Author Archives: sftbalmm

Making Progress

Cherry-Trees

It’s cherry time in northern Michigan

The family property has been keeping Don and I busy while we await my father’s impending heart surgery. Projects that are long overdue are finally being tackled.

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The view from our rear window one rainy afternoon

Max

Max

The bulk of the property is still in its original heavily wooded state since only the front few acres house living quarters and out buildings. However, a hiking trail was blazed through the back acreage many, many years ago that leads to a two track allowing access to state owned land. My father has long enjoyed taking his terrier Max on golf cart rides on the trail while looking for signs of wildlife. He hasn’t been able to do that the past two years due to downed trees on the trail. Don had wanted to make the path accessible once again so he and dad worked together at cutting and clearing away the downed trees. This worked out nicely for stockpiling campfire wood. Although, once that chore was done Don realized that the blackberry bushes had taken over the back end of the trail since no traffic had kept it worn down so between wielding his machete and the gas powered weed whacker, dad now has access all the way to the two track and beyond.

Dad's "new" fishing boat

Dad’s “new” boat

Another undertaking of Don’s was the cleaning out and organizing (somewhat) of dad’s garage and wood working shed. I’m convinced the garage has never looked as tidy in all the 20 years (probably more) it’s been around. It took Don an entire week to tackle both projects. The trailer is loaded with debris to be hauled to the county dump and I have already carted away a truckload of items to the local Goodwill. But what a difference! I wish I’d have taken before and after photos of the place.

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Mother Loon with her chicks at dusk on Bear Lake

With that chore completed Don decided to build a table top for Beau’s dog cage. The cage is an added piece of furniture we didn’t originally start traveling with. It’s situated in the only place available, between my recliner and the dining table/ desk combo. Adding it meant losing my end table, something I’ve dearly missed. He had intended to use a solid piece of oak for the table top because the Suite Pea’s interior is oak but after pricing it out he promptly changed his mind. Dad suggested using pine boards joined together, then stained with an oak finish. Don was hesitant to do so but pop showed him how to use “biscuits” to keep the boards securely together. I am extremely pleased with the finished product. I now have a place to set my drink and reading material again, and it’s attractive too.

We’ve also tackled some much needed yard work. The overgrowth has been cleared from my grandmother’s grave and hostas and other shade loving flowering perennials have been planted in their stead. I also removed the old statuary (except for one) from the grave site. I’m itching to do away with the one that’s left as well but not wanting to make waves with my father for the time being, I’ll let it remain (for now.)

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There’s still a few around!

I weeded out my stepmom’s flower beds and cleared it of leaves, dead plants, and damaged garden decorations. I planted more flowers here as well but it’s still a work in progress. With the decorations gone, I’ve added more rocks to help cut down on weed growth. Still, more are needed, which means Don and I have more foraging to do on the state forest fire lanes.

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The state is clear cutting the pine forest behind the property

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I do understand the reasons for clear cutting BUT I hate the way the area looks afterward

I’ve been meaning to weed around the community cabin as well but the weather has been uncooperative. We can’t recall a previous Michigan summer ever being as wet and damp as this one.

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I did accomplish one chore that’s been an irritant to me for some time. It seems to be the custom here that items that should be hauled away to the dump are just pitched to the side and left wherever they happen to land. I cannot abide laziness. Never could. What’s the sense in having something if you’re not going to take care of it? So, since the trailer was already heading for the dump with stuff from the garage, it was the opportune time for me to add to it. I had Don follow me around with it in tow while I unceremoniously tossed items in. I was able to clear out most of junk but had to stop as the trailer was overflowing.

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Granddaughters Maddy & Gabby with Maddy’s best bud Jake

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Don & Kristi kayak the AuSable River

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On another note, we were elated to have our oldest daughter, 3 of our granddaughters, and our granddaughter’s friend drive up from Indiana for a 4 day visit. They were able to spend some time with their cousins who were in town too. Don and Kristi planned a daddy-daughter kayaking outing, which our granddaughter’s friend Jake tagged along on. While the 3 of them paddled the AuSable River I took the girls to the Butterfly House and Bug Zoo in Traverse City. Afterwards we grabbed a bite to eat then drove out to Old Mission Point.

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The only other excitement we had was while being visited once again by our local black bear. This time he clawed holes into the trash can, then ripped the cover off our stainless steel grill. Don wasn’t overly disappointed about it, as he’d  been caught eyeballing the new grills at Lowe’s recently. Perhaps he and the bear were in cahoots.

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Old Mission Point, Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Michigan

As for my father, his new surgery date is the 18th. We’ll have a better idea what our future plans will be afterwards. Until then,

here’s lookin’ at you kid…….

cherry-tree

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Biding Our Time

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My father’s surgery at the time we left Indiana was scheduled for June 13. Normally we overnight 1 night along the way when we travel up to the property from Indiana. Anything less makes the trip too tedious. Liz and Randy, our friends from Canada, told me about a favorite stopover spot of theirs when they make their snowbird trips between Ontario and Florida each year. Liz felt it would be a big hit with Don after she learned what a huge turkey aficionado he is. So instead of the usual 1 night stay, I booked us 2.

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When we first pulled in to Camp Turkeyville Don’s comment was, “Why did you book us two nights here?” but within only a matter of hours he was saying, ” I wish we could stay longer.” That’s how nice it was. Perhaps we had just gotten lucky since Michigan schools were still in session and our stay was midweek, there were relatively few RVs in attendance, it was so quiet and so peaceful. What a welcome change after staying at a Jellystone Park! It was rejuvenating.

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Our pull-thru site

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Looking out over the park from our site

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Looking back toward Suite Pea. You can see how empty the park was.

Although Camp Turkeyville is less than 1 1/2 miles off I-69, there is no road noise. Instead we were surrounded by a sea of green farm pasture and woods. I don’t believe the park is all that old. Everything, the grounds, the sites, the buildings, are meticulously kept. The sites are all full hookup, spacious and level. From Don’s perspective though, the best thing about Camp Turkeyville is the on site restaurant with its menu of all things turkey. I didn’t cook once during our stay. Thanks Liz! In the future I see us utilizing this campground often.

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Lots of these critters roam the campground freely…..until they get called to the kitchen.

Dad came out to meet us as we pulled into our “new” campsite on the property. Long time readers of this blog may recall there is a 50 amp, full hookup site here that we have always utilized in the past. When the site was put in, no one expected to have a rig the size of Suite Pea in it. We fit, but it’s tight. The trees are close to our slide outs and prevent us from using our awning. There’s also no good place to park the truck when all the family is up. The property’s layout (or lack thereof) was poorly thought out IF it was thought out at all. The first 2-3 acres of this 10 acre plot hosts 4 trailer park sized trailers, 2 of which have been added on to, and a cabin. It’s over crowded to say the least, and it’s gloomy, very little sunlight penetrates through the canopy of trees. Because of this I was having difficulty accepting that I needed to be back here again this summer…..until Don came to the rescue. It was his idea to park Suite Pea in the clearing at the base of the horseshoe drive. In that area we would have space, some privacy, and best of all, sunlight. He had dad install the electric and with a water line close by, it’s perfect. It’s not a full hookup site but Don said he can easily dump the honeypot at the old site. Not so different than staying in a state park. He’s pleased with this location too.

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Our old site on the property.

                           It’s obvious why we like the new site better isn’t it?

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Our “new” site on the property.

Once we were finished setting up, dad gave me the news. He had just spoken to his heart doctor minutes prior to our arrival. The doctor pushed back dad’s surgery date until after he can review dad’s chemical CT scan results. That scan is scheduled for June 26. Since the surgeon only does heart valve replacements twice a month, the earliest we’re looking at for dad’s surgery now would be July 13.

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Might as well make use of our time then. Don and dad have worked on clearing the trail that leads to the back acreage. A tree had come down over the winter and needed to be cut up. Also the wild blackberry bushes were encroaching and had to be cut back. We’re looking forward to their blooms giving way to the sweet succulent  fruit as we have a 300-400 pound black bear that is making a nuisance of himself. He’s been raiding dad’s bird feeders and destroyed the turkey/squirrels corn bin twice. We know he’ll move on once the berries come in.

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Don has also cleared the overgrowth on my grandmother’s grave for me. There’s some old statuary I want to remove from the site, then we’ll plant shade loving flowers. Grandma’s grave site is away from the family plot so too often it goes neglected. I really should tackle my stepmom’s flower beds too now that  I think of it. It’s more than dad can tackle now that mom is no longer with us.

I’ve also heard rumblings from dad about cleaning out the garage and wood shop. I think I’ll make myself scarce on the day dad and Don tackle that insurmountable project.

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Beau’s Freedom Road

As for Beau, he is loving his new found freedom. We’ve allowed him to run up and down the private dirt road untethered as long as we’re with him. He’s even scared up a few deer along the way during his early morning runs. He seems to be fascinated by them. Beau’s resumed swimming too with so many dog friendly fresh water lakes nearby. I believe he’s in puppy Nirvana. We may have a hard time convincing him to leave when the time comes.

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

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A Little Family Time

I do believe this is the longest I have gone between posts. We’ve been keeping busy is an understatement. We allowed ourselves 5 weeks to spend with our family in Southern Indiana and frankly, it justs wasn’t enough time as we have had something going most everyday. That is until I blew out my back. It took me out of commission for 9 days and even now it still isn’t 100%.

So what have we been doing? We’ve celebtated birthdays with 3 of our granddaughters, Mia turned one, Kendra two, and Maddy is now Sweet 16.

Our oldest grandson Brad graduated from high school June 3. I admit to getting a little misty eyed. Where did the time go? It seemed like it was only a few years ago he was toddling along in our backyard chasing rabbits and squirrels with our Golden Retriever Maggie. We also attended two Honors Ceremonies prior to Brad’s graduation, and his Open House the day after graduation.

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We enjoyed two evenings out with good friends and tried to get together for lunch with old coworkers. That didn’t pan out since I was experiencing back spasms at the time. We tried to reschedule but our calendars just couldn’t jibe with one another’s. Truth is, we didn’t have time enough to see everyone we wanted too.

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A few of our old softball gang

Jack and Suzanne, friends we met our first year on the road live in the same town as our daughters. We intended to get together with them while here but unfortunately we were unable to do so before Jack unexpectedly passed away. Don and I both were sick at heart having missed seeing Jack prior to. Jack had never met a stranger and endeared himself to everyone who met him. He will be sorely missed by many. We did get the opportunity to see Suzanne before we left and were so grateful for that as we were unable to attend Jack’s memorial service. It was held during the time I was laid up with my back.

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This is how I’ll always remember Jack. He loved to fish.

We hosted sleepovers with grandchildren, campfires, and had a family cookout on Memorial Day. Don and I supplied the brats, dogs, and dessert, while the girls brought sides to share. Don had also wanted to treat the women in his life to dinner on Mothers Day. It was quite the gathering with 5 generations of us assembled around a huge table at Olive Garden.

 

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Mother’s Day dinner

We got our annual physicals out of the way and Don was able to have cataract surgery within days of our arrival. Good thing too as he had to be seen by the eye doctor at one day after, one week after, and again one month after. Doc also wants to recheck him in a year. I saw my knee doctor again for a shot of cortisone and we discussed my future options for pain management. Regrettably my back caused us to cancel our dental appointments and we were unable to reschedule in the remaining time we were in town. Good news is our appointments were for having our teeth cleaned and not for dental work.

The grandchildren love the waterpark & pools at Jellystone Campground

And, once more, our Ford 450 lemon lightened our pocketbook up to the tune of $3348 in repairs. ☹️ ‘Nuff said! The truck wasn’t the only issue Don dealt with. Our kitchen sink came unsealed from the counter and dropped 1/2″. Don removed the old sealant, braced it back up, then resealed the sink into place. After sitting a day to completely dry, it’s good as new again. Don’s handyman skills were sought after by my mother as well. He painted her ceiling, installed new blinds, and replaced her bathroom light fixture that had exploded when her house was recently hit by lightening.

Another event that filled us with pride was hearing our 9 year old granddaughter Gabby’s beautiful voice singing songs of praise in church, not once,  but twice. It was only a few years ago she was embarrassed to sing in front of anyone but her immediate family and now she does it before the entire congregation.

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Gabby singing

Its been a whirlwind of activity but I wouldn’t change a thing. Missing my family, particularly the grandchildren, is the only thing  I don’t like about this full time RVing lifestyle. It’s good to go home and get a fix to last me until the next time.

Now we must make our way northward to assist dad during and after his heart surgery.

Here’s lookin’ at you kid…..

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Home to the Blues, BBQ, and Elvis

IMG_1403You guessed it, we’re in Memphis, the “Birthplace of Rock & Roll.” As often as we’ve stayed in or passed through Tennessee we have never visited Memphis. We thought it was time we did. Presently we are camped at the Tom Sawyer’s Mississippi River Park. A no frills campground located in West Memphis, Arkansas but still the closest RV park to Memphis. The favorite pastime for RVers here is watching the barges going up and down the Mississippi from the many riverfront benches. We have a waterfront site and watch them from our patio. It is very relaxing to come back to after spending time in the city.

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Sunrise on the river

Sunrise on the Mississippi River

Now I have an admission to make, before we visit each new area I make two lists, one list gives all of the attractions, tours, etc. that we’d like to visit and the second list, which is Don’s favorite, names the must try restaurants or foods the area is noted for. After we arrived and completed setting up Don queried, “Where are you taking me to eat tonight?” Well Memphis is known for its BBQ  so number one on the food list was Central BBQ. Don ordered a combo plate of ribs, brisket and turkey. I had the ribs, half dry rub, half wet. We both thought this diner had the best darned BBQ we’d ever ate up to this point.

Our jaunt into town the following day started at the Peabody Hotel to witness the march of the infamous Peabody ducks. The tradition began in the 1930’s when a manager of the hotel and his friend returned from a hunting trip. Having had a little too much whiskey they thought it would be a hoot to release a few of their live duck decoys into the Peabody’s lobby fountain. The reaction from the hotel guests was an enthusiastic one and thus began a long standing tradition.

In 1940, a hotel bellman named Edward Pembroke, once a circus animal trainer, offered to deliver the ducks to the fountain each day and taught them the now famous Peabody Duck March. Mr. Pembroke served as the Duckmaster for 50 years until retiring in 1991.

 

 

We arrived about 30 minutes prior to the ducks’ grand entrance and it was a good thing we did as the fowl really bring in a crowd. It was quite the spectacle to see.

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From the Peabody we went to the Bass Pro Shop. You can’t miss it. It’s the huge ostentatious pyramid next to the river. Our purpose was to ride the elevator to the top where an outside observation deck offers views of the Memphis skyline and the Mighty Mississippi below. The store’s interior was pretty amazing too. This one reminding me of a Louisiana bayou.

Next stop was Beale Street to listen to some blues. I love the old-style neon lights that jut out from the buildings up and down the strip. Beale Street is also the location of the A. Schwab variety store. It’s one of those old timey places with a still working old fashioned soda fountain. I can’t resist popping into places like this when I can find them. This one has been in the same location since 1876.

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Beale Street

By the time we’d finished shopping we were ready for a bite to eat. So second restaurant on my list of places we needed to eat at while in Memphis was Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. We arrived an hour before most folks dinner time and it was a weekday, still there was already a line waiting to be seated and not an empty chair to be seen. I will say the wait was worth it though and I feel Don would agree. He ate 3 pieces, this from a man who doesn’t like fried chicken.

Since Don’s a musician I scheduled a tour I thought he could really sink his teeth into. The following morning found us at Sun Studio for the first tour of the day. The Sun recording studio opened its doors in 1950 and many big names of that era cut records there, singing artist such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, B.B. King,  Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and the most internationally known rockabilly of all, Elvis Presley.

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Much of the original appearance has been retained. The single recording studio still has the original recording equipment, acoustic tiles and tiled floor laid down by the Rock and Roll pioneer himself, Mr. Sam Phillips. There is one other original item housed at the studio that often has fans swooning; Mr. Phillips insisted that the item stay at Sun Studio and not be enclosed in a glass box at some museum, he wanted the fans to have hands on access to it. Just what is this fan thrilling item? It’s the Shure 55 microphone used by all the Sun Studio’s legendary singers. Several on the tour lined up for the opportunity to hold the mic and have their photo taken while doing so.

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I decided to continue with the Elvis theme after the tour by taking Don to lunch at the Arcade Restaurant. The Arcade, Memphis’s oldest restaurant (1919), is a 1950’s style diner. It promotes itself as having been Elvis’s favorite place to eat when home. You can dine in his corner booth if it’s available. It wasn’t while we were there. The menu still offers his sandwich of choice, a fried peanut butter and banana. It can be ordered with or without bacon. I tried to talk Don into getting it but he said it sounded like an artery clogger to him. Ya think?

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The black arrow under the word restaurant points to Elvis’ booth.

We spent the weekend holed up inside the Suite Pea on account of the steady unrelenting rain. I didn’t sleep too well Friday night. I had visions of us floating downstream trapped inside our rig even though logic said otherwise.

Neither of us are Elvis fanatics but we do like most of his music and I did grow up seeing all of his movies at the matinee. So how does one not visit Graceland on their first trip to Memphis? That’s how we spent Monday. We arrived early hoping to avoid the crowd but found the first two house tours fully booked. Apparently a bus tour company had booked in advance. As it turned out, it worked out for the best. We  toured the other exhibits, excluding the airplanes, first.

First we toured Presley Motors, his automobile museum. Don was chomping at the bit to see Elvis’ 1955 pink Cadillac. Even though there was a bevy of vintage beauties on display, the pink Caddy was my favorite too. It brought to mind fond memories of my parents 1953 pink Cadillac they had when I was first learning to drive. How I loved that car! The museum also included many of Elvis’ motorcycles, boats, and tooling around Graceland toys.

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We continued through his career museum, family archives, concert costumes, and an exhibit on how he influenced other musicians. We finished just in time to catch our tour bus to Graceland proper.

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Graceland

Upon entering through the specially designed “musical” gates my first impression was what beautiful grounds, and what a lovely house…..and then we entered through the front doorway. My second impression was…I don’t want Elvis’ interior decorator anywhere near my home. Lawd how gaudy!!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so ugly in all my life. Don was amused too. He said he had expected to walk-thru a huge majestic mansion, instead it wasn’t much different than any other upper middle class home, except for the tacky decor.

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The famous Jungle Room with green shag carpet on both the floor & ceiling.

After the house tour we moved on to the surrounding grounds and out buildings, finishing up in the Meditation Garden. The garden is tastefully done. It is here where Elvis, his mother Gladys, father Vernon, and grandmother Minnie are laid to rest side by side. Surprisingly it was less crowded here than inside the house.

Meditation Garden

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Our thoughts once the tour was complete? We felt we’d paid too much, $117 not including another $10 to park, and this was with Don getting the Senior discount. There is a cheaper tour, house only, that would’ve cost us $86 not including parking. Perhaps we would’ve thought differently had we not been herded through the house quickly and had the tour group size been smaller. We would recommend the tour only if you’re a die hard Elvis fan or if you’re insatiably curious with money to burn.

Afterwards we went back to Central BBQ to eat. We had discussed trying the que at Charles Vergos Rendezvous but then decided why mess with perfection. You know it must be good when a man who professes to not care for ribs eats his slab and a third of mine too.

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The remaining two days of our Memphis stay we spent catching up on household chores and prepping to move, that and appreciating our view of the river.

Here’s lookin’ at you kid…..

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Au revoir New Orleans!

Until next time. And there will be a next time.

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We have both thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the The Big Easy! There is so much to see and do here and not all of its in the French Quarter. We have been in NOLA for 9 days and we’ve barely scratched the surface. That being said, we are already planning to return.

We wrapped up our time here by touring both the WWII Museum and Confederate Memorial Hall.

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Combat Pigeon Loft, carrier pigeons were used by both Axis & Allied in every theater of WWII where they proved vital to long distance communications.

The National WWII Museum, formerly known as the D-Day Museum, is said to be the best military museum of its kind in the U.S. It’s focus is on the contribution the United States made to the Allied victory. The museum tells the story of the American experience through exhibits, film, and personal accounts.

 

Ernie Pyle memorabilia

War correspondent Ernie Pyle memorabilia

To make the experience more personal, upon entry each person is issued a dog tag. The dog tag connects you to an actual WWII service man, or woman, then allows you to follow their service, deeds, and exploits during their time served. Or until they lost their life in the line of duty.

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Eisenhower’s jacket

Don and I began our visit on the Road to Berlin but we parted ways shortly afterward. As I continued to explore the European Campaign, Don viewed the 4D movie Beyond All Boundaries. Later when we met up again at the Pacific Campaign’s Road to Tokyo exhibit, he told me the movie, narrated by Tom Hanks, was spellbinding and he wished I’d seen it. ( I’m careful about viewing 3D or 4D films as they can mess with my equilibrium).

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USS Missouri surrender card

USS Missouri Surrender Card, in 1944 Lt. Benno Janssen Jr., witnessed the formal surrender of the Japanese forces to the Allied powers. This commemorative card was printed & given only to those present at this historic event.

I would recommend to anyone interested in touring the museum to allow at least 4 hours to fully experience and see everything. We did it in 3 hours but felt we’d not covered some of the displays as in depth as we would have liked since we wanted to have lunch too before returning to the RV park. We don’t like to leave Beau alone for more than 4 hours, 5 tops, on any given day. We feel it’s not fair to him.

Shrimp Po'boy from Domilise's

Shrimp Po’boy

We opted to eat at Domilise’s Po’boy & Bar for lunch.  It’s  been featured on many of the Food Network’s food shows and their shrimp po’boy won the Best Sandwich of the Gulf States award. With that resume we had big expectations for this po’boy but we were disappointed. It tasted alright but we just don’t see what all the ballyhoo was about. So, on that note, we headed home.

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The following day we toured Confederate Memorial Hall. It’s touted as having the most extensive collection of Civil War artifacts in America. It opened in January 1891 as a place to honor and commemorate the South’s military history and heritage.

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The personal effects of Charles M. Horton who died from injuries received at the Battle of Mansfield. These items were returned to his mother as a kindness from Eliza Field of Mansfield. The items include a remnant of the Confederate Flag he was holding when shot down.

Photos above are personal effects of Robert E. Lee & Jefferson Davis family Bible

It does have some unique personal items of key Civil War players on display. Also, the number of guns, sabers, uniforms, and flags is numerous, however Don and I felt that the Civil War museum connected to the White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia was better put together. Still, if you’re a Civil War buff like we are, then it’s definitely worth a look see.

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The historic St. Charles streetcar line runs from the French Quarter to the Garden District

For lunch we returned to the French Quarter to dine at Cafe Maspero. We were told that if we liked the muffuletta at Central Market (we did), then we would love the muffuletta at Maspero’s. We do! In all fairness though I would recommend having one from each place as they both bring something different to the table.  Pun intended.

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A muffuletta from Cafe Maspero’s in the Quarter

When we returned to the Suite Pea we discovered we had new neighbors. One thing about this lifestyle, you meet many interesting folks along the way. Our new neighbors are 2 Aussies, Tim and Greg. They flew from Australia to LAX, rented a small Class C and are traveling across America to NYC. There they will board a return flight home. We are really enjoying getting to know them.

So, I’ve been asked, would I recommend staying at New Orleans KOA West to others? Well, it does have pros and cons. The paved double wide rv sites are very nice. The connectivity has been great and believe me we’ve been giving it a workout with both AC units running. Water pressure’s very good. Verizon signal is strong and more than half the sites would work well for satellite tv. We are on a shaded site (# 64) where we can’t use ours  but the site does has cable and most stations come in fine. The park has free wifi but we haven’t used it so cannot say if it’s good or not. The KOA does have a nice clean laundry that is more than adequate for the park’s size. Park is easy on/off from I-10 and within 10 miles of most tourist attractions. There’s a Super Walmart nearby for groceries and a great walking/biking trail alongside the Mississippi River right across the street. Also, if you’re a dog parent you’ll appreciate the dog play area.

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Our site at New Orleans KOA West

On the down side, somewhat, the small campground is on a loop. One way in, one way out. The road in from the entry is level and in great shape but the backside of the loop is horrendous. The park is located between two neighborhoods, a nice middle class one, and a rough looking poor one,  BUT the park does have round the clock security and we have felt perfectly as ease being here. The airport is located close by as are train tracks but we rarely notice noise coming from either. The only noise we have been aggravated by is a neighbor (outside the park) with his bass jacked up, usually in the evening. I also feel the rate is high for this facility but I do understand that it’s all about location.

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View of the muddy Mississippi River from the riverwalk

I will say that we’ve been satisfied with our stay and will more than likely stay here again when we return. There are other options in the area. I strongly suggest doing your homework and research, research, research.

Here’s lookin’ at you kid…….

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Beaucoup To Do in New-ahl-e-yuns

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We spent the weekend familiarizing ourselves to the RV park and our surroundings. It seemed like a good time to do this since there was a strawberry festival going on in the French Quarter and we wanted to avoid the traffic and crowds caused by it. On Monday after talking to the visitor center and doing a little research on my own, we drove downtown to check out parking lots near places we wanted to visit. We knew from a past visit to the Quarter that parking could be tight for a truck as big as our 450. We found the parking situation much improved since 2003.

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Tuesday we visited the French Quarter. First stop was for breakfast at the original Cafe Du Monde for beignets and chicory coffee. Even though the coffee stand is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and we had arrived early, there was still a long line to get seated. it did move quickly and the beignets are worth the wait.

The world famous Cafe Du Monde has been a New Orleans institution since 1862 when it introduced beignets, a square French-style doughnut heavily dusted with powdered sugar, to the U.S.A. From the cafe we walked to Jackson Square.

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Jackson Square is a historic park in the Quarter. Its listed as a National Historic Landmark as it was on this site in 1803 that Louisiana was named a U.S. territory pursuant to the Louisiana Purchase. The park was closed for renovations during our visit but we were able to walk around the outside perimeter. One of The Crescent City’s most renowned landmarks sits on the west side of the square, the St. Louis Cathedral.

St. Louis Cathedral also known as the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis is the oldest cathedral in the United States. It was founded as a Catholic parish in 1720 and is still in use today. The church is open to the public for self guided tours when services are not being performed. The cathedral is flanked on either side by other distinguished buildings. On the left is The Cabildo, the site of the Louisiana Purchase Transfer ceremony. To the right is The Presbytere, erected in 1813, it now houses the Louisiana State Museum.

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Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar on Rue Bourbon, built somewhere between 1722 & 1732. The Lafitte brothers, Jean & Pierre are believed to have used this building as part of their smuggling operations. Jean Lafitte was a pirate & privateer in the early 19th century.

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It was a short walk from the square to perhaps the most famous French Quarter street of them all, Bourbon Street. We covered it one end to the other then moved on to the French Market. After all of this browsing, and believe or not, no buying, we headed over to Central Grocery for lunch.

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Central Grocery is a small Italian market and deli whose immigrant founder invented the muffuletta in 1906,  a sandwich that’s popular with tourists and locals alike. I’m not sure which is more unique, the grocery, or the sandwich. We enjoyed both the friendly atmosphere and the distinct flavor of the food. I must warn you, a whole muffuletta is enough to feed 2-4 people depending on their appetites. We did consider purchasing a container of the marinated olive salad that gives the sandwich its uniqueness but by the time we finished eating, the line was out the door. By this time, the day was getting hotter and the crowds were getting thicker, we decided to call it a day.

Wednesday we took a tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1. I had purchased our tickets ahead of time through the Save Our Cemeteries organization. I did this for a couple of reasons. First, a portion of the purchase price goes directly to the preservation of the cemetery, and secondly, my research taught me that we needed to visit on the coolest (temperature wise) day of our New Orleans stay, and we wanted to tour as early in the day as possible. You see, the cemetery is substantially warmer than the surrounding area, about 15 degrees so. At 10 am it was already registering 78 degrees and with the humidity at 90%, it was going to be a scorcher. I highly recommend for anyone interested in this tour to not only book early as we did but to wear comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, wear a hat or bring along a parasol, and most importantly, bring water. I can’t emphasize the last enough.

Notice the table grave marker, this allowed the deceased’s loved ones to picnic while visiting. The small white marble plaque in the last photo proclaims the tomb as being closed to future burials in it.

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We met our tour guide at the entrance of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, another interesting piece of New Orleans history I would’ve liked to have toured. Unfortunately there was a funeral service going on at the time. It’s just a short walk from the church to the entrance of St. Louis Cemetery #1.

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This Greek revival tomb is reputed to be the burial place of the notorious voodoo queen Marie Laveau

The XXX's are voodoo markings

Note the voodoo symbol, XXX, on this Laveau family vault

There are 3 St. Louis Cemeteries in or near the Quarter. They are numbered 1, 2, and 3. Cemeteries 1 and 2 are listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail. Cemetery #1 is the oldest, 1789,  and the most famous. It has been in continuous use ever since.

Oven Vaults

These are called Oven Vaults because of their resemblance to bread/pizza ovens. Because of the extremely warm Summer temps in the region, these vaults act as a natural crematory for the dead. After 1 year and 1 day, the remains will “swept” to the rear of the vault into a shaft where the cremains will mingle with other’s cremains. This makes room for another body to be interred.

Wall vault, also called Oven vaults

These Wall Vaults once stood 4 burial chambers tall but due to sinking they now stand only 2-2.5 chambers tall. The sinking is a natural occurrence because New Orleans is situated on boggy swamp land.

There are several prominent New Orleanians buried here but the most renowned is tomb is that of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. Her grave is the third most visited grave in the U.S. behind those of President JFK and Elvis Presley.

Future resting place of Nicholas Cage, the actor

The future resting place of actor Nicholas Cage (Coppola), a native New Orleanian.

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Notice the lip prints (kisses) on Nicholas Cage’s tomb. These were put there by his admirers, both women & men.

The cemetery covers just one square block but it is the final resting place of thousands. This is due in part to how burials are conducted here.

The oldest grave in St. Louis Cemetery #1

The oldest grave in St. Louis #1 predates the cemetery

Because the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Orleans now owns and manages this cemetery, it is no longer open to the general public. That is because of the vandalism that has been inflicted to some of the tombs. Access can only be had via a tour unless you have family buried here, in which case you would need a pass to visit from the diocese.

Burial chamber from the Battle of New Orleans, 1812

Memorial tomb of the dead from the Battle of New Orleans, 1812. The wreath symbolizes victory, the inverted torches signify a life snuffed out.

Sinking grave in the Presbytarian section

This grave stone accurately depicts how the grounds are sinking.

After our tour was completed we drove to the Treme neighborhood to dine on fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. It’s a family owned and operated restaurant that’s been serving up Southern-style soul food since 1957. We had many recommendations to try it. Don and I agreed that although the mouth burning, spicy fried chicken was tasty, it didn’t stand out as being any better than some of the other fried chicken food places we’ve dined at in the past.

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More of New Orleans to follow. Until then…

Here’s lookin’ at you kid

Katrina Memorial

The Scrap House aka Katrina Memorial

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A Visit With Friends

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Early morning sunrise on Santa Rosa Sound

April 1st found us on Florida’s highways along with perhaps 750,000 other migrating snowbirds. Traffic wasn’t bad until we reached the Pensacola causeway over to Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach. It took us almost as long to cross it as it did for us to drive up from Carrabelle to Pensacola.

That’s when it dawned on me, “WHAT THE HECK WAS I THINKING?”

I’d forgotten that Spring Break was still going on. Not only that but it was a Saturday, probably the worst day of the week to travel.  I really MUST start doing a better job at trip planning.

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Eventually we did get settled into our site at Pensacola Beach RV Resort. Our friends John and Pam came over to welcome us. They are regulars here since they have a son that lives nearby. They filled us in on where to eat and shop, and what to do while in the area, then they left us to finish setting up.

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So how did we spend our one week at Pensacola Beach? We acted like tourists. We did lots of walking,  with the RV park located right in the center of everything it was more convenient to walk than drive. We spent time on the beach admiring the pristine white sand and azure blue Gulf. We strolled the boardwalk, we sampled the local cuisine, we spent time with our friends, and even attended a concert at the beach amphitheater.

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Evening concert goers on Casino Beach with The Not Quite Fab Four, a Beatle’s tribute band.

We also ventured up to the north side of the island one day to visit both Fort Pickins and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The virtually indestructible Fort Pickins stood out in stark contrast against the fragile sand dunes surrounding it. This section of seashore still shows the ravages that Hurricane Ivan wrought upon it in 2004.

Notice how thick the walls are, it’s no wonder it survives hurricanes. The battery, lower left, is one of 4 we saw in the process of being restored.

Nesting Osprey

One of several nesting Osprey we spotted at the national seashore

Great Egret preparing to take flight

Just south of the national seashore’s entry gate we discovered a dog beach, much to Beau’s delight. Although the surf was too rough for him to swim he still enjoyed playing in the sand and getting his paws wet. It was a great spot for shelling too.

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Mixed in with all this fun and sunshine we did experience two days of scary weather with high winds, some hail, and a deluge of rain. The wind and rain combination caused a significant amount of water to enter through our door. Fortunately Don was able to pinpoint where the leak was. He dried it out and sealed it. Good thing too because two days later, the second storm hit with more force than the first.

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Us on the beach after the storm

On our final evening we walked to Flounders where we had a delicious dinner on the beach followed by cocktails with John and Pam back at the Suite Pea. It was a great ending to a wonderful but short visit. Until we meet again…

here’s lookin’ at you kid.

Don & I with Pam & John Cook

Don & I had a nice visit with dear friends, Pam & John. We met 4 years ago on the road & have remained in touch.

 

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Countdown Begins

How do the fisherman avoid getting tangled up in all those lines?

I thought I should post a quick update while I had some quiet time to myself tonight. Don is performing at the Pesky Pelican and will continue to do so every Friday night until we pull out of here April 1st. Until then we have Spring maintenance to attend to.  Don needs to sanitize the fresh water tank and replace the anode rod in the hot water heater. I’ll tackle the screens, AC unit and vents, as well as the Fantastic Fans. Then we’ll wash the 5er and truck to get rid of the tree pollen. Hopefully this cooler weather will give way to warmer days soon so we can start tackling these projects.

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Our travel plans continue to be up in the air. We hope to be in Indiana in May. Don has an appointment with an ophthalmologist at the laser eye clinic to schedule cataract surgery and we have our grandson’s high school graduation to attend. Also, we expect to  be spending at least part of the summer on the family property again.  My father will be having heart valve replacement. We know he will be in the hospital for 4-8 days following his surgery, then he’ll need to be cared for at home for at least 2 weeks, possibly longer. A surgery date has yet to be set.

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For the past 2 weeks it’s been either Don or me feeling under the weather. I suspect seasonal allergies since its that time of year.  So, we’ve spent most of our time holed up in the rig with the windows closed. It seems to have helped. We did have a surprise visitor one day. My cousin-in-law Larry was passing through on his way down state to visit his father-in-law, my uncle Lloyd. We met for lunch at the Apalachicola Seafood Grill. It’s always good to see Larry. He’s a talker, and I don’t believe he’s ever met a stranger.

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Cousin Larry with Don & I

We also celebrated Beau’s 1st birthday. Beau wasn’t able to celebrate his day at his happy place the beach because of rip tides. Instead, Don grilled him a steak and later we all indulged with our favorite ice creams. He was content with that.

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

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This Place is Going to the Dogs

Its Carnival season! No, it’s not as big a production on The Forgotten Coast as it is in Mobile or New Orleans but the locals of Apalachicola know how to celebrate Mardi Gras alright and it literally is one for the dogs.

Apalachicola is the most dog friendly town we’ve come across. Dogs are welcome everywhere. We’ve met them as store greeters, we’ve seen them in restaurants and bars, we’ve also spotted them alongside their masters onboard fishing vessels.  That’s why it came as no surprise to us when we discovered Oyster Town’s annual Mardi Gras was hosted by The Mystic Krewe of Salty Barkers, a parade unit of dogs and their people.  This year’s theme was Bark Side of the Moon and the dog lovers came out in droves. They lined the streets to watch the pups strut their stuff and afterwards mingled at Riverfront Park for live music, Cajun food, and fun of all sorts.

Farmers Market

Apalachicola Farmers Market

The 3 of us made a day of it. We started off with a stop at the Apalach farmers market where we picked up a breakfast of fresh cinnamon rolls. Since I had just grocery shopped the previous day, we passed on making any purchases of vegetables or seafood. We did buy a container of local Tupelo honey though, it’s said to be the purest and sweetest honey there is. Having never tried it before we wanted to taste it for ourselves.

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Eventually we made our way to the riverfront in time for the parade. Beau did not participate but he did get plenty of attention on the sidelines. Afterwards we went to the Pesky Pelican for the shrimp dinner. This was our first time taking Beau out to eat with us. We’ve been hesitant to do so as he’s not always on his best behavior. He did us proud though. Maybe there’s hope for him after all.

As for the rest of February, it was a very busy month.  Beau has a huge fan club here at Carrabelle Beach Resort, both two legged and four. People greet him by name as he goes on his daily walks and most give him pats and belly rubs. He’s also learned which campsites to stop at along the way for a treat. He often meets up with doggie pals at Carrabelle’s dog friendly beach where they enjoy romps in the surf, retrieving float toys and making dog angels in the sand. Yes, our Beau Bear has learned to swim and now we can’t keep him away from the water. I know one little boy who isn’t going to like leaving his little slice of paradise when our time here is up.

Beau with new friend Roland

February is also when Don and I celebrate our wedding anniversary, Valentine’s Day to be exact. We now have year 32 in the books. Our neighbors told us that the historic Wakulla Springs lodge at the state park hosted an annual 4 course Valentines Day dinner. They boasted about how good the food was. We’d heard that from other campers too so we made reservations to attend. I must say they do a pretty good job. The ambiance was wonderful. Lights were dimmed,  tables were set with white linens and candlelight, and a violinist and oboist played softly for the diners. However the highlight of the evening was indeed the meal. Beginning with the crab claw appetizer straight through to the Bananas Foster dessert, our meal was delicious. The drive home along the moonlit coastline was the icing on the cake.

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Wakulla Springs Lodge, the dining room is on the right

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Another celebration this month was my 60th birthday which we spent on Saint George Island enjoying the beach and eating at the Blue Parrot, a SGI icon. I taught Don the proper way to eat oysters out of the shell with saltines and Tabasco sauce. He discovered it tasted better than it looked.

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St. George Island Lighthouse

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Lastly, Don has spent much of this month tweaking his music, all for good reason. With the weather starting to turn and the Spring Breakers now joining the Snow Birds, many of the restaurants with outside seating are beginning to offer live entertainment. Since we are now on a first name basis with the owners of the Pesky Pelican, Jewel had been after Don to bring his guitar in and sing. He agreed to do so on the last Friday of the month.  Apparently, he was a success since he’s been asked to play again.

Ochlockonee River

Ochlockonee River

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Another function we attended was the Ochlockonee River State Park’s Stone Age & Primitive Arts Festival. The festival featured primitive fire making, fishing and hunting techniques, and flintknapping. Flintknapping is explained as a process of chipping away silica rock in order to make items such as spears, arrows and tools. It was very interesting to watch but I noted it was a long and tedious process. Another topic we found interesting was a hunting practice called Atlatl, a combination of spear chucking and archery. We were told that some of Australia’s Aborigines still employ this method of hunting. I’m certain if Don and I had to rely on this method to put food on the table, we would surely starve to death.

We have been here for 3 months now, thus, I am starting to get that restless feeling again. I have begun making short term travel plans for us but nothing concrete for the summer yet. Things are still up in the air as we wait for a procedure my father is having the first week of March. The results should tell us , whether or not he will be having open heart surgery this summer. That will determine our plans. Until then, here’s lookin’ at you kid…..

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Two of our Favorite Things, exploring & eating

Everyone who plays a wood guitar knows that it will need periodic adjustments. Don’s Martin had a string that sounded “tinny” when strummed, he surmised from its tone that he was due to have the neck aligned. His research found 2 places that could do this relatively close to us. The nearest was a well known instrument chain store that Don has used in the past, sometimes to his satisfaction, sometimes not. Plus their fees are usually high. The second shop, about an hour and a half’s drive away, was independently owned but had excellent reviews. Don chose the later, partly because of its reputation, partly because of its location. It being in an area we wanted to research, perhaps for a future stay.

The guitar shop didn’t open until 10 but we left the Suite Pea at 7:30 to have breakfast at a little place I’d read about on a fellow travel bloggers website, Thomas Donuts & Snack Shop. Thomas Donuts is a classic little diner near the beach in Panama City Beach. It’s been in business since 1971, making signature dishes and an untold variety of donuts. It was the donuts that brought us here, us and a few dozen other people.

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I picked up a half dozen. Strawberry, Key Lime, and Boysenberry Pie for Don, Banana Creme, Key Lime, and Maple Bacon for me. Don raved about his boysenberry donut, all of the flavors were very tasty. I’m not sure if it’s a shame that Thomas Donuts is so far away from us, or a blessing. After eating we drove back over the bridge into Panama City to Leitz Music where it took only a few minutes to have the neck readjusted. It was obvious the owner knew his stuff, and his fee was $40 less than the big name guitar shop. That done, it was time to do a little exploring.

Don wanted to scout out 2 rv parks he’d heard about and I wanted to see St. Andrew’s State Park. We found both rv parks to be attractive, well maintained, and well appointed, BUT both were exceedingly pricey. Perhaps a stay during the shoulder season would be kinder to the pocketbook. On to our next stop.

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Beach dunes

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Named as America’s Best Beach in 1995, St. Andrew’s is well known for its sugar white sand and crystal clear emerald green water. The 1,260 acre park is located on a peninsula with over 1.5 miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon.

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The state park offers diverse natural communities within its boundaries. There are dunes, marshes, both saltwater and fresh, and scrub and pinewood flats. The habitats make for a variety of wildlife. On our visit we spotted several deer and shore birds.

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Fresh water marsh

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My main objective at St. Andrew’s was the campgrounds. I was pleased to learn that all  176 sites have electric and water hookups but not all can accommodate large rigs. I liked what I saw and will attempt to book a stay here in the future. Reservations at most Florida state parks are hard to come by and MUST be made months in advance.

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By the time we’d completed our tour of the park it was late afternoon and we’d had nothing to eat since the morning. Having Beau with us limited our choices and with the weather being uncooperative it was too cool to eat outside and we didn’t want fast food. So we kept our eyes open for a restaurant on the way back to the rig that had big windows with parking alongside so we could keep an eye on our boy. It wasn’t until we reached Port St. Joe that we found one to suit our needs. (Port St. Joe is one of our favorite Florida towns.) Peppers is a little Mexican cantina in the historic district. Even though we’ve stayed in town before, Peppers restaurant was a new one for us. The authentic cuisine didn’t disappoint and we can see ourselves returning again and again.

All in all it was a full day for the 3 of us.

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