LaughFest

“Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.”

Gilda Radner

Very few of us over the age of 40 are unaware of Gilda Radner, that hilarious spark plug of a woman who tore up the airwaves each week on Saturday Night Live.

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©2015 NBC

With her characters such as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella, and Baba Wawa, she found a way to our collective funny bone on SNL with every performance. Little did we know at the time, she was to only to be with us for a short time. Ovarian cancer took her from us at an early age, as that awful disease so often does in the families it touches.

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©2015 Gilda’s Club

Gilda was married to Gene Wilder at the time of her death. Upon her passing, Gene wanted to leave a lasting legacy to her. One of the things Gilda was quoted as saying was ” Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I’d rather not belong to”. So with that in mind, Wilder teamed with Joanna Bull and Joel Siegel to form Gilda’s Club in New York. The purpose of the ‘club’ was to provide a place where people touched by cancer could go for information, guidance, to talk, cry or (most importantly) laugh. Before long, Gilda’s Clubs opened all over the country.

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©2015 Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids

GIlda’s Club opened a chapter in Grand Rapids in 2001.

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©2015 Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids

It is located in a restored farmhouse in a peaceful setting at the outskirts of downtown Grand Rapids. Gilda’s Club of Grand Rapids offers cancer, grief and emotional health support for children, adults, family and friends. People with cancer and their families can come and go as they please, to seek out comfort and compassion as they work their way through their journey with the disease. They also offer community outreach and in-school programs. People are encouraged to give themselves permission to smile again…something Gilda referred to as ‘finding her funny again’. We were invited to GCGR by Sister Sue Tracy to hear her speak. Being surrounded by other cancer survivors let us know that we were not alone.

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©2015 Mlive

We were first introduced to Sr. Sue when she, in the role of chaplain at Spectrum Health, sang Christmas carols with my extremely ill mother. She will go to any length to get patients to laugh, and is a joy to be around. She is in her 5th battle with cancer…yes, I said FIFTH. I have had the pleasure of walking laps with her at the downtown YMCA on occasion. She once told me that she was invited to speak on Mackinac Island and was given a beautiful room with a king sized bed. But the real bonus was that there was two mints on the pillow and she got to eat them both. She then told me “Jim, there ARE benefits to being celibate!” What a great lady. If anyone deserves sainthood, it is undoubtedly Sr. Sue.

With Gilda’s Club being free of charge for the people it serves, they rely on donations to keep them going. In 2011, they launched LaughFest, a 10-day comedy festival in March. Quite honestly, Grand Rapids usually needs a reason to laugh by March! This is but one way they seek to fund their programs.

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©2015 Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids

That first year saw 642 artists on 49 stages around town, and included names like Betty White, Bill Cosby, Margaret Cho, Kevin Hart and Gabriel Iglesias. It was a huge success. Each year has brought more talent to town, and the festival has spread throughout the entire metro region. This year, the headliners are Wanda Sykes, George Lopez, Billy Gardell and Colin & Brad from ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway?”. LaughFest will have somewhere in the vicinity of 900 artists. Obviously, a festival of this size requires an army of volunteers.

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Count us in! With us being retired, we decided to give back to the community for all the support we received though our journey with my cancer.

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We attended a meeting last night for new volunteers. By the time the meeting started, this room was packed. Next week, we will meet with the specific group we will be working with, namely ‘Front of House’. We will sign up to work events over the course of the 10 days of LaughFest, and will do things like taking tickets, ushering, greeting patrons and so on.

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It promises to be a very fun experience, that is for sure. We will keep you posted on the festivities, as they occur. There will be a lot going on in a short time frame. Or, as Gilda would say… “It’s always something!”

Dunedin to St. Pete – Throwback Thursday

“Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.”
Anonymous

Back in our working days, we would grab a week (or two or three) and head to some very fun places. We are going to feature those in a Throwback Thursday post every now and then. Today, we head to Florida for spring break!

One of our favorite spots to head was Dunedin, which is located south of Tarpon Springs and north of Clearwater. We had discovered the Dunedin RV Resort, and stayed there a few times with our Sunline travel trailer.

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They had a great pool (no hot tub) that they shared with the Blue Moon Inn that was out by the road. Both facilities were owned by the same family, and have since been purchased by Carefree Resorts.

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After using the inn one year for Diana’s family, we decided trying to haul the trailer from Michigan to Florida for 10 days was too much. The ice and snow we ran into on our way back the last trip confirmed that decision. We started flying to Tampa after that and staying at the inn.

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The deluxe rooms were a treat, as they had these jetted tubs…

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…and walk in showers. They also had a nice breakfast every morning, especially when the family owned it.

The resort was very close to the Fred Marquis Pinellas Bike Trail, and also Honeymoon Island State Park. The causeway to the island was a great place for a stroll, and the island itself offered decent access to the Gulf.

A favorite restaurant of ours in Dunedin was Kelly’s For Just About Anything.

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Copyright 2015 Kelly’s

The atmosphere can best be described as ‘eclectic’, and the food is outstanding. We have eaten there more times than we can count, and we have yet to be disappointed. We recommend eating on the back patio. It is a great experience. They are open from breakfast through dinner (and beyond). They have a full bar.

Another spot that was recommended to us was La Trattoria da Gaetano.

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Copyright 2015 Examiner.com

This place is in a non-descript strip mall in Dunedin. When we ate there, we were the only ones for the entire evening. When we came in, the owner greeted Diana by saying “Señora, where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you!” He then brought out a cart of raw meat…

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Copyright 2015 Yelp.com

…and proceeded to tell us what he could make for us. No menu, so we were unsure what it would cost. It was outstanding. I had Veal Marsala, and I could hear him in the kitchen, pounding away at the veal to tenderize it. If you go, look for the peephole in the painting on the wall. It goes through to the kitchen, so he can see who is coming in the door, or when you are ready for your next course. We got out of there, with wine and a healthy tip, for around $100. That was a good 10 years ago.

Our favorite beach spot in that area is Caddy’s On The Beach.

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This little gem is located in Treasure Island/Sunset Beach, immediately north of St Pete Beach. It is a 25 mile drive from Dunedin, but well worth it. Parking is $5, and you get a $5 coupon for food or drink. The chair attendants work for tips only. Quite often, we would get there at 10 AM and stay until 6 PM. You are allowed to bring buckets of beer from the bar to your chairs. As long as you kept your towels on your chairs, you could leave them unattended and not worry about losing them.

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We could walk quite a ways south…

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…or quite a ways north.

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The food was always decent for a beach bar, and there was usually a musician playing island tunes. Definitely a great place to lose yourself for an afternoon.

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And it was tough to beat the view!

It’s Showtime!

“There is no such thing as a free RV show”. 🙂
Diana Belisle, 2003

We found that out in 2003 when we went to a show that had free admission, only to come home with a 24 foot Sunline travel trailer. :). That didn’t happen this year at the Grand Rapids RV show, but a life-changing accelerated ‘realization’ did happen to us at last year’s event. Last January, we decided to check out the seminars; something we didn’t normally do. There were two separate presenters: Jim DuFresne (travel videos) and Howard and Linda Payne of RV-Dreams. Howard and Linda were giving seminars on fulltime RVing, something they had been doing for nearly 10 years, after dropping out of corporate America in their early forties.

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Copyright 2014, RV-Dreams.com

Up to that point, I had pretty much decided I was going to retire sometime in 2014, but Diana was not sure if she would teach another year beyond June. We had been researching fulltime RVing for years, prior to the show. After listening to the Payne’s seminars, we came away focused that we were going to make a move sooner than later. This lifestyle was not only doable, but was something we felt we needed to do, so as to not miss our chance of being able to roam America in good health. We had seen enough people fall prey to illness, and I myself had survived prostate cancer (5 years…yea!!!) so, by the end of March, I had retired. I immediately began the process of finishing our basement, in order to sell our house.

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Above is the basement bathroom in process.

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Here is the basement bathroom complete.

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Above is the main room of basement in process.

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Here is the main room of basement complete.

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This is the great room with a fresh coat of paint, staged and ready to put on the market.

As we pushed through the purging and renovating, Diana made the decision that she was ready to put an exclamation point on her teaching career. We made the trek to Lansing and filed the necessary paperwork.

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Woo-hoo! That girl is indeed one happy camper!

After Diana’s retirement in July, it was an all out push to have the house listed before Labor Day weekend. We knew the housing market was red hot in Grand Rapids, and we also knew it would slow to a crawl, once school started. We contacted a realtor who got the ball rolling, and the open house was set for the Sunday, August 24. We had three offers the first day, and the buyers accepted our counter offer 44 hours after the agent opened the front door to lookers.

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In mid September, we attended RV-Dreams’ Fall Rally in Goshen, Indiana. The weeklong event focused on educating attendees on everything involved in being a fulltime RVer.

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Copyright 2014, RV-Dreams.com

We met a lot of great people at that rally. In the coming years, we will feature them as we go. Here is a photo of us at sign-up. The woman in the blue shirt is fellow blogger Debbie from Down the Road with Steve and Debbie and the woman in the pink sweater is Jo from This Moment in Time. Jo and her husband Craig hail from Texas, while Steve and Debbie are from California. Check out both of their blogs to see their recent rendezvous along the Gulf coast.

During the rally, we received news from our agent that our closing date on the house was set. When we announced it to our fellow rally attendees, a collective round of applause went up. 🙂

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By early October, we were pulling out of the driveway. Our first adventure was a grueling 2-1/2 mile trip to our current campground. To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, it was a small step…but in reality, it was a giant leap for us. We are wintering in Michigan this year to be by Diana’s mom.

Over the fall and winter, we lost our dear Jenny to cancer. She loved going for rides, and luckily had plenty of adventures during her 10-1/2 years. Her death was very hard on the two of us. Man, do we miss her.

So, our return to this year’s show was somewhat of a homecoming. Howard and Linda were off working the Dayton, Ohio show this year, and Grand Rapids had Shari Galiardi and her husband David Hutchison from Tales from a Mid-Lifeventure. They are traveling in their 1957 Sportcraft ‘canned ham’ trailer. Theirs is a totally different lifestyle than ours is in our 31 foot 5th wheel, but they are painting their portrait as they see fit, and that is what it is all about. They were delightful.

As you can see, this past year was a life-changing experience for us. The adventure of 2015 has begun, and we are excited to explore the vistas of this next chapter. The wonderful thing is our ability to move and adapt, so we are hoping to roll with the punches, rejoice in the victories, and savor the sweetness that our adventure brings us.

The Mysterious RV Refrigerator

Caller: Is your refrigerator running?
Homeowner: Yes.
Caller: You better catch it!

That is probably THE lamest prank call ever conceived! :). Had that call come to us over the past couple of days, the joke would have been spoiled…just like our ice cream! Our trusty Norcold slowly got warmer, and it seemed to coincide with the outside temperatures getting much colder. Our readings in Grand Rapids dropped to near zero, and the wind chill was 10 to 20 below.

A quick surf of the web revealed the problem. RV refrigerators remove the warmth within them by actually heating the refrigerant in the lines. The actual process is lost on me, but I did understand when it said the coolant actually turns to gel in extremely cold temperatures. This occurs in the compartment that is vented to the outside of the rig. So Job #1 was to get some heat in there to liquefy the coolant. I followed a few suggestions on the web, as shown below.

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First thing I did was to make sure the vent on the roof wasn’t blocked with snow. While there was ice in the vicinity of it, the actual vent was clear.

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Next was to tape over the top two slots on the outside vent. This will need to be removed in the spring when we get above freezing, but it is OK for now. This allows some of the heat to be held in, yet still allows some ventilation.

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The last addition was a heat source; in this case, a clip on shop light. I used a 60 watt bulb in it, and was careful to not have the aluminum shroud rest against anything combustible. That was left on overnight to warm up the coolant, and will be used throughout the rest of this winter.

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Fortunately for us, we were able to put the items we could salvage into coolers on our deck. The outside temps were such that no ice was required!

The next portion is a heads up to anyone who might encounter this same issue. When the unit initially stopped working, there was an error code presented on the control panel. We had the green light blinking 5 times in rapid succession.

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This was definitely a case of “when all else fails, read the instructions”. Instead of getting the manual out, I turned off the fridge, then turned it back on. Still blinking. That simple act of turning it back on resulted in a LOT of extra work. If this happens to you, turn off the refrigerator and read the owners manual. Do NOT turn it back on. As the coolant had not yet liquefied, the problem still existed. Upon researching the issue, I found out that I not only needed to warm the refrigerant up, I now also needed to reset the circuit board, as two successive trouble codes result in a reset.

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The black box with the warnings plastered all over it holds the board. To access it, wires need to be unplugged…in a certain order. Once the cover is off, the sequence needs to be reversed.

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The instructions online then call for a jumper wire to be used between the “open pin to the right of the violet/white wire on the 16 pin plug and a ground, and hold for 15 seconds until you hear a clicking sound and the burner ignites.” Well, first off, there was a 10 pin plug and a 6 pin plug…not a 16 pin plug. The open pin was to the left of the violet/white wire…and that was not the only open pin. Is this starting to sound like an adventure movie? I took a chance and used the jumper from the open pin next to violet/white to a ground. “Click…whoosh!” Success! I then had to reverse the process of taking the cover off to put the cover back on. It was a lot easier to do, knowing that the fridge was working again!

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Today’s temperatures are right around 30 degrees, which made the project a little easier.

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We received a foot of snow since our last post, and the campground looks really pretty. So far, winter has been a lot easier than last year, even though we are 14″ above the snowfall average for this date.

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Above is a photo of our house last February. Grand Rapids had 111″ of snow for the season last year, and Holland (25 miles southwest of us) had 152″…and since we never had a mid-winter thaw, most of it stuck around for the duration. So far, we are at 50.7″, most of which melted during the December thaw. There is a lot of winter left, though!

So, if your refrigerator is running, better catch it. If it isn’t…run south! 🙂

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Baby, it’s cold outside!

“There’s just something beautiful about walking on snow that nobody else has walked on. It makes you believe you’re special.”
Carol Rifka Brunt

Today was a special day in so many ways. Sure, it had it’s challenges (as so many days do), but it was one that will stand out and sustain us through the remainder of the winter.

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Take a look at that sky and that snow! That is the kind of powder that crunches under your feet. Outside temperature at noon was a balmy 7 degrees, and the wind chill was well below that. Of all days to have our satellite TV installed! So the first task at hand this morning was to shovel out the parking area and clean off Diana’s Escape, so she could get over to her mom’s place to take care of her needs. I also wanted to make sure there was room for the installer to pull in. I am a tad O/C when it comes to shoveling, as I like to make sure there aren’t any straggler piles left behind. My Fitbit Flex let me know that fact when it announced to me that I had achieved 10,000 steps without my normal 4 mile walk at the YMCA.

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With that sunshine, it was not too tough of a chore.

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I did make sure to shovel a path to the fence row, as I knew the installer was going to have to find a clear shot at the satellite. Most of the row is covered with trees, but he did manage to find one spot.

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By late afternoon, we were good to go! The pole is a temporary setup, as we will have to get a tripod to make our dish truly portable. It is good to have a nice, clear HD picture again. Thank you to Gilbert for a great installation experience.

With the temperatures getting into the single digits, we were finally putting our winter preparations to the test. Our first surprise came the other night when Diana turned on the faucet to find that we didn’t have any water. This was truly a surprise, as the campground had installed new heated faucets in the fall, and we had invested in a heated hose that was rated to 40 below.

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The culprit ended up being the cheap pressure regulator that we had been using. Once I removed it, we were back in business. Our campground’s water pressure is reasonable, so we feel comfortable running without the regulator for now.

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As you can see, the hose melts the snow around it and has performed as advertised. Richard’s investment in the heated faucets has also provided our row with trouble-free service. Again, our gratitude for his efforts and the service he provides in keeping Woodchip open in the winter.

Our temperature under the rig at noon was 41 degrees. We are running the electric heater under there, resulting in a slightly higher electric bill. We feel that expenditure to be cheap insurance against frozen waste tanks.

Our interior humidity issues have improved dramatically. In the fall, we had purchased an EvaDry Petite humidifier and a larger EvaDry dehumidifier. The bigger unit’s transformer became extremely warm, and we ended up not using it. Dissatisfied, we sent it back to Amazon and purchased a second Petite. Once that was in place, our humidity levels dropped immediately. We also have keep the bathroom window and vent cracked open, as was recommended to us by Glyn Carson at the RV-Dreams rally. We can’t explain why it works, as it seems to defy all logic…but it does.

So, with our TV up and running and our daily tasks behind us, we decided to celebrate! One of our favorite spots to go for a special night out has always been the Carrabba’s in Grandville, MIchigan. Granted, Carrabba’s is part of a chain, but they are consistantly good…no matter what town we find ourselves in. They also do a great job of taking my gluten allergy into account, and they have one of the better gluten free menus available.

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The Grandville Carrabba’s has something that no other one has: Bob; seen here with Diana. We always call ahead to see if he is working and request him to be our server. He is head and shoulders above any waiter we have ever had serve us, and we have been to a lot of restaurants during our working years. Bob is a recommendation we feel rock solid in making, short of the fact we feel we are letting our little secret out.

So, what could have been a mundane Wednesday, ended up being a pretty nice day. We were able to spend a great afternoon and evening together, and we managed to complete our entertainment system in our rig. It ended up being a little sweeter, given the fact it all took place on the coldest day of the winter so far!