San Francisco

By: Kevin

During our whirlwind trip to San Francisco over the past two days we did find about 8 hours to explore the area before having to return to the airport for our return trip. While we would have liked to explore the area more, we had limited time to fit this trip in between days of work back in Florida.

Our first stop was at In-n-Out Burger for lunch. For anyone who has not had In-n-Out before, it seemed pretty equal to Steak-n-Shake, except I found it to have a much smaller menu than Steak-n-Shake. Small menu or not, we enjoyed our lunch at an outside table before moving along to our next stop.

img_5545From there we ventured further North to It’s-It Ice Cream shop. Their claim to fame since 1928 has been an ice cream sandwich with 2 crispy oatmeal cookies and one of many flavors of ice cream that has all been dipped in dark chocolate to create a shell. Bug chose pumpkin, Pie chose mint, and I chose strawberry. Heather decided to simply sample all three of ours.

Our next stop was the Golden Gate Bridge! We stopped at the visitor center and while they do not have an official Junior Ranger program, one of the rangers was more than willing to lead us around on a guided tour of the artifacts and displays around the visitor center. At the conclusion of our personal tour the kids received Junior Rangers badges, however they were not specific to the Golden Gate Bridge, but rather a generic wooden Junior Ranger badge. We also visited some outdoor displays around the grounds that showed how the bridge is engineered to withstand earthquakes. We finished our visit to the Golden Gate Bridge by driving across it and back.

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Our final stop before the airport was at the Fisherman’s Wharf and the piers along the San Francisco bay. There were plenty of shops to explore, including one nautical shop that I really enjoyed. There were eateries with fresh-catch seafood as well as a few tap rooms. We strolled the piers a bit looking at the fishing boats and walked out the Aquatic Park Pier. From the end of the pier we were as close as we could get to Alcatraz without actually taking a boat to the island. If we had had more time we may have ventured out to Alcatraz, but there simply was not enough time this trip. The kids enjoyed some free time running around the grass at the Maritime National Historic Park before heading to dinner.

For dinner we had some very good soup, salad, and sandwiches at Boudin Sourdough Bread Company. The kids opted for pizzas atop sourdough crust. The bread is baked on site, and one can observe the bakery through a 30-foot long observation window. We also found it neat to watch baskets of fresh bread cruise along a track affixed to the ceiling on their way to different areas of their building. Along the observation window they had a 7-foot alligator made entirely of sourdough bread.

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After dinner it was time to return to the airport and fly back to Florida. It was a quick trip, but a fun one, and once we are settled in San Diego, San Francisco will be within driving distance for future explorations of the area.

navy blue to Navy Gold

RN to Ensign

by: Kevin

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Today was a big day for us. We joined the United States Navy! While this may sound like a complete change of course for us, it is really just an adjustment in the direction in which my career is going. I will still be serving as a nurse; however the next three years will be served at the naval hospital in sunny San Diego, CA.

Today a year of paperwork and preparation has come to a close. I have been working for some time now to lose weight and build stamina in an effort to meet the physical fitness requirements of the US Navy. As my current travel nursing assignment schedule is from 3pm-3am, this has entailed running (sometimes up to 3.1 miles) at 4am after returning home from work. I run during the day or in the evening on my days off as well, but sometimes you just need to take a 4am run to keep in shape. I have passed their physical fitness requirements.

I have also done TONS of paperwork over the past months including multiple interviews, background checks, degree audits, nursing license audits, and both peer and management reviews. I have passed all these requirements. I have received two thumbs up from the selection board as well as the Secretary of the Navy.

It has now come time to sign on the line and raise my right hand. Today, with my wife and children present, I completed the final steps of the process and have been commissioned as an Ensign, a US Navy Officer.

The next step is for me to attend a training program that will teach me the ‘Navy way’ of doing things and better prepare me to serve as a Navy officer. I have received many questions about this, and I can tell you, No…this is not boot camp, this is officer school.

Heather and I are very excited about what the near future will bring as I start active duty. We still plan to RV and explore, so fear not faithful followers. Our travels are not ending, but rather just beginning.

“Flying” trip to San Jose, CA

[Written by Kevin on May 25th, 2017]

Since October of 2016 I have been talking with a Navy officer recruiter about the possibility of joining the Navy Nurse Corps. I first learned about the program via Facebook on which a fellow travel nurse made the conversion to Navy nursing along the same path as I am currently pursuing. I have sent many emails back and forth, scanned and sent documentation and certifications to her, and filled out online questionnaires for security clearances. However, some things you just cannot do over long distances. I had come to that part of the process and needed to fly to California to complete the physical exam and processing as I prepare for entry to the US Navy. At this point, I have not yet shared my plans with the majority of my friends and family, so this trip would be covert in nature. I found a gap in my work schedule and booked the flights. The only people that knew that I was making the trip were my kids and my wife, and since my kids are elementary school aged, censoring electronic communications proved pretty easy.

I drove from my current assignment in San Angelo, TX to Dallas to reduce the cost of airfare, then flew direct to San Jose, CA. I spent the night in a hotel (courtesy of the federal government) and arrived at the processing center at an early 5:45am local time. I then spent the next 8 hours being examined, tested, and giving samples for analysis. After successful completion of the medical exam I ventured upstairs to complete the remaining paperwork which I needed to sign in-person. And then I was done! Everything had been completed, and was now just waiting on the selection board to approve or deny my application packet.

I returned to the hotel to waste a few hours in the lounge before heading back to the airport for the short flight from San Jose to Los Angeles, and then a longer overnight flight from Los Angeles to Dallas. Upon arriving in Dallas I retrieved the van and started back to San Angelo. From the time I left Dallas to the time I returned to Dallas, only 40 hours had elapsed, and I was tired! Along the way to San Angelo I stopped at a Waffle House for breakfast, where the staff commented on my very tired appearance and offered me a LARGE coffee instead of a standard mug. They exchanged small talk with me over my meal and gave me a 25% discount since I told them I was in California for military processing. I did not request this discount, nor did I show them any military ID, but I appreciated the gesture none the less.

I found it rather interesting that I took a trip to a city 1,500 miles away and only 2 other adults knew that I was making the trip. During the trip I sent and received text messages with family who assumed I was still in Texas, while in reality I was in a different state and time zone than they thought.

On a side note, I realized that I really enjoy flying. I love watching the scenery scrolling by underneath me. I like the thrill and thrust of take-off and landing. These are a few pictures I was able to take during my trip to California.

I also found this at the LAX airport. I found it surprising that in such a liberal area of the nation that even the water fountains were segregated ;-P

[In actuality, the bathrooms were on either side of the frame of the photo, but the positioning made me laugh]

Fort Castillo de San Marcos

By: Heather

Today we made the short drive north to St. Augustine, FL and visited the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. It is a Spanish fort, built in 1672, that was built out of Coquina, a rock made of compressed shells and sand. It was very interesting to see how the fort was operated in different ways over time and how people lived inside the fort. After going over the draw bridge,and over the moat (the kids thought this was SO cool!), we passed through the front gate and explored all of the different rooms and displays in the lower level. The kids worked on their Jr. Ranger books and were done before too long. A Ranger had a special display set up about spices and the spice trade that we found very interesting. The ranger explained how the sailing ships utilized the trade winds and Gulf Stream currents to maximize speed and distance while traveling between Spain and the Americas.

Little Miss Kicky Feet had quite a bit of fun walking all over on the lower level. She was not very interested in the displays. We had to watch out for mosquitoes as there were quite a lot of them. I am not sure any of us escaped without at least one bite.
When we went up to the upper level we mostly looked out at the view across the surrounding landscape and river. The upper level was comprised the roof of the fort, which doubled as a platform from which canons could be fired, troops could fire muskets from, and sentries could stand guard. I spotted some dolphins playing in the water nearby. That was a special treat. We also watched a few modern sailing vessels travel down the river which required the drawbridge just to the south of the fort to be raised for safe passage of the vessels. The older two kids liked watching the drawbridge raise and lower.
After our visit we traveled south along route A1A to Captain’s BBQ in Palm Coast, where we all had a very delicious late lunch! Mmmmm! Now that we are all completely stuffed I am ready for a nap before watching the Indians baseball game tonight.

Angell & Phelps Chocolates

By: Kevin

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Today we took some time to roam along Beach Street in Daytona Beach. There are a number of shops along the street with green space to the East along the Halifax river. Since we went on a Saturday, a number of the shops were closed, so if one wants the full experience of Beach street, I would suggest visiting on a weekday during business hours.

One of the shops along Beach street is the Angell & Phelps Chocolate Factory, housed within an old hardware store. The shop has many unique (and delicious) chocolate treats including chocolate covered Twinkies (in white, milk, and dark chocolate) as well as molded chocolates, chocolate-covered strawberries, fudge, morsels, various forms of popcorn, and chocolate-covered potato chips. The shop offers tours throughout the day, which entails a guide pointing out the different processes and methods used in their chocolate production as the group moves along a hallway lined with windows. During our visit we observed peanut brittle and chocolate-covered potato chips being made. They pride themselves on being a specialty shop and hand-make all their products. We could confirm this as we watched an employee hand-coat each and every potato chip one-by-one, ensuring it had just the right amount of chocolate on it. At the end of the tour we were able to sample a few of their products for free. We enjoyed the tour, and are still enjoying some chocolates that we purchased and brought home. I would recommend the stop if your travels bring you through Daytona Beach.

As stated on our About page, we receive no compensation for our review, just a few free chocolate samples same as everyone else who takes the tour.

A week of wandering/Mammoth Cave

We packed up and were pulling out of Springfield, MO on Friday, September 8th. Our final destination was sunny Daytona Beach, FL. However, our plans had a problem…Hurricane Irma was bearing down on the Florida coast. We contacted the hospital where Kevin was supposed to start working the following Tuesday and we were advised to stay away and make it down to Daytona when it was safe to do so. So, what shall we do with our time that has become free, but without a definite end-date? Go exploring! The nice thing about living in an RV is that one is open to change itineraries almost with no advance planning. We decided to wing it, as they say.

We left Springfield on Friday as planned and headed east through Saint Louis, then on to Mammoth Cave in Bowling Green, KY. We took a tour of the cavern, enjoyed the woods, and the kids made some new Fulltime RV friends also staying at the Mammoth Cave campground. We opted to stay for two nights, which allowed us the time to make a side trip to Louisville, KY to get Heather’s iPhone fixed at the Apple store and explore the Louisville Slugger factory & museum.

From Mammoth Cave we trekked further east, keeping a very tight watch on the storm predictions and path, to Spartanburg, SC to visit a friend who Kevin worked with in Ohio (prior to traveling), who is now a Nurse Practitioner. We visited, ate together, and the kids enjoyed playing on our friend’s X-Box Kinect while the adults visited and the dogs investigated the house.IMG_5344

We had paid for two nights at the last spot in the campground in Spartanburg with no idea when we would be leaving. By Tuesday morning the storm had passed and the sun had come back out. We had only lost power for part of the night and had barely noticed since we had not been hooked up to the electrical grid since before leaving Missouri. We tried contacting the campground where we had planned to stay near Daytona Beach but were not able to make contact. Kevin also contacted some of his friends in the Daytona area to see how they had fared. It seemed that power was spotty and some places had flooded but it was mostly ok. We had been worried since the prediction was that some places would not have power again for more than a week. After that, we contacted another campground that was fully up and running and had a spot for us. Great!

To hopefully avoid some of the crazy amounts of traffic that we had heard were flooding back into the Sunshine State, we got up early in the morning (3am) and were on the road by 3:30. The night traffic was not bad at all and really neither was the early daytime traffic. Traffic was not too crazy and we made our way steadily down toward Daytona. We were a bit surprised when quite a few I-95 exits in southern Georgia were blocked by State Patrol cruisers and/or Army National Guard Humvees. We had plenty of fuel and were able to top-off in northern Florida after waiting in a quickly moving line. We topped everything off in case we were not able get fuel closer to Daytona. Enroute to Daytona we saw many convoys of power company trucks, tree trimmers, and emergency relief organizations. We even got passed by an official FEMA convoy in Northern Florida.IMG_5331

We arrived at our destination shortly before noon on Wednesday, and after getting all hooked up, we went exploring instead of going straight to bed. We viewed some of the damage, visited the beach, and enjoyed dinner at Outback Steakhouse before returning to our campground for an early bedtime. As we were enjoying our Bloomin’ Onion we noted that we were feeling kind of badly since we were eating dinner at a restaurant while Kevin’s sister was still without power and had been taking cold showers for the past 3 days on the west coast of Florida.IMG_5335

Birthday Extravaganza

4 birthday celebrations

By: Kevin

IMG_5275While still in Springfield, MO the extended family came for a visit. This included Heather’s two sisters, mother, and all 3 of her grandparents. Extended family from Kansas and Minnesota were present as well. We had quite a gathering, which of course would not all fit inside our fifth wheel RV. Instead of getting multiple hotel rooms, we decided to rent a 3-bedroom house through AirBnB, which was a wonderful choice, and was much less expensive for the number of people we had there. We did float back and forth between our campground and the house to enjoy the campground swimming pool and sleep, but the majority of our time was spent at the AirBnB house.

Everyone came for a visit and to help celebrated Miss Kicky Feet’s first birthday, and Bug’s early birthday as well as Kevin and Heather’s recently-belated birthday. While in town we visited the original (and huge) Bass Pro Shop/Outdoor World that not only is a nice outdoors gear store, but the building houses 3 different museums on the topics of archery, vintage firearms, and wildlife. The building also housed a live gator exhibit, snapping turtle tank, a restaurant, a snack stand, a drink stand, and many different fish tanks. There was plenty  to explore even if you didn’t need anything from their store.IMG_5058

We also visited the Fantastic Caverns just north of Springfield. While this isn’t the largest cavern I have seen, it was the first one that I have ridden through instead of walking. The tours are actually given via a propane-powered (lower emissions) Jeep and trailer that drives you through the cavern. The tour stops at a number of locations through the cavern and the guide points out features of the cavern. The 1 hour tour was very enjoyable and informative.IMG_5270

The family did a bit of touring up and down Route 66, which winds right through downtown Springfield, and made a few stops at souvenir shops along the way. The kids especially liked the stop at a very large candy store. They also liked stopping at Hurt’s Donuts, a local 24/7 donut shop we had come to love during our time there. Not only did Hurt’s have some really good donuts, but they frequently ran specials to help out around the community and nation. They ran fundraising drives for Harvey victims; and when a local police officer was killed in the line of duty, Hurt’s hosted a 24-hour fundraising drive for the officer’s family raising over $31,000!! It was pretty easy to stand behind this type of philanthropy-oriented business model.

After almost a week of visiting and exploring the Springfield area, the family all piled back into their vehicles and made the trek back to Ohio/Kansas/Minnesota. It was a great visit, especially since we had not seen some of them in a few months or years. Once the family had departed, we quickly switched gears from visiting to packing, preparing to leave Missouri ourselves just 3 days later.