Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Fulltiming: Things That Surprised Us

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

At nearly five months into this gig, we could hardly be called 'old hands' at fulltiming. However, we've found out a few things that we didn't anticipate before we launched.

Being forced to plan ahead. It was John Lennon who said, "Life happens while you're making other plans." Woody Allen said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans." Maybe that's why I'm not a planner by nature; I just don't see the point. 

I have always done just enough planning to make certain things happen, but that's about it. I knew I wanted to fly airplanes for a living, so I planned successfully for that career, and I knew I wanted to have a decent retirement, so I planned for that. Most everything else that worked out well I consider good fortune or gifts from God. My wonderful wife and family fall into that category, along with friends, good health and what few talents I have.  

So, where am I going with this? 

Well, I've found that fulltiming requires some planning--mostly about where we are going to park ourselves. It was a little disconcerting to realize we no longer own any real estate with Phannie's own driveway and garage always available for parking. We are vagabonds, paying strangers as we go to let us park on their real estate; if we don't pay, we don't park. 

Unless we're on a trip where we do single overnights along the way (we really don't like single overnights), we often find ourselves in RV parks for several days or weeks. While it is usually no problem to get a space for a night or two, it is sometimes iffy to find a spot for a longer stay in the parks we patronize. We don't do boondocking, and we prefer nicer RV parks, but so do a lot of other RVers. Now that RVing is more popular than ever, it is not always possible to get a reservation in a nice park for a long stay unless you make it well in advance. So that's where the planning part comes in: To get into popular parks, it is often necessary to know where and when you're going weeks or months ahead of time. So, I reluctantly do the planning required, but I don't particularly enjoy it.

Being careful with grocery shopping and cooking. In the RV, we have become much more discerning about the amount of groceries we buy at a time. Since there are only the two of us, and we do a lot of eating out, we don't need a lot of perishables on hand to go stale. We keep some canned goods and staples in the pantry, and our new residential refrigerator (which we love) isn't crowded at all. We're not all that fond of frozen dinners, so we tend to rotate the fresh foods we like, buying no more than we can use in a few days. We are never parked far from a grocery store, so we buy small quantities more frequently. Yes, it's a bit more expensive, unitwise, than buying larger amounts, but having food go bad and tossing it out is really expensive. Farmers' markets and roadside vegetable stands are favorite stops to check out the local products.

We tend to make simpler meals like salads, sandwiches, tacos and the like, unless we're cooking something to take to the kids. Then we're able to dust off old family favorite recipes we know they will enjoy. Although Sandy is excellent at baking (I don't even try to compete), she doesn't do much of it any longer, much to my anguish; it's just not good for our waistlines. For just the two of us, we've had to adjust all of our cooking to make smaller amounts, and sometimes that takes a little guesswork if we're trying to modify a recipe. I'm trying to use the Weber Q grill more often; George Yates, a former chef and RV blogger friend, has some great healthy grilling ideas and recipes on his blog, Our Awesome Travels. I need to do more of what he does.

Less TV watching. We are surprised that we don't watch TV as much as we thought we would. I suppose that's not only because of the constant barrage of bad news but also because we often find interesting things to do and see wherever we go. There's also more time to read, and we find we spend more time with friends and relatives. One could argue, then, that we didn't need the latest and greatest in satellite and local antenna technology on this older coach...nah, that's silly; once a gadget freak, always a gadget freak.

The laundry. First, you have to understand that Sandy has always been fanatical about doing the laundry to meet her exacting standards. She has never allowed me near any laundry equipment of ours since she saw how I was doing laundry as a bachelor 40 years ago. In the intervening years, I have come to the realization that my display of appalling incompetence then was quite a blessing, if not a stroke of genius. I think she sweetly doesn't consider the the fact that, since I was able to learn how to fly a jet airliner, I could probably be taught how to use a washing machine. But I haven't mentioned that, and I don't intend to.

But I digress.

Sandy was convinced that trading her residential laundry equipment for the Splendide all-in-one unit in Phannie would be totally unacceptable. Frankly, knowing her as I do, I would have put money on it. She pronounced that one of the first modifications she would require would be for Brannon to install new stackables in place of the Splendide the next time we were in Red Bay.

Now here's the surprise:  She has actually made peace with the Splendide! She says they're not friends yet, but steps. She says she can make do for now in order to retain the extra space that would be required for the stackables. She's come to grips with the nuances of small-load laundering, probably because we really don't have that much laundry to do any longer. The Splendide will not handle our king-sized bed linens, so she occasionally has to go to a park's laundry room for that, but that doesn't seem to bother her too much. If she decides differently in the future, she'll get whatever she needs. In any case, I just nod and smile sweetly; that's worked pretty well for 40 years.

We don't miss the house.  When it came to ditching the house, I think we were the ideal candidates for fulltiming; we just didn't know it. I knew I wouldn't miss the house--even though designing and building it was such a labor of love. I came to see it as an albatross, something that was forever making nagging demands on my time and money when I wanted to be elsewhere. It was Sandy who I feared would fall prey to her female "nesting" instinct and find after we pulled the plug that she was homesick; but that hasn't happened. In fact, when she learned the subject of this post, it was she who suggested that I include this as one of the things that surprised us. Go back to the way we were? Not on your life.

Our old friends are still our friends, but we also have new ones.  We worried a bit that our longtime friendships might suffer if we weren't around as much. But that hasn't happened--largely, I think, because of social media. In fact, our circle of friends seems to have expanded as we have reunited old ties with friends from growing up long ago and take into our circle new RV friends we meet during our travels. Being a blogger also helps; most of our friends and relatives read our blog, so they generally know where we are and what we're doing. And some of our new friends who have now become old friends we met through our respective blogs.

Differing expenses.  Our expenses are greater than we like, and our outlays differ a bit from what we thought they would be. We find we spend about what we did prior to retirement, although that's not what we intended. (It's harder than we thought to pare down our lifestyle.) We are spending less for fuel than we thought, but more than we expected for food and overnight parking. The latter two things have a lot of room for improvement; we could trim our eating out a great deal, and we don't use as many low-cost parks as we could. We're working on those things. On some forums, we have read a number of newbie questions like this: "How much money does it take to do fulltiming?" Most of the time, the answer comes back, "Whatever you have." We tend to agree with that.

Okay, these were the things that were surprises; next time, we'll talk about the things that weren't.

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

Rain, Rain, Go Away

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

Well, this part of Texas has had its share of rain lately, but we're not alone. Several of our Rving friends along the Mississippi River have also been pretty well housebound by rains and flooding, too. After two days of downpours, Lake Conroe--on whose shoreline Phannie is, well, moored--is above flood level and continuing to rise, even though the floodgates are releasing 20,000 cubic feet of water per second. We took some photos of some of the waterside RV spaces (thankfully, we are on somewhat higher ground):

The water you see below is supposed to be a grassy park area. The normal shoreline is beyond the fence:

The bright evening sky in the photo above is the first break in the clouds we've seen in two days. We were glad finally to get outside and take a walk to get the photos. Afterward, we came back in and had a bowl of chicken and dumplin's that we had plenty of time to put together, cooped up as we were. (Here in the South, it is improper to pronounce the "g" at the end of dumpling.) If you do that, you will instantly be identified as a carpetbagger, or worse. By the way, I make a mean pot of chicken and dumplin's. Cutting no corners, I start with a dead chicken, bred specifically for my pot, boiled and deboned by me personally. Using Sandy's homemade dumplings (the best) and a gob of butter dumped into the broth, this stuff is nothing short of legendary. I only wish you could smell it; tasting it might be too much excitement for you:

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Fun at Jellystone, Then to Our New Home Base

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

As we did last year, we treated grandsons Mason and Pryce and--oh yes--their parents, Tyler and Mindy, to a long weekend at Jellystone Park in Burleson, Texas. This was, of course, part of our master plan to spoil the boys to the greatest extent possible. Why, you ask? Because we're grandparents; that's what grandparents do, silly! Here are a few photos of the fun times:

Mindy and Pryce need their shades in the bright sunlight at Jellystone.

Mason and Yogi 

Pryce is not what you would call a photo hound.
After closing down the water park and saying goodbye to Yogi, we drove down to Sunset Shores on Lake Conroe where we will spend a couple of weeks. We really like this quiet and shady RV park built right on the lakefront, not too far from Tyler and Mindy and the boys. This will probably serve as a sort of home base for us when we're not roaming the country. 

One of the things we like to do for our busy offspring is to take over a home-cooked meal now and then. Today was one of those days, and we provided dinner for them consisting of some of their favorites: Smothered steak, fresh creamed corn, green beans, crescent rolls and strawberry pie. Here's a photo of chef Pryce helping with the rolls:

We wouldn't take anything for the privilege of being a part of their young lives. They keep us laughing most of the time, and we think that's a big part of keeping us young at heart. 

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

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The "End" Justifies the Means

At Jellystone RV Park, Burleson, Texas...

This will be a short post with a simple message having to do with one of the most important things you can do for your health: A colonoscopy. Mine has been done now, as it has been done periodically for 25 years, and it is no less disgusting than it ever was, but it is a life saver. 

Physicians tell us that we should consider this procedure once you reach 40, with more regularity after you turn 50. My first one was at age 43, and I probably would have ignored this advice then, had it not been for bleeding episodes. I won't go into the details, but the physicians at Scott and White, an acclaimed Texas-based hospital, said they barely caught it in time. Once this stage has been surpassed and metastasis has occurred, the outcome can be bleak. 

Having had beloved family members perish needlessly of colon cancer through inattention, I believe I would not be a friend to my readers if I didn't bring this up, even though most people I know don't need reminding. I think my life was one that was saved by prompt medical attention. If I had it to do over again, I would have had my first colonoscopy at age 40; then they would have found the offending polyp before it became serious.

Think about this: There is a long list of famous people who died of colon cancer, among them, Audrey Hepburn, Farah Fawcett, Jack Lemmon, Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, Ertha Kitt, Elizabeth Montgomery, Charles Schultz, Vince Lombardi, Tip O'Neill, and the list goes on and on. As you can see, the disease is no respecter of gender, race, fame, power or wealth; it can strike anyone.

There. That's all I'm going to say about it; my latest report was good but, in five years, I'll be having another of these inspections with its lovely night-before preparatory experience, and I won't bother you with this lecture again until that time. But bother you I will!

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

San Marcos to Burleson

At Canyon Trails RV Park, San Marcos, Texas...

We have enjoyed being with our Tiffin owner friends for the past few days at our rally in San Marcos. This was a rather low-key event with little in the way of an agenda. That was fine with us, as we had some things to do in our spare time. Sandy noticed that Mae was not yet full of stuff to take to grandsons Mason and Pryce next weekend, so she elicited my aid in driving her around San Marcos, New Braunfels and San Antonio, dropping her off at various shops. After she made some additional purchases, the kids' loot apparently reached a level in the car that satisfied her, that is, taking up virtually all of the interior volume in Mae that is not already occupied by things like passengers or, well, air.  

Since there seemed to be little else to do besides shopping and eating during our rally breaks, I wanted to give some time to restaurant reviews. Cheri, a valued reader who commented on the previous post, recommended Hays County Barbecue, especially their brisket. So, I felt obligated to stop in and check it out. Sandy and I arrived just as they were opening for lunch, and we ordered a couple of sliced brisket sandwiches. I'm sorry I didn't take a photo, but the sandwiches were huge and chocked full of wonderfully smoky brisket with a terrific bark on the outside. We couldn't possibly eat it all, and we had some wonderful leftovers to take back to Phannie. Thank you, Cheri; you definitely know what you're talking about. We will put that brisket up against that of some really well-known 'cue joints in Lockhart, only a short drive from San Marcos. I can't wait to go back and try something besides the brisket. This one goes on our list of favorite restaurants (linked above).

We also found a really good little Mexican restaurant that has been an institution in San Marcos for decades--Herbert's Taco Hut. Everything we had here was good and it, too, goes in the favorites list:

Finally, something a little quirky (and you know how I enjoy finding this kind of stuff):

I don't think I've ever seen a bar with a name like this, but it is genius! The owners must have had in mind those guys who don't want to lie to their wives when they answer their question, "Where are you going?" The truthful, yet slightly evasive answer, of course, is, "I Don't Know." (We don't do bars, so it won't be going on the list...but it's still genius.)

We're heading to Fort Worth after this--more doctor appointments! (Good grief! Who would have thought how many of these you have when you get older?) Even more important, though, is Sandy's hair appointment; she'll have to work everything else around that.

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Short Stop in Jackson

At Springridge RV Park, Clinton, Mississippi...

With only one day in a city the size of Jackson, Mississippi, one can't do much. Since it was Sunday, we visited the magnificent First Baptist Church of Jackson, whose 3,200 seat sanctuary is a sight to behold. We heard a good message celebrating mothers and especially enjoyed the 285-voice choir and the 155-rank pipe organ, one of the 25 largest in the world. For a city that's not all that large, Jackson Baptists take their church seriously:

Across the street in downtown Jackson is the state capitol building, also beautiful in a peaceful setting among treed grounds:

There are lots a friendly folks here in Jackson, and you can expect to be called "hon" and "sweetie" by perfect strangers who, if they hear you have a problem, will say "bless your heart." Having been raised in the South, I've had my heart blessed a lot. These affectations are comforting to me and, for a moment, I forget about things like what a mess has been made of our country. 

I also like to hear grand southern ladies drop the "r" on most words ending in that letter. For example, this is a place where butter is pronounced "buttah." Yet some words that have only one syllable anywhere else are pronounced here with two. For example, "car" is "caw-uh" and "well" is "way-ul." It's as southern as sweet tea, and I love it.

In a slightly negative vein, we were astonished at the state of disrepair of many of the streets and highways here in Jackson and elsewhere in Mississippi. I cannot tell you the number of times Phannie and Mae had to endure the seemingly endless bone-jarring potholes and patches of buckling or deteriorating pavement as we toured the city and state. Why, in Texas, someone would swing from the gallows for such nonsense! In all fairness, Louisiana was about the same; I'm not sure poor Phannie and Mae will ever be the same. 

Allow me to swerve briefly into technical matters: For my friend Craig who was wondering about how well Phannie's new upgraded jacks are working, you should know, Craig, that they are fantastic! We were parked in a heavily-sloped site here in Clinton, and one touch of the button leveled Phannie perfectly in just a few seconds. The upgrade is light years ahead of the old version; Atwood got it right this time. It was well worth the cost, in my opinion.

You knew I would not be able to deny you another restaurant review, didn't you? Well, here we go: After church on Sunday, we stopped at Mr. Chen's, a Chinese restaurant nestled in the corner of an Oriental grocery store in Jackson. Who would have thought that little unassuming place would serve perhaps the best Chinese food we've ever had?!!! I ordered black bean chicken, and Sandy got sizzling beef and vegetables, and both dishes were incredibly well prepared and flavorful.  The subtitle on the Mr. Chen's awning is "Authentic Chinese Cooking," and was it ever. 

Normal people would have taken much of this home for leftovers. We didn't. I'm not proud of it, but that's how good it was. Mr. Chen's definitely goes on the favorite restaurants list behind the link at the top of the home page.

We didn't have time to patronize some other restaurants that had been recommended, but finding Mr. Chen's more than made up for it.

We will be on our way to San Marcos, Texas tomorrow with an overnight stop in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

Annual Service: Phannie's in the Pink

At Red Bay RV Park, Red Bay, Alabama...

Before I get started, I have to tell you of some kind of hiccup that has happened with Blogger and the comments to my posts. I get e-mail notifications when someone comments, but the comments aren't appearing on the blog for some reason! I'm trying to figure this out, but it's not easy to get in touch with anyone. In the meantime, please know that I read each comment via email and, when they appear on the blog, I try to reply to each one. I hope this gets ironed out soon, but don't stop commenting!

This has been quite a week for Phannie. I don't think she's had this many upgrades since she was new to us. When we bought her, we added upgraded TVs, a TravLer satellite dish, an extra air conditioner, a surge protector and an electric cord reel. Later, we added MCD shades, upgraded cockpit chairs, cabinet modifications and retrofitted the lighting to LEDs. And there are still some things in the pipeline when we recover from the latest bill.

Phannie's poking and prodding ordeal came to a conclusion this week with her annual service completed at Bay Diesel here in Red Bay. We are very pleased with their work, as are all the other RV owners with whom I have spoken about them. They should know what they're doing, because they stay very busy servicing mostly Tiffin products, of course, due to their location near the factory. 

I spoke to the lead tech afterward, and he said everything looks good. Now, with fresh engine, transmission and generator fluids and filters, plus the other things done on the service schedule, Phannie is ready for (hopefully) another trouble-free year of travel. 

We will be leaving here on Saturday, headed for Jackson, Mississippi and then to San Marcos, Texas to attend another Tiffin Allegro Bluebonnet Club rally. 

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New Jacks and Why We Keep Phannie Around

At Red Bay RV Park, Red Bay, Alabama...

Having not spent quite all of our cash on the upgrades already done, we decided that we needed to try harder. I had been wanting to do an upgrade of Phannie's leveling jacks for some time. The coach was manufactured with electric jacks instead of the much more prevalent hydraulic ones and, while they have worked fairly well with no problems, the automatic leveling feature has always seemed less effective than it should be. The manufacturer apparently thought so, too, because they developed an upgrade that has gotten numerous good reviews from other owners. That works for me, I thought, so here we are again at the huge Tiffin maintenance facility in Red Bay to get the retrofit done. In this photo, Phannie has been lifted without much dignity in bay 40, exposing her underside for all to see:

Then the old jacks come out and the new ones go in:

Next was some new wiring required for the leveling system's brain to send signals to the jacks:

This job took Tiffin about half a day, and the jacks now work like a charm. I think that, for me, the jury is still out as to which is the better system--hydraulic or electric. The hydraulic system is more powerful but also more complex, requiring a hydraulic pump and a goodly amount of plumbing to each actuator. These can be expensive to repair, to say nothing of the mess that can be made by leaking hydraulic fluid. The electrics, on the other hand, are simple by comparison, and repairs most often involve just the replacement of a relatively inexpensive jack; no plumbing or hydraulic fluid is required. 

So, this brings to a conclusion Phannie's upgrades for now (there will undoubtedly be more in the future). 

We are sometimes asked if we've considered a newer coach that already has some of the upgrades we are making. Well, yes, we have but, so far, we have resisted the urge for several reasons: 

First, Phannie's purchase price as an older coach was relatively small to begin with, but it had all of our basic must-haves (four slideouts, a king bed, a washer/dryer, lots of storage, etc.). Added bonuses were super low miles and good maintenance records. 

Second, it has been astonishingly reliable and trouble-free, and I keep it that way by being a bit OCD with its upkeep. I've come to know the old gal from top to bottom, and I can tell instantly if something is not as it should be. Who knows what problems we would inherit we were to buy a newer coach? (No, we wouldn't buy a new one; there's so much we would rather do with that kind of money.)   

The third reason is that, as fulltimers, we are traveling a lot. Living fulltime in a coach makes it look, well, lived in. Since Phannie is showing some wear here and there, we tend not to get upset if the carpet gets a stain or we ding something now and then. If we had something like a new Zephyr, we would probably need to see a therapist at our sight of the first blemish. Perhaps most important is a certain freedom we have in not needing to impress anyone. (It wasn't always so; it's a shame people have to wait until they're old to become wise.)

Fourth, the engine and chassis are designed for many hundreds of thousands of miles without a need for overhaul; we won't get anywhere near that number of miles before we're too decrepit to do this any longer. An added bonus is that the Cat engine mercifully predates the EPA's nanny-state regulations requiring DEF. My resistance to giving in to their scheme is a small thumbing of my nose to a bloated bureaucracy forcing on the country a solution to a largely-debunked problem. Don't get me started on this. 

The last reason is that the updates we've done on Phannie have been so numerous that there is little else left to do other than perhaps something of a cosmetic nature. If we were to buy a newer coach with all of these upgrades, the cost/benefit ratio calculation quickly becomes unreasonable. 

Tomorrow we have an appointment at Bay Diesel here in Red Bay for Phannie's annual service visit. We'll let you know how she comes out.

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

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Upgrades, Upgrades!

At Red Bay RV Park, Red Bay, Alabama...

We had been trying to condition ourselves for what we knew would be an early wakeup today. Brannon Hutcheson starts work at 7:00 a.m. sharp, so that meant that we had to stumble out of bed at 6:00 a.m. It was not pretty; the alarm on Sandy's iPhone is not any gentler than the infernal alarm clock we once used back when we were w*rking. I spent a good bit of time sitting on the edge of the bed, remembering how I used to do this five days a week and being so grateful now that I escaped from that special hell nearly three years ago. It doesn't seem possible that I have been retired for that long; the time has just flashed by. Now for my retired friends who voluntarily arise even earlier than this when there's no need to, I say--as lovingly as I can--that you need help. But I digress.

Sure enough, it was almost exactly 7:00 a.m. when Brannon's white Ford diesel pickup pulled up to his Custom RV shop. This four-bay garage of his probably qualifies as a major industry in tiny Vina, Alabama, located about five miles from Red Bay which, in comparison, qualifies as a metropolitan area with its three thousand souls.  

I was sitting in Sandy's cockpit chair looking out of Phannie's open entry door at the time of Brannon's arrival, unsure as to why I was there. I muttered something to him that was probably inaudible and certainly unintelligible. Whatever I said was largely wasted, however, as he sort of grunted a greeting and proceeded inside. Brannon is not what you would call overly talkative. He doesn't seem to have much time for idle chatter, preferring instead to get to work and stay busy. That was fine with me, especially so early in the morning when perhaps 90 percent of my brain was still asleep and probably unable to form words.

Brannon returned momentarily and told us we could empty out our old Nevercold refrigerator (a much-deserved corruption of Norcold, the real brand) and put its contents in a refrigerator inside his shop. When he said this, another part of my brain woke up, and I suddenly remembered why we were there--to get a new refrigerator! 

By this time, it was also becoming clear that there was another person in the coach with me who seemed very familiar. Sandy had suddenly emerged from the nether world of Phannie's posterior area where she performs certain mysterious rites of preparation for the day that, to me, are at least as complex as a launch of the space shuttle. I try not to go near that area for fear of radiation or something. But I digress again; it's been a long day.

Having been out of sight during her launch prep, I greeted Sandy warmly and enlisted her aid in carrying several canvas tote bags full of food from the Nevercold to Brannon's refrigerator. That done, she collapsed on the couch in the customer lounge, and I unhooked the water and electricity at our overnight parking spot and pulled Phannie nose-first into one of the bays. Brannon and his helper, Jason, took it from there. 

The first item of business was to replace the old Xantrex inverter with a new Magnum pure sine wave (whatever that means) inverter that will have the muscle to power the new refrigerator/freezer:

Next was the replacement of all four batteries. The ones in the coach were five years old, and that's when they get replaced. I don't want things to go dark out in the boondocks somewhere:

Watching all this work began to make me hungry, so I grabbed Sandy and, somehow, we were able to find Mae and toodled off to Red Bay for some breakfast. We tried a new restaurant named the Mason Jar, and it was quite good. Arriving back at the shop, we watched TV for a while and probably napped a bit. In fact, it was more than probably.

I awoke in time to capture on camera the removal of the Nevercold:

In a few minutes, it had been passed out of the main cabin window that had been removed for that purpose and onto a forklift that lowered it to the shop floor where the old fridge joined a large group of other similar derelicts whose lives would soon be unceremoniously ended at the scrap yard. Good riddance, I say.

After that, Brannon and Jason loaded the new Whirlpool fridge onto the forklift and pushed it through the window opening:

In almost no time at all, the new fridge was hooked up and working great:

After re-installing the living room window, the guys went to work replacing both of Phannie's headlights with some smart-looking new high-tech models. I'm very pleased with the fresh new look it gives to Phannie's front end. Take a look at the difference between old and new:

Well, I told you that we were getting some upgrades, didn't I? But guess what--there's more to come, so stand by!

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Flxible Experience

At Custom RV, Vina, Alabama...

Among the best things about being retired and roaming the country fulltime are the people we meet and the unusual things we see. Our visit to River View RV Park near Natchez offered up one of each. 

As we were slowly navigating Phannie between rows of parking spaces to find the one we were assigned, I suddenly brought her to a full stop. Parked in one of the spaces was a marvelous old Flxible bus that had been restored into service as an RV:

The owner and his wife were sitting outside and, after getting Phannie parked, I strode over and introduced myself, asking the gentleman's indulgence, as I knew he must have been confronted by hundreds of admiring strangers like me. He brushed off my concern, saying that he and his wife enjoyed meeting new people this way.

I probably asked him the same questions as countless other guys, but he had his key at the ready and happily showed me around all the bus and its compartments--except for the interior. (I didn't ask, but I wanted to.)

He told me the only question he would not answer is how much the restoration cost. After seeing many detailed photos of the project from the ground up by master craftsmen, I can only imagine that it was a frightening sum--maybe even embarrassing. If you would like to see some amazing homespun engineering by the firm that performed the restoration, you owe it to yourself to click here

This bus was manufactured by the Flxible company in 1950 and served for many years as a sightseeing bus in Colorado. The original had a straight-eight Buick engine that was replaced with a Cummins diesel and Allison transmission. That adaptation and retrofit was itself amazing to see in the photos provided in the link above. It has all modern electronics and appliances, as well as two "mini-split" residential air conditioners tucked into the lower frame.
The treble horns on the roof are from a locomotive engine and are unbelievably loud. 

Leaving Natchez, we had to backtrack a bit to get on the clearing west side a massive rain system that moved through early on departure morning. This added about 30 miles to our original 332-mile leg to Red Bay. But we stayed well out of the rain, aided in navigation through the weather by my trusty RadarScope app (see previous post). 

Here is Phannie in the photo below, all set up for the night at Custom RV, where the new refrigerator will be installed tomorrow. Alongside is another Phaeton, also awaiting the installation of new toys:

Stay tuned, and we'll show you how it goes.

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

Short Stop in Natchez

At River View RV Park, Natchez, Mississippi...

Eastbound from Nacogdoches, we were successful in outrunning a storm system that was slowly moving its gloomy rain across the southern U. S. Looking at the radar, it was clear that we needed to take a more southerly route due to yet more rain showing up in northern Louisiana. So, we chose to go by way of Alexandria, Louisiana to Natchez, Mississippi. It was a good choice; there was no rain, but a lot of southerly wind flow that usually precedes an approaching weather system from the northwest. 

While I'm on the subject of weather radar, allow me to mention a real find in weather radar apps for your smartphone. Go right now and download RadarScope. It is a little pricey at $9.99, but it is so worth it. This is the same app used by many television stations to display weather on their newscasts, and it reminds me very much of the weather radars we used in airliner cockpits. If you bring it up on your phone and tap the location widget at the bottom left corner of the screen, it will locate you wherever you are in the U. S. and display the closest live radar image. I used this to navigate my way to Natchez, and it works unbelievably well. Here's a photo of my iPhone screen with the app live:

As you can see, it shows my location in Natchez, along with some light rain in the Natchitoches-Ft. Polk area and a small cluster of thundershowers just southwest of New Iberia. The radar being used for the display is at Ft. Polk, Louisiana. Now if this isn't worth $9.99, I don't know what is.

We are very impressed with River View RV Park, which is actually on the Louisiana side of the river, across the bridge from Natchez. It reminds me greatly of the Tom Sawyer park in West Memphis, Arkansas, only nicer. For example, take a look at the long concrete riverwalk that extends the entire length of the park:

Here's a view from the walk; a big tug pushes a long line of barges upriver:

Below is a view of the same tug from the other side of the river in downtown Natchez. (The tug was going very slow against the current, so we had plenty of time to drive over there.)

We had only one full day in Natchez, so we made the best of it by visiting a couple of the grand antebellum mansions that we hadn't seen, beginning with Dunleith:

Built in 1790 and rebuilt in 1855 after a fire, it now hosts overnight guests on its beautiful 40-acre setting near downtown. Magnificent.

We also took a tour of Rosalie mansion, overlooking the Mississippi River downtown:

Here's the view of the river from Rosalie's second floor balcony:

The mansion has a very interesting history that is easily found online, so I won't take up space with recounting it here. Suffice it to say, however, that reading about it is nothing like being there and seeing it in person. We had an excellent docent who made the tour very enjoyable. She was a quintessential southern belle who couldn't even bring herself to utter the words "Civil War." She referred to it as the "War of Northern Aggression." I suppose one can understand that the emotional wounds are still raw--after all, it hasn't even been 200 years since the war ended...

And now, no visit to Natchez would be complete without a couple of foodie reviews, so here we go:

I didn't think we would ever find a doughnut better than a Krispy Kreme, but I think Natchez's Donut Shop has one. This fluffy little circle of goodness has a bit more substance and not so much icing as the KK and, wonder of wonders, it was still warm when it was handed through the window. I would have taken a photo, but the doughnut somehow disappeared before I could pick up the camera. Here is the very modest shop that created it; one would never guess the delights it contained:

And yes, it goes into my list of favorite restaurants found at the beginning of this blog, as does the next one.

Supper (as the evening meal is called here unless you are a Yankee unafraid of gunfire) was at Jughead's Fish Fry and More. This ramshackle little place may have the best value I've ever seen in fried seafood.

You just won't believe this--a seafood platter with boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, catfish, oysters, clams, crab balls, stuffed shrimp, stuffed crab, onion rings, hush puppies, french fries and coleslaw--way more than enough for both us--for (drum roll) $19.95. I kid you not! 

Now I ask you, who is the king of finding great hole-in-the-wall joints? Yes, yes, it is I, my friends, and it's all for you. (Remember, if it's a fact, it ain't bragging!)

We have a longer leg than usual tomorrow to Red Bay--a little over 300 miles--but that's really pretty easy, as the miles pass smoothly in Phannie's big captain chairs while we glide along on her air suspension. Watching the scenery through her Imax-like windshield and listening to tunes on XM Sirius, the only real challenge is selecting the kind of snack or beverage that will be sweetly delivered to the cockpit by the cute stewardess...wait a minute; why am I hearing the theme from The Twilight Zone?   

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