Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Yuletide potpourri

December 24-30, Zephyrhills, Florida

It’s almost hard to believe Christmas 2012 is behind us already. This year was our second Christmas as full-timers in our motorhome. With this distinction comes other seconds:  being out of our home in Oregon; spending Christmas in a warm climate; and missing my mom’s presence on this planet. We both have mixed feelings about spending this holiday far away from our kids. Next year we might do what many of our RVing friends do-- either have family come stay with us somewhere or lock up the motorhome and take a trip to the West Coast. Good to have options! 

It made the holidays a little easier to be in this part of Florida as I do have family here. The Christmas Eve tradition for my oldest niece is to have a family gathering at her home with a special meal, games, and a present exchange. After eating many delicious appetizers and a big meal with a standing rib roast and all the fixings, we did a white elephant exchange using trivial pursuit questions to determine the prizes. My niece found the best gag gifts at The Cracker Barrel of all places, things like a whoopee cushion, a chocolate tool kit, yo-yos, etc.  Actually, a lot of the gifts were pretty cute. I especially wanted to leave with a smsock monkeyall sock monkey, but alas, it escaped me.  Most people who know me are familiar with my monkey obsession.  I have teased Vic for years telling him I really want to have a monkey as a pet someday. I used to think I did, but now I just use this line for leverage as he will concede to almost anything else when I press the monkey issue.  (Whoops, I guess my trick is out of the bag now. )  Last year at a campground in Ft. Myers, a fellow camper was walking around with a spider monkey on his shoulder.  I made a deal with him to tell Vic that he was a breeder and that I put a deposit on a pet monkey for us. For a moment, Vic thought his worst nightmare was about to come true. After all that I had to settle for a monkey pillow that I try to protect from the abuse of the dogs.

jetta and monkey

I am including a collage of our Christmas Eve to share a sense of our evening with my middle brother’s Florida family. My brother Jerry, no surprise, is the one sporting the mink Russian Cossack hat—never mind that he is all Irish. 

xmas collage 2012

Christmas day was sure quiet—especially with no grandkids to wake us up. It was a sunny morning which we appreciated as the nighttime temps have dipped into the 30s here this past week. We had a leisurely morning and then I made a little brunch for my brother and us. His family always goes to see a movie on Christmas Day, so we decided to join in. The movie they chose to see, Django Unchained, a Quentin Tarantino film, was something I was leery about seeing because of the violence, especially on Christmas Day, but I managed to bury my head in my armpit each time the scenes turned graphic. I do have an appreciation for Tarantino’s off-the-wall techniques and unpredictable plot lines, and this film’s compelling story about bounty hunters in the 1850s did not disappoint. Good thing because it was almost three hours long! We went to a 2 p.m. matinee and it was almost dark when we got out of the theater. 

After the movie, we caught up with our family phone calls on the West Coast and tried to Skype our grandsons but our connection was poor. That was about it for Christmas Day—nothing too exciting other than an intense movie. A quiet day is something easier for Vic to handle than me. I always seem to battle unfulfilled idealistic expectations on holidays. To be frank, I felt a sense of relief when the day drew to a close. I am certainly thankful for our good health and the many blessings we have in our life—especially being able to retire and pursue this travel dream. As Vic said to me Christmas morning, “Every day in the motorhome seems like a holiday to me.”

I must add that one of my greatest pleasures during this time of year is baking, or what I like to describe as spending a few days covered in flour. Owing to my Hungarian heritage, two things I have to make at Christmas are kolackys and strudel. My own grandmother used to come to our home on Christmas Day and immediately began stretching the dough for her strudel on a card table.  My strudel dough is not quite so labor intensive, but I would like to challenge myself someday in trying to imitate her method.  Here are the results of my efforts—two apple strudels surrounding poppy and apricot kolackys on the inside of the platter.

On the day after Christmas, we decided to look for our joint present to each other: sliding shelves from Lowes for the three cabinets I use as a pantry in the motorhome. I saw these Rev-A-Shelves installed in a 40’ Phaeton last winter and have obsessed about them ever since. Lowe's only had one shelf in stock but three others were expected by Friday.  We picked them up yesterday but Vic has not yet installed them.  I promise to take photos and let you know how well they work when we do. The photo below shows the shelf we purchased, but we are putting them in the cabinets above the loveseat on the galley side of our coach.

rev a shelf

Another Florida family tradition is my oldest brother Bob’s annual holiday party at his home in Dunnellon, about 75 miles north of here. He chooses to hold it between Christmas and New Year’s every year as a joint celebration of Christmas and his Dec. 31 birthday. I was especially excited to hear that his two daughters and their children would also be visiting from Miami.  (Having two sons, I am especially fond of my seven nieces!) I didn't do a great job of capturing photos of everyone, but here are a few snapshots of the event. Of particular note is my grand-nephew Mathew donning his Christmas present from my brother—a flight suit just like grandpa used to wear in the Marines!

bob's party collage

Yesterday was our real Christmas in terms of spending money on ourselves. We picked up the three sliding shelves from Lowe's and then went to Best Buy and bought a 16 GB i-Pad mini. Vic was really impressed with my niece Kathryn’s i-Pad mini which she demonstrated for us when she was visiting here earlier in the month. He was so impressed he thought I should have one!  Sweet. He has a Kindle which he loves; I have resisted having an e-reader until Kathryn showed me all the free classics she has access to on her i-Pad.  I am looking forward to building my electronic library since we have only one bookshelf in the motorhome.

The last week of the year is indeed drawing to a close.  We are scheduled to leave this park on New Year’s Day—seems a little weird to leave on a holiday but we are ready for our big journey of 75 miles to Buttonwood Inlet RV Resort in Cortez.  This is one of the first times in 16 months that I have had a case of hitch itch-- being only one mile from the beach should scratch it!

Wishing you all a joy-filled and prosperous New Year.  Jibby-Jibby! (My family toast.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Getting into the holiday spirit

 December 15-23, Zephyrhills, Florida

This is the second Christmas in a row that we have spent in Zephyrhills, Florida. My mom used to live here before she died in May of 2011 and I have a brother, aunt, nieces, and their families here so we planned to be in this part of Florida for the holidays. Last year, my youngest son was also here and my youngest brother and his wife joined us from the Keys. This year, both my sons are in Oregon and my aunt who lives here is back in Chicago with her children as she just lost her husband at the end of November. The mood here has been a bit more subdued this year but we have managed to find ways to get in the holiday spirit.

One thing we decided to do was sign up to attend the Christmas Dance here at the park.  A funny story about it was that we were getting dressed up for a holiday party when I looked at the tickets and they noticed for the first time that they said Country Christmas Dance with pictures of cowboy boots and hats surrounding the ticket information. With about an hour before we were to go, we had to revise our clothing plans to fit the country theme. I was delighted to have an opportunity to wear my cowboy boots and just paired them with a black skirt and sequined white blouse.  Vic switched to jeans and a black shirt with a bit of longing for cowboy boots himself, but oh well—he has had plenty of opportunities to indulge in some and keeps resisting.

couples dancing

The entertainment for the night was a one man “band,” Karl Sapp, who did a great job of playing a variety of danceable songs. He played the guitar well but his best feature was his smooth sounding country voice.

xmas dance entertainer

Most of the songs were country two-steps, but we managed to do a few waltzes, some west coast swing, and even one country style cha cha. There is a group here at the park who practices line dances once a week, so those were popular too. Vic got up and joined in a couple and I did one cha cha line dance—but I prefer to dance with a partner.

line dancing

We sat with a lively group at one big table (there were about 100+ folks there) and had fun getting to know some new folks. They had a huge potluck of appetizers and everyone brought their own drinks, so the only cost for the night was $5 per ticket. Certainly one of our more budget friendly experiences. 

duck on bottle

During this past week, I have stayed busy with mailing presents, baking holiday goodies, taking a trip to drop off my aunt and pick up my brother at the Tampa airport, and going new camera shopping at Costco and Best Buy.  (I ruined my little point and shoot when I capsized in the kayak.)  With my aunt in Chicago, I have also taken on the daily duty of feeding her cat and giving it some attention while she is gone. I feel a special affinity to the cat as it was my mother’s before my aunt adopted her after my mother’s death.

And so this is Christmas in Florida. The weather has been a bit up and down with a pretty good rainstorm earlier in the week and then we have had what they call a cold spell here for the past three days (with nighttime temperatures dropping as low as 30 which is cold for these parts.)  I have actually enjoyed the crisp air which makes it feel a bit more like Christmas around here. Truthfully, my ideal Christmas is about a week somewhere in a cabin with snow then fly off to a tropical escape somewhere. But I am not complaining about the sunshine that is almost a daily event here, even with chilly temps. Probably the biggest difference for us spending Christmas in our motorhome is being away from our children, grandchildren, and closest friends. I also miss the decorating I did in our home as well as the entertaining.  What I don’t miss is how much exchanging presents seemed to be more out of control when we were in our home.  We definitely have cut back on the mass gift giving and seem to be less caught up in the commercialism of the season. For many years of my life, I spent Christmas Eve delivering homemade German stollen to friends’ doorsteps and wrapping presents till after midnight. My favorite part of Christmas in Oregon was drinking coffee or a cappuccino by a roaring fire on Christmas morning.  It has been cold enough here to have an outdoor fire but, alas, this park does not provide fire rings.  I would really like to have our own, but so far we have resisted adding another thing to store in our “basement.”

manhattanThe cold weather last night made it a perfect time to check out a Dade City Christmas event on historic Church Street featuring luminaries lining the street, festive decorations of turn of the century homes and churches, musical performances, living nativities, and choir performances. it was also fitting in terms of the chilly weather that they served hot chocolate and coffee at different stops along the way. We started the evening with a holiday drink at one of my favorite restaurants in the area, the Kafe Kokapelli, just a few blocks away, which was also festively decorated for Christmas.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on the Christmas stroll of Church Street. It turned out to be amazing with at least eight blocks of historic homes and churches that were specially decorated for this event. The streets along the whole way were lined with luminaries, one of my favorite ways to light up a driveway or street for a special occasion.

The best part of the walk, aside from some incredible lighting and decorations, was the entertainment along the way.  Private homes had carolers, flutists, jazz bands, and even one with a conductor pretending to be directing a synchronized light show.  The churches had choir concerts inside, Christmas readings, and living nativities outside.

The houses themselves were beautifully decorated in a style that often complemented the vintage of the home. One home in particular really took my breath away, especially after discovering we were welcome to go on their front porch and peek inside.  There were screens on some of the windows, so the photos are blurry, but I tried to capture the incredible beauty of this home inside.

I have always loved beautiful light displays at Christmas. I think this lust for lights hearkens back to my youth and the tradition of walking along State Street in Chicago, then later spending Christmases in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where my mom and her husband lit up their whole property in a winter wonderland display at their restaurant overlooking Lake Superior. Poor Vic has had to contend with this ideal of mine. In our full-time travel, I have settled for just a few strings of white lights inside the motorhome, a small tree on the dash, lots of led candles flickering each night, and a large string of twinkling snowflakes outside hanging from our awning. I also filled a basket with some wonderful pine cones I collected from our campground in Bend, Oregon. Gotta have a touch of "home."

I leave you with a little collage of the homes on the Dade City Church Street walk.  May you have a special holiday that lights up your spirit and warms your soul.

church street houses

Friday, December 21, 2012

Time out for a doggy blog

December 16, Orlando, Florida

golden retrievers w xmas costumes

We have known for some time that we would be attending the annual Eukanuba Dog Show at the Orlando Convention Center.  My sister-in-law from California had two dogs in the show, so this was also an opportunity to see her and her Portuguese Water Dogs, Garth and Nikki. Garth was the stud dog we used for our dog Jetta’s second litter and Nikki is Jetta’s nephew. 

I love going to the shows to see the different breeds of dogs, plus we get a behind the scenes look by hanging out around Garth and Nikki’s handlers who had about ten dogs entered in the show.  If you have ever seen the movie Best in Show, it is a pretty realistic spoof of these events.  The showing part with the judges, my least favorite part, is highly political in terms of the judging and who’s who. I don’t even understand all the different groups and types of qualifications. I do know “our breed,” the Porties, are in the working class but we didn’t stay for that part of the show where they do the groups and then best of show. The amazing thing to me about seeing all the Porties is the varied appearances of the dogs. First of all, the most traditional color is black, with black and white (like Bo, the President’s dog) being the second most common followed by brown, brown and white, and then the least common—silver, champagne, or silver fox like our dog Rico.

brooks and rico

Here are a couple photos of my sister-in-law’s dogs: Garth and Nikki. The shaved rear body (called the Lion cut) you will see on Nikki is the most traditional cut for Porties. This cut allowed them to swim more efficiciently; the short cut in back and the long hair in front would keep their bodies warm when they were used by Portuguese fisherman to bring in their nets or as messengers between boats. The judges also allow a retriever cut which is what both of our dogs have. 

garth best


Of course I had to snap some photos of some other breeds who caught my eye while walking around.

big dog name

A Skye Terrier with hair handing down to the floor

mastiff face

newfoundland with leopard handler


The other fun part of the show is to check out all the booths with everything under the sun for your pooches. Since I groom the dogs myself, I often have to get a new comb or the latest and greatest shampoo.  I am also a big sucker for dog toys, but, luckily, our dog Rico is too rough on the cute soft ones so it is easier for me to resist. This year, what I was unable to resist is the purchase of new collars for the dogs. Leather collars are hard to find (especially at a reasonable price) but I found some that had a bit of bling for less than half the price I saw on-line. So here are our Christmas presents for J and R.

dog collars

Since we are on the topic of dogs, I thought I would include a few photos of our latest “grandpuppies.”  The mother of this litter is Rico’s sister from our litter of nine puppies born near Christmas three years ago that we named after Santa’s reindeer.  (Rico’s litter name was Donner; his sister was Vixen.).  These are Vixen, now known as Nixie, and Garth’s puppies. Good thing they are all spoken for and that we live in a motorhome!

5 girls

3 curly boys2

To round out the “all about dogs” blog, I will leave with you a little Christmas video of  Bo, the first family’s dog, checking out the White House decorations.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Honoring my uncle’s life of 87 years

Dec. 7, Zephyrhills, Florida


My uncle who lived here in Zephyrhills died at the James A. Hayley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa on Wednesday, Nov. 28.  We arrived here on the 29th and have been grateful to be able to be here in support of my aunt.  As a way to acknowledge and honor my uncle’s life, my aunt wanted to have a small family dinner gathering here in Zephyrhills on Friday, Dec. 7.The date was a bit ironic, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, as my uncle served in the Navy as a wheelman aboard a munitions ship during WWII.  Most of my memories of him date back to my childhood in Illinois and early teen years in Northern Michigan where he would gladly visit us to hunt and fish. He had contracted polio at the young age of 21, at the end of WWII. This disease gradually took its toll on his strength and ability to walk on his own, especially in his later years.  He and my aunt moved to Florida about ten years ago to be near my mom and her husband who have also both passed away now. More reminders of the temporality of life on this planet. 

My three brothers who live in various parts of Florida all made it to the dinner along with a niece, a nephew, sister-in-law. a cousin and his girlfriend and son. We had a nice meal at a local steakhouse and everyone had a chance to tell stories about Bill, with my older brothers able to recall memories reaching back more than fifty years to my uncle’s courtship of my aunt. I made a little photo collage and wrote a short blurb recounting some of the highlights of his life which I read to everyone. It was a very casual and a sweet tribute to his gentle spirit.

My uncle was not a religious man in any traditional sense, so I found a poem about hunting and fishing that really captured our family’s view of him in heaven.

Heaven’s Fishing Hole

For years, the riverbank was where
Your soul felt most at peace
Your heart was most content when there
With the fish and the geese
But then, your spirit came to rest
Where angels chose to roam
And once equipped with ten pound test
You made yourself at home.

The sky became your deep blue sea
The clouds became your shore
And there, for all eternity
You sat with friends galore
Each angel was a fisherman
Who had traded his pole
For golden wings and a game plan
At Heaven’s Fishing Hole.

The tales you told about each catch
Its stature and its girth
Will live in memories unmatched
As days pass here on earth
Until we meet again, one day
Upon God’s golden sand
We’ll picture you, no other way
Than with a pole in hand.

--Jill Eisnaugle

Here’s to you Bill, a life of 87 years well-lived.
bill's collage_1

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Enjoying a night of the Blues in Tampa

December 1, Zephyrhills, Florida

One of my nieces, who has been visiting Florida for the past couple weeks, was supposed to leave today for Sweden.  About fifteen minutes after her flight time, I received a text message from her saying she forgot her passport in Colorado!  She had a serious meltdown at the airport as she had so carefully planned for this trip to move to her fiance’s home country and somehow forgot the most obvious necessity.  To help lift her spirits about delaying her trip to Monday, my other niece and I took Kathryn to hear Betty Fox and the Dirty Bastards, a blues singer, at the World of Beer in Tampa. Little did I know when I said yes I will go that we wouldn’t even leave for Tampa (about a 30 minute drive) until 9 p.m.  Guess I am feeling old because I needed some caffeine before heading out. 

The World of Beer is a relatively new franchise pub that began in Tampa in 2007 which was purchased by Outback Steakhouse in 2010.  They offer over 300 beers (most in bottles) and have flat screen tvs for sports and live music on the weekends.  I am not a big fan of franchises, but this one felt more like a good neighborhood bar. The highlight though was the quality of the music. My niece Shannon has become a bit of a groupie following Betty Fox to different venues in the area.  Betty is a songwriter performer with a voice that sounds like a mix of Janis Joplin and Etta James.  Her band is obviously seasoned and skilled in performing the kind of music that complements Betty’s gritty voice.  With no cover charge, no smoke, front row seats, and some good craft beer (Anderson Valley seasonal was my choice), I had no regrets about making a promise to go out with my much younger nieces.  The biggest challenge of the night was not getting too animated on the dance floor—and that’s a problem I will gladly choose.  About an hour after we arrived, two more friends of Shannon’s joined us and the five of us easily became Betty’s biggest fans.  She even spent part of her break visiting with us as she recognized my niece from seeing her in the Keys during Fantasy Fest.  I was sure impressed with her talent and was happy to hear she has a strong following throughout the state. 

betty fox

shannon and katie at betty fox

After listening to three full sets, we called it a night.  I arrived back to the motorhome by 2 a.m.  It has been quite a while since I stayed out that late, but the joy of being retired with few commitments is that I can sleep in and even take a nap later in the day if needed.  The best part of the next day was having my brother invite us all over for dinner so I didn’t even have to cook a meal that night. We said our goodbyes to my niece, once again, and wished her well in receiving her passport in time for her Monday afternoon flight to Sweden. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Checking out the Webster flea market

Dec. 3, Zephyrhills, Florida

lucite jewelry

You might notice I am behind almost two weeks on my blog. Since we have arrived in Zephyrhills, I have been trying to spend as much time as possible with my aunt whose husband passed away on Nov. 28. In the meantime, Vic and I have managed to have a few fun getaways in between mostly lying low (by choice) for the month of December.  One of those getaways was something our fellow Phaeton motorhome friends invited us to do. While staying in Bradenton, they planned to take a drive to the Webster Flea Market and offered to pick us up on their way there.  The market only happens on Mondays and their plan was to leave Cortez (near Bradenton Beach) by 6:30 a.m. and be here at our park by 8 a.m.  That is early for us so we had to intentionally prepare for their early arrival.  I also wanted to have a meal ready for our return later in the day, so I set my alarm early enough to bake bread before going to the market.

I had heard about this market before and neither Vic or I am too excited about these places, but we looked forward to hanging out with BJ and Mike and seeing the market through their eyes.  I have also come to accept that these experiences are an inherent part of the culture here so why not go with the flow?
Webster Flea Market. one of the largest markets in the nation, has been going for over 40 years.  The setting covers almost 50 acres with over 2000 stall or tables, selling everything from collectible antiques to the latest mass-produced trinkets from China. Fortunately, it was a slightly overcast day with a cool breeze as we spent most of our three hour visit there outside in the sun at the open tables with antiques.  I must say I was transported back to my youth on several occasions looking at trolls, suzy homemaker ovens, and marble collections.

trollpink phone

After a couple of hours, Vic and I both felt like our eyes were weary from ogling all the tables for possible treasures. The fortunate part is that living full-time in a motorhome puts a strong limit on the buying impulse.  I did, however, fall for a tin full of old buttons for $8 to fulfill an unrealistic notion of crocheting button bracelets like the type my mom made back in the 50s. I found a good hiding place for the tin under the washing machine in a bin with my cowboy boots.  Safekeeping.

A couple other things that reminded me of the past were several cypress knee lamps.  I thought they were ugly back when they were popular and still think they are ugly today, but certainly kitschy.

cypress knee lamp

My friend BJ recognized the Lucite jewelry (in my opening photo) that dates back to the 30s, but I am not familiar with it. I just thought it made for a fun colorful photo—especially the mannequins!I also had not seen a real cuckoo clock since sitting at our neighbor’s house back in the 60s in McHenry, Illinois. 

cuckoo clock

You sure do see a few characters both behind the counters and among the shoppers at Webster. Like I say, it’s a different culture in this central part of Florida

webster flea market guy

Another thing I saw quite a bit of were toys, dolls, or artifacts with racist origins.  I can understand the collectability but have trouble with the degrading depictions of African American culture, especially in the toys and picture books.  It seems more acceptable to be selling these things in the south and that disturbs me even more. The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis has similar kinds of artifacts on display tracing the progression of the distorted stereotypes of the African-American culture, particularly in the South.  Kind of eye opening as a Midwesterner, and for the last thirty years of my life as a Northwesterner where this kind of thing would be more typical in stereotypical representations of Native Americans.

slave girl doll

We headed back on the nearly one hour drive alongside the Green Swamp on Hwy 471 south to Zephyrhills. I made a late afternoon lunch of pasta and homemade bread.

We enjoyed some vino and good conversation for a few hours before Mike and BJ headed back on the 90 minute drive to Cortez. The day with them was a nice break from dealing with the sadness of planning a family gathering as a memorial to my uncle to be held Friday, Dec. 7