Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tour of "Hurst" Castle

Hopefully, you'll forgive the ridiculous play on words--Our "Hurst" Castle versus the real "Hearst" Castle in California. If you've ever seen the latter, you will laugh at the silly comparison with our new little retirement RV villa in Hurst, Texas. However, at this stage of our lives, it seems just about perfect. (For now, that is.) Readers of this whole blog will be aware of our struggling with what kind of lifestyle we want as Sandy and I approach our retirement years. We have faced the dilemma of deciding what is important and what isn't, and we're still dealing with that issue. In any case, the time remaining is becoming ever more finite, and there are some significant squares that don't have an "X" in them yet.

One priority that seemed a no-brainer was the need to downsize. We have painfully recounted in these pages our progress in that regard and the turmoil that arose from it. Would we have done some things differently? Absolutely! For one thing, we wouldn't have bothered with an apartment rental while waiting on the new house to be built. Living in Homer fulltime from January through May was a thoroughly agreeable experience, but we didn't know at the time we sold the old house what a simple, inexpensive yet comfortable lifestyle that it would be. If we had known what it would be like, we would have done that in the beginning.

The move forced us to jettison a significant amount of the stuff we accumulated over the years. It has been very gratifying and liberating to have parted with so many things we thought were important yet, to our amazement, we have missed none of them! I am convinced that we could get rid of plenty more stuff, and we wouldn't miss that, either.

Our new house was designed specifically for life as part-time RVers. The RV port was designed around Homer's dimensions and, as Sandy and I can testify, people can live quite comfortably in it parked right in our driveway for a virtually unlimited amount of time. Full hookups are there for water, sewer, TV, phone and 50 amp electrical power. And, it is so nice to have Homer a few feet away when it's time to load up for a trip.

There is no yard upkeep, as the entire grounds are xeriscaped. There is no grass to mow and no need for watering the lawn. An occasional spritz with weed killer takes care of the occasional weed that dares appear. The shrubbery and plants need no care, either, as they are native species and highly tolerant of hot, dry weather.

It has also been designed for low energy consumption. Besides having a very efficient air conditioning system, we installed a small auxiliary inside/outside system just for the master bedroom/bathroom suite. We run that one only at night, saving the 5-ton central a/c for waking hours when we occupy the rest of the house. We also installed a tankless gas water heater that only fires up when hot water is demanded. In addition, the inside/underside of the entire wall and roof structure were sprayed during construction with foam insulation, which is purely phenomenal in its capability to control heat and a/c loss. The most striking feature of this kind of insulation is that the attic stays cool all the time, even on the hottest summer days. And there is none of the pink fiberglass stuff between the joists on top of the ceiling. The roof decking was also specially coated with radiant barrier material before it was installed. These energy-saving things were admittedly costly, but boy, have they paid off!

Here are a few pictures, sort of in sequence, to help give you a peek at the finished product:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Visit With Elvis

Sunday, April 20

As the construction winds down on the new house, I am dispatched by the FAA to Memphis as part of a team that is to perform an audit on the local Flight Standards District Office. Since our journeys have been curtailed by this building project for so long, we decided to drive to Memphis, pulling Homer with us. Much of our expense for this trip will be covered by the taxpayers, so why not enjoy the outing to the max? We’ve found that we really despise staying in hotels now, having been spoiled by having our little rolling home with us all the time. With Homer, there’s no packing and unpacking of luggage and schlepping it around from place to place, forgetting half of what we need. All our “stuff” is always there, including our favorite food, beverages and snacks. We always have Direct TV, internet and, especially important to Sandy, a clean bathroom everywhere we go!

We left Hurst very late—around mid-afternoon— on Saturday, April 19, bound only as far as Texarkana. We had a host of last-minute tasks to perform that would enable us to leave for a week, not the least of which was to unload into the house closets a majority of our clothing wardrobe that had been jammed into Homer for months. Sandy and I were amazed how much stuff we unloaded; no wonder we couldn’t seem to find anything! We also unloaded into the house pantry a lot of foodstuffs that we had tucked away in Homer’s kitchen area. I’m sure the poor trailer gave a sigh of relief when this extra weight was removed!

After an uneventful drive, we pulled into the Shady Pines RV Park in Texarkana just before dark and, for a late dinner, opened a can of gourmet tuna we received as a gift from Gordon and Juanita upon their arrival in Oregon last month. The tuna was caught by a couple who own the F.V. Lancing, a small fishing vessel out of Charleston, Oregon and who send their catches to Chuck’s Seafood, a small local cannery for packing. This must be the finest canned tuna in the world, and we almost can’t bear the thought of having to settle for the stuff from the local grocery stores. In fact, we’re not going to settle; we’re ordering a case of the stuff! We also enjoyed a bunch of fresh green onions that Thurman had given us from his garden next door just before we left the house. After watching a little TV, we enjoyed a good night’s rest in this immaculate little park in the east Texas piney woods.

Monday, April 21

After a nice breakfast, we departed Texarkana late in the morning, needing to cover the 300 miles to Memphis by nightfall. We had lunch at a forgettable hamburger joint in Arkadelphia and, after several stops for fuel or stretching our legs, we lumbered into the Audobon Point RV Park just south of Memphis (actually in Horn Lake, Mississippi) just as they closed at 6:00 p.m. This is a very nice and newish large park with all the bells and whistles, a little pricey at $35.00 per night, but very convenient to the FAA office where I was to conduct the audit.

Tuesday, April 22

Today, as usual, Sandy cooked a wonderful breakfast, and we enjoyed a nice visit before motoring off to my auditee’s office near the airport. Perhaps to get on the audit team’s good side, the office manager took us to Neely’s Interstate Barbecue for lunch. I had a combination rib and brisket plate that was, well, fantastic. This place is definitely in the same class as Angelo’s in Fort Worth, and I can understand why it was so incredibly busy during the noon hour.

After work, Sandy and I decided to go downtown and see what Memphis had to offer. We had intended to eat dinner at the Lobster King Chinese Restaurant, which carried a good recommendation on, but found it closed, so we ate at a mediocre Vietnamese restaurant across the street. We motored around town for a good while, especially enjoying the drive along the Mississippi riverfront. Downtown Memphis is still pretty rundown, unfortunately, but there is some revitalization in progress with the building of many condominia near the city center. Beale Street was busy, but we decided not to mingle with the noisy crowd in that area. We were especially impressed with the restoration of the grand old Orpheum Theater, one of the few remaining movie palaces of a bygone era. The theater still has its pipe organ which, unfortunately, had been removed for repairs at the time of our visit.

Wednesday, April 23

After work this day, we decided to go to Olive Branch, Mississippi, to try a catfish restaurant that had been recommended by one of the locals. After about a ten-mile drive, we arrived at the Olive Branch Catfish Company, only to be bitterly disappointed in the fare. I guess we’re just spoiled by Pappy’s, our local favorite in the DFW area, but this stuff was really a poor contender.

Thursday, April 24

After work this afternoon, we motored back to downtown Memphis to dine at Gus’s, a local legendary restaurant that serves killer fried chicken. This hole-in-the-wall served really different fried chicken, which was batter-dipped and very spicy. I usually don’t care much for batter dipped fried food, but I have to admit, this stuff was delicious. The spiciness, which was perfect for me, was only able to be tolerated by Sandy with copious amounts of ice tea, but I noticed that she ate all of her serving of chicken anyway.

Gus's in Downtown Memphis

Afterward, we strolled along the bank of the river in Martyrs Park, a lovely little park dedicated to the local residents who tended their neighbors stricken by a yellow fever epidemic in 1878, knowing that they, too, would subject themselves to the deadly disease. Two-thirds of Memphis’s population had fled at the outbreak of the epidemic, but the sacrifice of the caregivers who stayed behind to their peril was memorialized with this fine little park. The weather was perfect for our stroll, and we enjoyed this little outing very much as we watched the waters of the wide Mississippi drift silently and inexorably southward toward Natchez and New Orleans.

Martyr's Park

Sandy and Ol' Man River at Martyr's Park

Friday, April 25

This was a big day—a visit with Elvis, lunch at the Rendezvous, and the first leg of our journey home—all in one day! We had to admit to being ready to leave Memphis, the charms of which were diminished somewhat by the fact that I had to work through the entire visit. Even so, we didn’t find a lot to recommend the area for a lengthy stay, and we were determined to experience quickly those attractions which were not to be missed. The locals identify those as Graceland, Beale Street and eating Memphis barbecue. We decided to skip Beale Street, which is a much tamer and scaled-down version of Bourbon Street in New Orleans. We just don’t enjoy noisy, crowded places, especially involving drunken revelers, so that didn’t appeal to us at all.

Graceland was another matter. Sandy had had the good fortune to have met Elvis when he was in the Army, stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen in 1957. Sandy’s aunt lived across the street from his rented home, and Sandy visited him there on two occasions and obtained his autograph on both visits! So, it was only natural that she would be interested in touring Graceland. I have to admit to some curiosity myself as to how this guy lived when in the prime of his career. The Presley Estate has constructed a bustling visitor complex across from the mansion on highway 51. A never-ending parade of buses carry visitors across the street and up the long driveway to tour the lower story of the house and the grounds, for which they charge around $30 per person. You can also tour Elvis’s airplanes and his car museum, which we opted not to do.

It is safe to say that Sandy and I were awestruck by the interior d├ęcor. The house was left as it was when Elvis died in 1977, but even considering the unfortunate interior design fiasco that was the seventies—the avocado, gold and orange color palette and the shag carpeting—Graceland’s interior brought new meaning to “tacky.” The rooms were dark and labyrinthine, with no open spaces as is the custom today in interior design. I was also surprised to see the plainness of the kitchen area; the counter surfaces were covered with laminate, of all things! You would never see anything so ordinary in an upscale house these days. All in all, it was a very interesting tour and, I think, almost worth the price of admission.

Elvis purchased the house and the 14 acres around it in 1957 for a little over $100,000, when he was only 22 years old. It is still a beautiful setting, but the area around the mansion has certainly declined over the years. It is almost as though Graceland is woefully out of place among the used car lots, pawn shops and seedy hotels all around it. We were told that the Presley Estate, in partnership with the City of Memphis, is planning a mega-tourist complex for the area, which should, hopefully, restore a degree of dignity to this tired area.

Elvis's Back Yard

The Horse Pasture

Final Resing Place

After leaving Graceland, Sandy and I motored downtown, determined to eat at the Rendezvous, a rib 
joint that has been a tourist favorite since 1948. This place occupies a basement area of a large building in the heart of downtown, near Second and Munroe. Its entrance, incredibly, is hidden in an alley behind the building amidst the huge exhaust fans that pull the smoke from the barbecue pit room downstairs. The result of the smoky emission was the permeation of several city blocks with the wonderful aroma of barbecue ribs being cooked over charcoal—yes, charcoal—and served only with a dry rub—no sauce unless you put it on yourself. I must say that it was not needed. I don’t know what they put in their spicy rub, but the ribs were simply fabulous. The only liquid they use when cooking is a vinegar-based solution that they mop on the slabs occasionally as they smoke. The dry rub is applied the day before cooking and again just before serving. I don’t know how they managed to come up with this technique, but they definitely have it figured out. No wonder this place is so popular.

The Rendezvous

With our stomachs full, we returned to the RV park and hooked up Homer for the first leg to Texas. We headed west on I-40 toward Little Rock and drove with a nice tailwind to Carlisle, Arkansas, where we decided to stop at Nick’s—a barbecue and catfish restaurant we had seen advertised on billboards for a number of miles on I-40. The signs also advertised a truck parking area, which appealed to us, since Homer and the Hornet, hooked together, are about 40 feet long and sometimes difficult to park. Upon arriving at the modest restaurant, we saw several large trucks parked in the spacious area, and the parking lot had obviously seen much heavy use, for it was pockmarked with large potholes full of muddy water from a recent rain. We saw this as a positive sign, although we had to maneuver slowly and carefully to keep Homer’s rocking and rolling to a minimum. The restaurant was packed with customers, and we had to wait a short while for a table. We ordered catfish and onion rings, and these were positively delicious. We topped off the meal with a homemade peach fried pie a la mode. Yum!

It was during this meal that we got a call from our little group of local friends back home whom we loosely refer to as the "Friday Night Social Club." We get together most Friday nights and patronize different restaurants where we chew the rag and wind down the workweek. Sandy, tongue in cheek, long ago appointed herself "CEO" (chief eating officer) of the group, as she was the one who, sort of by accident, got it going. She appointed Brent (Bubba) Barker as "Vice" soon thereafter. While the inference that might be drawn is that Bubba is the "vice" chairperson of the club, that would be incorrect. He was given the title "vice" because he is always involved in some kind of mischief. (Sandy only gave him a title because we are fond of his family and wanted them to think he had made something of himself.)

But, I digress. The purpose of the call was for Paul Rogers, one of the club's more loyal members, to tell Sandy (tongue in cheek, again) that Bubba was orchestrating at that very moment a hostile takeover of the CEO's position while we were absent! However, Bubba was not able to gain the support of the other members, so his plan failed and Sandy suffered no loss of status. Bubba, however, was severely reprimanded upon the CEO's return and stripped of his title for a brief time. However, Sandy, always a sucker for a sad face, restored it fairly quickly. The great hostile takeover episode is now enshrined in the club's folklore and brought up frequently as a reminder of Bubba's dark side.

After dinner at Nick's, we continued west through Little Rock to Benton, Arkansas, where we overnighted at the I-30 RV Park. This was a rather basic campground with a good many permanent residents and a number of pull-through spaces, few of which were improved beyond, well, dirt. It filled the bill for an overnight stay, however, and by the time we had parked, night had fallen and it was beginning to rain. We were pretty tired, and after a bit of TV watching, we turned in for the night.

Saturday, April 26

We awoke to a sunny morning that belied the threatening skies of the previous evening. The storms that had produced the rain the night before had dissipated, and we would obviously have good weather for the final leg home. In Texarkana, we made our obligatory lunch stop at the legendary Bryce’s cafeteria, where we gobbled down fried chicken, barbecue beef tips and wonderful homestyle vegetables.

The rest of the journey was uneventful, and we pulled into Homer’s new RV port in Hurst at around 5:00 p.m. The new house is virtually finished, but TXU electric is taking its good time in running the main power lines and setting the permanent meter. We can’t move in until the final inspection by the city, and that won’t happen until TXU does its thing. So, we’re still living in Homer, just a few feet from the beautiful new home that awaits us. I’m not so sure I’m fully excited, however, as this means another move is in store for us. The last one landed me in the hospital, so I’m just a little leery.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Winter's Last Gasp Brings Gordon and Juanita

March 8, 2008

As I look across Homer’s living room very early this Saturday morning, I see 26 degrees on the outside temperature readout. After a couple of weeks of pretty nice days, some of them quite warm, old man winter has decided not to go away quietly. A rapid series of cold fronts and low pressure systems have pounded our parking spot at Lake Grapevine in the last couple of weeks, and perhaps because of our temporary fulltime living in Homer, we are much more observant of the weather than before. More than once has our little home on wheels been noticeably rocked around by the howling winds that come swooping across the lake with a strong cold front. A few days ago, one of these fronts was accompanied by a line of storms that rumbled across the park, the disconcerting cacophony of which kept me pretty well wide-eyed for a couple of hours in the middle of the night when I would much rather have been asleep. It even disturbed Sandy, who is not usually a light sleeper.

I’m sure we’re not the only ones living in an RV or a mobile home who get nervous here in the nation’s “thunderstorm alley.” Having never lived in a mobile rig before, I guess it’s something you get used to, but I’m sure the feeling of vulnerability is always in the back of the minds of these mobile dwellers. I have already figured out that Sandy and I will always keep a vigilant eye toward the weather when occupying Homer, and when a particularly nasty squall line approaches, we will seek shelter in a structure that is less likely to become airborne while we’re inside!

As far as the house construction goes, things have reached a crawl. Since it has been 20 years since we last built a house, we had forgotten how slow the finishing phase can be. This is exacerbated for us because of all the stained wood finishes that we chose this time. Richard, our builder, was not happy with the subcontractors who bid on this part of the construction, so he has chosen to do it himself. We’re not unhappy about this, however, because he is a perfectionist, and we know we will eventually get what we want. The photos accompanying this piece do not show all that much progress, although readers looking closely will see that a new metal roof has been installed over the front porch.

The front porch gets a metal roof

There are also numerous splotches of paint on the inside walls, showing a rather disconcerting pattern of gross indecisiveness as we ponder the colors for the interior of the house. We haven’t had this much difficulty since Sandy had me paint the family room three times when we last redecorated the house we just sold in Euless. We’ve finally settled on a paint swatch for each room, and we are nervously awaiting the result when entire walls are covered with these selections. Sandy and I have come a long way from the all-white rooms of the first house we built but, in using color, we have found that we must take great care to avoid giving our house the look of a Mexican restaurant. Even though we think our colors are going to be quite reserved, I’m sure they may be a jarring experience for Thurman, our retired next-door neighbor, who has already opined that he prefers white or “pastels” for interior colors. We are very fond of Thurman and his wife, Amy, and he has taken great interest in our construction project, occasionally offering advice as a former builder himself. He’s always good-natured about it, and some of his recommendations have had merit. For example, he suggested that we widen the approaches to our driveway and, even though we had a tussle with the city inspectors, it proved to be a good recommendation. Even Richard, who often respectfully ignores Thurman, has taken his advice on a few occasions. I feel blessed to have these folks nearby, as I know Thurman keeps a close eye on the unoccupied house that is always vulnerable to mischief. I have even given him a key to the house and pay him a small stipend for looking after things. More than once he has found a door or window unlocked during his daily inspections, and I feel a great sense of relief at his dedication to his new “job.” This is not to say that Richard and his subcontractors are lax in securing the property when they leave, as they rarely forget anything when closing up. We are all human, however, and Thurman provides a good backup. I think most of Richard’s omissions in locking the house have occurred lately, during the wood staining and lacquering phase. Opening the door upon visiting the house in the last few days, I have been almost overwhelmed by the fumes of the liquids used in these finishes. Maybe Richard was a bit addled by these vapors when he missed something in the lockup.

Meanwhile, Sandy and I have spent countless hours traveling around the Metroplex, making decisions about finishes, floors, countertops, light fixtures, etc. I had forgotten how time-consuming that can be. Add to that the incessant demands from my job and my duties as president of the huge choir of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, we find ourselves with a serious downtime deficit. We desperately need a vacation, but I don’t see that in the cards for months to come.

So, it was with this backdrop that we learned a few weeks ago that Gordon and Juanita, a couple of cyber friends with whom I had been corresponding by e-mail for some time, had accepted our invitation to stop by Grapevine on their way northward from their winter parking spot in the Rio Grande valley. We had extended a similar invitation to Ed and Marilyn, another cyber-couple who preceded them by a few weeks, but they were understandably focused on wasting no time getting to Hannibal, Missouri, in time for the birth of their first grandchild. Had I been in Ed’s shoes, I don’t think anything could have caused me to make a detour from that goal.

From previous posts, readers will recall that I have been following the daily journals of these couples, not only because of my keen interest in the fulltimer lifestyle, but because their blogs, written mostly by Ed and Gordon are, well, addictive. As I have mentioned before, their journals describe their everyday activities, including the mundane along with the exciting, but they capture the interest of the reader by their personalization of the stories, allowing the reader to feel almost a part of their lives. Their journals are refreshing departures from the vast majority of boring travelogues, and I never miss an episode. Sandy has also caught the bug, and we are responsible for two hits every day on Ed’s and Gordon’s site counters.

When Mindy, our daughter who is away at college, learned that we were going to meet up with people whom we had come to know only through the internet, she termed the event “precious,” as if we were all regressing to some kind of prepubescent pen-pal status as our mental capacities ferment from old age. Mindy, in a mildly unsettling way, is developing a mastery of the not-so-subtle jab that could only be attributed to her mother. It could never have come from my genes!

Gordon and Juanita’s rig came into view around the corner on the winding road that led to the parking spot next to ours, right on time Monday afternoon. Sandy and I were not nervous at all about meeting them, as we felt as though we had already been friends for some time by virtue of reading their journal and seeing their photos. As they pulled up alongside their spot, they found me knocking on the windows of the motorhome nearby, trying to get the occupants to move their pickup, which was blocking the entrance to Gordon’s parking place. Since there was no answer to my knock, I walked out toward our guests’ vehicle, from which Gordon emerged with what proved to be his ever-present camera and snapped a photo of me, standing in the middle of the road, as if I had just escaped from an asylum. Then Juanita stepped out of the truck, and we all hugged as if we had known each other forever. While they waited for their parking space to clear, I invited them over to Homer, where Sandy greeted them, and we sat down and talked for a while. The conversation was easy and animated, and we remarked to each other how one of the best aspects of the RV lifestyle has to be the terrific people you meet. Gordon and Juanita certainly fall into that category, and we are genuinely pleased to count them now among our real-life friends, not just electronic ones!

Juanita gives parking signals to Gordon

We mustn’t go much farther without mentioning Bodie, the 9-year-old beagle who serves as a benevolent dictator in Gordon and Juanita’s little family unit. Bodie, a cute and friendly dog, is clearly the giver and receiver of a great deal of attention, and we were fascinated to learn of some of the traits of beagles in general, as well as some of Bodie’s particular affectations, which generally included a spirited “embrace” of my leg as part of his greeting ritual.

Bodie the VIP beagle takes Juanita for a walk while Sandy looks on. Boy, is it cold!

After getting settled, Gordon and Juanita joined us for a brief tour of the local area, including our new house, where they were effusive in their comments of approval. We then drove to Vito’s, a tiny mom-and-pop Italian cafe that is one of our local favorites. Gordon had shrimp scampi and Marilyn tried their pasta primavera. Both of them seemed to enjoy their meal and complimented us on our choice of eateries. These are truly gracious people, who would probably have kind remarks even if they didn’t like the food. We don’t think that’s the case, here, though as, like us, they didn’t leave a lot of food behind.

Dining at Vito's

As we emerged from the restaurant, snow had begun to fall, even though I had assured Gordon in an earlier communication that the forecast of snow was silly. “The weather guys always miss their snow forecasts,” I had said. The longer the night wore on, the heavier the snowfall got, until there was a thick white layer everywhere! And, since Gordon could muster little control over his evil twin from this point, I was the subject of much merriment for the rest of the evening—and for the rest their stay, for that matter, regarding my utter failure as a weather forecaster. I thought I put up a spirited defense, however, by refusing to acknowledge that the weather phenomenon was anything other than a dust storm.

Although my work got in the way from time to time, we enjoyed visiting for the next couple of days and touring the Fort Worth Stockyards district. The girls did some shopping, and we ate at a couple more of our favorite eat-a-bites, Pappy’s Catfish and Oyster Bar in Irving and Angelo’s Barbecue in Fort Worth. We also discovered that Juanita is fond of sushi, so we have a good idea for a spot to take them next time they’re in the area.

A good pic of Juanita and Gordon at Pappy's

At Angelo's, a Fort Worth BBQ palace for 50 years

We visited Gordon and Juanita in their fiver, and we were impressed by the layout and the clever modifications they had made to fit their lifestyle. I was also impressed at the absence of the clutter that Sandy and I seem to attract in Homer. I’m not sure how they do that, and I know we’ve got more to learn about ridding ourselves of the detritus of life. Their setup proved that fulltiming is possible without having a behemoth of a rig, and Gordon pointed out that having a medium-sized trailer allows them to access many parks and parking spaces that cannot accommodate the really long rigs.

Gordon and hat visiting in Homer

Juanita sits in Mike's man-chair. (Few are so privileged.)

I also enjoyed getting acquainted with Gordon’s electronic toys, which included a wonderful Apple IMac desktop and Apple laptop, as well as a new Nikon 300D camera and lens that was nothing short of incredible, both in performance and price. I found myself coveting these things, but not enough to attempt to steal them. I’m pretty sure they would have noticed if anything had come up missing.

Bidding them goodbye after what seemed like a short visit, we wished Gordon and Juanita traveling mercies and look forward to following their escapades as they find their way northward. These are truly intrepid souls, who are obviously having the time of their lives, and we’re all the better for having a close encounter with their enthusiastic and positive outlook on life.

Gordon and Juanita bid us farewell

This is the "dust" storm that Gordon and Juanita left behind.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Recuperating on a Gray Day

Wow! Two posts in two days—that’s got to be a record for me.

With the medications doing their thing, I’m now feeling almost like new. Oberfuhrer Frau Sandy, my Nazi guard, allowed me my daily outing yesterday, and even let me out of her sight for a while due to my obviously upgraded condition. She did some shopping while I went to Lowe’s and got some wiring supplies for a small project to be done in Homer. Then we went to look at granite and tile samples, because she is freaking out about how to decorate the bathrooms in the new house. I think my role was to encourage her sweetly, which I did, and she made some excellent tentative choices. I say tentative, because Sandy, like most women, can change her mind quicker than a subcontractor can snatch a check out of my hand.

We then had dinner at a new Thai restaurant in Irving—the Blu Ginger—very good, but a little pricey. Feeling good about the uncharacteristically healthy meal, we settled into Homer for the evening, where I began the task of adding a 110 volt light underneath the vent hood above the stove. The light installed at the factory was a 12 volt DC version, and it didn’t provide enough light for me to be able to discern the difference between ham hocks and my own fists when cooking. Realizing the potential danger of not knowing exactly which was which when wielding a sharp knife, I decided that better lighting was essential. So, I removed the microwave above the vent hood and tied into its AC power source, running a pigtail down through holes I drilled in the vent hood, where I installed a light bulb receptacle and rotary switch. I stuck in a 75w bulb, and voila! I can now do surgery! Sandy marveled and offered effusive praise, of which I felt deserving and lapped it up like a bulldog drinking beer.

Last evening, the local TV weathercasters announced with their typical “sky is falling” alarm that the DFW Metroplex would fall victim to an ice storm in the morning. Much air time was given to live shots of scores of sand trucks standing by to attempt to save the hapless drivers from themselves. As predicted, the freezing rain began about 2:00 a.m., except that it wasn’t, ah, freezing. The temperature was 35 degrees when I awoke this morning, so all the hype and overtime paid to the road crews was to no avail, as there was no ice anywhere. Can’t say I was unhappy, however.

As I am writing this, the portable icemaker I recently bought on the recommendation of Gordon Pierce is happily churning out ice on the kitchen counter behind my computer desk. This is the coolest gadget, and it has solved a huge problem in keeping an ice supply in Homer. It is amazing how much ice it produces, which is lucky, because we are heavy users of ice. Sandy is an iced-tea-aholic, and each of the myriad of glasses she drinks in a day must be completely full of ice. I happen to agree with her—I think because we grew up in the South, where it would be improper to serve iced tea any other way. (A sure-fire way to identify a Yankee in our midst is to observe the amount of ice in his or her glass of iced tea. If there are only a few cubes floating at the top, well, you’ve got yourself a carpetbagger, for sure.) Unfortunately, there are many Yankees among the wait staff at restaurants we frequent, so we have developed the habit of instructing them to bring a spare glass of ice when they bring the iced tea. To supply our habit in Homer, we found ourselves buying sacks of ice a couple of times a week. Happily, the icemaker changed all that. Thanks, Gordon, for the recommendation. By the way, in keeping with our somewhat disturbingly infantile penchant for giving names to inanimate objects, the icemaker will hereinafter be referred to as “Igor.”

Next week promises to be much warmer, so we are expecting a lot of progress on the house. We’ll see.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Winter Perils Slow Us Down

I think Sandy and I are a bit addled by some of the surprises that have come our way as winter settles in and we work through and revise our plan to get us from the old house to the new one. For the most part, our steps have been measured and fairly well thought out, but it has not been without some levels of stress that were, perhaps, unnecessary because of some complications that we largely brought on ourselves. But hindsight is always 20/20, and we’ve got to keep focused on our goal of adjusting our lifestyle to fit our needs as we approach retirement.

The original plan was to move from our rented apartment into the new house at the conclusion of a six-month lease, which we thought would be adequate for the construction of the house. We even thought about what we would do if construction fell behind schedule: We would just keep on renting on a month-to-month basis. The logical question to have asked early on was what the rent cost would be if paid month-to-month. But we didn’t, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear.

Well, things did fall behind because of problems with a couple of the subcontractors, a batch of brick not to our liking and, of course, the infernal cold weather. So, when we told the apartment management that we would need to rent month-to-month at the conclusion of our lease, they said that would be fine, but that the rent would increase by more than a thousand dollars per month!

Needless to say, I was apoplectic. I told them there would be no way I would be subjected to such price gouging, and that we would be moving out on schedule. But where? Homer, of course!

It was the perfect solution, we thought, as we pondered this new twist. After all, why not take advantage of this comfortable RV that we had ordered and customized just to our liking? We would also be saving a good deal of money on the already rather pricey apartment rent. What could be better?

So, we hired a couple of guys and a truck to move our stuff from the apartment into yet another rented storage unit. Unfortunately, I guess we hadn’t paid much attention to the amount of our things we had accumulated in the apartment, as the new storage unit I had rented proved to be too small! This was a complete surprise, as we thought we had settled into the apartment with only a minimal amount of furnishings since our stay would not be long. So, I had to scramble and rent still another unit, making four—yes, four, rented storage units in all!

Because we had grossly misjudged the amount to be moved from the apartment, we had not had time to pack everything that had to go by moving day. The result of that was that the movers took mainly the furniture, and Sandy and I had to pack up the odds and ends and move them ourselves. We worked to utter exhaustion, late into the evenings, and we still didn’t get everything out of the apartment on the last day of our lease. We even had to rent a truck to keep from having to make so many trips in our pickup and Suburban. It will remain a mystery forever, I guess, as to how our goal of keeping the apartment furnishings minimal went so horribly awry.

I know it seems like a broken record as I keep lamenting that we are prisoners of our belongings, and a casual reader’s logical reaction would be that it’s high time we took some corrective action, now that we have identified the problem. However, this is not as easy as one might think.

In our view, we have been diligent in paring down our excess. We know this because we recall our many, many trips carrying clothing to Dallas Life, our church’s outreach ministry to the homeless. We’ve also had several garage sales and then gave away what didn’t sell—sometimes entire pickup loads. But alas, it is still not enough. One of the problems, I guess, was the modesty of our circumstances growing up—but much less so in my case than Sandy’s. Her family had little extra money and could never discard anything that still had some usefulness, for they knew there would likely be no means by which they could purchase a replacement. For this reason, I think, it is easy for her to find a place to tuck away an object of questionable use because of a nagging but groundless fear that she may someday need it and not be able to buy a new one. While the economic circumstances of my upbringing were significantly better than Sandy’s, my parents were very frugal and I, too, sometimes find it difficult to discard things. As I see it, we have a chance again soon to perform some really meaningful triage—when we move into the new house. I’m hoping we are able to work up enough gumption finally to overcome our senselessness in hanging onto things we obviously don’t need.

We follow a few favorite blogs written by RV fulltimers like Ed and Marilyn Dray and Gordon and Juanita Pierce, and we marvel at how they were able to divest themselves of so much of the detritus of life that seems to attach, like parasites, to Sandy and me. Of course, the obvious answer is that if you don’t hang on to your stick-built house, you just don’t have anywhere to put your excess stuff! While of inestimable comfort and value, stick houses demand the acquisition and retention of all sorts of things to furnish, decorate and maintain them. We just need to redefine our concept to one of moderation and find a good therapist, I guess, to help us stick to it.

In preparation for RV living, we moved Homer from its longtime storage berth in Keller to the Vineyards Campground in Grapevine. This is a wonderful RV park, owned by the city and located on the south shore of Lake Grapevine. It is beautifully maintained, with huge spaces and views of the lake from every camping spot.

Homer at our campsite at the Vineyards; and no, we don't pull Homer with the Suburban. 

View from our living room window.  These are very nice rental cabins.

More RV spots near the marina.
Campers on a neighboring peninsula in the Vinyeads. 

Settling into Homer was relatively uneventful, except for our having to make hasty decisions about the number and nature of living essentials that must be taken aboard to maintain our daily routine. Because of our mind-numbed exhaustion after clearing out the apartment, we had abandoned toward the end any attempt at organization; we mainly just threw stuff in boxes. This resulted in my showing up at Homer’s doorstep with no fewer than 80 neckties! Sandy looked at me as if I had lost my mind, and she was probably right. But the hour was late, and I was just too tired to deal with it anymore. I decided to do triage on the ties later. This exemplifies a significant problem with fulltime RV living if you are still employed, especially in a white-collar job. Business attire is still a requirement for me, and I can’t begin to fit all of those clothes into Homer. So, I have on hand about a week’s worth of clothing changes, along with a few suits and sport coats. The rest is accessible in one of the rented storage units, so I have to go by there occasionally to refresh the clothing items. Sandy, on the other hand, does not require a business dress wardrobe since having retired, so her collection of clothes within Homer’s closets is miniscule compared to mine. I can’t help but marvel at this upside-down state of affairs. In the big house, where we had no fewer than six closets and a large dressing room in our master suite, Sandy’s clothes occupied four of the six closets. One should not infer, however, that the ratio of male/female clothing between us has changed. While Sandy keeps only a minimal amount of clothing in Homer, the remainder of her attire occupies a vast array of wardrobe boxes carefully tucked away in our network of storage units across eastern Tarrant County. And there they hibernate, while Sandy anticipates their emergence with the enthusiasm one would have for a child returning safely home after being kidnapped.

I should not leave the impression, however, that Sandy has not made progress in this area. She has done a surprisingly good job of paring down her clothing, and there is now a remote possibility that it will fit in the (one) master closet in the new house.

Adjusting to the tiny space for fulltime living was not the only challenge we faced with Homer. As luck would have it, our unusually warm December and early January gave way to some really cold weather as the polar jet stream suddenly moved far south in mid-January. The whole nation, almost, was in a deepfreeze, and the DFW area was not spared. I was quite concerned as to how well Homer would do in accommodating live-in occupants during freezing weather, as I knew this coach didn’t have an arctic package to enable occupancy in very cold climates. I hadn’t seen the need to worry about that when we ordered it, for I thought the rig would get little use in the winter and, if we did go anywhere, it would be farther south.

On the second night after our arrival at the Vineyards, a norther blew in and the temperature dropped to 24 degrees. Shortly after midnight, the water ceased running. I suspected the fresh water hose had frozen, but the culprit was an extra pipe fitting that I had placed on the end of the hose to hold a water pressure gauge. So, I got a hair dryer and defrosted the fitting, which I then removed, and then I hooked the water hose directly to the receptacle on the side of the coach. I had noticed that a number of neighboring RVers had disconnected their fresh water hoses altogether, but I decided to keep ours on and just let a water faucet drip inside the coach when the outside temperature was very cold. This seems to be working fine, and we had no further trouble with the water. Unfortunately, we had far more serious troubles in store, and they didn’t involve Homer.

The exhausting move from the apartment, coupled with my plumbing adventure in the bitterly cold wind apparently provided the knockout punch for my rundown body and fragile immune system, which had been battling a series of sinus, ear and bronchial infections for a number of weeks. I soon became very sick, with a spiking fever, chills and breathing problems. Sandy drove me to our family doctor, who gave me an injection of antibiotics and, observing my continuing decline, grabbed a wheelchair and took me down to the emergency room of the hospital in whose complex his office is located. After a chest x-ray, the doctors determined that I had a mild case of pneumonia. After a while, the antibiotics began to take effect, and I began to improve to the extent that I was allowed to be dismissed from the hospital with strict instructions to rest and stay out of the elements. Sandy took this to heart and has taken a role similar to that of a guard in a Nazi concentration camp. I am fairly well tethered, therefore, to my very comfortable easy chair, where I am frequently threatened with grievous bodily injury if I get any other ideas. However, I am allowed to venture out once a day, but Frau Mills is always vigilant as she marches nearby, goose-steps and all, with her riding crop at the ready in case she observes any infractions. (Well, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the picture.) Actually, I am very thankful that I have a mate who cares for me so much that my well-being is her constant focus. I'm glad God made her that way, and I wouldn't change a thing.

Now, as to the progress of the new house: After a couple of weeks’ delay while we were tussling over problems with a bad brick shipment and incompetent bricklayers, the correct brick is finally going up on the walls! The foam insulation is also in progress, but the foam spraying has also been delayed because of the cold weather. Drywall should be going up in a few days, I hope.

Finally, bricklaying under way!

Foam insulation being applied to underside of roof.
Our cyber acquaintances mentioned earlier, Ed and Marilyn and Gordon and Juanita, will be traveling northward from their winter camps in South Texas soon, and we hope we can talk them into stopping by the Vineyards if they come through the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. It would be a real treat for us finally to meet these folks, whom we feel we already know through their excellent blogs.