Monday, February 27, 2012

Nearing our 1 yr anniversary, thoughts from the lady of the house…


Rainy day here in Bushnell, Florida so it was a great day to do taxes. We are even going to get a refund for the first time in a long time. I guess it pays to be poor… :)

We are also just a few days from our one year anniversary of full timing in our RV so to kick things off Sharon has contributed her thoughts about what it has been like living this dream…

2011-11-20 Stuart Florida Musical 001Our full-timer adventure began March 2, 2011 and yet it seems like yesterday when John drove the RV to our front door in College Station taking my breath away.  Once it rolled up to the front door it seemed so gigantic that I began to second guess our ability to tame this beast.  It certainly helped that we had only a few days to get to our daughter’s collegiate softball tournament.  That all- encompassing desire to be at each and every game of her senior year trumped my usual reluctance and fearfulness (even after realizing I would have to drive behind in the tow vehicle since we were missing a crucial towing part). 

After softball, we traveled south to the Florida Keys, then all the way up the Northeast Coastline, back to North Carolina for a short return visit with our daughter and then four months wintering in South Florida.  The scenery in the Keys, Vermont, Maine and Cape Cod all brought tears of joy from experiencing sheer gorgeousness. (We enjoy the countryside whizzing by side by side, now that we have all the parts and can tow the car). I really love sitting next to him in the cockpit!  The enormousness of the bus still gives me pause on mountain roads, bridges and tunnels. I also feel a little stressed on moving 2011-11-20 Stuart Florida Musical 014days, however the freedom afforded us this past year makes me love this lifestyle more and more each day.  We have no schedule and no set itinerary.I look forward to waking up and sharing every day with John exploring our new locations. 

The view outside our dinner table window is different every week or two.  How fun is that?  The simple things are also very joyful such as washing dishes by hand, everything having its place, planning and cooking meals together, as well as our daily walks or bike rides.  Mostly I love reflecting on our day and laughing with John.  I realize now that former lives kept us much too busy to really enjoy each other. We have become a solid team.  It makes me very happy.

So what are the challenges? Sometimes we are a little careless.  We have lost or broken our sun and eyeglasses, we have left behind things at campgrounds such as our double faucet attachment, our 30 to 50 amp converter and somehow lost a part to the brake buddy (yes, we have checklists and still imagethese things happen).  Another challenge is too much togetherness. Our adjustment to this came naturally since I get “me” time late at night after John goes to bed and his “me” time is while I sleep later than he.  Another challenge is living within our budget. I am highly motivated to stay within the budget because I do not want to have to go back to work., Therefore, I figured out how to do my own mani-pedis, John learned from my hairdresser how to color my hair, we get haircuts at cosmetology schools, we have our dental cleanings at dental hygiene schools, and consolidated our medical visits to one facility (the Mayo Clinic). The budget also makes finding a site much more difficult.  We underestimated campground fees because in some locations, the site fees equal what we would have paid for a hotel!  It can be really frustrating and tedious to find a place to land especially in destination locations,but yet we have managed.

The last adjustment was time away from my kids and grandkids, especially during holidays.  I am discovering, however,that I am not seeing them any less than when back at home.  In fact had we stayed back in our home I know I would miss them just as much and possibly interfering in their lives much more.  Instead we are living full, interesting lives and have exciting experiences to share with them when we do see them.  Plus, with Facebook, smart phones, Skype, email, etc.,  I feel quite connected.  John reminds me this is as it should be.  We are, after all, meant to raise them to lead happy, independent lives.

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In conclusion, despite my fear of mountain roads, finding the right place to stay, careless mistakes, and time away from family, I am living a life with my soul mate that feels to me like a vacation each and every day…

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sarasota, Bradenton, and now just chilling in Bushnell, Florida…

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2012-02-23 Lake Manatee State Park FL 037 copyWe left Lake Manatee State Park after only a two day stay. I really wanted to stay longer in the area but couldn’t find an affordable park for a short term. We really enjoyed our secluded site in the state park and it was close to all the beaches in Sarasota and Bradenton, Florida.

2012-02-23 Lake Manatee State Park FL 042Our last day at Lake Manatee State Park was enjoyable as we took a driver over to Sarasota and Bradenton. Sarasota reminded me a bit of Naples, Florida as it was a larger more populous city with lots of shopping and bistros along the sidewalks. From Sarasota we made the drive over to the keys just off shore to check out the a few of the area beaches.

2012-02-23 Lake Manatee State Park FL 046We took 789 over to Lido Key and headed north taking in all the sights until we got to Coquina Beach on Longboat Key. The beach is fairly wide and stretches along the entire length of the Key. The beach was pretty crowded for a Thursday but it was warm and the surf was a moderate chop making for a pleasant beach stay.

Further north on 789 we stopped in at Holmes Beach which is even wider than Coquina and even more crowded. After walking along the shore people watching we had enough as there were tons of young kids on the beach. It was interesting to see a couple of Pentecostals at the beach in the normal garb rather than swimsuits.       

2012-02-23 Lake Manatee State Park FL 033We did see a nice pod of dolphins feeding in a cut just under a bridge. This was the same spot I caught several pinfish while trying my hand at fishing. I even caught a spider crab, a first for me… I  tried to throw it back but it kept coming ashore and the tourists kept playing with the ugly looking crab. We stayed and watched the dolphins frolicking in the sea until it was time to go.

The next morning we left the state park and landed at Red Oak RV park in Bushnell, Florida. We arrived here and set up camp in site 347, a nice large, open site with three big live oaks on it. The park is huge and mostly park models but there are still probably over 100 RV sites mixed in. We got here and the temperature was 84 but the next morning we were greeted to the mid fifties. It will be chilly and gray during our stay here for the next three days. Next it will be off to Jacksonville, Florida for another visit to the Mayo Clinic before turning westward…2012-02-23 Lake Manatee State Park FL 040

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lake Manatee State Park and snafus…

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After saying our goodbyes to our new found friends, we left Seminole Campground and headed north on Interstate 75.  I was a bit reluctant to leave as there seemed to be omens telling us that maybe we should stay. It started with the morning coffee as I was cleaning Sharon’s favorite coffee mug the handle just broke off into my hand… Next I went outside to check the air in the tires on the motorhome and couldn’t find my 120 psi tire gauge anywhere.

2012-02-20 Lake Manatee State Park 675So I borrowed one from our neighbors and topped off the tires. After we got the RV road ready I went to start the motorhome and it just wouldn’t start.So I fired up the generator while trying to figure things out. I gave the RV several more tries and was about to give up when it started… Yea!!!     We made our way out of the park and got on the highway. Then I noticed the check engine light and noted a code. The code suggested we were low on coolant as I could best determine so we decided to continued on because the gauges looked find and I could take care of coolant at the campground. 

imageAlmost directly after the coolant fiasco a car in the left lane ahead of us somehow veered off the road. Then the driver over-corrected and skidded around with tires smoking before righting himself in his lane.

Next we arrived at Lake Manatee State Park and as we were setting up  we realized we couldn’t find our 50 amp to 30 amp converter... Sigh!!! I went on the internet and after a few calls located an RV dealer within 17 miles that had one. So $24.00 later we were finally hooked up and settled in.

2012-02-20 Lake Manatee State Park 679Now about the park! Lake Manatee State Park is just outside of Bradenton, Florida and is close to Sarasota as well so it offers us ample opportunity to explore the beaches in this part of Florida… which we will do today! The park has very roomy sites that are mostly screened by small oaks and tall palmettos between them. We are in site 47 in loop two. If we come back we would try to get on the outer side of either loop facing the lake.

Today has started off better as we had our morning coffees and I even got in a 45 minute mountain bike ride on the trails in the park. Now it is time for some chili omelets for breakfast and then it will off to the beaches…

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Our first winter in Florida… a review…

Great Blue Heron

2012-02-01 Seminole Campground area 002Today is our last day in North Fort Myers, Florida here in Seminole Campground. We have had a great time during our stay here in South Florida. Our first stay was for a week at Siesta Bay RV Resort in Fort Meyers, then a month stay at Bonita Lakes RV Resort in Bonita Springs, then we had a couple of stays down at Key West, and finally we stayed a month at Seminole Campground.

We first entered the state of Florida back at the first of November 2011 when we Key West and Shark Valley 022went to visit the Mayo Clinic for our annual physicals. We have been in this state for nearly four months, by far the most time spent in any one state so far. So what did we think about our first winter in our RV in South Florida?

We have really enjoyed our time in Florida and it has been a blast to be able to practically circumnavigate the coastline of Florida. The birds and wildlife in Florida are abundant and the Everglades are made for the naturalist photographer. Some highlights to us in Florida in no particular order are:

  1. Untitled-3 copyShark Valley in the Everglades National Park
  2. Bicycling to Bunche Beach from Siesta Bay RV Resort
  3. Watching the sunset at Captiva Island
  4. The drive through Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
  5. The beaches at Bonita Springs
  6. The farmers markets in Florida
  7. Buffalo Chips and Hog Body’s Bar and Grills
  8. Listening to the Blues at the Buckingham Bar and Grill
  9. All the nice walks we had in the various Lee County Parks
  10. All the nice people we met while staying at the various parks
  11. The efficiency and professionalism of the Mayo Clinic
  12. Everything in and around Key West

2012-01-29 Lee County Parks 0072012-01-09 Keys Bike Ride 001Will will spend winter in south Florida again? Probably yes, but next year we plan to winter in the southwest at a site to be determined later. Technically tomorrow we begin our slow journey out west to see the other side of the USA… Our next stop will be at Lake Manatee State Park near Bradenton, Florida.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Repairing our window shades…

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As many RV’ers can attest; if you own day/night shades they will eventually fail. And when one or more of the strings break they don’t work very well. Well as fate would have it two of our window shades finally broke, one in the living room behind our couch, and the other was the largest window in our bedroom.

As another annoyance the venetian blind that covers our front door window’s string catch also broke. This small piece of specialized plastic that holds the string that keeps the blind pulled up and secure had broken before and all we did was super-glue it. We did this three times and when it broke the fourth time I finally decided it was time to get a new one.

SnapsA trip to the nearby Camper’s World was in our future. As luck would have it they didn’t have the plastic piece I needed and suggested we try to order it from Tiffin Motorhomes. They did however have a restringing repair kit I purchased to repair our day/night shades.

Without the plastic piece I decided it best just to new hook installed improvise and found a old picture frame hanger that looked like it could work. Along with the use of a half of a replacement snap from our snap kit I was able to improvise and make a better mouse trap. The string that holds the mini blinds is now not as tight and thus easier to secure. The picture to the right shows the repair before it got some touchup paint.

Once I screwed in the new picture frame holder into the snap piece I had a string support for the blind that worked exquisitely better than our old one. Thought this tip might help others so here it is…

extenderPhilips head bitFeeling pretty smug about this repair I was finally ready to tackle the restringing of the day/night shades… Reading tons of web pages on how to perform such repairs I was pretty sure I could tackle this job as well… wrong!!! After several hours of simply trying to remove the blind from the valance or simply just removing the valance it was obvious I didn’t have the right tools.

A trip down to various hardware stores was made to purchase a 12” long Phillips screw bit for my power drill. This also turned out to be difficult and I finally had to settle for a six inch bit and a six inch extender. With these tools in hand removal of the valances was a whole lot easier even though I had to get a bit contorted to get to several of the screws inside the valance.

4 spring 4 strings shade diagramI removed the three screws on the top and the two on the sides of the valances. With the valances removed I had to remove several screws that were screwed in at an angle to hold the shade to the valance (which is why I was unable to simply remove the shades from the valance supports). With shades in hand and all the knowledge I gained from the web I was ready to restring the shades… Easy, right? Wrong!!!

After several failed attempts I got wise and contacted Don Boyd at Tiffin to see if they had a diagram for a shade with four springs and four strings. He sent me the one above (click to enlarge it) and when properly deciphered it actually worked. The picture of the diagram was confusing in that it appears to show the strings going diagonal in the top half of the night portion of the shade but they don’t. This is just a depiction showing that the strings on the outside go to the opposite inside part of the day portion of the shade. Once deciphered the restringing was a snap. I used a large needle after compressing the shades together and simply pushed the needle with the new string through and Shazam!!! The shades were repaired.

With the total cost of the stringing kit and the new bits at about $25.00 I was able to repair both blinds for $12.50 each. I still have enough string to repair a couple more when they break. The learning curve to repair these is pretty steep but once you figure it out, the repair of the next one can be done rather quickly. Hope this helps some other Tiffin owners out there in repairing their day/night shades.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A couple of nice day trips….

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2013-02-13 lee county parks 009With our time coming to a close here at Seminole Campground we found a few nice day trips spots we hadn’t visited yet. One is called Estero Bay Park Preserve State Park and the other is Manatee Park

Estero Bay Park Preserve State Park is the first aquatic preserve established in Florida along one of the most productive estuaries in the state. The preserve protects about 10 miles of Estero Bay and offers over ten miles of trails suitable for hiking  and biking. It is a great place to take a stroll and take in the variety of wildlife and native vegetation found in this preserve. There was no fee to enter this preserve.

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The only public entrance to the park is a bit tricky to find but if you can find Broadway off off Highway 41 (Tamiami Road) then turn west and drive nearly to the end of the road where you will see a Florida Power & Light substation. The entrance is just past it.

2013-02-13 lee county parks 002While looking for the park we were treated to the sighting of beautiful mature bald eagle soaring overhead. And just as we entered the preserve there was a nesting pair of gopher tortoises and one of their offspring was out and about. The vegetation of the uplands was mostly slash pines and live oaks which give way to the mangroves of the wetlands.

At the border between the wetlands and the uplands there is a swatch of land where many trees have died yet are still standing majestically in final defiance. These trees probably died due to salt water intrusion during one of the recent hurricanes that hit the Fort Myers area a few years ago.

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While the preserve is a great place for hiking and biking Manatee Park is a great place to see the manatees up close, especially just after a cold snap. There is a three dollar per car fee to park at the park but this nominal fee is well worth it for the opportunity to see hundreds of manatees lounging around in the power plant warmed discharge waters.

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At birth manatees weigh about 60-80 pounds but the adult manatee weighs nearly a half ton and is about 10 feet long. They are plant eating mammals that must surface to breathe air every three to five minutes. Manatees can live to be up to 60 years old.

Many think they are in the same family as the elephants however they are believed to have evolved from a wading, plant-eating animal. They are related to the elephant and the hyrax (a small, gopher-sized mammal). Manatees live in both fresh and salt water as their kidneys can filter their blood to control levels of salt and to maintain water balance.

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It is fun to sit and just watch the manatees slowly swimming around the warm waters. They have very small brains which is obvious once you see the small heads as compared to their large roundish bodies. They give off a bit of an orangish hue in these waters and Sharon thought they looked like a bunch of sweet potatoes in the water…

If in the North Fort Myers area these are two nice day trips worth your effort…

Monday, February 13, 2012

Blues Fest at Buckingham Bar…

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We made it back to Seminole Campground from Key West and we were planning to sit back and relax after our adventures in Key West. However, some friends we made here at the park, Pam and Vic, told us about a funky little tavern down the road a piece from us. After they described the place and then told us they were having a Blues Festival there on Saturday we were convinced that we would have to wait another day to  relax…

2012-02-11 Buckingham Blues Bar Bluesfest 014We looked on the internet to see what we could find out about this place called the Buckingham Blues Bar. The website claims that the Blues Bar is world famous and after reading the stories on the web about how the owner spent $80K to buy a run down bar,some surrounding property and converted it into what it is today.  It is now a funky bar with a beautiful outdoor patio/garden area where a good sized stage can host bands for a wonderful outdoor concert experience…

Less than 10 miles from the RV park this Blues Fest was a no-brainer event to attend… We grabbed our folding collapsible chairs, made the short drive to the bar, parked, and made our way to the gate to pay our $7 per person to enter. Now the bar is nothing special as it would always be classified as a dive bar but I say that in a good way since we both love dive bars more than the chains since the people you meet in them are sometimes way more interesting!!!

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We made our way out back where the music had just started and discovered a fun and energetic band named Diddley Squat getting down… The saxophonist was fabulous and made several forays into the audience to serenade several of the ladies in the crowd. Of the three bands that played this day, we felt they put on the best show.

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The next band looked to be a collection of many different musicians as several different musicians took turns at the mike to perform some of their favorites or some of the original works. There were a few pickers that could flat out strum their guitars and a thin elderly fellow that could play a mean trumpet… This cast of characters looked more like a group of people you might see at a redneck convention but they could play some jazz…

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The last band that we heard was called Harper and wasn’t really a blues band but featured an Australian who blended western music with aboriginal music giving it  a unique sound. A cold front had just unfortunately made its way into this part of Florida and we didn’t stay too long to hear much of this unique music. Harper could play a mean harmonica and would make the drone of the digeridoo go right to your core…

2012-02-11 Buckingham Blues Bar Bluesfest 005I first heard the digeridoo in my travels to Antarctica and New Zealand in 1999 and later on when Sharon and I traveled to Australia just before we retired. The sound that this instrument makes is a unique a sound as you will hear. If you have never heard the instrument played before do so and you will know exactly what I mean.

So if you are ever in this area you really need to check out the World Famous Buckingham Blues Bar. Why, they even have a beer drinking mule named Bucky but if you want to see Bucky partake in an adult beverage you will need to buy an Amber Bock since that is apparently the only beer Bucky drinks…

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Another visit to Shark Valley…

On our way back from Key West we just had to stop at one of our favorite spots in all of Florida for viewing critters… Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. Since we have already talked about this park in a previous post we offer some more photos… Remember all photos can be enlarged by mouse clicking on them.

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Purple Gallinule – notice the stilt like legs and wide feet designed for walking on lily pads…

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American Alligator amongst the lily pads. Yes they hide well don’t they…

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It must be spring in south Florida. Mama Anhinga on her nest…

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Notice the legs and feet on these two birds as they are some times confused. The bird on left with the yellow feet and black legs is the Snowy Egret whereas the bird on the right with the greenish/yellow legs is an immature Little Blue Heron. Also a tell tale sign of the Little Blue Heron is the black tip on the beak.

Key West and Shark Valley 018Look closely at this Red Eared Turtle and it looks like he/she is trying to say “Man I wish I hadn’t eaten such a large fish.

It appears as if the turtle is trying to push something down its throat…

This month must have been the time when the gator eggs were hatching since there were baby Alligators everywhere…

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Key West and Shark Valley 032The mother gator of some nearby babies took notice when some tourists got a wee bit too close. As the babies began to make grunting sounds to alert their mother that they were in danger she swam towards them very quickly, lifted her head out of the water, made a loud hiss and then opened her mouth and snapped it shut very loudly sending the scared tourists scampering away very fast… I think they may have had to change their shorts after that…

Key West and Shark Valley 035There were lots of birds out sunning including the Anhingas. Some call them snake birds due to the way they swim in the water with just their neck sticking above the surface – very snakelike!

We love their colorful eyes and the way they span their wings to dry them for the next outing...

Key West and Shark Valley 024The wind picked up and the plumes of the egrets were being blown around making for some Key West and Shark Valley 045interesting photos such as this beautiful white Great Egret.

The wind didn’t seem to bother the coot like Common Gallinules with the very showy protrusion of their red beak.

The plumes of the Great Blue Heron and the greyish blue color of this bird made for a striking contrast with the reddish tips of the new growth of the nearby plants.

Key West and Shark Valley 009The last photo we leave is a shot of an American Alligator cruising through the lily pads and cat tails. This unaltered shot provided for an eerie artistic rendition of  a gator in the wild…Key West and Shark Valley 029