64 Months Fulltiming: April 2020 Report

The Distance: 0 miles while we sheltered in Sanibel, FL.  2020 total remains at 454 miles.

1-sunset

How about a sunset pic at the start of the post rather than symbolically at the end per our usual?

The Places:  The entire month we stayed at Periwinkle Park in Sanibel.  We really love this place, and even with heavily limiting our activity, we still enjoy this place quite a bit.  So that is 30 days in a private resort with full hook ups.

2-ducks

Periwinkle Park as two duck ponds with man variants of wing-clipped, exotic ducks.  Apparently the owners used to really be into ducks.  Though the exotic population has dwindled, regular, native species regularly enjoy the park, like these mottled ducks.

The Budget: Almost 45% under budget! I know, right?  Yeah, it was the stimulus checks, without which our high daily camping fee rate, bills still flowing in from our party days last month, and the complete lack of market opportunities to pad our finances would have left us a hair over budget. 

3-jack-cat-rabbit-1

Pad Kee Meow really likes this park as well.  The rabbit population has exploded, and they don’t seem to be used to domestic cats.  No worries, I am holding the lead so she cant actually reach the silly thing. 

The Drama and Improvements:  Aside from a global pandemic, not much drama to report.  As for improvements, there was Rose’ bike refurbishment project, and we undertook another small part of our long term electronics upgrade plan: we finally mounted, connected up, and programmed our new smart TV to replace the old one in the bedroom.

4-swan

The duck ponds have a mated pair of swans as well.

Next up: more pandemic projects and crafts.

 

Rosemarie’s Pandemic Projects: Learning to Sew

Rosemarie is not one of those people that can just relax for hours upon hours; she needs to be doing something, and while in self imposed semi-isolation here in Sanibel, it’s either crafts or drive Jack crazy, and we are both happier when it is the former.  The great thing is that she has her hands in so many different pots (and mostly has the equipment and supplies for all of them stuffing every corner of the RV) that there is always something to choose from.  1-headband

A couple years back Linda gave Rose her sewing machine, but with the exception of stepmom Marcia fixing it, one group sewing event in The Keys, and a lesson from Deb in Michigan, it has seen little use.  Part of that is a function of how many interests Rose has, but it is also a result of our market schedule: she spent almost all of her crafting time making things for our markets.  Now that those are off, she has time to explore new areas, and sewing was one of her first choices soon after we hunkered down here on the island.  2-sewing-machine

So far she has done three different projects, producing multiple versions of each one.  It started with the microwave cozies; batting in between cotton cloth and sewed to achieve a concave, bowl-like shape.  This allows one to place a bowl or cup in the microwave-safe cozie, heat it up, and take it out of the science oven without burning your hands.  I had never heard of these things until last year, but apparently they are quite popular.  She made a few, but we also bought some very high quality ones from a vendor during our Koreshan State Park crafting even last Fall.  Drawing inspiration from those, she gradually improved until she felt comfortable enough with her quality such that they would make suitable gifts.

3-cozies

She made about a dozen of these, but we only kept a couple of them.  The rest were donated to other park RVers back in April.

Next up she downloaded a template to make hair bands.  Rose wears a lot of bandannas in various styles and methods, but these incorporate elastic and provide her additional options.  4-headband-rose

When it became clear that mask wearing was going to be a big part of our lives for the foreseeable future, she watched a few videos and downloaded a pattern for them as well.  After a couple of adjustments to make them fit our faces properly and comfortably, we have our customized masks: two pieces of cotton cloth that allows a paper mask to be slipped between the layers for better protection.

5-masks

Time to head to the bank.  

The sewing is but one of many things Rosemarie has been working on here in Sanibel; I’ll detail a few more projects in a coming post, but next up: April wrap up.

 

 

A Pandemic Hobby: Baking Bread

Picking up new, or perhaps long dormant, hobbies seems to be a near universal thing during this pandemic, at least for those of us neither working nor homeschooling children, and baking, especially bread baking, seems to be a surprisingly common choice.  So common, in fact, that in addition to hand sanitizer and toilet paper, there have been widespread shortages of flour and yeast.  Even now, over a month into social distancing and stay at home orders, when you might think the supply chain has this sorted out, I found yeast at only one of the three stores we checked two days ago, and flour at only two of them.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  Months ago while in Key West someone left a brand new looking bread machine in the give away section of the campground, and I scooped it up with the full intention of making some fresh bread in between cocktails and crabbing.  I never got around to it; the machine just sat in our storage compartment all winter.  And then, as we began the start of an (at least) two month stay in Sanibel, I used the opportunity to set up my “outdoor kitchen,” consisting largely of things I had collected from that same Key West campground give away area: pop up toaster, toaster oven, coffee machine, and my Wolfgang Puck bread machine. bread-machine

Managing to scoop up 5 lbs of flour from a rapidly diminishing shelf and three individual sized packets of yeast from a freshly stocked Publix, I selected for my first attempt an extremely simple six ingredient white bread, which I proceeded to turn into a dense brick topped by an inch and a half of tough but edible bread.  This was a near total failure that part of me saw coming.  During the preparation I steadfastly ignored the nagging questions in the back of my mind saying things like “isn’t baking supposed to be precise, like, way less forgiving than cooking in terms of measurements?”  Turns out that is a true thing.

img_20200411_194958

This bread like object is laying on its side: the top, to the left, is obviously flat and fallen.

Through a bit of internet sleuthing and in consultation with Nate via daughter Andrea, I realized I had screwed up four things:

  • I couldn’t find any measuring spoons in the rig so I estimated teaspoon and tablespoon measurements.  After which, when explaining what I think went wrong, Rosemarie pointed out an apparently commonly known aspect of tableware: the regular spoon is about a teaspoon, and the bigger spoon is about a tablespoon.  Yes, knowing that would have helped.
  • I also had to guess, wrongly it would turn out, at the “loaf size” machine setting  because I did not even consider weighing things until they were already in the device, and thus too late to tare my kitchen scale.
  • Making my estimates that much more critically flawed, I had selected a recipe that was quite anemic in terms of sugar, and thus “starved” the yeast, or whatever the right term is.
  • And finally, I didn’t take into account ambient temperature for my outdoor kitchen in Florida, and thus did the whole process at warmer than ideal temps.

Despite all those errors and the loaf turning out… badly, I was struck by how easy this process was.  Literally ten minutes in the kitchen, drop it in the machine, select four settings, and wait about three hours.  That’s it!  But I am also only using the bread machine; none of this “prep the dough in the machine but then take it out, shape it, and bake it in the oven nonsense.  Who has time for that?

cat-rosemary

PKM in front of the two rosemary bushes on our site.  This is foreshadowing.

Alright, time to take this a bit more serious.  For attempt two I went with the same recipe, but corrected three of my four errors: I measured carefully, weighed the result, and added a touch more sugar.  The result was technically a failure: whereas my first loaf fell during both the final rise phase and the bake phase, this one only fell once, right when it was transitioning from final rise to bake.  Literally, one minute it was tall, and two minutes later I check through the view portal to see it fallen, though it partially re-rose during the bake phase.  But the taste!  It was excellent; a hearty, yeasty bread like something you would get at an Italian restaurant to dip in herb infused olive oil, or at a seafood place to sop up the juice from your lemongrass and white wine bowl of mussels.

loaf-2-white-fell-but-delicous

The delicious fallen loaf number two.  Note the sort of crown of crust around the top?  Indicates it fell before or early in the bake cycle.  Tasted great, and even the crown is kinds of fun in a crunchy sort of way.

But it wasn’t “right,” it had fallen.  So I did some more research and learned about the ambient temperature thing, and decided to give the same recipe one more try to get it right.  I carefully measured, selected the right settings, put in a touch more sugar even than attempt number two, and waited for an evening in the ’70’s to make it.  Oh, and we jazzed things up a bit with some rough crushed toasted walnuts.  It came out exactly right: fresh, tasty, and beautiful.  So, victory!  And time to move on, but I have to admit that over the course of three days it went from fresh-out-of-the-oven excellent to sort of bland and boring, which sparked the idea of trying to recreate the delicious second loaf by intentionally violating the ambient temp guidance some time down the road.

img_20200418_225227

The perfect loaf number three.

Rosemarie got to select the next loaf, and after discussing options, she settled on a French bread.  I found another very simple and highly rated recipe.  It came out quite lovely and very fluffed, with the loaf nearly 7 inches tall, compared to 3 1/2 for my preferred, partially fallen white bread attempt number two.  To my taste it followed the pattern of my “properly prepared” loaf number three: excellent the first day, but becoming a bit bland by day three, though it was still top tier as toast with honey and butter.

img_20200426_164927

French bread.

So that’s it, I had to retry number two.  I prepped everything nearly as I had for that attempt, but based on some online feedback I cut back ever so slightly on the yeast amount, and waited until a hot mid day to make the attempt.  I did not notice a fall, even when I tried to encourage one just before the bake phase by giving the machine several solid slaps, but there must have been something that went “wrong” because it came out exactly like number two, i.e., fantastic.

img_20200430_134749

Recreated loaf number 2, but it did not actually fall, it just didn’t rise fully, as discerned from the lack of a “crown” like loaf 2 had.

Since Rose felt that she had not gotten her share of the French bread loaf (yes, I ate that much of it) we returned to the successful loaf number four recipe for this sixth attempt.  Again, it came out perfect and lasted all of three days.

loaf-6-french-perfect

Over seven inch tall French bread.

The great thing I am learning about making bread is that once you have found a basic recipe that works, you can make near endless variations by adding ingredients such as herbs, spices, nuts, etc.  We have two big rosemary plants growing at our site here in Sanibel, so for loaf seven I put those to good use: a small handful, finely chopped, mixed in with the dough at the very beginning, and a sprinkling of barely chopped leaves right as the bake cycle starts.  It came out fantastic: perfect texture, beautiful to behold, and the rosemary aroma was quite powerful.  For days opening the microwave (our breadbox) would give you a powerful hit of the herb, even though it was wrapped in a plastic bag.

loaf-7-rosemary-white-prefect

Oh yes, just like number two but with rosemary in abundance.  Note the remnant of its fallen crown, broken up because I did not take it out of the baking basket carefully.  

So that’s the first seven loaves, and since we just finished the last one this morning and scored two bags of flour and a good amount of yeast at the neighborhood grocery, I sense another loaf coming soon, perhaps something sweet.  jack-bread

 

An April Pandemic Project for Jack: Bicycle Restoration

After a bit of trial and error we have determined that the ideal bicycle for Rosemarie is a 24″, single gear beach cruiser with coaster brakes.  It’s the right size, she doesn’t care for hand brakes, and we spend most of the year in fairly flat land.  This is also the perfect bike for salt water environments; the lack of gear and brake wires and calipers means fewer things to rust and jam up.  Just take a look at Rose’ current bike, which we purchased in mint condition for $40 at a bicycle thrift shop in Asheville just two years ago:

1-current-bike

Look at all the rust on the brake calipers and handlebar stem.  It’s bubbling up through the paint all over and decimating the unpainted pieces, and this is after just two winters in coastal Florida.

During our visit last Fall Gloria alerted us to her neighborhood’s bicycle graveyard, an area near the dumpsters where people park no longer wanted bikes.  She initially thought I would find something I liked there, but none of the dozen or so abandoned bicycles looked any better than my current entry level mountain bike I got from brother-in-law Jerry.  There was, however, a rusted up but still functional 24″, single gear, beach cruiser with coaster brakes.  Huzzah!  2-before-full

It was missing a seat, had a flat rear tire, had rust everywhere and the bearings felt gummed up, but the rust was mostly surface corrosion, I pulled a new looking seat off of one of the other bikes, and figured this would be a great fixer upper project while in Key West.  3-before-stem

OK, so yeah, I never got around to working on it during our eleven weeks in The Keys, but once we moved into lock down mode here in Sanibel, it seemed like the ideal time to work on it.  The plan?  Take every single thing apart I can, take it down to bare metal, clean out all the bearings, repack them with grease, and repaint all the previously painted pieces.  Easy peasy.

4-before-wheel

This looks bad, but it was all just surface rust and came off quite easily with my wire wheel

So it turns out that despite this being an incredibly basic bicycle using, what, maybe 1920’s technology, it still has a surprising number of parts, particularly within the rear wheel hub, pedal crank hub, and handlebar stem.  Oh, and you ought to have a special tool to two for certain parts.

5-rear-wheel-hub

This is most of the rear wheel bearing components: on my finger is the brake, the three brake pads are on top of the leaf, you can spot two of the three bearing cages, the clutch just in front of the log, and various other nuts, washers, and setting pieces are also in the background. 

Seriously, this incredibly basic machine has nine bearing cages, plus the bearing cups and races, an in hub clutch, and a brake assembly with three brake pads.  I was so concerned about getting them back together properly that I took close up “before disassembly” photos, and kept all the parts together in a plastic bag and on a zip tie in the proper order and facing the right direction. 6-table

None of this would have been possible without YouTube and some other internet sites, though finding them was made a bit more challenging by my lack of knowledge regarding proper terminology.  For instance, the big clunky metal piece that the pedals attach to on this type of bike is called a “one-piece crank.”  I learned how to remove, clean, pack with grease, and reassemble it all from these two explanatory videos7-before-crank

You remove it from the left side, which is counter threaded (lefty tighty, righty loosey).  Under the locking nut and set washer is a “cone” that would be far easier to work with if you have something called a “cone wrench.”  I did not have one of those and had to use pliers and swear words instead.

8-after-crank

Looking a bit better, eh?

Aside from learning how to do any of this, the hardest part for both the crank hub and rear wheel hub is getting the cones adjusted such that there is just the tiniest bit of play and no bearing friction.  Again, the cone wrench would have made that a lot easier.  Aside from YouTube, this text and picture explanation got me through the rear wheel hub rebuild.

9-handlebars-cleaned-up

The handlebars themselves were protected by black foam for apparently their entire lifecycle, but the stem needed the wire wheel.

I used a wire wheel on my power drill to take all the painted parts down to bare metal and get all the surface rust off the unpainted parts as well.  Since I don’t have a real work bench or a big vice, much less a proper bicycle repair stand, this was a real pain because to properly use the wire wheel you really need both hands involved so you can not only control the drill but also apply pressure.  Without a stand or vice I had to improvise so that I could hold the bike part in place while still getting some serious grind out of the drill and wheel.

10-painting-in-progress

My rigged up paint stand: two sticks pounded into the ground.

I found the “sea glass” exterior, suitable for metal spray paint on Amazon, an got the white paint from Ace.   We chose to paint all the parts that were previously painted with the sea glass, and all the bare metal parts that had lost their anti-corrosion properties with the white.  Much of the bare metal handlebar stem pieces I thought might be able to withstand some time unpainted since what I removed with the wire wheel was just surface rust, but one weekend of rain proved me wrong and we ended up painting it all white as well.  11-handlebar-stem-painted

Once reassembled we got the seat and handlebar heights adjusted, and Rose is off and running on her sort of like new bike.  Total investment was less than $30:

  • $5 Sea Glass paint
  • $5 White paint
  • $7 Tire tube
  • $2 Tube band
  • $2 Wire wheel
  • $7 Handlebar grips

The only thing I regret is not doing the wheel spokes.  We couldn’t find my Dremel, and the wire wheel was way to bulky to get in between them, and my long term plan was just to look out for aluminum or painted wheels in decent shape down the road.  Now that we have located the Dremel, I might take a run at them while we are still here in Sanibel. 12-after

 

 

 

63 Months Fulltiming: March 2020 Report

This month saw us, like much of the nation, shifting from a rather cavalier attitude towards the SARS-Coronavirus-2 driven pandemic, to strong self isolation, physical distancing, and mask wearing when interacting with others.  Our travel plans for 2020 are gone if not forgotten, and we are staying in one place until we have a clearer picture of our options and associated risks. beach-birds

The Distance: 451 miles as we departed Key West and bounced around South Florida before landing in Sanibel for an as yet undetermined length of stay.  We barely moved in January and February, so our total for 2020 is only 454 miles.

march-route

The Places:  After 11 days in March we closed out or Key West winter and headed north to visit friends in Cutler Bay for a day before heading west across the state to Koreshan State Park.  We made the last stop consistent with our original 2020 plans, visiting Rose’ mom Gloria and her husband Jerry in Venice, then headed a few miles south to Port Charlotte and several nights in our mechanics parking lot awaiting completion of our brake repairs.  We closed out the month in Perwinkle Park, where we remain to this day and for the foreseeable future.  beach-rose

We spent 11 days in a military park, 4 in a state park, 5 parking lot camping, 3 with family, and 8 in a private RV resort.  We had full services for 12, partial for 9, dry camped for 7, and stayed in a house for 3. cinco-rob-julie

The Budget: Almost 7% over budget.  Sure, we had 12 days with no camping fees and 11 more with low fees, but that could not counteract the budget straining items and events, or lack there of.  We had a couple of possible solid money making craft events cancelled, a $400 mechanic bill, $200 for new house batteries, topped off propane and gas, stuffed our pantry, fridge and freezer as we moved to semi-lock down mode, and ended the month at one of our priciest campgrounds.  beach-empty

The Drama and Improvements:  Our mushy brakes are now good to go, the 12 volt system is operating as designed with the new house batteries.  Like everyone else in the world, lots of pandemic related drama, but not worth going back over here.  us-sunset

Next up: a series of posts about our “stay sane, safe, and happy” activities in Sanibel.