January 20 to February 14, 2014 NOMADS Project, Mercedes, MS

February 15 (Approximately) to June - Gate Guarding, TX or LA.

June, 2014 - Up to Alaska!

September - NOMADS Annual Meeting, Branson, MO

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I would have preferred the Pony Express

Hunstville,   TX


As fulltime RVers we get our mail from a mail forwarding service and sometimes from relatives.  Often we have it sent General Delivery to the Post Office in the town where we have temporarily landed.   Other times it is to a relative where we are visiting and other times it is to the agency where we are volunteering through NOMADS.   We've never had an issue.  NEVER.  That is until we hit Mercedes, Tx.

We arrived in Mercedes one week before we started volunteering.   We notified our mail forwarding service to send our mail to the Methodist church where we were based.  In addition, my daughter in NJ had some things to send to us.   In both cases there were documents needed to file our 2012 income tax.

One of the items my daughter was sending was Flat Stanley.

Flat Stanley is a little boy (can I call him a paperdoll?) that children are instructed to send around the world to have his picture taken at various places.   At the end of the school year they are to report with pictures on where he had visited.   This Flat Stanley belongs to my great-nephew.   My daughter Terri works for an international company.   She sent Flat Stanley to co-workers who obliged with pictures.  For instance, Flat Stanley spent New Years Eve in the Alps and has the picture to prove it.  He also lived it up in Zurich with two beauties.  (Sorry can not figure how to righten this pic I received via email). 

On January 22 Terri send Flat Stanley and other mail to me at the Methodist Church in Mercedes.  On the same day, our mail forwarding service sent mail to us at the church.

We waited.  We waited.  We waited.   In the meantime Terri sent me other mail which I received about a week after she sent it.  And we continued to wait for the two mailings from January 22.   On February 12 Terri received the mail that included Flat Stanley back.   She mailed it all back to Mercedes the next day.

In the meantime I found out the correct address of the church is 16th street.   I had told Terri and the mail forwarding service it was 17th street.   The FRONT on the church is on 16th.  The BACK is on 17th. AND it is the ONLY Methodist church in town and the church complex are the only buildings on that block.   I guess the Post Office sometimes doesn't realize that.

Since our private information such as SS numbers, etc was in the mailings I have been upset.   We left Mercedes on February 16 and did not receive the mail from our mail forwarding service nor the mail from my daughter that included Flat Stanley. 

AT LAST!  The January 22 mailing was returned to our mail forwarding service yesterday.  One month and 3 days after it was mailed.   And the mail from my daughter who had re-mailed it on February 12 also was received at the church yesterday. Our friends at Mercedes took Flat Stanley to Mexico for pictures including at the border.

Flat Stanley is now on his way back to my great nephew and our mail is on our way to us.  

I know those horses would have been faster.

Friday, February 22, 2013

We're famous! Well, maybe not....

Huntsville,  TX

We on in our fourth day of gate guarding.    Thinking we are starting to get in the grove.   Len goes to bed around 7 pm.  I wake him around 2 am and I sleep until around 8.   If tired during the day one of us will take a nap.   He's doing just that right now.   I have a hard time sleeping during the day but think when lack of sleep catches up with me I'll zonk.

Later today I will head to town for some groceries and check at the post office to see if we have a mail package.

To reply to some comments from the last blog:

Jessica - I think we are about 12 miles from Huntsville and stores.   Some sites are a lot more remote.  This is not bad.  We are about 60 feet from the county road which is not heavily traveled.   We are surrounded on three sides by woods.  We can see the rig behind us about 1,000 feet or so.

Judy - I don't see how a solitary person could do this.  However, our contact with the company used to.  I guess he slept in a recliner during the night.   Here there is very little traffic at night.   I signed someone in a little after 1 am.  The next person came through at 4 am.   I am sure Leonard napped during this time.  It would be hard to sleep through the bell that rings when someone arrives or leaves.

Laurie - as far as getting dirt in the rig, yea that happens.   We have one of those large RV mats that catches a lot.  The ground here is mostly gray clay and stone.  We are only about 15 feet from the driveway.  Not tracking dirt in would be a challenge.   In addition, since we are that close to the driveway and equipment and all size vehicles go by, the rig is a dust magnet.   This morning I dusted but by tonight it probably won't look like it.

CJ - I wish it were so that I would lose weight due to not eating out.  But I am snacking all day now.  I suppose from boredom.   Gotta keep this under control.

This is our utility setup.  Generator with fuel, water, and sewer system. 

Now for the we're famous part.   This company was involved in a law suit regarding how they pay wages.  They won the suit arguing the gate guards are independent contractors under wage and hour.  A sales person who was here yesterday showed us an article about the case in the local paper.

This morning the owner of the company came by with a photographer.   There will be an article in the Wall Street Journal.  They took pictures of our rig, the owner standing by the rig and Len logging in some traffic.  They asked us a few questions and told us they would let us know when the article is published.  

Okay - Len is up and I'm headed to town.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Gate Guards for now

Huntsville,  TX

We completed our NOMADS project on Thursday the 14th.    On Saturday we drove up to Houston and have been backyard camping at our friends Olan and Lola Halbert as we were waiting for a call as positions as Gate Guards.  

We had applied as licensed Gate Guards a few weeks back.   We took the test, got fingerprinted and found out more about the positions the week before our NOMADS project started.   We told the company that we would be available for assignment starting February 15.   I called them on the 15th but no positions were available.

They asked that I call again yesterday which I did.   At that time it looked like we might secure an assignment in Louisiana and we thought about hooking up this morning and heading that way.  Glad we didn't.  We got a call around 2 and asked if we could go to Huntsville, TX, only about 80 miles from where we were.   OKAY!

We immediately packed up, leaving Houston around 3.  We got up here a little after 5 to find a rig on the site we were to inhabit.   It seems the "company man" liked this couple and had them come here from another site last Friday.  However, they are not licensed nor do they work for the company contracted to guard this site.   Our contact arrived shortly after we did.  The other couple then packed up and left.  

We are parked out in the country at an entrance to an oil rig site.  Our sole job is to sign traffic in and out, walking just steps from our rig's door.

It was 9 before we finally settled in.   The company brought in a huge generator, a sewer system and a water tank.  Also hoses which stretch across the road to alert us to traffic coming into the site. 

Len was exhausted so is now asleep.  I am taking the first night watch.   I think I can last until about 4 am then I will need to crash.

Our reason for taking this job is that we want to travel to Alaska next summer.  We don't want to take any money from our savings account or use any investment funds.   Since one of us must be on site at all times, this means little diesel will be used for travel, no campground fees and most of all NO EATING OUT.  OUCH!    This is a forced savings plus a bi-weekly paycheck.   We are hoping to stick in out until May.    Did I mention, no eating out????

Saturday, February 9, 2013

We are amazed

Mercedes, TX

Whew!  We do need these few days off this weekend.    Being on the old side, it is exhausting to work in this heat and humidity.   But, we are so glad we are.

This past week has been spent mostly working on the one small trailer that houses a dear lady and her five great kids.  Nomi struggles each day to provide her best for her family.  We thought the husband was imprisoned for being an illegal but learned it is due to non-support.  

This trailer needs so many repairs and with our limited budget and time we can only do so much.  One problem was with the sewerage system.  The holding tank was broken.  Part of our crew worked on that by installing new piping and directing the waste directly into the sewer.  Phew, what a nasty job.

Both her kitchen and bathroom sinks and the toilet leaked causing lots of rotting of the wood.  We installed new faucets and a new counter as the old one was completely rotted out.  All leaks were repaired.

Nomi works two part time jobs every weekday afternoon tending to home bound folk.  On weekends she takes orders and cooks Mexican dishes for whoever will place an order.   Her cooking is done in this small kitchen space that has no hot water nor air conditioning.   The heat can be unbearable.   We can help some by building her a shelter where she can cook outside.

Note the porta potties.   These were donated for a few days while we had the water turned off in the bathroom.     The gentleman pictured above is a local plumber who we called in to assist as Leonard was having a difficult time getting into some of the tighter spaces.  What would have taken him hours to do, this nice man did in less than an hour.

Our plan this week is to build a counter and cabinet on the porch.   One of our team members has donated a propane stove.  

Our original budget for all jobs was $3,000.   This is the fourth home our team has worked on and the one we most have a "heart" for.    We had worked on one trailer doing some minor maintenance, another house putting security grates over windows while some of the men built guide rails for a lady who had part of her foot removed due to diabetes.

As one can imagine each step of the way we found more needs costing more money on Nomi's trailer.  The electric to the house ran from an extension cord from the neighbor about 300 feet away.    Very dangerous.

The mission chair at First United Methodist Church here in Mercedes is tireless.  This is Fanny and her patient hubby Buddy.  They have grapefruit orchards and own a cotton gin operation.  He lent us the porta johns plus a trailer to haul materials.

Fanny contacted the electric company about getting power to the property.  We've met with the power company representataive twice and learned to get power to the trailer the pole on the property needs to be moved 15 feet so the power line from the road does not cross another property.  This is at a cost of $1,000!  Not in the budget.  It looked like we would have to rent an auger, etc and move the pole ourselves.   We were concerned as this meant five old men would be doing something that not even five much younger men should attempt.   But somehow Fanny found a donor to cover the cost! The pole will be moved by the electric company.

Even the electric company and town have helped as they are working with us regarding the permits we did not get and channels we did not go through.

As we are working on this project Nomi (the mother) keeps wanting to feed us.   We will not allow her to spend her money on us.  She wanted to make chicken mole on Wednesday.   We told her okay but  we would buy the chicken.    On Thursday she made cheese tamales.  She only has a very small RV refrigerator.  So each day some team members are providing her with enough food for her and her children for a few days.  The church is providing rice and beans and some members have sent other provisions.

On Friday Len and I returned to Lowes materials we did not use.   While getting credit put back on our charge card, we struck up a conversation with the manager and was telling him about the project.   When we were done Len asked him if they had propane tanks and regulators.   He took us over the them.   As we were looking at the tanks, he picked up a tank and regulator, handed it to Leonard and told us it was on him.  With tears in his eyes, Len shook his hand and thanked him.   We walked away stunned and thankful for one more person who felt compelled to help.

The generosity of this community is beyond belief.  We are amazed.  

Last night Len made shrimp and sausage gumbo for our work 11 member team and Fanny and  Buddy and the children.  Nomi had to work.  This team has been beyond measure.  The original team was 13 people. One couple had to leave on Thursday as the wife had what is believed to be a mini stroke.   We love this couple and will be meeting up with them at their home in Houston where we have "camped" twice before.

Just look at these kids.   Aren't they beautiful?

They are so polite and respectful.   Jose, who is on the left,begged to stay off school one day so he could help his mother cook and to help us.   We had him digging a trench, helping to haul lumber, etc, using a nail gun and even doing a bit a sawing.   We made it clear, one day off school was okay but it is more important for him attend to his lessons.

This is our 13th NOMADS project, the 4th time as team leaders.   We know we are doing God's work here in the Rio Grande Valley.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The need is endless

Mercedes,  TX

We've complete our first week of work here in Mercedes where, indeed, the need is endless.   We realize we can only do so much as many of the homes are in such bad repair that they deserve to be hauled off and replaced.

Last week one team of 3 men worked at this location.

The mother and five children live in this trailer.   They all slept in one bed by the front door because neither door locked from the inside and she was afraid.   We've replaced the door handles, painted the glass so no one can look inside and added a lock.   We've also fixed the back door.   For safety we installed a smoke detector and fire extinguisher.

The toilet had no seat and was leaking causing rotting of the floor.   A new seat and seals were installed.

We've repaired the wall around the back end so the air conditioner could be installed.

The house is heavily infested with cockroaches.   Both the inside and outside were sprayed.    The church is working to find the family a better trailer.

On Friday we visited another site.   In this one lives a mother and 5 children.   The mother is legal as are the children but the father is not and has been incarcerated.   The mother speaks little English but the children were all born here so of course are bi-lingual. The mother works two part time jobs and is doing her best.  Unlike the house above, this very small trailer is clean and orderly.  The children were well groomed with clean clothes and really quite adorable.

The trailer looks to be no longer than 12 to 15 feet.  There are two windows with no glass.   We will be fixing that situation.

There is one mattress on the floor and a pull out bed.   The bathroom door is hanging by one broken hinge.  The children are ages 7 to 14.  The two oldest are boys and we are wondering if they sleep in the car.

The house has no electric.  They have a heavy duty extension cord running from a neighboring house.  They have a washer outside for the laundry.  There are no trees or other shade on the property and no air conditioning in the house.  

They do have cold water and sewer.  However, the sewer hose is broken.  The wash water lies dormant in pools next to the trailer, causing a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  The roof needs taring as there is some leaking.

Our hope is to build a small shelter where they can place a picnic table for meals and to get out of the house during rain and heat.  After seeing this "home" and meeting the residents I could not sleep last night thinking of ways we can help and realizing how blessed we are to live as we do.

Prayers are needed for the people of this community.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Santa Ana NWR

Mercedes, TX

Today, having off work, we decided to do a bit of sightseeing in the area.   When we plugged in "tourist attractions " on the GPS, we were thrilled to see there was a National Wildlife Refuge just 16 miles away.   So off we went to

This is one of the nicest refuges we've visited.   There are 14 miles of walking trails.  We walked one that was about a mile long.  Along the way we saw  some birds I've never seen before such as this Green Jay

Maybe someone (Judy) can tell me what this is

I know this is an Oriole

There are several ponds with all kinds to ducks

I saw something I had never seen alive before.  I thought all armadillos were just dead on the roads.

We took the hour and a half tram ride which stopped twice.  One was at three towers.  We climb the taller one that had 70 steps.  This is looking out at the other two that have a connecting bridge.

The other stop was at a cemetery.

The last burial was in 1929.

We do plan on returning.  Next Saturday they are having their Winter Texan Appreciation Day.  Free admission (ours is always free with the Federal Golden Pass), refreshments, door prizes and $2.00 tram rides.  Usual cost is $4.00/$3.50 for seniors.

As Judy who volunteers at so many NWR's would say  THE END