Making the Grade

Leelanau County, Michigan – May 24, 2021 – Written by Jim

When building a structure, one has to take into consideration the surrounding grade of the land. The last thing anyone wants is for the top of their foundation to be below grade and have water pour over the top in a downpour.The code book here in Michigan requires one 8” block showing above grade and that the surrounding soil slopes away from the building.

While our cabin site itself had only a moderate grade to it, the surrounding land varies in elevation quite a bit. We determined the high corner at the time of excavation and let that decide how deep to dig. Our plan was to have a 6 course deep layer of concrete block make up our crawl space, which would bring us up 48” from the top of the footing. After the footing was poured, we decided we wanted a bit more comfort to ensure we had sufficient runoff. We had the mason figure in an additional course of 8” block, bringing us up to 56” above the footing.

This past Wednesday was block day! Jim Ricketts and his crew showed up before 8 AM and immediately went to work laying out the foundation.

Measuring from corner to corner insures squareness. Prior to him arriving, I drove my tractor into the center of the footings and smoothed out the floor and removed the larger rocks. I will explain the reason for that later in the post.

Soon after the lines were chalked, the block truck showed up.

Of all of the varied soil on our property, that truck is parked over a vein of the softest and purest beach sand you could ever imagine. The driver took it all in stride and hung the tail of the truck right over the edge.

Before too long, the crew had the block spread out and the first courses were laid.

By the end of the day on Wednesday, the four of them had three walls complete!

Look at that smile! Diana is very happy to see walls rising. Also, in the process of adding a course of block, we discovered another benefit:

Our crawl space is now tall enough so I don’t have to crawl in it!

On Thursday, Jim and his son Chris returned to finish the last wall.

They were finished by noon. Jim and I then took a chalk line and held it to predetermined marks while Diana snapped it to mark the lines. That set the top level for the waterproofer. As Jim and Chris were cleaning up, the waterproofer rolled in and went to work.

That hot tar will hopefully keep the water out. As you can see, our finished grade will vary quite a bit! Within a half hour of the waterproofer finishing up, the inspector rolled in and approved the foundation. His words “Let the fun continue” were music to our ears!

Part of the mortar-making process involved having coarse sand on hand to mix with the cement. The block supplier brought two huge containers of it and dumped it outside the perimeter of the foundation. There was quite a bit left when the job was complete, so I had a plan for it. To help explain, here is a photo of a conditioned crawl space:

The walls get 3” of foil-faced foam board applied to them and the dirt floor is covered with a thick plastic membrane. This completely seals out any moisture or radon coming up from below.

The edge of our footing is a little wider than 3”, so our friend Rod suggested piling dirt against it to soften that sharp corner. A sharp edge could tear the plastic membrane. That left over sand was just what I needed. I scooped it up with our tractor and dumped it inside. I then used my dad’s favorite shovel (he preferred using it to shovel snow) to spread it around the edge. I still had quite a bit left over, so I spread it out over the smaller rocks on the floor.

In addition to all of this, we’ve found time to play a little. One day, we took off and visited several of our favorite places in the area. One of those was Suttons Bay Ciders.

In addition to enjoying a flight of cider on their deck that overlooks Grand Traverse Bay, we purchased a bottle of their maple syrup. Some of the maple sap from this syrup comes from our friends John and Julie’s property. We’ve also had a harvest of our own up here on our hill:

It’s Morel mushroom season! We are blessed with a decent sized crop of them.

We’ve also enjoyed the daffodils, tulips, iris that Diana planted last year, along with the peony that her mom and dad gave us quite a few years ago. It was planted at our first house in 1990 as a housewarming present and has moved with us. During our time on the road, my sister Judy cared for it at her home. She also kept some of Diana’s aunt’s lily of the valley for us. And our friend Mary gave us some forget-me-not and some rhubarb, both of which are doing well. This is all in addition to the explosion of wildflowers in our woods. Leelanau doesn’t have an overpopulation of deer, so we have a LOT of trillium!

With all of that, we are ready for the framers! We will wait to backfill the outside until after the main floor is constructed. That will brace the block walls from the external pressure exerted on it by the soil piled against them. Stay tuned for our next post as our cabin rises up from our property. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Let’s Build a Cabin!

May 13, 2021 – Leelanau County, Michigan – Written by Jim.

When we last wrote, we had hopes of exploring a few new spots to us on our way back to Michigan. The weather had other plans, as we had a large snowstorm headed in from the west that threatened to block our path. We picked up the pace and left the southern Michigan storm in our rear view mirrors.

Once we were on our property, we hit the ground running. Our goal this summer is to get as much done as we can on our new cabin! We have been in touch with our subcontractors all winter, and it wasn’t long before Vince and his crew from Peninsula Excavating broke ground.

This is the last photo taken before that took place, about 5 minutes before he showed up. When he walked what we had staked out, he was concerned that the slope on the east side was a bit too close for the walkway we had planned on that side of the house. While he and I were scratching our heads, Diana headed to the other side of the house and eyed the copse of trees that was mostly leaning toward the building site. We quickly decided to get rid of them. Vince pushed one over with his loader and left the rest of them for us to deal with. That allowed us to move the house west 3 feet.

Within a few hours, we had ourselves a big sandbox! Most of it was a sand and gravel mixture with a couple pockets of football-sized glacial rocks.

We even found a large Charlevoix stone! This is actually coral from when Michigan was covered by a shallow sea. This rock is between 250 million and 450 million years old! We think it deserves a place of prominence in our cabin.

Once Vince headed out, we started cutting those trees. There were 11 of them of various sizes, and my intention was to fell them onto the driveway.

Since they were leaning away from the driveway and the wind was blowing from the wrong direction, 10 of the 11 ended up in what will be our bedroom! As the tallest of them was a diseased ash tree, it was a wise move to get rid of them.

Next up was our mason, Jim Ricketts. Here he has our footings formed up and ready. The inspector came first of the following week and approved the open footings, so we were ready for concrete…

…which is now complete. The next step will be for Jim to lay 7 course of block on top of these footings, which we are hoping will take place early next week.

The other thing we’ve been doing is bringing in our materials.

With the price of lumber being so high, we debated painting BRINKS on the sides of our truck! There were several loads like this. We did have the doors and windows delivered, along with the floor I-joists and framing lumber.

It sure is handy having forks for the bucket of our tractor! Those I-joists are 34 feet long and fill our barn from back to front. They just clear the overhead door’s safety beam.

The best story of the start of our build was when we received a call that our cabinets were being delivered. They weren’t supposed to come for another month, so we had to scramble. With the way the supply chain is so hit and miss, we felt it was wise to get them ASAP. They are RTA (ready to assemble) from Lily Ann Cabinets, in Adrian, Michigan. They actually had a showroom in Clearwater, Florida that we visited this past winter. When the rep from the trucking company called, he thought we could easily transfer them from their truck to our trailer. (The trucking company typically delivers curbside, as they are full sized semis). When the actual driver called, he was a bit worried about that idea. Doing that at the end of our driveway was not an option, as our road is on a hill. So we looked for a parking lot. We ended up at Leelanau Fruit Company, a local fruit processing plant. A gentleman walked out with a puzzled look on his face and I explained what we were needing to do and asked permission to use his parking lot. Just then, the truck driver pulled in. The man then ended up talking to the driver, and it was decided between the two of them that he would instead unload them at the dock with a forklift. Once that was completed, he used the forklift to put them on my trailer. These were three pallets of heavy cabinets!

How cool is that? And who was that man? None other than Glenn LaCross, President of Leelanau Fruit Company. Another gentleman who worked there also helped out, and he just happens to live just around the corner from us. Both men have family ties that date back to the mid 1800’s in Leelanau county. We offered to pay him for his time and efforts, but he refused. We made it a point to purchase some products in their online store instead. If you are in the mood for some delicious dark chocolate covered cherries, check out Leelanau Fruit’s website here. They are pretty darned good!

And last but not least, we received our trusses! You may recall last year when we built the barn, the driver wouldn’t attempt to come up our driveway, so she slid them off by the side of the road. We brought them up one at a time with our tractor, as shown in the photo below.

Those were 30 feet long. Well this year, our scissor trusses are a full seven feet longer! Kudos to Barb, the driver from this year, for walking the driveway with me. She really wanted to attempt getting them up the hill with her semi, but she realized she couldn’t make it when she saw the curves in our drive. So, we rigged up the tractor and went at it. Here is a little video of how we started out:

The little John Deere that could! The process of standing the trusses up onto the tractor was everything the two of us could handle (and a tad dangerous), so we came up with Plan B.

I built a 2×4 rack and screwed it to the front of our trailer. That made it so the trusses could clear the back of my truck. Definitely much easier and safer!

I was able to drag them on and off quite easily.

Hopefully we will be able to show some cement block and lumber going up in our next post, so be sure to stay tuned for that! Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Things Go Better With Quincy, Florida!

Quincy, Florida – April 11, 2021 – Written by Jim

Quincy, Florida is like many small towns in America; tidy, tree-lined streets named after our nation’s founding fathers, with homes surrounding a central business district. Quincy is a supplier of goods for the farms in this section of Florida’s Panhandle, as US-90 runs right through the middle of it. Other than the over abundance of grand houses in town, you would be hard-pressed to find anything unusual here. Looks can be deceiving…

During the Great Depression, the local banker made a keen observation that changed the course of Quincy’s fortunes forever.

@floridamemory.com

That banker’s name was Mark Welch (Pat) Munroe. He noticed that people were spending their last nickel to buy an ice-cold Coca-Cola. He knew by that fact that the company most likely had staying power. He also realized that Coke’s stock was undervalued, as they had been experiencing issues with their sugar suppliers. What had started out as a $40 a share stock in 1919, Coca-Cola was selling at $19 in the early 1930’s. The smart investor he was, Mr. Munroe bought stock in Coke. The wise businessman he was, he also told his customers to do the same, offering loans to help them do so. His advice to them was to hold onto the stock and use only the dividends.

It turns out that he was correct. Coca-Cola stock consistantly rose, making Quincy, Florida the wealthiest town (per-capita) in the nation.

The Quincy State Bank also did very well for itself, never closing it’s doors during the Great Depression. Munroe family lore states that when federal agents came to arrest Mr. Munroe for keeping the bank open during a federally-imposed bank holiday, they were unable to find the Pat Munroe that was listed on the arrest warrant. Remember…that was only a nickname. 🙂 The bank is now part of Capital City Bank.

As a result of Mr. Munroe’s observations, Quincy eventually was home to sixty-seven Coca-Cola millionaires. Many of their descendants are still reaping the benefits of his foresight. The town not only weathered the Great Depression, but every recession and crop loss since.

Mark Welch Munroe and his wife lived at this stately home on US-90 in Quincy. It was donated by the family to the City of Quincy and is now called Quincy Garden Center, a local wedding and events center.

We located where he is buried on Find-a-Grave and visited his final resting place. The inscription on his stone is fitting and true. It reads: The influence of his personality was so great and his advice so widely sought, that he seemed an institution in the community. Hardly subject to removal by death. Who could ask for a finer legacy than that?

So next time you buzz by Quincy, Florida on I-10, turn in for a bit and have a Coke. It is the ‘pause that refreshes’, after all. The people of Quincy will thank you.

As you can probably tell, the exploRVistas caravan is on the move! Stay tuned as we uncover more of America’s cool stories. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

Launches Galore

February 2021 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

If you’ve assumed that we have rocketed off of the face of the Earth, you can rest assured that we have not. We have been hanging out in our winter hideout on the Space Coast of Florida in what can only be described as the oddest winter yet. Several of our neighbors decided to remain home this year, due to the continuing pandemic. The park has a different feel, as a result. We sure do miss seeing our friends! And even though Florida is pretty much ‘open for business’, many of the activities we would normally do (Bingo, weekly lunches, meat shoot at the Moose Lodge, etc.) aren’t happening. We choose not to go into restaurants or indoor venues right now, and our grocery trips are stealth…early and fast.

With that being said, this season has been anything but a bust. SpaceX and ULA (United Launch Alliance) have been busy providing us plenty of free entertainment, and we’ve taken a few drives to see what’s happening in the area. One of those drives was to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Kennedy Space Center. As is usually the case for us, the wildlife provided us a few new gems.

This gator was showing off his two-step shuffle for us.

This Great Egret found a nice shady spot to hang out.

These Roseate Spoonbills were tempting fate hanging out with this large gator. There were quite a few spoonbills, alligators, herons ducks, and a Bald Eagle to be seen that day. We even saw an armadillo, but couldn’t get a photo of it. Always worth the hour drive up there.

As we mentioned, Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station have been busy! Most of the activity has been centered around SpaceX. They have two launch pads at their disposal, and they keep them hopping.

We’ve seen eleven SpaceX missions launched since we’ve arrived on November 1. One of them had four astronauts on board, which adds a whole different dynamic to watching it. We feel the night launches are the prettiest, although the one shown above was pretty cool. It was a polar launch that flew almost directly over our heads! One of the launches landed its booster back at the Cape (which we could see) and it produced two loud sonic booms as it came back in.

In addition to the SpaceX launches, we saw two ULA missions. One was a Delta IV Heavy, which is three boosters strapped together.

Copyright 2021 Rocket.com

That one was not only bright, but very loud.

This particular ULA launch occurred at sunset. It used a single liquid-fueled booster with several solid rocket boosters attached to it that leave a long contrail. The setting sun (out of the picture to the left) really added to the colors of this one.

One day, while running errands, we spotted a SpaceX booster in Port Canaveral when crossing the Cocoa Causeway. We detoured up to the port to check it out.

To the right, the sooty cylinder with the legs on the bottom is Falcon 9 booster #1060.5. The “.5” means it has flown 5 missions. In the foreground is the SpaceX drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, which is basically a large barge that the booster lands on in the Atlantic Ocean. “Large” is a relative term, considering the fact that SpaceX parks it off of the coast of North Carolina, launches the rocket 120 miles into space and lands the first stage booster on it. Kind of like looking for a grain of sand in a roomful of thick carpet. Most times the landings are successful, saving the company millions of dollars. Some of the launches don’t require as much fuel to be used, so they are able to reverse the direction on those boosters and land them back at the Cape. Simply amazing.

As most of you know, we are planning on building a cabin on our property in Michigan this summer. That project has been the main focus for us this winter.

It won’t be long before a structure appears on the bare spot of land in the above photo. Having built the barn last summer, we know the drill, as far as permitting and securing our subcontractors goes. As of this point, everything is on schedule. The biggest hurdle has been the tremendous increase in lumber prices. The housing market is booming. As a result, those lumber prices aren’t going down anytime soon…so we bite the bullet and keep moving.

We’ve also been getting ideas watching home improvement shows on HGTV. One of our favorites is Home Town, which is set in Laurel, Mississippi.

Copyright 2021 – HGTV

Ben and Erin Napier take on a different run-down house in their hometown of Laurel and restore it for the new homeowners during each episode. Their ability as craftspeople to create something from nothing is really fun to watch. We have picked up a few ideas from them to incorporate into our place, also with some new ways to refer to things we already had planned. We already were going to use vinyl plank flooring, but learned that the correct term is LVT…or as they say in Mississippi, “Luxury VAHHHnl TAAAAHhll”. 🙂 Watching these two is much more entertaining than most of the other programming choices these days! Check them out, if you haven’t already done so.

So until next time, here’s to staying healthy and well. Stay tuned for updates on our cabin and, as always…safe and happy travels to all!

Autumn Maples in All of Their Splendor

September-October 2020 – Leelanau County, Michigan.

Written by Jim

Knowing we had a lot of things to do to wrap up our summer in Leelanau, we set a mid-October departure date. Not only would that allow us the time to finish up our projects, but it would provide us the treat of seeing our trees in all of their autumn splendor. Hopefully we wouldn’t push it too far to where we had to descend our steep driveway in the snow!

One of our projects was to take down four dead trees that could have posed a problem over the winter. The last thing we wanted was to arrive in the spring to a tree across the driveway.

We will have plenty of campfire wood next year!

Diana built a compost bin and has been filling it for the last month or so.

We should end up with some good mulch from this!

We also found time for friends and family. Lane & Patti and Rod & Mary joined us for happy hour, and Diana’s cousin Debbie came up for a weekend. Diana’s cousin Jerry has visited three times over the summer and cousin Reed visited twice. Our friend Tim also visited while he was in the area on vacation from California. We failed to get photos every time!

Also, our friends Terry and Diane came up from Grand Rapids and were our inaugural RV guests for a night! We had a great visit with them.

One of the interesting discoveries on our property was an old split rail and barbed wire fence that runs ten feet inside the west property line. We did some research and found out who owned the property in 1870…the earliest we could find. That family continued to keep the property into the 1970’s, making it a centennial farm. There were two other owners between them and us.

The fence is much older than 1970, and we have made contact with the family who originally owned it. More on that in another post. We are most interested with who may have put up the fence and also who planted the apple trees. A few of those are still producing fruit, despite their advanced age.

Most of the fence had fallen down, so we are installing metal posts on the hidden side to keep it off the ground so it won’t rot as fast. It’s not intended to act as a barrier; it’s more for asthetics and history.

It wasn’t long and Leelanau’s leaves started changing color.

We were hearing from the locals that it was the prettiest fall they had seen in a long time.

The trees were ablaze with autumn hues

Scenes like this, no matter which direction we looked!

Even the sky got in on the action. 🙂

A caramel apple, cinnamon donut and some hot apple cider would complete this scene.

Here is the view looking down our road towards Grand Traverse Bay. The bay can be seen in the distance, along with the bay’s eastern shore near the tip of Torch Lake. A mere 15 miles as the crow flies; it takes an hour to drive the 46 miles around the bottom of the bay to get there.

And with that, we bid adieu to Leelanau for the winter! Our cottage is staked out, plans are drawn and we hope to start our build in the spring. We are currently in Alabama, and we are headed to warmer latitudes to sink our toes into the sand…and to check out some cool rocket launches to share with you. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Goals Set and Goals Achieved

September 1, 2020 – Leelanau County, Michigan

When we left Florida this spring, we had a set of goals in place to install our utilities and build our barn on our property in Michigan. With the onset of COVID-19, we figured that we might have to scale those goals back a bit. Well, here we are at the beginning of September with all of our plans completed and more. It has been a great summer for us, despite the pandemic!

We last left you with siding on west side and back of the barn. Since then, we’ve finished the east side, then moved the scaffolding around the front.

The peak was a real trick to reach. Good thing we had the extension levelers for the bottom!

Here I am with the last piece of shake siding.

It was tippy-toes to get that up there!

Before long, we had all of the siding complete! Coach lights and gutters put the finishing touches on the exterior…

…while lights finished off the interior. That officially wrapped up our goals for the summer! We didn’t stop there though. I added a workbench inside the barn and then focused on finishing our shed that I rushed to build last summer.

I tacked on the batten strips, painted it and then roofed it to match the barn.

Another project we had was to cut up all the logs from the trees we had cut down along the driveway. We gave the wood to Lane and Patti, as they had helped us out earlier by supplying us with water the first month we were here.

Lane and I had a couple days of cutting.

We ended up with three loads like this. Diana and I saved two nice logs and took them to the sawmill near us to make into some pieces for the cottage. More on that in a future post.

While Lane and I were doing that, Diana had noticed that a bush she had trimmed earlier had sprouted a bunch of new shoots. Looking it up, she discovered that it was Autumn Olive, a highly invasive plant that takes over the forest edges. Turns out that it was a suggested planting for erosion control in the mid 20th century…until it started taking over everything. Diana went on a mission to rid our property of it.

Here she is, loppers in hand! Per the NW Michigan Invasive Species Network and her own research, she is cutting them and chemically treating the cut stems.

We pile them up and chain them to the bucket of the tractor…

…and stack them on our burn pile.

We will wait until there are no leaves on the trees to torch this…preferably on a rainy day. We still have a lot more to add to this pile.

We are also trying to grow grass in several places. That means spreading topsoil, seeding and putting straw on top.

It’s nice having a car hauler for a trailer, as I can drive right up the ramps and scoop off the dirt with the tractor.

Here I am spreading it out before seeding it. While I am doing that, Diana has been planting Daylilies that Mary gave us and Iris that Lane and Patti gave us.

Here are the Daylilies…

…and here she is planting the Iris.

So as you can see, we’ve accomplished a lot this summer! It hasn’t been all work though. We’ve had several physically distanced get-togethers with several friends and family, along with a day of kayaking at Sleeping Bear Dunes. We even got to meet our great nephew for the first time!

Miles is wearing a little outfit we got him at RonJon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach. Becky and Dan couldn’t be happier, and Charlie even approves. 🙂

As we reflect on the summer, we look back to a photo Lane and Patti sent us the week before we arrived on May 2nd:

Our place was nothing but our little shed and a building site in need of leveling. Compare that to this photo I took today from the same place, a mere four months later:

We are thrilled with where we ended up. Hopefully our cottage build next summer goes as smoothly as this year’s barn build did. 🙂

Be sure to stay tuned for our next post, as we wrap up our summer here in Leelanau. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

She Sells Sea Shells by the…Cherry Orchard?

July 22, 2020 – Leelanau County, Michigan

Written by Jim

One of the more interesting discoveries on our property in Leelanau County has been what lies just below the surface. Our land sits perched on a hill about a mile west of Grand Traverse Bay and four miles east of Lake Michigan. We are 150 feet above those bodies of water. Our soil is well drained, with a mix of topsoil, sand and lots of gravel. That gravel…and our hill…is courtesy of the Laurentide Ice Sheet that plowed its way southward from Canada 10,000 years ago. As it moved, it pushed whatever soil and stone it could dislodge in front of it. Much of that rock was sedimentary, having been laid down at the bottom of an ancient sea that once covered the central portion of North America. In our case, that sea was well to our north. Some of the gravel and stone is pink granite, which is found along the Canadian Shield on the north shore of Lake Superior…again, well to our north. In any case, sticking a shovel in the ground around here will bring up a multitude of surprises!

Mid June brought a project that required a bit of digging. We needed to run an electric line from our barn to our new RV sites, a distance of 100 feet. Rather than fight the rocky soil, we rented this beauty:

Four hours with this trencher goes for about $250, so we also cut a trench to the future cabin and put 2″ conduit in. That saved having to rent this again next year.

The trench to the RV sites was fairly easy, as the top portion was fill that the excavator brought in.

Not so on the other trench. This was all glacial till. Note how it is not a straight line, as the Ditch Witch was bouncing off of every boulder it encountered! Let’s just say that we were glad it finished the project in one piece. This particular slice required quite a bit of hand digging, as the machine couldn’t go deep enough because of the rock.

So what did we find?

This is an example of a Charlevoix stone, a cousin to the Petoskey stone. Both are some 350 million years old and are forms of coral from that ancient seabed I spoke of earlier.

Here is a Petoskey stone, which can be distinguished by its geometric shaped coral.

On occasion, I would toss a seemingly mundane gray rock onto the pile, only to have it split in two.

This one split and left not only the imprint of a shell on the right half, but the actual shell on the left half. Once again, that shell is millions of years old.

And check out this one. There is a lot going on in this beauty! This is not anything that would’ve lived on the bottom of freshwater Lake Michigan, but rather the shallow saltwater sea that was to our north and west. This was dredged up by the glaciers and transported here during the last ice age…high up on our hill.

Finding treasures like those makes doing work like this a lot more fun!

The rest of our project is coming along right on schedule.

We’ve been busy putting up fascia and soffit…

…and siding! We are just a few days from being done with that project. The back of the barn is built into the hill; that’s why the red portion looks so short. We should be able to get our final inspections within the next couple of weeks. Look for photos of the finished product in our next post.

The other excitement around here was when we discovered that a few of our large maples were hollow inside and were in danger of falling on our barn and future cabin. Had we noticed them before we built the barn, we could’ve cut them down ourselves. We chose to have a tree service come in and take them down for us.

That was a job better left to the professionals!

That’s about it from northern Michigan and our little slice of paradise. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

From the Beach to a Barn

June 11, 2020 – Leelanau County, Michigan

Written by Jim

Soooo…did you think we fell off the face of the earth?

When I wrote last, the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to make it’s presence known in a big way. We were at the beach in Florida with a handful of approved building permits for our summer projects in Michigan. As time progressed, it looked like our plans were in danger of drying up, as states began to lock down in earnest. We watched daily to see if we were going to be able to make the trek through the center of the country, and we paid close attention to the situation in Michigan. Our wheels didn’t roll until late April, which put us in Michigan in early May.

Our original plan was to stay at our former work camping spot, Wild Cherry Resort, for a few months while we got things situated on our property. Unfortunately, the county health department put a 14 day quarantine period in place, so we instead opted to go directly to our property and boondock on it without hookups. In the long run, that ended up working in our favor. We weren’t even sure if we could make it up our steep gravel driveway with the rig, so it was all a big gamble. Our friends Lane and Patti had checked things out a few days ahead of time and cleared a few downed limbs for us. Below is their photo:

As we headed up to Leelanau, Diana took a 20 minute lead in the Escape to make sure everything was still ok, which it was. I pulled in and put Hank the Deuce in 4 wheel low and proceeded up the hill. Piece of cake!

We rented a porta-potty (a requirement of our building permit) and settled in with our generator. Both Lane & Patti and Rod & Mary supplied us with water from their wells until we could get our own well installed.

One of the first deliveries was our 30 foot long trusses. Dropped at the road, we had to figure out how to get them up a 60 foot hill and a couple hundred yards to our building site.

Let’s just say, there isn’t much a John Deere, some scrap lumber, a C clamp and a handful of bungee cords can’t do. Bad part was, the delivery driver showed at 6 PM and Diana and I ended up finishing at 11:15.

Our next order of business was for Diana and I to clear a 10 foot wide, by 100 yard long path through the trees for our underground power cable to come in from the pole at the road.

This is a photo of that pathway after the cable was installed.

Following that, our excavator came onsite and got busy. He installed water and sewer lines, our septic system, and provided us with a great upper driveway. He also dug the foundation for the barn.

This is our drain field before it was totally covered up. Our permanent RV site was quite low, so he built it up for us.

That resulted in a fairly steep hill off the backside that we were worried would wash out, so I started gathering rocks from wherever I could find them on the property.

Most of Leelanau County is a glacial moraine, so finding rocks was not an issue. We ended up terracing the hill and planted grass and periwinkle to hold the soil.

We’ve had a few heavy rains since we did this and it is holding extremely well. Every bit of that rock is from our property. There is a lot more where that came from!

The sites passed my inspection, once all was said and done.

Next up was the barn foundation.

Footings, then…

block walls. Our excavator suggested using a taller rear block wall, as there is a hill that we would be dealing with in the back.

It got pretty crowded up on our little hilltop a few days. One day in particular saw two cement trucks, two well drilling trucks, three power company trucks and a bevy of personal vehicles. It wasn’t long and we had things ready for the framers. They showed up last Thursday.

By Thursday evening, we had three walls! And as of Wednesday…

…the barn is framed in! Not bad for 37 days on the property. 🙂

Has it been all work? Mostly…but we also have taken in the beauty of our little slice of Leelanau.

We had plenty of trillium in our woods, along with several other species of wildflowers.

We also found quite a few morel mushrooms!

Our neighbor’s cherry orchard was gorgeous when it was in bloom. We have several old apple trees on our land, as it was an orchard in a long ago life.

Stay tuned for our next post, as we continue to finish the structure. We will be doing the siding and plumbing, and will hire out the overhead door and the electrical work. We will also dress up the shed to match the barn. We’ll fill you in on our well story, which was a doozy.

Until next time; stay safe out there!

Scanning the Skies for Rainbows

March 21, 2020 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

In September of 1980, my phone rang in my college dorm room at Western Michigan University. It was my mom calling from Ohio to let me know about something that had happened to her and my sister. My grandpa had died a few days before in Indiana. He had been the only male resident of the Catherine Kasper Home for aging Catholic sisters at my Aunt Marge’s order’s motherhouse in Donaldson, Indiana. He had broken his hip while visiting and was granted permission to stay. I would visit him there, as it was a short drive from Kalamazoo. When I asked him how he liked it, he replied “Too many queens and not enough kings.” Truth be told, the only queen that mattered to him was his dear Minnie who had passed six years prior. This iron-willed homebuilder from Detroit sobbed that fact to me on more than one occasion.

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Back to that phone call. My parents were returning from a trip and stopped for the service the sisters had for him. I was going to meet the family for the main funeral in Detroit a few days later. My sister went to Indiana and drove Mom back to Ohio, as my dad had some loose business dealings to take care of before the funeral. As Mom and Judy were heading east, a rainbow appeared before them. The phone call had to do with that, as a rainbow is what my Aunt Marge requested when my grandpa asked her what sign she wanted when he got to Heaven. As I talked to Mom, I was looking out my dorm room window at a dazzling rainbow. While it was sad that Grandpa K had died, it brought a quizzical wonder at the coincidence of those color filled arches across the sky. Oddly enough, my aunt…the most spiritual one among us… never saw her rainbow. I’ll expound on why I think that is later in this post.

Over the years since, Diana and I have been treated to rainbows soon after a family member passes, almost without fail. Each time a gentle reminder that there is a God and a Heaven. This past Sunday, the requestor of that original rainbow passed away. My Aunt Marge, known to the sisters as Sister Mary Conrad Kirchhoff, was 95 years old.

As a child, she looked up to her older sister, my mom. Blackie and Blondie were their nicknames. She also looked up to her brothers Fritz and John and was protective of her little brother Ed.

After high school, she held a couple of secretarial jobs in Detroit before she heard the call from God to become a nun. She chose the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, an order that originated in Germany and had an American group of sisters in Donaldson, Indiana.

As a novice, her ‘little’ brother Ed came to see her. He would soon be off to war in the U.S. Navy, along with his older brothers who were serving in the Army.

Once she took her vows, she hit the floor running. She earned a Bachelors Degree from Loyola in Chicago and masters degree from St Francis College in Ft Wayne. She was a teacher and principal in Chicago, Director of Novices in Donaldson, the head of the order in the U.S. from 1973-1979, and then returned to teaching.

From 1983-1989, she was the first non-German sister on the worldwide board in Germany. Over the years, she travelled the world to places from Germany to India and Italy.

She even was able to meet Pope Paul VI. She was even fortunate to witness the day that same pope became a saint; the same day the foundress of her order did (Sr. Mary Catherine Kasper). She spoke with Diana and I about how she thought my mom would have been able to see more of the world than her. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would be so blessed to have experienced so much. She finished her career as the Vice President of Mission Effectiveness at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Fort Wayne. Throughout her life, she opened doors to opportunities for her sisters to follow. When she didn’t know the path to take, she trusted God to show her the way.

And that is my belief on why she never saw that rainbow. Of all of our family members, she was the only one that didn’t need to. She had faith that her dad made it to Heaven…no rainbow required. God bless you, Aunt Marge. You were our moral compass. The world is better for you having been a part of it.

Below is a link to a YouTube video where she speaks of her years in Detroit and how she was called to become a sister. It’s a nice way to spend 5 minutes, if you have the time.

Sr Conrad’s calling (YouTube)

A Snowball in Florida?

February 1, 2020 – Melbourne Beach, Florida

Written by Jim

The metaphor of a tiny snowball rolling down a hill and gaining size was a thought that kept going through my head in early January. With the fact that we were on the coast in Florida…at an elevation of 10 feet above sea level and with us in shorts…it was just that; a metaphor. That thought was rooted in my attempted recovery from the most recent bout of whatever crud was going around. It turns out that it had snowballed into a full-blown case of bronchitis. I ended up coughing so hard that I pulled muscles in my back and aggravated my sciatic issues on my left side. I could barely walk, once I mustered the energy to get out of my chair. I was a mess, to put it mildly. On more than one occasion, I thanked God that I had decided against working for UPS this year.

First order of business was to get over the bronchitis. A trip to Surfside Urgent Care netted me several prescriptions, including an inhaler to stop the out-of-control coughing. If you owned stock in Walgreens over that period of time, you are welcome for the upswing in your portfolio. 🙂 The concoction of drugs, coupled with some great nursing from my lovely caregiver Diana, did the trick. By mid month, the snowball had stopped rolling.

The next thing on the agenda was to address the sciatic issue. My leg pain had subsided, but it was replaced with numbness. I contacted my nephew Dr. Dan, who is a physical therapist in Michigan, asking advice on what direction to go in seeking health care. My primary care doctor is in Michigan, and I really wanted to get a jump on this. Dan provided me with a ton of information (Thank you!) and a recommendation to seek out a good physical therapist down here. Florida has a law that allows a person to get 30 days of PT without a physicians referral, so I connected with one that was highly rated and accepted by our insurance. I’m happy to say that after a week and a half, I am making great progress! The snowball is indeed melting.

In Space Coast news, we’ve had three launches so far this year. January 6 saw the launch of Starlink 2, the second operational flight of SpaceX’s constellation of internet-providing satellites. With it being an evening launch that was flying northeast, we knew our best views would be further north of our winter home. We headed up to Patrick Air Force Base, which sits just south of Cape Canaveral.

What a show! What you are seeing in this photo (left to right) is the trail from the main engines, followed by MECO (main engine cut off). The next dot is the second-stage engine start (SES), followed by that portion of the rocket fading off into orbit. At that point, the rocket is outside of the atmosphere, so the flame disappears. Farther to the right, the first re-entry burn from the first stage can be seen, as it slows down to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, located several hundred miles out to sea. The final burn wasn’t visible, as it was over the horizon. I guess Earth isn’t flat, after all. :). For a full list of SpaceX acronyms…some of them hilarious… click HERE. BFR is one of my favorites, as is FTBA. 🙂

The next launch was the much anticipated IFA test. IFA stands for In-Flight Abort. NASA will be launching astronauts on SpaceX rockets, and this test was performed to see if the capsule could escape from an exploding rocket. We decided that Patrick AFB was the best spot to view it from, so away we went!

The weather had other plans, as the rocket disappeared into the clouds. We did hear a tremendous BOOM though (that’s not an acronym), as the rocket experienced RSD (rapid scheduled disassembly). Here’s what it looked like on Doppler radar:

The smaller green dot to the right of the explosion is the capsule flying away from the exploding rocket. The flight was a success and we should expect to see astronauts headed to the space station this spring.

The last launch for January was another SpaceX Starlink launch. Having a PT commitment later that morning, we chose to view it from our park:

It never gets old. 🙂

The other entertainment around here is Bingo and the weekly meat shoot at the local Moose lodge. This version involves a deck of cards instead of guns, but the prizes are still sizable cuts of meat. I won some delicious pork chops and Diana scored the 50/50 a few weeks back. It’s always a good time, as a large group of us from the park shows up. The caller refers to us as the Big Table.

We also had lunch with our friends Rod and Mary, we went to Merritt Island with our friend Paul and his Aunt Joan, and we did a Costco run with our full-time RV friend Kathy. This is the fifth state we’ve connected with her in.

And we’ve gained some ground on our garage project. We have all of our subcontractors lined up now and we’ve secured our land use permit. Once we have the building permit in hand, we can begin!

Actually, there is a fair amount of white stuff up on our hill, so we will wait until it melts before we head up there. We don’t want my snowball metaphor to become a reality. 🙂

Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!

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