Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Robin Hood Planning (Or Taking From Rich Planners and Giving to Poor Planners)

At home in Forth Worth...

Now, about the teaser from the end of my last post regarding our upcoming RVing plans:  It appears, Lord willing, that I will indeed be able to retire in June!  That is, unless the loopy politicians in Washington finally kill off capitalism and our investments all go south.

Sandy and I have given much thought to the kind of retirement ours will be.  It would be easy for me to toss the S&B and all of its expenses and irritations.  However, we both think we would need to have a home port somewhere with at least a modest bungalow that we could call home, with Phannie parked a few steps away when we aren’t on the road.  And since that’s essentially the living arrangement we have now (although it’s perhaps not quite a modest bungalow), the operative question is whether we can afford the expense of keeping the property and putting up with the worry factor when we’re away.  We think the answer is yes, but we’ll have to confirm that in actual practice.  So, we’ll see.

Now, back to the planning thing:   As I explained in the previous post, planning is not something that comes easy for me.  I occasionally have to do planning for the sake of avoiding chaos, but I generally keep it to a minimum, preferring spontaneity as I do.  Basically, my planning is limited to financial matters and trips.  Sandy isn’t particularly interested in planning either of these, so that’s where I have to man up and do it.  Luckily, the financial planning was largely done a long time ago and is more or less on autopilot; I don’t have to tweak it much.  As far as trip planning goes, I’ve always thought that less is more.  For me, planning a trip is simply envisioning a part of the country I would like to see and then considering what major attractions we might encounter along the way. But this is minimalist planning, done from a very high level and requiring rest afterward.  I could not possibly include at the same time planning about how to get there; that would be much too laborious.  I’m just smart enough, however, to know that picking a route is necessary at some point; after all, I probably need to know what direction I should point Phannie on the day of departure.   

With this in mind, it occurred to me that I might get blog readers to do some planning for me on our trip to Yellowstone this summer.  This will be our first trip after retirement—and the first one that will be open ended in terms of when we must return.  That in itself is a fantasy for which I’ve waited during my entire working career.

Departure from Texas will be in July, and we will be making haste toward Colorado to escape the blast furnace that is a Texas summer.  I don’t need much planning to get to Colorado, as that is pretty much a no-brainer.  I just point Phannie north by northwest and stop when we see mountains—piece of cake!  Near Colorado Springs, we’ll drop in on Ed and Marilyn for a few days at Mountaindale.  From there to Yellowstone, it gets a little fuzzy.  We love mountain scenery, but we’re not too interested in being frightened in our big rig on narrow roads with hairpin curves. We love bucolic settings such as those found in national and state parks, but sometimes we just don’t fit.  It’s a sacrifice we don’t mind making, however, for the sake of traveling comfort. 

We like small town settings, historical venues and eating in restaurants frequented by the locals.  We don’t follow sports, golf, fishing or hunting, and we can’t do much in the way of long walks or hiking (bad joints).  We like music, museums, festivals, rallies, tours, roadside stands, waterfalls, rivers, creeks and lakes.    

So, here’s where the Robin Hood thing comes in:  We would like for those of you who have more planning than you need to give us some since I'm too lazy to plan.  Somehow this seems entirely appropriate these days; even Warren Buffet thinks so! 

We would love to hear your ideas about a good route and attractions from Colorado Springs to Yellowstone, given the criteria I’ve described.  We’ll get to the rest of the trip later; I can only take so much planning right now.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Are You A Planner?

At home in Fort Worth...

I’m not; but I married one.  Sandy loves to plan things, and I don’t.  Here’s an example:  In preparation for our wedding day and honeymoon, Sandy spent weeks planning and packing her things for our trip to Hawaii.  Judging by the luggage she had placed in the trunk of our getaway car, she had prepared for every possible contingency of weather, activity and act of God, including perhaps even another attack on Pearl Harbor.

When we left the church at the conclusion of the wedding, we drove to what would be our apartment where I had already moved my things in preparation for our setting up housekeeping.  (Yes, I know it was very provincial to be living apart before marriage, but Biblical principles were important then, and they still are to us today—although we now seem to be in a rapidly shrinking minority.)

After carrying her over the threshold, I put her down and went to the bedroom to pack my bag for the trip.  She stood, mouth agape, in utter disbelief that I had given so little forethought to our honeymoon.  Within ten minutes, I was ready to travel without even once changing my mind about the few things I was tossing into my suitcase (note my intentional use of the singular form of this noun).

Sandy was initially hurt, I think, that I had devoted so little time to planning and preparing my wardrobe for our honeymoon.  Actually, she probably should have given me more credit:  In a very uncharacteristic and uncomfortable fit of planning, I had actually secured the reservations and tickets for the trip to Hawaii. (I really needed our honeymoon vacation to recover from this.)

Sandy soon came to realize that she had in her life partner a person desperately in need of her gift of planning expertise and, like most nurturing women, she definitely liked to feel needed.  At that moment, she probably said—under her breath—“Don’t worry, honey, I’ll take it from here.”  And so she has.  And it has worked, oh so well, for 36 great years.  I admit, somewhat sheepishly, that my honeymoon suitcase was the last one I ever packed.  She considered me so inept at planning that I could not possibly be trusted with packing even my own things for a trip.  Did I put up any resistance to her usurpation of my packing responsibility?  Are you kidding?  I was happy as a clam and still am.

That is not to say that my preference for spontaneity has not had a beneficial effect on Sandy. One more than one occasion, I devilishly announced that I was taking her on a surprise trip to an undisclosed location.  While her initial reaction was delight at the prospect of flying away on a romantic holiday, her giddiness quickly turned to panic as she contemplated how she could possibly prepare for such a thing.  My fear was that we would not be able to afford the excess baggage fees, as I fully expected her to pack, well, everything.

Over the years, however, Sandy has mellowed a great deal in her penchant for preparedness.  It’s a good thing, too, as the aging process has dramatically lessened my capability to tote around a massive number of suitcases.  In this regard, having an RV has proved a godsend, as we really don’t have to do much in the way of power packing when we go on a trip.  Much of the stuff we need stays on board when we're not traveling.  For several days in advance of departure, however, I’ll take a few things out to Phannie as instructed by Sandy, where they will stay—organized, thanks to her—until our return.  And on other trips not taken by RV, Sandy has also mellowed in her packing obsession.  One of the (few) benefits of getting older is attaining a greater discernment over what is important and what is not.  Comfort and simplicity trump just about everything, and there is a certain satisfaction in having attained that wisdom.

Why, you may ask, did I feel the need to go into this epic piece of reminiscence? Well, there is a reason, and it has to do with Phannie and planning, hence its appearance in this travel blog.  But that will have to wait for the next post.  This one is long enough.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Phannie's Turn for a Little Attention

At home in Fort Worth...

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving.  Tyler, Mindy and Mason were out of town, and we were invited over to Bubba's and LouAnn's. We had quite a Thanksgiving spread with these good friends, and we thank you fine folks for including us in your family's getogether.

Amazingly, I am making good on my pledge to devolve as a political junkie.  I just stopped watching all the pundits cold-turkey after the election, and I feel better--much better, in fact--having done so.  This doesn't mean I will stop praying for our country and exercising my voting privilege, but I'm definitely focusing more on getting ready for retirement and travel.  Maybe the next generation will be able to fix things; I certainly hope so.

I spent a good bit of the weekend tending to Phannie.  Nestled forlornly in her RV port here at the house, a little exercise, grooming and winterizing seemed in order.  She had not been moved for several weeks after returning from the ladies' annual pre-Christmas shopping orgy at Canton Trade Days, and it was time to bring the coach to life, as has been my monthly custom for years.  

Onan recommends running the genset for a couple of hours each month under load, so I cranked it up and turned on the heat pumps to warm up Phannie's interior.  After that, I fired up the Cat diesel, which started easily, and after warming it up for a while at the recommended 1000 rpm, I made a couple of passes up the driveway to stir the fluid around in the Allison transmission.  I'm not sure if all this is necessary, but it seems to be agreeing with Phannie. She has been remarkably trouble free, so I'm going to continue with this monthly ritual when she's not on the road.  And it looks like it may be a while until the next trip, as my hip surgery is getting closer--probably in December.  Gulp!

Since Phannie's RV port is not enclosed, it is necessary to drain all the water from her system between November and March.  Although it doesn't get very cold here in north Texas, we do occasionally have a hard freeze, so I never fail to perform this little chore.  Tiffin makes it relatively easy with three convenient lowpoint water drains.  After opening these, I drain the water heater, checking the anode rod in the process.  Call me lazy, but I don't replace the water with antifreeze as some of my RV buddies do.  However, in really cold weather, I run a small electric heater in the coach to make sure it doesn't freeze inside.  This scheme has worked well for the eight years we've been RVing, so I'm not going to mess with it.

Removing the drain plug and anode rod

Anode rod is still in good shape; a little cleaning is all that's needed.

After the water drained, I decided to polish Phannie's headlight lenses.  These had become a bit cloudy over time, and the old girl's headlight throw just wasn't what it used to be. It was sort of like she had cataracts! I picked up a kit at CVS Pharmacy the other day for this purpose.  The box contained a bottle of a polishing compound and a bottle of protectant fluid along with a sponge covered with fabric on one side for polishing and the other side for wiping on the protectant.


Lens polish

Voila!  Like new!

It only took a few minutes of light rubbing for the lenses to become crystal clear; I was impressed and grateful that this stuff worked as well as it did!  However, my delight at having found this product was soon tempered, as I learned from reading someone's blog that they had accomplished the same thing using toothpaste!  Go figure.  This just joins many other things in my life for which I overpaid due to ignorance; it probably won't be the last.

I did a little vacuuming in the lower compartments and, when I got to the electrical service compartment, I was reminded of the two gadgets in there that have proven to be among my favorite additions to Phannie when we bought her in 2011--the surge protector and the electric shoreline reel.  It's so nice to push a button to roll up the cable, especially for those of us with arthritis. The surge guard is valuable in giving me peace of mind that it will not allow current into the coach that is not up to par.  The last thing I need is damage to a bunch of expensive electronics.

Electric shoreline cable reel

Surge Guard

So, that's about enough attention for Phannie for a while; I have post-surgery trips to plan.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Moving On...

The election is over, and it has taken a few days for me to get through shock, anger, grief, disappointment and now, acceptance. What's left is great sadness for our nation and a resolve to focus on faith, family and friends, knowing now that the takers outnumber the makers in our country and there's not much I can do about it. For my own peace of mind, I'm devolving from a political junkie to as dispassionate an observer as my fears will allow, knowing that I must keep informed enough to try to take protective steps when the need arises. But that's it; I'm done. I will just pray for our kids and grandkids, whose future our leaders—of both parties—have mortgaged.

My new paradigm will be to get Sandy and me through our health issues and get retired and on the road by summertime. We're not sure what that will look like, because I've never retired before, although Sandy has about ten years’ experience and recommends it highly. It's a bit scary to contemplate, because I've worked for 45 years and don't know what not working will be like.
Sandy is well on the way to full recovery from her three surgeries. I still have a hip replacement to go, but that may be a few months away. I’m not looking forward to the surgery, but I am eager to get rid of “Herman,” the moniker I have bestowed on the painful arthritic nemesis that is my right hip. 

Phannie and Mae are running superbly well. We have made a couple of short trips lately, and I can’t help but marvel at this delightful mode of travel where we carry all the comforts of home with us everywhere we go. The motorhome just loves the road, and it is so much easier on Herman than the fiver; that’s been pretty important to me for a while now.

We’re thinking our first post-retirement trip will be out west. Sandy has never seen Yellowstone, and I haven’t seen it since 1956, so I don’t remember much; that’s got to be on our bucket list for sure. It doesn't really matter where else we go; wherever we want sounds pretty good. I can hardly wait to experience the freedom from the fixed schedule we have always followed in order to return to work on time.

I’m liking this new paradigm better all the time. Who would have thought that something so positive would have its roots in something as disgusting as this election? 

In any case, this the last you'll hear from me about politics.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

New Month, New Gadget

At home in Fort Worth...

One of the advantages of reading a number of RV bloggers is that they are a rich source of information based on personal experience.  I can’t count the number of ideas I’ve gotten from these folks, the latest being the purchase of a new camera.  Most of the photos appearing earlier in this blog were taken with a Canon Power Shot SD 780, which is 
a perfectly serviceable little camera that is easy to use and wonderfully portable, but missing some features that I really wanted. 

I had recently been influenced toward a Canon SX-40, a camera touted by Kate and Terry, among others--so much so, in fact, that I went ahead and bought one.  

I can report that I am extremely satisfied with this purchase, the considerations for which follow:

Simplicity.  There was a time when I foolishly decided to get into photography as a serious hobby, going so far as to purchase a medium format camera and all kinds of associated upscale accessories and books to learn more about the craft.  It was only after acquiring this expensive gear that I found I was missing a couple of key elements—talent and tenacity.  My brother-in-law, a semiprofessional photographer, made it look easy, much like Al of the Bayfield Bunch does.  But it soon became clear that their prowess in artful photo composition was more of a gift than something they learned from a book.  Realizing my inadequacy in this area, I sold most of the photography gear and decided that I would rely instead on the next best thing—digital camera automation.  The new cameras were getting more and more amazing in their ability to produce good results in spite of the shortcomings of the users.

The SX-40 has automation in spades, and for those photos that don’t turn out so well for me, there are always the photo editing features of Picasa which, in the world of homely photos, is something like a boob job.  I learned about Picasa from bloggers like Al and Rick, and I’m forever grateful.  So, at least I know my limitations:  I will point and shoot and let the camera (and Picasa) do the rest.  I should add, however, that my brief foray into the more esoteric elements of photography was not all in vain.  I did take away some basic appreciation for the influences of light and shadow and some rudimentary recognition of scale and balance, but that’s about all.

Video.  Some of our most treasured possessions are videos or home movies from years ago that captured memories of loved ones and friends, and we wanted our next camera to have good video capability.  The SX-40 takes great HD videos with sound captured through stereo microphones and yes, it’s simple and wonderfully automated.

Zoom.   I’m just not going to be bothered with changing lenses, so I needed a robust zoom capability, which the SX-40 does with its incredible 35x zoom feature.  It even has an instant zoom-out-and-return button when you lose a target at a long focal length.

Value.  At a tad over $300, this camera is a steal, in my book.  There are many more features that I didn’t bother to mention, but I doubt if I will use any of them.  An Ansel Adams I will never be.

I took a few photos with the new camera that may not interest you at all, but I'll include a comment on each from the standpoint of a novice using the automatic setting and no flash:

This photo showing Sandy and Bubba at Lake Grapevine near nightfall is remarkable in how much light the camera grabbed in the very low light setting (note the illumination of the interior of the fiver).  It was much darker here than the photo indicates.  

This is a closeup of wild Mexican plums in the yard.

This is an intriguing shot I took as I was panning around with the zoom in the front yard.  The features on the bark of this river birch tree looked for the world like a face expressing great alarm.

Here's the same tree with no zoom.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Butterfly Emerges!

At home in Fort Worth... 

After a month’s confinement, Sandy has emerged from the small world that consisted mainly of her recliner, the TV and the endless hum of the pump that recirculated cold water in the little jacket that enveloped her right knee.  This cloistered existence was not new to us, as she also had her left knee replaced a couple of years ago.  She was not prepared, however, for the more difficult recovery this time. The surgeon said this knee was in much worse shape than the first one, and the pain after the operation was significantly more severe.  We were not surprised at the surgeon’s post-op report, as Sandy was suffering terribly in the last months before the operation.

Because the post-op pain needed to be treated aggressively, Sandy was provided with a high-dose regimen of oxycodone, of which she took full advantage for a couple of weeks.  As the pain level decreased, however, she decided to discontinue its use in favor of Tylenol 3.  This sudden change proved to be a very bad idea, as she had not been clued in to the fact that abruptly stopping the use of oxycodone can have very undesirable consequences.  I won’t go into the details here, but suffice it to say that this was a very harrowing experience for her, the likes of which I hadn’t seen in all  36 years of our marriage.  Information about these side effects is easily available on the web, but we customarily don’t second guess our doctors’ prescriptions, and we didn’t bother to check it out this time.  We may be a bit more inquisitive, however, after this nightmarish episode.   In fact, Sandy muttered something about tossing all the pain meds next time and biting on a bullet.  She seemed serious, but we’ll see.  I certainly hope there will be no next time as, thankfully, she has run out of knees.

After about ten days with a multiplicity of very disagreeable withdrawal symptoms, the dark clouds parted and, on Saturday, Sandy suddenly was her old self again.  Fortunately, she was able to count on the support and prayers of many friends and loved ones during this time.  Her good friend Cathy was especially helpful in that she had recently suffered a similar reaction from this kind of drug and was able to commiserate with Sandy.

We were able to commemorate Sandy’s first real outing on Saturday with a photo as she went (where else?) shopping!  

It was only a short trip to the grocery store, but it was a big deal for her to escape from the cocoon of her house like a newly-winged butterfly!  It was gratifying for me, as well, as I had been so aware of how much pain she endured prior to the surgery.  Mercifully, that pain is now gone.  She will be using a cane for a while until her physical therapy is finished and she has gained full use of the new implant.

We feel very blessed to live in a time and in a country where modern medicine can so miraculously prolong quality of life.  I can’t help but remember my grandmother, who suffered terribly with arthritic knees and was unable to walk for most of the time I knew her.  Knee replacement surgery was not available then, as the technique and prostheses had not been developed until the 1970s.  However, I’m very fearful that these kinds of operations may not always be available if a panel of bureaucrats is to decide what my quality of life is to be.  I suppose we’ll know for sure on November 6.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

New Parts for Us (Phannie doesn’t need any)

Yes, I am aware that I haven’t posted anything for a while but we have an excuse.  As I mentioned in an earlier post as an upcoming event, Sandy has just finished the last of three planned surgical procedures, the most recent being total knee replacement.  If you’re wondering, her full list included carpal tunnel surgery and a septoplasty (repair of a deviated septum) all within the last five months.  As in her recovery from similar surgery on the other knee a couple of years ago, progress is slow and painful—perhaps more so this time because this knee was in much worse shape.

Somewhat coincidentally, I am looking at hip replacement surgery myself as soon as Sandy is well enough to help me shuffle around afterward as I recover.

I’m not sure how we managed to need all these body repairs at the same time but we are grateful that we don’t have worse health problems; we know too many people who do.  Having been blessed with good health for 65 years, I guess I shouldn’t complain about the prospects of having my very first surgery soon (a tonsillectomy when I was a kid doesn’t count).

I have a new respect now for whoever first said, “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.”  It’s amazing how poignant this old bromide has become since Sandy and I have been confronted with our wicked new nemesis, Mr. Arthritis.  

Another reason to get these expensive procedures out of the way is the uncertainty of our having access to them if Obamacare stays around.  Big Brother might just tell us we don’t have enough quality years left so…too bad!

Dear friends Jim and Terri came by this afternoon and brought a delicious dinner of homemade enchiladas; it was muy sabroso!  Thank you!
Sandy and Terri
Sandy with her knee elevated and Terri

Jim (sorry for the poor photo composition)
Jim and Terri took a tour of Phannie and seemed to enjoy looking around as they saw in person all of her features that I had mentioned in my posts.  As we walked through the coach, I couldn’t help but feel sad that our travel in this fine rig has been circumscribed for a while. 

Yesterday I fired up Phannie’s engine and the Onan genset then ran through the gears.  I do that every couple of weeks when she isn’t being used and, so far, this seems to be working well in keeping Phannie’s systems exercised.  Since we have full hookups in her RV port, battery upkeep is not an issue.  We probably won’t be taking her out for a couple more months as we continue our recovery.

For our blogger friends who are still enjoying good health and mobility, I would encourage you to savor every day and offer a prayer of thanks for this and all the rest of God’s wonderful blessings.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Phannie’s First Year and Her Annual Checkup

    At home in Fort Worth...
A year has passed since we made the transition from fifth wheel to motorhome, and we now have some  experience from which we can draw some conclusions regarding the difference between the two.  To summarize, we now have verification that the added travel comfort and convenience of a motorhome is everything we expected and, not surprisingly, it comes at a cost.

We love the comfort of gliding smoothly along in the big bus’s cockpit, not so much driving as lounging in the luxurious chairs--with food, drink and restroom only a few steps away. 


We like the Imax-like view from the panoramic windshield, looking down on most of the annoying little vehicles around us.  If their drivers do something stupid or dangerous, I don't hesitate to give them a blast with Phannie’s air horn just to jiggle their Jello.  I especially like the greater ease of the arrival and departure tasks when we stop for the night.  Suffering a bit of arthritis, I'm thankful to be rid of the gymnastics of hitching and unhitching the fiver.  And one of my previous concerns about hitching up our toad, Mae, has proven to be a non-issue, as it is almost too easy.

Our Previous Rig

Perhaps the greatest downside to the changeover to a motorhome is the loss of the relative simplicity and lower cost of maintaining a fiver.  The addition of the big diesel engine and its associated drive train adds complication and expense and, if you ignore their upkeep, you do so at your peril.  Phannie, like most females, operates best when she gets the attention she is due.  

Are we satisfied with our changeover from fiver to MH?  Absolutely!  However, if budget considerations had been the primary issue, the extra cost probably wouldn't have made much sense.

It was Phannie's annual checkup that brought us back to Motorhomes of Texas in Nacogdoches, where we originally found her and adopted her into our family a year ago.  After having read a great deal on the blogs and forums about maintaining a diesel pusher, I learned the value in being diligent to follow the manufacturers' recommended service intervals on all of Phannie's systems.  These include an annual oil change along with the filters for oil, fuel and air.  This service is not cheap on a motorhome, and our visit was quite a bit more expensive on this occasion, as it was also time to change the transmission fluid and filters, a task required every three years.  Of course, there were numerous other checks due, such as a chassis lube and inspections of the cooling system, brakes and air suspension, as well as a punch list of little non-mechanical things that we wanted done. 

Service Area at Motorhomes of Texas

We really like doing business with this small-town dealer, as the staff is very friendly and accommodating in addition to having a good reputation for the quality of their work.  This may be attributed to the experience level of their mechanics, some of whom had been employed with Foretravel before its downsizing layoffs at its Nacogdoches plant a few years ago.

We also appreciate these folks’ can-do attitude; we wrote in earlier posts (see July 10 and 17, 2011) of our experiences with the company as we were having Phannie outfitted to our specifications.  They are able to do it all--from HD TV satellite installations to quality cabinetry work to even the smallest details--they just don't seem to know how to say no.  This is amazing to me in this day and age when good customer service is so hard to find.  Although we had quite a long to-do list, we were in and out in a single day.  They have a very well appointed lounge, and we were quite comfortable while Phannie got her going over.

So, this periodic maintenance outlay is another expense that we didn't have with the fiver, but I wouldn't want to tempt fate by not having it done as recommended.  I believe it is the best way to reduce the chances of a breakdown and to avoid damage to Phannie's systems in the long run.

Acquiring a motor home is much like acquiring a new house.  After you've lived in it for a while, you find things you would like to change.  In Phannie's case, we decided we didn't need two couches, so we had one of them removed to make room for a recliner and computer desk.  After a couple of false starts, we found just the right desk and chair and, upon placing them in the coach, it became obvious that we needed a new electrical outlet near the desk for our computing needs.  This is another thing that we asked Motorhomes of Texas to do and, predictably, they said, "No problem."

New plug behind computer desk

Another thing we didn't like in Phannie was the built-in dining table.  It took up too much room, and it protruded from the wall excessively.  So, after seeing a solution by another Phaeton-owning blogger who replaced his dining table with a freestanding one, we began looking for one of these ourselves.  Having found and purchased it some time ago, we decided to take this occasion to have Motorhomes of Texas remove the factory-supplied dining table.  Of course, they said, “No problem!”  I thought they did a superb job of covering the hole where the table had joined the wall.

The old table--this photo was taken prior to the new MCD shades--ugh!

The old table after removal
The new table

So is it worth it, you may ask, to drive all the way from Fort Worth to Nacogdoches for service?  Couldn't you find someplace that suits you in all of the Metroplex?  Well, yes, we think it was worth it and no, we haven't been able to find comparable service so far.  There are, of course, some shops and dealers around DFW that I haven't patronized, but those I have used just don't measure up to Motorhomes of Texas.  Finding a friendly shop where I am treated well and where I know the service is reliable and of high quality is a rarity, in my experience.  Here in the Metroplex, I have generally found that the large facilities simply cannot offer the personal attention I prefer; they're just too busy.  There's a similar problem with the mom and pop shops that tend to be woefully understaffed.

While in Nacogdoches, we met up with dear old friends John and Pat, whose company we enjoyed for dinner.  John even paid the tab, and Pat treated us to some wonderful Italian cream cake afterward.  Thanks, guys!

We also took time to visit the local farmers' market in downtown Nacogdoches.  I'm so glad my little home town keeps up this tradition that I remember so fondly from my childhood. 

One new attraction added was some local musicians who serenaded the shoppers with some country and western music.  We picked up some wonderful fresh produce that we will enjoy for several days.

Music to shop by

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Are We Too Easily Offended?

At home in Fort Worth...

The restrictions to Sandy's and my travel caused by upcoming surgeries give me time to ponder certain things, whatever good or ill that brings.  We have only three trips scheduled for Phannie through November--all of short distance and duration, so I will have plenty of time to fill blogging space with something other than my usual blather about our travels.  This 'something' will include, of necessity, a greater reliance upon philosophizing.  (Don't laugh; my philosophy is worth every nickel you pay for it.)

This has its risks, however, as philosophizing, by its nature, requires its practitioner to offer opinions, some of which may differ from those held by readers.  Mindful of the risks, I am very careful to avoid issues known to be polarizing, such as religion and politics, although I have strong views on both.

Why take any risk at all, one may ask.  Well, for the same reason a newspaper editorial column is more interesting to me than the stock price page.  As stated in a recent post about blogging, I find a writer's thoughts and impressions about a subject likely to be more captivating than the the subject itself.  As long as the opinions I express do not include negative personal comments, there shouldn't be any problem.  Or so I thought.

I recently learned that a respected blogger whom I follow (and who followed me) was offended by something I wrote in my post, "Getting on the Blogging Tips Bandwagon" and unsubscribed from my blog in a huff.  I was mystified as to what had set him off, but I later found out that he didn't like my opinion about the kinds of posts I find interesting.   Mind you, I carefully avoided mentioning any blog or author by name in my post, but he must have thought I was writing about him.  (I wasn't; his blog is very well done and one of my favorites, about which I've left only positive comments.)

Instead of leaving, I wish he had left a comment with a differing opinion as others, like Rick, occasionally do.  I covet these as an intellectual exchange in which I may learn something.  But just to high tail it because I expressed an opinion--I don't get it.

Please excuse the rant, but have we reached a point where we are too easily offended?  Perhaps we have, and I think it might be attributed to our national obsession with political correctness.  In many cases, it is modeled to us via television that disagreeing with someone is impermissible if that person is of a certain color, orientation, origin, politic, religion, etc., etc.  Must we now be careful with bloggers, too?  I guess my erstwhile blogger friend didn't zero in on the premise that my post was merely an 
O-P-I-N-I-O-N!  As far as I know, I'm still allowed to have one and to express it.

I certainly wish the offended blogger had hung around because I was proud to have him as a subscriber; I still read his posts and will continue to do so.  But then, I'm not easily offended.    

Friday, June 15, 2012


At home in Fort Worth

Sandy and I are more or less tethered to our home base for the next few months as we navigate our way through surgeries to replace some of our parts that have worn out.  It was just last week when brave Sandy had two procedures--a septoplasty and carpal tunnel surgery--done at the same time on the same operating table.  I certainly understand her desire to get both of these over with at once, but she looked pretty beaten up for a few days.  She is definitely a trooper!  

Next for her will be knee replacement surgery, to be done as soon as she has the use of her hand again.  This will be knee number two for her, and she's looking forward to getting relief from the pain.  Next will be a hip replacement for me, but not until Sandy is pretty well mended from the knee ordeal.  

Even with all of this piling up at once, we still consider ourselves blessed, as our medical issues have been relatively minor for a very long time. Many of our friends and acquaintances have suffered devastating illnesses and losses of family members to terrible diseases, so our current issues are almost unworthy of mention.  

However, that will not keep me from whining about not getting to scratch our traveling itch for a while.  Poor Phannie must think she has been abandoned.  I  am faithful to start her up, run through the gears and exercise  the generator every couple of weeks, but this is just teasing her, and I'm sure she resents it.

Sad Phannie
On a happier note, the DFW Metroplex is getting its first Trader Joe's store today, opening in Fort Worth.  We have never had an opportunity to visit one of these popular markets, and we're thinking about giving it a try this weekend, although with some trepidation due to the anticipated crowds.  I know that a number of you have had positive comments about Trader Joe's, and I do know that they offer some unique items.  Since the RV blog community is a very discerning bunch, I would be interested in some of your 'must-haves' from Trader Joe's.
New Trader Joe's in Fort Worth

Finally, I am including some helpful hint videos for your amusement and edification.  I'm sure these are making their way around the web, but I hadn't seen them before--pretty cool tricks, I thought:  1) closing a potato chip bag without a clip; 2) peeling a boiled egg; and 3) getting a cork out of a wine bottle.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Music for Geezers

At home in Fort Worth…

This post is a continuation of my earlier musings about becoming a Geezer.  For several days, I had a foggy mental outline of what this post has become—a diatribe about the bilious noise that passes for popular music these days.  Before I could write it, however, Al of the Bayfield Bunch unwittingly stole my thunder in one of his posts a few days ago.  The only difference was that his favorite music was popular a decade or two later than the point in the last century where I was left behind by songwriters and singers.  

In my mind, good music began about 1940 and was largely extinct after about 1970 with a few notable exceptions mostly associated with Broadway musicals.  I guess the hallmark of this 30-year period was that music actually had melody back then.  I won’t even attempt to name any of the hundreds of melodious songs from those years that are still universally recognized today along with the big bands who played them and the crooners who sang them.  But you know these instantly when you hear them, and you can hum their melodies if not sing their words.

I must admit to being utterly devoid of even the tiniest understanding of today’s music. I am mystified by rappers, and I have no idea of what constitutes funk, grunge, metal, heavy metal, punk pop or any of the other weird subgenres that float around out there like strange and annoying creatures from a parallel universe.

I don’t even recognize country music anymore.  A simple and understandable country song with fiddles, a steel guitar and a melody has given way to a rambling story-saga with perhaps a catchy line but no tune that anyone could hum.  Again, there are a few exceptions to this, but not many.

I guess the latest thing that set me off was the recent windup of the TV show, American Idol, a horrible misnomer for what proved to be a never-ending freak show of poorly-dressed youngsters bent on inflicting musical torture.  We have now reached a point, it seems, where judges appear to be impressed only to the degree that a performer’s voice can be pushed and strained to a point where it is no longer discernible as anything other than a primal scream.  Nothing seemed to matter in this show except whether the primal scream was sufficiently vein-bulging that it showed the proper apoplexy or ‘emotion’ of the singer.  I suppose that if the performer had actually suffered an aneurysm and died at that point, he or she would have been named the posthumous winner by acclamation. 

At the merciful end of the season, the winner was a pitiful rural lad whose voice had about a six-note range but who prevailed, presumably, because he was ‘different.’  God help us.

Fearing my curmudgeonly attitude would be dismissed as the predictable snarkiness of an old fuddy-duddy who is not growing old gracefully, I have engaged in no small degree of introspection as to why this causes me so much consternation.  Perhaps it is because I am a musician of sorts myself (piano), about whose capability kind things have been said, however misguided they may be. 

In this exercise of due diligence, I thought back to my own youth and my parents’ reaction to the music of my pubescent fifties and sixties.  Let’s see—no, their heads didn’t explode when rock and roll hit and Elvis discovered his hips.  My folks didn’t listen to pop music much back then, but they never gave me the impression they thought I was from another planet when I listened to it.  In fact, they even liked some of it.  Even “Purple People Eater” and “Splish Splash, I Was Taking A Bath” had a melody, for goodness’ sake!  I  

Therefore, I refuse to be pigeonholed as typical of the geezers of each fading generation who just don’t ‘get it’ when it comes to modern pop music. I think the music died a good while ago along with the culture, and I’m not sure it will ever come back.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It's Official: I'm a Geezer!

At home in Fort Worth

I  can distinctly remember how uncool I thought my parents were in my formative years--which, much to their dismay, lasted about three decades.

It was not out of necessity that my parents fed our family largely from dad's vegetable garden and the occasional catch of the day from his trips to the fishing holes. They did so because it was just the best food on earth. I am ashamed to confess that, in my adolescent fog, I lacked a proper appreciation for my dad's gardening and fishing skills and my mother's total mastery of the art of cooking the fresh food that was in such abundance then. To me, it was all so very, ah, rural.

I guess I fancied myself then as a dazzling urbanite--somewhat fanciful, it would seem, there in Nacogdoches, my east Texas home town of some 12,000 citizens. I tended to turn up my nose more often than not at my mother's smorgasbord of beans, greens, squash, okra and the like. How nice it would be, I thought, if we could just have the Wonder bread hyped on TV instead of the incessant parade of homemade cornbread, biscuits and rolls from mother's kitchen.  If only we could eat at restaurants, I thought.  What an ignoramus I was...and what I would give now for just one more of those meals!

Yes, my folks were hopelessly square geezers, I thought. They were so old school that they didn't have a computer or a credit card...or any debt, for that matter.  They occasionally watched TV, especially Lawrence Welk, but their favorite form of entertainment was something called "visiting."  This curious practice involved gathering with friends or relatives and doing nothing more than talking and storytelling for a few hours. Yes, I know, this custom has largely disappeared today, having been replaced with TV, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and email, but I still miss those stories and being in awe of the storytellers. 

This provides a background for my assertion above that I have become a geezer, too. What, you ask, precipitated this catharsis?  Well, it was my recent visit to the dentist, of all things.

I had gone to the dentist to have a sensitive tooth checked out and afterward, when I stopped to pay the bill, I was greeted by a willowy young girl with brown hair who almost certainly had not yet seen her twentieth birthday. After smiling and officiously checking my account on her computer terminal, she said, "That'll be twenty-one dollars today, Mr. Mills."  (It was a co-pay; I have dental insurance, in case you're wondering.)  I opened my wallet and retrieved a twenty and a five, laying them on the granite counter in front of her.  At this point, she looked at the two bills, studying them momentarily, then looked up at me, bewildered, her eyebrows raised and her brown eyes now a good deal larger than before.  At one point, she looked over her shoulder at her comrades as if to say, "What do I do now?"

Since the appearance of the two bills on the counter had clearly flummoxed the young lady, I instinctively said, "I can give you a bank card if it'll make things easier for you."  Instantly, she broke into a big smile and eagerly pushed the two bills toward me. One swipe with my card, and I shuffled out to my car.  As I sat down in the driver's seat, pondering the young lady's recoil from my offer of cash, it hit me:  She had probably never done a cash transaction. Cash must be for geezers!  For perhaps the first time, I wondered why I had not just gone ahead and used my card in the first place; it would have been so very simple and easy.

For years, I have had a habit of carrying a few hundred dollars in my wallet because cash--until now--has just seemed a simpler way to pay for small purchases. However, I have observed that more and more people are paying with plastic and young folks, like my daughter, Mindy, use a bank card almost exclusively to pay for everything--even things costing less than a dollar!  I had also noticed the arrival of card swipe-thingies at the drive-in windows of fast food joints, but I considered it more of a curiosity than anything else. I couldn't imagine why anyone would use a credit card to pay for a hamburger!  We geezers are clearly the last to connect the dots, aren't we?  

For most of Mindy's life, I frequently asked how much cash she had, knowing that if she had any at all, she would probably have found it on the ground. Then I would surreptitiously put a few bills in her purse, because geezers--especially geezers who are fathers--just can't cope with the thought of anyone--especially their daughters--carrying little or no cash.  Now I find myself wondering why I was thinking that having cash was so important. 

As I pondered this, I remembered an article in the newspaper (the reading of which also probably qualifies me as a geezer) about Sweden's imminent changeover to become a cashless society.  When I arrived back at the office, I did a little research (with Google, what else?) and found that Sweden is getting rid of cash because only three percent of transactions there involve an exchange using cash; for them, maintaining a national currency is more trouble and expense than it is worth. The article went on to reveal that only seven percent of transactions in the U. S. are now made using cash!  Upon reading this, I'm sure I gasped audibly! When did this happen, and how did I not notice it, I asked myself. Was the descent into my currency-laden geezerhood as insidious as, say, bladder problems?  Maybe so; I didn't realize I had those, either, until trips to the bathroom became my most reliable and frequent source of exercise. 

Feeling suddenly old, I quickly took stock of all the modern gadgets I use--an iPhone, an iPad, an iMac, a GPS and wireless internet, among others--and I felt a little better. Surely geezers don't use those, right? Then, I began to worry that I still may be fighting a losing battle, because I always seem not to have the latest version of anything.  My iPhone doesn't have Siri, and I still have an iPad II, for goodness sake!  Does that make me a geezer?  I'm not sure but, as I write this, I'm becoming even less sure that I care.  

Since this paradigm shift, I've been having a little trouble with the weirdness that comes with my realization that carrying a bunch of cash is, well, frowned upon, I suppose. For example, when I retrieve cash from my wallet to pay for something, I am careful to hold my hand in such a way that the bills I have are not visible, for fear of my being ridiculed as being a member of the one-percent group or something else that's out of favor today. Before this latest enlightenment, I used to be careful with my wallet for fear of attracting criminals, but now I'm not even sure they want cash anymore. Pretty soon, I guess, using cash will be like offering a chicken or goat to pay for something. People will be amused, but then a call will be made, and some men will come and gently lead me away.

More thoughts on becoming a geezer in the next post.   

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Getting on the Blogging Tips Bandwagon

At home in Fort Worth...

I have noticed several posts lately in which the writers give tips for good blogging.  Since that seems to be in vogue, I’m going to offer a few of my own.  I think I’ve learned a good deal about writing blogs from reading posts—both good and not so good—of many other bloggers.  Although I read posts on other subjects, RV blogs are the only ones I follow through Google Reader. 

The number one criterion for a blog to make my reading list is this:  It must tell a story.  And I don’t mean a travelogue—you know, one that contains a zillion photos of scenery and a narrative that could have been copied from Wikipedia.  Thanks, but I’ll just read Wikipedia, I think. What I want to read is about the writer’s feelings and sensations about his or her experience.  This is no different from what makes people want to read a good book—to be transported through the written word to live vicariously in the writer’s experience.   It doesn’t even require great writing artistry or a compelling subject.  What is happening is not as important as telling what you think or feel about what is happening.  If it makes you happy, tell how happy and why it makes you happy.  If it’s funny, exploit it for all it’s worth; readers love humor.

Besides the dreaded encyclopedia-style travelogue post mentioned above, there are others that drive me batty: 

1) The family gathering—innumerable photos of every relative breathing, from newborn to nearly departed, all of whom are known only to the blogger.

2) Basket weaving or beer bottle collections—a complete photo guide to performing some 19th century craft, or endless posts about an obscure hobby that may have 37 adherents in the whole country. If you’re going to do a how-to series, that's fine, but realize this will be something most readers will zip on by. 

3) Wild animals, birds, pets and flowers—everybody loves them, but please…'less is more' applies here.  I just don’t need to see an elk from every conceivable camera angle.  If one feels compelled to include dozens of these photos, why not just put them in a library and provide a link for the three people who want to look at them?    

There are those folks—including me—who have said they publish a blog for their own record or just so the family can keep up with what they’re doing.  I think they (and I) are kidding ourselves!  If those were our only intentions, why would we be publishing it to the World Wide Web where a billion people can read it?  I think every blogger likes to be read; however, not all of them write about what someone may want to read.

Here are a few more tips that may be taken for whatever they’re worth:

  • Try to be positive; there’s enough negative news already.  However, if something happens to you that others can learn from or avoid, don’t hesitate to tell about it.

  • If something is just so crazy good that you know others will love it, go ahead and rave about it.  Just don’t get carried away; not all that much falls into the crazy good category.

  • Avoid politics, but an occasional rant—about anything, so long as it isn't personal—can be entertaining.  Warn readers beforehand and apologize afterward. 

  • Avoid preaching, but acknowledge God’s handiwork and blessings from time to time.

  • Write from a humorous perspective and look for humor in all things, especially yourself.

  • Tell readers about your health issues, but try not to dwell on them.

  • If you leave a blog comment, make it a bouquet and never a brickbat.  There’s always something good to say about every post.

  • Try to remember to include your location at the beginning of each post.  Most writers don't do this, and I forget sometimes.  But it surely takes the guesswork out of it for readers.

  • After I write a post, I get up and walk away for a time; then I come back later and re-read it before publishing it.  I’m almost always glad I did. 

Happy blogging!