Summer Travel Map

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Excellent progress and improving weather

January 30, 2010 (fingers still aren't used to typing 2010)
Peoria, AZ

What more could you ask for?  Life is good here in the desert.  I've made good progress with preparing the outside of the house (well, three sides of it anyway) for painting, although I've got a long way to go.

Painting a house is kind of like a lot of projects we got involved in back in the working days.  It's a pretty straightforward concept and the steps are easy to understand: prep, paint, clean up, Miller time.  Unfortunately, once you start actually doing things, all sorts of little details start appearing.

The primary obstacle to painting was the eaves, specifically the cheap plywood and poor painting techniques the builder used.  What watered-down paint did get applied to the underside of the roof sheathing under the eaves was peeling quite badly.  When I started scraping (old school, like with a scraper, since the spaces between the roof trusses are too small for power tools), much of the first layer of the sheathing just peeled off and crumbled away.  I wrapped up the scraping yesterday afternoon, thankfully.  Always try to get the hardest part of any job out of the way first, I say.

I sanded the fascia trim while I was slowly moving the ladder around the house 16" at a time, and that's where "scope creep" started.  The wood was never primed and a rough sanding took it right down to bare wood.  OK, so that'll require two coats of paint instead of one.  And there are quite a few places where the stucco (I hate stucco) needs patching.  Hmmm, the paint on the foundation looks like it's peeling; that'll require some wire brush work and priming as well.  Hey, there's a bird's nest up here where the house eaves meet the garage.  Looks like we'll need wire mesh installed to keep the birds out.  Oops, another nest up over the front foyer; more wire.  I wonder how well the paint will adhere to those galvanized pipes that were installed to run natural gas to the stove and grill.  OK, I'll clean and prime them first.  Uh, what's this area where the window trim butts up to the fascia?  No, stucco is not a sealant, so that'll all have to be removed and sealed properly before painting.

So, you get the idea, my "project plan" has grown to about 40 discrete steps, several of which have to be done in the right order.  Some things never change: I'm just a planner at heart.  I really do enjoy figuring all this out.  Scraping under eaves?  Not so much.

Several neighbors and passersby have commented directly or indirectly that I'm nuts to do this myself.  On the other hand, I'll save $1,500 (buys a lot of diesel) but more importantly, there's no way I could get someone to really do all the scraping, sealing, and other prep work correctly, so it would be peeling again in a year or two.  Plus, it keeps me out of trouble and it's the perfect time of year (low-to-mid-60s, light breezes - El Niño aside) for this kind of project.

And, speaking of weather, it's been pretty nice since the last round of storms passed through.  I'm a little disappointed that we didn't get over to Quartzsite to catch up with RVing friends (Geri, not so much - about Q, not friends), but downpours in the desert aren't our thing.  Thursday was kind of interesting, with clouds on the horizon in three directions all day.  Even later in the day when the clouds increased, we could still see blue sky through them.  As we were walking the pups, Geri and I both commented that the sky looked ripe for a rainbow.  Well, not five minutes later, the setting sun dropped below the clouds to the west and we were graced with a perfect rainbow stretching cleanly all the way across the arc, plus a great sunset.  As we finished our walk, we got hit with a few raindrops ("showers" in AZ terminology) and the rainbow turned to a double.  We quickened our pace heading for home to grab the camera, but the double had faded by the time I could get the shot.  It was still pretty, though.

Otherwise, it's been life as usual.  Yesterday, we helped our neighbor across the street, Clisby, with some PC updates, and we did wings and 'ritas last night when another neighbor, Mary Ann, joined us for dinner.  Geri's been busy organizing excess stuff for a proposed yard sale in the spring (why is it that two people need over 50 wine glasses, anyway?) and arranging for a carpet cleaner and house cleaner (we don't need someone on a schedule, but we do need a team to come in and scrub the place down from time to time) to get in here in early-February.

Today, I "took the day off".  I actually started reading the new Dan Brown book.  Well, it's not new any more since it came out last September or something like that but, hey, that's pretty good for me these days.  Tomorrow: back to the paint prep...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Can't put it off any longer

January 28, 2010
Peoria, AZ

Painting the outside of the house, that is. Actually, painting isn't the problem, it's the preparation that I dread. But, it can't be avoided, so I started. The first step was relatively easy: supplies and tools. I loaded up on masking tape and plastic, and bought a new scraper. I'm a power tool guy, but getting all the loose paint from under the eaves will require a bit of old-school scraping. I started with some other fix-up efforts: installing clips to screw the conduit for the back yard electrical circuits to the foundation (zip-ties attaching the conduit to the gas line for the grill don't survive in the AZ heat), patching some damaged areas in the stucco, moving some paving blocks - anything to avoid the scraping. By Tuesday, I couldn't avoid it any longer, so out came the ladders and up I went. It's slow going, even listening to tunes on the iPod, and dirty (when you're scraping under the eaves, the stuff has no place to go but on you). But, good progress was made: I finished one side and can wrap up the rest in another day.

Yesterday was supposed to be a showery day (parts of the Valley got rain but we didn't), so I "took the day off", but today it's clearing so I'm getting charged up to get the "hard part" over. I suppose that's the way I've learned to tackle most things, by getting the difficult thing done first. Growing up as a picky eater, I always ate the thing I liked the least first and "saved the best for last". In this case, the actual painting should be relatively painless, since we have a pro-quality paint sprayer I'll use for that.

I have a couple of additional tasks to tackle after the scraping and sanding are done. I have to prep the foundation (wire brush) and prime the concrete well, clean and prime the gas lines (galvanized pipe) with Rustoleum, and install some wire mesh under certain parts of the eaves to keep birds out (I found two nests so far). I'll be into the painting by early next week. Since the house has two different colors (body and trim), that'll take two passes. Taking a cue from watching other houses get painted, I'll shoot the trim first, not worrying about overspray but using a narrow-pattern nozzle, then mask that off and shoot the body. Seems like a plan.

In the spirit of complete disclosure, I should note that this phase will only address three sides of the house - the part that "shows". I'm going to do the back of the house as a separate project because I have a lot of work to do to remove all the patio decorations before that area can be done. No matter what, we'll have the whole thing done by the end of February.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Surviving the "Winter Wallop"

January 25, 2010
Peoria, AZ

Yes, we're still alive - sorry for the gap in posting! There's not much to report from the past week, other than the weather. A series of storms passed through and dumped some rain. Since we grew up with variable weather, we put on our rain gear (even the pups) and tended to take it in stride. Of course, we had all the obligatory TV news stories about people driving through washes filled with running water and getting stuck or worse, washed away. Stupid - not my term, they actually have a "Stupid Motorist Law" in AZ now. If you get caught driving around "road closed" signs, you get to pay the costs of your own rescue. Doesn't look like it'll help.

I wanted to get over to Quartzsite this winter, where RVs gather in the desert, to catch up with some traveling friends, but the weather made that a non-starter. Geri wasn't particularly in the mood for a trip there (or anywhere for that matter), having just gotten back from the 4-week dash to the East and back. Maybe next year...

Anyway, we caught up on some "rainy day projects" - often, we have these queued up and don't get to them in the nice weather. We both worked on to-do lists, organizing things that need to be done "now" versus before we leave for the summer. Geri got an early birthday/anniversary gift: i ordered her an Amazon Kindle book reader, which won't save us any money but will definitely make storage and transport easier. I'm holding out for the Apple tablet that's supposed to be announced later this week. I say that, but actually rarely read books anymore, tending to focus more on online reading (news, travel, motorhome, photography) and periodicals (same focus areas), so I'm not sure if it makes sense for me.

I also did some budgeting (downer - continuing to live within our income sucks) and a first cut at last year's taxes (upper - excess withholding and the tax credit for the solar equipment we put on the coach last spring yields a refund for a change). All in all, it's been a rather productive week.

On the food and wine front, we've continued to do well. We're almost through all of the red wine that ended up in the "drink it or lose it" pile when we reorganized the "wine box", although there's still quite a bit of white left. Given our tendency to focus on reds, I need to figure out how that happened or, better said, make sure that doesn't happen again. I think we'll be paring back on some of the "wine club" memberships we've accumulated where they ship us what they want as opposed to us buying what we like. On the meal front, one highlight was among the simpler dishes, as we made (well, Costco made and we cooked) a chicken-parmesan ravioli with a sun-dried tomato cream sauce. A simple sauce, this one will work with a variety of additions, so we'll be trying it out several times in the future, I imagine.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Back to normal - for a few days anyway

January 17, 2010
Peoria, AZ

"Normal" depends, of course, on where we happen to be and the time of year. For right now, we'll enjoy a few nice days of "winter in Arizona" (sunny and low 70s) before things turn cool and - OMG! - rainy next week as a strong El Niño pattern sets up. California is supposed to get the brunt of the bad weather, but we'll probably get some of it. We'll see...

So, yesterday Geri got to have all the nails done and I was able to watch some NFL playoff football. I don't tend to spend a lot of time following any sport until their post-season, and football is no different. For some reason, being from New England didn't lead to becoming a fan of the Pats, Giants or Jets. I can remember following the Vikings (Eller-Page-Larsen-Marshall, Tarkenton) and Colts (Unitas and the real Baltimore version) "back in the day". I've developed a soft spot for teams in "adopted" cities of Philadelphia and Phoenix, but you can't get too excited about teams that haven't developed the ability to win the big games. So, I guess we'll keep our eye on the Colts and Vikings, at least through next weekend. ;-)

Last night we had Steak Frittes (parmesan-truffle fries, at that)with a mushroom sauce and a 2004 Badge Pinot Noir. With fresh oil, I got the fries too crispy. I dug out the steak plates with the metal inserts in wooden trays, then didn't account for the extra cooking the heated plates would yield, turning nice rare steaks to medium. Not my best effort, but at least the wine was great.

I also small piece of lamb leg to marinating, so that will get grilled off today, once the late game is over. Then we'll batten down the hatches for the pending weather.

Friday, January 15, 2010

No more "marking your territory"

January 15, 2010
Peoria, AZ

Some things are never easy. I called W. W. Williams to check in on the coach late in the morning and they had just found the needed gaskets ($26 for the set of three needed). Geri and I used the time to make a shopping circuit: Total Wines (no wine this time, just some of that Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale that I had in Florida), Costco, and Sprouts (local specialty grocer). With a full cooler, we stopped at home for a drop-off, then finished up at Wally World before heading to pick up the coach. Turns out the delay was because their power washer is on the blink and they really wanted to steam clean the transmission. I told them to clean it up the "old fashioned" way, verify that the gasket repair worked, and we'd take the coach.

So, off to storage we went. After dumping the holding tanks and giving things a good flush (the primary reason we didn't want to let it sit in service and "ferment"), the coach was back in its designated spot. As I was dumping, I noticed some oil and dirt on one of the tag axle wheels, so I'll have to check that out to see if I need to replace the end cap seal or if it needs to go back to the shop for an axle seal. It's always something.

We've found that Sprouts gets (or claims to get, anyway) fresh fish six days a week, so that was on our "wish list". Geri picked out a couple of nice pieces of Chilean Sea Bass and found a recipe involving a broccoli-tomato risotto. Paired with a nice Tempranillo from the Santa Ynez Valley, we continued to eat well and have good success with the "drink me now" bottles.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

For want of a $3 gasket...

January 14, 2010
Phoenix, AZ

We did a great job of unloading the coach, if I do say so myself. We got an early start, Geri got the laundry started right away, and we were all done by 11:30. I decided to take advantage of this to head over to the local Detroit Diesel/Allison shop to get the small oil leak we've had for some time fixed. I was able to figure out that it was really a leak in the hydraulic system, not the engine or transmission. More specifically, it's a leak in the power take-off (aka "PTO") mounted on top of the transmission that drives the engine's fan. The operative word here is "top" of the transmission. I knew I needed to get it in the shop because I can't get to the fittings while laying on my back on the ground. I knew I needed to get it addressed soon, because what started as a quarter-sized spot under the tranny has grown to about a 6" mark.

They got me in right away and were able to confirm that the PTO is leaking (as opposed to the hydraulic lines or fittings) and that's where things bogged down. The PTO uses three gaskets. W. W. Williams had two gaskets in stock. After calling all over town, it seems like the only gaskets to be found are part of a $200 rebuilt kit that the PTO distributer doesn't want to break open. Hmmm. Fortunately, it won't hurt us too much if they need to keep it overnight, but I definitely don't feel comfortable leaving it sit in their yard waiting for parts.

Hopefully, they'll track down the gaskets tomorrow. The surprising good news is that the Service Advisor offered to drop me off at home rather than make Geri drive all the way to pick me up. Geri took out some pasta sauce that was hiding in the freezer, which went very well with some angel hair and a Curran Sangiovese from California. Good deal!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Another cross-country trip - check

January 13, 2010
Phoenix, AZ

We completed our latest cross-country trek without too much trouble (other than the temperatures), and have quickly settled into our "home" routine.

When we left Florida, it was still below freezing. Even though the park left most water spigots dripping all night, several were frozen up each morning. I had to run a longer hose to another site to get water for the pre-departure tank flush.

At least the temperatures gradually increased each day, and the weather stayed nice. We didn't even need the furnace in the morning as we got closer to AZ.

Day One of the run was supposed to be the short day, leaving Panama City Beach mid-morning, following US-98 to Pensacola, and then jumping to I-10 into Alabama and Mississippi. We planned to overnight at the last rest area in Mississippi but decided to press on since it was still early. We ended up at a rest area in the middle of Louisiana that was large, quiet, and secure. Not bad for being smack dab in the middle of the Atchafalaya Swamp. Their signage is a bit lacking, and we ended up in the truck parking area. The security guy was quick to show up; we thought that he might be ready to chase us out, but he only wanted us to move over to the RV lot. Fine by me. After a fine dinner of Mexican Sheppard's Pie that Geri had pre-made, we had a good night's sleep.

We had some clouds and sprinkles on Day Two, but nothing to slow us down (we already drive slowly at 58-59 MPH!). We finished up with Louisiana, and I really have to comment on the roads. We, like many others, have routinely been critical of the Interstates in the state, considering I-10 to be the worst in the country. Well, we didn't take I-10 all the way (using the I-12 bypass of New Orleans), but there was very little to complain about other than a couple of short stretches around Lafayette and Baton Rouge. No more complaints from me!

Our target for Day Two was just short of San Antonio. Texas is such a long state (880 miles on I-10) that it's not feasible to cross it in one day. We weren't too happy with the Flying J we stopped at, with tight parking and some shady characters hanging out in the parking area, but we survived. We were impressed at the number of birds nesting in the trees and "hanging out" on the wires - thousands of them all evening long. Oh, well, the car and coach will both need a bath anyway. We had an "experimental dinner": a frozen Lo Mein that was actually pretty good (not as good as we make from scratch, but definitely good enough for a "travel day". Now, if only we could remember the brand...

We finished crossing Texas on Day Three, ending up at the Flying J at Exit Zero in Anthony, just past El Paso. We were pretty much right on schedule, running into a bit of close-quarter evening rush hour traffic through El Paso but nothing too bad. Since there were no RVs parked in the designated spots when we pulled in, we decided to park for the evening and get fuel in the morning (opposite from our normal routine). This worked out well, since the lot filled up quickly and we were soon surrounded. We had another good night after finishing up the Mexican Sheppard's Pie.

After fueling up in the morning, we started our last leg under bright, sunny skies. Crossing New Mexico, we were soon back in Arizona. As the day went by, we could feel things heating up and a quick check of the outside temperature showed a surprising mid-70s - woo-hoo! We continued to make good time, stopping for lunch at one of the two remaining rest areas in Arizona (budget cuts - AZ is "broker" than CA) and getting through Phoenix rush hour traffic with no problem. We parked at the house and unloaded key things (bathroom and refrigerator), leaving the main work for tomorrow. A quick trip to Grimaldi's for some real coal-fired New York-style pizza, and we're "home". Another good trip under our belts.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Great visit in PCB

January 9, 2009
Panama City Beach, FL

We woke to clouds and temperatures right around 20°F, but the sun soon came out and we had a great afternoon visiting with Geri's nephew Michael.

We wrapped up most travel preparation this morning, with Geri finishing up the laundry and me loading up on fresh water. Tomorrow, all we'll have to do is dump, pull in the power cord, and hook up the Rover, and we'll be on our way.

Around noon, we headed over to Tyndall AFB to pick up Michael, and his co-worker, Allie. We did a bit of touring, marveling at how "dead" things are ("the season" here starts around March 1). After lunch (a "sackful" of Krystal Sliders) and a stop at the coach, we did a little souvenir shopping, checked out the beach, and ended up at Uncle Ernie's Bayfront Grille and Brew House for dinner. We had a good dinner (Geri has several lunches left from her seafood/penne dish, and I finished all of my seared tuna with Thai slaw) and I tried the beer sampler (favorite being Winter's Bourbon Cask Ale) - 9 2oz pours. It was after dark when we returned to Tyndall and then back to the coach.

Temperatures might have gotten to 40°F today - maybe - but the wind made it feel cooler, of course. As long as we were in the sun and out of the wind, it actually wasn't too bad. Of course, we grew up with weather a lot worse than this, but we're totally spoiled by Arizona winters.

No matter, though; we had a great visit and no weather can take away from that. Click here for pictures from today...

Friday, January 8, 2010

A family visit before we head west

January 8, 2010
Panama City Beach, FL

We finished up with the window maintenance on schedule and headed for Panama City Beach, where we'll have a short, serendipitous family visit before continuing our chilly trip west to Arizona.

As it got later in the day on Tuesday, I started wondering if we were going to get the window back in. The manager had told me it would take 3-4 hours. Hmmm - is that 3-4 hours in a row? I went to the office to check and they said they were almost done. Sure enough, a few minutes later, down came the cardboard and in went the window. 20 easy and 2 very difficult screws later, and it was all done. The two tough screws are simply an access issue, since they are tucked into the lower front corner of the window, and partially covered by the side of the dash panel. As is usually the case with situations like this, where they do a lot of these window repairs, they have a few different hand-made tools and special techniques that they use, so it was tedious but didn't require dash removal.

Since it was late in the day, we settled up but didn't leave as we had a 300+ mile drive to our next destination and it was already almost 5:00 PM. A few more coaches did pull in later in the evening, and we even moved ours about 2 feet to one side so someone could park next to us We appreciate the "free" - nothing's free but rather built into the price of the repair - place to park for two nights, but they are really packed in tight, almost touching slide-out to slide-out. Sometime during the evening, we noticed that there was a problem with the power (since the generator went on by itself), and a couple of quick checks showed a) we had high volts on one leg and low on the other and b) it was impacting everyone, not just us (there's a natural tendency to assume anything that goes wrong is "our" problem). No problem for us since we were leaving in the morning. I just unplugged, stored the cord, and ran the generator for a couple of hours to top off the batteries.

We were up early and on the road "on schedule" (I usually pick a target for departure that makes sense based on the day's travel plan) Wednesday morning right at 8:30 AM. We took the "scenic route" along the Florida Coast, traveling US-19 north out of Hudson and then US-98 generally west all the way to Panama City Beach. We saw several signs indicating that we were on a designated "Florida Scenic Highway", but there wasn't a heck of a lot to see. So be it. We had an uneventful drive. I saw a few BBQ and seafood places where I might have stopped if there was room to park, but there wasn't. We arrived at the selected park just before 3:00 PM. After a little confusion over site selection (we were originally assigned a spot where the cold weather had ruptured the water line), we were settled in.

One reason for our decision to stop here was the prospect of catching up with Michael, son of Geri's niece Cindy. He arrived here Thursday afternoon for a six-week training program at Tyndall Air Force Base. We headed over to the airport to give him, plus a co-worker/traveling companion, to the base and get them delivered to base housing. We'll catch up again on Saturday, as he has a "free day".

Today, we finished up our preparation for the rest of the trip home. Geri knocked out two loads of laundry and whipped up a couple of prepared meals (not "leftovers") for us to reheat while we're on the road. It rained over night but then turned sharply colder. We've been putting the front slides in at night to reduce the amount of space we have to heat (kind of like closing off unused rooms in a traditional house) and could tell that there was some ice on the shaded side this morning, so we left one slide in today. Temperatures might dip into the teen tonight and tomorrow night. Yowza...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Coach Maintenance Under Way

January 5, 2010
Hudson, FL

The coach alignment was completed on Monday, and we're having a fogged window repaired today.

Alignment for a motorhome is a bit different than in a car, where it's normally just a "front-end" thing. For motorhomes, they have to check that alignment and tracking of all three axles. Now the steer and tag axles rarely get out of whack and when they do, it's a big job to fix them (cutting torches and welders are involved). Our motorhome's tag axle was out of line from manufacturing, and we had that fixed several years ago under warranty.

Fortunately, only the steer axle required a minor adjustment this time. Since the chassis uses an air suspension, they also have to check and set the ride height (how high or low each wheel's air bags are set for travel). Changing the ride height can impact the front-end alignment, so that has to be done first. We needed a minor adjustment on the right rear this time. At some point, I'll learn to do that myself, although it's very difficult without a pit to access the linkage underneath that needs adjusting.

Before we left Arizona, I did a lube and oil maintenance, and at that point I wasn't happy with the grease fittings on the driveshaft's u-joints. Sure, enough, they were starting to go bad, with grease failing to flow to all wear surfaces, so those were replaced as well.

Overall, the shop (Josam - did a great job. They use specialty laser alignment equipment developed in Sweden (they are the US distributor) and are one of 2-3 places nationwide that really specialized in large motorhomes.

While the alignment was being done, we went to breakfast (Cracker Barrel) and took a ride about 3 miles west to verify that we'd be able to easily get on I-4 when we left (we could). As we were turning around, we saw a Whole Foods so we had to stop in for a few things. With additional stops at Publix, WalMart, PetsMart, and Costco (only a few things at each place, thankfully!), everything on "the list" was crossed off. When we got back to Josam's, they were just wrapping up so we paid, hooked up and were on our way by noon (you can do that when they start work just after 6:30 AM!).

Our destination was in Hudson, FL, about 120 miles of driving away. We were glad we got out of Orlando at a reasonable time, since we needed to stop for fuel and would have made the Flying J in Seffner, FL, our overnight stop if we were later. Fortunately, our friend Rod gave us the heads-up that this place was very tight and we just stopped for fuel. What a zoo! Several truck/RV (they're the same at this place) were closed off and there was a line of RVs at the propane filling station, blocking the truck exit. We were lucky enough to find a space and squeak through, but we'll definitely mark that "J" down as an "avoid" in the future.

In spite of the adventure in fueling, we arrived at Suncoast Designers ( around 3:00 PM. These folks have a side business repairing fogged and/or leaking RV windows. We heard about them in online RV groups and in the FMCA Magazine and, since we had to pass close by and since we have a fogged and leaking window next to the driver, a stop was an easy decision. I'd called to make an appointment before we left Arizona, and knew that they had on-site overnight parking. In fact, they recently upgraded so they have about 12 spots with 50 amp electric and water. Just like being at Camp Monaco. We backed into an open spot and plugged in, checked in, and then settled in for the night. I made a couple of passable (not Philly quality but edible) cheesesteaks for dinner, having found shaved beef at the grocery. Since there wasn't anything on the tube, we decided to try out the new travel Scrabble game Geri picked up. We played two close games, splitting 1 and 1 before these early days caught up with us. With the furnace set to ward off the freezing temperatures, we called it a night.

Today, we were up early again. The installer (actually I suppose "de-installer" since he was here to remove the window) was knocking on the door around 7:45, so Geri headed for the car with the pups. Once the window was removed, they covered the hole with a cardboard/plastic panel to keep the frigid winds outside. Although it's warmed up nicely inside as the sun has come out, it's still only 43°F out with a 15 MPH wind, so we're sticking close to home today...

Hopefully, they'll wrap up the window work this afternoon (several people were packing up and heading out late in the afternoon yesterday), although our plan is to stay here tonight and make the drive to Panama City Beach, first stop on our trip back west, tomorrow.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Uh, isn't it supposed to be sunny and warm in Florida?

January 3, 2010
Orlando, FL

We had a great visit with Barbara & Jim over in Brandon, and have now headed to Orlando. No Mickey this trip; we're here to have the alignment and ride height set on the coach. It's always something, but this is more routine maintenance.

We left the coach behind on the 31st and headed to Brandon, near Tampa. Barbara and Jim are friends from when we lived in New Jersey; they lived in the same townhome complex. They had rented a place in Boca Raton where we visited them a few years ago, but decided to settle on the Gulf Coast. Since December 31st is Barbara's birthday in addition to New Year's Eve, we made the trip at the right time for a party.

They told us that we could park the coach in front of their house but, since we hadn't been there before and checked out the streets, tree limbs, etc., we decided to leave the motorhome in Wauchula and plan to spend the night. They have a big house with many guest rooms, so that wasn't an issue.

Having Merlin as company was more of a concern, but things went pretty well on the pet front. They have two poodles. Satin Doll is roughly Merlin's age (11+) and they essentially grew up together, so they were happy to see each other (dogs do seem to remember). Maya Lynn and Satin compete for alpha position at times, but everything was OK until they all got treats at the same time. Their younger dog, Tootsie, is a barker and protector, but she settled down after a while.

Barbara made one of all our favorites, Chicken & Brie (easy to make - a good idea if you're making your own birthday dinner). We had a good time, we watched the ball drop (first time in the eastern time zone - real time - in a while), and slept well. We'd planned to head back to the coach on New Year's Day, but our arms were twisted (hard, right?) to stay another day as they had a dinner planned for 14 family and friends. We had a great time catching up with people we hadn't seen since NJ, and finally hit the hay after 1:30 AM - late for us.

While New Year's Eve was relatively nice (we ate outside on the patio), it was cloudy and/or cold ever since. We had quite a bit of rain during the day on New Year's, and it turned downright chilly overnight. We had freeze warnings back in Wauchula today. Ouch! We expected cool but comfortable, but this 27-29°F stuff is hard on the system. Our blood is pretty thin after a couple of winters in Arizona. :-)

We checked out of the Escapees park this morning and made a leisurely drive up to Orlando, following US-27 to US-17, through Kissimmee and up to our destination right near the Florida Turnpike and Bee Line Expressway. We're parked at Josam's, an alignment shop that specializes in truck and motorhome chassis. We stopped here in the summer of 2007, so we're not "due" for an alignment per se, but we were so close it only makes sense to stop. They check the alignment of all three axles (if the drive or tag axles are out of alignment, it causes tire wear and lowered fuel economy). Since I've changed the steer and tag tires to a larger size, some adjustment to the ride height in the air suspension might be in order, as well. We'll see.

Anyway, we're parked in their driveway and settling in for the night. Since the low temperature is supposed to be 27°F, we'll leave the furnace on overnight. It'll be a "set the alarm night", since they open at 7:00 AM (ouch!)... :-)