Saturday, December 17, 2011

1,153 miles later...

December 17, 2011—We spent the last two days of our vacation at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound, Fla., where we stayed in July. It’s really a nice state park—it even has sewer hookups.

This state park was home to the Army Signal Corps during WWII. It was turned over to the state at the end of the war, and opened as a park in 1950. Most people visit it to engage in hiking, fishing, canoeing, or boating on the Loxahatchee River. Jim and I did some fresh-water  fishing off the boat dock in the park, but we didn’t have any luck. It was restful, however, and I really want to go fishing more often.

We also took an auto tour of the park, guided by an audio CD. Interesting. This is the second time we've done this (Andersonville was the first); it's a nice way to learn about the sites.

One of the sites is Hobe Mountain. Yes, there is a "mountain" in Florida! The mountain rises to the elevation of 86 feet above sea level! It is actually the highest place south of Lake Okeechobee. The climb wasn't too bad; the park has a plank sidewalk and graduated steps to lead you up to the observation tower. From there it is possible to see for miles.
Jim, standing in the observation tower at the highest point south of Lake Okeechobee. 


I thought perhaps I would finally get to do some snorkeling at the Palm Beach County park where I used to go, several years ago. However, the weather still did not cooperate. It was less windy in Hobe Sound than in the Keys, but the seas were much too choppy. So, the one thing I really wanted to do on vacation, I couldn’t do.

Last night we had an early Christmas with Bo, Georgina, and Bowen. I can’t believe how much Bowen has grown! He’ll be 5 in February. It was good to see the family.
Bo, Bowen, Georgina, and Jim


We left about 10:30 this morning for the long drive home. When we stopped for lunch at a rest area, I discovered that we lost the door covering the heater. Somehow it had come unlatched and blew off. We also discovered, when Jim took the bikes down, that my bike has a damaged frame as well as a bent front wheel. I suspect both bikes will have to be replaced, along with the bus’s ladder. I hope Jim gets over his “thing” about palm trees.

The cats traveled better this time. Xena actually spent most of the time out of her hiding place. Charlie came out briefly while we were traveling, and at the last stop, he did not remain in hiding for very long before venturing out.

When we got home, however, Charlie stubbornly remained in the back of the kitchen cabinet. Somehow I managed to get hold of him and dragged him out. He was quite happy to be home.

We traveled 1,153 miles on this trip. It was a good vacation. I’d say the highlights were at Crystal River (it had the best campground and we saw the mermaids), followed by catching a fair-sized fish, and seeing Bo, Georgina, and Bowen. The Keys? Forget them. They don’t have any appeal to me. But now I can say that I’ve been to the southern-most part of the United States.

Until next time—which will be in January,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Uh, oh

December 15, 2011—It wouldn’t be a camping trip without a bit of trouble.

Actually, except for that little incident with the palm tree and bicycles (see an earlier blog), we’ve had very little trouble since our first real trip back in July. That’s when we hitched up the “toad” (our car) at the place where we store it and then literally dragged it about five miles before realizing that the wheels were locked up. We discovered the problem when a good Samaritan told us we had lost a wheel cover. We actually lost both front wheel covers. Made from plastic, they had melted off the wheels from the friction caused by the dragging. Since that experience, whenever we hitch up the car, I watch to make sure the wheels turn freely. (Incidentally, that learning experience was a bit costly: In addition to buying new tires, we also had to get new wheel bearings, and have some work done on the brakes. The cost? More than $800.)

The other bit of trouble we had encountered in August was a cracked windshield. Fortunately, it was covered 100% by our insurance.

Today’s troubles didn’t cost us anything, but they might have. We left the Florida Keys this morning and drove up to Hobe Sound, just north of West Palm Beach, where we had reservations at Jonathan Dickinson State Park (very nice). Jim pulled the bus in front of our campsite and unhitched the car. As he was doing that, I prepared the car for driving.

Our car, a 2009 HHR, which looks like a miniature station wagon, requires going through a simple procedure to tow it: You turn the key to ACC, put the gear shift in neutral, and pull a specific fuse. Doing this disengages power. To prepare the car for driving, you put the fuse back in, put it in park, and then start it up. Easy. Except this time, when I put the fuse back in, we had no power. For some reason, the battery had discharged. (Taking out the fuse is supposed to alleviate this, and always has—until today). I managed to put the car into park, but could not start it.

Unfortunately, without power, we could not take the car out of park. That meant we could not push it out of the way. It was in front of our camping space, and it was blocking the road.

We hoped by jumping the battery the problem would be solved. Unfortunately, the battery is in the back of the cargo area (not under the hood, as in most cars). And the jumper cables were also in the stowage area in the cargo area—under two sets of golf clubs and miscellaneous other things. When Jim tried to open the “way-back” door, it wouldn’t open. All the other doors were unlocked, but that one wasn’t. And there is no lock on it; it unlocks electronically. What dodo engineer designed that?

I looked in the auto manual for help. We discovered that to jump-start an HHR, you don’t attach the jumpers to the battery, which is essentially inaccessible. The engineers put a special jump station under the hood. That solved one problem, but we still had to unpack the cargo area to get to the jumpers—an awkward process since we had to do this through the side doors.

I’m happy to say that jumping the battery solved the problem. Everything in the car works again.

That wasn’t the end to our troubles, however. We parked the bus. After Jim got the sewer hose, water, and electricity connected, he proceeded to lower the jacks to level the bus. More trouble. The blocks under the left rear jack were not centered under the jack. As the jack came down, it tilted, and the jack itself went askew. When we pulled the jacks up, the jack’s plate fell off. And then the jacks would not go up or down.
I’m very proud of my husband; he can fix anything. He showed off his skills again. It took a while, but he managed to fix the jack. The bus is level, and everything works just fine.

With all that done, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner out. I’d say we deserved it.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Fish tales

December 14, 2011—The weather is not cooperating.

When you think “Florida Keys,” you automatically think sunshine, warm temperatures, and calm turquoise waters. Not necessarily so.

We’ve had sunshine (mostly), but the temperature has only been in the upper 70s. I know that sounds warm to anyone living in the now-cold northern climes, but to us who live in Florida (albeit northeastern Florida), the 70s, with a strong north wind, are anything less than warm. And the calm turquoise waters? The sea is beautiful, as you can see from the picture taken from our campsite, but the beach is strewn with seaweed, because the wind is coming out of the north. And it is very rough—much too rough to try to swim, even if you could get to the water through the seaweed trash.


So, my No. 1 objective—to snorkel—has not been achieved, and will not be today, either. Yesterday, the winds gusted up to 30 mph; I don’t think they will be any calmer today.

Since we could not snorkel, we decided to fish.

Our RV park is located just over 7 Mile Bridge. The Keys were first connected by a highway built by the railroad mogul Henry Flagler. Later a road was built. It has since been rebuilt, but parts of the old highway (and even part of the railroad bridge) remain. They are used as fishing bridges. Adjacent to either side of our RV park are two of these fishing bridges.

The day before yesterday, we decided to try our hand at fishing. We geared up, drove to the fishing bridge, and put our line in the water, baited with squid. A few hundred feet down from us were a group of Cubans. They were pulling fish out of the water right and left! These were not little fish; they were about two feet long and weighed several pounds.

We weren’t getting any bites, so I moved down closer to the Cubans. One of the men, who apparently spoke no English, motioned to give him my line. He pulled the squid off my hooks, rebaited them with live shrimp, and then I tossed the line back into the water.

Within five minutes I had a fish! It weighed about three pounds. We fed a lot of fish that day, and Jim caught a couple of little ones he had to throw back, but at least we had one.

Sort of.

We didn’t know what kind of fish it was. (Unfortunately, we didn’t have a camera with us to take a picture of that catch.) Later, through a Web search, we decided it belong to the jack family.

According to research, jacks are a love/hate catch. They put up a good fight, but many people don’t like to eat them, claiming they are trash fish. Others, however, say that they are good to eat, provided you prepare them correctly. That includes soaking them in buttermilk for four to eight hours.

We decided to try it. I found a recipe that sounded OK. We didn’t have any buttermilk, nor (at that time) did we have any lemon juice to make a substitute buttermilk. We did have mojo marinade, which has lemon and lime juices in it, so we improved.


Last night I prepared the fish. And it was good!

Yesterday, too, we went fishing again. Although I hauled in a small fish (in the picture), we did nothing more than make sure a lot of fish went to bed last night with a full tummy. We’ll see if we can do better today.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Been there, done that

December 10, 2011—I’ve lived in Florida since April 1998. The first year I moved here, I visited the Everglades, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I went snorkeling several times while I lived in Palm Beach County. I’ve visited several state parks. And I’ve done the Disney/Universal “thing.”

7-mile bridge to the Key West
Now I can add Key West to my list of “been there, done that.” That’s how I feel about the town. As we were walking down one of the main streets toward the waterfront square, Jim described it best, “Key West is the New Orleans of Florida.”

Tourists were everywhere, wall to wall. And so were the tourist traps—t-shirt shops, bars, restaurants, and more bars. On the wharf street entertainers begged people to watch their antics—juggling, unicycling, guitar playing—(and pay afterwards, I’m sure). It’s kind of fun to people watch, but I’m not into the Key West scene.

Actually I knew very little about Key West. I knew Ernest Hemingway spent time there, and his house has a lot of resident cats (44 to be exact), about half of which have six toes. I knew that on Halloween Key West has a big gay parade. And I knew that Key West is the farthest south you can go and remain in the United States.

A 6-toed cat at the Hemingway House
We toured the Hemingway House and saw the cats, as well as the office where Hemingway wrote much of his work. That was interesting. The rest of the town is ho-hum.
Hemingway House
Hemingway's Key West study


Mallory Square, waterfront, in the Keys. A ship was in port. So was Jim.
I think the rest of our time here in the Keys will be restful and good, assuming the weather cooperates. We arrived here about noon today, after making a short stop at John Pennecamp State Park, which boasts the nation’s first (and only?) underwater coral reef park, on our way down to the RV resort.

The coral reef is about six miles offshore. To get to it and enjoy it, you can take a glass-bottom boat ride, or you can sign up for snorkeling or scuba diving. I wanted to go on the glass-bottom boat excursion, but we missed the boat by a half hour, and the next one didn’t leave for two hours. Also, the seas were very rough, so we passed on the boat ride. Perhaps on the way back. Or not.

The RV resort is very big and very nice. It is directly on the water and adjacent to a fishing bridge. Our spot faces north to the bay, which is only a few hundred yards away. Tomorrow I intend to see if there are any fish in the sea. I hope the water will be warm. I think we may also try our hands at fishing, something we have been promising ourselves for a long time. We just haven’t gotten around to doing it. You know, it is true: Retired people are the busiest ones!

All in all, it was a good day, even though I wouldn’t be tempted to go to Key West again.
Linda at the end of the road...U.S. 1, that is


Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A castle made of coral

December 9, 2011—The Jacksonville PBS TV station has aired a program called “Weird Florida.” In it an old “cracker” (native Floridian, who in this case is an aging hippie), takes off in a convertible accompanied by his faithful dog to see oddities off the beaten track throughout Florida. It’s fun to watch.

One of the episodes showed the Coral Castle in Homestead, just southwest of Miami.

A 5 foot, 100 pound man by the name of Edward Leedskalnin, an immigrant from Latvia, spent 20 years building this castle, from 1920 to 1940. Everything in the castle is honed from native coral, which he himself quarried without the use of mechanized tools. It is amazing.

It is also very odd, to say the least.

Ed built the edifice to honor a love he never had. On the eve of his wedding, his bride-to-be, Agnes, told him she would not marry him. He left Latvia and eventually found his way to south Florida. He began building his castle in Florida City, but when civilization encroached on his privacy, he moved all of his creations—literally tons of them—to 10 acres he purchased in Homestead, 10 miles away.

Interestingly, no one ever saw Ed work on his castle. No one ever saw how he quarried the coral, how he moved it, and how he lifted these pieces, which weigh thousands of pounds. He did most of his work at night, by lantern. He claimed he could move the tons of coral by himself because he understood how to leverage weight. Incidentally, this man only had a fourth-grade education.

The castle has walls, rooms, and furniture. The sculpted the chairs, which are actually very comfortable, to rock. He made beds, tables, and even a bathtub, which he filled from a well he dug in the compound. He would fill the tub in the morning and by the afternoon, the sun would warm the water enough to bathe in. He even built a telescope similar to the ones created by the Incas and Mayas

.

I thought possibly I had seen this castle when I was a child, but when I asked my mother, she did not recall visiting it.. (Incidentally, in an earlier blog, I wrote that I had toured Florida with my family when I was about 5 or 6 years old. My mother told me today that the vacation occurred in 1953, when I was 8 years old.) 

Jim also took a tour of Florida in 1953, but he said he had never been to the Coral Castle. It was on his list of things to do. So, we did it.

Whether Edward Leedskalnin had been eccentric or truly crazy, the tour of his castle was worth the time. No one will ever know for sure how he managed to do the fantastic things he did. Jim has a theory, however: It was aliens.

We’ll never know.

Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Friday, December 9, 2011

Seashells

December 9, 2011—We drove around the Fort Myers area today. Can’t say I was terribly impressed, except for the seashells.
Our intention was to visit the Ford/Edison Winter Homes and then to go shelling on Sanibel Island. We found the estates easily enough, but we weren’t impressed enough with them to spend the asking fee of $20/person. The houses are big, to be sure, but they are not the opulent mansions I thought we would find.

Recently on Wealth TV (a channel recently added to our U-verse lineup), we’ve watched tours of estates of the rich and famous who lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sarasota, for instance, boasts the Ringling “castle.” According to what we viewed on the TV program, it is a site to behold, with all the extravagance that wealth could buy. But the winter homes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are humble, compared to Ringling’s (which we will go through when we “hit” the Tampa/Sarasota area, probably in the spring).

The banyan trees were huge, old, and beautiful. And the grounds, overlooking the river, were immaculately groomed. Edison also had a winter laboratory here; genius apparently does not stop working just because he left New Jersey. Neither of us was that interested, though, so we got back into our car and went off looking for Sanibel and Captiva Islands.

We drove the length of Sanibel, then Captiva. We had lunch at a little restaurant in Captiva, then we found beach parking and walked on the white sand.

Because of their location, the two barrier islands are the repository of all types of shells. Jim said that after a storm, the shores are literally covered with them. I picked up a number of pretty shells, none rare, but pretty nevertheless. There was not an overabundance of them, however.

We moved on to another beachfront. After hiking about a half mile, we finally found the shore and no shells! By this time, I was getting tired, so we headed back home.

I think (no, I know) I would prefer this west coast of Florida over the east coast (Palm Beach), because more Midwesterners migrate here, and I am not partial to the New York mentality of those who immigrate to the east coast. However, I don’t find anything particularly attractive about it. If we were to stay in Florida, I would stay put in Jacksonville.
Tomorrow we had farther south. We will probably stay in the Everglades tomorrow night and finally hit the keys on Sunday. I hope it continues to warm up, and that the waters will be clear, calm, and warm when I go snorkeling.
Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mermaids

December 7, 2011—About 60 years ago (maybe a little more), I made my first trip to Florida. At the age of 5 or 6, I don’t remember a lot about that trip; I only have snippets of memories.

I remember, for instance, that we were traveling by car (quite possibly a 1948 Ford), my dad driving. Our entourage consisted of dad, mom, my older sister Judy, me, and my brother John, who must have been less than 2 years old. I distinctly remember that he was sitting in a car seat, wedged between mom and dad. (of course, my memory may be bad; mom might correct me. As a sidenote: It has only been in the last 20 years or so that car seats became high tech and kids were forbidden to ride in the front. Both of my children survived front-seat car seats, without safety belts no less.)

We had driven all the way down to Miami Beach and had swum in the ocean. I remember seeing alligators and buying souvenirs. One of the souvenirs was a coconut shell carved to look like a monkey’s face, and it apparently was my brother’s. I remember this because I asked my mother, “Please give me Johnny’s head.” Mom was startled; she took my request literally for a few moments before she realized I wanted to see the coconut head.

Strange memory.

Another vague memory is visiting Weeki Wachee Springs and seeing the mermaids perform underwater. The mermaid show was “the” entertainment in Florida in those days, long before Mickey Mouse moved to Orlando. (I don’t think he had even taken up residence in California yet.) It was opened in 1947 with a small underwater seating area. After a few years, the seating area, which is 16 feet below the surface of the springs, was enlarged to hold 500 people. I imagine when my family visited the springs back in 1950 or 1951, it was quite crowded—a real tourist attraction.






We went back to Weeki Wachee Springs today. Crowds were not a problem. There were perhaps two dozen people at the mermaid show, and the same number who took the 25-minute boat ride on the Weeki Wachee River, a seven-mile long river of crystal clear water that is 97% pure.

A few years ago, Weeki Wachee went bankrupt, and the state took over the park. Visitors pay a relatively modest fee ($13 for an adult). The fee gives you access to a reptile show (educational), a boat ride, two mermaid shows, and a water park. The water slide did not look to be in commission today, and no one was swimming either. Of course, today was a rather ugly day here. It started out partly cloudy, and reached a high of about 75 degrees around noon. Then a front came in; the temperature dropped; and it started raining by the time we left the park around 2:30 p.m. On a hot summer day, the water would have been appealing, with its cool 72 degrees and its clarity, but not today.

Jim, who is “almost” a native of Florida, since he has lived here for so many years, had never been to Weeki Wachee, so the mermaids were a first for him. We watched their second show (they perform three times a day), but didn’t stay for the third. They were nice to see, but not nice enough to wait an hour with nothing else to do at the park, since we had already been on the boat ride and seen the snakes.

I didn’t swim with the manatees today, nor did we see any on the boat tour, but the day was fun, despite the weather.

Because we had a late breakfast and skipped lunch, we are now going to participate in another of retirement Florida’s traditions—an early bird dinner.

Tomorrow it is on to Fort Meyers/Sanibel Island, where we’ll go shelling and who knows what else?

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Palm trees

December 6, 2011

My husband has a “thing” about palm trees.

A couple of years ago, we traveled down to West Palm Beach, Fla., to attend a holiday party put on a social group with which he has been involved for more than 25 years. At that time, his friend Elaine invited us to stay at her house.

Our car at that time was a crossover Murano. (I miss that car! It was sexy.) Elaine had instructed us to park in her large back yard, which backs up to a canal. We had plenty of room; a hurricane the year before had taken out all of her large trees—all except one very tall palm tree. It was that one lonely tree that Jim hit—quite a feat, considering the size of the yard, that it was broad daylight, and that the Murano was equipped with a backup camera!

Today, we started on our trip to the Florida Keys. Our first stop is in Crystal River, Fla., an area near the Gulf, about mid-way down the west coast. The area is well known for access to manatees during the winter. In fact, it is possible to go on a snorkeling tour and swim with the manatees, something we are considering to do tomorrow.

The RV park management gave us a choice of spots—one on a canal or one more centralized in the park. We decided on the canal.

Jim unhitched the car before traversing the road to the RV site. When we got to it, I parked the car and got out to direct him as he backed up the motor home (also equipped with a backup camera). He has told me to stand on either side of the bus, as long as I was within his eyesight in the side mirrors. I was standing on the right side and directed him to back up. I also was telling him, via hand signals, to turn a bit to the right, and then to stop.

He didn’t stop. He backed into a nice, tall, palm tree.

The damage? Well, this was the first time we had carried our bicycles, which were hanging on a rack on the ladder on the back on Baby. We won’t be riding the bikes, though. Mine looks to be OK, but Jim’s (which was on the inside), has a scrunched front wheel. The ladder is also bent. (Both are most likely fixable.)

Oh, well.

Like I said, Jim has a thing for palm trees. I guess we’ll walk instead of ride.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Never leave home without toad

November 20, 2011—When we bought Baby last December, its odometer was just shy of 86,000 miles. When we came home today, it read 94,325 miles, so we’ve put on more than 8,000 miles trekking around the country. This last trip to/from Eustis, Fla., near Ocala, was only 258 miles, a mere drop in the odometer bucket.

Although we forgot some minor items this trip (an onion, flour), the only major thing we left behind was Toad—and we did not deliberately.

Toad, for those of you who are non RVers, is what we call our towed (get it?) car. We left toad in our driveway, for two reasons: No. 1, our instructions from the organizers of the Samboree said to unhook any towed vehicles before coming into the RV park. We assumed that was because it would be chaotic and crowded. Rather than deal with unhitching the car outside of the park, we would just leave it home. After all, we wouldn’t need it, would we? (That was reason No. 2.)

Technically, we did not need the car. We had sufficient food; and there were activities to keep us busy. As you already know, however, we participated in very few of the Samboree activities; they just weren’t our “thing.” The resort had a pool table, shuffle board, and heated swimming pool. But we did not use those either. It didn’t even occur to us to bring swim suits.

In hindsight, we should have brought the car. We had a good time, but we could have had a better time if we had been mobile. We were near the Ocala National Forest and several state parks, where we could have gone fishing. We were also near The Villages, where two good friends of mine live. We could have visited them and perhaps golfed, too.

But we couldn’t do those things because we didn’t have toad. Never again.

We did leave the cats home alone, with plenty of food and water and access to the outdoors, their favorite potty place. I don’t think they missed us at all, although they asked for their canned food almost as soon as we got in the door. We figure, though, that four days is about the limit of their being alone. Next time, in December when we go down to the Keys, they will come along with us.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Drooling

November 19, 2011—Whenever we go to a home show (twice a year in Jacksonville), we drool over certain items. One year it was kitchen cabinets; another year, flooring. We have replaced both in our house. At this “home show” (Samboree), we are again drooling—this time over newer motorhomes.

Because we are at a gathering of RV enthusiasts, several dealers have exhibits of new and used motorhomes here. It’s always fun (and dangerous) to look. Fun, because you get to see what’s new; dangerous, because looking gets you to wanting.

We toured probably a dozen RVs yesterday. Although the new ones are always pretty, we usually come away saying, “I’ll keep what I have.” But yesterday we saw a 2002 Itasca Holiday that gave us pause. It has two slides and an office area. It has a comfortable sleeper couch that opens electronically; a pull-out pantry; cherry finished cabinetry; wall-hugger recliner; and a shower that even has a seat in it! I think this RV could better accommodate the litter box and cat feeding paraphernalia.

It’s always fun to look, but as I said, looking leads to wanting. Who knows?

More on the Samboree…

This is really pretty boring. On the plus side, however, we attended a couple of vender-presented seminars in which we learned some things. We won a door prize (some wrenches). Jim bought a bicycle at a flea market. We got an excellent deal on a travel club membership. And we ate excellent barbeque at a local pub last night.

I would not go to another rally, although we will be going to Quartzite, Ariz., next January. That is not a rally per se, but it is a gathering of around a million RVers in one place at one time. We’ve been told it is something to experience at least once.

Going home tomorrow. I hope the cats survived all right without us and didn’t get into any mischief.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Thursday, November 17, 2011

On the road again and again

November 17—It’s a good thing home is where the heart is, because I haven’t been “home” for a while. Last week, I was not a Reluctant RoVer; I was a Squished Sardine, as Jim dropped me off at the airport to visit my Chicagoland family. Traveling by air used to be fun; now it is a chore.

A few weeks ago, we heard on the news that the TSA was no longer going to require shedding your shoes as your went through security at airports. That must have been at “selective” airports, because TSA still requires you to tread shoeless through the security zones.

The last time I departed through the Jacksonville airport, I was automatically sent through the full-body x-ray. Although I did not relish having some TSA officer see my naked body (or whatever they see), it was a lot easier to do that than to get patted down, which inevitably happens because my two artificial knees set off the alarms.

This time, however, I was herded through the security line, thinking I would be going through the x-ray scanner. Nope. Turns out, now you have to ask to have that done. I guess they had too many complaints. So, I ended up getting patted down. (On the return trip out of O’Hare, I asked to be scanned; it went much more quickly.)

My visit with my daughter and her family was great. The kids are growing so much, and they are smart as whips (as are my other grandchildren, too). We played games and read books. Ben, who is in first grade, read me a book, and I learned that one of his (and Campbell’s) favorite pastimes is to play “office”. I started to read The Secret Garden to Campbell, who is 8 and in third grade. The book was on my e-reader. When Jennifer and I saw a copy at a store we were shopping, I bought it. That night Campbell said, “Grandma, let me read it to you!” And she did. I thought it would be too advanced for her, but not so. My visit also included watching Campbell skate in a solo competition (and winning third place) and watching Ben practice with his gymnastics team.






Yesterday, barely 24 hours after returning home from Chicago, Jim and I hit the road again, in our Baby. We are in Eustis, Fla., north of Orlando, at a Good Sam Rally, called a Samboree. The place where we are staying has room for more than 900 RVs. I believe this rally has about 400. It is wall-to-wall RVs as far as you can see.
Good Sam’s is a club for RVers. We joined primarily for the discounts it offers at RV parks, as well as its insurance program (which is actually through GM). The cost to join is minimal for the benefits you receive, including a monthly magazine.

Since it is a club, Good Sam’s has state organizations, and they, in turn, have chapters. RVers can join one or more chapters, if they wish. Why they would want to do this, I’m not sure. None of these appeals to me. But, apparently, some people (a lot of people) like to do things in groups—travel in groups, play games (not my thing), and have dinners together.

OK, I’ll admit it: I am not a social person. I don’t like group activities. It is painful even to go to parties. I get my social needs satisfied on a one-on-one basis. My idea of having fun is to play golf or curl up with a book or do something on my own or with my husband or family. Once in a while I like to have lunch with “the girls,” but to join a group and do “things”? Not for me.

So, we’re having “fun” at this Samboree, if you consider spending two hours at an opening ceremony last night listening to people thank other people fun. We were told we had to wear a “first timer” ribbon and to go to a meeting at 8 a.m. this morning. Another 90 minutes wasted listening to people tell all of us “first timers” about their chapters…how much fun they have playing cards, games, going camping once a month, and eating together. Not my idea of fun at all.

But the time is not all a waste. The Samboree is next to a fair grounds, where every Thursday there is a flea market. We walked around the market and picked up some sweet oranges, nice tomatoes, and a bicycle! We’ve talked about taking bikes with us as we travel, but Jim’s was an old three-speed with skinny tires that needed to be replaced. Now he has a nice 18-speed bike with nubby tires that are good for off-road riding. We picked it up for a song—$35. I bought a new bike when I moved to Florida in 1998. I haven't ridden it since, well, about 1999. It's hanging in the garage, waiting for Jim to put on a comfortable new seat.

So, that purchase in itself has made the Samboree worthwhile. And, of course, being out on the road with my husband makes it worthwhile, too.

Me? Give me a computer, my e-reader, and a golf course and I’m a happy camper.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fishy disappointments

Oct. 29—We have talked about visiting the Georgia Aquarium almost since the day it opened. Every advertisement we have seen shows a completely immersive experience, as visitors walk through one of the largest sea-water tanks in the world and spy sharks, manta rays, and other fish swimming overhead.

We planned this vacation, which started with a visit to Rob and his family in Raleigh, to have its highlight at the aquarium.

Our plan was to stay at an RV park that was supposedly a few miles outside of Atlanta. As we drove, however, Garmina (our GPS) kept telling us that we had more than 60 miles to the RV park, yet the signs said that Atlanta was only 50 miles away. How could that be? The map in Passport America showed it on I85. I finally double checked and discovered that the campground directory had misplaced the location of the campground. It wasn’t on I85; it was north of Atlanta on I75.

Obviously, that would not do for us. Since the day was early, and Garmina told us we could be in Atlanta at the aquarium by about 11:30 a.m., we decided to take in the tanks today.

However, our challenge was to find a place to park. We asked a couple of attendants at parking lots; they wanted between $30 and $50—way too much. We began driving around trying to find street parking, where we would leave Baby and drive back to the aquarium in “toad.”

Atlanta doesn’t have much street parking.

Our final solution? We found a Target, where we were given permission to leave the motorhome for a few hours. Thank you, Target!


Onward to the aquarium, and a series of disappointments.

Disappointment No. 1—parking. The parking garage adjacent to the aquarium does not post its price, and you don’t find out how much until you are ready to leave. The cost was $10. We could have parked in a lot across the street for $5.

Disappointment No. 2 —cost of admission. Overpriced, for sure. Adult tickets are $24.95 (plus tax, of course); kids, $18.95. We seniors get a break. It “only” cost of $20.95, which was about $10 too much, for what the aquarium offered. (These prices are only for general admission, not the special dolphin show, 4D movie, or other “specials.”)

Disappointment No. 3—the aquarium itself. Yes, the tank is huge. Yes, they have four huge whale sharks. And yes, the tank is built so that you walk through it and the fish swim above you, simulating a diving excursion. All of that is nice, but it wasn’t worth the price of admission.

The aquarium has several themed areas, and many smaller tanks. We saw a few fish we had never seen before. But all-in-all, it was a big disappointment. If you have never been to an aquarium, I guess you would like it. But I’ve been to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago many, many times. I don’t know how much they charge, but whatever it is, you get more value, including several shows, at no extra cost.

After the aquarium, we considered visiting Underground Atlanta. Garmina found it for us, but again, parking was an issue (just the car, not the RV). So we forfeited that opportunity, headed by to Baby, and headed out of Atlanta.

Tonight, because of a lack of campgrounds, we are boondocking (dry camping) in a Walmart parking lot in Warner-Robins, Ga., where we will visit an air museum tomorrow. We also anticipate visiting the Andersonville Civil War memorial, which is just a couple miles up the road, near Macon.

I have a hunch we won’t be disappointed in either of these visits.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,

Linda

Home again

Nov. 1—All good things have to end, and our vacation did yesterday afternoon. All that is left of it is a pile of dirty clothes to wash and put away, as well as the memories and pictures we took and the blogs I posted.
Every trip we take (OK, this was officially only our third), it gets easier. But we still continue to learn things.
For instance:

• Unplug the garage door opener. Our neighbor came over as we were unpacking. He told us the day after we left, we found our garage door open. He knew we had not left it open (it had been closed just a few minutes earlier). He went into the garage, pushed the button to close the door, and ran out. Since nothing was disturbed, the only thing we can figure out is that somebody else has a door opener on the same frequency as ours.

• Create a to-do list. We had put together a list of things to make sure we take with us (such as our pillows), but we had not created a to-do list for closing up the house. I have begun one now. This trip we forgot to turn off the water to the washer and the electricity to the hot water heater. Those things will be on the list, as well as things such as plug in lamp timers, adjust sprinkler settings, stop mail and paper (all of which I did, incidentally).

• Buy some extras. We weren’t going to buy a second set of dishware, pots and pans, etc. because, as Jim put it, “We’re going to go full-time…why have duplicates?” Well, it’s a pain to remember what to bring and what to leave at home. It’s much more convenient to have two of some things. We already bought a small mixer and a new coffee grinder. Now we have to add a couple more knives, a potato peeler, jar opener, and other similar items. Much easier.

• Pack an extra set of towels and sheets. We have a washer/dryer, but it’s only convenient to use them when we are in an RV camp with full hookups. I intend to put an extra set of linens away, since we find that dry camping while traveling isn’t too bad and saves money.

• Camp at state parks. They are quiet and usually offer a discount to us old geezers. That’s the good part. The downside of staying in state parks is that cell phone/internet reception may be nil, and the sites do not usually have full hookups, meaning we can’t use our washer.

There are probably other “learnings” but that is all I can think of right now.

Our trip was fairly uneventful, but Baby did have a couple malfunctions. The third night we stopped to camp, we were unable to put down the jacks. A couple nights we slept at a slight angle. The other problem was our slide-out. Our 13-year-old Baby has a bit of arthritis, it seems. The rollers on the slide, apparently covered in rubber, are crumbling and when we put the slide in and out, Baby groans quite a bit. The last two nights we went without the extra room. Jim will be investigating how to fix both the brakes and the slide before our next big trip.

Back to normal now.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

No tricks, only treats

Oct. 31—Trick or treat. Today we had no tricks, only treats.

After spending the night Georgia’s Stephen Foster State, which lies within the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, we took a boat tour of the swamp.

Okefenokee Swamp, the land of the trembling earth, according to the Seminole Indians who lived there, consists of 402,000 square acres. It has three entrances; we were at the Fargo, Ga., entrance on the western side of the swamp. Several years ago we had visited the southeast entrance as well as the north entrance. The swamp is so big, each side differs considerably in wildlife and habitat. We did learn, however, not to visit in the heat of the summer. That’s when deer flies bite, and the strongest of insect repellants is no match for those pests. That’s one reason we decided to take a tour in the fall, when biting insects were few, and we wouldn’t perspire under the sun’s blare.

The 90-minute boat tour of the swamp was very peaceful. The guide explained that Okefenokee means “land of the trembling earth” because of the floating islands of peat. These islands grow grasses, even trees, when they are large enough, and animals as well as people can walk on them. However, when you tread on the these patches of earth, they sink slightly—hence, they “tremble.”


We did not see too much wildlife on this cool morning, aside from a couple of alligators that were sunning (including one that had lost its foot), a hawk, some blue heron, and deer.


We actually saw several deer, when we entered the park the night before, as well as this morning, when we neared the ranger station. But when we were on the boat tour, the guide turned off the motor at the end of the “trail” so we could quietly appreciate the silence of nature. Suddenly we heard branches snapping nearby. When we looked for the origin of the sound, we found an eight-point buck staring us in the face! He seemed as curious about us as we were about him. We watched each other for at least 15 minutes. During that time, he was joined briefly by another buck. Our eight-pointer, however, dominated his territory, and the intruder left.


The ranger said that she had never seen a deer stay in one place for such a long time. I believe her.
The tour over, it is time to go home, which is less than three hours south of here.


Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

A time to reflect

Oct. 30—It always amazes me how inhumane we can be. I was reminded of this face this morning when we visited the Andersonville POW Memorial.

Andersonville was the site of a Confederate POW camp housing 45,000 Union troops. Those troops were confined to only 26 acres within a stockade. According to what we were told, the prison was in operation only 14 months. However, almost 13,000 men died of malnutrition, poor medical treatment, and terrible living conditions.


The POWs had to find and build their own shelters. Some were lucky and were able to put together makeshift tents. Others used branches or whatever they could find to build some shelter from the weather. (It gets cold in Georgia; it even snows sometimes.)

Water came from a small stream, which was quickly polluted from human waste. Water, of course, was essential for life; the prisoners took to digging wells throughout the site to find water. Some did; many did not. Although the Confederates were supposed to provide food, they did not complete a kitchen in time for the first inmates. Food that was given to them was often uncooked and ridden with vermin.

The stink from the camp was so bad that the people in Americus, Ga., 10 miles down the road, complained about the stench.

It was no wonder that so many died.

I read the book Andersonville many years ago; I intend to reread it soon. I remember feeling the atrocities of the war in the pages of the book. What I did not know until today was that these atrocities were not confined to this southern prison camp. The Union prison camps up north were just as bad. The one in Chicago, for instance, was so bad, that when it was emptied of prisoners, it could not be salvaged for any other use. It was burned to the ground.

The Andersonville Memorial is dedicated to the memories of all POWs, in all wars. It features exhibits about U.S. prisoners who suffered in camps in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf Wars. The sad thing is that essentially nothing has changed. History repeated itself, time and again. Only the methods of conflicting inhumanity have changed.

I’m glad we went to Andersonville. It was worth the trip.

Oh, yes…I forgot to mention. There was no admission charge.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The best things in life are free—yes!

Oct. 29—Free is good, as was proven with our visit to the Warner Robins Air Museum at the Robins Air Force Station.

Yesterday we were disappointed with the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. Yes, it was nice, but the attraction was overpriced. After spending the evening boondocking at the local Walmart (a good experience and how convenient to get grocery items!), we headed out to the Air Museum, not knowing what to expect. What we found was four buildings filled with aircraft and history, from WWII to Vietnam, in addition to a “yard full” of other aircraft outside—and no admission charge.

The hangars were heated, which was nice, since it was overcast and brisk at 10 a.m. I thought we would be done within two hours. Surprise! We left well after 1 p.m.

Lunch was at an excellent Vietnamese restaurant. We decided it was too late in the day to go to the Andersonville Civil War Memorial, so we found a small RV campsite near Andersonville, where we are spending the night. (No cell phone reception there, however, so this posting will have to wait until we get within Sprint cell range again.)

Not quite free was our tour of the BMW plant in Greer, S.C., two days ago (Oct. 27). Companies are always looking for a way to make a buck (who can blame them?), so the tour cost $7 each. It lasted about 90 minutes.

This plant was nothing like any of the manufacturing plants I had worked in or around during my career in human resources/training. It was immaculate. But what was really amazing was the robotics that the plant uses. Watching the robots lift, turn, and weld the auto frames, you would almost think they were living creatures!

The recession apparently did not hurt the plant, which makes cars for a global market. I believe it employs about 10,000 people. The tour guide said demand has been so great that they are now working six days a week. The business model for BMW is different from that of American car companies. Instead of building on speculation, BMW only builds cars that are already bought and paid for—either by a consumer or by a dealer. The manufacturing plant itself does not incur any risk.

The tour was worth the price of admission.

The old adage says, “The best things in life are free.” I would add, “or almost free.”

We’ll see if Andersonville will be worthwhile tomorrow. I’m told it will be.

Until next time,

Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Friday, October 28, 2011

So this is retirement

Oct. 28—I never thought too much about retirement. I mean, I thought I would play golf and write, two things I do at home, when I have time. I’ve found that retired people are very busy! We don’t seem to have enough time to get done everything we want to do.

In the motorhome, time gets really screwed up. I’ve been jotting notes on what time we leave a place, the mileage, cost of diesel, and places that we visit, but it seems that even that is not enough to keep events straight (especially if I get dates confused!).

When I was younger, I never had the opportunity to take real vacations. Forty-four years ago, my first husband and I took a two-week drive across country to California. We also drove down to Atlanta once, to visit his parents. I took a week’s vacation down to Kentucky with my second (short-term) husband. Other vacations? As a single mom, I took my kids on a few trips to amusement parks. I never took a real vacation by myself, except to visit my parents, who were living in Arizona. I don’t consider visiting relatives a “real” vacation.

So here we are, Jim and I, in our motorhome, driving across the Carolinas, free to do whatever. And that is what Jim has in mind. This is a new experience for me. It’s not unpleasant; it’s just new.

After leaving Raleigh Monday morning around 11 a.m., we drove until around 4 p.m. We did stop for lunch and ate Carolina barbeque. (I had smoked beef brisket, not pork like Jim had.) We decided to play golf the next day, so we stayed two evenings.

Golf was so-so. The best I can say was that thanks to Golfnow.com, it was cheap ($12 each).

On Wednesday, we got under initially at about 8:45 a.m., but we only drove a few miles. Jim spotted a sign advertising the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, N.C. The museum is located on the site of what was once Southern Railway Company’s largest steam locomotive repair facility. It has an authentic train depot. Antique autos, and a 37-bay roundhouse that includes 25 locomotives, dozens of rail cars, and other exhibit areas. The facility had its hey-day up the 1950s, when diesel locomotives were adopted by the railroads. Diesels didn’t require the maintenance of steam engines.

The highlight of the self-guided tour, however, was a “ride” on the roundtable.

The facility was spread out; we got a good walking workout.

Lunch was really good barbecue.

We finally got underway at 2 p.m.

That’s the way retirees vacation.

Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cats, dogs, and kids

Oct. 24—Visiting grandkids is always a treat. It’s especially nice when you can go home to your own bed in your motorhome.

I couldn’t get over how big the grandkids are grown! Jackson is now 9 and Maddie 12. Jackson was thrilled that we would be able to watch him play in his flag football game. I’d never seen a flag football game before and learned that the rules were considerably different from “regular” football. Nevertheless, I was able to follow (more or less) the action, especially when Jack was passed the ball and ran for some first downs. His team won, incidentally.

After the game, he wanted to come back with us to get our RV; he wanted to be first to see it and become an “expert” on its operation. When we got to the motorhome, he said he needed to use the bathroom. The toilet in a motorhome is different from a house toilet; there is no tank, and flushing is done by stepping on a pedal and letting water into the bowl. Jack went into the bathroom and immediately asked, “How do you flush the toilet?” I answered, “I’ll show you when you’re done.” He replied, “It’s OK, it can show me now. I haven’t done anything yet.”

Later, as we were enroute, he asked, “What happens if someone needs to use the bathroom when you are driving along?” You just get up and go, I said, unless you are driving, of course. With that, he got up to go. I think he just wanted to use the john “for fun.”

Later that afternoon, after we had parked, he and a friend rang our doorbell. (Yes, we have a doorbell.) I think he wanted to use the john again. Anyway, he asked about hauling the “toad” and problems we might encounter. I told him the story of our getting stuck in the sand while we were sightseeing the Imperial Dunes in California. He politely listened, then got up and said, “Thank you for the story time, grandma.” It was hilarious.

Maddie is also growing up to be a young lady. At 12, she is tall and lanky, much as I was at her age. She remains a shy girl, but we had a few “moments” together, especially after she and I teamed up against her Mom and Grandpa Jim in a game of bean toss. We won.

I miss them already. I wish I could have a real relationship with them. Once or twice a year doesn’t really do it. Far-flung families, however, are a product of today’s mobile and global world.


Maddie and Jack have two dogs, Penny, a mixed Lab, and Howie, a poodle mix. Both are good dogs, but I am especially fond of Howie, a friend lap dog, who is the spitting image of my long-gone Poochie. 





Yesterday, when Rob brought his family to the camp site, where we played bean toss and later cooked out and then enjoyed a camp fire, the dogs also enjoyed the out-of-doors. It was a great family time.
I wish I had a lap dog like Howie. I threaten to steal him every time I see him. Jim doesn’t want a dog, and of course we still have the cats. Cats are easier, since they (most of the time) use the litter box and can be left on their own for several days at a time. But they are not affectionate, except at night, when they (at least Charlie) decide he wants to cuddle for a few minutes.

Our cats are not getting better about traveling. Now both of them jump into the “hole” left behind the kitchen cabinet when the slide is pulled in. Jim was afraid to put the slide out until they decided to make an appearance. One night, Xena didn’t come out at all! Bu yesterday, he discovered that the shelf under that cabinet can be lifted up and out. And with that discovery, he found that there was sufficient space for the cats to remain hiding, without getting squished when we put the slide out. He just takes a drawer out so they can get out of their little den. I guess that’s easier to do than trying to patch up all the open spaces where they can crawl into.

We’re staying at an RV park with complete hookups outside of Charlotte, N.C. Right now I’m doing a third load of clothes. It’s really nice having a washer-dryer in this rig. Tomorrow we are going to play golf at an area course, so we’ll stay here an extra night. Then on Wednesday we’ll head out toward Atlanta. I don’t know if we’ll spend another night in South Carolina or Georgia before hitting the aquarium or not.

But, I guess that’s the beauty of being retired and having a home on wheels.

Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Hip,Hip, Hippie

Oct. 24, 2011—I lived through the hippie era, but I don’t remember much about it. I didn’t even know about Woodstock, which happened, I think, in 1969, until 1975!

I guess I have no memories of those times and those people because I was in a different world. I entered college in the fall of 1963 and was able to attend, provided I maintained my academic scholarships, which required a 3.3 grade point average. My concentration, therefore, was on studying, not “having fun.” And I was poor. Back then, I had a budget of $5 a week for spending money, which had to go for laundry as well as an occasional movie or hamburger and coke.

Unlike the kids today, who have all kinds of electronic toys, I didn’t have a stereo (that’s what they were called, and they required a phonograph record player and speakers). I had a clock radio, a gift from my grandparents, which I used for the clock more than for the radio. When I did listen, it was usually to classical music, unless I could pick up some folk music. I didn’t know the names of the pop artists of the ‘60s.
I did know (barely) The Beatles. I lived in a girls’ dorm at Indiana University. Back then, the women had “hours.” We had to be in at 11 p.m. on week nights, and as I recall, 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. The men had no hours. The powers-that-be assumed that once the fellows took their dates home they would have no place to go except back to their dorms.

Nobody had televisions in their rooms. Televisions back then were humongous affairs that aired programs in black and white. (Color was just coming on the scene but was very expensive, with only a few programs aired in that format.) The TV was located in the rec room, where girls could entertain their dates. (Men were not allowed in the dorm proper.) The problem was, the rec room became a “make-out” room, and it could be rather embarrassing for single girls to go down there to watch TV.
The dorm counselors decided to do something about it. They made a rule that couples always had to have one foot on the floor. That was supposed to take care of the heavy petting!

A number of girls (my very attractive roommate included) decided the rule was ridiculous. So, they arranged a protest. On Feb. 14 (Valentine’s Day), they stood outside the dorm, and at the stroke of 11 (when they were supposed to be inside), they kissed their boyfriends to the accompaniment of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

The local newspaper took a picture of my roommate and her boyfriend smooching. It made front page.
Nothing changed, including the situation in the make-out room. But that was how I became aware of The Beatles.

Hippies actually arrived on the scene a little later, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when a lot of social protesting was going on. I missed a lot of that, too, because I spent 1965 in South America, studying in an IU Junior Year Abroad Program.


When the hippie movement began and protests were a regular part of the extracurricular agenda, I refrained from engaging in them. I was going to be a teacher; I didn’t want anything to mar my “record.” And I was already into an adult world, since I was married my senior year in college. My life had a different focus.

When Jim and I received an invitation to attend Rob’s 40th birthday party, we were told we had to come in costume—a hippie costume. So, we researched that era, and dressed up as well as we could.
I think, though, the young people at the party (we were the golden oldies), knew more about hippies than we did! My son looked like John Lennon.

The music was great! It was everything I had missed while I was growing up—and everything I love now! They don’t write music like that anymore.

The party started about 7:30 p.m. Jim and I left and walked back to our motorhome, parked on a cul-de-sac around the corner from Rob’s house, around 10.

We had had enough of nostalgia, and let the kids enjoy themselves, until, we were told, about 2 a.m. I’m glad Rob had a great 40th birthday party.

Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hmm, hmm, good

Oct. 21--Jim's uncle Webster and aunt Dot live in rural North Carolina, two hours north of Raleigh, almost to Virginia. It is low country, farmland. It is very peaceful, if you like country living.

We arrived last evening, and Dot had (of course) waited dinner for us. And this morning she made us a nice country breakfast. Good eats, all around. We never leave there empty-handed. Webster has been retired from farming for many years, but he still gardens and supplies a local restaurant with such "goodies" as green peppers and collards (yuck!). Whenever we visit, he insists that we leave loaded with garden goodies, and if we want, many home-canned goods. This time he sent us home with home-canned green beans, jellies, and assorted other goodies, as well as red and green peppers. Next week (or maybe while we are on the road), I'll prepare some stuffed peppers.

After stopping by the cemetery to view the final resting places of Jim's mom and dad (and a lot of other relatives), we stopped by a little butcher shop where they prepare fresh pork sausage twice a week. Today was one of the days. We purchased both ground sausage and links, hot and mild, of this wonderful sausage. I have to admit: Nothing "store-bought" beats its taste.

We finally got on the road, and around Rocky Mount, we decided to have a late lunch. Carolina bar-be-que was what we wanted. We saw a local restaurant advertised and headed toward it. We had eaten there before, and we liked the fare.

Real local bar-be-que
But, as we were ready to pull into the restaurant, we saw a group preparing bar-be-que in a parking lot and decided to try "really" local stuff. Turns out it was a group raising funds for a stepping team who were going down to Jacksonville to compete. Small world. Unfortunately, they did have pork, only chicken and fish. We opted for the chicken and weren't disappointed.

After lunch we finished our trip to Raleigh and checked into the state park where we had preregistered. It's a wonderfully secluded area on a lake, only about 20 minutes from Rob's house. Our only disappointment was to find that we had a curfew! The state park locks its gates at 8 p.m. and they do not issue pass codes. Our choices: Get back by 8 p.m. and be able to drive to our site, or come back late and park on the street and hike 1.5 miles to our camp site. I'm not much of a hiker, so we had a short visit with Rob, Corky, and the kids this evening.

Corky fed us well with her special chili. Excellent.

Tomorrow is the birthday party, and the "kids" are wondering if we indeed will be in costume. We will be. Our biggest dilemma will be how to deal with the curfew. I think we drive Baby to Rob's and park in the cul-de-sac for the evening--either that or a nearby WalMart.

Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda

Smart connections

Oct.20, 2011— I love my smartphone. It is indispensible.
On our last trip, which took us from Florida to California and back, I had a semi-smartphone. It was only 2G, but it could access the web, e-mail, and text. But it was slow, and it couldn’t use apps. (I guess there were a few, which I had to buy and for which I could see no need.) I actually didn’t see any need for ANY apps, so I was content. For a while.
As we traveled, to look up the price of diesel and to find information on camp sites, I turned on my computer and accessed the web via my Virgin Mobile Broadband2go, a very economical way to stay connected. The Virgin Mobile plan is a pay-as-you go. I had bought unlimited 3G access for one month at a cost of $50. The nice thing about this plan is that there is no contract; so, in the months we don’t travel, I don’t have to buy any access. However, when the computer is sleeping, it disconnects from the Internet. Every time I wanted to look something up, I had to reboot, which took time. I also had to get up from my seat and take out the computer. Not always convenient.
My smartphone has changed all of that.
We expect to be gone about two weeks this trip. I bought 20 MB of broadband time (good for up to one month). I expect that will be plenty to check e-mail and do assorted other tasks, such as posting this blog. A lot of what I would have looked up on the computer, however, I can now do on my phone—and do it quickly.
I round three apps for the Droid—Gas Buddy, Trucker Services, and Trucker Tools. All of them are free, and all of them are quite indispensable.
Gas Buddy is especially good. I can look up gas stations (and choose a default to show diesel prices) by location, according to where I am currently, or I can plug in a zip code or a city/state and find prices there. The app even allows me to look at these prices on a map. When we were leaving Jacksonville, I wanted to determine if it would be less expensive to fill up in Jacksonville or wait until we reached our usual fill-up places in Georgia, where gas is usually cheaper. I pulled up the map, scrolled along I95, and found the prices for diesel. I re-employed this technique when we were in South Carolina. Thanks to Gas Buddy, we filled up in Dillon, S.C., near the North Carolina border.
The app isn’t infallible. The price on the web site for the station in Dillon was listed at $3.59. All of the prices are reported by users, and this one was 24 hours old. Well, you know how fuel prices are. When we got to the station, the price of diesel was $3.65. (I updated the information!) Although it was more than we hoped, it was less than other stations, and at least 10 cents a gallon less than diesel was selling for in North Carolina.
The Trucker Services app is also good. It offers a lot of information on truck stops. It also provides information on the nearest WalMarts and rest stops. This was very helpful last night. After dinner in Walterboro, S.C., I looked up how far away the rest stops were, and we calculated how much farther we would travel (about another hour). We boondocked at a rest stop on the other side of Santee, S.C.
I still need my computer, but I don’t want to give up my smartphone. Incidentally, I have a very economical plan for it, too. I purchased the smartphone from StraightTalk (a division of TracPhone, sold only through WalMart). It is 3G, cost $149, and for less than $45/month (because I bought several months at one time), I get unlimited talk, text, and data (web). Any limitations? Yes, users cannot download movies or tether their computers to the phone, but other than that, no. So, for us, it is a good deal.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda
P.S. I will be posting this sometime on Oct. 21. We are in a remote area of North Carolina where there is no cell phone coverage. Unbelievable. In this area of N.C. there is one cell-phone company, and apparently it has no reciprocal agreements with any of the other companies, not even Sprint or Verizon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On the road again

Oct. 19, 2011—Yes! We are on the road again. This time to Raleigh, N.C. to celebrate my son’s 40th birthday (something I cannot believe!).
Our intention was to get underway by about 3 p.m. Jim had an appointment for his semi-annual doctor’s visit at the V.A. in the morning. I went with him and we picked up “Baby” on the way back home. It didn’t take us as long to load the bus as it did last time, although I am certain we overpacked clothes and probably forgot some “necessities.” Time will tell.
I initially wrote down 1:55 p.m. (ET) as our departure, but that wasn’t exactly accurate. We stopped several times as we inched down the street, to adjust the side mirrors. (We have a new windshield, and the mirrors got moved during the installation process.) Then we had to get diesel; we were well below a comfort zone.
After putting in about $120 worth of diesel, we headed out—only to detour one more time. Who can pass up Steak ‘n Shake’s Happy Hour when you are passing just a block from the restaurant? A take-out chocolate shake and malt in hand, we finally hit the road at 2:55 p.m.
We weren’t concerned about the late start, nor about darkness. Jim fixed the headlights, so we can travel at night now. I consulted Garmina (GPS) and discovered that we were well within drive time to have dinner in Walterboro, S.C. at our favorite stop—the Blarney Stone.
We discovered this restaurant by accident three or four years ago. When we are traveling, we like to eat at local establishments. We turned off I95 and drove into Walterboro and found this restaurant and discovered its wonderful shrimp and grits, the best we have ever eaten. (Actually, it was in this unlikely restaurant that I had my first taste of this low-country favorite.)
Garmina dutifully directed us to the restaurant, and we found ample parking in a public lot a half block away. Imagine our surprise, though, when we found that restaurant was no longer the Blarney Stone! Remodeled and under new ownership, it is now called the Main St. Grille. However, the waitress told us the chef remained with the restaurant. He came out to talk with us and to assure us that the shrimp and grits were gluten-free. He even made them mild for me and spicy for Jim. Excellent! Well worth the stop.
Charlie went into hiding when we first started the engine back in Jacksonville, and he did not come out until we stopped at a rest stop for the evening. He is not a happy traveler. Xena is better, but not much. They are just going to have to get used to it.
One more thing, before I close: It is cold. The temperature dropped to around the mid-40s. We had heat on until we went to bed, then we snuggled down under the warmth of a down comforter. There is something to be said for traveling during the summer.
Until next time,
Your Reluctant RoVer,
Linda