Toilet Surgery, Rain and Birthday Shopping

I am pleased to report that our toilet repair project was successful! Andy had done a lot of research by watching YouTube videos and even contacting the manufacturer to make sure he was clear on how to go about removing the toilet, replacing the seals and then reattaching everything. And all that research paid off with a relatively painless process.

The one thing we were most worried about was how bad it would smell in the RV while the drain pipe was open. Actually there was little to no smell at all (we did dump the tanks first, and also added a deodorizing packet to the tank). The worst thing that happened was when we turned the water back on–we had a leak where the water line attached to the back of the toilet. The connection was supposed to be “finger tight”, but obviously that wasn’t tight enough and it required more tightening with pliers. We think that this connector was the source of our slow leak all along rather than the seals, but it was good to go ahead and do a complete maintenance job anyway on such an important piece of equipment.

If anyone is interested in seeing how the project went, we recorded most of it on the GoPro and posted it to our YouTube channel:

We had hoped to do some sight-seeing on Friday but it rained almost the entire day with only a slight pause in the afternoon, just enough time for a short walk to get some fresh air. We spent the day reading, editing the video above, housecleaning–all those normal little chores you do on a cool, rainy day.

A rainy, cloudy day at our campground

Yesterday (Saturday) it was time to go to town for groceries and supplies, as well as some birthday shopping. My 60th birthday is coming up next week, and I wanted (actually needed) a new pair of hiking shoes, as well as some long-sleeved pullover shirts for cooler weather. The forecast is calling for a big drop in temperatures on Monday, and I wanted to be ready.

So we drove into Las Cruces, and first went to Jason’s Deli for lunch. I like Jason’s because they have good meatless options on their menu, and Andy likes Jason’s because they have free ice cream for dessert. Next we went to Dick’s Sporting Goods where I picked out a pair of hiking shoes and some warm socks. Perhaps “picked out” is too strong a term–it was actually the only pair they had in my size. No problem, I liked them anyway.

Birthday gifts from the hubby–new warm clothes!

Next stop was Walmart where we did most of our grocery shopping. I also picked up three long-sleeve pullover shirts there to complete my birthday shopping. Last stop was Sprouts for some red lentils from their bulk bins. And to my delight, they also had just put out their stock of cinnamon gummy bears for the holidays–my favorite!

Even though we ate lunch at Jason’s, we still eat almost all our meals at home in the RV, and cook almost everything from scratch. Last night I used both of our Instant Pots to cook dinner, making brown rice in the 3-quart Mini Duo and red lentil curry in the 6-quart Duo. We had enough leftover for two more meals, so half went in the fridge for our next travel day, and half went in the freezer. Having leftovers in the refrigerator takes a lot of the pressure off when we pull into a new campground after a long day of driving.

Two Instant Pots for a rice and curry dinner

Today the weather is supposed to be pretty nice, so we’re hoping to do a little sightseeing. Tomorrow a cold front will arrive, dropping the temperatures by almost 25°.  The high today (Sunday) is forecast at 72°, by Tuesday the forecast high is 48°.

Now you know why I wanted those warmer shoes and shirts!

We only have two more nights here at Leasburg Dam State Park. Tuesday we will be driving north to Albuquerque where we will stay for three nights at the Enchanted Trails RV Park. While there, we will be able to pick up our mail which has been forwarded to us from our mailbox in Livingston, Texas. The mail pouch will include our absentee ballots so we can vote in the mid-term elections.

And that’s what’s going on in our lives right now. The kitties are doing fine, we’re healthy and happy, and we’re loving our new lifestyle on the road.

Stay tuned for more updates as we get ready to move to our next destination! You can also follow us on Instagram @JustCallUsNomads!

Cookies, Toilets and Travel Plans

Today marks one week that we’ve been camped here at Leasburg Dam State Park, and honestly, I wish we could stay here indefinitely. Unfortunately, they have a fourteen-day limit, after which you must be out of the park for at least six days before you can come back. Besides, I want to visit Santa Fe on my birthday (October 17), and right now we’re about four hours away.

Beauty in the desert

So yesterday (Wednesday) I spent some time in the morning making travel plans for next week. In one of the thousands of full-time RV-related YouTube videos that we watched over the past year, I remember one full-timer talking about “research fatigue”, referring to the effort and time required to plan ahead for that next camping spot. So many things to consider–distance, price, weather, accessibility, surroundings, safety–it’s definitely a time commitment but it’s an important part of this lifestyle.

We have memberships in several RV organizations that offer discounts at campgrounds and RV parks. I was able to get us three nights at a nice RV park in Albuquerque for next week, using our Passport America discount of 50% for the first two nights, and our Good Sam discount of 10% for the third night. Albuquerque is only about an hour’s drive from Santa Fe, but it’s lower in elevation than Santa Fe so it won’t be quite as cold at night. We’ll do a day-trip to Santa Fe for my birthday, and while we’re in Albuquerque we’ll be able to make a Costco run, do laundry, and pick up our mail which I’ll have forwarded to us from our mail service in Livingston, Texas.

After our three nights in Albuquerque, we’re going to head south again to another NM State Park. I made reservations for two nights (Friday and Saturday) since the parks tend to get a little more full on the weekends. If we like the park, we’ll try to get into one of the first-come, first-served sites to extend our stay.

Our favorite hiking trail here in Leasburg State Park

Yesterday was pretty laid back. We did a little hiking in the morning while the temperatures were in the high 50’s and low 60’s. After lunch we drove to the little local post office in Radium Springs to pick up the toilet repair kit that we ordered from Amazon. Later, since I had some bananas that were getting pretty ripe, I decided to bake some vegan cookies in our convection microwave. I used to make these all the time in our stix-and-brix house, but had not tried them in the RV. They actually came out just as good as before! Here’s the recipe:

Base:

1 very ripe banana, smashed until liquid-y

1 cup oats (Quick oats are best, but Old Fashioned work too)

Add-ins:

Chopped walnuts

Craisins (or raisins)

Maple syrup to taste

Peanut butter (or PB2 powder)

Chocolate chips

I don’t use all the add-ins at the same time, that’s just a list of the ones I’ve used in the past. You can add whatever you like. Stir it all together and then drop by large spoonfuls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. These cookies will not rise or spread, so shape them in the size you want, and don’t make them too thick. Bake at 350° (325° in our RV convection oven) for 20-25 minutes, until they get brown and crispy on the edges.

They are best when they’re warm, right from the oven, but they keep well in an airtight container for several days.

Vegan banana oatmeal cookies baked in our convection microwave

Today won’t be nearly as pleasant as freshly baked cookies. Today, Andy will be pulling out the toilet to replace the seals using the kit that we ordered from Amazon. In an RV, the toilet sits on top of a short pipe that allows all your “deposits” to simply fall straight down into the black tank along with some water when you flush the toilet. When Andy removes the toilet, there will just be an open pipe to that lovely black tank until he gets the toilet re-installed. Of course, we will empty the black tank before he starts on the project, but that won’t eliminate all the smell. We’re going to do everything possible to make sure this project goes smoothly and as quickly as possible this afternoon to minimize the time that the pipe is open. Wish us luck!

We’re planning to do some more sight-seeing in the area this weekend. There’s an abandoned fort just down the road from us that we want to visit. We’ll see what the weather looks like over the next few days before we finalize our plans. We’ll also make another trip to Las Cruces for groceries–we eat a lot of fresh greens, so we have to shop a little more often than we’d like to.

And that’s life here in the RV for now!

Follow us on Instagram for more real-time updates on our adventures at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads!

Settling In to Full Time RV Life

It’s been just over six weeks since we moved into our RV, Lizzy, full time after selling our house and almost all our possessions. Those six weeks have not been without challenges, but we’re starting to get into a groove now as we settle into our new lifestyle.

The weather here in New Mexico has been interesting. We arrived just at the tail end of a warm spell, so the first few days we used the air conditioner. Then on Sunday we had a severe thunderstorm roll through with high winds and heavy rain. We got an emergency alert on our phones that indicated we could also see hail, but fortunately we were spared from that. And after the storm ended, we were treated to a beautiful double rainbow!

Double rainbow after the storm

Yesterday was overcast and drizzly, and this morning we woke to a dense fog. But by 10:00, the fog lifted and the beautiful blue skies have returned. With the rainy front that moved through, the temperatures have cooled considerably, and we haven’t used the air conditioner in several days, relying on the breeze only.

Here’s a little timelapse that I shot from the roof of Lizzy this morning as the fog lifted.

Speaking of breeze, Andy was able to install two vent covers on the roof just before the storm hit on Sunday. The covers allow us to keep the vents open and the fan running even when it’s raining so we don’t have to close everything up and run the air conditioner. The vents do have original covers that tilt up, but those can get damaged or even ripped off in a high wind, so these new covers that we installed will protect the original tilted cover from the wind. Confusing, I know….

Installing covers over our vents and fan

On Saturday we did some hiking on some of the trails here in the park that meander down along the Rio Grande River and over to the Leasburg Dam. The trail along the river was nice and serene, but the dam was a bit of a disappointment. There really isn’t any water to speak of behind the dam, at least on the day we were there. The dam was built in 1908 to divert water from the Rio Grande into the surrounding agricultural fields of the Upper Masilla Valley. It’s just over 11 feet high, and was the first dam completed on the Rio Grande Project by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (it was originally 10 feet high but was raised by 1.25 feet in 1919).

Hiking along the Rio Grande river on the Mogollon Trail

Rio Grande River below Leasburg Dam

Yesterday (Monday) was an errands day. The first order of business was to locate some repair parts for the toilet, which appears to have a slow leak. Andy tried for over an hour to talk to someone by telephone in the parts department at Camping World in Anthony, Texas to see if they had the parts in stock. They took his number and said they would call back, but after waiting for a half hour we decided to just make the 45 minute drive and ask them in person.

When we got there, they only had one guy working in the parts department, and he was slammed. When we finally got to the front of the line, he was able to identify the parts we needed, but then told us they were out of stock. He was kind enough to call another RV dealer just across the freeway, and they said they could have the part by the next day. But since we didn’t want to make another trip to Anthony, we just decided to order it from Amazon and have it shipped to us here in Radium Springs. Free shipping, and it will be here tomorrow (Wednesday).

Retailers, this is why Amazon is winning.

After we left Camping World, we headed back north to Las Cruces for the rest of our errands. First we had lunch at Chipotle (our original plan was to eat at a local Mexican restaurant that was supposed to be really good, but they were closed for some reason). Then we tried to go by the bank, but they were closed for Columbus Day.

Next stop was Home Depot so we could pick up some plumber’s grease for the toilet repair. From there we went to Walmart for groceries and supplies (cat treats!!). And our last stop was Sprouts for some good fresh greens, since Walmart didn’t have any decent romaine or kale. After all that, we headed home to the RV, put up the groceries and enjoyed the rest of our evening. Oh, have I mentioned that we have developed a serious addiction to those 50¢ pies at Walmart??

Most of our grocery haul.

Today we’ll need to unhook Lizzy and drive her over to the dump station here in the park to dump the tanks. We’re using the campground showers instead of the one in the RV so we can go longer between dumping, and there are also vault toilets close by that we can use to extend the time between dumps. It’s a bit of a hassle to have to unhook and move Lizzy, but it’s worth it to have our own kitchen and bathroom facilities available.

So I know it sounds kind of boring, but we are not on vacation. We are just living our normal everyday lives, just like people in sticks and bricks houses. But our view from our windows is amazing, and when we get tired of it, we’ll just move. We just paid for five more nights here at $4/night, and will probably tack on a few more days after that.

Plans for the next few days include toilet repairs and some sightseeing, so stay tuned! Be sure to follow us on Instagram as well for more of a real-time look at what we’re up to!

Awesome Deal! New Mexico State Parks Annual Pass

When we decided to stay here at Leasburg Dam State Park, we only made reservations for two nights, intending to continue north toward Santa Fe, looking for free boondocking sites along the way.  The best way to offset fuel cost while traveling is to keep your camping fees as low as possible, preferably free.

But yesterday, after our first night in this park, we had a change of plans. First of all, we really, really like it here. It’s quiet, well-maintained and it’s beautiful in the way that the desert is beautiful. Secondly, the hot air balloon festival is going on in Albuquerque, so campsites are going to be a little harder to find in that area for the next couple of weeks. And thirdly, it’s already starting to get pretty cold in the Santa Fe area, at least at night, with forecasted low temperatures below freezing.

So we decided that we would like to stay in this general area for awhile, but needed a way to reduce the cost. When I made online reservations for this park for two nights, the site was $14/night, but then there was a $10/vehicle entrance fee, along with an $8 service fee for using the online system. It was a total of $56, or $28/night for a site with electricity and water. We don’t want to spend that much every night.

I knew from watching other RVers on YouTube that New Mexico has a great deal on an annual pass for their state parks, so we dropped by the office yesterday afternoon to check it out. For non-residents, you can buy an annual pass for $225 which allows you to bring your RV and your toad/chase vehicle into the park and dry-camp for free. If you want electricity, you pay $4/night, and if you also want sewer hookups at your site (where they are available), you pay another $4/night.  The pass expires on the last day of the 12th month after you purchase it, so if you buy it on October 1, 2018 it expires on October 31, 2019, so you actually get 13 months.

We know that we will be spending enough time in New Mexico to recoup the cost of the pass, so we decided we would go ahead and buy it.

The next issue was our campsite. We had reserved site #17 for only two nights because  (1) it was the only site available, and (2) it was only available for those two nights. The park is booked up for the weekend as far as reservations go. However, New Mexico’s State Parks only allow you to make reservations for about half their campsites–the other half are non-reservable, first-come, first-served. In this park there are 10 of these campsites on a separate loop called Greasewood, on the opposite side of the wash from our reserved campsite. That meant we could move out of our reserved site and onto a FC-FS site. Andy and I walked the Greasewood loop and found several sites that were available which would fit our rig, and so we selected site #10. It’s a dry-camping site (no electricity), but it would give us some practice at boondocking in a developed location.

We had a visitor!

We went back to the office to pay for the annual pass and to see if was okay for us to park our truck at site #10 overnight to hold it, since technically we still had site #17 reserved for a second night. They said it wouldn’t be a problem for us to just go ahead and move everything to site #10 since we had already paid for the night in the park anyway.

I took out my credit card to pay for the pass, and only then did they tell me that they only took cash or checks. I had enough cash on me to pay for it, but would have been left with only about $8, so Andy went back to the rig to get the checkbook. As we were winding up the transaction, a lady walked in to the office and told the guy at the desk, “Just wanted to let you guys know that I’ve moved from site #6 to site #10.”  Oh well, that’s what first-come, first-served means!

When she left, the desk guy, who is also the camp host for the Greasewood loop, recommended that we move into the lady’s original site #6. Even though it’s non-reservable, it does have electricity. We could just pay the $4 daily fee each morning for as many days as we decide to stay. Now that was a deal!

So we disconnected from site #17, stopped by the dump station to empty the tanks, and then set up on site #6. Easy-peasy, took us about 30 minutes total. We actually have a nicer site than our original one, with a better shelter over the picnic table and more privacy from our neighbors. We love it!

Our new campsite #6 is a first-come, first-served site

The other deal with New Mexico State Parks, whether you are an annual pass holder or not, is that you can only stay in any park for 14 days, and then you have to leave for at least 6 days before you can return to that park. But with 33 parks in the state, and plenty of first-come, first-served campsites, it shouldn’t be a problem to find a place to camp for $4/night or even free.

Our plan has always been to chase to 70°, to move with the weather. It’s been in the 90’s here for the past two days, but there’s a break in the weather coming tonight, and the temperatures will start to be much more pleasant during the day. The nighttime temps have already been very pleasant, but will get much cooler in the coming week. We may need to start unpacking some of our warmer clothes that are stored in the Tacoma.

So that’s where we are for the moment. I do still want to go to Santa Fe for my birthday on the 17th, but we’ll plan around the weather forecast as to whether we try to camp up there or just drive up for the day.

For now we are settled in and ready to enjoy this beautiful area. We’ll do our grocery shopping in Las Cruces, do some hiking and sightseeing, drag out the photography gear, and Andy’s even talking about setting up his equipment to work on some jewelry. Stay tuned to see what we’re up to!

New Mexico – I’m In My Happy Place

Good Friday morning from Leasburg Dam State Park in Radium Springs, New Mexico, about 15 miles north of Las Cruces. I just spent an hour sitting in my lawn chair in my pajamas and slippers, sipping my coffee and watching the sunrise. I’m in my happy place!

My view at sunrise

But getting here was a little bit stressful. We left the Alley Oop RV Park in Iraan on Wednesday morning about 11:00, on our way to Van Horn, Texas. Our route from the park back to I-10 took us through an active oil field where we could see the pumping units bobbing up and down. There was also a large wind farm with lines of huge wind turbines along the mountaintops. Most of them weren’t turning however, which we continue to puzzle about.

We got to Van Horn about 4:30 and checked in to the Desert Willow RV Park. With our Passport American membership, the nightly rate was $13.50, and that included electricity, water, sewer, fast wi-fi, and cable TV (which we did not use). The park also had laundry facilities and nice showers (we didn’t use either but they looked nice). The staff was friendly and laid back, and we were able to choose any open spot that we wanted.

Desert Willow RV Park in Van Horn, TX

It was pretty warm but it was breezy, so not too uncomfortable outside. Inside, we ran the air conditioner. As the sun was going down a small thunderstorm came through, and then later we got more rain. At one point there was a lot of lightning and our power went off for just a second and then came back on. Didn’t think anything about it.

Desert Willow campground–great for overnighting

The next morning (yesterday) when Andy was disconnecting all the hookups for us to leave, he found that the 30 amp electric plug from the RV had partially melted and stuck to the heavy duty surge protector that we use when connecting to shore power. He had to use a pry bar to get the plug out of the surge protector. We’re thinking that the electrical surge from the lightning strike caused the damage, and the surge protector did its job to keep the RV safe. The RV plug appeared to still be intact, with just a little of the rubber missing, but the surge protector seemed to be toasted, so we discarded it and decided to get a new one when we went through El Paso.

The drive through El Paso was extremely stressful for Andy in the RV as there was a lot–a LOT–of road construction and heavy traffic. He did a great job of keeping it between the lines. We stopped at Camping World on the north side of El Paso and picked up a new surge protector, along with two vent covers to allow us to have the roof vents open when it’s raining.

Camping World of El Paso

In Las Cruces we stopped at Walmart to pick up a few groceries and a New Mexico atlas by Delorme. The atlas has detailed maps showing where the public lands are, as well as elevations, so we can plan out our boondocking locations. Getting off the freeway and into Walmart was another stressful excursion, but we made it fine. While we were inside Walmart we left the generator running with the air conditioner on, so the kitties were comfortable.

We got to our current campsite in the Leasburg Dam State Park about 4:30 MDT and settled in to site #17. We have electric and water hookups, but no sewer (there is a dump station). The site is gravel with a level concrete pad for the RV, and there is a picnic table covered by a pavilion. The park has nice showers and restrooms, hiking trails and a visitors center. There’s also great cellphone coverage with 4 bars of Verizon LTE.

Parked at our site #17 with covered picnic table

I cooked some pasta and meatballs for dinner, then we took a sunset walk to an overlook where we could see the water. The dam doesn’t look too impressive right now as the water is pretty low. I’ll try to talk to the rangers today to see what the dam status is (LOL).

After our walk, we settled in to our lawn chairs to watch the stars come out. There were so many stars! It’s been years since we’ve been in a place where we could see the Milky Way, much less satellites traveling across the star field. The temperature was perfect, there were no bugs, the humidity was just over 20%–I had found my happy place!!

Our campsite at sundown

For the first time since we moved in here full-time, we were able to go to bed without the noisy air conditioner running, using only the vent fans. This morning when I woke up at 5AM (we changed time zones yesterday and my body thought it was 6AM), it was 57° outside and 59° inside the rig. It’s supposed to get up into the high 80’s today so eventually we’ll turn the A/C back on, but this morning is wonderful!

Today we’ll do some exploring around the park. I’m hoping to get my camera out and do some photography. It is supposed to get windy this afternoon, hopefully it won’t stir up so much dust that we can’t enjoy being outside.

Not sure where we’re going next, we’ll decide that today.

Stay tuned to find out!

Follow us on Instagram at Instagram.com/JustCallUsNomads for live updates on our adventures!

Alley Oop RV Park in Iraan, Texas

It’s our second day on the road, and we found a very quirky place to spend the night.

We had a restful night at the River Ranch RV Park in New Braunfels last night. We weren’t bothered at all by the freeway noise from the bridge overhead since we had the air conditioner running all night to fight the humidity. This morning it was foggy and overcast when we awoke, but the sun was trying to break through by the time we pulled out around 10:30.

We took I-35 south to San Antonio, then took the 1604 Loop west to get back on I-10 west. There was a lot of highway construction around north San Antonio, so the lanes were narrow and traffic was congested. There was also a little bit of light rain at times. It was pretty stressful driving for Andy in the RV, but we made it just fine. Once we got past the road work, we stopped and fueled up both vehicles at a Love’s Truck Stop, and then the plan was to travel about 8 miles further down I-10 to a rest stop to have lunch.

Route for October 2

By then we were well into the Texas Hill Country, and the rest stop was located at the top of a high mesa. Andy was so busy watching the RPMs on the dashboard while climbing the mesa that he drove right past the rest stop. No worries, we just pulled in to the Lowe’s in Kerrville, parked in their parking lot, and proceeded to have lunch.

Stopped for lunch in the Lowe’s parking lot in Kerrville, TX

Before we left New Braunfels this morning, Andy made a huge salad to last us for several days, and I made the dressing to go with it. So while we were in the parking lot, we just opened a can of black beans and heated them on the stove to go with the salad. We enjoyed our lunch, washed and dried the dishes, used the bathroom, cleaned the floor, and then we were ready to hit the road again. So nice to have our house with us!

We got into Iraan about 4:30 and found the Alley Oop RV park right next to the City Park. In the past, RVers were allowed to stay overnight in the City Park for free (no hookups), but it doesn’t look like they do that anymore because the sign says the park is closed from 10PM-7AM. The RV Park right next to the City Park used to be $10/night for full hookups, but now they’re $15. We got the last available spot in the RV Park, and considered ourselves fortunate. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a bargain.

Alley Oop RV Park, Iraan, TX

Site #4, pull-through, $15/night with full hookups

Iraan has a couple of interesting things going for it. First of all, it’s right in the middle of the oil patch, and most of the RV’s in this park belong to oil field workers who are staying here long-term. In 1926 a successful oil well was drilled  on a ranch belonging to Ira and Ann Yates. They donated the site for the town, which was named for them–a contraction of “Ira” and “Ann”, becoming Iraan. The Yates oilfield is still producing today.

Oilfield equipment display next to the RV park

Iraan is also the birthplace of the Alley Oop comic strip, hence the name of the RV park. There’s a small museum and an Alley Oop-themed “attraction” next to the RV park which we explored this afternoon. It was quirky but fun. We both had to climb up on the dinosaur for a photo op. Later we found out that a mama cat and her kittens have a home inside the dinosaur’s belly, via a square cutout on the underside.

Andy as Alley Oop

Dinny, the dinosaur, currently has a family of cats living in its belly.

There was a beautiful sunset this evening, so after we had dinner and cleaned up the dishes we went for a walk in the City Park. There’s a nice breeze blowing and the temperature is nice, and we didn’t see a single mosquito–that’s awesome!!

Sunset in Iraan, Texas

Tomorrow we won’t be driving quite as far, only about 180 miles to Van Horn. The little town of Van Horn has a special place in our hearts (and our nightmares)–we spent three nights there in 2000 when our fully-loaded U-Haul truck broke down while we were moving from Houston to Phoenix. We were towed in to Bud’s Diesel Shop in Van Horn, and we spent three nights in a little motel waiting for the parts to come in so they could replace the drive shaft which had broken. So this time we’re staying in Van Horn mostly for sentimental reasons.

Andy found the problem with the overhead vent in the bathroom that leaked water during yesterday’s rainstorm. The gasket around the vent had become unseated, so it was an easy fix to adjust it. However it should probably be replaced as it has gotten stiff and hard.

Otherwise, the vehicles and systems are working great (knock on wood!). We’re looking forward to a good night’s sleep tonight before getting back on the road tomorrow. Still chasing 70° and low humidity–New Mexico, here we come!

Finally On The Road – Under The Bridge in New Braunfels TX

Today was the day we finally hit the road as nomads, meaning that our travel plans are not dictated by legal requirements or obligations to anyone. After spending a month in Livingston, Texas to fulfill all the conditions to establish our legal domicile (vehicle titles, inspection, tags and registration; drivers licenses; voter registration; new bank account), we are finally free to go where we want, when we want.

So now we are headed west toward New Mexico, where we plan to spend most of the month of October. It will take us almost four days to get across Texas, as we want to limit our daily driving to no more than 275 miles. That gives us time to see a little of the surrounding area when we get to a new campsite, and it’s also less tiring for us and for the kitties.

Today we left Livingston a little after 9AM, after stopping by the office to pay our electric bill for the month. You might remember that we had a little scare a couple of days after we arrived at the Escapees RV Park, when it looked like our electric bill was going to be astronomical. Fortunately we figured out that I had made a clerical error on my spreadsheet, so it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought. Our total bill for the month, including tax, was $98.85.

We did not take the most direct route from Livingston to New Braunfels. This was primarily to avoid the heavy traffic in Houston, as well as the toll roads. Since we left Texas in 2000, they have gone absolutely bonkers with their toll roads. I have no problem with paying tolls when I need to get somewhere in a hurry. But the Great Republic of Texas, in all their wisdom, saw fit to get rid of all their toll booth workers and replace them with cameras. If you live in Texas and want to use the toll roads, then you get yourself a sticker to put on your car, and link it to your bank account, and when you use the toll road you automatically get billed.

However, if you’re just passing through the Republic and you don’t have one of the magic stickers on your vehicle, and you happen to use the toll road either on purpose or by accident (it’s very easy to wind up on a toll road without meaning to), then a week or two later you get a letter from the Great Republic of Texas, with a nice photograph of you in your vehicle on the toll road, and an invoice for using said toll road. And if you decide to ignore the notice, you will suddenly find that you cannot renew your vehicle registration in your own state until you pay the bill and the fines that go with it.

Okay, so with that said, we decided to stay far away from Houston and see some new country. Here’s the route that we took today:

Our route from Livingston to New Braunfels

We stopped in Conroe to get fuel for Lizzy (the RV), and we stopped for lunch in Hempstead where we just pulled into a big empty lot and fixed ourselves some sandwiches. Most of the trip was easy driving, with the exception of a quick thunderstorm just before we got to Hempstead which dumped a lot of rain on us. In fact, when we stopped for lunch and opened the bathroom door we found that some water had leaked in through the overhead vent fan. Never had that happen before, so we’ll have to check that in the morning.

We pulled into the River Ranch RV Resort around 3:45 this afternoon. We got a 50% discount on our site through our membership in Passport America. And since our rig is rather small, we got a prime site on the end, right next to the river as well as the wi-fi router! The site is costing us $22.50 for the night.

The unusual thing about this RV park is that it is located right under the I-35 overpass and the Business 35 overpass. There is traffic noise for sure, but when we’re inside the rig with the A/C running, we don’t notice the traffic at all.

Lizzy parked under the I-35 overpass, next to the river

The view outside our rig is the river with some beautiful cypress trees and lots of ducks. There’s a boat launch right next to the RV park where kayakers and recreational boaters can put in and take out of the river. And we even saw a snake swimming in the water as we were getting ready to head out to dinner. As long as he stays in the water, I’m OK with that.

The Guadalupe River that runs right past our campsite

After we got everything set up and *almost* leveled, we decided that instead of cooking dinner we would go out and enjoy some of the local color and cuisine. I checked some online menus and found a place that had some vegan options.

We went to the Phoenix Saloon in downtown New Braunfels, This place has been featured on the Food Network as well as the Travel Channel, so we knew it had be good. When we pulled up we weren’t sure they were open as the sidewalk was all torn up and taped off. But we saw their lights were on and we found a side door that they are using as a temporary entrance.

Side door to the Phoenix Saloon

The place was pretty empty as far as customers go, with just a few people sitting at the bar (we got there about 5:30 or so). We decided to sit at the bar as well, since that’s where you had to go to order your food anyway. We started out with a local craft beer. We asked the barkeep for a recommendation and she suggested Juicy Visions IPA from the Middleton Brewing Company in San Marcos, TX. It was perfect, had some nice citrusy notes which I always enjoy. Andy got a dark porter that he really liked.

We ordered fried green tomatoes for an appetizer, and then followed with their black bean veggie burger with mango salsa. It was a pretty standard black bean burger (the same brand that we get at Sams or Costco), but the mango salsa is a nice touch, and I also had mine on a jalapeno bun that gave it a nice kick. The potato wedge fries were nice and crispy, so all-in-all it was a great meal.

Black bean veggie burger at Phoenix Saloon in New Braunfels

After we ate, we walked around downtown a little bit to check things out. We came across a railroad museum in the old depot–it wasn’t open but we got to check out the outdoor exhibit of an engine, container car, and caboose. We also found a gelato shop where we stopped for a little dessert.

New Braunfels Railroad Museum

So that has been our day. The kitties are pretty worn out after their exciting travel experience. They don’t freak out as much as they used to when the RV is moving, but it’s still somewhat stressful for them. They’ll sleep very well tonight, just like we will.

Tomorrow we will continue our westward trek across Texas. We plan to overnight in a little place called Iraan (pronounced Ira-Ann), in their city park. Stay tuned to see how that goes.

Naskila Gaming Casino, Free Breakfast Buffet

Yesterday (Wednesday) we decided to do something a little different. When searching TripAdvisor.com for things to do in the Livingston area, I found the Naskila Gaming Casino ranked at #2 for the area. We’re not big gamblers, but we do enjoy occasionally playing the penny slots purely for entertainment.

I did some checking into the casino online and found that they have a special promotion on Wednesday mornings, when seniors aged 55 and over can enjoy the breakfast buffet for free. Now, that was talking our language! Since yesterday was our final week to be in the area, we decided it was time to give them a visit.

Naskila Gaming is located on the Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation about 15 minutes east of Livingston. It’s a small operation as far as Indian casinos go, but it’s located in a beautiful spot in the pine trees off Highway 190.

We got there just after 9:00 AM and found plenty of parking available. The casino has a rustic, log cabin design, and it looks like they are in the process of expanding one of the dining areas.

Naskila Gaming Casino near Livingston, Texas

We assumed that we would need to sign up for a players card to get the free breakfast, so we checked in at the front desk. We were told that we did not, in fact, need to have a players card for the breakfast, but if we wanted to sign up for one, we would get $5 in free play on the machines. Well, who would pass up a deal like that?

After getting our players cards, we went directly to the Patio Buffet. We were expecting something along the lines of a continental breakfast with pastries and juice, but they actually had a full breakfast buffet. There was hot oatmeal and grits. There was fresh fruit–canteloupe, honeydew melon, pineapple. There was biscuits, gravy, scrambled eggs, western scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and potatoes. There was yogurt and granola. There were muffins, and there was an assortment of breads that you could toast yourself. Coffee and juice were included.

Enjoying the free senior buffet at Naskila Gaming

The food was all good, as was the service. We both enjoyed our meal thoroughly, and of course we ate too much. Can’t say we didn’t get our money’s worth! We left a $5 tip for the staff and then headed out to try our luck on the machines.

We each allowed ourselves $10 to play on the machines, plus the $5 in free play that the casino provided. Since I’m the most comfortable with figuring out new technology, Andy let me go first while he watched over my shoulder as I figured out how to download the $5 free play to the players card. I chose a penny machine that had a 30¢ minimum bet (why do they even call them penny machines??), and it wasn’t kind to me at all. It didn’t take long for me to go through my $10 plus the $5 from the casino.

Andy found a penny machine that had a lower minimum bet (I think it was 25¢), and his machine was a lot more generous. He played for about 20 minutes until he was ahead by $5.05, and then he cashed out.

So, we wound up spending $9.95 for a huge breakfast and a fun morning of entertainment. One huge advantage of this casino is that they keep the smokers tucked away in a separate room, so we didn’t have to breathe second-hand smoke like at most other casinos (cruise ships are the worst!!). Also, this casino does not serve any kind of alcohol, but coffee and soft drinks are free at self-service stations located around the perimeter of the gaming area. The place is clean and spacious, and the staff are friendly and helpful.

Naskila Gaming in locked in a legal battle with the State of Texas over their right to operate their casino the same way as other Indian tribes in the country do. Here is a link to some background information on the issue, but as is usually the case, it’s all about the money. The article is pretty interesting, and explains that their slots are actually bingo machines. I did notice the little bingo display on the machines when I was playing yesterday, but didn’t pay any attention to it. Anyway, we hope that the little casino is allowed to continue operating and that the State of Texas backs off.

So if you’re in the area on a Wednesday morning and you’re 55 or older (and you don’t have a gambling addiction), you should definitely check out the Naskila Gaming Casino for their free breakfast buffet and a little entertainment.

On Tuesday we received the final document that we’ve been waiting for–the title to the RV. We’re in the process of planning our route to travel west across Texas and into New Mexico next week. It looks like it’s already starting to get pretty cold, at least at night, in the higher elevations, but we’re hoping to be able to spend some time around Santa Fe before it gets too chilly. We’ll see how it goes.

GHSADPBAS Reunion, Ice Cream & Hairstyles

We had another fun day on Sunday, visiting with old friends and enjoying some great food.

When Andy first moved to Houston many moons ago, he became involved with a group of wonderfully talented and fun-loving people who loved music. Many were singers and entertainers, but just as many simply enjoyed listening to the others perform. When I moved to Houston in 1989 and met Andy, I was adopted into the group. We spent many an evening at one venue or another, playing and singing showtunes and standards, laughing heartily and when necessary, supporting each other through times of trouble. The group called themselves the Greater Houston Sash and Door Piano Bar Appreciation Society, or GHSADPBAS for short(?).

One of the founders and driving forces of the group was Glennie Scott, a marvelous pianist, singer and entertainer, and also a great friend. This past Sunday she played the piano and sang at Unity of The Woodlands church, and we went to see and hear her. As it happened, one of our other friends from GHASADPBAS was in town from her home in Alabama, visiting Glennie, so we got to see Kay also!

We thoroughly enjoyed the service at Unity, the people were so friendly and welcoming, and the pastor’s sermon was uplifting and inspiring. It was wonderful to hear Glennie play and sing again, we just wish we could have heard more. At the end of the service, everyone joined hands in a circle and sang “Let There Be Peace On Earth (And Let It Begin With Me)”, which is the same way all our GHSADPBAS get-togethers ended. Literally brought tears to my eyes.

After the service we went to lunch with Glennie and Kay at The Republic Grill in The Woodlands. I had a portobello mushroom burger with sweet potato fries. Andy had portobello tacos with regular fries. Both were delicious. It was a wonderful meal with dear friends as we reminisced about old times and dear friends, many of whom are no longer with us.

Glennie, myself and Andy, and Kay after lunch at The Republic Grill

When I got out my wallet to pay for our lunch, I found that my Capital One Mastercard was missing. I guessed (correctly as it turned out) that I had left it at Mellow Mushroom where we had lunch on the previous day. When Glennie dropped us off back at our vehicle, I called Mellow Mushroom, and sure enough they had my card. We were able to swing by there and pick it up, although in Houston, you don’t just “swing by” anywhere. It was an hour out of our way, but at least we were in the general area and didn’t have to make a special trip from Livingston.

We got back to the RV about 4:30, fixed a light dinner and then we walked over to the Clubhouse for the Sunday evening ice cream social. Every Sunday evening the residents and guests of the park are invited to gather for ice cream (two scoops for $1) and to get acquainted with other Escapees who are staying here either permanently or temporarily. Those of us who were new to the group introduced ourselves, and it was interesting to hear the stories of others who are also full-time RVers.

Yesterday (Monday) was just a regular day. I did my morning walk and enjoyed some slightly cooler, drier weather. We were able to turn off the air conditioner and open the vents and windows, just using the fans to cool and air out the rig. I made some hummus and Andy cut up some veggies for lunch, then we cleaned up the dishes and made a trip to town for a few grocery items.

As many of you know, we’ve both been letting our hair grow longer. Andy’s hair is a full mane of beautiful white, and he gets complimented on it everywhere he goes. He’s working on getting it long enough for a ponytail to keep it out of his eyes. He made the decision to let it go long to avoid having to cut and style it (involving heavy use of hairspray) in the rig.

My hair, on the other hand, is gray and fine, and as it gets longer it inevitably starts to break off. Also the humidity causes it to frizz until it’s uncontrollable. So yesterday I decided enough was enough and I got it cut very short again, in my usual style. It felt so good to be free of the hair hassle again!

Yesterday’s mail call was a good one. We finally received our permanent Texas drivers licenses and were able to toss the temporary paper copies that were so bulky in our wallets. We also received the Texas title for the Tacoma pickup, so now the only thing we’re waiting for is the title to the RV. We’re still going through the process of contacting all our online accounts, credit cards, healthcare providers, etc. to give them our new address and banking information for direct deposits and bill paying. It’s a pain in the rear, but doing all this online is sure better than having to handle it by snail mail.

One bummer is that they have officially closed the pool for the season as of today, so no more cool swims after my morning walk. Just another sign that it’s time to move on. We have six more nights here before we pull out on Monday. Hard to believe that we’ve been living in the rig for a full month now!

We’ll see what else we can get into before we leave East Texas to head west, so stay tuned!

Polk County Museum, Pizza With Friends

We’re down to our last week here in the Livingston area, so we’re trying to make the most of it, checking out some more of the local points of interest and visiting with old friends.

On Friday we drove into town, primarily to refill our drinking water jugs that we had forgotten to take to the store with us the previous day. On our way there, we decided to stop and check out this old locomotive that we had seen on display:

Locomotive No. 5, used until 1952 in the development of the local timber industry

The locomotive is part of the Polk County Memorial Museum, which is housed, literally, in a neighborhood house that was donated by a former citizen of Livingston. We decided to tour the museum as well, and although it was small, it contained a lot of information that was nicely presented and well organized.

Old piano

Victorian Crazy Quilt

Mastodon tooth found near Lake Livingston

Pine needle basketry woven by women from the Alabama and Coushatta tribes

After touring the inside of the museum, we went outside to see the locomotive as well as this old settler’s home:

Old settler’s home from the period

However, when we came outside there were dark clouds rolling in and the wind was really picking up, so we only had time to take a few quick photos before hurrying back to the truck to beat the rain. We scurried over to Walmart to get the water containers refilled, and then drove back home to the RV. We were concerned about the wind possibly damaging the awning that we had left extended, but were happy to find it undamaged when we returned.

Yesterday (Saturday) was the weekly all-you-can-eat Pancake Breakfast at the Care Center ($5). The blueberry pancakes are delicious, and it only takes two of them to fill me up.

After getting our fill of pancakes, we drove to Houston to meet our old friend Stan and his wife and daughter at Mellow Mushroom. The rains had moved in again overnight so it was a dreary drive, but we made it to MM just after noon. Stan and his late wife, Carson, were dear friends of ours from our days in Houston, having met at Second Baptist Church. Stan recently remarried, and he and his wife Jergen have a beautiful 18-month-old daughter, Katherine.

We enjoyed catching up and getting acquainted over some delicious pizza and salad while the rain poured down outside. Staying in touch through Facebook is all right, but nothing beats getting together in person to share good times!

Today (Sunday) we’re driving back to the Houston area to The Woodlands to visit with more friends. We’re not letting the rain stop us!

Last week we received our new checks for our new Wells Fargo bank account, so at this point we’re only waiting on two items in the mail–our permanent drivers licenses and the titles to our vehicles.

On Friday I went out for my usual morning walk and noticed that there were some workmen digging up the ground near a water spigot at one of the campsites on our street.  When I returned to the rig after my walk, one of the workmen told me that the water would be off for about a half hour. When I got inside, I found Andy watching YouTube videos on how to fix plumbing issues in the RV. He didn’t know they had turned off the water (there was no notice given), so he thought it was a problem with our plumbing system. He had tried everything–checking the water pump, dumping the tanks, checking the filter for clogs–and was referring to YouTube for advice on other things he could check. So it was a relief for him to find out that there was no problem with Lizzy’s plumbing.

The water was actually off for more than an hour, but since we already had fresh water stored in our holding tank, we were able to just switch on our water pump and use our stored water for flushing the toilet, hand-washing, etc. until the park water was restored.

Andy got a nice check from The Main Attraction, the boutique in Tupelo that carries his jewelry. It’s still selling, and he’ll continue to keep them stocked out of his inventory. We also received a refund check of $79 from the escrow account on our house that we sold. Always nice to get checks instead of bills in the mail!

So that’s life for now. We’ll spend this week visiting friends, checking out a few more local spots, and preparing to pull out of here on October 1. We are so anxious to escape the humidity and get to a drier climate!