Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The tween time…

daughter and MsTwas the time tween Christmas and New Years…

Our Christmas was a wonderful time as we were able to celebrate it in our house for one last time with our family.  My daughter was home for college and will return back to school tomorrow.  My son, his wife, and the grandson made it to our house as well. So with a houseful weson celebrated Christmas together.

With the usual fanfare of the gift exchange our Christmas was off to a good start and with the upcoming Christmas dinner it could only get better… and it did. Boy was dinner grand…

It has been enjoyable these last few days having the kids in town. My son and his family have returned home and with the daughter leaving xmas settingtomorrow we have decided to knock something off the bucket list before she leaves (so she can experience it as well).

So tonight we are all heading over to some friends house who are going to teach us how to make tamales. Tamales aregson often made around Christmas time by Mexican families to give as Christmas gifts and they often save some for good luck when ringing in the new year’s.

Then with only NINE! more Monday’s left before we retire we had better get busy with finding us a motorhome. We are going to need all the luck we can get so I had better eat an extra dozen tamales.

Guess who wants candy…

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Calm, quiet, peaceful… then crazy and hectic…

xmas3Since I sold our Christmas tree on craigslist (yes I was the Grinch who sold Christmas…) one of our friends bought us our future RV Christmas tree – just perfect! A bit smaller than our other one :) but it will fit better on the dashboard of the RV. Doesn’t it look great with all the presents?

I want to thank all those that congratulated us about our recent toad acquisition… we are so happy to have one big step behind us. However, we are ready to move on to the next one… the motorhome!

xmas2I was going to title this blog the “Calm before the Storm” but I got beat to the punch by Rick and Paulette… But the fact is “Calm before the Storm” is the perfect statement for us right now.  With Christmas looming and New Year’s around the corner now is the time to relax with our family and to celebrate our fortunes of the past year while also celebrating our future ones.

But we have less than 70 days before we want to hit the road… How are we going to do all we have to do in so little time?  YIKES!!!! I am sure we can find a way but YIKES!!! We have been looking for the perfect rig for about one year and yet we still haven’t found it yet. Recently it became obvious that we were going to have to “settle” for something less than perfect. So we have lowered our standards like we did in high school when we thought we could find the perfect date on our first try :)

xmas1Not only have we lowered our standards a bit but we have also had to raise how much we want to spend… So we may settle for a few less options but we hope that by the end of January we have our future home. Man it sucks to be on a budget – anyone have an extra 100K?

So wish us luck and we will wish you all a very Merry Christmas and of course a Happy New Year…

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Introducing the new toad…

crvAs I had mentioned in a previous blog we have been in the market for a toad.  After we test drove one of the Honda CRV’s at a local dealer we pretty much knew this was the car we wanted. We had contacted dealers and inquired on the internet about the Honda CRV and got bids from four car dealers.

4wdWe had asked each of them for their best written “drive out” offer We also told them what we were expecting to pay based upon our research. As I mentioned before the costs from our research stated that the average paid price was about $24,791 (before ttl). Further research suggested that these cars were highly demanded thus I didn’t expect much of a discount like I had experience on other cars I had bought on the internet before.

crv frontSo the four bids from the Honda dealers ranged from 26,265 to 26,430… wow not much difference at all and this really surprised me. Not much of an incentive to drive the 100 miles to Houston to save a couple hundred dollars. However, one Houston dealer had an additional incentive of a $500 gift card to Academy (which could come in handy in our future lives :) ). So I sent emails to each vendor except the lowest priced one. I told them each where they were in this “bidding war” and asked if they wanted to make a better offer since they were still in consideration. Not much changed after this round of emails but after notifying our local dealer that we were going to go to Houston to make our purchase he submitted a new offer about $700 lower… so can you say SOLD!!!!!

We now own a new Honda CRV EX all wheel drive. The dealer brought the price down to 24,000 making the total drive out about 25,700 and we didn’t have to make the trek to Houston. The CRV is hiding out in our garage until we sell our 2007 Toyota Camry.

One more thing off the list…

Thursday, December 16, 2010

DD coming home…

PIC-0029One day early this week - Well tomorrow we will drive over to Austin, Texas to pick up our youngest child (not so young anymore – how did that happen?).  She is coming home for Christmas break of her senior year (and last year of undergraduate studies). This will also be the last Christmas we have in our home. Since we have no offers on the table for it we don’t expect to be out  of our house before then.

After we pick her up we will head over to her brothers house just south of Austin and visit with him and the family.  Been a while since we have seen the grandkids and our daughter is anxious to see them as well.

PIC-0030The day of arrival – Well we drove to the Austin airport and arrived at the same time as our daughter’s flight did, so we provided her with curbside pickup. After loading her bags and heading out she said she was real hungry and so I suggested an eclectic Austintacious eaterie… I had recently read about this place on Nellie’s blog MidLiFe CrUiSeR and she was kind enough to provide me with an address to it… We GPS’ed the address and a bit later we arrived at the extended hands of Maria at Maria's Taco Express…

What a fun and energetic place and a great spot to have lunch with the daughter at as it embodied all that Austin is… “weird” which is the way I still remember it from the old days… I didn’t have the camera so the cell phone had to do to snap off a few photos. In Austin they still have the slogan “Keep Austin weird!” and I hope they do…

the gkidsAfter lunch it was off to take the DD to see her brother and her niece and nephew south of Austin. Always good to see the grandkids. It was an enjoyable visit with our son’s family and after dinner it was time for the two hour drive back home…

Thanks for the good idea Nellie…

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rule number 1…

I read Al's blog titled "just-sharing-few-thoughts-today" and was intrigued by all his thoughts he had put into the post. In it he was describing, in his own words, what he thought were the reasons why he was blogging.  Check it out as it was an interesting read and got me to thinking back about a year ago when I started this blog. 

As I stated in a comment I left on Al's blog I had myself some unwritten rules about how my blog was going to be written, what I wanted it to say, and who I was writing it for. The comment I left was…

“when i started blogging i had made myself a few rules and rule number 1 was that I was writing for me [and my family and friends]and that there was no way i was going to make everyone happy... after that i wasn't sure i needed any other rules...”

This about summed up my philosophy on blogging that day when I posted my first post. As many bloggers before me have said “I really had no idea that people would actually read it… must less follow it…” sd as I read through Al’s post a reality struck me. If I am to continue blogging it has to be not only for me but it needs to be useful to others, and maybe a bit humorous at times…The more I thought about it the more I realized I was doing this all wrong…

… and then I remembered mental rule number one and realized that it was indeed the only rule I needed when writing a blog…

Monday, December 6, 2010

The last this and the last that…

sunset6One on the more pleasant things about retiring and knowing your last working date is that you start realizing that many of things that you use to do (and possibly took for granted) are all coming to an end. I recently worked my last football game as a statistician and I went to my last office Christmas party last night.

sunset2I have worked in my current position since 1994 (well if you don’t count my area’s recent consolidation into a larger department). My work at this large University has been nothing but enjoyable and I have been fortunate enough to work alongside many wonderful people. The department that employed me all this time has always empowered its staff to be responsible and accountable for their specific area… basically you either swim or sink! The management’s philosophy aligns with mine… which is in essence by allowing someone the opportunity to fail they will likely reward you…

sunset1So in 85 days I will have my last working day at my job and there will be many other lasts for us before that day. This will be our last Christmas in our house (unless we sell it soon) and we just had out last Thanksgiving. With all these “lasts” one would think that there would be a lot of sadness along with them but to the contrary I am just enjoying and relishing each and every one of them as we countdown the days to our next journey…

… only 12 more Mondays :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Buying a car via the internet…

Stock PhotoBuying a car has become easier since the internet came about since so much information is now easily at our fingertips.   After reading reviews, safety reports, and bloggers who atoll the virtues of this car as the toad of choice for RV’ers we are looking to replace our current vehicles with a 2011 Honda CRV EX.

So how do we now shop for this car?  First the bride and I, being short in stature, needed to test drive one of these so we went off to the local dealer.  Here we looked at the CRV and actually found one exactly as we wanted one.  We test drove the car and we loved it easy handling and it was very drivable for the two of us. After letter the sales agent know of our intentions we gave him the opportunity to give us his best written offer before we hit the web in search of deals (we told him what we were expecting to pay based upon our web research).

So how did we do our web research? The best starting place in my opinion is to go to Truecar’s website where one is able to get a thorough price report on the car that they want.  In our case we are looking at a 2011 Honda CRV EX where according to our zip code the costs are as follows:

  • Dealer Cost $24,015
  • Factory Invoice $24,520
  • Average Paid $24,791
  • Sticker Price $26,025

They go on to point out that in our area the prices one should expect are as follows:

  • Great Price $24,337
  • Good Price $24,925
  • Above Market Price more than $24,926

Other sites such as edmunds.com and kbb.com give further details:

  • kbb suggests a fair purchase price of $25,504
  • Edmunds projected five year cost of ownership ®  suggests our fuel costs to be $8,429 and insurance to be $5,491
  • Edmunds suggested True Market Value®  $24,603 or between truecar’s great and good price
  • Edmunds projected five year cost of ownership for maintence and repairs is $2,783 and $671 respectively (great for budget forecasting)

Further when comparing the true cost to our our second choice model, a 2011 Jeep Wrangler, we learned that it would cost us more than 11,000 dollars more to own it. With $2,000 per year more in our budget I think we will just rent a Wrangler for those occasions when we want to do some hard core 4WD off roading.

So we sent off many an email to many a car dealer and are starting to get some prices in.  The best one so far is slightly above the average price of truecar’s prices, however, this one does have an incentive of a $500.00 gift card thus lowering it to below average in pricing… time will tell who we buy from…

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Droid X and the Incredible… a comparison

So we have pretty much settled on the fact that we will be switching our phone carrier from AT&T to Verizon based upon the wisdom of those fulltimers before us who stated that the coverage of Verizon was superior to all other carriers.  Now this may change in the future but we are about to commit to a 2 year plan with Verizon for this reason.

So which phone should we get? We have looked at and researched a lot about Verizon's phones and have narrowed it to the Droid X and the Droid Incredible. I have researched these two phones and thought I should share so here are my research results for a side-by-side comparison of the Droid X and the Incredible.

They are both black in color. Both of these phones have the Android 2.2 OS installed on them and both come with 8GB of internal memory.  Both feature an eight megapixel camera and the ability to record video. But this is where the similarities seem to end.

The Droid X is made out of metal not plastic like the Incredible . Droid X records video in HD while the Incredible does not.  Droid X's screen is larger also (4.3-inch touchscreen with 854x480 pixel display beats the Incredible’s 3.7-inch, 800x480px screen). Droid X has external storage of 16MB while Incredible has none.

For processing power, the Incredible com has a 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, while the Motorola Droid X has a 1GHz OMAP 3630 CPU and when benchmarked (this tests the processor, memory, and graphics) the X scored 2.4 times better. When used outside in the sun, the display on the DROID X was brighter and easier to read than the Incredible. The Droid X has an HDMI output which can be very handy.

Droid Incredible is more compact and is less weight but this seems to be the only major plus for them in my opinion over the X.

For a great comparison chart of these two phones along with the Droid 2 and the Droid Pro go to computerworld.

Now the only problem is that there is a rumor that the HTC Merge/Incredible HD or “Mecha” is coming out real soon.

Hmmmmmm… which phone should I get…

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all…

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all… and as I sit here today and ponder our future once again it allows me time to reflect upon the things I should be thankful for.  This will be the last Thanksgiving we have in the house that we have lived in for the past 16 years. This makes it a somewhat sad holiday until I think about all the things to be thankful for…

I am thankful for my wife and kids who mean so much to me… and without them I would not be complete.  I am thankful for the job I have had for the last 17 years and the people that I have been fortunate to work with.  I am thankful for each of my friends and acquaintances I have that have touched my life.  I am thankful that we have been fortunate in life. I am thankful for all the little things that go unnoticed by so many… the sunrise and sunset… the twinkle in the stars… the green in the leaves at spring… the songs of the birds…\

There is so much for us to be thankful for and at times I wonder if we Americans remember all that we should be thankful for… and with that I want to thank all those serving our country overseas… may you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day!

Monday, November 22, 2010

99 days to go and saying goodbyes…

gypsyWow looked at our calendar today and noticed that we have broken the 100 day marker.  So we now have 99 days to go until we are FREE! … and on the road. However, as I mentioned in my last blog we still have tons and tons to  do…

We got a little disappointed this weekend when we found out an RV that we had narrowed our purchase down to and that we were becoming very interested in has apparently sold :-(  Oh well guess it wasn’t meant to be for that one… and there will be others.

ladies loungingSo this last weekend was the beginning of us doing some things for the final time and the beginning of us saying our goodbyes.  Saturday was my last day as a NCAA statistician for Texas A&M University football as I worked my last game before retiring. What a game this was for my final game as the Aggies were victorious on primetime ESPN against the #8 ranked Nebraska. When the final gun sounded the Aggies had upset the Cornhuskers 9-6 and the fans were throwing white towels in the air and from the press box it looked like it was snowing… a memorable experience for sure.

giantThen on Sunday we went to the Texas Renaissance Festival in Platersville, Texas. Long ago when the children were little ones we went to RenFest many times and on Sunday we decided to go for our last time… Since we were given free tickets to Ren Fest and the weekend’s weather was great we decided that this was the day to go, so off we went for the day… It is only about a 45 minute drive and was a relaxing and fun day.

jesterThere is much to see and do at RenFest although be prepared to bring lots of greenbacks as zombiethere is much opportunity to feast and imbibe in refreshing beverages… There are many vendors selling all kinds of wares. Also many of the participants and all the employees wear medieval themed clothing for the occasion which makes this a wonderful place for people watching.

ded bob showMany shows are free with optional tipping at the end of each.  One of our particular favorites at RenFest is the perennial Ded Bob Sho where you have to be careful or you will get Bob-mo-tized.  The other stand out show this day was the German brothers Gunther and Gotha who portrayed German Rap Stars.  These two comedies are not to be missed… All and all a relaxing day and it was even better when we realized we now have 99 days to go until we are FREE!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

So what is next for us… The Punch List!

Centrum ArtWell now that we are back in Texas and a trip of a lifetime for us is over it is now nearing crunch time for us as we prepare to ready ourselves for the next chapter of our lives... we have LOTS to do still before we are ready to hit the road!

centrum at nightSince this topic had no photos associated with it I have included some photos of the ship and the towel folding that our room steward left on our bed at night while on out last cruise.

So in order to make some sense out of all the madness that will enter our lives soon I thought it best to come up with a punch list of items that need to be done before we have pig towelout “stuff” together.

  1. continue to opt out of paper mailers and bills where possible
  2. stop all magazine subscriptions
  3. switch to Verizon from our current AT&T provider
  4. determine which TV network to use (DISH vs Direct TV)
  5. determine which internet solution works best for us
  6. sign up for select RV clubs
  7. determine a mail forwarding solution (Escapes most likely)manta ray towel
  8. tll the house (set a closing date)
  9. buy an RV (determine where it will be if we close earlier than our departure date)
  10. sell all the stuff a future home buyer doesn't want
  11. sell all the remaining stuff that won't fit into our RV
  12. solve the insurance issue for our home on wheels (American National most likely) elephant towel
  13. buy a tow vehicle
  14. sell both our current vehicles
  15. insure the new toad
  16. find a towing solution for the toad
  17. learn to drive the RV
  18. take a shakedown trip
  19. finish any mods or repairs necessary before we leave
  20. determine which maps/books we need for traveling
  21. plan our first route
  22. retire from our jobs :) :) :) towel monkey2
  23. transfer our current retirement account to a vanguard account
  24. say our goodbyes

Crikey! The list is HUGE and pretty ominous considering we only have about 3 1/2 months before we plan to hit the road on March 2nd, 2011... now I am not sure now that it was such a good idea to make this list as it seems a bit overwhelming…towel turkey

…we had better get busy as it is almost turkey day!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The end of our last vacation…

south pacific sunset111/6/2010 and 11/7/2010 – Another two days at sea before we are done with our cruise. Above is a picture of our best sunset of the cruise… and below is our best sunrise as we entered the Sydney Harbor.sidney sunrise 2

11/8/2010 Sydney

sidney sunrise 6I got up early since we arrived in Sydney at 6:30 AM and then we had breakfast before we were suppose to leave the ship. We booked a sidney sunrise 15tour off the ship to Manly Beach.  Since our flight didn’t leave until 3:25 PM this seemed like a great idea. We were happy to hear that we weren’t on Qantas since they were grounding all their A380’s due to the engine failure on one of their planes. We were so glad we had booked United and one of their 747’s.

sidney sunrise 14The tour to Manly Beach was a nice guided bus tour and the tour guide was very nice and informative as he pointed out many things along the tour like the jacaranda trees that were in magnificent full purple bloom (Remember in the southern hemisphere it is spring time and not fall).

harbor bridge 11-8The bus took us to an overlook of Sydney harbor before taking us over to Manly Beach where the sunlit skies made the waves a brilliant blue as they were rolling onto shore.  Shelley Beach was visible off manly beach wavesin the distance. We had about 1.5 hours to just hang out in Manly on our own so we went for a walk along the beach and walked around the town of Manly.part of sydneyfrom above

And then it was time to go to the airport and fly away… as you can tell by the photo above, but we will remember the good times and not the end… because there is no end for us yet…

us opera house across the harbor

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Isle of Lifou -Loyalty Islands

11/5/2010 Ile Lifou -Loyalty Islands

Lifou 1Well today was to be our last island stop and after Vanuatu I was looking for a more scenic non-commercialized stop… and Lifou was just what the doctor ordered. This was going to be the first ever stop for the Rhapsody of the Seas at Lifou and it was going to be the largest cruise ship to ever visit the island. Thus we had to tender once again so we were off the ship around 7:30 am and on to Lifou. This was going to be a shorter day today as the all aboard was for 3:30 pm before our last two days at sea.

Lifou 4Our plans here were to spend the day at Luecila Beach which was right near where we tendered to and was just beautiful. Not a thing commercial at all… just island people carrying out their island lives.  We had heard about a good snorkeling spot just down the road from the beach so we walked about 15 minutes from the beach up the road to the place we heard that was good for snorkeling… man were they wrong… it wasn’t good snorkeling it was GREAT for snorkeling.

Lifou 3If you were to visit here you will need some reef shoes as the shoreline is mostly broken coral and rough on the feet. There was a small dock with a fairly poorly designed ladder going down to the waters edge.  At the edge was a smooth bottom that was in shallow water which was great for putting on our fins. Then you could gradually swim out in the clear aquamarine waters…

Lifou 8The snorkeling here was the best we have ever experienced in our lives!  The water was perfectly clear and it felt as if we were swimming in an aquarium.  The diversity of corals and fishes was bountiful.  The corals were gigantic and pristine. We saw many bizarre and unknown fishes here of all sizes and shapes.  We also saw numerous different colored clown fish swimming amongst the anemones as well as the giant deep see clams (some as large as 2-3 feet across). There was even one species of fish that swam around in the taller corals and would defend them by swimming aggressively at you to scare you away… which was quite humorous.  My favorite as a fish with green dots on his side and what appeared to be gold eyebrows and they would come right up to your mask and just look directly at you… really cool!

Lifou 5

slh in Lifou 13We snorkeled here for hours and to top it off there was a Lifou native lady selling cold drinks out of a cooler so we had a couple of “number ones” after snorkeling… The number ones were more than eight dollars at Isle of Pines but here we could get four for that same amount… what a life… life is good!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Port Vila, Vanuatu

11/3/2010 – Just another relaxing day at sea...

Tuesday 11/4/2010 Port Vila, Vanuatu

Vanuatu1This was the one port I was most looking most forward to but to be honest it was the most disappointing port we had on this entire cruise, despite its beauty. Port Vila is located around a magnificent natural harbor offering stunning views of Iririki and Ifira islands. It is Vanuatu's international gateway and remains the only town on the island. Vila is a pretty dirty town. and is a bit polluted even though the corals and tropical fish can be seen in the water.

Vanuatu2We left the ship at 8:00 am again and found a taxi to give us an island tour. The taxi was quite expensive and more than 3 times what I expected based upon my internet research (but shared it with another couple). Nonetheless we hired a taxi and took off for our first stop cascade falls.  This was supposed to be a nice falls in a bit  of a wooded scenic area.  We were confronted with a booth that said to see the falls it would cost 35 dollars for the two of us… OUCH!  We decided that $35 to see a water fall was a bit too steep since we will be seeing oodles of waterfalls in the states when we start full timing.

Vanuatu3So our cabbie suggested an overlook of the bay instead… and guess what… to visit the overlook also cost us money.  It seemed everything we were going to do on this island was going to include a fee so we were talking with the guy who charged us a fee to visit his overlook and when we told him we thought all the fees were Vanuatu6 excessive to simple see the beauty of their island especially when other islands don’t charge excessively to see theirs. He then asked where we were going next and we told him we heard hideaway island Vanuatu Papayawas nice and had good snorkeling.  He said that it would be $20 per person to get on the island and suggested a beach resort that his cousin worked at that would let us use there facilities and snorkel for free as long as we bought beverages or food from them… so off we went to a small Beach Resort name Tara Beach. On the way I took a picture of a popo tree (we call it papaya).

Vanuatu Resort and SLH with Christina What  a score this was…  Although the resort didn’t have great amenities and it wasn’t much of a beach but it did have some fine snorkeling and was very peaceful.  To top it off the cousin, Christina, adopted us when she found out we came there based upon her cousin’s recommendation.

Vanuatu Tusker beerWe practically had the place to ourselves and we spent some Vatu (local currency) on some cold beers and some real good fish and chips and Christina even charged us less than the stated menu prices.  Thank goodness for this spot as otherwise Villa, Vanuatu would have left a bad taste in our mouths.

On the way back we stopped briefly in the town of Villa to check out the duty free shopping… not much to speak of… the town is not that interesting and the shopping (other than booze) was not that much cheaper than in the US.  I did however find a bottle shop to buy a few more tuskers for the road… and had time to pose in front of my favorite Vanuatu beverage…