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Monthly Archives: March 2017

Life’s a Beach … Then You Leave

Today is moving day. As far as I’m concerned, this is the symbolic beginning of the New Year. By leaving Florida, we’re marking an official end to Winter. Later on this morning, we begin the slow trek northward. 

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Downtown Flagler Beach, plus a little road maintenance

Earlier this week, though, Frank and I visited the ocean. As far as I’m concerned, too long a time had passed since we last saw the Atlantic. That would have been last June, when we were staying near Cape May, New Jersey. And even then, we only saw it from a distance – we weren’t able to go down and feel the sand or touch the water.

So on Wednesday afternoon, we took the short drive over to Flagler Beach. It’s a pretty cool little town. Unlike its more popular neighbor to the south, Daytona Beach, this place is not highly developed at all. There are a couple of small condos, a few bars and restaurants that are more geared towards the biker crowd than college kids coming down on spring break, and really not much else. A couple of cheesy tourist stops. A winery outlet. We passed a 7-Eleven and an ice cream stand that looked like it had been there forever … or at least long enough to have been washed over by a few hurricane surges. Not much else except residences. Nothing all that fancy on that front, either.

Relatively speaking, this part of Florida doesn’t get many hurricanes, by the way. It’s located about where the coastline starts to turn westward, creating a big convex lens of ocean that reaches its furthest point west just north of Jacksonville before it begins to turn back out East around Savannah, GA. There’s something about that geography that protects northeast Florida to some degree. Flagler Beach is brushed by a hurricane about once every 2.5 years and goes a little over 11 years on average between direct hits. Compare that to Miami, which gets brushed buy a hurricane more than once every two years and suffers direct hits almost three times as often has Flagler Beach. Or Wilmington, NC, which suffers on average about twice as many direct hits. (There’s a pretty cool website that has all sorts of hurricane information, if you’re interested – hurricanecity.com. for good, detailed research on coastal towns from Texas on up to Massachusetts, this is the site to use.)

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Very little wave action

Anyhow … the beach itself is not like a lot of the other Florida beaches you may have seen. No vast expanse of sand, which is probably why it’s not that popular with the spring break crowd. The tide was coming in when Frank and I were there, but even at low tide, I can’t imagine this beach to have grown to the point of what you see down at Daytona. But the coolest thing about it is that Flagler Beach has opened up almost all of its beachfront area to dogs!  With the exception of about a 15 block area at the heart of town, everything North and South has gone to the dogs! It’s just a shame that Frank didn’t have any four legged buddies to run with while we were there.

And run he did! I was really happy to see him have a good time. I used to bring Frank down to the beach when we lived in Charleston, SC, but he wanted nothing to do with it! The waves were just too much for him. By comparison, these waves were next to nothing, as you can tell by following the links to the videos I posted on YouTube.

I don’t need to say much about what we did – I’ll let the videos do the talking. We were there for over an hour and Frank was pretty much running the whole time.

20170322_175451.jpgDid he have fun? I think the look on his face pretty much tells it all!

Yesterday, we spent a real enjoyable afternoon visiting with a longtime friend from the old neighborhood in Pompton Lakes – Jeanie. Jeanie pops out of the block every now and then to say and routinely comments on Facebook. She and her family lived around the corner from my house. I used to deliver newspapers to her folks, and played football with her older brother, Mike. I’m glad she finally had a chance to meet Frank, and that we had such a good time visiting with each other.

That’s it for now … it’s time to start loading everything up. We spend tonight camped out in a Walmart parking lot in Swainsboro, GA. It’s a little bit more than halfway towards our next campground on Lake Hartwell, which makes up part of the border between South Carolina and Georgia. We’ll arrive there sometime in the late morning on Monday. We could have made it today, but like I’ve written before, I’m trying to take our time. I’d rather get out and stretch our legs more and travel the back roads than to haul ass down the interstate.

We’ll post again in a couple of days, after we’ve set up camp. Next stop – the Carolina Landing RV Campground in Fair Play, SC.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Frank and I are now in the same spot relative to our NCAA tourney picks. All but one of our Final Four picks have been eliminated, but the one remaining team for each of us happens to be the team that we picked to win it all – the Gonzaga Bulldogs for Frank and the North Carolina Tar Heels for me. His Bulldogs have already advanced to the Final Four, their first in school history. North Carolina has to beat Kentucky this afternoon to join them. I pray that happens. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Frank isn’t a very good loser. But he’s an even worse winner! If North Carolina loses today, that little beagle isn’t going to let me forget that his picks went further than mine this year. I’ll have to double his daily treat allowance to get him to shut up!

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Posted by on March 26, 2017 in Travels

 

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Warm At last!

Almost a week’s gone by since our last post and we’ve since moved to a new park. On Sunday we arrived at the Bulow RV Campground in Flagler Beach, FL. It wasn’t too bad to drive …  we were in the car for about 3-1/2 hours.  We’re actually only a couple of miles away from Tomoka State Park,where we attended the Tearjerkers gathering over Groundhog’s Day weekend.

Frank and I are both enjoying being close to the beach. We’re going over tonight after the temps cool down just a bit. That’s right, you heard me right! The first morning we were here, we had to deal with it being cold outside. But for the most part, the daytime weather has been glorious. I don’t mind having to put a fleece throw over my legs in the early morning or evening when it cools down if the daytime temps are warm enough where we have to run our little electric fan. And that’s been the case the last couple of days.

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Guess who’s been tracking dirt into the Nutshell again …

Frank’s resorted to his tried-and-true approach to dealing with warmer weather – he’s been digging a few inches of topsoil away from under the Nutshell so he can feel cool dirt on his belly when he lies down.

The park itself is nice. It’s big, but nowhere near the size of the Orlando Campground we were at a couple of months ago. A couple of months ago! I can’t believe how fast the time has been going. While it seems like it was just yesterday that we first crossed the border into Florida, it was actually almost three months ago! For all the bitching I’m done about being cold, at least it didn’t seemed to drag on forever. But I digress…

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I love the Spanish moss!

Like a few of the other parks, we’re in an individual campsite that gives us a bit of a rustic feel. Sure there are other RVs around us. Lots of RVs. But when nestled in under a few old growth trees that are covered in Spanish moss, it creates a bit of a different feel. Besides, I recognized the compromise we were making when we bought the Thousand Trails membership to save money. I’ve added a few photos of our setup at the bottom of the post. Yes, it looks pretty much the same. But what’s coolol is that it seems setup and teardown are getting easier with repetition.

It ain’t camping in the forest. But for the most part, it’s not been living in RV City, either, where your neighbor is only 10 feet away and nothing grows taller than a utility pole! Speaking of utility poles, we’ve also lucked out a little bit – the one in the campsite right next to us is broken, so it will remain vacant during our stay and we’ve got a little bit more separation between us and our nearest neighbor on the canopy side. I don’t mind if someone is right next door when we have the Nutshell acting as a buffer, but it’s extra nice to not have someone right on top of where we sit under the canopy.

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The Vagabonds

We had one really nice experience the afternoon we arrived here. I was taking a break from doing the setup and sat at our picnic table to rest a bit. Frank joined me. If you have been following the blog for a while now, you’ll remember that Frank loves to sit on top of picnic tables. It’s the easiest way for him the survey his domain. Anyhow, he and I were sitting there for a little while when one of our neighbors came over from an RV across the street and holding a camera. She introduced herself as Lynda from Quebec. She said she had been in the park for a few months doing the snow bird thing and that she had been taking photographs of people with their four-legged friends. She asked if I wound mind her taking  our photo. I told her that would be fine … I also managed to convince Frank that posting a photo of the two of us wasn’t necessarily going to make his specific whereabouts known to the authorities in Hilton heas, SC. I don’t know the details. Frank only refers to it as the “cat incident”. Even with me!

Anyhow, the shot  in shown  above and I have to say it’s the best one yet of the two of us together. My buddy Michael in Dallas has taken some great shots of Frank while posing solo. But this is the best posed shot that anyone has taken of the two of us together.  I love it! Lynda also gave me a hard copy of the photo on some heavy stock paper. I’ll pick up a frame before we leave the area. Thanks again, Lynda!

We’re only here for a week before heading north. Frank and I made a special point of stopping in this area so we could see a longtime friend from Pompton Lakes. Jeanie’s family lived right around the corner from our first home there. I used to deliver the local paper to their house; played football with one of her older brothers, Mike; and used to play stickball, kickball, and all sorts of other games with another brother, Ray.  it’s funny that Jeanie and I would become good friends online. She was the proverbial little sister … accordingly, none of us would have really paid much attention to her except to say hello. But we’ve maintained an ongoing friendship that started back with the old Classmates site and has now extended to Facebook. So it will be nice to see her.

Other than that, we don’t have much planned for the rest of the week. Frank has a teeth cleaning appointment at the local Banfield. It’s been awhile since I’ve mentioned them, but that’s turned out to be a pretty good deal. They are located all across the country in different PetSmart stores. Frank’s probably been to a dozen of them – everywhere from Charleston to Mission, TX to Colorado Springs to Lancaster, PA.  No matter where we are, they all have access to his records. And they offer some great discounts when you buy one of their and your plans, TOO.

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No, it has an “H” at the end, and it’s  a possessive noun! Yelling isn’t going to make you right!

While he’s going through that on Thursday, it’ll give me a chance to get some grocery shopping done. I’m also going to fulfil a sort of “mini-quest” I’ve been on for over 15 years now. I have been dying for good Vietnamese food. Something beyond pho and banh mi. There was a dish I particularly liked at Khanh’s, a Vietnamese restaurant I used to frequent in California. It’s a ginger infused rice, mixed with cilantro, mushrooms, spicy pork sausage, and onions … all baked in a clay pot and topped with a piece of barbecued boneless chicken breast.

I swear to God, I probably ordered that dish at least once a week for 10 years. And aside from a short visit I made to San Jose about 10 years ago, I haven’t found it since. It certainly isn’t for wont of looking. I have been to Vietnamese restaurants in New York City, Boston, Dallas, and pretty much everywhere else you can imagine. The closest I found to that dish was in Amarillo, believe it or not! It was all of the ingredients, but not cooked in a clay pot. So it’s still left me with a craving

About two months ago, when I was looking for the dish in Orlando, it dawned on me to go back find the name of the dish in Vietnamese. Sure enough, it was listed on Khanh’s website – com tay cam. And when I did an internet search, I found a restaurant in Ormond Beach with that dish listed on its menu. Judging from the description, it’s not quite the same as what I am used to. But I’m going to give it a shot. And the best time to do that is when Frank’s not with me, making me feel guilty for not sharing. Sorry, buddy. I share a lot with you, but not this time.  : o)

Speaking of Frank, he is gleefully lording it over me that three of his final four picks in the NCAA tournament are still alive. He successfully picked Wisconsin’s upset of Villanova; joining the Badgers in the Sweet 16 are two Bulldogs, Gonzaga and Butler. I have to be satisfied that I still have both my picks for the championship game still alive – Arizona and North Carolina. But my other two teams, Villanova and Iowa State, were out before you could say, “Dogs (and other creatures that are ‘close enough’ in Frank’s eyes) Rule!”

All I know is that one (or both) of us is going to be minus another one or two picks before Saturday morning. Butler plays North Carolina, and Gonzaga plays Arizona. Fortunately, no money is exchanging hands in these wagers. : o)

That’s it for now. We’ll check in again before we leave town. Unless you’re associated with the Hilton Head authorities. If that’s the case, Frank says he might be leaving town tonight, to whereabouts unknown. He just felt that needed to be said. And I don’t know “no cats”!

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2017 in Travels

 

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Frank’s Big Dance Ticket

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Frank’s not happy that the Villanova Wildcats are the #1 seed …

It’s that time of year again! And being the roundball fan, Frank has made his picks for the NCAA tournament.

Frank’s Final Four is:

The University of Nevada Wolf Pack
The Butler Bulldogs
The Wisconsin Badgers
The Gonzaga Bulldogs

He has an all Bulldog championship game, with Gonzaga beating Butler, 77-71.

Do I detect a theme here?

I pointed out to him that badgers aren’t really in the same family as dogs and wolves. He mumbled something like, “close enough,” and headed into the Nutshell to take a nap before the games started.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised Frank said anything to me at all. He’s still upset that I have two Wildcats in my Final Four – Villanova and the University of Arizona.  He didn’t feel any better when I told him that I had the University of North Carolina beating Iowa State in the other Final Four game,  and that I was picking the Tar Heels to beat Arizona in the final. “At  least I didn’t pick a Wildcat to win it all,” I told him!

He gave me the same look he does when I’m ready to go to bed and he’s already laid out in the Nutshell’s cabin, unwilling to move over to give me some room. That blank stare of disgust. I can only imagine the sulking I’ll have to deal with if a team with a feline mascot winds up winning it all.

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Frank’s dream NCAA Tournament team – the Charlotte School of Law’s Legal Beagles!!!

Frank still longs for the day when the Charlotte School of Law has a basketball team,  and that they’re good enough to make the tournament. Their mascot? The Legal Beagle, of course!

He says the same thing every March. And I do the same chant, just to mess with him:

Go Beagles!  Fight That Bail!  Appeal That Sentence!

Sorry, buddy … like I said before, it  just doesn’t quite have that “ring” to it.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2017 in Frank Speaks

 

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Travel Plans 2017

Now that you’re all caught up on where Frank and his chauffeur have been, here’s an idea of what we have in store for 2017. We’ve got the year planned out through the end of August. Actually, it’s the second itinerary we’ve created! But I’ll talk about that down a ways.

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Our last encounter with the Atlantic – Avalon, NJ

First stop, Flagler Beach, FL. We’ll be there for a week. This little town supposedly has some of the nicest dog beaches on the Florida coast, so Frank and I plan on staring into the Atlantic as much as we can while we’re there. We’ll also get a chance to visit with Jeanie, whose family lived around the corner from my old house growing up in Pompton Lakes. We’ve communicated online for almost 20 years now, going back to the old Classmates website. But I don’t think we’ve actually seen each other for 50 years. So that will be cool!

Next stop will be at Lake Hartwell, on the South Carolina / Georgia border. There’s a Thousand Trails campground on the north side of the lake, where we will be staying for almost two weeks. While there, we have plans to connect with Gary, a former business associate up in New Jersey, who recently relocated to the Atlanta area; and Mark, a Facebook friend who I’ve only “met” online. I actually don’t remember how that came about, or who our mutual friend is.  But I’ve enjoyed talking sports and current events with him quite a bit . As an aside, it’ll be pretty cool, putting faces to names. That’s going to happen quite a few more times over the next year.

By the way, it’s a bit of a juggling exercise in managing our length of stays at each campground. Ideally, whenever we stay at a Thousand Trails Park, we would stay for the full 3 weeks we’re allotted per visit. But because we have a couple of “fixed” items on the calendar, that simply wasn’t doable. So I’ve tried to manage the itinerary where we aren’t feeling rushed while staying at any particular place.

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Backroads are so much better than Interstate!

The other thing we’ve decided … Frank had a lot of influence in this … is that we’re going to hold our drive time to no more than six hours a day. This allows us to travel back roads as much as possible. It also helps keep me in the “present” rather than the future. I want to focus on enjoying the moment and not feeling in a hurry to get to some particular place by a certain deadline.  That’s become my personal goal for 2017.

With that in mind, there will be a number of times along the way where we’ll be taking advantage of a Walmart parking lot for an overnight stay. For you RVers out there – most of you already know that Walmart parking lots are a great place to stop while en route to an end destination. What you might not know is that not all Walmarts allow this! The ones that don’t are typically located near tourist attractions (like Orlando or Anaheim, for example), or are at a natural stopping-off point (like Homestead, FL, the last town in Florida before heading out into keys).

I plan ahead because I’m on a tight budget, and it gives me the illusion of control. So when I made our itinerary, I figured out which drives would take more than 6 hours between campgrounds and then found Walmarts in between where we could potentially stay. I also called ahead to find out if that particular Walmart was cool with overnight campers. For the record, I batted  about 90% – there were places that actually said they didn’t allow it. That’s something for you RVers to keep in mind. Even if you’re not planning out your trips to the degree that I am, I’d strongly recommend you call ahead while you’re driving to make sure the Walmart you selected for that evening will let you stay. It would be a real pain in the ass to get rousted at 10 p.m. and be told, “No overnight parking” and then have to scramble to figure out what you’re going to do. (You can buy an online guide that gives you this information. But it costs something like $50. My genetics includes a bit of Scottish DNA, which means I’m a cheap bastard- there’s no way in hell I’m paying $50 to be told something that I can find out myself with a phone call!)

Anyhow, back to the itinerary. We’re going to drive cross-state to get to our next stop – Myrtle Beach State Park. I’m really looking forward to this three days because we’re going to be camping with another old high school friend from New Jersey – Val and her husband, Bill. They purchased an RV last year, but weren’t able to use it as much as they wanted. So they’re going to drive down from Wilmington, NC with their three standard poodles and camp alongside the two of us!

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Easter, last year – at Lake Park Campground, Lewisville, TX

From there, we’ll drive up to Littleton, NC, and the Lake Gaston RV campground, another Thousand Trails Park. We needed a place to light for Easter and this seemed like the best location for that. My birthday happens to fall on Easter this year, by the way. Frank wanted to make me a treat for my birthday. But after asking me, “Where does one purchase poultry by-product meal and dry beef pulp anyhow?” as he was reading the back of his dog food bag, I figured I’d cut him some slack and told him that a treat wasn’t necessary!

Once we leave Lake Gaston, we have two more 3-day stays that I am really looking forward to! The first is another Tearjerkers event – this one at First Landing State Park, near Virginia Beach, VA. Frank and I had a great time at the Florida chapter’s get together in February and if this one is anything like that, I’m sure we’re going to have a great time.

From there, we head out to the North Carolina headlands for a stay at the Bells Island Campground. We’re going to see another old friend. Dave lived around the corner from me in Pompton Lakes, across the street from Jeanie. He and I used to walk to school together and talk baseball. I  like to think that Dave and I are an example for the rest of the world. If a Red Sox fan and a Yankees fan can become lifelong friends, then surely world peace is possible! LOL

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Our last Pennsylvania campground – serenity and peace, riverside

After that, we head back to Thousand Trails campgrounds. In succession, we plan on staying at campgrounds near Williamsburg, VA; Gettysburg, PA; and then finally in the Pocono Mountains, right across the border from New Jersey. That’s where we’ll spend Memorial Day weekend. I’m really looking forward to that stay – we’ll have a chance to get together with guys from the men’s group I belonged to at my old Parish in Wayne, NJ. Frank and I also plan on visiting  my old hometown of Pompton Lakes (about an hour away) and see other old high school friends while there.

After that, the plan is to stay at Thousand Trails campgrounds near Lake George, NY; Wells, ME; Bar Harbor, ME; and Rochester, MA, with a possible stay near Sturbridge, MA. Again, the beauty of this membership is that I won’t have to pay anything extra beyond my monthly membership fees while visiting these campgrounds. I’ve mentioned it earlier, but this is really saving a ton! Without that savings, managing this little vagabond journey would be a lot more difficult. There are a couple of little things we have to deal with, though. For one, I can’t reserve 4th of July until we’ve begun our Memorial Day reservation – you can only have one major holiday reservation on the books at any given time (major holidays are Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day). So I’m not quite sure which one of those parks we’ll be at for the 4th of July. It will depend upon availability. But it’s all worked out so far, and I’m not going to allow myself to stress over this one little thing.

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While in Massachusetts, I hope to make a pilgrimage to Fenway Park, too.

If everything works according to plan, this takes us up to the second weekend in August. We’ll spend that weekend at another Tearjerkers event. This time, it will be with the New England chapter at a campground in Central Connecticut. I actually planned on going to this event last year, but had to cut our travel short and return to Texas due to a medical issue. So I’m really looking forward to finally getting to meet these people!

Remember my mentioning that this was the second itinerary we had planned for 2017? This is where we veer off from our original plans, which had us working our way back down the East Coast over the remainder of 2017, to winter again in Florida. Then I heard about the big solar eclipse that will occur in August. When I was a kid, I loved astronomy! Actually, I’m just a big kid now, and STILL love astronomy! I’m one of those idiots that would go out at three in the morning to watch a meteor shower. Well, when I heard about this solar eclipse, I started to stress a bit. How could we fit this into the schedule?

About the time this was all having a muddling impact on my brain, I talked to my buddy Larry out in California. It’s funny how I can get all bothered by something and Larry has a way of just cutting right to the chase and help me see something that I need to see!

“You realize the only one who is holding you to this itinerary is you, right? I mean, Frank doesn’t give a shit. And isn’t this why you chose this lifestyle, anyhow … so you can basically go where you wanted to? If you want to see the eclipse, go see the eclipse! If you don’t, then don’t. But don’t stress over it!”

Now for most of you, this is a no-brainer.  Larry’s advices something you already know. But for me, this was a major breakthrough! I think it goes back to my not being able to live in the present for most of my life. To getting so tied up in “plans” and becoming so rigid that you wind up hurting yourself.  I know it seems contradictory to be talking about that in the post that is totally about our plans for the upcoming year. The Breakthrough though, is seeing them for what they really are – just plans.

So,  if the plans materialize, we’ll be heading to Western Kentucky after the Tearjerkers event to see one of the biggest solar events that’s occurred in the last 30 years, and possibly won’t occur again while I’m alive.

After that? We’ve got to figure that out. Right now, it looks like we’ll head back through Dallas and visit with friends from my second high school again. When we left last November, I told them that we weren’t going to be back for a couple of years. From the looks of it now, that won’t be the case.

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No more freezing my tail off? Sounds good to me!!!

After that, we’ll be heading west. We’ll incorporate a few stopover visits with friends in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona along the way.  I’d also like to spend a little time in Western New Mexico. I’d like to check that out as a possible landing spotFor when we come off the road at some point in the distant future. Ultimately though, we intend to spend next winter in Arizona and Southern California. There are a whole lot of Thousand Trails campgrounds there so that makes perfect sense. Quite frankly, given how cold it’s been in Florida, I’ll be ready for some better temps. And I’m quite sure Frank will agree!

So that’s it. And you know what? The beauty of all this is that I know things will potentially change between now and next winter. And that I don’t have to stress about it! The planning will help us maintain our budget, but it won’t be the end of the world if we have to go a different direction. Again, that may be a “well, duh” idea for most of you. But that represents a huge breakthrough for me! It’s not the first one I’ve had over the last couple of years on the road. I’m grateful for that! Here’s hoping it won’t be the last.

By the way, if any of you are interested in meeting Frank and his chauffeur, you now have a general idea of where we’re headed. Drop me a line and let’s see what we can work out. Or if you just have questions about where we’ve been and want to compare travel notes, drop me a line on that, too. We’re always willing to help out a fellow vagabond.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2017 in 2017

 

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The Florida Tour

When yesterday’s post ended, we had just made it to Florida. It was three long days on the road, and the only one who was happier about getting to a campsite than me was Frank!

I used to think that the nicest thing about having the Nutshell was how easy it is to set up camp and then how easy it is to break camp at the end of our stay. It’s certainly a world of difference from when we were in a tent! But I’ve since come to appreciate another benefit – we can set up in campsites that the bigger RVs are unable to use. We’ve seen that benefit now a few times here in Florida.

The first campground we stayed at was Peace River RV Campground, in Wauchula, about an hour due east of Sarasota. I can’t tell you how many orange groves we passed once we got off Interstate 75 and started driving County Roads. One right after the other. And Wauchula is smack dab in the middle of orange grove country.

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I.E. “You better watch out for your little dogs and kids!”

The campground is located right on the banks of Peace River. One thing I noticed as we were driving through the property to pick out our campsite – all the signs along the river that warn people about the alligators. That was enough for me. No way was I going to camp anywhere near where Frank might wind up getting loose and becoming an hors d’oeuvre for some gator!

Away from the river, there was a whole section of older campsites that looked like they were part of the original campground. Where the section by the river was row after row of RVs lined up right next to each other,  other section was more like a state park. These were smaller sites interspersed among trees and quite a ways from the river. And there was no way any of those bigger RVs were going to fit in these sites.

Frank and I found a nice little place close to the bathrooms and laundry. We set up camp where we were looking at trees more than buildings and that was really nice. We enjoyed a fairly uneventful New Year’s Eve with very few fireworks in the distance.

Now I like to pretty much keep by myself at these parks. I’ll take Frank for a walk here in there, but for the most part, I enjoy just sitting in the camp chair under the canopy while watching people go by. There’s just one thing about that approach – Frank is a people magnet! People see him and immediately come over and want to say “Hello” to the friendly little beagle. And he’s more than happy to oblige them! Someone comes over and his tail starts wagging and he starts grinning. That’s typically how we wind up meeting folks at camps nowadays. I certainly can’t be counted on to walk over and make introductions most of the time.

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Frank likes to keep his eyes on the neighbors!

There was a Puerto Rican family that  were camping in the site next to ours. They had two little boys and a little girl, and all of them just loved Frank! They would come over in the afternoon and just sitting pet Frank, who was in seventh heaven! When their mother found out that it was just him and me, there were three or four nights in a row when she sent her son over with a big plate of food for me. I brought over a bag of oranges for the family the next day to thank her and she immediately started telling me what “we” were going to have that night. I tried to explain to her that I had food for supper, that I was appreciative, but  like the women at the Lake Conroe Park, she wouldn’t hear anything of it! So4 a few nights, I was treated to some delicious Spanish cooking.

I was disappointed when they bugged out – they lived in Massachusetts and the father worked for the roads department. They called him and said he had to cut his vacation short because they were expecting some big storms so they were gone in a flash.

I made a couple of other friends here as well. Tim and his wife were living here full time while he was looking for work. He would stop by most evenings and shoot the breeze. He introduced me to another fellow named Michael. As it turns out, Michael was from New England, and was traveling the East Coast setting up his labyrinth at fairs and festivals.  That wasn’t the last time I would run into Michael.

Then there was Gerald! Gerald was in his early eighties and lost his wife about a year earlier. Like me, he had a background in defense – me, having been an executive in a defense electronics company when I was younger; and Gerald, having worked in the Pentagon on computer systems. We hit it off and had some good conversations.

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Frank stayed warm in his Dollar Store sweatshirt

The one thing that got me was that it was still cold! I don’t know why, but I thought I was leaving the cold weather behind us in Texas. That simply wasn’t the case. Frank and I spent most mornings and evenings wrapped up in our comforters, sitting in the chair while talking to Tim or Gerald.

By the way,  I finally got a chance to “pay forward” a blessing that was long overdue. Back when we first started out, I found myself at a gas station early one morning with no cash and a debit card that wasn’t working because I hadn’t told my credit union that I would be traveling in Texas (I later discovered they had some fairly significant fraud protection procedures in place, one of which was that “you can’t travel in Texas without letting us know if you want to use your debit card!”) There, another gentleman put $20 of gas in my car, with the specific instruction that I should “pay it forward”!

So a year-and-a-half later, after looking for different opportunities to do just that a different gas stations along the way, I finally got the chance! Frank and I were buying ice and bottled water edit quick stop down the road from the camp. A young man in front of me was having trouble with his debit card. He swore that money in the account but the card just wasn’t working and he didn’t know why!

I asked him what pump he was at and when he told me, I looked at the cashier and said, “$20 on pump four and I’ll pay for it.

The kid, Hector, thanked me profusely and wanted to know my address where he could send and wanted to know my address where he could repay me. I left and told him that his repayment would be that he had to listen to an old man tell him a story that ended with four words – “Now it’s your turn.”

Here’s hoping that if he hasn’t already, Hector will be telling someone his own version of the story that ends in the same four words!

We stayed at Peace River for two weeks before moving on. Our next campground was Three Flags RV Resort, in Wildwood. Now this is the first Thousand Trails place we stayed at that was billed as a resort. And it had a much different feel to it then the other places we had stayed at once we left Dallas. It looks more like a mobile home park for RVs. The streets were all curbed and paved and we were lined up like sardines! We didn’t get to pick our campsite out either – it was assigned before we got there. As it turns out, it was one of the few small sites, but it was right next to the laundromat!

Now there are good things and bad things about being right next to the laundromat. The vents opened up right on our campsite and we were treated to just about every flowery scent you can imagine most mornings. That was the good thing. By the way, you might think the other good thing is that you can just walk over and put a load in. I never even used it! Tried to, but it was so damn expensive I wound up going to the laundromat in town and saved a few bucks … $3 per load to wash? And another $3 to dry? Are you freaking kidding me?

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The flowery smells coming out of those little pipes are making me sleepy!

The downside of being right next to the laundromat was that I got to hear all the campground gossip that I didn’t want to hear! Evidently, the vast number of women in the place thought that Margie was a slut! LOL

(Coincidentally, who do you think showed up the next day with a, “What a cute little beagle! I could just eat you up”? All I can say is that Margie was a hoot!)

There were plenty of dogs for Frank to play with here. A couple of regulars would stop by with their dogs to visit with Frank on their walks, and I would reciprocate when I was taking Frank out. But the funniest experience was when Frank finally met one of his own – a beagle pup named “Roscoe,” who couldn’t have been more than 9 months old. Frank looked at him with this quizzical expression on his face. Then, it was almost as if he realized, “Hey! This is one of MY tribe!” He started dancing around this little pup all excited. And while Roscoe wanted to play, I think he was a bit overwhelmed by how excited Frank had become, so he tried to hang back a little. I think that was the most excited I’ve seen Frank since we ran into that basset hound up in Pennsylvania last May.

The folks in this campground were definitely the stereotypical “snowbirds”! There was bingo two nights a week, mahjong on Thursdays, a shuffleboard court across the street from us and plenty of other amenities designed to appeal to seniors. And within the first two days of arriving, all our neighbors stopped by to make sure I knew which restaurants had the best early dinner specials.

It warmed up a bit here, but we were treated to another wonderful element of Florida weather – the first weekend there brought a tornado alert! Tornadoes actually touched down to the north and south of our campground, within eight miles!  For a brief time, Frank and I had to go into the basement of the activity center across the street. Fortunately, there was no damage to the campground, just a few small tree branches on the roads here and there.

I stay pretty close to the weather and have done so ever since we started out. So I was aware that we had some pretty big storms heading our way. Earlier that afternoon, I anchored down the canopy nice and tight with some extra bungee cords attached to the front and back of the trailer. The outer leg got anchored to a second stake using some cable. We then pulled the car up sideways across the front opening of the canopy and installed the second insert so that rain would have a tough time blowing into our little living area.

I was pretty sure that would hold up well to any storms or high winds. I wasn’t expecting to have to deal with tornadoes, though. So I was a little anxious about that. But like I said earlier, everything turned out just fine.

Out of all the Thousand Trails places we’ve stayed at, this one was my least favorite. So I was definitely ready to move on when our three weeks was up. But part of that was because of the anticipation over our next stop.

Last year, I joined an association of teardrop trailer owners. The Tearjerkers! I’m not wild about the name, I’ll be honest. But I love the idea of meeting other people that share a common interest.

Frank and I broke camp early on Groundhog’s Day and headed east to the Atlantic coastline and Tomoka State Park, just south of Ormond Beach, and the site of our first Tearjerker Jamboree!

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Our setup at Tomoka State Park. Check out the cool teardrop in the background!

The campground itself was fantastic! It reminded me a lot of the campground at Goose Island State Park near Rockport, TX, another of my favorite places we’ve stayed at. Lots of trees! Lots of scrub around the campsites, all of which are set up for a true camping “experience”.  Plus, you had that smell of salt air to wake up to in the morning!

There had to be over 30 other teardrop campers in the park that weekend. They ranged from the fancy ones with all the luxuries you can imagine … to smaller ones like mine … and all different varieties of home-built trailers!

We met most of the owners at breakfast on Saturday morning. I had indirectly corresponded with the folks of the Florida Chapter through the Tearjerker website. Each chapter has its own section, with different subject threads. I got a kick out of the fact that when introducing ourselves at breakfast, I would basically say, “Hello, my name is Jeff,” then pause to get everyone else’s names and shake hands. I’d then introduce Frank. That’s how everyone knew me! One guy shouted out, “Frank! Okay, you’re the guy traveling around with Frank!”

We know who the star of this little road show is, don’t we?  : o)

On Saturday night, we had a potluck dinner, along with a silent auction benefiting a young girl in the area with a serious medical condition. It was very cool to see these people all coming together and raising funds to help what for the most part was a complete stranger! Good people!!! I really enjoyed meeting everyone and even came out of the weekend with some new Facebook friends.

At the end of the weekend, we headed back to the central part of the state, and the Orlando RV Resort. I didn’t really know what to expect here. I knew it was close to Disney World and Epcot Center, so I figured it was going to be a relatively large campground to accommodate tourists. I had no idea!

This campground has more than 800 sites along with two large activity centers, an Olympic swimming pool, a small theater where they host concerts and movies, and just about every other amenity you can think of!

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We had a really nice campsite at Orlando RV Resort

Fortunately, the layout was similar to Peace River in that it had an older section the larger RVs couldn’t easily navigate. Frank and I had a wonderful camp site, in among some trees and scrub the right across the street from the bathrooms. It turned out to be a very relaxing three weeks.

If Frank could speak, I’d wager that he would tell you this was his favorite campground! First off, they had their own dog park. He and I went down there most days and it gave him his first real opportunity to spend a lot of time off leash. The only downside was that not many of the other dog owners brought their buddies down to play. There were only a few occasions where Frank d company.

It was here that Frank had his second encounter with one of his tribe. Two, actually – a young woman would roller skate by every morning for the first week of our stay, being towed by two young beagles. Frank had the same reaction to them that he did to the beagle pup at the other campground. We were both disappointed that their stay ed ours by only a week.  But they did get together a couple of times and everybody had fun

We didn’t have many visitors here, either. Michael, who I met at Peace River, happened to be there when we arrived. But he was only staying there for another day before leaving. There was another young fellow we met named Rick. His wife was a photographer and they toured the country based on her assignments, with him homeschooling their kids. The fellow behind me was retired Navy and would come over most afternoons to shoot the breeze.

The only problem I’ve had is that when someone sits down to shoot the breeze, it seems like all anyone wants to talk about nowadays is politics. Now most of you who know me also know that I’m quite political. I’ve been known to let loose with a Facebook rant or two. Or ten! But I’ve worked real hard to keep politics out of the campground. In some cases, I’ve actually had to say, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t talk politics!” for the most part, everyone’s pretty cool with that. As it turns out though, this retired Navy guy couldn’t let it go.

“How come, no politics? Don’t you care about what’s going on in this country?”

I explained to him that part of the reason for setting out on this vagabond journey was to reestablish my faith in mankind. That I had engaged in too many internet arguments and it left a bad taste in my mouth. And that what I had discovered was that when you just go out and meet people, politics really don’t matter! What matters is that you are friendly, helpful, and supportive of whoever else you need on the road. From there, I’d rather get to know the person I was talking to than who they voted for in the last election!

You know what his response was?

“So who’d you vote for then?”

“Terry Francona. I thought he did a hell of a job in both the Red Sox and Indians locker rooms and if he could bring all those guys together, I’d like to see what he could do bringing together a divided Congress!”

The guy just grinned, let out a big guffaw, and never mentioned politics again!

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Peace River RV campground, Wauchula, FL

So now, here we are, two weeks after leaving Orlando and back at the first Florida campground we stayed at – Peace River. Michael was here when we arrived and I have to say I really enjoyed his company! We had some great conversations and discovered that we have similar outlooks on life. I enjoyed getting a better understanding of what he was doing with the labyrinth, introducing them to people as a way towards meditation and prayer. Michael, I don’t know when we will next hook up, but I have a feeling our paths will cross again at some point down the road.

Tim was still here and would spend a few evenings stopping by to talk and pet Frank. And for the last week, I’ve had a couple of guys in a tent right behind me. It started out a bit rocky – I asked them to turn down their blaring TV at around 9 p.m. and one of the fellows wasn’t too keen on the suggestion. I bitched about it on a Facebook post and one of my dear friends, Dale, reminded me that positive energy works much better than negative. One thing she said was, “Whether you believe in a higher power or not, the visualizing and positive energy that is thrown out to your surroundings can actually cause movement in a positive way.”

What happened after that? Let me share my Facebook post from the next morning …

So …

After receiving a much-needed reminder from Dale, I spent some time in meditation and prayer yesterday afternoon. Thought about harmony … about how much Frank and I have experienced on our journey, seeing the harmony of nature and how many times we’ve been part of good times with friends and strangers along the way. I expressed quiet gratitude for that. And then let it go.

Before dinner, one of the guys came by last night and said that he was sorry for being an ass the night before. That he had some stuff he was dealing with, got drunk and that he knows he is a lousy drunk.

I basically told him, “been there, done that,” as far as having stuff to deal with. And that I’ve lashed out at people without even the benefit of having an excuse like drinking too much. I told him, “Apology accepted,” and I hope he knew that I wasn’t trying to be an ass, either. Which he did.

Later on after dark, he hollered out, “Hey, big man! The TV’s not too loud for you, is it?” I told him that it wasn’t, and then I really appreciated him asking! (Evidently, I now have a new nickname! LOL)

Now, for those of you not inclined to believe in a higher power (whether it’s God, Allah, Spirit Mother, or whatever you want to call the Force that binds us all together), I recognize it could be coincidence, the fact that he just felt bad and had enough self-respect to apologize, that he might have overheard a friendly conversation I had yesterday afternoon with another camper that stopped by and decided I was a decent enough guy. It could be a myriad of things like that.

I’d like to believe that because I sought to align myself with a greater sense of harmony, that said Higher Power took it to the next level and allowed me to experience Harmony on a grander scale!

I’m grateful for that. Just wish I would have started out with that in mind instead of letting myself get so pissed off … and then needing the reminder from Dale before I got myself back under control. Thank you Dale! God bless you for providing the kick in the ass I needed! LOL

Last night, they invited me over to share some burgers and beer. I brought some potato salad. Suffice it to say that an enjoyable time was had by all!  They leave tomorrow. And we’re parting on very good terms!

I’m going to leave off here.  Tomorrow, I’ll post about the rest of our plans for 2017. The only comment I’ll make in advance is that it’s incredibly freeing when you realize that an itinerary is only a mental construct! t just because you spent a bunch of time putting together a year’s worth of plans, it doesn’t mean they can’t be changed.

Tune in tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2017 in Travels

 

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They’re baaaaack …

Yes, we’re still alive! Yes, I’ve been incredibly neglectful with the blog. Chalk it up to issues with inertia. One thing led to another … first, it was dealing with two months of incredibly cold weather, where we had no respite at all during the day time. Then, it was not having a laptop and having trouble dealing with voice to text on the phone. After that? I guess the only thing I can say is “inertia happens”. But now that we’re finally in decent weather and are getting ready to travel north in a couple of weeks, I figured it was time to start things back up. So, here’s what’s been going on with old Frank and me:

November

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Our setup at Lake Park Campground

We headed back to Dallas on November 7th. Back to one of my favorite parks, the Lake Park campground in Lewisville. I love this place, and highly recommend it to anybody traveling through Dallas. It’s clean, inexpensive, and offers a view of Lake Dallas from just about every site in the park.

Our time there started out well enough. The first week or so was decent weather. We had a chance to visit a lot of old friends. I had lunch with the same group of guys that got together the last two times Frank and I were in town. We also got to visit with the few other folks that we didn’t get a chance to see during our two previous visits.

But it wasn’t just seeing old friends again that made this stay so enjoyable. Frank and I made some new friends, too. There was a woman named Pam, down from Missouri to visit family.  Pam walked by our campsite most mornings and would stop to pet Frank and talk to me.  We really enjoyed her company and I so got to looking forward to those morning conversations. Pam, we’ve missed seeing you ever since!

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How we spent most of our November stay in Dallas … can you say, “Brrrrr”?

Then there was Ray and Kelli, from Oklahoma, who had parked their camper behind us and a couple of spots to the south. They came by one night towards the end of our stay and offered the most delicious beans, ham and corn bread you could ever imagine! It was certainly appreciated, because the weather had already turned cold and it was exactly what the doctor ordered for dinner that night.

What they didn’t know when they stopped by, though, was that I had inadvertently left my car open the night before and someone had stolen my last bit of money out of it, about $140!  I had another 3 days to go before my social security deposit would hit the bank account. Granted, I had already done an inventory and figured out that we could stretch the food we had for a few days …  it’s not like I couldn’t live off of my blubber for a month or so, too. But for them to just stop by and make the offer? At that particular time? From my perspective, it was just one more Act of Divine Providence which has graced Frank and me.

By that time, Frank and I had been reduced to sitting in our camp chair underneath the canopy, wrapped in a comforter and a blanket. And before they left, Ray and Kelli stopped back by and gave us a really warm fleece blanket. I have to say that Frank and I have made quite a bit of use out of it since then. Thanks very much, from the bottom of our hearts, you two.

Before leaving the area, we had dinner with another old high-school friend, Debbie. Debbie was helping out a friend who was managing an estate sale. She came away with 3 heavy scarves, a couple of wool caps, and a wonderful pair of heavy gloves for me. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time! Things only got colder from there.  God bless you for thinking of us, Debbie!

December

In one of our last posts, I mentioned something about extending our membership in Thousand Trails, the company that has campgrounds located throughout all the country. That’s going to work out pretty well for us, I think. I’m paying a flat amount of money per month, which entitles us to stay up to 3 weeks at a time at any of their campgrounds across the country. No more having to stay outside their system for a week before going to another campground, either. We can move from one directly to another … something that will benefit us greatly as we hea up the East Coast this year.

Based on what we were spending since we left Charleston in early 2015, the upgraded membership will save us an average of $165 a month this year on Campground fees. Not only that, our membership is an asset that we can sell whenever we finally come off the road. Based on the weather saw on eBay before buying the upgrade, we could potentially recoup all our Campground fees when we settle down. But who knows when that’s going to be?!

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MAN, but it was cold in Texas this past December!

Anyhow after leaving the Dallas area, we headed to our first Thousand Trails campground at Lake Whitney, just south of Fort Worth. I thought it was cold and Dallas, but that was just a teaser! We had two weeks where the daytime temperatures never got out of the forties and on most days just barely hit freezing. Night time temps were down into the teens, but the nights weren’t a problem because of our sleeping bag. We slept warm as toast! But then we had to get up and go outside during the day. There’s just no way we could stay inside that tiny cramped up space day in and day out! We managed, though.

There weren’t a lot of people at this Campground, and I don’t think Frank and I had a visitor the entire time. So we spent most of the time just buried in the covers trying to stay warm.

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With all the cold weather, Frank was not a happy camper. Literally!

We were only there for about 10 days before heading on further south to the Thousand Trails campground at Lake Conroe, just outside Houston. It didn’t get quite as cold there, but we were still dealing with chilly days. I remember sitting there thinking, “we’ve seen the best and worst of Texas weather – heat indices consistently over 110 degrees during the East Texas summer, only to be freezing our ass off now!” That was when I started rethinking plans for next winter. More on that, later.

The first good thing about our stay at Lake Conroe came the day after we arrived. Frank and I drove down to Houston where we got a chance to visit with Mike, a great friend who I’ve mentioned before. Actually, this was our second visit with Mike in the last month. His sister lives near where we camped up in Lewisville and he stopped by the day after Thanksgiving with another old high school buddy, Greg. The afternoon was supposed to involve a lot of guitar playing, but basically turned into three old friends reminiscing and talking about “stuff”.

This time though, there was a purpose to our getting together. Back when I had my heart procedure at Houston Methodist Hospital, Mike and another high school buddy, Nathan, brought me back from the hospital to the nearby motel I was staying at. This time, it was Nathan who had had some back surgery about a week before. So after Mike treated me to some fantastic biscuits, gravy, and freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast, we eventually headed over to Nathan’s house to check in on him and see how he was doing. He was actually doing fairly well, much better than I would have expected someone to be after having their back worked on! The three of us sat there and shot the breeze about our shared high school experiences while chowing down on some barbecue that Mike had stopped by to pick up on the way.

Frank was the only one who didn’t have that great of time. He spent the afternoon in a crate back at Mike’s house. Fortunately, Frank doesn’t have too long a memory. By the time he started chowing down on the Chicken McNuggets I picked up for him at McDonald’s as a treat, he had forgotten all about his ordeal!

That was the end of our visits with old friends for the time being. I figured that we weren’t going to be back to Texas for about two years and these visits would have to last us. As it turns out though, it looks like we’ll be back there towards the end of this year. More on that to follow.

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Christmas lights courtesy of fellow teardrop camper Rena from Delaware – little light-up campers!

Back at camp once again, though, we were treated to yet more wonderful neighbors. Because this campground was pretty full, we were relegated to a tiny section mostly for tent campers. And it was right outside a section of bungalows, where people live on a full-time basis. I found out later that a number of the women living in that section decided they were going to make sure that the solitary old man with the dog  … the one who smiled and waved “Merry Christmas”  to everyone as they drove by  … was going to be well taken care of for the holidays.

The day after our visit with Mike and Nathan, Frank and I came back from the dollar store to discover we had a secret Santa visit. There was a plate of about 9-10 Christmas candies sitting on the camp table, along with a big cup of hot tea. It hadn’t been sitting there long because the tea was still pretty hot.

I found out who our secret Santa was the next day. A young woman and her daughter slowed down in their truck as they were passing by. The woman lowered her window and shouted, “Merry Christmas” to me. I asked, “are you the person I have to thank for my gift yesterday?”  She grinned,  shook her head, and said, “You looked cold as we drove by the other day, all covered up in your blankets. So my daughter said that we should bring you something hot to drink. And since I just finished making the candies, I thought they’d be a nice addition to the tea.”

Her daughter … who looked like she was about 10 or 11…  stuck her head over from the passenger seat and yelled, “You look just like Santa Claus! Merry Christmas Santa Claus!”

I just smiled and said, “Merry Christmas, darling! Thank you for the treats. That was a real nice thing you did.” That’s the second time since leaving Charleston where I’ve been accused of looking like Santa Claus. I’m planning on keeping the beard for a while. I guess I’ll have to do something about the gut, instead! Lol

Shortly after that, a woman came out of an RV across the street and introduced herself as  Linda. She said she was making tamale pie for dinner and wanted to know if I would like some. It’s been tough, but I have been working harder at learning how to be gracious and accepting offers of kindness from other people. So I told her yes, thank you … but asked if there was anything I could pick up for her and her husband to enjoy as dessert in exchange. She wouldn’t hear of it! I have to say, it was absolutely delicious and the perfect thing to have for dinner on a cold night.

But it didn’t end there! Over the  remainder of our stay, Frank and I received many blessings from other neighbors, too. The next day, a young couple stopped by with 4 or 5 bags of cocoa mix, some doughnuts and treats for Frank. And later that same day, Linda came back but this time accompanied by two other women. They told me that I should NOT make dinner plans for the next several days because they were all going to take turns bringing dinner by.

So, over the next three evenings (the last one being Christmas), I enjoyed homemade spaghetti and meatballs and strawberry shortcake for dessert; roast turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie; and lastly, some delicious baked ham accompanied by green bean casserole, two buttermilk biscuits, and a huge slice of sweet potato pie. Sweet potato pie! I don’t think I’ve had that since managing the pie store 40 years earlier while going to North Texas State in Denton! Oh yeah, Frank wasn’t left out – everyone thought to include some treats for him along with my dinner. All in all, it was a wonderful Christmas, one of the best I’ve experienced in my life!

You meet the nicest people camping. When I first started out, one of the rangers I met … I think it was at Toledo Bend State Park in Louisiana … said something along those lines to me. That campers tend to look at each other as family. Not having come from a great one, it’s been heartwarming to have experienced so much friendliness and generosity from the people Frank and I have met. It does feel sort of like a family. All I know is that I have some “Pay it forward” obligations to meet.

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Frank was pretty happy, thinking we had left the cold weather behind in Texas. Not so fast, buddy …

We left Texas two days later, on our way to Winter in Florida. The trip out was fairly uneventful. We spent the first night at a campground outside Baton Rouge, LA. The second night, we stayed at a campground in the Florida Panhandle, east of Pensacola. After one final long day of driving, we made it to the Peace River RV campground, in Wauchula, FL.  We’re actually back at that Campground right now for a second visit.

We’ve been in Florida ever since, going back and forth between Thousand Trails campgrounds, with a weekend stay at Tomoka State Park on the Atlantic coast  thrown in for good measure. But I’m going to leave things off here for the moment. Tomorrow, I’ll fill in what’s going on between then and now.

No really. I will. Trust me! : o)

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2017 in Travels

 

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