September 30, 2014

A Sampling From The Trip

There is no particular order for these photos, just some that caught my eye as I started to review the thousands Betty took on the RV trip. We would like to put together a few "coffee table" books for our home based on different subjects, like sunsets, mountains and monuments, beautiful campgrounds, and oddities on the road. It is also time to freshen some of the photos printed on canvas that adorn our walls.

All in all, we have enough photo projects to keep us busy until next year's trip to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.


Look at that smile on Betty's face.....even after 6 weeks together in an RV

Time together we will always treasure

One conclusion we have reached is that long, 5,000+ mile RV trips like this one, are probably not going to be part of our future. Why? The cost of gas. The time we spent together, the experiences, and places we saw were exceptional. But, at 6 miles to the gallon an RV just doesn't make sense for us financially. Plus, upon our return I spent over $1,700 in repairs and on-going maintenance. 

Next year we are going to Palm Springs for a film festival in January, three or four long weekend jaunts to the mountains of Arizona, and a trip to Portland in the summer. All of that is 25% fewer miles than this year's 2 month excursion, or almost $1,000 less in gas (at today's prices). If prices drop to well below $3.00 a gallon we may change our minds. But, for now, the drives to New Orleans, Key West, or New England are not likely. San Diego, California wine country, and Oregon are looking better and better!

September 26, 2014

A Retiree Builds His New Life

A month or so ago I received an e-mail from Carl, a reader who wanted to share his story. Since I know there is a healthy interest in how folks live a satisfying retirement, his thoughts are certainly worth sharing with you.

I think it's great you started a blog that addresses retirement. Everyone dreams of not working. But I'm not sure they think about how they will spend their time. I retired from the Automotive industry after 35 yrs, at 54 yrs of age. That was two years ago. I also wrote songs on the side for 20 yrs.
It took a year or so to get a schedule going. I try to run errands, fish, exercise in the mornings. I am a safety & security volunteer for our private lake and neighborhood homeowners association watch, which I patrol at various times of the day and night. I usually Work on my music projects after lunch and a nap, until around 5:00 pm. Then I spend the rest of the evening with my wife,who is younger and still works. I stay up until 11:30pm most nights.
I believe each person has to hammer out their own schedule. Whatever works is fine. The main thing is having the flexibility we never had while working to suddenly change your plans at the drop of a hat. That's what I most enjoy about retirement is flexibility!
I still make sure I'm producing results, just on my terms, not someone else's. My advice to would be retiree's, is to find something you're passionate about before you retire, and start doing it before you retire. Then it will follow you into retirement and become part of your new agenda. 
Also, always build some goof off time in your schedule. After all that's what part of retirement should be. After 2 full years of retirement I'm still honing my schedule and loving retirement.

          Take Care, Carl

Notice four important parts of Carl's story: 

1) It took him a year to figure out a schedule that works for him. That's just about average. I, on the other hand, was a slow learner. It took me almost three.

2) He understands the importance of having a passion or interest to follow you into retirement. It may not be the one that you maintain forever, but you need something to give you a focus as you make the transition from working to the next phase of life.

3) Flexibility is one of the most important traits needed after retirement. Planning and preparing for what you expect to happen is vital, but so is realizing that your plans might become irrelevant overnight.

4) Build goof off time into your day. In this context "goof off" doesn't imply wasted time. I think he is saying don't be so structured that you can't decide to savor a cup of coffee for an hour while you watch clouds blow by, or enjoying the pleasure of a movie at 2 in the afternoon. 

I can't say it often enough: retirement is unique for everyone. Reading about someone else's day is entertaining and potentially helpful. But, if you try to pattern your retirement after Carl's (or mine) you will ultimately be dissatisfied.

Find your own path and enjoy the journey.

September 18, 2014

Travels With Bailey, or RV There Yet?

Our 2 year old cocker spaniel, Bailey, is unlike any other pet we have had. Even though she is our fifth cocker, she is unique. Everything makes her nervous, even things that don't exist might cause her to bark or run to us for protection. Up until three months ago she refused to eat out of her doggie bowl unless one of us was right there to assure her the food was not going to harm her. She needs more love and attention than any dog we have ever seen.

Of course, Bailey came with us on our just completed RV trip. Leaving her in a kennel for two months would have killed her and no family member could make such a long commitment. So, what is it like to travel with a dog, especially a dog like Bailey?

A sing along

Actually, a joy. The trip would have been much less fun without her. She forced us to take long walks several times a day. She prompted us to go outside in all sorts of weather. She woke us up each morning by jumping up on the bed and "suggesting" it was time to start the day. She curled in our lap and made us feel special.

She is not a good traveler, however. Betty has set up a cushioned doggie bed in the front of the RV right between our two seats. Even so, Bailey spends the three, four, or even five hours we are driving somewhere sitting up and shaking. No amount of cajoling, giving of treats, or ignoring her behavior results in any changes. Only if Betty sits back in the living area will Bailey lie down, but only as long as her head is on Betty's lap and she can still keep an eye on me!

Once we have arrived at a campsite, though, she is transformed. All the new sights and smells have her on high alert. She adores exploring wherever we may be - the campground, a park, or a picnic area. 

She sees her first bunny

How brave she has become: The bunny stares her down

Whatever it is must smell good

What's that over there? Can I go?

Water must be from a bottle, just like mom & dad

I know they are coming back..aren't they?
She has no problem if Betty and I leave her in the RV, with a few treats, lights and air conditioning, for several hours while the two of us go places dogs aren't allowed or appropriate. She doesn't bark and doesn't create any mess. She simply lies on the coach near the door or on her bed waiting for our return.

Her ability to wait calmly for us turned out to be very important. We could go out to eat, visit a museum or historical site without a worry. We discovered that many local, state, and some national parks do not permit dogs, even if on a leash. I assume there are health and liability concerns but it was a shame we couldn't take her to some beautiful places that she would have loved. If she didn't have the ability to be left behind, this trip would have been very different, and not nearly as satisfying.

Some RV parks have a rule against leaving your pet alone in the RV. Again, I understand. Being in a campsite next to a barking, lonely dog for several hours would not be pleasant. We solved the problem by ignoring the rule. Bailey doesn't make her presence known so any disturbances were not likely. And, we decided if the campground made an issue of it we'd pack up and go somewhere else. The trip would have been a major disappointment if we had to always have the dog with us. 

All dogs (and cats, I assume) are different so what we experienced with Bailey may not apply to you. But, for us, the RV adventure would not have been nearly as enjoyable and memorable without Bailey along. She is part of our family and belongs with us wherever we go. That's just the way it is.

I received the following graphic from a home security company just as I was finishing this post. Based on the above, I would classify Bailey as part barking buzzer and part couch potato.

September 16, 2014

A Friend In Need

I have never written a post like this before. I have never asked you to consider helping someone you don't know. But, I am today.

As regular readers know, once upon a time I was a radio DJ. The station that really helped launch my career and everything that came later was WOLF in Syracuse, NY. From the late 60's until 1973 that radio station was my home and its employees my family.

One of those employees was a fellow named Ron Bee. He was a big, friendly bear of a man with a huge voice. As it turns out his very first job in radio was serving as the newscaster on my afternoon show on WOLF. He was brand new to radio and looked to me for guidance. Frankly, I don't remember all the particulars but Ron says I was very important to his radio career that went on to much success at WOLF and other stations in Central New York.

After a very unfortunate accident and a botched surgery he lost his voice and was forced to retire in 2007. He and his family moved to the Phoenix area and now live about an hour south of me. Ron and I have been in touch since he become a resident of the Valley of the Sun.

This is where the story gets messy. Ron served in Vietnam. During that time he was exposed to Agent Orange several times. Last March he was diagnosed with leukemia, most likely caused by his exposure to that deadly gas. Even after aggressive, difficult and expensive treatment here in Phoenix he has only one real chance at survival: stem cell transplants. It is extremely painful and debilitating. A shockingly high percentage of those undergoing the procedure never make it out of the hospital alive. 

In an acknowledgement of its role in Ron's fate, The VA is paying for the transplant but not any associated costs. Ron and his family must move to Seattle where the surgery takes place and endure daily hospital visits for up to two years. That means two years living in an extended stay hotel or some type of temporary housing near the hospital. 

A story in the Syracuse newspaper recounted Ron's history in entertaining several decades of Central New York residents and his fight for his life today. A regular reader sent the story to me yesterday. She knew I had worked at WOLF and thought I'd want to know about Ron.

The story also mentions a special on-line fund that Ron's son has established to help the family with the cost of the "temporary" living in Seattle. After one month of publicity the fund has already exceeded its first goal, but I am pretty sure their expenses will be well in excess of that original figure. Those who used to listen to Ron or knew of him have been generous in their support, 

This is where I am going to ask you to consider one of two things:

1) Make a donation to my friend who is dying and has one chance at surviving another 5-10 years. Donations as small as $5 are welcomed and appreciated. Larger amounts are, of course, encouraged. The web site allows you to see who has donated and read the comments of encouragement left for Ron. Click here to go to this special site.

2) Pray for Ron and his family. He has suffered greatly this year and the future holds more of the same. Your prayers are important.

Ron is a friend who served his country and is paying the price. Ron is a friend who was an important part of my radio life. Ron is in my prayers. I ask that you include him in yours.

Ron, my newscaster at WOLF, hard at work.

And this is who he saw through the studio window

September 14, 2014

Seeing Home With A Fresh Eye

Dorothy may have been right. After two months away, I can appreciate her "there's no place like home" sentiment. Travel is fun and energizing. But, home is, well, home.

Being away offers an important opportunity to look at where and how you live with a fresh eye. Things you take for granted may have been missing, or different, while you were away. Something that happened on a trip may give you a few ideas that can be integrated into your daily life. You may return with a new dedication to experience all that your hometown has to offer.

Our home for the last thirty years has been the Phoenix metropolitan area. While the brutal heat for 4 months every summer can wear down even the most intrepid desert lover, there is so much to be thankful for. This trip reminded me of what I too often take from granted:

1) The lack of freezing weather, snow, and road salt means major streets and freeways are usually free of potholes and never-ending rough patches. The side streets near my home are not in the best of shape, but the majority of time I am traveling on smooth, new, roads. That was not the case throughout most of the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states.

2) Phoenix benefits from having several major grocery chains battling for every last percentage of business. Food prices are much lower than any place we were over the past two months. Betty and I were shocked at the prices we encountered and changed our menus accordingly. Milk almost $4.00 a gallon? We pay $1.89 most weeks. 

3) The weather is consistent, with very few surprises. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, hail, heavy rain, snow, or high winds are rarely part of our lives. Severe weather is so infrequent that years may pass between such extreme happenings. Over 300 days a year are sunny, many of those with no clouds. Humidity averages in the single digits. It is seriously hot from late May until mid September and remains quite warm until late October. But, we know that and plan accordingly. The RV trip reminded us that violent, unpredictable weather with wild swings between heat and cold, storms and clam are normal elsewhere. Oh, and our 70 degree days in December & January are very nice.

4) I love my solid, quick Internet service. One of the most consistent complaints about RV parks is the poor quality of WiFi service. Everyone has it, but the ability to connect or stay connected is always a roll of the dice. Of the twenty two campgrounds we visited, exactly three had high speed, high quality connections. That is never a problem at home. 

5) We have a pretty, relaxing, inviting backyard. I use it much too infrequently. That will change. 

How about the downside, things that I wish home had that many of the places we visited did:

1) Rivers and streams with water in them. Most of the "rivers" in my part of the country are dry creek beds. Betty and I like the sound of running, falling water. The closest we come at home is a fountain in the backyard.

2) What Betty calls "real trees:" trees with big green leaves instead of thorns or stickers. Sitting under a shade tree is something that is hard to experience at home.

3) The Phoenix area has 4.5 million residents. That creates non-stop traffic, air pollution, and few places where you can be alone. Many of the towns we visited had fewer than 2,000 folks....some were lucky to break 500. The sense of openness and lack of traffic problems was a blessing.

Betty and I are "selective travelers." We enjoy going different places and experiencing life in a new way. But, neither of us would be happy being away from home and family for more than a few months a year. The time we can spend with my dad, daughters, son-in-law, and grandkids is too precious.

RV travel and an occasional trip to Europe or Hawaii will remain part of our future. So will being close to home for most of the year.

Saddle up

September 11, 2014

Back Home Safe And Sound

Our great RV summer adventure is over. After 12 loads of laundry and several days of unpacking, our life is beginning to assume a normal routine. There are still important things left to be done to the RV before we can close it down until our January trip to the Palm Springs Film Festival. But, we are safely back in our home.

Several readers have asked for an idea of what something like this costs. As you might imagine, I kept rather detailed records of what we were spending. While I am not comfortable sharing exact dollar amounts here are some final percentages:

We spent 6.5% more than I had budgeted. Almost all of that over-spending went into the gas tank of the RV and car. About a year ago when I started planning this trip I had not anticipated the significant increase in gas costs, the full effect of towing a car behind the RV, and the difference in fuel costs in different parts of the country. Frankly, I though gas in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain areas would be cheaper than in Phoenix, but not so. Prices approached $4.00 a gallon in several areas we visited, making $125 stops at the pump not uncommon.

Of the total amount spent 43% went right into the gas tanks. In fact, our trip was shortened by about a week because of the cost of fuel. 26% of the total paid for our nightly campsites and 13% for food in the RV. The rest was spent on gifts, mementos, stuff for Bailey, occasional meals out, and admissions to museums and parks.

We spent somewhat more than $115 per day for this 5,160 mile trip. A decent hotel, meals, and gas costs for a typical vacation is usually more than that so the RV approach is less expensive, but not substantially. 

Importantly, Betty and I agree that this time away was worth every penny. We grew as individuals and a couple. We saw things that enriched our lives and gave us a new appreciation for the beauty and vastness of this country. We gained a renewed love for where we live and the blessings of our life. We not only survived being in a very small space together (with a dog!) but enjoyed it tremendously. 

Disappointments? Sure. The weather was not cooperative for most of the trip. The first three weeks were spent in places having heat waves that almost rivaled temperatures in Scottsdale. That was followed by cold snaps that meant we had to wear sweatshirts and coats, plus run the RV's furnace while we slept. We were able to set up our outside grill only twice. The bugs and flies were so thick that eating or sitting outside to read and relax, became the exception rather than the norm. As I mentioned in an earlier post, too many of our roads and Interstate highways are falling apart.

But, none of those irritations was enough to cause us to question the trip. The friendliness of the people we met, the beauty of the countryside and the thrill of each new discovery made the journey one we will cherish forever. The planning for next summer's trip to Oregon has already begun.

Betty took almost 14,000 amazing average of 230 a day! Many of them are stunning and awe-inspiring. Several will eventually make it onto our walls at home.

I will have posts over the next several months that highlight many of the best. But, to whet your appetite here is just a handful of some of the RV parks that we called home or places within a short drive

Putting dozens of patches on the RV spare wheel cover

See the finished wheel cover!

Devil's Tower as seen from our campsite

The Falls at Sioux Falls were just 10 minutes away

Yes, a Las Vegas RV Park Pool