Monday, July 31, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Hummingbirds flit to sweet feeders

The Leaf-Chronicle

Watching whales in the ocean was a favorite pastime for Vi Piercey while growing up in Newfoundland, now she's happy and content to gaze at hummingbirds feeding near the patio of her Clarksville home.

In fact, Vi and her husband, Bob, who also grew up in Newfoundland, have enjoyed their hummingbird hobby for more than 20 years.

"They are fascinating little creatures," Vi says.

Hummingbirds, tiny birds weighing 2 to 20 grams, survive on flowering plant nectar and insects. These migratory birds fly by rotating their wings in a rotation that resembles a helicopter.

According to the Hummingbird Society,, these delicate birds "consume enormous amounts of food each day, with nectar often amounting to twice their body weight. Insects provide protein for their diet."

Sugar — a must for a hummingbird — provides that rush of energy necessary to sustain that distinctive hummingbird hover.

The Pierceys use a conventional hummingbird feeder to meet each winged visitor's need for sweets.

Bob and Vi, who have been married 48 years, enjoy spending time outside on their sun porch waiting for and watching their iddy-biddy feathered friends.

Bob mixes a concoction of one-part sugar and four-parts water to feed the hummingbirds and changes the contents of the feeder every seven to 10 days.

"We can sit out here throughout the day and, after a little while, see hummingbirds," Vi says.

They also occasionally see bees and wasps — a common by-product of the sugary solution in the hanging feeder.

To keep unwanted guests away, the Hummingbird Society recommends setting up a second feeder using a three-to-two-parts water to one-part sugar ratio. Once the bees and wasps have zeroed in on the second feeder, move it to a different area less dangerous to humans and the hummingbirds.

Another pest problem that confronts hummingbird enthusiasts is ants, but Bob has remedied that aggravation as well.

"You take the top cap off a spray paint can and secure it on the hanging string above the feeder, then fill the cap with oil," Bob says, "The ants crawl down the string and are deterred by the oil, which keeps the ants from clogging up the feeder holes for the birds."

The Pierceys say their tranquil hobby is relaxing and easy.

For people interested in learning more about hummingbirds, information seminars are scheduled next weekend at Woodlands Nature Station at Land Between the Lake National Recreational Area.

Ann Wallace is a features writer for The Leaf-Chronicle. She can be reached at 245-0287 or by e-mail at

Originally published July 30, 2006

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Mr. Positive

Les Tiede looks on the bright side of life
By KEN THOMAS/Staff Reporters

There are people in this world who always see the glass as being half full.

Such is the like of Les Tiede, who always looks for the bright side of life and tries to spread a little sunshine wherever he goes.

Tiede first came to the attention of the Daily Citizen when he wanted to share a story about some amazing hollyhocks he has grown on the side of his apartment building on Cherokee Lane.

"I measured the tallest one at

9 feet 10 inches high," said Les, who got the seed from one that had sprouted up near an electrical box on the nearby hill. "I got the seed a couple years ago. Some people think you have to bury the seeds, but you just have to scratch the ground a little and just lightly cover them over. I didn't know there would be that many colors. Some of them are doubles and each blossom looks like a corsage."

The neighbors couldn't be happier, as the mulch along their side of the building did nothing more than attract moles, mice and earwigs.

Les has experienced much in nearly 84 years; his birthday is on Aug. 16. He was born on a farm on the east side of Madison, and later pursued a career in the corrections system in Waupun.

"I was a bellboy at the Crow Bar Hotel for 30 years," he said. "Now I've got the best job I ever had — working for Dolittle & Sitmore."

When he moved to Beaver Dam 11 years ago, he brought his woodworking skills with him. He was one of the most dedicated helpers in the woodworking shop at the Beaver Dam Senior Center and helped incorporate the bluebird project, designed to build houses to increase the area's dwindling bluebird population. One of his more innovative designs has a hole in the bottom.

"I got that idea from 'Birds and Blooms' magazine," Tiede said. "And I sold them all over. There are eight of the them that are going to Texas."

He points at a box filled with the birdhouses ready for shipment.

His skills as a woodworker are widely known through his travels in a camper that he hauled to Texas, Arizona, California and other destinations — many to see his two sons.

"I've been all over," Tiede said.

The camper is now for sale, since his wife Josephine finds walking difficult and traveling is not as easy as it once was.

Josephine is from Reedsburg. They met on a blind date.

Other crafts in his tidy garage, plastered with pin-ups, are weather vanes, hummingbird feeder hangers and his well-known gag items.

"When I go to a restaurant pull out my three piece chicken dinner," he said, showing a small wooden box containing three kernels of corn. "I made 300 of them for Schaumburg Supper Club. They put their address on the back and sold them to customers so they would remember the place. They were tickled to death to have them."

His gag stool sample is a film container holding a tiny three-legged seat.

"When I showed that to my doctor he almost fell off his chair. He said, 'I have to have one of those.'"

A polish briefcase is a pair of underwear attached to a wooden handle.

"This one comes as a set with a tie and a pin," he said, showing two cut-outs with a hole drilled in the center of a wooden number.

"It's a hole in one," Tiede said, adding they were big sellers at a local golf shop.

The latter is made of black walnut, although Les has used woods of other varieties as well.

"I have walnut, cherry — all different stuff. Right now we're getting the best wood we ever had (at the senior center) from Northwoods Paper Converting. "Usually we got used wood. Now we get the cut-offs from pallet making at Northwoods. There's some yellow pine — some white."

Other items include the world's smallest washer and dryer, consisting of a steel washer next to two tiny dowels with a string stretched between them.

A rectangle of wood with a half cut-out stands with two tiny nails in the lower half.

What is it? A tacks shelter, of course!"

"I've got about 50 different things altogether," Tiede said, after pulling out cigar box after cigar box of his tiny, gloss finished novelties and puzzles.

"Would you like some fat free mixed nuts?" he asked, holding out a wooden container concealing three steel nuts of various sizes.

The jokes keep on coming when he shows a wooden post about two feet high, with an attached outlet box and a water spigot.

"I'm always doing things to have fun," he said, describing how fellow campers would try to plug in appliances of fill a coffee pot in the morning.

"I like to run a cord to it and toss the other end under the camper," he said. "It sure did fool a lot of people."

He made dozens of the Polish rocking chairs (adaptable to the nationality of your choice) with rockers going side to side. He also picked on the Poles with his Polish compass, consisting of a small round container holding a small circle of mirror.

"It can't tell you where you are, but it will tell you who's lost," he said, wearing a sly grin.

He typed up special labels calling them a Norwegian compass which he handed out to people on a Norwegian ship on a Caribbean cruise.

"I gave one to the captain and he just loved it," Tiede said. "That was a good trip. I saw fish there that I haven't seen since World War II!"

And the stories continue, along with the jokes.

"He's got a million of them," said Josephine, smiling warmly at the antics of her light hearted husband.

"You've got to laugh as much as you can," he said, realizing that he is the subject of his wife's joke. "If you can't laugh a little, what good is living?"

Few would argue that he isn't right.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

hummingbird feeder : How to hit for the cycle — the Rondell White way!

A dispatch from Corn Dog Corner, filed by W.i. Fly of Austin: "Some wag called the Common Man on KFAN with this beauty: 'Hey, Common. Rondell White hit for the cycle: He flew out, grounded out, popped out, and struck out.' "

Life as we know it

Sleep Apnea Division (cont.)

R.J. of Hammond, Wis.: "CPAPer's advice about the seriousness of sleep apnea and the importance of dealing with it was entirely accurate. However, I would be terribly discouraged by his or her comment that 'it took about three nights' to be able to keep the mask on all night. It took me three months to be able to tolerate it all night. I was the Queen of Claustrophobia — and to make matters worse, my first machine was one that adjusted to changes in my airway automatically and then recorded the data so that the technician could program a device for me. But the constant change in pressure really was irritating. Even after I finally was able to fall asleep with the mask on (and eventually it was very comforting to fall asleep without feeling my throat collapsing), I would still take the mask off in my sleep and have no memory of it at all. I really had a Love/Hate relationship with the thing for quite a while.

"When there was at last enough data to be able to program a device for me, I got one with constant pressure, and it was much, much easier. I was able to tolerate it almost immediately. About eight months later, I still have bouts where it's difficult to keep it on all night, and I even have some nights where I have a hard time falling asleep with it, but those times are the exception now. It gets easier and easier, and I would hate to be without it now. I put off dealing with the apnea for years because I was convinced that I could never tolerate the CPAP mask. I was wrong.

"For those who are struggling with it or have given up, keep trying. It really isn't impossible. Just commit yourself to trying it, however briefly, every night, for as long as it takes. If necessary, ask your doctor for a prescription for sleep medication until you get used to it. I think you'll find it's worth it. I know I don't miss my husband waking me up half a dozen times in the night to tell me: 'You're not breathing. BREATHE! BREATHE!' "

And now Mrs. Bone of Mac-Groveland: "One thing that seems to be overlooked by the medical establishment is the effect of sleep apnea on the spouse/sleep partner of those suffering with the problem.

"Just try sleeping peacefully next to someone who tosses, turns, thrashes, snores like a 747, and audibly stops breathing many times a night. Oh, and then there's the daily one- to two-hour after dinner nap when the family must tiptoe around the sleep-apnea patient as he/she catches up on the zzz's lost each night. (So much for quality family time. …)

"I discovered that sleep partners will wake (partially) along with the sleep-apnea sufferer, waiting for them to stop breathing so they can startle them into taking a regular breath. The morning tension headaches/neck stiffness I'd been experiencing for three years were due to clenching my teeth at night, in anticipation of Mr. Bone's abnormal breathing patterns (after visits to a regular doctor, an MRI, visits to a head/neck specialist, yoga classes and regular chiropractic care failed to pinpoint the source of the problem).

"Mr. Bone got a CPAP machine this past January. The noise the machine makes is much quieter than the snoring. My nights and my head are MUCH better."

Our birds, ourselves

A Bird Lover in Wisconsin: "I just read about the hummingbird in a garage that couldn't find its way out. A simpler solution (simpler than using a ladder and climbing up in the rafters) would be to put a hummingbird feeder in the open doorway. When the bird flies down for a drink of nectar, he will then fly away outside. He may not fly down when you are around, but he will soon see it — just as he did the red handle on the garage door's safety-release cable to get in."

Cuisine nostalgique

Watermelon Pickle Division

Morning Glory: "In re-sponse to IGHGrampa on 7/14:

"My mother also canned watermelon-rind pickles. I loved them, but as time went on and we didn't eat much watermelon and Mom grew older, I had to find a substitute. I did, in the pickle aisle of the grocery store (usually on the top shelf): Bryant's watermelon-rind pickles. They are the closest I've ever come to Mom's. In addition, they have cantaloupe-rind pickles. (Haven't tried them). Also: Read's German potato salad comes very close to Mom's."

Not exactly what they had in mind

Walt of Wayzata: "In the Red Star Trombone of July 19, the big obituary is for 'Gwen Harvey Fogarty, media activist.' The subheadline says: 'Known as Gwen Harvey when she was a local TV pioneer at WCCO, Fogarty advocated for people with mental disabilities on the air in the mid-1960s.' It certainly has worked out well. All you have to do is watch the 10 o'clock news on any channel!"


Or: Unstuck in time

Sharon of Roseville: "Just leave it to the St. Paul Pioneer Press to beat out its competitors!

" adds new databases every day, including newspaper obituaries. I just checked, and 83 Minnesota newspapers have provided online access to obituaries. Most of them cover a time period between 2003 and 2006. Our favorite newspaper is providing obituaries from 2004 to 2077. [Bulletin Board says: See]

"I'm afraid to type in my name, because I might get more information than I bargained for."


The Farm Boy of St. Paul: "I've spotted another job for the Apostrophe Redistribution Center. Increasingly, I see a single open-quote mark used in place of an apostrophe, in order to depict letters missing at the beginning of a word, or in place of the first two digits of a year. (An abbreviation of 2006, for example is written as '06 instead of the proper '06.)

"I know why this is. Yes, it's the computer's fault. Computers don't want to insert an apostrophe immediately after a blank space. If the apostrophe key is struck following a blank space rather than another character, the computer thinks a single open-quote is the correct punctuation. But a human is ultimately responsible for the output of the computer, and this tendency to errantly substitute a single open-quote for an apostrophe can be overridden by an observant human operator.

"And the effort should be made to do so. Because I'm not talking just about throwaway, inter-office memos. I see this mistake on giant billboards, and in fancy television graphics — places where much time and money has been expended to make a good impression. And horror of horrors, I've even seen it creep into Bulletin Board. (Of course, I'm certain that's totally the computer's fault.)"

BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: 'Twould please us greatly if 'twere so.

The great comebacks

Or: CAUTION! Words at Play!

David the Scudderite: "My son was having a minor computer problem: Whenever he created a new word-processing file, rather than a blank document, he'd get one with text from something he'd deleted weeks ago. After suggesting several technical interventions, none of which was successful, I proposed that perhaps the spirit of the original document was unable to rest and that Ben was the victim of a textual haunting.

"He shot back: 'Do you know a good textorcist?' "

'I was misinformed'

Lulu of Hudson, Wis.: "I was struck by one line in a recent movie that I think I can use.

"In 'The Family Stone,' Sarah Jessica Parker meets her boyfriend's family for the first time. She is in a bar with the boyfriend's brother, played by Luke Wilson. Things are not going well for Sarah, so Luke tells her: 'Settle down. You are flying your freak flag.'

"The Bird and Pooh are going to love using that one on me, as 'Yes, Mom, it's all about you' is getting old."

Band Name of the Day:

Red Star and the Trombones

Web Site of the Day:

A primer on sleep apnea, at

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Houston is a migratory pit stop on the hummingbird highway

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Get ready for the influx of ruby-throated hummingbirds. Thousands of the little sprites will be flying through Houston from late July to October.

Male ruby-throats with their glistening red throat feathers called gorgets will begin showing up within the next two weeks. Some have already arrived. Their bright red gorgets are actually the result of feather structures bending light waves like a prism to reveal the red spectrum.

But there's no red gorget on the females. So one way to identify them is by the white spots on the outer tail feathers. Males lack those white tail spots. Juvenile males look almost identical to females but often have tiny red blotches on the throat.

Females will begin arriving in August, followed a little later by juveniles.

Ruby-throated hummers migrating through Houston are on their way from breeding grounds farther north in eastern North America to wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. Their numbers peak in mid-September and trail off by the end of October.

They'll stick around for days or weeks at a time as they build up body fat by guzzling nectar from flowers and sugar water from hummingbird feeders. Increased body fat fuels their grueling flight over or around the Gulf of Mexico to Latin America.

Female ruby-throats are pugnacious, fiercely defending a hummingbird feeder or nectar flower not only against each other but also against males and juveniles.

Watch a female as she stakes out a hummingbird feeder. She'll perch on a nearby twig, coming to sip nectar periodically and bushwhacking any other hummingbird that tries to slurp nectar at the feeder.

Watching a hummingbird poke its long thin beak into a tubular flower or a feeder gives the illusion that the bird is sucking nectar through its beak, like sucking through a straw. Not so. The hummingbird laps up nectar with capillary action and tubular membranes in a tongue that can extend well beyond the tip of the beak.

Attracting ruby-throats to your backyard requires fresh water, shelter and nectar. Fresh water can be provided in a shallow birdbath, shelter can be provided by trees and shrubs, and nectar can come from flowers or hummingbird feeders.

Nectar-rich tubular flowers such as salvia and buddleia can be grown in a garden or placed in containers on a deck or patio. Hummingbird feeders filled with one part white table sugar to four parts tap water furnish birds nutrition similar to flower nectar.

The old saw that you should take hummingbird feeders down before winter so that hummingbirds will migrate is malarkey. The presence of a feeder cannot impede the biological forces impelling migration.

Naturalist Gary Clark and photographer Kathy Adams Clark can be reached at

Monday, July 10, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Saying goodbye is hard when you've made your house a home

Angela E. Lackey, Midland Daily News

How do you say goodbye to something that nurtured you body and soul for five years?
It was our 10th wedding anniversary and I was sick. I was about to get sicker. Our real estate agent called and said a young couple wanted to buy our home.
Now this was the deal when my husband, David, and I moved to Midland seven years ago. He was going to build a house, putting sweat equity into it, and eventually we would sell and make a profit.
But I soon knew I didn’t want to stick to the deal. After the call, my emotions went into high gear. I looked outside a window at the full green trees and cried. I noticed the hummingbird feeder and worried if the new owners would feed the birds their sugar water.
I remembered the ceramic tiles that David spent so much time cutting and fitting on the bathroom floor and vanity. I saw the little flower garden plaque that said "God Bless this Home" and fell to my knees, crying.
The flower petals felt so soft. The woods seemed so calm. The porch, a perfect place to sit on a summer day, suddenly seemed neglected. Why had I worked so much when I could have been relaxing there?
Each part of the house had a memory. There were memories of love and arguments that hurt badly. There were times of playing Scrabble on the dining room table and reading books together on the couch, feet touching feet.
There was our outdoor ‘pet,’ the black squirrel. David made a bird feeder, but the squirrel felt it was his food. Nothing we did kept the squirrel out until David put a steel cone underneath the feeder.
The black squirrel took a flying leap from our porch, hit the cone and bounced off. He stood outside our window for minutes, making angry noises. We were sure he was telling us off.
Several days after the call, our agent came with the papers. I was still unwilling to let go of the house and threatened not to sign them. But wasn’t I suppose to want this? We had been trying to sell the house for more than two years.
I watched as David signed each page. Then it was my turn. I read every word, questioning every single thing. I was stalling.
Finally, I signed each page. Then I cried and ran out of the room.
It did get better. We took a walk in the woods one last time. I stopped crying when I looked at the trees or thought about the birds. I started packing for the move.
Thursday was closing day. I sat in my car for a while, thinking of the past five years. I knew then it was over. I was turning over my home to strangers, trusting they would appreciate all the beauty and hard work that went into it.
Now David is drawing up plans for the next house. And I can’t wait to hear the hammering of nails in the middle of the woods.

©Midland Daily News 2006

Friday, July 07, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Trouble bruin at hummingbird feeders

By Sylvia Brockner

This week, my article consists of replies to correspondence from two readers. In reply to HBL’s request for information about hummingbird feeders attracting bears: Yes, they do. Black bears love sweets, and hummingbird nectar is sweet enough for the local bruins to find them very attractive. They also will destroy your feeder trying to get to the nectar.

I have found two possible solutions to this problem. The simplest is to just bring your feeder in every night. Hummingbirds feed late, and they need that last food to see them through the night. Watch the feeders at dusk, and you will see that they continue to feed until it’s almost dark. When they are no longer feeding, bring your feeders in. The problem with this method is that hummingbirds also feed very early in the morning. So you need to get your feeders back outside by shortly after dawn. As soon as the sun pops over the horizon, they will be waiting for “their” feeder to be returned.

Because I don’t like to get up at the early hour of summer sunrise, I am trying an alternative. I have all my seed feeders hanging from T-bars with pulleys. They are about 15 feet above ground, and a 5-gallon paint pail turned upside down over the top of the pole keeps squirrels, raccoons and bears from climbing the pole to the food. This is also the only way I can keep elk and deer from emptying the seed feeders. They are too high for them to reach. Since we do not need as many seed feeders during the summer, I have put a hummingbird feeder on one of the T-bars. It seems to be working out as far as keeping the bears away from it, but the hummingbirds are not used to feeding that high. They look all around at lower levels, but will eventually get used to it.

As to seed feeders attracting voles, the pulley T-bar system keeps any vole or mouse from reaching the food supply. However, if food spills on the ground, it might well attract mice or voles, but I have never seen one beneath our feeders. The only rat or mouse I have ever seen beneath our seed feeders was one cave or pack rat. They are native animals and present no real problem.

Moles are uncommon here, but pocket gophers are very common. Neither of them comes out of their tunnels very often and, therefore, are little problem at feeders. They do, however, raise havoc with gardens, eating roots, tubers and bulbs, which they find below ground.

If you have seed accumulating on the ground beneath your feeder, try putting out a little less seed each morning. The golden-mantled ground squirrels, least chipmunks, junco and mourning doves clean up any seed that falls beneath our feeders during the day. If they consume any feed that was available on the ground, then there is nothing left for the night prowlers. In addition, it is wise to clean your feeders and the ground beneath them about once a week to help prevent the spread of bird diseases.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife feels very strongly about feeding wildlife. And it’s illegal. Therefore, if you do not want to pay a fine, it is a good idea to fix your feeders so they do not supply food for any of the wild critters.

In reply to a letter from MAD: Your question about spraying trees for pine beetle is difficult to answer. Do not spray any more than is absolutely necessary. I know that if you have a serious outbreak, it is probably necessary to spray, but wait until August if possible. Hummingbirds are often through nesting by then and out of the nest. You probably should take your feeders down for a week before your spraying date. If they can’t find food in your yard, they may move to some neighbor’s feeders where they are not spraying. Although many sprays are advertised as being “bird safe,” you need to be aware that hummingbirds weigh less than an ounce. It takes only an infinitesimal amount of any toxin to affect them. Another less-considered problem is that most insecticides kill any insect, not just the pine beetle. Therefore, all of the tiny insects that hummingbirds normally consume will also be killed, leaving the hummingbird without food. In this year of drought, when there are practically no wildflowers, they especially need their insect food.

After the spraying has been completed and everything has dried off and dissipated, try putting your feeds out again in about a week. This will help any local birds still around and migrants that will be coming through. Most of the hummingbirds will have left for the south by about Sept. 20.

Monday, July 03, 2006

hummingbird feeder : RV nomads find a different road to a rich life

01:34 PM CDT on Sunday, July 2, 2006

RED RIVER, N.M. – While much of the country is suffering from overwhelming heat, Jim and Chris Rett are enjoying the cool temperatures at 8,900 feet. In summer, days here average 75 degrees. Nights average 38 degrees.

"When it gets hot," Jim says, "you can move north – or you can move up. Up is closer."

Rich people have done this kind of move for centuries.

Wealthy Texans have fled the heat and humidity of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio for decades, escaping to Santa Fe during its summer monsoon season or on to Red River, which some have called "Little Texas."

But Jim and Chris Rett aren't rich people. At least they aren't rich by the usual definition – having lots of money.

I call them Reimagined People.

Officially, they are domiciled in South Dakota, but they have never lived there for any period of time. At ages 58 and 55, they are in their fourth year as "full-timers" – people who live in an RV and travel the country.

Earlier this year, they were living in Big Bend National Park. Come October, they will leave Red River.

I met Jim while admiring the hummingbird feeder planted outside his 30-foot New Horizons "fifth wheel," having just bent the stout metal rod of my own hummingbird feeder on the incredibly solid soil at the Road Runner RV Resort.

Jim and Chris are camp hosts – meaning they exchange some time helping operate the resort for an RV spot, free electricity, propane, cable TV and laundry access. This allows them to avoid about $900 a month in cash expenses.

"This is a surprisingly inexpensive way to live," Jim told me.

How inexpensive?

Try $2,000 a month for expenses, including medical insurance, and an additional $200-a-month reserve for federal income taxes. That, he told me, is what they've averaged per month this year.

Earlier, when they traveled more and did not serve as camp hosts, their expenses ran to $3,000 a month, he said.

Then again, their expenses in Big Bend were about $1,350 a month, nearly half of which went for medical insurance.

"You don't spend much money when you have to drive 80 miles to a grocery store," Chris smiled. It also helps to live in an RV – when you buy something new, something old has to leave.

It is common to view "early retirees" as a euphemism for corporate cast-offs, as the victims of an increasingly desolate corporate culture that views people as expenses rather than assets. But you don't have to spend much time with Jim and Chris to understand that they are true free agents, unencumbered.

They aren't rich. They aren't poor. They aren't victims. They are people who examined their lives and decided to leave the 9-to-5 world behind. They went on to build the healthy, active, outdoor life that most people on the planet would envy.

Jim said he was a mechanical engineer, explaining that he and Chris had always lived below their income and had spent years living on a sailboat in the Pacific Northwest.

When it rains

Just before their shift to full-time RVing, Jim had been teaching at a community college. Then two of his colleagues quit, and he had to teach five courses a semester.

"And we had 77 consecutive days of rain," he added. After those 77 days, they decided it was time to invent a new life.

They sold their paid-off house and most of their possessions. Jim converted a major part of his savings into a life annuity. They ordered a custom-made fifth wheel, adding solar power, extra batteries, more windows, XM Satellite radio and other goodies. It cost about $75,000.

Jim, always an engineer, customized a relatively small GM truck to increase its torque and horsepower so it could pull the 15,000 pounds of trailer and contents. The truck brought their total investment, paid in cash, to nearly $115,000.

Is that a lot?

For many, yes. With a careful purchase of used tow vehicle and trailer, I figure you can be on the road for less than $50,000. But here in America, the Land of the Infinite Upgrade, it's also possible to spend much, much more.

Avoiding the ersatz glitz of many RVs – the bizarre carved velvet couches, the ludicrous beveled glass cabinet fronts, the plethora of flat-panel televisions and other touches that make $500,000 motor homes feel like mobile bordellos – the Retts custom-designed their fifth wheel with birch cabinets, simple flooring and crisp, brushed stainless-steel fittings. The result is a bright, airy and very efficient one-bedroom apartment on wheels.

Then they hit the road, gravitating toward the Southwest. They spend time in Arizona and California. But they've also windsurfed Laguna Madre by Padre Island – and they ride their bicycles everywhere.

Both are lean and fit. Both love to cook and are quick to admit that they spend more than $600 a month on food.

A catch?

Is there a fly somewhere in all this ointment?

I don't think so.

They live on less than their current income. They are living on what they will eventually receive in Social Security benefits alone.

And when Jim shared their investments with me, I entered it all in ESPlanner, the dynamic programming software that was the subject of a recent column series.

What did it tell me? At an assumed return of 7 percent, just 4 percent over inflation, they could safely live to 95 – even if they doubled their spending.

So there it is – free time, airport-free travel, a healthy life and more income than you need. It's available today, not tomorrow. It requires some savings – more than most people have. But it doesn't require a fortune.

The real price of entry is the courage of reimagination.