Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Fulltiming Status: Two Years In and What We've Learned

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

For those who may be interested in getting into fulltime RV living or those friends of ours who are still scratching their heads at our having done this, here is a status report:

With the press of a button and a whoosh of compressed air, Phannie's parking brake was released two years ago, and I drove her away for the last time from the custom-built house we no longer owned in Fort Worth. Almost everything we possessed was aboard this giant box-like vehicle that measures 40 ft. by 8 ft. in driving configuration.

The previous six months had been a blur. We had been frantically downsizing from a lifetime of accumulating things we found we didn't need or even want any longer. Even though we had downsized several years ago to the house we were now leaving, there were endless trips to charities and offloads to the kids of things they probably didn't want, either.

You see, we didn't know we were going to do this until late summer of 2015, six months before we pulled the trigger on January 23, 2016. We had just returned from a wonderful two-month trip to the Pacific Northwest in Phannie, and we found ourselves almost resenting the need to return and begin anew the endless house caretaking chores. After so much adventure and so much freedom, we couldn't stand the idea of being confined again within four walls; we felt, to a degree, that we were heading back to prison. We loved traveling in Phannie; we had everything we needed in a comfortable environment, and we just moved endlessly from one beautiful place to the next. Who wouldn't resent having to give that up? 

And so we made the decision then and there. It would not be prison for us; it would be freedom. In the throes of uprooting that followed, some things were probably done a bit clumsily, but everything ultimately fell into place, and we recorded it all previously in this journal.

It helped that we had a frame of reference as to what it meant to become a fulltimer. We had become good friends with some other bloggers who went through the transition, and their journals provided valuable insight as to what we could expect. Since becoming fulltimers ourselves, we've met scores of other folks who have done the same thing, so we now have a sense of community that we thought we might be losing in Fort Worth. As it turned out, we didn't lose our longtime friends near our stick-and-brick home; we just don't see them as often, but we keep up with them on social media.  

As it turns out, the success of someone's entering this lifestyle seems dependent upon three things: 1) psychology and temperament, 2) health and 3) financial wherewithal. To me, these are equally important. In terms of psychology and temperament, most people appear to have a need to stay in an environment that is familiar and routine, with a strong sense of belonging, either to family, church or community or all of these. And there's nothing wrong with that; in fact, these citizens can be thought of as the bedrock of our society. God bless those who make our communities stable and desirable places to live and raise our families. Others stay put because they gain satisfaction from owning things and accumulating stuff, or from having a place to grow a garden or to set up a workspace to tinker with things. And there's nothing wrong with that, either. God bless those folks, too; if too many of them take to the road, it will be even harder to find a spot to park our RVs. (We did the same thing for 35 years and wished we had had this epiphany much sooner.)

Another aspect of a psychology and temperament useful for fulltiming is the compatibility one has with one's mate. If a couple is not prepared to live in very close quarters on a 24/7 basis, fulltiming is probably not for them. There is not much of an opportunity for having one's own 'space' or a man cave or something like that. However, for those fortunate enough--like us--to really enjoy being with each other, then it can be a blissful arrangement.

Being healthy enough to travel on a long term basis is vital, of course. We have been remarkably healthy up to this point, but we are beginning to notice that age is slowly catching up to us, requiring more visits to health professionals and more medication than we would like. We can only hope that it will be a while yet, however, until we have to hang up the keys. There is so much yet to see. Do we have an exit plan? Not really; but we don't worry about that--or much of anything else nowadays, for that matter. We'll just figure it out when the time comes.

As far as finances go, we find we prepared pretty well for that, but it was not without some adjustment in my thinking before retirement. I figured that our post-retirement living expenses would be considerably less than when I was working. My research indicated otherwise, however. Most people, I learned, do not really change their lifestyle all that much upon retirement, so their living expenses generally remain about the same; I found that to be true in our case while we still owned the house after we retired. Fortunately, our constant employment over the decades helped us achieve income sources that did not require us to find work after retirement. However, I must acknowledge that selling the house and one of the cars has allowed a considerable reduction in our expenses. Going fulltime then, was indeed good for our finances. However, we know many folks who do fulltiming with modest financial resources, but they are probably much better at budgeting and economizing than we would be. 

So, the obvious question would be--any regrets?  The answer is--absolutely none; it has been an incredible two years that have flown by!  Last summer our travels took us to 22 states, and we had a blast. All of our adventures were faithfully recorded herein, so we can go back and relive it whenever we like. And where will we go next? With the freedom we now have, the answer has to be--wherever we wish!

If you ask if there's anything we miss about living in a stick-and-brick house, it would have to be the church of which we have been longtime members. We often attend church on our travels, however, and we will find another home church when the time comes.

I really can't close without posting some photos from our travels over last summer, so here are just a few:

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

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The National Museum of the Pacific War and Killer BBQ

At Majestic Pines RV Resort, Willis, Texas...

Since our rally in Marble Falls was so close to Fredericksburg, we decided to drop in there and take a look at the Pacific War Museum. I had heard that it had seen a massive expansion and, since I am a WWII history buff, I really wanted to check it out. 

I must tell you that the museum is unrecognizable from the rather sparse exhibit that it was many years ago when I first visited it.  We were surprised at how large and well done it is, arranged as a labyrinthine timeline beginning with the ancient history of Japan's conflicted past and its quest for hegemony among its neighbors, the principal of which was China. I found this history particularly interesting and revealing, as I really didn't have a good understanding of the influences over centuries prior to WWII that led to its aggression toward the United States; this large exhibit explained it nicely. The exhibits continued until the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the resulting Japanese surrender. There were many other exhibits, some interactive, along with plenty of narrative, including a walking audio, that explained each presentation like, for example, a B-25 from the Doolittle raid over Tokyo:

Japanese defensive weapons:

A Willys WWII Jeep:

I found the interactive displays especially interesting, in that they depicted in a video presentation the strategy and plans for many of the most important battles in the Pacific theater.

As might be expected here in the hometown of Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, his presence was certainly apparent in videos and in a separate building where his life story was presented:

What was evident from the presentations was that Nimitz, who eventually rose to the five-star rank of fleet admiral, was the right man in the right place at the right time to ensure Japan's defeat. His inspiring values of hard work, coolness under duress and wise decisions, along with a little good luck, served him and our country well. I found his strategy at the battle of Midway, about which a really good movie was made, particularly fascinating.

We weren't able to see the entire museum in one day, so we'll have to return to see it all. We couldn't stay any longer this time, as we needed to get back to Conroe for my (yuck) colonoscopy that has been scheduled for some time. And, while I'm on the subject of colonoscopies, if you are over 50 years old and not having these done every few years, you are playing Russian roulette with your life. I am an ardent proponent of these, having even devoted a couple of posts to the subject, one of which you can read here. You can also search on "colonoscopy" to see the other one.

On the way back, we stopped in Elgin at the Southside Market for some barbeque:

One of the nice things about this place was that it had a huge parking lot that would accommodate Phannie and even several other motorhomes as well. And the barbeque! Well, see for yourself:

This was their "small" brisket sandwich!  This large place also sports a meat market where you can buy their products like smoked meats and sausages. And yes, this goes on my list of favorite restaurants, linked over there in the right margin. 

We'll be in Conroe for a few more weeks, then we'll be making our way to Branson with an interim location yet to be determined. Stay tuned!

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

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Rally Time Again and Pinky Trauma

At Sunset Point RV Resort, Marble Falls, Texas...

After the ridiculous cold spell in the Houston area, it felt good to fire up Phannie and head over to Marble Falls for the January rally of our Tiffin owners' club.  On the way, we stopped for a couple of nights at La Hacienda RV Resort in Austin to visit with fulltimer friends Steve and Jackie, who would accompany us later to Marble 
Falls in their Phaeton.  

Not wishing to pass up an opportunity to try new restaurants, Steve and Jackie took us to a couple of their favorites, and they quickly became favorites of ours, too! Now for those who get tired of reading about our constant foodie exploits, I say with the utmost affection: This is something you probably need to get over. Everybody has to eat, so why not talk about places that are interesting and exceptional? You may want to try them yourselves some day, right? And, by the way, these will be included in our favorites restaurant list linked over there in the right margin.

We loved the chipotle grilled pork chop and seasoned fresh corn at Verde's, an upscale Mexican grill:

Steve and Jackie
At Opie's BBQ, one must take off one's hat to their offerings of Texas smoked fare; they serve it the old fashioned way--until it runs out!

Besides having great BBQ, the owners also have side dishes to die for--things like spicy creamed corn, tater tot casserole, butterbeans and some killer cobbler. This place is some distance from Austin, out highway 71 to Spicewood, but worth the drive.

We traveled close behind Steve and Jackie out to Marble Falls, where we were obligated, of course, to have dinner at the legendary Bluebonnet Cafe. We had coupons for free pie, and that's all it took to get the whole bunch out there, and the food, fun--and pie--were great!

Earlier in the day, soon after our arrival at our site at Sunset Point, I had a slight accident while doing something I shouldn't have been doing--rushing--to get Phannie parked and set up and join our group for lunch. No, there was no damage to Phannie, just to my little finger that somehow I neglected to remove fully from a closing belly door. It nearly sliced the tip off my finger, and the result was, well, a little bloody, I'm afraid. We quickly headed for the hospital, where the wound was sewn up expertly with four stitches after I struggled, with the complication of my infirmity, to complete the endless paperwork that I think would have sufficed for a heart transplant.

I'm not going to show you the wound like some bloggers do when they suffer injuries (some of the photos included in their posts are pretty gruesome, and I never understood why they think their readers want to see that).

But, back to my pinky:  Okay, I can hear you out there right now: "For God's sake, Mike, what's the big deal?" Well, it wasn't a big deal but, for some reason, the fact that it was my pinky finger seemed automatically to diminish the seriousness of the wound to, well, zero in the minds of my "friends" in the club. I reminded them that it required four stitches, but that didn't seem to matter. I was going to get roasted about this.

Upon my return from the hospital, people who I previously thought were really nice, caring folks were merciless in their teasing me about my ineptness in doing something as simple as closing a bay door without requiring a hospital visit. I confess to egging them on by pretending to be largely "disabled" by the trauma--using a cane to walk and even pretending to need a footstool to get into a car. Totally ridiculous, of course, but hey--aren't we supposed to act more childish when we get old?

It was all great fun, of course, but perhaps less so for me than the others, as their fingers weren't the ones doing the throbbing, were they?

The next day was the regular club business meeting, where we also had 'Tech Talk,' a show and tell that's always a popular means of catching up on the latest info and gadgets for RVers. Chip leads this discussion and always does a fine job.

Many in the group were headed to Quartzsite after the rally, but we couldn't resolve some scheduling conflicts to make the trip ourselves. We're headed to Fredericksburg for a couple of days before returning to Conroe.  I'll have a post about that next time.

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

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

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Freezing in Texas

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

The temperature has been in the twenties here in the Houston area!! It's bitterly cold for us Texans, but it sure beats most of the rest of the country north of here. Amply warned by Weather Bug, we stopped at one of the local propane purveyors to top off Phannie's tank. The attendant, a long-haired teen with a several-day stubble on his face, ambled out of the small office a bit unsteadily, seeming to have just awakened from a nap. He didn't inspire us as being terribly interested in our business, but we watched as he jerked the filler hose away from the pump and up to Phannie's propane door. Opening the door, he dropped to his knees and attached the nozzle to the adapter on the tank and turned on the pump switch. Immediately from around the nozzle erupted a loud hissing sound and a cloud of vapor, as the propane was clearly leaking from around the fitting. 

The kid, clearly rattled, said, "Something's messed up here!"  

I started to say that he had a masterful grasp of the obvious, but I figured my sarcasm would just be wasted even if it were understood. He scratched his head a bit and looked at the hose nozzle and the adapter on the tank, finally saying that he didn't know what was wrong but that he couldn't fill my tank. I didn't argue because my confidence in this guy had  pretty much reached zero. So, I just said thank you and drove to downtown Conroe and the facility of an old-line propane dealer who had probably been in business since propane was discovered. 

Out from the office came a stern-faced older guy, striding swiftly toward Phannie. He was all business, approaching his task as though he were to begin fueling an Atlas rocket. Saying nothing, he swiftly attached the nozzle to the tank adapter and turned on the pump. The hissing sound immediately returned, along with the visible vapor all around the fitting. He muttered an expletive that wasn't quite discernible and immediately turned off the pump switch.

Okay, I thought...the kid with the stubble at the last place was at least correct in his assessment that something was wrong; I'll give him that. But the older guy here simply turned around and reached into a small cabinet above the pump, retrieving a black rubber washer about the size of a fifty-cent piece. Laying the hose on the pavement for a moment, he pressed the washer into the adapter on my tank and then spun the hose fitting into the aperture, almost in a single action. This guy had definitely been doing this for a while, I thought. Turning on the pump, the propane began flowing smoothly and silently into the tank without a hint of hissing or vapor. 

I was impressed that this guy not only identified the problem, but that he also had at hand the part needed to fix it! I was reminded of an old French proverb that says, 'Take your dough to the baker, even if he steals half of it.' I've always thought this was a quaint way to advocate the use of a professional when possible. But the French are a little different, aren't they?

I was a little surprised that I hadn't previously heard of this kind of problem in all my years of RVing. Not wanting to be without one of these rubber washers in the future, I strode into the office and purchased two of them to keep on hand. 


The cold weather seemed ideal for comfort food, so I trotted out the new small-sized pressure cooker that I had purchased on the recommendation of our friend Janice. The first was beans and ham that we served with hot water cornbread and then a pot of spicy pork chile verde the next day. These were both wonderful and really hit the spot during the cold snap.

The grandsons enjoyed a large Christmas, of course, and we were privileged to be on hand for that. In the photo below, grandpa has a good seat to watch the boys open their gifts. (This is about the only thing for which I would get up this early.)

We've been steadily working through our yearly visits to doctors and dentists. This has been an especially busy time for this activity, since I needed crowns on three teeth and a colonoscopy, not to mention some new arthritis issues that have been bugging me. Sandy needed new glasses, a teeth cleaning and changes to some of her meds. I have to confess that, since I've never gotten old before, I was a bit unprepared for the seemingly endless treks to health professionals that must be made in order to keep getting this carcass out of bed every morning. I'm not complaining, however; there are so many who don't get the privilege of getting old, much less leading the active lifestyle we enjoy. All I can say is, thank God for good health and good health insurance.

We also had a nice visit with good friends Chip and Diane, who are visiting relatives in The Woodlands this week. Here they are after a wonderful dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, El Palenque in Spring, Texas:

We will be leaving next week for Austin, where we will spend a couple of days with friends Steve and Jackie, then on to another Tiffin owners' rally in Marble Falls. We'll also spend a couple of days in Fredericksburg before returning here to Conroe to finish up the medical visits. Hopefully, we will not be seeing any more of this frigid weather for a while!

Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful life; 
please forgive me if I fail to appreciate it as I should each day.

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