48 Months Fulltiming: December 2018 Report

The Distance:  714 miles as we ran an inverted “U” from SW to SE Florida via Central Florida ending the month in Key West.  We closed out our 2018 distance with 10,436 miles. 

The Places:  We spent the first 22 days of the month in Venice before embarking on our Christmas run around the state.  We spent two days with Cousin Carlyle and her family in Inverness, then Christmas morning in Lake Mary at Aunt Judy’s, five days with Xavier and Joy in Coral Springs, one night with the Nieves in Cutler Bay, and finally made it to Key West on New Years Eve day.  We enjoyed 22 days with full hook ups, 5 days with 20 amp electricity, and dry camped for 2 days.

The Budget:  Like last month, we continued out push to make up for our big Ocotober repair/upgrade bill.  Despite 22 days in our most expensive regular park, we compensated with three markets and very limited expenditures beyond the necessities.  We ended up 8% under budget, which is solid, but not quite enough to get us completely under for the year.   January and February should be really good for us, so we will catch back up by the end of Winter.

The Drama and the Improvements:   Nothing significant to report, other than our brand new TV antenna no longer is getting power.  Might have to swing back by the installation shop in Port Charlotte on the way out of Key West in 2019 if we can’t get it working.  If things go well in January with our markets we will begin making some improvements and upgrades this Spring.

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

July Monthly Report

August Monthly Report

September Monthly Report

October Monthly Report

November Monthly Report

A Christmas Dash around Florida

I grew up very close to my first cousins Rob and Carlyle, spending many days at their house and more at our grandparents lake house.  We are close in age, and all remember Christmas as a major family gathering.  Adulthood and our scattered locations meant seeing them rarely, and almost never with the three of us and our families together.  Three years ago I finagled their dad into hosting a Christmas season event that saw us all united, and I managed to host one in Central Florida two years back as well.  Last year it just didn’t come together, but for 2018 cousin Carlyle volunteered to host at her house on the Gulf Coast on the Sunday before Christmas, allowing all those with jobs to attend.

How “cousins” work: First cousins share a grand parent.  Second cousins share a great grand parent.  Third cousins share a great great grandparent.  If the cousins are separated by a generation, i.e., the child of a first cousin, then they are “once removed.”  E.g., this is my son with my first cousin Rob’s twin children.  That makes the girls my first cousins, once removed, and makes them the second cousins to my son.  Got it?

We pulled chocks from Sanibel and drove up to Inverness in time for me to cook a whole turkey (brined overnight, spatchcocked, of course) while Carlyle’s daughter Allie prepped most of the side dishes and other options.  The gathering itself was great, really great.  We had a full house with Carlyle’s husband Alex and their daughters Allie and Haylie, Cousin Rob, his wife Colleen, and their twins Maeve and Nola, my dad and step Mom Marcia, son Jackson and daughter in law Andrea, and Rob and Carlyle’s mom, Chris.  Alex let the top quality tequila and rum flow freely, and we all had a great time, especially with stories of our misspent youth. 

PKM meeting her first horses.  Five feet was OK. Four was not.

We stayed at Carlyle and Alex’ farmhouse for two nights, allowing Alex time to take us on a boat ride along the canal and inland waterways with a stop at one of the small islands where he is building a cabin retreat, and by “he is building” I mean he is physically doing it himself, up on telephone stilts to account for storm surge.

The island getaway cabin Alex is building.

They took us to The Freezer, a dockside shrimp and seafood place that was just fantastic.  We can highly recommend the steamed shrimp and the spicy smoked mullet dip.   We finished the boat trip with a spin around Monkey Island, a sort of monkey refuge for the former escape artists of a 40 year old wildlife exhibit. 

On Christmas morning we headed out quite a bit earlier than our usual start time in order to make Aunt Judy’s annual Christmas morning brunch.  She always puts on a great spread, which means we always eat too much.  She had a moderate sized gathering of eleven this year.  We kept the actual mimosa’s to a minimum since upon departing we had to make the nearly four hour drive down to Coral Springs. 

Xavier and Joy had a full house with two of Rosemarie’s sisters in from out of town, so we ended up sleeping in the RV since the bedrooms were all taken.  The advantage of having our house wherever we go; in the right situation we can be less of a house guest burden, at least if you don’t count the huge rig taking up most or your driveway and connected to your electrical outlet.

That house with the three sisters and niece Tamiry can get loud, but it was great fun to have everyone together for the holiday season.  We had a big afternoon party with Dolores’ god father, Uncle Mario and his wife Ena and mother Mrs P, and friends of the sisters were frequently swinging by.  I got introduced to the Lemongrass Hot Pot, a very interesting dining experience that is sort of a Chinese/foodie take on fondue with a magnetic conveyor track cycling vegetables and noodles around every table.

The Sisters

Rosemarie took a full day trip back to the Gulf Coast (Naples beaches) with the sisters and niece (her shelling fever hasn’t broke yet) while I went all in on geocaching in order to meet my “1000 finds by the end of the year” goal.  We both had excellent luck.

We broke up our ride to Key West with a one day stop at the Nieves house.  They moved into a new home in the same neighborhood, and this one has a much bigger drive way that require just a bit of maneuvering to fit.  It was a long fun evening of stories, pizza, a few cocktails, and me decimating everyone in a game of “Five Second Rule.”  We look forward to hosting them in The Keys if they can make it down this winter.

Rosemarie’s God Daughter, Kai

On New years Eve morning we made the drive south, registered with the camp host on duty, and got settled in to dry camp site one row back from water front.  It is good to be back in paradise to start off 2019!

We will soon put out or December fulltiming report followed by a “2018 in review” post with our statistics, favorites and not so favorites of the year.  Since we are still in Key West this will sort of catch us up on the blog.

(Most of) December in Sanibel

Our first week on Sanibel Island this Winter reminded us why we not only keep coming back, but also why we increase out stay time each year: we just love the place and all it provides.  Beautiful beaches, outstanding shelling, fun shops, excellent restaurants, miles of bike trails, vast nature preserves, easy access to The Big City (Fort Myers) and a great social atmosphere at Periwinkle Park.  With just over three weeks remaining in our month long stay, we tried to hit all the things we remembered loving and add a few new events and places to our experience.

 

We are now in the habit of timing our Winter visit such that it overlaps “Luminary,” an Island-wide annual event on the first Friday in December.  After stumbling across it two years ago, we ensure this fantastic evening is part of our early Winter.  Miles of bike paths are lined with paper, sand, and candle lanterns, many of the businesses along the route put out sample trays of their food, or provide wine, cheese, and other hors d’oeuvres, and a few locations provide live music.

 

We are much more prepared than our first year: our bikes have full lighting, we know the route, add a bit of flair to our clothes, and peddle hard to our furthest point and then making it a leisurely return with multiple stops before finishing the evening at Huxters, just outside Periwinkle Park, for the live band.  If you find yourself in SW Florida in early December, consider giving this event a run. 

We used our library membership to check out passes to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, or CROW.  They give a fun and informative talk about all they do, which by the name you can probably figure out involves taking injured animals, nursing them back to health, and if possible returning them to the wild.  They also do a lot of research and data collection for use by a wide range of organizations tracking wildlife populations and the like. 

Though we had big plans to hit several of the excellent restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva, our budget busting repairs from late October encouraged us to reel in our dining this month, particularly since we are already paying one of our steepest daily camping rates.  Thus we did not get to return to Island Cow or The Pecking Order, or try out Timbers or The Clam Shack.  We did hit our preferred pizza joint from past years, but something has gone amiss in their “by the slice” system, and we were very disappointed.  Ah well, we made up for this culinary austerity program with some wonderful stuff from the three farmers and artisans markets we did in Naples.

Speaking of which: we did three farmers and artisans markets in Naples.  One of the things we have always said about our market participation in various venues across the country is that even when we don’t make a lot of money, we still get to enjoy the locally produced goods, interact with locals and tourists alike, and get the skinny on things we should and should not do in these unfamiliar towns and cities.  I’m gonna come right out and admit that this positive attitude towards low performing markets has gotten harder to retain in light of our increasing expectations following some of our recent extraordinary successes. 

One of the more interesting sights from our Naples market.  Yes, hair dye, not clothing.

So yes, we were pretty disappointed with that first Naples event last month, but the second one was better, and then the third was, again, disappointing, but we closed out with a moderate bang on our fourth.  If, for whatever reason, we find ourselves staying in the Naples area, we will consider doing their Pine Ridge market again, but when in Sanibel next year, we will seek closer venues in Fort Myers.

Kind of rare for us to enjoy a sunrise, so at least we got that out of the market.

That said, we bought some wonderful stuff, and by stuff I mean food.  We would start off our day with a big glass of fresh juiced passion fruit.  My God, this stuff is amazing, like an explosion of flavor in your mouth.  Then it was, perhaps, a chocolate croissant for a late breakfast.   We took home blue cheese stuffed olives, pepper jelly, free range eggs, smoked fish dip (mullet is so much better than almost any other options) and specialty cheeses. 

Red shouldered hawk that let us get pretty close during a trip to Fort Myers.

In previous visits to Sanibel, about the only things that got us off the island were the Naples markets.  It just seemed inefficient to pay a $6 toll to go to wherever, when we were already paying that price on market days.  This year we worried less about that and enjoyed multiple day trips to various mainland spots.  It wasn’t all fun and games, one of the first non-market day Fort Myers trips was for me to get a Basal Cell Carcinoma nodule removed via “electrodessication.”

I’m fine, its one of the least dangerous skin things you can get, I am paying the wages of a misspent Florida youth along with some genetic predisposition (thanks Granddad!) and after consultation I elected the electrical burning of it off my arm rather than surgical excision.  The scar is probably a bit worse than the “cut it out” option, but it impacted my activity far less. 

The Basal Cell nodule I had removed.  Haha, no, its an octopus we rescued from a sea gull and returned to the ocean. 

Anyway, whenever I was off island I incorporated Geocaching into the day.  Before my dermatology procedure, I did 25 or so caches in southern Fort Myers.  On another quite day I did another score or so on Cape Coral.  Rosemarie and I did a few during a windy visit to Fort Myers Beach, where we also visited yet another Moose Lodge, our 24th, for a few drinks.  We hit a handful of local thrift shops during our ventures, scoring low cost items for ourselves and gifts for others. 

One of many osprey’s on Sanibel.

One of the things we will need to seriously consider before our next Sanibel visit is the possible purchase of a LeeWay transponder.  Like most toll transponders, it provides the convenience of not having to actually stop at toll booths along with automatic payment via a registered account.  Apparently LeeWay is connected to SunPass (Florida-wide toll system,) E-Pass (Central Florida Expressway system,) Peach Pass (Georgia) and Quick Pass (North Carolina.) 

Typical Sanibel shell mound.

The advantage LeeWay offers over Sunpass is a major discount for the Sanibel Causeway: for a flat $50 fee the $6 toll is reduced to $2 for a six month period (either Nov 1 to Apr 30, or May 1 to Oct 31.)  You can get a full year of this discount for $67, but we really don’t see ourselves in the region outside that late Fall, Winter, early Spring period, so the math is thus: will we cross the causeway 13 times or more during this window?  During our one month stay this year we crossed 10 times, and will probably visit again in late March.  That is right on the edge, but I think we will do it next season just so we don’t feel constrained.

Finally, let’s talk about the shelling, after all, this is one of the primary things Sanibel is known for.  Every day is different, every beach is variable, and we accept and adjust for these changes.  Some days we would hit Bowman’s beach and walk north, away from the crowds, until we hit the major shell piles a mile from the popular areas.  Others we would start at Blind Pass, the cut between Sanibel and Captiva islands, and head south. Several evenings we rode our bikes to Lighthouse Point on the eastern tip of Sanibel to watch the sunset, observe the near shore dolphin hunting, and enjoy the surprisingly good shelling following some heavy weather. 

Part of Rosemarie’s Sanibel shell haul.

We found a lot of beautiful shells: Florida Fighting Conchs of course, Lightning Whelks, Banded Tulips, True Tulips, Apple Murex, Lace Muriex, Shark Eyes, Alphabet Cones, various Scallops, Angel Wings, Florida Cones, Olives, Kings Crowns, Jingles, Worm Shells, Pearl Whelks, etc, etc.  Truly a wonderful shell haul.  But Rosemarie kept reading about the shelling excursions on the Ten Thousand Islands near Marcos Island.  This would be a boating trip to some of the uninhabited islands off the southwest coast with some experienced shelling guides.

We sprung for a shelling tour for Rosemarie with Treasure Seekers Shell Tours.  For $100 she would get a 45 minute boat ride from a Goodland, FL marina, to one of those islands,  three or so hours of professionally guided shelling, light snacks, and the ride back.  A few days before Rosemarie’s trip the weather turned sour, and with a phone call we rescheduled to the day after the bad weather, which would be our last full day in the area.

Shelling on the Ten Thousand Islands is quite different than walking the pristine beaches of Sanibel.  This amazing mound exists partly due to the storms, and partly due to so few people making it out here to pick through it.

Oh what luck.  The stormy days had kicked up an unusually large bounty of shells, and Rosemarie came back with a stunning array, including a very rare variant of the already rare Junonia, a “Chocolate” Junonia, so named because of the much darker and wider spots on this version.   Another woman in her group found a standard Junonia, the sort we now look down our noses at.  In all seriousness, the storm kicked up so many Junonias that we were getting reports of a handful more found by members of the shell tour over the next couple of days.  Someone joked that the Gulf Coast was going to have to come up with another Holy Grail of Shells since Junonias were getting too common. 

Chocolate Junonia (center)

That was a heck of a way to close out our Sanibel stay.  We will be back for sure, hopefully this Spring before we begin our travels out of Florida. 

This beautiful hermit crab gets to keep his shell.  

Up next: Family, family, family as we do pre-Christmas with the cousins, a Christmas day run back to Central Florida and down to Coral Springs.

A collection of the best finds from the group of six on this tour.

 

47 Months Fulltiming: November 2018 Report

The Distance:  581 miles as we bounced around from Florida’s Gulf Coast to Central Florida and down to Coral Springs.  This brings out 2018 total up to 9,722.  With our December plans we should easily crack 10K.

The Places:  We departed Venice on the first of the month, and then went back and forth between Lake Monroe Park (weekends) and Wekiwa Springs State Park (weekdays) for 22 days before heading south to Coral Springs for five days around Thanksgiving.  Then it was over to Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island to start a one month stay.  We had full hook ups for 17 days, partial (electric and water) for 7, and stayed with family for 6.

The Budget:  16% underbudget, which is good, but not what we had hoped for this month considering our limited mileage, four markets, six days staying free with family and another week in the low cost county park on Lake Monroe.  This means it will be near impossible for us to get under budget for the year in December since we will be spending three weeks at an expensive place, doing Christmas, and prepping for Key West.  Our overage will be a very small percent of the annual budget, so we will get back on track in January.

PKM helping Rosemarie with a crafting project.

The Drama and the Improvements:   Nothing significant in this arena.  After our roof and other repairs/upgrades at the end of October, we are taking a break from anything costly until we get back on budget.

Our monthly reports so far this year:

January Monthly Report

February Monthly Report

March Monthly Report

April Monthly Report

May Monthly Report

June Monthly Report

July Monthly Report

August Monthly Report

September Monthly Report

October Monthly Report

First week of a month long stay in Sanibel

We have been coming to Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island since our first year with our “training” RV, The Barracuda, a 1978 GM Motorhome, and we have returned a couple of times a year ever since.  As we have likely mentioned before, Periwinkle Park is your only RV option on Sanibel or Captiva unless you know someone with a house with room for you to park, or you snag one of the coveted work-camping jobs at Ding Darling National Preserve (for which there is a waiting list.) 

So with Periwinkle being the only game in town, they can charge steep prices: $58 a night, all in.  OK, so you are willing to bite the bullet and pay that price, but can you even get a reservation?  The park offers “right of first refusal” for the upcoming year to their regular Fall and Winter seasonal customers (The Forty-Niners, so named because originally there were 49 RV sites,) all of whom have been coming for more than a decade. 

It’s not just shells in Sanibel: there is some fantastic driftwood as well.

This means that if you want to stay for any significant length of time in the high season, you need to have been coming for years, slowly building up your stay length as the park management begins to remember you from previous visits and as one of the regulars stops coming.  And Forty-Niners are dedicated: we have met several that, once they became uncomfortable driving their rig all the way down from the north, they started storing their  in Fort Myers and paying someone to deliver it to Sanibel, timed to their arrival.  After six years of repeat visits, we were able to lock in a full month this year, our longest stay, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Medium sized gator swimming away in that pic.

Oh, and the big monthly rate discount you often see at RV parks?  Here it is roughly a 16% decrease from the daily rate, and nothing more than that for an entire season.   This is not the most expensive place we have ever stayed, but it is certainly the priciest RV campground that we regularly visit.  Such an expenditure requires an offset, which is why we have stuck with the Naples Pine Ridge Farmers Market despite the inconvenience of driving their each Sunday and our variable success we have had. 

So the day after our afternoon arrival in Sanibel, we were up at dawn to take the heavily loaded Loki off island for our first of four reserved markets there.   It turned out OK, but not great.  This is sort of what we saw last year with the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving: mediocre sales as, I’m guessing, people were burnt from Black Friday and we aren’t close enough to Christmas.  Ah well.

Honestly, we are victims of our own inertia, having defaulted and financially committed to the Naples event (you have to pay the vendor fee for four weekends in advance) due to our previous participation before we did the research for closer options.  We have done that research now, and found market options in the greater Fort Myers area for nearly every day of the week, which will involve a noticeably shorter drive the next time we come to Sanibel. 

Good God look at the size of that kitty!

Enough griping.  We are on Sanibel, and it is fantastic.  The severe red tide they experienced for much of the Summer and early Fall has mostly dissipated, i.e., we could not detect it at all from the campground, and only noticed it on two visits to the beach, and the shelling has been solid.  Our familiarity with the island means we know which beaches to hit, and, for the most part, which establishments to patronize. 

Typical Sanibel Shell Mound

That includes the Sanibel Public Library, a really excellent example of what a local library can be with sufficient support.  In addition to the books and DVDs, the wifi is free and reasonably fast, the staff knowledgeable, and you can check out passes to three local things that normally charge an entry fee.  Thus in our first week we returned to the National Shell Museum, a place worth visiting even if if you have to pay the regular entry fee. 

Finally, having been coming for six years, though for admittedly brief stays, the regulars are starting to recognize us, particularly those that attend the evening social hour at the covered seating area near the pond.  Though attendance was light that first week; many of the Forty-Niners have not yet arrived for the winter.   So far, we are generally loving our stay and have no regrets about securing a full month here.