Big Southwestern Trip Stop #3, McKinney Falls State Park in Austin

McKinney Falls State Park was a great spot from which to see Austin and is a wonderful park in general. The sites are large and our site #42 was perfect.

We chose to camp in Austin because it was close to nearby family and we loved the McKinney State Park.  It offered everything we needed for two days in the area.  This park had very nice showers too.   Our site was very large, offered a lot of privacy, and was only about 200 feet from the bathhouse, which was immaculate.   The park is very close to downtown Austin with the only downside of some road noise.

Site # 42

We would be away from the campsite for all of our one full day there, so we did not do anything beyond hooking up power and water and putting a tarp over the gear that rides inside our camper.  Rain was expected and we wanted to be able depart easily.

We needed an indoor activity and had arranged to meet a couple of beloved cousins at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum.  We enjoyed the museum and learned a lot about this country’s thirty-sixth president (1963-1969). The android in the photo below depicts Johnson’s mannerisms and the way he used humor to make a point.

President Johnson Android

The library included a replica of the Oval Office as it was in the Johnson years.

Replica of Oval Office

Johnson was known for being very persuasive and for getting up close and personal.  There was a name for it, “The Johnson Treatment.”

Big Guy and cousin getting the “Johnson Treatment”

The library also included a video about events in his presidency, articles from the Johnson family’s  life, an exhibit of pop culture of the time, and a film about his family life.  We were there about two hours and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We then had a very nice lunch with the cousins at Quality Seafood, which has amazing gumbo!  It was great spending quality time with them and we were appreciative that they drove quite a few miles in the rain to hang with us.

Hanging out with cousins

Before heading back to our campsite, we visited the Texas State Capitol, which is the largest state capital in the United States.  The Italian Renaissance Revival building, which was completed in 1888, is quite beautiful.  At the time of its construction, it was reputed to be the seventh largest building in the world.

Texas State Capitol
View from inside the rotunda
The dome
The Senate Floor
The House of Representatives

An enormous underground extension was added in 1993. It doubled the space available for state business.  In the photo below, you can see the Capitol Building through the skylight.

Looking up from underground extension

We took a free guided tour, which was very informative.  After the tour, we rented a couple of movies at Redbox and headed back to camp.  This was another part of the rainy day plan.

Our next stop is Del Rio, Texas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Southwestern Trip, Stop #2 Sea Rim State Park in Texas

Sea Rim State Park was a new experience for us—no showers and a pit toilet.

Sea Rim was our first experience in a Texas State Park.  It was chosen because it was along our southwest path and near Houston, where we have relatives.  The ratings were good and I booked it without thoroughly researching.  The day before we were to camp there, I read reviews from several sources.  Three things that I read concerned me:

  1.  There were no indoor showers.  Only outdoor showers for removing sand.
  2. Allegators were prominently mentioned in the reviews.  Sightings were numerous!  Late night treks to the restroom concerned me.
  3. Mosquitos were mentioned as being vicious.  I had naively thought that since we were traveling in the winter,  we would not have significant problems with them.

We adopted a stoic attitude, recognizing that not all of the time spent on this trip will be comfortable and there will be challenges.  I told my husband I was going to be “pioneer woman”.

It actually was not as bad as I feared. Our son told us that when he had been camping with no showers, they used baby wipes.  I had stowed some towelettes designed for just that purpose from when my husband was in the hospital so we had a solution for the lack of a shower.

Site # 4

Though it was about 2 p.m. when we arrived, it was amazingly foggy.  The sun was shining, but it barely showed through the fog.  It looked very “other worldly.”  Our campsite was simple as it was for only one night.  It is a very long drive into Sea Rim through oil well facilities with little or no commerce and restaurant options were non-existent.  My big guy cooked a nice meal for us.  It was pleasant and bugs were not bothering us at that time.

We walked over the boardwalk to the beach and it was even foggier there, but it felt good to have the salt air blowing in us.  It was so humid that my hair remained damp the entire time we were outside.

Foggy view of the gulf
A foggy walk on the beach

We enjoyed our afternoon.  We did not see a single alligator, which was fine by me, though my husband would have liked it.

As soon as it was almost dark, the mosquito army arrived and we were under siege.  At least two dozen managed to make it into our cabin and we were killing mosquitoes for at least an hour.  I have identified about eight bites and my husband got quite a few too.  Most unpleasant!

On the plus side, the temperature was comfortable and were fell asleep to the sounds and smell of the sea.  The restroom was close and not bad, though it was what is described as a pit toilet.  It was basically a building with a men’s and women’s toilet over a pit about six feet deep.  Surprisingly, it did not smell bad.  The facility was clean and well-maintained.  I did look out for alligators as I made the trek.

The next morning, most of the fog had lifted and it was a beautiful, sunny day.  This remote park was lovely if you don’t consider the mosquitoes.  The ranger did say that they were very bad when we arrived.

Ready to go to Austin
View of the marsh and boardwalk 

The next stop is McKinney State Park in Austin and it has showers.  Yea!

 

Sea Rim State Park

 

Big Southwestern Trip, Stop # 1 Natchez State Park in Mississippi

We are taking a winter trip along the southwestern border of the United States in our T@G MAXL camper. Stop number one was in Mississippi.

Natchez State Park was the first stop of our first long trip in our teardrop camper.  The longest prior trip was seven days and this trip is expected to last about four weeks.  We don’t really know what to expect as we have never spent so much continuous time in our tiny camper and have not driven in most of the areas.  Lastly, although we will be south of most of the country, we will be traveling in the winter.  Exciting—but scary!

One of the trip goals was to limit driving hours to 3-5 hours each day.  Natchez was a five hour drive and on the long end of our goal, but it gets us well on our path.

It was our first time to camp in Mississippi.  We reserved site 46 through Reserve America.  It was pretty inexpensive, only $16.05 for the night. The  campground was nice with typical state park facilities.  Fishing and hunting are big activities in the area and it is my understanding that the fishing is especially good at the lake in the campground.

Rain was expected that night, so we did not really set up camp.  We just moved items that were in our camper to a picnic table and plugged in the electric cord.  We had a couple of places to visit and were having dinner out, so it would be dark when we returned.

Items removed from our the camper

Natchez is a city with a very interesting past.  I was surprised to learn that before the Civil War, more than half the millionaires in the entire country lived in Natchez.   Consequently, there are an abundance of very elegant mansions that still exist from that time.

Longwood, an Oriental Villa, is the largest octagonal house in the United States, designed by famous Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan.  Construction began in 1860 and it was to provide 30,000 square feet of living space.  It had been under construction for about eighteen months when it was halted in 1861 as tensions rose regarding the Civil War.   The owners, Haller and Julia Nutt, had the basement area completed early and were living in it while the remaining construction was occurring.  The remaining interior levels were never completed.

Longwood
Plan for First Floor
Interior room
View of upper floors through the dome

Longwood’s wealthy owner became sick and died while in his 40’s, but his wife and their children lived in it for many decades in this unfinished status.   Longwood was often referred to over the years as Nutt’s Folly.  It was acquired by the Pilgrimage Garden Club in 1970 and was designed a historic landmark in 1971.

The estate has many beautiful live oak trees such as the one below.

One of several live oak trees

Another amazing architectural design in Natchez is St Mary’s Basilica. Natchez was designated the See of the Roman Catholic Church in Mississippi and construction began in 1842 of the only church built as a cathedral in Mississippi.  It has been designated a minor basilica.

St. Mary’s Basilica

It is a beautiful building.  Unfortunately, we arrived at a time when mass was just beginning, so we did not get to take photos of the interior.  I would have loved to be able to just sit quietly in all that beauty and splendor for a few minutes.  Our schedule did not allow for a return to the basilica on this visit, but we want to see it again if we are in the area.

Main entrance with papal coat of arms on the left

Dinner was at the highly-rated Roux 61 Seafood and Grill and it lived up to its reputation.  We arrived at approximately 4 p.m. and the parking lot was full. We had some incredible chargrilled oysters!  Our favorites were the oysters, slaw, hush puppies, and bread pudding.  We shared a seafood platter and the fish and seafood were also good.   This was a very,very good meal!

Roux 61 Seafood and Grill

After dinner, we returned to our camper and watched a movie.  It was raining, but  we were dry and cozy and the temperature was perfect.

There is still much more to see in Natchez and we hope to return.

Next stop, Sea Rim State Park in Sabine Pass, Texas!

 

Planning That First Long Trip

This upcoming trip will last almost a month and cover over 5,000 miles. Previously, our longest trip was only one week and just a few hundred miles. This post covers how we tackled the planning for this much longer trip.

This trip in our teardrop begins along the U.S. southwestern border with the return back east along a bit more northern path.  It is a cool weather trip and the desire is to camp in areas with milder weather.

Planning Framework

  • Limit driving to approximately three to five hours a day.
  • Extend the trip all the way to California with camping in the path of our destination primarily near the southwestern border to minimize the impact of cold weather.
  • Travel a slightly more northern route on the return home to visit other states.
  • Stay overnight in as many states as possible.  We have a goal of camping in all the lower 48 states and we have a long way to go to reach that goal.
  • Travel early in the day to avoid driving at night and having to set up in the dark.
  • Campsites will be simple without the use of a lot of outdoor amenities as we will not be staying long in any single spot.  We purchased a smaller side tent for this trip as it is easier to use.
  • Cooking will be minimal as well, with most breakfasts at the campsites and a late lunch out in the local area.  We want to avoid chain restaurants and experience some of the better cuisine in each area.   Very small snacks such as fruit or popcorn will be our dinner.  We hope to lose a little weight on the trip or at least not gain any.
  • Visit a couple of special areas that are off the path:  Moab,  Utah and Alabama Hills, California.  I was blown away by photos posted by some campers of those spots and we determined it was worth driving extra miles to visit.  If it later becomes too much, we can omit one or both of these stops.
  • Expect to do laundry and buy groceries.  This means that packing will not have to include many more clothes than packed on previous trips and food initially packed will be breakfast and snacking options.

Determining the Stops

Once we had a framework, defining the stops on the trip was just finding places on the map that offered good camping options within the miles we would travel in a day.  We wanted to stay near towns and cities with a priority to those we have never seen or have wanted to visit.

Reservations 

One big question:  to reserve or not to reserve?   We have read about campers who just find overnight places as they go along.  This is appealing because on a long trip with many stops,  you may want to stay more or less time than you would plan.  I also worried that if everything is reserved and something happens to your plans, it could be quite costly.  Additionally, reservations would remove that stay longer or leave early option.   Ultimately, we did a hybrid.  We reserved the first few sites close to our departure date because we were fairly certain of how long we would be at those stops.  After those few stops, we are winging it!

A  written document details all our planned stops.  As time permitted, I would work on a new location.  This included researching camping options, restaurants, and activities in the area.  I also put our stops on a map.  This has helped to make this trip come alive for us before we left.  I think it has also helped to make us more prepared.

Additional Considerations

  • Mail: Our neighbor normally gets our mail when we travel, but we did not want to ask for such a long trip.  The Postal Service will put a hold on your mail and we are using this option.
  • Medications:  We had to do some advance filling of prescriptions to ensure an adequate supply over several weeks.
  • Indoor plants:  We have requested a family member to assist with this task.
  • Avoid Water Issues:  Turn off hot and cold water to washing machine while away to avoid leaking hoses.  This recommendation was from a member of a Facebook camping group.
  • Bill Paying:  Extra concern has be taken to ensure that critical bills do not go unpaid while we are not be seeing our mail.  We paid up as many bills as we could prior to leaving and set a few reminders to ensure that those expected to be issued while we were gone were handled.
  • Set travel notices:  Notified bank and credit company when and where we will be traveling.
  • Tow Vehicle and Camper Maintenance:  Oil changes, tire rotation, and replacement wiper blades were part of our preparation.  Also, overall safety checks of both camper and vehicle.
  • Supplemental Heating:  As this is a cold weather trip with many unknowns, we needed more than our usual electric blanket option.  We purchased a small ceramic heater for our travels.
  • Clothing for Various Weather:  Typical expected weather is highs in 60s and lows in the 30s.  However, warmer days and cooler nights may occur.  Layered clothing , plus coats, hats, and gloves are part of our preparations.

A lot of planning has gone into this trip.   Let’s hope that it helps it to go smoother.  We will post our adventures and assess how well this plan works.  We are excited, but just a teeny bit apprehensive as we have only been camping about eighteen months and this is very new territory for us.

Fingers crossed!

 

Escape from the Cold to Los Angeles

We were not camping in January. Instead, we sought a place to get away from winter for a few days. Los Angeles was a warm refuge for the cold month of January. We found it to be a vibrant city with lots of entertainment opportunities and excellent food.

For me, January has always been a month to dread.  The holidays are over and nothing but short, dreary days await.  It is a month of colds,  flu, and being trapped indoors.  However, now that we are retired, we have the option of going in search of a warmer place to break up the monotony.  This is a tradition I hope to maintain as long as our health allows.

Last year, we went on a cruise, but we wanted something different this year.  We have never visited Los Angeles and this seemed a good opportunity.   Los Angeles was projected to be approximately twenty-five degrees higher than our home in Alabama for the dates of our trip.  We would at least have a few days of warm weather in January.

The weather in L.A. did not disappoint.  We were there for five days at the Hilton Doubletree in the Tokyo district.  It was often cloudy but only rained one day.  Highs were in the lower 70s and lows in the upper 50s.  The location was not bad, but L.A. is so spread out that we spent a good bit of Uber time.  It is the second largest city in America and offers a large diversity of activities, but they are in a wide geographic area.  We had great experiences with Uber.  It was very efficient and the drivers were great.  For us, it was the way to go.

Day 1:

Warner Brother’s Studio Tour

L.A. is the birthplace of so many of the movies and television shows we have loved over the years and a tour of a studio seemed a logical way to begin.  The tour began on the backlots that have appeared in countless scenes in movies and television.   Our guide, Tim, explained how “street dressing” changes the look based on the needs of the current process.  For example, the street below has appeared in “The Road to Perdition” and in a current movie, “The Showman”.

Warner Brothers New York Street
Big Bang apartment exterior

We visited Stage 16, but internal photos were not allowed.  It is one of the the tallest soundstages in the worlds and the tallest in North America.  It is approximately 98’ tall inside and has been used in many disaster movies.

The tour also included costumes and props from past films.   An entire warehouse was devoted to the actual vehicles from the Batman movies.  There were models of superheroes such as Batman and the latest Wonder Woman.  There was also a replica of the Central Perk Cafe from “Friends”.

Coffee, “Friends” style

At the Forced Perspective Table, I was able to look like more of a giant than my big guy husband.  All just a cool optical illusion.

iPhone photo at the Forced perspective table

We really enjoyed the Warner Brother’s tour, located in Burbank.  It is relatively close to the Walk of Fame (WOF), so we visited it next.

The Walk of Fame

It was a wild and crazy place with many in costumes.   Larger than I had imagined, covering approximately 1.5 miles, it had stars on both sides of the street.  It was very touristy and not at all grand.   It is my understanding that there are literally thousands of stars on the walk.   Many gift shops and restaurants line the walk.  We had lunch at Subway, which was very good, except it did not have a restroom.

Bruce Lee on the Walk of Fame

We spent just a little more time at the WOF and then returned to our hotel.  I wanted to check out the Mexican neighborhood of El Pueblo, which was just under a mile from our hotel.  We walked there and looked around a bit.  They had what looked to be good restaurants, but we were not hungry.  There was a park with a gazebo around which was music and dancing.

We were ready for an adult beverage and an appetizer by the time we made it back to the hotel though.  At the Justice Tavern, it was happy hour and we relaxed there for an hour or so.   As we were a bit jet-lagged, we turned in early.

Day 2:

Getty Center

The Getty Center, located in the Brentwood neighborhood, is an amazing place and totally free to the public.  The  Getty is managed by the Getty Trust and stems from the efforts of the famous J. Paul Getty.  Land and buildings were estimated in 2013 at $3.9 billion (not including the art). Visitors must pay for parking and then ride a  tram to the buildings.  The concrete and steal architecture is complex and modern and features a beautiful garden that is a work of art.

Getty Center

The garden covers 134 thousand square feet and is the work of artist Robert Irwin with water as a focal point.

The Getty Central Garden

As beautiful as the buildings and gardens are, they are no more amazing than the art that is displayed in the museum buildings.  There is more high-quality art at the Getty than is typically seen in museums of many large cities.  For example, van Gogh’s “Irises”,  which had a price tag of $53.9 million in 1987 is there.  Works by Pissarro, Cezanne, Degas, Sisley, and Monet are displayed in the museum.  Sculptures, drawings, and ancient artifacts are also there, but I am always blown away by impressionist art.  Below is one of my favorites from the museum.

The Seine near Rouen by Claude Monet

We had lunch at the museum restaurant.  The view was beautiful and the ambience of the restaurant was elegant.    This was our most expensive meal while in L.A.   The presentation was lovely, but it did not include very much food.

Santa Monica Pier

Our next destination was the Santa Monica Pier.  It is at the end of the once vital Route 66.  The day was relatively warm, but overcast.  The boardwalk has several restaurants, food stands, artists, and souvenir stands.  Pacific Park is located there with a dozen rides, including a 130 ft. Ferris Wheel.  The pier was awash with people, despite the weather.

Santa Monica Pier

Live music was occurring several places along the pier.  One group called Lilac performed 80’s rock music.  They are a family of brothers and sisters, some of them children.  Different music, but it made me think of the Partridge Family.   One young lady, Clara Steegs, who performed on the pier as well, had an Alanis Morissette vibe.  I liked her so much, we bought her CD.  Lastly, a young man danced very robotically.  His flexibility and synchronized movements were amazing.   We felt very energized being in this area that was so teaming with creative people.

Family band, Lilac
Steegs

At the end of the pier, fishermen toss their lines.  The fish were not biting that day, but there was one very friendly seal that swam by us several times.

Seal near the pier

We shared a famous Japadog Kurabota Terimayo—kurobota pork, onions, Teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, and seaweed.  It was good, except we did not especially like the seaweed on top.  However, the rest of the hot dog was heavenly.

Japadog

We saw the beach and the Pacific, but not at its most beautiful because of the weather. I would love to go back to the pier. I have the feeling it would be  a different experience with each visit based on who is performing.

Santa Monica Pier

We were craving coffee and were a little hungry upon leaving the pier.  We had a light dinner at Blue Plate Taco, that is very near the pier.  It was very good.

Day 3:

Griffith Observatory 

I cannot say enough good things about the observatory.  For fans of the movie, La La Land, it is well-represented in it and other movies are as well. It is a good place to get a shot of the Hollywood Sign and beautiful views of the surrounding area.  We saw a live show in the Planetarium and another live show with real life Big Bang types who demonstrated how to make a comet.  Very entertaining!

Griffith Observatory

Chinatown 

We ended our day in Chinatown.  Unfortunately, it  was almost dark when we arrived. We had a delicious dinner at Yang Chow, famous for Slippery Shrimp.  They served the best fried rice I have ever had.   After dinner, we went in search of a Bruce Lee statue.  We found it, but it was quite dark by then.  The streets were rather confusing, so it was a scavenger hunt of sorts.

Bruce Lee Statue

Day 4:

Tour of Los Angeles

It was raining on our last full day in the city.  To protect us from the elements, we booked a tour with Guideline Tours, which offers a private group tour in a comfortable Mercedes van.   The tour covered some of the places we had already been-Downtown, Griffith Park,  and The Walk of Fame, but it also included a few movie stars homes, Beverly Hills, and Rodeo Drive, plus a stop at The Farmer’s Market for lunch.

Walt Disney Concert Hall

Our guide, Carlos, was very knowledgeable and well-versed in details and current events of the city.  The first stop was back at the Observatory.  It was Monday and the observatory was closed, which gave us an opportunity for photos without the crowds.

Griffith Observatory

The stop at the Walk of Fame gave us an opportunity to pick up souvenirs for grandchildren.  The tour had a stop at the really cool souvenir shop, La La Land.

Souvenirs and aliens

The tours of the homes was okay, but the homes we saw were from stars years ago who have passed away.  We saw the entrances of some big stars homes, but you were really just seeing a gate.  I can understand though, they deserve their privacy.   We traveled briefly through Rodeo Drive.  It was pretty elegant.

Rodeo Drive

Sadly, we were not aware of seeing anyone remotely famous.

Our tour ended with my favorite part, The Original Farmer’s Market.  It began as an oil field, but is now a trendy place with shops and wonderful restaurants.  We had Brazilian food at Pampas Grill and it was fabulous!  You pay a standard price per pound based on the meat that is chosen and you choose sides from a buffet.  Inexpensive and delicious!

It was quite rainy and cold after our tour, so we stayed at the hotel the rest of the day, relaxing and getting ready to travel home the next day.

We visited The Original Pantry for breakfast before our fight home.  The pancakes taste just like my homemade and I make great pancakes.  They give you an unbelievable amount of food for a very reasonable price.  It is an L. A. landmark with 24 hour operations since 1924.    The service was great and we loved the restaurant.

This trip was a wonderful break from the cold weather at home.  I felt that we had seen most of what we wanted in L.A. so I was not too sad to leave, but I would like to return someday.

So long, La La Land!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiny Christmas Campout in Cool Tears Magazine

Our trip to Pensacola, Florida for A Tiny Christmas Campout was written up by yours truly and published in the January issue of Cool Tears Magazine.

The first ever Tiny Christmas Campout was held at Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola, Florida last month.   We had a wonderful time and the opportunity to meet a lot of nice people with a similar camping styles.   We hope this will become an annual event.

My write-up of the campout appears in the January issue of Cool Tears magazine.  This is my first time to be published and it is a big bucket list item for me.

You can access the magazine by clicking on the link below.  You do not have to sign up to view the digital version of the magazine.  I hope you will read it and consider attending the 2018 Campout.  It is my understanding that there will likely be one this year.

https://www.cooltears.com

I hope everyone is having a good start to 2018!

A Tiny Christmas Campout

 

Retirement: First Year Highlights

Our first year of retirement has been so much better than expected in many ways. Living life to its fullest while healthy enough to enjoy it is so important. Carpe diem!

For many years, I did not consider retiring because I really loved working.  Without  work, it was a mystery how I would fill my time.  But I gave it serious thought as I approached sixty-six,  full retirement age for Social Security.   That rather big number gets you thinking about how many healthy years you may have left.  My husband was totally on board with retirement and preceded me by four months.  I retired on December 31, 2016.

Retirement Party

My plan for retirement was to continue ballroom dancing, which we have done for several years, and to travel while still healthy enough to enjoy it.   The problem with travel, as we have done in the past,  is that it is quite expensive.  We could take a few trips during the year, but there would be lots of down time at home. When we discovered that we liked teardrop camping, it enabled us to fill the time with a cool activity.  As an inexpensive way to travel, it would  allow us to go as much as we wanted.  I was actually excited about taking the retirement plunge.

This first year of retirement has gone by quickly.  I feared that I would be bored and I have been at times.  I have certainly not felt as productive as when I was working, but overall, it has been good for me.

My Greatest Fear

I love my husband dearly, but must confess:  I had concerns about us being together 24/7.  When we first married, we got along  great until it was time to take a vacation.  For the first few years, we had a lot of arguments while vacationing.  That leveled out after a few years and we usually had great  vacations.  Being together all the time, though, was a little scary.

Now that we have a year under our belt, I can honestly say that it was much easier than expected.  We do annoy each other occasionally, but I can’t think of anyone with whom I would rather spend time.  I think our success comes from my need to express my irritation as it arises and his willingness to hear it.  Can’t you imagine what a joy it is being married to me?

A Change in Income

I believe all who think about retirement worry about whether they will have enough money.  My first employer had a retirement plan in place and it provided a beginning of retirement funding at a young age.  As I changed employers (a few times in my career),  I saved  a significant portion of my salary in the retirement plans offered.  I was fortunate to work for organizations that also made generous contributions to their plans.  Still, you worry about abandoning that steady paycheck.   I have been relieved to see that we have been financially comfortable this year.  We were able to do everything we wanted without having to  worry about money.  It helps that we have a relatively simple lifestyle and have always preferred to live below our means.

We did spend a good bit more than anticipated on healthcare.  My husband and I had much more illness this year than ever before.  An October 2017 post, “Retirement:  in Sickness and in Health” describes some of our challenges.

My concern going forward is the financial stability of our current sources of income.  The stock market has been good for us for several years now, but that is certainly no guarantee for the future.  Social Security and Medicare are also important to our financial stability they are to all Americans.

Time with Family

Retirement has enabled us to have more time available to be with family, which is important to us.  We feel that we can be there as much as they need or want us to be.  We have a son who lives several hundred miles away that we were able to see more because we have more time to travel.  We attended a grandchild’s soccer events that we likely would have attended anyway, but it would have been more challenging while working.  Our daughter had surgery.  We would have been there anyway, but not working made it easier.

We have always strived to make time for family, so we have not greatly exceeded the amount of time that has occurred in the past.  Our children love us, but they don’t want or need to spend a ton of time with us because they have busy lives of their own.  I think they like that we are keeping busy and not just sitting home waiting for them to visit.   My hope is that we can stay healthy and not be a burden to them.

Loss

My much younger sister passed away suddenly this year.  She had lupus for many years, but it was still a shock.  We were not as close as I would have liked.  There was a large difference in age and we had different mothers, but I wish I had made more of an effort.  It does give me some comfort that we got together for a family lunch not long before she died.  It saddens me that she left a husband and two sons who are young adults.  Her passing is a stark reminder of how fragile our lives are.

Recreation—Our Dance Groups

Ballroom dance is well represented in our area and we are members of a dance club, and two dance groups.  This has given us abundant opportunities to dance to live bands and associate with wonderful people.  We have been dancing for approximately five years but,  I am sad to say, our skills have been declining.   My husband has a bad knee, which limits our activity.  We also may go several weeks with no dancing and what you don’t use, you lose.  I think that goes double for dancing!  It is still fun to dress up and spend an evening with great friends dancing—as best we can.

Let’s dance!

Recreation—Travel

We were blessed with an abundance of wonderful trips this first year.  We took a cruise with friends to the Western Caribbean in January.  What a great way to begin retirement in that cold, dreary month!

Most of our travel was in our tiny trailer and each trip was special in its own way.  The teardrop camping was more than just travel though.  It challenged us to adapt to new circumstances and ways of doing things.  It offered us a way to actively work toward the common goals of figuring out how to do this type of camping and to have good trips.

For me, the planner in our family, time was spent researching where to go and what to do when we got there.  Blogging about our adventures offered technology challenges and a creative outlet. There is also a bit of  work before and after each trip.

Road trips were also a part of our year with trips to Houston, Texas; Redington Shores, Florida; and Monroeville, Alabama.  They were great fun as well.

Redington Shores

Healthy Lifestyle Efforts

One thing that I adore about retirement is the ability to get enough sleep.  I believe I was sleep deprived for most of my working years and to be able to sleep as long as I want is such a luxury.

We go to the gym most weekdays and it sets a bit of a routine for us.  I have been doing Body Pump and Spin classes for many years and have been able to add a session or two a week in retirement.  The exercise helps so much to keep my back from hurting and my energy level up.  Also, exercise is a great stress reliever, which I think has helped to make us both easier to live with.

We try to eat healthy and succeed a good bit of the time, but significant weight loss eludes me.  Perhaps next year.

Projects

Our yard was devastated last year by poor weed control by our lawn service and drought.  We must have pulled a million weeds!  There has also been a lot of soil erosion because of flooding from neighboring yards.  Though mostly ignorant to gardening methods, I designed and we installed a rain garden.  It was moderately successful.  I have a post prepared, but have not yet published it.  I was definitely out of my element!

We also had our family room painted and replaced some of the furnishings.  Though we are Maw Maw and Paw Paw, we don’t want our house to look the part.

Rain Garden

A Missing Piece

I would like to find some way to do something on a routine basis to help others.  I do not want a job that would limit our flexibility to travel, but it would be nice to find a way to use my skills and abilities in a way that benefits others.  I know there are many ways a person can volunteer, but I would love to find something for which I could feel passion.  I worked for years and felt I was really making a difference in my small piece of the world and want to feel that same sense of fit in my retirement efforts.  I will have to search for that answer.

Wishing Everyone a Wonderful 2018!

 

 

 

 

Christmas Decorations at a Tiny Christmas Campout

We decorated our camper for Christmas this year at a Tiny Christmas Campout, an event that was held at Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola, Florida.

This was one of the first camping trips we booked after becoming teardroppers.  Since mid-January, we have been looking forward to a camping trip with lots of teardrops decorated for Christmas.   The campout was scheduled for early December in Pensacola, Florida.

The Campout featured a decorating contest.  Decorating is not our forte, but we gave it our best efforts.  Our T@G is blue and grey, so we went with  blue Christmas decorations.   On this trip, our 10x 10 screen room was much needed for two reasons:  it gave us a heated area to hang out in and was an area we could decorate.

Our Santa tables

We had a very Tiny Christmas tree.  The presents below were for the Dirty Santa gift exchange at the potluck dinner later that evening.

Tiny Christmas tree

We did not do much with the inside of our camper, but we did have a Christmas pillow.

Inside of camper

My friend Trish painted some wine glasses with our camper on them and some coasters with a tiny camper.  We really love them.

Teardrop wine glasses

We placed lights on the front of the camper, which did not do much for daylight viewing, but it looked pretty cool at night.

Our decorated campsite

Sadly, we did not have the best decorated site.  There were several sites much better than ours, but it was still a good experience.  We actually put far more effort into decorating our camper than we did in our house.  We met a lot of really nice people and it got us into the Christmas spirit.

This was the first ever Tiny Christmas Campout and there will likely be one again next year.  I highly recommend it!   For those who are interested, I did a write up for the event this year and it is expected to appear in the January issue of Cool Tears magazine.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a new year filled with wonderful camping adventures!

Merry Christmas Everyone!

 

 

Jensen TV & DVD Player—Basic Use with Cable or Air Antenna

This is a very basic guide for first-time users. The Jensen TV and DVD player work much like what you have at home. The biggest difference is that you must scan for channels when you move to a different location.

Our T@G teardrop camper, which was purchased a year ago, came equipped with a Jensen TV and DVD player.  We have used it, in some fashion, on every trip we have taken.  However,  we are not experts.  I know that some campers have very sophisticated equipment and powerful antennas and that is not us.

I am writing this post because I occasionally see questions about this topic.  Also, I try to think about what I would like to have had as a resource when we began camping.  If this is too basic, I apologize.

The input for reception is located near the water and electrical outlet on the camper.  It is the open circular receptacle at the top left and is used for both cable and antenna input.

Cable/antenna input

Step 1

For television viewing, the first step is to connect to a source for reception.

Much of our camping has been in State Parks or U.S. Corps of Engineers campgrounds where cable is often not provided.   However, it has been my experience to find cable in commercial campgrounds.  The set up for cable and air antennas is similar.

For cable, you need to have your own cable to attach to the campground cable block.  It is generally found on the power pedestal. Your cable links the campground cable source to the cable receptor on your camper.

If no cable is provided, you can use a variety of air antennas.  We purchased one at our RV dealership.  It was over a hundred dollars, bulky, and did not work any better than one my husband devised.  It is based on one he saw on one of the Facebook camping groups.  A photo of it,which I used for this demonstration is below.

Air antenna

Step 2

The input for the TV should be set to “TV”.  This can be done by selecting source on your remote or the source button on the bottom of your TV.

You are now ready to scan for available channels.  Select menu on the Jensen remote or by press the menu button on the bottom of the TV to do this.

Jensen Menu Screen
  • Use the right arrow on the remote to highlight “Channel” and press enter to select it.
  • Arrow down to “Air/Cable” and select the option you need.  The photo above shows air, but you can also select cable in the top line.  Once you have selected the appropriate option, arrow down and hit enter to begin “Auto Scan”.
Channel scan in progress

The scan for this demonstration was done in our basement and nine channels were found.  Once the scan ends, the first channel that was found is tuned to your television.   As you can see from the photo below, the reception was not bad.

One of the available channels

As long as you remain in the same location, you will have access to the channels identified in the scan,  even after turning off the TV.  When you move to a new campsite, you will have to perform the scan function again.

DVD Basics

We often would rather watch movies than regular television.  We either pick up Redbox movies or bring movies from home.

Jensen DVD
  • We were sad to learn that our player does not play Blue Ray and our newer movies at home are Blue Ray.  Be sure that you rent or bring regular DVDs if you do not have a Blue Ray player.
  • When playing a DVD, the input should be set to AV.
  • A positive aspect with DVDs, is that you are able to use the speakers installed in the cabin.
  • A special Jensen Remote is required for DVD operation.
  • The DVD player will play music via Bluetooth.  I have music on my phone and it works well with the player.
  • AM\FM is available on the player.
  • There is also a clock and an alarm, but we have never used it.

Apple TV

We sometimes watch Netflix on Apple TV.  Apple TV also connects to other options, such as HULU.

  • We connect the Apple cable to the HDMI plug on the back of the TV.
  • To watch Apple TV, you must be connected to a network.    We use the hotspot on our phone for the network.  Don’t do this if you don’t have available data as overages can be costly.  We increased our data package recently, so this is an available option.
  • The input source on the TV should be set to HDMI.
  • You must have the Apple remote as well.

Input Source

Below is a photo of the input options.  We have not used all of them, but I will summarize the ones we currently use.

  • TV, for cable or air antenna television viewing
  • AV, for DVD viewing
  • HDMI, for Apple TV, when plugged into HDMI receptacle on TV
Henson input options

Remotes

Below is a photo of the two Jensen remotes.   For us, Apple TV brings a third remote.  It can be a bit much, but we do like to be entertained.

Jensen remotes

We received information on the operation of our camper at the time of purchase.  They briefly covered the TV, but a month later in our first trip out, we were a little fuzzy on what to do with the TV.  We managed to get things going, but there was some trial and error.   I hope this post is helpful to new campers.

Happy Camping!

 

 

 

 

 

Anastasia State Park and St. Augustine

St. Augustine is America’s oldest city, officially founded in 1565 by Pedro Menendez. We have wanted to visit for a long time and our return from Tampa provided an opportunity.

Anastasia is the third Florida State Park visited on our trip to Tampa and we are big fans of all of them.   Anastasia offers lots of shade and privacy, a very good thing, but it does not facilitate interaction with your neighbors.  We had no neighbors across from us, and thick foliage on both sides.   The sites are on firmly-packed sand and our site, #92, was quite spacious.

With the ample shade and close bathhouse, our setup was minimal.  Also, we wanted to keep it simple as we planned to spend most of our time away from the site.  We had tons of room!   There would be plenty of room for a big rig as well, though the turn off the road is a little tight.

Site # 92
My big guy

We checked out the beach, which is within the park.  It was beautiful, but so windy!  There were 16 mph winds in St. Augustine that day, and I suspect they were a good bit higher on the beach.  There was a boardwalk to the beach, with wetlands on each side.

Boardwalk to the beach
The beach located within the park

It was quite difficult to walk on the beach with the high winds, but this would be a wonderful place on a day with better weather.   I would love to come back in late August or September, after summer crowds diminish.

It was so cold and windy that we decided to build a fire, something we have never done before while camping.   Using wood purchased from the campground store, we had a very nice fire going rather quickly.  Our hot dogs for dinner were cooked over the fire.  After dinner, we sat for a long time just watching the fire and drinking wine.  The night was chilly and the fire was mesmerizing.

Our dinner entertainment

We were up early the next day to see the sights in St. Augustine.  We parked our car at the lighthouse and took the Old Town Trolly Tour bus to the historic district.   It is a pretty small area, but my husband’s knee was not up to a lot of walking, so the trolly was a good option for us.

St. Augustine has many old structures, such as the fortress below.   Castillo De San Marcos is a U.S. National Park and the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.  Constrution began in 1672 and was completed in 1695.  Unfortunately, we did not have time for a tour, but we plan to visit it the next time we are in the city.

Castillo De San Marcos

There are many “firsts” in Saint Augustine.  The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine was America’s first parrish, founded on September8, 1565.

The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine’s oldest house is pictured below.  It was built in 1702.

Oldest House in St. Augustine                                                                                                                    

We spent some time at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park and drank some of the water.  We surely need it!  It was from the same water source as legend has it that Ponce De Leon drank in his search for the Fountain of Youth.  The water has lots of minerals and a strong sulfur taste.  It was pretty bad, but I am hoping the placebo effect will kick in.

There is a replica of a Timucua Indian village and demonstrations of how they lived.   Timucuas were the indigenous people in St. Augustine during the time that Ponce De Leon was in the area.   The park also provides live canon firings every hour.

Examples of how Timucua Indians lived

The park is beautifully landscaped and filled with peacocks, including albino peacocks like the one below.

Albino peacock
One of many canons in the park

After some educational shows at the Fountain of Youth Park , we had a late lunch at O. C. White’s Seafood and Spirits, which was recommend by a local.  The meal and service were both excellent!

A Trolly bus took us back to the lighthouse and our car.  The lighthouse is on Anastasia Island and quite impressive.  It is 140 feet high with 219 steps to the top.  I am happy to say that I made the climb.  It was not easy, but not too difficult.   It was incredibly windy at the top.   I was told that the winds were over 25 mph.

Stairway to the top
View from the top

It is still a functioning lighthouse and continues to be used for navigation.

The lighthouse at night

The Keeper’s House, built in 1876 was also a part of the tour.  It is a beautiful house with massive live oak trees in the front yard.

The Keeper’s House
Front yard at the Keeper’s House

Time constraints prevented us from doing everything we wanted.  We really needed two full days to see St. Augustine and would also want to some time to spend at the beach if the weather is good.  If we are able to go back to St. Augustine, we want to see the fort, Flagler College, and the Lightner Museum.  There are a lot of touristy places in the city, but the city has a long history and many sites worth seeing.

St. Augustine is an interesting city to visit and Anastasia State Park is an excellent campground.  We highly recommend both!

We have since returned home and are preparing for having family over for Thanksgiving.  We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!