Fun and Excitement

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AuSable River in downtown Grayling

Every year since 1947 the AuSable River Canoe Marathon is held in Grayling, Michigan. The marathon is a non-stop race that departs from Grayling and ends 120 miles away on the shores of Lake Huron in Oscoda, Michigan. Contestants must navigate the winding AuSable avoiding obstacles such as tree stumps in total darkness. The race is very competitive and canoeists come from all over to compete and complete the course in the time allotted. It’s very grueling.

Grayling hosts the AuSable River Festival during the week prior to, culminating with the marathon. Some of the activities included are Arts & Crafts vendors, a parade, entertainment, beer tents, and the like. One of the sponsored events is the HUP (Hurry Up & Paddle) Race, a spoof on the AuSable Canoe Marathon. The goal is to build a canoe which will stay afloat through the entire HUP Race course. Each registered team is supplied the same items from which to assemble their “canoe” with, plywood, a few boards, a handful of nails, and a roll of duct tape. Each entrants  goal is to stay afloat while completing the course in the least amount of time. The competitors race two at a time. Dad, Don and I went into Grayling to watch and to cheer on the Kalkaska Eagles against the Grayling Eagles. The two Fraternal Orders have been competing against each other in this race for the past 10 years and Kalkaska has lost in every one of those years.

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We arrived early to get a good vantage point and to look over all of the “canoes.” It was a lot of fun to watch, and always hilarious to witness a “canoe”  and it’s paddler sinking into the crystal clear water. I’m pleased to announce that although the Kalkaska Eagles didn’t win the race over all, they did FINALLY beat out their nemesis, the Grayling Eagles.

Don spends much of each day practicing or writing music and at least once a week he has a gig to do, so to break it up a bit we decided to set aside one day each week to go on an outing together. We decided on the Leelanau Peninsula for our first outing. Originally we thought of going to Fishtown for the day but the traffic became heavier the closer we got to town so we switched course and visited a couple of our favorite wineries instead.

The area’s climate is perfect for growing grapes and hops, making Traverse City with its Old Mission Peninsula, and the Leelanau Peninsula internationally known for its wineries and micro breweries. One can even book a tour package if so inclined or pick up a tour map and visit on one’s own. Over the years we have done wine tastings at several, nowadays we just stop at a couple to purchase our preferred wines. One last stop at the Dockside on Grand Traverse Bay to purchase some of the best smoked jerky around then off to one of the many public parks along the water’s edge to wade, relax, and take pictures.

Downtown Traverse City

Downtown Traverse City

Another outing was to do a little shopping in Traverse City’s historic downtown. A very vibrant, eclectic, thriving part of TC with many upscale and unique shops and restaurants, food trucks, a walkway along the Boardman River, and a restored 1916 movie theater. While I shopped for zippered hoodies for our two youngest granddaughters, Don looked around for yet another hat (I’ve lost count of how many he now has.) Of course no shopping trip to Traverse City would be complete without a stop at Cherry Republic, after all, this is the Cherry Capitol of the World. We sampled many of the goodies then made our purchases. Don later paid the price of over sampling the hot cherry and ghost pepper salsa. Later we dined at Tally’s,  a favorite burger joint.

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Lucky

Our little up north neck of the woods is teeming with wildlife. It’s not unusual to spot a deer, squirrel, or turkey daily. Raccoons, porcupine, Bald and Golden Eagles have been spotted and the pond off of the back two track has beaver and otter. But in all the 40 years I’ve been coming up here I’ve never seen a fox….until this week. Apparently Steve, the young man down the lane,  has been adopted by an orphaned gray fox kit. The fox has taken up residence under Steve’s front porch. The two have become so accustomed to one another that the kit will come to Steve when called, he named him Lucky, and will even race down the driveway to greet Steve when he hears his car pull in. Steve intends to apply for a special permit from the DNR so that he can keep and raise Lucky as a pet. I do hope it’s granted.

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Did I mention we also have the occasional black bear sighting as well? A bear sighting is always very exciting and last Wednesday evening really got our pulse rates up. Don and I were up to my father’s watching Yellowstone on the tv with him when shortly after the show started we heard a loud thump on the back deck. We all went to window to look out and here was this big black bear with the knocked over can of sunflower seed my father keeps to feed the birds. He had knocked it off the deck, popping the lid off and now was enjoying his newfound treat. The men tried to scare him off by yelling and banging things but to no avail. Even Beau and Max’s barking had no effect. The bear completely ignored their efforts. It took dad firing two shots off from his Smith and Wesson to finally make the bear retreat. Even so, he returned again later that night. We’re more than a little baffled by this bear’s behavior since the berries are in season and there’s an abundance of them this summer. I guess hiking the back trail is going to be off limits for awhile.

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Sorry this pic isn’t clear. It was taken thru a window screen with a cell phone.

Here’s lookin’ at you kid…….

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Catching Up

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Bear Lane, the road leading to the property.

It’s been brought to my attention by more than one person that I have been remiss in giving an update about our truck and Suite Pea’s awning. Alright. I admit it. I’m a slacker. So here it is in a nutshell.

After spending 4 days in the service department at Ford’s AND being driven back and forth to work by the service department manager, the truck’s turbo never acted up once. Nothing showed up on the diagnostics they ran either. In a way we are grateful but we know the truck has it in for us and is just biding it’s time, laying in wait for when we least expect it.

As for the new awning, we are still in limbo. It took our RV insurance company (Progressive), 11 days after the fact before an insurance adjuster came out. We gave them an estimate by the only reputable RV repairman in the area. Progressive sent us a check for considerably less than was needed. By the time this was accomplished it was too late to order the replacement awning, let alone install it, before we departed Indiana. Fortunately we know another reputable RV repairman in Grayling, Michigan who has done work for us before. Don gave him a call, explained our situation and an awning was ordered right away. Don submitted the new estimate to Progressive. We were told another check is in the mail. We are still awaiting the second check. The awning is in and we expect installation next Wednesday. YEA! We’ve REALLY missed our awning on rainy days and hot days.

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The property before being logged.

It’s been 18 days since we first arrived at the family property. We’ve had a lot of family up especially over the 4th of July holiday week. Our oldest drove up for a visit with 4 of our grandchildren in tow as well as our oldest granddaughter’s boyfriend. All of us, along with a handful of cousins, attended the local firework display. Always fun for me since I’m big on fireworks. Kristi and I took one day to take her 2 little ones on an outing to Leland and Suttons Bay. We had a beautiful day for it.

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Fishtown

Don has been keeping quite busy either doing trail work or performing. Last year while we were up visiting my father, (he had open heart surgery last Summer), a lumber company came through and logged some timber off the land. They not only left behind a huge mess, they also obliterated the trail that ran the back end of the property. Don has taken it upon himself to clear a new trail which unlike the previous one, will only be on the family acreage and not on the adjoining property. Although that has never been an issue since the adjoining property is owned by my cousins, should they ever decide to sell it could become a point of contention. The new path now runs along the perimeter of our land.

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The new trail is taking shape. Notice the downed trees to the right, thats how most of the property looked after the loggers came through.

Don has been playing at the local Eagle aerie weekly and also has 2 house concerts on tap while we are here. It’s given him an opportunity to try out his new tunes on a live audience so he can gauge their reaction.

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Milkweed

 

And what have I been doing? Mostly battling allergies. The milkweed is in bloom and much to my chagrin, it grows profusely up and down the road. It and I do not cohabitate well.  The butterflies love it though and the place is teeming with them. Since I do enjoy watching them flit around and I do admire their delicate beauty, I guess I’ll just accept the sneezing, runny nose and sinus headache.

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Last but not least is Beau. He loves it on the property. He gets to chase rabbits in the morning, go swimming during the day, go for golf cart rides in the evening, and best of all, visit his human grandpa who’s sure to have a handful of treats waiting for him. Can you say spoiled?

Until next time, here’s lookin’ at you kid…..

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Beau & I spotted these turkeys while on his evening ride.

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Running Full Bore

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Our site at Hickory Hills

Whew, I can’t believe how fast the past four weeks have flown by! We’ve had something happening most every day and on the few days nothing was going on, we played catch up around the Suite Pea. Let’s see, we’ve had overnight guests on several occasions, hosted campfires and a Memorial Day pitch-in with the family. We watched our 3 year old granddaughter learn to swim at the local YMCA and listened to our 10 year old granddaughter sing during church service. We celebrated yet another May birthday, that of our oldest granddaughter Maddy.  We had appointments scheduled with our doctors, dentist, and optometrist. We checked out the local farmers market and attended Ellettsville’s first food truck Wednesday. Don helped our youngest put in her first garden patch, and the biggest, most time consuming project was building a wheelchair ramp for my mother.

Bobbi took measurements of the existing front deck and distance to the driveway for me. With dimensions in hand and a little Internet research I was able to draw up plans for a ramp and walkway which I gave to mom so she could apply for a building permit. Once she received the approval, my father drove down from northern Michigan to assist Don in building the ramp. Don was grateful for dad’s help as it was a pretty big project. They removed the deck steps and a large lilac bush, then added a 15′ ramp with handrails. Wouldn’t you know it, the temperatures hovered in the 90’s the entire week and mom’s yard offers no shade, but they persevered. Even with taking several water and rest breaks, by the third day it was obvious the heat was taking a toll on pop and with him having undergone open heart surgery just last summer, we all felt it was best when he left early to return home. He reported it was 30 to 40 degrees cooler back in the north woods. Much more to his liking. Don was able to finish the project on his own. While he was at it he also replaced several boards on both the front and back decks. Next was the 17′ of walkway he laid from the ramp end to the driveway. He discussed a couple of different options with my mother before deciding on the most economical one. Fortunately Bobbi was able to help him with laying the pavers. I know Don’s pleased to have passed the city’s inspection and have this project behind him. And mom is thrilled to have easier access to the outside again.

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With my mom’s “honey-do” list completed, Don moved on to redoing all of the seams on Suite Pea’s roof. Apparently this past winter in Florida had taken its toll upon it.  Speaking of taking a toll, our pocketbook took another unexpected hit when we noticed one of the truck’s back wheels was flat. It was the same wheel that had gone flat in Memphis last Spring. We hadn’t planned on replacing the truck tires until next year but closer inspection made us decide to have it done while we are “home.” This way we know who we’re dealing with.  While I’m on the subject of the truck, we had the old girl in the shop last week and she’ll be going back again tomorrow. We’ve had 3 incidences now where she’s lost power while navigating these hilly back roads. Don thinks it’s the turbo. Last week at the Ford service department a diagnostic test was run but nothing showed up. Tomorrow we’ll leave the truck with Ford for a few days to let the techs drive her around the countryside and run her hard on the Interstate. We’ll see if she acts up for them. This leads us (partly) to the reason we’re still in southern Indiana since we were supposed to pull out on May 31st.

Now for the other reason, Suite Pea went up against strong wind gusts last Thursday and lost her awning in the process. Yesiree, the fabric ripped free and the arms were completely mangled. It happened so suddenly the best we could do was hang on to the roller to keep it from blowing up onto the roof and possibly cutting it. Once the wind subsided Don removed most of the awning, it was blocking our door. We are currently waiting on an insurance rep to come out. While watching the news that evening we learned the wind gusts had been 60 to 70 mph and there had been 49 reports of wind damage. Spencer lost power and I later learned that my family over in Ellettsville had lost power also.

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The extended stay will hopefully give a chance to get together with at least some of our Indiana friends. Thus far we’ve only managed to meet up with Don’s old boss Greg and his wife Ginger. We wanted to join in celebrating Greg’s retirement since we’re uncertain when we’ll see them again. They’ve already sold their cabin and are packing to move to Florida. We couldn’t be any happier for them! As so often happens when folks move, they also downsize. Greg and Ginger aren’t any different in that respect, so what was once Don’s, then became Ginger’s, is now Don’s again. What am I talking about? His Ovation guitar. So yep, we are now traveling with 3 guitars in our little home on wheels.

On a high note, Don’s song Paradise which was released earlier this month has been getting lots of air play nationwide on Internet Trop Rock stations and a handful of FM radio stations. It’s made the Trop Rock Top 40 three weeks in a row. It’s kind of surreal hearing his voice coming out over the air waves, but Don’s having the time of his life with this. What little free time he’s had he’s been busy with his music. Writing lyrics, practicing, communicating with DJ’s, and getting his songs copyrighted. There are times when this has been quite frustrating due to our poor Verizon reception. Oh yes,  and having artwork done. We recently learned that when a song is released its required to have an accompanying cover.  It’s Don’s good fortunate to have once worked with a very talented artist named Tim Havron. Don got in touch with Tim, gave him a general idea of what he was looking for, then let Tim’s imagination run wild. Don’s thrilled with the result. As am I. What do y’all think?

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If you look closely you can find Beau Bear over by the Tiki hut. By the way, Tim’s the one who designed our As Time Goes….Bye logo for us.

Lastly, and this hasn’t anything to do with our busy month, we discovered we have uninvited camper guests. Apparently the little fellow who hung around our doorstep all winter long decided to come along for the ride north. He’s been spotted on our steps a time or two this past week. Yesterday, much to our amazement, he introduced us to his wife and kids. I only hope they continue to hang with us until we get back south. Northern winters can be harsh on common house lizards.

 

Until next time, here’s lookin’ at you kid…..

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No Grass Growing Under Our Feet

We’re back in our home state of Indiana!

After an uneventful 6 hour drive we were ready to park it, settle in, then explore this new to us RV park. BUT the camping gods weren’t having it. Don pulled into the requisite slot by the office while I checked us in. With that taken care of, Don was told to follow Vickie, one of the park owners, to our site. When Vickie made her first turn, I knew we were in trouble. The turn was too tight for a rig our size and a tree was situated too near the turn. Too late! The branches scraped the top half of Suite Pea on  her door side leaving some nasty marks. (I sure hope Don can buff those out.) On Vickie’s next turn, I could see right away we wouldn’t be able to make it and shouted at Don to stop. Too many obstacles were in the way. I called for Don to park the truck, get out, and to come see what I seeing. At this point Vickie confessed to us that she and her brother were still on a learning curve when it came to operating the park. She suggested to Don that he cut across the backend of a campsite to reach the gravel lane she wanted us on. Don was leery. This region had seen a lot of rain lately. He was concerned the ground was too boggy. He should have listened to his gut. Instead he took Vickie’s and another camper’s word for it that the ground was firm enough and our truck, having 4W drive, could handle it. You see where this is headed don’t you?

One hour and one front end loader full of rocks later, Suite Pea was freed from the muck. Don proceeded to follow Vickie to our designated spot, a pull-thru site wedged  between two trees. Don just shook his head. We ended up parked two sites further up. Vickie told me afterwards she could see she still had some work to do to accommodate bigger rigs.

On a side note, we noticed the following day that a new gravelled turn lane had been put in where we had bogged down the previous day.

The following day wasn’t any less hectic . We touched bases with my mom, our daughters and grandchildren, Don saw the eye doctor, I grocery shopped,  and we picked up a wooden swing set our youngest had ordered for her daughter’s upcoming birthday. Needless to say, Don and Bobbi-Leigh spent the next two and a half days assembling the gazillion pieces into a recognizable play set.

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The finished product

That first Saturday was also prom weekend. Our granddaughter Maddy and her boyfriend Nolan stopped by so my mom could see them dressed in their finery, giving me an opportunity to take photos too. Then they were headed off to the park where Maddy’s aunt Shawnie took professional photos of them. I’m sharing some of each.

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May 1st, our granddaughter’s 3rd birthday. After running a couple of errands, Don and I swung by our granddaughter’s daycare, picked her up and took her out for a birthday dinner while her mommy got things set up for the party. She obviously knew where she was because right away she started asking if she could “ride the pony.” Which of course she did.  She was a bit overwhelmed by all the attention she received.

Later, back at her house, Kendra celebrated her birthday with family and the elderly couple from across the street that she “adopted.” She loved her swing set present best. So did her cousins.

The following day was a big one for Don. Lyle and Sonya Wilson invited us to dine out with them. Lyle’s a DJ with Radio A1A out of Key West where he headlines the Weekdays with Wilson Show. We found him and his lovely wife Sonya very easy to talk to and very down to earth.  In fact, Lyle is the man who started this whole ball rolling when he requested Don send him a song he’d heard him perform. So it was fitting to be dining out with them on the eve that Don’s first single was released.

Thursday found us celebrating yet another birthday, that of our only great grandchild’s. It was Mia’s 2nd birthday and both family and friends turned out to help her celebrate. One particular present captured her attention totally and that was the end of opening any of her other gifts. Too funny.

Don’s single “Paradise” made its debut Friday morning over Radio A1A’s airwaves. It was an emotional moment for both of us as we listened to him croon the tune he penned come out of our Bluetooth radio. He was kept mighty busy for most of the morning responding to congratulatory messages. Later that afternoon we heard it being played on Apalachicola’s Oyster Radio. I don’t know who is more excited, Don? Or our three daughters?

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This completes our first week back “home” and the pace won’t be letting up anytime soon. Now, about the new to us campground.

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We have struggled finding a place suitable to us that’s also close to our daughters. In the past we have stayed in one of the local state parks which is fine for a short stay but our plans typically have us visiting longer than two weeks, which is the longest you’re permitted to camp in a state park. Now there are a handful of state parks in this vicinity but again, we would have to rotate between them every two weeks and who wants to do that? Other choices have been Lake Monroe Village, which is way over priced for a park that actually has no lake access, and charges an astronomical fee for each guest, each time they visit your camp. This is whether they use the park’s facilities or not. Way too expensive for us folks. The other option, and the one we used most often, is Jellystone Park at Lake Monroe. Again, the name is misleading, it also has no access to the lake. And, it too is pricey but it offered so much to entertain our grandchildren with at no extra cost. Compared to our other options we felt it was our best fit even though the excessive noise, and cramped campsites drove us nuts at times.

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Majority of sites are seasonal but all sites are spacious

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Hickory Hills has 2 lakes. Many of the lakeside sites have decks on the water

Bobbi heard about Hickory Hills when she switched jobs. She and my mother checked it out then told us about it. Thus far we’ve been pleased with the place. It’s not a destination park as there is absolutely nothing to draw you to this area except farmland. Neither is it an overnight stop between destinations as its miles from the Interstate and quite a ways off any state routes. Fact is, you’ll need to drive a good 1.5 miles down a narrow road just to reach a second narrow road, this one gravel. It’s another mile of dust flying before you reach the campground. It’s so remote, it’s quiet, and it suits us just fine. It’s the kind of haven you need after a busy snowbird season in Florida. The amenities and the park’s appearance are even better than we anticipated. I think we’re going to like it here. Now and in the future. Here’s lookin’ at you kid…….

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A Favorite Stopover

It’s been soggy in Nashville. Nine of our fourteen day stay has been damp, chilly, and rainy, which has been very disappointing considering we’ve had the perfect campsite. This is the first time since we’ve been coming here that we’ve been able to score a lakeside site. It’s also the worst weather conditions we’ve ever had while here. What luck, eh! Still, the view from our rear window has been incredible. We’ve watched the rain come across the lake toward us, and the loons submerging themselves into the water only to reappear a few feet further away. We witnessed a seaplane land on the surface and taxi over to the dock. We’ve watched a Bald Eagle soar over the SuitePea and a Blue Heron that fishes the shoreline behind us each morning, and once, Don was lucky enough to see an Osprey swoop done and catch a fish in its talons. We’ll take life’s little pleasures where we can find them.

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We did manage a few outings when the weather was cooperative. Knowing Beau needed to get out and stretch his legs after spending 3 rainy days in a row inside, we took him to Centennial Park near downtown. The 132 acre park was once farmland but was turned into the state fairgrounds after the Civil War. In 1897, it was the site of Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition, which earned the park it’s name.

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After the expo ended, many of the buildings and exhibits were dismantled except for the bandshell, an exact replica of  The Parthenon in Athens, Greece,  which is the park’s main feature, and the landscaping with its beautiful sunken gardens. Other features have since been added, such as a cultural arts center, a sports complex, sculptures, picnic area, and more. One of its features is a huge off leash dog park. I felt it would be the ideal place for Beau to burn off some energy. Upon arrival though, we discovered that much of the play area was muddy so we nixed that idea. However, the rest of park was the perfect setting for a dog friendly stroll. The walking paths are all paved and will take you in numerous directions. We chose the paths that took us around the lake and to The Parthenon. Beau made many new friends of both the two legged and four legged variety.

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Parthenon

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Another outing was to Antique Archaeology Nashville. It is one of two shops affiliated with the American Pickers Show on the History Channel. Anticipating a crowd we made certain to arrive prior to opening. Good planning on our part.  It didn’t take very long at all to go through as it was much smaller than we’d expected. There’s some pretty unique stuff on display but overall it, like our weather, proved disappointing. Don felt too much of the space was dedicated to the sale of tee shirts.

 

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This time through we finally got around to eating at the infamous Loveless Cafe, a Nashville landmark since 1951. Situated on Highway 100 which is part of the Natchez Trail, the restaurant was opened to serve travelers passing through town. A 14 room motel was soon added. Noted for its down home Southern style chicken and biscuits, the cafe has been written about in USA Today, Southern Living, and The Tennessean, just to name a few. It’s also been televised on popular talk and news shows. We went for breakfast and to sample the much sought after buttered biscuits.  The biscuits were good, as was the rest of our food, and the place is kinda kitschy and neat, especially the iconic neon sign out front, but unless we are staying nearby, we wouldn’t go out of our way to return.

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Other than these short ventures into town and one longer one across the state to visit friends in Crossville, we pretty much just hung out in camp. The bad weather did afford Don time to practice and for me to give Suite Pea a good cleaning. I guess we really can’t complain, it’s been a nice relaxing reprieve.

Until next time, here’s lookin’ at you kid…….

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Sunset on J. Percy Priest Lake

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A New Direction?

Never in a million years could Don imagine that he would take this path in his life, and yet, here he is. It began innocently enough.

When we were preparing to embark on this full time lifestyle, one of the things we had to do was downsize our possessions. That was easy enough but we also had to consider how our hobbies would play into this. I was into scrapbooking. Don coached girls softball and dabbled in golf, fishing, and music, more specifically, he played guitar and sang, mainly for his own enjoyment.

It was obvious from the very beginning that I would cease my scrapbooking when we moved into the Suite Pea. After all, where would I store a roomful of albums, stickers, photos, and all of the other supplies that made my hobby possible. In its place I took over this travel blog that Don had started a few years back.

Don retired from his coaching, sold his guitar, downsized his fishing gear, and loaded what remained of it and his golf clubs into the pass-thru. It didn’t take long into our traveling for him to realize that he seldom used his clubs nor rods and tackle. Thus all they were doing was taking up valuable storage space. So what to do to alleviate boredom on the road? He could only spend just so much time napping and reading. This was when he decided to pick up a guitar again and as fate would have it, we just happened to be parked in a little COE outside of Nashville. What better place to shop for a new guitar.

Over the ensuing few years Don honed his picking and strumming. Don’t get me wrong, he’d always played the guitar well, ever since he was a little boy. As a young man he played gigs in bars and special events both solo or with a band, but with a job transfer to another state and a growing family, those days were put behind him. Now, being retired and having time on his hands, he was back at it again. Then, just for fun he started writing his own tunes and lyrics. At some point, he put them on YouTube and somewhere along the way a radio disc jockey from A1A radio heard one and contacted Don. This started the ball rollin”.

He started playing more gigs. He made a few connections. The next thing we knew, he had a recording session scheduled with Pirates Cove Studio. Which brings us up to the present.

We originally had made plans to meander around central Florida for a while before making our annual pilgrimage north to see family. Instead, we found ourselves on the Eastern Shore in Lower Alabama, an area we’re both familiar and comfortable with.

On the day of our arrival we met with friends Kenny and Connie, who were also passing through, at Lambert’s Cafe for dinner. Lambert’s is known far and wide for its delicious southern-style cuisine and “throwed rolls”. A visit to this region wouldn’t be complete without at least one meal eaten here. Don spent the next two days practicing his music, as he was due in the studio at 9 AM sharp Friday morning.

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Come Friday, Don was up before the roosters crowed. He swore he wasn’t the least bit nervous because he felt he was well prepared, but he was excited. As was I for him. When Don arrived at the studio, Danny Taddei, the owner, operator, and fellow TropRocker, made Don feel very comfortable. He gave Don the grand tour and explained the process to him. It was a long day for the two of them, Don didn’t return home until almost six that night, and they still had more work to accomplish.

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With the weekend off, the three of us took a road trip. Since we were only 1.5 hour’s drive away from Biloxi, MS, we took the opportunity to check out an RV park we were considering as a future wintering spot. We’re glad we did! Although the ratings and reviews were high for this particular park, it really wasn’t our cup of tea. We felt the sites were way to close together for anything other than a short stay. Besides that, the park wasn’t a good dog walking park and the surrounding area appeared seedy, if you know what I mean. The trip wasn’t a total loss though, the world renowned Shed BBQ restaurant was a mere 19 miles away.

This was our first time eating at The Shed and I’m glad we were forewarned about what to expect. The place is…how should I put this, …a dump. But OMG the Que was by far the best we’ve ever had! If you don’t know by now from reading this blog, Don and I are foodies and we love good barbecue. We’ve tried some of the best BBQ joints in Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, and the Carolinas and let me tell you hands down, The Shed has them all beat.

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Don’t let The Shed’s appearance scare you off. This bbq joint has won the GRAND WORLD BBQ CHAMPIONSHIP, their sauces & rubs have also won numerous awards. They’ve been featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, & Best in Smoke, as well as Live with Regis & Kelly & the Travel Channel’s Man vs Food. Numerous magazine articles have also featured The Shed Barbeque & Blues Joint. So, with this portfolio, how can you go wrong?

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On Monday Don & Danny were back at it. It was another long day in the studio. I on the other hand had my own issue to deal with. The furnace thermostat wouldn’t kick in automatically and once it was manually started, it wouldn’t shut off. Fortunately we are in one of our club parks where we are on a first name basis with the resident RV repairman. Pat Buie’s honest and does good work. He came out right away and took care of the matter for us. Thankfully it was just a little corrosion and Pat got it cleaned up and back operating efficiently.

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Tuesday, our last day in LA, Don’s back in the studio. Hopefully his recordings can be completed up to the point where Don’s vocals and strumming will no longer be needed. In the meantime I will prep the Suite Pea for her morning move.

So what is the next phase for Don? We really don’t know. It may not lead anywhere at all but one never knows unless one takes a chance. He doesn’t have any illusions about this, he just thought it’d be nice to be sitting on a beach somewhere and hear one of his songs played on a local TropRock station. Now that would be awesome!

Here’s lookin’ at you kid…….

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It’s A Wrap

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In just a matter of days, we will be wrapping up our time spent wintering in Punta Gorda. We’ve greatly enjoyed the time we’ve spent here, and the new friends we’ve made but the past two months have been pretty hectic and I think we are both ready for a break. I don’t believe we’ve moved at this pace since we both retired from working. 😆

So what have we been up to? Lots! Besides activities here in the park, Don has played a few gigs in area campgrounds and at a local restaurant/music venue. He’s also spent some time tweaking a couple of his songs and writing a new one. His rendition of Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone that he performed for chapel was enthusiastically praised as was the music he did for the fundraiser revue sponsored by the park’s choir.

 

 

We celebrated two birthdays, mine, and Beau Bear’s 2nd, and Don and I observed our Valentines Day wedding anniversary by attending a dinner dance. Then followed it up a few days later by going with longtime friends Brenda and Bogie on a sunset cruise.

 

 

 

 

We dined out (a lot), with old friends, with new friends, with Beau, or occasionally just the two of us.

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New friends, Judy & Ron, & Connie & Kenny with us at Blue Tequila. The margaritas here will kick your butt.

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Old friends, Carla & Mardy, & Janet & Dennis with us at Hurricane Charly’s.

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It’s strawberry season in Florida! I’ve made several of these for pitch-ins lately & they are always a big hit.

The beach called out to us a few times and we answered. Once to the beautiful aqua colored water of Boca Grande but more often to Sanibel Island’s shell strewn dog friendly beaches. Beau loves his beach time as much as we do.

 

 

During the short period when we experienced cooler weather, we visited the waterfront park near the power plant to count how many manatees we could see. I never tire of watching these amazing creatures.

 

 

Twice we met up with family to attend Detroit Tigers Spring training games. My uncle Lloyd has a Winter home in Haines City, not too far from Lakeland where the Tigers play. While my cousin Karla and her husband Larry were in town visiting him, we drove up to join them for a game. They also came down our way to see the Tigers play the Tampa Bay Rays at the Rays Sports Park. It was nice spending time with family. I have to say this one thing though, I believe it’s going to be a very loooong season for Tiger fans. 😫

 

 

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Big guy on the left is cousin Larry, then Don, me, uncle Lloyd, & my cousin Karla

And we found some time last Monday to finally get around to visiting Myakka River State Park. The canopy walkway had been on my must do list for a time. The walkway is suspended 25′ above the ground and extends 100′ through the hammock treetops. At the end of the suspension bridge is a tower that rises 74′ into the air. The view from the top is spectacular.

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Myakka River (notice the gators sunning themselves on both sides of the river banks)

 

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Hammock at Myakka River state park

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The suspension walkway

 

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74′ tall tower on the suspension bridge

 

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View from the top

It’s always fun to view alligators in their natural habitat and the Myakka River was very accommodating during our visit. Gators were lined up on both sides of river bank basking in the warm sunshine.

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One other delight on this day was the sighting of a pair of Sandhill Cranes with their offspring. 😍

 

 

 

In between all our outings this past week, we’ve also been preparing the Suite Pea for her usual Spring travels north. Don has cleaned and treated her roof, and given her a good washing. He’s still in the process of sanitizing her fresh water tank and reorganizing her pass-thru. I had the Pea’s carpet professionally cleaned, defrosted the freezer, cleaned the screens and AC vents, and did some minor rearranging of the interior cabinets. Our plans are to roll out the Monday morning following Easter. Hopefully most of the Snowbirds will have left the day before.

Until next time, here’s lookin’ at you kid…….

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An unusual looking sunset

 

 

 

 

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Call Us Crackers

We were up and moving extra early Monday morning with last minute items to pack and a pup to shuttle off to a nearby pet resort. I had qualms about leaving Beau overnight but I just couldn’t see any way around it. It was going to be a long travel day for us and we had no idea what to expect when we arrived. Nor did we know if we’d be gone one day or two. Our destination was Green Cove Springs, Florida.

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Green Cove Springs pier on the Saint Johns River

It meant driving 4-5 hours, not including rest area and meal stops, from the southwest section of the state to the northeast portion. The purpose was to set ourselves up as Florida residents, get the truck and Suite Pea plated,  and be issued new drivers licenses. We had previously declared South Dakota as our domicile. We’ve been very satisfied with SD and with our mail forwarding service, Dakota Post, but for convenience sake we decided to switch to Florida. We spend so much time here anyways.

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Waterfront park

When I Mapquested Green Cove Springs I was delighted to find it was located right on the St. Johns River. St. Johns is a premier bass fishing location! You see, back in another life, Don and I both once fished in a bass club. Don even fished in Redman and Bass Master tournaments. But that was all before our youngest daughter had us traipsing all over the country playing in travel softball tournaments, causing us to sell our bass boat. Being road gypsies, we always keep our eyes open for areas while we are traveling that just might entice us to eventually settle there. I’ve wanted to explore the towns along the St. Johns River for some time, for that very reason. Twice I’ve made reservations at riverside RV parks and twice they’ve been canceled due to a hurricane. Once with Hurricane Matthew and again this past Fall with Irma. I had hopes of spending a little time exploring but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Things went so smoothly that Don opted to return “home” the same day.

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First stop on our list was to pick up our new No Fault auto policy. We’ve had State Farm auto insurance since we got married, longer for me. When I contacted our agent to make changes to our policy I was informed that they could no longer insure us. It seems in Florida, State Farm requires us to have an “actual” address. As full time RVers we didn’t qualify but the agent did tell us who could insure us.

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Clay County Clerk’s Administration Office

Next stop was the Clay County clerk’s office. We thought we were going there just to take care of the title paperwork for the RV and truck, then go to the local DMV to plate them and get our new drivers licenses. We were pleasantly surprised to find we could take care of everything right there in the clerk’s office. Unlike our South Dakota drivers license, our Florida one lists our RV plate number as our address instead of our mail forwarder’s address. It does give the city in which our forwarder is located though.

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Our Save The Manatee plate. It’s something we care about.

Having completed the process we decided to tour our new “home town” and stop by St. Brendan’s Isle, our mail forwarding service. We found Green Cove Springs to be a very charming river town  with lovely old homes. We stopped at the park and walked out onto the pier before departing. Don was amazed at how wide the river was. He did say he’d like to return to explore the cities up and down the river in the future.

Later, we stopped for dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Silver Springs where the waitress informed us it was margarita Monday. Hmm, half price margaritas huh? We’ll have two. It’s just what we needed to toast our new state of domicile.

It was late when we arrived back at the Suite Pea. Our common goal was to crawl into our nice comfy bed and sleep. Everything in the truck could keep for tomorrow. It felt so good to finally have that task done.

Here’s lookin’ at you kid…..

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The standard Florida plate for the Suite Pea. We had our choice of it stating Clay County, The Sunshine State, or In God We Trust.

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Beauty & the Beasts

Real snakes were used to form the restaurant's name

Real snakes were used to form the restaurant’s name

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A couple of months ago when we were parked in Sarasota, our good friend Becky suggested going out to eat at Linger Lodge. According to her the atmosphere alone was worth the visit. I researched the restaurant on line an learned it was named by Forbes as one of the ” Most Unusual Restaurants in the World”. Al Roker calls it one of the “top 5 weirdest restaurants in America”. So of course my interest was piqued.  Unfortunately the lodge was closed for repairs, probably due to Hurricane Irma. Right around Christmas I learned the lodge and its adjoining campground were once again open for business. I updated Becky and we planned our visit.

imageLinger Lodge, located in a bend of the Braden River in Bradenton, began as a canoeing and fishing camp in 1945. The place is reminiscent of days past with its “Old Florida” look and feel. Huge Live Oaks dripping with Spanish moss and Resurrection plants amidst lush vegetation of native palms, vines, and ferns. It was purchased by Frank and Elaine Gamsky in 1968. Frank Gamsky, a veterinarian and amateur taxidermist, filled the lodge with Florida critters of all sorts. All taken from the camp’s original 100 acres. All except for the rare and unusual ones like the Alaskan Fur Fish, the Walking Catfish, and the Turkey Rattler, just to name a few.

 

Turkey Rattler

Turkey Rattler

The story has it that while protecting a group of school children from a large rattler, Frank was bitten by the snake. Before rushing off to the nearest hospital he threw the snake into a freezer. Eight weeks later he stuffed the snake! It is still on display in the lodge along with a photo of Frank’s swollen hand.

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Displays greet you on all four sides of the lodge restaurant as soon as you enter but one particular item drew me immediately. A 16′ gator! Yikes!! When I first heard the story of how the alligator came to be mounted on the wall, I didn’t believe it. However I have been assured it is indeed true. Here’s how the tale goes…..

On a warm and humid summer evening, Ol’ Mike was boatin’ on the murky waters around legendary Braden River…not too far from the Linger Lodge. The night seemed unusually still, when he spotted two ruby red eyes piercing the dark air just above the waterline. Before he knew what was happening, a long tail whipped across the bow and knocked him plumb into the dark water. An enormous hungry gator grabbed hold of his leg and dragged him down into the blackened depths for dinner. It was a formidable fight, man against beast, as the gator rolled over and over with the leg in his jaws. While one leg was about to become the gator’s first course, on Mike’s other leg was strapped his favorite huntin’ blade called Big Boy. In a flash, Big Boy did his work and the gator’s jaws opened up for the last time. It didn’t hurt none that Ol’ Mike was 1945’s Gator Wrasslin’ Champ of the State of Florida. Coincidentally, the same year that the Linger Lodge was founded. The 16 foot trophy of that fateful night hangs on the wall at The Lodge….

16' gator at The Linger Lodge

16′ gator at The Linger Lodge

I will say I’m glad we went. The decor and history of the place is very quirky and interesting even if it did give me the heebie jeebies and we did enjoy the opportunity to get together again with Steve and Becky. The service was slow though, very slow. We sat for quite sometime before anyone came to take our drink order. Normally one of us would’ve been peeved waiting for that length of time but the conversation was going strong, so it was just a minor nuisance. I really can’t say how good the food was as my anxiety chose this moment to  flare up and I lost my appetite. I didn’t think to ask Steve or Becky what their thoughts were but Don said his meal was just so so.

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Steve & Becky with Don & I at Linger Lodge

After chapel the following morning Don suggested we take a Sunday drive to someplace we hadn’t been to before. We debated between a couple of destinations before deciding on Boca Grande. We’d been told the island beach was not only the closest one to our location but that the surrounding area was beautiful as well. That is an understatement!

Boca Grande is a small upscale beach town on Gasparilla Island. Being on the west side of Florida, it boasts the sugary white sand and aquamarine colored water the Gulf is known for. In spite of the threat of rain and the sky being overcast, the scenery did not disappoint, the water views were stunning.

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Our first stop was Gasparilla State Park and the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse. The 1890 lighthouse is the oldest structure on Gasparilla Island. The light, still used for navigation, also serves as a museum and is open for touring. The surrounding beach is perfect for sunbathers but no swimming is allowed because of dangerous rip currents. For swimming it’s best to go to Boca Grande Beach near town. Only drawback to these beautiful island beaches is they are not dog friendly.

Boca Grande Lighthouse

Boca Grande Lighthouse

Next stop, Gasparilla Island Light. This light was originally located in Lewes, DE. Built in 1888, it was later moved to its present location in 1927. The park like area offers an easy paved walking path around the light structure and out onto the dunes.   Signage along the pathway offers information on much of the visible plant life found here. After leaving the light we made a quick pass through the historic part of Boca Grande. We were searching for a dog friendly cafe in which to have lunch but the rain chose that particular moment to come pouring down. So, we called it a day and returned home to the Suite Pea instead. We are already planning our return.

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Gasparilla Island Light

Until next time, here’s lookin’ at you kid…….

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Christmas Traditions

When Don and I married we each brought with us our families Christmas traditions. There was some give and take but we blended them as best we could. The pace was often hectic with three young children in tow but somehow we always muddled through. Within three years we once again had to revise our holiday traditions when our company transferred us to Indiana.

Our first Christmas in Indiana happened only two months of our moving there. While most of the other thirty individuals who were transferred with us were making plans to return to Michigan for Christmas, Don and I made the decision to stay put. Indiana was now our daughters home and we strongly felt that they needed to make holiday memories of their own right there.

We decided one tradition we would continue in our new state was going out and chopping down our Christmas tree. There’s nothing quite as heavenly as walking in from the crisp outdoors into the smell of fresh cut pine. I located a Christmas tree farm in the gently rolling hills of beautiful Brown County. We then loaded the girls and the dog into our old suburban to make the hour’s drive south.

Perhaps I should mention that the great room of our first Indiana house had a 24′ tall peaked ceiling.  That year we brought home a 16′ tree. Combine that with the one foot tall speciality tree stand we purchased, you can well imagine just how HUGE this tree was. Thankfully the tree farm had wrapped it so getting it into the house wasn’t too difficult. We brought it right in the front door, up the stairs, then over the bannister to the floor below. Only the front of our tree was decorated that first year as we didn’t possess enough ornaments. In the eyes of our youngest though, it was still a wonderful sight to behold.

This was also when we began the tradition of dressing up in our finest togs to dine out in a fancy restaurant. We always followed this up by attending communion and Candlelight service at our little Methodist church. Now, let’s go back to that first Christmas tree.

The day after New Year’s is our official detrimming the tree day. Don brought in our tallest step ladder and started working from the top down while the girls and I made our way upward to meet him. We put everything lovingly back into their tissue filled boxes then stored them away in the garage. That’s when it hit us. How were we going to get this monstrous tree out the door. It was too tall and to heavy to lift up out of its  stand. The lower branches having spread out several feet around the tree’s base were not going back out the door from whence they’d entered. That’s when Don was struck with a brilliant??? idea. Returning from the garage with his chainsaw in hand,  he raised the two front windows, removed the screens and storms, then went about dismantling the tree in sections with pine needles and sawdust flying all over the living room furniture and carpet. All the ruckus drew the neighbors on our little cul de sac out in front of our house to gape.

That tree will forever live in our memories and those of our neighbors. From the following Christmas and beyond, our trees were of the standard size.

The traditions we started on that first Hoosier Christmas all those years ago remained with us long after our daughters had families of their own. They continued  until our first Christmas as full time RVers.

Our first year on the road we returned to Indiana for Thanksgiving instead of Yuletide. Our oldest put up their tree early that season so we could hand out our presents while gathered round it. On Christmas Eve, mom and our daughters families held their traditional family get together while Don and I celebrated Christmas in a new and memorable way.

We spent that first Christmas in the quaint “Old Florida” town of Cedar Key where we  joined in the townspeoples customary festivities. We attended our first ever Christmas boat parade. We were so enchanted by it that it has become a yearly, dare I say it, tradition. Afterwards we were invited to join in the town pitch-in at the city park and watch Santa arrive via airboat. We got the biggest kick out of seeing the youngsters run down the beach to greet him as he jumped off the boat clad in fishing waders with helper clams instead of elves to assist him in handing out candy canes and small gifts to the children. Although it was great fun and an experience we’ll long remember, we missed not being with our grandchildren and they with us. We made them a promise, barring any unfortunate circumstances, we would never again miss spending Christmas with them.

Once again our family’s Christmas traditions were revised and have continued to be tweaked each year, but the one thing that has remained constant through all the years is the love and joy found in the fellowship of family and friends.

                                                            Happy Holidays! 

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