Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Friday, April 29, 2016

On the Way to Red Bay

Enroute to Red Bay, Alabama...

Next week we get Phannie's residential refrigerator upgrade (along with some others I haven't told you about) done in Red Bay and, on the way, we decided to drop into Nacogdoches, Texas, my home town, and visit some folks. Longtime friends John and Pat met us for an enjoyable meal, (especially since John paid; thanks, John). Then we went to see one of my old flight instructors from back in the sixties when I was acquiring my pilot's licenses and ratings. A. L. was a true professional pilot whom most of my contemporaries and I wanted to emulate. At 91 years of age, he is infirm now, but his mind is sharp as ever. He even remembered a short conversation we had many years ago over the radios of the respective airplanes we were flying. I was in a DC-8 at cruise altitude and, hearing his unmistakable voice over the cockpit speaker, I gave him a shout. It was late at night, and ATC didn't mind. I still can't believe he remembered that.

A. L. was truly a member of the Greatest Generation, and he will always be a hero to me and many others. We had a nice visit, and I made sure he knew how much I appreciated his influence on my flying career. 

Visiting with this fine man brought back a lot of good memories and made me pause to think how differently things may have turned out if I had not had mentors like A. L. and others who demonstrated high standards and demanded the same from their students, all the while being positive and encouraging. His is a legacy that will always be remembered.

Now, on to another subject: Commenter Tina Lorenz from a couple of posts back wanted an update on my experience with the new Winegard Razar over-the-air automated antenna we had installed at the Tiffin rally in Canton, Texas. I'm pleased to report that it is even better than I had hoped. After the installation in Canton--which is sort of out in the boonies--we could get ten stations. Once we moved to the DFW metro area, we picked up no fewer than 22! Here's a photo of the control panel to prove it:

I'm so glad to be rid of the batwing; its extending mechanism stayed jammed most of the time, and I much prefer just pushing a button, which is the same thing I do to deploy the Trav'ler satellite dish to get Direct TV. I also might mention that the Trav'ler has been very reliable; we put up the dish at every stop (haven't used cable in years), and it hasn't had a single hiccup in five years of constant use. By the way, I have no relationship with or financial interest in Winegard; I just like their products.

Another way I avoid frustration is to have my own Internet. I have found precious few RV parks whose wi-fi is anything better than abysmal. So I handle that by a couple of hotspots I carry that give me 40 gigs of data per month (Yes, having hotspots from different providers is actually cheaper than getting the extra 10 gigs from AT&T. I can't figure out why an extra 10 gigs would cause such a jump in their pricing.) 

I'm taking the day off from editing Ed's book so I can write this post, but I don't think it matters to him right now, as he, too, is traveling and hasn't had much time for review.

Stay tuned for the latest!

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

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Few Days in DFW and a Favorite Salad

At the Arlington KOA, Arlington, Texas...

Once again, we have landed on our former home turf to help our doctors fund their 401K accounts. It continues to amaze me how often one or more of our body parts develops some sort of pain, irregularity or malfunction that needs the attention of a medical professional. If that weren't enough, we are constantly reminded by e-mail, text or phone that it is time for a checkup. And then there are the prescription drugs that are sufficiently numerous that Sandy has to keep track of them in a small ledger. I suppose we must be doing something right, however; we seem pretty healthy and we don't really feel as old as we probably should.

By the way, you may not know the origin of the word "checkup," but it started a long time ago in my home town after my doctor became tired of accepting payments from patients in chickens, pigs or other farm animals. The old doctor had an office above the bank, and one day, I overheard a telephone conversation his nurse was having with one of his patients. The patient obviously was calling to make an appointment and asked how many chickens he should bring upstairs as payment for the doctor's services. The doctor figured out who was calling and hollered to his nurse, "Tell Herschel we don't need any more chickens; just bring a check up when he gets here." Hence the origin of the word "checkup."

What? You have doubts about my veracity in this matter? Well, it could have happened, couldn't it? Besides, I'm not George Washington; I can tell a lie.

Okay, I digress. I'm pretty sure that the need for all these doctor visits is karma. I'm more convinced than ever that this is payback from the Almighty for my having scoffed at old folks and their pill alligators when I was young. On the other hand, it's hard to argue with the current crop of doctors can do miracles for you with the proper chemicals if you try to keep healthy and continue to come in for a checkup.

Speaking of keeping healthy, Sandy and I have been trying to eat healthier food, and we have developed a couple of low-cal recipes that we rather like. One of these is our version of Salad Nicoise (pronounced knee-shwahs):

Now this salad consists of lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, boiled eggs, tuna and peppers, topped with garlic salt and pepper and using olive oil and red wine vinegar as the dressing. (Note: Using anything but red wine vinegar is not permitted; if you use some other kind, you need to be punished.) An authentic salad Nicoise is supposed to include anchovies and Nicoise olives, but we're not so fond of those things, so we use the peppers instead. It's pretty easy to see from the photos how it's made; just arrange all the stuff on a large plate on a bed of lettuce and sprinkle with the seasonings and oil and vinegar.

It is important to use high-quality ingredients; we subscribe to the philosophy that, most of the time, you get what you pay for. For this recipe, the tuna and the peppers should be top shelf. We use only canned albacore tuna that we order from a small private cannery, Chuck's Seafoods, in Coos Bay, Oregon (there are others that are very good, like Sportsmen's in Winchester Bay). Is it a bit more expensive than Star Kist? Oh yes. But after you have it, you will throw rocks at Star Kist.

By the way, here is a photo of the cannery itself, where we picked up a case of tuna last summer:

The peppers are Mama Lil's Goathorn Peppers, ordered from a small specialty foods place, also in Oregon: 

These peppers are wonderful; they are slightly spicy, tangy and garlicky, packed in olive oil, and are unlike any we have ever tried. Nothing could be better on this salad or a lot of other things; the possibilities are endless. A warning for the faint of pocketbook: These peppers are quite rare and are, unfortunately, priced accordingly. But I still think they're worth it. 

We also wouldn't think of serving this salad without our favorite cracker--Trader Joe's Everything Crackers. Here's the box, with a Mama Lil's jar keeping it company:

For those who would deny themselves a little splurging now and then, here's a thought about budgets: Almost everyone except someone really rich has one. But life is short; you will likely not remember the mundane, but you won't forget giving yourself a little treat. You're worth it.

I've been busy helping edit a book being written by Ed, a friend and fellow retired pilot about his flying career. This has had the unexpected benefit of bringing back memories of my own flying escapades about which I may write a memoir just to see what I can remember. It was a great career, and I may just do it for my grandkids.

In a few days, we will be heading eastbound for Red Bay and new stuff for Phannie. She's excited!

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

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Rally Time and a New Upgrade for Phannie

Photo above taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

At Mill Creek Ranch RV Resort, Canton, Texas...

The Texas Allegro Bluebonnet RV club, to which we belong, has been sponsoring a large statewide rally here in Canton. It was open to all owners of Tiffin motorhomes, and there were approximately one hundred sites filled with Tiffin coaches of all kinds and vintages:

Here's another view of more sites near the park's pond:

Aside from fun, food and fellowship, the owners of these coaches had some opportunities in several seminars to get some education in such subjects as satellite TVs, towbars and towing, hot water systems, tire safety, RV batteries and other presentations. Tiffin representatives were there with the latest news from the factory, and some well-respected RV service techs were on site to present their credentials and perform maintenance and upgrades. Vogt RV from Fort Worth brought three new Tiffin coaches to show the rally attendees and sold two of them! 

One of the participating tech firms that I hold in very high esteem is Custom RV (256-668-0973), based in Vina, Alabama (not far from the Tiffin factory in Red Bay). The owner, Brannon Hutcheson, was there along with an assistant, Jason, and I had them install the new Winegard Razar automated TV antenna to replace Phannie's "bat wing" antenna that was cumbersome at best to operate and unusable at worst. Wow, what a difference! This antenna is installed on the roof and, with the push of a button inside the coach, it will automatically search and find all available local TV channels for viewing on Phannie's TVs. Although we use Direct TV satellite mostly, we sometimes like to see some local programming, especially news and weather. The new Razar is amazing in that with the push of a button, we suddenly had ten clear local HD channels available to us in Canton, which is quite a long way from any TV transmitters.

Here's what the Razar antenna looks like installed on Phannie's roof:

Here is a photo of the antenna's control panel:

Here is a photo of Brannon and Jason of Custom RV as they finished the installation:

In a couple of weeks, we will be taking Phannie to Brannon's shop in Alabama to have some more upgrades--one of which will be a new residential refrigerator to replace the current electric/propane Norcold--or "Nevercold"--as it is often called among RV owners. Phannie will get other upgrades as well, but this is all I'm going to tease you with for now.

Many of the seminars were well attended, as seen below:

Here's a photo of some of our club members who attended:

On one evening during the rally, Sandy and I drove a short distance to the Four Winds Steakhouse near Wills Point to meet friends John and Bobbie Jo:

Four Winds is located at what was the ranch house of former Dallas Cowboy Leroy Jordan. The large house was renovated into a restaurant on a hill overlooking hundreds of acres of prime ranch land in northeast Texas. The food was excellent, as was the company and the setting; it was good to see our friends again:

John and Bobbi Jo
While everything we ate was delicious, the standout had to be the bread pudding. I am no stranger to bread pudding--as you might surmise by my less-than-emaciated torso--and this may have been the best:

Four winds will be included on the favorite restaurants list linked near the top of this blog. (If you suspect that you might need to bring a fat wallet to this place, you would be right.)

On the other hand, there are places near Canton where you can really eat well on the cheap. A favorite is the always-busy Street Taco Shack located near the entrance to Mill Creek Resort. It is certainly named appropriately, but the owners serve a lot of authentic tacos that will set you back only $1.25. They also have a killer salsa made fresh daily. The salsa alone is worth stopping, in my opinion:

If this weren't enough, there is a similar takeout joint next door that sells some fried catfish that is fresh, delicious and dirt cheap.

After the rally ended, several of our group met at Easley's Steak House in Canton, where we enjoyed some excellent steaks at a modest price, plus the service was excellent. It was good enough that it will also go on the favorites list. 

This has been a fun and informative week with lots of good fellowship, but such are the adventures of the wandering gypsies we have become. As my friend Ed writes, in closing his daily blog posts, Life is Good!

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

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Grandkids Fix and Travel Plans

Banner photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

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

Our two-week visit with the kids and grandkids is drawing to a close. We've had a great time spoiling Mason and Pryce, something for which we think we have a special gift, and so do their parents, except Mindy and Tyler don't always think of it as a gift. We see no need to apologize for this; we've worked hard to reach a point where we can do just about anything we wish, whenever we wish, and there are worse things than ensuring that our grandsons love us more than their parents! (I'm kidding, but only slightly.)

Grandkids Pryce and Mason being kids; what a hoot!
Since we went fulltime, we had been roaming for a couple of months, during which we hadn't seen the boys, but Sandy kept herself busy during that time acting as a purchasing agent for them--almost entirely for acquiring clothes, books, movies, educational material and, of course, toys. We were pulling the Escalade during this time, and Sandy gradually acquired so much stuff for the boys that I had to fold the middle and rear seats flat in order to make more room. When we finally unloaded in the dark of night at Mindy's and Tyler's house, it seemed much like Christmas as Tyler struggled to find room in the attic and storage areas. I'm thinking Sandy may not have read the previous post about finding "balance."

So that you don't get the idea that we are way too extravagant for the boys' own good, you should know that most of the things Sandy bought were seriously on sale and now are stored for gift giving occasions through next Christmas. I'm figuring she may have had her fill of shopping for the grandkids after the frenzy just completed, but history is not on my side here.

At my friend Ed's request, I have been doing some editing of a memoir he is writing about his long career as a pilot. It has been an interesting project and luckily, Ed doesn't seem to be in a hurry for the editing to be finished. I spent most of my flying career in management positions and, although I did a great deal of writing, I have not had an occasion to edit an entire book. I suppose I'm overly picky about the final product, so a passage I'm editing may go through several rewrites before presenting it to Ed for his review. This is pretty time consuming, and working on it in my spare time is pretty slow going. I'm determined to see it through, however, if Ed doesn't fire me!

We've enjoyed this quiet RV park here in Willis, Texas right on the shore of Lake Conroe. I'm going to include it in the 'best of the best' parks listing on the home page, even though it doesn't quite meet all the criteria. All the roads and sites are concrete--a big plus for us, as we don't like tracking mud an dirt into Phannie or Mae. The park is well kept, heavily wooded and aesthetically pleasing, especially with the lake view on two sides. 

Sunset Shores on Lake Conroe
A big plus is that it has good wifi most of the time--something I can't say about most parks. Perhaps the best thing is that the price is right, especially for a monthly stay. The only downside is that a few of the RVs here are a little shabby looking and occupied by semi-permanent residents. That seems incongruous with the quality of the facility.

We'll be leaving here for Canton, Texas, where we will be attending a statewide rally for owners of Tiffin coaches next week. All the sites there at Mill Creek Ranch RV Park will be occupied by the attendees. We've never attended one of these large rallies before, so it should be interesting.  After that, it's back to the DFW area and routine doctor visits. We'll leave there in late April for the Tiffin factory in Red Bay, Alabama, where we will have some major upgrades done to Phannie. We'll keep you informed about all of this.

You know you won't get away without my telling you about some excellent restaurants here in the area. My first pick is the Fish Pond Cafe here in Willis:

This is one of those country dives that you just know is going to have good food, and boy, did it ever! Catfish, turnip greens and green beans were on the menu this day, and it was nothing if not superb. The veggies were fresh, of course, and seasoned with ham hocks just as your grandmother would make:

The next eatery is really unique, in north Houston on 1960 near I-45. It's called Le' Pam's House of Creole:

The owner, chef and cheerleader is a lively and wacky black woman named Pam who moved to Houston from New Orleans, where she obviously learned everything she needed to know about cooking cajun and creole food that may be the best in the area. Her kitchen is fully visible behind the front counter, so a customer can see everything she does, and she stays busy! When she has a break, she loves to walk around in the dining room, visiting with customers, all of whom seemed to know her when we visited.

Here's Pam, visiting our table and bragging to us in a loud and animated voice about how good the food is that she cooked for us: 

I guess if you're telling the truth, it isn't bragging, is it? All I know is that it was wonderful. I had asked for some lemon to squeeze on the fish, but she scowled and told me good-naturedly that I couldn't have any, as it would ruin the wonderful flavor of the spices. In all the restaurants I have visited, I think this was the first time I have been scolded for asking for something! However, I didn't argue with her, and it turned out to be okay; the fish was great, and the flavor might indeed have been diminished with the lemon juice.

Take a look at this seafood gumbo and be jealous. It was packed with fresh seafood, including crab, and it was probably the best I've ever tasted. Ditto on the jambalaya and the fish/shrimp plate in the background:

I couldn't eat all the gumbo, so Pam brought me a large Styrofoam takeout container, into which she poured the remainder. Then she noticed that the container wasn't full, so she took it back to the kitchen and filled it up with gumbo again at no charge. Amazing. Are you hungry now? You should be.

For those interested in how we're doing with the fulltiming thing, we're still pinching ourselves. Freedom is a wonderful thing: If we wanted to, we could just throw a dart at a map and say, "Let's go there!" Then we raise the jacks, pull in the slides, and we're off. Life doesn't get much better than that.

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

Friday, April 1, 2016

Finding Balance (Homespun Philosophy Warning!)

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

Now that my infernal tooth abscess has been treated--mainly through a wealth transfer from me to Dr. Cain--I'm feeling a little philosophical. I don't know, perhaps it's the medication talking:

I've always heard about the importance of a balanced life but, for some reason, the subject has been on my mind more than usual now that I'm older and (supposedly) wiser. There are a number of older (and definitely wiser) folks who thought the same thing through the centuries, like the apostle Paul and Benjamin Franklin, to mention a couple of them.

Paul, in Phillipians 4, described how best to live a Christian life.  In that chapter, he recommended "moderation"--certainly a synonym for balance--and a host of other positive things worthy of one's contemplation. Verses 4-8 are a good read for anybody.

Benjamin Franklin promoted positive living by producing his "Thirteen Rules for a Virtuous Life," among them "moderation," which we call "balance" these days. I won't expound on Franklin's rules here, but they are easily Googled.

I think that if I dared add anything to what these men wrote, it would be "humor." I think one goes a long way toward finding balance by looking for humor in things and not taking oneself too seriously.  With this in mind, I'm going to share my own list of 10 attributes that I believe could help promote a balanced life. Humor, then, will be the first; they are not in any order:

1. Humor. Is there any happier group of people than RVers? If you are traveling in an RV, you probably have escaped work and the other humdrum activities of your existence. Who wouldn't be happy about that? Friends know that I make jokes and wisecrack with them but, sometimes at my peril, I'll cut up with RVers who are complete strangers; they usually come back with something even funnier or more sarcastic, which I love. I can't remember finding many sourpusses, and no one has ever hit me, thankfully.

2. Prioritization. Decide what's important. This may sound simple, but it's not. It is worth some serious introspection, so you can be certain you're not fooling yourself. For us, our freedom to roam is worth far more than the bondage of a house. Several of our friends have had an epiphany about this recently, just as we did. 

3. Positive Attitude. This is a choice one makes. Practice making that choice every day, even when it's not easy, and it will become a habit. (Faith in God and reliance on His guidance makes this a lot easier.)

4. Expect the Unexpected. Stuff happens, and most of it is trifling and not worth getting upset; however, some of it is serious. A famous preacher once said that there are two kinds of people: Those who have trouble in their lives and those for whom the phone hasn't yet rung. (See #3 above to deal with this.)

5. Share Time With Yourself and Others. You deserve some time for yourself, but stay connected with family and friends. Remember the old Scandinavian proverb: Go often to the house of a friend; for weeds soon choke up the unused path. 

6. Moderation in All Things. Take nothing in your body to excess; it's not good for body or mind. Don't do things to extremes; save a little for next time. Don't talk as much as you listen. (Sandy wanted me to take this one out.)

7. Forgive and Forget. Be quick to ask for forgiveness and quicker to give it. Resentment and anger can't live in that environment.

8. Be Charitable. Give of your time and resources as you are able; almost nothing is more satisfying. Be frugal and not wasteful; those of the most modest means among us are better off than most of the world.

9. Be Resolute. Do those things which you should be doing without putting them off and, once you agree to do something, don't fail to do it. (Being punctual also fits here. There is not much more disrespectful than being habitually late.)

10. Be Humble. This gets easier as you get older and realize how many of these things you messed up.

Now I don't pretend to have been very successful at all of these, but I wake up every day and try to get some of them right.

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