Good-bye to Maryland!

After completing our five month western swing in October, 2013, we settled down at Sandy Oaks in Beverly Hills, Florida for our second winter of snowbirding. This stay was twice as long — from mid October to mid April.  We got much more involved in campground activities;  there was something going on every day.  I had an expanded student base for teaching Nantucket Lightship Baskets.  And we started to call more and more people our friends.

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Our Churchton, MD Home

We headed directly to our home in Churchton, Maryland in April.  It wasn’t a matter of wanting to be off the road.  It was a matter of wanting to re-examine our life there.  So far we’d been home just 85 days since the beginning of our journey in October of 2009.   We had neighbors and neighborhoods and medical people to reconnect with and long term associations to cherish — especially with the kids and grandkids in nearby northern Virginia.  Schip-Dude and Allie were familiar with the yard and their homey routines, but Melody only spent a week here last fall and Tom was new to the territory.  So they, too, had learning and adapting to do as well.

2008-07-05 driveway

The Big Horn’s Home in Churchton

On top of that, we realized how much the house and yard were crying for our attention.  While our tenant had done her best to keep it up, no one treats your property the way you do!  So we backed the Big Horn into its side yard driveway, plugged it in and completely unloaded it.  Whatever the next step was, it needed a thorough cleaning.  And those short-dated cans in the back of the pantry closet needed to be consumed!  Then we got to work — Dot on the yard and I on the house — taking lots of breaks to rekindle relationships.

It wasn’t too long before we realized that our situation wasn’t going to go exactly as expected.  It wasn’t a “pick up where you left off” situation.  Don made a run at renewing his relationship with the Summer Garden Theatre but felt very out of the loop.  Things were great with the family, but so much else had changed — or moved on.  The house was comfortable — after all, we’d lovingly created it out of a sixty year old Sears Roebuck cottage fifteen years earlier.  And what a view (above)!  But we didn’t remember how much upkeep was involved.

We had a saying about the dogs on travel.  “They didn’t mind their yard changing from time to time as long as their house remained the same.”   We started feeling a corollary to that — we loved it when our yard changed, because there was always so much more to see!  The bottom line was that it wouldn’t be too long before we hit the road again. And with the prospect of spending up to half the year at Sandy Oaks and up to the other half on the road, the value of a Churchton “base camp” began to diminish.  Within thirty days, we started outlining “Plan B.”

When the ball started rolling, it gathered momentum.  First decision:  We wanted to still have roots down somewhere.  I asked Dot where else she’d like to live, and she quickly said “Sandy Oaks.”   In addition to a couple hundred RV sites, there were about 40 mobile homes in the park.  Some were rentals; others were snowbird-owned.  A dozen or so were occupied year ’round.  Florida was also an excellent state for retirees, and the west-central location actually had seasons.  We thought it could be perfect for spending six months there and beating it out of state for the hot summer.

So we got on the phone to see if any houses were for sale.  Rosemary, the office manager and a good friend, sent us pictures of the one she knew about — a singe wide, old, and with almost no improvements.  Wee said no.

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New “Project?”

Rosemary mentioned our interest to Anne Melanson, the resort’s General Manager.  Anne and her husband Doug had purchased a number of the houses from foreclosures and abandonment.  Doug and his brother did the work to flip them over to new ownership.  Sadly, Doug succumbed to a vehicle accident in early 2014.  A large unit was unimproved, and Anne relayed to us that she’d kick out the tenants and sell it to us for a very modest price.

I flew down in early July to see it and take copious pictures for Dot’s review.  We recognized that it would take many hours and many dollars to make it livable for us.  But we saw potential, and we liked the fact that it had enough property to insure privacy.  Living there offered an additional benefit:  we could park the RV in field storage for a gentle price when it wasn’t in use.  After three days of negotiation, we signed up.

The next two months were a whirlwind.  We listed our house with the broker who’d handled our rental.  We had seven lookers in seven days, at which time the second couple contracted for it at our asking price.  We negotiated a closing date for August 15.  We couldn’t take possession of the new place until 9/1, so we decided to spend the two weeks camping out and visiting family. We hired U-Haul to provide storage containers and deliver them to Florida — worked out okay except for the fact that the need for a sixth container sent the price spiraling by one third.  After the closing, we parked our car at a son’s house and headed to Pennsylvania, where we spent a week with Dot’s mom (91) and stepfather (90).  Then we headed to Virginia, camping near the boys and their families while we took advantage of Labor Day sale prices by.dropping a bundle at Home Depot for five new appliances.

On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we started for “home.”  Then a near disaster:  the front of the Big Horn started opening up from a frame failure.  We drove the last lap on Monday with trepidation and made it, parking in an assigned site and looking forward to staying put in the trailer while we began renovating our new digs.





much less keeping it up.  When I asked Dot where else she’d like to live, she said, “Sandy Oaks, of course.”  Thus, our snowbird home became our permanent address with the acquisition of a large, 34 year old “double-wide” in the Resort, which we have since converted to a traditional home.  The story of this, our second total renovation, is covered elsewhere in this site.

Epilogue for our second “journey.”

For all intents and purposes, Springfield was the last stop on our 2013 Journey.  We had gotten off to a rough start, having lost our dear Gracie and experienced so many problems with the Big Horn.  But it settled down to a relatively carefree trip after that.  We took plenty of time to bring Melody into the fold, and she responded and acclimated well.  We got to spend time with some very good friends that we don’t see very often.  We re-visited our favorite city.  And we found a treasure trove of new stops to share with you.

winter home

Winter Home!

We were running a bit longer than expected and were anxious to find our way to winter quarters.  Our final destination was Sandy Oaks RV Resort  for our second annual stay — this time a full six months.  So three whistle stops later, in Paducah, KY, Chattanooga, TN and Tifton, GA, we pulled in to a warm welcome and found the same site waiting for us.


The heating system continued its funky ways, but we now had adequate warmth to postpone getting it fixed before the Florida winter settled in.  

Gracie and Melody

On Sunday, May 26, the other shoe fell.  After receiving a clean bill of health from her vet just three days earlier, our beloved Gracie suddenly crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  She was lethargic, slept most of the day, and began bleeding in the late afternoon.  Dot rushed her to an emergency vet, but she died on the way.   It was doubly unexpected — Gracie, our retired champion who had  just turned 15, came from a strong lifeline.

We’ve decided that Gracie was the victim of an undetectable colon or intestinal cancer.  Such a condition is not unknown.  Recognizing a cause, however, did very little to salve the uncontrollable grief that Dot felt – and I shared.  Gracie was the closest to the center of Dot’s heart.  Willie also died quite unexpectedly in 2010; the pair joined our family within a couple of months of each other in 2007, and they constituted Dot’s team, while Ted and Allie were my team.

Dot was dangerously depressed.  Without letting her know, I sent an urgent plea to six of my closest Schipperke “resources” – rescuers and breeders alike.  Within 48 hours, I was blessed with an offer of another champion in search of a retirement home.  Melody CH Sheradin’s Summer Rhapsody – was a month short of seven.  She was infertile, and Diane Harris, her breeder,  felt she would be much happier in a smaller Schip environment.

There were more surprises:

Tanner was a very successful champion from Tom and Carol Luke’s kennel in Illinois. Tanner was Gracie’s father  and Melody’s great- grandfather!

Diane’s beloved Thumper was a renowned champion until his death at 18 in 2010. Thumper was Gracie’s step-brother – and Melody’s grandfather!

So you can see why we had extra hope that Melody could significantly ease Dot’s pain.  On June 9, she drove to Tennessee to bring Melody to her new home.  They bonded quickly and have continued to do so.

We continue to openly adore Gracie and all the others who’ve gone before us.  She is aboard on our bedroom dresser — along with Barnacle, Teddy, Serena and Willie —  in their tiny boxes, each topped with a Schip angel.

Getting Ready to Depart . . . Again

It was our goal to leave again on June 9th to begin summer travel.  We had three rallies scheduled, in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan from June 19th through July 7th.  Then we were off on another western swing.

I spent a week or more simply trying to find someone who would fix the RV.  Starting with our selling dealer, I went through a list of known names and referrals, but everyone was booked weeks ahead.  After all, it was the start of the normal season.  I finally found a shop north of us that promised to look at it on May 29.

I had a date on May 18 to meet with Anna to discuss this website.  I learned in advance, however, that Dot had a second 75th birthday surprise party scheduled that day.  So I dutifully spent two hours with Anna and drove home with feigned surprise.   Actually, there were wonderful surprises, in the form of friends and family who traveled from as far away as California to attend.  Bummed as I was, I still found enjoyment Dot’s special handiwork.

Citrus County and its Seat

Beverly Hills, Florida is located in Citrus County. There are thirteen cities and towns in the county, in addition to another dozen or so subdivisions and neighborhoods. There are also six lakes, seven rivers and innumerable streams, ponds and marshes. Oh, and don’t forget the Gulf of Mexico. No wonder it’s dubbed itself the Water Lovers Florida.

Orange groves

Box labels — notice the “Ferris” Groves!

But there’s one thing in Citrus County you’ll barely find: citrus. It wasn’t always that way, of course; groves abounded in the nineteenth century, and it was near the end of that century (1887) that the county was born, sliced off the top of Hernando County.  Six year later, a long hard freeze over the winter of 1893-’94 wiped out the crop, and it never recovered.  Three things saved the county: the discovery of phosphate in the ground, the location and climate as a retirement haven, and the heavy tourism influx to enjoy the scenic – and sea-nic — attractions.   Among the many festivals are those that honor the Manatee, which hibernate in abundance  in its warm sheltered waters; the Cooter, an indigenous large fresh water turtle, and Strawberries.  A premier attraction is the head of the Withlacoochee State Trail,  a 46 mile long route of the old Atlantic Coast Line Railroad that is now a premier hiking and biking trail.

The county seat is Inverness, a small, mostly urban city with approximately 7,500 citizens covering 8 square miles.  It was incorporated in 1917 and was named by a lonely Scotsman who viewed the shores of its largest lake, Tsala Apopka, as reminiscent of the lochs and moors of his native land.   

Elvis Exhibit

Elvis in “Follow That Dream”

In 1961, Inverness had a famous visitor: Elvis! He brought along a large entourage and trucks full of equipment to film one of his most successful movies, Follow That Dream. Originally written as a story of New Jersey sharecroppers, Hollywood decided that a Florida version would be more attractive.  By the time Elvis left the building – and the city – he’d shot enough scenes in the Old Courthouse to fill 10 minutes of the final cut.


Old Courthouse Courtroom

That selfsame Old Courthouse dominates the town square and is not the Heritage Museum.  Originally constructed in 1912, the Courthouse gave way to a modern update one block away in 1978. The Old Courthouse became the headquarters of the Citrus County Historical Society in 1985.  In that interim, it has suffered many awful modernizations, and the new occupants set a goal to restore its original grandeur.

Elvis, again, came to the city’s rescue — indirectly. By reviewing those final scenes in the movie, the restoration committee could see first-hand what the building looked like then. Coupled with archival plans and specs, they were able to produce details that otherwise would have been lost. After $2.5 million and 7 years, the project was unveiled in October, 2000.  Not surprisingly, Inverness holds an Elvis Festival every year. The 100th anniversary in 2012 was the inaugural year of a new, home-grown musical, When Elvis Came to Town. Even with added performances,  the show was repeatedly sold out. But it ran again in late April at this year’s festival and will, I’m sure, continue indefinitely.

Great Seal

State Seal in the floor

Back to the Courthouse. It is now a combination of historical society offices and exhibits.  The old Tax Appraiser/Collector Office now holds a permanent exhibit called A Long Way Home, chronicling the history of the County through the 19th and 20th centuries. The Sheriff’s Office holds Footprints in Time, a look at La Florida dating back to the end of the last Ice Age and highlighting the effect of each of its successive waves of occupants.  In another room, the three Seminole Wars, between ca. 1814-1858 receive significant attention and salutes the Natives’ courage.  One of the exhibits tells a prehistoric story through dialog between two animated creatures; it was produced by a local middle school class.

A rotating gallery featured an exhibition called Humanity Beyond the Barbed Wire: Hitler’s Soldiers in the Sunshine State. On loan from the Florida Holocaust Museum, it tells the story of the 10,000 German POW’s (out of nearly 400,000 across the U.S.) that were housed in 26 Florida camps. It graphically displays the bifurcation between the Nazi propaganda of hate and the actual humane treatment provided by the captors. In fact, many of the Deutschlanders actually had employment outside the compounds and later refused repatriation.

New Winter Quarters

During the course of our three year odyssey across the U.S., we stopped traveling for the winter in three different locations.  We stayed in each one — Gulf Shores, AL, Corpus Christi, TX and Tucson, AZ — for three months.  In each case, we either had made a prior visit to the spot or got a strong endorsement from fellow RVers along the way.

We had no idea where to spend the 2012-13 winter until we met John and Myrna Bird while visiting Hannibal, MO last June.  They not only had a rig like ours but were on the way back from a Wyoming rally sponsored by the manufacturer.  Friendship evolved quickly, and, before we knew it, we were on the phone to their recommendation in Beverly Hills, Florida.

Beverly Hills is a party of Citrus County in west Florida.  It’s 60 miles due south of Gainesville, 20 miles southwest of Ocala and about 80 miles each from Tampa (south) and Orlando (east). Directly to our west is Crystal River, and then water — a series of rivers, streams and ponds meandering to the Gulf of Mexico.  Sandy Oaks RV Resort is a 200+ acre playground with approximately 175 sites and oodles of things to do.

When we drove in on January 2, John and Myrna had obviously paved the way for our arrival — we wound up in one of the most ideal sites on the property.  It is huge, airy and very close to two dog parks.  There were approximately 350 people RVs and mobile homes in the park, and they are like a family. Constant activities, such as sports, fitness, exploration, self-improvement and crafts, were interspersed weekly with great parties and entertainment.  Motorcycles, golf carts, bikes and kayaks are everywhere.  The amenities are wonderful:  pool, well-equipped clubhouse with kitchen, separate TV den, big laundry, driving range and equine facility.  Approximately two dozen permanent mobile homes occupy the perimeter.

Many of the sites are improved by the tenants with landscaping, decoration, utility buildings and the like; since they spent half their time there annually, they personalize them at their own expense.  At least a third leave their RVs on their sites all year. There’s almost an average of a dog per site, and policing their sanitary habits is respected throughout.

If you can’t find enough to do on-site, the surrounding area is rife with restaurants, attractions, facilities of all types, and every store known to mankind.

We know we’re going to like it here and are already thinking about a repeat performance.

Introducing the NEW

It’s a bit anticlimactic.  Some of you have surely happened upon our new Schipperhaven site by now.  It became public in June, 2013, basically still a “beta,” but numerous things have stood in the way of a proper and consistent update.   I hope this is the time to reconcile that!

What’s it all about?

The New Site contains the same basic categories as the previous site – Schipperke Rescue, Travels and Nantucket Lightship Baskets.  To that, we’ve added an active Lifestyle category, included under the title About Us, which will contain some facts, some stories and some philosophy.

So much for same old…same old.  There are many new features that we believe will make it more interesting and more informative for you, as well as easier to use.

Easier to use . . . that’s a key phrase.  The New Site has been developed in Word Press.  As such, it will be much easier and quicker for me personally to update it and keep subject matter timely.  On the Old Site, the only work I could do myself was to add chapters to the Travelogue.  Any information involving other subjects had to be prepared and forwarded periodically to our developer, Anna Amendolare, for incorporation.  Now all of the posting capability is in my hands.

And it now has a theme.  As the headline suggests, we have characterized the past decade as a turning point in our lives, a Lifestyle Evolution.  It helps both you — and us — understand why we’re doing what we’re doing – and how rewarding it is!

A roadmap.

The black menu bar below the heading allows simple navigation of the site.

Home:  Returns you to the front page

About:  Puts you on the page that tells you about us and our goals, as well as covering events that don’t fall under the three site subjects.

Schip Rescue:  Puts you on the page that provides background on our Schipperke activity and fund-raising efforts

Travels:  A page providing details about the extent and documentation of our RV travels

Baskets:  Background and description, as well as availability and teaching of Nantucket Lightship Baskets

All Posts:  Accumulation page for all posts – more details below

The Journey:  A link to the separate website that contains the story of our three year Odyssey (2009-12)

Every page is divided into two parts.

Home Page: 

The wider, left-side part of the home page, titled Chronicles,  introduces each category and gives you an opportunity to understand it in greater depth by clicking on the individual elements.

The narrower, right side part, labeled What’s New, is a dynamic series of posts about ongoing events and happenings about any and all of the four categories.  The three most recent posts, regardless of category, will be introduced and briefed in this column.  By clicking on their headlines, you’ll be passed on to the full story.

Subject Pages:

The left side of each subject page contains the core information about that subject.  Here you’ll find the general rap – the static copy, if you will.  Unlike in the past, however, it will be less static —  updated more frequently. Those of you familiar with the  Old Site will find a lot of the same subject matter you’ve already been through. But the layout and writing are better!

The right side contains all of the “What’s New” posts about that subject.  Click on the headline of each story to open it up.

The right side may also contain additional features.  For example, on the Schipperke page, you’ll find a rotating picture show for each of our dogs.

One final note.  The New Site begins on December 27, 2012.  We arrived home from our three year journey on October 1, 2012 and spent the next 85 days moving back into our house, buying a car, visiting with our children and grands, and preparing the rig for the next phase in our travels.  We left Churchton on December 27 and took a leisurely six days to arrive in Beverly Hills, Florida on January 2.  This trip was different; having just purchased a new car, we opted not to leave it behind.  So Dot followed me all the way down.