Wednesday, May 29, 2013

36 Years and Counting

Donna and I celebrated our 36th anniversary last week. That's a long, long time.

Donna and I met through a mutual friend while I was attending Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. I don't know if it was love at first sight, but we did seem to hit if off quite well from the get go.

After completing my student teaching assignment at Palestine High School in the East Texas town of that name, we were wed on May 26, 1977, in the small chapel at the Methodist Church in Conroe, Donna's home town. It was a small affair with mainly family and a few close friends attending. Sadly, that church no longer stands. It was on the edge of downtown and has since made way for a business. A new Methodist Church has been erected on the western edge of town.

We didn't have any money in those days -- heck, we still don't have any -- so our honeymoon was very short. We spent a few days in the Hill Country. To this day, that is still just about our favorite place in the world. We'd move there in a heartbeat if we could afford property there.

After our marriage, I continued my studies at SHSU. I had a teaching fellowship, and was able to complete my Master's Degree at night while teaching part-time at the university during the day. We lived in a small cabin just outside of Huntsville, and even though we had no money, those were arguably the happiest 2 years of our lives.

After completing my MA, I secured a teaching job in Olton, Texas, about 50 miles to the northwest of Lubbock. Today, we blame that move -- at least in part -- with creating our restlessness. It seems we've been on the move ever since. But those were good days. Our daughter was born in Plainview while we were in Olton, and she has always been a West Texas girl.  Donna and I don't know what we are.

Today, our daughter lives near Big Spring. That is her home; it is where her husband grew up. I do not see her leaving. And I'm happy that she is settled; actually, I envy her that. Donna and I will never be settled. Even now, after living in our new home for less than 2 months, I'm wondering where we will go next. But we like being close to Courtney and her family. In fact, she had a baby shower just over a week ago, and it was nice to be able to attend and meet all of our husband's family. We had met most of them before, of course, but it has been a lot of years since we last saw them. Courtney's mother-in-law and her husband live a few houses down the street. As if that isn't enough, Courtney and family live between two of her husband's brothers. We call the place "The Compound" since they all live in close proximity together. And Donna and I think that is great.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Favorite Drives: Old San Antonio Road from Crockett to Alto

There are many roads in Texas that I really enjoy traveling, but perhaps none more than the Old San Antonio Road from Alto to Crockett.

The Old San Antonio Road (OSR) is also known as El Camino Real or King's Highway. Alonso de Leon originally blazed the road in 1690-91. It was used to connect Mexico with missions in East Texas. The road is actually a series of connected trails stretching all the way from Natchitoches, Louisiana, to near Eagle Pass, Texas, and then on to Mexico City.

I find the 34 mile stretch from Alto to Crockett to be one of the most interesting sections of the old road. There is a great deal to see along this short stretch. When Donna and I lived in the Longview area, we would take this route whenever we visited her family in Conroe, and I always enjoyed this portion of the trip.

This stretch of road is a two-lane highway that passes through the northernmost section of the Davey Crockett National Forest. I like the drive through the forest, where the thick forest sometimes almost forms a wall next to the roadway. Starting at Alto and heading southwest, the first point of interest is the Caddo Mounds State Historic Site. 3 ceremonial mounds, erected about 1200 years ago by the Hasinai, a part of the Caddo culture, still stand beside the roadway. The visitor center has numerous displays of interest, and a short walking trail leads visitors beside the remaining mounds.

A couple of miles past the mounds, the roadway dips down into the Neches River bottom. Looking at the Neches River today, it's difficult to imagine that steamboats once made their way this far upriver, but they did. Just after crossing the river, a sign announces the nearby Big Slough Wilderness Area. This area is also the northernmost terminus of the 20-mile long 4-C Hiking Trail, which Donna and I hiked a section of several years ago.

One of the more unusual sites along the highway is a pepper tree. A sign along the route states that the tree was planted in 1848. After a bit of research, I learned that the tree is actually a Lilac Chaste Tree or Vitex Agnus Castus L. However, it seems that the Lilac Chaste Tree has always been referred to as the Pepper Tree.

Next is the small community of Weches, home to Mission Tejas State Park. This park is the best example of a woodlands park I know of in Texas. It is home to 2 historic structures: a representation of Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in the province of Texas, which was established in 1690, and the restored Rice Family Log Home, built originally in 1828. There are numerous hiking trails throughout the small park, as well as a small pond. For those interested in the Civilian Conservation Corps and the work this organization did with Texas state parks, there are some old CCC "bathtubs" located in the southeast corner of the park.

Mission Tejas. Picture taken during a hike in August 2005


Rice Family log home. Picture taken during a hike in August 2005.

Approaching view of CCC bathtubs, taken during a hike in August 2005

2 of the CCC bathtubs, taken during a hike in August 2005

Many famous persons followed this trail across Texas, including David Crockett on his way to his date with destiny at the Alamo. Today, the paved highway allows modern travelers to cover as much distance in a few minutes as Crockett could have covered in a day, but this stretch of highway deserves to be taken slowly. There is much to see for the traveler who will stop and take a look around.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Good Read: Indian Creek Chronicles by Pete Fromm

I enjoy outdoor adventure style books. Over the years, I've built up a nice collection. Recently, in search of something to read, I pulled Pete Fromm's Indian Creek Chronicles from the shelf, and I really enjoyed it.

The book relates the adventures of the author who, midway through his college career at the University of Montana in Missoula, takes a winter job guarding salmon eggs in the Idaho/Montana wilderness. The job requires that Fromm remain in the wilderness for 8 months so that he can break ice daily to allow the salmon eggs to live. Fromm sees the job as an opportunity to live the mountain man experience he has read so much about.

Fromm spends most of the winter alone in a canvas wall tent, his only constant companion his dog Boone. Occasionally, hunters pop in and out of the remote area, but after the snow flies, the only way in or out is by snow machine. Temperatures in the region drop to as low as 40 below that winter, and snow covers the landscape for most of the time.

Fromm and Boone explore their wilderness, watching the moose, bobcats, bighorn sheep, and other animals that live there. They adapt to their environment, and Fromm gains a deep appreciation for the area and the animals who call it home.

If you like to read about people living in what most of us consider harsh environments, then you'll probably enjoy this book. Fromm's style is easy and pleasant to read.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Never Say Never

We sold our travel trailer recently, but that doesn't mean we have given up the RV life.

Donna and I are restless souls. Since our marriage in 1977, we've lived in at least 10 towns in Texas and 2 places overseas. We can't seem to stay put in one place very long. We always want to know what's around the next curve in the road. I guess the longest we've stayed anywhere is 8 years in Ozona and about the same length of time in Kilgore.

We enjoy going to new places and trying new things. It doesn't take us long to get bored with a place. And that is why the RV lifestyle fits us pretty well. When you get tired of a place, you simply hook up and move on down the road to new adventures.

I don't know what the future holds for us. I know we are committed to staying in San Angelo for a time after our new grandson is born. Grandma wants to be around during his early years. And who knows, we might just settle in to life here and find peace and decide to live out the rest of our years here. We do like San Angelo. It's a good place to live, full of friendly people. It's easy to get around, has good medical facilities, and it has all the shopping we need.

But our itchy feet may just start shuffling about, and if they do, we may look at spending time on the road again.

To this end, I've been organizing my thoughts about RVing. For example, if we do decide to RV again, we'll go full-time. If we do this, what do we look for in an RV? Where would we travel? What would we do with our furniture? How would we take care of finances?

I've been putting down my ideas about RVing on my website ("Living the Good Life") in a section I call "RV Corner". If you are interested in RVing, you might drop in and look around. There's not a great deal of information there yet; it is a work in progress. Whenever I get an idea, I pull up a page and record my thoughts. Perhaps you'll find something there of interest. Perhaps you'll catch the RV bug. Perhaps you'll become a restless soul.

If so, perhaps we'll see you down the road.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Reducing Waste

If you've been a reader of my blog since its beginning shortly after my retirement in early 2011, you know that I have striven to reduce junk and clutter in my home. As I've aged, I have come to realize how true the old adage is that we do not own possessions, but rather our possessions own us. These days, I believe that less is better.

One area where I've been successful is in reducing paper waste, specifically mail and files and such. Most of my business correspondence these days is electric as I've opted to go paperless whenever possible. Now when statements or invoices are ready, I get an email notification and I can then electronically download and file the appropriate correspondence.

Not all businesses have gone paperless yet, so I still receive some paper mail. When I do, I scan the paperwork and then file it on my computer if it is something I need to keep. After doing so, I shred the original. If I'm careful to separate shredded items, I can even used the shredded paper in my flower beds.

Each night, a backup of selected folders and files from my computer is saved to an external hard drive. I'm not comfortable at this time saving to an online service, though in theory that is probably the safer way to do things.

When I buy a new product that has a user's manual, I search online for the manual. If I can't find it online, then I scan the manual. I can then safely trash the hard copy of the manual. In the old days, I had folders and drawers full of user manuals for refrigerators, lawn mowers, cameras, and anything else I purchased. Not so anymore.

Not only does this method save considerable space, but it is easier to find something when you need it. It is certainly much easier than working through hard copies in files. Of course, how you decide to name and store items has much to do with how easy it is to locate documents you need. I learned long ago that when dealing with technology, one of the most important aspects -- and one most often overlooked, especially by those who lack experience -- is the naming convention you expect to use.

In most business correspondence, I name individual files starting by date, with year coming first (e.g. 2013-05-13). I include hyphens in the name just to make it easier for my old eyes to read. Then I use some sort of descriptive name, such as the type of correspondence (e.g. 2013-05-13-invoice). Using this manner, files are automatically sorted by year making them easier to locate. Then the file is stored in the appropriate folder (e.g. AtmosEnergy). As years go by, I create folders for correspondence for each year and store all files for that year in the appropriate folder. Following this system it is relatively easy to locate individual files.

Of course, if you do pay bills electronically, it is important to monitor payments on a regular basis because of the massive amount of cyber crime today. You should also subscribe to some sort of identity security service that will monitor your credit cards and other financial activity.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blooming Yucca

We have 2 yuccas in our front yard. One of them is in bloom. I've always loved yuccas in bloom. There is a roadside park just north of Ozona, Texas (where we lived during much of the 1990s) on Highway 163. The park has several yucca plants, which always produced some of the most beautiful blooms. I always enjoyed that sight when we passed the park.

Blooming Yucca in our front yard

There are a few buds near the top that have not bloomed yet. The other yucca has yet to bloom, though it has about the same number of buds. Interesting why they are not blooming at the same time. I've treated them exactly the same -- when I water one, I water the other, for example. Soon, they will be completely established and I'll stop watering them except during extreme dry spells. But for now, I do water them regularly, as well as the agave, the sage bushes, and the other plants we have (which I do not know what they are).

I spent yesterday morning working on the 3 raised beds in my side yard. I had already built the frames (see "Instant Yard" for previous pictures), but I had yet to fill them. So yesterday, I put down a thick layer of newspapers to block the weeds. Over time, the newspapers will decompose and improve the soil in the process. On top of the newspapers, I placed several cubic feet of sphagnum peat moss, followed by several cubic feet of garden soil, then mixed them together. I will follow the same process with the beds surrounding the house, but I've run out of newspapers for right now.

Raised beds ready for planting




The beds are now ready for planting. Donna will fill one with basil. Once she harvests that crop, she will make pesto and freeze it. We'll be able to eat her pesto all winter, and boy, she makes the best!

We had almost an inch of rain here last week, spread over 3 days. The nitrogen in the rain really did help the  new grass. Compare the grass in the picture above with the grass in the picture below, which was taken immediately after putting the sod down. You can see that the above picture is greener, and the lines of the sod squares are beginning to blend into the grass. If we could only get more rain.

Raised beds just after sod had been put down
Currently, we are only allowed to water twice per week, and that will soon be reduced to once per week. I'm hoping that my sod is getting established enough that it will be able to withstand the summer heat, which is fast approaching. We have several days with the high approaching 100 predicted for this week.








Friday, May 10, 2013

Daytripper

I first heard the term "day tripper" long ago. The Beatles released a single entitled "Day Tripper" in the mid 1960s as the B side of "We Can Work It Out". Both songs did very well on the charts.

During my time abroad in the 1980s, I worked with a number of Brits and heard them used the term often. It is used, of course, to refer to someone who takes a trip in a single day. I've always liked the phrase; it has a certain lyric quality to it.

About 10 or more years ago, I joined a website called "Wild Texas". The site draws people who are interested in exploring the Texas outdoors. In addition to the information provided, there was a very active forum, and people discussed camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities. When I joined, I used the moniker of "Daytripper." I've not used the site much in the last few years and don't know how active it is today, but if you go back far enough in the archives, you will find some posts by me, aka Daytripper.

While on the subject, another website I once used to get information about hiking in Texas is Texas Hiking. For some reason, when I joined that forum I did not use the Daytripper username; rather, I simply joined as "kcameron". It's a good site, and provides very specific information about hiking the trails of Texas. If you like hiking in Texas, it is the place to visit.

Anyway, I've always liked the name Day Tripper. So when I came across a listing a couple of years ago for The Daytripper on our local PBS channel (KERA from Dallas), it was only natural for me to check it out.
The show, currently in its 4th season, is hosted by Chet Garner, who travels around Texas with his crew. Each half hour show records a single day trip to a Texas location. It usually consists of 2 or 3 stops at museums, recreation venues, or other places of interest, as well as 1 or 2 food stops.

I enjoy the show. Chet Garner is a bit wacky, but that makes it a fun show. It's obvious the man enjoys his work, and he wants his viewers to enjoy the show as well. And the show does a good job. It earned a Lone Star Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Magazine Program – Series, for its Marfa, TX episode.

If you are looking for a trip in Texas, visit the website (linked above) and click on the "Daytrips" button. You can pick from any of the locations and then watch the episode.

Enjoy our great state, and perhaps I'll see you down the road.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Goodbye, Rocky

Donna and I said goodbye to a good friend yesterday. We sold our Rockwood ("Rocky") travel trailer.

We really enjoyed our trailer, and it was difficult to let it go. It took us to a lot of exciting places, and it provided us with a security blanket of sorts. If we ever lost our home for some reason, we always had Rocky to fall back on.

But Rocky was also a temptation to us, begging us to give up our brick and mortar home and live like gypsies. We enjoyed doing that for a time, but we really need to concentrate on settling in one place for a while.

Then there are the economic issues of keeping a travel trailer to consider. Since we now live in a patio home, we have no place to keep a trailer, so we would have to store it. That fee, combined with insurance, is a regular outpay month after month whether you use the trailer or not.

And Rocky is old enough now that problems were beginning to crop up. Some of the problems are minimal, such as window blinds needing to be restrung, while others are larger and more costly. And keeping a trailer in a storage facility makes it hard to perform maintenance, such as washing and making repairs.

Now that we no longer have the trailer to tow, we will soon downsize our vehicle from our Tundra to a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle, perhaps a Toyota RAV4 or a Ford Escape. The truck is useful, no doubt, but it does guzzle the gas and it is rather bulky to drive around in tight spots.

Some people think that traveling is cheaper with an RV. When the total cost of ownership is taken into consideration, as well as increased fuel costs and nightly site fees, you can really stay just as economically in hotels with a lot less hassle. I have kept records of all of our travels in our trailer, including mileage, nightly site rental fees, and fuel costs, and we averaged just about $40 per night in the trailer when all costs were taken into consideration. When you add in the initial cost of the RV and the tow vehicle (if one is necessary), then that nightly fee jumps up considerably.

So, we will continue traveling, but we'll use hotels and other accommodations. I'm not going to say that we will never have an RV again, but for now, I'm happy to travel faster and lighter.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Adjusting to Our New Lives

We are slowly getting settled in our new home. The yard is coming along nicely. Pictures are gradually getting hung. Things are being arranged.

It's nice to wake up in a comfortable home each day. It's nice to have room. It's nice to have comfortable furniture. It's nice to be warm when those unrelenting cold fronts continue to howl through, dropping May temperatures to the low 30s at night. Will winter ever leave?

But yet, there's a little part of me that wishes we were still in our RV.

There's something about the RV lifestyle that I really like; don't get me wrong, there's plenty that I don't like. I have to admit, though, that I am already getting a bit bored in our new home; every day is basically the same. That's something I'll have to adjust to. In the trailer, we really never got bored, at least, not for long.

In most of our travels, we usually stayed in most places for no more than a week. On a few occasions, we may have stayed up to 2 weeks. Only once did we stay in one place for a month. At the end of that month, we were really ready to move on. And that is the nice thing about living in an RV. You go someplace, like Santa Fe, and plop down for a while. After you've seen everything you want to see there, you hook up and move on down the road to the next interesting place and start all over again. Yeah, that's kind of nice, and it's going to take me a while to get over that.

We're happy in our new home, though, and we hope to stay here for a while. You never know when we might get that itch again. When we do, be looking for us down the road.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Instant Yard

Last Friday, Donna and I spent the day laying sod in our side/back yard. We went from a dirt yard to a full lawn in a matter of hours.

We ordered Celebration bermuda grass from a local nursery. I ordered 2 palettes, which was enough to cover 900 square feet of lawn. I needed just a bit more, but this will have to do. I do have a few gaps in the back area, but the grass should spread and fill in over time.

Celebration is supposed to be one of the more drought-resistant strains of bermuda grass. It is also supposed to perform well in either full sun or in partial sun. The area just off our patio will probably only get 2-3 hours of sun each day, so I hope it will do well in that area.

Below are some before and after pictures of the yard.


Side yard looking towards the alley (south).

What a difference grass makes! I left a 2 foot wide area along the house for an herb bed.
Back part of the yard. The frames are for raised beds. I wanted to get them placed before putting in the grass. Each bed is 6 feet by 4 feet.
I'll need to get a mower soon.
From the back looking towards the patio and front.
Again, the grass really makes a big difference. The side area will not get much sun. I left another border at the back of the house for beds.
Our front yard is a desert landscape. I hope to find a palo verde or other desert type tree to plant in the front, probably next winter. I'll add a few more desert plants, like red sage, perhaps ocotillo, chollo, etc.

As I was writing the above, a short rain storm moved over, enough to wet the pavement. Hopefully, we will get more tonight and my grass will get some of the nutrients rain provides. Unfortunately, almost anytime it rains in West Texas, it seems that there is a good chance for hail and high winds. Baseball sized hail was reported to have fallen north of Abilene just a few minutes ago, and a violent storm moved through El Dorado, just south of here, about 2 hours ago. It would be nice to get a good drenching rain without the violent side-affects.