Monday, January 2, 2012

A six week hiatus in the Tampa area

My mom's mobile home in Zephyrhills, which is now for sale
Nov 16-Jan 2, Zephyrhills, Florida--my mom’s home
After leaving San Sebastian Inlet State Park, we headed to Zephyrhills (near Tampa) where my mother lived the last twelve years of her life.  She and my step-father moved here after he had a stroke in 1999. With his confinement to a wheel chair, dealing with the harsh winters of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was no longer viable.  My niece Shannon was instrumental in finding a senior mobile home park for her grandmother to be close to family—three grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and an ex-daughter in law. My mother’s only living sibling, her younger sister Terry and her husband also moved to the area almost ten years ago.  My brother Jerry also has recently made Zephyrhills his home and my son Jesse has been living here since the fall.  So, coming to Zephyrhills means reconnecting with family, a welcome shift from our rather anonymous lifestyle on the road, especially with the upcoming holiday season.

My mom's lanai--sure miss having a cup of coffee with her here!

My Aunt Terry and me on her lanai (patio)
Researching available parks in the Zephyrhills area, I found myself quite surprised to see the number of places we had to choose from.  I wanted to be fairly close to my mom’s mobile home park and wanted to be in a park that was both reasonable and attractive as we were considering the possibility of staying here through Christmas.  I went with the highest rating in Woodall’s which was a Carefree park called Majestic Oaks.  The park turned out to be a rather large one (200 sites) with most sites containing park models—something which seems to be the norm in Florida.  We were, however, impressed with the wide streets, concrete patios, and well-maintained facilities.  The park also has an attractive pool, lighted tennis courts, bocce ball, shuffleboard and a daily activity schedule for card games, music nights, dances, etc.  Two of the unadvertised bonuses of the park are large open fields where the dogs could be off-leash and a perfect view for watching skydivers from the internationally known Zephyrhills skydiving club.  One other discovery was the park’s association with Passport America.  We were able to stay for two weeks at 1/2 price, making the daily rate around $14. The monthly rate was only $500 so our stay here would be not only comfortable, but economical. Our site was mixed in with park models, but the park does have a section which seems to be mostly reserved for long term stays of fifth wheels and motor homes.
The clubhouse at Majestic Oaks RV Resort
A major focus of my time here is to help my brother complete projects in getting my mother’s mobile home on the market. For me, these projects included interior painting, removing some wallpaper, general cleaning, and staging the home for potential buyers.  It feels good to be useful after spending the last few months with few responsibilities other than navigating and researching campsites. Aside from working on the house, Vic and I have been taking little side trips to explore the area such as Plant City (fruit and veggie markets), Dade City (antiques), Wesley Chapel (the hip Wiregrass Mall), and The Villages—self-contained retirement communities).  I also discovered a lounge well-known for its night club dancing—only thirteen miles from our RV park—called the Red Rose Inn. We went here on a Friday night and the house band played a great variety of danceable tunes—no cover charge.  A couple sat down next to us; he ordered scotch on the rocks, and she ordered a martini straight up.  They were there for their anniversary, to have a couple drinks, and to dance. He was 93 years old and she was 88!  How inspiring!
My niece had everyone to her house for Thanksgiving including my youngest brother Mike and his wife Bonnie. I love large family gatherings and haven’t had many chances to be a part of them living in Oregon for so long.  A big twist for us this year was the southern tradition of frying the turkey. Vic was a little skeptical, but it turned out great.  (My nephew Brian mastered the art of infusing the turkey with apple cider, butter, and spices.) To add to my family’s delight, the Green Bay Packers beat the Detroit Lions.
The day after Thanksgiving it seemed like the whole park lit up. It was fun to walk the dogs at night and see the many ways people decorated their fifth wheels, motorhomes, and park models.  Having brought no decorations with us, I felt compelled to find some way of making The Big EZ reflect the holiday spirit. Made a quick trip to Target where I bought a small fake tree (3 ft.) with battery-operated LED lights and three sets of white LED lights to hang inside.  Also, my brother, a compulsive garage sale shopper, found outdoor decorations for us that cost less than a bottle of wine—so we managed to put sparkle everywhere. 
My son Brooks and Rico in our home in Corvallis
 before we left last summer.
I have to admit that this time of year makes me miss our home the most as I loved going all out with decorations for Christmas and having a holiday open house for our Corvallis friends. Christmas in Oregon also meant a time for enjoying many fires in the fireplace, especially in the morning with hot chocolate for Vic and a cappuccino for me.  No campfires in the Zephyrhills park—although I think they would allow self-contained one that are off the ground—something I have been eyeing at Camping World and Lowes. Christmas in Corvallis also meant having my mom and two sons with us and Christmas in Florida would mean being apart from my oldest son Brooks.
We are also sad not to be able to enjoy the holidays with my step-children and grandkids in California. In retrospect, we wished we had arranged to have them come to Disney World for the holidays as it would have been a perfect way to see each other and add the fun of a Disney experience or all the other big attractions Orlando has to offer. Not to be this year, but we would like to consider this possibility for next year if we are back in Florida.
A photo from the last time we got
together with half of the Calif. kids
The granddaughters, Chloe and Isabelle, posing
at the oldest remaining Big Boy in Burbank, Ca.
Another major difference this year was the minimal shopping we did compared to life in our “stick and brick house.” We shopped on Amazon and bought gift cards for the grandkids and kept other gift shopping to a minimum this year.  It was refreshing to abandon the practice (for me) of wrapping gifts ‘til 1 or 2 in the morning on Christmas Eve.  The experience of losing my mom and sorting out her belongings, then reducing our own belongings to a storage shed has helped curb my desire to spend time and energy acquiring things.
We were happy to discover that the Eukanuba dog show was being held in Orlando, Dec. 14-17 and that my sister-in-law Sandy would be attending it to see her dog Garth compete.  An added surprise was learning that one of my former colleagues, Julie, and her family would also be at Disneyworld at the same time.  Seeing Garth and 38 other Portuguese Water Dogs at the show was quite fun and we were also able to enjoy poolside drinks and appetizers with Julie and her family after picking up my sister-in-law who was going to come back to Zhills with us for a few days.
My sister-in-law's grand champion, Garth
The line-up of PWDs
I am partial to black and white PWDS.

The dog is from Portugal where they let their hair grow
long everywhere except the back end lion cut.

I was hankering to get closer to the water, so we took a day trip with Sandy to a place called Tarpon Springs, home of the sponge industry. This was a little shore town settled mostly by Greeks because of the sponge industry. The town itself looked a little tired, but quaint and we enjoyed a lunch on the bay with the smell of seafood and the sounds of shorebirds—making for a peaceful getaway. It was delightful to have Sandy spend time with us (and the dogs!) share meals with us in the motorhome (she opted for staying in a nearby hotel). The weather has been phenomenal the whole time we have been here (highs in the 70s or low 80s) and I think she came to appreciate how comfortable life could be in a motorhome.
Another highlight of the season for me was making Christmas cookies with my aunt. She wanted to make a Hungarian cookie her mother used to make—one that I never made before. My grandmother originally made the cookie dough with lard, but we chose to use butter-flavored Crisco (I would also like to try it with butter). You roll the dough in powdered sugar and we filled the cookie with apricot filling like a little pillow. They truly did melt in your mouth. I also still follow the tradition of making Hungarian kolackys for Christmas which I gave as presents this year. I did have the unfortunate discovery that cookies in Florida become soggy from the humidity. (Putting them in fridge helped—or freezing might be better.)
We had a holiday meal on Christmas Eve at my niece Kim’s house and played a gift exchange game afterwards. My own family tradition has always centered on a meal on Christmas day so it was good to try something new with a gathering on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning at the motorhome, I made a brunch for my brothers, sister-in-law, and son Jesse. We managed to be quite comfy inside; it was a relaxing way to spend a sunny Christmas morning followed by watching football games outside on our patio.
One more week as we decided to take off to explore the southern part of the Gulf coast on Jan. 2. This week has been a typical time for us to catch up with Oscar-nominated movies, so we took in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Descendants, The Artist, and The Iron Lady. We were pleased with each film (in wildly different ways) and think that each was Oscar worthy with the Dragon Tattoo probably the least so.

My niece Karen and me
This is also the first time I have been able to attend my oldest brother Bob's annual holiday/birthday party. We drove about an hour and half north to Dunnelon and spent the late afternoon and evening at his home with my two other brothers, my niece and her children, and several of Bob's local friends. The other bonus was showing Vic my brother's amazing and eccentric homestead as he had never been to his place before.

The dilemma of how to spend New Year’s resolved itself by choosing to play it low key, going to a local wings place, shooting pool with my brother (not something I do often) and enjoying my niece and son’s company before we move on. We had considered going to a big New Year’s party featuring The Platters at the Red Rose Inn until we found out the tickets were almost $500 per couple. We had hoped to be in Mazatlan with our good friends Sharon and Bruce celebrating in style at the Torres Hotel but had to face the reality that getting to Mazatlan from the east coast and finding suitable place to leave the dogs presented too big of a challenge for us this year.  Plus we were less motivated to leave the sunny tropical winter we were experiencing in Florida compared to the typically dreary rainy winters of Oregon.  We try to get to Mexico at least once a year and, with my retirement, certainly had visions of gallivanting off to Mexico whenever we felt like it.  The decision to buy this motor home and pursue this lifestyle came about when we realized with the economy downturn and the escalation of the drug war in Mexico—it wasn’t a good time for us to invest in property there.  We still would like to pursue spending winters in Mexico after we get weary of full-time RV living.  

Happy New Year's everyone!

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