Friday, November 30, 2007


Look good? Ummmmmmm... you should smell it! Salsa Veracruzana, a delicious, zingy tomato based sauce that I started making after our first RV-ing trip in Mexico, near Veracruz. Dinner tonight: Orange Roughy with Salsa Veracruzana, brown rice, and sauteed fennel.

We're "staying in" tonight. After leaving Gila Bend early this morning, we arrived at one of our favorite state parks, Catalina, just north of Tucson. Thanks to our aircard and the National Weather Service website, we knew that rain was forecast for most of Arizona for the next couple of days, with heavy rain moving in this afternoon.

Between the entrance to Catalina State Park and the campground, a wash crosses the road. We know that this wash can flood during heavy rain, so we set up camp and headed to the grocery store - I don't mind being "stuck" in this lovely park, but food plays heavily into my rainy day fantasies. We came home, stocked up the pantry, and zipped out to get some exercise.

Whoops, too late! The sprinkles turned to rain halfway through our walk.

Well, what's more cozy than a pot of garlic-y something bubbling on the stove? While Odel and Luna entertained each other, I got to work... now it smells fabulous! We're watching the local news/weather as I write this, with HEAVY rain forecast for later tonight. Snow advisory for Mt. Lemon, all sorts of Friday night holiday events cancelled... we don't care, we are PREPARED!

Time to finish dinner.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


This is the third or fourth time we have visited the area around Palm Springs and I am still completely amazed by the place. Where do all these wealthy folk come from??

We actually have spent very little time in Palm Springs. We stay at the Elks Lodge in Indio, one of a chain of desert communities that have discrete boundaries but have no space between them - a long, unbroken stretch of unusually attractive shopping malls, gated communities, and golf courses, against a backdrop of arid mountains, navigated on crowded, palm- and flower-lined thoroughfares.

To me, the entire experience seems unreal. In such an arid environment, so much perfect grass! Such lush gardens! So many cars! So much wealth! We drove a couple hundred miles through dusty, high desert scrub to get here, and will be driving through low desert scrub when we leave - this lush oasis of high living is quite an anomaly.

Aside from the eye candy, we have one main reason for coming here: the deep-fried Baja shrimp (for me) and catfish (for Odel) from the Fisherman's Market and Grill. They serve the best fried shrimp I have had outside of Mexico or Louisiana, and the catfish is outstanding. We were here two days, and ate shrimp and catfish two days - it's that good.

Usually when we visit, we hike - there are SO MANY hikes in the immediate vicinity. Today, though, we did something different: we visited The Living Desert, a plant and animal preserve in Palm Desert. About half of the vast acreage is habitat for African animals; the other half for species from the American southwest and Mexico. Mature gardens representing various desert environments are interspersed among the animal habitats, with intrepretive signs for all the plants and animals.

After we had walked through half of the preserve (and I got the photo of the warthog, above), we sat down in the amphitheatre for the 2 pm wildlife show. It began with a Great Horned Owl swooping down to the stage from behind the (small) audience, soon to be followed by a red-tailed hawk. That was the cue for the trainer to enter - a great beginning to the show.

She gave a little talk and put on a leather glove... the next thing we knew, a Harris Hawk swooped overhead and landed on her outstretched arm. The other handler/trainer was on the walkway up behind the amphitheatre bleachers, and the hawk swooped back and forth between the two handlers, directly over the heads of the startled audience.

The bird made four passes, the second directly over Odel and me. I SO REGRET that I didn't get a photo as it came straight for us - I felt just like a little mouse about to be snatched up for dinner. It seemed as though it passed right between us. Though the trainer had told us (after the first pass, over other audience members) that the hawk would never touch us, both Odel and I let out very wimpy yelps (actually, closer to screams) and ducked... and not just once, but on the return flight, too! By the way, the photo shows the handler with a Golden Eagle - very impressive.

Besides the endangered animals in the preserve, they have a $70 million dollar animal hospital that provides all the care for the animals in the preserve AND treatment of local wild animals found sick or injured in the area. We took a quick tour - I found the "freezer room" very interesting. Here they freeze and store sperm, eggs, embryos and DNA. The sperm and eggs are shared with other breeding programs around the world to help avoid inbreeding of endangered species; the embryos are stored in the hope that someday enough protected habitat will be available to "grow" wild populations of endangered animals. A few of the rooms were closed to tours; they were being used to house animal refugees of the southern California fires, waiting to return to their zoos once their habitats were cleaned and/or repaired.

From this beautiful - but way too congested - oasis, we move on tomorrow to it's opposite: Quartzsite, Arizona and probably beyond to Gila Bend. No grass, or palm trees, or flowers, or delightful restaurants there!

Monday, November 26, 2007


We had three relaxing days at one of our favorite RV parks, Park of the Sierra in Coarsegold, California. This is one of the Escapees private parks, with sites available to Escapees for long-term lease or short-term stays.

It is beautifully designed, with large spaces tucked into the grounds between the oak trees and rocky outcroppings that are typical of the Sierra foothills. The neighbors are friendly and the hilly layout is good for getting exercise.

We used to have our name on the list to get a long-term lease here - yes, sites are limited, so there is a waiting list of 5 years or so!

After two years, we took our names off the list, mostly because of the weather: HOT, hot, hot in summer, and cold (with occasional snow) in winter. Since we are most likely to sit in one place during either summer or winter - and we didn't like the weather here during either season, we decided it wasn't the long-term spot for us.

This trip opened our eyes to another disagreeable aspect: SMOG. It was the worst I have ever seen, really sickening. At Park Sierra, we were a little bit above the valley floor (the famous Central Valley of California) at 1,700 ft. elevation... loook at these photos, which I took as we descended into Fresno and on south to Bakersfield.

This is NOT fog, though it looks so dense you would think so. It was horrible. Residents must suffer dismal health side effects.

After three and a half hours of driving through this haze (while I took dozens of photos in amazement), we headed east at Bakersfield, over the Tehachapis (4,000 ft.) and down to the high deserts of southern California. High wind warnings had be posted for this area last weekend (which is why we spent the weekend at Park Sierra, avoiding the gusty winds) and any smog that had been here was blown far, far away! What lovely difference.

We're parked tonight at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds in Lancaster... off to Indio tomorrow.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Thanks to my new tire pressure gauge and valve extender caps (see photo) that allow me to check the air pressure without removing the valve cap, I was excited to check the tire pressures before we took off after a 31 day long stay at Cal Expo RV park. The passenger side front tire: BINGO, right on target, and so easy to check.

Oh-oh. It was obvious even to my naked eyeball that the outer rear passenger tire (we have two on each side in the back) was was flat-ish, bulging out near the ground. Pressure gauge confirmed 47.5 pounds (should be 90 pounds). Okay, potential problem, but I stayed positive and moved on to the inner tire. ZERO pounds. Nothing on the new gauge. Nada.

That rocked me back on my heels. Had the battery gone dead in my new electronic gizmo? I got out my old trucker's pressure gauge... same puzzling result. Could it really be true that we had NO air in one of our tires??

I walked around to the driver's side, thinking that we weren't gonna' be leaving by 11:15 am, our planned departure. Not quite as bad: 46.5 pounds in one tire, 82.5 in the other. And the front tire was perfect! What the heck could flatten our four back tires while leaving the front tires untouched??

Flash: the new valve caps! All four of our back tires have long, metal tube extenders that make it possible to check the air pressure without crawling on the ground like a reptile. When we first got the new valve caps, in Port Townsend, I couldn't make them work on the rear tires (apparently some technical mismatch with the already existing extensions). While we were at Cal Expo, I took a little more time to try to figure it out and actually got one working, so we replaced the standard rear valve caps with the new valve caps.

Looks like the new caps are the equivalent of a slow leak! They work perfectly on the front tires (which is where they were most needed), and on the Jeep - in both cases, they are screwed directly onto the valve stem, rather than an extension. Probably could work on the rear tires, too, if perfectly adjusted - but I give up.

One of the great things about a motorhome with air suspension is the on-board air compressor. We hooked up our air hose and refilled our tires... a slow, but convenient, process. Ready to roll again!


If you have been following the blog, you know that we traded in Jules, our used-up 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee, for Jules II, a new-to-us 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee. We LOVE our new Jules, and had fun getting her ready to travel with us: ordered new floor mats; replaced a blown out speaker; touched up some dings on the doors and hood; and applied film to the fog lights and headlights to protect them from flying debris (the fog lights on Original Jules were the first things to break).

The big item, though, was to have Jules II set up for towing. This requires some wiring (so the lights on Jules work in concert with the lights on Scoopy), a break-away switch (so a panic light inside Scoopy alerts us if we lose Jules II), and a big metal baseplate and adapter attachment that allows us to hook our heavy-duty tow bar to Jules II to bring her along.

The baseplate is bolted or welded to the bottom on Jules II, and the adapter is bolted to the baseplate. Adapters vary, depending on which kind of tow bar you have on the back of the motorhome. In our case, we have a tow bar made by Demco, so we asked for a Demco adapter. This installation takes several hours at an RV shop - we used Allied Trailer Supply, where we had the same work done 5 years ago on Original Jules.

When Odel brought Jules II home after the installation, we were both shocked by the humongous size of the adapter - it looked nothing at all like the unobtrusive tow bar connection on Original Jules. It was a type in common use - we see them on many towed vehicles - but not at all what we had pictured (or wanted). After much deliberation on our part and unhappiness at Allied Trailer Supply, we had them replace the adapter they had installed with one they ordered for us directly from Demco. The whole process had required a couple of trips and had been somewhat of a pain in the patootie, but it had all paid off - we were happy with the looks of the end result.

Out in the parking lot, ready to hook up - well, let's just say I'm glad we have a hammer and lots of silicone lubricating spray! The tips of our tow bar need to slide between two metal doo-hickies (I think these might fall under the technical heading of "flanges"). The tow bar tip and the flanges all have round holes in them, and the three holes need to line up perfectly so that we can insert the super-sized metal pin that will keep them connected while we travel.

Let's say the tip on the tow bar is 1/2 an inch wide... so maybe the space between the flanges should be 5/8ths of an inch wide, or at least 9/16ths of an inch. I estimate that the space between our flanges (the two on the left in this photo) was 51/100ths of an inch wide, because even a tiny little metal imperfection, the size of a grain of iodized salt (I'm not talking sea salt here), kept the tow bar tip from sliding between the flanges!

Do you think we were going to go back to Allied Trailer and beg them to reinstall the huge, clanky adapter we had rejected?? NO WAY! We sprayed everything with silicone spray, hammered the salt-sized imperfection into oblivion and just MADE IT WORK. It was a real trick to get all the holes lined up to accept the pin but by now, after overcoming our tire problems, we were totally and completely focused - we were leaving Sacramento, by God.

And so we did. We hit the road at 11:55, only 55 minutes after we started the engine. After one quick stop to check the tires again after a couple of hours on the road and to gulp down half a turkey sandwich, we arrived at our destination with 10 minutes to spare and are now settled in to a beautiful site at one of our favorite parks. Whew!

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Hey, it worked!

We are a family of good cooks and eager eaters. In-laws don't complain about the quality or quantity of food prepared at a Brown family gathering - homemade, fresh, and a good ratio of traditional (high calorie and cholesterol) to healthy... maybe leaning a little more towards healthy with vegetarians in the family.

Past holiday dinners have involved a lot of (worthwhile) effort: planning and coordinating the dishes, purchasing, prepping, preparing, getting the timing right. For me and the other cooks in the family, it meant a LOT of time in the kitchen the day before and the day of a holiday.

This year, two inexorable trends resulted in a change: we are all getting older (for me, it means I don't have the stamina/desire to spend so much time standing in the kitchen), and the prepared food available is of much higher quality than in the past. A major grocery store chain in Sacramento advertised a "Gourmet Turkey Dinner" in a box, and we decided to give it a try.

This dinner was a step above others we had seen advertised, with a fully cooked, organic, Diestel Family Turkey Ranch turkey as the centerpiece. The "premium sides" were sweet potatoes with glaze, dried cranberries and pecans; green beans with garlic and almonds; ciabatta bread stuffing; mashed potatoes (the only food besides the turkey that was already cooked); cranberry sauce (we used Aunt Dorothy's homemade instead); gravy; dinner rolls and pumpkin pie.

My Thanksgiving preparation this year went like this:
1. Order the "Premium Organic Turkey Dinner".
2. Wednesday morning, drive to Raley's and pick up dinner.
3. Unpack the carton (photographing each step, so we could fit it all back in) and examine each item before finding a spot to store it overnight somewhere in our tiny kitchen.
4. Call Mommy to report that we had the dinner, and it looked good!
5. Thanksgiving morning, reload the carton, put it in the back of the car with a couple bottles of wine, and head to the designated host house.

This series of photos shows the carton as we unpacked the three layers, and most of the food set out on the counter in readiness for cooking. The carton included a glossy brochure of step-by-step, minute-by-minute instructions that (at least in theory) would have dinner ready to dish up in two hours. And that was almost the case!

We learned that enough cubed sweet potatoes for a dozen people take 15 minutes in a small microwave, not 9 minutes - and that a 13.75 pound turkey really needs about 2 hours to reheat, not a hour and a half. Experienced cooks can cope with deviations, though - we tossed the green beans into the steamer, heated the gravy on the stove, adjusted cooking times accordingly. Nancy added a winter fruit salad, we started in on the wine...

...and it wasn't long before plates were dished up and the diners were all smiles.

The consensus: let's do this again next year!

We'll ditch the mashed potatoes that came precooked and mashed - Doug's are so much better. The fruit salad was a great addition, and Aunt Dorothy's cranberry sauce is a "must have". We also added a no-sugar-added apple pie from Apple Hill; otherwise, it was GREAT.

To the anonymous Raley's employees who spent THEIR time peeling and cubing the sweet potatoes, washing and trimming the green beans, preparing the sauces, chopping the nuts, stirring the gravy and basting the turkey while we took a walk, read, and relaxed at home - THANK YOU.

Friday, November 9, 2007


It's a heck of a thing to try to pick out a gift for a fulltimer, isn't it? We have limited storage space, wall space, counter space and floor space; we worry about weight (ours, but in this context, our RV's); and gift giving occasions really sneak up when you have to figure in a detour to our mail forwarding service.

Over the years we have been fulltiming, our friends and family members have come up with great ideas for gift giving. I just celebrated a birthday and received excellent gifts - and nothing larger than a book to be stashed away in the rig. If you have any fulltiming women on your gift list, here are some great ideas.

This was the second year my sister Nancy took me out for a bite to eat and then for a spa pedicure - the warm foot soak, massage chair (and foot massage), warm oil... ummmm. After that treatment, my feet definitely are the youngest-looking part of me.

My girlfriend Becky always arranges a "play date" for my birthday - a day trip that includes a little shopping (or window shopping), lunch, and tickets to a live theatre performance. This is something Odel and I never do in "real life", and I always enjoy it. My girlfriends specialize in picking out wonderful earrings, another gift that fits into the rig without problems.

A delicious meal at a good restaurant... my parents took Odel and me to dinner at a favorite restaurant of ours. Great food, relaxing ambiance, a bottle of good wine, and dessert with a birthday candle, of course. It is such a pleasure to have a great meal OUT, with no planning, cooking, or cleanup required. No storage space required, either.

I don't know about other fulltimers, but I really appreciate the gift of a donation to a charity that is meaningful to me. This year, Joy and Greg donated a "flock of chicks" in my name through Heifer International, an organization of great interest to me. I received an emailed card with a personal message from Joy and Greg, and links to Heifer. Wonderful idea, and it gives me a real thrill everytime I look at this picture.

Not too long ago, we had a slow leak in one of Scoopy's tires. Tire monitoring is my one "outdoor" job, and I have a hate/hate relationship with it. I decided that needed to change and, as usual, felt that new gadgets to motivate me to do what every RV'er should do: check the air in the tires regularly and FREQUENTLY.

To that end, we put tire valve extenders on all the motorhome tires (no need to remove the caps to check the pressure) AND I requested a specific, small, lightweight digital tire pressure gauge, capable of measuring up to 150 psi (RV's have BIG tires) as a birthday present. Thanks to my sister Sydney, I now have it. Yes, this was my dream gift - wierd, huh?!

Here is a gift idea that seems pedestrian, but both Odel and I like getting socks! There are so many socks made of specialized fibers now, good at wicking sweat (also known as "moisture") away from your feet when hiking in hot climates, and they aren't cheap! We walk and hike a lot, so go through our socks quickly... who ever has more than they need? Hi-tech socks make a good, small, unbreakable, lightweight gift (and sizes are usually easy to pick out).

Another small luxury both Odel and I enjoy: scented lotion. The desert southwest will suck the moisture out of your skin in a heartbeat, and we use lotion constantly there - so much that we buy it at Costco in it's most generic form. A tube or bottle of something special is a treat.

Of the various gifts Odel has received since we began fulltiming, one stands out as a super-useful favorite: a very soft fleece pullover shirt with a zippered neck. For people trying to follow the sun, it is amazing how frequently we experience cold weather. The fleece shirt goes on morning after morning, just until the chill lifts - another lightweight gift that stores in a small space (I have two of these, myself).

I think most readers of this blog are fulltimers but, if you aren't, maybe these ideas will help you find the perfect gift for any difficult-to-buy-for fulltimer on your gift list.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Because I enjoy cooking, and because the search for "springtime" temperatures often coincides with fresh local foods, we are what I call Spoiled Eaters - we eat well 99% of the time. I like browsing in new-to-me grocery stores, picking up local specialities, and trying new recipes I find on the internet.

Cooking gets old, though, at the end of a busy day or a long drive... those days when we end up hungry and tired, wishing dinner would get itself together and serve us. So, I am ALWAYS on the lookout for good (or even better, GREAT) prepared food, something to have on hand to lighten the load of cooking. For Spoiled Eaters, it has to be REALLY good to earn a place in the freezer.

Here is a new find from Trader Joe's that definitely made the cut: Chicken Serenada. The package serves two, a big, moist chicken breast for each, along with a DELICIOUS, slightly sweet, slighty spicy, sauce and sauteed peppers (290 calories per serving).

We ate this "unadorned", straight out of the microwave after finishing a new miso soup recipe I had tried. Next time, we'll have it on brown rice or quinoa, or mashed sweet potatos. Add a side of vegies... let's see, that's one pot of grain on the stovetop (or I could nuke a bag of TJ's delicious cooked, frozen brown rice during the "resting time" after the chicken comes out of the microwave) and a pan of sauteed or steamed vegies.

Quick, delicious, not much cleanup required afterwards... we're gonna' stock up on this one. Price: $6.99.