Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

We Followed Them Home

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

I suppose we hadn't quite had our fill of the kids after our long time away, so what do grandparents do when they're retired? Well, just about anything we want, I guess. In this case, we decided to follow them home!

We know that the common response of most young folks faced with the prospect of such an invasion by grandparents would be something other than positive; it might even be laced with epithets of some kind. We have been blessed, however, in that Tyler and Mindy have always been solicitous of our presence, even for extended periods of time. We do go to great lengths, however, to remain on the periphery as much as possible, and we do our best to provide support for them as they go about their busy lives. We like to do grocery shopping for them and prepare and take them meals they like, then we fade away back to Phannie in the evening so they can still maintain their family time.

As far as Mason and Pryce go, we can do no wrong in their eyes, as we always have surprises for them and find little need to say "no" to anything they want unless we get busted by their parents-- something that happens fairly regularly.

In Houston, we stayed at Northlake this time, as it was a little cheaper than Rayford Crossing, which has obviously been discovered and whose rates are now in excess of $50 a night. Even though it's a very nice park, we think this is a little over the top.

Although it's a little out of the way for us, Northlake has many of the features that make it a premium park:

See Phannie in the background?

We have found that since it rains so often in Houston, a concrete pad is the only way to go to avoid tracking mud into the coach.

Before we left Marble Falls, we noticed one morning that we had no hot water. I checked everything I knew to check in regard to the water heater and found that it was operational on both electric and propane, but the water from the hot faucet was nothing more than a small trickle. I went online to the Tiffin owners forum and quickly found that the likely culprit was the check valve in the hot water line exiting the water heater. I removed the panel that separates the water heater compartment from the middle cargo bay, spotted the check valve and tapped on it with hammer. The valve obviously opened, as we suddenly had hot water again. However, it didn't last for more than a few minutes before it shut off. Because I could not contort my arthritic body into a position that would allow me to replace the valve myself, I elected to call for help. We arranged to meet up with a mobile RV mechanic on our way through Austin. We met up as planned, and the very personable mechanic had the valve replaced in about 20 minutes. We're glad to recommend RV Specialists in Austin. Their number is 512-470-3070.

Another thing I noticed that had the potential for giving us trouble was the electrical cable that provides power from Phannie to Mae, operating the taillights, brake lights and turn signals of our little red toad. The cable was beginning to show signs of wear because of its heavy use, and I was reminded that the current cable was a replacement for the original that was installed in 2011. The failure of the original cable occurred on the road, and we didn't discover it until we went to hook up one morning and noticed Mae's lights were not working during the light check that I always accomplish before each departure. This meant that Sandy had to drive Mae and follow me until we reached an RV parts store that had a replacement cable. Now you must know that, although she is a good and safe driver, Sandy is not fond of driving at all, especially in unfamiliar territory. So, I thought I would save myself some future ridicule by ordering a spare cable:

I thought this was a wise addition to my "fly away kit." (This is aviation lingo for a cache of critical spare parts and specialized tools carried aboard mostly charter aircraft that will enable a quick repair in a remote location. During my career as an airline pilot doing many charter flights, the fly away kit proved indispensable for avoiding expensive delays.) Phannie's fly away kit contains things like oil and fuel filters, a spare fan belt, extra bolts for slide torque tubes, extra towbar ring pins, special outsize wrenches and a small high-capacity air compressor, in addition to an assortment of other bolts, screws, washers and other kinds of fasteners and other small parts.

By the way, Amazon has these Blue Ox cables for about a third less than RV retail stores I've checked.

So what do we do while we're around the grandkids? Well, perhaps this gives you some idea:

We hope you do not infer from these photos that taking the boys to get smoothies, frozen yogurt and ice cream would be considered spoiling them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. At least, that's the way we see it!

After a week in Houston, we came back home for (what else?) another doctor and dentist appointment. But we won't be here long...stand by!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough each day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

And...We're Off Again!

At Sunset Point RV Resort, Marble Falls, Texas...

Okay, enough of the downtime and chores; we're off again! 

This won't be anything like the epic tour of the western U. S. that we've just completed, however. We've been away for a long time, and we've got to see the grandkids before Sandy has to be institutionalized. I'm not much better, but someone has to remain stoic.

We have decided to meet Mason and Pryce along with their expendable parents (not really) in Marble Falls. Then we will travel to the little town of Burnet, Texas, where we will ride with them on the Thomas train under the auspices of the Austin Steam Train Association. Mason, like so many of his contemporaries, is completely ga-ga over everything Thomas. (If only I had thought of such a cash machine as the Thomas franchise.)

Sunset Point is a jewel of an RV park right on the shoreline of Lake LBJ near Marble Falls. We always enjoy the pristine grounds and relaxing views of the lake.

After their arrival, we treated the kids (as we call all of them) to lunch at the Bluebonnet Cafe, an institution in Marble Falls since 1929 and where patrons are almost always lined up to enter. 

I know my standards are higher than most, but I couldn't find much that was special about the place. The food was okay, about what I expected from a local cafe, but it was by no means exceptional. But it is popular. One caveat: I didn't try any pie, which is supposedly a mainstay.

Riding the Thomas train was a big deal for us and the boys, and we had a lot of fun seeing their excitement.  Here are a few photos:

If you have grandkids and they're into the Thomas thing, be sure and take them to one of the Thomas train rides. They will love it, and you will get all the credit.

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough each day.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Hitch Itch, a Visit With Mike and Marian and Other Stuff

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

I'm not sure that "hitch itch" is the correct term. It certainly was applicable when we had a fifth wheel, but now with a motorhome? I suppose Phannie does have a hitch, however--the Blue Ox one that tethers Mae as she faithfully follows us wherever we go. So, until I'm aware of the lingo describing the lure of the road for motorhome owners, "hitch itch" will have to do. Anyway, we have it, so we're about to head out again.

We have been nesting here at the home port for about three weeks since we pancaked in here after leaving hurriedly from Las Vegas, thoroughly singed and heat-soaked after our ill advised passage from Southern California through Barstow and the Death Valley environs. We had intended to spend some time at the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe, but we just didn't think we could enjoy ourselves unless we tried again at a cooler time of year. Who would have thought that we would race home to Texas to get out of the heat in August?  The truth is, we didn't help ourselves very much by doing so. The temp here has been in the nineties almost every day since we returned so, of course, we have been prisoners of the air conditioner.

Escaping the hellish August inferno that constitutes the great Southern California/Nevada desert was not the only reason we had to get back home. There were the never-ending appointments with the medical, dental and optical professionals who tend to our seemingly endless infirmities. We must do our part to complete  this necessary balance of trade: We get new or repaired body parts, and they get a new Lexus or Mercedes. I think we have largely completed their inspections of our current medical discrepancies and, of course, there are other chores that always befall us when we transit our home base.  These include, but are not limited to, the following:

Retrieving and performing triage on a pile of mail from our UPS mail drop, trimming hedges (there aren't very many, but since the goal of xeriscaping was the avoidance of yard w*rk, why did we plant these infernal things?), cleaning up the leaves and twigs blown from the trees, sweeping the porches and the garage and RV port, replacing bulbs and batteries, changing the A/C filter and cleaning the carpets (not us--professionals--way too much like w*rk).

Another project that was a bit more interesting was my installing a new gadget. (I do love gadgets.) This one is a Ring video doorbell that will alert us on our cell phones when someone rings our doorbell or even if they step on the porch and don't ring it. (It also has a motion sensor.) Once we get the alert, we can punch up a live video feed on our phones and converse with whoever is there--no matter where we may happen to be:

Yes, I know; I'm a bit obsessive about security, what with cameras and alarms everywhere, but after a break-in at home and in Phannie, I think I might be given a little slack. I have to admit, this thing is way cool, though, and it's fun to watch visitors' reactions when my disembodied voice greets them from the doorbell!

The computers in the house needed updating, of course, when I fired them up after their long sleep and, while I was shepherding that, I also purchased and installed a really neat program that is utterly amazing in the simple way that it removes undesired objects from digital photos and fills in behind them with what seems normal to appear there. I can't imagine how they do it, but it is light years simpler than anything else I've used. It's called In Pixio and here's the link: In Pixio

Since we're talking about it, let me give you an example. Below are two photos of the Ring doorbell I just mentioned. The top one  shows a round smear of masonry mud left by the bricklayer just to the left of the doorbell unit. (It's actually the style; it's called "messy mortar." Oddly, we paid them to do that.) The photo beneath shows the brick with the smear removed. (It would have been perfect if I had taken the time to highlight it carefully.) All you do is click the brush tool, highlight the smear and click "erase" and voila'! (No, the program isn't free; it's about 50 bucks.)

Some of the chores also involved Phannie, and that seemed somewhat less offensive, for some reason. For example, she needed another oil change and a wash job after the long trip just finished. Since she had an oil change in July during her yearly service visit, I got Speedco in Irving to do this one, which was fast in, fast out and about $179. The truck wash next door near Loop 12 and Grauwyler did a fine job on the road grime for about $75. Ready for the next trip! Once this was done, I took care of a few more things inside Phannie, like replacing the filter elements in all three roof airs. These had been cleaned several times and had a few torn places. So this involved getting some filter material from the hardware store, cutting it to the correct dimensions and throwing the old ones away:

Of course, it was time to upgrade Phannie's computer to Windows 10, which is a vast improvement over 8.1, I must say:

When I wasn't doing all that, I found time to cook up a huge batch of my famous spaghetti sauce, which I froze and will take to the kids, who are constantly hitting me up for it.

Mindy likes to serve it to Mason and Pryce because they eat it so well, and it is a sneaky source of meat, vegetables and other healthy stuff. Plus, it is very slightly on the sweet side which, of course, is probably the reason the kids wolf it down so readily. The sweetness is provided by a healthy addition of Merlot, which may be why the grownups also like it.

If you've read this rag for a while, you may have noticed several posts about the tools I use to clean bugs off Phannie's windshield. The one I have mentioned most is the flexible squeegee shown on the left in the photo below and made by Shurhold Industries (available from Amazon).  In my opinion, it is utterly indispensable to a motorhome owner. Why? Because cleaning a big motorhome windshield is a daunting task, due to its frequency and the huge real estate of glass that is involved. This squeegee on its long handle is simply far superior to anything else. Well, now I'm going to tout the other tool, a Bug Buster brush on the right in the photo below, available at most RV outlets for about 20 dollars and excellent because of its stiffer mesh. And last but not least, a spray bottle of Bug Bust, made by Thetford, also available at many RV outlets (probably cheaper at Amazon). It is by far the best dissolver of dried bug guts I have seen.

If you have a motorhome and you get these three things, you'll be happy, I promise.

Now, to cap off our stay at home, we had the good fortune of having dinner at Carabba's, a good Italian restaurant, with friends and fellow RVers Mike and Marian, who were visiting family nearby.  After dinner, we had them over to our humble abode for some pecan pie and ice cream, and we had a good time laughing and visiting. These are delightful folks whom we've had the privilege of getting to know by virtue of our friends Ed and Marilyn, whom we also enjoy visiting when our paths cross.  We were so excited about visiting with Mike and Marian that we forgot to take a photo, so we'll reprise one from a previous visit. We can't let this post fly without showing you what a good looking couple they are--well, Marian, for sure:

We are about to launch on another much shorter trip, so we'll be posting quite a bit more, in case you were wondering what happened to the blog (surprisingly, some readers did ask where we've been).  We've been taking a break, that's all. See you on the road!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; please forgive me if I do not appreciate it enough each day.