First Time at Montezuma’s Castle and Well

After Tuesday we both decided to take a day off from exploring.  We finally heard back from our summer job, and despite extensive communication on our part, the drug test/physical was scheduled for Friday.  Worse, my appointment was at 7:30am and Lee’s was at 10:30 am.  Since we were scheduled to move on Friday the timing couldn’t be worse, and I spent some time talking through the options on how we could change the day/time.  The problem was our schedule for the next few weeks has us moving frequently thus scheduling required a nimbleness that few large companies have.  We had told our contacts this could be a problem early on, but were assured they did this all the time and it would be no issue.  That turned out to not be the case, and instead of forcing the issue, we decided it would be easier to find a way to make it work.

We drove down to the medical center and not surprisingly there was nowhere to park our truck and RV, but there was a Christian School next door with a large parking lot and Lee went inside to see if they could help.  It turned out they were closed for Good Friday and they were absolutely fine with allowing us to park in what would be an empty parking lot.  It was extremely nice of them and at least got us to the day.  Then I flexed those out of use corporate muscles and tried to get them to rearrange the appointments so we didn’t lose most of the day.  Making a personal appeal to the right person generally works, but since there were 5 people on the email chain I wasn’t sure who was who.  After a couple of phone calls, I finally discovered that Victoria was the person who could actually fix the issue and asked politely if she could see what she could do with the understanding if she couldn’t change the appointments we would make it work.

The personal appeal, along with an explanation that we would be sitting in the parking lot for three hours between our two appointments worked, and she called another patient and asked them to switch appointments.  Now I was at 8am and Lee was at 9am, which wasn’t optimal, but definitely more workable.  I was surprised by how dealing with layers of bureaucracy to get a relatively  simple thing done impacted my mood, but reminded myself that if I was going to reenter the consulting arena I had better get re-used to it.  I used to navigate those waters as effortlessly as breathing, but I was out of practice, and to be honest, patience.  My life is much simpler now.

We weren’t done there though.  Wednesday we also had an email from Amazon and had to go online and fill out some tax forms (nice website design and pretty simple) and then we heard back from the background check company.  This summer job is for a large energy company and they are treating our hiring the same as they would treat any of their employees.  Since most of their facilities are secured they require a background check and three professional references, versus simple employment verifications.  The background check was no big deal, but the professional references were a bit difficult since originally Lee and I wanted to keep our career references separate from our work-kamping references.  Neither one of us was that thrilled with using people from our former lives to reference us for seasonal campground positions, but we also hadn’t built a solid three work kamping references yet.  The employment service for the Beet Harvest for example doesn’t provide references, and at the time we provided the information we hadn’t started the gate guarding job.  This left our volunteer position in Susanville, Alaska, and Christmas Trees.

I wasn’t surprised when the third party background check company called and said they were having trouble getting in touch with our references.  One problem that was complicating the issue is that Lee’s legal name is Shannon.  So when they called Stan from Susanville and asked him about Shannon Perkins, he said he didn’t know who he was.  Not surprising, Stan didn’t complete our paperwork and probably has no idea that Lee is actually Shannon.  Also, I eventually saw the email they were sending and it was a two line email that was asking for personal information about us and frankly looked like a scam.  One of our references actually sent it to us and asked if it was legitimate, which we verified, but we certainly couldn’t expect the others to do the same.  If I saw it, I would have dismissed it and since prior to the phone call we had no idea who would be doing the reference checks or in what format it wasn’t even like I could give folks a heads up. So when the woman from the background check agency called, I gave her our new gate guarding reference and then went ahead and provided a couple more from our professional careers.

It had been a long time in our professional careers since we needed the standard three references and most jobs at that level are obtained through network contacts making references checks largely pro forma.  I knew when we started this life out we would need to build new references. but since most of our early work kamping jobs asked for personal references we focused on getting that group together.  That was relatively easy to do as we have a good group of friends to rely on there, but always in the back of my head I knew this type of request might come in. Solid professional references require a level of relationship with an employer that we simply have not experienced to date.  Simply put, you need to rely on that person to take the time to answer the inquiry, and not every employer is willing to take the time to do that.  Add to that not every work kamping experience we have had has been positive, and it’s tougher.  Don’t get me wrong, I know we have done good work every place we have been, but getting a solid professional reference isn’t about the work you do.  It’s about the relationship you built with the employer and that is a completely different thing.  The whole situation makes me feel like a young kid again, and I really don’t like it.  I am trying to not let it bother me and just allow events to unfold, but it’s tough.

One thing that made me feel quite a bit better was looking at Work Kamper News.   There are quite a few last minute positions available and if this falls through we will explore one of them.  Plus Lee is going to call before we leave Vegas and verify we are all set, and if not we can boon dock in that area until something comes through.  It’s hard not to let things like this throw you and put you in an old world mindset.  Lee is really good about helping me push past those slightly panicky feelings and remember the reality we are living in now.  He’s good about that. 

Unfortunately while I was dealing with all that he was dealing with his own issues.  You may remember that we had our furnace “fixed” at Camping World but they left the duct work un-assembled.  Rather than go back, Lee committed to reconnecting the duct work himself and spent 4 very unpleasant hours crammed into the very tiny crawlspace under our rig, replacing torn furnace duct hoses, and reattaching them to the furnace. He would have be fine with that except when he turned the furnace on it still didn’t work. So not only were we no better off than when we went into Camping World service he had spent 4 hours doing something the next service tech would have to undo.  Needless to say he was extremely upset and both of us were ready to call it quits on the whole day.  

The next morning we bounced back and went to Montezuma’s Castle and Montezuma’s Well. I wasn’t expecting much, but couldn’t leave it undone and WOW were we pleasantly surprised.  We went to the well first (which is free) but when we saw four tour buses parked in the lot we turned around and went to the Castle which was less crowded. I know I said I wasn’t into ruins, but this one is awesome.  You can only see it from the ground, but it is very impressive and well worth the $10 in my opinion although it was free with our America The Beautiful pass. 

Really nice little visitors center and the staff was great

Amazing. The picture doesn’t show how big it is

This diorama shows what it looked like

There is a nice walkway with trees and flowers

These are swallow nests, unfortunately didn’t get a pic of one of those

This sign shows where the posts were

The natural cavates in the cave were used for storage and living space

This river is where they got their water

We were walking along and suddenly heard this music coming from everywhere. At first we thought it was speakers but this one man was back by the gift shop and because of the amphitheater shape of the cliff the sound carried throughout. Loved it

We left just as the tour buses from the other site were pulling in, and by the time we got back to Montezuma’s Well it was cleared out, hooray!  There was one group of elementary school kids, but they were working on answering a question sheet and were pretty well behaved. This site is deceptively simple, because it is a big water well the native Americans used for irrigation.  They couldn’t drink the water though because it had such a high CO2 content and the only animals that live in it are a miniature shrimp-like amphipod, tiny snails, water scorpions, one-celled diatom, and leeches!!  Oh yes, it’s full of leeches and it’s great for irrigation (they use it for the lawn today), but the nearby river water is what they drank.  I loved this site though because there were two places to walk down and get right inside.  It’s steep and I would recommend a bottle of water, but really worth it.

Loved this tree right at the top

The well

Beautiful views

Ruins in the cliffside

The American Widget family was happy in the water. Maybe they were eating the leeches 🙂


Steep walk down into the well

White Crowned Sparrow on the rocks.  He was tiny and zipping all around.  Happy I got this shot

Great rock formations

Ruins at the base

Afterwards we walked up and then around the rim to a path down on the other side.  Don’t skip this because it takes you to another path where the water comes out of the well, and that was the coolest part for me.

Path down to water source

These irrigation cannals have been reinforced but were made in the 1200’s. Amazing

Lee loved this Arizona Sycamore that grew across the irrigation ditch

The water source which comes from underground is around this corner

And check out this beautiful 300 year old tree. It was a beauty, and was worth the visit in and of itself

Two great visits and totally free with the America the Beuatiful Pass.  Next up, finally I will be standin’ on a corner.  Been wanting to do that for a long time!


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.  Search here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is also available in paperback on Amazon if you prefer. 

First Time Gate Guarding – Days 56 -59

Day 56


It was another slow day in gate guarding land.  The only folks we have seen were the guy who brings diesel for our generator, which does not require us to open or close the gate, and some guys who are coming to finish the fracking pond. They are still figuring out the job though, and haven’t actually started the finishing work, so I think we still have a few more days of this peace and quiet.  Oh, and to give you an idea of exactly how slow it’s been, here are last week’s numbers.  Initially we logged all the “wrong gate” traffic, but we got pretty lax on that this week so this doesn’t include every time we had to direct people to the next gate down, but as you can see it was amazingly slow. And yes we get paid the same regardless, which is nice! (I have never logged a a wrong gate vehicle. It just seems silly to log a vehicle that I turn away. It’s one step away from logging vehicles that just drive by without even slowing down. – Lee)







Day 57

The guys who are putting the liner in the pond stopped by, and I tried to get a feel for when the liner would be put in.  They were extremely noncommittal about the timeline, but one guy did say that they couldn’t do it when it rained and it was supposed to rain all week.  Hard to complain about having another week of all this free time and getting paid for it, so we’ll take it.  The unlimited data is working out great so far, by the way.  We are 10 days in to the new plan, and well over 240GB on the WiFi hotspot and no throttling so far.  Of course we are in a remote area with an under taxed tower so that helps.  Lee has been taking advantage and uploading all these home movies he has been working on to You Tube, hence the huge amount of data we have been using. We will continue to see how it goes and I’ll let you know. So far it’s been awesome. (Awesome doesn’t even begin to describe it. After two years of watching our data usage every day and carefully thinking about whether or not to download things, now I just don’t. It’s delightful. – Lee)

Day 58

It’s funny how the volume of trucks makes all the difference in both of our moods.  Last week when it was so busy I couldn’t wait to be done, but now it’s been very pleasant.  I think that shows, at least for us, that it’s less about having to stay in one place or even being “on call” 24/7, but more about how much down time we have during the day. Lots of down time and it’s an OK gig.  Under those circumstances we don’t mind the negatives so much.  Minimal down time and those restrictions start to bother both of us.  I actually think that’s pretty normal. Things were a little more active today with several of the folks who are laying down water piping coming in this morning.  Nothing too major, but enough activity Lee put his yellow vest on!  We also finally saw the company man and were told what the schedule will be.  For the next 9 days they will be doing “workover” (3 wells – 3 days each).  Workover will only involve a few trucks per day and then once that is done the fracking will start, assuming the frack crew is available to start immediately. It’s great to know what is happening, but a bit of a bummer because we were really hoping we would get out early so we could meet friends in Apache Junction, but I doubt that is going to happen now.  It depends on how long fracking takes, of course, but I am guessing with three wells that might take a while as well.  We do have some extra time set aside to just relax, but we can extend our time a bit if they still need us.  Not sure how we will feel about that at the fracking pace, but if it was like this that would be hard to turn down. (My understanding is that the fracking process involves a more or less steady stream of trucks all day and night. I am happy to stay until the end date we gave them, but I’m not interested at all in extending. We need a break before we settle in for a whole summer of work on May 9th. – Lee) 

As a side note,  I received several comments from folks that they didn’t know how to view the recipe book preview.  Thank you for your interest.  There are two ways.  Either click on the “Look Inside” link on the upper right hand side or “Send a Free Sample” on the right hand side.  I took a screenshot of Amazon and have highlighted both of those places in a red box. Unfortunately you don’t get to choose which pages get previewed so perhaps my idea of starting each chapter with the simplest recipes kind of backfires here.  Because the preview only shows a few recipes and all of the beginning ones are very simple, it might give the idea that they are all that simple. It would be nice if the preview allowed for picking out specific pages but that doesn’t seem to be an option, which makes sense I guess in a novel.  If I could go back and change that I might start with a mix of recipes from different sections, but then again that would be confusing if you purchased the book.  Ah well, I am learning here.  Who knew all this would be so complicated and I still feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of it?

One last thing, then  I promise to move onto other things going forward.   I was invited to be a guest on a talk radio show back in Keene, New Hampshire where we spent the fifteen years prior to going on the road.  A restaurateur friend of ours read about the recipe book on Facebook and invited me on his weekly radio show, so I will be doing that after April 1st.  I think that will be fun, to talk about full-time RVing, and since it’s a small town and it feels like everyone knows everyone else,  I can’t wait to tell the story of how I met someone from Keene that I didn’t know in Tuscon, Arizona at a dump station.  Liz,  I think I will need to change the story a bit though, and just say I met you checking out of the campground.  I don’t think I want to explain dumping poop on the radio lol!!

Day 59

Well we had some excitement in gate guarding land this morning.  Lee took over for me about 4:15am, and right about the time I was falling asleep the power went out.  It was obvious because I lost the air conditioner, but I thought it was one of the temporary power fluctuations we get occasionally.  I was right at that point where I was falling asleep, so I didn’t get up, but my sleep was restless and then at some point it got really hot so I got up and turned on the Fantastic Fan in the bathroom, opened a window and went back to sleep.  I should have just gotten up and talked to Lee at that point, but I was pretty out of it so just fell back into bed. Big mistake because I woke up several times from that point, but never enough to find out what was going on.

Lee was dealing with the problem.  Unlike the power fluctuations we have had that impact the rig only, this power outtage also took out the floodlight tower, which also runs off the provided generator trailer. The generator was running fine and he restarted it several times, but no power was going from the generator to the lights or our rig.  Finally he sent a text to our coordinator and then just waited.  He thought about turning the inverter on, but was concerned about how long the outtage would last so he just read, looked at his phone, and tried to stay awake.  Around 6:30am he heard back that a tech was on his way and the service guy from the generator company was onsite by 9am.  At this point, it was clear it was going to be a muggy, but overcast day so Lee still just hung out with no power.

The service tech spent about an hour diagnosing the problem and eventually stated he had never seen this particular issue before and they would have to replace the service trailer.  Unfortunately, that also meant a new water tank since those two items are on the same trailer.  He did state that he would make sure and scrub the tank out since he knew we had issues with the water before, but obviously this was a concern.  Still, the guy was very nice and since they were jumping on the problem Lee just let it play out.  Around 11:30am they were back with a new generator and a new tankful of water.  We were both pretty impressed by their turnaround time, especially considering how long things took in the beginning, and I am happy to say everything is working great.  We have power, the water is flowing just fine, and things are back to normal.  The only negative is Lee spent his whole 8 hour morning of quiet time dealing with this and I didn’t really get any decent sleep. But truly, it was handled beautifully and we couldn’t ask for more responsiveness.

I wish I was the kind of person who could change her sleep schedule easily because for the next 8 days I could technically sleep in the night-time and since I was up most of the night now would be a good time to do it.   But Lee and I both think that is a bad idea, so I am going to continue staying up all night even though there is no traffic at all.  I am trying to take advantage of the time and have started writing the book about how we became full timers.  I am viewing it as sort of companion piece to the blog and the format allows me to go into more detail, especially about the early stages.  To that end  I have spent some time trying to remember the sequence of events and have reread journal entries and forum posts.  One of the problems is that we kept it a secret in the beginning, so although my early posts don’t lie, they definitely do not tell the whole story.  I was able to be much more honest in the RV-Dreams forum though, and have gone back and found some very interesting posts from the early days that have helped me put together a mental picture of where I was at back then. (I have to say that that entire year was really unpleasant and awful. Here we had made this huge decision and were excited about a whole new life, and we had to keep it a secret. That’s no small task in a small town. Our kids knew, and I told two people that I trusted completely, but other than that it was like the Manhattan project. I do not like lies, or people who lie, and that entire process made me very unhappy and miserable. – Lee)

Oh, and on a completely different note, I am dying to get some Pizza Hut pizza.  Sometimes you just want to order in food, and doing that on the road usually requires pick up.  The closest Pizza Hut is 30 minutes away, and of course they don’t deliver.  When I get these cravings (usually for Pizza or Chinese) I try to tell myself not to spend the money but it’s hard.  I’ll usually hold out for a few days and then after obsessing usually break down and go ahead and get it.  I always feel very conflicted about these food purchases, because unlike an “experience” dining event they feel pretty wasteful.  Plus in a case like this where we are making $125 a day it’s hard not to translate $25 worth of pizza into 5  hours worth of work.  That way lies madness though, at least for me.  If I looked at purchases like that I would never buy anything.  It’s important to remember that we are working off a larger budget and we do have money set aside for this. Of course that needs to be balanced with not overdoing it in any spend category, but sometimes you just have to give yourself a little treat.  My feelings about this particular budget line item surprise me more than any other because not so long ago I lived a life where I routinely spent money on convenient food.  When I traveled for work, that is all I ate.  Now every purchase has to be really considered and sometimes to be honest it bugs me.  I can be honest enough with myself though to recognize that I blew a ton of money on this in my former life, which I wish I could have back.  (I used to spend a ton of money on Chinese food, and I still have the result of most of it. I carry it with me everywhere I go. Physique by General Tso. – Lee) I have to find a way to separate out when I am being lazy and when I truly have a craving, because there is a difference.  And yes, I know these are “First World Problems”, but it doesn’t change the fact that it can be a struggle. So today I choose to get the pizza and enjoy it.  Lee said he will eat something in the freezer, which will actually make is closer to $15 and only 3 hours worth of work.  See, it’s crazy!

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.  Search here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes

Time vs Money vs Quality of Life

Now that we have worked on four different work kamping jobs in a row I wanted to take a step back and talk about how things were going in general.  This post (as many of them do) actually comes out of a conversation Lee and I had along those same lines.  It’s easy to look at every job as a unique set of circumstances (and I am trying to do exactly that in my “First Time” posts), but it’s also important to not get so caught up in the immediate that we lose sight of the big picture.

I think it’s fair to say at this point that this life looks very different than we both expected it to. We didn’t start this life just because we wanted to travel (although there is nothing wrong with that), we chose it because we wanted to improve our quality of life.  For a long time we believed that when you looked at life as a triangle of money/time/quality we could only pick two.  But we thought with this life and “coloring outside the lines” we might get all three. And because I like pictures, our old life looked something like this.

Obviously these categories are completely subjective, but since we are judging our life, subjective is really the only thing that matters. We had lots of money, very little time, and the quality was so-so. These are oversimplifications, of course.  Defining quality of life in particular is challenging, and personally we include both work and home life in this equation.  Some people would feel differently of course, but again, our life, our definitions.


                                                 OLD LIFE

This is our frame of reference.  And since we spent a solid 10 years living in that reality, it’s what we are comparing our current life to.  And I think it’s important to do that once in a while.  Not only because this is so new, but also because it’s easy for two people to not be experiencing the same thing.  I thought that might be the case with Lee and I, so that is what prompted the conversation.  But let’s go back a little.

The first year we spent on the road I kept my corporate job and Lee worked on getting his business started.  Working the corporate job on the road radically changed the time category from red to yellow.  We did more things because we were geographically closer to them on the weekends, and we had more energy for it.  Quality of life also vastly improved although we did have additional stress from working and moving that kept it in the yellow but closer to the green.  The money of course was stayed green.  That triangle looked like this.


                                          MOBILE CORPORATE JOB

After I quit my corporate job I continued to get paid for quite a while as part of the buyout, and we did some volunteer jobs (that was awesome), but eventually took our first work kamping job camp hosting in Alaska. I didn’t write a summary for that one (although I did write a summary on visiting Alaska), but it was a pretty good experience.  The quality of life was very good, the money was good, and although we worked slightly different shifts we had time to see things.  Lee really liked what he was doing, and my job got better as I settled in.  So far it is the closest we have come to experiencing “green” in all three categories and the triangle would look something like this.


                                        ALASKA CAMP HOSTING 

We made enough money to cover our costs and saw amazing things.  Time is only yellow, because obviously we would have loved more time off to explore, but that would have impacted our money.  Of course we were jealous of our friends who traveled there and didn’t have to work at all, who wouldn’t be, but even taking that out of the equation I would still give it a yellow because we were on slightly different shifts. We could have changed that by moving Lee to 11-8 with me, but still working a swing shift did reduce the amount of things we could do on work days.  The longer daytime hours really helped with that though, and overall even this category was closer to green than red.

Next was the beet harvest and I wrote a really solid summary of our experience there. The money was great (although this could be different in a different harvest year or piler yard) and there was absolutely no time.  Lee and I disagree on the quality, because we did different jobs.  He really liked being an operator (except when they changed pilers on us), but I struggled with being a helper.  As a couple I am giving it a yellow though, which may surprise some people, but I was never bored, and that goes a long way for me towards making a quality experience.  Plus I was in the best physical shape of my adult life when we ended, which is no small thing.  Call it an orange for me, but for Lee definitely a yellow, so I am moving it into the yellow category for us as a couple.


                                       BEET HARVEST

Then there was Christmas trees, which we both hated.  I wrote my summary here and unlike beets and Alaska, which have gotten better in my memories with some time, this has actually gotten worse. Again, totally subjective, but no time, so-so money, and the quality of life was terrible mainly because we were working so hard and simultaneously uncertain about what was going to happen.  Terrible way to live.


                                          CHRISTMAS TREES

And now gate guarding.  Two weeks in, I think we have seen enough to rate this experience (preliminary at least).  The money is so-so, time is great, but quality of life only so-so.  We are in an uninteresting place, somewhat at the mercy of the elements, and because of the opposite shifts can’t go anywhere together.  The work itself is easy though, boring but easy, and because we work from the rig we are able to accomplish chores during our work day.  All of that combines to raise quality from a red to a yellow in our minds, pushing it closer to green.  I say that with the understanding that the weather has been absolutely great.  Give me several days of bad weather and it would push it more down into towards the red. This is where we are right now though.


                                          GATE GUARDING

So what are we looking for?  And are we being too picky?  Trust me, it’s a question we ask ourselves all of the time.  Obviously we would love to see this, but maybe we don’t get that.


                                           IDEAL LIFE

I certainly never had it in my old life.  Never even expected it, to be honest, but this life…well we thought it would be different.  That’s not totally true.  I was pretty skeptical from day one it was possible, but I believed in the dream enough to quit my job to try and find it.  And we certainly haven’t given up hope. We believe it is certainly possible, at least for short periods of time, and that is more than we ever had in our old life.

And for the record I still don’t regret giving up my old job at all, and as of today’s conversation Lee doesn’t regret giving up his either.  We both believe that taking these jobs will allow us to improve some areas of our work personalities.  Lee says it’s like the movie Groundhog Day. We get to try new things out without having our mistakes follow us like in a typical job.  Also, being put into all these different work environments with different types of bosses really stretches us, usually in a good way.  Plus Lee feels he is beyond the need for external validation (I’m still working on getting there), and that allows the conversation to really be about the work.

Lastly, I know our situation is different than most people.  Lots of folks look at these jobs as “fillers” or extra income and as such their rating systems would be totally different.  Others are just biding their time until their retirement and/or investments kick in.  For us though, at 48 and 50, we need to continue to take the long view.  For us it’s not just about whether the lifestyle is financially viable long-term, but also whether or not our quality of life (on balance) has improved.  It may be a simplistic way of looking at things, but over the last year we have had less red in our lives (Christmas Trees aside). That’s a good thing.

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

First Time Gate Guarding – Setting Up

After we left the service center, with our furnace fixed, and our jack and axle issue awaiting word from the warranty company, it was late enough that we didn’t want to attempt driving down to Padre Island, so we went back to Leisure Resort Campground and stayed one more night. Since we checked in after 5pm, they asked if we could pay in the morning when they opened the office at 10am and we were happy to comply.  Super nice people at this campground, and the price was great at $22 with the Passport America discount. Plus as a bonus we got a visit from a really great cat.  I, of course, thought he should join our adventure, but Lee is holding firm on his no pet policy.  We did get some nice petting time in though and I fed the cat some tuna and milk which should hold it for awhile.  He actually seemed like he was in pretty good shape, so he could be from a local farm. (This cat is bold. When I came out in the pre dawn to smoke and have my first coffee, he jumped right on my lap and began negotiating to live with us. Nope. – Lee)


Kitty Came to visit


Jumped right into Lee’s lap 🙂


Beautiful morning sunrise to start the day

So we took our time in the morning, packed up and headed out.  We were less than 5 minutes into our drive to Padre Island when we got a phone call from the gate guarding company we have been working with that they had a job starting tomorrow!  We originally applied with the company back in November (see post here), but although we had been in contact with them we had pretty much given up on getting a job in the near future.

The oil industry has scaled way back over the last year and a half, and although they are expecting things to ramp up again, no one knew when these new contracts would start rolling in.  There are lot of ads out there right now, but everyone seems to be building their list of folks for the upcoming expected boom, but nothing solidified yet.  Knowing that,  we continued to work on getting our licenses, mine came in right before Christmas and Lee’s actually came in Monday, but we were also looking at other options.  We looked at Work Kamper Newsour “go to” first,  but most of the available jobs were minimal or no pay.  We applied to a couple with no response which makes sense because many RV’rs are looking for work in the same few areas of the country.

After striking out there I started exploring other avenues.  I will say looking for temporary jobs is very different than the professional job searches I have done in the past, so different resources are called for.  I checked out Craig’s List searching for contract jobs, but since you have to put in a specific area I found these pretty difficult.  I looked at, again looking for temporary jobs, but most of those jobs were either temp to perm or frankly I was completely unqualified for because they required a skill I did not have.  We also reached out to others in the RV community and did hear about some concession jobs working at Houston and San Antonio Texas rodeos that Aramark had in February and March.  (We missed the deadline to apply to work at the Superbowl! That’s the sportsball game made famous by Andy Griffith. If you are unfamiliar with football, as I am, then please do yourself a favor and listen to this, it explains it very well. – Lee)  One good thing about the Aramark job was they did have a stipend for campgrounds, but the bad part was that you were on your own finding one.  Still it was a possible option, but I wasn’t getting a great feeling from anything I looked at.  Temporary jobs just aren’t as common as they used to be, or maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places, and we were even talking about going to an employment agency, but again “where” came into play.  It’s one thing to look for a job if you know where you want to be, but quite another with a more open ended location, and truly I was just getting frustrated by the whole thing but trying not to make myself too crazy.

So that was our state of mind when the call came in, so we jumped at the chance even though it was only $125 a day for a 24/7 shift, with no idea how long the contract would last.  Yes, the job was on the low side of the pay scale, but it would come very close to covering our budget, and more importantly we would get to experience gate guarding and see if it was for us.  (Plus, most gate gigs are 24/7, so you aren’t out spending a lot. – Lee) So we made a U-turn the first chance we got and drove 2-1/2 hours to the town of Dilley, Texas.  Dilley is pretty small (population 4,070), but it has a small convenience store, dollar store, laundry mat, and a couple of restaurants.  Since it’s right off I-35 it’s only about 20 minutes to the nearest town that has a Walmart and large grocery and a small hospital.  We are located on a small (for Texas) ranch about 5 minutes outside of town and this is very unusual as most of the gate guarding jobs are in much more remote locations.  We also have decent ATT wifi, which is great, and they are bringing us a booster because their tablets are ATT also, which is very good as well.  But I am jumping ahead on the story.  Let me back up a bit.

Day 1

We headed in that direction, and the company sent an Account Manager down to meet us.  We ended up meeting her at a local Phillips 66 truck stop (there weren’t many places we could fit our rig while waiting) and the Account Manager went out to the site to see if our pad was ready.  Unfortunately they were still working on it (they add a lot of dirt and gravel, roll it down, wet it, and roll it again to give you a nice level pad) so she came back and talked to us.  We had two choices.  Stay on the ranch, near the field, or stay at one of their (the gate guard company) office locations.  Since we were all set up for boondocking (water in the tank, full propane tanks, etc) we decided to just stay at the ranch.  First she drove us out to make sure we could get in and turn around and then we followed her back out.  The spot was actually super nice and we were set up in no time. After giving us a warning to watch out for rattlesnakes (!), she said she would see us at 7am.

Road we drove down on the ranch

Road we drove down on the ranch

Nice site for one night

Nice site for one night. There is collapsed homestead behind us, that’s where the power lines go.

The next morning the Account Manger came and got us and we drove up to the gate.  They were just finishing up the pad and we started talking about where exactly to place our rig when the trailer with the fresh water tank, generator, and light tower arrived.  Our pad is on the smaller side, and we wanted to make sure it was as far as we could get it from both the trucks coming in, and the generator (which runs 24/7 unless we want to turn it off during the day) so we started to talk it through.  In the past we would have rushed through something like this, but we both know how important it is to be comfortable in your space, and it’s a pretty big pain to change once you are all set up.  The Account Manager was very patient with us, allowing us to take all the time we needed, and she started checking trucks in for us as they started to arrive.  Eventually we picked a spot and got the service trailer in place, plus the black water tank was delivered as well so that was all hooked up.

The flat bed with water tanks, diesel fuel, generator, and lights

The flat bed with water tank, diesel fuel, generator, and lights

The generator engine

The generator engine

Black tank. The company added the PVS pipe which was nice

Black tank. The company added the PVC pipe, which was nice

Everything was going pretty well at this point.  We are extremely level, the generator (which we both had major concerns about) was far enough away that it wasn’t too loud, there were no smells from the black tank or generator, and water was hooked up. I was learning the job and it seemed pretty straightforward.  Log truck in, log them out, and be friendly.  There was more to it of course, but compared to what we have been doing recently, pretty simple. (And no heavy lifting, or getting pine needles in our underwear. Don’t ask. – Lee)  Everyone was super nice and very chill, and I was definitely liking the vibe of the whole thing. The first thing that went wrong was the lighting mast. In the picture of the service trailer you can see the lighting mast sort of laying down on the top of the generator. There is a hand crank and a wench that pulls a cable to move the mast to an upright and vertical position, then another crank that telescopes the mast to about 30′ in the air. Steve was cranking it to the vertical position when the cable broke, and the mast fell back down. So someone will be coming out tomorrow to repair that, and in the meantime, they are bringing another smaller trailer with just lights and a generator so we can have lighting tonight. It’s really, really dark out here at night.

Our gate. We temporarily worked out of the back of the Account Managers truck until we got setup

Our gate. We temporarily worked out of the back of the Account Managers truck until we got set up

Then we ran into a problem.  We had discussed how we would handle any issues if they came up the evening before and were going with our new plan of talking it through and seeing what the response was, instead of waiting to see how things turned out.  Since this was a brand new site, as most gates are, we expected there to be some issue or another, and for us it was the fresh water.  We were told the water was NOT potable, only suitable for showering, and dishes, but the tanks weren’t certified, so the water shouldn’t be used for drinking.  (I am one of those people that worries less about water than most. I won’t drink water that is clearly not safe, but generally I trust it, and I’ve never had a problem. – Lee) OK, not perfect, but we had two filters, plus we could add bleach to the tank and we definitely thought we could make that work.  Unfortunately, when we tried running the water through our system the filter clogged up within 10 seconds, and the pressure dropped to zero. Lee cleaned it, and again, it clogged up very quickly. At this point we knew something was very wrong.  It turns out that the tank, (which we were told was scrubbed and sanitized prior to receiving it) has algae and the algae was clogging things up.  Let me show you a couple of pics.

This amount was after 10 seconds of the water running

This amount was after 10 seconds of the water running

Water straight from tank

1/2 gallon of water straight from the tank

Just to be clear, the problem wasn’t the city water the company was putting in the tank, but the tank that the third party vendor provided.  At this point I went in to take a nap for the evening shift so Lee dealt with it from there.  Folks were concerned, but no one was exactly sure how to solve the problem.  Most people just remove the filters and mesh screens from their rigs to prevent the clogging, but we had discussed it and were not willing to do that.  Once the particles got into our rig, then we could have clogs throughout the system.  And just to be super clear, water was included in the contract, but we weren’t holding the line on whether it was drinkable or not, but we both felt that it should be clean enough to flow through our system.  Lee was very polite and helpful, but firm that the problem needed to be solved.  (My mantra was “it doesn’t need to be potable, but it does need to flow. – Lee) We even offered to use our fresh water tank, but since they would have to fill it every three days instead of weekly, they weren’t crazy about that option.

They came out and rinsed and scrubbed it again, but we had the same issue

They came out and rinsed and scrubbed it again, but we had the same issue. (Worst mechanical bull ever. – Lee) 

Eventually the account manager pitched it back to the vendor to solve (where the problem belongs, in my opinion) and we are waiting to see what happens tomorrow.  Apparently all of their water tanks are in this type of shape and he thinks he would need to buy a brand new one to make this work.  The vendor did say he could bring a 150 gallon tank out as a temporary solution tomorrow and then try to get approval for purchasing a new one.  Frankly I am not surprised this isn’t an issue for more people, but maybe it’s just us. In any event, I feel we handled it appropriately but only time will tell. Either way, it is much better than the alternative of just accepting it and then being unhappy for the next couple of months.

After 6pm when the water vendor left things really slowed down.  We didn’t have any more trucks, but the ranch down the road had still had some throughout the night.  We aren’t sure how busy we will be at night here, but someone still needs to be available, so we have decided to split the evenings.  I am going to work 4pm – 4am and Lee will work 4am – 4pm.  That way I get to go to bed in the dark and fall asleep while it’s still reasonably quiet and he gets some quiet time in the morning as well.  (And of course there’s a lot of overlap where we’re both awake, which is basically noon-9pm – Lee) We will also be able to eat dinners together because it will be lunch time for me and dinner time for him.  Not sure how it will work out, and we are certainly open to changing it, but we wanted to give this a try.

Since I have the night shift I was a little worried about the dark since we were warned about both rattlesnakes and illegal immigrants.  Rattlesnakes are out early this year, but will hopefully stay away from the area because they don’t like the vibration from the generator.  If they are not close just leave them alone, but it was recommended we use a hoe to push them out of the way if we see one in our direct path.  Since we don’t own a hoe we were given a baseball bat by one of the guys who works for the company which was super nice of him, but I think we are going to get a hoe at the local dollar store if they are cheap. (I’ll be looking for a 35 ft hoe. – Lee) The gate guarding positions in areas close to the border are all manned by police officers or retired police, and they are armed, so obviously this can be serious, but we are being told it is unlikely because we are on the east side of 35 (apparently that is a dividing line of some sort).  If we do see something we were told to be careful not to provide food or water of any kind because “word would get out” and we would become a routine stop. If they need medical attention call 911 but otherwise tell them we will call border patrol.   I’m pretty uncomfortable with the whole thing, so am glad we have such a well lit area.  It’s just part of the deal, and I do appreciate the clear direction on what to do even if the scenarios are unlikely.

Newly painted gate lit up at night

Newly painted gate lit up at night

Light beam allows us to know when a truck pulls up. Works pretty good

Light beam allows us to know when a truck pulls up. Works pretty good.  We have one on inside and one on outside

We can adjust the lights later, but for now we are all lit up which is not the worst thing

We can adjust the lights later, but for now we are all lit up which is not the worst thing.  Apparently animals will check us out the first couple of days and then give us a wide berth, so having the lights keeps them at bay as well.  Later we can aim them on the gate and hopefully less on us.

First night went well.  I didn’t get any trucks, although the busier gate down the road had a few an hour overnight.  I enjoyed the quiet, to be honest.  Been a long time since I had this much quiet time.  It was nice.  I also got a ton done.  I applied for Amazon for Lee and I for next year, wrote this blog post, got caught up on email, and watched The Bachelor, which Lee is not a fan of, so I always try to find time to watch alone.  Will see how it works long term, but so far so good.

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First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Hiring Employees and More Trees

One of the most difficult things about this job so far has been the hiring of employees.  Since Lee was specifically told in the interview process that “employees would just show up” and that has definitely NOT been the case for us, I want to walk you through what has been happening.  It’s important, because many people simply don’t want to deal with this sort of thing and since I have spent most of this week doing exactly that I think it’s worth a deeper look.  Here’s a chronological list of how this has played out.

  • We unpacked the trailer and put up our help wanted signs.  Once the signs were up we started to get some walk up traffic.  Since the gates weren’t always open though people came and didn’t know how to get our attention.  I ended up putting the cell phone number for the phone we were given on the sign, so people would have a number to call and let us know they were outside.  Just to be clear though this was not hordes of people.  We had maybe 6 people walk up, but you needed to be vigilant for it so you weren’t surprised or didn’t miss anyone.  Other more established lots had as many as 30 people walk up though, so this can definitely vary depending on where you were located and how years the tent has been in that location. I hired 2 walk-ups, one of which eventually told me he was going to get more hours at his regular job and couldn’t work.
  • We were given all of last years applications.  There were only 7 and eventually when people didn’t come I called the numbers.  3 numbers were disconnected and I left 4 messages.  One returned phone call resulted in a rehire, one returned the call stating they had moved, but I never heard from the other two.
  • When we received our first shipment of trees and I only had two people, I started to get panicky.  I was directed to put a Facebook ad on a garage sale site for the local area and a craigslist ad.  The Facebook ad resulted in numerous phone calls and 1 hire.  The quality of people I was talking to was generally very good through the Facebook Ad and usually they weren’t interested because the amount was to low.  We are paying $8 which is on the high end of the scale, many others are only paying minimum wage.  The other reason was availability.  It was hard for me to be very specific about the hours at this point, and since most of these folks had another job, I really needed weekends at least for availability.
  • That takes me to the Craiglist Ad.  The first couple of days I was inundated with texts and phone calls.  In general these folks (at least in how they communicated) less appealing.  There were exceptions of course, I made one good hire this way, but I talked to tons of people who were in some cases borderline rude.  For the phone conversations there were kids in the background, loud TV’s, and folks having multiple conversations.  They wanted to know pay and hours and I wanted to know availability and good they lift over 50 pounds consistently.  Many of these interactions never got beyond this point, but they were still time consuming and the calls/texts went from morning until late evening.

Once I had vetted a person out on the phone I set up an interview.  I scheduled at least 10 in the first couple of days and at least half never showed up.  One missed the first interview, called to reschedule, I gave him a second chance and then blew me off a second time.  This was a problem, because it tied me to the tent during the time periods the person was supposed to be coming in. Since I had to stagger the interviews, I was “stuck” in readiness mode for several hours.  One morning all three of my interviews just didn’t show up and although I filled the time with inventory, watering trees, and organizing, I couldn’t just go into my rig and work on other things.  I also hired a couple of people who then blew me off when I tried to schedule them for their first day of work.

Again, I mention this because some people would have zero interest in this.  I think we might actually have packed up and left if Lee was having to do this.  I have some early work experience as a fast food manager so have done this sort of thing before, but it is not fun.  And it is especially not fun when you are under time pressure. At this point on Friday morning I have 4 hires and one more interviews scheduled.  I am still getting some calls from the Craigslist ad but only a couple a day and none of them were worth even scheduling an interview.  4 probably won’t be enough people, but I am honestly not sure.  I want to make sure I give enough hours to the people I have hired and if I over hire this could be a problem.  I also have no idea if they will actually stay with me until I see them work.

This has also been a problem as I need to know when trees are coming so I can schedule folks to train.  For whatever reason it has been extremely difficult to get solid info on when trees are coming so coordinating a training session has been tough.  Finally, I managed to communicate my problem to the owner and he worked with me to schedule a tree delivery later in the day.  So today at noon I have all 4 employees coming in and a load of trees.  It really shouldn’t be this hard to coordinate something like this, but I do understand I am only seeing things from my end. Still, I don’t have enough labor dollars to have people just waiting around and with limited availability can’t just call people with little notice to come in.  The larger lots have staff on hand most of the time during the setup process, but since we are a smaller tent, I didn’t feel right about having people here with nothing to do, plus I need to save those hours until we are actually open for business.

So this is our situation.  There is a lot of work to do. We have minimal employees to do it.  The two we have have been absolutely fantastic and I am so grateful for them, but it’s a ton of work even when I can get both of them at the same time.  I don’t know when to schedule people because I don’t know when deliveries are going to come.  And I am trying to hold onto my labor hours as much as possible.  The only way to solve this problem is for us to do most of the work.  Interestingly enough, I have heard that the other new couples are taking a different tact.  There are four new couples all together and they are all different in what they are willing to do themselves.  One couple in particular seems to have drawn a line in the sand and is using the warehouse staff to complete most of the tasks.  I get it. The only reason we are not doing that is Lee has the skill set to complete most of the tasks, I am not afraid of physical labor, and we really like the warehouse people they have sent us and it is not in our nature to stand around and watch other people work.  Still this whole thing could have been avoided by setting clear expectations regarding the setup workload, hiring of employees, and how many man hours we could use during the setup process.  I can understand why people would be frustrated.  I am frustrated.  And again please keep in mind none of us has any idea how much money we will ultimately make. It’s hard not to feel like we are being taken advantage of at this point.

An to further illustrate here is how Friday went.  We got the load of trees in at noon as promised.  One of my four employees got a flat tire and never came.  One of my four employees came briefly for training but had to leave because her other job had called her in.  The other two did fantastic, especially the young woman we hired who grew up on a ranch she was amazing.  The four of us unloaded the trailer which had roughly 42 trees on it which is harder than it sounds because these were the Nordman’s.  The Nordman’s are very dense and heavy and many of them were in the 8 foot range.  Once the trailer was unloaded we started processing them and with the four of us it took until 4:00pm to get 2/3 of the load done.  One good thing is it was 85 degrees with 87 percent humidity right before the delivery came and then miraculously the heat broke.  The temperature dropped significantly and the humidity feel to a reasonable 35 percent.  Thank heavens because even with some flaps up it is HOT in that tent and doing that in the heat would have been rough.

HEre's the batch of trees we received. Lifting some of these required two people

Here’s the batch of trees we received. Lifting most of these required two people.

And what our initial row looked like

And what our initial rows looked like once they were stood up

We sent one person home (she had started working her other job at 3am that morning) and then finally sent the fourth home at 5pm.  Lee and finished unbinding, measuring, and tagging the trees on the floor and were done by about 6pm.  Lee walked 13,000 steps today according to his Iphone app and my back is really unhappy with me.  At 5’4″, 130 pounds I am not really built for heavy lifting and some of those trees were very heavy.  I did the best I could though and we stopped when we had all had enough. I also managed to setup another interview for tomorrow and conducted an interview and hired someone in the middle of all that.  If we continue with the current rate of attrition though I don’t see the interview/hiring process ending anytime soon.

Then we got a call that said at 8am they would be dropping off 9 large trees all at least 9 feet and one 11′ and one 12′.  Based on today I knew we would need an employee and thankfully one of ours can come in, but it was a close thing.  Hopefully once these trees are up this will will get easier as we will be filling holes rather than an entire tent, but for right now it’s tough.  We are supposed to get at least two deliveries tomorrow, so should be a long day.

Well it’s the end of Saturday and instead of trying to explain how big these trees are why don’t I just show you.  The two biggest were 12-1/2 feet.  So here’s the pics. So for the quality of some, I was fighting the light and grabbing the shots in between working.

12-1/2 footer getting a D15 stand. The stand alone is over $150.

12-1/2 footer getting a D15 stand. The stand alone is over $150.

The stand is drilled into the tree

The stand is drilled into the tree

The guys pulling it out of the trailer. Around 250 pounds Greg thought

The guys pulling it out of the trailer. Around 250 pounds Greg thought

When it was stood up

When it was stood up

Then loaded onto a tree mule, which worked pretty good once you got it on their

Then loaded onto a tree mule, which worked pretty good once you got it on their

Wheeling it into the tent

Wheeling it into the tent

Moving to the front center of the tent

Moving to the front center of the tent

HEre's me in front of it

Here’s me in front of it

We had enough stands for 4 trees to go up and they were all absolutely beautiful.  Two went on the D20 stands and two on commercial stands with bracers that Lee drilled into the tree trunks. Once again Greg did a great job teaching us.  I have absolutely no complaints there.  Actually the whole big tree thing went well, although we could have used one more big guy.  It forces you to go slow (it took us 2 hours to process 4 trees) and everyone was super careful.  Plus it really makes the front of the tent a showplace, so even if we don’t sell any of these I am glad we have them.  Some folks don’t like them though because we get the exact same amount of commission on a 5 foot tree as we do on a 12 foot tree.  The sales of course get credited to you, but no extra for selling one of these big guys.  Still I am glad we have them, because I think lots of folks will have tree envy for the big ones and spend a little more on a smaller one.

Commerical stand on bracer

Commercial stand on bracer

HEre's an 11 footer on the drill machine. This was hard and took careful coordination

Here’s an 11 footer on the drill machine. This was hard and took careful coordination

Our four big ones all together

Our four big ones all together.  We have 5 more left to process but need to get more bracers

After that we all took a break and our 2nd employee came into work.  These two have been a godsend and are doing a fantastic job, but I am a little worried that we haven’t had more interviews.  I’ve fielded some calls and tried to set interviews up but nothing scheduled until tomorrow and Monday.  We all worked on finishing the Nordmann’s from yesterday and things were really starting to take shape when our next shipment came.  Unfortunately instead of getting the lighter Nobles we got 33 more Nordman’s which we really didn’t have room for.  So we had to start standing them in water in the back corner in a “back stock area”. Our tent is 20 feet shorter than most of the other ones, so we really don’t have much extra room and we had to call and tell the owner to not send another shipment that day.  By this time we were all pretty tired (the driver on the second trip wasn’t Greg and he doesn’t unload trees so it was just the four of us) and we stacked them, finished opening all the ones on the floor, and then I sent the employees home for the day.  You simply can’t have people doing this physical of labor constantly for more than 5 hours and frankly Lee and I couldn’t keep up the pace anyways.

Starting a Backstock area

Starting a Backstock area

More Nordmann's for tommorrow

More Nordmann’s for tomorrow

Lee and I took the time and went and visited both of the tree tents that were near us.  We were happy to see we were on the right track and neither one had made much more progress than us and they had more employees.  We both felt better and stopped at Applebee’s to celebrate.  I’ve been caring around a gift card for over a year, so it was a cheap meal and then we were back on the lot and opening for business by 5pm.  It’s not required that we open, but the other two lots were and I thought having the lights on for a little while would be a good thing.  No one came into the lot, but Lee did get the spotlights put on the sign and hopefully people saw the lights and will come in tomorrow.  From this point on when we are working, we are also open for business and we will see what kind of traffic that generates.  Our official opening date is the day after Thanksgiving, but most folks start a little early.  Anyways it was another long couple of days, but I feel really good about what we accomplished and the people we have so far.  Just pretty worried about getting more folks working soon.  Again, we will see how it goes and we four start again at 9am tomorrow to process more trees.

Open for the evening

Open from 5pm – 7pm

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First Time Selling Christmas Trees – Initial Setup and Training

As I stated in the last post, we made arrangements to meet with someone from the company and arrived at our lot.  In our case, the tent and fencing was already in place and it took some maneuvering to get our rig into place, but with help Lee did a great job fitting us into the spot.  The tent is quite large and the fence goes beyond the tent in the back with a little section for our rig.  My biggest concern was our rig would be right on the main road, but this is definitely not the case, and for the other setups we have seen, they are not on the road either.  This company has 15 locations in the San Antonio and surrounding areas, and many of the people who work for them come back year after year.  We did need quite a bit of hose though, and thankfully Lee always carries extra.  The water spigot was pretty far away, but the water pressure is still good despite the hose length and it is city water which is nice.


Our tent with trailer.  Felt a little bit like I had joined the circus


The space where out RV is in relation to the tent.


The gas station next door. The manager is very nice. He came over and introduced himself


The light from the car wash lights our outside area all night. Since our bedroom is in the back, it isn’t that big of a deal and is really good from a safety perspective

Saturday,  we drove into San Antonio for training at the warehouse and it was clear this was a mature operation.  The owners have been doing this for 30 years and own the tree farm in Oregon along with living here during the Holidays.  After some initial chatting with folks, Lee and I were separated into two different groups.  He went with the men to learn about the care and setup of the trees and I stayed with the women and learned about the paperwork aspect of the job.  As a general rule I am not a huge fan of division of labor by sex, but in this particular case I kind of understood it.  These trees can be as large as 16 feet and and can weigh 175 pounds.  So, the division of labor seems to be based more on physical strength than aptitude.  That being said, I had three returning managers in my training session and they talked about carrying trees.  So although there may be an initial division of labor, it sounds like it’s all hands on deck when things get busy.

Our group jumped right in and started going through the detail.  I received a huge, hard backed three ring binder and several other folders with Lot #12 specific information.  We were encouraged to ask questions and the returning managers jumped in frequently to add more information, and to be honest in the beginning it was a little overwhelming.  The main problem was I completely misunderstood what this was.  My only experience with Christmas trees was buying them from small, corner lots when they were small.  This company is NOT the same as those.  We will be providing 4 types of trees and they are all hand selected by the owner.  Every tree comes with a warranty to live through Christmas as long as they are cared for properly and since they are “high end” trees their care is important.  One of the main things we learned was the timing of when they are fresh cut and watered and there is relatively small window of time when the tree can leave the lot and be put up and in water at the person’t house.  We also sell wreaths, garland, custom made stands, preservatives, floor protective coverings, and watering spouts. Some of these items I had never seen before (I was not alone in that) and others were much more high tech than what I remember from the past.

Along with products we also sell services which include flocking (spraying the tree or wreaths with a paper pulp product that looks like snow), tree delivery, and tree setup.  Along with the overview of these items, we covered in detail different types of coupons and gift certificates, the nightly 3-page sheet that I have to fill out, and cash/credit card accounting.  We also spent a significant amount of time talking about hiring, scheduling, and managing the temporary employees.  After 6 hours my head was full and I went home with my cash register to practice on and an arm full of documentation to read.  I also took an additional 4 pages of notes that included best practices from the more experienced managers that were there.  It was about as different an experience as one could be from the beet harvest.  This company gives you the tools and guidelines to sell the trees, but also encourages independent thought and ideas.  The atmosphere is very entrepreneurial and best practices and new ideas were all openly discussed and encouraged.  I was very impressed by this, but in many ways this presents it’s own set of challenges.

I spent my career working for large corporations and have little experience in owning my own business.  We are learning with Lee’s video and RV Tech business, but this is still not a strong area for me.  This will definitely challenge me though, and I walked away thinking this would be good for me as I will get a chance to stretch those “muscles” a bit.  Plus the pay structure is designed (flat rate with commission) to encourage out of the box thinking.  With that much openness though there is also ambiguity and you should keep that in mind before considering one of these positions. If you are a person who likes a very specific set of job duties and regular daily routine, this may not be the job for you.  We are managers in the truest sense and expected to deal with most issues autonomously.  We were given mentors (the other tent in New Braunfels) and thankfully the smallest operation in the group.  Actually, I was really glad about that.  I like a challenge, but the complexity of the operation is intimidating enough that I was happy our tree sale volume may actually be half what the busier lots is.  Plus with a low set of expectations regarding sales, it’s much easier to succeed than competing with a very successful previous year.

Most importantly I liked the people.  Everyone was very nice, and genuinely said “Call me if you need anything.”  We were handed a list of everyone’s phone numbers and so far folks have made themselves available to answer questions.  That may change once we get busier, but my plan is to learn everything I can in advance.  The cash register has a training mode, and there is lots of documentation to dig into that will keep me busy.  So what’s next?  Our trailer was delivered Sunday and a team of people will be coming sometime this week to help set everything up.  I also have several other business items that were put on hold during the beet harvest that need to be taken care of.  Cori and Greg hit town on Thursday and if it ever quits raining we would like to find time to do a little exploring.  There’s definitely plenty to do, and the main trick has been not letting it overwhelm us, but to try and tackle things in some sort of systemic way.  I feel like we made good progress on that today, so I am taking a little break and writing this post.  Now I need to get back to my to do list.

Oh and here’s a few potential challenges  I learned about selling Christmas trees.  I thought were interesting.

  • The trees are roughly one year older than their height.  So a 7 foot tree was planted 8 years ago.  That makes the current supply of trees dependent on what the growers projected in the past.  It’s interesting, because the availability of trees does change from year to year and is somewhat cyclical.
  • Fire ants are a problem here.  They can get into the trees and that’s not good.  I have spent some time, treating every ant hill I can find, but there are lots of them.  Hopefully the treatment works and this is a non issue.
  • Feral cats can be a problem.  We have two that regularly hang out at night in the car wash next to us and in the past people have had them climb into trees or even spray on them.  The key is to make sure all trees are inside the tent at night.  Flocking is done in the open air, so these will need to be moved inside before we close.
  • The whole Happy Holidays versus Merry Christmas is still a thing when selling trees.  When I was in a corporate environment working with people of many different faiths and cultures I was always careful to tell people to enjoy their holidays, but I think if they are buying a Christmas tree a “Merry Christmas” should come along with it.  Plus here in Texas the sentiment is firmly in the camp of not “taking Christ out of Christmas” and you can offend people if you say Happy Holidays instead.  I have always felt the whole argument was silly, personally, but I will be extra careful to say Merry Christmas in greetings.
  • If the local power goes out you could find yourself doing things by hand.  Since we have solar and a generator, we could run an extension cord from our rig and keep going.  That may seem obvious, but I am glad they said it because I may not have thought of that in the heat of the moment.
  • It’s super important to immediately tag and move a tree that is being placed on hold.  If the tree isn’t tagged you could forget which one.  Not cool.  If it isn’t moved to the back, all of sudden people want to buy it and that could become an issue.  I get it as the kids and I spent way too much time trying to find the “perfect” tree.  To find it and then lose it would have been very upsetting.
  • Service animals can be a challenge.  By law you are not allowed to ask people about their dogs, so people bring them into the lot with expected results.  Dogs and trees often equals peeing.  Some of these trees are very expensive and you can’t easily get the urine smell out of the tree.  Again, hopefully this is a non-issue, but will have to see how it goes.  If people carry their dogs that solves the problem, but not everyone is willing to do that. (Technically, you are only allowed to ask two things of a person with a service dog. 1) Is it a service dog? and 2) What task or work has it been trained to perform. That’s it. Nothing else. Also, interestingly, a business has the right to charge the customer for an item if it is damaged by the animal. So this is a non-issue. – Lee) 
  • Not surprisingly constant cell phone usage is a problem with the younger work force. I am not sure there is any perfect solution for this one, but it should be addressed in the interview process. (I am 100% certain of the solution. No cell phone use while they’re on the clock. This is part time, seasonal work, and if they can’t go two or three hours without access to their phone, they can work somewhere else. I’m paying them for their time. All of it. – Lee)
  • We don’t offer colored flocking, but I guess people can put food coloring in a spray bottle and lightly mist the flocking to make colors.  You can’t get deep colors that way, but I am told the pastels come out nicely. (We do offer glitter on the flocking. It’s my understanding that flocking is messy operation, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to look like the ugliest stripper in the San Antonio area. – Lee)
  • Speaking of flocking,  people like to touch it, and since it is paper it can get ruined that way.  So we are going to have a small demo, flocked tree for people and kids to touch and Do Not Touch signs for the others.  Since I didn’t know touching the flocking damaged it, I understand why it’s necessary, but I wish there was a friendlier way to say it than Do Not Touch.  Maybe I will come up with something. (How about “Touching This Stuff Ruins It. Why Do You Hate Christmas?” ? – Lee)

That’s some of the more generic things I learned, and since none of it is specific to their process, I felt comfortable sharing it.  I think the overwhelming message here is “Who knew selling Christmas Trees was this complicated?”

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No Feelings of Resentment

I know, it’s an odd title for a post, but hopefully it will make sense in a minute.  One of our big concerns about taking a work kamping job for the entire summer was that would we feel resentful about the job because it was “keeping us” from seeing the beautiful stuff.  We spent hours talking to people about this possibility, and a large part of the reason we chose Alaska for our work kamping job was because we felt the more dramatic the location the less likely we would feel resentful.  Keep in mind that we’ve spent the last five months doing mostly what we wanted, and that’s how most people in this lifestyle like it.  And although we picked Alaska, we knew we weren’t staying in one of the tourist destinations, like Denali.  Several people who used to live here said, “Why would you go to Glenallen?” or “It’s the most boring place in Alaska.”  Seriously, lots of people were concerned both by our choice of work kamping for the summer and by where in Alaska we were choosing to park for four months.

Consequently we were a little nervous.  Maybe we would feel resentful, or unhappy, or “stuck” because we couldn’t do whatever we wanted.  It turns out that that hasn’t been the case at all.  I know it’s still early (we are only just starting week 3 here), but so far neither one of us feels that way at all.  On the contrary, we really like the work we are doing.  Both of us feel like it’s a fair days work for a fair day’s pay, and we get to do it in a beautiful place with truly spectacular weather.  I am sure there are more breathtaking places in Alaska, but it’s pretty amazing right here.  I freely admit a huge part of that is the way that Darlene and Marc are treating us. We have been working in all aspects of the campground, and the little improvements we have been allowed to make are really rewarding.  When someone borrows a DVD for the night, or grabs a book, I feel great about that.  When I complete a section with the weed eater, I get immediate satisfaction because it looks so much nicer.  There is plenty of work, and we go to sleep tired and satisfied with a job well done, which is no small thing.  In my corporate job I often experienced feelings of “Am I really making a difference?”, but here the difference we’re making is immediate and noticeable.  Plus, Darlene and Marc truly seem to appreciate our help.  They are not falling all over themselves or anything (which is good because that makes us uncomfortable anyway), but they take the time to express their gratitude for what we’re doing. They also are really concerned that we have a good time while we are here.  They are keeping an eye on our experience outside of work and as much as possible making sure that we are having a good time.

Having said all that, I am really struggling with the transition from working for a large corporation to a small business.  All of my adult work experience was for 2 extremely large corporations, and I liked it that way.  There were rules, tons and tons of them, and over time I learned how to navigate the complicated environment.  When I would get frustrated by how long change took,  I would think longingly of working for a smaller company where changes could be implemented quickly.  As a “change agent” the bulk of my job was talking people into making changes, implementing those changes, and then monitoring the results.  I liked it very much, but sometimes it felt like I was pushing a big boulder up a hill. Now I am in a situation where change is relatively easy, but what I didn’t count on was a much higher level of ambiguity.  I never was very good with ambiguity, I always put it on my reviews as a self-improvement category, and it honestly never occurred to me that in a small business things would be so fluid.

At first I thought we were all just “settling in”, and maybe that is the case, but more likely it is the nature of a small business.  One of the major advantages of small businesses over large corporations is the ability to be nimble and respond quickly to changing business needs.   Here I am seeing that in action every day.  On the one hand it is heady stuff.  Having the ability to make a change and immediately see the impact, good or ill, on the customer and/or revenue stream.  On the other hand, it creates an environment where every day, or even every hour can be different. That’s new for me, and honestly I am still adjusting.  To be clear I am not talking about adapting to a customer need on the fly.  This I like and think I am very good at.  It is changes in how we do paperwork, close out the night, clean the bathrooms, etc, that leave me feeling uneasy.  A huge part of me yearns for the structure that I found so confining for all those years.  Contrary right? All in all this is a very good experience for me.  The odds are that we will be working in small business environments much more than with large corporations, and I need to learn how to function effectively in this world as well.  Luckily, since Lee has a lot more experience in this arena he has been helping me find my way.  And again, Marc and Darlene have been very understanding as I muddle through.

At this point you might be thinking “At your age why put yourself through all of that?”.  Well, unlike most of our peers, we always knew we would have to work on the road.  In order to travel as we wished, we also knew we would have to work in different capacities than we had in the past.  We could be resentful of the fact that we have to work at all and then transfer those feelings of resentment to any job we have, but what is the point in that?  I know some work kampers do that, and frankly, shame on them. We aren’t going to stop being who we are as workers simply because we make less money and have less responsibility.  At the end of every day we want to feel like we provided more value than the money we were paid, but we also need to leave the job at the end of the day.  That’s tough for both of us, but we are working on it.  Not everything is our problem to solve here, and the trick is recognizing that and being OK with it.  That really is the key, and at almost 50 this is not a skill I have ever been able to master.  I absolutely need to figure that out though, or I will start feeling resentful, and that would totally be on me.  No one is asking me to take that on, it’s just in my nature, but if I am going to make my life all about a job, I might as well go back to the corporate world. I went to a lot of trouble to leave all that behind.

Anyway, the work is good, the people are nice, and we are in a beautiful place.  We thought that combination would be enough for us, and so far it really is. To slightly change subjects though,  I should say that how we define a beautiful place may be different than other people.  The country is full of breathtaking vistas and many  RVers make a tour of them and after a few years are done. For me a beautiful place is about more than the view.  It’s about the people, the animals, the art, and the quirky little attractions we find along the way.  When you drive through a place and get out and take “the picture” you can say you were there and you experienced it, but the level of experience is quite different.  Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many, places where we have done just that, and that’s just fine, but as I have said before when you “live” in a place, the experience is different. The type of beauty you see is different.

How can I explain this?  Picture a beautiful landscape photograph of a mountain with a forest and a river in front of it. The overall scene is breathtaking, but there is also beauty in every little corner.  The flowers, the trees, the birds,  maybe an animal all live in one little corner.  You can kayak on the river, hike the trails, see the view at different times of day in different light and in different weather. That big, beautiful mountain scene is made up of many smaller little vignettes, and if you just jump out and take a picture, you will never get to experience any of that.  Not that it is all good of course.  There are bugs, overgrown trails, other people, and bad weather that can all get in the way of experiencing the area.  And it can be boring.  Some days I am out and everything I see has an innate beauty and other days I feel like if I see one more tree, rock, or whatever I will go crazy. I don’t love every landscape (there were whole sections of desert that I didn’t care for) and I don’t love every experience despite the beautiful setting (10 straight days of rain in the Redwoods comes to mind.). I get bored, frustrated, annoyed, and irritated just like before, sometimes all in one day.   The difference is on the whole I still have the feeling of “I can’t believe this is my life!”.  When I compare the “now” to the “before” it amazes me.  Three years ago the thought of me spending the summer working in Alaska was unthinkable.  Seriously, it would never have even crossed my mind as a possibility. And now that I am actually doing it, and for once in my life I am trying to really live in the moment of it.

I could spend my time focusing on the things that I don’t like, but why in God’s name would I do that to myself?  I could also Pollyanna, pie in the sky, gloss over the reality of the experience, but again, why?  I spent too many years of my life thinking about “someday” and that someday is here right now.  I have no expectation of perfection (Lee and I may differ in that respect).  All of the really great things in my life have come with some level of sacrifice (raising children comes to mind), and since I don’t expect perfect what do I have to be resentful of?  I know I am spending a lot of time on this, but so many people were genuinely concerned about us that I sort of feel like maybe I am missing something.  Or maybe it’s just too soon, and that’s fair.  We certainly do better when things are new than later down the road when the shiny wears off.  I hope not though.  I hope this is the start of a new way of seeing things, and a new way of living.

We will see, and as always, all I can do is be as honest with myself and all of you as I can bear to be.

But really, this doesn’t suck. At all.






ywhite-crowned sparrow


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