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Happy Birthday!

Posted by on June 20, 2016

 

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We celebrated my bride’s birthday during a long weekend stay at a hotel not far from Pensacola. 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FLORENCE. You still light up my life after all these years! I love you now more than I did 26 years ago when we got married. What memories we’re making on our Great American Adventure as we roam around the country seeking new places and friends. We’ll have fond memories of this Journey for the rest of our lives! This is your third birthday on the road since we left San Diego three years ago. I hope it’s the best yet.

You know I love celebrations. “Here’s to many more.” I’d sing “Happy Birthday” but that wouldn’t be wise. I’d sound like an American Idol hopeful when Simon Cowell’s critique would be, “You sound like a Screech Owl!” “So I’ll just say again, “Happy Birthday, dear.”

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There were more presents, but the others were too small to wrap. You’ll see what I mean in just a minute.

 

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One of the “too small to wrap presents” was a birthday greeting. It’s the tiniest letter in the world, as you can see. But under a jeweler’s loupe each word is easy to decipher. “How in the world did I make it?” I’m not telling you. Enlarge this picture and you’ll see that the letter is actually addressed to our apartment building in Pensacola.

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This is hilarious! It reminds me of “Alice through the Looking Glass.” In this picture, Florence is using the  jeweler’s loupe I purchased to read the tiny letter I made for her birthday. 

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Jeweler’s loupe, tiny envelope and tiny letter. “That’s unbelievable, Greg. Where in the world do you come up with these kinds of birthday presents?”  

A BELATED CELEBRATION. On Florence’s actual birthday a few months ago, I was still recovering from the illness you’ve read about here, and I was unable to execute any kind of birthday celebration at all. I love arranging celebrations of any type and I was frustrated that I simply couldn’t do so at that time. The miracle hadn’t yet occurred. Now, I’m much healthier and we can celebrate her special day in style. I must have been a party planner in a former life because “I’ve got something special goin’ on this weekend.” The celebration I’ve planned takes into account Florence’s preferences: smallish celebrations and nice hotels. After more than 30 years, I know her like the back of my hand. So there won’t be any marching bands or an extensive guest list this year. No, only one guest. That would be me. So here we go…let the birthday girl’s weekend begin.

 

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Our favorite coffee comes from Stumptown coffee Roasters in Portland, Oregon. Her nephew learned to be a master coffee roaster working for Stuptown a few years ago. 

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Try these beans. They can be ordered directly from the roaster, located in Portland, Oregon. This isn’t too far from where our dear friend Therese lives. When next we visit her we’ll stock up on this coffee. And if she comes to see us next winter in Texas as we’ve planned: “A word to the wise, dear. Don’t forget to bring the coffee.”

 

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I asked a few Florence’s closest friends to send birthday cards, addressed to me and without any return address. I didn’t want her to get suspicious if she got the mail. As they arrived, I put the cards in a box, later wrapped it and gave it to her along with her other presents. She was pretty moved. Thanks, you guys. You helped me make her day a special one. 

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Entrance to the Hotel.

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RV Parking area. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PORTLAND’S STUMPTOWN COFFEE. Ever wonder why Portland is nicknamed Stumptown? Hint: Stumptown Coffee didn’t come first. Well, the nickname’s origins aren’t so pleasant. Back in the 1800s, loggers nearly strip-mined the forests around Portland for the luxurious lumber provided by the wealth of evergreens that grow in the area. In 1847, growth was so rapid that stumps from trees cleared for roads sat unattended until there was the manpower necessary to remove the stumps. In 1850, Captain John C. Ainsworth was quoted as saying that there were “more stumps than trees” in Portland.

 

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I designed some transfer-stickers for her to use on her flight bags and travel cases. She’s named her aircraft “Flying Blind.” Think about it. She flies so far up and away that we often can’t even see the thing in the sky. It’s truly like flying with federal aviation administration instrument flight rules, She uses her controls and her iPad monitor to fly and control her copter even when it’s out of sight.  

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This was my “main” birthday present to Florence. I think she’s going to hang it on the wall near here desk in our motorhome. We have quite a few of these kinds of wall art…they remind us of all the places we’ve been on our Journey.

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What drone pilot wouldn’t love personalized “drone greeting cards?” I designed and ordered them on the Vista Print website. 

OUR WEEKEND GETAWAY. We’ve already been in our temporary apartment-home for quite a while…almost four months now. It’s the best living arrangement Florence could have made under circumstances at the time, but we’re starting to get cabin fever. So it seemed to me that a weekend getaway would be fun. I selected the nearby Wind Creek Hotel, one I was sure Florence would like. Wind Creek’s promotions state, “It takes a day to plan your day.” How true. As we discovered this place has lots of amenities including nightly live music…”Rascal Flatts” was here last week. And there’s a cooking school, day spa, big-screen movie theater and even a bowling alley! There’s even an RV park. Those of you who are fellow travelers will say, “So what? That’s yesterday’s news. All “full-timers” know that that casinos have RV parking.” No, no you guys. Look how nice the park is here at Wind Creek, and at only $150 per week we could afford to stay long enough to really lose some big bucks in the casino!

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Wind Creek Hotel and Casino. Atmore, Alabama.

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Wind Creek Logo. This hotel and casino is owned by the Poarch Indians. They’ve really prospered and own three other casinos in Alabama, as well. And another in Nevada. I’ve thought to myself since we’ve been here,”Where do sign up to join the Tribe?” 

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On our first visit to this casino, I had extraordinarily good luck. Within the first hour of play in the High Limit room, I’d won more than $18,000.00. That was the first time I ever bet quite a bit of money on a game before. So on this, our next visit to the hotel for my wife’s birthday, we were treated like royalty. We were given priority at registration, our room was comped for three nights, the cooking class I attended was free, as was a spa treatment and I was given $1,0000.00 to spend. They do this hoping you’ll “pay them back” the next time you visit. And I did.

I made reservations for a three-night stay and picked a suite on the concierge level. It’s accessible only to hotel guests staying in one of the hotel’s high-end rooms. Pretty cool: One needs a special fob to use in the elevator to access the 17th floor. The view from our windows was of the pool area and some of Alabama’s bright green farming fields in the distance. The casino floor was like all others. Lots of colorful slot machines ranging from 1 cent to more than $100.00.

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One of 5 Jackpots I won during the first hour of our first night at the Casino.

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This is a penny slot machine. The maximum bet is $1.25.

 

 

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Sign on a monitor in the casino area of the resort. Seems pretty obvious that everyone inside the joint needs cash, right?

 

 

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For anyone playing this machine, the maximum bet is $200.00 At four plays per minute, totaling $800.00, money changes hands very quickly! 

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Our suite was huge. One of the largest three-room suites I’ve stayed at, ever. When we arrived and looked around our room, I found the bathroom to be very large. And when I peeked inside at the shower, well it was large enough for at least six people inside. You could have play bad-mitten in it.  “Wonder why they have a shower stall this large?” I wondered. Oh my gosh, you don’t suppose…

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We’d been told that the hotel beds here were very comfortable. Usually hotel beds aren’t. But what we’d heard was right. Florence sleeps like the Princess and the Pea. I’ve never found a mattress that I really like. But we both got a great night’s sleep. 

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Though modestly furnished, our suite of rooms was huge. A large living room window afforded us an expansive view of the swimming pool area and the farm fields in the distance.

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Have you ever seen someone “lob the bowling ball” down the alley? So it bounces? Go bowling with Florence if you want to see this happen.

P1040949HOTEL AMENITIES. The hotel’s restaurants were especially good. We ate at the Grill several times and splurged Saturday for dinner at the Steakhouse. I chose the 16 oz prime rib which was finished on the grill. Florence had a huge pork chop…probably the largest I’ve ever seen served in a restaurant. The Buffet Restaurant was our “regular” dining choice. It served typical Casino fare including prime rib, roast turkey and crab legs. There’s also an on-site big-screen movie theater, a cooking school, a day spa and even a bowling alley on the property. The swimming pool sports cabanas and is fed by natural spring water. It’s amazing what Alabama’s Poarch Indians have erected here in Atmore. More power to them!

 

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The Grill Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. We ate here several times during our stay for the long weekend.

 

 

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We splurged Saturday night and had dinner at the Fire Steakhouse.

 

SHALL WE GO BOWLING? Until now, we hadn’t been to a bowling alley during the last 20 years more than one time. And that time we  just “bounced the ball” down the alley or watched it roll along the the gutter as it made its feeble way toward the pins. We probably didn’t disturb more than a dozen pins that entire evening. But we had a blast and enjoyed out-loud belly laughs that brought tears to our eyes. We decided to try it again. Maybe we’d have improved with just the passage of time, right? Wrong! I don’t even know how to keep score, but if I did I’m sure my performance would have hardly been visible on our scorecard. But as the last time we graced a bowling alley with our presence we had lots of fun again this time.

 

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dayspaA SPA TREATMENT FOR EACH OF US. Not having had much exercise or sunlight since last November, I look a beached albino whale. My six pack abs have atrophied into spare tires and I sure didn’t want to expose myself to a stranger for a massage. So I opted for a pedicure, along with a half dozen ladies who eyed me suspiciously as we all sat on elevated chairs, our feet dangling in little tubs of water. Florence had a facial with one of those acid exfoliating treatments and looked like a pickled beet when we went back to our room. But she recovered nicely in an hour or so and I she was pleased with the results.  It was fun walking around in luxurious robes, listening to new-age “spa music” and drinking Naked Juice.

 

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This is a soaking pool at the spa. I had to sneak this picture for obvious reasons. There’s even a sign at the entrance saying, “No photography. No exceptions.” But you know me, if you tell me I can’t do something I’ll for sure do it!

 

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Another shot of the men’s side of the spa. As you can see, I’m getting further into the locker room area, where even if I were to play dumb it wouldn’t sell. I mean what idiot even without the sign in front prohibiting photography would attempt a picture this far into the men’s area? I suppose if Anthony Weiner was here he might look around for a Kodak Moment to get a shot of another guy’s wiener! Forgive me God, but that’s funny.

HOW ABOUT A COOKING CLASS? The Kitchen at Wind Creek mixes culinary skills , gourmet food, fun and personality in a state-of-the-art facility, creating the only place of its kind, offering stimulating chef encounters and blissful meals. When I poked my head into the classroom on Saturday afternoon, I was most impressed. By all appearances, the classes taught here are “hands-on.”

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The walls of the classroom are lined with Wolf Ranges, stove-top grills, Sub-Zero refrigerators. I don’t bake, but for those of you who are interested, there were about a dozen SP-5 Globe Stand Mixers also at the ready. Very impressive!  Some of you know about all the latest models of fancy sports cars. I know all the model names for high-end commercial cooking equipment. The Gibson Mixer, for example, retails for more than $700.00. The chance of me ever owning one of these mixers is about as likely as me getting a new  Porsche Panamera, available only by special order at about $263,900.00. Sort of puts things in perspective for you car buffs, doesn’t it? Each to his own. And by the way, I came within a whisper of making an offer on a Porsche Carrera a few years back. So see there. Just because I like to cook doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have been wowed if my offer had been accepted. I’d have also been firmly rebuked by my wife, which is one reason I made an unreasonably low offer.

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In addition to “a real theater” there is a giant monitor showing old surfing movies. 

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My class was taught by a local chef. His specialty is Gulf Seafood and since we are staying on the Gulf I figured I can put what I learn to good use. No “extra people” are allowed, other than those registered, so I couldn’t have Florence get any pictures of me in action. But the next time you come for dinner, just watch me! Look at this picture. Look good? Not a problem!

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OPENING BIRTHDAY PRESENTS. No birthday party would be complete without presents for the birthday girl. The hotel-room-party I “threw” for Florence wasn’t intended as a surprise…there’s not enough room in our little apartment to have even tried pulling that off. But I did venture off-site to wrap the presents I’d purchased. One was addressed to Florence and delivered via UPS Saturday afternoon directly to our hotel room, a surprise thanks to my friends at Amazon. I’d borrowed Jon’s kitchen counter for my wrapping project and it turned out to be the perfect place for this. I always enjoy visiting his home in the woods.

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Several of her friends sent Florence’s birthday cards to me. I wrapped them in a box and gave her the box when she was opening her other presents . Thanks, you guys. She enjoyed your cards a lot.

And before I began wrapping, he and I treated ourselves to lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s Restaurant where I had the best bourbon-glazed salmon ever. He and I enjoy each other’s company and we’ve become good friends. I’ll miss him when we leave Pensacola. We’re thinking about planning a fishing trip or some other “guy thing” soon. I’m glad he “found me” online about a year ago when he visited my blog for the first time and sent me an email about a place in the desolate town of Ely, Nevada, where someday I will actually drive a freight train as the “engineer for a day.” That’s been a bucket list item for me as long as I can remember, but one I never really thought I’d be able to check off as “done.” I mean, where in the world could a guy find such an opportunity? Take a look at the Nevada Northern Railway’s website. That’s where. Someday I’m going to drive one of those freight trains. Stay tuned.

OUR SUNDAY DRIVE IN ALABAMA, FROM MOBILE TO FLOMATON. Since our weekend was a long one…3 nights and 4 days, we decided to take a drive Sunday afternoon rather than just lounging around the hotel. We took Florence’s drone and also my DJI Osmo. I haven’t told you about it yet. In a nutshell it’s a hand-held land version of our drone. Same gimbal camera on a 360 degree swivel mechanism. Working in tandem, she and I will soon be prepared to present some quality video clips to you guys. There’s a significant learning curve…these are professional cameras and we’re not pros, but it still shouldn’t be too long before we’re ready to post our initial efforts.

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USS Alabama Memorial Park in Mobile, Alabama.

USS ALABAMA MEMORIAL PARK. We visited the nearby USS Alabama Memorial Park in Mobile. One of the things about our Adventure we especially enjoy is being able to learn lots of American history as we travel around the country. We highly recommend a visit to the USS Alabama, a retired battleship which was commissioned and deployed deployed during the second World War. She served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.

DRONE PHOTOGRAPHY. The video clip below was taken with a DJI Phantom 4 Camera Drone. Florence got hers just a few weeks ago, as you know. She attended flight school and is licensed to fly by the Federal Aviation Administration. Her drone, “Flying Blind,” is also registered and insured, just like our vehicles. No kidding. All drone pilots are required to be licensed. Really! And the pictures she takes are truly spectacular! Look at the photography in this video clip.

FLOMATON, ALABAMA. Our drive took us from Mobile to little towns deep into rural Alabama. The state is known as the “Heart of Dixie” and it’s bordered by  Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. It has onealabama seal of the longest navigable inland waterways in the nation. In the past, urban interests and African Americans were markedly under-represented. Blacks and poor whites were essentially disenfranchised. Alabama’s rural Black Belt includes some of the poorest counties in the United States. Along with high rates of poverty, the area is typified by declining populations, a primarily agricultural landscape with low-density settlement, high unemployment, poor access to education and medical care and substandard housing.

SOUTHERN PANHANDLE CAFE. FLOMATON, ALABAMA. We found the folks who live and work here to be among the most genuine, God-fearing and considerate in all the country. They welcomed us with open-arms and treated us like family. Talking with these folks and visiting their communities has given  me an appreciation of the South I’d never have expected. Americana.

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After lunch at the Southern Panhandle Cafe.

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The blond girl served us the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my entire life. She’s seated in front of the Cafe with Brenda, who sweeps the front porch every afternoon. Brenda never speaks. She can, but she doesn’t. She eats at the Cafe every day of the year, but is never charged for a meal. She’s hungry and she’s cared for. Period. No questions. What a wonderful sense of peace and well being I felt when taking this picture. I can only imagine the community support Florence and I would have received if I’d become so terribly ill in this tiny rural spot in America. So in case you’re wondering, there are patriotic, kind and caring people who live in this country. Not all across America, but most definitely in Flomaton, Alabama.   

AMERICAN COFFEE HOUSE. FLOMATON, ALABAMA. Coffee House, Fresh Brewed Coffee, Espresso Bar, Baked Goods. Lattes, Cappuccinos, Flavored Syrups, Fresh Fruit, Espresso, TV and Free Wi-Fi. We’re going to be in the area next November. We will stay at a rural park nearby. And we’ll enjoy the Wi-Fi and conversation here. This is so much more “real” than Starbucks. I spent only a half hour here today and when I left I already felt as if I were a local. Unbelievable! And unbelievably nice. This is what our Great American Adventure is all about for me.

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American Coffee House in Flomaton, Alabama. Wonderful!

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MAGNOLIA BRANCH WILDLIFE RESERVE. We must return to Florida in November so my doctors can monitor my progress. We’d initially planned to stay in Pensacola for this purpose. No longer. even though it will be a two hour round trip drive to my doctors offices, we’re going to stay at the Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve. The people in this beautiful place are the salt of the earth. And we’d not in a blue moon miss the chance to return to Flomaton to see our friends there again. Honest. This, my friends, is what our Great American Adventure is all about. Not Boston, not New York but rural America and the folks who live there. God Bless the USA.

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OUR ADVENTURE GETS BETTER AND BETTER. JOIN US AGAIN SOON. I’LL CONTINUE MY STORY NEXT TIME. 

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