First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Taking a Day Off

Monday we both woke up feeling…well good..since we were pretty confident we wouldn’t be getting a trailer that day.  Several people went straight into their tear down, but since we weren’t first up on the schedule we decided to take a day off.  We had a windshield replacement scheduled between 7:30am – 12pm, but after that we were free and clear.  It was funny that we made it all the way through Alaska without a chipped windshield (pretty rare), but then as soon as we hit Montana we got a chip.  Lee kept track of it using a magic marker and by this time it had spread halfway down the windshield.  Since Florida insurance has $0 deductible for windshield insurance (it’s a state law and a great benefit of residency there) it was going to cost nothing, we just needed a place to get the work done.

Rain was in the forecast every day this week, and since we don’t have access to a garage that could be tricky.  We did have access to a tent though, and after talking to Safelight Autoglass and getting their OK we pulled the truck into the tent.  The whole process of setting up the appointment was super easy by the way.  I called Nationwide Claims and through the use of simple prompts was sent to Safelite.  The messages made it clear we didn’t have to use them, but since Lee actually worked on their live annual competition last year and got to see them in action he was a big fan.  Now I have to say I am also.  They communicated clearly, worked with us on the tent, showed up on time, and did a great job.  Actually it was our absolute best repair experience on the road to date.  I went up and talked to the guys and asked them if inside a Christmas tent was the weirdest place they had ever replaced glass and they said no, but it was the best smelling!!  They didn’t elaborate on what the weirdest was and I didn’t ask, but I should have because I have been curious about it ever since.


Fixing autoglass in a Christmas tree forest


They spent time cleaning the area


Took two guys to remove the glass and put the new piece in. Glad we didn’t have to pay out-of-pocket for this

After they finished we had to wait 30 minutes before driving the truck (24 hours before going through a power wash), so we ate some lunch and then we headed out.  Whether we are gate guarding or in Quartzsite, we will probably be doing a lot of reading and luckily we are near many Half Price Book Stores.  I know most people go to e-books, but I spend too much time looking at screens as it is, plus I like to hold a book in my hands.  We had a huge library in our old house and over time have crammed books in all kinds of places in the RV.  Now we pick books up and then drop them off at campgrounds we stop at, but we have missed bookstores over the last several months.  Also, once a year, the Half Price Book Store offers an additional 20%, so we were both excited to be near one and have a day off to grab some books.

Lee has always been a fan of nonfiction, but he starting reading Louis L’Amour and really likes them because they are a fast, easy read.  He wanted to read them in order though, so took advantage of the book stores to grab several.  Armed with his list we went to three different books stores and had a great time.  It was like a scavenger hunt.  I was looking for a couple of good Asian recipe books (found one Chinese and one Vietnamese that looked good and I paid more than I normally would, but they are hard to find at library sales), and any complete fantasy series I had never read.  I am a big fantasy/science fiction reader, but these aren’t the most common books found in local campgrounds.  I have better luck at library sales, but the Half Price Bookstore has always been a great resource for fantasy books. I used to buy pieces of series and then hang onto the books until I could find the missing books, but I don’t have the space for that any more, so now I have to find the series in its entirety.  That’s harder than you would think, but the multiple store visits helped me find a couple new authors to try.

We also passed by a Tanger Outlet mall and braved the crowds to get me two new pairs of Skechers.  My tennis shoes and slip ons are over two years old and since I use them so much they have taken a beating.  I thought I would take advantage of the post-Christmas sales to replace and although the prices weren’t as good as I had hoped, I did get the second pair half off. I found a pair of Skechers Go Walk in a wide width on sale and they are a hug for my feet.  I splurged on the second pair of Relaxed fit Breathe Easy Shout Out tennis shoes  and again, super comfortable.  I have my Merrills for hiking, but for everything I just wanted comfortable shoes, and although $83 was more money than I wanted to spend it’s not that bad for two pairs of good shoes.

While we were in San Antonio, I also reached out to Cori and Greg to see if they were free for the evening. We had talked about going down and seeing the lights on the Riverwalk, but with the shopping crowds we were all a little tentative about that.  Plus I got an email from my aunt Cathy with a gift certificate for Montana Mike’s restaurant.  My aunt has been reading my blog posts and really enjoying them and she reached out to say she and my uncle wanted to buy us dinner for Christmas.  I was incredibly touched by this.  Not only because she was reading the blog, but also because she wanted to do something nice.  It made us both feel closer to my grandmother Betty, who would definitely do something like this, and it made me feel closer to family.  She went to some trouble also, finding a local steak place and then getting a gift certificate sent to us.  Unfortunately the certificate didn’t arrive as expected to general delivery at the post office (I think it was because of holiday mail traffic) but instead of just letting it go she called the corporate office and got them to agree to an email with the gift card number on it.  Really amazing.

The dinner was great, the company was great, and the gesture was much appreciated.  We had appetizers, steaks, and shared a desert and it was all delicious. I did take a bunch of pictures though, because I knew she would want to see them, and wanted to share the experience with her.  Thanks so much Aunt Cathy!


Montana Mike’s


Pretty wood

Stuffed Mushrooms were really good

Stuffed Mushrooms were really good

Greg and I had potato skins

Greg and I shared potato skins

Lee’s delicious steak

Cinamon apples with pecans and ice cream was awesome

Cinnamon apples with pecans and ice cream was awesome

Me, Lee, Cori, and Greg

Me, Lee, Cori, and Greg

So it was a nice day off, and tomorrow we are back to tearing down the tent and finishing up.  We were both really needed to get out of the tent and a day of books, shoe shopping, and dinner with friends was perfect!

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First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Finally a Steak Dinner

One of the ways I judge the quality of our lives is by how often we eat steak dinners.  It may sound silly to some, but a good steak dinner matters to us, and it’s a good indicator of both economic prosperity and availability of time.  And it’s not just having steak, but also the quality of the cut we could afford to buy varied over time.  When we were young and poor, steak dinner was something we treated ourselves to once a month and we got whatever was on sale.  As the kids got older we would have it maybe twice a month, and Top Sirloin was our meat of choice.  Later we could all have New York strip steak twice a month and that felt luxurious.  But at the height of our financial prosperity we all had big, fat ribeyes once a week. Even when I was traveling a ton, we would have our ridiculously huge Ribeyes on either the Saturday or Sunday night I was home.  Steak dinner always mattered, and not just as a good meal, but as a symbol we were doing well.

When we started out on the road we continued the tradition, but with the price of steak (and quality) being highly variable we eventually dropped down to twice a week.  Decent, reasonably priced ribeye is one of the main reasons we got our Costco membership as the price is always $10.99 or below and the cut and quality of the steaks is generally very good. (I think they’re just acceptable. They are consistent, but I wouldn’t call them VERY good. – Lee) As we struggled to get the food budget under control we did discuss going back to a cheaper cut of meat, but Lee vetoed that idea pretty quickly.  Less steak he was OK with, but lesser quality not so much.

We rarely had steak in Alaska.  Partly because once when we made our monthly Costco trip they were totally out of ribeye and partly because we had some special fresh fish dinners that somewhat took it’s place.  Also, since they don’t raise cows in Alaska the meat was not that great, and definitely on the expensive side. During the beet harvest I think we only had steak one time.  We were too tired, and oddly not hungry enough to mess with it after a twelve hour day and only on one of our early off days do I remember Lee fixing us a steak.  And now we are selling Christmas trees and once again steak has not been something we have cooked.  We are stocked up with some great Texas beef, but now we have no time.  One of us always has to be on register all of the time, so unless we want to eat steak prior to 11am, after 9pm,  or separately, it can’t happen.  And I miss it.

I miss not just the steak dinners, but having dinner together.  Currently our meal schedule is roughly (for me) lunch 12:15 and then dinner around 5:30pm.  These are some of our slowest periods, because most people are eating during this time.  Not slow enough for us to both take a break, but slow enough for Lee to handle it with one employee.  Lee is eating lunch around 2pm and then dinner at 8:30pm.  It’s late, but he would rather wait until late than be interrupted during his meal which kept happening when he was eating earlier as invariably some situation would arise that I needed his help for. I’ve tried to cook some meals and then he reheats them after 8:30pm, but my breaks are sometimes very short and I have been relying on a lot of peanut butter and jelly and soup to get me through.  That kind of diet wears on you after awhile though, and I am seriously craving something hot and filling to eat.

So, I asked Lee if he would be OK with cooking the steaks, eating an early dinner, and then I would heat mine up a little later.  Since it’s been slow during the week, maybe we can make this work, and if not..well, at least we tried.  It’s been over a month since we last had any steak and it’s either that or splurging on take-out.  Since we are really trying to control our spending, steak at home is the much better choice. We decided to go for it on Wednesday since Tuesday was our slowest day ever (only sold 5 trees and they were all little ones).  This required some coordination as we needed something to go with the steak so Lee had to run to the HEB grocery store down the road.  Normally he tries to go before we open at 11am, but occasionally he can’t get out the door in time and goes right when we open in the morning. This morning we ran into that and he decided to wait until we opened.  Mainly because if our one employee was late, I would be alone and I can’t lift trees into cars.  Almost everyday (even yesterday with only 4 tree sales) we have a customer right at the gate at 11am, so it is best we are both here. And sure enough, our employee who is never late had a problem with the steering wheel column being locked on his car and was late.  Which proves the point that even though in theory we could leave, we can’t in good conscience leave.

Why am I going into all this detail about steak? Well it goes to quality of life.  We have had some in-depth conversations as of late as to how to account for the hours we work in our final analysis of what we are being paid.  You could make the case that on slow days when we are not processing trees or helping a customer we are off.  You could certainly make the point that any time one of us is in our rig while the other person covers the floor we are off.  And we discussed that.  I was definitely leaning in the direction of removing those hours (which would correspondingly raise our hourly wage), but Lee ultimately talked me out of it.  He felt it was watering down the final results and what finally convinced me was the fact that I haven’t been able to get a pedicure.  I know, weird right?  But I have wanted to go with Cori to get a pedicure for over a month now and simply cannot leave the lot to do that.  Whether I am actively working or not I have to be here, because we never know when the mini-rushes might come and since we can only have the minimum amount of employees my physical presence could be needed at any time.

Even in my “downtime” I can’t really get into things because the phone rings quite a bit.  Customers with questions, employees with schedule changes, or notifications from the owners or fellow Lot managers all come in throughout the day and need to be addressed.  Thank heavens for the TV show the Voice.  It has been the perfect show to watch, because I can walk away from it at any time and pick it up later when things slow down.  Truly I think it’s fair to say I have not had a two hour block of uninterrupted time during business hours since we have been here.  We also have not been able to spend hardly any time with our friends Cori and Greg.  Since Thanksgiving they have stopped by twice and once we were getting a truck unexpectedly and another time we had several customers.  It’s a bummer, because I thought the extra time with them would be a huge benefit to being in this area, but since we can’t leave to go to them and they never know how busy they will be when they come to us it just hasn’t happened.  If we were the kind of people who could start hanging out after 9pm I suppose we could spend more time with them, but after a 10 plus hour day we just want to watch a little TV and go to bed.

For all of those reasons we decided to count the actual work time prior to opening and the hours of operation since we opened plus an hours worth of work extra per day.  That one hour is actually very generous, because many days start with a 8am text message, but overall it seemed the fairest way to handle it.  So at this point on Wednesday 12/14/16, we have worked a combined 606 hours.  Based on our base pay and commission earned to date we have made $7.63 per hour each.  At least it’s above minimum wage.  This obviously doesn’t include any future operational hours, future commission, or the bonus, so we really won’t know until the end how this all plays out.   Also, it’s important to note that we are by far the slowest sales location.  Everyone else has double or triple the tree sales that we have.  It seems like the relative work is roughly the same as they have more employees to help them but process more tree, but maybe not.  It’s quite possible that our workload is much lighter than those other locations.  One thing that I think is constant for all of us though is the inability to leave the lot.  Your life really is all about the trees during this job and there is minimal time for anything else.

We did manage to have that steak dinner though.  Lee really wanted to eat it together, so I had a late afternoon snack and we had dinner at 9:30pm.  It was late, but pretty yummy, and we have tons of leftovers, which is always a good thing. It’s a shame that since it was our slowest day ever (3 trees, although one was a 8-1/2 flocked tree and we sold a couple hundred of dollars in extra along with the trees), that we couldn’t just take a break and eat at a regular time, but that’s the nature of the job. Oh, and just in case I am exaggerating the hours, I got a call at 8:30am Thursday morning with a request for an immediate inventory.  When I asked if it could wait until we were open for business, I was told it really couldn’t wait that long. So my early morning was spent gathering and reporting the most recent inventory numbers.


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First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Surprise Guests and More Setup

After training we were in a waiting mode until the team came to unload the trailer.  I had lots of admin stuff to do (signed up for next years ACA for example), but Lee was pretty restless. The constant cloud cover/rain didn’t help.  We were so looking forward to sunny skies but it has rained at least part of everyday we have been here.  Plus we didn’t really feel like we could leave, because we were told that they would call us before coming to do the setup, but we had no idea when that was.  We could have left of course, but it didn’t feel right, especially since I hadn’t received any walk-in applicants and I was started to get nervous about that. Thankfully though, we saw some movement on Tuesday when our holding tank and port-a-potty was delivered.  Things were starting to roll!

Delivery of our tank and port=a=potty. You can see the fire station behind us in the pic

Delivery of our tank and porta-a-potty.  We are getting weekly service I think

Can't get away from these things and unfortunately it is relatively close to the rig, but no where else to put it

Can’t get away from these things and unfortunately it is relatively close to the rig, but no where else to put it

The large tank is on the ground. We were told it would go behind the rig, but there is not enough room so we had to put it in the front. Hopefully there is no smell

The large holding tank is on the ground, by the fence.  We were told it would go behind the rig, but there was not enough room so we had to put it in the front. Hopefully there is no smell

Thankfully a dear friend of ours Rick was passing through Texas and made sure he routed himself by New Braunfels, which was a welcome distraction.  I first met Rick at the RV-Dreams Reunion rally and really got to know him when we were in the same boat on a white water rafting trip.  He actually fell out of the boat at one point and myself, Mike, and the guide worked really hard to get him back in.  Since we were in a section of rapids that was particularly dangerous it was pretty darn scary and the experience bonded Rick and I for life. After that experience we could have both wandered our separate ways. It happens; you meet people, grow somewhat close, and then may never see them again, but Rick went to some trouble.  He stopped and spent my 49th birthday with me when we were in Minnesota.  He made a special trip to see a group of us Dreamers when we were in Quartzsite last year, and he came to see us on our lot selling Christmas Trees.

Rick is a widower who travels solo with his dog Maxine.  He and his wife dreamed about doing this in their retirement, and he decided to continue on with that dream, partly in her memory.  In the last year he has sold the house, purchased a “new to him” rig, made a trip to England, and had several volunteer camp host positions. He looks so great.  Happy, relaxed, and is loving the lifestyle.  He’s a social guy and loves to stay busy, so these volunteer positions are perfect for him.  It helps keep his costs down, he’s been treated very well with every position he has had, and has really enjoyed “keeping busy and doing something productive.” I have to say after hearing about it, I love his life and am a little jealous.  We loved our two volunteer positions and in our mind there is no contest between those and any paying position we have had  when it comes to perks and how we were treated.  His experience has been the same, and I am so happy for him that he is enjoying himself.   I knew things were going well from reading his blog  On The Road with Maxine and Me , but seeing how great he looked in person, really solidified that.  Anyways, Rick and Maxine came and hung out in the tent and it was fun for Maxine because we had a huge fenced in lot for her to play in.  Since it was still empty, she had the run of the place, and we had a great time chatting and catching up.



Maxine was having a blast

Maxine was having a blast

I made some pinto beans and andouille sausage in the Instant pot. It turned out ok. Maxine liked it :)

I made some pinto beans and andouille sausage in the Instant pot. It turned out OK. Maxine liked it 🙂

Then Rick decided he wanted to cook dinner for us.  We like to cook for people on their travel days, but since we are working this can get complicated, and Rick loves to cook for people so it was OK by us.  He went and stayed nearby at a wonderful Corps of Engineers park, Potters Creek near Canyon Lake where he was staying on a beautiful site for only $13 a night with his senior discount. Since most of the private RV parks in the area are in the $40 – $50 range this is a steal and the first-come-first-serve worked to his advantage as he got one of the nicest sites I have ever seen in a park anywhere.

Rick's new rig

Rick’s new rig

The side view

The side view

His "yard"

His “yard”

Beats the heck out of our gravel lot

Beats the heck out of the view from our gravel lot

One of the first things we did was look at the changes Rick made to the rig.  He has a friend who is a carpenter and he changed closets and added drawers to every available space.  Very cool.


Loved these custom spice racks they built


The drawer to the right and the lower drawer were both added taking advantage of dead space. They did a nice job matching the wood color. I would never have known


Great drawer they added under the fridge, again taking advantage of dead space

Dinner was great.  Rick made stuffed pork roast with an orange and cherry glaze and bought Lee pie.  I had made a new desert (was mediocre), but the pie was a huge hit.  Sometimes I think Lee just uses this blog to solicit free pies, because I swear every time we go to someone’s house for dinner they buy him one. (Duuuuude. BE COOL. – Lee) I don’t complain too much since it definitely helps with our food budget (pie ain’t cheap), but I should say for the record I am not a huge fan of pie.  That’s OK, because I am not a big desert eater either, but if you buy Lee a pie at some point down the road, please don’t be upset if I don’t eat it.

Rick had some whiskey for Lee

Rick had some whiskey for Lee

Rick making us dinner

Rick making us dinner

Roast pork. So yummy

Roast pork. So yummy

And a huge pie

And a huge pie

We left pretty early though, because it got dark early and was raining, plus I wanted to watch some of the election coverage.  I’m not going to talk about that here, but I will say I had a tough day on Wednesday.  So, when we got up I decided to go to breakfast.  It’s easier to face things with a good breakfast.  I used my Yelp app to look for local places (thanks Cori and Kelly for getting me to use this because it works very well) and there were less choices than I would have thought.  Many of the breakfast places were Mexican restaurants, and although I love Mexican food, not a huge fan of their breakfast options.  I decided on The Buttermilk Cafe, and although it was on the pricey side it was really nice.  My breakfast was delicious, but Lee was unimpressed by his sausage gravy, both quantity and quality.  I also loved the decor though and anyways it was good we did this, because we got a text saying the setup people would be there by noon.  A few hours notice, reinforced the idea that we really couldn’t travel far, and we were glad we hadn’t scheduled a trip anywhere.




The eggs were excellent, bacon terrific, and the sourdough really really good. Biscuits were OK, but I’ve definitely had better

Three guys arrived  and we all started unloading the trailer.  An amazing amount of stuff was packed in this trailer and soon stuff was strewn everywhere.  Unfortunately, the trailer was missing some items.  Progress was made, but after 7 hours, there was still lots of work to do.  I was completely heartened by the fact that I got two applicants that came up during the setup process.  One was a teenager who unfortunately was under 18 (can’t hire anyone under 18 because they have to work with power tools), but the other gentleman was perfect.  He lived in the area, was available to work nights and weekends, was a grown-up and had landscaping experience.  I had an impromptu interview in our rig (could have done it outside, but things were a bit chaotic out there, we filled out the paperwork and I hired him on the spot.  I felt sooo much better with at least one hire, and that as everyone said people would just walk up once we were up and running.  Then the day just got better as we were putting up the last of the help wanted signs, Lee got a call from Cori and they had arrived a day early and wanted to come over!!

Unloading the trailer

Unloading the trailer

Lights going up

Lights going up

I’ll talk more about Greg and Cori later, but they are incredibly special to us because we started our journey with them and have been with them on and off over the last two years.  We can tell them anything and since they have known us from the beginning, have a pretty unique perspective on our lives and our journey.  We talked until 11pm and then everyone had to go to bed.  We will be here with them though for the next several weeks, and I am sure we will have lots of opportunities to be with them.  I am particularly excited because we will be with Cori at least (Greg has a work trip he needs to take) for our two year anniversary.  Speaking of which, I really need to get started on that post.  That one requires some research.

Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog. Thank you.   Search here