2016 in Review (Two Years Fulltiming)

What a year!  Having shifted from The Big Kahuna to a modern RV in late 2015, we managed to spend a LOT more of 2016 actually RVing rather than sitting in mechanics parking lots or staying in hotels or the houses of friends and family.  After wintering in Key West we hit the road for a counter clockwise tour of the eastern half of the country, basically trying to see all the states we missed during the previous year’s clockwise route through the west.  Here is a summation of our travels, heavy on statistics and with our favorites and least favorites in the second half.

The Distance: 9,999 miles!  More than 4,000 less than 2015, partly because we decided to slow our pace, but also because stuff is just closer together in the east compared to the western half of the country.  This year we tended to linger in favored areas, especially Maine and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  photo Odometer_zpsfyljrnfq.jpg

The Places:   The short version: We visited 27 states while living in the RV for 332 days.  We spent another 31 staying with family or friends, along with 3 nights in hotels.  That is a huge change from 2015 when our mechanical problems had us in hotels for weeks on end. Breaking this year down by places and days:

    • We visited 92 places this year, though if you discount repeat visits it was only 77. That includes 25 private parks, 4 national sites (national recreation areas and forests,) 12 state parks, 11 municipal/city/county parks, 11 military campgrounds, the houses of 6 different family and friends, 6 parking lots or driveways of stores, friends, or family, and 2 hotels.
    • Breaking things down by days: we stayed in private RV parks for 102 days, military campgrounds for 78, national/federal areas for 6, state parks for 45, county/city/ municipal parks for 81, parking lots and driveways for 20, houses of family and friends for 31, and hotels for 3.
    • Compared to 2015 there was a big decrease in national and private areas and a big increase in county and military facilities.
    • We also slowed the pace a bit, though not as much as we anticipated.  After compensating for 2015’s reduced RV days due to mechanical issues, our average length of stay rose from 2.7 up to 4 days per stop in 2016.
    • Another way of looking at the 332 days in the RV: we had full hook ups for 114, at least electricity for another 149, and dry camped for 69.
    • Together we made only one significant side trip this year, to visit my dad and step mom in Brown County, Indiana.  Rosemarie made two independent trips to see her family in Coral Springs, FL and Norfolk, VA.  I took a solo journey to Charleston, SC to pick up The Big Kahuna and get him down to a storage place in Florida.

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The Money: We squeaked by barely under budget this year, a big improvement over 2015 when we were 12% over.  Three things made the difference: we transitioned to a daily accounting system rather than the loosey goosey monthly round up we had been living by, we sold jewelry at farmers market/yard sale/flea market events in three states, and we no longer had the continuous repair bills associated with The Big Kahuna.  We really feel good about how we managed things in 2016, and 2017 has started out solidly for us as well.

The Markets:  This really added to the adventure this year, in both financial and quality of experience terms.  We started 2016 with four little yard sale/craft fair type events on the Key West Naval Air Station, each one a little better than the last as we learned the ropes and improved inventory.  After a five month gap travelling up the east coast, we stumbled across the weekly farmers market in Grand Marais on the upper peninsula of Michigan. Our modest success at three consecutive markets there along with astounding luck (though also a day of not so good luck) at a nearby Marquette event convinced us to incorporate farmers market-type vending opportunities into our research and route planning.  Since then we have sold at three different markets in Wisconsin, a community wide yard sale near Ocala, repeat visits to two different events in Naples, a couple of terrible events in Mt Dora, and three different markets in Central Florida for a total of 25 events in 2016.

The Big Kahuna:  We are finally back to being a one motorhome family!  I changed up sale tactics shortly before Christmas, encouraging best offers rather than hoping for a competitive bidding war on eBay, and after rejecting several low ball bids we negotiated a sale price I can live with just before the new year.  A few days into 2017 I few back to Central Florida to make the final exchange, and the new owner is already deep into his own improvements on the old bus up in Tallahassee.  photo FullSizeRender 3_zpsbw7xfyxg.jpg

The Discounts and Clubs:  I mentioned in the 2015 Review that we were looking to cut our discount and travel clubs down this year since several were redundant or of limited value. What we kept, what we discarded, and why:

    • National Park Pass ($80): KEPT!  This was a big money saver in 2015 when we visited 21 National Parks, but this last year we only went to three plus a couple of National Forests, so the annual fee might not have paid for itself yet.  But it doesn’t expire until May, and we anticipate hitting a couple more places that the pass will get us into free before then.  Most of the parks and some of the national recreation areas, monuments, and historic sites have entrance fees ranging from $5 per car to $10 per person.  I suspect it will end up having been a decent investment by the time it expires, and given our 2017 plans we fully intend on renewing it.
    • Passport-America ($39): KEPT!  We stayed at private RV parks on the 50% Passport-America discount for 55 nights! Now, I don’t think every place truly saved us 50% compared to what we could have gotten in other nearby parks of equal quality, but even if its only a 25% saving, it was the best program of the year for us by far, and more than worth the $39 annual fee.
    • Good Sam ($25), Family Motor Coach Association ($50), and AAA (at least $60, more for each additional family member covered): DROPPED! We allowed all of these to expire this year, and don’t regret it.  Typically they each provide a 10% discount in participating parks, and here is why that would have made little sense for us this year: we stayed 102 nights in private parks; 55 of those on the PA rate, another 21 on a weekly discount rate (about 14% off,) 3 nights on a 10% military discount, 2 nights at 10% off for our AAA membership before it expired, and 20 nights at full rate in parks that offered no applicable discount for any program. Simply put, there was no reward for shelling out annual fees to Good Sam, FMCA, or AAA when the Passport-America, weekly, and military discounts exceeded or matched what they could offer for all but two nights of the year.  As for AAA’s roadside assistance; it was redundant with our insurance and EasyCare RV warranty policies.
    • Active Advantage ($65) DROPPED!  We tried this out for a year, and it paid for itself, but only just barely and with too much difficulty.  For RVers, the program is associated with the Reserve America reservation system, and will refund your fourth reservation with them, up to a maximum of $80.  Not every fourth reservation, just your fourth one within the year.  So ostensibly it will give you a $15 benefit, so long as your fourth reservation cost you at least $80.  I had to phone and email with them a couple of times to actually get the reward, which came in the mail weeks later.  Too much hassle for too little benefit.  We let it expire at the end of 2016.
    • Moose Lodge ($60, $35): KEPT!  Membership runs 60 and 35 bucks a year for me and Rosemarie, respectively.  We parked for free in Moose Lodge lots two nights this year, so obviously that’s not the prime reason to maintain membership.  Rather, it is the local connections in many of the towns we visit, the very affordable drinks compared to for profit bars, and the occasional special event.  We have visited more than 20 Lodges across the country, and feel like we have benefited greatly from our membership, especially in Maine.  I would encourage any RVer doing significant travel to consider joining a social club like the Moose, Elks, or Eagles.  We have also considered American Legions and VFWs, but so far the Moose is working well for us.

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Repairs: This was a lengthy and complicated section in last year’s round up, but this year it is quite simple.  We experienced gradually worsening electrical problems beginning in New Jersey in May, culminating in the need for a shore power cable replacement in Georgia in October, and then some follow on work in Sarasota in December.  Our EasyCare program covered some of the costs, leaving us with a total outlay of less than $750 for the year in repairs, along with about $600 for three new tires, a far cry from the challenges that The Big Kahuna posed.  And since our modern motorhome was basically a turn key operation, we have not had to invest money to upgrade or improve it like we did the old bus.  Sure, we anticipate additional work and repairs, maybe even a few upgrades, but the basic truck body, engine, transmission, and the like appear rock solid, so we are optimistic about 2017 and beyond.

Favorite Private RV Parks:  This year private parks made up about a third of our campgrounds.  We stayed at 25 different spots, several of them repeatedly, and did a good amount of research before staying.  This made selecting the top few very difficult, and establishing a cut line for the Honorable Mentions even harder.  Heck, every place we stayed in Maine could have made the list, but we wanted to geographically spread it out a bit.  In the end our favorites for 2016 include a mainstay from 2015 and a few excellent new discoveries:

Favorite National/Federal campground spots:  I am only including this section for consistency with last year’s format since we stayed in but four national areas and visited another two in 2016.  Making the top three in a list of six isn’t saying much, but here they are anyway:

    • Pasaconaway National Forest Campground, White Mountains, New Hampshire:  Just fantastic, and reminded us of our paradise like spot we had on the Salmon River in Idaho.
    • Platte River Campground, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Forest: Aside from the huge wooded sites, just a mile or so down the road you can swim in the realtively warm and clear Platte River right as it dumps into cold Lake Michigan.
    • Big Meadow Campground, Shenandoah National Park: Way to short a stay for us in Shenendoah, we hope to return for longer down the road.

Favorite State Parks: We really enjoy state parks, especially the 15 or so we have camped in within Florida.  This year we encountered a few new ones that stick out in our memory, as well as revisited some of our favorites from 2015 and before:

Favorite municipal/city/county parks: Given the great luck we had with county parks in 2015, we significantly increased the number we stayed in this year, allowing us to form a more legit top three and honorable mention list

    • Woodland Park MI: We had no intention of stopping for 19 days in one spot until we got back to Key West, but Grand Marais on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan charmed us.  The elevated county park here looks out onto Lake Superior.  Can’t say enough about this great place.
    • Trimble Park FL: As recently as a few weeks ago we referred to this place as our favorite county park, and it still makes the top two.  Intimate, beautiful lake side setting with nature everywhere, and located near charming Mount Dora.
    • Thompsons West End WI: We loved the little lake side region of Ashland-Washburn, and after a false start at a nearby county park, we stumbled upon this much better option.
    • Honorable Mentions: Weko Beach MI, Lebanon Hills MN, Lake Monroe FLKelly Park FL

Favorite Military RV Parks: Just like county parks, we stayed in a lot more of these than we did in 2015.  Eleven in all, which allows a better top three and honorable mention selection.

    • Key West Naval Air Station: This is our third winter in Key West, and our longest stay. The value is extraordinary, particularly for this fantastic location.  While the campground presents some challenges, particularly the extensive dry camping requirement, it still tops our list.
    • Carr Point Naval Station Newport RI:  Another example of how location trumps everything else.  $20 for power and water overlooking the bay just a couple of miles from downtown Newport?  I’ll take it.
    • Tie for third: Arnold AFB TN, Robins AFB GA: The opposite end of the spectrum from the two Navy campgrounds: not exactly located in prime destination spots, but they provide incredible value in a natural and peaceful environment.  Arnold wins if you need wifi, Robins if its all about value.
    • Honorable Mentions: Manatee Cove Patrick AFB FL, and the Air Force Frequent Camper Program

Least Favorite places:  Just as last year, we are willing to call out a few places that disappointed us:

  • Taughannock Falls: After a mile hike you get to see a  trickle of water falling into a nice swimming hole that you are not allowed to swim in.
  • Cayuga Lake swimming area in Taughannock Falls State Park: a roped off and very crowded swimming area in a murky lake with excitable lifeguards rigidly enforcing a ludicrous number of rules.
  • Turtle Beach FL: $63 a night to have construction going on all day and a completely torn up beach, with no refund or even ability to shorten the reservation once we saw the disaster.  Maybe it’s nice now, but it left a bad taste in our mouths.

Individual monthly reviews for 2016:

2015 in Review

The Big Kahuna Has Been Sold!

As we mentioned in our To The Keys post and December Report we accepted an offer and received a deposit from a potential buyer on the last day of 2016.  Having been down this road before with our first motorhome, we didn’t feel the sale was in the bag until the full payment was received, and so a few days into January I flew up to Central Florida to meet the buyer and finalize the sale.  Dad picked me up at the Orlando airport, and shortly there after I was pulling Kahuna out of his storage site and maneuvering him into a tight, full hook up spot within Wekiva Falls RV Resort, the task made rather difficult since it was dark, the park employee took me in the wrong direction, and the back up camera, like much of the 12 volt system, is not working until new house batteries are installed.

Hooking Kahuna up the night before meeting the buyer would allow me to go through the systems and make sure there were no surprises, as well as allow the potential buyer to see the rig connected.  I could walk him through everything so he would not just having to take my word for it that what I claimed worked did, in fact, do so.  Plus, I could spend one last night in the bus that had started us on our full time RV adventure.

The next morning I continued checking the systems and cleaning up while I awaited the arrival of the buyer, James, who was driving down all the way from Tallahassee with his dad.  Shortly before noon they made it in, and I conducted a two hour show and tell for them, including a test drive around the RV park.  While James does not have truck or old diesel experience, he is in construction and seems a bit more suited to taking on Kahuna than I was, and his dad seemed pretty knowledgeable about mechanics.

I have tried to be as honest as possible with all of The Big Kahuna’s potential buyers about the problems that still exist with the rig, wanting someone to go into the purchase with eyes wide open and prepared to deal with the challenges of owning a 54 year old bus; with something this old and complicated there will always be surprises.  But after our two hour walk through, James confirmed he wanted to make the purchase and called his bank to execute the transfer of money.  A few minutes later, and after handling some paperwork, he was off for the five hour drive back to the panhandle.  And so that’s it, right?  Sale complete, new owner starting his adventures, everyone is happy.

Of course not.  This is, after all, The Big Kahuna, and it wouldn’t be fun without drama. Within half an hour the new owner was texting about the brake lights, which didn’t seem to be working.  That was a new one on me, but I recommended he try them with the headlights on and he continued towards home, his dad following behind.  Two hours later the texts were of a much more excited, even panicky tone, as he couldn’t get Kahuna into top gear.  This one we had gone over, how the transmission gearing had been changed out by the previous owner, and now it was too “tall,” i.e., it had higher top end speed but sacrificed torque and power, and often had trouble getting into top gear if you were not on a downhill.  Our perceptions of grade are not nearly as accurate as we like to think; often it is very tough to see if you were really on a mild down or uphill run, but The Big Kahuna would let you know.  We exchanged a series of texts, but he was highly agitated about the transmission, and though I suspected it was the usual problem, it had me worried as well since it has just been rebuilt at great expense.

And frankly, we have been in his shoes, struggling to get the bus to a destination, light fading fast, and out of our depth.  I did my best to walk him through everything I knew, including that he had a set of less tall gears in the spare parts bins under the bus, and hoping that after he got home safe he would have a chance to decompress and accept the challenges he faced with renewed vigor.  Sure enough, a few hours later I got a text that was more optimistic in tone, though cautiously so.  I promised I would not disappear, and was standing by to provide any information I could via text, email or phone call.  Since then we have exchanged a few more texts, and he seems to have a handle on things.  We wish James the best of luck in continuing to improve The Big Kahuna, and taking his family on many adventures in him.

24 Months Fulltiming: December 2016 Report

We seem to finally be at the point where we stay mostly caught up on this blog; this is two months in a row in which the end of month report is only a week after the last day.  With our lengthy stay in Key West just started, we anticipate being up to day for at least the rest of the winter.

The Distance: 791 miles, which is pretty substantial considering we stayed in one state!  But bouncing around Florida from the southern Gulf Coast to Central Florida and then all the way down to Key West tends to put some mileage on the odometer.  We finished 2016 with an interesting 9,999 miles, barely missing 10K.

The Places:  We ran a jagged upside down “U” (Ohm? Omega?) across the state, starting with our last couple of days at Periwinkle RV Campground on Sanibel Island.  We backtracked south to Club Naples RV Resort to attend two more markets in Naples, then headed up the coast to drop Serenity off at Campbell RV in Sarasota for repairs to the electrical system while we stayed with Gloria and Bill in Venice.  Then it was a night in Oscar Scherer State Park before moving north and inland for a full week stay at one of our favorites, Trimble County Park near Mount Dora.  Unable to extend in Trimble, we moved a few miles down the road to Kelly Park near Rock Springs Run for five days before celebrating Christmas week in Wekiva Falls RV Resort with my dad and step mom.  Then we bolted south, stopping for a night below Miami before continuing on to Sigsbee RV Campground on the Key West Naval Air Station.

We had full hook ups for 12 days, electric/water connections for 13, dry camped for 4 (ending a four month streak of no dry camping,) and stayed with relatives for 2.   and stayed in relatives houses for 8.  We were in private campgrounds for 12 days, public parks for 13 (12 county, 1 state), military facilities for 3, a parking lot for 1, and with the aforementioned relatives for 2.

The Budget:   We squeaked under our monthly budget by 1/2 a percent!  With the large number of unusual expenses that came due for us in December (medical bills, Serenity’s repair bill, our annual mail forwarding service renewal, etc) combined with Christmas shopping and higher than average campground fees, we were only able to get under budget because of our robust farmers market schedule.  And while only five of the seven events at which we sold were successful, it was enough to keep us on track, and resulted in us being almost exactly on budget for the year as well.

The Drama:  Nothing really substantial, other than a loosening right front windshield seal that will need some proper attention beyond the temporary tape solution if we want to keep the water out.

The Improvements:  Our 12 volt and 50 amp shore power problems were fixed by Campbell RV, who also rewound our awning spring, charged up our AC, and unstuck our water filter housing.  We anticipate another round of (hopefully) minor repairs once we leave Key West in March.  Oh yeah, we have a buyer for The Big Kahuna, and have received a deposit.  I hope to report on a successful transaction in the coming days.

Next post we will sum up our 2016 RV adventures, with bests and worsts in several categories, and of course, more stats.

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

2016 Reports:

2015 in Review

To The Keys!

Having been in the Central Florida area for most of December including the holidays, it was time to move down to our Winter home, Sigsbee Annex RV Campground on the Key West Naval Air Station.  This will be our third winter stop there, with our stay lengthening with each season.  In 2015 at the very beginning of our full time lifestyle, we stayed for two weeks.  After completing our first full year on the road in 2016 we stayed for 48 days, and this year we anticipate something closer to 75 days here.  The environment and value are just to good to pass up, and we don’t want to make the mistake we did in 2015 of leaving the balmy Florida weather in the middle of winter.

Originally we planned to stop over in Coral Springs to spend New Years Eve with Xavier and Joy, but they took off to NYC for the holidays, so we simply made a one night stop in Cutler Bay, south of Miami on our way to the islands.  Our friends Lisa and Jason hooked us up with a free overnight stay in their large subdivision’s club house parking lot, which allowed us to visit with them and their three girls as well as save some money.  We parked in the back portion of the lot and discreetly opened up only one slide, hidden on the far side of the rig next to the hedgerow.

By late morning we were on the road for the four hour drive to Key West, topping off gas at the most affordable place our Gas Buddy app could find along the route, just into Key Largo.  This is a cost saving step for a Key West stay where the gas prices are 30 cents a gallon higher than in south Florida.  In addition to the 100 mile drive in both directions, we anticipate a healthy amount of main generator use during the lengthy periods of dry camping there.

Last year we arrived in mid January, and were lucky to have a spot available immediately; for the previous three days they had turned away the late afternoon arrivals due to a full camp, requiring them to return the next morning to fill in as a few rigs left.  Having learned that lesson, we resolved to show up before the absolute peak this year, and upon arrival we found the park perhaps 85% full with a decent site available.  We didn’t have the astounding luck of getting one of the prized water front sites, but the one we were assigned is fine for our needs until we get rotated into the power and water hook up sites.

If you read our posts from previous Key West visits, during the peak winter season the hook up sites are completely filled, making up as they do only 20% of the campground.    This means that when you first arrive you get assigned to a dry camping site and go on a rigidly controlled wait list, published every day, to move up the line and get into the hook up sites.  Once in those sites, you can only stay for 14 days before having to move out to allow a drycamper to move in.  The more full the campground, the longer the wait in dry camp.  They gave us an estimate of 21 days for those of us that arrived at the end of December this year.  Last year it was 28 days when we arrived in mid January.

Does that sound like a hardship you wouldn’t want to experience?  Yeah, I get that.  But consider: for $14 a day we are living in Key West.  We have a house battery system for our lights, propane for our refrigerator, stove top, grill, and water heater, and two generators to take care of our electrical needs when we decide to turn them on.  It’s winter, but it’s also basically the Caribbean, which means it gets hot.  But on this low lying island with limited building heights and low vegetation, the ocean breezes mitigate the heat quite a bit, and when we can’t take it, we turn on the big genny to power the ACs.  I figure a worst case day will entail five hours on the big Onan generator at about  a day at half a gallon per hour, so maybe six buck in gas.  Those days are atypical, however, and usually our incredibly efficient little Honda generator will suffice for our basic electrical needs.

The Nieves Clan joined us new years Eve for a couple of days.  We have had them in our RVs before, at one point stuffing eight of us into The Big Kahuna, but this was the first time their dog, Christmas, was included.  I was skeptical of how that would go, not because of the cat (frankly PKM could take her) but because the dog seems particularly excited by my presence and barks a lot.  But during their visit she was great, and compared to some of our neighbors’ yippy little creatures, she was a dream.

We all participated in a big pot luck dinner New Years Eve for what must have been at least a hundred park residents before heading back to the rig for movies and games, which was particularly instructive.  We went to great pains to make sure six year old Kai understood the rules of Uno and had a bit of assistance along the way, only to have her utterly decimate four of us over the course of the evening.  Lesson learned: do not help the baby,  the baby is just fine, and if it appears otherwise she’s faking it.  We closed out the night with a movie, five of the seven of us making it all the way to midnight to count down the new year’s arrival.

And last of all, we closed out the year with a successful negotiation for the sale of The Big Kahuna to an eBay bidder, who confirmed intent to purchase and made a deposit on the last day of 2016.  What a way to close out the year, and more on that transaction to follow. So Happy New Year, everyone, only a week late!

Selling at night on a street corner, a junkyard robbery, and the gathering of the cousins.

Wekiva Falls RV Resort is an odd place: situated over a high output natural spring creating a beautiful clear swimming hole, this huge private resort (over 800 full hook up sites plus a tent and rally area) has the usual amenities you would expect for a Florida park situated on a river.  We stayed here once before for a GMC Rally, and mostly remembered it for the heavy crowd of day users with an extraordinary tattoo and cigarette to body ratio.  In addition to the unusual spring fed swimming area, it has a marina, bar, kayak and canoe rentals, club house, pool, playground, store, propane refill, etc.  It is, however, a bit pricey, with the standard spots packed in fairly tight, and the usual barely functional wifi.

In other words, not a place we would normally choose if it weren’t for a couple of bonus factors:  My dad and step mom are staying here for a month, and The Big Kahuna is stored here awaiting sale.  So it was a natural fit for us given the holiday season.  We secured one of the premium spots just a couple of sites down from dad’s on a weekly rate, which came out to about $39 a night.

We spent three days visiting with friends and family and taking care of long delayed upkeep.  For instance, the plastic brackets that hold the vinyl rear and side windows secure on our Geo Tracker are, like many from the mid ’90s, mostly broken.  We have been to a couple of salvage yards during our trip seeking replacements, with limited success.  While killing time here in Central Florida we took a drive up to the Zellwood yard which reported they had a Tracker ragtop carcass of the appropriate year.  This pick and pull place was what you would expect, covered in mostly trashed or picked apart cars and trucks, but we scored gold there: the two most critical pieces we needed were still on the old truck, and I pulled them as well as a rubber gasket for $15.  And while I was doing that the place got robbed.

I was mostly oblivious to everything but the aftermath, but Rosie had near ringside seats for the whole ordeal.  Some men in a gold truck towing a trailer had maneuvered to the rear of the lot, loaded up some parts, and fled without paying.  The owner and a couple of employees saw it developing, and two of them managed to get in a car and give chase. While the owner was on one phone with the cops and the other with the chasers, he attempted to coordinate the police to the right location.  I don’t know the end result, but the chasers returned to report that the fleeing truck and trailer had exceeded a hundred miles an hour through Mount Dora.  Excitement!  See what you non-RV, salvage yard avoiding people are missing?

We also attended our last market of the year, a new one for us, the Deland Artisan Alley Farmers Market, held at night in the downtown revitalized area.  With some trepidation about being able to properly display our wares at night, we arrived an hour early for new comers site assignment, and got situated away from most of the other jewelry vendors near the end of a row next to a spray paint artist.  This was good and bad: we had to deal with the fumes from his activity all evening, but he drew a continuous crowd that resulted in greater exposure for us.  He had a routine where he would complete each spray painted artwork during the course of one song appropriate to the material.  For instance he might use a track from Star Wars while painting a Darth Vader/Death Star scene, or from The Little Mermaid while painting Ariel and friends.  There was judicious use of fire involved in his show, ostensibly to dry the paint but I suspect more so for the theatrics.

It worked though, he did good business all evening, and at the end of each performance the crowd would often turn to us nearby vendors, resulting in a solid night of sales for us.  Yay, us.  We rewarded ourselves by skipping the next day’s Sanford market.  Though it had been a reasonably good event for us, it took nearly all day, and since it would be on Christmas Eve day we weren’t confident in the crowds.  This meant we finished the month with only seven events, well short of our goal of ten, but we made good money and are satisfied overall.

For Christmas we headed to my Aunt Judy’s traditional brunch attended by pretty much all of my Central Florida family members, and it is a reliable feast.  We had a solid dozen people there this year including both my kids.  It was great to see everyone gathered together again, and though the need to balance seeing our South and Central Florida family and friends might preclude us attending every year, we hope that we can have many more of these great family events down the road.

On the 26th I successfully strong armed another “gathering of the cousins,” which is pretty similar to a Gathering of the Juggalos, like we pulled off during the holiday season in 2014.  Rob, Carlyle and I were thick as thieves growing up,  but we don’t manage to see each other very often, particularly all together with our families like this.  We managed to get 15 of us together, including their families and children and my kids as well, for a big cook at the Wekiva Falls resort.  My dad and Marcia co-hosted the event, with the kids having arrived early enough to enjoy the spring fed falls and swimming hole. We hope to continue this new not-quite-a-tradition-yet event in future years, even if its not during the Christmas weekend.

Kelly Park at Rock Springs Run

Unable to extend at Trimble Park, we secured a four day reservation at nearby Kelly Park, another Orange County park that has its own very special water featuer: Rock Springs Run.  I have fond childhood memories of this place and the crystal clear fast flowing spring and creek.  During a previous stay at Mt Dora we had scoped out this campground as a possible back up to our preferred Trimble Park, and found it quite nice.

The electric and water only sites are the same $23 a night for us non senior, non county residents, which given the location and season is a great deal.  The sites are reasonably spacious and surrounded by greenery, which means they are attractive but also come with the periodic crack of acorns bouncing off your roof.   At least the branches dropping them on us here were a lot closer than the ones at Trimble Park, so the acorns had not achieved terminal velocity to the point that they sound like baseballs hurled at our rig, but they were still a loud annoyance.

As for markets, we returned to the two that worked reasonably well for us in November: Sanford on Saturday and Wekiva Sweetwater on Sunday.  As the last full weekend before Christmas, we had saw a larger than average crowd and sold well, bolstering our budget for the month and getting us that much closer to being on point for the year.  We had hoped to participate in a Friday market in a relatively high end area near Orlando, but after four weeks of working with the market manager we still did not have approval to participate, and had begun to suspect that we were being stiff armed or provided inaccurate updates.  The manager might very well run a great event, but the process of approval is atrocious, an opinion shared by several of the other vendors I discussed the issue with at Wekiva.  Ah well, they can’t all be easy.

The highlight of the stay was the gathering at Anthony and Anita with friends Rosemarie has known for decades but sees to little of these days.  They through a great party, largely to celebrate Lynn beating cancer and Anthony’s successful back surgery, but none of these people needed an excuse to gather together for drinks and food.  Keep on healing Anthony, and consider even obeying your Doc’s post-op orders.

A week in our favorite county park: Trimble Park near Mount Dora FL

With our motorhome freshly repaired we headed back up to Central Florida, intent on spending the bulk of December there, at least through Christmas.  Our first stop would be our favorite county park, Trimble Park, located a couple of miles south of Mount Dora.  We discovered this gem a year ago as we returned to Florida after making our one year circuit of the west half of the country, and now make it a point to return when in the area.

Though not well known, with only 15 sites it does tend to fill up on weekends and holidays, so we felt fortunate to lock in a full week reservation.  Last year they seemed to have a policy of holding back a couple of sites for walk ins, but that is, apparently, no longer the case, so if you want to visit this great lakeside spot, reserve early.  Even with reservations, you are not selecting a specific site, just the right to one upon arrival.  After we checked in we were thrilled to see that site #13 was unoccupied; we had scouted that one as the best spot in the park during a previous visit, and felt doubly lucky to get not only a full week stay but also in our preferred huge site right on the lake with no neighbor at all on our right side.

We had excellent weather, and enjoyed the usual assortment of wild life, but did not have near the explosive level of nature activity as our last visit.  But this stay wasn’t just for relaxation, we had work to do as we continued our push to vend at farmers markets until Christmas.  While prepping for a return to the Sanford market, our neighbor reminded us of the huge flea market in Mount Dora, Renningers.  I made a call and found the requirements to participate simple and the cost relatively low.  Though Sanford had been decent for us, we thought we ought to at least try a flea market.

Vowing never to return, and possibly to skip flea markets all together, we looked forward to the Sunday traditional farmers market in downtown Mount Dora.  Surely this art and boutique oriented town would have a great location and plenty of potential buyers.  No. No they do not.  While the setting in Evans Park by the shore of Lake Dora was indeed beautiful, it is located well off the main drag and thus enjoyed almost zero natural through put.  Combine that with apparently limited advertising and a location that has shifted twice in the last year or two and you end up with very few people in town that even know it exists.

While it was not as painful an experience as the previous day’s flea market, we made less here than at any of the other 21 events to date.  The market manager promises that in a couple of weeks they will be located in the main downtown park which will enjoy very heavy foot traffic, we will believe it when we see it and won’t do the Mount Dora market again until that move is confirmed.

While in Trimble we got to visit with several of Rosemarie’s long term friends.  Nancy came to see us from nearby Eustis one evening, and we visited with Anthony, Anita, and their girls Angel and Bella at their home in Mt Dora another.  We also met Will, our neighbor for a few days, who regaled Rose, Nancy, and I with stories of his time as a POW in Vietnam, and his post war career as an Elvis/Tom Jones/Engelburt Humperdinck impersonator.  The people you meet in these campgrounds…

We had such a great stay at this affordable ($23, less if you are senior or an Orange county resident) campground that we tried to extend.  Alas the park was not only booked solid byond our stay, even the waiting list was full.   We chcked around the local public parks (the private ones in the area are pricey this time of year) and found an opening at nearby Kelly Park that would get us though the weekend.