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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Charlottesville, Virginia is a vibrant town where the past of plantations and slavery fade into the modernism of today with the University of Virginia standing tall in the center (which Jefferson founded).  Monticello – the home of Thomas Jefferson – was the motivation for us coming to Charlottesville but it was soon apparent why this city is getting accolades and has become a big draw for tourists.  The town speaks volumes of American history (with James Madison and James Monroe homes being nearby), a vibrant almost hippy-like downtown, surrounding hillsides dotted with wineries and orchards, and off in the not-so-distant view, is the beautiful Skyline Drive of Shenandoah National Park.

Monticello was the beloved home of Thomas Jefferson who spent his adult life constructing his home, planting gardens, cultivating fields, and developing the 5,000 acres that he inherited from his father.  Monticello is among the best-documented, best-preserved, and best-studied plantations in North America due to Jefferson’s meticulous record keeping and scholarly research.  Jefferson was born and raised in the area and loved coming home to his mountain home. Monticello was years in the making and always evolving.  While Jefferson is most acclaimed as a politician, it was his interest and achievements in architecture he was most proud of.  He started working on Monticello when he was 26 and chose to build it in the Palladian style – an influence he acquired while working in Europe.

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Jefferson was a renaissance man who promoted science and scholarship as he embarked in horticulture, literature, innovation, linguistics, law, and most notable politics. Jefferson spent 33 years in public life serving as Governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Vice President and the 3rd President of the United States. Jefferson is hailed as the author of the Declaration of Independence who wrote the famed words “All men are created equal.” This phrase has been called by historians "one of the best-known sentences in the English language" containing "the most potent and consequential words in American history." And while that phrase resonates liberty, there is a paradox as Jefferson owned some 600 slaves in his lifetime, choosing to set only five of them free. Something to think about … those famous words of equality were written by a slave owner in 1775, but it wasn’t until 1964 when all legally enforced public segregation was abolished by the Civil Rights Act.

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A visit to Monticello is an all-day event. The best way to start is by viewing the 15-minute film. From there it is a short walk up to the house winding past the cemetery where he is buried and then a quick walk to the house. Viewing of the house is done by 45-minute guided timed tours which is a real plus so that you get the most out of your visit. Other aspects of the house that are available for viewing on your own are the kitchen, wine cellar, ice house and cooks room. Additional things to see are Mulberry Row – which was the center of plantation activities. Here enslaved, free, and indentured workers and craftsmen fabricated everything needed for the plantation and building construction. A stroll along this area also leads you to rustic cabins that were slave quarters. For more in-depth information on the gardens of Monticello and what it was like to be a slave there stick around for those respective guided tours which were very well-narrated and fascinating. Coming down the mountain back to the entrance there is an exhibit gallery, a very nice gift shop, and café.

Charlottesville is definitely worth a stop and we regretted not having more time to explore the surrounding area. Especially since we now know this is one of Virginia’s most prominent wine regions! Keep in mind, Orbitz ranked Charlottesville as one of the “Top 5 Destinations Every American Should Visit” so you may want to put it on your travel list.









Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Little Mountain Time in Georgia and Tennessee

After leaving Florida we wandered up to the little Georgia Mountain town of Helen. Our good friends, Kelly and T (and their three adorable pups) were traveling with us and suggested we make that our first stop on our road trip to Maine. Of course, we were totally game as it is always fun to visit places we have never been before and spend time with them.  Helen is a Bavarian-style town where the buildings make you feel like you are in the Alps (albeit such shorter mountains) and whose charm is a huge tourist draw which makes it the state’s third most visited city.  While the town was originally Cherokee, European settlers came to the area in search of gold and to exploit the rich virgin timber stands for the booming lumber industry.  When those two industries dried up, the town was in decline.  In 1969, city leaders and business owners set out to revitalize the economy and attract tourists by adopting the Bavarian theme.  Soon facades were painted with scenes from Bavaria, gingerbread trim was added and the city became a tourist draw.

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The downtown covers just over two miles but the surrounding area holds lots for outdoor enthusiasts as it is surrounded by Unicoi State Park and the Chattahoochee National Forest.  As our stay was only for two nights we had just one day to do all we could.  The beautiful Georgia mountains are home to many waterfalls and we started our day at Anna Ruby Falls (not to be confused with the famed “Ruby Falls.”)  The short hike up to the falls was pretty and was a hit with the two Labradors.  The double waterfalls are formed as two creeks, Curtis Creek and York Creek, tumble over a towering cliff below the summit of Tray Mountain.  The cascading water forms Smith Creek whose waters eventually make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.  It is this quartz that travels from the Appalachian Mountains via rivers that makes the sugar sands in Florida’s panhandle so white and fine.

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Downtown Helen came alive while we were at the falls and was overrun with people by the time we arrived at lunchtime. The town's Bavarian theme is cute and reminded me (ever so slightly) of my days living in Europe. But, we were sorely disappointed that very few shops carried anything tied to that region of the world. Instead they were the same tacky tourist shops where you would find them full of airbrushed t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other souvenirs. The highlight was lunch at Hofbrauhaus Restaurant and German Pub where we indulged in potato pancakes, spaetzle, braised cabbage, bratwurst, knockwurst and a good selection of German beer.  Outside of Helen we found more interesting places to stop like Fred’s Famous Peanuts, a funky coffee roaster, antique shop, winery, and great grist mill where a new bag of grits was soon in my hand.

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Two nights in Helen was all we had planned for so we were off and headed deeper into the Appalachian Mountains to the ever popular towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.  Our sights were set on Dollywood, Bush’s Beans and exploring Great Smoky Mountain National Park (NP).  We arrived to cold and damp weather but that was not going to stop us from checking our eastern Tennessee boxes!  The dogs were loaded up, we donned our hiking shoes and headed to the park with my newly purchased trail map.  Only, to be sorely disappointed to find out that dogs are only allowed on basically two trails in the entire park. (Yes, they are allowed in developed areas like campgrounds and on roads but who wants to hike there?)  There was one dog-friendly trail which ran along a pretty stream so not all was lost and the dogs didn’t know any better.  We humans were a little bummed but we came to the conclusion that a moonshine tasting would rectify the day and off to Ole Smokey we went.  Downtown Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are very tourist-oriented which is quickly apparent as you drive down the strip (or sit in traffic as is often the case).  Lots of eateries, go carts, dinner theaters, and shopping.

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Aside from Great Smoky Mtn NP the big draw to the area is Dollywood - attracting some 3 million visitors a year. Dollywood is an amusement park with a Hillbilly theme and a famous owner.  The sounds of banjos play in the background as you wander past rides, shows, exhibits, food vendors, and gift shops.  Our favorite part of Dollywood was “Chasing Rainbows” – a museum about Dolly Parton’s life and accomplishments.  We especially loved that her 1994 Prevost “home-on-wheels” was open for touring.  The bus features hand-tooled leather from Germany on the sofa and chairs, cherry cabinets, a bathtub, and brass fixtures.  In her bedroom are a guitar she used and a retired wig.


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Hers is a great story that has a young girls dream to be a singer come true.  One of 12 children, Parton has described her family as being “dirt poor” and that her father paid the doctor who helped deliver her with a bag of cornmeal.  She was a natural performer who started as a youngster singing in church, strumming homemade guitars, and later performing on local television and radio stations.  The day after she graduated from high school in 1964, she moved to Nashville chasing her dream of making it big in the country music industry.  After achieving success as a songwriter for other artists, Parton debuted her first solo album in 1967.  Her singing career bloomed in the 1970 and 80’s but her success has never stopped and today she is recognized as the most honored female country performer of all time.  But more than being a singer, songwriter, actress, businesswoman, author, and record producer she is a philanthropist.

In the mid-1980’s Parton bought an interest in the Gatlinburg amusement park known as Silver Dollar City and as part of the deal it would be renamed "Dollywood".  Why would she want a stake in an amusement park, you ask?  Well that goes back to her philanthropic spirit.  Parton said she became involved with the operation because she "always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area.”  She has achieved that as Dollywood is the largest employer in the community with over 3,000 employees.  Whether you like Parton’s music, acting, boobs, and flashy clothes, and red lipstick or not you have to admire this woman’s accomplishments.  And at the age of 72 does not seem to be slowing down.  Go Dolly!  We had a great time.

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Before we left the area we had to put a check next to one of Betsy’s bucket list items.  Which meant we were headed to a place made famous by a bald guy with a mischievous talking dog named “Duke” who’s baked beans represent approximately 80 percent of the canned baked beans consumed in the United States.  That’s right we are talking about Bush’s Beans!

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Their story dates back to 1904 when A. J. Bush partnered with the Stokely family to open a tomato cannery in Chestnut Hill, Tennessee.  The cannery proved so profitable that, by 1908, he was able to buy out the Stokelys' interest and establish his own business.  He entered into partnership with his two oldest sons, Fred and Claude, and the Bush Brothers & Company business began.  In the early days, the company canned a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, and even pet food.  The year 1969 proved to be pivotal.  When overproduction and low prices were wreaking havoc on the canning industry the company started looking for ways to ride out the tough times and boost sales with a new product.  They reflected on the previous success 20180406_162042of their canned pork and beans and Condon Bush (A. J.’s grandson) decided to develop a “table ready” baked bean product based on his mother Kathleen's secret recipe.  That idea proved far more successful than they could have imagined. Sales of Bush's Best Baked Beans went from 10,000 cases in 1969 to 100,000 in 1970 and close to a million cases in 1971.  Ultimately, those beans would  prove to be the biggest success in the company's history.

In the 1990’s the company was looking to for a new advertising campaign for the baked beans.  Enter the bald Jay Bush (Condon’s son) who spoke of the “secret family recipe.”  A year later, the mischievous golden retriever “Duke” was introduced and sales exploded.  As a result of that ad campaign sales of the company's beans increased from 48% to 80% of the national market share.


Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are busy places and built for entertaining tourists.  The towns were a little too touristy for our liking so we decided next up we need a state park with a little more serene setting for some hiking and campfires and towns without stoplights.




















Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Penne Pasta with Sun-dried Tomato Cream Sauce

Oh, for the love of pasta!  When I get a craving for pasta it comes on hard.  I try to resist the so-called "evil" carbs but some times that desire to bite into a tender resistance of al dente egg noodles merrily swimming in creamy tomato goodness is unbearable.  Yes, the desire overwhelms me and I succumb – to the stove we go.  The beauty of this recipe is that there is not an extensive list of ingredients and it all comes together in about 30 minutes. Want protein? Add sautéed shrimp or chicken. Want veggies? Add spinach or peas. And by all means, have a salad. There, less guilt!

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This recipe (which is adapted from one of my favorite food blogs Half Baked Harvest) combines the smoky sweetness of sun-dried tomatoes with the acidic tang of tomatoes and silkiness of cream.  Half Baked Harvest adds vodka for a bite.  But when I had the vodka bottle in my hand I was more inclined to pour vodka into my martini glass than in the saucepan.  I searched out some olives and self-validated my decision that vodka would serve me better in the glass than diluted in pasta sauce.  But I'll leave that tough decision up to you.


Sun-dried tomatoes are ripe tomatoes that lose most of their water content after spending a majority of their drying time in the sun which gives them a distinctive flavor. Historically, tomatoes were salted so the moisture would evaporate out thus delaying the process of decomposition so they could be enjoyed later in the winter when it was difficult or impossible to grow fresh produce. Today, we get tomatoes year-round; albeit, they really don’t taste like a tomato. Now if you want to get all gangster and Martha Stewart this recipe, you could make your own sun-dried tomatoes but I prefer to grab a jar off the shelf in the grocery store.

This recipe made enough for the two of us with a bit leftover for lunch. And, by the way, it tasted just as good four days later when I heated it up for lunch as it did the first day. (I know you’re thinking I should probably clean out the fridge a little more often.)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use more or less depending on the amount of heat you like)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
1 - 28 ounce can whole tomatoes; crush them by hand before adding
¼ cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
½ cup heavy cream
½ pound penne pasta (or your favorite pasta)
garnish with fresh basil and grated parmesan cheese


Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, for 5-7 minutes until they are translucent. Add garlic, cook for 1 minute. Add red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, tomatoes (and the juice), sun-dried tomatoes and bring to a boil for a few minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered for 20 minutes. Let cool for five minutes before pureeing in a blender or with an immersion blender. Return mixture to the pan, add the cream and simmer for five minutes.

Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package instructions. (You can save some of the pasta water to use for thinning the sauce if you want to use less cream.)

Now that everything is ready (and you have poured yourself a glass of wine) combine all the ingredients and top with parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Enjoy!







Friday, April 6, 2018

Workcamping – In Our Opinions!

One thing we have learned over the seven years of full-time traveling is that we like to slow down our travels and stay awhile.  No more acting like whirlwinds and moving campsites every three or four days all year for us.  In fact, the pendulum has swung pretty far to the other side by having some years when we are stationary for nearly eight months out of the year.  It's all about finding out what works for you.
 
Our first two years were very typical of how newbies travel.  We hit the road excited with our new found freedom and wanted to go everywhere and see everything. We envisioned the duration of our RV life to be a couple of years, maybe three at the most.  During that time we could see everything in the good ol' U. S. of A.  As we reflect on that thought after seven years, we can emphatically say “boy were we wrong!”  

One aspect of travel that keeps us in places so long and makes our travel more enjoyable and fulfilling is workcamping.  Being in one place and working provides a sense of community and led to lasting friendships in what some might think is an isolated lifestyle.  And, we have spent more time getting to know the area and meeting locals.  It also doesn’t hurt that workcamping helps put a little money in our pockets and saves on annual expenses. When comparing years when we have not workcamped versus when we have our nightly camping cost dropped from $30/night down to $10/night.  Don’t forget that sitting for extended periods of time means you are not filling up the RV with fuel on a regular basis which also helps lower annual expenses.  

Average nightly camping costs for Years 4, 5, and 6 were so low because we workcamped eight
months out of the year.  In Years 1 and 2 we did not work at all and Year 7 we only worked four months.

"Workcamping" conjures up the images of campground jobs where you might be escorting someone to their site in a yellow shirt or working in the office checking road weary campers into their site. But, the term actually describes any job performed while living in an RV – and does not necessarily mean you are working at a campground. Our experiences are widely varied and make for some pretty scattered resumes. This nomadic lifestyle allows us to embrace many different jobs that have included working as a stern man on a lobster boat, driving a tram in a state park, operating the fee booth at an US Army Corps of Engineers campground, cooking as an event chef for a catering company, and shopping and delivering groceries for Shipt.



So how do we find our "jobs?" There are many great free resources that advertise a litmus of job opportunities from working in green houses (and yes, marijuana farms are springing up on that list) to being a caretaker for someone’s property and pets while they are away, and don’t forget campground jobs. Here are some sites that we use to find opportunities:


Another resource with an interesting and eclectic myriad of jobs is CoolWorks. Some of their job categories include environmental stewardship, food and beverage service, ranch, horses, driving and transportation and many, many more. Another big employer of RVers is Amazon. Every year through their Camperforce Program, Amazon bulks up their employee work force during the holidays to fulfill the enormous volume of holiday orders.

Some things to consider regarding work camping are to be sure you are in an area where you want to be for the period of time the job requires. Do you want to get paid or just get your site for free?  If you are retired, you might want to check with your CPA and see how drawing a salary with affect your tax bracket. It is also important when considering a workamping position if the compensation is worth the hours you put in.  Other thoughts for people who don't worry about compensation either in a salary or free campsite but just want something meaningful to do, check the local newspapers or Craig's List for volunteer programs in animal shelters, Habitat for Humanity, church programs, hospitals, etc.


We loved volunteering at Dent Acres Campground in Idaho where thousands of acres of woods kept
us busy hiking and the 54-mile long reservoir was perfect for kayaking and fishing.  But, the closest town (population
3,000 people) was 45 minutes away which may be too remote for some people. 

So what's next for us? This summer I will be working part-time at 
Savage Oakes Vineyard and Winery in Union, Maine while Betsy and Spirit enjoy a break from working and enjoy all that coastal Maine offers. Next December, we will return to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park for four months and resume our tram driving duties and many other opportunities.