Phannie

Phannie
Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mystery Solved

At Northlake RV Resort, Houston…

Okay, let's just go ahead and call this what it was: A "duh" moment.  You will recall in the last post my puzzlement over the very low representation of higher-end RVs at this park.  It didn't make sense to me why this beautiful RV resort appears to be shunned by big rigs and populated almost entirely by what appear to be working folks.

Now, before you begin labeling me as some sort of snob, you should know that I have absolutely no problem with this; I feel perfectly comfortable here, and I certainly wouldn't let this influence my choice of RV parks.  However, I know now why this park is not the choice of most retired folks (who largely comprise the big rig community and who can be a bit cranky about this sort of thing):  It's the trains and planes.  Less than a half mile away from this park are some mainline railroad tracks that carry perhaps two dozen or more trains every day, around the clock.  The international airport is also nearby, but the aircraft noise is very minor compared to the trains, whose engineers seem overly enthusiastic about their use of horns.  Even so, this doesn't bother us all that much, as we generally keep the windows closed and use a fan for white noise at night.  But we know some other RVers who wouldn't be caught dead in such an environment.   



Therefore, the "duh" on my part. This oversight in planning represents probably the first time I have chosen a new park without reading reviews about it--reviews that would certainly have mentioned the proximity of the railroad tracks and the attendant noise factor.  Actually, I'm not unhappy with Northlake, for it is, obviously, a super nice park from the standpoint of amenities; I'm just a bit irritated at myself because I forgot to check it out thoroughly, and that represents yet another of the little daily reminders that I'm not getting any younger and neither is the old brain.  However, don't count me out yet; I still recognize what's-her-name sitting across from me.  









Friday, December 27, 2013

Holiday Blur: Back in Houston

At Northlake RV Resort in Houston…

I'm beginning to see a pattern here:  Thanksgiving away from home in Branson and Christmas away from home in Houston, both holidays spent with Mindy and her family.  When you're retired and "portable," as we are now, you have some interesting choices in where you gather for family functions; we like that!  Branson was a lot of fun, and we were so glad when Mindy insisted that we join them for Christmas.  It was such a hoot to watch Mason open his gifts--he is so into Santa this year.

We did not come empty handed, of course.  Phannie served well as a "sleigh" on our trip from Ft. Worth to Houston. We had gifts packed everywhere; the overflow from the lower bays went in the cabin, so it was lucky we didn't have any extra passengers.  After arriving in Houston, it took two cars to transport the gifts from Phannie to the kids' house.  

Here is Mae, stuffed to the gills:



We made a video of Mason's wakeup on Christmas morning, and his reaction to Santa's largesse was priceless.  We're so grateful to Mindy and Tyler for sharing this time with us.  And we're so grateful to God for providing us with our blessings of health, prosperity and happiness.  Sadly, many people cannot make that claim, and that would be especially painful this time of year.

We are eagerly awaiting the appearance of our new grandson Pryce.  Mindy is, too; her due date is January 10, and she is pretty uncomfortable most of the time now.

Can't be long now---




We are at Northlake RV Resort in north Houston for a month.  We had tried to get a reservation at Rayford Crossing, a favorite upscale park in Spring, but they couldn't accommodate us for such a lengthy stay.  Northlake is a new and very nice park, well manicured, with all concrete pads and roads.  In that regard, it is every bit as upscale as Rayford Crossing, but we haven't quite figured out the rather remarkable difference in clientele.  Northlake is quite full, but almost all of the occupant rigs are older fifth wheels and travel trailers.  There are a few older gas motorhomes, but there are only six late model diesel big rigs like Phannie.  At Rayford Crossing, there would be a much greater mix of higher-end rigs. We think the location of this park attracts more longer-term guests who are still in the work world.  It doesn't appear there are many retired folks like us here.


Beautiful grounds at Northlake

Great outdoor cooking pavilion

Phannie (background) sitting contentedly in her January parking spot

Inviting pool and guest center

Concrete everywhere but, oddly, nothing but trailers; where are the big rigs?  Phannie is lonely.

Everything is neat, clean and manicured.  No mud ever to track into your coach.
We plan to take a few side excursions while we're in Houston this time, perhaps to Kemah and Galveston, among other places.  Next Tuesday, we are meeting a couple of cyber friends, Kevin and Evelyn, whose blog we read and who are passing through Houston. it will be exciting to visit with them in person.

In February, we are looking forward to traveling to Mercedes, Texas to visit dear friends Ed and Marilyn at their winter home in the Rio Grande Valley.  These two and their cohorts there will provide a fun experience for sure.




Sunday, December 15, 2013

GPS: Garmin-1; Rand McNally-0

At home in Fort Worth...

In a previous post, I was complimentary toward a Rand McNally GPS for RVers that I had recently purchased. Well, I no longer have it. It left my residence in a garbage truck, and I really don’t care where it is now. It has been replaced by a new Garmin 760, a model also designed for RVers and truckers.

It was during Phannie’s transit through Springdale, Arkansas en route to Branson that the Rand McNally display froze and went blank, never again to return to life, irrespective of my attempts at resuscitation. Now, before you get the idea that I just toss things away willy-nilly, let me explain my thought process following the event and my rationale for ditching the Rand McNally in favor of a different one: When I purchased the Rand McNally unit, I was a bit skeptical about quality, as I knew it was the mapmaker’s first foray into GPS and surmised the company was counting on its name recognition to drive sales. It was because of this skepticism that I bought a used one. If it had turned out to be a good unit, I could have had the satisfaction of a bargain; if it didn’t, then I wouldn’t have lost much money.

While I would have been satisfied in keeping the Rand McNally unit if it had continued to work, there were a few things about it that I found annoying—mainly that it wasn’t very user-friendly. Entering data was a bit clunky, and it wasn’t easy to access certain screens on the fly, but the good seemed to outweigh the bad. I suppose if I had been in love with it, I would have had it repaired or bought a new one.

I bought the Garmin unit new at Best Buy. It was on sale during Black Friday, and I knew that Garmin had a good reputation; so far, I really like it. It’s definitely more user-friendly; and, you can load in the statistics (weight, height, etc.) about your RV, and it will keep you away from roads that do not meet the restrictions of your vehicle. It also picks up traffic reports, has Bluetooth and displays warnings on the screen. I also like the big 7-inch screen and the elevation feature; I suppose my former career as a pilot has something to do with that.




So, that’s the latest with Phannie. We will be loading her up next weekend and traveling to Houston, with Santa’s gifts in the lower cargo bays.  Christmas will be at the “kids” place, and we will remain there at Northlake RV Resort through January, as we welcome our new grandson, Pryce Girard, who is due on January 10.   

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thanksgiving in Branson

At home in Fort Worth...

Perhaps people call us square, but we love Branson. It is possibly one of the last places in America that we recognize as the kind of place in which we grew up. The entertainment is entirely family-friendly, and every show celebrates patriotism and our Christian heritage. Everyone we meet there is super-nice and friendly, and we never see any evidence of crime, substance abuse or even rowdiness. The police surely must not have much to do there. There are no mosques, no peep shows...heck, I don't even remember seeing a bar! And where else will drivers famously motion you ahead of them in the never-ending queue of cars along the highway 76 main drag?  Yes, I know, this is somewhat pollyanna-ish but I don't care; it's the world as I want it to be.

It's no wonder then, that we visit Branson fairly regularly and decided to spend Thanksgiving there this year. Mindy and Mason went with us in Phannie, and Tyler flew up and met us there. We saw a couple of shows that we enjoyed greatly, but mostly, we just had the best time introducing the "kids" to the magical entertainment scene, fully regaled in over-the-top Christmas decorations.  They especially loved Silver Dollar City and spent most of their time there.

We had our Thanksgiving dinner at the Big Cedar Lodge along with several hundred other people who had the same idea. The food was plentiful and fantastic.  Big Cedar must be one of the most beautiful settings anywhere for getting away from it all and just enjoying the wonder of what has been created there in the Ozarks on the shore of Table Rock Lake. Words just can't describe it. Mindy said it was her favorite vacation, second only to our trip to Europe a few years ago.

It was quite cold during most of our stay, but Phannie didn't miss a beat.  We stayed nice and warm with her two furnaces, and the big propane tank supplied all the energy needed.  This time, we stayed at the Branson KOA campground.  It was nice enough, with friendly staff and a fairly level site and, best of all, it was just a short drive to all the attractions.We rented a cabin for the kids, and they seemed to enjoy the rustic nature of this little getaway.

Following are a few photos taken during the trip.  

Here is a scary one--Sandy and Mason, reading a road map, helping me navigate.  (Not to worry; the GPS was right on the money.) 



Our little family at Big Cedar Lodge:
 


"Mimi" and "Poppy" with Mason overlooking Table Rock Lake from the Lodge:



We just had to eat here; Mason loved the big chicken:



And how about some shopping while in Branson?  Lots of places to do that, unfortunately for my pocketbook.  This photo is for Sandy's friends who know of her unending quest for a purse big enough to hold all her stuff (Marilyn, you will get a kick out of this). I think you've finally found it, dear...




Sunday, December 1, 2013

Where Did the Time Go?

In Branson, Missouri...

I am way behind on my posting.  This is one that should have been uploaded a couple of weeks ago.  We’re in Branson now, so I’ll just have to get caught up.

After our return from Houston, the time flew by as we made preparations for our Thanksgiving trip to Branson.  Our last time at the home base after our extended stay at Red Bay encompassed only five days before we left for Houston for another month. We discovered that such a short amount of time was woefully inadequate to take care of all the chores that accumulated while we were away.

If I were reading this rag, I would be curious as to what chores could possibly take more than five days for us retired people.  Permit me to elucidate.

We have learned that the time freed up by retiring does not automatically accumulate as spare time now.  We quickly filled that void with other things, like:  
  1. Sleeping late; this is a very important activity that prepares us for the many added chores to come during the day. 
  2. Fixing breakfast; this is also important. Like sleeping late, it provides the energy needed for added retirement activities and is something for which we had little time while working. 
  3. Planning lunch; this must begin immediately after breakfast. It is important to determine early whether lunch will be eaten at home or not, because Sandy must dress accordingly.  I, on the other hand, have no such complication; slacks and a shirt are acceptable anywhere. Sometimes it is more efficient to grab a quick bite on the fly and, if we’re careful, it is often no more expensive than eating in, especially if we consider that our time is worth something. 
  4. Making and going to medical appointments; retired people are generally older and have more body parts that don’t work all that well, so we have to go see physicians, dentists and optometrists often to perform maintenance on the old carcass.  Then we have to go to the pharmacist to get filled all of the prescriptions they give us to keep us going.  Sandy, the planner and organizer in the family, takes great care to see that our medications are expertly managed.  Left up to me, I suppose there is some likelihood that I wouldn't be here to worry about it.  I'm very grateful for her, because it's not easy to keep up with it all.  I often tell people that I have a drug problem and that Sandy is my pusher; it's not far from the truth!
  5. Planning dinner; see #3 above.  We generally jump at the chance of eating out with friends, and we do that probably more than we should; it’s a hard habit to break. And for Sandy, a determination must again be made as to whether she needs to change outfits.  This will depend on several things, including the type of restaurant, the weather and, most importantly, whether her outfit has been seen by our companions in the last month or so.  As for me, I just wear the same slacks and shirt, and I can never recall any time in my life that a male friend ever took note of or commented on my attire.  Guys simply don’t care when anyone last wore a garment.  It just never comes up. If Sandy and I are not going out, we have to decide on something to fix at home that we don’t have to fuss over too much.  After all, we ARE retired.
  6. Performing maintenance on the house and rolling stock; there is always something that needs repair or servicing on a stick house, a motorhome and two cars.  If I can’t (or won’t) do it myself, I have to arrange for a repairman and wait on him to show up.  
  7. Miscellaneous stuff; dealing with this is often time consuming.  A recent example is a tiff I had with the post office.  Seems they no longer wish to hold our mail while we’re away on trips.  They said we’ve been abusing the hold-mail program, so I will need to get a post office box.  That means spending months advising people and businesses of our mailing address change.  I had been toying with the idea of letting Escapees handle our mail, but we live very near our post office, and allowing the mail to accumulate in a large post office box while we’re gone seems like a more convenient solution.
  8. Planning the next trip; this is not something to take lightly, especially for someone like me who hates planning. For example, I was going to make reservations for a couple of weeks in February at Llano Grande Resort in Mercedes, Texas to visit with friends Ed and Marilyn, but when we called today, they informed us that we can’t make reservations for less than a month’s stay until January 1.  Now I have to remember to call again then to make the reservation, and it’s not that easy for me to remember stuff as it used to be.  Planning also includes being alert to things that will make life easier on the road.  I found these three-drawer cabinets at Target that fit perfectly in one of Phannie’s lower storage bays.  Great for organizing “blue” stuff, and only about twenty bucks apiece!


So long for now; must work on another post.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Water Woes Fixed!

In Spring, Texas (Houston)…

This post memorializes the replacement of Phannie’s fresh water pump. The tiny and miserly version installed at the factory was woefully inadequate to supply the multiple outlets in the coach when we are in a travel mode, but we limped along with it until a few days ago, when the puny little stream it produced slowed to a trickle from one faucet and nothing at all in the others. 

Old pump pressure (ugh)

This was a situation “up with which we would not put!” (A tortured phrase attributed to Winston Churchill in his effort to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition.) Sandy's idea of proper RVing is for the coach to be indistinguishable from, well, a hotel suite and, I must say, so do I. And no hotel, even in Death Valley, ever had water pressure this low.  It remains a mystery why Tiffin thought it was a good idea to equip their expensive coaches with an anemic little pulse-style pump retailing for $65.

Completely fed up, I strode into the parts department of nearby DeMontrond RV and told them I wanted the biggest, baddest water pump they had. I told them I wanted one  that would produce a stream of water that would power a jet ski.  They looked through their inventory and came up with this one, made by Remco and ringing up for over 200 bucks:

New pump!

After a quick installation by Johnny Besier of Northwest RV in Tomball, TX (281-370-0060), we fired up the pump and marveled at the water flow that now rivals or beats that of any city water source we’ve used:

Now, that's more like it!


Problem solved!  (Now I’m thinking about renting Phannie out as a fire truck.)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Guys' Turn to Treat the Ladies: First Monday Trade Days in Canton

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

I’m getting close to recovering from the girls’ annual pilgrimage to First Monday Trade Days in Canton, Texas last weekend.  I’m not entirely sure how it was that I got roped into this unnatural (for guys) shopping orgy the first time three years ago, but it wasn’t due to a threat of blackmail. Fortunately, I lead a boringly clean life, so there’s not much out there about which I might be embarrassed through public disclosure (I think).  This, then, leads to the troubling conclusion that I’m just stupid.  But so is Bubba.

Bubba and I bring our rigs each November to Mill Creek Ranch RV Resort in Canton, occupying spaces that must be reserved two years in advance.  (Yes, it’s that popular during trade days.)  This bucolic place has RV sites and cottages for rent, and we usually secure a cottage along with the RV sites.  This ensures room for any females who might stow away in one of the vehicles after learning of the impending shopping trip.  Sandy, LouAnn and Mindy do their best to keep this trip quiet, but the word usually gets out. And it’s really poor form to have to use pepper spray on their own friends to keep them off the bus.

First, let me make clear that it is only the ladies who actually enter into the teeming masses flowing in and out of the countless trading sheds.  Bubba and I claim agoraphobia; I don’t think the girls buy it, but whatever works, right?  (Actually, I’m pretty sure they had just as soon not have us there.)  We do provide support, however--as cooks, chauffeurs and bankers.  Fortunately for my wallet, Sandy and I are well beyond the ‘acquisition’ period of our lives and have been downsizing and discarding stuff for years, so her purchases are usually confined to things for Mason and our other soon-to-arrive grandson. 

Here are some photos of Mill Creek Ranch Resort that attest to the attractiveness of this facility:


The Grand Lodge (Borrowed From Mill Creek Website)
Mill Creek Office
Rental Cottages


Mill Creek Pond

Bubba's Coach Woody (don't ask) and Phannie

“First Monday,” as this madness at Canton is called, occurs on the weekend just prior to the first Monday in every month but, oddly, not on Monday.  Confused?  So am I.  It would be incorrect to call it a flea market; I think it would be more accurate to call it a craft market. But then, I’m not an authority; I think I walked around some of the pavilions about 20 years ago, so I might have to (shudder) go out there again next year to gain a fresh perspective and some representative photos.

Here are some photos from the girls' camera phones during their shopping frenzy:


First Monday Main Gate

Aprons in a Shop (All of the children and grandchildren represented by the shoppers are boys; if there were any girls, I would surely be broke.)
LouAnn looking at--well, who knows what.



As you might imagine, all of this ‘carrying on’ that we guys do is just in fun. It’s always gratifying to see the girls having such a good time during this one weekend trip when it’s all about them.  Tyler took Mason to a weekend outing with his family in Huntsville, so Sandy, LouAnn, Mindy, Brenda, Sarah and various others who rotated through the group had a grand time without having to tend to the kiddos or any household chores.  Now that it’s over, they need to get back to work taking care of us guys, as is the way nature intended, right?  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lifestyle Label: What is Ours?

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

As we pass the two-month mark after my retirement, we’re still not sure what our RV lifestyle is.  While we have made a couple of short stays at our stick and brick house in Fort Worth, Phannie has largely been our home during that time.  Still giddy at my newly found freedom, we have just sort of decided to go wherever we wish to go and for as long as we wish to stay.  Our lack of a tether has been a godsend to us--and especially to Sandy, who doesn’t like being too great a distance from our daughter Mindy and her growing family in Houston.  It seems that Fort Worth indeed qualifies as too distant, so Phannie has become our Houston base for now.  With a few exceptions for some side trips, this will likely be the case until after our new grandson arrives in January.  

We are mindful that, in some cases, a too-close proximity of parental units can have some unintended and undesirable consequences for young families, so we make every effort to be extra sensitive to their need for independence, offering only as much help and companionship as they desire.  Having our own living quarters seems to be the key to making this work, hopefully without seeming to be underfoot.  Fortunately, Mindy has always been very close to us and seems genuinely glad to have us around.  Her husband, Tyler, has proven to be devoted husband and father, and he has never failed to make us feel welcome.  And then, of course, there is grandson Mason, who is always excited to see us; need I say more? 

Oddly, when we have returned to our house in Fort Worth, it seems a strange and unfamiliar place for a while. If we don’t bring Phannie with us, as was the case during our last visit, the empty RV port seems peculiar.  The house doesn’t seem visually complete with nothing to fill the large vacant space.  Even with the state-of-the-art security system and video surveillance equipment installed, we can’t help being a bit nervous when we are away. However, we can monitor the exterior and interior of the house on our cell phones via cameras linked via a video feed. Full-timers reading this must take some comfort in their freedom from this kind of worry and the expense involved, but we're still not sure if that is enough reason to give up our nice custom-built digs.

There are other issues.  For one thing, the refrigerators at the house are largely empty when we’re out on the road.  Leaving them running for the few items they contain seems pretty wasteful of electricity, but the freezers need to keep operating. The other charges for utilities continue as well, even though we’re not using them, either. 

There is always something that needs to be maintained or fixed.  Even though the house is relatively new and designed for minimal upkeep, something inevitably needs attention on the inside or outside. Full-timers really score an advantage here.


We have to stop and start the mail when we go away.  The post office will hold our mail for 30 days, so we haven’t yet elected to employ a mail forwarding service, as we make it home sometime during the 30-day period.

We will be heading to Canton on Friday for the First Monday Trade Days insanity.  Sister-in-law Brenda and our daughter Mindy and a couple of friends will be joining us, along with Bubba and LouAnn. We always have a good time doing this, but I'm going to have to pull out the couch cushions and look for some "mad money" for the girls' shopping spree.  If only it were that simple!

I don't know, maybe we don't need a lifestyle label.  I regularly read Al Bossence's blog, the Bayfield Bunch, and he doesn't appear to fret about a lifestyle label, even though he and Kelly have a home in Canada and one in Arizona, in addition to an RV.  Whew!

Ah, well, our lifestyle is what it is; there's really no reason to fret about it; we'll just keep movin' on and figuring it out.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dinner with RV Friends

In Beaumont, Texas...

When we learned that Ed and Marilyn would be stopping in Beaumont on their way to their winter home in the Rio Grande Valley, it was an easy decision to ask them to meet us for dinner.  At our current location near Conroe, it was a drive of less than two hours to Beaumont and the Gulf Shores RV Resort.  We instantly remembered this park when we arrived, as it has the distinction of being the very first overnight stop for us when Sandy and I began RVing back in 2005.  I immediately thought of how little we knew about what we were doing then, but we have had lots of fun over the years learning the ropes.

Ed and Marilyn greeted us warmly with hugs and smiles--even Ed, who was suffering from a cold.  


Marilyn and Sandy, glad to see each other again.  Ed and I were glad to see each other  too, but we guys are a little sensitive about our hugging photos.  Besides, Ed's not that great a hug 'cause he's kinda bony.  

Sandy had spotted their rig right away as we pulled into the park.  It was easily identifiable due to the length of the three-vehicle assemblage.  I thought about making a joke about their obvious need for a caboose, but I figured it would be better to wait a little while before embarrassing Sandy.  That would come soon enough.


Marilyn and Ed and the Rio Grand Valley Limited

We picked Floyd's Cajun Seafood as the restaurant of choice and had way too much of some of their tasty fish, shrimp and crab dishes.  We caught each other up as much as we could while lingering over the meal, enjoying fits of laughter as we talked about our adventures.  Ed even generously bought our dinner (Thanks, Ed; when we get to the Valley, I will reciprocate.  You can even count on upgrading to large fries in your value meal!) 


Ed and Marilyn at Floyd's, listening to one of Sandy's stories.  She has many. Very many.

We made plans for a trip to the Rio Grande Valley in February, so that they can show us around.  I confessed to Ed that, as a native Texan, I was embarrassed by how little exposure I have had to this part of my great state.  We are looking forward to a fun time there this winter.


A favorite photo of a great couple of friends

After dinner, we bade farewell to this fine couple, electing not to tarry and possibly hinder Ed from resting his cold.  Safe travels, y'all!




Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fun With Our "Kids"

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

Following our disappointing tour of Thousand Trails at Lake Conroe, we took up residence at Woodland Lakes RV Resort near The Woodlands.  This is a nice park with a couple of small ponds where wild ducks gather to be fed by the owners and tenants and where you can almost always catch a fish if you're so inclined.  I am not much of a fisherman, however.  My idea of a fishing trip is a trek to a restaurant where the seafood that was caught, cleaned and cooked is served fresh and hot.  Such was the case when we celebrated Mindy's birthday at the Monument Inn near LaPorte, Texas.  Overlooking the Houston ship channel, Mason was transfixed by the unending parade of vessels that passed by. The food was excellent, and everyone had a great time.


Tyler, Mindy and Mason, cutting up for the camera at the Monument Inn
Later, I took Mason on a duck feeding patrol at the RV park.  This didn't turn out all that well, as the wild ducks weren't quite tame enough to venture too close.  Mason enjoyed the outing, however, and after several attempts to corral the ducks, he pronounced them "tricky."  I had to agree.  



Poppy and grandson Mason, hunting the ducks.  Now I ask you, is there anything Poppy likes better than this?  Not much.
The next couple of days, I offered to contribute my culinary skills--such as they are--so that  Sandy and Mindy could spend the day goofing off shopping.  I fired up the Traeger smoker and barbecued  a dead chicken which was well received by the weary shoppers and Tyler, who joined in after w*rk.  (I just can't bring myself to type that awful word.) The next day, I used the huge leftover chicken breast to make a killer chicken salad with celery, grapes and walnuts.  We ate it on fresh cranberry bread and boy, was it good!

Since I was on a roll, I picked up a couple of racks of baby back ribs the next day and cooked them on the Traeger. I didn't have all the ingredients for my usual rub, so I made do with a combination of commercial pork rub and Montreal Steak seasoning.  Near the end of cooking, I slathered the ribs with Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce to which I added melted butter and some orange marmalade. (Please don't tell my doctor.)  I sent a rack home with the kids, and Sandy and I confess to eating every bite of the remaining rack.  Yum!





By the way, if you don't have one of the super little Traeger PTG (Portable Traeger Grill) smokers, you should get one.  This is a mini version of my larger Lil' Tex Traeger grill at home, and it is so easy to use this wood pellet smoker on our trips.  Just load the grill, turn it on and forget it until you're ready to eat.
  
Tomorrow, I'll be cooking my relatively famous chicken and dumplings (that means they are famous mainly among relatives), and Sandy will be baking something chocolate (Mason's favorite, but I'm sure that didn't enter into the decision.)  

We are looking forward to meeting fulltime friends Ed and Marilyn in Beaumont on Friday for some cajun seafood. We always have a fun time with these great folks, who are on their way to their winter digs in Mercedes, Texas.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

We Check Out Thousand Trails

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

We had been aware of Thousand Trails for some time, reading blogs of some folks who are very happy with their memberships and noting others who were not very complimentary.  Figuring that the Lake Conroe location may fit nicely in its proximity to our kids, we elected to drive out there and take a look.  

This is a large (168 acres) facility with a gated entry and very nice common facilities, shown to us by Randall, a pleasant fellow who, thankfully, was not given to high pressure sales tactics, as we had feared.  We even got a chance to drive around by ourselves to take a closer look.

We thought the location--with good lake access--was ideal, and we were impressed with the sections set aside for long term residents.  These consisted largely of occupant-owned park models in a nice wooded setting.

However, the areas devoted to transient zone members with RVs--oh my!  This was not good. Almost all of these sites, topped either with gravel or deteriorating asphalt, were in a horrible state of disrepair.  The interior roads were crumbling, and many of the sites had deep ruts worn by heavy RVs and never reconditioned.  Very few of the sites were level, and I would have been reluctant even to drive Phannie around in this area, for fear of tossing everything out of the cabinets.  It appeared that about half the sites were occupied and that most of the unoccupied ones did not have  50-amp electrical service.  Some of the campers had gone to extraordinary effort to level their rigs on the grossly uneven sites.  I meant to take some photos of the ingenious leveling structures used, but I was so shocked by what I was seeing that I forgot to do so.

At the end of our tour, we sat down with Randall and told him we thought the program offered was attractive, but we simply couldn't get past the rather glaring disrepair of the RV sites.  He cringed a bit at my remarks; this was obviously not the first time he had heard such comments.  He then began to tell us that Thousand Trails had fallen on difficult financial times and had recently been bought out by Encore Properties, a large corporation that has plans to upgrade the 50 parks in Thousand Trails' system.  Obviously, Encore has not yet gotten around to the Lake Conroe park.

It was easy to see that a good potential exists here that would make the facility much more attractive at what would seem like low costs for the improvements.  I mean, really, how much can a load of gravel cost to fill the ruts and level a site?  This is what didn't add up to us; they have a large and beautiful location that--for the want of some loads of gravel--is way underutilized.  Obvious in their absence were big rigs like Phannie; the current clientele appears to be mostly campers with older towables.  This indicates that a large segment of RV owners are turned off by what they see.

Now lest we are thought of as prima donnas, I should mention that we hardly demand luxury in the places we choose to camp.  We try to look for good value and are quite happy in downscale places, so long as they are reasonably well kept, safe and clean.  This park was certainly safe and clean, but the condition of the sites was a real head-scratcher.  I'm sure there are other TT parks that are in better condition, so I won't make a blanket judgment about all of them merely by this one experience.  We wish the best for Thousand Trails as they complete their upgrades; we will check back sometime in the future. 




Thursday, October 10, 2013

Not to be Missed: The Children's Museum of Houston

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

If you have kids or grandkids, you should not miss the Children's Museum of Houston.  It is touted--with good reason--to be the finest in the country.  Sandy and Mindy took Mason, along with his aunt Brenda and cousin Aaron and his clan, and they were utterly enthralled.  Take a look at Mason's face in the photo below:


There is seemingly no limit to the artful combining of education and fun available here.  It is truly an amazing offering and opportunity for children--one that they will be better for having experienced, for sure.  Warning:  This is a vast exposition that will require more than one visit to see it all.

Where else will Mason and his cousin Hunter get to drive an ambulance and learn all about the purpose of it?  What a time they had!



I'm not kidding--you'll be sorry if you miss this.  If you don't have access to kids, rent some and take them.  They will love you for it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

What Reader Do You Use?

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

If you have a habit (or strange compulsion) of reading the recurring postings of favorite bloggers, you will undoubtedly have your subscriptions organized with a blog reader, or newsfeed reader, so that the posts will appear there, in one location, when they are published.  I don't see many posts about this, so I assume most folks who use these are fairly happy with the reader they are using.

For years, I happily used Google Reader until they unceremoniously scrapped it.  I never really understood why they shut it down, for it was wildly popular and caused a lot of gnashing of teeth among those of us who liked it.  

I started hunting around for a replacement and tried several others--Feedly, for example, among them.  I was totally dissatisfied with these, but I struggled along until, by chance, I found one that mimicked Google Reader; the site owners, cleverly, have named it The Old Reader (theoldreader.com), and I am very happy with it.

There is one feature about The Old Reader that Google didn't have: A dead feed indicator that will identify inactive feeds, arranged by the length of time that no post has been made on a site.  When I see a site on this list that hasn't posted in six months, I delete it, assuming the posters have abandoned their effort.

I am certainly not proselytizing for The Old Reader, and I assume that newsfeed readers are sort of a personal thing.  However, if you were a Google Reader user and haven't found a satisfactory replacement, this may be something worth investigating.




Saturday, October 5, 2013

In Houston for Girlie Stuff

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

I knew it was coming.  Excited as I am that Mindy is expecting another grandson for me, it is a rite of passage that she will be having a baby shower, and Tyler and I will get roped into it somehow.  (I have learned this one is called a "sprinkle," as she already had a shower for the first baby.)  Now, with that information, I already know more than I wanted to know.

In preparation for this event, we have moved Phannie to Rayford Crossing RV Resort north of Houston to become a mobile command post for Sandy.  This is a nice park, fairly close to Mindy's and Tyler's home, and Phannie will provide all of the support necessary for Sandy to fuss over the details. I will unquestionably be pressed into service as a chauffeur, fetcher or cook.  (I enjoy cooking, but this sort of hobby can be a bit of a liability in times like this.)

After a multitude of phone conversations with Mindy, Sandy has decreed that I will drive them to Costco this morning.  I thought about reminding them that both of them have valid driver's licenses and a GPS and could likely go there themselves, but years of experience have taught me that such a comment, articulated at this time, would not have had the desired effect of getting me out of this chore.  In fact, it would have been downright counterproductive, as it espoused a plan that did not originate with, nor was it approved by, the command center. Knowing the futility of an appeal--especially when no appeal process exists--I cheerfully acquiesced. Too bad I don't have a chauffeur's cap; I would have worn it.

The trip was uneventful, except for seeing a serious accident that slowed traffic for about 15 minutes. As the last highly essential party item was checked by the cashier, it became clear that I was to have another duty added to that of chauffeuring:  Toting the spoils of the girls' shopping crusade.  It was now ever so much more clear why they insisted on my accompanying them.  They could probably have done better than my weak back and weak mind, but I work cheap, and I show up when told.

I have already been informed that I will be a sous chef tomorrow morning and not to plan anything I might enjoy.  Sir, yes sir!  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Retirement: Reflecting on the First Month

At home in Fort Worth...

Now having one month's retirement under my belt, I thought it might be interesting to share my initial impressions of life as a retiree. You will recall that I just sort of belly-flopped into this new lifestyle after 45 years of constant employment, except for a few weeks when I was between jobs. Frankly, I didn't know what to expect, but I can tell you now that it didn't take long for me to adjust. And I can also tell you that I like it. A lot.

Here are some of my first month's impressions:

1. The wakeup alarm on my clock radio has not sounded even once. I have always hated that darned thing, and I still haven't decided what action to take if it has the audacity to come on again at some point. Who knows, it might even involve gunfire; there is a pistol in my nightstand drawer...

2. I don't have to be in my car, backing out of the garage at exactly 6:50 a.m. every morning in order to make in 40 minutes what would normally be a 20-minute drive to the office. This daily struggle was caused by endless road construction and 100,000 other drivers trying to kill me while talking on their cell phones or putting on makeup at 75 miles per hour. I saw some pretty horrific wrecks over the years, and I thank the Almighty for watching over me.

3. I don't miss working even a little bit. I have older friends, however, who are still there even though no economic need exists to hang around. I'm sorry, but I don't get it; life is too short, and there's so much of God's creation left to see. I don't have many regrets up to now, and I really don't want to start any new ones if I can help it. Regrets torment us because they almost always involve the consequences of something we unwisely did or did not do in the past and which are, of course, irreversible. Frankly, I can't think of anything I would regret more than taking my last sightseeing trip being wheeled out of my office on a gurney. 

4. I find I now have way too many clothes. I will never need to buy  anything else to wear for any purpose as long as I live. I believe I could do quite nicely now with perhaps two dozen articles of clothing. So what do I do with the two hundred others in my closet? I'm sure a heavily-laden trip to a charity collection center will be in the offing.

5. There is little need to go to the dry cleaners much anymore to maintain my executive look, such as it was. When I told the owner of the cleaners I was retiring, he hung black crepe around his door and mumbled something about suicide.

6. It's true what they say about not knowing what day it is!  I really didn't believe that until I retired and stopped wearing my watch, upon which the day of the week appears rather prominently. However, any unsettling feeling I might have about this is mitigated by my realization that I generally have no need to know what day it is!  If I need to do something on a specific day, Sandy will tell me. She always knows what day it is, along with a whole bunch of other stuff whose usefulness is questionable. For example, do I really need to know that you're not supposed to wear white shoes after Labor Day?

7. Perhaps retirement's greatest benefit is freedom. Freedom from deadlines; freedom from limitations on time and travel; freedom to linger at a special vacation spot or over coffee and good conversation; freedom to pursue a hobby or interest that was suppressed during the grind of the workweek; freedom to visit friends and family and rekindle old relationships. And yes, most importantly, freedom from regret.  

As my friend Ed Dray reminds me every day, "Life is good!"

    


Monday, September 30, 2013

Back at Home Base

At home in Fort Worth...

The final leg home down I-20 from Shreveport was uneventful after a quiet night at Tall Pines RV Park. This facility, judging from the telltale A-frame shape of the office, was obviously an ancient KOA campground earlier in its life.  And I do mean ancient, as the site pads were short and narrow, the concrete having been poured way before big rigs and RV slideouts came on the scene. I was able to get all of Phannie's wheels on the pad, but she looked something like a big gray elephant perched on a post card. Mae had to be content with parking on the gravel that led up to the pad. It was a quiet park, but there was no working wi-fi available. Incomprehensible in today's connected world. 

Cruising along on the Interstate, I was able to fiddle at length with my new GPS, a Rand McNally Tripmaker designed especially for RVers. I've been relatively impressed with it so far, but it is not very user-friendly. It has taken a lot of trial and error to figure out how it works. I've even had to resort to looking a the manual a time or two.  (This is anathema to a guy, as it is generally considered a sign of weakness.) The unit seems very accurate and, with the exception of Clarksdale, has been perfect in finding some very tricky destinations. I don't know what happened there; the GPS took us within about a half-mile of the Clarksdale campground but no farther. It was as though it was trying to tell us not to try to go there. As it turned out, the GPS knew best; we should have listened.

Although you can change it, the Tripmaker defaults to displaying the map with north always at the top, unlike other GPS units that show the direction of travel always at the top. In the latter, the map turns while the RV icon always points north. In the Tripmaker, the appearance is that of a stationary map upon which the RV icon moves around. When I was flying airliners, I was accustomed to this kind of display on my navigation instruments, so it seems more natural to me. It also warned me when it had planned a route (I have it set to "fastest") whose weight restrictions did not allow a vehicle of Phannie's 32,000 lb. gross weight. It has also given fairly accurate warnings about road construction in progress. (I can't figure out how it knows that.) It's also supposed to warn me of height obstructions on a planned route that might cause something expensive and embarrassing to happen to Phannie. So far, I haven't observed that warning yet. I also appreciate the big 7" display, needed as my eyes get older.

Arriving home, I left Phannie in her driveway while we unloaded. This allowed the slides to be fully extended so as to have clear access to all the storage spaces. Well, that's not the whole story; it was mainly for Sandy to have access to her clothes in the bedroom closet, all of which had to be transported back into the house (by guess who?) for reassessment, she announced. Bless her heart, although she is much improved in her choice and quantity of clothing for RV trips, she still struggles in dealing with changing seasons. I, on the other hand, left my skimpy supply of clothes largely intact in Phannie except for exchanging a couple of pairs of shorts for long pants, now that autumn has arrived.  And yes, Sandy knows, intellectually that, in consideration of RV clothing, less is more. It's just that little demon whispering in her ear, "What if?" She's a planner and organizer and doesn't like to be caught unprepared by the vagaries of weather, hence her reliance on "what if" outfits. I have learned over time that her deliberations in this area do not need any input from me. 

We also empty the refrigerator and clean it after each trip. We found this eliminates odors and the likelihood that something will be left in there that will scare us when we open it again.  Then I dump the tanks, including the fresh water, which I will refill just before the next trip.

The next trip, by the way, is coming up Friday, to Houston. We'll keep you posted. 


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Escape from the Clarksdale Zombies

In Shreveport, Louisiana...

Sandy and I awoke after an uneasy sleep in Clarksdale to find that we had not been attacked by zombies during the night.  This macabre warning was postulated, much to our discomfort, by our dear friend and blog reader, Jim, from back home.  Phannie's new tires were not slashed, and Mae started up without exploding.  Okay, we obviously overreacted to our surroundings to the point of perhaps sounding a bit snobbish, although I prefer to think of it as, um, sheltered.  In my defense, let me just say that our lifestyle and comfort zone are what they are, and we have worked hard to maintain these...without apology.

As we were laughing about the Zombie attack that wasn't, it occurred to us that neither of us has even seen a zombie movie or read a book about zombies.  We think we heard that they are dead people who emerge from the grave and attack live people, but we don't know how they became un-dead or why they attack live people. I suppose we could find out, but we cannot bring ourselves to use even a few irreplaceable minutes of our lives doing something as inane as researching zombies.  We will just have to keep wondering, I guess. 

A beloved uncle of Sandy's passed away yesterday, so we decided to abandon our slow meandering return to home base in favor of a more direct route.  We decided to spend the night in Shreveport tonight, in order to drive quickly home on Friday and regroup for a short time before driving to Belton (Texas) for the funeral on Saturday.  

The first 70 miles of the leg from Clarksdale was via the Great River Road, a scenic (supposedly) byway built in 1938 that follows alongside the Mississippi River from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  The map I was using even had the little green dots beside the depicted road indicating it was scenic.  I beg to differ.  I suppose if you find that a thousand or so miles of flat river bottom land is scenic, then you would be captivated by driving this road.  We were impressed for about ten miles, then it became a bit tiresome.  I guess we just don't get it. The highway was great, however--straight, smooth and well maintained with very little traffic. We just don't think we'll need to go this way again.  Ever.

Sandy made good use of her newly-expanded pullout computer desk in front of her copilot's seat.  With her iPad and cell phone there on the desk, she has access to the world.  Keeping up with family and friends and taking care of banking, business matters and a myriad of other interests is a piece of cake.  No wonder the post office is going bust; we really don't need them anymore, I guess.  Here she is, at command central:


I still can't help but marvel at the technology that allows us to have the world at our fingertips while driving down the road in a rolling house in the middle of nowhere.  It was only one generation back--our parents--who, as children, lived in houses with no telephone, no electricity and no indoor plumbing or bathroom.  We have come a long way in a short time.

We made it to the Tall Pines RV Park in Shreveport without a hiccup. Phannie has never run better, and we are really enjoying her new upgrades.

Clarksdale: A Blue Highway Bust

In Clarksdale, Mississippi...

Rant warning:  I really don't consider this a rant but a rather harsh review of a town that has just sort of let itself go; it could do better, in my opinion.

Since I try to maintain a positive outlook on life, it is rare that I encounter a place in our travels in which I can find almost no redeeming qualities.  Such a place is Clarksdale, Mississippi. This woeful hovel of seediness lies about five miles east of the Mississippi River.  It is billed as the home of the blues, and I can understand why!

My penchant for adventure on blue highways (taking roads less traveled) usually results in our discovery of quaint and interesting places that we otherwise may have missed while grinding along the dreaded Interstates. Occasionally, however, among all that quaintness, we run across a town like this--a tasteless amalgam of depression-era buildings with little refurbishment other than sloppy paint jobs. There is obviously no thought of erecting any kind of new structure here for fear the hapless citizens would think an alien spaceship had landed. The streets are rife with asphalt patchwork and seem to meander without a logical pattern except for a theme of planting a stop sign at every corner. Street signs were missing at a number of locations, making our navigation to the RV park unsuccessful on the first try.  There was no signage at all directing travelers to the fairgrounds and the RV park contained therein.  Even the GPS, usually very accurate, was confused.  I finally had to resort to asking directions, something I only do out of desperation, being a guy.

Apparently, tourists like us are few in number but easily recognized as strangers. This was underscored when we finished dinner at Ramon’s, an authentic dive of a restaurant that served remarkably good food. As I was paying the bill, the very elderly woman at the cash register asked, 

“Where you folks from?”
“Fort Worth, Texas,” I said, electing not to mention that she left out a verb and ended her sentence with a preposition. A quizzical frown came over her face.
“What in God’s name are you doing here?”

Surprised at the question, I remained mute, unable to think of a way to explain in less than fifteen minutes where we had been and why we stopped there.  Sandy, on the other hand, had no such limitation, as she is especially gifted in the art of spontaneous verbal communication with strangers. She will gleefully engage in a conversation with anyone, unfettered by any perceived constraint of time or adherence to just one subject. (I think that’s why everyone likes her better.)  Anyway, Sandy launched into the saga of Phannie’s stay in Red Bay while the old lady looked on with the same blank stare she would have had if Sandy were lecturing about astrophysics. At the end of Sandy’s soliloquy, the old woman asked sweetly,

“So you’ve pulled your trailer all this way?”
About this time, an elderly gentleman, having overheard the conversation, strode from the kitchen and clarified,

“It’s the kind of trailer that people drive, Bertie.”  
She smiled, giving no visible hint that she had any idea what we were talking about. I was pretty sure she had never seen a motorhome in her life.

Our overnight parking spot was in the parking lot of the fairgrounds and overgrown with weeds in many places, where the city had installed, apparently with overdone expectations of tourists, perhaps a hundred RV hookups, most of which had electricity and water and some with sewer.  There was no attendant--just a drop box where you were supposed to drop fifteen dollars on the honor system. The few full hookup spots were occupied mostly by a much older and ragged smattering of towable RVs in various states of decline and disrepair. The occupants of these rigs were obviously long-timers for whom the next step downward would be in a tent or under a bridge. There were no motorhomes among them, and the effect of Phannie’s arrival on the scene was probably not much different from what it would be like for Air Force One to land in downtown Pascagoula, judging from the stares we got.  I don't think they had many transients that could find the place. We finally located a 50-amp hookup some distance from the other residents and parked, surprised somewhat that the water and electricity actually worked.  Then we went to dinner, but not without locking all of the baggage doors in addition to Phannie’s cabin door.  Also, my friends, Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson, were close at hand.  Why did we elect to stay there, you may ask?  Well, it was late, and choices were few in Clarksdale.

A word about Ramon’s Restaurant:  I found this little dive on Yelp, and it turned out to be a winner. In a rough neighborhood (indistinguishable in Clarksdale from an upscale neighborhood), this restaurant has been turning out wonderful home-cooked food since 1945--finally, something positive!  We had an old favorite, fried catfish and hush puppies, and we ate every morsel.


Ramon's in Clarksdale - Yum!
I'm sure the people here are very nice folks, as exemplified by those we met at Ramon's, but they really could do a better job of taking pride in their town; I hope they will, at some point.