Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth Again...After Twenty Years!

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

The title above is borrowed in part from a line in John Gillespie Magee's sonnet, "High Flight," --perhaps every pilot's most revered piece of aviation-inspired literature. Magee's piece is without equal in its capture of the essence of a pilot's perception of what it means to defeat the gravity that binds us to earth and instead to soar in the realm of eagles where we humans were never intended to go.

Flying was like that for me, and it is, I think, for most pilots. My pilot friend and fellow blogger Ed Dray, whose e-book, "My Journey to the Clouds" I had the privilege to edit, certainly thinks so, as "High Flight" was prominently mentioned therein. (Ed's book is a good read; order it from Amazon or Barnes and Noble.)

I was about eight years old--the age my grandson Mason will turn in a few months--when my parents paid for me to take an airplane ride at the local airport in the tiny town of Center, Texas. I was immediately hooked, and I knew from that moment that I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up. It became an obsession, so much so that it resulted in my obtaining a commercial pilot's license before even graduating from high school. It also allowed me to have a rewarding career in which I was paid for doing something I might have done for free.  (Well, not really, but you get the idea.) Some 15,000 flight hours later, I retired from flying at the age of 49; my last flight was as captain of a Boeing 727 like the one below.

Another career followed, this time with the FAA, and I didn't have an occasion to fly as a pilot again--until now, 20 years later. While camped here near my grandsons, I thought it might be a cool thing for their grandfather to take them flying. Since I'm already a licensed pilot, I need only to reestablish currency, a relatively minor undertaking that I've already begun. Even with all my training and experience, I confess to a little apprehension: Will it come back to me after all these years, like riding a bike? We'll see; this is the airplane to be used. What a change from a 727!

It was a beautiful day here on the gulf coast of Texas, so I tossed some pork chops on the Weber Q and glazed them with mango ginger habanero sauce for dinner. They were just some good!

More on this new adventure in later posts.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Fulltiming: One Year Under Our Belt

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

It seems like standard procedure for fulltiming bloggers to submit a blog post to mark their first year in the lifestyle, so who am I to break with that tradition? Here we go:

On mornings when Sandy and I sit around the kitchen table--or outside, if the weather is nice--we can't help but do some reminiscing. We think often about how we both arrived at the unlikely notion that selling the custom retirement home we built and hitting the road in Phannie was compelling enough an idea that we went ahead and pulled the trigger. We also laugh when we think of the expressions on the faces of our friends and family when we announced the decision:

But we didn't care. Now that we're (much) older, we've found that what others think of us occupies practically none of our stream of consciousness. Good riddance, I say.

I thought the best way to gain quickly some perspective on this year is to look back through this blog at where we've been and what we've experienced. From wintering in the Rio Grande Valley to summering in Colorado, from Santa Fe to Red Bay, from Mexico to Missouri, from Pikes Peak to Port Aransas--oh my, the good times we've had and the good friends we've visited! If I had to reduce the experience to only one word, it would be...freedom! Freedom to roam when and where we wish, freedom from work, freedom from house upkeep and home security worries, freedom from housing confinement and expense...well, you get the picture. 

It will come as no surprise, then, that we still give two thumbs up to this gig. We still feel as though we've discovered a way to cheat the system by shamelessly enjoying all of these epic life adventures without the humdrum downside that most housebound people have to endure. Do we feel guilty? Not at all; we worked long and hard for this, and we're supremely grateful for every additional day God gives us to enjoy it. We're also realists, though. We know we have a window of opportunity to do this--a window that will one day close. Having made the most of that opportunity, however, it is comforting to know that we will not have the regret of not having taken the plunge at all. We are, indeed, living the dream.

We will soon be leaving our fall/winter retreat here on Lake Conroe:

We'll be making our way to the Rio Grande Valley to our other winter hangout near Mercedes, Texas:

Yes, I know that's not Mae in the photo above. We usually tow the Escalade (named Beulah) to the Valley, as it is roomier for our friends there who often accompany us as we roam around the area.

So what's the next best thing to living our fulltiming life? It's having had the good fortune to record it all in this blog, so we can relive it any time we wish. We hope you've enjoyed the journey with us.

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Ravages of Hitch Itch: A Taste Test of Fake Chili

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

When I stay in one place for a long time, as we have done here near Houston, 'hitch itch' begins to set in, and it seems to do strange things to my otherwise stable (I think) stream of consciousness. For example, I had the notion the other day that I needed to investigate fake chili from the supermarkets to determine which brand tastes best. Now that's not something that pops into my head every day. 

I suppose it's because I posted recently about how I cook chili, saying that I usually throw in a can or two of fake chili to thicken up my own version. It occurred to me that I had never tried more than a couple of brands of the canned chili offered in grocery stores, probably because I grab them quickly, due to the potential for embarrassment if anyone I knew were to see me buying it. However, that likelihood is small down here, so I thought it was high time I stepped up and identified the best of these fake chili-like concoctions if I'm going to have the gall to use them. (I call "fake" any chili that's not homemade.)

So, here are the brands of canned chili we tried:

Since we were in an H.E.B. store, we included the two store brands, Hill Country and H.E.B. The most expensive brand was Chilli Man; Wolf Brand was perhaps the best known. I roped Sandy into helping me do the sampling. Rolling her eyes, she reluctantly agreed, much like she would to keep a patient calm in an asylum.  (By the way, the Amour brand we tried had no beans, like the others pictured. I merely grabbed the wrong can for the photo. As I've said before, real chili is not supposed to have beans in it. It's a transgression you wouldn't want to mention here in Texas--there are a lot of gun toters in these parts.)

Anyway, psyching ourselves up to taste this stuff, we agreed that Armour, to our surprise, was the best, followed by Chilli Man, Hormel and Hill Country. H.E.B. brand and Wolf Brand tied for last place. (I have never liked anything about Wolf Brand Chili.) 

We also tried two brands of packaged, refrigerated chili:

These were much better, in our opinion, than the canned chili. They almost tied in the taste test, but we think the Texas Chili won out over Owens, but only slightly.

So what will we do with all the leftover chili? Well, I'm tossing out the losers--Wolf and H.E.B brands--and I'll use the rest as thickener in a big pot of chili I'll be fixing in a few days. 

Yes, indeed, the idle mind is the devil's workshop, isn't it?

I've been sharing in previous posts how we've had to get accustomed to buying smaller amounts of food more often due to the space limitations we have. However, there are some foods that you just can't usually buy in small quantities--like bacon and sausage, for example.  A one-pound package of each lasts us for a very long time--longer than we would want to keep it in the refrigerator. The obvious answer, of course, would be to freeze the packages and just use them when you need them. The problem with that is the difficulty of thawing out the whole package when you need only a small portion.

Well, we've solved that dilemma by swerving into a system of re-portioning the large packages into serving-sized pouches and freezing them, thawing only what we need on a given day. It's not exactly rocket science, but it works for us.

The meal-sized packages then fit into a large zippered bag:

Well, there you have it--a couple of foodie tips from a mind that's been idle too long. Happy travels, y'all...take me with you!

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Rainy Weather, Under the Weather and Dealing with Old Photos

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

I'm not exactly in love right now with this part of my glorious home state. It has been raining for days here near the gulf coast, and I'm beginning to think I'm getting moldy. We have been here through the holidays and grandson Pryce's birthday, and we are more than ready to head south towards the Rio Grande Valley and a more friendly climate. It will still be a while before we do that, however, because we've decided to go ahead and identify a new set of physicians and a dentist to take care of our medical and dental needs since we're likely to be in and out of here on a regular basis. It will be difficult to leave the healthcare providers we have relied upon for decades in the DFW area, but our experience with the locals is quite promising here near Houston.

Sandy and I have almost fully recovered from colds, and I was able to knock out a sinus infection through taking some antibiotics with which we stock up from the Mexican pharmacias when we're in the RGV.  The gray, rainy skies here, combined with our sniffling, snorting and coughing from our colds has not made for a very pleasant time, but we're glad to be getting rid of these maladies, hopefully for the rest of the year.

There hasn't been much to write about, but we've kept ourselves busy going through old photos from storage and culling out all but the good ones, which we store in some rather neat plastic cases designed for this purpose that we ordered from Amazon:

We put labels on the individual cases inside the 'mother' box as a means of identifying what's inside. And we've also found that the more experience we get with culling out the photo rejects, the more of them we tend to toss. I suppose we're getting a better idea of which ones are really worth keeping, and that's a good thing, I think. 

Now, before you berate me for not digitizing these before now, let me offer my rationale, however weak, for doing it this way for the time being. Yes, we should have started digitizing these photos years ago before we even considered fulltiming. And yes, we know digitizing is the best way to preserve the memories and save space. But here's the rub: It has been our experience that people in our circles are far more likely to pick up the photos in their hands and look at them rather than trying to retrieve them from a digital device. I'm not sure why this is, but that is the case; I don't know, perhaps it's a generational thing. Besides that, the task is so daunting--we have untold thousands of photos, some from generations ago. 

So, we think we need to use this means to sort them out, think about them and do an initial culling. Then, perhaps later, we can go through them again and discard even more of them. When we're sure we have the keepers, then we might hire someone to put them on a disk. We need to hurry with this, as our daughter, Mindy, would not be able to identify many of the people in the photos if we're not around.

Well, that wasn't a very positive thought, was it? I'm thinking the obnoxious weather and lack of sunshine is contributing to this dark mood, so perhaps another round of Frito chili pie might be just the thing to perk me up:

Yes, yes, that's the ticket. That's what I needed. Savoring this while watching the Trump inauguration has gotten me in a much better mood already.

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

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Fulltiming Food Prep: What Works for Us

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

When we went fulltime, there were many things about which we had to "get our mind right." Perhaps the main one was optimizing our drastically reduced living space. Every square foot was precious, including the space allotted for food preparation. Gone were the full-sized appliances in our stick and brick house, except for the residential refrigerator we installed in Phannie, which I have already characterized as one of the few absolute essentials for us to do this gig.  Gone were things like the six-burner cooktop, the extra-wide Viking oven, the warming oven, the Kitchen Aid dishwasher and mixer and the large Cuisinart food processor, etc.

As it turned out, we certainly didn't need these things in their oversized form since there are just the two of us here in the bus 99 percent of the time. We found we didn't even need Phannie's three-burner propane cooktop. With our induction plate, Breville oven, electric skillet, crockpot and microwave oven, we just leave the propane cooktop covered, putting the extra counter space to good use. We don't miss the dishwasher because we use paper plates most of the time. Yes, we can set a nice table when needed, but why do that for everyday dining? Doesn't make much sense to us. Washing the few pieces of cookware and utensils we use takes only a few minutes and, oddly, Sandy says she enjoys it--her reasoning for such known only to her and the good Lord, I guess. It might have something to do with the fact that I do most of the cooking, which she doesn't enjoy as much as I do. And, since I abhor washing dishes, I think both of us see it as a fair tradeoff.

Why an electric skillet, you may ask; doesn't that take up some of the valuable space I'm talking about? Well, not really; when not in use, it tucks away nicely above the Breville oven. And, if you have a skillet that's well designed, there's nothing better for controlling temperature over a large cooking surface. I learned through experience to avoid buying an inferior electric skillet that has a cooking element like the one on the bottom of this cheap model:

This type doesn't heat evenly in the middle of the skillet. I spent a little more dough on this Nu-Wave model that has a much better heating element design:

The main reason for using the electric skillet, I guess, is that you tend to acquire that to which you are accustomed. My mother, in her later years, was an avid user of an ancient electric skillet almost exclusively, and she turned out many memorable meals with that thing.

We also upgraded our induction cookplate to this Nu-Wave model:

This is a big improvement over the Fagor brand we had previously. It's much more powerful and has really accurate temperature control, too. If you can't have gas, this has to be the next best thing. We use it when we don't need the large surface of the electric skillet. Amazing technology, this. It will heat a pan to blazing hot in no time, yet the cooking surface stays cool.

We've found we do need a food processor now and then, but the big Cuisinart we had just took up too much space, and we certainly didn't need anything with a capacity that large. I found a really neat little Ninja version that seems perfect for our small needs. I even made a short demonstration video (that was made, I confess, mostly just for the novelty of doing a video; besides, you get to see, well, me! What could be more enjoyable?) Click below to take a look:

Well, what do you think? Do I have a future in films? (One of the nice things about getting older is that I can make a fool of myself like this and people don't think much about it, not that I care one way or the other.)

We also use our small Weber Q grill fairly often when the weather permits. And I've posted previously about this and the Breville oven, which must be the best small countertop oven ever made.

So, there you have it. It's what works for us, cooking-wise. But we acknowledge that it may not work for others. I think fulltimers settle into their own system after a while, and all that matters is that they like it.

Another thing we upgraded recently was the light over the dining table. The small factory-installed version has always given off too little light, and I finally became tired of squinting over my food. I'm sure it has nothing to do with my aging eyeballs, does it?

I got this one off eBay, and it works much better:

As you can see, we've been staying busy here on the shore of Lake Conroe. It's been a fine holiday time with the kids and, in a couple of weeks, we'll be making our way down to the Rio Grande Valley, where we'll spend our last month of winter before heading north again. Here's hoping your holidays were enjoyable, healthy and safe.

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

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Approaching One Year of Fulltiming: Still Getting Rid of Stuff

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

As we approach the end of our first year of fulltiming, we find ourselves still in a paring down mode. Getting rid of possessions accumulated over 40 years has not been easy. The reason, I suppose, is that we spent most of that time acquiring the stuff and only a small fraction of that time getting rid of it. Oh, if only we had had the wisdom of old age when we were young!  

I'm not sure why we thought it necessary to buy or build huge houses, since there were only the three of us. The obvious and uncomfortable answer was that it was an ego thing, I guess. Over time, we began to realize that acquiring things wasn't ultimately satisfying and that big houses require big attention and big expense to keep up, inside and out.  

We eventually built a relatively modest RV port home, an experience well documented earlier in this blog, that was to be our retirement home base while we wandered the country, and that's what it became. However, we found ourselves enjoying RV travel and living so much that we began to resent having to return home and take care of the required upkeep on the house before being able to leave again. We were also in a state of constant apprehension, worrying over the security of the place after a burglary that resulted in a painful emotional and financial loss for us. The security alarm that was installed was obviously no deterrent, so our much desired freedom to travel was not really free, clouded with worry and resentment as it was for us. 

We eventually decided that the only way to be truly free was to get rid of the things that were enslaving us; that meant the house and the stuff inside it had to go. Once we made the decision, things happened quickly, and the jettisoning of the rest of our stuff became brutal. That experience was also fully described about a year ago in this blog and yes, it was so worth the effort.

My point in including this brief version of our downsizing for fulltiming is to provide evidence of how very far we've come in terms of getting rid of our bondage. And yes, I'm using the term bondage on purpose, because that's what the tentacles of our materialism felt like when we were desperately struggling to be free. To that end, take a look at what is left after our efforts over the past years--from 3,500 square feet a decade ago to this:

This storage unit area occupies about 120 square feet and, as you can see, there is room to spare. Most of what is left is memorabilia and photos that we are slowly going through toward a goal of digitizing things to the extent possible. There are also a few clothes left after having donated hundreds of garments to charity, and we're still working on these.  These things will continue to dwindle as we go forward, for we experience a greater sense of freedom with everything we discard. And you know what? We've missed none of it! Besides our huge increase in freedom--and did I mention spendable income?--not missing our "stuff" is perhaps the most remarkable thing about this experience.

Now, is this draconian offloading experience for everyone? Of course not. Most younger families need the stability that a house brings in a permanent location. Some empty nester couples would perhaps not fare so well with so much togetherness. Some would prefer the stability of their community and relationships, and some just need more room, period. And that's all fine; if a lot more folks got into fulltiming, we would probably have an RV parking crisis out here. For those who might be contemplating such a move, however, this is just something for your consideration. For us, it is nirvana. If only we could have done it sooner!

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