Thanksgiving in Coral Springs, and another brined and spatchcocked turkey

For several years before we started full time RVing we hosted Thanksgiving at our little condo in Miami Beach for any family and friends we could rope into coming.  We would clear out all the living room furniture, rent two long tables and chairs, and set up for as many as 17 people.  Fantastic and loud events, everyone of them.

Once we began our RV adventures things obviously changed.  For 2015 we did Thanksgiving with my mom and stepdad Tim in Wilmington with just the four of us.  Back in Florida this year we had a similarly intimate gathering at Xavier and Joy’s; just the four of us and a lot of food.

Aside from gathering with friends and families, Thanksgiving gives me the opportunity to cook another Turkey, something that has become one of my favorite kitchen oriented tasks ever since I learned the secret to making the bird come out delicious.  As many of you can attest, cooking something as large and unwieldy as a turkey has the danger of drying out a significant portion of the lean white meat in order to get the fatty dark meat up to proper temperature.   As I have no doubt written before, there is a simple two step solution to this problem that results in fantastically juicy meat of both types and also cuts the cooking time in half or even less.

I am a bit evangelical about this, so expect to hear the same spiel this time next year:  First, brine the turkey for 24 hours.  Dissolve a cup of salt and half a cup of sugar in hot water, add whatever spices catch your fancy, cool it with some ice, then completely submerge bird in the solution along with more water and a bunch of ice.  Keep the whole thing either refrigerated or in a cooler over night.  This process infuses the turkey with additional moisture that protects the fragile white meat during the cooking process.

Second, spatchcock the thing.  This is a fancy word for cutting out the backbone and then butterflying it.  This will result in a much flatter and wider lay out, which allows for more evenly distributed heat and a much faster cook time.  This year we did our 12 pounder in only 90 minutes, most of it at 350 but cranked up to 450 for the last ten minutes to brown it.

We supplemented this centerpiece with short pork ribs, mashed potatoes, spicy corn, rice, salad.  Thanks to Joy and Xavier for hosting us in their driveway for another four days, and letting me create a mess in their kitchen again.  I hope to do the same to some Central Florida relatives abode over the Christmas holiday.

“All In” on markets through the rest of 2016

After the once a month craft show/yard sale type events we enjoyed on base in early 2016 at the Naval Air Station in Key West, we had a five month gap before we did another market.  Our rate of travel up the east coast simply did not lend itself to stopping for weekend farmers markets, and we did not fully understand the opportunities that were available in small towns throughout the country.  Once we slowed down we stumbled across a small event in Grand Marais, Michigan, which in turn lead to a series of eight markets during a four and a half week period as we traveled through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and into Wisconsin.

Since that robust period we had another lengthy drought as we wandered through upstate New York, PennsylvaniaWest Virginia, and Ohio, and then sprinted south from Minnesota back to Florida.  But upon arrival in the Sunshine State, we have been able to do our research, adjust our schedule, take advantage of our nominal “local” status, and thus participate in a few Central Florida farmers markets.

Following our recent Silver Springs State Park visit we returned to Lake Monroe Park in Volusia County for a five day stay.  But we have already discussed this very affordable county campground, so here we would rather catch you up on our plan, mentioned last post, to go “all in” on markets and vendor opportunities though the rest of November and December.  We have gotten better at finding markets at which to vend, our pace of travel has once again slowed, and we have some big bills coming in December and January. Bottom line: we expect to end November having done five events, and then do up to ten more in December before Christmas.

One of the key lessons we have learned is that no matter how much online research you do, nothing can compete with local connections and knowledge.  Just as the Bruce, Wisconsin market pointed us to the Rusk County Fair, our participation in the Sanford market has led us to a widening series of potential events through the region.  It is not just a matter of finding out about the existence of a market, it is also about working with the individual market managers to make your participation mutually beneficial.

Here is how it has worked out for us:  Conversations with other vendors at the Saturday Downtown Sanford Market put us in touch with the  Sunday Sweetwater-Wekiva market manager.  During our short stay at Silver Springs we filled out the appropriate forms, but did not hear back as to whether we had approval to participate in the upcoming Sunday event.  So we decided to boldly show up ready to sell and see if the market manager was game.  She was, and we had a great sales day that easily compensated for the $25 vendor fee.  While there we talked with the other vendors and got details on three other local opportunities, including the Lake Mary market (a Saturday alternative to the Sanford event), the Windemere Market (a higher end event in west Orlando,) and the Volusia County Fairgrounds Market (a Wednesday flea market style event.)

And that’s just for Central Florida!  Since we are also headed to SE and SW Florida for a few weeks, we pursued markets in those regions as well.  We struck out in the Coral Springs/Pompano Beach area (market managers simply do not return calls) and in Venice/Sarasota (county ordinances restrict anything other than produce/food vendors.) But between SE Florida and Sarasota lies Naples, which has a much more flexible market policy, and after negotiation with a regional manager we are cleared to participate in two markets, a Saturday and Sunday event, for a couple of consecutive weekends after Thanksgiving.  Then we will stop in Venice for a few days before returning to Central Florida for the series of markets there.

Even if we are approved for every event, we wont do them all; if we wanted jobs we would still be working!  But now is the time to get serious because we are expecting a lot of bills coming due in December.  In addition to the usual holiday expenditures, we also expect a repair bill for Serenity’s 12 volt electrical system, medical bills as we complete our annual checks and meet the yearly insurance deductible, and the pricey cost of staying at one of our favorite but most expensive regular RV parks in Sanibel.

So that means we need to push hard until Christmas, especially since we will be spending the first few months of 2017 in Key West, and our vending opportunities there will be quite limited, and our selling pace will slow considerably.  We are extremely grateful to the many people who have supported us with purchases, and look forward to meeting many more of you out there.  So if you are in Central Florida or the Naples region, we hope to see you at the various weekend markets.

A short trip back to Ocala and Silver Springs State Park

Though we lean towards country parks these days, there are some state parks that are “must see” visits, especially in Florida.  I have not been to Silver Springs since I was a child, but it definitely lived up to my nostalgic memories.  Only 90 minutes from our Lake Monroe Park spot in DeBary, we had a nice drive through part of the Ocala National Forest before arriving at Silver Springs.  This state park as three entrances: main, equestrian, and campground.  We mistakenly pulled into the main entrance, but it is a large drive through area with a big parking lot, so we had no problem turning around after getting directions to the campground entry less than a mile down the road.

Silver Springs campground is, simply put, fantastic.  The spots are huge, many are enormous pull throughs, most have full hook ups including sewage, and all are surrounded by nature.  After taxes and the irritating Reserve America fee, our rate came out to slightly less than $29 per night.  There are several hiking trails within walking distance of the campground, and the rangers had excellent recommendations for which to focus on based on the season.

Three days is too short for Silver Springs, and since we were on a budget we chose to skip the famous glass bottom boat tour.  Despite our limited time and access, we were fortunate enough to see a good bit of nature during our stay.  In addition to the deer and box tortoise, we also spotted a river otter successfully hunting fish in the spring on our second morning there.

While in the area we also made an attempt to attend the annual Golden Corral Military Appreciation Night dinner.  While a lot of places are doing free meals on Veterans Day for those who served, Golden Corral has been doing it for 15 years. And perhaps to set themselves apart, the host there free dinner the Monday after the holiday.  We made the short drive to the Ocala location, only to find the line stretching out the door, down one side of the building and around the corner.  Good on Golden Corral, but that sort of wait was beyond our patience, and we headed to a local Italian joint instead.

What a pleasant surprise!  You see a lot of pizzerias outside of New York advertising authentic NY style pizza, but most fail to deliver, so it’s nice to find one that get its right. At Fiore’s Cafe, not only was the pizza true to the New York tradition, but the service and dining environment were also top notch.  The house red wine was nice, but the giant pour made it even better.  We found this place not merely a consolation prize for the Golden Coral meal, but rather an excellent accidental discovery.

There are a lot of places we want to revisit, but Silver Springs really drew us in, and we would love to stay there for a week, especially after we have acquired a couple of kayaks early next year.   We are headed back towards Central Florida for a few days before Thanksgiving.  We are looking at going “all in” on farmers markets and related vending opportunities for the rest of November and through December, and have a serious line up of options that will define our travel through the state for the rest of the year.   If you are in SE, SW, or Central Florida for the rest of 2016, we would love to meet up with you.

Back in Central Florida at another great county park, plus another Farmers Market

We have mentioned several times on this blog that we find county parks to be the hidden jewels of public campgrounds in terms of natural beauty and value.  So when we needed to stay at a place close to The Big Kahuna, friends and family, and the town of Sanford, All Stays revealed two Volusia County parks positioned perfectly for our needs, with prices well below the private options nearby.  Unfortunately Gemini Springs County Park is tent/dry camping only, but for the same price Lake Monroe County Park offered power and water even closer to our desired location.

After taxes, the sites are only $17 a night!  With only 25 total spots, this is an intimate little place with nearly every site situated under an oak canopy and surrounded by nature and wildlife.  There is a bath/shower house, boat ramp and dock to the large lake, pavilions, a playground, and a couple of hiking or bike trails that cross through the park.  Site quality varies, but some of them are huge, and all but a few could accommodate our 35′ rig with room for Loki.

Is it perfect?  No, there are some downsides that didn’t bother us overmuch but might convince other RVers to go elsewhere.  First, while we enjoy camping under trees rather than in trimmed lots like you find in many private resorts, this time of year in Florida that means acorns, and lots of them.  Multiple times a day and through the night you will have the surprisingly loud knock on your roof from the falling seeds as wind, squirrels, and natural processes dislodge them.  Second, the electrical connections on more than half the sites are on the wrong side, while all of the water connections are correctly positioned on the right as you are facing into the site.  So unless you have a particularly long shore power cable, you may need to pull in forward to some of these sites and use an extra length of hose for the water.

Lastly, management, including maintenance, is a bit loose.  This means that the bath and shower facilities are not in great repair, the entry gate is locked with a manual combo lock each night rather than with an automatic entry code system, and the rules about site cleanliness and animals are very loosely enforced.   Our neighbors kept their pet dwarf pig tied up outside all day, even when they were gone, for instance.  At $17 we were happy to deal with these minor issues, and will likely return when we need to be positioned similarly.

As for why we needed to be positioned near Sanford: we found another farmers market with no significant barrier to participation, and no vendor fee at all!  Saturday morning had us making the five mile drive to Magnolia Square for the Downtown Sanford Market where we set up alongside roughly 25 other vendors: mostly arts and crafts, a couple of actual produce sellers, but only a few other jewelry vendors.  Technically running from 10 to 3, most everyone was set up before 9 AM with potential buyers already browsing.

This was a somewhat longer event than we are used to, but sacrifices must be made.  Sales-wise, it was definitely slower than we expected given the size and location.  We made out OK, and multiple other vendors assured us that most Saturdays this time of year were busier and more lucrative, so we look forward to participating again this season.  We also got a visit from my Aunt Judy and her friend Marcy from Atlanta, who accounted for no small percentage of our daily sales.  Finally, we got a line on a couple of other markets in the region at which we might participate later this month, so even with slower than expected sales, the day was a clear win.

We were in the Sanford area for Veteran’s Day this year, and took full advantage of the local restaurant’s offers to all the active, reserve, and veterans.  For years I have been seeing lists of free meal deals sent out, but have never been in a position to really enjoy the benefits.  This year, being retired and without other obligations, that Thursday and Friday, we visited a slew of eating establishments throughout the day.

I can give a solid thumbs up to a few surprisingly good options.  We will seriously consider eating at Tijuana Flats after enjoying their oversized steak burrito with the works; clearly a meal sufficient for two.  The Chipolte Chicken Flatbread from Chile’s, Lasagna from Olive Garden, and the Lobster and Shrimp pizza from Red Lobster were all far better than expected.  Thanks to all the restaurants that participate in this event, I know it must be a huge PITA for the staff.

We also marked Pad Kee Meow’s adoption day, which we are also counting as her birthday since the  documentation we have suggests we picked her up very close to her one year point.  No lit candles, apparently cats don’t appreciate fire, but we made her dress up for an extra helping of her preferred wet food.

After this stop we headed up to Ocala for a few days, but will be returning to Lake Monroe Park soon as we continue to deal with selling The Big Kahuna, and plan on being at this weekend’s Downtown Sanford Market, as well another nearby market on Sunday.  Anyone in the area is welcome to come see us!

Headed back North! Well, to Central Florida at least. Port St Lucie and Patrick AFB.

After our four day stay in Coral Springs we headed back north towards Central Florida.  As long as The Big Kahuna is stored there while up for sale we are trying to bias our time in that vicinity to support showings and deal with a few glitches in the house systems.  We are not in a rush so we can work our way up the coast at leisurely rate.  Passport America helped us find another low cost two day stay 90 minutes along I-95, the Port St Lucie RV Resort.

GPS led us astray, taking us down a back road on the wrong side of the park where we could see the place but had no access to it.  It was pretty obvious that we just needed to back track and continue on to the main road to find the entrance, so no big deal, but it does seem like Google Maps has been giving us more entry point errors like this of late.

At $29.50 a night, PSL RV Resort is a solid value for the area, but a bit odd in several ways.  First, the only RV Park Review we found to be accurate was the most recent one from September.  Apparently a change in day to day management has resulted in a lot of improvements.  While the place may not be all that pretty, the upkeep is quite solid, and the amenities were far better than the older reviews gave the park credit for, e.g., contrary to the older reviews, we had solid, though video streaming restricted, wifi at our site, and most of the spots had cable TV available for $1 a day.  This is something we keep an eye out for when using reviews to select between competing parks: the more recent, the more accurate, as parks can improve or degrade quickly based on ownership and management.

Second, there are no lovely views within this park.  It is a big grass field centered on a currently dry retention pond with an oval road around it, RV sites on each side, the whole thing surrounded by a fence and limited vegetation.  There are a handful of large oaks, but mostly smaller varieties spaced at each site that are not large enough to provide much shade yet.  Lastly, Passport America 50% discount is reduced by the separate $4.50 per day electricity charge, regardless of whether you use a 30 or 50 amp connection.  This negative is offset by the inclusion of sales tax into the base price.   So 29.50 all in got us a nice level full hook up, 50 amp spot with cable TV and usable wifi in a well maintained and safe location, though without much to see within the park.  For those that need them, they have a few pull through sites along the entry road as well.

After two days we continued up the coast to Patrick AFB’s Manatee Cove Family Camp near Cocoa Beach.  They had mandated a full evacuation for Hurricane Mathew, and were still sorting things out in his wake.  They had plenty of open spots, but several of the nice ones were being reserved for evacuees who had not yet shown up to reclaim their sites.   We ran into the standard military base problem/GPS problem of showing up at the main gate only to be redirected to the commercial truck entrance.    By the time we figured it out we had to unhook Loki in order to back out of the main entry road.  The airman manning the gate were helpful in getting traffic to cooperate with our manuever, and after a few minutes we backtracked south a couple of miles to the proper gate.

Air Force bases are typically so much larger than their naval counterparts, and we had to circle nearly the entire thing to get to the family camp, but it was well worth it in terms of both value and appearance.  We got a full hook up site overlooking the inter-coastal waterway bay, and were finally able to use one of our five free night passes purchased as part of the Air Force’s Frequent Camper package.  Since Manatee Cove is normally $24 to $30 a night depending on specific site selection, this was the place to use that pass.  While there was no wifi, cable TV, or much of anything in terms of walking distance amenities, the location was excellent and we had all that a large military base has to offer, especially the commissary and the veterinary clinic.

That’s right, yet another subsidized service for military people, including retirees, is access to low cost pet care on bases so equipped.  We had tried to get Pad Kee Meow’s annual check up and shots done at one of our previous AFB stops, but they were full up for our limited stay.  Patrick was able to fit us in with less than 24 hours notice.  Fantastic. For $67 we got her annual exam, one year rabies shot, and three year feline distemper shot. This is important as we are finding that about 1 in 20 places we stop actually wants to see proof of rabies vaccination for pets, and PKM’s had just expired.

We spent each evening having a cocktail on the bay shore enjoying the sea breeze and watching the dolphins and sea birds.  Our last morning we were fortunate enough to watch three dolphin engaging in cooperative hunting as close as 20 feet from the beach.   When passing back through this area again, Patrick AFB will be high on our list of places to stop.

Crossing back across Florida to Coral Springs

I had not mentioned it in previous posts, but while we were in Central Florida we received the unfortunate news that Rosemarie’s Godfather, Uncle Carlos, had passed away from advanced stage cancer that had not been caught until it was, apparently, too late to effectively treat.  The viewing and funeral were now driving our schedule.

We left Venice after our three day maximum authorized stay and headed south on I-75 towards Naples.  We selected a one night stop at a Passport America RV resort as we were a day ahead of our intended arrival in Coral Springs to stay with Xavier and Joy.  We had a moderate sized back in spot with full hook ups for $24.  This is not a fantastic rate in general terms, but for the region it is quite good.  The price includes cable TV but not wifi.  Since the cable TV there requires the installation of a special converter box, we didn’t bother with it for our one night stopover.

The next morning it was back on the road as we crossed through the everglades and Miccosukee Indian Reservation on Alligator Alley.  Some find this 80 mile stretch boring, but we always enjoy it; there are so many large bird species to spot, and plenty of places you can pull off to see alligators.  The Tamiami Trail is even better for roadside nature spotting, but it would add a lot of time and mileage to the run, and is a two lane road much of the way and thus a bit more stressful to drive.

We arrived in Coral Springs and pulled Serenity into Xavier & Joy’s driveway, which is just big enough for us, for our four day stay.  We attended Carlos’ viewing at the local funeral home, and two days later the funeral itself at the Methodist church.  Carlos had served in the army during Vietnam, and his family arranged for a burial at a military cemetery.  We drove in the procession up to the his final resting place where another short but formal ceremony was conducted before he was interred.   Funerals are tough on everyone, but it was at least nice to see so much of the family and friends regather in Coral Springs, including Rosemarie’s sister who flew in from NYC for the occasion.

After four days it was time for us to head back north and deal with some more issues related to the sale of The Big Kahuna, but it won’t be long before we are back in South Florida.  We will spend November and December bouncing between SE, Gulf Coast, and Central FL before heading to Key West in January.

22 Months Fulltiming, October 2016 Report

We are not nearly as behind on the blog this month as last, two or three posts will catch us up entirely!

The Distance: 1,825 miles, or biggest month this year!  Once we turned south and headed for Florida with only short stops along the way, we new this would be a big mileage month. But in a nice example of how we really have slowed things up this year compared to 2015, that year saw three months with even great mileage.  Our 2016 total is up to 8,231 and it looks like we will be far under last year’s 14,296 miles.  The rest of the year will see us bouncing around Florida, possibly putting us near 10,000 for the year, but certainly not much more than that.

The Places:  We finished up our extended stay at Lebanon Hill Regional Park in Minnesota before moving south to visit my daughter near Des Moines, Iowa.  From there we made a more aggressive run south through Missouri (The Catfish Place Campground,) Illinois (Scott Air Force Base) and Kentucky (Pirates Cove RV Resort.)  Then it was three Air Force Family Camp’s in a row, Arnold, Dobbins, and Robins, before hitting Wanee Lake RV & Golf Resort in Georgia.  We finaly pushed into Florida, making Grand Lake RV Resort in Citra our first stop, followed by a return to Blue Springs State Park near Orange City.  We closed out the month with a stay at Mill Creek RV Resort south of Orlando and few days in the Bayba’s driveway in Venice.

We are up to three straight months without a single moment of drycamping, enjoying full hook ups for 19 days and electric/water connections for 9 (with three days parked in a a realtives driveway while we enjoyed the experience of sleepign in a house.)  We stayed in private campgrounds for 10 days, military facilities for 8, and public parks for ten (8 county, 2 state) and in the just mentioned relatives’ house for 3.

The Budget:   Unfortunately this was a tough month in which we ended up 23% over budget.  We had a notible repair bill, yet another moderate medical bill that caught up with us, and an unusual four full fill ups for Serenity’s 75 gallon tank as a result of our highest mileage month of the year.  And unlike last month when we participated in seven farmers markets, we were only able to attend a single selling event in October, though even that certainly helped.  This puts us a slim 1.4% over budget for the year, and we hope to make that up in the remaining two months of 2016

On the good side, We managed to bring our RV park fees down to nearly $19 a day thanks to the Air Force Bases and incredibly affordable private resorts we found through Passport America.  We enjoyed the 50% PA discount for ten days, and the subsidized low cost rate at military campgrounds for eight.

The Drama:  We experienced an odd electrical problem that was mostly resolved by Horizon RV in Valdosta, GA, though we have some additional issues that need to be addressed before we begin drycamping in Key West later this year.  Since then we are seeing some additional, odd and transient elecrical issues with our 12 volt system that might suggest a pending inverter failure.  More to follow.

The Improvements:  Uncle Dennis fixed our windshield washers (they were simply stuck and needed lubrication) and troubleshot our ongoing electrical issues, suggesting it might be the hosue batteries going bad but had the looks of something more significant.  Armed with what he told us we will be going to another RV repair facility soon.

All of our monthly reports, as well as our first full year report, 2015 in Review, are linked below.

2016 Reports:

2015 in Review

A few days south of Orlando and then on to Venice

We departed Blue Springs State Park and drove through Orlando to Kissimee,  having selected a park positioned close to our visiting family’s Universal Studios hotel.  Passport America once again helped out, pointing us towards Mill Creek RV Resort where we enjoyed a full hook up spot with fully working wifi and amenities.

We are over budget this month so a day trip to Disney or Universal Studios was not in the cards, but we did get to spend a day with Linda, Jayson, Amy and the boys at the Cabana Club Resort for Jude’s first birthday.  They have a large pool with a much bigger than average pool slide, and we spent the afternoon lounging there before heading out to dinner.  Since we were on a Universal Studios hotel property we had access to their free bus to the amusement park and “Citywalk,” a collection of restaurants, stores and clubs.

It’s a crowded and chaotic area with airport style security and moving sidewalks that spit you out into a garishly lit and even more crowded thoroughfare.  By pure coincidence, my son Jackson and his wife Andrea had spent the day at Universal Studios taking advantage of their annual passes, so they were able to meet up with us for dinner.  We selected the Mexican option, Antojitos.  The service was excellent, the food and drinks were OK, and the prices were as you would expect at a tourist location.

After a few days we packed up and headed south west towards Venice to celebrate Rosemarie’s mother’s birthday.  Bill and Gloria’s driveway is just big enough for Serenity, and the neighborhood policy apparently allows such a stay for up to three days.  Visiting the Bayba’s is always a treat since Gloria has the bacalaitos (cod fritters) ready the moment we arrive and usually a pernil (pork shoulder) or some other traditional Puerto Rican dish for at least one dinner.  Bill is quite handy in the kitchen himself, and often prepares a gourmet style pizza or rotisserie chicken on the grill.

As is traditional in most American families, I carved her a birthday pumpkin, and we purchased her an asian guava fruit tree.  Both Bill and Gloria have distinctly green thumbs, and are even a bit competitive about it.  Plus their growing conditions and soil are excellent, so plants are always welcome there.  Now they have a guava to match the avocado tree we bought them as a wedding present.

Rosemarie’s brother, nephew, niece,  and future sister in law and her son (Jerry, Daniel, Laura, Kim, Andrew) joined us for Gloria’s birthday.  We had made arrangements for everyone to wear white shirts for a beach side photo shoot before sunset.  We had even rush ordered a universal camera remote on Amazon for the event so we wouldn’t have to deal with the timer function on Rosemarie’s tripod mounted DSLR Nikon.

Afterwards it was back to the Bayba’s for that pernil dinner I mentioned earlier, with Bill’s daughter Bobbi and her husband Steve joining us as well.  The Bayba house might have been a bit louder that night than it is on most.

We closed out the month there, with but a pair of trick-or-treaters coming by on Halloween.  Its not exactly a kid filled neighborhood.  Next up: October report and then on to south east Florida.

We made it to Florida, now what? Filling in the schedule and a couple of days at Blue Spring State Park

So after our sprint south we arrived in Central Florida about three weeks ahead of our original plan.  The primary motivator to get back to the Sunshine State was basic homesickness and the desire to see friends and family again.  The only specific date on our revised fall schedule was Rosemarie’s mom’s pending birthday, but we were ten days ahead of that event.  Serendipitously, Linda and Jayson were just finishing a post Navy retirement cruise out of Fort Lauderdale and would be at Universal Studios in Orlando later in the week.  So our dance card was starting to fill up, but we still had a couple of days to kill.

We elected to go back to one of our favorite Central Florida campgrounds, Blue Springs State Park.  We have stayed once before and made a day trip there last year, both times in the deep winter (Florida version) when the spring is filled with manatees and thus closed to swimming.  This time we hoped to beat the sea cows there and enjoy a bit of spring snorkeling.  October is early enough in the year to be out of peak season, so spots were readily available via the online reservation system, particularly for non-weekend stays.  We locked in the standard power and water site for $30 and change (after taxes and reservation fees) per night.

Our big, beautiful site at Blue Spring State Park

Going to private RV “resorts” is nice: you get so many amenities, usually have some sort of wifi, and can often take advantage of discount rates.  But they are so often very cookie cutter, with no real nature or views other than your neighbors RVs.  We try not to get locked into a rut of staying at too many of the same type of places during our travels.  Look at our October run by campround type: county, county, private, military, private, military, military, military, private, private, state.  About the only thing missing is a national park stop.  State and county parks provide a different experience than the private campgrounds, usually in much more natural settings with lots of greenery and wildlife.  Blue Springs did not disappoint.

Our site was of a decent size with plenty of separation from neighboring spots.  The facilities have recently been upgraded, with brand new and spotless bathhouses and laundry.  The spring is maybe a quarter mile from the campground; a casual stroll along a well marked path.  Our first afternoon we took it just to enjoy the view of the pristine water, and confirming that as of yet, no manatees were clogging up the swimming hole.

These berries look so delicious.  And poisonous.  So conflicted.

That evening we drove to my son Jackson’s house for a cocktail and then dinner at a local gourmet taco joint, Neighbors Artisan Taqueria in historic downtown Deland.  This was a great dining experience and a solid value, particularly since Jackson picked up the bill.  I can strongly endorse the “Hipster Neighbor” menu option if you have any tolerance for mushrooms.

A homeless, unshaven person I treated to a taco dinner.

The next day it was “get in the cold water” time.  We pulled out our snorkels and headed down to the spring, encountering  a young female raccoon putting on a show in broad daylight right beside the boardwalk pathway.  A good omen for our day in nature.  We dropped into the water a hundred yards downstream from the spring boil to snorkel with the abundant catfish, gar, and other assorted fish.  After a bit Rosemarie exited claiming frostbite from the 72 degree water.  I continued up stream to make a few dives down into the spring itself.  On my return swim a manatee passed right beside me exploring the head water.   I kicked for the dock and convinced Rosemarie to come back in, just in time for us to watch the animal come back down and pass right beside us on its way out to the main river.  Fantastic.

We topped off our stay with a hawk swooping right by us during our walk back to the campground.  Hard to ask for a better day in one of Florida’s best state parks.  So where are the pictures of all these animals?  Would you believe we forgot both our phones and our waterproof point and shoot during this outing?  Argghhhh!

Back into Florida! Stumbling across another selling opportunity at Grand Lake RV Resort south of Gainesville

After a flurry of posts in late October we had nearly caught this blog up, only to fall more than two weeks behind again since we slacked off in early November.  Time to start catching up again!

Our repairs in Valdosta were completed by late morning, leaving us plenty of time to continue south to our selected Passport America park, Grand Lake RV & Golf Resort, between Gainesville and Ocala.  This was intended to be a low cost single night stop before we continued towards Orlando to meet up with family and check on The Big Kahuna at his storage location.  The $19 PA rate for a very nice, full hook up, pull through site at a place with plenty of resort style amenities was not, in and of itself, enough to induce a longer stay despite the slack in our schedule.  But a quick bit of research into local farmers and craft markets at which we might vend changed our minds.

Since leaving Wisconsin our pace of travel, family meet ups, a bit of illness, and the need to retrieve and store the old bus had largely precluded participation in any markets. After having done eight of them in a five week period from late August through September, we had not managed to find a single opportunity in October.  But our Friday arrival at Grand Lake Resort prompted research to see if perhaps there was a Saturday market nearby with a loose enough set of vendor criteria and low enough fee such that we might participate.  We found the Market Under The Oaks just 16 miles south, and after contacting the manager, we were cleared to participate at a cost of only $5!  Rosemarie began furiously organizing our stuff while I walked down to the resort office to extend our stay by a day.  At which point I stumbled across another option.

Grand Lake RV Resort runs two park-wide yard sales annually, and the fall event was scheduled for the next day.  This is not a small park, it has nearly 400 sites and the vast majority appeared occupied.  So we were faced with a choice: a welcoming but apparently small local farmers market, or a community wide yard sale, both of which had a lot of unknowns.  Just how small is Market Under The Oaks?  Would it be another tiny little event with six vendors and practically no customers like in Washburn, Wiconsin?  Or might it surprise us with a more robust buyer throughput like the three in Grand Marais or even the Rusk County event?   As for the yard sale: had it been advertised outside of the park?  Or even aggressively within the park?  How many of those nearly 400 “occupied” sites were empty RVs and mobile homes still waiting for their snowbird owners to arrive?

My score from the yard sale: $5 pull cart for my golf bag.

We decided that with so many unknowns, we might as well try the yard sale option, which would entail a far greater degree of convenience and allow an extra hour of sleep.  Accordingly, the next morning we did our standard table set up in front of Serenity, and enjoyed a slow trickle of park residents throughout the morning, interspersed with a handful of potential buyers from outside the park, though almost all of them had some sort of connection to residents.  Sales were slow, but we enjoyed a last minute surge from one family that pushed us into figures beyond any of the three events we had done in Grand Marais, so we counted it a rousing success.

Things might have been significantly better, but we learned that a large portion of the park residents had not, in fact, yet arrived from their winter domiciles, and we were competing with a major flea market type event in a nearby town.  Nonetheless, we think we made the right decision, though we look forward to participating in Market Under The Oaks, perhaps during our northward push in late winter.   Hopefully we can also time our travels such that we can join Grand Lake Resort’s other community wide annual yard sale, which we were told is even better.

As the yard sale wound down, cousin Amy and her sons Elijah and Jude arrived to stay with us for a night during their journey from Virginia to Orlando.  There we would all meet up with Linda and Jayson at Universal Studios.  They had previously camped with us for a couple of days in Maine, and it was great to have them with us again, particularly since Amy brought wine.  Pro Tip: always bring wine.

Pad Kee Meow had, perhaps, her most tense dog encounter to date:  Rosemarie took her on a walk, during which she was on her leash as per the park rules, and a loosely controlled yippy little dog escaped his owners grasp and made a loud and aggressive bee line for her.  She did the standard cat thing, back arched and hissing, and the dog, several pounds lighter than our possibly part Ocelot feline, did the wise thing and pulled up short.  This is something we have to be on the alert for: the overwhelming majority of dog owners in the parks we visit control their pets, and properly introduced it seems like 80 to 90 percent of dogs will tolerate a cat.  But we worry about the outside odds, the aggressive dog combined with an owner lacking control.

Lastly, Grand Lake Resort has a golf course, and given my recent involvement with the links after decades away, one might think I would take the opportunity for a around.  Alas, time was too short, perhaps next time, but I did scoop up a folding pull cart from one of the other yard sale participants for only $5.  This pushes my total golf equipment investment to $18.75.  Fantastic.