Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Reader's Digest of a Blog Post

At Thousand Trails Lake Conroe, Willis, Texas...

Sandy and I drove toward Tomball today to have lunch with Mindy and see the hospital where she now works as a nurse. After that enjoyable visit, we were driving back to Thousand Trails and once again became acutely aware of the aggressiveness of the throngs of drivers all around us on the freeways. It was sort of like a NASCAR race, with all the folks trying to get out of town for the holiday. Speeding is something I just don't see the need to do any longer, although not keeping up with traffic on the freeway can be downright dangerous, so sometimes I just tighten the seat belt and go with the flow. 

It was during the drive through this demolition derby (we saw several wrecks) that I began to think of some things that I neglected to include in the previous post. Sometimes after I publish a post to this blog, I find that I may have left something out, accidentally--or even on purpose, if I thought the piece was getting too long. So, this post is more or less a housekeeping job that really has no theme other than the randomness of its leftover topics.

First of all, I have been cutting back on including so much foodie stuff in my posts, but you'll just have to bear with me here, as I need to catch up and identify a couple of restaurants that have made it onto the "Favorite Restaurants" page linked on the right side of the blog's website. When we were in the RGV, we ate for the second time at the Santa Fe Steakhouse, and found it superb, if a bit pricey. Although pretty doggone elegant for McAllen (they have white tablecloths and live piano music), we saw folks there dressed very casually, so you don't have to fret about getting all gussied up. We had steak and shrimp, and it just couldn't have been any better:

Another addition to the list was Lin's Chinese Buffet in Weslaco. This place actually returned to the list after being booted off a couple of years ago due to a disappointing experience. Lin's seems to have turned it around, however, and we thought it was just about as good a Chinese buffet as you can find out there. I do love Chinese food, and a really good buffet is almost too much of a good thing (not really; there's no such thing). I always walk around the steam tables, cruising the offerings to make sure the food looks fresh before I sit down, and Lin's offerings were nothing if not fresh. Even so, it's a good idea to go to any buffet within the normal meal times, just to be sure the food is turning over rapidly. Lin's has another location in McAllen, which I assume belongs to the same family; if so, I'll bet it's good, too, although I haven't tried it. Here's a photo of the Lin's on Hwy 83 in Weslaco:

I've also included in the list a new mom-and-pop Thai Restaurant in Arlington, Texas, named Lemongrass and Grill. I think this place serves the best Thai food in the Metroplex, and I guess I was so excited to find it that I forgot to take a photo. Just trust me on this one.

While I'm talking about favorites, you should know that I keep adding to the list of "Best of the Best RV Parks" linked on the right side of the blog's web page. The newly-added parks during 2017 can readily be identified by a red triangle beside the name of the park.

Okay, now let's talk about friends, of whom no one can have too many. We had a surprise visit from some dear friends from our RV club, Chip and Diane (forgot to get a photo again), who joined us for a fun-filled lunch at a local Mexican restaurant and then toured the Thousand Trails facility here on Lake Conroe. Their impression was sufficiently positive that they joined at the basic level, as we did a few weeks ago because we wanted to see if the value exceeds some bad press that has plagued TT for years. We've seen evidence that the outfit seems to be emerging from years of neglect by previous carpetbagging owners whose skimming and flipping
 left it in a pretty sorry state. That all seems to be changing now, thankfully. If the improvements continue, a membership just might be the best bargain out there for RVers. Here are some web photos from around this huge 128-acre park:

Signs of improvement: 76 brand new concrete RV sites are nearing completion:

On another subject, I'll tell you about a hack on dealing with tank valves I learned about the other day while doing a little net surfing; unfortunately, I can't remember where I saw it. 

For a while, I had been having trouble with the blade valve when dumping Phannie's black tank. It would sometimes stick open or closed, and I feared that my continued forcing of the handle would eventually cause it to break. So, here's the hack:  

You drill a hole in the top plate of the valve's blade housing, like this:

Then you spray some lubricant in the hole (I used silicone spray):

Then you simply install a tapping screw in the hole to seal it.

The result? It freed up the valve instantly; It moves as smoothly as new, maybe better.  If it needs lubing again, I'll just take out the screw and give it another shot. I did the same thing with the gray tank valve, so perhaps this will last for a long time. Now, I'm not very skilled or motivated to do any serious repairs on Phannie, but I don't think that even I could mess up this one. Easy-peasy!

Well, this post was kinda like cleaning out the closet, wasn't it? Even I didn't know what I would find! I hope you saw something interesting.

Sandy and I wish for you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings, as we thank God for all of our blessings, among which we count each one of you. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

While Phannie Rests, We Stay Busy

At Thousand Trails, Willis, Texas...

We arrived back here from our trip to the RGV and got right into the buzz of activities that accompany what I suppose is now becoming our home base here near Conroe. We weren't able to see the kids right away, as grandson Pryce was sick and contagious, but Sandy had a doctor's appointment, and I had to have another tire installed on our toad, Mae, that had picked up a nail in a location on the tire that couldn't be repaired. 

If you've been reading this rag for a while, you know this has been quite a year for tire problems, starting with our debacle that plagued us between Indiana and Montana, where I had mistaken a leaking tire pressure sensor for a bad tire. This had resulted in my buying an extra new tire unnecessarily that I kept in our storage unit here near Thousand Trails. So, as luck would have it, that extra tire was available to replace the one that picked up the nail here in Conroe. Better yet, Discount Tire made the swap at no charge. This came on the heels of having a valve stem replaced on one of Phannie's steering tires while we were in Mission, so I'm hoping this was the last event of our year of tire problems.

After we left Aransas Pass on our last leg to get here a few days ago, we drove through Port Lavaca, mainly to see what kind of storm damage they had received at their location on the gulf 50 miles north of Rockport. The first thing we noticed was that every telephone pole along coastal highway 35 was new.  (Sorry for the blurry photo; it wasn't a good idea to try to drive and snap the camera at the same time.):

I hadn't thought of the need to replace thousands of telephone poles within 50 miles of Harvey's landfall, but that's clearly what they did, and that alone must have been quite an undertaking.

Below is a photo of a boat storage building in Rockport. The other side of the building was facing the gulf, and all of the metal exterior had been blown away from that side, leaving dozens of boats imprisoned in the crazily bent steel framework:

Arriving in Port Lavaca, there were clearly damaged areas, but these weren't nearly as extensive as in Rockport and Port Aransas. Here are a couple of boats that had been blown ashore from their moorings, joining many others that we saw marooned on land, some quite a distance inland from their moorings on the coast:

On the third day after our arrival here, the day turned out to be beautiful with clear skies and a light breeze, following a cold front that blew through a couple of days earlier. This would be a great day to go flying, I thought!  So that's what we did, renting a little Cessna from the nearby Huntsville airport. I had to re-establish my currency by making a three takeoffs and landings beforehand, and these went amazingly well, if I say so myself. Then I picked up Sandy for a flight down across Lake Conroe and over the kids' neighborhood about fifty miles to the south.

Below are a couple of photos taken on a previous flight day:

After the short flight down to the Woodlands, we flew over their house and saw the grandkids jumping up and down in their back yard, waving frantically. Naturally, I forgot to take a photo during this flight, but they loved it and, of course, so did we. They will certainly be insisting that they go along next time, and so they will. 

I must say, getting back in the cockpit after so many years away from flying has been even more gratifying than I imagined. I was so pleased to find that the skill was still there--perhaps a bit rusty at first--but, after a couple of flights, it was as though the intervening years had never happened. I miss the power and performance of the jets I used to fly, but that is compensated by the freedom of flying a small airplane whenever and wherever I like, just for the fun of it, and especially when I can see the grandsons' excitement when they go along. 

On the subject of what comes next for our travels, we've come to the realization that we have overstuffed our itinerary for the next several months. We were originally planning to make a trip to Quartzsite in January, but we have a commitment in Branson in March and an annual maintenance visit to Red Bay soon afterward. We also have a Hawaiian cruise booked in early summer, and we're planning to drive Phannie to California then, where we will catch a flight to Honolulu. Since we just returned from the west coast a few weeks ago, we don't think we have the desire or stamina go back and forth two more times in the span of the next few months. So, something has to give, and we've decided it will be Quartzsite. This is unfortunate, because we were going to meet a number of friends there, but we'll just have to see them another time. Our winter stay this year will probably be somewhere on the gulf coast.

In terms of the immediate future, we will be leaving in about ten days for our annual pilgrimage to Canton, Texas, where we're meeting good friends at an RV park near the unrestrained shopping orgy known as First Monday Trade Days. This blood sport will be held at what is probably one the world's largest flea markets. When they arrive, the female members of our group will embark on a feeding frenzy of sorts, discovering all kinds of things they had no idea they needed. I will make sure that Sandy and I have several discussions about the finite space in which we live and the fact that I have no intention of buying a trailer to pull behind Mae. But she will do fine; I think that for her, the thrill of the hunt is more exciting than actually buying something. At least that's what I'm telling myself today. 

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

I had rather own little and see the world than to own the whole world and see little of it. 
--Alexander Sattler

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Heading Back for the Holidays: We Take a Look at Port A

At Ransom Road RV Park, Aransas Pass, Texas...

We reluctantly said goodbye to the Rio Grande Valley and good friends Ed and Marilyn, Bob and Janet, Mike and Marian and Denny and Jackie and began our two-day journey back to Conroe. As we readied Phannie for departure, we got word from Marilyn that Ed was having to go to a chiropractor right then due to severe back pain; sure hope you get better soon, Ed. 

On the evening before, we had all decided to go out for dinner together at a place of my choosing. Ed couldn't make it due to his back problem, so I carried on his tradition of taking people to restaurants that are closed. I hope it made him feel better! Bob suggested the Costa Messa (yes, that's the way they spelled it) Restaurant nearby, and it was fine. Fortunately, it wasn't very crowded, so we could sit, talk and cut up as much as we liked.

On our way back to Conroe, we decided to spend the night near the Rockport/Port Aransas area, a place where we have spent a good deal of time over several winters. We wanted to see how things are going with the cleanup after hurricane Harvey. We selected the Ransom Road RV Park in Aransas Pass--a nice enough park with all paved streets and sites. Surprisingly, although there was storm damage all around the city, no storm damage was evident at the park, and it was very full of RVs. Unfortunately, this accentuated the fact that the sites are very, very close together, so it would not be a park where we would want to spend any length of time in the future.  Because of the crowding, it also doesn't qualify for my "Best of the Best RV Parks" list either.

We drove toward Port Aransas and took the ferry into the downtown landing. It was a pleasant, if short, ride in really pretty weather, and we couldn't see any evidence of the storm damage as we approached the landing:

Once we drove off the ferry, however, it was a different story. Here are a few photos of some of the damage we saw:

There were debris piles everywhere...

This was a boat service company. The steel building was no match for Harvey.

This is an auto garage. You can still see a car on the lift.
Now for the positives:  The place is coming back FAST.  Although many structures received damage, repairmen were everywhere and the cleanup is going nicely. Just south of town is a huge pile of debris collected from all over town that is slowly being hauled away.  I would estimate that about a third of the businesses have reopened, including our favorite restaurant, Irie's Island Food. Surprisingly, all the RV parks have reopened and appear to have lots of customers. I'm guessing many of these RVs belong to the workers who are helping rebuild the town. I saw the following sign that perfectly illustrated the attitude of Port Aransans:

As you can see, the sign says, "Port A Strong," that certainly seems to underscore the prevalent attitude among the hardy residents. (Note that temporary traffic signals are in place, as the original ones were heavily damaged in
the storm.)

We had a fine seafood dinner at Shempy's, a favorite hole-in-the-wall seafood joint a few miles south of Rockport. We will be driving through that town as we head north tomorrow.

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

I had rather see the world and own little than to own the world and see little of it.  
--Alexander Sattler

Friday, November 10, 2017

New Friends Made and Another Rally

At Bentsen Palms RV Resort, Mission, Texas...

We arrived here in Mission a few days ago after spending a couple of weeks at the Thousand Trails park in Conroe and a quick trip to the DFW area for our annual physical exams. We have slowly acquired new healthcare providers in the Conroe area, except for our family doctor in Dallas, whom we have been seeing for decades. He is very accommodating to our constant travel status and even calls us from time to time to see how we're doing when he knows we're sick. We don't think we would ever find anyone to match his caregiving, so we just bite the bullet and make the trek to the DFW area when it's time to see him.

While we were in Conroe this time, we had the good fortune to meet some new friends like Dick and Judy, Ed and Debi and Dave and Judy, who are also friends with Dave and Janice. (Yes, I know the names don't mean much to you, but their names mean a lot to them and to us, and they are neat people who deserve to be recognized for being so very nice to us.)

While we were in the DFW area seeing our doctor, we also reconnected with wonderful old friends Peggy and Terri and Harvey and Mary Lou, with whom we got caught up over dinner, along with some other new friends, Don and Ruby.

One of the unexpected benefits of fulltiming is the astounding expansion of our circle of friends. We have met so many fine folks whose acquaintance we would not otherwise have made, and we always enjoy crossing their paths when we can. Thanks to all of you for your friendship; we are looking forward to seeing you again.

With our physicals out of the way, we set a course for Mission, Texas, the site of our next rally. The trip from the DFW area was uneventful, but we didn't care much for the 90-degree-plus temperatures in the Valley. It looks like the parks here have not begun to get really busy yet with winter Texans, and the too-warm temperatures have a lot to do with that, I'm sure. They will start to arrive en masse for sure after the Christmas holidays. Our park, Bentsen Palms, is very nice but sparsely populated:

Here's the view outside our window:

This must be the year for tire problems. Upon our arrival here at Bentsen Palms, we noticed a prominent belly on Phannie's right front tire. I quickly checked the pressure and found that it had fallen to 40 psi! This was quite a surprise, as I had not noticed any steering problems on the way to the park. Thankfully, this problem must have begun very near our destination, I'm thinking. I quickly gave a call to CoachNet, who began the process of getting me a mobile tire service truck. In about an hour, A technician arrived and removed the tire, checking for damage and/or leaks. As it turned out, I hadn't run over anything; the problem was a leaky valve stem core, which the tech quy quickly replaced:

It is very rare indeed for Phannie to have tire issues, so I really can't complain about this. I'm just glad we were safely nestled into our space and not exposed out on the road somewhere.

Our being here in the Valley is also an opportunity to get a really good wash and wax job for Phannie at a better price than just about anywhere else:

When we are participating in these rallies, we tend to do a lot of, well, eating. We always go out somewhere that the hosts recommend, and Carol, the wagon master, picked a great place called Griffin Grill there in McAllen. We had breakfast there, including this masterpiece of eggs Benedict, enjoyed by our friends Art and Shirley:

We had a large group going with us, so we had to get a photo, for posterity:

We also made a trip across the border to Progreso, Mexico for lunch an shopping. Everyone seemed to have a good time:

We will be returning to Conroe in a few days to spend the holidays with the kids, then out to Quartzsite in January.

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

I had rather see the world and own little than to own the world and see little of it.  
--Alexander Sattler