Heading toward the sunrise from Utah to Florida.

Our campsite in Estero, FL with new Christmas plantings and flamingos in festive attire.

Our eastbound drive from Utah to Florida covered a couple of thousand miles across eight states. We arrived on November 20 and are now comfortably settled into the Volunteer Village at Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida in the warm company of friends we met here last year and of the new volunteers who have come for part of the season.

Before writing about our winter home, there are a few highlights since my last post which I want to mention. First, we stopped for two nights in Albuquerque (as planned) and researched the possibility of a workkamper position at the American RV Park.  This is a large and very well run park convenient to US 40.  They are currently looking to hire for the fall/winter of 2018, they prefer couples and want a three month commitment. My preference was for one of the jobs in the office but experience with the reservation system is required and I don’t have it. Other options are grounds and maintenance, and hospitality (which includes bathroom and cabin cleaning).  While it would be great to be in Albuquerque in October for the Balloon Festival, the fit just didn’t seem right for us at this time so we will pass.  We are still in the process of deciding whether workkamping is for us.

Hot air balloons at Glenn Canyon, AZ on a gorgeous and very cool early morning.

We hopped across the eight hundred miles of Texas in four nights staying one night at a commercial park near Lubbock;  two nights at Fort Griffin State Historic Park, and one night on a return visit to Tyler State Park, all of which were picked for their access to our travel route through the northern part of Texas on US 180.

We crossed the Mississippi River on November 10, officially returning to “the east”, and stopped near Vicksburg, Mississippi so Peter could visit the Civil War Battlefield there.  Our two nights near there at Grand Gulf Military State Park were delightfully quiet during the off season and we walked about half a mile to the shores of the Big Muddy.  We noticed a newly installed marker indicating the all-time record flood stage of 57.5 feet in 2011, devastating the lowlands.  Walking these roads, its not hard to image the deluge.

The place for great southern fried chicken in Lorman, MS made by Mr. D himself.

The highlight of our time in western Mississippi was a visit to Lorman and the Old Country Store.  Why?  Because of the legendary fried chicken created by Mr. Davis, the proprietor.  When thinking of this restaurant, picture an old country store circa 1930 and take away the kitshcy nick-nacks, the freshly scrubbed-for-the-tourists cabinets, add in the creaky and uneven floors and you’ll have the idea.  The fried chicken was like nothing we’d every had.  It was tender and moist and very richly flavored and so lightly coated in whatever his secret recipe is that it literally fell off the bone when you took a bite.  The pork chops were high on Peter’s list along with the side dishes (it’s all served buffet style) of okra and collard greens.

The finger pointing to heaven on top of the First Presbyterian Church in Port Gibson, MS.

Passing through the attractive little town of Port Gibson (which General Ulysses S. Grant reportedly decided to spare because “it was too pretty to burn”),  we noticed about six churches right along Highway 61, including one with a gold-colored sculpture of a hand pointing up to heaven that sat atop the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church.

We stopped and the caretaker was just leaving but stopped to tell us the history.  The original sculpture was carved in wood by a local named Daniel Foley in 1860.  It was replaced by a ten foot high hand of metal in 1901 which was refurbished in 1989 and again just this summer at a cost of $40,000. The website Roadside America, has some great photos. We thanked the caretaker who invited us to come join the congregation on Sunday, reflecting the gracious hospitality for which this part of the south is known.

The ruins of Windsor Plantation near Port Gibson, MS.

The other unusual place we visited in the town was a ruins called Windsor Plantation.  This eery skeleton, which resembled the Parthenon, was a former plantation that was burned to the ground by a cigar ash from a careless house guest in 1890.  It was originally built by Smith Coffee Daniell II, a millionaire cotton grower who owned thousands of acres and hundreds of slaves. He had barely moved into what was called the biggest plantation in Mississippi, when he died from a mosquito bite. The date was April 12, 1861, which also happened to be the first day of the Civil War.  The ghost-like ruins felt haunted by the spirits of more than just a house fire.

Our great campsite at Stephen Foster State Park.

We crossed into Florida and slowed our pace to catch up and get in some much needed rest for Peter.  We spent three nights in Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs and right along the Suwannee River.  The campground here is really lovely and our site was nestled in among palmettos and long leaf pine and was cool and private. The visitor’s center honors the memory of American composer Stephen Foster, who wrote “Old Folks at Home,” the song that made the Suwannee River famous.  It is worth noting, in the way of full disclosure, that Foster was from Pittsburg and never even saw the Suwannee River but tourist-minded Florida figured there was an opportunity here and ran with it.   The Florida Folk Festival happens here every year in May and it looks very interesting.  Check it out here.

The Estero River runs between our Volunteer Village and the Koreshan settlement.

After next visiting my son and our two beautiful granddaughters in Tampa, we arrived in Estero.  Living on the road feeds the soul and keeps us light and facile and settling into one place for the winter months feeds the soul in other ways.  There is an easy comfort in knowing our way around a familiar town.  We had a list of things we knew we needed to do, from renewing our membership at the Lee County Library, to reacquainting ourselves with the local Publix, the Whole Foods in nearby Naples, and the Fresh Market in Bonita Springs. We visited the church we found last year and attended a Christmas concert actually recognizing some of the fellow congregants.  And we knew the things we wanted to do before the guest season cranks up in January and our docent jobs have us very busy.

This is the famous “Shell Tree” on Lover’s Key beach which is a sure show stopper.

There was a visit to Lover’s Key State Park, a beach located on a barrier island we had managed to miss last year.  We spent a lovely afternoon walking the pristine white sands of Big Carlos Pass along the Gulf.  We also spent a day touring the Audubon Sanctuary at Corkscrew Swamp which we had wanted to visit last year but ran out of time.  The Sanctuary was pummeled by Hurricane Irma and part of the boardwalk into the deepest part of the Swamp was still being repaired when we visited but we did see about half of the sanctuary and a portion of some of the prized old growth Bald Cypress. Now the entire 2.5 miles boardwalk is open once more so it is possible to visit the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America.

The Art Hall st Koreshan State Park is currently getting finishing touches on its seasonal updates.

Koreshan State Park had a little damage from the Hurricane and lost dozens of trees.  The Art Hall, where I worked most of last winter, is closed for the final touches of repair and should be opening this weekend.  Peter is volunteering this year in the outdoor Cafe where he hopes to be part of the team re-creating the famous original Koreshan recipes for breads on a vintage cast iron wood stove.  In addition, he will continue to do his docent work at the Planetary Court, where the women who managed the day to day activities of the historic Settlement lived.

Peter helped construct the holiday boxes for the Holiday Bazaar. They were really lovely.

There is a lot going on at the park this year, including the first annual Holiday Bazaar which drew over 3,000 people on a spectacular Sunday just after Thanksgiving.  It was fun helping to decorate the park with holiday-themed details.  We love the feeling of the park and are looking forward to greeting visitors and helping share the exciting history of Koreshan for four months this time around.

In the spirit of Christmas, in addition to decorating the outside of T2, we have added a few indoor touches as well.  I’ve added my favorite Kringle Candles redolent with the scent of pine, which I love.  We have cut some long leaf pine boughs and added an Advent wreath whose lighted candles are especially beautiful.  We look forward to Christmas in under ten days, visiting my son and his family for a few days before Christmas and then returning to Estero on Christmas Day for a holiday dinner with our fellow nomads here in the Volunteer Village.  Until next time, Peter and I hope that your holidays are joyful and peaceful and full of love.Peter and Liz settle into Koreshan State Park in their Airstream, volunteering as docents and tour guides and (hopefully) cooking at the Cast Iron Cafe over the winter season of 2017-2018.  

 

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Across Nevada to Escalante and Boulder, Utah and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Rabbit bush in full fall colors in Nevada.

In spite of two unplanned technical events late in October, we still managed to get to southern Utah and fulfill a couple of long-time dreams for ourselves. Let me first start with the unplanned events which occur in life whether you are living on the road or not. First, we ended up with another quirky electrical problem in the truck. The short version is that our stay just over the California/Nevada border in a town called Fernley was extended for one extra day while Peter spent a day with the local Ford dealer (patiently waiting half a day since they were all booked) and determining that we needed a new battery. Continue reading

All along the Oregon coast.

Bully Creek Reservoir County Park was a respite and our first stop in Oregon.

On September 28, we crossed into Oregon from  Idaho, about half way up the state at Vale where the wide open land looks more like high plains of Kansas with grasses and open spaces. The first night in Oregon, we camped in a quiet county park, Bully Creek, along a reservoir.  The day we left, we watched campers arriving and getting set up for the opening weekend of deer hunting season.

 

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Our Airstream remodeling is completed.

We rarely catch those TV reality shows about home makeovers, but Monday, we were actually living one.  Exactly one week before, we left our Airstream with the mighty team of Ultimate Airstream in Williamsville, Oregon.  This was Phase Two of the renovations we committed to after two years of living on the road.  When Ian Harnish, the incredible team leader at Ultimate Airstream, showed us the inside, I just started crying with joy.  It was beyond what I could have imagined.

The beautiful windows in T2 bring the outside in so when I am writing, views like this (from Minnesota’s north woods in 2016) fill my heart. But we needed to improve the functionality of the living area for our needs.

As you loyal readers know, we love our Airstream (named T2).  Our experience with Airstream as the manufacturers has been nothing but enthusiastic.  But, after twenty-seven months, our love of travel, adventure, and life taught us that there were renovations we needed in order to maximize our tiny and very efficient space.  Specifically, we decided that we had no need for extra sleeping space so the long couch and the large dining table, both integral components to more sleeping space, were not priorities for us.

We are both avid readers and a comfortable chair became an essential element to peace and wellbeing and the original Airstream curb side bench was not making the grade.  We aren’t the kind of people who entertain a lot indoors so the long couch was not functional.  What we did need was more organized storage space inside, much more comfortable seating, and easier access to the under-bed storage that Airstream so brilliantly includes in the front bed, twin models.

View out the new window in the bathroom, June 2017. We did include a shade for night privacy. Also added a second towel rack in the bathroom.

Phase One of the renovations was completed at Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio in June.  They removed the curbside bench and installed our new Lambright wall-hugging recliner pictured below in a couple of  images.  We also had them cut down the size of the dining table to better fit the recliner and open up the space more.  JC also installed a porthole window in the bathroom. We had seen this modification when we were in Death Valley in March and it just blew us away.  The picture here tells all you need to know about this improvement to the quality of our life.  The bath was functional without the window but with it, the natural light and the illusion of spaciousness of bringing the outside in, is wonderful and the last four months have just re-enforced our decision.

Here’s a close-up of the new cabinet which is tucked under the window and up against the wall with the refrigerator. The counterspace on top is amazing and because it is set back it just opens up the entire interior and feels so much more spacious.

In October, Ultimate Airstream took over from there for Phase Two.  They re-built the seating area completely, removing the original 93″ couch and replaced it with a custom 72″ couch and removing the gaucho slide that offered the option of another bed. (I have inserted before and after pictures at the end of this blog so you can experience the complete make-over). These guys use professional grade upholstery cushions and great vinyl covering that are essential for the intensity of our full timing. These cushions are firm and very comfortable for long periods of sitting (like writing and reading) and that will most likely last a decade.

They also designed and built a custom cabinet for us, adding precious storage space and creating an efficient set of storage spaces.  The middle cabinet drawers are heavy-duty, 11″ deep (they need to hold a portable filing system) and extend fully for access to the content. The cabinet materials, including drawer pulls and countertop, are all with the original Airstream materials that are specific to our 2015 and so the finished result is completely seamless.

Here’s a picture from the hall looking into the bedroom showing the two new under-bed drawers, fully extended. And yes, they did accommodate the floor rug when building!

The other modification we made was to install custom drawers underneath the deeper of the two twin beds in the bedroom.  Again, these are super deep and pull out all the way for incredibly easy access from the top to the storage bags of (in this case) sweaters and bulikier clothing items. This is already a life-changing modification as we have re-organized all the harder to get to spaces where seasonal items like hats and scarves got buried in smaller storage areas inside T2 and were hard to access.  We opted not to build drawers under the other twin because the space is not as deep (there are outside storage areas located in this general area) so it is far easier to access the contents since the space is so shallow.

On chilly evenings, we throw our Pendleton blanket over the recliner and all is well!

We also made another change this time around.  Ultimate Airstream replaced the radio/stereo that came with T2.  It never really worked for me and was too hard to use.  The new one, a Kenwood car stereo is great and since our Clarion speakers are so good, we can listen to our music and easily watch movies through the system.  No picture here of the stereo but know that it’s great.

So here are two remarkable pictures of T2.  The first, the “before” picture, shows the original set-up with the curbside bench, most of the long couch, and the fabric upholstery that we chose when we ordered the Airstream new in 2015.  The original table is oversized and while it did provide a great work space, the trade-off in comfort was not worth the price.

And below that is the “after” picture of the new living area showing the gorgeous couch covering, Chimayo wool throw pillows, comfy alpaca throw over the back cushions, and a view of the recliner.

The original interior living/dining area.

Our newly remodeled living/dining area is fabulous.

Liz and Peter are continuing their pilgrimage to here in their newly renovated Airstream, heading slowly south and east and aiming for arriving in Florida by mid-November. 

 

 

 

 

If it’s Labor Day, this must be Kansas.

In Kansas, the wildflowers are in bloom in the Flint Hills.

On this Labor Day morning, we are heading west across Kansas where the early morning sun is chasing us, splashing its burnt orange light on the world.  We left New Hampshire August 22 which was six weeks to the day from Peter’s hip replacement surgery.  His recovery continues to amaze everyone, including his surgeon, and after years of chronic and increasing pain, he is reveling in the reality of being pain-free.  In light of the priorities for his recovery and healing, we did two major things before beginning our westward journey. Continue reading

Summer in New England

Summer gardens in Newfane, Vermont on a Sunday afternoon.

The gypsies have put down roots in Keene, New Hampshire for a total of eleven weeks, which began June 8.  The primary objective of this longest-of-stays is ensuring Peter’s successful recovery from hip replacement surgery.  Now, nearly three weeks post-op, I am happy to report that surgery went very well and Peter is on the positive curve toward full recovery. The daily progress is astounding and serves to remind us of the gifts of grace where God is in the details.  Last week, Peter moved from the walker to his walking sticks during his bi-weekly PT session.

 

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Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mountain laurel was in full bloom everywhere on our journey across Tennessee.

After leaving Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, our eastbound trip took us into Tennessee, crossing the Mississippi at Memphis.  Swollen by the heavy spring rains, the mighty river had topped its banks, turning the flood plains on the Arkansas side into expansive, if shallow, lakes. We didn’t stop in Memphis this time, reluctantly leaving the exploration of the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum, and other things Memphis, for another visit.

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Hot Springs National Park and more of Arkansas.

The trees and water of Ozark National Forest at Nimrod Lake, Arkansas.

Like putting on a well-fitting shirt, we headed east from oversized Texas, slipping into the easy comfort of the eastern forests of north central Arkansas. Here, the recognizable hardwoods, the moist air, the meandering and now-spring-muddy rivers reminded us of New England, even though we have yet to cross the Mississippi River. Continue reading

Zig-zagging (mostly east) across Texas.

The ranch gate at our friends’ place in cutting-horse country near Fort Worth, Texas.

Since leaving the Hill Country we have encountered the good, the bad, and the ugly of life on the road. Let me assure you dear followers that we are both fine. All of the wheels are back on the wagon and we are winding our way due east out of Texas and into Arkansas. Here is the story.

The Good. Visiting friends on the road is one of life’s delights. From the Hill Country near Austin, we wandered up toward Fort Worth, visiting friends we met in the 1990s during our days in the art furniture business. We haven’t seen them in years and it was a happy weekend reunion at their lovely ranch home. These are two of the most artistically creative people we know. Buckeye, a painter and sculptor in the traditional Western style, and Tona, who explores jewelry making and decorative arts, live in a custom home/barn that is beautiful and joyful. Continue reading

Texas Hill Country and the 36th President of the United States.

Bluebonnets in the Hill Country. The wildflowers were spectacular.

We came to the Hill Country of Texas because we were on a mission. We were intent on uncovering the clues that would help us piece together a more thoughtful understanding of our 36th president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. After visiting the Johnson Presidential Library in Austin in 2016, we realized that our memories of him, formed in the turmoil and passion of the 1960s, were narrower than the historical record. The filter of our 20-year old lenses acted like a microscope, zeroing in on the details of just two things – the assassination of JFK and the Vietnam War. While both were hugely formative in our young lives, the lens created a blind spot when it came to an awareness of the deeper contributions of his presidency, of the man himself. Continue reading