Photo taken at Winchester Bay, Oregon

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Hannibal: There Are Things Here Even Older than Ed!

At the Mark Twain Cave and Campground, Hannibal, Missouri...

It was at the much more genteel hour of 11 a.m. when Ed and Marilyn strode down to where Mae was parked for our departure on today's adventure. Ed guided me expertly to the historic downtown area of Hannibal and, with the extra sleep this morning, I was able to do important things like process information and recognize the people in our car.  

We were concentrating on the historic street where Samuel Clemens spent his boyhood, including the family home and the storied white fence of Tom Sawyer's:

Across the street was Samuel Clemens' father's office:

 Next door to this was the house belonging to the wealthier Hawkins family whose daughter, Laura, was the inspiration for Tom Sawyer's love interest, Becky Thatcher:

Nearby was the ramshackle house of the ne're-do-well Blankenship family, whose offspring, Tom Blankenship, was the inspiration for Huckleberry Finn.

All of these edifices have been lovingly restored, and the visitor center and museum have inexpensive interpretive tours that are fascinating. There was so much information that I didn't know; the books I had read so long ago seemed to come alive for me here. After seeing all this, I vowed that I would read the books about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn again soon.

After lunch downtown, Ed took us on a private tour of the Mark Twain cave that was prominently mentioned in Clemens' story of Tom Sawyer. 

Ed works part time as a tour guide in the cave, and I must tell you that his knowledge of the cave and the lore surrounding it was something to behold. We found ourselves captivated by his knowledge of the geology and the detailed stories he told about the history of the cave. His flawless delivery of the talks at each spot had the desired effect, keeping us transfixed and sometimes feeling a little creepy. At one point, Ed partially told a cave story, purposely leaving the ending in suspense until later in the tour. This was painful for the ever-curious Sandy, who told Ed, playfully, to speed up the tour so she could find out how the story ended. There were stories of love, death, fear, criminals, hideouts, treasure, discovery, escapes, bats, ghosts, dead bodies and everything else imaginable in this limestone labyrinth formed over a period of 300 million years. It was an epic adventure--masterfully presented by Ed--and we felt very fortunate to have him as our guide. 

Following are a few pics from our tour:

So we reluctantly leave Hannibal and these good friends behind, perhaps not seeing everything this historic place had to offer, but having plenty to remember until the next visit. Our thanks to you fine folks for showing us such hospitality.

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

Hannibal: We are Treated to a Fine Tour

At Mark Twain Cave and Campground, Hannibal, Missouri...

For those who follow Ed  and Marilyn's blog, The Happy Wanderers, their frequent mentions of their ancestral home near Hannibal, Missouri probably piqued your curiosity as it did ours. Having never before visited the historic river town that was the home of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, and the setting for his classic novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). 

Being as close by as Memphis, I thought there would be no better opportunity to catch these two friends in their home habitat than this one, so we pointed Phannie northbound on I-55 toward St. Louis and Hannibal. It also occurred to me that no one would be better suited to help us get acquainted with the area than they and, of course, this assumption turned out to be spot on.

Somehow Ed must have sensed that we were nearing Hannibal, as I got a call from him when we were about ten miles south of town. His purpose in doing so was to give me instructions for a better route to the campground where they are currently parked than the directions that are delivered impassively by the small woman inside my GPS. Once Ed gave me an overview of the route, my brain rather quickly ran out of RAM as he described the twists and turns he had in mind. Not wishing to make some off-road error with the leviathan that is Phannie and Mae hooked together, I asked Ed to stick with me on the phone while I negotiated his suggested route. This turned out to be a wise move, as I almost certainly would have made a wrong turn without his real-time guidance. 

Ed greeted us warmly at the park entrance and led us to our site, which he and Marilyn had chosen as the best for our needs instead of the site originally chosen by the office. Upon spotting the site,we agreed that our friends had made the perfect choice. It's so nice to have friends waiting on us and smoothing the way. It's almost like having our own concierges! 

Shortly afterward, Marilyn drove up to our rig with grandchildren Lauren and Colby, whose photos we had seen since their birth but never met in person. They are certainly cute and smart kids and are obviously adored by their grandparents, with whom they were to enjoy a pizza dinner that evening. 

The next morning, Ed had scheduled a boat ride out on the lake with other fulltiming friends, Steve and Cathy. He couldn't help but smirk a bit when he informed us of the MORNING departure, as he is fully aware that we are anything but morning people. Nevertheless, we defied the odds and rolled out of our bed at the ridiculous hour of 8:00 a.m. I always take a lot of grief from others about our late-sleeping habit but frankly, we think they are the abnormal ones. Ed typically goes to bed early, then sleeps 10 hours or so and arises before dawn--something that might be fitting for ancient neanderthals but...oh wait, I think I've just figured this out.

Our mutual friend, Bob L., tells a revealing story on these two:  "Ed and Marilyn stayed up after sunset once and, seeing the setting sun, thought it was morning and were frightened because the sun was rising in the west." 

We enjoyed the drive to Mark Twain Lake and the COE park that was really beautiful. After boarding Steve's and Cathy's very nice pontoon boat, we motored a short distance out in the lake until an engine problem developed, causing Steve to return to the dock. Although it was short-lived, we enjoyed the ride a lot along with the company of these four friends. We had lunch afterward, where I was able to harass Steve by mentioning that the "three-hour tour" in the theme song of the old Gilligan's Island TV show must have been Steve's inspiration for his "three-minute tour." He will never be able to live this down, much to the delight of his "friends." When you're around this bunch, having thick skin is a requirement; there is never an end to the good-natured harassment.

Steve, Sandy, Marilyn and Ed

Cathy and Steve
Steve and Cathy are volunteers at the beautiful visitor center at Mark Twain Lake. Thanks for showing us around, guys...we really enjoyed it.

After our tour, Ed and Marilyn took us to nearby Monroe City where they lived and Ed did much of the flying he recounts in his book, My Journey to the Clouds, available from Amazon. I was honored to have edited the book, and I definitely enjoyed our collaboration.

Next on our tour was the Garth Mansion, now a beautiful old bed and breakfast owned by friends of Ed and Marilyn. We enjoyed this a great deal, and I had the good fortune to play the 1869 Steinway piano that was lovingly restored by the mansion's owners. 

Mike plays the 1869 Steinway piano

Mark Twain always sat in the wine-colored chair when he visited his friends, the Garth family.
Reluctantly leaving the Garth mansion, we drove to Lovers Leap, a high promontory overlooking Hannibal at the Mississippi:

Our view of Hannibal from Lovers Leap

The photo above is the actual Lovers Leap rock overlooking the Mississippi, where, according to local legend, an Indian brave and an Indian princess, each from a warring tribe, jumped to their deaths because the young brave was forbidden to marry the one he loved.   

All of this we experienced in only one day, thanks to our wonderful friends. Thank you, guys!  Our Hannibal adventure continues in the next post. Stay tuned!

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

For RV Happiness, Be Flexible and Be Prepared

At Cape Camping and RV Park, Cape Girardeau, Missouri...

It was departure day from Memphis, so we rolled out of bed crazy early, a little after eight o'clock!  We've done so many departures now that our respective duties are pretty well automated. Sandy takes care of most of the 'pink' things (chores inside the coach), and I tend to the 'blue' things (chores outside the coach). My chores do extend inside Phannie a bit to include things like stowing the satellite antenna (not much effort there; it requires pushing a button), raising the jacks and bringing in the front slides. On this particular day, The long main slide would retract only on one side and not the other. I knew from experience exactly what had happened: A slide motor torque tube shear bolt had broken. 

This was not my first experience with this problem; we've had a shear bolt failure on this slide on two previous occasions in the past six years. This appears to be a poor design by Tiffin on this older coach. The slides are all electric, and they have worked perfectly for more than ten years, except for these doggone shear bolts--and only the ones on the main slide, which is, of course, the largest and heaviest. This is what the bolt looks like:

In keeping with the title of this post, you should know that I was prepared.  Some time ago, I had ordered a half dozen of these bolts from Tiffin, and I knew where to access the broken one from inside the belly compartment underneath the errant slide. Opening up the belly door and shining a flashlight on the bolt, I found that it was still intact!  Assuming the problem was something more serious, I gave up and called a mobile RV service tech, who appeared at Phannie's door in a couple of hours. I informed Sandy that we would not be leaving Memphis today, and she more or less shrugged and began undoing the preparations she had already made. (That's where the flexible part comes in; If you don't learn to be flexible while RVing, you probably won't do it for long.)

Jay, the very friendly RV tech, found the problem in a couple of minutes--a broken shear bolt! 

"What?" I said.  "I looked at it before I called you, and it looked fine!" 

"Did you look at one in this compartment?" 

It was then that I noticed he had opened the compartment containing the propane tank instead of the one beside it where I had looked at the bolt. 

"This slide has four shear bolts," he said, "two on each side of the motor; the second one on this side of the motor is in here."

I was clueless about this; I thought there were only two--one on each side of the motor. I didn't know that another one was lurking inside the next compartment, well hidden from view by the large tank inside. I also wondered why the extra one would be needed. I suppose I could have looked in the owner's manual for this information, but guys don't usually do that. It would be a sign of weakness--much like asking others for directions. It's much better for us to spend money needlessly on mobile mechanics and find ourselves hopelessly lost from time to time.

I sheepishly handed him the bolt and, in a few minutes, I was also handing him eighty dollars for the service call. Now I have more reasons to worry about shear bolts, since I know there are four of them on this slide instead of two.

The delay wasn't a complete loss. We went out for dinner with Dan and Peggy again, which was very enjoyable. Sandy and I also had time for a late afternoon walk along the riverbank, where I was able to snap this photo of clouds over the Mississippi that were reflecting the fading light of the setting sun: 

I always enjoy our stays here close to the river, struck as I am by the size and power of this mighty force of nature. We do not take for granted the good fortune we have, being able to travel anywhere we wish and see God's creation up close.

The next morning, we went through the same departure ritual again and, this time, the slide came in exactly as it should. I retracted the satellite dish and raised the jacks, and we were ready to go, saying farewell to Dan and Peggy and wishing them safe travels. 

We stopped for fuel when we got to the Interstate, paying $2.11 a gallon at a barebones discount place that had no amenities at all. Thank you, Dan, for pointing it out to me eariler! There were no restrooms, no food and drinks, no attendant, and the door was locked; you just pay with your credit card and go. That suited me fine; Phannie already has all of those amenities, and I saved about 25 cents a gallon. Sweet!

Then we stopped at a nearby truck wash to get Phannie and Mae cleaned up. It had been raining in Memphis, and these girls needed a bath. They look really good now.

We drove north on I-55 to Sikeston, where we were finally going to patronize Lambert's Cafe, the "Home of the Throwed Rolls." 

Once inside, the waiter brought Sandy a huge mug of iced tea and another mug full of ice. Tea-aholic that she is, she was clearly in heaven:

The owners of Lambert's have had the good fortune of exploiting to the hilt the novel premise of throwing dinner rolls at their customers since 1942. The food, while plentiful, is not that great (yes, I'm picky, and I don't apologize for it), and it is rather overpriced, but the place was very busy, even at 2:00 p.m. What a gold mine! The restaurant is large with acres of parking, so we had no trouble parking our rig. And now that we've experienced Lambert's, we can say we've been there. We don't see a need to return.

It was a hot day, and it felt good to get back to cool Phannie, where the air conditioners kept her frosty while we were in the restaurant. Yes, it is indeed time to keep heading north!

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Memphis and Making New Friends

At Tom Sawyer's RV Park, Memphis, Tennessee...

Before I get started on this, let me mention that most of the extra linked pages on the right side of the blog margin have been updated. I've listed quite a few new "Best of the Best RV Parks" that I've learned about. If you, dear readers, become aware of new RV parks that would fall into this category, please let me know in a comment. Also, please let me know if one of these parks doesn't measure up to its listing.  Similarly, if you've found one of the favorite restaurant listings closed, please let me know that, too. 

We are near Memphis, on the Arkansas side, parked at the Tom Sawyer RV Park on the bank of the Mississippi River:

Dawn on the Mississippi. This was pure insanity; I usually never, ever get up this early.
We always enjoy staying here right on the river, sitting on the park benches provided and watching the barge traffic go by. I got a twofer in this photo showing a family of geese headed toward the water while a tugboat struggled against the current as it pushed a group of barges upriver:

We're here to attend the annual gospel quartet show before we head northbound for the summer. On a previous trip, we toured Graceland and did the Elvis thing, so we're going to check out some other attractions and restaurants while we're here. The last time we were here, we tried downtown's famous Rendezvous for ribs and Gus's Fried Chicken and liked them enough to list them on our favorite restaurants page. This time, I was intrigued by a TV show that featured Dyer's hamburger place on Beale Street, so we went there to check it out. That's the joint where they fry the patties in 100-year-old grease! They claim to strain the grease every day but they never discard it and start over. They also season it by frying up some garlic cloves at the beginning of the day and, while I thought this was all pretty bizarre, it was not quite off-putting enough to keep me from trying it. Now I can already hear the collective gasps out there at the revelation that I would even consider participating in such an artery-clogging bit of gluttony as this, but give me a break--wouldn't you be just a little curious, too?

The burger patties are dropped into a vat of hot grease by the cook in the photo below:

This is what the burger looked like when served:

Frankly, I can't figure out why this burger is supposed to be popular. To me, it was just, well, okay. Tomatoes and lettuce are not provided (no, you can't have it your way). I had rather have had the patty cooked on a griddle, I think. And worst of all, the onion rings were the pre-frozen kind. For me, this is the kiss of death for an onion ring. I have yet to find a frozen one that was any good. The onion rings inside their little sarcophaguses  had almost disintegrated, as expected, leaving only the fried batter ring from the outside. It was disgusting. 

We walked around Beale Street a bit but found it a bit too touristy to hang around for long:

For another lunch on another day, we dropped into the nearby Blues City Cafe and tried their gumbo and a catfish/BBQ rib combo plate. The gumbo was outstanding and very spicy, just the way I like it. The combo was good, too, but the meal was way overpriced at $42 for one entree and one appetizer. Another black mark for restaurants in the middle of tourist hangouts. Beware!

Before we even reached Memphis, Dan, one of our readers and fellow bloggers (, commented on our blog that he and his wife, Peggy, were parked at Tom Sawyer's RV Park in West Memphis and would like to meet us if that's where we were headed. We replied that we were, indeed, going to park there and that we would look them up! We're always delighted to do these meetups, and we were excited at the prospect of meeting Dan and Peggy. We found them to be a very personable, fun-loving couple of fulltimers with an unusual rig that I found fascinating. It is a large toyhauler fifth wheel, something that I really hadn't seen up close before:

But that wasn't the only guy-toy Dan had! He gave us an enjoyable ride to dinner in his roomy Freightliner medium-duty monster truck that he uses to pull his big fiver. There is absolutely no shortage of power in this big rig, for sure:

These folks are serious fulltimers, and we were astonished to see that their fifth wheel has an air conditioned garage in the rear that can convert to a bedroom! Here's a photo of the small Reeper runabout they keep in the garage and that takes them where the Freightliner can't go. Pretty cool, huh?:

In our conversations with Dan and Peggy, we became aware that we had been in the same RV park in the Rio Grande Valley recently but failed to meet up by one day; I'm glad we connected this time. We talked a good deal about where we were headed next, and they had some excellent suggestions that we will consider. Meeting good folks like Dan and Peggy is one of the many positive aspects of this lifestyle that we appreciate so much. And now, they join other bloggers we've met and are listed on the linked page, "Bloggers We've Met."

On another day, Sandy and I dropped in at the Cotton Museum in downtown Memphis. For many decades in the 19th and 20th centuries, the cotton trade provided the lifeblood for the development of Memphis, and this exchange building on Front Street was the nerve center for the cotton market in the old South. In the photo below, you can see the huge chalkboards upon which the prices of cotton in various world markets were posted after being received over a telegraph wire. The chalkboards were in use until 1978 when they were replaced by computerized displays:

This was an interesting tour, in which we learned a good deal about early Memphis through the interactive displays.

Next, we decided to go over to the Peabody Hotel and watch the famed parade of ducks as they leave the fountain in the hotel lobby and march to the elevator to go upstairs after their afternoon swim. This custom originated in 1933, soon after the hotel was built, and it was done as a prank. Someone thought it would be funny to put some ducks in the hotel fountain, and it became such a hit with customers that they continued the practice to this day. That was a good call, as the hotel lobby was packed with several hundred sightseers during our visit. Here's a photo of the fountain but, of course, the ducks all happened to be bunched up, swimming on the opposite side. Typical of my luck as a photographer:

It was a cute ceremony that included a lengthy narrative by the 'duck master' seen in the red tunic, followed by the ducks parading down the steps onto the red carpet in a single line all the way to the elevator where they were whisked away to their 'duck palace' on the top floor of the hotel. Here is a video that I pulled off YouTube:

We kept pretty busy going to several concert sessions during the week, and we continued to try new restaurants. One of them was the Half Shell, a rather forgettable (supposedly cajun) seafood restaurant that served perhaps the worst gumbo I've ever eaten.  I couldn't help but marvel in the irony that I had had perhaps the best (Blues City Cafe) and worst (this place) gumbo ever during this one trip to Memphis. Amazing!

Dan and Peggy helped us salvage our restaurant quest by accompanying us to Memphis BBQ Company just across the Mississippi state line south of Memphis. This restaurant is one of their favorites, and we were especially fond of the ribs; we were able to take home enough leftovers for another meal:

And yes, the onion rings were fresh and hand breaded, as they should be.

Late in the evening, as we were leaving the convention center, the site of the concert series we were attending, we drove by Beale Street in downtown Memphis and noticed an ambulance and police cruiser standing by. It was a Friday night, and the street was jammed with intoxicated revelers, so I guess the first responders were staged there, ready for anything. Somehow, this struck me as a bit sad to think that an expectation of violence or injuries is almost considered normal nowadays in places like this.

The next day, we took Dan and Peggy to our pick of a restaurant, a tiny Japanese place named Tokyo Grill. It turned out to be one of those wonderful mom and pop places where the food was outstanding, plentiful and ridiculously cheap. I could hardly wait to include it on my favorites list: 

We have delayed our departure from Memphis for a day due to a line of storms moving through. It's good to be retired so we can adjust our travel plans when needed for the sake of good traveling weather. We're heading farther north from here...stay tuned!

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

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Making Our Way North for the Summer

At Cowtown RV Park, Aledo, Texas...

My wonderful state of Texas is not a great place to be in the summertime. Until they air condition the entire state (don't laugh--big stuff happens here), those who have the means and the time to do so tend to evacuate to a cooler clime. We hung around Conroe to attend grandson Mason's eighth birthday party on June 3, and then it was time to start making our way north for the summer.

The first stop was the DFW area, where we have been unable to wean ourselves from our beloved family doctor and dentist, both of whom I needed to visit. The visit to the dentist was to get a broken tooth repaired. I didn't include a photo of the snaggle tooth, lest it be used by some of my hopelessly evil friends to "out" me as some kind of tooth-gapped backwoods redneck which, as I think about it, does describe some of my lineage. It was one of the upper front teeth that broke, seemingly for no reason other than to remind me that my choppers have been hanging around for 70 years and that some of them are like other body parts of mine that have worn out and been repaired--like my hip, for example.

Fortunately, my longtime dentist, Roger, a true artist, was able to patch it up amazingly well without doing a cap, and it looks as good as new. No one would believe now that, besides having a hip made from a ball bearing, my teeth are held together with Bondo. Sometimes I feel as though I belong in an auto body shop.

The second stop was to our family doctor and an exam to acquire a new pilot's "Basic Med" medical certificate, required to keep my pilot's license active. In an unusual retreat from unnecessarily burdensome government requirements, the FAA changed the rules for obtaining a medical certificate for pilots of most small airplanes that carry no more than six occupants. Now with the new rule, these pilots no longer have to visit an FAA-designated physician every two years. They can see any state-licensed physician and have him or her perform an exam and fill out a relatively simple form that will suffice as a medical certificate. This must be done now at four-year intervals instead of two. The only other requirements are that the pilot must have held a standard medical certificate within the past ten years and that he or she must have completed a brief video course on recognizing medical conditions that could impair pilot performance. Pilots of larger high-performance airplanes still must abide by the original FAA rules for medical exams. Since I won't be flying jet airliners any longer, this new rule is perfect for my occasional pleasure flights in small airplanes.

This exam was the first of its kind for my family doctor, and he seemed glad to learn of the new FAA regimen and the allowance for all physicians to participate. After the exam, he said that he didn't see anything that would indicate I would soon assume room temperature, so he signed the form. I now have the exam record loaded into my cell phone, which will suffice quite nicely in case an FAA inspector asks to see it.

I took care of a few other chores while we were in the DFW area, like an oil change for Mae and a trip to our accountant's office while Sandy did some shopping with LouAnn, and old friend, after which Bubba joined us for dinner. On our last night, we got together with LouAnn and other dear friends Harvey and MaryLou, for dinner at Horseshoe Hill Cafe in Fort Worth. Sandy and I shared an excellent rib eye steak with some wonderfully fresh sides:

(Sorry, but I had eaten most of my half of the steak before I thought to take a photo; it was really good.) 

Our friends said their chicken fried steak was terrific, so Horseshoe Hill will certainly go on our list of favorite restaurants linked here on the blog.

We talked about a Hawaiian cruise that we're planning to take next summer, and there was plenty of laughter to go around as we lingered over dinner.  We hugged when we parted, knowing we would get together again at the end of summer.

Today we depart for Texarkana on our way to Memphis, where we will spend a week before turning northbound.

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

Update on Cloud TV: I Fire Apple TV

At Sunset Shore RV Park, Willis, Texas...

I thought it would be a good idea to let you know that I have replaced the Apple TV receiver with one from Roku. To my surprise, the Roku suits me much better than the Apple, with all its vaunted hype, cool styling and cult following. I purchased the Roku Premiere for $89.95 at Best Buy, for the following reasons:

1) The main problem was that the Apple began to freeze up when Netflix was selected. I tried a dozen things, and it just stopped working. 2) I was also annoyed that Amazon Prime is not available. How arrogant, I thought, that Apple's little hissy fit with Amazon would keep their stream off the device. 3) I found the touch-sensitive Apple remote more frustrating than useful, as my fat fingers didn't always touch the part of the remote that would cause the appropriate selection to appear on the screen. I plan to hold on to the Apple TV set, though, as it serves admirably as a means to stream wirelessly with Airplay from my iPad to a television set. 

Here's what the new Roku box looks like:

While I'm on the TV subject, I'll go ahead and tell you of an outstanding mobile TV satellite service named Sats2Go (281-564-2828), located near Conroe, Texas and which serves the Houston area.  You may recall that, in my last post on this subject, I was bragging on my Direct TV service and the Winegard Trav'ler automatic dish that feeds it. I guess I never learn, because it has been my painful experience that when I refer to something as trouble-free, it will almost certainly make me look foolish by promptly breaking down. When we were recently in Port Aransas, the Trav'ler dish searched every corner of the obstruction-free sky overhead and simply refused to lock on to a satellite. Inside the coach, I looked at the little Winegard control box where the word "Searching..." remained illuminated, mocking me for my previous braggadocio. 

Upon returning to Sunset Shores, I gave Sats2Go a call and Dave, the owner, appeared a few days later, as arranged. Although not much of a schmoozer, Dave's knowledge of my system was nothing sort of encyclopedic. In a short time, he not only fixed the searching problem (a loose wire), but he rerouted and fastened some of the cables on the roof that had been left awry during the installation years ago. Then he turned his attention to the components inside the coach. With a flurry of activity and with wires and cables flailing around, he reconfigured my system to where it had more capability than when it was new! When he was finished, he handed me a couple of pieces of leftover switches and other components that he said weren't needed any longer in my setup. Apparently, the guys who did the original installation were not on their game, he said. To say I was impressed with Dave is an understatement. If you have problems--or you would like an equipment installation, give Dave a call at (281) 564-2828. I have put him on my list of favorite maintenance providers, linked on the home page of this blog.

Today was a cooking day for us. I fixed some 15-bean soup in a small slow cooker and fried up some hot water cornbread to go with it. Sandy made one of her famous chocolate cakes with roasted walnuts in the icing. 

We sampled both dishes and took most of the rest to the kids. They were so happy to get it. 

That's about it for now; thanks for stopping by!

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Fulltiming and Friendships--Being "Out There"

At Sunset Shores RV Park, Willis, Texas...

We've just returned from attending a rally with some members of our Tiffin Bluebonnet Allegro owners' club in Port Aransas, Texas. We enjoyed being in the company of our friends in this club, all of whom share the common interest of our Tiffin motorhomes, the ownership of which is a requirement for membership. Since this is a relatively small chapter of the nationwide Tiffin Allegro Club, we have gotten to know each other quite well, and it's a pleasure to count them as our friends. Our meeting agendas are quite open and flexible, with plenty of time for our individual interests, usually coming together for an event or two each day. But most often, we find ourselves dining together. Yes, food is usually the common denominator; isn't it always?

Dinner at Fin's in Port A

Some of our group at a Mother's Day fete the next day
Chip takes a big bite of Blue Bell (and who can blame him?).
Okay, you get the picture. We're mostly older retired folks who like to have fun and fellowship without doing too much abuse to our bodies...that's already been done by decades of work, from which we escaped and aren't looking back.

Finally, this brings me--somewhat belatedly--to the theme of today's post: Fulltiming and Friendships. When people we meet find out about our house-free lifestyle, they generally ask some fairly predictable questions after the first one (which is usually a slight variation of, "You did WHAT?") One of those questions that follow is likely this one: "So what about the friends you've left behind?" We tell them that friends don't suddenly dematerialize when you go fulltime; you merely see them less often as you travel around the country. We do, however, make an effort to visit them whenever we are in their area; we think that's important. 

What the questioners also don't realize is that the fulltiming lifestyle becomes a facility for developing new friendships as we interface with others we meet along the way. If you've followed this blog for a while, you are probably aware of a number of friendships we have made--often by pure chance--merely by being "out there," my term for making ourselves available to interact with others. 

How to be "Out There"

Clubs. I've already talked about the friends we've made through our club, but these are but a few of them.

Blogging. Our blog has facilitated quite a few new relationships--often with other fellow bloggers whose posts we read and who read ours. If you are just beginning RVing, I hope you will seriously consider blogging as a means of keeping a journal of your adventures. I can't imagine the loss to Sandy and me if we hadn't had the good sense to start writing of our adventures from the very beginning eleven years ago. It's another way of keeping ourselves "out there."

Engaging others by being winsome.  'Winsome' is one of my favorite words. It is defined as being winning and engaging--making others want to know youStrike up a conversation with people about their RV, their house, their car, their kids or their pets--anything, really. This is a guaranteed effective way to get people talking about their favorite subjects: themselves. This doesn't work every time, of course, but the sourpusses who wave off your friendly greeting are doing you a favor by culling themselves out for you. Let them enjoy sucking their lemons; you'll probably find they are alone, and that may be their thing. Thankfully, such characters are rare in the RV world.

Social Media. With the advent of FaceBook, we find that we keep up with a number of our friends, including new ones, surprisingly well through that venue. In fact, we've reconnected with more friends via social media than we would ever have thought possible. 

Here's an object lesson that involves three of the above means of putting yourself "out there." It is the story of a couple of likely new friendships formed while we were at this very rally in Port Aransas; in fact, it was meeting these folks that gave me the idea to write this post about friendships among RVers, including those who may not be fulltimers. 

A couple of mornings back during the rally, I had stepped outside Phannie to give her windshield a good cleaning. I was removing the remains of several dozen lovebugs that had given their lives, unceremoniously splattered as they were on the vast expanse of Phannie's windshield. I'm guessing this was possibly because of the little critters' being distracted by their lovebug tryst that was going on at the time Phannie happened along. Yes, it's sad, but it was undoubtedly an exciting way to pass into lovebug heaven. The aftermath on the windshield was not pretty, however. 

As I was finishing my project, I noticed a black SUV driving slowly by in front of the coach. The driver, a smiling and pleasant-looking woman, rolled down the window and called out to me. I walked over and spoke to her, at which point she asked how I liked Phannie. (She was a smart lady; she already knew the tip above about engaging others.) 

In response to her question, I duly bragged on Phannie, and she said that she and her husband also have a Phaeton and that they, too, really like it. We talked a while longer, and she said she was interested to learn more about the Bluebonnet club when she learned I was a member. I invited her and her husband to attend all of our functions as a guest and assured her that she would find a friendly reception. Later, I sent her an email with a schedule of events, in which I reiterated our hope they would pay us a visit. The next morning, I called her on the phone to follow up on the invitation and, as we finished our conversation, she excitedly said that she just realized that I was the author of Phannie and Mae (which she learned from clicking on the blog link that appears at the end of all my emails) and gave me some entirely undeserved compliments, for which I was pleased, and I expressed my gratitude for her longtime readership. I couldn't help but smile; this was probably my fifteen minutes of fame, I thought.

The rest of the story is that Marcie and Ken showed up as we had hoped, and we found them to be very warm and friendly. Marcie is a retired schoolteacher, and Ken is an entrepreneur who make their home in Port Aransas:

Marcie and Ken

They must have taken a liking to our club members, as they have expressed a desire to join. High fives for us!

Normally, I would not blather on about a couple of nice folks who join our club, but my interaction with them is a perfect example of how a number of our treasured friendships got started for Sandy and me. In this case, the connection came for Marcie and Ken due to more than one means of being proactive: 1) exploring a club, 2) reading or writing a blog and 3) engaging others. One could say that making friends in the RV world is pretty much like everywhere else: Be friendly, engage positively with others and put yourself "out there"--as we have done in our club activities and our blog. 

It's kinda funny: We'll have to do a good bit of catch-up as we get to know Marcie and Ken better. The truth is, that through reading this blog, they know far more about us than we do about them. It'll be fun, though; they're folks who are easy to know and like.

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


Monday, May 8, 2017

TV From the Cloud - We Catch the Wave

At Sunset Shores RV Park, Willis, Texas...

Before I get started on the techie stuff, I wanted to show you a photo that I really should have included in the previous post about flying. The problem is that I hadn't discovered it when I wrote that piece. I ran across it while going through some old stuff in our nearby storage unit, and I thought I would just include it here for posterity. It shows me in the right seat of a DC-8-73 in Portland, Oregon as I was checking out as a new first officer. This would have been in the summer of 1985. (Yes, my hair wasn't always gray.)

For some reason, I have very few photos taken in or around the airplanes I flew, an omission for which I often kick myself; I hope to find some more as I weed through thousands of family photos, something I should have begun way sooner. 

I loved flying the practically indestructible DC-8 (a quality I proved during my first few landings), and it is among quite a few airplanes I've flown that are now largely extinct, like the Lockheed Constellation, the DC-3 and the Boeing 727. Actually, I wouldn't take anything for having flown the old birds back then, when you really had to fly the airplanes rather than mostly monitor computers as we do today. 

One should not infer, however, that I don't appreciate modern airplanes and the virtues of cockpit automation. As in many other applications, the technological advances in airplanes have reduced pilot workload and human errors very significantly--so much so that the need for a flight engineer has been eliminated in modern airliners. Anything that has contributed so greatly to flying safety has my respect, for sure.

Okay, thank you for your indulgence; I'll move on to today's subject--TV from the cloud!

When we started RVing more than a decade ago, we knew that we were not going to be roughing it. We both enjoy modern conveniences too much to do anything that could be called "camping." This undoubtedly brings a sneer from those who truly enjoy the call of the wild, feeling the mud between their toes, the rain on their tent and the mosquito whelps on their extremities. We don't care if we are scorned for not being frontier types; that's not us and it never will be: Just give us 50 amps and full hookups, and no one gets hurt!

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that we have equipped Phannie with all of the state-of-the-art comforts we would have in a stick-and-brick house, like a king size bed, residential refrigerator, extra air conditioning, satellite TV and radio, computers and unlimited wi-fi. 

So, let's talk about the TV thing. For years, we have subscribed to Direct TV, the signal to which is provided by a Winegard Trav'ler automatic HD dish affixed to Phannie's roof. It has given great service, and we've been very happy with it. When we park the rig we merely push one button, and the dish goes to work finding its satellites completely on its own. This is really appreciated after having dealt with the frustrations of trying to aim a carry-out dish for a short while.

However, having taken note of the movement of TV broadcasting away from towers and cable and toward the Internet, we installed Apple TV in our stick-and-brick house. We really came to appreciate it because of the vastness of the offerings it enabled from the Cloud. We hadn't considered it for Phannie because of what has heretofore been the high cost of big data plans from the cell phone providers--until now, that is. 

It seems that when T-Mobile came up with its "unlimited" data plan recently, the dominoes began to fall, and all the major networks are now offering such plans at a reasonable cost. I scurried to the store and picked up an Apple TV for one of Phannie's sets and a Roku for the other. (The Roku was a good deal cheaper than the Apple.)

Apple TV (Arrow)

Installing the Roku was a snap--you just plug it into one of the TV's HDMI ports and the power cable to a nearby USB port, and you're done. The Apple TV set required some wires to be run and hidden, but that wasn't a big deal. Roku also offers an Apple-like control box available at extra cost.

The remotes look like this:

The Apple TV Remote

Roku Remote

The two systems are easy to operate, but the Apple remote took a little getting used to due to its use of a touchpad; we had to learn to use swipe gestures to move things around the screen. The Apple is clearly a well-designed product and elegant in its appearance, as are all things Apple. But the Roku remote is quite functional and required no learning curve.  Here's what the home screens look like:

Apple Screen

Roku Screen

One not-so-well-known curiosity is that subscribers to Amazon Prime TV will find no capability on Apple TV to access it. It seems that the rivalry between Apple and Amazon is sufficiently fierce that the two companies don't allow each other's apps on their hardware.  With Roku, there's no such problem.  There is a workaround for the Apple, but it is a bit wonky.  It involves the necessity of employing an IOS-based device to stream Amazon Prime shows onto Apple TV via Airplay. (I told you it was wonky.)

The key to watching current TV shows--including live ones--via the Internet is a subscription to Sling TV--a selection visible on both screens above. You can watch current and past episodes of just about all the TV shows you can imagine, and you can also record them from the Cloud. Amazing! The most popular Sling subscription is $25 a month.

I know we're not the first to have bought into cloud TV for RVs, and some of you may be way ahead of us, but that's okay; perhaps this will be informative for the folks who may be considering it or may not even have thought about it. By the way, an Apple TV will cost around $125 and the Roku box about $75; the Roku stick is about $30.

For now, we're going to keep our Direct TV service for the sake of having more choices. It will be nice, however, not to have to look for satellite-friendly sites all the time; we will undoubtedly be tucking Phannie beneath some cool shade during the upcoming summer months.

Unfortunately, the cost of such robust access to the Internet, cloud TV and satellite programming is not small change, and those who need to budget closely may question an outlay of several hundred bucks a month while they're "camping."  Well, we aren't camping; we're living as we wish, and we aren't really big spenders on other things. To each his own, I guess.

Okay, that's about it on all the gadgetry. We're headed to Port Aransas this week to another Tiffin owners' rally; that'll undoubtedly result in another post.

By the way, with summer approaching, you may need to replace some of your folding chairs. As far as I know, the 15% discount from is still available if you order with the code 'phannieandmae15.' (I don't get a kickback; I just like their products.)

Thanks for visiting the blog today!

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

Friday, April 28, 2017

Time to Fly Again

At Sunset Shores RV Park, Willis, Texas...

After enjoying visits with friends and family in central Texas, we slipped into Burnet, Texas to attend the tail end of a rally of the Texas Bluebonnet Allegro Club, of which we are members. During these visits, we found a couple of restaurants that had to be added to our "best" list: The Best Quality Meats and Sausage Shop in Temple and Spykes BBQ in Kingsland. Not much to look at, but trust me...

From there, we motored down to our sort-of home park, Sunset Shores on Lake Conroe, where we tucked Phannie into a nice shady spot that only catches a few warm rays near sundown:

We got an enthusiastic welcome from the kids, especially the grandsons Mason and Pryce, who are willing beneficiaries of all the schemes we dream up to spoil them! Who knew you could have so much fun with grandkids? Why, we've developed ways to spoil them even when we're not here. They love to get surprises in the mail so, when we're traveling, we collect a few small things we think they'll like and send them a package every week or so.  Mindy is always thoughtful to send a video of their excitedly opening the packages, so it's almost like being there!  Thank you, sweetie, for being so considerate.

The rest of this post will probably be more meaningful to my pilot friends but, hopefully, others will find some interest in it. Several posts ago, I talked about having re-established my currency as a pilot after a 20-year absence from the cockpit and what fun it was to take the grandsons flying.  Now it was already time to fly again, so that was among the first things on my to-do list now that we're here. (The FAA requires pilots to maintain their currency by making at least three takeoffs and landings every 90 days if they are to carry passengers.) So this time, I thought it should be Sandy's turn to go along, as she remained behind during the first flights so the kids could all have a ride. I decided to take a short flight to Nacogdoches, my home town, to have dinner with John and Pat Sharp. John is perhaps my oldest friend, and we were best men at each other's wedding. It would be good to see these two again. 

There was also the nostalgia of returning to the airport where I learned to fly 54 years ago and where I hadn't landed an airplane since 1973. 

Isn't it funny how advancing age causes us to seek out the venues of our youth to relive the memories? In this case, my memories are good ones, but that's not always why we find ourselves going back, is it?  Soldiers often return to battlefields, for example, where the memories may be terrible ones. I think we do this partly for fun and partly as a means to affirm that all of our lifelong experiences--good or bad--have contributed to a life well lived and to seek some satisfaction that we may not have contributed all we did for others had we not had those experiences. 

Okay, I digress; enough with the amateur psychology.

I felt even more at home in the little Cessna this time as we climbed into smooth air above some scattered clouds. What was taking some getting used to was the maddeningly slow speed of the airplane. It was chugging along at an agonizing 110 knots, about one-fourth the speed of the jets I had been flying. I had to keep telling myself: "That was then; this is now. You're retired, and there's no need to hurry; just enjoy yourself." 

I also missed the autopilot which, in a modern jet, is a technological wonder. It flies the airplane much more precisely than a human can, so airline pilots go ahead and let it do just that most of the time. But then, hand flying this little airplane was sort of cool; it actually felt good returning to the basics, where one feels the immediate effect of a wind gust or a thermal pushing the little craft slightly out of its intended trajectory, followed by corrective control inputs from me. You should know this is much different from large aircraft that, because of their weight, speed and control input dampers, generally give a much more stable and comfortable ride for skittish passengers. In the little Cessna, I was really flying again, about as close to being a bird as man gets. Yes, I had come full circle.

According to ForeFlight, the air navigation app on my iPad, we had a 26-knot tailwind, so the flight turned out to be a really short one. It wasn't long until I was turning final approach to runway 18:

There was a gusty southeast surface wind, so the landing wasn't great, but serviceable. During the flight, I had been a little worried about Sandy, who hadn't done much flying in small airplanes in bumpy air, but she did fine--indeed, fine enough to take these photos.

Touchdown was just beyond the numbers above, for the first time in 44 years at my hometown airport!

Rolling out after touchdown--still holding the yoke into the left crosswind.

The photo above was taken upon engine shutdown at the ramp. I didn't know Sandy was going to take it, but the smile seems to say it all, doesn't it?  The caption for this might be something my friend Ed always says, "Life is good." 

After a fine dinner and plenty of conversation, we bade goodbye to John and Pat and hopped back in the airplane for a little longer flight back to Huntsville. The same wind that sped us up earlier now slowed us down for the return trip. However, we enjoyed the flight--this time beneath the clouds, so I could point out to Sandy familiar landmarks around my ancestral homeland. I was quite captivated by the air navigation software on my iPad that has done away with the need for the paper charts we always had to carry and continuously fold and unfold. It also made the old VOR and ADF receivers--in use for decades--seem ancient by comparison:

This photo of the iPad display was taken well after we landed, so the information about the airplane performance doesn't appear. If we had been airborne when the photo was taken, you would see a light blue pictograph of an airplane superimposed on the map--hopefully on or near the magenta line that indicates the planned route of flight. Of course, there are very sophisticated digital flight navigation and performance systems using GPS that can be professionally installed on airplanes if you have some rather serious cash to buy them. If you don't, this is the next best thing, for merely the cost of an iPad and a small annual fee to ForeFlight. I confess still to be fascinated with the breathtaking difference technology has brought to flying since I was in the cockpit.

Okay, that's enough with the flying thing for now, but we'll go aloft again in a few days, as the grandsons will be clamoring for another ride. I hope you non-aviators weren't too bored with this. 

We will be parked here on the shore of Lake Conroe for about ten more days, then heading to Port Aransas for another rally. Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

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