Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Shoulder Update and a Flip-Flop on New Jacks for Phannie

At Lake Conroe Thousand Trails, Willis, Texas...

My shoulder therapy continues twice weekly and will continue for a few months, except for a break we're soon taking that I'll mention later. Dr. Hayes is very pleased with my progress, as am I. I continue to be amazed at the things I can do now with my arm that were impossible a few weeks ago--especially before surgery, when my right arm was little more than a useless appendage, dangling mostly limp from my shoulder.  By now, the tendons that were severed have pretty much completed their remarriage to the rotator cuff, and this realization has given new inspiration to the therapists, who circle me in the therapy pool like sharks waiting to attack their next victim. 

Armed with the knowledge that whatever devilish techniques they use now will not likely dislodge any of Dr. Hayes's handiwork, they seem entirely too gleeful in finding new places to grip, pull and prod, causing my poor arm to contort itself and to go places that it doesn't want to go, causing rather embarrassing grunts and groans from me in the process. My shoulder is telling me that it doesn't like what is happening to it, but I am powerless to help. Firearms are not permitted in the therapy pool.

The therapists are very professional and, as I mentioned before, quite charming as they go about their demonic trade, joking with me to diffuse my thoughts of suicide, I suppose. Oddly, I sort of enjoy the banter with them, whom I have come to know and who are just as aware as I am that without pain there will be no gain toward full use of my arm again. With this in mind, I do what I'm told, but I playfully insult and disparage them as being cruel and heartless. They give it right back, asking, for example, if a sticker or a lollipop would stop my whining. 

I even told one of the therapists that she probably couldn't keep pets when she was a child because they were so terrified of her that they ran away. We had a good laugh about that, but then I could swear she stuck a knife in my shoulder blade after that remark, although I didn't see any blood in the water; her hands are truly weapons-grade! 

I may have to rethink my habit of making smart aleck remarks when there is a good chance of immediate and painful retribution. Nah, that's not likely to change; I've had a smart mouth way too long.

Because of my progress, I have been cleared to undertake soon our planned trip to Michigan in Phannie with a stop in Lebanon, Missouri for a gospel concert and time with good friends Larry and Carolyn. I just have to take it easy and be aware of my limitations, taking a blood oath to do certain exercises they have prescribed every day. When we get to the tiny town of White Pigeon, Michigan--just across the Indiana state line from Elkhart--we will finally have Phannie's electric Atwood jacks retrofitted with Bigfoot hydraulic jacks at their factory in that little town. 

One of the biggest mistakes Tiffin has ever made, in my opinion, was to install these infernal electric Atwood levelers on some models from about 2005 through 2008. They have been notoriously troublesome and ineffective--so much so that Atwood itself came out with an upgraded retrofit kit several years ago that was supposed to solve the problems. So, I shelled out $3,500 for it and, for a while, it worked okay. Now it's worse than ever, totally exceeding my level of tolerance; I am done with them. Another kicker is that the jacks are no longer manufactured, parts are scarce, and no one seems to know how to work on them. It's time to relegate them to the junk pile.

I was initially going to purchase the hydraulic retrofit system offered by HWH, but my research has convinced me that Bigfoot has some advantages, including a lesser cost! On top of that, a good friend just had the Bigfoot retrofit done on his Phaeton, and his glowing assessment was all the confirmation I needed to change my mind. I'll keep you posted on how it goes. 

Here are a couple of photos of the differences in the two jack systems I've considered:

The HWH jacks (like the one above) are operated from a centralized hydraulic system and retracted with springs. Its lifting power and footprint are less than Bigfoot's.

The Bigfoot jacks above are beefier, with a greater lifting capacity and larger footprint; each jack has its own hydraulic system, and the jacks are lifted hydraulically. 

Once the new jacks are installed, we intend to drive up the the upper peninsula in Michigan and down through easternWisconsin when we start back toward Texas. We've heard a lot of good things about the UP, but we've never traveled to the area before, so we're eager to check it out. If any of you have any suggestions, we'd be grateful if you'd include them in the comments section.

We can hardly wait to head northward to escape from the Houston area's oppressive heat and humidity, something we would ordinarily have done more than a month ago, had it not been for my shoulder ordeal. Thankfully, Sandy has recovered 100 percent from her injuries, and there appear to be no lasting issues for her. A bright spot has been the extra time with the kids that we wouldn't otherwise have had; that has made our summer overstay well worth it. 

We also have the good fortune to have wonderful friends we have made through our RV adventure, and we joined some of them recently for a fun lunch at a Chinese buffet in Huntsville. From left to right: Dave, Richard, Karen (plus an unidentified man in the photo whose mustache had its own weather system), Janice and Sandy.

I will have to jump back into therapy with the sharks again when we return from Michigan. There's no telling what nefarious schemes they will have dreamed up by then. I'm told I'll probably be done with the program sometime in October. That will make me a happy (and grateful) camper.

So, there you have it. Things are going pretty well here on the sweltering gulf coast of Texas. We'll have more posts once we start northward.

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

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
--George Bernard Shaw

When I get up in the morning, I just don't let the old man in. --Clint Eastwood 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Looking Inside my Shoulder; Therapy Finally Begins; Why Falling is Appalling; A Visit From Friends

At Majestic Pines RV Resort, Willis, Texas...

After I awoke in the recovery room, the surgeon showed me photos of the interior of my shoulder, snapped from the little camera that had snaked around inside during the surgery, allowing him to perform the intricate maneuvers that would reconnect things that had been so violently torn apart. Of particular concern were the ends of the three tendons that had been severed from the rotator cuff and had retracted to where only the shredded ends were visible some distance from their former points of attachment. It was obviously a mess, even to the eyes of someone untrained like me. It was an almost surreal feeling that I was looking at photos of the  mayhem inside my own sad-looking shoulder, but the pain I felt brought it back to reality. This, he said, was why it took him so long to dig around inside and make repairs. 

When I saw him again in a few days, he asked if I was angry with him for not being fully honest about the post-op pain he knew I would experience. I came back with some smart aleck joke but even so, I made sure he knew I felt nothing but gratitude. And even at the worst of the two-day post-op blinding pain, with sleep being impossible, I was nothing but thankful that his God-given skill was likely to make me whole again--or so I hoped.

He delayed the beginning of therapy for a month due to the complications of the repair. I had to be careful to wear my arm sling, staying away from crowds and avoiding at all costs any excess movement that could undo the sutures, clamps and whatever else he had put in place inside my shoulder to reconnect the tendons. He described the movements of my arm that were okay to make, and I followed his instructions carefully.

After about a week, I felt good enough to have visitors, especially enjoying those from the kids. I even went to Mason's tenth birthday party, which I was not going to miss! The kids were schooled beforehand not to run up and hug Poppy, something I sorely missed.

A few days after the surgery, I went in for a checkup. Dr. Hayes gave me allowances for more freedom of movement as I felt comfortable, but with stern instructions about what I was not to try to do. This has been a real confidence builder, as I have noticed steady improvement in the things I am able to do with my right arm. For example, I couldn't dress myself at the beginning (thank God for Sandy!) and now, I need almost no help at all. I'm even allowed to start driving again for brief periods! But small chores like this do not involve the larger muscles connected to the tendons that have lain dormant for weeks and, because they think they're on vacation, still prevent me from raising my arm past my chest. It is to regain the use of these that I have finally begun physical therapy, which will proceed slowly until everything is healed inside. 

The first therapy episodes have been conducted in a pool, the buoyancy of the water helping immensely when the larger motion requirements are demanded by the therapist, who knows well her malicious trade. I would like to say that it was delightful to be massaged by a young lady in a swimsuit, but this was clearly not the case. She was there to awaken sleeping muscles, and that she did, looking unhappy if she didn't elicit from me a groan or at least a grimace as she moved my arm to places it did not want to go. Here is a photo of one of my first sessions:

If nothing else, this experience has reinforced the value of family--especially my dear Sandy--and friends, whose support and helpfulness has been superb. I appreciate everyone for everything, no matter how small, even if only a thought, a note or a prayer. It has also reminded me that older people are terribly at risk from falling. In fact, it is the leading cause of accidental injury and death among the elderly, causing 2.8 million hospitalizations and 27,000 deaths last year. I don't know about you, but I was stunned by those statistics. 

I know I have made a new commitment toward being more sensible in being aware of my surroundings and movements from now on and realizing that I am no longer the kid who thought he was immortal.

Just as I was putting this finishing touches on this post, we learned that good friends Chip and Diane were staying nearby visiting their grandkids, so we made arrangements for a long lunch together, catching up with the escapades of these fine folks. Their visit really cheered us up, another indication that, yes, things will surely get back to normal before long.

Oh, yes, I mentioned in the last post that I would talk about jacks in this post; well, I suppose that'll have to be next time. This one really needed to be all about me. (grin)

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 

please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it as I should each day.

We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.  
--George Bernard Shaw

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Surgery is Done, But I Think They're Going to Hurt Me Some More

At Majestic Pines RV Park, Willis, Texas...

They didn't quite tell me the whole story there at the doctor's office. They told me that, once the surgery was done, they would send me home with a pain medicine pump that would make my shoulder feel "yummy" for a couple of days. 

"Yummy?" I pondered the word for a minute. That's not a term I've heard from a surgeon before, but Dr. Hayes had a great reputation and a folksy personality, so I thought it was kinda cool. But I had heard this kind of surgery was painful, so I was grateful for this extra measure to help lessen its impact. With this in mind, I presumed I would have no pain at all if my shoulder was supposed to feel "yummy." 

After the surgery, I went home from the hospital looking like some kind of cyborg--half human, half machine--with an arm sling and a brace, along with other restraints and straps to immobilize my arm. Hanging at waist level by an additional strap around my neck was a black pouch containing the pump and the "yummy" pain medicine that would be automatically injected into my shoulder for the next two days. From the bag ran a small plastic tube that snaked up my torso and across my back into a little hole that had been punctured in my neck, through which the "yummy" painkilling fluid would flow, supposedly numbing my entire shoulder via a nerve block. (Remember that word "supposedly.") The tube was held in place on its routing from the bag to my neck with what seemed like enough tape to patch the hole in the Titanic; that sucker wasn't about to come loose, and the whole spectacle definitely turned heads as I exited the elevator and was wheeled out to the car to go home.

The surgeon said that the repairs he had to make to my rotator cuff were far more significant than the MRI had revealed. Three of the attached tendons had been severed and shredded in the fall, and the surgery took twice as long as he had expected. It was arthroscopic surgery, requiring what would ultimately be seven holes to be opened in my shoulder for the insertion of surgical instruments and a camera. This is a photo of my shoulder taken a day after surgery (Two of the holes are nearer the back of my shoulder, not visible in this photo; the yellow is the residue of a surgical sanitizing liquid. The blue markings are part of the process they use to ensure they are operating on the correct shoulder):

One of the first things I noticed when I awakened in the recovery room was that my shoulder didn't feel "yummy" as had been advertised. The anesthetic was working, as my arm and shoulder felt numb to the touch but, evidently, there was just so much it could do. The next 18 hours were pretty hellish, painwise, and I can just imagine what it would have been like without the pump. I mentioned this on the followup, and the surgeon said he wasn't surprised, given the damage inside my shoulder and the extensiveness of his repairs. Thankfully, after a couple of days, things were quite manageable with the pain meds that I was given.

Sandy is doing quite well, looking more or less like new except for a little scar tissue on her lip and nose, so I'm glad about that. 

With each passing day, my arm's stiffness and the shoulder pain lessen, so I am pleased with my progress. I'll be getting the stitches out next week, and the physical therapy begins immediately afterward. 

Speaking of physical therapists, I know these people. I was introduced to them after my hip replacement surgery a few years ago, so I am fully aware of what to expect from them in a few days. I think you have to be a special person to be a PT. I'm not sure what their training is like, but I think they are educated in two very different phases: In the first phase, they are trained by ex-Gestapo operatives in the art of torture and, in the second phase, they attend a Dale Carnegie course. The result is what you could only describe as a charming sadist. If you've had PT after these kinds of surgeries, you know what I'm talking about. In any case, I'm going into the therapy phase with my eyes open, and I promise not to carry any hidden weapons for retaliation.  I'm going to be compliant and do what they tell me, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Let me send heartfelt thanks to all of you who expressed kind thoughts and prayers for us whether or not we were aware of them. We are grateful for every one and believe in the effectiveness of prayer. 

Of course, this little episode has vastly curtailed our summer travel plans, but we're still hoping to save some of them. We have a tickets, along with Arkansas friends Larry and Carolyn, for a gospel concert in Missouri in a couple of months, and I still hope to get Phannie's jacks replaced at some point. By the way, I have some news about that, and I will share it in the next post. 

Meanwhile, it's great being here in Conroe with our family:

In closing, here are a couple of charming bonus photos of Mindy and brand new grandson Sutton:

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

We don't stop playing when we get old; we get old when we stop playing. -- George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, May 9, 2019

A Shoulder to Cry On

At Majestic Pines RV Resort, Willis, Texas...

I thought I should give you an update on our condition since our freak accident in Fredericksburg that was described a couple of posts earlier in this blog. Sandy, obviously because of her relative youth and vigor, is pretty much back to about 90 percent, awaiting her broken nose to heal fully.

I wasn't so lucky. I noticed at the time of the fall that I couldn't raise my right arm above my waist. While the other bruises and lacerations have healed, the mobility problem with my arm has remained. My fear of a rotator cuff injury was confirmed by an MRI yesterday, and I will be having surgery in Houston as soon as it can be arranged.

This, of course, will completely change our plans for summer travel, as I will need physical therapy for quite a while after the surgery. On the positive side, we will be able to spend more time here with our family and gush over our new grandson, Sutton. 

I will be posting from time to time with progress reports, but these may not be all that often due to typing limitations with my right arm and my reluctance to turn this into a medical soap opera.  In the meantime, we always appreciate being included in your prayers.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it as I should each day.

We don't stop playing when we get old; we get old when we stop playing.
--George Bernard Shaw

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Grandson Number Three Has Arrived

At Lake Conroe Thousand Trails, Willis, Texas...

Before I get into the introduction of our new grandson, I need to mention a bright spot in our visit to Fredericksburg besides being with our rally friends. We learned that Paul and Mary, friends who are former fulltimers, happened to be nearby in Kerrville, so we arranged a luncheon meeting at the Alamo Springs Cafe, a legendary burger joint in the middle of nowhere between the two towns. It was great to catch up with them and enjoy their company for a little while:

With each passing day after our spills on the sidewalk in downtown Fredericksburg, we are grunting less and moving our limbs a little better, so it looks like we're going to get back to normal before long. But that's hardly as important as the arrival of Sutton Paul Girard, our third grandson and latest object of our affection spoiling. (Yes, it's okay; all grandparents have a license to spoil their grandchildren. It's in the Bible--you know, "spare the rod and spoil the child" in Proverbs. Well, we've taken that to mean that, since none of our grandchildren are named Rod, they're all fair game.

Now, without further ado, I present Mr. Sutton Paul Girard, born at 2:51 a.m. on April 18, weighing 6 lbs., 5 oz. and 19 inches long, held by Sandy who, through the miracle of makeup, has her bruises well covered:


Sutton on day 2. Poppy on day 26,390:

Mindy and big brothers Mason and Pryce:

Proud dad Tyler:

Sutton seems to like all the attention:

Well, there you have it--a pretty exciting time for our family. We will be hanging around here until early June, when we will leave for Moscow, Iowa and Phannie's new hydraulic jack retrofit at the HWH factory. 

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

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
--George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, April 20, 2019

We Fall For Each Other in Fredericksburg

At Lake Conroe Thousand Trails, Willis, Texas...

This will be a bit of a short post because, frankly, it hurts to type. We arrived in Fredericksburg to attend the rally and were having a great time with our friends. Kathy, Patsy and Sandy decided to go shopping in downtown Fredericksburg one day, and I used that opportunity to go to WalMart and pick up a few things. While there, I received a call from a woman who told me that Sandy had fallen on the sidewalk downtown and that an ambulance had been called. I double checked with her about the location and ran to the car to go to the scene.

Seeing the ambulance, I parked nearby and rushed toward where a crowd had gathered and, as luck would have it, I, too, tripped and fell at the very same spot where Sandy had fallen, both of us face down on the concrete. She had already been placed in the ambulance, and the EMTs then turned their attention to me. We were both bleeding rather profusely from facial injuries, but we didn't appear to have any broken bones, so we decided that our friends, who had also arrived, could take us to the hospital.

After many x-rays were taken, it was determined that the only thing broken was Sandy's nose and her eyeglasses. We both had multiple  lacerations on our faces, hands and knees, and I had a severely bruised knee and a badly sprained shoulder. 

As it turned out, there was a rather deteriorated area of the sidewalk, including a hole six inches deep, where we fell. That doesn't exactly excuse our clumsiness, but the area was not cordoned off, even though it was clearly not a new hazard, judging from the grass growing up within it.

We took photos of everything, including our injuries, but I decided not to include them here. Let's just say that we didn't exactly look our best in those photos. And yes, we are considering some legal action; that will be up to our attorneys.

We had several sleepless nights and uncomfortable days afterward and had to delay our departure to Conroe until I felt I was in a condition to operate Phannie safely. This made us a bit nervous, as we knew the arrival of grandson number three was imminent. We made the trip okay, although our procedures for getting ready to travel went much more slowly and painfully than usual. I would like to say one more big thank you to all our friends who came to our aid. You are the best!

Our arrival in Conroe was just in time, as grandson Sutton made his appearance only three days later!  I'll have photos in the next post!

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

We don't stop playing when we get old; we get old when we stop playing.
--George Bernard Shaw

Friday, April 5, 2019

Leaving the Valley

At Victoria Palms RV Resort, Donna, Texas...

Our three months here have gone by so quickly. Since going fulltime three years ago, this is the longest period of time that we have stayed in one place without Phannie's turning a wheel. I had wondered what it would be like to settle in for a lengthy stay somewhere and, as it turns out, it was just great. Of course, our good experience was in no small measure due to our interaction with so many of the good friends we have made over the years who, luckily, were also here. 

Because of the semi-tropical climate we've enjoyed here in the Valley, we admit to having felt a bit guilty sometimes, as we watched the television reports of the record cold weather and flooding that has plagued the northern climes. We are very fortunate to be able to move around the country as we wish to escape such weather extremes. 

Over the last couple of weeks, we said goodbyes to the last of our visitors, one of whom was a real VIP--Sandy's sister, Brenda. Here are the two at Arturo's restaurant in Progreso, just across the border in Mexico:

The girls did some shopping (what else?), and one certainly can't go across to Mexico without getting a good supply of inexpensive pharmaceuticals:

I've heard from many others of their reluctance to spend the winter near the border, but in all the time we've spent here in the Valley and during our many trips into Progreso, we've never felt even slightly unsafe. The border is very heavily patrolled in this area, and the citizens of Progreso are smart enough to know that their very livelihood depends on the frequent return of winter Texans--something that would dry up quickly and devastate their economy if there were reports of criminal activity victimizing them in that location. I'm not sure how the Mexicans control it so well there, but it is indeed fortunate that they do.

Another couple of our friends who are also heading northbound were nice enough to stop by and accompany us to dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Harlingen, the Las Vegas Cafe. Denny and Jackie live in Illinois and winter here in the Valley. They are delightful people who are a hoot to be around, and we feel so lucky to have met them. Safe travels, y'all:

On a recent particularly sunny day, I called Jesse, our favorite RV cleaner, to come out and give Phannie a good washing and waxing. This is always a must-do while we're in the Valley each winter, as Jesse does a great job for less than half the price anywhere else.

As I make the final preparations for Phannie's departure, I look down our street at the now-empty spaces--a radical difference from in January when we had only four spaces to choose from among more than a thousand in the park. 

When we arrived, we found that we had been assigned a space in an area where our neighbors were almost all Canadians. They were polite and waved but tended to fraternize with each other rather than outsiders. This was quite a surprise, as RVers of all origins are usually much more friendly and sociable than these folks. But it was fine; we had lots of friends around the area and actually weren't at the coach all that much.

It has been a great winter for us, except for the peculiar feeling that we didn't really have a winter this year. Yes, there were a few cool spells while we were here, but the temps never got even close to freezing. There was never a time when we needed more than a light jacket.

We are headed from here to Fredericksburg, Texas, where we will join up with a rally held by our club for Tiffin owners, the Texas Bluebonnet Allegros.  Because of our change in status to fulltimers, we aren't often in the area, and we're looking forward to meeting up with these friends again. It's been too long.

After that, we'll be headed to Thousand Trails at Lake Conroe, where we will see more of our friends and await with great anticipation and excitement the arrival of our newest grandson in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

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

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
--George Bernard Shaw 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Old Friends, New Friends and We Meet a Fellow Blogger

At Victoria Palms RV Resort, Donna, Texas...

When I think about our soon-to-be concluded winter stay here in the Valley and the reasons this place continues to beckon to us as we flee the cold weather, my first thought is about the friends, old and new, whose company we have enjoyed during our wanderings and some of whom are usually here during the winter. We write often of our friends--perhaps too often for some of our readers, but they are important to us, and we like to keep them at least in our thoughts when we're apart. I am ever mindful of that prescient quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Go oft to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path." 

When we see their photos, we sometimes talk about how we first met each of these couples and, with few exceptions, the common thread is the RVing connection. Within that group, the original contact was usually made in one of a couple of ways: By personally interacting with fellow travelers parked nearby or through first becoming a cyber friend through reading RVers' blogs. I used to read quite a number of these in the years leading up to our going fulltime--mainly to assess the authors' experiences and what we could learn from them. And I still read some that are done well and include plenty of narrative along with photos. Blogs that include mostly photos and little story telling don't get my attention. Anyone can post photos; the author's story is the interesting part. While I'm thinking about it, let me give a shoutout to Mary, who writes Reflections Around the Campfire, one of my favorites. She is a talented writer who lets you into her head with a smart and thoughtful commentary about what she's thinking and observing.

We think immediately of longtime friends Ed and Marilyn, whose blog, The Happy Wanderers, we have been following for perhaps the longest time. Ed is another blogger who is more of a  daily storyteller than an picture taker, and his blog has way over a million hits to underscore its appeal. We would have to give them credit for introducing us to a whole gaggle of their friends, whom we now count as friends of our own and, like all of our friends, we think they are the best people anyone could possibly know. Here's a photo of some from that group, sitting outside Ed and Marilyn's coach house a few days ago while John played the guitar and sang. (Notice the warm weather clothing; we mustn't forget to mention that the tropical climate is another reason we're here in the winter.): 

We think of Gordon and Juanita, whom we came to know many years ago through Gordon's blog, written when they were traveling. We think of Dave and Janice, who have a Facebook blog and who introduced us to a wonderful group of pals in the Conroe area. We also think of the friends we've made through rallies of the RV club to which we belong. There are many other wonderful friends--not necessarily RVers, but those whom we've known from other circles and perhaps for decades--who will remain close in our hearts for all our lifetime. Today's focus, however, is really about meeting, right here in the Valley, new blogger friends Mark and Denisa:

I tend to give some extra ink to RV bloggers we've met, but this delightful couple deserve an extra supply. This would not only be because of their terrific blog, Wandering His Wonders, authored by Denisa, but also because they are just such personable, winsome people. Denisa obviously takes pride in her posts, because they are unfailingly interesting and informative with great photos. If you haven't already found it, it's worth clicking on the link above, for sure.

These fulltiming Oklahomans must have retired early, as they both look annoyingly young. Mark was in the tech world, and Denisa was in academia. They have two sons and recently became grandparents! They also seem tireless, engaging in endless  physical activities such as kayaking, hiking, swimming and dancing, to name a few. Oh yes, and let's not forget pickleball and water volleyball, and there are probably more. Just writing about all of their physical activity is wearing me out; compared to these two, Sandy and I would have to be classified as more vegetable than human. (By the way, if you're trying to picture me as some kind of vegetable, please don't let it be kale or eggplant, neither of which I like. Just about anything else is fine.)

Here's another photo of this charming couple, beside whom rests a bowl of freshly picked oranges and grapefruit from the ubiquitous fruit trees in their RV park and many others here in the Valley. And yes, the fruit in the parks is usually free for the picking:

I was delighted to learn that, besides our having a common interest in blogging, Denisa is also a fellow pianist, carrying a full 88-key keyboard piano in their motorhome:

This is a bonus I would also enjoy, but we just don't have the room in Phannie--something that's a little difficult to explain since our coach is five feet longer. (Let's just say that going into that really doesn't serve well my best interests, so I think I'll just move along.) I also notice a guitar case in the photo above, something I failed to inquire about. Obviously, these are talented people who've gotten this fulltiming thing all figured out. 

I feel lucky to have access to three pianos here at Victoria Palms, including the nice grand piano in the activity center. Playing for Sunday church service has also been enjoyable, and the practice has helped a great deal. Speaking of the church service, this would be a good place to mention yet another couple of new friends, Illinois residents and Valley snowbirds Linda and Craig, who graciously had us over for dinner the other evening. Linda serves as one of the song leaders at the church service here at VP:

Since we have only about three weeks left here in the Valley, we are often asked if we will be back next winter. We haven't decided yet, as we have never done the snowbird thing anywhere else, such as Florida or Arizona. We think we would like to see what it would be like to spend the winter somewhere in the southwestern U. S., so we might do that next winter; we'll see. We don't think we will be spending any winters in Florida, where it is difficult to find space, and that which can be found is quite a bit more expensive.

I'll mention one more thing--something I posted in the RV Tips Facebook group, but that I'll also include here for the sake of posterity. By the way, my friend Ed Hurlburt runs the group, and he's got about 140,000 subscribers now, as well as a new program offering to members all kinds of vendor discounts. It's well worth taking a look, in my opinion. 

I wanted to mention the light over Phannie's dining table that, until recently, appeared to be getting dimmer as we got older. (I'm sure it couldn't possibly be our aging eyeballs that are the problem.) The original fixture installed at the factory was a dinky one that was painfully dim from the outset. We put up with it for a few years, but eventually found a three-light fixture on eBay that was 12 volts and used those infernal white-hot, push-in 921 bulbs. This new fixture was a great improvement but, as previously mentioned, the light just kept getting dimmer and dimmer with the passage of time. It was becoming more and more difficult to see what we were eating or sometimes even to identify the hazy figure sitting across from me who seemed oddly  familiar. 

Of course, a better course of action would have been to do a rewire and install a 120V household fixture. We really don't need 12-volt lighting in key areas like this because we never do boondocking. However, that sort of project is well beyond my level of expertise and, perhaps more importantly, my level of energy, which we have already established earlier in this piece. Then there's always the possibility that any shadetree installation of mine involving electricity could result in some catastrophe that might involve the summoning of first responders.

I had been looking for some LED bulbs that would fit the push-in slots of the old 921 bulbs but that were also bright enough to be the cataract-friendly kind we needed. However, I also wanted the kind that would give off a warmer light than those bright white LEDs that remind me of the fluorescent bulbs in an old K-Mart or something. I mentioned that to someone that the other day, and his reply was that the bright white LED lights are "in" and that I'm a dinosaur. He may be right; some of the newer coaches I've been in almost require sunglasses to be worn inside.

Undeterred by his remark that must have been incredibly insulting to dinosaurs, I found some LED bulbs on Amazon that looked like what I wanted and, with uncharacteristically good fortune, they turned out to be perfect. Here's the URL, if you're interested:

These suckers are almost bright enough to enable surgery to be performed underneath, but they have the warm white color we wanted. I'm including a photo of the fixture with one of the new bulbs in place; the difference is obvious:

But hey, that's just me; I guess I probably am a dinosaur. But I still don't like those ultra bright, fluorescent-looking lights. And the cataract surgery can be put off a little longer.

In closing, we'll be looking forward to a visit in a few days by Sandy's sister, Brenda. We can't wait to see her and show her around.

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

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
--George Bernard Shaw 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Air Horns, Airplanes and Staying Young at Heart

At Victoria Palms RV Resort, Donna, Texas...

Yes, I know it has been a while since I posted something. We have been having so much fun with our friends here in the Valley that I've just sorta ignored the blog. Sorry about that! However, I've previously posted photos of some of our typical gatherings--usually at a restaurant (where else?), so posting more of these would become a little trite, don't you think? 

We've made several trips over to Mexico with various groups of friends, and that's always fun. We also had a good time teaching the domino game '42' to Larry and Carolyn and Steve and Jackie. They're getting pretty good at it! We also had a brief visit with Bob and Janet of our contingent of friends in nearby Mission, and it was really good to see them again. Joy and Glenn were with us here for a while, but our time with them was way too short, too.

But these eight great friends have headed back north, and we are settling back into what has become a routine of sorts. I can hardly believe that I wondered, when I booked this park for a three-month stay, what in the world we would do with all of our spare time, since we wouldn't be traveling anywhere in Phannie. That worry has proven to be silly; we're busy all the time, it seems. When we aren't visiting with Ed and Marilyn, Denny and Jackie, Eddie and Jan, Mike and Marian and others, we try to take care of housekeeping chores as well as making trips to Wally World and H.E.B for supplies. But we usually have some time to relax, and we've gotten pretty good at that.

I also serve as pianist for the Sunday church service here at Victoria Palms. I was asked to serve by someone who happened by when I was playing the piano in the lobby just after we arrived, and I was delighted to accept. Sandy sings in the choir, so we are glad to be able to take part and serve in these ways.

I also have had a couple of issues that required visits to our site by outside service providers. One wasn't my fault--a windshield nick on Mae that was quickly fixed by Safelite. The other was a lot more expensive and embarrassing, but I might as well confess--maybe I'll feel better about it, but probably not. 

Let's just say that if you find yourself driving a motorhome down a road with tree limbs overhead, it's a really good idea not to proceed if you're not absolutely certain there is plenty of clearance between the limbs and the roof of the coach. If you don't stop, get out and check with your own eyeballs, things can get expensive. 

This bit of stupidity on my part occurred at an RV park in Rockport, where we stayed overnight during our trip here to the Valley. In order to maneuver Phannie past another RV that was taking up more of the road than it should, I drove too close to some overhanging tree limbs. From the driver's seat, the clearance appeared to be okay but, upon hearing an ominous crunch over my head, I knew that it obviously wasn't. The crunch was the dislodging of the left air horn from Phannie's roof. There was nothing to be salvaged from the disfigured remains of the horn, so it was relegated to the dumpster, and I set Phannie on her course toward the Rio Grande sans one of her air horns. These things are very effective, by the way. Since one of these 20-ton beasts won't stop on a dime, a blast on the air horn is pretty handy in getting the attention of a driver who is about to get run over.

I really didn't know what I was going to do about the missing horn when we arrived here, so I began an Internet search and--wonder of wonders--what would show up but "Air Horns of Texas!" Yes, friends, McAllen happens to be the home of probably the only shop anywhere dedicated entirely to the installation and repair of air horns. I couldn't believe my good fortune! I gave Jason, the owner, a call, and within a few weeks and with the parting of a few hundred dollars, Phannie's missing air horn was ordered and replaced after a temporary repair to the roof where the horn used to be:

This was a particularly irksome ordeal, as I fancy myself a pretty cautious driver. This lesson won't be soon forgotten, nor will the pain in my wallet. And I won't forget my luck in finding Jason, either.

We also managed to have a little extra time to do some flying. I was due for my required biennial flight review, so I went to the McAllen airport, snagged a flight instructor and rented a Cessna from McCreery Aviation to get this done. After a short flight, I suppose the instructor was satisfied that I sort of knew what I was doing, so that checkout ended pretty quickly. A few days later, during a nice day with calm wind and good visibility, Sandy and I rented the Cessna and flew over to Port Isabel, where we landed and checked out that sleepy little airport. Taking off again, we flew over the causeway to South Padre Island to see what it looked like from the air:

The view above is from about 1,000 feet. Sandy was amazed because  the island looks so narrow from the air. She's holding my iPad, the device used by most pilots now for navigation and airport information. If only such a thing were available back when I had to lug around all those Jepp manuals in my flight bag.

She doesn't seem scared at all, does she? 

I'm having a good time, too. These little airplanes are great for sightseeing--something that was nearly impossible in a jetliner. I'll see if some other friends want to fly around a bit before we all leave the Valley.

I've had some comments from some folks on Facebook about how active our lives seem to them--flying airplanes around and driving a motorhome all over the country as we do. (They are too tactful to add, "at your age," I suppose.) Well, first of all, we aren't really all that old; I'm barely into my seventies, and Sandy hasn't made it to that decade yet. We know quite a few much older folks out here in the RV world who seem to run circles around us. 

I think part of it is just being willing to step out of what is routine, familiar and safe and embrace new adventures. But there is also a philosophy involved that I really hadn't thought of until we saw Clint Eastwood's recent movie, "The Mule." Clint, at age 88, was asked how he managed to do something like make a movie at such an advanced age. His response was, "I get up every morning and I just don't let the old man in." What a great line! Like Clint, we don't think of ourselves as being old, and I'm going to keep the old man out just as long as I can, Lord willin'.

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

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Time With Friends Goes By Quickly

At Victoria Palms RV Resort, Donna, Texas...

We sadly said goodbye to Jackie and Steve today. We had been roaming around the Valley here for a couple of weeks, enjoying the mild weather and having lots of laughs, culminating with a visit to Padre Island and lunch with Carolyn and Larry, another fulltiming couple about whom we've written in earlier posts. Although we've known them for some time, these two couples had never met, so our lunch at Dirty Al's on Padre Island was double the fun, as they got to know each other.

One thing we have in common is that we all own Tiffin Phaeton motorhomes. Sandy and I met these two couples by happenstance, in RV parks in different states. In both cases, we parked in a nearby space and, as they were outdoors when we arrived, we said hello and introduced ourselves, finding quickly that we had much in common. 

And now, as with many other friends, we can't imagine our loss if our paths had never crossed. Many other friends of ours are wintering here in the Valley, and even more are in the east Texas area and other places around the country. We feel the same about all of them. Our lives are made so much richer by such great people. 

We really couldn't leave Padre Island without a walk on the beach, watching the seagulls and listening to the roar of the waves coming ashore.

We've had Jackie and Steve over for tamales, and they invited us to their rig for a meal of shish kebabs. They were super good; here are Jackie and Steve, looking at the last of the kebabs that would become leftovers; we had scarfed down all the rest.

We've had great times trying favorite restaurants as well as new ones, and we've played many rounds of new games like 42, Rummikub and Mexican Train. The girls have done some shopping, and I've even been able to do a flying checkout at the McAllen airport. We'll be doing some aerial sightseeing pretty soon; maybe some of our friends will tag along, who knows?

And so it goes. We've been here at Victoria Palms for six weeks, and it seems like six days!  For those who wonder what we do with our spare time, well, we don't sit around and look at four walls, that's for sure. That's why we traded our four walls for four slideouts and a big windshield. If we get tired of the view looking out of the windshield, we pull in the slides, crank up the diesel and find another view. Life is good.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it each day as I should.

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Amateur Psychology: Retirement Happiness is Silly

At Victoria Palms RV Resort, Donna, Texas...

I suppose it probably gets old for readers to see more photos of a bunch of older RV folks sitting around a restaurant table, laughing and chatting as if we don't have a care in the world:  

Well, that's pretty doggone close to being right.  We may have some cares in our world, but what others think is really not one of them. 

Frankly, we've already made our contribution to society and the world of work, and we're now living our retirement years on our terms. That doesn't mean we don't have problems, of course; everybody has these. It's just that most of us don't need to include holding a job as part of our daily activity. This gives us a lot of extra hours in the day to think up solutions for little problems  before they get to be big ones. If we can't solve them ourselves, there is always support available among friends like these who have come to know each other through our common interest in RV travel. 

It also gives us time to act silly like Larry and Marilyn in the photos below:

By the way, Larry and Marilyn have never met; they represent friends of ours from different areas of our travels who happen to be in the RGV and whom we will try to bring together while we're here, if possible.

Merrymaking of this sort is hardly silliness, of course. Well, maybe it is, but it's the good kind. It certainly represents the ultimate in a positive attitude regarding the inevitability of growing older and the kind of mindset we choose to have in the process. I think Sandy and I find this lifestyle so attractive in no small part due to the refusal of most of the participants to 'go gentle into that good night.'  Our movement about God's creation will be circumscribed for all of us at some point--a limitation we will need to accept with as much grace as possible--but not until we have squeezed out every moment of awe and wonder and heard the very last laugh of friends like these.

Maybe you are still working and wondering what retirement will be like for you. Well, it will be whatever you choose it to be, in my view. While it may not be the nomadic style we have undertaken for now, you will have with each new day the opportunity to seize it with gratitude, gusto and a merry heart. That's what Larry and Marilyn do, and that's why we love and admire them.

Steve and Jackie have joined us now at Victoria Palms, and we will have more stories to share as we roam around far south Texas.

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

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Fulltiming: Three Years Behind Us; How We Got From Big House to No House

At Victoria Palms RV Resort, Donna, Texas...

As we are settled in here among the palm trees in the sunny RGV, we contemplate the anniversary of our third year of this fulltiming adventure. We continue to marvel at the hoards of friends we have made along the way, many of whom appear in the pages of this blog from time to time. Just before we left Thousand Trails in Conroe, our friends there joined us at a favorite Mexican restaurant. We feel so lucky to find ourselves among such great people, and we will be eager to see them again when we return:

Here in the Valley, we've already been running around with pals from Mission like Denny, Jackie, Kellie and Jim below. (For some reason, I missed getting pics of Ed and Marilyn on our trip over to Mexico on a cooler-than-usual day):

Aside from these fine folks, we've also enjoyed being with our friends here at Victoria Palms that we've already mentioned in a previous post. In about a week, we'll be joined by Jackie and Steve and, after their visit, Sandy's sister, Brenda, will be joining us for the first time!

This third anniversary brings with it the unexpected news that no fewer than four couples of our fulltiming friends are leaving the road for various reasons! Exit from the lifestyle is expected at some point for all of us, of course, but we really weren't anticipating this sudden coincidence. That doesn't mean they won't still be our friends, of course, but it is a bit jarring to realize we won't be crossing their paths as often.

So, how are we doing three years in as fulltimers? Well, we would have to say, "Terrific!" We have no inclination that we need to contemplate an exit yet. We are still blessed with good health, and  our fitness for travel will likely be the determining factor when the time comes for a change. 

As we think back over these three years as fulltimers, we can't help but contemplate our history of home ownership and how we got to the fulltiming decision. We cringe when we think of some of the housing decisions we made during our four decades together, especially during the earlier ones. These decisions could have been much better if we could just have had some of the wisdom we have gained in our older years. Bigger and better was what everybody was supposed to do, right? If only we could have had the life lesson before the test instead of the other way around...but that's usually not the way life happens, does it?

It took 40 years for us to become houseless. Our first house was a nice little ranch style on a cul-de-sac in which we lived when our  children were born. 

After a dozen years there, a job change came that would necessitate a move. For some reason, I had the notion that we should have a big house in the country with some acreage, so we built an enormous house on five acres in a rural location that would require both of us to do a long commute to our jobs, which then were in opposite directions from the new monster house.

It wasn't long until we began to realize that we didn't own the house; it owned us. I had to buy a diesel tractor with a mower deck to keep the weeds at bay from the five-acre yard, and we couldn't find or afford housekeeping help for the 3,400 square feet of house, including its four bathrooms for the three of us. Sandy had to maintain the vast expanse with little help from me, as I was usually on the tractor or doing other chores to keep the property up when I was home. After a couple of years, it became evident that we had to get rid of the monster house in order for us to avoid an early demise from exhaustion. I don't have a good explanation for why we couldn't see the pitfalls of this ill-fated adventure beforehand. It seemed like the right thing at the time, but it was certainly more greed than need. We sold the place, happy to see it go.

Duly chastised after my 'country estate' folly, we moved into a nice condominium where no maintenance or yard work was required, so I felt I was on the road to redemption. Then came another job change, this time requiring a move to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Because our daughter, Mindy, was only three, we wanted her to grow up in a house in a neighborhood, so we bought a reasonably-sized house that had a very small yard--an absolute requirement of mine because of my still-fresh memories of my enslavement to the big country house with the five-acre yard. 

Mindy did grow up in this house and it served us well until she left for college. About that time, it became apparent that we were going to need to bring an elderly parent to live with us. This would require building a significant addition onto the house for invalid care, which we did. But the parent didn't move in after all, and now we had a house even bigger than the one with the five-acre yard! It was now face-palm time again. There we were, roaming around in that cavernous place by ourselves. How could this happen again?

By this time, we had begun RVing during breaks from work, and we thought it would be a good idea to sell this latest monster house and build the perfect smaller retirement home, complete with an RV port. At this point, we knew an RV would always be in our lives, but I figured Sandy would never agree to go fulltime, something I had daydreamed about for years. Frankly, I found no fulfillment in maintaining a house and yard, and I wasn't a tinkerer; I didn't need a man-workshop or a TV man-cave, either, for that matter. 

The new house was indeed perfect, built completely to our liking and small enough to maintain with minimal effort, including a xeriscaped yard. The story of selling the big house and building the new one begins here. We spent eight happy years there until both of us retired. 

Finally free from our worklife, we left in Phannie on a two-month RV tour of the Pacific Northwest, including a stop in Seattle to take an Alaskan cruise. We loved the freedom to wander as we pleased, untethered to work and household chores. With the ending of the cruise, we came to the conclusion that we really didn't want to go back to our house in Fort Worth. Mindy was married by this time, and she and her family were living near Houston. Naturally, we wanted to spend most of our downtime closer to them and the grandkids. In addition, we were dreading the long-neglected household chores that were inevitable after our time away. Even with xeriscaping, there were always weeds and overgrown bushes to tend, not to mention the mess made by trees, spiderwebs, etc. There was also the matter of the break-in that we suffered before I retired, wherein a burglar took almost all of Sandy's jewelry--some pieces of which were valuable and irreplaceable keepsakes. The house was never the same to us after that; we never got over how violated we felt. On top of that, the possibility of another burglary was always on our minds when we were away. We found ourselves frequently checking our cell phones for the feeds from the video cameras we installed inside and outside the house after the burglary. I'm not sure why we did this, as we could have done nothing about it from thousands of miles away. But it was evidence that our spirit of enjoyment of our travels was always dampened by a 'thing' we owned, and we resented it.

The decision to sell and go fulltime was surprisingly quick after that trip and, astonishingly, it was Sandy who first proposed it! The whole experience is fully documented here in the blog, so I won't go into it now. 

That brings us to today--three years into fulltiming and still pinching ourselves that we can actually live like this--having the freedom to do whatever we like and go wherever we wish, free of the obligations, expenses and confinement of a stick-and-brick house. I often say that we feel as though we have stumbled upon a way to beat the system and are having a blast doing it. I sometimes get the urge to look over my shoulder, thinking we're getting away with something we shouldn't and that one day, we'll get caught. I hope not.

In the meantime, here we are in this tropical location, wearing shorts and sun hats, feeling almost guilty that much of the rest of the country is in a deep freeze, as is evident in this photo of the TV news today:

For those affected, we hope you will be safe. But we're very grateful that we are here where we are--which, of course, is a choice we have that's easy to make as fulltimers. Life is, indeed, good.

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

You don't stop playing because you get old; you get old because you stop playing.