Final Weeks in Sanibel

After an unexpectedly long but productive stay in Sanibel, nearly 10 weeks by the first of June, we had decided that three full months would be enough, after which we would make our way out of Florida.  So we took our last 23 days and made the best of our time on the South West coast, drinking in all that (mostly) safe social distancing would allow.

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PKM admiring the picture clarity in our new (installed in March) smart TV.

We took care of some final medical appointments, got our prescription meds in order, prepped the rig and tow vehicle for travel, and visited Rose’ mom in Venice and dad and stepmom in Coral Springs.  But mostly we enjoyed Sanibel Island and her wonderful beaches, wildlife, sunsets, and shells.

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The beaches occupied a lot of our out and about time, and we worked to vary our routine by visiting beaches we might have skipped over during the first ten weeks on the island.  While we still made frequent bike trips to the closest beach (Nerita) and lighthouse point, we also made sure to include the bay side of the island, which might not offer great shelling, but had very calm and clear waters, most unlike the ocean side.  3-beach-gulf-side

For a car trip, Bowman Beach will always be our go to spot: the parking is a bit steep at $5 an hour, but we know the area and the best spots for shelling, places that the crowds either don’t know about or have a hike apparently too long for most.  We can march out well beyond the scattered groups and have stretches of pristine sand nearly to ourselves.  We count the number of new sea turtle nests along the way to the big piles of shells ready for pouring over and digging through.  4-shelling-rose

We also celebrated Rose’ big 55th birthday during our weekend visit with Xavier and Joy!  As always, Rose gets her favorite cake: strawberry shortcake.  b-day

This year we made frequent evening walks to the Sanibel Reclaimed Water system across the main street from Periwinkle Park.  I know that doesn’t sound tempting, but the series of ponds, islands, and surrounding swamp forests serve as a natural protected habitat for an extensive variety of wildlife.  This is where we see the most herons, egrets, anhingas, and gallinule’s, but also plenty of alligators and more rabbits than I thought could exist in such a small area.  5-wildlife-birds

While we would often see one of the larger, at least for this island, gators in one of the major ponds, we also stumbled across a full dozen baby gators in a tiny pond along the boardwalk trail.  We later spotted mama gator in an adjacent pond, but in this tiny little body of water no more than 15′ by 10′ and perhaps 2′ deep we found the full brood of little guys, along with two snakes neither big enough to pose a threat to the foot long gators, nor small enough to serve as a meal for them. 6-wildlife-gators-and-snake

During these last weeks Rose shifted much of her crafting time towards working on various resin projects, including cup turning, ornaments, and pendants.  The cups gave her hell; they require additional steps, involve a rotating rather than still object, and since they use a lot more resin and other supplies, Rose was unwilling to let any of them go as a learning event.  It either came out perfect or it was getting stripped and done over.  Here is her new heavily blinged insulated cup.

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And yes, we are aware that saying has two meanings.  That is the point!

We also started making near daily visits to the animal enclosures, including the monkey cages were one of the squirrel monkeys had recently given birth, and would usually come down to say hello and show off her new born clutching onto her back.  From there it was to the main duck pond filled with not only local species, but many wing clipped exotics collected by the (previous?) owner over decades.  Even the wild ones have gotten very comfortable with visitors, coming right up the the fence to beg for food.

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We are having trouble getting the baby monkey picture loaded, so until we sort it out, enjoy this unusual and beautiful tree we passed every bike trip to Lighthouse Point.

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Edit: problem solved, here is the baby and mama monkey picture.

Finally, we stopped by the parrot area, with the facility serving as a rescue center for many exotic former pets who outlived (or perhaps merely outlasted the patience of) their previous owners.  With the crowds gone or reduced for months, the birds were vary eager for visitors and stimulation, with some begging not just for interaction, but also to get pet; you just have to watch out for the sneaky ones that pretend to want a neck pet just to lure in an unsuspecting but delicious finger.  9-parrots-jack

We have thoroughly enjoyed our three month stay on the island, and consider it to have been an excellent place to hunker down while assessing our options as the pandemic raged.  Having said that, it was time to move on.  I addition to a bit of stir crazy, we were growing increasingly concerned with Florida’s multi phase “reopening,” complete with full beaches, bars, and shops.  10-jack-rose

So excited to be back on the road but more than a little concerned about probable significant increase in COVID cases, we hit the road June 24th headed towards Central Florida.  More on that next post.  11-sunset-2

 

65 Months Fulltime RVing: May 2020 Report

The Distance: Zero miles again as we extended our Sanibel stay into June.  We expect actual mileage for next months report, but our 2020 total remains 454 miles. sunset

The Places:  Once again, we stayed the entire month at Periwinkle Park in Sanibel, which means 31 days in a private resort with full hook ups.  We love this place, and don’t regret extending our stay, but we are really looking forward to getting on the road again, even if it is a much more conservative summer of travel than the past five years.

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#205, our site at Periwinkle Park for three full months.

The Budget: 20% over budget this month.  More than half of which was a financial fee for moving some things around that will, over the course of the next year, more than make up for that cost, but for now, it is what it is.  High in season rate park fees and a lack of market opportunities continue to really effect our budget, but we are thankful we still have our pension income, and recognize we are not nearly as bad off as those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic induced economic recession.

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A respectable shell haul from one of our beach runs.

The Drama and Improvements:  Nothing to report this month.  Next month’s report will have some of both.  rose-beach

 

May Pandemic Projects for Rosemarie

We have stayed in one place for three months before (a couple of winters in Key West) but never in one site for that long; in Key West we were always in the notorious rotation between between dry camping and full hook up sites.  By the time we leave Sanibel in late June, however, we will have been in one RV site, #205 here at Periwinkle Park, for a full three month stop.  Such a novel luxury has been a nice change, and has allowed both of us to really “spread out,” by which I mean empty our storage compartments and set up everything we could possibly want or need.

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Original version of the mermaid crown

For weeks I had an outdoor tool bench and kitchen under the awning for various projects and undertakings, while Rosemarie has just about every single tool and supply for her hobbies set up on her work bench, the dinette table, and elsewhere.  In a recent post I wrote about her sewing, but she has also been working on half a dozen other things. the-artist

While taking inventory of her crafting supplies, she found the last dozen or so clear glass Christmas tree ornaments, and decided to try something new: unicorn ornaments!  Who wouldn’t want at least one of those for their holiday decor?  These incorporate so many of her skills and supplies: bulbs, glitter, shells, artificial flowers, and Cricut generated ears and eyelashes. 

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But wait, not interested in unicorn ornaments?  Looking for something more natural?  Then her miniature cork bottled sand and shell options might be for you!  Yes, Christmas is a long way off, but the way things are going (as I write this in mid June, Florida is experiencing a major coronovirus spike) our next market opportunities might be in November, if we have any this year at all. sand-ornaments

Y’all remember Rose’ shell crowns?  Of course you do; they have been a hit at many of our craft fairs and festivals.  The problem is some people find them a bit heavy, and thus difficult for a child to wear with comfort and confidence.  So she has been on the lookout for a lighter and more secure alternative.  Behold the new options, a one part head band with flowers, shells, or both:

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Mermaid crowns, new version.  The flowers on the left crown are made of shells.

And you can’t have mermaid princess tiara’s without scepters as well: sceptors

I’ll admit it: when I bought Rosemarie her Cricut machine for Christmas a couple of years back, I was skeptical that it would be a long and well used thing: boy was I wrong.  It not only paid for itself in the early days by transforming modest clear trivets into fun and decorated variants, it has also produced every single cut and printed backing for the wide variety of jewelry we sell.  It is one of the first things that comes out of the craft storage when we arrive at a new location.  This stop she put it to use for not only the above mentioned unicorn ears and eyelashes, but also for Mermaid tale hair bows. mermaid-hair

Lastly, at least for this post, Rose has been diligently working on her novice ukulele skills.  Her uke has remained mainly its storage case since stepdad Tim’s private lessons during our visit last November.  One of the interesting byproducts of COVID-19 social distancing is the number of companies offering free introductory access to their online content.  Fender, for instance, offered a 30 day free trial to all of their music video lessons, and Rose went all in with near daily practice during May and early June.  ukulele

Next up: May close out report.  unicorn-2

 

 

64 Months Fulltiming: April 2020 Report

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

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Hunkering Down in Sanibel as the Pandemic Goes into Overdrive

The morning after our fourth night in Mr Mobile RV’s parking lot we made payment, topped off the big fixed propane tank and our little grill tank at a Tractor Supply Center, and filled Serenity’s gas tank as well.  Had I known the price of fuel would plummet due to the ongoing oil production pissing match between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which has been seriously aggravated by various levels of enforced and/or socially encouraged isolation, I would have put in much less than the 65 gallons it took to fill the our tank.  Ah well.

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Causeway bridge to Sanibel

With our 2020 travel plans in the crapper and most of our preferred Florida campgrounds closed (all state parks, most county parks, all military parks) we decided to secure a month long stay at Periwinkle Park on Sanibel Island.  On the day we arrived total confirmed US cases passed 55,000, with more than 11,000 confirmed that day alone.  We were well into exponential growth, and looking at the numbers now, about a month away from the top of the curve.  We had not even reached 1,000 confirmed deaths yet, but the writing was on the wall.

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Our site behind those bushes as seen from the bike path.  Lots of green space!

Even the private park owners were getting nervous: the day after we arrived Periwinkle Park stopped letting in new reservations.  Having been here for almost five weeks now, we really think we made the right decision, and not just in choosing to go long term and hunker down, but specifically our selection of Sanibel as the place to do it.  It’s an island with a $6 toll to enter which serves as a casual barrier, and when combined with all the beach parking lots being closed, the place is now far less crowded than normal. 3-sunset

The local population appears to me to be ahead of the curve in terms of social distancing.  Not that first week, but now we are seeing a lot of masks, careful physical distancing, and lots of things being disinfected. 

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Note that you can’t see a single person other than Rose in this shot; it is that empty.

Sanibel is incredibly bike friendly with miles and miles of bike paths physically separated from the roads.  The beaches are open, just the parking lots are closed, meaning we can bike to various spots, encounter almost no one on the way, and easily stay a hundred feet from anyone else on the beach.  5-beach-jack

The park itself is also ideal for our needs.  We spend a lot of time in places with only partial hook ups, so having the luxury of 50 amp service, water, and sewage connections is a nice change of pace.  Our site is great, though mostly unshaded.  We have plenty of green space though, and a healthy supply of lizards to keep PKM entertained.  The place was only 50% full when we arrived, and has slowly emptied out since then: of the 49 sites in the 50 amp section, there are only nine rigs still here.  6-cat

Sure, it is by our standards a bit pricey, but the full month stay discount cuts the daily rate from $58 to $48.  It’s coastal Florida still in season, so hard to expect better than that for what we are getting.  We can get almost anything we need without leaving the island.  The grocery stores are open, as is the hardware store, and a good number of the restaurants are offering take out or delivery.  We have chosen not to partake in take out since that is unnecessary additional contact with people and items, but as things settle out I can see us loosening this restriction.  We shall see.  7-beach-shadow

A few days before I wrote this we extended for a second month, keeping us here until at least May 24.  We will play it by ear after that, balancing our level of stir crazy against the significant rate drop that Periwinkle Park offers starting June 1st, and of course all of that informed by the latest info on the pandemic.  Following a quick Monthly Report, the next few posts will cover the specific things we did here in Sanibel to keep ourselves safe, sane, and happy.  8-driftwood-lighthouse

Everything Changes as the Pandemic Spreads and Intensifies

Our pre-pandemic plans for 2020 were as follows: bounce around Florida during March and April visiting friends and family, then head west all the way to California, followed by a run up the coast to Whidbey Island, and finally complete our summer with an  exploration of Western Canada.  Sometime in September we would have begun our journey back east and south, reentering Florida in late October.  Obviously, almost none of that is going to happen now, and our first glimpse of why would occur during the week of March 16-23.

2015-map

Remember our 2015 map, our first year of full time RVing?  Maybe our route would have looked something like that this year…

That week saw total confirmed US cases of coronavirus rise above 30 thousand with the numbers accelerating, and this despite a limited testing regime.  Total US deaths, a number which dramatically lags total cases, began their own exponential rise, breaking 500 that week, which sounds quaint as I write this, the death count having crossed the 50 thousand mark yesterday, just a month later.

Those numbers, along with the alarming statistics coming our of Italy, are some of the background facts that various government agencies and leaders, along with private enterprise, had to assess in deciding what to do about the whole mess.  That assessment, and the choices they made, started to have an impact on us the morning we left Koreshan State Park.  We checked with the rangers regarding rumors of total park closures we were hearing, and sure enough, they were just getting word that FL state park campgrounds would close down completely this week.

2017-map

…or maybe it would have looked more like our 2017 map.

That was a big uh-oh for us, as our plans for the rest of the month and April included a lot of state parks.  At that point we decided to continue with our plans for the week, but also reach out to family regarding our planned visits, and to other campgrounds so as not to end up homeless.  That started with a stop in Port Charlotte to drop off our motorhome at Mr Mobile RV for some brake work and a few other punch list items.  He was kind enough to let us leave our stone crab traps beside his building, freeing up room for us to pack up Loki to the gills and complete the drive to Gloria and Jerry’s in Venice.

During our three day stay there we would hear of a growing list of county parks that were also closing.  We talked to Rose’ dad and stepmom, and given that their county was one of the most effected by the coronavirus, it might be advisable for us to not come there the next week.  We agreed entirely, and a bit panicked, we decided to just head back to Key West and hunker down.  We made a one month reservation, only to hear two days later that all new and existing reservations were cancelled unless you were already in the campground.  Other military campgrounds in the state were already closed or in the process of doing so.

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The marina within Gloria and Jerry’s neighborhood.

After three days in Venice we packed up and headed back to Port Charlotte, where we would spend the next four days in Mr Mobile RV’s parking lot, but hooked up to his power and water until he could get to our brake job.  (When we dropped the rig off, his lot was absolutely packed with RVs, so we were not exactly at the front of the line.)  While there we considered our options, with private RV parks about the only choice (though rumors were swirling that they might get caught up in government ordered closures as well.)

We contacted Periwinkle Park in Sanibel, one of our favorite places, and secured a full month there.  Later in March Key West closed the military campground entirely, giving guests about three days to get out.  Eventually, Key West city leadership closed the entire island to tourists.

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Kitty found the whole ordeal quite exhausting.

My dad and stepmom were also in a pickle: they were in a state park that closed, basically kicking them out.  They shifted to a county park which also closed, kicking them out.  Like us they made the decision to secure a full month reservation at a private park in Central Florida.  We were all relieved to hear that the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds had managed to get the governors of Florida, New York, California, and Pennsylvania to reverse course on pending orders to close private RV parks.

Whew!  I mean, the decision to close any of the public or military parks is, in my mind, questionable.  I think it comes from the common misconception that all these parks are filled with nothing but weekenders and short term vacationers.  It would make sense to send them all home to isolate if that were the case, but many of us are long term RVers, and it would have made better sense to do the opposite: remove stay limits and let seasonal and full time RVers ride it out exactly where they currently were.  Ah well.

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Our luxury accommodations in Port Charlotte.  Hey, we had power, water, and room to put the slides out, so good enough for a four day stay while we sorted out our plans and got the brakes and batteries fixed.

Anyway, that was our confusing and stressful week.  The day before our departure from Port Charlotte I consulted with Bill regarding my degrading 12 volt house system, and he agreed that my cheap house batteries were shot.  I picked up two new ones from a specialty shop up the road and installed them that evening.  All of our weird 12V issues disappeared immediately, so progress!

Next up, we begin a lengthy stay in Sanibel.

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As usual, PKM is not amused by the current state of affairs.