Monday, November 24, 2014

Seminole Campground. Arrive. Relax.

Just over a month since I left my brother and the campground in New Market, Alabama, we reached North Fort Myers, Florida for winter.

The campground was quiet and only sparsely occupied when we arrived. Linda and Dale's rig was in place but they were not home.  We pulled into our site, the same one we had last year, one site over from where we were during our first winter here. Improvements to the campground are easily seen: fresh sod and gravel. Word is there will be a beach area for campers too.  Not a real oceanside beach, but a nice, clean, sandy place alongside a lake on the backside of the campground property.

Our campsite... for the second year.
Within an hour or so after we arrived, Dale and Linda came in from a day at Sanibel Island and were surprised to see our rig in place. There's not much better than getting those first hugs from good friends.

Looking up the campground road to our site. 
From what we gather, Joyce and Charlie are due here next, followed by Rick and Louise, just after Christmas, then Mark and Janie.  Pam and Ernie, along with Fran and Mary will spend December at the Lion Country Safari Campground in West Palm Beach. The M&M's (Millers and Marchands) will meet at Disney World for a few days before coming here. Pam and Ernie will go from WPB to Naples for January, then come here for February and March.  It's a hectic schedule but I managed to keep up some of the time.

The site beside us would be occupied only occasionally and for short periods of time until late in January. 
The campground offers a small shed rental for $75 a month and this year, we've added one of them to our site. It's a good place to store bicycles, grooming tables and patio chairs to keep them safe and out of weather.

Looking down our campground road to the left. 
While it's really nice to be here, the temperatures are in the mid 80's and the humidity is really high. Nevertheless, life is really, really good here.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Flight South for Winter

It took two days to get from Panama City to Fort Pierce, Florida. The ride through the panhandle was lovely; all the small communities along the highway fascinate me and I often think how nice it would be to own a small tract of land for spending time in fall or spring.  Ahhh.

We stayed overnight on November 20th in North Ocala. After a while, with sun shining through Endie's windshield, I warmed sufficiently to shed my socks and house shoes and it felt good to leave the cold behind, finally.

As is true every time we come here, Wayne wants to explore other places in Florida before we settle in for the winter.  I know he has an urge to take the rig into the Keys, possibly going on to Key West, but he doesn't like what he reads about the campgrounds there... either way too expensive or the sites are really jammed together.

Today we'll settle for getting over to the east coast. we've got ten days to spend before our reservation begins. We drove quite awhile before deciding, between us, to stop in again at Savanna Preserve Recreation Area near Fort Pierce. Having been there before, we know it's an "okay" place. We'll stay a day or so while he decided where else he wants to go.  I rarely have a strong feeling about the places we go in Florida.

Our site at Savanna Preserve Recreation Area

Looking the other way from our coach.
Yes, there are alligators in these waters, ma'am. 

I suppose the economic downturn of years past is over as evidenced by the lack of camping space this early in the winter visitors season. We called several campgrounds but couldn't put together a stay at a place with a price we liked.  After three days we realized we were just marking the days until we returned to Seminole Campground. One phone call to the campground encouraged us to arrive a week early. Here, we knew we would be comfortable and could settle in for a good long winters rest.

On our last day at Savanna Preserve, we drove a ways south on the coastal highway. To our surprise, we came upon a nice dog beach near Jensen Beach where Lexie and Ozzie enjoyed a romp in the sand and surf.

A rare find in Florida -- dog beach. 

Ozzie gets to go "off leash" but not Lexie. If she gets frightened, she will run from us. 

From here we'll move on to our winter home at Seminole Campground in North Fort Myers.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Cold Stop In Panama City With D.J. and Tom

This was Tuesday, November 18th.  It took the better part of the day for us to make the drive from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Panama City, Florida but the weather improved as the sun warmed us as we drove along Highway 98 through all the tiny beach towns from Pensacola.

Early afternoon, we reached Tyndall Air Force Base and the Famcamp park where Tom had secured a two night reservation for us in the gravel overflow lot just inside the complex. DJ and an AVA walking friend she met the summer before, named Diane, waited for us right on the side of the highway. It was great to see DJ's smiling face.

Turned out Diane is a full-time RV'er too. She's retired from one of the railroad companies, sold her home in Texas and travels in her Honda Pilot, pulling her 17' Casita camper. DJ asked if we'd impart some of our travel thoughts with Diane as she too planned to get into South Florida for winter.  Of course we did.

DJ prepared shrimp linguine and we visited her home for the first time, to eat that night. Oh and DJ is a good cook!

Next morning we converged at a quaint little home town eatery for breakfast and talked more about upcoming travel, Diane's trip to south Florida and the purchase of a new rig for Tom and DJ as we are looking forward to travel with them again soon.

DJ, Diane, Wayne and Tom. 
The second day was spent around Tyndall and Tom got Wayne in for a close look at some of the newest flying machines which was a super thrill for him. We girls shopped the post exchange and planned another seafood dinner.  This time, DJ fried grouper she had nabbed herself while scuba diving. Oh it was heaven.  She also prepared a luscious key lime pie.

After dinner the five of us returned to the Famcamp where we sat around the campfire that was conveniently located inside a plastic covered gazebo. DJ discovered an apple drink that we warmed and sipped. Good thing we had hot drinks, the nighttime temperature dropped to 29 degrees. I thought I would surely freeze to death.

Our visit was short but sweet and we pulled out of Tyndall's Famcamp the next morning headed south with a vengeance.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Gulf Shores and The Push East

I continue to struggle to catch up the blog so this post is being written four months in arrears.  I feel bad about my tardiness but console myself by saying that it won't matter when we're looking back in coming years as our memories won't be so good then anyway.   I keep trying. 

So, with winter threatening, we departed Hoover, Alabama on November 10th. Our four month winter reservation at Seminole Campground in North Fort Myers won't begin until December 1st, so we're left wondering where we'll wile away the next three weeks.

Gulf State Park at Gulf Shores, Alabama is the destination for now. During this time of year, the weather there can be warm, rainy or downright cold though so we're not sure how long we'll stay... if we can even get in the campground.

But indeed, there is plenty of room for us at Alabama's crown jewel state park so we settle in and get the bicycles, including the dog wagon, out for rides. The first afternoon was fine -- sunny and warm.  The campsite we're assigned isn't great, but it is okay and I didn't complain.

The weather did turn, for the worse... and quickly.  We suffered wind, cold and rain, sometimes simultaneously. It was awful and we couldn't wait for our week to end.

During the week, one of the idiot lights of the car's dashboard illuminated itself and caused a problem. The repair was made at the area Ford dealer.

Finally our week ended and we moved eastward along the coast, stopping at Joe Patti Seafood in Pensacola for a seafood chowder fix on another bitter, miserably cold day. Wayne had hoped to visit Frank and Beverly again, but they were not at their Gulf Shores home so we missed seeing them this year.

Most likely the coldest day so far here on the gulf coast. 

Joe Patti (on the stool) welcomes customers and calls numbers for fresh seafood service. 

We each got a small container of hot seafood to take away the chill.
I had clam chowder, Wayne had seafood gumbo. Mine was best.

After our chowder, we drove (too cold to walk) across to the small restaurant and ate another round of hot food. Then we returned to the seafood market where we bought fresh seafood to take along with us.

Our next stop is in Panama City where we'll finally catch up with our old friends Tom and DJ who live there.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Birmingham Days and Not Going To Auburn

Going to Birmingham is always fun. We get to visit with Wayne's Aunt Helen and his cousin, Lynn and her husband, Jay who are true foodies, executive chefs and we get to enjoy the fruit of their labor.

On Saturday, we all gathered at Helen's to watch the Auburn / Texas A&M football game that Auburn lost but had a great time anyway. Lynn, Jay and Helen are reluctant Auburn fans as their daughter (granddaughter) attends Wayne's fine alma mater but they all went to that other Alabama college, the University of Alabama.

Lynn and Wayne who proudly wears his Auburn University orange shirt. 

Couldn't resist getting this picture of Lexie and Ozzie at Helen's house.
One afternoon, Helen, Wayne and I took Lexie, Ozzie and Helen's shiz tsu, Dusty, to a nice walking park near the baseball stadium in downtown Birmingham. After the walk, we picked up a pizza at Jim Davenport's Pizza Palace. It was heavenly.  Jim Davenport, the famous baseball player, is from this area and knew a few of Wayne's father's family members.
Helen and Wayne 
Another afternoon, we took a drive down memory lane as Wayne so enjoys doing when he visits Birmingham. Wayne's father grew up here and Helen remembers all the old family haunts. She helps find the old places. The afternoon wasn't complete without a quick drive by Vestavia Country Club. Another great outing.

The school where Wayne's father and his brothers attended was especially handsome. We didn't get out to walk the grounds or see the football stadium, but enjoyed a tour from the car. Later we learned the school was going to be used in a movie set. That's why it looked so good.  Hummmm.

Woodlawn High School, Birmingham, Alabama
No trip to Birmingham is complete without a visit to the family graves. We visited the graves of Wayne's grandparents, his father, Uncle Roy and Helen's parents. 

Helen, me and the dogs near Wayne's dad's grave. 
The last full day in town, Wayne drove to Green Springs and looked up his old friend and former boss at Auburn, Brad Ashmore.  It had been more than forty years since they'd seen one another and they clearly enjoyed a few hours or reminiscing. 

Wayne and his old pal, Brad Ashmore 
After much deliberation and frequent discussion of the pros and cons, we decided to forego going on to Auburn for the final home game against Samford. It would be sandwiched by games at Georgia and at Alabama.  We stayed a total of 5 days in the Hoover RV Park before heading south to the Gulf coast.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Visits With The Grandchildren

On Saturday, October 25, we enjoyed our last football Saturday afternoon with Macky and Donna.  The following Monday, we left Sharon Johnston Park Campground, headed to middle Tennessee where the children and grandchildren live.  While we're there, we will get our dental cleaning and our annual flu shot from the dentist and doctors who are in nearby Franklin.

We call Nashville I-24 Campground "home" when we visit the area. It's the campground from which our full-time RV life was launched way back in July 2010, just after Wayne's retirement. Over the years, we've developed a good friendship with the campground manager, who, we learned last winter, is married to a former customer of the bank from which Wayne retired.

Cam and Amy invited us to join them for the church's annual chili cook-off and Halloween party where Amy's chili, we later learned, won first place.  Following are a few pictures from that evening.

Going out the door to the chili cook-off and Halloween party. 

Cam and Amy and their sweet little ones. 

Additional visits, including at least one football game watching, took place at Cam and Amy's home.  We also got to see Buddy, but not other grandchildren.

Reading a storybook.

Granddaddy reads too..... without glasses!
A total of ten days were spent in and around middle Tennessee. As Macky continued to improve, we began thinking we'd move on down to Birmingham to see relatives there for a few days.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An Alabama Welcome To Pam and Ernie

Having Pam and Ernie come by Sharon Johnston Park Campground was such an unexpected thrill. One of the great things about our RV life is the opportunity to rendezvous with friends as we travel.

They arrived late in the afternoon and will stay for 2-3 nights. We've not seen them since we left North Fort Myers last March.

Ernie and Pam at their campsite.
Ernie's been getting a few warranty items done on the new motorhome. He and Pam were about 100 miles away in Red Bay, Alabama when I sent Pam a note about the kitten I'd found. While she managed to decline the kitten, she didn't decline the invitation to come to New Market for a few days. I was overjoyed!

Pam and Ernie spent their first full day at New Market getting their motorhome squared away after the repairs. They are really enjoying the new coach and have discussed taking to the road full-time.  Of course, Wayne and I enjoy this life and have to be careful not to oversell the idea to those who might not be ready. I bit my tongue.

Our second night together we had delicious sliders Pam cooked on the grill followed by another campfire where we planned our visit to see the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville the next day.

And the next day was picture perfect and we had a wonderful time exploring the huge U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Pam and Ernie

We first stopped at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Gift Shop where Ernie made an instant fashion statement. Unfortunately, his taste in style is nearly as bad as mine. While he and I both loved one particular souvenir sweat shirt, Pam explained that it's "old person" styled big buttons were just not suitable. In the end, we caved, Pam won and Ernie selected another. 

Ernie in the "old person" sweatshirt.
Pam laughing at our lack of style savvy. 
The old, original section of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center was, frankly, disappointing to me. Growing up in Huntsville, I remember when the center was new and exciting and all the displays were held in the one building. I've always enjoyed visiting here and was sad to see the building in disrepair and the old displays replaced by what they call "feature" exhibits.

But then we came upon the U.S. Army Apache Helicopter Flight Simulator where we stood in line for more than 15 minutes to take turns (two by two) flying and firing upon our imaginary enemy. 

Ernie and Wayne go first.
The rear seat (Ernie) will pilot while the front seat (Wayne) is the gunner. 
Instructions for insuring a successful mission in the Apache took several minutes with each person. Unfortunately a computer malfunction caused Wayne and Ernie some technical difficulty and I think they would have surely been shot down by a shoulder fired rocket if they had been in actual combat.

The Gunner. Wayne. 
When our turn came around, Pam took the front, gunner seat while I applied my outstanding flying skill in the rear.  In the photo below, Pam prepares herself for our important mission.  I think we were flying in Iraq.

With my instruction complete, I waved a smiling but tearful goodbye to Wayne and Ernie.
My mission was about to begin.
As terrible as Wayne and Ernie were at flying the Apache, Pam and I were much worse. Our guns and bombs hit nothing except perhaps a few of our own camps. Our scoreboard was embarrassing.  

We quickly escaped to the outdoor displays...

The majestic Saturn rocket display to the left with other military hardware in the foreground.

Notice the upside-down astronaut over Wayne's head on the space lab mock-up. 
During his military service, Wayne was part of the Nike Hercules Missile Program.  It was the second generation of the Nike family of missiles. Hercules was a high-altitude surface-to-surface missile with the capability of intercepting tactical missiles and high-performance jets. They were first deployed in 1958.

The photo below is of one of the Nike Hercules missiles. It is no longer in the U.S. Army's inventory.

Wayne standing beside one of his Nike Hercules Missiles.
The Nike Hercules had a range of eighty miles and could be made mobile. In August 1960, one of these missiles destroyed another incoming missiles at White Sands Missile Range, marking the first known intercept of a Mach-3 missile by another missile. The following month a Nike Hercules shot down another at an altitude of nineteen miles, the highest known missile kill.

One of the most thrilling first-hand sights at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, is, in my opinion, the mock up of the Space Shuttle, combined with the booster rockets here and identified as the Pathfinder Shuttle Stack. It is the only full shuttle stack in the world. This particular one was the first orbiter ever built and served as a non-flight test vehicle before being put on display.

Then there's Space Shot.  It offers a chance to experience 3 G's of liftoff and simulated microgravity.  Not ordinarily a thrill seeker, I said I'd take the plunge if Ernie did. Of course Ernie did. I thought I was going to die. Photographs could not capture my horror of the blast-off and subsequent fall back to earth.

Ernie and me. Taken just before liftoff.
The newer complex to the Space Center is the Saturn V Hall where a full size Saturn V2/A4 Rocket, the grandfather of all rockets, is displayed in the gargantuan building.

The Apollo 16 Capsule was launched and returned in 1972, carrying three astronauts.
The parachute is attached (orange and white) here.
The Moon Rock collected by astronaut Alan Bean in 1969 of Apollo 12.

Lunar Excursion Module

Ramp / Walkway for access to space capsule atop the rockets.
There was much more to see, do and learn here but these are the highlights of the visit for me. One item I missed seeing was the A-12 Blackbird that, in it's day, traveling from New York to London, is just 60 minutes, was super fast. Today, it is considered an antique.  Amazing stuff for space travel lovers.

In the end, feeling completely educated in space rocketry, we pronounced ourselves "Astronauts". Here is our official photo taken in our uniforms.

With face shields open, here's Wayne, me and Pam. Ernie wouldn't lift his shield.
We don't know who the other guy is...... 
Pam and Ernie would stay on for an extra day at Sharon Johnston Campground, where they relaxed, took walks, fed ducks, practiced golf and visited with us for a few more precious hours.  It will be winter before we'll see them again -- in south Florida.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What? We're Not In High School Anymore?

This is yet another delayed post but I'm making progress in getting caught up.

With autumn in the air and college football season well underway, we spent most Saturdays at Macky and Donna's house (my brother and sister-in-law), watching the games. After a flurry of hospitalizations in September, Macky has been home and doing well for several weeks.  We've been enjoying homemade pies that Wayne and I pick up from New Market BBQ on the way to their house. We devour feasts of wings, pizza or hamburgers too. The silver lining to having this family illness is the long leisurely visits we've enjoyed.

It is intentional that I have not posted pictures of Macky. I don't want to remember him looking different than he's always looked. He has always been a handsome and healthy looking man.

The very common sight of cotton in rural Alabama and Tennessee.
This field is ready for picking which, nowadays, is done by machine.

But by the third week of October, Wayne and I began thinking about moving along. With family in middle Tennessee and central Alabama, we're anxious to see all of them too. Later we'll we drive on to south Florida for the winter months. 

Hastily, and with the help of Facebook, some high school girlfriends agreed to come by the campground for lunch the week before our departure.  There were just five of us girls, Wayne and one other husband.  The day was perfect -- warm in the sunshine, cool in the shade.  We spent several hours poring over old high school yearbooks and laughing at everything in them.  Sadly, as we've grown older, the deaths of teachers and our own parents had to be reported too.

Lila and her husband, Billy and me.  Didn't realize who Billy was until today but I knew him long, long ago.  

The famous K-Mart pose with my high school pals.
Left to right: Marilyn, Micki, me and Janice

I sure enjoyed this reunion and look forward to another but under different circumstances, of course.

By late afternoon, my school friends were gone and I looked up to see our friends, Pam and Ernie pulling into the campground.  They've just finished a repair trip to Tiffin at Red Bay and are on their way home to Maryland. We were hopeful they'd get to swing by to see us.
Pam and Ernie and me. Ozzie is in my lap. Lexie is in pop's chair. 

Pam and Ernie and Wayne and I finished off the food I'd gotten for lunch. Afterward, we enjoyed a campfire and the evening air was cool enough to really enjoy it. We're looking forward to a couple of days catching up with Pam and Ernie as they're considering going full-time in their motorhome.

Friday, October 17, 2014

With Military Honors

This post is another written several months in arrears due to the serious illness of my brother.  Until recently, I didn't want to post about our activities during this difficult time. I've changed my mind.

Columbia Military Academy Gate 
Wayne attended Columbia Military Academy (high school) and has stayed in touch with several of his school and classmates over the years. CMA was a boarding military school and I suppose that fact alone can make the friendships stronger. At any rate, at least three CMA alumni live in or around Huntsville, Alabama. When word got out that we were in the area, plans were made to get together.

One afternoon in late September, two of the old friends, Dan and Walker, came to the campground for a late afternoon cookout and visit. A week or so later, on a Saturday afternoon, another friend, Bob and his wife Kim, drove out for a visit and took Wayne to lunch.  I think he enjoyed these get-together a great deal. Wayne has always been sentimental, but more so as he ages. Sadly, I didn't take photos of him with either of these friends. I'm sorry about that.

In early October Wayne was received a phone call asking if he'd like to attend a special award in the making at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. Seems another of the CMA alumni would be the recipient of the U.S. Army's Silver Star for service in Vietnam during 1969. Wayne and several other of the local CMA cadets would attend the ceremony for their friend, Phil Fikes, together.  Rather than attempt to include all the very important facts surrounding the award, the circumstances and the man, I will include a link to the local news coverage. It is Here

Retired 1st Lt. Phillip B. Fikes (right) and U.S. Army Four Star General Dennis L. Via 
At one time, long ago, Wayne was a very good photographer -- but that was back in the days of roll film and heavy 35mm cameras. Sadly, the very important photographs to be had this day were shaky and blurry. It doesn't matter. He was there to be a part of this long overdue military award and that's what did matter.

Phil and his wife, Frances.

Columbia Military Academy alumni, Bob, Dan, Wayne, Walker and Johnny attended
 the ceremony to award the Silver Star to their old friend and schoolmate.

God Bless America