At Home on the Road

Greg and Ann’s home looks like any other cozy apartment inside. The kitchen includes a stove, convection oven, dishwasher, and microwave. The door on the full size refrigerator/freezer is plastered with family photos. A washer/dryer unit and half bath are conveniently located off the kitchen. In the living room a soft leather sofa sits across from a wide screen TV. A short hall connects the kitchen to a master suite with a king size bed and full bath.

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This home seems normal except for one thing. It can be driven! In 2016, Greg and Ann sold their house in Las Vegas and purchased their dream RV. Since last December they’ve traveled across the country, eventually arriving in Florida to spend time with family. I caught up with Greg and Ann while they “camped” at Mayport Naval Base near Jacksonville.

ALL THE COMFORTS OF HOME

The couple selected their 2016 Holiday Rambler Endeavor because of the amount of livable space inside.  Beautiful woodwork and cabinets make the RV feel like a home instead of a camper. The unit features three slide-outs that increase the width of each room. The Endeavor is forty feet long, contains three air conditioners, and features a huge amount of outside and inside storage. “I love the icemaker,” Greg remarked as he sipped his iced tea. “That’s something every home needs.”

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A JOINT DECISION

Greg and Ann’s journey into full time life on the road began years ago with shorter RV vacations. After Greg retired they took extended trips, spending six months at a time away from their house in Las Vegas. Whenever they returned it took them three months to catch up on maintenance and yardwork. Finally they realized the expense and effort involved with keeping their house wasn’t worth it. So they joined the many retirees who have chosen to live in their RV fulltime. Greg advises couples to “jump in the shallow end of the pool” before making the decision. “Don’t do it unless you both agree.” Life on the road involves adjustments.

Since their marriage in 1974, Greg and Ann have never had to share one car. They tow a vehicle behind their RV for day use. The couple must consider one another’s needs before making plans. Ann joked, “Since we live in closer quarters, we’ve learned to shout at each other, more quietly.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR STUFF?

Even with the ample storage, it’s impossible to fit the contents of a whole house into a forty foot RV. Greg and Ann sold many of their possessions. Greg admits he misses his home workshop, but the experience of seeing so many beautiful sights makes it worth the loss. Two of his favorite possessions, a kayak and an ATV are in storage. The couples policy regarding purchases: “For every new item brought into the RV, one item goes out.”

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SELECTING CAMPGROUNDS

Since Greg is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, they are eligible to park their RV at military bases. The couple also joined Passport America which offers its members a fifty percent discount at individually owned campgrounds. While in transit they plan their route one day before departure and reserve their next campsite the same day they expect to arrive. If they want to stay in one area for more than a few days, Ann makes a reservation further in advance.  Greg and Ann also benefit from a membership in the Escapees Club. This club offers mail service and educational tips for full time travelers.

MISCELLANEOUS TIPS

During our visit, Greg shared that they are currently in the process of selecting their state of “permanent residence.”  Florida, South Dakota, and Texas are the top choices for establishing residency for those who travel full time. These states offer no income tax, and low vehicle registration fees. When choosing medical insurance, its also important to select a policy that travels with you.  Requirements to drive an RV also vary from state to state. In Florida, RV drivers are exempt from obtaining a CDL. However, Ann is planning to take a hands on class in order to feel more comfortable driving. Greg completed the CDL requirements of Nevada.

LONG RANGE PLANS?

Greg loves baseball. The couple has seen games in twenty-one of the thirty cities with baseball stadiums. Like most outdoor enthusiasts, they want to visit every national park in the country. Both love the coastline of Maine. Long range plans? They’ve agreed to reevaluate their lifestyle in five years. Greg laughed, “I know of some retirement RV communities where you can hook up permanently.”

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Now I’m Sixty-Four

When I was fourteen my best friend and I listened to Sergeant Pepper’s until our ears bled.  This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the album’s release. A popular song on the album is When I’m Sixty-Four.  Paul McCartney’s lyrics describe what it might be like when two lovers grow old together.  In 1967 I thought people who were sixty-four probably needed canes and hearing aids.  And now here I am.

As a teenager, I couldn’t relate to When I’m Sixty-Four. It didn’t speak to me so I would usually lift up the needle on the record player and drop it down on A Day in the Life.  Now there’s a song with social significance, a satire about the news media! Like other baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, I challenged the status quo.

My first attempt at reforming the world occurred in 1970 when I was elected student council president of my high school. I petitioned our local school board to change the dress code to allow girls to wear “pantsuits”. Unless Ohio temperatures dropped below ten degrees Farenheit, girls were required to wear skirts or dresses. Students thought it unfair as temperatures frequently dropped below twenty, but rarely below ten.   Imagine my surprise when the school board agreed with me and changed the dress policy to permit “pantsuits” (no jeans yet) year round.  I was the heroine of our small community.

Baby boomers work hard to achieve their goals. When we started kindergarten in the fifties, schools were overcrowded. We had to perform well to get the teacher’s attention. When we graduated from college competition for jobs was intense. This made us competitive and ambitious. We relish achievement. Our identity is often tied to what we do.

Is that why old rockers keep on rocking? I attended a Paul McCartney concert in 2013. At age seventy-two he moved around the stage like a young man. He performed for three hours without taking a break. The concert made me feel like I had just taken a dip in the fountain of youth. Afterward I realized my life was slipping by too fast.  So I left my teaching job to write and travel more.  I wonder what Paul McCartney might think if he knew he inspired someone in their sixties to pursue their passion?

Like everyone, I don’t know what lies ahead. I feel good now, but what will I feel like in ten years? Twenty years? Remember my motto?  I want to do as much as I can for as long as I can with no regrets.  Is sixty really the new forty?

By 2029 the number of Americans over age sixty-five is expected to be 71 million (twenty percent of the population). At least I’m in good company. Although my generation is known for changing what we don’t like, aging is unstoppable. We can try to hide it with hair color and anti-wrinkle cream but time marches on.

My mother tells me, “Old age is not for the faint of heart.” It takes a certain amount of courage to accept the reality that aging brings physical decline. How will I handle old age?

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 84?”

 

 

 

Back to School

It’s that time of year again. The lazy days of lounging at the pool are replaced with harried schedules. Today, August fourteenth, is opening  day for many Florida schools. I retired from teaching third grade four years ago. I still think about and pray for teachers often, especially since I know so many who are still on the front lines, including my daughter.

Life in school is a subculture. It always amazed me how so few adults could be so out numbered by children and maintain control of a community. My years as a teacher were blessed by good administrators and parents who supported the staff. When children came to school they knew what kind of behavior was expected and they usually conformed. Just think about how hard it can be for practically anyone to stay in their seat, and raise their hand to speak. But they did.

I always thought the best teachers are those who can inspire students to learn. My favorite teacher as a child was my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Masters. Back then, sixth grade was still part of elementary school and we had one teacher the entire day. Mrs. Masters plastered her classroom walls with inspirational writing. Messages like “you can do it if you try” and “never give up” worked with me. Whenever I thought something was hard I would keep trying to do better.

I’ll admit, I didn’t always have an easy life as a teacher. It’s a challenging profession. Teachers have to think on their feet. They carry a huge responsibility of maintaining discipline and teaching at the same time. One year I had a group of rough boys in my class. I went to the assistant principal for help. He had a sign in his office, “Tough times never last, tough people do.” I asked him if I could make a copy of it to hang near my desk. That sign kept me from quitting that year.

At night I still have dreams about teaching.  In my reoccurring dream kids are usually running around the classroom, and I can’t find my math book to begin the lesson. I suppose it’s typical. That was always one of my biggest fears. Not being prepared. Organization is the key to everything for teachers.

Each day began with over the top multi-tasking. Taking attendance on my computer, listening to announcements, collecting homework, and reading notes from parents. If this wasn’t enough, some students required prodding to begin their morning board work. After all, idle minds make for a devil’s playground!

Reading was always the first subject taught to third graders. Afterwards depending on the day of the week, the students participated in art music, or P.E.  That was my planning time, often spent in meetings with other staff or making copies.  Math was usually after lunch. Somewhere in the six hour day we squeezed in writing, science, and social studies. It was hard to plan for and teach five subjects. It became harder when special reading intervention groups were instituted at the end of the day.

When the dismissal bell rang there was teacher “duty” to make sure every student left the campus safely. Then I could relax with a diet coke and read my emails before I gathered up all the papers to grade at home.

But I loved school. I loved the kids and they kept me coming back year after year. Teachers have a huge impact on students. Some children spend more time with their teachers than they do with their parents. I doubt if many teachers have time to read this, but I commend you for the work you do. If you can keep a child interested in learning, you are a success.

 

 

 

Camping with the Long Key Crabs

Almost one year ago I wrote a post entitled Being.  I shared the value of doing nothing during a trip to the Florida Keys.  Last week my husband and I revisited Long Key State Park with our Viking  trailer for five nights of camping and relaxation on the shores of the Atlantic.

Sure it’s August. Sure it’s hot. It’s hot everywhere in Florida, so folks might as well camp near the water where they can get wet. The word must have gotten out about the constant sea breeze which cools the campground like a giant fan, because the park was full most nights. In fact we felt fortunate to reserve a site.

As in the past, our first day was blessed with a refreshing tropical breeze. We were surprised the second day when the tropical breeze turned into a tropical storm. The rain bands lasted eight hours.  We hunkered down in the trailer, read our books, and played numerous rounds of the card game, Lost Cities. Whenever the rain let up a little, we ventured out to walk our dog…one of the joys of traveling with a pet.

The remainder of the week was dry with a light wind. We enjoyed swimming, kayaking, and a couple of short hikes. With the exception of a day trip to Bahai Honda, we spent most of our time in our camp chairs, just being still and soaking up the beauty of the place.  What is it about the sea that refreshes a person’s spirit?

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One night  when I was preparing dinner our dog Buddy, barked at something. I stepped out of the trailer to see a large crab scurry into its burrow at the edge of our campsite. The crab was at least six inches across. It was grey in color and one claw was larger than the other.

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After that happened I paid closer attention whenever I walked to the campground trash bin with a bag of garbage. I noticed several crabs along the side of the road and dozens of burrows in between each campsite. Later I learned these shy creatures are called blue land crabs, and rank the largest in size of Florida’s semi-terrestrial crabs.  They spend most of their adult lives on or near the beach, but return to the sea to breed.  Blue land crabs burrow several feet underground to allow moisture to seep inside their tunnels.

I found the crabs were more active in the cooler parts of the day, around dusk and dawn.  Primarily vegetarians, blue land crabs eat tender leaves, fruits, and berries.  I felt like I’d really accomplished something when I managed to snap a photo of one with a blue shell before it skittered sideways into its underground home.

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I researched some additional interesting facts about these animals. Their reproductive activity occurs during the full moon of summer. Uh-oh, there might have been some hanky-panky going on at Long Key because the moon was practically full!

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A female blue land crab produces anywhere from 300,000 to 700,000 eggs in one spawning season.  She carries them under her body to release them into the sea. However, most crab larva are eaten by fish and very few survive. It’s unlawful to harvest any blue land crabs in Florida between July 1 and October 31. And of course hunting or capturing wildlife is against the rules in state parks. I have no idea what blue land crabs taste like, but some people consider them a delicacy.

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Female blue land crabs can vary in color from blue to white.

For the record, in mid-October Long Key State Park campground will be closed due to beach renovation for one year.  On our day trip to Bahai Honda we saw some beachside campsites.

Maybe we’ll move our “do nothing” location further south until Long Key reopens.

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The High Sierra Wilderness of Yosemite

What comes to mind when you think of wilderness? Wide open spaces? Pristine lakes? Miles and miles of forests? Maybe something more scary including wild animals, or worse yet, no internet?

For most people wilderness is a place without roads, vehicles, or permanent structures. In 1964 the U. S. government created the National Wilderness Preservation System for the protection of American wilderness. Today 110 million acres of undeveloped land exists for our enjoyment. However, these places of solitude and renewal must be accessed by foot, horseback, or boat.

In 2013 my husband and I visited the High Sierra region of Yosemite National Park. Herb and I left our car at the trailhead on Tioga Road, and walked up the May Lake Trail, a distance of 2.4 miles. In our backpacks we carried a few basic necessities for an overnight stay at May Lake Camp.

Contrary to the overpopulated valley of Yosemite, the High Sierra region is a rugged, solitary wilderness. Upon our arrival at the lake we rested and soaked up the view while we munched on trail mix and granola bars.

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The water was calm and clear. Across the lake, the salt and pepper colored granite of  Mt. Hoffman rose up to meet the cloudless sky.  The 5.6 mile trail to the summit was listed as moderate in our guidebook.  We were determined to hike up as far as our legs could carry us.  I’m a flatlander from Florida. For me the hike was extremely rocky and rough. As we continued to climb above the tree line the trail seemed to disappear. We could only find our way because of the rock cairns left by previous hikers.

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I pushed myself to keep plodding along, stopping to rest every twenty yards or so. Each time I looked out at the surrounding spectacular peaks I felt refreshed and energized. From Mt. Hoffman at 10,000 feet, May Lake looked like a pond.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were completely alone. Eventually I reached an impasse, unable to continue because of loose rocks under my feet. I was fearful of falling. We took a photo of our stopping point.

IMG_0226On the way back down My husband suddenly froze and pointed nearby. “Mountian lion,” Herb whispered, “Follow me.”  I was silent and followed his lead. We walked a different direction away from the outcropping of rock the mountain lion was sleeping under.  When we felt it was safe, we began our descent.  I must say we walked a lot faster going down the mountain, than up!

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My legs were weak by the time we made it back to May Lake Camp. The tantalizing aroma of roast pork made us realize how hungry we were. All of the guests in the camp eat together family style. As we enjoyed a delicious meal, everyone shared their adventures. Five camps are located in the High Sierras, all a day’s hike from each other.  Some folks had walked ten miles to May Lake and planned to move on in the morning.  Hikers can spend a week or more in the High Sierras. It’s a great vacation, hiking all day and spending the night at a camp where someone else prepares your meals.  Food is carried into the camp by mules the same way Phantom Ranch receives supplies in the Grand Canyon, (Click on the link to read my previous post about that experience.)

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After dinner we retired to our tents, which we shared with other travelers, bunkhouse style.  I couldn’t get to sleep.  I tossed and turned, wondering about the mountain lion we encountered on our hike. What was it doing now? Could it be on the prowl nearby? And what about bears, everyone knows they frequent this area.  In the wee hours of the morning I finally drifted off to sleep.

Without my knowledge, my husband rose early and walked down by the lake to see the sunrise. He captured my feature image of the beautiful reflective waters of May Lake and another of Half Dome from the backside. (A sight unseen by visitors who stay in the valley.)

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Wilderness intrigues me. Its rugged beauty captivates and terrifies me at the same time.  In the wilderness anything can happen.  It has a spirit of its own, powerful, and untamed by man.

 

The Many Faces of Marineland

“Science couldn’t explain it… but there it was, alive in the deep waters of the Amazon. A throwback to a creature that existed one hundred million years ago.” So begins the opening remarks from the trailer, The Creature of the Black Lagoon.

When My husband was growing up he loved to watch the horror movies of the 1950’s.  Even today his eyes seem to light up whenever he talks about the time his parents brought him to Florida for a vacation. They visited Marineland in 1962. Back then two of his favorites movies were The Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954) and it’s sequel, Revenge of the Creature (1955). He couldn’t believe he was seeing the studios where scenes from both of his favorite movies were filmed. It’s something he will never forget.

This summer we made a return trip to Marineland.  We learned the attraction first opened as Marine Studios in 1938. It was designed to be a location for Hollywood filmmakers to shoot underwater footage for movies and TV shows, including Sea Hunt (1958)

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A concrete prop used in the filming of underwater film scenes.

Naturally underwater movies call for animal actors. In addition to making films, Marine Studios wanted to give the public an opportunity to see and learn about bottlenose dolphins. During the 1940’s public dolphin feedings evolved into dolphin performances. Keepers discovered how high a dolphin can jump.

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Flippy, the world’s first trained dolphin.

During the 1950’s and 60’s the dolphin performances drew crowds of adoring fans. A favorite celebrity, Nelly, starred in TV shows. Nelly was born at Marine Studios in 1953 and lived under human care for sixty-one years. As dolphin performances continued to grow in popularity during the decades of the fifties and sixties, the focus of Marine Studios changed. It became more of an animal theme park with a new name, Marineland.

As we strolled through the present day facility I was taken by its beautiful location. The dolphin pool is located in close proximity to the beach. Over the years Marineland staff have rescued hundreds of stranded whales and injured marine animals.

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Today’s view of the dolphin pool with the Atlantic in the background.

However, Marineland’s location also contributed to its demise.  As the decades passed, salty air eroded the buildings. Destruction from two hurricanes made it necessary to close the park in 2004. In addition, Marineland experienced a decline in admissions after Sea World of Orlando opened in the late seventies.

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A bottlenose dolphin looking for a playmate.

During the next two years Marineland constructed a new facility dedicated to education and human/animal interaction instead of animal performance. In 2011 Marineland was acquired by the Georgia Aquarium and renamed Marine and Dolphin Adventure. The attraction offers dolphin encounters, summer camps, and field trips for school groups. The Behind the Stage Tour takes visitors below deck where they can view historical exhibits from their years as a film studio. We were surprised to discover the attraction sells a wedding package for avid dolphin loving couples.

We concluded our visit with this snapshot taken at a photo spot, a memento of our return to the hallowed ground of childhood memories.

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My previous blog about the Florida Citrus Tower shares another piece of Florida history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida’s Lonely Attractions

Roadside stands like the one pictured above are fairly common along freeway exits in Florida.  This outdoor display invites travelers to pick up a bag of oranges for loved ones up north who may be digging out from a snowstorm.  Today people can buy citrus at any grocery store year round, so purchasing oranges may no longer be a novelty.  This business expanded it’s inventory by selling Georgia pecans, citrus wine, gator jerky, and fireworks. I admire the creativity of Florida entrepreneurs who work hard to keep their businesses alive.

Tourism has a long history in Florida. I’m amazed so many of the older attractions are still open. Today most tourists spend their entire vacations at Disney or Universal Studios. They miss out on the unique attractions which preserve Florida’s past.

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The Citrus Tower in Clermont opened in 1956 as a tribute to Central Florida’s citrus industry. Did you know Central Florida once had a booming citrus industry? No one would know it today. Neighborhoods and roads have replaced miles of fragrant orange groves.

The tower is located on one of the highest hills in central Florida, a whopping 128 feet above sea level.  The structure rises 226 feet and was constructed of concrete and reinforced steel to withstand hurricane force winds. I entered the elevator for the scary ride up twenty-two stories in total darkness with no air conditioning. Who needs the Tower of Terror?

When the door opened I stepped out onto a glass enclosed observation deck and walked around. I could see the rolling hills, spring-fed lakes, roads, and parking lots, but no orange groves.

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I wish I could have been here in the old days when citrus was king.

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This is an artist’s view of the land surrounding the Citrus Tower during the 1950’s. The hard freezes of the 1980’s killed the orange trees. Growers sold their land in the Clermont area to real estate developers. I enjoyed reading the historical information outside the gift shop located in the base of the tower. Back in the day, the attraction included a restaurant. A menu from the past was posted in a display case. I couldn’t believe the price of a sizzling T-bone steak with onion rings was $3.50.

The Citrus Tower offers a  light show during the Christmas season and is open evenings in December. The view from the observation tower is reported to be spectacular at night. Click on the above link for more information and reviews.

IMG_7753 (1)If you visit the Citrus Tower be sure to see the President’s Hall of Fame next door. Ronald Reagan described this museum as a national treasure for over forty years. The Hall of Fame features one of a kind presidential memorabilia.

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Here’s an interesting photo spot. Where did they get that idea?

Stay tuned for more lonely Florida attractions next week.  A side of Florida few people see, and more should.