Thursday, April 7, 2011

WooHoo! Merrily qualified on the 9 speed… One more to go…

To most, this probably seems like … “….what?…”. But this is a really big deal.  In order to be certified and get her CDL, she has several tests to pass. Some are written but the hardest are the driving qualifications in the big trucks. They have 9 speed and 10 speed semis with 48’ trailers at the school and to pass the class and get a certificate to exchange for your CDL at the DMV, you have to qualify on both kinds of trucks.

She almost qualified on the 10 speed, yesterday, but due to a capricious decision by the instructor, she didn’t. Today, she did qualify on the 9 speed trucks so just one more to go.

To graduate the class, she still has to pass several different backing  tests (90 degree to a dock, serpentine offset to dock) and the 100 foot alley back (which is not as easy as it sounds). You only have about 6” on either side of your tires to work in to back a 48’ trailer 100 feet in a straight line.

She is very close, though. She has really worked hard at this course and will definitely be a better driver than I am when she graduates from the class in a couple more weeks.

I love her so much but I admire her equally so it is impossible to not be excited and proud for her.  I don’t know how many other 60+ year old women would even consider making this effort but she has and is owning the show and we are going to have an unbelievably great life on the road because of it.

WE, not just me, will travel the country, safely and comfortably and, as always, know that someone is always there to have our back


Good Morning Pandora!

I love Beegie Adair’s music style! Pandora (I love it, too) just pushed me a note that they have put up a new set of selections from Beegie Adair so I had to check them out.

Yep, Beegie is in there, somewhere.

Pandora, if you have not tried it, is Internet Radio thematically corrected by you for your own listening styles. it does not play just the specified artist but Pandora will find music that seems to fit the same style… Sometimes we don’t see eye-to-eye on what “same style” means but if I strongly agree, I give the piece it is playing a thumbs-up. If I really don’t want to include it, a thumbs-down click will sculpture Pandora’s selection criteria a little to better fit my preferences.

By building multiple playlists or “Radio Channels”, I can have a broad choice of music sources to match my mood. Because Pandora throws in “similar music” as well as the specific artists I choose, it gives me a taste of randomness, but not as uncontrolled as XM or Sirius Satellite Radio.

All-in-all, for a free service (yes, as usual, there is a “premium” version, too) Pandora is nice.

You can setup Radio channels that you configure for the type of music (style, artist, genre, etc.)you would like to hear.  At any time, thereafter, you can switch to that channel and start hearing that type of music.

I also really like GrooveShark which lets me build playlists of just the artist I want without contaminating the mix with similar artists. I can build playlists of pieces that fulfill my own music preferences without semi random insertions by the service.

Both have worked fine over both park wifi and Tethered phones and sound good to me. It is very nice to  not be limited to a specific set of tunes on specific CDs that I have to try to read the labels to pick from.  Heck, by the time I find the CD I want, I am too tired or frustrated to bother turning it on…. maybe next time?

Both are also available (Pandora is free but not Grooveshark) on Android phones and will let me use the playlists I built on my computer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Big Hand for the Little Lady

Merrily made another qualification drive, today. it was with a driving instructor that she had not driven with in a few weeks.

She did almost perfect and literally “stunned” the instructor with how much better she was than the last time he rode with her.  He really verbally praised her improvement and said he could not believe how much better she was doing than the last time.

She got kudos for getting up to speed, smooth shifting, great turns, just everything. She came off of that ride with a really big grin on her face, I am sure.

Then, while they were out on the practice field, one of the other students came up to her and put his arm around her and said “Miss Merrily, you are soooo nice. Everyone in the class just loves you. They respect you and if they happen to let a bad word slip out, they immediately apologize all over the place. No one else gets that kind of respect.”

I see that, as usual, she has really set the bar high for everyone and they know it.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Lets hear it for the girl..

Merrily passed the first of a number of skills tests she will have to perform to get her CDL license and graduate from the truck driving school.

Before any driver gets into a truck and drives off, a pre Trip Inspection (PTI) of the vehicle must be done. This consists of visually and mechanically inspecting and challenging 100 specific points of the truck.

Some examples are:

  1. check to see that there is no more than 1” of movement in each brake slack adjuster.
  2. Make sure that none of the springs are loose or broken.
  3. Make sure that tire pressures are all correct.

Etc… for 97 more things.

The last few PTI items are done in the cab of the truck. Merrily got 99 of the 100 correct. These checks must all be done from memory, too. She only missed 1 thing…… she was sitting in the cab with her hands on the steering wheel at the end and still had about 3 minutes do go to complete the PTI test.(You only have 20 minutes to do it in).

She felt she was forgetting one thing but just could not think of what it was. She turns to the instructor and said that she was finished.

He said she missed one. She said “which one?”

He says “Steering Wheel Check!”


Sunday, March 20, 2011


68 days…. Not better than the record 100 days but still much better  than the typical 14 days between them she has experienced most of her 4 year life.  Katie had one this morning about 10am.DSC00888

I really hate it for her when they happen but thankfully the meds are working and the seizures that she does have are wayyyy  less intense and last only a few minutes instead of hours.

None of us slept particularly well overnight. I usually blame on a full moon because that is typically when I don’t sleep too soundly.

Looking back, Katie has had a few small cues that she might have been working up to a seizure. Little things, like a sudden involuntary flash-kick of a hind leg while she is resting or some pacing for no apparent reason.

She is fine, though.  it lasted about 4 minutes and then she was off walking it off. She seems to have discovered that walking around helps clear it out of her system and I can believe that. The normal Cross-crawl patterning that takes place in the nervous system when walking on 4 legs, is a powerful normalizer for the whole neurological system. 

Therapeutically, cross-crawl simulation, even while lying down, is used to stabilize unbalanced muscle tone and works for all 3 axis of the body (front/back, side/side, top/bottom).

I have not seen anything specific about its use in humans in seizure recovery but from what I have seen in Katie, it definitely shortens the number of bouts of rigor that she typically has (3 –6 per seizure to just 1 or two). It also seems to bring the slobbering and glassy eyed stark staring to an end much more quickly than if she does not walk.

Back when she was having them several times a month, I found that even if I carried her outside on a leash and helped support her while she tried to walk, she would return to normal much more quickly. You could just watch how her walking around went from that of a drunken sailor to a normal dog in a matter of minutes while she was walking, even just doing figure 8’s.

Although this day started off with a few minutes of angst it has turned out nicely.  Though a little cooler in the 50s today, it was still very nice to take a few walks and enjoy the filtered sunlight through the spring trees and a few clouds.

Maybe tonight will be a sound night of sleep for everyone.  Merrily is driving on the road tomorrow and is nailing the shifting so I can hardly wait unti we can climb into Clifford and share the drive to wherever we want.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Merrily got to drive a Volvo today

Yep.,, and she liked it better than any of the other trucks she has driven (Freightliners and Macks). She had a good day, drove for an hour and even crossed a DOT scale (big deal?) and came home still positive but tired.

Tomorrow is just an all classroom day except for a few demos of the new field exercises to be done starting on Friday. 


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday’s Child is full of grace

Yep, that about sums up Merrily. Today was a great day for her. Most of the day was on the practice field and her backing problems have been overwhelmed by her persistence and she did GREAT! 

She came home for lunch and when she called to let me know she was just leaving I could tell from the crystal sparkle in her voice that today was going very well for her.

Things had not changed by dinner time, either.  She was still up and feeling in control again.  This is wonderful for me to watch because having been there, I think that she is actually doing better than I was at this point in the class. I know she does not see it that way but all the evidence says that she is nailing it!

Another beautiful but chilly day. Tomorrow promises some rain but so far, nada, so maybe it won’t be so bad.

She is driving on the road tomorrow, so I am anxious to see if her problems with downshifting have gotten any less, too. She was really frustrated all weekend about her difficulties with downshifting and Skip shifting on a down shift.

The good news is that she will be driving a Volvo but it’s a 10 speed and she feels like a 9 speed is easier for her to handle. maybe this will show her that it was the 10 speed transmissions in the Freightliner trucks that was the problem.

Anyhoo, she is sleeping right now because she will be gone all day tomorrow (7 hours out on the road).


Monday, March 14, 2011

Have a nice day…. thanks, I just did!

Sundays seem to always be an awkward day for me. The whole “is it the first day of the week… or the last?” thing kind of keeps me a little uncommitted as to just what to do on a Sunday.

Tomorrow Merrily starts week 3 of 8 of truck driver training. She is struggling more with learning to back a 40’ trailer than what she thinks is normal.  Actually, that is the toughest of the field exercises that they do.  They intentionally have sloppy hitches between the trailers and the trucks so that it is impossible to just hold the steering wheel in one position and have the trailer move in a constant line.  It wanders all over the place forcing the driver to keep correcting it in real time…. not easy.

She is doing very well in all other areas, though. Getting good scores on the written tests and on all the other field exercises she is getting them down pat.

However, tomorrow, they are stepping up the difficulty of the exercises so they will be even more challenging.  She is not looking forward to that.

Her shifting is getting better, too.  Last week, they introduced skip shifting (where you skip one or two gears at one shift point) and she even got that one pretty well.  I never got that one very well at all. I am really glad that Clifford has an Autoshift transmission so it knows how to do it without grinding the gears.

Nice Bradford pear tree in bloom. It was mucho thicker before the winds and rain last night.Our Autoshift truck has a standard 10 speed transmission but the computer controls the actual gear selection and synchronizing so the driver just has to pay attention to the road and the truck takes care of the rest and does not have a stick to shift gears.

Katie, doing her thing... (being cute)As for the rest of today, we walked Katie a few times (she is on day 61 of no seizures, wahoo!) , read the Sunday paper (Merrily’s job- I am not a newspaper reader) and swapped out the empty propane tank with the full one that Emery brought down.

We knew from late last week that Emery and Christi would probably come down today and that was a good thing to look forward to. Merrily even said yesterday that she was missing “the kids” and I will admit that I think of them most every day at least once. Having them come for dinner at Cracker Barrel was really a very good thing on several levels.

Merrily was doing a lot better after dinner. I think she just really needed to see her “kids” even if they are pushing 30. Okay, Okay, so maybe I was really missing them, too.


Friday, March 11, 2011

A place for everything… and everything, eventually in its place.

I usually try to start my weekends sometime during the day on Fridays but today, I actually forgot it was a Friday and worked right up until time to go pick up Merrily from Truck driver training school.

It has been a very productive day for me. I managed to get a lot of boxes of miscellaneous items sorted and then collated back into the regular storage boxes that already have similar items in them. This is always a work in progress in the RV new items come inside in bags or odd boxes and are set down in convenient places to be dealt with later. 

Maybe there are some RVers that have perfect recall and know exactly where the existing storage box is that has other USB cables or pet items or whatever is similar to what has just been brought in. I am not one of them.  I can put my hands on the box for receipts (most of the time – Middle cabinet, top shelf, left most top-most box), the box with my medicines in it (about 93% of the time – Cabinet behind the open smoked glass door on the far right) and the hair cutting equipment (bright blue plastic box in the middle cabinet, top shelf, far right). if it is not one of these boxes, I am probably going to have to look for it for a bit.

DSC02783Disorganized, you say?  No!  I am organized and have a place for just about everything… .I just can’t remember exactly where it is.  This is a primary reason that I don’t file paperwork. If I do, no one, including moi, will be able to find it later. I am sure it is a defective gene in there as my Father had the same problem. Rolling with this same story a bit farther, I also don’t try to remember things for other people. I will never remember them when I should or when it is needed.  I will remember it in the shower at 1:22am or while going to the bathroom at 4:27am.

These are not convenient times/places for remembering things that are important to anyone but unfortunately, this is typical of when I will remember stuff that should have been recalled on demand at specific times and places.. .usually earlier in the day…. or week.

Another obstacle to storing items in an RV is that there is INSIDE storage and OUTSIDE storage. OUTSIDE storage is any place that is not directly accessible from inside the RV by opening a door or a drawer. The so called Basement storage area is OUTSIDE storage as is any place in the tow vehicle or Towd if one has it. In other words, If I cannot put my hands on it in my underwear, it is OUTSIDE.

Often items new to the RV are best suited to be kept in OUTSIDE storage and that is usually inconvenient to access at the time the item is brought home so it is set aside for future relocation to the correct storage box and location (When I can remember where that is). Today was a day that I chose to deal with a lot of these sorts of things and put them in their correct storage places (I think). I made big progress, too. I actually put stuff away that had been waiting for relocation for nearly a year. I emptied 2 big cardboard boxes, 2 small ones, 2 grocery bags and also, through superior collating skills, managed to empty 3 of the shoe box storage containers that had accumulated a variety of stuff from 3M command strip items to RV related parts removed during other work.


I even found a new location for Katie’s crate. She goes to it to rest, take a nap, hide, chew a bone. Who really knows what a dog thinks it’s for? I put it back of my computer table and was not sure that she would use it. I think she liked it out in the floor where she could hide inside and peek out through the ventilation holes in the side and feel she was in the room with us but still “protected”. Since we never have to lock her into it, I removed the door so she could easily come and go as she pleases. It is ghastly unsightly to have sitting out in the floor and does take up vital square footage but back where I tucked it, is space that is only used when we are traveling and not really visible from the rest of the room. She found it and quietly slipped into it for a nap this evening so I am very pleased.

Now, we can actually enjoy our fireplace, again, which has been quite nice while I am sitting here working on this blog with it in the mid-30s outside. This makes it a bit chilly on the floor and this fireplace does a nice job of keeping my tootsies warm without running the furnaces.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

On a long rainy day…

I am a list maker. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism so I have something to blame when I don’t get things done (“Well, it wasn’t on the list”). However, I think that I am leaning more towards list making as a tool of procrastination.  After all, one should not go off half cocked with only a partial list in hand and this does work quite well, most of the time. 

I can avoid starting a task until the list is complete. Coincidentally, that seems to happen simultaneously with when I feel like actually working on the job instead of the list. I can’t help that. It is just my nature.  Maybe I have watched Charlie Sheen too long and also believe that my brain is bigger, more complex and more capable than most folks. I am certain that there is a lot that goes on in it behind my back so until I get the thumbs up from down deep inside somewhere, starting to actually work on a task before this point has proven it to be doomed work. 

Maybe I have stumbled onto a dark universal secret but I think that there are many men, and even women, that struggle with getting their “doing” ahead of their “thinking”. I just to incorporate that inevitable hesitancy as a part of the planning cycle instead of letting it default to being an actual delay in the execution stage.  It sure works out better this way because, being a guy, I really hate to make a wrong turn and then have to go back.  Likewise, I hate to get started on something, then have to undo what I have done to correct or fix mistakes or omissions.

All of this has been the long way of saying that today was a “planning day” and not an execution day.  I got groceries and a towel hook. I came home, put the groceries away, mounted the towel hook, took Katie for a well deserved long walk between rain showers and then returned to eat lunch, watch a bit of TV (Two and a Half Men, of course), get a tick off of Katie and give her the meds to prevent them and heart worms. All in all it was a totally boring day…. but it was a part of a plan and was well executed and I crossed two things off of one of my lists. I feel it was a productive day. Getting this blog entry posted was just brownie points.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Baby Steps towards Winter

Today I made reservations for the coming winter months at Portobelo Village RV park in Aransas Pass, TX . We have been studying our needs for wintering locations and just can’t find Florida all that appealing. maybe it’s because we grew up in central Florida or maybe we just need to feel like we are really somewhere new for our first winter of full-timing on the road.

While Merrily is attending the 8 week Truck Driver training School, here in Smithfield, NC, we are staying in the Smithfield KOA in a monthly site. People have asked what it is like so I have included some pictures for a little perspective.

The Monthly sites are in an area of the park that was formally for Mobile homes so the lots are quite large, which is very nice to have. I-95 is nearly 1/2 mile to the North of us so whether we hear it or the train on the other side of it, really depends on the direction of the wind.  A few nearby dogs are a lot more perturbing than the transportation noises.

Most days, Merrily comes home for lunch unless she is out on the road in a truck with her instructor and usually, we fix dinner in house but tonight we ate out at Smithfield’s Chicken and BBQ! We split a White combo platter for about $10 with our senior discount so it’s a good satisfying choice.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

PackRat 101

One of the most difficult things I have found in downsizing into an RV is the issue of my hoarding skills.   How the heck can I keep them finely tuned if I have no place to put anything?

Last September, We were forced to move from the RV back into the house. Of course, we had lived in here for 3 years before that so there was a well worked out “packing density” that allowed us to have what we wanted and needed… out of sight.  But once in the house, that was slowly dismantled over the ensuing months as we needed various things in there, like meds, sleep gear, vitamins, Katie stuff, tools, cosmetics, underwear..etc. The initial offloading took 54 trips just to get the stuff that we knew we had to have in the house. That was over a 3 day period (I counted because no one would believe we had that much stuff in here).

Trying to get the RV reloaded in 2 days was impossible without shortcuts and assumptions.  The shortcuts were mostly in the form of piles of things stuffed into grocery bags, boxes and pockets.  I figured that once we were setup here, I would take the time to sort it all out and put it back…. uh… NOT!  Even on my best days, my memory was not up to that task so thus far, the packing density is quite low. There is leftover space over, behind, under and inside of other things which must be compressed if I am to get all of these things back in here. Today, I launched into phase I.  I started with the rear overhead cabinets which hold most of the office and records related items. I had previously found a bunch of shoe box type plastic containers with lids that just exactly fit the space.  I had packed most of these but many were still a mixture before we moved into the house.

Today, I pulled them all out and collated the contents into specific bins for specifically related contents. e.g. program CDs, RV related CD/DVDs, USB related stuff, Audio stuff, Network stuff, Pet stuff (2 containers), etc.


That work eliminated 2 boxes and 3 grocery bags and it is all behind cabinet doors. More important, I can now find my meds on demand.

However, as you can see, there is still a lot more to go through before this will look like a home instead of a pack room.


Merrily had a great day, too and takes her first on the road drive, tomorrow. She has now done all of the current practice field exercises at least once and did quite well on all of them.  I think this is going to work out very well.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

… And so it begins…

Trite title, I know, but it’s true. The circumstances of the past 2 months have closed some doors and opened this window to full timing, big time.  We planned for this day for so long and now, it is really happening.

One of the items on our to-do-to-go list was for Merrily to go to truck driving school.  You have seen the rig we have in other posts. She has wanted to be comfortable driving it under most circumstances and said so several years ago.  I attended the North Carolina Truck Driver Training School at Johnston Community College in the summer of 2004 along with my oldest son. That was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life…. but worth every ounce of sweat and tired.

Now, Merrily is going through the same course to train her skills to work like they should to be safe and confident in all situations.  Down the road, options for workkamping will be a lot more flexible if we both have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) so she is going to get hers, now.  Not that driving an 18 wheeler is in the plans but team drivers can make a serious dent in income in a pinch. More likely we will pick up a few gigs driving shuttle busses or tour busses in places. There is a lot of demand for licensed and certified drivers in places like Alaska, and National Parks.  We will see what develops.

Meanwhile, the first of 8 weeks in class is drawing to a close. Each day is about 3 hours of classroom time and the rest of the 10 hour day is divided between working the field exercises (backing, coupling, serpentine backing, offset alley navigating, Pre-trip inspections, etc. The objectives of the class make it imperative that every learned skill is automatic and tightly tested before certification. This makes a graduate a professional driver.. not just a truck driver.

My son has driven for TransAm trucking out of Kansas since 2004. He loves the work, hates being gone from home so much but now owns his own truck and has nearly 1 million miles under his belt.

Although I have never driven professionally, it is a keen confidence I have when I sit down behind the wheel of our HDT. It Is a more comfortable and natural place to be than behind the wheel of my automobile and that is totally to the credit of this Truck Driver Training Class.  A lot more folks can pass the NC CDL licensing testing than can graduate from this class. The requirements for passing the course are just that much more rigorous than the state examination process, and that is not easy.

I will be working this blog a lot more frequently, now that we have some real movement into full timing in play. Much of the daily work was very non-full-time related so I stopped wasting everyone’s time trying to make it interesting.

BTW, Katie is doing well. She made it to 100 days, as I previously mentioned but then had a couple of seizures a few weeks apart. Now she is back on track and on her 50th day without a seizure.