Merry Christmas from Florida!
Whether your Christmas is enjoyed in a warm climate or in front of a warm fireplace, may you find comfort and peace this holiday.
From, Mike & Terry
Enjoying a BBQ at our RV site in Fort Myers Beach with three old retired pipefitters and their wives (looking good, Kathy and Suzie). All from our hometown in Washington. We called it the Local 598 Retirement Party. Good food. Good company.
Some tall tales were told at this get-together. Scary part of it--it was all true!
[From left: Kathy Clouse, Terry Clouse (old retired pipefitter), Terry Main, Mike Main (old retired pipefitter), Suzie Turner, and Mike Turner (old retired pipefitter)]
An alligator decided to take a stroll through the neighborhood today pausing at one of the RV sites. Probably a good idea to look under our truck and 5’er before we venture out in the future. Culture shock.
The no see ‘um bugs are another animal. The tiny bloodsuckers pack a bite and the welts itch for up to a week. Only the females bite, usually in the shade or at dusk/night near water. Here in Florida water is everywhere, so they bite often.
We also spent several hours at Fort Myers Beach this afternoon. Fun place to people watch and walk on the beach. Did you know the sand does not get hot on the beach here? It is soft, white finely crushed coral. Easy to walk with bare feet as far as you want.
Sanibel Island is known for shells on the beach. No kidding! The beaches have piles and piles of shells on beautiful white sandy beaches. People walk down the beach, stop, and bend over to pick up another interesting shell. Best shells found today are in the picture on the right.
Mike spent the day fishing with Terry (not me, the other Terry) off the bridge near the beach. Caught a couple of sheep head fish. Nasty looking teeth. Kathy and I stayed on the beach and did a little reading, a little swimming and a little wildlife watching. “Swarms” of mullet fish swam by, jumping like popcorn with dolphins in pursuit. The heron seem to pose for pictures letting you walk within a few feet (big guys standing about 4 feet). Mike is doing the Sanibel Stoop in the picture right.
To access Sanibel Island, you drive over two causeway bridges after paying a six dollar toll (conveniently located 3 miles from our RV location). The island is a different world from Fort Myers. The pace slows down considerably. Speed limits down to 30 miles per hour. Paved bike trails parallel all the roads. Much of the island retains the wild nature look of tropical jungle with a multi-million home or small pastel-colored beach shack tucked in here and there. Everyone with a smile.
The Randy Wayne White books are favorites with each new book downloaded on the Kindle as soon as it is published. The main character is Doc Ford who lives in a stilt house over the water near Fort Myers Beach. Action. Adventure. Each book is a new ride.
Two miles from our current RV home location is the setting for Doc Ford’s house. And in real life, the location of Randy Wayne White’s Bar and Grill which is called….wait for it….Doc Ford’s!. We stopped by the bar tonight to have a drink and listen to the country band playing. Great setting. Lights in the bay with all the shrimp boats lined up. I looked for the stilt house…
Each day is a new learning experience and places to explore in Florida. The drive to the Everglades National Park has as much to see as the actual park with alligators along the road and a gazillion different birds. Mile after mile of grass and water. The land is below sea more than it is above.
Land of Ten Thousand Islands.
The trip home included a stop at Tin City in Naples, Florida, for lunch. Just a quirky, little tourist area for little shops, but it was fun to eat lunch outside at the Riverwalk Restaurant and watch the smaller boats travel up and down the river. Just the pure joy of eating outside in 80 degree weather is pleasure enough in December.
Terry and Kathy are hamming it up with the local attractions outside the restaurant. –>
We got off of Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail) to take the road along the Gulf shoreline and through Fort Myers Beach to preview the beaches we will be visiting in the next few weeks. Great white sand beaches with fishing, sand castle building (no waves to knock them down) or just people watching.
After arriving home, we walked over to the Tiki Bar for a cocktail and met another great couple, Bob and Sue from Wisconsin. They have a Harley back home too and we traded some great stories. Both are golfers and we have plans to play later this week.
Life is good.
Friends, Terry and Kathy, are staying here in Fort Myers until April and they have this place figured out. Not only on land, but by sea. Terry figured out a pretty good deal on a “boat club” for the time they are here. It is a rental pool of a number of different boats and they take full advantage of the water—fishing, floating in the sun, and sightseeing the shoreline of Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, and Fort Myers Beach.
We cruised over from the marina to Sanibel Island. Like a lot of Florida coastal towns, the island has canals allowing boats to dock at homes located right on the water. Gorgeous homes. Gorgeous boats.
Beaches. Restaurants. Marinas. Nature Trails. Boating. Shopping. Services.
Gulf Waters RV Park is in the heart of this happening place. No reason to leave the park, though. They have a great pool with a Tiki Bar (the perfect margarita can be purchased there), friendly people, and lots of activities. The RV sites are huge, I mean really huge. Most are owned and each area has been personalized with pavers, patio furniture and lighting. If the owner is absent, you can rent their spot (that is what we are doing for the month of December).
The park even has a resident alligator in the pond (warnings signs around the water to keep the little doggies away).
We are leaving January 3 and visiting Disneyworld for two weeks, but we may end up back here after that. That is if we can find a opening. Right now Gulf Waters RV is completely full after January 3. Putting our names on the list for any openings.
To see manatees from above the water is pretty cool, especially when they are all grouped together, their backs look like stepping stones in the water. To get a little more up close and personal, we booked a tour in the Three Sisters Springs area (located in Crystal River, Florida). With a year-round water temperature of 72 degrees plus a full wet suit, we were ready to swim with the manatees. The mouth of the Three Sisters Springs run is blocked by concrete posts to prevent boat access; only snorkelers and kayakers can enter the springs. Our boat dropped us off at the opening of the springs and we swam in.
Even without the manatees, it was a great snorkel—clear fresh water and lots of fish. But we saw many, many manatees. Mike had one guy come up a nuzzle his hand. They are so gentle and trusting. These guys are huge—around 500 to 1,000 pounds (also referred to as “sea cows”).
While snorkeling, we were constantly observed by Fish and Wildlife officers and self-appointed “Friends of the Manatees” all following us in kayaks. You are not to swim towards the manatees, if they swim towards you, you are to stop and hold your position. Anything that appears to be harassing the manatees results in a large fine (around $500). I would be surprised if they allow the “swimming with the manatees” much longer with all the concern. We did not make any inappropriate moves and had a wonderful day swimming with the manatees.
Not the infamous haircut, but a mud fish in the Floridian waters—that is what we ate tonight at a local restaurant in Carrabelle, Florida. We ordered mullet and shrimp at a local restaurant and it was gooood! The local customers walk back into the kitchen and help themselves to more. Ding Dang Dong. That is all we can hear when the locals speak with such a heavy accent. The customers mingle booth to booth talking and kissing the kids.
I can get into this Florida vibe. Really laid back.
It is all about fishing around here. Take a look at that view.
If you visit the Deep South, you must experience Natchez, Mississippi. All the notions you have about gracious southern living and architecture are all right here. The city has block after block of ornate buildings of brick and wrought iron with history dating back to the early 1800’s. The whole city is a National Historic Park.
There are ten large antebellum (pre-Civil War) homes and many smaller, just as intricately built homes, all with beautiful landscaped gardens (not yards, but manicured gardens). One of the few places to survive the Civil War intact, and once the fourth wealthiest city in America (after New York, Boston, and Philadelphia). (Note: We paid a visit to “The Rosalie” built just before the Civil War. Picture above. One of the smaller homes is pictured here to the right.)
The “proper” city folk homes are perched on and over the bluff, but there is a location called “Under the Hill” just below the ridge. Once the gambling and prostitution area of the town. I believe Mark Twain mentioned it in his book about his travels down the Mississippi River and there is a small inn called the “Mark Twain” located there today. Looks pretty tame these days.
Although we are visiting in the fall with colorful leaves (perfect weather today), the springtime must be really special with azaleas, camellias, and fragrant magnolias. In the spring, the city features the Natchez Pilgrimage with over 30 homes and private gardens open to the public. The hosts dress in antebellum dresses (think Scarlett in “Gone With the Wind”).
The nice aspect of visiting this time of year—almost no tourists.
Next stop on our winter tour is Vidalia, Louisiana located on the Mississippi River. We love the fact that Vidalia is “near” the fictitious town of Bon Temps, Louisiana—the setting for our favorite HBO series, True Blood. The television series is based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris, detailing the co-existence of vampires and humans. The series centers on the adventures of Sookie Stackhouse (played by actress Anna Paquin), a telepathic waitress.
I read the book series first a number of years ago and loved them. They are imaginative and fun to read. The television series does not follow the books exactly (a bit more sex and gore), but the main storyline is still there. It is all a bit out there: and sadly, we are addicted. Looking forward to the next set of episodes next year.
Actually, we are visiting the area to tour the Antebellum homes located in Natchez, Mississippi (just across the river from Vidalia). The homes escaped the Civil War destruction and have been restored to their former glory.
No doubt, a suitable location for vampires.
Leaving Texas “Hill Country” on Tuesday, November 22, driving to Giddings, Texas in the “Lakes and Prairies”. We spent the night in a park located on a longhorn cattle ranch. Rustic, but well laid out, full hook-ups, and clean. The cattle did not seem to mind that we spent the night with them.
On to Texas “Piney Woods” where we are staying until Monday, November 28, in Livingston, Texas (approximately 80 miles north of Houston). This is the headquarters for the Escapees RV Club (www.escapees.com) and the location of a large Escapee RV park. If you are avid RV’ers, this is a worthwhile club to join. They have 19 RV parks located around the country and the nightly fees are only $14/night + electricity (full hook-ups). A welcome reprieve from the other RV Parks’ average of $35/night and up.
The Escapees have been providing our mail service for the last two years and we are very pleased with the service. It is efficient and the people are very professional and friendly. We simply call them and ask for the mail to be sent to the RV Park where we are located. The mail arrives two days later. By the way, the friendly part seems to be a theme all over Texas.
The time spent in Livingston will be to catch up on laundry, cleaning, and groceries. And maybe a little R&R in the warm east Texas weather.
Traveling from the far Northwest corner of the U.S. to the most Southeast corner means many miles. The miles through Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas are wide open and the distance between stopping is long. To make the trip interesting, we slip in a audio CD by Arizona State Historian, Marshall Trimble. Marshall has a western twang to his voice and a wealth of knowledge of the Southwest. As we travel, the history we hear makes the towns and historic locations come alive. Before we know it, we are at our destination. [Photo from www.MarshallTrimble.com]
Mike’s brother, John, loaned us his collection of Marshall Trimble last year. Until this trip, we have not had the opportunity to listen. Thanks, John, we love the stories!
If you are traveling through the Southwest or just enjoy listening to history, cowboy poetry or some good ‘ol cowboy music, highly recommend listening to Marshall Trimble.
This is not the time of year for the Hill Country wildflowers they come in the spring; and there has been such a severe drought in Texas the wildflowers will probably suffer. Maybe the rain will come this fall and save the day. Hope so. The country is beautiful with oak trees, streams and rolling hills—the flowers will make the area that much more stunning.
Fredericksburg, Texas is a pretty little town with limestone homes and shops. All with a definite German influence (arrived here as immigrants in the mid-1800s). We are not big shoppers, but we visited a lot of stores to look at the old buildings made with white rock, weathered wood floors or sometimes colorful tile flooring. Lots of restaurants serving brats and featuring a biergarten.
About 100 miles west of Fredericksburg, Texas, we started to notice a big difference in weather from the rest of the Southwest. Humidity. We had 99% humidity today, but no rain. Now I know why Southern gals have big hair.
In Arizona and New Mexico the night-time temperatures dropped drastically from 70 degrees to 40 degrees or sometimes in the 30’s after the sun sets. Not in central Texas, the day-time temperature of 75 degrees remains around 70 degrees at night too along with the humidity.
We are in Texas Y’All!
Entering Carlsbad Caverns is like walking down in to a never before discovered pharaoh’s tomb--dark, mysterious and filled with “jewels” and unusual “artifacts”. Only much more unique and awe-inspiring. This “tomb” or Carlsbad Cavern extends for miles with each turn presenting gravity-defying formations above, bottom-less pits twisting deep, and delicate jewels formed on the walls all around. The 750-foot descent switches back and forth until you reach the Big Room.
The Big Room is over a mile of winding paved trail or 14 football fields. Immense. If you visited an alien planet, I am certain this is what you would see. With stalactites reaching down to touch their resulting stalagmites, it makes you wonder if a similar sight inspired Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling—almost a touch between the two. Or did the intricate columns with their finely carved layers in the Cavern inspire the architects of Southeast Asian temples?
Always the continuous drip, drip from the 370-foot ceiling overhead. Very few people on the tour today and often we were alone. Only the sound of water and our hushed whispers excitedly talking about what we were seeing in front of us.
Rather than climb back up, a quick elevator ride deposits everyone in the visitor center. Walking out the front doors and looking topside, it is hard to imagine deep below the scruffy desert surface is another world.
This visit is definitely on our short list of must-see natural wonders and should be on yours, too. We are so lucky to experience something like this.
[Note: Photographs courtesy of Carlsbad Cavern National Park website. Taking photographs in this dark environment requires a tripod and we wanted to enjoy the self-guided tour without the hassle. The lighting in the pictures is all artificial—no natural light—requires special settings and a very steady base.]
If you have one day in Tucson, visit the Saguaro National Park and the Sonoran-Arizona Desert Museum. As Mike would say, “It is dang near a forest of Saguaro cactus out there.” More than that--there are lots and lots different cactus— spectacular. Probably the prettiest desert we have visited to date and best desert museum. (Note: Visit the Saguaro National Park visitor center first to pick up a 2-for-1 coupon for entry to the Sonoran-Arizona Desert Museum—a savings of $14.)
The Sonoran-Arizona Desert Museum is really well laid out with over 2 miles of paths traversing 21 acres of beautiful desert and lots of dedicated volunteers with interesting information (over 500 volunteer serve this museum). We went over the whole place twice spending over 4 hours here. Beside the walking paths you enjoy an extensive cave complete with deep underground formations, hummingbird cage, aviary containing many types of desert birds, animal exhibits where you are eye-to-eye with snakes and Gila monsters (kinda’ creepy), Mexican wolves, mountain lions, and more.
There is a 2 p.m. free-flight raptor demonstration of a group of Harris' Hawks. Big guys. We were told they fly in family groups of three to seven birds in the wild. The demonstration had the birds flying barely over the heads of the spectators. Very cool.
Fist bump day.
According to Wikipedia (I know—not the most credible reference), Yuma is the sunniest place on earth. Of the possible 4,456 hours of daylight each year, the sun shines in Yuma for roughly 4,174 hours, or about 94% of the time. The near perfect flying weather year round attracts military interest in training their pilots here and we saw a lot of military aircraft. On average Yuma receives about 3 inches of rain annually. I think the last couple of nights we got the 3 inches of rain, but the days have been sunny and warm.
On our quest to drive on dry pavement and stay in warm weather we are keeping our route on the most southern roads. Interstate 8 gets you pretty darn south in the United States. And with that goal in mind, our trip allowed us to visit my Mom and Stepfather, Barb and Tom, in Yuma, Arizona.
They drove us to a few worthy sights nearby and in town including Lake Martinez (a true oasis in the desert) and old town Yuma for a beer at Lutes Casino (restaurant and bar). Barb and Tom are totally into the snowbird thing—wintering in Yuma until it is too hot to stay any longer (Yuma is also the hottest place in the U.S. during the months from April through October).
We loved their place with pretty little waterfalls and views of the mountains. And enjoyed a wonderful visit. I am glad our travels led us here!
Oops! Yesterday, I posted that we ate at Shugrues; when in fact, it was Barley Brothers Restaurant and Brewery (owned by Shugrues). Had such a nice lunch yesterday with Julie, I brought Mike here today. Great view of the London Bridge and boats going by. This restaurant is also located in Sedona, Arizona. Good microbrews.
The details are a little fuzzy, but back in the early 1960’s when the London Bridge first came up for sale my grade school teacher had each of her students write a letter to “the seller”. The letters were a sales pitch to sell the bridge to the town of Richland, Washington offering a dry climate perfect (or at least that is what we were told to say…) to preserve the bridge. Obviously, the letters did not work since the bridge was sold to a developer in Lake Havasu City. It was worth a try. [Picture courtesy of Wikipedia]
I had lunch today with a friend (Julie from the Olympic Peninsula) at Shugrues restaurant overlooking the London Bridge—great view and great company. You really do not see bridges constructed like this anymore with the arches over the water and big blocks crafted to fit together neatly. Julie mentioned that if you boat under the bridge you can see remnants of the World War II bombing scars. And another bit of trivia includes a movie made with the bridge--the spirit of Jack the Ripper trapped inside one of the stones now unleashed in the Wild West.
We had no idea Lake Havasu City was this populated (but not too much) and offered so much to do—fishing, boating, hiking, golfing and a respectable amount of restaurants and shopping. A clean little town with a diverse population of young and old. And lots of young during college spring break.
Did I mention it is 70 degrees outdoors? Fun day and fun friends.
Back in travel mode headed for Florida.
As we are loading our RV to travel this winter, I am struck with how bare our home is after we move into the RV. Seeing this really makes us realize how much we downsized our belongings over the last two years when we lived in our RV full-time. And we like it. Life is uncomplicated this way.
We kept the RV minimalist philosophy when we moved into our new home this past summer—only adding furniture we actually use—not just decoration. In fact, after we got our remaining belongings out of storage, much of it was let go by either donating it, giving it away or trashing it. And the purging process continues. Living in the RV really made us realize how little we need to be comfortable, happy and still stylish.
I cannot say that my home (or RV) is completely minimalist, but it is not cluttered. Clutter is distracting and stressful. We find a minimalist approach is calming and makes our life easier. Think about it—it is hard to clean a lot of knickknacks or to sweep/vacuum around a bunch of furniture. The more stuff you have, the more you have to keep clean, and the more complicated it is to clean. There are still decorative items we enjoy on our tables and counters, but it is now kept to a minimum.
It is important in the RV and it is important in our home that we find a convenient place for everything, and remember where those places are. Where does our toaster go? Give it a spot, and stick with it. We aim for logical spots that are close to where the thing is used, to make things more efficient, but the key is to designate a spot—out of sight.
When we have simplified a space whether in our home or RV, we give it some time and then look at everything with a fresh eye again. What can be eliminated? Stored out of sight? What’s not essential? We come back to each space every few months, and sometimes discover things we can simplify even more. (I need to keep working on my wardrobe…)
It works for us, maybe it will work for you? Keep calm and carry on.
Come Stay with Us on the Beautiful Olympic Peninsula!
[Please note following write-up is a parody—stays limited to friends and family. Sorry. LOL]
Located at sunny Sequim, Washington, our guest suite is near the Dungeness Spit, the New Dungeness Lighthouse, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hurricane Ridge, the Olympic Mountains, and Victoria, B.C., just across the water. Meals are provided, free golf at a private country club, and personalized tours of the area and sights are offered free of charge!
Planning a reunion, retreat or special, private event? Our facility includes a large beach-side indoor or outdoor gathering space for up to 40 people. Additional nearby accommodations are available at the Juan de Fuca Cottages on Dungeness Bay.
Available on site – kayaks!! Enjoy exploring beautiful Dungeness Bay with its’ abundant wildlife – or paddle out to the Dungeness Lighthouse! Use by the hour or for the day for a truly memorable experience.
Guest suite includes a comfortable queen-size bed and interior decorated with traditional furniture and home-spun accessories. Future renovations include whimsical painting of the walls (wide stripes) and featured artwork.
"The location is absolutely perfect because we had beautiful sunsets and meadow views."
"The owners are friendly down to earth people and will go out of their way to ensure you have great stay." ~ Marianne
See you soon!
At the intersection of Highway 101 and Highway 20, sits a little café that is a long time fixture in these parts. Fat Smitty’s. Speciality--The biggest and best hamburger around. Order a Fat Smitty hamburger special and you get a burger only eaten with a fork (unless you are Steven Tyler) with two large meat slabs, bacon, pickles, lettuce, three sides of the bun, and thousand island dressing. Delish! We will be wringing out our arteries tomorrow.
The café structure and ambiance are very interesting… The owner, who I am guessing is Mr. Fat Smitty, is most decidedly an extreme right winger. Signs with his point of view are plastered everywhere on the property. And no surprise—the payment is cash only. (Check out the dollar bills pinned on the ceiling and walls.)
As we were leaving, Mike yelled over at me, “Terry, you have to come see this!” “Forget about taking pictures of the restaurant; take a picture of this!” In a small compact car, were eight little Schnauzers. All having fun on their outing that day with the Master. We stopped and talked with the owner. All the dogs were from the same litter including the Mama. “They are all kin,” the owner explained. We are guessing the little guys were so cute as pups, the owners could not part with them.
Turns out they all live near us, so we will probably see them around town. Hope so!