Perfect Computer for RVers Asus Eee PC 900HD

This is my Asus Eee PC 900HD set up for use as my primary computer in the corner alcove familiar to many RVers.

The computer, keyboard, and monitor set on a small movable table, while most other equipment is on the little alcove shelf.

The Eee PC is behind the monitor at the right, where I can reach the mouse pad, as I do on occasion when its touch pad serves my need better than the external mouse with its roller ball.

An Asus DVD/CD drive is just above and slightly to the right of the Eee PC.

Further to the right and closer to the camera, is an Amazon Kindle with a USB connector display on the screen, indicating it is connected to the Eee PC, and ready for upload or download of Kindle books.

To the right of the Kindle is MyBook external storage.

The Monitor displays My Computer; DVD/CD drive; Kindle, Canon card, and MyBook.

Wires to upper shelf are to and from external speaker, bolstering the Eee PC speaker.

The USB hub and the receiver for the Microsoft wireless keyboard are plugged directly into the computer on the right.

The two connectors for the CD drive plug into the hub, as does the Kindle and the 250 GB MyBook.

The printer (hidden behind the monitor) plugs into the USB port on the left.


It's Snowing in Texas!

When we get this kind of snow in Texas... in my part of Texas, as least... we just go bananas.  News people can't talk about anything else, and kids of all ages are just besides themselves with joy.

Even Matt the Cat is enjoying it. He asks to go outside, but then immediately taps on the window... his way of telling me he wants to come back in... but when I open the door, he bounces away from the door, looking back over his shoulder at me... clearly wanting me to come outside.

After this happened a few times, I realized what was happening... he wants me to come outside to enjoy the snow!


RVing in a Mystic Land

I'm back from New Zealand... and it truly is that... a mystic land.

I felt as if I'd been dropped into one of those movies where people land on a strange planet and walk along wide-eyed and open-mouthed at all the strange sights.

It was my first visit to the Southern Hemisphere, and I was not prepared to see plants and wildlife so much different from anything I'd ever seen before.

For those who don't know (I certainly didn't) New Zealand is composed of two volcano-created islands, "North Island" and "South Island" in the South Pacific Ocean.

Everywhere we went, there were exotic and beautiful sights in every direction... the whole place is covered with mountains that rise straight out of the ocean with no foothills, and as far as I could see (I don't know the actual definition), the whole place is a rain forest. I asked someone “how can all this lush vegetation exist in volcanic ash?”… and the answer was “That’s what we want to know!”.

One day, we drove from Auckland, near the top of North Island, about 3 hours south to Rotorua (sightseeing all the way, of course... there was not a mile that was without wonders to behold), where there are hot springs, geysers, and some of the most exotic gardens I've ever seen.

Another day we drove to the southern part of North Island, to Matarangi on Coromandel Peninsula, where we spent the night in a beachside "bach", played on the beach -- it's Spring there -- and went sightseeing some more. Then to Whitianga, where my sons charted the Brittany, a 42 ft Jeanneau sailing yacht.

My middle son, Richard, is a qualified sailor and ocean navigator, so we were able to take the boat "bareboat", which means that we didn't have to have a commercial Skipper... Richard was the Skipper and the other "boys", oldest son Russell, his 18-year-old son, Reggie, and youngest, son Roger, were crew. (Mom watched and took pictures, and went below when things got rough.)

On the drive there, Richard had given the other guys a short course in sailing... they had to handle the sails... the boat was much too big for the skipper to do it all... and by the end of the trip they were getting pretty good. We spent a day and night cruising and sightseeing off the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsula.

On another day, we flew to Queenstown, on South Island, spent the night in a very nice three bedroom apartment with a beautiful view, went sightseeing in the area, then drove a few hundred miles to Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park (again, sightseeing all the way!), where we took a cruise into an area that was so exotic that it simply cannot be described... but I will describe it in a later post.

RVing in New Zealand turns out to be much more "do-able" than I had believed from things I'd heard and read in the past.

Roads are narrow and winding, but well-maintained. It's not much different from driving in the mountains in the US, but it’s that way everywhere. I never saw anything over two lanes except for short stretches in or near cities.

One thing I appreciated... the lack of big trucks. Because New Zealand is surrounded by water, that is the main method of transport, so there are few big trucks on the roads.

I never saw a large RV, but there were about as many small RVs as passenger cars on the highway. They were some small Class C’s, but most were Class B's and passenger vans, identified as rental RVs by the signs on the sides.

RV parking appears to be about the same as in the US... some parking lots allowed it and others had "no overnight parking" signs. I didn't see any RV parks, but am told that there are several very nice ones there.

There were many RV rental places... some at airports, along with rental cars and vans. I didn’t have the opportunity to price any of then, but I could see that they were plentiful enough to make it practical to find one for a New Zealand tour.

We rented a Toyota Mini-Van… the nicest vehicle from the standpoint of the passenger that I’ve ever had the privilege to enjoy (backseat and “very back seat” passengers could enjoy the scenery and we could all participate in conversations as we drove along) and stayed at hotels. There were too many of us to fit in one of those small RVs.

Prices, in general, seemed higher than in the US, but some seemed cheaper, so it would be hard to make a decision based on cost.

We went during “shoulder season”… between two major tourist seasons, so prices were, at least “affordable". Some overnight accommodations seemed less than American prices, but, I’m told, it is “insane” during our winter… when it is fine weather in New Zealand.

Food was different but very good (my favorite was the fast food "meat pie", a pastry filled with a choice of fillings), and overnight accommodations reasonable. We paid about $300 for a luxury 3 bedroom apartment and about $120 for a housekeeping cabin with sleeping space for six.

People in general, were very nice and friendly… natives (Kiwis) went out of their way to welcome us to New Zealand, and I never saw a sour face or heard a cross word. It was, however, disconcerting to not be able to understand people who were speaking English. Luckily, my son and grandson have been there long enough to translate.

The price to get there and back… somewhere around a thousand dollars from LAX… and the flight is about 12 hours to Auckland.

The flight wasn't as bad as I had anticipated. Air New Zealand is a wonderful airline... the seats get mighty uncomfortable before morning, but the service is superb. We were served supper... real food in real dishes and complimentary New Zealand wine (in a real wine glass!), and breakfast that was about "Denny's" quality. Every seat has its own TV, and our flights, at least, were very quiet (is understood and expected that everyone is trying to sleep), so if you take the last flight of the day from Los Angeles (LAX) it is quite possible to have dinner, watch a movie, then settle down for the night, and awake to a New Zealand day and little jet lag.


Artist Drawing Matt the Cat

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JWJarts - Art by JWJ

This little cat, who later became known as "Matt Dillon", started hanging out around my motorhome a few months ago, but would run if I showed any interest in him.

On this day, the first time I got close enough to take a photograph, he ran to hide under the motorhome, and, as you can see by the look in his eyes, expressed his distrust of humans.

The drawing is by my friend, artist John W Johnston, working from the photograph I took that day.

John is exploring the idea of offering pet portraits after he retires in a couple of years. If you want to see more of his work, see his website at the link below:

JWJarts - Art by JWJ


Matt the Cat Watching Hummingbirds

This post is in response to a heated conversation I heard recently between owners of "indoor/outdoor" pet cats, who think it's ok for cats to be outdoors in a country setting, and bird-loving "environmentalists" who believe that the nicest and sweetest of cats will revert to basic instincts and kill enough birds to upset the environment if they get the chance.

This video shows Mr. Dillon enjoying Hummingbirds with no indication that he wants to do anything other than watch and listen. Notice how his ears twitch as he listens to them chirp, and how he looks around to watch birds fly all around him.

To see the Hummingbirds, themselves, see this video shot the same morning:
Hummingbirds Swarming

If you've never observed Hummingbirds like this, you will be amazed at the racket the tiny creatures can make.

While he is an avid hunter of mice, Mr. Dillon shows no interest in catching any of the birds, some of which were flying close enough to his head that he could have simply reached up and grabbed one.

This video was shot September 12, 2008, when Hurricane Ike was approaching the Texas Coast.

Hummingbirds were swarming around my feeders like bees around honey, and kept me busy making nectar and refilling the feeders.

The approaching storm probably affected the migrating bird's behavior. They were, no doubt, on their way to their Southern habitat when they had to pause a few days to let the storm pass.

Look here for more about Hummingbirds in Texas:
Texas Hummingbirds Provide Nature's Greatest Show On Earth

Read September 12, 2008 news story about Hurricane Ike:
Texas Warns 1 Million to Flee as Ike Approaches


Travels With a Donkey

Burro Amigo Photo Courtesy ANdReita QC

A friend of mine, Seeker, just mentioned John Steinbeck's book, "Travels with Charley", which inspired so many of us to go RVing, and inspired my use of the user name TravelswCharlie".

Did you know that the title, itself, was inspired by an earlier book, "Travels with a Donkey" by Robert Louis Stevenson?

"Travels With a Donkey", being in the public domain, is available as a free eBook download at Project Gutenberg, here:

Project Gutenberg

I recently learned of a modern-day man who travels with donkeys, both literally and figuratively.

He's Mark Meyers, Executive Director of "Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue", and "Texas Burro Rescue", who calls himself "The Donkey Man", and a "donkey wrangler".

In "The Plight of the American Donkey", he writes, in part:

"Will Rogers once said, "I never met a man I didn't like." While few of us in today's fast paced, keepin' up with Jones', super sized, internet ready world share Mr. Roger's sentiments about our fellow citizens, I can say without a second thought that I truly have never met a donkey that I didn't like. Although I have, on occasion, met a dog, cat, horse or mule that I had little or no use for, no donkey has ever crossed my path that I couldn't find a great deal of good in."

Read this and other articles at his websites here:
Donkey Rescue
Texas Burro Rescue

Ever wish for one of those cute little burros you sometimes see along the road? Mark says they are just as cute and personable as they look.

The really exciting thing is this... if you have a home base with enough grass and trees, you just might be able to adopt a burro from one of Mark's rescue centers.

It's a better plan most others, I think. For one thing, the cost is less... only $100 per animal, and what is more important, Texas Burro Rescue makes sure animals are healthy and at least "tolerant" of humans before they are released for adoption.

But, if you have enough space, there is another program that might interest you. If you have at least 40 acres of grass and trees, and plenty of water, you could become part of Texas Burro Rescue's Sanctuary Program at no cost to you.

If you can take at least six burros, Texas Burro Rescue will place them on your land and take care of all expenses and medical care. That way you could have all the fun of watching burros on your land without the expense or care commitments. Your only obligation would be to make sure they have plenty of grazing land and year-round access to water.

Read about the Adoption and Sanctuary Programs, here:
Donkey Rescue Adoption and Sanctuary Programs

Lots of RVers travel with their horses, why not a donkey?


Indoors Pet or Outdoors Pet?

That was one of my first questions when it came time to decide if I was going to take on the responsibility of a traveling companion.

A cat is easier than a dog, other RVers said... cats are happy inside all the time, and you don't have to take them walking in the rain.

But when I asked Matt Dillon, he looked at me with some disdain, and I thought I heard him say:

"I can sit out here on this beautiful deck in the sunshine, or I can stay inside the motorhome with some human yelling at me to stay off the furniture!

"Which would YOU rather do?"

It's ok for now... we are in a safe place with a big, safe yard. But when we start to travel again, some decisions will have to be made.

RVing With a Cat

This story continued from: RVing With A Pet

Well, you can guess what happened next, can't you?

I talked with some of the knowledgeable people on the Yahoo Group,Cats and Kittens Yahoo Group, and asked them what I should do to try to find out if this little cat was somebody's lost pet or was he truly on his own.

Find them here: Cats and Kittens Yahoo Group

They have a lot of experience with homeless cats, and the opinion of several members was that we are too far from any town, and also too far from the nearest neighbors, for this cat to have just wandered over... and that he was probably feral-born.

Get him to a vet as soon as possible, they said... get him fixed and get his shots, and enjoy his company!

His name is "Mr. Dillon"... "Matt Dillon"... so named because I, at first, called him 'Miss Kitty" because he was so sweet, I thought he was a girl.

Then, my son took a look, and declared that a male's name was in order.

So, "Matt Dillon", it is.


Talcum Powder Beats Ants in RV

I had read in a message from "D.F." of Dallas, on Howard Garrett's "The Dirt Doctor", that talcum powder, sprinkled on a window sill, will keep ants away.

I got the opportunity to try it one day when I looked out to the porch in front of my RV, to see ants swarming all over my new hummingbird feeder.

The feeder was perched on top of a large red vase, and, instead of hanging, set on the porch railing, to help attract new birds.

Ants had found it first, and they were swarming up the sides of the vase, into the feeder.

After I had cleaned up the mess and refilled the feeder, I thought of setting up an experiment to prove whether or not talcum powder really would repel the ants.

I sprinkled talcum powder on the railing and put the vase and feeder back in the same spot, filled with the same nectar mix.

Then I brought out another red vase and set up another, identical, feeder station a few inches from the first.

A few hours later, the ants had returned... but carefully made their way around the talcum powder that surrounded their previous target, and started climbing up the second red vase.

The ants aren't yet swarming in the photos I took, but if you look closely at the first photo (double click to make it bigger), you can see ants walking along the extreme front edge of the porch railing, and a line of ants (at the very edge closest to the first vase) climbing up the second vase.

The second photo is a closer look at the line of ants along the front edge of the railing, avoiding the talcum powder.

This experiment would have been more impressive if I'd thought to take photos earlier, when the first vase was covered with ants... but it has still proved, beyond a doubt, that the talcum powder did repel the ants.

The powder I used was not the expensive kind, as recommended in the Dirt Doctor article, but Wal-Mart's Equate Fresh Scent.

Here's where to find the original message on The Dirt Doctor:

Baby talc marches against ants

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HummingBirds Swarming

This was taken with the video feature of my still camera, a Canon Power Shot A720 IS. While the quality does not equal a "real" movie camera, this feature is quite remarkable.

At first, you hear only the TV inside my RV, because I have scared away many of the Hummingbirds while setting up my tripod and camera. After I go inside and close the door, the birds return and start swarming around the two feeders, chirping loudly.

One feeder, a bottle type, "looks like" it is just above the windshield of the motorhome in the background. The other feeder, a saucer type, is at the right side of the screen, hanging by an "invisible" chain from the roof.

The birds are migrating, headed south for the winter, and have stopped at the feeders in front of my motorhome.

The video was taken near the northern border of Texas as Hurricane Ike, which probably affected their behavior, approached the Texas Gulf Coast, about 350 miles to the south.

Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world, with the smallest being 2.3 inches, and weighing only 2g.

They are unique to the Americas, and are found, according to the season of the year, from Alaska to the southern tip of South America.

The Hummingbird wing functions much like an insect wing, giving them unique flying capabilities. They are the only birds in the world that can hover, fly backward, upward, and downward in a vertical plane.

You can observe these flight patterns in the video, even though you can't see details and colors.