Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


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.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sure Enough, It Gets Colder When you Go North!

At Long Lake RV Resort, Poteau, Oklahoma...

I knew it was too early to leave the Rio Grande Valley. I suppose we had been lulled into thinking that our tropical clime would somehow go with us northbound, but it didn't. After an uneventful leg to Port Aransas, we enjoyed a nice seafood dinner with Jackie and Steve at a local dockside restaurant. Here are our traveling mates at our table overlooking the harbor. Looks like a pirate ship may be approaching over Steve's shoulder:

It has really been a pleasure traveling with these two fine folks; we've had a great time with a lot of laughs. 

Our next stop was at the Jamaica Beach RV Resort near Galveston to attend another Tiffin owners' club rally. The closer we got to our destination, the worse the weather became, unfortunately. Our entire stay there was marked by cold weather, including rain, fog and then high winds as a front blew through. To make things worse, the RV park had just partially completed a new expansion, and the new spaces and roads were unbelievably narrow. Most of the big rigs had great difficulty navigating the maze without hitting something or running the wheels off the pavement into the mud. What a mess! Obviously, the owners were motivated entirely by greed when designing this sardine-can part of the park, having no consideration for their potential customers. We will not be back, and you can be certain of that.

One of the rally events I always enjoy is "Tech Talk," a discussion about technical issues related to our Tiffin motorhomes. On this occasion, I was asked to give a presentation on computer-aided trip planning, which I was happy to do. Here's a photo of my lecture, using my iPad to project images onto the TV set behind me.

Here are three of our members looking on:

Art, Hank and Shirley at the Tech Talk lecture.
In defense of those hard working club members who set up locations for our rallies, their job is not an easy one. There are actually very few parks that can accommodate a large group like ours, and I don't think anyone realized what had happened to Jamaica Beach during its expansion. You guys do a great job getting us fine rally locations, and we appreciate it.

Leaving Galveston, we stopped near Kemah to have lunch with Mindy and Tyler and the grands. This was a great little reunion, and I was so pleased that the boys ran to greet me even before I got out of my seat there in Phannie's cockpit:

This photo may give you the wrong idea; I'm actually very strict with the boys; they get away with nothing around me. You believe that, right?

We said goodbye to everyone after lunch, and Jackie and Steve headed back to Austin. Although we were sorry to see them go, we know they were desperate to see their little granddaughter, Maddie, who lives nearby.  It was hard to leave our family, too, but we will be back before long, and Mimi and Poppy, as always, will have an armload of surprises for them.

Our first stop after Galveston was near Canton, Texas at a Passport America park named Bluebird RV Park. This was a rather basic park, but quiet enough, and we especially liked the $18 discounted parking fee.

We left Canton in rain that was preceding yet another blustery cold front, whose strong winds we fought all the way to Poteau, Oklahoma to Long Lake Resort, another Passport America park. Again, the price was right at $21, and we had a nice paved spot next to the river. What a deal! What's not so great is that it is going to be freezing tonight, and the temperature will drop into the twenties in Branson! What were we thinking, leaving the warm RGV? 

Tomorrow we meet up with other longtime RV friends, Bubba and LouAnn, who will have with them some more of our friends, Harvey and Mary Lou. What a good time we'll have as we travel on up to Branson!

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sick Call, But Well Enough to Head North

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

Our time here in the Rio Grande Valley is coming to a close. We've had a good time visiting with friends and enjoying the magnificent warm sunshine with nearly constant breezes to keep mosquitoes away. One almost has to suspend belief to realize that we have been here in our shorts and tropical shirts in the dead of winter. We see scenes of northern snow and ice on television, but it seems unreal because we're so detached here from that sort of thing.

We were traveling this time with friends Steve and Jackie, whom we met by chance in Austin a couple of years ago when we parked Phannie next door to their rig at an RV park. We started off with plenty of energy here in the valley, going to dinner with our RGV friends, taking in a movie, shopping, and even going to the annual barbeque cookoff here in Mercedes. In this photo, old friend Ed and I are chowing down on some BBQ chicken. (It was very, very good!) And no, Ed and I didn't collaborate on our attire; we just can't help being fashionable, I guess.

Along with Steve and Jackie, we also took in the Iwo Jima Museum in Harlingen. This was a small museum, but we were surprised how much we learned about the importance of the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. If you're ever down here, it's worth the visit. There's no charge, but they gladly accept donations.

Jackie and Steve at the Iwo Jima Memorial in Harlingen
It couldn't be, of course, that our idyllic time down here would be unmarred. It didn't take too long for all of us to notice after the museum visit that we were beginning to get cold symptoms. As the days passed, we all developed full-blown colds that would pretty well ground us for quite a few days. Steve and Jackie had the worse of it, but we've finally begun to get around again, just in time to leave, it seems.

We haven't been exactly idle since we've been laid up. We got Phannie's carpet cleaned by Lee at All About Floors; they do a great job. I also assembled all of our financial records needed for taxes that will soon be destined for our CPA, who will give me the (normally bad) news in a few weeks regarding how big a check I will have to write.  

We're headed to Port Aransas and Galveston from here, where we'll be attending another rally for our RV club, the Texas Bluebonnet Allegros. We'll say goodbye to Steve and Jackie there before heading farther north to Branson, but we'll probably meet up with them again this summer in Red Bay.

We'd like to remind you that you can get 15 percent off Strongback chairs by using the code "PhannieAndMae15" when you order any of their products.  Just go to (We don't get a commission; we just like the chairs.) 

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Settling Down in the RGV Plus a Good Deal on Strongback Chairs

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

It didn't take long for us to begin reconnecting with RVing friends, many of whom make their home here in the Rio Grande Valley during the winter. And what do we find ourselves doing most often?  Well, this:

From left front around the table: Jackie, Marian, Marilyn, Sandy, Steve, Jackie, Jim, Carol, Ed. Mike and Denny.
This handsome group met at Macaroni Grill for much conversation and laughs on this occasion, and we'll undoubtedly meet again several times before we leave the Valley next month.

Now that we're here, enjoying the warm days and the breezes whispering through the palm trees, it doesn't seem like winter at all. In fact, we've put away our winter coats and have broken out our shorts and tropical weight shirts. We see news reports about the harsh winter storms elsewhere, but it's just really hard for us to relate to the reality that it is still the dead of winter in most of the country.

We decided to bring Mae with us this time instead of Beulah, the Escalade, which is decidedly roomier for potential passengers. My thinking was to put more miles on the car most likely to be traded soon, although I'm not sure when that will happen. With new brakes and a new transmission, Mae needs to pay for herself a good deal longer. 

We've already had our favorite RV washing guy, Jesse, out to give Phannie a good wash and wax job. We never fail to get this done here, as he charges only about half as much as almost anyone else outside the RGV. 

We'll also be calling on the carpet cleaners to give the carpets a good cleaning. By the time we leave, Phannie will look like new!

We found some more good places to eat--Dai Tung for Chinese food and the Smoking Oak for barbeque. These will go on our favorites list linked above. Here is a photo of my mighty fine brisket sandwich; I brought the ribs home to eat later, and they were excellent; their house barbeque sauce was really good, too. I really like the look of the ribs added below as garnish, don't you? Much better than parsley or some other fru-fru weedy thing:

Sitting outside on a pleasant evening, I noticed that one of our older Strongback chairs was not unfolding properly. Looking closer, I saw that a key attaching fitting on one of the legs had broken. Because of the nature of the break, I couldn't figure out a way to repair it, so I reluctantly discarded the chair, which was probably a mistake. I think someone really good at repairing stuff could have fixed it. This was painful, as we have really enjoyed this brand of chair which, as the name implies, is ever so comfortable because of its back support. This is a photo of the older model whose sliding leg attachment fitting had broken:

Here is a photo of the new and improved 'Elite' model that we've only had for about a year:

Not wanting to be without one of these chairs (we had four of them before this incident), I sent a quick email to Strongback to order a replacement. I knew that the failure of this fitting in one of their first production series of chairs was probably due to a design oversight--that being the use of a fitting attachment brad that was susceptible to rusting. The newer chairs I have bought have rustproof fittings.

I related my experience to Strongback and, to my astonishment, they offered to sell me the replacement chair at a very generous discount--recognizing, I presume, the inadequacy of the fitting that had broken in my older model chair. Now this was a good deal, I thought. We had gotten quite a few years of use out of that old chair, and it certainly wasn't eligible for any kind of warranty replacement. I was so impressed that I ordered not one, but two, new chairs.

Now that brings me to what may seem like a crass commercial offer that benefits me, but that's not the case. As you know, I have never offered anything for sale on this blog, nor have I placed any ads in it, although I certainly could have. But because of my positive dealings with Strongback and my belief in their products, they have agreed to offer a 15% discount to all of my readers who order one of their products from their website at and include the code "PhannieAndMae15" at the point in the online order where you enter a coupon code. This will save you about 15 bucks on an 'Elite' model (there are several others), but you should know that I receive no commission on such orders. I just like the chairs, and I think anyone who tries one would be equally enthusiastic.

On another subject, I have made several additions and deletions to my "Best of the Best RV Parks" linked above. These can be seen in red text within the listings. As always, I appreciate reader input if you find a "best" park not listed or if you find a park that you think doesn't qualify for its rating.

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

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.