Singing Christmas Trees
(October 22, 2005 to January 1, 2006)

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It has been a while since the last travelog. Given that these travelogs also serve as a documentary of our life on the road, I'll summarize our path since we left off in Fairfield Glade, Tennessee in the last travelog.  Then we'll start off with a new travelog for 2006.

As we usually do in the Fall, we headed to the Atlanta area and parked the motorhome in daughter Jill's driveway for a couple of weeks where we got to visit with kids and grandkids, as well as take care of doctor and dentist visits. The Newmar fulltimers chapter was having a rally at Stone Mountain, which we opted to skip due to our wanting to take care of everything we had to do in Atlanta and then head to Ocala to visit with my mom and help her with some items that needed to be taken care of. We did, however, get to hook up with the two couples with whom we plan to journey to Alaska: Karl and Fran Winckel, and John and Roberta Hirth. We met at a Macaroni Grill about half way between Douglasville and Stone Mountain and had a great meal and visit while chatting about going to Alaska. We now have a name for our three motorhome caravan:  Team Alaska.

We got to visit with some former neighbors, Ron Tarlton and Alan Rosenfeld, and a dear friend from the church we used to attend when we lived in Marietta, Dave Kukielski.

With our visit and tasks completed in Atlanta, we drove down to Ocala to visit with my mom. We booked into the Ocala Ranch RV Resort for a month. We were away for six months so there was a lot to talk about and several things to tend to, such as helping her with this Medicare Prescription Drug thing. What a mess. I can see why old folks are confused about it given all the choices they have. While in Ocala we did lots of movies, chores, took my mom out to eat, and got to golf a couple of times. One of the things we have done every January we have been on the road was to attend the Tampa RV Supershow. We won't be there January 2006 because we'll be out west. That meant our annual visit to see my Aunt Mary and cousin Jay in Tampa wouldn't happen in January. So I suggested that we drive over one day from Ocala to visit and that would give my mom a chance to visit with her sister. We had a nice lunch and then stopped over to see Jay on the way back to Ocala.

We are always in Ocala visiting with my mom for Thanksgiving. Usually, we take her out for a Thanksgiving meal, but this year Jill, Tonya, April, and Richard decided to drive down from Atlanta for the weekend.  I told my mom that the kitchen belonged to Jill and Diane and it was her day off to just relax and enjoy the company.  My mom invited her dear friends and neighbors, Walt and Evilyn and we had a very nice day. The day after Thanksgiving we went to see the new Harry Potter movie and then everyone came over to the campground where we cooked out. Another nice day.

We got to visit with some RV friends while we were in Ocala. Bill and Martha Verity, RV fulltimers, were staying at the Escapees park in Bushnell. They drove up one day and the four of us went to play golf at Marion Oaks and then out to eat. John and Sue Churn used to be RV fulltimers, but now live south of Jacksonville. They loaded up their Dutch Star and drove over to Ocala for an overnight. We went out to eat and had a nice visit. It continues to be a great perk of our lifestyle to be able to visit with so many friends we make on our journey.

We always like to stay in the Orlando area when we are in Florida, so we made sure we allowed for a week down there before heading up to Atlanta for Christmas. Our favorite park in that area is the Encore park on Rte 192. We have stayed there every year for a week or two, and we have twice spent longer periods (two months one time, three months last winter). To be sure we had a site for the winter, we left a deposit when we left in the spring, but needed to cancel it when we knew that we would positively be heading out to Arizona. Unfortunately, we did not stay at the Encore park this time. When I called to make a reservation, I found out they were charging $252 for a week and that is just outrageous. The most we have ever paid for a week was $180 and that would be my upper limit unless there was no other choice. We did have a choice and we went to the Citrus Valley Campground on US 27 a few miles north of 192. Is that campground as nice as the Encore park? No, but all we needed was a place to park the rig for a week. Plus, Citrus Valley had FREE WiFi, whereas the Encore park still hasn't installed a WiFi network, which won't be free if they ever get it installed. The Encore park was not anywhere near full, so I figure they lost $180 in revenue. The monthly rates are still pretty reasonable, so we'll definitely go back to the Encore park for long term stays, just not for a weekly stay.

Our annual Disney World passes were about to expire and we wanted to go there one more time. Epcot is our favorite park so that's where we went. It's no secret that we are unabashed Disney lovers, so we set up the motorhome and made a beeline for Disney World's Epcot.  We had to try the new ride they were building when we were there last winter.  It's called Soarin and simulates being on a hang glider.  I can see how they give you the feel of up and down and dipping and rising, but I couldn't figure out how they managed to simulate increases and decreases in speed.  Pretty cool ride.  There was a 90 minute wait, so we got a Fast Pass and came back at 6 pm and got in quickly.

In the meantime we went to see our favorite movie in the France pavilion and watched the groups perform in the UK and Morocco pavilions (including a belly dancer who can really move).  We always seem to migrate to Japan for sushi and had a great sushi lunch.  We were lucky to get to the American pavilion just as the Christmas show was starting.  What a show.  There was a 50 piece orchestra and something like 400 people in the choir.  They had celebrities narrate the Christmas story and it was Cicely Tyson who was finishing up her three day stay.  Part of the show was a candlelight procession by the choir down to the stage.  It was an excellent show that concluded with the Halleluah chorus that always generates emotion when I hear it.

After the show, we took the monorail to check out the decorations at the hotels over near the Magic Kingdom.  The nicest was the Grand Floridian with a tree that was at least four or five stories tall.  What an elegant hotel that is.  The weather was cool, but we had a great afternoon and evening.  It was the slow season, but I was surprised at how many people were there.  Aren't all those kids supposed to be in school during the week so us old retired folks can have the parks to ourselves?  ;-)

Also while in the area we got to visit with my cousin Dawn to talk about the upcoming dual singing Christmas tree performance that she is part of in the choir. We also got to visit with Earline and Ray Greer to chat about their journey to Alaska last summer. We got some good tips and information to use for our journey this coming summer.

When we moved to Marietta in 1982 we had never seen or heard of a singing Christmas tree.  We saw an ad in the local paper and decided to take the kids and check it out.  The performance was a single Christmas tree populated with a choir and was held at a large Baptist church less than a mile from where we lived.  It was beautiful and we got hooked.  We did the show, which was a different story each year, for the first four or five years we lived there.

My cousin, Dawn, who lives in the Orlando area has been in the choir at First Baptist in Orlando for 15 years.  It started out in 1980 as a single tree in a small downtown church, but expanded to two huge trees when they moved to a gigantic complex out along I-4 towards Disney World.  Dawn asked us to try and come to a performance, but we were never in the area.  This year we were, so we got tickets and took my mom to see the show. 

The stage showcases two 40 foot structures comprised of 300 choir and orchestra members and more than eight miles of light strings.  The two structures become brilliant symbols of the season when decorated with greenery, more than 250,000 "dancing" lights and over 250 "singing ornaments" (the choir members!).  It was fronted by a 50 piece orchestra.  What we saw was the final performance of the final season of the Singing Christmas Trees because they were retiring the trees after a 25 year run and coming up with something new for next Christmas.  I could feel the sadness of the locals in the audience and the pastor as they said good-bye to their Singing Christmas Trees.  The performance was excellent.  Unfortunately, I forgot my camera so I don't have any photos of the trees.  You can click "here" for a link to the website, although I don't know how long the site will be active.  My apologies if you find this travelog at a point where the link no longer works.

Although we are fulltimers and away from family much of the year, the one thing we aren't yet ready to do is to be away from grandkids  during the Christmas season. We packed up the motorhome and headed north to Atlanta. We stopped for a couple of nights in Lake City to visit with Diane's brother, Jerry and his wife Jan. They take care of an adorable little granddaughter named Angel. We arrived at Jill's place on December 15. We still had several doctor visits to take care of before the end of the year and some Christmas shopping to be completed.

A former colleague of mine in Atlanta, Carolyn Green, suggested we get together for lunch. We hadn't seen each other since before I retired in 2000. Carolyn and I worked together for several years. She is one of my favorite people that I have ever worked with. Smart and funny and very easy to get along with. It was a pleasure to work with her. We met at a Friday's for lunch and had a great visit but, like all visits after so many years, the time went by so quickly and there was still so much to talk about and catch up on. I guess that will wait for another lunch date.

Christmas came and went before we knew it and it was time to head out for our 2006 journeys. The first stop was the Rainbow Plantation Escapees park in Summerdale, Alabama where we hooked up with Norm and Linda Payne. If you've been following our travels you remember them from the 2003 tour of the Maritimes and Newfoundland when we traveled for ten weeks together. In 2006 we planned to travel for about eight weeks together as we headed west to do the Newmar rallies in Quartzsite, Arizona and Puerto Penasco, Mexico. More on that in the next travelog.

We pulled out of Rainbow Plantation on December 29 for a two day drive to the Rainbow's End Escapees park in Livingston, Texas, which is home for the Escapees RV Club. We wanted to be there for New Years Eve and to allow time to visit with Mark Nemeth who we hadn't seen for several years. Mark took a job with the Escapees RV Club and had settled into life in Livingston. Kirk and Pam Wood were there and parked right behind us. That was fortunate because Kirk has a satellite internet dish that he shared with us. We all had a nice evening at one of the two parties going on New Year's Eve. On New Year's Day we all went over to visit Mark at his house. He showed us how he brews his own beer and we had a beer tasting party all afternoon. We tried four different beers, all of which were very good, but I was partial to the lager. He also makes his own mead wine made from honey. Mark told us it is thought to be the first alcoholic beverage discovered when honey was left to age and it fermented. The Romans called it ambrosia. I found it quite delicious, like a dessert wine.

Ted and Donna Rogers live in The Woodlands, which is north of Houston and we made plans to drive down there to visit with them.  Diane and I had met them when they were in Florida.  After taking in a movie (Chronicles of Narnia), they gave us a tour of the area and then we went out for an early dinner at the Alpen House German restaurant. The Woodlands is a very nice area with several nice golf courses, and lots of restaurants and shopping. We had a very nice visit with the Rogers and look forward to crossing paths with them out on the road sometime.

Diane and I had a great time in 2005 as we toured the Pacific Northwest and went to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.  We are looking forward to 2006 and the exciting journey to Alaska.

Until next time, safe travels.....

Copyright © 2006, Roaming America with Rich & Diane Emond - All Rights Reserved

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