Tuesday, December 31, 2013

13 Travel Review / 14 Outlook

We are now in the seventh year of our retirement and our full time RV lifestyle continues to exceed all expectations. Traveling around the country seeing and doing all kinds of things and spending time with friends and family is great. We revisited some of our favorite places where we spent time with old friends; the Keys, Betty's RV Park, WashPA, the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and Mesa. And, of course, we did a few new things along the way. We stayed in 32 places and put 5,606 miles on our rig, Opus and 9,149 miles on the CRV while traveling from Florida to Louisiana back to Pennsylvania and then west to Arizona. This is the fewest miles and the least stops we have made in our years on the road. While our campground costs have gone up a bit each year we are still under our budgeted amount which is a good thing. 2013 was also the first full year that Nanc had Social Security and a pension so we had a nice increase in cash flow.

We started the year in the Florida Keys where we enjoyed the best winter weather we have had since we hit the road. It was shorts and t-shirt temps for the entire month of January. We saw many of the same people we met there two years ago and had a great visit from Tom and Georgie. In February we started heading north to LA. Mike and Sherri joined us in Fort Myers to see the sights and escape the PA weather. We next headed to the SKP park in Bushnell where we washed and waxed Opus and had a fun time with Wallace and Wanda. We left there and headed to Betty's for a two month stay in Cajun country. We did the drive to Abbeville in only two days and set a new personal record, driving 430 miles in one day, to miss some expected bad weather. (Not something we plan to do again.) Our time at Betty's was filled with all the usual fun and friends that makes this our favorite place to stay. To check out all our Cajun country experiences you can click on the Betty's RV Park link under labels on the left side of this page. If you are an RVer and have not been to Betty's you need to add it to your to do list.

We left Betty's near the end of April and checked the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival off our bucket list. This is a fantastic event that we plan to do again. Over 400 acts of all types of music over two weekends. We next headed to the Louisiana gulf coast on Grand Isle where we got together with Mark and Renita. Lanny, the owner of the Island House RV Park there, had an uncle who was a Tidball. I'm sure he had to be a distant relative. We then headed north up the Mississippi River and the Natchez Trace through historic Natchez and Vicksburg where we toured a couple of National Park Service sites. At the Illinois Memorial on the Vicksburg Battlefield we found that a Tidball had served in that siege. In Clarksdale we had a wonderful music experience at The Crossroads on the Blues Trail. The musical talent was fantastic. In Tupelo we visited the birthplace of “The King,” Elvis.

In Tennessee we spent a week with Charles and Sandy who were wonderful tour guides and hosts. While there we enjoyed the Nashville music scene and toured the Jack Daniels distillery. In Bowling Green, KY we finally made it to Tidball's, a neat little bar with great music. We spent the evening with owner John Tidball who has to be a distant relative from somewhere down the family tree. It was then on to Bardstown, KY where we spent a week doing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which left us in high spirits. In Marietta, OH who spent time with Nanc's family and stocked up on Rossi's Pasta.

It was then on to WashPA for two months of friends, family, doctors and dentists. We enjoyed the Three Rivers Arts Festival, took in a couple of Pirate games, played euchre with the old card club and checked out the local music. Even though our house has wheels and we have been all over the US and Canada, Western Pennsylvania will always be home. It was great seeing most of Nanc's family together for the first time in years and spending time with my brother Rick and his wife Denise. Seeing all our old pals and former co-workers at the weekly luncheons and checking out our old favorite restaurants that have the local Pittsburgh flare is something we really enjoy. But the top food experience was John's fantastic wood fired pizza. We look forward to those visits each year.

In the middle of August we headed west with a stop in Elkhart, IN for RV service. We ended up spending two weeks there while having the refrigerator cooling unit replaced, having AGM batteries installed and getting a few more minor repairs taken care of on our nine year old rig. We next did a week in Hannibal, MO where we loved checking out the many Mark Twain sites. It was then on to Branson, MO. We were not really that impressed with Branson and have put it on the been there done that list. We did visit Eureka Springs, AR while in Branson and really liked this eclectic little town. In Oklahoma City we checked out some Route 66 sites and the capitol building. In Amarillo, TX I had a steak at the Big Texan, not the huge one, and we spray painted our names on the cars at the Cadillac Ranch. It was then on to Las Vegas, NM not NV to check out this old west town that has been the location for several movies. Next was a return to one of our favorite stops, Ojo Caliente, where we spent a few days soaking our bones. We then had our second visit of the year with Mike and Sherri (really two) and explored Taos and Santa Fe with them before heading to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. They both loved it and still tell us how great it was every time we talk to them. Of course, we had a wonderful time at the fiesta with the Boomers while crewing and getting to fly with Mike Liberti. The fiesta remains on our do again list.

As 2013 ends we are in Mesa, AZ where we have been since the middle of October. This is one of our longest stays in one place and we use the time to get caught up with many RV chores, do some exploring, visit with many friends and just kicking back a bit. John and Patrice visited us for a couple of days soon after we arrived and we took a vacation to the Rivera Maya to celebrate our anniversary. It was great seeing our friends who live here and several RV friends who stopped by as they were traveling through the area. We were invited to Allan's and Sharon's for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. On Christmas Eve we went to Mike's and T's and on Christmas day we had Allan and Sharon over for brunch. So while we were not with family, our holidays were full of friends. We had an escape to Scottsdale for a spa day, toured the state capitol and did a art gallery tour in Cave Creek. And, we crewed and got to fly with Mike a few times in the last two months. With a few exceptions, (three days in December when it was warmer in WashPA) most of the days in Arizona have been sunny and warm, but as soon as the sun goes down the temperature quickly drops below comfortable shorts and t-shirt levels. This is much different than Florida where the night time temperatures stay at a more comfortable level. That said, it's not WashPA weather.

At the beginning of 2014 we are heading to Lake Havasu, then down to Yuma and in March, to Desert Hot Springs. We may stop for a couple of days in Quartzite along the way. The plan for our 2014 travels is to head north to Alaska for most of the summer. We will then head back to WashPA for our annual visit before going back to Betty's in the fall. We plan to continue our east west winter routine by going to Florida for the winter. As we always say these plans are written in the sand and are subject to change as we desire or as needed.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas and Ballooning

We had a busy but relaxing Christmas week with many friends and did some more ballooning.  On Christmas Eve morning we went with Mike and crewed for Paul, a student pilot, who was doing his first solo.  Even when we don't fly, the whole balloon experience is a fun time. 
A shadow pic of Nanc and me. Yes we do "heart" ballooning.
A few pictures of Paul's flight.  Right, he does his last minute check before take-off.  Left, there is a plane flying near his balloon.  In the center are a couple of obstacles he had to get over in order to land.
The proud pilot with his family and Mike.  This was another different ballooning experience for us.
That evening Mike and T invited us to their home for a wonderful Christmas Eve meal.  They are great friends and wonderful hosts.  Thanks so much for making us part of your family's Christmas.
On Christmas day we had Allan and Sharon over for a Christmas day brunch.  Nanc cooked a great meal and they contributed homemade muffins and fresh squeezed juice from the trees in their back yard. It doesn't get any better than that! It was a great holiday with great friends.
Rene and Suzanne (right) invited us over Christmas evening and we were delighted to find that Santa was there with gifts for all.
Here Santa is giving gifts to Neil, Cathy and Betty.  We are not sure where Errol went because he was not there to get a gift from Santa.  Maybe he had been a bad boy:)
And on Saturday morning it was more ballooning.  Left is Paul's balloon and right is Daniel's.  We were hoping to see Daniel's new racing balloon, but it must be flown ten hours before he can take someone up in it.  Maybe next week. 
Here is Scott's balloon in the air and Gary's being inflated.  There were five people flying that morning.  That is Mike's basket on the ground.  He was the last to take off.
Nanc waving good-bye.
Look who got to fly.  I never get tired of this.  It was a wonderful flight.  Thanks again Mike!!!!
It was much clearer than the last time I flew.  We flew over the local airport shown in the middle of the picture.
We were well above the planes that were taking off.
Looking down is like seeing a live version of Google Earth.  Check out the green golf course in the middle of the desert.
Most of the flight was over residential neighborhoods.  You can always hear dogs barking when you fly over the houses.  Our landing spot is that clear area a bit left of center.  Mike navigated the different winds and hit it right on.  Great Day, Great Flight, Great Friends.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The To Do List, Visiting the Capitol and More Get Togethers

We continue to be busy here in Mesa meeting with friends, doing a bit of exploring and working on the rig.  We can't say we have been real happy with the Arizona weather.  We have had a couple cold spells and it has been much cooler here than in Florida.  As I write today it is even warmer in WashPA than it is here.  All that said, we have had no s**w and the sun usually shines even on the cooler days.  Nanc had a nice evening out with the girls when she was invited by Linda Rocks to see "A Christmas Carol" at the Hale Centre Theater in nearby Gilbert. She said it was a wonderful performance and she had a great time with Linda and her friends Penny and Sandy.  Unfortunately, she forgot to take the camera.
We always try to take advantage of our extended stays by doing a few RV chores and maintenance projects.  That means I wash and wax the rig, including the roof.  While I'm up there I check the caulking and fix any places that are showing wear.  We had to replace the fridge cooling unit in the fall and the interior shelves were looking really bad, so we replaced those also.  I cleaned out the hot water tank and changed the anode.  And here I am doing the worst job.  The black water valve had been leaking and this job could not be put off so here I am up to my elbows in crap getting the job done.  Most of the jobs on the to do list are now completed for another year.  Just like a stix and brix there are always jobs to be done.     
In our travels we now try to visit the capitol buildings in each state.  We have missed a few as we did not do this when we first went on the road.  The buildings and grounds always give a unique look at what the state considers to be the most important aspects of its history.  This week we drove into Phoenix to tour the capitol.  This fountain and anchor are part of a new memorial to the battleship Arizona. 
These gun barrels are from the battleships Arizona and Missouri.  They are part of the newest memorial and symbolize the beginning and ending of WWII.  The memorial lists the names of all the Arizonians killed in that war.  The Arizona was sunk on December 7, 1942 in Pearl Harbor at the start of the war and the peace treaty with Japan was signed on the Missouri to end the war in 1945.  Here is a link to the blog I did when we visited the Arizona Memorial and toured the Missouri two years ago.  
This is the Arizona 9-11 memorial.  The events of that day and the days that followed are cut into the metal ring and are highlighted on the wall as the sun moves across the sky, a very unique and moving design.   
The building in the middle is the original Arizona capitol that opened in 1901 before Arizona was a state.  It did not include legislative wings that were added behind the building in 1918 and 1938 expansions.  In 1960 new buildings were added to the left and right for the Senate and House. 
In 1974 this new office tower was built for the executive branch.  The governor's  office is on the top floor.  Pictured at the bottom are the new legislative chambers.
The old capitol building is now a museum with many historical displays.  This is part of the battleship Arizona display.  The bottle of champagne is for the last survivor of the December 7th attack.  At this time only 13 remain.
There are memorials for the veterans of all modern American wars and the Arizonians who served.  Left is Operation Enduring Freedom, top is a Purple Heart memorial, bottom the Vietnam memorial and right a memorial to the Navajo Code Talkers. 
These two law enforcement memorials are to police officers and K-9 corps members killed in the line of duty. 
This is the Bill of Rights Monument.  Each of the first ten amendments to the Constitution are engraved in the ten stones. 
On Friday we went to dinner at Red White and Brew, our favorite restaurant, with friends from Sun Life.  We had a great evening with Suzanne, Lynn, Dick and Rene. 
Another day we got a text from Mike asking if we wanted to go ballooning, so it was up and out the door early Saturday morning.  We drove to the launch site, but this is what we ended up doing as the winds picked up and no one launched.  Oh well, it is always good time with the Libertis. Here are T, Mike, their niece Brenda, Paul (who was going to fly his first solo) and Daniel.  We are going to crew for Paul when he tries to solo on Christmas Eve. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Another Busy Week in Arizona

We had another busy week that started with another ballooning experience and ended with a short vacation.  We decided three years ago that we were going to travel each year to some place we could not travel to in the RV.  Since we are planning to take these vacations will signed up for a travel club and received several "free" stays.  We had one that was good for four days so we went to nearby Scottsdale to be pampered and to visit some of the sights.  When I started researching for our fulltiming lifestyle one thing I read was that we would probably end up doing a lot of the same things we did when we lived in a stix and brix.  This has turned out to true as we now go out to dinner more often and this kind of little escape was something we often did when we lived in a house.   
Mike called and wanted to know if wanted to crew again.  We love seeing Mike and T and the whole ballooning thing so we are not going to miss a chance to fly even if it means setting the alarm and getting up at 6AM.  Look who got to fly again and loved it even though it was a bit chilly.  Mike's niece and I served as their chase crew, a new experience for me following the balloon through the streets and driving across an empty field where they landed.
The air was a bit clearer than last weekend so Nanc had a great view.
That is Daniel's balloon Morning Wood being inflated.  T was Daniel's chase crew.  Look closely and you can see me holding the crown line. 
We have always been big Frank Lloyd Wright fans and try to see any of his buildings that are in the areas where we travel.  The Arizona Biltmore hotel was built in Phoenix by Wright in 1929.  It was the must do stop for the rich and famous of the time and continues to be a world class hotel.
The building was typical of Wright's structures with all the ornate concrete blocks made on site.  The spire and low structure blending into the surrounding land are common features of many Wright buildings.
This spire was designed by Wright in 1957 to be part of the Arizona capitol but was not built there. In 2004 it was built in Scottsdale.  It is set in a small park with several sculptures and is lighted at night.  If you are a Wright fan there is a link to all our Wright blogs under the labels on the left.
We stayed at the Zona Hotel in Scottsdale with our "free" voucher and got to enjoy the more upscale Fairmont that was next door.  The Christmas decor was fantastic and even included an ice rink.  For a couple of nights the temps were cold enough that the ice needed no cooling.
Another reason we wanted to be near the Fairmont was because we had Spa Finder gift certificates that we used for a wonderful spa day at the Willow Stream Spa.  We had access to all the resort facilities including the fitness center, pools (to cold), sauna, steam room and whirlpool in the spa.  We had a great couples' message to top off a fantastic day. 
When we were in Arizona two years ago we visited the McCormick Stillman Railroad Park where they have different sized trains, from this full size train above to the model trains below.  Here is a link to that visit when we rode one of the small scale trains.
 What we wanted to see was how far along the model train displays had come in the last two years.  They have come a long way since our last visit, but as you can see they still have a long way to go.  There are three separate areas, one for O gauge, one for N and one for HO.  One thing I learned was that the smallest N gauge can have trains with over 100 cars.  If you like trains on any scale the McCormick Stillman Railroad Park is a must do and it is free.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Art, Flying & Friends

The post Thanksgiving season got off the a great start.  On Saturday we drove to Cave Creek with Alan and Sharon to take in the Hidden in the Hills Studio Tour.  There were 46 stops showing the work of 168 artists.  One of the neat things was that many of the studios were in peoples homes so, as my father used to say, we got to see how the other half lives.  The fun time continued on Sunday when we got to go ballooning with Mike Liberti.  On Monday we went to a movie (Dallas Buyers Club) and had dinner with Linda Rocks.  On Tuesday we had another Betty's RV Park reunion with folks we met there.
Nanc and Sharon each picked five stops and it took us all day to cover those.  I guess that is why this is a six day event.  The first studio we toured had a lot of very neat lawn art.
They had a bit of everything.
This beautiful glass work includes a couple of pieces that look like woven fabric.  Very beautiful and very expensive.
At The Ranch there were four artists with four different styles of paintings.  The most unusual was done on leather that had been worked to create the texture.  I loved this wind chime, but it is a bit to heavy to carry in the rig.
Robin's Nest had  pottery, jewelry, ceramics and paintings.
The Mark Carroll Sculpture Studio had a number of works made with wood and stone.  Mark also makes models for the Fisher-Price toy company.  He was working two huge horses that will be part of a Welcome to Cave Creek display.
The artists at the Desert Rat Forge and Desert Studio included carvings, gourds, paintings and, of course, metal.
A few of the pieces from the forge.
How about this neat little auto-cycle we saw.  Hidden in the Hills is a great experience with beautiful art and a must do if you are in the Greater Phoenix area at the end of November.
 Two years ago we crewed with Daniel Liberti at the balloon fiesta.  We met the whole Liberti family and got to fly with Mike when we were here in Mesa.  At this year's fiesta we crewed with Mike and made plans to fly with him in Arizona again.  During our first month here we went to Mexico and Mike was away at a couple of balloon events but we finally got together this weekend and got to fly again.  Looking up into Morning Star as Mike hits the burner.  I think Nanc loves this.
The only other balloon flying was Mike's brother-in-law Kevin who was training his daughter for her balloon pilot's license.  We both took off from this empty lot. 
It was a very calm day with perfect winds.  We zig-zagged over the launch area by going up and down to catch different wind directions.  Here is a reflection of Kevin's balloon in a flooded field. 
Reflection of Morning Star in the same water.
The basket of Mike's balloon above Kevin's balloon.  Look closely and you can see the chase vehicle parked along the road.  Mike's wife T followed us to the landing site.
It was a bit hazy that morning.  We were surprised at all the development.  There are several new housing plans under construction.  That is a good sign for the economy, but a bad sign for balloonists as there are fewer and fewer places to land.
New houses in all stages of building from the empty lot, next to one with the utility trenches dug, next to the concrete slab.  Another house with just the studs, two that have the sheeting on the roof and a few with the tile roofs completed.
 Two years ago we had never been in a balloon and now we would not miss a chance to fly.  Nanc has been up six times and I have had four flights.  It does not get old or boring because every flight is different. 
The gang from Betty's got together for lunch again when Jim and Cookie were passing through the area on their way to Abbeville.  Here are Dave, Jim, Cookie, Sarah, Nanc, MaryBeth, Tony and Jim.  It is always fun getting to meet up and share travel tales with friends on the road.