Christmas and Other News

Ya Know…it’s getting on towards Christmas and we keep seeing all these news reports about white stuff falling out of the sky up in places called NY and such…so I thought I would send along our best wishes for a happy holiday along with a Christmas carol for you.

Livin’ in a Florida Wonderland

by…not me

Palm tress wave, are you listenin’?

In the pool, waters glistenin’,

A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight,

Livin in a FLORIDA Wonderland.


Gone away is the blizzard,

Here to stay is the lizard,

A warm sunny day, we like it that way,

Livin in a FLORIDA Wonderland.


On the beach we’ll have a picnic,

Turtles, sand and seagulls and sun,

Christmas dinner is an old tradition,

It’s Grouper and Stone Crabs by the ton.


Later on, we’ll perspire,

As temperatures rise, even higher,

A warm sunny day, we like it that way,

Livin in a FLORIDA Wonderland.


We’re looking our for our friends down here in warmland…as they say “Having a great time…wish you were here:-).”


Oh yeah…that other news…today at 0943 this showed up…

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Updated later with even more baby goodness.


Yup…Connie’s a granny now. We got a text last night about midnight that she was at the hospital after Jen was 3-4 centimeters dilated at her appointment yesterday. He’s 6 pounds 15 ounces and 20 manly inches of handsome Laubenthal baby…looks just like his father…who looked just like his father hence the nickname the kid has had of 3.0 since Bryan and Jen told us they were pregnant.

Like his father he was born in late morning after labor from the day before although Jen didn’t really start until the evening whereas Connie started about noontime. And like his father he was just about the same size. And just like his father he refused to latch onto the milk tap for awhile…hopefully he’ll figger it out soon as Laubenthal men are usually fascinated by those things.

Anyways (to borrow a line from the best newscaster ever Walter Cronkite)…that’s the way it is. Hopefully we’ll have some more pics later on today or tomorrow and we will be coordinating with the human kids to figure out when we can get up to visit.


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Hanging Out In The Warm Weather and Another SEC Championship

Well…again not much has happened the past 10 days. We had a great Thanksgiving dinner…the brined duck breasts were great on the grill along with sweet potato casserole. Afterwards we had Butterscotch Flan that had cream cheese in it instead of just the normal eggs and cream so it was a lot richer. Neil melted some butterscotch chips on the bottom of the ramekins and it made a nice crunchy/sweet almost crust like layer at the bottom of the custard.

After Thanksgiving we didn’t do much…watched the Iron Bowl the Saturday afterward where ‘Bama trashed Auburn then we watched the SEC Championship today where they dominated Missouri and are headed to the playoffs with the top seed. Between the two games we had Connie’s birthday celebration…her actual birthday was on Tuesday and we went to Bingo at the Elks but we headed over to Pine Island and hit up the Ragged Ass Saloon on Thursday for some brews, along with some Italian sausage stuffed banana peppers and a Caribbean pizza afterwards.

Here’s a nice shot he got from one of his twitter buddies the day before the Iron Bowl last week.

Large Fries 2

Neil washed the house, car and BAT and has been steadily ticking off jobs on our to do list for the winter. He got our living room fan repaired…the gearing that raises the lid had gotten stripped somehow but he ordered the part and got it installed yesterday.

He found this photo on the web this week…it really gives you a sense of  how big cruise ships have gotten.

Titanic vs Carnival

The black hulled ship in front is the Titanic…which was the largest passenger liner in history when it was set sail in 1911 on it’s ill fated voyage. The white hulled ship in the background is one of the Carnival Cruise line ships…it’s pretty large for a current passenger liner but is by no means the largest afloat. Really gives you a sense of how big they make those things these days though.

And since their human kid Jen is getting pretty close to popping out Neil 3.0…here’s one for her and Bryan.

Never Sleep In Again

Other than that…we been ordering Christmas presents, working on planning for our journeys in the spring, bike riding, and just generally doing not much. Connie went fishing a couple of times but didn’t bring home anything for dinner yet.

It’s supposed to be nice weather this week…I think I’ll send Neil out for some more eagle pictures or maybe send the both of them on a hike or something…I gotta have some photos for the blog ya’ know. In the meantime…here are another couple of shots of Harriet landing the other day…looking back  through the shots Neil got on Thanksgiving I found a couple more that were pretty decent.

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First Visit to Ozzie and Harriet

Well, Connie headed off to Thanksgiving Mass this morning since the choir was singing and Neil headed down to see Ozzie and Harriet for the first time this year. Mostly he wanted to get some shots with the new Nikon D7100 body which replaced our previous D700…more megapixels, better auto-focusing algorithms are the big improvements in the body…he needs to get fully familiar with it, how it takes photos compared to the D7000, and the nuances of the controls as it’s slightly different.

Ozzie and Harriet are occupying their nest here for the 8th consecutive year…they started nesting here in 2006. Ozzie has laid two eggs this year…the first on Nov 19 and the second 3 days later on the 22nd. This means that the hatchings will be around Christmas Day; hopefully they’ll have better luck and both eaglets will survive this year. Here’s the link to the live eagle cam if you want to track their progress…Ozzie and Harriet Eagle Cam. There are two main locations for picture taking…the first is to the east of the nest and you can see folks in that area above the nest on the web cam with the cars going by on the street in the background…this location is best for mooring photos. The second picture site is on the opposite side of the nest from the morning one so the nest is not backlit and is at about 7 o’clock from the webcam view.

Neil checked the site just before he drove down and at that time Harriet was brooding on the nest. When he arrived at the site no adults were visible so he got a shot of a Red Headed Woodpecker and the horses in the field below the nest.

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After about 30 or 40 minutes…shift change happened. Here’s a short sequence of Ozzie arriving and Harriet flying off to get breakfast.

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That excitement lasted or maybe 90 seconds than it was another 30 or 40 minutes before she came back. While she was gone a Peregrine Falcon flew by and landed on the nesting tree about 15 feet from the nest. Surprisingly, Ozzie made no attempt to run it off and didn’t vocally object either…guess he wasn’t worried about it as an eagle outweighs a Peregrine by probably 3 or 4 times and Peregrines take live birds on the wing as their primary prey…I don’t think they eat eggs at all. Neil wasn’t able to get a decent picture of the falcon though.

After another wait there was a second brief flurry of activity as Harriet returned to the nest for brooding duties and Ozzie headed off again. Typically she sits on the nest and broods the eggs a greater percentage of the time than he does. Here’s another sequence of the changeover.

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Some nice shots there…but the colors aren’t quite as consistent as they should be…Neil needs to figure out what setting needs adjustment to handle that…probably the White Balance or the Picture mode he’s thinking. He decided he wasn’t interested in waiting around another 40 minutes for some more action so headed home and got there just about 3 minutes before Connie.

He got our duck breasts into the brine…salt, orange juice, and some spices and then you let the poultry soak in it for 2 or 3 hours before patting it dry and cooking it. The brining process assists in tenderizing the meat and keeping it juicy.

Off to football and then cooking later.


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Aren’t You Glad You Don’t Live In Buffalo?

We sure are.

As ya’ll know they got 7 (yup, 7) feet of snow late last week and I’m sure glad that we are down here in sunny SW Florida where we had to put the A/C on yesterday. Neil happened across a couple of photos on the ‘net yesterday that illustrate this point exactly.

Reasons to go to Buffalo.

Come for the wings

And one taken by some guy from inside his living room…guess he ain’t going out to pick up the mail today.

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Like I said…we’re really, really glad we ain’t there.

Connie is off fishing this morning and Neil is heading up to Bradenton to get BAT’s aux tank computer properly calibrated…unless Donny the tech is still stuck on jury duty.


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Catching Up Post

Nothing much going on so I figured I would catch ya’ll up on what we been doin’ and post a couple of photos we got earlier at Cedar Key.

First up; here’s a shot getting on toward sunset I shoulda posted previously of the boat in the lagoon right outside the Tiki Bar at the Low Key Hideaway…note the platform on the stern as it will be important later.

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Connie went out one morning and got this shot of a wildflower out back of our rig.

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Then we discovered these Monarch butterflies on the bushes at the water’s edge…they must be resting up for the rest of their migration to South America and Mexico.

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She also spotted this wader out on the mudflats right near the boat in the first picture…we think it’s a non breeding willet.

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Another morning Neil spotted this Osprey having breakfast out on the platform on the stern of the boat.

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As well as this White Ibis looking for lunch. 

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I figured those would wet your whistle for upcoming bird photos as we have numerous haunts to revisit while we are here in SW Florida.

Neil found this picture on the web about where babies come from and sent it along to their pregnant human kids.

Where Babies Come From

As well as a one about messing with the wrong guy.

Bear messed with me once

Finally…Connie ran across this one on her Twitter feed yesterday. Perfectly apropos after their thrashing of previously #1 ranked MSU last Saturday and their rise to to top of the Playoff Rankings.

Alabama Dynasty

You know you read that in Jase’s voice…didn’t ya.



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Back in Fort Myers…and Happy

Well…our trip north to Bradenton and Mayo for BAT and rig upgrades is finished; and as promised here’s what we got done this week.

After getting up really, really early Monday morning…we had to be in Bradenton about 75 miles up the road by 0830…we fueled up BAT and headed out. We had done all the pre-move stuff and hitched yesterday so all we had to do was power and slides so it was relatively easy but we were still up by 0430. We had two jobs scheduled at A and A Hitch up in Bradenton. First up was installation of a trailer hitch on the back of the rig so we can add a bike rack and get the bikes out of Connie’s car. It’s a pretty standard hitch…Neil forgot to take a shot but I’ll get him to get one tomorrow and put it up. If you’ve ever seen a trailer hitch…it looks just like ours; a square receiver sticking out the back that you insert the square part of the bike rack into.

Second up was installation of our 50 gallon TransferFlow auxiliary fuel tank for BAT. This consists of the tank which is bolted down in the front end of the bed and the control module which is mounted up on the dash.

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Ok…so how does this thing work. Well, it’s not connected directly to the main fuel tank so you fill it separately when you’re at the station. The main tank holds 37 gallons and the aux holds another 50…the total of 87 gives us about a 700 mile range before needing fuel…good thing as some of the stations up in Alaska next summer will be 400 miles apart. The little square thing sticking up on top of the aux tank has a filter and a transfer pump that pumps fuel from the aux tank into the main tank when it’s turned on at about a gallon per minute. The wiring harness included taps into the main tank level sensor as well as the aux tank level sensor and displays the amount of fuel in each tank on the little panel on the dash. The computer in the display panel basically monitors the main tank level and which it’s about 1/2 full pumps 3 or 4 gallons from aux to main tank…at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Turns out that our computer is improperly calibrated and pumps at around 3/4 full on the main tank. In addition, it’s calibrated for a smaller tank than BAT has so when you completely fill the main tank the aux tank gauge indicates that it’s full but the standard fuel gauge in the dash says it’s empty. Once you get down to about 33 gallons (full is 37) in the main tank the standard gauge operates correctly. Neil has an appointment with A and A for Tuesday to get it properly calibrated. We’re glad to have the extra fuel on board…in addition to not having to stop on most travel days we can pick and choose our fueling stops so that we can avoid overpriced stations or states where fuel is more expensive.

The blue thing next to the aux tank in the bed picture is our water filter/softener combination…it rides in the truck bed when we are traveling.

We had a fantastic Cuban sandwich across the street from A and A while they were doing the installs and headed out about 1400 or so. After some consolation between Connie and Neil we decided to head on up to Wildwood and stop at the KOA there overnight. That was about 100 miles up the road leaving only about 120 left for Tuesday before arrival at Mayo for the solar panel install.

We got parked, did minimal hookups for utilities and had a pizza up in Wildwood…and went bed early. Tuesday we lollygagged around and didn’t leave the park until the 1100 checkout time…we only had 120 miles left to go and our install wasn’t starting until Wednesday morning so getting there anytime Tuesday afternoon was just fine.

We arrived in Mayo and got parked in the yard at Palmer Energy Systems owned and operated by John Palmer. I gotta tell ya…John and his helper Tracy are perfectly competent solar panel installers but Connie started to wonder if we would hear banjos while we were there. John is 70 years old and is one of the prototypical good old boys…or a prepper or something. Everything he owns is on wheels “in case something happens”…whatever that means. Anyway…we got plugged into his 30 amp outlet and had filled up our water tank before leaving Wildwood so we were half way boon docking while we were there.

Tuesday morning bright and early John and Tracy got started…they couldn’t go up on the roof until the dew evaporated so John got started installing the solar controller down in the forward end of the basement right near the battery compartment.

So…how does this whole solar thing work. Normally when we’re plugged in everything is powered from AC power from the power pedestal on the site but when you’re moving or boon docking obviously there isn’t a power pedestal. In these situations the only power sources are the battery or your generator. The generator produces AC power just like the power pedestal does and you use that power by plugging the standard RV power cord into the generator. Battery power is DC instead of AC and is 12 volts instead of 120 volts…so we have a thing called an inverter which turns the 12 VDC into 120 VAC for running appliances and such. When the battery is depleted it’s recharged by one of two methods. In normal operation…AC power comes in from the generator or shore power and runs back through the inverter…which also contains circuits that turn 120 VAC into 12VDC which then recharges the battery. The batteries can also be recharged by the solar panels. The solar panels on the roof produce DC when the sun is shining and make about 22 volts each. Our 8 panels are hooked up in two sets of 4 so they produce a total of 88 VDC. This power is fed down to the solar controller which turns the 88 VDC into 12 VDC and recharges the batteries. Actually the output voltage of the solar controller varies from about 12.5 volts to 14 volts depending on how much the batteries are depleted…if they are half used then you start with a higher voltage for bulk charging…then shift to a lower voltage for absorb charging until all then to an even lower voltage for float charging to maintain the batteries full.

The solar panels are great at doing the absorb and float charging but not as efficient for the bulk charging phase…which is why when you’re boon docking you normally run the generator a short while each morning to get the bulk portion of the charge done then shift over to solar about 1000 or so to finish the absorb charge portion. Between running the generator for an hour or so and the power you get from the solar panels…along with managing how much power you’re using overnight so as not to run short on a day to day basis.

From an operational standpoint…essentially one just monitors how far discharged your batteries are and use or minimizes power draw based on that. Our batteries have a total of 800 amp hours which means we can use 400 amp hours before recharging on an ongoing basis…you shouldn’t discharge more than about 50% or so on a routine basis to maximize battery lifetime. Our residential fridge uses about 120 amp hours per 24 hour period…so we have about 280 available for other usage on a daily boon docking basis. This means we can use lights, computers, and even TV for 3-4 hours per night without worrying about running out of power. One of our jobs for the next couple of months is to try boon docking for  3 or 4 days just to get a good feel for how much power we use on a daily basis when we’re trying to conserve…essentially we’re going to boon dock here in Seminole and we can always just plug in if we run short.

Here’s what our panels look like…there are 4 on the front end of the rig and the second set of  4 on the left side over the kitchen.

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The last picture shows a closeup of the brackets that mount the panels to the roof…these are on the aft panels. The brackets allow you to raise or lower one side of the panels when you’re mounting them…this allows (in our case) them to be mounted so that they panels are horizontal when you’re parked as this portion of our roof slopes to the rear. Forward is to the right in the picture above and this is the aft end of the first panel on the right with the forward end of the second panel on the left…the forward end of the first panel has the lower bracket similar to what you see above…this tilts the panel a little forward which is just enough to counteract the downward slope of the roof as it goes back. The gray stuff over the brackets is sealant and both glues the panel to the roof (in addition to the two screws holding each bracket down) and seals the screw holes and heads to make sure no water can leak into the roof. The sealant takes a few days to fully dry and will tend to smooth itself out while it does.

We were done with our installation and testing by the end of the day on Thursday…it went a little faster than anticipated since Neil helped Tracy screw the panels down on the roof…it’s a lot easier to install them with two people than one. They aren’t heavy…only about 18 pounds or so each…but they are 21 by 48 inches so getting them aligned nicely so the installation looks pleasing to the eye is easier with 4 hands rather than just 2.

Since we were done…we headed out early Friday morning for the 330 mile drive back down here to Fort Myers. Arrived and got parked by about 1630, went out to Hogbody’s for wings and brews for dinner, and came home and went to bed.

Saturday we did a lot of our setup for long term stays…put up all our lights and outside decorations, repacked the car with the bikes under the front of the rig so we have a back seat again, and similar stuff. Dinner was leftover chicken and taters and then we watched Bama defeat Mississippi State in another great game.


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Quick Trip to Mayo FL

Just a quick post to (a) let ya’ll know we’re still alive and (b) what’s been happening since our transit day down to North Fort Myers.

We had an uneventful week last week at Seminole Campground…the only thing we did interesting at all was Bingo Night at the Elks and boy, did we hit the jackpot on that one. Connie didn’t win…but our friend Roland did. He always sits at the bar with us and since he was the only one at the bar that won he bought a round for the folks at the bar. In addition to that…the letter of the day happened to be L…anybody with that as the first letter of their last name gets the second drink free. In addition to that…Neil got a free drink chip from the bartender in thanks for hauling out another keg’o’beer when her Michelob Ultra keg ran dry. We had a coupla hotdogs for dinner and a good time was had by all.

Connie went out to choir practice…we went to Mass…Neil bought her a new fishing pole to replace the one Harry Demery bought her before they were married…and that was about it. We didn’t set up much since we knew we were going out of town for a couple of days.

Monday we drove to Bradenton FL about 70 miles up the coast and headed out of there about 1400 with a brandy new shiny auxiliary fuel tank in BAT. I’ll ‘splain what that means and put in a photo in my next post.

Following that we drove up to Mayo FL right near Tallahassee where John Palmer, his helper Tracy, and Neil spent the last two days installing solar panels, wiring them up, making everything waterproof. By 1400 today we were done and are now a green energy producin’ machine…even on a cloudy day this afternoon we were still generating about 10 amps of charging current into the battery. Again…I’ll ‘splain and include photos later but Neil’s too tuckered to process the photos he took of it and the aux tank right now.

Anyhoos…we’re done with all of that ‘cepting a very slight issue with our new auxiliary fuel tank that I’ll talk about along with all the other stuff next time…so we’ll be heading out of here tomorrow morning. We have to make another quick trip to the roof to remove the blocks that are holding down the wires until the sealant goop that glues the wires to the roof finishes sealing…then we’ll hitch up and be on the road for about a 300 mile trip back to Seminole.

Oh yeah; we got a notice from our bank yesterday that our main credit card had been spoofed and a fake card made up for some purchases yesterday up in VA. Neil assured them that we didn’t make them and we went through all the pending charges they have telling them which were good and which were fraudulent. The card’s cancelled and we’ll get a new one delivered to Seminole tomorrow. We didn’t lose any money…the bank is pretty aggressive about finding bogus charges and getting new cards sent out. They think the number got disclosed due to the Home Depot breach recently and somebody made a duplicate card and was charging away…but they only got a hundred bucks or so worth of stuff out of the deal. Still a pain for us though…Neil will have to change the card number in all the places that keep it like Amazon and the like…and will have to file a fraud alert with the credit bureaus to make sure nothing further was done but other than being a pain it’s not that big of a deal. Another great advertisement for the new Apple Pay system…which will make fraud like this a lot harder to do since the merchant won’t have your credit card number to be stolen by the bad guys; under the Apple Pay system you give the merchant a one tim code that isn’t your credit card number. Even if the bad guy steals the code, as far as the bank is concerned it’s already been used and hence is no good…so the bad guy’s can’t steal any money with it. Unfortunately the new system requires an iPhone 6…and we aren’t due for an upgrade until next November so I guess we’ll just have to suck it up and wait or spend the money to upgrade early. Haven’t decided which way to go with that yet and the new system isn’t accepted widely yet anyway but in a year or so it looks like the whole pay by credit card landscape will get a giant security upgrade. There’s a competing system being pushed by merchants named CurrenC…but it doesn’t offer nearly as much security, doesn’t use a credit card but uses a direct bank account debit or debit card instead, is much more cumbersome to use, and is essentially a way for the merchant to gather even more data on the customer. Under Apple’s better system…you get to use credit cards, the merchant doesn’t get any info on you, and it’s more secure…what’s not to like. The Google Wallet system for Android phones is very similar to Apple Pay and either of them is far superior to the CurrenC system which is being pushed primarily by big merchants who don’t want to pay credit card fees…like I’m willing to to give CVS or Walmart direct access to my bank account…not.

Anyhoos; that’s it for now…as I said I just wanted to let ya’ll know we wuz still alive and I’ll post some pretty pictures and explanations on all our new stuff later on.


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