Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Back "Home" in Conroe; Some Thoughts on Thousand Trails; Strongback Chair Accessory

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

We've arrived at our sort-of home base for a couple of weeks while we get ready to fly to Honolulu and begin our cruise around the islands (perhaps with one exception, depending on what Kilauea is doing to the big island). 

Our stop at the Tiffin Bluebonnet rally in Johnson City, Texas was fun; we really enjoyed seeing our club friends again. We took a little side trip to Canyon Lake and surprised fulltimer friends Karen and Richard, who are camp hosting at Cranes Mill COE Park right on the lake:

Karen, Richard and Sandy
These two are a delightful couple, and we enjoyed a tour of the campground. Absent-mindedly, I forgot to take photos of the campground or the lake. So, I included a couple of downloaded ones that don't really do justice to this gorgeous body of water:

Fortunately, we encountered no more awning or topper issues on our way here, and Phannie ran like a top, so we're happy about that. 

This is the first time we've been back to the Lake Conroe Thousand Trails since the new section B opened. Here are some photos of the 70-odd new sites:

Okay, I know what you're thinking: "Are you sure this is Thousand Trails?"

Well, I had the same reaction, initially. It took quite a long time for us to buy in to the TT system, as it has, for years, seemed like a terribly neglected enterprise that was not exactly a top-tier attraction for most RVers (I'm being kind here). When we saw the improvements being made during the last couple of years, we decided to pull the trigger and buy an Elite level membership. There are several levels of these, but suffice it to say that Elite status gets you a stay of three weeks at a time for free (some parks charge a modest fee for 50-amp electrical service). When the three weeks are up, you can move to another TT park, if you like, and stay another three weeks, and so on.  After the buy-in, which is several thousand dollars (less from an individual or broker), there is also a modest annual membership fee.

This suits our needs perfectly here in Conroe, and it won't be long until we more than make back our initial investment. The downside is that the new Thousand Trails owners cannot meet the vast improvement needs across the system very quickly; it will be a huge undertaking. The company has been around for a long time, but it had the misfortune of being bought, bled dry and then sold by unscrupulous investors on more than one occasion who skimmed the money and invested nothing in maintenance and improvements. Thankfully, that appears to have changed, but the catch-up investment is huge and, for that reason, will likely be slow. However, if the Lake Conroe upgrade is any indication, there are good things to come.

I need to mention a much-appreciated gesture from daughter Mindy and S.I.L. Tyler, involving some new-to-us chairs for Phannie's kitchen table. We had been struggling for some time with chairs that were just too low to be comfortable for the table height and for standing up after sitting. You younger folks may scoff at this but, as you get older and acquire fake knees and hips, arising gracefully from a low chair can be a problem. What we needed was a chair that was taller than a regular chair but lower than one that is the height of a barstool.  Well, they don't make them; or, at least, we couldn't find any. The solution? Sandy bought a couple of used but well-built tall chairs that needed recovering, and our kids remodeled them--Mindy adding new cushions that she recovered and Tyler cutting the legs down to the height we needed. We love the finished product, and we no longer grunt and hang onto things when we stand up! Thanks to both of you!

If you've been reading this for a while, you'll remember that I have been touting the Strongback Chairs we use for outdoor seating:

The main reason we like them is their back support--something that's missing in others we've tried. We did have a slight disappointment in the chairs, however, as they come with a cupholder that fits a soda can but not one of the large Yeti-style insulated cups that we use more often:

It's not that the large cup doesn't fit, but that the holder isn't deep enough to keep it from tipping on its side.

Well, wouldn't you know that Strongback has introduced an accessory that fixes the problem. You can order one of these thingys that has a nice deep holder for your insulated cup, plus a pocket that's the perfect size for your Kindle or other electronic reader:

This accessory costs about 15 bucks, but it's well worth it, in my opinion. 

You should know that I have no financial relationship with Strongback; I merely like their products and recommend them to others. However, because of my longtime status as a Strongback customer and their awareness of this blog and its readership, the company offers a 15% discount to me and to any of my readers who order from their website. Simply include "phannieandmae15" in the space that calls for a discount code, and voila'! 

It's way too hot and humid here near Houston; we're looking forward to heading to the mountains after we visit the kids and grandkids and return from Hawaii. Hope you have a wonderful summer!

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

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Something's Flapping in the Wind Again; More RV Stuff I Like and a Cute Story

At Gallagher Acres RV Park, Benbrook, Texas...

Well, it is obviously going to the year for awnings and toppers. We were cruising happily down I-44, barely across the Missouri/Oklahoma state line when, suddenly, Phannie's door awning popped fully open in the slipstream, making, of course, a loud flapping noise. I slowed down immediately and took an exit that was close ahead, stopping soon thereafter to see what had happened. At first, I thought Sandy might have bumped the awning extend switch but, being clearly out of her reach (and snoozing to boot), that proved not to be the case. I tried retracting the motorized awning several times, to no avail.  

Across the freeway was an abandoned gas station, so I pulled in there and got out my ladder to assess the situation. The canopy was clearly not going to retract electrically, and it was held at full extension by folding arms that were heavily spring-loaded toward the extend position. I could force it, with great resistance, to retract, but the lock that is supposed to hold it in place was not working either. There was no way I could continue at any kind of speed with this thing fully extended, so I began to think how I might secure the awning closer to the side of the bus. Then it dawned on me: Bungee cords! I keep several sizes of bungee cords in the belly compartment, and I was able to use a couple of these to retract the awning closer to the side of the bus, although not quite fully. It would be enough, I thought, to get to a repair shop, so we left our parking spot and got back on the freeway. The awning was still flapping in the breeze a bit, not not nearly as much as when it was fully open.

I drove 50 mph for about an hour until I spotted a large T/A travel center and pulled into the service/tire shop in the rear of the facility. I asked if they could just remove the entire canopy and its housing from the bus. After looking at it carefully, the mechanic determined that its attachment to the coach would not permit the device's removal without compromising the structure around it. So, I asked him merely to secure the canopy housing to its base using some long tapping screws, which he did. The awning's not operable like that, of course, but it is a low-use item, and it will be fine until we go back to Red Bay in a few months to get it replaced. I suppose I could have done this myself but, at this stage of life, I try to stay off tall ladders as much as possible. I've had too many older friends who have had nasty falls doing that sort of thing, so paying a young squirt a little cash to do that doesn't bother me at all.

I meant to take a photo of the placement of the bungee cords in partially retracting the awning but, in all the excitement, I forgot. Here's a photo of my collection of bungee cords; I find a real need for these things from time to time, and I wouldn't be without them:

The point here is that a variety of bungee cords is something every RV owner should have. In this case, they made the difference between getting back on the road and being marooned!  Here's a photo of the door awning after securing it with the screws:

As we left the T/A shop after the mechanic finished, I thought of the wind gust that dislodged our slide topper a couple of weeks ago near Memphis. What are the chances that such a similar but unrelated event would happen so soon afterward? 

I always try to mention my little discoveries of stuff that might interest other RVers.  In this case, I'm going to talk about water pressure regulators--you know, the things you attach to your hose to reduce excessive water pressure that might damage RV plumbing. While many higher-end RVs have on-board regulators (as Phannie does) as a preventive measure, I use a regulator at the hose bib to prevent a hose rupture and as additional protection for the coach, just in case. The problem is that most regulators have the pressure set too low. There are some others that have an adjustable pressure feature, but I have not had good luck with these. The ones I tried seemed poorly designed, difficult to operate or of low quality, and most did not allow pressure of 60-65 psi, which is optimum for my use. I recommend this one above all others:

It is a JR Products 04-62425 Deluxe High Flow Water Regulator, available at Amazon, but it's a trifle pricey at over 40 bucks. It is, however, of very high quality and delivers the perfect pressure. Accept no substitute, in my view.

I've mentioned in an earlier post the iPad I have mounted in Phannie's cockpit and the favorite apps I use for trip planning, navigating and cruising the highways (as well as email, messages and everything else you can imagine): 

In that post, I didn't mention the app, "Trucker Path," which I like better than Gas Buddy for finding good fuel prices (and a lot more), as it focuses only on stations that can accommodate big rigs. Below are some screen shots of a Trucker Path display showing two different stations with 18-wheeler access within six miles of each other on I-35 just north of Ardmore, Oklahoma. The highway is shown on the left side of the screen; when you click on the "T" an information box opens with all sorts of data displayed. The first shot shows a price of $2.73 a gallon at an independent station and the second, a Flying J, shows a price of $3.09. The decision was easy; I saved about twenty bucks by fueling at the first stop:

Best of all, Trucker Path is free!

Looks like good weather is going to stay awhile, so it's high time for Phannie to get a bath. Here is James, of Rec-RV Wash, hard at work sprucing up the old gal: 

I keep adding listings to the "Best of the Best RV Parks" page linked on the right side of this blog. The new ones added this calendar year are identified by this 🔺 icon. Some of these have been listed as a result of reader input (thank you, Steve and Jackie) that I always appreciate! This list has proven to be a very popular resource with several thousand hits already. If you know of a park that should be listed, please leave me a comment, and I will be happy to take a look.

Here's a neat story for Mother's Day:

While shopping at Trader Joe's today in Fort Worth, Sandy discovered in her grocery cart a set of car keys that had been left behind by the previous user. She immediately took them to the manager's office, where the distraught lady who lost them happened to be standing. According to the manager, the lady and store employees had been looking everywhere trying to find them, to no avail. The lady was very relieved and thanked Sandy profusely. After she had left, the store manager walked up to Sandy with the bouquet of flowers pictured below and expressed her appreciation on behalf of Trader Joe's. 

Well, impish opportunist that I am, I quickly grabbed the flowers from the manager and handed them to Sandy, saying, "Happy Mother's Day, honey!"  

The manager, suddenly scowling, just as quickly grabbed them back, saying to me, "Not so fast, buddy; you don't get off this easily." Then Sandy took the flowers, and both ladies high-fived each other. Shameless hussies, I thought.

Okay, maybe it wasn't my finest moment of chivalry, but you have to give me credit for helping affirm the age-old belief among all women that deep-down, every guy has the potential to be a jerk. (That was my goal, of course; and to my male friends--you needn't say anything; I know I'm your hero.)

This little good-natured exchange was all a lot of fun, and you just gotta love Trader Joe's, right?

Mary Lou and Harvey
The best part of the day was a fun-filled lunch with good friends Mary Lou and Harvey at Abuelo's, where we talked about our upcoming Hawaiian cruise with mutual friends Bubba and LouAnn.

We had a very short stop here in Fort Worth for a doctor visit, then it's on to central Texas to visit friends and relatives.

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

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Fun Times in Branson

At Treasure Lake RV Resort, Branson, Missouri...

It has been so much fun showing Steve and Jackie around during their first visit to Branson. They seem to have enjoyed themselves immensely, and we were equally happy to be their tour guides, giving them the benefit of our many visits here.

By now, we are pretty much old hands at finding the best entertainment and places to eat, and they seem to have confirmed that our experience was very helpful. I don't think they really knew what to expect and, if they didn't have a good time, then they fooled us completely.

We've seen some really good shows featuring all kinds of music, and they seemed impressed with the quality of the performances. I guess our personal favorites were those featuring 50s and 60s tunes that we loved during our teen years when music was all important. But there's' something for every taste here, and it is all very well done.

Not only is this totally clean entertainment, but there is almost no crime here, and the many attractions like Silver Dollar City are a mecca for kids. You also won't find a more patriotic place than Branson, where every show includes a salute to veterans. And where else but Branson would you find a sign like this in a business's parking lot:

This is so refreshing after the vitriol against the military we see on TV every day.

Our last event was a tour of Table Rock Lake on the Branson Belle, a huge showboat built here on the lake. We enjoyed a lively dinner show in the theater in addition to the views from the various outside decks:

The boat was propelled by a real paddle wheel:

While the girls went shopping near the end of our time together, Steve and I took in a war museum and an antique car and farm equipment museum, both of which were very interesting. In this photo, Steve is standing beside a 1909 steam-powered tractor. He seemed to know a good deal about it, so I asked him how old he was when it was invented. I don't think he found my question very amusing, for some reason.

At the car museum, I really wanted this 1956 Cadillac Eldorado for a tow car, but I couldn't swing the $178,000 price tag. I was surprised to find here three rare and quite pristine Eldorados, a '56, a '57 and a '58, all for sale for around the same price.  Sigh.

We also spent some time at Big Cedar, the resort complex on Table Rock Lake owned by Bass Pro Shops. It has to be one of the most picturesque places around, and we took a number of photos:

Oh, the dangers I face when trying to get the best photo. I had to ford this raging stream to get in position to take the photo of the chapel above. It's a wonder I didn't drown:

We had plenty of good eats, too. I can't list them all, but below is a photo of our gang eating catfish at the Flat Creek Cafe near West Branson. (Yes, it was good enough to be listed on our favorites page.)

Perhaps even better than the catfish were the homemade fried pies. We left no evidence in the bowl, however:

When we weren't going to shows and restaurants and the like, we spent a good deal of time just sitting around, enjoying the near perfect weather. Here's a photo of Sandy, bringing her overstuffed glass of iced tea to a 'happy hour' outside Steve and Jackie's coach. (Those who know Sandy understand that she likes a little tea with her ice. No, I don't get it either but, if she's going to have a vice, this one is pretty tame, I guess.)

From here, we fondly but sadly said goodbye to Steve and Jackie, who are northbound to Minnesota, taking their time along the way to see some new sights. We will soon be making our way back to Texas, where we will see friends and relatives, attend a rally and prepare for our Hawaiian cruise that begins in about five weeks.

I hope our enjoyment of this stage of our lives is evident to readers, especially those contemplating fulltime RVing. We are still pinching ourselves at our good fortune in experiencing the freedom of stress free and obligation free living, all the while traveling to, well, wherever we wish and staying as long as we want. Add to this the many wonderful friends we've made whose paths we cross from time to time, and it is almost too good to be true. 

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

You don't stop playing when you get old; you get old when you stop playing.