Friday, June 29, 2012

Planning the Trip

How do you plan a trip like the one we are about to take?

Well, it ain't easy.

Until you actually sit down and make preparations for such a trip, you don't realize all the details that are involved.

Mail is a top priority. There are mail forwarding services out there, including one offered by Good Sam, the RV travel club Donna and I belong to. However, we've opted to let our daughter handle our mail for us. We recently rented a postal box in her town, and we will have all our mail forwarded there. We bought a printer/copier/scanner for her to use. When she receives anything that requires our attention, she will scan it and send it to us electronically. On rare occasions, she may need to forward mail to us. But we hope to do everything electronically. Since most commercial RV parks today have WiFi, we should be connected during most of our travels.

We've set up auto payment on all regular bills (insurance, storage, mobile phones, etc.). And we manage as much of our personal affairs as possible electronically. So the important items should be taken care of.

Still, there are those unexpected mailings you receive. Perhaps it is an invoice from a lab where blood work was done, or maybe the IRS decides to audit you, or you get a jury summons. These are the things it is difficult to plan for, but our daughter will get these items and pass them along to us as needed.

We've secured storage for our household goods. In fact, we've already started moving items there. When we made the move to San Angelo, we down-sized considerably. We sold all of our bulky items, such as a 7-foot tall, 3-piece entertainment center that weighed much more than I want to remember. All of the items we have now are much smaller and much more manageable. And we are continuing to down-size. I've donated a number of boxes of books that I've been lugging all over the state from my college days. If you've read much of my blog, you know I love books. Until recently, I just couldn't bring myself to give those books up, but now I'm happy to do so. And if I want to read a book I've recently given away, I'll just find a library and read away.

We've notified all utilities of our cut-off date, and we've cancelled all subscriptions.

One of the things you might not think about until you actually need it is medical care. Where do we go for medical care while on the road? Well, in a true emergency, I'll head for the nearest ER. But I'd like to keep medical care within my network to hold costs down. So, as we decide on an area we want to visit, I go to our insurance web site to find all the in-network medical facilities in that area. I list all contact information, do a print screen of the map location, and print this info. We'll keep this in the truck handy for any emergencies. We can then just enter the info in our GPS and get to help as quickly as possible.

Our Tundra is due for inspection and registration in January. What do I do if I'm out of state at that time? I guess I need to look into that. There are all sorts of details like that must be considered.

I know items will pop up from time to time, and we'll deal with them as they arise. Nothing is insurmountable. It is certainly easier to do this kind of traveling than it was 20, 10, or even 5 years ago.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Flight of the Gypsies

Every time I look at a map, I see another place I want to go, so it's difficult to make plans and stick to them. At this time, though, here is what we're considering for our upcoming trip.

After closing on the house, we'll make a run to East Texas for a final visit with family. My brother and his fiance live in Ft. Worth, so that will be our first stop. After a few days there, we'll go to Shreveport/Bossier City for a final visit to "the boats". From there, we head to Conroe, just west of Cut and Shoot and Donna's hometown.

When we went to Conroe in late May, we left our trailer there. We knew we'd be returning, and found it cheaper to store the trailer for 2 months than to lug it back to San Angelo and then back to Conroe. Also, we had a bit of damage on the trailer bracket. I've ordered parts and will make the repair when we return to Conroe. We'll also spend some time visiting Donna's family and taking care of some business there.

Donna also has a half-sister in the Livingston area, so we plan a stay at Lake Livingston State Park. Donna can visit her sister and fish, and we can do some hiking.

From there, we work our way back across the state. We have some final medical appointments in mid-August in San Angelo, and we will want to spend several days in the Big Spring area making a final visit to our daughter, our grandson, and our son-in-law.

After that, we become gypsy's, going where we want and staying as long as we want.

It will be the latter days of August then, and we'll still be in Texas, so it will be hot. And since we will be in West Texas, we won't have much shade. It's hard to cool a travel trailer in full sun. We hope to see Caprock Canyons and Palo Duro Canyon State Parks at this time and do a bit of hiking. Following those stops, we'll head towards Santa Fe and northern New Mexico and try to escape the heat until autumn starts moving in. From there, we'd like to journey into southern Utah and see some of the National Parks there, such as Canyonlands, Arches, and Zion.

By this time, October will be upon us, and cooler weather should be approaching. We don't want to be in a cold climate in a travel trailer, so we'll probably work our way south, perhaps to Las Vegas or Laughlin, Nevada.

One plan we discussed at length prior to retirement was to move around over the country once we retired. We would move someplace like Flagstaff, Arizona, for a year or two and rent an apartment. We'd then see everything of interest within half a day's drive, then move on down the road to a new location. By doing this, we'd really get to see the country. That is still in the back of our minds, and as we travel we may consider it at some point in the future.

But for now, we simply plan to head down the highway, perhaps taking the road less traveled, and see as many interesting places as we can. I hope you'll come along with us; I think it will be an interesting trip.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Gypsy Life

Now we've gone and done it . . .

We've sold our home, and we have no place to go. We're homeless.

But let me back up and start at the beginning.

We put our house on the market in early May, signed a contract in early June, and will officially close on July 23. We really didn't expect it to happen so quickly. And we have no intention at this time to look for another house.

When we first put our house on the market, we considered moving to Conroe, which is Donna's home town. I like Conroe, and have strong feelings for it since I've been in and out of that town for the 35 years I've been married to Donna. But after a visit there in late May, I'm just not ready to make that move yet. Conroe is a busy, busy place, and it is going by leaps and bounds. It really feels like North Houston to me. After living in West Texas and various rural areas most of my adult life, I'm just not ready for that type of ant bed activity.

About the time we retired a year and a half ago, we toyed with the idea of selling our house and just packing everything up and traveling in our travel trailer for a while. I just couldn't bring myself to do it at that time.

We've made the plunge now, though.

After a house-clearing garage sale in late July, we'll put what remains in storage and then hit the road in our travel trailer. I don't plan to spend the rest of our lives living this way, but I do plan to spend the next several months doing this. We still have good health, so now is the best chance we'll ever have to see some of this great country.

And you can be sure that I'll be sharing our travels in this blog, so please make plans to ride along with us.

In the weeks to come, I'll outline our plans and share our pre-trip preparations. But remember, we're really living the gypsy life now, so our plans can change at any time. If we come to a road that looks interesting, chances are we'll take it and see where it goes. Life is an adventure, and you only get one shot at it, so make it count.

Happy trails to you all.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Star Gazing

My daughter and grandson are visiting for a few days. Son-in-law had to stay home and work, and I think he's enjoying the solitude at home. All of them will be here for the Fourth of July.

We always try to find something to do when they visit. Last night, we ventured out to the Angelo State University Planetarium to enjoy The Cowboy Astronomer. Told from the point of view of a cowboy on the open plains of the West, the show guided us through some basic constellations and the legends behind them. I've enjoyed watching the stars all my life, but frankly, I've never been able to see the images in the stars that many of them are named for, such as Orion the Hunter and Leo the Lion. But I do enjoy searching the skies for the Pleiades, Cassiopeia, and other easily recognizable constellations.

After the show, we came home and sat out back for a while, gazing at the darkening skies. There was quite a bit of air traffic, and we watched the floating dots of light criss-cross the skies. Soon the Big Dipper was visible, and it led us to the North Star and Leo the Lion.

When the kids come back in July, we may go back to the Planetarium. There is a show called Oasis in Space that Donna wants to see, and it is playing July 5. It takes viewers on a journey through the universe, with a look at each of the planets.

Sounds good.

Monday, June 18, 2012

There's a Story There

I don't watch many sporting events. I can't remember the last time I watched the Super Bowl, and I've never cared for professional basketball. I'll watch baseball a little bit, but only if the team I'm following is doing well. I do enjoy college football, but only when a Texas team is playing. For the most part, I simply don't want to spend much time watching other people doing; I'd rather be doing myself.

But I do enjoy watching professional golf. I'll watch some soccer during the World Cup. And I really enjoy the Olympics. I think what I like about these events is that they develop over a compressed period of time, and as a result, there are lots of stories that come out. At the last summer Olympics, for example, one of the big stories that developed over the course of the games was Michael Phelps and his pursuit of Olympic history.

I just finished watching the U.S. Open Golf Championship, and this thing had lots of stories. The Open is televised almost in its entirety from start to finish. Since I'm retired, I'm able to watch all of it. I'll admit that I did miss some of it on Thursday and Friday, but I watched all of it on the weekend.

This Open was really about youth. The tournament began with the story of Andy Zhang, believed to be the youngest golfer ever to play the open. He is a mere 14 years old. Unfortunately, young Andy did not make the cut, so he did not play on the weekend. Another story of youth was young Beau Hossler, a 17 year old about to begin his senior year in high school. He made the cut and was actually in contention for the tournament until he began giving away strokes on the final round. But for the first 3 rounds, he was exciting to watch.

The ultimate youth story concerns the young man who came from behind to actually win the U.S. Open, young Webb Simpson. Playing professionally since 2008, this 26-year old graduate of Wake Forest played under par the final two rounds to sneak up on and overtake the leaders. He is one of a number of "young guns" who are currently dominating the pro tour.

Other stories surfaced as well. When Tiger Woods played well Thursday and Friday, speculation was that Tiger was back and that he would dominate the field. And although Tiger began to fade early Saturday, he was still the talk of the tournament until he completely dissolved early in the final round. And then there is the story of Jim Furyk, the man who had the championship in his hands, only to let it slip away in the final 3 holes. Normally reliable and cool under pressure, Furyk ended his round with several unforced errors. At 42, this may have been his last opportunity to challenge for the tournament.

The U.S. Open is normally one of the most challenging tests in golf, and this was certainly the case this weekend. And perhaps that was the real story of this tournament. The winner limped away with a 1 over par for the tournament, and every player knew that he had been tested. Many, of course, failed that test, and will spend the next days and weeks assessing their play and how to improve their games.

The real winner was professional golf, for I believe in the days to come, we will see improved play from the survivors of the 2012 U.S. Open Championship.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Becky's New Car

Donna and I watched Becky's New Car at Angelo Civic Theater a few nights ago. It was a witty and clever comedy, and the performances by the actors/actresses were quite good.

Becky's New Car, written by Steven Dietz, follows the chance happenings of Becky Foster, a middle-aged woman who realizes that, at least for the duration of the play, she wants a new life, which is symbolized by a new car. Her 26-year old son is a professional student living in her basement, and he contributes nothing to the household. Her husband, although a good man, is caught in the routine of middle-aged life and is content with its trappings. Longing to flee her mundane existence, her yearning is awakened by an elderly man who happens into the car dealership where she works.Caught up in events, she begins living a double-life, unaware that her two lives are more connected that she realizes.

I found the dialogue to be very clever. But two unique features of the play really stand out.

From the very beginning, the protagonist, Becky Foster, interacts with the audience. Initially, she talks to the audience much like the Stage Manager in Thornton Wilder's Our Town. As the play progresses, she does more than talk to the audience -- she actually interacts with them. Several times during the play, for example, audience members were invited onto the stage to help Becky. Depending on the audience, such interactions can be quite amusing.

The stage design was also interesting. There are 4 settings for the play: Becky's car, her cubicle at work, her living room, and the terrace at the home of an acquaintance. What makes the setting unique is that all 4 settings are on stage simultaneously. Spot lights trained on each set show where the action is. Humor arises when Becky directs theater personnel where to train the lights.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Watching the Colts

One of the things we enjoy about San Angelo is being able to go out to Foster Field and watch the San Angelo Colts, the local professional baseball team. The Colts belong to the South Division of the North American Baseball League, but they are NOT affiliated with either major league baseball or minor league baseball.

The Colts' season began May 23 with a 16-6 victory over the McAllen Thunder. Regular season ends September 3. During this time, they will play 95 games (if I count correctly) against the following opponents:
  • McAllen Thunder
  • Abilene Prairie Dogs
  • Fort Worth Cats
  • Edinburg Roadrunners
  • Rio Grande Valley White Wings
Last year, the Colts won their division, but were unable to advance further.

We attended last night's game, which was a "$2 Tuesday" night. This means that general admission, hot dogs, and beer are all $2 each. That's a pretty good deal. It allows us to sit out and enjoy a West Texas evening and watch some pretty good baseball. And there is always plenty to watch when teams change the fields, as local promotions and games are always entertaining.

It was windy last night, and we had to hold onto our hats. We thought we were arriving early, but the top half of the first inning was just finishing when we reached our seats. We later learned that the game on the previous night was cancelled due to bad weather, so they were playing a double-header tonight.

The Colts jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the game, but they were soon tied by the Fort Worth Cats. The Cats then had a big 4 run inning to take the lead for good. The Colts managed to get 2 runs late in the game, but they eventually lost 4-6. We did not stay for the second game.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Taking Some Pounds Off

I mentioned in my recent post on Panera Bread that I was dieting. On a visit to my doctor on May 3, he indicated that I didn't need to be so well-fed, then he recommended a book for me: The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet, by Barbara Rolls, PhD. It's a good book.

Since starting the diet, I've officially dropped 19.6 pounds, but I've probably dropped more like 21 or 22 pounds, for I did not start tracking my weight until a few days into the diet.

I've never done well on diets. Sure, they might work for a short time, but I always seem to return to the weight I started with. The same might happen with this diet; however, I really think this time I'll do better.

I'm really watching the calories on everything I eat. If we eat out, we try to plan our meals by going online and checking the menus for nutritional information. Most of the chain establishments now offer that feature. My goal is to stay under 1500 calories a day, and I've been pretty successful so far. A man my age and size needs about 2,000 to 2,200 calories to sustain his present weight, so I try to stay comfortably below that intake in order to lose.

And it has worked well without much suffering. Sure, I'd love a good old fashioned cheeseburger right now, but we've had some good meals while dieting (yeah, Donna is using the same diet). One of the great features of this book is that it provides a number of low calorie recipes, and we've found them to be very tasty. Donna also combed some back issues of Southern Homes and Gardens cookbooks she has collected over the years and found a section in some for low-calorie eating.

We have dropped off the diet a few times, but we've always been able to hop right back on. On our recent trip to Conroe, for example, we enjoyed some high calorie BBQ, but we immediately resumed the diet the next day without any setbacks.

So, I hope to stay on this diet and lose another 20 pounds. I'll keep you posted on my progress -- that is, of course, unless I fall off and start putting the pounds back on.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Water Conservation

Although we've had good rain so far in 2012 for the San Angelo area, the lakes we depend on for water have not been replenished. In fact, our main water source, O.H. Ivie Reservoir about 60 miles to our east, is only at 16% capacity with about 90,000 acre feet. To make matters worse, we share that water source with other area communities, including Midland, Texas.

Water has become one of our most precious commodities. I hate to see it wasted.

How many times have you driven through a neighborhood during a rain storm only to see the sprinkler system at a house watering the lawn? The problem, of course, is that many -- probably most -- people set their sprinkler systems and then forget about them; this is especially true, I think, with businesses. Another example of this is when an area has enjoyed good rains recently, as Angelo did a few weeks back; then, a couple of days after the rains stop, you see sprinklers watering lawns. If you've enjoyed an inch or more of rain, your lawn probably does not need watering for a week or more, depending on the temperature, wind, and other conditions. Again, this is a result of sprinklers being set and forgotten about.

Another form of wasting water on lawns is the time of day when we water our lawns. All watering really should be done early in the morning, probably before 9:00 AM. When lawns are watered during the heat of the day, some of that water is lost to evaporation. Many people prefer watering in the evening; the problem with watering at the end of the day is that the lawn stays wet overnight, and this could encourage disease, especially if your nights get cool.

Watering when it is windy also wastes water. I always cringe when I see water from sprinklers being carried away by the wind. In windy places like West Texas, more water can be carried away than eventually reaches the ground.

I keep my sprinkler system set, but turned off. When my lawn needs watering, I turn the system on the night before. I also watch weather forecasts; if rain is predicted, I keep my sprinklers turned off. After all, I'd much rather have good rain water with its high nitrogen content on my grass rather than city water. At this time, San Angelo and the surrounding area have a chance of rain for the next 2 or 3 days. My sprinkler system is off and will remain off until all chance of rain has passed. Then, if my lawn needs watering -- and it probably will -- I'll turn them on one night so that they run early the next morning.

Newer sprinkler systems have a rain sensor that can detect when it is raining and shut your sprinkler system off. My sprinkler system has this. Still, what if you had a good rain at 6:00 AM and your sprinkler system is set to go off 2 hours later? Again, you're watering a lawn that doesn't need watering.

Another thing I do when watering is try to prevent runoff. Standard practice is to turn on a sprinkler system and let it run for a set time. The problem with this is that after a while, water begins to puddle and runoff into the street. The ground needs more water, but since the water is coming so fast at one time, the ground cannot absorb all of it and this runoff occurs. Fortunately, on my sprinkler system, I'm able to set multiple run times. So, I have my sprinkler system water for a very short time -- about 8 minutes or so -- at 5:00 AM and then for the same amount of time again at 6:00 AM. Overall, I may use the same amount of water as someone else, but more of my water is being absorbed by the ground and is being used more fully.

There are lots of things we can do to conserve water and use it more wisely.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Good Eats: Panera Bread

One of Donna's favorite places to eat when visiting Conroe is Panera Bread. I'm not crazy about the place because it's so busy. During rush time, it's often hard to find a clean table. But I have to admit the food there is good.

Panera Bread serves for the most part coffee, salads, sandwiches, and soups. What I like about the place is the online menu. The menu provides nutritional information, and you can figure out exactly what you want before you go. Donna and I have been watching our weight lately, so we're counting calories. The "Nutrition Calculator" on the Panera site allows you to specify exactly what you want to eat. For example, I knew that I wanted a salad for lunch that day, so I pulled up the list of salads available. The one that caught my eye was Thai Chopped Chicken, but when I ran the data on it, I saw it was 470 calories, and that is a lot for a salad. I'm trying to stay below 1500 calories a day, and I really like it when I stay under 1000 (I've lost over 15 pounds so far), so that many calories for a salad seemed a bit much.

The neat feature on the calculator, though, shows the individual calorie count for each item in the salad. I reviewed it and saw that crispy wonton strips added 130 calories. Well, I figured I could sacrifice those strips without sacrificing taste, and that would reduce the total calorie count to a manageable 340 calories. Now we're talking!

And the salad was good! It had that alive flavor I was looking for. The chicken slices were beautiful, and the Low Fat Thai Chili Vinaigrette combined with the Thai Style Peanut Sauce created a rich tasting meal. I loved it. I can't wait to return.

And salads at Panera are served in real bowls with real utensils. I get so tired of plastic.

So, Panera is the place for me whether I'm watching my weight or not.