Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mystery Solved

At Northlake RV Resort, Houston…

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

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

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

Friday, December 27, 2013

Holiday Blur: Back in Houston

At Northlake RV Resort in Houston…

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

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

Here is Mae, stuffed to the gills:

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

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

Can't be long now---

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

Beautiful grounds at Northlake

Great outdoor cooking pavilion

Phannie (background) sitting contentedly in her January parking spot

Inviting pool and guest center

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

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

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

GPS: Garmin-1; Rand McNally-0

At home in Fort Worth...

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thanksgiving in Branson

At home in Fort Worth...

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

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

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

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

Following are a few photos taken during the trip.  

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

Our little family at Big Cedar Lodge:

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

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

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

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Where Did the Time Go?

In Branson, Missouri...

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

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

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

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

So long for now; must work on another post.