Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lifestyle Label: What is Ours?

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dinner with RV Friends

In Beaumont, Texas...

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

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

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

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

Marilyn and Ed and the Rio Grand Valley Limited

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

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

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

A favorite photo of a great couple of friends

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

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fun With Our "Kids"

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 13, 2013

We Check Out Thousand Trails

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

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

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

What Reader Do You Use?

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 5, 2013

In Houston for Girlie Stuff

In Spring, Texas (Houston)...

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Retirement: Reflecting on the First Month

At home in Fort Worth...

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

Here are some of my first month's impressions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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