Out With The Old

Almost all of the bloggers I know do a special post to mark the end of the year. I always enjoy reading them. Inevitably, it makes me reflect on our own travels, trials and triumphs.

2018 held lots of promise for us as we began our first full year of RV living and working. We knew we’d be starting in Florida, but had no way of knowing for sure December 2018 would find us back there. Hell, there were times when we were broken down, I didn’t think we’d ever make it back to Florida. But we did. We met so many wonderful people along the way. People who changed our lives, possibly without ever knowing so.

I count us a dang lucky…our adventures have been many and our trials have been relatively few, given our lifestyle.

I thought long and hard about how I was going to commemorate 2018. Usually I end up trying to pick a favorite picture from each month – a top 12, if you will. 12? Who was I kidding? We took pictures in at least 13 states, visited 15 national parks/monuments/preserves and drove through western Canada. I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to 12!

My solution was a collage made from every state we spent any real time in (and Canada will just  have to forgive my exclusion of them in this post). The following collages are in alphabetical order, not the order we visited. So without further ado, here is 2018 in review…

Arizona

Alaska Collage

California

Florida

idaho

Louisiana

Nevada

New Mexica

Texas

Washington

Wyoming

I don’t know for sure what is in store for us for the next year. We have some tentative plans and lots of hopes.

I sincerely hope 2019 brings health and happiness to you and yours! Thank you for wandering along with us.

Rockin’ Round the Christmas Tree

My last post had us leaving Midland, Tx heading for Florida. We made it in near record time and rested at Daddy’s house for about a 10 days before we were off to Parkland, Florida for our next job. I have to admit, I did have a few doubts about selling Christmas trees. What in the world were we getting ourselves into? We had no experience with managing a Christmas tree lot.

We arrived in Parkland on Nov. 16th and met Jeremy (owner of Hayes Farms Christmas Trees) for the first time. We liked him immediately and knew we had made the right choice. Jeremy led us to our “home” for the next 30-45 days, a beautiful spot behind Mary of Help Christians Church. Despite the certainty of several of my long time friends, I did not spontaneously combust upon reaching church grounds!

img_6983  The main tent was already up, but the trees hadn’t arrived yet…

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Our first sale was made even before the trees were setup in the tent. I was so excited. The guy must have thought I was daft when I asked if I could take a picture of the tree on his car. Note his hat, he is a New England Patriots fan. I took that as a sign all would be well.

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We spent the next couple days getting the trees and sales area just the way we wanted it.

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Jeremy stopped by to give us a crash course in Christmas tree selling. His most obvious suggestion was to be nice and have fun. He did warn us we would encounter a jerk or two, it just comes with any type of sales. Looking back over the last 30 days, I think we were dang lucky to only have one customer who was a problem (enough so, I turned it over to Jeremy). It turned out fine in the end, but I’m grateful we didn’t have more customers like him! Jeremy’s other warning wouldn’t truly sink in until 2 1/2 weeks later. “The hours were going to be long and fatigue WILL get to you. The lot is open Mon-Thurs, 9am to 9pm and Fri-Sun, 7:30am to 10pm.” The early hours didn’t concern me since I’m usually always up by 4:30am or so, but the late nights scared me, to be honest. I’m usually in bed and asleep by 8pm. With the help of an extra B complex vitamin, I survived.

At this point, I felt pretty confident we had a handle on it. And we did! The only part of our job we found to be challenging, was the hiring and retaining of lot workers. Most of them were high schoolers with a want for some cash in their pockets. They are the folks who drag your perfect tree out of the tent, wrap it up and tie it to your car for tips. Steve and I couldn’t do our jobs without them. I often felt frustrated by their lack of a strong work ethic but we got by. One of our lot workers was a superstar. If we had two more of him, we wouldn’t have needed anyone else. The other saving grace was on weekends we knew it was going to be non-stop, Jeremy would “loan” us a couple of workers from his other business. Despite the language barrier, these guys worked like there was no tomorrow!

Enough of the challenges, on to the fun!

Here are 2 of my favorite customers…

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Soooo, there were some ways I could make money, other than wages and tips. One of those was was tree flocking. Yes, I said flocking.

 

 

Flocking is a way of making the tree look snow covered. By the end of our time here, I had nearly become a pro…See for yourself…

One family drove all the way up from Miami for me to flock their tree.

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The review they gave us on Facebook made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside…

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When I wasn’t “flocking around”, I made wreaths from the tree trimmings. As you might have guessed, I learned how to do time lapse videos with my phone…

Oh ya, I flocked them too…

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One of our best sellers, were these reindeer and snowmen made out of tree cut-offs. They came in 3 sizes. I called them Babies (small), Teenagers(medium) and Adults (large). I couldn’t keep them in stock. Every time I had a herd of them ready, they would sell out by the end of the day…

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Some people were really attached to them…

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We were about 2 1/2 weeks into it and were running out of trees. Jeremy made the decision to have more brought down from North Carolina. I got to film/supervise the unloading of the truck…

Finally, more trees! That was just a week and a half ago and they are all gone. With 9 days until Christmas, we are sold out, with the exception of a few table top trees. For the last 2 days, I’ve had to tell countless families there were no more trees coming. And by the way, we open the weekend before Thanksgiving, come earlier next year. Since I’ve had time on my hands, I painted some of the things laying around…

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Rudolph, the red nosed palm boot

 

 

 

 

 

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And the farm logo on a cut-off from one of our 13′ trees

We’ve never had the desire to return to a location for work before. Part of the draw of this lifestyle is the constant change in scenery. With that being said, we are already making plans to come back next year. Yes, the hours are long and yes, we were exhausted, but it has been worth it. One of my favorite things about this job was Jeremy’s hands-off approach. This was our tree lot to manage. He was always available to answer questions or offer advice if I asked but he trusted us to make it work. I guess we did pretty darn well, because we made his top tier bonus for beating last years sales by more than 10%. Actually, we were closer to 20%. My organizational and craft skills, along with Steve’s “Let’s get to work” attitude, really made us ‘Rock around the Christmas tree!’

We are going to take a few weeks off to recuperate before heading to our next job. May the joy of the season be with you!

 

The End of the Road

In the middle of our Big Cypress adventure, we decided to take a road trip. Yes, we were already on a road trip, but this time we wouldn’t be taking Waldo. According to the map, Key West was only about 4 1/2 hours south. A little long for a day trip, but not quite long enough to make it worth packing up Waldo for an overnight. It had been about 25 years since I had been there and Steve hadn’t ever been there. I didn’t really give much thought to how much thing change in 25 years. Mistake number 1!

With Waldo safely tucked in at Burns Lake Campground, we set off early in the Jeep for our trip south. Key West, here we come!

Once we got south of Homestead, traffic began to back up. We crawled along as the scenery changed from mangrove swamps to views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other. We stopped at a pull off and saw the remains of the old bridge to the Keys…

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Many of the old bridges have been converted into fishing piers

There are over 1700 islands in what is collectively known as “The Keys”. The road through the Keys is called The Overseas Highway, also known as US Route 1. Seven Mile Bridge being the longest of the 43 bridges along the way. If you glance towards the Gulf of Mexico while you are on Seven Mile Bridge, you will see Pigeon Key. Notice the gaping hole in the old bridge. Pigeon Key is now a marine research facility and only accessible by ferry.

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There was still plenty of evidence of the destruction caused by hurricane Irma, travel trailers on the side of the road and boats yet to be recovered.

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Finally, we made it…Welcome to Key West!

 

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We spent the first hour or so just driving around. We drove by the marker for the southern most point in the continental United States. I snapped a quick picture with my phone, thinking we would come back to it later for a proper picture. It’s a good thing I did because when we drove by the following day and the line to get a picture was huge.

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Since we had been driving for hours, we decided to find a place to park and walk around. We found a spot in Old Town near the Waterfront Brewery.  I loved the murals on the building…

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The wall of the Cuban Coffee Queen building offered tourists a neat place for a photo op.

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The waterfront was packed with shops and eateries. So much to see…

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And all types of boats line the docks at the marina…

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Instead of thinking about where we were going to spent the night, we headed over to Duval Street, probably the most famous street in Key West. It runs north/south and stretches from the gulf to the ocean. Stretches may not be the right word since it is only 1 1/4 miles long, but what makes it so famous is the fact it is lined with bars. Both sides of the street, for its entire length – bar after bar after bar! Every kind of bar you can think of, from an upscale piano bar to a gentleman’s club. Duval Street has it all.

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If you had one beverage at every establishment, 43 drinks later, you would have completed what is known as the Duval Crawl. We didn’t crawl!

With sunset coming quickly, we walked through Mallory Square and found a place to enjoy it…

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After sunset, we began to think about a place to spend the night. 25 years ago, there were lots of, how should I put this, hole-in-the-wall places. You know, the kind that line every beachfront everywhere. Well…not anymore…not in Key West! A quick internet search told us the average price for a room in the cheapest of hotels was going to run us about $400 for ONE NIGHT. I almost choked on my beer! We talked about driving north until the prices dropped some. Another internet search told us that wouldn’t happen until we were off the Keys. It was getting late, we were tired and I was getting a little cranky. This all brings us back to that mistake number 1. After 25 years, things change! Finally, with the help of my Hotels Tonight app, we pried $300 out of out wallet and got a room at the Margaritaville Resort. It was a nice room, not $300 nice but that was better than the regular price of nearly $600.

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The view from our room

Wanting to make the most of our last day, we booked a trip with Fury Water Adventures and it didn’t go out until noon and the resort was nice enough to let us leave the Jeep there. We walked around Mallory Square and killed time until the trip went out. Pride of Key West is the name of the glass bottom boat and we found it at the dock…

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After we boarded, Steve and I split up. He stayed on the upper patio and I was lucky enough to get a spot at the bow. This lady held the other great spot on the bow…

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As we were going out, we passed another Fury boat heading in…

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Once we reached the coral garden, the captain did a great job of drifting us over the sea floor and the presentation given was excellent…

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On the way back to shore, Steve and I posed for this picture before relinquishing out spot on the bow…

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Although we still had over a 4 hour drive ahead of us, there were a couple places we wanted to hit before we left the island…

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Is it the end of the road?
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Or the beginning?

I guess it all depends on if you are going north or south. The other place we wanted to get a picture of was the lighthouse…

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Our Key West adventure was over and it was time to head back to Big Cypress. Here is where we made mistake number 2. We hadn’t listened to any local news. If we had, we would have been forewarned about the wildfires. The traffic came to a complete stop when we got to Key Largo and we had no idea why. Up ahead, we could see flashing lights and detour signs. Route 1 was closed – completely! But we still didn’t know why. We followed the traffic and found ourselves on Sound Card Road, the only other way off the Keys. We soon discovered the source of the problem, a wildfire…

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I sincerely hope it is the only wildfire we ever drive through! It was more than a little scary since the top was off the Jeep, as were the doors. Smoke blanketed the road. We could feel the heat and hear the crackle of the flames. I read later, there were actually 2 separate fires and we lucked out because both Route 1 and Sound Card Road had been closed earlier. Had we checked the news, we would have known.

It was late when we finally made it back to Waldo, but we made it. We really had a good time in Key West, but learned a little planning goes a long way and nothing stays the same for 25 years!

Have you ever been to the end of the road? Or done the Duval Crawl?

 

 

 

Exploring Big Cypress National Preserve, part 1

Everyone has heard of “The Everglades National Park”. But did you know there is another , equally beautiful, tract of land just east of the Everglades called Big Cypress National Preserve? What’s the difference between a national park and a national preserve? Land use is restricted more tightly in a national park, for example you can not legally hunt in most national parks, but you can in national preserves. Big Cypress was the first national preserve, established Oct. 11, 1974.

The concept of a Preserve was born from an exercise in compromise. Everyone saw the importance of protecting the swamp, but many did not want this region merely added to nearby Everglades National Park that was created in the 1940s. Many felt that national parks were managed in a restrictive manner and access to the swamp would be lost. The resulting compromise created a new land management concept – a national preserve. An area that would be protected, but would also allow for specific activities that were described by Congress within the legislation that created the Preserve.”

Steve and I recently spent 10 days exploring Big Cypress. We stayed at Burn Lake Campground which was a perfect jumping off spot for our day trips. There are no services at Burns Lake (electric, water or sewer), perhaps that is why it was so much less crowded than some of the other campgrounds. With only 10 RV sites (sites 1 & 2 are reserved for camp hosts) and 6 tent sites crowding is seldom an issue. Several nights during our stay, we were the only RV in the campground other than the camp hosts.

No matter where you travel within the park, you are guaranteed to see 2 things – alligators and birds!

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Frequently near each other. These wood storks aren’t paying any mind to the alligator on the shore. I don’t know how often a bird becomes a snack but…

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This vulture was more than happy to feast on these alligator remains, while the rest of the flock waited their turn…

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While many of the birds are out in the open and easily seen…

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Others challenge you to find them…

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Some birds strike regal poses for you…

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While others appear to be having a “bad feather” day…

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And speaking of feathers, I loved the way this one was drifting along in the current…

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Some of the other birds we saw…

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But, the most exciting bird encounter we had was at nearby 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Steve and I had been there several days earlier, but wanted to go back for a sunrise view from the observation platform. While the sunrise was beautiful, I didn’t really get any images I thought were spectacular. Not wanting to waste our visit, we walked along the refuge’s Marsh Trail. We stopped for a time to enjoy the peaceful surroundings…

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When to our amazement, an osprey decided to search for breakfast right next to us! The scene went something like this. The osprey flies in, literally, not more than 20 feet over my head…

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Sees something good to eat and prepares to dive…

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Gaining speed…

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I lost sight of him in the brush, but I heard the splash.  Then he re-emerges and flies off with breakfast…

Osprey Hunt-5130Steve and I were stunned to witness this so closely! On our way back to the Jeep, we stopped at the observation platform and I think this picture is perfect. To me it shows what a wide variety of people enjoy the refuge…

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Ok, so about those alligators. There are signs everywhere, warning people not to feed or harass the alligators. In the visitor’s center, they tell you to stay at least 10 feet away from them. That’s it? 10 feet? Hmmm, okay. My picture…

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Sorry, wrong one. My picture…

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And my proof I was 10 feet away…

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We happened upon lots of gators soaking up the sun…

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One of the hardest animals to get any photographs of were the turtles. Yep, the turtles! Nearly every time I would see one, Steve would stop the Jeep and they would disappear into the water. I did manage to get a few images…

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If you are lucky, you might get a chance to see some of the other animals in the preserve. While we did not see any bears or panthers, we did see a few deer off in the distance…

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What else is there to see and do? Stay tuned for Part 2!

Thanks for coming along!