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.

Departing Key West as COVID-19 Ramps Up

I place March 12th as the day Florida started taking SARS-Coronavirus-2 and the resulting disease, COVID-19, seriously.  Not everyone, and not the whole of government (e.g., Governor DeSantis did not close Florida beaches until late March and did not issue a self isolate/stay at home order for non essential personnel until April 1) but things definitely shifted that weekend. 1-san-bridge

We stopped for the day and a one night stay at our friends the Nieves, where we learned that eldest daughter Antonella’s Future Business Leaders state-wide convention in Orlando was cancelled that very morning as she was preparing to go to the bus pick up point.  Later that day all of the girls’ public schools announced they were closing until further notice.  Granted, this was in Miami-Dade County, which, along with Broward, were rapidly becoming the top infected counties in the state.

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Kai holding a large corona virus.

We always enjoy our short stays with the Nieves clan, spending the afternoon and evening telling stories, watching videos (yes, more TikTok, but also some YouTubers they follow) and playing games.  The girls loved that we had a ladder mounted to the back of the motorhome allowing them access to the roof.

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The girls on the roof, from left to right, Antonella, Evangaline, Jascinda (Kai)

We only stayed one night since, despite signs that we should reconsider, we were still slated to participate in a big craft show at Koreshan State Park on the Gulf Coast.  This was in the early stages when some were theorizing that Florida’s higher temps and sunlight might strongly reduce transmission of the virus, and sure enough that was the explicitly stated reason I was told for keeping the show going when I reached out to the organizers.

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A note from Kai she left on our motorhome door.

So late morning that Friday we headed across the state, taking the very scenic Tamiami Trail (US-41).  If you are crossing the southern portion of Florida, and US-41 would not add too much time compared to taking Alligator Alley (I-75) then I highly recommend it.  Granted, it is one lane each way, but there are passing lanes along the route, much lower traffic density, and you will see far more wildlife.

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The small furry thing a couple of feet in front of the cat is a cotton rat.

We were headed to Estero, the town nearest Koreshan SP, without having campground reservations anywhere.  I had been working our “check online every day for cancellations” method for openings at the state park itself, with back up calls put in to some quite pricey local private parks in case nothing opened up.  Nothing opened up.  Fortunately Rosemarie remembered reading something about Koreshan sites being held back just for vendors.  I thought it a long shot this late in the game, but I sent off an email the night before our arrival, and sure enough by morning we had confirmation of a reserved vendor site back from the organizers.

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Our site at Kereshan State Park: just how we like it, lots of green.

And not only that: upon arrival we learned the site was free!  The entire cost had been picked up by the Friends of Koreshan State Park association.  There would later be some confusion as to whether we were supposed to have gotten the site for free as it may have been intended only for the antique engine display and demo groups rather than all vendors, so we may have gotten lucky.  So, we are all set, just getting ready to load up the car in preparation for the start of the two day festival the next morning, when we get a knock on our door; one of the park rangers was informing all the vendors in the campground that the entire event was cancelled.

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Yeah, PKM wanted no part of whatever that thing is.

That was March 13th, so you can see why I picked that weekend as the period when at least part of the state started taking things serious.  Toilet paper hoarding had already gone into high gear, for example.  While chatting with our campground neighbor (from a distance, through a tree line) we mentioned that we would be on the look out for some since we were caught short, and he immediately went to his truck and brought us four rolls!  He said he, his husband, and their kids were fully stocked, and would not take no for an answer.  Thanks, kind strangers!

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PKM loves to roll o warm asphalt.

We still had three full days in the park, and then extended for a fourth, the max number of days set aside for vendor sites, and started this whole social distancing thing.  We did not crack down as hard as we are doing now, but we cut back on our outings and tried hard to keep our distance from any other human.  There are nice bike and hiking trails throughout the park, and though it was oppressively hot during the day, in the evening we would frequently take a ride or walk to the river marina or other areas looking out for wildlife.

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Shelling on Sanibel.

We even took a day trip to nearby Sanibel, one of our favorite places, to spend a few hours on one of the beaches for some shelling.  We had a decent haul from our go to beach, a section on the north portion of the island that requires a good full mile hike each way, meaning we usually have it almost to ourselves.  We were stunned to see large schools of stingrays transiting up and down the coast very close to shore.  We spotted four schools, the biggest looked to have around 200 rays!  We ended the day with ice cream at Rose’s preferred place, Loveboat.  That was the the last place we have eaten out.

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My one complaint about Sanibel is that the water is rarely clear.  Those brown spots are all stingrays about 10′ off shore.

Next up: three days in Venice, four in our mechanics parking lot.  11-san-icecream

 

Our Last Days in Key West This Season

This post covers the first eleven days of March, 2020, a period that saw confirmed US coronavirus cases jump from 75 to 1301, marking the beginning of exponential growth.  Thus, the activities documented here look, in retrospect, more than a little foolish.  I can only say that at the time there were no known cases in Key West, and no government executive at any level, Key West, Lee County, Florida State or Federal, was yet to advise us to self isolate.  That would come almost immediately after we left The Keys.

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This will be explained later.

With our time in Key West nearly over, we focused on two things: Cinco de Marcho and as many of our favorite restaurants as we could pack in before we departed.  Cinco de March is a made up Sigsbee Campground holiday that has evolved from a single location all day party three years ago to the movable feast type event it is today.  It is intended to celebrate all the holidays that we will not spend with our Key West friends.  A handful of teams volunteer to host as party stop.  Each host team provides drinks and refreshments and coordinates holiday specific decor.

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Most of Our Team: Rebecca, me, Charlie, Joann, David, Julie, Andrea, and Rose.  

Eddie and Tina start the event off at the base baseball field for some speechifying, drinks, and the awarding of the Brian “Big Mexican” Pedraza Memorial Camper of the Year.  Brian, a big-hearted icon of the Sigsbee crowd died unexpectedly two years ago, so we have this award to honor his spirit.  Last year Eddie and Tina were the overwhelming consensus winners, and they organized the “on the down low voting” for this year’s winners, Sandra and Bob.

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Bob and Sandra, Campers of the Year.

We have a toast in honor of Brian, take a group shot with our Oklahoma Drone (Eddie on top of the dugout roof) and then drive our decorated bikes and golf carts to the first host’s campsite.  The event continues to evolve: last year Eddie and Tina made sure every host had a different theme; this year he let each group do whatever they wanted.  Thus we had two Easter and two St Patrick’s Day sites, in addition to our group’s Cinco de Mayo themed stop.  4-cinco-drone

Last year, I say with no humility, we set the standard for hosting with our “walking tacos” (Dorito or Frito individual bags that you then top off with traditional taco ingredients and eat with a fork) and buckets of margaritas.  It was such a hit that we had plenty of volunteers for our team this year, and we went with the same menu, though with a better understanding of how much we would need to host up to 150 people.

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Most of the Walking Taco supplies.  Andrea added fresh made guac, but the rest of this came from Gordon’s Food Service, a really helpful place for this event. Next year, unless the numbers grown, only one tub of sour cream and one giant bag of shredded cheese will be needed.

Rose made another Dia de los Mortos themed picture frame that was quite a hit for photos.  Having absorbed more of the cost than we expected last yeardue to confusion over the placement of the donation box, we made sure to have one out this year to help defray some of the expenditures.  Our team had a wonderful assembly line system to speed the feeding process and control the portion size of our one “not sure we have enough” ingredient, the taco meat.   Man it was great, we couldn’t have asked for a better team or event.

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Edith and Jim.  Jim has the tandem hobie kayak with a sail that Rose and I occasionally go out on with him.

I think we were the third stop once the group left the kick off point, and we were the only ones providing substantial food rather than light snacks, so by the time we finished out the remainder of the hosts, people were hungry again.  The closing ceremonies included a pot luck/delivery pizza feast for all.  What a fantastic event, what a party.

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Bonnie, Deb, and Rose.

Our loose planning for the season had all along been to stay for Cinco de Marcho and leave two days later, when we would be ostensibly recovered.  But it just felt too soon, there seemed like so much left to do and prepare, so we extended a few days and then a few more, staying around through March 11th.

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Our final full hook up site of the season.  We actually had to shift back to dry camp the morning of Cinco de March, which made the day a bit more complicated.

In addition to getting Serenity and all our belongings ready for the road, we used much of this time to give one final visit to various restaurants and establishments that we love, and perhaps hit a couple of highly recommended new ones. 16-moon-in-clouds

I had been wanting to try Tavern & Town, an upscale surf and turf place in the Marriott hotel ever since learning that they would honor a “locals” rate for us seasonal military people, meaning any entree would be $20.  We coordinated an outing with Steve, Deb, Dennis and Ginger.  For health reasons Dennis and Ginger did not arrive in Key West until late February, so we tried to include them as much as we could since we had limited time to hang out with them.  I had an excellent aged steak that normally went for $42.  Steve concluded that though his fish was good, the steak was the better option.

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Dennis, Steve, and I with Ginger and Deb photobomming.

On the advice of friends we hit Salute On The Beach for an evening dinner.  It is on the Atlantic side away from the main tourist area, and was quite nice, both in terms of views and food.  We all agreed that Deb’s shrimp pasta was the best choice (specifically Ditalini and Cheese with sautéed Key West Shrimp, the Chef’s special) but I was quite happy with my white wine, garlic, and lemon steamed mussels, a hefty appetizer that served as my meal.  11-salute

Somehow we had let almost the entire season go by without hitting up our previously favorite happy hour spot, The Boathouse (which has been pushed to #2 this year by Pepe’s.)  You have to get there early if you don’t want to wait forever for a seat, even if there are only two of you.  Rose and I got there at about 4;15 and it was still a 30 minute wait.  They put us at a table for four, so we were able to invite Rob and Julie to join us, who had arrived a bit after us.

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Julie and Rob at The Boathouse.

We took a day trip up to the Big Pine Key Nautical Flea Market one afternoon, and came back with two hats, some tools, and a palate satisfied by fantastically good, though very sweet, mini donuts served fresh out of the fryer.  13-big-pine-flea-donuts

And of course, we did one final Taco Tuesday with the Sigsbee gang.  I was shocked to see that despite many people having already begun their journey back home, we had the biggest Sigsbee crowd I can recall from any Taco Tuesday event.  Yeah, we overwhelmed the wait staff, so there was some confusion and extra wait time, but it was a great evening. 14-old-mexican

We closed out the evening with a stroll to Mallory Square for the traditional sunset viewing.  If you have not been, it is quite a festive atmosphere with lots of street performers and vendors.  15-mallory

That’s it, next post we leave Key West and start taking the the coronavirus pandemic seriously.

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Spotted near the Publix on Big Pine Key: A deericorn.

 

62 Months Fulltiming: February 2020 Report

I am writing this in the midst of our global pandemic, the day after nearly 2,000 people died in the US alone from COVID-19, a daily figure that is likely to grow over the course of the next week or more, and is most certainly an under count since it only accounts for positively tested victims and does not include those that simply died at home, untested.  We did not start taking this thing serious enough soon enough.  Two posts from now we will have moved into the proper mindset and begun social distancing, but until then I will write our true account of what we actually did while in Key West.  1-key-west

The Distance: Two miles moving from full hook up to dry camp and back, bringing our 2020 total to three.  2-pkm

The Places:  Sigsbee Campground on NAS Key West for the entire month.  We had full services for 10 days and dry camped the other 19.

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The view from one of our dry camp sites.  

The Budget: A great month as we ended up 12% under budget.  Staying in one place saves on gas, we enjoyed low campground fees, and had a successful market, all of which countered our higher than usual entertainment and restaurant spending.

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From the Key West Farmers Market

The Drama and Improvements:  As mentioned in the last post, Linda succumbed to ALS after a five year battle.  Its not really “drama” I guess but it must be mentioned in any summary of the month, so here it is.  5-lindas-pr-wake

In January’s report I mentioned how disappointed many of us are in the policy changes made for Sigsbee campground over the last couple of years.  Unfortunately, those changes are rather dwarfed by the new policies announced this month for 2020 and out: 

  • Maximum length of stay is now 90 days, ostensibly put in place to make sure that newly eligible campers won’t be locked out of reservations because of long stay retirees.  The gist of it is that a newly enacted law now allows any disabled veteran (with any degree of disability) to use Military Welfare and Recreation (MWR) facilities, commissaries, and exchanges, regardless of whether they are a pensioned military retiree or not).  The problem I have is not with this new law, but with the implementation of a 90 day max stay policy being put in effect despite the fact that the campground empties out dramatically outside of the peak winter months, with scores to hundreds of openings available from March to December.
  • The new base priority system for reservations has eight categories dependent on your active/retired/disabled status, along with whether you are a Monroe County resident or not.  Let us put aside the question of why a DoD federal facility is giving priority to county residents, and just wonder how on earth the central reservation system, having screwed things up for two years, will now be able to handle the additional responsibility of addressing eight different categories of campers!
  • While Sigsbee has been the main campground for decades, the nearby Trumbo Point facility also had a campground for those that were content to dry camp for their entire visit.  We stayed there for two weeks during our first full time RV winter in 2015.  Yeah, they closed it so they can have more storage space for boats and trailers and whatnot.
  • Speaking of which: no one is allowed to store their boat, trailer, or RV at NASKW if they are not physically present in the Keys.  Meaning a whole lot of retirees are scrambling to sell or move their stuff out of the keys towards the end of their stay, meaning the entire reason for shutting down Trumbo to have more storage is moot!
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A parade we stumbled across while having a drink at Lucy’s upstairs bar.

Next up: our final days in Key West.

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Another month in Key West

I’m about to write about all the large gatherings and parties we attended in February, and do so while we are under a stay at home order due to the novel coronavirus pandemic: it feels weird, but here we are.  We had an incredibly active and fun February, so much so that I am unsure how to make a cohesive post rather than a short description of each event we attended.  Ah well.

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Our waterfront dry camping site we enjoyed for three weeks.  Not too shabby.

Like last year, we put ourselves on Jim and Edith’s list of potential sailing partners.  He has a tandem Hobie kayak with mirage “peddle” drive, a sail, and two outriggers.  Its pretty fantastic.  When he feels like going out, he runs down the phone list until he finds someone ready to go.  We got the call early in the month and enjoyed a trip out to the mangrove islands several miles off shore.  2-sail-1

We started hitting additional markets, but as buyers rather than vendors.  The newly positioned Key West farmers market is fantastic.  The new location near the state park and piers is wonderful, and had us second guessing our decision last year to drop this market from our vending opportunities.  We picked up some wonderful fresh fruit, heirloom tomatoes, and one of the moistest chocolate raspberry cakes you will ever find.  3-kw-market

As for vending, we did one on base yard sale and the annual Gardenfest at the botanical garden on Stock Island for the third year in a row.  It was, by any reasonable definition, a sold market for us, though not nearly as good as last year’s.  I didn’t see a lot of advertising for it, and there were apparently some competing events which might have pulled some of the crowds away from Gardenfest.  Ah well, we provided our feedback, and hopefully next year will see a return to form.

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This tree within the botanical garden was destroyed by Hurricane Irma, and a local artist sculpted it into a thrown.

Taco Tuesday is a big thing among the Sigsbee crowd; Lucy’s and Old Town Mexican usually get a big group of us overwhelming their staff as we take over whole sections of their restaurant.  This year we added the poolside bar at the Hilton Garden Inn to the line up, but Lucy’s will always be the place that started it all for us Sigsbee people. 5-lucys

With Dennis and Ginger delayed in coming down to Sigsbee, Steve and I did not have a method of stone crabbing this year.  We put the word out that if anyone had a boat and was interested in crabbing, then we would be flexible about the catch and hopefully come to some arrangement.  Gary and Maryanne are avid crabbers, but health issues precluded him from pulling the traps himself.  We agreed to use his boat, Steve and I would haul all 20 of our groups’ traps, and we would also buy all the pigs feet and cat food bait.  We agreed to pool all of the catch and divide it up by appropriate share at the end of the day.

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Oh yes.

It worked out great.  Aside from the little issue of me slipping and falling on to his gunwhale and breaking a rib while hauling in a trap, we had generally smooth sailing.  We got used to each others technique, got better and faster with each run, and pulled in good numbers of crab leg.

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Dave and Rebecca with us at Pepe’s for oysters.

We did far less fishing than last year, but Rose managed to get out and catch a few with Danny and Sally one day while I was still in a bit of pain from the rib cracking incident.  So Rose got to fish and I got to clean and filet them.  8-fish

Eddie and Tina (of course) organized a Hawaiian themed downtown bar crawl which proved rather popular as we made our way through the ten or so stops.  We skipped one of them to have an early dinner at Pepe’s, my knew favorite restaurant that Rose introduced me to last month.  They do fantastic fresh oysters, raw or baked, at a very low happy hour price point, particularly for Key West.  The fresh squeeze juice right at the bar for cocktails as well.

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Steve and Deb at Pepe’s during the bar crawl.

Rose and I had a late breakfast there one day, and I just can’t say enough about Key West’s oldest restaurant.  Once this COVID-19 pandemic is over, if you get to Key West, put Pepe’s on your list for breakfast and happy hour.  10-pepes-breakfast

Anyway, back to the bar crawl.  Eddie and Tina brought a big sound system complete with microphone on a dolly to both entertain the lot of us and keep us on the bar schedule.  They also made sure everyone was stocked up with the two for one drink tickets for many of our stops.  We attracted quite a lot of attention from locals and tourists alike.  It sounds strange, but the best stop of the night was the steps outside of CVS, where a case of corona (foreshadowing?) was handed out and we took our group picture.  11-bar-crawl-all

Rosemarie’s cousin Daniella had a short vacation in Key West during our stay, and we were able to get together with her for brunch at one of the best places for it: Blue Heaven.  This post is sounding like nothing more than positive restaurant reviews strung together!

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Rose had something healthy while I splurged on Lobster Eggs Benedict and Daniella had Prime Rib Eggs Benedict.  Fantastic. 

In sad but expected news, Linda passed away after making the decision to have her life support systems removed.  She survived with ALS for longer than they give most people, and worked every day to make it worth the pain and struggle.  Rose made the trip to Norfolk to join the big group descending on Jason for a Puerto Rican style wake.

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The grandkids at Linda’s during a rare moment of quiet.

Next up, our final days in Key West.

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