Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving with Charley

This year we had just planned going to go out for Turkey Day dinner, I usually grill my turkeys these days but we left our Holland Grill in storage in Wisconsin after it got blown away by the record breaking wind storm we had in our area. It has a lifetime guarantee but we didn't have time to deal with it and get to Florida ahead of expected snowstorms so we just left it behind for this year. The idea of trying to cook an entire dinner in my new "Toy" RV stove/oven combo was just too intimidating, especially when it would just be for two people.


Charley Loves the Big Balloons
All that changed when we got to Dade City, Florida and fellow Historians Sara & Jerry showed up to spend the Holiday in our park and they brought a turkey with no way to cook it! (They tent it when on the road). Of course I couldn't let free meat go to waste, so I quickly put together a passable dinner and took on the challenge of trying to get it all to fit in my oven, which I did, with great result, if I must say so myself!

Pals for Life!
Sara and Jerry's Son Charley was with them, he immediately took to the new RV, exploring every child-proof inch of it and declaring it to be "neat!" He especially like coming over Thanksgiving morning to watch the Macy's parade on TV and sharing a few moments cuddling with our Katie Dog. Better Pals were never met and they spent the days following each other around and taking puppy pile naps every chance they got. 

The cat disappeared for the most part, returning occasionally to feed and chide us for allowing "yet one more human in the house".

Cooking a Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner in Our Road Warrior 361

Mornings preparation area, lots of room, if organized!
Cooking a full-fledged dinner in an RV can be a daunting task, the Suzie Homemaker "Toy" sized oven and lack of counter space makes even the simplest multi-course menu a challenge, but I'm here to say it can be done successfully if a few basic pointers are kept in mind.

Organization  and pre planning is the key, also timing and preparation of various dishes must be scheduled for a successful presentation at the proper time.

Another view of prep area
When planning the menu, try to keep it simple, trying to prepare a dozen dishes can lead to a less than successful result for all of them. Stick with just a few favorite dishes that you know well and concentrate your efforts on getting them cooked well and nicely presented.

Today our focus is on Turkey with homemade stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casarole. There are other side dishes, but most are bought or prepared at another time. Our focus today is on the actual main dishes we will be preparing using the stove top, microwave and oven supplied by the manufacturer.
Cooking onions and giblets for stuffing on stove top

In order of preparation, the bird comes first. Bought frozen, I first thawed partially in my nice deep stainless sinks buy submerging the wrapped bird in cold water for several hours one day before preparation, then finishing the process by placing it in the refridgerator overnight.

The next morning I washed and lightly salted the cavity of the bird while onions and giblets sauteed in a 1/2 cup butter on the stove top.

Our 11 pound turkey, bigger is not advised!
For the best roasting results I used a aluminum steam table pan, (12X10X2.5 approximatley). These pans are invalueble since they fit nicely inside the oven. I used two pans nested under the bird and one inverted on top of it.

An old griddle serves as Oven Stone,(Heat diffuser)
Inside the oven it is recommended you buy an Oven Stone to regulate the heat and keep the bottom of your food from burning, I couldn't find, nor afford one, so I used and old flat round griddle in it's place. (Always heat up the oven when you first put in the griddle with the doors, windows and vents open, it's going to smoke at first).

Turkey stuffed and seasoned in double layered foil pan
After stuffing the turkey it was placed in the pan(s) and wrapped with an additional covering of foil to seal it up. I placed it on top of the griddle, (the oven shelf being removed), and baked for 5 hours altogether. Three hours into cooking I removed the bird and poured off the collected liquid in the bottom of the pan to be used for gravy, it also helps the bird cook faster and better when the liquid is removed during cooking.

After removal I used the oven, (with shelf in place), to bake the sweet potatoes, baked green beans and extra pan of stuffing for one hour. 

The turkey stayed in it's foil bundle during this time to even out the heat and making it even more tender.

Mashed potatoes were boiled on stove top with jackets on and sauteed garlic cloves stirred in while mashing.

Gravy was made by boiling the drained off turkey juices in a pot on the stove top. Two tablespoons of flour whisked into a cup of cold water is stirred into the boiling drippings and boiled for several minutes more until thickened.

Sweet potatoes were precooked in microwave for 8 minutes to soften them up to insure they were done before baking in oven wrapped in foil.

Another foil pan placed over turkey and topped with foil wrap
400 degrees for 5 hours does the trick!
Turkey inserted in oven, note rack has been removed, bird on griddle
Perfect white sauce was made for the french green bean casarole by melting 2 tablespoons of butter, stirring in 2 tablespoons flour and heating in microwave until thick,(about two minutes), then stirring in 1 cup milk and heating again for about 6 minutes, stirring in between. If you could never make perfect white sauce before on the stove top, try it in the microwave, it never fails!

The result's are shown here, a good bird done well!
Other points to keep in mind are that you should have as many doors and windows open to facilitate cooking odor venting, (it will drive the neighbors CRAZY!), as well as your oven and Fantastic Fan on continually. Do your dishes as the they come up, saving space for preparation and saving the dreaded chore from having to be done after dinner!



All in all, my dinner was an unqualified success!



The entire spread served buffet style, mix of fancy china an stainless..

Monday, November 8, 2010

Day 5 Jemison Alabama to Tallahassee Florida..Fla-Fla-Fla-FLORIDA

Our Destination at Hand
 We awoke early and headed for the border, the Florida border, that is...the scenery quickly turned from Fall to Tropical on the South side of Montgomery, Alabama.

Suddenly we were amongst saw tooth palms, long leaf pine and live oaks. Our mood improved by the minute, our destination was within reach now after five long days of travel.

Florida Long Leaf Pine on US Hwy 10
After traveling through Dothan, Alabama, (the city of many stoplights), we were soon across the Florida Border, then to US 10 and headed for Tallahassee. 

The smiles spreading across our faces with the miles, we laughed and joked the entire way, after all, just a month ago it was entirely possible that we would never see Florida again together.

Here we were racing through the green, green pines on roads that have never known a frost pot, with produce stands and boiled peanut shacks at every intersection.

This is home. At least for the Winter, and we enjoy every minute of it, it is truly the Sunshine State.

Big Oak RV Campground
We turn into our favorite destination in Tallahassee, Big Oak Campground, always busy, crowded and noisy, but we don't mind because it's the first stop in Florida for just about everyone here and you can't step out the door without being hailed by someone who's checking out your license plate and wants to share their travel stories with us. 

The air is cheery and bright, small dogs yip and yap, no one seems to mind, because we are in Florida.

Keeping warm in a cold place, (Long term) living in your RV

This topic recently came up on the escapees forum, so I thought it would bear repeating my advice here in case you don't keep up with that forum. I am a lifetime veteran of sub-zero weather and mobile homes, if you are enclosing the trailer tightly with skirting, you may want to put down a vapor barrier in the cement pad or ground, a great deal of condensation can rise up from the earth, get trapped and do some dry rotting and surface rust of metal members. A good 8 mil. plastic will do quite nicely and is cheap enough.

Besides using the foil covered insulation board wedged tightly in place between ground and frame, you might consider running roofing, (tar paper) around the inside of the skirting, overlapping the ground and top of the skirting, and leaving an airspace between. It inhibits rodents from sharing the cozy little space you have provided for them and adds double value to your insulation. It's cheap too!

For heat you have to be cautious of what type of heater you use, only "milk house" rated heaters should be used, or a tipping/turn off type, I really hesitate to recommend using them at all because of the fire risk. My favorite was to use a yard type, (porch light) 150-200 watt, they give off a lot of heat and you can tell if they burn out because you wont see the light peaking through here and there. One usually near the water inlets will keep them from freezing all winter. Build a fireproof, melt proof place to put it and keep an eye on it at first to see if you have a heat build up problem. Do not place it too close to the underbelly if it has a plastic type barrier.

I have built hot boxes, (wooden boxes), around the water pipes and put a 100 watt bulb inside to keep this area from freezing up too.

Keep a hairdryer handy for thawing pipes, shut off water temporarily while thawing in case a leak has developed.

For inside, use foam pillows to close off skylights and vents, hang a blanket over the door at night, use window quilts cut from bedspreads purchased at second hand stores, bind edges and velcro attach to window frames. This will keep you warm and toasty and save on energy consumption, (it is a bit claustrophobic, but keeps one from listening to the furnace all night).

For long term cold, keep closet and cupboard doors open a bit at night to prevent condensation and frost from developing, pull furniture away from walls if cold spell lasts more than a couple days to keep frost from coming through the walls.

Use an auxilliary heater inside the camper, but be aware that if your furnace doesn't run, your underside could freeze up quickly, work out a balance, keep a remote thermometer under the skirting and keep track of it. Undoing the damage is much more difficult than preventing it.

This about covers what I know about it, have made it through -75 below at times in a cheap mobile home. 

One more caveat, if you have an on board generator, throw a can of HEAT in it to prevent gas line freeze, if it is a gas model, appropriate additives for diesel generators can be found and used too.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day 5 Enjoying Peach Queen Campground, Jemison, Alabama

Nice grassy lot
 I honestly don't understand what RV campers want in an RV Park. I googled RV campgrounds in the Montgomery area and I came up with a couple of choices so I read the reviews, (mostly from RVNet), and was a little put off by the reviews given this campground.

Complaints included no maintenance, antiquated showers, pot holed gravel roads, near a truck stop, the list went on and on.

After our recent in-town experience, I was looking for something quiet and rural, so we took a chance and were glad we did.

Room for slides
The first impression we got was from the owners, an older couple you can tell have been at it for many years. After amiably chatting for a spell, we came to the realization that we were in the south and had a little slowing down to do. I found myself twitching uncomfortable as the Owners related a long, drawn out story. After chiding myself for my bad manners, I let out a big sigh and decided to roll with it. The story was good, and after all, if you are going to get along in the South, you have to put your listening ears on and relax.

Nice rustic pavilion
This little jewel sits sleepily just off Interstate 65, way off in the distance, you can sometimes hear the traffic, if you listen real hard. The truck stop is far enough away that occasionally you can hear a truck start, if you are outside and the wind is in the right direction. it's not a busy truck stop either, just a few trucks occasionally, which you wouldn't know about if you didn't go to the fence and peer through the woods, more than a quarter mile away.

The roads are gravel and a bit rutted, but not deep enough, or sloppy enough to cause concern.
You can't resist the urge to sit a spell here.

The lots are spacious, grassed and level. Trees are on every lot, but we still had room for our slides.

The sewer hookup was a little hard to reach, the sewer is set a bit far back to reach comfortably, but we can back up a bit and dump before we leave, a no brainer. 

We had our choice of 30 or 50 amp hook up and power was stable and reliable. the water was remarkably clean and fresh.

Many, nice open lots
The park featured an large pavilion above a privately owned stocked catfish pond. A cozy yard swing sits on the shore, inviting you to sit and rest a spell.

Sunset at Peach Queen
I had almost decided to use our own shower in the trailer as the reviews intimated that the bath house was not something to be desired, but we had to fill our propane tanks, (which they do on site here), so we drove to the front and Doyle braved the restroom and found to his surprise, they were clean, well lit and quite nice, (makes you wonder what people expect in a shower house, doesn't it?). We ran back and got our shower things, found the water hot and the experience refreshing.

We enjoyed ourselves so much here, we took an extra day off the road to rest up and enjoy the peace and quiet. Now, this isn't a remote state park with lots of wilderness and trails, nor is it a resort spa with cement pads and hot tubs. It's a nice, clean, grassy meadow with reliable hookups and relative quiet considering its proximity to the Interstate.

We will stop here every year from now on, it's good enough for us and I was hesitant to write a good review because now we will have more company, but these good folks deserve to make a living, which can't be easy considering the bad press people have laid on them. Their rate is the cheapest in the area too!

Day 4 Nashville Tennessee to Birmingham, Alabama

Doyle against Nashville
 Here is the "annual"picture of Doyle with the skyline of Nashville behind him, we do this every year for some reason, probably because it's the one of the few major cities we drive right through the heart of and the view is on his side of the truck. It also annoys him to no end, because there are cars zipping around us at 60 mph and I'm distracting him.....here's a trivia item for you, Doyle HATES to have his picture taken when he's not working in the kitchen or in camp, he's really quite shy about it..
Still green from  here on...

Fall is just arriving in Tennessee and Alabama, it's always so energizing suddenly noticing that the grass is green, the trees still have leaves on them and the Fall colors are just beginning to blaze. Doyle was thrilled this year because he was in the hospital during the change and missed all the blazing beauty that the season brings. Fall is his favorite season and he enthusiastically points out every brilliantly colored tree he sees, which get a bit old after he's spotted the two hundredth one... but you have to give him credit for even giving a damn about such things.

Alabama Welcome Center Saturn Rocket
Another annual tradition is stopping to see the Saturn rocket towering over Interstate 65 at the Alabama Visitor's welcome center. The Saturn 1B was originally developed in Huntsville, Alabama at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Huntsville itself has a Space Center Museum and other Saturn Rockets on Display. It's just one of those things that never fails to impress and you just have to stop and take a look at it. (Also, the rest area is a great relief, Tennessee is not known for it's many wayside rest stops so your ready to take a break!)

We boil on to Birmingham, Alabama, right through the heart of it as with Nashville, but no scenic pics to take, as your clenching the seat with your butt cheeks between the traffic and the choppy ride.  

There are more extreme hills in Birmingham than anywhere else on the trip, you would swear you are on a roller coaster, only everyone is free to change lanes at will, which they do with hair raising effects.

After that challenge, we tucker out and find ourselves a sweet little RV campground just within striking distance of Montgomery, another challenging city to traverse. We need a good shower and some rest, and we find it in a wonderful sleepy little hollow just off the Interstate. It's so nice we decide to take a day down and catch up on our rest, after all, it's not like we have to get anywhere and we are finally getting out of the cold and into milder temperatures.

Did I mention the cold followed us down again this year? They are going to hang us in Florida when we get there, we always seem to drag the chill along with us, we brought the mercury down to 27 last night and the locals ain't happy about it, it was 75 just a week ago! We decide to sit and wait it out, a warming trend starts in a few days, so maybe we can duck the blame for it this year if we sit tight for a while!




Saturday, November 6, 2010

Day 3 Kentucky. Tennessee


Birthplace of Old Abe Himself....
I must start out this days journal with an apology to Illinois. Sort of. Southern Illinois is beautiful. It's rolling hardwood covered forests do seem as if Abe could step out on the road at any time, axe in hand...having said that I'll qualify my remarks by saying Southern Illinois is a sort of reward for having to cross the rest if it, I think.

Crossing the Ohio into Kentucky
 Today's trip was a short one in comparison to most days, we were a little weary setting out, in retrospect considering the distance we covered and the "marginal" campground we ended up staying at, we would have been better off staying put at the lovely campground we stayed at the night before, (see day 2), for an extra day and resting up.

It seemed the further we went, the behinder we got, so finally, we decided to pull off the road and stay at the first campground I could locate, which turned out to be an old trailer park that had been converted into an RV park, only most of the people there had traded their tin trailers for smaller dilapidated fiberglass camper homes.

Mind you, I am not averse to trailer parks, or dilapidated RV parks, for that matter, most are quaint and filled with hard working people...this one was not one of those.

Blurry picture of Tennessee Border sign...sorry
I have lived in trailer parks at one time or another, they are great transitional places, but not anywhere you would want to try and raise kids or anything. This one had the smell of discouragement, this was the final destination for most of them.


This place had kids. Bored, rammy, in-your-business kind of kids. After conversing with them cordially while setting up, we retreated into our sanctuary and watched them circle us endlessly on their bikes for hours hoping we would re appear and resume the conversation.

Terri's Control Center Set-Up on the Road
There was the crabby Lady behind us, ritually yelling at the kids as they passed, words blurred by booze, (evidenced by the bottle she clutched and waved at their passing, punctuating every lap with curses).

Not that there wasn't a bright spot or two, the folks next to us had blundered in the half hour after we did and Doyle had a nice "Rig" chat with the owner.

There was also "Football Guy" next door who hailed Doyle as he incinerated a large chunk of meat on his gas grill and had a nice talk. You could tell he was on his way up and out by his optimistic attitude. We wish him well.

The night passed quickly and we stole away in the early morning light, reminding ourselves that we simply must put more thought into where we lay our heads at days end. It was the first RV Park we had to lock the door at, nuff said.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 2 Crossing Illinois, The Long Way

"Land of Lincoln"
Yesterday afternoon found us crossing into the "Land of Lincoln", which ironically even Lincoln himself would not recognize as his birthplace.

It has changed a bit since then, wide open corn & soybean fields with just knots of trees here and there, rolling hills and lots of traffic on Interstate 74 keep you on your toes. Plenty of construction here and there for your entertainment also.

I'm sure Illinois is a lovely state, but from 74's view, there's not much to see. Just as well, traffic is intensely bothersome and it's just as well you keep your attention on the road and all the shenanigans going on about you. Road surface conditions vary from excellent, to appalling, never a dull moment!

 Day 1 one came to a close in Galesburg Illinois, a place we attend an Event at every year, (Galesburg Heritage Days), so we were expecting to stay at Stoney Lake Campground on the North side of town. 

We had never been through this area this late in the year so we got the unpleasant surprise that the campgrounds in the North end of the state, (and all others in the area), had closed November 1.

Galesburg Walmart, Good People
Not to worry though,we just headed over to the local Walmart and asked if we could stay for the night. The manager was very accommodating, so we just parked, put out the slides and kicked on the generator for the evening.

This morning we had some coffee, packed up and got on the trail early hoping to miss some of the action on the road, but we had the unnerving experience of driving into the rising sun for some time.

 Afternoon found us bucking a SW wind so after struggling with it for a couple of hours we decided to live it up and stop at a nice RV Campground.
We chose Wittington Woods Campground near Rend Lake because of it's close proximity to Interstate 57 and great reviews on Google Maps.

Wildlife Attack!
It turns out to be a delightful place, there are plenty of lots that are spread out enough to let the slides out and still not be a bother to your neighbor.
Ah, The Good Life!

The campground features large old oaks and nut trees, a great pavilion in the woods, pool, laundry, wifi and other amenities. The pads and roads are freshly re-graveled and most sites are pull thrus. This campground is ideal for big rigs, easy in and out.

We may stay a couple days, it's so nice here!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Leaving Wisconsin...FLA Bound!

Doyle's champin' at the Bit, "Are we gone yet?"
I can't believe it, we are actually on the road again. It's been six weeks and a lifetime since we pounded down the road!

This morning we were up before the sun, scrambling to get the last of things put in order before we left. I had to have a quick course in what Doyle normally takes care of, (wish I had a picture if me crawling across the Fifth Wheeler roof on my hands and knees), pulling the jacks and hooking up the trailer were challenging, but we got it done.

Then I had to remember how to stow everything so we could put the slides in. I had only done it a few times so it all seemed new to me. Then I had to remember what to tie down and stow so everything didn't tumble about, thank goodness we have a good suspension under our trailer to begin with, our old one just had a solid axle, guaranteed to toss things around and smash things even carefully padded!

Sun rise over the Camper
Finally we were ready, the neighbor, Doug came over and said goodbye, he's the kind of neighbor everyone dreams of, friendly enough, but not inclined to camp on your front porch. Quiet and hard working, we wish him the best, as he does us, and get on our way.

The first miles were scary, we had forgotten how heavy we were, and being paranoid anyway, we pulled over after the first ten miles just to check everything and be sure we had it right.

Ditto for the first big downhill at Prairie, 8% grade, we always worry something has gone wonky with the brakes during our long sitting spell, (even though we had everything thoroughly check out before leaving), and it's always a relief to get down that first hill safely!
Ah, Wisconsin, we will miss her scenery, her cows in the woods

Now we're rolling along like old troopers, everything is just like old times. Doyle is holding up well, I keep asking him if he's tired, but he had some practice runs to LaCrosse and such before we left, so I feel confident he can take the miles in stride and will pull over when he starts getting tired and let me drive...or we'll just get a campsite early and relax!

Doyle drives and I surf the net and work on the blog as we travel along, what's great about this is I can look up local history and relate it to Doyle as we cruise through the area. Makes the trip very interesting.

The bridge on the Iowa Border
When we enter Dubuque, Iowa, we really start getting excited, we are now in a new state, this means we are making progress!

Here's a little local history stolen from the Dubuque County Site:

Dubuque's beautiful County Courthouse Dome
The first Court House built in the county was completed in 1836.  The 20-foot x 26-foot hewed-log structure was basically used as a jail and soon became outdated.  It was then replaced by a brick structure, completed in 1843.  After overcoming considerable opposition from taxpayers’, construction of a third Court House was begun in 1891.  Since it took nearly two years to complete the Court House, the county offices were temporarily held in the city hall.

The Dubuque County Court House is a perfect example of Dubuque’s early Victorian architecture.  The structure was designed by a native of Dubuque, architect Fridolin Heer.  When the building was constructed, 12 massive figures were placed on the roof and ledges, at a cost to the county of $29,503.97.  Since that time all but six statues remain, the most prominent being Justice which rises above the street more than 200 feet on the dome.

So children, this is your history lesson for today, (unless we drive through another point of interest!)

Today's Progress
PS another point of interest is "The Mines of Spain" just South of Dubuque, if the name intrigues you, check out the site by clicking on the link.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Finally Free, Time to say Good bye to an Old Friend

It's finally done. The auction, the packing, the donating, the gifting, the trips to the dump.

Our home has been a good one for us for many years, but now it's time to say good bye.

We are leaving in just a few days for Florida, as we have for several years now, the difference this time is we won't be coming back to a house full of furniture and personal belongings.

I loved this Old Lady, with her creaks, groans and whispers of past lives in her echoing through the halls on quiet nights.

I will miss the view from her many tall narrow windows that were drafty and frosted in the Winter, stuck fast closed in the Summer's humidity.

I will miss her large airy dining room and great room upstairs with it's wonderful deco 1908 light fixtures.

 





I spent many hours happily sewing in this room, spreading out my cut out fabric on the dining room table and stitching as I watched the day change through the bay window.




 Many delightful years were spent here, but times had changed for us. We went to work on the road and my house became harder to maintain.

When we left for the Winter, I always worried about how the house was doing, and many times we came home to one disaster or another, flooding, freezing pipes and warped furniture. We had to make a choice. We chose our life on the road and never looked back. Everything had to go.
 

We started with an estate auction that was well attended and everything went. I can't tell you what a life's worth of possessions looks like on the front lawn, it was difficult at first, but friends and family gathered around us and held our hands. We made the expected amount of money for our travails and we used it to purchase our new fifth wheel trailer. We were committed now and there was no turning back.

 
 The more we purged, the better it felt. we couldn't get rid of formerly precious possessions fast enough. Soon, anyone careless enough to stop by could not escape without an armload of things to take with them.

At one time we thought we would never get through it, the more we got rid of, the more we seemed to find. Heretofore unopened closets revealed an entire room full of contents.
 Dressers and drawers were bottomless, the garage was like a clown car, the more we took out the more kept coming out in an endless parade.

Right when things were looking good and empty and the end was in sight, Doyle became perilously ill. It was time to regroup and tend to what was most important, our life together, and also for me to take the drivers seat in finishing up the task we set out to do while Doyle recuperated from his surgery. 

I cursed, I swore and I cried, but I got the items we hadn't been able to deal with into storage and got us ready to head down the road.

Funny the things you think of when you have it all packed up and are heading out, I dug up the "Hens & Chickens" plant out of the rock garden and brought it in the trailer, I found some Christmas lights in the basement and some garland, I packed it up for when we set up in Florida, yes, we are going to be those annoying people with all the twinkle lights glowing in the dark amongst the palms.

But before we left, I took one last walk through the house saying goodbye. I said goodbye to the neighbors cows I watched get born and then, in turn, give birth a few short years later to a new generation just outside my window. I strolled the hills and fields one last time watching the Kestral Falcons hatched in our big cottonwood chasing mice down the furrows plowed every alternating year with corn or soybean.

I will miss this place, but most important to me, I have grown as a woman and learned what is truly important and what is not. It is nice to own things and take comfort in pride in them through the years.

I also learned that at the right time, it's time to say goodbye to all of it and go on. Just me and my Man, (and my dog and his cat), driving down the road, wind in our hair, sun on our faces, looking forward to the next turn in the road that life has to offer. Nothing is holding us back now, no cares to worry us as we go along the way. 
It's finally done. Or is it just beginning?




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