Christmas Tree Work Kamping Overview

Once again it is important to note that this post only talks about our experience working for one Christmas Tree organization in San Antonio Texas during the 2016 season, which was exceptionally rainy.  After talking to people who have worked here in previous years and hearing anecdotally about the experiences of people who have worked in New York, Florida, and Memphis there is an excellent chance your mileage will vary.  Even the four new couples who worked here this season had vastly different experiences because they all worked on different lots which had different sales volumes and physical lot characteristics. If there is that much variation why bother writing about it at all?  I still feel there is value because I believe it is representative of an experience another person could have and being forewarned is forearmed.  If you are a person that likes to start at the beginning before reading the summary start with this blog post.   

We started this job for four couples who had never worked a tree lot before.  Of the other 11 couples, two had worked the previous year (where they did record sales and sold out midway through December) and the remainder had worked several years for the owner.  I didn’t get a chance to talk to every couple about their experience, but I did talk to the other new couples and their impressions of the job all varied.   One couple really liked it and is definitely coming back.  One couple, who worked at Amazon for 7 years prior to trying this, stated they would be going back to Amazon because it paid better and they had days off.  The third couple was very upset that the “work was misrepresented” and stated they would never come back.  Throughout the season we were somewhere in the middle.  The job had its frustrations and was much more difficult than we expected, but we were waiting until we got paid to make our final determination.  This post was written after we found out how much we got paid. 

The other thing you should know is how we got this job.  I heard about it while in Alaska from a couple who had done it for several years and asked several very specific questions.  I was told the time period was roughly a month, we would make at least $5K if we weren’t complete idiots, and most of the labor would be done by our employees.  Yes it was hard work, but we were managers of the lot not the employees. Prior to taking the job Lee had a followup conversation with the owners wife where he asked several questions.  He was told staffing was never an issue as experienced people came back to work the same tents year after year and the employees did the bulk of the work.  We would “pitch in.”  In retrospect I think it was important these conversations took place in September, very close to when the season was starting.  After talking to others who got their information earlier in the season, they seemed to have a better idea of what they were facing.  Or maybe we just heard what we wanted to hear, or didn’t ask the right questions.  That’s certainly fair and I would like to think it was misunderstanding rather than deliberate deception.  

Another major event before we started was a conversation we had in training. When I asked a question about commission the owner took me aside, looked me right in the eye, and stated that they knew someone had to work the lowest volume lot, and said “if you work hard we will take care of you. Again in retrospect this should have been a warning sign, but I chose to accept it at face value.  I honestly wasn’t concerned about the amount of the payment, just the timing, but it never occurred to me once I met him that he wouldn’t fairly compensate me. I was a little nervous, because I had never worked a commission job before, but after hearing everyone say what good people they were and how they took care of people I wasn’t that worried. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the job was both much, much harder than it had been represented and that we would have no opportunity to make the same sales commissions as the larger, busier lots.  So that conversation was something I went back to on numerous occasions.  

After the first weekend we knew we were selling less than half the volume of trees that other lots were selling, so of course our associated “sundry sales” were also lower.  This coupled with the fact that we had learned that the couple on this lot last year had left early and we were particularly concerned. No one came right out and told us why they had left early, and when we asked we got numerous different answers.  This was our second warning sign, and came pretty early in the experience.  We actually talked about leaving at that point but the combination of the commitment we had made and the promise made to us, made us hope for the best and stick it out.  Despite our best efforts though we couldn’t quite shake the feeling that last year’s couple knew something we didn’t know.  

Finally, despite the ambiguity around how much we would be paid, we worked hard throughout the season to have the best Christmas Tree lot possible.  Our desire to do a good job exists no matter what we are doing and is independent of the compensation we will receive.  Our work kamping jobs are no exception to this as we live our life by a pretty basic Midwestern ethic.  I grew up living the golden rule, and mostly believe that if you do right by others they will do right by you.  to work hard, and you expect you will get treated fairly.  That’s how we approach every job.  

So keeping all that in mind I am going to dive into the detail. Let’s start with the numbers.   

  • We worked a total of 46 days, including mandatory training on November 5th & 12th, and finishing our tear down  on December 29th.  
  • During the date range above we had 9 days off (a few days in the beginning, Thanksgiving, and a couple of days at the end waiting for tear down) which are not included in the total above.
  • We worked 29 full days (11-13 hours) in a row with no days off.  As a side note, we actually had it easier than the folks on the busier lots.  Most of them worked 15 hour days. 
  • Our total hours worked (this is as a couple total) was 869. 
  • We sold 472 trees. Again, way less than almost every other lot which sold at least 1,000.

Number of trees sold was the most important number because commission is based on tree sales.  We earned $1.50 for each tree (from 0-999, and then it jumps to $2.50 per tree from 1000 and up) so right off the bat, had we been on a larger/busier lot we would have made at least an additional $800 in commission from tree sales alone.  There is a direct correlation between the amount of trees sold and the sundries sold (didn’t sell many stands to people who didn’t buy trees for example)  and since we made roughly $3 in commission per tree I have to assume we would also have sold another $1500 in sundries on a larger lot.  That adds up to an additional $2300 in commission alone, but let’s see what we actually made.

Total gross income as a couple for the 2016 tree season. $6001.65 

The breakdown was as follows:

  • $2500 base pay
  • $1439.45 commission on trees, wreaths, garland, and sundries (stands, preservative, etc)
  • $200 postcard bonus (collected names and addresses from over 80% of the customers who made a purchase)
  • $1,000 performance bonus.
  • Other fringe benefits – Free campsite with electric, water, and weekly sewer pump out; Christmas lunch.  Since our budget for campsites is $600 a month you could add $1200 to the total above, but we never look at work kamping jobs that way.  Especially ones where we are staying in a place we would not normally stay, but some people do so it’s worth mentioning.
    (I vigorously refuse to consider this as part of the compensation. It is possible to stay for free at various places, so we could have done that. I also do not consider the electric, water and tank pumping to be part of the compensation for the same reason. – Lee)

Not a bad chunk of change on the surface, but let’s break that down a little.

  • We made $7.13 an hour, which is less than Texas minimum wage.  Some people don’t care about this figure, especially in a “management job”, but I always compare the jobs we do to how much we could make working a $10 an hour job.  Since this was less what we were paying our employees I really had an issue with it. Some people don’t and I get that so let me put it another way.  If someone said to us upfront “You will be working 70 hours a week, have no days off, and make less than minimum wage” we would never have taken the job.  But that’s just us.  Your mileage may vary.
  • Our “per day” rate was $130 which is actually not a bad day rate for low stress, low physicality jobs, gate guarding pays that for example.  But since this job was both stressful and highly physical,  I personally do not feel the day rate was adequate.  (If you calculate based on all days onsite that number is actually $88. – Lee)
  • Did it cover our budget of $3500 a month?  Everyone had different budgets and we know ours in on the high side, but whether or not we take jobs is dependent on what we will be doing and quality of life.  A job we would really love we are willing to go under.  A job we found hard for extra money is often a fair deal.  To work this hard and not even break even was tough, especially because it puts us in a position where we need to immediately start looking for another job.  It is doubtful we would have signed up for this job in advance if we knew it would put us in the hole financially, plain and simple.

Why did we end up making so little in performance bonus?  Well, to be honest we are not completely sure.  When the check was presented to us, I asked if there was a formula to determine the performance bonus and was told “not really.”  Immediately after saying that, the owner did state it was partly based on our labor costs, and ours were very high.  After reviewing labor it seems clear that every dollar we went over on labor was taken out of our bonus.  This was despite the fact that I spoke to him at length about the staffing and was told “to not worry about it, it would work itself out.” I knew that wouldn’t be the case even when he said it to me and made a conscious decision to staff, so I can kind of live with losing that money, but we never discussed the additional money he had promised to put us on par with the other lots.  Not only did we receive a reduced performance bonus, but our sales compensation was not brought level to other couples.  This was a double hit.  (I have a different take on this. Now that we’ve actually done this, it’s very clear that the base pay and commission adds up to very little in comparison to the hours worked. If we had made the additional $2300 in commission by being on a larger lot, our hourly rate would have been around $9.55.  Based on the amount of work we did, the lack of time off, and all the other factors, even if we had made that additional money it still wouldn’t have been worth it to me. So from my perspective, the bonus is where it becomes worth it, if it’s going to. Unfortunately the bonus is totally subjective and discretionary. You can do all the work, never make a mistake, sell more trees and sundries than anyone else, have a labor rate that is far below the target, or even zero, and in general be the greatest tree lot operator the world has ever seen, where songs are written about you, streets are named after you and statues are erected in your honor, and the owner can still pay a zero bonus. I know that seems like a stretch, and it is certainly the most extreme example, in order to make the point. Reading that, you might ask, “Why would he do that?”  For me the most obvious reason is that if he doesn’t want the couple to return, or if he thinks there’s a good chance that they won’t return, then why not do it? As an added benefit, he gets to keep that money for himself, or use it to boost someone else’s bonus at no cost to himself. Of course, that’s all conjecture, but in the absence of any explanation, conjecture is pretty much all that’s left. – Lee)

The second thing he mentioned in the meeting was he wished he would have talked to Lee more. There were various methods of communication used throughout the season.  We received emails and we received texts on three different phones (our two personal and one work phone we were given).  We also received messages from employees, or via phone calls from either owner.  In turn when we needed to communicate it was often unclear which was the best method to take.  More importantly, at least to me, was who communicated with who.  Despite the fact that I was titled the cashier and Lee was titled the manager, we always treated the job as co-managers.  In the beginning Lee talked to the owner quite a bit, but once he was comfortable directed most of his follow-up questions towards the full-time employee we saw almost daily.

 I called the owner several times about the staffing issues because I was struggling with trying to create a workable schedule and I felt those conversations went well at the time. But in the final meeting the owner stated that he “rarely spoke to the cashiers”, leaving that to his wife I realized that I had crossed a line somewhere.  Lee and I have always worked as a unit and since I had more experience with staffing and scheduling  it made sense for me to take over those duties.  When I ran into trouble I reached out to the owner as the expert, not only to get some concrete help, but to make him aware of the issue.  I knew we weren’t cutting it in this area, but thought based on our conversations that he would make allowances for our newness, difficulty staffing, and my willingness to adjust tactics based on his advice.  Not only did he not make any allowances but it also appears he penalized us for my being the person who was handling the issue. I simply don’t know what to do with that.  

Ok so enough about the money, let’s talk about the experience. When you think selling Christmas trees, almost everyone’s initial reaction is “that sounds fun.”  Heck that was my initial reaction as well.  After doing it, there are moments where it is fun, but it is also extremely hard work.  

  • Physical Exertion –  My number one concern about this job was the level of physical exertion.  We are both hard workers, but are not large musclebound people, and Lee in particular needs to be careful about how much he lifts and how he lifts because of an old back injury.  The only way for us to make our labor target was for at least one of the managers to physically work with the trees full-time, essentially becoming one of the employees. It didn’t  matter if you were on a high volume lot or not, there simply aren’t enough labor dollars to pay for an employee all day, every day and still get the trees processed. Don’t get me wrong  several people did make their labor targets, but they were also pretty open about how they did it.  The man in the couple handled trees, worked alone a majority of the time, and only had helpers on the weekends or when trees came.  The last two weeks the manager had no employees at all. Early on we did make the daily labor rate ($4 per tree) a couple of times and got to see firsthand what that looked like.  Lee was absolutely exhausted at the end of every day and after a few days in a row was seriously hurting.  Partly that was because of an old back injury he has but also because he is not very tall.  Being tall is a huge bonus, because the shorter you are the harder it is to handle the trees, regardless of their weight.  When we discussed this during the  performance bonus portion of our meeting, we were told that we should have made the customers help load the trees.  This was quite a surprise to both of us, but the owners stated firmly this was a regular practice in the tree business.  (Once again, my opinion differs. The overall vibe of the operation is to have the best trees, and an exceptional and high-end experience for the customers, which goes along with the very high price of the trees. They’re clearly shooting for a higher end customer, and these are not typically the type of people who are looking to be part of the process. At the end, however, when we discussed how that costs money in labor, we were simply told “you should have had the customers help you carry the trees and put them on the roof of cars.” This is just ridiculous. First of all, if that were really how they wanted us to run the lot, that would have been explained to us in training. What we WERE told is that if any customer wanted to look at a tree all the way around, we should pull it out into an open area for them to look at it. We were specifically told NOT to let them move the trees. We were also told that once they had picked out a tree, that they should go to the front and pay for it while employees carried it to the front and processed it to go out the door. That’s perfectly reasonable, but it’s completely different from being told at the end that we should not have had employees on site and that customers should help carry the trees.  – Lee) 
  • Staffing Issues – We were told numerous times that employees would just show up on the lot and most of them would be experienced.  (When I spoke to the owner’s wife, right after she told me that we would have employees doing all the heavy lifting, I asked her where I would get these employees. Her answer was that as soon as the tents went up, they would line up looking for work. I was told that MOST of them would have worked at a lot in previous years, and that we would have more applicant than we needed. This was ABSOLUTELY not our experience. When we expressed concern about not having staff, we were told that it was too early, that we shouldn’t worry, that they would come. Simply didn’t happen. I also want to point out that if we weren’t really supposed to have staff, as discussed in the previous section, we would have been told that during this discussion. – Lee) That was the case on some lots, but not on ours, because it was new.  We struggled with staffing from the beginning and were never able to hire the type of people we needed.  If you are extremely limited on staff then it is important you hire tall, muscular guys who can easily handle trees alone.  Our employees were great, but were unable to manage anything above a 6 foot alone which necessitated having two of them there together or Lee handling every tree with them.  The amount of time it took in the beginning to hire, on board, and train employees also was excessive in the beginning.  We hired 19 people throughout the season and had a very hard time getting people who were strong to stay with the job for the $8 an hour we were paying.  The owner was aware this was an issue, we discussed it several times, but eventually I was told to “stop worrying about it”.  He specifically said to treat the daily labor rate like I would “a check engine light” on my car and “mentally put a piece of tape on it.”  (I want to clarify this to make sure there’s no misunderstanding. Once we expressed our concern that our experience was not lining up with what we were told to expect, we were specifically told to ignore the labor target and staff as needed. But again, at the end, we were told the exact opposite. – Lee) The thought was if we stocked the tent then sales would come.  Unfortunately our sales never increased and I ended up with a $9 per tree labor rate, more than double our target. 
  • Selling Trees – With the exception of very few customers this was actually very fun.  The trees were beautiful, the families were happy, and I enjoyed being a part of a special experience for many people.  Yes, we had kids running around (although less of that than I thought there would be) and we had days where everyone seemed cranky, but mostly it was a lot of fun.  There was a ton of downtime though, and since someone has to stay in the tent regardless of the weather or customer traffic, it made for some long, monotonous days. Lee read several books while waiting for customers to come in towards the end. (Another important thing to point out is that while we didn’t count every person who came in the door, I can safely say we sold a tree to at least 90% of the people who came in. We had a fantastic ratio of traffic to sales, but very, very low traffic. Anecdotally, other lot operators seemed surprised by this. They appear to have had significantly higher traffic, with a lower ratio, which is more normal. I mention this because in my mind, THAT should be the basis of a performance bonus. – Lee)
  • Other Work Kampers – The best part of the whole experience for me was how friendly and helpful the other work kampers were.  Although we rarely physically saw each other, we stayed in contact throughout the season and I was assigned a mentor who was very helpful.  The full-time employees of the company were also great, providing tons of support and help for us newbies in the day-to-day.  There is a steep learning curve with this job and everyone we talked to said Year 1 was extremely difficult.  You have to learn how to care for and process trees, all of the products and their characteristics to sell them, the cash register, credit card machine, and a pretty comprehensive daily accounting process.  I spent about an hour a day on paperwork alone and we often received phone calls at 8am.  But people were pleasant and helpful throughout the season. 

Knowing all this what questions would we go back and ask if we could do it again?

  1. Where is the site?  Many sites are on busy roads and there is almost constant noise.  We were very lucky here with our site, but I saw a few others I wouldn’t have wanted to stay on. (On the other hand, we had ridiculously low traffic coming to our location, because it was only the 2nd year it was here, and there’s no access to the road. You have to come into the gas station lot and drive past all the pumps to get in. I would say that we probably had less than a third of the traffic other lots had. – Lee) 
  2. What were last years sales?  This is an important question because it makes you less reliant on a bonus and more reliant on your own sales skills.  You are still taking a risk depending on weather, quality of trees, and other competition, but at least it is something to go by.  If you are going to work this many hours, you might as well be on a busy lot. At least then you are guaranteed to make more money.  
  3. What are the labor expectations? If we were truly managers and allowed to hire staff to do the bulk of the heavy lifting that would be fine.  If the expectation was we would perform the bulk of the heavy labor we would have to pass. I don’t mind working hard, but cannot afford an injury which would impact my future earnings.  Especially since most of these jobs do not have workers compensation.
  4. How much support is provided by the owner? I appreciate not being micromanaged, I actually think this is one of the major benefits of this job, but when I do bring a problem to the owner, support is important.  There were many times in this job when we were completely out of our element and just didn’t feel we had the tools necessary to solve the problem. 
  5. Hours of Operation? We knew we would be working 11-9 everyday, but were surprised by how much work happened during our limited off time.  We received numerous unscheduled deliveries at 8am and were told in training the expectation was that we would have our phones on and be available from 7am -10pm every day. I don’t mind being on call.  I’ve had many jobs in my life where that was the case, but we were contacted during “off hours” on a daily basis.  The contacts ranged from answering a question to hurriedly getting dressed and going outside to unload a truck, but the expectation was always the task would be performed immediately.   This made it very difficult to complete any personal tasks during our off hours and ultimately resulted in only one of us at a time not going more than a few miles away from our tent at any time.  Just having a couple of off hours a day would have made a world of difference to our quality of life, but as they say it’s all about the tree once the season starts and that is certainly the expectation.

I would not do this type of work again unless the pay structure was more equitable. Now that we’ve done it, I feel the job is worth about $15-17 an hour. We made $7.  For me, this experience boils down to a pretty serious misrepresentation of the job, followed by “don’t worry about it” statements during the season to keep us working, very clear promises that simply were not kept, and then being financially penalized at the end for doing exactly what we were told to do. – Lee

In summary, I wish I could separate out our experience here from the job itself, and give a recommendation solely based on the job.  But  since almost every most decision we made day-to-day ultimately impacted our compensation it is next to impossible. It’s quite likely that we are simply not people who do well in a commission only environment, and becoming full-time RVers has not changed that.  I did enjoy learning about the tree business and I like working with the customer and selling them trees. This job is not primarily about selling trees though.  The job is managing a Christmas Tree lot, which is quite a different thing.  The staffing and scheduling alone was stressful enough that I would have serious reservations and couple that with the low compensation and I just can’t ever imagine doing this again. I came in optimistic and excited and am leaving tired and somewhat cynical.  That really bums me out.   I just want to move on to the next thing and hope we learned enough to never put ourselves in a similar position again.


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First Time Camping on a Christmas Tree Lot

After a couple of longer than expected travel days we crossed into Texas.  We didn’t add state stickers on our map though for Wyoming or Colorado and I wanted to talk about that for just a minute.  Deciding when you will put a state sticker on your map is a VERY important decision.  Many people place the sticker when their wheel hits the state (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that), but after we polled some people on the RV-Dreams Forum  (my favorite answer was “my dog has to poop in the state”) we decided that we would both have to see something specific to the state for it to count.  So since we blew through Wyoming and Colorado (we were tempted by Norad to count it, but we didn’t actually see it), no stickers this time.  Consequently, our map is a bit of a hodge podge and people may wonder how we got to certain places.  Anyway, like I said, everyone is different on this question, but when I claim a state, I like to have at least one specific memory I can associate with it. Oh, and we were also tempted to count it when we passed through Pubelo, Colorado. I was wracking my brain on why that sounded so familar when Lee reminded me most government publications came out of there when we were kids.  Remember the commercials “Write to PO Box…Pueblo, Colorado.”  I love it when we actually get to see a place that I have heard about my whole life.  Adds a certain zest to the experience.

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OK, back to the story.  We crossed into Texas and were headed straight to Amarillo.  We like this town and in particular we like The Big Texan restaurant which we both think is the best steak restaurant we have ever been to.  This is no small claim as we have eaten many steak dinners in many places over the years, but The Big Texan (who has their own herd of cows) is really, really good. The last time we came through here, we did all kinds of fun things, but this time it was just a steak dinner, a night in the Amarillo Ranch RV Park, and then on to Sweetwater.  We did have a chance to drop off our friends Deb and Steve’s Big Foot trackable in the geocache at the restaurant.  We “rescued” it in Alaska and since he had a hankering for international travel, thought a tourist destination was a good place to drop him off.  It may have been a good call, because while we were at the restaurant a huge group of Australian kids came in and five of them competed in the 72 oz steak challenge.  The way it works is you have one hour to eat a 72oz steak, salad, roll, 3 shrimp, and a potato, and you get the meal for free.  The steaks are BIG and it’s fun for the other diners to watch people try.  Those Aussie kids looked like serious competitors, and although we didn’t stay to see how it ended there’s a good chance at least one of them completed the challenge, and who knows, maybe one of them picked up Bigfoot on the way out.

That is one beautiful medium rare ribeye

That is one beautiful medium rare ribeye

 

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All the aussie kids were crowded around their group members that were giving it a try

 

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I hope the girl killed it

I would like to say here that if you have never been here, Texas is an RV friendly state.  There are RV parks in almost every city, the roads are straight and pretty well maintained, with lots of state rest areas, and the gas prices are generally some of the lowest in the US.  The weather is also warmer (it went from  overnight 40’s in Colorado to 86 in Texas in one day), and since there are lots of RV’s there are also lots of services. It’s not our home state, but I can understand why many people have made it theirs. Even though at first glance we may not feel comfortable (we are non-gun owning liberal Yankee democrats after all), we never feel that way.  My rule of thumb when traveling through here is don’t mess with Texas and everything will be fine.  I am sure those who live here would agree.

One of the many nice rest areas on the state highways

One of the many nice rest areas on the state highways

Lee snapped this pic of me looking out the window

Lee snapped this pic of me looking out the window

The next day we started at 9am and landed in Sweetwater, Texas at the Bar J Hitching Post RV about 3pm. On the way we passed through Abernathy and saw the cotton harvest in process.  I don’t think I have seen professional cotton growing this close up before, and took some time at a rest stop to walk over to a field and take a few pictures.  I am endlessly fascinated with the different crops grown in different parts of the country and after seeing close up what it takes to harvest and process the beet crop, was very curious about the machinery that harvests cotton.  There were huge bales of the stuff in several farms and it didn’t escape me that 150 years ago this process was completed by slaves and is now being done almost exclusively by machine.  Progress is not always a bad thing. Plus I have seen clothing with cotton from Abernathy, Texas so once again seeing where stuff comes from was cool.

The cotton fields looked a little like snow covered ground

The cotton fields looked a little like snow covered ground

Genuine cotton balls. Very cool

Genuine cotton balls. Very soft

By this time we were both getting really tired.  No real time off after the beet harvest combined with long travel days and another time zone change were taking their toll.  Plus, I was starting to get anxious about the Christmas Tree job.  When I first signed up, I was really focused on the work itself and the compensation.  The job sounded really fun, the money seemed fair, and the timing was perfect as we had a non-revenue generating hole in our schedule.  Add to that it was near where Cori and Greg would be and perfect!  What I never really thought about was the fact we would be staying in a parking lot for 2 months.  Now for many people this might not be a big deal.  Many people camp in parking lots frequently, but our first two experiences (Walmart and Cracker Barrel) were a mixed bag.  We disliked the experience enough that in two years we have only stayed overnight in parking lots three times.  Compare this to our friends Bill and Kelly (who frequently stay in Walmarts, Cracker Barrels, Moose Lodges, etc  on travel days) and we know we are definitely not the norm when it comes to this.  So here we are, the people who never stay in parking lots signing up to live in one for two months.  How did this happen?

Well, I blame Lee.  When I look for jobs for us, I generally focus on the particulars of the work and Lee looks more at living conditions.  He worries about 50 amp and hookups and all that stuff that really matters, but I tend to wave my hand and think it will all work out just fine.  Lee knows better.  So I am not sure now how the fact we would be living in a parking lot got past him. Yes, it’s necessary to complete the job assignment, and yes, we will have water and electric hookups, but still. Is it possible he’s mellowing? Can I no longer rely on him to be the voice of reason when I get these crazy ideas? In either case, I am nervous, and nothing short of getting there and seeing the setup is going to solve that problem.  At the core of this I think is I really need a few days of rest and I am not sure how restful (for us) a parking lot could be.  Time for some more personal growth, I suppose.  I hate that.

Well the only way to to find out was to get there, so after a night of mostly rain we drove towards New Braunfels.  We don’t mind driving in the rain, but as Lee said “It’s not pleasant”, still there is rain and there is rain.  Pretty early on the heavens opened up and it POURED.  Now Texas roads are nice and flat, but they also tend to flood in sudden rains, so pretty quickly we were driving on roads where the low areas had standing water on them.  You can’t hit those at 60 mph, so there was careful watching, changing lanes, and using flashers and slowing down in certain points.  It was pretty tiring for Lee, so I took over around 10:30am and drove until 1:00pm when we took a lunch break and switched back.  It wasn’t constant as the storms was moving east to west and we were traveling south, but that almost made it worse as it took forever to finally drive out of it.  Finally when we were close to our destination the sun broke through and we were excited about finally being on dry pavement.  The company we are working for was sent Greg to meet us at the lot to meet us and we had kept him updated as we traveled, but unfortunately he was delayed by an accident as well.  We couldn’t wait at out lot (I’ll explain why in a minutet), so we waited at a nearby truckstop, and of course right when he arrived, it started pouring.

Great.  Greg told us it was going to be a tight fit and now we were backing in in the rain.  Despite the conditions I was absolutely sure it would work out (my optimism had returned) and Greg and Lee not so much, but what choice did we have.  Our site it turns out is one of the newer ones (only it’s second year) and was on the outer edge of town.  It was next to a corner gas station, with a carwash, but the only way to get to the lot was drive the rig through the Shell parking lot and into the gravel lot next door.  Since the tent and the fencing was already up, it would require two 90 degree turns.  Will (and John, one of the fellow work kampers) jumped right out in the rain and I wisely decided to let them all handle it.  I grabbed an umbrella, and basically got out of their way.  I have quite a bit of experience backing Lee in at this point, but not in a situation like this.  Let me just show  you the pictures.

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What you can’t see is Lee had to make a 90 degree turn to get into this space between the fencing and the carwash

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Then another 90 degree turn to park in the back of the lot between the tent and the fence

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As you can see it was a very tight fit and took some finagling. The rain did slow down towards the end

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And here we are, uneven but in the fence

What’s really great is the rig is in the back of the lot which is on a residential street across from a fire station and next to that a piece of undeveloped grassland.   I was super relieved by the fire station presence.  Yes, we may get the occasional loud siren, but we weren’t surrounded on four sides by busy street.  Plus since our bedroom is in the back, instead of having the floodlights of the carwash in our bedroom window, we had the relatively dark lot next door.  Really felt lucky about both of those things.  I am going to post more pictures in the next post (these were taken with my camera under an umbrella in the rain while I was on the phone with my friend Kelly so frankly I am surprised they came out this good, but it’s enough to give you some idea.  The tent will be empty until November 15th when we start to get trees, and we have some camper re-positioning to do, but we are here and it’s much better than I thought it would be so far.  Awesome!

Oh and in a truly wonderful moment of travel serendipity, I got a text from my brother and he was in San Antonio for the weekend and wanted to know if I was free for lunch on Friday.  This is why I believe in a higher power, by the way.  We arrived on Thursday, start training on Saturday, and the only time I had free was Friday.  He had never been to San Antonio, had tagged along for an educational conference his wife Patrica was attending, and had no idea I would be in the area until my mom let him know we were going to be in the same place.  Eddie lives in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio and I haven’t seen him since we stopped in Columbus on our way to Alaska.  We met at the River Walk (super proud of myself for getting the monster truck in a downtown parking garage) and had a great time catching up. I love the Riverwalk  (wrote about it two years ago when we came here for Kay’s Air Force graduation) and we ate outside at one Mexican restaurant and then moved to a second to get the sopapillas I wanted for desert.  My brother did a lot of traveling when he was in his 20’s and even though he doesn’t read the blog has stayed somewhat up to date on what we are doing through my mom.  I was a little worried about what he would think about everything, but he was super supportive.  I was particularly touched when he said he was talking about me on the plane ride out to a guy sitting next to him, and the man (who was youngish but had just sort of retired), was incredibly jealous.  The guys said he totally got how appealing it would be to “chuck it all and just sell Christmas trees for awhile”.  Wow.  So here I am, feeling nervous about my choices, and God/the universe sends me some validation through some random guy my brother met on a plane.  Yep, I don’t believe in coincidence at all.

Love, love the Riverwalk

Love, love the Riverwalk

The boat tours are great, if you ever have a chance to come here.

The boat tours are great, if you ever have a chance to come here.

View from the first restaurant

View from the first restaurant

My baby brother

My “baby” brother

View from the second restaurant

View from the second restaurant

I got my sopapillas. It's the little things in life

I got my sopapillas. It’s the little things in life

Eddie and me

Eddie and me.  I look pretty good for a 50 year old chick that just finished a beet harvest!

It was a wonderful surprise and a much needed boost of affirmation from someone who has known me my whole life.  I’d love to say that I have everything figured out and I never have doubts, but that would simply not be the truth.  I have moments, especially when we are doing things that are none of our full timing friends have done before, let alone our long time friends and family when I think we have strayed too far outside the norm.  The reality is though we are creating our own normal.  It’s pretty exciting, since we get to make up the rules, but also sort of scary since we have no idea where our personal boundaries are until we run into them.  Thankfully we are doing this together and have absolutely fantastic support from our friends and family.  It’s humbling how much faith they have in us that it will all work out just fine.  Sometimes, I just need to remind myself of that.


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First Time at a Basic Training Graduation

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks.   First we got an offer on the house!!!!!   We have been on the market for 6 months and kept lowering the price.  We finally got a solid offer for $4K less than we spent on the house in 2001 but at this point we were happy to accept.  It helps that it a young family who are first time home owners so I feel like we are paying things forward a bit.  I was a little stressed about getting rid of the stuff we don’t need anymore,  but the couple is willing to take anything we want to leave, and again I feel great about giving them a little bit of starter stuff with their new home, plus I don’t need to mess with Craig s list or another garage sale.  Our last concern was the inspection, but it went great and we are completely on track.

The inspection was last Tuesday and we left first thing Wednesday  morning to go to San Antonio to see our daughter graduate from Basic training.  We have had very little contact with Kay in the last 8 weeks and were so excited to see her.  It’s been particularly tough on Lee and we couldn’t wait to get down there.  It was a fantastic weekend and San Antonio is a tremendous town.  When we first got there we discovered Kay graduated with honors.  This was a wonderful surprise as only 40 kids out of 400 made honors and she was one of only 5 women.

The gauntlet run with the parents cheering on the sides

The gauntlet run with the parents cheering on the sides

My girl is on the end. This was the ceremony for the honors group. What a thrill to hear her name called

My girl is on the end. This was the ceremony for the honors group. What a thrill to hear her name called

Awe inspiring watching the flights march in

Awe inspiring watching the flights march in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The entire weekend was wonderful with many instances where strangers came up and thanked her for her service.  We also got free tickets to Sea World (where during the Shamu show they asked all the graduates to stand up and they got a huge round of applause)  to the River Walk area and the Alamo which I highly recommend if you are ever in the San Antonio area.  I won’t spend a lot of time on the week since it wasn’t camping related, but I thought I would share a few pictures so everyone can see how neat it was.

The moment Lee got to see his baby

The moment Lee got to see his baby

Shirts Lee had made to celebrate her graduation. Check out the Pooh Bear flying on the eagle

Shirts Lee had made to celebrate her graduation. Check out the Pooh Bear flying on the eagle

The graduation ceremony

The graduation ceremony

Her flight with the two drill sergeants. So glad I got to thank them personally for the impact they had on my daughter

Her flight with the two drill sergeants. So glad I got to thank them personally for the impact they had on my daughter

Our girl

Our girl

In her locker she had a picture of Lee (who graduated from basic at the same base) and a quote I had sent her

In her locker she had a picture of Lee (who graduated from basic at the same base) and a quote I had sent her

Us at Sea World

Us at Sea World

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Highly recommend the boat tour of the river walk

Highly recommend the boat tour of the river walk

The little restaurant we ate at

The little restaurant we ate at

 

The Alamo...Lee loved it..so tiny

The Alamo…Lee loved it..so tiny

Wax museum...Kay saluting her commander in chief

Wax museum…Kay saluting her commander in chief

 

It was an amazing week and I know in my heart 100% that my daughter is on the right track.  What a great feeling for any parent and I am so proud she has chosen to serve her country.

You would think it couldn’t get better but we came home to our rally friends Deb and Steve.  They found a great spot here at our campground and we stayed up until 10 talking and catching up.  Perfect end to a perfect weekend.  Deb and Steve are staying all week and Cori and Greg are coming in this weekend.  Going to be a fantastic pumpkin festival and so glad we have friends to share it with!!!  My cup runneth over 🙂

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