Sunday, December 5, 2010

Home Sweet Friggin’ Freezin’ Home

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Fortunately, our night at the Wal-Mart just south of Atlanta was quiet—no more truckers parked next to me!  But it was getting colder each night the further we drove north.  Thankfully, that only was a bother when taking Millie out for walks.  Inside the View, my furnace and hot water heater, and Reflectix insulated window covers kept things nice and cozy.  Something decadent about taking a nice hot shower in the middle of a Wal-Mart parking lot on a cold night…for free!   I love my View!

It was plunging towards zero by the time we arrived back in Chicago.  As I started warming up my house again, my furnace went out, so I had to repack a bag and head over to my mom’s house until the furnace guy could fix it.  Ah, so nice to be back home.  Why, exactly, did I not decide to spend the whole winter in Florida?

Friday, December 3, 2010

A nutty detour on the way home

We were leaving the Keys not a minute too soon.  A big cold front had moved in overnight and the highs would struggle to get into the 50s and with high winds the day we left.  So, best to get my tall vehicle off those long wind-exposed bridges in the Keys as soon as possible.

We had a long 4-day drive back to Chicago, and it was predicted to be below freezing every single night along the way (even our first night in central Florida!).  We rolled into Bushnell, FL about 9:00pm.  Mom and Dolores headed off to their hotel, while Millie and I boondocked in the Wal-Mart parking lot. 

There were about 10 RVs and Truckers parked closely together off on one side of the lot, and 1 small RV parked by itself on the other side of the lot.  Of course, I decided to park on the uncrowded side of the lot.  Got Millie walked, my shades pulled down, bed made, jammies on and crawled into bed by around 10.  Just as I was drifting off to sleep, a big 18-wheeler rolled in and decided to park right next to me.  Of course he left his loud diesel engine running :-) .  About 30 minutes later, I heard him put his truck into gear and drive away.  “Hallelujah!  For once, I’ve lucked out!,” I thought.

Uh, not so fast.

It seems he was just turning around so he could get his engine even CLOSER to my RV.  Argh!  Need to remember to bring ear plugs on these RV trips in the future! 

Our next day’s drive was through Georgia, and after the monotony of 2 days of highway driving, Dolores had a perfect diversion to recharge our batteries…a trip to Ellis Brothers Nut Shop!  The billboard signs dot the interstate for miles in Georgia saying '”We’re Nuts!”, so when we turned off a rural exit, I expected to find a tourist shack selling over-priced stale nuts.  Well, there was one of those right at the exit.  But one of Dolores’ cousins was a pecan farmer in Georgia, and told her to drive a few miles to the main store.  Wow, what fun.  We passed cotton fields and persimmon trees, and arrived to a store full of fresh, tasty samples of everything they sold, at reasonable prices too!   Yum!

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Backyard Kayaking

Usually, if I want to go paddling somewhere, it’s a major production to either put the canoe rack on my car and strap the canoe onto it, or take the 30 lb bag with my Sea Eagle inflatable kayak and then spend time when I get to the location pumping it up to be ready for use.

So what a luxury indeed to have my little kayak just sitting on the backyard patio ready to go every day whenever I felt like paddling!

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So I tried to get out on the water as many mornings and evenings as I could, but every time I’d leave, Millie would get a very concerned look on her face and start crying until I was out of sight.

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The Keys are very challenging for boaters as the reef comes up to make waters quite shallow in the areas between the islands, but that makes it great for kayakers!  The water was crystal clear and filled with fish!

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Finally back to the house.  You can see the View parked on the left:

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On our last night, I took Millie for a walk down to the end of the street to see the sunset.  No other dogs on this street…only a parrot who “barked” at Millie as she went by:

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Millie couldn’t resist one more quick swim:

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and then had to drench me when she shook off

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But it was a nice sunset and relaxing way to end a great trip to the Keys.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day Trip to Key West

Mom, Dolores, and I decided to spend our second day exploring Key West, only a short 30 minute drive from the house.  We arrived just as “rush hour” was winding down.  In Key West, that means cars and jet skis!
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We took a drive around the historic district and then down Duval Street.  Lots of characters riding around there!

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A trip to Key West would not be complete without a visit to Sloppy Joe’s Bar (where Hemmingway used to hang out).  But is was a bit early for us to start drinking so we moved along.

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The next stop was where everyone visiting Key West always goes – to the Southernmost Point of the U.S. marker to get their picture taken!  This was Mom and me--
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Both Mom and Dolores are avid gardeners and met a few years ago at our local garden club, so they wanted to check out Key West Garden Club’s gardens at West Martello Tower.  The location is an old civil war-era fort on the south end of island. Restoring the brick fort was too costly and not really historically worthy, so the town let the Garden Club take over the interior open-air courtyard and turn it into a magnificent tropical garden.

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Dolores found this short little archway just the perfect size for her 5’0” stature:

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After our garden walk, it was time to find some lunch.  Mom and I had a wonderful outdoor dinner at Kelly’s a few years ago, so we decided to try it again for lunch.  It was terrific.  So good, in fact, that they sent the chef out to meet us after we kept raving to the waiter about how good the crab quiche was!

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After lunch we walked around the waterfront, saw a thunderstorm brewing out towards Cuba, and watched a gigantic Carnival cruise ship take off.  Key West is quite a popular port of call!

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Monday, November 29, 2010

All Kinds of Critters on Big Pine Key

The Florida Keys are a series of small islands and coral reef extending about 150 miles into the waters between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.  Each island (key) is fairly small—some less than a mile wide and a mile or two long.  Big Pine Key is one of the larger islands (a good 7 or 8 miles long and 2 miles wide).

The island is home to the tiny Key Deer.  Only about 500 of them exist and they only live on Big Pine Key (which means that sightings of these little cuties are pretty common once you get off the Overseas Highway).  So, for my first day’s adventures, I decided to take a morning bike ride around the island to see what creatures I could find.

Here’s the first creature I encountered!
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And a quick stop to the grocery store (after hearing the sounds of roosters crowing), revealed that the roosters lived in the grocery store’s parking lot! (these birds are very common in Key West too)
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But it wasn’t long until I finally found a Key Deer.  They’re very used to people and like to hang out in some of the residential neighborhoods on the island (especially on trash day I hear.. easy pickins!):

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There’s a wildlife sanctuary on the north end of the island around a freshwater sink hole pond called Blue Hole that I wanted to go explore.  The first animal I found there was a large green iguana hiding in the brush (click this photo open to see it larger)--

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I saw a few birds swimming on the pond, but nothing too interesting, so I started to walk back to the trailhead.  All of a sudden, I heard some strange coo-ing sounds coming from a shady grove ahead of me.  I was amazed to find a dozen or so gorgeous peacocks strutting around foraging for their breakfast.  Not sure how they ever got to the island, but they seem to call it home now!

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On the way home, I spotted a few more Key deer but nothing could top the surprise of those beautiful peacocks!

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Let’s go to the Keys for a few days!

As my mom and her friend, Dolores, were traveling down from Chicago (driving and sightseeing, rather than flying), they hatched a plan to extend their stay in Florida beyond the 1 week at my mom’s condo.  Dolores’ son has a vacation home in the Keys that just so happened to be available the week after Thanksgiving, so they called me one night asking if I’d like to stay an extra week and come down to the Keys with them.   Hmm, no thinking required for that answer…of course I would!

So after Mom got in her mandatory 4am Black Friday shopping spree, we left Naples on Saturday to head to Big Pine Key (28 miles from Key West).  Dolores had carefully checked with her son to make sure RV parking was o.k. (it was) and, of course, if dog swimming was allowed (yep, that too!).

While Mom and Dolores enjoyed the vacation home, Millie and I were delighted with our fabulous RV spot:

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Looking out the skylight window at coconuts!
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But the best part of the house was around back—the patio with a swim ladder to the crystal clear warm waters leading out to the gulf and ocean.  Great for launching my kayak, and for Millie to swim!

We were a little worried if Millie would learn how to climb the ladder to get out of the water (the water was about 15 feet deep).  So I kept her on her leash for the first day’s swim, but she mastered the ladder in no time and had a blast!

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving in Florida

IMG_3306There’s something a little odd about celebrating the holidays in shorts and flip-flops viewing palm trees out the window rather than being more bundled up watching snowy woods at Grandma’s house.  But my mom has been coming to Florida for Thanksgiving for most of the last 20 years (as it’s her timeshare condo week), so this is where we usually celebrate.

This year, one of my mom’s girlfriends came down with her from Chicago, so rather than go out, we decided to do a single ladies’ Thanksgiving dinner at the condo so everyone could make their favorite dishes, sit on the balcony and watch the sunset over the Gulf.  My stepsisters’ aunt joined also joined us.   Timeshare condos don’t have oodles of fine china, so our serving dishes were a bit improvised, but the meal was fabulous, and so was the sunset!

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Earlier in the day, Millie got to do her favorite thing on Thanksgiving as well….go swimming!

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

RV “Toad” Alternatives

If I had a large Class A motorhome, there’d be no question I would tow a car behind it (affectionately called a “toad” or “towed” by RVers).  Driving a 40’ RV around a crowded grocery store parking lot, or down a narrow city street is not very fun and sometimes impossible, so that’s why almost all big rig owners bring tow vehicles to do their exploring once they arrive to a new destination.

But small motorhome owners are faced with a dilemma—to tow or not to tow?  My View is 24’ feet long (only slightly longer and wider than a large pickup truck), so it is quite nimble enough to navigate strip mall parking lots, small gas stations, tight corners, and so on.  It’s also a fabulous day-touring vehicle when sightseeing (never need to worry about finding a restroom when you need one, or finding a nice luncheonette with a scenic vista). If you drive past an interesting roadside attraction and want to turn around and go back, it’s a small enough rig to back up or do a u-turn (you can’t do that if towing a car).  But on the other hand, if you’re staying parked and in one place for a number of days or weeks, having an extra vehicle sure beats having to pack up the RV every time you need to run to the store or want to go to the beach!

My current car, an AWD Subaru Outback, can only be towed via a car trailer, and that set up would be way too heavy and cumbersome for the View.  So, I utilized a few other “Toad” alternatives for my month-long stay in Florida:

1. A Rental Car

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There was a Hertz office just a few blocks from the RV park and they offered great weekend rates from around Thursday noon to Monday noon (about $20/day).  Since I was working during the week anyway, this was a great solution to get out and see the sights when I had the time to do so.

2. An e-Bike

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This is my main form of toadless transportation whenever I’m RVing.  It’s a Giant Freedom DX electric bicycle.  I like it because it doesn’t look that different from a normal bike (hopefully less likely to draw attention).  But if you look closely, the front wheel hub is chunkier than normal (that’s where the electric motor resides), and behind each of those rear saddlebags are 2 large Li-Ion batteries capable of providing enough oomph for a 40-mile bike ride!  Now, before you think it’s a total lazy girl’s bike, you still do have to pedal the thing (it’s only an electric-assist, not a moped), and going up steep hills can still be quite a workout.  But it’s a great solution for bike-friendly Florida with it’s wide sidewalks and flat terrain!

The bike was great for riding around the resort and tooling up to the corner strip mall.  But what about grocery shopping, you ask?  Simple.  Just attach the ultra-light,12 pound  Burley Cargo Trailer!  Here’s my shopping setup:

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But I still had one more problem to solve—the RV park was 4 miles from the nearest doggie swimming area, and Millie as you know, LOVES to swim.  For a week I tried training her to ride on the cargo trailer (to the great amusement of my RV park neighbors!).  She’d sit on the trailer bed just fine, but as soon as the wheels started turning, she’d jump out.  So, a trip to the pet store found me the perfect solution—a pop-up kennel that fit the trailer just perfectly!  Millie still wasn’t too thrilled with this (just look at her face below!), but she’ll put up with any temporary annoyance if swimming is the reward!

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3. A Real Toad!

Well only in Florida I guess!  One night after my bike ride, I returned to the rear of my motorhome to find this little guy hitched up to the back of my rig…a real toad!

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