FMCA West Springfield MA – Setup

Our First Rally: Setup

FMCA Family Reunion at West Springfield Massachusetts

We left Louisville, New York and drove 146 miles to Lake George just east of the Adirondack Mountains.  It was nice having my co-pilot back in her seat instead of driving the Pilot.  However, when we got to Lake George the magnetic tow vehicle light cable had broken, and and we decided Christine would drive the Toad the 157 miles  to the FMCA convention in West Springfield.  We arrived Monday August 1st in the early afternoon.  We expected warm weather so we upgraded to an electric site.

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Monday night it rained like crazy.  One of our neighbors said we had 3 inches of rain, and accused Jeff of doing an Oregon Duck rain dance! Hahahaha

What to do with pets

It is not practical to take pets with you for every activity when you are in the RV.  The biggest concern is heat.  The second concern is damage done while you are out.  The third concern is noise from excessive barking.

Kickin\' back in the RV
The Dog House

When we were in Oregon last Thanksgiving we stayed at the American Legion in Eugene, Oregon.  The few times we socialized with folks at the Legion and left the dogs in the RV we had at least one barker.


We keep a safe environment for our dogs by leaving the A/C or heat on while we are gone.  If you have full hookups, just set the A/C at a safe temperature or keep windows open and fans going to keep the air circulating if the outside temperatures are not too high.  Remember, an RV like an automobile can quickly heat up when sitting in the sun even if the outside temps are comfortable.

As a backup to shore power, many generators have an automatic mode that will monitor if shore power has failed and the A/C needs to be turned on.  Test this function before relying on it.  Our Cummins Onan generator has an AutoGen function that provides this functionality but Jeff needed to go through the process a few times to verify.

If you are not connected to shore power then you can use your batteries to power a small cooling unit such as the Dyson Blade.  Remember that your inverter and the cooling unit will draw lots of power.  Most A/C units draw too much power to run off of batteries.  Our A/C unit requires either shore or generator power to even start.

Last, you use your generator to run your A/C if you don’t have shore power available.

Besides regulating the heat inside the RV always keep water available for your pets.


On Monday we left the dogs in the RV a couple of times for 15 minutes, and they were fine.  Our routine at our sticks and bricks house was to give the dogs a Kong treat with apple, carrot and peanut butter, then leave.  They get more excited about getting a treat than having separation anxiety.  We did the same for the FMCA rally plus turned on the TV for them for some background noise and it worked.  On Tuesday we left them a couple of times for an hour or two and didn’t have any problems.

We thought one of us would need to be with the dogs in the RV during the entire rally, but after a couple of days they were fine.  Now both of us can attend seminars – divide and conquer if necessary!

Volunteer Orientation

Jeff volunteered to help with seminar setup & monitoring and attended an orientation Tuesday evening.

Overall Impressions

General check-in for the rally was Monday and Tuesday.  It’s amazing to see a couple of thousand RVs congregate in one location and not see havoc.  A few times we saw 15 or 20 RVs in the staging area, but they were quickly parked in their assigned area.  The setup crew that came in the previous weekend had the lots and streets labeled.  FMCA has the routine down.  We heard a few grumbles about mistakes made, but those seemed to be few and far between.

Happy Trails from the Trippin’ Engles

Techno-Crap Happens

Laptop Lost

Christine and I have worked in the technology sector since about 1980, so we know ‘stuff happens’.  My first personal computer was a Radio Shack TRS-80 with dual cassette tape (then upgraded with an expansion bay)!  It was on this computer that I taught myself COBOL and switched jobs where I worked from supervising database administrators to programming.  Anyways, I dropped my laptop.  Shouldn’t be a big deal since I have a Kindle Fire HD that I use for light-weight web browsing, Facebook and reading/listening to books along with a high-powered desktop that I use for photo and video editing (along with the occasional flight simulator exercise).  But I only lasted about a week without a laptop before I was shopping.  A laptop provides a full size keyboard and a ‘real’ operating system that shows flash-videos from some of my favorite blogs – an important consideration for surfing on the couch.

Off to Amazon

So my laptop requirements are pretty light.  Besides surfing the web I also need to do some photo sorting using Adobe Lightroom and maybe some lightweight editing using Photoshop.  Other than that, I’ll use my desktop for any heavy-duty processing until we start full-timing.  Plus, this will make a good second/backup PC once we full-time.  My big home-built desktop uses an ASUS motherboard so I’m familiar with both the ASUS brand as well as their good support.

As I browse through Amazon, I like the choice of low-end laptops on the market.  I ended up zeroing in on an ASUS X551MAV 15.6-Inch Dual-Core Intel 2.16 Ghz Laptop, 4GB RAM and 500GB Hard Drive:


This PC has enough memory and hard drive space for our needs and the Intel Celeron N2830 2.16GHz processor should have enough guts to do some Lightroom photo sorting and some editing. I ordered the PC and it arrived a few days later.

It is amazing  how lightweight this laptop is. Perfect to actually use as a LAP-top, and it does not get real hot as it sits on my lap.  The evening I received the laptop from Amazon,  I powered it up and after a few screen prompts Windows 8.1 started installing. After a very short time it rebooted and the keyboard and mouse died. Nada, nothing. Nothing I tried to do worked, so I held down on the power button and the laptop shut down. I restarted and the Windows installation resumed and I had keyboard and mouse control again.

I installed some basic things – Open Office, Wunderlist, Microsoft OneNote (Free), Chrome and Avast antivirus, then uninstalled McAfee antivirus. Everything worked fine until I upgraded my Avast to the paid version, then my keyboard and mouse died again. I called ASUS support and they walked me through powering down the laptop (30 second press on the power button) then resetting the BIOS (F2 while booting – which did not help), then starting in Windows Recovery mode (full power down then F9 while booting) and doing a ‘refresh’. The ASUS support tech said this should take care of it, and sent me a link to re-install the keyboard drivers.


I went through the process of re-installing Windows 8.1, uninstalling McAfee and then re-installing the keyboard drivers and installing Open Office, Wunderlist, OneNote, Chrome then I installed all the Windows updates (something I didn’t do first time around). I then installed AVAST and then entered my key for the full version. When Avast rebooted the laptop, again I didn’t have keyboard or mouse control. Techno-Crap!

Is it ASUS or Avast?  I decide to go the Avast route since I’ve already made my ASUS call.  I re-initialize the PC again, re-install Windows updates & all my software up to the point of entering in the Avast key – still using the Free version. Everything is working fine.  I call Avast support and explain my situation – that once I enter the key I lose my keyboard and mouse.  The technician sends me my key as a file via email and I ask if there anything that he can do to help diagnose the problem before entering the key since that is where it lost contact the last few times.  He downloads a utility that shows a number of application errors (errors that don’t show up in the standard Microsoft error log), plus he believes the Microsoft firewall is interfering with Avast.  He then suggests that I spend $100 or more getting more personal support ;-).  I decline and say I will run with what he’s found.

The only applications that I see that would be generating all those errors is probably the ASUS free stuff, so I remove all the games and the ASUS cloud backup app.  I decide to run this way for a bit before installing the key.  Looks good for 24 hours, so  I install Lightroom & Photoshop to see how they run.

After a couple of days I lose my keyboard and mouse control again.  Double Techno-Crap.  (Is there a Maxi-Pad for this?) I can’t get into Windows Safe Mode – or even the DOS prompt mode.  Again, I refresh my PC, but this time I leave McAfee anti-virus and install all the rest of my applications & remove the ASUS junk.  It has now been 4 days and still running OK without Avast.  In the meantime, I decided that I’m tired of spending 2 days refreshing the PC, installing Windows updates and then re-installing my applications.  I upgraded my Acronis disk cloning/backup software on my desktop to the latest version and added the 3 PC upgrade so I have a license for the new laptop.  Once that got installed I made a full backup of the hard drive and a recovery boot on a USB stick.  At least I won’t have to spend 2 days re-installing Windows updates and my applications.

I’m going to run this way using McAfee for a couple of weeks and then decide if I want to try to go back to Avast.  I have been a FREE Avast user for years, and it’s funny that when I finally decide to pay for the extra protection that the paid version has (Avast firewall and some other tools) that it fails to work on my new laptop.  I don’t know if it’s an Avast problem or ASUS, but it upsets me that AVAST wants me to pay for their help to decide whether it’s their problem or ASUS.

 Bottom Line on the ASUS Laptop

ASUS X551MAV Pros and Cons
Pros Cons
Low Cost Klickety-Clack Keyboard
Limited amount of 'Junkware' Keyboard-Touchpad issues
Decent performance for the price No DVD player
Comfortable spacing of keys on keyboard Screen a bit hard to see in sunlight
Light weight Decals on keys look like they will rub off soon
USB 2 & USB 3 and HDMI ports AvastAnti-virus not working
1 year waranty Can only return PC once during the warranty period

All in all it seems like it’s a good choice.  I am not expecting a fast PC, but I am expecting one where everything works.  Now the laptop has Acronis backup software running, I will decide if the removal of McAfee or installation of Avast is creating the problem with the laptop. I will also consider getting a square trade extended warranty since ASUS limits their returns to one.

Also Purchased:

Preparing for camping – Making Lists

Oh crap!  Honey, I forgot the beans.

Now that we have an RV, the rest is easy right?  What should we take with us for a weekend camping trip?  If you have had any experience camping you know it’s easy to forget small and sometimes major things.  If your campsite is close to a store then you may be lucky and get those forgotten items.  But what if it’s your grandfather’s recipe for that special barbecue sauce?  Or that special bathing suit?  The answer of course is to make a list.

Making Lists

If you are going to make a list, especially a long list it helps to have some organization to it.  For camping in an RV  I mentally go from room to room – bedroom, bathroom, galley etc. thinking about what is not packed or what may already be there.

Making lists mentally are great, but when it goes beyond 5 items my brain is in overload.  If my fingers were not attached, I would probably forget half of them!  For me, paper lists get lost and forgotten.  I almost always have my phone with me now and fortunately there are apps for that.  After trying several list apps over the years I have finally settled on Wunderlist as the best solution for my needs.  The nice thing about Wunderlist is that there is a PC, Android and iPhone solution.  It even works on my Kindle Fire.  Since it is cloud based I see the same list on any device I use as long as I have Wi-Fi or cellular access to get the updates to the list.

Besides being a simple list you can have sub-lists, comments and notes for each item on the list.  This dropped my what to pack list down from well over 100 items to just over 50.  By naming the items by room I get simple categorization because Wunderlist allows for alphabetic sorting as well as a few other sort options.  For example here is my high level list without the sub-items:

Wunderlist Sublist
Wunderlist Sublist

Some of the items will expand out – such as the Galley Salad/Smoothies list item has 19 sub items (see the example to the left), so it is as simple or complicated as you want it to get.  You could also categorized some of these as permanently packed to make it easier.

Besides  being accessible on a variety of devices I have found printing the list to PDF is  helpful if I need to share the full list with someone or keep a printable copy of the original list.

Besides using Wunderlist for my what to pack list, I also use it for my bigger projects like installing solar and my next oil change.

We still forget things, but that usually because we get sidetracked or in a hurry and don’t check the list.  Then, we forget the beans!

The opinions expressed here are solely our own, and (unfortunately) we received no compensation for this blog article.

Software described: Wunderlist

Also available in the Microsoft Store, Google Play store and Apple iTunes.

 Next Up:  Putting the list to work.  What if you don’t have all the items that you put on the list?  See our list of things we purchased for that first trip, and why.