Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Monday, March 18, 2019

Old Friends, New Friends and We Meet a Fellow Blogger

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

When I think about our soon-to-be concluded winter stay here in the Valley and the reasons this place continues to beckon to us as we flee the cold weather, my first thought is about the friends, old and new, whose company we have enjoyed during our wanderings and some of whom are usually here during the winter. We write often of our friends--perhaps too often for some of our readers, but they are important to us, and we like to keep them at least in our thoughts when we're apart. I am ever mindful of that prescient quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Go oft to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path." 

When we see their photos, we sometimes talk about how we first met each of these couples and, with few exceptions, the common thread is the RVing connection. Within that group, the original contact was usually made in one of a couple of ways: By personally interacting with fellow travelers parked nearby or through first becoming a cyber friend through reading RVers' blogs. I used to read quite a number of these in the years leading up to our going fulltime--mainly to assess the authors' experiences and what we could learn from them. And I still read some that are done well and include plenty of narrative along with photos. Blogs that include mostly photos and little story telling don't get my attention. Anyone can post photos; the author's story is the interesting part. While I'm thinking about it, let me give a shoutout to Mary, who writes Reflections Around the Campfire, one of my favorites. She is a talented writer who lets you into her head with a smart and thoughtful commentary about what she's thinking and observing.

We think immediately of longtime friends Ed and Marilyn, whose blog, The Happy Wanderers, we have been following for perhaps the longest time. Ed is another blogger who is more of a  daily storyteller than an picture taker, and his blog has way over a million hits to underscore its appeal. We would have to give them credit for introducing us to a whole gaggle of their friends, whom we now count as friends of our own and, like all of our friends, we think they are the best people anyone could possibly know. Here's a photo of some from that group, sitting outside Ed and Marilyn's coach house a few days ago while John played the guitar and sang. (Notice the warm weather clothing; we mustn't forget to mention that the tropical climate is another reason we're here in the winter.): 

We think of Gordon and Juanita, whom we came to know many years ago through Gordon's blog, written when they were traveling. We think of Dave and Janice, who have a Facebook blog and who introduced us to a wonderful group of pals in the Conroe area. We also think of the friends we've made through rallies of the RV club to which we belong. There are many other wonderful friends--not necessarily RVers, but those whom we've known from other circles and perhaps for decades--who will remain close in our hearts for all our lifetime. Today's focus, however, is really about meeting, right here in the Valley, new blogger friends Mark and Denisa:

I tend to give some extra ink to RV bloggers we've met, but this delightful couple deserve an extra supply. This would not only be because of their terrific blog, Wandering His Wonders, authored by Denisa, but also because they are just such personable, winsome people. Denisa obviously takes pride in her posts, because they are unfailingly interesting and informative with great photos. If you haven't already found it, it's worth clicking on the link above, for sure.

These fulltiming Oklahomans must have retired early, as they both look annoyingly young. Mark was in the tech world, and Denisa was in academia. They have two sons and recently became grandparents! They also seem tireless, engaging in endless  physical activities such as kayaking, hiking, swimming and dancing, to name a few. Oh yes, and let's not forget pickleball and water volleyball, and there are probably more. Just writing about all of their physical activity is wearing me out; compared to these two, Sandy and I would have to be classified as more vegetable than human. (By the way, if you're trying to picture me as some kind of vegetable, please don't let it be kale or eggplant, neither of which I like. Just about anything else is fine.)

Here's another photo of this charming couple, beside whom rests a bowl of freshly picked oranges and grapefruit from the ubiquitous fruit trees in their RV park and many others here in the Valley. And yes, the fruit in the parks is usually free for the picking:

I was delighted to learn that, besides our having a common interest in blogging, Denisa is also a fellow pianist, carrying a full 88-key keyboard piano in their motorhome:

This is a bonus I would also enjoy, but we just don't have the room in Phannie--something that's a little difficult to explain since our coach is five feet longer. (Let's just say that going into that really doesn't serve well my best interests, so I think I'll just move along.) I also notice a guitar case in the photo above, something I failed to inquire about. Obviously, these are talented people who've gotten this fulltiming thing all figured out. 

I feel lucky to have access to three pianos here at Victoria Palms, including the nice grand piano in the activity center. Playing for Sunday church service has also been enjoyable, and the practice has helped a great deal. Speaking of the church service, this would be a good place to mention yet another couple of new friends, Illinois residents and Valley snowbirds Linda and Craig, who graciously had us over for dinner the other evening. Linda serves as one of the song leaders at the church service here at VP:

Since we have only about three weeks left here in the Valley, we are often asked if we will be back next winter. We haven't decided yet, as we have never done the snowbird thing anywhere else, such as Florida or Arizona. We think we would like to see what it would be like to spend the winter somewhere in the southwestern U. S., so we might do that next winter; we'll see. We don't think we will be spending any winters in Florida, where it is difficult to find space, and that which can be found is quite a bit more expensive.

I'll mention one more thing--something I posted in the RV Tips Facebook group, but that I'll also include here for the sake of posterity. By the way, my friend Ed Hurlburt runs the group, and he's got about 140,000 subscribers now, as well as a new program offering to members all kinds of vendor discounts. It's well worth taking a look, in my opinion. 

I wanted to mention the light over Phannie's dining table that, until recently, appeared to be getting dimmer as we got older. (I'm sure it couldn't possibly be our aging eyeballs that are the problem.) The original fixture installed at the factory was a dinky one that was painfully dim from the outset. We put up with it for a few years, but eventually found a three-light fixture on eBay that was 12 volts and used those infernal white-hot, push-in 921 bulbs. This new fixture was a great improvement but, as previously mentioned, the light just kept getting dimmer and dimmer with the passage of time. It was becoming more and more difficult to see what we were eating or sometimes even to identify the hazy figure sitting across from me who seemed oddly  familiar. 

Of course, a better course of action would have been to do a rewire and install a 120V household fixture. We really don't need 12-volt lighting in key areas like this because we never do boondocking. However, that sort of project is well beyond my level of expertise and, perhaps more importantly, my level of energy, which we have already established earlier in this piece. Then there's always the possibility that any shadetree installation of mine involving electricity could result in some catastrophe that might involve the summoning of first responders.

I had been looking for some LED bulbs that would fit the push-in slots of the old 921 bulbs but that were also bright enough to be the cataract-friendly kind we needed. However, I also wanted the kind that would give off a warmer light than those bright white LEDs that remind me of the fluorescent bulbs in an old K-Mart or something. I mentioned that to someone that the other day, and his reply was that the bright white LED lights are "in" and that I'm a dinosaur. He may be right; some of the newer coaches I've been in almost require sunglasses to be worn inside.

Undeterred by his remark that must have been incredibly insulting to dinosaurs, I found some LED bulbs on Amazon that looked like what I wanted and, with uncharacteristically good fortune, they turned out to be perfect. Here's the URL, if you're interested:

These suckers are almost bright enough to enable surgery to be performed underneath, but they have the warm white color we wanted. I'm including a photo of the fixture with one of the new bulbs in place; the difference is obvious:

But hey, that's just me; I guess I probably am a dinosaur. But I still don't like those ultra bright, fluorescent-looking lights. And the cataract surgery can be put off a little longer.

In closing, we'll be looking forward to a visit in a few days by Sandy's sister, Brenda. We can't wait to see her and show her around.

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

We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing. 
--George Bernard Shaw 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Air Horns, Airplanes and Staying Young at Heart

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

Yes, I know it has been a while since I posted something. We have been having so much fun with our friends here in the Valley that I've just sorta ignored the blog. Sorry about that! However, I've previously posted photos of some of our typical gatherings--usually at a restaurant (where else?), so posting more of these would become a little trite, don't you think? 

We've made several trips over to Mexico with various groups of friends, and that's always fun. We also had a good time teaching the domino game '42' to Larry and Carolyn and Steve and Jackie. They're getting pretty good at it! We also had a brief visit with Bob and Janet of our contingent of friends in nearby Mission, and it was really good to see them again. Joy and Glenn were with us here for a while, but our time with them was way too short, too.

But these eight great friends have headed back north, and we are settling back into what has become a routine of sorts. I can hardly believe that I wondered, when I booked this park for a three-month stay, what in the world we would do with all of our spare time, since we wouldn't be traveling anywhere in Phannie. That worry has proven to be silly; we're busy all the time, it seems. When we aren't visiting with Ed and Marilyn, Denny and Jackie, Eddie and Jan, Mike and Marian and others, we try to take care of housekeeping chores as well as making trips to Wally World and H.E.B for supplies. But we usually have some time to relax, and we've gotten pretty good at that.

I also serve as pianist for the Sunday church service here at Victoria Palms. I was asked to serve by someone who happened by when I was playing the piano in the lobby just after we arrived, and I was delighted to accept. Sandy sings in the choir, so we are glad to be able to take part and serve in these ways.

I also have had a couple of issues that required visits to our site by outside service providers. One wasn't my fault--a windshield nick on Mae that was quickly fixed by Safelite. The other was a lot more expensive and embarrassing, but I might as well confess--maybe I'll feel better about it, but probably not. 

Let's just say that if you find yourself driving a motorhome down a road with tree limbs overhead, it's a really good idea not to proceed if you're not absolutely certain there is plenty of clearance between the limbs and the roof of the coach. If you don't stop, get out and check with your own eyeballs, things can get expensive. 

This bit of stupidity on my part occurred at an RV park in Rockport, where we stayed overnight during our trip here to the Valley. In order to maneuver Phannie past another RV that was taking up more of the road than it should, I drove too close to some overhanging tree limbs. From the driver's seat, the clearance appeared to be okay but, upon hearing an ominous crunch over my head, I knew that it obviously wasn't. The crunch was the dislodging of the left air horn from Phannie's roof. There was nothing to be salvaged from the disfigured remains of the horn, so it was relegated to the dumpster, and I set Phannie on her course toward the Rio Grande sans one of her air horns. These things are very effective, by the way. Since one of these 20-ton beasts won't stop on a dime, a blast on the air horn is pretty handy in getting the attention of a driver who is about to get run over.

I really didn't know what I was going to do about the missing horn when we arrived here, so I began an Internet search and--wonder of wonders--what would show up but "Air Horns of Texas!" Yes, friends, McAllen happens to be the home of probably the only shop anywhere dedicated entirely to the installation and repair of air horns. I couldn't believe my good fortune! I gave Jason, the owner, a call, and within a few weeks and with the parting of a few hundred dollars, Phannie's missing air horn was ordered and replaced after a temporary repair to the roof where the horn used to be:

This was a particularly irksome ordeal, as I fancy myself a pretty cautious driver. This lesson won't be soon forgotten, nor will the pain in my wallet. And I won't forget my luck in finding Jason, either.

We also managed to have a little extra time to do some flying. I was due for my required biennial flight review, so I went to the McAllen airport, snagged a flight instructor and rented a Cessna from McCreery Aviation to get this done. After a short flight, I suppose the instructor was satisfied that I sort of knew what I was doing, so that checkout ended pretty quickly. A few days later, during a nice day with calm wind and good visibility, Sandy and I rented the Cessna and flew over to Port Isabel, where we landed and checked out that sleepy little airport. Taking off again, we flew over the causeway to South Padre Island to see what it looked like from the air:

The view above is from about 1,000 feet. Sandy was amazed because  the island looks so narrow from the air. She's holding my iPad, the device used by most pilots now for navigation and airport information. If only such a thing were available back when I had to lug around all those Jepp manuals in my flight bag.

She doesn't seem scared at all, does she? 

I'm having a good time, too. These little airplanes are great for sightseeing--something that was nearly impossible in a jetliner. I'll see if some other friends want to fly around a bit before we all leave the Valley.

I've had some comments from some folks on Facebook about how active our lives seem to them--flying airplanes around and driving a motorhome all over the country as we do. (They are too tactful to add, "at your age," I suppose.) Well, first of all, we aren't really all that old; I'm barely into my seventies, and Sandy hasn't made it to that decade yet. We know quite a few much older folks out here in the RV world who seem to run circles around us. 

I think part of it is just being willing to step out of what is routine, familiar and safe and embrace new adventures. But there is also a philosophy involved that I really hadn't thought of until we saw Clint Eastwood's recent movie, "The Mule." Clint, at age 88, was asked how he managed to do something like make a movie at such an advanced age. His response was, "I get up every morning and I just don't let the old man in." What a great line! Like Clint, we don't think of ourselves as being old, and I'm going to keep the old man out just as long as I can, Lord willin'.

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.