Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Monday, December 19, 2016

Proud Parents of a new R. N. and Other (Far Less Important) Things

At Sunset Shores RV Park, Willis, Texas...

Many of you saw this on Facebook, but you'll just have to bear with us again, as it isn't every day that parents can gush over an offspring's accomplishment like this one. Our Mindy just graduated first in her nursing school class, all the while raising two boys under seven years of age and home schooling them, too boot. She said it was the hardest thing she ever did, and the amount of sleep she lost to be at the top of her class must have been epic. She had the unwavering support of our son-in-law, Tyler, and we helped when we could, along with others, but it was mostly her sheer determination to excel that resulted in her finish at the top. She has informed us that she will be pursuing her B.S.N. right away. From the perspective of fulltime RVers, it was nice that we were able to swoop in from time to time and provide some help and yet not be underfoot. We are, as you can imagine, incredibly proud of her.

Now, on to really trivial matters:

Blasting through our location near Houston was the same strong Arctic cold that froze the rest of the nation. Fortunately, we didn't suffer a hard freeze this far south. But since we won't be leaving for the Rio Grande Valley until after the holidays, we were going to have to endure temps in the low thirties, so how did we prepare for it? Why, I did what any good Texan would do--cook a pot of chili!

I don't know about you, but I like spicy chili, and I also see this as an opportunity to toss in some surplus ingredients that may need to be used from the fridge or pantry; I don't really use a recipe. In this case, I browned about a pound and a half of chili meat, tossed in a lot of chopped onion and garlic, some chopped fresh jalapeno and serrano peppers, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, black pepper, cajun seasoning, a good bit of chili powder and cumin, some leftover homemade salsa, a can of beef broth, a can of green chiles, and a couple of aging cans of storebought chili. Then I simmered the whole thing for about 45 minutes. Yes indeed, it was spicy; but boy, was it good! Did I use beans, you ask? Well, no self-respecting Texan would put beans in chili. That was something brought here by carpetbaggers after the civil war, and I think we hanged most of those folks.

Now, before you call the chili police about the horror of my using canned chili, you shouldn't mock something you haven't tried. Canned chili, which is something Texans should really only use as targets on a shooting range, provides not only some extra flavor, but it also provides the emulsification that would normally be required for good chili by adding masa flour to the chili, as the purists would do. The neat thing is, no one will ever know of your sacrilege; it will just taste like really good homemade chili. I only revealed this secret because when someone gets old, like me, he really doesn't give a rip what people think. And when the chili police come after me, I won't go quietly.

Here's something I found amusing. I was checking out at Wal-Mart the other day, and I saw this taken out of the basket of the customer in front of me:

Really?, I thought to myself. I can only assume this was a gag gift, but it may not have been. The chia pet and its variations have been around for a long time, so I suppose there's a market for these things. I just have trouble understanding how watching little chia plants grow on a pig--or a zombie's hand--is compelling enough to pay money for it. But then, I haven't understood some of our culture for a long time. Apparently though, Wal-Mart knows something I don't know, and that's why the Waltons are zillionaires. 

Having devolved this narrative from Mindy's exciting news to a discussion about a chia zombie (sometimes I worry about myself), I'll leave you with this equally useless tidbit regarding the origin of common sayings:

"The Whole Nine Yards"

During WWII, U.S. airplanes were armed with belts  of ammo, which they would shoot during dogfights and on strafing runs.  These were 27 feet long and contained hundreds of cartridges that fed their machine guns. The belts were carefully folded into wing compartments that were adjacent to the guns. Often, pilots would return from their missions having expended all of their bullets on various targets. They  would say that they gave the enemy "the whole nine yards," meaning they used up all of their ammunition.

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

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Healthcare Concerns as Fulltimers; A Lighting Project and a Favorite Recipe

At The Vineyards Campground, Grapevine, Texas...

We had to take a short trip back to the DFW area for a doctor visit. We really like the Vineyards RV park, which is probably one of the nicest in the state. It is owned by the city of Grapevine, and it is hardly typical of municipal RV parks in general. First of all, it rests on a large lakefront property whose value is probably incalculable, given its location in the middle of the DFW Metroplex. Secondly, it is a first class development with hard surfaced roads and sites, many of which front on Lake Grapevine itself. Thirdly, the city fathers--fully aware of its attractiveness to RVers--exact a steep price from its users. Unlike most municipal parks, you don't get to stay here at a loss to the city so RVers will go into town and spend money. Instead, you dole out plenty of moolah for your site, and then you still go into the quaint town and spend more. As you can imagine, there's plenty to do in the area, and the park is almost always full. The price? Think around $50 per night or between $1100 and $1800 a month, depending on the site you choose. Normally, this would be a little pricey for us, but the park is very close to our doctors' offices. We only stay a few days at these prices.

The Vineyards suffered devastating damage from a 100-year flood a couple of years ago. Every single site in the park was flooded, some covered by more than 20 feet of water. It took a long time to rebuild, but they have done a superb job of bringing it back.

Here's our site right on the shore of Lake Grapevine: 

If you've read this rag for a while, you might think that we are hypochondriacs, judging by how often we visit doctors and dentists. Well, we are not fortunate enough to have escaped medical problems as have a number of our disgustingly healthy friends. We both have some fake joints and other conditions that need medication and monitoring from time to time. Fortunately, these are controllable, and they don't cause us any physical limitations at the moment. I also have the good fortune to be married to Sandy, who watches me like an owl who has spotted a fat field mouse. If I so much as hiccup, she will drag me to the doctor. 

Now, being less than fond of visits to the doctor or dentist, I usually protest vigorously, so we compromise and I do what I'm told. My initial pushback is usually more symbolic than real; I already know how it will end when she gives me "the look." However, I have learned to trust Sandy's instinct without making too much noise, as I am positive that her prodding very likely saved me from colon cancer some 30 years ago.

As relatively new fulltimers, we are still working through healthcare concerns that we likely share with others of our ilk. We had established great relationships with and confidence in our local doctors and dentists over decades here in the DFW area, and we haven't yet found all the new ones we'll need at The Woodlands near Houston, where the kids and grandkids are and where we will likely be spending most of our downtime. We're getting there, however, having found a dentist and ob-gyn who will fill the bill, but we have more healthcare providers whom we have to test-drive, if you will.

I read in my friend Richard's blog that he recently upgraded the bulbs in the light underneath microwave in his motorhome. That got me to thinking that we have the same problem with too-dim lighting above our kitchen range, so I decided to do him one better and install some extra lights, which I did all by myself, and nothing blew up, and no one was electrocuted. Amazing!  

Here's the pitiful little light we had:

So, I picked up this three-light LED kit from Home Depot:

A quick install underneath the microwave:

And voila'!

Went from this...

To this...!

I really didn't realize how much this little upgrade was needed; but now we might be able to follow recipes a little better!

Speaking of recipes, I recently made a batch of my favorite spicy tuna salad:

Now if you're like us and are a fan of tuna salad, and you also like spicy food, as we do, this one is for you. But be warned: It is not for sissies; there are no fewer than six kinds of spicy peppers and seasonings in this concoction! You can, of course, modify the recipe to your level of tolerance but, if you are fearless, you'll make it like in the recipe below. And while we're talking about tuna, please don't buy some cheap canned tuna like Star Kist or worse, some store brand. You may need to go to an upscale store to buy solid pack albacore tuna cooked in its own juices or do like we do and order it from a private cannery in Oregon like Sportsmen's or Chuck's. The difference is not to be believed. In fact, when we were in Oregon two summers ago, we made a point to visit Chuck's store and pick up a case of the good stuff. It's easy to order online too, and you won't be sorry. And yes, it's a little pricey, but aren't you worth it? I think so. 

Okay, here we go:

Mike's Hotter than the Hinges of Hell Tuna Salad

1 8 oz. can albacore tuna (Use the good stuff; I'll be watching.)
1 small stalk celery, chopped
1/3 cup fresh chopped carrots
1/3 cup fresh chopped onion
1 serrano pepper, seeded and chopped (you can use jalapeno, but that's for weaklings)
1/4 cup chopped hot garlic dill pickles
1/4 cup chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/4 cup drained and chopped Mama Lil's Goathorn Peppers (see comment below)
1 teaspoon Los Chileros Salsa Mix (see comment below)
1 boiled egg, chopped
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Black pepper to taste
Garlic powder to taste
2 Tablespoons Mayonnaise (If you don't use Hellman's, you're not serious about cooking.)


1. Break up the chunk tuna in a bowl and then mix in all the remaining ingredients. Don't overmix; you don't want it to get mushy.

2. Eat. (A beverage should be nearby.)

Notes:  Mama Lil's Goathorn Peppers:  These are spicy and slightly tart Hungarian peppers in oil, hand packed in Oregon, and I use them in many dishes to add a unique flavor. They're also good in Italian antipasto. Easily obtained by mailorder.

Yes, I know--all the expensive specialty products just for a tuna salad? Well, yes! It's just not the same without them, and it's not like you can't use them in other dishes, right? While we're at it, let's talk about the Los Chileros Christmas Salsa Mix. This can be ordered from Los Chileros in New Mexico where they have lots of great New Mexican seasonings. I use it in fresh salsa, breakfast burritos, juevos rancheros and anything else that's spicy. It's good stuff.

By the way, we usually don't make sandwiches out of this tuna. We eat it with crackers, but not just any crackers--

Yes, this is our favorite cracker--Trader Joe's Everything Crackers. If we should ever run out of these, a call to 911 is in order.

Obviously, you can adjust the recipe as desired, but you should know that Sandy can eat this with no problem. It hasn't always been so, however. Living with a spicy food nut like me for 40 years, she has had to make some major adjustments to her palate. When we were dating, I remember well her timidly dipping the corner of a tostada in a tiny bit of mild salsa and then shaking off the excess, lest she might taste a little heat. 

You've come a long way, baby!

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

Monday, November 21, 2016

Friends, Food and Cool Nav Apps for your iPad. (Don't Miss This One!)

At Sunset Shores RV Park, Willis, Texas...

We wound up our visit to San Antonio much too soon, vowing that we would be back to see more. This could easily be a home base for us but, unlike the Rio Grande Valley, most of the RV parks are not particularly attractive for snowbirds. However, Travelers World is a nice park, friendly, close to everything and well maintained. For example, here is a photo of a groundskeeper tidying the gravel with a rake affixed to a golf cart. This is done after every guest's departure and afterward, the attendant sweeps up any gravel pebbles that may have crept onto the paved access road. Frankly, I don't think I've seen this done before, and I was pretty impressed. Normally, we prefer hard surfaced parking areas, but these gravel ones were very well done.

We were lucky to have longtime friends Bubba and LouAnn join us for a couple of nights. They drove down from Fort Worth in their Thor Tuscany motorhome, and we had a good time with lots of laughs.

Since the weather here was so perfect during our stay, we cooked outdoors on the Weber Q several times, adding to my experience with that versatile cooking machine. I had been inspired by blogger friend George, who seems to cook just about anything imaginable on his Weber Q. He was a former chef and includes a bunch of information, including recipes, on his blog, which you can see here. We saw a photo of George cooking something in a cast iron pan setting atop the grill grates, so we tried cooking a pot of chili like that a while back, and it turned out great. We also really liked grilled chicken marinated in Italian dressing. (Sorry, no photos of these; we forgot to take them.) We also got a grill mat like George's for those things that shouldn't have direct heat, like fish. That works really well, as does the shallow pan below that we picked up at Wal-Mart for about eight bucks. Here are a couple of photos, one where we were cooking German fried potatoes and another in which we added some cabbage, of which we're quite fond. These turned out great:

The reason we used the pan instead of the grill mat was to contain the oil, or in this case, bacon grease required for frying. (Okay, all you health fiends out there: You don't need to write me letters; It's not my fault; my parents and grandparents came from a rural background, and bacon grease was the mainstay of their cooking, which was without parallel in adding flavor. Besides, they all lived into their eighties and nineties, so give me a break.)

We also love grilled corn, as well as the zucchini and squash pictured below:

Oh, and did I mention that shishkebab, which we did some time ago, was also wonderful? 

Well, I guess I've let the Weber grill information get a little out of hand, haven't I? Let me pivot to our last day in San Antonio, where we added yet another restaurant to our favorites list--Henry's Puffy Tacos:

I'm not sure how they fry the tortillas to make them puffy, but we liked them a lot. And the stuff they put in them--in this case, beef and chicken fajita strips--were wonderfully tender and flavorful. This is another mom and pop joint where you can get really good food for a really cheap price, and that's why it goes on our favorites list.

After bidding adieu to Bubba and LouAnn, we pointed Phannie eastward toward Conroe. I was using my newly-positioned iPad as a mapping tool, and I wanted to include here a few photos of a new app I downloaded for this purpose. Now, for some of you who have newer coaches with the latest digital cockpits, this may seem a bit bush league to you. But, if you have an older coach like Phannie, and you're a gadget freak like me, this might be right up your alley. I mounted my iPad via an apparatus that fits in a cockpit cupholder, and here's what it looks like. The part that fits in the cupholder is adjustable and holds the iPad steadier than you would think. (I have another cupholder near my left armrest, so I'm not deprived of my drink.)

This is a view of the mapping I displayed during our arrival in San Antonio. It reminded me a bit of the approach charts I used when I was flying:

Keep in mind that this map can be expanded or shrunk with your fingertip gestures on the screen. You can go to a wider view to show your entire route if you wish. With that in mind, guess what I don't need any longer?  A paper map! If this weren't enough, it will also display weather, temperature, wind and elevation along your route. You can also use it as a GPS, but I prefer to leave the Garmin going and keep the map view on the iPad screen. 

This is the handiest thing I've seen in a long time, and I'm beginning to wonder how I lived without it! The app is called Inroute, and it's free, unless you want to get the added features like weather, wind, etc. 

Here is another view where I briefly left the Inroute app page to check some emailed arrival instructions from our rally coordinator:

Here is another navigation app I have that many of you use, called Allstays:

I like this one because it shows RV parks, campgrounds, Wal-Marts, rest stops, some truck stops and a bunch of other things that are selectable, and it's free. This screen shows our current RV park on Lake Conroe via the orange dot.  The view can also be adjusted to show as large or small an area as you wish.  

And here is another app I like even better, called Trucker Path, where I can see all of the above and more, including a much greater number of truck stops and and truck service facilities--very important to big rig owners. And, it will also show you low overhead clearances. Not bad, huh? This one is also free.

Having all this information at my fingertips is amazing, but I'm very careful not to use it to the extent I get distracted from driving. Since it is not far from eye level, it only requires a glance every now and then, much like the GPS.

Now, you may be wondering what the constant use of this while enroute will do to your data plan. Well, it would probably be devastating unless you have unlimited data, which I do, via T-Mobile. Yes, I said T-Mobile. They do have such a plan now, and I have been astonished at the coverage it has, even in rural areas; I had thought it was pretty sparse until I tried their plan. They seem to have come a long way in their coverage reach but, even so, I still keep all my other devices, including a hotspot, with A T and T. I'm sure T-Mobile won't be able to match their coverage for a long time. If needed, I can fire up the hotspot and run the apps if I wish.

Well, that's a lot of information to absorb in one post, isn't it? That may have to suffice for a while, as we will be in this area for a couple of months during the holidays, and we will not be posting as often. But stay tuned anyway; who knows when something will pop into my feverish mind.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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

Monday, November 14, 2016

Lunch at Guenther House and Dinner with Travel Bug Susan and Bob

At Travelers World RV Park, San Antonio, Texas...

We rather enjoy touring historical homes that open their doors to the public so, after church, we were eager to have lunch at the Guenther House in downtown San Antonio. This lovely old house was built on the San Antonio River in the late 1800s by Carl Gilmar Guenther, a German immigrant who founded on the site a successful flour mill that later became Pioneer Flour Mills and still thrives today as the oldest family-owned business in the state. The mill originally used the flowing river water for power, hence its location on the riverbank. Guenther raised his seven children there, and the house continued to be used by the family until the 1940s. It was eventually opened to the public as a museum, gift shop and restaurant.

Here is a view of the patio seating in back of the house:

We ate inside, ordering an egg-bacon-sausage-biscuit breakfast for me and southwestern quiche for Sandy. Expectations for a good meal were high after several recommendations but, alas, not all was well on this visit. My breakfast was almost cold when it arrived, and nothing on the plate was memorable. Especially disappointing was the sausage, which was little more than a tasteless hockey puck, and the biscuit, a spongy and unidentifiable blob with not nearly enough shortening; this should have been an amateurish embarrassment for Pioneer Flour, whose name was lavishly mentioned on the menu. The chef should have trained under Sandy's mother and grandmother, who definitely knew how to make a proper biscuit.

On the other hand, the quiche was quite good, although slightly overcooked. The final nail in the coffin was the meal's wildly inflated forty-dollar cost. I tried vainly to justify having chosen to eat lunch here by telling myself that the tour of the house had been free. Perhaps another visit would provide a different experience, but I just don't think that's in the cards. However, it gives me just a tiny bit of comfort to ban the Guenther House Restaurant from being listed on my Favorite Restaurants page.

We had an experience that evening that made up many times for the unsatisfactory lunch. Inviting us for dinner were none other than Bob and Susan, the distaff member of the couple being better known to our RV blogging community as the author of "Travel Bug Susan." We had met these fine folks a few years ago at an RV Dreams rally in Kerrville and had been following their widely-read blog ever since. 

Bob and Susan had been fulltiming for a few years before discovering San Antonio and re-entering the workforce after settling in this RV park. Bob is an accountant and Susan works part time here at the park office. Susan served us some excellent turkey chili, and we enjoyed the fellowship immensely, learning a new board game in the process.

It's always a neat pleasure finally to interact with our fellow bloggers, whom we think we already know by having read so much about their travels and experiences. This gives us the benefit of a start in our relationship from a point way beyond that of being mere acquaintances but, indeed, friends. And thus it has been with all the bloggers whom we've met over the past ten years. In fact, I have been inspired to begin another blog page listing those that have transitioned from cyber friends to personal friends. I'll have it up and running pretty soon.

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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

San Antonio and a Rally

At Travelers World RV Park, San Antonio, Texas...

San Antonio is one of our favorite Texas cities, so we were delighted when our club, the Texas Bluebonnet Allegros, decided to hold the November rally there. An affiliate of the national Tiffin Allegro Club, this group meets eight times a year for fellowship, food and fun at various locations, usually in Texas. We had joined before we became fulltimers, but we keep attending, although it's not always easy in our current lifestyle. This is because the members are great people, and we share a common interest as Tiffin motorhome owners.

Since we have visited San Antonio many times and have already seen the shrines of Texas history located there, we decided just to relax and just take in some local flavor when not participating in rally events, one of which was to enjoy with some club members a Casa Rio dinner on one of the many barges that ply the beautiful San Antonio River downtown:

If you've never taken a boat tour of downtown San Antonio, it is a relaxing way to see one of the premier attractions of this or any other metropolitan area. Here's a photo of the Tower of the Americas taken from the boat:

We also visited a local farmers' market held on the grounds of the old Pearl brewery. Along with the fresh farm products, there were lots of crafty things to see: 

There was even a talented country and western band on hand to serenade us:

Our rally was based at Travelers' World RV Park near downtown San Antonio, which turned out to be a much nicer park than I expected. Although not exactly in the best area of town, it is nonetheless shaded, well-kept, relatively quiet, and the sites are level:

For one of the evening meals, we brought our own steaks to the clubhouse and cooked them over charcoal grills provided by the park management:

Ours turned out mighty tasty, if I say so myself!

Naturally, we are always exploring new-to-us restaurants wherever we go, so we did some of that, too.  Here is a list of those we've tried so far on this trip that will be included in our favorites page linked on this blog:

They don't get any more nondescript than this. Fishland (although the sign doesn't say that) is really less of a fish market than a tiny restaurant with about a dozen tables, where you order at the counter and put your paper goods in the trash when you leave. Making this a favorite is the expertly fried, ridiculously fresh seafood. The catfish and shrimp combo was enough to share; it was delicious and, best of all, dirt cheap! Where else could you get this for just under ten bucks?

We had to revisit an old mainstay, the Original Blanco Cafe downtown, where we shared the deluxe tex-mex combo. This place has the second-best enchiladas ever:

Yes, you read that right--the second best enchiladas. Where do you find the best enchiladas, you ask? Well, they are at El Palenque in Spring, Texas, near Houston. No need to doubt me on this.

Want a fix of excellent Thai food? Try Thai Dee here in San Antonio. Not much too look at from the outside, but very nice inside, and the food is excellent. (Isn't that often the case?):

One little hiccup here: Don't get the Tom Ka Gai soup; it's too sweet.

Loving to visit those eating joints that have stood the test of time, we stopped by the Original Donut Shop on Fredericksburg Road. It has been around since 1954, and for good reason. These people know how to cook a donut:

The donut shop shares a building with a Mexican restaurant that has good reviews, although we haven't tried it yet. 

I would show you a photo of the donuts, but something happened to them before I could snap the picture. Just can't figure it out. The donuts-even though several hours old when we arrived--were crazy good. Now I'm in a quandary, as I'm not so sure Krispy Kreme is the best any longer.

Here's a dish done very well at Pho Garden, a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant close to Travelers' World:

It's salt and pepper shrimp, loaded with fresh onion and jalapeno slices, just as I like them. I loved this dish, but then, I happen to really like onions a lot.   By the way, did you know that a fresh onion is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can eat? It is loaded with dietary fiber, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, manganese and vitamin C. Knowing this as you now do, it appears you have a choice: Nice smelling breath or long life. I would choose long life; you can always make new friends.

Well, there you have it. I think this is the first time that every single restaurant we tried made it onto the favorites list! I hope you find that list and the "Best of the Best RV Parks Page" useful.

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

Friday, November 4, 2016

The "Best of the Best RV Parks" Page Gets an Upgrade

At the Dallas Metro KOA, Arlington, Texas...

As we have been winding down our stay here in the DFW area, I have had some spare time to finish an enhancement to the "Best of the Best RV Parks" page linked in the far right column of this blog, just above Sandy's photo. That enhancement is that I have added a website link to each park named in the list.

If you haven't looked at this page in a while, you may not have seen that the list has been refined and expanded quite a bit. I started this page because I couldn't find a reliable web source where I could quickly find the better quality RV parks for those occasions when we wanted a nice place to stay. The Big Rig Resorts website wasn't reliable, as they include way too many lower-tier parks, and they don't keep their contact links current. The Good Sam directory has a starred-rating system, but what about those parks that aren't members of Good Sam?

As I have written previously, we don't consider ourselves prima donnas who only park at luxury resorts. Why, Phannie, because of her age, would probably be turned away from the really gold-plated ones. In fact, when we are on the road, we typically look for the best discounts we can get for our overnight stops, irrespective of the parks' condition (within reason, of course).  However, when we reach a destination for a long stay, we like for our surroundings to be pleasant and appealing with plenty of amenities; we don't mind paying a little extra for that. Pet peeves would be parks that are crowded, junky or unlevel. And the worst offense would be having to  park in dirt or mud. We just wouldn't stay long-term in places like that.

I've spent many hours on this research, perusing all the photos I can find, along with using Google Earth to help determine if a park qualifies. Of course, we have stayed at quite a few of the locations ourselves, so those were easy to evaluate in person. At the beginning of the page, I list the criteria upon which the parks are qualified. Besides the standard listing, those listed in bold letters can be thought of as the "best of the best of the best," where you can count on a really upscale experience (with a price tag to match, usually). 

Surprisingly, some states have no RV parks that--in my opinion--belong on a list of the best in the country, so you'll notice that a few states have no listings at all. Oh yes, and I've listed only those parks in the lower 48; we're not likely to take our RV to Hawaii, and we just don't have enough backbone to drive it to Alaska.

As you check out the page, you should know that it is definitely a work in progress, and here's where you could help:  If you know of a park not listed that should be included (I can't possibly have found them all), consider letting me know, so that I can add it. And if you find a park that you think I have assessed incorrectly, I would really like to know about that, too. Just leave a comment on the blog or send me an email at [mike dot sandy dot mills at gmail dot com]. 

I'm not planning to make this page into a commercial website. (I don't want a job; I've discovered that being "retired" is not much different from being "lazy.") It is offered to Phannie and Mae's audience as a 'thank you' for visiting the blog. Feel free to link to it if you wish but, since this blog is copyrighted, it would not be quite legal for it to be posted elsewhere without attribution. A linkback to the page in your text would also be fine.

So, that's it. I hope you find this list useful, and I hope you will help make it better and more complete with your suggestions. I'll be sure to thank you for your contributions.

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

Monday, October 31, 2016

Mae Strips...(a Gear)

At the Dallas Metro KOA, Arlington, Texas...

It was bound to happen. I should not have been bragging about how dependable Mae (our Chevy HHR toad and blog namesake) had been all through her life with us. Suddenly, with 80,000 miles on the odometer, she just decided to make me a liar.

I had pulled out of our RV park on Lake Conroe one morning, and Mae's automatic transmission decided not to shift out of first gear. With a little coaxing, however, she would finally relent and begin upshifting as usual, so I thought it was a fluke. The next morning--same thing! At this point, I knew the transmission needed a looksee, so I did a little research and took it to a well-reviewed shop in The Woodlands. I feared the news would be bad, and it was: A rebuild of the transmission would be necessary. They gave me a quote that sounded really high, so I checked with a few other places and found their prices were pretty well in line with each other for this kind of job.  I gave them the go-ahead and began  a mourning period for the upcoming decimation of my funds. 

When I picked up Mae after the transmission job, I noticed a significant crack in the windshield that had not been there before. I pointed it out to the owner of the shop, who said he would reimburse me for the replacement if my insurance didn't pay. (It didn't.)

After the windshield replacement, I noticed one of the headlights had burned out. Replacing the bulb on a Chevy HHR is not all that simple, so I drove to the Chevrolet dealer, and they were able to work me right in. Upon inspection of the headlight, the mechanic found that the assembly--not the bulb--was bad. A new assembly would be required. Who would have thought this job would require a couple hundred bucks in addition to the ridiculous cost I paid to ransom Mae from the transmission shop? Since bad things are supposed to appear in threes, I hope this is the end of the soaking of my poor wallet! You may recall that a brake job had been done on Mae in Colorado Springs a few months ago, but I'm not counting that one.

This brings into focus some judgment calls that need to be made by RVers when deciding what kind of toad to buy and when to replace one. My considerations for buying Mae, besides its obvious eligibility to be towed four wheels down, were that it had low miles (I will always buy a used car for a toad), it was bargain-priced, it got good mileage, it was small and easy to tow and Sandy liked to drive it which, of course, trumps everything. (I wasn't crazy about the red color, but hey--it's easy to spot by other motorists.) 

With that said, there could have been a good argument, I guess, for trading Mae off about this time had the transmission not gone kaput. In fact, I had been thinking about doing just that. We had driven it 80, 000 miles and towed it 40,000 additional ones, so it has given good service over the five years we've had it. Now, however, with the investment in new brakes, a new transmission and the three-year warranty coming with it, it makes sense to keep Mae at least until the transmission warranty expires, so as to help amortize the extra repair cost. After all, a toad's life is hard and is always in peril, so why not buy a used car and get all I can out of it while it's in one piece? Anyway, she's all put back together now and running like new, so I've given her a stern lecture, and I'm hoping for the best.

We've been paused here in the DFW area keeping up with our never-ending medical/dental visits and more happily, visiting with friends. I've been having a problem with facial skin lesions caused by sun exposure over the years. Oddly, my flying career may have had something to do with this, sitting in the left cockpit seat in the bright unfiltered sunlight above the clouds for many hours at a time. The main problem has been on the left side of my face and is mostly treated with cryotherapy. I have also had to have surgery on an area of malignancy. With this history, I have to see my dermatologist quite regularly, unfortunately.

For Sandy's birthday, I had gotten really good tickets for the Broadway touring production of "Phantom of the Opera," and we enjoyed immensely seeing that at the Bass Hall in Fort Worth.

We are not exactly pleased with the KOA here in Arlington. Entry and exit is difficult, the sites and roads are gravel with potholes, and the parking spots are very unlevel. Unfortunately, the DFW area has an extreme scarcity of nice RV parks. The demand is huge, and the parks that are here are always full. I think someone could do very well by opening an upscale park in the area.

We've been doing a good bit more cooking in the coach lately now that we've settled in for a few weeks. Here are pics of a couple of our almost-healthy favorites--taco soup and shish-kebab made with ribeye steak--yum! 

Our next port of call will be a rally in San Antonio in about ten days. Thanks for stopping by, y'all!

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Arkie the Cat

At Sunset Shores RV Park, Willis, Texas...

This is an unabashedly feelgood story involving some good friends of ours, Steve and Jackie, who are also fulltiming RVers and Phaeton owners. In fact, they generously give us credit for having influenced their recent purchase of the Phaeton instead of a new fifth wheel, as was their intention. But that's another story. This is really about the goodness in people and the incredible good fortune of a kitten named Arkie. 

Mention cats in a conversation with several people, and you'll find a rather broad spectrum of opinions regarding the furry little creatures. We have friends who absolutely love them and others who believe they are of the devil. I confess that I rather like cats, but that may be due their snarky, nonconformist attitude, snobbishly deciding whether a mere human is worthy of their affection. I guess I just appreciate individualism and eccentricity as interesting qualities in both animals and people--as they are in some of our friends who are reading this right now. Yes, you know who you are; I will be merciful and not name names, though.

I like dogs, too, but sometimes I think they take the slavish adoration thing a little too far. I can't help but think of Dickens' Oliver Twist and his fawning, "Please sir, may I have another [bowl of gruel]"--something any dog would do for, say, a pat on the head. A cat, on the other hand, would probably make an obscene gesture, if it could. (Now don't write me letters--I said I like dogs, too; I just wish they were a bit more cool.)

Okay, back to the story: Steve and Jackie were on a trip in their Phaeton from their home base in Austin, Texas back to Chillicothe, Ohio, where they lived before moving nearer kids and grandkids in Texas. This trip would take them through en route stops in Forest City, Arkansas and Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Tired after their long first-day drive, Steve pulled the Phaeton into a Forest City Wal-Mart parking lot among some other RVs, and it wasn't long after dinner until they were on their way to dreamland in their comfy Sleep Number bed. Just before drifting off, they heard a faint "meow," which they attributed to a cat outside the coach looking for food. Steve made a mental note to share some leftovers with the cat if it was still around in the morning.

They had forgotten about the cat the next morning as they readied for departure, and the drive to Bowling Green was uneventful until they dropped the jacks and extended the slides at their  RV park. At that point, they both heard the same "meow" as they had heard at the Arkansas Wal-Mart parking lot. They looked at each other, and both realized the cat had obviously hidden itself somewhere in the bowels of the coach chassis upon leaving Forest City.

Steve grabbed a flashlight and crawled under the coach on his back, shining the light upward into all the nooks and crannies he could find, looking for the hitchhiker. This was to no avail and, once back inside the coach for a while, he and Jackie realized that they had heard no more meowing, so they hoped the cat had found its way out. They couldn't be sure, of course, and Jackie continued to have the nagging fear that the cat might be injured and unable to move.

After a quiet night, Steve and Jackie got on the road early and decided to stop at a Blue Beacon truck wash in Glendale, Kentucky for a wash job. Steve was quite pleased with the result and was gratified that the attendants washed the underside of the coach thoroughly. Still not sure that the cat had exited, he asked if any of the guys had seen a cat run out, what with all the spraying going on. They replied that they hadn't. His expectations were buoyed, then, that the hitchhiker had indeed left the coach at Bowling Green.

Reaching Chillicothe and extending the slides at their new RV park, they heard the now familiar "meow," which caused great alarm for Jackie, who was wondering how this poor creature had survived the journey with no food or water and perhaps having been injured, all the while avoiding the flood at the truck wash.

So, back under the coach went Steve with his flashlight, but again, no kitty was visible. It was at this point that I got a call from Jackie, wondering if I had any ideas about how to find the cat. I suggested that they first call the city animal control department and humane society--which they had already done, including the fire department, and none of these offered any help. I then suggested that they remove the engine cover in the bedroom and see if they could get a look from another perspective. Steve took the cover off, but again couldn't see the cat's lair.

Jackie put a small bowl of canned tuna on top of the exposed engine, then Steve replaced the engine cover and the two of them left the coach and went into town. Upon returning, the bowl was licked clean. From this evidence, they were relieved to know that the cat wasn't stuck somewhere and could exit the coach if it wanted to, which it, in fact did, as the cat could also be heard in and around a small shed in back of the coach at times. This cat was obviously not going to leave, as it now had a second home in addition to its hiding place in the coach!

Believing it a Divine inspiration for her to rescue this cat in one way or another, Jackie began trying to find a live trap somewhere. She called the animal shelter and tried posting on Facebook, but no help. Finally, Steve's brother came up with one, and they set the trap with another bowl of tuna for bait. 

After a while, they checked the trap and found the tuna gone and the trip plate intact. So, they set the trap again, and this time--success! In the trap was a very scared calico kitten about four or five months old. 

Jackie's plan was to take the kitten to the vet for a cleanup, exam, shots and spay/neuter the next morning, then to look for a rescue group to help find it a home. She was relating the story to a couple in a nearby RV, who said, believe it or not, that they love cats and had been looking for one! They asked to see the cat and fell in love with it, gladly taking it and naming it "Arkie," in honor of its birthplace. 

The new owners of the cat soon left the park and returned to their home in Columbus, sending back to Steve and Jackie photos of its adjustment to the new surroundings, much to their delight.

Now perhaps this story is a little schmaltzy, especially to those who aren't sure why God made cats, but in a world as crass and uncaring as ours seems today, it gave me a warm feeling that we count good people like Steve and Jackie among our friends. For if they would go to such trouble and potential expense to save a mere kitten, I can't imagine what they would do for their friends and loved ones. God bless you good folks; we're so honored to know you!  

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