Saturday, February 11, 2012

RVing is for Me

Life has an uncanny way of changing. At least it has for Deborah and me.  We started out hundreds of miles apart, living in separate cities and states.  You have heard the saying that love will find a way and it certainly did in our case.  We have gone from a long distance relationship in separate states to shacking up together in Atlanta, Georgia to restoring an old historic home in Chattanooga to a luxury condo on the Tennessee River to a 350 square foot 5th wheel.  I have loved it all! 

We began our RV journey back in June of last year (2011) after selling nearly everything we possessed.  We said goodbye to family and friends and embraced our new lifestyle.  I have always known that I am adaptable and that I can be happy wherever I find myself.  Deborah has a different attribute that I call a wandering spirit.  I find that she is a bit of a gypsy.  Ever since we have been together she has loved each and every part of our lives.  Eventually, her internal clock gets to a point that makes her ready for change.   It does not happen on a regular schedule but it does happen.  Just when I think we are settled in a wonderful place for the rest of our lives, she is ready for a change.  From my point of view, it keeps life interesting and I am ready to go right along with her.  This last change was the most dramatic of all when we decided to "go fulltime RVing".  Using the old saying, "Eyes wide open", I fully expect another change at some point which I fully intend to embrace when it happens.  That's one of the fun things about her. 

Deborah with Judy and Allen from Santa Fe
As I have gotten older (now 59) I probably have certain things that I would not want to give up.  I can assure everyone that I have not given up anything that would make my new life less satisfying.  The biggest challenge in this new lifestyle is keeping in touch with my kids and with friends so they do not feel they have been abandoned.  I feel fortunate that we live in this time period where we have access to cell phones and internet just about anywhere we travel.  Not that long ago we would have been forced to find a hotspot to send and receive emails and cell coverage was very sporadic in a large part of the country.  I cannot say that it is perfect, but it is pretty good.   Using these technological marvels we have been able to keep in touch with everyone.  I particularly love Skype and Apple's Facetime.  Deborah is constantly on Facebook and keeps me updated on most of our friends and family.  How did early RV pioneers ever survive?

Kent and Phil in Rapid City, SD
My biggest worry was that we would not make any new friends as we constantly move around the country.  This has proven to be a non-issue.  We chose to winter over in Yuma, AZ at the Palms RV Resort.  We are here for five months.  As I peer out our window, I can name every person parked around us and we have made tons of friends with Canadians and Americans from all over the park some of whom, I believe, will be lifelong friends.  Even getting to Yuma we made new friends at places we only stayed at for far shorter periods.  There was Bill and Gloria in Crossville, TN who are also in Yuma right now; Kent and Cookie in Custer, SD who we plan to hook up with in the future; Allen and Judy in Santé Fe, NM who just visited us here in Yuma.  People who RV are in a “club” of sorts.  We connect at a basic level by sharing something in common.  I have met a few couples that I would not choose to hang with, but that is less common.  For the most part, it is a genuine pleasure to get to know new neighbors, to hear their stories and to share new experiences. 

Catherine and Jo Beth with Deborah in Santa Fe
Before beginning our journey we attended a rally, RV-Dreams, in Sevierville, Tennessee.  I had a new post recently and was thrilled to see Gin and Syl post a comment to my story.  They were a beautiful and energetic couple that we met at the Rally.  As we traveled to South Dakota to establish our legal residence, we stopped by a COE campground in Monroe City, Missouri and visited with a couple we also met at the rally, Bob and Janet.  The two of them are just the most wonderful people you could know and Deborah is in touch through Facebook with them.  Bob made the best pizzas in his Green Egg grill.  While in Santé Fe we hooked up with an adorable and interesting couple, Catherine and Jo Beth, who we met at the rally.  We are also keeping in touch with Dick and Michelle from Maine.  There are many others we are staying in touch with that we met at the rally.  I think that things like Facebook and Blogs perpetuate these connections and I thank my lucky stars that we live when we do.
Bill and Gloria Snodgrass with Deborah and Phil
in Crossville, TN
I have learned so much about our rig from other RVers.  One our first stops was in Crossville, Tennessee.  We had to stay there longer than expected in order to have some warranty work completed in Knoxville.  While there we became friends with Bill and Gloria.  They had a DRV Mobile Suites unit a couple of years older than ours and a Ram 3500 dually truck like ours.  Bill took me under his wing and advised me on how to maintain my unit and truck.  He had been an aircraft mechanic in a prior life and knows the importance of staying on top of things.  He and Gloria are just the best!  They own a home here in Yuma and we have gotten together several times.   Bill and I recently rode up to Quartzsite together.

Phil's Wire Bonsai Tree
The pace of life seems slower right now but I think that is due to us being retired and not our new RV lifestyle.  There is always plenty to do, especially here in Yuma at the Palms.  I play tennis three times a week, volleyball twice a week, go to pottery classes three times a week, and try to make the burger bash on Saturdays.  Besides that, we have traveled down to Alagodones, Mexico a few times with friends, gone to concerts at the Yuma theatre, and seen all the latest action movies.  I have also conducted three multiple day classes to teach others how to make wire trees.  This was my contribution to all the wonderful amenities provided to us here at the Palms.  For anyone coming to Yuma for the winter, I recommend this resort.  It is FAB-U-LOUS, capitalized!  I have not seen anyone playing water volleyball yet but you can bet I will be in there with them when they start playing.

Phil throwing clay at The Palms RV Resort
It’s February and we plan on leaving at the end of March.  We have begun planning our next path.  We think we will head toward California, Oregon and Washington then head back toward Chattanooga and Atlanta by September.  We are planning on taking our granddaughter to Disney World in October and that is the only fixed event in our schedule.  We have a lot of decisions to make between now and then.  We will definitely winter over in Florida next year in the little Scottish community of Dunedin.

Oh, and one more thing.  Deb and I have had another lifestyle change.  She has always been interested in her quality of food.  She correctly believes in, "you are what you eat".  While in Yuma, some new friends had us watch another of those propaganda movies about the evils of eating flesh and of course Deb insisted on me sitting through it.  The movie was "Forks Over Knives".  Most movies she pushes on me show nasty slaughter houses and inhumane treatment of chickens, pigs and cows.  These movies never had an impact on me like this one.  This movie was from the clinical aspect and focuses on the relationship of diet and disease, and that was what convinced me. I can now say that both of us are on a vegan diet which excludes all meat, dairy, eggs and cheese.  Tough, right?   I can be stubborn and as anyone who knows me will attest, I was a meat and potatoes guy.   I ate very few vegetables.   I encourage everyone to watch this movie and draw their own conclusions.  After six weeks of being on the diet, even with my occasional cheating, I have lost 10 pounds and Deborah has lost 13 pounds.  That fat above my abdomen has disappeared and my spare tire has all but disappeared in just a month.  Deb is also looking pretty sexy.  Deb has to be creative with me since I really don't like vegetables.  She focuses on a lot of grains, beans, fruits, peppers, lettuces and tomatoes.  You can get “fake” meat that is soy and wheat based that has a meat taste and texture, which is pretty good.  I do a lot of stir-frying with these using a minimum amount of olive oil.  You can even have a “fake” hotdog.  I miss my standard old eggs and bacon breakfast but I like my newfound health.  We are both firming up and plan to stick with it.

Check out our travel photos at  I try to keep it fairly current with what we are doing. 

Happy travels to all!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Séance Interrupted by Michael Jordan

My daughter Lindsey for whatever reason has always had a fascination with the occult.  This includes ghosts, witches and to a lesser extent, vampires.  This fascination has been there since she was very little and it is not because we encouraged it.  In fact, we never allowed them to watch those super scary movies at our home.  She is a voracious reader and loved reading everything she could find on these subjects.  There was an incident where one of her friends had taken one of her books on witchcraft to the local Catholic youth meeting and the youth minister saw the book and confiscated it.  Lindsey, who was not a member of this church and not a Catholic approached the minister  to get her book back.  He asked her if she knew there were death spells in the book.  She replied by asking him if he really believed in witchcraft.  She was thirteen at the time.  He did not return the book.

Lindsey wanted to have a séance at her thirteenth birthday sleepover and ask if I could help. I agree as this was something we had done as kids and I saw  no harm in it.  We took the seven girls to the local skating ring which gave me time to arrange some surprises for the séance.  At the time we lived in an interesting house that had a medieval appearing staircase that went from the basement to the second floor.  The basement was one large room that had a sofa, an entertainment area, a foosball table with overhanging light fixture and a large freestanding cardboard Michael Jordan that was close to actual size.  The garage lead into this finished space and there were two access doors.  I solicited my son Mark to help with the arrangements.  We got some clear fishing line and tied it to the light fixture above the foosball table.  We ran the line through one of the exits and secured it for later.   Next, I got the great idea of attaching the line to the top of Michael Jordan's cardboard head and installed some grommets to lead the line out the other exit.  I tested the lines and, sure enough, the light fixture and Michael Jordan definitely rocked.  We were ready for the girls. 

When the girls returned from skating and had had their birthday cake and drinks and Lindsey had opened the birthday presents, they retired to the basement for the séance.  It was my job to explain how to communicate with the dead.  They took for granted that I knew this process and they hung on my every word.  I instructed them to form an unbroken circle by overlapping their hands and holding the hands of the girls on either side of them.  I placed a single candle in the middle of the circle which was the only light source in the room.  I then explained that only one girl should speak during the summoning and that the others should keep their eyes open to observe anything that might happen.  I empathized that they should not interrupt the séance by shouting out if they observed something.  Wait until the summoning was over and then they could compare what each of them observed.  I know this is old hat to most of you but they were young and had no experience.  I asked who they planned on speaking with and they all agreed it was the murdered Czarina, Anastasia.  They had obviously given this some serious thought while at the skating ring.  They elected a spokesperson and as I left with my son, Mark, Lindsey grabbed him  and insisted that he stay in order to protect them.  There was no getting out of it and I knew I was on my own.  I had counted on Mark handling the lights over the foosball table and me, Michael Jordan.  They got down to business as soon as I left. 

I knew the candle light on the floor would magnify the shadows case by the light fixture and Michael Jordan  so I decided to only rock things slightly.  I did not want to overplay my hand.  The way I saw it was the lights moving was the first act and the finality would be Michael Jordan.  I listened through the door and heard the spokesperson saying, " Anastasia, Anastasia, we request your presence" .  I allowed this to continue for a time before I slowly tugged on the fishing line.  It did not take long before was a chorus of screams and confusion.  I immediately ceased my tugging and waited for the uproar to stop.  It took a long time.  During this time my older son Parks showed up and ask what I was doing.  I explained and he was more than happy to help.  I gave him responsibility for the foosball lights and I went to the other door to hand Michael Jordan.  After what seemed like thirty minutes, I heard them start up again.  After several minutes I indicated that Parks should start rocking the light fixture.  Knowing Parks, I figured the fixture was swing hard and fast.  I figured I had better get Michael Jordan moving.  What surprised me was that there was not a peep from the girls.  I had been pulling Michael Jordan's line fairly hard and unless the line to the foosball light had  broken, it was swing wildly.  I decided to give Michael Jordan a really hard yank and did so.  

All hell broke loose at this point.  I am confident that every neighbor we had was startled by the noise level they created.  I waited about thirty seconds and then barged into the room.  I turned on the overhead light and observed seven little girls mangled together on the sofa with one little redheaded boy being suffocated in the middle of the pack.  I exclaimed, "what is going on in here".  By that time several of the girls were getting untangled and rushed past me.  I asked, "Where are they going".  Lindsey replied, "They're going home Dad!". 

Lindsey explained what had happened in the room.  They had agreed that they would not panic if the lights started moving again and were ready for that.  When they noticed Michael Jordan moving however, it seemed that he was moving to block their exit from the room.  As I would pull the line tight, he would tip toward the center of the doorway and would eventually make a hoping motion toward the center.  They were being very quite at this point trying not to alert Michael Jordan.  Lindsey, being the brave soul she is, whispered to the other girls that she would get her Dad, that's me.  She was just slipping through the doorway when I did that final and faithful YANK.  Michael Jordan actually jumped onto her.  Honestly, I think that would have even scared the crap out of me.  My son, Mark, who had help set things up and who knew what was happening said it really was scary.

I freely acknowledge that I may have gone a bit too far on this thing as I pictured multiple lawsuits from the other parents for traumatizing these little thirteen year old girls.  I quickly decided to come clean.  I got all the girls to return to the basement and I showed them the fishing line used to make things move.  With the mystery solved, Lindsey proudly proclaimed that I was definitely the best Dad ever.  I still hold that title!

Lindsey will tell you that if she runs into any of these girls, they all recount that night.  I am sure they will never forget it.

Twenty Baseball Tickets

Another notable joke that demonstrates the uncanny ability of guys to intuitively join in on a joke with little or no verbal communication occurred while working at Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Georgia.  There were four of us spread out along three walls in the room.  At some point, Keith turns to D'Ann and ask her to call WGST radio in order to win twenty tickets to the Atlanta Braves game.  She immediately snapped back that he could call himself.  He replied that the station specifically stated that the tenth lady who called would win.  D'Ann gave in at this point and asked someone to call the station.

Before I go on any further let me say that the date was April 1st.  That probable means something to most people but for those not from around here, it is "April Fools" day in the USA.

At the time Keith asked D'Ann to call the station, I am sure he was really trying to win those tickets.  All three of the other folks in the room were huge baseball fans.  Me on the other hand saw an opportunity for a prank.  When D'Ann ask for someone to call the station, David immediately pulled out the phone book and looked up the number.  This was before the internet and online lookups.  He even tried calling the number multiple times only to get the busy signal before I could get the joke going.

I had immediately jumped up and walked across the hall to where Rick was sitting and asked for his direct phone number.  Where upon I wrote it boldly on a sheet of paper.  I explain in a few seconds that D'Ann was about to call him trying to win twenty tickets to the Braves game.  That's it!  I then walked back across the hall and stood behind D'Ann and displayed Rick's phone number.  David glanced up once and the game was on.  Rick took the call with, "WGST playing the hits all day long".  He asked her if she could tell him who wrote "Stairway to Heaven".  She was excited to know this one and replied "Led Zeppelin".  He acknowledged her answer and informed her they would send the tickets to her home address.  

When I got back in the room, D'Ann was real excited but also a little skeptical.  She was not totally buying into the whole thing.  I asked one of the receptionist to call her and ask her about the tickets in order to remove her skepticism.  It helped but she was not totally convinced.  I then called D'Anns mom and explained what we had done.  I asked her to call D'Ann and tell her that a couple of her friends had called her to find out if that was her D'Ann who just won the tickets.  She did this about an hour later and that removed all doubt.  We all wanted to go with her to the game and other people in the department inundated her with request as well.

David, Keith, Rick and I all figured her mom who lived with her would spill the beans that evening.  We thought that safer than us cowards doing it at the office.  Unfortunately, her mom only perpetrated the joke further.  Except for her, her entire family knew about the joke.  We were a little stumped and did not know how to end the joke so we decided to just let it ride.  

Over the next month, folks would drop by and ask if she had received the tickets.   On one of these occasions, she proclaimed that she was going to call WGST and find out about her tickets.  I immediately jumped up and got Rick's direct phone number from across the hall.  Rick was not there so it was up to me to answer the phone.  I displayed the number for David to call as I had done before and went to answer the phone.  I answered it the same way that Rick had done before.  D'Ann explained the situation and complained about not receiving the tickets.  I asked if she knew the date that this happened and she spouted out, "April 1st".  I intentionally paused for a long time at this point before asking if she knew the significance to that particular day.  Again, there was an even longer pause from her side.  Finally, I heard her exclaim "Oh My God" from across the hall.  I told her that this had never happened before and that we would have to put her on the radio.  She begged me not to do this. 

When I went back across the hall, D'Ann was explaining that it had all been an April Fool's joke perpetrated by the radio station and that there were no tickets.  When she left the room to tell everybody else, we gave each other hi-fives and they congratulated me on blaming the whole thing on WGST.  We were feeling pretty good at this point.

As "bad" luck will have it, her husband brought the subject up that night at supper by asking if she had received the tickets.  D'Ann launched into the whole explanation about WGST playing the joke on her.  This literally caused her entire family to fall to the floor laughing.  Went they finally were able to communicate the real story, we were all in serious trouble!  Let me just say that it was not a pleasant time to be in the office that next morning.  You have heard the expression, "If looks could kill"?  Refine that to, "If looks could mangle".
In a way, I blame her own family for letting this go on so long.  What do you think?  The worst part may be that Keith and David really did wanted those Brave tickets.

Dr. Pepper "Win a Pickup Truck"

One truism that I have learned during my life is that guys are always ready to join in on a joke.  I tested this with my own kids.  Within seconds my sons, Parks and Mark, would be on board with a joke I was perpetrating.  On the other hand, I was forced to pull Lindsey aside and explain to her that I was about to pull a joke on someone and needed her help.  Otherwise, she would spill the beans and give away the joke.
I cannot describe all the jokes I have perpetrated but there are some noteworthy ones that I think you will enjoy.  Keep in mind that practical jokes are not all them much fun to the target of the jokes.  In my defense however, a joke done properly leaves no room for the target to suspect it is anything but what it appears to be.   My advice is to simply appreciate the effort that one would go to in perpetrating an elaborate joke and laugh it off.  And also, get them back "in kind" at some point in the future.

I was working at Kennestone Hospital in Marietta, Georgia alongside my good friends, Keith and David.  David and I both liked Diet Dr. Pepper which was not sold in the hospital vending machines.  Because of this we would both alternate bring in a carton and sharing them.  During this time Dr. Pepper was having a contest to win a pickup truck and this was proclaimed in bold letters along the top of each can. 
"Win a Pickup Truck"

As it happened, I was working on some overhead transparent slides in the days before laptops and PowerPoint presentations.  For those of you unfamiliar with transparent overhead slides, it is simply a printout on clear plastic that can be projected onto a screen or wall.  I got the bright idea of printing up something that I could cut out and insert into David's empty Dr. Pepper can to make him think that he had won.   I walked across the hall to ask my buddy Rick about what was available in a software product called Harvard Graphics.  I specifically wanted a small pickup truck.  I told him what I was up to and he was immediately on board, surprise, surprise.  Like most jokes, I had not really planned anything and was acting totally from "guy" instinct. 

Rick and I conjured up an image in a circle the same size as the can of a pickup truck with a serial number in the middle of it.  Following the curve of the circle we put the word "WINNER" and placed a toll free "800" telephone number below the truck.  For the "800" number I called a friend who had one and explained my plan.  Of course he was on board as well. 

Once the graphics were printed, cut and inserted into the can it appeared to be printed on aluminum bottom of the can.  It was very professional.  David was not in the office at the time and we played with showing the can around.  We did not let anyone know it was fake.  I called David and told him that I thought he may have won the pickup truck.  I had bought this particular batch of drinks this time and he was so impressed with my honesty.  He knew that I could easily have claimed the can for myself.  Only, I knew it was a fake!
When David arrived the next day, I was ready.  I had already contacted my friend Billy who had the "800" number.  After peering into the can, David gave me an affectionate slap on the back and offered to let me have the truck.  I declined because it would not have been all that funny for me to win.  But I did think this was awfully nice of him. I had set it up with Billy so we could really get David.

In order to understand this you have to know David.  He was from Pittsburgh, PA and was a huge Pirates fan.  He followed their season and constantly threw out player stats.  In fact they were in the playoffs with the Atlanta Braves that year and the winner would go to the World Series.   With this in mind, I had instructed Billy to pose a question that only I would have the correct answer.

When David placed the call, Billy did great.  He answered the phone with "Dr. Pepper Prize Line".  After getting David's contact information, he asked him to provide the serial number in the bottom of the can.  Billy then confirmed that David had indeed won the pickup truck.  He then asked David if he could tell him the newest Dr. Pepper slogan.  There were at least four or five folks in the room and I figgured correctly that David would throw it out to the group for help.  Everyone engaged their brains immediately and while they were thinking I stepped forward and told him that I had just heard the new one.  It was "Dr Pepper makes you stand on your head".  David shook his head and gave me a sour expression.  Someone finally shouted out, "Be a Pepper and Drink Dr. Pepper".  David brighten up.  I interceded and repeated my answer to him once more, "Dr Pepper makes you stand on your head".  I got another shake of the head.  David quickly repeated to Billy,, "Be a Pepper and Drink Dr. Pepper".  To which, Billy replied "No, it is Dr Pepper makes you stand on your head".  With that, David looked at me with sad eyes and proclaimed that his friend had told him that twice.  I shrugged my shoulders and said, "you never listen to me".  Then Billy provided the coup de gras and announced that he would have won a complete package to the World Series for all seven games including airfare and accommodations for four, meals at the finest restaurants and money for incidentals.  With this, David went to his knees and said he would rather have that than the pickup truck.

Setting a joke in motion usually includes not a thought as to how to end the joke and let the object of the joke off the hook.  That was somewhat true this time.  I had built in one more punch that required me to be standing in the doorway in order to let David know it was a joke before things went horribly bad.  The can had been sitting on his desk overnight.  I suggested that David rinse out the can and while he was gone I wrote the "800" number on the white board.  When David returned I told him that the Dr. Pepper folks had called back and wanted him to call them.  The plan was for Billy to explain that his serial number had already been claimed by Andre, someone David knew in the office.  I was at the doorway to prevent him from attacking Andre.  Unfortunately, Billy did not answer the "800" number this time and David recognized the company name.  I knew I was in trouble as soon as he glanced my way.  I will put it this way, David is not a person you want mad at you.  He is a tough Italian who could probably cause a lot of damage if he wanted to do so.

We are still friends now but he is wary of me.  He and I along with Keith started a healthcare software company in 1994 which I retired from in 2011. The company is still going strong. David gave my son, Parks, his old Pontiac Grand Am not long after I pulled this joke on him.  Parks has a lot of fond memories in that car.

One side note that I would like to throw out.  This joke would have been perfect if I could have used an ink during the printing that would have dissolved away when David rinsed out the can.  I would loved to have seen that!