Summer Travel Map

Thursday, May 31, 2007


May 31, 2007
Orlando, FL

OK, so we're just in Orlando to get the coach aligned, not to go see Mickey. So what? We're here anyway. This is the first time we've been here since December of 2004 (or was it 2003?) when we had a big TP confab at Walt Disney World. That was a pretty nice trip, since we had a chance to go to La Nouba (Cirque du Soleil) and Emeril's Tchoup Chop restaurant at Universal. And Geri got to meet Rich Sternhell for the first time. Good stuff.

We left Jacksonville a little before noon today and were just on the north side of Orlando before 3 PM. We hung out for a few hours (it's really nice to be able to flip up the dish and get to the 'Net in 3 minutes from anywhere) and then headed over to the place that'll do the alignment tomorrow. Josam ( is actually a Swedish (go, ancestors) company that makes specialized equipment for wheel and axle alignment on heavy vehicles. People on various Internet groups swear by them for precision work. We'll see tomorrow!

We had a slight technical difficulty in getting here since, when you live by technology, you die by technology. I'd mapped out the route with Microsoft's Streets and Trips package, which is usually pretty accurate. Unfortunately, it told us to make a turn off US-17 in Orlando when we should have just gone straight to our destination. Geri will tell you that, over the years, I've taken her on some interesting diversions into "parts of town we shouldn't be in". Tonight wasn't the worst we've ever been in, but we did go through some pretty seedy areas. No issues, though.

Tonight, we're "dry camping" at the alignment shop. That simply means that we're not connected to any electrical, water and/or sewer hookups. This is really a non-issue for us, since we have the on board generator to run the air conditioners and have plenty of "tank capacity". We only had to empty the tanks once while we were in Alabama, for example. In general, we can go for at least a week if we're careful. So, a few days without hookups is NBD (no big deal, as they say in the commercials).

We'll spend most of the day tomorrow here, as the alignment should take until 3 PM or so. Geri made an appointment at the local PetsMart for a "tubbie", and we'll probably head up to Winter Park to the nearest Whole Foods for supplies (you can only get so many things at Wal-Mart while you're on the road. We made a Chicken Fried Rice mix tonight which came out OK. Sometimes we really need to make sure that we have things on board that cook up quickly. Tomorrow, we'll have one of those Bertolli pasta dinners that take ~10 minutes, since we won't pull off the road until close to 7 PM.

We'll stay just north of Jacksonville tomorrow night (same place we stayed Tuesday-Wednesday nights) since we won't leave here until afternoon. We'll stay in Selma NC (not AL) on Saturday, at an RV park right off I-95. We'll roll around DC to Cherry Hill RV Park in College Park, MD by mid-afternoon on Sunday. Hopefully, we'll avoid some traffic by driving mostly on the weekend. Of course, every day is Saturday to us retirees... ;-)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

We're smokin' now

May 29, 2007
Jacksonville, FL

With Mom safely housed in rehab with Rick and Annette's excellent care, we hit the road down Sand Mountain this morning. We had smoke from the Georgia and Florida fires on and off all day. We went south on US-431 to I-20, where we saw smoldering fires along the side of the highway near the Alabama-Georgia border. We were running ahead of schedule until we ran into a serious traffic jam right before we got to I-285 on the west side of Atlanta. It took us too long to figure out an alternate route so we missed the first available exit, right near Six Flags. We ended up getting off the next exit and going "overland" south and then east to connect to I-285 about 5 miles south of our original plan. The traffic was awful on the alternate, but better than on I-20, where the highway was basically shut down due to two multi-vehicle accidents.

We had more smoke, so strong it's filled the coach with aroma hours later, along I-75 near the Georgia-Florida border. We pulled in to the place we're staying a little after 7 PM (EDT, with an hour time change from Alabama). There were no road closures or anything, and even the construction zones were easily managed.

Tonight we went to a local BBQ joint -- why not, since we smell like smoke anyway? Neither one of us felt like cooking after a long day (we left at 7 AM CDT) on the road. We'll do some grocery shopping tomorrow so we have enough stuff for the next few days. Thursday afternoon, we'll head over to Orlando to have the coach aligned on Friday. There's a place there (JoSam's) that is supposed to be the best in the land, so we'll find out. They align everything in multiple dimensions, no just the "front end" like on a car. First, they adjust the ride height to make sure everything is to spec since height can influence the alignment settings. Then, they look at the alignment of each of the three axles. The front end manages the steering and tracking quality. If the drive axle is misaligned, the whole coach will run down the road with the back end to one side, which is less efficient. If the tag axle is out of whack, that causes increased tire wear. All these potential problems cause decreased handling and increased fuel use.. We're looking to get everything as good as we can get it.

Once we're done on Friday, we'll stay here in Jacksonville that night before heading north to the D.C. area. We'll take two days to make that trip.

Tomorrow will be a "down day", dedicated to cleaning up the coach (vacuuming, washing of floors, cleaning interior windows and mirrors, etc.).

We checked with Annette late today to see how Mom did with therapy and the report was very favorable. She was up and out of her room, ate well, and was in better spirits -- all good. Everyone is partially convinced that part of the issue is her "playing" us to get out of doing things, which is pretty much the regression you'd expect. We're hopeful that the therapy helps get her back on her feet.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Not a celebrity

May 27, 2007
Albertville, AL

Mom was strong enough yesterday that they released her from the hospital and moved her to a rehabilitation facility for (theoretically) a few weeks to get her strength back. I say "theoretically" because the time limit isn't important if she's making progress and, conversely, she won't stay there if she doesn't cooperate. We're hopeful that she'll get back on her feet over the next few weeks.

The facility is a relatively new place and seems very professional. The down-side is that it's in Gadsden, about 25 miles away (the hospital she was in was about 10 miles from home). They're much more limiting on visiting hours during the week, as they need most of the day for the physical therapy (about 5 hours a day). We'll visit her today (Sunday is a "free day") and tomorrow evening.

Our current plan is to head out on Tuesday, which was our original schedule. I'll post more details on the plans for the next few weeks in a subsequent entry.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Doing much better

May 23, 2007
Albertville, AL

Well, Mom's doing better. She's still in the hospital, but should be released to a rehab facility in the next day or so, assuming all things go as planned. She needs to get the focused physical therapy to help get her back on her feet -- literally. We're trying to convince her that she'll be like a movie star, since they all go to rehab (albeit of a different kind) these days. We're not having much luck with that, or course.

We're almost done getting her apartment cleaned. The carpet and floors are done and most of the furniture is back in place. Tomorrow, we'll try to get the counters and cabinets cleaned up, and we'll be all set for her when she gets released from rehab. That and a quick trip to PetsMart (we're almost out of some dog supplies) and we should be in pretty good shape.

Monday, May 21, 2007

We're ba-a-a-ck

May 21, 2007
Albertville, AL

Well, my last line in yesterday's blog was wishful thinking. Not only did Mom try to get up from bed last night, she fell again in the process. Erik got her back in bed, but she fell again in the bathroom after she got up in the morning. We headed back to the ER (primary care physician's phone was busy all morning). They ran some more tests and, needless to say, they decided to keep her overnight, for at least one night. We got her settled in her room and went home to take care of the pups. We went back in the evening, and she's doing well even though she doesn't want to be there. She's less resistant than I'd have expected.

This evening, we cleaned up the mess from today's fall and aired the apartment out. Tomorrow, we're having the carpets cleaned and Wednesday we'll wash all the floors, counters and cabinets so everything will be clean when she comes home, probably some time Wednesday.

Erik's doing a great job of helping out, making sure that he handles all his chores and helping keep Grandma calm. She was really happy to have him visit this evening.

We'll get through this...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

You just can't leave us alone...

May 20, 2007
Albertville, AL

As mentioned, Friday was Alyson's graduation. Well, it's graduation season, of course, and tomorrow (Monday), one of Annette's nieces graduates from High School as well, in Florida near Orlando. So, early this morning, Rick, Annette, and Alyson left for the drive down there, leaving Eric (still has school part of this coming week) and Mom with us. Gerry, Lois and Chrissy left this morning as well. We had all our instructions (feed Mom, give her her meds, water the plants, feed the cats) and were all set.

This morning, I started doing some cleaning on the coach (damn bugs) and everything was fine except that Mom didn't want to walk (she has to walk the length of the driveway for exercise). Since her health problems began, she's not been up and moving anywhere near enough, and she's become very unsteady on her feet due to muscle atrophy. She's also extremely afraid of falling, which tends to become a self-fulfilling prophesy. So, what happens? You guessed it; we're not on our own with her for half a day and she falls on the steps coming out of her place. There are 4 brick steps, and she must have been a couple of steps away from the bottom when she toppled over backwards. She hit her head on the second step and put a 3/4" ding into the back of her scalp. So, off to the emergency room we go. They did a CT scan (everything looks OK) and hit her with 5 surgical staples and a shot and sent us on our way.

She did reasonably well once we got home, eating her dinner (usually a challenge) and watching TV. When it was time for bed, she got wobbly again getting out of her chair, so she really needs to be monitored at all times when she's not sitting down. This will be OK as long as she remembers this and doesn't keep trying to get up on her own!

Walking up the driveway and back is a constant challenge.

Those damn steps!

You know you're in small-town America when...

May 19, 2007
Albertville, AL

Yesterday was Alyson's graduation, and a good time was had by all. It was held at 7 PM on the high school's football field, with the audience in the bleachers and the graduates in folding chairs set up on the field. The weather was cooperating nicely. The last rain was Wednesday, and everything dried out nicely. As the sun went down, it got a little cool (into the upper 50s), and most of us wished we'd brought another layer, but we managed fine. They do things quickly here. The ceremony started right on time and they graduated a rumored 198 or 199 young adults and wrapped the whole thing up in an hour's time.

We brought Mom in her wheelchair, since there was no way she could walk all the way from the car to the other side of the football field. Rick's Mother-in-law, Lois, and Father-in-law, Gerry were already there with Annette's sister, Chrissy. Since we had Mom and Lois in their chairs, we were able to sit on the edge of the field in front of the bleachers, so we had an unobstructed view. I shot with the D200 using the 70-200 zoom lens which, given the digital conversion factor, is about 105-300 mm in film equivalent terms. It's a good thing the lens has internal vibration reduction, as I didn't bring the tripod (didn't want to stand out too much). Since the sun was going down, I adjusted the ISO equivalence to 400 for speed (hopefully, I'll remember to adjust it back). Here are a couple of pictures.

The graduate on her way to the ceremony.

Mom (left) and Lois before things got rolling, just as it started to cool off rapidly.
The "Suits" (aka School Board) doing their MIB impression. Rick's the 5th from the left.

The graduate takes the field.

As I mentioned, it was a pretty quick ceremony, especially given the number of graduates. All in all it went very smoothly, with a couple of interesting quirks that let you know you're in a small town. First (for me) was the number of references to Jesus, not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm used to a more PC environment; I half expected the ACLU to run on the field and call a halt to everything. Second, the valedictorian's speech concluded with a reading from Dr Seuss, which seemed like an interesting choice. And third, you gotta love parents who'd name their kid "Rusty", especially when his middle name is "Chevy".

Friday, May 18, 2007

A Busy Week

May 18, 2007
Albertville, AL

Well, it's been a busy week. So busy, I've neglected the blog, which I'll have to remedy. We've spent time getting acclimated to how things are with Mom at this point. At 81, she's had a year or so of poor health and, although there's nothing physically wrong with her at this point, she's become pretty adept at convincing herself that she can't do various things anymore. Not that she's convincing anyone else, of course, but she's trying.

Rick, Annette, and Alyson are headed for a week in Florida next week, so we need to be prepared for the caretaker duties, mostly involving medications, meals, and exercise. I'm sure we'll do fine, and we'll try to get some cleaning done in her apartment while we're at it.

Last night we had dinner at Annette's parent's (Gerry and Lois Berg) home. They live in Albertville as well, about 15 minutes away. We had "shrimp on the barbie", and I brought a bottle of Spanish red wine that I found at Central Market in Plano called "Red Guitar". It was a blend of old vine Garnacha (aka Grenache in France) and Tempranillo. The name made me think of an old U2 lyric ("All I need is a red guitar, two chords, and the truth"), and the wine was pretty good for a sub-$10 import. Now, of course, we're a thousand miles away (literally), so who knows when I'll find some more. Geez, I miss Canal's wines in NJ.

We're all caught up on our mail and any needed follow-ups, so we'll be able to relax a bit for the next week and a half before we hit the road again. I wonder how high fuel prices will be by Memorial Day and into June. I stopped for gas in the car this morning on the way to Lowe's (no Home Depot in Albertville), and the price had jumped 20 cents by the time I was on my way back! And, no, I wasn't in Lowe's that long. ;-)

Today's the big day: Alyson's graduation is at 7:00 tonight. Apparently, it's a long-standing local tradition to hold graduation on the football field, which has to make it hard for all the young ladies in heels. The good news is that it's been cool, breezy, sunny, and dry since Wednesday. It'd be a real mess I'm sure if it was rainy, or hot, or both. We'll be heading over there early to get spots in the handicapped section for Mom and Lois, and I'll bring the camera in the hopes of getting a couple of good shots. It looks like digital is the format of choice for sharing purposes. I'd been planning to shoot the F6 with film for prints initially, but it looks like I'll bring the D200. Maybe I'll just bring the camera bag with both. :-)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!

May 13, 2007
Albertville, AL

Happy Mother's Day to everyone! We had a nice day visiting with Mom, and Geri had a chance to catch up with most of the kids in real-time or electronically, starting with a call from Mike before she even got out of bed!

We rolled into Albertville yesterday afternoon, right on schedule (or as much of a schedule as we keep at this point). We were all parked and set up before dinner. The concrete pad Rick had poured next to his driveway gives us a great place to park. We use a 30' 50 amp extension cord and a 50' water hose extension, and we're all set up. Mom, Rick, Alyson and Erik (and Lady, the Australian Terrier) were all happy to see us. Rick grilled some steaks and we had a nice dinner with Annette's parents, Gerry and Lois.

Today was a work day for me (in a good way). On the way here, the shower head in the coach fell from its holder and broke off, so off to Lowe's I went for a replacement. I had to get Rick's help (still haven't grown that third arm) to drive the broken plastic piece from the shower head shut-off valve, but that was relatively easy. While I was going to the store, Rick suggested that Mom needed a new kitchen faucet, so today turned into plumbing day. The only issues I had was that the old faucet was a little hard to remove and the shut-off valves were leaking. Once the old unit was out, the new one went in with no problems. And this one has the hot and cold water lines connected right ( :-) sorry, Gerry).

I also got most of the outside stuff (chairs, lights, water, sewer) finished up this morning. It was a very nice day, although it's getting a little warm in the afternoons. We were able to take our coffee outside and relax under the awning, and should be able to do that quite a bit as long as the weather holds. The only thing we have to re-acclimate to is bugs, both flying and crawling. We had a few no-see-ems in Texas, but east of the Mississippi, the full complement of flies, wasps, ants, etc. are out. I'm sure the "skeeters" won't be far behind. Good thing I still have some of that "industrial strength" DEET that I got before going to India!

I ordered our mail last week, and it arrived just before we did, so tomorrow will be devoted to sorting through 6 weeks of paper and calling various places to complain and cajole. It's pretty common that there's usually one or two "problems" that need to be addressed with each batch on mail. Nothing's simple, or so it seems. Fortunately, we should be able to resolve any open items tomorrow. It's a Monday, but not the beginning of the month, so we should have some luck getting through the various 800- numbers. All-in-all, there probably won't be much to post tomorrow. :-)

I hope to get to some picture work tomorrow, as well. I keep thinking that each night after dinner, I'll work on a few pictures. Not! I need to allocate a few hours a week if I'm going to make any progress. Maybe the next rainy day...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Across the Mississippi

May 11, 2007
Vicksburg, MS

We were fortunate to have a great day for driving today, and we took advantage of it. After all the clouds and thunderstorms we had in McKinney for the last week-and-a-half, today dawned bright, clear, and comfortable. We'd done most of our departure chores last night, so we were able to hit the road around 8:30 this morning.

At the last minute, we decided to continue with our new theme of "getting off the Interstates", and headed out of McKinney eastbound on US-380. About 30 miles later, we headed south (actually southeast) on US-69 toward Tyler. From there, we were able to pick up I-20 toward Shreveport, and then into Vicksburg, just across the Mississippi River. We'll continue on I-20 tomorrow to Birmingham, the I-59 to Gadsden, then US-431 to Albertville. We'll try to make each day at least partially a back road adventure.

The drive was uneventful, although the roads in Louisiana are clearly vying for the 'Worst in the US' title. Given all the federal funds poured into pork-barrel highway projects, there's just no excuse for the major roads in any state to be in such a sad state if disrepair. Of course, Louisiana's had its share of other places to pour tons on money lately. It's just so frustrating to read about the waste and corruption, and then see the conditions left "on the ground". And we're not even close to the coast and their issues. OK; end of soapbox.

Tonight's stop is at a small RV Park associated with the Ameristar Casino here in Vicksburg. Mississippi (one of the poorest states in the nation) has embraced the casino gambling industry with open arms. There are psuedo-riverboats up and down the river, dating back to the days when gambling was limited to sailing vessels. Over the years, the the riverboats stopped moving and became permanently docked gambling halls, and now every truck stop and convenience store has a casino inside. There's shuttle in this park that'll take you to the casino, but we'll pass on that and just make ourselves a nice dinner "at home". Besides, we've got to use up some of the stuff we bought at Central Market (like a Whole Foods) in Plano.

The park isn't like the casinos I stayed at in California. Those had large parking areas where lots of RV (all shapes, sizes, vintages, and quality levels) were "boondocking" or "dry camping" (i.e., no water, electric, or sewer connections) for free. This is a fully-equipped park, with about 100 sites (about 20% full), each with full (water, electric, sewer) hookups, a concrete slab to park on (some of which have seen better days) and cable TV connections. At $27/night for 50 amp service (30 amp is a little less), it's a little pricier than I'd have preferred, but we need the 50 amps to run the A/C and it's warm (upper 80's or low 90's on arrival). And it's quieter than a rest area or truck stop, and there's on-site security. All in all, a reasonable compromise. We're not near the river, so we don't have a view, but that's OK. We're only here overnight, so I just plugged in the electricity and didn't even unhook the car (all the sites are angled to allow easy pull-thrus). Tomorrow morning, we'll just pull in the slides, roll in the cord, put the car back in "neutral" and be on our way.

Since I got some positive feedback on the last pictures, tonight I'll post some more from McKinney and here, then we'll see how far back in the archives I get.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Trip Segment Update - TX to AL

May 10, 2007
McKinney, TX

We're done with the coach upgrade! All the new blinds are in and operational. We only have one that doesn't fit as well as it could, but we have to have our dash cover modified at an upholstery shop to create a little more space for the bottom edge of the blind to fall into place. We'll have that done somewhere along the way (probably AL or CT) and it'll be all good.

We finished up too late today to get on the road and have a reasonable stopping point, so we'll finish out the day here and leave first thing in the morning. It's about 13 1/2 hours driving time to Rick's place in Albertville, AL, so it breaks into two days nicely with a stop in Vicksburg, MS. Vicksburg is just across the state line from Louisiana. We'll basically follow I-20 from Dallas to Birmingham, I-59 to Gadsden, AL, then US-431 to Albertville. I've mapped out the route in this map.

When I map out a route, I like to use Google Earth to scope out rest areas, truck stops, and major (i.e., potentially confusing) intersections/interchanges in advance. I've found this to be very helpful in two ways. First, mapping software (Streets & Trips, DeLorme, MapQuest, Yahoo, etc.) can very often give incorrect directions based on faulty data. I've had the software give me some pretty strange directions, and quite often campgrounds are mapped to incorrect coordinates (like the wrong side of the street -- which makes a difference sometimes in a 65' vehicle if you need to turn around). I can also tell which rest areas are likely to be better than others. In some, trucks (and large RVs) have to park nose-to-tail along a narrow access road. This can be tricky for us because we cannot back up with the car attached to the tow bar, and there's no way I want to get out and unhook at a short stop. We prefer the stops where trucks park side-by-side at a 45 degree angle in pull-through fashion, especially if it's for an overnight break.

On this trip, I've been confounded a few times by the relatively low resolution of the images for some of the remote, rural areas in the south. Parts of Louisiana (not New Orleans) and Alabama are low resolution, so I'm guessing as to how good the stops will be. Others areas are fine. This is an example of a "bad" rest area in "good" resolution. Yahoo and Microsoft Virtual Earth weren't any better, and all three have some out-of-date imagery in places (e.g., Rick's house isn't shown, not even the street, and they've been living there for years). Oh well, we'll have to do the best we can. How did we ever survive with just a fold-up map from the Esso station? :-)

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Let's get started with some photos

May 9, 2007
McKinney, TX

I wish the weather would have been nicer for the last two weeks. It seems like every day since we've been in McKinney has been the same: hot, humid, cloudy and/or rainy. We had another series of severe thunderstorms roll through last night about 3 AM, with heavy rain and strong winds. The power went out about 4 times for only 2-3 minutes each time. Alyson (our niece) would have enjoyed it; she's planning to study meteorology in college starting in the fall.

Anyway, the lousy weather has kept me from two tasks I'd planned to work on while we were parked: cleaning the outside of the coach and taking some photos. While the heavy rain has taken most of the road dirt off the vehicles, I'd really planned to spend a few hours each day doing some exterior polishing. I find that I'm better at it if I allocate a specific period of time and don't try to do everything all at once.

On the photo front, I wanted to take some pictures of the downtown area here in McKinney, first because it's interesting and second to familiarize myself with the new camera, but didn't feel like getting rained on in the process. I'll hold off until we get to Alabama. I want to make sure I'm ready to take some pictures at Alyson's graduation on the 18th.

I'll start posting a few photos today, using the Picasa tool from Google, and providing the link here. There's also a "blog this" feature to create a blog entry from an album (as opposed to manually creating the blog entry like I'm doing now), so I'll try that later.

Here's a link to a small album:

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Motorhome travel is all about the flexibility...

May 8, 2007
McKinney, TX

We're still in McKinney and the blind work should be done by Thursday. It seems like everything takes twice as long as it should, sometimes. Although all the fabrication was done last Thursday and almost all of the installation was done on Friday, the last few pieces have just dragged on and on. It'll be worth it when it's done, and I'm sticking close to make sure it's done in a way we'll be happy with, of course.

Because of the delays here, we're deferring the stay in Memphis until a later date, although we may overnight there on the way to Alabama (it's a good spot between two days of driving). We hope to leave here Thursday or Friday morning (we'll leave the morning after the day the work is finished), which should put us in Alabama for Mother's Day. This is another reason to defer the Memphis visit: we missed Mom's birthday (4/28) because of the stop here in McKinney, so we'd like to get there for Mother's Day.

We've already started ordering for things to be shipped to Alabama, so I gave Mom a heads-up to start watching for packages. It's easier -- and cheaper -- to save up online ordering if possible and have things shipped to a place we know we're going to be for a while. This way we don't pay shipping twice (once from the shipper and a second time from our mail service), and we don't have to worry that a shipment might be delayed and hold us up from moving on. I haven't ordered our mail from the mail service in almost 6 weeks, so I'll have that sent to AL as well.

Mom says Alyson's getting some sort of award/scholarship tonight, so we'll have to find out what that's all about when we get there.

Paul and Dorna Kuhn arrived yesterday, so we have two identical looking coaches parked here this week. Geri and Dorna have been off shopping for most of the day, which is a good thing (really, it is -- it's not fun to sit around and watch somebody work on the coach!). We've got another 2005 Monaco Executive on the other side of us as well. Their work is just starting this week, so hopefully they'll benefit from all the "product development" that's been done on our coach this week.

I'm way behind on the photo side, so I'll have to use tomorrow's work time as a window of opportunity to try some new things linking photos to the blog. I've been studying photo sharing sites to see what will work best for us. Some are free and others cost a monthly or annual fee. Many are linked to shops that really want to sell you (and your friends) prints and other doo-dads (mugs, t-shirts, calendars, etc.). Some (especially the fee-based ones, are geared toward professions trying to showcase their work. Over time, we'll probably end up with a couple of different approaches. Right now, I'll probably start with Picasa2, the Google approach and see what happens. You (blog readers) will be the first to know!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Doggie Day Camp tales

Well the pups had to go to Doggie day camp last week; we scheduled them for the week due to people coming into the coach to replace the shades and blinds with electronic ones.

Upon arrival to pick them up they told us they were shy???

Well Merlin I could understand, but Maya well that’s a whole new ball game. She was in with dogs of all sizes and breeds. She hung with the big dogs!!!

Merlin as usual scouted the outer perimeters to avoid conflict. When we went to pick them up at 5PM last night, Maya spotted us through the big glass door and knew immediately it was us. She did her usual paws scratching the wall to say, “Hey come get me!”

The first thing they did when we left was to take the biggest piddle I have ever seen. When we got home we took them out to walk around some, then brought them in and fed them. They gobbled their food then immediately crashed and went to sleep. They went out once to piddle before we all went to bed but that was it.

We had noisy neighbors who partied until close to midnight and that didn't even make them budge. Seems that doggie day camp is a good thing!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Nearing the goal line

May 5, 2007
McKinney, TX

Yesterday's progress was significant compared to the prior few days. Starting from the rear of the coach, all the blinds in the bedroom, bathroom, dining area, kitchen, and living space are done and working. The windshield blind is installed but not fully finished off. The blinds for the cockpit side windows are fabricated and ready to go. Barring any resource diversions, we should be wrapped up on Monday.

It's been fascinating to watch the installation and learn about how things are put together in these motorhomes. It makes me realize how much more we really can do ourselves once we know how to access things and get beyond the bad decisions made during initial construction. For example, every overhead cabinet has embedded 12v halogen lights in the lower surface. That means that every overhead cabinet has a false floor where the wires run. Once you're in there, you can tap into a "hot" 12v line (not exceeding amperage capacity, of course) from a switch or other source, and wire in anything you like. The "bad decision" part: during construction, all the false floors were stapled in, making them hard to remove without risking damage to the floor and/or surrounding cabinet. Needless to say, they're going back in with small screws for future access.

The new blinds mount pretty easily with steel clips just like residential blinds. Once the clips are secured to the overhead, the blinds just snap in place. The motors are mounted to a side bracket, and actually slide inside the roller tube and connect with a spline to allow the tube to roll. It's a pretty clever design.

We hung around the coach most of the day yesterday. Geri brought the pups to Doggie Day Camp and I emptied all of the overhead cabinets (the false floor access is neat, but the down-side is that the cabinets need to be empty). Of course, we always seem to have more stuff than we need, or know what to do with. Finding space for all the stuff outside the cabinets was a bit of a challenge, but we made it. The good part was that I was able to re-pack everything with better organization than it had. There's nothing like applying some good organization to things to make you feel like you've accomplished something.

In the afternoon, we drove over to the McKinney "downtown" area, which is very different from the strip mall clusters we've seen along the Central Expressway and other major streets in town. The area is a historical district with a lot of shops and a few eateries, spreading out about 4-5 blocks from a central square that holds an imposing municipal building. Many of the shops sell antiques (aka "junk" to me -- rusting metal and distressed paint do not an antique make), or are non-chain specialty stores, which was refreshing to see.

We had lunch at the Spoon Cafe, where the "estrogen factor" was pretty high. Since it was a weekday afternoon, there were very few males to be seen anywhere in town. This place was not a "greasy spoon"; I had a sandwich of lettuce, tomato, avocado and cheese on wheat and a cup of tomato basil soup almost as good as Geri's. After lunch, we stopped for a taste (actually 6 red wine tastes) at Landon Winery, one of two tasting rooms in town. The wines were good but not great, with all of them being made from a mixture of local and California fruit. Although the prices seemed high to me ($24-$48/bottle), we picked up one bottle of their unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon to take with us. I feel a steak in our future at some point. ;-)

Because the blind installation is so far behind, work continued until well after 6:00 PM, so we ordered a pizza and had a low-stress bite. The weather forecast isn't too great for the weekend, so we'll probably just use the time to do some laundry, clean the coach (now that the majority of the work traffic is gone), and chill. It was good to not have the alarm going off this morning.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Severe Storms and Production Delays

May 3, 2007
McKinney, TX

The forecast for this week was thunderstorms every day, but they really hit last night! We spent the late afternoon doing some shopping to complement the changes we've made to the coach (area rug, entry/kitchen mats, etc.) and planned an early dinner at Carrabba's right next to the Plano PetsMart where Merlin and Maya Lynn are having fun at "Doggie Day Camp". When we came out of the restaurant, it looked threatening and when we picked them up it was "spritzing". By the time we got home, it just started to rain. Well, within 1/2 hour, we were in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. Power went on and off four times, the pups found their usual hiding places, and it rained about 3" in less than 90 minutes. It rained so hard we developed a small water leak around the shower skylight, which I'll re-seal over the next few days. The wind blew our stepladder over from where I had it standing between the back of the coach and the building; fortunately, no damage was done to either the coach or the ladder. I put the dish down since it lost the Internet signal, but I should have left it up for TV. Once it's down, it won't reposition on TV only, and the weather was too bad to find the 'Net signal.

The rest of yesterday was much less exciting. We took it easy in the morning and Geri scheduled a hair appointment for the afternoon. While she was out, I installed the software for the new camera and caught up on paying bills. Pretty routine stuff.

Today we did some more shopping (Camping World in Denton, more rug looking in Frisco and McKinney. We drove through the little downtown Historic District area in McKinney, where we'll head back over the next few days.

Next few days, you say? Wasn't the blind work supposed to be done on Friday? Au contraire. As with most service providers these days, especially around motorhomes, the time spent managing excuses exceeds the time spent doing work. Since I spent years of my working life managing and reacting to excuses, I can spot this a mile away. Although all the fabrication was supposed to be done Tuesday, it wasn't finished until today. Even though some fabrication was done Tuesday, installation didn't really begin until late this afternoon. The bottom line on all this:
  • Geri's pissed that nothing's happening
  • George is once again stuck in a situation he pledged to avoid (hanging out for service work as a group)
  • Installation will continue on Saturday and Monday
  • We'll assume that we'll still be here through Tuesday to create a buffer

Accordingly, I've adjusted our reservation in Memphis by a few days and we'll keep our fingers crossed. I've got to find a way to avoid this stuff.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

You're not in Kansas any more, Toto

May 1, 2007
McKinney, TX

One of the things we've come to learn is that the first week or so on the road in the spring can be a shock to the system. New places, changing time zones, different foods, and variable weather. The latter hit us around 3 AM, when the rains came in waves. Spending the winter in the desert southwest lulls you into a sense that the sun should just shine every day and showers are something for a tub. Well, we're not in Phoenix any more. Yesterday was overcast at times, and the heavy rains at least held off until the overnight hours. The skies gradually brightened all day, and now the sun is out and heating things up. It's reminiscent, of course, of the time I spent here in the northeast suburbs of Dallas from April-July, 2005. On the east coast, we called it "Florida weather" -- always steamy with a storm brewing somewhere, whether it hits you or not.

In any event, the weather hasn't hampered us at all. The pups went to "Doggie Day Camp" at PetsMart today, and they'll do that for the rest of the week. After we dropped them off this morning, Geri and I stopped in a few stores for a few odds and ends. In the afternoon, we packed up all of the old blinds (we spent much of yesterday removing them; saves on installation labor) and hardware. They're now packed away in the roof pod on the car. I rearranged the wiring on the new tank monitors (the installer wired black->gray and gray->black) and cleaned up a couple of messes, then we picked up the "kids" and dinner, and, what do you know: "it's 5:00 somewhere -- here"!

Tonight, I hope to get to the pictures (last night was Heros on TV) and catch up on bills. Tomorrow, the installation of the new blinds will begin. We hope to have everything completed by Friday afternoon so we can head out first thing Saturday AM.