Category Archives: Wildlife

BP20160331-r-v1-historic-cocoa-village

2016/03/31 (R) Historic Cocoa Village

I got up briefly at 6:30 AM to close the roof vents as a stray rain shower drifted over Jetty Park (JP).  I got up again around 7 to put some fresh food in the cats’ bowls so they would stop trying to get us up and then went back to bed.  Linda was up around 7:30 AM to take her last steroid pill and I finally got up to stay at 8:30.  I walked over to the office around 9:15 but it was closed until noon for store inventory.  I knew that from yesterday but had forgotten.  I walked back to our coach and brewed a pot of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe half-caffe coffee, which was much better than the office coffee anyway.

It was sunny but humid this morning and by 10 AM it was up into the 80’s in the coach so we closed up and turned on the air-conditioners.  Linda has been doing accounting work for the bakery but was waiting on a document from the controller so she walked over to use the shower facilities.  I worked on filling in yesterday’s blog post until she returned and then I walked over to get my shower.  Back at the coach I exchanged text messages and phone calls with Vickie regarding plans for today while Linda exchanged text messages with Mara regarding a possible meetup next week.

A small part of downtown Historic Cocoa Village, Florida.

Pat and Vickie picked us up at noon and drove to Historic Cocoa Village on the mainland.  It was all boutique shopping and restaurants but still quaint and interesting enough.  Linda located The Garden of Eden Cafe and Bakery on Happy Cow but it was no longer in business and we ended up driving back to a Steak ‘n Shake on Merritt Island for lunch.  It was right on the 520 Causeway so it was very convenient.  Linda, Vickie, and I had garden salads and Pat had a hamburger.  I also ordered onion rings.  The salads were good but the onion rings were some of the worst I’ve ever had.  They were very greasy which was probably due to the fry oil not being hot enough.

We stopped at the Ron Jon Surf Shop (RJSS) in Cocoa Beach on the way back.  In the six years that Pat and Vickie have been coming to JP they had never visited the RJSS.  Linda wandered away from the group so I followed her, after which we could not find Pat and Vickie.  It turned out that they also got separated.  The store is big, with two floors, but not THAT big.  It is, however, crammed full of merchandise and the layout made it hard to see most of the store from any given vantage point.  It was also packed with people, which further obscured my view, but through text messages and phone calls we eventually all ended up in the same place and finally drove back to JPCG.

A little piece of Florida charm in Historic Cocoa Village, Florida.

It turned out to be a very warm, humid, partly cloudy day and we were glad we had closed up our coaches and turned on the air-conditioners before we left.  Jasper and Juniper were glad too, and also glad to see us.  I walked over to the office to see if any full hookup sites had opened up, but they had not.  There wasn’t anyone else in the lounge area so I switched the TV to The Weather Channel to get a sense of the national and local weather situation.  A line of strong to severe storms was draped from Michigan’s thumb all the way to the Gulf of Mexico at the Texas/Louisiana border.  It was moving east across the continent with numerous severe thunderstorm watches and warnings, and a few tornado watches and warnings, ahead of it.  The northern tip looked like it would pass through our hometown but be below severe intensity.

Back at the coach Linda had resumed working on accounting for the bakery.  I checked e-mail, replied to one from Gary at BCM, and then logged into RVillage to deal with another one.  Scott and Tami had requested to join the CCO group, which is private, so I had to approve their request.   I also updated our checkout date at JP to Wednesday, April 6.  I updated the Excel spreadsheet that I use to track water/tank/softener usage and was just finishing up when I spotted the Carnival Victory cruise ship coming down the shipping channel from its dock at Port Canaveral.  I grabbed the camera and hurried over while Linda locked the bus and followed me.

It was hazy due to the heat and humidity but I clicked off a few photos anyway.  We knew that one of the Disney cruise ships would also be setting sail shortly so we stuck around the channel and walked down towards the pier looking for a better/different vantage point.  These ships always leave between 5 and 5:30 PM heading east down the channel so it is not an ideal time of day to photograph them as we are looking northwest if we want to see the bow.  Once they pass us we are looking northeast with the sun over our left shoulder so the lighting is much better.  I might do better driving up to the Exploration Tower area of the Port and trying to photograph the Disney ships as the leave the dock.  There’s a lot more ‘stuff’ up there (boats buildings, cranes, etc.) to provide foreground and framing, but it might also just obscure the view.  I won’t know which it is unless I investigate it, which I probably will not do on this visit.

At 5:30 PM I spotted the Disney Magic coming out of its terminal basin into the main channel.  It took a while to get into position for the photographs I wanted to take.  After it cleared the shoreline and another set of buoys it turned southeast.  Linda checked the schedule latter and found out it was headed for the Bahamas on a three night cruise.  She also learned that the Magic and the Dream are the only Disney Cruise Line ships that sail from Port Canaveral, which explained why we saw them as often as we did.

A Little Blue Heron by the jetty and shipping channel. Jetty Park, Cape Canaveral, FL.

We headed back up the channel towards the west and stopped when I spotted the dorsal fin of a dolphin breaking the surface of the water by the entrance to the submarine turning basin.  We saw it three or four times as it headed back towards the ocean but then it disappeared.  While we were standing there chatting with a local resident a Little Blue Heron flew over and landed about five feet away from me.  It was looking for a handout, which we did not have, but I was able to walk around it and photograph it from different directions for a few minutes before it flew off in search of better prospects.

Back at our coach I worked on this post while Linda started preparing dinner.  She decided to make angel hair pasta with garlic, mushrooms, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes.  It’s a favorite “go to” meal that is relatively quick and easy to prepare but absolutely delicious.  Because of our late lunch, eaten between 2 and 3 PM, we did not have dinner until 7:30 PM.

After dinner we turned on the TV and put on our usual Thursday evening comedy programs.  I needed to proofread and edit a short article that someone else wrote for BCM but did not feel like doing it this evening.  I also needed to off-load today’s photos from my camera to my computer and Vickie wanted a picture of the manatees from the Merritt Island NWR, but I deferred all of that to tomorrow.  I did, however, fill in today’s activities in my blog post.  That is something I can comfortably do on my iPad while watching TV.

Around 9 PM it was still 76 degrees F outside but we turned off the air-conditioners and opened up the coach anyway.  The temperature was forecast to only drop to about 70 but we figured we would be comfortable enough, preferring fresh air and roof vent fan noise to recirculated air and the roar of the air-conditioner evaporator fans.

Around 10 PM Linda started the update of her iPad to iOS 9.3.  That took over an hour and when it finally rebooted her tablet she went to bed.  I watched channel 6.1 (CBS) long enough to see the weather forecast and then switched to 24.1 (PBS) to watch Charlie Rose.  At midnight I tuned in The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for a few minutes and then went to bed and fell asleep.

 

BP20160329-30-t-w-v1-merritt-island-grills-lionfish

2016/03/29 (T) Merritt Island NWR

Our day had four distinct parts.  Part one was our usual early morning routine which involved coffee, orange juice, homemade granola with fresh blueberries, and iPads.  Part 2 involved a trip to the office by me around 10:30 AM to pay the balance (2 nights) of our next three nights at Jetty Park.  The reason for this was that we had to move our bus from site #352 to site #358 at noon.

The current occupants of site #358 were packing up as I left for the office and pulled out by a little after 11 AM.  We shook out the patio and entry mats and laid them back on the ground.  We then removed all of the window/windshield covers and laid them on the patio mat.  Once they were stacked Linda rolled them up and put them away in the front bay.  While she did that I disconnected the fresh water connections from the supply faucet and coach inlet.  I then dumped the back water and gray water waste tanks.

Site #358 is a full hookup site but the waste drain is on the “wrong” (passenger) side of the coach at the back edge of the concrete pad.  In that location it would be almost impossible to use, but that would not be a problem as long as I dumped the tanks before we moved.  We can go 9 to 10 days before we have to dump but after today’s move we will be moving again in three days and again three days after that.  The next move is to a water only site (#3) by the shipping channel but we can stop at the dump station on the way if needed.  The last move we will be to site #303 with a sewer connection in the correct location.  What this comes down to is that waste management is not going to be a problem as long as the waste tanks are empty before we leave site #352 today.

Site #358 is directly behind site #352 so rather than load everything into the bays, I carried the water softener, fresh water filter, and hoses to the new site and then transferred the waste drain hose and support accordion while Linda carried the patio and entry mats and the entry step stool to the new site.  Linda also tidied up the interior enough that I could move the coach without anything getting broken.

At this point we were basically ready to move.  I shut off the air-conditioners and electric heating element for the Aqua-Hot, shut the main AC circuit breaker in the utility bay, and disconnected the shorepower cord.  I coiled the cord and carried it to the new site.  I then turned on the air valve for the engine accessories, connected the chassis batteries, and started the engine.

It took a couple of minutes for the chassis to air up during which time I lifted and dropped the tag axle a couple of times because I wasn’t sure it was responding to the control lever.  The people next door to us on the left were away so their pickup truck wasn’t there to impede our departure.  Linda moved a bicycle on their site just enough to make sure it was also out of my way.   The site was much easier to get out of than it was to get into, in part because there was a pickup truck parked next door when I backed in.

I slowly drove clockwise around Red Knot Circle to enter the northern branch of the loop going the correct direction (east) to be able to back into site #358.  There were no obstructions to impede backing into the site and I was able to maneuver the coach using the side mirrors and rear view camera while Linda spotted the rear end.  With no obstacles at the rear of the concrete pad we were able to center the tires side-to-side with a few inches to spare and front-to-rear with about a foot to spare fore and aft.  I dropped the tag axle and checked the level of the kitchen counter.  It looked good so I let the system air up until the air-dryer purged and then shut the engine off.

The back end of the coach was only about 40 feet from where it was 15 minutes earlier but we had to go through the whole departure/arrival process.  I disconnected the chassis batteries, closed the engine accessories air valve, connected the shorepower cord, and put AC power to the coach.  I then stored the sewer hose as we would not be needing it right away, and put the water softener in the front bay temporarily.  While I did that, Linda spread out the patio and entrance mats and set up the entrance step stool.  Pat and I were sitting at the picnic table enjoying the shade and the breeze when Vickie called to see if we were ready to go on our afternoon outing.  Pat walked back to their site to get the car (and Vickie) and so began Part 3 of our day.

Linda packed a light picnic lunch and I grabbed my small camera bag.  Pat and Vickie arrived at our site a few minutes later, picked us up, and we headed out.  Our destination was the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge just north of the John F. Kennedy Space Center.  The route was FL-A1A/FL-528 west to US-1 north to Titusville and then east on 403 to the NWR Visitor Center.

Linda needed to eat before she could take her next steroid pill so our first order of business was lunch on one of the picnic tables.  Once we had eaten we checked out the displays inside and then walked the boardwalk.  Vickie had her Senior Access pass and got a holder to hang it from the rearview mirror before we headed deeper into the refuge.

There is a channel that connects the Mosquito Lagoon to the Indian River Lagoon.  The channel is part of the Intercostal Waterway and is crossed by a drawbridge on Route 3.  The north bank of the channel east of the bridge is a regular hangout for West Indian Manatees and the refuge has a parking lot and viewing platform to safely accommodate visitors.  Pat and Vickie had been here before and not always seen manatees but today was our lucky day.

West Indian Manatees in the channel that connects Indian River Lagoon and Mosquito Lagoon. Merritt Island NWR, Florida.  The channel is part of the Intercoastal Waterway.

As best we could estimate there were at least a dozen manatees feeding and frolicking along the bank, including at least two juveniles.  We spent 30 minutes there, maybe longer, during which time I took about 50 photos.  The weather was heavily overcast and the water was a little murky, neither of which was ideal for photography.  The added challenge was that manatees usually only bring a small amount of their body out of the water at any one time, typically just their nostrils or tail and only for a short time.  The juveniles, however, seemed to be trying to climb onto the backs of what we presumed were their mothers and occasionally were sufficiently above the surface to have a good look at them.  Even so, getting a good photo was going be a matter of timing (anticipation) and luck, especially given the limitations on where I could position myself.

We saw a Wild Boar as we pulled out.  We still had plenty of hours of daylight and decided to drive the Wildlife Loop Road.  We saw lots of birds, a couple of alligators, and a Flamingo on the wing.  We then headed back to Titusville where we stopped at a CVS Pharmacy so Linda could restock her OTC medications.  Before we got out of Titusville the weather moved in with thunder and lightning.  We saw a pair of Flamingos on the wing on the way back to Jetty Park.

We got back to Jetty Park about 5 PM where Part 4 of our day was a quiet evening at home.  In spite of somewhat elevated humidity, and the possibility of rain in the forecast, we turned off the air-conditioners and opened the windows and roof vents/fans.  Linda was tired and did not want to go for a walk but felt well enough to make nice salads and heat some Amy’s Pad Thai for dinner.  We watched NCIS and NCISLA, both of which were reruns, and the James Corden “Car Pool Karaoke” special that was on instead of Limitless.  We are rarely up late enough to watch The Late Late Show but I had to admit that Corden is a very funny guy; hyperactive crazy, but very funny.  Since Linda could not hear the singing or banter, she did not really experience what was going on.

Once again Linda tried sleeping in bed but lying down was still causing increased pressure in her ears so she moved to the makeshift bed using the two facing captain’s chairs in the living room.  I watched the news/weather on the Orlando CBS affiliate and then watched part of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert before going to sleep at midnight.

2016/03/30 (T) GRILLS Lionfish

We had some light rain last evening that forced me to close the roof vents.  It appeared to be done by bedtime so I opened the vent in the bathroom and set the fan to exhaust on speed 2.  By the time we both got up this morning I did not feel like making coffee so we got dressed and walked to the office with our coffee mugs.  We watched the Bloomberg financial channel and The Weather Channel on cable/satellite TV in the lounge area and then checked to see if any full hookup sites had opened up for the weekend.  They had not, so we walked back to our rig.

I finished up yesterday’s blog post and then checked with Vickie about activities for today.  The John F. Kennedy Space Center is now an expensive “entertainment experience” run by a private company.  After checking our options we decided to pass.  The normal senior adult price for a 1-day pass is $46, $75 for a multi-day pass.  Two optional extended tours were $25 per adult per tour, so this would be a $100 to $125 per person, and probably require at least two days to do, if we wanted the full experience.  CocoaBeach4Less.com has a special for the general admission of two adults for $19.99 total.  The catch?  Sitting through a 1-hour presentation on the travel agency’s extensive services.  No obligation to buy, of course, but “no thanks” just the same.  We got to visit the Space Center as USAF ROTC cadets when it was in active use for the space shuttle program in the late 1970’s, so visiting it as an expensive entertainment experience did not hold much interest for us.

Vickie checked on the Exploration Tower and Cape Canaveral Lighthouse Tour.  It was $27 per person and only operated on Fridays and Saturdays.  (The Tower is open 7 days a week.)  We could not go on Friday because we have to move the bus again (our third Jetty Park Shuffle since we arrived on March 21st).  The tour was tentative for Saturday based on insufficient bookings.  Vickie explained that there would be four of us and was asked to call back at noon.  She did, and the tour was a ‘go’ so they signed up and then I called and signed us up.  They needed our full names, driver’s license numbers, and dates of birth as the historic Cape Canaveral Lighthouse is in the USAF Cape Canaveral Air Force Station which is restricted access property that is not open to the public.

I have had a really nice Logitech UltraThin Bluetooth Touch Mouse for a while and it has worked well.  It started acting up yesterday, which is to say it quit responding even though Windows 10 indicated it was connected.  I restarted my computer and recharged the mouse even though I did not think it needed it and it worked again until today, when it quit responding again.  I was not in the humor to waste time with it, and Linda needed some additional medications, so I drove to Cocoa Beach.  My first stop was the CVS Pharmacy and my second stop was at Radio Shack, both very conveniently on the right hand (west) side of N. Atlantic Avenue when heading south.  When I returned I moved my computer to the portable dining table so Linda could use the desk.  She worked on accounting for the bakery while I started editing blog posts from early January 2016.

We checked with Vickie around 1 PM but they were having lunch so we went for a long walk to the beach and pier without her.  Back at our coach Linda made nice salads for lunch, which we ate around 2 PM.  I then took a nap while she researched restaurant possibilities for dinner tonight.  She suggested GRILLS on the shipping channel and Vickie agreed to a 6 PM dinnertime.

When I got up Linda handed me a Livingston County Court Jury Summons for April 4 through 15.  Our daughter was checking our mail, saw it, scanned it, and e-mailed it to us.  That was obviously not going to work, so I called the phone number in the letter and got rescheduled to the last two weeks of June.  It was just dumb luck that the timing worked out as our children only check our mail every other week.

GRILLS is located towards the west end of the shipping channel on the south side near the Exploration Tower, deep sea fishing charters marina, and a number of other restaurants, bars, and shopping.  There were a lot of cars and people in the area and when we checked in with the hostess we were told it would be 45 minutes to an hour wait for a table.  Ugh.  Waiting for a table at a restaurant is not on my “favorite things to do” list.

We walked around a bit and browsed the shop across the street where we looked at Lion Fish in an aquarium and learned about them.  They are a highly invasive species with no natural predators in this part of the world.  Their spines are extremely venomous but their meat is not.  It is apparently incredibly tender and delicious and GRILLS features it on their menu.  It only took 30 minutes to get a table and the time passed quickly enough as we had something to occupy us.  The restaurant was crowded and noisy with spring break vacationers but Linda did OK.  She and I had black bean ‘burgers’ with salsa, Pat had a ‘real’ hamburger, and Vickie had fish tacos.  We walked down to the Weyland Gallery after dinner but it was closed.  We were all very full and returned to Jetty Park.  It was 8 PM when we got back to our rig.  For whatever reason we were picking up a lot more OTA TV stations tonight which gave us two PBS affiliate options.

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, we vacated site #352 just before noon and moved to site #358.  A smaller class C motorhome occupied site #352 last night but left this morning.  As of 5 PM site #352 was still unoccupied, so the park staff could have left us there and put the class C on site #358 last night.  As nice as Jetty Park is, and it is a nice place with generally friendly and helpful staff, it is owned and operated by the Canaveral Port Authority.  The CPA is a public/government entity and one gets the sense that the policies and procedures here have been developed more for the convenience of the operators than the comfort and convenience of the paying guests.  To be fair, we were probably still going to have to move before Friday, but if the park had a 1-night reservation for Tuesday, nothing for Wednesday, and a 1-night reservation for Thursday they could have left us on #352 until Friday when we move to site #3.

I had an iOS update available for my iPad2 and waited until 10 PM to initiate it using the Jetty Park Wi-Fi.  It took 30 – 45 minutes to download and install.  Once my tablet restarted I immediately had 10 app updates. The smallest was 27 MB and all the others were over 50 MB with the largest being 103 MB.  I did the updates one-at-a-time while I watched the news and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  Linda went to bed at 11 PM and I finally climbed in at 1 AM after starting the last update.  Being on the road with a limited cellular data plan is not like being at home with a DSL connection so we do what we have to do to manage our data usage.

 

2016/03/03 (R) Edison Ford Estates

Our plan for today was to visit two places in southwest Florida that we had not gotten to yet; the Edison Ford Estates in Fort Myers, and Sanibel/Captiva Islands.  As usual when we plan to leave early and be away from the coach for the day we did not make coffee or eat breakfast.  Linda walked down to Mara’s motorhome to tend to her cats while I took care of ours.  I then loaded the camera gear and a few other things in the car and drove down to Mara’s rig to pick up Linda.  We stopped at the local Bank of America ATM and then at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a bagel for Linda.  (I had my vegan apricot bearclaw pastries from Publix.)  Suitably provisioned we headed down FL-31 to Fort Myers.

Linda stands by one of the many magnificent trees at the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates.  Fort Myers, FL.

Linda stands by one of the many magnificent trees at the Thomas Edison and Henry Ford Estates. Fort Myers, FL.

The southern terminus of FL-31 is at FL-80.  From there it was about five miles (west) to the city limit of Ft. Myers.  We continued on FL-80 through downtown, which is an attractive and very upscale part of the city, to where it ends and turns into McGregor Boulevard.  Shortly after turning onto McGregor we pulled into the parking lot for the Edison Ford Estates complex at 9:30 AM.

The Edison & Ford Estates abound in botanical delights.  Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison & Ford Estates abound in botanical delights. Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison Ford Estates is a historical complex that preserves the winter estates of Thomas Alva Edison and Henry Ford on the east bank of the Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida.  The Edison estate was named Seminole and the adjacent Ford Estate was named The Mangoes.  There are two identical houses on the Edison Estate and a more modest house on the Ford Estate.  Other buildings and structures include caretaker quarters, garages, a small office for Edison, a swimming pool, a cistern and water system, gardens, and lots of exotic trees.  When it was originally developed the Edison Estate included a pier that extended 1,500 feet out into the Caloosahatchee River.  It had trains and transport cars and was initially used to bring in all of the materials to build and landscape the Estate as these had to get to the site by ship.

Both men were workaholics and although they only used these estates for a few weeks in the winter they worked as well as socialized while here.  Indeed, Edison had a lab on the property where extensive work was done on trying to find a plant source of latex, the key material needed to make rubber, which could be quickly and easily grown in the U.S.  Edison and Ford, along with Harvey Firestone, formed a biological research company to finance this research, and presumably profit from any positive outcome.  Some 17,000 plants were tested and the one that emerged as most viable was Goldenrod.  Ford and Edison had almost 1,300 patents between them, and Edison is still the only person to have been awarded at least one U.S. patent every year for 65 contiguous years.  His greatest invention, however, could not be patented; the modern research and development laboratory.

Bruce poses by one of the large trees at the Edison Ford Estates.  Linda used this image for one of the weekly postcards she made and had sent to grand-daughter Madeline.  Fort Myers, FL.

Bruce poses by one of the large trees at the Edison Ford Estates. Linda used this image for one of the weekly postcards she made and had sent to grand-daughter Madeline. Fort Myers, FL.

We wrapped up our visit to the Edison and Ford winter estates at 2 PM and headed on down McGregor Boulevard, the boulevard of Royal Palms, towards Sanibel Island.  Our initial destination on the island was an organic vegan cafe named Sanibel Sprouts.  We did not have any trouble getting onto the island or getting to the restaurant but the traffic backed up to exit the island reminded us of our recent experience in the Florida Keys and was more than a bit concerning.

For lunch we split the Mexican salad.  The salad used a base of arugula, a dark leafy green with its own unique, slightly peppery taste that was very well suited to the dish.  A vegan “taco meat” mixed with ground walnuts added depth and texture, and a dressing with cumin tied it all together.  We then split an order of waffles which consisted of two waffles topped with strawberries and bananas and served with real maple syrup.  Both dishes were excellent and I asked the cook how the waffles were made.  She indicated that they used the King Arthur brand gluten-free general purpose baking flour (rice flour based), Earth Balance soy-based vegan butter substitute (5 scoops), almond milk, and vanilla flavored Stevia sweetener.  They were fluffy, light, crispy on the outside, and very tasty.  Yum.

The two Edison winter homes are mirror images of each other and joined by a covered walkway.  Edison Ford Estates, Fort Myers, FL.

The two Edison winter homes are mirror images of each other and joined by a covered walkway. Edison Ford Estates, Fort Myers, FL.

After lunch we continued deeper into Sanibel Island.  We saw a sign for the J. N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center and pulled in.  There was a one-way road through a section of the Refuge but it was a “U. S. Fee Area” ($6 per car).  We checked to see if Linda’s Golden Access Pass was valid for entry.  It was, so we went in.  Although the skies had become overcast the drive through the Refuge was an unplanned event and an unanticipated treat.  We got see a variety of birds but the highlight included two different opportunities to see White Pelicans, one of which also included Roseate Spoonbills and other birds.  White Pelicans are the second largest bird in the continental U. S. (Behind the California Condor) with a wingspan of nine (9) feet.  We also saw a couple of alligators which surprised us as the water here is connected to the Gulf of Mexico.  Indeed, the tide was coming in while we were there.

The Edison-Ford-Firestone partnership maintained an active, working laboratory on the Fort Myers estate that had year-round staff.  Edison and Ford only spent a few weeks each year at their winter homes, but worked whenever they were here.  Fort Myers, FL.

The Edison-Ford-Firestone partnership maintained an active, working laboratory on the Fort Myers estate that had year-round staff. Edison and Ford only spent a few weeks each year at their winter homes, but worked whenever they were here. Fort Myers, FL.

From the end of the drive through the NWR we continued on to the north end of Sanibel Island and drove over the short bridge to Captiva Island.  We drove to the end of the road, turned around, and drove back.  There is a lot of “island commerce” on Sanibel Island.  Captiva Island, by comparison, is mostly residential, vacation rental, and resort properties.  Many of the homes were massive, elaborately landscaped costal properties.  I estimated that houses of 3,000 to 4,000 square feet were common, 5,000 to 6,000 square feet were numerous, and some of them had to be 10,000 to 15,000 square feet.  We tend to think of the really expensive real estate in Florida being in places like Naples, Marco Island, Miami Beach, and West Palm Beach, but it’s hard to imagine that any of them are more expensive than the island mansions we saw on Captiva Island.

Rare White Pelicans at the J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary on Sanibel Island in Florida.  The White Pelicans are the second largest birds in North America, and the largest members of the pelican family.  This photograph does not do justice to their size, which includes a nine foot wingspan.  The pink birds (lower right) are Roseate Spoonbills.

Rare White Pelicans at the J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary on Sanibel Island in Florida. The White Pelicans are the second largest birds in North America, and the largest members of the pelican family. This photograph does not do justice to their size, which includes a nine foot wingspan. The pink birds (lower right) are Roseate Spoonbills.

The drive back down Captiva and Sanibel was smooth and flowed right along as far as the restaurant.  At that point we encountered the traffic backup we had seen coming in.  Traffic was not moving at all and people were pulling out of line and turning around.  Our map showed that there was an alternate way to get back to the causeway.  We suspected that the turn-arounds were locals who were headed that way so we decided to do that as well.  The traffic could not be worse and we would get to see a different part of the island.

That proved to be the case and we were only in a stop-and-go back up for about 10 minutes instead of the one-to-two hours I figured it would take if we stayed on Periwinkle Way.  We were off the island by 6:45 PM and headed back to the mainland on FL-867.  Fairly quickly we were on FL-865 headed more easterly but on a faster road.  We eventually got to US-41 (the Tamiami Trail) and headed north.  Not too far along I spotted a Panera and we stopped to get coffee.  We continued north as far as Colonial where we headed east to I-75.  From there it was five miles north to FL-80, three miles east to FL-31, and 36 miles north to our RV resort in Arcadia.

An alligator just shows its head (left center).  J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL

An alligator just shows its head (left center). J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL

We got back to our coach at 8:10 PM.  Linda grabbed a flashlight and the keys for Mara’s rig and walked down to take care of her cats.  I unloaded the car and then took care of our cats.  I planned to check my e-mail and then settle in to watch our usual Thursday evening TV programs, but my computer and the scheduled programs altered my plan.

This Ibis was a little farther behind this alligator than the photos makes it appear, but not that much.  Being behind an alligator is not necessarily any safer than being in front of one.  J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL.

This Ibis was a little farther behind this alligator than the photos makes it appear, but not that much. Being behind an alligator is not necessarily any safer than being in front of one. J. N. “Ding Darling” National Wildlife Refuge & Bird Sanctuary, Sanibel Island, FL.

Our e-mail servers were not responding so I shut down my computer and all of our network/comm equipment and restarted everything in a specific order.  Disaster!  My computer would not log in and claimed to have missing authentication components.  This is the second time my ASUS laptop has crapped out since I upgraded it to Windows 10, and I was pretty unhappy about it.  At this point I do not have any confidence its stability, especially its update process, and think it was clearly not ready for release.  Unfortunately not upgrading really wasn’t an option.

I watched Charlie Rose on PBS followed by Tavis Smiley and a program on Black artists.  That was followed by This Old House and Ask TOH.  I think I restarted my computer several times before it finally “healed” itself and allowed me to log in.  With all of those TV programs as background I finished most of this post, off-loaded photos, and backed them up to the NAS.  I tried my e-mail again and was finally able to access it.  It was 2 AM when I finally went to bed, which had not been my plan when I got up this morning.

 

2016/02/25-29 (R – M) Sand Castle Stallions Port

2016/02/25 (R) Siesta Key

We were up at 6:30 AM this morning and did not have coffee or breakfast.  We picked up Mara and Michael at 7 AM and headed west on FL-70 towards Bradenton.  Our destination was an endodontic office in Lakewood Ranch were Mara had an 8 AM appointment for a root canal procedure.  As we were coming into town Michael spotted a Dunkin Donuts.  Location duly noted.  I pulled up to the office building at 7:55 and we all went in.

The endodontist said the procedure would take about an hour.  Michael stayed to wait for Mara while Linda and I drove back to the DD for coffee and something to eat.  The DD was in a small shopping plaza next to a Shell station so I topped off the car’s fuel tank before we topped off ours’.  I bought regular gasoline (10% Ethanol) for $1.56 per gallon.  We were getting ready to leave DD when Mara texted Linda that she would be longer than originally thought.  The tooth needed a filling and the dental practice next door just had a cancellation and could take her right away.  That was fortunate for Mara as she and Michael are leaving on Saturday for a week long cruise.  She also wasn’t sure she could get in to see her dentist before July, which was much too long of a time to rely on the temporary filling the endodontist had put in place.

With Mara’s dental needs taken care of we headed west on FL-70 to I-75 south to Exit 207 and then west to US-41.  A short jog to the right (north) and back to the left and we were on Siesta Key Drive headed west to the island of Siesta Key.  We drove through the town, which was very quaint (upscale trendy, actually) and found a place to park with public access to the beach.  The Siesta Key beach is very fine white sands, reputed to be the finest and whitest of any beach in Florida.  We walked quite a ways south from our entry point past the main public entrance and numerous lifeguard stands, all of which were staffed.  The wind was strong and the waves were high and I took a few photos.

A group of Royal Terns face into the wind on Siesta Key Beach.  Siesta Key, FL.

A group of Royal Terns face into the wind on Siesta Key Beach. Siesta Key, FL.

When we got back to the car we exited the island via the southern bridge and drove down US-41 to Venice.  We found a parking spot, which is not easy in Venice, and walked around the historic downtown area, which is now a mix of quaint and upscale shopping and lots of places to eat.  It is a very attractive area but there were a lot of people there.

We were just window shopping when we walked past the TableTop store.  As the name suggests, they sell a wide variety of products used to set a dining table.  We looked around to see if they had plastic wine glasses but did not see any.  We were just about to leave when we spotted one.  It was smaller than we wanted so we asked if they had others.  They did, we just did not see them!  They were not plastic, however, but were made of polycarbonate.  That’s the same material used for contact lens blanks and motorcycle visors.  It felt heavy duty and had a slight bluish cast.  The sales associate assured us that they could be cleaned in a dishwasher and would not discolor, craze, or crack, and will not break even if dropped on concrete (although we do not intend to test that claim).  We bought four of them at $15 each.

Mara and Linda play in the fountain in Venice, FL.

Mara and Linda play in the fountain in Venice, FL.

When we had seen enough of Venice we returned to the car and drove a short distance to Cafe Evergreen in Nokomis for linner.  I had the veggie (vegan) burger and Linda had the vegan beet Rueben.  Mara had the stir-fry noodle dish, which both of us have had before, and Michael had the Chana Masala.  Our waiter, by his own admission, was having an off day but the food was good and we took our time enjoying it.

When we were done with our meal we were also done exploring for the day and I drove us back to Arcadia.  On the drive back we discussed plans for tomorrow, which included Solomon’s Castle in the late morning, Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions in the mid-afternoon, some before and after errands, and a picnic lunch.  Back at the RV Resort we dropped Michael and Mara at her RV and then returned to ours.  We watched our Thursday night CBS TV programs and had some popcorn later in the evening.  We headed to bed at 11 PM, watched a few minutes of Charlie Rose, and then went to sleep.

2016/02/26 (F) Castle Stallions

Our two main attractions today were Solomon’s Castle, near Ono, Florida and Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions near Myakka City, Florida.  Both locations were within 25 miles of Arcadia and each other, so we did not have to endure an excessive amount of car travel.

We picked up Mara and Michael at 10:15 AM, stopped at the local Wells Fargo bank branch, and then headed west out of town.  At the edge of town we headed north on FL-661 towards Ono.  We turned onto CR-665 and five miles later turned off onto Salomon Road to the parking lot of Solomon’s Castle.  We had the address in the GPS, but there were occasional old hand-painted signs confirming the route.  We arrived just before 11 AM, when the “castle” opens for tours, but the parking lot was already crowded.  We bought our tickets for the 11:30 tour and then strolled around the part of the grounds between the parking lot and the castle while we waited.  Horse Creek runs through the property, much of which was wet.

Michael and Mara by the horse statute near the entrance to Solomon’s Castle.  Ono, FL.

Michael and Mara by the horse statute near the entrance to Solomon’s Castle. Ono, FL.

Solomon’s Castle was built by, and is still the home of, Henry Solomon and his wife.  Henry, who is about to turn 81, is an artist who has been creating art objects for 76 years.  Much of the main floor of the castle is an art museum, although the walking tour includes the living room and kitchen.  Other living spaces are on the second floor and were not part of the tour.  There is also a guest bedroom available to rent for $125 per night but I do not recall if an overnight stay included breakfast.  There is, however, a scale “replica” of the Santa Maria that houses part of the onsite cafe and is run by Solomon’s daughter and her husband, who live in a separate house on the property.

Solomon’s Castle and his art are quirky.  Although we did not get to meet him, we came away with an image of his sense of humor, and caught a glimpse of him in his workshop while we were walking the grounds after the tour.  Solomon works in a variety of materials but mostly metal and wood, and mostly with discarded scrap materials including food cans, beer cans, and parts/pieces of automobiles.  I took quite a few photos while we were there.  I don’t know what our son’s professional opinion of Solomon’s corpus would be, but some of his pieces were interesting and we had to respect the sheer quantity of work he has produced.  He seemed to have a particular interest in Picasso, copying several of the master’s works in wood montage.

Mara, Michael, and Linda on the grounds of Solomon’s Castle.  Ono, FL.

Mara, Michael, and Linda on the grounds of Solomon’s Castle. Ono, FL.

From the castle we continued north on CR-665 up to FL-64, the Florida Cracker Trail, and then west about five miles to Wauchula Road where we headed south to Myakka City.  At FL-70 in Myakka City we headed east about 1/2 mile and pulled in to a local park on the north side of the road that affronted the west bank of the Myakka River.  The picnic tables were all bolted to the concrete slabs that served as the floors of the open-sided shelters so we ate our lunch in the shade.  The air temperature was in the mid-60’s, and there was a breeze, so we ate with our jackets on.

After lunch we headed west on FL-70 to the other side of Myakka City were we turned south on Singletary Road.  About seven miles down we found the entrance to the Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and Spanish American Riding School complex.  Hermann’s is the home of a group of Lipizzaner horses that tour North America.  The original horses were part of the 500 Austrian Royal Lipizzaner horses rescued by General George Patton at the end of World War II.  Gabby Hermann is the matriarch of the current operation and the original horses were brought to the USA by her father.  The Lipizzaner horse was first bred in Austria in 1565 from Arabian and Andalusian stock.  Six lines were produced and new Arabian and Andalusian stock have been included in the breeding since that time to avoid the negative effects of inbreeding.

Gabby Herman exercises one of the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions in training.  Myakka City, FL.

Gabby Herman exercises one of the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions in training. Myakka City, FL.

Hermann’s has open rehearsals (performances) every Thursday and Friday at 3 PM and Saturday at 10 AM when they are not touring, weather permitting.  These are not “dress rehearsals” as the houses and riders are not fully costumed the way they would be for a show while on tour.  They do, however, put the horses through all of their maneuvers.  The rehearsals take place in an open air arena connected to the nearby stables with a pair of gated fences.  There are bleachers on the two long sides of the arena and visitors also bring lawn chairs and set them up on three sides of the arena.  We arrived around 2:15 PM and there were already people there.  Admission was a $5 “donation” per person, but it was not optional.  It was well worth the price, however, and we made an extra contribution at the end of the show.

We secured good seats in the last row of the one of the bleachers at the top of the stairs with our backs to the sun.  That allowed us an unobstructed view for photography with light from a good direction.  It was a good thing we got there early.  Six fully-loaded tour buses showed up after we got there along with lots of passenger cars.  The bleachers were packed and the lawn chairs were at least two deep around the fence.  After the show we walked over to see the 17 day old colt and walk through the stables.  I took photos and also snapped a few shots of the tour buses after chatting with the driver of a 2016 Prevost H3-45 with a beautiful deep purple paint scheme.  I would sure like to have one of those to convert.

Five stallions work in formation at Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and Spanish American Riding School.  Myakka City, FL.

Five stallions work in formation at Hermann’s Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and Spanish American Riding School. Myakka City, FL.

When we were done at Hermann’s we drove back to Arcadia and stopped at Walgreens before returning to Big Tree Carefree RV Resort.  We spent a little time at Mara’s motorhome so she could walk Linda through the various cat and RV chores that needed to be taken care off during the next week.  With that done we stopped at the mail room.  We had a slip in our mail slot that there was a package for us in the office but it was after 5 PM and the office was closed.  We figured it was the shipment of Nutpods vegan coffee creamer but we would not be able to pick it up until Monday as we would not be around during office hours on Saturday and the office is closed on Sundays.

For dinner Linda made lentil potato burritos using various leftover ingredients that we wanted/needed to use up.  I opened the bottle of Barefoot Moscato wine, using the cork puller that Mara gave us the other night, and we had some for dessert.  We were both tired so we watched some TV, including the first of three episodes of a new Masterpiece Mystery series named Silk about barristers in England.  We did not watch the second episode as we had to be up early in the morning and it was going to end too late.

2016/02/27 (S) Port Miami

We were up at 6:30 AM and left at 7 AM for Dunkin Donuts where we got something to eat and a couple of large half-caffe coffees.  As planned, we were back at Mara’s motorhome at 7:30 AM.  By 7:45 we had Michael, Mara, and their luggage onboard and were on our way to the cruise ship terminals at the Port of Miami some three plus hours distant.

The GPS wanted us to go south on FL-31 but we had already decided we would take FL-70 east to US-27 and then take that south/southeast as far as I-75.  We stopped at a Marathon station in South Bay to use the restrooms and let Mara and Michael get some coffee.  We headed east on I-75 to its end point at MM 0 and then followed whatever roads the GPS told us to use to get to Port Miami.  When we were almost to the Port we deviated from the GPS and took the tunnel under the water to get to the cruise ship terminals rather than exit the highway and use the bridge.  There was some temporary confusion, and minor tension, surrounding this but soon enough we ended up at Terminal F where the MSC Divina was docked.

Traffic was heavy and chaotic, but we found a spot at the curb and got them unloaded.  A quick handshake and a hug and we were on our way.  I never cease to be appalled at the incredibly pour traffic engineering we encounter at major transportation terminals.  We did get a stunning view of the skyscrapers that dominate the downtown Miami skyline, but after a bit of driving around we managed to escape the island via the bridge and I was glad to be clear of the area.

Linda had researched vegan friendly eateries last night and selected one called The Kitchen.  It was near Miami International Airport, not too far from Port Miami, and basically in the direction we needed to travel to return to Arcadia.  She put the address in the GPS and we enjoyed a slow, late Saturday morning, drive through downtown Miami.  We arrived around 11:30 and there were only a couple of other diners there.  As is often the case, it was a slightly funky little place, but it had an entirely vegan menu with lots of interesting options.

The Kitchen is, in fact, the prep facility for a chain of local eateries, and plenty of other customers showed up while we were there.  We had the tacos, which included plantains, and the nachos.  The tacos were good, especially the plantains, but the nachos were outstanding.  Both were made with vegan chorizo sausage.  The nachos had a base of blue corn chips with beans, tomatoes, salsa, and cashew cream.  It was also a big serving.  For dessert we each had a coconut date ball and a gobi berry chocolate brownie.  Yum.  The Kitchen was a bit pricey but most of the ingredients were organic and the food was fresh and very tasty so we felt it was good value for the money.

We left at 12:30 PM and I turned the wrong way leaving the parking lot.  It turned out we were on US-27 headed north so we stayed with that choice.  The GPS wanted to put us on the Interstate/Tollroads but we knew that eventually it would put us back on US-27.  There was a lot of traffic and frequent traffic signals, but we eventually got clear of the developed urban area.  Not too far out we stopped at a roadside park with an airboat operation and switched drivers.  Linda told me later that I napped for about an hour but my experience of the situation was that I nodded off and woke up repeatedly because of neck discomfort.

We got back to our RV resort around 3:45 PM and stopped at the mail room on the way in where I retrieved a box of magazines from BCM.  The 3 PM Mardi Gras parade had just ended but some of the decorated golf carts and masked participants were still hanging around the activity building.  I made a mental note that the Mardi Gras dinner started at 7:30 PM and we returned to our rig.

We turned on our Verizon Mi-Fi and got our local network online.  I opened the box of magazines to see what was inside and e-mailed Gary to let him know what I received.  Linda needed to attend to Mara’s cats, Maui and Sabra, and we both had several updates pending on our iPads and smartphones.  We packed up the iPads and walked to the activity building where I set up our technology in the library while Linda went on to Mara’s Bounder to tend to her cats.

I got both iPads and both smartphones connected to the Internet via the resort Wi-Fi system, which can only be picked up at/near the activity building (which includes the office, lanai, library, dining room/kitchen, card room, and laundry room).  The best reception is outside in front of the building, as the antenna is on the peak of the roof ridge at the front gable, but the reception in the lanai and library is very usable.  There was one other person there using the Wi-Fi but she left shortly after I arrived.

The updates for our iPads took 500 MB and the smartphone updates took at least another 250 MB, so it was at least a 0.75 GB update session.  Our 12 GB monthly Verizon data plan works out to about 0.4 GB per day, on average, so we are trying to do our updates using the park Wi-Fi and save our data plan for web searches, document/photo uploads/downloads, and other work we want and/or need to do from our motorcoach.

While I was updating our devices Linda got a text message from Mara and I was able to watch the latest OK Go video and play a few games.  Kate sent me the link a week ago and I was waiting for a chance to use the resort Wi-Fi when there were few, if any, other users.  I also downloaded the latest issue of The Gypsy Journal digital edition.

When I was done I packed up and walked over to Mara’s rig.  Linda exchanged text messages with Mara.  She and Michael are on the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise for the first time.  They had finished the opening session with Jessica Porter and Neal Barnhard, M.D. and enjoyed it very much.  They had just sat down to dinner and we’re excited about that too.  We enjoyed their enthusiasm and recalled what it was like for us the first time we went on this cruise.  Linda packed up a few things to bring back to our coach.  Mara made Broccoli salad last night and there was a lot left over that she wanted us to eat.

It cooled off quickly after the sun set and the overnight low was forecast to be 42 degrees F.  We closed up the coach and then had some of Mara’s broccoli salad along with vegan Italian “sausage” for dinner.  We finished the Barefoot Moscato wine, had a few grapes for dessert, and settled in to watch some TV programs on the local PBS channels before going to bed.  We had spent 7 hours driving/riding in the car today and we were tired.

2016/02/28 (N) Cat Care

It was cool in the coach this morning and I stayed in bed, under the covers, with the electric heating pad on, until after 7:30 AM.  The cats were persistent, however, and I finally got up and took care of their needs.  I turned on the Aqua-Hot diesel burner and the zone control thermostats for the bathroom and the kitchen/living area and the electric toe-kick heater for the front of the bus.  Linda got up at 8 AM as I was making coffee.

We had granola for breakfast, after which Linda packed up her laptop computer and gathered up papers related to work she needed to do.  She took the car and drove to Mara’s motorhome to tend to the cats and then work there.  She did not need to be online and figured the cats would appreciate the company, or at least get more accepting her presence and attention if she spent some quiet, extended time there.  I stayed at our rig to catch up on draft blog posts and attend to our cats.

Last week I downloaded the free version of an app called “OfficeSuite (Free) Mobile + PDF” and have been using it to write the drafts of my recent blog posts.  It works at least as well as the native iPad Notes app, better in my opinion (so far), and creates a native docx format Word document.  It also works with various cloud services.  Hypothetically that should save me the steps of e-mailing it to myself, selecting/copying the text from the e-mail, pasting it into a blank Word doc, and then cleaning up all of the junk caused by the Note app, which is considerable (numerous calendar hyperlinks).  I say hypothetically because I have not yet set up or tested the cloud sync feature.  That was on my “to do” list for today.

Around 11:30 AM it was getting warm in the coach under mostly sunny skies.  I opened windows and roof vents and then put out all of the awnings. I continued working on my blog posts from the last four days and was finally ready to upload one of them via a cloud service.  We have a Dropbox account but we also have OneDrive accounts as part of the Windows 10 OS on our notebook computers.  I don’t normally use OneDrive but I thought this would be a good opportunity to try it.

I set up the credentials to allow the app to connect to the OneDrive account attached to my OS login.  I then tried to move or copy the Word docx file for Wednesday’s blog post from “current files” to the OneDrive under Network locations but the OfficeSuites app would not give me the OneDrive account as an option.  I checked the Help screens for information to assist me but could not find anything pertaining to this specific problem.  The app has Pro and Premium upgrades available ($ and $$) but the feature chart indicated that interfacing to all five of the different cloud services was included in the Free version.  Rather than waste time on this I called David Aungier to let him know there was an updated version of his featured bus article in a folder in my Dropbox and then kept working on draft blog posts.

At 1 PM I was getting ready to walk over to Mara’s rig to get the shower supplies from Linda when she returned in the car.  We have been able to avoid removing the cats’ litter box from our shower by using the showers at the building by the swimming pool.  That also keeps the shower water out of our grey water tank, allowing us to go more days between dumps.  I got my towel and the soap from Linda and walked over to the shower house.

When I got back from my shower I trimmed my beard and shaved.  It had probably been at least a month since my last beard trim and I was starting to look a bit scruffy.  All cleaned up and feeling refreshed I dealt with a couple of e-mails and then returned to the issue of getting the OfficeSuites app to sync with one of my cloud services.  It appeared that Dropbox might be the best choice so I established the connection to that account.  Voilà!  I was finally able to copy a local Word file to the folder I had previously set up in my Dropbox for blog post documents.

I proceeded to finish each post in turn and copied it to the Dropbox folder which immediately uploaded it to the cloud server.  I checked my ASUS notebook computer to make sure the document had made it to the local hard drive.  It had, which meant I could move it to where I keep the draft posts and start editing it directly.  This was a big deal for me as I expect it to streamline the blogging process.

As I was working on all of this I realized that I had told Gary at BCM that I would review and comment on an article he had received from Lloyd DeGerald and would try to get it back to him by Sunday evening.  Lloyd is a highly experienced, factory-trained, Webasto / Aqua-Hot service and repair technician and has worked on our Aqua-Hot in the past.  His article was basically a terse service procedure consisting of a numbered list of steps.  There were some things that I was not clear about so I added comments and highlighted them in yellow.  I got the document e-mailed back to Gary, with answers to several questions he had asked, just as Linda was putting dinner on the table.

Dinner was an improvised dish of red beans and rice with onions, garlic, tomatoes, turmeric, and kale.  I added a little extra Tabasco hot sauce to mine and it was a very good dish.  After dinner Linda did the dishes and then we walked over to Mara’s motorhome, by way of the garbage trailer, to tend to the evening cat and rig chores.  Maui stayed out long enough to get up on the hassock and show some interest in me.  I let her smell my hand but when I tried to pet her head she swatted at me.  Too much, too soon.  She played with a cat toy that Linda shook around, ate her dinner, and disappeared into the bedroom.  Sabra stayed out the whole time we were there, ate her dinner, and chased feathers that Linda moved around.

We walked back to our rig before 8 PM and watched a special about the Manners of Downton Abby on PBS.  The overnight low was forecast at 54 degrees F so we closed the roof vents but did not close the coach windows all the way before turning in for the night.

2016/02/29 (M) Bonus Day

Last night was the Academy Awards but we did not watch the show.  We had not seen any of the films and were more interested in a pair of specials on the Manners of Downton Abby about the role of the show’s historical consultant whose job it has been to make sure all of the actors were as authentic as possible in their speech and mannerisms.

We got up this morning between 7:30 and 8 AM, which seems to have become our norm of late unless we have an outing planned that requires an early departure.  We had our usual coffee followed by granola with blueberries for breakfast.  We doodled on our iPads for a bit and I finished my blog post for yesterday and uploaded it to our Dropbox.  Linda noted that today was February 29th.  In a month that is usually two to three days shorter than all the others it was like having a bonus day.  I also enjoy the relative rarity of the event.

At 9:30 AM Linda packed up her computer and papers and walked over to Mara’s motorhome to tend to the cats.  She planned to stay and work a while and was expecting a call from Dave at the bakery around 10 AM.  I finished my coffee, got dressed, and settled in to work at my computer.

When Linda returned we walked to Walmart for a few grocery items before it got too warm outside.  When we got back and had the groceries put away, we reconfigured the back of the car.  After Mara’s arrival, but prior Michael’s arrival, we had reconfigured the back of the car.  We had removed one of the rear seats and put the other rear seat down so Mara could go places with us.  Most of the stuff went back in the car but in order to store the removed seat in the front bay of the bus and make room for some of the stuff from the car we had moved the air compressor and two of the four chassis stands to the passenger side engine bay.

Just prior to Michael’s arrival we reconfigured the back of the car again as we now needed four seats.  To keep our stuff out of sight and protect it from the weather we bought a small tent, set it up behind the bus, and put everything in it.

When Mara and Michael return from the Holistic Holiday at Sea Cruise on Saturday Michael is going to rent a car to and get them back to Arcadia from Miami.  He will be sticking around for another four weeks and they will need a car for most of that time as we are leaving Big Tree Carefree RV Resort a week from today.  So today we put both rear seats back up, emptied out the storage tent, reloaded the car, and repacked the front bay of the bus.

As long as we were working outside I stripped out the bad silicone caulk between the new passenger side lower windshield and the gasket.  I found a different product in one of our parts and supplies tubs and got it out.  I did not apply it, however, as I wanted to let the rubber gasket relax and hopefully reform to the glass.  In retrospect, it is painfully obvious that the Safelite installers did not know what they were doing.

It was a sunny day and by early afternoon the air temperature was 80 degrees F, so we put on our swimming suits and walked over to the pool.  We stopped at the office to retrieve our package of Nutpods non-dairy coffee creamer and put it in the mail room until later.  After a nice soak and vitamin D treatment we showered, changed into dry clothes, and walked back to the mail room to retrieve our Nutpods package and other mail.  Being the last day of the month our electric bill was there along with an invitation to the Michigan reunion lunch scheduled for July 14 in Concord, Michigan.  The Resort does have a strong sense of community, and people take that back to their home states/provinces when the leave.

I had a text message from Kerry Fear requesting payment for snowplowing services for February.  Linda wrote a check and got it ready to mail.

For dinner Linda made stuffed poblano peppers and pan-grilled them.  (We do not travel with an outdoor grill, either propane or charcoal.)  The stuffing was rice, black beans, tomatoes, scallions, vegan sour cream, cumin seeds, and Daiya vegan cheddar cheese.  So good.  We had some Barefoot Riesling wine after dinner and fresh mixed fruit salad (bananas, strawberries, and blueberries) for dessert.  I really like the way we eat.

After dinner we watched our usual PBS news programs followed by our usual CBS entertainment shows.  I stayed up to watch Charlie Rose’s interview with Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc.  I was getting ready for bed and turned on the fresh water pump.  It normally runs briefly to build up pressure and then shuts off.  This time it just kept running.  That meant one of two things: either there was an opening in the system (faucet or leak), or the demand pressure sensor was not working.  I shut it off, put my sweats and Crocs back on, grabbed a flashlight, and went outside to investigate.

It was almost midnight but there was plenty of light from the resort street lamps.  I checked both sides of the utility bay and did not see any sign of a leak other than the small drip from the fill valve packing nut.  I turned on the shore water supply and opened the valves to allow it to flow through the softener to the coach.  Once the lines and softener were filled and pressurized I did not hear any further water flow, so I was somewhat confident that we did not have a leak in the system.  I left the outside water turned on so we could flush the toilet and run water to wash our hands.

Back inside I wrote a sticky note not to turn on the water pump and stuck it on the toilet seat.  Linda woke up right after I finally got to bed so I was able to tell her in person, but the note was still a good reminder.  I watched Tavis Smiley’s interview with Tom Waters of Pink Floyd and then went to sleep. February 2016 had been a very busy, but very satisfying month for us.

 

2016/02/22-24 (M–W) 1 SP, 2 S-A-H

2016/02/22 (M) Myakka River State Park

Our destination today was Myakka River State Park (MRSP).  We agreed yesterday to pick up Mara and Michael at 10 AM.  That allowed us to sleep until 8 AM, have coffee and breakfast at our rig, and take showers before leaving for the day.

MRSP is only 25 miles from Arcadia so we did not stop for fuel or coffee.  We stopped at the visitor center near the main entrance to study the maps and displays before heading deeper into the park.  As on previous visits, our first stop was the bridge over the stretch of the Myakka River that runs south from Upper Myakka Lake to Lower Myakka Lake.  We hiked south along the east edge of the river for quite some distance.  Unlike previous visits we did not see the quantity or diversity of wildlife that we expected.  Absent from our visit today were Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills.  We saw alligators, but only one somewhat up close.

We stopped at the Forest Canopy towers and suspension bridge which is one of the special treats of this park.  After that stop we drove to the vendor area on the southeast shore of the Upper Lake to have our picnic lunch.  The parking lot was full but our timing was lucky and we waited as someone backed out and then took that spot.  This area has a boat launch, restaurant, pontoon boat tour, wheeled vehicle train, gift shop, and restrooms.  After lunch we walked out to the weir across the outflow of the Upper Lake, which maintains it at a slightly higher level.  We saw a few more alligators and birds there.

We drove to the end of the road at the north gate and checked out the other picnic area that someone at lunch told us was there.  On the way back we stopped at the Birdwalk, a boardwalk that goes out through a marsh to a point near the eastern edge of the Upper Lake.  We saw a few more alligators from a distance and got a close up view of a couple of birds.

By the time we were done at the Birdwalk it was approaching 4 PM.  We drove slowly back to the Visitor Center to use the restrooms and then exited the park and headed back to Arcadia.  On the way back Linda and Mara decided that, in spite of a nice weather forecast, we would stick around the RV Resort tomorrow and have dinner together.  Not only will that give them time to plan/prepare the meal, it will give us time to do laundry and relax at the swimming pool.  It will also allow me to finish proofreading and correcting articles for BCM.  The forecast for Wednesday has an 80% chance of rain so that was already planned as a stay-at-home day.    My hope is that I will be able to upload the rest of my blog posts for October 2015.  I do not like being this far behind.

For dinner Linda made a dish with vegan Italian sausage on a bed of angel hair pasta with onion, garlic, and broccoli sautéed in EVOO.  Yum, yum.  After dinner I off-loaded the photos I took today.  We then watched the Nightly Business Report and NewsHour on PBS followed by the X-Files and Lucifer on FOX, NCIS Los Angeles on CBS, a few minutes of news and weather, and then Charlie Rose’s interview with Bill Gates on PBS.

So many shades of green.  A view to the south from the observation platform atop the north tower of the Forest Canopy Skywalk.  Myakka River SP, FL.

So many shades of green. A view to the south from the observation platform atop the north tower of the Forest Canopy Skywalk. Myakka River SP, FL.

2016/02/23 (T) Green Taco Wraps

It rained briefly last evening and more rain was forecast starting later this afternoon and extending through-tomorrow.  Today and-tomorrow were planned as stay-at-home (S-A-H) days so we got up just before 8-AM and had coffee, juice, and granola with bananas.  My plan was to take care of our fresh- and waste-water tanks and do the laundry before settling in to work on computer-based tasks.  Linda received a package yesterday of year-end accounting documents from the bakery and planned to work on those today.

The skies had clouded up late yesterday and gotten darker and thicker by sunset.  We had dark clouds to our west this morning and had just finished breakfast (granola, bananas, fruit juice) when it started to rain lightly.  I had no sooner closed the bathroom vent/fan when the rain came down hard.  I closed down the awning style windows until they were only open about an inch at the bottom.  We planned to roll up the patio awning before the rain came today but now had to wait for it to dry off, assuming the rains let up and the sun came out for a while.

We dropped below 1/3rd tank of fresh water yesterday.  When the rain stopped I went out to check the level visually.  It was barely below the 1/3rd sensor so I decided to forego dumping and filling for a couple of more days.  I might even run off the city water for a day or so to push the whole dump/fill/recharge routine off until the weekend.

I moved my laptop computer to the dining table so Linda could on work at hers on the desk.  The accounting work she had to do for the bakery required space to spread out the paperwork she got from Dave (the controller) yesterday.  I decided to just keep editing blog posts from November 2015 in preparation for eventually uploading them.

At 12:45 PM I started sorting the soiled clothes and linens.  Linda quite working on the accounting and made sandwiches for our lunch.  She made a grocery list and then walked to the supermarket.  At 1:30 I loaded the laundry and my iPad into the car and drove over to the laundry room.  By 1:45 I had four washing machines in operation.

I connected my iPad to the Resort’s public Wi-Fi signal at the activity building and connected through to the Internet, which always takes some doing.  The problem is that the various browsers load cached versions of the tabs that are open and I have to go to a new webpage in other to trigger the filter and connect to the Internet.  Until I have done that successfully I cannot check e-mail or update apps.

By 2:25 I had transferred all of the wash to three dryers and started them.  I had six apps with updates available totaling just over 400 MB (0.4 GB) and initiated those.  On our 12 GB Verizon data plan that is more than a whole day’s average data usage for a typical month (0.4 x 30 = 12.0).  I also noticed that I had two new updates for apps on my phone but when I looked more carefully I discovered that I had 22 app updates pending.  I had been deferring them until I could use the resort (or other) free Wi-Fi.  When the last iPad app update downloaded and installed I connected my phone to the Resort Wi-Fi and initiated the app updates.

I worked on the draft of today’s blog post and played a few games until the laundry was dry and then folded it and put it in the car.  It was 4 PM at that point and only 10 of the 22 apps had updated, so I pulled the car around in front of the activity building with a clear, short path to the antenna on the roof.  I had a much stronger signal in that location and the updates progressed much more quickly.  23 apps were updated and the process finished at 4:18 PM.  I noticed that my phone had somehow gotten set to show Homestead, Florida as my “home” location so I enabled Location Services, changed it to Arcadia, Florida, and then disabled Location Services.  I checked to see if we had any snail mail and then drove back to our coach and put the clean laundry away.

When I got back to our coach Linda was cooking her part of this evening’s meal.  We would be dining with Mara and Michael at Mara’s rig having “green taco wraps.”  Linda made a crumbled meat substitute from brown lentils, walnuts, sautéed onions, and peppers.  She also supplied the tortillas, lettuce, and vegan sour cream.  Mara made salsa and avocado cream and a side salad with cauliflower, tomatoes, and lemon juice.  We brought a bottle of Chardonnay and Mara had a bottle of Spanish Rioja, a very dry red wine.

We walked over with our contributions just before 6 PM and were greeted by Michael.  Mara had walked to Walmart for some tomatoes and other last minute items and returned not long after we arrived.  Good wine, good food, and good friends made for a great meal.  We were still there at 8 PM and it turned out that we like to watch the same TV programs, so we all watched NCIS.  Linda and I walked back to our coach when the show ended and watched NCISNOLA and Limitless before going to bed.  I watched most of Charlie Rose before falling asleep.

An Egret tries to swallow a fish that it caught near the Myakka River.  Myakka River SP, FL.

An Egret tries to swallow a fish that it caught near the Myakka River. Myakka River SP, FL.

2016/02/24 (W) Another Tornado Warning

Today was planned as a stay-at-home day.  The forecast was for wind and rain with a marginal risk of severe weather.  I was up a little before 7:30 AM and thought about going to the Wednesday coffee “social” but decided against it.  I began preparing our morning coffee but waited until Linda was awake to grind the beans and finish the process.  Linda got our Verizon Mi-Fi and Wi-Fi Ranger online and checked the current weather, which we compared to what was being reported on the local TV news.  Wind and rain were expected in our part of southwest Florida by 10 AM and the Wundermap app radar showed a large storm front drooped from southwest to northeast in advance of a cold front and moving our way.

I finished my first cup of coffee and then went outside and put up the two window awnings on the driver side of our coach.  While I was out there I drained the auxiliary air filter / water separator and stored the two folding bag chairs in the front bay.

We had granola and blueberries for breakfast and it started raining while we finished our coffee.  We both had computer-based work to do today but Linda needed to update some things first.  The rain stopped, at least temporarily, so we packed up our mobile technology and drove over to the activity building to use the RV resort’s public Wi-Fi system.

We set up our tech toys in the library and connected them to the resort’s public Wi-Fi system; two laptop computers, two iPads, and two smartphones.  I had three app updates on my phone and Linda had 14.  She had eight app updates on her iPad and I had one OS-related update on my computer.  Linda downloaded a new audio book.  I downloaded/installed the OfficeSuites Free – Mobile + PDF app on my iPad and the 2016 U. S. RVers Edition (PDF) of The Mobile Internet Handbook by Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard from the Mobile Internet Aficionados membership website.  We also checked our e-mail while we were there.  Between our six devices we greatly exceeded our average daily data allocation of 0.4 GB that our 10+2 GB Verizon data plan provides.  Our normal 10 GB plan averages out to about 0.3 GB per day, and it is not sufficient for our needs when traveling in the motorcoach.

As we were packing up at 1:30 PM to return to our coach the skies opened up and heavy rains poured forth.  Moments later both of our phones notified us that a tornado warning was in effect for our location until 2 PM.  Our car was parked near the front door of the activity building so we decided not to wait for a lull in the rain.  It was raining even harder by the time we got back to our coach but we had our technology in ballistic nylon travel bags and got them inside without getting them wet.

Linda set up her computer on the desk and I set up mine on the dining room table.  We did not need to be online so we left the Verizon Mi-Fi turned off.  Linda worked on accounting for the bakery while I proofread and annotated corrections for two BCM articles.  When she was done for today I moved my computer to the desk, plugged in the power supply, and spent some time reading and responding to e-mails.

By 3 PM the severe weather threat had passed but densely overcast skies continued with occasional lighter rain.  All of this was, once again, in advance of a cold front that will bring high temperatures only in the upper 60’s for the next four to five days.

For dinner Linda improvised a sauté of onion, garlic, kale, and turmeric with boiled red potatoes.  It was a hardy dish; perfect for a cool, dreary evening.  We watched a PBS Nature episode on Emperor Penguins, a Nova episode on rescue robots, and another program on Big Data.  We then went to bed as we had to be up early in the morning.

 

2016/02/12-15 (F–M) Everglades Update

2016/02/12 (F) Full Circle

We got up, showered, got dressed, and went down to breakfast around 8 AM.  We were packed, checked out, and had the car loaded by 9 AM.  We headed north on the Ronald Reagan Turnpike, exited at some miles later, and headed west.  FL-94 ended at FL-997 where we headed north.  In looking at a map later, we would probably have been better off to get on FL-997 right from the hotel.  There was major road construction on FL-997 all the way to US-41, but traffic moved along at the 50 MPH posted speed limit.

At US-41 we headed west.  This is Miccosukee Indian territory, as indicated by the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming facility (Casino) at the NW corner of Fl-997 and US-41.  A short way to the west this stretch of US-41 (the Tamiami Highway between Tampa and Miami) is bordered by Everglades National Park on the south and the Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area on the north.  It eventually leaves both of these and runs through the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve.

We pulled in to the ENP entrance for the Shark Valley Visitor Center and immediately and got stuck in the line of cars waiting to get in.  The parking lot had filled a few cars ahead of us and it was now a one car out, one car in situation.

Once we were in we checked out the tram ride to the Shark Valley Observatory Tower seven miles one way due south into the Everglades.  It was a two (2) hour narrated round-trip and cost $24 per person ($19 for seniors).  You can hike or bike out to the tower for free (after gaining admission to the NP).  We did not have that much time so we walked part way down the road along an open channel of water about 15 feet wide and found lots of wildlife photo opportunities, including birds, a large turtle, and alligators.  The most interesting thing we saw was a cluster of at least a dozen young alligators, ranging from one to two feet in length, piled up on top of one another.

A little farther west we left US-41 and drove a small 2-lane road for 38 miles.  The first half was paved and the second half was good gravel.  It was a lovely, slow drive with a maximum speed limit of 30 MPH and a few nature photo opportunities along the way.

A Black Vulture near the Shark Valley Visitor Center, Everglades NP, FL.

A Black Vulture near the Shark Valley Visitor Center, Everglades NP, FL.

After rejoining US-41 we continued west through the Big Cypress National Preserve as far as FL-29 with Everglades NP once again on our left.  We then headed south through Everglades City and re-entered the park.  The Gulf Coast Visitor Center was very small and did not have the ENP shirts we had seen at the Flamingo Visitor Center and were now hoping to buy.  The vendor operated gift store did not have them either.  The only things you can do from this point in the park are explore the NW coastal portions by canoe, kayak, or pontoon boat.  We did not have time for any of that on this quick visit so we pulled up the address for our RV park in the GPS unit and pushed on.

We had a better look at Everglades City on the way out of town and decided that it was an interesting looking little place.  A traveling carnival of some considerable size was setting up in the middle of town, literally.

Back at US-41 we continued west as we were still somewhat east of the north-south line through Arcadia.  The only other route home from here would take us north on FL-29 and then back east on I-75 and eventually back through LaBelle and up the west side of Lake Okeechobee.  That would be a much longer trip and it was already starting to feel like it had been a long day.

We left US-41 at Collier Blvd. and traveled north about seven miles to I-75 north.  Traffic was heavy, congested, and stop-n-go initially but eventually freed up.  We traveled about 39 miles to exit 141 at Ft. Myers and headed east a few miles to FL-31.  Our final 38 miles were straight north to Arcadia where FL-31 ends at FL-70 just west of our RV resort.

From the Shell station in Arcadia on Tuesday morning to our coach at 5:45 PM today we put 919.4 miles on the car’s trip odometer.  The speedometer on the car reads slightly high, probably because the tires are not factory original specifications, so our actual mileage may have been slightly less by about one mile for every 60 miles traveled.  That would be approximately 15 miles for our trip, making the actual mileage perhaps 905 for the four days, for an average of 225 to 230 miles per day.  That’s a lot of driving, but the purpose of our trip was to get a first glimpse at a lot of south Florida that we had not seen before.

We brought a few things in from the car, spent some time with our cats, and then visited with Ron and Vera (who did not even realize we were gone), before walking over to Mara’ rig for dinner.  Mara made a pot of vegan chili and a wonderful salad which we enjoyed with a glass of her favorite Malbec.  We talked about our trip, how the kitties did in our absence, and discussed the logistics of Michael’s upcoming visit.  We returned to our coach around 9:15 PM, finished unloading the car, unpacked a few things, adored our cats, and relaxed with our iPads for an hour before going to bed.

2016/02/13 (S) Yard Sale

I was up at 7:30 AM, partially prepped the coffee, and then unpacked clothes and hung them up or put them in the laundry hamper.  Linda got up sometime after, after which I ground the coffee beans and finished making our morning coffee.

We noticed last night that a few folks had things sitting out in their front yards suggestive of a garage sale.  This morning there was quite a bit of commotion outside and we noticed several yards just from our rig with lots of stuff sitting out on tables and/or the ground.  Clearly Big Tree Carefree RV Resort was having an official yard sale event today.

We had granola for breakfast and then strolled through the resort.  Based on one comment we overheard we got the impression that the yard sale might have started yesterday but there was still lots of stuff available.  We are not yard sale people, as a rule, and our real destination was the laundry room.  Most of the parking spaces were taken but the room was empty and none of the machines were in use.  We walked back to our coach, loaded our laundry, computers, and iPads in the car, and drove over to the laundry room.

I got the laundry into a washing machine while Linda got her computer going and connected to the park Wi-Fi system.  I then started my computer and got online.  Her computer screen came up dark.  It has done this many times in the past, but not recently.  We think it may be related to the battery, but we are not sure.

Our main reason for bringing our computers over was to download our e-mails from the last four days.  BCM, in particular, has a habit of sending me large files as e-mail attachments or links to large files in a Dropbox, which I prefer.  I had at least 118 e-mails but no large attachments.  I did not get a count from Linda.  Both of our computers are also set up to automatically sync our Dropbox account, and one of the things it does is automatically backup four WordPress websites.  We only had 2.5 GB of data left on our Verizon account to get us through February 19th, so we wanted to transfer as much data as possible via the park Wi-Fi system.

Once the laundry was dry, folded, and hung, we returned to our coach where Linda put on her swimsuit and then joined Mara at the pool.  After putting the clean clothes away I rebooted and reconnected our computers and iPads to our local network and turned on the NAS.  Once everything was up and running I connected the camera and off-loaded all of the photos from the last four days; just over 400 total.  I got a bite to eat and then put on my swimsuit, gathered up my towel and a pair of dry shorts, and went over to the pool to join the ladies.

BP20160212_01732_400x300

A Purple Gallinule near the Shark Valley Visitors Center, Everglades NP, FL.

When I arrived Linda and Mara were sunbathing.  The pool was cool even though it is heated but once I was in and swimming gently I generated enough heat from muscle activity to be comfortable.  I swam for about 1/2 hour and then sat in the hot tub with the whirlpool turned on and positioned myself to vigorously message my lower back.  Linda had taken the soap when she went so I took that along with my towel and shorts and used to shower to rinse off the chlorine and get cleaned up.  I returned the soap to Linda and walked back to our coach.

I doodled on my iPad while Linda read a book when she returned to the coach.  She left at 4 PM to walk to the grocery store with Mara while I laid down on the sofa to take a nap and Jasper curled up next to me.  I was aware of Linda’s return, gradually woke up, and finally got up.

Linda invited Mara to come for dinner.  While she busied herself with the preparations, I went through all of the photos from our trip to Everglades National Park and Key West and backed them up to our NAS.

While I was looking at photos ESET Smart Security kept popping up messages letting me know that it needed my attention.  I opened it and it presented me with a loooong list of critical and recommended updates.  Given our data situation this month I deferred those until I can take my computer back to the office/laundry/activity building and use the resort Wi-Fi system.

For dinner Linda made a nice green salad and a “pasta” dish using an edamame and mung bean fettuccine style noodle.  Mara came to our coach around 6:45 PM and brought a vegan chocolate mousse for dessert.  It was based on blended avocados and it was a delicious finale to a scrumptious meal.  There was a nice orange glow in the western sky but it was too dark by then to eat outside.  It was also getting chilly following sunset so we ate inside and polished off a bottle of Barefoot Pinot Grigio between the three of us.

Mara left a little before 9 PM and we turned on the TV to see if anything interesting was on.  One of the PBS stations was showing a three part drama titled Arthur & George based on a true life event in the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and starting Martin Clunes (Doc Martin) as Doyle.  Linda went to bed part way through the third episode but I stayed up to watch it as it was very well done.  I flipped channels for a while after that but nothing else held my attention and I finally went to bed sometime after midnight.

2016/02/14 (N) Valentine’s Day

We were still tired from out whirlwind trip to south Florida and slept in this morning.  When we finally got up Linda made pancakes for breakfast, this being Sunday and all.

It’s a good thing we have our 2 GB of bonus data for the next couple of billing cycles.  Between the Windows 10 upgrade on two computers (most of which we did using the RV resort Wi-Fi), the upgrades to the iOS on both iPads, the inevitable updates to applications on all four devices, and quite a bit of work on BCM articles as well as our personal website/blog, we have had to monitor/manage our data usage very carefully for the January 20 through February 19 billing cycle.  Even with being gone for four days to the Everglades and Keys, and taking our devices to the activity building to use the Wi-Fi, we will be very close to our limit by this Friday, which is the 19th.

There are at least eight alligators in this image and several more outside the frame.  Shark Valley Visitors Center, Everglades NP, FL.

There are at least eight alligators in this image and several more outside the frame. Shark Valley Visitors Center, Everglades NP, FL.

My computer was indicating that I had 22 updates available which meant that Linda’s computer probably had a similar number.  One of them was a Windows 10 cumulative update which I knew would be large so I took both computers to the library and did the updates there.  I then spent part of the day processing and backing up photos before turning my attention to blog posts.  Even with our data situation I uploaded several from mid-October and prepared several more.

We had a relatively easy day otherwise and I did not record all of the details which are now mostly lost to me.  Brenda Phelan called around 5:15 PM to let me know our tire and windshield covers were ready but she and Bill were headed out for a couple of days on windshield cover appointments.  They would be back on Wednesday and we deferred dealing with delivery until then.

For dinner Linda made a mushroom bourginione with macaroni.  She used a Lindeman’s 2014 Shiraz to make it and we also drank some before/with our meal.  She bought a pint of Soy Delicious Cookie Dough non-dairy “ice cream” the other day and we had that for dessert.  After dinner we settled in to watch our Sunday evening TV programs, including Downton Abby.

2016/02/15 (M) Ready, Set, No

We had our usual morning of coffee, juice, and granola for breakfast.  Our fresh water tank had dropped below the 1/3 level yesterday or the day before.  The monitor only indicates Empty, 1/3, 2/3, and Full so once it drops below 1/3rd I have to check it visually.  Fortunately the tank is translucent polyethylene and is located behind a door such that I can see the water level when the lighting is right.  Given how we are parked, facing southwest, the light is best in the morning as access to the tank is from the driver side of the bay.

The tank was down to the 1/8th level, which is about 15 gallons.  We might have gotten one more day’s use but there was no reason to run the tank dry and the pump works better with a full tank.  I dumped both waste tanks and refilled the fresh water tank.  I checked the hardness of the water coming out of the softener after the tank was full and it was indicating somewhere between 0 and 1.5 gpg.  I updated my Excel spreadsheet accordingly.

An Anhinga that just caught something to eat.  Shark Valley Visitors Center, Everglades NP, FL.

An Anhinga that just caught something to eat. Shark Valley Visitors Center, Everglades NP, FL.

Linda had work to do today on family tax returns and set up her computer on the temporary dining table while I continued to work at my computer on the desk.  I selected and processed a couple of photos from our visit to Everglades National Park for Linda’s weekly postcard to Madeline.  I then selected and processed photos to include in the blog posts for the dates of our visit to the Everglades and Keys.

Brenda Phelan had also sent us an e-mail yesterday regarding our tire covers.  I replied to that and indicated that we might pick them up on Wednesday when she and Bill are back at their shop in Lakeland.  With that done I started preparing for a 3:30 PM telecom meeting of the FMCA National Education Committee.  I printed off six documents:  meeting notice, agenda/notes, short survey results and sampling information, and the long survey results and sampling information.  All told it was 55 sheets of paper, but I wanted/needed to see the survey results printed out.

At 3:29 I dialed in and was the first caller, which I though was odd.  I doubled checked the meeting notice and realized the meeting was Wednesday the 17th.  I knew that, but historically we have always met on Monday afternoons and I just had it in my head that we were meeting today.  The upside us that I have more time to digest the data and think about how I want to handle the fact that the sample/response was too small (in my expert opinion) for the results to be considered representative of the FMCA population.

We had leftovers for dinner, after which we settled in to watch the X-Files and Lucifer on FOX as our usual Monday evening programs on CBS were preempted by the Grammy Awards, which did not interest us.  At 10 PM we switched to PBS and watched a documentary on Stephen Hawking, followed Charlie Rose.  Rose’s show was focused on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scilia, who passed away over the weekend.

 

2016/02/10 (W) Everglades NP, FL

An American Crocodile at Flamingo, Everglades NP, FL.  The Everglades is the only place in the U. S. where you can see both alligators and crocodiles in the wild.

An American Crocodile at Flamingo, Everglades NP, FL. The Everglades is the only place in the U. S. where you can see both alligators and crocodiles in the wild.

We were up at 7 AM and took long, hot showers; a real luxury for folks currently living in a motorhome.  We had breakfast in the hotel as it was included in the price of the room.  We then headed back to Everglades National Park.  We wanted to spend the early part of the day deeper in the par so we drove straight through to Flamingo.

 

It was a little warmer and sunnier today, which would be nice for going on the Backcountry Tour.  We thought we would take the 11 AM boat until we found out that it’s a one hour and forty-five minute excursion with no access to a restroom.  That was, unfortunately, a non-starter for me.  We were both disappointed, as the only way to really see the Everglades is by boat or air.  Driving, biking, and hiking is very limited.

 

An Osprey surveys its territory near the Flamingo Visitor Center.  Everglades NP, FL.

An Osprey surveys its territory near the Flamingo Visitor Center. Everglades NP, FL.

Our trip to the Flamingo service center area was not wasted.  I photographed a pair of Osprey in a nest on the communications tower atop the Flamingo Visitor Center and photographed two adult birds in another Osprey nest in a tree by the marina.  We joined a walking tour led by a Park Ranger.  Just in the area near the visitor center we saw manatees in the marina, an American Crocodile by the canal, and lots of birds, especially Pelicans and gulls.  I took lots of pictures.

 

This large alligator was at Nine Mile Pond in Everglades NP, FL.  I estimated it to be 12 feet long.  It had its eyes open but was very still.  The kayakers in the back are at least 30 feet away.

This large alligator was at Nine Mile Pond in Everglades NP, FL. I estimated it to be 12 feet long. It had its eyes open but was very still. The kayakers in the back are at least 30 feet away.

 

Eventually we left Flamingo and started working our way back towards the park entrance, stopping at several places along the way to walk some of the available boardwalks and trails.  At Nine Mile Pond we spent quite a while observing and photographing a very large alligator.  Presumably a bull (male) I estimated his length at 12 feet.  These large adults weight approximately 100 pounds per foot, so I estimated his weight at 1,100 pounds.  I took lots of photos.

 

There is flora everywhere in the Everglades, but these palms have beautiful patterns when the light is right.  Everglades NP, FL.

There is flora everywhere in the Everglades, but these palms have beautiful patterns when the light is right. Everglades NP, FL.

We also stopped at Mahogany Hammock and hiked the trail and close to the park entrance we revisited the Royal Palm area and ventured part way out on the Anhinga Trail.  It was late afternoon and the sun was low enough to give us some nice color, the first we have had for the last two days.  I took a few landscape photos and then Linda spotted a turtle so I concentrated on it for a while.

I noticed the water lily pads moving and caught a glimpse of what looked like a large fish.  The Lilly pad disturbance was moving and something was clearly underwater causing it.  I was standing there watching the Lilly pads move when an alligator surfaced, revealing its head from behind its eyes to the tip of its snout.  It stayed there quite a while and I took pictures while a small crowd gathered.  It remained motionless except for its right eye, which was wide open and studying us carefully.  It eventually moved over by the boardwalk and we were able to look straight down at it through clear water that allowed us to see its entire length clearly.  It finally swam under the boardwalk and did not reappear.

 

Much of the Everglades is what appears to be grassland but is actually wet.  These “water prairies” are broken up by areas of slightly higher ground that support trees and bushes.  The highest point on the main road that goes to the Flamingo area is four (4) above mean sea level, and I seem to recall that it is the highest natural point in the whole national park.  Everglades NP, FL.

Much of the Everglades is what appears to be grassland but is actually wet. This vast “water prairie” is broken up by areas of slightly higher ground that support trees and bushes. The highest point on the main road that goes to the Flamingo area is four (4) above mean sea level, and I seem to recall that it is the highest natural point in the whole national park. Everglades NP, FL.

By this time the light was fading and the temperature had cooled to 60 degrees F.   We returned to our car and put the address of the Panera near our hotel in the GPS navigation system.  We headed there directly, only stopping at the park entrance to photograph the park boundary sign.

 

This alligator surfaced about eight feet from the edge of the Anhinga Trail.  The length of an alligator, in feet, is roughly equal to the number of inches from its eyes to its nostrils, something you want to estimate rather than try to measure.  Everglades NP, FL.

This alligator surfaced about eight feet from the edge of the Anhinga Trail. The length of an alligator, in feet, is roughly equal to the number of inches from its eyes to its nostrils, something you want to estimate rather than try to measure. Everglades NP, FL.

At Panera we had vegetable soup and the new couscous salad.  Linda had done all of the driving today but I drove us back to the hotel after dinner.  We settled in for the evening and watched Nature and Nova on PBS before going to sleep.

 

2016/02/05–09 (F–T) Super Windows Roadtrip

2016/02/05 (F) Windows 10 Upgrade

We had a long day yesterday and even though we were in bed before 11 PM we still slept in until 8 AM this morning.  I did not make coffee and we did not have breakfast as we were picking up Mara at 8:50.  We shut down our computers and iPads and packed them for travel.  We set the windows in the bus so the cats would be comfortable.  At 8:45 AM we loaded the car and drove over to get Mara.  We stopped at the Dunkin Donuts in Arcadia for coffee and bagels and then headed west on FL-70 for Ed and Betty Burns’ place in Bradenton.

Everglades National Park entrance sign on the road from Homestead and Florida City, FL.

Everglades National Park entrance sign on the road from Homestead and Florida City, FL.

The main purpose of our visit today was to upgrade Linda’s Samsung laptop computer and my ASUS notebook computer to Windows 10 using Ed and Betty’s unlimited broadband data.  A secondary objective was for Linda to purchase/download the latest version of Turbo Tax.  Our tertiary goal was to update iPad and smartphone apps.

We got to Ed and Betty’s a little after 10 AM, introduced them to Mara, and got busy setting up our computers.  We had a bit of a false start but finally had the Windows 10 installation process launched by 11 AM.  After quite a bit of conversation, Linda and Betty busied themselves making lunch and Mara settled in to go through her mail.  Once the files for Windows 10 appeared to be downloaded I initiated the update process for eight apps on my iPad2.  Betty washed off a bag of red grapes and set them out for all of us to enjoy.

At 12:30 PM we moved our technology to a coffee table in the living room to clear the dining room table for lunch.  Betty made a large pot of vegan chili mac and we had sliced avocado, tortillas, and potato chips to go with it, along with grapes and slices of Meyer lemons for our water.  Florida really is a good place to be if you want to “eat fresh.”

The ladies left around 1:45 PM to go for a walk while Ed and I stayed behind.  I connected my phone to their Wi-Fi and updated a dozen apps.  My computer was finally ready to configure Windows 10 at 2 PM and I went through the customized personalization rather than accepting the Express Setup defaults.  My iPad was up-to-date so I started working on this post while I waited for the Windows 10 process to finally finish.

It took until 2:30 PM for my computer to be fully booted up and usable.  About that same time Linda’s computer was finally ready to configure.  I wanted Linda here for the configuration choices so I waited for her return.  The ladies got back at 2:45 PM and Linda resumed configuring her machine.  We had originally planned to go see the 3 PM practice session of the Royal Lipizzan Stallions in Myakka City, but we would have had to leave at 2 PM to get there.  We will definitely go seem them, but for now this was, once again, deferred to a future day.

Linda purchased, downloaded, and installed the latest version of TurboTax and was done installing updates by 4:20 PM.  Her update process went smoothly, if slowly, and without any apparent hitches.  When the initial Windows 10 upgrade finished on my machine I did not have any of the quick start or system tray icons which concerned me greatly.  After rebooting my computer, more than once, the icons eventually returned.  I installed an undated driver for the NVIDIA GeForce graphics processing unit (GPU).  I also had a problem with the sound but was able to resolve it using the audio troubleshooter.

I rebooted my machine for what I hoped was the last time at 4:45 PM.  It took 15 minutes to fully boot up and I made one more check for updates.  It appeared that the operating system updates were all done but there were still updates to install for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, both of which are large and tend to take a long time to download.

By this point Betty had opened a couple of bottles of wine and convinced all of us that the collect best option for dinner was to order pizza and eat at their house.  Linda coordinated the pizzas and ordered them from Vertoris’ where we ate last night and which was only seven miles away.  While she and Ed were in transit to get the pizza and salad I updated Photoshop and Lightroom.  I started each program and Photoshop indicated that it had a problem with the video card driver and had disabled some of its enhancement features.  That was not an immediate problem as I do not presently make any use of Photoshop, but the incompatibility was distressing nonetheless.

I had done what I could in the way of updates for today so I shut down my computer and packed it away to clear the table for dinner.  Betty set the table and Linda and Ed returned a short time later with the food.  We sat down to a wonderful meal with friends that finally concluded around 7:30 PM.  It had been a wonderful day with friends and we had gotten a lot accomplished thanks to the use of their technology, but by 7:45 PM we were all tired and the three of us were on our way back to Arcadia.  We dropped Mara back at her motorhome at 8:45 PM and were back at our coach by 8:50 PM.  We watched the end of an episode of Endeavor and then watched another complete episode.  By then we were sleepy tired and went to bed.

2016/02/06 (S) Article Uploads

We slept in this morning until after 8 AM and so did the cats.  We lounged around in our sweats drinking coffee and eventually had granola for breakfast.  It was cloudy with rain coming and we considered spending the day in the bus in our sweats when we remembered that it was the first Saturday of the month.

The Everglades is vast and low, but is not a swamp.  Swamps involve stagnant water.  The Everglades is almost entirely shallow, but constantly flowing, water like a river.  Everglades NP, FL.

The Everglades is vast and low, but is not a swamp. Swamps involve stagnant water. The Everglades is almost entirely shallow, but constantly flowing, water like a river. Everglades NP, FL.

The Arcadia Farmers Market takes place on the first and third Saturday of each month so Linda texted Mara to see if she wanted to go.  She did, so we got dressed, picked her up in the car, and drove downtown.  To our disappointment there were only four vendors there and only two of them were selling food.  One was a local farm that had freshly picked Napa cabbage and locally produced honey.  Linda bought a head of the cabbage and Mara bought a cabbage and a jar of honey.  We took a short walk around downtown and then drove to Joshua Citrus Co.

At Joshua Citrus we bought a few Ruby Red grapefruit and a few Honeybelle tangelos.  Mara also bought a variety of citrus including Meyer lemons.  We stopped at Walmart on the way back to our RV resort for cat litter and a few sundry items while Mara picked up some groceries.  We dropped her at her motorhome and took a minute to meet another couple from Howell, Michigan who were just getting ready to pull out.  We then returned to our rig around 1 PM.

Linda made rollup sandwiches with soft tortillas, Napa cabbage, dark greens, and hummus.  At 1:30 PM she phoned Mara to see if she wanted to go for a walk and headed over to rendezvous with her.  I had a call earlier from Dave Aungier and called him back.  He had downloaded his BCM article from my Dropbox and reviewed it.  We went over a few minor changes, which I made to the Word doc, and discussed the process of submitting it to the magazine and working it through to publication.

Dave and I were done talking by 2 PM and it had started to rain lightly.  Linda had worn her raincoat but returned around 2:30.  By that time I had turned my attention to the three articles that Stacy had finished proofreading and returned to me.  I went through each one and accepted most of the changes.  I then went through each one and made sure I had all of the image files properly identified and organized.  I backed up all of the files, moved them to the READY folder, and then uploaded them to my Dropbox.  Once everything had transferred I e-mailed Gary (BCM publisher) and Jorge (layout) and let them know the files were there.  I had a few more e-mails back and forth with Gary and had to redo a panoramic photo that had discontinuities in it that I had not noticed.

Mara came to our rig to discuss some logistics related to the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise that she and her friend, Michael, are going on at the end of the month.  As it turns out we will take them to Miami and pick them up when they return and take care of Mara’s two cats while they are away.  Mara waited for a lull in the rain and returned to her rig a little before 6 PM.  For dinner Linda prepared a salad with diced Napa cabbage and honey roasted peanuts and a homemade dressing made with rice wine vinegar, sesame and vegetable oils, Dijon mustard, fresh grated ginger, salt, and pepper.  It was very good.  She then reheated the leftover pizza from the last two nights.  The pizza was exceptional when it was fresh and, although it lost its crisp crust on reheating, it was still tasty as leftovers.

While Mara was visiting the leak around the bedroom ceiling vent/fan reappeared.  The lower outside corner of the lower passenger side windshield also leaked, but we expect that to happen every time until we do something to fix it.

After dinner we watched a couple episodes of Endeavor and then a couple of episodes of As Time Goes By.  After that we watched a PBS documentary on Jason Blair, the discredited New York Times reporter.  We caught a few minutes of news and weather and went to bed.

2016/02/07 (N) Super Sunday

Today was just one of those days.  It also happened to be Super Bowl Sunday, but that’s another story.  As we do most days we started our morning with coffee.”  As she often does on Sunday mornings, Linda made vegan pancakes for breakfast.  We split a ruby red grapefruit as well.

Though much of the Everglades is open, there are stands of trees throughout.  This one had a “face.”  Everglades NP, FL.

Though much of the Everglades is open, there are stands of trees throughout. This one had a “face.” Everglades NP, FL.

Linda walked to Winn-Dixie with Mara while I settled in to work at my computer.  My plan was to edit and upload blog posts but in the end I only got two more posts ready to go and did not get them uploaded.  Not that I was goofing off; I was busy all day but ended up taking care of other things.

For starters, I downloaded an updated version of the Logitech SetPoint software for my Logitech UltraThin Touch Mouse and then reconfigured the settings.  The mouse is capable of a variety of things with just subtle movements but seemed to be less stable than before the Windows 10 upgrade.  I was also having problems with my cursor jumping around while typing.  I initially noticed it while typing e-mails but noticed it later while working in Word.  Linda had the presence of mind to suggest that it might be the touchpad.  Sure enough, the touchpad was active.  That had not occurred to me because it wasn’t active under Windows 8.1.  Apparently the upgrade to Windows 10 activated it.  So much for maintaining my existing settings.

I had additional e-mails back and forth with Gary and Jorge at BCM, as result of which I updated the BCM page on our website.  I also e-mailed Brenda Phelan to check on the status of our tire covers.  When I finally got to work on blog posts I selected and processed several photos from our visit on Thursday to the Ringling Estate.  I then edited the two posts mentioned previously.

When Linda got back from Winn-Dixie she made rollup sandwiches for lunch with dark leafy greens and garlic hummus in soft tortillas.  We had red grapes to go with the sandwiches.  After lunch she walked up to the mail room.  I got a happy birthday card from our daughter and son-in-law, which was nice.  The eight pounds of coffee we ordered from Teeko’s back home had also arrived.  I checked the order to make sure it was correct.  It was, so I stored the box as we won’t need it for another couple of weeks.  I exchanged a couple of text messages with my daughter and decided it would be easier to just call her.  We had a nice chat.

Mara walked down to our coach mid-late afternoon and the three of us went for a vigorous walk through the entire RV resort.  We all returned to our bus and visited long enough for me to demonstrate the mapped location history feature in RVillage.  Mara headed back to her rig around 5:30 PM and Linda started fixing our dinner.  She made vegan Sloppy Joe’s with TVP and baked sweet potato fries.  Yum.

Eventually it was time for Super Bowl L (50).  I had intended to continue working at my computer all evening but my enthusiasm had waned and I found the game distracting.  We kept the volume down and played games until 9 PM and then switched the TV to PBS and watched Downton Abbey.  When it was over we switched back to the game.  It looked like the Denver Broncos were going to beat the Carolina Panthers so we watched a documentary on PBS/World about a family in Japan.  Linda went to bed when it was over but I switched to PBS/Create and watched a tribute concert to American film composer John Williams.  Jasper curled up with me for a while and then indicated it was time to go to bed.

2016/02/08 (M) Travel Prep

It got down to 40 degrees F outside last night and dropped into the upper 50’s in the coach.  Juniper stayed close to us for most of the night and snuggled up next to my head around 4:30 AM.  The cats must have eaten most of their food during the night as by 7 AM Juniper was most insistent that I get up.  I finally did at 7:15 AM, fed them, turned on the furnace, and made our morning coffee.  Linda was up by 7:30, plugged in the charging cable for our Verizon Mi-Fi, and was playing word games by the time the coffee was ready.  That girl really likes her word games

An Anhinga pruning its feathers.  Everglades NP, FL.

An Anhinga pruning its feathers. Everglades NP, FL.

Linda checked our Verizon account via her iPad and we had used 7.03 of our 10 GB of monthly data plus the 2 GB of extra allocation we got for downloading and installing the Verizon go90 app on our phones.  The data usage function on the Mi-Fi device (Novatel 5510L) showed 9.03 out of 12 GB as it combines all available data, so they were in agreement.  It’s a good thing we have the extra 2 GB each month for the next few billing cycles.  This current cycle (January 20 through February 19) has included iOS and app updates for both of our iPads, app updates for our Android phones, uploading of four BCM articles to our Dropbox (with lots of photos), numerous e-mails with large attachments, and upgrades from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 on both of our computers.  Even though we made some use of the resort Wi-Fi while at the laundry room, and did the Windows OS and some iPad/smartphone upgrades at Ed and Betty Burns’ place using their unlimited broadband connection, it has been a heavy period of data usage for our Verizon account.  Twelve gigabytes is not enough data to get us through a typical month while we are away from home.

We had granola for breakfast with fresh fruit and juice and then settled in to finish our coffee and doodle on our iPads.  I e-mailed my blog posts for the last five days to myself and then download/installed the Gmail app on my iPad2.  We took showers, got dressed, straightened up the bathroom, and got on with our chores.  I turned on the electric block heater for the engine to warm it up for a maintenance start later today.

We are headed to Homestead and the Florida Keys tomorrow for four days so today was, in part, a travel preparation day.  Linda’s first task was a trip to the post office to mail the book she bought at The Ringling estate for Madeline’s Valentine’s Day present.

We are taking the car and leaving the cats behind in Mara’s care so Linda wanted to clean up the bus a bit.  We also both needed haircuts.  Linda made a 1 PM appointment at a place near the Winn-Dixie.  One of my tasks was doing laundry which I took care of at 11 AM.  Linda finally got hold of a real, live person at the Florida Toll Road Sunpass system but the account is in my name and they would not talk to her.  She found me in the laundry room and worked her way through the phone menu until she got back to an actual person and then put me on the phone.  The woman was very nice and very efficient and it only took about 10 minutes to get our account reconfigured so we could access it.  We logged in and confirmed that we still have a credit balance and updated our credit card information.

When I was done with the laundry I turned on the Aqua-Hot engine preheat loop.  When Linda got back from her appointment she cut my hair.  Another task was giving Mara a key to our coach and going over the care and feeding of our feline friends.  Linda took care of that.

A few days ago our Progressive Industries EMS threw another PE2 error code, which indicates an open ground.  The current error code is 0 (zero), indicating that everything is OK, so it is/was obviously a momentary problem.  Presumably the problem is in the resort wiring as that is what the PI EMS is designed to monitor and protect against.  I wanted to do done things with the bus chassis today so I took care of this at the same time.  Unlike last time, I shut off the circuit breaker at the power pole, unplugged the shorepower cable, cycled the breaker a couple of times to wipe the contacts, cleaned the contacts on the plug, inserted and removed it several times to clean the contacts in the outlet, plugged it back in, and turned the breaker back on.  All of that was designed to clean electrical contacts and remove a possible marginal connection.

Another thing I did today was start the bus engine, let it warm up, moved the bus aft and for slightly to make sure the brakes were not frozen, and re-leveled the coach before shutting the engine down.  I shut of the block heater and Aqua-Hot burner before starting the engine.  We are a little over half way through our stay here at Big Tree RV Resort and given the often humid, rainy conditions I wanted to make sure the brakes were not rusted closed.  I also wanted to check the fuel gauge as we have been running the Aqua-Hot diesel-fired hydronic heating system on cold mornings and it uses about 1/4 gallon of diesel fuel per hour when operating.  When I was done with this process I turned on the fuel polishing pump so it could run while we were away.

We still had enough gallons of fresh water on board that I decided not to dump and fill the tanks today.  With the engine/chassis stuff taken care of my main focus today, when not preparing for our trip, doing laundry, eating meals, going for walks, and dealing with e-mails, was working on my blog.  It may be the thing I want to do, but it is often not the thing I need to do, or in some cases, the thing I have to do.

I failed to record what we had for dinner but I’m sure it was tasty.  We watched TV for a while and then went to bed.

2016/02/09 (T) Road Trip

My night was interrupted around 1:30 AM by very strong wind gusts.  All of the awnings were out except the large patio awning and were perfectly capable of being damaged by the gusts.  I put on my sweats, slipped into my Crocs, and went outside to stow the awnings.  The two bedroom window awnings and the driver side living room awning are held open by straps with a loop on the end that slips over a hook mounted on the side of the coach.  The roller tubes are spring loaded and self-retract when the straps are released.  While retracting they have to be controlled, using a long metal rod with a right angle bend on one end and a semi-circle handle on the other, but are otherwise easy to deploy and stow.  Besides the possibility of the fabric tearing where it mounts to the body or the roller tube, we had the front end of the driver side front awning flipped up by a strong wind gust in Sheridan, Wyoming.  I would not have believed that was possible unless I had seen it happen, but we were not about to risk having it happen again.

An Egret stalks its prey.  Everglades NP, FL.

An Egret stalks its prey. Everglades NP, FL.

I spite of my sleep being interrupted I was up at 7 AM.  As we do every morning, we fed the cats, refreshed their water, and cleaned their litter tray.  We finished packing, adjusted the windows, loaded the car, pulled out as of our site a little before 8 AM, and stopped at the dumpster to drop off a bag of kitchen trash.  We drove to the local Shell station to fill the fuel tank and stopped next door at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and something to eat.  We then headed east on FL-70.

Our destination was Homestead, Florida and Everglades National Park.  Our route was FL-70 east to US-27 south to FL-821 south (which is part of the Florida Toll Road system) to its terminus at US-1 in Florida City just south of Homestead.  From there we headed west through Florida City and on to Everglades National Park.  This part of Florida is very flat but it was still an interesting drive.  It was cloudy and cool for the whole drive down.

We stopped at the Visitor Center to get a map and stamp our National Parks “Passport.”  We entered the park using Linda’s Senior Access Pass and a few miles in stopped at the Anhinga and Limbo Gumbo trails area.  We walked both trails, each about 1/2 mile in length, and I took quite a few photos.  By the time we got back to our car it was 1:30 PM.  We were hungry and wanted to get more information about boat tours so we drove the 34 miles to Flamingo.  We had lunch at the Buttonwood Cafe and went over to the Marina to check on buying fuel.  They wanted over $5 per gallon so I passed.

We also checked on the pontoon boat tours.  Two different tours were available, one into Florida Bay and the other into the Mangroves.  Both tours left on the hour starting at 9 AM with the last one departing at 4 PM.  The tours lasted just under two hours, and cost $35.  They did not take reservations and tickets could only be purchased the same day.  We decided to return to the park tomorrow and deferred any decision about the boats until then.

By this time, it was late enough in the day that we decided to start back towards the entrance 34 miles away.  We stopped at Pa-Hay-Okee and hiked the boardwalk before leaving the park for the day.  On the way back to our hotel we stopped at a Shell station in Florida City and filled the fuel tank for a more reasonable price per gallon.  We found the hotel, a Hampton Inn just off exit #2 of the Florida Toll Road between Florida City and Homestead, and checked in.  We had lunch rather later and were undecided about what to do for dinner, or when.  We drove across the street to the Publix supermarket, bought snacks for tomorrow, and bought red grapes, hummus, and sourdough pretzel nibblers to have for dinner in our room.

We had Direct TV in our room but eventually found PBS and CBS and watched our usual Tuesday night programs.  We also found The Weather Channel and Weather Nation and checked the current weather and forecast for the next few days with great interest.  Some of the coldest weather of the year was dropping down through the upper Midwest and Great Lakes, affecting the Northeast, mid-South, mid-Atlantic, and Deep South past our location and all the way to Key West. We had brought a variety of clothing, so we were prepared.

 

2016/01/16 (S) – 2016/01/20 (W) A Capitol Experience

2016/01/16 (S) Fort Myers Beach Marilyn

I got up at 8:15 AM, cleaned the cats’ food bowls, fed them, and then made coffee.  I replied to an e-mail from BCM publisher Gary Hatt regarding which article he planned to run in March and which one in April.  I then downloaded my photos from the last two days from my camera to my computer.  Linda slept in and did not get up until 9:10.  We both felt like we have had too much less-than-ideal food to eat the last few days and split a grapefruit for breakfast.

Our plans for the day revolved around meeting Linda’s sister, Sr. Marilyn, at noon at the Diamond Head Beach Resort and Spa in Fort Myers Beach where she is attending an educational conference and taking CPE courses to maintain her counseling license.  The conference was being put on by her religious community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Corondelet.  Marilyn told us the resort parking was outside but the entrance had a relatively low bar over it so I took the ham radio antenna off of our car before we left at 10 AM for the drive to Fort Myers Beach.

Two hours should have been plenty of time to get there but we finally discovered the downstate traffic congestion that many fellow RV/snowbirds have mentioned to us.  The trip down FL-31 south was an easy, pleasant drive through citrus groves and ranches.  It ended at FL-80 where we headed west towards Ft. Myers.  We had the GPS set for “shortest route” so it took us through town instead of putting us on I-75 but it was an interesting route and we got to see different parts of the city including downtown and McGreger Avenue, which is lined with large Royal Palms.  It was also the location of the adjacent Henry Ford and Thomas Edison estates.  In spite of the traffic we will probably venture back there at some point to see the estates.

Apparently everyone was headed to Ft. Myers Beach today as the last few miles to get onto the island took one hour.  It was the worst traffic I seen in years.  There is only one bridge connecting the north end of the island to the mainland and there are two lanes of traffic that funnel down into one.  The lanes have a divider between them and are controlled by separate stop lights.  We had never seen anything like it before.  Linda texted Marilyn with a revised ETA.

Marilyn and Linda at the Diamond Head Beach Resort & Spa, Ft. Myers Beach, FL.

Marilyn and Linda at the Diamond Head Beach Resort & Spa, Ft. Myers Beach, FL.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot of the hotel at 12:30 PM Marilyn was waiting for us.  We paid for parking ($10), parked the car, and went directly to Cabana’s, the hotel’s beachfront bar/restaurant.  Linda had a margarita and I had a frozen strawberry daiquiri.  What can I say?  I like fruit drinks.

For lunch Linda and I both had veggie burgers and Marilyn had the Portobello mushroom burger.  The veggie burgers were mushy, as they often are, but the French fries were coated with something before being fried, probably flour, and were excellent.  After we were done eating Linda and Marilyn walked out onto the beach where Linda took her shoes off and walked in the ocean.  Our $10 parking fee got us a voucher for the same amount which we applied to the lunch bill.

We spent the next 90 minutes strolling a portion of Estero Boulevard, the main/only street that runs the length of the island.  I took a few photographs and we wandered into a few shops but did not buy anything.  We also walked out on the pier where we got a close up look at two Pelicans and a great view of the very crowded beach to the north and south.  This place definitely had that upscale but slightly funky, seaside resort, winter getaway vibe that is one of the reasons people flock to such places.

The Beach at Ft. Myers Beach, FL.

The Beach at Ft. Myers Beach, FL.

We were back at the hotel at 3:30 PM.  Marilyn had something to do at 4 PM so we took our leave and got back into the bumper-to-bumper traffic that was now moving slowly towards the bridge and off the island.  But at least it was moving, and once we cleared the bridge traffic moved along much better.  I changed the GPS to “fastest route” and it took us over different roads to I-75 and then north five miles to FL-80 where we retraced our earlier route (in reverse) to get back to Arcadia.  At the intersection of FL-80 and FL-31 we stopped at a Publix supermarket and bought a couple of bottled drinks.

It had been a long day and I did not feel like working at my computer.  We tuned in a program on PBS at 8 PM and doodled on our iPads.  Linda was checking the weather and the forecast for overnight was starting to look ominous.  When the program ended at 9:30 we went outside to retract our awnings and put our folding chairs and table away.  We stowed the big patio awning last and it started to rain lightly as we completed that task.  We left the TV on and watched the weather situation closely.  I finally went to bed at midnight knowing that we would not got a full, restful night’s sleep.

2016/01/17 (N) Bad Weather

The cold front that swept across the Florida peninsula overnight was draped off of an intense low pressure system that moved from Texas along the Gulf coast shore into the Florida panhandle and eventually along the Florida/Georgia border and off into the Atlantic.  The front, combined with a low level jetstream, raced across the area at 50 to 60 miles per hour triggering numerous thunderstorms and spawning a few tornados.

We had followed the development of the system closely before going to bed at midnight as both channel 11 and 20 had continuous storm team coverage.  At 4:30 AM we received severe weather alerts on our phones.  Linda’s phone has a loud klaxon warning sound associated with these alerts and we were instantly wide awake.  We put on our sweats, so that we would at least be dressed in case we had to leave the rig, and turned on the TV.

Arcadia, including our Big Tree Carefree RV Resort, was in the northeast corner of a tornado warning box.  It had started raining, off and on, well before midnight but as the storm front moved into our area thunderstorms came with it, one with Doppler radar indicated rotation.  There was lightning and thunder, of course, and the rain became steady and very heavy.  The wind really picked up but never became tornadic.  We stayed up until 5:30 AM by which time the main storm front had passed.  There were a few lingering cells behind it but the meteorologists gave the “all clear” for our area and we went back to bed.

The temperature was in the upper 60’s when we got up at 8:30 AM, rose slightly to about 70, and then dropped throughout the day as the front that triggered the storms raced off into the Atlantic opening the door for much colder air to flow in behind it, courtesy of the Polar Vortex that was plunging most of the Eastern U. S. and Canada into a deep freeze.

The rest of the day was uneventful with pleasant weather.  My focus was selecting and processing photos from the recent Arcadia Rally 2016 for the bonus content section of the digital edition of the March 2016 issue of Bus Conversion Magazine.  Linda worked on her counted cross-stitch project and went for several walks.  I joined her for brief strolls after lunch and dinner.  For dinner Linda made vegan chili from scratch.  It was very good.  We watched Downton Abbey on PBS after which Linda went to bed while I continued to work on photos.

2016/01/18 (M) The Capitol Steps

The air mass behind the cold front that swept out of the Gulf of Mexico, across Florida, and out into the Atlantic Ocean yesterday was noticeably colder and drier than normal for southwest Florida.  The temperature overnight dropped to 47 degrees, so we slept well and woke to clear skies and crisp air.

Our day revolved around the 3 PM performance at the Venice Theater of the political comedy musical group The Capitol Steps.  Venice is over an hour’s drive from Arcadia so we arranged with Steve and Karen Limkemann to make a day of it that would include lunch, photography at the Venice Rookery, the show, and dinner.

We skipped breakfast, showered, and dressed up enough to be presentable for the theater.  We gathered up several layers of outerwear and I put the 100-300 mm zoom lens on the Sony a99v.  We left at 10 AM and stopped at the Shell station in Arcadia to top up the fuel tank. Dunkin Donuts was right next door so we each got coffee and a blueberry bagel to split.  I got a frozen coffee drink made with almond milk and mocha.  I had never had one of these from DD and it was pretty good.

I had the GPS set for fastest route.  It took us out FL-72 towards Myakka State Park, which I expected, but then took us south on County Road 769.  Along the way we saw the usual assortment of citrus groves, ranches, and birds but also saw a Bald Eagle.  CR-769 turned southwest and eventually intersected I-75 where we headed “north.”  Although it was another 25 miles to the Nokomis exit, I-75 ran mostly east-west for this stretch so this route actually made a lot of sense.  It was only a couple of miles from the exit to Steve and Karen’s place and there was a Publix supermarket along the way, so we stopped and bought them a bag of M&M’s to replace ones we had eaten on our last visit and were going to eat on this one.  Not vegan, but a small indulgence.

We got to Steve and Karen’s place at Bay Lake Estates at 11:30 AM.  At 11:45 we walked to Cafe Evergreen about 1.5 miles away, an easy walk on a sidewalk without having to cross any major streets.  Cafe Evergreen is a small, all organic, restaurant with a good selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes.  We both had salads for lunch and they were very good.  Everything we have had to eat here has been excellent and the service has always been on a par with the quality of the food.

We walked back to Steve and Karen’s and visited until we left at 2:15 PM to drive to the Venice Theatre.  Parking can be a problem in downtown Venice but Steve found a parking space on a side street near the theatre.  We have enjoyed The Capitol Steps every time we have seen them and this show was as good as any.  Laughter really is the best medicine.

Herons and Egrets at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

Herons and Egrets at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

The show was done around 5 PM.  By the time we made our way to the restrooms and out of the theatre it was 5:15 PM.  Steve drove us to the Venice Rookery where we bundled up against the chilly air and Steve and I got out our cameras.  The sky was clear except for some thin clouds to the west and I took quite a few photos in the quickly changing light.  Sunset was just before 6 PM and we stayed until 6:30 to watch bats emerge from their purpose-built houses atop tall, slender poles.  We headed back to Cafe Evergreen where we had 7 PM dinner reservations.

Linda, Karen, and I drank lots of coffee, which was smooth and warm.  Linda and I had stir-fried kelp noodles with vegetables served over a bed of couscous with an Asian style sauce.  It was delicious and had a wonderful texture.  We each had a vegan indulgence for dessert; cranberry pecan for me and chocolate peanut butter for Linda.  It was a very satisfying meal.

We got back to Steve and Karen’s at 8:45 PM and decided to head for home.  We reversed our earlier route and were back at our coach before 10 PM.  We watched NCIS Los Angeles and went to bed, tired from a long, but very satisfying day.

2016/01/19 (T) VZW Data Usage

We left the windows open about inch yesterday, along with the kitchen ceiling vent (but no fan), so it would not get too warm inside from the sun while we were away.  It was cool inside when we got home at 10 PM and we closed up the coach in anticipation of the outside temperature overnight dropping into the low 40’s.  Last night was another cool one, literally.

Herons and Cranes at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

Herons and Cranes at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

There are only a few hot dishes that Linda makes for breakfast and most of them are a lot of work.  The one dish that is relatively easy is oatmeal, and it is a great choice for a cool/cold morning.  It stays warm long enough to eat it before it gets cold, is a hearty (and heart healthy) dish, and stays with you for quite a while.

Linda stopped at the resort office yesterday to see if they could cut the grass around our site while we were gone for the day.  The awnings were up and our chairs/table were still put away from the weekend storms, so the site was clear.  The office said they probably would not get to it on Monday as the ground and grass was too wet but when we finally left the coach today we saw that they had, in fact, mowed the area.

We have been on the go more than sitting still for the last week and needed some time at the coach to do things.  I needed to wrap up work on two articles for BCM and settled in today to do that.  Today (the 19th of the month) is also the end of our Verizon Wireless billing cycle.  We do not have park Wi-Fi at our site in Big Tree Carefree RV Resort and have been leaving our Verizon Mi-Fi on continuously.  We managed to use almost all of our 11 GB of data during the current billing cycle so I wanted to spend today working on photos for the articles and defer uploading them until tomorrow.

Before getting back into my BCM rally article I copied all of the photos that I took yesterday at the Venice Rookery from the camera to my computer.  Linda tries to create a new postcard for Madeline every Tuesday and wanted a picture from the Rookery.  My best photos were of individual birds or small groups but she wanted something that would give Madeline a better visual understanding of just what a rookery is.

 

I finally selected a photo with lots of different birds in lots of different positions, including some in flight.  Linda logged into the PhotoCardApp on her iPad and determined that the post cards the company creates and mails out are 8.25″ by 5.5″, which is a 3:2 aspect ratio.  That is also the native format of my Sony SLT-a99v.  Using Faststone Image Viewer (FIV) I was able to resize the image to the exact size of the postcard.  I then e-mailed it to Linda’s Gmail account which, in spite of our local area network in the bus, is the easy (only?) way to get it from my computer to her iPad.

While I was processing the image Linda looked up the term “rookery” and discovered that its meaning is more specific than we thought.  While it is, indeed, a place where birds roost and build nests (typically in trees) it is actually specific to rooks, which are a crow-like bird.  It has, however, become the generic term for a place where one or more species of bird roost, breed, nest, and raise their young.

Besides the main post card photo the PhotoCardApp allows you to create your own stamps.  Creating a stamp costs two credits but once it’s created you can use it over and over for just the cost of the postage.  (You get 30 credits for $25 and each card costs 2 credits to create, produce, and mail.)  We do not have a lot of photos of the two of us together as one of us (usually me) is typically behind the camera.  We have a nice head and shoulders photo that our son took that I use at the end of my BCM articles.  I e-mailed that to Linda and she used it to create a personalized stamp.  I found a second photo of us that someone took at the 2014 GLAMARAMA Rally so I processed it and e-mailed it to Linda to use for a second stamp if she wanted.  We are both wearing our bright yellow GLCC dress shirts, so it is very RV specific.

We tried Facetiming with Brendan, Shawna, and Madeline Sunday evening but the connection was too slow so we talked on the phone.  They were in Washington D. C. for a conference related to Shawna’s research and Madeline got to visit the Natural History Museum and see dinosaur skeletons.  The PhotoCardApp also has a large collection of “stickers” that can be added to a post card, so Linda added an electronic dinosaur “sticker” to the one she was working on.

A Great Blue Heron at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

A Great Blue Heron at the Venice Rookery, Venice, FL.

The last couple of days there was some confusion between BCM owner/publisher Gary Hatt, the layout person (Jorge Escobar, in Columbia), and myself regarding which article they were running in the March 2016 issue.  Gary cleared that up in favor of my article on the Arcadia Rally 2016.  That, in turn, allowed me to move ahead with finishing that article today, which I finally did around dinner time.  My only breaks were to eat lunch and go for short walks.

Linda worked on her counted cross-stitch project but took time out to go on several longer walks, including one to the local Winn-Dixie supermarket.  She planned to make a bean soup for dinner and needed a few ingredients.  The soup was based on a package of mixed beans and lentils she bought at a health food store in Frankenmuth, Michigan back in October.  She added water, tomato sauce, garlic, onion, greens, chili powder, and turmeric.  By the time we sat down to dinner the sun had set and the temperature was dropping so the hot soup was not only delicious but really hit the spot.

We walked over to the mail room after dinner.  My new driver’s license had arrived.  The registrations and tabs for the bus and car arrived a few days ago so as of now we are not expecting any more mail.

Back at the coach I turned on the electric toe-kick heaters and plugged in the Broan portable cube heater rather than run the Aqua-Hot.  We put on our Tuesday evening TV programs but I was in a groove and turned my attention to selecting and processing photos to go with blog posts.  I got through my images for November and December and the first few days of January by 11 PM when the last show ended and Linda headed off to bed.

We still had 1.5 GB of data left in our current billing cycle, which ended at midnight, although I was not sure in what time zone.  I knew the data for my BCM Arcadia rally article was not more than 0.5 GB so I uploaded it before our data allocation reset.  It’s expensive to exceed our allocation but there is also a “cost” associated with not using what we have paid for.

I turned the thermostats on the toe-kick heaters back and turned off the Broan cube heater.  I turned on the electric heating pad on my side of the bed, set it to 4, and activated the pre-heat function.  I finally got to bed around 12:30 AM and snuggled in under the blankets.

2016/01/20 (W) Cellular Options

I don’t know if the outside temperature got into the upper 30’s last night but even with the coach closed up the temperature inside dropped to 59 degrees F.  Linda got up first this morning and turned up the thermostats on the electric toe-kick heaters.  I got up a few minutes later and turned on the Aqua-Hot diesel burner and the three thermostats that control the zone pumps and fans on the heat exchangers in the house portion of the bus.

We had slept in a bit and were sitting around in our sweats while the coach warmed up when we realized at 7:55 that the Wednesday coffee was starting in five minutes.  We did not feel like going over in our sweats or changing clothes so I made coffee in our coach like I do almost every morning.  The problems (for us) with the Wednesday morning coffee, based on having been one time, is that there is no opportunity to socialize and it takes too long.  It was well attended the one time we went so it apparently serves the needs of the resort management and most of the residents.

Linda used her iPad2 to check in on the world and I used mine to finish up my blog posts for the last few days.  We eventually had granola with blueberries and bananas for breakfast, which is always a treat.  Linda walked our kitchen trash over to the dumpster and then continued walking the park for her first walk of the day.

My original objective for today was to upload image and document files for my Arcadia Rally 2016 article to my BCM Dropbox folder, but I got that done before I went to bed last night.  Although I have a lot work to do on several websites, including ours, I wanted to put the finishing touches on my featured bus article about Ronnie and Diann Mewbourn’s 1969 Model 07 Eagle bus conversion and move two technical articles from “proofreading” to “ready” status.  Gary has not had Kathy proofread/edit any of them yet so that had to wait for another day.  I also wanted to continue selecting/processing photos for my January blog posts but got distracted with system updates for my ASUS laptop computer.

I ran the CCleaner program and then ran the Windows 8.1 disk check utility.  I ran it because MS Outlook keeps “encountering a problem and has to close” or stops responding.  The check disk utility did not find any errors so I downloaded a new version of Defraggler and started it.  I probably should have run it overnight as it ran all day and through the evening.  I think I could have worked while it was running but I have always preferred to let disk defragmenters run without anything else tasking the system.

With my computer tied up and my blog post drafts up-to-date I had a little time on my hands.  Linda is always up for another walk so we walked over to the CellularSales store, an Authorized Verizon Retailer located on an out lot of the Walmart shopping center.  The shopping center is on the other side of Highway 70 so we used the crosswalk at the traffic signal for the shopping center entrance.  This stoplight also serves the entrance to the 55+ community immediately to the east of our RV resort and is where we make our U-turn when headed east to head back west to the entrance to our resort.

The reason for our visit was that we became eligible for device upgrades back in April and wanted to check out what was available in smartphones and data plans.  We were also looking for a new Mi-Fi device that Chris and Cherie (Technomadia) reported on in their Mobile Internet Aficionados (MIA) site.  We usually work with Verizon corporate stores but there isn’t one in Arcadia.  The store was large, spacious, very nice, and not busy so Toby was able to spend some relaxed time answering our questions.

The Mi-Fi device we wanted to see was the new Netgear AC791L but CellularSales did not have one and Toby was not familiar with it.  They did not even have the Novatel 6620L and were still selling the Novatel 5510L which is what we have now and want to replace.  We got our 5510L in June 2013 from a Verizon retailer in Gillette, Wyoming and our friends at the RV Mobile Internet Resource Center (MIA) consider it obsolete and no longer even report on it.

We also looked at new phones and learned that the Samsung Note 4 and Note 5, along with the Galaxy VI smartphone, do not have removable batteries.  Toby viewed that as a negative and we agreed.  The Galaxy V smartphone, which does have a removable battery, would still be an upgrade over our Galaxy III phones.  It has a larger screen but not as large as the Note devices, which are almost too large to hold up to your ear.  Toby also showed us the new LG phone which was very nice but again did not have a removable battery.  It’s the newest competitor to the Samsung Galaxy S VI.  We will do more research before deciding what, if anything, to do.  The AC791L, in particular, appears to be available online without a contract and at a better price than in a retail outlet.

As long as we were on the other side of the highway we stopped at Walmart and bought a loaf of Italian bread to go with our soup for dinner.  When we got back to our coach the disk defragmenter on my computer was still only part way through the disk and indicating the time remaining as “> 1 day.”  The temperature outside was near perfect, not too warm or cool, so Linda got out one of our chairs and sat outside reading while I stayed inside and took a nap.

I got up a couple of hours later and wiled away what was left of the afternoon.  We have been keeping an eye on our male cat, Jasper, who has lost little patches of fur from several spots on his back, and finally decided that we should get him in to see a vet.  The closest one is on FL-31 less than a mile from our RV resort and is the one that folks in the resort recommended.  Linda was looking for reviews online but could not find the clinic so she drove over in the car to get the name and phone number.  It turned out that she had found the veterinarian’s name but he used to work out of his house at a different location.  We plan to drive out towards Lake Okeechobee tomorrow but will call the veterinary clinic first and make an appointment for Friday.

The Venice Rookery at sunset, Venice, FL.

The Venice Rookery at sunset, Venice, FL.

As the sun sank in the western sky the temperature cooled off quickly and we closed up the coach.  Linda heated the rest of the soup she made yesterday and we sat down at 7 PM to a simple but delicious dinner of soup and bread.  We turned on the TV after dinner, watched Jeopardy, and then switched to PBS to watch the Wednesday night nature/science programs.

The last 10 days have been very busy and somewhat intense for us.  We had been to the woodcarvers expo in Punta Gorda, visited with Steve and Karen, met Ron and Mary at Myakka State Park, visited with them again at our RV resort, attended the Tampa RV Supershow in conjunction with strong weather, visited Marilyn in Fort Myers Beach, dealt with severe weather again, followed by a long day of working on photos for my BCM rally article, had a long day visiting Steve and Karen in Nokomis again and seeing The Capitol Steps at the Venice Theatre, eating at Cafe Evergreen twice and then visiting the Venice Rookery to take photographs before returning home, had finally had another really long day yesterday selecting/processing photos and placing them in my BCM article.  Looking back at all of that we were probably due for an easy, low activity day, and one of the nice things about retirement is that we can usually have “do nothing” days whenever we want.

When I checked my computer it was still showing 17 hours to complete the defragmentation so I went to bed.

 

2016/01/11 (M) – 15 (F) Family and Friends

2016/01/11 (M) Jack and Paula

Linda was up at 7:30 AM and read quietly.  I got up at 8:15 AM and made coffee.  We had granola for breakfast with fresh strawberries which finished the current batch of cereal.  Linda got another batch out of the freezer to thaw.  We have five batches remaining.

Linda was checking e-mail and noticed that we had been billed yesterday for almost $500 by iPage for web-hosting services.  I originally signed up with iPage in January 2013 for three years.  I transferred everything over to QTH in August 2013 but did not cancel the iPage account.  I did not realize that the account was set up for automatic renewal.  I logged in to see if I could close the account and cancel the transaction or initiate a refund but the website just gave me a number to call.  I did and finally got to talk to Scott in billing.  He was obviously a native English speaker and was able to take care of everything quickly and efficiently and provide a confirmation number.  If iPage’s technical/customer support had been that good I might never have switched to a different web-hosting service.  I am, none-the-less, very glad that three of the four websites I work with are on QTH.com‘s web-servers and wish that all four of them were.  The technical and customer support there is second-to-none.

Linda wanted to send another postcard to grand-daughter Madeline so I downloaded the photos I took yesterday and selected one of a heron to use.  I post-processed it at several different sizes and copied it to the NAS.  She needed it on her iPad, however, so I e-mailed it to her.  Even though our iPads (and phones) can connect to our secure Wi-Fi network they are not able to access the network resources such as the NAS and printer.  I really should take the time to figure out if there is a way to do that.

On the drive home last night the Honda Element started displaying a message to “Check Gas Cap.”  I pulled off the road and checked but it was on tight.  The message, however, did not clear.  When we got home Linda Googled the message and found several sites that indicated it was a periodic system check and would clear the next time around, assuming the cap was not, in fact, loose.  That could take days, however, depending on how much we drove the car.  The answer for most of this week will be “not much.”

Linda went for a late morning walk.  The Element needed fuel so I drove to the Shell station on FL-70 to fill up the tank.  Linda had walked to Winn-Dixie and was just returning as I was pulling out so she rode along to the filling station.  She ran into Claudine Elbisser at the produce market and found out that she and Paul were still at Jack and Paula Conrad’s place south of town.  Jack and Paula started the Arcadia Bussin Rally and ran it for the first 10 years before turning it over to Bill and Brenda Phelan.

Back at the coach Linda heated some Amy’s vegan chili for lunch.  She opened a new (sealed) pack of saltine crackers as we like to crumble them in our chili and have a few on the side with vegan butter spread.  They did not taste quite right but we were not sure just why.  They were not spoiled but it seemed as if they were slightly stale (not crisp) and the flavor was also “off.”  They were Publix branded and all of the grocery items we have ever gotten from there have been good quality but we decided to throw the crackers away.

A Green Heron at Myakka State Park, FL.

A Green Heron at Myakka State Park, FL.

We went for a walk after lunch during which Linda got a call from her sister-in-law, Mary.  They agreed that we might do something together tomorrow if Spence and Nancy had not made other plans for them.  It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon but cool with highs in the upper 60’s.  Rather than sit around the coach I called Jack to see if we could stop by for a visit.  He and Paula did not have anything specific going on so we drove to their place about 10 miles south of Arcadia.

When we arrived we were greeted by Jack and Paula but found out that Paul and Claudine had pulled out this morning, so we did not get to visit with them.  We then realized that when Claudine told Linda she had to run “because Paul was waiting for her at Walmart” he was waiting in the bus.  John and Lois Vickrey were there, however, and the six of us had a nice visit.  There were two other converted buses at the Conrad’s but the owners were not around.  We did not recognize their names but both coaches were at the Arcadia Rally 2016 and we would probably have recognized them on sight.

By 4:45 PM the sun was low in the sky and the temperature had dropped into the low 60’s.  We were getting cold so we excused ourselves and left.  We stopped at Walmart on the way back to our RV resort for a box of angel hair pasta and a box of Nabisco saltine crackers.  Back at our coach I closed the two roof vents and we closed all of the windows.  I checked e-mail and Linda started working on dinner.

She started with a nice salad of baby kale, scallions, olives, and pumpkin seeds dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.  The main course was angel hair pasta with a vegan mushroom cream sauce.  She used the Miatake mushrooms we bought yesterday at the Farmers Market in Punta Gorda.  It was outstanding and we really liked the taste and texture of the mushrooms, which were a new culinary experience for us.

We went for our usual after-dinner stroll around the resort and stopped by the activity building where lots of residents were playing bingo and smaller groups were playing cards and games.  In another building a dozen men were playing pool.  It was a beautiful clear night with the constellation Orion rising in the eastern sky.  Although the air temperature was crisp folks were out walking, just like us.

Back at our coach we settled in to watch our usual Monday night TV programs (CBS).  They were all re-runs, which we thought was odd, but we watched them anyway.  We were off to bed at 11 PM and straight away to sleep.  I turned on the electric heater pad and set it on 3.  Toasty.

2016/01/12 (T) Myakka River State Park (FL)

The overnight low temperature was 47 degrees F; not cold enough to warrant turning the heat on in the coach but cold enough to cool off the interior by morning.  We pulled up the blankets when we went to bed and I turned on the electric heater pad on my side of the bed; a more efficient use of energy than heating the whole coach.  As a bonus, the cooler the coach the less the refrigerator runs, although the new one is much more efficient than the old one.  When it gets cool enough in the coach Juniper (the cat) gets under the covers between us and puts her head between our pillows.  She is such a princess.

A pair of alligators in the Myakka River, Myakka SP, FL.

A pair of alligators in the Myakka River, Myakka SP, FL.

We finally got out of bed at 8:15 AM and slipped into out sweats.  I made coffee while Linda talked to Kathi at the bakery back in Michigan.  We doodled on our iPads while we drank our coffee and let the coach warm up.  By 9:30 it was 72 inside.  I turned off the heaters and we sat down to a breakfast of homemade granola with blueberries and bananas and a small glass of orange juice.  We doodled for another half hour after breakfast and then got dressed.  In preparation for meeting Linda’s brother, Ron, and his wife, Mary, at Myakka State Park at 11 AM Linda made a picnic lunch and I got the camera gear ready to go.

We had planned to be on the road by 10:30 AM but actually left at 10:39.  The 29 miles to the park entrance was not all 60 MPH, so we did not get to the visitor center until 11:20 AM.  Ron and Mary were already there waiting for us.  We looked at maps and discussed what we wanted to do.  Ron and Mary wanted to see alligators in the wild, so they had come to the right place.  The main park road crosses the Myakka River about a mile into the park from the entrance / visitor center with parking at both ends of the bridge.  We knew from our visit two years ago that this was an excellent place to see alligators, as well as a variety of birds and so it was again today.  After spending some time on the bridge we walked along the south/east bank of the river and found two more alligators sunning themselves on the opposite bank.

A little farther down the road was the parking area for the Canopy Walk and Nature Trail.  We climbed the tower, walked across the suspension bridge, and then climbed to observation deck at the top of the second tower.  The suspension bridge goes through the forest canopy about 35 feet in the air and affords a view of the forest that most of us rarely see.  At 76.1 feet AGL the observation level put us well above the top of the trees with a commanding 360 degree view of the park and beyond.  I shot a nine frame panorama from west through north to east.

By the time we got back to our cars we were all ready for lunch so we drove to the developed area on the south shore of Upper Myakka Lake.  This area has one of the two campgrounds, a boat ramp, air boat tour concession, restaurant, restrooms, picnic tables, and a trail that leads out to a platform where the lake flows out and becomes the river.  We found a picnic table in the sun near the shore and had our PB&J sandwiches, oranges, pretzels, and water.  After lunch we walked out to the platform and were rewarded with more views of wildlife.

Ron, Linda, & Mary atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL.

Ron, Linda, & Mary atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL.

Our next stop was the “Birdwalk,” an elevated boardwalk near the northeast corner of the lake that goes out into an open harsh and gets people close to the shore.  There was lots of wildlife out there but most of it was some distance away.  A sign indicated that the donation box was to raise money to build an observation tower at end of the boardwalk above the existing viewing platform.

Our final stop for the day was the parking area for a trailhead in the northeast corner of the park.  The main trail led to primitive campsites as much as 10 miles away.  We did a loop of about 2.5 miles (by my estimate).  Although the entire trail (park) was level terrain the footing was rough or soggy in places.  Portions of our hike were through the forest and the rest was through prairie.  It was our most vigorous hike of the day and I did not take any photos even though I carried the camera along.

By the time we got back to our cars it was 4:45 PM.  The sun was low in the sky and the temperature had dropped.  We discussed our plans for Thursday and then headed our separate ways.  We had just left the park entrance and headed east on FL-72 when I spotted a group of 6 to 8 feral hogs on the north side of the road by a stream about 100 feet from the road.  Linda did not spot them in time so I turned around and went back.  As I slowed down they took off but Linda got to see them.  I turned around again and headed towards Arcadia.  Less than a mile down the road I saw four more in the ditch just off the north side of road.  They were very large adult animals.

We were back at our coach by 6 PM and had left over Asian salad for dinner.   It had been a slightly more physical day than normal so after dinner we settled in to watch our Tuesday evening TV programs on CBS.

2016/01/13 (W) Coffee Clutch

Today was our second Wednesday at Big Tree RV Resort.  The only significance to that factoid is that Wednesday morning is the weekly resort coffee.  As new arrivals in the resort we received a coupon for free coffee but forgot to go last week so we made a point of getting up and going this morning.  The coffee starts at 8 AM but we had been “advised” by folks to arrive early if we wanted a seat.  We got there around 7:50 AM and the place was packed.  We got in line to get our coffee and found out that today’s gathering was sponsored by an insurance agency and was free of charge. We found seats and made the acquaintance of the people sitting near us.

Ron, Mary and Me atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL. (Photo by Linda)

Ron, Mary and Me atop the 76.1 foot observation tower, Myakka SP, FL. (Photo by Linda)

This was not a coffee clutch where folks stand around, mingle, and chat.  There are somewhere between 700 and 800 people in this park and I estimated that at least 400 of them were present at the coffee.  Everyone was seated on both sides of long tables for the entire duration of the coffee, which lasted until 9:15 AM.  It was very organized and consisted of introductions, lots of announcements, lots of door prizes, and a 50/50 drawing.  For the seasonal and permanent residents the information is probably useful, but it was not that interesting or useful to us.  We might go one more time just to take advantage of our free coffee coupon but the nature of the gathering won’t afford us any opportunity to meet people and talk to them over coffee so we probably won’t make a priority of going.

Today was laundry day for us.  Linda needed a few things from Winn-Dixie, including a few Powerball lottery tickets, and walked down to get them.  I gathered up the laundry, sorted it by color and temperature into three batches, and drove over to the laundry room in the activity building.  The washing machines only took about 25 minutes so I stuck around until they were done.  After getting those loads into dryers I went back and got the bedding, returned to the laundry room, and put it in a washing machine.  I took my iPad with me but ended up in a conversation with a few folks.  By the time I was done with the laundry and back at our coach it was 2 PM.

A flock of birds takes flight at the north end of Upper Myakka Lake, Myakka SP, FL.

A flock of birds takes flight at the north end of Upper Myakka Lake, Myakka SP, FL.

I took a long a long nap during which Linda went for a long walk, prepared ingredients for tomorrow’s lunch, and worked on her counted cross-stitch project.  I finally got up just in time for dinner.  After dinner we watched a fascinating documentary titled “Autism in Love” as a result of which we did not watch Nature.  We did, however, watch NOVA. It was also a fascinating program exploring new discoveries and understandings about the role and relationship of minerals in the origin and evolution of life on earth.

I watched some of the evening news on channel 11-1 and also checked the weather on channel 11-2.  A strong low pressure system was moving east from New Orleans across the Florida panhandle with strong storms coming ashore in that area.  A long, comma-shaped cold front extended from the low far down into the Gulf and was advancing on the peninsula.  It was forecast to come ashore starting north of Cedar Key after midnight and then progressively affect all of the shore communities south to Marco Island with strong thunderstorms along the front and a low possibility that some of them might become severe.  Rain, possibly heavy, was due in Arcadia starting around 4 AM and getting heavy by 5 AM.  Knowing this obviously doesn’t change whatever is going to happen, but knowing what is expected allows us configure the coach properly and to be prepared and react appropriately to events as they unfold if needed.

2016/02/14 (R) Ron and Mary

We were up by 7:30 AM this morning, had showers, got dressed, and had breakfast.  Linda finished food preparations for lunch today and then straightened up the inside of the coach while I dumped the holding tanks and filled the fresh water tank.

I was outside a little later in the morning and learned from a neighbor that the sewer line that services row K (where we are parked) had developed a blockage and sewage had “backed up into a couple of rigs.”  No one, however, was able/willing to be more specific than that.  A plumber was called and I chatted with him briefly when he arrived.  He confirmed that the sewer line ran from our end of row K south towards the front of the park by Hwy 70.  He determined quickly that there was indeed a blockage and I learned from him later that it extended along a considerable length of the sewer pipe.  This was not the first time he was called to deal with this and was able to get the drain line opened up.

Piecing together the available information I figured it was entirely possible that the sewage that backed up was from our tanks but that the blockage was not something we caused.  Linda, however, was of the opinion that the plumber had been summoned before I dumped.  Regardless, I’m sure it was unpleasant for those who were affected and I hope we do not have a repeat of this situation while we are here.  While in no way our fault, we would hate to have contributed to the situation in any way, however inadvertently.

My reasoning was that we are the second rig from the far end of the drain line and the tops of our waste tanks are almost 4 to 5 feet above ground level.  The tanks are large and if they were near full would release a considerable volume of effluent with a significant head pressure.  If the drain line was mostly constricted (reducing its  available volume), and the blockage was not very far down stream (also reducing its available volume), the weight of the contents of our waste tanks could cause the drain line to quickly fill and then force the effluent up through any available path, such as another rig’s dump hose.  This would continue until the levels reached equilibrium.

In a trailer with its floor not that far off the ground sewage could, hypothetically, back up into waste tank(s) and then into the toilet and/or sinks. None of that would happen, of course, unless the dump valves on the other RV(s) had been left open.  We have always been told that leaving the dump valves open on an RV is a very bad idea but the reason is that getting a good, thorough, dump requires a nearly full tank.  Today’s events have given us additional reason to keep the valves closed except to dump.

 Now that’s what I’m talking about!  We have got to get one of these.  A 4-wheel drive, Sprinter-based Class B conversion from Sportsmobile as seen at the Tampa RV Supershow, Tampa State Fairgrounds, Tampa, FL.

Now that’s what I’m talking about! We have got to get one of these. A 4-wheel drive, Sprinter-based Class B conversion from Sportsmobile as seen at the Tampa RV Supershow, Tampa State Fairgrounds, Tampa, FL.

Ron and Mary arrived a little after 11 AM.  We gave them a tour of the interior remodeling work we have done and then sat and visited.  Eventually we were hungry and spread the tablecloth on the outside picnic table and had lunch out there.

After lunch Ron drove us to Joshua Citrus a couple of miles south of our resort where we bought a variety of citrus fruit.  We then drove to downtown, parked, and walked around poking our heads into some of the antique shops.  Mary was looking for a pair of clear glass lamp chimneys with a 2″ diameter base.  The closest she came was a pair with a 2-1/4″ base.  Apparently 3” diameter bases are common, 2” diameter bases, not so much.

We returned to the coach for a while and then took two cars and went to El Pirata for dinner.  It was our first time there although friends had told us it was OK and it was the #4 rated restaurant in Arcadia.  Linda did not care for her margarita and also did not care for the veggie fajitas or any of the sides that came with the dish.  I had Dos Equis Amber in a bottle, so it was fine.  I thought the food was OK; not outstanding but not disagreeable, so perhaps she just wasn’t in the mood for Mexican food tonight.

The restaurant wasn’t full so we lingered and chatted for quite a while but eventually it was time to leave.  We were only a few minutes from home but Ron and Mary had an hour’s drive to get back to Spence and Nancy’s place.  Back at our coach we settled in to watch our usual Thursday evening CBS TV programs and then headed off to bed as we planned an early departure tomorrow morning to get to the Tampa RV Supershow.

2016/01/15 (F) Tampa RV Supershow

As forecast, the rain started around 4 AM and by 5 AM was fairly heavy.  I was not, however, aware of any lightning, thunder, or strong winds.  We got up at 7:30 AM, got dressed, and had some of the Honeybelle tangelos we bought yesterday.  Honeybelles are only available for about a month starting this time of year and are highly touted so we bought a quarter-Bushnell bag.  We were, however, quite disappointed in their taste and texture.  We will eat them anyway, of course, but they will not be the treat we were counting on.

We planned to leave at 8:30 AM to drive to the Florida State Fairgrounds for the Tampa RV Supershow.  It was still raining and was forecast to continue through the morning.  I took the vertical grip off of the Sony SLT-a99v to lighten it and make it easier to carry in the Cotton Carrier camera harness/holster.  I packed a couple of extra batteries, we took our raincoats, and headed out.

We encountered very heavy rain between Arcadia and Tampa, especially along FL-70 between Arcadia and I-75.  We arrived at the fairgrounds around 10:15 AM, got our tickets, and made it into the Expo hall just as another heavy band of rain moved through.

A Prevost H3-45 VIP conversion shell on display at the Tampa RV Supershow.  The driver side of the coach is elevated on ramps and mirrors on the floor allow show attendees to see the underside of the bus.

A Prevost H3-45 VIP conversion shell on display at the Tampa RV Supershow. The driver side of the coach is elevated on ramps and mirrors on the floor allow show attendees to see the underside of the bus.

Just inside the door to the right was the major display of Prevost bus conversions and to the left was a major display of Airstream trailers and Class B motorhomes.  We crossed paths with Steve Zigler, Prevost Sales Manager for conversion shells and chatted briefly.  We met Giesle from the home office in St. Claire, Quebec and also met Melanie from Millennium Coach.  We found out from Melanie that Millennium is now the primary corporate support for the Royale Coach Club.  Apparently Liberty Coach took over sponsorship when Royale Coach folded around 2005 and Millennium took over from Liberty some time more recently.  We were members at one time but have not paid dues in several years.

The Prevost coaches were one of the main things we came to see and meeting people from the company was a bonus.  Our other objective was to check out all of the parts and accessories vendors, of which there were many, and RV Parks and Resorts, of which there where an equal number.  We mostly picked up literature until we found Bill and Brenda Phelan’s booth.  One of their products is tire covers made from heavy nylon mesh material.  It blocks most of the sunlight while allowing moisture to escape.  We have meant to get tire covers for years but never have so we ordered six in a dark brown material.  They are a significant purchase, but not compared to the tires they are designed to protect.  They will make the covers based on our tire size and ship them to us.  They also make nylon mesh windshield wiper covers but I need to measure the length of our lower wiper blades and send Brenda the measurement.  Another product of theirs are windshield and side window covers.  These, however, are custom made on site.

 The interior of the Prevost H3-45 VIP motorcoach conversion shell. This coach was actually in the process of being converted by Millennium for a customer.  Note the interior layout marked out on the floor.

The interior of the Prevost H3-45 VIP motorcoach conversion shell. This coach was actually in the process of being converted by Millennium for a customer. Note the interior layout marked out on the floor.

In the other vendor building we stopped at the booth for Williston Crossings and Belle Parc RV Resorts.  Alan, who is the managing partner for both properties, was staffing the booth so we chatted with him briefly.  We also stopped at the booth for Florida Grande Motorcoach Resort in Webster, Florida.  This was the other RV Resort that our friend, Ed Roelle, suggested we check out two years ago.  Unlike Williston Crossings, where we ended up, the lots in Florida Grande are all for sale as deeded properties with a fractional ownership in the common grounds and structures.  At least that was our understanding.

The sites at Florida Grande sell for about $48K and a coach house can be added for about $31K.  HOA fees currently run about $550 per quarter but we did not inquire about how the level is set or what limits might exist on them being raised.  Lots can be placed in a rental pool when unused but we did not ask if owners can arrange their own sublets.  We heard from someone later than only about half the lots are sold.  That means lots are still available for purchase, but also makes such a purchase potentially risky.  It means plenty of unsold lots are available to rent and if the rest of the lots do not eventually sell in a reasonable amount of time the future of the whole development would be in doubt.

We are not planning on purchasing a lot anytime soon, in Florida or elsewhere, but it is an idea that interests us longer-term.  We might drive up in the car to check it out or, more likely, stop there for a few days in the bus when we finally leave Big Tree RV Resort in March.

We eventually found our friend, Al Hesselbart, manning his Antique RV booth at the far end of the fairgrounds.  He was asked by the RV Show organizers to put together an antique RV display but relegated him to a remote corner of the show.  He had commitments from the owners of eight antique RVs, plus his own 1978 Newell, but four of them backed out at the last minute and the other four simply did not show up.  Whatever their reasons it was disappointing and inconsiderate.  Al had a large TV monitor with a slide show of about 500 images running automatically in a loop.  He had them in a shelter to protect them, and him, from the worst of the rain.

It was almost 5 PM by the time we got back to our car.  We discussed calling Ed and Betty Burns, who live near Bradenton, to see if they were up for a visit but we were at least an hour away and decided it was too short a notice, too late in the day, and we were too tired.  We fought our way through Friday rush hour traffic across US-301 to I-75 and headed south to exit 217, which is FL-70 to Bradenton (west) and Arcadia (east).  We stopped at the Speedway for gasoline and bought two coffees to scare away the cobwebs.  It had been a long day.

As we continued east on FL-70 Linda got a call from her sister, Marilyn, to finalize plans for tomorrow.  We got back to our coach around 6:45 PM and had a light dinner of garbanzo bean salad sandwiches and a small glass of wine.  We then watched a program about Agatha Christy on PBS/Create followed by two episodes of Miss Marple.  Linda headed off to bed before the second episode was over while I remained up to continue working on my blog posts from today and the previous two days.

I stayed up to watch the WINK evening news (channel 11-1).  They reported that the storms this morning included a confirmed EF-1 tornado in south Fort Meyers and wind damaged property in Lehigh Acres.  The meteorologists made it clear that the January tornados from today and last weekend would normally be quite rare for this time of year but were not unusual in an El Niño year like this one.  We are headed to Fort Meyers tomorrow for the first time to visit with Marilyn and the weather forecast looks fine if a bit cool.  Another round of strong storms is forecast for Sunday morning in connection with the passage of yet another cold front trailing from a strong low pressure center moving east across the Florida panhandle.  We plan to stay home Sunday but Marilyn is flying back to St. Louis, Missouri, weather permitting.

 

2015/07/04 (S) Another Fourth

Linda was up at 7 AM and grabbed a shower as Madeline is usually awake by 7:15 and up between 7:30 and 7:45.  Madeline tends to wake up hungry so Linda likes to have breakfast ready to go.  I was up by 7:20 and also grabbed a quick shower.  When Madeline was finally ready to get up she let Grandma Linda carry her into the living room and hold her in her arms for a while.  When she was ready to sit up Linda brushed her hair and then Madeline returned the brush to the master bathroom.  Linda got her changed into her day clothes and then we all had breakfast.  Linda and I had our usual coffee, orange juice, and granola with fresh berries plus some vegan sausage links.  Madeline also had the sausage links and berries but her main course was toaster waffles with a little bit of real maple syrup.  Yum.

One of the swans at the Brighton Mill Pond.

One of the swans at the Brighton Mill Pond.

After breakfast Madeline wanted to go look for chickens so she and Grandma Linda went for a walk.  When they got back I learned that they saw three chickens, a duck, some bunnies, and a chipmunk (ground squirrel).  We then read a couple of stories and built a fort in the living room.  We talked about going to the Mill Pond in Brighton to see/feed the ducks but there was some sort of running event this morning, a parade at 10 AM, and then a rubber ducky race at the Mill Pond following the parade.  It is the 4th of July, after all, and most communities have celebratory events going on all day and into the evening, ending with fireworks displays.  That sounded like a crowd to me, with the attendant parking hassle, but we figured the crowd might have thinned sufficiently by 10:30 AM to make the experience a good one and decided to chance a visit.  Linda made PB&J sandwiches and packed some grapes and cookies.

Madeline sitting at a picnic table at the Brighton Mill Pond playscape.

Madeline sitting at a picnic table at the Brighton Mill Pond playscape.

We parked in the lot behind the La Marsa restaurant, which is far away from the Main Street part of the Mill Pond, and walked down the boardwalk to the playscape.  There were a lot of people gathered around the Pond for the rubber ducky race and quite a few children at the playscape with their adult chaperones.  Madeline explored the entire playscape with great enthusiasm.  By the time she was done it was 11:30 AM and she was hungry so we had lunch at one of the picnic tables under the shade of a big tree.

After lunch Grandma Linda stood in line with Madeline to use the bathroom.  We then walked around the Mill Pond and paused to cover our ears while the emergency sirens were tested, this bring the first Saturday of the month.  We had a leisurely stroll back to the car and I had a nice chat with a fellow photographer along the way.  He is a local artist/writer with a deep interest in the Mill Pond and the wildlife that calls it home.  He wrote down his website URL for me: http://Words4It.com.  I checked it out when we got home and it is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the flora and fauna of the Brighton Mill Pond.

The various shades of green with a few orange flowers caught my eye while strolling the boardwalk at the Brighton Mill Pond.

The various shades of green with a few orange flowers caught my eye while strolling the boardwalk at the Brighton Mill Pond.

Back at the house Madeline had some soy yogurt and fresh berries before taking her nap.  I don’t know if she fell asleep and woke up or never completely fell asleep but around 2 PM I heard her fussing.  When I checked on her she said she needed to go to the bathroom.  Linda had fallen asleep but that is a duty she takes care of so I woke her up.  Madeline took care of her business, laid back down, and fell asleep.  Linda stayed awake.

With Madeline asleep I took the opportunity to go to my office and check e-mail.  There was one from Scott at QTH.com indicating that the SLAARC website had been copied to the QTH web servers and was ready for testing.  I think that meant the GoDaddy DNS had been changed to point to the QTH installation but I don’t think the domain name registration had been moved yet.  I will need to clarify that with Scott on Monday.  I also had an e-mail from Gary at Bus Conversion Magazine with the draft of the June 2015 issue attached.  This issue has part 3 of my 4-part article on the 2011-12 exterior renovation of our Prevost H3-40 motorcoach.  I replied that I would proofread it and submit corrections before I go to bed tomorrow night.

Madeline takes the high road and Linda takes the low road on the Brighton Mill Pond boardwalk.

Madeline takes the high road and Linda takes the low road on the Brighton Mill Pond boardwalk.

Although Linda is much more physically active with Madeline than I am I was feeling the need for a nap and laid down at 3 PM.  I heard Madeline get up around 4 PM and I finally got up at 4:15.  Linda enlisted Madeline’s help preparing dinner while I took pictures.  The first task was shucking the whole ears of corn.  Next, Linda let her put them in a large pot of water, add a little bit of sugar, and stir.  While the pot started to heat up on the stove Madeline helped prepare the strawberries by washing them.  Linda then got the vegan burgers ready to grill (inside on our stove top griddle) and prepared the garnishes.  Madeline does not get to help with things that are sharp or hot.  Soon enough it was time for dinner and we all enjoyed our corn-on-the-cob and vegan cheeseburgers. For dessert we had some more of the chocolate cake that we made yesterday with fresh strawberries.

We spotted this young bunny along the boardwalk at the Brighton Mill Pond.

We spotted this young bunny along the boardwalk at the Brighton Mill Pond.

After dinner I cleaned up the dishes and we went out on the deck to sit in the chairs and enjoy a near perfect Michigan summer evening while we watched the bunnies eating grass.  Around 7:15 PM we watched another Sesame Workshop DVD.  This one was on Shapes and Colors.  It was over by 8 PM and Madeline started getting ready for bed which was a very jovial affair.  First the potty, then jammies, then tooth brushing followed by finding blankies, “bebes” (pacifiers), and stuffed animals, all the while laughing and giggling.  Linda finally got her to sit quietly and read her a story which calmed her down enough to go to bed.  If her thoughts drift to her mommy and daddy she will get weepy—it’s part of being two and a half—but we have been successful on this visit keeping her engaged enough to avoid anything more than some occasional brief tears.

Madeline washes the strawberries.

Madeline washes the strawberries.

We split the remainder of a bottle of Leelanau Cellars Winter White wine we had opened some time ago but had vacuum sealed and it was still fine.  Linda finished the dishes and loaded the dishwasher while I filled in the day’s details on this blog post.  Both cats came out of hiding and sought our attention.

We have been hearing fireworks, and/or gunfire, for many weeks now and today was no exception.  Two nights ago someone in the neighborhood was firing off, or shooting, something until well after midnight.  There were more fireworks tonight, as expected, and the activity intensified after 9 PM as dusk gave way to night.  The cats were not completely relaxed about the noise but seemed to tolerate it.  As far as we know Madeline slept through all of it as she is a very sound sleeper.

 

2015/03/18-19 (W-R) Why, AZ

2015/03/18 (W) Hickiwan Trails

Why, indeed?  Or perhaps Why Not.  You can go there too.

Looking east from Hickiwan Trails RV Park at sunset.

Looking east from Hickiwan Trails RV Park at sunset.

Bonnie left yesterday headed for New York (eventually) and Curtis was planning to leave today for next week’s FMCA national rally in Pomona, California.  We were invited to remain at RVillage WHQ while Curtis was away, but we had our sights set on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (OPCNM).

An Ajo Lilly at Hickiwan Trails RV Park.

An Ajo Lilly at Hickiwan Trails RV Park.

Our original plan was to stay in the ‘modern’ campground at the Monument.  It is strictly boondocking (no hookups) which would have been fine except that the section where generators are allowed is limited to only four hours a day with two windows from 8-10 AM and 4-6 PM.  We could have managed on the four hour limitation for a few days, but the unequal spacing of the two windows would have drawn our batteries down more than we wanted during the 14 hours from 6 PM to 8 AM.

Linda searched for websites and found Hickiwan Trails RV Park in Why, Arizona.  It was 10 miles south of Ajo, the nearest/only town of any size, and would locate us about 20 miles north of the north entrance to OPCNM.  Linda called to make reservations, which were not necessary as it was past prime season and the park was mostly empty, and confirmed the availability of full hookups and 50 Amp power.  The price was $19/day or $85/week with bathrooms/showers and a laundry.  It was located just inside the Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation behind their combination casino, filling station, and convenience store.

Wild burros on the trail leading east out of Hickiwan Trails RV Park.

Wild burros on the trail leading east out of Hickiwan Trails RV Park.

We left Arizona City around 1 PM and traveled back west on I-8 to Gila Bend where we headed south on AZ-85 through the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, a beautiful drive through yet another part of the Sonoran Desert.  We wound our way slowly through Ajo (25 MPH speed limit) past an enormous open pit copper mine (shut down) and continued on to Why, AZ where we took AZ-86 (the left branch of the “Y”) for two miles.  We pulled in to the RV Park around 3:30 PM after missing the (poorly marked) entrance, finding a turn-around spot, and unhooking the car so we could turn around.  Linda got us registered while I parked the bus.  We drove through the campground and selected a 50 Amp back-in site facing east.  Lou and Val took the site just south of us.

A group of wild burros watching us watching them.

A group of wild burros watching us watching them.

Hickiwan Trails turned out to be a hidden gem.  The park was clean, the roads and sites generous in their size, the bathhouse and laundry clean and fully functional, and the view in all directions amazing.  We had barely finished making camp when we heard the braying of burros.  The park manager, Dave, and several of the campers confirmed that there were wild burros in the area east of the campground and all we had to do to see them was hike out a wide, clear trail about 3/4 mile to the wash where they like to hang out.  Or wait for them to come through the campground at night.  Linda hiked out and found them and took a few photos with her cell phone.

The wild burros were obviously used to the presence of people.

The wild burros were obviously used to the presence of people.

Somewhere before pulling into the RV Park the driver side rear tire on Lou and Val’s 5th wheel trailer went flat.  We got out our Dewalt air compressor and aired it up and the leak was immediately obvious, a 1/2 inch gash at the edge of the tread.  It was likely not repairable but the condition of the tire tread, which was badly worn in one spot, ruled that out anyway.  They had a spare that had never been used but was 10 years old.  Not ideal, but it’s what they had.  We discussed several options and Lou decided to sleep on it.

A nice family grouping of wild burros.

A nice family grouping of wild burros.

We took some sunset photos and let ourselves be awed by the dark night sky and plethora of stars before turning in for the night and using the park Wi-Fi which had initially been a bit fussy and not very fast.  I discovered, however, that the connection stability and performance increased the later it got.  By midnight I may have been the only user and was seeing a rock solid connection and almost 12 Mbps, which is outstanding for RV Park Wi-Fi.

It was a real treat to get such a good look at this wild animals.

It was a real treat to get such a good look at this wild animals.

2015/03/19 (R) First Things First

We came to this place to see and photograph nature; western landscapes, flora, fauna, and night skies.  But our homes on wheels always take precedence over everything else except our personal health.  Until the flat tire on Lou and Val’s 5th wheel trailer was fixed we were not going to be doing anything else.  After thinking about it overnight, Lou decided to call Coach-Net.  Yes, they could send someone out to take care of it.  The guy arrived an hour or so later and in less than an hour had the bad tire/wheel off and the spare tire/wheel on and inflated.

I know they are wild animals, but this is just too cute.

I know they are wild animals, but this is just too cute.

You just can not have too many pictures of wild burros.

You just can not have too many pictures of wild burros.

While the tire was being taken care of Linda and I hiked out the trail in search of the wild burros.  We found them about a mile out, a group of 12 and another group of 5.  As best we could count we saw and photographed between 17 and 20 wild burros in a beautiful, natural setting.  On the way back we left the trail as we neared the edge of the campground and headed through a sparsely vegetated area, watching the ground carefully for snakes.  We were strolling along when I heard a rattle and looked to my right to see a rather large snake coiled up and staring at me.  It was only about 7 feet away and Linda had passed by it on the other side by about the same distance.  It decided I was not a threat, uncoiled and slithered off under a large, nearby bush.  That was when I could positively identify it was a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake that I judged to be at least five feet long, which is close to the maximum size they attain.  It was so well camouflaged when coiled up that either of us could have easily stepped on it even though we were looking carefully where we were going.

They never took their eyes off of us.

They never took their eyes off of us.

Look carefully.  That is, indeed, a very large Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.

Look carefully. That is, indeed, a very large Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.

By the time the tire issue was resolved it was too late to head down to OPCNM so we decided to scout out a good place to photograph the sunset.  It turned out that there was a BLM 14-day STVA just south of Why on the west side of AZ-85.  It was a maze of makeshift dirt roads and washes but we kept working our way west trying to get beyond where most of the campers were located.  We were surprised at how far back some of them had gone and the size/type of rigs they had brought back there, including large tag axle motorhomes and a full-size tractor towing a huge 5th wheel trailer.  We could not have gotten our bus in here without scratching the paint and risking getting stuck.

Panorama of a desert thunderstorm at sunset near Why, AZ.

Panorama of a desert thunderstorm at sunset near Why, AZ.

We finally found a suitable spot and set up our cameras on tripods.  Rain had passed through the area and there was a thunderstorm in progress over the mountains to the northwest.  Lou concentrated on shooting HDR images with his small Sony camera which has excellent low light sensitivity and records colors very nicely.  I concentrated on shooting panoramas and got several nice ones with rain falling from the storm clouds.  We hung in as long as the color was good and then packed up our gear and found our way out while there was still just enough light to see.

Sunset as viewed from the BLM STVA just south of Why, AZ.

Sunset as viewed from the BLM STVA just south of Why, AZ.

.

2015/03/13 (F) Sonoran Desert Museum

We were up at 6 AM and left the fairgrounds a little before 7 AM to drive to The Sonoran Desert Museum west of Tucson, Arizona.  That meant we missed the hitch-up breakfast, which is the last official activity of the Escapade.  We also missed the SmartWeigh operation, an activity run by the Escapees to determine individual wheel weights for RVs, toads, and toters.  We were not going to have our coach/toad weighed, but it would have been nice to get some photographs of the operation.

We drove separately from Lou and Val Petkus and were running a little ahead of schedule so we stopped at a McDonald’s about seven miles from the museum for coffee.  We met up with Lou and Val and another couple from the SKP Photographers BOF in the parking lot.  We needed 12 people to get the discounted group admission price so we all paid full price and went in.

The museum is spread over 21 acres at a mean elevation of ~2,800 feet.  Most of the museum is outdoors and is a magnificent collection of Sonoran Desert flora and fauna that was worth the price of admission.  We did not mind paying the asking price for this museum, however, as it is undoubtedly an expensive operation to run.

One of the highlights of our museum visit was the raptor demonstrations at 10 AM and 2 PM.  We went to both and took a lot of photos.  We were surprised how many people were there to see both demonstrations, especially children, as it was Friday (work/school day).  Perhaps the area schools were on spring break.  We had lunch in the cafe and it was very good.  Reviews for the restaurant were excellent but it had white linen tablecloths, so we took a pass on that.

We left around 4:30 PM and drove up to Gates Pass where we parked and took photos of the mountains and sunset.  The light was fading as we pulled out but we made it down the mountain road before darkness fell.  It was way past dark by the time we got back to the coach; a long but very productive and satisfying day.

Sunset from Gates Pass west of Tucson, AZ.

Sunset from Gates Pass west of Tucson, AZ.

Following is a gallery of some selected photos from our visit to the Sonoran Desert Museum.  Some of the photos were taken by Linda.  Photos were taken with Sony alpha 100 DSLR and Canon 50D DSLR.  The photos are presented without captions.

 

 

2015/02/12 (R) Joshua Tree NP Images

Here are 19 additional images from our trip to Joshua Tree National Park in southern California on February 12, 2015.  Click each thumbnail to view the entire image.  (The largest dimension of any image is 600 pixels, so these can be viewed on a tablet.)