Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Seas & Greetings!

Christmas is upon us! 

Wishing all my friends and family a blessed Christmas this year. 

See you on the road!

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!

We arrived at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida, on Friday, December 6th.  The night we arrived at the campground, they were having a Christmas light judging contest.  What a great way to get into the Christmas spirit!

We took out our little box of Christmas items that we brought with us on our trip.  We have four strands of multicolored lights strung inside the camper, along with four pretty red bows over the windows.  We didn’t forget our Christmas tree!  We brought a little 18” tall tree that Steve used on deployments.  We decorated our little tree, then turned out the lights and awed over the magic that enveloped our camper that night.

Later on we drove around the campground to see the contestants.  There’s no doubt who won the decorating contest!  One camper was completely decked out!

So even though we are surrounded by sea gulls, palm trees, and 80+ degree temperatures, we are getting into the spirit!


Shortly after arriving in Tampa, Steve took off again for two weeks of working in San Antonio.  It didn’t take too long for me to realize that our camper was unusually hot inside – 80 degrees inside when it was only 83 degrees outside.  With the air conditioner on???  Something wasn’t right.

I called a mobile RV technician to come to the base.  There was something wrong with ALL THREE of my air conditioning units!

The one up front in our bedroom had a leak in the ductwork causing it to re-cool the already-cooled air.  This was making it freeze up.  Then when you turned off the unit, the ice would melt and drip on our bed.  The technician closed up the leak in the ductwork, and all was well again.  Easy fix.

The one in the back in the boys’ bedroom would start to pour water into the room after only a few minutes of use.  The technician climbed onto the roof to discover that the weep holes were plugged, too small, and compressed too tightly against the rooftop which was preventing the water to weep out onto the roof.  So he cleared out the gunk stopping up the holes, enlarged the holes, and lifted the unit off the roof a bit.  And now this unit is useable again.

The unit that cools the main cabin was, unfortunately, not such an easy fix.  When the technician climbed on the roof and tried to lift the cover off the unit, he discovered that one bolt wouldn’t let go.  He asked if we had maintenance on the unit before, but I told him that we had not. Well, apparently somewhere along the line, someone replaced the cover and bolted one bolt crookedly, and that bolt was driven into the coils!  So there was, obviously, a leak in the coils which was causing the unit to freeze up.  Unfortunately, this was NOT an easy fix.  The entire unit had to be completely replaced.  And THAT really hurt the pocketbook.

And NO WONDER we were so stinkin’ hot over the summer when we were still in San Antonio!

Even though this unexpected expense put a dent into our Christmas budget, we aren’t letting it steal our Christmas spirit.  Joy to the world, and all that stuff!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Savannah, Georgia

On Thursday, December 5th, we left Charleston, South Carolina, and drove straight through the state of Georgia, and into Florida where we stopped for the night at the Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville.  However, we did take in a little bit of Georgia along the way.

While Steve and the younger boys drove straight through with the camper, the older boys and I took a detour side-trip into the city of Savannah.  And it couldn’t have gone smoother!  We drove right along the interstate spur until it dumped us out almost directly in front of the city’s visitor center.  We parked the car, walked in, asked about taking a day tour, and they directed us down the stairs to the back of the building where many tour bus companies were lined up waiting for us to climb aboard!  We found one company (the Grey Line “Oglethorpe Trolley Tours”) that was holding a discounted special for that day, and their bus was leaving in 10 minutes, so we grabbed our chance and off we went!

Savannah is an absolutely beautiful city, and it is very unique in its design.  The historic downtown is still preserved from pre-Civil War days because as General Sherman was burning everything in his path in his imfamous “March to the Sea”, the leadership of Savannah struck a bargain with him.  They said that he could have the run of the city if only he agreed not to burn it down.  He agreed, although he did take control of one of the most notorious houses in the city as his headquarters.  From this house, he sent his famous message to President Lincoln offering the city of Savannah as a Christmas present.

The city is arranged in a grid, as the early Governor Oglethorpe designed it.  Each city block not only has beautiful historic mansions lining the streets, but also a city square park.  The historic downtown has a park every block!  It is amazingly gorgeous!  We even saw the park that Forrest Gump’s park bench was!

Some of the more interesting sites that we saw along our 90-minute tour included:

-          The church were “Jingle Bells” was written and first sung

-          The house where Juliette Gordon Lowe started the Girl Scouts of America

-          The statue of the Waving Girl.  Legend has it that the girl would never miss an incoming ship, and she would always wave her handkerchief at the passing ships.  Today a statue stands in her honor.

-          The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  Since our tour bus was running a little ahead of schedule, we stopped for ten minutes to go inside.  It is beautiful and impressive!

-          The Pirate House.  Apparently this old shanty was the inspiration for Robert Lewis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”.

There were so many other noteworthy sites that we saw, but these are the ones that really stuck out to us.  We also got to see the waterfront and marketplace, along with a house that was notorious because some book was written about it.  I’m ashamed to say that I don’t even remember the name of the book, and so the house didn’t leave an impression on me.  Something about murder and whatnot, and the book was a huge bestseller several years ago.  (“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” was the name of the book.)

After our pleasant and informative 90-minute tour of Savannah, we got back to the bus station, got into the car, and drove the rest of the way to where Steve and the other boys were already setting up the camper for the night.  I really would like to go back to Savannah some day and spend more time there.  It is a beautiful city!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Charleston, South Carolina

On Monday, December 2nd, we left Cherry Point, North Carolina, and drove to Charleston AFB, South Carolina. We had a tough time getting into Charleston since it was rush hour as we arrived and it was also after dark.  There were several car accidents blocking traffic on the highways which created a mess on the roads.  On a stress scale from 1 to 10, this was at least an 8. But we did make it in one piece, thank God.

The next morning, we walked to the Outdoor Recreation office and purchased discounted tickets for the ferry ride to Fort Sumter National Park.  The ferry left at 11:00, and we just barely made it there on time.  We arrived at the parking garage (where we nearly scraped the top of our van several times because of the low ceiling) only ten minutes before the ferry left the dock.  When we walked up to the gangplank, we were informed that our ticket was actually merely a voucher, and we had to go inside the building and get the tickets before boarding.  Luckily, we got it all done just the nick of time.

The ferry ride was fun and informative.  The ride lasted about a half hour; all the while we listened to the historical narration over the loudspeaker.

When arriving at Fort Sumter, we were allowed an hour in the national park before we had to re-board the ferry to head back.  At first I was concerned that it wouldn’t be enough time to see everything, but my worry proved to be unwarranted.

There actually isn’t much to see at Fort Sumter.  There is the outer wall which was partially restored after it was destroyed, and there is the inner courtyard with a few cannons inside.  Archaeologists are actively working at the fort, as well as restoration crews.  There was a small museum inside the inner fortress, along with a gift shop. 

Fort Sumter, as you recall, is where the first shots of the Civil War were shot.  Federal Union forces held the island-fort when South Carolina seceded from the union in December of 1860.  On April 11, 1861, Confederate General Beauregard demanded that Union General Anderson vacate the fort.  Anderson refused.  At 3:20 a.m., on April 12, the Confederates informed Anderson that they would open fire in one hour.  At ten minutes past the allotted time, the first shot was fired toward the fort.  The Civil War had begun. After 34 hours of bombardment, Anderson finally surrendered the fort.

Standing on the spot where history was made always has an impact on us. No, there’s not much to see at Fort Sumter, but it is worth visiting to just have the experience of being there and knowing that you are standing at the site in which history was made. 

The next day, on December 3rd, we decided to stay an extra day in Charleston and visit a plantation.  After all, if we are going to visit a plantation on our trip, this is probably one of the best places to see one.  After debating which one of the many possibilities we could visit, we settled on Boone Hall Plantation.

Boone Hall Plantation is one of the country’s oldest working, living plantations.  In 1681, an Englishman named Major John Boone came to “Charles Town” to establish his money-making plantation on the banks of the Wampocheone Creek.  In 1743, his son Captain Thomas Boone, took over the plantation.  This son planted two rows of live oak trees along the approach to the plantation mansion.  Over the centuries, these trees have grown to an enormous size and have created an arched canopy over the driveway.  It is this approach to the mansion that has become a symbol of Southern heritage.  And yes, the movie Gone With the Wind modeled its Tara/Twelve Oaks after Boone Hall. 

Hollywood seems to love Boone Hall Plantation.  The 1980’s movie North & South starring Patrick Swayze was filmed here, as well as the more recent romance movie The Notebook starring Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling.  Queen, starring Halle Berry, was also filmed here, as well as episodes of Wheel of Fortune, America’s Most Wanted, and Army Wives.

The family and descendants of Major John Boone were influential in the history of our nation.  John Rutledge, son of Sara Boone Rutledge, grew up to become governor of South Carolina and contributing author of the U.S. Constitution.  His brother Edward was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Additionally, the plantation produced bricks that were used to construct Fort Sumter.  Of course, these bricks (and all the profits of the plantation) were all made by the hands of African slaves.  Boone Hall Plantation had anywhere from 200-300 slaves.  We saw some inventories that listed the slaves alongside window curtains, bags of sugar, and tables and chairs.  Merely possessions and nothing more.  The African slaves in the Low Country were referred to as Gullah culture.  Nine of the original slave cabins were still intact at the plantation, and each cabin featured a period in black American history, from the earliest slave days to the present time.

The mansion is actually not the original mansion.  The original mansion burned down in a fire in the 1700’s.  The second mansion was blown away in a hurricane.  The third mansion (which really wasn’t a mansion, but more of a farmhouse) existed until the 1920’s.  At that time, a Canadian diplomat named Thomas Stone bought the property and tore down the decaying mansion.  He did, however, salvage many parts of the house and used them to rebuild the present mansion.  He saved paneling, doors, floorboards, bricks, etc.  So it seems as though the original house is really still there, but in a different form.

We were able to tour only the bottom floor of the mansion.  (The current owners live in the second and third floors, so we couldn’t see those areas.)  Unfortunately for us, pictures weren’t allowed inside the house, but it was quite magnificent and grand inside.  We also rode an open-air tram through the plantation grounds.  We saw the farming operations as well as the polo field, remnants of the fall corn maze, pecan grove, a dike separating the salt and fresh water, movie sets, and other neat things.

We had a nice time at the plantation.  Charleston has a lot to offer its visitors, and we only scraped the surface.  I’m glad we decided to spend an extra day (especially since that allowed Steve and the boys to take time to play a match of tennis – actually, three hours of tennis).

Friday, December 6, 2013

Leaving Virginia

Well, you want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly?  Here’s a tale of woe for you.

We planned to leave Virginia on Saturday, November 30th, and head to Havelock, North Carolina, to do some sightseeing.

But on that morning, as we were packing up and just about ready to pull out, Steve noticed that one of the tires on the camper was about ready to pop.  I took one look at it and couldn’t believe that it hadn’t popped already! Plus, there was one other tire that looked bad as well.

So we had to figure out what to do.  The problem?  Repair people can’t come onto the military base to change out our tires for us.  So we had to figure out a way to get off the base without the tire popping (remember, we had been parked for three weeks, so the tire hadn’t been rotated for a while) so someone, somewhere could change the tires.  Steve decided to risk driving to the closest commercial parking lot and try to find someone who could meet us there to do the repairs. Luckily, the tire didn’t pop along the way.

But we couldn’t locate a mobile tire repair place that could do the specialized camper tires.  So after making many inquiries, Steve found a place that sold the tires we needed.  So the kids and I drove to Williamsburg to buy the specialized tires from the tire store.  In the meantime, Steve found a truck repair place that could change the tires for us that was only five miles or so from where he was.  So I bought the tires, met him at this truck repair place, and expected that the new tires would be placed on the camper and we’d be done with it.  Nope.  The rims had to be changed out.  So I had to locate yet another place that could take the rims off the old tires, put them on the new tires, then drive the tires back to Steve so the truck repair place could put them on the camper.

Oh, and did I mention that I did all this with a vomiting child and on less than two hours of sleep?

Yep.  The night previous to this tire fiasco my 7yo son was so very ill that he vomited all night long, about every 20-30 minutes.  He slept in bed with me (and Steve slept on the couch, poor man), and I got only about two hours of sleep, and that was NOT uninterrupted sleep.  I was so tired I couldn’t think straight.  So expecting me to do all this tire stuff was about all I could take.

We finally got around to eating our lunch around 2:00, then hit the road.  (And of course, McDonald’s messed up our order, so everyone got food except me.  For some reason, everyone’s food made it into the to-go bag except my food!  So now I was tired, frustrated, AND hungry!)

Regardless, I pumped enough caffeine into my body to still drive all the way to Havelock, North Carolina.  We didn’t make it there until after dark, but by golly, we did it!

So while we DID make it to Havelock, we did NOT do the sightseeing the next day that we had originally planned to do.  We wanted to take in some of the touristy pirate stuff that the area is famous for, but my kids were given very strict orders NOT to wake me up the next morning – and I slept until 11:51!  Bless their hearts, they’re good kids, and I have a wonderful husband who kept them all quiet so I could sleep.

While we were in Havelock, we stayed at Cherry Point, which is a US Marine base.  I think I can honestly say that I had never been on a Marine base before, so this was something new!  One thing I noticed was that they didn’t have a BX (air force base exchange), nor a PX (army post exchange), nor a NEX (naval exchange), but rather a MCX (marine corps exchange).  Who knew those existed? 

But the campground was absolutely wonderful.  It was new, opened only in May of this year, and it had GREAT Wi-Fi!  So instead of sightseeing, we/I slept until noon, then did laundry and published a bunch of blog posts since the Wi-Fi was so good.  We missed the pirate stuff, but golly, sometimes you just need to sleep!