Sunday, October 01, 2017

World War II Museums

We decided not to go back home before our New Orleans gig, so we had a week to play. I opened TripAdvisor  on my iPhone to see if there was something we should do in the Mobile area before heading to New Orleans. Trip Advisor always has something good to suggest in their things to do section. The one that struck our interest this time was the GulfQuest Maritime museum. In reading thru the reviews, someone mentioned how it was a perfect match for the book she was reading called "The Matthews Men." We are always looking for good books to read - so we looked up Matthews Men on Kindle and downloaded it along with the Audible companion - and Jim and I started listening to it when we drove. What a story! Did you know that the merchant marines had the highest WWII casualty rate of any american group, yet, because they weren't a branch of the military they got NO compensation or recognition for their sacrifices. The book follows one family with 7 brothers, 2 of whom were killed in torpedo attacks on their ships. The others were also torpedoed several times by German U-Boats, but they survived. When they returned, they had no GI bill to go to school, no help with mortgages to buy a house, no VA hospital to treat their ailments.

The museum was great! It also gave us another reason to love our little Roadtrek. No problem parking in the lot that only had regular car-size spaces.

The museum was all about the Gulf of Mexico, Merchant Marines during WWII, and just about anything that had to do with the sea. I think my favorite exhibit was a huge, high-tech globe, suspended in the middle of a room. A docent was there with a tablet. From the tablet, she could control the globe and display different data sets on its face. For example, you could see the ocean currents displayed as arrows and different colors to represent temperature. The photo below is showing all the commercial air flights that are in the sky at a given time. The most memorable data set was hurricanes. Seeing them all displayed on a globe made it so clear how there are no hurricanes around the middle. You're safe if you're near the equator!

So, this museum was not really about WWII, but since the Mobile area played such an important ship-building role during the war, there was a lot of info on it.

The main focus was the history of the Gulf region. Here was a piece of history I found particularly compelling, how one ship, one storm, one shipwreck played a major part in shaping the world as we know it.

The museum was right on the water at the cruise ship dock. We were lucky to be there at just the right time to see a big cruise ship cast off and start their cruise.

National WWII Museum in New Orleans

A few days later, in New Orleans, we also checked Trip Advisor and saw the National World War II Museum. We were now further along in our book and were learning all sorts of things about WWII, German U-Boats, Ship building to support the war, and Merchant mariners supporting troops. We had to go to this museum.
As good as the GulfQuest museum was, this one was even better. It started with a movie by Tom Hanks that summarized the entire war in 60 minutes. Very well done.
At the beginning of your tour of the museum you are issued a card with a magnetic strip - you activate the card at one of the exhibits and are given the identity of a soldier. Throughout the other exhibits, you can swipe your card and see how your soldier is doing. It really made the history come alive.

The museum made extensive use of videos. Each exhibit was an immersive experience.

If you're in New Orleans, this is a Must See museum.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Hurricane Irma: Evacuation Parties

After you've traveled by RV for a few years, you make friends and see them at various places all over the country. In evacuating Florida, we knew that some fellow RVers and Hurricane Irma refugees, were safely parked in Alabama. We pull into Rainbow Plantation Escapees RV park in Summerdale, Alabama and Chris and Cherie of Technomadia came out to greet us. We also had a text message from Chris Yust to come over for happy hour!

Our parking spot at Rainbow Plantation with the Technomadia bus in the background
We're all breathing sighs of relief for our own safety, yet glued to our phone screens for news of friends and family still in the path. For Chris and Cherie, they are fearing the worst, yet hoping for good news of their boat that they left tied up in Marathon - Florida keys.

Hurricane Party #1

The first night (Sunday) we gathered at Chris and Charles motorhome. I was able to get my mini-poodle fix as we all drank wine, felt grateful for being out of harms way, and continued to search for news about those still in Florida. The second night was Monday 9/11. That was the worst day for the hurricane in mainland Florida - we didn't do any partying that day.

Hurricane Party #2 - aka Apple viewing party

Tuesday, Sep 12 was the day for the big Annual Apple Event where they announce all their new products. Chris and Cherie offered to host a viewing party in their motorhome where they can project the event onto a big screen. They know a lot more about the Apple world than we do, so this was a geek's dream to get their commentary as well as watching the event together.

It has to be one of the very coolest parts of RVing that you form temporary neighborhoods where your friends are right next door and you can visit each others' homes and party.

We hosted dinner at our place that night ... which meant sitting on the ground outside our tiny motorhome. Hey! It was beautiful weather. We had dinner then went for a nice walk.

Hurricane Party #3

We had decided to stay just one more night, Wednesday. Chris and Cherie would also leave the next day, so we had to have another party! Everybody but us seemed to know about this great restaurant nearby called Big Daddy's grill. A beautiful setting, good food, and great company.
The CH and J group! Three people named Chris, 2 more start with CH - Charles and Cherie, then there's Jim and Joe.
Chris Dunphy, Cherie Ve Ard, Jim, Chris, Chris Yust, Charles Yust, Joe "ComputerGuy"

Good News

Jim's son, Devon lives close to our townhouse in Fort Lauderdale. His home came thru the storm unscathed, not even losing electricity. He checked on our place and said all was well, but we had no electricity. Charles and Chris had their home with them and they got reports that their RV lot in Ft. Meyers looks good. Chris and Cherie still don't have a first hand confirmation, but they did see an aerial photo that showed their boat is still tied up to the slip where they left it. It's still afloat.
My Mom's assisted living facility was spared any damage during the hurricane, but they lost power. It was quite disturbing when I tried to call and could not get an answer, but it didn't take long before Kathy - the manager in the memory care wing - called me on her cell to let me know that Mom was fine. The worst part was no air conditioning, so they were taking all the residents out to the Coral Springs center (a mall?) for the day where they could stay cool and get something to eat. I heard from her Hospice care aid, Kerrie, that the power was back on by Wednesday evening. Both Kathy and Kerrie are wonderful. They pay close attention and take very good care of Mom - I rested easy Wednesday night.

Next Decision

Once again, we are faced with a decision of which way to go. If it had been a short evacuation to Gainesville, we would clearly have just gone home. But, as it is, we are now 2 days away from home and it's nearly a week later. Our next gig is Sep 24 in New Orleans for the Carriage Travel Club rally. We are only a couple of hours from New Orleans. We have 10 days to work with. We had fully expected to go home, but, being the lazy people we are, and enjoying RVing as much as we do, we decided against the trip back to South Florida. Another fly in the ointment is we had planned to continue on from New Orleans and take our time getting to our next gig at the Workamper Rendezvous in Heber Springs, Arkansas. After that we go to Illinois, and we would not be back in Florida until November.
Choice 1: from our current position at #1, go home right now, then back to New Orleans and on ...

Choice 2: from our current position at #1,  go to New Orleans, then home before heading on to Heber Springs and beyond

We picked choice 2. So, we have a week in this area. Then the rally in New Orleans. Then it will be decision time again - do we really need to go home? Or can we just head to Arkansas? We have two weeks in between, plenty of time.

Life was so much simpler when we were fulltime RVers! There was no "going home" we were always home. Then we just moved on to the next place and we were "home" there. I love Fort Lauderdale and the townhouse, but it does complicate things sometimes.

Let the good times roll!
Laissez le bon temps rouler!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Hurricane Irma - Evacuation Indecision

A screen shot from my phone. The blue dot is our current location
Let me begin at the end ... we are #SafeAndSound in Summerdale, Alabama at the Escapees RV park called Rainbow Plantation. We got here about 5pm on Sunday, 9/10/17 after a 400 mile drive from Gainesville.
Our parking spot at Alex's near Gainesville. She was hosting several friends from around the state who were hiding from the hurricane. It became a party she referred to as "Irma Palooza"
 But, it wasn't always clear what to do. As we sat, comfortably, in Gainesville, the eye of the hurricane was still between Cuba and Key West, heading west. The hurricane trackers showed that it was going to come north - but it kept heading west. We knew that other RV friends Chris and Charles Yust, as well as Chris Dunphy and Cherie Ve Ard (Technomadia) had escaped Florida and settled at the Alabama Escapees park. Chris Yust even called us on Saturday, essentially to say - "Get your butt over here NOW"

Don't Cross the Streams!

Looking at the image above, it seems clear that we should follow our friend's advice and head west, right? But it wasn't that clear on Saturday. We needed to leave, but it wasn't clear which direction to go. We actually said good-bye to our wonderful hosts, Alex and Jim, pulled the electric plug and put the key in the ignition.

Then we started studying this image:

It just didn't seem right to get on the western side of this thing when it could still be headed that way. If you've ever watched the movie Ghostbusters, you know:

So we sat there and looked at more maps and more options. It appeared that our home in Fort Lauderdale was going to be spared. Could we just go back now? If it did continue west, then heading east - and up into Georgia would be good. But, if it did go straight up, Georgia would be on the more dangerous side of the storm. We had a full tank of gas, but we didn't want to squander any of it because most gas stations were empty.
So we sat there.
and we sat there.
and we stayed there.

We told Alex to make the dinner reservations for 10 instead of 8 and we enjoyed another evening of the "Irma Palooza" party.

Sunday morning was rainy and a little windy. It didn't have anything to do with Irma - but it gave us a bit of a kick-in-the-pants anyway. Not to mention the squealing alarms coming from our phones since the night before:

The storm had taken its predicted turn to the north, so we said our goodbyes - again - and hit the road. There was no traffic at all, and we found a Flying J gas station near Tallahassee where we topped of the gas tank. We were heartened to see all the electrical bucket trucks and other emergency vehicles in caravans heading to south Florida.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Hurricane Irma: To Go or Not To Go

We got back home from our Summer Tour just in time for hurricane season. Home is Fort Lauderdale, in southern Florida. We were at home for some of hurricane season last year as well. We were threatened by hurricane Matthew. We shuttered all the windows and brought all the patio items in from outside. Stocked up on food, water, and batteries and went to bed. It hardly even rained and the hurricane was gone.
That happens SO often in South Florida. It's hard to take hurricane warnings seriously. They twist and turn in unpredictable ways, often it feels like they're playing chicken with you and veer off at the last minute. I've been known to say I prefer earthquakes to hurricanes (I was in the big one in Alaska - Good Friday 1964) because they happen, or they don't. None of this anxiety, work, and worry, for nothing!
Also, our townhouse is a very sturdy, concrete block building and foundation. We are not in a flood zone, and the building has a brand new roof. My Mom lived in this townhouse for 21 years and weathered many a hurricane. During Andrew in 1992 I went there to ride it out. She always had friends who came to stay because it was such a safe place. Here is a little video she made from there during Hurricane Wilma - the worst one to hit this area in our memory.

Hurricane Irma demands attention. Most powerful ever recorded in Atlantic 185mph winds

If it follows anywhere near the projections, there is nowhere to go in Florida to get out of the way

We pulled everything in from outside, shuttered the windows, packed the Roadtrek RV, and drove north.

First destination, Alex's house just outside of Gainesville. We've stayed there in our RV many times in the past. Once there, we'll watch the direction of the hurricane and decide what to do.

We were in stop and go traffic on the Turnpike once were passed Ft. Pierce. It backed up for nearly 20 miles before each service plaza. We got off after Orlando and took back roads thru Ocala Nat'l forest. Most all of the gas stations were empty. It was a joyous feeling when we saw one with a line - that means they have gas! We arrived safe and sound at Alex's house and we have a full tank of gas for the next step once it becomes clear. We aren't the only ones taking advantage of Alex's hospitality. Thank you Alex for hosting "Irma Palooza" :-) 

I've been asked if we brought my Mom with us. Sadly, no. There was a time when she loved coming with us in our RV. Those times are over. She doesn't really know who I am any more, she doesn't have the strength for climbing up steps, she is incontinent and there's just a lot I don't know about how to take care of her any more. She is in a facility that is not in a flood zone. She's been there over 3 years now and the staff all know and love her. They know how to take care of her. I don't.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Solar eclipse

Like after a touchdown at a football game, the crowd cheered. You could hear the applause and the hoots and hollers from across the vineyard. I added my voice with a full out scream. Woo HOOOOO! We were cheering the fact that, after an hour of watching the sun being slowly devoured, bite by bite, the moon had just silently slipped into place and completely blocked the sun.

We were at a winery in South Carolina, staying overnight night in our Roadtrek camper van. We found the location by researching on Harvest Hosts a couple of months before. The winery scheduled an event for the eclipse and they were limiting attendance to 300 people. We were the only rv there! We stayed two nights, one before and one after the eclipse. What a treat. We drove a record 600 miles on order to arrive the night before. News stories of traffic jams in the vicinity of the eclipse had us worried. We were at the Jersey shore for a close friend's birthday party on saturday night. As soon as we had a slice of cake, we made our hasty good-bye and hit the road. 

Mike Wendland, from created a one hour video all about the RVers who traveled to view the eclipse. He called it the Biggest RV Travel Weekend ever. If you follow the link and watch the video, you'll see that he starts by interviewing me about my past Eclipse experiences. 

My mom was an eclipse chaser. I went with her to see two of them. The first was in the Atacama desert of Chile in November of 1994, the second was in Turkey in 1999. Both times, I cried at the point of totality. There is something primal and disturbing about the world going silently dark in the middle of the afternoon, no matter how much you understand what is happening. It has to be experienced. It's so hard to describe the power of that experience. This TED talk does it well.

So this eclipse at the winery in South Carolina had big shoes to fill.
And fill them it did!
On August 21, the day of the eclipse, people started arriving about 11. Then two big tour buses arrived about noon. Everyone was issued a pair of eclipse glasses as well as a wine glass. The band set up and started playing. They were great ... Time pirates ... With a playlist that included Moon Dance, Aint no sunshine when she's gone, Moon Shadow, ...
This was our parking spot for the total eclipse
Here is an aerial shot of the winery taken with Jim's drone - the eclipse party was by the tasting room at the right. YOu have to look closely at the far left to see our RV.
Well - it did feel like a spacecraft-worthy event! Does that mean our RV is actually a Shuttlecraft?

Oh .. My .. God. It was perfect. The stars came out. The clouds stayed clear. The corona was wispy strands of silk. The diamond ring blazed brightly coming out the other side. And, yes, I cried. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Roadtrek Factory - Kitchener, Ontario

For the first time in our RVing life, we are not orphans. Our first motorhome was a 1997 Safari Class C. See this blog post, especially the comments. Safari only made class C's for a couple of years, and the Safari company went out of business completely in 2009. Our second motorhome was a Gulfstream Endura "Super C." Although the Gulfstream company still exists, they didn't make the motorhomes anymore, just trailers. We have never been to a factory for our motorhome, and never were able to expect factory service ...

Until now!

In between Indianapolis and Syracuse, we decided to take the northern route through Canada, which would allow us to visit the Roadtrek factory in Kitchener.
Not only did we visit and get a tour, but we stuck around a few days and they also were able to fix a few issues. 1. the electric sofa that wouldn't move 2. a missing rear bumper and 3. the battery drawer that would fall out if you opened it. All this with no charge. Now that's customer service!

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Play Time

The rally was over on Saturday night. We had really good Verizon Internet where we were parked, so we decided to stay thru Sunday afternoon and do our live streaming "What Does This Button Do?" show from the Roadtrek in the parking lot!  It went well, you can watch it here: Beginners Questions on Smartphones.  Here's what it looks like to have a broadcast studio inside a Roadtrek van!

After Indianapolis, we had nothing on our work calendar until the NE Area Rally in Syracuse, NY the first week of August. That means we had two and a half weeks to travel less than 800 miles. Oh boy, what should we do. Looking at the map, we decided this would be a great opportunity to cross the border to Canada for a little while.

For the first couple of days after the big rally, there was a little rally that we attended with other Full-Timers and Elks Lodge chapter members. It was a relaxing fun time. Jim did some woodworking?

Then we headed north. We just felt so footloose and fancy free. We found a place to stay overnight by checking our membership and discovered a winery just on the Canadian side of the border.

It was so picturesque, we made it our headline photo for this blog. The wine wasn't bad either. Sprucewood Shores Winery.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Walmart giveth, Indiana taketh away

The only thing that is a drawback about traveling in our new, little Roadtrek RV is that we don't have a towed car with us. It's not that difficult to stow the contents, unplug the electric and drive away, but you gotta really want to. It needs to be important. When we're parked at a rally we like to stay put unless it's something really important.

We were at the Indianapolis rally for 5 days. I guess we need to learn to stock more wine! We ran out the night before the last day. We still showed up to the Roadtrek group's happy hour and we bummed a glass of wine! The next day, we stayed till late afternoon because there was a really good Verizon signal there and we needed to record our weekly "What does this Button Do?" class. (You can see it here: Beginner's Questions on Smartphones 7/16/17)

I don't know if it looks like it, but doing that live show is quite a bit of work and it's stressful. Therefore, we always reward ourselves after a show is done (whether it went well or not!) by celebrating with a glass of champagne. We had none. No champagne. No wine. No beer. Nothing to celebrate, reward, or relax with. And, everyone else was gone, we couldn't go begging.

Well, it was time to hit the road anyway, and we needed to do grocery shopping. We went to Walmart. We've been to enough Walmarts to know that some stock beer and wine, and some don't. We were taking our chances. It's probably state laws, we don't delve into it that much.  In this Walmart, we were quite excited to see that they not only had wine but also liquor. We stocked up! Our next destination was a small rally with RVers who belonged to the Fulltimers group, or the Elks. We are part of this group, we would not be working during this rally, just partying! I even picked up supplies for my favorite partying cocktail, Seagram's 7 and ginger ale.

Satisfied with our full grocery cart, we made our way to the checkout. The clerk took a look at our haul and informed us, "Sorry we can't sell you alcohol on Sunday."

How dry I am.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Off to work we go

It's cool how our life has evolved. We've  been presenting seminars at every FMCA national convention since 2005. They do 2/year, so that's 24 rallies so far. They're usually one in the east and one in the west. Between the FMCA and the Escapees "Escapade" rally - that's what sets our primary travel itinerary each year. Then, in between rallies we play - or go home to Florida. We also fill in with other rallies, RV parks, senior centers, computer clubs, and even people's homes. Wherever people gather who like to learn about technology - you may find us there.

This time, the destination was Indianapolis for the FMCA convention. First stop - a friend's driveway in Gainesville area. We try to stay and visit Alex any time we're passing by. Now, with this little RV, its so easy! Alex likes to travel by RV also and she has a little Casita trailer. We think she would like the Roadtrek as well, so it was fun to get to show it to her. I wouldn't be surprised to see her get one sometime soon.

And, we lucked out while we were there, another friend, Mark Miale, was playing music at nearby One Love Cafe. If you ever get the chance, go hear him, he's really good. Here's his website: with lots of samples of his music.

Ok, now we're ready to get off to work! No other stops along the way so we're just in travel gotta-get-there mode. When this is the case we often stay at Walmarts and Cracker Barrels. We find them by using our trusty All Stays Camp and RV app. It doesn't matter when we get there, no reservations required and there's everything we need in the way of food and supplies. At Cracker Barrel we get dinner AND breakfast!

We didn't even need to use the special RV parking spots! We fit into any parking spot - and this one was more level.
Another place we can stay for no extra charge is Thousand Trails RV parks. We pay an annual membership fee, and then can stay for up to two weeks each at about 50 different parks around the country. One of these was on our way and not too far from Indianapolis. We can also use our Allstays App to find these. See this highlight from our What Does This Button Do show that demonstrates how to do that. Finding Thousand Trails Parks with Allstays.

We always like staying at Thousand Trails.

Even pulling into the FMCA rally was simpler with the Roadtrek. Parking us is always a bit of a problem because they have specific areas for Vendors, and for Attendees. But we're not vendors and we're not just an attendee. We are in a class almost by ourselves as Seminar Presenters. A few others are in this category - Wayne and Dahelia Hunt who teach the fitness classes, Al Hesselbart who teaches RV History, Roger Marble who teaches about Tires and Genealogy (that goes together like fish and bicycles?!) These are people that we see twice each year at FMCA because we're usually parked together. But, since there are so few of us, the parking crew is usually clueless as to where to put us. Now, when we drive in with a Roadtrek - they point "over there are all the Roadtreks!" Hey, that's fine with us. Roadtreks usually get electric hookups, are near the bath houses, and are near the activities because its understood that people traveling in these little motorhomes don't have cars to get around and generally like to have the shower facilities nearby as well.
Roadtrekers are a social bunch
One of the first people we ran into was Mike Wendland and his wife Jennifer. They run the website and he wanted to interview us about our transition to the small motorhome lifestyle.
Then it was time to get to work. We had to go to an Office Depot to get a bunch of stuff printed (using the remarkable FMCA Office Depot discount) Then it's Jim's job to package the printouts with our USB drives of all our teaching content - videos and .pdf files - that we include with our special membership offer during the rally. And it's my job to review all our seminars and be sure we're ready for our presentations.

Here was our schedule:

Then it's a blur for 4 days of the rally.

This is the hands-on class on smartphone photography. People learn by doing. 
Here's a sweet little slide-show / movie that Facebook put together of these days.