Getting back on budget via markets and low cost camping at Lake Monroe County Park

With less than three weeks left in Central Florida we wanted to centrally position ourselves to see friends and family, attend markets, and rein in costs as much as feasible.  In support of that we shifted from the fantastic Wekiwa Springs State Park to Lake Monroe County Park about a dozen miles further north.  At less than $17 a night all in, it is significantly cheaper than the area state parks, particularly when you add in the Reserve America fees.

I forgot to take pics of Lake Monroe, so in lieu of that, enjoy these fall colors from Rosemarie’s trip to Virginia this week.

While Lake Monroe doesn’t have the crystal clear spring or immediate lake front camping of our favorite area spots, it has large power and water sites in the woods near a lake.  The county undertook a significant renovation of the electrical and water connections at the park during the last year, which has significantly improved things for most sites, i.e., previously about half of them had one or both connections on the “wrong” side for most RVs, necessitating either extra long hoses and/or cables, or pulling in front first.  Since the reno, most of the sites have full 50 amp and water on the correct side, and the remaining sites are designated for tent camping only with just a 20 amp traditional plug in available.

Linda Rose, Linda’s newest grandchild.

The park has a boat ramp and dock, private toilet/shower rooms, group camping areas, pavilions, and direct access to a nice bike path running up to Gemini Springs and beyond.

We had a week long stay there, during which we fit in five markets!  That’s almost like having a job, but we are taking advantage of being in an area where we have lots of vending options, knowing that come January we might not.  We started with our favorite event in the area, Deland’s Friday night Artisan Alley Farmers Market.  Aside from being pretty good for us the one time we attended last year and last week, we enjoy the ambiance, cooler evening environment, and energetic groups of liquored up people wandering through.  This week did not disappoint.

The last of the ten mermaid crowns

If there is one down side to this event it is the odd method of assigning spots to those that have not yet “earned” a permanent site.  Though the market does not technically start until 6 PM, if you want a spot you need to arrive and sign in with the manager before 5 (ideally 4:30 if you want to be assured of a good spot) and then wait until she starts handing them out at 5:15 by order of sign up, taking a few minutes to discuss with each person their requirements and then walk them to their appointed place.  As this is going on, the permanent vendors are either already there making sales or leisurely showing up to set up once the street is closed off.

The seated woman and the man are vendors who were doing some light drumming, the woman in yellow wandered by and joined in, making an impromptu drum circle, or drum triangle, either way they all knew what they were doing and it was a fun addition.

Once you have managed to luck into being assigned the same spot three times in a row, you “inherit” it and become a permanent vendor.  This can, we are told, take months, and we don’t anticipate ever getting there.  The net result for us is that what would be a three hour event with maybe half an hour on each end for set up and take down turns into a 5 hour affair, though we make the best of things with a beer at Persimmon Hollow while we wait for assignment time.

It was the week leading up to Veteran’s Day, so PKM and I made a run to Chipotle for a Buy One, Get One Free for vets.

I mentioned in our Wekiwa Springs post that we were not happy with our Saturday Sanford market; though we sell OK, it is too long, has too many other overlapping vendors, and doesn’t have a nice “vibe.”  After the October 28 event, we committed to doing the Lake Mary event instead.  This involved a bit of risk and hassle: It is run directly by Seminole County’s Parks & Rec Department, and they have fairly rigid licensing requirements, non-refundable application fees, and up to two weeks to gain approval.

Meanwhile Rosemarie feasted on Chris’ Chicken Pot Pie.  All of Linda’s sons are quite good in the kitchen.

Encouraged by some of the vendors at our Sunday Sweetwater-Wekiva market, we took the chance, paid for the $25 county business receipt, paid the $25 application fee, and were fortunate enough to get approved within days for the first Saturday in November.  The vendor fee is $25 per event for us non-regulars, so our total commitment before even setting up was $75.  We need not have worried: we had a great day easily exceeding our investment.  The manager restricts excessive duplication of vendor types, so we won’t have the option of attending every week, but that day we locked in three more Saturdays between then and Christmas, working around our planned three weeks in SE and SW Florida.

Sunday morning we headed back to Sweetwater-Wekiva for the market, and though foot traffic was quite light (several of the other vendors reported it as one of their worst sales day, with one irate seller suggesting she would not be back without some sort of market improvement) we had our best day of the handful of times we have attended this event.  Go figure.

Monday evening we tried a new one: Audubon Park Community Market in Winter Park.  Our friend Chris from the Wekiva event turned us on to it, suggesting it had an environment that would probably work for our stuff.  We got last minute approval from the market manager and headed down to set up.  One of the aspects of this event that makes it particularly convenient is that if you can get by with 10′ of table space instead of an entire tent area, they supply the tent and lighting.  For us this is fantastic, because our brand new tent from Caravan Canopy is a monster that barely fits in our trusty tracker once all the other items are stowed.  The vendor fee is dirt cheap, and was even waived for our first attendance.

Audubon Park Community Market

The market itself has a very progressive, neo-hippy sort of vibe, with damn near every food or produce item claiming organic, cage-free, fair trade, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO status, with price points to match such rigorous production.  E.g., “raw” milk for $10 a gallon.  Fortunately, the Empanada man adhered to no such requiremens, and his product was quite tasty and affordable.  We did pretty well at the market; not great but enough to justify coming.  We are not sure when we will be able to return since they have a glut of crafters and artisans such that those types of sellers are spread out, slotted for one day in every four, and our travel schedule might preclude even that.

I might poke a bit of fun at the aggressive organic local yada yada yada marketing, but this is the best juice I have ever had.

The next day Rosemarie headed back to Virginia for another visit with Linda and the extended family, including an overnight trip to Shenandoah National Park.  I stayed with the cat and the rig, hung out with Dad and Marcia a couple of evenings, and spent one with son Jackson and his friends for game night (Dungeons and Dragons, dontcha know, something I haven’t played in 30 years) and prepped to fly solo on a Thursday morning market.

I give you Shimona Hedgeworg, Goblin Monk.

Thursday’s event, “The Springs Market” is run by our Sweetwater-Wekiva manager, Shayna, and is located about two miles down the road from that market.  Like the Sunday one, it does not get a lot of foot traffic, relying on word of mouth, drive by pull ins, and the employee shoppers from the nearby strip mall and business parks.  We did tolerably well, again enough to justify coming, plus I got familiar with our new monster canopy’s set up process.  It may be nearly twice as heavy as our old cheap thing, but it sets up easier and is far sturdier.

So we are off to a great start in November, on track to be well under budget despite a few significant purchases, and having enjoyed a few final days at Wekiwa Springs and a beautiful week at Lake Monroe.  Next up: with limited state and county park weekend availability, we try out a new private RV Resort in the region.

IHOP’s free Red White & Blue pancakes for Veterans Day

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34 Months Fulltiming: October 2017 Report

The Distance:  1,670 miles as we made a fairly direct sprint from the U.P. back to Central Florida.  This puts our annual distance up to 9,701.  November should be a low mileage month since we will spend the majority of it at a few parks north of Orlando before heading down to Coral Springs for Thanksgiving.

Aside from some early back and forth in the UP for our repairs, this is about as straight a shot back to Florida we one can manage.

The Places:   We spent the first week in Munising City Tourist Park before bouncing between Hilltop RV Super Center and the Ojibwa Casino as our repairs got a bit more complicated.  Once all that was taken care of, we spent one final night in Michigan in a Shopko parking lot, then headed south.  We had one night stops at Oneida Casino in Greenbay and Great Lakes Naval Training Center campground in Illinois, then I dropped Rosemarie off at Chicago O’Hare for her trip to Virginia to see Linda and family.

Last few days on Lake Superior’s shore.

While she was away I continued south via Camp Carlson Army Recreation Area and Arnold Air Force Base Family Camp.  I parked the rig at Dobbins AFB Family Camp outside Atlanta, where I picked up Rosemarie.  The next day we continued south to Wanee Lake Golf & RV Resort for a few days of golf and relaxation, then crossed into Florida for a couple of nights at Grand Lake Golf & RV Resort.  Finally, we moved Wekiwa Springs State Park for the last ten days of October.

A series of one night stops as we headed south, this one at Oneida Casino’s RV Park.

We stayed 10 nights at private campgrounds (including four at casinos and 1 stealth camping at Shopko) 16 at public sites (6 city, 10 state,) and 5 at military campgrounds.  We had full hook ups for 11 days, partial for 18 (13 with power and water, 5 with electrical only) and drycamped for 2.

PKM enjoyed a lot more bed space while Rosemarie was in Virginia.

The Budget:  Unsurprisingly, we finished the month 16% over budget.  Despite a handful of modestly successful markets we couldn’t overcome the effects of hundreds of dollars for Serenity’s repairs (our warranty deductible plus all shipping costs and the door lock kit,) three full tank fill ups for the big rig during our run south, and annual license registration for both vehicles.  Considering all that, we were not overly disappointed with the month’s monetary situation, and November will be much better with our limited movement along with a slew of markets lined up.

Rosemarie is putting her large shell collection to good use: Mermaid Crowns for our markets.

The Drama and the Improvements:  After waiting five weeks for our new refrigerator, during the installation we encountered additional mechanical problems related to a leaking propane regulator valve that forced us to stay four more days awaiting a part.  We finally escaped Michigan, a bit poorer, but with a new fridge, microwave, awning brackets, and the aforementioned valve.  Then, when I was ready to pick up Rosemarie in Atlanta, the RV door would not open, forcing me to climb out and back in the window with tools.  I eventually had to drill through the lock mechanism just to get it open, and then replace the entire assembly.  If you have a house on wheels that you bounce down the road 10,000 miles a year, you’re gonna encounter these problems.

2017 monthly reports to date:

And here are our 2016 and 2015 annual summaries which include monthly report links.

Beginning our one month Central Florida stay (and CFL market season) at Wekiwa Springs State Park

The last two Fall seasons we spent time in the Central Florida region bouncing around between half a dozen of our favorite area parks.  This year, two of them are closed (Trimble and Kelly County Parks) and one other is closed to swimming (Blue Springs State Park) all of this related to Hurricane Irma damage.  This cuts every RVers options down, but particularly those of us that prefer the state and county options to the private parks and resorts in the region.  It’s early enough in the season that weekdays are still quite easy to get at our remaining preferred places, but the weekends are booked pretty solidly way out.

Our first site at Wekiva Springs State Park.  Big and green, partial hook ups.

So as we entered the fourth week of October we locked in a five day window (Sunday through Thursday) at Wekiwa Springs State Park, and a few days later we managed to snag the weekend on a cancellation and then extend another five days into November.  This is one of the keys to getting popular state parks: keep checking for cancellations; they often occur in that last 48 hours.  Wekiwa also seems to have a handful of sites that are not on the reservation system but that the ranger office can assign based upon in person “walk up” campers.

Wild turkeys wandering through our site

By the way, if you are googling around for Wekiwa you will find two spelling variations, Wekiwa and Wekiva, with the park, river, streets, and neighborhoods variously adhering to one or the other.  I have heard two explanations for this:

  1. The right spelling and pronunciation is Wekiwa, deriving from a Creek-Seminole word for “spring” but transcription errors way back led to the river itself getting the Wekiva spelling, which stuck, and thus some other things in the area use that version as well.
  2. Wekiwa is the Indian word for “spring” and Wekiva is the word for “river” or perhaps “spring fed river” so they are both right.  I suspect the first option is closer to the truth.

Our second site at Wekiva: a bit less green but full hook ups

After a few days into our stay Dad and Stepmom Marcia arrived in the region and joined us at Wekiwa Springs for a week.  The last time we were able to RV with them was when we accidentally ran into each other in Texas’ Balmorhea State Park.  Since they will be wintering in various parts of Florida this year we will likely spend a lot more time in or near the same RV park.

Grillin on dad’s nearly pristine Weber.  Ours gets near daily use, and looks like it has been through a war.

Wekiwa Springs is  fantastic place to RV, or just visit for the day.  The spring itself is huge, crystal clear, and largely free of any shoreline vegetation in the generous swim area.   This allows swimmers and snorkelers to enjoy the constant 72 degree water in ideal conditions without any real worry about snakes or gators (a fear that is largely overblown anyway.)  The place gets pretty crowded on weekends, which makes RVing there on the weekdays even better, especially during the school year: you get the spring almost to yourself.

Wide shot of the spring

The spacious RV sites are a mile or so from the spring in a nicely wooded area, and sometime in the last couple of years were all upgraded from dry camping to a mix of full hook up and power/water only sites.  The price is right at only $24 plus tax a night, though you still have to pay the egregious Reserve America fee for each and every reservation, which hurts when you have to string together several of them to make a decent stay.

Speaking of money, we began our Florida farmers and artisans market season in earnest this month.  As I look back through our calendar I see a pattern of market dearth and surfeit, of scarcity and plenty.  When we are travelling with any sort of speed we don’t have the time for them, often do to the approval process timeline; we have been approved for several markets only after we have left an area.  Additionally some states, counties, or cities have strict rules (and fees) for licenses and the like, which often makes it not worth the time, effort, and money.

When we settle down in an area, however, we can usually leverage that time into getting the necessary research, approval, and paperwork done for several local events.  Thus our time in Tucson, Whidbey Island, and the U.P. lead to months with 5 to 8 markets.  Central and Southwest Florida are two additional market rich regions for us, and we expect to do as many as 25 of them before Christmas.  We started things off right with that community wide yard sale at Grand Lake, and really kicked things into high gear during the last weeks of October.

A noisy squirrel wouldn’t shut up right beside our rig.  I attempted to threaten it with PKM.  It didn’t work.

Finally having a bit of a firm schedule, we had gotten ourselves approved for events in Sanford, Deland, and Sweetwater-Wekiva, which covers every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, with Sanford also offering the option for a Thursday evening vend at a local craft brewhouse.   With our dance card as full as we could want, we closed out October with five markets.  Sweetwater-Wekiva gave us one very solid and one poor result, but we will stay with it regardless because we enjoy the atmosphere, its quite close to the state park, and we have gained a lot good information from the other vendors and Shayna, the market manager.

Rosemarie’s mermaid crowns are selling briskly.

The Sanford Thursday event was a total bust with almost no foot traffic and apparently not much local awareness.  Sanford’s Saturday market was better, but not enough to justify the unnecessarily long hours and almost palpable sense of desperation emanating from some of the other vendors (including seven other jewelers.)  We started looking hard at alternatives for Saturday, and lucked into a very solid market, more on that in a later post.

Lastly, we did Deland’s Artisan Alley night market, which was so great for us last year and did not disappoint this time around.  It’s short, has lots of foot traffic, much of it coming out of local bars so the money flows a little freer, and just has a great vibe to the whole thing.  The only down side is, as a non regular, we have to show up nearly an hour and a half before the official start time to register and get a decent spot.  This is less of a pain that it sounds because we can kill that time having a beer at popular Persimmon Hollow brewery, and the official start time means nothing to the people wandering buy and ready to make purchases as soon as anyone is set up.

We closed out October with a couple of hours geocaching with Dad and Marcia, along the excellent Seminole Wekiva bike trail.   There are several that are either missing or have become much harder to find as a result of Hurricane Irma, but we still managed to snag four during a nice afternoon of bicycling along this unique stretch of trail.  Local artists have put a great amount of time and effort into painting hundreds of yards of dilapidated panel fencing along the route with every manner of pop culture oriented works.  It’s definitely worth your time to see if you are in the area.

Through Georgia Into Florida: Wanee Lake and Grand Lake Golf Resorts

Had there been any openings at Dobbins other than the dry overflow spots we probably would have lingered a day or two, but lacking a real site we continued south, stopping at one of the best value RV spots we have found in nearly three years on the road:  Wanee Lake Golf & RV Resort in Ashburn, GA.  They honor Passport America’s 50% off rate for up to three nights, and still offer 25% off beyond that.  So for $16 a night we had full 50 amp hook ups, somewhat usable free wifi, and unlimited walking golf on their 9 hole course (there website says its $18.75, so not sure why they only charged us $16.)

I managed to fit in 27 holes during our stay, along with a good amount of time on the chipping and putting green trying to regain some semblance of a short game.  Rosemarie joined me for the walk on day two, and helped me find a strikingly large number of lost balls near one of the water holes.

I even participated in the Thursday evening scramble with about 20 other players, a best ball format with picked teams and five buck entry from all, with the winning team splitting the pot.  Fortunately I was put on a team that in no way takes the event seriously, and I was able to contribute particularly in the short iron and putting department.

The evenings were chilly enough to justify a fire, and one afternoon a casual conversation with other women in the laundry led Rosemarie to mention her jewelry making, which resulted in two of them coming down that evening to make some purchases.  While not quite as odd as the near accidental sale I made in a commissary parking lot months ago, we certainly welcomed the opportunity to make a few more bucks during an expense heavy month.

Though all sites are full hook up and pull through, the RV park is fairly basic in terms of decor: a grass field near the first tee box.  And though the pool and hot tub were closed for repairs while we were there, I nonetheless consider Wanee Lake to be one of the very best value parks we have visited, but only for those that enjoy golf.  I look forward to incorporating it into our exit route from Florida in the late winter or early spring of 2018.

After Wanee I-75 took us into Florida where we pushed as far south as Citra, a bit beyond Gainesville, to Grand Lake RV & Golf Resort.  Last year we stayed there for a couple of nights out of convenience, and stumbled into a community wide yard sale that allowed us to set up our tables and vend right in front of the RV.  We maintained contact with the resort and slightly adjusted out return to Florida date in order to take advantage of this year’s event, which was even more successful for us than the previous one.

PKM scored a practically brand new scratching post, harness and leash for $1.50 at the yard sale.

Though this is a golf resort, I didn’t fit in a round: we had other things going on during our two day stay and they did not have any sort of deal like Wanee Lake offered in terms of free or steeply discounted rounds.  Maybe next time.

So there it is: we have made it back to Florida, and will spend a month or so in the central part of the state before heading down to the SW and SE coasts for several weeks.  We are still formulating our plan for the bulk of the winter after Christmas since the campground at Key West Naval Air Station is closed with no solid opening date.  We shall see!