Monthly Archives: January 2015

Day 406 On The Road, Naples, Florida

IMG_4703Took this on my last morning walk with the dogs here in Naples!  This RV park has tons of retired veterans and patriotic folks, so there are flags flying all down the road.  It’s an easy 2 mile loop around the lake, and if I go early enough, I have the place almost to myself.  It is fun to greet everyone I’ve met and all their dogs.  Everyone thinks Lady and Jessica are so cute leashed together, until Lady tries to lick their faces and Jess goes for their ankles.

I’m going to miss Naples.  It was culture shock for the first week, but after that it became so easy to live and grocery shopping is tons better than the Keys.  It’s a booming area, with high-end mansions and RV parks all nestled in their own little gated communities.  Surrounded by canals that have alligators and egrets and heron living in them.  I can do without the alligators, they are as much of a nuisance here as the deer were at home, although it is fun to look for them sunning themselves as we drive by.  The streets are all 6-12 lanes wide, and if you don’t get over to a turn lane way in advance, too bad, because no one lets you in.  They are MANIAC drivers here and I hope their rates are sky high to make up for all the accidents they cause.  Seriously, they are crazy drivers.  And it’s not just the 12 million snowbirds that are burgeoning the road and causing trouble, the young locals do a good job, too!

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I am going to miss this library.  A regional one about 9 miles away from the park, we drove to it each week day for the kids to do homeschooling, for me to study for my real estate exam, and for Dan to help us all.  This courtyard was my afternoon spot, and I wish I could take it with me!  The library itself was in a beautiful old Spanish style, but the interior had been renovated about 10 years earlier, so the wifi worked.  I got to know a few of the other regulars, characters each one, and am truly grateful for the reference librarian who proctored my online exam – even though I had to sit at the main desk with a sign in front of me that said, “ask next librarian” – and people STILL asked me questions!  Funny.

IMG_4729We took an airboat tour today to celebrate the end of the school semester and our last day here.  This lovely guy didn’t move a muscle the whole five minutes we watched him. Didn’t even blink!  This is a private estate on Lake Trafford, and they run cattle back in there, and have horses and other animals all over the property.  I’m thinking that going out on the big deck and seeing this guy wouldn’t be half as relaxing as the languid hot and humid days in the Keys where it was all we could do to walk to the chairs and stare at the Gulf.

The hour long tour was fun, but silly expensive, and I felt guilty for taking it as soon as we sat down.  We wanted to experience the ride as much as we wanted to see the wildlife, and the boat whipping across the open water didn’t disappoint.  I just felt bad that here we were, another boat load of dumb tourists, polluting this beautiful lake and the very precious habitat of so many species.  Florida State University does a lot of work with the state to try to maintain this vital area, and they have to work really hard now, with the dire water situation in the whole Everglades.  I’m still trying to figure out if the tap water we are drinking is desalinated and will have to research more about the whole area.  For now, we leave this area having seen our fill of alligators, enjoyed the pool and hot tub daily, and met some nice people. Can’t ask for more than that!

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Day 386 On the Road, Ave Maria & Naples , FL

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We went to church here this morning ! It’s on the Ave Maria University campus , 17 miles east of Naples , Florida . Tom Monaghan , former owner of Domino’s Pizza, started a catholic university in Ann Arbor Michigan , but the town wouldn’t let him expand , so he moved the campus to this rural location in Florida . It’s a gorgeous campus! They pre-planned the town around it , with the Oratory (church) right in the middle . Shaped like the Pope’s “hat”, it is stunning inside and out . I’ve never seen the Stations of the Cross as beautiful – wood surrounding metal and marble – wow . The 1,200 students who attend here are truly blessed .

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We drove into Naples after lunch , and found the old pier. The Pelicans sit and wait for scraps from all the fishermen , and people were waiting to get a picture with this old guy . After he nipped someone’s shoulder , they all moved away and I took this picture .

The beach was packed with sunbathers in all sizes and shapes – most of them just sitting and soaking up the sun . It was only 76, so felt just right .We didn’t swim , and I only picked up a handful of shells before we headed out to run errands .

We drove through Old Town and I found 4 shops that Eliza and I “need” to visit – we are already thinking about back to school clothes for her, but I keep reminding her that we will be living in the mountains and we will be freezing again , so all these flimsy clothes may not cut it . For now , though , we are enjoying playing tourist and being warm !

Day 376 On the Road, Grassy Key to Naples, FL

IMG_4331Stayed up with the kids to watch the ball drop!  I made it til 1:30 a.m. and could have gone longer if we weren’t driving today.  Fun to see all the NYC festivities now that we’ve stood right there.  Oh, this trip is soooo educational, ha.

IMG_4333Up and out bright and early for one last walk in my favorite area with the dogs.  it’s already hot and humid at 7 a.m. and the girls are panting.

IMG_4343No, no, don’t make us go!!!  We’ve been in the Keys for a month, and it feels like home.  We’ve met so many nice locals and other travelers, and there is still so much more to see.  I am already nostalgic because  I know we’ll never be back.  We won’t fly this far from home to go somewhere we’ve already been, because you can never recreate a good “vacation” time.  We have revisited most of the places from our 1998 trip, and Dan and I just keep saying, “you can’t go back”; it’s not the same.  The freshness and wonder and expectation just won’t be there, and that’s what we love about traveling.  IMG_4351So, off we go, north down the Overseas Highway to the mainland.  The Gulf on our left, the Atlantic on our right.

IMG_4365I drove the piece through the Everglades and thought it was beautiful.  It was a little strange to be driving with 4 lanes on a divided highway after being on 2 lanes or a bike for a month.  I kept searching the swampy area to the right for alligators – other RV’ers said this is a good spot.  This is the first time we’ve driven west, knowing we wouldn’t be going back East, so essentially, we will be working our way home for the next 7 months.  The last year has flown by, so we can only guess how quickly this time will pass.

IMG_4370We pulled into our new home/site at about 3 p.m.  This is our view for the month of January and we like it.  We are younger than most of the population here by about 20 years, but so far, they’ve all been very welcoming.  We were in the pool and hot tub by 4 p.m., so that was a good start to the year.  2015 here we come!

Day 375 On the Road, New Year’s Eve, Grassy Key, FL

IMG_4307I took this selfie right before our last Keys sunset.  I was laughing, of course, because I wasn’t holding the camera right and Eliza was putting up with me.  Plus I was crouching down to get us all 3 in the picture and was afraid I was going to push the kids off the back of the dock!  By the end of the trip, I will have taken one good selfie.

We had dinner again at the Sunset Raw Bar & Grille.  Best spot to watch the sunset in Marathon, and the food is okay.  They were gearing up for the big evening, but we were there for a quick bite at happy hour, the sunset,and then home to get off the road.  I heard the worst stories about drinking and driving New Year’s eve in the Keys, and didn’t want to be part of it.  Key West would be full of revelers, but they weren’t driving.  Grassy Key was far enough away from the restaurants that people said there would be at least one fatality and 15 accidents. Evidently this area is known for its accidents.  No, thank you!  Precious kid cargo coming through!

IMG_4314 Our last Keys sunset.  Why are we leaving?

Day 374 On the Road, Grassy Key, FL

Almost the last day at the Monroe County Library!  We are grateful that they exist, but really wish they would have had WIFI that works consistently.  So frustrating to be in the middle of school and have it go out on the kids.  We know they are really strapped for cash here, so we understand.  It’s hard not to compare it to the Phoenix, Arizona library, the Ames, IA library, or even our library back home and not find it wanting.  We hope our next city has a better budget!

IMG_4273I had a headache from all the noise and smells at the library, so I went for one last walk at Curry Hammock State Park.  The pelicans were busy diving for fish near the shore and a group of us stood and watched for 10 minutes.  I’m going to have to do a little reading about pelicans because none of us could understand how they could hit the water, repeatedly, hard, and not get hurt. And feed themselves in the process!  It was really fun to watch, but the park closes at dusk, so I had to high tail it out of there.  Farewell, Curry Hammock, I doubt we’ll ever be back…

Day 373 On The Road, Sally Rides the 7 Mile Bridge

IMG_4229It’s Monday, and the kids have to go back to school. Here they are next to our “tree” with it’s inspirational quotes.  We can’t wait to have a real tree again next year  – to cut it down in our forest, decorate it with all our special ornaments, and watch “White Christmas” as usual.  We didn’t miss the commercial side of Christmas this year, we missed our traditions.  I tried to recreate many of them, but it wasn’t the same.  Anyway, they’ve had 5 days off, and they are still not caught up on their lovely online school, so back they go to the library with Dan.  They have worked so hard and I am so proud of them.

IMG_4241I am playing hooky again and doing a long (bike) ride.  Ever since we made the reservation to spend December in the Keys, I have wanted to ride across the 7 Mile Bridge.  I’ve had so many people tell me not to, but it’s firmly on my bucket list, and I am going to do it today.  This picture is at the beginning of the bridge.  I had ridden 11 miles from the RV park, but my legs were still fresh and the adrenaline was flowing.  I was so scared to be that close to speeding cars and trucks, with nowhere to go on the side except over into the water.  I tucked a flag in behind me, hoping that people would see it waving and notice me on my recumbent.  Turns out people really liked the flag and honked and waved and yelled the whole ride.

IMG_4242On the other side, I rested long enough to eat a PBJ and take a picture.  I had ridden it south in 23 minutes, but I knew it would take longer going back north.

IMG_4248I took this picture as I rode north.  Don’t worry, there was no traffic in my lane because construction before the bridge had them stopped.  That was nice because I was battling a head wind and it was 83 degrees and humid, so I was a little slow.  It took me 40 minutes to ride the 7 miles north.  A boat full of fisherman yelled “you’re crazy” as I rode by and I just laughed and waved. ( I’m crazy? They are standing around for hours!)  The traffic would rush by when they got released and I just kept looking at the water to enjoy it, then watch my mirror to see who was closest, then the road for all the accumulated garbage.  It was kind of gross. Anything you need from  a store you could probably find along the east side of the 7 Mile Bridge. Sad but true.

IMG_4252Yeehaw, I made it in one piece!!!!  I was so happy!!! And tired and hot.  I rode to the library to say hi to Dan and the kids, then back home the 11 miles.  The bike path was filled with iguanas sunning themselves, and I just kept yelling, “get out of my way” to wake them up and they would scurry off.  About 1/2 way home, I came upon a huge, black snake who filled the bike path from side to side.  I stopped way back, yelled at him, and he didn’t move an inch.  When this same thing happened to me in Fish Creek, WI  I was hysterical because the kids were on one side of the snake and I was on the other, but  this time I was just mad because I wanted to get home.  I stayed a good 30 feet back and after about 5 minutes, he curled into an S shape and went off the path.  I went by him FAST in case he changed his mind and wanted back on the bike path.

I made it the rest of the way safely, and quickly took a shower.  I was still so happy to have accomplished such a huge goal and thought about doing it again the next day.  Then I shook my head, laughed at myself,  and sat down to read.  Heavenly day, just heavenly.

Day 372 On the Road, Grassy Key, FL

We rented kayaks for the day from a guy who answered his phone by saying, “Are you from Bend, Oregon?  I recognize your area code.  I used to live there.”  I had to sit down I was so surprised.  Turns out Curly left Bend when the recession hit and moved to the Keys and opened a marina.  We figured out that we knew many of the same people and it was so fun to talk to him.  I had gotten his name the day before from a family at the RV park who had rented paddle boats from him.  They said he was so nice and would bring the kayaks to us here at the RV park whenever we wanted.  Well of course he’s nice, he’s from Oregon!

IMG_6002Dan and I went out first – the kids were still asleep!  We hadn’t been in the Gulf water yet, so it was fun to see what was right on our doorstep. These kayaks were a lot longer than the ones we had rented before, and they would glide easier with a stroke.  I want to buy one now and strap it on the top of, oh, well, uh, I’ll get one when we get home!  It is almost as good as swimming and a great workout.

IMG_6009After the kids finally got up and ate a huge breakfast, we went out for a couple more hours.  We headed north, into the wind, and went by the Dolphin Research Center first.  They were doing a “show” and we could see the dolphins jump out of the water in response to the trainer’s whistle. We had been hearing that whistle for a month and it was even more annoying up close.  We kept paddling north until we reached the bridge, probably two miles.   When we turned around to head south, we barely had to paddle.

IMG_6018Eliza took this picture of me – smiling ear to ear because I am having so much fun.  Why haven’t I been kayaking every day while we have been here?!  (Oh, right, school.) The kids went in to rest then, and I kept going for another hour.  There was so much to see!

IMG_6017Nate came back out for awhile and we explored the bay near the RV park.  Another RV’er told us that there were trails through the trees, but we went down every finger, and couldn’t find a way through.  We saw a lot of fish, but none that we wanted to catch.

IMG_6037I went out again on my own, and headed south.  I am so glad I did!  I had walked the other side of these homes in the neighborhood for a month now, and had I not seen them from the water, I never would have known how “alive” they were.  They were all open to the water, with pools and huge boats and people laughing.  It was 3 days after Christmas, and I could tell people were still celebrating.  Now I understand why so many people like this area – it’s beautiful on the water side.

IMG_6044At 4:45, the kids and I headed out again to get in position for a good sunset picture.  This picture is of Nate, easily sliding back into the water in our little marina.  The dock had a notch in it, with a ramp that lowered into the water for easy access in or out of the water.  One day and already he’s an expert!  I told Dan I would paddle the river tube out and he could have a kayak, but he was tired and didn’t want to go out.  I knew he’d worry about us the whole time, and I was right.  He wasn’t comfortable with us out on the water as it got dark.

IMG_6059If we just kept going, we could reach the Mexico side of the Gulf…instead we paddled around for almost an hour, waiting for the sun to go down. We kept looking for the shark that the fisherman told us he released just before we went out again, but never saw it. Whew.

IMG_6088Eliza took this picture of Nate at sunset and I love it!  It’s better than just a picture of the sun on it’s own.  We looked for the green flash every time we watched a sunset while we were here, but only Dan ever saw it.  Doesn’t matter.  It’s still a great way to spend an evening!

Day 371, Bahai Honda State Park, FL

Okay, how many times have I said, “this is my favorite day” on this trip?!  Well, this could be another contender.  We got up early and drove south about 30 miles to get to Bahai Honda State Park early.  Another RV’er was camped there and he said if we didn’t get there early, we might not be able to get in all day.  It is rated very highly and so many people we’ve met have told us to go there, so we did.

IMG_4217The tide was high, so the beach was only about 30 feet deep.  Dan and I walked it north, then came back to find the kids trying to beat the waves off their flattened castle.  This picture doesn’t show how hot it was!  Just perfect for swimming.  I had forgotten my goggles, but still swam for about 4 hours.  The waves came up later in the day, and I took the river tube way out and rode the waves in.  Totally embarrassed my teenagers, but hey, I don’t know anyone here, and I want to have fun!  By the time we left in the afternoon, this beach was packed body to body.  It’s  a beautiful beach and park and deserves all the excellent ratings it gets.

IMG_42194 of my favorite things – Nate, sun, shells and swimming. Do I have to leave?!  Aw, can’t I have another hour?!

Day 369, Christmas on the Road

IMG_4178Merry Christmas from Grassy Key!  This is my favorite sign in the neighborhood I walk in every morning.  People are really creative with lights on palm trees, cactus and buildings, but I think this sign is just the best.

This is our second Christmas on the road, and our first alone as a family, and without our church.  We are going to have a nice, quiet day and then go to the dinner that the RV park puts together for all of us travelers.  We can only imagine how alone Joseph and Mary felt as they brought baby Jesus into the world. How grateful we are that they did.