Christmas 2021 Message from RVing with Rex

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Long before there was a Grinch who stole Christmas, there was Krampus, the devilish half-man, half-goat that helps out jolly St. Nicholas by stuffing naughty Austrian children in sacks and dragging them to hell. Yes, the true history of Christmas is as colorful as your neighbor’s flashing and strobing house light display.

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The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a monk named St. Nicholas who was born in Turkey around 280 AD. St. Nicholas gave away all his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick and became known as the protector of children and sailors.

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St. Nicholas first entered American popular culture in the late 18th century in New York when Dutch families gathered to honor the anniversary of the death of “Sint Nikolaas” (Dutch for Saint Nicholas), or “Sinter Klaas” for short. “Santa Claus” draws his name from this abbreviation.

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In 1822, Episcopal minister Clement Clarke Moore wrote a Christmas poem called An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, more popularly known today by its first line: ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. The poem depicted Santa Claus as a jolly man who flies from home to home on a sled driven by reindeer to deliver toys.

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The iconic version of Santa Claus as a jolly man in red with a white beard and a sack of toys was immortalized in 1881 when political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the image of Old Saint Nick that we know today.

Related Article: When You Are in Need of a Christmas Miracle

Oh, so sorry to break the harsh news, but Santa isn’t real. Yep, he’s just a sales pitch for Big Soda.

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Don’t take it from us—that’s what a Catholic bishop in Sicily told a dismayed group of children earlier this month, per the New York Times. In fact, “The red color of his coat was chosen by Coca-Cola for advertising purposes,” Bishop Antonio Staglianò said.

Just wait until they find out the Grinch is sponsored by Mountain Dew.

HO-HO-HO MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, wanna-be’s, snowbirds and Winter Texans, winter campers, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!

Thanks to the madness of 2021, Thanksgiving came and went with a whimper this year. It’s a bummer, for sure, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still take part in outdoor activities.

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It was said that 2020 was not a typical year. No surprise there! RVers knew so firsthand. Canadians had to cancel their annual U.S. migrations, thwarted by border closures. Folks who normally spend t-shirt time with friends at RV resorts and rallies in the South had to reschedule thanks to cancellations and other safety measures.

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With wide-scale vaccinations, we looked forward to a brighter, more social 2021. But little has changed in the past 22 months. The volatile, uncertain, and complex times continue with no sign of abatement. The border finally opened in November but with ever-changing conditions and requirements.

Related Article: Christmas Music Inspires and Brings Cheer during the Pandemic

RVing continues to be a safe means of travel where self-contained environments ensure security and flexibility.

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The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic at the start of 2020, followed by the subsequent quarantines and travel restrictions, has made many Americans more reluctant to hop on a crowded airplane for a cross-country flight. This health-related hesitancy is likely to remain for some time to come. RV travel allows vacationers to control every aspect of their environment at every step of the journey.

Social distancing is a cinch with RV travel. With thousands of RV parks, campground sites to choose from, you can easily select the level of social interaction you are comfortable with on any given day.

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But despite the 2020s and 2021’s impact on traveling, socializing, dining, and more, we still can make the best of the situation. Folks whose RVs are nestled all snug can embrace the world outside their door and view the environment they choose to call home. Inside our RVs, we can start a new hobby, catch up on our reading, or reconnect with other household members. And plan a future road trip!

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As usual, my regular postings will continue daily throughout this holiday season and into the New Year.

Related Article: Christmas Gift Ideas 2021

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas!

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!

Forget sugar plums.

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

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I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit, Acadia, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Yellowstone national parks.

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Snowbird Christmas

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in the pre-dawn chill,

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Wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

Reveille to my numb mind.

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

Cackling like contented chickens under the hot Texas sun.

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A grateful respite from grueling gray cold fronts of International Falls, Winnipeg, and Green Bay

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes, Wal-Mart Santas, and reindeer.

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes, fifth-wheel trailers, and old converted buses.

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Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather in the clubhouse by the artificial tree

Reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

Speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Related Article: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

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Whatever seasonal celebrations you take part in—and for the unexpected downtime you may have—we wish you joy and happiness. We’ll be right alongside you in January as we usher in a brand-new year!

Sing it with us: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

When You Are in Need of a Christmas Miracle

Do you need a Christmas miracle this year?

Most everyone has seen or knows the story portrayed by Charles Dickens in his 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. Dickens describes Scrooge as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint…secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

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Despite having considerable personal wealth, he underpays his clerk Bob Cratchit and hounds his debtors relentlessly while living cheaply and joylessly in the chambers of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. Most of all, he detests Christmas which he associates with reckless spending.

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When two men approach him on Christmas Eve for a donation to charity, he sneers that the poor should avail themselves of the treadmill or the workhouses or else die to reduce the surplus population. He also refuses his nephew Fred’s invitation to Christmas dinner and denounces him as a fool for celebrating Christmas.

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That night, Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost who is condemned to walk the world forever bound in chains as punishment for his greed and inhumanity in life. Marley tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits hoping that he will mend his ways; if he does not, Marley warns, Scrooge will wear even heavier chains than his in the afterlife.

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The tale of his redemption by three spirits―the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come―has become known as the embodiment of the Christmas spirit.

Related: The Story of the Poinsettia

Christmas is all about miracles. The story of Scrooge is one of the many miracles at this time of year.

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In Search of a Miracle 

Anna Karenina is a brilliant study of humanity. It’s also the story of a miracle.

Many writers consider Anna Karenina the greatest work of literature ever. Aside from being a novel about betrayal, faith, family, and marriage, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is also a story about one man’s search for meaning in a complicated world. 

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Konstantin Levin, the story’s second main character, spends a large portion of the novel trying to figure out how his wife Kitty could believe in a higher power he’s never seen any signs of. 

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One day, he is listening to a peasant talk about two landowners—a stingy one and a generous one—and asked the peasant, Fyodor, how it could be that these two men are so different from each other. Fyodor replied that the generous landowner “lives for his soul” and “does not forget God,” leading Levin to realize the miracle that he’s been looking for this whole time—goodness. 

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Levin reasons that it’s rational for a person to live for his needs like food and shelter but not for goodness. Yet, humanity knows about this concept called “goodness” and many people even give up their personal interests to be good. So, he reasons, where could this idea have come from if it wasn’t bestowed upon humanity by some higher force? 

Related: O Christmas Tree, Don’t Fall Off my SUV

Levin, the educated noble, likely never expected that an offhand comment by a simple peasant would be what gave him the epiphany he’d been hoping for. 

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Perhaps that’s also part of the miracle that Tolstoy points out—just like every person who still strives for goodness against the odds. Each righteous person is a manifestation of the goodness gifted to humanity and a testament to the strength of this miraculous gift. And perhaps, just like the generous landowner in Fyodor’s story, they can also awaken others to the miracle of goodness in unexpected and powerful ways during the Christmas season. 

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The Miracle of Christmas

For many of us, Christmas is one of the best times of the year. But for others, it can be one of the hardest. The holiday season has a way of bringing up emotions in a way that nothing else can. We can feel joy, love, peace, and contentment or we can feel great sadness, loneliness, stress, and unrest. The term Christmas miracle is often used this time of year. It’s a phrase used to define a miraculous event that is so amazingly spectacular it could have only happened at Christmas.

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There is something about this holiday that brings out mainly the best in people. There seem to be more kindnesses extended, more courtesy expressed and many people find this time a good one to generously give so that those less fortunate also can experience the joy of the season.

Christmas reminds me again of the story of God’s love made incarnate in the miracle of a baby in a faraway spot in the Holy Land called Bethlehem.

Related: Christmas Gift Ideas 2021

It’s a story of hope for all who embrace its majesty and miracle.

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And, of course, the past 22 months have taught us all the need for the miracle of that presence which brings out the best in all of us.

Covered by masks, separated by 6 feet, and afraid to make contact, many have suffered from a feeling of disconnectedness. Many have experienced depression, anxiety, and sometimes anger comes out because of this scourge.

Yet, the miracle is, I believe, still around us.

Related: Christmas Gift Ideas 2019

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For many people, the holidays are a joyous time of year. Adults are eager to take off a few days to celebrate the Christmas Holiday and the New Year. Children are adding presents to their lists and anxiously watching the night sky for signs of Santa.

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These are the hopeful days that the world should cling to. These are the times we need to remember when bad news clouds our memory. These are the moments that we can’t let pass us by.

Worth Pondering…

I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.

—Charles Dickens

Christmas Music Inspires and Brings Cheer during the Pandemic

Celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with the best Christmas songs of all time

Christmas delivers more traditions, festivities, and entertainment than all other holidays combined.

During the Christmas season, we sing traditional carols and hymns. In churches and homes, many set up nativity scenes, a practice created in 1223 by St. Francis of Assisi.

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We also participate in secular holiday traditions. Originally modeled on a fourth-century bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra, Santa Claus has long been an icon of the Christmas season. We set up and decorate spruce and fir trees in our living rooms, attach stockings to the mantle, send out Christmas cards, buy sleigh loads of presents, and tell the little ones about Santa’s elves and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The world of arts and entertainment exuberantly joins these festivities. We read books such as Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and share poems with our children like Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas or Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Hollywood has pumped out scores of Christmas movies ranging from classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street” to comedies, religious stories, and Hallmark romances.

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Meanwhile, families practice their own holiday customs. That newly wedded couple must decide whether they’re going to open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Some families watch “A Christmas Story,” while others stick to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Some repeat the Thanksgiving menu of turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes for their holiday meal while others enjoy roast beef, goose, or ethnic foods.

Another Christmas tradition: The Story of the Poinsettia

And then, of course, there is the music.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Songs, songs, and more songs

It’s not really Christmas until the gang from Pentatonix releases new material and this year they’ve stretched the definition of Christmas material.

The group offers classics like “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” and also tackle songs not often caroled like Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” and Joni Mitchell’s “River.” And then they give “I Saw Three Ships” and “Frosty the Snowman” a rhythmic beat.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are so many Christmas songs and so many different artists who have recorded them that certain radio stations fill their December air time with this fare without strain or repetition. Load copies of all these recordings into Santa’s sleigh and even that bearded wonder and his 12 reindeer might have trouble making lift-off.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of these compositions are more than 1,000 years old while others have popped up in just the past decade. Some celebrate the coming of a savior like “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, O Holy Night”, and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Others center our attention on the symbols of the season like “O Christmas Tree” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Some take a turn toward romance, as in “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and “Christmas Every Day.” There are even silly Christmas songs: “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And you don’t need to be Irish to enjoy “Christmas in Killarney”:

  • The holly green, the ivy green/The prettiest picture you’ve ever seen/Is Christmas in Killarney/With all of the folks at home/It’s nice you know, to kiss your beau/while cuddling under the mistletoe/And Santa Claus, you know of course/Is one of the boys from home
  • The door is always open/The neighbors pay a call/And Father John, before he’s gone/Will bless the house and all/Our Hearts are light, our spirits bright/We’ll celebrate our joy tonight/It’s Christmas in Killarney/With all of the folks at home
Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Songs and carols and how they came to be

Behind many of these songs are intriguing stories of their creation and their meaning. Here are just a few of these histories.

Another Christmas tradition: Pecan Pralines a Sweet Tradition

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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” has its roots in the monasteries of the ninth century. That early version was in Latin, of course, and is just as beautiful as the English we sing today. Originally, monks or nuns chanted verses and psalms from the Old Testament anticipating the arrival of a savior. Discipleship Ministries of the Methodist Church offers this interesting observation on the original arrangement. Each of the antiphons (a short chant in Christian ritual, sung as a refrain) began with the words below:

  • O Sapentia (Wisdom)
  • O Adonai (Hebrew word for God)
  • O Radix Jesse (stem or root of Jesse)
  • O Clavis David (key of David)
  • O Oriens (dayspring)
  • O Rex genitium (King of the Gentiles)
  • O Emmanuel
Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By the seventh antiphon—O Emmanuel—the first letter of these words read in opposite order gave listeners an acrostic “Ero Cras,” which means “I will be present tomorrow.”

Another song from the Middle Ages, “In Dulci Jubilo,” we now know as “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” German folklore holds that Heinrich Seuse composed this carol sometime around 1328 after he had heard angels singing it.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht

“Silent Night” has a story that is almost as beautiful as the carol itself.

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Just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, a young Austrian priest, Joseph Mohr, took a walk on a winter’s evening and was struck by the peace and beauty of the snow-covered village below him. He wrote down the words for “Silent Night,” and two years later, in need of a hymn for Christmas Eve, he paid a visit to his friend Franz Gruber, a school teacher who was also the church’s choirmaster and asked him to compose the music for his lyrics.

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That night, at Midnight Mass, Gruber and Father Mohr, playing on the guitar, gave the world one of its most beloved carols.

Eventually, “Silent Night” was translated into more than 300 languages and is today sung around the world. One fascinating historical note: During World War I’s Christmas Eve truce of 1914, soldiers from both sides of no man’s land gathered and sang the carol in English and German.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Secular Songs of the Season

The past 100 years have seen an explosion of non-religious holiday songs. Of these, “White Christmas” remains one of the most popular, and again the music comes with a special story.

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The Russian-born Irving Berlin who gave us such hits as “God Bless America” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” also wrote “White Christmas.” Though the Jewish composer didn’t celebrate this holiday, some have speculated he may have written the song in memory of his 3-week-old son who died in 1928 on Christmas Day. For years afterward, Berlin and his wife annually visited their son’s grave on that day. Certainly, the opening lines and the slow, rather melancholy tune might point to such a loss:

  • I’m dreaming of a white Christmas/Just like the ones I used to know/Where the treetops glisten and children listen/ To hear sleigh bells in the snow
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In 1941, Bing Crosby first brought the newly published “White Christmas” to the airwaves just days after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. During the war, whenever Crosby appeared overseas to entertain the troops, the soldiers, again and again, requested this song.

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“I hesitated about doing it because invariably it caused such a nostalgic yearning among the men, that it made them sad,” Crosby said in an interview. “Heaven knows, I didn’t come that far to make them sad. For this reason, several times I tried to cut it out of the show, but these guys just hollered for it.”

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Those men wanted that reminder of home and what they were fighting for.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cultural Bonds

If we explore the origins and histories of such songs and carols, we find that many of them come with these special stories. In “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” for example, some believe that the gifts mentioned in the song, from a partridge in a pear tree to 12 drummers drumming, refer to certain symbols of the Catholic faith while others contend this strange array of presents derives from a child’s memory game.

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While learning these stories can be fun and instructive, it’s the music we know and love. It’s a small bit of that glue that binds us together as a people. We would be hard-pressed to find a child, or an adult for that matter, who had never heard of Rudolph or The Grinch. Whatever our religious beliefs, we’re familiar with “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” We may not know the words, but we can hum along with songs like “Little Drummer Boy” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Another Christmas tradition: O Christmas Tree, Don’t Fall Off my SUV

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved MERA

How mainstream is your taste in Christmas music?

Compare your faves to the most-streamed Christmas songs on Spotify this holiday season:

  • “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey (written and recorded in 1994)
  • “Last Christmas” by Wham! (another 1994 recording)
  • “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (written and recorded in 1951)
  • “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms (recorded in 1957)
  • “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee (recorded in 1958)
Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To my readers, I’ll conclude by way of one more song title: “We Wish You a Merry Christmas!”

Merry Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!

―Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The Story of the Poinsettia

Today (December 12th) is National Poinsettia Day in honor the late Joel Roberts Poinsett who was largely responsible for the poinsettia’s association with Christmas

There are certain plants that play important and often mysterious roles in holiday traditions and celebrations all over the world. From the Egyptians who decorated trees during the winter solstice to the Pagans and Druids who used mistletoe in their winter customs, stories abound of plants that have become infused into the mythologies of cultures and regions.

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The long, strange tale of the Poinsettia

The poinsettia’s story is just as unique as the rest. Despite this celebrated plant’s prominence during the holiday season, its story remains largely unknown—until now.

The story of the poinsettia is one that spans hundreds of years and contains countless twists and turns as it wound its way into our holiday traditions. Although it doesn’t pre-date Christianity like its Christmas counterparts, the holiday season wouldn’t be the same without the reds and greens of the poinsettia.

Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cuetlaxochitl: the origin of the Poinsettia

To begin, we go back to 14th century Mexico. The plant had a long history of medicinal use. It was said that its milky white sap, called latex, could be used to reduce fever symptoms. The plant was so highly prized in an Aztec culture that “Cuetlaxochitl,” as the plant was known, was also used to create red and purple dyes for clothing and textiles.

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These wild Mexican plants were 12 to 15 feet tall with only 1 or 2 stems. The red floral bracts were quite narrow and droopy as compared with those of modern poinsettias and they had large open centers.

Another Christmas tradition: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

It is said that Montezuma, the last of the Aztec emperors, was so captivated by the plant that he would have caravans of poinsettias shipped to the capital city of Teotihuacan because the plants could not grow at the high altitude.

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However, it wasn’t until the 17th century that Cuetlaxochitl, now an established decorative plant in Mexican tradition, began its journey into Christmas traditions.

This part of the journey began in the small town of Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico where Franciscan monks began using the shrub in their Nativity processions. Coincidentally, it is also around this time that the Mexican legend of Pepita and the “Flowers of the Holy Night” began, forever tying the red and green shrub to Christmas folklore.

Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pepita and the Poinsettia

According to legend, a young girl named Pepita was traveling to her village to visit the Nativity scene at the chapel. Since Pepita did not have enough money to buy a present to give the baby Jesus at the services, she gathered a bundle of roadside weeds and formed a bouquet.

Upon entering the chapel and presenting her bouquet to the Nativity Jesus, the bouquet of roadside weeds miraculously turned into a bouquet of beautiful red flowers that the locals knew as Cuetlaxochitl.

Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The namesake of the Poinsettia

During this time, the poinsettia’s association with Christmas was almost entirely confined to small Mexican towns and their local folklore. It remained relatively obscure for almost two hundred years before a man by the name of Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779–1851) introduced it to the United States. This introduction forever changed the way we decorate for the holidays.

Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joel Roberts Poinsett was a man of many talents. He was not only the first person to introduce poinsettia to the United States, but he was the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and was also a skilled and passionate botanist who co-founded the institution that we now call the Smithsonian Institute.

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In the winter of 1828, Poinsett took a diplomatic trip to Mexico on behalf of President John Quincy Adams. He visited the Taxco area where he wandered the beautiful countryside and became enchanted by the brilliant red leaves of an unfamiliar plant. Poinsett kept a greenhouse on his property in South Carolina and began shipping the blooms back to his home. There, he studied and carefully cultivated the plants.

Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It wasn’t long before he began sharing the plants among his friends and colleagues around Christmas time. This was when the upper leaves of the shrub would turn red. The reputation of the enchanting Christmas plants spread and soon a Pennsylvania nurseryman by the name of Robert Buist began to cultivate poinsettias. Buist would be the first to sell the plant to the public under its botanical name of Euphorbia Pulcherrima. He also played a large role in helping to establish the plant’s Christmas reputation.

It wasn’t until about 1836 that the plant formally attained its popular name of “Poinsettia” after the man who first brought the plant to the U. S. and ignited a holiday tradition that continues to this day.

Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A national phenomenon

In the early 1900s, poinsettia began to gain popularity. Paul Ecke Sr. developed the first poinsettia plants that could be grown indoors. He began selling them at roadside stands in Hollywood, California. In 1923, he founded the Ecke Ranch that today provides nearly 80 percent of the plants that are bought and sold in the country.

Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the poinsettia is the most popular plant sold during the holidays and the best-selling potted plant in the U. S. Within a six-week period leading up to Christmas, there are over 70 million poinsettias sold and nearly $250 million in poinsettia sales accounted for.

In July of 2002, the United States Congress named December 12th National Poinsettia Day. The day honors the late Joel Roberts Poinsett who played a crucial role in making the poinsettia into the holiday fixture that it is today.

Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Poinsettia Flower Anatomy

Poinsettias belong to the same family as Castor-Beans, the Spurge or Euphorbia Family, in which flowers are unisexual. Besides that, Poinsettia flowers differ in several important ways from the average flower features.

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In Poinsettia flowers the large, red, eye-catching things at the ends of branches are not flower petals but rather modified leaves called bracts. Because actual Poinsettia flowers are small and inconspicuous, the red bracts take over the job of attracting pollinators.

Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The greenish, cuplike thing labeled “cyathium” is a structure unique to the Poinsettia’s genus Euphorbia. In each cyathium usually, there are several male flowers but only one female, and that female is attached to the cyathium’s center. However, the cyathium is too small to accommodate the males and the much larger female flower, so the female flower does something extraordinary: She sits atop a stemlike pedicel which grows so long that it bears the female ovary completely outside the cyathiume. There the female flower is labeled “pistillate flower” because she consists of nothing but the pistil (stigma, style, and ovary).

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Selecting a Poinsettia

Plant breeders have produced cultivars with many other colors besides the traditional red bracts or modified leaves. There are over 100 varieties of Poinsettias available. Though once only available in red, Poinsettias are now available in pink, white, yellow, peach, purple, salmon, marbled, and speckled. They have names like Premium Picasso, Monet Twilight, Shimmer, and Surprise.

Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consider the following tips to ensure long-lasting beauty:

  • Look for plants with fully mature, thoroughly colored bracts
  • Select plants with an abundance of dark, rich green foliage all the way down the stem; the leaves and bracts should not be drooping
  • Look for plants that are balanced, full, and attractive from all sides
  • Select durable plants with stiff stems, good bract and leaf retention, and no signs of wilting, breaking, or drooping
  • Choose plants with the yellow flowers in the center that are not quite open
Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Poinsettia care

To help your poinsettia thrive in your home during the holiday season, follow these tips:

  • Light: Set your poinsettia in a bright location so that it receives at least 6 hours of bright, indirect sunlight each day. Putting it in direct sunlight may fade the color of the bracts. If the direct sun cannot be avoided, filter the sunlight with a light shade or sheer curtain.
  • Temperature: Excess heat will cause the leaves to yellow and fall off and the flower bracts to fade early. The daytime temperature should not exceed 70 °F. Do not put your poinsettia near drafts, excessive heat, or dry air from ventilating ducts. Chilling injury is also a problem and can cause premature leaf drop if the temperature drops below 50 °F.
  • Water & Fertilizer: Poinsettias require moderately moist soil. Water them thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Never let the potting mixture completely dry out and never let the plant sit in standing water. When watering, always take the plant out of its decorative pot cover. Water until water seeps out of the drainage hole and the soil is completely saturated.
Poinsettia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Flowers are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities in the world.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

O Christmas Tree, Don’t Fall Off my SUV

Avoid losing your tree and putting others at risk

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

You just fell off my SUV

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

I lost you on Loop 303

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

What will I tell my family?

The above is part of a Public Service Announcement recently issued by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT).

Christmas tree on Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t be the unlucky Christmas tree buyer whose tree falls off a vehicle only moments after strapping it to your vehicle’s roof. Set aside the embarrassment or wasted expense because Christmas trees that fall off vehicles are a serious safety hazard that drivers should plan to avoid before bringing their trees home this holiday season.

A potential Christmas tree (?), Fushlake Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A brief history of the Christmas tree

Records of using greenery to celebrate the holidays predate the widespread use of the phrase “Christmas tree.” Rural English church records from the 15th and 16th centuries indicate that holly and ivy were bought in the winter—hence the Christmas carol “The Holly and the Ivy.” Private houses and streets were also decorated with greenery at this time.

Potential Christmas tree (?), along the road to Mount St. Helens, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Numerous myths surround the origins of Christmas trees. One legend says that Martin Luther believed that pine trees represented the goodness of God. A popular myth in the 15th century tells the story of St. Boniface who in the 8th century thwarted a pagan human sacrifice under an oak tree by cutting down that tree; a fir tree grew in its place with its branches representing Christ’s eternal truth.

Related Christmas article: Christmas Gift Ideas 2021

A potential Christmas tree (?), near Lesser Slave Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the real origins of Christmas trees appear to be rooted in present-day Germany during the Middle Ages. In 1419, a guild in Freiburg put up a tree decorated with apples, flour-paste wafers, tinsel, and gingerbread. In “Paradise Plays” which was performed to celebrate the feast day of Adam and Eve that fell on Christmas Eve, a tree of knowledge was represented by an evergreen fir with apples tied to its branches.

Christmas tree on Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the image of a decorated Christmas tree with presents underneath has a very specific origin: an engraving of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their children gathering around a Christmas tree eyeing the presents underneath published in The Illustrated London News in 1848. The premier women’s magazine in America back then, Godey’s Lady’s Book, reprinted a version of the image a couple of years later as “The Christmas Tree.”

References to Christmas trees in private homes or establishments in North America date back to the late 18th century and early 19th century.

A potential Christmas tree (?), Wells Gray Country, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dangers of transporting a Christmas tree

ADOT reminds drivers to make sure they’ll get home with their tree—and without putting others at risk. Every December, crews remove trees that become hazards after they weren’t properly secured to a vehicle and fell to the roadway. Those dislodged spruces or firs can become obstacles that trigger crashes as drivers swerve to miss the detached trees.

Related Christmas article: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

A potential Christmas tree (?), Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An improperly secured Christmas tree is a road hazard waiting to happen. Loose trees can move around while you drive, obstructing your view, and causing an accident. Trees can also fall off and become a hazard on the road, causing accidents when other drivers have to swerve around them.

A potential Christmas tree (?), the Sierras, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Christmas trees are only a roadway hazard for a limited time of the year they are part of a larger problem with roadway debris. And even if the crash is minor and doesn’t cause any bodily harm, a tree can cause thousands of dollars in vehicle damage. Plus dropping a tree on the road is against the law in all 50 U.S. states, often resulting in fines up to $5,000 or possible jail time.

A potential Christmas tree (?), the road to Mount Robson, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road debris like Christmas trees was responsible for 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths over a 4-year span. You don’t want to ruin the holidays for yourself or someone else because you failed to secure your tree.

Related Christmas article: Christmas Gift Ideas 2019

According to AAA survey, an estimated 84 million Americans (33 percent) will purchase a real Christmas tree and of those:

  • 44 percent of Americans who plan to purchase a real Christmas tree will transport the tree using unsafe methods
  • 20 percent will tie the tree to the roof of their vehicle without using a roof rack
  • 24 percent plan to place the tree in the bed of their pickup truck unsecured
  • 16 percent have previously experienced a Christmas tree falling off or out of their vehicle during transport
A potential Christmas tree (?), Devonian Gardens, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to transport a Christmas tree safely

Whether you have a permit to cut down your own tree from a national forest or you’re buying one that’s already been cut make sure to pack strong rope, tie-downs, or nylon ratchet straps. Trees wrapped with netting are easier to secure to a vehicle’s roof, so consider having it wrapped or bring your own materials.

A potential Christmas tree (?), Wells Gray Country, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When placing the tree on a vehicle, point the top to the back of the vehicle. Then strap the tree near its base, close to the top, and in the tree’s middle. Tug on the tree to test your work. Pull from different angles to ensure it is snug and make adjustments if needed.

Related Christmas article: The Holiday Season Favorite Veggie: Sweet Potato or Yam

A potential Christmas tree (?), near Lesser Slave Lake, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Conclusion

Whether your perfect tree resembles Charlie Brown’s simple spruce or something out of a Hallmark movie, you need a safe way of getting it home. The best tree safety steps involve securing the tree to a roof rack or stuffing it inside your car. But many people transport their trees in other ways that are simply dangerous.

Worth Pondering…

Freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and snow and pine resin – inhale deeply and fill your soul with wintry night.

—John J. Geddes

Christmas Gift Ideas 2021

Shop from this list of Christmas gifts to find ideas that your RVing friend or family member will love

Have you put some thought into your holiday gift-giving this year? The way we shop and the intention behind gift-giving is changing. The global pandemic illuminated, for many of us, what is truly important and what our real needs are. This new way of viewing our lives may be reflected in how we give gifts—giving what is important and special over just giving to give.

Ready for Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With threats of supply issues leading to empty shelves at big box stores, the joy of finding that perfect gift may be a little harder this year. Just maybe, shopping local might be the way to find that joy in gift-giving this year. You’ll be putting money right back into your community and find unique gifts not available at big box stores.

Ready for Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the RVer and outdoor enthusiasts in your life? Following are six gift ideas or you can even add them to your own Christmas wish list.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gifts for National Park Travelers

Gifts for National Park enthusiasts do more than tap into the spirit of the great outdoors—they celebrate America’s longstanding tradition of preserving awe-inspiring landscapes. Decade after decade, new generations of visitors come to these stunning spaces, eager to experience the vastness of untouched scenery.

Related: National Parks at their Spectacular Best in Winter

Wondering what to get a National Park fan for the holidays this year? Here are two gift suggestions for National Park visitors. 

Saguaro National Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America the Beautiful Pass: The America the Beautiful Interagency Annual Pass offers free entry to all National Parks—including Joshua Tree, Olympic, and Arches—for the recipient and up to three other adults for 12 months. The pass also covers visitors at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites in total. $80 from recreation.gov.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Parks Pocket Notebooks: These National Parks-themed memo books from Field Notes are a stylish and convenient spot for outdoor enthusiasts to journal about their experiences in nature. Packed in a set of three, each notebook features vintage-style art from a specific National Park, along with a brief history of that park printed inside of the front cover. Each notebook has a brief history of its park printed inside the front cover, followed by 48 pages of graph-rules paper for all your note-jotting needs. $13 for a set of three from bespokepost.com.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set of three pocket notebooks currently available are:

  • Rocky Mountain, Great Smoky Mountains, and Yellowstone National Parks
  • Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Mount Rainier National Parks
  • Yosemite, Zion, and Acadia National Parks
Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas State Parks Christmas Tree Ornaments

For 20 years, the annual park Christmas ornament has featured some of the most recognizable Texas State Parks landscapes. The metal ornament features photo-quality artwork in stunning color with rich, laser-etched textures and detail. This year, the ornament features a longhorn from the official state longhorn herd at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site.

Enchanted Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Christmas ornament can be purchased exclusively on the new Texas State Park Online Store for $19.95 each, with free shipping. Purchase by Thursday, December 10 for likely arrival before Christmas. Taxes will be applied at check out.

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other items available for purchase include the Texas State Parks Pass which allows a carload of visitors into the park for free for a calendar year, a Bluebonnet metal bookmark, a wooden Texas State Park magnet and sticker, state park zipper pulls and key rings, hiking stick medallions, and ornaments from previous years.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Give the Great Outdoors: Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Gift Cards

Give the gift of the great outdoors this holiday season. With no shortage of possibilities, gift cards are the perfect solution to the gift-giving conundrum. Gift cards are perfect for golfers, hikers, anglers, campers, history buffs, or anyone who enjoys being outdoors. The credit-card-sized card may be bought in any denomination starting at $5 and can be purchased at most Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites or online at gastateparks.org.

Stephen Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 60 state parks across Georgia, there are many ways to treat family or friends to a year of outdoor fun. State Park Annual ParkPasses are $50 and help fund trail work, dock maintenance, and shelter renovations. Half-off ParkPass discounts are available for seniors 62 and older, as well as 25 percent off for active-duty military and veterans.

Squeeze 18 outings into one little card with a Historic Site Annual Pass. Available passes include adult ($30) and family ($50).

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get Fido out in the great outdoors with the Georgia State Parks’ Tails on Trails Club. The quest challenges dog hikers to explore 12 specific trails at Georgia State Parks. Members get a bragging-rights t-shirt and matching bandana for Bailey. Finish them all and get a certificate of completion to show off on social media.

Jekyll Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most state parks have gift shops where you can snag an ENO hammock, KAVU pack, or blanket to snuggle up in as the colder weather creeps upon us. While browsing, pick up a gift with hometown roots including Georgia Grown items, local honey, nature-themed books, clothes, and toys.

Related: Christmas Gift Ideas 2019

Looking for a stocking stuffer or gag gift to get a laugh? Forget coal and throw in a bag of cricket chips or a scorpion lollipop. Many quirky white-elephant gifts are available inside state parks and historic site visitor’s centers.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gift of Adventure: Arizona State Parks

Give the gift of adventure this holiday season with an Arizona State Parks and Trails Annual Pass or Gift Card for those hard to shop for outdoorsy friends and family members who love spending time in nature. An annual pass or Gift Card is a gift that keeps on giving, all year long.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual day use pass allows access for up to four people to state parks throughout Arizona. A day-use pass opens the door to exploring every corner of the state. History lovers can explore the stories of the past at the state historic museums. Pair it with Roger Naylor’s book, Arizona State Parks: A Guide to Amazing Places in the Grand Canyon State for a gift set they’ll use all year long.

Lost Dutchman Stae Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks Gift Cards may be purchased online (azstateparks.com) in denominations of $25, $50, $100, and $200. Gift Cards are accepted at Arizona State Parks for entry, camping, and reservations fees so your gift of the outdoors can be used all year long, all over the state.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Green jay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All of Texas Under the Tree!

Give the full Great Texas Wildlife Trails 9-map set for $25. Texas Parks & Wildlife is celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Great Texas Wildlife Trails. Order a special, newly updated 3-map set of the original coastal trails for $10. The full set of the Great Texas Wildlife Trail maps provides a guide to discover more than 900 of the best wildlife viewing spots in Texas. This is a gift that keeps giving year-round!

Great kiskadee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Order a full set of Great Texas Wildlife Trails for $25 or get a single map of your choice for $5. To order, visit https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wildlife/wildlife-trails. Order by December 11 for likely arrival before Christmas.

A Hug

A hug is a great gift—one size fits all!!!

Worth Pondering…

Christmas is a tonic for our souls. It moves us to think of others rather than of ourselves. It directs our thoughts to giving.

—B. C. Forbes

6 Road Trips for the Holiday Season

Get ready for a RV excursion full of under-the-radar gems

Look alive folks! This diem isn’t gonna carpe itself! The only way out is through. If we’re gonna weather the uncertain waters of a kinda-maybe-sorta-post-pandemic winter, we’re gonna have to put in some hustle, we’re gonna have to do some gratitude journaling, and we’re gonna have to look out for each other, okay? Also, a sip of Kentucky bourbon helps.

Father Christmas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I don’t know, I don’t have any answers! I’m getting word that “going on a road trip” is another good way to cope, and I’m thinkin’ that’s an awesome idea as we head into the holiday season…

Between the stress and unpredictability of air travel, the holidays are an apt time for a good, old-fashioned road trip. Even better: A RV road trip venturing off the beaten path and discovering new sights, flavors, and activities. Sure, a classic, Americana-style trek along Route 66 is all well and good, but digging a little deeper—and making pit stops at under-the-radar destinations along the way—reaps rewards that you won’t forget. From an Arizona sunset and a tour of the Mighty Five to a Cajun Country Christmas, these are the best RV road trips to take this holiday season.

Related: Christmas Gift Ideas 2019

Arizona sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casinos, canyons, and cacti in the Southwest

You might end up on the naughty list for spending the holidays indulging in Sin City, but it’ll be worth it. Do some gaming at the new Resorts World Las Vegas (with more than 40 restaurants on-site, you won’t be lacking food options). For something more wholesome, stroll through the whimsical Holiday Cactus Garden at Ethel M Chocolates in suburban Henderson, hot cocoa in hand.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, buckle up for fun in the Arizona sun—and some epic selfie moments—with scenic stops at the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. Don’t forget to stop by the least visited national park in the state, Petrified Forest National Park, where the easy Blue Mesa Trail wows with boulder-sized crystalized logs and badlands lit up in tints of purple and green.

Tucson Mountain Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Loopback to Phoenix and round out your Arizona adventure in Tucson where you can spend your day communing with cacti in Saguaro National Park (the west district of the park is far less visited and hikes like Wasson Peak are practically devoid of humans).

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas ’Round Bardstown

Where better to experience a fantastic Christmas season than the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America?” Bardstown, Kentucky is ready to welcome you for a month and a half of Christmas events! All your Christmas wishes can come true in Bardstown.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guides in Victorian hoop skirts and gentlemen in tailcoats sing the song “My Old Kentucky Home,” on your tour of Kentucky’s most famous landmark decorated for Christmas, My Old Kentucky Home! The mansion is adorned and decorated with six beautiful 12-foot tall Christmas trees each with a unique Kentucky theme.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn the origins of the Christmas tree, how mistletoe became famous for exchanging kisses, the tradition of the yule log, the history of the Christmas pickle, the legends of Father Christmas and Santa Claus. As you move forward to each room, experience a different era of Christmas, starting from colonial times, the early and late Victorian periods, all the way to the roaring 20’s when the mansion was last owned by the Rowan family. Tours are on the hour and the last tour begins at 4:00 p.m.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Park-hopping in Utah

For one of the best road trips to take this holiday season, consider a national park. Home to five national parks, Utah is a quintessential state for nature enthusiasts looking to find serenity. After all, few sights are as amazing as seeing Delicate Arch aglow at sunrise or peering through Landscape Arch as the sun descends in Arches National Park or marveling at the snow-swept hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

First off, drive to Moab for cozy vibes and comfort foods at restaurants like Sunset Grill where the prime rib is as picture-perfect as the sunset views. You’ll be properly fueled to hike in Arches National Park just down the street as well as nearby Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park before heading west to visit the wildly underrated Capitol Reef National Park, then cross-country skiing at Bryce Canyon.

Related: Photographic Proof That Utah Is Just One Big Epic National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Round out your Utah trip with the iconic Zion National Park. Though one of the most visited national parks, December through March is the slow season for Zion, which means you might get the popular Narrows trail to yourselves.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas past at LBJ state and national parks

Visit President Lyndon B. Johnson’s boyhood home in Johnson City and a historic living farm in Stonewall to experience holiday traditions of the early 20th century.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the LBJ National Historical Park, the staff decks the halls of the home where Johnson grew up with cedar boughs and berries, a cedar tree, and homemade ornaments. In conjunction with Johnson City’s community celebration of “Lights Spectacular,” the LBJ Boyhood Home will be open for lamplight tours each Saturday from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on November 27 and December 4, 11, and 18. The home is located at 200 E. Elm St. in Johnson City.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The LBJ State Park and Historic Site’s Sauer-Beckmann Farm, 501 Park Road 52 in Stonewall, is just a few miles away and depicts Christmas during the time of World War I. At the farm’s annual Deck the Halls event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, November 27, volunteers help decorate by stringing popcorn, icing Christmas cookies, and dipping candles during the event.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Staff continues decorations in the following days until they are complete, around the time of the annual LBJ Tree Lighting, which is at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, December 19, at the park’s headquarters, 199 Park Road 52 in Stonewall.

The farm is open for tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and the last Tuesday of every month. The park itself is open until dark.

Related: Monumental Road Trips to Take This Winter

Johnson’s family moved from a farm in Stonewall much like the Sauer-Beckmann Farm into the Johnson City home when he was 5 years old. He lived there until his graduation from high school in 1924.

LBJ Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Johnson family farm is part of the LBJ National Historical Park which includes what became known as the Texas White House during Johnson’s presidency. The house itself is closed due to structural concerns but the LBJ driving tour is still available. The Hangar Visitor Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Park grounds in both Johnson City and Stonewall are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country Christmas

Cajun Country in Louisiana celebrates the holidays just like the rest of the nation however they like to throw in some Cajun holiday traditions that make for a merry ol’ time!

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette rings of zydeco beats throughout the holiday season at their annual Cajun & Creole Christmas Celebrations. The celebrations include everything from Christmas markets, concerts, local eats, holiday window displays, caroling, and a Movies in the Parc season finale.

You’ll want to check out Noel Acadien au Village in Lafayette to view more than 500,000 lights illuminating the night, lighted displays, carnival rides, local cuisine, and photos with Santa.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic living history village of Vermilionville hosts Old Time Winter at Vermilionville, an event where families can see what winter traditions in the Cajun Country of yesteryear looked like. Meet Papa Noël, decorate cookies, and make bousillage ornaments. Watch Vermilionville’s artisans as they demonstrate winter traditions of the Acadian, Creole, and Native American cultures such as open-hearth cooking and making candles, soap, and natural decorations.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, every Christmas season, on the Mississippi River levees above Highways 44 and 18, dozens of log structures are built for an enormous display of bonfires. Though traditionally these log piles are built to resemble narrow pyramids, local residents who build them get creative—elaborate log cabins, trains, or swamp creatures. Fires are set on Christmas Eve in an absolutely breathtaking display.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holly Jolly Jekyll

From twinkling holiday lights to visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for a holiday season you’ll never forget. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. Purchase tickets online for the guided tram tours that take place on select nights. Trolley riders will enjoy festive holiday beverages, music, and a one-of-a-kind tour souvenir.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

Related: End 2020 on a High Note with these Travel Ideas

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s nothing like dazzling holiday lights to get you in the spirit of the season and Jekyll has nearly a million lights that set the island aglow.  Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or climb into an old-fashioned, horse-drawn carriage for a Christmas Carriage Light Tour through the Historic District, listening to relaxing music all along the way.

Worth Pondering…

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!

―Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

10 Amazing Places to RV in December

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in December

December is a popular time to travel, whether for a getaway before the holidays, a road trip to seasonal markets, or simply a city escape combined with some shopping for presents.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This month we’ve chosen to share an old-fashioned Christmas, two Sonoran Desert state parks, and a Cajun Christmas that just might give you the winter wonderland experience you need! Take a look and then plan a trip to one (or all) of these amazing destinations!

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September, October, and November. Also, check out my recommendations from December 2020.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home Hosts an Old-Fashioned Christmas

Guides in Victorian hoop skirts and gentlemen in tailcoats sing the song “My Old Kentucky Home,” on your tour of Kentucky’s most famous landmark decorated for Christmas, My Old Kentucky Home! The mansion is adorned and decorated with six beautiful 12-foot tall Christmas trees each with a unique Kentucky theme.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Learn the origins of the Christmas tree, how mistletoe became famous for exchanging kisses, the tradition of the yule log, the history of the Christmas pickle, the legends of Father Christmas and Santa Claus.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you move forward to each room, experience a different era of Christmas starting from colonial times, the early and late Victorian periods, all the way to the roaring 20s when the mansion was last owned by the Rowan family. Tours are on the hour and the last tour begins at 4:00 p.m.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Holly Jolly Jekyll

From twinkling holiday lights to magical visits with Santa, escape to the coastal community of Jekyll Island on Georgia’s Golden Isles for an enchanted holiday season. You’ll find plenty of fun things to do, exciting celebrations, and hands-on experiences for everyone in the family.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set among the Golden Isles, Jekyll Island was settled in 1733 as the Georgia Colony and was later known as the playground for the rich and famous. The Federal Reserve System was planned at the Jekyll Island Club which was also the site of the first transcontinental phone call. Club Members included such prominent figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, Marshall Field, and William Rockefeller. In 1904, Munsey’s Magazine called the Jekyll Island Club “the richest, the most exclusive, the most inaccessible club in the world.”

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The island is home to more than half a million lights during the Holly Jolly Jekyll season. The Great Tree alone has more than 35,000 which is more per square foot than the New York City Rockefeller Center Christmas tree!

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan to attend the light parade on December 4, holiday fireworks on December 11 and 18, and a special drive-in movie presentation of Frosty the Snowman on December 12 and 19, 2021.

See holiday lights from November 26, 2021, through to January 2, 2022.

Jekyll Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hop aboard Jekyll’s jolliest trolley with Holly Jolly Light Tours. The whole family can sit back, relax, and view festive displays from Beach Village to the Historic District. Along the way, sip on seasonal beverages and sing along to iconic carols and tunes.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon, Arizona

Looking for a place to get outdoors that offers easy and challenging trails? Sabino Canyon is that place. On the northeast edge of Tucson, Sabino Canyon offers a variety of terrain including a paved path for the lighter option or miles of rugged ground to explore.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the eastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range, Sabino Canyon is a world of natural beauty. Stunning vistas, the freshness of the morning air, the tranquility of running creek water, and the rugged backdrop of Thimble Peak make this place so unique.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the rainy season, some trails will have you sloshing through creeks. But if you’re looking for something easy on the feet, there’s always the option of riding the narrated, educational tram tour, which affords visitors a close-up of the stunning canyon views.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home of the Manatee

Crystal River and Florida’s Citrus County, located on the Gulf of Mexico, are an easy drive from Orlando and Tampa yet a world away from Florida’s busy theme parks and beaches. This is Florida in its natural state and nothing quite defines the natural wonders of Florida like the manatee. Crystal River and Homosassa are among the only places in the world where you can swim with manatees in their natural habitat.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More manatees gather in the waters of Crystal River and nearby Homosassa than anywhere else in Florida giving it the name The Manatee Capital of the World. As many as 1,000 manatees—one-sixth of Florida’s manatee population—shelter in the 73 degree clear springs here each winter.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Swim with Manatee Tours and “Dry” tours—tours where you don’t get in the water—get you close to these amazing mammals on the water while Three Sisters Springs Refuge and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park provide an amazing up-close view from land.

Manatee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three Sisters Springs is a preferred refuge of wintering manatees during Manatee Season (November 15 to March 31) with a record 528 manatees recorded on December 27, 2014. A boardwalk circling this one-acre springs complex allows for incredible views. The 57-acre site also features restored wetlands that attract birds and other wildlife.

Homosassa Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manatees can be seen year-round at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park dedicated to Florida’s native wildlife. See manatees, Florida panthers, American alligators and crocodiles, and many other species of birds, reptiles, and mammals at this amazing Park centered around beautiful Homosassa Spring. An underwater observatory called “The Fish Bowl” presents an incredible underwater spectacle of manatees and swirling schools of fish.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg: Grand Illumination

Williamsburg will have holiday lights and decorations spread all over the city but a great place to get a walking tour filled with seasonal touches is to head to Colonial Williamsburg’s Dukes of Gloucester Street. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of what Franklin D. Roosevelt described as “the most historic avenue in all America.” This historic attraction serves festive treats at their colonial-era restaurants including warm spiced cider. The stately colonial homes are decked out in traditional holiday touches such as fresh greenery and fruit.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to classic decorations, Colonial Williamsburg hosts several historic seasonal events. Their biggest event, the Grand Illumination, celebrates the holiday season on three weekends, December 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19. Yuletide entertainment will include favorite holiday traditions as well as new additions to the festivities.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On Friday evenings, join the new Procession of the Yule Log and enjoy holiday songs and stories on Market Square. Saturday evenings will include a dramatic presentation of an original holiday story, music, and appearance by Father Christmas, culminating in simultaneous Grand Illumination fireworks displays over the Governor’s Palace and Capitol building.

Lost Dutchman and the Superstition Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman

This Phoenix-metro adjacent park sits at the base of the fabled Superstition Mountains and offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation possibilities. Hike to your heart’s content into the wilderness, or kick back in a spacious campground and take in the picturesque views. The potential for an unforgettable outdoor experience is high here…Plan a trip this winter and see for yourself!

Related: Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park

Entering the enchanting Okefenokee Swamp—one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders—through Stephen C. Foster State Park presents an incredible display of diverse wildlife, unique scenic views, and rousing outdoor adventure. Canoeing or kayaking through the swamp is the park’s main attraction.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s an otherworldly experience gliding through the reflections of Spanish moss dangling from the trees above. Turtles, deer, wood storks, herons, and black bears are a few of the countless creatures you may see here but the most frequent sighting is the American Alligator. Nearly 12,000 are estimated to live in the area.

Daytime, nighttime, and sunset guided boat tours of the swamp are available and you can rent canoes, kayaks, or Jon boats at the park office.

Stephen C. Foster State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stephen C. Foster State Park is Georgia’s first International Dark Sky Park. So you can gaze up at the stars and see the Milky Way with minimal light interference. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a meteor dashing across the sky. The park offers 66 RV and tent campsites as well as nine two-bedroom cottages that can hold 6 to 8 people. Stays at the Suwannee River Eco-Lodge are also popular, with full kitchen cottages that have screened porches and beautiful views of the forest. 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Tucson’s answer to a metro-adjacent park experience is Catalina State Park. It’s so easy to enjoy the desert beauty here for a day, or even more, after booking a spot in the campground! Pick a trail and start exploring…There are plenty of options for beginning and experienced hikers to find adventure within this Sonoran Desert icon. Winter months bring a ton of migratory birds to Catalina and recently this park was internationally recognized as an Important Birding Area!

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country Christmas

Cajun Country in Louisiana celebrates the holidays just like the rest of the nation however they like to throw in some Cajun holiday traditions that make for a merry ol’ time!

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lafayette rings of zydeco beats throughout the holiday season at their annual Cajun & Creole Christmas Celebrations. The celebrations include everything from Christmas markets, concerts, local eats, holiday window displays, caroling, and a Movies in the Parc season finale.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll want to check out Noel Acadien au Village in Lafayette to view more than 500,000 lights illuminating the night, lighted displays, carnival rides, local cuisine, and photos with Santa.

Cajun Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The historic living history village of Vermilionville hosts Old Time Winter at Vermilionville, an event where families can see what winter traditions in the Cajun Country of yesteryear looked like. Meet Papa Noël, decorate cookies, and make bousillage ornaments.

Related: Cool-As-Hell Louisiana Towns You Need to Visit (Besides New Orleans)

Watch Vermilionville’s artisans as they demonstrate winter traditions of the Acadian, Creole, and Native American cultures such as open-hearth cooking and making candles, soap, and natural decorations.

SAvannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah

Head to Savannah—Georgia’s first city, founded in 1733—and succumb to the Gothic charms (iron gates, massive, moss-covered oak trees) that have enchanted writers such as Flannery O’Connor and John Berendt (You can tour the sites made famous from his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, such as the Mercer Williams House and the Bonaventure Cemetery).

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend a few nights at CreekFire Motor Ranch, Savannah’s newest RV park, and take your time wandering this many-storied city. About 20 minutes west of downtown Savannah, you can have fun and excitement when you want it—and relaxation and solitude when you need it.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking a tour around Savannah in a horse-drawn carriage is a fun way to see the city. It’s one of the most popular Savannah tourist attractions. They also have a guide that will tell you about the unique landmarks and about all of the historic homes you pass.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you tack an additional 20 minutes onto your journey, you can check out laid-back Tybee Island with its tiny cottages, five miles of tidal beaches, the tallest lighthouse in Georgia, and camping at River’s End Campground.

Worth Pondering…

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

― T.S. Eliot

The Holiday Season Favorite Veggie: Sweet Potato or Yam?

A delicious discussion

We’re about to enter the hustle and bustle of the holiday season with Thanksgiving this weekend and Christmas right around the corner. When we think of these two holidays, the meal often shared with family is what comes to mind.

It’s turkey time! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The turkey, dressings, and cranberry sauce are the stars of these delicious holiday spreads but there is one sweet product that appears in several different courses especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. This one vegetable is a must-have for a traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner to be complete.

Lettuce for your Thanksgiving dinner salad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The vegetable I am speaking of is the sweet potato. Just mentioning it now does your mouth start to water thinking about the sweet potato casseroles, baked sweet potatoes, sweet potato pie, and candied sweet potatoes (not yams)? Yams have starchy flesh and a bark-type skin compared to the sweet potato with reddish-brown skin and moist sweet flesh.

What makes the sweet potato so unique during these holidays is how it can appear in so many different courses. The sweet potato can be used in bread, casseroles, pies—the list goes on with so many different delicious recipes to showcase the sweet potato. 

Wine for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But, shopping for sweet potatoes in some grocery stores can be a puzzling experience. These commonly seen orange tubers we know as sweet potatoes are occasionally labeled as yams.

Related: Thanksgiving & Staying Safe

You might be thinking, “But I see yams at my grocery store all the time”…and you’d be right that they’re labeled that way. But this label is deceiving.

Oranges for Thanksgiving © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can find sweet potatoes at just about any grocery store. However, in North America and Europe, you will only find true yams stocked at international and specialty markets.

Sweet potato or yam? That is the question.

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yams in the U.S. are actually sweet potatoes with a relatively moist texture and orange flesh. Yams and sweet potatoes are botanically unrelated. Yams are part of the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family, closely related to grasses and lilies, and originate in Asia and Africa. The edible roots vary in size from a half-pound to a record 130 pounds. There are over 600 varieties of yams and 95 percent of these crops are grown in Africa.

Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are from the Convolvulaceae or morning glory family. Their colors may be white, yellow, orange, reddish-orange, and even purple, both firm and soft varieties.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite the shared name, sweet potatoes are only distantly related to the potatoes used to make French fries or potato chips. Non-sweet potatoes (including red, white, and Yukon gold varieties) are part of the edible nightshade family. Other members include tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, peppers, pimentos, and Goji berries.

Aside from growing similarly and looking alike, sweet potatoes and yams are often confused as the same vegetable. A true yam is a starchy edible root and imported to America from the Caribbean or Africa. Unfortunately, I can find none that are produced in North America.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner (?) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the origin of the sweet potatoes has never been determined, many botanists think they originated in South America. The earliest cultivation records of the sweet potato date to 750 BCE (BC) in Peru although archeological evidence shows cultivation of the sweet potato might have begun around 2500-1850 BCE.  By the time Christopher Columbus arrived in the ‘New World’ in the late 15th century, sweet potatoes were well established as food plants in South and Central America.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Columbus brought sweet potatoes back to Spain, introducing them to the taste buds and gardens of Europe. Europeans referred to the sweet potato as the potato which often leads to confusion when searching for old sweet potato recipes. It wasn’t until after the 1740s that the term sweet potato began to be used by American colonists to distinguish it from the white (Irish) potato.

Related: Thanksgiving Road Trip: See the Best of Arizona in these 8 Places

The word yam is of West African origin. Two languages spoken there have similar versions of the word. In Fulani, the word is nyami and it means “to eat.”

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When colonists brought the sweet potato to North America, the Portuguese changed the word to inhame; the Spanish changed it to iñame; both are presumed derivations of the African words for yams due to their similar appearance. Its first usage in English was igname. By the mid-1600s, the English spelling had changed to y-a-m.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wherever and whenever they originated, and however they have traveled the globe, I’m incredibly thankful that most of us have sweet potatoes in our lives today especially as we approach Thanksgiving.

The yam is a major food source for millions of people in tropical and subtropical regions especially in West and Central Africa where at least 60 million people depend on it. More than 96 percent of the world’s production is grown in West Africa. However, 41 species of wild yams are becoming endangered and research is ongoing on how to preserve these essential plants.

Carrots for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to its latest publication, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, these species are principally those in the genus that are only found in Madagascar and southern Africa.

Yams are an important food in Madagascar. They are usually eaten boiled and provide an important source of carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, and a range of micronutrients. While cultivated varieties are available, much of Madagascar’s rural community opt for eating wild yams.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worldwide sweet potato production and consumption are huge. All around the world people eat and use this food, its plant leaves, and roots. With a vast array of uses, sweet potatoes are among the world’s most important food crops. Annually, more than 130,000,000 tons (that’s 260,000,000,000 pounds) are produced around the world.

Turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet potatoes are primarily grown in tropical to subtropical regions since they prefer a daytime temperature of 75 degrees and warm nights. Sweet potatoes rank among the world’s seven most important food crops (along with wheat, rice, maize, potato, barley, and cassava). In over 50 countries, it’s one of the top five food crops grown with China producing over 90 percent of the total.

Related: There Is No Winter like a Desert Winter in the Valley of the Sun

Asia’s crop is used for both human consumption and animal feed. Yearly, China uses over 60,000,000,000 pounds of plant leaves as feed for pig stocks.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South America, the sweet potato’s original home, produces about 4,000,000,000 pounds yearly. North America produces about 1,200,000,000 pounds yearly. The top producing locations in the United States are North Carolina, followed by California, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Significant numbers are grown in Texas, too.

Radishes for your Thanksgiving dinner salad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While most supermarkets carry one or two different types of sweet potatoes, about 25 varieties are available in the United States. And I was amazed to discover that this represents only a tiny fraction of the total diversity of sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato geeks of the world may be fascinated to know that the International Potato Center in Peru maintains a gene bank consisting of over 6,500 varieties of sweet potato. I don’t know about you, but personally, I wish I could try them all!

Wine for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet potato varieties range in color from dark red to brown to purple to orange-yellow to white. They also have different tastes, sizes, shapes, and textures.

Here are just a few of the most popular types of sweet potatoes:

Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard sweet potatoes have reddish-orange skin and deep orange flesh. These are often the ones masquerading as yams at mainstream grocery stores. Who knew sweet potatoes could be so sneaky?

Pies for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White sweet potatoes are crumbly with white flesh and golden brown skin. They don’t contain as many antioxidants as orange varieties.

Related: I’m Dreaming of a State Park Christmas…

Okinawan sweet potatoes are also known as purple sweet potatoes because of their high anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are the pigments that give red, blue, and violet plant foods their beautiful colors. Anthocyanins are also what give Okinawan potatoes 150 percent more antioxidant power than blueberries. Despite their name, Okinawan potatoes are actually native to the Americas. They were brought over to Japan sometime in the 16th century where they grow well and have become a staple in Japanese dishes. In North America, you will most likely find true purple sweet potatoes in an Asian supermarket.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Japanese or Satsumaimo sweet potatoes are known for being sweeter than most other types. This is especially true when they start caramelizing in the oven.

Sweet potatoes are high in fiber, vitamin C, potassium, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, and copper.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They get their orange color from beta-carotene, which is a pigment and antioxidant. Sweet potatoes also contain a modest but helpful amount of protein—around four grams per cup when cooked.

When compared to white potatoes, sweet potatoes offer more vitamins and antioxidants. Surprisingly, considering their sweeter taste, they also have a mildly lower glycemic index score. This makes them slower to digest.

Walnuts for Thanksgiving © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the greatest sweet potato nutritional glory of all may be its rich supply of vitamin A. A single sweet potato offers over double the daily value for vitamin A.

Next time you shop for sweet potatoes, here are a few things to keep in mind. When you pick one up, take a close look at its skin (no, you don’t have to pack your magnifying glass). It should all be mostly the same color without visible signs of decay or cracking. Give it a little squeeze. You don’t want your sweet potato to be squishy anywhere, as this could indicate rotting.

Food for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you get your sweet potatoes home, make them a nice place to rest in a basket on your countertop or pantry. You should keep them dry and cool (room temperature, not refrigerated).

Related: Fruitcake: National Joke or Tasty Christmas Tradition

Typically, you should use sweet potatoes within a few weeks of purchase.

Chile peppers for your Thanksgiving dinner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sweet potatoes are affordable, easy to use and store, and available in many parts of the world all year long. Sounds pretty sweet to me!

Worth Pondering…

I don’t think; therefore, I yam!

Top 8 Tips for Planning a Road Trip this Thanksgiving and throughout the Holiday Season

Tips to make sure you’re safe on the road this holiday season

The latest numbers are in and according to AAA, the 2021 holiday travel season is in rebound mode with 53.4 million people expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday alone! That’s the highest single-year increase in travelers since 2005.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, the vast majority of those, 72 percent, will travel by car or recreational vehicle. Yet some may travel in a vehicle that isn’t ready for an extended road trip. The last thing you want to deal with on a road trip is to be faced with trying to repair a broken-down vehicle in an unfamiliar town.

Going on a winter road trip requires a little more planning than a road trip during the warmer months. You’ll need to consider the route and RV parks as well as factors such as potential road closures or snowy conditions.

No worries—I’ve compiled eight winter road trip tips that will get you on the right track for your holiday getaway! 

Diamond Groove RV Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Choosing A Route

Choosing a destination is no doubt one of the most fun and most important parts of any trip! The route you’re taking to get there, meanwhile, can be just as vital—while the destination might also count, the journey can be just as memorable.

Camping at Quail Gate RV Park near Sierra Vista, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When planning a winter road trip, choosing a route can be even more vital. Even Interstates and well-traveled highways can experience closures due to weather conditions. Even if you’re escaping the cold to go somewhere warmer, you’ll likely need to travel in winter weather for at least part of your trip.

Related: Snowbird Essential: Planning Your North-South Travel Route

A couple of tips that can help: travel on major routes as much as possible especially when traveling in colder areas. While back roads and scenic routes can no doubt make for a memorable trip, they may also be less maintained in the winter and in some cases are closed to winter travel. They’re also traveled by fewer people meaning that if you should run into trouble, finding assistance could require a long wait.

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Consider Your Vehicle

For travelers planning to drive over Thanksgiving, here’s one thing to put at the top of your to-do list: making sure your vehicle is ready for a long trip.

Skipping that task could mean waiting a while on the side of the road before help comes.

AAA estimates 400,000 Americans will need roadside assistance during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The three most common issues are dead batteries, flat tires, and lockouts.

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most vehicle problems like these could be prevented with a pre-trip vehicle inspection. Before you hit the road this Thanksgiving, make sure to check everything from the battery to the tires. That could make the difference between spending Thanksgiving at the table or on the roadside.

Winter months can bring about all manner of difficult weather—rain, snow, ice, hail. When you’re planning a winter road trip, take into consideration the capabilities of the vehicle you’ll be taking when choosing a route. Cars with all-wheel or four-wheel drive may have an easier time driving in snowy conditions.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may be required to use winter tires (more commonly called “snow tires”) or to carry chains. Fitting a set of snow tires may be the best thing you can do to improve your safety margin and reduce your anxiety level on snow-covered roads. Proper winter tires provide far more traction in snow, slush, and ice than even the best set of all-season tires. Being aware of your vehicle’s capabilities will allow you to plan a trip that is both fun and safe! 

Diamond Groove RV Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Assemble a Winter Emergency Kit

If you’re traveling through any colder or snowy areas, you’ll need an emergency kit designed for cold weather. Your winter emergency kit should include basic survival supplies, safety items, car/RV maintenance tools, and winter clothing. These items will help you stay comfortable and hydrated if you ever get stuck on the side of the road or have to wait out a storm.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your general emergency kit supplies should include a first aid kit as well as supplies geared towards cold weather. Emergency blankets, for example, don’t take up much space to pack and can be incredibly helpful in staying warm should you be stranded. Other things to consider packing include flashlights and extra fresh batteries, snow shovel, cat litter (or sand), ice scraper, snow brush, triangular caution signs, jumper cables, toolkit, duct tape, smartphone charger, drinking water, non-perishable snacks for people and pets, paper towels, and gloves. 

Related: Prepping For Snowbird Travel

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Check Road Conditions Frequently

Related to the above tip—road conditions can change rapidly during winter. A clear road one day may experience snow or freezing rain overnight. Because of this, it’s a good idea to check road conditions as frequently as possible. Referencing closures from previous years when planning your route can also add an additional layer of assurance to your road trip.

Finally, check out what sources you can rely on for updates for the route you’re taking before you head out. This way, you won’t need to find a weather station on your radio or app for your smartphone while on the road. 

Angel Lake RV Park, Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Schedule Extra Time

This is a good idea for road trips any time of the year. Planning some extra time will create a helpful safety net should anything unexpected arise. Because there are several additional factors to consider in the winter such as potential snowfall or road closures, this becomes even more crucial when traveling in winter. Consider adding a few hours to your plan each day. Worst case scenario—everything does go according to plan and you end up with some extra time to explore a stop or enjoy your destination. 

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Have a Backup Plan

Most likely you’ll arrive at your destination with only minor setbacks if any. In the event that a setback delays your journey a backup plan will help ensure you still have a good trip, even if it’s not what you originally planned. Consider cancellation policies when booking an RV park or other lodging as well as the potential for extending your stay if weather or road conditions require it. Also, consider an alternative route as well some activities or stops along this route.

Related: The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. On Packing

Packing for any trip can be difficult! There’s always the question of what to bring. While you have some more freedom packing for a road trip over a plane trip, it’s still important to pack efficiently. For a winter road trip, this means that you’ll want to keep cold-weather clothes easily accessible. The last thing you’ll want to have to do is unpack a full suitcase to find a pair of gloves at the bottom.

Consider bringing a bag or bin for shoes/outerwear as well. If you’ve been walking through snow or slush, this is a great way to make sure any runoff won’t result in a puddle on your car or RV floor. Finally, make sure to bring a blanket or two to stay cozy on the trip. 

Camping in the snow © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Winter Driving Tips

The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all if you can avoid it. Don’t go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work and allow extra time to reach your destination.
If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your vehicle is prepared and that you know how to handle road conditions. Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop.

Camping at Quail Gate RV Resort near Sierra Vista, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use low gears to maintain traction, especially on hills. Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads. Don’t pass snow plows or sanding trucks (and never, never on the right).

Related: Handling Cold Weather in Your RV

Keep your lights and windshield clean. Replace windshield wiper blades. Make sure your windshield washer system works and is full of an anti-icing fluid. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists. Brake gently to avoid skidding. Learn how to get maximum efficiency from your brakes before you need them in an emergency situation.

Camping at Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch carefully for black ice. If the road looks slick, it probably is. Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses, and infrequently traveled roads as these will freeze first.

Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads. 

Worth Pondering…

And finally, Winter, with its bitin’, whinin’ wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow.

—Roy Bean