A change is in the air

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Well, John…after 56 of them, I believe we are good.

For the past week, the trees have been quickening their transformation into their dormant state.

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While still beautiful, the brilliance of the colors started to fade, and the showers of windswept leaves began to fall from the trees. The temperatures seemed to hold somewhat steady, but the weather forecasters warned us of what we were about to get hit with. Knowing of the impending storm, we headed out to Holland State Park to view the awesome fury .

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The waves were some of the largest we have ever seen, and we have been coming here since the late 70’s. This is the beach that Jim proposed to Diana on in late October of 1981, writing “Will You Marry Me?” in 10 foot tall letters in the chilly sand.

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As far as the eye could see, the Big Lake was reeling. Seas with 15 to 20 foot seas were predicted. Probably not a very good day to be out there in any sort of vessel.

As we drove inland, the wind picked up in town. We noticed something flash across the windshield. Was it what we thought? We had to pull over to make sure.

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Indeed, it was the first flakes of snow to fall on West Michigan.

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The snow was hard to photograph, but it was there.

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Another mile down the road, it really cut loose. Of course, the ground is way too warm to allow it to stick, but Mother Nature was giving it her best. Before the night is over, we should have a very substantial test of our winter preparations on our rig. We are going to try out a few more modifications before posting on how we are doing. All in all, we have to say that the skirting has made a huge difference. We will post numbers when we get some lower temperatures outside.

On a warmer note, we are very excited as we found out today that we have a work camping job lined up for next summer. It is in one of our favorite parks in an outstanding area in Northern Michigan. We will share more details as the time gets closer.

Yes, next summer will definitely have a sweetness to it like no other!

It’s Homecoming…We’re Home!

Tradition. Defined as follows: the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.

Most every year at this time, we make our annual trip back to Kalamazoo, Michigan to our alma mater, Western Michigan University for Homecoming. WMU is a long standing tradition with us, as Jim’s dad graduated from Western in 1948.

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We are part of a group of five families that have kept close since graduating from WMU in the early 1980’s, and some of our friends’ children have followed in our footsteps. Two of the families reside in Kalamazoo, and we proceed to take over one or both of their houses.

Saturday morning finds us in a parking lot on campus with a good portion of our Bronco Nation.

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We park a few cars ahead of time, and lay out a nice spread of food and drinks.

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The crowd, while spirited, always seems to keep the festivities within reason.

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Part of our next generation of family and friends: left to right; Tara, Kevin, Al and Natalie.

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Natalie, a degreed art major, was called upon to paint the superfans for the game.

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Billy, seen here with Diana, is the latest addition to our legacy. He is in his first semester at Western. His parents, Karen and Bill, couldn’t be any prouder.

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It was a ‘chamber of commerce’ day in Kalamazoo.

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There was a good sized crowd on hand to see the Broncos take on Ohio University.

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Mike has a tradition of announcing “another BRONCO – FIRST DOWN!!!” He did that a lot on this fine Saturday, resulting in hearing loss for those around him.

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The Broncos were frequently found in the end zone, making for a perfect day.

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Buster Bronco had a full day of push-ups, as Western beat Ohio 42-21. It was a great day to be a Bronco!

Each year, life has a way of pulling our families in different directions. But tradition, the glue that binds us all, works it’s magic and brings us back together.

It is Homecoming, and we truly are home.

Preparing for Ol’ Man Winter

Winter weather to most full time RVers is something that they see on the TV news while sipping on an iced tea under their awning in Florida. However, sometimes circumstances arise that require folks to endure a northern winter in their rigs. For us, we have been blessed with the responsibility to care for Diana’s mom, who lives a few miles from our campsite in Michigan. We are honored and privileged to accept this. With our house sold, we had to decide whether to rent an apartment or prep the RV and make it livable for winter. We chose the latter. We are extremely fortunate that Woodchip Campground in Byron Center, Michigan has invested in the equipment to have 30 or so sites open all winter. Thank you, Richard!

Preparing an RV for winter living requires some thought. It is true that a person could put heat tape on their fresh water hose, turn up the heat and call it good. The problem with that is they would spend a small fortune in propane, and their waste tanks would most likely freeze. We researched several websites and spoke with people who have actually wintered in their RV’s and found out several tricks. One person we spoke with at the RV-Dreams Fall Rally was Glyn Carson. He was an Ice Road Trucker in Alaska, and he lived in his RV for seven Alaskan winters. He was a wealth of information. Thank you, Glyn!

Our 2007 Colorado has a “winter package”. That includes a heated underbelly, heated waste tanks, and double pane windows. A couple of 30 degree mornings has proven that we need more. Our first step in the process has been to purchase 3/4″ foil foam board to skirt the rig. We also purchased an indoor/outdoor thermometer with a frost alarm and we placed the sending unit under the trailer.

Here is what the process of skirting a trailer looks like:

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The foam panes are extremely lightweight and are easily cut with a utility knife.

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I used 2 x 3 lumber with long spikes driven into the ground to support the bottom of the panels.

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The multitude of corners also provides stability.

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The tape used for this is foil tape. It sticks extremely well, yet comes off without leaving residue. I applied it to the rub rail and tried to avoid sticking it to the Fiberglas gel coat.

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Here is a view of how the front of the rig is encased.

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I cut holes for the sewer levers and hinged them with foil tape.

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Glyn Carson said to cut them similar to the top of a pumpkin. Great tip, Glyn!

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Here is how I dealt with the rear bumper and power cord.

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This is another view of the services side of the rig. Note the box that extends from the side over the sewer. I will detail that in a later post.

I also ran our spare power cord under the skirting to power a heater. We have a small oil filled electric heater coming from Home Depot. I will show that in a future post. Will we need it? Time (and our nifty thermometer) will tell.

We have also discovered another issue that winter RVers have to deal with: moisture. Propane heat and cooking, along with showers, generates moisture on the marginally insulated walls. Lots of folks use a dehumidifier in their rigs. I sold ours to the new homeowner, as I didn’t think we would need it. Oops. We are trying DampRid canisters instead, as we really don’t want to buy a dehumidifier. We also are going to run the exhaust fan during and after our showers. We have another issue to deal with: power, or lack thereof. We have a 30 amp service in our rig. As long as we are above freezing outside, it is much cheaper to run electric space heaters than to buy propane. It is also drier. We have an oil filled heater inside that does fine, but we can’t run two of them on 30 amps, as our outlet breaker is only 15 amps. That runs ALL our outlets. We even have to shut the one heater off when toasting our bread. So, if you are considering doing this, make sure you are in a rig with 50 amp service.

Lastly, we are using window insulating film on our windows. Yes, they are double pane, but they still radiate cold. Every little bit helps.

We will post more on this subject as we move through the winter. I know a lot of you have expressed interest in what we are doing to ride this season out. We are looking at it as an adventure. Be sure to stay tuned. And if you find yourself under your awning in the tropics with a nice cold glass of iced tea, ponder the ice cube spinning in the glass. We’ll be peering out from inside!

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Our Jenny Girl

Today we received the news from the vet that no one ever wants to hear: Cancer. That horrible, awful word. Our Jenny has hemangiosarcoma, which is cancer of the blood vessels. It is throughout her liver and spleen. The vet gives her 3 to 6 months, give or take. It’s hard to say for sure. Jen’s white blood count had plummeted in the 8 weeks since her last blood work, and that prompted the doctor to call off exploratory surgery. She did an ultrasound instead, and she saw everything she needed to see with that.

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As you can see, she is still quite interested in enjoying her time with Mom and Dad.

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She loves being outside and checking out what is happening!

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When she visited Aunt Judy, she got to get dressed up for Red Hats. She loves her Aunt Judy and Uncle Dale!

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And nothing is better than going camping!

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That is, other than a trip to Lake Michigan!

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Or a run to Menard’s. They give treats!

Yes, as a dear friend said today, cancer sucks. No other way to put it. But we should all be so lucky to be oblivious to our diagnosis and choose to fetch a stick instead.

Enjoy every moment, friends. Enjoy each and every moment.

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Back in Michigan

After our time in Florida, we made our way up I-75 to Michigan. The purpose of our trip was to deliver a truckload of inherited tools to Diana’s brother. We weren’t able to take the 5th wheel, due to the weight of the cargo. We had left our Golden Retriever, Jenny with Jim’s sister and brother-in-law.

Before we left, Jenny had been “not feeling well” (we’ll spare the graphic details), but only on occasion. She took a turn for the worse while we were gone. We did get her to the vet this morning to try to get to the bottom of the issue, and decided to go ahead with surgery on Monday to take a look around. X-Rays had not revealed anything, but her actions of late are stating otherwise. We’ll keep you updated.

One of the pleasant surprises upon our return was one of the best fall color shows that Michigan has seen in awhile.

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Our campground was awash with different hues.

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When the sun was out…a rarity in West Michigan this time of year…the trees popped with all their blazing glory.

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Before we left, we found out the campground was adding a bank of winter sites along the back fence. We inquired about moving, and we were told we could do so upon our return. We moved today to our new site.

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There is a row of pines over the back of our RV, but the trees on the other side of the fence will lose their leaves, thereby allowing the winter sun to come into our large rear window. Anything to help with the heat bill!

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That’s about it for this post. We did want to update on our ArtPrize post. The large backlit cube named Intersections not only took home the $200,000 grand prize for the public vote, but it also shared the grand prize for the juried vote, netting the artist an additional $100,000. Beautiful thing about that is that it quieted the critics who stated that the ArtPrize voting public didn’t really know a thing about art. I guess we really do.

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Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach was a dream of many a baby boomer, at one time or another. Driving on the beach itself is a pastime that dates back to the infancy of the automobile itself.

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After visiting with family in the center of the state, we decided to loop out to Daytona for a few days. Jim was happy to see that the sand was firm enough to support our 8000 pound truck.

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Having lived for so long in West Michigan and also frequenting the Gulf coast of Florida, it was a special treat to see a sunrise over the ocean. It even made the coffee sweeter.

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While we were there, the USAF Thunderbirds were practicing for an air show. Talk about a front row seat! We were on the southern turn of their practice route.

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At the southern end of the strand is Ponce Inlet, with a beautiful lighthouse. This area had a laid back feel to it.

Daytona is considered by many to be past its’ prime, but there do seem to be some strong attempts to bring it back. Many major hotel chains are opening new places along here, including Hyatt Place, Residence Inn, Hampton Inn and others. A new Joe’s Crab Shack recently opened on the pier. We enjoyed our time here, even though we prefer the Gulf side. After all, it is hard to resist reliving a teenager’s dream of cruising the beach with your sweetheart!

Visiting Family / The Villages

While we were in Florida, we were able to visit with Diana’s brother, our niece, her husband, and their family.

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When purging our home, we came across many photos that we were able to pass on to them. As seen above, all were interested! It was a great benefit of all of our efforts over the last few months.

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It’s always great to see family, that’s for sure!

Our niece lives just outside The Villages, which is quite the place. If you have never seen this community, it is fun to look at.

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The Villages is a utopian set of “villages” interspersed between many golf courses. Everything that a retiree could ever want is there, including Walmart, Panera and even a hospice center.

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Golf carts zipping to and fro. And everyone seems to be happy and having fun. While this is not something we want at this time in our lives, it is definitely worth driving through.

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If you ever are in the area, you must check it out.

Safe motoring!

South to Florida

After leaving Kentucky, we headed south to see family in Florida. We took the familiar route of I-65 towards Montgomery, Alabama.

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A favorite stop has always been the Welcome Center in Alabama. Not many rest areas in the US can boast having a full scale Saturn IB rocket. This is the type of rocket that the crew of Apollo 7 took into Earth orbit. It is the smaller cousin of the Saturn V that took the US to the moon.

Once we got to Montgomery, we took a different route, as we wanted to stop in Crestview, Florida to check out a mail forwarding service we are considering using during our travels. On the way there, we came upon this little gem:

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This is the day use area at Blue Pond in the Conecuh National Forest in southern Alabama. Too bad there wasn’t any camping, as it was ideal!

We arrived in Crestview and met with the folks at My RV Mail. They were very friendly and extremely helpful. Once we finished in Crestwood, we continued on to Ft Walton Beach. When we arrived, we discovered a huge benefit to shoulder season travel: no huge crowds! We drove into a large public lot at the beach and had no trouble at all finding a parking spot. We had a wonderful grouper meal overlooking the gulf and then we walked the beach.

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This is some of the best sand in Florida, and we were happy to see that there were no visible after effects from the BP spill.

Once we left the beach, we headed east towards Leesburg to see family. Diana’s brother lives there, and our niece and her family live in Fruitland Park. Along the way, we discovered the importance of doing a rig walk around. Jim thought he heard a noise on the road, and he noticed the fuel mileage decreasing. We pulled into a rest area and noticed the right front wheel was considerably warmer than the others. Turns out that we had a “stuck” caliper. This happened to us one other time on a different truck, and is a result of the right front wheel catching so much curb slush and salt in the Michigan winters. We found a garage in Tallahassee that got us in and out in a flash. A special shout out to Al Bass and Bass Automotive for the prompt service. This event really drove home the fact that we need to be aware of our rig. A simple walk around at each stop can save a lot of headaches down the road.

Safe travels!

National Corvette Museum

During our working years, one of our favorite places to stop on the way from Michigan to Florida has always been the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. To clarify that, it was not for the cars, but for the fact that the lawn was the first green grass we saw in April during spring break. Katie and Dakota, our first two golden retrievers, loved to roll in the lush expanse.

Fast forward to last February, when a sinkhole opened up in the main display area and swallowed several prized Corvettes. The museum board decided, after recovering the cars, that they were going to fill the hole this November and restore the speedsters to their former glory. Well, not wanting to miss a prime opportunity, we made the pilgrimage to look beyond the lawn.

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Most of the museum is intact. There are a multitude of displays dedicated to the history of the sports car.

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We had to sign a waiver at the ticket counter to enter the museum and view the sinkhole. While we had viewed news reports and videos, we really had no idea the power nature had on these cars.

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The sinkhole itself was gigantic. It took up about half of the main display area. Standing at it’s edge, we questioned the logic of our presence there. Could the floor under our feet give out?

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To the side, there were several of the damaged cars.

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Some were mangled beyond recognition.

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Mother Nature certainly won the battle on a few of them.

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We enjoyed our tour. It certainly would mean more to a Corvette owner, but it was very well done and was worth the price of admission. And your toes will love the nice green lawn!

Artprize

Since 2009, Grand Rapids, Michigan has held an international art competition named ArtPrize. The entire downtown, along with venues outside the core city, becomes a ‘canvas’ for thousands of artists from around the globe. There are several prizes awarded by different methods, but the main prize of $200,000 is decided by the public. Votes are cast on cell phones as the viewers tour the city. It doesn’t matter if it is the county courthouse, a coffee shop, the local bar, the chamber of commerce, even the Grand River itself; art is present in some shape or form. The entire city is filled with people, which is a huge plus for the local businesses.

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The photo above was taken outside the Gerald Ford Museum. Jerry’s statue, a permanent fixture, is being stared at by a piece named “Gravity”.

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This is a horse made of industrial metal scrap. Very interesting.

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Our next door neighbor in the campground created this one. It is called Seewall Child, and it is quite detailed. Her and her husband were very passionate about her work, and they install an interactive version of these at children’s hospitals. This was installed at a local pizzeria for the competition. We had a pizza while we were there, and at least 50 people streamed through the building, just to see the art. Some grabbed a slice from the counter.

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This is a piece called Intersections, and it was at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. What is seen on the walls is a projection of a single light bulb through the metal cube in the center of the room. Outstanding.

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Our reflection on the wall. People were having a lot of fun with this.

Our favorite was called Connected. Thirty three artists were paired with thirty three storytellers and they were given a word to work with, such as love, courage, passion, etc. The result was one of the most emotional experiences we have had in quite awhile. While we were reading a piece written by a woman who was dying of cancer, her daughter came up and spoke with us. She had just arrived from Miami to view this exhibit, which also included a panel by her and one written by her dad. We spoke of how losing a parent always seems like such a natural part of life, until it happens to you.

The great thing about ArtPrize is that it engages the community. For 2-1/2 weeks each fall, the town is as alive as Times Square. Deborah Norville from Inside Edition happened to be in town for a separate speaking engagement and had no idea what she walked into. She was blown away.

If you ever are in the Midwest in late September and early October, get to Grand Rapids to experience ArtPrize. You will be so very glad you did.

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