Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Good News, Not So Good News and a Little Philosophizing

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

When we last visited, Sandy and I had interrupted our planned caravanning departure for Colorado due to Bubba's unfortunate battle between one of his coach's slideouts and a steel building; the slideout lost, regrettably. Woody (as his coach is named) is now in the hands of Coach Specialists in nearby Mansfield, Texas, one of the few shops in the country devoted entirely to body repair on RVs. Luckily for Bubba, the company also enjoys an excellent reputation, so he feels that Woody is in good hands. Unfortunately, his beloved coach will be out of commission for two or three months, as Earl, the owner of Coach Specialists, gently informed Bubba that these types of repairs move slowly, being highly dependent upon the acquisition of obscure parts and the exacting nature of this kind of work. Fiberglass repair, I am told, is very tricky and requires a good bit of skill, which these folks seem to have, judging by the finished products we observed. So, that's a bit of good news for Bubba, who desperately wants Woody to be restored to its former glory. 

Now, let's get to some good news for Sandy, who took the opportunity caused by the delay in our trip to move up her appointment with a surgeon who specializes in spinal stenosis. The good news is that she will not need to have surgery at this time; the not-so-good news is that her arthritic condition is going to continue to be a source of pain. The surgeon's recommendation was to take a referral to a widely respected doctor specializing in pain management. Sandy has made that appointment, and we will see if that helps her find some relief.

We are attempting to take in stride the hiccups in our travel plans caused by events beyond our control. We will never know if the change allowed us to avoid some traveling calamity ourselves from which the good Lord was protecting us. In any case, we know He has the big picture for sure. We are hoping that Sandy will respond well to her pain therapy and that we may be able to go to the mountains after all before the end of summer. We will have to see how the treatment goes in the next few weeks.

Working our way through these health issues was not exactly on our radar because, well, we've never gotten old before, and we didn't know exactly what to expect. We're determined, however, to get this behind us with minimal complaining and carrying on, for that sort of thing is so unproductive for us and so annoying to others.

I'm also working on becoming less anxious about making full use of the time "window" remaining for realizing our retirement travel goals while we still have some mobility. The best idea, I think, is to seek satisfaction with every single day and be grateful for having lived it, irrespective of our circumstances. An author named Lesage said it best in 1735: "I am happy and content because I think I am." A lofty and worthy goal, for sure, but Lesage didn't offer any advice on how to do it. I'm going to give it a shot, though, perhaps using the parts of my brain that were grossly underutilized in my youth--especially back when I studied algebra.      

Friday, July 18, 2014

I Guess John Lennon--or Allen Saunders--Was Right

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." While this quotation is widely attributed to John Lennon, it was not he who originated it. Lennon did work it into one of his songs, "Beautiful Boy," but according to the Yale Book of Quotations editor Fred R. Shapiro, the origin is attributed to writer and cartoonist Allen Saunders. A variation of the quote, "Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans," was published in Reader's Digest in January 1957, when Lennon was 17.

I confess to having been among the misinformed regarding the true author, except that I have always been a bit skeptical that Lennon could have been the source of such a profound statement of truth. It was apparently that skepticism that prompted me to check it out before casting it in front of sharp-eyed readers, one of whom may have pounced upon the gaffe and assailed me for laziness in fact-checking.

You may ask, "What does this have to do with your RV travel adventures, Mike?" Well, just about everything, it seems. Most RVers-including me--have often said that our travel plans are made in Jell-O®. That's a somewhat trite way to say much the same thing as Lennon's--or rather Saunders'--more eloquent quotation.

In the previous post, I mentioned our preparations for a trip to Colorado that was scheduled for this week. Unfortunately, it's not going to happen, and it's Bubba's fault. (You may recall that we were planning to caravan with Bubba and LouAnn during the first part of our Colorado trip.) Bubba suffered a calamity with his beautiful and much-loved motorhome a few days ago that rendered it unusable for our trip.  

Now you should know that I have agonized as to whether I should even mention my old friend's mishap in this post, but there is such a good lesson in it that I felt I had to refer to it as gently as possible. I think he will be okay with it, because he is normally a very safe and cautious person who will good-naturedly endure a bit of discomfort if he knows his story could benefit others.

In referring to the mishap, let's just say that it is a good idea to make sure that anything protruding from your motorhome--like a slideout, for instance--has been fully retracted before driving it into an RV storage unit whose door frame is, uh, a snug fit.  I don't think I need to elaborate any further, except to say that the consequences of doing so can be breathtakingly expensive. I couldn't even bring myself to include a photograph of the result; it would just have been too painful. Here is a "before" photo of Bubba and LouAnn with an unblemished "Woody":

If Bubba were writing this, he would share with you his resolution to employ in the future a cockpit warning flag to alert him of any configuration of the coach that could result in catastrophe (and lots of uncharacteristic expletives) upon moving the coach when he shouldn't. After my having attempted to comfort him in his anguish (no, I did not shoot him, as he begged me to do), I have decided to take his lesson to heart and affix to Phannie's steering wheel a fail-safe warning flag of my own.

Bubba's Very Bad Day was not the only deciding factor for postponing this trip, however.  Because of the good times we have always shared when RVing together, we really wanted to get away to the mountains and had planned this trip with Sandy's deferring until later some much-needed attention to an arthritic condition of hers called spinal stenosis. This is a narrowing of the area of her neck containing the spinal cord, and the condition can be quite painful (to which she can readily attest). Now, in view of the ignominious incapacitation of Bubba's coach, we have decided to postpone the trip and get Sandy ready for a surgical procedure sooner rather than later.  She will enjoy traveling much more if she can be more comfortable.

If you've been following this blog for the least few years, you know that Sandy and I have had our share of medical issues as I neared retirement. Since we have both been in very good health all our lives, we had hoped we would sail into retirement and not be too limited by the infirmities that often accompany the aging process. Thankfully, those annoying ailments that have come our way have been mostly restricted to bones and joints and, mercifully, they have been fixable through prayer, modern medicine and good insurance.

I must confess that, during my last few working years, I was quite conflicted about when to retire, always wondering if staying the extra time--just to make sure we were financially ready--was the best idea. I desperately didn't want our retirement story to be one cut short because I stayed in the working grind too long.  We think we chose our time wisely, and we are very thankful that we have not suffered truly debilitating health problems, but life really is what happens while we're making other plans, isn't it?  So, our advice would be not to delay your retirement dream a minute longer than absolutely necessary and trust the good Lord to take care of the Jell-O®.

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Bit of Nostalgia and Beginning Preparations for Another Adventure

At home near Fort Worth...

I am never on the cutting edge of anything. I'm not sure why, but I am always late to the party on just about everything, with the possible exception of technology. Being a gadget freak of sorts, I would rate myself slightly above average in keeping my electronic stuff reasonably up to date. It has been only in the last few days, however, that I finally noticed "Throwback Thursdays" on Facebook.  How long has that been going on?  (If you, too, are challenged like I am and don't know what I'm talking about, it's on Thursdays that a goodly number of Facebook users post old photos and nostalgic stuff on their timelines.)

Well, my buddy John Sharp sent me an article from my hometown newspaper about an old local pilot friend, and it got me to thinking about my own career as a pilot. Since it was Thursday, I decided to post a couple of old photos from the beginning and end of my flying years.  The first was taken in 1969, showing an old Beech 18 freighter, one of the airplanes I flew in my first real flying job. I was only 23 at the time:

The next is of a Boeing 727, on which I was a captain when I retired from flying in 1996 to begin a second career with the FAA:

It was a great career, and I wouldn't have wanted to do anything else. I've found that the only downside to being nostalgic like this is wondering where in the world did the time go?

Okay, I'm snapping out of it now...back to the future!  We have been home a couple of weeks and are beginning preparations for a launch late next week for Colorado. For the next several days, we will be identifying stuff that needs to move from the house to Phannie. (There's always something, even though we have done a pretty good job of duplicating the household living necessities in Phannie.)  For example, Sandy prefers, upon our returns home, to do the trip laundry in the washer and dryer in the house instead of in the Splendide washer/dryer in Phannie. The smaller RV unit is fine for traveling, but when she has access to the house, she always uses the larger machines.  It's not a big inconvenience, as the laundry room door opens directly onto the RV port.  It is there that the other items identified for loading also accumulate, to be periodically taken the few steps out to the motor home.

I have already checked the engine and transmission fluid levels and loaded more diesel additive bottles aboard for the longer upcoming trip.  (Yes, I use an additive, I've always used it, and I will continue to use it. The flawless performance of all of my diesel engines over the years is justification enough for me, even though I may have been merely lucky. Besides, it enables me to thumb my nose at the EPA for making us switch to ultra low sulfur diesel fuel. The additive puts back the needed lubricity that was lost, among other positive effects.)

Juan (my handyman) will come by and give Phannie a wash job tomorrow (she needs it). While she is backed out for her bath, I will open all the cargo compartments and see if any supplies need to be restocked or reorganized. Then I will give the interior a good vacuuming and check the stocks of supplies in the inside storage compartments.

Next week, I will check the air pressure in all the tires. Around midweek, I will turn on the refrigerator and begin loading some basic items from the house refrigerators plus those things that would go bad if left behind for a long time. We decided it didn't make sense to purchase a lot of trip food before departures; we don't generally go to locations where groceries are not readily available.  

Our goal is to have all the prep done and all but a few last-minute items loaded by the end of the day before departure. It makes launch day much less hectic, as we will likely have thought of everything.  (In another nod to our advancing years, we also cheat and use a checklist.)

During this Colorado trip, we will be caravanning with the Barkers again (they are always a hoot) on our way to Priest Gulch Campground, near Telluride. We'll be leaving there after several days for Durango and Creede, where we will stay a few more days and then say goodbye to our friends as they return to Texas. We will continue to explore Colorado, dropping in on friends in Colorado Springs and other friends Ed and Marilyn at Mountaindale on our way home. I'll try to keep this rag updated as we go along; we are really looking forward to our escape from the Texas heat.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Old Friends Come to Visit and We Do a Day Trip to Galveston

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

Some of the best was saved for last during our stay in Houston; longtime friends Jim and Terri made the trek from Arlington and visited with us for our final weekend.  We have been proselytizing them heavily for some time to join the world of RVers, as we think they have all the attributes to have a lot of fun with it.  Besides, we have a somewhat selfish motive in that we would enjoy their company on the road sometimes if they should invite us along! They enjoy travel, camping and even long drives, and they also have us--now old hands at RVing--to help them get started! 

In a quest to pique their interest further, I dreamed up a day trip to Galveston--in Phannie, no less--with Jim in the cockpit as my copilot. He and Terri were thusly able to observe the whole process as Phannie metamorphosed from its life as a house into that of a magnificent road cruiser and then resettling back into her nest at the end of the trip.  Jim seemed mesmerized by all the systems that were brought to life as Phannie's big diesel engine fired up and the slides retracted into the superstructure of the bus.  He loves all the switches, buttons and gauges and the motor's low rumble that is more felt than heard in the rear of the bus. I often thought he would have enjoyed a flying career like mine. (I, too, prided myself then in necessarily knowing the exact purpose of every one of the hundreds of items in the cockpit of a large jet aircraft. I'm not sure how well I could retain it all now but, then again, I don't have to, do I?  Come to think of it, Phannie is not unlike a large transport aircraft: It is a big, complicated machine with lots of controls and gauges, hauling people in cruising comfort and requiring great care when maneuvering in tight places. Maybe that's another reason I like her.)

We suggested an arrival in Galveston in time to have lunch at Gaido's, a premier seafood restaurant that's been there since 1911 and, happily, it is also a favorite of Jim's and Terri's.  

We enjoyed the 90-minute drive down I-45 as the girls in back (Sandy's sister, Brenda, and Mindy and the grandkids had joined us) served chip and dip, doughnuts and other goodies.  At one point, they asked me to slow down, as the snacks were affecting their appetites, and they wanted to be hungry when they got to Gaido's!

Brenda looks comfortable as we cruise toward Galveston.

Gaido's, of course, was wonderful and wonderfully expensive, but why not splurge once in a while, right?  

Brenda, Terri, Pryce, Mindy, Mason, Sandy and Jim at Gaido's

My plate - blackened amberjack with avocado-crab topping. I make no apologies.
After this fine meal, I drove my passengers to the seawall and unloaded them for some play time at the beach. This was the first beach experience for Mason and Pryce and, although a bit tentative at first, Mason waded right out into the surf before long. Unfortunately, a heavy seaweed invasion had made landfall and fouled a goodly bit of the beach, but everyone had fun anyway. Instead of joining in the beach romp, I chose instead to take a nap in Phannie, enjoying the air conditioning immensely as I examined the backs of my eyelids. The beach experience isn't exactly a favorite of mine, but I'm especially unenthusiastic about the perennially dirty sand and water at Galveston. Compared to the lovely beaches at South Padre, Galveston is almost embarrassingly unappealing. 

Mason's first time at the beach!

Terri, Jim and Mindy with Pryce at the beach for the first time. He looks a little puzzled.

After all of the beachgoers, soaked and sand-ladened, had reboarded Phannie, I pointed her northwest on I-45 to return to Rayford Crossing. My passengers were much less talkative on this leg as they enjoyed some much-needed naps after all the excitement. (I, of course, was completely alert for a change, as I had been refreshed by my bit of shuteye while they were swimming.)

I think the general consensus was that Phannie represented a top flight means of transporting a group of friends on a day trip.  A fine time was had by all for sure.  

The next morning, we met Jim and Terri for breakfast at the Forest Cafe and Bakery in The Woodlands.  This was a very good mom and pop joint that serves huge breakfast burritos among other goodies; we each ordered a burrito, not realizing how enormous it would be. We definitely should have ordered one for a couple to share; we will tuck that information away for next time.

During the meal, I continued pointing out to our guests the fun and benefits of RVing as a pastime, but I'm not sure I have been fully successful yet in whipping them into the desired frenzy.  I will keep plugging away, however; I'll be sending them some links to RV models for which I think they may enjoy shopping.  

As we bade adieu to these fine folks, we feel richly blessed for having intersected the lives of these friends and relatives who take the time to visit occasionally and leave us smiling at the memories we've made.   

Sandy, Jim and Terri at Forest Cafe

Speaking of treasured memories, how about this one of Sandy (Mimi) and grandson Pryce at a restaurant in The Woodlands?  I'm not sure which is more adorable!