Heather gets to drive

By: Kevin

Typically when we travel with the RV I am driving the truck with the RV and Heather is following along behind me with van. Or, if we are taking a side trip, I drive while Heather conducts home school along the way. On our way back to San Angelo from our trip to San Antonio Heather got up the courage to drive the dually with the RV in tow. She did a good job. Although I must say it was strange to be seated in the passenger seat of my truck. I do like that, while she may not be 100% comfortable doing so, if needed Heather can in fact drive the truck and RV somewhere.

San Antonio & The Alamo

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By: Kevin

While on contract in San Angelo we decided to make a side trip down to San Antonio, about 3 hours south of San Angelo. We took the RV with us and stayed at the San Antonio KOA, which was pretty nice. We were supposed to have a site along the river, but the office told us the river was in flood stage and they were unsure how much higher it may get before cresting and instead put us on a different site away from the river. We did look at the river when we arrived and the river was up about 8 feet from normal with quite a current to it. Before leaving the KOA we looked at it again and were shocked to find a bike trail which had been underwater on our arrival. To see the difference in river height in just 2 days was rather impressive.

We had planned to take the truck into town and find a lot to park in for the day, but as we were checking in at the KOA they informed us that the city bus line stopped right outside the gate of the campground and that they suggested we leave the truck at the camp and take the bus into town. They gave us the bus schedule and told us what bus to take into town, and when ready, what bus number to take back to the campground. This proved to be very beneficial to us!

We rode the city bus into downtown and explored the area on foot. The kids both had a day pack with water and a packed lunch to carry around as well as any other little items they elected to bring with them.

I would like to take a moment to venture on a bit of a tangent and tell you that riding the bus was a new experience for the kids. They had never been on a city bus before. We were among the first passengers to board the bus and elected to sit toward the front of the bus. A few stops later a young male African American boarded the bus and elected to sit toward the rear of the bus. Upon seeing this Bug, our son, leaned over to Heather and I and asked if the black man had to sit in the back of the bus like on the movies he watched. Apparently Bug and Pie had recently been watching Sounder, Pollyanna, and any number of older movies with some of them based in historical eras where segregation was still the norm. Needless to say we had a learning moment and explained that while that used to be the case, nowadays people of any color can sit anywhere they want. Now that we look back at the situation I find it slightly humorous, but at the time I was mortified.

So, we made our first stop at the Alamo, a very important Texas landmark and toured the buildings and grounds. Pie loved the fountain on the grounds and wanted to throw some change into it like she saw on the bottom of the fountain.

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We also lucked out at the Alamo because it was Army Day at the Alamo and an Army band was playing music in front of the wall, there were reenactors in period costumes present, and they even fired off a cannon. To cap off the day’s celebration the Army Golden Knights, a parachute team, jumped out of a plane a few thousand feet above us and glided in, landing on a large orange and black X laid out on the ground in front of the Alamo. We really enjoyed it.

alamoarmyknightsAnother attraction in San Antonio is the River Walk, a man-made river that winds through downtown complete with walkways, bridges, and shops that border the river. Riverboats offer floating tours of the area and people are free to walk and explore the many shops and restaurants along the banks. We started with a boat tour, then explored on foot. There is a 3-story mall with large glass windows on one cul-de-sac of the river that we roamed as well. The kids also enjoyed dipping their hands in the water along the way. The weather was warm that day, but the trees and buildings created enough shade that our walk was quite pleasant.

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After exploring the River Walk we boarded the city bus and rode back to the KOA. We decided to have dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. Heather and the kids seemed to enjoy their meals, but I was sadly disappointed at the quality, quantity, price, and temperature of my food. It is safe to say I will not be returning to that restaurant in the future.

The next day we pulled out of the KOA and headed north. We stopped at REI, which over time has received more of our money than they probably should and we stopped at Bass Pro Shop on the way out of town. We stopped at Rudy’s Barbeque for lunch on the recommendation of a friend, and it lived up to the recommendation. The meats were flavorful and juicy. The sauce is their own and is a nice mix of spice and sweet. We ordered creamed corn, barbecue beans, coleslaw, and bread as our sides and shared them around the table. All of them were very good and there were no leftovers at the end of the meal. While the outside of the building doesn’t look like much, the food more than makes up for their humble appearance, and is worth a stop if you are in the area.

Dallas, TX and National Boy Scout Museum

Once an Eagle Scout, Always an Eagle Scout

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By: Kevin

While on assignment in Texas we made a trip to Dallas to officially transfer our vehicle titles, license plates, driver licenses, and other official paperwork to become Texans. We also needed vehicle inspections for all three vehicles, and the RV. I was not thrilled about spending the majority of the day in government offices, but it actually went faster and easier than expected, and we had some extra time on our hands by mid-afternoon. We opted to visit the Boy Scouts of America national office and Boy Scout museum. Located within the museum is a wonderful collection of original Norman Rockwell paintings, which are impressive on their own, let alone the rest of the museum.

As a Boy Scout starting at the rank of Tiger and progressing all the way to Eagle Scout, I especially enjoyed the museum, and telling Heather and the kids about the many opportunities that I was able to partake in through the Scouting program. The kids liked crawling through and artificial cave while wearing Petzl helmets and paddling a canoe down a “river”. Heather and I enjoyed the laser shooting range. As Bug approaches the age of Tiger Cubs, I am excited to guide him through the scouting program.

Water and Waste Water Woes

San Angelo TX

By: Heather

 

San Angelo Texas in February is nice. Our first morning (after arriving late in the night and backing the RV into our spot in the dark) I emerged into a beautiful sunny morning where we were perplexed by the campground employees who were all wearing coats when we were walking around in t-shirts. That should have been my first clue as to how terribly hot it would be in just a couple of months.

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Our campground was next to a lake that sparkled in the sun but I was just wondering which child would be first to fall in. As we went on a walk later that day our dog was scared to go out on the docks, so I was working with her, enticing her out onto the dock so she could see that there was nothing to be scared of. That is when I walked backwards right off the end of one of the docks and straight into the lake. I was only in the water for a couple of seconds before I pulled myself back up onto the dock to an excited chorus from my children of “mommy, can we go swimming too?!?!” Haha! As it turns out, I was the first child to fall into the lake.

 

This was a nice campground that I really liked. I mean, nothing is perfect. The laundry room wasn’t the cleanest and there was not a pool, but the lake was pretty and it had just the right amount of trees and plenty of grass and was mostly empty and peaceful. It was also within a city park with lots of green space and a few small playgrounds. Then I noticed a puddle in the grass right in front of our RV, and as the day went on the puddle grew, and then another puddle appeared right next to our neighbor’s septic pipe. Right about then Kevin was getting home so I pointed the puddle out to him and he pointed it out to the campground manager who immediately went and flushed the pipes to remove a clog and it was all fixed. Whew. But a couple of days later that tiny little puddle appeared right next to our RV again, right on the front side, close to where we had the kids’ outside toys stashed. Again by afternoon there was a bigger puddle near our neighbor’s septic pipe and again the management had the lines flushed.

On a side tangent, We usually leave our grey water tank valve open and our black tank valve closed. When our campground’s managers flushed the underground sewer lines they also went around and closed people’s tank valves. That was thoughtful so we don’t get something nasty coming back up where it should not be. Very nice, but, they did not tell us that they closed the valves and they also did not open them back up once they were done. So the next morning I woke up to my children loudly saying “Ew, what is this big puddle? Why are my feet all wet? Did Dixie pee on the floor?”  This was very much NOT how I wanted to wake up. As it turned out the dog had not peed on the floor. Both sides of the kitchen sink were absolutely full of water and it was over flowing onto the counter top and running down under the cabinets and out onto the floor where my children were stepping in it!!! Where was all of this water coming from you may ask. I had not been running any water into the sink from the faucet but I knew where the water was coming from. This had actually happened just a week before in Daytona Beach when we had been almost ready to pull out and had disconnected from the sewer system but not yet disconnected from fresh water. Under our sink we have a reverse osmosis water filter to filter water for drinking. It filters pretty slowly and has a one gallon tank of already filtered water that is ready for use, but as it filters water it takes several gallons of tap water to make a gallon of filtered water. This is due to back-flushing of the membrane in the RO system, which is normal. Those several gallons of water are put directly into the drain under the sink which then filled up the galley tank, and the sink, and the counter, and the floor… you get the picture. At least it wasn’t gross water. Not fun to clean up though.

Back to the septic problems. A few days later, I remember it was a Saturday because it was busier than normal. I was baking cookies. That tiny little puddle appeared again next to our RV. Not again! Not long after I went out and there was a full blown explosion. Next to our neighbor’s septic pipe was a lake of, well, I refused to look too closely but it smelled bad. The manager blamed the neighbor for flushing shop towels down his toilet and the neighbor blamed the manager for failing to fix an allegedly broken pipe and they and the maintenance crew all stood around the lake arguing while I hid inside, thankful that I had baked cookies that day because they smelled heavenly. Soon I saw them digging and they dug up the pipe. The kids were super excited. They wanted to dig too! and play in the septic-infused mud! and climb in and out of the hole! “no.” They determined that a tree root caused the underground pipe to have an uphill slant to it between the neighbor’s site and ours. This problem was made worse by the fact that our neighbor lived in a left over FEMA trailer from Katrina. This is a problem because the FEMA trailers were made as cheap as possible…meaning no black tank underneath them. When the neighbor flushed his toilet everything went straight out the pipe, no time to break down paper or waste to a more, uh, liquid form. You also lose the force of a 30 gallon tank emptying to push things on down the line, like what occurs when we dump our black tank. Then, for the next week it poured every day and we had a huge smelly mess in front of our camper. img_2019That was our breaking point. That is when we asked to leave and received a refund for the other half of our first month. We appreciated them handling it so well and letting us out so easily. So, we hitched up the fifth wheel and moved to the San Angelo KOA a few miles up the road. The ironic thing about the whole situation is that the KOA was closer to the hospital, cheaper, and had a nice outdoor pool. We did lose the lake and grassy areas, but I will take pea gravel over sewage any day of the week.

Go West Young Man

From FL to TX

By: Kevin

Our second assignment had come to an end, despite the pleas of Florida Hospital staff for me to stay longer or become a permanent employee. Our next stop would be Houston, TX to visit some friends before arriving at my next assignment in San Angelo, TX. We started out from Flagler Beach, and after a quick stop at a scale house to recheck the weight of our rig, we were headed west. We were making good progress across I-10 with the F-350 and fifth wheel in the lead and Heather in the van behind me. We were approaching the Florida-Alabama line around sun-down. The F-350 was earning its keep by pulling our heavy trailer without any noticeable hardship. This trip it was the trailer that had the issue. Due to the mechanics of a fifth wheel one does not feel as much sway or vibration from the trailer as other types of towed trailers, so I did not notice that one of the wheels had become loose and was wobbling around on the axle hub. It was only after Heather was showered with glowing broken wheel studs and lug nuts and watched the wheel spin off across the freeway median that I became aware that there was a problem. I do have to say that I was glad she was in the van behind me or who knows how far I would have driven without any idea that I was one wheel short. I am also glad that our trailer is a tandem-axle model, which kept the wheel-less axle from dragging on the pavement. We took the nearest exit and pulled into a truck stop for what turned out to be the night. We made a call to our roadside assistance company and a mobile repair truck was dispatched. The tech advised that he could fix it and get us back on the road, but he required parts from NAPA, so it would be the next morning before he could get it done.

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So, we were stopped for the night a little earlier than we had planned, but everyone was safe. We started to get ready for bed and Heather walked into the kids’ bedroom and looked down at my motorcycle, which gets parked next to the kids’ bunk beds while traveling. She watched as a black widow spider scurried back under the fuel tank of the motorcycle. Well, needless to say the kids did not get to sleep in their own beds that night. Instead, they both slept on the dinette that converts to a bed. I am sure it was not as comfortable as their own beds, but given the circumstance, it was better than the floor.

In the morning the repair tech showed up, removed the axle hub, removed all 6 sheared wheel studs, put new studs and lug nuts on, and reinstalled the hub and wheel. We were rolling yet again! We arrived around nightfall that evening in Houston at our friends’ house without any additional issues. We visited with them late into the night and part of the next day before pulling out again for San Angelo, TX. The rest of the trip from Houston to San Angelo was uneventful, and we arrived with all wheels attached. Needless to say we now check all lug nuts and wheels at least every morning, if not more frequently.

Lake Okeechobee & Gators

By: Kevin

Heather’s grandparents invited us down to their RV, which was parked in a RV resort along Lake Okeechobee, for a visit. Instead of hauling our RV down there, Heather’s grandparents were nice enough to reserve us a rental unit, which was probably as big or bigger than our RV. It was also really nice because it had a laundry set, so we took the opportunity to do numerous loads of laundry while we were visiting. Since we do not have a washer/dryer in the RV, it is off to the laundromat on a regular basis for us, and being able to put in a load of laundry at our rental and come back a few hours later without wondering where our laundry had gone was a welcome luxury.

The morning after arrival we took a trip down the road to one of many places that offered air boat tours of the area. We saw quite a few gators, some small and some not-so-small. I was amazed at where all the air boat could travel. We drove across water, reeds, and occasionally solid ground for a few feet. I can see why they are the choice of vessel for the marshy area.Our tour guide even showed us the natural mesh matrix found inside cat-tail reeds that lead to the invention of medical gauze that is widely used in the medical field today. As a nurse, I found that particularly interesting.

 

After our morning air boat ride we traveled a little farther down the road to Gatorama in Palmdale, FL. They had quite a few gators, as one would expect, and we were all able to pick up and hold baby gators. In the afternoon they had a feeding show on the main wooden bridge, and the host was very good at entertaining the crowd. For an extra fee one can participate in the feeding, but we enjoyed someone else risk their fingers instead.

After our visit to Gatorama, it was back to the grandparents’ RV for dinner. Grandpa grilled pizza, which I had not thought of before, but if you have one of those tiny RV ovens you may want to give it a try. It actually turned out resembling a brick-oven pizza with a nice crispy bottom. I have tried it a few times at our RV now, and find that a griddle rack works best, but a regular grill grate turns out decent results as well. Just remember to get thin crust pizzas, otherwise the middle takes a while to get done.

Walt Disney World

The Most Magical Place On Earth

By: Kevin

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Since we were in Florida, Heather’s mom suggested that we take the kids to Disney World. The last time we (Heather and Kevin) were at Disney was back in 2006, well before we had kids. This trip would require additional planning, logistics, and baggage. Heather’s mom rented a condo in Kissimmee, FL and she, our family, and Heather’s grandparents all met at the condo, which served as a base of operations for our Disney visit. We awoke early, made it through traffic, and were parked early so as to make the most of our time. We enjoyed revisiting old favorites like the Swiss Family Robinson tree house, Pooh Bear’s Hundred Acre Woods, and the haunted mansion. We also enjoyed watching the mid-day parade that winds through the park. We covered some good ground during the long day, including a stop for autographs from Cinderella and Rapunzel.

We did have a ‘scare’ at the haunted mansion because after we came out we purchased ice cream from a stand along the street. Karla, Heather’s mom, set her wallet down on the cart so she could help get the kids’ ice cream wrappers opened. We then all walked away with ice cream in hand…..but not the wallet. It wasn’t until dinner time that Karla discovered she no longer had her wallet or the large sum of cash that she had in it. She was absolutely sick to her stomach. She returned to the cart, but nobody had seen it. We checked with park security, but nobody had turned it in. As we tried to make the most of the rest of the day, I could tell that the wallet still weighed on Karla. She checked back with security a few more times through the evening to see if it had been turned in. We finished off the night watching the Electric Parade to the delight of all. If we return to Disney in the future it is my understanding that the Electric Parade will sadly not be there, as Disney is discontinuing it sometime this year. On the way back to the mono-rail and parking lot shuttles we stopped in at park security one last time. They had still not received Karla’s wallet. By this point, we figured if it did turn up it would ‘magically’ be void of all cash that previously resided within it.

We returned to the condo for the night and had additional visiting time and Christmas presents over the next few days while we finished our mini-vacation in Orlando. Then 2 days later as we were eating at IHOP before pulling out of Orlando we got the call from Disney security. The wallet had been turned in, and to our complete surprise, not a dollar had been removed from it. Karla was overjoyed!! We were all happy and amazed that after that much time it was actually turned in, and  especially happy that whoever grabbed it had been so honest. Thank you to whomever you are!