The Dentist and the Tax Collector……

Forgive me if I don’t seem overjoyed about departing the beautiful, 82 degree, sun-soaked weather of Florida to head back north to Kentucky and “polar-vortex 3.0!”  But that’s exactly what I did a few days ago!  There are 2 people you should never ignore, the dentist and the tax collector.  Everyone knows if you ignore the dentist, it can eventually lead to a pain in your tooth…. and, if you ignore the tax-collector, it can eventually lead to a pain in your butt!  Not wanting to suffer pain in either location, I returned to Kentucky for a few weeks!  In early December I broke a tooth on a frozen piece of carmel candy.  I saw the dentist before departing for Florida a few months ago, but the crown would not be ready before my Florida departure.  Now the crown is ready and I can repair my chom-pers.  I also need to assemble all my income-tax documents and send them to the accountant, so I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone….. or should I say… one trip!  I had a wonderful time in Florida, and I avoided a bitterly cold mid-west winter so far this year.  But before my celebration begins, I see that “polar-vortex numero 3” is about to descend on the northern United States over the next few days!  Oh joy!

I took a slightly different route from Florida to Kentucky this trip.  The easiest and fastest route is highway 75 almost all the way, from door to door…. but, I wanted to see a few new sights and took highway 127 from near Chattanooga to central Kentucky.  Highway 127 is a 2 lane road almost all the way and passes through some pretty interesting little towns….. like….

– the hometown of Mark Twain’s parents….
– the hometown of WWI hero, Sergeant Alvin York….
– the Wolf Creek Damn and Lake Cumberland,
  to name a few……..

It was a beautifully sunny day for the entire trip, that is until less than 20 minutes from home…. when the wind and rain conspired to greet me!  Welcome back to Kentucky they laughed….!
Anyone who has traveled the backroads of Kentucky and Tennessee, knows that it is a “feast” for the eyes… maybe not a Pacific Coast Highway type “feast of beauty,” but an interesting “feast” of a drive nonetheless!  Small towns with Norman Rockwell type town squares, rolling hills with limestone rock cliffs, horse farms, Amish buggies and drive-through liquor stores next-door to Baptist churches are just some of the sights you can feast your eyes upon.  I stopped at a few places along the way… and of course, met some interesting characters… at a small convenience store, a middle-aged, bearded man introduced himself, told me I was “saved” and gave me 3 small stones with the word “Jesus” written on them.  He told me Jesus was the rock and now I was free to do as I wished with the stones.  I thanked him and took the stones with me.  What else could I have done?  At another stop, I met an 85 year-old gentlemen on the front porch of a country store, carving wooden sticks?  He was friendly and said the wooden indian statues were almost as old as he was.  He looked like he was taking a break from filming an episode of the “Andy Griffith Show.”  Then there was the guy that just needed $1.27 cents more to get a gallon of gas for his stranded car… he even had a small gas can in tow, to make his tragedy look so much more believable…. and there was the nice young waitress who recognized I was not from Tennessee by my “accent” ?  I have the accent… oh ok….. if you say so…. oh and throw some more “matters” on my “sam-itch” while you’re at it young lady!
Wandering off the normal paths can be a lot of fun!

The grave of Sergeant Alvin York in Pall Mall, Tn.
The home, now museum, of Sergeant Alvin York.
The Mill where Sergeant York worked before and after the war.
A triple-decker in rural Kentucky.
London has double-deckers, we have triple-deckers in Kentucky!
A few silent indians greet customers at the Country Store.
The Wood Carver, making shavings?
I stopped for fuel at the wrong place!
The only service I got was from an angry bird who made his home in the pump!



A Wander-er’s Kitchen.

Great place for a lunch-break while wandering, sure beats a fast-food parking-lot or truck-stop.

A blog reader recently asked me what sort of “kitchen set-up” I use while traveling in my Tacoma.  Since it’s often difficult to explain something with only words, (anyone who has bought furniture from “Ikea” knows that the assembly diagrams with the text are greatly appreciated by us non-engineer types), I decided to explain what I call the “Wander-er’s Kitchen” with a series of photographs and text!

I wanted my “Wander-er’s Kitchen” to be compact and highly mobile, so I can easily move it between vehicles when necessary.  I appreciate the fancy “chuck wagon style kitchen boxes” many travelers use, but I didn’t want something quite that large, since my space in the truck bed is limited and also serves as my bedroom from time to time!

My kitchen set-up consists of a small aluminum folding table by the “Travel-Chair Company” and a water-resistant “Gander Mountain” Sportsman’s Bag, as you can see in the pictures below.

All my pots, pans, camping stove, fuel canisters, cups, plates, utensils, thermos and coffee-press fit nicely in one bag.    

The Gander Mountain “Sportsman’s Bag” with all kitchen items.

Above, the Gander Mountain Sportsman’s Bag with all necessary kitchen items.

Below, the folding kitchen table in the carrying bag.  The table is the aluminum “Grand Canyon Table” made by the “Travel-Chair Company.”  It’s strong, compact, and the legs are adjustable, making it great for use on uneven ground.

The Grand Canyon Table from the “Travel Chair” Company.

As you can see in the 3 pictures below, the “Grand Canyon Table” comes in two pieces, the folding base and the folding top.  When I cook on my truck’s tailgate, I use the “Grand Canyon Table” top without the base.  This makes a great, flat, heat resistant cooking surface on the tailgate.

The 2 pieces of the Grand Canyon Table, base and top.
The top of the Grand Canyon Table fits nicely on the tailgate making a great cooking surface!
The base of the Grand Canyon Table.
Some of the kitchen items on the tailgate, a great surface for cooking.
The kitchen items on the table with legs in the shortest position.
The kitchen items, close-up.
The table with legs fully extended.

All the kitchen items are pretty much self-explanatory.  Depending on how many friends travel with me, I may take an extra small butane one burner stove in addition to the Optimus stove so I have 2 burners.  I also take a collapsable “kitchen sink” made of PVC type cloth material for washing dishes.  It folds flat and weighs next to nothing.  For drinking water, I like the 3 gallon size water containers, as they are easier to pour than the larger NATO style containers.  The 3 gallon size has a wider base and does not tip-over as easily as the NATO cans.  For washing fruits and veggies, I have 2 small plastic water bottles with small spray tips.  They provide more than enough water pressure for washing away dirt.  I also like stainless steel cups, plates and bowls.  I know they are heaver than plastic but they also last longer and are much more heat resistant than plastic!  Add a small collapsable solar oven to the set-up and you have a kitchen that will do just about everything a designer-home kitchen can do!

Below are a few links for some of the items found in the “Wanderer’s Kitchen.”

Kitchen Table:

Gander Mountain Sportsman’s Bag:

Primus Thermos

MSR Quick 2 System Cookware Set

MSR Alpine Kitchen Set

Optimus Crux Lite Camp Stove

Hydro-Flask Insulated Bottle


No Refrigeration Required!

Think about how dependent we have become on the good old “refrigerator” in our daily lives, or more importantly, how dependent we have become upon “refrigeration” in general.  Most Americans and citizens in other developed nations rely on their “refrigerators” everyday!  We rarely think about it…when we want something to eat… we usually just open the refrigerator door and grab something.
Even off-grid, I have a small refrigerator in my truck camper that runs off of AC power, DC power or propane.  I also have a nice cooler that keeps my perishable foods safe to eat for 3 or 4 days with a good block of ice!  So many of the foods we eat on a daily basis require refrigeration or they quickly spoil.  The more I travel, the more I look for ways to eat healthy foods that don’t require refrigeration and will last for weeks or months if properly stored!  This trip, I am traveling with my Tacoma and did not bring along my DC travel refrigerator.  I did’t want to be “slave” to a power source or “slave” to convenience-store bags of ice every third day, as I venture off the beaten path.  So for this trip, I stocked-up on healthy, tasty foods that would last weeks or even months when stored properly at room temperature.  I know most of us first think of “canned-food” when we think about foods with a long shelf life that don’t require refrigeration.  Go into any American home, look in the panty and I bet 99% of them have canned goods!  I like canned foods as much as anyone, but for this trip I am trying to limit my use of them.  With that in mind, I have assembled a list of what I consider to be pretty health alternatives to canned-foods, foods that will last weeks if not months without refrigeration.

Above, dried nuts, berries, beans and lentils are great foods for the wanderer.  The nuts and berries can be eaten without cooking them and the beans and lentils simply require water, a pot and a small cooking stove.

Above, some of the super-foods I brought along on this trip.  Some, like goji berries can be eaten right out of the bag like any other dried fruit.  The dry powders like maca, cacao and whey protein are great when mixed with water or juice in a small blender-bottle.

Above, a variety of dried fruits.  Dried fruits are great travel foods, they are lightweight, easily packable and provide nutritious, great tasting snacks when hiking or driving!

Above, dehydrated vegetables are great for the wanderer.  They can be used in soups or stir fried dishes, just add water! 
Above, oils and vinegars are great for cooking or eating on raw salads.  
Above, don’t forget honey, peanut butter and hazelnut spread, all great sources of energy-food and delicious too!
Above, coffees and teas are lightweight alternatives to bringing canned or bottled drinks when you travel.  All you need is water and you have a healthy great tasting hot or cold beverage.

Above and below, spices are essential to good tasting food while you wander.  I recently found a small travel sized spice kit with 20 different varieties.  The small containers can be easily refilled and don’t take up a lot of room in your travel kitchen-kit!


Epiphytes and Bromeliads at the Selby Botanical Gardens.

While much of America remains in the “deep-freeze,” I realize just how fortunate I am to be in the beautiful weather of south-west Florida!  Today was another near perfect day in Sarasota, about 75 degrees, sunny with a slight breeze coming off the ocean.  It’s the kind of day I absolutely must spend outdoors!  I have driven past the sign for the Selby Botanical Gardens at least a dozen times over the last few weeks, and today as I passed, curiosity got the best of me so I decided to visit!  Located on the bay just off Bayfront Drive about 1/2 a mile south of Island Park, the Selby Botanical Gardens are 14 acres of trails, greenhouses and displays, jam-packed with thousands of exotic plants!  The primary mission of the center is one of education and research.  The staff has collected many of the plants from over 200 expeditions to tropical rain forests all over the world!  I took my time and really enjoyed a few hours of slow-paced-wanderings through the gardens!  I definitely recommend you visit the Selby Botanical Gardens when in Sarasota!            
The Koi Pond at Selby Botanical Gardens.
The hungry Koi are certainly not shy!
One of the many trails that wind their way through the gardens.
A fountain turned planter.
An artist makes final touches to her masterpiece.
Sarasota Bay as seen from the Selby Botanical Gardens.
The meat-eating Pitcher Plant, said capable of consuming small birds or even rats!?


The Gamble Plantation and What’s ‘Normal?’

I visited the last plantation in Florida today.  That’s to say, the last standing home from the days of slavery and plantations in Florida, the Gamble Mansion and Plantation in Ellenton.
The Gamble House State Park sits on 16 remaining acres of what was once a 3600 acre sugar plantation.  Built over a period of 5 years, starting in 1842, near the end of the Seminal Indian Wars.  The Gamble House remains an outstanding example of Greek revival architecture, a beautiful mansion built in an extremely harsh environment considering the times.  There were still occasional attacks by indians, the vegetation was extremely dense, mosquitos were everywhere, and of course, one had to deal with the hot muggy Florida weather, at a time long before air conditioners!
As I toured the mansion and its grounds, I thought, ‘wow… what an amazing achievement,’  which it was…. but then I remembered that Major Gamble, who built the mansion, had forced labor from 40 slaves brought to the plantation from his childhood home near Tallahassee.  I imagined how difficult the life of a slave must have been in 1842 and I’m sure I have no idea the horror slaves experienced!  How could this have happened anywhere much less here in America?  Not wanting to over simplify the causes of slavery, I quickly concluded that at the time, 1842, slavery in the American South and in other parts of the world was considered “normal.”  Then I started to think about “what is normal?”
To many of my friends, living most of the year in a small RV like I have done for the last 3 years, is certainly not considered “normal.”  So to my vehicle-dwelling friends and blog readers, don’t worry too much about what society considers “normal.”  Remember that “normal” is not always correct, as is the case with slavery!  Enjoy all the freedom a “vehicle dwelling life” allows and stop worrying about being “normal.”
The Gamble Mansion and Plantation.
The Gamble Mansion and Plantation.
The Gamble House kitchen.
The Gamble House kitchen, modern for the times!
The Gamble House medicine cabinet.
The Gamble House office.