Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bajan Mama's Punche De Creme

I know this Blog is about Our Great RV Escape but food and drink are an essential part of any great escape, right? So with that in mind, here is my dear mother's recipe for Bajan (Barbadian) Punche De Creme - a wonderful libation that can be enjoyed any time of the year!
  • 13 oz. Rum white rum is best, to preserve the color of the drink. Bajan white rum is even better, of course!
  • 6 ½ oz. Falernum this is a liqueur flavored with lime, almond, vanilla, ginger, and clove, and is an essential ingredient in many Caribbean cocktails. In the US, Falernum can be found at large Liquor stores with a decent international section or can be ordered on line. Click here for one on-line source. Bajan-made Falernum is best, in my humble opinion
  • 14 oz. Evaporated milk
  • 10 oz. Condensed milk
  • Ground Nutmeg
  • Angostura Bitters optional
Blend or vigorously stir the first 4 ingredients together. Pour into glasses over ice and sprinkle with a little nutmeg. You may also enjoy adding a dash of Bitters. Serves 4-6.

I'd love to hear what you think of this drink... do you have a similar recipe?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Things Still To Do

We're planning to set off on Our Great RV Escape the middle of April... about 11 weeks from now.   That seems like a good amount of time away, but if I've learned nothing else in life so far I have come to appreciate just how quickly time flies!  We still have lots to do to get ready for our RV travels:
Major house cleaning to (hopefully) include clearing out closets and drawers and other spaces where "treasures" accumulate

Clean out the basement which will be a big nasty project unto itself

Dispose of unwanted/unneeded stuff via Craigs list, donation, garage sale - whatever it takes to lighten the load

Clean up the garden beds because we let them go so much this past summer;  now we're going to have to do double-duty to whip them into shape before we leave

Get my motorcycle license which requires a written exam and a practical assessment. No worries, except for the chilly weather

Tear apart the scooter and put her back together so I'm confident she is ready to go.  There's some great info about prepping a new Chinese scooter posted on

Accomplish some preventive maintenance on the Trek such as caulk the roof seams, get another oil change, have a thorough inspection of belts, hoses, etc

Update the dogs' shots and get official copies of their health records to meet Canadian requirements

Pack clothing and personal items for ourselves and for Sydney and Barley (RVing dogs need stuff also).  Packing for 6 months will take some thought as the Trek has a lot of storage space but it's not endless, and we need to be careful about weight

Provision the kitchen, pack books, DVDs, computer and camera gear, and so on - we're not going to Mars and so if we forget something we can purchase along the way

No doubt there are at least a couple things I'm forgetting right now...  Yes, the next 11 weeks won't be impossibly busy but we definitely have plenty to do.  We'll keep you posted!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Purina Diet

Here is a joke that's been making it's way around the Internet for at least a few months.  I don't know who originated this litte story, but would be happy to give him or her credit!

Yesterday I was at my local Costco buying a large bag of Purina dog chow for my loyal pet, Biscuit, the Wonder Dog and was in the checkout line when woman behind me asked if I had a dog.

What did she think I had, an elephant? So since I'm retired and have little to do, on impulse I told her that no, I didn't have a dog, I was starting the Purina Diet again. I added that I probably shouldn't, because I ended up in the hospital last time, but that I'd lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms.

I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and that the way that it works is to load your pants pockets with Purina nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete so it works well and I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in line was now enthralled with my story.) Horrified, she asked if I ended up in intensive care because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I stepped off a curb to sniff an Irish Setter's butt and a car hit us both.

I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard.

Costco won't let me shop there anymore. 

Better watch what you ask retired people. They have all the time in the world to think of crazy things to say.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mid-Life Doldrums: Shake Things Up… Carefully

Many of us are in that dreaded state of middle age. And middle age brings all kinds of angst: doubt and boredom and disappointment and resentment and… well, you get the idea. It’s a tough phase of life to be sure. These are the years we watch our parents grow old and friends begin to pass away, and we finally understand we are not invulnerable. For many, this is when we realize life is not unfolding as we had hoped, that our career has not gone the way we expected, that our children are not perfect, and that (this is the worse of all) we are not the person we had hoped to become.

Some of us accept these disappointments with graceful resignation and just press on, some grow sad and grieve, and others become bitter. We often fight back against these doldrums by making changes in our life, by shaking things up to try to recapture the optimism and energy of our younger years.

Making some changes can be the best thing we ever do for our self! But this also takes us into dangerous territory where we need to be careful about what we change. This is the time in our life, the infamous mid-life crisis, when we run the risk of discarding the things that really are meaningful and important, the things that hold us together. How many relationships have you seen fall apart because of mid-life angst? How many families have come undone?  You can toss away that cranky man you’re married to, give your wife the old heave-ho, or tell your nosy buddies to take a hike... but making changes like these will not cure the middle age blues. At the end of the day, you’ll still be sitting in a room, alone now, pondering your sad situation and wondering what the heck you’ve done. Some things cannot be undone.

But some changes can be good! Go ahead and indulge yourself, take some risks! Dip into your savings and make that trip to Australia you’ve talked about for twenty years, or buy that motorcycle you’ve been lusting after. You could even consider quitting your job to spend time at home and travel around America in an RV (sound familiar?). Whatever is important to you, whatever will challenge you, whatever will make you feel good and worthwhile again… go for it! As Eleanor Roosevelt said,
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experiences to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.
Mid-life is not all grey and moldy. There are some wonderful aspects to being middle-aged: we’ve learned to stand up for our self, we offer well-founded words of wisdom to our children, we wear comfortable clothes, we don’t care about being cool, we can stay out as late as we want now that the children are grown, and so on. Decide what is important to you and figure out how to do it, or how to get it. Volunteer and give some of yourself to others - it will remind you of your worth and make you feel great. And, if you haven’t already, join AARP and get those discounts!

Go ahead, my middle-aged friends, and shake things up! Carefully.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

We're trip-planning... any suggestions?

We've been hard at work planning our RV travels and the biggest issue we're running into is So Much to See, So Little Time! A month ago I wouldn't have thought time would be an issue: 20+ weeks is a pretty long stretch, wouldn't you say? True, but America is a big country with so much to do and see, and so we're having to pick and choose where to go - although we want to go everywhere and see everything!

We're also taking care to embed quite a bit of wiggle room in between major sightseeing stops. My idea of a good time does not include rushing from one place to the next!
I went to France years ago on a 3-day tour from Germany. We ran from one place to another and it was exhausting! The straw for me was when I was deposited at the Louvre Museum and told "You have 2 hours...enjoy!" Egads... a person could spend 3 days in the Louvre and not see it all. Anyway, I promised myself then never to take that approach to traveling again. Quality wins over quantity every time!
We've done enough trip planning so far to have a good idea of our general route (we begin and end in East Tennessee). The red line on the map below is our basic route. The blue line shows us going into British Columbia to meet up with Alaskan Discovery RV Tours - this is the RV caravan company we will be traveling with to Alaska and the Yukon Territory.  The second map below shows our route once we're on the Alaska part of our travels. You can click on either of these maps to bring up a bigger image.

We will certainly visit many major national parks and attractions such as Big Bend, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, but we also want to visit lesser known, unusual or otherwise interesting areas... these will make our travels even more memorable and fun. So, dear Reader, do you have any suggestions? If so, please leave a comment!

Planning continues... more to follow later!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Update on House Sitter

As I wrote in The Hunt for the House Sitter, we had numerous responses within hours of listing the house sitting opportunity.

Funny... we had initially worried about finding a house sitter at all but, as it turned out, the real difficulty was choosing between two excellent people. We were very impressed with them both and would have happily turned the house and cats over to either one. But, we could only settle on one and so, after considerable discussion, we made a decision today. So, the House Sitting arrangement is in place and we know our house sitter will take wonderful care of the place!

One more milestone met... we're getting closer to Our Great RV Escape!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Living at Wal-Mart, by Pat Pepin

This video and song are great! Anyone who has boondocked in a Wal-Mart parking lot can relate to this!  Even if you've never spent the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot in your RV, you'll still enjoy this video!   Pat has other great music videos on YouTube also... I'm a fan.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Travel Notes: Houston for Christmas

After our Nashville Thanksgiving trip we were feeling more confident about RVing in the coach and we immediately started looking forward to our next RV adventure.

We already had plans to travel to the Houston area to spend the holidays with family and friends and, after looking at airfares and the price of gasoline, we were able to justify driving the RV instead of flying. It didn’t take much to convince me to make the trip in the Trek – I was quickly getting addicted to the fun of RV travel!

So we made arrangements to leave Sydney and the cats in Tennessee and got an OK from Consuelo’s sisters to bring Barley with us. We also needed to figure out what to do with the RV once we arrived - we could not park the RV in front of anyone’s house. Luckily, Consuelo’s older sister and her husband live on a private air strip in Baytown and they offered to make arrangements with the owner for us to park the coach in the Flight Base Operations area. As is typical of most Texans, the owner was very generous and accommodating and so that is exactly what we did.

As part of our trip planning, we decided to test the waters of Boondocking by overnighting at Wal-Mart stores along our route. We plan on doing a fair amount of Boondocking during Our Great RV Escape and so this was an opportunity to test it out. I have to admit that I quite enjoyed our Wal-Mart stays. It was very convenient having the store right there and being able to run in and pick up something for dinner.  The biggest challenge to spending the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot turned out to be taking care of Barley’s needs - there are very few grassy areas for a dog to do his business and get some exercise.

The Houston trip also gave us an opportunity to practice conservative consumption of our fresh water and finding places to dump our tanks. The RV fresh water tank holds 80 gallons and so with brief showers, cautious dish-washing and frugal toilet flushing, we were able to make the water supply last the three days it took us to drive to Houston. In fact, our water supply could have stretched at least one more day. As for dumping the tanks, we easily found Flying J truck stops with dump stations.

We were very excited when we left for Houston the Friday before Christmas. All was well as we pulled out, although we were in a cold and miserable pouring rain. Consuelo had checked the air pressure in all the tires, as well as the oil and power steering fluid levels. Even so, after a little more than an hour on the road, the Service Engine Soon light on the dash came on... and we also had developed a steady drip of water from the overhead light fixture in the cab area. We pulled off at a rest area so we could look up the dash light in the owner’s manual. We learned that this light indicates an emissions problem or that something in the electrical system is damp. So we tightened down the gas cap and debated if we should drive on or turn around for home. We decided to press on, thinking that surely something was damp, considering the heavy rains we were driving through, and that must be what’s causing the light to come on. We got back on the road and made it to Tuscaloosa, Alabama before we pulled off for our first overnight at a Wal-Mart.  Once set up in the Wal-Mart parking lot, we removed the lens from the dripping light fixture, dried the light as best we could, and left it apart to dry overnight.

Although we were hoping the Service Engine Soon light would be off after sitting overnight, it was still on the next morning when we set off for day 2 of our trip. Then I had a thought that perhaps if one or the other of the dipsticks wasn’t seated properly, it might also trigger the light. So we got off at the next rest area and reseated the dipsticks, and that did the trick! It was while we were at this rest area that we saw something pretty cool… A fairly large truck hauling a big horse trailer pulled in behind us. The driver unloaded three or four of his horses and, keeping them on their halter leads, he jogged up and down the grass at the side of the parking area to stretch their legs. Barley was astounded—he had never before seen such big creatures!

The rest of the drive to Houston was uneventful. We spent the second night at a Wal-Mart in Crowley, Louisiana. I particularly enjoyed the drive on I-10 over and through the bayous of Louisiana – this is such a different landscape from anything in my experience.

After we arrived in Baytown at the Flight Base Operations where we would be keeping the RV for the duration of our stay, Consuelo climbed up on the roof with a silicone caulk gun and put a bead around the FM antenna mount, where she suspected the water was coming in that dripped through the light fixture. We have not had a leak since so I guess that did it!

We had a wonderful time over Christmas with family and friends... there is no better place to be at Christmas than with extended family! As always when visiting Houston, the week went by very quickly and then it was time to head home.

Well, the trip back to Tennessee proved to be quite challenging. On the morning of our departure, Consuelo checked the air pressure in all the tires but she couldn’t get any reading on the rear right inside tire. Not sure if the valve extender was just flaky or if there really was an issue with the air pressure, we set off anyway but with a level of anxiety. Our plan was to pull off at the first Truck stop we came across and check the tire out with another pressure gauge. About 50 miles later, we pulled off at a Petro truck stop with a Bridgestone Tire Service Center. 

Sure enough, the Bridgestone service technician confirmed that the tire was completely flat! They charged us a flat price of $45 to remove, inspect and repair - the culprit was a loose valve stem. This episode made us quite nervous because Consuelo had not felt any difference in the way the coach handled with a flat on the inside rear. And we had no way of knowing how long we had been driving on only one tire on that side, which is not a good thing at all. Anyway, we made it without further incident to our overnight stop that night.

The next morning, quite paranoid now, we again checked the tire pressure on all the tires before setting off once more. A few hours later, we stopped at a rest area for lunch. Feeling a little silly, but doing it anyway, Consuelo once again checked the tire pressure. And this is when she discovered there was no pressure in the rear inside left tire – unbelievable! Using our handy Garmin truckers’ GPS, we looked up Tire Repair and found A1 Tire Service in Laurel, Mississippi.

We had to backtrack on the Interstate about 25 miles and it was pouring down with rain when we arrived at the tire repair shop. It turned out that the tire wall was blown out. We already knew from the imprint on the rear tires that they were 5 years old. But we had been unable to tell how old the front tires were because someone had mounted them with the dates on the inside. So the tire technician crawled under the RV to look – the front tires were 8 years old! Well, considering we had two flats in a 24 hour period and were getting ready for a 15,000 mile RV trip, it did not take much discussion to decide to replace all 6 tires.  We resumed our journey home about an hour and half later with shiny new tires all around. 

The Houston trip taught us about roof leaks, Service Engine Soon lights, and the importance of checking tire pressure. A BIG take away is that you need to pay attention to how old your tires are - just because they look good, doesn’t mean they are good.  Once we got back, we did some reseach and learned that the common wisdom is to replace Class A coach tires every 5 years no matter how few miles are on them or how good the thread looks.  Now we know!

Some RV Equipment, Gear and Gadgetry

In an earlier post I mentioned that getting into the RV lifestyle, even as a weekend RVer, involves equipment, gear and gadgetry. I've already confessed that I like this stuff... I enjoy  figuring out what is needed, shopping around for best value for money, and then installing and/or learning how to use the item.  I guess I'm a geek.

Here is a list of some RV equipment, gear and gadgetry that either came with the Trek or we purchased.  No doubt we will add to this list as Our Great RV Escape unfolds, but we're off to a good start:

  • 22" CRT Television - came with the coach.  A 32" LCD would be lovely, but this little guy works fine and we have other things to spend money on
  • Cable TV hook up - came with the coach
  • TV Antenna with Power Boost - came with the coach
  • Zinwell ZAT-970A Digital to Analog Converter Box - we bought this and it works great!
  • Toshiba SD4200 Progressive Scan DVD player - we bought this. Inexpensive but does the job
  • Sima SVS-14 4 Input Manual A/V Selector - we bought this to switch between the backup camera, the TV converter, and the DVD player
  • Satellite Power Antenna - came with the coach but we will probably not use it
  • Satellite Reciever and Antenna Controller - came with the coach but we removed. Decided not to incur the subscription cost of Satellite TV.  We have TV digital reception, cable TV hookup, and a DVD player.  That's about as much TV viewing as we can stand!
  • Two Cell Phones on the Verizon network that we've had for years
  • Verizon Mobile Broadband access with 5GB plan - we purchased through GroupAccess: no contract, no activation fee, free USB modem, and the plan costs $10 less per month that dealing direct with Verizon.  A no-brainer!
  • Two laptops (one each) - we've had for while
  • Canon PIXMA MP250 All-in-One printer that we purchased for the RV - this has a bad review on Amazon, but it works great for us and you can't beat the price! We found out during the two week Fall Foliage trip that not having access to a printer is inconvenient. Even with a GPS, its good to be able to print out maps. Its also useful to be able to print out other material, such as sightseeing information, campground maps, etc.
  • Garmin NUVI 465/465T 4.3-Inch Widescreen Bluetooth Truck GPS Navigator - we bought this although I already have a TomTom.  The difference is that this Trucker GPS model allows you to enter the dimensions of your RV and then navigates via roads that are suitable for your vehicle size - length, width and height.  This models also includes Traffic updates, and the Points of Interest database hasTruck Services for tire repair, engine repair, etc.  Well worth the money!
Water and Sanitation
We will be all over the lower 48, Alaska, and parts of Canada filing up our RV fresh water tank with drinking and cooking water. Because we'll be getting water from a multitude of uncertain sources, filtration is very important to our health. There is no quicker way to throw a big wrench into RV travels than by picking up some nasty intestinal bug! I researched a fair amount and came up with a 2-phase water filtration approach that should take care of just about any bad stuff, provided the water is potable to begin with:
  • Camco 40651 RV CX90 Ceramic Water Filter - This ceramic water filter is Phase 1.  This filter pulls out dirt and silt and most minerals, along with several chemicals. And it helps remove unpleasant odors. Aside from making the water more pleasant to drink, removing the dirt and silt will protect the RV water pump and lines.
  • Hydro Life RV/Marine Exterior Water Filter Kit with a Hydro Life® Carbon Block Filter - this is Phase 2 for our water filtration.  Removes cysts and other bad stuff that can cause serious gastro issues! Also pulls out some chemicals and helps with odors.  This filter is what could be the decider between spending a great day sightseening or being huddled up in a clinic somewhere.
  • Backup camera - came with the coach. This is a must have!
  • Midland WR100B Weather Radio - we bought this and hooked into the RV's existing external FM antenna.  A Weather radio is a good thing to have on board, it can save your hide.
RV Maintenance and Tools
  • 13' aluminum telescoping multi position ladder for accessing the roof and cleaning the coach
  • 100 PSI Air Compressor
  • Digital multimeter
  • Toolbox with common tools
  • Miscellaneous hardware such as nuts, bolts, washers, screws
  • Duct tape, Super Glue, metal strapping
  • Spare fuses
  • Spare parts such as air filters, serpentine belt, etc.
  • Fluids such as engine oil, generator oil, fuel stabilizer, etc
The cost of RV equipment, gear and gadgetry can add up fast but most of the above items are must-haves.  I suppose we could do without some of the entertainment gear but those items did not cost much and, hey, women traveling around America the Beautiful need to have some creature comforts!

Like I wrote above, this list will probably grow but I think we're well set-up for now.

The Hunt for the House Sitter

I explained in an earlier post, Logistics of Extended Travel, that we decided to find a House Sitter to take care of the house, cats and yard while we're off on our RV adventures.  So we did some research online and ended up posting an ad for our house-sitting opportunity on three different web sites:,, and None of these sites charge the person seeking a house sitter anything to post a listing. They make their money by charging people who want to house sit a nominal fee to be added to the database of potential house sitters and to have access to listings for house sitting opportunities.
Excuse me while I pause here to write about the concept of House Sitting - I think it is a very cool idea! People who want to live in different places for short or longer periods of time can sign up for house sitting gigs. There are plenty of people doing just this. In fact, some have been house sitting for years. House sitters may be retired, but a many are working as writers, or in  telecommuting jobs, or are running Internet-based businesses - so it doesn't matter where you are, you can keep working and generating an income. Interestingly, quite a few house sitters own their own homes and make arrangement for others to house sit for them while they are house sitting for someone else. If anyone is interested to learn more about this, there is a great deal of information about house sitting on the Internet.
We placed our listing on a Sunday afternoon and within hours received more than 35 responses from interested parties. Wow! By far, most of the responses came from house sitters listed with

Meanwhile, I had put together a draft House Sitting Agreement, a References form, a form to gather information and document permission to run a background check, and a Release from Liability form. My sister, who is a legal secretary and extremely smart, reviewed the forms and we made some adjustments. I am proud to say, she was quite impressed with what I had put together. Apparently my anality can be a good thing on occasion!

Our task now was to contact each interested person and learn more about him/her. We also needed to reduce the list to a manageable handful of people - I did not have the time or energy to negotiate an Agreement and check references for 30+ people!

As it turned out, about 12 people dropped out when I told them their share of monthly utilities would be around $300. This was a little surprising as our house listings clearly stated that the house sitter would share utility costs, but it helped to reduce the potential sitters down to a more manageable number so that was fine with me.

A couple of people also dropped out when they realized we really would run a background check. One lady, who otherwise would have been a very strong candidate, said she just does not, no matter what, give out personal information. Well, no way would I, no matter what, turn my house over to someone I knew nothing about! But some folks apparently would because this person had a lot of house sitting experience.

So at this point we disabled the house listings and concentrated on the remaining 14 or so applicants. We reduced the list to 4 based on past experience, age, prior work history (if known), and just that "warm and fuzzy" element that is near-impossible to explain.

After checking references and going back and forth negotiating the House Sitting Agreement, we are now down to two applicants. Not sure yet what the outcome with be - they are both very suitable and have much to offer and I would definitely trust the house to either of them. The final choice will be very difficult. Hmm.... I wonder if they would like to do it together?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Logistics of Extended Travel… what to do with the house, cats, yard, car, and the mail?

I never thought much about the running and humming of maintaining a home and pets until I made the decision to travel for 5-6 months. Once I started planning Our Great RV Escape it became evident there were some major items to address before I could take off on any extended RV travels. Not surprisingly to those that know me, I made a short list of the big issues:
  • The House… security, heating, cooling, using the plumbing, other maintenance needs that pop up mysteriously 
  • Yard care… mowing, tending the garden beds 
  • The cats… can't leave these guys to forage on their own! 
  • Car… what to do about my car? We are not taking it with us and it really should not sit for 6 months 
  • Mail… what to do about mail? How will we get it? 
  • Bill paying… bills don’t go away, even if you wish they would
The house, cats, and yard care were the biggest conundrums – I did not want to leave the house unoccupied for 6 months and neither did my insurance agent. And we certainly would not abandon the cats!
Did you know that many Homeowner policies do not cover a house that has been unoccupied for more than 60 days? If you are leaving your property unoccupied for an extended period of time, you may want to check with your agent to see what options they offer for coverage.
So as far we could figure out the choices for the House, cat, and yard care were to either…

Pay a service to take care of the yard, and ask friends to come by every other day or so to check up on the place and the cats.  Nope, not a good option but an excellent way to overburden friends and run them off! It’s just too much to ask anyone to do. And the yard care service could get expensive. OR

Rent the place short term to someone. Did not like this option either - who would want to move into a house for just 6 months? And what about all the stuff in the house? And if we would consider this then why not the next option? OR

See about getting a House Sitter. That’s right… someone we don’t know and who probably isn’t even from around here. What a ridiculous idea! Or is it? The more we thought about this and researched the whole house sitting thing, the better we liked the idea. We would establish a contract, get references, do a background check and make sure we had a “warm fuzzy” for the person or couple. And our friends in the neighborhood could keep an eye out and let us know if anything looked worrisome.

So for caring for the house, cats, and yard, a House Sitter is the path we decided to take. House, Cats, Yard = done.
Finding and making a deal with a house sitter is turning out to be a very interesting journey, and is giving us a glimpse into this surprisingly wide-spread practice. There are people out there that have been house sitting for years, living for a few months at a time in various places throughout the US, South America and Europe. If a person has a telecommuting job or an internet-based business, or does not need to work at all, House-Sitting is a great way to travel at minimum cost. You can read more about House Sitting in my post, The Hunt for the House Sitter 
So, once we got a plan in place for the house, cats and yard I turned my attention to how to handle mail and what to do with my car? Well the car is a piece of cake…Lynda’s parents will take care of it. This is good for them also because they will have a second car to run around in if they need to go in different directions. Car = done

OK, what about mail? Well there are several options with this also: friends could collect and forward to us every so often; we could use a mail forwarding service (there are 100s of such services) or we could ask the House Sitter to collect up the mail and send to us every couple weeks. We decided that this would be a House Sitter task that would not take up much of their time and would be the simplest way to handle. The most complicated part of handling the mail will be to know at least a week in advance where we’re heading and then have the house sitter send the mail to us care of whatever campground. Mail = done

The last notable thing on my list of things to handle was bill-paying. This was probably the easiest… I already pay 99.9% of my bills on-line. The Internet may have some seedy aspects, but it also provides some wonderful abilities and freedom for travel! I will handle any miscellaneous bills I don’t pay on-line on a case-by-case basis - they are too rare to worry about. Bills = done

I have to admit I was a little worried at first about whether I could come up with practical ways to take care of all these things while off on our RV travels. As it turned out, with enough thought and planning, and the willingness to be creative, I haven’t tripped over a logistical issue yet that we haven’t found a way to handle.  Life does not have to be too complicated.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Travel Notes: Thanksgiving in Nashville

Once we had the Safari Trek, we started thinking about where to take it for a trial run. It was now November and we didn’t have any plans for Thanksgiving and neither did Judi and Gary. So we decided to take our RVs (Judi and Gary also have a coach) and go to a campground that does a Thanksgiving banquet (not your traditional way to spend Thanksgiving - I would truly miss cooking a turkey but we were so looking forward to going somewhere and testing out the new toy).

Gary found a state park in Georgia that did a Turkey Day banquet, but by the time we called to make our reservations, they were booked up. I looked a little further and found a KOA in Nashville that was planning Thanksgiving Dinner for their guests. This would actually be better as Judi and Gary’s younger daughter, Teela was attending Watkins College in Nashville and would likely be able to join us for dinner.

So we made our reservations, loaded up the RVs with Consuelo, me, Sydney and Barley in the Trek , Judi and Gary and their two dogs , Vanna and Izzy, in their Monaco. We left Lenoir City on Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving. Consuelo was quite nervous since this was her first time driving without her mentor Gary in the passenger seat. We made it safely to Nashville and I wasn’t at all nervous about Consuelo’s driving and I thankfully didn’t feel any motion sickness – something I suffer from in a regular passenger vehicle.

The dogs loved riding in the Trek much better than riding in a car – all that windshield! Unfortunately, they have no concept of “your head is blocking the mirror” (Barley’s got a big ol’ head). Sydney got quite spoiled on this trip, we put a blanket on the couch and she rode in luxury with her chin propped up on the arm rest. But we’ve decided not to allow this on future trips – it would be too confusing for her to ride on the couch and then not be allowed on the couch when we stop at night.

So we made it into Nashville without hitch, although we ran into some traffic and spent about a half hour creeping along at 5 mph. Consuelo turned on the CB radio and we got our first introduction to the truckers’ world – pretty colorful stuff! From the truckers, we learned there had been a bad accident, reminding us how quickly things can go wrong on the interstate and again making us thankful for the life we have - we realized that for one family there would be less to be thankful for on Thanksgiving Day.

We finally made it into the Nashville KOA where Judi and Gary were anxiously awaiting our arrival… thank goodness for the cell phones, as Judi and Gary called us frequently to ask “what mile marker are you at?” so they weren’t too terribly worried.

The KOA campground was very nice with large pull-through sites (meaning Consuelo wouldn’t have to back the Trek into our site – backing is one of her fears). When we checked in, a guy in bright yellow pick-up truck led us right to our site (no meandering around trying to find our site). Judi had made the reservations for two sites next to each other with a nice patio area.

The campground also had a dog park where we took the dogs a couple time each day, and we learned that Vanna and Barley really like each other. Sydney was extremely jealous! The dogs had a great time playing in the park and of course we took them for walks around the campground. One thing about camping with dogs is dog poop - you need to always have a plastic bag in your pocket and be ready and willing to clean up after your dog - dogs have notoriously bad judgment on where to place these gifts. Consuelo has a squeamish stomach about such things, so this was usually my job. No big deal, I used to scoop dog poop for a living when I worked at a kennel.

The Thanksgiving dinner served by the campground staff was wonderful. They provided turkey, ham. dressing, mashed potatoes and green beans and asked all the guests to bring a side dish or dessert. I brought a crock pot with baked onions (which seems to be a New England thing, no one here in East Tennessee has ever heard of them) and Judi brought a sweet potato casserole. Teela was able to join us and so did Judi and Gary’s older daughter, Amber, who drove in from Knoxville. So we had six at our table and it felt like family to all of us.

Since Judi and Gary used to live and work in Nashville, they wanted to show us around to see some of the sights. We went to see the Christmas lights at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel - absolutely stunning! They had a nativity scene out front with life-size figures, all completely in white and lit up beautifully. Inside the hotel, they have huge indoor atriums with rivers and a wide variety of plants. It was most enjoyable walking through these areas.

We also went to President Andrew Jackson’s homestead, The Hermitage. It’s so wonderful to get in touch with the past of this great country and, as Consuelo pointed out, in many countries, even if they have their history preserved, they may not have it open for the citizens to go in and walk around. We stood just a few feet from Jackson’s tomb.

As the last outing of our Thanksgiving weekend, Judi and Gary took us to the restaurant where they used to work - Gary as kitchen manager and Judi as a bartender – the Cock of the Walk on Music Valley Drive. We enjoyed eating great fried chicken tenders and catfish and watching the wait-staff flipping corn bread in cast iron skillets.

Our Nashville Thanksgiving trip was a huge success – a great shakedown. While there, we borrowed a short length of coax cable from Gary so we could hook into the campground’s cable TV, only to discover a bunch of coax stashed in by the fresh water tank when we got home! A gift left by the Trek’s previous owner.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

RV Equipment, Gear and Gadgetry - Safari Trek and Tank Scooter

Getting into the RV lifestyle, even as a weekend camper, involves equipment, gear and gadgetry... which I have to admit are part of the fun of RVing, at least for me.  As our RV travel adventure unfolds, I'll share more about RV equipment, gear and gadgetry we're accumulating and investigating, but the most obvious is the RV itself - the Safari Trek motor coach. After that, the motor scooter comes to mind.  Here's some info about this RV equipment:

The 1998 Safari Trek is a model 2830 Class A motor coach. She is 28 fit long and will be our home and primary transportation during our Great RV Escape. The Trek is battle-scarred on the outside but in good shape inside. The exterior damage is fine with me because it will mask any new "encounters" we will almost certainly have during our RV travels. This motor coach is built on a P30/32 chassis and has a 454 Chevy engine. It has ducted air conditioning, a furnace, a convection oven/microwave, a 3-burner range, a double sink, a 'fridge with freezer, a hot water heater, a decent-sized bathroom and shower, TV, DVD player, TV antenna with converter, a queen-sized bed, a jack-knife sofa for a double bed, and more. It is our home away from home!

After much thought, I decided not to bring a tow car, or Toad in the vernacular of RV'ers, on our Great RV Escape. A toad would add one more layer of complexity and cost. Instead, we will use a scooter for runs to the grocery store and other close-by destinations. The scooter will save us from having to pack up the motor coach if we're camping and just need a few groceries or supplies. So Lynda bought a new Tank Urban Racer 150 DS 09 from Scootermax in Houston, Texas when we were there over Christmas 2009.  We hauled it back to Tennessee on the back of the Trek on a motorcycle carrier.

One of the reasons Lynda purchased this scooter is that Tank offers a 3 year warranty - most Chinese scooters come with a 1 year warranty at most. Imagine her delight when we learned that Tank declared Bankruptcy only 1 week after she bought the scooter! So who knows what kind of warranty coverage Lynda has - probably none. Oh well, it was still a good purchase. Sometimes *stuff* happens and you just have to roll along with it.

Sydney and Barley - RV'ing Dogs!

Sydney goes with us on our our RV adventures. She is a 7 year-old Shepherd-Border Collie mix (or some such concoction) and is convinced Lynda is her mother, or perhaps a minor diety. An avid protector, we pity the person who tries to enter our RV univited. Sydney loves to swim and fetch frisbees, balls, sticks, and other toys. She is not friendly with other female dogs but has a thing for the boys, so Sydney and Barley get along just great.

And this is Barley... who also travels with us. He is a 2 year-old German Shepherd-Siberian Husky mix and a beauty. He is extremely people friendly but has a special place in his heart for Consuelo. He loves to be outside, getting any and all kinds of exercise and attention. He is 70 pounds of love. Barley gets along very well with Sydney... if she gets out of hand, he puts her in her place and that's the end of it. Barley likes to ride up front in the RV, like the figurehead on a ship's bow.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Selecting and Buying the RV

Once we decided we were serious about taking time off to travel throughout the US and Canada, the next big step was to select, purchase and provision a suitable RV. As much as I love my 19ft Class B camper van, there is no way the two of us could live in it for 5-6 months, much less with two big dogs along for the ride. So the hunt was on for another RV and the important factors were price and living/storage space.  Who knew the search would be such a big thing?

NEWSFLASH: RVs are like shoes - lots of categories, lots of styles in each category, many colors to pick from, what kind of material would you like? And on and on. For example, here are common categories of RVs:
  • Class A Motor Coaches - resemble a bus and are built on specially designed vehicle chassis
  • Class C - built on cutaway heavy duty van and truck chassis
  • Class Bs and B+s - conversion vans
  • Truck Campers - the camper rests in the bed of a pickup truck
  • 5th Wheel Trailers
  • Pull behind Trailers
… and for some of these categories, there are styles or sub-categories such as:
  • Class A Diesel Pushers (diesel engine in the back)
  • Class A Gasoline
...and there are a host of other things to think about:
  • Length
  • Number of slide outs
  • Construction materials
  • Interior furnishings and fixtures
  • Gear and gadgetry
  • And so on
Although all this was a bit overwhelming, we quickly ruled out Truck Campers and Class Bs and B+s - in terms of living and storage space, these are just too small for extended RV living. Too bad because Class Bs are great for maneuverability and offer some real conveniences. Then we ruled out trailers of any flavor because I am intimidated at the idea of hauling around some big ole' trailer… sure, all is fine when we're moving forward but what the heck will I do when I have to back the bloody thing up?

So, we were left with Class A RVs and Class C RVs. At first we did not consider Class As because we thought they were all 35 feet or longer, which I did not think I could drive very well, and Lynda did not care for the idea of living in a “bus”. But the more we looked at Class Cs the more we realized they just do not provide as much living and storage space as Class A coaches, except for the really big Class Cs - and then we might as well look at Class As.

We were watching Craig’s List, eBay and a host of other online RV sale sites. And we also drove around East Tennessee with our friends, Judi and Gary, and stopped in at some RV dealers to look at pre-owned units. I can honestly say that most of the folks we dealt with were very nice. There was one place, however, that I would not have bought anything from no matter how good the deal. I won’t say the name of this RV dealer… if you come across them, you’ll know it right away. Trust your instincts and go somewhere else.

Where was I? Oh yeah… trying to find the perfect RV in the right price range. The more we looked at RVs, the more I realized there are too many things to think about and keep track of without writing them down. So, I put together a checklist of features and equipment to ask about. You can pull this up and use it if you want but bear in mind that it does not cover everything and you’ll need to tweak it so it reflects the items that are important to you.

Anyhow, with Judi and Gary's help we came to be very interested in getting a late '90s Safari Trek 24 or 28 foot coach.  The Treks, although no longer made, are considered to be well built, good value coaches.  The older ones are not particularly fancy but are better quality than most in a similar price range. The Trek floorplan includes the patented MagicBed (hold the jokes people) which lowers from the ceiling in the living area... and cancels out the need for a bedroom.  This saves at least 10 feet in length.  So, what you end up with is a nicely appointed motor home that is only 24 or 28 feet long and much more manueverable than her longer cousins.
I must say a huge Thank You and send many hugs to Judi and Gary… these folks really helped open our eyes to looking at Class A RVs. And they have spent who-knows-how-many hours helping us learn the systems and figure things out. 
It must have been fate, because Gary and Judi spotted a 1998 Safari Trek at a Nashville dealer, Cullum & Maxey, and told us about it immediately.  They went back to Nashville with us a few days later to look at the coach and test drive it, and again the next weekend to help us bring it home.  The photo below was taken of the four of us on the day I bought the Trek.

And that's the saga of how we came to have the Safari Trek. This Class A motor home was in my price range (cheap!), has good living space and storage space, includes almost all the features that are important to us, and is in great condition for her age (like me).  I think we made an excellent choice!

Click here to look at some more pictures of the Trek, inside and out. Any ideas on what we should call it?  The little stubby bus is a mouthful and not very flattering.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quittin' the Job to Travel

After taking the Fall Foliage trip, I thought more and more about how great it would be to travel around America the Beautiful in an RV. And maybe go up into Alaska and Canada. It did not take me long to realize that this kind of travel was out of reach as long as I had a traditional job – you can’t do what I had in mind with 15 days of vacation a year.

So what’s a girl to do?

Well, as I wrote in Life’s Twists and Turns, I was at a point where I felt strongly that I needed to take life by the horns and so I spent hours building a budget and making financial calculations. Once I was 110% sure I had the financial means to be unemployed for a year or more, I turned in my resignation. It was a few weeks before my 50th birthday, in the middle of a serious recession.

Call me crazy if you like, I wondered about that also, but I’m feeling just great about it. And everyone I worked with, and my family and friends have all been completely supportive. I think many people, particularly those over the age of 40, would love to do something like this. I don’t mean living in 250 square feet of rolling space – that is surely not everyone’s idea of utopia – but shrugging off the safety net that smoothers, and doing something fun and challenging and even a little risky. You know, like you were 20 again.

Happily for me, I am in a financial position to be able to do this. I started to write, “luckily for me…” but luck has nothing to do with such things, unless you win the lottery. My happy position is due to my own hard work for 30 years, being organized enough to squirrel money away, and living within my means so as not to have any significant debt.
My responsible living soapbox beckons, but I will resist!
And so I gave my employer 8 weeks’ notice. I have to admit, this was not an easy decision. I worked for a great organization with excellent benefits and drew a very competitive salary. My position was challenging and provided opportunity for growth. But, c'est la vie - you can't have it all. Perhaps one day, when my sojourn is over, I will have an opportunity to work there again.

Speaking of great benefits, along with my job I was giving up health/dental/vision coverage and life insurance. Hmmm… no big deal provided I don’t get sick or die. Well, I decided it was just too risky and so I took COBRA and bought life insurance through USAA. I am a US Military veteran and will see about getting into the VA system for health care.  I feel a little odd about doing that, considering all our brothers and sisters who are getting shot up, blown up, and emotionally maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, VA benefits were touted to me when I signed up...

So here I am, sorting out the house, cleaning out drawers and closets, writing for this Blog, working to find a House Sitter, and trip planning our Great RV Escape.  I am busier than when I was employed!  The transition is complete... and I have no worries that I did the right thing.

How the seed got planted - 2009 Fall Foliage trip

While we were on a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida to see another neurologist about my stroke, Consuelo and I talked about how we both loved road trips and learned that we're also both afraid of bears. After some discussion, we determined that a camper van might be a good way to get on the road and out to the parks and other campgrounds, to begin having some RV adventures.

So, when we got back from Jacksonville, we started looking for a suitable camper van - in RV lingo: a Class B motorhome. Consuelo finally found one listed on eBay and entered into a frenzied bidding war and won the bid. Then we had to drive to Parkersburg, West Virginia to pick it up.

As soon as we got the camper back to Tennessee, we started making weekend trips to State Parks in East Tennessee and we were having so much fun, we decided to do something bigger. So we started planning what we were soon calling the Fall Foliage Trip - the first of what I hope to be many RV adventures.

We left Tennessee the end of September 2009 and drove north, up through West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and then into Vermont. Of course, we had timed this so we would be seeing the best foliage colors. Vermont was stunning!

We then drove over to New Hampshire for a day and night in the White Mountains, an area where I spent many happy childhood summers camping with my family. Then, over to Maine where we discovered they were hard at work repairing what seemed like ALL the roads. We stayed the night in Scarborough, outside Portland on the coast of Maine and dined on the mandatory lobster (Consuelo had two!). We then drove back down to the lower part of New Hampshire to visit with friends and family in Goffstown and go to my family’s cemetery in Hooksett.

Next, we went down to Boston where Consuelo’s niece Robyn had just started school at Northeastern University. While in Bean town we also visited with my cousin James. After Boston we headed to Mystic, Connecticut Consuelo’s father's childhood hometown. After visiting the family cemetery, we found her father’s old home, a beautiful old farm house. After taking pictures like crazy tourists, we headed down to Katonah, New York to spend the evening with Cheryl-Anne, one of Consuelo’s childhood friends from Barbados. After visiting with Cheryl-Anne and her family, it was time to head home, stopping in Charlottesville, Virginia to look at Monticello and the very interesting Natural Bridge.

Readers are welcome to browse through our 2009 Fall Foliage album with photos and notes from our trip.

This trip was so much fun! And, we had caught the RV travel bug! It was within days that we started figuring out how we could hit the road for several months. This trip was the seed that sprouted into our Great RV Escape.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Life's Twists and Turns... a little background

Events occurred over the past two years or so that came together to send us a very clear message - picture a theater marquee with a million lights:

Life is precious and fragile... and health is a gift not guaranteed

There we were, going with the flow, doing what we’re supposed to do, plodding along and (to be honest about it) getting fairly bored. Here’s a quote that sums this up beautifully: 
For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way. Something to be got through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. – Father Alfred D’Souza
I was beginning to suspect that life would be disappointing if I wasn't careful, and was wondering what to do about that when three major events occurred – buckets of cold water, you could say.
  1. My longtime and much loved friend died just a few weeks before her 48th birthday – breast cancer. She left behind three children and a husband, and a large group of dismayed, bewildered friends and family. How could this happen? Charisse should have grown old and crusty, calling me up each year on my birthday as she had for more than 30 years, to sing to me and fill me in on news of old school friends and Bajan family. She was an anchor for me, a connection to a beloved past, a link to my old home. Charisse’s passing really rocked my world and still does. I know she would be very pleased at the idea of our Great RV Escape.

  2. A little over a year after Charisse passed away, Lynda suffered a major stroke exactly one week before her 46th birthday. It was Pearl Harbor day, December 7th, and a day that for us will certainly “…live in infamy”. Lynda did not have any of the risk factors for stroke. We were at the gym, barely 20 minutes into a fairly low level work out and she collapsed. The signs of stroke were classic, although it was hard to believe. And so it began, 5 days in acute care, close to 3 weeks at the wonderful Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center, countless physical, occupational, and language therapy sessions. All this and Lynda is still recovering. She will probably be in recovery for the rest of her life - a stroke such as the one she suffered changes your life forever. But she was lucky, at least within the parameters of having the stroke itself. It took out a huge chunk of her right parietal lobe and even did some minor, spotty damage to her left brain. The doctor at the Mayo clinic (we went there a few months after for follow up and a second opinion) was amazed she could walk and talk. He told her it was a miracle. I don’t know about that, but I do know we have a lot to be thankful for.

  3. About 6 months after Lynda had her stroke, her mother Carolyn was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Oh crap” is an understatement. But Carolyn went after this like a missile on target. No fussing, no fooling, no pussy-footin’ around. That tumor had met its match! Surgery was immediately scheduled and chemo followed. The chemo took a toll on her but she is working her way back out of the effects. We are very optimistic that Carolyn is the Victor of this battle, not the cancer.

    Side Note to Women – Be sure to have regular mammograms and pay attention to your body! Don’t run or try to hide from illness. If you’re diagnosed with cancer, fight back fast and fight back hard. Fight to win, like Carolyn did.
So Lynda and I have come to understand that there is no guarantee as to how healthy or able we will be next year, next month or even next week. If there are things we want to do, then now is the time. So here we are, rearranging our life to get ready for our Great RV Escape and having a wonderful time just planning for it and getting all the pieces in place so we can go. It’s a shot in the arm!

I guess you could say our Great RV Escape has already begun.