Monday, May 22, 2017

Cheesy Chorizo Gnocchi Nachos

Photo courtesy of Chile Pepper Madness
      Barb and I got the opportunity to get away for a week while a close family friend kept an eye on Mom.  We headed up Hood Canal (western side of Puget Sound) and camped near Brinnon.  This is an area I have never had the opportunity to show my wife and a good time for a bit of a break for us.  What better place for a plate of Nachos on a beautiful, warm spring evening! 
      Our vision of Nachos has become all too familiar, although tasty they are nearly boring at times.  Recently I found a version that adds a delicious and filling twist........pasta.  Gnocchi is, simply put, a potato, flour, and egg dumpling.  Combine this with chorizo, green chiles, tomato, and some guacamole and voile.........comfort food. 
      Although the recipe can found here at one of my favorite pepper recipe sites: www.chilipeppermadness.com/chili-pepper-recipes/appetizers/extra-cheesy-gnocchi-nachos  I'm gonna walk through the steps, perhaps adding my own twist. 
      First boil a package of gnocchi according to package directions.  I found a pack of Gia Russa Mini Gnocchi that works well for this.  Heat a skillet (I prefer cast iron) to medium heat and add chorizo, browning. 
      Add chopped or sliced green chile peppers (I always use New Mexico #9s or any canned variety as long as they are fire roasted), cook for 6-7 minutes, stirring.  Add garlic (and I also add about 1 teaspoon of Adobo) and continue to simmer, now turning heat to med-low.  When gnocchi is done, drain and add to skillet with a bit of the pasta water. 
      Spread the cheese over the top.  In addition to shredded cheddar I sometimes add some shredded pepper jack, Monterey jack, Colby jack, or even Queso Blanco (white Mexican farm cheese) if you can find it.  Add the chopped tomato and fold in.  I made a different type of Feta Cheese Guacamole  https://avocadosfrommexico.com/recipe/guacamole_dips/feta-cheese-guacamole/ which is delicious.  When melted to perfection, serve with some of the guacamole on the side and either with tortilla chips or stuff in soft shell corn tortilla shells.   The gnocchi is a nice touch and still a spicy, tasty treat. 

"As Americans, we tend to look at Mexican food as Nachos, which is not Mexican food really-they don't eat them"
Anthony Bourdain
WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi
 


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Home.....for awhile

      Plans as they often do are always subject to change.  It is said that God has a plan for everything and today was very much a part of it.  Barb and I have been visiting Mom for the past two weeks on our way to Alaska.  In fact we're supposed to leave tomorrow.  Mom has had labored breathing issues for the past couple of months and finally got in to see her doctor.  She has had several appointments since our arrival, including heart specialists, as well as an echocardiogram, and an outpatient procedure to drain nearly a half quart of fluid from her lungs.  In addition she has a fluttering heart valve.  They do want her so see a Pulmonary Specialist as well, but (and this is becoming a far too familiar story) about 80% of the local ones at Providence St. Peter Hospital have retired due to the catastrophe of our modern health care system.  She is on the waiting list for her case to be considered, but who knows how long that will take. 
      Don't misunderstand me, she is in decent shape for a woman of 89, but age has it's way of wearing down a person, especially their memory.  With Mom, short term memory is too quickly becoming a thing of the past.  We don't feel we can leave her at this time as there is no other family that can step in right away.  Mom does have a renter that is very reliable and will be there as well.  Barb and Mom have become pretty close over the past couple of years and she has really stepped in to be there for her.  Between Barb, me, and my next oldest sister we'll work this out.  So for now, our Alaska trip is being put on hold. 
      We've been to Alaska before and are probably just bumping our plans for a year.  Dad built an RV pad with complete hookups when he retired so we are loving 'moochdocking' at it's best.  We'll still get away for a week or so a couple of times this summer, but right now there is no set time for our departure.  She really needs the help and for us that's enough.  I was going to fish in Alaska, but I can fish here at Westport as well.  We also have several close friends from my school days here for any support we may need.
      So for now here we are, my hometown.  The blog will continue, but with an obvious twist of flavor.  I appreciate all the love and incoming prayers that will result from this, but believe me...Mom will be fine........and so will we. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Who Will Be The Clam King?

     
      This has become Barb's favorite pastime when we are in Washington, providing we get to do it.  Sometimes it is the timing of the seasons with our stay and sometimes WDFW puts clams off limits due to biologic health concerns.  Domoic acid, a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae, can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities.  The toxin has disrupted razor clam digs along Washington's coast over the past two years. In fact the day we departed Michigan the WDFW cancelled two digs at beaches further south due to algae toxins. Warmer winters are bad for this.  Our fingers were crossed.   This year's season currently runs through the end of April so we worked really hard to get across the country so we could spend about 4-5 days at the ocean and still have a couple of weeks with mom before heading north.  Unfortunately on our trip west the RV living room slider motor malfunctioned so while awaiting our maintenance appointment we headed to the beach anyways.  Even with our LR slider still in we do have room, but it is a bit cramped.
      We haven't been able to dig since April of 2015 so we were really looking forward to it.  Washington WDFW recently opened all the beaches from Long Beach to Mocrocks for the remainder of the season.  Limits remain the same at 15 clams each per day.  We are hoping to stock our freezers with about 100 or so clams for our summer journey.  For those of you who have never experienced razor clam digging this is a short video how it is done.  https://youtu.be/dctcKHqbDuk
        We camped at Screaming Eagle Campground in Ocean City.  A nice campground for $33/night.  We had hoped to dig with our friends Annette and Clarence, but they had other plans (Disneyland) this trip......c'est la vie.  I'll have to battle my wife for the title of Clam King all by myself.  That in itself is a blessing in disguise because Clarence would have kicked all our butts with no trouble.  He is a one man 'Clam-Holocaust'  This is a very popular activity here in Western Washington and when the season is rockin' and the tides very good.......they will come.
      Barb loves to dig and she can be relentless when she finds a decent amount of 'shows' (the sign of clams present).  However I have experience growing up in this area and digging clams is part of my DNA.  I can smell them; in fact they fear me. 
      In all fairness the "Princess Clam" has come a long way in a short time and I anticipated a battle.  She only learned how to do this 3 years ago.  I was counting on her 'smoke breaks' to disturb her concentration.  In the spirit of fun this will be a multi-level event.  There is a different category of competition each day with 1 point per round.  We would dig each day for 4 days.....120 clams total.  Since we both utilize 'clam guns' rather than shovels we were equal.  This year we both used our new
'Clamhawk' guns which although pricey utilize a revolutionary new design which are much easier to use all day.  The champion receives bragging rights for the next year while the loser has the duty of cleaning all the clams and equipment, (yeah, like that will happen)
     This year the tides were all 'morning digs' which Barb had never done.  The alarm clock is NOT on her Christmas card list.  Afternoon digs allow you to sleep in and get your stuff together at your leisure.  Morning digs?  Not so much, but we did make room for afternoon naps.  We also had to deal with open beaches at our area (Copalis) and further north (Mocrocks) on alternating days.  You want to be on the beach ready to dig about 2 hours before low tide.  First day's low tide:  7:35 a.m.
THE EVENTS

DAY 1 Mocrocks:  TIMED HANDICAP (BARB 5 CLAM HEAD START) 1 pt.
DAY 2 Copalis:  BIGGEST CLAM 1 pt.
DAY 3 Mocrocks:  HEAVIEST LIMIT 1 pt.
DAY 4 Copalis:  TIMED UNLIMITED 1 pt.

CLAM CHAMPIONSHIP RESULTS

DAY 1:  Rich 1 hour 30 minutes (dug his and 3 of Barb's)....in all fairness the clams were scarce, deep, and small today. 
DAY 2:  Barb 7"  Great digging today.  30 clams in 15 minutes.
DAY 3:  Rich 5 lbs.   Found good clams both near the surf and on the hardpacked sand.
DAY 4:  Rich 6 minutes, all good sized in surf.  Barb was close behind at 14 minutes. 

2017 GRAND CHAMPION CLAM KING 

2017 SEXIEST CLAM DIGGER
     
     Once cleaned these clams are delicious.  They are usually breaded and fried, but there are many alternatives one of which, and a personal favorite of mine, is clam chowder.  Here is a link for a few recipes: 

We always clean, sort, vacuum seal, and freeze ours according to use (i.e.) Diggers, Chowder Meat, Strip Meat, and Whole Clam Steaks.  We finished with 19 packs of clams including 4 packs chowder meat, 3 packs clam strips, 4 packs of diggers, and 7 packs whole clam steaks.  If you did the math, we're not short......it's what we had for dinner our last night! 


     While camping at the beach we dined on Texas ROTEL Blue & Gold Sausage Taters, Gator Ham & White Bean Soup,  and Fresh Fried Razor Clams.  With our freezer a bit fuller, our arms and backs a little sorer, and our pride still intact we head north to the 49th state......where I hear they have a 60 clam limit!  Joie de Vivre!

NOTE:  I HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS MANY PEOPLE AT THE BEACH FOR A WEEKEND DIG. THE THIRD DAY WE WERE IN TRAFFIC FOR 40 MINUTES TO TRAVEL 8 MILES UP TO MOCROCKS BEACH AS WELL AS A LINE OF TRAFFIC WHEN LEAVING THE BEACH. HOWEVER, MUCH AS WDFW TRIED THEY COULDN'T CONTROL ALL THE LAWBREAKERS, INCLUDING THOSE THAT DROVE ON OR DUG IN RESTRICTED OFF LIMITS CLAM RESEARCH BEDS.  I ALSO HAVE TO SAY I WAS A BIT DISSAPOINTED BY THE MESS THAT SOME PEOPLE CHOOSE TO LEAVE BEHIND.  BESIDES TRASH, SOME FOLKS CLEAN THEIR CLAMS RIGHT ON THE BEACH AND LEAVE LARGE PILES OF SHELLS.  I'M SURE THERE IS SOME ENVIRONMENTALLY ACCEPTED ASPECT TO THIS, BUT IT DOESN'T LOOK GOOD.  EVERY DAY THERE WERE HUNDREDS OF DAMAGED CLAMS PEOPLE CHOSE NOT TO TAKE AND JUST THROW THEM ON THE BEACH, EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE REQUIRED TO TAKE THE FIRST 15 CLAMS YOU DIG REGARDLESS OF CONDITION.  AFTER ALL, YOU'RE THE ONE WHO BROKE THEM. 

"You can't escape the taste of the food you had as a child.  In times of stress, what do you dream about?  Your mother's clam chowder.  It's security, comfort.  It brings you home
                                                                        Jacques Pepin          

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi


    

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Spring is Nature's Way of Saying "Let's Party"

      After completing our very short 11 day turnaround at home we depart NW Michigan once again heading west towards Seattle and ultimately north to the Alaskan Highway.  (I'm happy to say that dewinterizing the house this spring did not result in one single maintenance issue, something we haven't been used to.  We leave it intact for the folks who are renting it this summer)  This trip isn't about sightseeing or leisure.  We have done it many times before.  This is a very long commute.  During early spring this trip can be very unpredictable with mild temps, rain, sunshine, freezing weather, blooming fields of flowers, and YES even more snowfall.    We plan on 6 days of reasonable, but long driving to make the 2400 mile trip with 3 boondocks and 2 nights in campgrounds for services. 1490 of those miles we travel the more direct route on 2 lane roads, depending on the local county road boys to keep them cleared. We cross 4 mountain passes in the Rockies and Cascades.  We journey through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and finally Washington.  The title for this blog chapter comes from a Robin Williams quote and is pretty much 'spot on'.
      We are fully loaded in both freezers and other supplies for the trip.  We carry extra fuel cans (both unleaded for the generator and diesel for the truck), diesel oil and DEF for the truck, as well as an extra spare tire.  Expect the unexpected (and it would come true).  On this type of trip we don't even unhook the truck from the RV.  It keeps arrival and departure quick and easy.  Simply jumper from the solar/battery bank to the RV and we have all the power we need.  Meals on such travel nights are simple and don't require much prep or dish washing.  They are usually frozen leftovers from previous larger meals; easy to reheat.  Depending on circumstances if we do need to stay extra nights we will do it at a park with services (i.e. convenience, shopping, supplies).  
Day 1:  406 miles, boondocking at WalMart in Ironwood FREE
102 miles of freeway and then many miles of good road and beautiful scenery throughout the Upper Peninsula.  The Marquette-Negaunee-Ishpeming area are the biggest cities enroute with services.  Today was a mix of rain/snow from Marquette to destination.  Driving wasn't bad.  12 mpg
Day 2:  346 miles, camping at Red River Valley Fairgrounds w/hookups $25
This entire day consists of good 2 lane roads with plenty of farmland and forests.  Duluth, Brainerd, and Detroit Lakes are the only large towns with services.  Woke up to snow, but quickly melted.  Pretty easy drive, but long.  12.4 mpg.  Got the only site left at the fairgrounds. 
Day 3:  352 miles, boondocking at Flying J Truck Stop (free water and dump) FREE
A freeway day......easy, maybe a bit boring, but very flat.....usually very good  mileage, but the wind WAS NOT in our favor today....11.4 mpg.  Did see 17 pheasant.  Jamestown, Bismarck, and Dickinson all have good services.  NOTE:  If you plan on drinking in ND get your alcohol beforehand.  They have some pretty screwy rules as to beer.  Liquor store or not?  In a store it has to be cordoned off at 10 p.m. etc. 
Day 4:  387 miles, camping at Malmstrom AFB Fam Camp w/hookups $24
40 miles of freeway and then lonely 2 lane state roads with plenty of prairie.  Lewistown is the only town with services enroute, but on arrival Great Falls is a good sized city with plenty of services.  Pretty uneventful day, 13.4 mpg today.
Day 5:  341 miles, boondocking at Cabelas (free water and dump) FREE
Half day of 2 lane roads, the other half freeway, but BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAINS and 3 mountain passes  NOTE:  This time of year requires a close watch on the mountain weather or a divert may be possible.  Lincoln, Missoula, and Couer d' Alene have the only real services enroute.  There is a rest area on Hwy 200 just east of Missoula at Clearwater Junction with FREE RV dump and potable water.  12.8 mpg today.  BAD NEWS:  When we arrived our bedroom slide worked fine, but the living room slideout would not open.  Departed on time the next day with an advance call to Camping World for when we arrived. 
Day 6:  343 miles, arrival at Mom's house (free moochdocking as long as I cook
The final leg is mostly freeway prairie except 1 pass over the Cascade Mtns.  Moses Lake, Ellensburg, and Yakima have services.  The longest day of the trip (9 hours), due mostly to the terrible roads over White Pass.  NOTE:  State of Washington has several freeway locations for free water and dump

      Meals (frozen-quick-reheat-leftovers) for this part of the trip included: 
Ham w/Taters n Veg
Spaghetti w/Blue n Gold Meatballs n Garlic Bread
Wild Boar Apple Roast w/Taters n Veg
Serbian Chicken Eggplant Soup w/Crusty Bread
Usually a meal out (i.e. truckstop cafĂ© or anything within walking distance)

TRAVEL STATS FOR THIS LEG OF THE TRIP:
Just over 2400 miles
Boondocking days 3, savings $90
Full hookup (RV Park) days 2, cost $49
Net:  Saved $41
Diesel used:  206 gallons averaging 12.4 mpg $539 total
Average price $2.61 with a low of $2.48 (Wakefield, MI) and a high of $3.03 (Ritzville, WA)

Well, I have an appointment for next week for the RV slider motor.   They'll no doubt have to order parts and we'll see how much that costs and/or puts us behind schedule.  This weekend we're off to the beach for some long overdue clam digging!  From here we begin our journey north into Canada and eventually, Alaska. 


"If life gives you limes, make Margaritas" 
Jimmy Buffett

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Monday, April 3, 2017

Pine Top Pimento Cheeseburger


      On our way home we were stopped for a few days at the Scott AFB Fam Camp and the urge came once again to indulge in one of our favorite meals, grilled cheese.  Delicious any time of year, this can encompass a wide array of styles, flavors, and materials........as long as it's grilled cheese, usually accompanied by Tomato Soup.  Several years ago we toured the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, OR.  This is one of the nation's best cheeses and can be found in stores throughout much of the country. They have an incredible website featuring many different recipes featuring their products, but by far our favorite is the Grilled Cheese Sandwich Page.  I should mention that the website provides recipes for any type of Burgers, Grilled Cheese, Mac n Cheese, Sandwich, Pie, Pizza, Salad, and even beverages.  There are 242 recipes in all.
      They feature 73 different grilled cheese recipes for just about any flavor, palate or taste buds seeking different that you can imagine.  We have made several of these and this is just one of our favorites.  We love the Texas Grilled Cheese, The BABS, Cheesy Mac n Rib Melt, Salami Olive n Eggs, and NY Pastrami Melt. 
      The recipe actually comes from the 'Burger Page'. www.tillamook.com/recipes/index.html#burger  This page provides another 19 recipes for burgers.  I love different and this burger definitely qualifies.  The addition of a fried egg is a taste of home cooking. 
      Let's face it.......the burger is the key, from beef to spices to cooking......in a burger the meat is everything.   Opinions on ground beef for burgers vary immensely, but I have found that fat provides flavor and juiciness.  In fact leaner beef, such as sirloin or round can actually be a bit dry and less flavorful when cooked.  Ground Chuck (80% beef, 20% fat), about 1/4 pound meets this requirement nicely.   Another tip for great burgers:  Add and massage (NOT knead) gently any spices you wish beforehand.  Meat is your baby, handle tenderly.  When frying.......just let it fry, depending on tastes, but DO NOT PRESS, this releases any juiciness you are trying to accumulate.  Flip once and repeat the cooking times depending.  A digital meat thermometer is very handy here. 

MEDIUM-RARE BURGER: 125 to 130 degrees, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
MEDIUM BURGER: 135 to 140 degrees, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
MEDIUM-WELL BURGER: 145 to 160 degrees, 4 to 5 minutes per side.

     The recipe includes their own recipe for Pimento Spread, but you can use commercial if it's easier.  Just be sure to add the appropriate heat via another ingredient.  I can easily list the entire recipe here, but it would just as easy (for you) to link directly to the website for everything.  It also allows for you to change/modify ingredients as you see fit for your tastes.  Besides, it opens the door to the other 241 Tillamook Cheese recipes!
      The recipe does call for Brioche Buns, but Sesame Seed Buns, Focaccia, Whole Wheat, Kaiser, or any other you prefer work just as well.  For the bacon........I love Wright's Applewood Smoked Bacon, thick cut and very flavorful.....it adds just the right finish. 
      Be generous with the toppings; layer that burger as tall as you want  A long wooden skewer here is helpful.  This is delicious indulgence.  Of course, you can always add more HOT SAUCE as you wish.  I know I do.  This is a delicious, meaty, burger that will not disappoint.  In fact, it just might become your favorite. 
Photo courtesy of Tillamook Cheese

"I always say eat clean to stay fit; have a burger to stay sane" 
Gigi Hadid


WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Thursday, March 30, 2017

AWACS Reunion Luncheon, Celebrations of Life, and Long Time Friends


      Departing Texas for this winter we headed straight up I-35W north towards Oklahoma City.  Enroute we boondocked overnight at the Fort Worth Cabelas.  If you did not know you can boondock for one overnight at any Cabelas store. They have set aside long RV spots (watch for the signs) as well as a water and dump station that can be used with a code you receive inside if making a purchase.  Easy for us; we're always in there.   We gassed up at the Bucees Store @Exit 70 in Fort Worth for an amazing $1.99/gal for diesel.  Averaging 13.4 mpg we arrived in the OKC metro area we steered east into the Tinker AFB Fam Camp located on the south side of the base just off I-240.  Another one of those "Veteran Perks", full hookups for $19/night or $116/week.  Very nice showers and laundry with washers and dryers at only 50 cents per load.  They even have a very large ice machine.  Propane is available at Uhaul just across from the base. www.militarycampgrounds.us/oklahoma/tinker-afb-famcamp  It gives us complete services and security and very close proximity to the Base Club for the AWACS Luncheon, BX, Commissary, golf course, hospital, and gas station as well as allows us to sneak away for a day or two for shopping and to visit extended family.
      It has been 24 years since I retired from the Air Force and even though I have kept in touch with most of my good friends over the years, this was an opportunity to catch up with many others; fellow 'crew dawgs'.   I saw crewmembers and friends I had not seen in many, many years.  These gatherings are held twice a year at the club and I have always been just out of range to attend till now.  This was a special treat for my wife Barb as she is also an AWACS veteran, having served 5 years at Tinker AFB and Keflavik, Iceland.  Although it was quite the "Gathering of Eagles", I found myself looking in the mirror when I got back from lunch. 
      Another reason for our stopover in OKC, and perhaps more important, was to attend the Memorial Celebration of Life for Anna Doris Shanks who passed recently.  Anna was the wife of 59 years to our good friend Col. Jesse Shanks . We felt it important to pay our respects on our way home. 
      Miss Anna was a dear woman, his 'Irish Lovely' as he called her, and even though we only visited with her twice my wife and I always felt like part of her family whenever we stopped by.  Miss Anna and I were on opposite sides of many issues, but I always loved our discussions.  She always made it a point to cook or bake for our visits so I was so very proud to present her with a wild boar ham for her Easter Dinner in spring of 2016.
      Col. Shanks made it a point to open the evening to anyone and everyone who ever knew Miss Anna as her heart and soul intertwined with so many folks, both Air Force families from around the globe and her time at Rose State College.  Everyone who knew her was touched by her love of life and convictions of belief.......always centering on family.  It was an evening filled with warmth, memories, love, and a celebration of a life well lived. 
       To Mrs Anna Doris Shanks, thank you.  As you have taught me, I will always count my 'gratitudes'.  I wake up each morning hoping that I too am able to cherish as much of a fulfilled life with my wife and family.
We ate out probably more than normal while in the Oklahoma City area as there are plenty of good venues, but Barb did enjoy the following meals by her personal 'In Camp Chef':

Wild Boar Ham Steak with Peach Salsa, Garlic Sour Cream Redskin Taters, & Salad

Cajun Sea Scallops w/Honey Carrots and Sunflower Seeds
Fusilli Alfredo w/Beef Sausage, Diced Heirloom Tomatoes, Garlic Bread, and a Salad

      Departing Oklahoma we continued our course north towards Kansas City, MO, once again boondocking overnight at the Eldorado, KS WalMart.   This is a nice location with a quiet corner to park in next to a convenience store, bank, and Subway inside of WalMart.  This is always my favorite Flatbread Black Forest Ham, Eggwhite, and Cheese Sandwich for breakfast when on the road.  This was two nearly identical days of 188 miles of easy travel, although I'm not a fan of turnpikes.....or big cities. We sat in traffic on the outer loop I-435 of Kansas City for 2 hours as a result of several fender benders and a boatload of rubberneckers. I should get extra points for negotiating this type of mess hauling a 35' RV successfully.  Arriving in Grain Valley, MO just east of KC we stayed at the East Trailside RV Park.  http://trailsidervpark.com/rv-park-pricing/ 
      This visit for Barb and I has been long overdue.  Gordon Wiltse is someone we have both known, worked for, respected, and admired for over 36 years.  We always plan on stopping in to visit, but plans as they often do....inevitably change.  This year we 'set it in stone'.  Few people have had an impact on the AWACS system, research, and development as 'Gordie' has.  His USAF career spanned 26 years and even more with Boeing and the Delaware Resource Group.  He is one of a select recognized few that have significantly improved AWACS Surveillance development.  Since retirement, Gordie lives comfortably with his wife Gloria in Grain Valley, MO enjoying their grandchildren.  For both Barb and I it was a treat to visit with him again. 

      Leaving KC we head east on I-70 for now, taking our time and measuring distances and weather at home.  We are planning on a variable length stay in East St. Louis at Scott AFB Fam Camp, keeping an eye on the forecast, in order to time our arrival in Michigan without the presence of 'the white shroud'.   We stay in contact with friends and neighbors in order to find out if we can get up our driveway or not.  Our ETA is April 8th.  Last year we ended up hiding out in Missouri for nearly 3 weeks to avoid the last winter storm of the year at home, arriving May 1st.  Again this year the weather, to say the least, has been unpredictable.  We didn't boondock too much this winter, totaling only 19 days, saving $570, figuring $30/day for RV parks.   We used generator power 45 hours totaling 9 gallons at $18. The other 408 hours was solely solar/battery bank.  This equated to a net off grid savings of $552 this season. 

"A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles" 
                                Tim Cahill

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chicken Soup for the Retiree Soul

     
      It has been a wonderful 4 years to date since retirement, traveling across the country 3 times as well as Alaska and Baja California.  We have seen so much and been able do pretty much exactly as we pleased during this adventure.  We planned for this for many years and have no intention of stopping.  But, there are several lessons both easy and those that can be pretty damned difficult that need to be learned along the way.  These are tasks to improve your mental health through stress relief. 

HAVE A HOBBY:  I have been perfectly happy being retired with no ambition other than to cook for us, hunt, fish, and my blossoming photography.  In fact I often wonder if I have always been a bit ADHD.  I do not often enjoy simply relaxing, but need something to constantly occupy my time.  Something constructive.  Barb is very happy just to sit for hours reading or playing games on her IPhone.  She also dabbles in prospecting, rock hounding, and jewelry making at times.   We both love to Geocache, but don't do it as much as we should; great exercise.

SELF IMPROVEMENT:  I am nearly 64 and retired.  I have a PhD in Educational Psychology and retirements from both the USAF and Kalkaska Public Schools.  It took me awhile to realize, but that is all behind me.  Been there, done that, but it doesn't really count anymore.  It is important to continue your education throughout life, whatever interests you, be it online courses or local opportunities.  Gardening, photography, crafts, and cooking to name a few. 

EMPLOYMENT:   This doesn't mean going back to work in the education or postal field, but it is available.  In fact, Barb has been offered employment seasonally each holiday and I have been asked if I was planning on Guest Teaching.  There are plenty of other options available when traveling.  Work camping in parks, state, and national forests including camp hosts.  The work load is minimal (somewhere between 10-24 hours a week and you get your camp spot free)  For example at Lockhart State Park in Texas work camping provides you with a free campsite for at least two months, free golf at their course, and a full time cart at your disposal.  This appeals to us except that we don't want to be tied down in one spot for several months.  There are also availabilities for retirees in resort areas for part time help.  Yeah, I can mow a golf course.  Some feel the need to keep busy via employment and these are some of the options.  For me it has been this blog and photography.  I self published my first photo journal coffee table book last year and am currently working on my second.  This is an individual choice. 
MONIES & BUDGETS:   This has actually been the easy part of us.  Our house was paid off a full year before retirement so our only outstanding bills are taxes and insurance.  All our utilities are turned off and the house winterized when we're on the road.  Barb switched all our account to online banking prior to retirement and although I was always like the 'cat on a hot tin roof' the first year she has done a wonderful job.  We do budget ourselves fairly close and boondock whenever possible.  This saves a tremendous amount of money.  Boondocking alone saves us around $1100 per year.  We do the local coupon thing to save at the stores which are usually Wal Mart and H-E-B (a Texas store I LOVE).  All our bigger purchases or gas we use our Cabelas Card which accrues us a good deal of points redeemable at their store amounting to around $200 a year.  Never fail to save for longer trips, such as Canada, Mexico, or Alaska.  Everything always costs twice as much as you plan.  IMPORTANT:  If at all possible do not use your cards outside of the U.S. as their ATM software is not anywhere as good as ours and you can't believe how many travelers are the victims of identity theft each year, including us our first year.  Thank God for Life Lock.  It really works.  Plan on getting foreign currency before you leave the country at YOUR bank.  YOUR bank usually doesn't charge you for this service, but others do.  Wells Fargo (not our bank) charged us $65 to change $1000 into Canadian.  We already have Canadian money scheduled for pickup with our bank prior to our Alaska run in May.  We'll use this to cover gas and whatever camping costs up and back.  Don't forget your passport & drivers license and be sure to occasionally check the expiration date.
Mail forwarding for us changed this past year.  USPS keeps changing the rules, never making it easier for the consumer.  We finally just got a P.O. Box and gave a key to a friend of ours who forwards our mail when we request.  About every 5 weeks is sufficient unless you're expecting something. 
TAXES:  We are nowhere near home during tax preparation time.  Most of our 1099Rs and 1095s are available online and I print them out when available, usually during February.  If not, then wait for the mail.  Barb maintains contact with our accountant at home so that when everything is ready on our end we send it certified/insured.  Our taxes are submitted online and any refunds transmitted to our accounts.  One particular 'snitch' on our end is the fact that my military retirement doesn't take out any Michigan State taxes and I have not been able to remedy this problem yet.  Michigan only recently began to tax retirees and the government is always a 'bit' slow to catch up.  We remedy this by having extra taken out of Barb's so that it somewhat balances out in the end.  Remember, that if you do work during retirement you'll need to get those forms as well. 
HEALTH CARE:  This may seem a 'no brainer', but on the road adds new challenges.  For us it mandated carrying up to date copies of our entire medical records.  These are easily accumulated if you coordinate with your local health care provider.  These are instrumental if issues arise on the road so everyone is playing on the same field.  Get all your checkups, physicals, and dental cleanings done while home.  Also prescriptions can be a 'snagglewoppy' as well.  You have to keep current with your physician before departure and then manage the constant coordination game between CVS, Rite Aide, Walgreens, and whoever.  SNAFUs here can cause delays when they have to contact your physician for coordination and hopefully, resolution.  None of these franchises are in every state.  A relative of my wife suggested we use WalMart because they are in every state.  This has worked out beautifully for me this winter.  There are NO coordination worries and they even send me a text when it ready for pickup, usually within 15 minutes while I am shopping in the store.  EXERCISE, more important now than ever.  Several times in the past couple of years I have realized that my morning stretching and walking goes a long ways to a happier day.  You'll notice I don't mention mental health, but I figure this entire blog chapter addresses that.   Health Care applies to your 'furbabies' as well.  Plan on checkups and shots while home, get enough meds for 6 months on the road, and take their medical records as well.   Roux is a hunting dog so we carry an extra pack full of all the first aid and necessities while in the field.  If crossing borders into Canada or Mexico be sure to check their requirements for pets as additional veterinary and shot documents are required.
VEHICLE/RV MAINTENANCE:  A stress filled subject often overlooked by new retirees.  After all, our camping/traveling experience was limited to about 30 days a year which didn't require much effort or planning unless something broke.  Plan for it.  It probably will break.  Nothing ever goes as planned and everything costs twice as much on the road.  I keep extra lightbulbs, fuses, extra hose washers (even an extra hose/3 total), water line parts, plumbers tape, trouble light, and all the tools necessary to fix the most important things.  One piece of equipment I have found very handy is a can of Rescue 911 or Flex Seal.  It came in handy for the little leaks resulting from replacing the roof top TV antenna and cabling.   Don't underestimate Duct Tape, rope, 550 cord, or WD-40 as well.  Sometimes you just have to go to a service center, but this can help keep the simpler costs in check.  The vehicle or tow truck is a bit more straight forward.  I carry extra Power Diesel Cetane, windshield wiper solvent, air compressor, jumper cables, two 5 full gallons gas cans (unleaded & diesel), and the myriad of other supplies/tools necessary for boondocking.  More times than not we are farther from service than we want to believe.  If you need to, get that oil change/tire rotation done early.  I carry an extra spare tire and oil/filter for longer trips into Mexico or the Alaskan Highway.  Oh yeah, don't forget the Fabreeze Air Fresheners for your vents........Barb, Me, Roux, and Bones on the road for months.  Yeah, got it? 
MAINTAINING MARITAL BLISS:  Here we go.  After so many years of marriage and work Barb and I both welcomed retirement with open arms, but perhaps for different reasons.  I remember the first year after I retired from the US Air Force we nearly imploded as nobody was used to me being home all the time.  That took some time and compromise on my part to keep things on track.  This retirement has been better, but.....?  I was so very ready to get back to rededicating myself to "Rich n Barb Time" while Barb was very happy to relax, travel, and spend time together....probably in that order.  After many years of marriage NOBODY are the same people anymore.  We have grown as individuals as well as a couple.  After about a year on the road I discovered I was asking "Are you okay, is anything the matter?" about 374 times a week.  Sometimes even the littlest issues caused the most friction.  Travel plans never seemed to be a problem unless it was deciding how much time for the kids or our families and how much time on the road for ourselves......little stuff.  We did have to make it VERY CLEAR that while we are retired and can afford to travel as we see fit, we do not have money to throw around.  We're on the road 6 months a year yet have had to explain to family that we aren't planning to spend 50% of it with them.  We help when we can, but sometimes the word "no" needs to be utilized. Harmony in our home has been improved by realizing that we each need some "ME TIME".  One way we have solved this is CHORE DAY.  I take the laundry/grocery shopping wherever to do, while Barb cleans the RV.  It accomplishes two tasks as well as gives each of us at least a couple of hours.  But, occasionally a different reminder is needed.   Recently I had to make a trip to Cabelas in a town about 30 miles away and just figured Barb would want to come along.  She asked to be taken to the RV instead and when I asked why......her look told me everything I needed to know.  Her internal pressure relief valve had to be placed in the 'solo bleed' position.  Ah yes, ME TIME.  I took my time and even brought back KFC for dinner.......bingo!  I don't always see it, but Thank God for a woman that will remind me.  Yeah, yeah, I know.....behind every great man is.......We also try to dedicate about 2 days a week with absolutely no plans at all and there won't be.  Do what we each want to do ourselves unless it is an agreed upon shared activity. The last bit of adjustment came in the arena of the kitchen.  I love to cook, but sometimes my meals can border on the extravagant while my wife likes simple.  Additionally, I had to learn to cook smaller meals because an RV refrigerator is not as roomy as the one at home.  I do plan large meals for the day before departure with leftovers for travel days which provides easy meal prep on arrival the first evening.  Our 2 quart Crockpot works very well for this.  We both love to try regional specialties as well as dine out at nearly every destination, but I have scaled back my menu a bit so that she isn't overwhelmed by "Le plus grand repas jamais"  You have to realize, and this is important, that in marraige these adjustments are, and should be, a never ending process. 
LAST BUT NOT LEAST:   DON'T BE IN A HURRY.  You're retired for goodness sake. Don't stress over anything that you can't do NOW, but just plan to do it soon.  Recognize that neither you or your spouse is perfect, but is your soulmate.  We couldn't do any of this without each other.  Tomorrow is promised to no one.  Give thanks everyday for what you are able to enjoy, it won't last forever.    Having a Bucket List is important, but it is so much more fun if most of it is mutual.  Retirement is a change of lifestyle, but it doesn't have to be limiting as long as you plan for it.....both of you, together.  Lessons learned from the road....

"A happy marriage is a long conversation that always seems too short"
                                                                                Andre Maurois


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