It’s Not The (Lack Of) Heat…It’s The Humidity!

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”
Thomas Edison

In that case, Mr. Edison would probably find our RV to be pretty smart!

We are well on our way through our first snow event. While we have not experienced what Buffalo, NY has had to deal with, we did manage to pick up a foot of snow as of this morning. The single day record snowfall for November 18 in Grand Rapids was 2.9 inches. We shattered that record. Mid-day yesterday, our trusty Stanley revealed the following:

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Grand Rapids picked up more snow in a 24 hour period than it did at any point during last season’s record setting winter. We are up to 23.4 inches of snow for November, which is the fourth highest snowfall total on record. The last 7 day’s temperatures have been 15 degrees below average. And thanks to Lake Michigan, we have only had 7% of possible sunshine.

As stated before, we have been concerned about moisture buildup inside the rig. Propane heat naturally gives off water as a byproduct, as does breathing, showering, cooking and excess snow coming in from outside on our boots after shoveling. The result becomes apparent in two places: the corners of the RV and the aluminum window frames.

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We have found that drying the window frames off with paper towels in the morning and evening helps a lot. The day/night shades trap a lot of moisture during the night, and a quick wipe with a piece of Bounty eliminates that. Once the shades are open in the morning, the air movement from our ceiling fan keeps them fairly dry, though not 100% moisture free. The daily maintenance prevents mildew and water running down the walls. The corners of the RV have also been places that dampness builds up, especially inside cabinets. This doesn’t seem to be as bad as the windows, but it still does require daily attention. We are keeping those cabinet doors open and doing our best to point fans at the problem areas. The Eva Dry 500 dehumidifiers we put in the cabinets seem to be helping with that. We also just purchased an Eva Dry 2200 dehumidifier for the bedroom area to compliment the Eva Dry 1100 we have in the living room, so we will see how that helps the overall picture. One other thing that is working well is the fact we are taking our showers at the YMCA every day. That not only cuts down on the humidity, but also eliminates the need to run the power vent, thereby keeping the heat inside. Working out at the Y also keeps us in shape, both physically and mentally. In addition, we are able to run two electric space heaters on ‘low’, which not only provides dry heat, but it cuts down on the propane bill. We are filling a 30 pound propane tank every 3 to 4 days at $25 a refill, and our electric bill looks like it will be around $160 for November. Keep in mind that we also kicked on the heater inside the skirted area below the rig. We have it set at 45 degrees, and our floors are staying comfortable as a result. Our estimate is that heating that area is costing us $40 a month. The skirting itself would definitely keep that area above freezing, but the floors would be cold, especially in our slide outs. We feel our comfort is worth the extra money.

Following are several photos of our campsite to this point. Not a lot of snow, but it is only mid November!

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This was taken out of our window in the middle of a lake effect snow band. At that point, the snow was coming down pretty hard.

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The campground has a good sized Kubota to keep the streets plowed. Keeping our campsite itself cleaned is our responsibility.

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The area we are keeping open is plenty wide, as we know that the snow banks will creep inward as the winter wears on. Knock on wood, the campsites on either side of us are not occupied. Hopefully they remain that way.

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We put partially inflated beach balls under the slide toppers. This keeps them up and will keep the excess snow and ice from pooling in them.

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Our Awning Airwedge is also helping, although not as much as the beach balls.

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We are getting a fair amount of icicles, meaning that the heat from inside the trailer is melting the snow on the roof. We think that we might need to brush off some of the excess snow today, in hopes of minimizing the runoff. We will attempt that with our 8 foot step ladder and a snow brush, as walking on an icy roof is not a good idea,

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Our bedroom slide sarcophagus seems to be holding up well, although it wouldn’t hurt to have the snow removed from the top of it also.

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Campfire anyone? 🙂

All in all, this has been a positive experience for us. While the windows…even though they are double pane…have been a daily maintenance issue, we are extremely thankful our rig has so many of them. Being able to look outside prevents winter claustrophobia. The view out of our windows is beautiful. Ok, so it isn’t the Tetons or the beach at Grand Haven, but it is pretty neat nonetheless. Our winter preparations seem to have paid off, even though we were going on other’s recommendations and our own trial and error.

Which brings us to another one of Mr. Edison’s quotes:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

Fortunately for us, most of our efforts are working!

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We will miss you, sweet Jenny

On Wednesday morning, we said goodbye to our dear Jenny girl. Her cancer advanced much quicker than anyone thought it would, and we had to make the decision that no one wants to make. She sure will be missed.

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She touched a lot of lives, and we were fortunate to have her with us for 10-1/2 years.

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We love you, Jenny girl!

Frederik Meijer Gardens

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa

West Michigan is blessed with more than its share of philanthropists who give back to their community. None was more loved than Frederik Meijer. Fred, as everyone in town referred to him, was the son of Henderik Meijer, a barber turned grocer from Greenville, Michigan. Fred started out working at his dad’s store at age 14, bagging groceries. Eventually, he took a liking to one of the cashiers, Lena Rader, and they were married. Fred took over the company from his dad, and he pioneered the one-stop shopping big box concept in 1962…long before Walmart used the model. He grew Meijer into a huge regional player, with over 200 supercenters in 5 states. Along the way, he became the 60th richest man in America. But the chain itself was not the true measure of this man. It was his deep commitment to his employees and his community. He considered his workers to be his family, and he was truly concerned about their well-being. It was not unusual for a worker to head into the break room to find Fred there in a flannel shirt and jeans, asking how they were doing. This would happen day and night, as Meijer is open 24 hours. He would pop into hospital rooms to visit, or call and follow up if he couldn’t personally be there. He would show up at funerals, sharing hugs and tears. His focus was always on what he could do to improve the employee’s lives, not what the employee could do to improve the bottom line.

One of Mr. Meijer’s greatest gifts to his community was the Frederik Meijer Botanical Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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This world class facility has become the top tourist attraction in West Michigan. There are many facets to this amazing place, and it continues to grow each year.

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A visit to Meijer Gardens begins with the greenhouse. There are several temperate zones represented, with the largest zone dedicated to the tropics. This is a great place to go on a cold winter day.

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If a visitor is wearing a winter coat, it usually comes off, as it is that hot and humid.

The real magic begins when you step out the back door. That is where the outdoor portion of Meijer Gardens begins. The current footprint of the park is 132 acres, and promises to grow as additional land is purchased.

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One of the first things encountered is the Amphitheater. This venue hosts a summer concert series…members to Meijer Gardens get first dibs at tickets.

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With this type of lineup, it is a nice perk. It is a great way to spend a summer evening. We have seen Harry Connick, Jr., Mary Chapin Carpenter, Steve Martin and Lyle Lovett there. People bring wine, cheese and all sorts of gourmet delights.

Another membership perk worth mentioning is the reciprocal agreement with over 200 other museums and gardens throughout the country. Our membership gets us into all of them.

Following along the path behind the amphitheater, The American Horse appears.

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This is a 24 foot tall colossus sculpture based on Leonardo DaVinci’s lost work. Efforts to recreate his masterpiece in the making began in the latter half of the 20th century, and were finally funded by Frederik Meijer. Two identical castings were made; one for Milan, Italy and one for Grand Rapids.

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The sheer size of it is remarkable. The grace it exhibits as it stands on two of its four hooves is a thing of beauty.

Beyond the horse, paths wind through several different types of zones; woodlands, prairies, wetlands and such. Throughout each zone, sculptures are interspersed into the flora.

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Lena Meijer has always admired formal gardens. Fred and Lena also had a love of Japanese gardens, and Fred wanted to give Lena one for their park. He enlisted the help of Helen and Richard DeVos (of Amway fame), and a new addition to the sculpture park is being built.

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This is no small undertaking. The garden spans 8 acres, encompassing a 2.5 acre pond. The workers were brought in from Japan, so this feature to Meijer Gardens promises to be the real deal. It is slated to open in June, 2015.

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Beyond the Japanese garden is a Michigan farm. The house is a 3/4 scale reproduction of Lena’s childhood home.

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Barnyard animals are actually bronze sculptures, and the garden behind the farmhouse is tended to as any other garden would be.

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It is here that you will find the final resting place of Frederik Meijer. Lena will join him here someday. A humble stone for a humble man.

Fred Meijer truly loved everything about his life. His success was rooted in his love of his fellow man, and his legacy stands firm in West Michigan.

Learning as we go

‘Here I stand, and here I’ll stay-
Let the storm rage on….
The cold never bothered me anyway.’

From the Disney movie ‘Frozen’.

Well, hopefully it won’t bother us, now that we’ve made a few modifications after last week’s cold snap! Once the temperature dropped below freezing, we noticed that our bedroom slide had a lot of moisture building up on the outside wall. Also, the upper cabinets were experiencing the same thing. We tried running the vent fans, but that barely seemed to help the situation. Our DampRid canisters didn’t do a thing to help. We even purchased a small dehumidifier, which still was not enough to draw out the moisture from those areas. The bedroom slide didn’t have the benefit of being able to be skirted to the ground, as it is so high up, and it has the propane tank compartment right below it. So, here is what we ended up doing:

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Not exactly pretty, but we encased the slide in foam sheathing. We even cut window holes into it and put some plexiglas in to allow light into the bedroom. We immediately noticed a difference. We still need a good post-modification cold snap to confirm our efforts, but we think we will be OK.

As for the cabinets, we used these rechargeable wireless dehumidifiers from EvaDry. They work especially well for cabinets.

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The reviews on this product are favorable, so we decided to give them a try. We will update on them in a future post.

Our biggest positive so far has been the skirting. The temperature below the RV has yet to drop below 45 degrees. We have an electric heater down there ready to go, but we have not had to turn it on yet. We were down to 25 degrees outside one morning, but the skirted area stayed plenty warm. In the month of October, we occupied the rig for 19 days. We used $75 worth of propane (90 pounds) and $60 in electricity. Not too bad.

We have another ace in the hole to combat our moisture problem:

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We have a membership at our local YMCA! We were going to put it on hold once we started out on the road, but decided to keep it through this winter. It is a nice place to get away, a great way to stay in shape, and a sure-fire way to keep the shower steam out of our fifth wheel!

In the earlier photo of the bedroom slide, the covering for the sewer line is able to be seen. We actually used solid PVC pipe for the sewer to allow for smoother flow…just in case things get clumpy. 🙂

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We hinged the end of the covering with silver tape and weighted the underside with a piece of wood. We will open this when dumping the tanks, so as to allow the sewer gases to escape, and not run back up under the trailer.

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We also have a large access door for the heater and two of our three sewer levers. The silver piece of foam flops down over the door to hold it shut.

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The inside connection can be seen through this door. We have a clear connector on the pipe, so we can monitor the flow. Just what you want to see, right? One of our dear friends refers to the dumping process as a ‘blue job’, as it is for boys only.

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Another modification was a foam box over the air conditioner. We had heard that a lot of heat is lost through an air conditioner, so we followed a few of our neighbors leads and built this.

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We used these small clamps from Home Depot to give us an attachment to the gutter, in order to allow us to have something to attach the bungee cord to. We found them in the electrical department.

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We also boxed in the fresh water connection to the RV. As you can see, we have a Pirit heated water hose. So far, it is working great!

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The final modification we have done is using window film on the inside of the windows. These are the plastic sheets that you tape on the window frame and use a hair dryer to make them taut. As you can see, the film still allows us to see outside quite well. Our large rear window is pointed due south, so we are looking forward to a little solar heat this winter!

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So there you have it! We are pretty sure we are set for the cold. Bring it on, Queen Elsa! We will post updates on how everything is holding up in future posts.

Safe travels!

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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!

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