9 Random Things On My Mind Or Going On – What’s New With You?

It’s a good thing that the days get longer in summer because you need every minute of light and then some.  It’s funny because I have found my ‘falling asleep before bedtime’ spot, which happens to be on one of the couches in the living room.  If you see me heading to that couch anytime in the evening, it’s a sure thing that I’m going to fall asleep.  Here are some random things on my mind that I wanted to share.  Let me know what you think and what’s going on with you.

  1. The mad rush of special events is coming to a close.

    -Starting with Mother’s Day, it’s one opportunity to celebrate after another, which doesn’t end until Father’s Day (which is often delayed from a celebration standpoint).  In between those two we have my wife’s birthday and both kid’s birthday, plus we also have a lot going on with the end of the school years, dance recitals, and everything else.  Don’t get me wrong, we love celebrating every single milestone, but when they come so fast and furious all at once, we have to remind
    ourselves to stop and take a breath so that we can really enjoy and make the most out of each special event.

  2. Orlando.

    What to say about the tragedy in Orlando that hasn’t already been said?  I think one thing that many people need to realize is that there’s not one thing to blame that we can grasp and use as a fix.  It’s not just an ISIS thing.  It’s not just a guns thing.  It isn’t just a mental health thing.  Shutting down the borders or taking away the guns or re-opening the institutions are not individual solutions.  In our complex world, there are so many variables with seemingly new ones popping up all the time.  And, what’s scary is that the ever growing polarization is not going to get us closer to figuring out how to stop these events from happening.  I’m dreading the day when we have to try to explain this to our kids.  So far we’ve been able to keep them insulated, but at 7 and 5, we’re running on borrowed time.  This thought gives me sadness on so many levels.

  3. The Costco credit card switch is almost upon us.

    I have never seen so much publicity over a credit card, but the days are nearly here.  We’re pretty much prepared.  I think there are just a couple of small automated payments that my wife needs to redirect, and I’m also thinking of creating a laminated cheat sheet that we can carry in our wallets to direct us on what card we should use to maximize our rewards.  We have a few different cash back cards, now it’s just a matter of maximizing our value!

  4. A possible culprit in my battle against eczema.

    -The other day I went to take a load of clothes out of the washer.  All would have been well except it never got ran.  When I reached in for the clothes my hands came in contact with Oxi Clean, which we use as a supplement for our clothes.  It wasn’t even five seconds in and I felt the familiar burn.  I’m thinking that maybe this is some pretty harsh stuff, and maybe even coming into contacts with clothes, sheets, and towels that have been washed in it have been aggravating my skin.  Perhaps it’s time for a ban?

  5. Amazon price matching policy

    Here’s a tip, if you want Amazon to adjust a price, don’t use their online chat capability.  Technically, Amazon does not have to match a deal if you find a better price after you make a purchase, but they often will as a courtesy.  No such luck when I found an item, on their own site, $20 cheaper less than a week after I made the purchase.  I had two online agents refuse to help and one even ‘hung up on me’ or whatever the equivalent would be for an online chat.  Not to be deterred, I initiated a phone conversation, and this went much better.  They didn’t give a refund, but we have a $20 credit on our next purchase.  That’s good enough for me!

  6. Basketball dreams

    Our son wanted a basketball hoop for his birthday.  These things are something else to put together.  I started, and am about 1.5 hours in.  I figure I have at least another 2-3 hours of work.  Then once we get it in place (it’s one of the portable models), we have to determine how to anchor it.  They want you to fill it either with sand or liquid (it’d be antifreeze in our case) but many people weigh it down by piling sand bags or something similar on top.  Filling it looks better, but piling stuff on it is easier, plus I’d think that emptying it would be a royal pain.  So, we’re not sure on the approach yet.  Any ideas?

  7. Homeowners association

    I served on our board for the last two years but declined to run again.  There’s a very cliquey group of people (think high school) that love to ‘run the show’ from a social standpoint, yet they refuse to run for the board.  It bugs me that they make many requests of the board, yet never include the board members in the social events, so I decided to take a break for at least a term.  I am still working on updating content on the website, which nobody else really knows well.  Since it’s WordPress based (like my blog) this is pretty easy.

  8. Anyone else nervous about the stock market?

    The market had a pretty nice run after the beginning of the year crash.  It seems like the market really loves the low interest rates that are seemingly now just standard policy.  But I’m a bit nervous, as I can’t imagine that will last forever.  Plus, the debt that all of the Central Banks are creating are injecting money that is being used to push the markets higher,mb-2015-06-fire but it’s still debt and what happens when that needs to be paid back?  Or does it? Who knows?  But in any case, it’s a bit scary to me.  It seems like we’re in a situation where everything is hunky dory….until one day it’s not.  I’m not going ‘bearish’ but I’m definitely keeping a watchful eye.

  9. Camping season is upon us.

    One thing that we’ve settled into is our routine for camping.  This is our fifth year with our trailer, and we now have a pretty good routine going.  We did one trip for Memorial Day, and we have another trip coming up this weekend.  After that we have two weeklong trips and a few more weekend trips.  Summer is short in Michigan so we try to pack it in!

Readers, did you  hit the ground running for summer?  How are things looking for you?

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Lesson Learned: Not All Septic Safe Toilet Paper Is RV Compatible

Last year I went through some minor drama with regards to our camper’s black tank, which is the tank that the toilet empties into.  Don’t worry, there’s nothing too queasy here!

Essentially, we use our toilet mostly for number one only.  Since we camp at campgrounds, most other business is done at the campground bathrooms.  Unfortunately, it’s not 100%, but even so there’s toilet paper used anyway.

The Problem

Last summer, we were on a week long trip around the 4th of July, and we ran into trouble. After every time using the toilet, well, the only way to put it, is that the camper stank.  Definitely a sewer stink.  (I promised it wouldn’t be too queasy, and that’s the most detail there is *lol*)

I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but after some investigation I found out the problem.  The tank was full.

We were only halfway into the trip, so I knew that something was not right at all.

Luckily for us, our trip was divided into two parts and we were leaving the campground the next day.  I was able to stop at the ’empty out’ station, but even as I went through, I could tell that the amount that had emptied was not a full tanks worth.  Even so, the amount that cleared was sufficent to get us through the week.

So to speak….

After I got home, I did a more thorough cleanout of the tank. There’s a tool specifically for this and I already happened to own one.  Prior to this, I used it just once a year at the end of the season for a final cleanout, but used it now.  It’s a wand that goes on the end of a hose, and since the tank is located directly beneath the toilet, you just lower it into the tank area, turn it on, and it shoots out jets of water all over the place.  It definitely did the trick as the next ’empty out’ cleared it out.

I began to suspect that the toilet paper we were using was possibly the culprit.  From our last couple of trips, I monitored how things went.  It definitely seemed like the tank didn’t fully empty when we left, and after using the wand, it did.

This spring, I decided to do an RV toilet paper test.  Essentially, what you want is for the toilet paper that you put into the tank to break down by the time it’s emptied.  Toilet paper that is ‘Septic Safe’ is supposed to do this.  We were using ‘Septic Safe’ toilet paper, made by Thetford.  It’s sold all over the place, and I figured it had to work because, well, it’s sold all over the place and it’s labeled that it’s RV safe.

The RV Toilet Paper Test

I read a lot of forums about our camper type, and there’s quite a bit of information available as this is a fairly common problem.  What you want to do is test the toilet paper to make sure that it does in fact break down.  The test is pretty simple:

  • Fill a jar or glass halfway with water
  • Insert a couple squares of toilet paper
  • Cover the top and give it a couple of vigorous shakes.  This simulates the ‘drop’ from the toilet down into the tank.
  • Give it an hour or two of soaking, since this is what it does in the tank anyways.
  • Give it another couple of shakes.  This simulates the sloshing around that takes place when other toilet paper and water drops in, or when you’re driving around to empty out.

After all this, the desired result is that the toilet paper breaks down.  It should break down into small shreds.

I decided to give our paper a try and a few others a try as well.

Here were the results.

  • Thetford RV Safe Paper – This was no good.  The paper was ripped in a couple of spots but did not break down at all as expected.  I can definitely see why we had a problem as this would not generally drain well during the empty out process, and would then accumulate over time.  FAIL.
  • Scotts Single Ply Paper – I noticed that the rolls at work were labeled Septic Safe, so I decided to steal a couple squares.  The results were not much better.  FAIL.
  • Kirkland Brand Two-Ply – Generally, you’re not supposed to put two-ply down, but Costco stuff is often pretty magical, so I figured I’d give it a try.  No good.   FAIL.
  • Walgreen’s The Big Roll – I was driving by a Walgreens and for some reason I stopped in and they have ‘The Big Roll’ sold either individually for 79 cents or in a 4 pack for $2.99 (a whopping 3 cents saving for buying in bulk).  I figured for 79 cents, it was worth a try, and it came out as the clear winner.  As soon as I gave it the initial shake, I could see it start breaking down, and by the time an hour had passed, it was fully shredded.  This is the clear winner.  And, since we generally don’t use it for the most stressful of toilet paper situations, it’s just fine. PASS!!!

I immediately went out and switched out our roll with the remaining roll that had 998 squares left.  I expect better emptying results and will be monitoring throughout the summer to see if this improves our situation.

Why Did The Other Stuff Fail?

I’m really surprised that the other stuff didn’t work.  Many other people who reviewed the Thetford brand said it worked fine, but then I started to see a theme.  Many people who have campers go to more full service campgrounds.  These include areas where you can hook up to water and sewer right at your campsite.  This means that you can empty your tank as often as you please, which means that you can fill it as often as you please.  In our case, since we go for a week and we don’t have a means to empty the tank, we can’t be as liberal with how much water we put per flush.  You’re supposed to make sure to put a good amount down, and I’d say we probably put down a couple of cups per flush, which is fine for ‘dry’ camping, but if I had a full hookup, you could double or triple that, and then empty the tank.  Having full service hookup seemed to be a more common report amongst those who found success.

Also, when camping, you’re supposed to put in chemicals that will help break things down.  I do put these in the tank with the proper allocation, but I didn’t use them for testing.  Still, I’m hard pressed to believe that the chemicals can make that substantial of a difference, and I’d rather know that the toilet paper I use will break down regardless of their presence.

So, the clear winner for our RV, at least for the time being, is Walgreen’s The Big Roll.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Now That Was A Great Camping Trip

We go camping a few times each summer, and take two week long trips per summer.  This has been the third season of our camping adventures since we purchased our travel trailer.

One of our trips each summer has been to Ludington State Park on Lake Michigan on the west side of our great state of Michigan.  The park is one of the most popular parks in the state, as it is big, has two great beaches, is in a great tourist area, and has some great sites.  You can book six months in advance, and making reservations is like getting tickets to a Taylor Swift concert, if you’re a few minutes past when the sites become available, you’re not getting one.

Until this year, the park has been somewhat of a bittersweet travel.  In 2012, it was our first big camping trip.  I was still very raw in dealing with the camper, so when a big thunderstorm blew in off the lake and damaged my awning, I was almost ready to sell the camper and find something else to do (it was made worse by the fact that for the two days that the awning was unusable, it was over 100 degrees and we had no shade).  Last year, the weather was cold for a good portion of the trip, and we were on what had to be the two sandiest sites in the park (last year, my in-laws joined us as they also purchased a camping trailer).

Even with all that, we’ve had fun, but this year when we booked we wondered what would come our way this year.  Turns out, it was nothing but awesomeness!

We arrived on Saturday, 8/22 and left on Sunday, 8/31.  Initially, the weather forecast had us thinking we might get a day or two at the beach as well as hopefully a trip down the river (more on that).  As it turns out, we did much better!

Saturday – It was hot and humid when we were setting up.  We were in a part of the park that had no trees, so it was definitely not fun setting up, but I prefer hot over cold so I just drank water and took breaks while getting things setup.  The biggest obstacle, and it was more of a laugh than anything else, is that the path that leads to the bathrooms was no longer where it was listed on the map…it’d been right between our site and my in-laws site.  Still, we got to say hi to lots of people throughout the trip, so it worked out just fine.  As soon as we were finished, the sun went over the trees and it cooled off, making things perfect for a great evening.

Sunday – It was forecast to be warm and sunny, and it did not disappoint.  We took the kids down to Lake Michigan and were there all day.  The kids had a blast in the water and sand, and you couldn’t ask for a better day at Lake Michigan.

Monday – Early last summer, we all bought tubes to go down the river that sort of connects the two lakes (there’s an inland lake with the river that runs for a mile or so into Lake Michigan).  Last year was too cold for us to all go, but this year was just fine, and the kids had a blast riding along with us.

Tuesday – The morning started off nice and sunny, so we figured we’d hit the beach on Lake Michigan again.  By the time we got down there, it got a little chilly.  While we all had fun, the time was cut short when it started getting breezy.

Wednesday – It was a little cooler (low 70’s) but bright and sunny, so we went over to the inland lake, which has a great beach with very little walking to get there.  On cooler days, this beach is better since there’s not as much breeze, little waves, and the water is a bit warmer.  The kids played until they dropped.

Thursday – It was a repeat of Wednesday so we tried it again and it worked.  We’d now doubled our number of expected beach days!

Friday – The day was cool and cloudy, so we drove into a nearby town.  We all found some fun t-shirts and had a great meal at a restaurant I’d previously been down on, but that we decided to give a second chance to.  Well worth the try as they redeemed themselves….for now!

Saturday – It was my 40th birthday and it was a great day.  My parents drove up to surprise me, which was truly awesome and completely made my day.  The weather was not cooperative, as the big winds blowing off the lake that day meant that while we tried the beach, it did not last for more than 10 minutes before we reversed course.  My parents had booked a room at a nearby hotel, and offered that we could take the kids to use the pool.  They loved the idea and I spent about two hours in the water with them, and they had a great time.  Later we had Mexican food for dinner, and my favorite cake for dessert.  It could not have been a better birthday.

Sunday – It was time to leave.  Packing up saw no problems and we got home in just over five hours, which is a good drive time for the 260 miles or so.  The kids both crashed within five minutes of being put down at bedtime…and so did we!

In between all that, we got in some campfires, some great bike rides, walks, a sunset or two, and just about everything else you could wish for.  If anybody ever questioned why I liked camping, I would point to this trip as it contained just about every reason of what makes a camping trip special.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

I Stayed Calm And Got My Trailer Out Of The Dirt

Camping is fun but there’s always some element of surprise.  On our most recent trip, the surprise came when we were setting up, and I suddenly found an important part of the trailer buried in the dirt.

The tongue jack is an important part of any trailer. It is basically a pipe that runs vertically that provides support to the front of the trailer after it’s disconnected, and it can be moved up or down so that the trailer sits level.  A high level overview of the procedure is that you lower your tongue jack onto a piece of wood that sits on the ground, which then disconnects the trailer from the tow vehicle by pushing the ball upward.

This has worked flawlessly every single time…except just recently.

I had the trailer in position, had the wood on the ground, had the tongue jack on the wood and was raising the trailer.  For some reason the ball wasn’t coming out of the socket, so I did what I’ve done a few other times, and put a little weight on the back of the car.  This typically pushes the ball down enough to pop it loose…which it did this time except that for some reason a lot more force went into it than normal.

The ball popped loose, the car bounced a few inches forward…and the trailer bounced a few inches backward.  I stood there and watched as the tongue jack slid right off the wood and backward a few inches.

Here’s how it went from here:

Minute 1: Check for any injury – My wife was in the trailer and she rushed out to let me know that everything had just moved.  I saw she was fine, and looked over to make sure my kids were over on the other side of the campsite still playing.  Nobody was hurt.

Minute 2: Prevent any further damage – The trailer moved, but it wasn’t supposed to move because we have wheel locks, which go between the wheels to lock them in position.  My wife and I went over and found that it had popped loose.  I normally tighten them pretty tight but must not have gone far enough. Luckily the camper was sitting on fairly level ground, so it hadn’t rolled back. Still, I put the locks back on and ratcheted them as tight as I could.

Minute 3-5: Assess the situation – The tongue jack had slipped into the dirt and was about halfway into the dirt.  The good news was the camper was level, but the bad news is that I had no way to lift it back up.  The weight of the entire front of the unit was now buried in sand.

Minutes 7-10: Stare at the stupid thing and mutter that I have no idea what to do next.

Minute 11-15: Talk to my wife about options – If worse came to worse, we would have to call AAA, with whom we have roadside assistance.

Minute 16: Start thinking about a jack – I realized that no matter what, a jack would be needed to lift the car up.  I realized that there was one somewhere in the car for changing flat tires.

jaycoMinutes 17-19: Look for the jack – I took everything out of the back of the car and went into the compartment where I figured the jack would be.  It wasn’t there.

Minute 20: Consult the owners manual – Discovered that the jack in our car is located under one of the seats

Minutes 21-24: Remove car seat and get out the jack.  Cool.

Minute 25-27: Talk to father-in-law – My father-in-law happened to call and see how things were doing.  He must have a sense that things weren’t going well.  My wife explained what had happened.  She passed the phone to me and we started talking through it.  He started giving me some advice but the phone call disconnected.

Minutes 28-30: Start using the jack – I wasn’t sure exactly where it was going to go but I setup the jack (under a piece of wood) and started lifting things up.  I nervously looked and realized that the ball and the receiver were still about 8 inches apart, even with the trailer jacked up.

Minute 31: Remember the concept of load transfer – I looked at how things were setup and realized that the jack was now holding the weight.  In theory, this meant that I could now unwind the tongue jack as it was no longer holding the weight into the ground.  Sure enough I was now able to start raising up the tongue jack.

Minute 32: Nervously hope I had enough room – I now knew that the goal was to raise the tongue jack all the way so that I could hopefully get another piece of wood underneath it, which would allow me to raise it back up on supported ground.  The issue would be if it would go up high enough.

Minute 33: Celebrate – The jack did go up high enough.  As I slid the piece of wood underneath, I yelled “Got it!” just as my wife was taking another call from my father-in-law.

Minutes 34-45: Get everything set back up – After all that, I had to hook back up to the car, remove the wheel locks, pull the trailer back up so that it was on the leveling board, lower it back down, re-lock the wheels, and disconnect again.  This time, it disconnected without bouncing off (though I did put another piece of wood in front just in case.

Afterward: Give thanks and troubleshoot – After all was said and done, I started realizing that things could have been worse.  Had we been parked on a hill, the camper would have likely rolled.  We were parked about five feet away from our power pedestal.  Having it roll down would have sucked and could have injured myself or my wife.  Of course, we usually only book ‘level’ campsites.  I also realized that if we’d been on muddy or softer ground, my technique wouldn’t have worked, and I’ve had needed a tow truck to lift us out.

I also started thinking about why it had happened and came up with a few reasons.  First, I hadn’t lubed the ball in several trips.  Normally, I keep some sort of lubricant on the ball, but when it was all said and done, I noticed it was pretty dry.  I will make sure to check the lubrication before every trip, not just once in a while.  I also noted that I had probably not tightened the wheel locks enough, and that I also should have a set on either side.  As it is now, I only have one lock.

Just like with anything type of ‘accident’, things could have been worse.  However by keeping calm, logically working through the steps, and through the grace of God, things worked out, and it didn’t even cost us an extra hour.


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