Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Monday, May 22, 2017

Update on Cloud TV: I Fire Apple TV

At Sunset Shore RV Park, Willis, Texas...

I thought it would be a good idea to let you know that I have replaced the Apple TV receiver with one from Roku. To my surprise, the Roku suits me much better than the Apple, with all its vaunted hype, cool styling and cult following. I purchased the Roku Premiere for $89.95 at Best Buy, for the following reasons:

1) The main problem was that the Apple began to freeze up when Netflix was selected. I tried a dozen things, and it just stopped working. 2) I was also annoyed that Amazon Prime is not available. How arrogant, I thought, that Apple's little hissy fit with Amazon would keep their stream off the device. 3) I found the touch-sensitive Apple remote more frustrating than useful, as my fat fingers didn't always touch the part of the remote that would cause the appropriate selection to appear on the screen. I plan to hold on to the Apple TV set, though, as it serves admirably as a means to stream wirelessly with Airplay from my iPad to a television set. 

Here's what the new Roku box looks like:



While I'm on the TV subject, I'll go ahead and tell you of an outstanding mobile TV satellite service named Sats2Go (281-564-2828), located near Conroe, Texas and which serves the Houston area.  You may recall that, in my last post on this subject, I was bragging on my Direct TV service and the Winegard Trav'ler automatic dish that feeds it. I guess I never learn, because it has been my painful experience that when I refer to something as trouble-free, it will almost certainly make me look foolish by promptly breaking down. When we were recently in Port Aransas, the Trav'ler dish searched every corner of the obstruction-free sky overhead and simply refused to lock on to a satellite. Inside the coach, I looked at the little Winegard control box where the word "Searching..." remained illuminated, mocking me for my previous braggadocio. 

Upon returning to Sunset Shores, I gave Sats2Go a call and Dave, the owner, appeared a few days later, as arranged. Although not much of a schmoozer, Dave's knowledge of my system was nothing sort of encyclopedic. In a short time, he not only fixed the searching problem (a loose wire), but he rerouted and fastened some of the cables on the roof that had been left awry during the installation years ago. Then he turned his attention to the components inside the coach. With a flurry of activity and with wires and cables flailing around, he reconfigured my system to where it had more capability than when it was new! When he was finished, he handed me a couple of pieces of leftover switches and other components that he said weren't needed any longer in my setup. Apparently, the guys who did the original installation were not on their game, he said. To say I was impressed with Dave is an understatement. If you have problems--or you would like an equipment installation, give Dave a call at (281) 564-2828. I have put him on my list of favorite maintenance providers, linked on the home page of this blog.

Today was a cooking day for us. I fixed some 15-bean soup in a small slow cooker and fried up some hot water cornbread to go with it. Sandy made one of her famous chocolate cakes with roasted walnuts in the icing. 



We sampled both dishes and took most of the rest to the kids. They were so happy to get it. 

That's about it for now; thanks for stopping by!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.





Monday, May 15, 2017

Fulltiming and Friendships--Being "Out There"

At Sunset Shores RV Park, Willis, Texas...

We've just returned from attending a rally with some members of our Tiffin Bluebonnet Allegro owners' club in Port Aransas, Texas. We enjoyed being in the company of our friends in this club, all of whom share the common interest of our Tiffin motorhomes, the ownership of which is a requirement for membership. Since this is a relatively small chapter of the nationwide Tiffin Allegro Club, we have gotten to know each other quite well, and it's a pleasure to count them as our friends. Our meeting agendas are quite open and flexible, with plenty of time for our individual interests, usually coming together for an event or two each day. But most often, we find ourselves dining together. Yes, food is usually the common denominator; isn't it always?


Dinner at Fin's in Port A


Some of our group at a Mother's Day fete the next day
Chip takes a big bite of Blue Bell (and who can blame him?).
Okay, you get the picture. We're mostly older retired folks who like to have fun and fellowship without doing too much abuse to our bodies...that's already been done by decades of work, from which we escaped and aren't looking back.

Finally, this brings me--somewhat belatedly--to the theme of today's post: Fulltiming and Friendships. When people we meet find out about our house-free lifestyle, they generally ask some fairly predictable questions after the first one (which is usually a slight variation of, "You did WHAT?") One of those questions that follow is likely this one: "So what about the friends you've left behind?" We tell them that friends don't suddenly dematerialize when you go fulltime; you merely see them less often as you travel around the country. We do, however, make an effort to visit them whenever we are in their area; we think that's important. 

What the questioners also don't realize is that the fulltiming lifestyle becomes a facility for developing new friendships as we interface with others we meet along the way. If you've followed this blog for a while, you are probably aware of a number of friendships we have made--often by pure chance--merely by being "out there," my term for making ourselves available to interact with others. 

How to be "Out There"

Clubs. I've already talked about the friends we've made through our club, but these are but a few of them.

Blogging. Our blog has facilitated quite a few new relationships--often with other fellow bloggers whose posts we read and who read ours. If you are just beginning RVing, I hope you will seriously consider blogging as a means of keeping a journal of your adventures. I can't imagine the loss to Sandy and me if we hadn't had the good sense to start writing of our adventures from the very beginning eleven years ago. It's another way of keeping ourselves "out there."

Engaging others by being winsome.  'Winsome' is one of my favorite words. It is defined as being winning and engaging--making others want to know youStrike up a conversation with people about their RV, their house, their car, their kids or their pets--anything, really. This is a guaranteed effective way to get people talking about their favorite subjects: themselves. This doesn't work every time, of course, but the sourpusses who wave off your friendly greeting are doing you a favor by culling themselves out for you. Let them enjoy sucking their lemons; you'll probably find they are alone, and that may be their thing. Thankfully, such characters are rare in the RV world.

Social Media. With the advent of FaceBook, we find that we keep up with a number of our friends, including new ones, surprisingly well through that venue. In fact, we've reconnected with more friends via social media than we would ever have thought possible. 

Here's an object lesson that involves three of the above means of putting yourself "out there." It is the story of a couple of likely new friendships formed while we were at this very rally in Port Aransas; in fact, it was meeting these folks that gave me the idea to write this post about friendships among RVers, including those who may not be fulltimers. 

A couple of mornings back during the rally, I had stepped outside Phannie to give her windshield a good cleaning. I was removing the remains of several dozen lovebugs that had given their lives, unceremoniously splattered as they were on the vast expanse of Phannie's windshield. I'm guessing this was possibly because of the little critters' being distracted by their lovebug tryst that was going on at the time Phannie happened along. Yes, it's sad, but it was undoubtedly an exciting way to pass into lovebug heaven. The aftermath on the windshield was not pretty, however. 

As I was finishing my project, I noticed a black SUV driving slowly by in front of the coach. The driver, a smiling and pleasant-looking woman, rolled down the window and called out to me. I walked over and spoke to her, at which point she asked how I liked Phannie. (She was a smart lady; she already knew the tip above about engaging others.) 

In response to her question, I duly bragged on Phannie, and she said that she and her husband also have a Phaeton and that they, too, really like it. We talked a while longer, and she said she was interested to learn more about the Bluebonnet club when she learned I was a member. I invited her and her husband to attend all of our functions as a guest and assured her that she would find a friendly reception. Later, I sent her an email with a schedule of events, in which I reiterated our hope they would pay us a visit. The next morning, I called her on the phone to follow up on the invitation and, as we finished our conversation, she excitedly said that she just realized that I was the author of Phannie and Mae (which she learned from clicking on the blog link that appears at the end of all my emails) and gave me some entirely undeserved compliments, for which I was pleased, and I expressed my gratitude for her longtime readership. I couldn't help but smile; this was probably my fifteen minutes of fame, I thought.

The rest of the story is that Marcie and Ken showed up as we had hoped, and we found them to be very warm and friendly. Marcie is a retired schoolteacher, and Ken is an entrepreneur who make their home in Port Aransas:


Marcie and Ken

They must have taken a liking to our club members, as they have expressed a desire to join. High fives for us!

Normally, I would not blather on about a couple of nice folks who join our club, but my interaction with them is a perfect example of how a number of our treasured friendships got started for Sandy and me. In this case, the connection came for Marcie and Ken due to more than one means of being proactive: 1) exploring a club, 2) reading or writing a blog and 3) engaging others. One could say that making friends in the RV world is pretty much like everywhere else: Be friendly, engage positively with others and put yourself "out there"--as we have done in our club activities and our blog. 

It's kinda funny: We'll have to do a good bit of catch-up as we get to know Marcie and Ken better. The truth is, that through reading this blog, they know far more about us than we do about them. It'll be fun, though; they're folks who are easy to know and like.


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.


   

Monday, May 8, 2017

TV From the Cloud - We Catch the Wave

At Sunset Shores RV Park, Willis, Texas...

Before I get started on the techie stuff, I wanted to show you a photo that I really should have included in the previous post about flying. The problem is that I hadn't discovered it when I wrote that piece. I ran across it while going through some old stuff in our nearby storage unit, and I thought I would just include it here for posterity. It shows me in the right seat of a DC-8-73 in Portland, Oregon as I was checking out as a new first officer. This would have been in the summer of 1985. (Yes, my hair wasn't always gray.)



For some reason, I have very few photos taken in or around the airplanes I flew, an omission for which I often kick myself; I hope to find some more as I weed through thousands of family photos, something I should have begun way sooner. 

I loved flying the practically indestructible DC-8 (a quality I proved during my first few landings), and it is among quite a few airplanes I've flown that are now largely extinct, like the Lockheed Constellation, the DC-3 and the Boeing 727. Actually, I wouldn't take anything for having flown the old birds back then, when you really had to fly the airplanes rather than mostly monitor computers as we do today. 

One should not infer, however, that I don't appreciate modern airplanes and the virtues of cockpit automation. As in many other applications, the technological advances in airplanes have reduced pilot workload and human errors very significantly--so much so that the need for a flight engineer has been eliminated in modern airliners. Anything that has contributed so greatly to flying safety has my respect, for sure.

Okay, thank you for your indulgence; I'll move on to today's subject--TV from the cloud!

When we started RVing more than a decade ago, we knew that we were not going to be roughing it. We both enjoy modern conveniences too much to do anything that could be called "camping." This undoubtedly brings a sneer from those who truly enjoy the call of the wild, feeling the mud between their toes, the rain on their tent and the mosquito whelps on their extremities. We don't care if we are scorned for not being frontier types; that's not us and it never will be: Just give us 50 amps and full hookups, and no one gets hurt!

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that we have equipped Phannie with all of the state-of-the-art comforts we would have in a stick-and-brick house, like a king size bed, residential refrigerator, extra air conditioning, satellite TV and radio, computers and unlimited wi-fi. 

So, let's talk about the TV thing. For years, we have subscribed to Direct TV, the signal to which is provided by a Winegard Trav'ler automatic HD dish affixed to Phannie's roof. It has given great service, and we've been very happy with it. When we park the rig we merely push one button, and the dish goes to work finding its satellites completely on its own. This is really appreciated after having dealt with the frustrations of trying to aim a carry-out dish for a short while.

However, having taken note of the movement of TV broadcasting away from towers and cable and toward the Internet, we installed Apple TV in our stick-and-brick house. We really came to appreciate it because of the vastness of the offerings it enabled from the Cloud. We hadn't considered it for Phannie because of what has heretofore been the high cost of big data plans from the cell phone providers--until now, that is. 

It seems that when T-Mobile came up with its "unlimited" data plan recently, the dominoes began to fall, and all the major networks are now offering such plans at a reasonable cost. I scurried to the store and picked up an Apple TV for one of Phannie's sets and a Roku for the other. (The Roku was a good deal cheaper than the Apple.)

Apple TV (Arrow)


Installing the Roku was a snap--you just plug it into one of the TV's HDMI ports and the power cable to a nearby USB port, and you're done. The Apple TV set required some wires to be run and hidden, but that wasn't a big deal. Roku also offers an Apple-like control box available at extra cost.

The remotes look like this:


The Apple TV Remote

Roku Remote

The two systems are easy to operate, but the Apple remote took a little getting used to due to its use of a touchpad; we had to learn to use swipe gestures to move things around the screen. The Apple is clearly a well-designed product and elegant in its appearance, as are all things Apple. But the Roku remote is quite functional and required no learning curve.  Here's what the home screens look like:


Apple Screen

Roku Screen

One not-so-well-known curiosity is that subscribers to Amazon Prime TV will find no capability on Apple TV to access it. It seems that the rivalry between Apple and Amazon is sufficiently fierce that the two companies don't allow each other's apps on their hardware.  With Roku, there's no such problem.  There is a workaround for the Apple, but it is a bit wonky.  It involves the necessity of employing an IOS-based device to stream Amazon Prime shows onto Apple TV via Airplay. (I told you it was wonky.)

The key to watching current TV shows--including live ones--via the Internet is a subscription to Sling TV--a selection visible on both screens above. You can watch current and past episodes of just about all the TV shows you can imagine, and you can also record them from the Cloud. Amazing! The most popular Sling subscription is $25 a month.

I know we're not the first to have bought into cloud TV for RVs, and some of you may be way ahead of us, but that's okay; perhaps this will be informative for the folks who may be considering it or may not even have thought about it. By the way, an Apple TV will cost around $125 and the Roku box about $75; the Roku stick is about $30.

For now, we're going to keep our Direct TV service for the sake of having more choices. It will be nice, however, not to have to look for satellite-friendly sites all the time; we will undoubtedly be tucking Phannie beneath some cool shade during the upcoming summer months.

Unfortunately, the cost of such robust access to the Internet, cloud TV and satellite programming is not small change, and those who need to budget closely may question an outlay of several hundred bucks a month while they're "camping."  Well, we aren't camping; we're living as we wish, and we aren't really big spenders on other things. To each his own, I guess.

Okay, that's about it on all the gadgetry. We're headed to Port Aransas this week to another Tiffin owners' rally; that'll undoubtedly result in another post.

By the way, with summer approaching, you may need to replace some of your folding chairs. As far as I know, the 15% discount from www.strongbackchair.com is still available if you order with the code 'phannieandmae15.' (I don't get a kickback; I just like their products.)

Thanks for visiting the blog today!


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Time to Fly Again

At Sunset Shores RV Park, Willis, Texas...

After enjoying visits with friends and family in central Texas, we slipped into Burnet, Texas to attend the tail end of a rally of the Texas Bluebonnet Allegro Club, of which we are members. During these visits, we found a couple of restaurants that had to be added to our "best" list: The Best Quality Meats and Sausage Shop in Temple and Spykes BBQ in Kingsland. Not much to look at, but trust me...

From there, we motored down to our sort-of home park, Sunset Shores on Lake Conroe, where we tucked Phannie into a nice shady spot that only catches a few warm rays near sundown:



We got an enthusiastic welcome from the kids, especially the grandsons Mason and Pryce, who are willing beneficiaries of all the schemes we dream up to spoil them! Who knew you could have so much fun with grandkids? Why, we've developed ways to spoil them even when we're not here. They love to get surprises in the mail so, when we're traveling, we collect a few small things we think they'll like and send them a package every week or so.  Mindy is always thoughtful to send a video of their excitedly opening the packages, so it's almost like being there!  Thank you, sweetie, for being so considerate.

The rest of this post will probably be more meaningful to my pilot friends but, hopefully, others will find some interest in it. Several posts ago, I talked about having re-established my currency as a pilot after a 20-year absence from the cockpit and what fun it was to take the grandsons flying.  Now it was already time to fly again, so that was among the first things on my to-do list now that we're here. (The FAA requires pilots to maintain their currency by making at least three takeoffs and landings every 90 days if they are to carry passengers.) So this time, I thought it should be Sandy's turn to go along, as she remained behind during the first flights so the kids could all have a ride. I decided to take a short flight to Nacogdoches, my home town, to have dinner with John and Pat Sharp. John is perhaps my oldest friend, and we were best men at each other's wedding. It would be good to see these two again. 



There was also the nostalgia of returning to the airport where I learned to fly 54 years ago and where I hadn't landed an airplane since 1973. 

Isn't it funny how advancing age causes us to seek out the venues of our youth to relive the memories? In this case, my memories are good ones, but that's not always why we find ourselves going back, is it?  Soldiers often return to battlefields, for example, where the memories may be terrible ones. I think we do this partly for fun and partly as a means to affirm that all of our lifelong experiences--good or bad--have contributed to a life well lived and to seek some satisfaction that we may not have contributed all we did for others had we not had those experiences. 

Okay, I digress; enough with the amateur psychology.

I felt even more at home in the little Cessna this time as we climbed into smooth air above some scattered clouds. What was taking some getting used to was the maddeningly slow speed of the airplane. It was chugging along at an agonizing 110 knots, about one-fourth the speed of the jets I had been flying. I had to keep telling myself: "That was then; this is now. You're retired, and there's no need to hurry; just enjoy yourself." 

I also missed the autopilot which, in a modern jet, is a technological wonder. It flies the airplane much more precisely than a human can, so airline pilots go ahead and let it do just that most of the time. But then, hand flying this little airplane was sort of cool; it actually felt good returning to the basics, where one feels the immediate effect of a wind gust or a thermal pushing the little craft slightly out of its intended trajectory, followed by corrective control inputs from me. You should know this is much different from large aircraft that, because of their weight, speed and control input dampers, generally give a much more stable and comfortable ride for skittish passengers. In the little Cessna, I was really flying again, about as close to being a bird as man gets. Yes, I had come full circle.

According to ForeFlight, the air navigation app on my iPad, we had a 26-knot tailwind, so the flight turned out to be a really short one. It wasn't long until I was turning final approach to runway 18:



There was a gusty southeast surface wind, so the landing wasn't great, but serviceable. During the flight, I had been a little worried about Sandy, who hadn't done much flying in small airplanes in bumpy air, but she did fine--indeed, fine enough to take these photos.



Touchdown was just beyond the numbers above, for the first time in 44 years at my hometown airport!



Rolling out after touchdown--still holding the yoke into the left crosswind.



The photo above was taken upon engine shutdown at the ramp. I didn't know Sandy was going to take it, but the smile seems to say it all, doesn't it?  The caption for this might be something my friend Ed always says, "Life is good." 

After a fine dinner and plenty of conversation, we bade goodbye to John and Pat and hopped back in the airplane for a little longer flight back to Huntsville. The same wind that sped us up earlier now slowed us down for the return trip. However, we enjoyed the flight--this time beneath the clouds, so I could point out to Sandy familiar landmarks around my ancestral homeland. I was quite captivated by the air navigation software on my iPad that has done away with the need for the paper charts we always had to carry and continuously fold and unfold. It also made the old VOR and ADF receivers--in use for decades--seem ancient by comparison:



This photo of the iPad display was taken well after we landed, so the information about the airplane performance doesn't appear. If we had been airborne when the photo was taken, you would see a light blue pictograph of an airplane superimposed on the map--hopefully on or near the magenta line that indicates the planned route of flight. Of course, there are very sophisticated digital flight navigation and performance systems using GPS that can be professionally installed on airplanes if you have some rather serious cash to buy them. If you don't, this is the next best thing, for merely the cost of an iPad and a small annual fee to ForeFlight. I confess still to be fascinated with the breathtaking difference technology has brought to flying since I was in the cockpit.

Okay, that's enough with the flying thing for now, but we'll go aloft again in a few days, as the grandsons will be clamoring for another ride. I hope you non-aviators weren't too bored with this. 

We will be parked here on the shore of Lake Conroe for about ten more days, then heading to Port Aransas for another rally. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Trip Planning: Ditching the Maps

At Cicada Springs RV Park, Killeen, Texas...

After completing Phannie's work at Red Bay, we migrated back to the Dallas area for more of our never-ending medical checkups and then to our spot here in central Texas to visit friends and relatives.


Several posts ago, I mentioned that I had done a presentation on electronic trip planning and navigation at one of our rallies. Some folks mentioned that they would like for me to put some of the same info in one of these posts. Well, why not? 

I should mention that I have tried a new app or two since that rally presentation and found them to suit me better than some of the ones I touted then. It was during this most recent trip from Red Bay to Dallas that it occurred to me that I haven't used a paper map or road atlas in quite a long time. I'm not sure when I stopped, but they simply became unnecessary. 

Now, I must admit that I like gadgets--especially electronic ones--and I tend to trust them. Perhaps this is because of my years flying airliners when I had to rely solely on the cockpit instruments in front of me. On countless occasions, I had to fly the big airplanes down through the clouds and fog, seeing nothing but gray soup outside, trusting the instruments to guide me exactly to a point on the approach to the airport where I would finally catch sight of the runway only seconds before touchdown. (Things are different now--it is not uncommon for airplanes to land themselves in really low visibility.) If that doesn't build trust, nothing will. Having said that, I do not extend the same level of trust to off-the-shelf GPS systems for automobiles, having been led astray a few times. By and large, however, these are pretty reliable.

The revolution in electronic mapping for auto and RV drivers has, of course, extended to aviation. You don't see flight crews carrying around big bags of charts and maps any longer; these have largely been replaced by the iPad. I say, thank goodness; revising those charts used to be the bane of my existence--as it was for all professional pilots back in the day.

But, I digress. Let's get to the apps and websites:

If you've read this blog for a long time, you probably know that I am not much of a planner. That may seem odd for someone who had to use detailed flight plans for decades when flying airplanes, but that was then and this is now; I'm retired and not prone to doing anything that requires a lot of effort. There is so much information available on the Internet nowadays that it tends to make child's play of planning--if you have the right apps and websites. 

Some degree of planning is necessary, I've found, because there are more and more RVers chasing few new RV parking spots, so we have to make reservations more often than not. We also have certain standards for park amenities and cost, and some research is necessary to find a decent park and yet stay within a budget. Also, I want to know how many miles are in each driving leg; we don't like to drive more than about 250 miles in a day. Finally, I like to do some research on things to do and see when we arrive at one of our stops. And yes, there's an app for that!

If I have the time, I'll generally do trip planning on a PC at my desk in Phannie's living room. Then when we're on the road, I'll use the iPad to do the navigating and trip following, like in this setup:



So, let's talk first about the pre-trip planning that I do on my PC. When we decide on an itinerary, I bring up Good Sam's travel planner at http://trips.goodsamclub.com and begin entering the itinerary. (You have to be a Good Sam Club member to use the planner.)



This is the best trip planner I have seen so far, and adjusting the route is very easily done in the itinerary list on the left of the screen or by merely dragging the route line around on the map. You can tell at a glance the number of miles between each stop. Then, at each depicted stop, you can zoom in and take a look at all the nearby campgrounds, rated by Good Sam. They even rate the ones that are not Good Sam parks:



There are limitations to this app, however. Clicking on the buttons representing the individual parks doesn't give much information other than the Good Sam rating. To get more info, I like to take a look at Passport America (www.passportamerica.com) to see if there are any 50% bargains to be had among the local RV parks:



Clicking on the red teardrops takes me to more information about the discount parks, including the conditions under which they will grant the discounts. Then, if I would like to get some reviews on the parks, I'll pull up RV Park Reviews (www.rvparkreviews.com) to check out what others say:



If I want to include federal, state and municipal parks in the mix as another economical choice, I'll bring up Ultimate Campgrounds website (www.ultimatecampgrounds.com). In the photo below, I notice there is a state park right in the middle of Indianapolis. This might be worth checking out:



So, I click on the state park icon, and I notice that it is the Indiana State Fairgrounds with 170 sites; this might be a possibility:



If I'm still not convinced, I'll sometimes open Google Earth to get a buzzard's eye view. Here's a closeup of one of the state fair RV parking areas at Indianapolis:



On the other hand, if I'm looking for a high-end place with the best of facilities, I'll take a look in this very blog you're reading and click on the link "Best of the Best RV Parks." (Pardon the shameless self-promotion.) That will bring up a list like this:



You will notice that I have no high-end listings for Indiana. That doesn't mean there isn't one, but that I couldn't locate one that met my standards during my research for the list.

If I'm looking for a good place to eat, I'll open my own list, "Favorite Restaurants" (again, shameless self-promotion), linked on the Phannie and Mae blog:



I notice that I have no listings for Indianapolis (not a surprise, as I haven't been there to do any restaurant reviews), so I move on to Yelp (www.yelp.com): 


If I'm spending more than one night in Indianapolis, I might like to see some attractions, so Travel Advisor (www.traveladvisor.com) is a good source for that:




Well, that about does it as far as pre-departure planning goes. But I like to acknowledge that planning a trip is a very personal thing, so I'm just sharing the things I find myself doing. Now, if you're using some cool websites or apps for this purpose, please leave me a comment; I'd like to try them out.

Once I fire up Phannie to get on the road, I use my iPad for enroute mapping. My preference is to toggle between the InRoute app and the All Stays app, both of which are available from Apple. InRoute is good for mapping your route, keeping up with your position and doing a re-route when necessary. It also has a built-in GPS:



I like AllStays because it has an exhaustive display capability of anything you could think of that would be of interest to an RVer, including things like places to get propane or warnings of low bridge clearances, not to mention RV parks, Walmarts, truck stops, and a bunch of other stuff. Here's what the AllStays screen looks like for Indianapolis:



We will be leaving Killeen soon and heading to a Tiffin owners' rally near Lake Buchanan, Texas. Then we'll be spending some time at our sort-of home base park on Lake Conroe before heading north for the summer. Hang around and see where we end up--we haven't planned that one yet, but we have the tools when we do!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Working Through Phannie's List, A Day Trip and Small Town Values

At Red Bay Downtown RV Park, Red Bay, Alabama...

One thing is certain, whether you live in a stick-and-brick house or in an RV: Maintenance will always be required. It is perhaps more of a certainty in an RV, as it is a combination of house and vehicle, both of which require frequent attention. Fortunately, my insistence on following carefully a maintenance schedule for Phannie's engine and drive train has resulted in almost no problems in this area in nearly 50,000 miles. 

After Phannie's good bill of mechanical health at Bay Diesel, we have been concentrating on the "house" part of our bus. We've had some body work done to take care of some dents and scratches, and next will be some work on our awning and other minor things. 

There is no better place to get these things done than the little burg of Red Bay, Alabama, where the Tiffin factory is located.  There are perhaps a dozen ex-Tiffin employees who have set up little cottage industries of their own to take advantage of the overflow of Tiffin customers who return to the factory for service. With more than 80,000 Tiffin coaches having been built, there is almost always a wait for owners to get their coaches into one of the more than fifty maintenance bays at the service center. The spillover is a feeding frenzy for the local independent techs, who can usually see customers much more quickly than the factory shop.

Because Red Bay is such a small town, coach owners often help pass the time taking day trips into the surrounding area. Tupelo, Decatur and Muscle Shoals are not far away, and these places have all the amenities that could be expected of larger cities. (Red Bay doesn't even have a Wal-Mart.)

We decided to make a round-robin excursion to Decatur and Scottsboro, Alabama.  Decatur is a pleasant town of about 50,000 located on the Tennessee River, and I had long heard recommendations to try the fare at Big Bob Gibson's Barbeque. That would, indeed, be our first stop on the tour:




We were not disappointed. We ordered the Big Bob Gibson feast to share and, upon its delivery to our table by a very cheerful waitress, we both exclaimed at the same time that we couldn't possibly eat all of this!  Guess what--we were wrong! This was some seriously good 'cue, and it will go on our best restaurants list for sure. 

Afterward, we stopped at a local bakery, Mel's Sweet Treats, for some cookies that were to die for, and that place will also go on the list. 

Now, since our stop at Big Bob's was considered my treat, it was now Sandy's turn to make a choice of things to do. She chose the Unclaimed Baggage Center, about an hour away in tiny Scottsboro, Alabama: 



This is the one place in the country where all the unclaimed baggage of airline passengers goes to be sold to the public. Sandy had heard about it for decades, and she had always professed a desire to stop and take a look. Since I had had my Big Bob Gibson fix, I was most agreeable, and off we went to Scottsboro, about an hour away from Decatur. 

I'm not so sure Sandy was looking for a bargain so much as merely being curious as to what things airline passengers would leave behind--as it turns out, some really strange stuff. One of the employees told us that they had recently sold a $75,000 emerald ring for $36,000 and, when we were there, we saw not one, but two, suits of armor that passengers failed to pick up. I didn't even try to figure that out.



The place gave the appearance of a large department store and, as you might imagine, there was a huge amount of clothing on display, in addition to tons of cameras, laptops and other electronic gizmos.
We both decided that the outlet was slightly disappointing in that the prices being asked for the goods seemed quite a bit higher than we expected. That didn't seem to deter the customers, however, as the parking lots were full, and a constant steam of patrons were leaving the store with bags of merchandise. Sandy found a couple of never-worn items, including a pair of pants and some Teva flip-flops that she would bring home to son-in-law Tyler. This was apparently enough to satisfy the little shopping demon that sits on her shoulder, constantly whispering his nefarious temptations in her ear. I counted myself lucky.

It was a pleasant drive back to Red Bay and, upon returning, we remarked how being in this tiny town and its very rural surroundings was almost like being transported back in time to our own small home towns where we grew up in the innocent 50s and early 60s. It is a place that crime and violence haven't discovered--where few doors are locked at night and where the Ten Commandments are prominently displayed in a local cafe:


It is a place where everyone smiles and waves, and the postmaster remembers your name after a couple of visits. It is a place where the sheriff wears a tropical shirt and where you can buy ice on the honor system:












Fortunately, we got back to Red Bay after the 3:30 rush--when all the Tiffin employees leave work from the single factory shift, designed so that the workers can pick up their kids from school and have supper on time. Yes sir, it's a different world.

We'll be leaving here in a couple of days, making our way back to the D/FW area and all the madness that entails. We will miss our little town that time forgot.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Back to Red Bay - Phannie's Birthplace

At Red Bay RV Park, Red Bay, Alabama...

We decided this was as good a time as any to head for Red Bay and get some routine things taken care of on Phannie. She needed her annual service on her engine and genset, and the local facilities weren't too crowded yet, as it is yet a little early for the spring snowbird migration of Tiffin owners heading back north. If you own a Tiffin motorhome, it is only a matter of time until you make a pilgrimage to Red Bay, the tiny factory town just inside the state line in northwest Alabama. I won't go more into the Tiffin experience now, but you can read more about it from a previous post here.

Our first stop was at Bay Diesel, a local provider of motorhome engine and chassis service that has probably done more of these with motorhomes than, well, just about anyone. They still do business with the small town ethics that you would expect in the rural Bible belt, and I do not question anything they recommend as they do a thorough look at all the systems. 



Fortunately, Phannie came through with flying colors. All that was needed this time was the basic fluid and filter changes.

As luck would have it, we found out through the grapevine that a number of our Tiffin Bluebonnet club members were also in town with their coaches. Naturally, we did what we always do when we get together--eat! We trekked about ten miles south of Red Bay to Reeves Steak and Fish House, where we had a nice get together with our friends:


Club members in this photo (besides us) were Diane and Chip (near left) and Shirleen and Hank (near right). Members Richard and Patsy were there, but Richard was taking the photo and Patsy is visible just beyond Sandy. Friends Lynn, Ed, Art and Gerry also joined us.
The next evening, we motored over to Tupelo and had dinner at Mt. Fuji Hibachi Restaurant, where we had a very entertaining chef:


From left: Patsy, Sandy, Diane, Chip, Richard and Moi. 
We brought back enough leftovers from this place for another meal. Lucky us!

The national Tiffin Allegro owners' club has a rather robust constellation of local area chapters across the country. There are several in Texas, and joining the Bluebonnet club has provided us with some very special friendships with people who have a common interest. If you enjoy the social aspects of RVing, then maybe an owners' club is something you would enjoy.

On a rainy Saturday, Sandy had the idea that she needed to organize the storage cabinets above the couch in Phannie. These had become a bit of a rat's nest in more than a year of fulltiming, and she managed to redo the contents in such a way that we ended up with a bunch of extra space. Fortunately, one of the hallmarks of a Tiffin motorhome is the company's dedication to providing massive storage space, but there is a downside in that stuff gets pushed to the back that really should have been thrown away. Sandy made short work of this, and I found myself making a couple of trips to the dumpster. Oddly, she actually enjoys organizing things, God love her; it's just that they don't always stay organized when I'm around. 



We will be in Red Bay a few more days as we take care of some more minor service items, then we'll be making our way back to the Dallas/Fort Worth area for routine doctor visits. After that, we'll be heading to Conroe to see the kids:


Perhaps I should mention that you can still get a 15 percent discount on any Strongback chair by going to http://www.strongbackchair.com and using the code "PhannieAndMae15" when you order. 



Just so you'll know, I don't get a kickback from Strongback; I just like their chairs because of their good back support.


Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Branson

At KOA Branson, Branson, Missouri...

We've had a great week in Branson with our friends, Bubba and LouAnn and Harvey and Mary Lou. We took in a three-day series of gospel concerts, followed by attending "Moses," an amazing live show at the Sight and Sound Theater. If you've never seen a production at this venue, it would be worth your while just to witness this visual extravaganza, the likes of which I had not seen before. 




After our friends left to go back to Texas, Sandy and I got tickets to a musical show, "Number 1 hits of the 50s and 60s."


This was another fine show with some very talented performers. It was neat to be transported for a while back to the popular music of our youth, done so well as it was. We couldn't help but notice that the 50s music now has a much smaller presence in the theaters than it did when we started coming here 20 years ago. I guess time doesn't wait for the bobby-sox generation either, does it?

We've decided to head over to Red Bay soon to get Phannie's annual drive train service done along with some other mostly cosmetic things that need attention. More on that later.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I don't appreciate it enough each day.