Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Back Home

100_9503Home is wherever we park the motor home.  It stayed parked in Congress while we were in the Midwest for Christmas so now we are back home in……..Arizona.

We went to Christmas dinner at my Mom and Dad’s home.  She has been making a Christmas buffet dinner for a number of years for whomever of the extended family, friends, and neighbors can come.  This year there were about 25 people that came.  We were the ones who traveled the farthest but not by a huge margin as one of my Aunts was there from Florida.

From Detroit we drove in our little rental car to Columbus to see son Andy and daughter-in law-Natasha.  We were there for two nights and went out with them a couple of times even though they had to work both days.

It was then back to Detroit for one last night before we were up early on Sunday to pack up, return the rental car, and check in at the airport.  As a partial offset to our earlier travel delays, we actually left the gate a bit early, didn’t use any of the extra time built in the schedule and arrived more than half an hour early in Phoenix…….and they had a gate available for us.  The bags came off in reasonable time.  It was a quick trip to the parking lot.  The roads were fairly empty on the drive back, maybe because the Arizona Cardinals were playing football at the time.  It all allowed us to get back with enough daylight to re-establish camp before it became dark.

DSCN0473Early the next morning I was off the to Vet’s office where the kennels are to pick up our little girl.  It didn’t take her long before she was comfortable and settled into the new bowl she received as a gift from her “Aunt Nancy”, a friend of ours and cat lover in Michigan.  So far she is being rather mum about her adventures at “camp”.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Back In The Midwest

100_3166Last Thursday, we headed off to the airport in Phoenix to catch a plane to Detroit for a 10-day Christmas visit with family.  The past two years, we had driven back in the car from Florida (two-day trip each way) and from Texas (three-day trip each way) but this year it would have been a four-day trip one way so we decided to fly.  And then there was another decision – what to do with Alley cat.  We have a carrier which would fit underneath an airline seat and allow us to take her as a “carry on”.  We also considered having a cat sitter come to the motor home but in the final analysis, we chose to put her in a kennel, the first time she has ever been to a kennel.  Although it was tough for me to leave her there, Gary keeps telling me that she is at “camp” and having a great time.  I can imagine the stories now ……”one tine, at band camp………”.

We left the motor home hooked up to electric to keep the refrigerator running, but put all the water and sewer away, pulled in the slides and lowered the satellite dish.  Fortunately the forecast didn’t have any serious freezing predicted so we only did a partial winterization of the fresh water system and left a lit trouble light in the water bay just in case.

DSCN0450We arrived at the airport a full two hours ahead of our departure time only to find out that our flight had been delayed for two hours.  After an hour and a half of travel to the airport, a four hour airport wait, a four hour flight, an hour of baggage pickup and rental car acquisition, and half an hour to the hotel including check in, we finally were here.  But at least we didn’t have three more days of travel still ahead of us.  And Detroit had the unpleasant surprise for us of quite a bit of snow on the ground.

DSCN0453We already have completed some doctor and dentist visits, seen some friends, and had the first of at least three Christmas celebrations.  We went to my sister’s house Sunday for Christmas dinner and presents.  She made a fantastic meal with some dishes I will just have to try in the future.  The picture at the right is of me and my sisters.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Prescott, AZ

We haven’t been up to a whole lot lately.  One day while driving, Gary noticed a drip on the floor mat near his feet.  It was coming from in under the instrument panel.  He figured it was a leak in a heater hose or connection.  He took it to the dealer and they diagnosed it as a leak in the clutch master cylinder.  We didn’t even know that a clutch system has a master cylinder.  We had to have it replaced.

We also had some squeaks seemingly in the rear end of the car and figured that is was bushings.  Wrong again.  The dealer said the shocks were shot which wasn’t surprising as they likely had about 90,000 miles on them (driving and being towed) .  And if you are replacing the rear shocks, it is also time to replace the front struts and strut mounts as well.  And all that precipitates an alignment too.

Along with a few other minor adjustments, the bill came to over $1,000.  But it all had to be done.

DSCN0432The car needed a good test drive after all of that work, so we took a day trip to Prescott.  It is located up in a mountain valley at over a mile of elevation.  The drive up there is quite a twisting climb.  The road is restricted to vehicles of less than 40 total feet so most trucks can’t even take the road.  On the way, we took the Skull Valley route to avoid some of the mountain side driving.  Prescott has a long history as a cowboy town.  The landscape is very different than at our campground; Prescott is forested with pine trees instead of cacti and palm trees.

DSCN0433People from Phoenix and Tucson head to the mountains around Prescott in the summer to escape the oppressive heat of the lower elevations.  We spent most of our time in the courthouse square.  On one street across from the courthouse is Whiskey Row, an area with a long history of cowboy bars and brothels.  We took in two breweries in that area – Granite Mountain Brewing and Prescott Brewing.  Both were quite good.  It was dark when we left the second brewery and we discovered that the trunks of every single one of the many trees on the courthouse square are wrapped in Christmas lights – a very colorful sight.  We also stopped by an Indian casino in the town, but our Las Vegas luck didn’t carry over to Prescott.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Arizona Auto Graphics

2011-07-29_18-53-37_884When Gary purchased our Ford Focus Wagon to be our “toad”, he said he was going to spend a little money spiffing it up a bit.  First, he added the cargo carrier (a.k.a. the turd) for some more “cube”.  He replaced the steel wheels and wheel covers with some aluminum rims.  He found a set on Craigslist for the amazing price of $75 and then sold the steel wheels for $50.  The wheels didn’t come with the center hub covers.  The ones with the Ford oval were $20 a piece so he wasn’t about to pay more for center hub covers than for the wheels..  Instead he bought these black vinyl lug nut covers and for the centers he bought electrical breaker box knockout covers at a dollar each and painted them black.  Even with the tire remounting and balancing, it was probably one of the cheapest conversions to aluminum wheels ever.

Next, he wanted some character of the motor home’s paint scheme extended to the car.  He went to two different paint shops that drew up some designs but nothing they produced was at all a grabber.  And the price quotes were $1,000 or more.  So he investigated stick on vinyl graphics and found online an off-the-shelf package that was a reasonable match.  He paid a shop to apply them and we got our car’s “paint job” for less than $500.

Because of the cargo carrier and the graphics, we have hand washed the car ever since.  Moreover, we have the time on our hands whereby we can wash it and do a better job than an automatic car wash to boot.  Well, we got an oil change back in Rapid City, SD.  A part of this package was a free car wash.  We declined explaining that we didn’t want to run our car with its fiberglass cargo carrier and graphics through a car wash.  They countered that their car wash was a brushless system.  So, what the heck, at least it would knock off some dirt without damaging the carrier or the graphics.  Oops, we didn’t account for how strong those water jets were going to be and they wound up cutting our graphics in a couple places.  One small chunk was especially bad and was somewhat wrinkled in the process.

We just let the blemish go as we knew we were headed to Arizona where the graphics were made.  We contacted the owner of Arizona Auto Graphics in Surprise, AZ.  He told us to come by his business and we would see what could be done.  Welcome to the world of internet-based businesses.  His shop was the garage in his house in a very residential area.  There was a layout table, a computer station, a large bed printer and what appeared to be some sort of large size cutter on a bed.  There it was a successful nationwide business operated with a website, a home garage, and the skills of a graphic artist/draftsman.  There still is entrepreneurship in this country.

He patched a new piece into our existing graphics scheme and you never could tell it had been touched.  Gary confirmed that he can and will do one-off designs if anyone out there would like to capture even some small part of their motor home or trailer theme onto their toad or tow vehicle.  Or, as Gary is fond of saying, “doesn’t our car look fast even while sitting still”.  I humor him, even while thinking, it’s a Ford Focus Station Wagon with a turd on the top for God’s sake.  Yeah right, “it looks fast even while sitting still”.

The website for Arizona Auto Graphics is: http://azautographics.com/

Monday, December 9, 2013

Phoenix Brewers Invitational Festival

IMG_0452When we are visiting an area, we usually find a website that shows the area’s activities and special events for the time we will be staying.  In looking for stuff in the greater Phoenix area, we stumbled upon the Phoenix Brewers Invitational Festival.  We had found a few breweries in Las Vegas, but in general we haven’t visited too many of late.  So we thought we would take in a festival that would have beers from a number of craft breweries.  This festival advertised that nearly 60 breweries would be participating.  We envisioned that each brewery would have its own tent pulling samples of their entire range of brews.  Well, it wasn’t exactly that way.  A lot of Arizona breweries did have their own tents but for the rest they were represented by their Phoenix distributor who only had one tap per brewery.  Just the same, it was a very impressive array of breweries and brews.  For $25 you received a souvenir mug and 12 tokens that each secured a 4 ounce sample of beer.  Between us we didn’t get too many overlapping samples so we probably tasted about 20 different brews.  Our overall favorite was a gingerbread beer that had a clear but subtle taste and aroma of gingerbread.

IMG_0449People who are fans of highly hopped beers are referred to as “hop heads”.  And of course there were a number of hoppy brews at the festival.  In case you are wondering what a hop head looks like, we captured this picture for you. “Go ahead, make my day hoppy”.

It was a great outing.  It was our first foray into downtown Phoenix.  We did a little needed shopping and enjoyed a lot of great brews with a good crowd of fellow beer enthusiasts.

Friday, December 6, 2013

An Expensive Free Night Of Camping

100_9530In our starter motor home, we had single pane windows.  In our current rig, we have dual pane glass.  Dual pane has some advantages such as better keeping out the heat or cold and also reducing noise.  But there is also a disadvantage.  Eventually the seals that separate the two panes of glass will break down and the seals will have to be replaced.  We noticed that in one of our windows we had a “creeping seal”.  It was in the top of the window.  The seal should only be around very inside perimeter of the glass, but the seal in this area was starting to move down in the general direction of the center of the window.  Although not the greatest picture, if you look at the right edge of the of the window above the level of the work bench, you can see how the seal was “creeping” away from the edge.

When you see this happening, you must deal with it fairly quickly.  These failing seals will allow moisture to get between the glass and even though it may well dry up in the sun, acids and other nasty things in the moisture will eventually etch the glass and permanently cloud the glass or even make it difficult if not impossible to reseal the window.

100_9531We found an RV window shop in Phoenix and made an appointment.  We checked all the other windows and found a second one with a failing seal so we had them both done.  The first one was right behind the entry door.  Country Coach apparently never intended for this window to come out.  A valance that covers two windows and a wooden pillar both had to come out to be able to get to the interior screws that held in that window.  It took well over 2 hours for that window to come out.  Fortunately the other window was in the bathroom and that one came out readily.

100_9532After removal, they take the window into the shop and with a utility knife they cut each pane off the glued seal.  They clean up the glass, lay in a new perimeter seal and seal it up with a hot melt solution of some sort.  They clamp it, allow it to dry, and then trim off the excess “tar”.

We were about 90 minutes from glass shop so they only got started on us at about  10 AM.  They finished up about 4:30 PM making it too late for us to head back as we would have arrived in the dark and we don’t want to set up camp in the dark.  So they just hooked us up at their shop and we had a “free” night of camping, as long as you ignore the $650 it cost us to repair the seals in two windows.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Soup’s On

Even here in Arizona, the weather has been cool.  After the initial monsoon, it has been sunny with temps in the low 60s during the day and about 40 at night.  But we are also going to be hit with the cold snap that a good portion of the rest of the country is experiencing.  So, what is good on a cool/cold night – a nice hot and hearty soup.

Just as I have been cooking, Gary has had the urge as well and he is the soup maker of the family.  He made another batch of his chili that we entered in the chili cookoff back at the Escapade in Wyoming in early July.  But he also had a hankering to make a soup he never had made before – split pea.  Just for the record, I detest split pea soup, especially that thick pasty stuff that a lot of places serve.  So this batch of soup was one just for the pleasure of Gary.  And as long as he was making a soup just for himself, why not fortify it with another food product that he loves but I hate – SPAM.

So, if you are looking for a recipe for a Spicy Split Pea and SPAM soup, here you go:


One pound package of dried split peas (that I had to chase 2 stores to find)

32 ounces of vegetable stock (a.k.a. a quart)

32 ounces of water (a.k.a. 4 cups or 2 pints)

1 cup carrot diced (or whatever cut suits your fancy)

1 cut celery diced (see above)

1 medium to large onion diced (see above)

2 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp salt

2 bay leaves

1 12-oz can SPAM  diced (Gary used Tabasco SPAM which gave a spicy kick to the soup, but you can use any kind of SPAM that you would prefer, or to make it somewhat more palatable, you could use the traditional ham with or without a bone or hock)


Put peas in a stock pot and sort (there was some chaff in our bag so he had to sort the peas from the chaff).  Add vegetable stock and water and bring to a boil.  Simmer for 2 minutes, cover, and set aside for an hour.

Dice the carrots, celery, onion, and the God-awful SPAM.

About 45 minutes into the soak, heat a large skillet and melt about 3 tablespoons of butter (of course Gary used bacon grease instead just as he does for darn near anything he puts in a skillet).  Progressively add in the onions, carrots, celery, minced garlic and SPAM into the skillet and get to browning.

Add the skillet mix to the stock pot and season with the thyme, black pepper, red pepper flakes, salt, and bay leaves.

Bring to a boil and simmer for about two hours or until peas are the consistency you like.  We suppose you could get out your “motor boat” and puree the whole morass into a thick pulp if you wanted.

IMG_0448There you have it – split pea and SPAM soup.  Gary loved it.  He ate two bowls for lunch and another for dinner.  I tasted one spoonful while it was cooking and still am gagging.  Split is one thing.  And SPAM is quite another.  But, my God, split peas and SPAM together?

To the right is a picture of the finished product.  You really can’t see the peas for all the celery and SPAM floating on the top, but they are down in there somewhere (wouldn’t you think the peas would float and the SPAM would sink?)


Monday, December 2, 2013

Escapees North Ranch

The Escapees organization owns eight RV parks and there are eleven other parks that are member owned.  The North Ranch RV park that we are at in Congress, Arizona is the third Escapees Park we have visited.  The other two were Rainbow’s End in Livingston, Texas and Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale, Alabama.  Congress is about 90 miles northwest of downtown Phoenix.   This is a somewhat remote area.  Congress has a population of around 2,000 and the bigger town of Wickenburg about 10 miles away has a population of maybe 7,000.  Remoteness is one of the ways that Escapees holds down costs and campground fees.  Escapees parks are not resorts with water parks and golf courses, but they do have nice activity centers with plenty of activities.  We are up every weekday morning for the sessions with the DVD walking tapes


In all of the three Escapees parks we have stayed in, there are both campsites for transients like us as well as deeded lots that members have purchased.  This park has the greatest number of deeded lots at around 450.  Some people have only the very minimum of improvements on their lots and basically just use it as a campsite that they own for their RV when they are here.   From there, properties range from “park model” trailers, to manufactured homes, to frame constructed houses, that here mainly have stucco exteriors.  Some of the houses have stucco murals that are quite attractive.


There are a couple of common themes to all the properties here.  None of them have grass.  All the yards are some form of rock.  And the other common theme is that everyone landscapes with cacti.  There are cacti of all shapes and sizes all the way up to the giant Saguaros.  They have a recycle bin for aluminum cans the proceeds from which go to maintain the cacti on the common grounds.  And there are also the ever-present mountains off in the distance.