All posts by exploRVistas

Full time RVers. Our motto is "Don't just see it...BE it"©

Rockets and Red Cars

This season is shaping up to be the winter of rockets and red cars for us.  Living on the Space Coast of Florida, we’ve been fortunate to see several launches this winter, as SpaceX and United Launch Alliance have been very busy.  As you probably have seen by now, the biggest rocket contained a red Tesla roadster.  While that was beyond cool, it wasn’t the only red vehicle launch for us.  More on that in a bit…

On January 29th, our friends Phyllis and Bernie came up from Fort Pierce for a visit.

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Diana and Phyllis worked together back in West Michigan.  They checked out our park and then we went to Sebastian Beach Inn for a late lunch.  It was great to see them again!

On January 31, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a communications satellite.

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The mission required a full thrust to a high orbit, so the booster wasn’t able to return to the Cape.  I was fortunate to get our Nikon focused enough to get this shot as the spacecraft flew by us.  This is zoomed all the way, plus cropped to make it even bigger.

A mere 7 days later, SpaceX launched their Falcon Heavy rocket for the very first time.  Luckily, this coincided with a visit by my sister Judy and her hubby Dale!

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It was a perfect day for a show!

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There were a lot of people watching up and down the beach.

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And it’s liftoff, as viewed from Melbourne Beach!  The Cape is just far enough away that it’s over the horizon.

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This is my best photo of it.  We were viewing it from the side, so it’s hard to see the side boosters.  There is a Tesla in that nose cone!  We did see the boosters separate, then fire side-by-side to begin their return to the Cape.  A minute or so later, they relit and landed in almost perfect unison.

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My cousin Mary was much closer up at Cocoa Beach and posted this photo on Facebook of the boosters coming in. Beyond cool!

After the launch, the four of us went to dinner at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort.

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What a fun day!

So what else have we been doing?  Well, between substitute teaching assignments, Diana and I decided to go for a drive in Edsel the Escape yesterday up to Jacksonville.

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Before Edsel knew what happened, his license plate was off and Diana was shaking hands with William the car salesman.  Meet Edsel 2 on the left, our new 2018 Ford Escape!  Now all we need to do is to make sure Elon Musk doesn’t launch it into space. 🙂

We’ve also been planning our summer trip, which we will talk about in a future post.  It’s also maintenance season for our rig and vehicles….uhhhh, well one vehicle.  We sort of took care of any maintenance that needed to be done on the Escape!

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The biggest job of all is waxing the fifth wheel.  It takes me a few weeks to complete the job, as I only tackle a section each morning.  That strategy to be much easier on my body than trying to knock it out in a couple of days.  And that leaves the afternoons free for the beach and the next rocket launch!

Is Substitute Teaching Work Camping?

This post is written by Diana.

As you have read about Jim’s job at UPS this winter, I’m guessing more than a few have wondered if I’m been just sitting around eating Bon Bons and watching soap operas. Well I admit, I did go to the beach a couple of days.

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However, the majority of my time was spent applying to be a substitute teacher. Working with the Junior Ranger Program at Oregon State Parks this summer reminded me of how much I love kids and teaching. Jim and I have often commented about the nice elementary school near us as we have biked by it many times the last couple of years. Why not see if I could substitute teach there?

It took almost two months of work to complete the many requirements to get approved. I had to complete layers of information online, have official copies of my transcripts ($10) sent from the colleges where I earned my degrees, get a recommendation form completed by each of the five places I have worked the last ten years, and apply for the county to accept my Michigan teaching certificate for substitute teaching ($25). Brevard County Schools do not require you to have a certificate, but they do pay more if you have one. The highest rate for substitute teaching goes to retired teachers, so I also had to get a letter from the district I retired from in Michigan. In addition, I had to set up an account for direct deposit of my paychecks. Many times during this process, I wished I had more of my official documentation that is back in our storage room.

Once all of the above was completed, I was cleared to set up an interview with an administrator of our local elementary. This was a full interview with the assistant principal where I was given different classroom and discipline scenarios and asked how I would respond to them. I haven’t taught in 3 1/2 years, so some of my answers referred to my more recent experiences as an interpretive host. Luckily the interview went very well and they forwarded their approval on to the county. The elementary that seemed so nice on the outside, was even warmer and friendlier on the inside. I was getting excited!

The next hoops to jump through were drug testing ($30), finger printing, and a background check ($50). I received official notification that I was approved just before the students went on Christmas break. This gave me time to set up the online program for signing up for open substitute positions, as well as the online portal to see my pay account. In addition, there were many pages of information to read regarding school policy and procedures for substitute teachers. One packet alone was over 35 pages.

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When school resumed January 8th, I was ready to go. The county has an automated program that calls with offers of substitute positions the evening before from 5-8 pm, and again from 5:30 to the start of school in the morning. I can also search online for openings in the four elementary schools that I selected. However, most positions are filled before they are ever available to the general pool of subs. The secretaries and teachers like to assign their favorite subs and only post openings online as a last resort. I get it, I was the same way. Therefore, it takes a while to build up your reputation.

I have worked three days so far. Of course we took off one week to go to the Tampa RV show, so this is only the beginning of the third week I have been available. The first day I subbed was a blast! I was called by the secretary the night before, so it was nice that it wasn’t the morning of. It was a sixth grade position and I taught science and social studies. I was nervous that morning, but with 30-plus years of experience it all came back to me rather quickly. I was able to teach the level and subjects that I love, and then go home at the end of the day. I felt a little guilty watching the other teachers stay to grade papers, make lesson plans, and contact parents. Well not that guilty, I paid my dues. 🙂  The other two days were more supervision than teaching, which is fine but not nearly as much fun. It’s still a treat to be around the kids though. They do have a way of keeping you young and up on the latest trends.

A general definition of work camping is any job you are doing while camping. So yes, I consider substitute teaching work camping. As a retired teacher the rate of $16.25 per hour is on the high end of work camping jobs, but of course they don’t pay for our campsite. I like that it allows you to be flexible and block out days when you may have other plans. Being ready early every morning for a call that might not come, is definitely one of the down sides. I am also concerned about staying healthy, especially with the flu that is currently going around. I will let you know how things go. One nice thing is if I sub five days this school year, I do not have to reapply for next year.

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If anyone has a good gluten-free recipe for Bon Bons, I’ve got some free time for baking. – Jim

Mid-winter Road Trip

With the arrival of our halfway point in Florida, we decided to give the fifth wheel a mid-winter spin this past week.  As fulltime RVer’s, it’s a good thing to move down the road on occasion, if nothing more that to remember how it’s done.  After all, we are getting older.

With that being said, we set out to visit relatives and friends last Sunday, and to take in the RV show in Tampa.  The latter actually involved us boondocking at the Florida State Fairgrounds for a few nights, which we will talk about in more detail below.  We left the Escape on our site in Melbourne Beach, along with our carpet and our solar yard lights.  Even with that presence, we were the talk of the park when we left.  One of the residents waited for us to pass by his rig and asked, “Are you coming back?”  People tend not to move, once they are here…and most leave their rigs onsite all year long.  We are the anomaly in the fact that we actually use the wheels that are attached to our rig.  We have to remind ourselves that, even though we are surrounded by RVers, most people in the park are not fulltiming in their rigs.  Either way, we all are having fun…and that’s all that matters.

Our first stop was at Southern Oaks RV Resort in Summerfield, Florida, between Ocala and Leesburg.  We spent one night there to see Diana’s brother and his family.  We went out for pizza at Stavros in Lady Lake, which was very tasty!

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From left.  Our niece Danielle, Diana, Danielle’s children: Sarah, Dalton, (cute but not related neighbor boy in the green jacket), and Caydon. Diana’s sister-in-law Carla, Diana’s brother Dan, and me.  It was really fun being able to see them again!

The next morning, we headed further west to the town of Beverly Hills, Florida, to see our friends Rod and Mary.  You may recall that they work camped with us for two seasons at Wild Cherry Resort in Michigan, and they also owned a home in Melbourne Beach.  They were the ones who found our park for us.  They recently bought a brand new home further inland on one acre of land, which gives them a lot more breathing room than they had on their 5700 square foot lot here by the beach.  The only other time we had been to the area was many years ago when Diana’s dad was the construction superintendent on a community college in neighboring Lecanto.  We were pleasantly surprised by the area, as it features more hills and oak trees than anywhere else we had visited in Florida.  We set up camp at Sandy Oaks Resort, which we thought was nice.  That evening, they treated us to a wonderful Filet Mignon dinner at their home. And we got to see Gracie girl, their wonderful English Shepard.

The next day, the four of us headed to the Withlacoochee State Trail, which is a 46 mile long asphalt rail trail between the towns of Dunnellon and Dade City.

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Even though it was a brisk morning, the sun warmed us up pretty quickly.  The vegetation surrounding the path reminded us of late fall on the Leelanau Trail in northern Michigan.  We rode 5 miles north from Lecanto Highway to the northern terminus and back.

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What a great morning for a ride with friends!

That afternoon, we headed a few miles over to the town of Crystal River.  Rod and Mary rented a kayak and we put Ketchup and Mustard in Florida waters for the first time ever.

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Our destination was Three Sisters Spring, as the manatees like to congregate there.

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Mary was able to capture this gentle giant coming up under their boat.  We saw several manatees along the route, which was really fun!

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When we were done kayaking, we headed to dinner at Crackers in Crystal River, then said our farewells for a bit.  We hope to see Rod and Mary again before we leave Florida in April.  We had a wonderful time with them, as we always do!

4 AM Wednesday morning came early, as we packed up the rig and headed south to Tampa for the Florida RV Supershow.  Our goal was to get their early enough to set up the rig in the parking lot without the hoards of people who come in their cars for the event.  We actually did rather well, considering it was foggy in places, and the fact there was heavy traffic along the route.  The usual traffic jam by the show had not materialized yet, so navigating the parking lot was fairly easy.   This was the first time we had attempted to bring the RV.  Our logic was that the show is so large it usually takes two days to see it.  They even ticket the event that way, giving attendees the second day free.  It cost $12 (one time) to park the RV and truck, along with $20 for each night we stayed.  No hookups are provided, so we were sure to come with a full water tank and empty grey and black tanks.  We also brought our new generator, which we looked forward to trying out.  The one thing we failed to do was to fill the one propane tank that ran out the previous night.  With the Wednesday night temperature forecast to drop to a low of 29 degrees, we knew we would need to make a propane run after the show closed on Wednesday.  Unfortunately, the U-Haul dealer we went to for a fill-up had a broken pump, and the other stations in the area either didn’t carry propane or were unwilling to sell to us at night.  We did fine that night, but I was sure to be at another U-Haul dealer in Brandon at 7 AM when they opened.  I needed to be back to the rig before the masses started pouring into the show at 9 AM.

As far as the show goes, Diana and I covered the main indoor building on Wednesday morning and started looking at rigs in the outdoor area in the afternoon.  A raw north wind rolled in after lunch, and made being in the rigs much more desirable than being outside!  We did see one layout that caught our eye, but we really aren’t ready to move in that direction just yet.  Still it was fun to see what’s out there.

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On Thursday, we checked out more of the show before lunch, then we headed back to the rig.  We made plans to have our friends Kelly and Bill from BK American Odyssey over for chili.  It was great to see them again!  Afterwards, the four of us checked out the show for a few more hours, which is always fun.  We ran into fellow RV-Dreamers Guy and Sue from Our ‘Rovin’ Journey, who attended the same Spring 2014 RV-Dreams rally that Kelly and Bill attended.  It was the first time we had met.  Hopefully we will get to see them again down the road!  Midway through the afternoon, Bill and Kelly had to head out for a dinner date, so we finished up the show on our own.  Afterwards, we both realized that we had forgotten to take photos.  At 6 PM, we headed back to our rig as the vendors were all closing up for the night, so we definitely put in a full day!

Friday morning, we packed up the rig early and exited the fairgrounds before the crowds showed up.  We chose a different route back to Melbourne Beach, taking State Route 60 all the way across to Vero Beach, then north on A-1-A to our park.  Despite some traffic lights and suburban congestion near Tampa, the route was much easier than trying to navigate Orlando on the way back.  As a bonus, the Thursday night Atlas V launch from Kennedy Space Center was delayed until Friday evening, so we were fortunate to be able to watch it streak by as it headed southeast past us over the Atlantic.

 

All in all, it was a great week with friends and family, and a great little getaway!  Tune in next time to see what we’ve been up to.  As always, thanks for following along with exploRVistas!

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PASSPORT AMERICA NEWS!!!

If you join Passport America between now and January 31 and use us as a referral, you receive 6 months free.  That’s 18 months of half price camping for just $44.  We’ve been members for several years and have saved way more than the membership fee.

If you would, go to https://passportamerica.com/joins/signup and enter the following number in the member referral section near the top of the page:

C-643950

We certainly appreciate using us as a referral!

 

 

UPS Wrap-up and a Visit from Rick

Friday dawned like so many other days had the past few months….completing my morning routine, followed by packing a lunch, gathering my scanner and cellphone and getting ready to head out to my pod to deliver more packages.  After a post Christmas lull, volume this past week had actually increased to a point where I delivered  100 packages to 76 homes on Thursday.  The word coming from the office was that all pods were going to be pulled at the end of the workday on January 12.  As I prepared to step out the door, I heard a ‘DINNNNG’  come from my phone.  A group text had just come in stating that all pods were being pulled and that we were all done for the year.  Seeing that the temperature was only going to be in the 40’s and I was going to be zipping around on a golf cart without a windshield that day, I was pretty darned happy to read that little piece of information.  🙂

So, as promised, here is a quick wrap-up of my time as a UPS Seasonal Helper.  I worked a total of 7 weeks, plus the time they paid me for to train and fill out paperwork.  Four of those weeks included Saturdays, which were time-and-a-half for the complete shift.  The entire time logged came in at 198 hours, so most of the workdays were fairly short.  Even with the overtime, the job grossed just a little over $2100.  Was that worth it?  Well, given that I was able to accomplish a few things in the morning before I headed in and after I got home, I’d say yes.  The job more than covered our camping cost over the time I worked, and that’s at Florida beachfront rates.  Diana took care of most everything at home, so there was no pressure to do any of that when I got back from work.  I never felt rushed while on my route; with that being said, it is in my nature to hustle, so UPS definitely got their money’s worth.  Including time for sorting and just plain waiting for my truck to arrive (a couple of times over 2 hours, but most times my packages were there when I got there), I averaged around 20 parcels delivered an hour. So, as Amazon would say, I delivered 4000 smiles. 🙂  Every single customer I came in contact with was happy to see me, except one: the gentleman that received a case of wine.  Even though he was my second stop that particular run, he was very upset that his wine case had been subject to Florida sunlight in my open-topped trailer.  He accepted delivery and signed for it, but boy did he whine about his wine.  As I drove away, I pondered the fact that the winery shipped its product in a jet-black box, so they must not be too worried about heat affecting their product.  Even if he had purchased his wine at a local store, what conditions might that case have been subjected to, prior to him receiving it?  I smiled and continued on my way, knowing full well that I’m not going to be able to complete this gig with 100% satisfied customers.  🙂

Some of you may be wondering if this job was physically demanding.  From a lifting standpoint, I would probably answer that with “at times”.  I’m a fairly big guy, so at no time did I require assistance from another driver…which is an option, should something be too heavy.  The largest and heaviest item was the huge box containing a Schwinn Airdyne mentioned in an earlier post that I slid and tipped into and out of my trailer.  In most cases where a big parcel was involved, I was able to drive the cart and trailer right up the driveway to the house.  The thing that probably tired me out the most was getting on and off a golf cart in the vicinity of 80 times a shift.  The body part that hurt the most ended up not being my back, but my hands.  I had a tendency to carry smaller boxes in a similar fashion as palming a basketball.  Once I realized that I was doing it…and it hurt…I adjusted the way I held the packages.  It may sound silly, but I also had a sore ‘texting’ thumb from all of the work I had to do on the phone/scanner.  With all this being said, I rarely felt totally spent at the end on my shift…either physically or mentally.

The other thing that I should mention is the weather conditions.  Being halfway down the Atlantic coast of Florida, most days were perfect.  I did have one day that was a torrential downpour, two days that were steady rain, and one day that was just wet enough to require me to tarp the load.  I never had lightning to contend with, but my friend Rod did the year before, so I knew it was a possibility.  There were several days that were downright cold.  But, we have a saying in our family, courtesy of my cousin Sue’s husband John:  “There is no such thing as bad weather…only poor gear choices.”  John, except for the time my rain pants failed (which I replaced with a great pair from REI), I was in the proper gear and came through the job dry and warm.  I even found a use for my fleece texting gloves!

So to summarize the job, I’d have to say I really enjoyed it.  I plan on doing it again next year, so that says a lot in itself.  I was fortunate to have a good route, although I would like one a little closer to our park.  Like anything, if you come in knowing that there could be pitfalls to the job, it makes it easier to roll with it when things don’t go well.  For the most part, they did go well, so I plan on being behind the wheel again next November!

In other news, our friend Rick (On the Road with Maxine and Me) paid us a visit on the Saturday before New Years Day!

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He had come down from his work camping gig at Hamburg State Park in Georgia to visit us and his friend Patty, who lives south of us in Sebastian.  We drove him up to show him our park, grabbed some lunch on the deck at Sebastian Beach Inn, and checked out the Barrier Island Turtle Sanctuary.

Afterwards, Patty had made arrangements for the four of us to go on an airboat ride in Fellsmere, just west of Vero Beach.  She chose Capt. Bob’s Airboat Adventure Tours, which was a great choice.  Our pilot, Captain John, gave a very professional and fun-filled tour.  The headsets allowed everyone to communicate with each other, which really enhanced the experience.

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We had a fantastic time!  We saw a couple of alligators and all sorts of birds.  It was really fun getting to meet Patty and being able to spend time with Rick again!

So what’s next on our agenda?  We have a few things coming up, plus we are beginning to pull our spring and summer plans together.  Be sure to stay tuned for that.  We did want to mention that we are planning on going to the Florida RV Supershow in Tampa on Wednesday and Thursday, January 17 and 18.  We are going to be bringing the rig and hanging out for a few days, so feel free to contact us if you are going to be attending the show.  We’d love to meet up and say hi!

Happy Holidays!

It is that time of year when many of us celebrate the holidays with our loved ones!  Here in the United States, the season focuses mostly on Christmas…but let’s not forget that many of us have other traditions.  On my rounds through the neighborhoods delivering packages for UPS, I’ve also noticed several Happy Hanukkah signs.  Still others celebrate Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, St. Lucia Day, and Omisoka this time of year.

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Most of them involve gifts!  The streets are filled with not only our UPS golf carts, but also FedEx and USPS trucks.  I was even surprised to see a plain white cargo van pull up to a house filled to the roof with Amazon boxes!  I found out later that Amazon is delivering some (but not all) of their packages themselves.  With that said, here’s a quick update on the delivery gig:  Since our last post, the routes have pretty much been covered with employees who chose to stick with the job.  That’s a good thing, as it meant I was able to work just at my pod and help out on the pod next to mine.  The amount of packages settled down until the Wednesday before Christmas, when things ramped up.  This last Friday was my busiest day, with 149 stops and 197 packages delivered.  That happened in 7 hours and 22 minutes (including sorting and loading) for an average of one package every two-and-a-half minutes!  The step count on my Fitbit came in at a little over 15,000 steps that day.  Several of those stops involved adult signatures, as wine is a popular thing to ship this time of year.  The very next day…Saturday…the volume dropped way off.

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I covered BOTH pods in one load.  But while it doesn’t seem like much, it represents 38 very happy households who were able to get their last minute gifts in time for their celebrations.  Notice that someone even shipped Graeter’s ice cream from Ohio!  It was rock-solid, so it must work to do that.  I will be providing a wrap-up of the job, once it ends in mid-January…so be sure to stay tuned.

Lots of other things have been happening in our area!  On December 9th, we got together for dinner with our friends Bob and Pat from Michigan Traveler.

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They were staying at Wickham Park for a few weeks, and are ultimately hoping to head for their spot in the Keys…which is still in recovery mode from Hurricane Irma.  It was great to see them again!

We also had an unexpected visit from our friends Dave and Lois from Wild Cherry.  Unfortunately, their visit was rushed, as they were travelling with their dog Darby.  Within two minutes of them arriving, the park owner rolled up on his golf cart to remind us of the ‘no pet’ rule in the park.  It’s the only rule in our annual Letter of Intent that is in bold type, so he’s adamant about it.  As animal lovers, it’s not our favorite thing…but the park works well for us otherwise.  As we said, we would love for people to stop by and visit; just remember that the puppies and kitties have to stay home.  😦

This past week has also seen many of the park residents head back north for the holidays.  It’s a little quiet around here.  They will all be back next week, plus many more.  The park should be hopping soon!

Diana and I saw another SpaceX launch.  She was at our park and I was loading up my golf cart at the time.

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My pod is a little over 10 miles from the launch pad.  The exhaust flames were clearly visible going up, followed by the low rumble of the rocket several seconds later.  The entire scene was played back in reverse a couple minutes later, as the first stage descended back to the Cape and landed upright on an adjacent landing pad.  Absolutely amazing to be able to see that.  SpaceX is hoping to launch their Falcon Heavy for the first time in January, which is three of these rockets strapped together.  The payload will be Elon Musk’s personal red Tesla, which will hopefully end up in the same orbit around the sun as Mars.  A red roadster and a red planet.  We are hoping to get tickets for that launch, so we will be sure to let you know how that goes!

And Christmas in Florida wouldn’t be complete without Surfing Santas!

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Once again, Cocoa Beach was packed with elves on surfboards on Christmas Eve!

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Thousands of people were there to have a good time, listen to various bands and watch the hula dancers.  Even though the ocean was flat, an occasional wave would come in to provide some surfing entertainment.

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With that, Diana and I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year, Boxing Day, Festivus, or whatever you may celebrate.  Stay safe and enjoy!

 

Golf Cart Delivery – The Scoop

A few posts ago, I mentioned that UPS had taken me on as a seasonal delivery driver.  You may recall that I use a golf cart to distribute packages that are brought to a central pod that is located on the edge of my route.  Today I am going to detail the job as it has unfolded, as some of you may be considering doing this in the future as a way to bring in some holiday cash.

On the surface, driving around a gated community on a golf cart and bringing parcels to homes sounds easy, right?  Well, for the most part, it is…

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…except when you are zipping along at 20 mph on a 50 degree rainy day.

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On days like this, I am reminded of the U.S. Postal Service motto:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

That motto applies to UPS and FedEx also.  But most days are sunny and warm here in Florida, and weather has not been a major factor.  What has been interesting is the reactionary nature of this business.  By that, I mean that UPS has to react to whatever is thrown at them, which means that they need to be flexible.  That ability to switch gears at a moment’s notice occurs at all levels of the company, including my job.

When I started out, they had me deliver packages from my pod only, which is designated by a three letter code.  (For security purposes, the codes I use are not the real codes.)  My pod is ABC and the pod next to mine is AB-2.  I would deliver my packages and finish up by around 1 PM, depending on the day.  On a weekday, a route is somewhere in the vicinity of 85 stops, with some houses getting multiple packages.  The package count is right around 130. AB-2’s driver also works nights at the terminal, so he shows up at noon.  If he has a lot of deliveries and requests the help, I can log onto his manifest and help him out.  That has worked extremely well.  On occasion, I’ll get a call from either my trainer or the terminal, requesting me to go to another pod after I’ve finished mine.  I’ve always accepted the challenge, as the variety keeps it interesting.  The first time I did this, I was beachside (as in, I was on the barrier island, instead of the mainland where ABC is located).  The neighborhood was not gated, and could best be described as ‘beach funky’.  The previous driver had quit. Coming in cold without knowing the neighborhood wasn’t a huge problem, as it was 5 east/west streets with 7 cul-de-sacs descending off of the southern road.  We will call this pod BCD.  There is a GPS map feature on the phone they gave me to use…which works well…but I also like to print myself a map for quicker reference. That way, I can pre-sort my packages into the order I am going to deliver them.  That is actually faster than fumbling with the phone on the route, as we are told to put the phone down when the cart is moving.  Going to a new route mid-day doesn’t allow me to print that map, but I have learned to print one if I know I’m going ahead of time. Also, my friend Rod taught me an invaluable trick that he used last year.  With all of the writing on a label, it is sometimes hard to find the address quickly.  What he did was to write the address on the top of the box with a Sharpie, using the first two letters from the street.  For example:  2180 Maple Street would be written as ‘2180 MA’.  That makes finding the correct box a breeze, especially when you are peering under a tarp in the rain.

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Approximately 50 stops worth of parcels.

On Saturday, December 2, they had us come in to deliver any parcels that were in the pipeline for Monday.  That amounted to two cart-and-trailers worth of stuff for ABC (around 30 stops), and I was done in less than two hours. AB-2’s driver texted me and asked what his pod looked like, so I stated it was light….25 stops.  He asked if I would run it for him…which I agreed to, just to make my trip to the pod worth it.  I finished his and then got a call from my trainer, asking if I would go to another pod (CDE), as the person working there also quit on them.

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CDE was a really nice neighborhood.   The homes were older than ABC’s and the community wasn’t gated.  Also, the landscaping was more established, offering me plenty of welcomed shade.  The downside was, it was a huge route with 55 stops…a LOT for a Saturday.  The roads were twisty-turny, and there were a lot of small cul-de-sacs interspersed throughout.  Remember, I came in cold without a map.  Luckily, the cart was extremely fast, as someone must have removed the governor.  About 4:30, I received a call from the terminal asking if I was going to get the job done…as I think they lose a lot of people at the end of the day.  “Don’t worry, I’ve got this!” I said.  The last package was delivered as the sun hit the horizon.  🙂  I ended up logging 7.25 hours that day…which is all time-and-a-half, regardless of how many hours you have during the week.

This last week, I returned to BCD on Tuesday, then was sent to another new route, DEF.  That route required patience.  Again, a person had quit…and this time, I sympathized with them.  The neighborhood was decent, but it involved a busy two lane connector road with no cart path…and it was under construction.  The pod door was facing south, and it was 85 degrees.  Needless to say, sorting was a cooker!  Also, it was located at the back of an apartment complex in a storage area, so it was not very convenient.  While the cart was fast like CDE’s, it had a major issue getting started.  Every time I pushed on the gas to take off, it would squeal for 10 seconds before the engine would start and I could begin to move.  That cut into my time a lot.  I informed the terminal and they sent a driver out to take some of the work off my hands, but there wasn’t any way of fixing the cart yet that day.  To be fair, if the cart would have worked well and the connector road had been fully opened, the route would have been somewhat decent.  I even stopped for a minute to compliment one of the homeowners on her landscaping, which she was busy draping Christmas light on.  After all, I was getting paid to ride around on a golf cart. 🙂  As far as all the folks quitting; I guess they would rather receive packages than deliver them!

On Wednesday, the terminal texted me before work and asked me to start at BCD, then head over to ABC.  10 minutes later, they switched me from BCD to a new route, EFG.  This route could be best described as ‘funky…without the beach’.  Luckily, I was still at home, so I printed a map.  I got there and saw I only had 45 stops…which for a weekday, was very light.  I sorted the pod, loaded the first run and took off.  Two stops into the run, my trainer called and said they had a glut of drivers that day, and that I needed to take the cart back to the pod and let someone else complete it.  So that is what I did.  I went to my ABC pod and completed that in my normal amount of time and called it a day.  Of course, my rate of packages was really low for the amount of time I was clocked in, so I was called on it by the afternoon dispatch.  I explained what happened, and that whoever was fortunate enough to run EFG, probably had a great rate, as I had completely sorted it for them.  Once dispatch realized what had happened, she breathed a sigh of relief.  🙂

snoopy

Since then, there has been enough drivers to cover all the routes.  The driver at AB-2 and me have been doing our trade-offs, but that’s been it.  I get to enjoy the Christmas decorations on the ABC route and….

sandhill

…the wildlife!  These two Sandhill cranes were standing a few feet from where I needed to walk, so I calmly talked to them and they let me pass by.  🙂

A few other things I wanted to mention:

amazon box

Amazon boxes hold up extremely well, while…

target

…a particular competitor’s boxes do not.  I see it time and again.  The competitor uses much lower quality cardboard and tape.  Also, delivering packages is a dirty job.  By the time those pretty boxes come from the packers at Amazon and make their way to Florida, they’ve picked up a fair amount of dirt, which transfers to me and my clothes.  In addition, some of these boxes are quite heavy.  I delivered a Schwinn Airdyne and a Total Gym, both of which were too heavy to lift.  I slid them to the edge of the pod and tipped them into my trailer, then reversed the process at the home.  My hands and low back definitely let me know they are hurting after a day’s worth of deliveries.

So there you have a rough idea of what’s involved in my fun little job with UPS.  Will I do it again?  Most definitely.  Any job I’ve ever done has had its pitfalls, and this one has had a few of its own.  But the people I am working with are dedicated and very nice, and like I said two posts ago, the people receiving the parcels are happy to see me at their door.  That makes for a very fun day, indeed.  🙂

ups

 

 

 

 

Life at the Speed of Prime

“You want it when???”

you

Back in the 1970’s, this jewel of a cartoon began appearing in workplaces all over the world. As lead times have decreased since then, many people have looked at this drawing at their work stations and smiled, after customers placed unrealistic delivery dates for them to meet. In my management career with a hotel furniture manufacturer, I’ve felt the stress of demanding customers pushing me to get them their product quickly. In turn, my vendors and our manufacturing team had that pressure transferred from my shoulders to theirs. I’m sure many of them hung up the phone, looked at this image and laughed at me.

Back in those days, my world view was focused between our company’s vendors, workers, and customers from my desk in Holland, Michigan. Sure, I’d think about how my demands affected their personal lives, but the constant pressure on me never allowed me to look much further than that. Retirement to lives as fulltime RVers has expanded Diana’s and my views to help us understand the bigger picture of how our world is speeding up. Two post-retirement jobs in particular have really driven that point home: packing boxes for Amazon and delivering packages for UPS.

When the two of us first walked into Amazon’s fulfillment center in Campbellsville, Kentucky last year, I literally had to fight back tears of joy. To totally understand why that is, you have to go back to my upbringing in the neighborhood that surrounds the Ford Rouge plant in suburban Detroit. I was one of the fortunate few who took the old tour of the facility in which I saw the iron ore being unloaded from a ship at one end of the plant and a finished Mustang being driven off the line at the other end. That was a pivotal day in my life in which I saw what an efficient process could do in getting product to the consumer quicker. I would spend my career striving to streamline everything I did, often keeping Henry Ford’s beloved Rouge complex in the back of my mind. When we toured Amazon during our orientation, everything I dreamed of achieving…and more…was happening before our eyes! Orders that hadn’t even been placed yet when we ate breakfast, were being packaged and sent to waiting trucks before we sat down to eat our lunches. The concept that is Amazon Prime…where an item ordered online will be delivered in two days…had become our daily duty.  Clearly, Jeff Bezos & Company had built upon Mr. Ford’s dream and had polished it to such a model of efficiency that even Henry would be awestruck.

Fast forward to this holiday season and my job delivering packages for UPS. I’m seeing how the Amazon Prime culture is affecting the shipping business. Melbourne’s little UPS distribution center…while quiet most of the year…sees not only a huge population increase as the snowbirds arrive in town, but also in the amount of items those people are buying online during the holidays. FedEx and the US Postal Service sees the same thing. Imagine trying to run a business within those parameters. On a system-wide scale, more airplanes and semis are needed this time of year…not to mention the increases needed at the local level. While I haven’t seen it with the other shippers, the seasonal golf carts is how UPS has addressed the onslaught of Christmas deliveries. Evidently, they use them throughout the U.S. in places where snow isn’t an issue. For the price of a golf cart, trailer, safety vest, gasoline, smartphone, temporary driver’s wages and a rental pod, they can cover a residential area of a half square mile or more. Also factor in the hiring, training and supervision of the temporary employees. For trainers/supervisors, they are using senior and retired drivers to fill those positions. For hiring, they are advertising on indeed.com and using county employment agencies to physically handle the amount of people applying for these jobs. All of these resources are tangible and can be relied upon year after year. For a worker like me looking to pick up some extra cash, the job is a good deal. And for a young person wanting a career, its an outstanding opportunity to get a foot in the door.

Change is happening in places other than the shipping industry, because of Amazon.  Since Prime was introduced in 2005, retailers have either closed their doors or adapted to the change.  Malls stand empty across the country, as do many big box stores.  Walmart has accepted the challenge online by offering free two day shipping without the subscription fee that Amazon charges for Prime.  Target, Kohls and many other brick-and-mortar retailers are also stepping up their online presence.  They have to in order to survive.  Groceries will no doubt be next, with Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods.  What comes next is anybody’s guess; it could be a pharmacy retailer, a home improvement chain or any number of things.

I have faith that solutions will be found for companies like UPS to adapt to life at the speed of Prime. Being able to observe them pull it off fascinates me to no end. I look forward to see the next big innovation and the changes it will bring to our world.

What ways have you seen that Amazon Prime has changed your world?


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Spreading Christmas Joy with UPS

While we were in Kentucky last year working for Amazon, our friend Rod was down here in Florida delivering packages for UPS. When he told us he was a driver’s helper, I envisioned him riding along with a driver in a big brown step van. While some helpers do that, he had a job where the driver delivered packages to a pod and he then loaded them on a golf cart and trailer.  From there, he delivered them to houses in a gated community on his own. At the time, all I could think was that I was working my tail off in a shop in Kentucky while he was zipping along on a golf cart in Florida. It intrigued me enough that I decided to give it a try this year.

We arrived in Melbourne Beach on a Saturday, and by the following Tuesday I was sitting in a group interview with UPS.  From there, we did an individual interview, from which about half of us were called back for initial training that afternoon.  At that point, we were ‘on call‘.  I had stressed to them that I wanted a golf cart job, as Rod had mentioned that the step van ride along job was tough the few times he did it. After not getting a call for a week and a half, I feared I had been a tad too demanding. Lo and behold, they called with a golf cart position this past Monday!  I went to the UPS Service Center to complete a little paperwork and get my vest and mobile device.

ups

They have a policy of black, brown or white shirt, black or brown long pants (my grey pants are acceptable) and black or brown shoes.  No hats allowed, no facial hair beyond a mustache, and no visible tattoos or piercings.  The mobile device is a Samsung phone that is set up to act as a DIAD (Delivery Information Acquisition Device)…the brown electronic unit UPS drivers carry.  It’s pretty slick, to say the least!

sub

My pod is located near the ‘X’, along with a pod that services the southern portion of the subdivision.  Each circle has gates with codes, and the main roads that connect the communities have golf cart paths.  I fuzzed out the names of the developments for security purposes.

house

Each house has a covered entrance, similar to this.  That eliminates having to use the clear plastic bags in rainy weather.  Yes…don’t let that blue sky fool you; my second day of training was a torrential downpour.  Just like the U.S. Postal Service, we deliver in all weather.  While my L.L. Bean raincoat performed flawlessly, my Gander Mountain rain pants were a total failure.  As soon as I got home, I placed an order with REI, as Bean didn’t have the pants I needed.  🙂    Rain also means that the load needs to be tarped, which is a hindrance, to say the least.  Most days are dry, though.

And all those ‘smiles’ they told us were were delivering at Amazon?  Well, I actually get to see them this year.  🙂   One house put a basket of goodies out for the delivery people. One woman even ran out on the lawn to take my photo, as she thinks the seasonal golf carts are so cool.  I handed a package to another man and he excitedly said “It’s Christmas…the UPS golf carts are back!”  So for all of my friends working at Amazon this year, know that your work really is appreciated!  People truly love to get packages. 🙂

pod

This is the pod I work from.  As of yesterday, I have had around 60 packages to deliver, and they want me to keep a pace of 20 an hour…which I’ve been keeping up with.  Rain obviously would factor into that.  I am told to expect the quantity to really pick up beginning this next week.  We have to be off the road by sundown, for safety reasons.

cart

Here’s my trusty cart, minus my trailer.  The aluminum box on the back holds quite a bit, and the trailer holds even more.  The carts are gas powered, and they move along about 10 MPH.

cart trailer

My first solo run, all ready to go!  Rod taught me a few tricks to make things go smoothly, so I have had a very easy launch.  We will see how this year goes; my first impressions of the job are positive.  I’ll work until at least Christmas Eve, and possibly into mid-January.  Judging by the fact that Amazon stock surged 2.6% on Friday due to strong Black Friday sales, I’m going to most likely have a full pod each day.  🙂

Be sure to stay tuned to see how this job progresses, and for any other cool things we find in the area.  Until then, have a great beginning to your holiday season!

Disclaimer: Any and all opinions expressed here are my own, and are not the opinion of United Parcel Service.


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New Digs in Florida

In our last post, we mentioned that we had received a call that had us make a quick exit from Georgia. Wow…we hope we didn’t build that news up too much! The call was from the park we stayed at the last two winters, telling us that a site we were in hopes of getting had opened up. Several of our readers who visited know how cramped we were on our former site. We barely were able to get both of our vehicles in, and sitting on our patio meant we were in a tunnel between our truck and our fifth wheel. The truck is seven feet longer than the Escape, so we weren’t able to switch them.  Needless to say, we didn’t meet a lot of folks out walking, as they didn’t see us sitting there!

This is our old site.  As you can see, it was a tad cramped. Soon after this photo was taken, the site between the truck and the next trailer over was occupied. From our dinette we could see what they were having for breakfast!

The only reservations the park takes is for returning customers, for the site they were previously on. The only way to get a bigger site is to request one, in hopes that someone leaves…which rarely happens. Well, we lucked out. One of the best sites in the park opened up, and the park called us and asked if we wanted it. We immediately said YES! By all rights at that point it was ours, and we could have taken our time to get there…but we wanted to get the rig on the site as soon as possible. Having a prime site sitting empty made us a tad nervous….so we hit the road for Melbourne Beach!

The new site is on a corner and is about 30 yards closer to the beach than the old one.  There is a spot behind the RV for the truck, and a separate spot next to the rig for the Escape.  The landscaping was put in place by the previous tenants…not by the park…so it is our responsibility to maintain it.  It definitely needed a bit of sprucing up, since the weeds had been growing all summer.

We have always liked the looks of it, so we started in on pulling weeds and trimming.  The soil is very easy to work, as we are basically living on a sandbar.  Nothing like the Michigan clay we used to struggle with.  We also raked out the soil in front of the trailer and planted grass seed, as the previous tenants took their patio blocks they had purchased and placed there.  Our truck tires ended up sinking in, so we wanted to firm that dirt up, as we pull our trailer off the lot at the end of each season.  Lots of our neighbors keep their RVs here all year, but our rig is our home…so it goes with us.

We added some red mulch to keep the weeds down and add some color….

…and put in a row of solar path lights.  🙂

So that is our big news.  We fall asleep at night to the sound of the ocean waves and we usually have a decent breeze to keep us cool.  We are also meeting a lot more people, which makes it fun!  As long as we keep renewing here each year, the site is ours.

While Melbourne Beach is a great place to winter, the other seasons can be a bit brutal.  Last year, Hurricane Matthew passed 15 miles to the east and tore off a few carports on some of the mobile homes in the park.  There was surprisingly little damage, seeing how close the eye was.

This year was far worse.  While the eye of Hurricane Irma passed more than 50 miles to the west of Melbourne Beach…the storm was so huge, it really affected the area.  This area was on the right side of the eye, which is often referred to as the ‘dirty’ side.  There were several tornadoes that formed, along with a bunch of rain.  Just in our park,  a couple of RV’s and mobile homes were destroyed, and several awnings were torn off.  And throughout the Space Coast area, there was far more roof and sign damage this year.

We also have a visitor from Key West.  This sailboat was ripped from its mooring in the Keys, brought around the east side of the state by the wind and currents, and deposited on the beach in front of the condos just north of our park.  Unfortunately, the owner is currently in prison for some really nasty stuff, so there is a bit of red tape involved in getting it moved.  It definitely makes an interesting conversation piece!

If you are in the area this winter, drop us a line and maybe we can get together.  And as always, stay tuned to see what interesting things we come up with this winter.  We are sure we will find plenty of new adventures!


 

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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!

Plains, Georgia

Heading out of Alabama on Wednesday, November 1st, we set our sights on a place we’ve wanted to visit for a long time: Plains, Georgia. With our interest in exploring U.S. presidential hometowns and museums, this town has always piqued our curiosity. Plains is the birthplace and home of our 39th president, Jimmy Carter and is about as ‘small town America’ as they come. What is unique is that the entire town has been designated a national historic site. As with many of the other places we’ve seen on this particular trip, it is not located along either of the two normal routes that a Michigander would take to get to Florida. This go-around would afford us the opportunity to finally check Plains out.

Scoping the town out on Google Maps, we knew we would be able to pull our fifth wheel in behind the visitor center. Thinking this would be a quick stop…and given there weren’t any campgrounds showing up on any of our apps…we thought we would be on our way before nightfall. We did want to check out as much as we could in that time frame, as the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site keeps coming up as a possible place to volunteer on our searches for those types of jobs.

The visitor center is housed in the old Plains High School. Both Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Smith Carter graduated from here in the 1940’s.  When we mispronounced the First Lady’s name, the park ranger said “It’s pronounced ROSE-a-lynn, not Roz-a-lynn.  She will correct you, if you call her that”.  🙂

Inside, there is a recreated classroom and principal’s office. The rest of the buildings rooms are devoted to the president’s life.

Hey…I know her! She’s got MY vote!

During our visit we earned our Junior Ranger badges. While speaking with the volunteer working at the entrance, we discovered that there was a campground just up the road. We decided to head up there and set up for a few days, as we had several things in the area we wanted to see. As we pulled in, we saw this:

I remember that smiling peanut being on the news back in the 70’s! It’s still there, folks.

We also visited Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home. Located a few miles west of town, his parent’s farm spread out over 360 acres.

The simple frame house sits next to a road and a railroad. During the Great Depression, hobos would stop by and request food. When Miss Lillian asked one of them why so many stop by their house, he pointed out the symbols drawn on the mailbox post that indicated it was a safe house to visit.

She instructed her children to keep the symbols as they were.

The farm featured a windmill that was purchased for $100 in 1935. This brought indoor plumbing into the home…

…but note the shower head; a simple bucket with holes punched in the bottom.

Miss Lillian not only kept the household running while her husband farmed, she was also a nurse at the hospital in town. In fact, Jimmy was born there, the first president ever to have been delivered in a hospital. If she was working when the children would return home from school, they would stop at this desk to see the instructions she had left them. The kids nicknamed this desk ‘mother’, as a result. It was also interesting to see how much she had the children read, including at the dinner table.

Between the home and Plains, we came across Lebanon Cemetery.

In it, we found the Carter family plot, with not only Jimmy’s parents….

…but also, Jimmy’s brother Billy, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1988. He was a colorful character who liked to drink beer. He owned the local Phillips 66 gas station in Plains, a place the press liked to hang out when his brother was running for president. On slow news days, people like Dan Rather, Ed Bradley and Tom Brokaw could be found here looking for a story.

The station looks pretty much like it did in the 70’s on the outside. When it was suggested that businesses spruce up their store fronts, Billy proclaimed that he’d shoot anyone who as much as laid a paint brush on his place. Unfortunately, the museum to him inside is modern and lacking character. There is a fair amount of memorabilia though…

…including cans of his famous Billy Beer. I’ve drank a few cans of this back in my younger days. 😊

Across the street from Billy’s station sits Plains’ main business district.

The row contains several gift shops and a restaurant that Jimmy and Rosalynn still frequent. They live just up the street.

Immediately east of the business district is the local elevator. That farm wagon behind the tractor is loaded with peanuts. We saw load upon load being brought to market while we were there. I’m am not a fan of peanuts, but Diana purchased some in one of the shops in town and reported them to be delicious!

On the west end of the business district is Jimmy Carter’s campaign headquarters.  The train depot was chosen, because it was the only vacant building in town that contained a bathroom.

Since his presidency, Jimmy and Rosalynn have remained active throughout the world.  One of the organizations they work with is Habitat for Humanity.

Even in their 90’s they can still be found on job-sites, working right alongside the rest of the crew.  When we were shopping in neighboring Americus, Georgia, we discovered that the organization is headquartered there.  One block over from their offices is their Global Village, which we visited.

After viewing a short movie, we toured the collection of buildings.  The first part depicts many of the slums that are found throughout the world.  Once through that section, Habitat shows the types of houses they construct, which vary from country to country.

None of them are extravagant, by any means, but all are functional.

This one, from Papau, New Guinea, was built by a group called RV Care-A-Vanners, which is part of Habitat for Humanity.  We found that interesting, so we may check them out in the future.

While Mr. Carter was president, you may recall that he had solar panels installed on the White House.  For a long time, there were tax credits for solar, as a result of his initiatives to explore clean energy solutions. Earlier this year in Plains, a 10 acre solar farm was opened on one of his soybean fields.

It provides enough energy to power most of the homes in Plains, which can be seen in the background.  He leases the land to SolAmerica, which earns him about $7,000 a year.

When we found out the Jimmy Carter was going to be teaching Sunday School at his church that week, we extended our stay so we could listen to him speak.  Its quite a process to attend (including Secret Service screening), requiring that we arrive at 6:00 AM and not getting out until 1 PM.  On Friday morning, we received a call with good news that had us scrap those plans, and pack up and hit the road.  Stay tuned to find out what it was that put us on the move so quickly in our next installment of exploRVistas.com!


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explorRVistas is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon .com. Shopping through our link does not add anything to your cost, but it does help support this blog. Thank you for shopping through exploRVistas!