Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Omega Farms Revisited

When we stayed at Omega Farms RV Park in May, we did not have a pleasant experience and my review of this place was not positive. We are enjoying our stay here this time much more.

The biggest difference this time is our campsite. This time, we are in site #5. It is roomier, has shade, and has a nice sidewalk running the length of the trailer.

Our Rockwood in site #5
Donna is having a great time, too. In addition to visiting her mother daily, she is fishing daily. I went along with her last night and watched as she pulled in several nice-sized bass. The pond, by the way, is catch and release only, so we were not able to eat anything Donna landed.

Probably the largest of the many bass Donna caught while I was watching
Donna has a good time even when she isn't catching anything

This is the definition of retirement

The RV park is really in a pretty setting, with good trees around the perimeter. In addition to the fishing pond, there is also a small laundry with 3 private bathrooms and showers. They are not the best facilities we've seen, but they are certainly adequate.

Nice view of the park. Lots of shade trees around the perimeter.
The park has a mix of full-time residents and short-term residents. Most of the long-term residents occupy sites around the perimeter, where most of the shade is. Short-term visitors usually occupy sites in the center, which are all pull-thrus with limited or no shade.

There is no cable TV connection here. Fortunately, we do pick up several stations out of Houston, so we are able to watch the Olympics and other programming. There is a WiFi connection, but it is a bit slow and is not a secure connection.

The park does not have a store, so propane and other supplies are not available. However, numerous businesses are only about half a mile away.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Bracket Replacement

When we came to Conroe in late May, a bracket on our hitch system was damaged. After returning to San Angelo, I ordered a replacement part. One of my first priorities after getting the trailer set up yesterday was to replace that damaged bracket. I did that earlier this morning.

I use a Husky weight distribution hitch with sway control. This type of hitch accomplishes several things. First, it connects my tow vehicle (TV) to my trailer so that I can tow it. Second, it distributes the tongue weight of the trailer so that all the weight is not directly on the hitch. Finally, it provides some sort of sway control to make the trailer tow more steadily behind the TV, especially when being passed by high-speed trucks.

Husky weight distribution hitch with sway control
The graphic above shows the complete hitch. The ball at front is attached to the TV. The A frame is the front of the trailer frame system; normally, propane tanks and battery also are located in this area. The long vertical bar is part of the sway control feature. The bracket where it rests is where I had some damage.

Good bracket

The image above is of the bracket that is still functional. Below are two pictures of the bracket I damaged.

Basically, I turned just a bit too sharply one day, and twisted the bracket.

I have now replaced the damaged bracket, and we're ready to head on down the road.

When you have an RV, you have to expect problems like these to arise. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Willis, Texas

It's official . . . . we are truly homeless and currently living in our travel trailer. I'm reminded of the old Saturday Night Live skit with Chris Farley, whose character Matt Foley repeatedly complains about living "in a van down by the river." I kind of feel like that right now.

After closing on our house Monday morning, we headed to north Ft. Worth where we spent 2 days visiting my brother and his fiance. We ate well, slept well, and had a good time.

Early Wednesday, we drove over to Kilgore where we met friends for lunch at Cancun Dave's. It was good to see old friends and spend a couple of hours with them. The beef fajitas I ordered, by the way, were quite good.

From Kilgore, we continued eastward to Shreveport, LA, where we spent 2 days playing video poker at Eldorado Casino. Donna broke about even for the trip while I lost a little; however, our room and all our meals were comped, so we had a good time.

We left Shreveport early this morning (Friday, July 27) and headed towards the Conroe area. During our trip here in May, we left our trailer in storage at a facility on the west shore of Lake Conroe. Our first stop was to pick it up. We then pulled it to Omega Farms RV Park on the outskirts of Willis. We will spend a week here while visiting Donna's family and taking care of some business in the area.

After spending several days at my brother's and in a hotel, it was really nice to get to our trailer. It's not a home, but we are quite comfortable in it. The refrigerator is still cooling off; it will be completely functional later tonight, so we'll head to a grocery store in the morning to stock up on food. I also have a repair to make on the trailer, and I plan to wash it in a few days.

After being in San Angelo, I could really feel the humidity here when setting the trailer up earlier today. Even little movements outside caused me to perspire considerably; it really is quite a bit different from the arid and dry western part of the state.

One thing we've really enjoyed is how green the entire eastern part of the state is. Lawns are lush and lakes are healthy. It's quite a contrast to West Texas.

I'll try to post 2 or 3 times per week. However, there are times when I will not have Internet access, so please bear with me.

It's good to be home again.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Leaving San Angelo

Our household possessions are stored away now. We ate our last meal earlier today in San Angelo -- the Sunday Fest at Zentner's Daughter. We'll spend one more night in our house, roughing it on a blow up mattress. In the morning, we'll do some final cleaning, load up our few possessions, make a final run by the storage room, then head to the title company to close on our house. We'll soon be leaving San Angelo behind -- at least, for now.

Admittedly, Donna and I have never felt "at home" in our house here in Angelo. Don't get me wrong -- we love our house, and we love San Angelo; we just haven't had that homey feeling we've had other places. Despite that, there are many things we will miss about living here. We may even find ourselves returning one day once we get the wanderlust out of our systems.

San Angelo at almost 100,000 people has everything we need, yet it doesn't have a big city feel about it, and I like that. The medical services here are outstanding; we are going to miss our doctors. We have really received excellent care.

It's easy to get around Angelo. It is bounded by a freeway-style loop on the western half of the city. Other roadways are wide, and there is less traffic here than in other cities of comparable size, such as Midland, Longview and Tyler.

Shopping is what you would expect of a city this size. There is a modern mall with all the usual collection of shops. We have 2 super Walmarts and a Sam's Wholesale Club, along with other notable chains, such as Lowe's and Home Depot.

Dining out is a pleasure, with perhaps more locally owned eateries than in other Texas cities of comparable size. We probably don't have the number of chains other towns our size have, but that's not a problem; regardless, we have enough.

Entertainment is plentiful here, at least for old folks like Donna and me. You've read about our outings to see the local professional baseball team -- the San Angelo Colts -- as well as our nights out visiting the community theater and the Angelo State University (ASU) Theater. We've also visited the planetarium at ASU as well as local museums and places of interest. And we haven't done everything there is to do.

I guess most of all, I'll miss the people. We've lived in West Texas off and on since the late 1970s, and I've always argued that the people in West Texas are the friendliest in the state. An extension of that is that I believe service in the business place is better here than where I previously lived. Yes, I'll miss West Texas friendly.

On the negative side, we do suffer from dry weather year round, but especially in the summer. People still have a grass mentality here, so they want to have green lawns and lush landscapes. That just is no longer possible, I'm afraid. At one time it was possible, but with the growing population, there just isn't as much water per capita as there once was. There are also more businesses today that use heavy volumes of water than there once were -- and not just in San Angelo. There are golf courses that want daily watering, oil companies using water for fracking, car washes, and many other businesses that require large volumes of water. So, anyone wanting to live in Angelo needs to consider low-water landscapes.

It does get hot in Angelo, with the thermometer hovering around 100 degrees throughout most of the summer. But because of the low humidity, it really is more pleasant outside here than in the humid eastern portions of the state. But the sun does bear down relentlessly day after day, draining life from plants and drying up water sources. I miss the long, all-day rains the eastern half of the state enjoys. And when it does rain here, it tends to be a bit more violent, with high winds and pounding rain for a short time.

I'll miss this town; it's a good one, and it has much to offer, especially to retirees. We just may find ourselves back here one day when we get tired of wandering about. We could certainly do worse.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

We Got a GPS

Well, we finally did it -- we purchased a GPS.

People who know me and the work I did the final years of my career laugh at my attitude towards technology (see my blog entry entitled "Pandora" for a similar story on this topic). I really don't like technology, but if something looks like it will improve my life, I'll try it. I don't, however, feel the need to go out and buy the latest greatest gadget when it hits the market, then a year later buy the next latest and greatest upgrade to that gadget. And what's with these people who start standing in line at Best Buy the night before a new tablet is released, just so they can be among the first to purchase one of them? Some of them even take off work to do this. I just don't get it.

I have a cell phone, but I only use it for talking, not for texting. In fact, I rarely talk on it. Anyone who knows me will tell you I don't like talking on the phone -- never have, never will. Guess I shouldn't look for a job in a call center. I don't have a tablet; I don't have TIVO; I don't Tweet or use Facebook. 

It's not that I'm technologically illiterate. In fact, I spent the last years of my career as the Director of Technology Services at the regional education service center where I worked, so I know my way around gadgets and gizmos. A colleague there who knew how Donna and I enjoyed hiking once asked me what type of GPS I used on our hikes. I guess that because of my position, she expected me to have some wonderful, high-powered GPS. I replied, "A compass and a map." Well, I still use a compass and a  map on our hikes -- heck, in a pinch, I might even use the sun or stars or other natural aids. But I did recently break down and buy a GPS for our upcoming RV trip. I've driven across Texas so many times over the years that I seldom even use a map while in Texas. But our upcoming trip will take us to areas that I am not familiar with, and I thought a GPS might be helpful.

We purchased a Garmin nĂ¼vi® 50LM. So far, we've enjoyed it. We've experimented around town, and we enjoy the way it tells you where to turn and even which side of the road your target destination is on. We'll use it regularly on our trip, but especially when we are looking for a specific place, such as our next RV park. It will really be useful in case of emergency, such as seeking a hospital.

Perhaps there is some hope for me yet, but I doubt it. I'd actually rather sit next to someone and visit with them than to text them.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dealing with Paperwork

In a recent post, I mentioned how we have tried to reduce our possessions. I want to continue that line of thought.

When I became my father's caretaker, I also inherited all of his and my mother's paperwork. I wouldn't necessarily call them hoarders, but I would say that they did not throw much away as regards paperwork. There were business documents in their files that went back to my birth. It fell to me to go through each file -- paper by paper -- and determine what needed to be kept and what needed to be destroyed. Almost all of it needed to be destroyed.

This process took literally months for me to accomplish. Of course, I was still working at the time; in addition, I was looking after Dad, and that required almost daily attention. But there was a lot of paperwork there, from old bank books from the 1950s to long ago forgotten insurance policies to even utility bills. And I had to look at each and every item.

It was about this time that I realized that I was more or less guilty of the same behavior, and I resolved to do something about it so that my daughter would not inherit a similar paperwork nightmare. My two recent moves have helped tremendously, for I have gone through all files and eliminated everything that was not relevant.

It is the other thing that I've done that I want to share with you. Actually, I have to give Donna credit, for it was her idea.

As mail arrives, I sort through, destroying most because most is junk mail. But bills and other legitimate items I place in a stack. Then once a week, I sit down at my desk and act on the mail (pay a bill, provide necessary information, or whatever is called for by legitimate mail). I then scan that mail.

I keep the original for 1 year (I'm not sure why I don't just destroy it at the moment), then destroy anything at least 1 year old. The scanned copy is renamed and moved to an appropriate folder on my computer. Each night, all data on my computer is automatically backed up, and the backup goes to an external hard drive. Now, if there was a fire, then all data would be lost since both the computer and the external drive are in the same location, but that would also be the case if I relied solely on paper files as I had in the past. So, we break even on that point. But, if the computer fails, then all my data is safe on my external hard drive.

Now all my paperwork is neatly stored in one space saving location. About once a year, I review my files and delete anything no longer necessary.

I used to have 2 two-drawer filing cabinets, plus 3 smaller ones, all crammed full of paper. We no longer have filing cabinets. The hard copies I retain for a year are filed in notebooks, all of which fit easily in a single box when moving; otherwise, they reside on a shelf in what we call our "computer room".

Of course, another thing that helps is that so much business can be conducted online these days. Bank statements, investment portfolio statements, utility bills, and other paperwork can be sent electronically, thereby eliminating the scanning step. All these advancements are certainly making life easier and more efficient.

Something else I do to reduce the amount of paper we have is to download manuals for anything we purchase. Rather than try to keep up with the bulky user's manual for a refrigerator or lawn mower or drill -- or whatever you buy -- just download the manual. I've found very few manuals that weren't available online. Once I do download the manual and ensure it is identical to the one that came packaged with the product, I then discard the original manual (recycling, if possible, of course). Boy, has that not only saved space, but also the aggravation of finding the manual when I need it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Counting the Days

We have just over a week more before we hit the road. It's been quite busy here.

We secured a storage facility for our household goods, and for the past 2 weeks or so, we've been taking various items over there. Almost all of the boxes are there now and several pieces of furniture. Donna has emptied the kitchen except for what we need for the last few days we are here. Besides some bedroom furniture and some living room furniture, there isn't much left in the house.

We are having a garage sale Saturday, July 14. I hope everything sells, for I don't want any of that stuff. I really believe that less is better.

Another thing I've come to believe is that I'm tired of yard work. I've always enjoyed working with plants. Donna and I have had gardens since the first years of our marriage. But since we've retired, I've come to believe that gardens -- and yards -- tie you down. To have a nice yard, you really need to mow weekly whether the yard needs it or not. Plants and grass have to be watered, weeds have to be pulled, fertilizer needs to be applied, bushes need to be trimmed, and the list goes on and on. I'd rather be playing. If I ever live in a house again, it will probably be a small garden or patio home with a very small yard. So, I'm selling all my yard and gardening tools in the garage sale, some I've had from the early days of our marriage.

We donated several boxes of books to local charities. I had hauled some of these books around since my college days thinking that someday I would read them again. We tend to cling to these things, perhaps out of sentimentality. We really need to just let go. If I want to read one of those books, I'll just go to our local library or download the book to my Kindle. Since many of the old books I had were classical literature, many of them are available free somewhere on the Internet.

Really about the only things I am keeping are things relating to my family history, like the Cameron family Bible, family medals and awards, and other things that just can't be replaced. I hope they will mean something to my descendants one day, but that may be a pipe dream. They mean something to me, though, so I'm still lugging them around.

So, we have drastically scaled down our possessions, and it feels very, very good. I like being "lean and mean" so to speak. As I've said before on this blog, you don't own possessions, they own you.

I'm always amazed at the things we continue to lug around. This morning, for example, I came across a shoe box of old check books going back at least 10 years. Why am I still carrying these around? So, I spent a little time and shredded all of them. That's one less shoe box I have to worry about in the future.

So, the house is just about cleaned out. We'll wait for next Saturday to arrive. My son-in-law is coming down to help me move the heavy items to the storage room. The storage facility has a trailer for use by occupants, and I figure that at most it will take 2 loads on the trailer. After that, we just wait for the closing on Monday, and then we head on down the road looking for some fun.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Check Out the Web Site

As we wind down to our last days in San Angelo, I want to remind all my blog visitors to check out my website, Living the Good Life. You can always link to it from this blog by clicking on the link to the right.

I created the website as a way to better organize my interests and to share them with any visitors to the site. Whereas the blog is a good way to keep up with us on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, you can view items by groupings on the website.

For example, I'm currently developing a page on the website called "RV Corner". If you are interested in the RV lifestyle, then you can find various articles related to RV travel grouped together there. I've only recently started this page, though, so I have only a few articles posted at this time. I'm currently focusing on some of the mechanics of RVing, such as what is involved with setting up an RV at a campground and what you must do when preparing to leave a campground.

If you enjoy reading about our hikes, you can find all of that information grouped together on the "Hiking" page. Although many of the hikes are actually taken from the blog, there are many more hikes we've enjoyed over the years that I've posted in other formats. At some point, I'd like to format all the hikes in a similar fashion. But that is not a priority at this time.

If you are more interested in travel in general, then check out "Travels with Donna and Keith." As with hiking, many of these entries are simply links to blog articles. They focus on the places we have visited, such as museums, historic sites, and other places of interest.

Another section that I've just added is "Good Eats." This section is basically a review of places we eat along the road. I don't claim to be a restaurant critic, but I can at least describe a place and tell you what's on the menu. All of the reviews in this section are simply blog entries I link to.

There are a couple of other categories as well, but those listed above are probably what most visitors to the site would be interested in.

I invite you to visit often, and I hope you enjoy what you find.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Diet Update

Not much to report on my diet.

After losing more than 25 pounds, I've more or less leveled off for the time being. We've had company off and on for the past 2 weeks or so, and that has gotten me out of my routine. For me to diet effectively, I need a routine. Instead, we've eaten out at places we normally would not eat, and we've cooked meals we normally would not cook while dieting.

But I'm pretty satisfied, because I haven't gained any weight -- I'm just holding steady. Part of this is because I've continued to exercise. I try to walk 3 miles at least 3 times a week. And I've started interspersing some short jogs into my walks. I started off with one good 100 yard jog at the end of my walk, and now I'm jogging at least 6 times during the walk. I don't want to push this too much; after all, I'm no spring chicken. I hope to soon work up to jogging about quarter mile and then half mile intervals and extending my distance from 3 miles to 4 or 5 miles. As we begin to travel soon, this may get difficult. Since we will be in different places every few days or so, it may be difficult for me to find a good place to exercise. I know the route here at home, and I'm comfortable with it. I know exactly how far it is. But when we are in a state park or commercial RV park, judging distances will be a bit more difficult.

I used to jog almost daily until I began working at Region 18 ESC in Midland in the late 90s, and I enjoyed the energy boost it would give me for the rest of the day. I'm beginning to get that pep back. Since we will soon be doing some good hiking, I need that extra energy. Overall, I'm just feeling so much better, and I've not experienced any real back pain since the weight loss began in early May.

We have about 2 weeks until we close on our house. We have a list of places we want to eat just one last time before we leave San Angelo behind, so I may not lose any more weight until we get on the road. But when we move into our trailer full time, you can bet we'll be bringing those scales with us. I still have a few more pounds I want to lose.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Good Eats: Zenter's Daughter, San Angelo, Texas

Zentner's Daughter is a well-known steakhouse in West Texas, famous for its garlic-flavored sirloins. In fact, the Zentner family has operated numerous restaurants in the area.

John Zentner opened the Lowake Inn in 1946 in the small community of Lowake, about half an hour east of San Angelo. Prior to that, he had cooked in his father's meat market and for the cavalry. You may recall an earlier entry on this blog about the Lowake Steak House. Betty, John Zentner's daughter, opened Zentner's Daughter restaurant in San Angelo in 1974, and she and her husband continue to operate it today.

On a recent Sunday, Donna and I were craving a good steak, so we visited Zenter's Daughter. It just so happens that they run a special on Sunday that we simply couldn't resist. The Sunday Fest is a wonderful deal for $12.95. You get your choice of shrimp, sirloin, or chicken, or your choice of any two of these. In addition, you get soup or salad, vegetable, potato, dessert, and your choice of either tea or coffee.

Both of us opted for the sirloin, and we were surprised at the size and thickness of the steak. Each of us were served 2 large portions of perfectly cooked sirloin, each piece probably weighing close to half a pound. The salads were good and were served with Zentner's own croutons, which are a wonderful snack by themselves. The potato was perfect, dessert was tasty, and service was excellent.

We close on our house on Monday, July 23. The day before, we plan to enjoy our last San Angelo meal at Zentner's Daughter. I think you know what we will order.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Love of the West

I've always had a love affair with maps.

One of my favorite parts of a trip is planning the trip. I can read a map like other people read a novel. I'm aware of every mark on a map and what it represents. As I plan a trip, I can visualize what is down each road, and I get excited.

As a child, one of my favorite books was the Texas Almanac, which was published every other year. I loved the section that provided information on Texas county by county, including a small map of each county. I devoured that information: population of the communities in a county, major businesses, agricultural production, and various other related information.

I would spread  a Texas road map on the floor and pore over it from east to west, from north to south. My favorite area was the west, especially the area starting with the Hill Country and moving to the Davis Mountains and Big Bend Country. This was fueled, no doubt, by my love affair with westerns. Towns in that area had a romantic sound to them: Sonora, Eldorado, Del Rio, Pecos. I heard those same names on the Saturday morning westerns I'd watch on our black and white TV set.

So, once I completed my college work, it was no surprise to my parents when Donna and I moved west. I knew that as an educator, I'd never make much money, but I knew that I could travel the state as a teacher, moving from teaching job to teaching job. And I've pretty much done that, from Olton in the northwest corner of the state to Ozona in the southwest corner.

I do love West Texas.

I love those wide open spaces and that big sky. In the morning and evening, sitting out is so much more pleasant than in the humid east, and even during the hottest part of the day you can sit out if you can find some shade and a breeze -- and there is almost always a breeze in West Texas.

People who simply pass through West Texas often don't care for it. They say it is only desert and that there is nothing to look at.

I disagree.

If you know where to look and what to look for, there is plenty to see here. And I'm not just talking about what you can physically see -- I'm also talking about what you can visualize if you know anything about the history of this area. It's a rich and exciting country, and one worth spending a little time in.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

That Restless Spirit

Donna and I are cursed with a restless spirit. We just can't seem to stay in one place very long.

Fortunately, our daughter, Courtney, does not seem to have inherited that restlessness from us. She and her husband Michael (and our grandson Alexander) live in Michael's hometown surrounded by Michael's family. They seem quite content there, and I'm happy for them. I think they will be there for years to come.

Donna and I, on the other hand, seem condemned to wander from place to place every few years. But we've seen a lot of the world that way.

My father was an educator, and as he climbed the ranks from classroom teacher to principal to superintendent, we moved around. So, I spent much of my childhood roaming among small towns of central and eastern Texas (Fairfield, Mexia, Rosebud, Elgin, and back to Fairfield). I guess I can blame Dad for my restless spirit.

After graduating high school, I attended Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. I loved it there so much that I stayed on for an additional 2 years as an assistant instructor while working on my Master's. If SHSU had offered a doctorate in my field, I probably would have found some way to stay on a bit longer. It was in Huntsville that Donna and I met and married. Once I had my MA degree in hand, Donna and I headed to far West Texas, out past Lubbock, to the small town of Olton where I began my teaching career in earnest. We often blame that move for the start of our restlessness. While in Huntsville (Sam Houston), we were near both our families and we were content, but once we moved, we seemed to just keep on moving.

Over the years, we've gone from Olton to Saudi Arabia, to Wellman, Texas (near Lubbock), back to Saudi Arabia, to Jacksonville, Texas (near Tyler), to Ozona, Texas, (near San Angelo) to Midland, Texas, to Longview and Kilgore Texas, and back to West Texas once again to San Angelo. We seem to keep criss-crossing the state. Now we're pulling up stakes again, and we have that old excitement we had when we were just two young kids venturing out to the unknown.

I'm not sure what we're looking for. We take something from each place we live. Doing so really makes it harder to find a place to settle. When we go to East Texas, we find ourselves missing the big sky, wide open spaces, and low humidity of West Texas. When we're in West Texas, we find ourselves missing the colors of fall and spring that East Texas enjoys, as well as those drenching rains. Wherever we are, we find ourselves longing for something we've enjoyed some other place. The grass always seems greener on the other side of that fence, you know.

I don't know if we will ever be happy in one place. We may wander this planet until we drop dead from old age or exhaustion. The trip so far surely has been great, though.