Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve Quickie

I thought I'd take a few minutes and pound out our last update for 2009, albeit brief, as Dar get's ready for our New Years Eve party tonight. We've thoroughly enjoyed the holidays with all our friends here in Rockport despite less than ideal weather this year. Tonight's celebration and tomorrow's schedule of parades and football will pretty much wrap up the festive season, and we'll all be back to quasi-normal again by Monday.

But during this long weekend I will take some time for reflection and contemplation of the past -- and thinking about what could be in store for us during 2010. It's all so exciting!

Happy New Year to All of You!

Thom & Dar

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Honorable Mention

During our stay in Zion National Park this past fall, we connected up with Julianne Crane and Jimmy Smith, and enjoyed their company often during our 10 day stay. Julianne is a professiional writer curently writing the RV Wheel Life Blog. Jimmy is an accomplished chef, bicyclist, and adventurist.

Well, Julianne wrote a very nice piece about Dar and I. [RV Wheel Life Article] Click on the link to check it out.

Peace.

Thom & Dar

Christmas Card Crisis


When intrepid explorers take a break and adventures worth writing about are few, it's hard for me to find the motivation to update this journal. I will not bore myself or my audience with reports of mundane and routine goings-on... like what time we got up, how many cups of coffee we had, what stores we visited while Christmas shopping, unremarkable weather reports, and how many people showed up for happy hour. So while we're camped here in Rockport journal entries will be on a more occasional basis... and will, I hope, be a little more interesting than if I forced daily entries.

We were just finishing up our Christmas shopping when our credit card stopped working this week. Hmmm. Turns out the number was compromised (stolen) and some unknown thief was using it to buy Christmas gifts for their loved ones from Bed Batch & Beyond. I'll tell you what... if these people would put as much energy into making an honest living instead of resorting to small-time larceny and fraud, they'd probably come out ahead. Or would they? Unfortunately, the credit card companies are complicit in this scheme too -- by not pursuing the small-time crooks and just "writing off" the fraudulent purchases with the excuse that it's cheaper that way. They just pass on the cost of stolen goods to all their other customers -- you and me and the merchants that accept their cards. The thieves are free go on to the next stolen card number and the cycle starts anew. In the meantime the public becomes increasingly distrustful of the system. I know we're discussing ways to minimize our exposure to this kind of thing.

Both Dar and I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. We're unable to be with family but we do have some good friends here in Rockport and we'll be having Christmas Dinner with the entire neighborhood at the RV Park. I'm sure it will be a wonderful time. We hope all of you find peace and happiness in your own way on this special day.

Merry Christmas...
Thom

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sunrise Surprise

After a couple days of pretty-much constant rain, blue sky and sunshine were a welcome surprise this morning. I've got to get outside and stretch in order to remedy my cabin-fever caused by too much time in 300 square feet.

Yesterday, Friday, I kept busy with an interior lighting repair project. The florescent under-cabinet light that's over the kitchen sink died a few weeks ago. It operates on 12 volts and has a "ballast" that converts the available power to what's needed by the florescent bulbs. These ballasts are not exactly long-lasting -- this was the second one that failed for us. And a new ballast is almost as costly as a whole new fixture. Since we really wanted a different style fixture anyway, I was able to find what we wanted online for half the cost of Camping World. I also bought a back-up ballast in anticipation of the next failure.

I'm a big fan of LED light bulbs for camper use. Very efficient -- about a tenth the wattage of standard bulbs -- they are very easy on the batteries when we're "off the grid". Since we started fulltiming two and a half years ago, I've changed out some standard bulbs for LED bulbs in high-use and strategically located fixtures with great results.

I had been eyeing an LED light strip that would fit perfectly under the cabinet between the sink and the cooktop, and would eliminate the bothersome dark spot right where we prepare most of our meals. So when I ordered the new florescent fixture replacement, I also ordered the LED light strip. Yesterdays project was the installation of both of these fixtures. After a couple hours and a little cutting, splicing, taping, drilling, screwing, and sticking, we now have light were there was none. After just one night I can report we're very pleased with the results... especially the LED fixture. It might well become our primary work-light in the kitchen.

Heading outside to see what sunshine feels like...
Thom

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dreaded Disorder

I guess it's time to let the cat out of the bag.

I've hidden this secret far too long.

I have IAD.

(Gasp!)

This dreaded disorder is something that can steal your heart and soul, it can ruin your relationships with loved ones, it can keep you housebound and unable to participate in a balanced life, it can turn you into a lonely, miserable, shriveled, dried-up, no-fun person. Simply put, it's a wretched thing.

And I have it.

So, what exactly is this IAD thing?  Internet Addiction Disorder. There's some debate among the professional community as to whether this is really an addiction or a compulsion, but in either case it can sap a person of energy and the ability to live a real life outside the cyber-world. This disorder is spread like a virus... you find a website or a blog... which contains a list of other sites or blogs people are reading... and then each of those has a list of more sites and blogs... and on and on... and before you know it, you're hooked. There are more sites and pages to check out than there are minutes in a day.

The disorder strikes young and old alike. Young people are often "gamers" or incessant "texters" -- you know, the ones walking around face down with a permanently bent neck resulting from the constant interaction with their smartphone or blue-berry or other handheld device. You see them in malls and on the streets... wandering aimlessly as they focus their gaze on the little screen just 18 inches from their down-turned face... fingers flying across the little keyboard as they send and receive nonsensical micro-messages to and from one another:

"Hey, whad U duin?"

"Nothin. Whad U duin?"

"Nothin."

"Wanna du s'thing"

"OK"

"Whad u wanna du?"

"I dunno. Whad u wanna du?"

"I dunno"

(Editorial Comment:  Very Wide Long Yawn -- Urge to Fall Asleep!!!)

And on and on and on... all day long. I've read where some of these youngsters send and receive hundreds of messages like this each day and throughout the night. Besides the damage they're probably doing to their necks and spines, what damage are they doing to their minds and their social skills?

Older people are often bloggers, e-mail forwarders, and incessant denizens of forums, chat "rooms", and social networking sites. The common thread is people with a lot of free time -- in some cases, wwaaayyy too much free time.

There's no doubt about it. The technology of near-universal wireless communication has made living the nomadic lifestyle of a fulltimer so much easier, and more possible, than just a few years ago. Cell phones, aircards, wifi, and, for some, direct satellite internet have made staying in touch with the world so easy and so normal that we can now function in every respect like those still tethered to the world by wire. Unless we stay in some remote wilderness areas of the West, we're almost always "connected". But this universal "always-on" connection with one another through the internet is so powerful it can suck you in... like a pit of silicone quicksand.

It's easy to rationalize and justify excessive internet use because we think we're just socializing in an alternative way. But the difference is the lack of immediacy, the lack of physical proximity, the inability to hear the inflection in the other person's voice, or see the scowl on their face, or the twinkle in their eye. If you prefer the cyber connection to a personal and physical one... if your time is spent on the internet at the expense of in-person time with others... if you are sitting in front of a computer screen instead of hiking, or biking, or experiencing the real world in some way... YOU, yes YOU!, are probably suffering from the disorder too.

There are many people in the RV fulltiming community that are surely suffering as I am. It seems almost everyone living our lifestyle has a blog. There are thousands of blogs out there where people keep one another up to date on the important, interesting, and critical things about their daily activities: what time they got up, how many cups of coffee they had, how long they made $10 last at the casino, what they had for lunch at the all-u-can-eat buffet, what their cute little pets are up to, what they thought of the restaurant where they had dinner last night, and what reality TV shows they're watching. It's really all so interesting it's easy to get hooked. And then, of course, after writing a blog post each day, it's necessary to read the blogs of everyone else they've ever run into along the road... often dozens and dozens and dozens of them. And then it's not enough to just read these other blogs, they've got to add comments on each blog post too. It can be an endless cycle of writing, reading, commenting, and writing and reading some more. Then these same people show up on RV forums and chat rooms, commenting on this and than and the other thing. You recognize the same names over and over again -- often passing themselves off as experts and authorities on the subjects at hand. Experts or not, they can't have time to do much else, can they? I don't think my addiction is as bad as many of theirs... but Dar is convinced I'm just in denial.

Ok, I have IAD. So what am I going to do about it? Complete abstinence is out of the question. The resources and capabilities available through the internet are too valuable to shun them completely, aren't they? There are very appropriate and necessary uses that are critical to our staying in touch and to functionally accomplish necessary tasks like banking, like e-mail, like advanced research of routes and camping spots, like weather info. So what can be done? What can I do to straighten myself out?? I'm not sure. Maybe it's a little like an alcoholic trying to cut back to only one drink per day... maybe it can't be done.

Pondering the problem...
Thom

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rockport Update

It's been a series of slow days for us here in Rockport Texas. Dar and a couple other women attended a Christmas Walk of historic homes on Friday night. Saturday I spent almost all day scrubbing the bus-house roof -- a tough job but something that's supposed to be done annually. Saturday night we joined a large group from the RV Park at a local saloon to have dinner and watch and dance to a live band that has become a favorite of ours -- it's become our regular Saturday night activity. And Sunday we watched a couple football games.

The less-than-ideal weather pattern is continuing... lots of clouds, periods of light rain, fog, cool... just kind of dreary and certainly not the weather we enjoyed last year. This pattern is being blamed on El Nino -- a periodic warming of the waters of the eastern Pacific. Apparently this pattern causes a lot of Pacific moisture to flow across Mexico and up into this part of the world. These patterns tend to persist for months and the long term outlook is for more of the same. Hmmmm.

But we're enjoying the opportunity to catch up on some reading, working on the computer, watching a few movies, and hanging out with friends. Considering the alternatives we have it pretty good.

Planning my next project...
Thom

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Two and a Half Years

Dar and I have been fulltiming in our bus-house for two and a half years. During that time we've grown from "newbies" (neophytes with a lot to learn) into, if I may be so bold, rather experienced RV'ers. During that time we've stayed in the bus-house for more than 900 nights at about 140 different campgrounds or RV parks in 32 States. We've spent about $12,000 for camping and parking -- an average of $4,800 per year and about $13 or $14 per night. Because we stay for free when boondocking or when parked with family or friends, our average paid night is more like $18 per night.

When we parked here at Sandollar Resort in Rockport a week or so ago, we had just turned over 25,000 miles on the bus-house odometer -- which works out to 10,000 miles per year. We've spent $10,000 buying about 3,160 gallons of diesel fuel at an average of $3.17 per gallon. Over it's life the bus-house has turned in about 7.8 mpg, but the last few tanks are exceeding 8 mpg as the engine breaks in and with the lighter car in tow.

Our other big expenses are food and health insurance. Each of them run somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000 per year. I have the benefit of being able to maintain my health plan from work at a nominal cost to me. But we're in the open market for health insurance for Dar -- and even though she's 100% healthy we spend a bunch for coverage we hope we'll never need.

We've been able to live our lifestyle, with all expenses included, for a little more than $4,000 per month on average. Good months will come in at $3,000, bad months about $5,000. This amount doesn't include depreciation on the bus-house which probably should be included to get a clear picture of our real expenses.

During our sojourn we've met many more people than we can remember -- nice people, talented people, people that have accomplished amazing things in their lives. It's rare to run into someone who's not friendly and gregarious. I'm sure we've made more friends and met far more people than we would have living a more conventional lifestyle. The common thread that binds us all together is this preference for living in a camper and traveling, exploring, seeing parts of the country we've never seen before, and staying long enough in new places that it becomes comfortable, and familiar, and home... at least for a while.

When we started this project I was the one that was thinking we would maybe do this for two or three or maybe four years, and then we'd do something else. Dar, on the other hand, saw it as an open-ended lifestyle change. She liked the ability to spend extended periods of time with our Wisconsin Family, and then with our Washington Family, still be able to seek warmth during the winter, and see the country in between those extended stays. After two and a half years it's clear she was far more prescient than I. There's no end in sight that either of us can see at this point.

Ruminating in Rockport...
Thom

Monday, December 7, 2009

Misty Monday

I'm getting tired of my own references to the weather... something I think I'm forced to write about again today. We woke to light rain this morning and it just grew steadier and wetter as the day progressed. Nothing heavy, mind you... some might even call it a drizzle. But it was enough to put a damper on any outdoor activities. The forecast is for this to continue again tomorrow too. I'll be ready for the sun when it decides to come out -- that's for sure.

We did get out and run a few errands this afternoon --  HEB Store (groceries), Post Office (drop off mail), printer (Christmas cards), RV dealer (looking for a part), tour around Rockport (killing time), and the used book store (books are good for rainy days). We made tacos for dinner tonight and the mess was all cleaned up before we settled in to watch the Packers play the Ravens on TV.

(Personal note to P.L. -- your Ravens look a little weak tonight. Are they sick?.. can't handle the cold weather? Hmmm?)

Only 17 shopping days until Christmas...
Thom

Sunday, December 6, 2009

An Uncomplicated Weekend

I took a break from journaling yesterday, and unless I can get this one posted before midnight it might be a two day pause.

After Friday's crummy day, the sun came out and warmed things up nicely on Saturday. We both got out, mingled with neighbors, and caught up with all the news. I did a two mile workout up the beach road -- another start in a continuing series of efforts to keep myself in shape. And then we had dinner at a nearby saloon where, later, a few other neighbors joined us to watch a very good band and to dance a little. The day flew by quickly.

Today, Sunday, was cloudy again with a few bouts of light showers so we watched football and worked inside most of the day -- again. The extended forecast for this area is wetter than normal and cooler than normal... all winter long. Humph! Roses can't bloom every day, right?

Doing a sun-dance in Rockport...
Thom

Friday, December 4, 2009

Chillin' on the Texas Coast

Today, Friday, was just one of those days it's best to stay inside and enjoy this diverse life we're living. It was cold, windy, rainy, and even snowy at times, all day long. Most of the time during our travels we have great weather to enjoy... sun, warmth, maybe a gentle breeze. But there are other times, like today, when it's best to just let nature take control (which, in reality, it has anyway... there's not much you can do about it, is there?) and appreciate the fact that we're warm, dry, and have plenty of food to sustain us.

Well, we didn't actually have "plenty" of food... there were great shortages in the bus-house larder after almost two months of exploring National Parks in the West... which is why we used the day today to resupply. Not having to scrape ice off the windshield of the car was a small bonus I did appreciate... something family and friends back in the Midwest will probably agree with.

Tonight, we'll experience the coldest temps of this weather cycle -- about 30f degrees. For the next few days warmth will slowly return with even the hope of some 70's on Tuesday.

Dar is busy working on Christmas decorations. She bought a small artificial tree at a second-hand store in town and it's become the centerpiece of our holiday atmosphere. She also bought what she thinks is the exact same garland and lights she dropped off there last year after using it to decorate the hotel room for our son Justin and his bride Kaytlyn when they came down to visit us last December. The $3 charge was a cheap price to pay for a year's storage.

Both the day and the rain ended about the same time tonight. The sun will be out tomorrow and things will start to warm up.

Piling more blankets on the bed tonight...
Thom

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Weather Update

Just in case anyone is thinking we're basking in tropical warmth, sitting around the pool, and running around in T-shirts and shorts...

This from the National Weather Service:
A SURGE OF COLDER AIR WILL ARRIVE IN SOUTH TEXAS ON FRIDAY AS AN UPPER LEVEL DISTURBANCE MOVES OUT OF THE SOUTHERN ROCKIES INTO TEXAS. AREAS OF LIGHT TO MODERATE RAIN WILL DEVELOP OVER SOUTH TEXAS EARLY FRIDAY MORNING. THE AIRMASS IS EXPECTED TO BECOME SUFFICIENTLY COLD ENOUGH THROUGH A DEEP LAYER OF THE ATMOSPHERE BY THE AFTERNOON THAT A MIXTURE OF RAIN OR SNOW...OR A CHANGE OVER TO ALL SNOW...IS LIKELY ALONG AND NORTH OF A COTULLA TO MATHIS TO ROCKPORT LINE.

Thinking I left the snow shovels back in the Midwest...
Thom

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rolling to Rockport

Despite the cold and blustery weather this morning, we said our good-byes at Pioneer Resort in Bandera and were on the road by 10:30am. We headed south on SR-173 through the towns of Hondo, Devine, and Kyote. In Jourdanton we picked up SR-97 to Pleasanton, where we took US-281 south, which joins with I-37 in short order. At SR-188, we headed east through Sinton and toward Rockport. With a strong tail-wind most of the day and the decrease in elevation as we neared the coast, the bus-house rewarded us with better than 9 mpg.

We arrived at Sandollar Resort in Rockport about 3pm and drove right to our site. During the next two hours we greeted old friends, attended a blustery happy-hour, and got the bus-house set up and plugged in. Full hookups and plenty of electric power are going to be appreciated the next few days as Old Man Winter is hot on our heels -- threatening to throw some frozen precipitation our way. Isn't this South Texas? Hmmm.

We're here in Rockport now for a couple months, maybe three. What adventures and surprises are in store for us? I wonder.

A bit more relaxed in Rockport...
Thom

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Belching in Bandera

The decision we made to stay here at Pioneer River Resort in Bandera for an additional day turned out to be the right call. It rained all day. It would have been a miserable driving day.

We decided to stay close to the bus-house today, get a few personal, housekeeping, and financial things done, and prepared to move in the morning. In a rare fit of domesticity, I threw together a big batch of my world famous chili -- enough to keep us producing plenty of methane for the next few days. And then neighbors Gary and Monika came over for happy hour where we talked about our respective plans for the rest of the winter. They're leaving in the morning too, but we'll see them later in the Winter in Rockport.

So, Wednesday morning we'll be on our way to Rockport. The next Journal entry will be from there.

Belching in Bandera...
Thom