Friday, May 31, 2013

I bought a Lynnebago!

There’s something about the 3rd week of May that just seems to make me buy motor vehicles!  Four years ago, I bought the View, and 2 years ago this same week, I bought the Tracker.  So, true to form, earlier this month I found myself searching the internet casually looking at used Sprinter vans.  Most of them were not very tempting (heavily used and abused boring white cargo vans with 150,000 to 350,000 miles and various commercial racks/partitions in the back).   But then I saw this little green beauty with no rust, no gobs of industrial racking in the back, and only 62,000 miles on it!

The “3rd week of May” curse strikes again-- time to pull out the checkbook!

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It’s a high-roof 2005 Freightliner Sprinter 2500 (meaning no dual rear wheels to fool with—yeah!).  It’s the mid-sized 140” wheelbase and comes in at 19’ feet long.  Short and narrow enough to fit into a standard parking space (but still enough floorspace in the back to make a decent camper van).

My Winnebago View Sprinter came with every possible comfort and convenience already installed.  This Sprinter came with none of that.  It’s got some reflectix insulation and carpeted plywood covering the bare floor, walls, and ceiling in the cargo area, but the rest will be completely up to me to design and build.  So, I’ve decided to name this Sprinter van my “Lynnebago”!

The van was down in the northeast Georgia mountains, so my first task was figuring out how to logistically get it home.  Luckily, it had a nice Class III hitch already installed and the dealer verified that the plug worked fine.  So, I packed my towbar and suitcase into the back of the Tracker, Millie hopped into her backseat bed, and away we went on a roadtrip down to Georgia!

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The Tracker is a great in-town car and off-road vehicle, but not a comfy cruiser for a 750 mile roadtrip!  But, it did it’s job to get us to our destination safely and without any mishaps.

After a final inspection and test drive, the dealer had all the sales paperwork ready to go, so the whole purchasing process from Jacky Jones Ford in Cleveland, GA was speedy and friendly.  They, admittedly, don’t see many single ladies come down with their own towbars (and dogs), so as I started getting the ReadyBrute hooked up, the dealer guy came out to watch and learn how to attach the cables!

The first 100 miles was a bit nerve-wracking through the curvy, mountain backwoods.  I realized later that this van has an auto skid control feature (that I should have temporarily turned off) as whenever I was descending a pass and making sharp hairpin turns, the van would automatically apply it’s brakes!  Pretty disconcerting for sure, but no harm done, it was just trying to keep us safe.

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As luck would have it, my world-traveller and very talented and amusing blogger friend Suzanne ( Take to the Highway) was staying at a campground just north of Knoxville, so I reserved a hotel room nearby for Millie to catch up on her missed afternoon napping, while Suzanne and I headed out for a great dinner and catch-up conversation.  Who knew there was great Thai food to be found in tourist-infested Sevierville?  But we delightfully happened to find a great little place tucked into an unassuming strip mall.

After dinner, we stopped at the campground to see Suzanne’s new full-timer RV home—a gorgeous 2008 J-model Winnebago View.  Her RV has the light maple cabinetry and also has cabinets in front (rather than the cabover bed). Combined with the 2 cab swivel seats, and custom memory foam dinette cushion and bed mattress replacements, Suzanne has one of the most comfortable (and nicely functional) Views I’ve ever seen!  So happy for her giving me the grand tour of her lovely new home!

The next morning, Millie and I hopped into the Sprinter for our drive back home to Chicago.  First unexpected bonus discovery?  No need to park and walk inside to get a morning traveler breakfast--- just pull right into the drive-thru lanes!

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The Sprinter towed the Tracker easily, and managed to get a decent 18 MPG towing 65-70 miles per hour through the Kentucky hills.

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Millie was not quite sure what to make of this new Sprinter, but she quickly mastered jumping into the driver’s seat whenever I got out!

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And she liked the big side-door easy access to jump in and out of the van!

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I set up her little padded bed right behind the 2 seats and she spent most of the drive hanging out there.  But discovering she now had a big, unobstructed space to move around in, she also had fun chillin’ in the rear back corner of the van too!

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The Lynnebago is, indeed, a pretty “blank slate” at this point.  But it did come with a few unexpected benefits:  both front seats already have the swivels installed (that’s one less upgrade I’ll need to make, and a $500+ savings)!  The dash radio turned out to be a really nice-sounding Alpine stereo system with 2 Alpine speakers added to the OEM dash speakers— a great van to “sing-along” with road tunes!

The only downside discovered thus far—the existing ceiling vent (and interior ceiling paneling) is a real hack job, giving it a decidely “Hillbilly Hilton” look.

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The previous owner seemed perplexed by the curved roof lines and just threw whatever scrap lumber he had to finish it off.  The ceiling vent was apparently cracked at one point and rather than simply replace it, the guy decided to duck tape the outside and paint the inside of it with some kind of black sealant goop.  I’ve now ordered a new Fantastic Fan and this will be my very first upgrade to get done! 

Since there are no current auxiliary electrical or water systems, I’ll need to remove and re-do the ceiling, wall, and floor coverings anyway, but until I’m ready to do all that, I’ll initially just connect the new fan directly to a spare AGM battery, and use my old tent camping gear to make it immediately functional as a bare-bones camper.

So, why another vehicle?  Well, a girl can never have too many Sprinters Smile…..but seriously,with my current situation requiring lots of in-town hauling of stuff from my house and my mom’s house, replacing my in-town vehicle (a Subaru Outback) with a full-sized cargo van seemed to make a heck of a lot of sense.  My brother has been after me for a few years now to buy my Subaru (as his current Outback is getting up in miles), so that took away the trade-in hassles!

I also really want to get to Mexico next winter and would prefer to take a “stealth-ier” looking van than my big white Winnebago.  This 1st-generation T1N Sprinter doesn’t require ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel (like my 2nd-generation NCV3 View does), and as Mexico is not yet known to have wide availability of ULSD fuel, it will be much more capable a vehicle there than my View.

Beyond that, this Lynnebago has serious potential as an international vehicle!  Sprinters have been widely used in Europe and in many parts of South/Central America as well.  Perhaps I can follow my friends’ Evelyn and Tessa’s leads to RV far beyond the continental U.S. borders!  Lots of possibilities for this little green Lynnebago!

p.s.  As some of you might not be interested in the new van’s conversion process, I’ll put those posts on a separate blog called LynnieViews.  I’ll continue to keep travel, Winnebago, and general posts here on this main WinnieViews blog site.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My 1st Nutritarianniversary

When I turned on the Blendtec this morning, I happened to notice that it’s counter coincided with today being the start of my 2nd year as a Nutritarian!

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No, I’ve not used my high-speed blender every single day this past year, but sometimes I’ve used it multiple times per day, so I guess it all balanced out in the end.

Over the winter, I was usually eating bowls of fruit with either some oats or muslix.  Now that warmer weather has returned, I’m back to drinking my breakfasts.  This week, I’ve been on a berry smoothie kick:

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Berry Yummy Smoothie:

1 cup non-dairy milk (I like non-sweetened almond milk)

1 banana (fresh or frozen)

A handful of fresh kale and a handful of fresh spinach (stems removed)

A few handfuls of strawberries (fresh or frozen)

A few handfuls of wild blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Optional: a tablespoon of chia seeds or flax meal (for additional fiber); a squirt or two of agave nectar (if additional sweetness is desired); a couple ice cubes (if all fruit above is fresh rather than frozen).

Blend in a high-speed blender for about 1 minute until smooth (I used the Blendtec’s “Smoothie” setting).

I’ve been amazed this past year at how much I’ve enjoyed eating a “nutritarian” diet (as Dr. Joel Fuhrman calls it in his book “Eat to Live”).  I easily shed 30 pounds in the first 6 months without ever feeling starved or craving anything.  I also didn’t have to count calories or exercise to lose the weight.  The last 6 months have been more challenging. I stopped losing weight, and in fact, gained a few pounds back mainly from eating too many carbs and sweets, and not exercising enough.

So, this past weekend, I thought I’d start a juice fast for a few days to boost my nutrients and cleanse out the carbs.  Easier said than done!

My mornings started out o.k. with my green/fruit smoothies, but when I tried the more veggie-focused juice recipes for lunch or dinner, it was hard to get them down with all the fiber still being in the drink (I only have the Blendtec and not a dedicated juicer).  I also underestimated the strong desire to CHEW!  Even though my body was getting plenty of nutrients and was not hungry, I still could not mentally get used to blending all that delicious fresh food rather than chewing and eating some of it instead.

So, I’ve now ordered a few food strainer bags, and will try “round 2” of juicing with the Blendtec next week (to see if straining the fiber out will make the juice easier to drink).  A juicer machine would no doubt be easier, but I’m really trying to avoid so many “single-purpose” appliances to make my transition to an RV kitchen easier.

Perhaps my body was still revolting against the juice experiment, but for some unknown reason, I found myself celebrating my 1 year anniversary at Portillo’s eating a big, juicy Italian Beef sandwich!  I grew up on these things, and if you’ve ever been to Chicago to eat one, you’ll know just how addictive they can be.  I have to admit, it was damn delicious! 

I still don’t have any desire to eat meat daily (or weekly), but for special occasions, I’m gonna have that annual Italian Beef sandwich!  Life needs to be lived!  It reminded me of why Dr. Fuhrman calls his approach “nutritarian” rather than “vegan” — he believes the exact same thing!  As long as meats, dairy, sweets, and oils are considered “special occasion” and  don’t exceed 10% of your diet, he sees no harm. 

So, on to Year 2!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Annual May visit to Messenger Woods

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This is now my 5th year of heading to Messenger Woods Forest Preserve (Homer Glen, IL) in early May.  Virginia Bluebells and Trillium are usually in abundance by the first weekend in May, although there have been a few “dud” years when that did not hold true.  Last year’s freakish early Spring had the bluebells and trillium already done and fading by early May.  A few years before that, a drought had prevented much of the wildflower bloom.

Spring this year has felt a few weeks late, so I wasn’t sure if anything would be blooming yet but I put my tall rubber boots on and trodded into the woods with my camera bag.  The paths I had taken previously to the main bluebell grove were completely impassable due to a number of tall oaks being blown down from last year’s storms, so I had to start out on the main trail and backtrack along the creek bed to reach them. 

Fortunately, the creek bed was relatively dry and easy to walk without leaving an impact.  With delicate wildflower groves like this, one should be careful not to trample the plants or “leave a trace” with muddy footprints.

I first found a small patch of large-flowered trillium to photograph.  Just love these beauties!

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The Mayapples were also growing quite well.  Love those cute little “umbrellas” in early Spring.

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But it was the Virginia Bluebells I came to see, and wow were they ever looking good this year!  They are absolutely at peak right now and very abundant.

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Lots of woodpeckers and warblers in the woods today as well, but I didn’t bring my long telephoto lens, so had to settle for just listening to them and watching them with binoculars.

Spring has now officially “sprung” here in Chicago!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Bad Luck Duck

Just when you thought all was daffy and there could only be good luck ducks in the world, along comes a bad luck duck to remind you of darker tail feathers.

A nice Mallard couple moved into our neighborhood a few weeks ago--

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A quiet, cordial pair who divided their time between the local lake and our subdivision’s cul-de-sac.

Yesterday afternoon, I heard a loud thump on the roof of the house followed by what seemed like a dozen racing footsteps that were much too loud to be squirrels. I looked out the window to then see a gang of 4 ducks fighting in my backyard.

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But something was not right.  There were 3 males and only 1 female:

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If there are any parents with small children reading this blog, you might wish to divert their attention now—what follows is our “content for mature audiences only” segment.

Apparently, 2 males had come to stir up trouble with our friendly mallard couple.  These 2 males were an unusual pair— one guy served as the “look out” while the other more aggressive thug of a duck went to pick a fight with the male husband of our mallard couple.

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Pretty soon, the lookout duck was now fighting with the Mallard husband, while the thug duck was having his way with the little lady.

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Within a few seconds, the thug was finished and flew off while his lookout hung around for a few minutes longer.

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Finally, the mallard couple were back on their own, but this time each looking “guard” in both directions:

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Poor little bad luck duck!  Hope you can steer clear of those thugs in the future.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

“What if I had never seen this before?”

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At our Illinois Master Naturalist class a few weeks ago, the instructor had us walk around the room reading nature quotes from a few notable authors.  We were told to pick one of the quotes and prepare a short presentation to give to the class about what the quote meant to us.

I jotted down a couple of my favorites, but wasn’t quite sure which one I’d use for my presentation until this past week.

When researching what kind of turtle we spotted when on our hike with the godkids last week, one article by the Shedd Aquarium of Chicago on Blanding’s Turtles was most instructive.  It said to contact local habitat managers if we spotted one, so that’s what I did.

I went to the Lake County Forest Preserve’s website and filled out their “Contact Us” form.  The next day, Wildlife Biologist Gary Glowacki emailed me the following response:

"Despite intensive monitoring at Cuba Marsh we have no records of Blanding's turtles there.  That is not to say it's impossible because there is plenty of good habitat there but it would be a very significant discovery."

He asked if I could send him any photos I may have taken, so I sent them along with a marked up trail map of exactly where we spotted the turtle.  Yesterday, Gary emailed me back:

"Very exciting, that is most definitely a Blanding’s Turtle!!!  It looks like an old female by the shape of the dome. I have actually been working on a recovery program for Blanding’s turtles and would love to collect some data on this turtle and attach a radio transmitter so we can track her movements (and hopefully find some more).”

As excited that both Gary and I were about this news, equally exciting has been my goddaughter’s interest as these developments have unfolded.  She was pretty thrilled to see any turtle that close in the wild (as her parents tend to take them to city parks and playgrounds more often than larger forest preserves and national/regional parks), but now that she’s learned that her first turtle sighting was an endangered species, it’s really sparked her interest to learn and explore further.

She’s in 6th grade and has been enjoying her advanced placement math, science, and language arts classes equally the same up to this point.  Discovering the first Blanding’s turtle at her nearby forest preserve has now ignited a keener interest in turtles and the natural sciences.

I asked her what she thought we should name “our” turtle and she immediately came up with the perfect name…. Masha  (since the turtle’s home is Cuba Marsh).

So, we now have a mission to get back to the trail and see if we can spot Marsha again.  When we do, Gary has asked that we call his cell phone so he can get there quickly to attach the radio transmitter.  If he can find more of these turtles at the marsh, it will not only better protect their habitat (since they are endangered), but might also help him eventually restore their population further.

Looks like I’ve now got a good real-life example to go with the nature quote for my Master Naturalist presentation:

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself:
What if I had never seen this before?
What if I knew I would never see it again?”

-- Rachel Carson

Some important lessons that I (and my goddaughter) have learned this week are:

  • Always have a camera with you (and ideally a pair of binoculars too!)
  • Research the unknown animals and plants you encounter on your hikes.
    • The free online Audubon Field Guides are a great place to start (better yet, buy their apps for your smart phone so you can have this info available offline in the field as well!). 
    • Do further searches via Google or Wikipedia to confirm or rule out possible species.
  • Report any significant sightings to local habitat managers
  • Volunteer to help save and protect your favorite natural places or living species!

Marsha and her friends will thank you!

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