Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Rally Before We Head to the Valley

At Llano Grande RV Resort, Mercedes, Texas...

It's always a little sad to leave the kids to continue our peripatetic lifestyle, but this time it was quite a bit more difficult, as we had been on hand there near Conroe for almost three months--the longest time we have had an uninterrupted stay at a single location since we began fulltiming. We enjoyed lots of exciting times, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, Pryce's birthday and Mindy's graduation from nursing school--all of which were family events that we wouldn't have missed. We had the additional advantage of a relatively warm location to spend most of the winter in a nice park on the shore of Lake Conroe. We had only one cold spell where the temperature sank below freezing, but most of the time, not even a light jacket was needed. 

After so long immobilized, hitch itch had begun to set in, and the road definitely beckoned to us. We had signed up to attend a rally in Victoria held by a Tiffin owners club of which we are members. We found ourselves a bit clunky in getting our normally clockwork-like pre-departure prep done, as we were a little rusty. We were slowed somewhat by the need to take some things back to storage that we found had sort of migrated into the coach. We didn't exactly remember when this happened, but we must have been the culprits, as the items certainly wouldn't have climbed aboard by themselves! When fulltiming, it's very easy for excess 'stuff' to get out of hand, so we have to be diligent in keeping only the things we need. In a small space, things get cluttered quickly.

Arriving at the KOA near Victoria, we had a good time with club friends. Among the highlights was a visit to Art and Shirley Buckert's new 'barndominium'--a beautiful RV port built out on their land a short distance from town. I didn't have the presence of mind to take a photo, unfortunately.

Here is the row of Tiffin coaches belonging to rally participants:

We did lots of visiting and dining, things at which we seem to be professionals. One of the more popular activities was 'tech talk,' hosted expertly here by Chip Jennings:

Some of the members made the short trek over to Goliad to see what we could find at the local trade days market. In this shot, I can see various parts of Chuck, Ronnie, Sandy, Fran, Chip, Diane and Cathy.

I found some good salsa and homemade pickles that I just had to have.

It would not be difficult to conclude from this that I am fond of spicy food, and you would be right. These pickles were really spicy (and really good).

On the last evening, Shirley arranged for us to occupy a Victoria restaurant to enjoy a prime rib dinner prepared just for us. We felt pretty important, and the food was delicious! Thanks, Shirley! And thanks, co-host Fran! 

After an uneventful drive, we arrived here at Llano Grande on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, where the temperature was 84 degrees.

As we changed into cooler clothes, we saw on TV that winter storm warnings were being issued for the east coast of the U. S. 

Pity, we thought.

We'll be meeting friends Ed and Marilyn in a couple of days for a trip across into Mexico. That'll be a fun time for sure.

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

Monday, February 6, 2017

And...We're Off!

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

The day finally came for the grandsons and their parents to go for an airplane ride with "Poppy." (I'm not sure they know my real name any longer, and that's fine with me.) Daughter Mindy had flown with me years ago, but it was in a DC-9, and I'm not sure she remembered the experience very well. This was also the first time in a small airplane for son-in-law Tyler and the boys. Up until now, their knowledge of their grandad as a pilot was merely anecdotal and through seeing photos of me dressed in a pilot's uniform or showing views of the airplanes I flew.

We all showed up at the sleepy little Huntsville airport, and I got a big kick out of how the boys had dressed for the flight. Little Pryce was in a little junior pilot's uniform, and Mason was wearing one of my decades-old pilot's caps that I had given him. Apparently, they were really getting into this, much to my delight.

The line personnel brought the Cessna to the terminal ramp, and I went out to preflight it, after which Mindy and the boys came out to get strapped in.

When it was Pryce's turn to sit in the copilot's seat, he insisted on reading the checklist, because I had told him that pilots are supposed to use checklists so as not to overlook something important.

After all was ready, we fired up the engine and taxied to the runway end, where we made the engine runup and I asked the boys to help me look for other airplanes that might be approaching for a landing.  (There was no control tower at this airport.) Seeing no other traffic, I advised on the radio that we were about to depart, and then we lined up on the runway and took off with a roar. I had prepared Mindy and the boys for the engine noise which, compared to the airliners I had been flying, was formidable. (In a 727 with the engines far back in the rear, the sound of the engines is almost inaudible in the cockpit.)  

Here we are, climbing away from the airport on the first takeoff:

Remaining at low altitude for good sightseeing, I was a little apprehensive that my passengers might be affected by the slightly bumpy air, to which small aircraft are much more susceptible than large ones. Luckily, no one had a problem at all, and they were all transfixed by what the ground looked like from the air. I pointed out various landmarks to them, and they seemed completely enthralled by the experience, just as I had hoped. 

We didn't stay up but a half hour on each of two flights. We had to land and let the boys change seats about halfway through. Once airborne, I let Mason hold the yoke on his side for a brief time to give him a feel of it, but he quickly turned it back to me after a stronger-than-usual wind gust jostled us a bit. But that's okay; he flew long enough to have bragging rights among his school chums, something of which he took full advantage, I later learned. Tyler took Mindy's place on the second flight, and he seemed to enjoy the experience, too.

After about an hour, we returned to land; no one was worse for wear and there were smiles all around. Mission accomplished!

What a great experience this was for all of us! I don't know whether this flight or future ones will have any influence on my grandsons now or later in life, but I'm glad I could be the one to take them for their first flight in a small airplane. For me and for them, this was a promise fulfilled, and I suppose I am now not merely Poppy but, in their admiring eyes, a living legend to boot. I couldn't possibly be happier.

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

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Yes, It's Like Riding a Bike

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

After getting our seat belts fastened and getting comfortable with the cockpit layout in the Cessna, I looked over at Wayne and said, "Are you ready?"

He gave a thumbs up, and I turned the key in the ignition (yes, it starts just like a car). The four-cylinder Lycoming engine started right up, and I was soon taxiing a bit jerkily toward the runway at Huntsville. When taxiing in most light airplanes, steering on the ground is controlled through use of the rudder/brake pedals. In the large jets I had been flying, steering on the ground is done by using a small steering wheel, called a tiller, located on the forward left console near the captain's knee. For the first few minutes, my turns in the Cessna were a little late because I was instinctively reaching near my left knee for the nonexistent tiller when I wanted to make a turn. I quickly corrected the error, though, and I found myself taxiing straight and smoothly after that.

The takeoff was certainly different, as the little Cessna was ready to fly within seconds after throttling up to full power, and its takeoff speed was about a hundred knots slower than the 727's. We used only a few hundred feet for the takeoff roll, while I was accustomed to using the better part of a mile of runway in the big airplane.

After stabilizing in the climb, I was gratified and relieved that my sense of familiarity with this little airplane came rushing back. After all, I had flown almost a thousand hours in these light single-engine types many years ago before moving up to multiengine airplanes and jets, so the Cessna and I weren't really strangers. Wayne directed me to a sparsely populated area north of the airport, where I performed the customary maneuvers that I remembered from the past, including steep turns, slow flight and stalls. Perhaps because of all the time I had spent in my career flying solely by reference to instruments--necessary to attain the precise control of a high performance aircraft--my accomplishment of these maneuvers was nearly perfect. My confidence level was increasing rapidly, and Wayne soon advised me that I didn't need to spend any more time on this part of the check. 

We flew back to the airport then to practice some landings with different flap settings, including zero flaps. (Flaps are movable panels attached to the trailing edge of the wings that can be extended into the slipstream by the pilot to increase lift and drag, allowing for a lower airspeed for approach and landing.) 

My first landing was a bit unsteady because I found myself flaring the aircraft a bit too high above the runway. This was something I had sort of expected because the cockpit of an airliner is usually around 15 or more feet above the ground while the little Cessna's is less than three feet. The rest of the landings turned out fine, as I quickly made allowance for the discrepancy. For each landing, however, I purposefully reminded myself while crossing over the end of the runway about the need to concentrate on the new lower landing view perspective. I'm sure that will not be necessary as I do more flying.

As on takeoff, the approach to landing was performed about 100 knots slower than in the 727, plus the landing technique involved pulling the Cessna's engine power all the way to idle, allowing the airplane to settle slowly onto the runway. This was much different from a jet airliner, which requires carrying significant thrust from the engines until the moment of touchdown. The airplane is literally flown onto the runway under power at a precise pre-calculated speed, based on the weight of the aircraft and other performance factors. The little Cessna, by comparison, was more like a leaf slowly settling to the ground underneath a tree. 

After several landings, we taxied back to the ramp and secured the airplane. As we were walking to the terminal, I asked Wayne if he thought I needed some more time with an instructor. He turned toward me with a feigned annoyed look and said, "Give me a break." Inside, he signed off my logbook and said, "I'll see you in a couple of years." I guess that answered my question.

And so it was over. It was, indeed, like riding a bike; I suppose you never forget. But just for good measure, I'll be doing a bit more flying before taking the grandsons along. 

This was also a bit of a wistful time for me. So many memories came rushing back of an exciting and rewarding avocation. I found myself enjoying this new adventure but missing the satisfaction of exercising the skills carefully developed in mastering an awesome flying machine like an airliner. It's okay, though; the memories are good ones, but I wouldn't trade for this best time of my life.

More to come, y'all. Keep your seat belts fastened and your tray tables in the upright position.

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


Friday, February 3, 2017

Returning to the Sky: First Things First

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

After making up my mind to get recurrent as a pilot, I had to get a medical certificate from an FAA-designated physician. Because of some old medical issues, that took a bit longer than I had anticipated. I had to undergo a few extra tests, but eventually, I was judged pretty healthy for an old guy. In possession of the required document from the flight surgeon, I decided to go to a rural airport to do the required flight check. That's the kind of sleepy airport where I learned to fly, and I thought it would be neat to recapture that bit of nostalgia. I had been flying in and out of very busy metropolitan airports for most of my career, and returning to my roots would be a treat, I thought.

I arranged to fly with a young local instructor named Wayne at the Huntsville, Texas airport in a rented Cessna 172. He would be responsible for conducting my Biennial Flight Review. (This is the FAA nomenclature for a general aviation pilot's required flight check with an instructor every 24 months to retain qualification.)

The airplane to be used was a single-engine, high-wing model that I hadn't flown in 50 years. Before we went outside for a preflight inspection, Wayne asked what my previous flying experience had been, and I related to him my flight time and that I had been flying large commercial jets. He paused for quite a while, then he turned to look at the little Cessna in front of us. He then looked back at me, saying, "And you want to fly that?"   

I explained that I had retired from commercial flying about 20 years ago, but that now I wanted to be able to fly for fun and take my grandsons flying. Wishing to put him at ease, I also told him that I had no illusions about how rusty I might be and that he should assume nothing as we went forward. I told him I would follow his lead, and he would not have to worry about my being a know-it-all.

He asked to see my pilot and medical certificates, and he stared for a while at my Airline Transport Pilot license and the string of type ratings listed thereon. (Pilots who fly large aircraft require on their certificates special endorsements, known as "type ratings," for each airplane type flown.)  

This is a sample of a pilot certificate issued today. It is made of plastic and is about the size of a credit card. Type ratings, if any, would be listed on the reverse side. Private Pilot certificates are the most common, followed by Commercial Pilot and then Airline Transport Pilot:

This is a copy of the first pilot certificate, issued in 1927 to a William P. McCracken. He looks pretty happy, doesn't he? It's a shame we don't have photos on today's certificates; I would be tempted to wear goggles, too!

Above is license number one. Since 1927, around five million have been issued. Of these, about 800,000 are active now in the U.S. Doing the math, about one person in 400 is a licensed pilot. About one in 4,000 holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate.

"I haven't seen a certificate number as low as yours in quite a while," Wayne said. 

"That must mean I'm getting on up there," I replied.  (My pilot certificate was issued 53 years ago. Seventy-five percent of all pilot certificates have higher registration numbers.)

Seemingly satisfied, he motioned toward the airplane and said, "Well, let's go see how much you remember."

I should mention that I had done a good bit of online familiarization with the Cessna's flight manual and checklist beforehand, so I knew pretty well what to expect in terms of systems, numbers and limits that I would need. In doing so, I was struck by the relative simplicity of this information. Having had to spend weeks learning a massive amount of incredibly complex data about the jet airliners I flew, the little booklet-sized Cessna manual seemed almost infantile by comparison. (You should know that today's airliners are much easier to learn and operate, because so many of their systems are automated. The old airliners I flew had almost no automation, relying more on the knowledge and skill of the pilots who, as humans, were occasionally subject to error. For that reason and others, flying is a good deal safer today.) Even though the Cessna information was simple, I paid attention anyway; when you're flying an airplane, there's no such thing as too much information about the machine you're operating.

Wayne took me through a thorough preflight inspection, and I found that little had changed from the preflights I remembered from my past association with small airplanes. It certainly wasn't complicated, but it occurred to me that it had been decades since I had conducted an exterior preflight. In the larger airplanes I had been flying, these 'walkaround' inspections were usually done by the flight engineer or first officer. 

Satisfied with the preflight, Wayne and I settled into the cockpit, which was WAY smaller than I remembered. Since neither of us is exactly skinny, we found ourselves quite close and personal. Fortunately, both of us seemed pretty fresh in the hygiene department. I pulled out the checklist and began to locate all the controls, switches and gauges that I would be needing. This was almost child's play after the layout of my old 727. See the comparison below:

Well, that's enough for now; more on this saga in future posts. Stay tuned!

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth Again...After Twenty Years!

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

The title above is borrowed in part from a line in John Gillespie Magee's sonnet, "High Flight," --perhaps every pilot's most revered piece of aviation-inspired literature. Magee's piece is without equal in its capture of the essence of a pilot's perception of what it means to defeat the gravity that binds us to earth and instead to soar in the realm of eagles where we humans were never intended to go.

Flying was like that for me, and it is, I think, for most pilots. My pilot friend and fellow blogger Ed Dray, whose e-book, "My Journey to the Clouds" I had the privilege to edit, certainly thinks so, as "High Flight" was prominently mentioned therein. (Ed's book is a good read; order it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.)

I was about eight years old--the age my grandson Mason will turn in a few months--when my parents paid for me to take an airplane ride at the local airport in the tiny town of Center, Texas. I was immediately hooked, and I knew from that moment that I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up. It became an obsession, so much so that it resulted in my obtaining a commercial pilot's license before even graduating from high school. It also allowed me to have a rewarding career in which I was paid for doing something I might have done for free.  (Well, not really, but you get the idea.) Some 15,000 flight hours later, I retired from flying at the age of 49; my last flight was as captain of a Boeing 727 like the one below.

Another career followed, this time with the FAA, and I didn't have an occasion to fly as a pilot again--until now, 20 years later. While camped here near my grandsons, I thought it might be a cool thing for their grandfather to take them flying. Since I'm already a licensed pilot, I need only to reestablish currency, a relatively minor undertaking that I've already begun. Even with all my training and experience, I confess to a little apprehension: Will it come back to me after all these years, like riding a bike? We'll see; this is the airplane to be used. What a change from a 727!

It was a beautiful day here on the gulf coast of Texas, so I tossed some pork chops on the Weber Q and glazed them with mango ginger habanero sauce for dinner. They were just some good!

More on this new adventure in later posts.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Fulltiming: One Year Under Our Belt

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

It seems like standard procedure for fulltiming bloggers to submit a blog post to mark their first year in the lifestyle, so who am I to break with that tradition? Here we go:

On mornings when Sandy and I sit around the kitchen table--or outside, if the weather is nice--we can't help but do some reminiscing. We think often about how we both arrived at the unlikely notion that selling the custom retirement home we built and hitting the road in Phannie was compelling enough an idea that we went ahead and pulled the trigger. We also laugh when we think of the expressions on the faces of our friends and family when we announced the decision:

But we didn't care. Now that we're (much) older, we've found that what others think of us occupies practically none of our stream of consciousness. Good riddance, I say.

I thought the best way to gain quickly some perspective on this year is to look back through this blog at where we've been and what we've experienced. From wintering in the Rio Grande Valley to summering in Colorado, from Santa Fe to Red Bay, from Mexico to Missouri, from Pikes Peak to Port Aransas--oh my, the good times we've had and the good friends we've visited! If I had to reduce the experience to only one word, it would be...freedom! Freedom to roam when and where we wish, freedom from work, freedom from house upkeep and home security worries, freedom from housing confinement and expense...well, you get the picture. 

It will come as no surprise, then, that we still give two thumbs up to this gig. We still feel as though we've discovered a way to cheat the system by shamelessly enjoying all of these epic life adventures without the humdrum downside that most housebound people have to endure. Do we feel guilty? Not at all; we worked long and hard for this, and we're supremely grateful for every additional day God gives us to enjoy it. We're also realists, though. We know we have a window of opportunity to do this--a window that will one day close. Having made the most of that opportunity, however, it is comforting to know that we will not have the regret of not having taken the plunge at all. We are, indeed, living the dream.

We will soon be leaving our fall/winter retreat here on Lake Conroe:

We'll be making our way to the Rio Grande Valley to our other winter hangout near Mercedes, Texas:

Yes, I know that's not Mae in the photo above. We usually tow the Escalade (named Beulah) to the Valley, as it is roomier for our friends there who often accompany us as we roam around the area.

So what's the next best thing to living our fulltiming life? It's having had the good fortune to record it all in this blog, so we can relive it any time we wish. We hope you've enjoyed the journey with us.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Ravages of Hitch Itch: A Taste Test of Fake Chili

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

When I stay in one place for a long time, as we have done here near Houston, 'hitch itch' begins to set in, and it seems to do strange things to my otherwise stable (I think) stream of consciousness. For example, I had the notion the other day that I needed to investigate fake chili from the supermarkets to determine which brand tastes best. Now that's not something that pops into my head every day. 

I suppose it's because I posted recently about how I cook chili, saying that I usually throw in a can or two of fake chili to thicken up my own version. It occurred to me that I had never tried more than a couple of brands of the canned chili offered in grocery stores, probably because I grab them quickly, due to the potential for embarrassment if anyone I knew were to see me buying it. However, that likelihood is small down here, so I thought it was high time I stepped up and identified the best of these fake chili-like concoctions if I'm going to have the gall to use them. (I call "fake" any chili that's not homemade.)

So, here are the brands of canned chili we tried:

Since we were in an H.E.B. store, we included the two store brands, Hill Country and H.E.B. The most expensive brand was Chilli Man; Wolf Brand was perhaps the best known. I roped Sandy into helping me do the sampling. Rolling her eyes, she reluctantly agreed, much like she would to keep a patient calm in an asylum.  (By the way, the Amour brand we tried had no beans, like the others pictured. I merely grabbed the wrong can for the photo. As I've said before, real chili is not supposed to have beans in it. It's a transgression you wouldn't want to mention here in Texas--there are a lot of gun toters in these parts.)

Anyway, psyching ourselves up to taste this stuff, we agreed that Armour, to our surprise, was the best, followed by Chilli Man, Hormel and Hill Country. H.E.B. brand and Wolf Brand tied for last place. (I have never liked anything about Wolf Brand Chili.) 

We also tried two brands of packaged, refrigerated chili:

These were much better, in our opinion, than the canned chili. They almost tied in the taste test, but we think the Texas Chili won out over Owens, but only slightly.

So what will we do with all the leftover chili? Well, I'm tossing out the losers--Wolf and H.E.B brands--and I'll use the rest as thickener in a big pot of chili I'll be fixing in a few days. 

Yes, indeed, the idle mind is the devil's workshop, isn't it?

I've been sharing in previous posts how we've had to get accustomed to buying smaller amounts of food more often due to the space limitations we have. However, there are some foods that you just can't usually buy in small quantities--like bacon and sausage, for example.  A one-pound package of each lasts us for a very long time--longer than we would want to keep it in the refrigerator. The obvious answer, of course, would be to freeze the packages and just use them when you need them. The problem with that is the difficulty of thawing out the whole package when you need only a small portion.

Well, we've solved that dilemma by swerving into a system of re-portioning the large packages into serving-sized pouches and freezing them, thawing only what we need on a given day. It's not exactly rocket science, but it works for us.

The meal-sized packages then fit into a large zippered bag:

Well, there you have it--a couple of foodie tips from a mind that's been idle too long. Happy travels, y'all...take me with you!

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Rainy Weather, Under the Weather and Dealing with Old Photos

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

I'm not exactly in love right now with this part of my glorious home state. It has been raining for days here near the gulf coast, and I'm beginning to think I'm getting moldy. We have been here through the holidays and grandson Pryce's birthday, and we are more than ready to head south towards the Rio Grande Valley and a more friendly climate. It will still be a while before we do that, however, because we've decided to go ahead and identify a new set of physicians and a dentist to take care of our medical and dental needs since we're likely to be in and out of here on a regular basis. It will be difficult to leave the healthcare providers we have relied upon for decades in the DFW area, but our experience with the locals is quite promising here near Houston.

Sandy and I have almost fully recovered from colds, and I was able to knock out a sinus infection through taking some antibiotics with which we stock up from the Mexican pharmacias when we're in the RGV.  The gray, rainy skies here, combined with our sniffling, snorting and coughing from our colds has not made for a very pleasant time, but we're glad to be getting rid of these maladies, hopefully for the rest of the year.

There hasn't been much to write about, but we've kept ourselves busy going through old photos from storage and culling out all but the good ones, which we store in some rather neat plastic cases designed for this purpose that we ordered from Amazon:

We put labels on the individual cases inside the 'mother' box as a means of identifying what's inside. And we've also found that the more experience we get with culling out the photo rejects, the more of them we tend to toss. I suppose we're getting a better idea of which ones are really worth keeping, and that's a good thing, I think. 

Now, before you berate me for not digitizing these before now, let me offer my rationale, however weak, for doing it this way for the time being. Yes, we should have started digitizing these photos years ago before we even considered fulltiming. And yes, we know digitizing is the best way to preserve the memories and save space. But here's the rub: It has been our experience that people in our circles are far more likely to pick up the photos in their hands and look at them rather than trying to retrieve them from a digital device. I'm not sure why this is, but that is the case; I don't know, perhaps it's a generational thing. Besides that, the task is so daunting--we have untold thousands of photos, some from generations ago. 

So, we think we need to use this means to sort them out, think about them and do an initial culling. Then, perhaps later, we can go through them again and discard even more of them. When we're sure we have the keepers, then we might hire someone to put them on a disk. We need to hurry with this, as our daughter, Mindy, would not be able to identify many of the people in the photos if we're not around.

Well, that wasn't a very positive thought, was it? I'm thinking the obnoxious weather and lack of sunshine is contributing to this dark mood, so perhaps another round of Frito chili pie might be just the thing to perk me up:

Yes, yes, that's the ticket. That's what I needed. Savoring this while watching the Trump inauguration has gotten me in a much better mood already.

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

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fulltiming Food Prep: What Works for Us

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

When we went fulltime, there were many things about which we had to "get our mind right." Perhaps the main one was optimizing our drastically reduced living space. Every square foot was precious, including the space allotted for food preparation. Gone were the full-sized appliances in our stick and brick house, except for the residential refrigerator we installed in Phannie, which I have already characterized as one of the few absolute essentials for us to do this gig.  Gone were things like the six-burner cooktop, the extra-wide Viking oven, the warming oven, the Kitchen Aid dishwasher and mixer and the large Cuisinart food processor, etc.

As it turned out, we certainly didn't need these things in their oversized form since there are just the two of us here in the bus 99 percent of the time. We found we didn't even need Phannie's three-burner propane cooktop. With our induction plate, Breville oven, electric skillet, crockpot and microwave oven, we just leave the propane cooktop covered, putting the extra counter space to good use. We don't miss the dishwasher because we use paper plates most of the time. Yes, we can set a nice table when needed, but why do that for everyday dining? Doesn't make much sense to us. Washing the few pieces of cookware and utensils we use takes only a few minutes and, oddly, Sandy says she enjoys it--her reasoning for such known only to her and the good Lord, I guess. It might have something to do with the fact that I do most of the cooking, which she doesn't enjoy as much as I do. And, since I abhor washing dishes, I think both of us see it as a fair tradeoff.

Why an electric skillet, you may ask; doesn't that take up some of the valuable space I'm talking about? Well, not really; when not in use, it tucks away nicely above the Breville oven. And, if you have a skillet that's well designed, there's nothing better for controlling temperature over a large cooking surface. I learned through experience to avoid buying an inferior electric skillet that has a cooking element like the one on the bottom of this cheap model:

This type doesn't heat evenly in the middle of the skillet. I spent a little more dough on this Nu-Wave model that has a much better heating element design:

The main reason for using the electric skillet, I guess, is that you tend to acquire that to which you are accustomed. My mother, in her later years, was an avid user of an ancient electric skillet almost exclusively, and she turned out many memorable meals with that thing.

We also upgraded our induction cookplate to this Nu-Wave model:

This is a big improvement over the Fagor brand we had previously. It's much more powerful and has really accurate temperature control, too. If you can't have gas, this has to be the next best thing. We use it when we don't need the large surface of the electric skillet. Amazing technology, this. It will heat a pan to blazing hot in no time, yet the cooking surface stays cool.

We've found we do need a food processor now and then, but the big Cuisinart we had just took up too much space, and we certainly didn't need anything with a capacity that large. I found a really neat little Ninja version that seems perfect for our small needs. I even made a short demonstration video (that was made, I confess, mostly just for the novelty of doing a video; besides, you get to see, well, me! What could be more enjoyable?) Click below to take a look:

Well, what do you think? Do I have a future in films? (One of the nice things about getting older is that I can make a fool of myself like this and people don't think much about it, not that I care one way or the other.)

We also use our small Weber Q grill fairly often when the weather permits. And I've posted previously about this and the Breville oven, which must be the best small countertop oven ever made.

So, there you have it. It's what works for us, cooking-wise. But we acknowledge that it may not work for others. I think fulltimers settle into their own system after a while, and all that matters is that they like it.

Another thing we upgraded recently was the light over the dining table. The small factory-installed version has always given off too little light, and I finally became tired of squinting over my food. I'm sure it has nothing to do with my aging eyeballs, does it?

I got this one off eBay, and it works much better:

As you can see, we've been staying busy here on the shore of Lake Conroe. It's been a fine holiday time with the kids and, in a couple of weeks, we'll be making our way down to the Rio Grande Valley, where we'll spend our last month of winter before heading north again. Here's hoping your holidays were enjoyable, healthy and safe.

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Approaching One Year of Fulltiming: Still Getting Rid of Stuff

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

As we approach the end of our first year of fulltiming, we find ourselves still in a paring down mode. Getting rid of possessions accumulated over 40 years has not been easy. The reason, I suppose, is that we spent most of that time acquiring the stuff and only a small fraction of that time getting rid of it. Oh, if only we had had the wisdom of old age when we were young!  

I'm not sure why we thought it necessary to buy or build huge houses, since there were only the three of us. The obvious and uncomfortable answer was that it was an ego thing, I guess. Over time, we began to realize that acquiring things wasn't ultimately satisfying and that big houses require big attention and big expense to keep up, inside and out.  

We eventually built a relatively modest RV port home, an experience well documented earlier in this blog, that was to be our retirement home base while we wandered the country, and that's what it became. However, we found ourselves enjoying RV travel and living so much that we began to resent having to return home and take care of the required upkeep on the house before being able to leave again. We were also in a state of constant apprehension, worrying over the security of the place after a burglary that resulted in a painful emotional and financial loss for us. The security alarm that was installed was obviously no deterrent, so our much desired freedom to travel was not really free, clouded with worry and resentment as it was for us. 

We eventually decided that the only way to be truly free was to get rid of the things that were enslaving us; that meant the house and the stuff inside it had to go. Once we made the decision, things happened quickly, and the jettisoning of the rest of our stuff became brutal. That experience was also fully described about a year ago in this blog and yes, it was so worth the effort.

My point in including this brief version of our downsizing for fulltiming is to provide evidence of how very far we've come in terms of getting rid of our bondage. And yes, I'm using the term bondage on purpose, because that's what the tentacles of our materialism felt like when we were desperately struggling to be free. To that end, take a look at what is left after our efforts over the past years--from 3,500 square feet a decade ago to this:

This storage unit area occupies about 120 square feet and, as you can see, there is room to spare. Most of what is left is memorabilia and photos that we are slowly going through toward a goal of digitizing things to the extent possible. There are also a few clothes left after having donated hundreds of garments to charity, and we're still working on these.  These things will continue to dwindle as we go forward, for we experience a greater sense of freedom with everything we discard. And you know what? We've missed none of it! Besides our huge increase in freedom--and did I mention spendable income?--not missing our "stuff" is perhaps the most remarkable thing about this experience.

Now, is this draconian offloading experience for everyone? Of course not. Most younger families need the stability that a house brings in a permanent location. Some empty nester couples would perhaps not fare so well with so much togetherness. Some would prefer the stability of their community and relationships, and some just need more room, period. And that's all fine; if a lot more folks got into fulltiming, we would probably have an RV parking crisis out here. For those who might be contemplating such a move, however, this is just something for your consideration. For us, it is nirvana. If only we could have done it sooner!

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

Monday, December 19, 2016

Proud Parents of a new R. N. and Other (Far Less Important) Things

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

Many of you saw this on Facebook, but you'll just have to bear with us again, as it isn't every day that parents can gush over an offspring's accomplishment like this one. Our Mindy just graduated first in her nursing school class, all the while raising two boys under seven years of age and home schooling them, too boot. She said it was the hardest thing she ever did, and the amount of sleep she lost to be at the top of her class must have been epic. She had the unwavering support of our son-in-law, Tyler, and we helped when we could, along with others, but it was mostly her sheer determination to excel that resulted in her finish at the top. She has informed us that she will be pursuing her B.S.N. right away. From the perspective of fulltime RVers, it was nice that we were able to swoop in from time to time and provide some help and yet not be underfoot. We are, as you can imagine, incredibly proud of her.

Now, on to really trivial matters:

Blasting through our location near Houston was the same strong Arctic cold that froze the rest of the nation. Fortunately, we didn't suffer a hard freeze this far south. But since we won't be leaving for the Rio Grande Valley until after the holidays, we were going to have to endure temps in the low thirties, so how did we prepare for it? Why, I did what any good Texan would do--cook a pot of chili!

I don't know about you, but I like spicy chili, and I also see this as an opportunity to toss in some surplus ingredients that may need to be used from the fridge or pantry; I don't really use a recipe. In this case, I browned about a pound and a half of chili meat, tossed in a lot of chopped onion and garlic, some chopped fresh jalapeno and serrano peppers, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, black pepper, cajun seasoning, a good bit of chili powder and cumin, some leftover homemade salsa, a can of beef broth, a can of green chiles, and a couple of aging cans of storebought chili. Then I simmered the whole thing for about 45 minutes. Yes indeed, it was spicy; but boy, was it good! Did I use beans, you ask? Well, no self-respecting Texan would put beans in chili. That was something brought here by carpetbaggers after the civil war, and I think we hanged most of those folks.

Now, before you call the chili police about the horror of my using canned chili, you shouldn't mock something you haven't tried. Canned chili, which is something Texans should really only use as targets on a shooting range, provides not only some extra flavor, but it also provides the emulsification that would normally be required for good chili by adding masa flour to the chili, as the purists would do. The neat thing is, no one will ever know of your sacrilege; it will just taste like really good homemade chili. I only revealed this secret because when someone gets old, like me, he really doesn't give a rip what people think. And when the chili police come after me, I won't go quietly.

Here's something I found amusing. I was checking out at Wal-Mart the other day, and I saw this taken out of the basket of the customer in front of me:

Really?, I thought to myself. I can only assume this was a gag gift, but it may not have been. The chia pet and its variations have been around for a long time, so I suppose there's a market for these things. I just have trouble understanding how watching little chia plants grow on a pig--or a zombie's hand--is compelling enough to pay money for it. But then, I haven't understood some of our culture for a long time. Apparently though, Wal-Mart knows something I don't know, and that's why the Waltons are zillionaires. 

Having devolved this narrative from Mindy's exciting news to a discussion about a chia zombie (sometimes I worry about myself), I'll leave you with this equally useless tidbit regarding the origin of common sayings:

"The Whole Nine Yards"

During WWII, U.S. airplanes were armed with belts  of ammo, which they would shoot during dogfights and on strafing runs.  These were 27 feet long and contained hundreds of cartridges that fed their machine guns. The belts were carefully folded into wing compartments that were adjacent to the guns. Often, pilots would return from their missions having expended all of their bullets on various targets. They  would say that they gave the enemy "the whole nine yards," meaning they used up all of their ammunition.

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Healthcare Concerns as Fulltimers; A Lighting Project and a Favorite Recipe

At The Vineyards Campground, Grapevine, Texas...

We had to take a short trip back to the DFW area for a doctor visit. We really like the Vineyards RV park, which is probably one of the nicest in the state. It is owned by the city of Grapevine, and it is hardly typical of municipal RV parks in general. First of all, it rests on a large lakefront property whose value is probably incalculable, given its location in the middle of the DFW Metroplex. Secondly, it is a first class development with hard surfaced roads and sites, many of which front on Lake Grapevine itself. Thirdly, the city fathers--fully aware of its attractiveness to RVers--exact a steep price from its users. Unlike most municipal parks, you don't get to stay here at a loss to the city so RVers will go into town and spend money. Instead, you dole out plenty of moolah for your site, and then you still go into the quaint town and spend more. As you can imagine, there's plenty to do in the area, and the park is almost always full. The price? Think around $50 per night or between $1100 and $1800 a month, depending on the site you choose. Normally, this would be a little pricey for us, but the park is very close to our doctors' offices. We only stay a few days at these prices.

The Vineyards suffered devastating damage from a 100-year flood a couple of years ago. Every single site in the park was flooded, some covered by more than 20 feet of water. It took a long time to rebuild, but they have done a superb job of bringing it back.

Here's our site right on the shore of Lake Grapevine: 

If you've read this rag for a while, you might think that we are hypochondriacs, judging by how often we visit doctors and dentists. Well, we are not fortunate enough to have escaped medical problems as have a number of our disgustingly healthy friends. We both have some fake joints and other conditions that need medication and monitoring from time to time. Fortunately, these are controllable, and they don't cause us any physical limitations at the moment. I also have the good fortune to be married to Sandy, who watches me like an owl who has spotted a fat field mouse. If I so much as hiccup, she will drag me to the doctor. 

Now, being less than fond of visits to the doctor or dentist, I usually protest vigorously, so we compromise and I do what I'm told. My initial pushback is usually more symbolic than real; I already know how it will end when she gives me "the look." However, I have learned to trust Sandy's instinct without making too much noise, as I am positive that her prodding very likely saved me from colon cancer some 30 years ago.

As relatively new fulltimers, we are still working through healthcare concerns that we likely share with others of our ilk. We had established great relationships with and confidence in our local doctors and dentists over decades here in the DFW area, and we haven't yet found all the new ones we'll need at The Woodlands near Houston, where the kids and grandkids are and where we will likely be spending most of our downtime. We're getting there, however, having found a dentist and ob-gyn who will fill the bill, but we have more healthcare providers whom we have to test-drive, if you will.

I read in my friend Richard's blog that he recently upgraded the bulbs in the light underneath microwave in his motorhome. That got me to thinking that we have the same problem with too-dim lighting above our kitchen range, so I decided to do him one better and install some extra lights, which I did all by myself, and nothing blew up, and no one was electrocuted. Amazing!  

Here's the pitiful little light we had:

So, I picked up this three-light LED kit from Home Depot:

A quick install underneath the microwave:

And voila'!

Went from this...

To this...!

I really didn't realize how much this little upgrade was needed; but now we might be able to follow recipes a little better!

Speaking of recipes, I recently made a batch of my favorite spicy tuna salad:

Now if you're like us and are a fan of tuna salad, and you also like spicy food, as we do, this one is for you. But be warned: It is not for sissies; there are no fewer than six kinds of spicy peppers and seasonings in this concoction! You can, of course, modify the recipe to your level of tolerance but, if you are fearless, you'll make it like in the recipe below. And while we're talking about tuna, please don't buy some cheap canned tuna like Star Kist or worse, some store brand. You may need to go to an upscale store to buy solid pack albacore tuna cooked in its own juices or do like we do and order it from a private cannery in Oregon like Sportsmen's or Chuck's. The difference is not to be believed. In fact, when we were in Oregon two summers ago, we made a point to visit Chuck's store and pick up a case of the good stuff. It's easy to order online too, and you won't be sorry. And yes, it's a little pricey, but aren't you worth it? I think so. 

Okay, here we go:

Mike's Hotter than the Hinges of Hell Tuna Salad

1 8 oz. can albacore tuna (Use the good stuff; I'll be watching.)
1 small stalk celery, chopped
1/3 cup fresh chopped carrots
1/3 cup fresh chopped onion
1 serrano pepper, seeded and chopped (you can use jalapeno, but that's for weaklings)
1/4 cup chopped hot garlic dill pickles
1/4 cup chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/4 cup drained and chopped Mama Lil's Goathorn Peppers (see comment below)
1 teaspoon Los Chileros Salsa Mix (see comment below)
1 boiled egg, chopped
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Black pepper to taste
Garlic powder to taste
2 Tablespoons Mayonnaise (If you don't use Hellman's, you're not serious about cooking.)


1. Break up the chunk tuna in a bowl and then mix in all the remaining ingredients. Don't overmix; you don't want it to get mushy.

2. Eat. (A beverage should be nearby.)

Notes:  Mama Lil's Goathorn Peppers:  These are spicy and slightly tart Hungarian peppers in oil, hand packed in Oregon, and I use them in many dishes to add a unique flavor. They're also good in Italian antipasto. Easily obtained by mailorder.

Yes, I know--all the expensive specialty products just for a tuna salad? Well, yes! It's just not the same without them, and it's not like you can't use them in other dishes, right? While we're at it, let's talk about the Los Chileros Christmas Salsa Mix. This can be ordered from Los Chileros in New Mexico where they have lots of great New Mexican seasonings. I use it in fresh salsa, breakfast burritos, juevos rancheros and anything else that's spicy. It's good stuff.

By the way, we usually don't make sandwiches out of this tuna. We eat it with crackers, but not just any crackers--

Yes, this is our favorite cracker--Trader Joe's Everything Crackers. If we should ever run out of these, a call to 911 is in order.

Obviously, you can adjust the recipe as desired, but you should know that Sandy can eat this with no problem. It hasn't always been so, however. Living with a spicy food nut like me for 40 years, she has had to make some major adjustments to her palate. When we were dating, I remember well her timidly dipping the corner of a tostada in a tiny bit of mild salsa and then shaking off the excess, lest she might taste a little heat. 

You've come a long way, baby!

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

Monday, November 21, 2016

Friends, Food and Cool Nav Apps for your iPad. (Don't Miss This One!)

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

We wound up our visit to San Antonio much too soon, vowing that we would be back to see more. This could easily be a home base for us but, unlike the Rio Grande Valley, most of the RV parks are not particularly attractive for snowbirds. However, Travelers World is a nice park, friendly, close to everything and well maintained. For example, here is a photo of a groundskeeper tidying the gravel with a rake affixed to a golf cart. This is done after every guest's departure and afterward, the attendant sweeps up any gravel pebbles that may have crept onto the paved access road. Frankly, I don't think I've seen this done before, and I was pretty impressed. Normally, we prefer hard surfaced parking areas, but these gravel ones were very well done.

We were lucky to have longtime friends Bubba and LouAnn join us for a couple of nights. They drove down from Fort Worth in their Thor Tuscany motorhome, and we had a good time with lots of laughs.

Since the weather here was so perfect during our stay, we cooked outdoors on the Weber Q several times, adding to my experience with that versatile cooking machine. I had been inspired by blogger friend George, who seems to cook just about anything imaginable on his Weber Q. He was a former chef and includes a bunch of information, including recipes, on his blog, which you can see here. We saw a photo of George cooking something in a cast iron pan setting atop the grill grates, so we tried cooking a pot of chili like that a while back, and it turned out great. We also really liked grilled chicken marinated in Italian dressing. (Sorry, no photos of these; we forgot to take them.) We also got a grill mat like George's for those things that shouldn't have direct heat, like fish. That works really well, as does the shallow pan below that we picked up at Wal-Mart for about eight bucks. Here are a couple of photos, one where we were cooking German fried potatoes and another in which we added some cabbage, of which we're quite fond. These turned out great:

The reason we used the pan instead of the grill mat was to contain the oil, or in this case, bacon grease required for frying. (Okay, all you health fiends out there: You don't need to write me letters; It's not my fault; my parents and grandparents came from a rural background, and bacon grease was the mainstay of their cooking, which was without parallel in adding flavor. Besides, they all lived into their eighties and nineties, so give me a break.)

We also love grilled corn, as well as the zucchini and squash pictured below:

Oh, and did I mention that shishkebab, which we did some time ago, was also wonderful? 

Well, I guess I've let the Weber grill information get a little out of hand, haven't I? Let me pivot to our last day in San Antonio, where we added yet another restaurant to our favorites list--Henry's Puffy Tacos:

I'm not sure how they fry the tortillas to make them puffy, but we liked them a lot. And the stuff they put in them--in this case, beef and chicken fajita strips--were wonderfully tender and flavorful. This is another mom and pop joint where you can get really good food for a really cheap price, and that's why it goes on our favorites list.

After bidding adieu to Bubba and LouAnn, we pointed Phannie eastward toward Conroe. I was using my newly-positioned iPad as a mapping tool, and I wanted to include here a few photos of a new app I downloaded for this purpose. Now, for some of you who have newer coaches with the latest digital cockpits, this may seem a bit bush league to you. But, if you have an older coach like Phannie, and you're a gadget freak like me, this might be right up your alley. I mounted my iPad via an apparatus that fits in a cockpit cupholder, and here's what it looks like. The part that fits in the cupholder is adjustable and holds the iPad steadier than you would think. (I have another cupholder near my left armrest, so I'm not deprived of my drink.)

This is a view of the mapping I displayed during our arrival in San Antonio. It reminded me a bit of the approach charts I used when I was flying:

Keep in mind that this map can be expanded or shrunk with your fingertip gestures on the screen. You can go to a wider view to show your entire route if you wish. With that in mind, guess what I don't need any longer?  A paper map! If this weren't enough, it will also display weather, temperature, wind and elevation along your route. You can also use it as a GPS, but I prefer to leave the Garmin going and keep the map view on the iPad screen. 

This is the handiest thing I've seen in a long time, and I'm beginning to wonder how I lived without it! The app is called Inroute, and it's free, unless you want to get the added features like weather, wind, etc. 

Here is another view where I briefly left the Inroute app page to check some emailed arrival instructions from our rally coordinator:

Here is another navigation app I have that many of you use, called Allstays:

I like this one because it shows RV parks, campgrounds, Wal-Marts, rest stops, some truck stops and a bunch of other things that are selectable, and it's free. This screen shows our current RV park on Lake Conroe via the orange dot.  The view can also be adjusted to show as large or small an area as you wish.  

And here is another app I like even better, called Trucker Path, where I can see all of the above and more, including a much greater number of truck stops and and truck service facilities--very important to big rig owners. And, it will also show you low overhead clearances. Not bad, huh? This one is also free.

Having all this information at my fingertips is amazing, but I'm very careful not to use it to the extent I get distracted from driving. Since it is not far from eye level, it only requires a glance every now and then, much like the GPS.

Now, you may be wondering what the constant use of this while enroute will do to your data plan. Well, it would probably be devastating unless you have unlimited data, which I do, via T-Mobile. Yes, I said T-Mobile. They do have such a plan now, and I have been astonished at the coverage it has, even in rural areas; I had thought it was pretty sparse until I tried their plan. They seem to have come a long way in their coverage reach but, even so, I still keep all my other devices, including a hotspot, with A T and T. I'm sure T-Mobile won't be able to match their coverage for a long time. If needed, I can fire up the hotspot and run the apps if I wish.

Well, that's a lot of information to absorb in one post, isn't it? That may have to suffice for a while, as we will be in this area for a couple of months during the holidays, and we will not be posting as often. But stay tuned anyway; who knows when something will pop into my feverish mind.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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