Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Alaqua - An Animal Refuge

The last post highlighted a wonderful organization helping the less fortunate people in the local community.  Now, it is time to bring attention to a wonderful place dedicated to helping the furry and feathered community – Alaqua Animal Refuge.

Alaqua spends over $50,000 a month in operational
costs which is raised from donations and
fund raisers like the one we attended.
The name “Alaqua” was quite familiar to us as we have seen “Alaqua” this and "Alaqua” that.  We discovered that, in addition to the local dog park (named “Alaqua Unleashed” and a place where we have met some wonderful people), there is an animal refuge located about 30 minutes north of where we are camped.  Last weekend we attended a fund raiser for the Alaqua Animal Refuge which was a great time where the public green space was coated with four-legged furry friends  frolicking in “their day” and us two-legged animals were just there to chaperone.  So after attending the dog park numerous times and the fund raiser, it was time to visit the animal refuge we had been hearing so much about and see what it was all about. 

Alaqua Animal Refuge is not just about neglected animals sadly housed in a smelly concrete shelter waiting out their days until a prospective good home comes by to adopt them.  In sharp contrast, the refuge sits on a scenic 10-acre farm where cats are housed in attractive buildings providing breezy screened in porches with sunny perches, horses and ponies graze in lush pastures, dogs have spacious outdoor runs, and the barns look like they belong in Kentucky.  


Cats waiting for adoption lounge comfortably in this spacious facility where they are
able to nap in the sun or under a cooling fan or air conditioner.   
The Florida "Cracker" style house is where the kittens are housed.
In order to avoid temptation, we did not go inside.
We were struck by the flurry of passionate volunteers buzzing around graciously caring for the plethora of cats, dogs, chickens, cows, horses, ponies, pigs, rabbits, and countless other animals in need.  Not only do volunteers care for the animals but they are instrumental in socializing them and getting them ready for adoption.  Alaqua has also teamed up with a local prison so dogs can get additional socialization.  

Dogs have indoor and outdoor runs and are walked daily by volunteers.
Alaqua serves as a refuge for some 250 animals at a time and adopts up to 100 animals a month.  Sadly though, this no-kill shelter receives nearly 100 calls a day requesting shelter for neglected animals and is unable to accept all of them.  Remarkably, Alaqua has been able to find homes for over 9,000 animals since they started in 2007 - a pretty impressive figure.  The future of the refuge has lofty goals with a planned expansion to an 85-acre farm enabling them to house more animals.  After our tour we concluded the dire need for a larger facility was evident and were happy to make a donation.

A few more pics from Alaqua Animal Refuge and the fund raiser we attended in Rosemary Beach.




This dog was sporting his rodeo-themed halloween costume.  
Spirit made a new friend!


Happy Thanksgiving.  Be safe.



Saturday, November 23, 2013

Caring and Sharing in Florida

For the past week we have spent a number of rewarding hours volunteering with an organization called Caring and Sharing of South Walton County.  We first got connected with the group through the Seaside Chapel when I noticed that on their Facebook page the Chapel was seeking volunteers to help stuff food bags at Caring and Sharing for Thanksgiving.  Betsy and I knew the chapel existed and had walked by it for many years but never attended a service.  This seemed a perfect opportunity for us to become acquainted with the chapel and satisfy our interest in volunteering during our four-month stay in the Florida panhandle.    

Caring and Sharing was formed in 1995 when four ministers decided to establish a single place where needy families could go for assistance; instead of people having to go from church to church.  The organization’s main mission is their food pantry (the only one in South Walton County) but also runs a thrift store, provides medical prescriptions, and assistance with rent, electric and water bills.  The organization is run by seven staff and relies heavily on volunteers to fulfill their mission.  The downtrodden economy has taken a heavy toll on local families which is evident by the 7,402 families who received assistance from the food pantry last year. 

sorting donated food was not hard but it sure did make us hungry
Betsy and I were amazed at the amount of food that is donated by businesses and the local community.  In 2012, Caring and Sharing passed out 13,210 bags of food.  The thrift store and monetary donations are used to purchase food staples to keep the pantry stocked year-round.  We were happy to sort the myriad of food items that was recently donated for Thanksgiving and it gave us an idea of just how much work the dedicated volunteers do and how critical they are to achieving the organizations mission. 

sorted food items were placed in bags for
later distribution
donated frozen turkeys accompanied the food
bags with all the Thanksgiving fixings -
gravy, cranberries, stuffing, vegetables,
and dessert


some people's need for food assistance was overwhelming, bringing tears to my eyes and extreme thankfulness
for all the blessings in my life
It has been worthwhile for us to assist this important charity and finally become acquainted with the beautiful chapel that we have walked by for over 15 years.  We attended a beautiful service there last Sunday and will continue to do so while we are here.

the non-denominational Seaside Chapel



Monday, November 18, 2013

Pumpkin for the Pumpkin(s)

Today was rainy – a sharp contrast to the last few gloriously sunny days.  Rain always makes me want to bake and this day was no different.  There was; however, a nagging forlorn look that kept gazing at me, begging to go outside, begging for a walk in the woods, or a quick swim in the lake.  But it was raining and I wanted to bake.  While a lab is in ecstasy in steady rain and loves bounding through puddles more than if she had stumbled into a basket of new squeaky toys, no sad pathetic face was going to distract me from baking.

So I decided to appease the pathetic furry onlooker by baking something for her.  And I set out to make homemade pumpkin dog treats.  I sensed she knew the smell wafting through the air was soon to land her way and every time I looked at her, I got a wide-eyed “thank you” look back.  I had one happy pup when the pumpkin puffs of good dog biscuits came out of the oven.  She and I shared a few together and then I had a friend back.

But, all the sudden I got another forlorn look.  This time from Betsy who asked where her pumpkin treat was?  “Your mom makes pumpkin pie for me” came directed to my attention.  Was she kidding me?  I just made two cookie sheets worth of dog food that puts the cardboard texture of Milkbones to shame.  The taste of chalk was replaced with cane syrup and pumpkin; Betsy should be thanking me for transforming her dog into a bundle of contentment.

Yet, I baked again.  This time it was a simple pumpkin pie just the right size for one (or two if someone feels so inclined to share).

The girls are now happy and I was able to satisfy my need to bake in the rain.  Good thing, because sun is in the forecast for tomorrow.

For those of you who want to see a smile on your dog’s face (I guess that is what I saw) here is the recipe from Cesar's Way for the dog treats.  Or, you can always buy Milkbones.
 

Ingredients


  • ¼ cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 tablespoons cane syrup (or molasses)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup wheat flour (I used all-purpose white flour instead)
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • "more pumpkin treats, please"
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon


Directions


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. 
  2. Mix pumpkin, cane syrup, water and vegetable oil in a bowl.  Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon to the mixture.  Stir well until combined.
  3. Scoop out small spoonfuls of dough (about one tablespoon) and roll into a bowl with wet hands (see note below).  Set balls on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and flatten tops with a wet fork or finger.  For softer treats, bake approximately 10 minutes, for harder treats bake for approximately 25 minutes.


Note:  I put the dough mixture in a zip-lock bag, cut a small hole in one end and piped it onto the cookie sheet and flattened with a fork.



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Shrimp, Shrimp and more Shrimp (Grilled Shrimp Po’boys with Remoulade)

It is time to go seafood crazy here in Florida.  That is what happens when you have two girls driving across the country that have not seen the sea, or the beautiful gastronomic bounty that it holds, for a month and a half.  But let me back up one minute and be clear that the Kansas City BBQ at Zarda’s was rockin’ good and mom’s pot roast was divine on that cold October night with the warmth of food and family.  The Midwest is very taste bud and soul satisfying!

But one wheel across the Florida line and we started salivating for seafood.  The deal with Florida is the tremendous volume of in-your-face good, fresh seafood.  Do you want oysters on the half shell, tasty grouper that's flavored by the sea, sweet shrimp, or meaty tuna?  The list goes on and on, but I realize this is cruel and unusual punishment for you landlocked souls, so I will stop.

This neon sign would be awesome in the motorhome.
One of our first stops upon arriving in Grayton Beach was the nearby market of Shrimpers Seafood Market.  And guess what we bought?  You are correct if you guessed shrimp.  We had shrimp scampi for dinner which was followed the next day with a grilled shrimp po’boy doused with remoulade for lunch.  Welcome home, I say. 

any size shrimp you want...
This is where I have to rein Betsy back in as she contemplates how many pounds to buy for two people.

You can buy remoulade sauce if you don’t want to make it, and believe me, there are a gazillion recipes if you want to whip up your own batch.  This happens to be the one I made gallons and gallons of when I worked for a catering company in New Orleans.  (Can you say party of 2,000? . . . and that was just one night!)   This recipe makes close to 1½  cups of remoulade so you may want to buy more shrimp, boil them and use the remoulade as a dipping sauce (can you tell I have done that before?)



grilled shrimp po'boy with remoulade


Serves 2

Ingredients


  • ½  pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • Creole seasoning, to taste
  • ¼ cup green onions, thinly sliced 
  • 1  tablespoon garlic, minced          
  • 1  tablespoon white onion, small dice       
  • 1  tablespoon paprika, ground      
  • ¼ cup Creole mustard       
  • 1  tablespoon lemon juice
  • dash Worcestershire sauce
  • dash hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil             
  • 1 cup mayonnaise               
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  

Directions


  1. Sprinkle shrimp with creole seasoning and set aside in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
  2. To make the remoulade, place green onions, garlic, white onion, paprika, Creole mustard, lemon juice, Worcestershire, and hot sauce in a food processor and blend until smooth.              
  3. On medium speed, slowly add vegetable oil to emulsify.  Add mayonnaise and blend at low speed until fully incorporated.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Preheat a grill to high heat.  Grill shrimp on each side for 2-3 minutes per side.  Place shrimp on fresh bread and top with remoulade, lettuce and onions.  Enjoy.    



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Settling In to the Florida Panhandle

I guess we are officially “snowbirds” now as we have chosen to park the rig on the sugar white sand of the Florida Panhandle beaches rather than where flaky white snow will fall on the roof and make us shiver.  So as we watched the songbirds start to move from the north, we followed their lead and set our compass due south and migrated to a place we love, Grayton Beach.  This is where we will settle in for a long (at least for us) extended stay of four months.

We fell in love with the strip of Florida called 30A nearly 15 years ago when we used to spend our vacations (and any other days we could sneak away from the office) on this beautiful stretch of Florida.  30A is actually the name of the road that bisects the stretch of gorgeousness between the whirling universes of Destin and Panama City. 


Nope, there are no high rises advertising cheap rooms for spring break, 24-hour bars claiming to have 96-ounce beers, or miles of overpriced outlet malls, this area is a culture far removed from the typical Florida scene that flanks either side.  The towns along 30A accurately describe the quaint beachy feel of this area that has drawn us back for fifteen years – they sound like “Seaside,” “Water Sound,” and “Water Color,” and “Grayton Beach.” 

The area began to develop back in the early 1980’s when the town of Seaside slowly climbed into existence and forged a dot on the map.  The fledgling idea of “New Urbanism” was the concept behind the town.  Everything would be within walking distance.  Houses would be tight together and streets would be suitable for walking with parks scattered throughout.  A town center would be the hub with shopping, restaurants, and community activities.  The concept took off and now a house in Seaside will set you back a few million $'s (literally). 

 


But for us non-millionaires, we live in one of our favorite state parks of all times, Grayton Beach State Park.  We will stay here for the maximum allotment of two weeks then move to another state park (which is also nice and only ten miles away).  We will stay there for two days and then move back to Grayton Beach SP for another two weeks.  The cycle will continue for four months but the slight inconvenience of moving is worth it to stay here. 
 
Let’s see, the park amenities include . . . a gorgeous, uncrowded beach with sugar white sand; it sits right on a calm lake perfect for kayaking and fishing; there are miles of hiking trails in a quiet pine forest; we are within walking/biking distance of everything we need; and we have a wide, level campsite with a fire pit looking over the lake with stunning sunrises.

So this winter we have traded in the saguaros of Arizona for the dunes of Florida and I am sure we will be quite happy.  I hope the pictures will encourage friends and family to come visit and anyone else that is just looking for a great getaway.  If you are in the area, please stop by and enjoy a glass of wine around the fire with us.







Tuesday, November 12, 2013

RV Park Review – North Abutment Campground (Grenada Lake, Mississippi)


Overall, we love this campground that sits perched on a woodsy hill overlooking Grenada Lake in central Mississippi.  The campground is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has provided a restful respite every time we have stopped there (which is actually only twice).  It is located about 10 minutes off I-55 but is well worth the time to be at this relaxing campground. 

Our site #22 was super long and level (as are 99% of the sites).  Unfortunately, the lake water level was way down so the brown you see behind the motorhome in the picture is dried lake bed.  Bummer!
The campground has 88 sites adjacent to Grenada Lake.  All roads are paved and present no problem for big rigs.  All sites are 50/30 amp full hook-up, paved and have picnic tables and fire pits.  Some sites are so long you could fit two large motorhomes in there back to back!  Sites run the gamut of shady and wooded to open and sunny facing the lake. 

Shady site that backs up next to the woods
Nice long site with partial shade
Sunny, open pull-through long enough for any length RV
Facilities in the campground include a boat launch, playground, and shower/bathroom.  Within a short drive is a visitor center, picnic shelters, ball fields, tennis courts, nature trails, and there is plenty of fishing opportunities in and near the campground.

What we really liked about this park is pretty much everything . . . sites are well spaced, there is easy access to the lake/boat launch, numerous hiking trails, sites are paved and full hook-up sites . . . and all this for the cut-rate price of $20/night (unless you have a Golden Age Pass which puts this at a bargain basement price of $10/night).  Sweet!

The not so good is the distance from any facilities.  The closest town is Grenada and about 5 miles away.  But if you plan ahead and want to relax this is not a problem.  The downer for us on this visit is that the lake was a mile or so away since the water level was drawn down for dam repairs.   

Spirit’s two cents . . . there was plenty of room for her to run and take long walks around the campground and on the trails.  Spirit was super bummed that the Grenada Lake was not within reach of our campsite.  We stayed here 2 ½ years ago and were able to walk right out our door with our bathing suits on and dipped in the cool water.  There is another small lake in one of the campground loops so she did get a little dip.




bath/shower (cause I know how much you like seeing pictures of that)
lovely site over looking (what used to be) the lake

Hope you all had a wonderful Veteran's Day!  Thanks to all those who have served, are serving, and will serve.  



Sunday, November 10, 2013

RV Park Review – Lady Luck RV Park (Caruthersville, Missouri)

Lady Luck RV Park website

Overall, this casino RV park was a nice place to stop for a night as we traveled south through Missouri.  It is about six miles off the interstate and easy to get to and for the $20/night price (or $17 – I’ll explain later), it was worth the extra miles. 



The park has 9 back-in (35’ long) and 18 pull-thru sites (75’ long) that are all full-hookup, paved and level.  (There is no price difference between the two sites.) The roads are wide and easy to navigate in a big rig.  There is no cable but we were able to get a dozen or so channels (including NBC, ABC, and CBS) with our antenna.  The free wifi worked well and our Verizon 4G phone and hotspot worked fine.
 
pull-thru site
back-in site
The riverboat casino is within walking distance or there is a shuttle that frequently drives through the campground to pick up eager gamblers.  Don’t feel like cooking?  Not a problem, there are two restaurants on site located right next to the RV park.  We didn't try them though.


There is a restroom/laundry/shower facility that was in need of some cleaning and was well used while we were there. There are two paved areas with community grills and a fire pit. 

laundry/bathrooms/shower building
community picnic area and fire pit
The park is fairly small and does fill up at night so I recommend getting there before too late as they do not take reservations. 

What we liked about this park was the price - a full-hookup site for $20.  While we did not gamble, if you sign up for the “Players Club” they knock $3 off the price putting this site at a totally reasonable $17/night.  The restaurants on-site seemed to be well visited by other RV’ers who were looking for an easy meal. 

The not so good things about this park was the lack of space to walk dogs and the sites are close together.  The park is fairly small but we were able to find a strip of grass for Spirit to chase her favorite squeaky ball.  


Spirit’s two cents are reflected above.  




Thursday, November 7, 2013

RV Park Review – Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park (St. Louis, Missouri)


Overall, you can’t beat this state park for its beauty, the wonderful campground, great proximity to western St. Louis, and the tranquility that it provides in the quietness of fall.  The park was located about 10 miles from my parents’ house and it was the perfect place for us to stay for our visit.

"Hey, aren't I supposed to be on a leash?"
The campground has 30 basic and 43 electric sites (which are either 50 amp or 30 amp).  There is no sewer or water at individual sites but water spigots are scattered throughout the campground and there is a dump station with potable water fill-up.

All campsites and patios are paved and level with a comfortable amount of space between sites.  Picnic tables and fire pits are located at each site.  Sites are a mix of shaded, partial-shade, and full sun.  

The roads are paved and big rig-friendly (with the exception of one loop that is clearly marked “short turning radius”).






There is one main bathhouse with free showers that was very clean.  There are also two vault toilets located in the campground.  The campground is open year-round but the bathhouse with flush toilets closes November 1.

The main bath and shower house.
One of the vault toilets

The campground is set in an 868-acre urban park with miles of hiking/paved biking/equestrian trails, picnic shelters, a playground, ball fields.  There is a visitor center with exhibits and an amphitheater in the campground where interpretive programs are held.

Our Verizon 4G phone and hotspot worked great.  We were able to get satellite reception at our site (#24) and the antenna picked up a dozen or so local channels including all the major networks.

You can reserve sites on-line and the prices are reasonable.  A $2 discount is given to seniors.  

                                April - October          November - March
       Basic                         $13                                  $12
       Electric (30A)            $21                                  $19
       Electric (50A)            $23                                  $21

Within a few miles of the park are restaurants, shopping, and gas stations.

What we liked about this campground was the comfortable feel of being at a state park with plenty of trees, hiking trails, space between sites, but also the convenience of having a level, paved site with electricity and television/phone reception.  We happened to be there during the week in the fall so there were not many other campers.  This gave the park the quiet feel we like so much.

There are miles of hiking and biking trails right outside your doorstep and plenty of woods to explore.



The not so good things about this park are that there were no sewer or water hook-ups at sites and it is not very convenient to any of the interstates criss-crossing St. Louis.  But other than that, we have no complaints.

Spirit’s two cents – she LOVED the park!  She logged many miles on the hiking/biking trails conveniently located around the park.  Since the park was not very crowded, we had ample room to throw the tennis ball for her too.   Our site was really big so we could tie her out and not have to worry about her going into another campsite and she loved the lush grass.

Dr. Babler, who the park is named after.  He was a prominent surgeon who worked mostly with the poor.  When he died, his brother wanted to honor him and his love of the outdoors thus creating the park.