Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Monday, January 28, 2019

Fulltiming: Three Years Behind Us; How We Got From Big House to No House

At Victoria Palms RV Resort, Donna, Texas...

As we are settled in here among the palm trees in the sunny RGV, we contemplate the anniversary of our third year of this fulltiming adventure. We continue to marvel at the hoards of friends we have made along the way, many of whom appear in the pages of this blog from time to time. Just before we left Thousand Trails in Conroe, our friends there joined us at a favorite Mexican restaurant. We feel so lucky to find ourselves among such great people, and we will be eager to see them again when we return:

Here in the Valley, we've already been running around with pals from Mission like Denny, Jackie, Kellie and Jim below. (For some reason, I missed getting pics of Ed and Marilyn on our trip over to Mexico on a cooler-than-usual day):

Aside from these fine folks, we've also enjoyed being with our friends here at Victoria Palms that we've already mentioned in a previous post. In about a week, we'll be joined by Jackie and Steve and, after their visit, Sandy's sister, Brenda, will be joining us for the first time!

This third anniversary brings with it the unexpected news that no fewer than four couples of our fulltiming friends are leaving the road for various reasons! Exit from the lifestyle is expected at some point for all of us, of course, but we really weren't anticipating this sudden coincidence. That doesn't mean they won't still be our friends, of course, but it is a bit jarring to realize we won't be crossing their paths as often.

So, how are we doing three years in as fulltimers? Well, we would have to say, "Terrific!" We have no inclination that we need to contemplate an exit yet. We are still blessed with good health, and  our fitness for travel will likely be the determining factor when the time comes for a change. 

As we think back over these three years as fulltimers, we can't help but contemplate our history of home ownership and how we got to the fulltiming decision. We cringe when we think of some of the housing decisions we made during our four decades together, especially during the earlier ones. These decisions could have been much better if we could just have had some of the wisdom we have gained in our older years. Bigger and better was what everybody was supposed to do, right? If only we could have had the life lesson before the test instead of the other way around...but that's usually not the way life happens, does it?

It took 40 years for us to become houseless. Our first house was a nice little ranch style on a cul-de-sac in which we lived when our  children were born. 

After a dozen years there, a job change came that would necessitate a move. For some reason, I had the notion that we should have a big house in the country with some acreage, so we built an enormous house on five acres in a rural location that would require both of us to do a long commute to our jobs, which then were in opposite directions from the new monster house.

It wasn't long until we began to realize that we didn't own the house; it owned us. I had to buy a diesel tractor with a mower deck to keep the weeds at bay from the five-acre yard, and we couldn't find or afford housekeeping help for the 3,400 square feet of house, including its four bathrooms for the three of us. Sandy had to maintain the vast expanse with little help from me, as I was usually on the tractor or doing other chores to keep the property up when I was home. After a couple of years, it became evident that we had to get rid of the monster house in order for us to avoid an early demise from exhaustion. I don't have a good explanation for why we couldn't see the pitfalls of this ill-fated adventure beforehand. It seemed like the right thing at the time, but it was certainly more greed than need. We sold the place, happy to see it go.

Duly chastised after my 'country estate' folly, we moved into a nice condominium where no maintenance or yard work was required, so I felt I was on the road to redemption. Then came another job change, this time requiring a move to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Because our daughter, Mindy, was only three, we wanted her to grow up in a house in a neighborhood, so we bought a reasonably-sized house that had a very small yard--an absolute requirement of mine because of my still-fresh memories of my enslavement to the big country house with the five-acre yard. 

Mindy did grow up in this house and it served us well until she left for college. About that time, it became apparent that we were going to need to bring an elderly parent to live with us. This would require building a significant addition onto the house for invalid care, which we did. But the parent didn't move in after all, and now we had a house even bigger than the one with the five-acre yard! It was now face-palm time again. There we were, roaming around in that cavernous place by ourselves. How could this happen again?

By this time, we had begun RVing during breaks from work, and we thought it would be a good idea to sell this latest monster house and build the perfect smaller retirement home, complete with an RV port. At this point, we knew an RV would always be in our lives, but I figured Sandy would never agree to go fulltime, something I had daydreamed about for years. Frankly, I found no fulfillment in maintaining a house and yard, and I wasn't a tinkerer; I didn't need a man-workshop or a TV man-cave, either, for that matter. 

The new house was indeed perfect, built completely to our liking and small enough to maintain with minimal effort, including a xeriscaped yard. The story of selling the big house and building the new one begins here. We spent eight happy years there until both of us retired. 

Finally free from our worklife, we left in Phannie on a two-month RV tour of the Pacific Northwest, including a stop in Seattle to take an Alaskan cruise. We loved the freedom to wander as we pleased, untethered to work and household chores. With the ending of the cruise, we came to the conclusion that we really didn't want to go back to our house in Fort Worth. Mindy was married by this time, and she and her family were living near Houston. Naturally, we wanted to spend most of our downtime closer to them and the grandkids. In addition, we were dreading the long-neglected household chores that were inevitable after our time away. Even with xeriscaping, there were always weeds and overgrown bushes to tend, not to mention the mess made by trees, spiderwebs, etc. There was also the matter of the break-in that we suffered before I retired, wherein a burglar took almost all of Sandy's jewelry--some pieces of which were valuable and irreplaceable keepsakes. The house was never the same to us after that; we never got over how violated we felt. On top of that, the possibility of another burglary was always on our minds when we were away. We found ourselves frequently checking our cell phones for the feeds from the video cameras we installed inside and outside the house after the burglary. I'm not sure why we did this, as we could have done nothing about it from thousands of miles away. But it was evidence that our spirit of enjoyment of our travels was always dampened by a 'thing' we owned, and we resented it.

The decision to sell and go fulltime was surprisingly quick after that trip and, astonishingly, it was Sandy who first proposed it! The whole experience is fully documented here in the blog, so I won't go into it now. 

That brings us to today--three years into fulltiming and still pinching ourselves that we can actually live like this--having the freedom to do whatever we like and go wherever we wish, free of the obligations, expenses and confinement of a stick-and-brick house. I often say that we feel as though we have stumbled upon a way to beat the system and are having a blast doing it. I sometimes get the urge to look over my shoulder, thinking we're getting away with something we shouldn't and that one day, we'll get caught. I hope not.

In the meantime, here we are in this tropical location, wearing shorts and sun hats, feeling almost guilty that much of the rest of the country is in a deep freeze, as is evident in this photo of the TV news today:

For those affected, we hope you will be safe. But we're very grateful that we are here where we are--which, of course, is a choice we have that's easy to make as fulltimers. Life is, indeed, good.

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 because you get old; you get old because you stop playing. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Winter? In the Rio Grande Valley

At Victoria Palms RV Resort, Donna, Texas...

On our way to the Valley, we stopped over for a couple of days at a nice park near Aransas Pass and Rockport. We made the short drive into Corpus Christi for Sandy to do a little shopping, after which we dined at Doc's, a seafood joint overlooking the causeway. The food was pretty good, but watching the sunset while dining al fresco was a real treat. I do love sunsets and the opportunities for good photos during the short time it takes the sun to sink below the horizon. Such was the case when we exited the restaurant and went walking on the pier. The crane in this photo seemed to be begging to have its picture taken, looking forlornly as it was toward the spot where the sun had just disappeared:

One of these days, I'm going to do a post with only photos I've taken of sunsets; I do love this time of day.

The relatively short leg to Donna and Victoria Palms RV Resort was uneventful, except it is always good to see the palm trees lining Highway 77 on its straightaway into Harlingen. It's almost as if the palms are welcoming us to a place of sunny refuge from the throes of winter weather experienced at higher latitudes.

This always presents a wardrobe problem for Sandy, who must now rearrange her closet to make summer things easier to grab while moving winter clothes to some place less handy. I, of course, have no such problem, as my tiny fraction of the closet holds perhaps a dozen and a half garments, among which summer and winter clothing are adequately represented. I've found that having this small selection of clothing is all that I need, and I could probably get by with even less. Oh yes, and I am not shy about sharing with Sandy--for whom  the all-too-small space for clothes in Phannie is the bane of her existence--about my delight in keeping such a simple wardrobe. I should also mention that such remarks of mine are usually met with an icy stare and a sudden coolness in the air that makes me think we may not be far enough south after all.  But I digress.

Victoria Palms is a massive RV/manufactured home park whose labyrinthine layout could easily serve as a valid cognizance test for senior citizens. All that would be needed is to place the subject in the middle of the park and let him try to find his way out. It is a 55-plus park with amenities galore to keep its elderly residents housed, fed, laundered and entertained. 

The park is clean, all streets are paved and curbed, and the sites are all concrete. It seems to be well-managed with friendly staff and aesthetics that would be expected of a higher-end park:

There are many, many Canadians here in the park, and who could blame them for wanting to escape the harsh winters up north? Golf carts are the transportation of choice for hundreds of guests in getting around the park, and you have to keep an eye out for them if you're out for a walk. These are parked outside the activities center:

Inside the activities center I found, to my delight, a beautiful grand piano that, thankfully, was in excellent tune. I couldn't help myself and played a few old standards, much to the delight of other ancient old fogies there like me, who think that, with a few exceptions, there hasn't been any decent music written since about 1970:

Okay, Okay. I've gone back and edited this post to include a link to a video of my playing Love is a Many Splendored Thing on my own piano. Here it is: It's really not all that good, but I am providing it because several asked.

It's easy to see why the RGV is popular in the winter. Unless an uncommon cool front has pushed through, the weather is springlike almost all the time, with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. Of course, summertime is a different matter. The heat here is oppressive then, and the reason, of course, that the winter Texans flee northward in the spring.

Of course, there are the ubiquitous fruit trees that have been planted all around the park. Alongside Phannie's parking space we can pick oranges and grapefruit that are quite tasty: 

Upon our arrival, we were met by friends Joylea and Glenn, fellow east Texans, who are also here, having made this park their winter home for many years:

We met this great couple last summer in Colorado. They have a motorhome much like Phannie, a tribute to their good taste! 

After getting settled, they invited us to go with them to the ballroom, where a country and western band played classic country tunes and did a great job of it. None of that new-fangled country music here:

Joy and Glenn couldn't resist a dance, so I snapped their photo for their 15 minutes of fame in the blog world! 

A bit later, we were joined by friends John and Bobbie Jo (left foreground) and Carolyn and Larry (right foreground) at Willie B's BBQ in Alamo for some laughs and some righteous 'cue:

And so it goes--the life of a winter Texan. Not bad.

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

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

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Holidays with Family and Friends

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

As usual, we have had a wonderful three-week stay in this park near Conroe, where we have ready access to Mindy, Tyler and the grands. When we weren't with them, we enjoyed the fellowship of a gaggle of friends who, like us, wander in an out of Thousand Trails here. We especially enjoy getting together at a favorite restaurant, as pictured below at El Palenque, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Spring, Texas:

For our grandsons, Mason and Pryce, Christmas is HUGE, of course, and we had loads of fun joining in their excitement:

Of course, we are excitedly awaiting the momentous arrival of grandson number three in April! 

Here are Mindy and the boys, having a blast making a mess in the kitchen. Mindy and Tyler are great parents, making sure the boys are included in all their family experiences, and we feel genuinely blessed that we are always made to feel welcome to join in the fun.

The time has flown by, and we have such good memories of this time together.

In only a few days, we will be leaving for our winter stay at Victoria Palms in the Rio Grande Valley where we will encounter more of our snowbirding friends, so stay tuned for more fulltiming adventures!

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.