Thursday, December 13, 2012


Saturday, November 16, 2012

Our original plan had been to leave on Friday, Nov 15, 2012 at 8:00 am, but Gary had to work overtime all week and with the delay of doing the camper repair we found that we were just too tired to finish packing the last minute items on Thursday to leave on Friday morning.  So we worked on packing on Friday, doing final chores and then hit the road today about noon.

We had gone to bed exhausted and decided that since we were on “vacation” there was no need to rush.  After all we were not on a set time schedule.

So after hugging our son and critters good-bye we slapped the Sesame Street Alphabet tape in the truck player and as our family tradition has it sang “C is for Cookie” with Cookie Monster as we finally hit the road.

The first day we made it just past Weatherford, OK from our home just outside of Tulsa, OK.  We could have gone further, but we try very hard to not travel after dark.  We learned a long time ago that if you want a decent place to camp or boondock stopping early works better than stopping late.

We decided to boondock between Weatherford and Elk City at the Love’s just off of highway I 40 for the night.  As we ate our dinner of Wiener Wraps, pork ‘n beans and chips we discussed that it was suppose to be in the low 40’s that night which could be a little bit nippy to get up and take care of personal business during the night.  Campers are not that well insulated compared to your average home, for those of you who have never camped in a fifth wheel with slides. 

Even though the slides have snug fitting rubber gaskets around them air still seeps in and that makes it a little cooler in the winter.

But that was not a problem, after all we had two brand new batteries on the fifth wheel with which to run the furnace.  EXCEPT, while we were eating a semi pulled in next to us to park for the night and it became obvious to us that while we could run the sides out there was a good chance the semi would clip the bedroom one as he departed in the morning while we still in bed sleeping and that would be a heck of a wake-up alarm.

Besides we generally don’t run the slides out even for a few minutes when boondocking.  Because you are suppose to be just sleeping, not camping. 

The problem was that in order to turn the furnace on we had to run the slides out to get to the switch to do so.  So we mulled over our options:

1.   Move on to somewhere else to sleep

2.   Re-park further down in the lot and that was already filling up fast.  In fact as we discussed this option the one place we could have safely ran the slides out was taken by a semi.

3.   Go to a campground and pay for hook-ups.

4.   Tough out the temps and just put another blanket on the bed. I was not fond of this idea as I get up at least once every night for calls of nature.

5.   The final option I came up with after we had heavily discussed the other four.  Run the slide out, turn on the furnace and then run the slide back in, before the semi could pull out and clip it.

We went with number five. While I kept a close eye out for the semi driver getting behind the wheel, just in case he was just stopped for dinner and not the night,  Gary ran the two slides out, got the furnace going and then quickly ran the slides back in.  No problem. 

Of course that meant that we couldn’t get to our closet or clothing drawers the next morning, but we could at least get into bed and sleep warm. Which we did quite well.
Again for you non-camper types.  The way the slides are set-up on campers is they slide into the empty floor space while traveling.  In the case of the bedroom for our fifth wheel the bed is snug up against the built in bureau drawers directly across from the bed when the slides are out.  This also helps to keep the drawers from popping open as you go down our nation's fine highways.
The living room slide goes over the entertainment center that also contains the control panel for the furnace, air conditioner and the non-working read-out panels. 
You can still walk through the narrow space between the sofa, recliners and eat at the kitchen table, as well as cook in the kitchen when that slide is in, it's just a little more snug.

Sure enough the next morning all the semis were gone, so opening the slides back up to shut off the furnace and get a clean change of clothes was not a problem.

If you have never been to Weatherford, OK the big highlight we see as we come through this town on our many a trips down I-40 is the wind mills, there are hundreds of the big white giants sitting atop the numerous hills of the region.  Like silent sentinels they slowly turn and are fascinating to watch as you travel through the town.  We never bore of watching their majestic arms slowly turn in the wind. 

We always end up discussing the pros and cons of wind generators as we see such devices along the way as well.  There is the inevitable discussion about cost versus output and of course there is the fact that it definitely changes the scenery from God’s wonders to man-made ones.

I always think of the Man from La Macha tilting at windmills and wonder what he would have thought of the silent white generators that graced the hills all around Weatherford.

Some are so close to the highway you can easily get photos of them.  We didn’t stop and take photos of them this trip as we did so when we took this same route four years ago and again when we were traveling and mystery shopping in 2010.  The photos shown with this post were taken in June of 2010, but they give you an idea of how huge and plentiful the wind mills are in this area.

In fact, as I write about this vacation I will include information about various landmarks and things to see from those trips as well, because I wasn’t blogging in 2008 at all and was doing limited blogging in 2010.  The 2008 photos were from this near same trip and was in November 2008, so if you see a reference to 2008 in future posts that is the trip I am speaking about.

So day one was spent traveling, then stopping to cook a hot meal and going to bed early to move on to Day 2.  Sorry it was such a boring post.

Since we didn’t take any photos this first day I’m including the windmill photos of 2010 and  a map of the route we took for the trip.  Maybe it will be helpful to “follow along” as we go.

Jan who loved seeing the windmills because it proved we were actually on the road again away from OK.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Nov. 11, 2012

Murphy has been determined to undermine this trip for the last few weeks, but so far we are holding him off at arm’s length.  Here’s hoping we can hold him off completely, even while on the trip.

I’m going to give you a run down of what we ran in to so you might head off such Murphy problems yourself when planning a getaway.

We have been plugging away hard at saving money for the trip, but things keep popping up.  The biggie was for some strange reason airfares for the time dh would normally fly to Las Vegas for the AutoCad University DROPPED considerably, like nearly $700!!! OW!  That hurts the fuel budget like crazy.  Because after all if we weren’t vacationing he’d fly out there on the company dollar. 

I’ll be truthful, I was NOT amused when he came home and told me what his expense check was, but rules are rules and this was the agreement we had with his employer.  So that difference had to be met.  A hard look was put on the budget and quite truthfully I considered staying home, but oh I wanted this trip so bad.  So we adjusted the budget plans to cut expenses on things to see and do.  We also added more boondocking to the schedule.  I also decided that certain clothing items I had planned on purchasing just for the trip and would not have normally purchased were not really needed and therefore that budget travel expense could help cover fuel costs. It was a simple matter of deciding what want was the strongest and the desire for the trip outweighed getting a nice evening wear outfit when I had clothing that would work already in my wardrobe. We are, if nothing else, flexible.

Next the truck insurance I had on the schedule as due in December turned out due late November.  So my sinking fund was going to be a little short for that, but not bad and we couldn’t leave without being properly insured.  Jumped that hurtle and moved on.

Next on the Murphy hit parade very nearly killed the trip entirely.  We knew that with all the boondocking we’d be doing in cold weather we needed to replace the second battery in the camper.  I’d actually budgeted for that, it was a major problem it uncovered that caused us to worry about finances big time.

After he hooked up the new battery Gary went inside the camper to check the power of the two batteries and discovered the electronic read out panel for the holding tanks wasn’t working.  Now you don’t need those to use a camper, but they sure are helpful and that wasn’t the big threat, it was what he discovered next. 

When you live in the woods, as we do, no matter what you do there is always a rodent problem.  We knew that the readout panel probably wasn’t working due to a chewed wire.  This gave us concern that other wires might be chewed so he backed the truck up to the trailer and hooked up the wiring for the tail and running lights to see if they would work.  NO! 

This is a MAJOR problem, you can’t safely or legally travel without tail or running lights and we’d had this happen before about 5 years ago and then it was over $600 to get the wiring fixed.  That was when the repair people were getting $69 per hour for the work and now they were getting $99 or more per hour! We simply could not pay that type of money on top of everything else and still make the trip. 

We discussed staying at cheap motels and going without the trailer, after all our fuel economy would be much better and if that was the only trade off it would be close in cost, but we’d still need to do the repair when we got home and that would put us eating most or all of our meals out of an ice chest or at a fast food restaurant.  This would add an additional $600 to the trip costs.  A no go for us.

Plus I’ll admit it, we both worried about the possibility of picking up bed bugs at some hotel along the way, not an option on either of our parts.  One of the main reasons we like the camper is we always know who slept in the bed last and that it was NOT a bedbug!

That left only one other option, repair it ourselves.  Now for those of you who have never worked on fifth wheel camper wiring don’t bother to look for wiring diagrams on the web for a Sierra fifth wheel because they don’t exist per the manufacturer.  It seems each individual Sierra is wired by an individual in whatever manner he sees fit.  Which in turn makes for some interesting searches for the wiring in the walls and floor of the camper should a repair ever need done.

We knew the last time the chewed wire had been in the back section so carefully dh removed the convertor box, the layers of paneling checking each individual wire as he went.  Late on Saturday he found a single chewed wire and repaired it.  He then tested the lights.  NOTHING again, so he moved on to toward the paneling directly behind the driver’s side tail light.  Jackpot!  Every single wire was chewed completely in two.  Much testing, wire splicing, more testing for safety. Much later that evening we had a full set of working running and tail lights. 

He spent Sunday re-installing the paneling so professionally you could not tell it had ever been removed.  He added two extra things as he worked. The first was a LARGE dose of rat and mouse killer. 

We use Just One Bite brand.  A vet recommended it to us years ago and we have had great success with it.  It mummifies the rodent so even if they die in your wall they don’t smell. 

The vet also said that as long as our mousing dogs and cats did not eat the poison directly they would have to eat numerous of the poisoned rodents at once for it to affect them.  Since none of them will touch a rodent they didn’t personally just kill we have been secure in using it because we NEVER put it anywhere there is even the slightest possibility that a pet would get it.

The second thing was an easy access panel behind the convertor box, out of sight, for future replenishing of said poison so perhaps we will not have this problem ever again.

So with two days worth of work we figure dh saved us $1,000 he says that is well worth every sore muscle in his body from doing the chore.

We still don’t have a working control panel, but dh is already working on possibilities as to where that problem might be to do the repair himself when we get back home.

Murphy, however, was not finished with us.  We both take some minor medications and I called them in for refill to make certain we had plenty for the trip.  The pharmacy called the doctor and the doctor insisted upon seeing both of us BEFORE the trip.  NUTS that was scheduled in the budget for January.  Doc wouldn’t see it any other way and he wouldn’t refill our prescriptions without a visit.

Okay, we have a medical sinking fund, but if it went the way it normally does the two of us at once  two months before we had it scheduled it was going to more than sink the sinking fund.  Thanks Murphy!

Only guess what, it seems we had met our deductibles under our new insurance plan –we thought we still had a bit to go, and what I thought would be $200-$300 extra turned out to be $30 from the sinking fund, no extra vacation money had to be spent—gotta love sinking funds! Talk about a big sigh of relief.  Even better, we found out we were both in far better medical shape than we were a year ago.  That was music to our ears!  I guess the extra walking, home grown and prepared organic foods are paying off.  While we both are still nearly 100 pounds overweight we are in much better shape blood pressure wise and cholesterol levels.  Sweet!

All this extra work, doctor visits and overtime put us way behind schedule.  Once the repair was complete and the mess from doing it was cleaned up we found we only had four short days to do a major packing.

I usually start packing a month or so before, but since we kept running into Murphy we hadn’t been certain I would even be making the trip or that Gary would do no more than fly to Las Vegas without me.   No sense in packing only to have to unpack it all.  Or if we decided to go without the trailer then packing would have to been done an entirely different way. So we had waited.  Stay tuned the trip is about to begin.

Jan who hopes nothing else comes up now that we’ve paid all our non-refundable fees in OK.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Oct. 1, 2012

I decided that is silly that I create new packing lists, menu lists, grocery lists and such with every trip.  So I created an electronic file that contains master lists of all the lists I normally do.  Oh my gosh, is that organization creeping into the travel blog.  HELP!  I can’t be getting that organized, but I am.

As I made out the menus I made a master grocery list of exactly what I’d need to prepare those menus.  We pretty well take the same meals every trip, so it only makes sense. 

Of course trips of varying lengths will require different amounts of groceries, but the basic list will stay the same. 

Much as I do for our home meals I offer up the list of “this is what meals we have available” to whoever is traveling with me the night before and we choose the next day’s meal then.  That way if I find I’ve ran out of or left an ingredient at home I will have time to get it, or find a substitution in the camper pantry. 

I’ve also started packing more and more dehydrated foods in the camper because they keep without refrigeration, last for an extremely long time if stored properly and are light to pack. 

Because I pack foods my family will normally eat there are no major “surprises” along the way to cause upset tummies due to strange foods.  With having a full, albeit small,  kitchen in the camper I can cook good filling meals for a fraction of what we’d pay to eat out.

On our clothing lists I made out lists for each family member and for each season, including the conflicting seasons of leaving a cold and rainy Oklahoma to go to a beautiful sunny and HOT Florida.  I did not put quantities on the list, just the basics we always take. 

When it’s time for the packing I can easily add quantities for each person (or better yet let them add their own quantities) and print out a fresh list to check off for the number of days needed.

The lists for the camper supplies itself are basic, but all inclusive, pots, pans, shampoo, bath soap everything we leave in the camper between trips.  This list was printed out and then I went out to the camper and verified everything was fully stocked for the length of trip we were taking.  Guess what I found the salt and pepper shakers needed refilling.  A minor thing, but an annoyance if we’d got on the road and didn’t have seasoning.  I also found that my dried onions had got funky. 

A fresh list was put in the camper to mark if we ran out of or damaged something while out this or any future trip so they could be restocked promptly and take some of the stress of packing everything at once on the next trip.

This all sounds so simple, so why didn’t I think of it and do it before now?  Many of you probably already have done something like this, but not me.  Guess I’m just slow in some respects and old habits die hard. 

Jan who is working on becoming more organized in all aspects of her life in OK

Monday, December 10, 2012


September 19, 2012

Yes, a secret getaway.  Oh it’s not entirely a secret, a few people knew, but not everyone.  By the time this is posted we will be home safe and sound. The trip, at this point, is scheduled to be approximately three weeks long.  It’s a combination of business and pleasure travel.  I’ll be writing this over a multi-month period, but then they will be posted after we return from the trip a report at a time.  I’ve chosen to do the reports this way for two reasons.

The first is safety.  Many people advertise on various lists, social networks, blogs and such when they are getting ready to go away for a short trip.  Heck, I’ve done that myself to some extent when we were traveling for a living, but even those posts always ran behind so no one knew for certain if we were home and when we were gone. 

This can be a safety issue in this day and age, because bad guys read blogs too and will take advantage when they KNOW no one is home.  While we were traveling more or less full time my son was still at home taking care of things.  But on this trip that would not be the situation at times.  So the posts will be composed, then posted after my return.

The second is far simpler, I don’t want to tie myself to writing every day while traveling.  I want to take notes and then later enjoy the memories as I write.

So that’s the explanation of the strange dates for this series of posts.

Now on to the reason for the trip.  The initial reason was for Gary to attend AutoCad University 2012.  He works for a firm that understands the importance of keeping their employees educated on the latest technology. They are a great company to work for in more ways than one.  The company decided to pay for his trip to Las Vegas for AU so that he could take classes then return to the firm and train others on what he learned.

They are also a family orientated firm so when he approached them about them allowing him to travel in our truck and fifth wheel with me to include a vacation along the way to and from for us they agreed to give him the airfare money for the fuel for the trip.

We had done the math and calculated that the airfare and fuel would work out to be just about the same.  So the major hurtle of taking any vacation this year, other than a couple of short trips to Silver Dollar City this last spring, would be jumped with ease.

Next was the vacation time.  Again not a problem, in fact it would be a solution to a problem.  He had vacation time that needed to be used prior to the end of the year or lose it.  He had more than ample time built up for the trip we were considering. 

The third was actually our biggest problem emotionally, the timing of the trip.  AU took place the week after Thanksgiving.  In order to travel at a leisurely pace, and arrive on time we would need to leave the Friday before Thanksgiving.  Meaning we would not be home for Thanksgiving with our son.  This bothered both dh and I more than just a little bit.

The timing also meant we would be traveling home during his birthday week and arriving home on the weekend after his birthday.  Again a major problem where my husband and I were concerned.

It turned out that both bothered us far more than it bothered our son.  He pointed out that for us Thanksgiving was basically a big meal day, because we were thankful for all we have every day and we could have the big meal prior to our leaving. 

He also pointed out that generally on any of our birthdays we wait until the weekend to celebrate and we would be home on his birthday weekend.   So that became the plan.

So our travel dates were picked.  We would leave on the Friday before Thanksgiving, November 16, 2012 using four hours of vacation time for that day, because my husband works half days on Fridays.  Then traveling over the weekend for two more travel days. 

The next week was Thanksgiving and the company would be closed Thursday and Friday.  That meant we only needed 27 hours vacation time for that week. 

AU was the following week, and that would be for the company, so no vacation time was needed for it. He would attend classes during the week while I window shopped, enjoyed the amenities of the hotel, and write. Then in the evenings we would attend the networking events, enjoy good food and good entertainment.  While his employer was paying for him to attend these events, we did have to pay $250 for me to attend them ahead of time. 

We would leave Las Vegas and take the next week traveling home. That would be a full 40 hour week.  So all in all we would be using 71 hours (approximately 8 days) of vacation time for 24 day vacation trip. Not bad.

Our fourth hurtle was of course finances.  We run on a shoestring in this household, as does much of the nation.  So we needed to decide how to pay for the trip and still enjoy ourselves.

Ahhh, a perfect theme for the traveling on a shoestring blog. So this is how we earned money for the trip and saved money while traveling and had a wonderful time.

Of course there was mystery shopping and merchandising on my part.  Massive amounts of it to be certain.  As luck would have it I hit the feast part of the feast and famine of mystery shopping opportunities.  So I was able to put extra money that would have previously gone on my debt snowball and into my Disneyworld travel fund back for this trip.

The same could be said for overtime on my husband’s part.  The company was very busy in the weeks before we left and he worked massive amounts of overtime. 

I know it sounds like we should have been able to not even worry about finances for the trip as a result of all of this “extra” income, but remember we are gazelle intense on getting out of debt.  So only 1/10th of this “extra” income went into the travel fund.  The rest went toward our debt payoff.

As Dave Ramsey says “Live like no one else, so you can later live like no one else.”  We decided we’d rather do this trip on a tight budget and get debt free so we could travel big in another year or two.  So we challenged ourselves to have a great trip on as little money as possible.

First the budget:

Fuel, as I already said the company was covering most of that.

The evening fee for me, $250, no short changing that one.

Meals:.  Truthfully when traveling we don’t consider meals that we eat at the camper as a vacation expense because we would be eating those same meals at home anyway.  Our plan was to eat all meals at the camper when we were not in Las Vegas. While in Las Vegas the fee for AU included 3 meals a day for Gary and the evening meal for me.  I planned on eating from the cheap meals offered at the casinos for breakfast and lunch.  I also planned on having my own bottled water we had bulk purchased ahead of time in my hotel room.  Bottled water is very expensive in Las Vegas and because of the location I tend to drink twice the water I normally do. So designating a suitcase for water going into the hotel would be a huge money saver.  

Entertainment: What is a vacation without entertainment? Time to get new travel books from AAA—gotta love our membership, we get our money’s worth out of their services in many ways every year.  We decided to do this trip as a penny hike trip.  For those of you have not previously read this blog that means each night as we camped we would look through travel books from AAA and the various states we would travel in and see what we could find for free or nearly free along or near our basic route.   Then go see it the next day, even if it meant an extra night or two of camping in an area or going off route some.  There would be no hard set schedules for us.  Just the goal of arriving on time in Las Vegas to check in on that Sunday for registration and Monday for the hotel.  Then a return goal to arrive home in time to do laundry prior to dh having to be back to work.

I also started ordering in travel info from the various states.  Those brochures often have discounts in them for various activities.  So I ordered them as soon as we knew for certain we were going. My mailbox filled up quickly.  I ordered for any state I thought me might possibly touch.

Clothing: Our normal basic wardrobe would work well for most of the trip, but while in Las Vegas I would need a few nice things to wear to the evening entertainment. I also needed new shoes.  By planning ahead of time I would, hopefully, be able to find the “perfect” clothing and shoes at discounted prices.

Vehicle and trailer preparation:  Since we maintain our vehicles anyway this could not be actually considered an “extra” for the trip.

Camping:  We will boondock some, stay in Corps of Engineer or National Park campgrounds whenever possible, and the rest of course will be at regular campgrounds EXCEPT while we are in Las Vegas.  The company was paying for us to stay in a hotel there, so we would park our camper, hopefully, in a secure lot while staying at the MGM Grand.  We had hoped to stay at the Mandalay Bay, where the event was being hosted, but that filled up quickly and we weren’t able to get a room there.

Emergency fund:  Never leave home without one!  But thanks to following the Total Money Makeover plan we already had our baby emergency fund set up.

Next would be menu planning—that could be a blog post(s) in itself. We eat the same meals on the road that we eat at home.  The camper has a full, albeit small, kitchen.

Then there are the inevitable lists.  I am a list maker, plain and simple.  I start with an outline of what all lists I need for a planned project.  Then I create the lists from that. 

So now you know what’s been going on and the posts on it you will be seeing as we travel on a shoestring for a nearly four week secret getaway.
So now our secret is out and the posts that will follow will be on preparing for the trip, and the trip itself.  Stay tuned for daily (hopefully) updates.
Jan who had a blast on the trip and did quite well on her budget in OK

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


His name is Drifter Moon, by all accounts he is a castaway, a dumper dog, an unwanted, except to us.  To us he is Moonie, or Bubba Bear.  He’s a large lovable black shorthaired dog with black and white spotted feet and tiny brown eyes.  He’s our boy.

Moonie is also a little different.  The boy is not a real fast study, he’s trainable, but it definitely takes longer to train him than it has ever taken us to train any of our dogs. 

What is also is, is fiercely loyal to me.  This canine fellow would put his life on the line for me at any given moment, as one installer who dared to raise his voice to me found out not long ago.  Lucky for him I had the Bear on a leash at the time or the fellow would have needed stitches.  You don’t mess with Drifter Moon’s Mama.

He showed up here one January over ten years ago, and would come and go on a regular basis for the next 2-3 months.  He was under a year old then the best we could tell.  I started calling him Drifter then because he drifted in and out of the homestead and I never knew where I might see him. 

Often all I saw of him was the white moon on his rump as he headed into the woods, thus the Moon part of his name.  I let him stay because he never bothered the birds or anything else.  But I was determined we were not taking on a third dog.

The one time he got into the bird pen I hollered at him and he, to this day,  has never set foot in the pen since then—that he learned quickly.  It crushes him when Mama scolds him—which isn’t often.  He’s a good boy.

By March it had became apparent he’d been dumped.  One day my husband asked me about the dog and what we were going to do about him.  I told him how he seemed to be watching all of us as if guarding the homestead and how good he was around the birds. I mentioned that when anyone came on the place he seemed to place himself between them and me.

I also expressed concerned about the bright red collar that he was wearing that was definitely way too tight. Telling my husband we needed to get it off of him because I feared it would choke him soon.

My husband being the gentle soul he is.  Pulled up a five gallon bucket and set down on the bottom of it.  Then patting his leg he called “Drifter, come here boy, come to Daddy.”

The dog responded hesitantly, tail tucked and let Gary pet him.  While petting him he gently used his pocket knife to cut the strangling collar off the dog. The collar was so tight he had to choke the dog some to get the thin knife blade under it to cut the thing lose. The dog never tried to back away.  He trusted Gary completely to not hurt him.

As soon as I heard my husband say, “come to Daddy” I knew we had a third dog and went to find a feed bowl for him.  That was over 10 years ago.

Today Moonie weighs in around 65 or so pounds and is built solid.  I definitely would never want him to turn on me, but his soul is gentle so we are safe.

He also has a large cyst on his rump near the moon he is named for.  We’ve had it looked at and it is benign.  It grows and shrinks with the seasons and with Moon’s seasonal weight changes.   Although we are told it is not hurting him it still concerns us, so any time he has a health issue our first thought is the cyst.  Some days it is quite large, others you can’t really see it at all.

So when he threw up lame a couple of weeks or so ago we all started checking him closely.  Moonie is a patient boy and lets us check the cyst, his paws and pull ticks (when he gets them) from his eye lids without hesitation. 

It was his front left leg he is limping on and the cyst is on the other end, but we are still cautious. We worry that the cyst could grow into his spine near the tail and cause him problems.  All three of us love this big old dog and want only the best for him.

Around here an animal’s health issues are judged in varying degrees from the “must make a FINAL trip to the vet” to “Boo-boo paw”.  What the first one obviously means is it would be a one way trip and we all do everything we can to prevent those trips, but we will not let our animals suffer. 

Boo-boo  Paw is generally Moon’s sister Misty Georgia, our middle child so to speak.  Whenever Georgie feels she is being neglected she will suddenly be limping and as soon as she gets her attention her limp is gone.

Only Moonie’s wasn’t going away, even with all three of us fondling over him and giving him special treats.  A week later the limp didn’t seem any better, but we could find no swelling, or thorn or anything.  We continued to try and keep him off the foot as much as possible.

Friday when we came home from our movie mystery shop after 10 pm Moon didn’t run out to greet us as he normally does.  He takes his guarding seriously and this concerned us. 

Twice I took the flashlight out looking for him and finally I asked Jolie Marie where Bubba Bear was, fearing the worst. I had called and called and there had been no response from my boy. He always comes when I call.  Jo-Jo immediately took me to the very healthy looking boy on the front porch.  Where he’d been I have no idea, but he didn’t offer to get off the porch and since I knew the steps would be hard on his lame leg I petted him and told him to stay there.  Then went in to go to bed, now that I knew he was safe.

When my son got home from work around three am he called my phone and woke me up.  Moon was laying in the driveway and wouldn’t even try to come to him. 

I told him to give the dog a treat and he’d probably move just fine, since he had been able to climb the steep steps to the porch I knew he had mobility three hours earlier.

 Fifteen minutes later my son called again and said Moon couldn’t get on his feet. 

Gary asked what was going on.  I told him and told him to go back to sleep since he had to get up for work in less than two hours.

I dressed quickly and went outside to check on both the man and the dog.

My son was sitting on the ground with dog’s head in his lap, tears rolling down his face. “Mom he managed to get up, but it was like his rear legs wouldn’t support him, he wobbled for a few steps and then collapsed here.”

The dog rolled his eyes in my son’s direction and whined softly.  That was when my son noticed his left eye was turned inward more than the right one.  “Mom did anyone come over today that might of hit him with their car?”

Moon is a car chaser, that is why his leash is always where we can grab it in an instant.  As long as the leash is on he makes no effort to chase, but if it’s not on he will drag you down the driveway with him if you try to stop him. 

In the past he has attacked bull dozers, tractors, UPS trucks, FEDEX trucks and any other vehicle that has came on the property, except our two trucks and the mower.  The bull dozer actually rolled him three different times when we were having the driveway work done and he still chased it when he could get lose from where we had him penned.  Like I said, not the brightest of our three dogs.

To my knowledge there had been no deliveries that day, but then we’d been gone most of the afternoon. 

I expressed my concern that maybe the cyst had grown into the spine, or was no longer benign. We were both major stressed.

The dog was panting hard and the temperature at 3 am was still in the 80’s so I sent my son to get some water for him.  Telling him what bowl to get while I stayed in the dark with our fellow.  We both feared Moonie was leaving us and we didn’t want him to be alone.

No sooner had Sean got to where he couldn’t see Moon than the rear leg that he “couldn’t use” game up  and started scratching his ear.  I looked at the dog and said “You old faker.”

The paw fell to the ground and the dog hung his head.  He then stood up quickly and walked to another place in the driveway without any problems and laid down saying “humrph!”.

I turned off the flashlight and waited in the dark for my son to return.  When he did I said “I figured out what’s wrong with Drifter.”

“What?” he asked with fear in his voice.

“Sean I don’t know how to tell you this, but it’s the worst case of Boo-boo Paw I’ve ever seen.”

Then I turned the flashlight on to show him the dog laying much further down the driveway.

Sean stammered “What do you mean?”  I told him quickly how Drifter had used his legs just fine as long as he knew Sean couldn’t see him.  He asked me “are you sure it’s Boo-boo Paw?”

I told him to set the water down and tell Drifter he was on to his game and to come get the water.  He did as he was instructed and the dog stood with no problems and came to drink the water dry.  Not a wobble one to his walk, just the mild limp from the front leg.

Sean then said “Well, fellow you nearly cried wolf too hard that time.  I was going to take you to ER for a final vet visit tonight because of the way you were acting.”

The dog hung his head, he really doesn’t like to be scolded.  Then he easily followed Sean to the sunroom for his late night supper Sean gives him every night.

I went back to bed.  As I quietly crawled into the bed my husband said “How’s Drifter?”

Again I responded “Worst case of Boo-boo Paw I’ve ever seen.”

“Drifter?” he questioned, making sure I didn’t mean Georgie.

“Yep” Then I told him what had happened. 

He laughed and said “Guess we’ve gone overboard about the limp and he likes the attention.”

Like I said that was Friday/Saturday, he still limps slightly on that leg, because he won’t stay off of it.  But there have been no more fake “I can’t move” attempts.

Jan who couldn’t believe her good boy pulled such a trick on all of us in OK


Or as the old B movie bit characters might say “Read, I don’t need to read no stinking job descriptions.” But you do and here’s why.

I’ll use movie shops as a prime example of how much a job can change with just a few words. 

Movie shops are one of my personal favorites, they are fun to do, they generally pay well and sometimes you get a free movie or two plus concessions out of the deal.  It is all in how the job description is worded and just a single word can change the whole shop scenario.

The first of the single word change out is overt or covert.  Overt means you reveal yourself as an auditor at some point in the shop and by doing so you can prevent yourself from getting free movie shops in that theater for as much as a year or more. 

Covert means, you do not let anyone know for any reason why you are there.  In remaining a true mystery shopper you will get to see more movies for free if you don’t get spotted. 

Not getting spotted is generally a simple task, if you pay attention to who is around you.  These shops generally include counting the number of patrons, gathering ticket prices, concession prices and/or recording what trailers are showing, along with a number of other small bits of info. 

A few years ago I was at one theater and I spotted the mystery shopper by his paperwork that clearly said on it “Covert Movie Audit”  he was setting in the lobby filling out his report!  The man definitely needed to learn something about being covert.  The first rule is do not take your paperwork in with you.  You leave it in your vehicle out of sight.  Yet there he was in the lobby filling out his form. 

On such assignments I put my small spiral in my purse, or use an ipod to make quick notes out of sight of others (bathroom stalls work well for this). Or I will pretend I am playing a game on the ipod and make brief notes there.  The object is to not get spotted.

The first thing I look for in movie assignments is the c that makes the difference in covert and overt assignments.

The second single word I look for is ‘EACH’.  That word can make the difference in being in a theater for just the length of one show, or from the minute the theater opens to the minute it closes on a certain day. 

An example of this is a covert blind check (meaning patron count, and ticket prices) movie mystery shop I just completed last weekend.  The word EACH was on that paperwork.  I had a choice of three different days to do the shop as wekk as numerous local theaters and that made a HUGE difference in how many times I’d be seeing the movie.

The theater I went to was one of my favorites and I chose the Friday time frame because the required movie was only showing one time on that day on one screen.  That meant I got paid for two movie tickets and $25 to see a movie we wanted to see anyway, unfortunately this one didn’t include any free concessions, but then those also require more work.

Had I chose Saturday or Sunday I would have had to set through the movie three times and to do so covertly in the small theater I was at would have been nearly impossible.  We have done it with success before by claiming we were doing a movie review for a newspaper, but it’s not a scenario that is easy to carry off. 

If I had chosen one of the big multi-screen theaters it would have been even more complicated and would have required 1-2 partners to pull it off.  Because when the paperwork says EACH, it means every screen, every showing.  You are paid for your tickets and a flat pay for each additional screen, but you are also talking about trying to remain covert all day!  In this particular movie situation the first movie would have been $25 plus two tickets, but all the other screens would have been $12 plus two tickets, because they figure you have already spent the fuel to get there. 

While doing the multi-screen can net you a lot more money, it can also be very exhausting, and your cash layout until the reimbursement can be quite high.  These are things you must consider when reading over the job descriptions.

Another single word I look for is “FIRST”.  Some movie shops require you to be there for the first and/or last showing.  Since the first showing is often just before noon it becomes a problem for many part time mystery shoppers.  If you have a regular job chances are you are not going to be available for that time showing. Or if you get up early the midnight shows might not be for you either. It’s all in the wording.

After looking for these single words I also read the job description in full because, especially with movie shops, the description of the requirements can change constantly. It is important to fully understand not only the how to do it part of the shop, but the deadline for filing the report.

I have had movie shops where I have had to literally leave the theater right after the trailers to phone in the results immediately and then go back in to see the actual movie.  I do not like missing the first several minutes of a movie.

For other types of mystery shopping and merchandising the instructions can be as varied also.  One company I work for audits several different bank chains, each bank has the exact same basic requirements, but they also have differences.  One might require you to check if their free in the lobby coin counter is working, while another will want you to try to cash a check without being a customer, and a third requires you to take a covert picture of the bank exterior.  Because they are all three the same company it is easy to get them confused.  So it is important to refresh your memory with each job.

The documentation for a job might change slightly too.  While one location may require a receipt another might require you get a business card.  Wrong documentation, you won’t get paid.

Some merchandising jobs will have in them that you must be able to comfortably lift a certain weight, or have a vehicle to transport a box of a certain size, or you might only be able to do the job during a certain short time frame.  Or as I mentioned in my previous post  You might be required to shop a certain department for a certain item.  It’s all in the paperwork both online and what you print out.  The thing is you MUST read the paperwork.

Many a job has not been paid for because the contractor has not read the paperwork and understood it correctly.  The understanding is an important key as well. 

When I first started mystery shopping I didn’t get paid for one fast food shop because I took the time frame of between certain hours to mean I needed to start the job between those hours and it didn’t matter how long it took me.  I was wrong.  It meant both segments needed to be completed between those hours.  I didn’t read the instructions all the way through and it ended up costing me money.

Once you accept a job and print out all the required paperwork it is important to “read” or check that paperwork. As I pointed out in the  post I didn’t check my paperwork closely and didn’t see that it didn’t have the department and job information in the paperwork.

Another thing to check your paperwork for before you leave home is if the location address is on the paperwork.  With many companies it is not.  They use a generic form for all their paperwork and it is very frustrating to get out and discover you do not have the address for the location you are to go to that day.  It’s fine if the town only has one of that bank or fast food location, but in larger cities where the burger joint might be on every corner it is essential that you have the correct address.  Go to the wrong location, you won’t get paid—nearly did that once.

Time frame is essential, always check that again after you print out the paperwork.  I recently signed up for a lunch shop, for a job you request and they let you know later if you got it.  When the paperwork arrived it had been changed to a dinner shop.  So always check before, during and yes even after you do a shop to make certain nothing has changed.

Reading the paperwork will also tell you what company you are representing on that day in what store.  While there are the basic companies you contract to, sometimes you are there as a representative of an entirely different company.  An example is you work for merchandising company A but they are hiring you to do a merchandising job on behalf of corporation B and you must meet the dress codes, including name tags, and rules of corporation B, including signing in the vendor book as with corporation B not company A.

A word about vendor books and merchandising.  If the store has one, you absolutely need to sign in on that book.  Not only because it is the stores policy, but because the companies you work for WILL send someone out to check to make certain that you were there.  If you haven’t signed in it makes it much harder for you to prove you were there.

Yep, they audit the auditors.  On more than one job my assignment has been to check to see if the previous merchandiser actually did the job.  Unfortunately I’ve found several times the jobs haven’t been done. 

Don’t ever take for granted you can “let something” slide because you are tired, or don’t agree with how the job is suppose to be done, because you will be audited when you least expect it.

One mystery shopper I know tried cutting corners on doing bank shops by just grabbing business cards and not actually doing the personal banker interviews she was required to do.  Well she turned in a report stating she had spent time with someone who was actually out on maternity leave. She was fired by the mystery shopping company.

The companies have all sorts of ways of checking your job performance, so READ the paperwork and follow it to the letter. If you have a question about how it is to be done, then contact the scheduler and ask questions BEFORE doing the shop.

Also reading the paperwork might include surprising extras. For one merchandising job we were required to purchase cookies and take them to the departments for the employees while we gave a how to speech—problem was the company we were to take these cookies to did not allow such things.  By reading the paperwork ahead of time and checking with the company I headed off a potential problem for myself.

Another set of jobs has just recently added that I must visit their website AFTER I do the shop and do a price comparison.  The first time this addition appeared it was not on the assignment paperwork, but it was on the online filing of the report. This is one of the reasons I say READ afterwards as well.  Had I not read that little extra “click here” I would not have completed the assignment properly and would not have been paid.

Filing deadlines are another thing to read closely.  Two companies I work for deduct from your pay if you are late in filing, even by a few minutes unless there is a problem with their website.  If you don’t read the entire set of instructions you would not know that. Sometimes the deadlines are very short. 

One company I work for on a regular basis shuts down their website every night from 10:00pm to 12:30 am for daily maintenance and updates.  You only have 12 hours to file your reports with that company, and if you don’t get it filed before 10 pm you will be up quite late waiting to file the report and it can put you past your 12 hour deadline.

Read your contractor agreements as well. I enjoy merchandising and so when a company I have mystery shopped for years for offered me the opportunity to do merchandising as well I very nearly signed up for it until I read that I would have to pay for my own background check, and my own shirt the two of which came with a pretty hefty price tag.  This is a company I know to be legit, but I object to being required to pay for these things when I’ve already been working for them and their sister company (and doing merchandising for the sister company) for seven years.  They know my work.

I do not object to a background check being ran, I object to them wanting me to pay for it.  Especially when I’ve already had numerous background checks ran by various companies and passed them with flying colors.  Needless to say I am not merchandising for that company.  It would take a lot of jobs for me to re-coup the cost of those expenditures.

Another company that I have worked for a long time has recently changed over from requiring your social security number to requiring an ein I do not have an ein, nor do I want one, that would simply complicate my taxes—and I do pay taxes on the jobs I do. I regret that they have done this, I will miss doing the shops for them, but I do not feel I need any further tax complications, when a social security number has worked for this long and is all both the state and federal government requires to mystery shop.

All of this is in the contractors agreements.  So be sure and read those as well.

I’ve just touched upon a few of the many reasons to completely read all paperwork, but I feel I’ve given you enough to make you realize how important reading the paperwork is.

Jan who remembers a test in school where the first question said “read the entire test before starting” and it turned out that in the middle of the test it said “put your name at the top of the page and turn it over—you have completed the test.” In OK