Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Back in the COLD!

Friday 12/10

We keep looking at the weather forecasts for Chicago and become less and less enthusiastic about returning home on Monday! Fortunately we have our winter jackets, etc. with us, so we may look foolish leaving here Monday morning, but at least we won’t freeze when we get there!

Regular walk in the desert this morning, and then we went into Tucson to the 4th Ave Winter Street Fair. Articles in the paper have called this the nation’s largest street fair and it sure looked like they were correct! The fair booths are set up in the middle of the street in a double row facing each curb. Good layout as the foot traffic goes around each side and the merchants on the street are included in the festival. It covers six long blocks and had a wide variety of arts and crafts. We spent a good part of the day there and walked the whole thing.

Apparently parking is a real issue, it was crowded on Friday - can’t imagine how it looked on Saturday and Sunday! Anyway, with the smart car parking was no issue, we were able to find a free space at the curb just a couple of blocks away. Too small for most cars to get into!

We also had a chance to take a test drive of the new Nissan Leaf fully electric car. They had a display set up at the street fair, first a description of the concept, a cutaway of the battery pack, etc., then we each got to drive a Leaf for a mile or so around city streets. They are very nice, comfortable, roomy, with good acceleration and drive like any other car - boringly normal in fact.

After the street fair we came home and relaxed for a while and then went to Coyote Pause for dinner before joining the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Assc. for a star gazing event at a picnic area in the Tucson Mountain Park. Unfortunately it started to cloud over just about dusk, which made for a spectacular sunset, but put a bit of a crimp in the star gazing. They had several telescopes set up with good views of the moon, Jupiter and it’s moons and a few other things, but naked eye star gazing was not real good.

Saturday 12/11

Lazy morning after our dawn walk in the desert. We took the truck for a spin to loosen it up and keep the batteries charged. Then we stopped for lunch at Perfecto’s, a cute little family restaurant on South 12th Ave in a area with a lot of Mexican eateries and groceries. Excellent food, we will be back here after the first of the year as there were several dishes we want to try.

Back home we started getting things together for the trip back to Chicago on Monday and took a short walk around the campground.

Sunday 12/12

Early morning walk in the desert. It is amazing how the desert keeps changing in the changing light. Dawn is usually spectacular, the cholla seem to glow as they catch the first light of the sun, the cactus wrens perch on the tallest saguaro and sing. It is breathtaking some mornings.

Finished packing and setting things up for an extended absence, last thing I did Monday morning was to disconnect the water.

Monday 12/13

Well we’re back in Chicago and it is colder than a well diggers you know what! Yeah, I know, most of you don't feel sorry for us at all. Flying was the usual hassle, a bit easier since Tucson is a small airport. I have decided to start carrying some kind of purse when I am flying - maybe a “man bag”? It is a real pain to dig everything out of all my pockets and dump all that stuff in a bin.

We lucked out with the rental car. We had an “intermediate” reserved to get the best price, a Ford Focus. When we got to the car it was filthy, inside and out. The Enterprise guy looked at it and said “this is unacceptable”, he looked around and there was a black Buick parked next to it (shiny clean), “Would a Buick Lucerne be OK” Are you kidding, a three level upgrade for the same price? So we drove out in a nice, full size Buick. However, after two weeks driving the smart this thing is a boat! It feels bigger than the Volvo! It is nice though. On the plus side, it has seat heaters!

So we’re back home for three weeks. I’ll resume the blog when we get back to Tucson on January 1st.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Getting Settled in and ready to leave.

Thursday 12/2

Went to Tiny’s Saloon down the road for dinner Wednesday evening. No great shakes for atmosphere, but good hamburgers. Thursday we took our first morning walk in the desert, as always the plants are beautiful in the dawn light. Then we spent most of the day getting settled, putting things into their proper places, etc.

Friday 12/3

After our morning desert walk we did some grocery shopping and then drove up to the Desert Museum to purchase a membership. For the cost of two visits during out time here we can become members with unlimited access and three visitor passes - a great deal!

Otherwise we just relaxed and continued settling in. Watched the Blackhawks lose to Vancouver. A bit of a hiccup with out TV reception. I changed our service address with Dish Network to Tucson so we could get local stations. Seemed like a good solution until I noticed that in doing so we lost Chicago Sports Net, which carries most of the Blackhawk games. Oh well, we can catch the ones on the NHL network and listen to the rest on the radio - I can pick up WGN in Chicago on my iPod.

Saturday 12/4

Nice long walk in the desert and then we spent a lazy day just getting into winter vacation mode. Had dinner at Coyote Pause, a small local restaurant nearby with very good food.

Sunday 12/5

After our morning walk and the Sunday AM news programs we went into Tucson and browsed around Old Town Artisians, then had lunch at El Charro (our favorite Mexican Restaurant in the area) and made a stop at Food Conspiracy for some supplies. Came back home across Gates Pass and through the Saguaro National Forest. The Blackhawks game was on NHL network tonight so we managed to watch one more.

Monday 12/6

We have faithfully managed to get in a walk in the desert every morning so far. Weather is beautiful, highs around 80 and lows around fifty! A little cloudy yesterday and today, but still really nice. We are spoiled! Looks like it is going to be cold the week we go back to Chicago!

Monday morning meeting at the campground and then we went into Tucson and did a bit of Christmas shopping and lunch at an In n’ Out Burger. Nice relaxing afternoon not doing much of anything.

Tuesday 12/7

Off to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum first thing in the morning so we could catch the 9 AM tour. Turned out to be an excellent, two hour plus tour. Every tour we have taken there has been excellent and all of them are different, depending on the docent. Had lunch in the snack bar and then did some Christmas shopping in the gift shop. We also bought a couple of books for ourselves. Already we have been to the Museum twice, and that along with the member discount in the snack bar and the new member discount in the gift shop has offset the cost of our membership.

Wednesday 12/8

Nancy went to a sewing group in the morning where they are making Christmas baby buntings for the local hospital.

Early in the afternoon we took our daily walk in the desert, but it turned out it was really too hot, we need to do our walks in the morning before the heat of the day until the weather cools off. They are predicting record high temps here through the weekend - supposed to be 84 on Monday! Unfortunately we will be back in Chicago on Monday where the forecast calls for a high of 10 degrees! Good thing we have our winter jackets with us.

Thursday 12/9

Back to Tucson Yoga this morning. Our yoga leader, Ann, is leaving for a three year retreat in a cabin in the mountains. She is seriously into yoga and meditation, she is even giving away all of her possessions! Hard for us to imagine even thinking of doing something like that. We will miss her excellent skills when we come back in January, but expect that her replacement will do just as well. We enjoy the “gentle” yoga classes here. We will be back to our regular classes at home for the next three weeks.

After yoga we swung by the airport to scope out parking and get an estimate as to how long it will take us to get there Monday morning.

They had an excellent bicycling presentation at the activities center here this afternoon. Focused primarily on mountain biking (we are more road bikers), but there was a lot of good information on determining proper fit for your bike and a lot of other tips. Well worth the time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

We're in Tucson!

Friday 11/26

We decided this year that we would leave right after Thanksgiving in hopes of avoiding the severe weather that we ran into on the way to Tucson last year. In addition we had to commit to December, January, and February in order to hang onto the same space at Desert Trails this year.

So...we picked the coldest day since last February to get the trailer out of storage and load it! It was 18 degrees Friday morning and never got much above 20 during the day. We did however, get everything loaded in a timely manner and by late afternoon we were ready to roll. Left the engine heater on the truck plugged in Friday night to insure starting on Saturday AM.

Saturday 11/27

Got on the road about 10 AM Saturday morning and had an uneventful trip to Dixon, MO. Dry roads all the way. We had planned on staying at Boiling Springs campground, but when we called late in the afternoon they were full! Who’d a thunk it? So we stayed at the Country Hearth Motel campground, same place we stopped last year. Turns out they have done substantial upgrades during the last year. New concrete pads and new, very nice connection posts, lighted with easily accessible plug in points. Really very nice and right off the Interstate exit.

Sunday 11/28

We drove from Dixon, MO to Chandler, OK. today, just east of Oklahoma City - easy drive with dry roads all the way. Lunch both Saturday and Sunday at Cracker Barrel (as usual!). Stopped at Oak Glen RV Park. a Passport America campground in Chandler and had dinner at B’s Restaurant in the Econo Lodge hotel. Nothing spectacular, but good honest food.

Monday 11/29

Still on the road, today was the long day of the trip - just a little over 500 miles from Chandler, OK to Roswell, NM. Finally ended the string of dry days, we ran into about 20 miles of sleet right at dusk between Portales and Roswell. Nothing serious, but it was messy for a while. Stayed at Trailer Village in Roswell, same place as last year. We had a nice dinner at Pepper’s Restaurant, good food and friendly staff, we recommend it if you are in Roswell.

Tuesday 11/30

Cold again this AM - about 22 degrees! There was a little bit of snow Monday night, but barely a dusting. Plugged in the engine heater again and took our time getting ready to go. Left about 10 AM, fairly easy trip to Wilcox, AZ, which puts us just 85 miles out of Tucson. Stayed Tuesday night at Fort Wilcox RV Park, another Passport America park. Last year we stayed in Bowie, about 30 miles east, but the campground seems to be gone - no answer on the phone and we could not see any signs of life as we went by on the Interstate. Dry roads all the way and lunch at Cracker Barrel again - that makes four days in a row! Seems like we might be in a rut! Nancy made pasta for dinner as there did not appear to be much in the way of places to eat around Wilcox.

Wednesday 12/1

Went to Mc Donald’s in Wilcox for a leisurely breakfast and hit the road around 9:30 AM. Cold again this morning - 22 degrees here. By the time we reached Tucson it was shirtsleeve weather! Stopped on the way in to town and filled a propane tank, then on to Desert Trails. Nice to have a warm welcome from people that remember us from last year.

Backed the trailer into the same spot as last year, managed to get it in a little better this time. We have the same neighbors as last year on one side, new folks on the other as the couple that had been there did not make it due to health issues.

The new Winegard Trav’ler satellite dish works great, locked on all three satellites and a quick call to Dish Network, a temporary change of address, and we have all the local Tucson stations on the satellite - ain’t technology grand!

Sure feels good to be back in our winter home, the sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky! Life is good!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Fun Gypsy Gathering

Friday 8/27

Watched F1 practice first thing in the morning and then loaded up and left the campground at 10 AM. Took US 30 west to Lancaster and then 283 NW to Harrisburg where we picked up the PA Turnpike. Followed that all the way across past Pittsburgh into Ohio. Eight miles in we left the Ohio Turnpike and dropped down to Salem. Stoneridge Terrace turned out to be a really nice small campground around a lake. They have three wide open pull through spots, easy in and easy out. Turned out that they have a fish fry on Friday evenings! Lucky us! Nancy had a really nice (and large) piece of breaded whitefish for less than $10! Dennis passed on the fish and opted for a pizza which also turned out to be pretty good as well.

Nice quiet evening, very peaceful campground and it cooled off nicely.

Saturday 8/28

52 Degrees this morning!! Wow, have not seen that cool a temp since sometime last January in Tucson! Had to turn the furnaces on to take off the chill before we hit the shower.

Watched F1 qualifying first thing, love the new Winegard Trav’ler satellite dish. Then we packed up and hit the road a few minutes after 10 AM. We are getting pretty good at this, we get parked, unhooked, and set up in 15 to 20 minutes and can be loaded, hooked up and ready to go in about a half hour.

Took US 30 west across Ohio, two lane and hilly for the first 50 miles or so and then four lane and getting flatter the rest of the way across. Arrived at Woodbridge Campground in Paulding, OH just about 4 PM, two reasonably short driving days, we’re getting better at planning shorter travel days instead of beating ourselves to death on the road.

Turns out the were having a pig roast here on Saturday evening! $3.50 apiece, and it was wonderful, more bar-b-que and side dishes than we could eat! Can’t beat that!

Sunday 8/29

Watched the F1 race in the AM and then hit road headed for Elkhart Campground and the Gypsy Gathering. Fairly short day including a stop for lunch and we were there just after 2 PM.

Elkhart Campground is already pretty full, a lot of rally participants here already.

Monday 8/30 through Friday 9/3

The Gypsy Gathering was great fun just as it was last year, more vendors than there were in Ohio last year. We bought a bunch of neat stuff, new covers for our outside steps, a digital signal booster for the batwing antenna, some microfiber towels, and more other stuff than we care to list!

On Tuesday we took an hour and went to visit one of the rally sponsers, Bradd & Hall, to look at recliners. We have not been very happy with the recliners that came with the trailer, they are large, heavy, and neither of us like the rocking feature. We found a pair that we liked that are locally made. We will stop by Bradd and Hall on the way out of town on Friday and have them take out the old recliners and put in the new ones.

A lot of interesting seminars during the week, all of them very well presented and very informative. It was a fun week and we will be heading home on Friday. Next trip is to Tucson right after Thanksgiving, unless we decide on a quicky for leaf watching in October!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pennsylvania Dutch Country

Thursday 8/19

Great truck race last night. Kyle Busch put on quite a show coming from a dead last starting position to win the race. Not one of our favorites, but the kid sure can drive.

Did a little grocery shopping today and generally just relaxed. Went to the Ridgewood for lunch and then stopped and picked up a couple of jars of local honey. A bit overcast today and really humid, unusual for the mountains.

Friday 8/20

Hot and sunny today, humidity is down though. Once again a quiet, relaxing day. Watched qualifying on TV as it was way to hot to trek over to the track. Went over about 7 PM by which time our seats were in the shade and we had plenty of time before the race started, helped by the fact that we snagged a ride in a courtesy golf cart from the campground all the way up to the gate of track!

Once again a really good race and it was a picture perfect evening, mild temps and clear blue sky with a light breeze. One of the best Nationwide races we have seen here. Good hard racing all around the track throughout the race. Kyle Busch won again, wonder if he will three-peat on Saturday? Should make for another exciting race in any case!

Saturday 8/21

Went into downtown Bristol and picked up a dozen doughnuts at the Blackbird Bakery. After lunch Dennis loaded the car onto the Volvo as we will not be going out again today (too much traffic) and we will be headed north to Pennsylvania in the AM. Relaxed the rest of the day as it was raining on and off all day. Fortunately the rain cleared in time for the race Saturday evening and it turned out that we made it through all three races with no rain delays. The Cup race was better than they have been the last couple of years (since the Chase for the Cup made Bristol a race where no one wants to make a mistake!), but still not as good as the races were before the Chase, some blame that on the track rebuild a few years ago, but the truck and Nationwide series’ still seem to have exciting races. Probably the least exciting race of the three this week.

Sunday 8/22

We left the track around 9 AM and headed north on back roads up to Abingdon, VA where we jumped on I-81. Missed the traffic going through Bristol, but it was a narrow, windy road so we may just go through Bristol next time. Most of the campers wait to head home until Sunday after the August race, so the traffic was pretty heavy for the first three or four hours. Lots of motor homes and trailers on the highway.

Made it to Country Acres Campground in Paradise, PA about 7 PM. Weather was good all they way, but the traffic slowed us more than we had planned. After we dropped the trailer we doubled back to a Cracker Barrel a few miles down the road for dinner, rather than spending the time to search out something local.

Campground is very nice with good Wi-Fi and one of the quietest campgrounds we have found, although there is the obligatory train of in the distance once in a while.

Monday 8/23

Housekeeping day. Nancy did laundry while Dennis unloaded the smart, washed road grime from the rear of the trailer, and cleaned inside. Had lunch nearby at Jakey’s Amish Barbeque! Really pretty good barbeque and excellent fresh french fries. Nothing special about the atmosphere and it was cold inside so we ate out on the porch.

When we stopped at the Cracker Barrel the night before we saw that there were a couple of shopping centers right nearby with a a lot of outlet stores so we swung by there. Nancy picked up a few bargains and Dennis found a Black & Decker outlet that was having a one day 25% off sale and picked up a nice battery powered drill to replace the old one that died a year or so ago. Did a little touring around the area and then back home and had a relaxing evening.

Tuesday 8/24

Nice sunny morning, but overcast built up during the day with a bit of rain. We went into Lancaster to check out the Lancaster Central Market. The market was very interesting, and fairly crowded for a weekday. They are in the process of rebuilding the interior, so sections of it are closed off. Looks like it is going to be really nice when the refurbishing is completed.

We bought sandwiches for lunch, but there was no place in or around the market where we could sit and eat, so we walked a few blocks to a park where we found a table to eat at.

After the market we went west to Columbia to see the the National Watch and Clock Museum. This turned out to be a really impressive place! We spent about two and a half hours there and could have easily spent an entire day if our feet had not given out. A very comprehensive clock and watch collection.

On the way home we did some searching for a grocery store. They seem to be few and far between around here for some reason. Back home we went to Isaac’s Deli in Strasburg for diner and relaxed.

Wednesday 8/25

Took a drive through the rolling countryside on back roads. Lots of horses and buggies. At various time we have seen farmers working with horses and family members harvesting corn, tobacco, wheat, and alfalfa. Pretty farms with good looking crops.

Stopped at the Bird-In-Hand market. A guidebook said we would find more local products there than at the Lancaster Market, but we were a bit disappointed. It was fairly small and a lot of the stuff was not really local. Good looking meats and baked goods though.

Drove up to Lititz and visited the oldest pretzel factory in America, Jacob Sturgis. A simple tour of a small 18th century pretzel factory and some really good pretzels. Had lunch at a deli in Litltz and then went to Wilbur Chocolate. Nice displays of the history of chocolate making and a really nice chocolate shop, with some pretty good chocolate.

On the way home we finally found a farm selling goat milk, Nancy had not been able to find any in the stores around here! The stand was well off the road by the barn, no one around except two young boys. Payment on the honor system, with a note to “leave money in top drawer”. When we opened the drawer we found a full stocked cash cash drawer! Not just what people had paid today, but a substantial amount of cash - 5’s, 10’s 20’s! Talk about trusting!

We had a very nice dinner at Revere Tavern, just down the road from our campground.

Thursday 8/26

This morning we drove back around some of the back roads between Paradise and Strasburg, looking for a couple of farm stands Nancy had noticed before. Picked up some eggs and cheese. Then we droce through Lancaster and visited Wheatland, the home of President James Buchanan.

Wheatland was a very interesting home with a delightful tour that gave a real insight into the personality of the 15th president. One particularly interesting tidbit - President Buchanan established a fund in the City of Lancaster to provide firewood to widowed and indigent women in the city of Lancaster. In his will he left an additional $2,000 to the fund. Eventually the fund was dissolved and the remaining monies were distributed to churches in the city of Lancaster. Some of the churches invested that money and even today they continue using the income to assist poor people in paying their winter fuel bills!

After Wheatland we stopped at Cracker Barrel for lunch (yes, we’re boring) and then went by the Bird-In-Hand market to pick up some cold cuts. We also wanted to get some mince meat, but found out it is not made fresh until mid-September.

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and we sat outside under the awning and relaxed. Nancy did some laundry and Dennis loaded the car in preparation for leaving Friday AM. We had dinner at a dinner down the raod from our campground.

Friday we will be back on the road and headed west. Plan on stopping in Salem and Paulding Ohio on the way to Elkhart for the Gypsy Gathering.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

We're at Bristol and it's Hot!!

We had planned on leaving first thing Tuesday morning the 17th, but we were loaded and ready to go Monday afternoon and since Dennis prefers driving at night we decided to take off Monday evening. We went to our regular Monday evening Yoga class and then hooked up and headed out about 10 PM Central time.

As it turns out we were happy about leaving in the evening since there was a fair amount of construction around Indianapolis, which could have been a mess during the middle of the day. We went on through Indy and stopped at our regular Cracker Barrel in Shelbyville, IN.

After a leisurely breakfast we headed on down the road. The trip was uneventful and the weather was good until we got into Tennessee where we ran into a couple of fairly heavy rain showers, heavy enough to slow traffic on I-81. We arrived at the track a little after 5 PM. Did a quick set-up and headed over to the Ridgewood for some Bar-B-Que!! Had to wait about 20 minutes - to many people have been blabbing about how good the food is there!

Our new Winegard Trav’ler satellite dish works great! One button push and it is locked on all three satellites, sure a lot easier than messing around with the portable dish on a tripod.

Whelen Modified and the truck race tonight. It is hot here, cloudy so the temps are only around 80, but the humidity is unusually high for the mountains, so it is pretty uncomfortable walking around these hills. We'll be here until Sunday when we will be heading north to PA.

Friday, August 13, 2010

About Ready to Hit the Road Again - Yeah!

Hope you all had a great summer, it's been really hot here in the midwest, but pretty uneventful. The fiver has spent the last two months at our local (former) Newmar dealer. They did not have a lot to do, but since we did not need it until now they kept it on the lot and used it to fill in between more urgent jobs. Had the wheel bearings greased, propane system checked, roof inspected and sealed, some body work on dings and scratches, and....tah-da! A Winegard Trav'ler satellite dish installed! No more messing around with the portable dish and spending 20 to 30 minutes to locate one satellite. Now we just turn it on and it does it all by itself, and locks onto all three Dish Network satellites. I'll let you know how it works out since all I have done so far is confirm that it finds the satellites sitting in our driveway.

We are headed out the first part of next week for Bristol, TN on our semi-annual trek to Thunder Valley. Looks like good weather for the race next weekend, but hot. After the race we will going to SE Pennsylvania for a week and then the Gypsy Gathering in Elkhart for a week. Should be home by Labor Day weekend.

Won't have on-line access at the track campground, but I'll try to post an update later in the week.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Back Home Again

After finishing up all the details in Florida I (Dennis) headed north late Tuesday morning. We decided that Baltimore would be the best place to meet based on cost and location, so Nancy scheduled a flight to arrive at BWI Thursday evening. By leaving on Tuesday I had some cushion built into the schedule, which turned out to be a good thing as I spent most of the day Wednesday at Central Carolina Truck Sales, the Volvo dealer in Kernersville, NC. My main concern had been to get to a campground on Wednesday evening so I could watch the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, which they did.

Tuesday evening the truck began losing throttle response and each time I stopped the problem got worse, eventually I was using the cruise control for acceleration. I decided to take advantage of the light traffic and push on through the night. I arrived at Mayberry Campground in Mt Airy, NC at 5:30 AM Wednesday morning. Located the nearest Volvo dealer and then got down there and joined the service line first thing in the morning. Fortunately they were able to determine the problem and had the parts on hand to repair it.

So Thursday morning I was back on the road with an easy trip into BWI to meet Nancy. Picked her up about 8 PM and we headed on north, it sure was nice to have her with me again! It had been a tough week.

We arrived at St Regis Campground in Potsdam, NY late Friday afternoon after spending the night a a Cracker Barrel in PA. The campground is small, but in a very pretty location with the St. Regis river running right behind our rear window.

Spent the weekend visiting with relatives, had a brief graveside service Monday afternoon and a nice wake with a small group of relatives at Dennis’ cousins house afterwards. On Tuesday we visited the small museum in the village of Russell where Dennis' mom lived when he was born. His grandfather was the doctor in the village, an old fashioned country doctor and the last one in the village since he died in 1947! We gave the museum some pictures of Dr. Teepell and made arraignments to send them some material from both the Teepell family and Dennis' father's WWII experiences.

We headed for home on Wednesday morning. The best route for traveling from far upstate NY to Chicago is through Canada, so we crossed the St Lawrence river at Ogdensburg and headed west on the 401 through Toronto. We spent Wednesday night at Prospect Hill Camping north of London, ON. A good sized campground with a lot of permanent and seasonal campers, but pretty quiet on a week night. Once again a pretty spot by a small stream. The only noise there was the lowing of cows a quarter mile away!

Crossed back into the US at Port Huron, MI, took I-69 west to avoid Detroit, dropped down to I-94 and then around the south side of Chicago. Got home around 5 PM Thursday. It took the entire weekend to get the trailer unloaded! We were living in the Mountain Aire just 9 days short of six months and it worked out very well. We are very pleased with the way the trailer stood up to full time living and in how comfortable it was for the two of us.

Our next trip will be in mid-August to Bristol, TN for the NASCAR race and then the Gypsy Gathering in Elkhart, IN. I’ll post once and a while between now and then as things of interest come up.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Florida Sojourn Comes to an End

Well, our unplanned extended RV living experience is drawing to a close. My (Dennis’) mother passed away Saturday morning (6/5), so after wrapping up loose ends here I will be heading to Northern New York for her burial. We have picked out the St Regis Campground in Potsdam, NY which is fairly close to our family in Canton. Expect to be there by the end of the week and after things settle down there we will finally be heading home! Plans are in flux right now, but I expect that Nancy will meet me in Syracuse, NY on the way north. Seems to make more sense than having her fly back here and then ride along all the way back north since there will not be any funeral service here in FL.

I’ll post a wrap up of our trip in a couple of weeks. We expect to be home in Geneva until mid-August when we will head to Bristol, TN for the NASCAR race and then on the way home we are planning on participating in the Eastern Gypsy Gathering in Elkhart, IN at the end of the month.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Quick Trip to Geneva & A Shiny Clean Truck

5/15 - 5/30

Wow, it’s Memorial Day already and I am at least a week late in updating our blog. We decided that Nancy needed to spend some time at home as she had a few routine appointments coming up and a few things to take care of there. So we headed north in the Volvo on Thursday the 20th. Pretty uneventful trip, we just took the truck and left the smart and the trailer in FL. Spent one night in a motel in TN and got home late on Friday afternoon. Had take-out dinner from Mike & Miguel’s, our favorite Mexican restaurant.

Everything was in very good shape at home, except for the big freezer in the garage. I had neglected to move it off of the GFI circuit and sure enough the breaker tripped some time over the last five months! What a mess! So Saturday while Nancy did some grocery shopping I put on a filter mask and rubber gloves and tossed all of the thawed and moldy contents of the freezer. Fortunately there was not a lot of meat in there! After dumping everything the inside was thoroughly cleaned with a Clorox and water mixture, no permanent harm done.

It was really nice to have a somewhat normal weekend at home for a change. Sunday evening Dennis headed back south alone. That truck is great for trips like this. When I got sleepy I just hit a rest area or truck stop and took a nap. One fuel stop at the Flying J in Oak Grove, KY and I was back at Sun Lake RV by 1 AM Tuesday morning. 1,230 miles in 26 hours, not bad.

My Mom is about the same, the doctor says she is “stabilized”. I have spent some time just sitting with her this week. I found a great little hand car wash place right near our campground where we have been getting the smart done and they did a fantastic job on washing the truck this week, it looks better than it ever has, particularly the wheels and the aluminum step plates. All for $65 plus tip!

The Blackhawks won the first game of the Stanley Cup finals on Saturday night - yeah Hawks. It was a great game, the series should be exciting. Sunday, in addition to being Memorial Day, is a big race day. Watched the F1 race from Turkey in the early morning, then the Indy 500, and now the NASCAR Coke 600 is on!

Still hotter than Hades here in FL, guess that will be the situation for the next couple of months. The recharged AC in the smart is working great, as is the AC in the trailer. Won't have much to report for the next couple of weeks until Nancy returns. Pretty boring here without her!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shuttle Launch and a Beachfront Idyll

5/8 - 5/15/10

Nancy came back from her visit home on Tuesday and I was glad to have her back. My Mom is kind of up and down, mostly down and it does not look real good for the future. At this point we are just waiting things out.

We decided to go over to the east coast to watch the shuttle launch on Friday 5/14. This will be the final voyage of the Space Shuttle Atlantis, and there will be only two additional shuttle launches before the program is shut down. After doing some investigating we determined that the best place to watch from was around Titusville. We also found that traffic coming back west after the launch would be pretty bad, so we decided to find a room for Friday night - easier said than done at this late date. We decided to look farther south around Melbourne and found a small beachfront motel in Melbourne beach that had a room for Friday evening only.

The advice we found on the web suggested that we needed to be in place at our viewing spot “three to four hours” before the launch! As it turns out, that was good advice. We left Ruskin about 7:45 AM on Friday, took our usual back road route up through Plant City to I-4, then into Orlando where we headed east on FL 417 to FL 528. So far so good, started to pick up some traffic on 528, including a mile long back-up into the first toll booth. Traffic was heavy, but when we made the turn NE onto FL407 we came to a stop! We crawled along at no more that 10 miles and hour, with lengthy full stops. It took over an hour to go the four miles to I-95! Only bright spot was that this area had clouds of love bugs, but we were not going fast enough to splatter them on the car (we made up for this on Saturday!) Realizing that we were probably in the traffic actually going into the Kennedy Space Center - for which tickets were required - we hopped on I-95 north and easily made it into downtown Titusville. The best viewing was shown as “Space View Park” so we went looking for that, a pretty easy search given the crowds headed that way! We found a very convenient parking spot for $15, good thing we have a tiny car and could fit it into the last space in this particular lot. Walking into the park we found a good spot along the street in the shade of a palm tree to set up our chairs, eventually there were four of us moving along with the shade of this tree as the day wore on!

We were in place about 10:30 AM - for a 2:20 PM launch! There was a pretty sizable crowd already there, any later and we would have been hard pressed to find any shade at all! We spent the next several hours reading, chatting with our neighbors, and people watching. By the time of the launch the crowd was huge and people were even standing waist deep in the water in the bay between the arms of the park.

In the center of this picture there is a gazebo at the end of the pier, just to the left of it is a mound on the far shore, the launch pad is just to the left of that mound. As it turned out we had an excellent viewing spot and could see the launch quite clearly. We were about 15 miles from the launch pad and a little over a minute after ignition we could clearly hear the sound of the launch, just about the time I took this picture:

Afterwards we were able to get our things collected and back to the car pretty quickly. We then headed south on US 1 and of course traffic was horrendous for the first hour. Thank goodness we got the AC fixed in the smart! It performed flawlessly all the way along. It took two hours to get to Melbourne Beach, what should have been about an hour drive, but it was well worth it. The Sea View Motel was exactly as advertised, nice, clean and our king bed room was right on the beach. Here is a picture of Nancy on our patio just after we arrived:

It was a beautiful evening with a nice sea breeze and we took a long walk on the beach before dinner. This motel is on what amounts to a private beach that runs for miles with only a few houses, as well as a nature preserve and a county park, a really pretty spot.

We walked across the street to Cafe Coconut Cove, an excellent German restaurant with good German beer on draft, and had a very nice dinner as we watched the sunset across the Indian River Lagoon.

Saturday morning we were up before dawn so we could watch the sunrise from our patio.

Then we took a nice long walk on the beach and came across tracks where a sea turtle had come ashore during the night to bury her eggs. To get an idea of the scale, those are ATV tracks in the upper right corner of the picture. This was one big turtle, the tracks were about 30” wide, and we could see where she came up and turned, the mound where the eggs are buried, and a second set of tracks (top of picture) where she returned to the water.

After breakfast we sat on our patio and enjoyed the ocean view for a couple of hours before heading back to Ruskin. We drove south on the barrier islands to Vero Beach and then took highway 60 back west through Lake Wales and Bartow before dropping south in Mulberry to FL 674 west. The love bugs were out in force and when we stopped for lunch at Lake Wales Family Restaurant we washed a lot of the bugs off and hosed off the front of the car. When we got to the car wash in Sun City Center later in the afternoon the guy said “Wow, I did not think you could kill that many bugs with a smart car!”, then we told him we had already washed it once today!

Back to our home away from home by mid-afternoon after a really nice interlude on the east coast. We would heartily recommend the Sea View Motel for anyone looking for a nice beachfront location in Florida.

Tomorrow, Sunday, is the Formula One Race from Monaco, and then the Blackhawks play the first game of the Western Conference finals in the afternoon, so we know where Dennis will be!

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Private Bicycle Path (Almost)

4/29 - 5/7/10

We have been trying to find a good place to ride our bicycles around here. The roads are narrow and the traffic moves fast, so it is not real conducive to cycling. We had noted that the north golf course in Sun City Center has been closed for over a year and had though it might be a good place to walk. Friday morning we went over and walked around the front nine. It has become almost a nature preserve, lots of birds and not much else. We saw a few people walking and though it would be a good place for a bicycle ride.

When Dennis set up the bicycle rack for the back of the trailer he also welded a hitch receiver on the headache rack on the truck so we could mount the bicycle rack on the deck. A bit of overkill using a 17,000 lb. truck to carry two bicycles, but hey - it works.

So Saturday morning we took the bikes (which have suffered a bit from being exposed to the elements for four months) over to the course and rode around the entire course, probably about seven miles (Dennis’ odometer seems to have quit working). We did the same on Sunday morning. It was like having our own private bike path. Sunday morning we saw five walkers, two other bikers, and one golf cart the whole time we were there.

Made a quick trip to to the outlet shops in Ellenton and then we took another trip up to Tarpon Springs for lunch at Rusty Bellies and some fresh shrimp from Pelican Point Seafood. Nancy wanted to get one more meal in before the Gulf oil spill ruined the fishing.

On the way up to Tarpon Springs we stopped at Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary. A small place that does a wonderful job of rescuing injured seabirds, handling an incredible number of injured birds in the average year. They are already gearing up to rescue bird involved with the oil spill, signing up volunteers and asking for donations of Dawn dishwashing liquid, which seems to be the best thing for cleaning oil soaked birds.

Nancy headed home for the weekend on Thursday the 6th in order to spend Mothers Day weekend with her Mom. The weather here is miserable, 94 or 95 degrees every day and seriously humid - not where we want to be this time of year! Friday morning the low was 76 degrees!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Still Hanging Out in Florida

Both Friday the 23rd and Tuesday the 27th we went back out to E. G. Simmons Park on Tampa Bay and sat by the water. On Thursday we had watched a manatee with a calf in one of the estuaries here. Friday we found a nice shady spot near the waters edge where we could sit and read. After a while we lost the breeze, which meant the flies started biting and we had to move a bit away from the water into another shady spot where there was a breeze to keep the flies down.

On Tuesday we found a spot with a lovely breeze and a nice view of Tampa Bay - no bugs at all! We sat there for a couple of hours, reading and just enjoying the beautiful weather and the sea breeze. We were able to watch pelicans diving for fish less that 50 feet away from where we were sitting. It was really fascinating to see the pelicans diving into the water and coming up with a fish! We also caught a glimpse of a dolphin a ways out into the bay.

We have been spending a fair amount of time in the evenings watching the Stanley Cup playoffs - Go Hawks! Since we have both a cable connection and our satellite dish we can get Chicago Sports Net on Dish Network and Versus on local cable so we can see most of the games.

It got pretty warm here over the weekend and we finally had to break down and turn on the AC - and it did not work! Flipped it on and nothing happened; switched to fan only and still had nothing; checked all the fuses and everything was OK; checked the control and everything seemed OK. Then, while we were standing around and scratching our heads and wondering where we would find an RV tech to take a look at it, it started operating! This was about a half hour after we first turned it on! Soon it was blowing air at 47 degrees and working just fine. Only thing we can figure is some sort of circuit breaker needed power for a period of time before it would reset. Whatever it was the AC ran for two days solid without a hitch before it cooled of enough Monday evening to open up again. Speaking of AC, the one in the smart is working like a champ now. Guess we were to quick to condemn it as inadequate for four years!

On the subject of weather, Sunday evening we had some pretty substantial thunderstorms in the area. Most of the worst stuff went north of us, but there were a few times during the night that the trailer was rocking in the wind. It is kind of cool to watch the weather radar here since the National Weather Service radar dome is just a half mile down the street from where we are parked. You can see exactly what the weather is doing since we can tell right where we are. The local frogs seem to have liked the rain - they are singing away this evening (Tuesday).

After leaving the park Tuesday morning we stopped at Ybor Grille for lunch. Nancy had the grouper sandwich and Dennis the pork sandwich. Excellent as usual and this time we scarfed everything down with nothing left to take home for dinner! The we stopped at Hydro Harvest Farms, a hydroponic farm in Ruskin. It is a U-pick place and all of the herbs, leaf plants, peppers, and strawberries are grown hydroponically in pot. Pretty interesting and we picked up fixin’s for salads for dinner.

Wednesday the 28th we drove down to Bradenton in search of a natural foods store and lunch. We drove out to Bradenton Beach to check out Rotten Ralph’s 2. Looked OK, but it was still early and we like the original Rotten Ralph’s a lot, so we took a walk on the pier and then drove up to the north of Anna Maria Island. Had a leisurely lunch at the original Rotten Ralphs, and then stopped at Richard’s Whole Foods in Bradenton. Not exactly a scintillating day, but sometimes you take what you can get.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kayaking and Good Food

4/15 - 4/22

On Thursday the 15th we took another kayak ride down the Little Manatee River from Canoe Outpost. The water in the upper part of the river was considerably lower than on our last trip, which meant more work for us! Instead of just floating along on the current we had to paddle and steer around sandbars. We rubbed bottom a number of time and at one point Dennis had to get out and push!

We started about an hour earlier in the morning, so we went on past the normal lunch point and stopped at the take-out point and had lunch.Then we went a little farther down the river. We had planned on going around the Little Manatee Loop, but the river widens out and there was a fairly stiff breeze blowing downstream. We were concerned about how hard it would be to work our way back upstream against the wind, so we did not go too far, opting instead to to explore a few side channels. That came to an end when Nancy saw a large alligator slip into the water about 20 feet away from us!

We also saw the same small alligator as last trip near the take-out point and a number of turtles, although not as many as last time, maybe because it was earlier in the day and the banks were not yet in the sun. Not a lot of birds this time either. The last trip we saw some Swallow Tail Kites.

On Friday the 16th we took another drive up to Tarpon Springs in celebration of our 18th wedding anniversary and had lunch at Rusty Bellies. We sat on the deck and watched the fishing boats come in to the seafood store dock next door. After stocking up on fresh local shrimp we came back home. Says something about our desperation that we are willing to drive two hours through fairly heavy traffic just for a good place for lunch (and the fresh shrimp!).

On Tuesday the 20th we went to Ybor Grille to celebrate Dennis’ 65 birthday - hello Medicare! As usual it was an excellent dinner.

We tend to visit a grocery store almost every day since the trailer has limited storage, a fairly small refrigerator and a tiny freezer. So we have hit a number of different grocery stores while we are here. Seems the best one for the kinds of foods we like is Publix. There do not seem to be any Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s type stores around here and Nancy is feeling the loss.

The weather is still reasonable, although it is getting hot. So far we have not needed our AC as it is cooling off quite nicely at night and we are parked in the only shady spot in the Sun Lake RV Resort! We are backed up to fairly large trees on the west side that shade us from the sun from mid-day on and it is quite pleasant.

Thursday the 22nd - We went over to E G Simmons Park and took a nice walk along along the beach. There are a couple of areas where you can walk through the mangoes along the shore and out on small fishing piers. On one of these we saw a manatee out in the estuary. It was rolling around and surfacing quite frequently. We stood and watched him for 15 or twenty minutes, really kind of a neat thing to see. Being a weekday there was hardly anyone in the park, so we had the whole place to ourselves, although the boat ramp was fairly busy.

Thursday evening we drove into Tampa and had a delightful dinner at Chefs on the Loose . We stumbled across this outfit on-line, they offer small group dinners with “hands on” participation in preparing the dinner. It is a very nice room, very crisp and minimalist, with adjacent kitchen and work counters with room for all of the attendees to participate. The dinner was presented by Chef Bobby Triplett, who is a guest chef at Chefs on the Loose. He did a really nice job preparing an interesting menu:

“Roasted and Ripened” Bruschetta: (Roasted Red Pepper and vine Ripened tomato)

“Real Deal Cesar Salad with herb roasted Sunday Chicken” A from scratch Cesar salad with roasted chicken and croutons like you have never seen before.

“Green With Envy” A grilled Pork chop marinated in Basil Spinach pesto, topped with the most perfect poached egg. Served with Sweet Potato Chips and creamy BBQ vinaigrette

For Dessert: “Grilled Peaches and Cream” Grilled Peaches served with a Homemade Vanilla Pecan Ice cream, topped with a dark cherry caramel rum sauce.

There were only nine guests there, so everyone got to participate in preparing the food as much as they wanted. Dennis sliced tomatoes for the bruschetta while Nancy learned to slice "ribbons" of basil. Chef Bobby and the rest of the staff at Chefs on the Loose were fun and personable. It was a a lot of fun; we picked up some good tips on food preparation and recipes; the food was wonderful; and the guests and staff made for a very enjoyable evening. Next time you are looking for an interesting evening in the Tampa area you can’t miss with Chefs on the Loose!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Air Conditioner Works!, so did Leonardo.

4/2 - 4/14

Still spending time caring for Dennis’ mom. We have managed to see and do a few interesting things. We went over to the nearby Tampa Electric Plant to check out the Manatee viewing area. They have a very nice nature walk and museum set up there. While we did not visit the free museum we did walk out onto the pier in the estuary and then to the manatee viewing area. The manatees there are apparently not as numerous as they were during the colder weather, when there were several hundred in the area, but we were able to watch about a dozen manatees swimming around from the viewing platform.

We drove up to the Apple store in Brandon to pick up a new battery for Dennis’ laptop, which gave us a chance to play around with the new iPad. That is really an amazing piece of hardware and may be a real game changer when it come to the world of computers. Nancy compared it to automobiles - in the beginning a person needed to understand how they worked in order to drive them, today you just get in and turn the key. Here is a link to an MSNBC article on the impact of the iPad http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36158687/ns/technology_and_science-tech_and_gadgets//

Other than the apps though, our laptops generally will do everything the iPad does and do it better. We will stick with the laptops and iPod for now.

While we were in the area we stopped by the Camping World in Seffner and picked up a few things. One of them was two new snap-on screens for our Fan-Tastic Vents. We have three Fan-Tastic Vents, all of which are temperature controlled with rain sensors. Only the newest one though has the snap-on screen cover. The other two have the old style that require removing eight little screws to remove and clean the screen. Here at Sun Lake RV Resort we are backed up to a line of trees which give us delightful afternoon shade, but also drop a lot (and this time of year I mean A LOT) of debris on us. Inevitably some of this gets into the fans and starts to make noise. Life will be a lot easier now with the snap-on covers since Dennis needs to stand on a chair to reach the fan in the living room.

Since we were in Brandon we had to stop at La Septima for lunch, it was great as usual. When we got home we discovered that we had picked up the wrong laptop battery! Why didn’t you check in the store doofus! So....the next day we went back to Brandon (it is only about 15 miles away) and picked up the correct battery, played with the iPads a bit more, and had lunch at La Septima again! Might as well make the best of it, right?

We went in to Tampa to check out the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit at MOSI - the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry. The Da Vinci exhibit was excellent, very interesting and well presented. It was not crowded at all as it was a weekday and we spent several hours browsing through the exhibit. We should note that this is a commercially produced exhibit that focuses on Da Vinci’s overall genius in science, anatomy, architecture, invention, and the fine arts, but it was not an art exhibit and there were no original works on display. It included models of many of his inventions and a very comprehensive, high resolution photographic analysis of the Mona Lisa, along with reproductions of many of his other works. Well worth the price of admission.

The rest of MOSI was a bit of a disappointment. It is mainly aimed at kids and what we saw of the exhibits (granted not all of them) they are far from the claimed “state-of-the-art” and actually a bit tattered around the edges. Other than the Da Vinci exhibit we would not recommend MOSI.

The price of admission did included one movie in the I-Max theatre, so we watched the new release of “Alice in Wonderland” which was enjoyable.

We have found a place nearby where we can catch a weekly yoga class, we have missed doing yoga since we arrived in Florida, so we are now going to Apollo Beach Yoga once a week to get loosened up.

As the weather is heating up here our smart car is a bit warm with it’s glass roof. The AC has always been marginal around town and barely adequate on the highway and it had now stopped cooling altogether. We located a local auto repair shop that was willing to take a look at adding refrigerant so we stopped by. Turns out the AC connections are not very accessible! One will need to remove the entire front panel in order to get access.

So we went back home and Dennis looked up the information on evilution. Sure enough, he had step-by-step instructions with pictures. So we made an appointment at Southshore Auto Repair. The morning of our appointment we parked the smart in the shade and proceeded to remove the entire front panel of the smart. Other than being a two person job to lift off the panel, it was not to bad, just seven clips on the grille and fifteen bolts on the panel and it lifted right off!

Kind of looks like a NASCAR car at Martinsville! Also makes us think of Wall-E!

Turns out there was virtually no refrigerant left in the system! No leaks, just gradual loss from sitting (the car did sit for better than a year while G&K was trying to get approval for their gray market conversion). Once Greg at Southshore Auto did his thing the AC was blowing at 40 degrees! Guess we should have done this years ago - the AC is working great now, even in the Florida sun! By the way, the folks at Southshore turned out to be good people to deal with.

Dennis’ Mom continues to deteriorate and it does not look like she will be able to move to the Assisted Living facility after all, so we have canceled the lease there and are just sitting tight, waiting to see what the next few weeks bring. We are really thankful that we have our RV and are able to live comfortably while we are here looking after her. We are also thankful for the great care she is receiving at Sun Terrace Health Care. This is where she started her rehabilitation after surgery and they are continuing to care for her. The staff has been very attentive, caring and supporting throughout her stay and we are very happy with the care she is receiving.