It’s beginning to look like Christmas here in the Saddlebag Lake community. We’ve just finished the Thanksgiving holiday, and now begin for the arrival of the last holiday of 2020. I had a great November, complete with more family visits, more progress on projects, and a special treat catching up with my daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters who happened to come to Florida for a mini-vacation. Also, the weather has finally settled down and has been absolutely beautiful outside with temps in the 70s, little to no humidity, and the seemingly end of the rainy season. Now I can start to knock off those outside projects that have been on my list for many months waiting for more favorable weather. But so too do the excuses end, so I’m off to it!
My daughter Sam and her family made a surprise trip to south of Miami to visit with my son-in-laws family. They were only just a few hours from me, so I of course had to head on down there for a few days to join them. It was a quick trip, but wonderful to see them none the less. We had a few meals together, and enjoyed a day-trip to the Miami Zoo. The girls had a wonderful time checking out the animals, feeding the giraffes, and interacting with the monkeys. It had been almost a year since I last seen them, so catching up was extra special.
I also got to spend some more time with my cousin and aunt who drove up for a couple of days to see my new homestead. We had a nice lunch in downtown Lake Wales, followed by a tour of the area. We had also planned for having dinner back at the RV, followed by a nice campfire where we could make some S’mores and Banana Boats. Sadly, the weather did not cooperate, and the campfire got rained out. But it was great seeing them again. Thank you again for the visit, and for the wonderful RV Christmas decoration. It will be a focal point of this years decorations.
Lastly, I met up with my brother Gerry at my brother Don’s house over Thanksgiving. In lieu of cooking, we opted instead to celebrate Thanksgiving with a traditional dinner at the local bar/restaurant known as Archies. A family favorite restaurant, we got a nice dinner, albiet on paper plates with plastic dinnerware. Nothing fancy, but the food was good, and the contents complete and what you would expect to get for Thanksgiving. I was also able to do some troubleshooting with my brothers Internet service, and came to the conclusion that his modem/router needed to be replaced. I’ll take another trip down there later in the week to install the new device once the replacement arrives. Hopefully, that will help his inconsistent Internet access.
Downtown Lake Wales
The historic downtown of Lake Wales is blessed with many attributes – including several 100+ year old buildings of various architectural styles, many of which are on the national register of historic places. There is also a vibrant artsy element to downtown, including upwards of 20 murals painted on the sides of buildings throughout the town. These murals sometimes go through a refresh cycle, and one such refresh had just been completed. Gillian Fazio, a nearby Lakeland artist, was engaged to do the mural refresh. Heavy sponsorship from the Florida Natural company, and in recognition of central Florida’s significant orange production industry, the mural was designed to feature bold and beautiful oranges. I had the pleasure of stopping by a few times to check on progress, and to watch Gillian in action. She is undoubtedly a very talented artist, and the resultant mural certainly speaks to that talent. It turned out amazing!
While I was doing my due diligence learning about Lake Wales, I noticed several references to a vibrant and active community that featured several events throughout the year. Sadly, the Covid pandemic had shuttered many of those events, including the announced cancellation of nexts years annual Mardi Gras – their biggest event held each Feb. Other events, notably the bi-weekly farmers and craft market, and the monthly car show were two things I was looking forward to seeing. Luckily, just yesterday both of these events had returned for the first time since the pandemic began. The market was filled with many local artisans showing their wares. Later in the day, the car show kicked off with dozens of cool cars from muscle machines to hot rods to some just odd one-of-a-kind contraptions. Live music wrapped up the evening. It’s really great to see these events come back after so many months of downtime, and I look forward to visiting them again in the months ahead.
Lastly, I finally made the trip to Bok Tower Gardens. When my friend Joanne was here from Myrtle Beach, we spent an afternoon checking out this local and famous attraction. The gardens began in 1921 when a Dutch immigrant, Edward W. Bok, editor of the popular women’s magazine Ladies Home Journal and his wife, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, who would found the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in 1924, were spending the winter beside Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge and decided to create a bird sanctuary. Ultimately they created a 250 acre garden that features a 205 foot tall singing tower. The tower is built upon Iron Mountain, one of the highest points of peninsular Florida, estimated to be 295 feet above sea level. It is now a National Historic Landmark that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They have various garden sections which features a broad collection of local and national flora and fonna. The children’s garden was particularly well done as it featured many interactive activities for kids intermixed with the garden landscape. The kids were really enjoying it! The sining tower is a Carillon made up of 60 bells housed in a Gothic Revival and Art Deco tower. The bells are “played” by striking a keyboard—the stick-like keys of which are called batons—with the fists, and by pressing the keys of a pedal keyboard with the feet. The keys mechanically activate levers and wires connected to metal clappers which ultimately strike the bells. We were fortunate to catch a concert of a skilled player making beautiful music from the Carillon. He was in the tower playing, and we were outside watching him on a video monitor. I captured a short video clip from that concert below.
I realized recently that I had not told the story of how I ended up acquiring this HomeBase site. Kind of a funny story actually. I follow several RV Site for Sale groups on FaceBook, and back in Dec of 2019, there was a posting for a pull-thru site located in a community known as Saddlebag Lake Resort in Lake Wales, FL (pictured left – top half). I was not not really in the market to purchase at the time, but the pull-thru nature of the site intrigued me as that is not common for own-your-own sites. So, I did a bit of research on both the community and the local town of Lake Wales, and mostly liked what I saw. But again, I was not actually in the market, so I simply let it go. Fast forward several months and we are now in the midst of a pandemic, and I had to have eye surgery. Living in temporary accommodations during this time, not knowing when I might have to leave for someone else who has a reservation, was constantly gnawing at me. So, I looked back at the site that I kinda liked, and began to pursue it in earnest. After several conversations with the real estate agent, and upon completing my in-depth review of the community and area, I decided to put in an offer. Sadly the offer was rejected without the courtesy of a counter, so I was kinda in limbo. A couple weeks later, another site in the same community came up for sale. It was much larger, was free of any nearby neighbors, was beautifully landscaped, and included a brand new fully loaded shed. In the end, I was fortunate to have landed what I now know is one of the nicer sites in the entire community (pictured left – bottom half), but did so for significantly less than the ultimate selling price of the one that got away. So, I’m definitely feeling like I’m the winner this time!
I also wanted to give an update on some projects, and the ever growing bananas. I know have three full bunches of bananas growing from my plants, each having upwards of 40 or more bananas. Looks like I’m going to be making lots of banana bread and drinking lots of banana smoothies in the coming months. But thats ok, as it has been a blast watching these emerge and grow. Also, with the nice weather, I’ve been busy weeding and mulching the various landscape sections. I was not the one who designed and planted all of this, but I’ve assumed the duty for not killing it. So, I’ve been paying attention to it, trimming off the dead leaves, keeping the weeds at bay, and recently refreshing the soil with 25+ bags of mulch. I’ve still got the back sections to do, which will account for another 15-20 bags of mulch. Alas, the chores of homebase ownership seemingly never end!
After just rolling off of Thanksgiving, I’m thankful to have my family and friends, reasonable good health, and be blessed to now own and live on a wonderful and beautiful lot within a terrific community. I do look forward to getting back on the road and resuming my travels at some point. But in the meantime, life is pretty damn good here at the homebase. I’ll continue to work through my list of outside chores, share some campfires with family and neighbors, and enjoy the nice southerly weather that will embrace us for the next several months. I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, and a wonderful New Year. I’m sure we all share a common anticipation of what of 2021 will bring, and hope that the resumption of some normalcy of life will prevail. Till then, stay safe and safe travels!