Wednesday, December 29, 2010

December Non-Purchases

It’s time to see how much money I saved this month in my quest to fatten up my RV fund.  This is the “latte factor” at work, an attempt to be penny wise, to resist the urge to  buy stuff I don’t need so I can spend  on stuff I want. 

Toms - $45

Have you seen these shoes?  My 15 year-old nephew has a pair and I want them muchly.  Not his.  My very own pair.  I decided to get the shoes even in light of my “one-in-one-out” rule but then realized I don’t want to relinquish any of my existing shoes just now.  Not for the first time I realize that the minimalist lifestyle requires constant vigilance.  The price of freedom, you know.        

Gal pal Doris is of a somewhat stumpy stature and can’t see well out of the car windows unless she’s in the back of my station wagon.


$25 Solution - Booster Seat

So she can’t really sit in the passenger seat like she deserves to.  However, if John is driving, she sits in my lap and all is well.  I know I’ll need to get her some sort of elevated platform when we hit the road but for now the seating arrangement is adequate.

Cocktail Shaker - $20
I like my Manhattans shaken, not stirred.  

(Make a note in case we ever meet).  

I consider my super-cool cocktail shaker an essential material possession.  But the O-ring seal broke recently making it rather awkward to use now.  Awkward but doable.  So I won’t replace it.  It is now 90% the perfect shaker.    

Haircut - $20
I’ve gone DIY, not so much to save money but to save time and avoid hassle.  In my 50s I am less and less willing to 1) listen politely to a tiresome person and 2) spend any more of life’s finite moments in the barber chair.  And if the stylist happens to be a tiresome person, I’m unhappy x 2. 

These days I’m sportin’ what is a simple yet probably unflattering hairstyle in order to avoid professional intervention.  I also made a pact years ago with one of my oldest friends that we will never cover the grey (of which there was little at the time of said agreement).  But so far so good. 

OK, here’s the tally:

December total = $110
November total = $ 88

Grand total = $198

That’s 1,063 miles worth of gasoline (assuming $2.79/gallon at 15 MPG)!  Amazing how the little stuff adds up!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Frozen Pointy Things!

I believe they are called icicles.  We don't get many of these down here in the Deep South.

It's enough to make one abandon one's pancake and jalapeno-sausage brunch and run for the camera before they disappear faster than the pancakes.  Let's just say it's cold.  No offense to those of you who chose to live in cooler latitudes but ... we no like. 

So, slow news day around here but that's OK.  Good excuse to stay within and do some crossword puzzles.  Doris is using her dowtime productively by working on her stocking stuffers: OinkiesTMand PupperonisTM

It's also a good excuse to share some more quotes; this time with a theme of simplicity:

Liberation finally amounts to being free from things we don’t like in order to be enslaved by things we approve of. 
~ Robert Fulghum ~

He who buys what he does not need steals from himself. 
~ Unknown ~

The man who dies rich dies disgraced.
~ Andrew Carnegie ~          

You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need. 
~ Vernon Howard ~

When you have bought one fine thing you must buy ten more, that your appearance may be all of a piece, but Poor Dick says, ‘tis easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow. 
~ Benjamin Franklin ~

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. 
~ Leonardo DaVinci ~

Growth for the sake of growth is the idealogy of a cancer cell.
~ Edward Abbey ~

Friday, December 24, 2010

Quotes From Them To Me To You

Winter in Yellowstone

 In the spirit of the season, I wanted to gift you with some timeless and environmentally-responsible recycled wisdom. 

Happy Holidays Everyone!


All phone calls are obscene. 
~ Karen Gordon ~

In spite of illness, in spite of the arch enemy sorrow, one can remain alive if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things and happy in small ways. 
~ Edith Wharton ~
Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.
 ~ Bernard Berenson ~

If a man happens to find himself, he has a mansion which he can inhabit with dignity all the days of his life. 
~ James Michener ~

If you think about other people and their opinions first you will always be mediocre.
 ~ Oleg Cassini ~

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

RV Shopping Report

Where the hell is Harriet?

Today was Step 1 in the RV decision-making process. Some part of me thinks I’m sweating this decision too much but I am painfully aware of my not unlimited resources.    

Re: the bottom line.  I’m accustomed to living frugally but at what point, after working a lifetime and living always within one's means, does one say:  this is the reason I save.  This is the reason?

It’s not easy to let go of the purse strings held so tight for so long.  And (not for the first time), I deeply envy the impulsive.  I hear the rewards are many. 

Anyway, John and I examined the 2011 Roadtrek 190 Popular.  This entailed a 4-hour round trip where I got into that deliciously mindless interstate groove that blue skies and comfortable temperatures seem to foster.  To say nothing of the dog.  This was Doris' first trip across county lines (as far as we know).  That gave the day a certain Lewis & Clark feel.    

Popular 190

All in all, the look-see was an ultimately unsatisfying experience because - I don’t know about you - but most test-drives are.  I really wanted to get away from the salesman and the interstate noise and go hook up somewhere and go hiking and afterward make some dinner …. you know, to see what it’s really like.  But, of course, I didn’t do any of those things.  As usual I let the salesman, well, drive the encounter.  But at least he didn’t patronize me – bonus points for that.       

Back to the bottom line.  The brand new unit cost more than my parents paid for their house in the 70s.  Can I afford it?  Yes.  Do I want to pay that much?  Decidedly not.  Fortunately, I have time and some pretty great internet resources on my side so I don’t have to.  Interestingly, the salesman told me “forget about finding a used one”.  But I know better.     
It drove really well - like some friendly 18-wheeler.  I love sitting that high above the road and the big windows and skylight.  It feels like a small Class A.  And the workmanship is apparent. 

Hours later I can still smell the new car smell.  What is that stuff anyway?  That overwhelming injected plastic aroma?  It’s indefinable and not altogether pleasant.  Just memorable. 

The rig was larger both within and without than I expected.  I’m thinking it would be awfully cozy (in good ways) on the road.  Especially at night with the shades down and the lights low.    

The entire experience has left me thinking: if I were more of a grasshopper than an ant – would I be happier?  Who knew that a visit to an RV dealer would result in this degree of soul mining?  It’s a bit maddening.  After all, what is an RV but a means to an end But the means can become so very tiresome what with the inverters and macerators and black water capacities and sway bars and …...

All I want to do is see Glacier National Park !!! 

However, today’s mission was not to see glaciers or even buy an RV but to test-drive a Class B. 

                                                                        Done ! 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Doin' The Math

My office is exceedingly quiet this week and I'm experiencing some freakish downtime.  As a result, I am brushing up on my math skills by comparing the costs of my usual mode of travel - cars + hotels versus Class B + campgrounds versus Class B + boondocking.  Here's what I came up with based on a 2,000 mile trip lasting 1 month:


Car + Hotel       Total = $3830
Gas - 240         25 MPG = 80 gal. @ $3/gal. (.12 cents/mile)
Hotel – 3,000    $100/night
Food – 600       $20/day

Van + Campgrounds     Total =  $1275

Gas – 375      16 MPG = 125 gal. @ $3/gal.   (.19 cents/mile)

CG – 600       $20/night

Food – 300    $10/day

Van + Boondocking    Total = $675
Gas – 375      16 MPG = 125 gal. @ $3/gal.

Food – 300    $10/day

Campgrounds vs. Boondocking     $675
Hotel vs. Campgrounds     $2565
Hotel vs. Boondocking   $3165
Why, look!  It would be fiscally irresponsible – almost criminal -  NOT to get a camping van!  (Notice how I didn’t include the cost of the van in my calculations).  But if I take two big road trips a year, that’s a $6,000 savings, so the van will pay for itself at some point in the future.  Right?  I just don’t want to figure out how long that would take.  Takes the fun out of rationalization by calculation. 
Yes, I could stay in really cheap hotels (but I wouldn't) and eat bologna 3 times a day (but I wouldn’t).  And I realize I’ve not calculated those miscellaneous expenses like Stuckey’s pecan logs and genuine Navaho blanket-shopping. But then those costs remain the same regardless of travel mode.  And I didn't account for stuff like dump fees and propane replacement. 

Of course, there are intangible advantages to an RV too but that’s another post… 
Some of you more experienced folks might find issue with my assumptions regarding daily expenses.  I’d love your input.
In reality, I would probably do a combination of campgrounds and dry camping.  The pivotal variable in all of these equations though is whether I can learn to:
  • boondock successfully
  • develop the nerve to stay in a truck stop alone and most importantly ...
  • enjoy it. 
There’s only one way to find out! 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Travel Books Part II

Road Trip USA: Cross-Country Adventures on America’s Two-Lane Highways.  By Jamie Jensen. 
This is one of those off-the-beaten-path books and one that I use every time I’m planning a road trip.  It also includes detailed road maps that deserves a place in the car right next to the road atlas.  The book is divided into 6 routes that criss-cross the country in eclectic fashion.  One of my (many) travel goals is to drive every one of the routes. 

Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff.  By Rosemary Mahoney  
Another row-your-boat adventure but very different from the first book in the first list.  Mahoney’s quest to row a small skiff down the Nile and doing it as a woman leads to (almost) insurmountable obstacles due to the cultural differences between the Western and Muslim worlds.  I don’t think I’m spoiling the story to tell you that she overcomes them all and does, in fact, row the Nile solo.  She is a gifted writer who is also extremely funny.

The Complete Guide to America's National Parks: The Official Visitor's Guide to All 375 National Parks.  By The National Park Service. 

I don’t leave home without this one either.  An invaluable reference for every one of  the NP service sites.  It’s concise yet full of information such as when to go, what to do, what is costs, and where to get the national passport stamped.  See this post for a discussion of the National Park Passport Program and the hobby of travel stamp collecting.

More nominees for The Travel Writing Hall of Fame
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Travels With Charley In Search of America by John Steinbeck
Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson
The Travels of Marco Polo (Actually, I’ve not read this one yet but feel compelled to mention it since it is the inspiration for the title of my blog). 
Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome
Into the Wild/ Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster -  both  by John Krakauer
The Long, Long Trailer by Clinton Twiss

What are some of your favorites?



Monday, December 13, 2010

Travel Books Part I

Here’s a list of some of my favorite travel books.  I’ve tried to include titles that may not be as well-known as others.   

On the Water: Discovering America in a Row Boat.  By Nathaniel Stone.

A sensitive and moving account of a man pursuing a childhood dream of navigating the “eastern island” of the US in a rowboat.  A fascinating journey with a profound message about living simply and deliberately. 

American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads.  By Pascale Le Draoulec. 

A journalist relocating from the west to the east coast decides her journey is theme-worthy and chooses …. pie.  She travels the backroads in search of the perfect slice.  Good choice!  I love that this funny and charming book combines two great American traditions: road trips and pie.

A Journey of One’s Own.  By Thalia Zapatos.

I found this one in a Georgetown bookstore many years ago.  I rarely buy books but this one cried out to me and has since become my “Walden” for travel.   Written for women who dream about traveling solo but find the prospect daunting, I’m happy to see it’s still in print – noo doubt it continues to inspire.  She includes essays from other solo travelers as well. 

Going to the Sun.  By James McManus. 

I thought I would throw a novel in the mix here.  Penny is cycling from Chicago to Alaska for very compelling personal reasons.  Years before she had a life-shattering experience (which I will not divulge but let’s just say, I still have PTSD after reading it).  I am amazed that this male author captured Penny’s anguished yet strong voice so beautifully.   

I’ll post some more soon .....

Saturday, December 11, 2010

November Savings Report

fundraising ideas13 months to go .....

The bad news:  I stalled for the first time since I started saving, i.e. absolutely no $$$$$ went to the RV fund.

The good news:  I went an entire month without a single root canal!!! 

Oy! Fall is always demanding financially - the perfect storm of multiple non-negotiable bills due: property tax, homeowner's insurance, liability insurance etc ...  etc ...

The galling part is that not one of those dollars I parted with resulted in a single moment of joy.  Know what I mean?   

November also required outlays for home repair (leaky basement), car repair (new struts, shocks, and some clutch thingy), auto insurance, and property tax. 

Small wonder I couldn't save anything! 

But I remain undeniably optimistic even with big ticket items like tuition and charitable Xmas giving coming up in December.  At least the donation will provide a great big joy bang for the buck.

Better not pout!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 7: We Disembark

The 6 hour drive home was blessedly uneventful ... 

... with the inevitable stop

Oh Yeah!

Hello Doris!!!

Had fun.  Glad we went.  Glad we’re home.     

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 6: We Roll

The captain just announced that the seas today are “moderate” with 10 foot swells.  This constant pitch and roll has set the tone onboard today.  Yet it is another relaxing day - with the exception of trying to stay upright while walking.  

I couldn’t complete my workout as the spa is perched high atop the ship on deck 12. Everyone was having trouble balancing – the elliptical machine was moving back and forth like a mechanical horsy, the free weights in danger of becoming projectiles.  

(Doesn't really show the severity of the chop)

Today’s lunch was the standout meal of the entire cruise – whole pan-fried trout topped with toasted almonds.  It was perfectly prepared and paired nicely with the Nobilo sauvignon blanc.  For once, it was me, not John, who ordered the best thing on the menu (although his lentil soup starter was pretty much perfect). I’ll remember that buttery flaky trout for a while and John promises to replicate the results back home.  This photo in no way does it justice. 

The "After" photo.  There is no "Before" shot.  I'm only human.

After lunch we descended upon the chocolate buffet as though we were actually hungry and took our selections back to the cabin.  Try we did, but couldn't pick a favorite.    


John went liquor shopping and couldn’t resist 2 liters of Stoly for $19.99!

The last night on board is always a bit melancholy as we say goodbye to the staff we’ve come to know (and rely upon for our happiness) and our new friends – good people all.  

The swells are 14 feet now and it is far too cool and windy to be out on deck or even the balcony so I’m writing from the best seat in the house anyway – our bed by the big window looking out over all this magnificent turbulence.  

We should reach the Mississippi delta around dinnertime at which point the waves will be behind us, of course.  It will require many slow hours to glide up the river in the darkness tonight and we can’t wait to watch it all.  The skies are clear and stars are bright.  We arrive in New Orleans about 8-ish AM. 

I’m thinking about bundling up, setting up on the balcony with a big thermos of coffee, and watching it all as long as my eyes stay open.  Even after living on it for 4 years back in the day, there is something eternally romantic about that river.    

Last Towel Animal

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 5: We Loll About

*** SPOILER ALERT:  we do very little today

Anchored in Cozumel, sitting on the balcony, staring at the impossibly blue water.   Our cabin is seaside so it looks out over the long shimmering water to a miles-distant horizon.  A much better view than that of the port-side cabins facing Senor Frog’s with the Tequila soundtrack and the drunken whoo-whoo chorus.  Let’s hear it for the starboard side!

We disembarked for a bit this morning and made some ineffective attempts at shopping but the air is hot, heavy, and humid.  The dense crowds became tiresome quickly as four liners are in port today.  

This afternoon, John is sunbathing as I alternately read, write, fill in blank squares, look through the spyglass, and continually consider napping.  Tomorrow is a sea day as we head north toward New Orleans.  It’s been swell, love the views and the respite from chores but .... we so look forward to resuming Life with Doris 

Meanwhile, it was interesting watching the Ecstasy precede us as she rode off into the sunset

which was stunning:

Exhibit A

Fishing Boats Returning to Shore

As we move toward the last full day on board tomorrow, we talk about how we will miss sharing our evening meals with the ever-entertaining Sonny & Linda.  We saw Sonny today in the market square right outside of a shop selling leather goods.  Guess what he was doing in the middle of the crowded square?  Nevermind - you can't possibly guess. 

He was testing whips. Yes, that’s right – just like Indiana Jones would do if he were shopping for a whip.

We discovered later that he bought 2 but had to relinquish them at security upon re-boarding.  The general agreement is that it was the right call.    

Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 4: We See Sights

 The weather today is pleasant, sunny, with a touch of muggy.  Balmy even.

Short walk, long  pier

 Today was a pretty low-key day in port.  ("Low-key" seems to be the theme of our cruise this time).  We took the 10 minute bus ride into town, strolled about, and thoroughly enjoyed some tasty dishes in the food court of the town market. 

Back to the ship in the early afternoon.  After a luxurious nap, I visited the gym for a guilt-induced workout which provided little pleasure though I did pick up some smug points.  This routine of mid-day beer, followed by a nap and exercise is odd yet agreeable.  And John’s back pain is diminishing thanks to the strict regimen of crosswords, prone positioning, and frequent applications of scotch.   Turns out a cruise ship is a great place to rehab a bad back.  Must speak to Blue Cross about covering the next one. 

I’m trying to eat sensibly - I do love a challenge - but caved in and had a pre-dinner freaky delicious BLT from room service.   (Thought I should mention this in the interest of full disclosure).   

Tomorrow we wake up in Cozumel.   Because this is my third visit inside of a year, I’m predicting yet another lazy and unstructured day.  Yeah, baby!  Even taking the camera ashore may prove to be too much responsibility.  

It’s Monday and I missed 3 (three!) meetings at work today.  You know ...... missed is just not the right word. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 3: We Relax

Gray and rainy today out in the Gulf of Mexico.  We did little beyond working out (me) and nursing a pulled back muscle (John).  Sitting on the balcony wasn’t an attractive prospect with the high winds, heavy cloud cover, and occasional rain.  The masses of people can be a real turn-off especially on days like this when few are out on deck.  Sometimes the crowds can be an entertaining diversion but not so much on this trip. 

From the balcony
We have certainly eaten well and I look forward to “elegant night” tonight and exploring Progresso tomorrow.  Doris is still missed of course and foremost in our thoughts. 

Gluttony update: tonight I had the lobster tail and shrimp with a nice Chardonnay.  John had the prime rib paired with the last of the Goats do Roam we brought with us. 

Ideal spot for some NYT crossword action

The skies clear for the sunset

To describe our tablemates - Sonny and Linda from Louisianna -
 would require starting an entirely new blog.  Sonny will begin sentences like this: “A while back I made a fiberglass cast of my horse’s head ...” 

He is what is known as a “character”.  An amusing, endearing, all-around sweet man who’s done some rather improbable things and is compelled to tell you about them.  
We will remember them for a long time.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Day 2: We Sail

We sailed from New Orleans on schedule at 4 PM Saturday watching the sunset in a cloudless sky as we cruise down the magical Mississippi towards the Gulf.  

The embarkation process was a bit tedious at 1.5 hours from leaving the hotel to boarding the ship.  But I just keep thinking about all the meetings I'm missing next week.  As a result, waiting for the valet to bring the car around doesn't seem an unpleasant way to pass the time. 

But we are finally underway.  Looking forward to meeting our tablemates at the 8:15 seating.  

Triumph feels huge.  Probably because it is - at 110,000 tons displacement.  Since even 1 ton of displaced water is hard to imagine - picture a structure looming 12 stories above the ocean.    

On the homefront, we spoke to Doris’ babysitter this AM.  Big D is doing great.  She watched the Auburn-Alabama game last night with Madeline's family and was suitably fawned over.  Aparently she got chilled and was loaned a sweater.  We miss her awfully. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 1: We Start Out

Got back yesterday from our cruise.  I will post a retrospective trip report (with confusing tenses) that may appear to be taking place contemporaneously.  Ahhh, the magic of the internet.  Thanks, Al Gore!

Left the homestead for New Orleans at 9:30 AM at the beginning of a very gray rain.  Filled with holiday optimism, we think that heavy traffic and bad weather may JUST THIS ONCE will be a winning combination.  Or at least that it would stop soon.  It rained every inch of the way. 


Leaving Doris behind hurt but perhaps this will be the last time that has to happen.  It was especially hard parting from her since she happens to smell pretty good right now after a professional bath a couple of days prior. 

How could we leave her behind? 

At 11:15 we stop in GreenvilleAlabama at Bates’ House of Turkey which is doing a surprisingly brisk business considering it’s the day after Thanksgiving.  ***We pause here for a commercial interruption***.  If you ever find yourself on I-65  take exit 130.  Order the smoked turkey samich.  Trust me. 

We arrived in NO, checking-in at the exact same moment that the rain stopped.  We then joined an old friend, Marc, for an absolutely epic four-course meal at Brightsen’s.  Again … trust me.  So, to bed with full bellies and not a single obligation tomorrow but to get on that boat.

Triumph at the Port of New Orleans

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mexico Bound!

We're off to soak up some serious Carribean sunshine along with some no doubt decorative alcoholic beverages.  We have booked a cabin with a large balcony which I don't intend to leave much.  I'm bringing along binoculars, the Kindle, and a stack of NYT crosswords.  You know where to find me.

No meetings, no deadlines (oh wait - what time does the bar close?), no more indoor complaints (as Walt Whitman so brilliantly nailed it). 

I'll submit a full trip report when we return. 

 Only downside: we'll miss Doris terribly.  But she and the house are in
 the most capable of hands.

Thursday, November 25, 2010