Monday, January 27, 2020

To buy or not to buy . . .

Staying in one spot in south Texas for a couple months, it is the best time to take care of some major shopping purchases. Now we have the time and the close proximity to major sellers to get things bought. Most men would think that is a dangerous combination for their wives. But Denisa doesn't really like to shop, and we don't have room in the motor home for extra purchases. So the "major shopping purchases" we are talking about are just replacements for things that are wearing out since we started full-timing.

That would include our couch. We replaced the upholstery on our captain's chairs over a year ago when the "ultra-leather" started cracking. Much discussion has been made on the Tiffin forum about the upholstery fabric used in their motor homes a few years ago. Just like the chairs, our couch cushions also started cracking.

Mark sent the picture above as proof of the deterioration of the fabric. But unlike the Flexsteel Company, who stood behind the chairs and sent us new covers, the couch manufacturer didn't do anything to help us. So we shopped for a new sofa, hoping to replace it with something that had recliners and was more comfortable. But whatever you buy must be bolted to the floor, and will have to be rigged to include seat belts. La-z-boy is the easiest replacement because its furniture comes with backs that come off--making them much easier to get into that narrow 26-inch motor home door. We shopped and figured, and Mark made a detailed diagram of all the measurements of the slide and the space available for a replacement couch. It was further complicated by the window, and the valances on the wall, and the slide measurements. To buy or not to buy?

We thought we had found a good option, only to realize that it was two inches too deep to fit into our slide when reclined. We were so sad! So we decided NOT to buy. Instead, we got only the cushions reupholstered. We have found that south Texas is a great pace to find quality workmanship at a fair price. We got the two cushions done with life-time fabric on both sides (the originals were only upholstered on the top) using materials that the upholsterer had in stock. We think that they match the arms and back of the sofa very well. So our decision this time was not to buy--but to repair.

Our tow vehicle odometer turned over to 100,000 miles on January 1, and we decided it was time to start looking for a replacement. We have really liked our 2014 Honda CRV. It can tow flat with no alterations needed. It has 37 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and that is important for storing our inflatable kayak, bike gear, camping chairs, and all the miscellaneous junk that happens when you live on the road. It has basically become our "garage" for storing things we need as we wander.

We would have replaced it with another Honda CRV, but in 2015 the manufacturer changed the transmission so that it is no longer towable. Industry-wide changes to auto transmissions have really reduced the number of good towable vehicles. So Mark had to re-research our options for a replacement. He used the Motorhome Magazine Dingy Guide, but over and over he read that you have to check the owner's guide to be sure that even the models listed in the guide would work for us. His short list of replacements included the Chevrolet Colorado pickup. But only the four-wheel-drive model is towable. We would gain some storage, but would have to add an expensive cover for the back. This model would also be more expensive, gets worse gas mileage, and is heavier to tow.

We looked at several Jeep models--from the new pickup to the Grand Cherokee. Some were too little, some too big, and all of them seem to have a bad reputation for reliability.

We were pretty thorough with our shopping. One of our concerns is the storage, so we even moved the tub that holds our inflatable boat into the car to see what space was left over for our other outdoor hobby equipment. Our boat almost filled this Jeep Cherokee's 26 cubic feet of storage, and totally blocked the rear view mirror's view.

The Jeep GRAND Cherokee has 36 cubic feet of storage space. So it would be able to hold all of our equipment. But it is bigger, heavier, longer, and much more expensive. We would have to buy the 4-wheel drive model in both of these jeep models to be able to tow behind the motor home. That also makes them more expensive.

We wanted to see the Ford Ranger pickup, but again the only model towable was the four-wheel-drive. The price tag on the luxury model scared us, and the dealer didn't even have any of the cheaper models in stock because they are so popular.

The General Motors line has two SUVs that can be towed--Chevrolet Equinox and the Buick Envision. We thought one was too little, and the other was too big. Just like Goldilocks, we couldn't find anything that was "just right." Buying a new tow vehicle is a major decision, because we will also have the expense of getting the air brakes mounted on it, adding a hitch that will fit our bicycle carrier. and bolting on a baseplate that attaches to the towing apparatus. It's an expensive and time-consuming process after the new car purchase. To buy or not to buy?

So after hours of research and a day of shopping, we have decided to drive our old car for another year. We hope this decision doesn't leave us stranded on the side of the road with a major repair bill. But we will definitely be looking for a vehicle in the next year.

In the middle of all this shopping and research for couches and cars, our computer decided not to turn on one morning. It looked like we were going to be making yet another unplanned purchase. Is it the charger or the computer that has gone bad? To buy or not to buy?

Denisa is glad to be married to a handyman that knows his way around a computer. He took it completely apart and worked his magic to get it working once again. So the decision is "not to buy" once again. But just like the other decisions, we'll probably be seeing a new computer some time in our future.

This seems to be a season of "to buy or not to buy" for us. We've spent the time researching and shopping, and we didn't buy anything new. But we are more informed and more ready when we make that decision that we have to buy. It's not glamorous, but this is yet just another part of wandering this season.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Eating our way across south Texas

Since returning to south Texas from our Christmas trip, we have resumed the activities that we enjoy at Bentsen Grove Resort. One of those activities would have to be eating the local food. It's a different life-style from our wandering around the country, but we enjoy these two months of staying in one place. It's a great respite from the cold weather that most of the country is "enjoying." We've been wearing shorts and t-shirts and loving the blue-sky warm weather days of January.  The average January temperature is in the 70s.We love the palm and citrus trees that surround us.

We have to say that there is less fruit on the park's trees than we have ever seen here. Last year, this tree was covered with oranges at this same time. This year you only see two!

The orange tree closest to us is a favorite with the resident birds. By the time the fruit ripens, the birds have already pecked a hole through the rind, and then neatly removed all the juicy fruit through that opening.

Another sign that the citrus season is crazy, are the blooms on our closest tree. These usually don't appear until mid-March. But this year we're seeing many trees in the park in full bloom in mid-January.

A tree shouldn't be blooming when fruit is still on the branches. But you can see the fruit in the blurry background behind the blooms. We wish we had the capability to share the sweet scent of these citrus blooms with you. It is Denisa's favorite smell in the world.

With fewer pieces of fruit on a tree, some are growing to gigantic size. This is a lemon from a neighbor's tree, and it is bigger than Denisa's hand. We made lemon ice and lemon pudding from a couple of these big fellows.

Last year we were juicing oranges and drinking pitcher-fulls every couple days. But for the first time in the six winters we have stayed in this park, we have purchased fruit and juice. We finally got to squeeze some fresh fruit this week, but it may be the last time.

One good place to buy fresh produce is the local pulga. That's the Spanish word for "flea" so this is a local flea market. Most of the vendors speak only Spanish, so they keep the pricing structure simple--most things are bagged in units that cost one dollar. We had been buying 5 avocados for $1, but today they were two for $1. Mangos were 6 for $1, and large bell peppers were 3 for $1. A $1 bag had 20 limes in it. The watermelon was $2. Last time we bought 3 pineapples for $1, but this week they were $1 each. So it's always a fun shopping experience with interesting bargains.

We weren't in the market for birds, but they are also available at the pulga.

Besides citrus and other fresh produce, we have other interesting options for food here in south Texas. We enjoy eating with the locals at the pulga, ordering things that we don't know how to pronounce. We also eat most of the meals prepared in the resort's kitchen. Aptly named "The Y-cook Cafe" we don't see any reason to cook if we can get a good meal just a short walk from our front door. They use volunteer help in the kitchen to keep the prices low. This year we are volunteering on ice cream nights, and we are working on our swirling skills to make a pretty serving of ice cream. 

By checking the local "Winter Texan" newspaper, we find other resorts that have meals that are open to the public. We've tried Taco Tuesday and Fish Friday at other parks, as well as breakfast buffets in the area. So after losing weight this summer while we hiked up north, we can tell you that we are gaining weight as we eat our way across the south.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A list of our favorite places of 2019

Every year we look back over our latest travels and put together our list of things that we enjoyed the most. These are places that we would certainly recommend to others taking a trip through the central part of the United States into the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. The list of the best hikes is longer this year, because we were in such majestic places. We were certainly blessed to wander some of God's most amazing wonders in 2019! The listed items are in the order we found them in our travels this year. We enjoyed putting together the list of a few of our favorite things . . . hikes, kayak trips, and over-all favorite experiences of 2019.

We try to include the location of each of our favorites. You will probably recognize the abbreviations of the states in the United States. But we weren't familiar with the Canadian provinces until this summer, when we traveled in the province of Alberta (AB) and British Columbia (BC).

Favorite Experiences 

Viewing the best Texas bluebonnet spring bloom we have ever seen - Hill Country, TX

Climbing to the top of the dome at the Kansas State Capitol tour - Topeka, KS
Attending the Swedish Festival - Stromsburg, NE
Eating the Cowboy Fondue and then going to the Musical - Medora, ND

Dancing at the Great Canadian Barn Dance - Hill Spring, AB
Calgary Stampede Festival - Calgary, AB
Eating new-to-us Canadian cuisine like nanaimo bars, poutine, beaver tails, eat-more bars, etc.
Hiking in the Rocky Mountains from Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, through Idaho, Montana, and Colorado
Walking on a glacier - Icefield Glacier Centre, AB

Picking huckleberries at Rock Lake - Trout Creek, MT
Finding wildlife at the National Bison Range - Charlo, MT
Learning about the salmon run at the Salmon Festival - Stanley, ID
Attending the Eastern Idaho State Fair - Blackfoot, ID
Caving at Craters of the Moon National Monument - Arco, ID

Driving through the wild horses of Wyoming - Rock Springs, WY
Cheering at the Cattledog Trials - Steamboat Springs, CO
Viewing the Elk Rut at Rocky Mountain National Park - Estes Park, CO

Favorite Short Hikes 
Charron Gardens - Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge - Lawton, OK
Kinney Coulee - Makoshika State Park - Glendive, MT

Rim Trail - Sluice Boxes State Park - Belt, MT
Ptarmigan Cirque - Kananaskis Country - AB
Yoho Lake - Yoho National Park - Field, BC
Edith Cavell Trail - Jasper National Park - Jasper, AB

Beauty Creek Trail - Jasper National Park - AB
Goldbug Hot Springs - Challis, ID
Sound of Silence Trail - Dinosaur National Monument - Vernal, UT
Lily Mountain - Rocky Mountains National Park - Estes Park, CO
Rams Head - Coral Bay, St. John Island, USVI

Favorite Long Hikes
Lone Tree Loop - Theodore Roosevelt National Park - Medora, ND
Prairie View to the Fire Watch Tower - Kananaskis Country, AB

Sulphur Mountain with the Gondola Ride Down - Banff National Park - Banff, AB
Plain of the Six Glaciers - Banff National Park - Lake Louise, AB
Trail of the Ten Peaks - Banff National Park - Moraine Lake, AB

Lake Helen - Banff National Park, Lake Louise, AB
Bald Hill - Jasper National Park - Maligne Lake, AB

Wilcox Pass - Jasper National Park, Icefield Parkway, AB
Abott Ridge - Glacier National Park, BC (The one hike on the list that Denisa would never do again)
Lake Eva and Miller Lake - Mt. Revelstoke National Park, BC

Roman Lakes - Bonner's Ferry, ID
Bear Lake to Fern Lake to Cub Lake  - Rocky Mountains National Park - Estes Park, CO
Alpine Lake/Baron Divide - Sawtooth National Recreation Area - Stanley, ID

Favorite Kayak Trips
Niobrara River - Valentine, NE
Upper Kananaski Lake - Kananaski Country, AB

Lake Louise - Banff National Park, AB
Moraine Lake - Banff National Park, AB
Columbia Wetlands - Golden, BC
Columbia River - Invermere to Radium Hot Springs, BC
Norbury Lake - Provincial Park - Fort Steele, BC

Salmon River to Tower Rock - Salmon, ID
Redfish Lake - Sawtooth Mountains Recreation Area - Stanley, ID
Flaming Gorge - National Recreation Area - Dutch John, Utah

We'll always have fond memories of 2019 and the beauty and great experiences we found this year. We were truly blessed to wander more of God's wonders this year!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Our 2019 Travel Map and Summary

Every year Mark makes a map that outlines where we have traveled in the last twelve months. 2019 was a year we'll never forget, as we made our first loop over the Canadian border. It was a great time to travel to Canada with an exchange rate in our favor. Most of the time we only paid 75 cents to the Canadian dollar! We dusted off our math skills as we learned to translate liters to gallons, kilometers to miles, and Canadian dollars to U.S. dollars. This year we added one more national park to our long list of U.S. parks visited. We also started a new list of Canadian national parks, checking off seven different parks over the border this summer. We loved sitting in those red national park chairs that pointed towards some beautiful views!

It's always interesting to see a picture of the path we took over the last twelve months. The following map includes points that represent stops of at least one night. The list on the right includes the name of each campground. Clicking on the picture below will make it easier to read.

We had been looking forward to this trip through the Canadian Rockies, and we did more pre-planning than usual. We made reservations for all of our Canadian summer stops, and we were glad that we did. The national parks in Canada were very crowded, and it wouldn't have been any fun trying to find places to camp on the fly. Four years of experience helped us to guess how long we would like to stay at each spot, and we have to say that we did a pretty good job making reservations and plotting a comfortable speed of moving about Canada. We would definitely recommend reservations to anyone making a similar journey during those popular summer months.

We added only one new state (North Dakota) and two new Canadian provinces (Alberta and British Columbia) to our list of places visited in the motor home in the last five years. It's hard to believe that we have now been traveling full-time for five full years!

Five years must be the average life-expectancy for water pumps and electrical gadgets. Even though we have been blessed with great adventures, we had a run of bad luck this summer. For the first time in five years, the motor home had to be towed when the motor shut down on the side of the highway in South Dakota. A week later we were on the side of the road with a blow out on the car, and ended up buying four new tires. We had to replace our tire monitor, and our cell phone booster this summer. Then the electrical transfer switch went out, leaving us without power inside the motor home. All of those things happened within a three-week time period. It was an expensive summer of replacing things!

Our year by the numbers:
We parked at 59 different camping spots.
Our average nightly camping fee is $11.29 (includes free nights boondocking or staying with family and friends).
Our average paid nightly camping fee is $18.08.
We visited eleven different states this year.
We spent $2,583.10 on 890 gallons of diesel (at an average price of $3.03 per gallon) for the motor home.
We spent $72.91 on 25 gallons of DEF for the motor home.
We don't even try to keep up with the amount of gasoline we purchased for the car, as we use it to explore while we are camped. But we can tell that its odometer turned over 100,000 miles on January 1, 2020.

2019 was another great year of wandering God's wonders through some of the most beautiful landscapes we have ever seen. We are blessed!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Happy New Year 2020!

We're a little delayed with our blog-posting because of computer problems. Mark is trouble-shooting our options while we are waiting on replacement parts. So even though our "Happy New Year 2020" wish is very late now, it's still sincere. We hope you have a great year!

After Christmas, we left the Kansas City area to continue our marathon car road trip. We drove six more hours in order to spend time with Mark's Mother in the panhandle of Oklahoma. That also allowed us time with nieces and nephews, and all of Mark's brothers and sister and their spouses. We are lucky in that we spent one evening with all of Mark's siblings and his Mother; then the next morning we drove four hours more to Oklahoma City to spend some time with both of Denisa's sisters and spouses and her Mother. We love the holidays that bring our families together! Of course we forgot to take pictures of both groups!

We spent New Year's Eve at dinner with our youngest son and daughter-in-law and her parents, followed by a night watching the Oklahoma City Thunder game and playing cards. We were barely awake at midnight, because we knew we had to be up early on New Year's morning. That's because we were making the long, long drive back to the Rio Grande Valley in one day. Along with Denisa's Mother, we planned to leave Oklahoma City at 7 a.m. It's characteristic of her family that we were actually on the road at 6:40 a.m.--twenty minutes early!

We found that January 1st is a great day to travel the busy interstate. We drove down I-35 through Dallas, Waco, Austin, and San Antonio with  no traffic delays. That might be a record! We were road weary when we pulled into our RV home that evening. We have traveled 2,485 miles in the last eleven days. That's around 40 hours in the car--certainly a faster pace than our usual motor home wanderings that we prefer. But we can't imagine missing the time with family during the Christmas holidays. So we'll end this road-weary blog with a few last pictures of the reason that we made such a long drive. Happy New Year 2020! May God Bless you in this new year!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Wandering thru the Wonders of CHRISTmas with a Toddler

After a three-day visit with our youngest son and his wife, it was time to head north for the Christmas holiday. Blake and Claire bought one-way airline tickets to visit us, because we could drive them back home to Oklahoma on our way north. They are already missing those palm trees! 

We also took Denisa's Mother to Oklahoma City to spend Christmas with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We should have taken a picture of the packed car, as the five of us loaded luggage and Christmas packages into our little car. It was a crowded twelve-hour drive to Oklahoma City! We were a little sad when we dropped Blake and Claire off at their car. This is the first time in his 28-year-old life that we won't be with Blake for Christmas. We're so glad we got to spend those days with them in South Texas!

We spent one night in Oklahoma City before heading even further north for the six-hour drive to the Kansas City area to see our other son, daughter-in-law, and our granddaughter--Luke, Jordan, and Carter.

We had to drive 18 hours to get there, but we just couldn't stand the thought of missing Christmas with our only grandchild and her family! Wandering His wonders includes seeing CHRISTmas through the eyes of a small child!

Luke had clinic hours and hospital rounds on Christmas eve and Christmas day, so his little family couldn't leave town. Since they weren't mobile this year, they graciously hosted the holiday at their house. We were blessed with beautiful weather during the days around Christmas. We were playing outside without jackets!

Starting with the year after they got married, we have celebrated Christmas together with our daughter-in-law's family. That way we get to share this sweet little family, instead of taking turns spending the holiday with them. Because the weather was so nice, all of us got to take a walk to the park on the 24th of December. Carter is leading the pack, insisting on walking instead of riding in her stroller.

Our outing on the 25th was to downtown Kansas City. Jordan's family has a tradition of climbing their local "mountain" to sing "Go Tell it on the Mountain" on Christmas Day. So we climbed to the top of the slope at the World War I Museum and sang it from there.

It's a great view of the Kansas City sky line from the top of the museum memorial. It's also a great place for a toddler to get some exercise. Denisa likes this picture of little Carter trying to keep up with Granddad's long legs.

We also walked to another downtown landmark--Union Station. The inside was decked out in Christmas finery.

That big tree looked even taller when compared with a precious toddler pointing up to its finery.

We like a big decorated tree, but we have to say our focus is on that little girl at the bottom.

Union Station is home to scores of model train sets. Can you believe that we failed to take pictures of the elaborate trains, including one big enough for children to ride? Once again, all the grandparents were focused on little Carter.

Back at home, we spent part of the afternoon making Christmas sugar cookies. Even the grandfathers got in on the decorating this year.

Carter didn't understand the concept of decorating cookies. As soon as we put one down for her to decorate, she took a bite instead. She thought they looked and tasted just fine without all that trouble. We have to include a picture of some of our finished cookies. Will you be surprised to know that Mark decorated the two on the right?

Another Christmas craft project came in the form of a dirty Santa gift from an earlier family gathering. This RV gingerbread house project was just perfect for a picture in our blog.

We stayed in Lenexa a couple days after Christmas, enjoying more time with relatives. We love having the opportunity to be at her crib when Carter first wakes up in the morning. We think that's the cutest little morning wake-up alarm ever!

 After Denisa's sister pointed out that we weren't texting her any pictures of Denisa and Carter together, Mark made a concerted effort to get that picture.

We found that Denisa was more of the problem, as she often closes her eyes or has strange expressions on her face when a camera appears. So this assignment took lots of effort from Mark! This picture is from a walk where Carter was blowing kisses to the passing vehicles.

He also managed to catch some belly laugh pictures that will help us remember this time forever.

Besides belly laughing, another favorite activity is cleaning. Carter loves wiping down her little dining table and chairs over and over.

Once everything was clean enough, we watched as she seated her stuffed animals on the chairs around her little table. Then she pretended to serve them tea. But before they drank, she folded her hands and bowed her head and sang, "God our Father, once again, we thank you for our blessings. AMEN!" We end this blog thinking of the many blessings that God has given us as we continue to wander through His wonders. One of those wonders is seeing the magic of CHRISTmas through the eyes of a 19-month-old toddler. AMEN!