I skipped last Sunday in the post before last because it was already really long and I wanted to give it justice, so I am going to start there and work my way forward through the week. As you know, Lee has been attending RV Tech School for the last 8 weeks and although I haven’t posted much about it (will do a nice long write-up when he’s done) it has been a major part of our lives. One of the best things about the school is some of the people he has met and we had an opportunity to have dinner with one of the couples last Sunday. Fernando (Nando for short) and Jen have a really interesting life and prove there are all kinds of full timers out there. Jen, if I get any of the details wrong please forgive me…it’s been over a week and my memory is not what it used to be.
Jen and Nando have been together for over 15 years and are raising three boys (ages 13, 12, and 9) in a converted bus (38 foot 1994 Monaco Dynasty…with no slide outs), which means: not a ton of space for 5 people. Jen (like myself) works remotely from the rig and also oversees the boys curriculum as they are home schooled. Many years ago when they were younger they liked going to folk music festivals and Nando noticed that the food being offered lacked any ethnicity at all. So largely on a whim initially they started providing Mexican food at some of the festivals. Over time they developed some repeat customers and have used it as many years to supplement the income they made from their “regular jobs.” Fast forward and they realize they could make a living from just the festivals so they flew to Florida and bought a bus. This is where the story gets really interesting. Jen does not like to plan too far in advance. This is a lifestyle choice, not caused by any sort of laziness (Jen works her butt off to make this lifestyle work for her family) but because of how she wants to live. So, you know me, the uber planner…the thought of no plan makes me break into hives (not really but you know what I mean). but as we were talking I opened my mind to the concept. Which was easy because Jen and Nando are obviously very good parents (I know this because they frequently say “those damn kids…” with a smile on their face which only supremely confident parents have the guts to say ) so I opened my mind to what they are doing and it’s easy to tell they are totally making this work. They want a non-conventional life and they want their children to have the same and although that was not our choice I say more power to them. They sold their house and flew down and moved the three kids into a used bus in Florida. Which promptly broke down in Georgia. They got it fixed and made it to Nashville where it broke down again. At this point they had to stop and wait three weeks for the correct parts and eventually Nando fixed the bus himself. I asked if he had any experience with fixing this type of engine and he did not, but he’s a really smart guy and mechanically inclined so he figured it out. During this time period they also needed to be at a festival and there was some flying back and forth to make that happen. I would say in general that sums up Nando and Jen. They take life as it comes and do what it takes to make things happen. I admire that tremendously and frankly wish I was more like them.
Like us Nando and Jen discovered the RV Training Center school and since they are all about multiple streams of income (which is very smart in this life) took a 10 week break from the bus, rented a small house, and came down here for the school. I met Jen at the luncheon the school had for families a few weeks ago and immediately felt a connection to her, so when Nando asked us to go out with them for her birthday I couldn’t say no. Yes I knew we would go over budget on dining out, and was pretty pooped from a busy couple of weeks, but I really wanted to get to know them better and I am so glad that we did. They purchased family passes to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and had free friends passes and asked us if we wanted to start the day there. I had been wanting to go, plus can’t pass up free, so we met there around 12:30. Jen won’t take her boys to traditional zoos only places where animals are kept for rehabilitation and research so this place is right up her alley. I loved it because along with Winter (the dolphin with the mechanical fin from Dolphin’s Tale) they help many sea turtles. Right when we walked in the door, we saw they were operating on a rescued sea turtle, and seeing my interest, one of the volunteers took us on a back hallway tour and spent 20 minutes or so explaining the facility and what they do. It turns out they get no royalties from the movie because they are a non-profit and operate on donations, admission fees, and over 400 volunteers. This may seem like plenty but according to the volunteer the previous weekend they responded to 18 calls for turtles in distress (10 were brought back and 8 died on scene) ranging from turtles cut by fishing line, tumors, and even one in a trash can. The volunteer was very passionate about what they do and I really appreciated her taking the time to show us the behind the scenes. My favorite story was of a female sea turtle who was picked up initially 5 years ago. She was helped and released back into the wild. A year later she was found on the same beach and sent back for another issue. Two years later same thing and then just 6 months ago. Turtles are smart. It was like she was checking into the emergency room 🙂
The Winter part of the aquarium was less interesting to me. They have Winter blocked so it’s tough to get a good picture unless you pay extra which was disappointing. I understand the money is going to a good cause, but I hate that commercial feeling, but the sea otter area was a nice treat and we got to see the staff working with the animals preparing training them for release which was cool. Overall I am glad I didn’t have to spend $22 each to go, but I am really glad we got to see it and Nando and Jen were great to hang out with.
After the aquarium we tried to go to a beach restaurant in Clearwater, but because it was a really nice day the place was packed. I really don’t like Clearwater beaches, they are packed with tourists and driving/parking is a nightmare. I much prefer driving down the coast a bit and going to the lesser known beaches which are essentially the same but with less crowds. We didn’t have a back up plan, so we starting driving down the coast and eventually came to a waterfront (marina side) restaurant called The Pub Waterfront Restaurant. What a find!! I had the absolute best meal I have had since we got here…Bay shrimp, the best spinach and cheese dip I’ve ever had, and some yummy ice tea. It was $50 all in with tip (damn those drinks and appetizers) but it was really, really good. They offer reasonably priced meals before 6pm, btw, and if you’re in the area I highly recommend it. We ate and had plenty of time to drive down to Indian Rocks beach and watch the sunset. So we blew the budget but made some really good new friends…I would say that’s a fair trade 🙂
I took the next couple of days for work and readied myself for my first work trip up north. Because of the storms two trips have been cancelled, but on Wednesday (the very best day to fly) I flew from Tampa to Atlanta to Louisville with no issue. The first day wasn’t that bad. The sun was shining and it was cold but not windy. The second day however I remembered why I am done with winter. Overcast, spitting snow, and the wind had a nasty bite…really not cool. The meeting was great, the people were nice as always, but I discovered I don’t miss the snow AT ALL. No nostalgia, no nothing, just a desire to get back to the warmer weather lol. I flew back on Friday and I would like to take a moment to complain a bit. First they have banned e-cigarettes in the Louisville airport which is absolutely ridiculous. Non smokers want smokers to stop and the e cigarettes are having an impact on that. So why ban them?? Mine smells like Berries btw, and it contains absolutely nothing harmful in it for anyone. Also, they took my toothpaste, which makes me crazy. The same toothpaste can pass security multiple times and then one bored TSA agent will snag it. Seriously, they need some consistent rules in these airports. Anyway the flight itself was fine and it was an easy switch of planes in Detroit. Then it gets interesting. There was a woman who was sloppy drunk in the seat behind me and the first thing she said as she sat down was “how quickly can I get another drink?”. I am sympathetic to folks who are nervous flyers, but drinking too much and then asking for more is just stupid. Turns out she was in the wrong aisle (misread her ticket, big shock) and she was in the middle seat next to me. So she sat down and could not get the seat belt to secure around her. I am sympathetic to people who are larger, but no way was I OK with a drunk person being unsecured in the seat next to me. I very kindly mentioned we could get her an extender and we wanted her to be safe and she immediately got tense about it. I stood up and walked back to the attendant and asked for a seatbelt extender. She immediately said, “Did she ask for one?” I said no but it wasn’t safe and the airline attendant said , “We have to be very careful how we handle situations like this.” So let me get this straight you can take my toothpaste, you can ban e cigarettes, but someone can not wear a seatbelt because they might get offended??? Ever seen the scene in the TV show Lost where the plane hits turbulence and the non seat belted passengers go flying up in the air and strike the people around them?? All I could picture was getting smashed flat in a turbulence situation. Just to be clear I would have had an identical reaction no matter what her size. So I went back to my seat and was pondering my next move when the lady literally climbed over me (without me getting up) and took a seat two rows back. Well that worked OK, and although I rarely talk to people I am flying with Jennifer my aisle companion and I spoke quietly for a few minutes. Turns out Jennifer was a really cool person and I actually ended up sharing my blog with her by the end of the flight. So Jen if you read this, I enjoyed talking to you very much.
Mom is in town checking on Grandpa and I knew I was going to drive over and see them. I made the colossally bad decision however to drive straight from the airport to North Palm Beach. I was hoping I would cut my drive time down but because I hit Friday rush hour traffic it actually took longer. So I flew all day and then drove for 4 hours to get there. Not fun. I did enjoy hanging out with them, Grandpa is doing very well considering his loss and Mom and I had a good time visiting the beach that I spent quite a bit of my childhood on. My grandparents lived on Singer Island when I was young and we spent many summers at their condo right on the beach. So we went to a local park and walked down to the old condo and I enjoyed seeing a different ocean. I did NOT like the jelly fish however which were everywhere, but the waves are much bigger and wilder and the beach sand although not white was much deeper. We had a nice walk and then got pedicures (mom’s treat) and then took Grandpa to Chinese for lunch. It was pretty overcast throughout the day so I decided to drive back a little earlier and about 15 minutes into the drive it started to pour. Very poor visibility…people had their flashers on…and it took me another 4 hours to make it back to Largo. So I love my Mom and Grandpa but the drive both was pretty awful, and I am spending Sunday just relaxing until I fly out again on Monday to Albany, NY. Time to pull out the winter coat again.
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Your RV Tech friends have an interesting way to make a living on the road, good for them! That trip did not sound fun. Sorry you had to go back to the snow. I’m glad you didn’t get stuck overnight. I’d say the crazy 4 hour drive was worth it though to see your Mom & Grampa. I LOVE that picture of them! You can tell they were very happy to see you! Your Mom looks so young, and very much like you. I hope Albany will come and go easily for you. It looks like you had a very nice place to run around and play at the condo when younger.
Hay, if Lee learns anything in RV Tech school relative to RV construction methods to be aware of, such as what type of slide mechanisms are best or construction methods to avoid, could you get him to pass them along. Nothing like asking a mechanic what has been issues.
The Open Range has a pulley slide system which we were concerned about at first, but he feels it would actually be easier to work on in a pinch because it is all accessible. If you get into a situation where you have a serious issue with the slides you will need to take it to a dealer. My recommendation is by what you want and get the best warranty available. Ours will cover us for 7 years so if something really big happens we are covered for a long time.
The aquarium looks pretty cool! Looking forward to your post on Lee’s schooling although probably not as much as he is looking forward to being done!
Oh yeah …one week left he’s definitely ready to be finished
Going from sunny beaches to snowy anything sounds terrible. I’m not a big fan of snow, but I don’t mind a day trip if there is skiing involved 🙂
Your behind the scenes tour at the aquarium was interesting. I love it when a volunteer is excited to share their knowledge. Were Nando and Jen’s children able to go on the tour too? What a fabulous learning experience.
The kids had gone on another visit and it was a totally different experience. Jen said the kids would never have had the patience for the behind the scenes tour