has driven (Freightliners and Macks). She had a good day, drove for an hour and even crossed a DOT scale (big deal?) and came home still positive but tired.

Tomorrow is just an all classroom day except for a few demos of the new field exercises to be done starting on Friday.