We wish you all the richest of blessings in 2008.
We took time back in July to reflect on our first 12 months of full-timing and at the start of 2008 we again thought about our travels for the last calendar year. If we had retired when we originally planned, we would be just finishing our first six months on the road. It's amazing to think that with our early retirement, we have been traveling full-time for 18 months now. For us, we're glad the first year is over. Now don't get us wrong, it was a year of amazing adventures and incredible sights, but the comfort level in our nomadic lifestyle is much higher with one year under our belts. In 18 months, we logged 19,851 miles, stayed in 98 different locations and traveled through 24 states. Everything we read about this lifestyle encouraged us to take our time...it's a lifestyle not a vacation. But we couldn't help ourselves! It took us a year to slow down. We now make it our goal (for the most part) to spend a minimum of one week at each stop.
After spending our requisite one week minimum at Lake Louisa State Park to visit Disney, it was only about an hour drive to the northwest to our next stop in Bushnell, FL. Last year, we stayed in Florida only through Christmas because we wanted to go to Quartzsite, AZ for the big RV gathering in mid-January. We also wanted to check out other possible winter locations in Arizona and south Texas because we knew the west was less crowded than Florida and campground prices were generally lower.
After checking out the west, however, we decided we would spend most of the winter in Florida this year. Although we liked the southwest, we liked Florida better as a location where we would be spending several months at a time. Margery was the most reluctant about wintering in Florida but there are a number of things which have changed her mind. Here in central Florida, we're in a rural, agricultural area so it's not crowded and very pastoral. Because there are so many live oaks in this part of Florida, the trees are still green and the Spanish moss make it feel very "southern" along with the occasional palm trees. The pastures here are, for the most part still green, too. Being so far south, even on the shortest day of the year, it still stays light until almost 6 p.m. To top it all off, the local community is already signing up youngsters for baseball. Ya gotta love it!
After leaving Disney last year, we stayed at the Escapees Sumter Oaks Campground in Bushnell. Sumter Oaks is a nice enough campground and the camaraderie of fellow Escapees is always great, but Sumter Oaks is at least 60% shaded. As we have said before, we like sunny campgrounds not only for our satellite, but also for warmth in cooler months.
We drove by Blueberry Hill RV Resort many times last year (it's right next to Wal-Mart), and on the recommendation of fellow RVers we met in Mission, TX in March, we decided to investigate Blueberry Hill further. Well, we liked what we saw and the prices were roughly comparable to Sumter Oaks so we made reservations through February. Because we made reservations at a fairly late date, we unfortunately couldn't get one site that was available for the entire time. Therefore, we will need to change sites in the middle of January. On one hand, that's an inconvenience; but on the other hand, Paul is a little uncomfortable leaving the motor home sit for such a long time. Since we have to pack up to change sites anyway, we just may drive up the interstate an exit or two and exercise the drivetrain of the motor home and maybe stop by the local LP dealer and fill the propane tank if we need to.
Blueberry Hill is right off I-75. That makes it very convenient when we want to go anywhere, but there is some traffic noise from the interstate. However, the interstate is to our west and if there is a breeze from the east (which there is much of the time), the traffic noise is minimal. We are in the back section of Blueberry Hill, which has very wide, grassy sites. The front section of the park has paved, pull-through sites, but they are fairly close together. We heard the reason the rear sites are extra wide is because they were originally intended for park models. While there are a few annual renters with park models at Blueberry Hill, it looks like the idea never really took off and the majority of the sites have RVs on them. The photo below shows our current site at Blueberry Hill.
As expected for a snowbird campground, Blueberry Hill has plenty of planned activities for the winter months. We aren't big joiners, but we have participated in a few activities and we're trying to meet new people. We went to a Christmas carol sing-along and to a white elephant gift exchange. The gift exchange was a lot of fun. It was a good excuse get rid of a couple of things from the rig that were still in good condition, but that we never really used. As your number was called at the gift exchange, you could either choose to open a wrapped gift from the table or "steal" an already-opened gift from one of the other people who had gone before you. If someone "steals" your gift, you can take another turn and either open another wrapped gift or "steal" a gift from someone else. It was fun to see what items turned out to be popular. Some of the items changed hands at least a dozen times. Who knew so many people would want that ceramic cookie jar shaped like a cardinal or that rubber alligator with the bikini! Margery ended up with a wallet and Paul got involved in a series of wild exchanges and ended up with a can of cashews. Yum! :)
Margery also joined the morning water aerobics class. The pool is heated, so the class is held as long as the air temperature is 60 degrees or above by the 10:00 AM starting time. Those who have been around in previous years say it usually warms up quickly enough in the morning that the class only gets canceled infrequently. Water aerobics is a good way for Margery to get some exercise without putting unnecessary strain on her knees. It's also a good way to meet people and to find out some of the latest campground news. The photo below shows Margery in the pool.
Speaking of the weather, it has been fantastic! The normal highs are in the 70s with lows in the 50s. The weather pattern seems to be that a cold front comes through about every two or three weeks and the highs drop to the 50s and the lows drop to the upper 30s for about two days. Then the temperatures pop right back up to the 70s.
When the first cold front was predicted about a week after our arrival in Bushnell, Paul got to work on a little project we had been planning. We picked up some acrylic sheet at Lowe's, and Paul proceeded to cut it to fit the screen door. It is held in place with some little plastic turnbuttons. With the plastic in place, we can keep the door open on cool days and enjoy the extra light while keeping out the cold air. The plastic can be removed and stored behind the couch in warmer weather.
When the second cold front came through, the weatherman predicted the low might drop to the lower 20s. The citrus growers and farmers really had to scramble to try to protect their crops. Fortunately, the temperature didn't go as low as expected and the farmers' hard work paid off so there was very little crop damage. Here's Paul outside our favorite roadside stand where we get fresh-squeezed orange juice. We stopped the day they were preparing for the predicted freeze.
Margery got a wine sampler from a winery Lora and J. Michael discovered in Gibsonia. The bottle is actually three smaller, uniquely-shaped bottles that nest together and look like a regular wine bottle.
In the afternoon, we went to the Christmas dinner put on by the campground. They served ham, scalloped potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green beans, with cupcakes for dessert. The price of the dinner was reasonable, there was plenty to eat, and the food was pretty good. We enjoyed meeting a couple from Nova Scotia and hearing about their cross-country adventures on a motorcycle last year before they put their house on the market and went full-time. We didn't realize that Canadians are limited to 182 days visiting the United State each year.
One of the great things about living in an RV is that it's such a small space, we don't need many Christmas decorations. It took us all of 4 minutes to take everything down and put it away. About half that time was spent getting the plastic bin out of and back into the outside storage compartment. The photo below shows Margery packing away our three or four decorations.
In the week between Christmas and New Years, the campground really filled up. On Christmas, probably over one third of the sites were still empty. A couple of days after Christmas, RVs started streaming in. By New Years eve, about 90% of the sites were filled. The campground expects the rest of the sites to fill up during January and, except for a few possible cancellations, they are booked solid for February.
Blueberry Hill sponsored a New Years Eve party that had a live band that was supposed to be quite exceptional, but we held on to our own New Years tradition. For at least the last 15 years or so we have rented a bunch of movies to watch at home. We have our own quiet little party with a few special snacks. We struggle to stay awake until midnight, watch the ball in Times Square drop, wish each other a happy New Year, then head off to bed. This year was no different.
Since the holidays, we have been riding our bikes around the campground fairly often. The campground roads are not only all paved, but they are wide and level, too. After our ride we sometimes stop by the game room for a couple of games of pool. There are four tables that are seldom used so we never have to wait. In the photo below, Margery is lining up a shot.
This is our longest stop in one location, and it is a welcomed change. It's also afforded us the opportunity to research and plot our 2008 travels with renewed enthusiasm...kind of like vacation but at a slower pace. :)