Florida Roundup

May, 2017 – Bonita Springs, FL So we said adios to Florida after a full 7 months parked in one spot. You’d think I’d have a lot of inside information now on living in Florida and I do have a few insights although it is going to take more than one season to get to know this area. So here are some random thoughts, parting shots, and disorganized ramblings on the subject.

We LOVED our RV park. Bonita Lakes RV Resort is a gem! And if you are ever in the area off season I suggest stopping by for a while. But be careful, you may not want to leave. We met so many people that came for a week, or just one season, and now live there full time or have been coming back every winter for many years.

What makes it special are the people. The managers are the kindest, hardest working, most genuine people you could ever hope to meet. And the rest of the staff are equally nice and will go way out of their way to help you.

The residents are pretty special too. We wish we had had more time to get to know them and participate in more activities. There was certainly never any excuse to be bored.

The activities we did try we were made to feel more than welcome and invited back again. Game night, aerobics, kayak club, bean bag tournament, water aerobics; all things we only tried once because we got caught up in remodeling a house.

Some of the residents were pretty camera shy.

We did finally have a few good sightings.

Some of the more plentiful and less shy inhabitants were the lizards.

And the bunnies.

I have always wanted to see a roseate spoonbill and one afternoon right before we left one stopped by the park for a short visit.

We can’t claim to have experienced Florida during what they call “in season” because from Jan to April we were commuting 20 miles back and forth to our job site almost every day. The RV park did get awfully busy during those months with every site occupied and many parties sometimes late into the night.

The one thing that took some adjustment for us was driving in Florida. They have the streets designed in such a way that U-turns are often a necessity. You know our truck doesn’t U-turn well so this was something of an inconvenience for us.

But more importantly, if you were making a right hand turn you had to be very careful that noone in the left hand turn lane of the road you were turning onto was making a U-turn. I almost made a costly error a couple of times. Eventually I didn’t want to make any right hand turn when they had the green light often to the chagrin of impatient drivers behind me.

The other thing that was hard to get used to was the large number of pedestrians and bicyclers. They were everywhere, even more so near our RV park. The nearby neighborhoods had a large Hispanic population and walking or bicycling seemed to be their primary source of travel.

This was also primarily an issue when making right hand turns. Of course, if we hadn’t been working, we wouldn’t have been driving so often and it wouldn’t have been such an issue. And we learned to be extra cautious and attentive which we should be anyway when behind the wheel of an 8,000 pound machine.

Every local, full year resident we spoke to for any length of time had something to say about how different life was there during the other 8 months out of the year. I got the feeling that many of them shared the sentiment that this person advertised on his bumper. “Welcome to Florida. Now go home.”

So the verdict is in. We love Florida (always have) and we’ll be returning next winter. We don’t plan to be in one RV park for 7 months this time. But we will be back at Bonita Lake RV resort for some part of next winter.

We want a do over. We plan to experience Florida the way we intended to this year before we got caught up in the rat race. We expect to have lots of time to be active and healthy, to meet people, and to spend with family.

Anybody ever wonder what happened to Lance, the truck camper that we bought?

Well, we only took the one trip to Cape Canaveral with it. We did make some repairs to it. There was some water damage around the kitchen window and Jim fixed it which messed up the wallpaper. That gave me an opportunity to do a project I’ve always wanted to try, adhesive plastic tile squares.

It was so easy. The only tool necessary was a pair of scissors. And I think the results were a dramatic improvement.

When we bought the flip house we put the camper in the drive and used the kitchen to prepare our lunches until we got the kitchen in the house remodeled. We used the truck as a second vehicle, mostly on the days that I was babysitting so Jim could go his own way. We sold the topper and then the truck a week before we left.

If you don’t count the value of the work Jim put into it we almost broke even. But we did learn a valuable lesson: we’d be OK with a smaller rig in the future. We might get one to finally make that trip to Alaska someday or if we ever get tired of the road and move back into a house we’d consider a small motorhome or trailer for travel. But it does have to have a bed on the main level. We are too darn old to be climbing in and outta that over-cab bed and we ain’t getting any younger!

Welcome to Our New Home

Bonita Springs, FL – May, 2017 We had been mulling over the idea of a newer 5th wheel for a few months. Not a new one, mind you, but a newer one. We had managed to put the idea on the backburner for more than a full year since our brush with temptation in Palm Springs back in November of 2015.

But the idea kept creeping back into our psyche. We told ourselves we were just keeping an eye on the market. You know, in case something disastrous happened to our rig and we had to replace it.

We finally agreed we would seriously consider a newer rig if the flip house sold. We hoped to find something that would cost no more than half our profit from the flip house, around $14,000, plus whatever we could get out of our Alpenlite, maybe $10,000.

Ideally we would wait until we got back to Missouri because the house couldn’t possibly close until after we left Florida. This would also give us plenty of time to market the Alpenlite in a favorable market we are familiar with. So we weren’t seriously looking in Florida but we weren’t not looking. lol

We saw a 2014 Mesa Ridge by Open Range in our park that they were asking $30,000 for. We looked the 345RLS model up online and I really didn’t like the layout of the living room. I’d seen one like it before and just didn’t think it was what I wanted. And we weren’t seriously looking anyway so we forgot about it for a while.

I was talking to the manager of the RV park and mentioned we’d probably get a newer rig sometime this year. He said we’d be crazy not to look at that Mesa Ridge. That it was the best deal he’d seen in a long time. And that the owners had hardly used it and had taken meticulous care of it.

We went and looked at it and really liked everything about it. It did look brand spanking new. We decided the layout would actually work well for us.

Our favorite part is the private bath, the main point of contention with our old floor plan. We loved all the finishes, the storage, the beautiful kitchen with movable island!

It is so roomy. The living room slides are 42 inches deep!

I love having a full time dining room table again and a fireplace with heater.

Jim did some research on the brand and was satisfied. We offered the owners $25,000 and eventually settled on $28,000. It’s a little more than we hoped to pay but the rig is so much newer than we expected to find.

So there was the small issue that we were spending money we hadn’t yet made. Not very responsible of us. The flip house was under contract and the sale was going well but there were a thousand things that could go wrong. We threw caution to the wind and did it anyway.

We needed to leave Florida in a week so we didn’t have time to market the Alpenlite. No problem. Since the campground is so empty most of the summer you are allowed to leave your rig on your site and only pay $100 per month storage fee.

We figured we could sell it long distance in a month or so with the help of our daughter. But the park workers knew some full-time residents who had been living in a motorhome and were looking for more room. We sold it to them for $9500.

We’ve had a few problems with the Mesa, mostly related to it sitting for two years in Florida. The salty climate there is rough on exterior metal. It was very difficult to get the jacks up the first time. We’ve been working with them and applying lubricant and it keeps getting better but we still use a crow bar to get them to move sometimes.

The tanks were hooked up to sewer and the valves were just left open. The tanks were probably never rinsed. So the valves didn’t work and neither do most of the sensors that should tell us how full our tanks are. This is also getting better with time and care and will hopefully resolve itself.

Jim had read that a lot of people have trouble with the slide motors going out and he has already had to replace one. The good news is the replacement parts are said to be hardier than the ones originally installed in the factory. Also they are relatively cheap, less than $100, so we bought an extra.

We love some of the features available on this newer unit. My favorite is the electric awning.

If you’ve ever gotten up in the middle of the night to take down your awning because the wind unexpectedly picked up, you will understand my glee.

Jim’s favorite feature is the self-leveling jacks. At the push of a button (or several) it levels the rig and stabilizes it. The best part is it remembers the height where we pulled the truck out and returns to that position when it’s time to hook up.

It was hard to find everything we wanted without getting into a bigger rig. This one is just under 35 feet, almost 3 feet longer than our last one. But we had a rack on the back of our old one that stuck out 3 feet and held our kayaks.

We decided to get rid of the rack and keep the kayaks in Missouri where we use them most. We have enjoyed having them with us in our travels but have not used them enough to justify dragging them all over the country. We’ll carry our new inflatable kayak with us and will rent kayaks when necessary.

We have had our home for a month now and we are very happy with it. We moved into it in a hurry, then drove it back to Missouri in only three days. This is way faster than we prefer to travel but we had pressing matters to attend to at home.

We are going back and forth on what to do about solar power and/or generators. We definitely will install a solar system but can’t decide on whether to go with a very basic one or the fanciest one Jim can pull together. We’d love an on board generator that comes on with the touch of a button from inside but we haven’t really had that many occasions to use the two generators we have been carrying around. Decisions, decisions…

Flippin’ in Florida

January-May, 2017 – Naples, FL As I mentioned in my post about babysitting this winter, Jim was not twiddling his thumbs while I brought home the bacon. He did consider a part-time job and even inquired about a few but he never really got serious about it. He was sure he could find a way to make more than $15 per hour and not punch a clock.

He toyed with several ideas of how to make some money without working for someone else. He thought about fixing up an old camper and reselling it but just never found the right opportunity. He considered doing handyman work but pursuing a contractor’s license in Florida was too much of a hassle. He tossed around several ideas but hadn’t landed on one when fate intervened.

We had picked up some used bikes at a garage sale and were enjoying riding them around the Bonita Springs neighborhoods each morning. We rode into one cul-de-sac and stumbled onto a house for sale. It looked distressed, just our kinda place!

So I called the realtor and found out it was a foreclosure and was being auctioned on one of those online auction sites, zome.com. We took a look at it and really liked it, almost too much. We were sorta fantasizing about a pool and furnishings. The best feature of the house was there was just enough room to park our RV beside it.

Long story short, we lost the house to another bidder. We moped for a day or two. Then we admitted it was probably for the best.

Were we really ready to be that tied down? NO! We agreed we were not. But we did decide that buying a rental in the area, maybe even one we could eventually see ourselves living in, was not a horrible idea.

So when the realtor that had helped us with that first auction said that he had another property we should check out, we agreed. The second house he showed us was in nearby Naples in a working class neighborhood the opposite side of the interstate from the ocean. We liked it and agreed it would make a good investment.

We weren’t very optimistic about the auction process but we told the realtor how high we were willing to go and let him handle it. And he got it for us, for $7500 less than we were willing to pay. And that’s how we ended up owning real estate in Florida. Isn’t it beautiful?!

We decided to fix it up and try to resell it.

And if it hadn’t sold it would have made a great rental with good cash flow. Rentals are in high demand here.

We closed in only two weeks on December 28th. We immediately went to work. We were excited to polish this diamond in the rough and see it shine.

What? You only see coal? How bout now?

We hoped to have it mostly finished in 3 months, giving us April to sit back and enjoy our re-retirement Florida lifestyle. Of course that didn’t happen. We both worked on it pretty much full-time for the rest of our stay. Even when I babysat in the morning, I would usually go work on the house after that.

We were pretty pleased with the results. And we got really good feedback from everyone that saw it. We put laminate floors throughout.

The house didn’t have a garage but made up for it with a mother-in-law’s quarters, making it a 4 bedroom, 3 bath home, unheard of in this neighborhood and price range.

We skimped everywhere we could, painting the original bath vanities, salvaging as many of the bath fixtures as possible. We had a best case scenario budget and a max budget. We ended up scraping by just under our max budget and still didn’t do everything we wanted to the home.

We hoped to install a lanai but thankfully the eventual buyers were perfectly happy with the back yard as it was.

The sacrifice was big. We wanted to spend more time with our daughter. We hoped to explore much of the state. We certainly never imagined we’d spend the whole winter in Florida and not do any scuba diving.

Thankfully the payoff was pretty great and made up for most of it. We netted $28,000. We have worked way harder for way less before.

This was our most profitable short term flip ever. We’ve made more on homes we’ve held for a couple years but of the ones we bought to fix up and immediately resell, this is by far the winner. We have no regrets but aren’t in any hurry to do it again right away.

We are tired and ready to be re-tired again!

Budgeting and Such Update

I first wrote about how much it costs for us to live on the road after just 6 months of travel. In my first Budgeting post I addressed our careers, the source of our current income, and our decision to forego keeping our home.

Here’s how we are doing after a full two years of data. Some of the info below is a repeat of that first blog on the subject. But I do have some additional insights and someone might find them useful.

What it will cost for you to live on the road full time depends on your unique circumstances. I kept track of every single expense we had for several years in order to set a budget I felt we could work within. These are the categories in my budget.

Groceries/Liquor/Restaurants I have found our food budget has not changed one iota since we retired. I thought I might be able to save money in this category but that has not been the case thus far. I imagined buying fresh seafood from the docks and fresh produce from the farm at a substantial savings. With a few exceptions (meaning I can remember exactly 3) I found you generally pay a premium price in these circumstances.

It doesn’t matter exactly what I have budgeted for this. If you are making your own budget I suggest basing it on what you have been spending. I throw most miscellaneous items into this category: shampoo, toilet paper, etc. Pretty much any small expense that doesn’t fit anywhere in the budget gets lumped in here.

Lot Rent I budget $600 per month for campground fees, approximately $20 per night. If we splurge on a nice campground then we have to boondock at a free campsite to make up for it. You could easily spend twice this amount, especially if your rig is not set up with solar and/or generators.

After two years we are still doing well with this budget. This partly due to the fact that I have kept track of this expense like a hawk. I have a separate spreadsheet just for this category. Until we reached our current camp in Florida we averaged $565 per month in lot rent.

I had to make an adjustment to justify our rent here in Bonita Springs. We are paying $675 per month plus electric, which has averaged $50 per month. I correctly guessed that we would save money on gas so I made a temporary adjustment to our budget, borrowing $125 from our fuel budget to cover our lot expenses.

This category also includes all our camping clubs and memberships. The ones I have found most useful and will continue to subscribe to are Escapees, including their Days End Directory, and Good Sam Club. Passport America has provided me the most savings. For a membership of around $40 per year I have saved an average of $500 per year on campgrounds.

Fuel I try to keep our fuel budget to $400 a month. We averaged $550 a month during our first 5 months when we were really on the go. The next 14 months until we got to Florida we averaged $432 per month.

This depends so much on how you like to travel and what you travel in. Here are some of the specifics that affect our costs. Maybe you’ll find them useful in your calculations.

Our Ford F350 gets about 10 miles per gallon when we are towing and around 17 mpg when we are not. We put 30,000 miles on it our first year on the road and 20,000 miles the second. I expect our mileage this year to be around 20,000 as well. I do shop very aggressively for the best rate on fuel.

It should be noted that my fuel budget includes tolls. In 2 years we have spent $160 in tolls. Exactly half of these were in the northeast in Michigan, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Firewood/Propane I had no idea how much we would need for firewood and propane when we started so I took a stab in the dark and budgeted $50. During our first 5 months we averaged $75 per month so I raised it. But after a full two years I have actually lowered it to our 2 year average of $25 per month.

If you spend a lot of time boondocking where you experience cool nights then you’ll want to budget on the high end of this spectrum. If you spend your time plugged in to a cushy campsite then you’ll probably do fine on the low end. Cooking takes very little gas but you should consider what powers your water heater. We can choose electric or gas depending on our circumstances.

We have gotten to the point that we almost refuse to buy firewood. We love a good fire but it just seems like burning money. In fact, we haven’t bought any firewood in the last year. We gather wood when it is allowed and we scavenge wood that other campers have left in empty campsites.

Entertainment Movie rentals, Itunes charges, parking fees, kayaking shuttles, park entrance fees; I lump all these in to entertainment. I started with a budget of $50 and have raised it to $100. We are very frugal and still have a hard time keeping this category within budget.

Fishing If you have an avid fisherman in your midst it should be noted that out of state fishing licenses are very expensive. Jim spent $300 on licenses in 5 states in our first 5 months. Despite becoming more and more prudent about buying fishing licenses we still spent an average of $50 per month on fishing. This is due to replacing lures and equipment that have been lost or broken.

Laundry I didn’t know what this would run me so I have kept careful track of how much doing laundry in laundromats has cost us and it has averaged $19 per month. I usually use the campground laundry facilities. They are generally half as expensive as the commercial laundromats but the machines aren’t always maintained as well.

I also use the machines of friends and family when we visit. Invite me to dinner and I’m likely to show up with a laundry basket in tow. You’ve been warned!

Medical/dental/eye care/prescriptions These items haven’t change much for us since hitting the road. We see all our providers each summer when we pass through Missouri. Thankfully we haven’t needed any medical care away from home.

Health insurance This is the biggest chunk of our budget and it keeps rising. When we hit the road it was only $650. Now it’s almost $1200 per month. I’m sorry I’m not qualified to offer any insight on this subject. There are no easy answers.

Auto/trailer insurance We have both ours insured with Good Sam for $125 per month.

Auto/trailer maintenance This category is the one that is most likely to bite us in the butt. A major repair or, god forbid, needing to replace our truck or trailer is not something we have a contingency fund for. This is the primary reason we are looking for ways to make some extra money down the road.

I started out with a budget of $50 for maintenance which was just wishful thinking on my part. That barely covers our oil changes. We’ve averaged almost $500 per month during these last two years.

What really surprised me when I reviewed the numbers was that the trailer maintenance was almost half of that total amount. It included a ton of small expenses like replacing a sewer hose, more water hoses, slide lube, roof wash, etc. etc. etc! Then there were some larger items, like a new toilet and the repairs needed when we lost a tire on the highway and had to replace it and repair the damage it did to our rig.

The largest single expense we had in this category was when our slide motor went out last summer. It was not easy to find a replacement since Alpenlite is no longer manufactured. And when we did it was close to $1,000 with shipping.

The truck needs truck stuff. Oil changes get more expensive at higher mileages, tires wear out. I’m really surprised we’ve only had to replace our windshield once. Unfortunately our bumper to bumper warranty is about to run out so this category isn’t going to get any cheaper.

Property and income taxes In Missouri we have property taxes on the truck and trailer. And then there are those pesky income taxes. I’ve got a good idea how much I will owe the IRS.

Life insurance, cell phones, and clothing are the remaining categories in my budget. These items are very individual to your circumstance but easy to put a number to.

I don’t have any money budgeted for gifts. I use cash back from my credit card to cover graduation, wedding, baby, birthday, and Christmas gifts. I charge everything I can to credit cards that pay from 1-5% cash back depending on the category.

And I do mean everything. When my health insurer started letting me pay my bill on my credit card last year it gave me an extra $150 in points per year. I also keep an eye on those bonus categories and if another card is paying 5% back on something like fuel I switch to that card for those purchases. This system has worked out quite well for us.

You may wonder why we would ever need a vacation from our luxurious lifestyle, lol. We don’t. And that is why it is not a priority in our budget. We don’t need vacations but when we do want to splurge on a trip that takes us off the mainland we will have to save some money, possibly by boondocking more like we did to justify our cruise last winter, or make some money, by workamping or picking up a short term job.

With increases in our health insurance and truck and trailer maintenance we have increased our total budget to roughly $4400 per month. The additional funds came from money we planned to be saving for emergencies and future inflation. The future got here faster than we expected.

Sitting

Bonita Springs, FL – January – April, 2017 Since we planned to spend a full six months in one location this winter, Jim and I agreed that it would be wasteful not to try and earn some money. A little extra jingle in your pocket is always nice. We could use the money to supplement our entertainment budget this year and hopefully save a little too.

One of our goals is to explore options for supplementing our income while impacting our lifestyle the least. We want to look beyond the obvious camp hosting, beet farming, Amazon gigs that we’ve all heard about. If you recall, my last experiment in money making was substitute teaching last spring. I hope to find something I enjoy more and that also pays better.

One thing I wanted to try was childcare or possibly senior care. I know it doesn’t sound like the path to a windfall but it can actually pay pretty well these days if you work directly for the client. I was familiar with the Care.com website as I’d used it to hire help in the past. So I decided to create a profile as a caregiver and give it a shot.

I did finally land a sweet gig but several things limited the availability of jobs for me. First, I was honest about only being in Florida for the winter. Many people, even those just wanting a sitter for one night, hope to find someone that they can call on again and count on year round.

Second, I was only willing to work a few days a week at most and required at least three days off in a row every week. There were many jobs for a few hours a day, like after school care, that paid well for 3 or 4 hours of your time but 5 days a week was too much of a commitment. There were also a lot of senior care jobs that wanted you to check in on someone a few hours a day, four or five days a week.

Finally, I wasn’t willing to use our truck to any great extent. I didn’t consider any jobs that required a commute of over 10 miles. I also wouldn’t transport clients. Can you imagine my big truck in a school pickup line? And it is too tall to comfortably transport the elderly.

I applied for a handful of positions, and either was politely declined, or more often never got a response at all. I was contacted by several people looking for care but each time it did not meet my criteria so I politely passed. It’s kind of like dating, looking for the right match, and trying to not let the rejection get to you.

Finally in December I received a message from a couple looking for a nanny for an infant two days a week. The job was only 3 miles from our door. It sounded perfect. I went on an interview and accepted the job.

They needed childcare while one of the parents attended college classes. I agreed to stay in Bonita Springs an extra month until the semester ended. This was not much of sacrifice as we are enjoying our time here very much.

I’m almost exactly halfway through the assignment and I absolutely love it. The couple I work for is extremely nice. All they ask is that I give their child my undivided attention.

When the baby takes a nap I usually clean. They said I didn’t have to do anything but wash bottles and put baby laundry away if I had time. But I don’t feel right doing nothing while the baby sleeps.

Caring for the baby is a joy. I make a couple bottles and spoon baby food into a pudgy little mouth. Mostly I read books, play with blocks and toys, and sing silly songs. We have fun!

Now the important part: What does it pay? I’m getting $15 per hour. I am bringing home double what I did substitute teaching.

I did agree to be 1099’d at the end of the year. This means that I will have to pay self-employment tax on this income. So I will net $12.75 per hour. Not bad for doing something that I love.

I think this experience was a complete success. I expect to get a good recommendation on Care.com from the clients when I’m done. That will help enormously the next time I’m looking for work.

There is a tremendous need for elder care and I will definitely consider that as well. It might not be as fun as playing with a baby but I know it can be rewarding. I put myself through college providing housekeeping and companionship for the elderly.

I definitely think there is potential here for making money in our future. If we had some unexpected expenses and needed to drop anchor somewhere and make hay, I would consider this type of work over, say a retail job. It offers more flexibility and more earnings. I really like that this is something I could do into old age. As long as I am in good health there is no reason I can’t care for others.

So you may wonder what Jim is up to while I am working. Is he a kept man? Far from it! Let’s just say Jim is not sitting on his arse. I will share that story when it is finished.

Blastoff!!

Cape Canaveral, FL – December, 2016 Jim has always had a strong desire to visit the Space Coast. As a child of the 60’s the space race looms large in his earliest memories. Although we vacationed near there several times over the years, we never made the time to stop. Visiting Kennedy Space Center was at the top of our to do list while wintering in Florida.

We were all snuggled into our campsite at Bonita Lakes RV Resort and had decided our 5th wheel wasn’t going anywhere for a while. So Jim had been investigating getting a small rig to make short trips around the state. He found a truck and topper for sale nearby and after thorough investigation decided to buy it.

We have often thought that such a rig would be perfect for a trip to Alaska, or to Mexico. So this is an opportunity to see if we could really live in such a small space for any length of time. In the meantime, it is perfect for tootling around Florida and we’ll decide what to do with it at the end of the season.

As luck would have it there was a rocket launch scheduled for the week following our acquisition and we decided the four hour trip would make the perfect maiden voyage for our new toy. I found Jetty Park Campground about 15 miles from the launch site where we could view the launch from camp. I reserved a full hookup site for $50 per night so we could test all the systems and flush out the tanks.

We arrived in camp just after lunch on the day of the launch. We got set up, finally got everything put away in the camper, and took a walk around. It appeared everyone was getting ready to watch the launch across the inlet. There were campsites directly beside the inlet where people could watch from their front yard but they weren’t electric. Day visitors were able to park their cars right along the water and many were claiming a spot.

The launch was scheduled for between 6:30 and 7:30 so we went back to the rig and had dinner, then grabbed a cocktail and walked back around 6. We found a nice curb to sit on and waited, enjoying the carnival atmosphere of the crowd.

Right on time at the beginning of its launch window we saw a bright glow from behind the hill across the water. Everyone chorused “Here it comes!” or some such variation of this statement.

Then there was a large, silent ball of light rising into the sky.

It seemed forever but was probably around 60 seconds before we heard the roar. It wasn’t earth shattering but it was impressive.

In my final shot of the rocket you can see the smoke trail. The camera magnified all the available light including the helicopters flying around. And I had forgotten my tripod which I keep in the other truck so it’s a little shaky. But it is still my favorite pic.

Then the rocket disappeared into the heavens. The crowd quietly dispersed and we made the short walk home.

On Friday we planned to visit the Kennedy Space Center. We made it out of camp around 9 am. It is really weird taking your home with you on every single outing. We were about half way there when Jim realized he should have grabbed a heavier shirt. Then he laughed at himself when he remembered the closet was still 10 feet behind him.

Not 5 minutes later, I was mentally kicking myself for forgetting my camera until it dawned on me that it was in the cabinet above the couch a few feet to my rear. This will take some getting used to! But I think I’m really going to like it.

By the time we got parked, bought the standard one day tickets for $50 each, and made our way through security it was around 9:45. We decided to take the bus tour first as there was only a small line and they started at 10. So after a 10 minute wait we got on the first bus of the day.

The bus drives you around the property for about an hour. The bus driver gives you a lot of information and there are TVs that deliver even more. You get to see an awful lot from your comfortable bus seat, like the massive assembly building.

And gigantic equipment for moving the rockets to and from the launch pads.

And of course the launch pads themselves are colossal.

I’m running out of synonyms for really, really big so I’ll give that a rest.

After your ride they drop you off at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Here you are treated to a history of the moon-landing era. This takes place in several rooms with large screens culminating in a re-creation of the Apollo 8 launch complete with rocket noise and rumbling seats. These are the actual consoles the ground team used.

Afterward you exit into a massive room with this rocket dominating it.

And you are free to explore the many exhibits at your leisure, like the Apollo 14 capsule.

We found the perfect spot to enjoy the lunch we’d packed.

Whenever you are ready you can catch a a bus for a short ride back to the main visitor complex. We then chose to visit the shuttle building, the home of space shuttle Atlantis. We entered the building and were funneled to a line, thankfully short in our case. After a 5 minute wait we were ushered into one theatre and then another where we were educated on the history of the space shuttle program.

Then we were set free to explore the rest of the building. Atlantis, hanging above it all, is breathtaking.

There were a multitude of displays here, astronaut training simulators, and a memorial to the Challenger and Columbia crews. I really wanted to do the Shuttle Launch Experience, the closest thing to a ride offered at the space center. But I didn’t want it bad enough to wait in line for 45 minutes.

Finally we took a stroll through the Rocket Garden.

There is so much more included in the basic admission including two IMAX films and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. But we were satisfied with our first visit and decided to save them for another time. Our visit was moving, inspirational, and nostalgic. We will definitely be back!

Winter Digs

Bonita Springs, FL – October, 2016 We are excited to be settled in Florida for the entire winter. Bonita Springs is a lovely area with tons going for it. It is about 30 miles north of the most southern point you can inhabit on the gulf side. This is the entrance to our park.

We have planned for some time to spend this winter in Florida. We started looking at campgrounds early last year and were a little concerned about the price and availability of sites, especially during December, January, and February. Our initial searches led us to believe we might not be able to afford this dream.

As early as last July RV sites in every state park we looked at in southern Florida were already booked solid through April 2017. We hadn’t found any campgrounds anywhere near where we wanted to be with a January rate below $1,200 and many were more than double that amount. We had hoped to tour the state spending about a month in each location.

We realized we better get serious about making reservations around July. We had made plans to meet some friends during their vacation to Naples, Florida at the end of October so we started by looking for a place to stay for a couple weeks around their visit where we felt safe leaving the camper while we hung out at their vacation home rental.

While researching all the local options Jim discovered Bonita Lakes RV Resort. Their monthly rate in October and November is just $568 plus metered electric. We inquired and they said they’d have no trouble accommodating us from October 15th to November 15th.

With that decision made we started looking for our second stop. We quickly felt overwhelmed and gave up for a while. In the meantime we read every bit of information we could find on Bonita Lakes and were looking forward to our visit.

While perusing their website we noticed that although their high season rates are $1,285 per month, if you commit to a 6 month rental it is only $676 per month plus electric. While that was a ways over our monthly budget for lot rent it was close enough that we could make some adjustments and pull it off.

We were not optimistic about them having sites still available during their peak season. We crossed our fingers and gave them a call. As luck would have it they had a cancellation just before we reached them and they were happy to give us that site.

As you know we arrived a little early, just ahead of the hurricane so we have been here exactly 30 days as of this posting. We have been incredibly happy with our choice. The park has exceeded our expectations in every regard.

I didn’t expect a fitness area but they have several nice machines and all of my favorites: an elliptical, a treadmill, and a recumbent bike. More often than not, I’ve been starting my days off in this room with a 30-50 minute workout.

The pool is our favorite spot. We can use it 24 hours a day and it’s heated to 85 degrees. Swimming and stretching in the pool is an amazing way to kick start your day. We have watched the sun come up from this spot on several occasions.

We have yet to share the pool with another soul before noon. I also haven’t seen anyone else use the fitness equipment so far. The park will get more crowded over the coming months and I’m sure that will change but it’s been just awesome so far.

There have been so many pleasant surprises since our arrival. They have pretty decent Wi-Fi throughout the park. They have easy, single stream recycling so all recyclables go in one dumpster. The park staff even picks up your trash and recyclables at your curb every morning. We don’t always use that service but it is really nice to know we can.

They also have two full kitchens at our disposal. They have several full size refrigerators we can use in a pinch. And the residents are welcome to take all the ice they make.

The park is a very nice size, just under 200 sites. A lot of people leave their trailers on their sites year round and just drive down for the winter. So it’s sometimes hard to tell if a site is occupied or not but I’m guessing at least half the sites are currently occupied and more people are arriving daily.

The park is a mix of travel trailers, park models, single wides, and even one double wide. But despite the close quarters everyone works hard at keeping it as neat and tidy as possible. Here is one of the older, more colorful residences with some newer rigs making up the rest of the row.

There is a nice lake at the back of the park with an island in the middle. They say there is normally an alligator or two roaming the lake and the canal that runs down one side of the park. Apparently no-one has sighted them yet this fall and they are generally very shy.

The management and staff here are just amazing. They are the nicest, most accommodating people we have ever met. We asked them for advice on where to find a certain tool to buy and they took us to their toolshed and loaned us what we needed.

They don’t have any activities during the summer but Halloween was the kickoff of their season and the beginning of their activities. They hosted a big Halloween BBQ potluck. We ate dinner at 4 and they had a live band from 5-7. These are our kind of hours!

The November activity calendar is packed. We’ve already joined the kayak club for their first weekly outing. We found a domino game on Wednesday nights. And we are looking forward to learning some new games. Apparently a bean bag toss league is one of the most popular events in the park.

We are looking forward to exploring the state from our new digs. There is plenty to keep us busy all winter within an hour of our door. But we plan to make several trips to other areas of the state. We can get to almost every place we hope to visit in 4 hours or less.

We probably won’t be taking the 5th wheel. It was a tight squeeze getting it into its current spot and it’s only going to get more snug as the park fills up. So we will have to get creative with our travel plans and budget. But we’ll figure it out and we’ll fill you in on it when we do.