Sunday, March 27, 2016

Mississippi

Destination: Clarko State Park & Vicksburg, Mississippi
We've been tearing across the US these past few weeks trying to backtrack through a few states we've already visited. ^ See that long stretch between our stop in Atlanta and our first MS destination ^? Longest haul yet! We're both a little exhausted and looking forward to our next extended stay. This is the first time in our trip we haven't had a real destination in mind. Somewhere to stop and get a adjusted for a while. Part of me is thinking 'how are we going to make it through the next 7 months at this rate?'. It's honestly very tiring spending all week working, then all weekend traveling, especially moving several times per week like we have been. You wouldn't believe how frustrating it is to get the RV level (!), get the hook-ups in place, slide-outs, and everything back to where it was after a long day driving, just to have to do it ALL OVER AGAIN a few days later! I guess these are what you would call 'first world problems'. 
-Tired traveler -->
The view from our campsite, about 20 feet from the water. Closest to waterfront we've been yet!
We're still searching for America, and Mississippi seems like a state that we can't just blow through. Full of history, culture, and scenic places to visit it is almost overwhelming as to decide where to go. I have always been a big fan of delta blues, and I know all throughout the state there are several small places in the middle of nowhere that you can't investigate too much before you go.  Since we haven't made many tourist spots our primary destination, we have sort of relied on chance as to what kind of experiences we have. You just can't plan on meeting some of the unique people that you are going to meet, nor do you know what message they will have for you. This trip we have been winging it most of the way, with some destinations planned, but I feel that we always end up where we are supposed to, even if some places don't seem like it at the time. 

Mississippi is one of those states that has small mom and pop operations in small towns in the middle of nowhere. One place we found was Long's Fish Camp in Quitman, MS. We went there on a sunday afternoon and it was crowded. Everything there is fried, so it is only a once and a while thing for me, but the highlight for me was the jalepeno hush puppies. 

  We spent quite a bit of money at a roadside stand called The Tomato Place in Vicksburg. After going in we found it was also a cafe that served some excellent food. The produce was a better quality than what you will find at the big grocery stores, and the bread was made without any extra chemicals that you would not put in your bread if you were to bake it at home. Hana had a tomato sandwich with butter beans, while I had Salmon with salad, garlic bread, and squash. 

   We also stopped at another roadside place called Cups and Cones, which was an authentic cajun boil. For ten bucks we got crawfish, potatoes, corn, spicy cabbage, a sausage, and some mushrooms. When I asked if they used their own spices, or the Louisiana brand boil mix (which is full of msg) they laughed and offered us a sample of about 4 of 5 crawfish. The owner taught be the right way to peel and eat a crawfish tail. I have to say if you are ever in Vicksburg do not pass this small, humble place up because it is worth it. I may even stop there on the way out if they are open because my daring side is curious about the pig ear sandwich. It is not something I would normally eat, as I usually give dried pig ears for my dog to chew on, but curiosity and a longing for authenticity is getting the best of me. 
  
 We pulled into Clarcko State Park with a sigh of relief. It's a sleepy little state park on the east side of the state just past the Alabama border. It had been a while since we had been in a state park like this, and we were getting burned out on the last two kitchy rv parks we had been to that had man-made ponds that I couldn't get interested in casting a line into.


   I sat on the picnic table and started to pick at my guitar when our neighbor, Gene from Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Originally from southern Louisiana) came over and invited us to some gumbo that he and the group he came there with were having. We talked for a minute, and when he told me the group was home schoolers it didn't quite register in my exhausted mind what he meant.

   When I walked upon the site and approached the campfire later, I was immediately welcomed by the circle of people warming up around the fire while their kids of all ages played together nearby. It was then I realized they were a co-op that all homeschooled their children. My interests were immediately sparked because Hana and I have talked about the possibility of homeschooling kids if we happened to have any, and I also suspected that they may have similar spiritual views as I have. 

    When I asked for their reasons a parent from each family took turns explaining, giving me a thorough picture of why someone would homeschool their kids. For most, religious beliefs came in to play with a strong desire to bring their children up with a sense of values. This made a lot of sense to me, especially since the parents get to spend so much more time with their children. Looking at most of America today the parents work long hours and hand over the children all day to the public school system without giving much thought to how they will be taught, or what values they really learn. Another advantage is that a parent can give much more personalized attention to a few kids, rather than a single teacher who has a classroom of thiry or so to attend to. One girl who has strong engineering skills was also able to take art lessons from two professional artists in the area. There was a story of another girl with dyslexia who the school refused to take seriously that was not only able to develop her reading skills, but acquire a love for reading as well. 

   Given a personalized education, the kids are able to pursue their strong points and subjects that they are interested in. One parent informed me that while there is a stereotype that homeschooled kids are missing out on socialization skills, the fact of the matter is the opposite. The kids actually developed better social skills, and I was fortunate to witness this first hand. They were all very outgoing and polite, and all of the different age groups hung out together. I also have to state that I can tell you firsthand that a public school did nothing for my social skills. My peers made it clear that I didn't fit in which was enough to leave me feeling insecure for a good part of my early life, and only with a strong conscious effort was I able to overcome most of it by my mid-thirties. I still have to work at overcoming this sense inside me that wants to withdraw from most people that aren't family or close friends, or that don't have fur and four legs. 

   There was one woman, Terra, who was very eager to share a lot of details of homeschooling with me. She and her husband own 70 acres of land with horses and a spring fed lake full of catfish. After spending a couple hours with the group it was clear to me the advantage and wisdom they had over most of the families in this country. I usually am easily irritated with kids, expecting them to say something rude or obnoxious, but I could see that these kids were different and enjoyed my time around them. At the end of the evening this group also was not shy to come in close and pray(led by Terra) for our safety on our travels, which I was grateful for. 

   Lastly, there was a guy named Bob camped near us in Vicksburg that was playing blues on a National Brand steel guitar. I sat out with him for a bit, and he had a great story how he had bought the guitar from David Holt, an american musician who played with Doc Watson for several years. If you haven't heard of David Holt, check him out. He plays a lot of styles of american music, including traditional Appalacian, and several instruments. Holt had just put the guitar on consignment at a shop when Bob found it, and Bob told the owner he would buy it if Holt would sign it. Not only did Bob get a sweet guitar, but he ended up becoming good friends with Holt, and even opened up a show for he and Doc.

  I am sorry to leave Mississippi and the entire eastern region of the south. After 6 months it has rubbed off on me quite a bit, but we can always return next year. There is a big road ahead full of mystery and adventure. 
 
- James
Can you see Maya hiding behind the log?
Stopped at the Mississippi Natural Science Museum in Jackson. Pretty good museum for free! Some of the animals looked a little bit dead inside, or actually dead, but that's to be expected from captive animals. The turtles and gators looked pretty happy!
Spent the day at the Mississippi Military Park, which has a 16 mile drive around the Vicksburg Civil War battle field, and an original salvaged iron/wood war ship - the first of it's kind. Very cool park with some the best hiking trails we've been on yet. We were climbing under logs and jumping over streams, fun!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Stranded in Statesboro

Destination: just north of Atlanta, Georgia

We left South Carolina with enthusiasm as the rig glided through Savannah towards our next destination near Atlanta. After five weeks Leesburg felt like home to me, and I still had yet to shake that homesick feeling. Sometimes moving can make you feel better. The sun burned bright and the traffic was light. Throughout my life I find that most disasters big or small occur when you are feeling good and least expect it. For some reason we believed we would reach our destination in three hours. 

     After the first hour the rig filled with smoke. I immediately pulled over and cut the engine. A few seconds after we stopped a huge pool of transmission fluid formed beneath the radiator. Without getting into details of the boredom of being stranded on the expressway for five hours while you bake in the sun and listen to every other car push towards their destinations at seventy miles and hour, the coach was finally towed to D and R Intensive car car in Statesboro. Since it was late on a Saturday, we had to wait until monday morning to get it looked at. What seemed promising was that Bob, the main mechanic, lived in a 1994 class a rig right behind the shop. He was off duty and on his way to pick up his kids, but I didn't have to talk to him long to see that he was knowledgeable, and that he wasn't the type of mechanic to rip anyone off. He seemed like a content guy, and had a big, round face that smiled a lot. The thing that stuck out with me was that he seemed perfectly content living in a motorhome parked right behind the autoshop where he worked. 

    To us Statesboro felt like someone made a copy of Ypsilanti and printed it in Georgia. It has a nice, spread out university, but the town is lacking. We stopped at a few different motels to check the prices. I went into a Super 8 that we weren't sure was open since it seemed dark, but the few cars parked in the back indicated that there may have been life in the building. The lobby was dim but there was a guy behind the desk who informed me that there was no vacancies. I immediately guessed that the business was a front. 

    Besides the anxiety of all the flashbacks of Ypsilanti, with the oddball characters you find in cheap motels included, I found myself obsessed with the preservation of the frozen fish I had caught the previous months, constantly running back to the RV to make sure the refrigerator was either operating on the generator or propane.

   We made the best of the situation.  For a minute it seemed like our dream was being suspended, but by sunday evening I realized it is all just part of it. I woke up at 6:30 on Monday morning to show up at the shop at 7:30. When I pulled into the parking lot I noticed that there were already two customers ahead of me. The woman behind the desk made it sound like I would be lucky if they would even be able to look at it, claiming that they only had one mechanic on duty. Moments later I saw Bob walk out of the garage, and he walked out to the rig to take a look, along with two other mechanics that were way more interested in the coach than the other repairs. 

  When I heard Bob say, "You just may be the luckiest man alive" I knew we would be leaving Statesboro that day. Someone left a metal clip on a hose that came from the radiator, and the clip got too hot and blew the connection. That was it. 

  Since Hana had to work, we had to wait until she was just about done to blow out of town. The two hour drive we thought we had ahead of us ended up being five.  I thought I lost the captain's hat which I always wear when driving the coach. I abandoned superstition years ago, and put my trust in a power greater, not rabbit's feet, buckeyes, or monkey paws. Still I was not quite feeling like the captain. I had my hair pulled back, but all of those shorter pieces of hair strands that broke kept getting in my eyes. It was a windy ride, and the coach was wobbling like mad. One thing I do know is that a good captain stays calm in all situations. Well.....I was a good captain until we had to drive through the six lanes of I 75 going through the metropolis that is Atlanta. I thought I was doing good since my bladder held out so well the first four hours that I didn't stop once. Anyone that knows me will know that this alone is a wonder. I then had to go, and there was nowhere to stop. Semi drivers that should have known better were playing lane hockey along with every other fool that believes that they are immortal. My bladder had declared a state of emergency. We were in the middle lane while rows of cars zipped past us like it was a Jetson's cartoon.

    We finally arrived, and after spending an hour leveling the couch on our sloping site, along with cleaning up the two gallon of water that spilled all over the floor, I took a walk at around 11pm to scope the place out. I walked down to the small, private lake to look for downed trees and logs where fish may be hanging around. When I walked up there was a large man with two boys and a dog who was giving me the stink eye. I would have to say I didn't like the look of him much either. I don't know if it was because he was giving me a look, or if he reminded me of someone I wasn't crazy about. I do have to take the beam out of my own eye and interject that my facial expressions do not always accurately depict what I am feeling inside, and since most of us don't walk around with pocket mirrors, I am oblivious to what message I send to people. As I walked up I said hello to the man, and asked him what kind of fish were in the lake. He sharply said he didn't know.

   I continued to walk around the campground to attempt to burn off some of this extra weight I have gained. Since I quit dancing It has been hard to eat the 3,000 calories I used to take in and stay fit at the same time. I was talking with my dad on the phone as I aimlessly wandered. Now I have been a night walker for years. It worries my dad, especially when I did it in Ypsilanti, but I have always enjoyed the freeness of my thoughts without the distraction of cars and people.

  At the end of one road I saw a pickup that passed me a couple of times sitting with it's headlights on. It was the one time I didn't have my pocket knife on me so I turned and went the other way. Not long after, the pickup pulled over a little ahead of me along with two cop cars. I found it odd that they were pulling him over without using their lights. 

  I said hello to the one female officer and she let me know they were there for me. The man that got out of the truck was the man I saw forty minutes earlier. The police began to ask me where I was going, what I was doing there, what site was I staying on, and a bunch of other questions of that nature. The man informed he called because he didn't recognize me. "I thought this place was welcoming to travelers," I said. He said he didn't recognize me, and was worried because he had seen me come out of the woods at night. Now the "woods" was a small row of trees next to a shed at the side of a lake. I have to say that I do suppose that I am looking a little rugged these days.  I could shave the beard, but I have gotten so much sun that I would have a farmer's tan on my face. I had my hair tied in a man bun, but if I let it down I sometimes scare myself, looking all to reminiscent of Charles M in his helter skelter years. Hana says I am looking like an RV park Tarzan. I did not think the man bun made me look too threatening though.

  "How long do you plan on staying in Georgia?" the young male cop with a buzzed head asked.

 "I was going to stay until the weekend, but I am not sure I am having that great of a time in Georgia so far."

  He asked for my driver's license, and I politely told him I didn't think I needed it for walking. He asked what my name and birthdate was, and went to his car to look me up. I tried to be as lighthearted as possible, and continued to smile a lot. The female cop was friendly, and when I told her I was trying to lose weight she said I didn't look out of shape. The guy who called became apologetic when he realized he had overreacted.  

  "Are you here in Georgia because you are running from warrants in Michigan," asked the cop when he got out of the car. He then said he was joking and that I was free to go. The man apologized some more, and so did the female police officer. 

  The thing we learned about police in Ypsilanti is that you feel safer seeing them around when you are in a bad area, but knowing that some of them are as bad, if not worse than the crooks makes you uneasy when you see a lot of them pulling people over just to bring in revenue. 

  I woke up with a cranky mind the next morning, prejudging everyone in Georgia to be unfriendly, but as I mentioned earlier, I have to work on the beam that is in my own eye.  I made it a point to say hello to a guy that my mind said was a jerk, who I ended up talking to for over an hour. He was a four star Michelin chef from New York that had a cooking program for a while on a local channel that was weary of all of it and longed for the same peace and simplicity that we are after ourselves.

  That afternoon I went to take a walk down some trails in a nearby park and was immediately tailed by a police officer that was sitting at the entrance. The recreation park was extremely large with everything from soccer fields to a skate park. The nature trails were long, but busy and close to all the business of the area. I drove the speed limit of 25 but it was clear he was scoping me out. I had my hair tied up with a ballcap on, so I thought that maybe because I was a lone male from out of town that I was suspect. I wasn't nervous about anything I was doing, but more or less what he would pin on me. I pulled off and parked as soon as possible and walked a longer distance to the trails before I could see him flash his lights. I didn't enjoy the walk much, and figured since he was out for revenue that he had to get it other ways than staking out one person. 

   Driving around the area Hana and I noticed several subdivisions with signs at the entrance stating things to the effect of "We call 911". We drove into one to find another entrance to that park, and I got paranoid when I saw a man with his daughter in one arm start to dial his phone. To be fair, even though the area we were in was a bit hoity toity, there is a lot of crime in Atlanta and I would think that maybe they are worried about some of the crime moving it's way into their neighborhood.


  Still, the dream continues. Driving is stressfull at times, but the idea of being dug in (Ronnie's trademark phrase which I am now always using) keeps us discussing how we can avoid conventional life for good. We may disagree about how the world came about and don't share the same world views, but we chase after the same dream. A dream which is relatively vague to us now that is guided by our gut. We would have never guessed this is what we would be doing a year ago, nor do we completely know where we will be a year from now. Tree huggers with a portable grill for life? Maybe. We will just have to continue to hold the reigns and push this coach through our modern day pioneer dream into a horizon filled with mystery and wonder. 

-James


Product review: Mini Duo True Induction cooktop

Our crappy little single burner electric cook top finally died this week. That on top of the breakdown, being stranded, and nearly being arrested for walking at night, this may have been our worst week yet.

 We were forced to make a decision: buy another cheap cook top or invest in a better, more expensive, induction burner. We went with the induction. We got a nice little double burner, True Induction Mini Duo, that can sit on the countertop or be inset into the counter. In the event that we actually do renovate an Airstream in the future, this will work perfectly as an inset cooktop for our custom kitchen (!!). It looks a little wonky now sitting on top of the gas stove though.

The major drawback to converting to induction is that we had to buy new induction-ready pots! Not a major investment, but still.. 

This type of electric stove uses less energy because it heats only the surface area of the pot itself. This model allows you to either adjust by power (1-5) or by actual temperature (120 degrees to 460 degrees) and heats up WAY faster than our last burner. It also has a built in timer, locks when not in use, and will straight up not heat anything that is non-inductive, like your hand for instance :). I liked this model because it was by far the smallest double burner, but it is in no way too small, it's actually plenty big to fit two large pans at once. Not sure why you would need anything larger.

RVs typically come with a built in 4-burner gas stove and oven. I cannot fathom needing to use all 4 burners in a kitchen this tiny. The oven unit has been a complete waste of space. Without it we would just have so much more storage.. But I would hate to take it out and get rid of it since we'll likely be selling this RV at some point in the next year or so, so for now we'll deal.

Farewell Georgia, we'll be back never..

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Savannah, Georgia

Destination: Savannah, Georgia
Skipper's log: Day 138 and the cabin fever has set in. While Captain J is out adventuring I'm trapped on the ship swabbing the deck....  
Ok, sea voyager analogies aside, the cabin fever kinda HAS set in but mainly due to where we stayed this week, Hardeeville RV Park (1 star rating from us). Last month we were spoiled by the miles of walkable roads and the two dog parks in Leesburg. Our park just outside of Savannah was sort of a parking lot in the woods with asphalt gravel and too many RVs too close together. There were a lot of young people in this park, but not many people were friendly here. That usually seems to be the case whenever the crowd is a little younger. It turns out they're mostly full-timers who are little too busy working to wave or stop and say hello. 

Aside from going to Savannah a few times, it was pretty boring in the area just outside the city. We attempted to go to the Savannah Wildlife Refuge, but they don't allow dogs ANYWHERE in the entire park!! Oh, but they do allow you to buy a permit to shoot just about any animal in the 'refuge', including squirrel, deer, water fowl, hogs, etc..  I mean, who walks without a dog anyway, really? I don't get it!  We were completely unable to find any dog-friendly walking trails during the week. Zero. Out in nature. Cross this place off our list of livable areas..
Savannah Wildlife Refuge (on fire)
That said, we did really enjoy the city itself. It was walkable, easy parking, people were friendly, beautiful architecture, tons of parks. They even have city ambassadors that walk around answering questions and handing out maps. Cool! The city was very dog friendly as well. Tons of restaurants offered dog water dishes, and we were able to eat lunch on a patio with them while listening to some live music. We stopped at an ice-cream shop called Leopold's with a line down the block. We figured there must be a reason for the line, so we decided to wait. It was worth the wait, plus they brought out free little ice-cream cones for the dogs! The people waiting in line loved it and my heart melted a little. That's how you do Customer Service! And it obviously pays off seeing as how they were crazy insane busy.

-Hana
Complementary doggie ice-cream cones at Leopold's

"The Watcher". Historic cemetery in the heart of the city.
Enjoying some southern/Mexican 'fusion' at Blowing Smoke Cantina; Yum!
  Our week in South Carolina was not as magical. Our campground was one of those boring places with nowhere to walk around. We did take a walk in the swampy woods behind the park, but after encountering a pack of wild hogs we took off and didn't go back. There was a pond in the back with fish, but the owner did not want anyone fishing in it. The dog park was full of those pickery balls that fall from trees, and our dogs were unable to move in it without hurting their paws. I brought it to the owners attention but nothing was done. There wasn't a single bathroom or shower. I would have to say it was our least favorite place. 

In the Savanah Wildlife Refuge I had observed alligators as big as 8 feet long. I had walked past a large, black snake that was hiding in the trail, and almost stepped on what appeared to be a golfball sized spider that was either holding a claw, or had one. I could not tell.

 I did find a large shallow pond in the refuge to fish in that seemed promising. Since it was full of weeds and lily pads I decided to give my rubber frog a try. I ended up catching three black bass in an hour. Exited about my catch I expected to get more, but  the fish didn't seem to want the frog as bad at the other creatures in the pond. I had a large bullfrog attack my rubber kermit with a vengeance, and when I pulled my bait in the bullfrog sat still and stared at me for minutes after until I went to another part of the pond. I had also noticed three other reptiles sitting frozen with their heads slightly poking out of the water while I threw kermit in the water and slowly bounced him on the lily pads. The next day I had a large snake go after my frog, and fortunately he let go before I reeled him in. Later that day I hooked a frog in the tongue. If I was hungry enough I could have easily had frog legs for dinner. While the bass just would not bite, I did have a couple of small alligators that I almost hooked with my rubber frog. I brought Hana out to the pond our last day, and within a few casts a baby alligator popped out and started to move quickly at my
frog as I yanked it in as fast as I could.

   Nonetheless, Hana did not have to drag me kicking and screaming out of South Carolina this week. 

-James


Cabin Fever Blues

Stay tuned next week for all the details about our harrowing highway breakdown and detour!

James' Florida Follow-up

One thing I have always known about writing is that you write best about a subject or time that has had impact afterwards, and not during the event. Looking back at the five weeks in Leesburg, Fl I feel like I did not accurately depict the experience that I had, and I am not sure that I will be able to do that for a while. I would like to touch on a few details though.

  When one would take a first glance at the Holiday Travel Resort, immediately they might feel like they stepped into the movie Cocoon. If you look back at that movie it was humorous, heartwarming, and has a magical feel about it. A lot of you may wonder what Hana and I might see in living around a bunch of old people as opposed to living in a busy area with the young hipster crowd. We both found we actually liked it better. We were already sick of the hipsters in Ann Arbor that acted like they were putting on a lifestyle/ fashion show. It was a relief to be in an area that nobody was trying to impress everyone. Everyone that passed by waved and said hello. You could sit in a hot tub and have a great conversation with someone decades older than you. Most of all despite age and levels of income people just all seemed to be on the same level. Our neighbors that were from Canada were offering help in the first hour of us being there. When they saw we didn't have a mat in front of our door they let us borrow theirs. Our lock was broken on the door for the first few days we were there, but we never once worried about breaking in. In fact, we found that most people didn't even lock their doors.

  I also have to make a note that once I stepped in the bathroom and heard an old guy singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow as if he were singing it in front of an audience that he wanted to make cry. It is these small moments of sincerity that you have to look at with nothing but respect. It brought great joy to my heart to hear that old man sing a song like that. 

  As for my friend Ronnie, I don't think I gave him enough justice in a few lines, and don't think I could even in a few chapters. He is the type of character a writer wishes they could think of, but yet the type of character that should be respected and appreciated in the moment. The morning we were leaving he was at our door in his golf cart offering help to pack us up to ease any tension that could happen between a couple on the day they leave a place. He said his former wife would always be mad when they were leaving and would pick a fight over anything. I have to be truthful in saying that travel days can sometimes have a few bumps in the road between us. I cannot rightfully depict his southern drawl, nor half the phrases he would say that would be humorous and simple, but at the same time more profound than something you would hear a professor say to an overcrowded room to a bunch of kids that are only half interested in what he has to say. Ronnie was a sincere guy with a big heart who is doing the best he can to get through this life. I was always at ease talking with him, and sincerely regretted that I didn't spend more time with him. I planned on it, but the time went by so fast and it was over. Nonetheless, I have been keeping in contact with Ronnie by phone, and he drops in on my dad in the park often now. I knew Ronnie had been in a motorcycle accident twenty something years ago and lost his leg, but one detail my dad learned about him was that after he had a blood transfusion he was able to pick up a guitar and play it when he was unable to even strum a chord before. 

  Since most of you know what dog lovers we are I do have to say that I was also able to form a bond with Gabby, my dad's thirteen year old Scnauzer. She would always bark when I would come to the door. By the last week she wouldn't bark at all. As Gabby is a part of the family, I find myself missing her too.


  And again I have to touch on the fact that it was hard to leave my father. I have woken up the past few mornings heartbroken when I realized I couldn't just walk over and sit with my dad in the shade in the afternoon, or that he wouldn't be dropping by on his golf cart with his dog Gabby to take Frankie and I for a ride. My message to all of you is to appreciate the small moments in life, because oftentimes you will find later that they were a lot bigger than you thought. My other message would be is you just don't know who people really are, or what message they could have for you. As I said, I cannot at this time accurately describe the magic I felt the past five weeks, but if I could share with you a fraction of the light that warmed my heart then I did a lot.

-James

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Leaving Florida

This week James has written a chapter on our month in Florida, and Hana has included a recipe for Sour Orange Pie. As always, thanks for reading & enjoy!

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 I remember this time last year taking a walk at night through St. Augustine hoping I would be able to return to Florida again, although under different circumstances. Last time I was here my dad was in the hospital with double pneumonia, along with another infection, along with already having leukemia and autoimmune. He went into the hospital because of breathing difficulties, and died the next day for a total of ten minutes. It was a miracle that he came back. At his age and weight alone his chances of being brought back according to statistics were less than seven percent, and that is without the cancer and compromised immune system. It would take me a couple chapters to explain all of the events that led up to this and to show that God can work in some mysterious ways. It was a week of incredible spiritual awakening. When I saw my father in the hospital he was drugged and hooked up to a respirator with his hands tied to the bed. Exactly a week later he was off the respirator and recovering quickly. 

  I took some long walks by the ocean last year, praying for my father's health, but also trying to put my own life into perspective. I would have never guessed that I would be in Florida again a year later. Now we are here and I have been able to spend a month with my dad and his wife Rosann. It seems like I sneezed and the month was passed. As I have gotten older and hopefully somewhat wiser, time with family has become more important. It is going to be harder to leave here than anywhere yet knowing I have to say goodbye to my father and go back out on a long journey, but such is life. Sometimes we take the time we have with people we love for granted, but even when you don't take that time for granted there just doesn't seem to be enough of it. 

  We went back to St. Augustine to spend the day. We were originally going to celebrate the anniversary of the date my father had his experience in the hospital, but according to him every day is a celebration for the life he was given. I would urge everyone to look at life that way. I don't expect it to be a dry departure from here, and inside I will probably cry enough tears to keep my minnows alive in for a while. 

  While most of the people here are retired snowbirds, once you get out and talk to people the age gap doesn't make much of a difference. Our campsite is spacious with plenty of shade from the trees. There are all types of classes offered from woodworking to clowning. There are two swimming pools and a hot tub, which I was exited about at first since I could easily burn some extra weight that I put on without damaging my joints, but after a few days I developed an issue with my skin that I assumed may have been from the chlorine. After one swim I took a shower an hour later and the water felt like hot lava being poured on my legs. Now I just sit and read western novels that I picked up from the small library they have here while Hana swims. I didn't ever expect myself to be interested in these types of books, but when I was a kid I loved wild west cowboy movies, so my interest is inspired by nostalgia. In spite of the corniness of some of the stories, there is a historic element to them which is getting me exited to head west soon.


Ronnie & James
   This park is so large that you can walk three and a half miles around the perimeter. While some of the snowbirds are in rv's like us or fifth wheels, there are others that are in more permanent park models. There is plenty of shade, and I can't seem to get enough of the spanish moss. In the back of the park is a long, winding canal with a marina and fishing boats. The canal goes through a large swamp with nothing but trees poking out of the water, and leads to several connected lakes. I was telling Hana during a walk that I wish I could go fishing on a boat before we leave and only moments later we talked to a guy who had just been fishing and he offered to take me out. I was happy to take his offer, and learned that my new fishing companion used to chase hurricanes as a profession. He also refers to anyone that has a house that isn't on wheels as "dug in." Ironically, I found the honey hole right away while fishing from the shore, and we ended up fishing that spot from the boat just a little further out than I could cast from shore. We caught about ten good sized crappie. It was dark when we headed back, and my friend's lights weren't working so I sat at the front of the small boat with a flashlight guiding us through the narrow, winding canal. Ronnie already had problems seeing at night, but he still had an idea where all of the stumps were. 


  After fishing anywhere for a while you get to be friends with some of the locals. One of my other buddies, Jim, is loaded with information. He is also from Michigan, and used to run a charter. He is a large man with a long white beard and hair longer than mine. Everyone calls him Santa Claus. He warned me about fishing the one spot at night, and claims he would not fish out there alone without a gun. 

  Jim also told me about a Mexican man and woman that fish at that spot at night. He said many times people were catching fish just fine until that woman sat down next to them, then nothing. He said that couple would just pull in one after the other all night long. One night at 2 am I went out there when a good storm was brewing up. I went up to the spot to find a short Mexican guy with a bucket full of crappie. I fished with him and caught nothing while he pulled in one after the other. 

  "I think I heard about you," I said to him.

  "Did Santa Claus tell you about us?" he asked. "He tells everyone about us."

The storm was coming in, along with a lot of lightning. The Fish Sorcerer I was with was getting nervous about the lightning, and told me how his friend got struck and survived. He also told me of other fisherman that were killed. "When the fish are biting they just can't pull themselves away." I was thinking I was about to become one of those fools, but at the same time my best fishing experiences have been in rainstorms. Sometimes I didn't even catch anything. Nonetheless, I couldn't pull myself away. 

  I had already been out for hours with nothing, and I was hoping he would leave soon so I could catch some fish because he had all of his lines in the honey hole. I talked up the lighting while I contemplated if I was actually fearful of it or not. Finally at three am he called it quits when the rain came down hard and the wind was blowing like crazy. He gave me some minnows before he left, and I cast my line in the spot where he was getting all of the fish. He wasn't even in his car when I finally caught a good size crappie. After that I continued to catch one large crappie after another, one that would have won a Master Angler Award if I was in Michigan. I was ready to call it a night when at about five am everything calmed down and Santa Claus pulled up in his red truck. I stayed out a little longer to talk with my friend, and didn't finish cleaning the fish until 7 am.

   I was fishing with the Fish Sorcerer and his wife a couple of nights later when a girl in striped spandex with rolled out hair walked out of a sports car and onto the pier. She asked me what I was going to do with the fish after I caught them. When I told her I was going to eat them she asked, "Why are you going to do that?" I suppose she thought fish is better from the store. She got back into the sports car for a while until a white truck pulled up. She sat in the white truck for about a half hour, then went back to the car while the truck sat there. There was a little more going back and forth until she stayed in the white truck that suddenly blasted a hip hop song and took off, while the dude in the sports car sat and waited. How a fishing pier becomes a place of prostitution, drugs, and robbery isn't beyond my understanding, but most places I have been fishing at night you don't really want to be there alone. You could bring a weapon, but I most times I would prefer to avoid the situation. I would rather deal with the rain and thunder than some of the weirdos that come out at night.

  Just before I was going to call it quits there was a boat with all it's lights off speeding into the shore. "They got over the limit," a woman said. After they loaded up the boat on it's trailer the men walked up to the pier and asked if we wanted catfish. They said we could have as much as we wanted. I walked back with them to find that they had at least fifty catfish all piled up on one another in two wells. One of the guys told me they snagged them all. While there is no limit on catfish, if a game warden were to check them out and find the large three pointed hooks that they dragged on the bottom to get the fish they would get into quite a bit of trouble. I took three while others took more. 

"The Lord works in mysterious ways," the woman said to me. 

  So far I have heard quite a bit of stories about that pier. Santa Claus told me he was once approached late night by a dude in his pajamas. Sometimes when fishing alone people have gotten mugged and scammed. Santa Claus' buddy Sean told me once at three a.m. a woman pulled into the parking lot with an older woman, both claiming to run out of gas. For some reason he trusted her enough to give her the keys to his truck, much to the disbelief of his companions. Sean claimed that after about three or four hours his truck was yet to return and e started to sweat a little. She finally returned around 7 a.m. without any gas. When he asked the younger woman why she didn't get any gas she replied,"I only had a dollar!" Relieved that he got his truck back, Sean then handed the woman a twenty. 

 Before I end the fish talk I do have to brag that I caught the largest largemouth bass yet at the spot using a rubber worm. There are no pictures because I was alone early in the morning and did not keep him. He was a little scraped up from an escape he made from an alligator, and I felt that boy deserved to go back in the water. The excitement alone of looking into that wide open mouth when pulling him in was enough for me. He felt like he weighed at least five pounds. At first I regretted throwing him back because of all the meat he had on him, but looking at the freezer full of fish I have I realized I didn't need to kill such a beautiful, strong creature. Now looking back I am glad that I threw him back. There are plenty more big bass out there.

   Hana seems happy out here, and I am hoping we return again next winter. I know she is anxious to be on the move, as I find myself wanting to stay. I am still not ready to be dug in, but time is going by too fast since I finally have the opportunity to spend time with family. The dogs are loving it because there is a large dog park for them to run around in everyday. 

  One day Santa Claus gave me a large order of spare ribs that he had just gotten from a guy called Grandpa. I ate some of them, and gave the rest to my dad and Rosann. It had been a while since I'd had ribs, but they tasted like the best ribs I ever had. They were seasoned just right without being drowned in barbecue sauce. Later that day my dad called me and told me to find out who Grandpa was so he could get some more of those ribs. Today I found out he has a stand just down the street from us. His ribs go for eighteen dollars a slab. It is my guess that Santa Claus barters with him for fresh caught fish. 
  Within a mile of us not far from downtown Leesburg is Venetian park, which is right on Lake Harris, and full of winding canals where bass, crappie, catfish, and other types lurk beneath the lily pads. There are about six bridges that go over the canals. If you go here at daybreak there will be a few regular fisherman. By nine the park is loaded with birdwatchers who will drop some bread on the ground and watch the various exotic birds flock. At night some of these birds almost sounds like humans having conversations. The regular bird feeders have a style about how they do it. While some sit on a bench and feed the birds a little at a time, others will briskly walk tossing handfuls of bread into the air while flocks of birds seem to appear from nowhere.

Since we have been in Florida I have become pretty well acquainted with pelicans. There were two regulars named Eddie and Edgar at the pier in Carabelle who eat all of the small fish people catch, and when they are full they leave. There was one here in the rv park that would sit in the middle of the street near the canal, and was not phased at all by passing cars or golf carts. The story is he came with a flock of pelicans that were moving away from a storm. When the flock flew off, he stayed behind. One night I discovered that the Pelican had been run over by a big rig that was speeding, and did not stop after it hit him. Later I heard that the rig tried to miss him, and stopped and got out after they hit him. Whichever is true, the pelican was probably sick and the rig was the remedy. Nonetheless, I missed that pelican for a while. 

  One of my biggest concerns about traveling for a year was being away from my parents. I suppose it comes with age, but being near family is more important to me at this stage in my life than ever. I appreciate every minute that I get to spend with my family. Fortunately my mom was staying on the coast with Uncle Al and Aunt Debbie in Mediera Beach this last week. We spent a nice afternoon sitting in the shade looking out over the Golf Coast. My Uncle still looks the same as he did 20 years ago. I look forward to seeing my mom in Michigan in the summer, as well as visiting Al and Debbie in their new Northern Michigan house when it's completed.
James & Mom, Chris  
The other day I had a chance to go fishing with my Dad and Rosann. I work up at 5:30 a.m. to make sure and get the best spot possible on the pier. For whatever reason the fish just were not biting, and the only thing caught was a baby gar. Even though fish are the primary goal, anyone that truly loves fishing knows there is more to the experience than catching fish. It was great to be able to be out there enjoying the day, and I was happy to see that my Dad was able to cast out as far, if not a little farther than me.


Words cannot express how happy I was to have this past month. It is never easy to say goodbye, and as Hana likes to joke she is going to have to drag me kicking and screaming yet from another campground. 

-James



Easy Sour Orange Pie

I wanted to try and update a key lime pie recipe once we got to Florida and realized the park was FULL of sour orange trees and people were just throwing the unwanted fruit in the garbage(!!). Sour oranges can be easily used anywhere you would use a lemon and they are great for this recipe! I also made an orange cleaner using vinegar/water/orange juice & rinds. James used them for salad dressings, and I also want to try making marmalade. So many uses!

Ingredients:

• 1 can sweetened condensed milk
• 1 8oz package room temperature cream cheese 

• 3oz sour orange juice (about 1 large or 2 small oranges)

• Zest of 1 or 2 oranges, split in 2

• 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

• Graham cracker crust, or smashed up graham crackers for a base - parfait style



Mix the cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk until smooth, then throw in the juice, vanilla extract and half of the zest. Mix again! Top with some more zest, then cool in the refrigerator 4 hours or over night. The Deliciousness to Overall Ease ratio is strong with this recipe, which is probably why we made it THREE TIMES this month!