First, The Yays
On our way to the “maybe owned by a psycho…but has a fenced dog area” RV campground today, we discovered this awesome dog park at a highway rest stop! As an added bonus, I didn’t see it right away so I first walked Teddy the other way and did some loose leash practice so it was the ultimate reward to turn around and go to the off-leash area! I was so happy not to have to walk Teddy along the highway, I picked up three bags of other dogs’ poop just to leave it nicer after we left.
Here we are with my brother trying a random internet fix for my dead laptop. Someone said to take it apart and blow a hair dryer on a chip. I said, “Hey, I have a hair dryer and you (my brother) know how to take apart computers so let’s try it!” Kind of hilarious day for the onlookers but it’s been about two months now and it is still working!
Last “Yay” is that we had no problems (so far…) tonight at the RV campground with the weird reviews. Owner was super nice and even offered his adjacent piece of land if we wanted to give Teddy more room to run.
And, Now, The Oops
It doesn’t look QUITE so bad here because we are almost out, but we ended up in a weird shopping center parking lot where the last two rows were dead ends. Didn’t expect it until we turned in and got stuck with the RV and the car attached behind. Some lady was all mad, “Hey, I’m trying to get out here!” but there was nothing we could do but unhitch the car as quick as possible and try to back out. Luckily, K is very quick at this now and the two cars in the spot you see K backed into also left right then. Whew!
This was actually an Oops from last night but no one really wanted to talk about it then, as it involved a Black Tank issue. Supposedly, you are not a “real” RVer until you have a legit Black Tank Issue. I think this one qualifies because no on wanted to go out and document any of it. All I can say is that it turned out to be a blessing that we were assigned the way-in-the-back spot right by the dump station and the trash (and that it rained last night) because it will not be entirely clear that any odor is our fault. A is happy to explain:
(And, the fact that I can now post video is a big Oops turned into a Yay. Turns out D somehow hijacked my Google/YouTube account and that’s why I couldn’t access it. Seems fixed now and video blogging is highly amusing to all of us…)
Tomorrow we are off to Pensacola for five nights. We are splurging on an RV park right on the beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Why this particular park? Because they allow dogs on their beach! (No dogs on the city beaches.) I am really looking forward to a family reunion with my cousin (and Godfather) and his family I have not seen in many, many years but it feels like yesterday. Several of the grandchildren match up with my kids’ ages so they are all looking forward to a big get-together.
We have no shortage of mysteries to confound us in our travels. I find the whole RV life curiously fascinating. First day at a new park, you get eyeballed by everyone else and then you get to eyeball the next new people.
It might very well be that I am the only nosy one but there really isn’t much else to do but watch other people walk around and check out whether they have something or if they are doing something you should know about. In fact, I’ve been working with A on how to take the power back when someone is looking at you or an adult is talking to you by making eye contact right back vs. looking away and mumbling. I guess it’s working b/c he told me yesterday, “This guy was staring at me at the the park and I looked at him and said, ‘hi,’ and he stopped staring at me.” Hmm, I don’t really know what that was about but it seemed to end well.
BUT, the staring guy was at this park that had exercise equipment set up all around, facing the children’s area:
So the “Get a Straw” thing was on our neighbor’s shirt, with “Because You Suck” written under it. I couldn’t decide if that was creepy weird or whether I wanted one for myself. K went and asked him if he had it made but he said he found it at a store.
Living The Good Life in Naples
So, yes, we are staying in a 55+ mobile home park full of French Canadians – and VERY happy that they let us stay for nine days because it is high season in Naples, FL and there was no other place with openings.
My mom and her cousin are in Naples for their annual winter vacation so we got to see them several times.
Teddy had a nice walk along 5th Avenue with all the fancy shops and sat charmingly for some older gentleman to pet him (full disclosure: after having a much longer walk on a less-fancy street to get his ya-yas out). I did not have an Oprah sighting but I did have some of the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had.
Bye to South Florida
I can’t believe it’s been almost two months now that we’ve been in Florida. As always, there are tons of things left that we didn’t do so I have lots of future vacation destinations. Florida (in the winter) was a big winner!
WE leave early in the morning (good thing, too, because there was a black tank “issue” tonight that would have worn out our welcome) for a long driving day on the way to Pensacola. We are stopping along the way for one night at a place with such disparate reviews that I could not help needing to see for myself. Is the owner a crazed psycho? Or is he super nice and very friendly? Regardless, the place has a fenced dog area so that makes me very tolerant of many kinds of crazy.
P.S. Brr, lows in the 30’s tomorrow night!
At some point, I think we are, in fact, going to leave Florida. But, every time I look ahead on our route and see temps in the 30s, I find another Florida destination. I feel like we already “did winter” during our November in North Carolina with a morning starting at 14 degrees and a night at 25 with low propane supply.
But, really, the “work” part of our trip feels like it is over now that we have hit the six month mark and our Disney week is done. Man, I spent a ton of time shaking my fist at the Mouse for all the complications and micro planning needed to manage a trip to Disney World. It ended up being fun overall, but I did not turn into a Disney person. We most enjoyed having our friend Monica join us for the week and be our first guest in the RV and having the chance to meet up with my brother and sister-in-law while we were there.
Backtracking to catch up before Disney, we left the Florida Keys the day after Christmas and headed to Big Cypress National Preserve in search of alligators. While we did see lots of them, I was disappointed to not see any just wandering around.
Anyway, three days was probably enough at the preserve as there were no showers there and we had all gotten out of the desire to use the shower in the RV, especially now that it had become a storage area.
From there we headed to Sarasota to fill the time before Disney, lucky to get a place to stay between Christmas and New Years. And what a place that was! Such a crazy mix of retirement mobile home/vacation living and party land. Giant pool with a big water slide, seniors whizzing around on golf carts, teenage girls walking around in bikinis, gangs of eight year old boys on bikes, big belly shirtless sunburned dudes…I don’t know that we ever quite got the hang of that place but we could ride bikes to the library and there was a Trader Joe’s so we couldn’t really complain, even when our site was next to a lady who more than once stepped in dog poop and started yelling that she was going to kill the next dog she sees. I think we are building a high tolerance for crazy people.
After a stop for four nights at Fort DeSoto State Park where I fell in love with St. Petersburg, we headed to Naples, FL to wait out more of the cold weather and meet up with my mom and her cousin on their annual trip to FL. We are here till the 24th and then we are moving west.
This is the destination I have been pinning all my hopes upon. We are splurging on a week-long stay at White Gate Court in the Islamorada area of the Florida Keys through Christmas Day. We have a small, not-fancy cottage interspersed with six other cottages on a 3 acre waterfront property.
Best of all, dogs can be off-leash throughout the property and are encouraged to swim as much as they want. “Relax, you’re on the islands!” is the motto.
It’s so pretty here and every day is within my ideal temperature range so I am very happy.
When no one in my family shows any interest in planning our trip, we end up on my animal-centric adventures. “Look! There’s a lake Teddy can swim in!” “Hey, we can feed a baby calf from a bottle!” “Who wants to swim with manatees?” – that kind of stuff.
I know there is often a fine line between a legitimate animal sanctuary and a “private zoo” sort of place but I can’t stay away when it is someplace like this:
These wolves sure looked a lot like dogs to me and there were not a whole lot of rules about going in (with the attendant) to pet them. I don’t know their back story or why they can’t live in the wild but they were very interested in us and very relaxed with meeting new people. I figured that we were “enrichment” to them – they were particularly interested in smelling my shoes. Teddy scent?
We met a couple of kangaroos and fed them buttered popcorn – apparently, they don’t like it plain. Does this all horrify my animal-people friends? You may want to stop reading because we touched a bunch of other animals.
The animal presentation was fascinating, with a number of different creatures coming out. You will not believe what A agreed to hold…
Later, we were all brave enough to get in on the action with a 125 lb Burmese python:
At the end, the attendant asked the kids if they wanted a “special” photo opportunity. They are young enough that “special” means “something good,” but I know it probably means, “something that will amuse the rest of the audience at your expense” so I was ready with the camera.
Other than defrosting from the FREEZING cold weather in North Carolina and making our way to the Florida Keys, our main reason for stopping so long in this area is to do a private “swim camp” with a Total Immersion coach. Given that my first lesson started with a panic attack about being underwater, there will either be a triumphant blog post at the end of the sessions or there will never be another mention of swimming.
When we lived in San Diego, I avoided like the plague any situation that might require standing in line for any length of time. So, while we did go to Legoland and Sea World and the Zoo, it was always at off times and never for a whole day. (That’s the glory of season passes!) I’d see other families all cranky and yelling at their whiny kids and think to myself, “Ha! That’s not going to be me because we can just leave long before it gets to that point. WE didn’t spend a fortune on this one day that must be fun, or else.”
Well, now we are facing a January trip to Disney World that is costing a relative fortune and requires a high level of fun to be had by all in order to make it worthwhile. The solution? Go to Universal Studios to practice while we are still high on celebrating our $16.89 campground just a few miles away.
K wasn’t feeling great and I wanted to see all the Harry Potter stuff so it was just me and the boys. Also our first time navigating a busy day away with managing diabetes.
First day – ugh! We dashed to the first Harry Potter ride we could get on before the lines started but didn’t check ahead that it was a stomach churner. Kind of turned D off on the rides for a little while but he bounced back, even letting us talk him into going on the Mummy roller coaster – after which, we could say about every other ride, “Well, it won’t be as bad as the Mummy…”
All in all, our two days at Universal turned out to be fun! AND, the Harry Potter stuff was good inspiration to get A started on reading the books. I wanted him to at least read the first one ahead of time so he’d know what all the stuff was about but he got hooked and is zooming his way through the series (and redeeming our homeschooling efforts).
But the best part about our Universal Studios experience was realizing that we are a Single Rider Family. Seeing a 30 minute wait and the empty “Single Rider” line, I tried to weigh whether this was a good parent/bad parent moment as the attendant looked at A and reminded me, “He’s going to have to ride by himself, you know…” and D said, “Well, it would be more fun if we rode together…” In the end, I concluded that we already spend a LOT of time together and we didn’t need 30 more minutes of togetherness in line. Once we gave it a try, we were sold! We zoomed through lines for the rest of the day and even got to ride together most of the time.
We are now in the Ft. Lauderdale area until the 19th. GREAT pics to follow in the next post.
When we were on Sauvie Island, outside of Portland, OR, I worried, “What if we have already experienced the best campground of the whole trip and it is only the first month?” Admittedly, my opinion was colored by having the Columbia River literally steps from the campsite and having a long term resident tell me to disregard the No Dogs On the Beach sign, “What? They don’t own the river!” (NY guy, natch.)
Since then, we have stayed so many places, we’ve lost track of our ordering of favorites and horribles.
For the price and location, though, I think we landed in a new Top 5 contender – Bill Frederick Park in Otlando, FL. $16.89 per night and less than 4 miles from Universal. This was A’s pick after I lamented that no one was helping me research RV parks. I think the kid is hired!
Bill Frederick is a city owned campground inside a huge public park with lake, pool, playground, biking paths and a Children’s Farm that we have not yet explored other than to aww at the baby horse through the fence. We have good showers and a laundry right here. The only odd thing with these park campgrounds is that the gates get locked and then you are on your own, hoping that you are not camping with a bunch of psychos. But, hey, we’re talking $16.89 here!
Here I am embracing being in the South and practicing parking on the grass:
Dinner was a BBQ place we passed with dancing pigs on their sign. Effective!
Rocket launch went off right on time this morning! Nice view from the campground and we could hear the delayed boom but too far and cloudy for any good pics.
Tomorrow is a day of homeschool catch up and seeking out a bagel shop that claims to have “Brooklynized” their water.
Many of my friends already know this but for other readers it may sound like true confessions time to admit that I love William Shatner. In one of his autobiographies (the Man cannot contain himself in just one!), he summed up his life philosophy and advice as, “Say ‘yes.'” I remember trying to impart this wisdom to D a couple of years ago in the context of being trying new things but then he trumped me by asking, “But not drugs, right? I shouldn’t say yes to drugs, should I?” Well played.
Outside the context of drugs and other illicit activities, we are trying to be people who are open to new experiences. Not just because William Shatner says so but because what’s the use of this whole trip if we don’t do things?
So, D and I got up at 3:30 AM to go to the Kennedy Space Center for the official viewing of the Orion rocket launch.
Turns out the launch got scrubbed after we were there for almost five hours so, on the one hand, it was a waste of time and money, but on the other hand, we are still riding high on our triumph of positioning ourselves to be some of the first people back on the bus – practically before the word “scrub” was fully pronounced. “Scr” and we were on the move, high-fiving each other as we pulled away and left the giant line behind (supposedly over 20,000 people!). Being onsite for the official countdowns and explanations was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be – enough that I even contemplated going back tomorrow to try again, but I can’t push my luck and end up stuck in a crowd for hours. Instead, we are going to watch from the waterfront here at the campground.
All of us were super-tired today – D and I from getting up so early and K and A from Teddy crying pitifully practically all night because he couldn’t sleep near me. So much for the idea of D and I trying to be out of the way so as not to disturb everyone else with our early rising.
But, here we were on Space Coast with Cocoa Beach just down the road and two boogie boards that we have carted all over the country so we packed up our cranky selves and took off in a downpour to find the beach. Even K came along when he would much rather of taken a nap.
Turns out William Shatner’s advice was right again because we had a nice time and, most of all, we DID SOMETHING. Sitting around the motorhome in a soggy campground was not going to make anyone feel better.
Weather cleared up enough that it was pleasant on the beach, Kids thought the water was warmer here in December than it’s ever been in San Diego. (Of course, we are not authoritative sources as we hardly ever went to the beach.)
Despite the red flag warning of rough seas, kids managed to do a lot of boogie boarding and we all went home happy for the outing.
Tomorrow morning, we’ll get up early to see if the launch goes off and then spend the morning packing up to drive to Orlando to see what the $16.89/night campground looks like.
After several VERY cold nights in North Carolina and even South Carolina, I feel like winter can be over now that we have arrived in Florida. I have had a longtime fascination with Florida so this is a highlight of our trip for me. We will be in FL until at least January 11th, trying to avoid cold weather as long as we can before the snowbirds come back to their “already reserved 100 years in advance” campgrounds that we can’t get into.
I am DYING to see an alligator just meandering around. (But, hopefully not a hungry one.)
Check out this awesome dog park at the campground! I either forgot or didn’t know there was even a dog area here so this was a terrific surprise:
Campground dog parks are usually terrific because:
- Most campers have tiny dogs
- Dogs who get to travel with their families are “usually” not going to be horribly dog aggressive
- It’s sort of new territory for all the dogs
- Almost always, we are the only ones using the space (although, to Teddy, that is decidedly NOT a good point)
Thanks to a tip from a teacher at one of the school open houses in North Carolina and the Disney lady practically laughing out loud when I tried to make Disney campground reservations for December: “What year? Ha, ha, ha, you loser!” (That second part was implied), we arranged to be in the Cape Canaveral area in time for a big rocket launch tomorrow (12/4). It was even written up in the San Diego paper here, with the (gulp!) mention that they are expecting 26,000 people. D and I are getting up at 3:30ish (AM!) to go to the official launch area but the view from the campground is supposed to be wonderful. I want to feel the blast and be with all the space fanboys and fangirls. We’ll see if that turns out to be a good idea or a big mess. I really want to be doing things on this trip so here we are showing up for a rocket launch.
From here, we have four nights in Orlando at a city park campground that A found. Good reviews from all the old people and, get this, only $16.89 per night. A has been powering through the Harry Potter books so we can get the most out of visiting the Universal Studios theme parks this weekend. I’ve only been to Universal in CA and that was 25+ years ago, but I loved it so I’m pretty excited to go again. In San Diego, we had passes for the various parks/zoos and I always thought, “Who are those people who show up and pay full price?” Turns out, that will be us here in Florida. In fact, with all the stuff we have planned, we are probably spending more money in December than the whole rest of the trip combined. We may need to search out a lot more $16 campgrounds to make it the rest of the way…
After Orlando, we go to Ft. Lauderdale area for about ten days for a self-made “swim camp.” I found a swim coach who specializes in Total Immersion swimming and he agreed to put together some lessons for us since it is a not-that-busy time of year for him.
From there, we go to the highlight of the whole trip (for me): Florida Keys! Too many Jimmy Buffet songs maybe, but I am so excited to go there. We will be renting a cottage on the water for a week at a place that allows dogs and does not require any leashes on their 3 acre property (shared by 7 cottages). We’ll be there through Christmas but leaving the next day to scoot across to the Western side of Florida to seek out some alligators at Big Cypress National Preserve. Hopefully, there will be a lot less mosquitos and more dog access than if we chose Everglades National Park.
That will take us through around December 29th. We still need to decide what to do for a few days before we start our Disney campground reservation on January 5th but that’s a whole lot of planning already done!
P.S. Remember, if you want to see more info on the places we’ve been along the way, you have to look at the Listings. I get confused every time I try to explain how to get there on the mobile site so it may be you can only see them if you view on a computer where the home page is the Google map with all the pins and write-ups. I can’t decide if it makes more sense to make notes on the Listings as we go or try to catch up with blog posts so it’s a jumbled mess. We had grand plans for this blog but it turns out no one wants to write anything (but we will all wish we had b/c we won’t remember otherwise…).
Our time on Assateague turned stormy with lots of wind and rain. We learned the hard way that we are supposed to cover the refrigerator vent when the rain is blowing horizontally. Luckily, we noticed the water coming in and were able to catch it all before it did any damage. The ponies stayed out of sight during the stormy weather and Teddy pined to no avail for another romp on the beach. I did catch this pic of some ponies on our way out:
A and I eventually finished reading Misty of Chincoteague together and it was fun to read the story and know that we were there with descendants of those ponies.
What was NOT fun about Assateague was discovering that D has Type 1 diabetes. We had recently been visiting friends in New Hampshire whose son was diagnosed with the same thing a few months ago so we were steeped enough in the warning signs to consider the possibility and, thus, catch it early. The small town ER did not have any pediatrics at all, let alone an endocrinologist, but it stuck in my head that there was a respected children’s hospital in Winston Salem, NC. Some quick googling ensued and we discovered that the Winston Salem hospital is actually a center for pediatric diabetes research and treatment. We quickly got the ER Dr. on board to send us there and drove practically through the night (with a stop at a Walmart for a few hours sleep).
Good news is that D was easily stabilized and only had one night in the hospital. He had to grow up really fast with all this and is making it seem easy but it’s a big change and a lot to process. We are still pondering how this will affect our trip plans. Right now, we are thinking of cutting out our plans for ski time and substituting a much longer stay in Florida for December and January.
Right now, we just moved from Greensboro to a campground outside of Winston Salem that is thankfully MUCH NICER! We’ll be here for about a week and then, depending on the weather, we’ll go explore a few other places like Mount Airy (Mayberry from the Andy Griffith show) and then come back to this campground for the remaining school open houses.
All of us liked Greensboro and now we’ll see how Winston Salem shakes out. I really like this part of the South and I think we will be happy living here when our trip is finished. Tomorrow is the Catholic high school open house and then three of the Catholic elementary schools are holding open houses in the next two weeks. The selection of elementary school will probably drive our initial choice on where to live. We were so spoiled with being able to walk to school in San Diego!
Houses seem to be running about 1/3 of the cost as San Diego for more square footage. Many houses right in town have 1/2 acre yards so you don’t have to be out in the country to have a good amount of space. We saw this house, below, online and as we drove by, I felt compelled to take a picture and say, “This is our new house!”
But, when we went back Halloween night to check it out and see what the trick-or-treating scene was like, we saw that a couple of extra tombstones were added: “Men are From Mars, Women are From Hell.” Hmm, sort of an “off” sense of humor. And, “Divorce Was My Second Choice.” OK, now we’re not so sure. The man seemed very nice and he was super talented in all the stuff he made, but could we honestly be innocently surprised if he turned out to be a psycho killer? We decided to pass on looking further at the house for sale.