Leaving Little London

Feeling back to normal…whatever normal is.

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Mia Culpa

So I feel the need to apologize to myself for my negativity in the last post.  I have been blessed in every imaginable way that I can think of to live this life that we live.  I have a job that supports it. A wife and child that are all in even when I drive them nuts with always wanting to do stuff ALL of the time.  I was able to spend the ENTIRE winter in Florida while others froze.  And just because Florida wasn’t what I had baked in my head, it was nice in it’s own way.  So self, please, accept my apology and know that from now on I will try to see the good in everywhere we go.

Savanahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

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Now, since we last spoke, things have changed a LOT.  It was as if crossing the Florida state line in to Woodbine GA injected some much needed fresh energy.  The live oaks covered in Spanish moss must do something to the air.  We stayed a few nights in Woodbine GA at the Walkabout RV park http://walkaboutcamp.com/.  It’s a SMALL campground, with only about 30 sites right now.  Owned by a very nice young man who everyone that is there really likes.  The sites are super close together, as they were built long before the age of the super rig, but we got a nice site and had enough room to open up fully, although I am sure our neighbor wished that we hadn’t.  There was a nice mix of transient folks along with full timers, mostly working on or near the submarine base nearby.  As mentioned, we have had a number of issues with our rig, and had just had our AC replaced in Florida before we left.  When we landed in Woodbine, we went to set up and our leveling system failed.  Then it popped and we realized that something had broken.  We then realized that our electric water heater wasn’t heating water.  We called a guy named Barry Strickland out to visit and he quickly diagnosed that we needed a new front complete landing gear and that our heating element had taken a crap on us.  On top of that, he was the first of 3, yes THREE, technicians to properly diagnose and treat our propane leak issue.  I was able to BEG Lippert to overnight us a new landing gear and within 2 days, we were back on the road.  Barry was the best mobile tech I have ever used and if you are ever in the area, let me know if you need him and I will hook you up.  From Savannah to Woodbine, he’s got you covered.

Our broken front landing gear.
Our broken front landing gear.
What a bad heating element (1 year old) looks like.
What a bad heating element (1 year old) looks like.

Off to Savannah.  I will say, I was very excited about going here.  The history alone was enough to pump me up, but Savannah, if you don’t know, is also a premier location for St. Patrick’s day festivities, and we were going to be there over St. Patty’s.  We pulled in to Red Gate Farms and RV park http://www.redgatecampground.com/.  It is a very small RV park (only about 30 well dispersed full hook up sites) on a HUGE facility.  They had 3-4 lakes, a sweet river, a few old southern style plantation houses, horses, small farm animals, and were only about 6 miles from downtown.  The only caveat was that we would have to move out of our site on Friday-Sunday as it was reserved for the holiday.  No biggie right?  WRONG.

our home at Red Gate
our home at Red Gate
beautiful sunsets
beautiful sunsets
I have fallen in love with trees in the south for some reason.
I have fallen in love with trees in the south for some reason.
Even caught a few fish.
Even caught a few fish.

You see, there are gods in the RV world.  If you get cocky or don’t appease them with offerings from time to time, they put you in your place.  When we arrived in Savannah, we, for the first time in almost a year, were able to fully set up and have EVERYTHING on our rig work exactly as intended.  I think the God’s either follow my instagram where I gloated about the fact, or they heard the tapping of my happy dance.  Yes, I knocked on wood, but it was too late.  The penance was set in motion.  We went to pull in our slide out to move and the bottom of the slide would come in, the top, wellllllll not so much.  Nothing we did would work.  It was a dire situation and the local RV repair guy and Camping World in Savannah were worthless.  I called Barry, but he wouldn’t be able to make it out for a few days and would likely have to order parts.  It would put us WAY behind schedule.  I put a frantic call in to Jayco, Lippert, and our lawyer, and slowly SLOOOOOWLY pulled our rig forward with the slide extended and looking like it had already had too much to drink for the holiday.  More on this to follow.

This is NOT normal
This is NOT normal
From the inside. Ummmmm we are on tilt. Makes laying down easy though.
From the inside. Ummmmm we are on tilt. Makes laying down easy though.
Needed so many of these. SOOOO MANY.
Needed so many of these. SOOOO MANY.

Z Bear had been sick so we actually skipped the festivities of the parade and such on Friday, and from the sounds of it we are glad we didn’t push her to go.  It was a drunk fest and she would have hated us later for it.  The next day she was feeling slightly better, so we braved the downtown trek.  If you haven’t been to Savannah, go.  It is a lovely city with tons of old world beauty and charm.  We did River St. which is again, kind of like Bourbon St. for Savannah.  Lot’s of bars, bands, people, shops, etc.  About 2 hours in, Z was looking rough and wanted to go back and lay down.  We took her home, put her to bed, and being the good parents that we were, we went back down town.  This time, we headed to Pinkie Masters bar, a total dive, where appropriately, President Carter announced his bid on the bar top.  We met some really fun people there and had a few.  We grabbed one for the road (because you can do that and I LOVE it), and walked down to the Crystal Beer Parlor.  It came as a recommendation from the bar tender at Pinkie’s and he was spot on.  Great burgers.  At one point though, Lisa had gone to use the restroom and was gone for an inordinate amount of time.  When she returned I had feared that she had an upset stomach or something.  Turns out, she had an encounter with a young woman who had imbibed a bit too much for the holiday and was very ill in the restroom.  Lisa’s magical nursing skills came in to play as she leaped into action to get the girl cleaned up and taken care of.  She was able to get the poor lady out to her boyfriend and get them out of the restaurant.  She has a heart of gold and a stomach of steel because she came right back out and finished dinner. HA.  On a side note, we saw the young lady and her friends later and although she was in bad shape, she was going to be ok.

Pinkie's
Pinkie’s
Crystal Beer Parlor. Very good burger
Crystal Beer Parlor. Very good burger

After one more stop we decided to head home before the shit show that would invariably soon begin.

The next day I got a call from Lippert and was told that they were sending a guy up to fix our rig on site.  It would be a few days, but in the end, he would basically rebuild it.  We were told that he is the “slide guy”.  So that was comforting. While we waited, we opted to take Z and do an Old World Trolley Tour. Having done these in Nashville and St. Augustine, I have found them to be an excellent way to get a lot of history in, in a short period of time.  I love the town squares, the haunted history, all of the revolutionary war facts and of course the civil war.  We found some cool little shops, art galleries (art is huge here with the college of arts being such a big part of the city), and finally settled on the Old Pink House restaurant for our final meal there.  The food was fantastic and the weather was lovely.  It was a fun day for sure.

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Churches like this are just awe inspiring.
Churches like this are just awe inspiring.
Beautiful stained glass.
Beautiful stained glass.
Bricks were hand made by slaves and many have finger prints from a sad time in our history. Sobering to see.
Bricks were hand made by slaves and many have finger prints from a sad time in our history. Sobering to see.
Every picture can be framed in foliage in Savannah
Every picture can be framed in foliage in Savannah
A fun and delicious lunch.
A fun and delicious lunch.

On the day we were supposed to leave Savannah the Lippert guy came out.  8 hours later and we were back on the road.  I appreciated Lippert sending him out, and i am thankful that we were able to resolve the issue, but this is already the SECOND full rebuild on our slide in 11 months.  There are a lot of theories, but hopefully we are resolved now, I will leave it at that.

From Savannah we headed up the coast to Charleston.  I REALLY wish I would have built in more time in Charleston.  As I don’t have much history with many of our stops, I plugged more time in at Myrtle Beach thinking we would love some ocean time.  I think we all agree that we would have preferred to stay in Charleston.  As it was, we were up late on the day we arrived, so it was dinner and bed.  The next day we headed out on a full field trip day.  Lisa planned a whole fun day for us and it was great.  We started at Wild Blue Ropes adventure park.  A truly challenging ropes course that made us all really push ourselves.  We had a lot of good laughs, mostly at my expense.  I was super proud of both Lisa and Z Bear.  Neither is a huge fan of heights and they both really stepped outside of their comfort zone.  After 2 hours of ropes fun we headed to our real reason for stopping in Charleston.  Lisa and I are both big Anthony Bourdain fans and in his Charleston episode he went to two places that we really wanted to try.  The first was Husk.  Luckily for us, Husk also had a place in Nashville and we have already had it.  It was amazing too.  The other spot we had to go to was Rodney Scott’s BBQ.  This man is a whole hog magician.  When just seeing his food makes your mouth water, you know you just have to try it.  He just opened a site in downtown Charleston, so we went.  And we ATE.  They probably thought we had 20 people with us.  Whole hog, beef ribs, chicken, cornbread, greens, grits, hush puppies, coleslaw, banana pudding, and all the sweet tea you could manage.  And we ate it ALL.  Suck it.  We did.  It was amazing.  Go.  You won’t be disappointed.  Once we finished gorging ourselves, what we really wanted to do was go take a nap.  Instead we headed off for our first ever escape room challenge.  Escape in 60 was a fun mental challenge.  We had 2 folks join us that we didn’t know and we did a pirate themed escape.  We had a lot of fun and managed to get out with 5 min to spare.  It was extremely fun for me to watch Z get so excited to solve some of the puzzles.  She is a smart kid and she really showed it in this outing.  I am proud of the young lady she is becoming.

Challenging herself on the ropes course
Challenging herself on the ropes course
Lisa is WAY outside and above her comfort zone. She did GREAT.
Lisa is WAY outside and above her comfort zone. She did GREAT.
Seriously good lunch. We ate it all too.
Seriously good lunch. We ate it all too.

Our final stop for this post was Myrtle Beach.  We opted to stay at the KOA in Myrtle Beach.  A very nice park that blew my mind.  It was like being in the forest while only being a 2 block walk from the beach.  Myrtle was a LOT like Daytona.  We did manage a nice long walk on the boardwalk, had a fun time and a lot of laughs on the big Ferris wheel.   Lisa didn’t really care for Myrtle Beach but we did get some great exercise in, had no issues with the rig, and the weather was lovely.

Tourist fun in Myrtle Beach
Tourist fun in Myrtle Beach
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We walked over 6 miles this day.

On top of all of this we did hit our 1 year nomadivarsary on the 28th of March.  It’s been an AWESOME year and my next post will be just a 1 year recap.  We have learned a lot and I can’t believe how much we have done in 1 year.  We celebrated with steaks and some flowers for the ladies.

The sunset on our one year anniversary.
The sunset on our one year anniversary.

I follow a LOT of people who live this same lifestyle.  One of the ones that I have been following for a while is a couple that does a lot of YouTube videos.  They call themselves The Freedom Theory.  Josh and Kali helped me make up my mind on Thousand Trails, and it is always an inspiration to see how other younger couples approach full time RV living.  The reason I mention this is because it turns out, they were in the same park as us and just down from Dory.  Josh had just had surgery and was working so I didn’t meet him, but I did meet  his lovely wife Kali and his parents who were an inspiration to him because they have been RVing for a long time.  Everyone I met was very nice and I always enjoy talking to others full timers.  Check out their Vlog at https://www.youtube.com/user/kbrightlife

Our last stop in Myrtle was to Margaritaville.  If you know Lisa, you know she loves quirky.  Here, they have a giant blender that every hour they make mock margaritas in.  I think Lisa and I both had a different opinion of what it would be, but it was fun to see none the less.  We ate there, and I have to say, holy crap they are proud of their food based on the prices.  For the quality, I could have passed on this one.  We have paid less for better.  That said, you don’t know unless you go.

Wastin away again in Margaritaville. Mainly because HOLY CRAP it was expensive.
Wastin away again in Margaritaville. Mainly because HOLY CRAP it was expensive.

Today we took off for Grapefull Sisters Winery in North Carolina where there is an RV park attached.  We are here for a week and then off to Advance NC for 3 weeks.  Looking forward to some of the exciting things that we have planned.

Thanks for following.

Floriduuuuuuuuuuummmmmmmmmmm………..

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Not Feeling Florida.

So I know I am about to commit blogger/hack writer suicide, and I am probably going to get hate mail from everyone in the full time RV community for what I am about to say.  But hey, I am a big guy, so bring it on.

WHY DOES EVERYONE LOVE TO FULL TIME IN FLORIDA??????????????????????????????

That’s right, I said it.  We hit Florida in late November with extremely high ambitions.  Maybe too high.  Have we had fun?  Hell yeah.  My family and I can have fun in an empty room with no windows.  The thing is I just had heard such wonderful things about Florida, and although we only saw what I think is a small slice of the pie, my impression is that it will be a while before we head back.  Let me explain myself in terms of where we were and what we did, and I will give an honest assessment of all.  But the plan coming in was to stay in Orlando at the Thousand Trails (free for us) for a good portion of the time.  From there we would take trips to Tampa, Daytona, St. Augustine, etc.  There is another Thousand Trails in Wautchula FL, where we already wrote about our time at the castle there.  We traveled between the two for most of Dec/Jan.  Then we hit the RV show in Tampa for a few days, swung down to Ft. Lauderdale, off to the Keys, up to Daytona, and back to Orlando.  I will say, given the challenges we have faced with Dory, the plan went off almost without a hitch.  I have been stunned with the degree to which we have managed to execute said plan.  If I had longer and more flexible arms I would be patting myself on the back for that one.

Orlando:

I have already discussed our time with the kids and my brother from another mother Steve, so Orlando is easy for me.  Traffic is miserable most of the time.  192 (a highway that isn’t really a highway) is a hot mess almost 24/7 as is I-4.  In fact, we concluded that Florida does ALL of the road projects that they have at the same time.  There is construction for DAYS.  Everything is like an hour away.  Always.  No matter what.  The Orlando Thousand Trails where we spent the bulk of our time was great.  We had close amenities and we always had pretty good sites.  We did get an ant infestation but we got that under control now.  It’s hard to say where we got that, but we did find many ant piles in the soft sand of the campground.  That said, Orlando basically blows.  Yes, I did not see 1 snowflake this winter.  HUGE WIN.  But unless you are there for Universal or Disney, it’s a pretty boring city as far as the ones we have visited goes.  As I say that, I also realize that I am not completely honest if I don’t also admit that we did have one of our best days on the road the day we went to the farmers market and sushi restaurant.  You can see the end of my last blog about that.  But all in all, Orlando was a bust.  Our favorite stops were Crooked Can brewing in Winter Garden, Orlando Brewery, Shari Sushi in Orlando, and that’s about it.  It was a great hub for us to have our grandson and our family fly down to for a visit, and Lisa and Z were able to get to Seattle in return to see them a few weeks ago.  So that part was good.

Surpriseeeeeee, a Twenty One Pilots Concert
Surpriseeeeeee, a Twenty One Pilots Concert

 

Tampa/Clearwater/Sarasota

Tampa for me was a bust too.  We did Clearwater only on Christmas day, but I did love that area.  Traffic getting in and out was a bear, but hell, that’s a theme in Florida (more on the drivers later).  In Tampa we did stop at a fun bar on Christmas day after we left Clearwater.  I have that write up in my Christmas blog.  The best 2 things we did in Tampa was to visit the oldest restaurant in Florida (Columbia Restaurant), and see the Twenty One Pilots concert (AMAZING).  The RV show for me (touted as the Florida RV show and the biggest in the state) was a HUGE bummer.  The set up is not very good and this year was a bad one for innovation.  I didn’t see any real mind blowing changes and now having been in one for almost a year, you see just how cheap they are made.  I have become jaded at the industry.  I did find ONE that if we had to move, I would probably buy it today.  But even it had it’s big drawbacks (no patio on the side).  We had a major issue with our slide AGAIN at the show.  We were also dry camping and it was MOTHER EFFING HOT.  So we had to run the generator all day to keep the dog and cat alive.  Our slide out wouldn’t come in, at all.  We went to leave for Ft. Lauderdale and we were stuck in the lot with no clue what to do.  I frantically called every mobile RV tech I could find and one just happened to be on the grounds.  A & A Mobile RV service may have been the VERY first person to properly diagnose our major issue with the slide.  Turns out, Jayco used crappy screws in the corners of the actual slide itself.  Two had backed out and when we were pulling the slide in, those screws were catching on the motor.  He also noted that our cut out for the slide is not right and so we are pursuing a fix with Jayco.  Sarasota was a little different of a situation.  I have an aunt there and my Uncle was down for a weekend.  We did Siesta Key beach, supposedly one of the best beaches if not the best in the country.  I have seen some that I feel rival it, but it was certainly fun.  Spending time with family is always great at St. Armands where we went for dinner was great.  Anna Maria Island beach was probably our overall favorite one day stop on this part of our journey.  Great beach, restaurant on the shore, lots of fun on the one day we were there.

Our problem area.
Our problem area.
Florida RV show, this was 45k. WHAT?????
Florida RV show, this was 45k. WHAT?????
If you think that's bad, you can't even afford to LOOK in this one. That's right, by appointment only just to SEE it.
If you think that’s bad, you can’t even afford to LOOK in this one. That’s right, by appointment only just to SEE it.
We needed help, who do you think we called?
We needed help, who do you think we called?
Thanks to A&A. I owe you man.
Thanks to A&A. I owe you man.

 

FT. LAUDERDALE

From Tampa after the RV Show and slide out debacle, we moved on to Markham park and gun range just outside of Ft. Lauderdale.  The spot at the park was tight and we were in a U of trees.  This was Lisa’s and my favorite park while here.  I would’ve loved to stay longer.  There were bike paths, Frisbee golf, work out areas, a nice lake, and a ton of really nice people, even a telescope to stare at the stars.  There is also a gun range, a mountain bike course that looked pretty advanced, and I even saw BMC out there fixing bikes that come out.  Lisa and I are not big Mt. bikers, but it looked pretty serious.  They had a great dog park, but they are breed haters and did NOT like our pitbull.  I took her in anyway, even though there were signs everywhere discussing breed restrictions, but after several dirty looks, we left.  I really think Ft. Lauderdale and Hollywood were my two favorite beach areas as a whole in Florida.  Great restaurants and beaches with restaurants etc. all right there.  I liked it a LOT but we didn’t get a ton of time there.  We wanted to go to Miami, but everyone got sick.  Soooooo, I can’t comment on Miami.  We got to see a mermaid show in Ft. Lauderdale and that was a real highlight too.  Traffic and prices sucked, but it is a trade off I suppose.   We did get to go “deep sea” fishing, that was fun.  We didn’t catch much, but I think everyone had a good time.  They tried to cancel on us because of a lack of customers, but we wouldn’t let them.  So we got a nearly private charter.

Very cool mermaid show. Z LOVED it.
Very cool mermaid show. Z LOVED it.
Gone fishing
Gone fishing
We did catch some, and Lisa honestly killed it.
We did catch some, and Lisa honestly killed it.

THE KEYS……….??????

This is where I am about to literally commit Florida fan blasphemy.  I hated the keys.  But before you give up on me, burn Dory down, or revoke my full timer license, hear me out.  I think the “Keys” held this mystery for me.  Lisa and I both wanted to go, so we made it happen.  From Ft. Lauderdale it was about a 3.5 hour drive for us down to Big Pine Key.  It didn’t start off well because when we got there the RV Park we stayed at said that our RV, although identified on our reservation as a 45’er,was too big for our site.  We needed to pay $65 more for the 4 nights.  WHAT?  $425 wasn’t enough?  They said we would have an ocean view.  Ummmmmm only if you call looking between 2 RV’s at the ocean, an ocean view.  It also didn’t help that my truck was then backed into by a boarder patrol agent.  I don’t know what he was doing, but somehow he missed seeing Bruce in his rear view mirror.  Bruce is not as big as he looks to me I guess.  Nothing major and we already have it fixed, but it was a frustrating day.  The next morning took us on a trip to Key West.  Surely this will solve the frustration to that point.  NOPE.  For those of you planning a trip to Key West, know this.  It’s basically Bourbon St. on an island.  Only the bars are 2 blocks off of the coast, so you can’t even sit at one and watch the sun set or anything.  After struggling to find parking for Bruce and shelling out $20 for a spot, we walked down to Duvall st.  Bar, bar, restaurant, shop, bar, bar, some street vendor selling wooden dick key chains, shop, bar, bar, bar.  Rinse and repeat.  We did the obligatory southern most point.  There was a HUGE line of folks waiting to take pics.  We decided to forgo the need for a solo shot and got a pick with a group behind us.  We did the mile marker 0, cool.  We then heard about the sunset carnival like street fair in Mallory Square.  We checked it out, and it was ummmmmm……ok.  We did find the best  dessert that Z has ever had.  Chimney cake is a hungarian cinnamon role.  MOTHER EFF YES…… So good.  We glanced back and watched the sun set and then clouds moved in and blocked the grand finale.  Oh well.  We were done and ready to move on.  The next day, the weather was horrible.  Lisa was ready for a chill afternoon so Lisa and I went to the Big Pine Key, home of the Key Deer (tiny deer that are only found there and we saw several) and hit the No Name Bar.  It was one of those spots like the Buck Snort in Colorado.  A total biker stop with dollars (Over 300k in 1’s according to the waitress) stapled everywhere.  So thick in fact that you can only staple dollars on top of dollars.  We left our mark and headed home to chill.  The last day, we were to head to a turtle hospital and to Bahia Honda (buy uh honda) state park.  Lisa wasn’t well (allergies have been a killer in Florida for us) so Z and I had a daddy daughter day. The hospital was VERY cool.  If you are in the area, check it out.  Bahia Honda was very cool too.  We could walk a fair way out into the ocean on a sand bar and Z and I had a beautiful date day hanging out.  She is growing up so fast that getting those moments with her are becoming invaluable.  That day was probably the best for me in the Keys.  NOW, before everyone hates on me, I realize fully that we would have had a TOTALLY different experience if someone we knew had a boat or if we had motorcycles or jet ski’s or something.  It’s really a paradise for ocean lovers, but I think I just had a smaller version of Hawaii in my mind.  Instead, as mentioned, I got more of a Bourbon st. vibe.  Would’ve been more fun with just the Mrs. and I, but not really great for the family.

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The damage
The damage

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I did have a very unique experience down there.  Every morning on my walk with Nova, I would go to the boat harbor at our campground.  I noticed on day 1 that someone was squirting water from a hose into the water.  Odd.  So I checked it out.  He was giving a Manatee a drink.  OH MY GOD.  A flipping Manatee loves fresh water.  The next morning, for fun, I went down and saw a Manatee floating about 20 yards away.  I flipped on the water and like a puppy, but like a really fat, underwater puppy, he came swimming on over and grabbed a drink.  Nova did NOT know what to do about this action.  She never lost her mind but she was certainly not sure what to do.  I made sure to take Z down there too.  Aside from the turtle hospital, this was a crowd favorite.

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Loves a sweet drink of water. As if he doesn’t live in WATER….

Daytona……

We had a really LONG pull up to Daytona.  We decided to go straight up from the Keys.  Up early and on the road, we did our longest pull in a very long time.  9 hours at least with stops.  Daytona beach is on the list of greatness.  We were busting for some beach time.  Our campground was actually north of Daytona in Ormond beach area just off of 95.  When we got to our park they pointed us to our site.  We noticed that as we drove past all of the traditional RV camp sights, that we started to head into what I would call the “mobile home” or “trailer park” section.  This is where I go back to asking how snooty I can be?  But in the end, I like to stay with RVers who are there to camp, not in a bunch of mobile homes (some were very nice in all fairness, others were complete shit shows).  We backed in to our site and I was not a “happy camper”.  They told us at the front that if we wanted to move it would be another $200 for the week or so time we were there.  Lisa and I decided the next day that if we were going to pay that much for a site, we should go find one closer to the beach (we were 40 min or so where we were).  Lisa and I were on the hunt.  We looked at 5 or so other RV campgrounds and determined that there were absolutely no solid campgrounds in Daytona.  There was nothing worth moving for.  Even the KOA was kinda crappy.  I am a fan of KOA but it just seemed a bit run down.  We decided to just suck it up and stay.  While in Daytona we did the beach, we did the Ponce De Leon lighthouse (Very cool), we found a cool Tiki restaurant, and we did St. Augustine.  We also did a lot of just getting caught up on housework, work, school, etc.  We stood out big time in the area we were at.  It was really all home style mobile homes and then us, the 45 foot 5th wheel.  People walked by and stared at us daily.  Not many talked to us either.

Ponce De Leon Lighthouse
Ponce De Leon Lighthouse
Daytona beach getting some sun.
Daytona beach getting some sun.
Daytona beach sunset
Daytona beach sunset
smooching my love
smooching my love

As I mentioned, we did the light house.  This was a really cool place.  Go if you are in the area, I will say you won’t be disappointed.  It’s a functioning light house and has a great story and history.  Bring your walking shoes, it’s 109 steps to the top.  Totally worth it.  Lots of great stuff to see on property.  Z and I did a day at the beach.  We pulled Bruce on to the sand and just hung out next to a bunch of 20 somethings.  I found it to be a fun day, but I like beaches with a bit more activity and things to do.  Daytona wasn’t that in my mind.  I know, by now you probably think I am a curmudgeon, I swear I am not, it just wasn’t mind blown by it.  It was a beach.  You could drive on it.  Z did try her hand at boogie boarding.  That was classic.  There was a big flea market/farmers market in Daytona, but really, kinda sucked.  Wasn’t what we thought it would be.  We did manage to score some good veggies though, so winner winner chicken (or vegetable) dinner.

ST. Augustine.

Everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE told us to go see St. Augustine.  So we did.  Now, I may win a few of you back here.  That’s right, come on back, the water is fine.  I haven’t totally lost it.  I LOVE St. Augustine.  I love history and this place has it oozing from every pore.  This is where history comes alive for me.  We did one of our Old Town Trolley Tours like we did in Nashville.  I love those because they are hop on/hop off.  They provide excellent history from a local in most cases, and you get a ton of info in a 1.5 hour tour.  I think Lisa and Z both like them too, but I usually don’t care, I just get the tickets and make them join me.  It was a beautiful day and man did we have fun.  We did the tour and then walked down St George St.  We did some shopping, did some drinking, met some people, and had a blast.  We happened into a Meade shop.  I don’t know how, but it was a few hours later and we were walking to a Cuban joint where they had live music with a friend we met at the Meade place.  She told us it would be a good time and it was.  We didn’t stay long as it was late and we had a long trip home, but the memory was fun and it was a great day in Florida.

St. Augustine
St. Augustine
beautiful architecture.
beautiful architecture.
Made me laugh like a 12 year old.
Made me laugh like a 12 year old.
Rummmmmmmmm
Rummmmmmmmm
Meaaaaadddeee
Meaaaaadddeee
Latin music. A bit loud for Z
Latin music. A bit loud for Z

The rest of the story.

After Daytona we headed on Valentines day back to Orlando.  Lisa and Z then boarded a flight to Seattle to spend almost 2 weeks with our family up there.  I do a lot of business travel, but it was so weird to me to be home alone for that long.  I did manage to rent a Harley and do some cruising around, but I had developed a bad sinus cold and really had a harder time enjoying it than I wanted.  I will say that if you want to do that, rent from Eagle Riders not Harley.  Harley wanted a ton more.  I put on over 600 miles on the bike over the 3 days that I had it though, so I did get some good time on the wheels to think.  Meanwhile, Lisa was in her element, hanging every day with our grandson.  Her birthday was during this time and I don’t think she could have had a better gift than to have him in her arms.

We have had a few issues with ants.  I don’t think I have said much about it, but we have been trying everything.  Finally, I bit the bullet and had an exterminator out.  I think it worked.  I took the truck in for it’s repair from the “keys” incident.  I played poker with the blue hairs (who are surprisingly grumpy given their current location).  I tested out the food trucks that they had been having out.  But it was lonely.  That is except for getting to see a Marine brother of mine that I haven’t seen since ’96 when I got out.  My buddy Kapanke told me that he and his wife and niece were going to Daytona while we were there and we figured I could give them a ride out, and hang out for a bit until Lisa’s flight got in.  It was so great to catch up with him, his wife was just super nice and lovely and put up with old Marine talk very well.  His niece was a super sweet young lady with a great head on her shoulders.  It is ALWAYS great to see my old buddies.  I will see him again soon and can’t wait.

Tom Kapanke and I. He looks better than he did back then. Me........not so much.
Tom Kapanke and I. He looks better than he did back then. Me……..not so much.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LISA
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO LISA
Auntie Z is just the best.
Auntie Z is just the best.
Our beautiful family.
Our beautiful family.

Lisa also got the rare chance to then fly out to see our middle daughter for 2 nights to go to a concert with her.  It was a last minute thing, but she had a blast.

When Lisa got home we noticed that the AC in our room wasn’t getting very cold.  In fact, it was blowing out hot air from the outside (all you people up north don’t want to hear that it was mid 80’s that week).  We called around and got the prognosis.  There are two copper tubes, one pumps Freon in to the ac and I am not sure what the other does.  They had rubbed together and created a hole in the copper.  So although we were supposed to be leaving for Georgia today, we are now up in Apopka FL waiting on our replacement unit and hopefully will be on our way soon.

A closing thought.

Well that brings you up to date, for the most part on the Norton’s.  Follow our Instagram and Facebook pages if you would like more.  But I want to leave you with this thought.

I met with one of my co-workers the other day.  He told me about a mutual friend of ours that had left the company a few years ago.  This guy was wicked smart, had a great family, was very successful in his work dealings, and although he and I weren’t best friends, I counted him as a close acquaintance.  My co-worker told me that only a short time ago, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.  It was bad.  To the point where they felt it might not end well.  He had been told by many that it wasn’t good.  I was in shock.  This guy was always very healthy, about 15 years older than I am, and the last time I saw him, he was the picture of health.  I left our meeting thinking that I just needed to reach out to him.  Just to wish him well.

Saturday, he died.

I couldn’t believe that it happened that fast.  I couldn’t help but take some time and think about how much I bet he wished he had done.  The time he won’t get with his kids or grand kids.  And how quickly his world changed.  It made me happy that we had decided to live this life.  So many things change that you have no control over, it’s nice to take advantage of the things you do.  I always say, if I shuffled off of this mortal coil tomorrow, I can always go knowing that I lived a good life and have always tried to be a good man.  I am glad that I am not waiting to carpe diem.  I hope you don’t either.  Whatever your passion, go get it, so that when the day comes you have no doubt that you did it all.

RIP Mark Laughlin.

Thank you for reading.

Ryan and Lisa and Z

Familiar Faces and Familiar Places……and some new ones too.

17 years.  who knew?

Back to the land that was built by a mouse…..

Dory likes the sun. Still having issues, but she sure looks good doesn't she?
Dory likes the sun. Still having issues, but she sure looks good doesn’t she?

For the first time in a while, we returned to somewhere we had already been.  It’s weird these days to do that.  In fact, the only other place to have that distinction in the last 10 months has been Medina Lake outside of San Antonio, and that was for family reasons.  But I digress.  We are back to Orlando for a few reasons.  First, it’s free.  Well to stay here it is.  Second, with all of the issues with our RV lately, we felt that being near a major RV hub is a good idea.  Third, there is a huge RV show in Tampa starting on Wed. of this week and we want to go, so staying near is a good idea.

We embark on many new adventures in the coming months, so having some “down” time if you will is a great idea.  Orlando/Clermont is familiar, we know where all of the stuff is that we want, and everything we want is relatively close (although Orlando seems to be a town where everything is 20-40 min away).

We ended our time down in Wauchula by hitting up what has become known as the GREATEST FRIED FISH OF ALL TIME place.  It’s called Julie’s fish house and most people just call it the fish house.  We went on the recommendation of some friends of ours that we first met in Nashville and ran into again down here.  They are a really nice couple and were super helpful in helping us find some places to go see.  Well Julie’s was one of those places.  Fancy? No.  Easy to get to for us? No.  Some of the best fried fish I have ever had and I liked it so much I wanted to get a weeks worth of to go items and go back every day since?  YES.  YEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS If that isn’t enough to entice you to check it out if you are ever in the area, I don’t know what will.  Skip the combo baskets, skip all the extra’s, just get a fish basket, or 8, and a sweet tea.  Sit down and listen as the heavens begin to sing their praises from the depths of your newly satisfied stomach.  I guess what I am saying is that it was pretty good.  Plan out your visit though.  She is only open a few days a week and serves only what is fresh caught, and the lines can be long, but it’s all worth it in the end.  Her FB page is here.

https://www.facebook.com/The-Fish-House-120525154631744/

I was so busy eating, I didn’t get a single picture, but I feel I painted a pretty good one above.  GO.

Lisa and I also hit our 17th year of being a couple.  I feel lucky and blessed every time I say that.  I have been with her for the majority of my adult life, and she has been such a great partner and friend.  We, like all couples, have our challenges, but we are like Yin and Yang.  My strengths are her weakness’s and my weakness is her strength.  Something that has been amplified in the last 10 months.  I try to appreciate every day with her to the fullest, even if the day is just spent in bed chilling.

17 years. who knew?
17 years. who knew?

Anyway, back to Orlando.  (my mind is officially lost in a sea of fried fish memories now).  This last two weeks have been more of a preparation for the months to come.  Z finished her semester in school and started the next one, I got caught up on work and prepped for some changes to come, Lisa has been and always is very hard at work making sure our house is a home and that we live in a beautiful one.  We took a few short trips.  One to Tampa Bay where the girls got to get their hair done.  We ate at Columbia Restaurant, which is the oldest restaurant in Florida (over 110 years).  We went to the original in Ybor City and it was delicious too.  (winning the restaurant game).

finishing the semester STRONG
finishing the semester STRONG

We stopped by Orlando Brewing for a few tasters one day when Lisa and I were out shopping.  I found a few new flavors that I really liked and there we met some really nice folks that pointed us to Winter Park FL. We found out that Winter Park, unlike the one in Colorado, is where rich folks from the north east go to get away from the brutal winters up there.  We also uncovered a boat tour on the lakes there.  It was an hour well spent and gave us some great history of the area.  It’s nice to see how the other half live sometimes too.  The main drag there was a neat mix of shops and restaurants that rounded out our day.  We ate at Prato, a very nice upscale farm to table Italian spot that unfortunately was only serving their pizza at the time (between lunch and dinner).  The good news is that Z loves pizza and theirs was very good.

my girls.
my girls.
scenery from the boat tour
scenery from the boat tour
this country is full of beauty all around
this country is full of beauty all around

 

That night Lisa and I went out on a little date to the Irish pub just up the street.  It was fun to get out with my wife for a few and it was a cute little spot.  We ran in to a couple from Scotland that has a house in Orlando and we talked with them for hours.  I think Lisa found a new BFF in the wife.  They had a lot in common and talked the night away.  There was a comedy/music group playing while there, but I didn’t listen much and couldn’t tell you if they were good or not.

this girl. goofball.
this girl. goofball.

The next day we headed back toward downtown Orlando to the farmers market held there on Sundays.  I hesitate to really consider it a farmers market, but more of a street fair with vendors of all kinds.  In fact, we had to struggle to find the actual farm produce portion of the “farmers market”.  It was packed and a fun way to spend the day.  There was music, food from everywhere, drinks if you wanted, and a variety of local vendors schlepping their wares.  It was cool and something to see if you are in the area with a Sunday to kill.  It’s located near Lake Eola and there are a ton of restaurants in the area.  Lisa really wanted Sushi and there was a highly rated spot nearby called Shari, but it didn’t open for over an hour.  We needed something to snack on and to kill some time so we headed next door to Baoery Asian gastropub.   We had a fun time dancing to the electronica provided by the DJ and watching the collection of gay men at the bar vie for attention.  I believe that there was some sort of pride event recently, and it provided us with entertainment as there was one very boisterous man that had been drinking for some time and was dropping back mimosa’s like water.  He would dance all around and was fun to watch.  Between that and the old school kung fu movies being shown we were entertained until it was time to head next door for dinner.  We got a good laugh because we had actually had some snacks at Baoery and joked about sneaking next door before anyone saw us because we would look like pigs.  I will say, Baoery had it going on too.  Their Bao’s were some of the best I have had and we had a cauliflower appetizer that had a sauce that I wanted to drink.  Our waitress was nice and seemed to like chatting with us, but I also think she got slammed with tables as we didn’t see her much.  No big deal, we were mostly killing time anyway.

aint we cute
aint we cute
Z took this one. shes pretty creative that girl
Z took this one. shes pretty creative that girl

 

It turned out to be one of the best days for us.  Z was in a particularly good mood and her funny side was on fire.  The girls danced, we joked a lot.  We headed next door to Shari Sushi.  A stark contrast to Baoery, it was quiet and certainly more upscale than we were dressed for, but hey, I never give a crap about that.  My money spends like anyone else’s.  There were a few folks at the bar, but most everyone else was outside soaking up the nice weather.  We opted to sit indoors as to not be spotted for our restaurant transgression.  We were greeted by our waitress Diem.  Little did I know that this little Asian firecracker would be one of the best waitress’s we have had in a while.  She knows how to do her job and she does it well.  I have a typical question I ask when going to a new restaurant, particularly if I might not ever return.  The question is “if you could eat here only one more time and then never again, what would you have”.  The question takes many servers back, but more often than not I am rewarded with the best of what a restaurant has to offer.  Not often, but sometimes I get told whatever is the priciest thing on the menu, or if the server is busy and doesn’t have the patience to think that much, I am told the special of the day, but the good ones nail it and we are both generally rewarded for the effort.  Diem did just that.  She was funny, witty, and put up with our crazy family antics well.  Much like our waiter from Epcot at Spice, she was engaged with our table and got where we were coming from.  She recommended some wonderful dishes that we wouldn’t have seen, was honest if she felt like something wasn’t our thing, and was patient as we sat there for almost 2 hours if not more.  I left feeling more than full, I felt satiated with the meal and the time spent with Lisa and Z.  I love those types of experiences.  At Ice Cube said so eloquently, “today was a good day”.

I am just realizing that it seems that many of our best social encounters seem to be with wait staff at restaurants.  I am going to continue to track this theory.

So long Orlando.  Till next time.  After that fun weekend, we are now poised to begin another chapter in our adventure.  We head to the Florida RV show this week in Tampa.  It’s one of the biggest and I look forward to checking it out.  We then head toward Ft. Lauderdale then the Keys.  The next month will be spent very close to the beach, so expect some good sunset pictures.  Thanks as always for following, more to come from the RV show soon.

JUST GO………..

The Nortons

 

 

HOLLAAAAAAAAA Days

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Holidays are over, time to get back to business…….

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It was very difficult to survive our first ever Christmas and New Years on the road.  I mean who started this snowbird thing anyway?  In all honesty, I used to live in Hawaii and I used to love spending Christmas on the beach when I was able to.  I told many folks here, it’s like being in a Vegas casino where there are no clocks and no windows, you have no concept of what time of day it is.  Well here, in the winter, you have no concept what time of year it is.  Back in our old home in Colorado, you knew.  Not that it ever got Minnesota or Canada cold, but you knew.  The motorcycle went to the garage, the clothes got heavier and the trees got emptied of their leaves.  Here, the occasional dip into the 60’s seems to be the only signal that the weather has turned.  We have had more days in the 70’s and 80’s this December and it hearkens me back to my days on Lani Kai beach park.  There is something about the sand, sun, and salt water that just makes me happy.

The brunch view
The brunch view
Holidays are happier in the sunshine.
Holidays are happier in the sunshine.
The Christmas Night sunset. Photo Credit Z Bear
The Christmas Night sunset. Photo Credit Z Bear

For Christmas morning, we got up and quickly unwrapped gifts.  Now I will admit, our past Christmas’s have been filled with more stuff than I care to admit.  Gluttony is an art with us and Christmas seemed to be an opportunity for us to show off our finely honed skills.  But because we had the kids out and did the Disney thing this year, Christmas was light compared to years past.  Most gifts were for Z bear and she got exactly what she wanted and not much more (other than an ukulele that she didn’t know she wanted until now, thanks Santa).  Then it was off to Clearwater FL, where I had arranged a brunch for us at SHOR in the Hyatt there.  It was a very nice spread with crab claws, peel and eat shrimp, oysters, a full array of carved meats, a breakfast bar with my favorite breakfast item (eggs Benedict if anyone cares, of which I ate about 20, also if anyone cares), a bloody mary bar and bottomless mimosas.  The lady next to us was taking full advantage of the latter 2 items.  Our reservations were for 11:45 which made us all rush a bit, but it all was for the best once we saw the crowds pouring in as we left.  We had a beautiful spot on the patio but in the shade (we saw more than one couple look enviously at us as they sat in the straight sun), we had a visit from Santa, clearly taking a nice vacay after the rough night before, and we ate, and eyed the beautiful ocean for some time.  To me, it was the perfect way to spend a Christmas morning.

Once we saw the crowds gathering at the beach that we intended to hit up, we opted to head to Whiskey Jacks in Tampa.  We saw it on the drive out and it’s the kind of place we dig.  Right on the water, sandy beaches, and cold delivered drinks.  It was fun, not great, not horrible, and it had great sand.  The water was a little cool, but hey, it who can complain.  We sat there and played cornhole and talked to family via facetime for the rest of the day.  At about sunset, we were ready to roll, just as the reggae band was firing up.  We made it back to the house and packed up as we were headed south the next day.

Wauchula…..fun to say.

Gators and snakes and bugs OH MY
Gators and snakes and bugs OH MY

Monday, we headed south about 2 hours to the Thousand Trails at Peace River in Wauchula FL.  We have been having and continue to have some pretty serious issues with our leveling system.  We have a work around, but my next blog may be one for those considering a Jayco Seismic to avoid.  After 2 hours of trying to level our unit that was on fairly level ground to start, we finally got set up for our 11 day stay.  There isn’t much here, but we have managed to find some real gems.  First off, we headed straight west to Anna Maria Island.  We parked and ate at the Sandbar restaurant and then headed to the beach for the day.  Z bear had been hard at work learning her new Ukulele and it was awesome to just chill on the beach and jam.  She has been afraid of the ocean, but managed to start to break that fear a bit this day.  In fact, at one point she was in all by herself for some time.  I was very proud of her.  We stayed to watch the sunset yet again, even though both Z and Lisa were freezing (we need to get better at packing evening beachwear).

Family love at Anna Maria Island beach park and Sandbar restaurant
Family love at Anna Maria Island beach park and Sandbar restaurant
The sun and smiles all glow.
The sun and smiles all glow.
We have been getting used to these sunsets.
We have been getting used to these sunsets.

The next day was a chilly one, so we stayed in and made some chili verde.  Then came New Years Eve.  Now if you have followed us, you know that we love the quirky stops.  Whether is was the toilet seat “museum” in San Antonio or the beer can house in Houston, we love the off the wall stops.  Well there happens to be one of the best quirky stops we have made so far, just 30 min. from here.  Solomon’s castle is one of those “so happy we found it” spots. More info can be found here, http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/2059 but it’s a great little house that is a testament to the fact that not everyone needs to be normal.  The art was awesome, but the story of this man who only recently passed away, is even better.  A 45 min tour of this mans art and a glimpse into some off the wall humor, followed by a lunch on the Santa Maria in a Florida swamp was perfect for us.  If you get the chance, go.  It’s worth the small fee to do the tour.

Art in the garden
Art in the garden
We wanted her to climb on but we thought better of it since we hadn't asked.
We wanted her to climb on but we thought better of it since we hadn’t asked.
Le Castle
Le Castle
I wish I could remember every pun and name of the art. This is just a small sample of some of his work. All from recycled materials.
I wish I could remember every pun and name of the art. This is just a small sample of some of his work. All from recycled materials.
A sample of the pun work he did here. These are metal statues that appear to be sword fighting. He said he needed some fencing for his property. I giggled like a little girl. Dumb, I know, but I like that sense of humor.
A sample of the pun work he did here. These are metal statues that appear to be sword fighting. He said he needed some fencing for his property. I giggled like a little girl. Dumb, I know, but I like that sense of humor.

Now we are not the type of folks that do much on NYE.  It’s rookie night and although there was a band and get together here, we opted for the early in policy.  I like that Lisa and Z are content to stay home some nights.  My personality would have us out every single night meeting folks and doing stuff, and sometimes you just need to chill.  Fireworks are legal here so we grabbed some monster sparklers and some little poppers and headed home to celebrate in our own way.  Z had a good time doing the fireworks and I was happy that we weren’t “those” neighbors who would be out launching large mortars all night.  We were in the house by 9 and chilled out watching TV till 12.  We toasted with some sparkling cider and did our best to doze off to the sound of what could only be described at WWIII outside.  Luckily for us, the war ended by about 2am.

Merica.......2017, well almost
Merica…….2017, well almost
A Z bear original. She has a knack for this photography thing.
A Z bear original. She has a knack for this photography thing.

A New Year is born……..

2017 started with more of the same.  My aunt recently moved to Sarasota and for reasons too long to share in my blog, my uncle still lives up north in New Hampshire.  We lucked out that he was down for a visit while we are only an hour away, so we opted to spend New Years day, which also happens to be my dads birthday, with them.  I called my dad on the way to tell him that since I couldn’t be with him on this day, next best thing was to be with his brother.  We picked them up and were soon nestled in the sweet soft sand of Siesta Key Beach.  All around you will see signs that it’s rated the number one beach in the US, and although it is very nice, I would beg someone to explain to me how it beats a beach like Lani Kai (my all time favorite).  It was packed for the nice warm holiday, as one might expect, but it was nice.  We sat around and talked with my family for a few hours, enjoyed the ocean, shared a few beverages, and got a few pics before heading off to Marina Jack’s in Sarasota for some of the best oysters I have had here so far and the most beautiful sunset.  Then they said it was time to head to St. Armands Key for dinner.  It was a really beautiful area, full of shops, restaurants, and fun things to see.  We opted for pizza (Z bears favorite) Venezia Italian.  The wait was 45 min, but that was not a huge deal seeing as we had a plethora (yeah, that’s right, I said plethora) of spots to kill some time while we waited.  The food was great and sitting outside in January was even better.  We ended the night with some Ice Cream and one last beverage before it was time to say goodbye.

I guess we will "suffer" through another day on the beach. Sheesh. :)
I guess we will “suffer” through another day on the beach. Sheesh. :)
Another beautiful sunset. I guess it will have to do. HA
Another beautiful sunset. I guess it will have to do. HA
Sea side selfies
Sea side selfies

We have managed a few bike rides and some walks here at our campground.  We actually ran in to  some folks from our time up near Nashville that come down here for the winters, and have pointed us toward some local hot spots that we will try to catch before we leave out on Friday.  We head back to Orlando for 2 weeks before it’s time to head south toward Ft. Lauderdale and then the keys for a few days.  We have an ocean fishing trip (I’d say deep sea but I would be lying) set up for our time in Ft. Lauderdale.  I am excited about that.  After the keys we will drop by Daytona for a few weeks and then prep our exit out of Florida with one last stop in Orlando.  We will then head up north toward Georgia but on the FL boarder where we will get to see St. Augustine before we head north for good.

To see where we are going or where we have been, click on the map below.

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Our current plans will have us going through Savannah GA, Charleston SC, Myrtle Beach, Tabor City NC, the then an hour North of Charlotte NC.  More to come.  We wish you all a very happy New Year and as always, thanks for following.

 

 

Orlando, the Vegas for adults who want to bring their kids.

Credit Jerome Braga for this great pic of Dory and Bruce.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…..

Well, somewhere it is, just not here.
Well, somewhere it is, just not here.

Well at least I think it is from the pictures I see in places like Minnesota (-24 the other day), Chicago, where my co-worker said he had shoveled over 10 times already, or our old home in Colorado where my dad told me it “got up to 11 degrees” the other day.  Oh my word, I have never been happier to be in Florida.  But before you think it’s all sunshine and 80 degree days, I will have you know, it’s like 59 right now and it is only going to get up to 71 today if we are lucky.  I have a sweatshirt on AND socks with my flip flops.  So rest assured those of you in the frigid north.  I feel your pain.  Why, when my kids were here recently, I thought my middle daughter was actually going to freeze to death the day it was 62.  I was happy because I got to wear my sweet new holiday sweater.  She was less than impressed with coming to Florida and needing jeans.  My oldest refused to be in long pants in Florida, but that soon passed as it was genuinely cold here for a few days.  But then I see the rest of the US and my heart warms and my body soon follows.

Our first change of plans due to weather……

In our last blog, I ended by stating that we would be headed to a harvest host (www.harvesthosts.com).  This was back around the end of November and we were headed to a little goat farm.  These stops are designed with education and new experiences in mind.  This one had the fainting goats, several typical farm animals, and a little girl that wanted to play with Z so bad as there weren’t any other kids on the farm.  We pulled up, found a spot for Dory, and met our hosts.  They took Z for a working tour (meaning she fed the animals) of the farm, and then we started to see that there was some severe weather headed our way.  There were threats of tornado’s, hail, and heavy rain.  I am sure that I don’t need to tell you that the threat of a tornado is enough to pucker the sphincter of anyone in an RV.  Hail could put us out of commission for a while too.  Besides, part of the reason we live in an RV is to move whenever we want right?

All set up under a big oak tree. Great for heavy winds and possible tornado activity
All set up under a big oak tree. Great for heavy winds and possible tornado activity

After some discussion with those that live there, and looking at the massive Oak right over Dory and Bruce, we decided to bite the bullet and drive another 3-4 hours straight to Orlando.  We quickly visited the store that our hosts had and bought some lamb and goat meat, honey, and other necessities, and off we went.  BEST……MOVE…….EVER.  We have some other friends that full time that were driving the other way toward Gulfport, and they said that the weather got very rough.  I am glad that we made the right decision.  And, it put us in Orlando an extra day early so that we got some extra time to chill after the long 8 hour day in the saddle.

It’s ALL about Mickey and Harry Potter……..

Walt was a genius.  There is no mistaking that.  There is no denying that he created an empire and built an economy all on his own here in Orlando.  We looked for the top 10 things that AREN’T mouse or wizard related in Orlando, and the options are slim.  We found a place that will do “how chocolate is made tours”, complete with the option to create your own chocolate bar.  It was ok, but even IT had a story line based on what looked eerily similar to a Disney cartoon.  But lucky for us, we didn’t have to wait long to partake in the real reason people flock to Orlando.  Our 4 day fast passes were ready to roll.

One of the FEW non mouse related stops in the area. Some big hanging shark.
One of the FEW non mouse related stops in the area. Some big hanging shark.

It pays to know people who know……….

My old roommate (old in terms of we were roommates back in the days, not necessarily in age, ok, in age too, but let’s move on) is a bit of a Disney guru.  There are people that come to Disney, and there are people that DO Disney.  I am in the former category, he is definitely in the latter.  When I told him that we were coming, he had a list prepared of things that we needed to do.  More importantly, I told him that for my grandson’s first birthday I really wanted to do a character meal for him, but they were all booked by the time we knew for sure they were coming.  He pointed me to the Disney phone line and I called.  Sure enough, they had just happened to have a cancellation at Chef Mickey on his actual birthday and they could support a group our size.  More on Steve later, but lets just agree that it’s great to have people who know what they are doing to help you when you don’t.  We picked our family up on the 7th of Dec. and began our week of celebrations for our favorite little man who was preparing to turn 1.

Getting Dory all washed up to receive visitors
Getting Dory all washed up to receive visitors

If you know my wife, or even if you don’t, you probably know that she is just in love with being a grandma.  She also LOVES to see our family all back together.  Now that everyone is split up and doing their own thing, it makes the time we have together even that more special.  And Lisa goes ALL out.  She made sure to have everyone’s favorite dish, dessert (we had a carrot cake, pecan pie, apple pie type dish, and a cranberry orange bread thing all made in the RV).  She had sliced veggies, snacks for the little man, treats for the little man, toys for the little man…….see where the focus is?  On top of that, for his first birthday, even over top of my multiple objections, she had 8 BILLION decorations for the RV, a cake that we had made at Publix but had bought decorations from Amazon for, because of course they didn’t have the right ones that she wanted, etc.  Our house was full.  Full of people, full of love and laughter, and FULL of a little 1 year old boy who has both grandma and grandpa wrapped around his little cute fingers.

Our little buddy
Our little buddy
Grandpa was a happy man.
Grandpa was a happy man.
He Gone.
He Gone.
Mi Familia, minus Lisa and Z and Little Man
Mi Familia, minus Lisa and Z and Little Man
Grandpa gives a day at the spa
Grandpa gives a day at the spa

We spent the first few days at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, and everyone really was doing great.  Z started to show signs of something with some sore ears, but we figured it was just the long days.  By day 3, which was the BIG day, Z was rough.  She made it to breakfast, but was just going through the motions.  She was trying SO hard to be a big girl and suck it up, but it just wasn’t to be.   She half smiled her way through meet and greets with all of the greats (Mickey, Mini, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto), but I ended up sending everyone else to Magic Kingdom while I took her to the Dr.  Ear infections SUCK.  She was down, which meant she was going to be down for a few days, so no Epcot for her either.  Little did we know, in a way, it was a blessing in disguise.  The kids had a great time at MK, and the next day, Lisa stayed home with Z and little man and I did Epcot with my older girls and son in law.  We had a great time and it was a great day for me to get some quality time with my now adult daughters.  I enjoy them so much.  And, on the up side to all of this, Little Man LOVED meeting all of the characters.  Some kids freak out, not him.  He was a boss.

The CIRRRCLLLLEEE OF LIFFFFFE
The CIRRRCLLLLEEE OF LIFFFFFE
All my kids with Mickey.
All my kids with Mickey.

Loved Goofy

Loved Goofy

Pluto was a big hit too.
Pluto was a big hit too.
mmmmmmm. cake.
mmmmmmm. cake.

Before the kids got there, I told Lisa that one of the nights while the kids were here, I wanted to take everyone to that Medieval Times restaurants where they do jousting etc. while you eat with your hands.  It’s not cheap, but I will say, it was 1 MILLION times better than I thought it would be.  We upgraded to front row, and I can say, if you can swing it, do it.  I don’t give endorsements often, but do it.  We had a blast and our green knight almost won.

Let the games begin.
Let the games begin.
Our feast with the royal family.
Our feast with the royal family.

We had originally planned to maybe send the older kids to Universal on the last day we had them, but with Z barely on the mend, and everyone else burned out from the week at the Mouse House, we instead opted to take everyone to Cocoa beach.  We came to Orlando when Z was 2 months old, right as hurricane Charlie was headed to Florida.  On our last day back 12 years ago, we decided to tempt the fates and head to Cocoa Beach because at that time, our girls had never seen the ocean.  I won’t lie, it was kind of cool and nostalgic to go back with my grandson and our family and play in that water and eat at the pier restaurant.  It made for a much better day than any hooded wizard could have conjured up.  Take that Harry.

we can never have enough beach days
we can never have enough beach days

Goodbye never gets easier……..

The day the oldest kids packed up to go see a friend in Georgia, and Kailah headed back to San Antonio was a hard one.  Our little buddy is growing up so fast now and it won’t be long before he is in sports and such and won’t be wanting to come hang with his geezer grandparents.  And with some family in Seattle and some in San Antonio, and us travelling, it makes saying goodbye hard.  There were tears and quite rides home, but we made it.  The good news was, we were going to get to see the older ones and our grandson one more time before they left, and we wouldn’t have to wait long for something to take our mind off of it.

Till Next time.......We love you guys.
Till Next time…….We love you guys.

EPIC EPCOT…….

Friday came and we got to meet up with our oldest kids for one more goodbye.  It was a CRAZY day to say the least because we were going to meet up for lunch but didn’t realize that there were two locations.  We went to one, ordered all of the food, and the kids went to another.  So we packed everything to go and opted to just meet at the airport for lunch and goodbyes.  A few hours later, my aforementioned “old” roommate and best of friends Steve came flew in from Minnesota.  You see, being the Disney fan that he is, he wanted to see if we could work it out to do Epcot for a day to do “beers around the world”.  Well I am sure it was mostly just to come hang and have fun, but somehow the beers thing became part of the plan.  He flew in, leaving 8 degree temps and snow in Minnesota for 80 degree temps and US in Florida.  I would have loved for his wife and daughter to join him as they are all enthusiastic Disney fans, but alas, maybe next time.

We started out at Disney Springs at Raglan Road.  Great Irish Pub and they do it right.  I had not been to Disney Springs since they re-did it from Downtown Disney.  It’s GREAT.  All lit up for the holidays, entertainment everywhere, and enough food, shopping, and things to see to keep you busy for hours.  At Raglan, we got to start our fun weekend with some brews, great food, good service, and fun music.  We also hit up Jack Lindsey’s Hangar Bar quickly, before taking a stroll around.  I wouldn’t classify DS as cheap or free, but it certainly could be if you have better restraint than I do.

Gettin our IRISH on.
Gettin our IRISH on.

The next morning we were up early and OFF.  We knew we would be consuming adult beverages, so we took an Uber to Epcot.  This is where the blessings in disguise came in from Z being sick.  Because she was not able to go to MK and Epcot, she had 2 full passes still.  Lisa and I each had 1, so we only needed to buy 2 1 day passes to Epcot and then we would still have one to do Magic Kingdom with Z afterward.  Epcot started (after a trip to Starbucks of course), with us doing test track and Mission Space (Z and Steve did that one twice, me and Lisa, not so much).  Then it was off to Canada Eh.

To boldly go where many have gone before.
To boldly go where many have gone before.
img_0186
Our mission should we choose to accept it.
Steve says to always go for speed Z.. ALWAYS.
Steve says to always go for speed Z.. ALWAYS.

Now we have never been much for “wasting” our time at the parks standing in line to meet characters.  To me, it’s always been time we could have been doing something more productive.  But Steve came with a plan.  He knew when and where everyone would be, and it really wasn’t super busy at Epcot that day.  We met 6 characters and only really missed out on Snow White.  Z was a champ, escorting us all around the world at Epcot.  We shopped, we ate, we drank, we met princesses, we laughed, and we ate and drank some more.  I really felt like we “did” Epcot.  We explored in every country, we met and talked with the folks that worked there, and we bought a few last minute gifts for family and friends.  It was an epic Epcot day and we all really enjoyed it.  I won’t lie, by the time we were in Mexico it was a little fuzzy, but we did it and we have pics to prove it.  We busted out test track one more time before going to package pick up to gather our much larger than we remembered bounty from the days shopping exploits.

English pub. Well ok. Don't mind if I do.
English pub. Well ok. Don’t mind if I do.
passports for "beers around the world"
passports for “beers around the world” What could possibly go wrong?
C eh N eh D eh.
C eh N eh D eh.
Princess's.......Check
Princess’s…….Check
My gals.
My gals.
Pretty sunset at Epcot
Pretty sunset at Epcot

One thing that I loved.  I’ve mentioned it before that Z has gotten in a great habit of complimenting people openly and honestly without hesitation throughout most of our days.  She will say “I love your shirt” or “your hair is awesome” to random strangers.  And it makes their day.  Well we were at dinner at Spice Road in Epcot.  It was late, after a very long day, and not much sleep the night before.  Our reservations were a little messed up, we were hungry, tired, and it would have been a perfect storm for failure on our part.  We had a great waiter.  Zaine.  He was very nice and worked very hard for us.  Z, in typical Z fashion, complimented him and his work several times.  In fact, at one point, she had his manager (now she is 12 y’all), come to our table to pay him a compliment.  Then when the bill was settled, she took an extra $20 from my wallet and gave a little extra holiday cheer to his tip.  The manager made comment that it’s not often that their staff receives such adoration, but never from a 12 year old girl.  I was very proud of her at that moment.  Sometimes the teacher becomes the student.

I don't practice Sangaria.....I ain't got no crystal ball.....Well I had a million dollars but I, spent it at Epcot........
I don’t practice Sangaria…..I ain’t got no crystal ball…..Well I had a million dollars but I, spent it at Epcot……..
Zaine, our waiter. Great guy.
Zaine, our waiter. Great guy.
Epcot....Check.
Epcot….Check.

img_0286

 

Even more guest visits…….

Steve was only here until Sunday morning, and my liver frankly was thankful.  HA.  I shuffled him off to the airport where he would return to -20 degree weather (better him than me), and returned home to await one last set of guests.  This time, it was our friends from Atlanta that we did Halloween with.  Ryan and Jen were down in the Keys while Ryan got Dive Instructor certified. On the way back, they made a stop to see us for the night.  It was a quick visit, but just enough time to grab some sushi that we had been craving.  Z loves hanging out with Ryan and Jen as do we.  It was just a quick stop as we had to head to Magic Kingdom the next day, but it was great to see them.

THE FINAL DAY……….

Well, for our passes to Disney that is.  After coffee with Ryan and Jen the next morning, we were off to the big show.  We had 1 more pass each for Magic Kingdom.  We chose to go on a Monday, before the Christmas rush.  It was going to be great.  Unfortunately, the system that Disney has for it’s passes is kind of flawed and we had a few issues getting everything working right.  I could explain, but it’s not worth it.  I tell you only to say that if Disney screws up, they do everything they can to make it right.  They fixed our issue AND gave us 3 extra fast passes to use at any ride at any time.  We had fast passes already for the haunted mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and it’s a small world.  So now we could use these for the bigger, longer wait rides.  As it turned out, it was an excellent day.  We got to do all of the above mentioned rides, plus Big thunder mountain 2 times, splash mountain, space mountain, the carousel, Aladdin’s magic carpet ride, the new 7 dwarfs ride, the speed track thing, and stitches great escape show. We opted for rides over shows and meet and greets.  We would have done more but we were flat gassed by the end of the day.  We got to see the castle all lit up and it was beautiful, and we counted our blessings and left.  Thanks for the memories Mr. Mouse.

BIIIIIIIIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN
BIIIIIIIIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN
Princess's in front of their castle.
Princess’s in front of their castle.

 

Christmas on the road………

I will end with this.  The park that we are at, Thousand Trails in Clermont Fl, has been great for us.  We have had a wide open site, not too many neighbors, and getting mail has been a breeze.  It’s close to a lot, but out on it’s own.  The other day Lisa and I saw an alligator in the lake.  There are birds galore.  One loves to cling on to our window and tap on the side of Dory.  We have met some really great people so far and have had NO issues.  I did get to run into one of the bloggers/instagram folks I follow.  His name is Jerome Braga and he and his family were just lovely.  We didn’t get to spend much time talking with them because we were all so busy, but he was kind enough to share a photo he had taken of old Dory.  We shared stories about why we are on the road, and again I was reminded that we all do this for a different reason and with different purpose.  I hope to cross paths again but if you want to see their unique story, check out at http://our1chance.com/.

Credit Jerome Braga for this great pic of Dory and Bruce.
Credit Jerome Braga for this great pic of Dory and Bruce.

We will be enjoying our Christmas this year by opening gifts here at Dory, then heading to Clearwater FL for brunch.  Then if all goes well, we will be on the beach for the day or hanging out near the ocean.

Here we are Santa. Bring it ON......
Here we are Santa. Bring it ON……

Monday we will head 2 hours south for 2 weeks then back here for 2 weeks before heading to Ft Lauderdale,  then the Keys for 4 days.  Then up to Daytona for a few weeks.  Whew.  Sorry for the book, but it’s been busy.  Feel free to check out our map in the menu above.  Enjoy life and thanks for reading.

As always, keep our troops in mind as you celebrate this holiday season.  See you next year.

The Nortons.

 

The Big Easy Peezy…….

Only took about 7 million times to get this right according to Z
The freak show that is Bourbon St.
The freak show that is Bourbon St.

8 Months in the Books

That’s right, 2/3 of our first year is already done.  Time is a funny thing.  It both stands still and flies at the same time it seems.  I mean it’s hard to believe that we have been on the road now for 8 months.  The other day, Z and I did a review of the pictures on our Instagram and talked about all of the fun times we have had.  We have managed to balance life and travel, work/school with fun, and adventure with down days.  We have learned a lot.  Both about full time RV life, and about our great country.  We have seen some very beautiful spots, some less desirable locations, some that we wish we could have spent more time in and some that could have been skipped.  I still struggle regularly about what is the “right” thing to or the “right way” to do it.  I keep telling myself that just doing it is the “right” way, but it’s hard not to wonder what you are missing, what you are wasting time on, and what is costing you more than it should.

Then there are the lessons.  The RV kind, like not leaving the vent fan (We lovingly call it the fart fan) on while you flush the commode.  This pulls all of those sweet smells right out of the black tank and places them lovingly in your nose.  Like making sure to empty all of your tanks prior to travel to avoid more odor displeasure when you stop.  In fact, it appears that many of our lessons revolve around odor.  Odd.  As I have mentioned in the past, the lessons about slowing down and paying attention are ever present.  And there are the lessons about how to work on an RV.  Especially if you have never done it.  These also include a PHD in learning how to relax.  Not in the “hey lets sit around the fire and chill” type of relax, but relaxing in terms of not letting everything stress you the hell out.  Because in this life, if you don’t relax, you will burn out quick.  We have learned, more than ever, to go with the flow and to understand that shit will indeed happen.  There’s not much that freaking out will do to stop that.

On the up side, we have settled into a flow.  A rhythm of sorts.  We all have our jobs when we pack up and unpack.  We have our internal check lists of what to do when we hook up and unhook.  We have been moving like a well oiled machine and I am proud of how we have been doing.  We are exploring our surroundings when we can, but also have been taking down days when we need.  Sometimes, like those at the beach, we do both at the same time.

Ahhhhhhhhhh
Ahhhhhhhhhh

This month has found us experiencing a number of firsts.   We made our way south near Mobile Alabama.  Although Mobile was less than a mind blowing site for us, being that close to the ocean really was nice.  I love the water and towns that are near them.  It just seems like everyone has a different personality when they live near the beach.  It is a life I miss for sure.  We went to a great little area called Orange Beach and Gulf Shores.  They are all very close, and remind me a little of Destin without the tourist stuff.  The beaches were nice and although it was windy, we had a good time and the water was a nice temp.  We found a great little spot called simply The Gulf in Orange Beach.  A great little bar/restaurant/beach hangout.  They had great fresh seafood, cold beverages, and a great view for sunset.  We really liked it.  In fact, I think it’s an area that we would consider living if we wanted to be near the ocean again.

Orange Beach
Orange Beach

We got to see the USS Alabama.  This was something that I REALLY wanted to do.  I love WWII history, and being a former US Marine, I love military history in general.  I wasn’t sure how Lisa and Z would like it, but both seemed to really enjoy the self guided tour.  We got to go all over the ship, then there is an air museum there as well as a submarine to walk through.  Well worth the money, and one of those moments I search for in this new life of ours.  I think Z decided that the ship life is not for her, but she grasped the historical significance, and that’s what I want.  It was funny, how both big and small the ship seemed at the same time.  When you drive up to it, you could almost miss it if you weren’t looking from the freeway.  From a distance, it seemed smaller to me for some reason.  But once on the deck, surrounded by the big guns, you get a sense for how massive and impressive these war ships are.  You also get a sense for how hard my Navy brothers have it on a ship like that.

Feeling small on a big ship in a bigger ocean.
Feeling small on a big ship in a bigger ocean.
USS Alabama
USS Alabama
The Oath that I, my daughters, my son in law, and most of our family and friends have taken.
The Oath that I, my daughters, my son in law, and most of our family and friends have taken.

Of course there was the biggest news of the day that night.  We witnessed a free election and were probably as blown away as anyone by the results.  Lisa and I screwed up this year and thought we had registered but turns out we hadn’t.  We didn’t get a voice, but being Texans it really wouldn’t have made a difference.  It did give us a great opportunity to discuss politics with Z and I was impressed with her desire to talk about it.  She is developing opinions, and as long as they are educated, I am fine if they aren’t the same as mine.  We went to bed before the final results were announced, and woke up BLOWN away.  I had no horse in this race, but even I thought that Hillary was going to walk away with it.  Regardless of how I felt, I am disappointed in how people have reacted on both sides.  That’s all I will say.  We need to come together as a country.  Period.  At least I had the Marine Corps Birthday and Veterans day to take my mind off of it.

From here, things got a little dicey.  We moved to an RV Park near Biloxi.  When we pulled in, MAN it looked nice.  A big lake, some nice looking cabins, little ducks walking about, a huge play area for kids.  But as we pulled in, things got weird.  It was one of those parks that had a very weird balance of annual sites (people that live there full time), and people like us who come and go.  As we parked, Lisa and I decided to give it a shot.  Unfortunately, that shot had to happen at a time when I was leaving for a week to go visit my mother in Colorado.  When I would talk with Lisa, she would tell me that some kids would be up early and were being loud, but nothing really major to cause concern.  But when we got back, things went to hell it would see rather quickly.  One morning our neighbors asked if I had heard anything over night.  I hadn’t.  They said someone stole a nice cooler off of their patio and it was full of beer.  Your first thought went to kids.  Then our other neighbor had a cooler stolen as well.  Then, that night, we heard a loud “pop” on the side of the trailer.  Now we had a bird hit us once, so of course I thought it was that.  But when I went to look, I found that someone had thrown and shattered a light bulb on the side of our trailer just under our bedroom window.  Grabbed the gun and headed out to find out who in the hell would do such a thing.  Ran in to multiple people in the area that it came from (you could tell where it was thrown from).  All of them were older and drunk and surprised to hear what happened.  Then I saw some police down at the end of the walk way.  As I approached them, the local security guard, if you can call him that, was speaking to them about how they think there is a meth lab in the nearby woods.  You could almost hear the F word in my head.  At least I am fairly certain I didn’t say it out loud.  That was all I needed.  I returned to the RV, double checked that everything was locked, put up the side patio (for added security), loaded extra rounds in the gun, and informed Lisa that we would be leaving the next day, a full day early.  And we did.  I did stop in to tell the owner (who seemed very nice) about all of the issues.  She seemed taken back but did say that they were “trying to clean it up”.  Lesson learned, we will not be back there most likely.

Jackasses abound.
Jackasses abound.

We headed east to Pass Christian Mississippi.  It was the best move we had made yet.  The difference was palpable and we immediately felt better about how things had gone.  The RV park was very nice, well maintained, and they had some very nice staff.  So if you are in the area, check out the TLC Wolf River Resort.  We were 10 min from the beach, close to shopping and entertainment, and 1 hour from New Orleans.  Well played.

TLC Wolf River resort.  A haven from the idiots of the last place we stayed.
TLC Wolf River resort. A haven from the idiots of the last place we stayed.
A little river near our site.
A little river near our site.

We did manage to get to The Big Easy a few times, and all I can say is that although it was a good thing for Z to experience, I am glad we didn’t stay longer.  I think that some cities are better if you have someone that lives there in order to really get a good family experience.  I don’t know anyone in New Orleans, so we spent much of our time in the French Quarter.  We did the obligatory Cafe Du Monde, Bourbon St. took a horse carriage tour, listened to some great street performances and saw some great street shows, but in the end NOLA is not for kids.  At least not in my opinion.  We had our first major holiday (if you don’t count 4th of July and Halloween as major) in NOLA.  Out Thanksgiving dinner was at Red Fish Grill and we really REALLY had a good time.  One thing I will give NOLA, or at least the places we went, customer service is a thing with them still.  We saw people working so hard to feed us on Thanksgiving that we tipped everyone, from the hostess to the bartender, of course the waitress’s, but even the buss boy.  Z was so impressed with him that she went and gave him $10.  She also really has been tickling me lately with a new habit she has formed.  She pays several people throughout the day with a random compliment.  “I like your shirt” or “those are awesome pants”, or “you have really awesome eyes” have become normal for me to hear from her.  She told everyone at Thanksgiving dinner “thank you for working this holiday for us”.  It makes me really proud of her.  I always say, it’s how she acts with others, more than with me, that really counts.  We did make an effort to get in to Preservation Hall, but came up about 7 people short.  Bummer.  That’s one of those things I would have paid extra for.

NOLA street performer.  The grace that this art has is awe inspiring
NOLA street performer. The grace that this art has is awe inspiring
Thanksgiving Oysters.  Someone is getting lucky.......and that someone was me.  ha.
Thanksgiving Oysters. Someone is getting lucky…….and that someone was me. ha.
NOLA Thanksgiving dinner Red Fish Grill
NOLA Thanksgiving dinner Red Fish Grill
My dates for Thanksgiving dinner.
My dates for Thanksgiving dinner.
Preservation Hall.  Missed it by THAT MUCH
Preservation Hall. Missed it by THAT MUCH
Family Photo at random pizza place next to Preservation Hall
Family Photo at random pizza place next to Preservation Hall
Not a religious man but I can recognize the beauty of it and appreciate the moment.
Not a religious man but I can recognize the beauty of it and appreciate the moment.

With NOLA in our rear view we spent our last days in Pass Christian and Bay St. Louis.  Really enjoyed the little town of Bay St. Louis and was blown away by how affordable beach side living could be there.  I couldn’t live there, but it was neat to see.

The "Angel" tree in Bay St. Louis.  People clung to this for hours during hurricane Katrina
The “Angel” tree in Bay St. Louis. People clung to this for hours during hurricane Katrina
Lunch Bay St. Louis
Lunch Bay St. Louis
Sunsets are good for the soul
Sunsets are good for the soul
Yay beaches
Yay beaches
Only took about 7 million times to get this right according to Z
Only took about 7 million times to get this right according to Z

4 hours of driving on a Saturday landed us in Florida, which will be our home state for the next 4 months or so.  In fact, starting Wednesday, we will be in Orlando or within 1.5 hours of it for almost 2 months.  Our kids and Grandson will be coming to visit on the 7th and we will get to celebrate his first birthday with Mickey.  So far, Florida has been fun.  We will also be in eastern time zone starting tomorrow.  We did have some issues adjusting to that change when we were in Georgia, so I will be eager to see how long it takes for us to adapt.  Off to a Harvest host tomorrow, I think Z will really like this one.  More on that later.

I hope you all are living your dreams.  Remember, “we travel not to escape life, but for life to not escape us”.

Love,
The Nortons

We have officially “Fallen” and I don’t want to get up.

001

Fall is treating us so well……

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I really can’t tell you how nice the weather has been.  I get it now.  I know why people “snowbird”.  This has been such a welcome change after the summer.  It’s been so nice to be outside, to not be running all 3 of our AC units constantly, to have clothes make it through the day, for a shower to actually get you clean.  It’s been so nice that I have been negligent in writing.  The whole point of this blog is to keep a journal of our travels, and now I have to try and recall the whole month of October.

Our last update had us landing in Natchez Trace Thousand Trails campground.  When we first got there, we were in our typical RV spot.  Butted up against many other RV’s and we had the grumpiest old man behind us.  But if there is something we loved about this lifestyle going in to it, if we didn’t like a spot or a neighbor, we can move.  Unlike with our jackass neighbors back in Colorado Springs that we were stuck next to, here, we can just go.  So we did.  Lisa and I got very lucky I think.  We went for a walk one day at the park we were at, and we found some sites right down by the water.  We found out that they had just opened them and that they were a small extra charge, but to us, it was a no brainer.  We literally ran back to the trailer, packed up, and moved.  We were SO rewarded.  We got a lake side spot and most of the time, we were on our own.

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Lake side camping is our style

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We LOVED the Nashville area.  We loved it so much that we drove the 1.5 hours to the city about 8 times in our 3 weeks there.  We went to the Nashville Farmers market 2 times, did a bus tour, went to a concert, got to see one of the American Pickers stores, ate some amazing food, met some great people, and were able to take in some great sites.  I really believe that Lisa and I could stop there if we wanted to for some time.  Now, I get it, it may be the time of year that we were there, but we really enjoyed it.  I hope to spend some longer stretches there at some point.

On top of all of that, we happened to be close enough to my brother from another mother to come visit us for a weekend.  He and his awesome family came and rented a cabin where we were.  We rented a boat, did some fishing, drank a few cold beers by the camp fire, ate some good grub, and Z got to play with kids her age.  His daughter in fact is only 1 year older and they really hit it off.  This guy and I have been friends for almost 25 years and it never gets old seeing he and his wife.  Lots of laughs and lots of trash talking.  I miss them and hope we can do that more often.  One of my favorite parts of all of this is getting to see people that we don’t see often.

Brother from another mother.
Brother from another mother.

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friends for life.

friends for life.

Our final week in the Nashville area had us going to the city to see some sites.  As mentioned, we did the bus tour.  But we also found a great tea shop that looked like it was straight out of a hobbit movie (Z loves her tea), and we went to Third Man Records, the home of Jack White, one of my favorite musicians.  Our bus tour took us by the Country Music hall of fame, Johnny Cash’s museum, the American Pickers store, a full size replica of the Parthenon that was quite impressive, music row, among many other stops.  I was blown away by music row.  You have an idea in your head that it’s a bunch of office type buildings or something, but it’s literally a row of houses a few miles long that are built in to recording studios.  Music city is an apt moniker for Nashville.  Aside from Country Music, it’s also home to many great rock bands, blues, jazz, etc.  I loved it and I can’t wait to go back some day.

Third Man Records Nashville
Third Man Records Nashville
Bus tour, American Pickers store stop.
Bus tour, American Pickers store stop.
Parthenon Nashville
Parthenon Nashville
Athena and her McDonalds flag pole for a spear. No joke.
Athena and her McDonalds flag pole for a spear. No joke.

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Downtown Nashville
Downtown Nashville
Ummmmmmmm Dicks Last Resort Nashville
Ummmmmmmm Dicks Last Resort Nashville

Alas, it was time to pack up.  We were blessed to be there for the entire change of color in the leaves and had been treated to a complete color palate of leaves before they fell.  As we headed southeast, we seemed to be following the changing colors again.  We had a very fun little stop near lake Guntersville near the town of the same name.  We stayed at the Little River Campground and met the nicest people there.  I get what people mean by southern hospitality.  We actually had a major scare on our first day there.  We pulled in plenty early, around 1pm.  When I dropped the landing gear for the trailer and lifted it off of the truck, I had just cleared the truck when one of the pins that holds the landing gear in place snapped.  It sent the whole trailer rocking forward and scared the crap out of both Lisa and I.  I didn’t know what to do. In the past, this was the type of thing that would have sent Lisa and I both in to a tailspin of stress.  I was so proud of us for remaining calm and we were in fact able to find a way to load the trailer on to the truck and get it to an RV store and buy the replacement parts.  Our nice neighbors held our spot for us and offered to help repair it when we returned.   It was stressful, but we got it taken care of, and now, it’s just another fun story to tell.

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Lake Guntersville
Lake Guntersville

One thing you learn, the further south you go, is that football takes on a whole new meaning.  First off, you must distinguish between pro and college ball.  People tend to think you are kind of funny if you only watch pro.  In fact, you find out quickly in Alabama, that you may root for ANY football team you want, as long as you choose between Alabama and Auburn.  EVERY golf cart, every car, every TShirt, everything (coolers, flags, etc.) signifies your allegiance to one of these two teams.  I would love to be there at the end of November when the two face off.  I can imagine that everything shuts down.

pumpkin decorating
pumpkin decorating
2nd place in the costume contest, Harley Quinn
2nd place in the costume contest, Harley Quinn

We actually extended an extra day in Guntersville.  They were having a fall festival with trick or treating included.  We had a similar experience at our park in Natchez Trace and it was fun.  You really get that “small town” feel at these events.  Where a hay ride and a small home made carnival are a huge draw.  This one was complete with pumpkin decorating, a costume contest, trunk or treating, a hay ride, a band, and dancing.  Z and I participated in most of these as Lisa was a little under the weather.  Instead of dancing, we went swimming.  It was a lot of fun.

The next day we made our way to Atlanta to see some family of ours there.  It was great to catch up with Ryan and his new fiance Jenn.  They made us a lovely dinner, took us to the Georgia Aquarium, took us to a nice little restaurant that served some wonderfully eclectic food.  On Halloween we had brains, liver pate, tongue and cheeks, heart tartar, and other and some great craft cocktails.  Jenn had to go back to Dallas, but we made our way to a wonderful Korean BBQ place too.  Atlanta was quick, but we made the most of it.  I even got to take Lisa shooting for the first time.  She did so good that I hope she never gets mad at me bad enough to need to shoot.  I feel for anyone that comes at her if she is packing.  She really took to it quickly and did such a great job.  It was a fun moment for her and I to do something like that.

Happy Halloween Harley Quinn
Happy Halloween Harley Quinn
Whale Sharks, 4 of them to be precise.  Impressive.
Whale Sharks, 4 of them to be precise. Impressive.
SHARK
SHARK
MMMMMMM Braiiiiinnnnsssssssss
MMMMMMM Braiiiiinnnnsssssssss

From Atlanta, we headed 5 hours south to our current stop in Robertsdale Alabama.  We are on the boarder of Florida/Alabama and made our way to the beach yesterday.  I love being this close to the ocean.  We will head to Biloxi from here, then Gulfport MS.  Our Thanksgiving will be spent in New Orleans before we head back to Florida and down into the Orlando area where our family will fly down for our grandson’s first birthday.  We are in the process of finalizing the rest of our plans, but we will be in central Florida through Jan 20.

 

Everyone is healthy on our end, and as I sit typing this, watching Sunday football (Pro) and it is a glorious 73 degrees, I am thinking to myself, in the immortal words of Louis Armstrong, “what a wonderful world”.

I look forward to the next few months and I will try to ensure I keep more on top of things.

Top 10 ways to be able to “afford” to go on the road full time.

top-10-tips

YAY!!!! Another top 10 list full of opinions.

top-10-tips

 

Just what you all wanted right?  Another top 10 list that will have all kinds of crap in it that you may or may not be able to use.  You are welcome.

Since having sold everything 6 months ago and leaving our beautiful Colorado behind, I hear one thing all of the time, and that is how “lucky” we are to do this.  Coincidentally the second most popular comment is that it’s crazy, and I guess it is and we are in fact a little nuts.  The most often asked question is how in fact do we do it?  Do we home school? (Answer by the way, no, if we home schooled, Z would be dumb.  But we do online school)  This will be my extensive list of the top ten ways that we make this life happen.

1. Thousand Trails

Thousand Trails Natchez Trace Tennessee.
Thousand Trails Natchez Trace Tennessee.

I have made mention of our campground memberships before, but haven’t felt qualified to write about them until now.  We invested in 3 memberships prior to launch back in March.  The first was Thousand Trails (www.thousandtrails.com) Thousand Trails is a long time established campground membership that has long been touted as excellent for full timers.  Thousand Trails is owned by Equity Lifestyles Properties and own several time share condos, cabins, etc.  Thousand Trails itself is a group of about 80 or so campgrounds across the US.  Mostly in a U shape from Washington state down to southern California, across the south, and up the east coast.  You can get a view of their locations on their map or on ours HERE just look for the lime green pins and you can get an idea of what I mean.  There are a few glaring gaps in the TT coverage, mostly the midwest and from Arkansas to Louisiana.  So how does it work?   Well, in our case, you buy a used membership for a fee, then pay an annual due ($550). We can then go in to any of our parks for up to 21 days at a time.  We can also go right from one park to another for another 21 days at a time.  Conceivably if we were to stay in TT parks all of the time, we would pay less than $2 per day to live.  It’s not all that easy though.  Most parks charge a small fee of $3 per day for 50 amp service, which we need, and several parks near the water have limited or no full hook ups.  This is a challenge because to stay 21 days, you really need full hook ups.  But, if you figure that the average RV campground is anywhere from $35-55 a night, the savings are definitely there.  Every time we are able to stay 3 weeks in the system, we save about $1,000.  We have stayed about 96 nights in the system already or roughly 1/2 of all of our nights so far.  At a rate of $45 a night, we would have saved OVER $4300 already.  There are MANY Thousand Trails memberships, and if you would like information on them all, I am happy to help.  You can ready about the type of membership we purchased at http://rvlove.com/2015/01/28/thousand-trails-membership-upgrades/

That is the MOST comprehensive write up on the types of memberships here that I can find.  We evaluated Coast to Coast, and others, but in the end TT made sense for us, and I feel that we have paid for our up front costs and more.

As far as the parks go, well they are all different.  Consistency is something I hear that TT is striving for, but for now, it’s just not there.  Some are like a full blown resort, and some are a little more in need of repair.  Of course, there are give and takes with both.  When people want to go camping to get away for the weekend, they don’t want all of the same things that those of us that do this full time want.  There is another group of members that is not discussed much, and those are the annual members.  They have purchased a site from their campground and can keep a trailer there year round.  Supposedly they can only stay 250 days out of the year, but I can’t see how they can really control that.  Some parks have many and some parks have few.  The great debate within the TT community is annuals vs. Elite/Platinum members vs. zone or regional members.  You can see on any TT discussion board that the battle rages on and we all want what is best for our particular lifestyle.

Thousand Trails Colorado River in Columbus Texas
Thousand Trails Colorado River in Columbus Texas

2. Resort Parks International (RPI)

RPI near Memphis
RPI near Memphis

To supplement our Thousand Trails, there is a membership called RPI.  We pay $120 a year for it plus a small booking fee (I pay annual booking fees of $50).  This gives us access to a whole list of other RV Campgrounds that we only pay $10 a night for.  Welllllllllllllll mostly we only pay $10 a night.  Again, the 50amp thing comes in to play and at many, we can have to pay a $3-5 a night uplift for power.  POWERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.  But we have had some GREAT RPI stops.  We had a really nice one in Utah in Mt. Pleasant.  A great one near Memphis, and really quaint one in Clinton Arkansas, and we are currently parked at one in Guntersville Alabama that is really nice.  The value is there as long as you use it, and we do.  In fact, most of the next month of travel for us will be in RPI parks.  Mostly in Mississippi and Alabama, and two in Florida.  It’s a great way to save some dough and there are a lot of parks that give us options outside of Thousand Trails.  They are affiliated with TT, so it probably benefits both.  Mostly, it benefits us.  The average RV campground is $45-55 a night, so $10-15 a night is a steal.  I have found the RPI’s to be in a little better shape than the Thousand Trails parks too in most cases.

Golden Pond RPI in Clinton Arkansas
Golden Pond RPI in Clinton Arkansas

3. Harvest Hosts

Our first ever Harvest Host  was also our first stop.  To this day, it's Z's favorite.
Our first ever Harvest Host was also our first stop. To this day, it’s Z’s favorite.

Harvest hosts has to be, hands down, the greatest value for the money.  It’s $40 or so dollars a year to have access to a list of wineries, breweries, farms, museums, and those types of places that are open to having an RV come stay a day or two with them.  In exchange for that hospitality, Harvest Hosts simply asks that you visit their tasting room, indulge in any activities, and have fun/be polite.  To this day, 2 of our favorite stops have been Harvest Host locations.  It’s a pain to stay for 1 night anywhere, so that tells you how much we like them.  We have taken the time to meet owners, spend some money, and have some fun.  It’s worth it.  And hell, let’s be honest, we were probably going to buy some wine or check out some of these places anyway.  For more info check out www.harvesthosts.com

A pioneer homestead Harvest Host.  Great educational stops.
A pioneer homestead Harvest Host. Great educational stops.

 

4. Escapees Mail Service

Ok, how does this save us money?  Easy, it’s easy, reliable, and inexpensive.  Escapees is one of the best resources for full time RV’ers.  Not only do they help with residency (domicile) issues, they are advocates for full timers when it comes to legislation, but for us, the biggest value is in the mail service.  Through Escapees, we have a physical address and I can call them any time to ask what mail I have, instruct them what mail to get rid of, scan and send me anything that is important, or just to send me my mail.  This has been HUGE for us and they have been great to work with.  I feel like I don’t use most of what Escapees offers, and I probably should.  For more info, see www.escapees.com .  They also have a group for the “younger folks” who are taking to the road to live, called Xscapers www.xscapers.com .  Here, you can find parks that allow you to work camp, tools for travel, and other handy tips for full timers.  Escapees is a great way to help you afford to full time because it keeps the bills paid, provides a great value for the money you do spend, and because they continue to advocate for full time RV families.

5. Workamping.

Yes, that’s a word, or at least it is in the RV community.  MANY RV parks need help.  What better pool of employee candidates can you get than people who will trade work for free stays?  Better yet, many will not only let you stay for free, but they will also pay you a little bit.  It’s not retirement money, but it will supplement some income and offset some costs.  It especially helpful if you are going to be in an area for a longer period of time.  No one wants to hire someone for 2 weeks.  Jobs could be anything from handyman type work, to office work, to being a camp host or a ranger.  I am pretty sure that if Lisa and I decide to stop anywhere for any length of time, that I will consider working at the place we stay.  It may also be a great first job opportunity for Z.

6. Have a job that lets you be mobile.

I am blessed to have a job that doesn’t require that I be in any one location.  I work from my phone and my PC, so no one cares where I am as long as I can also access an airport if I need to.  There are TONS of lists of mobile jobs.  From nursing, to internet sales/blogging, freelance photography, or just being part of the ever expanding work from home crowd.  The trick here is to make sure that you remember that, because you are not on vacation, you still need to work.  I won’t lie, working on the road comes with it’s challenges.  We need to have internet 100% of the time.  That’s more tricky than one would think in today’s ever more connected world.  We usually move on a week day to avoid competing with the weekenders for spots, so I tend to do some make up work at nights or on the weekends if necessary.  Taking calls while driving is also a bit tricky, but Lisa has proven herself to be a first class admin assistant to me while I am driving.  Often responding to emails per my dictation, or dialing me in for  a conference call.

7. Research free/cheap things to do at your locations.

Whether it’s the beach, a local wacky attraction, the Alamo, or some festival or farmers market, go find the things that are cheap or free to do.   This can save you money, but if you are like us, sometimes those things will in fact cost you a LOT.  A free Oktoberfest for instance cost us over $200.  A free farmers market can set me back a bill or two.  My sister in law got me a federal park pass.  This should come in handy to save us a few bucks for sure.  Find memberships that you will use that will allow you to do some things that you have always wanted to do.  Memberships are a great saving method if you use them.  Often times, museums, monuments, and parks can be cheap or free entertainment.  There may be a free music performance in a park nearby.  You don’t have to spend it all, all of the time.  You can save for the really important expenditures, like wine at a winery.

8.  TRACK GAS PRICES

running-on-empty meme

This is probably the biggest saver that we have outside of our TT membership.  Use apps like Gas Buddy or anything else at your disposal (we have a tool built in to our truck) that will show you where gas is cheap.  We have found a difference as great at .30 cents a gallon as few as 2 miles apart.  Given that we have already put 18k miles on Bruce since April, knowing what gas prices are can really save you some dough.  Also, I have been shocked at how much gas prices can change as you cross a state line.  Case in point, here in Alabama, I have had diesel readily available for between $2.19-2.29/gal.  Yesterday, we crossed in to Florida, it was closer to $2.50-2.60/gal.  In a 30 gallon truck that gets 8 mpg when towing, that matters a LOT.

9. Travel off season where possible.

Seems intuitive that you may want to travel to as many locations as possible when they are off season.  This can save TONS.  As an example, look at Florida RV Park pricing from Nov.-March vs the rest of the year.  Traveling off season will not only save you money, but it can also afford you some better experiences.  If it’s slow, a tour guide will focus more on you.  When it’s slow, you might be able to get water side parking.  In the off season, you may score some freebies or steep discounts to entice you to spend your money with that vendor.  It’s not always possible, but when you can, try to go when it’s less busy and see what I mean.  Even if you don’t travel off season, try visiting places during the week if you can.  Groupon and other similar sites offer some great pricing for you to do tours as long as it’s not on Friday or Saturday.  Being that our lifestyle offers us some flexibility, we will often take advantage of these savings.

10. Over Stay your welcome.

Nahhhhhhhh.......
Nahhhhhhhh…….

Well not really, but stay longer if you are staying at a park that you are paying for.  Nightly rates can reach $40-60 a night.  Often times, they will have weekly rate discounts, but the real savings come when you stay for a month.  Often times, it will be as cheap or cheaper to stay a month vs. 2 weeks.  Just pay attention.  Many parks will charge for utilities if you stay a full month.  So just know what you are getting in to, but check the prices.  If you are planning to stay in an area for a while, doing this will save you tons.

There are so many other resources, these are just our top 10.  As I mentioned, Groupon can be great.  Eating in can really save the money, same as it would in your normal house.  It’s easy to eat out, so trying to eat in often is a huge money saver.  Not buying a ton of memento’s is another saver.  You won’t have a lot of space anyway, so try to avoid buying a lot of stuff.  Take pics, write down your memories, and save the money on the shirt or over priced magnet.

Hopefully this is helpful to anyone thinking about this life.  Let me know if you have more that I am forgetting.  Enjoy this life.  It’s the only one we get.

 

Time flies when you are having fun.

From Beale St. to oblivion.

6 Months and no signs of slowing down.

Awe CRAP.
Awe CRAP.

Well we have officially passed our 6 month mark.  LOT’s of lessons learned, lots of headaches (Literally), but really, more memories in this 6 months than in the last 10 years.  Our fun has included time with our family in Seattle, spending a HOT summer in Texas with our middle daughter, 2 trucks, 1 month out of our trailer for repairs, 1 hot spring, 1 crawfish festival, a toilet seat museum, a house made of beer cans and bottles, 8 states, over 20 camp sites, many museums, shopping, and plenty of amazing views.

For the sake of everyone in our trailer as well as for myself, thank the LORD we are finally in to fall. If there ever was a thought of moving permanently to Texas, this summer ruined any shot of that.  Yes, maybe we will snowbird, but from May-Sept. you can have it.  We are thankful for the experiences we had (NASA with a Marine buddy, Time on the lake and camping with another, spending time with yet another in San Antonio, and the chance to spend some time in Austin, Waco, and Dallas.  We were able to meet up with some family that had a new baby in Tyler Texas, and to be there for a PHD graduation ceremony for some family.  We also got to see our own daughter graduate from AF Basic Training).  All GREAT experiences.  But I won’t lie, the best part of Texas was seeing it in the rear view mirror on our way to cooler temps.  We have been gifted with exactly that too.  Our average high over the last few weeks has been just over 80, and lows have reached down as low as the 40’s.  Our AC units didn’t know what to do when we actually shut them off.  I think I saw a touch of smoke coming out of them as they wound down for the first time in 3 months.  The sweat on my sweat has slowly dried up.  We have actually gone on walks.  LIKE OUTSIDE.  For the first time in MONTHS.  At least for the first time where I didn’t have to come home and take 2 showers.  It is amazing how much the attitude improves too.

When last we spoke, we were just about 2 hours east of Oklahoma City.  We had some major issues that were “resolved”, but we still are having intermittent problems with the slide.  We are working with Jayco on it, so more to come I am sure.  We were close enough for our family to come visit us one last time before we left for good.  It turned out to be a blessing too.  Lisa’s dad had a medical issue when they came out to see us.  We got him to a hospital and nurse Lisa was there to assist where she could.  It was a very long night (Lisa got home at 4am), but they have always been there for us in times of need, it was nice to return the favor for once.  He is fine now, so that too is great news.  We moved east (I keep saying west for some reason, this east thing is screwing me up), to a Harvest Host on the boarder of Oklahoma and Arkansas.  If you are not familiar with Harvest Host, check them out at www.harvesthosts.com.  To me, they have been one of the brightest aspects of our travel.  They have a list of farms, wineries, museums, etc. that will allow you to stay a night for free in exchange for doing whatever activity they have.  We have done a goat cheese farm, another farm where they were having a fall festival type set of activities, and then a Pioneer museum where they teach you about how things used to be.  They are all different and unique.  The fall festival farm was just a beautiful place.  We were going in right when they were starting their 3 weeks of their busy season.  Day 1 in fact.  So it probably wasn’t the best time for them to host us, but they were gracious and did find a big spot for Dory.  The next day we did all kinds of fun stuff.  We did a corn maze (well I should say we failed at a corn maze as we went back out of the entrance), we slid down a big hill, got to see some animals, and shot corn at targets using an air canon.  Z and I had a little competition.  I won’t say who won, but it was me.  We got to buy some nice home made apple butter, and tasted muscadine for the fist time.  YUMMMMM.

The view from our gracious harvest host. They look at that every night. WOW
The view from our gracious harvest host. They look at that every night. WOW
Finally, someone caught them and put them where they belong.
Finally, someone caught them and put them where they belong.
I will just leave this right here.
I will just leave this right here.

If you want to see the video of the corn canon greatest shot of all time, see Here.  Let’s just say that it was amazing.  A M A Z I N G.

From there we headed to a lovely little campground just outside of Clinton Arkansas.  It was a bit of a stress getting there because the roads were narrow and winding, and the trees were low (something I always worry about).  But we made it to the Golden Pond RV park.  It was quaint and quiet.  We had beautiful weather, the sites were HUGE and there weren’t a ton of them.  They even had a little BBQ food truck on site that we hit up and it was really good.  They had a little pond (DUH) and Z and I got to do a little bit of fishing.  Nova REALLY loved jumping in it too.  She was just sure she was gonna catch the duck that lived there.  Lisa and I got a few good walks in, and Clinton had some necessities that we like to have nearby (namely a Walmart).  There was also a really cool Natural Bridge there.  We stopped to check it out and it was amazingly beautiful.  The caretaker was a really nice guy who told us all about the history of the area, and we walked out and ran right in to our neighbors from the park.  A very sweet older couple that had been full timing for a LONG time now.  They loved to chat and we spoke to them for quite a while.  As I have said before, so far, I have met many full time RV’ers and no one does it the same way, which is great.  We all thought that the area was quite beautiful.  I suggest at least driving through if you get the chance.

Oh Golden Pond
Oh Golden Pond
The best road sign we have seen so far.
The best road sign we have seen so far.
Natural Bridge just outside of Clinton Arkansas.
Natural Bridge just outside of Clinton Arkansas.
Enjoying a hike with Z and beautiful weather.
Enjoying a hike with Z and beautiful weather.

We hit up another Harvest Host spot.  This one is south of Jonesboro Arkansas.  It’s a Pioneer Museum.  What a treat.  The owners were so nice and hospitable.  There was a TON of room for Dory.  The museum had a story all it’s own as to how it came to being.  And the owners really took a liking to us.  The cool thing about doing what we are doing is that people are interested in it.  There were going to be over 800 school kids at this place the day we went, and the owner regularly sought us out to give us some unique experiences.  She and her family enjoyed hearing our story about as much as we did theirs.  There were some great unique gifts to buy, fresh sorghum, hand made brooms (we got to learn how they are made and Z got to help make one), some fresh honey, corn flour, and Z even got to make herself a rope.  It’s these types of experiences that I want her to remember forever.  It was a ton of fun and we were a bit sad to bid farewell.  I would absolutely stop there again.

Pioneer Museum
Pioneer Museum
making her mom's Halloween costume. HA
making her mom’s Halloween costume. HA
Learning about old time cures.
Learning about old time cures.
Learning how ropes were made.
Learning how ropes were made.

 

We made our way down the road toward Memphis.  There are no Thousand Trails that can fit our rig anywhere near Memphis, so we stayed at one of our other membership campgrounds called Big Buck RV resort (click the name for their site if you want more information).  This is about 1.5 hours east of Memphis and was just a very nice park with nice open sites, not too many campers so that you feel like you are on top of one another, 2 lakes, 2 gun ranges, a driving range for golfers, and was owned by a very nice family.  We really liked it here, and again, Nova had a lake to play in, so she was extremely happy.  If you are in the area, I really suggest checking it out.  It’s close enough to go see Memphis, but far enough away to not be in Memphis.  We got in to town to do some chores that we had been putting off (mailing packages, picking up some needed items, etc.) and we went back the next day for a “tourist” day.  We hit up Gus’s famous fried chicken first.  YUMMMMMMMMM.  I won’t lie, it was as good as advertised.  Then, what stop in Memphis would be complete if you didn’t go see Graceland.  Now, I won’t lie, I am not the worlds biggest Elvis fan.  I did not grow up on him.  I went in to our Graceland trip prepared to hurry through the tour, check it off of the list, and move on.  I have to admit though, I not only left VERY impressed with the man himself, but just blown away by what he was able to achieve in his short life.  To see the number of gold and platinum records, hear him talk about his music, his fans, his life, and to see in person this iconic piece of Americana, was a real unexpected highlight.  The tour is self paced and done with Ipads and headphones.  I could have literally spent another hour there if we didn’t have other plans.  It really gave me an appreciation for why he is called the King of Rock and Roll.

Graceland
Graceland
No disputing his title as The King of Rock and Roll
No disputing his title as The King of Rock and Roll
The king says that there is no heat in this unit.
The king says that there is no heat in this unit.

 

We then headed over to where I really wanted to go, which was Beale St.  I love what Beale St. represents.  I love the blues.  I love live music.  I love having a beer while walking down the street.  And I love quirky shops and good food.  We all had a good time there and all was going fine, but then there were 2 instances that made us decide to head out.  If you haven’t been, Beale St. is like Bourbon St. in New Orleans, without everyone showing their boobs.  Much more suitable I think for a 12 year old to join us.  Z liked it.  That was until we happened upon a guy that had much more than a few too many drinks.  I think he was on something too.  He was going up to all of the people on the street and just acting weird is the best way I can describe it.  It was uncomfortable, so we moved on.  Down the way, there was a park that was setting up some live music.  Now this park also had a lot of homeless in it, but we don’t let that bother us.  Homeless people are just people, without a place to live and on hard times.  I think it’s good to show Z all kinds of experiences, and this was going to be a good one.  People of all races, of all economic backgrounds, just sitting down to listen to some music being played.  That was until another highly inebriated lady popped up and started acting all kinds of crazy.  She sat a few seats to our right and I could see that Z was immediately uncomfortable.  Thankfully, she is never afraid to tell me when it’s time to go, so we did.  Bummer too, Beale St. was so awesome other than those 2.  What a great vibe.  Lastly, it was off to Rendezvous for some famous ribs.  Lisa and I ate there when we were on a layover when we got married.  I wanted to share that with Z.  Plus, last time we went, Lisa was sick as a dog and really didn’t get to enjoy it.  So we did.  Love the ribs there and love the fact that it wasn’t outrageously priced or overly busy.  We got right in, ate, and got right out.

From Beale St. to oblivion.
From Beale St. to oblivion.
Rendezvous for dinner? OK.
Rendezvous for dinner? OK.

Memphis was fun, but aside from seeing a few more attractions, it was time to move on.  We hit the road to go 2 hours east to Natchez Trace.  This is a Thousand Trails site and we get to stay here for 3 weeks for FREE.  I still owe a write up about TT and our other memberships, but we are getting the most out of this one.  The trip in was funny.  We stopped at a little town along the way and pulled Bruce and Dory in for some gas.  Here is a funny story.  As you know, Dory is BIG.  we can’t just pull in to anywhere and not have her sticking out.  Well this particular station had us sticking out a bit, like always.  An older man decided he needed to go around us and pulled in to the angled gas pump next to us.  I heard a crunch.  I turned to notice that he had obviously hit the concrete barrier that protects the pumps.  You could see that he was pissed.  What I didn’t know is that he was pissed at me.  For some reason, he blamed his lack of driving skill on the fact that we were sticking out too far from our pump.  He proceeded to head in to the station and demand to speak to a manager.  Z and I overheard him telling them that he basically wanted them to pay for it.  The manager walked out and as calm as anyone could (I would be losing my shit here) told him that he chose to pull in to that pump, the wrong way, and she couldn’t help him.  To make it even funnier, he pulled in to a diesel pump and he wasn’t in a diesel car.  I don’t wish people ill will, in fact, we believe heavily in Karma.  But dear lord, how are you going to blame your lack of patience and driving skill on me or the gas station.  We shook our heads and pulled out.  When we got close to our new park, we noticed a sign on the road leading in “Bridge clearance 11′”  WHAT?  We are 13′ if not more.  We backed out as best we could and called the ranger station.  They informed us that there is a cut out to the left that gives 13′ 6″ of clearance.  That is about as close as I want to come to hurting ol Dory, but we made it through.  Not after a few tense moments with Lisa guiding us.  It was close.  But now, we are 1.5 hours south of Nashville and in some prime history land.  Between the trail of tears, the Civil War history, and the whiskey, this could prove to be a very fun few weeks.  Plus, we get to go to our first concert since hitting the road.  One of our favorite bands, Kings of Leon, is playing in Nashville tomorrow and I got us tickets for my birthday.  YAY.

Thank God that the dog days of summer are over.
Thank God that the dog days of summer are over.
Like a glove.
Like a glove.

As always, thanks for reading and if you have the chance, make sure to sign up for our Instagram and facebook pages.  There are always more photos and updates there.

The Leaving Little London Carnival (or Circus???)

Go to our happy place.  OUR HAPPY PLACE....
Go to our happy place.  OUR HAPPY PLACE....
Go to our happy place. OUR HAPPY PLACE….

I feel like a broken record saying WOW, what a long time it has been, and that I have been very busy, BLAH BLAH BLAH…….. But really, the last several weeks have been CRAZY.  Sometimes crazy good, sometimes…..welllllllll not so much.  Having said that, we know how blessed we are to be living this life, and I hope that we continue to take full advantage of it.  The benefits have been great and we already see a much closer relationship with Z.  Mainly because she hasn’t had the opportunity to make a lot of friends.  But hey, a win is a win.

So what has gone on?  I know you are probably yelling at your screen by now for me to quit tip toeing and just get to it.  So without further adieu, I present to you, THE LAST 3 WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEKS.

As mentioned in our last post, we were at Lake Whitney in Texas.  We had a nice site, and although the heat was continuing to kick us in the junk, we had some time to do some fun things.  We headed to a science museum, but it turned out to be more for little kids and not our big 12 year old.  She made the most out of it and I appreciated her efforts.

Z bear posing at the science museum.
Z bear posing at the science museum.

I love her attitude and love watching her grow up.  We also got to go to a wood turning show and we were blown away by just how creative folks can be.  There were all kinds of awe inspiring creations and Lisa’s dad and family are very in to it.  It’s always GREAT to get to spend time with anyone who is extremely passionate about their craft, no matter the craft.  Z was soaking it in and asking great questions.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any good photos from that event.

We did meet some fellow full timers and bloggers from http://rvreboot.com/

A really nice younger couple who are spending the year really hitting a TON of states.  When I met them in Texas, they were headed toward Maine and planned to be there in a few weeks.  It’s always interesting to see how people approach this lifestyle, and it’s fun to share stories.

As we wrapped up our stay at Whitney, our plan had always been to head to the Texoma Thousand Trails, then up to Norman OK.  This is where the issues began.  We went to pull in our main slide and heard a few “pops”.  I crapped myself a little bit and we stopped pulling the slide in.  I reversed and put the slide back out and a very nice neighbor came over to see what was going on.  He pointed out that the slide was out further on one side than the other.  You could probably feel the stress radiating off of my gigantic head.  Questions began to swirl and concerns were flooding my way.  As we continued to work on it, all we could come up with was to push it in manually to get it all of the way in.  We were able to do that and we decided to move forward with the plan.  It was a very quiet drive.  When we landed at Texoma, we had to put out the slide in order to live for the night.  Of course it struggled, but with some pushing, we got it all of the way out.  Process repeated the next day as we headed to Norman.

Unfortunately, because we are on this extended trip, taking your home in for repairs is VERY difficult.  On top of that, we were heading to Mexico for a wedding and I just didn’t have the energy nor desire to start getting it looked at right before we left.  I didn’t want to leave any responsibility on my family, and we opted to just set it up and await our return.  Luckily, my father in law has a great friend who allowed us to park Dory on his land and he had a 50amp hook up which allowed our fridge to stay on, a HUGE plus that you probably know about if you know RV’s.

It was actually a great distraction and stress reduction to head to Mexico.  I doubt many know that I am an ordained minister (online) and have been asked by some family and friends to perform their weddings.  I was blessed to have the same happen here and I was lucky to perform the wedding for my awesome family.  Between that and 5 nights of tequila therapy, I didn’t even think about Dory.  It was all pool, party, and good times.

Upgraded to first class.  BOOM
Upgraded to first class. BOOM
The spa, we spent some great time here.
The spa, we spent some great time here.
Pool side drink delivery and meeting new people.
Pool side drink delivery and meeting new people.
What RV????
What RV????
Father Norton espousing words of wisdom or something like that.
Father Norton espousing words of wisdom or something like that.
She said yes......YAYYYY
She said yes……YAYYYY

The flight home began to add weight to my shoulders with every mile.  What were we going to do about Dory?  I feared that we were really starting to cause some additional damage, and I wasn’t sure how to address.  As we got closer to Oklahoma, Lisa and I decided to get Dory from her spot out west of Norman and pull her in to the Cleveland County Fairgrounds in Norman.  It’s the ONLY full hook up RV campground in the area.  You can stay at OU but it’s power and water only.  Great for a weekend football game, not so good for long term.

The debacle debacle

We pulled in to the “campground” (I put quotes because its more of a parking lot with several hook ups), and found that the Fair and Carnival were starting in 2 days.  A fair AND carnival?  YESSSSSSSSS.   What can go wrong with rides that are traveled around the US and have very little governance.  Sign us up.  Of course we bought the unlimited rides package.  We are on this trip for adventure aren’t we?  Well what spells adventure more than taking your life in your own hands at a pop up carnival?  Nothing I tell you, NOTHING.

Looks so safe.  SOOOOO SAFE...
Looks so safe. SOOOOO SAFE…

Many sites were blocked because of the need for parking, and we actually found the only spot remaining.  Again, I hate to sound uppity, but we ended up on a row of permanent tenants and the way they parked it made it VERY difficult to get Dory in.   I think they did it on purpose to try to dissuade people from parking there.  When we set up, getting the slide out was nearly impossible.  We decided enough was enough and we told Jayco we would be calling a mobile repair guy out.  After several calls, we got one we felt comfortable with.  They came and determined that our issue was that one of our motors had been torn up by an errant screw and had been pulled completely out of the housing.  WHAT??????  He was going to order a new motor, but felt sure that this would solve our problems.

052
I am no expert, but this looks wrong. You can actually see the screw on the lower left side of the opening and you can see where it was tearing up the motor.

Whew, maybe I am just an over reactor.  Maybe this isn’t so bad.  In a few days, he would come out and sprinkle his magical friggin pixie dust on our trailer and all would be back to normal.  So upon his return with our new motor, I was giddy, like it was Christmas.  He installed. and told me to go ahead and try to pull it in.  Wellllllllll……………………

Look at the top then bottom of the window and tell me if you see an issue.
Look at the top then bottom of the window and tell me if you see an issue.
I must be drinking, because this looks all off to me.
I must be drinking, because this looks all off to me.

Needless to say, Jayco got a call.  The bottom of our slide came in, but the top stayed.  We are stuck.  We really couldn’t even sit in the couch.  And because we were so close to our neighbors, we couldn’t lower the side patio, so we were really out of places to hang out.  A lot of time was spent at the in-laws.

One thing did occur to me.  Given how close we were to our neighbors, how would anyone work on lifting and repairing our slide?  We were also having some intermittent power issues.  After MUCH debate, Lisa and I decided to move Dory, with her slide open, over to a new site that had only recently come open after the fair.  There were several nicer units over there and if we were lucky, we would have plenty of room for repairs to be made.  It was a WHITE KNUCKLE event.  We loaded Dory up and pulled out at the blistering pace of 0-1mph.  Lisa walked along the outside, presumably to be able to scream at me that the whole slide had fallen out should that have occurred.  After about 20 minutes of sweating in an air conditioned truck, we successfully moved and it made our view, neighbors, and everything feel just a little better.  It’s amazing to me how the spot or the park can change your whole attitude.  Being away from the “mobile home” side of the grounds and with people like us to travel full time or were in for the game made it feel like things were getting better.

Jayco, for what it is worth, has done a very good job of working with us.  I don’t want this to become a Jayco bashing session, because really and genuinely, I feel that they are as frustrated as we are.  I have actually been very glad that we bought a Jayco after hearing some of the horror stories of our neighbors.  I just really feel like this entire industry is one that pumps out units and the quality control is nil.  I have had multiple people from within the industry tell me that one in like 5 units is actually even checked and that the assembly line often knows which ones (seems like a bad system), and that in the spring/summer busy months, that number can go down to as little as zero units inspected.  I can’t say for sure if this applies to Jayco or not, and I like to think they don’t do that.  I have been working with a gentleman from Jayco who has honestly worked very hard to help us out and has been very flexible with our needs.  So from that perspective, kudo’s to them.  I would have hated to own a different manufacturer who might not care.  I just wish there was more care put in to the product pre-release.  It seems at this point that Jayco is losing their asses on us.  Between new patio railings and a new toilet being shipped and installed, to 6 on site service calls, to shipping it back to Indiana for repairs for a month, I feel like they could put a little more effort in to pre-production quality to mitigate these types of costs.  I am beginning to think that part of the cost bakes in these types of repairs, but it seems silly.  We have owned this rig for 5.5 months and have only been able to travel for 4 of those months.  Given the length of the loan, this doesn’t bode well.  I have repeatedly told Jayco that either they make all of their units crappy (which I don’t believe), or I got a lemon.  I will say that I have asked to speak to someone about trading in to a new one given all of the challenges we have faced.  Also, Jayco did contact Lippert (the manufacturer of the slide out systems, frames, and leveling jacks) and they did send one of their best of not the best guy out that they could.  For that I applaud both companies.  Ron, our guy, was there bright and early and worked even in the rain.  In the end, he was able to complete the repair on site, but told us that something still isn’t working right and he fears this will happen again.  GREAT.   While I had him there, I explained that our “auto leveling” system has hardly ever worked right.  He took a look and it turns out that the “brain” of the system that says whether we are level or not was mounted to a soft underbelly portion of Dory.  He said it had to be attached to a rigid cross member of the frame and he did that work for us too.  I was so impressed with his work ethic that I called his boss to tell her what an asset he is to their company.

I am still working with Jayco on what we do next.  I can’t help but feel as though we got a bad unit.  We may have got a bad unit from a good company, but that doesn’t help the fact that we are trying to take our daughter cross country in a trailer that sells for over 120k list and we haven’t even had it on the road for 20% of the time we have owned it.  I am hopeful that we can come to a conclusion and so far Jayco hasn’t given me reason to doubt that we can.  I would rather have this issue with Jayco than any other similar manufacturer given the stories, but we will see.  I don’t want to include any lawyers or anything, I just want to get what I paid for.

All of that aside, we did leave Norman early Saturday morning.  There was a BIG OU football game that evening, and we were warned, repeatedly, that we would want to beat the traffic.  So we were up at 7 on a Saturday morning, loaded and on the road by 9.

Let the adventure really begin.

So the funny part of this all is that, as I believe I have mentioned previously, we are just actually starting our “adventure” portion of the trip.  Family commitments have kept us going in the opposite directions that we would have otherwise.  This week represents a few major milestones.  First, at the end of this week, we will have completed 6 months of this adventure.  It hardly seems like we have been doing this for half of a year already.   Second, our current stop at Terra Starr RV park at Lake Eufaula in eastern Oklahoma represents the first stop that we have no commitments and we can really go whatever way we want. stay as long or short as we want, see what we want, and really DO what we want.  We are headed toward Tennessee then will hopefully head toward Georgia and then to Florida.  We will get to see our kids and our grandson in December as we are flying them to come see us for our grandsons first birthday.  I will also get to see my Marine brother while near Nashville, and we will get to see other family down in Atlanta.  This next phase has already seen lower temperatures, which is nice.  We have actually sat on the deck for football games, and once everyone is healthy (a bug ripped through the RV), we will be out on the bikes and on walks.  Third, we are entering our first holiday season in the RV.  It will be very interesting to see how things like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas go.

We are so looking forward to the future.  If this has taught us anything, it’s that stressing out does little to solve problems.  I have been proud of our family for how everyone has handled our adversity.  It may not seem like it, but Karma has really shone on our family.  We have yet to have an issue that we couldn’t get resolved on the road, and although we continue to be plagued with problems, we have managed to be in places where we had a support network.  Norman was no different and Lisa’s folks and their family and friends came through huge for us.  It was the longest we had spent with them too, so that was nice.  This life has a lot of upsides and we are preferring to look at that.  Keep in perspective just what is important.

The important things in life.
The important things in life.

Until next time, thanks for reading.  I hope it is helpful.

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