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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Hershey RV Show 2012


Last weekend I drove a few miles up US Route 322 to Hershey, Pennsylvania, for the Hershey RV Show.  This is advertised as the largest RV show in the country.  I can't really confirm that claim, but I can tell you that it is HUGE!  I walked around some of the RV vendors to see what improvements the manufacturers have thought up in the 3 years since I was last at the show.  I won't claim this is an all encompassing review of the show, but I will give you a few of my impressions.

First, the show is on the grounds of the Giant Center, where the Hershey Bears play hockey.  The show has both inside and outside events.  Inside the stadium are the displays from the accessory vendors and the location of the various seminars.  I did take time to sit in on one seminar and I learned quite a lot.

The main floor of the stadium was crowded with various accessory vendors.  This is a shot from the stadium seats of the main floor.  The area outside the main floor was packed with food vendors, some overflow of vendors from the main floor, and lots of RV parks, campgrounds, and resorts.  The seminar meeting rooms were also around the area surrounding the main floor.

I decided to go to the "Fulltime and Extended RV Travel" seminar, by Bob Marx.  Bob was gracious enough

to allow me to take his picture for this blog.  Bob is a great seminar leader.  Besides giving advice, his stories from his own travels serve as examples of fulltime RV living.  I won't try to rehash everything he told us in the seminar, but there is one piece of advice I found interesting.  While he did strongly suggest that we try living in an RV before jumping in with both feet (a piece of advise, that you probably know by now, I'm not going to follow), he recommended that you go fulltime, not extended.  While he and his wife Sheryl are currently in the "extended RV'ing" lifestyle, he made it clear that it is not a good idea.  The financial and logistical problems of traveling for a long period of time in an RV while maintaining a bricks and sticks home add substantial expense and headaches for the RV'er.

After Bob's excellent seminar, I went back outside to the RV vendors.  I couldn't find a high enough location to get a real overall view of the show, but here is a picture of a small part of the RV's on display.
Besides the hundreds of RV's of all configurations on display, what you can't see in these pictures are the HersheyPark amusement park, the Chocolate World factory tour, and the Zoo America animal park, all of which are on the same grounds that holds the RV show.  There are free shuttles that carry you from each venue to the others.  If you haven't ever made it to the Hershey RV show, make of point of getting here next year.  You won't be disappointed.

Now, for my impressions of the new 2013 RV's on display.  Well, first of all, the RV makers have finally figured out how to utilize flat screen TV's.  They no longer hang them over the cockpit area.  Instead, they have them popping up from behind the dinette or sliding over a window.  The bedrooms have more storage area and the electronics have become state-of-the-art.  And I wasn't looking at the million dollar units.  I focused on the under 35 foot, under $200,000.00 class A units.  In fact, some of the best looking units were the under $150,000.00 RV's.

I also noticed that the "split bathroom" seems to be on its way out. Many of the units I looked at had the shower attached directly to the "water closet", rather than across the hall.  Of course, this means modifying the rest of the floor plan.  Often the dinette is now directly across from the sofa in the main cabin area.  May take some getting used to for some people. 

Another change I noticed is that the new RV's are often using house-style refrigerators, rather than the propane/electrical powered evaporation units.  This leads me to believe that the manufacturers feel that most RV's are used mainly in RV parks, not while boondocking.  While you could boondock while running the refrigerator using the genset, it seems obvious that RV park (or resort) living is the primary target market of these class A's  The times, they are a-changin'.

Of course, I did have to peek at a couple of the high-end units, just to know what I'll be missing.  lol.  In any case, while I'm no expert on RV's, I can say the rigs are becoming more comfortable and better organized.  It looks like another good year to be an RV'er.

So, that's my short review of the Hershey show.  I hope it entices you to make a trip to my home state next year to see the largest RV show in the U.S.  Besides the show and all the attractions in the HersheyPark area, Lancaster County, home to the Amish and various Pennsylvania Dutch groups, is less than 30 minutes away.  And the weather...well look at the pictures.  It was a wonderful weekend in the area.  Hope to see you here next year.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 Remembered - Is It One of Ours?

09/11/2012

This year I'm teaching Computer Technology at an urban school in Steelton, PA.  We are a Jr.-Sr. High School with students from 7th grade through 12th grade.  My six daily classes cover students from all the grades in the school.

Today was the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  While Social Studies teachers spent the day discussing the events of 9/11, most other classes continued with their normal lesson plans.  I forged onward with my classes of computer applications, word processing, and keyboarding.  

While I didn't have any special lesson for 9/11, I was surprised that none of my students even mentioned the attacks.  All day student life seem to go on as normal.  I suppose this is a good thing, but it did surprise me.  Then, during my last period of the day, one of my young 7th grade students asked me if I remembered 9/11 and if I had any stories about that time.

Since most of these students were only 2 years old in 2001, they didn't have any first hand memories of the events of 9/11.  All they had to go on were the stories others told them.  I thought for a moment.  I'm sure they heard stories from teachers all day about where they were when the towers came down.  I wanted to give them a different perspective.  I wanted them to understand how those days affected children their age.  So I told them this story...a true story...a first hand story...of those troubled and fearful times.

In 2001 I was living in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.  I was married and my step-daughter played on a travel soccer team.  I helped coach this team of then 11 year old girls.  When 911 occurred, all air traffic in the U.S. was halted for 3 days.  The skies were clear of all aircraft, except the military's CAP (combat air patrols) that flew over our own country.

Shortly after 9/11, the President asked the country to try to maintain normal activities.  Go to work.  Go shopping.  Don't let the terrorist dictate our lives.

The league in which our team played decided to continue games.  So, on Thursday evening, we packed up our girls and drove to Virginia to play a soccer game.  Before the game there was a moment of silence, followed by everyone there saying the Pledge of Allegiance to a large flag at one end of the field.  Finally there was the traditional singing of the National Anthem by one of the players before the start of the game.

The game began under clear sunny skies.  Both teams played a little tentatively at first, but soon the intensity picked up and we had ourselves a competitive little game of soccer.

Suddenly, we all heard it.  High overhead a lone jet plane was flying...an unusual sound in those days.  One of the girls had just made a long pass down the field as the plane flew over.  No one went after the ball and it eventually rolled out of bounds untouched.  Instead, 22 little girls stopped in the middle of the soccer field and looked up, trying to see the plane.  Then they started running to their respective benches where their coaches and parents waited, crying, "Is it one of ours?"

For what I believe was the first time in our history, 22  little girls in America looked up at the sky in fear of a jet aircraft overhead and cried, "Is it one of ours?"

That was a sound I will never forget. A sound I never thought I'd hear in my lifetime. Our children fearing for their lives within our own borders.   I can only pray I will never hear it again. 

Because I never want to hear American children cry out in fear, "Is it one of ours?"

God bless America...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The New School Year

If you just started following my blog, I'm at the point where I'm a few years from retirement and I'm  looking at the possibilities.  Is retirement even possible?  How long can I keep working?  Can I keep a good paying job, even as my age starts approaching 70?


Well, the end of August crept up on me and it became time for a new year of school to start.  I've mentioned before that for the last 8 years I've been a high school math teacher.  During that time I've taught Algebra I and II, Geometry, Trigonometry, Precalculus, Statistics, and Personal Finance.  Because of state budget cuts and other problems, I left my last job and last year I was a "Math Intervention Specialist" at a different school.  While the job title, Math Intervention Specialist, sounds intimidating (and looks great on a resume), it really means that I was a full-time math tutor helping at-risk students who were struggling with their math class.

My job wasn't just being a tutor in the traditional sense; that is, helping students with their homework.  I also was tasked with helping back-fill their basic math knowledge, especially in areas such as fractions, percentages, and multiplication and division. This was a very satisfying, if often frustrating, job and the results of testing showed that I was making significant progress with these students.  However, the school did not have the budget to pay for this needed service themselves, so I was working on a federal grant which paid hourly and did not include any benefits; no paid holidays, no sick days, no health insurance, and no paid vacation.  I paid my own health insurance through the Cobra Insurance program under my previous school's plan..

This year the grant was renewed and I started back to school as a math tutor.  Two days into the school year, however, one of the Computer Technology teachers resigned to accept a position as a principal in another school district.  Well, besides my certification in high school Mathematics, I'm also certified in Computer Technology and Business Education.  I applied for the position and on the fourth day of the school year, I was the new Computer Technology teacher, this time as a staff member and with full benefits.

Starting a new course from scratch is difficult and time-consuming.  However, the other Computer Technology teacher (we have two in our high school), is helping me get lesson plans and curriculum schedules put together.  And, the teacher who left the position left behind many course materials for me to use.  The teaching staff at this school, as it has been in every school I've worked, is extremely helpful and supportive.  I'm a lucky man.

So, what's any of this have to do with my plans to live in an RV?  Well, first, it, along with Medicare that I joined this summer, provides me with health insurance benefits, which will save me a significant amount of money.  Secondly, it pays better and will allow me to save more money towards purchasing an RV in the future.  I'm also adding more years of service to my retirement system.  While I won't have enough service years to get a full pension from our state retirement program, each additional year I work will provide me additional income throughout my retirement years.  And, finally, as long as I do my job well, I don't have as much concern about being out of work if the math grant isn't renewed each year.  Although, in these times of uncertainty and budget cuts, no one's job is totally secure.

So, now I'm adjusting my plans.  Hopefully I'll have more savings to use in purchasing and customizing my RV.  Perhaps I can even buy one a year earlier than planned so I can use it over the summer before I retire.  Attending some of the local and regional rallies in my area would surely improve my adjustment to life on the road.

I also thought I'd use this post to include some more information about me.  First, someone asked (jokingly) if the picture at the top of the page is my RV.  LOL.  No, but since I live in Lancaster County, PA, covered bridges are one of the more famous images of our county (as well as the wonderful Amish people who live here).  So, until I get an RV, I'm using a picture of one of our local covered bridges in my header.

Someone else has asked what I do, besides work and spend time planning for my retirement.  Well, I do have a life. :-)  I play guitar (and sort of plunk on the keyboard) and write songs.  I also play in a band called "Bloated Roadkill" (see www.bloated-roadkill.com).  We released a self-produced album of original songs last year and are working on a second one, tentatively to be released next summer.  We usually just play at parties or benefit functions.  It's all for fun with us, not fame or fortune.  We do have a gig scheduled already for December 21st this year...an "End of the World" party...lol.

While this is also work, I run a part-time computer business.  I support a large telecommunications data program I wrote several years ago.  My customers need maintenance support as well as customized reports and processes.   Occasionally we still sell a new system. (www.teledat.com)

And, I was an extra in a movie this past year and hope to do this again in the future.  Someday, I'd even like to get a small "bit" part in a film.  It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun; and I met some wonderful people who worked on the film.  Hopefully it will be released next year.  It's a feature film called "Mount Joy".  (see www.mountjoymovie.com) If you see it, I'm the old fat guy with the ponytail in the background!

Well, in two weeks the Hershey RV Show is back in town.  I'm planning on being there and I'll give you a report on what I see and do.  I also hope to write another post before then, detailing some more of my RV planning and my progress in the new computer class I'm teaching.

If you have any questions, just ask.



 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Initial Retirement Planning

August 17, 2012

In case you just started following my blog, I'm at the point where I was a few years from retirement and I was looking at the possibilities.  Was retirement even possible?  How long could I keep working?  Could I keep a good paying job, even as my age started approaching 70?


So, looking at my probable income and expenses after I retire, I knew my largest outlay would be rent and utilities. Since I no longer owned a house (after my divorce), I started looking for alternative housing.  While the housing market was definitely a buyers market, with housing prices and mortgage rates at the lowest in decades, the cost of a home was still a substantial investment.  The mortgage payment (PITI, with principle, interest, property taxes and insurance) would still be greater than most monthly apartment rents in the area.  Besides, it would take 30 years to pay off my house (if I made standard payments), and property tax, in one form or another, was always on the rise.  And I had to face the reality that I probably wouldn't have 30 years to pay off that mortgage.

Rentals on the other hand, tend to increase each year, too.  So, even though I could find a small one-bedroom for about $500 a month, in 20 years, that could be $1000 a month...or more.  And I doubted Social Security was going to double the amount it paid out.  Now, while I have some money in two 401K's and an IRA, I didn't want to pay it all towards housing costs.

Like most Americans approaching retirement, I was looking at an uncertain financial income, even though I supposedly have saved more towards my retirement than most of my fellow boomers.  And, there was one other aspect of retirement that I wanted to avoid.  I watched my parents sitting at home after their retirement.  They didn't socialize very often, never traveled, and lost touch with their friends and family.  Without a job, my father didn't have much left in his life; and my mother lost interest in most outside activities.  And they had something I didn't...each other.  Facing retirement as a single person, I knew I would have to have goals, things to look forward to, and some sort of social activity.  Bars are okay, but I had already learned that as you age, that night of fun at the bar costs more and more the morning after.

With all these problems swirling around in my head, I began to look for solutions.  I spent most of my life in the computer field and if I learned nothing else, I learned how to solve problems.  I also learned that time is money and money is time.  If you wait until the last minute to start working on a problem, chances are it will cost you a lot more money than if you start working on it early.  You have time to look at various alternatives, time to reflect on these alternatives, and time to occasionally walk away from the problem and think about something else.  This last one keeps your sanity.

So, five years before the time I intended to retire, I started looking for alternative housing for my retirement.  I considered small condos, apartments, those little box homes, even rooms available for rent in private homes.  One weekend, when I was looking for something to do, the radio mentioned that there was an RV Show in our area.  And besides travel trailers, motorhomes, and tons of accessories, it was also supposed to have food vendors like a county fair.  Some crispy fries and a funnel cake started sounding good, so I headed out to the show.  After all, it was only 5 dollars entrance fee and was right next to Hersheypark.

Yep, I stumbled into the largest RV Show in the nation...and it was in my own backyard.  I drove up to Hershey, paid my 5 bucks, and walked into a world I didn't even know existed.  As I walked through, perhaps, my 30th RV, I casually mentioned to one of the sales reps (she was cute and I wanted to talk to her...lol) that, "Gee, I could live in one of these".  And she told me about something called fulltiming and a national RV club called Escapees.  I left that show munching on more than my funnel cake.

I got home, slept on this new information, and Sunday became a day of Googling.  I read about the types of RV's, the various RV clubs, the cost of spaces in RV parks...and I started forming a new plan for retirement.  A plan that addressed (but didn't necessarily solve) all of my concerns about retirement.  I had a new plan for retirement.  It was just an outline...a germ of an idea...but I began to see some real possibilities.  And I liked what I saw.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Beginning...

August 12, 2012

Hi Everyone,

This is my first attempt at a blog.  So, forgive me if I screw things up as I learn.  Hopefully, I'll learn quickly...for all our sakes!

First, the name of this blog.  Well, I hope no one is offended, because it is meant to be humorous.  In a few years, I plan to retire, and my retirement plans, as I've told my family and friends, is to "retire to a big ass RV and live in it the rest of my life."  Thus, the blog name, "MyBigAssRv".

Well, I've started my blog, but I'm not yet retired and I don't yet own an RV.  However, things are progressing.

This past July, I turned 65 and signed up for Medicare and a Medicare Advantage health plan.  Earlier this month, I joined the Escapees RV club.  So, I'm closing in on retirement and doing my "due diligence" researching RV's.  Hopefully, in 3 years, or less, I'll be out there on the road.

I decided to start this blog a little early.  My purpose is to document some of my research into RV's and to lay out my slow transformation from working everyday to the life of retirement.  I've got 3 years to get there.

Now, a little about me.  My name is Wayne Shearer.  I'm 65, male, divorced (twice), and working as a high school math teacher.  Prior to becoming a teacher (about 8 years ago), I worked in the computer field; first, as a technician repairing computer hardware, and then as a programmer and system designer.

I spent 4 years in the Air Force in what seems to be eons ago (okay, it was nearly half a century ago) and reentered civilian life with training in electronics and computers.  I wasn't particular interested in going back to college to get my degree, until one day during an annual performance review at work, my manager asked me one of those standard review questions:  "Where do you want to be in 3 years?"

Well, no dummy here, I knew the proper answer. "I want to have your job," I said, smiling.  My manager was a good guy and started commenting on how my work was really good and I'd probably have his job by then.

Suddenly, he looked up from the personnel folder on his desk and said, "Don't you have a college degree?"

"No," I answered, "I started college out of high school, ran out of money, and went into the Air Force."

"Well," he said, "I have good news and bad news for you.  The bad news is, this company requires all managers to have a 4 year degree in either computers or business.  The good news is, we'll pay for it."

So, that's when I started four years of night school, winter and summer, and finally received my Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration at age 42.  Best investment of time I ever made.  The company paid 80% of my tuition and all my books in every class in which I got at least a "B".  I graduated with a 3.89 GPA and, good to their word, they made me a manager.

I worked for several computer companies and even started a couple of small computer businesses on my own.  But, eventually I became burned out on corporate life and when my second business got into some financial difficulties, I started looking for a part-time job to help pay the bills.  I was coaching a girl's soccer team in West Virginia at the time and one of the soccer moms, a teacher herself, suggested I become a substitute teacher.  I did the weekend class and all the paperwork and started working several days a week a the local schools.

I found out I liked working with teenagers and I had something to offer them.  After my second marriage failed, I moved back to my home state of Pennsylvania and started working on getting certification to become a full-time teacher.  That's where I am now.  But in about 3 more years I hope to be on the road in my RV.

I hope you will follow my life adventures.  I look forward to the challenges and excitement I hope to experience in this next phase of my life.  I hope I have the writing ability to convey those challenges, excitement, and adventures to you.

With that in mind, I'm posting the first article on my new blog.  I have a digital camera and promise to include pictures of the places I visit and the people I meet.

So, ride shotgun with me as I search for and buy an RV, outfit it, and hit the road for that first campground visit.

And if you have any questions, just ask.  As I tell my students, the only dumb question is the one you don't ask!!!!

See ya...