Sunday, November 15, 2015

Busy Days on the Refuge & a New Job

Since the 18 new volunteers arrived 2 weeks ago, it’s been a flurry of activity here at Bosque del Apache NWR.  Between training sessions, pot lucks, and preparing for the big Festival of the Cranes (that starts this Tuesday), it’s been an exceptionally busy time.  Add to that, a new job for me here on the Refuge, lots of new major personal legal/financial changes to plan (as a result of the new 2016 ACA Healthcare plans), and a little episode of nearly burning down my RV last week….and I’ve felt rather scattered in 101 directions this month!

Sorta like these snow geese.  One day they’re enjoying a nice relaxing sunny afternoon resting in one of the ponds…


and the next day they’re buzzing over the tourists’ cars fleeing for their lives!


all because of one new bird arriving at the Refuge to throw their normal daily routine into total chaos…the Bald Eagle!


One night last week, I noticed my circuit breaker flipping a few times whenever I ran my ceramic heater.  I’d been running the heater fine for a few weeks before that, but now suddenly, it was flipping breakers!  I finally just unplugged it and thought all would be well, until the next morning when I was running my hair dryer and smelled a slight burning smell coming from my RV’s converter panel.  Still, my electric appliances continued to function and no longer were flipping breakers, so I just blissfully ignored the problem.

After a couple more days, I started noticing a trend.  Any time I ran the microwave, or any other “high load” electric appliance, I smelled the slight burning smell.  Finally, I decided I’d better take the panel off the converter to check things out.

Ut oh….this can’t be good!


Behind the charred 110 electric access panel, I discovered all the wires connecting to my neutral buss bar had almost totally burned to bits!  It really is sheer luck that I decided to investigate when I did, because 1 day (or maybe even 1 hour) longer, and these wires could have totally started my RV on fire!


Some helpful guys from the Facebook View/Navion forum got me headed in the right direction to troubleshoot the problem, and the Refuge manager dispatched an electrician to come inspect my outside power pedestal for any mis-wiring.

As it turns out, the pedestal power was perfectly fine.  My 30 amp shore power plug, on the other hand, was not!  It’s neutral prong had melted the plug of my Surge Protector.


I first disassembled my surge protector to see if any loose wires might have caused the “hot neutral” situation.  Nope, all was fine there.  So, the next step was to disassemble the 30 amp shore power plug.  What a total mess on the inside!


The neutral post had burned itself halfway into the ground wire, and both wires were fused together just below that.  Likely, over time the dumb design of this shore power plug (with screws rubbing against the ground wire) had likely worn away the insulation finally causing the power arc to occur.

Snipping away the charred wires, and a new $5 shore power plug solved that problem.  The new design, smartly, has each screw facing away from the wires!

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My next dilemma was whether to tackle the replacement and rewiring of my RV converter power center myself, or drive my RV up to Albuquerque to try and get it fixed.  A call to the Winnebago dealer was discouraging—no available service appointments until Thanksgiving week!  Finally, after a bit more research, I felt comfortable enough to start doing the job myself.

Thus far, I’ve successfully transferred my 12-volt converter components and wiring over to the new power center box.  Next step will be to strip down and reconnect the 110 electrical wires and circuit breakers to the new box.  All I need now is enough free time during daylight hours to finish the job (a bit of a challenge this week due to our work schedules!), but until then, I’m doing fine with a few extension cords and power strips to provide me with 110 electric, and thankfully, with a fully-working 12-volt system and my solar panels to recharge batteries, I can take my time finishing this job!

Another major focus for me this month has been to investigate and plan my 2016 strategy for healthcare.  A few weeks ago, BlueCross/BlueShield of Illinois notified me that they were discontinuing their individual ACA PPO plans in 2016 and moving everyone to a restrictive local “EPO” network.  When the ACA exchange opened on November 1st, the available plan options for my Illinois zip code were pretty dreadful.  Only 1 remaining nationwide PPO plan, and that was with the co-op insurer I had started out with this year, Land of Lincoln, who while offering many primary care doctors nationwide in-network, lacked many other critical specialists “in-network” (such as anesthesiologists).  The problem with this is that Land of Lincoln, and now BCBS of Illinois too, have absolutely no caps on out-of-network out-of-pocket costs.  They can tell you a provider or facility is out-of-network, and you are then on the hook for any and all the charges that could result, even if they can offer no in-network alternative!  I was not about to open myself up to that kind of financial (and health) risk if I could help it.

So, I began looking at the other popular full-time RVer states to see what their ACA healthcare plans looked like.  Thankfully, Kyle from RVer Insurance Exchange had just published his excellent summary of 2016 healthcare options for under-65 RVers.  As expected, Texas offered nothing but HMO options (BCBS of Texas is run by the same group that runs BCBS of IL and a few other Blues around the country that all dropped their PPO plans this year).  South Dakota offered nothing new—just the same one insurer who continued to call their limited, local-only plan a “PPO.”

Fortunately, one bright light appears to remain for 2016 ACA healthcare—Florida Blue.  While it calls its plans “EPO’s” they still come with access to the nationwide “Blue Card PPO” system and these visits are still considered in-network!  Even better, my premium costs in Florida will be nearly $200 cheaper per month than Illinois, and of course, becoming a Florida resident means I’ll no longer have to pay state income taxes—super bonus!

So, I have now officially begun the process of moving my domicile from Illinois to Florida.  This will take a number of weeks (and surely require many more hoops to jump through along the way), but if all goes well, I hope to be a Floridian by January 1st.

Of course, the 2017 ACA healthcare landscape could totally change, and there’s no guarantee that Florida Blue will continue to offer it’s nationwide PPO after 2016, but so far, the overall cost savings is still worth the hassle of “moving.”  Fingers crossed!!!

Now, to end on some happier notes—my new job on the Refuge!  Instead of working the Visitor Center full-time as I anticipated, the Refuge volunteer coordinator asked if I’d like to work with the senior naturalist instead.  You bet I would!!!

So, my new job is to drive a 15-passenger van on refuge tours each weekend and assist the senior naturalist, Cathie, with spotting birds and wildlife along the way.  Additionally, she and I will soon split duties of manning the big viewing deck at sunrise and sunset to answer questions for visitors watching the cranes and geese fly in and fly out.

So far, the new gig has been a blast!  We often stop and bring the spotting scope out when there’s an interesting bird for visitors to look at.


Cathie is an incredible wealth of knowledge, and I’m learning a lot from listening to her as we drive.


But the real fun is getting to be out on the Refuge 2 full days a week spotting and photographing all the wonderful birds who are calling this place “home” this winter—like this mama snow goose and her juvenile offspring…


this pair of Goldfinches (an American on the left, and a Lesser on the right)…


this Western Diamondback Rattlesnake…


our favorite female American Kestrel (who poses at this spot on nearly every tour)!….


a great close-up look of a Wilson’s Snipe…


our first sighting of the season of a Hooded Merganser…


a pair of American Widgeon (the male has a “Mohawk” white stripe on top of its head)…


of course, lots and lots of our most-popular bird, the Greater Sandhill Crane….


and today, the first sighting ever on the Refuge of a rare Leucistic American Coot!  Even though this one swam with dozens of normal looking black coots, they seemed to shun this poor, odd, virtually un-colored bird.


Never a dull moment on the Refuge!


  1. Very impressed with your electrical abilities! Way too chicken here to try something like that. Appreciate the write up and will now know to look for hidden issues.

    Enjoying all the bird photos. Hope to experience this wonderful place someday. Say "hi" to my friend, Jean, if you run across her. She's there taking photos.

    Hope you are doing great, healthwise, and otherwise!

    1. Thanks Lynne. The electrical is non-specific to the View (just about all RVs have the same kind of shore power cord and converter/power panel), so thank god for YouTube videos and helpful online guys to educate me and guide me thru!

      Healthwise, I'm feeling great other than recovering from a nasty spider bite and 2 dozen mosquito bites of a few weeks ago-- comes with the job I guess!

  2. Wow you got lucky on that electrical issue. You doing a good job ,just take your time and will be better than new.
    Nice that you have some power and extension cords in the meantime.

    1. Yes, I'm not rushing it, but did have a few episodes of loud swearing when I ran into difficulties detaching and reattaching the "strain relief" connectors on the 12 volt side. Thankfully, I finally got them reinstalled successfully. When I turned the power back on and all my 12-volt systems worked on the first try, I was pretty happy with myself, and certainly have a much stronger understanding of my electrical system now, so that's certainly worth a few days of my time and learning!

  3. WOW .... you are one busy lady. I'm really glad that you pulled that panel off when you did. It's amazing sometimes just "how close" things are to disaster when we find them. Your health insurance story is not the first I have read this year. It's stories like yours that make me thankful I've been healthy and I have the retired military Tricare Insurance.

    Great photos of the wildlife ... it must be a fantastic place to work. I was wondering if you miss having a dog with you? I know you miss Mille, but do you miss having just a dog . Of course with your work schedule and the time spent with your electrical repair, time might be limited too much to have another.

    Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to blog, it's always a great read.

    1. I finally cleaned out a bin of Millie's toys and old bandanas last week-- cried the whole time. Just when I think I'm doing better and getting ready for another dog, I'm just not there yet. I know another dog will come into my life one day, but in the meantime, fellow volunteers bring their dogs to visit when I need to give a furry friend a pat, and that's good enough for now.

  4. Wow, electrical work. Amazing! I wouldn't dare to touch that for anything in the world. Good for you! The one thing nice about ACA is they have to take you, even with your past health issues. Not sure that would have happened a few years ago. I love your bird knowledge and beautiful photos!

    1. oh yes, no matter what, I'm VERY happy to have an ACA plan with no pre-existing condition limitations and no lifetime limits. Just hoping Congress will get it together soon to fix and improve some of these recent unintended consequences (like the loss of nationwide plans, and allowing states to approve plans that have no caps on out-of-network costs).

      Electrical knowledge has been something I've worked on slowly for the past 10 years. But every project gives me confidence to tackle the next! Thank god for educational step-by-step YouTube videos!

  5. Very scary electrical issue you had. I am sooooo happy you caught it. Also happy to hear FL Blue will work for you. It's really the only fulltime RV-friendly state left with a true nationwide plan. I really wish plans wouldn't change like this every year.


    1. Yeah, I've been feeling very "thankful" this month (for both the electrical situation, and the "almost too good to be true" Florida Blue option)! The one area that will bite with changing domicile to FL is the cost of vehicle insurance, it's a few hundred more expensive. But, looked at in total, I still come out a few thousand ahead. Hoping I won't need to "move" again to another state for 2017, but it's great that we have wheels on our homes, and many more options than those living at a fixed address.

  6. That job change sounds wonderful. Being out in the field is always better than behind a counter in my book! I'm in awe of your electrical prowess.

    1. yes, this job (and refuge) may indeed spoil me. Sure will be hard to find another Refuge to equal or beat the sweet deal here (and only 24 hrs/week minimum!).

  7. Wow, glad you checked that electrical in time. You are definitely capable of doing the wiring, me on the other hand heh. Sounds like a great new job on the refuge. Ilk misses you in the visitor center when I check in this week.

    1. Are you coming for the Festival? I'll be working the VC on Sat and Sun afternoons this coming weekend, and lots of other events during the week. Ask the VC desk if they can locate me, and if I'm around, I'd love to say "hi" and meet you.

    2. Yes, I am here for the festival mainly wanted some of the photography sessions. I've lived near a wintering Sandhill Crane site (southeast AZ) since I started birding so have seen quite a few. Looking forward to seeing some other wintering birds AND you. Yes, I will try to get in contact. You have taught us a lot about full timing, and as a fan it would be great to meet you.

  8. I'm impressed by your willingness and ability to rewire the RV. Good job. I do wish there could be a regulation or two that would stop the conversions of PPO to EPO plans. Moving is such a pain.

  9. Scary electrical problem. Glad you discovered it in time. The van driving/tours sounds awesome. We love the Bosque. Such an amazing and magical place.

  10. I'm going to be working in TX again this year and helping out my daughter with a new baby in Texas, so I am just going to get a Texas health plan and hope for the best. I am dreading the HMO plan and I wonder if my primary Dr. will have to be in Livingston, or if I can pick a primary in any city I want. I wish I had the courage to work on my electrical system in the RV, would certainly save me some $$.

  11. I just had my birthday and became eligible for medicare...and spent hours researching my supplemental options. Finally I just made a decision and crossed my fingers!
    I'm impressed with your electrical knowledge. I don't think I'd have the confidence to attempt that repair myself, nor the trust in the spouse to do it safely. I'd go with a professional for sure. How lucky that you caught the problem before it became a disaster.

  12. Holy crackers! I am AMAZED at your talent and skills in the electrical mess! Electrical scares me to no end (being seriously shocked as a child) so YOU GO GIRL! So cool that you got the new job at the refuge and I'd admit it would be my favorite too. I love seeing and learning about all of the wildlife and thoroughly enjoyed your photos!

  13. Talk about highs and certainly seem to come out on tops of all situations. Well done. You rock!

    Would love to be there some year for the Festival. Enjoy!

  14. Great Electrical work!! And I thought your job there really sounded appealing and enjoyed all the pictures, UNTIL I saw the one of the snake. That would have me jumping back into the van, VERY FAST!


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