Monthly Archives: March 2009

Water or beer?

A defining difference, physically, between youth and their elders is the amount of time spent playing. Several reports detail Americans’ failure to exercise sufficiently. One I read is a 2002 CNN report, “While 62 percent of adults had some physical activity in their leisure time, only three of 10 exercised regularly, the report said.

“It defined regular physical activity as light-to-moderate exercise at least five times a week for at least a half-hour, or vigorous activity at least three times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes.

“Experts say lack of physical activity contributes to some 300,000 deaths each year in the United States caused by heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions.”

Debbie and I are exercising at least 30 minutes every day. Our minimum is walking the perimeter of the park three times, for almost four miles total. But some days, like today, Debbie did aerobics for an hour. I played two sets of tennis. We both played shuffleboard two hours and a half. Debbie does either line dancing or aerobics almost every day.

We want to maintain our current regimen. According to a more recent report, “Only 17% in Gallup’s 2007 Health and Healthcare survey both lift weights at least twice a week and engage in vigorous exercise three times a week or in moderate exercise five times a week.” That is only 1 in 6 people meeting the “standard medical recommendations for physical fitness.”

I’m glad to get back on the tennis court after three weeks away from it. I broke a string and took awhile to restring the racquet. Getting back on the court was wonderful and I’ll look forward to a rematch. And what a great way to exercise. It’s a lot more fun than weight-lifting. Each has its own place, though.

I’m trying to weekly include weight training, golf, tennis, and walking. I would love to include swimming but this pool is 88 degrees F and usually a little crowded. It just doesn’t attract me.

This may be the highest activity level I’ve had in over thirty years, although in the 90’s I was cycling hard eight hours weekly and absolutely burning through the calories. The challenge for me is how I’ll commit to exercising when we leave this leisurely lifestyle in a resort park. Exercise is pretty darned easy here, even for an older grownup.

We’re not trying to be kids — it wasn’t so great. But we liked the exercised feeling, and we liked the strength and flexibility. So why give those up if unnecessary? Let’s see how this works out. As a friend said a long time ago, what else are you doing?

[The other difference between elders and youth may be the after-exercise beverage. What do you think, water or beer?]

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Why love Spring?

Happy Spring! Yesterday morning, for the western hemisphere, was the vernal equinox at 0744 hours EST. The day and night, yesterday, are nominally the same length.

This is singularly my favorite time of year. And not because “Spring is Sprung” or the flowers are out or the weather is changing. None of that stuff matters as much to me. I vote for Spring because the days are, for three more months, still getting longer.

How great is this? We are, today, at a balance point with the length of day and night. And for ninety more days we will see every day increasing in length a couple of minutes. This provides more daylight play time, more evening golf, more time to play shuffleboard.

We are out-of-doors people, and we generally favor daylight over darkness. The next six months provide us the best half-year of outdoor lighting in the entire year (unless we go somewhere like Alaska).

All year I find myself tracking the daily change of daylight, waning through the Autumnal Equinox to Winter, and waxing from Winter to the Summer Solstice. This is similar, on a much larger scale, to the monthly waning and waxing of the moon. I vastly prefer the waxing of the days’ length, and celebrate the waning only in interest of change and complements.

So yesterday is my day of the year — the balance point for day and night, when days are continuing to increase in length and are at midpoint in their inexorable track toward the longest day of the year. I love Spring. The continued lengthening of days supports my lust for playing outside. It’s pretty cool, eh?

Beach Days

I needed someone to restring my tennis racquet and we have no tennis shops in Okeechobee. The one sports store, Hibbert, told me, “We don’t do tennis”. It’s their store and they need to sell what keeps them in business. Apparently tennis gear sales won’t profit them. We also don’t have a bicycle shop, a little harder for me to understand.

Maybe there aren’t so many cowboys riding bicycles and there aren’t a lot of paved streets in the county. But there must be five thousand old bicycles in the Okeechobee resorts. This is, I think, almost certainly the fruits of having a Wal-Mart in a small town. Okeechobee formerly had a bicycle shop. Perhaps there was also a tennis shop, before Wal-Mart. It is sad a town loses so many small businesses to a mega-store, and the mega-stores can’t at all serve the same needs.

Picture of beach umbrellas

Beach umbrellas show a lot of nice colors

The closest tennis shop is in Stuart, 40 miles east of Okeechobee. And, yes, there are bicycle shops in Stuart also. We packed a lunch and our beach stuff and the racquet and followed Lucy (the garmin chick) to Stuart. The beach we sought was naught — hurricanes washed out Bathtub Beach October 2007. (http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2008/jan/25/30bathtub-beach-may-be-off-limits-for-year-or/) Practicing our flexibility again, we found another beach with parking and facilities and enjoyed a great day at the beach.

After a wonderful beach day we stopped by the tennis shop and dropped off the racquet for restringing. Gee, we’ll need to return to Stuart to pick the racquet up. Let’s make it another day at the beach!

Rain, Rain, Sun

A day or two ago we were talking about how dry our weather has been. We’ve been in Okeechobee, FL, over ten weeks. It seems as though we have had only one or two very light rainfalls. Winter is not Florida’s season for daily rains — everything was turning brown and grass has been disappearing.

Rain-washed streets

Rain-washed streets

It rained all night. I suspect it will take more than this to make any improvement to the landscape, but the rain is most welcome. Everything is wet and clean. The flowers are full of water. The streets are water-swept. This is the first time we’ve seen puddles in these streets.

Consistent with Florida’s slogan, “The Sunshine State”, the sun is out this morning and we’ll see another beautiful day. Yesterday’s high temperature was 78 degrees F, and the same is forecast throughout this week. It is easy to love this weather, even with the much needed rains.

Talk around the world on Ham Radio

Map of two-way radio contacts I've made from Florida

Map of two-way radio contacts I've made from Florida

The radio wonks (and they have a lot of science on their side) say radio propagation is very poor. This means skyward radio signals aren’t getting the bounce back to earth but are being absorbed in the ionosphere. This is a varying condition and apparently subject to eleven year solar cycles. I’ve been waiting three years, with no improvements noted.

Ham radio operators keep making contacts anyway. Today was a really great day for me on ham radio. I made five good contacts today on amateur radio on 20 meters, connecting with operators in Mexico City, Mexico, The Azores; Caracas, Venezuela; Houston, TX; Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles.

In all five cases I was scanning the band and heard someone calling CQ, or “calling all stations”. In several cases I easily established contact with the other station. For the Caracas, Azores, and Mexico City contacts I did a lot of listening and stated my call sign once or twice each time the operator finished another conversation.

Finally, in each case, my signal and call sign stood out in the pile-up of other operators trying to reach these few strong-signal operators. For me reaching a distant station is like earning a gold star, whether the station is in the U.S.A. or another country. Several stations I tried to reach were unobtainable for me today.

Picture of a qsl, or contact, card I send to hams with whom I qsl

Picture of a qsl, or contact, card I send to hams with whom I qsl

I wanted, and missed, a station I heard so vividly in Northern Ireland and another in Murcia, Spain (near Cartagena). I couldn’t compete with stronger stations — they have bigger signals from more wattage or bigger antennas or both. I only get the contact when I’m first or somehow get heard between the bigger signals.

Today was the first day in almost a week I browsed the radio waves. We’ve had so much else to do throughout the past week. We watched the men’s basketball ACC tournament, we went to the beach, I played golf and worked out a few times, and just had plenty else to do. My other tasks today were in and around our Airstream and didn’t require much time, so I had time to experiment with my radio’s sound. I’ve been having problems using headphones with the ham radio in our Airstream.

Picture of our ham radio station in the Airstream

Picture of our ham radio station in the Airstream

A loud hum in the headphones has been interfering with the sound from my radio’s speaker. I started today trying to connect the headphones to a an audio jack directly on the radio instead of to a remote audio jack on the faceplate. The hum abated significantly so I could use the headphones to bother Debbie less by reducing the radio noise in the Airstream.

I usually make one long-distance two-way radio contact every several days. Today I hit Texas, (it’s a country, right?) Central America, South America, The Dutch Antilles, and the Azores, 1,500 km west of Lisbon, Portugal. All this is with generally very poor conditions for radio signal propagation.

Debbie and I studied, obtained our licenses, and started in amateur radio as a safety net in case other communications means failed. Then, as I kept practicing to gain skill in using the radios, I started getting hooked on the fun of listening and talking to other hams not only across North America but also in other countries. The entire three years we’ve been in amateur radio have been in the bottom of cycle 23, an abysmally poor period of propagation for radio signals. Just wait until the sunspots routinely increase with solar cycle 24! (See http://www.wm7d.net/hamradio/solar/k7ra.shtml for lots more info on sunspots forecasts.)

A Shuffle here and a Shuffle there

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day. It seems fitting to report today on our recent green courts adventure. Shuffleboard is such a green sport, literally and figuratively. Granted, we use a little bit of wax on the pucks, and the wax might be a petroleum distillate. But otherwise the courts’ use and care and the players’ activities are non-polluting and the equipment is pretty well durable. And, of course, the courts are very green.

Al Butts and Debbie were at the other end of the shuffleboard court. As we were watching them alternately pushing their shuffleboard pucks toward the court on our end, Darlene leaned over to me and said, “Jim, you’re playing an old people game now!”

I really didn’t have a good answer and instead simply thanked her for coaching us. Darlene and Al are regularly champions of Ancient Oaks shuffleboard tournaments. They have, in the past two weeks, spent several hours playing shuffleboard with us. Playing with them seems to us less like playing and more like very exclusive and productive coaching. They’ve taught us what we’re supposed to do and given us tips on how to do it.

Darlene shows her best shot to Debbie

Darlene shows her best shot to Debbie

Al and Darlene can’t teach us the experience we need. They can show us, though. They are both dead-eye shots with the shuffleboard puck, placing their pucks exactly where they want. They can hit your puck from any exposed angle to move it off the court, onto a nearby line, or into the kitchen. And they can get behind another puck and hide their scoring puck where you can’t get to it.

Janet first taught us how to play shuffleboard

Janet first taught us how to play shuffleboard

We have Janet Pryor to thank for starting us out on this journey, though. Darlene and Al invited us to their house and introduced us to Janet and Mike for a night of Hand & Foot card playing. A day or two later Janet invited us to the shuffleboard courts. She taught us the rules and how to play and encouraged us to practice.

We have since played an hour or two of shuffleboard almost every afternoon. We are grateful to Janet for starting us out, and to Al and Darlene for their continuing coaching. Ancient Oaks is our fourth stay in a Florida resort park, and the first one at which someone offered to show us how to play. It took us six weeks to meet the right people and get to know each other well enough to learn hobbies, sports, and proclivities. We just didn’t stay long enough at the other resorts — we were here six weeks before we met Janet and she first took us to the courts.

Come sit awhile, friend, and watch the fish jump

Debbie and I walk the resort’s perimeter in late evenings, usually a three to four mile walk. Daytime temperatures are in the eighties. It is always cooler after dark, sometimes there is a nice breeze. And, walking between supper and bedtime feels so good, wears us out well. We’ve always enjoyed walking and talking together. And Debbie and I talk for four miles.

Last night we reviewed how we felt about our past six months’ pace, contrasted against the previous nine months. You remember, don’t you, we moved around pretty quickly last year. We’ve recovered fully but still think about it. Only by remembering the past can we avoid repeating it.

We set up and broke camp a sizzling 74 times in 2008. This is no big deal for some people. I’m sure this is nowhere close to a world record or anything. Many, many people doubtless do more. We haven’t met them, but we’re sure they’re camping and traveling right now. Or they gave up, worn out. They’d reply to this challenge, but they don’t have time — they’re setting up and breaking camp twice a week all year. Just doesn’t leave a lot of time for reflecting, relaxing, and really getting to know people.

I’ve said it in so many ways and you already know where we stand on the issue of rushing about — at least for 2009. Let me say it one more time anyway. We plan to stay longer in nice venues. We did not plan to zoom around our entire first nine months of full-timing. And once we figured out what was happening, we were already locked into four back-to-back commitments spanning from May 6 through October 5. We weren’t thinking. As Rich Luhr commented to me, we were “at an all-you-can-eat buffet of travel opportunities. . .” And we gorged ourselves until we couldn’t take any more.

Okay, enough about 2008. How’s 2009 going to shape up? Are we impressing anyone besides ourselves with our new calmer, more frugal, more friendly lifestyle? Again, let me quote a friend who wrote last week saying essentially, “Jim, your faithful readers are dying on the vine waiting for you to write again”. Life is so much calmer for us, while still busy, I tend to think things are less remarkable and not as exciting to share. Or, I’m being lazy again and have fallen out of the good habit of writing about the enjoyable things we’re doing even as we manage to drive a fraction of what we had driven by this time last year.

Last year we left home February 1 and stayed a couple days in Kannapolis, NC in the driveway of Debbie’s parents. By mid-March we had camped in Punta Gorda, Orlando, Punta Gorda (again), Sarasota, Dade City, St George, SC, Kannapolis, Aberdeen, NC, Kingsland, GA, St Augustine, FL, Ormond Beach, FL, Melbourne, FL, and St Marys, GA. And piled a lot of driving/towing miles on doing it.

We wouldn’t take anything for our experiences of 2008. We had wonderful and memorable trips. We met and spent time with wonderful and loving people. We zoomed around Alaska and the Pacific Northwest states. We traveled almost the entire length of I-5 three times. (Hey, professional truckers do that in a week!) This was a phenomenal first year, full of greatness for us. But it was a little too much. No, it was way too busy and frenetic.

By contrast we have, since January 1, 2009, been in Okeechobee, FL all of the time except a week we spent in Christmas, FL and Orlando, FL for an amateur radio rally and Hamfest. We spent one day trip in Sarasota and Venice with Jerry and Ann Hall. We left the Airstream in Okeechobee and spent two nights in Tampa for the RV SuperShow. (I cannot believe I didn’t write about THAT yet. Things to tell . . .) We drove to the beaches last week. (Another great thing to write about — or I’ll wait until we do it again!)

We’re meeting people and making good friends. We’re learning a lot of things new to us, including waltzing, polka, shuffleboard, and several fun card games. We have a fine and safe place to walk. We enjoy the little fitness room. I’m playing more golf than ever before. And I’ve found tennis games as often as I will get myself out there to play.

These extracurricular activities take time and are worth every minute. We’re going to try to do some sightseeing before we leave the area. We’d love to get to the Florida Keys, the Everglades Visitor Center, some more beaches, and a few local things in Okeechobee County. These many activities are available because we’re staying in one nice spot long enough to enjoy ourselves. And we are enjoying this, greatly!

We will, in 2009, travel again. We’ll visit St. Augustine soon, and Perry, GA and Atlanta and Dayton and Ramsey, IL and Bay City, MI and Madison, WI. All these we might visit before August. We want to go to up to the Pacific Northwest again, more slowly this time.

All these places and more, we hope to feel like we are visiting them slowly and really savoring them. Come sit awhile and watch the fish jumping, friend. . .