It’s Been Too Long

As I mentioned earlier here, my time over the past year has largely been devoted my volunteer “job” to help some family members get a new business up and running here.  My one-year commitment to help them is now over, and I’m happy to report that they are doing well on their own for the most part.  I had the opportunity to help them out doing something I enjoyed, and I will never regret my time and effort spent over the past year, especially if the business continues to grow and thrive for a long time to help support their family.

So, what else has been going on over the past few months?  Well, here’s a rundown of the high points.

We spent two glorious weeks in Alaska in early July!  We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary early, actually almost a year early, as well as my 60th birthday back in May.  If I had a bucket list trip in life, this was definitely it.  It was absolutely wonderful and fulfilled my longtime desire to visit Alaska and see (and photograph) as much of the natural beauty and wildlife there as possible.

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View of Mt. Denali, third tallest in the world, at 2 a.m. in July from our hotel room in Talkeetna

We spent the entire two weeks touring on our own, mostly by land, opting to not take a more traditional cruise trip on our first trip.  That was such a good decision for us while we are still in good health and could handle the rigors of a more physical trip like this one where we were moving around and spending only a short time in each location.  I also got back into more serious photography during the trip, and I have some truly wonderful photos as souvenirs, especially my wildlife photos.  For me, this trip ranks up there with trips to Hawaii, and in some respects, I enjoyed this epic two-week trip even more than our jaunts to the islands.

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A moose posing by the road inside Denali National Park

I spent a lot of time doing research for this trip over the past few years, which is part of the fun for me, and it definitely paid off.  I don’t think I would change a single thing for a first trip to Alaska with two weeks to explore there.  And, to answer one question up front, we did not make this trip by RV at any point, and I don’t regret that decision at all.  In fact, I don’t think we would ever make this trip by RV or rent one there, after visiting with some folks we met that either took their own RVs or opted to rent one up on arrival in the state.  While we definitely hope we can go back again someday, I just don’t think it will be by RV at any point.

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Bald eagle on the morning of the 4th of July in Kenai Fjords National Park

After flying non-stop from Denver to Anchorage, our route took us from Anchorage to Seward for the 4th of July by train, Seward to Anchorage by bus to pick up a rental car for the rest of the trip, Anchorage to Palmer, Palmer to Talkeetna, Talkeetna to the Denali National Park area, DNP to Fairbanks, and Fairbanks back to Anchorage.  If I had to list my top three things from the trip, those would be…

Our 13-hour tour deep into Denali National Park,
Our all day boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park, and
Our fun paddleboat tour in Fairbanks.

But, wow, there are so many other wonderful places and sights in the state, too.  We knew we might never return for a land trip like this one, so we hit the state hard to see as much as we could in two weeks.  This trip will no doubt be one of the highlights of our lives.  It was just that awesome.  I’m looking forward to sharing more about our trip here soon and sharing more of my photos.

We continue to travel closer to home in our RV, although we’ve taken fewer RV trips so far this year due to the Alaska trip.  We’ve had friends along on most of our RV trips this year, and that’s been fun for us, especially with the couple that we so often seem to have along on our RV trips these days.  The four of us all now have kayaks, and we’ve really enjoyed having those on our trips lately.  Kayaking is so much fun, much more than I first thought it would be.

We sold our rent house a couple of months ago.  After considering our options after the sale closed, we opted to get out of the rental market for several reasons but primarily to use some of that money to start updating our own home.  We are now deep into the planning stage of a major kitchen remodel, including tearing down a pony wall that separates our main kitchen from the breakfast room, tearing out all existing cabinets, and basically gutting the main kitchen area.  I can already tell this is going to be a money pit, but our kitchen is in dire need of a decent update after 30 plus years.  Hopefully, the big work will start soon after the first of the year, as I need my kitchen in December.

My brother-in-law will soon be going into a nursing home due to the quick and terrible toll that his Parkinson’s dementia has taken on him over the past year.  This makes me very sad because his physical health is still mostly good overall.  This process has been extremely hard on his immediate family, as there was disagreement a few months ago between all of them about the best plan for him going forward.  Now, though, everyone (supposedly) is in agreement that this is the best option for him.  It’s still just so sad, though.  We also agree that it is past time for him to make that move.

I recently watched the horrific flooding in Central Texas on television and online as it tore through many beloved areas where we vacationed when was a child and places we still visit today, too.  The big bridge in Kingsland that was washed away was adjacent to the cabins where my family always vacationed in the summers during my childhood and even later in my life.  As I watched the live video of the bridge washing away that morning, tears came as so many memories from childhood seemed to just wash away, too.  We spent the Bicentennial 4th of July in 1976 watching the wonderful boat parade and fireworks from that very bridge.  These days, we regularly visit nearby Inks Lake State Park in our RV, but it also flooded this fall and suffered from a bad fire earlier this year.  But, my fellow Texans are resilient, and they will recover.

I’ve been down for a couple of weeks with a bad cold and hope to get more rest over the next few days to hopefully help get past the worst of this stuff.  I set a goal to write an update here this week, though, and I’m happy to at least get that done now because it’s just been way too long since I’ve updated here.

I hope all you nice folks are doing well, and I look forward to catching up soon.

 

 

Busy, Busy, Busy!

My goodness, it HAS been a while since I’ve checked in here.  All is well, and I’ve just been busy.  Here’s some of what’s been occupying my time over the past few months.

I’m a volunteer working gal!  I’ve been helping a younger extended family member get a new business up and running, and it’s mostly been lots of fun for me while helping them with some *much needed* advice from my own experiences in this area.  I’ve also had the opportunity to learn more in some things that peaked my curiosity, too.  I’m still involved in this effort, so it will continue to take some of my time each week for awhile until they are ready to take things over 100% on their own.

We celebrated Hubby’s 60th birthday the first week of October in Washington D. C.!  I have been there several times, but he had never been to see any of the great sights there.  It was a truly fabulous and memorable trip, and we were joined by some friends and our daughter from California.  While I still managed to get lots of great photos, I didn’t really focus on photography.  It was a time to just celebrate, enjoy our company and see the many great sights!  Early October was a great time to visit the area as the weather was perfect and crowds were light.

 

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The Jefferson Memorial on our Monuments by Moonlight Tour

 

Hubby and I continue to travel by RV regularly for short trips, mostly returning to our favorite state parks.  We nearly froze to death in central Texas the week after Christmas this year, though, as a fairly epic icy cold blast hit and kept the temperatures below freezing for an extended period of time.  I think the lowest overnight temp was about 19 degrees, our coldest temp to date while camping in the RV.  BRRRRR!!!  That trip mostly broke my desire to go out on another winter RV trip this year.  Fortunately, another couple met us there for the duration of the trip, so we were able to pass some of the time sightseeing together, playing cards inside and sharing lots of good food.

 

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Camping at Inks Lake State Park the week after Christmas was a *cold* experience!

 

However, we finally enjoyed a long weekend in the RV in early March in warmer weather that was just delightful.  It’s always good to go check on our favorite bison pals a couple of times each year!  On our most recent trip, two of these big ol’ guys surprised us while hiking on a trail at the bottom of the canyon, and we had to turn around when they didn’t budge.  Two more also darted out in front of us from behind some brush while we were walking on one of the main park roads and scared us to death, narrowly missing a pickup that was driving across the road, too.  That’ll wake you up!  We also enjoyed a great weekend at this park with several other couples back in October, too.

 

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It’s always fun to see our bison pals at Caprock Canyons State Park!

 

Without a doubt, there are *lots* of winter Texans around our area right now.  Just in the short time we were here, we saw eight RVs camped from out of state, with none of the states being close to Texas except Colorado.  Most were from the northeastern part of the country.  No doubt, this is just one of the reasons it’s getting harder and harder to get weekend RV sites in our area, pretty much year-round, along with increasing numbers of people in the state taking up RVing themselves.  Truly, it’s getting to be a huge issue for us, and we’re resigned now to booking sites months in advance, but that wasn’t even good enough on one occasion last year.  Bummer!  I cannot even begin to imagine how full-timers attempt to live in Texas now, unless they are satisfied to spending weekends in Wal-Mart parking lots.

There’s some big excitement coming up for us this summer, as we’re finally going to take my “big bucket list” trip in July!  I turn 60 in May, and June starts our 40th year of marriage together, with that anniversary coming in June 2019.  So, we are combining the celebration of these big milestones and taking one big trip this summer while things have seemingly worked out quite well for us to do that.  More to come later, but for now, I can definitely say it’s not at RV trip.  I think there is a very real possibility that neither of us may want to leave there, too.  And as we’ve worked on adjusting our allotted vacation days to do this, we’ve also discovered that taking two weeks off is actually something that is now feasible for us going forward, which is exciting in itself, if we want to do that in coming years prior to retirement.  We’ve never taken a two-week vacation since we’ve been married.

My neck issue is greatly improved since the procedure last summer, but in late January, I hurt my left hand, wrist, lower arm, most likely from lifting heavy boxes.  It’s most likely just a bad sprain, and I’ve been wearing an ugly black brace ever since.  It seems a bit better, but I think it’s going to just take time to heal, especially since I can’t really keep from using it regularly.

My apologies for not checking in with my favorite bloggers here over the past few months.  I guess there are times that I just need to put some things away to adequately focus on other areas, and this has been such a time.  I hope to catch up with you all soon, though.  And for my fellow RVers, we saw the RV Wanderlust couple’s RV on our most recent outing at Caprock Canyons earlier this month, as their website was shared on the front-end of their RV in our campground.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to meet them personally, as they pretty much pulled in right before we departed.  I don’t know if any of you have met them or not during your own travels.

I’ll try very hard to not take such long blogging breaks in the future!

Wordless Wednesday – Antelope Horns and Bees

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Catching Up – Lightning Round

Time to play catch up here.

I’ve been quite busy lately, so in an effort to catch up here a bit, I will just play a little lightning round question and answer game.

Question:  “What has kept you so busy lately?”

Answer:  Helping my oldest nephew get my sister and brother-in-law (his mother and father) moved to a new mobile home on his property.. and a very nice one at that.  Let’s just say we have all learned *a lot* about mobile homes over the past few weeks!  Interesting stuff, and I’m glad to know a lot more about them now.

2017-02-10-13-37-11smQuestion:  “Why the rush to move them?”

Answer:  My brother-in-law was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a few months ago, and my sister’s health (both physical and mental) continues to decline, not improve.  She has fallen twice recently and broke her elbow and a toe.  Neither of them can adequately care for the other now, it seems, and moving them to a home on their oldest son’s farm will make it easier for him and his large family to care for them when needed.

My nephew and his family are going to earn lots of gold stars in their Heavenly crowns for taking this responsibility on, too.  I’ve been trying to help where I can to make this happen as quickly as possible because it’s been a huge task, and other family members aren’t helping much, if at all.

Question:  “Have you been anywhere in the RV lately?”

Yes, we went on a great little five day trip to Lake Mineral Wells State Park (Prairies and Lakes region) and Fort Richardson State Park (Panhandle-Plains region) a couple of weeks ago to use Hubby’s last three vacation days before they expired the first week of March.  It was our first time to visit these two state parks, and we really liked both of them and the lovely RV sites.

Fort Richardson was a nice surprise and nicer than we thought it would be, too.  The fort site itself was so interesting to see, and our campsite sat right on a little spring-fed creek that was just delightful.  The spring was only about 50 yards upstream, so the water was crystal clear.

This was a bit of a landmark trip for us.  By finally visiting Fort Richardson State Park, we’ve now visited every state park in the Panhandle-Plains region except one, Possum Kingdom, since we started traveling by RV 5 1/2 years ago.  When you look at how large this region is geographically, I think that’s a decent milestone because we only vacation by RV.  (We probably won’t go to Possum Kingdom anytime soon, unfortunately, because a terrible fire struck there a few years ago, but maybe we can just make a day visit there to sometime to check it off our list.)

Of course, we’ve visited other parks outside the region, including state parks in the Big Bend region, the Hill Country region and the Prairies and Lakes region.  But, it’s great that we’ve finally made it to all the parks in our home region now that we want to see at this time.  Lake Mineral Wells is in the Prairies and Lakes Region, and we certainly enjoyed our beautiful lakeside campsite.  Hubby also caught a catfish but threw it back.  I enjoyed just sitting by the lake while he fished, and the dogs joined us lakeside a few times, too.

We both needed a nice, relaxing trip, and this whole trip was great for us for that very reason.

 

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What a great, lakefront site we had at Lake Mineral Wells State Park!

 

Some day, we hope to actually visit every state park in Texas, so this is a good start for now.

2017-02-28-22-49-52Question:  “How’s the weather been lately?”

Pretty good, nice actually, except for two wild and windy West Texas dust storms that were just hideous.  We had to come home early from our stay at Lake Mineral Wells State Park to avoid driving the next day in one of those two wind storms, too.  When the weather alert mentions “Flaming Tumbleweeds” in the forecast, it’s best to just avoid traveling in a high profile vehicle, I think!

Question:  “Have you been doing anything else?”

Yes, cleaning out *that* closet in the back bedroom.  I got interrupted in the middle of that big project to help move my sister, so everything is just a disaster back there right now.  Ugh.

Question:  “Anything else of interest you want to share before you get back to your urgent tasks?”

Yes, one more thing.  Since my sister is downsizing her home, I worked a trade with her.  I bought them a new bed set for their new home in exchange for all of china and crystal she had from both of our grandmothers.  If I didn’t do that, she was going to sell it off to strangers, and I couldn’t bear the thought of her doing that.  I absolutely did not need any of this, but I wanted to keep it in the family.2017-03-06-08-59-10

I now have FIVE SETS OF CHINA.  Five of them.  Cinco conjuntos de.  My husband just rolled his eyes when I shared this tidbit with him.  Bless his heart.  But when I get *that* closet cleaned out, we will have plenty of room to store all of them for awhile.  At some point, I will have to decide who gets what between immediate and extended family members, but not anytime soon.

I also have a set of Christmas dishes, too… in addition to the four smaller sets of dishes we use regularly.  And what about a few of those interesting depression glass pieces?  Lead crystal bowls?  (Thankfully, I only have one little set of cute Corelle dishes in the RV.)

I may or may not have a dish problem.

I may need to even write a post soon with photos of all the dishes in my life, as well as the crystal sets, three nice sets of stainless and one very nice set of silver.  Oh yes, I have silver service pieces, too, all pieces that belonged to family members, and I’m determined to make sure they all stay with family members that will not sell them off, if possible. And speaking of those silver pieces, it’s time for a good polish.

Yes, as one dear friend put it, I am now the family museum.  I know these treasures will only be mine for a little while, so I will enjoy them while I can and do my best to keep them safe in the process.  They are just stuff, but they all bring such special memories with them, and that’s what is most important to me.

That’s it for today’s lightning round!  It’s time to get busy again on this Monday when the wind is supposed to once again roar with flaming tumbleweeds!

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Ugh.

 

 

 

 

 

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.