Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Under the Weather

At Northlake Village RV Park, Roanoke, Texas...

February has never been a favorite month. It is usually then when I am beset by the common cold virus, which is a stupid disease that really shouldn't still be around. I mean, really! Modern medicine is replete with victories over some of the deadliest ailments known to mankind. Nowadays, they routinely replace or reattach joints, limbs, organs and the like, but they can't figure out the common cold? Please. 

I have always been annoyed with the coughing, dripping, snorting and general malaise associated with a cold, but I am especially indignant over having acquired this one on the heels of a bout of stomach flu. My dear bride, from whom I seem to have caught the stomach bug, now appears to have the initial symptoms of my cold. I feel bad that I am the source of her discomfort, as she did when she was the source of mine.  

We have been parked here for a week in which we have had several routine visits with doctors, dentists and opticians. The idea is for us to have our prescriptions filled far enough in advance so that we can be away for several months without having to make a prescription pit stop. I suppose one of the few downsides to fulltiming is that our wanderings often take us far away from the medical professionals who know us and our histories so well and whom we literally know as friends. I'm pretty sure we will continue this practice of returning to the area periodically to catch up on these routine visits. If we need medical help on the road, we'll just have to pray and hope for the best, I suppose, but, in my view, this is no reason to deny ourselves the fulltiming experience.

So how is fulltiming going? Well, we're more than a month into it, and not a single regret. We love the simplicity of the lifestyle and the absence of all the responsibilities and expense associated with a house. I think another word for this is "freedom." Sometimes I think we have lucked into the discovery a secret nirvana that most people wouldn't begin to understand. Not that we would want them to; it is better that they continue tending their big houses and their big mortgages, so there is plenty of room for us to roam and play.

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

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Featured Post Reveals Errors in Travel Plans

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

I really like the new Blogger add-on here on the home page that allows us blog owners to include a featured post header. It's there on the right side of the page, in case I would like to reprise a piece that might interest the readers (or might interest me, since that's what really matters). In this case, I'm resurrecting a short post from last summer that included some nice photos of the Tetons and mentioned a meetup with fellow bloggers Merikay and Craig near West Yellowstone. A double treat, for sure. 

This leads me to mention some things we would like to have done differently as new retirees on a long RV trip through the western U. S. First of all, we should have allowed way more traveling time. We had a firm sailing date for an Alaskan cruise out of Seattle, and I figured three weeks would be enough time to see all we wanted to see between Fort Worth and Seattle. It wasn't, and not by a long shot. As a result, we gave only passing attention to places like Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. What a pity.

We learned something else, though. We will never, never, ever go to Yellowstone again in the middle of summer. The kids are out of school then, and the tourists swarm the place like locusts. It was so crowded that I'm almost glad we didn't spend much time there. We will go back when we can really enjoy it.

In our defense, we weren't fulltiming then, so not only did we have the sailing date pressuring us on one end of the trip, but we also had to get back to Texas in a reasonable time to see to the needs of the stick-and-brick house. In fact, it was exactly the killjoy crush of those responsibilities that proved to be the death blow to our keeping that house. We never forgot what a downer it was to have to miss so many things we wanted to see.

Now that we're fulltiming, we have vowed to revisit those places we missed, and we will now have nothing tethering us to anywhere, except to see the kids when we can.

Speaking of the kids (as we collectively call our daughter and son-in-law and their children), we came over here near their home in Conroe and promptly got sick. Sandy and I spent most of the week with a vicious stomach bug that had all of the nasty effects you might imagine. We'll get to see our kin for a couple of days, though; that's better than nothing.

This weekend, we'll be heading back to the DFW area and medical/dental/optical appointments and let's not forget--income taxes. Ugh! We'll also be catching up with friends, too, so that will make up for the unpleasantness.

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

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Redneck Engineering Comes in Handy

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

My late father, an electrician by trade, was also an avid tinkerer. A small ramshackle shop he built beside our house was his inner sanctum, a place where he created all sorts of things, mostly from wood, but from other scrap materials as well. He would have been proud to know that his great grandsons, Mason and Pryce, are enjoying today the children's toys and furniture he made in that shop.

When I was a kid, my father helped me build many things like kites and slingshots and even an electric motor as a science project. My favorite of the homebuilt things was a go-cart, upon which I roared up and down the street when I got older. The running gear was made of parts from an old washing machine.

My father almost never had to buy any materials from which to fashion these things. Having grown up during the great depression, he was quite accustomed to making do with whatever he had. He hoarded used lumber and other surplus materials he scrounged in his electrical work. He had many cigar boxes full of all kinds of nuts and bolts, washers and springs, pipes and fittings and thousands of pieces of all kinds of paraphernalia that he had collected over the years. He saved everything that he thought might have a possible use, although he couldn't imagine at the time what that use might be. Nonetheless, it always came in handy whenever he wanted to build or repair something. He was able to use this stuff--most would refer to it as junk--to fashion amazing things that were interesting and functional, although perhaps a bit unorthodox in their appearance. We referred to this as "redneck engineering" and other terms that have become politically incorrect nowadays.

I tell you this bit of background because these memories of my dad came rushing back to me the other day when I needed to do a little redneck engineering of my own with Phannie. It seems that the temperature control knob on the air conditioning panel had become inoperative. Son-in-law Tyler and I pulled it out of the instrument panel, and we discovered that the bracket underneath holding the actuator cable had broken. After taking inventory of the miscellaneous hardware that I carry in one of Phannie's belly compartments, I discovered a few metal picture hangers. After doing a good bit of bending and cutting of one of the hangers, I was able to fashion a tension bracket that handily replaced the broken one. Works great!

So why do I share this little piece of my ancient history? Well, if you are fortunate enough to have any aptitude for redneck engineering, it may come in handy when you operate something as mechanically complex as a motorhome. It could save you thousands.

I'm pretty sure this bit of shadetree mechanic work saved me quite a few dollars in parts and repair bills, and I don't claim to have much aptitude at all with this sort of thing--certainly not as much as my dad, who I thought could fix anything. It also provides a rationale to RV owners for keeping a small collection of some little parts and doohickeys--junk, if you will--for which you don't see an immediate need but which you might fashion into something very useful in a pinch. Certainly an assortment of fasteners such as screws, bolts, nuts and washers would be a minimum to have on hand. And don't forget duct tape, glue and WD-40. With these things and a few tools, you can fix almost anything.

I was so fortunate to have a father who spent time with me and gave me some life skills that I still use today. And although this personal story is hardly something that would be meaningful to a reader, it was a warm cookie for me--a real pleasure to write while remembering what a good role model I had. 

Who would have thought that a picture hanger could be used to fix an air conditioner? My dad would have been proud.

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

Friday, February 12, 2016

Kicking Back in Marble Falls

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

After an uneventful 336-mile trip from Mercedes, we settled into our spot at Sunset Point, one of the nicest RV parks anywhere, for the monthly Tiffin Bluebonnet Allegro Club rally. We usually limit our daily legs to 300 miles or less, but the weather was nice, and traffic was fairly light, so it really wasn't an issue. Russ, our crack electronics guy in the DFW area, had finally fixed the antenna problem with my new Sirius/XM radio, so we had tunes available whenever we wanted. Here are some photos of Sunset Point on Lake LBJ that will show what a prime location it is:

These rallies afford us a chance to relax in a nice setting and visit with friends connected by a similar interest--our Tiffin motorhomes. The rally agendas are hardly rigorous, but there is usually plenty of food (potlucks are popular), side activities and games. Then there is a business meeting and a tech talk session, both of which are popular and entertaining. For the potlucks, Sandy usually makes a dessert and, for the last couple of times, I have done sausage-stuffed jalapenos, 40 at a time, that are gobbled up almost immediately. I must admit, they are really good. The recipe follows the photo:

Sausage Stuffed Jalapenos

1 lb ground sausage, hot or mild, depending on your bravery
20 fairly large jalapeƱos (large ones are usually less firey)
1- 8 oz block cream cheese, softened
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 or 2 green onions, finely chopped (I use two)

Directions: Preheat oven to 400. 
(Note: If you're not using a convection oven, you may need to set the oven temp to 425.) Meanwhile, cook crumbled sausage in a pan until browned. Drain on a paper towel and set aside. Mix cream cheese with parmesan cheese. Add cooked sausage and chopped onions and mix well. Cut the stem end off each jalapeno, then slice each lengthwise, removing the seeds and membranes from each half. (I use a small measuring spoon to do this in a single swipe down each half.) Stuff the jalapeƱos generously with the sausage mixture. (The jalapenos should be completely dry inside when you do this.) Bake uncovered in a pan for 20 minutes or until the tops of the cheese mixture are golden brown. 

Since you'll notice the paper plate in the photo, I'll talk about that for a minute. The throwaway quality of the paper plate is God's gift to RVers. We use them almost exclusively, because dishwashing is really not something retired people should be doing very often; it's just way too strenuous. We do keep a few sets of regular plates around in case we are eating something that needs to served on a warm plate or cut with a knife. We don't use plastic utensils, however, unless we're eating outside. We just like the metal ones better. Besides, it doesn't strike me as too much trouble for Sandy to wash a couple of forks, spoons and knives. Why don't I wash these myself, you may ask? Well, since I do much of the cooking (other than baking, which she does solely), I've convinced her that such a magnanimous gesture on my part warrants my being absolved of dishwashing responsibilities. (I hope she doesn't read this; her memory of this agreement may differ from mine.)

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

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A River Tour and an Epic Gathering

At Llano Grande RV Resort, Mercedes, Texas...

Our time is growing short here in the Rio Grande Valley. The weather has been beautiful, and we've had the company of good friends much of the time. I'm a bit nervous about leaving this land of warm weather, blue skies and palm trees. If we had not already made plans to attend a rally in Marble Falls, we might just hang around for a while longer.

We opted for a boat tour of the Rio Grande River near the Bentsen Palms RV park out side Mission, Texas. Our friends Bob and Janet were co-captains on the boat as part of their workamping gig, and we really enjoyed the tour. The Rio Grande was not at all what we expected. It was quite wide above the dam, with lots of border patrol boats plying the calm water. We even saw a mama alligator with her brood of 13.

Steve, Jackie, Sandy and I had a fine time.
Bob drives the boat while Janet tells him how to drive the boat.
The Anzalduas Dam Across the Rio Grande
We saw several boats patrolling the river for illegals. (The boats belonging to the Texas HP were much larger than the U. S. Border Patrol boats, as they should be. This is Texas after all.)
After the boat tour, we all gathered outside Ed and Marilyn's coach to shoot the breeze. It was a fun time with everyone finally getting acquainted with these fine friends.

From left: Cathy, Marilyn, Janet (barely visible), Marian, Ginger, Janet, Bob (behind Janet), Mike and Ed.
From right: Sandy, Jackie, Bobbie Jo, Steve, John, Eddie (looking down), Steve, Jesse, Ed
The camaraderie among RVers has always been fascinating to me. Perhaps among no other group of people can you find so many gregarious souls, many of whom become good friends as they cross each others' paths. We certainly are thankful for this part of fulltiming!

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Old Hands at Fulltiming: Two Weeks In

At Llano Grande RV Resort, Mercedes, Texas...

As I type this, I notice the page counter on this blog has clicked over 200,000 views--which is relatively meaningless, I guess, as I'm not sure when Blogger began calculating this statistic. I think it was back when Google Plus began its mind meld with Blogger a few years ago. That's when, without my having a say in it, they also began counting the number of visits to my Google Plus profile page to come up with a number that is now approaching three million! Well, I don't buy that, and I'm pretty sure the pageview number is in error, too, but on the low side, since they obviously didn't begin counting this for the first six or seven years of this blog's life. So, I don't know what the real number is.

What I am reminded of, however, is to thank you readers for looking in on the workings of this feverish mind as I blather on about the RV lifestyle. I'm still amazed but delighted that you keep coming back.

Nowadays, folks ask of us how it's going "with the fulltiming thing." Sometimes I get the feeling they are expecting some kind of meltdown when we finally realize we have lost our minds. Well, that hasn't happened and, mercifully, it doesn't seem at all likely. For me, the happiest change so far has been the total absence of any thought toward the upkeep of our stick and brick house. I deleted from my cell phone the apps controlling the house's security system and video feeds, ecstatic that I will never have to check them again or to wait for the sensors to detect movement around the property and send me a warning signal. 

Furthermore, I don't keep track of the weather back in Fort Worth as I once did. If there is a forecast for adverse weather, I really don't care, so long as our friends and family members are safe. If a tree falls on our former house, it's not our problem.

Particularly gratifying is the much smaller number of payments required to support the house. When I pay bills on the computer, I sometimes think I've forgotten some. I can't tell you how good it feels simply to keep that money in the bank.

There have been a couple of occasions when we caught ourselves referring to the residence we just sold as "home." For example, we might say something like, "We need to visit with (someone) when we get home." Then we catch ourselves and realize that we are already "home" wherever we happen to be. 

We never find that we have nothing to do. At any given time, we probably have a half dozen events or trips in the planning stage, and I spend a fair amount of time working out the logistics, tickets and associated reservations that must be made. The computer, Internet and cell phones are essential for this, of course, so we find ourselves online a good deal of the time. I can't imagine how we would do this without today's technology.

So, to summarize our feeling about fulltiming at just over two weeks, I would have to say, not surprisingly, that it's all positive.

We welcomed old friends Bobbie Jo and John back to Llano Grande today. We had been planning this reunion for some time, and it was good to see them again. We quickly introduced them to friends Jackie and Steve, our traveling partners for this trip to the Valley. Pretty soon, it seemed we had all been friends for a long time, and we enjoyed a hamburger cookout with Steve doing the honors as chef. Yes, life is good here in the Rio Grande Valley.

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

Sunday, February 7, 2016


At Llano Grande RV Resort, Mercedes, Texas...

Years ago I was acquainted with a local small-town radio personality who was truly a publicity hound. Trading on his popularity with his radio audience, he sought out public appearances for himself in all kinds of local events as master of ceremonies or a speechmaker or the like. He was a member of several civic groups, and his photo often appeared in the newspaper. One day, I asked him how he would know when he had "arrived" as a celebrity. 

"OSR," he answered.

"OSR?" I asked, with a raised eyebrow.

"On-the-Street Recognition," he said. When a stranger comes up to you on a sidewalk, calling your name and engaging you in conversation, then you have OSR. Then I would consider myself a celebrity."

Well, I suppose we have attained a tiny degree of celebrity ourselves, and that obtained in the oddest of places. Sandy and I were walking down a crowded sidewalk in Progreso, Mexico the other day, and a stranger (who was obviously another U. S. snowbird visiting Mexico for the day) strode up to us and said, excitedly, "Phannie and Mae!" After a short delay due to our surprise, Sandy and I said, simultaneously, "Yes!"

"I'm Frank," he said. "I read your blog; you just sold your house, and you're now fulltiming, aren't you?"

"Well, yes!" Sandy said. But before she could get anything else out, Frank pointed down the sidewalk and said with some apprehension, "I would like to talk to you, but I've got to catch up with my wife." Then he bolted away, not to be seen again. 

Sandy and I looked at each other, astonished. I guess by virtue of having posted in this blog for ten years, we have had a number of pleasant encounters with strangers who recognize our rig. Let's face it: There aren't that many gray Phaetons out there pulling a red HHR. But this was the first time we had been recognized outside the environs of the blog's namesake vehicles. And we certainly didn't expect such a thing on the sidewalk of a tiny Mexican border town.

So Frank, I know you're out there, and I suppose you're responsible for giving us a slight taste of OSR, even though it's not something we seek. It made our day, though, and I hope you'll comment here and tell us a little about yourself and your wife (I hope you found her.)

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

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Gonzales Hamburgers

At Llano Grande RV Resort, Mercedes, Texas...

If you stay in the Rio Grande Valley for any length of time, it won't be long until you hear about Gonzales Hamburgers. This tiny restaurant near downtown Donna, Texas, has been around a very long time, serving monster hamburgers. Patronizing the place--at least once--is a rite of passage for all snowbirds, and they do, indeed, patronize the place in droves.

On this visit, we arrived at precisely 11:00 a.m., their opening time. Unfortunately, to get there when it opens is to be late. The restaurant's chairs were already full with a line out the door:

The restaurant is hardly set up for the crush of customers it gets. There is one small griddle, one small fry station and one small prep station, manned by three employees (two are MIA in this photo). 

The hand-formed meat patties are enormous--perhaps a pound each--and only about a dozen can fit on the griddle. Sandy and I ordered one burger to split between us and a single order of fries. This photo doesn't adequately show the size of the burger, but trust me, it's huge!

Notice how the meat patty is so much larger than the bun; you don't see that very often. Because of the very limited kitchen and staff, things move very slowly in cooking the burgers--so slowly, in fact, that we waited almost two hours for our order to be filled!

The burger, when it finally came, was a bit anticlimactic. While it was an okay burger, the only thing it really had going for it was size. A much older couple sitting beside us who were apparently unfamiliar with the size of the burgers, had the misfortune of ordering a burger and fries apiece and, when they came, the woman merely shook her head and looked forlornly around the giant burger in front of her.  There was no way she could have eaten but a fraction of it.

So, I include this review as a service and warning to readers: If you want to go to Gonzales Hamburgers because you want to have the experience, fine. But be prepared to spend a very long time there and realize that you could have gotten a better burger at Salazar's on Pike Boulevard in Weslaco for less money and much less of an investment of your time.

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Reflection on Ten Years of RVing and A Visit to Mexico

At Llano Grande RV Resort, Mercedes, Texas...

You may have noticed a new feature that Blogger has made available to users. Here on the home page of this blog is something named "Featured Post." I like this, because it enables me to bring forward a link occasionally to some posts that I particularly like. The first one was "Oh, The Places We've Seen," a collection of some of our best photos of favorite places we have visited while RVing. Today, I'm listing "For Those Who Don't Quite Get It," a post that garnered the most views in the ten-year history of this blog. I'm not sure what made it so popular, but I thought I would revisit it in celebration of those ten years. It could be that it sets forth the best explanation I could offer to those for whom RVers are, at best, a curiosity or, at worst, a bunch of bedraggled denizens of a trailer park. Well, since ignorance is bliss, I say let the unschooled revel in their fog while we who know better take the wheel and savor every vista of God's creation that unfolds before us as we go down the road. Spending one's precious life confined in four walls? Not if I can help it! There is so much to see and so little time.

I am so grateful that I had the inspiration to begin this blog at the very start of our RVing adventure. I cannot tell you the number of times we have revisited the photos of favorite places and relived our impressions that were captured in the written narrative. As our memories fade, it's much like hitting the replay button and seeing it all over again. If you are just starting your RV adventure or even if you've been at it a while, I hope you will consider making a good record of it. It's importance to you will only increase over time, and it will eventually become a treasure, I'm sure. I know it has been the best ten years of our lives. 

Along with old friends Ed and Marilyn and new friends Steve and Cathy, we took Jackie and Steve over to Progreso, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from Mercedes. We had a great time wandering from shop to shop along the crowded sidewalks and had a fine lunch at Arturo's, a busy upscale restaurant on the main street. Progreso is, of course, a typical Mexican border town, heavily dependent on the trade of snowbirds and full of peddlers trying to hawk everything imaginable as you walk by. But the people are very friendly, and we have never felt unsafe in the main commercial area where the gringos tend to remain.

There is a lively interest of U. S. citizens in medical, dental and optical work, as well as pharmaceutical purchases across the border in Progreso. The services are quite professional, for the most part, and prices are dirt cheap compared to those in the U. S. Many drugs that would require prescriptions in the states are available there over the counter.

Restaurants and drinks are also cheap and, after a while, one tends to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the busy shopping area and buoyed by the omnipresent music.

Marilyn, Mike and Steve share a funny story at Arturo's in Nuevo Progreso, Mexico.
Then sometimes we revert to our childhood:

It's our secret, Steve!
The girls did some shopping and claimed some bargains. The boys largely sat around and scratched themselves. After the busy but fun day, we opted for a light supper and TV watching back in Phannie. 

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Visiting With Friends

At Llano Grande RV Resort, Mercedes, Texas...

The Rio Grande Valley is a common winter destination for several couples we have met over the years and with whom we have become friends; we spoke of some of them in the previous post.

On this day, we introduced new friends Jackie and Steve to Ed and Marilyn, with whom we became acquainted years ago in reading Ed's blog.

Ed and Marilyn have been wintering in the Valley for eight years now and, because they like it here so much, they've decided to purchase a lot with a coach house in Retama Village, near Mission, Texas. They were kind enough to invite us over to their new digs and served snacks and drinks while we visited in the warm breeze of their patio.

Sandy, Ed, Marilyn, Jackie and Steve at the new coach house.
There are a number of "coach houses" built on RV lots in this upscale community. Their dimensions are about 12x25, and they are designed to serve as additional space for the owners, who continue to live in their RVs. Many of them have a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room and a sitting area. Some have pull-down beds or sofa beds. The adjoining patio area, like the one above, is very desirable for social gatherings that are a mainstay of these RV communities.

Marilyn and Ed inside their new coach house.
After a nice visit, we motored back to McAllen and had a nice seafood dinner at Dirty Al's, an offshoot of the more plebeian Dirty Al's in South Padre. The food was very good and, after picking up some hot Krispy Kreme donuts, we called it a night. What? You don't know about Krispy Kreme donuts? Google it and then get a bib to catch your drool. If you don't have a hot Krispy Kreme donut before you die, your life may not have had all the meaning you hoped it would.

By the way, some folks have had questions about the car we're currently towing behind Phannie. They are accustomed to seeing the little red HHR to which we refer as "Mae." Well, on this trip, we're pulling our other car, Beulah. No, Mae is not being put out to pasture; she's merely taking a rest after five years of looking at Phannie's rear end. My guess is that just might be getting a little old. We will continue to tow Mae when we're on extended point-to-point trips where we aren't likely to have an entourage. But in locations like this, where we're among friends, it is handier to have the larger car as a toad. So, if you see Phannie on the road without Mae in tow, it's still us. It's just that Beulah is giving her a break:

So, you might ask, where do you keep the other car when you're not towing it? Good question; it stays in the care of our kids at their home near Houston. We appreciate them a lot for all they do for us. But then, they should do a lot. After all, we fed them, burped them and changed their diapers when they were kids. It's about time they did the same for us. Uh, not that we need that done quite yet...

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