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Monday, December 31, 2012

FLORIDA CHRISTMAS 2012

The Stephen Foster Museum framed with a Live Oak
Our Michigan neighbors, Dale and Nancy Cobb, invited us to come down for the Festival of Lights at Stephen Foster State Park in northern Florida. The park is situated on the banks of the legendary Suwanee River and honors the memory of American composer, Stephen Foster, who wrote "Old Folks at Home," the song that made the river famous. The beautiful museum pictured here is a memorial to Foster and features facts from his life and dioramas of his well-known compositions.
I missed being home at Christmas and this place at least got me into the holiday spirit.  Our campground was filled with recreational vehicles decorated for Christmas, and for the month of December, as darkness descends, the park comes alive with about 5,000 lights decorating the grounds, and Christmas carols ring throughout the day from the bells of the 200 foot tall, 97-tubular-bell Carillon Tower. Even the majestic oak trees are wrapped in lights. It also “snows” in a Winter Wonderland display near the tower.
The Carillon Tower
At the S'More tent before the crowd arrives

The Cobbs have volunteered for several winters during this festival and asked if we'd be willing to help out three evenings with the visitors who would arrive to view the lights and enjoy the festivities. I helped out at Cousin Thelma Boltin's Gift Shop at the park's small village of craft cottages and Dick worked at the S'more tent and was the "Fourth Assistant Stick Washer". He washed marshmallow sticks where people lined up for free marshmallows for their S'mores. The night temps were down around freezing and he said his wash water felt about the same. We were told over 3,000 people attend each night and he said he was sure every one of them roasted a marshmallow or two. He's still not sure he likes this volunteering at parks. Unless he can be a Burmese Python hunter in the Everglades.
Dale and Nancy Cobb and Skipper in the Museum



On Christmas Eve, we were invited to join the Cobbs at a gathering of friends in the historic town of White Springs. We felt so welcome and enjoyed celebrating the holiday at this cozy home with great people and lots of good food. Then we were invited to join a group of the park's volunteers for Christmas dinner at a Chinese Restaurant in Valdosta, Georgia. So if I must be away from home at Christmas, then it sure would be great to return to this park, but I promised Dick only I would volunteer but he could just go hiking and be a wildlife photographer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

THE FORGOTTEN COAST

From St. George Island we continued along Florida's Scenic Hwy 98. We visited historic Apalachicola on the banks of the Apalachicola River, and continued east to Ochlockonee River State Park, then on for a few days in St. Marks, the easternmost point on the Forgotten coast. Each area is different, and all are uncrowded Natural Wonders.
While in St. Marks, each morning we got up before daybreak to drive the 7 mile Lighthouse Road inside the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. It is a bird watcher's paradise. Besides a variety of birds, we saw a huge cottonmouth lying across the road. We stopped to take pictures (from the safety of the car). We thought it had been run over, but then again it could just be warming up on the asphalt so we stayed in the car. On the return trip about an hour later, the snake was still there in the same position, still with it's mouth wide open. We took more pictures still not sure if it was dead or not. We did another hour hike in the area and returned once more to check on the snake but it was GONE! At one point I had suggested Dick get out and pick it up and I'd take some pictures. This was one time I was thankful he didn't listen to me.
While hiking I saw out of the corner of my eye what I thought was another snake but it was only a stick. I had jumped and grabbed Dick's arm. He said, "Don't hang on so tight because if something jumps out of the bushes it's every man for hisself!"
We've met lots of friendly people in these tiny Florida towns. One morning we stopped to buy some Tupelo honey and Mayhaw jelly from an oldtimer on the side of the road and listened to him tell of his childhood when he and his "mama" would collect Mayhaw berries while "daddy" was fishin'. "Mama wore an apron with big pockets to collect the berries, and then we'd go home and make mayhaw jelly and serve it with hush puppies and fried fish and maybe some butter beans or skunk cabbage fried in bacon grease." Some of these people have such a southern drawl that I "cain't" always understand what they're sayin'. We were talking to a local sawmill man and he was explaining about "lauder" the heartwood of the pine tree that's full of turpentine. I asked him to spell lauder. He said L-I-G-H-T-E-R.  This has happened to me a couple of other times on this trip. I think I'll just keep my mouth shut and act like I know what they're saying.
I just have to mention that we passed through the little town of Sopchoppy. It's the worm gruntin' capital of the world. I remember seeing this on DIRTY JOBS.  Viewer discretion is advisedhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKNv6ZrC5mg

In my last blog I mentioned Dick was getting into wildlife photography. He's really loving it. Here is a YouTube of some of his pictures.  Click on widescreen to make them larger.




FACTS:
1. The Red cockaded Woodpecker is endangered but we saw a few around the Ochlockonee River. This woodpecker nests in cavities they create in living pine trees and naturally protect themselves from rat snakes by pecking around the cavity and causing sap to flow. When a snake climbs the tree gets sap stuck under its scales and, more often than not, will fall out of the tree before being able to eat the red-cockaded woodpeckers.
2. The white squirrel found at the Ochlockonee River State Park is a Leucistic Eastern Gray Squirrel.
3. Info about Worm Gruntin'   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worm_charming
4. St. Mark's NWR is one of two winter homes for Whooping Cranes who were led here over 1,113 miles from Wisconsin by ultralights. http://www.operationmigration.org/BNsNov09.pdf

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

WILDLIFE

We enjoyed several beautiful warm, sunny days at St. Joseph State Park and then the overcast and rain began yesterday. During late afternoon when the rain let up we went out to get some fresh air and exercise. Two great horned owls were talking to each other and we decided to try and locate them. It took about 30 minutes. They are so well camouflaged they blend right in with the pine bark. We finally spotted them when the male flew to the female to mate with her. It was amazing. Our patience and persistence paid off.
This picture wasn’t taken by Dick even though he now has a new hobby as a “wildlife photographer.” When he was convincing me he needed a new camera he said I was going to really like it because he’d be gone taking pictures and it would give me the time alone I needed. Worked for me.

We’ve enjoyed fun visits with Shiona and Randy, the campground hosts. They’re the ones with the “VIP LOUNGE.” We always meet good people when we travel. We’ve kept in touch with so many, hoping to meet again somewhere along the way. We also enjoyed good conversation with a woman (picture below) from Vancouver Island, British Columbia who bought a small travel trailer and truck and left home in June. She, with her dog as her traveling companion, has ventured all across Canada and down through the eastern U.S. to Florida and then will head west and north to be home by late March. She had never done this before but just decided to go for it.

Remember the snake I mentioned in the last blog that killed someone’s dog? While our Canadian friend was walking her dog one day, ahead of her in the road was a huge black snake that stopped and lifted its head to check her out and quickly slithered away. We think it was the same snake who killed the dog because it came from the site where it happened. I'm always looking ahead wherever we walk. I don't want any surprises.
We're leaving in the morning, not because of the snakes, but to check out St. George Island State Park 40 miles east of here. On to new adventures!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

LOVE FLORIDA STATE PARKS


We left Grayton Beach, following the Gulf SE to the St. Joseph Peninsula. We're staying at the 2,500 acre State Park. We discovered this park two years ago and love the peace and quiet, the secluded white sand beaches, dunes and the heavily-forested interior. The weather has been perfect and it's wonderful sleeping with the windows open. We listen to the Great Horned Owls talking to each other as we fall asleep and then they're still hooting when we wake up at dawn. Every morning we walk along the boardwalks and roads as the sunrises, coffee in hand.
Our Traverse City friends also traveled here for a couple of days. Diane told us when she walked to the bathroom one night the light on her headlamp spotted large spiders that had glowing green lights coming out of their "butts". Of course we all laughed and didn't believe her. The next night she had us all out looking for glow in the dark spiders. She could see them but we couldn't. Then we finally figured out why. We had to put on her headlamp to see them. That is the trick. A flashlight held in hand doesn't get the right angle of light. We looked them up and identified them as Wolf Spiders and it's their eyes reflecting in the light. That cured me of going barefoot here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38_V1e9qNb4  We were talking with another camper who said she just about walked by a water moccasin (Cottonmouth) on the board walk but looked up in time. After hearing that and the host telling us someone's dog got bit last week and died. I'm more aware of my surroundings now.
 We plan to stay another week. We enjoy exploring on bikes or on foot. We've had fun and laughs with the campground hosts at their "VIP LOUNGE". A great way to meet other campers too. There was a karaoke party going on at one of the campsites. I said to Dick we should go check it out and he said, "Somebody thinks they can sing and I don't want to encourage them." Dick has recuperated from his gate injury. Funny Face (the cat) hasn't tried to escape again and I enjoyed a day to myself when Dick walked into the Wilderness Preserve 14 miles to the end of the spit and back. All is well.


For those who are interested in our wildlife spottings:

Florida Box turtle (endangered - beautiful design)
Osprey
Immature Bald eagle
Bob cat (small one crossed the road)
Cow Nose Ray (jumping out of the water trying to fly)
Great Horned Owl (still haven't spotted them, but hear them)
Kingfisher
Great White Heron
Egret
Wolf Spiders
Dolphins

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

PRE-DICK-AMENT


We are still at Grayton Beach State Park in Florida and our Traverse City friends, Dean and Diane Tobias, happened to be here for a few days too. We’ve had a great time visiting with them while beach-combing, bike riding, etc...One afternoon we decided to go explore the nearby towns on our bikes. As the four of us approached the campground gate, the steel arm went up and we all rode through.  At least we thought we all rode through. All of a sudden we heard a loud crash and groan. We looked back to see Dick stopped and holding his head.  The heavy gate arm came down and hit him in the face.  It bent his glasses and the right side of his face was bleeding. He's OK but doesn't look so good. Later when I asked him if his face hurts he said he wasn't going to fall for that trick. He always asks people that and when they say "no" he says, "Well, it's killing me." I hope this is the only “pre-Dick-ament” we have on this trip. 

This morning as I went out the motorhome door, Funny Face did too!  There’s a pattern with this cat. Whenever we start on a new trip she just has to escape one time and then realizes it’s scarry outside and we chase her out of the bushes and back into the motorhome. Usually that one time cures her of wanting to go outside and she doesn’t go near the door for the rest of the trip. This time it didn’t happen that way. We couldn’t find her for several hours and when she returned she looked at us as if to say, “That was great fun.”  Sure enough, she tried to escape again this afternoon.  She's wearing a collar with a tag but it really wouldn’t do much good because she’d never let a stranger catch her. 


When we lifted up our electric box cover to plug in the motorhome at our site, there were several green tree frogs sleeping there. They are so tiny but all together make big sounds in the night. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEbdtDbM6uo

Birders - While here at Grayton Beach we've seen a bald eagle, osprey, sanderlings, mockingbirds, great blue heron, wrens, cardinals and a Dick E. Bird among others.  


Did You Know?
The stunning sugar white beaches of this area along the Gulf are composed of fine quartz eroded from granite in the Appalachian Mountains.  The sand is carried seaward by rivers and creeks and deposited by currents along the shore. The long physical journey (about 350 million years) has broken down, bleached and polished the bits of quartz that we see today.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

GRAYTON BEACH IS GRAYT



A row of vintage Airstream restaurants in the town of Seaside.
When you spend some time in cold and snowy weather it sure makes you appreciate the warm weather. We arrived at Grayton Beach State Park on the Florida coast and shed our jackets, opened all our windows and went for a walk on the beach in the sunshine. We can't stop making the comment how wonderful this weather is.
Salt marshes, sea oats covered dunes, crystal-white sand and beautiful blue-green water of the Gulf make up this 2200 acre park. We've enjoyed the hiking and birding, and biking on the extensive bike trails to the unique seaside towns.
As a good friend once said, "This is sucking the juice out of life."

Western Lake at Grayton State Park

Friday, November 30, 2012

SUNSHINE ON MY SHOULDER

After six days on the road we are now on the back roads of Alabama (much more interesting than the freeways), and within 100 miles of the Florida beaches. Yes, we take our time. Along the way we stopped in Nashville, TN to see the Rockettes Christmas Show. A friend of ours is their Assistant Company Manager. What an amazing production. I kept saying, “Wow” whenever I watched those girls dance in their beautiful outfits and perfectly sinchronized. The town was decorated for the holidays with thousands of twinkling lights and decorations. We walked around downtown among the many street musicians and honky tonks and had dinner next to the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole’ Opry. Driving the “spaghetti” of roads, as Dick called them, and listening to him swearing, we were only lost once. When we were trying to get out of town in our 29’ motorhome, he took a wrong turn and ended up in the airport parking lot. It was a very tight and scary squeeze getting through two gates for “small vehicles” only (adversity makes for good stories). We try to avoid big cities, but Nashville was fun and it’s put me in the Christmas spirit but we’re looking forward to being where it’s warm, quiet and natural. Funny Face too!
 FYI for you RVers/Travelers:
1. In some states, with certain Walmart cards you can get another 10 or 15 cents off per gallon at Murphy or Walmart stations.
 2. If you purchase or renew a Camping World President’s Club membership for $25, you get a voucher for $25 off at a participating Good Sam commercial campground.
3. If you’re traveling through Nashville and want a neat experience during the holiday season, camp at Jellystone Campground along I-65. There is a spectacular Christmas light show in the woods around the campground.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

WELL I'LL BE GOL DURNED

Brrrrrr!! We’re in Bowling Green, KY at the Camping World (free camping) and woke up to a beautiful orange sunrise and frost covering everything. Thank goodness for our goose down comforter. We’re taking our time heading south, staying on the super slab which I don’t enjoy but driving through Louisville was interesting to see banners hanging from buildings commemorating the famous people who were either born/raised or lived a significant period of time there. When we are making time and stay along the expressway either at Walmart or places like this, it usually means noise and lots of light. I wear my ear plugs and a face mask and sleep like a baby. We are amazed at how much truck traffic there is on I-65, and I-75 is the same. The economy must not be too bad. Wish we could go back to train transport. Just makes more sense.
I remember January 1978, we were in our 20‘s and on our first trip with an RV. We waited patiently for a break in the storm when we could get out of Traverse City and head for Florida. We headed for I-75 and drove until dark to hopefully get out of the bad weather. We took the Corbin, KY exit planning to camp somewhere. The road we turned on was a sheet of ice and the trailer started to pass us on the left. Dick remembered his grandfather told him if he ever lost control of the trailer to not hit the car brake but pull the trailer brake. It did the job and straightened it out and we pulled off to the side. Immediately a couple of good ole boys pulled up in a tow truck (we figured they’d been waiting for suckers like us) and said “You’all call a wrecker?” They hooked onto the front of our car and trailer and pulled us to the local gas station where we spent the night. After a sleepless night, we decided to treat ourselves to breakfast at the Cracker Barrell restaurant and the waitress asked Dick if he wanted Rooster eggs or hen eggs. He looked at her with a blank stare and I said, “Try the rooster eggs, they’re bigger.” So he ordered the rooster eggs. The waitress replied, “Don’t ya’ll know that Roosters don’t lay eggs?”

Monday, November 26, 2012

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

After a full day of loading the motorhome and cleaning and then winterizing the house, we slept in the motorhome to be ready to leave at first light. With one last look around the Ole’ E Ranch, to make sure we had everything, we sat in our driver and copilot seats and just as Dick turned over the ignition it all of a sudden came to mind, “Did we call to have the insurance put on the motorhome?” “OH NO, it’s Sunday, now what?” We called the main office but no help there. We emailed our agent through his website and after waiting an hour we decided to wait instead at our favorite breakfast place downtown. If we couldn’t leave by 11:30 a.m. then we’d go to PLAN B and leave Monday morning. Fortunately, our agent has an iphone and received his email (either at church or hunting) and gave us the go ahead. The roads were still icy in spots and on the expressway there were a couple of cars flipped in the median, so as I always say, there was a reason we were held up for a few more hours. When we drive this route down 131 through Niles and into Indiana there is a stretch of farmland where many farmers raise pigs. It always reminds me of the years when Maggie was a child and we’d travel through this area to visit my parents. One such trip as we traveled by the pig farms, Maggie was probably two at the time, she says, “I Mell pigs!” So, of course, we have used that line many times when we smell anything foul. We had an appointment at 8 a.m. in Elkhart to get one hydraulic leveler fixed. It had a small, slow leak. I always knew when it started to get low because whatever I was cooking on the stove would flow to one side. Our destination is Florida and who knows from there. To be continued......

Saturday, March 17, 2012

RV EVOLUTION

Dick was born into a traveling family. This was what his
parents lived in for awhile when his dad had to relocate
for his job. 

Here's a better picture of the travel trailer. This is his mom
and brother Tom taken not too long before Dick was born. 

Dick's grandparents were the first to buy an
Airstream.

Then Dick's parents bought a 1957 Airstream when
Dick was around seven and they spent many years
traveling around the U.S.

When Dick graduated from high school (1968) he bought this
1964 Suburban, and traveled that summer out west.

I
In 1977, we'd been married 3 years and wanted to travel for a year.
We bought this Olds Custom Cruiser and 1963, 27 ft Avion
and ended up working our way around the country for
nearly eight years.

In 1981 we sold the Olds station wagon and bought Dick's dad's
1966 Suburban. His dad was concerned about
its condition and said we could buy it as long as
we didn't take it out of Acme. We
drove the Alcan Hwy to Alaska that summer.

At one point we sold our Avion and bought a 31 ft Airstream.
We traveled many years and continued up into Maggie's
early childhood.
.

In 1997, Doubleday sent us on a booksigning tour through
the west. We bought a 27 ft, 1989 Jayco Motorhome for this trip.
We enjoyed it for 15 years. One of our most memorable
trips was the time Dick walked from Mexico to Canada, 3200 miles
along the Continental Divide Trail. 


Now that we're retired and live in our motorhome more,
we've been wanting one with slideouts to give us more room.
We found this one in July in Traverse City
and it had everything on our list. We decided we'd think
about it for awhile. Then after Christmas we contacted
the sellers, thinking for sure it was sold and we could
get it off our minds. It was still available but the owners
had moved it to Topeka, KS where they relocated.  We bought it and in
mid February we loaded our Saturn with everything we needed, including the
 two cats, and drove 16 hours to pick it up. We were half way to
Arizona so we hitched the Saturn to the "Mother Ship" and kept on going.
It has been a comfortable and enjoyable winter of travel through the
Southwest. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

HAPPY HOLIDAYS 2011



HAPPY HOLIDAYS BELATED! I write this sitting in my rocker, with my feet up, next to the wood stove (this is Dick). We are burning Gren wood. No it's not a misspelling. We bought a pallet of compressed hardwood sawdust blocks. They burn just like coal. Very cool - I mean hot.
We are all doing well. Gaila is busy with a variety of things. She's always heading into town. I think she has to get away from me to keep her sanity. I stay home on my side of the creek to keep mine.
Maggie has been living here in Traverse City since July 2010. We don't see as much of her as we did when she lived 3,000 miles away in Anacortes, WA. She has been a busy farm girl this year. She and her boyfriend Brenin ran a CSA selling shares of crops and then delivering fresh vegetables every week to shareholders (if you're local sign up for a 2012 share). She also works two different jobs, is a DJ on the local NMC college station and training on car diagnostics. When her car was still running, she used to call and ASK me what was wrong with it, then she got to the point where she would call and TELL me what was wrong with it. Like my dad used to say, "A fart in a whirlwind." She and Brenin are now in Mexico attending a wedding, and Gaila and I are babysitting plants and animals.
Gaila and I agreed a year ago to be home six months and travel six months and it is working out so far. I did get 400 miles of backpacking in this year. As Mark Twain famously said, "The rumors of my death are highly exaggerated." Three people were attacked by grizzlies this past season. Two in Yellowstone were fatal and one man in Glacier was slapped around a bit. One of the Yellowstone fatalities happened to be a 60ish Michigan hiker. I was backpacking at the time, and Gaila started getting emails from a lot of people wondering how she was going to spend my life insurance bonanza. Wishful thinking people, but wrong Park. Besides, they say, if you are attacked by a bear you are safe if you smell really bad. I guarantee, if a bear attacks me I'm immediately and automatically going to smell really bad.
We have had a wonderful fall. The mild fall and early winter weather has given me the opportunity to attack the Autumn Olive bush trying to take over the Ole E Ranch (also known as Oleo Acres - the cheaper spread). I only cut the grass once a year. Once it gets tall enough it falls over. I would rather have an annual prairie fire. I accidentally did that this spring and came home to find five fire tanker trucks in the yard and a corps of firefighters with water tanks strapped on their backs spraying my yard and the neighboring property. Having a fire is actually a great way to see your neighbors. When we arrived home everyone was in the yard with a drink watching the action. Gaila calls these "Pre-Dick-aments," but you already know that. The week before the fire the creek flooded the yard. I want to get back on the road before the quake. --Keep Smilin', Dick and Gaila
The best to you in 2012.



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