Horses and Saddles

Chattahoochee, Florida – November 11, 2022 – written by Jim

If there is one thing that Diana and I are good at, it’s our ability to stay flexible with our plans. Having an RV throughout our married lives has allowed us to move about the country as needed. Our years as full-time RVers has fine tuned that ability. When conditions warrant moving, our wheels have granted us the freedom to do so.

Our original ‘rig’ was actually a three man pup tent that we carried in our diesel Chevette. Our first trip to Maine from Michigan was a two-week jaunt that included a couple meals out and a two-masted schooner ride. Total cost for the trip was a whopping $400, as that car got 51 miles per gallon. There were plenty of PB&J sandwiches out of the cooler on that trip. Nevertheless, we had an amazing time! That laid the foundation for many more trips to Maine, along with other unique destinations through the years. During that time, our lodging has gone from that pup tent, a pop-up, two travel trailers and all the way up to a fifth wheel. We’ve kept that tent the entire time and refer to it as “Plan B”. 😊

We bought our full-timing rig, a used 2007 Colorado, three years before we retired and went on the road. At that time in 2011, we weren’t even sure if that would be our full-time RVing home. When 2014 rolled around, we strapped on the saddle and rode the Colorado off into the sunset.

Along came 2022 and our push to finish our new home in Michigan. Throughout the summer, we lived in that fifth wheel as we worked on the cabin. While we are pretty gentle on our homes, the RV was showing plenty of signs that it was nearing the end of it’s travels. I had plans for new flooring and a few other maintenance issues that had cropped up, so that was put on the back burner for the upcoming summer of 2023. With that in mind, we headed south for our winter base in Melbourne Beach.

Pretty early on in the trip, the rig started resisting. Our converter…the gizmo that keeps our batteries charged…quit. Seeing that our refrigerator ran exclusively off of battery power, that was a big problem! I tried to locate a replacement, to no avail. I knew I could get one from Amazon once we were settled in Florida, so I hooked up a battery charger to the batteries and charged them when we were sitting still for the night. Then, when we pulled into a rest area 30 miles north of Bowling Green, Kentucky, Diana noticed a deep slice in one of our tires on the rig. We limped into our campground in Bowling Green and put on the 9 year old spare. Knowing a new set of Goodyear G614 were going to run us well over a grand, we questioned whether or not we wanted to put a new saddle on our old horse. As luck would have it, Bowling Green, Kentucky is headquarters for Camping World and the Good Sam Club! Off to Camping World we went. Before the sun set on that day, we had an agreement on a new, much more nimble fifth wheel!

Meet our new 2023 Cougar 25RES! Note that I mentioned that it is more nimble. It is 3000 pounds lighter than our old rig and five feet shorter. That’s a welcome change for us, as our previous fifth wheel was a bit tough to get into those cool little roadside attractions we see in our travels. This rig also came with 400 watts of solar on the roof, so that allows us to enjoy some stops away from traditional campgrounds. The challenge for us was related to those fewer 5 feet: we had 5 feet of extra stuff to deal with! Thankfully, my sister let us ship some boxes of clothing to her, plus we donated some things and jettisoned others in the campground dumpsters.

Back to flexibility: We made our way to Melbourne Beach and set up at our winter spot. A few days in, there was an “area of concern” in the Atlantic that was headed our way and was going to bring us some wind and rain. Monday morning, we woke up to find out that disturbance had a name: Nicole! It wasn’t long before Jim Cantore and Mike Seidel from The Weather Channel were spotted in the area and we had a decision to make…stay or go. We decided to retrace our steps and head back to the panhandle for a few days, which is where we are now. Our friends reported that it got pretty wild when Nicole came through, even those who moved inland. By the time the storm got to us in the panhandle, it was just moderate rain and wind. We start heading back tomorrow.

We feel good about our continued flexibility. We are just not ready to hang up the keys on the RVing lifestyle, as there is so much to see and do out there. Our new fifth wheel should give us several years of safe and happy travels, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. As always, we wish the same for all of you.

A Huge Sense of Accomplishment

Leelanau Peninsula – October 16, 2022, Written by Jim

In the middle of August of 2019, we set foot on what was to become our property on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula. Having visited this area throughout our marriage and, more recently, having worked and volunteered here, we knew where this is where we wanted to be. Our friends Lane and Patti even predicted it in 2016: “Go have fun and see the country. You’ll be back”. They were right. Diana and I sat in a couple of lawn chairs in the clearing…approximately where our living room now is…and listened in silence. Save the rare vehicle on the road far below, we heard goats, sheep, Guinea fowl, cows, birds and the wind in the towering maple trees. Neither of us said a word for what seemed like an hour. Finally, I looked at Diana and said “What are your thoughts?” Her reply? “It sings to me”. That sealed it. I told her that I had one house left in me, as far as my ability to build a retirement home for us on this little slice of paradise.

And so it began.

Once we signed the papers, we located a John Deere tractor to help with our upcoming projects. Our friends Rod and Mary used theirs extensively to build their place, and Rod assured me it was the most valued tool in his arsenal. That turned out to be a spot-on recommendation. We also bought a shed to temporarily store it in, as we were about to fly off to Britain and Ireland for a month! When we got back, we returned to a blaze of autumn maple leaves. We spent some time planning, then headed off to Florida.

And then came Covid-19.

Would we be able to pull a construction project off in the middle of a pandemic? Well, we had secured our subcontractors ahead of time, as they were the ones Rod and Mary had used and had good luck with. All of them were on board and ready to go, as soon as the restrictions were lifted in Michigan. The county was being strict on outsiders, in regards to quarantining, so we opted to boondock on our land with our fifth wheel. That first year…2020…we put in all the utilities and built our barn.

With that done, we spent our Florida winter planning the cabin. We still had all of our original subcontractors onboard, along with a few new ones. We were ready to hit the ground running when we arrived in the spring of 2021. We broke ground in May and had the exterior enclosed and sided, and the interior drywalled and painted by October.

We still had decks to complete outside and pretty much everything else inside. 2022 was going to be “all Diana and Jim”, save the shower door installers. We spent the next winter in Florida planning. I continued our Excel construction timeline that I had created the year before, which ended up keeping us focused this year.

Our last few posts have detailed our progress this year, all working towards the goal of our certificate of occupancy. When we last wrote, we were just finishing the flooring and trim painting. Once that was done, there were a few interior details to finish, and then the entry deck. Lane came over and helped me hang the barn doors leading to our den.

Quick! Close the barn doors before the horses get out!!!

I also finished the shelving in the den closet:

It was right about this time that we had long awaited visitors!

Eric and Laurel from Raven and Chickadee stopped by to finally meet us in person! Fellow full time RVers turning part timers, these two have long been on our radar. We were sooooo fortunate to finally be able to meet up! I highly recommend checking out their blog from the link above, as they are super folks. We gave them a tour of our place then we headed off to HopLot…our favorite local beer garden.

With the inside of the cabin complete, we had one final piece of the puzzle to complete: the entry deck. Mind you, it was late September in northern Michigan, and the weather was not going to be conducive for outdoor construction for much longer.

I popped off the temporary deck boards and went at it.

On went the decking, fascia and posts…

…followed by railing and cement board base for the column masonry.

I followed that up with the stone veneer. It was about then that the weather turned on us. We had FOUR solid days of cold rain. I still needed to grout the stone, finish the stairs, wrap the posts and establish a landing below the stairs…all required for occupancy. I had a medical appointment in Detroit that I was going to do a one day down-and-back and I said “time out”. We needed a break. So we made a trip of it and saw our new great nephew!

Oh, yeah….it doesn’t get much better than that! Say hello to Drew!

His Grandpa Doug sure thinks he’s the bee’s knees!

Once we got back from the Motor City, we were fresh and ready to go!

In my hand, I hold the last screw…the Golden Spike on our personal transcontinental railroad!

A few days later, we were ready for our inspection! He showed up and gave it a good once over. He walked out on the big deck and said “This is the best room in the house!”, all the while tugging on the rock-solid railing to see if it moved. It did not budge. He signed off on the final inspection and our three year journey was complete!

A huge sense of accomplishment!

We, of course, still have a lot to do next year. Landscaping, moving our stuff up from our storage room in Grand Rapids and many other little odds and ends. All of it can be done at our pace, with plenty of play time interspersed between our chores. Time to enjoy the fruits of our labor!

Afterwards, Patti and Lane had us over for dinner to celebrate 🙂

Two wonderful friends right there! Yep, guys…we came back!

With that, let us formally introduce you to our home:

MapleVistas!

We will continue to travel and blog in our shoulder seasons, so we hope you follow along on exploRVistas with us. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Accidental Accidents and Accidentals on Purpose

September 8, 2022 – Leelanau County, MI – Written by Jim

Sorry if that title is so confusing. There’s a lot to unpack here.

Back when we put up the barn, I had three levels of scaffolding erected while I was siding the back of it. Our friend George visited during that phase and looked me square in the eyes and said, “Be very careful. If you get hurt, this all comes to a grinding halt.” Rarely a day has gone by where I haven’t thought of him saying that. And I have heeded those words.

Most accidents are a result of being tired. I had been pushing hard to get our flooring done, all the while multitasking and putting baseboards in the closets as I went. It was nearing the end of the day and I was really dragging, so I decided to wind up the air hose and put it in the barn for the night. I laid it over the compressor and turned to walk out the door and hooked my foot around a loop in the hose. I was so focused on the concrete I was about to meet up with that I didn’t notice that I had attempted to grab the upper part of Diana’s china hutch that was standing by itself near me. BAM. I hit the ground hard on my left hip. To add insult to injury, the hutch came down on my shoulder and head a split second later. Thank goodness the glass doors and shelf did not break.

At first, I thought I broke my hip. It took me a bit to get myself up and realize that I was probably just going to be really sore. I decided to take it easy the next day and see what the following day brought. I did a little work that day before stepping wrong and pain shot up my leg. Now I was really sure something bad was going on in there! Off to the med center for X-rays. Luckily, I didn’t have anything broken, but I had pulled some muscles and bruised the heck out of my hip. I took the next three days off.

Once I got back to work, I somehow managed to get the flooring done!

With that behind me, I started installing and spray painting the doors.

Once the pre-hung doors were installed, I took the doors off the hinges and painted them in the spray booth I had set up in the barn. Between the 6 doors and the 30 bifold panels, the sprayer got a workout!

I even managed to NOT trip over the air hose! As those were drying each day, we installed the closet shelving and any other baseboard or door trim we could. As of now, we just have to trim out the closet door openings and any adjoining baseboard, plus a few other minor odds and ends. We are getting close to having the inside of the cabin done. After that, we only need to do the entryway deck and we will be finished.

One other thing that I want to mention: the reason this project has moved along as well as it has and stayed on track is because of Diana keeping the wheels on our train! Not only has she helped with the project itself, she has done nearly everything we both normally do on a daily basis. I’m a lucky guy, indeed!

Our other new addition:

Asphalt! We have had several heavy rains that washed out the steep portion of our gravel driveway, so we decided to pave it to the top of the hill. I’ve been adding the white drain stone along the sides to help with drainage and to add support if a wheel goes off the edge.

So you might be wondering what the “Accidentals on purpose” was all about. Many of you know that we follow the band The Accidentals, as many folks from around here do. We jumped at the chance to see them when they played locally at Fountain Point Resort along with Kaboom Collective, a student orchestra based near Cleveland, Ohio. It was our 40th anniversary gift to each other.

Kaboom had ‘reimagined’ many of the bands older favorites. Sav and Katie had met in orchestra class in high school, so hearing their songs performed by an orchestra blew them away.

Katie shredded her electric guitar and belted out Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One” at one point, which was totally unexpected. We loved every minute of the show!

So the next time we write, we should be wrapping up our building project. I will be sure to keep an eye out for my nemesis, the air hose. Be sure to stay tuned for that post. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

August Cabin Update

August 2, 2022 – Leelanau County, MI – Written by Jim

It’s been over a month since we last wrote; it’s time for an update! You may recall that Jodee and Bill had come for a visit on their tour of Michigan. At the time, we were in the process of finishing the large deck. Their fluffy dog Tessa took one look at our project and had her say:

“All this work makes me dog tired!”

After they departed, we finished the deck.

Two decks done, one to go! We are saving our entryway for last. Once we were at this point, we went to our storage room and picked up our deck furniture, our TV and any kitchen boxes we could identify.

It sure is nice to have this furniture back with us!

The next project on the list was the master bathroom. We started this year with painted walls and cement board in the shower area.

We did manage to waterproof the cement board and put down the sheet vinyl flooring this spring, but that was about it.

This was my third tile job in the cabin and easily my most challenging. We were happy with how it came out. A week and a half after I started, the bathroom was nearly complete:

All we need to do is have the shower door installed, put up the towel bars, install the entry and closet doors and the trim. On to the next project: the fireplace!

We started by installing the mantle. We then laid out the stones on a cardboard template:

The handmade tiles are a nod to my grandparent’s home in Detroit, which my grandpa had covered with Pewabic tile. These tiles are made not too far from us in Alden, Michigan by a man who worked for Pewabic. The pink one is a robin, the green one is a maple leaf (both of which we have on our property) and the large blue one in a vineyard with the words “Leelanau Peninsula” on it. Once again, masonry work is something I had never tried, so a lot of YouTube videos were watched, along with some helpful consultations with Jim Nelson…who recently tackled this type of work himself with his wife Barb and friend Kevin.

Less than a week later, it was done. We were glad to see that we measured the TV niche correctly to accept our TV! Time to move on to the next project: flooring.

We are using vinyl plank, which is really nice to work with.

I saw this rolling knee pad being used on HGTV’s Hometown. It sure made this job a lot easier! While I was doing this room…

…Diana was sanding and painting the door trim in the master bedroom. She will be painting the 16 foot baseboard trim next, which she will do in the barn. It’s amazing how much trim goes into a structure of this size!

I am currently halfway through the flooring. I finished the entry closets and the laundry area yesterday.

This is the hatch to our crawl space in the closed position…

…and in the open position. A special thanks to Rod and Mary for the idea of the wall latch to hold the lid up, along with the recommendation of the SmartCore Ultra flooring from Lowe’s. To complete this hatch, we are going to add a grab bar on the left wall, a gas strut on the right and (eventually) a more permanent ladder to the space below. A note on the white baseboard: Our windows were ordered with jambs wide enough for our 2 x 6 walls, but the manufacturer mistakenly made them with jambs for 2 x 4 walls. Rather than send the windows back last year, I had them send me the correct jambs along with compensation for my time installing them. I salvaged the old jambs, turning them into closet baseboard. That kept them out of the landfill and saved us a few bucks in the process!

While it seems like our summer has been all work, we have played a bit too! We’ve had visits from Lane & Patti, John & Julie and our neighbors Gary & Linda, who brought us some cherries from their orchard! We also have made it to Music in the Park in Northport each Friday evening.

This past Friday was The Fabulous Horndogs, a band that got back together after a 12 year hiatus. We knew we were in for a treat when we saw the crowd size. They were indeed fabulous!

Stay tuned as we work to finish up the doors and trim, along with our entry deck. That one involves stone pillars, so my masonry tools aren’t quite done yet. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

June Cabin Update

Leelanau County, MI – June 25, 2022 – Written by Jim

What a busy month it has been! When we last wrote, we had just taken a well-deserved day off for Diana’s birthday. We spent that day checking out our favorite Sleeping Bear Dunes spots, followed by a visit to Shady Lane Winery with Lane and Patti!

We followed that up with dinner at Nittolo’s in the town of Lake Leelanau. It was a fun day indeed!

The next day, it was back to work. Diana painted the carsiding that was going around the sides of the island, while I finished the tile.

We are really happy the way it came out! Next up was the top, which we decided to build in place. Our neighbor Jeff helped us bring the L-shaped top in from the barn (thanks Jeff!) and I knew this one was more than we could handle.

Once I cut out and assembled the top pieces, I attached 1/4” x 2” steel to the underside to support the overhang.

I then sandwiched it into the cleating and painted the underside white before Diana and I flipped it over.

Once it was flipped, we screwed it down and spread on the contact adhesive. You can see the laminate all glued up beyond the top.

We then put in the prep sink and we were done!

Time to head outside and work on those two decks! First up was our 12 x 12 deck off the kitchen.

The first project was to spread the gravel under the deck. There is weed block underneath that.

After all the posts were in place, I skirted it with white PVC and put the decking on. I put a single picture frame on this deck on three sides, so as to conceal the edges of the grooved Trex boards. I then stained the posts and built and stained the railing.

A huge thank you to our friends Fred and Bonnie for giving us their leftover railing parts from their deck project last year in New York!

One week after I started, we had a completed deck! Next up was our big 18 x 30 deck on the other side. We are going for the same look, with one difference:

This one is triple picture framed. The reason for that? The boards are running the 18 foot direction, and a 20 foot piece of Trex is over $100 each! A 16 footer is around $40 each. Plus, the picture frame looks kinda cool!

Once I had the main field of 16 foot boards on, I trimmed off the other ends of them, which I left long.

I snapped a chalk line on the path I wanted to cut.

I measured from the edge of the saw to the blade, which was 1-1/4”. I snapped a second chalk line that distance off the other line.

Using one of my aluminum scaffold platforms as a straight edge on that second line, I was able to cut a true line across the entire 30 foot deck.

And just like that, it was done.

Next, I’ll get the posts trimmed to the correct height and stain them. I’ll then put the outer triple picture frame on. After that is the railing and stairs before we can call it complete.

But first we are going to take a few afternoons off, because our friends Jodee and Bill are here for a few days!

We went to Music in the Park in Northport and also to a few spots in Traverse City so far.

No pictures of the four of us yet, but I did manage to get one of Tessa and me!

After the deck gets finished, we concentrate on finishing the inside of the cabin. Stay tuned for that. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Back to Work on the Cabin

May 30, 2022 – Leelanau County, MI – Written by Jim

After a great winter in Florida, we made the trip north to Michigan, arriving in mid-April. Our goal is to get the cabin finished this year so we can get our occupancy permit. We wasted no time in getting started!

First order of business was to get a working bathroom. When we had contractors onsite last year, the terms of our building permit required us to have a porta-potty. Now that we are working by ourselves, there is no need for that…as we have the RV close by. When we left last year, the main bathroom looked like this:

I am fairly proficient in most areas of home construction, but tile work is new to me. Not only was I going to try tackling a tub surround, I was also throwing a niche and a window frame and sill into the mix. Oh, and the tile has a wavy pattern to it.

Before too long, we had a tub surround! Not long after that, we had the flooring, vanity, mirror, toilet and towel bars installed.

We put up a shower curtain for now, as we want to finish the other bathroom before having the shower doors installed. We also put paper on the floor to protect the new flooring while we work in other areas of the house.

In order to get the plumbing running, we had to bring the water softener in from the barn, where it had been installed with the washing machine.

We will scoot that out of the way when we put in the vinyl plank flooring later this summer. Once the softener was moved, we also brought in the washer and dryer.

It’s nice to have those both installed and running! The laundry tub will be installed after the flooring goes in.

While I was doing this, Diana was busy painting trim.

We have 17 windows that require trim, along with 3 outside doors, 6 interior doors and 9 closets…along with all of the baseboard. The window jambs also needed painting, and the entire casing needed to be caulked.

We finished all of the windows! We will get the rest after the flooring is in.

Diana also tackled the mountain of leaves that were dumped on us last fall.

That took a few days, as they were so many! One neat thing about getting here so early was to go to the places we are able to see in the distance and look back at our little slice of Leelanau.

This one is from one mile away.

This one is from 2-1/2 miles away. You can see our place and our neighbors in the distance. The houses in the foreground are on our friends Lane and Patti’s street. Once the leaves popped, we aren’t able to see much of our cabin from these places.

Next project was finishing the kitchen.

Once I had the base cabinets secured and level, I proceeded to make our countertops. This is something I did frequently during my career.

How’s that for Carrera Marble? A special thank you to my friend Jim (a hardware specialist) for helping us secure the cabinet pulls. They actually mirror the handles on the appliances.

Once that was done, we were able to install the tile backsplash.

I finished grouting that today. The rest of this week will be spent on finishing the kitchen, before moving outside to finish up two of our three decks. We’d like to get those done before it gets too hot.

Stay tuned for our next post to see how far we get. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Let’s Do Launch!

Melbourne Beach, Florida – March 15, 2022 – Written by Jim

If there is any one thing that sums up this winter on Florida’s Space Coast, it has been the increased number of launches from previous years. We’ve seen a total of eighteen successful launches and one launch failure so far. There are two more rockets scheduled to head to orbit before we depart Florida. Two of the successes were ULA Atlas V rockets and all of the rest were SpaceX Falcon 9’s. The failure was a tiny 45 foot tall Astra rocket that tumbled out of control after it was out of our view. That ended up in the Atlantic Ocean. It is interesting to note that the first launch we saw this season was a crewed flight, as will be the last one at the end of March.

Normally, people tend to favor seeing the night launches the best.

There is just something special about seeing the changing colors of the exhaust plume as the craft soars overhead.

Oddly enough, our favorite launch of the year occurred in the late afternoon. That one was a SpaceX CSG-2 mission that flew south, just off the coast. It went right by us. The stages separated almost directly above us, with the first stage turning around and flying back to the cape and landing. I had my camera on it the entire flight and caught this video:

The only thing that might have made it better is if had occurred the day before, as originally planned. The skies were even clearer then. Unfortunately, Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas decided to leave Port Canaveral and sail into the Coast Guard exclusion zone, which forced a launch scrub. An investigation is underway on that.

In addition to that video, I set my iPhone on a tripod for that mission and, using the Slow Shutter app, I captured this composite:

This is basically a time exposure. The ascending rocket is the solid line that angles to the right. The interrupted line is the returning booster…with the upper line being the entry (into the atmosphere) burn and the lower line being the landing burn. That is my all time personal favorite! Perhaps had the launch occurred the previous day, this wouldn’t have been so interesting. 😊

So has this season been all launches? Not by a long shot! We were fortunate to see the return of our Canadian friends this year, as the border has reopened between the U.S. and Canada. Our park is much more entertaining when everybody is here! We’ve had twice-weekly shuffleboard tournaments, which is something new this season.

Mark is our line judge; a job he obviously takes seriously.

We’ve had visits from our friends Terry & Diane, Rod & Mary and a contingent of college pals.

Here we are celebrating Jake Jump’s win in Lakeland where he pitched for Fontbonne University. We’ve seen him every year he’s played in Florida. This is his senior year and the end of an era. Dad Jim is taking the photo. We also met up for a rocket launch in Cocoa Beach:

Get your cameras ready. 3…2…1…

…and we have liftoff!

I’ve added a new fixture to our flagpole this year, to let people know when the launches are going to be. It started out as this:

Well, that doesn’t really cover all of the NASA, Blue Origin, ULA and Astra launches that take place, so we updated to this:

I had this flag custom made. That gets the job done! Our neighbors have come to rely on it. 😊

One last thing that is new this winter is my purchase of a new guitar! I haven’t played I probably 25 years, and my old 12-string Guild is in disrepair in our storage room in Michigan. I purchased a Zager 6-string and have started online lessons through Justin Guitar. So much is available online now that wasn’t when I learned back in high school! I was always a strummer and never learned how to pick. That is changing, as I’ve already learned a lot in the month I’ve had it. Our friends Becky and Joe had their musician neighbors Barbara and Jason from Montana visiting here, and Jason asked to borrow my guitar one evening. Here’s a little video of the two of them, with Barbara on her octave mandolin.

My goal is to play like that. Such a light touch!

So that’s about it for now. We are gearing up for a summer’s worth of work on our cabin in Michigan, so stay tuned for that! We are done with subcontractors, so it is Diana and I making it happen from here on out. Lots to do for one summer; hopefully it is complete by the time we head back south! Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Autumn in Florida

Melbourne Beach, FL – December 14, 2021Written by Jim

Rockets, sunshine and a new Costco…oh my! What more could two people want?

Our fall in Brevard County, Florida has been a combination of walks on the beach, launches from Cape Canaveral, sprucing up our lot at the park and buttoning up paperwork from our summer construction project. We’ve had 4 launches since we got here, three of which we watched from our beach.

First up was a SpaceX Falcon 9 daytime launch of Crew 3. When there are humans on board, we all tend to hold our breath a bit. This is a composite streak shot I took on my iPhone of that mission. This type of photography really works well on the night launches, as you will see on my next photos.

Next up was a SpaceX Falcon 9 night launch.

This mission carried over 50 Starlink satellites into orbit There is a lot going on in this composite, which I will try to explain. The brightest streak is the first stage rising from Cape Canaveral, which ends near the top of the arc. That is MECO, or main engine cutoff. There is a slight gap before the second stage lights and the arc continues. While it appears that the rocket is falling at that point, it is actually continuing to rise over the curve of the globe. Note that I was able to get the entire arc into the frame, as the rocket was flying northeast, which is away from us. The squiggly line to the left is an airplane, as is the swooping line to the right. Both were flying towards us and stayed well outside the restricted airspace. The jumble of light at the bottom of the photo is a group of four people sitting on the beach with flashlights and phones and the couple on the shoreline is Bill and Erin, neighbors of ours from the park.

Next up was an Atlas V launch by United Launch Alliance.

That rocket had 5 solid rocket boosters, which really made it jump off the pad. It flew straight east, which made it impossible to catch it all on my iPhone, even at wide-angle. We watched this flight with friends Becky, Joe and Lynette at 5 in the morning. Shortly after this was taken, we could see the 5 solid boosters fall away, twinkling as they fell towards the ocean. After that, we were treated to a rare spectacle:

This is a photo (not a composite) of the second stage heading over the horizon. It is the yellowish dot near the ocean. Above it is the exhaust plume being lit up by the sunrise. While the sky remains dark for us at 5:15 AM, that rocket is high enough and far enough east to see the rising sun. What a treat that was! Two days after that, there was another Falcon 9 launch that we missed, as it was at 1 AM. Becky, Joe and Lynette saw it, but we couldn’t drag ourselves out of bed. 🙂 We have many more launches coming up, including one from a new company on the Space Coast called Astra. Their first two launches were from Alaska, of all places. NASA is planning on launching their first SLS moon rocket in the spring, so that will hopefully happen while we are here. We also received news that SpaceX is building launch facilities at the cape for Starship, their gigantic rocket that performs a belly flop on its way back down from space.

©️ Jay Deshetler @ NASAspaceflight.com

They are currently conducting those test launches from Texas. Starship will be taller than a Saturn V moon rocket and will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever built. Exciting times around here, for sure.

News closer to home is that we finally have a working refrigerator in the RV! Our previous gas/electric fridge stopped working on electric about a month after the warranty expired, early last year. The service technician we purchased it from came several times last winter, but was never able to resolve the issue. We attempted to get another gas/electric this past summer from Camping World, but twice it arrived damaged. We finally had them refund our money. When we got to Florida, our friends Brenda and Jim told us that their new fifth wheel came with a 12 volt refrigerator. We had never heard of this type, so we looked them up online. It uses a small compressor, similar to a house fridge. The bonus is that it doesn’t have the large absorption unit on the back, so there are 2 more cubic feet of space inside the unit. It keeps things nice and cold, too! Many thanks to our friend Mark for helping us install it.

Back in Michigan, our cabin is online and letting us know that all is well. We have a wifi thermostat that lets us know what the furnace is doing, along with the current inside and outside temperature. Our wall of windows has been a boon when the sun is out, as the temperature in the house climbs above the set point of the thermostat. Free heat is a good thing! We also have a monitor on the propane tanks, so we know how much we have left. The electric cooperative even has an app that shows us our hourly usage. We’ve been pleased with how efficient the cabin has been so far.

Along with our security system, our friends Lane and Patti are keeping an eye on things up there, as are our neighbors on both sides of us. Hopefully these two will be able to bring their fifth wheel south one of these days and hang out in the sun with us. We sure do miss them!

Another fun thing for us is that our barn now has a Menards SKU number, meaning you can go online, get the plans and build one for yourself!

©️ Menards.com

When we designed it, we used their planner…so the design becomes their property. They did ask if they could use it in their ads, so they must really like it! They also have the materials package listed separately on a different page. Search “Valley Garage” on the Menards.com website.

And there is nothing quite like celebrating the holidays on the Space Coast! We kicked off the season on Thanksgiving by celebrating at Jerry and Linda’s place with several other friends. We also went with friends Bonnie and Fred to check out the lights at Wickham Park.

The display is normally a drive through event, but they open it up to walkers one weekend a season. It is huge! Sure is great to see these two again!

Speaking of decorations:

We are all decked out for another holiday season!

We even got the truck into the act this time. 🙂

And last but not least, we have a new Costco on the Space Coast!

Now…if only we could find room in the fifth wheel for this. 🙂

That’s about it for now. Stay tuned for more launches and other Florida fun before we head back north to resume our building project. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Buttoning Up the Cabin and Heading South

Leelanau County, MI to Melbourne Beach, FL – November 9, 2021Written by Jim

Our last few weeks in Michigan were exceptionally busy, as we not only were finishing up our 2021 projects on the cabin, but we also had to winterize the place. We were fortunate to have dry weather in the 60’s, but the nights grew steadily colder. We had no intention of repeating our winter of 2014/2015 in our RV in Michigan. See our ‘Cold Weather RVing’ tab above for more on that adventure. Time to pack up and roll south!

We had three major things to complete before the end of this year on the construction project. First was more for our peace of mind than anything; we wanted to finish assembling and installing the kitchen cabinets.

All of the upper cabinets are done, as is the pantry cabinet on the left. The base cabinets are assembled and in place; they just need doors, a rear wall on the island, and countertops. All of that gold you see in the photo is the morning sun streaming through the windows. There’s a lot of solar gain right there!

The second project we needed to get done was to finish encapsulating the crawl space. You may recall the dirt floor we have down there:

We had been running a dehumidifier constantly and the lowest we could get the humidity level was to 65%. Since total encapsulation is required by the building code, we figured we would be better off to get the 12-mil thick floor liner laid down before we left.

What a difference that made. Not only is it bright and clean, but the humidity level dropped to 42%. There is no need to run the dehumidifier anymore.

The last project was actually our last subcontracted job: the gutters.

Michigan Gutter out of Traverse City did the work for us. They were in and out within a few hours. When I commented on the one piece 54 foot length of the gutter on the far side of the house, the one installer told me that he held the company record for length: a one piece gutter that was a whopping 252 feet long! I’ll bet he had a lot of helpers that day. When the crew left, we were officially finished with subcontractors. Everything else from here on out will be completed by the two of us.

After blowing out the water lines and securing the place, we hooked up and headed south! We took a few weeks to get to Melbourne Beach, and managed a few highlights along the way.

One of those was a stop at Col. Harland Sanders’ original Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky. KFC has recently done a total renovation of this location, making it a combination museum/working restaurant. It wasn’t open yet…except for the drive through, but we could see through the windows. They did a nice job.

We even got to see the Colonel himself at Sanders Park in downtown Corbin. 🙂

Another interesting stop we made along the way was at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. This is one of the few natural gaps in the Appalachian Mountains that has been used for thousand of years by animals and humans seeking passage east and west.

Here’s a panoramic of Diana coming up one side of the gap and going down the other side. There are two tunnels that pass below this area, an auto and a rail passage. Daniel Boone passed through the gap in the 1700’s and the area was heavily fortified during the Civil War. With the ruggedness of the terrain surrounding the trail, we were completely surprised at the fact that a US highway ran through here as recently as 1996. The US Highway Department and the National Park Service did a fantastic job of restoring and reforesting the trail!

The sign at the saddle of the gap reads: Salt seeking buffalo, Moccasin clad warriors, Dreaming Pioneer, Battling Civil War soldiers. Each was here in the Historic Cumberland Gap and now so are you. This is the Historic Cumberland Gap. Across from the sign is an offshoot trail that heads up to Tri-State Peak. We followed that trail to a small gazebo that covers a US Geological Survey marker.

Here’s Diana with her feet in three states simultaneously: Kentucky on the left, Tennessee on the right and Virginia behind her. Surprisingly, there are 62 places in the US where three (and only three) states meet. Of those, 35 are on dry land and 27 are in water.

The last highlight was a return to Savannah, GA and Fort Pulaski National Monument.

The engineering that went into this fort is remarkable, yet it was rendered obsolete by the Union Army’s introduction of the rifled cannon shell. More on that story can be found in our post from our first visit by clicking HERE.

We arrived at our winter home in Melbourne Beach on November 1.

We look forward to a winter full of spectacular sunrises, sunsets and (hopefully) a few rocket launches! Stay tuned for that. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

A Friendly Push

October 8, 2021 – Leelanau County, MI – Written by Jim

“Pushhhhh.”

That was Diana’s dad’s response back in the 1980’s when she asked him how he was able to find the energy to totally renovate a house in the evening, all while working during the day as a superintendent for a commercial construction firm.

At the time, he was overseeing the renovation of the concrete topping at Buick City, working twelve hours a day and being on call the other twelve. That job was a monumental task in its own right, let alone throwing a home remodel into the mix. Diana and I have thought of Bud’s statement many times this summer, as we’ve had to push ourselves a bit to get our cabin building project to where it needed to be by season’s end. As the days slipped by on the calendar, it seemed at times that we had a bit more on our plate than we could chew.

Enter the friendly push.

Every one of our friends who has stopped by this summer has added to our project in some way, whether it be through moral support or by picking up a tool and digging in. These past few weeks have been a flurry of activity, fueled by the “pushhhhh” of our friends.

One of the deadlines we had to meet was finishing up the mechanical work this year. That involved all heating and venting work, including the ductwork from the microwave oven to the outside. In order to complete that, the microwave had to be installed above the range. I called my friend John who was there in a flash to help me with that project. Of course, I failed to get a photo. But…

…John’s wife Julie was able to photobomb her own photo when she shot this image of our friends Cindy and Jessica, who had stopped by to check out our progress. Julie is in the reflection in the door glass. Cindy and Jessica are neighbors in Kalamazoo, and John, Cindy, Diana and I all lived in the same dorm in college.

A week or so later, our friends Jim and Barb went way out of their way to lend a hand with our build. You may recall that we had stopped at their place in South Dakota to help them with their barndominium in 2019. Details of that project can be seen HERE. This trip, the two of them had been fishing and hunting north of Lake Superior and drove several hundred miles out of their way to lend us a hand.

We started out our long weekend by showing them the local sights. From there, we plotted our course to complete some key projects. First up was emptying the contents of our local storage room, as we had stashed many of our supplies there over the summer. We filled our 16 foot cargo trailer twice, so this was no small feat.

Next up was digging a trench across our driveway for a service conduit.

While I had loosened the soil with a metal tube chained to my tractor, Jim did the lion’s share of the digging. No better way to get to know Leelanau than to dig into it’s rocky soil! Once that was complete, Jim helped me add a support beam to the deck in the above photo that has the tools leaning against it.

We finished up by adding some diagonal braces to the main deck, which took out the sway at the outer reaches of it. When we were all done, Jim pulled out his drone and took some aerial photos for us. Here is one that shows our hideaway really well:

That was a huge weekend. We can’t thank them enough for their help!

The next big events to happen were the electrician and the HVAC tradesmen finishing their work.

It’s exciting to have power and heat! Those were followed by the electrical and mechanical final inspections, both of which were approved.

We also had a visit from our friends Becky and Joe!

They were on a journey from their home in Montana to our park in Florida. We hung out at our place for a bit before going to dinner at one of our favorite places, Hop Lot. It was great to see them!

Now we are on a push to finish a few things before we head south for the winter.

We have been able to complete more of the cabinet work this week. This won’t be totally finished before we leave, but it will be closer than this.

We also moved our appliances inside from the barn. We want to test them out and make sure they work while they are in the same year that we purchased them. That refrigerator was a tight fit!

We have a few more things we want to accomplish before we leave for Florida, so be sure to stay tuned for that. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

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