Things We’ve Done
Wherever there are people, there are things to do. The three main ingredients are music to enjoy, food to eat, and stuff to buy. Some are better than others. Some are just like the last one we went to. And a few are one of a kind surprises.
Below is a list of some of the things we’ve done since going full-time, listed in chronological order.
Maumee Bay State Park is our favorite state park in Ohio, and one of our favorites anywhere. The campground’s roads and pads are nicely paved. The camp sites are large with lots of grass and shade trees. There’s plenty of hiking trails and paved biking trails, both in the campground and in the surrounding park. In addition to a great campground, the park has a beautiful lodge and beach area. And on top of all that, it’s close to where we grew up and therefore to some family and friends who still live in the area.
We’ve been coming to the park for a few years now, and thought it might be fun to be camper hosts. We applied and were accepted. Our tour ran for four weeks from July 12th through August 9th. The campground tries to engage a total of six camper host couples (12 people) each week during the summer.
In exchange for volunteering as hosts, the campground provided us with a free campsite during the four weeks. The signup materials listed the number of hours as being about 40 a week with two days off. We could spread the hours between the two of us. In other words, the exchange works out to about $3.30/hour, assuming we would be using our Passport America discount for the site and working 40 hours. Not exactly a living wage, but that’s not the point of being a camper host. Most hosts simply do it for fun.
The campground has 256 sites total, and is completely full every weekend in the summer and partially full the rest of the time. Our regular duties included looking after 46 sites and one bathroom, pulling some light office duty twice a week, and directing the traffic at the dump station on Sunday mornings. Most campers arrive on Friday and leave on Sunday, hence the traffic jam around the dump stations on Sunday mornings. In addition to the regular duties, hosts are sometimes called upon to do some gardening and/or maintenance as needed.
We were somewhat surprised to learn that our other duties included participation in weekend fundraising events by the “Friends of Maumee Bay” organization. The “Friends” is a local group that loves the park, and uses the money to enhance it.
These fundraising events included bingo on Friday night, coffee and donuts on Saturday morning, followed by kids crafts, an ice cream social on Saturday night, and coffee and donuts again on Sunday morning. In addition, there were a number of themed weekends, such as “Kite Days”, “Christmas in July”, and “Hawaiian Weekend”, which included decorations and additional activities.
Unfortunately, the campground was short on hosts during the time we volunteered. One couple had an illness in their family and one couple had an RV breakdown and arrived weeks late. So rather than 12 hosts, there were only 8. This bumped our hours up to well over 40 a week.
Another issue is that some members of the local “Friends” group were not able to help with their themed events as scheduled. This meant the the hosts had to pick up some of these activities as well.
Overall our experience was fun, but we were much busier than we expected to be. We were not counting on having to be available at least part of every weekday and all day on the weekends, meaning no days off.
As mentioned above, we love this park. We decided to stay an additional 10 days past our hosting time, just so we could enjoy the area and see and do the things we were not free to do while we were “on duty”.
The hosts work hard to make the campground nice for everyone who visits. And the “Friends” do likewise. Anyone who has camped at Maumee Bay will tell you it is a clean and beautiful park. I believe our experience would have been much more enjoyable if we had been fully staffed. We definitely enjoyed our interactions with the other hosts and “Friends”, the park staff, and the regular campers. And the park is great.
Would we do it again? Becky = maybe. David = probably not.
The Nashville Boogie billed itself as a celebration of Mid-Century American music, culture and style. 90 acts on 5 stages over 4 days at 3 venues. Sounded like fun, but for us it was a major disappointment.
The main venues were in the Gaylord Opryland Resort. We were unfamiliar with most of the bands, and it was hard to tell if we liked them or not because the sound in the hotel ballrooms was atrocious. Acoustics were terrible and the sound systems were just painfully loud. The crowd was much smaller than we thought it would be. Perhaps they knew something we didn’t.
We eventually left the hotel and went down the street to the second venue at the Nashville Palace, which was just a honky-tonk bar. We weren’t expecting much, but we were pleasantly surprised. The sound was a lot better, and we enjoyed the music there.
We decided we were probably misfits for this festival. Those who were enjoying it the most were young people covered with tattoos and dressed in 1950’s western wear.
Besides the music, the event included a large indoor car show, a western fashion show, and vintage vendor market at the hotel’s convention center. We saw a yellow 1966 VW Beetle that was nearly identical to one Becky owned back in the day. We met the owners, who were a young couple into vintage stuff.
On the plus side, we were greatly impressed by the Opryland Hotel (other than the acoustics in the ballrooms). It was pretty amazing. One of the largest hotels in the world, and reportedly the largest in the U.S. not connected to a casino.
Florida is blueberry country! The state is the eighth in the nation in blueberry production. This year, 15 counties participated in the annual festival to celebrate the spring harvest.The theme was Brush with the Blues. Much of the live entertainment was blues focused, and there was a painting contest for local artists (thus the “brush”).
The whole downtown section of the small town of Brooksville was blocked off to traffic, and was filled with vendors, food trucks, and street entertainers. As expected, there were blueberry pies, blueberry jams and syrups, blueberry honey, blueberry shortcake, blueberry beer and wine, and just plain blueberries. The blueberry shortcake was tasty.
It was a larger event than we anticipated. A big draw was a huge water slide that was set up on a naturally sloping side street. It was fun to watch the kids try to get up speed as they shot down the hill.
Note: One of the vendors was 85-year-old Bob, our next door neighbor at our campground. Bob travels the area selling honey products at events like this one.
Website: Florida Blueberry Festival
For the last two Aprils, the city of Eustis has welcomed street performers from across the US to their annual Eustis Buskers Festival. The event is a family oriented, free-to-attend festival presented on outdoor stages called “busker stops” scattered around the small downtown area.
Visitors vote for their favorite busker act and watch the finalists compete for the Eustis Busker Festival Grand Prize! And the buskers ask for donations, which some did with considerable enthusiasm.
A busker is an individual or group that offers entertainment in public places; they are also known as street performers. Performances ranged from music, dance, comedy, visual art, and circus acts.
Our favorite was Nick, of the Dave and Nick Show. He was able to escape from a set of 40-pound chains, a straight jacket, locks and straps in less than three minutes. But the most amazing thing was that he squeezed his entire full-grown body through an unstrung tennis racket. Weirdly fascinating.
At 6:00 PM, the Grand Finale was held featuring the top performers from each division. It took place on the bandshell stage in a lovely lakeside park. Performers competed for the grand prize, and the People’s Choice Award.
The winner of the Grand Prize was George Gilbert, who took home a check for $5,000. Gilbert, a comedy magician, wowed the crowd as he balanced a sword on his tongue, ate fire, and swallowed a 3-foot balloon. Our contortionist favorite took the People’s Choice Award and won $1,500.
Everyone seemed to have a good time, though the quality of the rest of the entertainment was a bit mediocre and the requests for donations seemed at times a bit too aggressive.
Website: Busker Festival
Ocala is located in Marion County, “The Horse Capital of the World.” (One of many Horse Capitals, it seems, but that’s a different story.) There are over 1,200 horse farms in the county, which includes 900 thoroughbred farms. The farms are spread over 70,000 acres of panoramic landscapes that include green rolling hills, well-manicured pastures lined with moss-draped oak trees, and luxurious estates. We had driven the main roads of Ocala many times without realizing how picturesque this area is until we went on the tour.
The tour met at 8:30 at the Florida Thoroughbred Breeder`s Association. We left our cars and hopped into the 10 passenger van along with the other tourists. Our tour guide was a long-time resident of Ocala and had experience in the horse business.
She took us to an Arabian horse farm, where we were able to get up close to the horses as they came running to us when they saw that we had carrots! Then we explored the extravagant barn and the estate owner’s office where the walls were literally covered with photos of his winning horses and the ribbons they had won over the years.
Then we headed to a Thoroughbred breeding farm where the owner met us and explained how she and her husband welcome mares and stallions from all over the world. They come together to breed in a specially built barn where trained personnel manage and oversee the mating process. Artificial insemination is not allowed with registered Thoroughbreds. The mating barn was a beautiful building and impeccably clean.
The last farm we visited was Pleasant Acres Farm where we were able to see retired multi-million dollar winner, Presious Passion. He was happy to see us and the carrots we brought to feed him, and he gladly posed for photos.
The tour was interesting and great fun. We saw so many beautiful horses and playful foals at every stop. The tour cost $45/each and was about 4 hours long.
Website: Farm Tours of Ocala
This winery hosts popular festivals and events every month of the year. We attended their 27th Annual Winefest, which included outdoor live music and food vendors, plus unique artists and crafters that were set up on the lawn to display and sell their work. I bought a tiny basket woven from Florida pine needles for $30. Yikes, expensive, but one-of-a-kind, and I love it.
The bands we heard were:
Friday – The Nightly Groove Band
Sunday – Bobby Blackmon & the B3 Blues Band
We went on Friday and had so much fun that we went back again on Sunday. The winery has two more festivals coming up while we are still in the area, and we expect to go to both, the Annual Wine & Seafood Festival and Blues at the Winery.
Website: Lakeridge Winery – Clermont FL
Friends had told us about Parkesdale Farms shortcake, so we decided to stop by on our way home from the Tampa RV Supershow. From the street, this place looks like a funky little strawberry and citrus market in the middle of nowhere. But when we parked and got out of our car, we saw that we would have to be in line behind about 200 other people to get our shortcake.
According to their website, they sell 3,000 shortcakes a day during strawberry season, January through April. You can eat your shortcake at the tables outside, or take it inside the greenhouse, where you can have your picture taken on the Strawberry Throne and see photos of famous visitors including Presidents Bush and Obama, and Senator John McCain.
Some events are so hyped up that there is no way they will meet your expectations. The Tampa RV Supershow is such an event. Yes, it’s a huge show. Yes, there are thousands of attendees. And that’s it’s problem.
After driving two hours to get to the Florida State Fairgrounds, it took us over an hour to get into the parking lot, and another half-hour to get parked and inside the venue. Once inside, we were shoulder to shoulder with mobs of people. It was loud and hot. All in all a thoroughly unpleasant way to spend the day.
The fact is that most of the items being sold, either by vendors or dealers, is stuff we don’t want or need. Couldn’t wait to leave. Which by the way took another hour just to get back on the highway. Miserable.
The only saving grace was a stop on the way back at the Parkesdale Farm Market in Plant City for some of their justifiably famous strawberry shortcake. Yum.
There isn’t much to do around Wauchula, FL where we stayed for a couple of weeks at Peace River RV Park, so when friends mentioned that this odd place was near by, we decided to have a look.
This is a castle built by one man, Howard Solomon, who was a prolific and remarkable artist. He created his art from discarded metal objects, machine parts, and other junk. The castle is covered with shiny plates that were used to print newspapers, applied by Mr. Solomon. The castle is decorated with more than 80 stained glass windows, all made by Mr. Solomon. There are countless metal sculptures and other works of art inside and out. The art is truly extraordinary.
Next to the castle is the Boat in the Moat restaurant, also built by Solomon. It is exactly what it sounds like. The food was good, rated #1 of 1 restaurants in Ona, FL.
First Baptist Church of Orlando is where Becky and I used to attend in the 1980s. We have many fond memories of FBC, especially of the friends we made through the Sunday School class we taught for several years.
The church encouraged me to attend seminary, and generously provided a full scholarship. I chose Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Marin County, CA, and graduated with a Master of Divinity. Afterward, I pastored churches in California, and served in various Christian ministries. The church had a long lasting and very positive impact on our lives.
So we were excited to return to FBC during our stay in Orlando. First, it was a nice homecoming, and second, they have terrific services. Their regular Sunday services are among the best in the country.
In addition, we had the special treat of attending their annual Singing Christmas Trees presentation. It is quite the spectacular, just as we remembered from our days there.
First Baptist is a large church. The auditorium holds 6,000. We saw the Trees on a Saturday night, and nearly every seat was full. In fact, we had to sit on the top row of the balcony, because all the better seats were already taken, even though we arrived 30 minutes early.
Down on the stage, two huge Christmas trees rose 45 feet toward the ceiling. Hidden inside the trees, 300 singers stood with only their faces visible. Lighted wreathes encircled each singer’s face, transforming them into “300 singing tree ornaments”. A fifty piece orchestra provided the music.
In front of the trees, a cast of 100 performed a modern musical about Christmas and the Christmas spirit. First Baptist pulls from the rich talent pool in Orlando, and their productions, including this one, are first rate.
The Singing Christmas Trees has been going on since 1980. Over the years, it has become an Orlando tradition. And this year the church held eight performances of the Singing Trees over two weeks, with tens of thousands of people in attendance. We’re glad we could be among them.
We visited the gardens with Bob and Reggie during our stay in Myrtle Beach. It’s a sculpture garden and wildlife preserve, established on former rice plantations. Over 1400 sculptures are on display over 551 acres on the property.
We walked the paths through the extensive gardens, stopping to view and photograph the incredible sculptures and fountains that are worked into the landscaping. We took a boat tour through the marshes where the rice was grown, and learned the history of the plantations.
One ticket is good for 7 days admission. We went only one day, but wish we’d had time in our schedule for another visit..
Website: Brookgreen Gardens
While we were at Sycamore Lodge Resort in Jackson NC, we happened to notice that the North Carolina State Fair was being held in Raleigh, about 50 miles away. Since there wasn’t much to do in Jackson, we decided to drive up to the fair.
We had never been to a state fair before, and didn’t really know what to expect. When we got there, the crowds were huge. We had to park miles away. Fortunately, the fair provided a free shuttle from the parking lot to the gate. At the gate I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was Senior Citizen’s Day, and seniors 65+ got in free. So we only had to pay for one ticket. I’m a senior and Becky’s not yet.
The fair had three main types of attractions. The first was the midway with rides and games. The second was the entertainment venues. And the third was traditional fair fare with animals, crops, and farmer stuff.
We didn’t much care about the games and rides. But the midway was crowded, and people were having a great time. We did however enjoy the music, most of which was old school country style with lots of fiddles, banjos, and mandolins. We even saw a clogging contest. There was some first rate talent.
Oddly one of the entertainments was a small troop from the Chinese National Circus. Not something we expected to see in North Carolina. But they were excellent.
We also enjoyed the farmer stuff. Most of it was what you’d expect, cows, sheep, hogs, etc. But there was one section that was quite a surprise.
North Carolina has a long and proud history as a tobacco producing state. Prominently displayed in the agricultural area was a large section devoted to tobacco, which included some historic machinery and buildings used in the production of the crop. And the focal point was a beautiful wood and glass case that showed off the blue ribbon winners for the best tobacco in the state.
Hard to imagine many other places in the country doing such a thing. I guess every area has something that they’re proud of, even if other areas find it shameful. As they say, travel broadens the mind.
Mount Airy was the inspiration for the fictional town of Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show, which is how this distillery got its name.
The small production area is arranged for easy viewing as the tour guide (one of the owners) explains the art of making whiskey, and there is whiskey tasting at the end of the tour.
Mayberry Spirits values community, sustainability, and authenticity. They use a sorghum grain instead of corn in the production of their whiskies. Not only is sorghum naturally gluten-free, but it is a drought resistant and sustainable crop.
In addition to whiskey, they produce flavorings such as vanilla and other extracts, sugars and salts, and they sell gift items.
We stopped by this little museum, not knowing what to expect. We were surprised to find that we were the only visitors that afternoon and that we would get a private tour! Not only did we view the wonderful and diverse glass pieces, but we also got a history lesson on glass making in the early 20th century.
It’s amazing to realize how hands-on the process was back then. Every piece is truly a work of art. Our guide explained the significance that color played in the success of the company as we viewed the collections of green, pink, light and dark blue, purple, yellow, and on and on to what seemed like every color imaginable, including black and clear!
Cambridge glass was produced in Cambridge, OH from 1902 to 1958. The museum displays over 6,000 pieces, including pieces that were used in movies such as The Sting, White Christmas, and Prizzi’s Honor. There is a display of a beautiful royal blue luncheon set that was a wedding gift to Clark Gable and Carole Lombard.
There is a small gift shop. I bought a dog pencil holder that apparently held a pencil used to keep score during a bridge game.
Website: National Museum of Cambridge Glass
Love, love our zoo! From the time we first visited as little kids, until now, the Toledo Zoo just gets better all the time. We like everything about the zoo, but we especially never get tired of visiting the wonderful buildings that go back to the days of the WPA.
The zoo wasn’t very busy on this particular visit, so we were able to take our time at each exhibit. We got some great pictures of the animals and grounds. We spent a lot of time at the Conservatory and the adjacent gardens, and it was our first visit to the new Aquarium. Just awesome!
We were fortunate to live in San Diego for many years, and we often visited the San Diego Zoo, which is generally considered to be the best zoo in the world. Well, I think the Toledo Zoo ranks pretty high up there.
Note: We have seen some great entertainment at the amphitheater, too, including Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band. It’s a great venue. Sorry we will not be in town this year to see Paul Simon.
We’ve been to this winery many times, but what made this time special was that we met family there. My brothers and sisters are scattered all over the country, so it is rare that we get together. It was fun to catch up over lunch at one of our favorite destinations in the Toledo area.
Mon Ami was originally established in 1873 under the name The Catawba Island Wine Company. It was purchased by the Mon Ami Champagne Company in 1937. The winery has changed hands a few times over the decades. A restaurant was added in 1945, and the current owners have invested large amounts of time and effort in maintaining and enhancing the charm of the buildings and grounds.
Mon Ami is especially fun on summer weekends. Live entertainment, either inside or out, is scheduled on Friday and Saturday nights and on Sunday afternoons.
Website: Mon Ami Winery
Toledo, like many industrial towns around the Great Lakes, is an ethnically diverse city, with most of those ethnicities originally coming from eastern Europe. When we were kids, on most summer weekends we’d attend one of the many ethnic festivals around town; such as Polish, Hungarian, or Greek.
But my favorite was the German-American Festival. The festival is still going strong. It bills itself as Toledo’s oldest, largest, and greatest ethnic festival! There’s lots of delicious German food, authentic German music, folk dancing, and entertainment. Some of the more adventurous can participate in traditional German contests and feats of strength.
And did I mention there’s beer? German beer, Austrian beer, Swiss beer, Liechtensteinian beer, Luxembourgian beer, Belgian beer, Tyrolean beer, Slovak beer, and even some American beer.
Needless to say, “a good time is had by all”.
We were pleasantly surprised to find several pretty wineries close to our campground in southwest Michigan. We chose to visit Gravity because their Sunday Gravity Hour fit into our plans. It was nice to sit outside on their deck and listen to live entertainment during our wine tasting. The wine was good, and the setting was nice and relaxing but nothing special. We would definitely go back to the area and maybe try one of the other larger and more established wineries.
Website: Gravity Winery
Let’s be honest. There’s not much to do when staying at Bear Cave Resort in Buchanan MI. The campground sets along the banks of the winding St. Joseph River. We were happy to discover that directly across the river was a renowned botanical gardens. We decided to take a look.
The only direct way to get there from the campground is by boat. We didn’t have one. So we had to drive about 10 miles down river, cross a bridge, and then drive 10 miles back up river to get the gardens.
You could tell that the gardens would be something special in the right conditions. Unfortunately, the day before a severe storm had passed through the area and caused a lot of damage to the gardens.
The gardens are surrounded by forest and are tucked into a landscape of 105 acres of cultivated and natural areas along the scenic St. Joseph River valley. There are miles of outdoor trails, and indoors, visitors may enjoy an art gallery, fern conservatory, nature center, cafe, and gift shop.
If we ever return to Bear Cave, and the conditions were right, we’d revisit the gardens for sure. After all, what else is there to do? 🙂
We don’t often create a post just for a restaurant, especially a local small town breakfast diner with a silly name. But Bert’s Breakfast Korner was such a delight that it merits it’s own post. It’s a family run business and the family takes pride in their product. The owner is the cook and mom manages the cash register.
They are known for cooking whatever you want for breakfast any way you want it. Becky had eggs and bacon, which was good. But I had the eggs benedict. They were hands down the best I’ve ever eaten. I asked the waitress what gave them their special taste, but she said it as a family secret. I suspect it was a dash of cayenne pepper. It gave the hollandaise sauce a red tinge and a slight kick. And there may have been a little Dijon mustard, too. Delicious!
Someone at our campground mentioned that we should take the M119 “tunnel of trees” drive along Lake Michigan up to Cross Village, so we did. The drive is about 20 miles long, and twists and winds up and down along the coast. It’s memorable, and a bit scary sometimes, at least for me (B), the driver, but worth it!
The drive ends at the little town of Cross Village, which sets on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and where our campground friend said we would find the Legs Restaurant, named for the upside-down stove legs decorating the roof. We were seated in the dining area out back of the restaurant. The view was incredible. Great Polish food and good service, and unique wood carvings inside and out.
Over the course of four months, up to 20 tall sailing ships were scheduled to visit each of the Great Lakes. While most of the ships are home-ported around the Great Lakes, the fleet also included an authentic wooden replica of a Spanish galleon, a replica of a Viking longship built in Norway, and a schooner from Nova Scotia. The ships race in between ports. We were fortunate to be able to tour some of the ships at the Bay City Tall Ship Celebration. This year was the 6th year that Bay City has hosted the ships.
Ok, this place is great for viewing the long life of America’s Sports Car, but what really drew our interest was a new exhibit that had just opened the previous month. This exhibit tells the story of a 30 foot sinkhole that swallowed eight Corvettes inside the building during the night of February 12, 2014. Security footage caught the entire disaster on video. The exhibit tells why the sinkhole happened, what cars were affected, how they were recovered, and how the building was fixed.
All eight of the damaged Corvettes are on display. Two of them were restored by General Motors, and the other six are displayed just as they looked after being rescued from the sinkhole. This exhibit was especially compelling since we had just experienced Mammoth Cave, only 20 miles to the north. Caves, springs, and sinkholes are common in this region of Kentucky.
We happened to come across this annual event as we were passing through Tennessee. A wagon train parade kicked off the festivities, then we headed to the fairgrounds where we saw mules of every color and size. There were log pulling competitions, mule driving shows, mule races, music concerts, and the usual multitude of craft and food vendors. It was fun to discover this large community of mule lovers. We have since learned that mule festivals are held in many cities across the country.