Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Day Six: The Clothes, The Clothes!

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

With the Thanksgiving rites finally over, I was feeling a bit frustrated that the purging process had pretty much come to a stop while we were cooking and visiting. (By the way, in regard to the titles of these posts indicating the day number of the project--this figure includes only the days in which we actually work on the purging; who knows what the final number will be?) 

To try to achieve a sense of accomplishment for the day, I announced that I would be taking a run at my side of the master closet. (Actually, calling it 'my side' would be a misnomer; it would be more appropriate to call it a 'corner' of Sandy's closet.) Even so, it proved to be a fertile ground for reaping excess garments; I snagged all of these items of mine in the two photos below on just the first pass:

The criterion used for selecting these things for recycling was almost exclusively 'do I really like it?' If the answer was no, out it came.

Then there were the ties! In this pile are 31 ties, most of which I didn't like and didn't wear, even when I was wo#king.

I am almost ashamed to say that there are probably 50 ties still remaining that I do like and about which decisions will need to be made. And no, I had no idea there were so many.

I was also able to get rid of three pairs of dress shoes that I certainly will not be needing. I'm also ashamed to say there are perhaps a dozen pairs remaining, not counting the casual shoes I now wear almost exclusively in retirement. Many of the dress shoes are brand new and still in boxes. And no, I didn't realize there were so many.

Now before you leap to the conclusion that I am a clothes horse or a shopaholic, you should know that I really don't like shopping and rarely go shopping for myself. When I did go, however, I tended to overbuy, I guess, thinking if I did, I may not have to go again for a long time. The seeming largess represented here is the result of an accumulation over many years, and some of it is due to the attentiveness to bargain hunting by my dear Sandy. She rarely pays full price for anything, and if she can't find a good deal in her department, she has been known to drop into the menswear section and drag something home for me. (This has mostly been reduced to a trickle now that we have grandsons, her clothing of whom has now reached a zeal not seen since the crusades.) 

Now I'm very appreciative of Sandy's thriftiness, but as new items came into my closet, I didn't necessarily discard anything in their place. This will not do in the fulltiming world, as many have advised me it will be necessary to have a one in, one out rule--if something comes into the coach, something will have to go out. 

While I'm thinking about it, let me go ahead and acknowledge those who have been thoughtful enough to offer advice about the task we are now undertaking. I am not a person who resents advice from others. I may not always follow it, but I always value the input. And I admit to shamelessly stealing good ideas from other folks. 

I suppose my penchant for listening to the advice of others stems from my years in the cockpit of an airliner, where the crew must communicate well in order to ensure no critical information is missed. As a management pilot and check airman, it was my duty to instill this concept in the flight crews and ensure that the captains insisted on a robust give-and-take with the rest of the flight crew, including the flight attendants. Later, in my FAA career, our oversight of airline training programs had no shortage of emphasis on this concept. Having in-depth knowledge of the causes of airline accidents via the FAA, I can tell you that inadequate crew interaction was a factor in way too many of them over the years.

But, I digress. Sweet Sandy, perhaps caught up in my beehive of activity, decided to take another sweep at her side of the closet! And what did she come up with? More discards! 

Now we're accumulating a pile of coat hangers! Sandy is discarding the wire ones, but our recycling service won't take them. I'm going to ask the thrift shop if they need any.

Apparently, she must really have gotten into the spirit, as there was soon a pile of old purses on the bed! 

Almost giddy about her display of newly-found energy, I quickly bagged them up for the trip to the church thrift shop, along with the other stuff we hauled out of the closet this evening. When I take this load to the donation center,  especially after the trips we've already made, I'm pretty sure they're going to ask me who died! When they do, I suppose I'll have to explain what we're doing and watch them shake their heads in disbelief, a common reaction, we've found.

What is clear is that we cannot do a complete job of culling things in just one session. Each time I go in the closet, I seem to notice something else that needs to be discarded; Sandy's experience has been the same. I'm pretty sure this will continue until we have the desired outcome.

Now you may wonder why we elected to air all this dirty laundry, if you'll pardon the expression. The answer is threefold: 1) It may help others who may be considering going fulltime; 2) It will certainly provide entertainment to whose who already have; and 3) It seems to help solidify our determination to become less interested in the accumulation of 'stuff.' We thought we had pared down rather well when we moved from our 3,400 square foot house to this one, but it's obvious now that we have some way yet to go. When we consider the plight of so many in the third world who have so little, we can't help but wonder what we were thinking. We've decided to donate all of our excess to charity and sell nothing; that's not much, but it's a start.

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Day Five: More Books and Old Computers

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

Some accomplishments today!  Carlos finished his freshening of the landscaping, and the window washers cleaned all of the windows inside and out; they look great! 

Next will be the gutter guy, who will be replacing a bent rain gutter and checking all the rest. After that, the painter I've hired will refinish the front door and the vanity in the master bathroom, along with a little retouching in the guest bathroom. Once they're finished, I think we will be ready to begin showing the house.

I took three large boxes of books to the nearby church charity, and they were happy to get them. I wasn't aware they took books, but I'm glad they're gone. Unfortunately, that's not all of them. I have a good bit more work to do here.

I also ran across two outdated desktop computers, one of which I replaced recently and the other about five years ago. I really don't know why I kept them around. I took them both down to Best Buy and left them for their recycling program. I had long ago transferred the data from the hard drives; they were just sitting in a corner of the storage building, taking up space. 

Russ, my favorite electronics guru, came by to do another adjustment on Phannie's satellite radio antenna. The radio has been having some reception problems, and if this latest relocation of the antenna doesn't do the trick, he is going to install an external antenna.

Because of a prediction of heavy rain for the next several days, we are postponing our trip to Houston until next week. We will take the day off from this downsizing project in honor of Thanksgiving and then back to work afterward. 

Sandy and I wish each of you the happiest of Thanksgivings. We pray that God's blessings and peace will be abundant in your lives. 

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Day Four: Carlos and the Realtors Show Up

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

After breakfast, Carlos, my ace yard man, showed up to begin some refreshing of the landscaping. I'm having him remove a stand of black bamboo from the rear of the lot and prepare a garden area in its place. I figure the next owners can decide whether to plant a vegetable or flower garden or something else there. Carlos is also going to refresh the mulch around the shrubbery and clean up the leaves. We live in a heavily-wooded area, and Carlos will be making several more trips here, as the leaves will be shedding for about six more weeks.

Another of Carlos's chores will be to pressure wash the flagstone patio to bring the colors back to life. I always enjoy talking to Carlos, as I get to practice speaking Spanish with him. He is a very smart guy and is fluent in both English and Spanish.

As for my contribution, I decided to begin with books, of which I have many, unfortunately. I decided that, for now, I would keep only those that I consider keepsakes or classics. With that in mind, I began to toss the rest into plastic bins. When the bins were almost too heavy to carry, I loaded them into the car. I'm not quite sure what to do with them yet, but I will figure that out. This project has only just begun; there will be many more bins to be filled. While doing this, I happened to think of how technology has changed so many things: Virtually all of these books are obsolete now, as most are available online, or the information contained therein is accessible with a Google search. This makes me feel old.

Sandy busied herself tidying up the inside of the house in preparation for the realty agents' first visit. One of them was a relatively new agent, Angie, who had been recommended to us by a friend. She brought with her a very seasoned agent named Brenda, whom Angie described as her mentor. We were impressed by Angie's openness about her inexperience, and I love nothing better than to give a helping hand to young folks, so long as we will be well served. The older agent seemed very savvy and down to earth, so we are quite comfortable with this arrangement. We showed them around for about an hour, pointing out all the features of the house, inside and outside. They were very complimentary (not unexpected, since they obviously would like to get the listing) and informed us that the DFW Metroplex is a seller's market, as the inventory of houses for sale is quite low in the face of high demand. This is something we already knew, and we can't say that we didn't take that into consideration when we decided to make this move.

Due to the uniqueness of the property, the agents asked for some extra time before they suggested a possible listing price. I told them I have a figure in mind and that I wanted to see how close they come to it; we'll talk to them about the listing after that.

Why not sell it ourselves, you may ask? Well, that is a possibility; we haven't fully decided. We've done that before, but the problem is that we are out of town a great deal of the time, and that makes it difficult to do a FSBO. 

Tiring of the book triage, I decided to check the air pressure on Phannie's tires as a change of pace. All six tires were a little more than five psi low, probably due to the change in seasons. Since a five-psi loss is the maximum that I will allow on these tires, I got out the air compressor and topped them off.

The only thing left to do before the next departure is to check the coach batteries and top them off if needed, a chore that I do every couple of months. That seems to be about the right frequency, as they always take a little water, but not so much that I could be called neglectful. For now, the batteries are holding up well, even though they're nearly five years old. If I get five years out of them, I'll be pretty satisfied. 

Tomorrow Carlos will be back, and I'll be digging through more books. Reza por mi, por favor!

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Day Three: The Purge Slows

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

I really don't plan to post daily about this transition to fulltiming, but there appears to be a surprising amount of interest in it, so I'll plan to post something whenever we're home and working on the project. 

Thankfully, we don't have to do this downsizing thing hurriedly, because there are frequent demands on our time that take us away from the task at hand. Today was such a day.

The first errand was to take the first load of Sandy's excess clothes to the nearby church charity shop. I like this trip, as it is always one-way. Nothing we take there ever comes back, even if Sandy changes her mind. I suppose she could buy it back, but so far, that hasn't happened.

After that, I stopped at Home Depot to get a few things I needed in order to finish crating up my Blue Ox towbar. I'm shipping it to the factory in Lincoln, Nebraska for inspection and refurbishment. They offer this service for a flat $95 plus shipping, and supposedly it comes back like new; we'll see.

I forgot to take a photo of the wooden crate I built for shipping it, but you would be correct if you assumed it was over-engineered and amateurishly built. It seemed sturdy enough, however, and I don't doubt that the folks at the factory will find its overkilled construction amusing. I'm pretty sure it would survive a fall off truck, or maybe a mountain. It probably added 30 pounds to the shipping weight. Oh, well. 

Why did I send the towbar back, you ask? Well, I began to notice that the gripping pieces around the ball were getting a bit loose after almost five years of use, so I called the factory and talked to one of the tech guys. He said it probably needed to be inspected and lubed at a minimum and told me about the $95 offer. He said that if I wanted to do it myself, I could watch a YouTube video that shows how to take it apart and make any needed adjustments. After watching a few minutes of the video, I knew this procedure was way beyond my skill level, to say nothing of how uncomfortable I would be in using it after I had messed with it. So, in an abundance of caution, it is on its way to Lincoln. Needless to say, the construction of the shipping crate consumed several hours over a couple of days; someone competent could have done it in a half hour, I'm sure.

In spite of this diversion, I was able to go through a collection of DVDs, diverting to the charity box quite a few that I knew we would never watch. I also found these lurking at the bottom of the bin:

Yes, they are VHS tapes. Remember these? We don't have a VHS player; why did I keep them?

I noticed that Sandy busied herself going through the bathroom cabinets where she keeps cosmetic stuff. At one point I noticed on the bathroom vanity a rather large array of different sizes of bottles, cans and tubes that appeared to be destined for the trash can. I didn't offer a question or comment, secure in the knowledge that I really don't need to know what is going on with things I don't understand.

We are also trying to use up items in the food pantry and not replacing them; so, noticing a box of tempura mix on one of the shelves, I grabbed it, along with some frozen shrimp, to make some shrimp tempura. I also cut up some pieces of broccoli and onion and, after thawing and peeling the shrimp, dipped them in the batter and fried them up, along with the veggies. It was all quite good and surprisingly easy. I didn't have any tempura dipping sauce, so I mixed some soy sauce, beef broth, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar and honey and made my own. It, too, was surprisingly good.

Well, there you have it. Day three was not a barn burner, in terms of the downsizing effort, but we stayed busy. It will really slow down in a couple of days, as we're leaving for Houston and a holiday visit, then motoring over to Canton for Trade Days. I'm pretty sure it will all still be here waiting for us when we get back. 

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Where to Begin?

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

I suppose it doesn't matter what you do first when you decide to sell your house and downsize to nearly nothing. My first inclination was to call in a window cleaner, a landscaper and a painter, and that has been arranged.

The windows have been neglected for a while, and I know how important their cleanliness is to a prospective buyer. The landscaper has already removed some overgrown bamboo from the back yard and will be forming a vegetable and herb garden bed in its place. The painter will be refinishing the front door and the cabinets in the master bathroom.

Meanwhile, Sandy has begun cleaning out her clothes closet, a task she has been dreading. I won't include a photo here of its current status because, well, I tend to have a low pain threshold. Let's just say that the downward adjustment to her wardrobe will be brutal; I can't imagine how this will turn out. 

The photo below represents a baby step--the first few garments of hers that I will be taking to a nearby church charity. There will need to be dozens of these trips, which I will quickly perform each time the discards are available, lest some of them make their way back into the closet.

As for me, I decided that my first job would be to consolidate my hand tools from two tool boxes and one tool drawer into a single tool box. I figured having three tool stashes wasn't that great an idea, as it would inevitably lead to unnecessary duplication, and I was right. The photo below represents the surplus, which I will offer to son-in-law Tyler:

The essential tools are now tucked neatly away in a small three-drawer toolbox in one of Phannie's belly compartments. I had actually been wanting to do this tool triage for years, but I didn't have the impetus until now. 

To give Sandy a break from the hyperventilating episodes in her clothes closet, I asked her if she would like to stroll out to the storage shed and go through all the stuff she had saved from her years of teaching elementary school. Blowing back an uncharacteristically wayward lock of hair from her forehead, her eyes narrowed as she looked away from me and toward the nightstand drawer. Knowing the caliber of firearm kept there, I decided to drop the subject.

Later, after having been refreshed with a glass of iced tea, she sweetly came out and joined me in the storage shed. Seeing that she wasn't armed, I felt much better. She said that she was acquiescing to my suggestion because she knew there were many resources in her files that Mindy could use in home schooling grandsons Mason and Pryce. Much to my amazement, Sandy went through all seven containers and discarded the unusable items so that I could load the bins into Mae for our trip to Houston in a few days.

The bins were a little dusty after having been in storage for years, but we will clean them off when we unload.

One of the byproducts of all this work was a hoard of trash. We filled the recycle bin and six trashbags like the one in the photo below. I am always amazed at the stuff we hang onto that we shouldn't. I had quite a sense of accomplishment as I carried all of this out to the curb. 

Although this was a good first day, it is a bit alarming in that we have hardly made a dent. I think I need some Geritol.

 On Sunday, we decided to have a day of rest. After all, we deserved it after our hard work on Saturday! After church, Bubba and LouAnn met us for lunch, and we went over to their house to help put up their Christmas tree. That is, Bubba and I put up the tree while the girls went shopping. Asked what happened to their "day of rest," they informed me that shopping was indeed restful. Who knew?

It didn't take long for Bubba and me to get worn out from all our work, so we decided to take a break. From the looks of the photo below, Bubba doesn't mess around when he takes a break and neither do the dogs:

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

We're Going All In!

At home near Fort Worth, Texas...

We have arrived at a rather significant conclusion: We do not need a house! (Other than Phannie, that is.)

Depending upon how long you've been following this rag, you have been witness to several paradigm shifts in our RV life over the last ten years. We went from a small class C motorhome to a bumper-pull trailer (these were owned only a short time and predated this blog) to a fifth wheel, to another fifth wheel, then to Phannie. As the size of our RVs expanded over the years, our stick-and-brick dwellings shrank. The house we have now was custom built as an RV port home, our thinking being that we would never be anything but part-timers after we both retired. With this in mind, we designed it to be as beautiful, comfortable, energy efficient and as maintenance-free as possible, and it is, indeed, all of those things.

Since my retirement two years ago, you may have noticed an increasing number of posts expressing my rising dissatisfaction with the upkeep of this place which, in reality, is quite minimal. A psychologist will probably tell you that this whining self-pity is nothing but a canard--a straw man--that masks the underlying neurosis. And that neurosis is something I have labeled as a desire to "Wander 'til I'm Under" or being a "Rover 'til it's Over." In other words, we didn't retire just to look at four walls when God's creation is--out there.

By this point, you probably have concluded that a visit to a head doctor would be a good idea for me. But since I'm too cheap to go to one, the self-diagnosis above will have to do, and I offer this as a layman's explanation: I think that in the human psyche are several time continua, the most compelling of which are 1) our awareness of approaching mortality and 2) our accomplishment of the things of importance we have envisioned for ourselves--better known as the "bucket list." These continua can be quite easily expressed in a graph where the lifespan-remaining line ends at zero and the bucket-list-accomplishment line ends, hopefully, as close to 100 percent as possible.

So that's what's going on here. The things that seemed important when we were younger have been eclipsed by our realization that the window of opportunity to do what we really enjoy is open for a decreasing amount of time, and it may close at any moment. 

With this in mind, our stick and brick house, nice as it is, has gotten in the way of our bucket-list continuum. We have become convinced that even a house designed for low maintenance is too much bondage for someone who wants to "wander 'til we're under."

To what do we attribute this epiphany, you may ask?  Well, it wasn't so much our fulltimer friends and bloggers extolling the virtues of stick-and-brick freedom, compelling as that is. It was rather our recent two-month trip out west that cinched it for us. If you followed those posts, you probably were able to sense our euphoria as we rambled wherever and whenever we pleased with few cares except for the constant nagging uneasiness about the security and physical condition of the house we left behind. The fact that I regularly checked the security video feeds on my cell phone was a daily reminder that we were not really free. If you have not experienced a break-in and very costly theft loss, as we have, you may not realize that you will never be the same afterward when it comes to matters of security.

So, even though the freedom of movement we experienced for the two months out west was tempered to a degree by the house concerns, the buzz it gave us was enough to make us want more...much more. Oddly, it was Sandy who first expressed the sadness we were both feeling as we neared home last summer--She didn't want it to be over, and neither did I. As we pulled Phannie into her driveway, we weren't glad to be home; all we were thinking about was what must now be done to the place to get everything cleaned up, operational and presentable again. Perhaps that is why we have taken every opportunity to leave since then, sometimes for a month or more. When we glumly returned from the last trip a week ago, we finally looked at each other and said, "This doesn't make any sense; let's do what makes us happy." And so we will: The house is for sale.

We have a number of friends who are fulltimers, and we have read many blogs of those who have made the transition; we don't know of any who have regretted it. According to those who should know, the number one requirement is for the spouses to be well suited for close proximity all the time, and Sandy and I have that nailed after 39 years. We are much better together than apart, and we always have been. We have other friends who could not possibly conceive of ever doing such a thing as fulltiming, equating it with self-induced homelessness. That's understandable, but people have differing priorities. Besides, we're now more fulltimers than part-timers anyway. We are traveling more than we are at home, and we already have a mail forwarding service; we may as well take the final plunge.

I will now have a new blog topic as we move into the ultimate downsizing phase of our lives, God help us. We will share it all, so fasten your seat belts. The task will be daunting, so say a little prayer for us.

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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Victoria and Goliad, In the Cradle of the Texas Revolution

At Coleto Lake KOA, Near Goliad, Texas...

A whole bevy of Tiffin motorhomes descended on this campground for a three-day rally, sponsored by the Bluebonnet Allegro Club of Texas. Open only to Tiffin owners, the club selects destinations nearly every month to take their coaches and meet up with friends and fellow travelers for some food and fellowship. There are always pot luck meals at these things, so Sandy made a wonderful strawberry cake, and I made jalapeno poppers--both delicious!

The rally attendees are mostly comfortable retired folks with time on their hands, and they are fun to be around...that is, unless you are a democrat or something like that. This is not exactly a group where liberals would feel a close kinship. These people didn't get where they are by waiting for a handout.

There is always plenty of extra time for participants to go out on their own and explore the area, so Sandy and I took advantage of that by touring a bit in Victoria and then Goliad--some 25 miles away.

Warning: I'm going to talk about history here, so I may lose some of you, but I'm going ahead with it for our personal record, if nothing else.

While we had spent some time in Victoria, neither of us had visited Goliad, a small town with big history in regard to the Texas revolution. On the way there, we stopped at the Fannin battleground and memorial. This was the site of a battle between 300 or so Texas volunteers and troops from the Mexican army in 1836, soon after the Alamo had fallen. The Texans, commanded by Col. J. W. Fannin, were retreating toward Victoria when they were overtaken by a much larger Mexican force commanded by General Urrea and, eventually, the Texans were forced to surrender. They were later marched to Goliad and incarcerated in the Presidio la Bahia, where they were executed by order of Mexican General Santa Anna. This atrocity and the massacre at the Alamo ultimately became the battle cry of the Texan soldiers as they exacted revenge on Santa Anna's forces later that year in the battle of San Jacinto and won Texas' independence.  "Remember the Alamo" and "Remember Goliad" became their avenging cry.

It was the reporting of these defeats at the hands of the Mexicans that galvanized the Texas volunteers and gained support from others outside the territory, including the United States. This ultimately led to their victory. Oddly, had Santa Anna not engaged in these brutal massacres at the Alamo and Goliad, he may have had a better chance of holding onto his Texas territory.

Arriving at the battleground--in a tiny town named, appropriately, Fannin--we walked to a monument where the battle actually took place, and I tried to imagine what these young men must have gone through here as they endured the violence and suffered defeat among the wounded and dying all around them.

I'm not sure why, but I felt a solemn sense of reverence for the human struggle that happened here and a profound sense of grief for the young lives cut short for so noble a cause--one whose future importance they can't possibly have imagined at the time. I knew the feelings well, as I have experienced the same kind of melancholy at Civil War battlegrounds, at the Arizona memorial in Hawaii, at Normandy in France and at the Dachau concentration camp near Munich. I don't think I believe in ghosts, but at places like this, I'm sometimes not so sure. I love seeing locations such as these where history comes alive in front of my eyes, but I don't think I could spend a lot of time there without being very depressed. (Note added later: I found perhaps the reason for my sense of doom at this place. My great-great uncle, Seaborn Mills, was one of the soldiers executed at the Goliad Massacre. He was only 26 at the time.)

After leaving the battleground, we headed southward on U. S. 59 for nine miles to Goliad, the site of Presidio la Bahia, a small stone fortress built on a hill overlooking the San Antonio River. It was to this place that the survivors from the Fannin battleground were marched for what was to be the site of their deaths.

We toured the fort and its revetments and the onsite chapel, outside of which Col. Fannin was placed in a chair, blindfolded and shot in the head. The chapel was quite beautiful and is still in use today for Catholic mass.

Fannin was shot just inside the right door leading to the main courtyard. He was only 31 at the time.

After this, we drove around Goliad for a while, noting what a pretty town it was, with its well-preserved old courthouse and the centuries-old live oak trees, so revered that they couldn't bear to cut some of them down when building the town square. As a result, you can see several of the old trees, growing out in the middle of the streets!

Returning to the KOA from Goliad, we sat down for a nice meal served by the Crazy Cajun food truck, the operator of which had agreed to come to the campground to serve us. The fresh shrimp and fish were delicious!

The guys couldn't help but get in a friendly game of nickel poker afterward.

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Rockport and Fulton Plus the Best Restaurant

At Wildnerness Oaks RV Resort, Rockport, Texas...

This was our last full day here during what has been, as always, a pleasant visit to the Texas coast. We took in a little history today, but I'm almost reluctant to mention history in the post title now. 

Why, you ask? 

Well, I keep an eye on the number of hits on my posts, and I noticed that my recent post entitled In Austin - A Texas History Refresher received about 40 percent fewer hits than the other posts during that general time period. I've been scratching my head ever since, trying to figure out why. Was it a word in the title, like "History" or "Austin" or "Texas" that would turn readers off enough so they wouldn't even click on it? I don't know, and I'm still mystified.

Couple this with an abnormally high hit count on a subsequent post entitled Cool Stuff and Tasty Treats We Find Along the Way and, while I'm still scratching my head, I'm beginning to think I haven't given enough weight to the titles of my posts up to this point. If readers are turned off by the title that indicates a historical piece but have their curiosity piqued by one that promises something cool or tasty, I guess I have my answer: My readers are normal! I suppose the obvious takeaway is to avoid using a word like "history" in the title. Obviously, not everyone is a history buff, or it reminds them of being in school or something.

While I'm talking about hits on websites, I pulled up my Google+ profile and found that I had over two million hits on it! Now I don't believe that for a minute, but I wish someone could tell me how that works and where they got such a number. And since the blog page views counter shows only about 172,000, I can't figure out why there is such a disparity. Frankly, I don't have much confidence in the page view number either, because I don't know when Blogger started the count. Seems like it should be a larger number for a blog that's been around for ten years.

Okay, here's the history part, but I'm saving my revelation of the best area restaurant for last, in case some of you suddenly see the word "history" and are tempted to leave. I'll try to be brief:

We toured the Fulton Mansion today in the small coastal town of Fulton--appropriately named for the town's first family. George Fulton came to Texas from Ohio at the time of Texas' struggle for independence from Mexico. Although he arrived too late to join the fight, he was still granted 1280 acres of land for his trouble and married a 17-year-old Texas girl, Harriet, to boot. He proved to be a smart businessman and rancher, but his future was pretty well secured by his wife's inheritance of 28,000 extra acres a few years later.

George and Harriet built their house overlooking Aransas Bay in the 1870s and lived there for about 20 years until after George's death in 1893: 

Although not as large and opulent as many grand old houses we've seen, its owners were happy there and happy together, raising their six children. What was truly exceptional was the longevity of the couple. George lived to the age of 83, and Harriet into her 90s. With a normal life expectancy of 45 years in 1890, they lived long enough to have an almost unheard-of golden wedding anniversary that was the talk of Texas at the time.

The house and furnishings were decidedly Victorian, and it was interesting to see how wealthy Texans lived back then. 

The house was purchased by the State of Texas in 1976, and a multi-million dollar restoration has just been completed after a three-year undertaking. Worth the visit, if you'd like to see more. (There; that wasn't too boringly bad, was it?)

And now, for the best restaurant in the Aransas Bay area, and I've tried almost all of them in Rockport, Aransas Pass and Port Aransas (drum roll):

No, Irie's doesn't look like much, but I am serious about my picking it as the best restaurant in the area. Marty, the owner, is a trained chef, and he knows what he's doing. The place, in Port Aransas, is usually swamped with customers, and they frequently run out of food before their too-early closing time of 3:00 p.m. The best way to describe the food is that it includes the kinds of things that everyone loves--tacos, sandwiches, soups and the like--not terribly expensive, but very creative and oh, so good. I had a mahi taco with a homemade red dragon sauce that was the best fish taco I ever ate, and who wouldn't like my garlic shrimp taco with mango salsa? Sandy had a killer shrimp po' boy along with spring rolls as an appetizer. Dessert was a basket of beignets that I guarantee you were better than the Cafe du Monde's in New Orleans. Everything here is homemade, including the tortillas and even the hamburger buns. I don't have a photo of the tacos, because I ate them before I had time to think of the camera. I did get you a photo of the po' boy and the beignets, though:

This is the kind of mom and pop place that I live to find and again, it is for you, dear readers, that I make this sacrifice. I hope you have an occasion to try this place. You won't be sorry. It definitely goes on my best restaurants list.

We have enjoyed our stay in the coastal bend area, and we're headed next to Victoria and the rally. Stay tuned.

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

Monday, November 9, 2015

A BBQ Stop on our Way to Rockport...I'm Doing This for You Readers

`At Wilderness Oaks RV Resort, Rockport, Texas...

The Rockport/Port Aransas/Corpus Christi area has become a favorite of ours, so we didn't hesitate to set a course from Austin to spend a little time here while we're waiting on the Bluebonnet Allegro rally to begin next week in nearby Victoria. As it happens, our route from Austin took us right through Lockhart. Now if you're a longtime Texan, the mere mention of that name can mean only one thing to you: Barbecue. It is a small town, but it boasts new fewer than five BBQ joints, the most notable being Black's, Kreuz Market and Smitty's.

The general consensus is that Black's holds the greatest esteem among 'cue fanatics, perhaps because the place has been around for 83 years in the same location and, from the looks of the place, not much has changed in all that time. 

Since we found we would be traversing Lockhart near lunchtime, I felt a sense of obligation to stop in, sample their wares again and report to you, dear readers. It was easy to find, as there isn't much town to hide it. I was a little concerned that Phannie and Mae's 55-foot combined length might present a problem in parking downtown, but I shouldn't have worried. I found a city block close to Black's whose curb was largely devoid of vehicles except for a motorcycle, so I nosed Phannie into a perfect parallel parking job. Passersby didn't seem to pay us much attention, so I'm thinking that RVs parked near Black's aren't all that uncommon.

Black's rustic storefront hadn't changed a bit since the last time we were here about ten years ago, and neither had the aroma changed that was wafting from the smokestacks out back. This was going to be good.

Once inside, we had to stand in line for a while, as hungry patrons made their way past the collection of side dishes, which included the requisite potato salad and cole slaw, but that had a number of other vegetables as well. I elected to sample the potato salad which, when properly made, can be a thing of beauty. (Black's version is quite good.) Most of the customers ordered the meat offerings--brisket, ribs and sausage--by weight, as did I. Sandy ordered only a sandwich and, when she said, "I'd like a sandwich, please," the patrons in the noisy room suddenly gasped and fell silent. Well, not really, but I think I did see some raised eyebrows among the crew who were carving up the succulent smoky offerings. I ordered a sample of everything in what I thought were small portions. But the pile of meat placed on my tray obviously didn't conform to my request. So I'm thinking that, because of my considerable drooling at the time, my request was misunderstood by the order taker. This same thing happened at Franklin's the other day in Austin. I don't know why these two joints gave me so much excess food, as it is obvious that I have not missed many meals. Oh well, the leftovers were wonderful.

Finally, after the tray was loaded with food, Sandy and I found seats and began to eat. In the photo below, the ribs are not in view, as they were covered up by the brisket, which I ordered with a little fat and bark. The blackened surface of the brisket in the photo makes it look burned, but this is not the case; it is largely a discoloration of the generous rub, and it is an indicator of the brisket's having been smoked for a very long time.

My assessment? (See below.)

Here's how it stacks up:  The brisket was wonderfully tender and smoky as I expected, but I have to give a slight edge to Franklin's in Austin. It is, however, only a slight edge; the brisket at Black's certainly holds its own. The sausage and ribs that I had here at Black's were better than Franklin's, in my opinion.

We sat in the dining room for a while after lunch, hoping the Rapture would occur somehow before we had to get up from our chairs. 

Black's Dining Room
So, there you have it. You would have to go to Franklin's and to Black's to get the best of the best Texas BBQ. This was a fun, nostalgic and tasty stop that I really hadn't intended, but that's how selfless I am. The things I do for you readers...

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

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Cool Stuff and Tasty Treats We Find Along the Way

At La Hacienda RV Resort, Austin, Texas...

It can't have escaped your notice that I like gadgets. And good food, of course. So, I thought I would talk about both in this post. 

Steve and Jackie, parked in the space next door, were sporting a couple of Yeti insulated cups that they were raving about. Now I have been peripherally aware of Yeti products and their reputation for keeping things hot or cold, but I was also aware of their prices, which seemed a little beyond reason. I mean, really! Just how much improvement can be made over a Thermos or an Igloo, or whatever? Yet, somehow, I felt unfulfilled. Yes, I was Yeti-challenged. For those who remember the missile race during the cold war, I had a Yeti gap. 

Not wishing to continue being one of the Yeti have-nots, I took Sandy to a nearby Academy store. I knew she would not require any convincing to make a forty-dollar investment in my cup, because she would, of course, also get one. Now anything that would enhance her enjoyment of iced tea--which has been well documented here--would not be met with resistance. Presumably, the Yeti would make the ice last much longer--a prime requisite of someone so discriminating as she is in the art of iced-tea making. A quick swipe of the credit card, and two 30-ounce Yeti cups were ours.

And did they work as advertised? Oh my, yes! I did a test, filling mine with ice water and, 24 hours later, half the ice was still there! Beyond amazing. I can't imagine how it works, and with no condensation on the outside of the all-aluminum cup. Sandy is ecstatic.

I'm so good to her; I guess that takes care of Christmas--right, hon?

Okay, let's get to the food items. For some time, we have been sampling products at Trader Joe's, a left-coast grocery chain that is fairly new to the north Texas area where we live. They have a number of things we like, but two of our favorites are these:
Mini Cranberry Orange Scones

This is the scone outside the package. (It was the only one left.)

Bite-Size Everything Crackers; bet you can't eat just one.

Now I am aware that taste is a subjective thing. But good taste isn't; if you don't like these scones and crackers, there is something wrong with you. If you have a Trader Joe's favorite, let us know.

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

Friday, November 6, 2015

In Austin - A Texas History Refresher

At La Hacienda RV Resort, Austin, Texas...

Sometimes the fascinating history of my state is relegated too far back in the recesses of my mind, so our visit on this day to the Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History was a nice refresher. Near the capitol, the impressive three-story edifice, complete with the outsized Texas star in front, is full of dioramas, displays and theaters--one of which is an IMax--where the story of Texas is depicted, chronologically, in a walking tour. All this for only12 bucks a head, in addition to an $8 parking fee. 

The exhibits would be ideal for newcomers to the state who may not be aware of the struggle and sacrifice of early settlers to wrest the vast land away from Mexico and establish it as its own country before choosing to be a part of the United States. Certainly no other state can claim such an epic story of daring, bravery and heroism or the veneration of the storied leaders like Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, William Travis, Jim Bowie and the like, for whom so many Texas cities and landmarks are named today.

Here are some examples of what the museum has to offer:

Three floors of exhibits tell the story of Texas from the 1600s to the present. The relic at the bottom is a reconstruction of La Belle, LaSalle's flagship that sank in a storm off the Texas coast in 1685.  
Copy of a famous painting depicting the surrender of Mexican General Santa Anna to Sam Houston at San Jacinto, winning Texas' independence.
The story of the riches brought to the state by oil discoveries.
Perhaps the only disappointment was the too-heavy emphasis on slavery in Texas. While this was a regrettable practice worthy of illumination and disdain, slaveholdings in 1860 Texas were minuscule--182,000 at its zenith--compared to the rest of the South, where there were four million slaves. Yet those who assembled these presentations gave perhaps more floor space to this era--which spanned only about 20 years--than to energy, agriculture or aviation. But self-flagellation is all the rage nowadays in academia. If only they could point out some of the good that our country is!

No visit to downtown Austin would be complete without taking another look at the capitol building:

It is the largest, the tallest and the grandest of all the state capitols (as it should be). It was built in the 1880s of Texas pink granite, the project completed, if memory serves, by a Chicago consortium and paid for with 3 million acres of land the state could spare out of its vast supply of real estate.

Some interesting facts about Texas:

It is larger than any country in Europe and has an economy greater than that of Spain.

There are 250,000 Texans active in a movement to secede from the Union (not a bad idea). But in response, some citizens of Austin--arguably the San Francisco of Texas--have petitioned to secede from Texas. I say we let them go.

El Paso is closer to California than it is to Dallas.

It is farther from Beaumont to El Paso than from Beaumont to Springfield, Illinois.

Fritos were invented in San Antonio; Dr. Pepper in Waco.

At 825,000 acres, the King Ranch is bigger than Rhode Island. Its borders have 2,000 miles of fencing.

Loving County has fewer residents--82--than any other county in the nation.

It is a state of temperature extremes: On March 27, 1984, the temperature in Amarillo was 35 degrees while the temperature in Brownsville was 106. 

Texas has the highest speed limit in the nation: 85 MPH on some toll roads. (Not very fuel efficient, but ask us if we care; this is Texas.)

So, if you're new to the state, this museum is not a bad place to learn our history. It is certainly a fascinating one.

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

New Friends and Barbecue

At La Fiesta RV Resort, Austin, Texas...

When we pulled into our site, we were cheerfully greeted by Steve and Jackie, a fulltiming couple from Ohio whose fifth wheel occupied the adjoining site. We struck up a conversation right away, delighted to have these friendly folks as neighbors. They invited us to sit down and visit outside their rig, and we instantly felt as though we had known them for a long time. They said they were thinking about making Texas their home, and we told them they would make good Texans, based on how friendly they were. After ten years of RV travel, I still can't figure out how it is that folks in the RV community are so pleasant to be around. There are exceptions, of course, but they are few. It must have something to do with the fact that the RV experience brings freedom and fun instead of work and worry. 

Steve and Jackie are thinking about upgrading their RV, and we've had fun extolling the virtues of a motorhome, giving them a tour of Phannie and answering their questions. 

We were pretty much kept indoors by the rain during our first day in Austin, but then we headed out for downtown, where we felt obligated to visit the legendary Franklin's BBQ. The owner, Aaron Franklin, became interested in cooking barbecue as a backyard chef, then buying a food truck after perfecting his technique. Then he graduated to his current ramshackle restaurant in downtown Austin. 

Franklin's on a Sunday when closed. Normally a line snakes down the sidewalk and into the parking lot.
He soon became somewhat of a phenomenon, with TV appearances on national networks. PBS even did a series on him. He is famous for his brisket, on which he uses a rub of classified spices and then smokes it over low heat for an unheard-of 18 hours. The result is a dark, crusty and tender piece of meat with a smoky flavor throughout. I think it was the best I ever ate.

We got quite a surprise when we placed our order, which was for two sandwiches, two ribs and a side of potato salad. Sandy mentioned to the meat cutter that we were from out of town and, without comment, he included extra portions of all the meats they serve, including sausages and pulled pork. When we moved to the cashier, she asked if we preferred banana pudding or pecan pie. I replied that I liked both, so she placed two servings of each on our tray. I told her that I didn't order all of this, and she said:

"Oh, that's okay, there's no extra charge. We'll be closing soon, as we're running out of meat; just sample everything and tell your friends back home about us."

My guess is that with this post and the one on Facebook, I'm keeping my end of the bargain.

Needless to say, we had a lot of leftovers and were looking forward to some dandy BBQ meals in the next couple of days. Franklin's will certainly go on my list of favorite restaurants at the link on the home page. The La Hacienda RV Resort, unfortunately, will not make the list of the Best of the Best RV parks. The reason? Not that it's not a nice park, because it is. I just that its sites are not paved but gravel.

Our drive around town was to help get us reacquainted with the city; so much has changed in the last two decades, we almost don't recognize the place. Sandy, true to what she believes is her divine calling, was able to sneak in some shopping for the grandkids.

Today was pretty typical for us, now that we're in the retirement mode. We don't hurry at anything: Waking up in the morning is leisurely; eating breakfast is leisurely; getting ready for the day is leisurely. Even driving is at a leisurely pace, and I'm fully aware of all the cars that pass me while they breathlessly race to the next red light where the drivers sit, immobile, as I pull up behind them. It occurs to me that I have become the elderly driver at whom I used to scoff when I was out there racing to the next red light myself. It doesn't bother me, though, as I now scoff at them, wondering why I couldn't have been as wise back then as I think I am now.

Sandy and I may or may not do any tours or visit historical sites on a given day; it just depends on what kind of mood we're in. And if we don't do that, it's okay, because there's always tomorrow. Besides, here in Austin, we've already toured most of the interesting and historical landmarks, so we mostly just kick back and relax, keeping up with the world and our friends via the Internet or doing some reading or TV watching. Is this just being lazy? I don't think so; if Sandy or I had been lazy for the last 40 years, we couldn't be doing this now.

We had run out of a few things for fixing meals, so we took a little time to go to H.E.B. and stock up, filling Mae's gas tank in the process. Now we're ready for some more touring tomorrow, and perhaps we'll decide where we're going to go next after we leave Austin. Life is grand, ain't it?

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