No travel this time, not on this shift. Today is a muse on immortality, something you are not guaranteed, even if you go camping every weekend. We camp a lot (especially lately!) and it provides us plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and happiness. (For those of you old enough to remember The Carpenters, you can imagine them humming a tune in the background as you read this). But immortal we are definitely not, and we think that’s just fine. I couldn’t bear the thought of the ScreenTime app on my smartphone going into a Y2K tizzy because I overflowed the total hours counter many decades into the future. Not gonna happen.
I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal on the Immortal Jellyfish. Scientists are studying this briny Houdini in a quest to discover why we age and how they might stop that process or even reverse it. Be careful what you wish for, we say, be very careful.
The normal jellyfish life cycle looks like so many others: an egg is created and the parent dies; the egg hatches; a larval stage ensues; the larva advances to an adult and produces more eggs before it dies. This cycle churns the DNA with constant recombination providing the path for a Darwinian upgrade to the species.
The Immortal Jellyfish, found in the waters of Spain, has somehow rewired the adult phase of the life cycle to short-change the grim jellyfish reaper. After producing eggs, the adult begins a “decay” process wherein the body cells revert to juvenile stem cells resulting in a sort of faux zygote that then “rebirths” itself back into the pupal stage, a metaphysical rinse-and-repeat. Voila, immortality!
You can’t fight the Second Law of Thermodynamics, as I was recently reminded by yet another WSJ article, which describes entropy, the inevitable onset of discord and chaos in our physical world. Eventually the Universe will die from it in something called “heat death”, where everything that is hot warms everything that is cold until a static peace results. That Second Law constantly reminds us that there is a never-ending battle between gravity (producing nuclear reaction fueled star growth) and entropy (degrading stars back to raw elements) that will eventually combine all the forces and energy of the Universe into a big, flat pool of lukewarm nothingness. At least until Elon Musk or some other bright nerdy entrepreneur figures out how to turn the entropy switch off. I’m not waiting for that. In the long haul (much greater than 10 or 12 years [fact-checkers agree]), the end game of total physical annihilation appears predictable, even if we can easily hide heads in the sand about it for thousands of millennia to come.
In the much, much, much shorter term, we have so many other things that threaten our existence to worry about, reasons not to want to live so long as to see them all play out to their ultimate conclusions. For instance, we’re very aware of climate change, it would be foolish not to be. Climate change has been constant for the entire history of Earth’s existence, as evidenced by countless ice ages and evolution itself. It isn’t a stretch to understand that virtually every living thing on Earth contributes to climate change in small or large ways, humans included. We’re old enough to remember being held inside during elementary school recess because the air pollution in LA was so bad you couldn’t see or breath outside. In those days the climate hysterians (aka activists) were assuring us that we would all choke to death in less than 10 years if we didn’t abolish cars. But clear heads prevailed, and a semi-disciplined open discussion ensued, and reasonable politicians enacted reasonable regulations, and clever engineers developed clever technologies that resulted in the fairly clean air we breathe today, even with an order of magnitude more cars on the road. That was, in my opinion, a well-played-out conclusion and we applaud our generation for rising to the challenge and quashing the predicted demise of humanity.
If the present generation fails to study previous generations enough to see that problems can be solved without hysterics and drum-beating, I’ll bet my bottom dollar (if inflation doesn’t take it first!) that Climate Hysteria, which has been so in vogue for 50 years or more, will hasten the end of humankind as we once knew it far faster and with greater efficiency than Climate Change ever could hope to. Just take a look at the collapse of agriculture and the economy in Sri Lanka, recently victimized by UN and World Economic Forum policies for a sustainable planet forced upon them to receive financial support. To better understand what happened to that country, watch what is happening right now to Denmark, in the throes of completely re-regulating their entire world-class agricultural industry, apparently to the point of potential complete failure, all in the name of saving the planet from cow farts. The march to the end of humanity (as we used to know it) is fully underway, and that march is producing unintended consequences in a much shorter timespan than the classic “12 years to Armageddon” we’ve become familiar with many times in our short lifetimes. I’ve no desire to stick around long enough to see this march conclude, or if it’s stopped to see another inevitable march sneak through to the finish line.
We’re pretty content to try and reach the goal of blowing out 100 candles, maybe even stretching that a bit. Seeing family grow, and more family added. Making new friends, and thoroughly enjoying the ones we’ve made and kept already. We’re placing our faith in everyday people recovering the rational and sane processes to successfully engineer the way forward on the coat tails of climate change. We think that faith might see us through another 30 years or so, and we plan to make the best of them. Even if I couldn’t muster the right stuff to pass the Grandma Test, and had to settle for the title of Grandpa, it’s gonna be a good ride!
We went from being “homeless”, as in we-didn’t-own-a-home, to owning 2 homes within a few months after our transplant to Florida. The first, a new home under construction, was by design, and a result of our decision to retire to Florida in the first place. We’ve been posting updates on the build, but not a lot has happened lately since the job (and many others) is being held up waiting for a critical part of the HVAC system, the air handler. Apparently the factory in Georgia that makes most of these was wiped out by a tornado not too long ago, and it is taking time to get the work done by other companies. We’re told that will be remedied soon and things will get back on track, and then the update posts can resume.
The second house was purchased as a result of a long and arduous search for a home for the Ricker family, comprised of our grandson Daniel, his mom Kristen, and his other grandparents Donna and Glen. They currently rent a little over an hour south of Palm Coast, where we are building, and wanted to be closer once we finally get the keys to the new pad. The date to get the keys has moved considerably in the last year or so and is now mid to late spring which dovetails nicely into the end of the school year for Daniel. Given plenty of time we decided to do some searching on their behalf for a reasonable rental, or even better, a house they could afford to buy.
We went through several iterations and strategies in our search. An existing rental quickly went off the list because the red hot housing market has driven rents through the roof. But high rents gave us another idea, buying a duplex and renting the other half of it out. This looked good on paper, and there were plenty of duplexes for sale, but the cold fact is that many of them are occupied by Section 8 tenants, which makes it really difficult to adjust rents to cover our expenses of the purchase. Weeks of canvassing the town and walk-throughs with no good results led us to abandon that strategy. In that process, however, we discovered that it might be just as viable to find an older fixer-upper home that would fit the bill for affordability and practicality. We had a great agent (Scott at Take Action Properties), who was invaluable in helping us locate homes that were either just fresh on the market, or even better not yet formally listed. Thanks Scott! He led us to the very first original neighborhood in Palm Coast, Country Club Cove. These houses were built in the early 70’s shortly after ITT/Levitt Corporation bought the old Graham swamp and began clearing and building on it to create what was, at the time, the largest planned community in the state of Florida (that honor now goes to The Villages). The development featured a golf course, raised up out of the swamp, and 200 ranch style homes on winding roads built within the golf course. The original model homes still have plaques in front of them commemorating this birth of Palm Coast over 50 years ago.
The Cooper House, as we are calling it, jumped out at us the first time we saw it. A wonderful, quiet neighborhood with little to no traffic, surrounded by a beautifully manicured golf course, and cleanly kept and neat yards was exactly what we were looking for. An expansive front yard and a very ample back yard surround the house, which is about 1900 square feet of living space, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. It was a little long-in-the-tooth as they say, with the original bathrooms, done up in 70’s yellow and blue tile, still intact and in amazing condition. This house definitely has “good bones” and the few remodels done to it during the last 40 or so years have given it character as well. But, along with the character, there was plenty of “deferred maintenance” (to be polite).
The day we closed on it, Halloween 2022, we made our plans to move out of the RV and into the house and get to work. Inside and out, we have scraped and scrubbed, sanded and filled, patched and painted, ripped out and replaced, until it is nearly ready for the Ricker fam to move in come summer. For those of you who may be as masochistic as we are, or perhaps intrigued by the thought of resurrecting an old home, here’s a summary. Disclaimer: if you are in your 70’s and considering this, make sure you are faithfully going to the gym 3 times a week for several years before you start. It’s never as straight forward or easy as it first looks!
The “popcorn” ceilings were the first to go. These were ubiquitous in the 70’s, obviously well before anybody had an idea about how well they would (or wouldn’t) age. We had these professionally stripped and re-textured before we moved in, because frankly it creates a huge mess and we hate overhead work.
Wendy also painted the master bedroom while I tended to a few upgrades before we moved in, like kitchen appliances and a new garage door opener, figuring we could paint the rest of the interior while we lived there.
Everyone knows the story of Murphy. The guy that wrote the law “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong”. This especially applies to home renovation, just like it does to Little British Car restoration (see the way previous blog about Eddie the MG coming to life). Two weeks or so after moving in, on the day before Thanksgiving, we were busy touching stuff up and cleaning because we had invited some friends over to dinner. The vacuum cleaner became possessed by Murphy’s spirit and decided to blow a circuit that took out half of the lighting and outlets in the house. No amount of breaker resets or cursing would remedy it, so we turned to our best source for help, Tony the ice cream guy. Don’t laugh! Tony, who runs Twisters Hand Made Ice Cream in Palm Coast, was the first person we met and became friendly with locally, and he knows everyone, including an electrician named Joe. We still don’t know Joe’s last name (definitely not “The Electrician”), but Tony made a call and Joe appeared at 3PM on Thanksgiving Eve, discovering (with me as his assistant) that the previous owner had done some pretty shoddy rewiring in the attic for his stereo system closet and a few wires had melted together. Joe got that (and a few other things) cleaned up by 5:30 and tried to only take $70 for the repairs. We tipped him very well as he had just literally saved our turkey bacon. Tip: when moving to a new town, meet the local ice cream shop owner FIRST. You will be surprised how much this can improve your future prospects. In fact, it was Tony that led us to Scott at Take Action Properties, bonded by a mutual love of homemade ice cream. Tip #2: when a tradesman does you a big solid on a holiday Eve, pay in cash. You’re welcome.
There were lots of small plumbing jobs, mostly upgrading old fixtures or fixing leaks or bad electrical outlets and switches. Of the two largest plumbing tasks, one was planned and the other was not. The toilet in Bathroom #2 had a broken tank lid, so we replaced the whole thing. But, alas, the new lid wouldn’t fit under the existing cabinetry, so we fabricated a new lid out of polystyrene plastic (hats off to YouTube). In retrospect, we could have done this for the old toilet as well, but then we would be left with the likelihood that the old crapper would eventually bite the dust anyway.
In addition to that, a hose bibb on the front of the house was leaking, and when Warren tried to replace the worn seat in it, the whole thing broke off inside the concrete block wall. This, of course, happened at another optimum Murphy Moment, New Year’s Eve. Tip: don’t start any plumbing jobs, or any jobs for that matter, that might require a professional to fix if you can’t complete it. Plumbers, go figure, are as rare as hen’s teeth on New Year’s Eve. It took some creative imagination but tapping the inside of the broken pipe and threading a new coupler into it did the trick and a new bibb was installed as a permanent fix.
The kitchen cabinetry is solid and in excellent shape but painted with a God-awful stenciling that came from some of the darker regions of the previous owner’s memories.
The paint scheme seems to have sprung from a World War II theme, and we think the 81 year old previous owner must surely have been one of the Greatest Generation and felt at home with that motif. We are not of that generation (go Boomers!), so a long weekend of stripping the cabinets down, sanding, and painting restored some sanity. Disappearing all that military stenciling left us with an eerie sense of having erased some important history, just not important to us.
Speaking of cabinets, when we took possession of the house there was a small “orphan” cabinet just sitting on top of the fridge. We initially thought to put it out for the bulk trash, but then realized there was an inoperable vent fan over the stove in a very large space and no microwave. We refitted and repurposed the small orphan cabinet to fit the gap, installed it, and also installed a new over-stove microwave/vent. Two new doors had to be fabricated to match the rest of the kitchen, and it was subsequently painted to match.
The kitchen ceiling had some hideous track lighting that we just tore out before the ceilings were done (I detest track lighting). We installed a new drop ceiling and an integrated LED light panel, along with a new LED fixture over the sink. While we were at it a garbage disposal was installed. Who can live without a garbage disposal? Luckily there was a nearby switched electric circuit that was repurposed as the power source. It’s likely that there was once a disposer, but for some strange reason someone removed it. Go figure.
The bulk of the interior was classic 70’s décor, from the yellow and green paint down to the alpine gingerbread chair rails on the walls (even where no chairs would ever be found). While the ceiling guys were doing their job, we stripped all that off, and Dan’s crew was nice enough to patch all the holes up while they were doing the ceiling patching. Thanks! After lots of sanding and painting, the house has a completely new look inside. It even feels bigger.
While the inside needed lots of love, the exterior was just as demanding. There were extremely overgrown Aloe Vera cactus plants at every corner of the house. We hated those, so out they came. These would be easy to extract if we had a backhoe. Instead, we had a shovel and our hands. Wendy figured out the magic formula for extracting the stumps, chopping away with an axe at the root ball until the stump can be ripped out of the ground.
We wish we had known before we started that there was a fair amount of irrigation plumbing that had been grown over by the Aloes as well. Plastic sprinkler plumbing is no match for an axe: see the later paragraph on irrigation repairs and renovation. We also met a few new local friends while we worked, like this little guy here.
There were 2 lamp posts in the front yard that were so dilapidated it was amazing that they still stood upright. We stripped all of the structure off (a hollow wooden post constructed of badly warped fence boards, wiring, and some large carriage lamps that were bolted on). We fabricated new hollow posts, sorted and cleaned up all the wiring, and installed new motion sensor LED lamps that are fully automatic, providing subdued lighting starting at dusk, with motion sensors that ramp the lights up to a brighter mode to illuminate the walkway for anyone visiting at night. We painted them in the trim paint we have selected for the rest of the house. Cast aluminum post caps finished them off and provide a little weather protection.
All of the flower beds and gardens adjacent to walkways also needed to be regraded because they were “bleeding” mud and sand all over the hardscape every time it rained. Our solution was to tear the beds out, remove a bunch of dirt and sand, establish a nice border using brick pavers, repair any irrigation in the beds, and re-grade the bed with a 2” cedar mulch cover. We’ll let the Ricker’s decide on any planting since they are going to care for it. And I’m well aware that it looks like Wendy is doing all the work, but who do you think is taking the pictures?
The property has an extensive sprinkler system that is nearly as old as the house itself, I think. There was a rat’s nest of wiring coming into the garage, with an old valve timer system, and a strange bank of wall switches that were assembled as a manual operating system for the 4 zones. It looks like a previous owner, rather than fixing the original valve and timer system, just patched on the manual switch system because they couldn’t figure out how to program the ancient timer. In addition to the weird valve/timer/switch system, the sprinkler heads themselves weren’t too pretty. We fiddled around with the wiring and old timer a bit, and after hooking up a 12 volt power supply and setting the switch to “Manual” operation, we were able to get 3 of the 4 zones to at least spray water. Progress! But it became obvious that we would have to locate the valve bank to renovate all 4 zones. We started at the “root” of the system and followed the rat’s nest wiring to a point where it just disappeared into the ground. Then we dug, and dug, and dug, finally uncovering 5 valves under about a foot of dirt. All the valves were cleaned up, the wiring sorted and cleaned up, some pavers were used to construct a “vault” for all of this that would be out of the dirt and protected from the environment, and the timer was relocated to a better wall in the garage for accessibility. At last all 4 zones would spout water, and one by one the sprinkler heads were either cleaned up or replaced, leaving us with a fully functional irrigation system. We even added a drip zone in the front where some new landscaping replaced 2 of the old massive Aloe Vera plants. This process also required us to dig up and patch some of the underground feed lines, thanks to the sharp axe that was used to extract the aloes.
The back yard has 2 landscaping “zones”, the closest to the house being the lawn, and the rear of the lot had been taken over by palmettos, vines, weeds, bushes and overhanging tree branches that were grossly overgrown. Our solution was to hack and trim it back, and to rip out anything that had taken over territory through years of neglect. We ended up with 4 massive piles of yard waste and ended up calling a trash removal service who brought a large dump truck and a couple of workers and hauled it all away.
After a couple of months of chipping away at the renovation, we are to a point where we can see the final result. The next 2 (and perhaps final) projects: a new roof goes on in February, and then we will get busy pressure washing, stucco patching, and painting the outside. Until then, we are going to resume our retirement life!
It’s time for another House Build Update! We have hit a milestone on our build, called “Being Vertical”. This refers to the perimeter walls of the structure finally being put in place to give a third dimension to what was up-to-now a very flat structure. Being Vertical also refers to our preferred human state during waking hours, something every septuagenarian+ can appreciate! (If you haven’t yet reached septuagenarian status, you will have to take our word for it).
Rather than just a brief update with a nice photo, here’s a progression of nice photos that show the progress to date.
The first real evidence of activity on the project was Clearing the Lot. What was once a jungle of bushes, trees, and brambles was transformed into an open, buildable lot.
It sat like that for much longer than we had hoped, but finally along came some more men and equipment, and a bunch of dump trucks full of fill dirt, and Grading commenced.
Wade, the magician with the small (and very nimble) Bobcat tractor, built a beautiful pad on which our house would eventually stand. And very soon after that Hurricane Ian came along and washed down all the sharp, beautiful edges until we could hardly see where the house would stand. But not to worry! More men and equipment arrived after the skies cleared and the winds died, and out of the flat pile of dirt emerged trenches into which wooden concrete pad forms were placed.
The forming work stopped at about 90% completion to allow yet another crew of workers to place all the under-slab piping and conduits, and the Rough Plumbing milestone was nailed.
With all the under-slab stuff installed, the foundation slab crew returned and finished all the wood forms installation, then placed all the steel footing and wall tie-downs and the plastic vapor barrier that will keep the notoriously high Florida water table out of our house!
A few days later the gloriously beautiful Concrete Pump arrived, and in no time a small army of men and equipment had a few concrete trucks worth of product poured and finished up to slab grade.
At this point I wanted to have an aerial shot of the property, as well as the adjacent lot that we are considering buying to add to our “back yard”. So we sent up the drone to do the job.
We were led to believe that it might be a few weeks before anything else happened because it would take 7 days for the slab to “cure” to the state where more construction could be done. But, in exactly 7 days a few truckloads of concrete blocks appeared and were distributed across the slab, ready to become the exterior perimeter walls of our hurricane-proof house.
A couple of days later another shipment of materials arrived, the mortar and other parts that are needed to complete the “Going Vertical” milestone. And a few days after that, bingo! We blinked and it was done!
Now that we’re all vertical, we eagerly await the next big milestone: roof trusses and interior framing!
There are very few in Florida who weren’t affected by Hurricane Ian, one of “the most powerful hurricanes to hit Florida in history”, either directly or indirectly. We sincerely hope that those affected are getting all the help they deserve from local, state, and the federal government. This is sometimes a sketchy proposition with FEMA as we have all seen over the last decade or so. But, at least initially, it looks like Florida and the Feds are making nice and having good results. Certainly, our Governor, Ron DeSantis, is getting very high marks for his leadership with extensive preparation for, and execution of recovery efforts.
Camping in an RV is always a dicey situation in any kind of significant storm but having a Category 4 hurricane barreling down on you when all you see is that you are “in the path” is especially unnerving. Although the county emergency services recommended evacuation for all RV’s and mobile homes, we made the informed decision to stay based on 3 criteria: we would not be negatively impacted by a power outage, having the ability to “boondock” as a self-contained rig; we were on high ground in the campground, at the same level as the other two permanent structures, which historically have never been inundated by flooding; we were also situated adjacent to and downwind from one of those permanent structures, which made a good windbreak from at least the steady winds. We did some pre-storm preparation, removing all the outside stuff in our site away to our storage facility, filling our fresh water tank, emptying our waste tanks, charging our emergency cell phone power pack, and moving our truck and Jeep out from under our shade tree (a magnificent several hundred-year-old oak, who has doubtless survived many large storms).
Viewing the National Hurricane Center report as the center of the not-even-cat-1 degraded Ian brushed past us here in Palm Coast, we can tell you that being inside the “high winds” green zone brought considerably more nervousness than a summer thunderstorm would produce.
Our concern was justified with the steady winds (about 35-40 mph) and gusts (to 75 mph) blasting through the campground. The windbreak provided by the structure next to us helped, but it didn’t stop us getting rocked frequently by gusts that felt like they slammed into the side of the rig hard enough to dent something. Nothing dented, by the way. I shudder to wonder what it would have been like without the windbreak, and whether we would still be standing upright.
One big concern was a tornado. It’s no fun imagining what a tornado could do to our rig, although we did have a concrete block shelter (actually the campground bathroom and shower building) nearby that could have saved our lives. Here is a “before” and “after” shot, showing that building.
Tornados spun off by hurricanes are overwhelmingly “east and southeast” phenomena, meaning that they occur most frequently in the southeast quadrant of the storm. We felt a very small hint of hope in that we would be to the west of the center as it passed, and therefore less likely to experience one. But statistics aren’t certainties, so we added that to the top of the worry pile. We are happy to report that we haven’t seen a report of any confirmed tornados in our area at all, so pile that bit of data onto the statistical heap.
Water is the biggest threat from a hurricane. Storm surge is the big villain as is totally evident by the horrific pictures and videos coming out of Southwest Florida. Fort Myers, Sanibel Island, and Naples were hammered by 150mph winds, but it was the 15-foot storm surge that did 95% of the damage. There was one guy that had just taken delivery of 2 new vehicles, a Bentley and a $1M McLaren P1 sports car. They were both swept from his garage and ended up blocks away, with the P1 resting atop a toilet that had been deposited in a front yard after the house it was once in was obliterated by the surge.
With all the real suffering going on in that part of the state, it’s hard to feel sorry for the guy who watched $2M worth of cars wash away. I would have gladly driven the P1 to safety before the fact, all he had to do was ask.
Even though downgraded to a tropical storm by the time Ian hit the east coast of Florida, the storm surge pushed up the coast in front clobbered Flagler Beach, just 2 miles east of us. 15-foot waves tore 100 feet off of the iconic Flagler Pier and washed it away.
Flagler Beach includes the long barrier island on our stretch of the Atlantic Coast, and the entire island was evacuated along with the communities that front the river. That area completely flooded as the Atlantic surge of +5 feet on one side got matched by the same surge on the Intercoastal Waterway, in this area the Matanzas River. We ventured out on Thursday late afternoon when the storm had passed to take a look, and it was astonishing.
The storm surge contributed to our drainage canals backing up just when they are needed the most to move 12” of rainfall away to the ocean. But the canal system here is extensive and capable, and handled the volume well, even though the water rose up to and slightly over the banks, about a 4’ increase overall.
If you look closely, there is a pair of eyes peeking out of the water at you. That’s Eddie, a local gator who gets kind of aggressive about following you because many of the campers here stupidly feed him, and he thinks you might have something for him. We steer clear and have never seen anyone walking small dogs near the canal. Once in a while someone just carrying a leash, but no small dogs. We kid.
On our Thursday expedition (the right word for the trip as there were downed trees, flooded areas and debris covering all the roads) we were primarily interested in surveying our 2 properties. We have a house under construction, and at peak flood it came through just like it was planned. You can see that the “swales” (streetside drainage ditches) are full to the top, but where the slab soon will be is easily 2 feet above that level. The swales were draining a full volume as the drainage system around our neighborhood is robust, and our property is near enough to the Interstate to be classified as high ground (one of the reasons we are building there). We were horrified to see the Palace of Poop, our magnificent Port-A-Potty vanquished by the storm and lying pitifully on its side, only to discover later that the service company had come around pre-storm to pump them all out and put them on their sides to avoid that horrible fate.
Our other property, recently purchased as a temporary home, also came through high and dry. It is built in a golf course, one of the original areas that was “raised out of the swamp” that became Palm Coast 50 years ago. The smart planners built the golf course, the signature feature of the new city, high enough to avoid all floods, and our neighborhood sits right in the center of it, also one of the reasons why we bought it there.
The storm broke Wednesday night, and Thursday dawned as a beautiful cool fall day. We went for a walk to survey the damage in the campground, remarking that if we had a rake (which we didn’t) we could do some cleanup and try to get back to normal. Along our path we met a young woman who was raking, but her rake (that she had just purchased) only had ½ a handle. It had broken under the strain, and she remarked that she was throwing it away after she was done. We patiently waited for her to finish (2 minutes), and she gifted it to us. The Universe had, once again, provided for our wish.
Our cleanup was pretty straightforward, raking huge clumps of Spanish Moss into piles and getting them to street-side for eventual pickup. We swept the globs of moss off our vehicles, and I got up on top of the rig to sweep it off there as well. We won’t be reinstalling the screened tent since we will be moving in a month or so into Cooper, our golf course house, where we will spend the next several months doing some rehab on it to ready it for rental to our grandson Daniel’s family. They will relocate to here in June (after the school year is up) once we move into our new house.
The rest of the campground had considerable damage, mostly caused by trees that had either broken or fallen over. We’ve had a ton of rain over the summer, and much of the ground was already wet before we got our 12” of rain during the storm.
Given the severity of Ian, and especially considering the vast damage done in the southwest, we got off pretty easy and escaped with no damage at all. We made some educated judgements about staying vs. leaving, even though there really was nowhere to go if we left except Georgia or Tennessee to avoid all the possible paths predicted for Ian. One plus: we got to survey what our future home(s) will look like in a big storm and feel pretty good that they both survived nicely. And we got to experience at least one silver lining, a beautiful sunset.
We honestly haven’t been twiddling our thumbs all this time! We did spend almost 3 weeks back in the Northwest, which will get sufficient posting all on its own soon. But there has been progress on the “home” front, and it’s time to post out the progress.
We have been waiting out the start of our construction as we got initially settled (see “The Eagle has Landed”) and then re-settled into a new RV campground. We relocated from 4 Lakes Campground in Hastings to our new digs at the Bulow Plantation in Flagler Beach, mostly to get us closer to town and because Bulow has a pool! There is much more social life going on, and we’ve already met folks to hang with. A huge plus: we got Spectrum cable internet right at our site. We went from near-zero connectivity at 4 Lakes to 400 mb/sec screaming broadband, and it has dramatically improved our moods. It’s not such a great testament to how dependent we have become on the Internet and our cell phones, but when you are living a nomadic lifestyle with daily involvement in city building codes and properties, it’s a real mood enhancer.
On the building front, we were finally notified by the builder that we have been assigned a Construction Manager (hi Rick!), and that means that they are finally commencing with the build. That was a very good day, and Wendy has formed a strong texting bond with him for updates. He kept us well-informed as to the date for Step One: to bring in the heavy equipment to mow down and remove all the vegetation on our small parcel of jungle, called “clearing the lot”. The date inched closer and closer over a week or so until Rick texted that our lot was next, and we could expect work to start the next day, August 22. We took one last look at our little patch of jungle, woefully recalling that we had ventured onto this frontier many months ago, armed with a roll of fluorescent pink plastic flagging tape to mark all the trees we wanted to keep, only to be later informed that their lot-clearing contractor was no longer allowing that due to so many lot owners mis-marking trees that interfered with the building or utilities, requiring the contractor to return to remove them. Although we were well aware of the need to keep clear of the build (I had personally done the lot placement diagram that the builder submitted to the city for permitting), we couldn’t convince them to spare the few nice trees we had already tagged.
The lot clearing happened over 2 days, ending on August 23. It was very exciting to see, with the big excavator taking huge bites out of the landscape and tearing trees out like they were weeds. Big dump trucks came and hauled it all off, turning us into Flatlanders virtually overnight.
From the standard build calendar the builder had provided us, I was expecting a couple of weeks to elapse before anything else happened, but the very next day the city notified us that an inspection for water meter installation had been not only been ordered but was already done and signed off. This is quick progress, indicating that another stage has begun. And lo and behold, when we took a drive by to check again the next day another astounding milestone was met. I never in my life thought I would admit that the sight of a Port-a-Potty would be an earth-shaking event, but there it stood in all its majestic glory.
Don’t underestimate the power and utility of the Port-a-Potty. This magnificent device delivers the ability to sustain workers at our property for entire days at a time, and that’s a good sign that the builder intends to do just that. This notion is augmented by the fact that the same builder is putting up two other homes in the same neighborhood, one is slightly ahead of ours on the calendar and the other is a week or so behind. We can use the first one as an indicator of when to expect a similar stage of building on our lot. True to that assumption, just a day later appears a small bobcat tractor and a trail of dump trucks with topsoil that will be used to grade out our lot and to construct the building pad so the concrete crew can get to work on the utilities and foundation.
We’re over the moon, at least for a short while, at the pace of building. Especially after waiting 9 long months from writing the first check to a shovel full of dirt being turned. But at least we’re “on the board”, and hoping the fast pace keeps us on our toes.
Writers Hours today assembled an eclectic collection from our Prose Banks, those random thoughts that wake you up at 3AM, and if you don’t write them down quickly, they hide back in the recesses of your memory to await another early morning. They are worth exploring, in my mind, as a never-ending source of self-enrichment. If you were looking for something else, you can skip to the end now. But if you want to see what’s percolating in the corners of our memory banks, read on!
In the Permission Granted corner: Our building permit is finally in process for approval! It was applied for on July 2, and as of July 8 has received 50% of the signoffs needed. We are crossing all our fingers and toes (see the separate comments on Pointy Things nearby) that a shovel will turn some dirt in the next 2-4 weeks, and that we might cross our new front doorstep early next year.
In the Pointy Things corner: Living in an RV, which is basically a small box on wheels, has many challenges. You adapt over time to these, like learning how to conserve a relatively small fresh water supply, or 2 people showering with a 6-gallon hot water heater. I have had a particularly hard time adapting to the Pointy Things challenge. No, there aren’t knives and spears randomly placed around the rig to stick and stab me, I speak of the pointy things on my person: toes, fingers, knees, elbows, knuckles and such. These will find any hard surface or sharp edge when they are flung around with abandon in a tight space. I find it valuable to spend more time focusing on Mindfulness, to grant me the increased concentration to know where these pointy things are at any time, and what they might meet as I pass through a door or turn around. It’s a process that requires patience. Wendy will add a little more to this a little later.
In the I-Saw-It-On-The-News corner: While I was initially dismayed and head-scratching-befuddled by Vice President Kamala Harris’ word salad speeches, I find myself increasingly entertained and amazed by them. Wendy and I play Wordle as a team sport with my sister Mary and a few other partners, sharing a common first word and then comparing our success in divining the answer. It’s fun, but it is only a single daily game. To stretch us a little farther, I propose a new game: WordleSalad. Madam VP’s best effort of the week is presented in raw form, and you have 6 tries to guess the meaning.
In the Current Events corner: I think Elon Musk is a very interesting person. He and I share a fascination with space, so I pay attention to his words and actions to see if there are lessons to glean from them. With his latest maneuvers on Twitter, he is either bailing on yet another pursuit of a gargantuan passion (not something he has a history of doing) or is playing possum in order to get a better deal (something I can easily see him doing). My lesson from all of this: I’m not a Twitter shareholder and I don’t think I can lose here. I thank him greatly for both the entertainment of observing this whole catfight from the beginning, and any outcome of it. If, by throwing Twitter on the ash heap of hyperbole and hypocrisy, he tanks it and it goes away, he has done a service to humanity by removing at least one carnivorous social media app from the planet. If he prevails and tames the Tasmanian Devil of censorship to provide humanity with a true Town Square of Free Speech, bravo!
In the Philosophical corner: On Tuesday July 12, we will get the first images from the Webb Space Telescope. I’m very excited about this. I see this newest orbital gadget as a metaphor for spirituality. Webb, much more powerful than Hubble with advanced technology and innovation, can peer far back into time (and Einstein would say therefore into the future) to the origins of the Universe, to see physical things that we humans have only imagined through the lens of faith. Religion and science, for as long as mankind has roamed the Earth, have related and conjectured our becoming. The images from Webb will further cement the reality that we are mere atoms, albeit highly privileged atoms, in a vast Universe. Our privilege derives not from class, or race, or anything other than our single shared trait: we are humans and share whatever history or future Webb displays to us. If the soundtrack from “2001: A Space Odyssey” has started playing in your head, you are where I’m at.
In the Horticulture-As-Family corner: When we set sail from Washington in May, moving our household goods and even our vehicles was a straightforward process. It was a lot of work, but virtually all of it was ordered over the phone or internet. The tricky part was what to do with our houseplants. They are fragile and can’t go in the moving van. We can’t use USPS Priority Mail to send them. Fedex didn’t seem like an option. We solved the problem by upgrading our flat pickup bed cover (thanks Undercover, you’ve been swell, but we’re dating someone else now) to a new Bestop convertible soft bed canopy.
Convertible because it can fold down, but also tall enough to allow us to put all the plants including our Avocado tree, our Money Tree (not a literal $$ tree, just a species), and our family heirloom, the Vineyard, in the back so they can travel with us. Of all of them, the Vineyard is Family, and the one we wanted most to survive, and for a specific reason (wait for it).
Way back in the 20th Century Wendy and I liked to tour the Napa vineyards and wineries in our RV as a weekend getaway. One of these trips brought us to Summit Lake Vineyards, situated high in the hills above Napa Valley. On what was otherwise a busy Saturday down in the flats, this off-the-beaten-track location just doesn’t get a lot of visitors. We wandered into the wine barn, all alone, and were eventually joined by one of the owners (a family) who informed us that the man of the house had just returned from a trip to the coast, and they were in the process of preparing dinner with his catch, abalone. Would we like to join? As a note to the reader: I will N E V E R turn down a fresh abalone fry. Full stop. Of course we joined! They were delightful people, sharing their delish dinner and a few bottles of their home brew with us. But they saved the best for last. They had, just that week, re-planted some acreage with “starts” of Petite Verdot, a deep red varietal. They had 3 lonely little vines left over in small plastic pots and they offered us one as a gift. We have been hauling that little soldier around for the last 20+ years from house to house, and even from house to RV and back to house. It has grown over the years, going dormant in the winter when it gets a severe pruning back to it’s sturdy main stalk, only to burst forth in the spring with new vining arms and always a small crop of premium grapes. We swear you can watch it grow once it starts anew each year. We refer to it as our Vineyard, or “The V”, because it’s only a single vine, right?
This year was a very cold and long spring in Washington, and the V stayed dormant much longer than ever before. By the time we left in mid-May, only a few small sprouts had emerged. Our weather and “climate” didn’t really improve until we headed south through Colorado, and that’s when the V woke up. By the time we got to our current camp, we had some 2-foot-long vines ready to spread their wings, and true to form the V has responded very vigorously to the super warm and humid days here. Our timing on the move into the new house might be perfect for our end game with the V. Our goal has always been to put this baby in some terra firma when we got a “forever home”, and a late winter planting will be perfect!
This blog is a team effort today, like a piano duet, from Wendy’s keyboard to you…
Within Warren’s theme of “a variety of things”, I couldn’t think of anything to write until I sat down at my sewing machine. My sewing machine is enormous and quite heavy. I didn’t want to pack it in the moving van because I was afraid it would get damaged, or worse, destroyed in the long journey. I found a place for it in the RV at the foot of the bed where it barely fit. After both of us banged our toes into it for the first couple of weeks, we finally started remembering it was there (see the previous reference to Pointy Things).
Most of you know I’m a “sew and sew”, that I sew…a lot. Creating and sewing keep me sane because, as many of you also know, I do not sit still very well. Since we arrived here at our temporary home 4 weeks ago, I have made two dresses, a pair of shorts, seat covers for our “Midget”, repaired several items and now I’m making a summer dress for Samara, who turns 7 in August. I am so grateful that we found a place for it even if it caused us a little pain. And pain does sometimes happen in tight quarters. For example, last week I was working at the kitchen sink and had left the bottom drawer open so I could return the scissors I was using. With my focus clearly on my project, I stepped back and fell backward, in slow motion, over the drawer. I had enough time to thankfully fall over the drawer and not on it. Still, it left a couple of scrapes and a bruise that have since healed. A tough lesson to learn but learn it I did, and it didn’t require any stitches. I was lucky this time.
And, as always, Tippy has random thoughts too, although some he appears to have randomly borrowed.
The Peanut Gallery has been getting more and more belligerent about the last 2+ weeks of “dark space” where the blog used to be. Well, here we are again!
The last couple of weeks have been consumed with getting settled in our RV campsite (more on that in a bit), doing all the administrivia to become residents of Florida (drivers licenses, register to vote, re-register all the vehicles, critical address changes, finding doctors, etc.). We have the bulk of that under our belt now and are eagerly awaiting the announcement from our builder that permits have been issued and ground will be breaking. We are deep into the original time window they gave us when we signed our building contract of 6-9 months to start but they have told us the start is imminent, and we might still finish in the original window of 12-14 months. Stay tuned for an announcement on that!
We have also been indulging in retirement. This is a time when you can finally stop to smell the roses (although there aren’t any around us), watch the world go by (or at least the cars and trucks barreling down the highway adjacent to the campground), and finally getting around to all those things you never seemed to have time for, like picking the lint out of the Velcro on your cargo shorts, or cleaning the grime off of your rear license plate. It’s important to savor the small pleasures of life, to better position yourself to manage the larger issues that pop up.
As previously noted, we witnessed ever-increasing levels of conservative politics almost from the moment we left the Seattle area, and the southerly slide into Florida has certainly followed that trend. The “I Did That” stickers are ubiquitous in nearly every gas station here, and people are very vocal about the price of gas and groceries.
I acquired a tee shirt a couple of years ago that blares “Defund the Media” boldly on the front.
It never drew comments near to the West Coast, but easily elicits at least 2-3 comments a day when wearing it here. I get the vibe that Ron DeSantis will have no problem getting his governorship ticket stamped again come November, and probably by a much larger margin than the 3% he won by four years ago. That will tell us all something.
We arrived in Florida on June 13, a sunny, very warm Monday. I made the reservation at 4 Lakes Campground in Hastings Florida several months ago, and because nobody vacations in Florida in the summer, I was offered a “Premium waterfront pull-through site” but opted for a standard back-in site that had several large shade trees and extra depth. We’re super glad we did because our stay here started at the beginning of an unusually long warm spell that saw daily temps in the 90’s. The shade has helped us to beat the heat without our air conditioner running non-stop. In anticipation of some more moderate days and evenings, we put up a screened cover over the picnic table and installed a box fan and a couple of camp chairs in our “back yard”. We have been adopted by Mr. Squirrel, who likely lives above us in the trees, and who loves to hang around, literally, looking in the back window of the rig.
We had Wendy’s Jeep shipped via transport a few days before we left, and 10 days later it was delivered to family (Hi Donna, Glen, Daniel and Kristen!) down south in Cocoa. The day after our arrival we drove the hour-and-a-half south to visit them and pick up her car. We brought our grandson, Daniel, a gift from Devil’s Tower (prairie dog capital of the world), a Lego prairie dog model, and he wasted no time in dumping it out on the floor and starting to build. We got to visiting and chatting and forgot all about it until he came to present his finished Prairie Dog. He has quite an imagination and is also a H_U_G_E Thomas the Train fan, so to everyone’s surprise the prairie dog had evolved into something else. Can you guess?
4 Lakes Campground is only a few years old and so has excellent infrastructure like 50-amp electrical, good water pressure, robust Wi-Fi and spaced-out sites to provide a little privacy. The downside is the distance to anything. We’re out in the country, 8 miles from the Interstate (and nearest T-Mobile cell tower), and about 14 miles from our build site. It’s close enough that we can make frequent trips to monitor the progress once it starts, but not quite “in town”. We plan an activity each day to keep us occupied, something that Grandma Wendy requires to keep her sanity. But one activity does not a day make, so we found other ways to occupy the remaining hours. We know we will have many hours to occupy before we get consumed with moving into the new house. You are reading the product of one of those efforts. We also raided our storage unit to extract her sewing machine, and she has already made a new sun dress and some shorts. Other grandkids will get some of her famous “Critter Stuffies”. I think if I stand still long enough, she will hang a new shirt on me.
We have faithfully kept to our Rock Project, wherein we paint and inscribe a pair of stones (one each) with an appropriate short quotation and illustration each day for 100 days. One of the pair will be deposited near to that day’s destination, the twin will be put into storage and eventually be placed in a garden at our new house to remind us of the steps in our journey. This project reaches the halfway point on July 4th we are happy to report. We have used quotations from luminaries as varied as Albert Einstein and Winnie the Pooh. Here is a short installment:
Our antique car, the MG Midget, couldn’t be shipped like Wendy’s car. Of course, it could go on a transport carrier like the Jeep, but because it’s old, British, and finicky, it couldn’t be received by just anyone. Plus, it’s a convertible and shouldn’t be stored outside where it can be ravaged by the afternoon thunderstorms of the Florida rainy season otherwise known as Summer.
We decided the best solution was to leave Eddie (temporarily) in Washington under the careful watch of our replacement Management Team, Debbie and Tommy. (As an aside: we previously named this little gem Eddie, a family tradition in naming inanimate things and occasionally animated things that defy any other naming convention. Eddie doesn’t have a defined gender or identity, although I have occasionally utilized “bitch” as a directive and Eddie uses the pronouns Life/Liberty/Pursuit of Happiness. I’m hoping this declaration isn’t perceived as pandering to a more non-traditional audience than I’m accustomed to. You’re welcome.) Then, on June 10th, we scheduled a transport to pick Eddie up (thanks Tommy for the assist!) and deliver 10 days later to us in Hastings at the campground. The transport driver, Alexy, is considerably larger than I am, and I barely fit into the driver’s seat, so it was entertaining for us to watch him squeeze himself behind the wheel and back down the ramp into the street. They don’t call it a Midget for nothing. Thank God Alexy has a sense of humor, and also that I had a fat wad of $100 bills waiting to give him when delivery was complete.
We followed up the delivery with a 75-mile roundtrip to our favorite seafood restaurant, The Flagler Fish Company, and managed to escape any downpours before arriving safely back at camp. Following that we secured Eddie safely (and dryly) into storage with the rest of our stuff.
One of our favorite activities in any new spot is to scout out restaurants, and ice cream purveyors, both critical to our Pursuit of Happiness. On an excursion to the nearby town of Palatka, a historically significant agriculture port on the St. John’s River, we stumbled across Angel’s Diner, the oldest diner in Florida. We couldn’t resist, and I opted to dive into their Friday house special, Lou’s Famous Fried Chicken dinner. It was super yummy, as was the burger that Wendy had, and the chocolate milkshake we shared.
We previously showcased our newly acquired watercraft, Ginger and Mary Ann (see https://muddscape.com/2022/02/20/gilligan-and-the-twin-yachts/). We had, however, never actually wetted their bottoms (alright, alright, get your minds out of the gutter) prior to leaving on our trip. We discovered, on one of our daily explorations, the Princess Place Preserve. It is very near to our build site, free, and open every day to the public. It has evolved out of a very interesting history of this area into a state preserve full of hiking trails, historical displays, picnic areas, group camping, equestrian activities, and a very nice canoe and kayak launch on the edge of a very expansive estuary system that has formed at the confluence of Pellicer Creek and the Matanzas River Inlet. The preserve property is centered around a well-maintained summer residence of the wife of a Russian prince (hence the “Princess” title) who was quite the social fixture of St. Augustine in its early heyday.
The waters around the preserve teem with wildlife and are a joy to navigate with the new boats. More on the estuary in a bit.
I’ve been told by my better half that the heat might be getting to me. I ordered some sun protection as an experiment, and I’ll have to report back later on its effectiveness.
To better understand and explore the estuary, we signed onto a guided kayak tour with Ripple Effect Eco Tours (https://www.rippleeffectecotours.com) located adjacent to The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in Marineland Florida (not the Marineland you might be familiar with). The launch point for the tour is on the estuary, and our guide Sumo provided expert knowledge and direction for our 2 ½ hour tour through the many small streams and creeks that lace the area. The teeming wildlife display continued with sightings of feral pigs and what I’m sure was a small shark fin that briefly emerged a few feet from our tandem kayak. When asked, Sumo replied “Sure, why not?” Very reassuring, but also kind of cool. We learned a ton about the Mangroves (black and red), the different grasses that make the ecosystem possible, the vastness of the ancient 1-meter-thick coquina layer that underlies much of northwest Florida’s coastline, and because Sumo is also a career chemist, the richness of the different minerals and chemicals that make up the soil composition of the estuary and allow it to deliver a huge carbon-sequestration benefit to our planet. We give him 2 Thumbs Up and 5 Stars, our best recommendations.
Our next update will likely contain Breaking News about the house! So stay tuned.
Meanwhile, Tippy has found some appropriate wise words from Pooh.
We finally hit the last stop before the finish line, Savannah Georgia. We stay 3 nights to give ourselves 2 full days, but without any plans. We have lots to do when we arrive in our temporary RV park/home in Hastings Florida, and this is a chance to rest up, have some fun, enjoy the local hospitality and food, and get another 20,000 steps on our exercise program. We were greeted by a cool-looking suspension bridge over the Savannah River that suddenly rose up out of the Low Country as we traveled south.
As we get deeper into the south, we have noticed a couple of standout things. First, there are churches literally everywhere. And signs telling you where churches are, as if you didn’t notice. We like to dig into the history of places, especially if it relates to early pioneers or the Civil War. Although it was primarily about slavery, religion played very heavily into the fabric of that era. Many churches (or more appropriately congregations) played key roles in aiding freemen (those who had gained their freedom by working off their debt to the people who brought them here) or escaped slaves to find shelter and safety. And that brings us to the other thing that stands out. Or more correctly, doesn’t stand out, it is conspicuous by its absence: The homeless.
Where are they? Where are the blue tarps, and the camp tents and shopping carts full of stuff and the piles of trash? For sure there is the odd person sleeping on a bench, or wandering around in a daze, but these are few and far between, nothing like we had seen in Seattle, Spokane, or Denver. Out of curiosity we have been taking a straw poll of folks we happen across, usually waiters or RV camp service staff, and they look at us funny when we ask, “Where are your homeless?” We had breakfast at a fabulous restaurant in Savannah called Two Cracked Eggs, a decidedly Christian establishment, and the answer given to us there came from a discussion on the local radio station that was playing. It seems like the local churches manage what small homelessness problem might exist. And that they are the primary reason why the problem, which has existed for decades, hasn’t become larger or unmanageable. Without any government intervention, the local congregations typically handle the housing, feeding, support services, and “kickstart” to get folks that have fallen out of a home (for any reason, but usually drugs) back on their feet and back into the community. It’s amazing but makes sense. The locals are the ones who best understand their local issues that drive homelessness and have the highest incentive to fixing it. So, apparently, it gets fixed on a regular, ongoing basis. Without a lot of taxes or apparently a lot of money at all. A lesson is there to be learned America.
In other news, it’s June in Savannah, and we were besieged by waves of bachelorettes in groups, many with matching or coordinating clothing, roaming the streets of Savannah in various states of party or inebriation. BRIDE sashes were on display and merriment was the word of the day. Savannah must be a huge destination for weddings, indeed there have been 2 at our campground (a barn wedding destination) in 2 days. And I imagine the pent-up demand from 2 years of delays due to Covid have probably packed the calendar this year. The Party Bus businesses in town are really banking it.
There was also a raucous protest parade in the downtown shopping district, with about 3 dozen marchers with signs and American flags, matching slogan t-shirts, and loud bullhorns chanting “USA, USA” and “Shame on You, Shame on You” in alternating cadence. They were protesting about fatherless homes, and specifically addressing deadbeat dads. I didn’t see them exactly protesting AT any deadbeat dads, but I liked the sentiment. Perhaps another lesson for America is available here.
We also met Charlie the Shrimp King. Or rather, he met us. Charlie has a shrimping boat on Tybee Island just east of Savannah and sells his catch out of the back of his pickup truck. Our RV campground here, which is really a 200-acre farm with several businesses on it, is one of his favorite sales territories. He’s a “praise the lord” kind of guy. He sells big fat jumbo prawns that were wild caught. We bought a couple of pounds and made a very nice dinner out of half of them. The other half is in the freezer awaiting their future fate.
We also ran smack dab into the middle of the Savannah Farmer’s Market, which takes over about half of Forsyth Park. Savannah’s downtown has so many greenspace parks that you can see at least 2 other ones from each of them. We walked about 4 miles Saturday morning and walked through at least 10 of them if you count the few we walked through twice. And we didn’t walk through them all. I felt bad for the half dozen stands selling local coffee because it was already in the high 80’s and quite humid by 10AM. We also saw several examples of Civil War statuary. Apparently they don’t tear down their history around here.
In other Breaking News: Georgia must hold the record for Amber Alerts. Since we arrived Friday night, there have been at least 6 by Saturday afternoon, and there were 3 more Sunday morning. We had the 10th one coming home from the beach at Tybee Island on Sunday afternoon. A few were repeats, but I don’t think I’ve had a total of 10 Amber Alerts in my life, much less 10 in 2 days.
There don’t appear to be a lot of Jews in Savannah. There are, like other southern towns and cities, churches on every corner, and sometimes in the middle of the block. But in Savannah, only one synagogue, Mickve Israel. While it isn’t unusual to have a temple in a town, it is very unusual that it would rival any of the churches in stature. The Jews, however, played a very instrumental role in the development and survival of early Savannah. Shortly after its founding, the local Catholics found themselves struggling to survive the rigors of growing a new city amid the humid climate and the hostile natives. Medical issues abounded and would have done in the early population were it not for the small cadre of Jews, all doctors, that came to their rescue. For this mitzvah, they were granted significant rights of township and license, and the Jewish population descended from this act of humanity thrives to this day in an obvious harmony with all the other history of this place. America, are you listening yet?
Did I mention that it was nearly 90 degrees at 10AM? When my internal thermometer starts to read a little high, I like to turn to ice cream as my preferred cooler. We found a small shop, Locally Made, that had not only very good ice cream, but the coolest counter I’ve seen yet.
For having no plans, we managed to make Saturday a very busy day. So, on Sunday, we rested. At the beach. Tybee North Beach on Tybee Island just east of Savannah. It was warmer on Sunday than Saturday, but the beach is right on the Atlantic, and the breezes that blew were cooling and comfortable.
We wound up our beach relaxation with a crab boil lunch at the Crab Shack, an area favorite that is extremely casual (I didn’t even change out of swimsuit or tank top) and has great food. We got a platter of goodies, and ate the whole thing: corn, potatoes, sausage, crawdads, snow crab, shrimp and mussels. They even have a gator pond so you can see what your backyard might potentially look like if you are moving to Florida.
On our last day as Pre-Floridians, we are excited to get to our new home and get started on getting settled. There is a lot to do, and we already have 2 trips away planned, so stay tuned! We break ground pretty soon!
Tippy is feeling a bit more full-blown-hippie, like me after my 5 weeks without a haircut or shaving.
Asheville North Carolina became a waystation for a 2-night rest-up because there are 2 things there we were interested to see, the Biltmore Estate and The Asheville Urban Trail. Both are rich in history. We know for a fact that one actually exists; we cannot say for sure the other is anything more than urban myth.
We stayed 2 nights at Wilson’s Riverfront RV, a very small RV camp that fronts the French Broad River. It wasn’t apparent that the woman this river is named after was either French or a broad, and besides I thought it impolite to hang that old-school description on her. Full disclosure: I may be somewhat misinformed about the origin of the namesake of this particular body of water.
The campground was very nice except for 2 anomalies: it is located midway between 2 interstates, thus a fair amount of road noise seeps in; although it is easy to drive FROM, it isn’t easy to drive TO when transiting back and forth to the city itself. This is due to the fact that the entrance to the campground is at the foot of an offramp, and if you can’t stomach the high-speed Evel Knevel U-turn at the bottom of the ramp into the driveway, you have to drive past and make the U-turn farther down the road. In any event, our GPS navigation on our phones was very happy to find a short way out of the park and into the city, but not so smart about finding a short way back. It always routed us back to the Interstate to make another aircraft carrier landing back into the driveway, even though there is a much tamer way to do it.
There is one more nice thing about the campground, it’s adjacent to the French Broad River Greenbelt walk, in fact the walk goes right through the center of the campground, right down the middle of the drive. It’s a very lovely 1 mile each-way walk to Hominy Creek Park and back. Spoiler alert: we added a piece of it to our MuddUrban Trail (details to follow).
First up was the Biltmore Estate. Because the directions to the entrance aren’t all that clear, and our tickets for the estate tour had a specific arrival time of 9:30AM, we went early to make sure we didn’t miss a window of opportunity. This worked out very well for us! The advertised opening time for the entrance gate to the 8000-acre estate is 9AM, and the website advised us to arrive early to make sure we would have time to drive several miles inside the estate to the house tour location, park, and then walk another distance to the actual tour start. We left the trailer at 8AM, arrived at the entrance gate at 8:13AM, and they had just swung it open early for some reason.
They scanned our tickets and let us in, and we arrived at the parking a few minutes later. We walked from the parking to the tour entrance security shack (where we got scanned for the first of 3 times) in another couple of minutes and found ourselves on the estate property before anyone else except employees. Just like Carlsbad Caverns, we had the place to ourselves.
So, we cooled our jets walking the very extensive gardens (there are 5, and they are very large) until we could queue up at the door to the massive house for our 9:30 AM start time. By then, a couple of hundred other guests had joined, but we still felt special.
The house tour was impressive, and we highly advise that if you ever do this make sure to get the Audio Tour option. It would be wasted without the little device you hold to your ear to get the lowdown at each numbered feature. The tour itself is pricey, $94 each (audio tour included), but it’s the only time in our life we will do it, for sure. We did notice several couples that must have an annual pass who park in a different lot and just walk the dozens of miles of paths on the estate without going on the house tour. It’s such a beautiful place to walk.
One thing stood out during our time at the estate. I opted to wear one of my political statement t-shirts (mostly because it was on top of the stack) which reads “DEFUND THE MEDIA”, and this caught a lot of eyes. We almost couldn’t walk 50 yards without somebody commenting on it, in a positive way. This same shirt got a total of 3 such responses in the 3 prior weeks, and all of a sudden, every tourist in Asheville thinks it poignant. It certainly is a conversation starter.
After the roughly 2-hour tour, we popped over to the Stable House and enjoyed an ice cream, then took a long leisurely drive around the estate back to the exit and onto the Interstate for another carrier landing shot at the RV Park. We rested for an hour or so and headed for the city proper to check out the Urban Trail and some lunch.
Our GPS and the Asheville website took us exactly to the “First Stop” of the Asheville Urban Trail, which featured a brass plaque affixed in brickwork. Except it doesn’t exist, at least as far as we could see. We found, at that exact spot, a small square (Pack Square) where there apparently used to be a Civil War statue that was found to be objectionable by the city council 2 years ago. The monument celebrated a war general (not sure whether he was Union or Confederate) that apparently was a slave owner, so they tore it down and removed the commemoration plaque. We think this also did the First Stop of the Urban Trail in, and it was key because it also gave you instructions on how to find the Second Stop, and so on down the line. Without that key guidance we couldn’t navigate to the next stop, so we decided to strike out on our own (pioneers we are!) and started the MuddUrban Trail. And we didn’t confine our scope to the city core either. Our First Stop was way back on the French Broad River Greenbelt path, midway between Wilson’s Riverfront RV and Hominy Creek River Park. There’s no guarantee that this feature will be here for any substantial period of time, but when it finally comes down everyone in the United States will be made aware of it, because it’s part of the support structure for Interstate 40 directly above it.
Next stop on the MuddUrban Trail is Chicken Alley. We have no idea how this name got applied (note the plethora of dead chickens hanging), but the mural earned it a spot on our roster.
In fairness, each of our highlight spots won’t provide any navigation to the next, you will literally need to have a printout of this blog to have even a slim chance of traveling this trail.
Our next feature is Gnome Row. Along one of the streets leading away from Chicken Alley, some witty local has fashioned a bunch of small facades on bare spots of the building wall, giving the impression of a block of gnomish brownstones.
In a nod to the richness of agricultural history, our next stop features a couple of pigs. Editor’s note: the pig wearing the t-shirt isn’t actually a part of the local agricultural history.
Showcasing entertainment, Wendy introduces us to our next stop, the Dancing Brass.
In a plug for the religious cultural past (and very likely present) of Asheville, our next stop is the St. Lawrence Basilica, a Catholic construction from the late 1800’s that was not only beautiful inside, but cool as well with some impressive air conditioning.
Sharing the only actual Urban Trail marker we saw is our next stop, a plaque commemorating the architect of the St. Lawrence Basilica, Rafael Guastavino.
By now having worked up one heck of an appetite (11,000 steps for the day and counting), we add our last stop on the MuddUrban Trail, Mountain Madre, found almost by chance in a back alley, and serving fabulous Central American cuisine where we dined ala patio.
While we couldn’t easily find it, I’m sure the Urban Trail exists. After all, we did find a marker, even if purely by accident. But you don’t need a formal trail to have fun exploring any city. You need good walking shoes, and an adventurous spirit. And water. Plenty of water.
Tippy is a big believer in remembering the past so you don’t repeat the mistakes.
Our first ever visit to Nashville coincided with, unplanned, preparations for CMA Fest, the largest gathering of country music stars and fans on the planet. We spent 3 nights in Nashville in order to have 2 full days to explore, again signing up for a walking tour of historical and interesting sights. Given a few days in any new city, we always try to opt for a walking tour on the first day to hopefully scope out things we want to spend more time exploring on subsequent days. But this time we didn’t book early enough and could only garner a spot on the second day. So, we had the first day to explore on our own.
We imagined Nashville might have some of the same qualities as Memphis, both being southern towns heavily influenced by music and barbeque. Boy, were we wrong. Maybe it was just all the hoopla and preparations for CMA Fest, because the entire waterfront along the Cumberland River was fenced off, almost all the public squares in town were fenced off, large trucks blocked entire city blocks in the central core of downtown, all unloading pallets and cases of equipment, bleachers, portable stages, food equipment, and even portable gift shops. And even though it was a Monday, the streets were packed with redneck tourists decked out in cowboy hats, short-shorts and boots. Yeehaw! I felt like I’d been dropped into a remake of Urban Cowboy and could only ponder to myself “look at all this loose money just walking around!”. PT Barnum would’ve gone nuts. We had to go to 3 different Starbucks to get our chosen flavor of Frappuccino, Green Tea. And the cowboys (and girls, and kids, and babies) were lined up 3 deep to order. And, to boot (pun intended), they ran ½ out of our favorite flavor and had to blend with another to deliver. Sheesh!
We parked at the Nashville Farmer’s Market, open 7 days a week all year, only to find out that not all of it is open 7 days a week. Actually, a very small portion of it is open 7 days a week, and that’s mostly prepared food. But the parking was free, even if it was ½ mile northwest of downtown. We did a self-unguided tour on foot, meaning we didn’t have any direction to go or destinations to reach, we just walked.
Nashville has 2 prime tourist areas, Broadway and The Gulch. Broadway bisects downtown, leading straight away from the river, and The Gulch lies southeast of downtown about ½ mile or so. We didn’t make it to The Gulch, but it wasn’t very hard to find Broadway. When you get within a city block of it, the ambient sound level starts to climb. At first, the traffic noise picks up, amplified by tour buses, trucks, cars seeking parking, and dozens of “golf cart tours”, gas powered 6 and 8 seat golf carts stuffed full of tourists with a bullhorn blaring driver roaring out the significance of each establishment they scoot by. Closer in you start to hear the honkeytonks, live music bars already cranked up to 300 decibels with all their street-side windows open and going like gangbusters at 10AM. On a Monday. I kid you not. It was surreal, and deafening. We’re not big “club people” mostly because we don’t drink, and I wear hearing aids and there wasn’t a setting I could find that could deal with the din. We walked on, and on, and on because the honkeytonks are stacked shoulder-to-shoulder for about a mile along Broadway, starting with Legends.
Kid Rock’s place (the same one he famously foul-mouthed Oprah and Joy Behar in a drunken rant in 2019), Blake Shelton’s Big Red bar, shadowed by Miranda Lambert’s new bar. Blake and Miranda, a big-time country couple, divorced and she decided to open a competing bar next door just to get under his skin. They both got into my ear drums, let me tell you!
We wandered and dodged folk for a couple of hours, and then decided we had enough. We popped into Jacks BBQ on Broadway (exquisitely good) and got a massive platter to take out, headed back to the truck, and made our way back to the quiet of the RV park, and the coolness of the pool. Monday was in the low 80’s, but with low humidity, and it wasn’t too uncomfortable walking our 10,000 steps. We even found a cool magnet to add to our collection. We thought the weather wasn’t unbearable, and that we would be fine for another 2-hour walk with the tour on Tuesday.
That was before the Monday night thunderstorm spectacular. Several hours of one storm after another, with huge booming thunder followed by a torrential downpour that gave a few more much needed baths to the trailer and truck. Behind that weather front came the humidity.
Tuesday morning, with the humidity in place, the temp ratcheted up another 8 degrees or so, and downtown Nashville started to feel like a sauna at 9AM. We had a big group of about 15 folks, and our tour guide Ryan corralled us all into a group and we set off. Ryan’s shirt didn’t start the tour out very dry, and within ½ hour it was all one color again, totally soaked.
He didn’t seem to mind and pumped out the historical stories laced with humor like a tape recorder for 2 hours. Above he is giving us the rundown on Skull’s, an original building whose basement level had a wide variety of adult-only entertainment. Skull, a real guy, was best friends with many of the Mayors of Nashville over the years. Ryan is a very colorful guide, and our tour was highly interactive (he made us all sing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” on one street corner). Did you know the Tennessee State House is the last state capitol building built by slave labor? Did you know there is a Greyhound Bus atop the Bobby Hotel? Did you guess it’s a bar? Do you know who Bobby is? Nobody does, it’s just a name they pulled out of a hat and threw in front of a focus group when they planned the hotel. The bus is cool, though.
Johnny Cash is ubiquitous in Nashville. He has a museum (we didn’t go, it seemed too expensive) and next-door a bar and grill (also didn’t go), and his face is painted or postered all over the town. And there are countless venues, almost all in cavernous buildings, that either celebrate Music or Sports.
One that was supposed to celebrate music is the new AT&T building, designed to look like a radio receiver but instead ended up looking like what it is now nicknamed: the Batman Building.
This is the very same building that some maniac tried to blow up with an RV full of explosives on Christmas morning in 2020 because he thought 5G cellular signals were spreading Covid. It didn’t dent the building but blew the hell out of all the historic buildings on the rest of the city block. And blew up the guy too, they never found all of him. They are still working on demolition and repairs. Well, I suppose he did much of the demolition, but the repairs are a different department.
Next up: Asheville North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate, and The Urban Trail.
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