Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Post With Some Teeth in It

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

I have been a bit incapacitated for a couple of days with an abscessed tooth. I had taken a break from my editing "job" for my friend Ed to work on another legitimate post to Phannie and Mae, but I haven't been able to do that either; I have difficulty concentrating with a toothache or any other kind of chronic pain. The result is that you are stuck with this whiny little piece; I'll have something a little more substantial when this is over.

I made a hasty trip to see my dentist, Dr. Novo Cain (sorry), a scrawny kid who could easily be my grandson. Somehow, he must have earned his DDS and MD when he was a baby, as he looks only about 18 now.

"You're getting a root canal!" he said, with way too little sympathy in his voice, which was still squeaky enough to make me think it had only recently changed. I figured his buoyancy was due to his realization that the next payment on his Mercedes was now a done deal. 

More later; I have to buy a Mercedes for Dr. Cain.

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

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Eureka Springs and Shopping to Help Heal a Wound

At the Eureka Springs KOA, Eureka Springs, Arkansas...

You may think it odd that I would title this post as I did, as most guys would think of a shopping trip by his wife as anything but a healing process! Instead of healing anything, it could do serious injury to a bank account. But this was different. Very different.

If you've read this blog for a while, you know that we were victims of burglars twice in the last few years--at our residence and at our motorhome. On both occasions, the thieves stole mostly Sandy's jewelry that I had given her on countless occasions in the nearly 40 years we've been married. It was devastating for her, not so much for the monetary value, which was considerable, but mostly for the sentimental loss that she will never recover. Furthermore, our feeling of being violated is something that will probably never go completely away, and I am fairly certain the home invasion was more of a factor in our decision to sell the house than either of us will admit.

Fortunately, the thieves didn't find some of the most expensive pieces of jewelry that were kept in a safe, but those that were taken were some of Sandy's favorites. We have begun to try to replace some of them, but it is an almost impossible task. We both like pieces that are unusual or one-of-a-kind creations by designers and craftsmen, and it is their uniqueness, of course, that thwarts our finding replacements. We had bought many of the pieces that were stolen during our travels through the years, and it is at this point in the story that our current stop in Eureka Springs becomes relevant.

If you've never visited Eureka Springs, Arkansas, you have missed a fascinating place. It is a quaint and historic little town perched dizzyingly on steep hillsides in the middle of the Ozarks, and it reminds me of a tiny San Francisco in that regard. (The debauchery found on the left coast would hardly be tolerated here in the Bible belt, however.) 

Eureka Springs is quite a laid-back and quirky place, full of innocently colorful characters and countless little mom-and-pop shops that line both sides of the steep and narrow old streets. One of these shops is Zark's, a place full of one-of-a kind jewelry and decorative objets d' art, and where Sandy happened to find some of her favorite jewelry pieces on a previous trip years ago. These were among the ones stolen, of course, and that is precisely the reason I brought her back here, in hopes of replacing some of what she had lost.  

I'm happy to report that we hit the jackpot! Zark's still had a number of pieces of glass cabochon jewelry much like Sandy's originals, and I bought all of the ones that were similar to the stolen ones. Some of them appear below; I didn't get a photo of the earrings:

A characteristic of this type of jewelry is the changing colors when viewed from different angles. The photo doesn't really do them justice in that regard.

Zark's has a lot of beautiful things, and we credit our longtime friends John and Myrna for its discovery:

I know I've spent a lot of space on this story about "stuff" that really isn't important, but that's not the point. The point is that by being able to give Sandy back some items--and even a few more of them than she originally received--that were very similar to the stolen ones, we began to feel, maybe for the first time, that the thieves weren't totally successful in taking away objects that represented wonderful times and a long, loving relationship. It was certainly a psychological boost, and we even shared the story with the shopkeeper, who teared up a bit. Wiping one of her eyes, she looked at our selections and said, "Well, the thieves didn't win over love, did they?"  She understood. 

Afterward, Sandy and I came to the conclusion that we may not need to try heroically to replace many more of the lost items. We have each other and the good memories, after all, and this "win" today may have been enough for us to move on and get the matter behind us for good. (That doesn't mean we won't pick up a few more things as we continue to travel; she is a woman, after all.)

Eureka Springs is perhaps most noted for the Great Passion Play, performed from May through October, depicting the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. We haven't been able to see it yet, but we have that on our list. There is plenty to see and do otherwise, though. There is Christ of the Ozarks, a huge statue of Jesus erected in 1966 near the 4,100-seat Passion Play amphitheater:

The photo above was a very long telephoto shot taken several miles away at the top of the 1886 Crescent Hotel that overlooks all of Eureka Springs:

Historic 1886 Crescent Hotel-a must visit for lovers of old buildings
There are country music theaters that are also popular in season, as well as many historic homes and other venues for the history buffs.

We found a couple of surprisingly good restaurants: Fresh, a farm-to-table eatery that has never seen a canned vegetable,

Fresh Restaurant in Eureka Springs

and Ermiliano's, an Italian Restaurant that has the distinction of being touted as the best Italian restaurant in Arkansas:

The restaurants will go on our best restaurants list that has a link at the top of this blog.

It was a bit early in the springtime for Eureka Springs trees and blooms to be in full display, but everything was budding out, and the forsythia were in total yellow plumage:

If you've been reading this rag for a while, you know how I like to include photos of unusual or quirky things. Well, here is one that I saw in near downtown Eureka Springs. I don't think I've ever seen a Radio Flyer wagon quite like this (note the bridle on the front):

One final note: We parked at the KOA in Eureka Springs this time, but we recommend Wanderlust RV Park instead. It is much closer to town and much less hilly.

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

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Caravan to Branson With Friends

At Branson KOA, Branson, MO...

As fans of gospel music, we cooked up this trip with Bubba and LouAnn and talked mutual friends Harvey and Mary Lou into going with us to a three-day music event called "Praisefest Branson."  

Mary Lou and Harvey: Two of the Sweetest People on the Planet
We caravanned from Fort Worth in tandem with Bubba's bus, "Woody" and stopped in Hot Springs for the first night.

Lake Hamilton RV Resort 
Our campground of choice at Hot Springs was the Lake Hamilton RV Resort, a friendly but average park right on the lake.

Since it was just a stopover, and we had visited Hot Springs several times before, we didn't do any sightseeing, but we had a good seafood dinner at the Cajun Boil restaurant just a stone's throw from the RV park.

In determining our route for the next day, Bubba decided he wanted to take Arkansas highway 7 up to Harrison before turning onto 65 for the final leg to Branson. Now highway 7 is mostly a two-lane road that winds through the Ozarks for more than 180 miles and, while it is a scenic drive, it is a bit of a challenge in a couple of big rigs. By the time we reached Branson, I was pretty well worn out from negotiating all of the hairpin curves and the constant engine and transmission management on the endless grades.

We made a stop at one of the picturesque roadside viewing turnouts on highway 7.  It occurred to me that Bubba and I had stopped in this very spot 11 years ago, when we were just getting started in RVing. Here's a photo of our rigs back then--along with Sandy and LouAnn:

Now, fast forward eleven years at the same turnout on highway 7 in Arkansas:
Sandy, LouAnn, Bubba, Harvey and Mary Lou
Who knew that we would be making the same trip a decade later with a couple of big rigs?

Our first RV back then was the very basic Jayco model in the first photo above. We grew disappointed with it rather quickly, mainly because when we bought it, we didn't know what we didn't know about RVs at the time. As we began to take trips in it, many of the assumptions we had made about the usability of the design and layout proved false. There's nothing like the experience of a long shakedown trip in a new RV to reveal problems, and it wasn't long until we were asking ourselves what we were thinking when we bought this. We didn't keep the Jayco very long and upgraded to a much larger and nicer fifth wheel.

After we purchased the second fiver, a Sierra model made by Forest River, we enjoyed immensely the new layout and design for a while: 

It wasn't long, however, until we discovered through using the new rig that it, too, had design flaws and inconveniences that we wanted to avoid in the next one. And, while we've now had very good experience with motorhome living in Phannie, we have discovered some things about her layout and design that we will certainly want to change when or if we get another motorhome. I wonder if we'll ever find the perfect rig?

 Once we got set up at Branson, we had a nice hamburger cookout with Bubba as chef. He did a good job! Harvey, a totally great guy, looks on.

We enjoyed greatly the three-day Praisefest event at the Mansion Theater. 

Spring has sprung at the Mansion Theater in Branson
One of our favorite groups, the Booth Brothers, were there. I didn't get a photo of them this time, but here is one from the Alaska cruise last summer. We were able to get to know some of the artists personally, and that was one of the best parts of the more intimate setting of that cruise ship.

We also had a nice lunch visit with lifelong friend, John Sharp, who was best man at my wedding and I at his. We had a nice meal at Famous Dave's BBQ, and it was really good to see him again. 

As we often do when in Branson, we treated ourselves to an excellent lunch at Big Cedar, a beautiful resort on Table Rock Lake. 

Devil's Pool Restaurant at Big Cedar

Inside the Devil's Pool Restaurant

The photo below is of a wooden bridge built above the Devil's Pool waterfall near the restaurant.

We will part company with our friends here in Branson. Bubba is not yet retired, so he has to get back to work in Fort Worth. We, on the other hand, have decided to stop in Eureka Springs for a couple of days to do some shopping; I'll tell you more about that in another post.

As Bubba's coach pulls out, headed for Texas, I can't help but think of the two recent great gifts of freedom that have come our way--gifts that Bubba hasn't yet experienced, unfortunately. The first was my decision to retire nearly three years ago, the most profound result of which was the elimination of the limitations that my job placed on our travel decisions. When you're working, your time off is never really your own, as there is always a conscious or subconscious demand on your time that you are obligated to fulfill--if not immediately, then it's waiting for you when you return. You are rarely able to take a few extra days in order to enjoy a longer stay somewhere. Retirees, of course, can come and go whenever they like, and that was something I had only dreamed about for decades while I was still working. The second blessed freedom was our decision to sell the house and go fulltime. That's what now allows us the freedom and resources to do something spontaneous like stopping in a bucolic little town like Eureka Springs, just so Sandy can do some special shopping. Furthermore, if we get another brainstorm like that, we'll do that, too! And why not? We have no limitations or obligations now. Yes, friends, this fulltiming gig is proving to be even better than we could possibly have imagined. For those of you getting the urge to do that, don't be afraid to pull the trigger; you likely have some really good times in store for you. (But don't tell anyone; we should keep this to ourselves.)

Speaking of folks who are thinking about fulltiming, we got a call from Bobbie Jo and John, more good friends with whom we spent some time in the Rio Grande Valley last winter. She said that she and John had been talking to a realtor about selling their large home near Dallas and going almost fulltime while retaining a storage building/casita they currently own. They said they were influenced by the happiness we demonstrated when we were with them in the Valley, so that made us feel really good. We have a date to visit with them again in a few weeks, and we'll find out how they're doing. 

We also had a call from Steve and Jackie, friends from Austin who are new fulltimers and who recently traded their fifth wheel for a Tiffin Phaeton after they saw ours. They are headed out west for a couple of months and, boy, are they excited. We're glad they love their rig, and we hope to visit with them soon.

As a favor to another fulltimer friend and fellow blogger, Ed, of Happy Wanderers fame, I have taken on a project to edit a book he has written about his long flying career as a pilot. I'm not sure he chose his editor very well, but since I am also a retired commercial pilot who enjoys writing, I suppose this made some sense to him. My guess is that there was another overriding influence for his decision: I work cheap. Really cheap. But that's what friends are for; I think Ed, like several other longtime pals of mine, would probably do almost any favor I asked of him, with no questions asked. Everyone should have such friends.

So far, my editing gig has proven to be an interesting undertaking, albeit a bit slow; I've completed only the introduction and two of 31 chapters. There are reasons for my slow progress; English composition was a favorite subject in high school and college; therefore, I learned well and became rather picky about things like proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax and the like. Such attention to detail is, fortunately or unfortunately, a bit of an obsession. Even writing this post takes me quite a number of hours and countless tweaks and rewrites. Another reason I get slowed down is that I often have to lay the project aside when it conflicts with my own activities and obligations; not doing so would make Ed's project seem like w*rk to me, and I've sworn off that for good. I'll get it done, though; I just hope Ed's patience holds out.

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

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Drying Out and More Fulltiming Observations

At Northlake RV Park, Roanoke, Texas...

Our plans to attend the Tiffin rally in San Antonio were thwarted by the downpours that just wouldn't stop here in north Texas. I have a longstanding policy of avoiding driving Phannie when it is raining, mainly because it is just too scary in a big rig among the crazies out there on the highways. It seems there are too many drivers who simply don't comprehend the difficulty in stopping quickly a 30,000-lb. bus, especially on wet roads. We have had more than a few breathtakingly close calls when some thoughtless driver pulled out right in front of us, thinking we were a Volkswagen or something, I guess. Wet roads just make stopping that much more difficult. We've determined we don't need this much excitement now that we're retired, so we don't drive in the rain unless we have no other choice. Besides, who likes hooking up and setting up in the rain? Certainly not me.

So, our next departure will be to caravan with Bubba and LouAnn to Branson, where we will attend a three-day gospel music festival. Branson is a favorite destination of ours, and we're looking forward to a good time with these two friends and also with other friends Harvey and Mary Lou, who will also be joining us.

One of the nice things about fulltiming is that we can change plans quickly as conditions warrant, and we don't have to be concerned about the impact such changes will have on maintaining a house that is left unoccupied for long periods of time. It has been such a relief not to worry about break-ins or weather damage or anything else that used to be constantly on our minds. 

Another thing that jolted me, but in a good way, happened when I began deleting from our online banking platform those accounts that had been set up to pay the bills incurred by home ownership. There were a surprising number of them, and it really felt good to realize that, as each was deleted, there will be no more of our cash sucked up and sent into the ethera for this purpose.

I've also noticed that fulltiming requires more planning than I thought. Longtime readers will know that I am not much of a planner, so this is something that doesn't come naturally for me. Planning is needed mainly for reservations at RV parks. I really wish I were the type who could just head out somewhere and not worry about having a place to park, but we've found that RVing is more popular than ever--especially with the drop in fuel prices--so we frequently find parks with no spaces available. With this in mind, I try to stay ahead of the game and make reservations as far in advance as possible. We simply don't do boondocking and probably never will. Call us prudish, but we like the comfort and convenience of full hookups. We also tend to look for parks with paved roads and pads; we're not particularly fond of dirt and mud, either. (We're really not snobs, folks, we just like what we like.) For planning, I mainly use and look for Passport America, Escapees and Good Sam discounts whenever we can find them.

Another thing we've had to get used to is meal preparation for two in our small space. We eat out often, and we don't have much freezer space (soon to be corrected with a new residential refrigerator), so we really have to be careful not to overbuy at the grocery store. We tend to eat a goodly number of sandwiches and salads, and we no longer cook things that require a lot of preparation. And, to make sure we use the RV parks' electricity and not our propane, we think we have found the perfect combination of small cooking appliances in a Breville convection oven, an induction cook plate and an electric skillet. 

Oh, and there's also the crockpot and the Weber Q grill, but we don't use those all that often. Stir-fry is a favorite, and the electric skillet works fine for that. For us, it's all about simplicity now; we use paper plates for most meals, so cleanup is usually very quick and easy.

So, we're almost two months into fulltiming now, and we are more convinced than ever it was the right move at the right time. We just can't imagine having to go back and strap on the bondage of home ownership again. That may change in the future but, for now, we are giddy with our new sense of freedom.

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

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Hitch Itch

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

Yes, for those kind enough to inquire, we did survive the common cold; thank you for asking. Since I've been puny, I haven't been posting much, but I'll try to be a little more industrious in that regard. I think I've just about worn out Sandy's patience with my sulking resentment over having caught this silly cold. She is just a much better patient than I, and I'm not sure why she puts up with me.

As our three weeks here in north Texas are drawing to a close, we have pretty much taken care of doctor and dentist visits, and we now have our new glasses. After seeing the difference with our new prescriptions, we are glad we made the upgrade. Sandy has one more visit with the dentist to finish up her new crown, and we will be outta here. Hitch itch has definitely set in.

Fortunately, we seem to have missed any freezing weather and, since we will be heading south to San Antonio next week, we are pretty confident that we will escape it altogether now that spring is upon us. 

We spent a little time at the storage unit switching out some clothes for the warmer weather coming up. And no, we haven't yet completely pared down our wardrobe to what will fit in Phannie, although we know that is something we should do. That's not to say that we haven't given away a lot of clothing, because we have. The pieces that remain are those that are favorites and which fit well. It's hard to get rid of those.

We were only able to go through and empty two boxes of stuff about which we had reconsidered. These were largely things that were stored during the last minute crush when the house sold, and their disposition was pretty easy to figure out. At this rate, it will be a while before we can get our excess stuff pared down to where we would like for it to be. Another thing we picked up was the shredder, something we hadn't anticipated carrying with us, but which has become essential for us to keep up our comfort level, considering all the identity theft that is going on.

It looks like this is going to be housecleaning day, something that will certainly take less time than it did in the stick and brick house. I figure we can knock it out in less than an hour, even with my cleaning the air conditioner filters.

As I look outside while writing this, the trees are budding out nicely and the birds are singing sweetly. Spring is almost here, and the road beckons. We will soon answer the call.

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