70 Degrees in FL

With apologies to our Northern friends who are experiencing the coldest winter in recent memory, I must say we are enjoying central Florida.  Everett and I are not so far south as to be in tropical territory, but not so far north as to be cold.  As a matter of fact, Monday was a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun was shining brightly.  I decided to run a couple of errands in town while Everett was out golfing.  I pulled on a pair of capri slacks, a short-sleeved top, and my flip flops, gave Tyler Dog his “you’ve got to stay in the RV” cookie, and headed to the local Winn Dixie for some groceries.

After finding what I needed – there’s a level of compromise when hunting for familiar ingredients in regions of the country that aren’t “home” – I headed for the checkout.  As the friendly cashier scanned my items, I noticed the woman in line behind me.  She was a few years younger than I am and dressed completely different.  SHE was wearing a vest over a thermal, waffle weave, long-sleeved Henley-style shirt, heavy sweatpants and sneakers with thick socks.  She looked me up and down a couple of times.  She smiled.  And said, “Y’all one of them snowbirds, ain’t ya?”  She then proceeded to try to sell me a couple of acres of swamp land along the Withlacoochee River that had been in her family “for generations without doing us much good.”  I believe I was lucky enough to experience the rare sighting of a native Floridian!

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OMG DISNEY!!!

We’re at the Fort Wilderness Campground at Disney for a week.  This is a big step for Everett & I as we 1) don’t like kids, 2) don’t like to be in crowds of people, 3) are not fond of using public transportation (i.e. not being in control of the ride), and 4) aren’t really “Disney People”.  We define “Disney People” as those who decorate their RVs with Disney lights, signs, and mouse ears.  Every T-shirt they own is Disney licensed.  These are the folks who start wearing their Disney Santa Hats with mouse ears on December 1st.  There are a LOT of those people here.  You should see the Christmas lights!!!  (no, we didn’t get any pictures last night, but we will, we will)

So . . . we will struggle to stay on our Fast Pass schedule and not snipe at the parents of crying children.  Or barking dogs – during Tyler’s dog walk last night one lady shouted over the hysterical yapping of her Tibetan Spaniel that “he doesn’t like other dogs, but he’s lovely with just people.”  Who could tell?

Everett promises not to be crabby about the sounds of fireworks from 3 different parks after 9pm.  I promise not to give parenting advice to anyone, regardless of how they’re struggling.  We both promise to make an effort to have a good time.  I booked this trip and I’m GOING to have FUN.  Can you tell I’m up too early?  Our breakfast reservations are for 8am.  Ugh.  I’m sure it will be an incredible, enchanted, happy, happy day!  But I’ll keep you posted.

Northerners Anonymous

“Hello, my name is Ethel.”

Chorus:  “Hi Ethel!”

“Umm, yeah, my name is Ethel, and I’m a recovering Northerner.”

Chorus: “Welcome to Florida, Ethel!”

Look, I was born and raised in New England.  I believed to the bottom of my warm woolen double knitted socks that if you didn’t have the fortitude to stick out eight or nine months of cold and snow, you didn’t deserve to enjoy the short but perfect New England summer.

December in Maine

December in Maine

We used to joke about it:

“Say, Everett, what do you want to do this summer?”

“Gee I’m sorry, Ethel, I’ve got to work that weekend.”

But I was SOOOOOO sick of shoveling snow.  Again, I realize this is sacrilege to a good Northerner.  It’s healthy exercise, warms one up, clears paths and decks for winter use.  But we were tired of it and decided to winter down south after retirement.

So here we are in central Florida.  In December.  In the sunshine.  75° Fahrenheit.  No jacket.  Flip flops on my feet for crying out loud.  And BLOOMING FLOWERS!!!  No one ever told me there would be winter-blooming flowers!  I mean, I’d heard of Christmas Cactus and Poinsettias, but those are indoor plants that sit in your grandmother’s dining room.  Everett and I went to the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville this Monday and there was COLOR!  Outside!  We even saw a blooming BANANA TREE!

It IS winter.  It still gets dark around 4:30, 5pm down here, just like up North.  But the locals call anything below 70° “freezing”.  And I can walk my dog 3 times a day without spending 20 minutes getting bundled up before and unbundled after.  And I can stop to smell the flowers EVERY time.

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The Art of Public Peeing

Public Bathroom StandardOne of the reasons given by many motorhome owners for being motorhome owners is the ability to pee in private even on the road.  Taking your own bathroom with you is, indeed, one of the reasons we wanted to RV.  Your own bathroom, your own bedroom, your own kitchen – just a different backyard whenever you like.  Great!  But popping back for a pee while doing 70 on a 4-lane highway surrounded by 18-wheeled tractor trailers just doesn’t appeal to me.  Especially when every state I’ve been in so far has been kind enough to provide many rest areas with perfectly stationary facilities.  This is one reason we tow a 5th wheel instead of driving a motorhome.

There are (or certainly should be) certain rules for peeing in public.  I recently posted “Men’s Room Mayhem – Number Two” (a re-blog from “Flying Here in the Middle of Somewhere”) and promised a follow up regarding us ladies.  Here ’tis:

The number one rule for number one on the road is DON’T WAIT TOO LONG!  Regardless of how many miles or hours your dear driver wishes to complete before day’s end, you must take a pee break while you still have the time to get out of the truck, walk to the restroom, and get those knickers down before the urge becomes the purge.  You can compromise with your dear driver by minimizing the amount of coffee, juice, water, etc. you consume on travel days.

Secondly, always CHECK THAT THERE’S A GOOD SUPPLY OF T.P. before taking a seat!  There are few things as awful as being stuck in a stall waiting for another lady to enter so you can beg her to pass some paper under the door.  Some of you may say, “well this one’s easy as I must line said seat WITH T.P. before going further,” but I’m afraid the rest of us must remember to check.  Just to be safe, I try to always carry one of those tissue purse packs you can find in any grocery store (note to Santa: they make great stocking stuffers!).

Kleenex Purse PacksThird – and this is an important one that greatly affects the rest of us – TAKE A SEAT!  I’ve seen the results of you one-leg-leaners and hoverers, so afraid of potential germs that you will not commit your skin to the plastic rim.  If you cannot overcome your fears or  take the time to become a seat liner (see paragraph above), at least have the decency to clean up your own splashes, drops, and puddles before you leave.

Next is NOISE.  Thou shalt minimize noise.  I realize many of you have never been to a public bathroom without a posse of your girlfriends, but that only works for restaurants and bars.  In travel rest stops we are each alone with our bladders and our thoughts.  This is not a place for conversation (which is part of why the T.P.-supply-begging situation noted in Rule 2 is so awful!).  Getting in, done, and out quickly and quietly is expected.

Lastly is LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAVE!  Be sure the flush completed its job, that your seat liners have been fully cleared, and the little corners of T.P. that ripped off before you could get a good, long, strip, have been flushed or put in the trash.  Have you zipped up?  Checked for a T.P. “tail”?  Gathered your purse, sunglasses, keys, and anything else you brought in with you?  Don’t forget to wash your hands.  Okay, now you may leave.

Interstate Two-Step Part 4

What possesses a man to wake up one day and say “I think I’ll buy a camel”?  Matilda’s owner was just a regular joe farmer who drove to Ohio 20 years ago and brought back a camel.  Did he look out over his fields and think, “I’ve got cows and horses and ponies and sheep – I need something new”?  Why a camel and not a goat?  There seems to be something in the American character that makes us dream big dreams – and follow them through.  This farmer wanted something different and enjoyed sharing his dream with random passers-by like us.

Another Pennsylvania native, Laurence Gieringer, also had a dream.  When he was 10-years old, he and his brother Paul hiked up a mountain and looked back down on the town of Reading.  They were impressed with how small the buildings and vehicles and people looked, and it changed their lives.  Paul was called to God and became a Catholic priest.  Laurence started building miniatures and over three decades put together an exhibit called Roadside America.  It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  Not just a miniature railroad, but a glimpse at our country’s past, with touching bits of mechanized humor (such as the hunter trying to aim at a rabbit who keeps disappearing down a hole).  Mr. Gieringer raised the money and put up an entire building to house his miniature world, plonked on the side of Route 78 to attract as many visitors to Shartlesville as possible.  Unfortunately for them, the highway was upgraded, widened, and bypassed the attraction.  Instead of simply driving in off the road, you now have to go to the next exit and backtrack.  Still, there were several other couples besides us there to see the “Night Pageant” (which I can’t adequately describe, but involved sitting in the dark listening to Kate Smith sing God Bless America as the vast diorama’s many buildings and trains turned on their evening lights and the stars shone down from the ceiling, and an ancient slide show of patriotic drawings was projected on the far wall).  Mr. Gieringer has long since passed away, but his dream lives on, however dog-eared at the corners.

To get just a tad sentimental and creaky here, let me say that these two Pennsylvania men epitomize for me the true American spirit.  It isn’t just New England (biased as I am toward that region).  This whole country is full of dreamers and builders and folks who just DO so much to satisfy their right to the pursuit of happiness.  We will always be a country of bright prospects so long as anyone wakes up and says, “Today I think I’ll…”

Roadside America 2013

Roadside America 2013

1890's Town

1890’s Town

1950's Suburbia

1950’s Suburbia

God Bless America

God Bless America

Interstate Two-Step Part 3

“Everett,” I said.

“Uh huh?”

“I just saw a camel in that field.”

“Uh huh.”

First let me explain that Everett has been de-sensitized to my “sightings” as I’ve been known to mistake a wild turkey for a dinosaur, and many of the bears, moose and gargantuan hawks I’ve “seen” have definitely been products of my imagination.  Brought on by the boredom of perpetually being the passenger in Everett’s domination of the driver’s seat, no doubt.  THIS however, was different.

“Everett, you’ve got to turn around!  I’m SURE I saw a camel!”

We were on a back road – a winding, narrow back road through rolling farm country – taking us from our camp site in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania  to the Cabella’s retail store in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.  Being proud holders of the Cabela’s Club Credit Card we had earned enough points through fuel and grocery purchases that we had several hundred dollars’ worth to spend at this, their largest store in the country.  A mecca of outdoor sports and camping equipment and good country-style clothing, Cabella’s has everything Everett and I could ever need or want.  Plus a museum quality exhibit of taxidermy (stuffed animals from prairie dogs to polar bears), a walk-through fresh water aquarium, a shooting gallery, and a restaurant.  We might stay for days.  With all that to look forward to, Everett nonetheless turned the truck around in somebody’s driveway and headed back to my camel field.  He’s a saint.

He was not surprised when we arrived at the whitewashed paddock to see a couple of ponies and four or five horses – but no camel.  I spotted a man tinkering underneath an old pick-up and hollered, “Excuse me . . . do you have a camel in that field?”

“Matter of fact, I do,” the man said as he rolled out from under the truck and wiped his hands on his jeans.  “Want to see her?”  He walked up to the paddock and shouted, “Hey, Matilda!  You’ve got visitors.”

The man, who never offered his name, said that Matilda likes dog kibble as a treat.  We happened to have some in the truck (what dog owner doesn’t?) and offered her a palm full.  Everett didn’t get a picture of Matilda’s giant flexible lips engulfing my entire hand while gently sucking kibble from it, ’cause he was laughing too hard.

Matilda Coming to Greet Visitors

Matilda Coming to Greet Visitors

Hello!

Hello!

Giant Lips Flying

Giant Lips Flying

Thanx for the kibble.

Thanx for the kibble.

Interstate Two-Step Part 2

After finally leaving NH, we headed south through the diesel desert of Massachusetts. Have you EVER tried to find a diesel fueling station on Route 495?!?!?!  We drove our no-more-than-250-miles-a-day allotment and stopped at the Brook Bend Campground in Thomaston, Connecticut, where only two tenths of a mile away, a gas station sold diesel – yay!  Thomaston does not look like a town that would have a campground.  It’s an old mill town, having been the home of the Seth Thomas Tower Clock Manufacturing Plant and many other large factories during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  It LOOKS like an old mill town.  But tucked away between the sewage treatment plant and a large brook, an old horse farm was converted into RV and tent sites.  No need to enforce the 5 mph rule here – the road in (between an ancient oak tree and the original farmhouse) is so narrow and curves in so many places that cars and campers just naturally go slow.  Once you’re “down in the field”, it’s an amazingly lovely little place filled with friendly seasonal campers, dogs – lots of dogs – and one African Gray Parrot who sits in the front window of his owners’ Class A and curses the dogs.

Passenger train service from Thomaston was shut down in 1963, but the station has been restored and is operated by the Railroad Museum of New England.  Their billboard on the highway drew our attention.  Their website informed us of the Saturday Pumpkin Train.  We HAD to stay.  The depot building is an incredible example of architecture from a time when making public places beautiful was an art and craftsmen took great pride in their work.  Look at these roof joists!

Thomaston Station Supports Thomaston Station

Thomaston Station Pumpkin TrainThe train ride itself was an hour and a half of gorgeous views, happy families, and a well-narrated history of the area.  The only flaw in the entire day was when Everett learned the pumpkin patch stop was for CHILDREN ONLY.  He complained his adult ticket had cost more than a kid’s ticket, so he ought to get a pumpkin too!

Seth Thomas Tower Clock Manufacturing Plant

Seth Thomas Tower Clock Manufacturing Plant

Thomaston Pumpkin Field 6

only the KIDS could take pumpkins!

Thomaston Train Views 2

Thomaston Station Caboose 2

Our 2-day Thomaston adventure was topped off by discovering a great little cigar bar in the next town over (The SmokeEasy, Watertown, CT).  The hosts and some regular customers made us feel right at home by sharing a good smoke, friendly conversation, and some of the owner’s delicious homemade sausage and cheese.

Coming soon:  Part 3 – Shartlesville, PA (Cabela’s, Roadside America, and Matilda)