Travel Planning for a New Year

Proper planning is important in many things, including vacations.

It’s that time of year again for me to put some thought and effort into travel planning for the coming vacation year that begins again for us on March 1.  As always, I feel so blessed that Hubby has four weeks of paid vacation each year, and that we are both healthy enough to travel regularly.

In years past, prior to the time we purchased our first RV five years ago, I must confess that travel planning was not something we focused on in our lives to a large extent.  We have always been blessed to take at least one lovely vacation each year for the most part, but we mostly planned our time away more at the last minute and certainly never considered trying to plan on a larger scale… a full year at a time.  Our lack of planning caused us to actually lose some vacation days each year because we did not find a way to take them in the twelve month period when Hubby was permitted to use them… a sad situation, to be sure.

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This is so very true, including planning our personal times together!

We planned for so many things in our lives… retirement planning, meal planning, budget planning and health planning (doctor appointments, etc.).  So, why didn’t we put a little more emphasis on our special time away together?  I have a feeling we were/are not the only ones that have come to this realization at the empty nest stage of life, but I’m grateful we realized how this could change for the better before too many years went by.

At this stage of life as we approach our 60th birthdays, I consider travel planning to be one of my jobs, but it is a labor of love to be sure.  Hubby works (and travels) hard throughout the year to earn his time away from work, and he does not have time to spend on travel planning.  He even has a travel agent that books his work travels, so my job is to plan our vacation days to use them all and use them in ways we would like to do within our budget.  And if I say so, I think I do a pretty good job now.

I’m also challenged to be creative in our travel plans each year.  Five years ago, I would have never dreamed that my little family would spend Christmas in our RV, but we just loved it!  I enjoy the challenge of creative RV camping a lot, something that might be a good topic for another post sometime.

These days, it is necessary for us to plan our personal trips ahead of time so Hubby will know when he can travel for work without any conflicts.  A few years ago, we had to find a way to “be on the same page” as far as overall travel planning, so I created a shared Google calendar for travel planning purposes.  I take care of updating the shared calendar in a timely manner so Hubby can see both his own business travel dates and our personal vacation dates and a few other events all in one place.

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Before we had this shared online calendar as a reference, we encountered some issues with date conflicts.  The shared calendar has helped to largely alleviate those issues, as long as he sends me his business travel dates in a timely manner.  I highly recommend this shared calendar solution if this is an issue for anyone else.  How to share a Google Calendar

Purchasing our first RV five years ago was our first deliberate effort to try to change the status quo and to keep from losing vacation days each year, which happened all too regularly because we did not actually plan our time away like we do now.  We stepped out of our comfort zone just a bit, mostly with our RV financial investment, but we both knew RV travel might actually be something we would love, making it an investment in ourselves and our time together.  We always enjoyed camping in the early years of our marriage, and we were ready to start camping again.

Our desire to travel more conveniently and affordably was another reason for our RV purchase, and yet another reason was Hubby’s desire to not travel by plane for some of our vacations, since he has to do so regularly on business.  Our reasons all proved to be good reasons to make the change, and we are most definitely happy with our decision and plan to continue traveling by RV for years to come.  We both enjoy a nice trip by plane now, too, since we have another great option to do something different.  Those trips are now a little more special for us.

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Just one of our fun and memorable RV trips in 2016 with friends

I ran the numbers last week, and we actually spent 60 days away from home in our RV in 2016, something we certainly couldn’t reasonably afford to do without the RV.  We did not take any non-RV trips last year, which was a little unusual for us but something we chose to do since we upgraded to a newer and larger RV back in May.  We didn’t even miss a non-RV trip either.

Hubby was quite surprised to learn that we spent 60 days out in the RV last year… pleasantly surprised… just as I was after running the numbers.  We had some great times alone and with family and friends, and we are once again grateful for the freedom the RV has given us to get away more often in such a comfortable and convenient way.  We love having our sweet pups along for the fun, and it almost feels at times like we are semi-retired and enjoying life in ways some retired folks do on a regular basis, even though Hubby is still very much employed full-time.

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Getting out-of-town once a month continues to be one of our travel goals, even if it is just for a quick weekend away nearby, and we also strive to have two full-week vacations each year.  Getting away regularly to some beautiful state parks has helped both of us to “recharge our batteries” regularly and has also helped to keep us healthier, since we do a lot of walking and hiking when we are out.  We have always loved camping together, and having a few nice amenities now just makes it all the more enjoyable for us, especially sleeping on our custom mattress that is so comfy!

Having planned travels for a full year in advance for five years now, we have found a basic travel schedule that works well for us.  Planning our travels each year now actually requires a little less effort on my part, since I have a basic template to use as a starting point.

We tend to travel in the non-summer months to avoid the extreme heat of summer, even though we still venture out a bit in those months at times, too.  We’ve also learned how far in advance we need to reserve most of the places we like to visit because without a site reservation for our RV these days, chances are we won’t be able to secure one closer to our date of travel because more people are traveling by RV, even more than what we saw five years ago.  I continue to be amazed at how many of our friends have hopped on the RV bandwagon now, too.

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If we can travel to certain locations at non-peak times, we can benefit by enjoying less crowded conditions.  Such was the case in northern New Mexico in early September.

This year, we are adding one non-RV trip… a special one indeed!

Over the next three years, we have three big celebrations that are worthy of commemorating in a memorable way….

…Hubby’s 60th birthday later this year,

…my 60th birthday next year, and

…our 40th wedding anniversary in 2019.

I hope we can make each of these occasions special and memorable, so I spent some time last week planning Hubby’s big bad birthday celebration… a non-RV trip that we will take in October.  How blessed we are to have airline miles and hotel points to use for a special trip such as this, putting the total cost of the airfare and hotel with a full breakfast each morning at only $260 for six days and five nights.

I’m excited to finally take Hubby to a special place that I have visited three times in my lifetime but one that he has never visited.  We may also be joined by some long-time friends, if they can arrange their work schedules to do so.   In fact, this trip should be so special and so much fun that I may be fine calling it my 60th birthday celebration, too, allowing us to save up a bit for a special anniversary trip in mid-2019.

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Our last trip by plane was in May 2015, when we traveled west to beautiful Maui.  This year, our special trip by plane will take us east, not west, to celebrate Hubby’s 60th birthday.

If our present travel plans hold for 2017, we will spend about 65 days away from home, with most of those days spent in our RV.  Hubby has ten paid holidays this year, a few more paid days off than in previous years, bringing his total paid days off each year to 30 days.  We certainly plan to schedule those new paid days off into our trips, too.

I’m ready to get this show on the road again… literally!  😀  Hopefully our advance planning will once again help to make this yet another memorable and fun travel year.

 

Melancholy

Grief knows no calendar.

I guess I will always feel a little melancholy in January.

I lost my mom two years ago this month, and I continue to be surprised at just how much harder it is to move on from her death than what I’ve experienced after losing our other parents.  I don’t know if it was the fact that she was our last living parent, if it is because I was closer to her than any of our other parents, or if it’s something else.  Without a doubt, though, grief is taking it’s sweet time with me, it seems.

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I think most people tend to give a lot of leeway to family members and friends in the first year after the loss of a close loved one.  Tackling all those “firsts” can be so, so hard, and I certainly found that to be true after losing my mother, just as it was after we lost our other parents.  I had quite a bit of support, especially from my closest friends, and I’m grateful for the love shown that truly helped me through that first year.

Grief didn’t care about that calendar, though.  Not one bit.

Last year was my second full year without Mom, and I swear it was just as hard on many occasions as it was in year one.  Understandably, most people assume that after that first year, all is fine… or at least better, so I started to just keep my feelings to myself and not burden others with my continuing feelings.  Friends have other interests in their lives and suffer their own heartaches.

Life moves on for all of us.

But, as Shelby’s mom said in Steel Magnolias after the graveside service for her sweet Shelby…

“I’ll tell you what I wish. … That’s what my mind says, I just wish somebody would explain it to my heart.”  (Steel Magnolias… 1989)

Oh, how very true that statement is.  So, so true.  (I’m not sure a movie ever truly captured such a true manifestation of grief as this particular scene at the cemetery.)

I have no sage wisdom to share today, except to simply acknowledge that grief doesn’t stick to a one-year calendar, despite that conventional viewpoint these days.  Acknowledging the ongoing grief helps a bit, and that’s why I’m writing today.  Simple acknowledgement.

I hope this lesson sticks with me and reminds me to have a tender heart toward others in the future, perhaps by simply marking my calendar and letting them know that I’m thinking of them and offering a heart-felt, sympathetic prayer for them on their own hard anniversaries.

I want to make it count, this often hard path I continue to find myself on without my Mom in my life.  (The article linked is absolutely fabulous.)

During this anniversary month of Mom’s passing, I’m reading The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, and so far, it is quietly speaking to my broken heart.  Ann’s writings are best savored slowly and deliberately, and every day, I’m slowly “getting it.”  Perhaps if you find yourself with a broken heart right now, this book might offer some insight to you, too.  If not right now, perhaps make a note of this great book for a time you might need it in the future?

Ann is “explaining it to my heart,” and I am grateful.

 

Wrapping Up 2016

A camping Christmas trip with our family ended 2016 in a delightful way!

2016 is now in the “books,” and 2017 has already seen our first snow of the winter season and of the new year.  Thankfully, it was nothing like the mega storm that introduced 2016 to us, and we only received about an inch this time.  My back starts hurting just looking again at some of the photos from last January and remembering all the snow Hubby and I shoveled for three straight days.  Ugh!

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Girly Girl had lots of fun in the foot of snow we received the first week of January in 2016.
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The foot of snow caused lots of issues for the next two weeks in our city and area, but it was so very pretty, too.

It’s been several weeks since my last post, but all is well, good in fact.  I just took a little break to enjoy the Christmas season and take a few things “off my plate” for a bit.  I also had more holiday prep work to do this year, due to our ten day Christmas and New Years trip to the mountains of far West Texas.

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Spending “golden hour” at the top of Skyline Drive on Christmas Evening with my family is a precious memory now.  We captured some great photos of family and scenery here.
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Sunset at Davis Mountain State Park on Christmas evening with historic Indian Lodge in the distance was absolutely gorgeous.  We had the view all to ourselves, something I will always remember fondly.  This was literally the last ray of sunshine on Christmas Day. 😉

 

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The Belt of Venus is always so beautiful in this area, and it was lovely once again on Christmas evening.

All our kids joined us for a long Christmas weekend in the Davis Mountains, and they all departed for home on Tuesday afternoon after lunch, driving to El Paso together then catching their respective flights.  It was a most enjoyable holiday for me, and I think for all of us.  After all, what mama doesn’t like to have all her kiddos with her for the holidays?

We secured our daughter and son-in-law a room at the historic Indian Lodge (see photos below) during their stay, which was just a mile away from our RV in the state park, and our son stayed with us in the RV.  With all the additional space inside now, as compared to our previous RV, we were all quite comfortable, even with the dogs who slept on their nice, new beds next to him.

By cooking some dishes ahead of time, I was able to serve all our favorite holiday foods in the RV… tamales for Christmas Eve, sausage toasts and eggs for Christmas morning, and ham, turkey, cornbread dressing, black-eyed peas, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and yeast rolls for Christmas dinner.  We even enjoyed a Christmas morning picnic together at our site for breakfast, which was a real treat!  Truly, the weather was gorgeous the entire week we were there.

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Our festive picnic table at our site for Christmas.  Snoopy and Woodstock helped to light up the holiday nights at our site, along with three mason jar lanterns on the table.

 

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It was a real treat to have a visit from several mule deer late each afternoon during our vacation week, with our first visit on Christmas Day!  We also saw several javelina at our campsite on our first night, as well as some great birds all over the park during our stay.

Following our picnic breakfast, we opened gifts inside the RV in our comfortable living area, which was so much fun.  As usual, the dogs each had a gift of their own to start things off, and I can say that we all received some very nice gifts.  My family was especially good to me, but the real treat for me was just having everyone together for a few days of fun.

The weather was gorgeous in far West Texas the entire week we were there, which certainly helped make our trip more manageable and truly enjoyable.  We even ran our air conditioner for a bit on a few afternoons, too.  I’m sure some friends may think we’ve lost our minds spending the holidays in our RV, but we enjoyed our time in the Davis Mountains with our family more than anything we’ve done for the holidays in many years.  With all the cooking done ahead of time, meals were easy and tasty with minimal clean-up needed afterward, leaving quality time for visiting, hiking and playing games together.

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My long, long shadow during a walk in the park late on Christmas afternoon.  I feel so at home here now and have even entertained the thought of retiring in this very remote area that holds some family history for me.

After the kids left, Hubby and I enjoyed a few days all by ourselves, followed by two days with two friends who made their first trip to the area for the New Year’s weekend in their RV, the same friends we’ve started traveling with a bit over the past year.  We enjoyed showing them around, and they also spent some time on their own at the McDonald Observatory, which we have seen many times on previous trips.  Hubby and the friends hiked from the state park to the national park, and I picked them up there after we all toured the fort area together on New Years Eve.

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We always enjoy a quick visit to the national park in Fort Davis.  Just before our trip, I also learned that a family member, now deceased, actually lived at this fort for a time when he was a young boy!

Our holiday trip was pretty much perfect for us, spending time both with family and friends, as well as quality time alone.  We even made new friends, a couple close to our age that just recently started their full-time RV journey, and we exchanged contact information with them.  It was delightful to visit with them off and on all during our vacation week.

Hubby and I opted to dine out a little more on this trip because there are some really good restaurants in town.  Rumor has it we dined at our favorite Mexican food restaurant three times during our week in the area and that our waitress knew what we wanted to order as soon as we sat down on our second and third visits.  We dined there on the evening we arrived with our son, for lunch with all the kids on Tuesday before they left, and again with our friends on New Year’s Eve.

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Cueva De Leon is our favorite restaurant in the area with the best chips and salsa and chile rellenos to die for! 🙂

We also dined at three other restaurants in town during our stay, which was a nice treat for us.  All were very good, and two were new to us.

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We ate lunch at Poco Mexico for the first time… yummy!
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We made a return visit for burgers at the Fort Davis Drug Store and Hotel.  My green chile and Swiss cheese burger with homemade onion rings was awesome!
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We enjoyed delicious panini sandwiches at The Porch, a new restaurant for us that serves breakfast and lunch and is part of the historic Hotel Limpia.

(On a side note, I couldn’t disagree more with the Trip Advisor restaurant ratings for Fort Davis restaurants, especially the #1 pick listed right now.  We’ve tried that place twice and are not at all impressed with it.  We won’t try again.  In our opinion, after many trips to the area, Cueva De Leon is by far the best in town.) 

Hubby and I also drove to both Alpine and Marfa on separate drives.  We had to make a quick trip to Alpine with our son on Christmas Eve morning in search of a new coffee pot, after ours unexpectedly died on us.  Thankfully, we found one at the big hardware store, the last one on the shelf, because we would have had a crisis on our hands without a coffee pot!

Our scenic drive to Marfa on an overcast day after the kids left was nice, and we saw the pretty courthouse there, along with the historic Hotel Paisano and the whimsical El Cosmico campground south of town.  On their drive back to El Paso, the kids stopped for photos at Prada Marfa, too.

Hubby and I also enjoyed a Thursday evening presentation at Indian Lodge where the hotel manager told us all about the history of the lodge from the CCC era to date, and she also pointed out several of the original furniture pieces from that time period, marked by the metal strappings at the bottom of each one.  It was a nice evening with other hotel guests and campers, complete with hot cider and cookies by a warm fire inside.

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I’ve seen this beautiful table at Indian Lodge on each trip to the area, but it was interesting to learn that it is one of the original pieces from the CCC era.

She also shared that Indian Lodge will close in September 2017 for four months for exterior resurfacing, just in case anyone is planning a trip to the area and would like to stay there.

The week prior to our trip was a fun and busy week, too.

Prior to Christmas, I also hosted my second annual cookie swap on the Monday evening before Christmas.  It was a big success once again, with two new participants this year, in addition to those returning from last year’s swap.  This year, we actually decorated cookies together for the first time, and it was so much fun, even though it was more prep work for me.  I think we will have to keep doing this in future years, if only for the laughs… which were many!  Those ladies pretty much destroyed my kitchen decorating cookies, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

After the cookie swap, I was able to provide some awesome cookie platters to my elderly neighbor, to Hubby’s side of the family during our evening together the next night and to the state park staff on Christmas Eve morning, while also saving lots of cookies for my family to enjoy during our trip, too.

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Christmas cookies are a tradition with us, and swapping cookies with friends makes the tradition even more special.  This tray included cowboy cookies, snickerdoodles, holiday thumbprints, peanut butter with chocolate kisses, cardamom cream cheese cookie press cookies and decorated star sugar cookies that we all decorated together.  I also made a few other types of cookies not shown here, including oatmeal with fresh cranberries and chocolate chip, and I totally hoarded the white chocolate and cranberry cookies that one of the new ladies brought to the exchange!

Just before we departed on our Christmas trip, we spent a delightful evening with Hubby’s side of the family on Tuesday evening, including some family members from the Dallas area.  The big home-cooked meal was a real treat for all of us during those last busy days before Christmas, with meatloaf served as the main entrée.  It was our first opportunity to gather together in our nephew’s new home with his precious wife and girls, and they were good sports to host everyone while still in the process of moving in.  They wouldn’t have it any other way.

I didn’t have an opportunity to celebrate a friends Christmas with my two special friends here before we left on our trip, but we are hoping to finally get together one evening this week.  I have grown accustomed to this fun tradition over more recent years and definitely missed our fun gathering.

I trust you all had a wonderful Christmas and wish you all the best in 2017!

 

Enjoying Autumn

My favorite season of the year

Autumn is flying by for me, and it’s been a most enjoyable season at home and for traveling in the RV.  The leaves are just beginning to turn, nighttime temperatures are flirting with the freezing mark but not yet giving in, regular fall activities returned, and my favorite farmer’s market vendor has closed for the season after another good run this year.  This is by far my favorite season of the year, and we now consider it to be our “summer,” since it is our preferred season for travel and outdoor fun now.

Since returning from our week-long vacation to the Enchanted Circle area in early September, we’ve made three more shorter trips in the RV, all to state parks closer to home.  We’ve also enjoyed some nice times right here at home, including our annual visit to the fair and enjoying the great food there on opening night, none of which was on my diet, but hey, it’s a tradition… right?

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We always enjoy our yearly visit to the fair

At the fair, we once again dined at the same place I used to take my mom for lunch each year, a charitable organization’s restaurant that I’ve always enjoyed supporting and one that also serves reliably good food.  I guess I will always have my mom on my mind every time I go to the fair now, remembering how much she enjoying it, and that’s ok.  Those are good memories, but it still gets to me each time I go now.

In late September, Hubby and I returned to Lake Brownwood State Park with another couple who also joined us in their RV for four days and three nights, the same couple we met at Caprock Canyons State Park in August on a weekend that was cooler than normal.  It was our first time to visit Lake Brownwood in September, and we managed to get adjacent sites with awesome lake views in the Council Bluff campground.

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View of Lake Brownwood from Texas Oak hiking trail… one of favorite trails

We enjoyed acquainting our friends with the park, and we also had fun hiking and geocaching together, dining outside in the evenings, watching college football on Saturday evening outside on their RV television and driving into Brownwood to dine at one of our all time favorite places to eat, Underwood’s BBQ.

We also celebrated Hubby’s birthday with our traditional family birthday cake, a Texas chocolate sheet cake that I made, and we even made him blow out candles.  Once again, I ate that yummy cake, even though it wasn’t on my diet, a most familiar tale this fall.

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View from our campsite at Lake Brownwood State Park. We enjoyed a nice campfire here on Friday night with our friends.

In late October, we made a quick weekend trip to Lake Colorado City State Park to just get away and relax.  Hubby’s nephew surprised us and met us there in his big, new pop-up camper on Saturday afternoon.  The guys had fun checking everything out on it a little more, and we all enjoyed a great visit around the campfire together on Saturday night and even made Nutella s’mores.  (Yes, we used Nutella instead of chocolate bars!)  We had the campground mostly to ourselves, which was so nice for a peaceful weekend away.

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View from our front door at our pull-thru site at Lake Colorado City State Park
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The site we scoped out for Hubby’s nephew. He wanted a site that was level and had a little shade, if possible, and he was quite happy with this one.
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Another view of his site – lots of room and green grass
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Big Red was waiting patiently on us in the RV as we were getting ready to leave on Sunday

Last week, Lake Colorado City finally received some significant rains, and the lake is now up at least eight feet since we were there.  We have never seen this lake with that much water in it because we started traveling by RV during the big drought in 2011.  This lake was hit hard and has been very slow in recovering.  Hopefully, it’s made some nice progress now, and I’m anxious to return soon to see it.

Our most recent long-weekend trip took us to Palo Duro Canyon State Park in early November for three days and nights.  We’ve visited this well-known state park off and on for most of our lives, but this particular trip was by far our best one to date.

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We enjoyed the gorgeous scenery at Palo Duro Canyon State Park once again, as well as some great weather and fog

I plan to write a separate post soon to share more about that trip and some of the pictures I took.  Palo Duro Canyon State Park just keeps getting better and better, especially since it was named the top state park in the nation a couple of years ago, and I’ll try to share more soon about the most recent improvements and expansions in the park, which are newsworthy, especially to campers!

The state park system has definitely spent some money on this great park in recent years to improve the roads and add campsites, both of which were sorely needed.  Now, if they could just figure out a way to make that 10% grade road going down into the canyon not so steep and narrow!  😉

Since our last trip, we have been cleaning and sprucing up the RV as we begin to transition it for colder weather camping.  Hubby wanted to do some exterior caulking, and I opted to rent a Rug Doctor and clean the carpet while the weather was nice.

Even though we began winterizing in late October at our campsites before heading home, we also started switching out some supplies to prepare for winter camping… loading our heated water hose, electric blankets for us and a guest, extra blankets for us and the dogs’ beds and our good space heater with a thermostat.  Right now, though, the weather is still very nice and looks to stay that way, at least for the near future.  We’re hoping it stays that way next week for Thanksgiving, too.

Making Memories

“Life is all about making memories”

Five years ago this month, shortly after we purchased our first motorhome, I found this “making memories” canvas at a local home store and knew it would be a perfect addition to our new cabin on wheels.  It has hung in the bedrooms of our two RVs ever since, and I suspect that no matter what RV we have in the future, we will always have this picture hanging somewhere inside to commemorate the spirit of our RV adventures.

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However, “making memories” is a phrase we used in our travels decades before we ever purchased our first RV.  In fact, we have a very long history of referring to “making memories” when we travel.  For that reason, I immediately knew this canvas would be a great fit as we began our RV travels.

“Today’s moments are tomorrow’s memories.”
— Unknown

My earliest recollection of hearing the “making memories” phrase when traveling dates back to a week-long vacation with some good friends and all five of our combined very young children for a week of vacation at a lake in East Texas one summer in the late 1980s.  To say that this trip was laden with unexpected events would be an understatement.

Here are just a couple of “memories” from that fateful trip.

We took my father’s 1960s era red and white Larson Lapline outboard boat with us, and late one evening while taking a cruise on the lake with all nine of us on board, the motor shut down.  We never could get it started again and had to use the water skis and an oar on board to paddle back to the dock, which fortunately wasn’t too terribly far away but still far enough that it took a while to get there.

We adults were exhausted from paddling and there was some brief talk of a ruined vacation.  Then…

… my sweet friend, who remains one of my very best friends today and has a great sense of humor, reminded us all that we were just “making memories,” and from that point forward, that phrase stuck like glue to our vacation escapades.

On that same trip, we all dined out at a nearby seafood restaurant one evening.  As we arrived, a big summer thunderstorm blew up, and before we knew it, a tornado was headed our way.  The restaurant staff warned everyone to stay inside and take cover, and panic quickly set in among the guests.  All we could safely do was follow their advice to stay put and take cover, and fortunately, the small tornado veered off in a different direction and did very little damage.  As we resumed our meal and the talk at the table immediately went to the many unfortunate circumstances of our trip, my friend reminded us that we were just “making memories.” 

And she was so right.  To this day, we enjoy recounting that trip with those dear friends and the “series of unfortunate events” that we encountered.  Without all those memories, we might not remember that trip at all now.

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Ever since that memorable trip, we’ve continued to use the phrase “making memories” when unexpected things come up while traveling, both the good things and especially the challenging things.  We’ve had our fair share of “making memories” on vacations over time, for sure, including our RV vacations over the past five years.

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We’ve taken many friends and family members to far West Texas over the past five years to introduce them to the glorious scenery that is far West Texas at Davis Mountains State Park, and we look forward to showing it off to even more people in the future, including the small town of Fort Davis and the McDonald Observatory star parties.

 

Some of our fondest RV travel memories to date are the times we have traveled with family members and friends.  When we bought our first RV five years ago, we never anticipated that others we knew would soon follow our lead and buy their first RVs.  Now, it seems that we have found, quite unexpectedly, a great balance of traveling by ourselves with the dogs and occasionally traveling with others, and at this point, it is a perfect fit for us.  And what great memories we’ve made with all of these great people over the past five years, too.

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Caprock Canyons State Park continues to be a go-to RV park for us to share with family members and friends.  Once we take someone here and show them the park and its treasures, people always want to go back again.  We have so many fond memories with loved ones here and look forward to “making memories” with our favorite people and on our own over the coming years in our “home” park.

 

There is just something so special about traveling with those you love the most and getting away from everyday routines, even if only for a weekend, taking time to connect and enjoy each other’s company.  Young parents today would be wise to remember this, too, even if a staycation is more appropriate financially.

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Lake Brownwood State Park, with its rich CCC history, continues to be another favorite place to visit in our RV, especially in the spring when the bluebonnets are in bloom.

 

It’s really all about spending uninterrupted time together, and most of us have to plan our schedules carefully to actually achieve it these days.  It needs to be a priority in our lives on a regular basis.

“We didn’t realize we were making memories.  We just knew we were having fun.”
— Unknown

A group of guys on Hubby’s side of the family has decided to resume yearly tent camping trips together, something they used to do as a family group as they were all growing up when tent camping was all they could afford.  Now, they can bring along the next generation of sons with them, and their first trip is scheduled for late September.  Even though Hubby is a little spoiled to the RV, he is looking forward to resuming this fun tradition with our son for the first time… in a tent.

I can only imagine the memories those guys will make together, including a few I will probably never hear about.  They all have busy lives and careers now, but I’m so glad they are once again taking time to be together and continue a long time family tradition.  Good for them.the-best-thing-about-memories-is-making-them

We are looking forward to “making memories” in our new-to-us RV very soon as we are finally ready to resume travels this fall as the weather cools off.  Our long, hot summer is hopefully winding down, schools are back in session and our travel plans are mostly in place with our inaugural long trip scheduled to begin on Labor Day weekend.  I’m glad we had the summer to really put the RV through some paces here at home, as well as making a couple of quick test trips.

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Northern New Mexico is quickly becoming one of our favorite RV destinations in the summer months, especially when family and friends join us as they did over 4th of July this year.

 

Now, it’s finally time to get this RV show on the road once again… and start “making [even more] memories!”  😀

 

Fun and Frustration – Our 4th of July Trip

We enjoyed a great holiday trip but had a challenging drive home to due weather once again.

We enjoyed a fun holiday trip over the 4th of July long weekend, meeting our son and some friends to go RV camping in northern New Mexico.  The weather was cool and beautiful and was such a welcome relief from our July heat at home.

We had a total of four RVs in our group, and this was our first trip to camp with that many couples and a few grown kids in the mix.  We shared lots of good food and laughs over the course of three days, and I think a good time was had by all.  Of course, we always miss our “Lil’ Firecracker” daughter on this holiday, since it is also her birthday.

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Driving on Highway 64 between Clayton and Raton, the scenery is vast and beautiful, a truly great drive in the RV!

 

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Driving past Capulin Volcano National Monument on Highway 64

 

One of the couples in our group is still pretty new to camping in their trailer, and they quickly discovered that their sewer hose wasn’t long enough.  Fortunately, we were carrying a new hose extension, so we just gave it to them.  I was happy that we were able to help them out because there wasn’t a store anywhere nearby where they could buy one.

Northern New Mexico provided us with cool nights, warm days and a daily afternoon shower or two.  On one day, though, the afternoon showers actually became afternoon storms with some pea-sized hail in the mix.  Fortunately, everyone managed to get their awnings put away before it hit, and no damage was done to any cars or RVs.

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The view from the front window of our RV at our pretty campsite during one of the afternoon rain storms.  When it wasn’t raining, this view stretched for a very long distance to the south.

 

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View of the mountains just to the west of us at our campsite.

 

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Our nice campsite on a typical late afternoon with rains moving in from the mountains to the west.
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An afternoon rain wasn’t quite making it all the way to the ground at camp.

We certainly enjoyed this trip in our new-to-us RV, as it is much roomier than our previous RV inside.  It was especially nice to have the extra room while our son stayed with us, as well as more privacy between the living room area and our bedroom.

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Girly Girl enjoyed jumping on our bed in the mornings to wake us up and look out our window, the one we left open overnight.  It wasn’t unusual for her to spot a rabbit or a deer walking by in the mornings, too.

 

For the second time, we attended the amazing fireworks show in Raton, having attended it for the first time in 2014.  We were happy to return and take more friends with us this time, but, unfortunately, our son had to drive home on the afternoon of the 4th and had to miss it.  We secured a fabulous spot early to watch the show, right in front of the historic train station where Amtrak stops in town.  This is such a neat area of this town, too.

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Our spot where we watched the great fireworks show near the train station at right.  This is such a neat part of town, too.

 

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Read the signs on the front of this store! 🙂
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Just before the fireworks show.

I opted to leave my good camera behind at the RV, and I’m kicking myself now that I chose to do that.  We were so close to the action, and at it seemed that the fireworks might literally land in our lap at times.  Next time, I will not make that mistake, if we are fortunate enough to attend the show again in the future.  I challenged myself to do the best job I could do with my phone camera, and I managed to get a few decent shots, even though they hardly compare with what I could have captured with my good camera, tripod and cable release.  Still… I’m fairly impressed with what my little phone camera was able to do, too.

 

 

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After we returned to camp for the night, the stars were out so nicely on a dark sky night, and I captured some neat long exposure photos that I will share in my next post.  This was the first time that I photographed the Milky Way, so it turned out to be a “bucket list” photography experience for me.  I posted one of these photos in my previous Wordless Wednesday post, too.

The most interesting part of our trip was definitely our drive home.

Traveling by RV is just not the same as traveling by car, and the longer we travel in our RV, the more we realize just how different it can be and how we must be willing to adapt, when necessary.

Once again, Mother Nature stepped in to play havoc with our drive home on Tuesday, the 5th.  While the weather was pretty great over the holiday weekend in New Mexico, the very next day, a terrible heat wave quickly hit along our drive home and caught us a bit unprepared, along with other travelers.  As we approached Amarillo shortly after lunch, the temperature was already over 100 degrees and only looked to get hotter, possibly much hotter.  The RV air conditioners did their best to keep up, but when the outside temp on our RV house thermometer showed 107, we threw in the towel and decided to pull off at an RV park where we had previously stayed.  (It’s a great park with top notch facilities.)  We could also see storms building quickly closer to home.

The weather only got worse as the day progressed, and we are so glad that we opted to pull off for the rest of the day and just wait it all out.  Storms closer to home became quite intense with rain, hail and very high winds.  By dinner time where we were stopped, the winds from the back of those storms gusted up to 60 mph at times.  It was also the first time that Hubby actually had to help me shut the door to the RV, as the wind from the south was catching it just right and made it very hard to close.  Closer to home, two trucks were actually blown over by those high winds, too.

It was definitely not a day to be driving a high profile vehicle, and when the winds became so rough, we finally decided to just keep our great site for the night, get a good night’s sleep and head home early the next morning in time for Hubby to go on in to work.  It was a pleasant drive the next morning, and Hubby was at work shortly before 9 am.  I was done with laundry by noon, so it worked out just fine, was definitely less stressful and was much easier on our rig, for sure.

When traveling by RV, sometimes you just do what you have to do, and this was surely one of those times.  While we have pulled off on a few other trips for a few hours, this was the first time that we were actually delayed overnight.  Fortunately, we had a good option to take, and we took it.  We were definitely not the only RV travelers that took that option to pull off, judging by how many others were pulling in right behind us.

We’ve pretty much decided now that if we are going to travel in our RV in the hot summer months, we need to only drive before noon… or even earlier depending on where we are driving.  The weather was not forecasted to be *this* hot, so we cannot depend on the forecasts.

More and more, I just don’t see us ever taking to the road as full-time RVers.  While we could likely be quite content to go on some extended road trips or possibly full season trips, I think we are both discovering that we are “fair weather” campers, especially where heat is concerned.  I just want no part of it, to be honest.

Of course, I’m writing this on the heels of this one driving day, which turned out to be the hottest day in two years in the Amarillo area.  Give me a few days/weeks, and I will probably just laugh about it.  I’m not there yet, though, because as I’m writing this, it is still 113 degrees outside at our house.

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Ugh.

 

 

RV Updates and Our First Trip

We’ve worked hard on the RV over the past month.

After owning our new-to-us RV for four weeks, we are mostly finished with the projects we wanted to complete upfront.  Working on our RV has become a hobby for us over the past few years, and it is something we both enjoy.  If Hubby had a good shop, I think he would actually be happy working on RV houses for a living.  Perhaps we’ve watched too many episodes of Flippin’ RVs?  However, our new RV actually needed very few repairs and updates, relatively speaking for an RV that is 16 years old.  In fact, this is quite possibly the best used RV we’ve ever seen for its age.

We have spent most of our spare time lately working on the RV, and we’ve made great progress.  We also made two test trips in the RV to hook everything up.  Our first “trip” was just a short drive to an area RV park for a few hours to give all the systems a good run-through, even though we tested all of them before we purchased it, and our second trip was this past weekend to a state park that had some 50 amp campsites open.  Happily, all is going well so far, and we are pleased with our decision to purchase this particular RV.

We’ve discovered that this is a nice time of year to visit Lake Colorado City State Park, just before the real heat of summer hits.  It is usually not crowded, and once again, the wildflowers were beautiful and wildlife was found in abundance, especially a variety of birds, including bobwhite quail and lots of cottontail bunnies.  Our female poodle surely wanted to break free of her leash to take out after them, too!

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Pretty wildflowers at a nearby campsite
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Another pretty campsite
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Gorgeous view behind our campsite
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A brief storm played havoc with our outdoor chairs and bicycles.

An unexpected storm with some small hail blew through the park early on Saturday evening, and thankfully, we put all the awnings up on the RV just before it hit.  We thought the bikes and our chairs would be protected under the picnic table cover, but as you can see in the photo above, most everything ended up in the mud after the high winds played havoc with them.  The rocking chair was actually laid on its side on top of the table, and you can see where it ended up!  My bike, seen in the mud, just got a little dirty and is fine.

We are starting out from the dealer where we purchased our RV with new tires, a new rubber roof and one new air conditioner in the bedroom.  The furnace and generator were also serviced prior to taking delivery, and the refrigerator was inspected.  Also, the entire fuel system was serviced, including the removal of the gas tank and thorough cleaning.  The RV only had 7,000 miles and the 7000 watt Onan generator only had 58 hours of use.  We knew the story of this RV, and we verified it through Carfax, even calling one of the mechanics listed on the report to talk to him.  After doing our homework as best we could, we felt comfortable enough to proceed with our purchase.

In the rest of this post, I will share some of the updates we’ve been working on with a few pictures, even though they are just phone pictures taken mostly while parked in storage with the slide in and don’t reflect how nice and roomy it is inside with the slide pulled out.  Having a long slide is something new for us, and we are loving the extra room.

Hubby has also done a few mechanical things as well, nothing major, but I won’t attempt to get into those here.  Let’s just say it’s nice to have a mechanically inclined Hubby who has worked on cars since he was 16 years old.

One of the nicest surprises was discovering that our RV came with a set of custom sunscreens for all of the front windows, a feature that I don’t recall seeing before, even in new RVs.  It also has awnings over all the windows that are not covered by the large awning, another feature that we don’t see in RVs very often.

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Nice custom sunshades for the front windows and window awnings over the others

 

We are certainly going to enjoy using these front window sunscreens because they help to block sunlight and keep others from seeing inside during the day, while allowing us to leave the front curtains open.  At night, we will still close the curtains for privacy, but it will be great to leave them open during the day for a change to give us a more open feeling inside the RV.  Having all this additional exterior protection from the sun from both the sunscreens and awnings will definitely help us when camping in warm/hot weather.  They made a big difference this past weekend, for sure.

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Looking through the front window sunscreen at camp this past weekend.

One of the big projects we tackled was updating all of the gold hardware and fixtures throughout the RV to an oil rubbed bronze finish.  Nearly all of the handles were showing wear in the finish anyway, and gold and camping somehow just don’t work for us.

We’ve worked on updating the hardware over the past four weeks, and we are finally done.  We simply replaced all of the bathroom hardware with a new set, including additional towel bars, but we actually painted all of the other hardware and fixtures in the rest of the RV.  Taking one area at time helped to keep the project from feeling too overwhelming at once.

Our new RV bathroom actually has a tub and shower combo unit (Hurray!), and it originally came with gold trimmed shower doors.  We removed those doors, and Hubby trimmed the edge of the unit with new white plastic molding to cover the screw holes and help to hold water inside.  Once that was done, I installed a nice hotel-style shower curtain with a see-through mesh top that I found at Bed Bath and Beyond.  It is so nice to go from a teeny-tiny shower that we could barely turn around in to a very roomy shower/tub combo that is much more comfortable.

Another project that Hubby opted to tackle right away, as preventive maintenance based on a previous experience in our first RV, was to replace all but one of the faucets and attached water lines and also install new water shut-off valves on each faucet, including the outdoor shower that is located in one of the outside basements.  As part of this project, we also purchased new kitchen and bathroom sink faucets in a matching oil rubbed bronze finish.

Our son helped us swap out the old CRT style televisions for flat screens, and he also helped to permanently install our DISH satellite box and two Blu-ray players.  This was definitely a big project, but he does this for a living and did a fabulous job on both televisions with Hubby’s help.  We already owned a large flat screen television in our previous RV that was never permanently mounted, and we did not sell it with the RV.  We only had to purchase the smaller television for the bedroom, along with another Blu-ray player, and I actually found close-out deals on each one.

Updating the bedroom was largely my project.  We opted to have a custom mattress built in the Dallas area (contracted through a local store here) because we needed a queen short mattress.  We didn’t care for the mattress options at Camping World (mostly expensive foam mattresses), and we previously purchased this same Sleeptronic mattress for the first RV and loved it.  It took just over two weeks to get it here, and we are once again very happy with it, after testing it out last weekend for the first time.  This particular pillow-top mattress is very comfortable, but it also has reinforced sidewalls, which is important for an RV mattress.  We tend to sit on the bed in the RV more than we do our bed at home, and without that sidewall support, the mattress will break down over time.

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New Sleeptronics mattress, custom built to fit our short queen bed

 

This bedroom is larger than the bedroom in our previous RV, but even though it has so much nice closet space, it still does not have a slide-out.  The queen short mattress works great, but I wanted to see if we could find a way to regain the extra six inches in length at night.  I found the solution at Camping World, and it is a perfect fit with the new mattress.  It is an Avena brand foam insert with a fitted zippered cloth cover that we place between the wall and the head of the mattress at night, and it is six inches wide, giving us the length of a regular queen size mattress at night.  The next morning, we just remove the insert and push the mattress back up against the wall to make it easier to move around during the day.  It is a simple solution that I highly recommend to others with this same setup in their RV bedrooms, and I think this insert may be a new item at Camping World.

Once our new mattress was in place, I finished out the bed with new bedding from Costco (sheets) and Bed Bath and Beyond (comforter/pillows).  I was determined to find good deals on quality linens, and I managed to outfit the bed very affordably with all new linens, including four pillowcases, three accent pillows and 500 thread count sheets.  I also purchased two Better Homes and Gardens closet organizer units at Wal-Mart to give us a place to conveniently store our shoes and a few other things.

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Our updated RV bedroom.  Painting the hardware and fixtures, installing two new 12v reading lights above the bed, and getting rid of the hideous floral bedspread for a more neutral look, really helped create a nice, relaxing atmosphere.

Hubby installed two new LED 12v reading lights above the bed, one for each of us, and we found them at Camping World.  We had similar lights in our previous RV, and we wanted to have them in the new one, too.  He had to run the wire for the new light fixtures, and he did a great job, as usual.

The kitchen has a hard wood floor, not laminate, and it is in pretty much perfect condition.  We knew that we would need to keep it covered most of the time to prevent it from getting scratched by the dogs’ toenails, and I also wanted to protect the carpet in the living area from wearing faster than the carpet under the slide-out while in storage.

We’ve had a nice Berber carpet remnant in a spare bedroom for quite some time, so I had two custom rugs made, one for each area.  The rug for the kitchen floor also has a special backing to keep the rug from scratching the floor and prevent it from slipping.  I absolutely love how the rugs came out, and they will help preserve both the wood floor and the carpet in those areas.

 

One of the features that we really like in this RV are the many lighting options we have inside, especially the recessed lighting above both the living area and kitchen.  However, none of the fixtures had LED bulbs, so we upgraded two light fixtures to LED bulbs.  At $20 each, that is all we care to do right now.  We want to have a couple of LED lights available, one in each main area, to use at night when we boondock to help preserve the house batteries as much as possible between times we are allowed to run the generator to recharge them. (We also carry some small LED lanterns, too.)  We typically don’t use our inside lights very much anyway, and just like our first RV, this one has lots of nice windows and well-placed roof vents.  We also have a big skylight in the bathroom above the tub/shower.

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An angled hallway separates the main living area from the bedroom.

Another feature that sold us on this RV was the visibility break between the living area and kitchen up front and the bedroom in the back.  We held out hope that we could find an RV with this type of break to give more privacy when others stay with us.  Many RVs today do not have this type of separation, so we feel very fortunate to have it in ours now.  The concept of privacy of any kind in an RV came be a bit hard to come by.

In closing for today, I have one funny story to share as we are slowly becoming acquainted with our new RV.

We both kept looking and looking for the switch for the “back porch” light outside but could never find it, and we even contemplated calling the manufacturer to see if they could tell us where to find it.  Finally, just a few days ago, I noticed that the light was on, but neither of us had turned it on.  Later on, it was off again.  I finally “connected the dots” and realized that the light comes on automatically when one of the basements underneath it outside is opened.  Oh my goodness, what a good laugh we had when we finally figured that out!

Every day in an RV is an adventure, even if we’re just doing chores in it!

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