Camping World

Dinner Any Time

Archives

Katrina - Find me on Bloggers.com

FTC Disclaimer and Privacy Policy

Mail Service Review

Time for a review of mail services for RVers. Having lived in an RV for 10 years now, I have a lot of experience with 4 of the different services out there and using family to forward mail. Here is my opinion on each of them as they pertain to RVers. Keep in mind, while the last two services can provide you with a legal address to become a resident of their states if you are living in your RV full-time, residency is not required and you can just use their mail services. Where you get your mail is not the only factor used to determine residency.

Family

Don’t even think about it! You can’t count on them to forward all mail in a timely manner or to let you know you have mail. If you want to mess up your credit by failing to pay bills, this is the best way to do it. While they mean well, they aren’t generally paid to handle your mail so it tends to come after most other things in their own busy lives. Handling mail is a job. It requires more attention than you think and is often inconvenient. Trust your mail only to professionals.

US Post Office

Pros

  • Found everywhere
  • Reasonably priced
  • You can get a box at their nearest office if staying in one area for awhile
  • They have package lockers for items too big to fit in mail boxes
  • General Delivery is very convenient and they will hold items for 2 weeks

Cons

  • Won’t accept UPS and FedEx packages
  • Can’t sign for mail for you as needed
  • Many online retailers will not ship to a USPS mailbox
  • General Delivery at any one Post Office is available for only 30 days then they insist you rent a box
  • General Delivery will only hold items for 2 weeks

For traveling all over the country, the US Post Office has been pretty good and handy. While they have many cons and are not suitable as your primary mail service, as a secondary mail service they are great. As needed, I have my primary mail service send me mail via General Delivery to the nearest Post Office.

UPS Stores

Pros

  • Found in many cities across the US
  • Longer hours than many Post Offices
  • Can accept all packages
  • Online retailers will ship to them
  • Can forward mail and packages
  • Have many other services including handling deposits for USAA.

Cons

  • They charge $1 a day each for packages held longer than 1 week
  • They don’t always notify you of package or mail arrival
  • They don’t have lockers to make packages available 24/7. You must call and work it out with them
  • While box rates are reasonable, their services including mailing a USPS package are extremely expensive

UPS is okay but there are cheaper services that offer more service. The $1 per package fee can really add up fast if you don’t time your package arrivals with your mail run. Expect to pay twice as much to mail any USPS packages through them.

Escapees

Pros

  • They now have 3 locations in Texas (Headquarters), Florida, and South Dakota which will forward mail anywhere
  • You can use their address in all three states to establish residency for tax purposes (no income tax), vehicle registration, etc.
  • You can call or email to find out what mail they have for you
  • Highly rated service with lots of experience
  • Online retailers will ship to them
  • Can receive all packages and forward
  • They are also an excellent RV club with discounts on camping from 15-50% and other discounts
  • They have their own RV parks with great rates
  • They provide help with absentee voting
  • Strong advocacy on behalf of RVers
  • Camaraderie and lots of hugs

Cons

  • They charge a flat fee of $1 per package to handle them
  • Notify when packages arrive but not mail
  • They can’t mail out the same day you call even if you call in the morning
  • You must belong to the Escapees RV Club for an additional fee to use their mail service
  • Residency in Texas with their local address will subject you to annual vehicle inspections for RV and tow vehicle though they will be waived when not in state

Escapees have a very good mail service and choosing residency as an RVing full-timer in any of their three states may help to avoid state income tax depending on your source of income and previous home state. Check with an accountant or lawyer. In Texas, they are currently NOT in an area requiring smog testing, just vehicle inspections. Their staff are friendly and helpful. You must belong to their RV club to use their mail services but there are many great benefits to belonging to their club such as discounts on camping and supplies, inexpensive camping at Escapees parks in wonderful places all over the country, a list they maintain of free and cheap areas to camp (extra fee), special interest groups for any interest or hobby you may have, group camping and annual shows, RV weigh ins, and lots of friendship and hugs. They love to hug! They also run a CARE center for injured or sick RVers. Even if you don’t use their mail services, you should join their RV club!

My Dakota Address

Pros

  • Very friendly and responsive staff
  • Same day mail outs
  • Email you every day you receive mail so you know exactly what is waiting for you
  • Will read or fax mail to you
  • No package handling fees
  • Can receive and forward all packages
  • Will sign for packages and certified notices on your behalf
  • Online retailers will ship to them
  • Help with South Dakota residency and vehicle registrations using their address at courthouse very close by

Cons

  • Located in an area with a wheel tax of $4 per wheel on your South Dakota registered vehicles
  • South Dakota does not have online driver license renewals so you will need to return every 5 years if you also choose to become a resident too
  • South Dakota is Homeland security compliant which means more citizenship proof needed for drivers licenses

Excellent service and friendly staff. They help you keep on top of your mail by emailing whenever mail or packages are received and they keep replying to that same email until you ask for mail to be sent so you can see a running list of what they have waiting for you. If you call anytime before they mail out, they can mail out today. Mail from them arrives in 3 days by Priority Mail anywhere you are in the country.

Summary

I hope these reviews help. There are many more services out there besides these but this is an idea of what to expect. Choosing a good, professional service to handle your mail as you travel is very important if you don’t want credit dings from paying bills late, don’t want to miss important family event invitations, etc. With a non-Post Office address, you can order all you like off Amazon and Ebay and the address can be written so as to look like an apartment number rather than a box number (#555 instead of PO Box 555). It can also help with becoming a resident in a no state income tax state or in a state that offers many discounts to residents such as Florida. Be sure to pick one that suits your life and travel desires.

Veggie Pasta

veggie_pasta1Say what you want about As Seen On TV products, sometimes they really do have a good idea and get it right. I stumbled across a veggie spiralizer in a Big Lots store and decided to give it a try since I am very much into eating healthy these days. The idea of making pasta that is very low calorie, non-gluten, and contains lots of excellent vitamins and fiber was very appealing. You can even leave the skin on for no peeling hassles and more good nutrients, the bulk of which are actually found in vegetable skins. The big question though is does it taste good? Hmm.

To test it, I used a zucchini though a yellow squash, cucumber, or large carrot work too. Wash then lop off the ends of the zucchini. Insert it into the device and put the included turning cap on the other end of the vegetable. Twist slowly and watch the long threads of veggie pasta come out. When ready, steam them to soften. I put them in a microwave safe bowl with a little water and cooked for 2-3 minutes. On a plate, cover with your favorite heated Spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese. Dig in.

OMG! It was delicious! I thought it was actually better than regular spaghetti and the texture was perfect, just like spaghetti.

For test two, I made zucchini pasta for Pasta Chicken Alfredo. Instead of spaghetti sauce, I covered it with Alfredo sauce that I had warmed up with chunks of cooked chicken and black pepper. Mmm mmm good! If you really want to go wild, add some broccoli too.

I can see using this to make julienne potatoes or hash browns also. I wonder what carrot pasta with roast beef and gravy would taste like. Hmm… Maybe with some potato shreds as well.

I rate this an A. The device works, cleans up easily, is solidly built, and is an easy way to eat healthier or help with a diet. I took off one point for not being able to use the whole vegetable, however, you can use the remaining vegetable by cutting and adding it or frying it up for something else.

veggie_pasta3

Another Flood in Texas

Like death and taxes, one thing that is certain in Texas is that there will be a flood every year. As you may remember, I got caught in a flood last year and nearly lost everything. Several months before that, I got pretty close to being flooded out of my gate. This year, I was specifically told I was in a major flood plain when I arrived at my current gate and was warned again when the spring rains started. I took the precaution of hitching up my trailer and pulling everything in the day before it was supposed to hit. It really helps that I have a new truck box this year which does not block my view of my hitch so I can hitch-up very quickly now.

The next day, the rains started. I kept an eye on the road and all around me. By nightfall, the road was still clear so I decided to hang in there and went to bed. Very early in the morning, my weather radio started going off constantly with flood alerts. I checked outside and saw that everything was fine around me so no problem yet. Later, when daylight came, I checked the road and found it just starting to cover to the south. To the north, the road was covered with fast running water and rising. I waded in a bit to check the level with my hiking pole since I would have to pull my trailer through it to either hunker down up on the first drilling pad or to turn my trailer around to get it out of there all together.  The flashlight popped off my hiking pole and is now probably in China darn it. I really liked and used that light. Bad pole/light design.

McKenzie flood southMcKenzie flood west

When I walked back to my trailer, I could see the water was now over the road to the south and was crossing over behind my trailer pad. I called my boss for permission to abandon post for a day or two, secured the company equipment, then headed out through the water. I slowly pulled through the foot and a half of water to the north so as not to soak the undercarriage or hit a hidden pothole hard. Since I don’t have an H2S gas monitor, I turned the rig around up at the pad and drove back through the water to go out to a campground. When I got close to the front, I spotted a large graveled area that was just big enough and high enough to pull in to stay. With 4 golf batteries and a full tank of water, I knew I could easily boondock for a couple days. That allowed me to not only stay safely for free but to also continue working and collecting pay by driving back down in my truck to guard the gate from my vehicle. I knew I was safe doing that as long as the tanker trucks were still navigating the water to continue their runs. I actually had a good time and a nice change of pace with plenty of walking up and down the road where I could and both my smart phone and Kindle Fire with me. I worked that way for a couple days from dawn till dusk and got to go out to the nearby Pilot station for gas and dinner (in that order not the opposite ;-) ).

McKenzie flood driving

As soon as the water receded, I towed my trailer back to the gate. Getting back in was not easy now that everything around the pad was mud. Much of the rock on the road had been washed away. It took a few tries and some steep angling to get in past the mud. I also had to get it lined up as close as possible to the way it was to re-attach the sewer lines. They use solid plastic sewer pipes with very little give to hook guards up to external sewer tanks.

I stayed hitched up for another day to be sure I didn’t get surprised. The guys were all very welcoming and happy I was back in position. I was home again.

Holidays On The Gate

I love the gate I am currently at because I have this large fence right in front of my door between my RV and the road through the gate I am guarding. To me, it is like a giant canvas to let out my artistic and playful sides. I decorate it for every holiday and have been told the workers here really appreciate my efforts. While I am at it, I also usually wear an appropriate hat for the holiday and sometimes give out goodies to all who pass through.

For Valentine’s Day this year, I gave out Hershey kisses. It is always fun to ask strangers if they would like a kiss. Since I am not young, blond, or skinny, I make a point of holding up the chocolate when I ask. LOL

Valentines Day decorations

For St. Patrick’s Day, I donned an Irish cap and an Irish brogue while greeting the passers by.

St. Patricks Day

For Easter, I wore a bunny hat and hopped up to vehicles with a basket full of bags filled with Easter eggs, jelly beans, and marshmallow chicks.

Easter decorationsMore Easter decorationsEaster Bunny

I’m already plotting um planning my decorations for Memorial Day and 4th of July.  Tee hee.

I hope you all have jobs as fun (most of the time) as mine is.

DangRV – RVQuartzsite Drone

DangRv - RVQuartzsite Drone

DangRV.com and RVQuartzsite.com now have their own drone! Yep, spotted it in a store in the mall while on vacation and just had to have one. It’s a made in China (as most are) quad copter but the quality is quite decent. It has colorful LEDs that light up, 4 axis controls, rechargeable battery, and a tiny camera which takes pretty decent video and still shots. It came with a charger, extra blades, a 2 gig Micro SDHC storage card, and a USB dongle to directly download video from the card to a computer.

Buying it was interesting. As usual, I got the woman’s run around with the salesman asking me if I intended to fly it myself, had I ever flown one before, and did I have a man to fly it for me. Aargh! I get that same nonsense at Radio Shacks, hardware stores, and auto parts stores. To dissuade me from buying it, he had me try to fly one around his tiny store with a male customer close by to try to avoid hitting. While I got the picture that flying it would take a lot of practice, he did not stop me from getting it. The cost was just over $100 and well worth it I figured if I could get even a couple of nice aerial shots for my blogs. One thing I discovered is it crashes well. The body took quite a lickin’ but kept on… well you know.

It is going to take some time but I have learned quite a lot about flying it already. I now know that right and left are relative to the nose and which way it is pointing. I’ll need to perfect the hovering maneuver so it doesn’t fly away and so I can get those shots I want. The distance it can travel away from the controller is not very far (though far enough to get high in the sky) so hovering will help. I think I’ll be ready when I can fly and control it inside my RV. Ah yes, grasshopper.

Looking forward to some great pics and videos to post on my websites for you all. Here’s a a little taste for you.

View of drone and Big Tent in Quartzsite, AZAerial view of campsite on BLM

I think my drone needs a name. Any suggestions?

55+ Parks Not Necessarily 55+

If you are traveling around the country and would like to stay at a 55+ park but are not 55 years old, do not despair. You usually can stay there! Under federal law, a park can only call itself a 55+ park if they rent no more than 20% to those under that age. Therefore, sites would normally be available for you. In my experience traveling around the country, no such park has ever even asked me my age. Many tend to follow the military’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. They don’t really want to exclude responsible adults. They do want to keep kids out. Many older people who have done their time around kids and the noise they normally make, no longer have a desire to enjoy their company full time. They are looking for peace and quiet without having to dodge young ones on bicycles, toys left in roadways, splashing in the pool, etc. This is especially true for parks that cater to monthly and yearly residents. I didn’t understand the problem when I was young and visited my grandparents in Sun City in California. They had many rules concerning children and very few places kids were allowed. Now that I am 55+ and done raising my own children, I totally get it. Don’t get me wrong, I personally like being around kids for short periods like weekly camping. While watching them play I remember fondly all the fun times I had growing up with my siblings. Being noisy and full of energy is part of what being a kid is all about! Anyway, if you see a 55+ park you would like to stay at, give it a shot but don’t mention your age unless they ask and don’t act like a misbehaved child while there or they can and will boot you out.

Goodbye Water Bottles

As a gate guard, I live in my RV out in the boonies on other people’s ranches far away from RV parks and the usual amenities such as full hookups. My guard company provides a support trailer with a huge (and rather noisy) electric generator on it to provide me with power and a 500 gallon water tank that provides non-potable water via an RV water pump inline with it. The water comes from a local well. It is labeled non-potable both because of the sediment in it and because the equipment and tanks used to haul it are not monitored or certified. In the summertime, the large black tank may also contain algae due to the unbearable Texas heat. All guards use water filters to at least clean the sediment out to use the water for showers and doing dishes. For drinking and cooking water, most use bottled water. Personally, I have gotten a little fed up with worrying about having enough water on board since I work alone with no one to run into town for more water for me. I also have some concerns about the actual quality of the bottled water I have been getting. How do we really know the water coming out of machines found at gas stations and grocery stores is clean? Are we sure those machines get regularly serviced and filters changed? One information source tells me that 40 percent of bottled water is actually just unfiltered municipal tap water we have been conned into buying. I have noticed the taste of my bottled water lately has not been very good. It has an after-taste. I could try using a different machine but I decided to give the bottles the boot and filter my own drinking water.

To start my new water filtration system, I first had to stop using the blue inline Camco cartridges which clog quickly, are rather expensive, and don’t filter as well as home filters. They work fine for weekend warriors and did make life tolerable in Ocala, Florida where the water is loaded with sulfur that stinks so bad that you don’t even want to think about washing your hands or showering with it until you get some sort of water filter installed on the line coming in. However, for less cost, I can do better.

Camco Inline Water Filter

I finally purchased a two-stage house filtering system with a 5 micron sediment filter in the first housing and a charcoal block in the second housing. The charcoal filters out chemicals and improves the taste. These housings are very easy to use and more can be strung together if you want to add a third or fourth stage such as perhaps an extra 1 micron sediment filter or a water softener. Some people sit them in a bucket or on the ground. I’m using a plastic crate to hold mine upright off the ground and provide storage for the 4 foot hose attached between it and the RV. I also made a jacket for mine out of aluminum surfaced bubble wrap used for insulating RVs. That keeps the sun and cold winds off them. Speaking of sun, both of my canisters are blue not clear. The clear ones seem nice to be able to easily see how dirty your filters are but they allow the sun in which promotes algae and bacteria growth. The clear canisters should only be used in closed environments like under the sink. To open the canisters easier when it comes time to change the filters, I also bought a wrench made just for them.

Whole House Water FiltersWater Filter Cover and Crate

With the new system installed, I have noticed an improvement in water pressure. It’s small but noticeable. It should also be filtering better. That got me better quality water in the shower, for doing dishes, and for doing my laundry. But, that still wasn’t good enough for drinking. After a lot of investigation and research, my choices for the next step came down to two choices which each are good but each have a downside. Remember, this is for an RV, not a house with lots of space and water pressure. The first and cleanest choice would by a reverse osmosis system with a UV light. That system would filter out everything including bacteria, cysts, and viruses. It’s the ultimate in filtering! Unfortunately, it tends to be very large and requires electricity. If the power goes out or I boondock, it is no better than my second choice, a ceramic filter system. Ceramics are often used to bring drinkable water to areas in third world countries and they are used by hikers to drink from lakes and streams. Ceramic filters can handle everything except viruses. Debating my choices, I decided the odds of having a virus in my water are fairly slim but the odds of having no power are pretty good. A good UV system can cost $400-$500. A ceramic filter system was less than $100. With ceramics being used so readily by hikers and in foreign lands, I decided that was the best choice for me at this time.

I would have liked to use a ceramic to filter the whole RV but ceramics as well as RO (reverse osmosis) systems tend to really lower your water pressure since they filter down to less than 1 micron. With my only pressure coming from a small RV water pump 50 feet away from my trailer, it just isn’t practical. Instead, I chose a countertop water filter housing which connects to the kitchen sink faucet with a bypass switch and has it’s own faucet. It doesn’t take up much space and the water pressure is bearable for filling a cup to drink or a pan to cook. When I do laundry which also hooks up to the kitchen faucet or do dishes, I don’t need that extra filtering so I can push the switch to bypass the filter and get more pressure. It is also nice to know I can easily move ALL my filters over to a new RV at any time.

Counter Top Ceramic FilterCounter Top Filter Faucet Hookup

With the new system installed, my water is tasting great! It definitely tastes better than the bottled water I was getting and it is safe. I am very pleased with the end results. If I choose to spend a lot of time in Mexico someday, I may reconsider the UV light system addition then. For now, this works!

John and Gary Get Me Back On The Road Again

BarHarbor043I have been gate guarding in the oil fields of Texas for nigh onto 2 years now. While not completely off the “Road” as I travel from gate to gate south of San Antonio, it is a life of many months spent in one place, usually though not always far out in the boonies away from civilization, guarding one gate 24/7, umbilical cords to a support trailer providing the necessities of life (water, electricity, refuse removal), with an occasional monthly wild ride into a town for fresh supplies for my earth ship. Entertainment is found in the beauty of nature, sunsets so red and bold as to require nightly pictures, and the occasional visits of curious animals, both wild and domestic. Of course, there is also the standard TV provided by a well-tuned satellite dish, radio stations blaring out both Country and Western when not in Spanish, and books. Lots of books.

Last night, I poked my Bluetooth headset into my right ear, threw a camper on the back of my old truck, fired it up, and headed back out on the road with a large dog of French persuasion named Charley whose command of the English language was limited to “pfft”. I drove many miles out of my way to avoid the traffic congestion of New York City, crossed through Connecticut and Vermont, enjoyed the White Mountains of New Hampshire, till at last I was back in Bangor, Maine. After a night of peaceful sleep without the constant hum of a generator in my ears or the buzz of alarms telling me another tanker truck was coming through, I spent some time in the local and profuse antique stores gawking at the many items stored in basements, attics, and barns for years as they were replaced by newer models or thrown away with chips and dents by ancestors now long dead. I was amazed by the prices even a previously 10 cent plate now fetched or attempted to fetch.

After a leisurely uninterrupted lunch and a short walk with Charley to meet and greet the nearest Maine bush, we hit the road again to find Deer Isle for the night. The lady inn owner was expecting us. As usual and despite the numerous maps onboard, I managed to get lost and pass my turnoff. I had been warned not to ask directions from locals who delighted in providing wrong directions to tourists while silently laughing there heads off inside. I tried asking a rather taciturn local officer of the law for help which led to nothing more than a nod of the head in the direction which I had come. I set off again following the nod until I found the turn I had missed and managed to navigate to the old but stately inn in the woods. The owner was a very nice woman, alone and of senior age, who greeted us with typical New England cordiality. She provided a place for us to rest and all the info needed to enjoy our stay. She introduced Charley to her cat who thoroughly detested both dogs and humans and would have been quite glad to see the whole of Maine decimated of beings save for herself and the lady. Thankfully, Charley has no interest whatsoever in cats either for speaking to or chasing. We got some dinner, introduced a tree to the unique essence that is Charley, and went blissfully off to sleep again to relieve our tired bodies and ponder our current adventure.

The next morning, I woke up alone. Charley was nowhere to be seen. He had not woken me up as usual with a “pfft” in my face. The inn and lovely woods of the island were gone. Alarms were shrieking. I could hear a generator humming in the background. Looking outside, the land was now patches of dirt and cactus. A tanker was passing by, too fast as usual. A large wide gate stared at me as if to say, “Get back to work!”. I was home again if you can call it home.  The new adventure was over, for now. I look forward to hitting the road again this evening and continuing my explorations. I secretly grin at the thought of traveling the back roads of America with a dog named Charley when I once again poke my Bluetooth headset in my right ear to let Gary Sinise and his wonderful voice read John Steinbeck’s book, “Travels With Charley”, to me again from my Kindle Fire. I read it myself as a child so many years ago and it was the catalyst in my life that led me to becoming a full-time RVer and wanderer of the country, of the planet. Till tonight…