Friday, January 31, 2014

It's Been an Interesting Month ... Well, Many Months!

Hi! It's been a while, hasn't it? That's life! We've been a lot of places since June, 2013, and had lots of fun, seen some amazing places and lots of friends, and made some new ones.

Hey, did you catch the change of name of the blog? I thought I would update the name and suggest that this is a new start ... and see if I can do a better job of keeping things up to date. "Retired, RVing, and Rambling" (the old name) still fits but I want to move beyond that and convey the idea of a new start. The new name, Two For(e)Traveling is a play on words about our current RV, a 1996 Foretravel U295. I told you about that in the last post you got to see from June of 2013.

I'm not going to try to catch up on all that has happened since I last wrote. I've tried to do that twice and two computer mishaps have lost all of that writing. For the technologically knowledgeable, Blogger does not automatically save what you are writing, like word processing programs do, and someone (that would be me, wouldn't it) did not save all that he had written and managed to lose it. Live and learn. But why did it take doing it twice to learn? Some of us learn more slowly than others. By the way, I'm saving this version as I write so it won't get lost and you'll get to see it!

Maybe sometime I'll try to recreate the story of the last seven months. It includes all sorts of adventures, most of them fun with a little bit of stress thrown in through having to get an engine rebuilt (that is a story worth telling and I'll try to back up and do that sometime). Anyway, between June 9 and today, we went from Oklahoma to Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Indiana, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and then to Florida. Several of those states were visited more than once as we moved around and some states we simply drove through on the way from one place to another. In other words, we did a bit of traveling.

Highlights of these months included extended stays in the Badlands of SD, Yellowstone Park, the Grand Tetons, several weeks in Wisconsin, and a visit with Vini and Krista in West Virginia.  We also got to see the falls and gorges of the Jocassee Gorges area of North and South Carolina, and had three-weeks stays at Ocean Canyon resorts in Georgia, north Alabama, and south Alabama before moving on to Florida. We did get to visit with brother Ransom and his wife, Helen, for Christmas in a repeat of last year's schedule.
 Right now, we're in Cedar Key, Florida, at the Sunset Isle RV Park and Motel where we've been for the whole month of January. We'll be leaving here tomorrow to head south toward Fiesta Key RV Resort on Long Key. Just to be clear, Cedar Key is in northern Florida on the Nature Coast (the west or Gulf coast of Florida) and Long Key is in southern Florida in THE Keys.

As I said, we spent the month of January, 2014, here in Cedar Key, just as we did in January, 2013. This time, it was a cold month and we did not have nearly as much outdoor fun as last year. We really only had one good hot day and a few (very few) warm ones. On the warm day, we did get to go kayaking with some friends on the Chassahowitzka River in the National Wildlife Refuge.

I hope this is enough of a teaser to leave you wanting to check back in with us. I'll try to write more about our westward ho trip and our time in Cedar Key SOON!

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Catching Up and Moving On

The last time I wrote anything was MARCH 9 and here it is JUNE 9! A full three months have passed and a whole lot has happened, all of it good. Some even great! The last time I wrote we were in Georgia and today we are in Oklahoma. In between, we've been in Alabama, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Texas, Arkansas, Illinois, and Missouri. How's that for moving around?

Some of you probably thought I gave up on this blog. Uh uh. No way. I didn't. I just got distracted. That can happen quite easily, you know, when you are ADD and I know I definitely am!

There is no way I can catch up on everything that has transpired over the three months of my silence. I'd be writing for days and covering many pages to tell the full story. The best I can do is to give you a quick summary of our life in (and out of) the RV.

After stopping Georgia (mentioned in the post three months ago), we went up to north Alabama and stayed some ten days at the Mountain Lakes Resort on Guntersville Lake. Despite rain and cold, a good time was had. We got to visit some AL cousins and to visit some places of my AL family background (My dad was from Bridgeport, AL, and I visited Bridgeport and Scottsboro many times as a youth and a few times as an adult.)

From N. AL, we drove to Murfreesboro, TN, where cousin Janet and her husband, Doris, graciously let us driveway surf next to their "Garage Mahal". They provide us with electricity, water, and a bathroom with a nice shower. We couldn't ask for more!

We left the car in Murfreesboro and drove the car to Wisconsin to take care of visits to doctors, cpa (for taxes) financial advisor, friends and family. Just in our honor, Wisconsin arranged for an 18" snowfall in Madison where we were safely ensconced in a hotel. Ah! Winter in WI! I don't miss it!

Returning to Murfreesboro, we visited family for several days and then headed out on the search for the RIGHT motor home for us (I'll say more about that later). The trip took us to Nacogdoches, TX, to Motorhomes of Texas where we looked at a Newell brand motor home formerly owned by the Olivers whom we met this past winter while camped at Cedar Key, FL. As it happened, this was not the coach for us but we were glad we went and looked.

We returned to Arkansas where we spent nearly three magnificent weeks getting acquainted with parts of this delightful state. We stayed in Daisy State Park, Lake Ouchita State Park (pronounced Wash-a-taw) whence we also visited historic Hot Springs (and the Hot Springs National Park) where we indulged ourselves in a GREAT hot bath followed by a massage at the Buckstaff Bath House (if you go to Hot Springs, you HAVE to have the spa experience).

We also visited the edge of the Old West by going to Fort Smith, AR, where they advertise "our bordello still serves visitors" (it's the visitor's center for the city). We stayed at Springhill Corps of Engineers campground, toured the old fort, and, of course, checked out Miss Laura's Social Club, aka the visitor's center.

Finally, in Arkansas we went to Eureka Springs and had a delightful time in this charming town. It is historic and well preserved since all of the downtown is on the National Historic Register and has to be maintained as is. We stayed at the Wanderlust RV Park which I thought was an appropriate place given our recent travels.

While we were in Eureka Springs, The American Red Cross called and wanted to deploy us for disaster relief operations in the Peoria, IL, floods. Unfortunately, Mary had already scheduled some appointments and engagements in WI so she couldn't accept the deployment (and drove from Peoria to WI). I (Forrest) did accept the deployment and spent two weeks working in Logistics, Procurement and Supply, for the Peoria, IL, DRO (Disaster Relief Operation). Now that was an interesting, educational, and invaluable experience!

In front of my "home" with Dave, my Logistics supervisor in Peoria
This was my first deployment as a DOVE, Disaster Operations Volunteer, Escapees (Escapees is a national RV club to which we belong and DOVEs are a subset of the Escapees). That meant that for two weeks I lived in my motor home parked in the Peoria American Red Cross chapter parking lot and walked 50 feet to get to my work station for Logistics.

After finishing the ARC deployment in Peoria (Mary came back on my last full day there), we headed for Branson, MO, where we spent 10 enjoyable days. During this time, we enjoyed the sights and sounds of Branson. We took in several good shows and enjoyed being tourists in this very tourist-oriented city. For the last few days of our stay, we got to enjoy the companionship of brother, Ransom, and his dear wife, Helen, who had come to town for a few days. Actually, they were the reason we went to Branson. We learned they were headed there the last full week of May and decided to be there when they were there.

From Branson, we headed back to Murfreesboro and cousin Janet's driveway where we stayed for a week. While there, we attended the annual Shelton Cemetery Memorial Gathering. It's held on the fourth Sunday of every May. We also got to visit cousins from TN and AL. Thanks, once again, Janet and Doris, for allowing us to park in your driveway and use your utilities. It is a perfect base for our Tennessee visits and you are such gracious and generous hosts! We'll be back (if you'll have us)!

After Murfreesboro, we headed out once more on the quest for the RIGHT coach. This time we were bound for Sapulpa, OK, near Tulsa, where we'd heard of a coach that just might work. All in all, we spent a week in the Tulsa area. On Monday, June 3, we went to Wade's RV Clinic to look at a 1996 FORETRAVEL U 295 40' motor home. Thank you, David VanAmburg (who we met on the Foreforums group) for coming down to Sapulpa and looking through the coach with us and telling us what was what about it. Your help was invaluable. The end result was that on Tuesday, June 3, we bought the coach and traded in our former motor home.

OK. Let's talk about the quest for the RIGHT RV for us. Last winter and this spring, it became increasingly evident that our beautiful 2012 Fleetwood Terra 34E (and it was a beautiful coach!) just was not going to work for full-timing. It was a good motor home with lots of storage (for a 34' coach) and had a great floor plan. However, construction-wise, it was an entry-level coach and wasn't made for the rigors which full-time living impose on an RV. For example, all of the cabinets were of pressed board construction and the screws in hinges kept working loose and stripping out and I had to keep tightening screws and sticking matchsticks and wood putty into the holes to tighten them up. In addition, it was cold most of the winter and, even though we were in Florida, we had to use a lot of propane heating the coach. Electric heaters just wouldn't do it. This was a COLD coach and we didn't want to go through another winter being cold.

As problems occurred and repairs were made, we began to talk about what we might do to replace the Fleetwood without breaking the bank.  We knew we couldn't buy a better coach new and we knew that we would not buy a new coach again since we simply had too many problems from day 1 buying a completely new construction. That's another story and if you want to know more, contact me directly and we can talk about it!

The answer to our question of what to do came from our January in Cedar Key, FL, where we were camped with several people with whom we share an online affiliation in the group NuRVers. At Sunset Isles RV Park, we were introduced to the virtues of old and solid built. There were people there with bus conversions and older luxury coaches that were purchased by their present owners long after they were brand-new on the lot.  There were a couple of Newells that were there and a bus conversion.

So we began to look for a Newell we could purchase. About that time, Forest Oliver traded his  Newell in for a new coach and we learned that it was at Motorhomes of Texas in Nacogdoches. Forest was one of those camped at Sunset Isles and so we had already seen the outside of the coach and knew it was in quite good shape. It didn't turn out to be the coach for us, mostly because of the floor plan, but we learned a lot on our  trip to TX to look at it. One of the things we learned was that a Foretravel is also a fine coach to find in its older models and can be quite reasonable priced. Thus, we began to look for Foretravel coaches in the mid-to-late 1990s age-range (that being our "affordable" price point).

That's when we found our new home, a 40' Foretravel U 295.  It's a diesel coach with no slides, but lots of room, splendid living arrangements and appointments, and excellent storage. Plus, it is built like a bus. Solid construction. Air ride suspension and leveling. Solid wood cabinetry throughout.

From this ...
... to this
I also have to say it was a pleasure to deal with Kevin Fredericks (salesperson) and Wade Reeves (owner) at Wade's RV Clinic in Sapulpa, OK. They treated us well, fairly, hospitably, and graciously. They went out of their way to answer questions, to get answers from the former owners (who we actually got to meet and talk to), and to let me satisfy myself that a 1996 coach really was a good choice. It is!

After a couple of nights to get acquainted with the new coach, we drove up to Grove, OK, and the Bear's Den RV Resort, which is part of the Ocean Canyon Properties chain in which we are members. This is where we are now (June 9) as I write this.

We're only here for four days, but we stumbled onto the American Heritage Music Festival being held at the Grove Civic Center and we attended 2 days and nights of its activities. We saw clogging contests, dobro and other instrument contests, and LOTS of fiddle contests. This is a national-level fiddle contest and attracts some excellent musicians. We even met a woman from near Nashville, TN, who had brought her two teenage daughters to compete in the contests. They each went away with checks in hand from winning one of the top three places in different categories.

Well, that kind of brings you up-to-date with the peregrinations of Forrest and Mary. I've left out a lot of interesting details but if I'd tried to include all of them, this post would not be done for weeks. We have seen a lot of beautiful scenery, met wonderful people, learned a lot of U.S. American history, and had a whole lot of fun. Plus, we now have a new home for our travels.

Stay tuned, however. The summer is just starting and, after a short visit to WI to see a friend, we'll be heading WEST! You're welcome to take the ride with us.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Long Time Passing

It's been a LONG time since I've written anything at all. I can't plead that I've been too busy to write. I haven't. I can't say there was nothing to write about. There was. There really is NO excuse for my lack of writing. I just didn't do it. So I've decided to do a whirlwind catch up and then comment on today.

I'm going to start with today. Mary and I are in Unadilla, Georgia. Yep, I said Georgia. This is a short stop at the Southern Trails RV Resort. We're gradually heading north with the anticipation of being back in Wisconsin (briefly) by March 24. Today, however, we took a trip to the Andersonville National Historic Site in Andersonville, GA. Andersonville, or Camp Sumter as it was officially named, was the largest of many Confederate Prisoner of War camps during the most uncivil Civil War. It is not a pretty story nor a nice one. Unfortunately, it was a story common to both sides in that awful conflict.

As it happens, we picked a Living History Weekend to visit the park. Many reenactors were giving their time to recreate life at Andersonville in 1864-5. We saw a demonstration of artillery, of Civil War era troops drilling and firing their rifles, and of life for the prisoners at Camp Sumter. All in all, an interesting day to be there.

In addition, the museum is a commemoration of all U.S. troops who have been POWs in any of the wars and armed conflicts of the United States. As Mary said, of the museum, this is depressing. Indeed, it is a depressing place, yet it is also inspiring to hear the story of life and death for Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen of the United States who have had the great misfortune to become Prisoners of War. I'm glad we went.

We also drove over to Plains, GA, to visit the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site (which seems to be the whole town of Plains). Jimmy Carter, of course, was the 39th President of The United States. We toured the museum (which is the former Plains School, grades 1-12). That was all we had time for, but it was interesting to see. As with any President, history will make the final judgment as to the way in which President Carter's term in office is remembered, but there were many things of which it was good to be reminded, good and bad, during those years. I will always appreciate the man for his personal integrity and for his commitment to a life of faith lived out in a pubic office. If we wanted to return to Plains tomorrow, we could go to the Sunday School class with President Carter will be teaching at the Maranatha Baptist Church there in Plains. He teaches Sunday School 2-3 times per month.

So how did we wind up in Georgia? Let me back up. When I last wrote, I was at the Sunset Isles RV Park in Cedar Key, FL, and Mary was on Red Cross deployment in New Jersey. She did come home on time the very next week. We finished our month in Cedar Key enjoying new friends in the NuRVers group and making other friends as well. We did some kayaking, took a boat tour of the islands around Cedar Key, and visited a shell mound of the prehistoric native American residents of the area.

From Cedar Key, we moved to Rambler's Rest near Venice, FL, spending two weeks there. There we visited beautiful beaches, saw delightful sunsets, and visited Spanish Point, a historic site with many connections over the centuries of life in Florida. We also visited the SunCoast Cathedral of the Metropolitan Community Church. It was a special day of worship for us and we have rarely been as welcomed in a church of any kind. If you'd like to know more about that experience, feel free to contact me directly. I know that not everyone who follows this blog is interested in my religious thoughts or experiences and that's fine. See me on facebook (Forrest Shelton Clark) or write me on email.

While we were at Rambler's Rest we took several days and went over to see brother Ransom and his wife, Helen. They live in Lake Wales, FL, but we all ran over to Daytona Beach to enjoy a few days at the beach on the east coast of Florida. On the way home, we stopped off in the city of Celebration and went to the Columbia for a magnificent lunch. Thanks, Ransom and Helen, for the hospitality and the fun. It has been a delight to get to spend some significant amount of time with my brother during this winter in FL.

After Rambler's Rest, we moved to St. James City and the Pine Island KOA RV Resort. Pine Island is down in the Fort Myers area, but is an isolated island and it took lots of driving to get anywhere. We enjoyed ourselves, however. While we were there, we got to reconnect with a couple, Danny and Cindy Colbert, we befriended at Sunset Isles on Cedar Key. We had a fun dinner together and a good evening of conversation on a cold and blustery day.

One of the real highlights of our Pine Island time was a one day trip on a fast catamaran from Ft. Myers to Key West, FL. We did not get to see or experience a lot of Key West, but we were there, had lunch at a restaurant on the dock, got to visit the southernmost point in the continental United States, and walked by the Hemingway House. The boat trip takes four hours each way so even a long day doesn't give as much time in Key West as is spent in the traveling. However, I would say that I'd love to take the same trip on the Key West Express and stay overnight for a day or two in Key West.

Oh! The other significant event while we were at Pine Island was an evening trip to Port Charlotte's HAM Radio club where I took and passed the FCC test for a Technician class license in the Amateur Radio service. I am now KC9YMH, portable 4 (that means my license is based in Wisconsin but I am in the southeastern part of the country instead of WI).  My radio enables me to operate on the 2M and 70cm HAM bands. If you're a HAM operator, I'd welcome a call. I try to monitor the national calling frequencies as we travel (146.52 MHz and 446.000 MHz). And if you're not a HAM, all that may mean nothing and that's alright.

We left Pine Island on Feb. 28 and headed into the central part of the state. We spent 8 days at Bee's RV Resort in Clermont.  Part of the trip was a return visit to Lake Wales to visit Ransom and Helen. More good "brother time" for me. I also ran over to Amateur Electronic Supply in Orlando to purchase my first HAM radio. It was a good choice of a place for the purchase because I got some valuable advice from the salesman who helped me. I'll be glad to recommend them for their customer service!

The other highlight of our time at Bee's was completion (I hope) of all the paperwork for 2012 tax season. Two and 1/2 days of our eight days there were spend on this project. We got it all compiled and mailed to the CPA in Madison who will do the hard work for us. Tax paper compilation is not a fun job, but it is a necessary part of life.

We'll be here at Southern Trails until Monday and then we'll head for Mountain Lakes RV Resort, Langston, AL. We'll be there March 11-21.

I won't promise to do a better job and write more often, but I do intend to try to do so. I enjoy telling our story and I hope some of you enjoy reading it. We've been on the road for six+ months now. There are still learning experiences before us, I'm sure, but we've learned a lot and enjoyed a lot and made some new friends that we will look forward to meeting again on our travels.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Atsena Otie Key and back ... and more

Saturday was a great day here at Cedar Key!  It was a day full of activity, friends, and food. My only regret was that Mary wasn't here to share the day with me. But she is in a special place too and doing something special to help people every day in her Red Cross deployment.

My next door neighbors, Tom and Mary Stevens, mentioned on Friday that they were planning to take a kayak trip on Saturday and asked if I'd like to join them. Of course, I was ready! The plan was to kayak across the channel west of Cedar Key to the old island of Atsena Otie. This key was the original site of the settlement that today is named the village of Cedar Key and is located on the next island inland in the chain. Atsena Otie is an interesting island and is today a part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge operated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This kayak trip wasn't nearly as long as our first trip of the week when we had traveled quite a few miles going all the way around the islands from the RV park back to the RV park coming in on the other side of the watery route. Saturday's trip was maybe five miles, which is a good day on the water. The plan was to leave about half way into the rising tide and to arrive home by about half way through the ebbing tide (a plan that worked well, by the way).

We were able to find the right channels to get out of the mud flats around our RV park and to cross the main channel and skirt the northern side of the island to get to channel no. 2 and go under the bridge which put us on the south side of the island. From there we swung around the southwest corner, paddled up along the town and then crossed to the west to the island of Atsena Otie Key.

Visiting Atsena Otie Key was interesting. There are a few ruins of the original settlement, an old pencil factory, and a cemetary. Trails are in place, beaches are white sand, and it was an enjoyable hour or so with Tom and Mary on the island. While we were there, two young men swam across the channel from the town of Cedar Key. They seemed to have made the trip across in fine fettle. But it also seemed to be dawning on them that now they had to make the swim back across. I assume that they made it since there has been no local news story about two young men being missing or perishing in an effort to swim back from Atsena Otie to Cedar Key. I sure hope everything went well on their trip home.

On the trip back, we were blessed by sighting a pod of dolpins! As we headed out, we noticed a sail boat with its sails down just sitting still in the water and the occupants were staring intently at the water. It was clear that there was no problem and that they were very interested in something going on around them. It was a pod of dolphins they were watching. There were at least three or four of them and we could see the graceful arches of their backs as they swam along the surface of the water, undulating up and down. At one point a pair of them surfaced half way between Mary Stevens and me no more than 15-20 feet away! It was beautiful and delightful! The pod of dolphins stayed in the general area where we were paddling for most of the trip across the channel. In the channel around the islands, Tom was able to help a woman who had been out fishing who had snagged a crab trap in her propeller. She was grateful for the assistance.

If you are wondering where the pictures are, I did not take a camera. When I am on the water, I don't trust myself with Mary's camera, so I just decided to record the scene with my eyes and to enjoy what I could see for the moment. Maybe I'll get a waterproof camera sometime to take on our kayaking excursions. That would be good, wouldn't it?

As we were returning from our outing, someone shouted at me from the dock at Low-Key Hideaway. Even though the motel was closed for the week so the owners could take a cruise, a group had gathered there with the people watching over the property in the owners' absence and they were awaiting the arrival of the spectacular sunset that is one of the features of the area. So, after I brought the kayak back to our camping site, I hoofed it over to Low-Key Hideaway and joined the party.

Just after another beautiful sundown, Clarke Hochwald, his wife Elaine, Pace and Kylie Smith, Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy came walking up. They were on the way to the Blue Desert Cafe for supper. So Bill and Debbie Kasson and I joined them and walked on up to the cafe. I had heard that service was slow. It was. But the food was good and the companions were fun, so the night was very, very enjoyable. I had a chicken burrito and some cajun shrimp. Mmmm. Tasty. All of it.

We came home just in time for my (almost) nightly call to Mary at 9 p.m. It gives us a chance to touch base on how our days have been and to help ease the loneliness a little bit. I certainly look forward to a few minutes of time together and I know she does too!

Sunday morning, I went into the Cedar Key United Methodist Church and enjoyed worshiping with them.  After that I went down to the Big Deck grill and had a black and blue burger for lunch. It was deliciously messy but I think the blue cheese might have been a little too rich for my system. The rest of the day was spent quietly watching football. I'm sure there will be more from Cedar Key in the days to come. Our month here just about half over and there is a lot yet to experience.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cedar Key

We enjoyed our month in Crystal River. I wouldn't mind going back there. And I know Mary wouldn't either. It was beautiful, quiet, and had lots of interesting things to see and do. But time came to move on to our next spot, Cedar Key.

Just before we left Crystal Isles RV Park in Crystal River, we got a call from the American Red Cross. Mary and I both continue to be disaster response volunteers with the American Red Cross through the Badger and South Central Wisconsin Chapter (Western Wisconsin Region). After I retired and before Mary retired, we both received training and were involved as members of a Disaster Action Team for Rock County, going to fire scenes and wind storm victims to help people who were displaced due to whatever disaster had befallen them to find a place to stay until longer term arrangements could be made for them. I highly recommend volunteering with the American Red Cross in your area as a way to make a meaningful contribution to the well being of your community!

After we started full time RVing, Mary and I joined a group called the DOVES (Disaster Operations Volunteers, Escapees). It is a chapter within the RV club Escapees. All of us are Red Cross volunteers and we can be deployed from our motorhomes. I think it's even possible for us to be asked to drive to the scene of a disaster in our motorhome and set ourselves up to do some form of volunteer service through the local Red Cross chapter. We're still new in figuring out how this all works.

So, we got a call from the American Red Cross seeking to deploy both of us to the NY/NJ post-Hurricane Sandy disaster area for service. After discussing the request, we decided that only one of us should be gone from the motorhome at a time and since I'm more comfortable at this stage in handling the mechanics of the home we decided that Mary should be the one deployed. After we drove up to Cedar Key and got ourselves established, Mary flew to Newark, NJ, where she is deployed in the Monmouth, NJ, area doing Client Casework with the American Red Cross as a volunteer. Her deployment is expected to last for two weeks, January 3-17. I get to talk to her almost every night and she is working hard and long hours.

We did get to celebrate New Year's Eve with a whole bunch of new friends. There is a group of RVers called the NuRVers. They call themselves the next generation of RVers and many of them are younger folks who are full-time RVwea and working on the road. And a few of us are young-at-heart retired folks who enjoy the presence of the younger RVers in the discussion groups of NuRVers and in the gatherings. Anyway, Cedar Key has become a convergence of NuRVers. Back some time ago, I saw that Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy were going to be spending the month of January at Cedar Key at the Sunset Isle RV Park. And their description made this sound like a very special place. Simply stated, it is!And we had a delightful New Year's Eve celebration with this new group of friends. I think it was the first New Year's that we've actually made midnight in a long time!

I've (Forrest, since Mary left for NJ on Jan. 3) had several other enjoyable evenings with our NuRV friends. Watching sundowns is one of our favorite activities and the Sunset Isle RV Park is well named. We get a beautiful sunset almost every day. We also had a salsa cookoff (what a fantastic variety of salsas!). I made fried corn cakes to "cleanse the palate". They had a secret ingredient that even I didn't know they had until I told Mary what I had used to make them. We'll keep it our secret, though. Then a few nights later we had a chili cookoff. I made a passable chili to take, anyway, although it wasn't as good as that which Mary can make.

I got to do some kayaking in the waters around here with my next door neighbors, Tom and Mary, and to hear some good bluegrass music (played in the clubhouse on the weekends). Tonight (Friday) we had a potluck in the clubhouse (I took my left-over chili and now it's all gone.)

And I've put some pictures below. They are all of Cedar Key/Sunset Isle sunsets.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

A Quick Visit to Wisconsin and Christmas in Florida

On Dec. 17th, Mary and I flew from Orlando-Sanford Airport to Rockford, IL. We were returning to Wisconsin to visit family and friends before Christmas. I have to say thanks to Thom and Judy Petree for putting us up (or was that putting up with us) for three nights during the trip. I've known Thom and Judy since my seminary days, 1968-74 (NO, it didn't take me six years to go through seminary! I graduated in 1971 and went to work for the seminary as a staff librarian for three years. Judy even worked for me in the library for a while.) It was delightful to get reacquainted with them during our Beloit years and we continue as friends through our travels.

Another reason we flew back to WI was to see our new granddaughter, Zamaya, born to Karla and Jonah, her significant other. Zamaya is a beautiful baby and I'll let you look at my facebook page for pictures of her, rather than posting them here.

While we were in WI, we were "blessed" with a true winter snowstorm. Madison had 14+" of snow and blizzard conditions. Fortunately we were snuggled in a hotel and just stayed warm and comfortable. Digging out the car required over an hour of shoveling by Mary. Where was Forrest? Doing the wash in the hotel laundry room. Mary thought she should do the shoveling so who was I to argue with my dear wife?!

We spent time with each of our children, saw our grandchildren, and enjoyed a family Christmas dinner with Vini and Krista hosting us. Almost everyone was able to be there, although Karla just couldn't make it. We missed you Karla and family!

On Christmas Eve, we flew back to Florida where instead of going to our home at Crystal River we headed for Lake Wales where my brother Ransom lives. Thanks, Ransom and Helen, for sharing your Christmas with us! And thanks to Helen's daughter, Rhonda, and Rhonda's husband, Brad, for sharing a family Christmas Eve with us. This was the first actual Christmas I can remember sharing with Ransom in decades. I simply was never back home for Christmas since I was always leading a Christmas Eve service at the church I was serving. We might have overlapped our time in the week after Christmas, but it wasn't the same as sharing the celebration of Christmas Day. That made it a very special day.

After Christmas, we went back to Crystal Key for a few days and then on December 31 we moved north up the coast of Florida to Cedar Key.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Swimming (well, Paddling) With the Manatees

We're at the Crystal Isles Encore Superpark RV Resort in Crystal River, FL. We got here on Dec. 1 and immediately began to wear t-shirts and shorts almost all the time. That's what the weather was like, 60s at night and high 70s/low 80s during the day. It was nice. (Was is the operative word there; the last two days have seen the lows be down at 50 and the highs in the 60s, but that's now. Let's get us up to this point.)

Crystal River is a fascinating area. We didn't know where we were coming other than having seen it on the map, knowing it was in Florida on the Gulf, and that there would be lots of water around, which is what we wanted. But we didn't know what would be IN the water!

Crystal River (city and river) is right in the heart of Manatee country. In fact, we are in an RV Park that is adjacent to a canal that flows into the river and right near King's Bay and the manatees swim out of the Gulf waters as they turn cold and seek out the warmer waters of the bay and the springs that feed the bay. The springs flow at a constant 70-72 degrees and the manatees are looking for the warmth of the water.

Manatees are a large ... VERY LARGE ... marine mammals. One brochure describes them as "over a ton of tenderness." Yes, that's right. Manatees can weigh over a ton, even up to 3,000 lbs! In fact, one of their closest relatives is the elephant. Yet, they are very gentle with no predators other than humans. They may swim with you quite literally since they are not afraid of people and will come up to human swimmers and boats. Many people do swim in the water with these gentle giants. We just paddled around with them in our kayaks.

We took the kayaks one day and just headed out into King's Bay from the Crystal River city park. We were just paddling around for the fun of it. We had heard of the manatees and had been told that some areas were cordoned off as "resting areas" for the manatees. That meant that we should not kayak in those waters. It didn't take long to find some of these areas.

Completely by accident one of the more interesting places we discovered was the area know as the Three Sisters Springs. These are the fresh-water springs (three of them in one area) that feel the Crystal River. They are also warmish water (compared to the Gulf) and therefore are favorite places for the manatee to rest. We got there in the middle of a day and there were no manatee in the spring but there sure were a LOT of fish. The water is perfectly clear. People can snorkel in it and paddle their kayaks and canoes but not fish or scuba dive. Although there were no manatee in the springs, just outside the springs in a protected area were several manatee resting on the bottom. We did see one large one swimming just a few feet from our boats.

One evening we went to the bridge on King's Bay Road and, standing on the bridge, saw at least two dozen manatees swimming in or out of the area. We also lucked out by being in Crystal River on a weekend that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opened up access to the area around the Three Sisters Springs and we could actually walk around in an area completely closed to the public and look down into the springs from the land around them. We talked briefly to a representative of the Fish and Wildlife Service about the possibility of being workcampers with them in a future year where we could volunteer three days a week in exchange for a free spot to camp for the whole season. That might be fun but we'll see what comes of that.

One of the first days we were here, we drove out to the end to the road where our resort/campground is located for sunset.  Actually, we drove out there twice for sunset but the first day underestimated the length of time it would take us to get to the end of the road and so missed most of the sundown show. So, we went back the next day just a little earlier and got the full effect of sundown over the Gulf of Mexico. The Fort Island Gulf Beach County Park is out there where the road runs into the water (at a boat launch ramp, of course). It has white sand beaches, a swimming area, lots and lots of birds, and a great view of the setting sun.

On another day, we went to the Crystal River Archaeological State Park. This is home to a pre-Columbian ceremonial mound complex used by Native Americans for religious and social ceremonial purposes. There are six mounds on the site and they are mostly built up from oyster and other shells discarded by the original peoples of the area. The earliest use of the area was some 10,000 years ago but the most significant activity began about 2,500 years ago and lasted up until about 500 years ago. A few days later, we also took a boat tour of the lower portions of the Crystal River that focused on the ecology and historical heritage of the area (hence, it was called the Heritage-Eco boat tour).

In the same area as the archaeological park is the Crystal River Preserve State Park. The area is unique in that it is a spring-fed estuary which leads to a coastline of salt marshes instead of sandy beaches (although those can be found in the area as well). There are lots and lots of birds around here that we don't ordinarily get to see including egrets, great blue herons, pelicans, and others. The locals think that it is great that they get to see some whooping cranes. We think it's great too, and Baraboo, WI, where we lived for six years, is home to the International Crane Foundation which has worked for the preservation and encouragement of these magnificent birds and has pioneered in the use of ultralight aircraft to teach young cranes how to fly to Florida for the winter.

We drove down to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. There we really got a great glimpse of the manatees. They have an underwater observatory called the Fish Bowl where one can watch fish and manatees in the freshwater spring. In addition, there are educational programs on manatees, alligators, Florida wildlife, and the one hippopotamus that is a permanent resident of the Park. The wildlife park was once a private tourist attraction with many NON-Florida game animals but they have all been removed and relocated since the state took over. All except the hippo which was such a crowd pleaser that a former governor of Florida declared the hippo an honorary citizen of the state so he could remain in the park for the rest of his (LONG) life.

We also visited the city of Inverness (the county seat of Citrus County). The old courthouse there has been turned into an excellent museum with displays about the area and its history. We also visited Fort Morgan State Park which was the site of a major standoff with the Seminole Indians during the Second Seminole War. No fort remains. It was made of wood stakes which long ago deterioriated, but there was a good trail for taking a walk in the woods, seeing the Old Military Road (there seems to be one of them in almost every state we visit), and just enjoying a beautiful day.

Everything in our life is not let's go see something new every day. Sometimes we have to stop having fun to do such things as the laundry, washing dishes, and buying groceries. We are accumulating quite the stack of grocery store savings cards since we ask for one wherever we go (if we don't already have one).

We are at about mid-point in our month in Crystal River and shortly will take a brief hiatus from being snowbirds. We'll fly back to WI to see some friends and our kids/grandkids and especially to meet our newest (and first) granddaughter, Zamaya, born to daughter Karla and her friend, Jonah, just this week. We'll then return to Florida and Crystal River for a few days before it's time to move on to our next adventure at Cedar Key (which is just a little bit north of Crystal River). We hope that all of you have a Merry and a Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Thanksgiving and Beyond

It's been two weeks since I've posted anything! I'd apologize for that, but we've been having so much fun that I'm not even going to apologize. I'm just going to be grateful for the opportunity to be enjoying ourselves so much these days and hope that it continues to be that way.

We celebrated Thanksgiving at the Styx River Resort in LA (I remind you that mean "Lower Alabama," NOT the more common alternative of a California city).  The resort cooked turkey three different ways (deep fried, oven baked, and smoked) and the rest of us brought a dish (or dishes) to share. A good time was had by all and we enjoyed sharing the meal with a new extended family. And then there was so much food left over that we came back together for supper and turkey sandwiches. No one went away from the day hungry! Thanks, Styx River staff, for cooking the turkeys!

We did a lot during the week after Thanksgiving. Let's see how many of them I can remember!

The day after Thanksgiving, we went to Fort Morgan. It was the fort that guarded the entrance to Mobile Bay.  It has been turned into a museum and to the old military historian in me it was very interesting. Here are some pictures from our visit that day.

We went to Alligator Alley, an alligator "rescue" farm. Alligators may not be very pretty (an understatement), but they sure are interesting! We even got to hold a two-year-old gator ... with his (or was it her ... they can't tell at that age) jaws taped shut with ordinary electrical tape. It seems that alligators have almost no real strength for opening their mouths, but once they are opened, WATCH OUT! A full grown alligator can bite down with a full ton (over 2,000 foot pounds) of force!

We also went to the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola Naval Air Station. This was an interesting trip through time, nostalgia, and aviation! We had two different tour guides for two different parts of the trip through the museum. Both were retired Marine pilots. One was from WW II. He had flown torpedo bombers in the Pacific. The other was from the Korean Conflict and Vietnam War era. He had flown a variety of things. I couldn't help but think of grand-nephew Jakobh Coleman when we went past one of the helicopters that served as Marine One (flying the President of the U.S. A. from the White House to the air field where Air Force One awaits as well as taking the President to other locations requiring shore flights. Jakobh was one of the ground crew serving with Marine One for a while. I won't try to describe all the fascinating aircraft we looked at or into or learned about, but if you're interested in such things, the Museum is well worth a trip. And admission is FREE!

Another thing we did was to have a face-to-face meet-up over coffee with some fellow RVers at the Starbucks in Foley, AL. It was a delight to get acquainted with Millie, Bill, Don, Cookie, Shirley and (here I must DEEPLY apologize for forgetting a name!) and Shirley's Significant Other. I do enjoy making the acquaintance of other people in our RV lifestyle world. We generally share several points of interest (as well as having several views on which we may never agree but we just don't talk about those).

After one final trip to the Gulf Shores beach, we left the Styx River Resort on Friday, 30 November, heading into Florida. We spent one night at the Econfina River Resort located near Lamont, FL. It is a Passport America park and that gives us a significant discount on the overnight price of a site. It was quiet and pleasant and we'd stop there on another overnight. I'm not sure I'd use it as a destination park since it is really oriented toward fishing in the Econfina River and the Gulf of Mexico.

On Monday, December 1, we arrived at Crystal Isles RV Resort, an Encore park, where we are staying for the whole month of December (other than a brief, flying trip to WI for Christmas with the family and friends). I'll get to work telling you about our stay in Crystal River the next time I stop doing things around here long enough to write!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sweet Home, Alabama!

My Daddy was from Alabama. Bridgeport, in fact, in north Alabama. We've made many visits over the years to the state, visiting family mostly, but they were usually short visits, one or two days with a couple of longer trips thrown in over the years. But Mary and I are making a very intentional visit to the state. We've now spent more time in Alabama than I've ever spent at one time ... and it's been fun!

Right now (Nov. 25), we are parked in the Styx River Resort near Robertsdale, AL, just north of Interstate 10. We've been here since Nov. 14 and will be here until the 30th. I'll come back to the Styx River later.

On Nov. 7, we arrived in Florence, AL. I have some cousins in Florence and we stopped there to visit them, but it was much more than just a few minutes visiting family. Florence is an interesting small city in northwest AL right on the Tennessee River. That river provided some beautiful sights, interesting scenes, and downright enjoyable hours while we were there. Great blue herons were regular companions through our days there. Tug boats and barges chugged by (I don't know why we didn't get any pictures of them). Lots of fishermen and women along the banks. Beautiful fog shrouded sunrises were part of several days (and since we weren't having to drive anywhere on a time schedule, the fog was pretty and not a hazard).

Downstream on the Tennessee River from McFarland Park, Florence, AL
The view across the Tennessee River at McFarland Park, Florence, AL
Great Blue Heron in the slough at McFarland Park
Larry Gautney was a magnificent tour guide. He took us around Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia, introducing us to interesting sights and places. Larry's retired from TVA so he knows a lot about the river and could point out lots of interesting places and tell interesting stories. Actually, Larry knows a lot about all sorts of things and used his knowledge to entertain and instruct us. Thanks, Larry! And thanks to Nancy (Larry's wife and my cousin) and her sister, Ellen, for being lovely hostesses and sharing in our delightful visit to Florence.

Other than the great fun we had with Nancy, Larry, and Ellen, four things stand out about our visit to Florence. First was a visit to "The Wall". More properly, it is the Wachahpi Commemorative Stone Wall. It's located over near the historic Natchez Trace in NW AL. For over 30 years, Tom Hendrix has been building a stone wall in memory of the journey of his great-great-grandmother Te-la-nay along the Trail of Tears and back. She was part of the great removal of Native Americans from North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama to the Oklahoma Territory in the 1800s. She walked to Oklahoma. And then walked back to Alabama because the rivers in Oklahoma didn't sing and the Tennessee River did. It's quite a tale and Tom Hendrix is quite a story teller. We got to see his wall and to listen to Mr. Hendrix tell the story of the wall and of Te-la-nay's journey and life. At its simplest, it was inspirational, interesting, and motivational, but there are much greater depths to the story than a simple blog entry can tell. The Wall can best be experienced. And it is a spiritual experience, to be sure. There were no pictures taken of The Wall, by the way, because it was something that had to be experienced and could not be captured through a lens. But Mr. Hendrix has written his story (and the story of the great-great-grandmother) in a book, If The Legends Fade.

A second outstanding moment was a visit to the Coondog Cemetery. Yep, a coondog cemetery. It's located in the hills of NW AL west of Florence and started as one man's tribute to his championship coondog upon the death of the dog and has become the burial ground of many beloved coondogs (ONLY dogs that can be proven to be authentic, real coondogs; no other breeds allowed!).

Coon Dog Cemetery, AL
Coon Dog Cemetery

Troop, the FIRST Coon Dog buried in the cemetery

The third interesting moment was a visit to the Tiffin RV factory in Red Bay, AL. Yes, we own a Fleetwood motorhome. And we've toured their factory, too. But I've long heard of the Tiffin Company in little Red Bay and the high quality motorhomes they build so since we were less than an hour away we drove over to Red Bay and took a tour of the factory. And we definitely saw some fine motorhomes. There could be a Tiffin in our future. Or maybe not. We'll see. One of the interesting things was the contrast between the extremely time conscious assembly line of the Fleetwood factory and the much more relaxed line at Tiffin. There was an emphasis on quality at both factories but they sure did go about attaining it differently!

And, fourth, in our moments of interest was a visit to Huntsville and the US Space and Rocket Center there. WOW! What a place!

Space Shuttle at US Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, AL
"Blackbird" (A-12) at US Space and Rocket Center
BIG Rocket! (I didn't write down the name)

Eventually, we had to leave Florence. It was time to head south for the winter. We had "won" a free week of camping in a membership campground, the Styx River Resort outside Robertsdale, AL, down in LA (that's Lower Alabama if you don't recognize the acronym). So we drove down to Baldwin County, the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. We're north of Gulf Shores and its beautiful beaches. By the time we leave here, we'll have spent two weeks and two days at the Styx River Resort. Our Thanksgiving Dinner was a potluck here at the resort with many of the other guests. The resort cooked turkey three different ways, deep fried, baked, and smoked, and all of us brought various dishes to share. There was LOTS and LOTS of food, so much in fact that we came back for supper and turkey sandwiches and other leftovers that evening. We'll be back to this park, I'm sure, and to some of it's sister parks located in various places, including on the shores of Guntersville Lake in north Alabama and Abita Lake in Louisana.

While we've been here in LA, we have walked on the sandy beaches of Gulf Shores, AL, toured the battleship USS Alabama, moored here in Mobile at Battleship Park (and the submarine USS Drum at the same site), toured Fort Morgan, a Civil War site, and had a couple of "meet-ups".

USS Alabama, looking backward from the bow of the ship
USS Alabama from the shore
Pelicans at Gulf Shores
The Sandy Beaches of Gulf Shores
We met up with some RVers who have just started full-timing and with whom I've chatted on facebook. It was fun to get to know William Roach and Loretta Perno. I suspect we'll cross their path again sometime. They were camped in Gulf Shores and headed for Arizona. And this next Thursday, we'll meet some other RVers I know from facebook as we get together for coffee at Starbucks.       
We met up with Bill and Loretta at Lambert's Cafe,
the home of "throwed rolls"

The most fun get-together was meeting up with my High School classmate Judy Gordon Simpson who lives in Daphne, AL, another eastern shore community. We took a short tour of Mobile with her, learned enough about Mardi Gras in Mobile to make us want to come back sometime for that, and then were treated to dinner at Ed's. Thanks, Judy, for taking time to get together with us!

Ed's Seafood Shed, Mobile, AL

Sunset from Ed's Seafood Shed, Mobile, AL
We haven't found any alligators yet and we aren't in a big hurry to find them either, but we know they're around. 

While we've been here, we have also visited Gulf Shores United Methodist Church (a fine example of how a church should be working and doing ministry), met briefly with a fellow coach (and my coach for a while), Jim Robey, and toured Fairhope, AL, a pretty, artsy town on the eastern shore. It's been a fun time and we STILL have a few days to enjoy the area. TTYL.