Saturday, November 29, 2014

Easy Drive to the Keys

Saturday's 127 mile drive from Fort Lauderdale to Long Key could not have been nicer. Miami traffic was exceptionally light. We ran into some congestion in Key Largo, but by then we were already feeling the anticipated peace and tranquility.

Although the spaces are a bit narrow, there is thick foliage between them. We have 30 amp power, water, and a dump station is not far.
Our Verizon phone is getting 3 bars of 4G and 24 Mbps download. The satellite dish is also receiving well.

We couldn't be any closer to the beach! I will bring out a table cloth, and we'll be enjoying some of our meals here.

This is the view out the front window.  It's due south toward Cuba, slightly too far to actually see it.  I guess I'll be getting up for some sunrises. Looks like sunsets will be good too!

All I can say is we are very happy campers.  

I wish I could have booked it for more than two weeks, but that's the park limit.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Odd Week

It has been an odd week. Although we were very glad we were not in the Northeast and didn't have to deal with the lake effect snow, we did have intermittent rain and overcast skies.

The highlight of our week was a Skype visit with our son Gil who is teaching English in Myanmar (Burma.) It was good to see and hear him. He is looking good and doing fine.

Craig went to a Miami dentist for the same tooth he has seen dentists for in California, Mexico, and Georgia. The Miami dentist is highly rated on the internet, we liked him, and he thinks he can actually do something for the tooth. We all want to save it because it supports the end of a bridge, but he is very tired of having an on and off again toothache. The dentist put him on antibiotics and we will drive up from the Keys next week for a possible re-root-canal.

Urban traffic has never bothered me very much. I've gotten lost many times in cities such as Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, and have been in long freeway traffic jams in all of them.  Miami-Ft. Lauderdale has to have the worse traffic I have ever experienced. It is so bad that I passed on driving into Miami to go to the Aquarium or any other attractions. The drivers seem overly rude, and dart in and out of their lanes like hummingbirds.

We did go to the beach on Tuesday afternoon. It had rained in the morning, but cleared a bit later. Craig said he liked this picture of me because I looked happy. I was. The ocean air was very soothing.

We went for a walk down the beach. The water was surprisingly warm. I am used to the cold Pacific waters. Craig said it was warm because of the Gulf Stream.

Next time we go to a beach we will be in the Keys, and I will wear my swim suit. When we first arrived at this beach I was surprised that no one was in the water. 

Then, as we walked along we spotted many of these guys washed up along the edge of the surf. Jelly fish. A good reason to stay out of the water. They can sting.

Even though we were on an East Coast beach, there was a bit of a sunset glow. Hey, any sunset with palm trees in it is a good one.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. We are actually going to make a small turkey.  Not very many sides, but a turkey none the less.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Awning

I my last post I wrote about troubles and challenges. All except for the awning extending while on the interstate were just challenges. I write about them because I know when I was a "dreamer" and waiting until the day we could go full time, I read many blogs trying to learn as much about RVing as I could. As a fulltimer now, I want to show those who are still dreaming, that although there may be challenges, they can be overcome and the life is worth the trouble.

Also, I used to correspond with someone who wrote as if every thing they did was the most wonderful thing. This person's emails were like the traditional Christmas Letter.  I'd rather be real, and share some of the not-so-good days too.

Now for the awning. We are waiting on an estimate to get the motor replaced and the awning remounted on the side of the rig. It is the kind that goes in and out with the touch of a button inside, and retracts by itself when the wind comes up. Who knows why it went out by itself, but we will be sure to add some sort of safety feature to prevent that from happening again!

When we brought it in the Alfa it was quite wet. We unrolled it on Saturday while we were gone, and it got pretty dry. When it was unrolled I noticed some of the hem stitching on one edge had come out. On Sunday I resewed it by hand. The canvas is in good condition and no other stitching is loose.

When it is rolled up, it tucks under the kick space under the kitchen cabinets and in front of the chair area, extending into the space between the driver's and passenger's seat.  If we are careful going in and out of the rig it won't be a big problem.

The guys that came to remove it are supposed to call with a repair estimate, but if we don't like it, we may just carry it around with us until February when we have an appointment with one of our two favorite Alfa repair places, Albritton's  in Louisiana.

We will see.  I'd just as soon get it fixed and out of the coach.

For my friends who recommend always looking at a campground on Google Earth, I do that some of the time, but usually not. 
I use Google Earth all of the time when hunting for parking stops along the way, or to look at repair facilities or propane-filling places, or sometimes even gas stations so I know how to pull in. But I still trust that if I have a reservation for a 35' motor home there is a way into the park. If we had a 40' I might be more careful.  All of our challenges usually come when we are in the wrong place and Google Earth won't help us then. I would not have caught the mistake in entering "E" instead of "W" in the Navigator by using it, because I would have given Google Earth the correct address as shown on my paperwork. Also I would not have seen the truck in our space since Google Earth is not "live".  Any one of the challenges would have been insignificant. It was just so many on top of the rain and awning problem.

Friday should have been an easy 83 mile drive. 

The good thing is we only seem to have problems when we are moving from place to place. Fortunately we have many safe, easy driving days to balance things out.

Next move: Saturday, down to the Florida Keys! Hopefully it will be an easy one in spite of the Miami traffic and Craig's desire to stop at a Trader Joe's on the way.

Google Earth here I come!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Troubles (Challenges)

Not every day of full time RVing is fun and free of challenges. In fact challenges are more common than I would like. 

On Friday we had a few, but we landed safely. Whenever we move from one place to another it is always a bit stressful, and I don't really relax until we are in our new spot. I think of it as "landing"!

We left Midway Campground before ten in the morning, in a slight drizzle of rain. Our next reservation was only 83 miles away.

I wondered if I should call for an early arrival. 

Silly me.

Suddenly, as we were entering the Miami area on a freeway, we heard a loud scraping, rumbling noise. Craig thought he had run over something and it was dragging under the coach. No, when we looked over our shoulders, out the side window, we discovered our large awning had deployed and was being ravaged by the wind.

Craig pulled over onto a narrow shoulder. He tried to retract it using the motorized system, but it wouldn't move. We were next to a guardrail, so he went out and stood on it, and we tried to fold the awning back up manually.  It wouldn't roll up.

So we slowly drove forward on the shoulder until we could exit the interstate.  This was working, until one of the roadside signs was sticking out a bit further than the other obstacles we were avoiding, and we hit it with the awning support.  Fortunately there was not much overlap, because it did not rip the awning off. It bent the support arm a bit, however.

We got off the interstate safely, but still had to drive a mile or so with the awning extended until we reached a place where we could safely park. 

O.K. now what? I was very glad I had renewed our COACHNET roadside service a few weeks ago. We called them and they arranged to have someone come help.  

It took a couple of hours, but eventually two nice guys from 1st Choice RV Service showed up. After a bit of discussion and attempts to get it to roll back up, they decided the only thing they could do was remove the awning.  Not easy, but the task was accomplished. Now, what to do with the parts? The support arms fit into the basement bay, but the 18 foot rolled up awning did not. 

Solution: put it inside the coach.  How to do that? Put the slide out, open the front-facing window and pass it in that way. The only problem with that is we now had an 18 foot wet awning rolled up on the coach floor. We can live with the awning on the floor for a while, but we had to figure out how to dry it out, so it doesn't start to smell moldy!

By the time we got back on the road it was apparent that we would arrive after the RV park office closed, so I called ahead. No problem, they would leave our paperwork and space assignment in the late arrival box on the office door. We have been late before and it always worked out fine. 

The park we were going to, was an older private park in an urban setting. Being that it was late in the day, traffic was heavy on the highway, and when we turned off it was even heavier on the city streets. By now it was getting dark and the rain had resumed. We carefully obeyed the Rand McNally Navigator's instructions.
I had entered the address that morning.  

Oh my! We found ourselves in a downtown area, in the dark, at rush hour on Friday evening. Lots of fast drivers eager to get home and tired after a long week. 

When we arrived at the entered address there was no RV park entrance in evidence. Craig pulled over and parked in what we hoped was a safe place, while we figured out what to do next. He got out and walked the street looking at addresses. I called the mail help number for the Encore Parks system and they verified the address I had in hand. 

Just then I started to hear some horn beeping that sounded somewhat aggressive. An SUV type vehicle came tearing over the grass divider next to us and a man was yelling at me.  I got out and just kept saying I was sorry, we had had trouble, and please forgive us for blocking traffic. Just about the time Craig showed up, the man had cooled off enough to say he was sorry for yelling at me and drove around us!

That could have been a bad scene if road rage had peaked or if he had been packing a gun. If Craig had been there it might have been worse because male against male sometimes makes sparks. As it was the dude felt guilty for yelling at a contrite old lady.

We got back into the rig and turned down a rather narrow dark street.  I kept staring at my paperwork and the Navigator when suddenly I saw the problem. I had entered Oakland Blvd, when it should have been W Oakland Blvd. I made the correction, and as it turned out the narrow road was the right place to have turned for a successful turn around.

I must say Craig was wonderful about my error. He could have yelled at me for being so dumb, but instead he just acknowledged the error and followed the new directions.

Was that enough challenge for one day? No, it continued.

I won't go into how when we arrived at the park, we didn't have the gate code and had to go car to car asking if someone could help us. We got in.

I won't go into how we pissed off a guy in a big pickup by parking in the wrong place to unhook the Jeep. I did my "please forgive us routine" and he grumbled and backed up to get around us.

The final challenge of the night was when we arrived at our assigned spot. This park is very full, and some sardines have more room than the rigs parked here. Our spot was supposed to be a pull-thru. However there was a big pickup parked in half of our spot. The office was closed so there was no help there. We managed to drive around to the other side of the spot and back into the space, leaving our front end hanging out into the access lane. 

I walked around to the adjoining spaces, but no one was home. There was a couple sitting out a few spaces down, that said they knew the owner of the truck and he would probably be home about eight.

We didn't want to hook up or put the slides out until the Alfa was in the right place, so we waited. And waited and waited. Finally Craig leveled, put the slides out, and plugged in. We were ready for bed. I left a note on our neighbor's door asking him to move the truck and went to bed.

Sometime later, about eleven, we heard a diesel engine and we went out. He told us the office had given him permission to park there, telling him the space would be unoccupied for the next week. We had made reservations many last January.

It had all worked out, and now 24 hours later all of this, except for the broken awning, is fading.

The Florida weather is still a bit gloomy and rain is in the air, but we are glad we are not in Buffalo!

Do you have bad days from time to time?  How do you get over them?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Looking for Alligators

We had been in Florida for almost a month, much of it in a state park, and I had not yet seen an alligator.

On Tuesday, when we arrived at Midway Campground in Big Cypress National Preserve, it was too rainy to go exploring. Our camp host told us there were alligators in the pond just outside of our door, but with the gloom they didn't show themselves.

Wednesday was also a stay-inside day. Watching the Weather Channel, we were reminded that we were lucky we were not in New York.

The weather Thursday was glorious. Mid-seventies, with a sunny sky and a mild breeze. Our first stop was at the Oasis Visitor Center for park information. I asked the Ranger on duty if we would see any alligators.  She smiled and replied "definitely".

When we walked out the door and headed for the Jeep we noticed several people standing along the channel in front of the Visitor Center. These are what they were looking at:

These were just a few of the alligators that were displaying themselves for the tourists. (Actually, they were there for the sun.)  They were all quite large. One lady said there used to be many more there.

Our next stop was at the Monroe game check station where we got a Verizon signal strong enough for good internet connection. The signal was very weak at the campground, but we were able to check our email here every day.

Then, it was on to the Thousand Islands area of the Everglades National Park, where we took a boat ride out among the islands.

Part way out, a pod of wild dolphins came near the boat. The captain slowed the boat and we watched as the dolphins swam back and forth under us. The ranger took the opportunity to tell us all about them. He explained that they had very good eyesight and could see us quite clearly, and were playing "make the tourists run from side to side of the boat". Then they rewarded us with a little jumping display.

This gal (the ranger said they were all females) made a pretty high jump.  After a few more jumps they swam off, and we continued out toward the Gulf. 

There was a large congregation of birds on a sand bar. They big white ones are giant white pelicans. They have a wing span of up to nine feet, and were described as the "real snow birds", since they show up here and do nothing more than sit on the warm beach and go fishing every day all winter.

Two heads are better than one

Speaking of odd birds, these two were seen just enjoying the day. 

Friday morning we set out for our next stop, but had some trouble on the way.  I'll fill you in next time...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Moving On, but not Far

On Saturday, our last day at Little Manatee State Park, we drove back up to St. Petersburg to the Farmer's Market we saw the week before.

We took all of our knives along for sharpening and stocked up on wonderful produce.  

It's going to be a healthy week!

Last week, Jeannie told us about a sand sculpture contest at Siesta Beach in Sarasota, that coincided with the  drum circle that I wanted to see, so Sunday morning I was lucky enough to find a one night spot in a nearby Passport America park. 

I had read that parking was a problem at Siesta Beach and we found that was true. The traffic for several miles from the beach was bumper to bumper, moving at a snail's pace. When we got to the beach area we saw several large parking lots that were full. Oh My!

We drove on, through a commercial area with no beach parking and turned back to take another pass. We saw two parking lots that were charging $20 for parking, that were a mile or more away from where we wanted to go. There was no way I would pay $20 and walk that far! 

I was ready to just go on back to the RV and call it a day.

Sometimes plans do not work out.  But sometimes they do. As we crawled along  in the opposite direction, not expecting to find parking,  I spotted a lady standing next to the driver's door of her car smoking a cigarette. I told Craig to stop, and yelled out: "Are you leaving?" She smiled and nodded yes, and we scored an in-close, free, no time limit, street parking spot. 

The weather was perfect, the sun was shining, and the beach was incredible. I have never seen so much beautiful white sand.

The sand sculpture event was not as large as I expected, but the work was everything I hoped it would be. These are some of our favorites:

Siesta Selfie


The other side was her dragon!

Toes in the Gulf of Mexico
After looking at the sculptures for a while, we checked out the craft booths, and then took a walk along the edge of the surf. 

Hearing the drum circle would form about an hour before sunset, we wandered back to the Jeep and got our folding chairs. 

We found "the place" and watched as the drummers began arriving. This is not an organized event. No one is "in charge" and we were told the participants changed from week to week.
A large circle was drawn in the sand, and as the shadows grew longer, more drummers arrived and more people gathered around it.

Several young people did some extraordinary things with hoops, and then a pile of hoops was set out for anyone who wanted to play. Many of the children gave it a try. Some were quite good.

There were several dancers in costumes, as well as many who just joined in as they felt the beat.

Children of all sizes were welcome in the circle. This girl in bright pink was dancing, and the baby just crawled into the heart of the action.

It was fun to people- and kid-watch! Craig shot the following 2 minute video by holding the camera above his head, so the aiming isn't good, but it should give you the flavor of the event. Turn your sound up all the way. We don't understand the girl in the blue-green top with the magic yellow wand. It can't really be magic, right?

We had been sitting with our back to the water, when I noticed the light had changed dramatically. The long shadows were gone, replaced by a soft glow of twilight.

I turned and experienced one of the most remarkable sunsets I have ever seen. These pictures don't do it justice.

I felt I was not just seeing a sunset. I was inside a sunset. The air glowed from horizon to horizon. There were not many clouds to catch the rays of color, but color was everywhere.

We quietly walked back to the Jeep in this mystical air. 

It was a good day. One that was worthy of my blog title, Merikay's Dream.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dud Day, Fun Pictures

Several people told us we should go to see Fort Desoto. The drive over and back was fantastic. The Skyway Bridge is beautiful, and the day was sunny in the high 60s.

We started our visit with a nice two mile walk on the beach. The sand was very firm which made for a good walk, and we enjoyed looking for a few great shells among many broken pieces.

It's always fun to watch the water birds who make a living in the surf.

I was fascinated by the way these plants that sent out runners on the sand. It reminded me of stitching on a quilt, or a baseball.

It was a windy day and in addition to the rough water out on the bay, there was some good wave action against the rocks.  Craig shoots pictures involving splashing water at 1/2000th of a second.

After our walk on the beach, we had a small picnic lunch and then explored parts of the old fort.  This was underground storage for artillery ammunition.

This gun may be one of the largest mortars ever made.  By firing up over the wall behind it, this gun and its many siblings could cover the entire entrance to Tampa Bay, during the Spanish American War.  Fortunately, the Spanish knew they were overmatched, and never tried invading.

This big gun was made in England and was called rapid-fire, though we never saw a figure for firing rate.  Here Merikay prepares to vault into the firing nest :-)

Then we took a walk out onto a pier were a few people were fishing.

This young man seemed to be embracing the sky.  Such joy!

So, why do I say this day was a dud? The fort would be a great place for a Spanish-American War enthusiast, but we found it a bit of a bore. I guess we're getting spoiled! Sunshine and a fresh ocean breeze is not enough for us.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Meeting Old/New Friends after a great tourist day

After a beautiful day (mid 70s) touring the Ringling Museum and mansion, we met former full-time RVers Jeannie and Eldo for a fish fry at Anna Maria Oyster Bar. I felt like a real snowbird, arriving at 4:30 so we could catch the Early Bird Special. But the timing was just right, since I was pooped out from walking all day and very hungry, having skipped lunch.

It is always fun to meet a fellow blogger because after reading their posts for several years you feel you know them already. Jeannie and Eldo are people who I would like to spend much more time with. Our conversation was easy, and they give us some good insights into full-time RV life and "hanging up the keys." Although they have sold their rig and bought a home in Florida, they still like to travel, so who knows, we might meet again down the road.

Our day at the Ringling started with viewing a miniature circus built by Howard Tibbal. I cannot put my admiration of the detail and craftsmanship into words. For anyone who has ever taken pride in making something, or who loves the circus, this is a must-see!

The picture to the right was taken from a viewpoint on the second floor. It shows only a small part of the expansive layout. He has created thousands of little figures, each unique, each with a feeling of action and purpose, each with facial features.

Even his animals showed animation in their posture.

On the second floor there was a long window display of an incredible parade. We recognized some of the original wagons and characters we saw at the Baraboo Circus Museum last July.

The mirror doubled the number of pieces and gave us a great view of the other side.

Elephants dressed as clowns
Sea Serpent costumes on elephants

We also toured the Circus Museum building and enjoyed seeing some of the original costumes worn by the stars. 

image from web

Then it was on to a tour of the mansion, also called Ca'd'Zan, or House of John.

We walked through the first floor on our own as part of the regular admission to the Ringling grounds. Then we bought additional tickets for the guided second floor tour (a whopping $5 each) and went through both floors, with a guide explaining what we were seeing and giving us a bit of historic perspective. Best upgrade we've had in years! 

Here are a few highlights:

Many of the windows and the large skylight in the living room was made with colored French glass. This softens the bright Florida sunshine.

The house was being decorated for Christmas. This tree in the living room was Craig's favorite. The furniture was all original.

The decor and detail was, to me, way over the top! If we hadn't toured another mansion of the time, the Biltmore, I might have thought it was garish and suitable for the home of Circus Mogul. But it was indeed in keeping with the high society style of the day.

These beds seem like they could be part of a Circus wagon!

All in all it was fascinating. 

My favorite part of the estate was the marble patio that overlooks the water of Sarasota Bay.

Next we walked across the parklike grounds to the Museum of Art. Knowing we wouldn't have time or energy to see all of the galleries, we choose to walk through the halls that contained some of the classic art owned and donated by the Ringlings.

Before calling it a day, we found time to take a short walk in the sculpture garden. 

I doubt we will ever get to Florence, Italy, to see the original David, but we appreciated this bronze version in the garden.

It was a tiring day. My back was screaming and I was happy to find a tram to take us back to the entrance, but I enjoyed it all! I have to start carrying some pain reliever in my purse. I really could have used some in the afternoon.