2013 … A Dream Year

angel  004What a year!  We traveled a total of 9,448 miles in Island Girl, from Florida to Maine to Canada, then south and west reaching Arizona by the end of the year.  We visited 18 states and 4 Canadian provinces.  In October we reached a couple of milestones:  one year of fulltiming and one year of blogging.

Whew!  Here’s a month-by-month recap of our dream year:

January – visited with friends and family in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

February – stepped back into nature at Everglades National Park.

March – a nice long stay in Funky Key West for ocean fun and an awesome air show.

April – a busy month: first north and west to the Gulf Coast of Florida for more family time, then back east to the John F. Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, north to St. Augustine, and north again to the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, and finally to Atlanta to see old friends.

May – visited the Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Washington, D.C., then ended the month in New York City and upstate New York where we visited more family and friends.

June – a quick stop in Boston and then on to beautiful Maine.

Here was our route for the first half of the year.

July – crossed the border into Canada on the 1st, and spent the month in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Discovered absolutely astounding people and places.

August – visited idyllic Prince Edward Island, buggy Kouchibuguac National Park in New Brunswick, then over to Quebec to the gorgeous and oh so French Gaspé Peninsula.

September – visited the St. Lawrence River in Quebec where we saw an amazing number of whales and concluded our fantastic Canadian summer in charming Quebec City, then crossed the border back to the U.S. to enjoy the beautiful Vermont autumn.

October – continued leaf-peeping in Vermont, then began our westward journey with stops at Niagara Falls, then Cincinnati, Ohio, Louisville, Kentucky,St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, visiting friends and family along the way.

November – a stop in Denver, where the journey began, to get annual checkups for all and check in with friends and family.  Then south to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

December – another busy month.  Traveled around New Mexico, south to Albuquerque, then further south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and Las Cruces, then crossed the border to Arizona and ended our most unforgettable year in Tucson.

And here was our route for the second half

Some things we learned:

We ran a little hot this year, with an average stay of 8 nights at our 45 stops, not complaining, it was fabulous, but we’d like to slow it down a bit this year and try staying longer in each place.

We set a goal of no more than four hours driving time between stops and for the most part kept to it; averaging 185 miles per trip, but a couple of the trips were still way too long.

denver  038We stayed too far north too late into the year, and plan to head south earlier next year to avoid frigid cold and snow (although the falling snow was beautiful).

Crossing from the east coast to the west coast really took a toll on us, we were tired puppies by the time we reached Denver, and plan to stay in the West next year.

Our planning paid off in some fabulous campsites, on the other hand, we discovered that it’s best to have a balance of planned and unplanned stops.

Re-connecting with family and friends, and making new friends along the way has been one of the most important parts of our journey.

NYE2014  002And we learned to be grateful each and every day, we are so fortunate!

We wish you all a very Happy  and Healthy New Year in 2014!

~ Brenda, Hector and Angel

A Weekend in Kansas City

KC  013We stopped in Kansas City to visit our friend Theresa once again.  We had a great time last year when we stopped here, and she had some fun plans for us this time as well.

KC  001KC  002KC  004Our first stop was the Kansas City Farmers Market.  This continues to be one of the best farmers markets we’ve been to, although due to the lateness of the season, it was somewhat smaller than during our last visit here.  But the spice guy was still there and Hector stocked up on some fun spices.

There are also various ethnic eateries surrounding the market, and we had some yummy Middle Eastern food for lunch.

KC  016KC  015KC  017Then we went for a drive in the surrounding country.  We stopped at a The Farmer’s House Farm Market in Weston.  Proceeds from The Farmer’s House Farm Market are used to expand programs at The Farmer’s House, a non-profit whose mission is to offer an opportunity for youth and adults with developmental disabilities to learn practical vocational skills in a community integrated hands on work environment.KC  014

The market has special activities for the fall, and there were lots of kiddos around.  As for us big kids, we enjoyed the cut-outs and the costumes.

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KC  021Weston Bend State Park just outside the city has various easy but pretty hikes throughout the park.  We hiked on a trail that had views of the Missouri River and lots of trees.  Even though the fall colors hadn’t reached their peak yet, it was still a really beautiful hike.KC  018

KC  027We also visited Pirtle Winery, one of many wineries in the state.  Many of Missouri’s wines are sweet, and we prefer drier wines, but we did like a few of these wines.  The blueberry wine, while pretty sweet, was actually quite good with extra sharp cheddar cheese from Vermont.

KC  029We headed back to town to visit Oklahoma Joe’s once again.  This restaurant is located in a gas station – yes a working gas station – and is fabulous.  Anthony Bourdain listed Oklahoma Joe’s as one of “thirteen places to eat before you die.”  Check.

KC  036KC  037Angel had a short visit at one of the local dog parks and then we drove over to an overlook that features The Scout, a famous statue that depicts a Sioux Indian on horseback surveying the landscape.  The statue was dedicated in 1922 as a permanent memorial to local Indian tribes.  And there’s a lovely view of downtown from the statue.

The next day was our 35th wedding anniversary and we planned a quiet dinner so we could get an early start the following morning on our westward drive.photo-5

So Hector and I went out to a romantic dinner that evening to celebrate our anniversary.  It’s been a wonderful and happy 35 years!  And this extraordinary journey is the best anniversary gift we could wish for.

And it was great to see our dear friend Theresa again and enjoy her hospitality in fun and beautiful Kansas City once again.

~ BrendaKC  038

The Gateway to the West

gateway  008Continuing our westward drive, we made an overnight stop in St. Louis, which was about halfway between Louisville and Kansas City,  where we were headed next to visit a friend.

gateway  010gateway  024birthday-balloons-56thgateway  001This was our first casino overnighter, and we chose the Casino Queen because it was centrally located and accessible to a little touring and dining nearby.   I was impressed when a security person immediately drove over to check us out.  He was very courteous and directed us to the specific area where we should park.  It was a gravel lot, level, and fairly large.  There was one other RV and one truck already in the lot in the early afternoon when we arrived.

It was Hector’s birthday and we planned to visit the Gateway Arch and go out to a nice dinner in the evening.  We settled in and walked Angel on a big grassy field behind the gravel parking lot.

Next we headed over to the Arch, which I’d never seen.  It’s an impressive and lovely symbol of the role of the city of St. Louis in the westward expansion of the United States.

gateway  003The Gateway Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which is a memorial to Thomas Jefferson, who bought the Louisiana Territory in the Louisiana Purchase and made westward expansion possible.

gateway  026gateway  011gateway  012The Memorial encompasses a total of 91 acres, which includes the Old Courthouse, Luther Ely Smith Square and some surrounding streets (managed as easements).  The 62 acres that include the Gateway Arch structure and the surrounding landscape were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

The Arch itself is made of steel and concrete, stands 630 feet high (63 stories) with a span of 630 feet at ground level between the outer sides of the legs, and weighs 17,246 tons.  It’s really quite beautiful.  And the story of its construction is also fascinating.

gateway  013The Museum of Westward Expansion, located inside the Arch, preserves some of the rarest artifacts from the days of Lewis and Clark.  The exhibits explore the world of the American Indians and the 19th century pioneers who helped shape the history of the American West.  The museum was fascinating although it closed before we were able to get through it.  Definitely worth a longer visit.

gateway  023

photo-2We returned to our temporary “campsite” to change, and gave Angel her second walk on the nice grassy area behind us.   There is an RV campground (owned by the Casino) on the other side of the field, but it  was closed for the season.  But we still enjoyed the field.  So far, I was pretty happy with our free overnight.

The birthday celebration continued at a barbecue restaurant that evening.  The restaurant had the second World Series game on.  It was fun to see a small crowd of St. Louis fans rooting for their team, who won that game (but ultimately not the Series).

gateway  027gateway  028The birthday boy had his fill of barbecue and free dessert and we headed back to Island Girl.  A couple of other RV’s and trucks were camped for the night.  Both the lot and the field were (very) brightly lit, so Angel got an evening walk on the grass.  We’d planned to have a drink at the casino (we don’t really gamble), to patronize the place offering us a free night, which is a “rule” we normally follow.  But, alas, we were too tired and pooped out.  So, I’m hoping this nice review of our overnight at the Casino Queen will slightly make up for that 🙂

The following day, we continued to head west, following the footsteps of many before us.

~ Brenda

The Search for Hector’s Childhood Neighborhoods

On our way to the Ozark mountains, we spent a day in Springfield, Missouri.  This was the second city that Hector’s family moved to in the United States after they came here from Cuba and the place where he spent formative years – first through fourth grade.

Amazingly, Hector remembered the names of the two intersecting streets nearest to the second house that his family moved to here in Springfield.  He spotted one little house amongst two other identical little houses that he thinks was the one.  To confirm, he took photos that he plans to show to his mom to see if she can recognize it.

One of my childhood homes

Next, we visited the school where he attended second through fourth grade. We went inside to look around and spoke with a nice lady in the office there.  Hector couldn’t remember the name of the school where he attended first grade, and we asked if she could provide us with a list of the public elementary schools in town and she did.  More photos and on to the next search.

Tracking down the first house that his family moved to here was a bit more difficult as he only remembered the name of the street the house was on.  Fortunately, it wasn’t a very long street and so he was able to narrow down to a couple of blocks in the general neighborhood but unfortunately couldn’t pinpoint the exact one.

The steps to the halls of knowledge … first grade

Then, since Hector remembered that he walked to school, we searched for a nearby school on the list but found none.  So, not wanting to give up, we drove around the area a bit.  That’s when we found a “Community Center” that he thought looked pretty familiar.  It had a small staircase in front, which he remembered as a “huge staircase” since he’d been a little boy at the time.   We went inside and confirmed that this had in fact been Berry Elementary in the years he was there – but had since become a Community Center and alternative elementary school.  This was the one!  More photos for mom.

Berry Elementary, My first grade school

This was a really special day for both of us.

~ Brenda

It still blows my mind that my parents, Hector and Rosa Lopez, where able to pull this off.  Moving from Cuba with nothing and making a life in America.  Winters in Springfield had to be really tough on a young Caribbean family.  It is a source of total inspiration for me.  As a child I never had any awareness of just how poor I now realize we were.  All credit to my dear parents for their success … the American dream in action.

Although I only lived here a relatively short time, I feel that Springfield made a real lasting midwestern America impression on me.  I’m from Missouri … show me!

When I was entering fifth grade, my folks figured out how to move south.  To Miami where I went to the rest of grade school.   So cool to explore Springfield where we lived in our early years as Americans.

Springfield is also home to the HQ of Bass Pro Shops and they have a totally over the top store with giant taxidermy display and every manner of camping, hunting, fishing, camp etc.  A fun place to visit and the biggest tourist attraction in Springfield apparently.  

~ Hector

KC, Mo and the Theresa Fest

KC, Mo and the “Theresa Fest”

We spent the last week of September and the first weeks of October in Kansas City, Missouri.   This was a transition period, as Hector was winding down his work.   At the same time we got to spend lots of time with a very special friend, Theresa.  Hector dubbed it the “Theresa Fest”.

Theresa was a fabulous hostess and made sure that we didn’t miss some of the most special sights of this lovely city.  Even though we haven’t lived in the same city with her for over 25 years, we found that we could pick up where we left off.  It’s funny how that happens with some people.

Kansas City was kind of a surprise for us, bigger than we expected and very interesting.  Of course, having a good friend to help you navigate an unfamiliar city always makes a big difference.  The city has much to offer; many signature buildings, including buildings with intricate tile from Spain and the beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, large established trees, lots of historic and other sights to see.  We went to a wonderful arts fair in the Plaza section of town and visited several art galleries during the first Friday event in October.  We also visited Amigoni Urban Winery, a trendy winery located in a historic telegraph newspaper building.

Some top sights I recommend are (in no particular order)

The World War I Museum and Liberty Memorial – this is the only WWI museum in the country with a huge collection of artifacts from the war, timelines which detail the progress of the war as well as other significant happenings of the time, and a huge tower with a beautiful view of the city.  It’s depressing, but very interesting.

The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum – this was the first presidential library as it was Truman’s idea to provide a space where information about each presidency and about the significant events of that era could be displayed.  Great museum, lots happened during his administration!







The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art – a spectacular museum with ancient collections from the Near East, Egypt, Greece and Rome, China and Africa as well as contemporary art, and a sculpture garden.  You should allow one full day to really enjoy it.


City Market – this is a HUGE farmers market near downtown.  There is an outdoor component as well as some indoor businesses that open when the market is open – on weekends starting in the Spring and ending in the Fall.  What we loved was the variety of foods;  all kinds of produce, a diversity of bulk spices, meats, honey, jams and jellies, breads, AND many of the indoor markets specialized in authentic ethnic foods – there was an Italian one, a Middle Eastern one, a Caribbean one.  We went there on two weekends and bought tons of food (including too many different types of jelly).




















The Blue Room at the Jazz Museum – we had a fabulous evening listening to the Charles Williams Quartet and Lisa Henry.  This is one of the top jazz music spots in town.  Another great club is The Phoenix Jazz Club where we heard some great Blues music from Brother Bagman.











Another place not to miss in Kansas City is Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ restaurant.  This was included in Anthony Bourdain’s list of top 13 restaurants to eat at before you die.  It’s located in a working gas station, which also has a quickie mart.  The atmosphere is fun and different, the ribs are incredible and they have the most fabulous French fries I’ve eaten in quite awhile.

We had a such great time with Theresa, hanging out at her house, seeing her two now (almost) grown sons again and meeting some of her interesting friends.  It was hard to leave but we wanted to move on to a quieter place to end our “transition month” and celebrate Hector’s birthday and our anniversary.  So on we went to see the autumn leaves in the Ozark mountains, with a stop in Springfield, MO to visit the area where Hector lived when his family first arrived from Cuba.  Thank you Theresa for a memorable stay.

~ Brenda