Summer Travel Map

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Winding down the year, and a bit under the weather

December 30, 2007
Peoria, AZ

We’ve both been a little under the weather for the last few days, so things have been pretty quiet around here. Geri’s started physical therapy to help her bursitis, and that always brings on some different aches and pains. I haven’t had a bout of sinus problems for a few years, so I suppose I’m overdue. I started with a tickle in the throat and some stuffiness, but I think I nipped it in the bud.

The weather’s continued to be on the cool side, although it’s starting to warm up to “normal” and should stay that way for most of the next week. That’ll be a welcome change, as we have several projects to complete before we head out to California next weekend.

Geri picked up some nice Tilapia for dinner on Friday, and we sautéed it with some of the Stew Leonard’s (a regional grocery in Connecticut) flavored bread crumbs (Pat sent us a “care package”). I made some rice with peas and Geri did up some of her haricots verts. I found a nice 2001 red Burgundy, a Savigny-les-Beaune «Millésime» from Patrice Rion, which might have benefited from a few more years of cellaring but was quite pleasant at this point.

Yesterday, we were both feeling better so we took a “day trip” out in the “country”. Geri wanted to do some shopping in Anthem (a new and growing community north of Phoenix, and I’d seen some property in New River (a rural community a bit further north) that looked interesting, so we headed out after breakfast. Geri found the shoes she’s been looking for (she’s still trying to convince me that women’s shoes need to be replaced after 4-6 months while men’s can last for years) at a specialty shop, so the trip was deemed a success early.

We’re not exactly in the real estate market, but we’d love to find a piece of land where we could a) build a small house laid out they way we want and b) has room for the coach to be parked on-site. It’s still a “buyer’s market”, and may be for the foreseeable future, so we’ll continue to poke around on “” and the MLS sites. It would be nice to pick up the land while the market is soft, and wait to develop it until it turns and we can sell our current place for a reasonable price in 2010 or so. We have the advantage that we can live in the coach so we won’t be “house-less”.

After our drive in the country, we stopped at Whole Foods and ended up getting a couple of dry-aged steaks and some potatoes for fries. It turns out we were both thinking Steak Frittes – excellent! I overcooked the steaks slightly even at 3 minutes per side, probably due to inexperience with dry-aged beef and a not noticing that they were a tad thinner than I usually get. It’s also time to change the oil in the deep fryer (and probably replace the deep fryer as well), so it wasn’t the perfect meal. Good, but not great. I’d grabbed a bottle of value Australian wine, the 2005 “The Stump Jump” Shiraz from d’Arenberg. We’ve had prior vintages of this wine that I wasn’t thrilled with, but the 2005 was quite nice, with lots of fruit and good balance. I’ll have to get some more of this one.

Today, it was time to get back on the project list; no more being sick. Geri found a few recipes that she wants to try out, so she spent the day developing a meal plan and shopping. I got a few leftover items completed (added a second brace to the satellite dish for stability, touched up the paint on the trim installed over the cables) and started to put things back in order in the workshop side of the garage. I had quite a few things “out” and it was in need of a dedicated clean-up. I also managed to address a couple of things needed for our trip, like getting Geri’s motorized scooter (really helpful at rallies) charged up and making sure my mountain bike is ready to hang on the bike rack. I’ll dust off the to-do list tomorrow, so this coming week should be much busier.

Tonight, Geri’s making the most humongous empanada that I’ve ever seen. Actually, it a Food Network take on a chicken pot pie, starting with a whole chicken done in a stew, and then baked inside various layers of puff pastry. Sounds like I’d better get going on picking a wine!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It doesn’t take long for the blood to thin…

December 27, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Christmas Day has come and gone, but the colder temperatures seem here to stay. According to the local news, we’ve had something like 20 consecutive days of below-normal temperatures. More on that later…

Our Christmas dinner came out nicely, except that we had enough food to serve ten people instead of two. We knew that the crown roast of pork would entail leftovers (aka “pre-planned-and-prepared meals”), but this was overboard. I separated out one portion for this week and three went in the freezer. Geri made an excellent “from scratch” dressing and her crispy baked red potatoes. I used carrot, parsnip, fennel and apple in place of a roasting rack, so we had plenty of veggies. The whole meal was paired with a red Burgundy (1998 Chambolle-Musigny «Les Charmes» Premier Cru from Domaine Daniel Rion et Fils) which was excellent, with bright red fruit and a smooth finish. It was part of my plan to attack the “wine box” in a more balanced fashion.

Geri received two bottles of 2004 Pinot Noir from Badge Wines in the Santa Rita Hills area of California. We met the winemaker, Bruno D’Alfonso, when we visited Sea Smoke Cellars in Lompoc early in 2007. He’s a pretty interesting guy, making his own wines after spending years as winemaker at Sanford. I’ve been looking for his Pinot ever since and finally found some at Sam’s Wine & Spirits in Chicago. Fortunately, it arrived in time for Christmas. We thought about trying one bottle with dinner, but decided to wait. That’s willpower!

Yesterday started out really chilly, with freeze warnings all over the valley. I got an early start and headed for the coach to check things out. I had decided to do a basic winterization, so I brought the materials to blow out the water lines and put non-toxic anti-freeze in the traps. I have a compressor in the coach basement and had made up an adapter to attach it to the water line, so it was a pretty straightforward process. Basically, it involves opening each faucet one at a time and waiting for no more water to be driven out by the air pressure. The only tricky parts are the washer (have to run it through a partial cycle to open the valves for the air and then pump out the water) and the icemaker (have to drain the line from the valve to the freezer manually). Overall, it took about 1.5 hours. I’ll probably have to do it again when we get back from our January trip, since we’re likely to still see some cold overnight lows in the latter part of January through early-February.

Last night, Geri made another “keeper” dinner, roasted chicken thighs with tomatoes and olives, baked yams, and broccoli. Fabulous! I've never been a big broccoli fan, but she has these steamer bags that do a wonderful job.

Today started early for me: I headed over to the doctor’s office before 8:00 AM to have some blood drawn for a lab test (have to monitor the cholesterol these days) in advance of a check-up on January 4. It was the coldest it's been this morning when we walked the pups. Even with a hat and jacket, the wind (about 20 mph) cut right through. We're becoming such wimps! :-)

We don’t have any big plans for today, just bring the pups back to the groomer for a touch up. Both of them need a trim around the eyes. We can’t tell if Merlin is a Yorkie or a sheepdog. (Well, we can tell, but he really needs to be trimmed.) We should have noticed it last week when we picked them up from grooming but didn’t. Geri called yesterday and made arrangements to bring them back in.

In the meantime, I’ll catch up on paying bills and updating Quicken, filing, and getting things organized for income taxes. Now that the AMT (“alternative minimum tax”) was adjusted by recent legislation, we should be much better off.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas to all…

December 25, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Geri and I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and our best wishes for a happy, safe, prosperous, and healthy 2008.

Yesterday was a great day. We don’t get many visitors here in Arizona, so it was a real treat to have Cindy, Mike, and Jennifer visit for the afternoon. Merlin and Maya Lynn had a special visitor as well, since they had their dog, “Barkley”, with them. Barkley’s a terrier mix, a little taller (and a lot leaner) than ours, with Maya’s coloring, a little stiffer of a coat, and a sweet disposition. Merlin was his normal persnickety self, of course, but soon settled down for the most part. Overall, everyone had a good time and it was a good visit. We’ll see them again when we’re out in California in February/early-March, as we’ll spend a few days each in El Capitan and Buellton/Lompoc.

Last night, we had some pasta with a wonderful 2000 Barbaresco from Cascina Vano sourced from Moore Brothers in NJ several years ago. I’ve concluded that we’ve been most likely to tap the Italian section of the “wine box” lately, so I’ll have to develop strategies for a) balancing things out and b) replenishing the stock. With current exchange rates, that’s going to be exceedingly difficult, I’m sure.

We also indulged in some “Christmas Classics” last night. We watched a portion of “It’s a Wonderful Life” (I’m sorry, but I just can’t sit still for the first 2/3 of this one), and then caught the end of “A Christmas Story” (you know, “You’ll shoot your eye out, Ralphie”) with a nice nightcap of single malt.

Today, we were awakened to the sounds of Christmas music. No, wait – it was just the tones on our cell phones going off with arriving text messages. No matter, it’s another beautiful day in paradise. We had our coffee, gave the pups their new squeaky toys, put on the XM holiday music from DirecTV, and opened gifts. We got a nice goodie box from CT, I got a couple of casual shirts, and Geri got two bottles of a hard-to-get California Pinot Noir (hopefully, she’ll share!).

With dinner (crown roast of pork) in the oven for an early meal, it’s now time to relax on the patio between basting trips to the kitchen. Sounds like a good time to have a glass of wine!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chillin’ before the Holidays

December 23, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Yesterday was a day for chilling out. We slept in. We made some lists of grocery items and things to do after Christmas, Geri did some laundry, and I watched some golf on TV. OK, I really took a nap while the golf was on; close enough. I did some planning for the next things to do around the house. Of course, it was all “mental planning”. I like to call it “rumination”. It doesn’t look like I’m doing anything, but I’m really working hard.

In the afternoon, I mixed up a small batch of sauce and we had pasta for dinner. Neither one of us was in a particularly sparkling mood, so it was a pretty low-key evening, although the 2003 Langhe Nebbiolo from Germano Ettore in Piedmont was drinking nicely. Generic nebbiolos are known as the "poor man's Barolo" and while 2003 wasn't a stunning vintage it was fine with some angel hair and a couple of pork cutlets a la parmigiana.

The big news has been on the weather front. Literally. While we haven’t had any more precipitation, temperatures have been running a touch below normal for well over a week now. Last night had the most legitimate freeze warning to date after a dry cold front blew through. Literally. Yesterday, we had a pretty stiff breeze all day, even though it warmed up nicely in the afternoon.

The only fly in the ointment is the coach. Last year, we had it parked in the expensive indoor space, so freeze warnings didn’t mean a thing. This year, not so much. Even though I drained the tanks when we returned from Alabama/Florida, I didn’t really winterize the water system. Accordingly, I got up just after dawn this morning and drove over to check things out. It was about 33°F outside, and warmer inside the coach. It was 38°F in the storage bay by the water pump and 42°F inside, so we were safe – this time.

This afternoon, we headed out for a short shopping trip, so I stopped in Home Depot and picked up a brass fitting that will allow me to connect the water line to the compressor so I can blow out the water lines just to be safe. It’s supposed to be a little warmer for the next few overnights, so I’ll wait until after Christmas before making another trip over there. We'll be heading out for California on January 5th, so we only have to get through the next week-and-a-half.

Today, we had an early dinner, mid-afternoon, because we’ve been eating dinner too late for the last week or so. We’ll have a salad or snack tonight.

Tomorrow should be fun, since one of Geri’s nieces, Cindy, will visit with her husband Mike and their daughter Jennifer. Mike has family in the Phoenix area, and they’re visiting for a few days, so it’ll be great to see them. We get to see them about every other time we visit Geri’s sister, Kathy, in Lompoc, CA. They live in Santa Barbara, about 75 miles east of Kathy, and we’ve caught up with them in SB a couple of times as well.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Dinner out? Not so much.

December 21, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Well, I really goofed the other night. Since Geri spent the whole day in the kitchen, I had expected that she’d want to go out for dinner. Au contraire. It’s leftovers for you, buddy. This wasn’t a huge issue, since we had saved some pasta from the weekend and everything was ready to go. All I had to do was pop the cork on a nice Chianti.

Wednesday and Thursday were “continuation” days. Geri finished up her cookies. Some were “in progress” and needed to rest or chill before being finished, and others were just on her list of things to try. All of them came out tasting great, and she's started neighborhood deliveries.

I kept working on the TV project, adding a brace to the arm holding the dish and fabricating some trim strips to cover up the multiple cables running along the ceiling and down the wall on the patio. This, too, is a multi-step, start-stop process, as I had to cut each piece to fit the angles and paint everything before assembly (sounds like Dave and Sandy, except that I’m doing it all myself).

I got everything ready and put up, but had too much of a gap between the trim and stucco, so I decided to put a bead of caulking compound in place. Of course, I had no paintable caulk on hand, so another trip to Home Depot was in order. While I was there, I decided to pick up another one of the 18 volt tools I’ve been eyeing: you bet, caulking gun. I know it’s the height of laziness to need an electric caulking gun, but it actually worked pretty well. I was having so much fun that I got out the tube of concrete mortar patch I’d been saving and fixed up some cracks in the rear wall.

Now, I’ve got everything ready for the final painting, although I’ve also decided to put on another brace for the dish at a 90° angle. Will this project ever end?

Today was a day for errands, not projects. Geri had a hair appointment at 11:00 AM, so I dropped her off and picked up Merlin’s meds from the vet before stopping at the coach for a few things. I’d just gotten home when she called that she was ready, so I picked her up and we headed out past Surprise to Sun City West where she had a physical therapy appointment. With traffic, we just made it. I hung out (PetsMart, Home Depot) while she was there, rather than drive all the way home and back.

On the way home, we stopped at a local butcher shop that we’d heard about. It was small with a limited but good selection, so we picked up a few things (flank steak for tonight, sausage to make pasta sauce, and a crown roast of pork for Christmas). If these things turn out OK, we’ll add them to the list of places to shop. They’re pretty close to the dogs’ groomer, so it could be a planned stop when we take the pups in. Now, if we could only find a good fishmonger…

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Axles, Cookies, and Grooming

December 18, 2007
Peoria, AZ

What do these two things have to do with each other? Nothing, other than that’s what we’ve been up to over the last couple of days.

Yesterday was grooming day for the canines. We dropped them off around 10:00 AM and spent some time at the coach storage lot doing a few chores there while we waited for them to be ready. After a point, we decided to head home for a bio-break (no water in the coach right now) and lunch, which worked out fine, as we were just finishing up when the call came to go pick them up.

We made a quick stop at the dog park (it’s much cleaner than the one we visited with Abby in Florida), but there was nobody else there so we didn’t stay too long. We’ve found that Merlin and Maya Lynn generally hang out around our feet if there aren’t any other dogs around to play with.

Today, Geri’s been making cookies all day. I have no idea who is going to eat all these cookies, since we’re both working on managing our intake these days, but I’m sure the neighbors will be getting some packages.

While she’s been in the kitchen, I made a Home Depot run for the trim strips I need to cover the DirecTV cables outside. I also picked up a gallon of paint that matches the outside of the house; there’s a local paint company that supplies contractors, and the builder used their stuff. They are pretty good about extending contractor pricing for members of the local HOAs, which brings the cost per gallon from $35+ to $20. If it wasn’t for that, I’d be getting the best match possible from Home Depot or Lowe’s.

In the afternoon, I took a ride over to the coach for some additional maintenance tasks. I’ve been having an issue with oil leaking from the hubs on the tag axle. The bearings use heavy-duty gear oil instead of axle grease like most cars. There’s a plastic window on the end of each hub where you can see the oil inside to verify that it’s clean, with “add” and “full” lines molded in to allow a coarse gauge. Well, one of the hubs on the tag (trailing) axle has now leaked twice. The first time was shortly after we took delivery, and the dealer fixed it. It leaked again last summer, and Al and I changed the gasket while we were in CT. Unfortunately, it started leaking again while we were away over Thanksgiving. Leaks are a bad thing on two fronts: running low on oil can damage the bearings and centrifugal force can drive the oil up into the brakes, ruining the shoes.

This time, I took a page from days of old when I used to work on cars (when cars were made in ways that allowed amateurs to work on them), and added what I hope is the right gasket sealant to the parts before I re-assembled. I’d wanted to replace this cover anyway, since it didn’t match the rest of them. While I was at it, I decided to change the gear oil in the other side of the tag and in the front hubs. It’s an annual maintenance item, and would have been due in the spring anyway. I have a manual vacuum pump designed for oil removal from tricky spots (actually, it’s designed to allow you to drain a car’s crankcase via the dipstick tube and change the oil without ever getting under the car), and it works quite well for this purpose. I refilled all four hubs with fresh gear oil, so we’re good on that maintenance task until next year.

Geri’s still in “cookie mode”, so I’m guessing we’re going out for dinner, which will be a treat since we haven’t done that since we were in Florida with Dave and Sandy…

HDTV project nearing completion

December 18, 2007
Peoria, AZ

I have no idea how those DirecTV installers do it. I’m sure, like most everything, experience helps speed things up. Anyway, I spent a couple of hours on Saturday and a couple more on Sunday moving the TV project forward. If I was getting paid for this, I’d be fired by now. On the other hand, this knowledge may come in handy when it comes time to convert the coach to HD. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Before we left for Thanksgiving, I had put up the replacement dish, so all I had to do was aim it and run the wires. Nothing is ever that simple, or course. First, I had to run a new ground wire (lightning coming into the house via the TV cable isn’t a good thing). The dish needed to be grounded to the nearest cold water pipe, which is all the way on the corner of the house. Then I had to run the cables from end of the dish back to the house. There are 4 cables, since the dish can support up to 4 receivers. I wanted to plan ahead and connect all 4, since I don’t want to take the dish apart if we add more boxes. The HD Digital Video Recorder (DVR) I’m installing uses two connections itself; it can record two things at the same time on two different channels.

I made sure that I labeled each cable so I know what connects to where, and used a test wire through the slider to verify that everything was working before I made up the final cables. Aiming the HD dish is a bit tricky, as you have to get the direction, elevation, and tilt set to “see” 5 different satellites at the same time. I used the new meter and got everything pretty good, I think. I’m seeing signal strength of low-to-upper-90s across the board.

The finishing touches were to add the over-the-air (OTA – everything has an acronym, just like when I was working) module (the DVR will pick up the local HD channels), cut and fit the cables to exact size, and upgrade the wall plug module (this wall plate needs three cable connectors). While I was at it, I added a heavy-duty signal splitter for the OTA module and ran a cable through the wall to the bedroom, so we have local HD channels there as well. I’ve tried to make the installation as professional-looking as possible, with neatly-run wires, properly-installed grounding blocks, rubber boots on the external connections, etc. This takes time, of course, but the satisfaction is worth it.

I was able to test the whole thing out with some Sunday afternoon football, and I think we’re in pretty good shape. The only remaining piece to this phase of the project is to put up some trim strips to cover the 3-cable run on the patio, and maybe to add a brace to the dish arm.

Of course, you’ll note that I said “this phase”. I need to work out something for the TVs in the kitchen and spare room. I’ll probably add another DirecTV HD box (not a DVR) for the kitchen, and just have OTA channels for the spare room, unless I can figure out a way to drive both off one box. The last phase will be to close out the cable account, which will have to wait until I add an internet dish (that’ll have to go below the back wall to meet HOA rules) or see if we can live with the Verizon Wireless service. I want to get these phases done by April, so I can cancel the cable before we head out for the summer.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Weather that makes teenagers

December 15, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Yesterday was a fun day. Geri did some shopping and I was able to get re-started on the HDTV upgrade. I found some better installation instructions online and downloaded them. I pulled the TV/surround sound system out and made the basic connections from the HD DVR ("digital video recorder", like a TiVo) to the TV and the AV processor. I also got the ladder out and made the initial alignment adjustments to the dish. You can get it pretty close by setting the direction and elevation based on entering the zip code into the receiver (hence the need to make the A/V connections.

We headed over to the east valley last night for a surprise birthday party for Ana. Geri and Ana have been friends since the early-70s (we call this "BG", "before George"). Ana's husband Larry let us know about the party, and we were glad we had a chance to attend. It was a true "surprise party", as she had no idea what was planned. I brought my camera for some pictures, and got the "George, what are you doing here?" picture when she walked in the door - way cool. We got a chance to meet a lot of her co-workers (she's a school principal), and a good time was had by all.

The weather is gradually getting back to "normal" (whatever that means). Today started out on the chilly side, with temperatures again near the freezing mark. I started working through the dish wiring early in the afternoon (OK, so we slept late) and before I knew it I was busting a sweat. I should have changed to shorts! I told Geri that this is the kind of weather that turns us into teenagers: we end up wearing 3-4 different sets of clothes each day as the temperature rises and falls.

Today we had dinner at lunch (OK, so it was a late lunch). I've had a hankering for grilled Italian beef sandwiches for a while and Geri surprised me by digging through the saved recipes to find it and make it for lunch today. We had a small piece of beef tenderloin that was too small for a chateaubriand, and it was perfect for two sandwiches (better than the flank steak the recipe called for!). By the time we were thinking about dinner, neither of us was very hungry, so we pushed our planned meal (chicken parm) off until tomorrow. Now, that's willpower!

After I wrapped up being DirecTV installer for the day (I'll finish it up tomorrow, I think; retirees can do that), I proposed a bike ride. Geri suggested that we bring the pups, which we've been "threatening" to do for a while. We both have baskets on the back of our recumbents, and we picked up tethers to keep them strapped in last year. Well, today we finally tried it, and it worked out fine. The biggest obstacle has always been that Merlin has an unnatural fear of bicycles; he's been that way since he was a puppy. Well, he was fine, as was Maya Lynn. We only did about 2 miles, but we'll do more now that we know we're OK. We saw a few cars, walkers, quail and other dogs and nobody jumped ship, so we're good to go.

Time for pecan pie and lactose-free ice cream...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Getting back to normal

December 13, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Today was a good day on several fronts. As I mentioned yesterday, we’re pretty much done with wrapping, packing, and shipping holiday gifts. On the other hand, we’ve also received most of the stuff we ordered for ourselves!

The most satisfying arrival was our allocation of Sea Smoke Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County in California. Sea Smoke is a cult wine from the area featured in the movie “Sideways” a few years ago. We were lucky enough to get a vineyard and winery tour early this year, and we’re on their allocation list (the wine is pretty hard to come by). This year, we were only allotted two bottles, but that may have been due to an email mix-up, so next year we’re hoping for more. We have a few bottles in the “wine box”, so we’ll add to the cache over time.

I also received my “birthday present”: the 25th anniversary re-release of U2’s The Joshua Tree album. I bought a couple of import “singles” at the same time, so the DVD/CD player will get a workout over the next few days. We rarely play CDs anymore, and all this new music will end up transferred to Windows Media and iTunes pretty quickly. I have a Bose iPod system that we use quite a bit; I usually just put the 4,000+ songs on shuffle and let it go.

The final new “toy” is a bike rack for the Range Rover. I have a rack system for our recumbents that I fabricated last year, but I needed something for my more traditional mountain bike. I like to take the mountain bike when we go to rallies, since it’s easier to maneuver and a whole lot better than walking around these large venues. We usually try to get to the rallies as early as we can to get a good parking spot, but sites that can handle 1,000-5,000 RVs are generally pretty spread out no matter what. I put the rack together today, and it’ll work quite well. Its design allows the bike to swing to the side so we can get into the back of the Range Rover while it’s still attached. This will be very helpful while we’re traveling. At some point, I’ll try to find (or make or have made) a shorter “hitch extender”. The hitch on the Range Rover is recessed quite a way under the rear bumper, so we’ve needed an extender for everything we’ve attached to it. It’s 18” long, and we generally only need 8-10”. On the other hand, the one we have works, so there’s no pressure to change it.

Today was also sunny, and we were able to get out for a bike ride, which has been long overdue. We decided to ride down to the local mail box to drop off the remaining holiday cards (we’re leery of putting outgoing mail in our box this time of year, since thieves drive around and steal mail right off the street), about a mile round trip. Geri was having technical difficulty (I’d not made sure her tires were fully aired up) and cut her ride short. I continued on for a little over 10 miles. 10 miles at around 10 mph is nothing compared to what my friend Dave does (he routinely rides 80-100+ miles for fun, and rode in a group across the US last summer in about 30 days), but it’s not bad for me. I need to work up to about 20 miles a few times a week.

Other than washing the kitchen floor, that’s about it for today. For dinner, Geri made a roasted chicken dish with potatoes, onions, olives, peppers, and capers. It paired nicely with more of the Root:1 Cabernet we picked up recently at Costco.

Tomorrow, I’ll get back to working on the DirecTV HDTV dish, and we’ve got an outing planned for tomorrow night; details on Saturday…

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wow, it’s the sun!

December 12, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Well, the rain has finally ended, at least as far as the “seven day forecast” can see. Within the last four days, we’ve had almost as much rain as in the whole year up to that point. Of course, we’re only talking 2+ inches over the last few days as compared to 2.5+ inches YTD but, hey, we get pretty used to sunny skies when we’re here. It’s still running cooler than normal, but not as cold as it was last winter. We’ll survive it, I’m sure.

We’ve used the time well, getting all of the holiday decorations up (not too much, since it’s just the two of us), the shopping done, and the cards written. I got everything we needed to send out packed up for shipping. Although we can do a lot of shopping online and have things sent directly to the recipients, there are always some gifts that we end up with here that we have to send out. Fortunately, because we’ve been selling various things on eBay over the last year or so, we have the infrastructure in place to make things easier. We save a lot of packaging material from incoming stuff, and recycle what we can. I’ve set up accounts at UPS and the Post Office, so we can usually print pre-paid labels for most things and avoid standing in line for shipping.

We’ve continued to eat well, and are in the process of testing and “improving” a couple of new recipes. Geri made her “famous” meat loaf, and I made a nice loin roast of pork, both of which were pre-planned for two meals each. We’ve been working on fine-tuning a roasted vegetable medley as well, with fennel bulbs, onions, peppers, and capers. We’re getting there, although we haven’t been grilling as much as we’d expected. Some nights, we need the heat that cooking inside brings!

On the wine front, we haven’t been disappointed with any of the “value” wines we’ve found or treasures from the “wine box”. For “values”, we were quite surprised with a 2005 McLaren Valley Australian Shiraz from RockBare that we picked up at Costco. Who’d have thunk it. We also had a nice Spanish wine, a 2005 Juan Gil from Jumilla that I’d found at Dave’s favorite wine shop in Florida; unfortunately, we won’t be getting any more of that any time soon. Lastly, we enjoyed a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2005 Armador, that we picked up when we went back for some of the Root:1 Cabernet. It’s not as good as the Root:1, but still fits our definition f a “value” Cab with lots of fruit and soft tannins.

We also had a couple of wines from the “wine box”. The first was one of our all-time favorites, one of the first California wines we collected: Zaca Mesa Syrah, this one from 1994. I think this was that last 1994 we had left (I need to reorganize the “wine box” at some point), and it was drinking very well for its age since California Syrahs don’t have that long a track record. We were quite pleased to have it, since we believe that wine is for drinking, not storing.

Tonight, I made a new recipe for Cod braised in Vermouth with Mushrooms. Given the preparation, I chose a red Burgundy (Pinot Noirs tend to match well with mushrooms), a 2002 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru La Clef Du Sol from Patrice Rion. The Rion family makes quite a few great Burgundies, and this particular one was a fine example of the craft. I think we have a few more in the “box”, so I hope we can watch it mature over the next decade or so.

The only other excitement we’ve had over the weekend culminated in a trip to the vet yesterday. Starting on Thursday and Friday, Maya Lynn, and to a lesser extent Merlin, was obsessing over a couple of “hot spots”. We had a couple of nights of interrupted sleep as we tried to keep her away from them, and she ended up getting a cortisone shot for the itching and some ointment for her skin irritation. It’s usually Merlin that gets the allergic reaction to something in the environment, but we realized that he started with the allergies when he was four years old, and Maya will be four in about a month. It sucks to get old, I guess. Anyway, she’s better today and we’ll medicate her over the next few days.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Back home, dodging the raindrops!

December 8, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Sorry for the delayed update…

We arrived back at our house in Peoria last Tuesday, one day ahead of schedule. Since we stopped for the night just east of Phoenix and got an early start, even with morning traffic, we were home before 9:00 AM. We spent the rest of the day cleaning (me: washing the coach, Geri: doing several loads of laundry – we’re still wondering how two people can generate so much work!).

In the afternoon, we moved the coach over to its new storage spot. Imagine my surprise when there was someone in our paid-for spot! I’d asked them to move us to a larger spot when one opened up, but that wasn’t the case. We’ll move spots within the next week or so, and in the meantime we’re parked in another open spot. This storage facility just opened earlier this year, and they’ve built out about 20% of their available space so far. They’re building it as they rent it; a reasonable strategy if they actually stay ahead of the curve. It seems to be a weakly-managed business, so time will tell how long we stay there. It’s a lot cheaper than some of the other options I researched, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

The last few days have been a bit of a blur as we’ve been getting back in the swing of being home. Wednesday was a bit of a “rest day”, which we needed after driving 2,175 miles in roughly 4 days, so we didn’t get much done other than restocking the fridge and pantry. Thursday, we were up early as Geri had a scheduled routine doctor’s appointment at 8:00 AM (ouch!), but we made the most of it by having a productive day catching up on shopping and getting started on holiday activities. On Friday, Geri had another scheduled appointment, so I used that time to catch up on bills and get the outside Christmas lights set up. We don’t do a whole lot of decorating since it’s just the two of us, but it’s nice to put out a few lights. (We have several neighbors who go all out, with lots of lights and decorations that they add to each year. Us, not so much.) While I was at it, I got the inside decorations staged. This is an area that’s really Geri’s domain, so I stick to moving the boxes around and handling anything involving electricity and/or ladders. She set up the tree and I put the lights on today, and we’ll finish up inside tomorrow.

On the food front, we’ve been a bit naughty and nice in keeping with the season. I found a few interesting fish recipes in a series of cookbooks we got from Williams-Sonoma, and made one that came out pretty well. It was a fillet of sole done in a roulade (rolled) style with baby spinach leaves and sea scallops inside. The fish came out great but the sauce, tomato-based vinaigrette, was a little too acidic for my taste. I scaled the recipe from 4 servings to 2, so I may have miscalculated. We’ll definitely try it again. It matched reasonably well with something from the “wine box”: a French White Burgundy, the 1999 Saint-Aubin 1er Cru “En Charmois” from Michel Colin-Deléger et Fils in Chassagne-Montrachet. Wonderful.

We also made a nice beef tenderloin with pan-roasted potatoes and sautéed carrots that paired well with one of our “value” wines, 2005 “Root:1” Cabernet Sauvignon from the Colchagua Valley in Chile. The name comes from the fact that the vines are ungrafted. The vines in most of the world have been grafted on disease-resistant rootstock since the mid-1800s. The disease (phylloxera) impacted most of the wine-growing world, but was never transmitted to South America. Wine trivia, right? Anyway, the wine is <$10/bottle and drinks very nicely for a fruit-forward new-world Cab.

In other news, it’s been freakin’ raining! We had a little over 2” of rain here all year, and then had another 2”+ last weekend before we got home. Then it started raining again yesterday and will probably continue until Tuesday or Wednesday. We’re just not used to that kind of weather here. Of course, neither is anyone else. The local news crews have been deployed like The Weather Channel teams in a hurricane and the news choppers are taking video of idiot drivers ignoring “high water” signs and getting their cars sent down the washes. Maybe we’ll just stay home for the next couple of days…

Monday, December 3, 2007

Almost "home"

December 3, 2007
Eloy, AZ

We've been "on the road" for the last few days, and are almost "home" (well, to our other "home" anyway). We've traveled along I-10 most of the way and haven't really deviated since we're just looking to get there, not see the sights on this trip. It's a bit of a drag on everyone: Geri and the pups get bored and I get tired. No harm done, though, since we're less than 2 hours from Peoria. We stopped for the night this close since we knew we wouldn't get home in time to unload and move the coach to storage until well after dark. We've switched storage places and this will be the first time we've brought the coach there, and I didn't want to do that in the dark first time out. What a wimp, right?

We've had reasonably good weather and little delay on this trip, so we can't complain too much. Construction zones haven't caused too many problems, although we saw workers moving dirt both Saturday and Sunday (I'd expected the weekend to have little activity). We've had chilly mornings and warm afternoons, so each day has involved switching clothes and shedding layers as we go, but we're pretty used to that at this point.

We planned ahead for meals, and get our coffee from the truck stops in the morning, so we're traveling "on the cheap" this trip. Of course, diesel fuel has been running $3.20-3.35/gallon, so that's the major expense. We had a great time visiting, and the drive is the price we have to pay, I guess. Even so, it'll be nice to get back to the house and have a month or so to work on projects before we head out again to California for a couple of weeks.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Visits too short, and back on the road

December 1, 2007
San Antonio, TX

In addition to our too short visits in Albertville and Birmingham, we made a quick trip to northern Florida, and are now on the way back to Arizona. We thought we were doing better at planning for a more leisurely pace, and we probably did OK over the summer. This trip: not so much.

We stopped in Albertville for a few days but could have stayed longer. We had a great time with Linda and Wendell, but only stayed one night before we hit the road.

On Monday, we headed for Florida to visit with Dave and Sandy Thompson at their place in New Smyrna Beach (NSB), just south of Daytona. We’d planned to see them at their place in Ontario late in the summer, but cut our Canadian trip short early to return to Alabama.

We left Birmingham on I-20 and took the I-285 loop around Atlanta, then I-75 south for Florida. We stopped Monday night just short of the Florida line on I-75, and got an early start on Tuesday. We made it to NSB early in the afternoon, just about on schedule. Maybe that’s the problem with our travels: I keep making schedules?

We had a very nice visit with Dave and Sandy. They’ve been working on renovations to their “southern place”, and it’s almost “there”. Their side yard is just right to park the coach, and Dave’s got a portable electrical setup all ready for us, north or south. I looked the lay of the land over before we parked and made the wrong call on approach (I should have turned around before backing in, as I got a little too close to a palm tree on the first attempt). The sand was a little soft, and we sank in about 1-2 inches while we were there, but we were fine.

Geri and I always feel like we eat well, and healthier, with Dave and Sandy, and this trip was no exception. We had grouper, lobster risotto, and sushi, along with some great wines. Dave shared some of the Sherry he purchased last year, and we had several ice wines to compare and contrast.

In addition, it was an action-packed visit. We toured the “World’s Largest Harley-Davidson Dealer” (no, we didn’t convert from RVers to bikers), took a boat ride on the Intra-Coastal Waterway, played on a sand bar, drove on the beach, and had a long walk in the sand. We had a couple of great lunches “out” as well (“Inlet Harbor” is a fun place on the water and “The Breakers” has great burgers).

The pups got in on it as well. Dave and Sandy have a Retriever named Abby and all the dogs got along quite well. Abby is about a month younger than Maya Lynn, and they had a great time running and playing together, especially when we stopped the boat at a large sand bar and let them run loose. Merlin continues to convince us that he was a nun in a prior life (“No running”, “No playing”, “No fun”), but even he had a good time. We could tell by the way they all “crashed” together when we got home.

We’d made plans to be back in Arizona (follow-up doctor appointments, primarily, and not easily rescheduled), so we had to head back even though we’d have preferred to stay longer. We left Friday morning and made it to Gulfport, Mississippi last night. Today, it was basically driving west on I-10 (except for the short time on I-12 through Louisiana) and we stopped just short of San Antonio, TX. Tomorrow and Monday: more of the same…

Monday, November 26, 2007

Off to Florida

November 26, 2007
Lake Park, GA

Well, we’re back on the road again…

Sunday was a cold and gray day in Albertville. We stopped by to see Mom in the morning, and Rick made turkey soup for lunch. After lunch, Alyson left for school in Mobile and we headed out as well. We had made arrangements to stop at our friends, Linda and Wendell, in Birmingham. It only took a couple of hours to get there, so we were able to enjoy the afternoon and have dinner with them. We parked the coach in their driveway (a tight fit but manageable), and were all set to leave in the morning.

We left Birmingham just before 10:00 AM, and found our way through some back roads to I-20. Outside Atlanta, we used the I-285 bypass to I-75 South, and were congratulating ourselves on not getting bogged down in traffic. The last time we passed through that way, in early June, we got caught for over 2 hours on I-20 just before I-285 due to an accident. Of course, we were premature in congratulating ourselves, as we soon ran into a severe slowdown on I-75 well south of Atlanta. Fortunately, it didn’t last too long and we were cruising at 60.5 MPH again in about 20 minutes.

We had rain most of the day, some light and some heavy. I thought it was going to clear in the late afternoon, and there ended up being an absolutely beautiful sunset as we got to South Georgia. Unfortunately, as soon as the sun went down, the rain came back. It rained pretty hard as we arrived at our overnight stop, a Flying J truck stop. We filled up and parked with the other RVs for the night. There are quite a few more RVs on the road this week. All the way East from Arizona, we commented on how few RVs and trucks there were in the rest areas and travel plazas. It must have been a pre-holiday lull, because traffic is way up this week.

We had one little problem today. Somewhere along the highway, the electrical connection for the lights on the Range Rover came unplugged. I noticed that the lights on the car weren’t working in the rear-view camera, so I checked at our next rest stop. Of course, the connection was completely gone from rubbing on the ground for however long. I picked up a new plug in the Flying J store, and I’ll temporarily wire it in tomorrow morning before we leave.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A quiet few days, with Thanksgiving and Turkey Day

November 24, 2007
Albertville, AL

Given that Erik was marching in it, we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV. I think it was the first time I’ve actually watched the whole thing, to be honest. It’s usually on but my short attention span causes me to lose focus at some point. We also watched the dog show, but that was probably because we weren’t ready to head over to the nursing home yet to see Mom (guilt, guilt). We stopped over there for a while in the afternoon, and she was doing better, sitting up and watching TV. She seems to have lost the remote for the TV, but somebody must have turned it on for her.

Thursday may have been Thanksgiving but not “Turkey Day” for us. Since it was just Geri, Alyson and myself, we made a pork roast. It was cold and rainy out (temperatures dropping to near 40°F in the afternoon), so I decided to pass on grilling it, but it came out fine in the oven with roasted potatoes and Geri’s sautéed carrots.

Yesterday (Friday), the weather cleared but it turned even colder, below freezing overnight. It was a sunny and brisk fall day, just like we remember from living in New England (and part of the reason we love wintering in Arizona). In the morning, I did some odd jobs (replaced a mangled fitting on Rick’s garden hose, lubricated their garage door) after a quick trip to Lowe’s and the local Food Land grocery for some last-minute items. We visited with Mom in the afternoon, but she was tired and wanted to nap so we didn't stay long.

Rick and Annette got home late in the afternoon; their flights from Albany to Baltimore and on to Birmingham were uneventful and on time, thank goodness. Since they were traveling, we’d volunteered to make dinner. We planned ahead and brought the filet mignons with us from home. I’d bought a whole beef tenderloin at Costco, and trimmed it up and vacuum packed it before we left. Annette’s parents (Gerry and Lois) joined us for dinner, so the only one missing was Erik (he had to ride the band bus back from NYC).

Rick’s making the turkey dinner today (Saturday) since everyone’s back in town from New York. And it’s already in the oven and starting to fill the house with nice aromas. Geri and Annette are brave enough to be out shopping (is it “Gray Saturday” after “Black Friday”?), and Annette’s parents will join us again for dinner.

I spent a bit of time over the last few days working on our travel plan for the rest of the trip. Before we left Arizona, I had enough details mapped out to get us here. I thought it’d be a good idea to get us back home, especially since Geri has a doctor’s appointment on December 6th. That means we need to get home early enough on the 5th to unload and get the coach into storage. When mapping out a route like this, I like to make sure we know where we’re going to get fuel and sleep. Food, we usually bring with us. I list out all the rest areas as well, so we know where we can easily stop for meals and bio-breaks. In our case, I also had to make accommodations for a detour, since a big part of I-10 in Louisiana will be closed due to a gas well explosion. I’ve got us mapped out in a way that will allow us to add an extra day to the trip somewhere. This will be good, since I’d like to break up the drive across the country. Maybe we'll stop in San Antonio and see the Alamo.

Well, gotta pack up and put my trip planning stuff (atlas, rest area guide, exit services guide) away before Geri gets home…

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

We're Heee-re...

November 21, 2007
Albertville, AL

We arrived in Albertville today as scheduled (+/- 10 minutes - not bad for an 1,800 mile drive).

Yesterday was another straight drive, just with an early start. We had stopped for the night just west of Ft Worth, and I wanted to get an early start to avoid traffic. We hit the road just after 5:00 AM, and were able to successfully get to the east of the city before too much traffic was on the road.

We had pretty good driving conditions, with the exception of bad roads in populated areas (Shreveport, Vicksburg, Jackson). There wasn't as much traffic as we'd expected, and even the construction zones didn't generate too much of a delay.

Last night, we made it to the Alabama line on I-20. We stopped at the state Welcome Center. We had stopped there before (as we had at several of our stops on this trip), so we knew there would be plenty of parking. There was and it was relatively quiet. Or maybe we were just tired after 3 days on the road. We parked next to another RV and they were gone in the morning when we got up, and we didn't hear a thing.

As we continued east through Mississippi and into Alabama, we saw more foliage; leaves were falling all along our route. We stopped for provisions in Attalla just off the Interstate, and rolled into Albertville around 2:00 PM, just as it started to rain.

Once we were set up, we headed for the nursing home to visit Mom. She was getting ready to take a nap, so we interrupted that, but she stayed awake to talk a little bit. She's still pretty weak and it's sooo hard to hear her when she tries to talk, but she was more alert than I'd expected her to be. We're not sure she knew who we were, but she was polite about it anyway. We'll stop back tomorrow after we watch the parade.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Still in Texas

November 19, 2007
New Salem, TX

Today was an uneventful driving day, unless you're Maya Lynn. We got an early start and drove exactly as planned. At our first rest stop, we walked the pups and Maya got a load of burrs stuck in her fur and paws. I have no idea how she got so many (probably 30+) and Merlin got essentially none, since they walked in the same grass. She was having a lot of discomfort, and it took 10 minutes to find and remove all the burrs from her, and from my pants legs.

We drove right through the heart of Texas oil country (Odessa and Midland). It doesn't help with prices, of course. The truck stops right around the Midland refinery don't even display their prices (around $3.29 for diesel) on their big neon signs. Chickens.

As we continued east, the oil fields gave way to cotton fields (just like around Phoenix). We saw a couple of large wind farms for electricity generation, one operating and one under construction. It was ironic to see alternative energy installations i nthe shadow on an iconic image of big oil. On the other hand, we've seen absolutely no sign of biodiesel or ethanol. Too bad...

We're stopping for the night just west of Ft Worth, and we'll leave pre-dawn to get past Dallas before traffic gets too bad.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Greetings from Texas

November 18, 2007
Anthony (El Paso), TX

We hit the road today, just about on schedule (we were about 10 minutes behind our planned 10:00 AM departure). It was a beautiful day for driving: no/low winds, reasonable temperatures, little traffic and no construction delays. We’ll pay for this, I’m sure! :-)

Our route took us from the RV Park east on AZ-74, south on I-17 right through Phoenix, and then east on I-10 for the rest of the day. Actually, we’ll continue to follow I-10 for a good chunk of tomorrow as well.

We stopped for fuel in Eloy, AZ, about 60 miles east of Phoenix, because I like to start out close to a full tank, and our last fill-up was in Kingman after we left Las Vegas in October. We entered and crossed southern New Mexico through the day, and made it to the NM-Texas border just after dark. We pulled into a Flying J truck stop at “exit zero” in Texas (it’s right on the border), adjusted all the clocks to Central Standard Time, fixed up a nice dinner of pasta (pre-made at home just for travel purposes), and had a nice Chianti. We're about as far west in Texas as possible and, speaking of borders, we're less than 15 miles from Mexico. Tomorrow, as we go through El Paso, we'll be able to see the Rio Grande (here, it's anything but) and Ciudad Juárez on the other side right from the Interstate.

We’ll call it an early night and get a quick start (after a dog walk and a coffee run) in the morning. We’ll follow I-10 to the western terminus of I-20 and then head toward Dallas. We’ll stop just short of “the big D” tomorrow night, and try to beat the traffic around the city before dawn on Tuesday. We’re on target to get to Alabama early Wednesday afternoon.

A concert to remember

November 17, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Even though we were planning to leave the next day, we had a concert to go to in Phoenix Saturday night. I'm not sure whatever possessed me to buy tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but I did. I made dinner reservations at Kinkaid's in the Collier Center downtown (right across the street from the concert venue, the US Airways Center), so everything was close.

We closed up the house in the morning and took everything to the coach. I know I've mentioned it before, but I'd expected the RV park to be closer to home; the 35-to-40 minute ride is what I get for eyeballing it on the map instead of calculating it by computer like I usually do.

We showered and changed, and left the pups in the coach while we went to the concert. Dinner was nice but pricey (to be expected, I suppose). I think that Kincaid's is a chain; we used to have business dinners at one in Norfolk, VA, years ago.

The concert was interesting. Picture yourself in the '80s. Then imagine Journey, Pink Floyd, and Metallica all getting together to put on a concert telling the story of Christmas, with a light show that would make an epileptic seize. Well, that was the first half of the show. The second half was an eclectic mix ranging from a guitar duel between "Jimmie" and "Stevie Ray", a version of Beethoven's Fifth, and music from Charlie Brown. Yikes!

Overall it was fun and interesting, and we were glad we went, even if it was close to midnight when we got home (to the coach). We're definitely not used to that!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Just about ready to roll

November 14, 2007
Peoria, AZ

We’ve had a productive few days, and we’re pretty much ready to leave on Sunday. I’ve caught up on a few projects around the house and Geri’s got a lot of stuff packed.

Monday, we made a “shopping run”. With fuel prices on the rise again (we paid $3.099 for premium at Costco this week), we definitely make sure that we pack as much as possible into each trip. We went to the Napa Auto Parts, Costco (gas plus shopping), Sportsman’s Wine, and AJ’s grocery. While we were out, I got a call from the local Freightliner shop that some axle seal parts I’d ordered were in, so we added that to the list of stops. I needed a couple of super-heavy-duty clamps to fix the coach’s turbo loop, and Freightliner had them as well (Napa didn’t).

Yesterday, we made our last pre-trip journey out to the coach. I changed the turbo clamps, and installed a storage frame that I fabricated to hold a couple of hoses in front of the generator. It’s always fun to find ways to maximize the storage space available, and I’ve had my eye on this space for a while. Weight distribution is also important, and this will allow me to move some weight forward, which is a plus for our situation. I also cut and installed a series of Plexiglas panels in the forward cabinets. Each of the cabinets over the couches and the dining room table has a boxed in area about 3” square in the rear, probably for running wires. The problem is that anything stored there tends to fall off. “Please use caution when opening the overhead storage compartments as items may have shifted during flight”; I used to hear this several times a week when I was traveling for work. By putting 4.5” Plexiglas in place vertically, I hope to reduce this problem.

Today, I started tackling a job I’ve been putting off. I mean really putting off. Ever since we bought the house, I’ve avoided cleaning the outside of the windows. Last year, I power washed the outside of the house, and then pretended that was good enough. Not so much, especially since the screens were filthy. I bought a good window cleaning kit (solution, cleaning head, squeegee), but then convinced myself that it was too late in the season (“we won’t be here and it’ll only be dirty again when we get back”). So, I knew I really needed to get this done early in our winter stay. I hooked up the power washer today, and got about 60% completed, which is good progress. I’m washing the house first (the stucco really holds the dirt) and that helps knock a lot of grime out of the window tracks at the same time. Then I remove the screens and fix any places where they’ve started to unravel. Then I wash the screens on both sides with the car washing brush and power wash to rinse. I can then use the window cleaning kit to get the glass, and by the time I’m done with that, the screens are dry enough to put back up (it helps to have less than 20% relative humidity). I power washed the sidewalk while I was at it and then did the driveway for good measure. I’ll finish up the rear of the house tomorrow, washing the patio and grill while I have the equipment out.

Monday, we made a new recipe that’s a “keeper”. Poached red snapper (we had to substitute red rock fish) with fennel, vermouth and orange vinaigrette, plus rice with peas and toasted pine nuts. A mouthful! And the food was great as well. We’ll be trying this one again, and it went well with a 1999 Savigny-les-Beaune Les Lavières (red burgundy) from Domaine Chandon de Brialles from the wine box.

Last night, Geri made a light meal: gourmet soup-and-sandwich. She made a wonderful French onion soup with cibatta croutons and brie. Since we made a run to Chili’s for lunch while we were at the coach, it was plenty.

Tonight, Geri made another excellent meal: creamy spaghetti with pancetta, carrots, and white beans. This is another “keeper”, and we’ll have enough left for dinner on Friday (no cooking before we head out). We had another excellent wine from the wine box, this one a 1999 (is it 1999 week?) Dolcetto di Dogliani from San Fereolo. We love Italian food and, of course, the wines. This one was exceptionally good. It was one we picked up in NYC, at a store called “Italian Wine Merchants” (clever, eh?) near Union Square that’s actually owned by Mario Batali. Excellent…

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A “Coach Day”

November 10, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been heading out to the coach a few times to check on things and do some routine maintenance. It’s easier sometimes to take care of things when we’re not living there every day, but it’s a pain to have the “commute” to work. We’ve arranged for a storage space closer (and a whole lot cheaper) to the house for when we get back in December. I’ve been working out various lists of things to do: before Alabama/Florida, before January-February rallies, before we leave for the summer. It helps to prioritize.

Today it was things like adding water to the “maintenance free” batteries (you have to cut the covers on the caps with a knife to be able to get in there – they must assume people will just replace them without realizing they need to be checked after a few years), vacuuming out the basement bays, tracking down a pesky water leak (plastic fitting on the accumulator tank), lubricating all the sliding parts (battery trays, bay slide-outs, entry steps). You know the drill, a hundred little things that keep you walking back and forth to the toolbox.

Geri did more interior cleaning, working on a process for quickly and effectively doing the floors. We still need to work on the hardware – “Swiffer” heads don’t cut it, so next time we’ll try some of the pad cleaners I have for the outside of the coach.

We have maybe one more work trip to the coach before we head out a week from tomorrow. We’re leaving on the 18th for Alabama. We have a concert to go to on the 17th (Trans-Siberia Orchestra), so we’ll get everything loaded Saturday morning/afternoon, leave the pups at the coach while we go to the concert, and stay in the coach after the show so we can head out first thing on Sunday.

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday working on the travel plan, at least the eastbound leg. The planning process involves fuel, sleeping, eating and “resting”. I usually tackle fuel and sleep first, since they are the hardest to organize. We stop for fuel every 600-700 miles, and many of the major truck stops are spaced quite nicely for us. We tend to use Flying J Truck Stops for fuel, since we had a discount card that gives us 1 cent off the cash price (truck fuel stops still charge about 6 cents more for credit than cash). It’s not much these days on a percentage basis but, hey, we’ll take it.

Overnight stops are another story. If we can make it work in the schedule, it’s generally better to overnight at the fuel stops on a trip like this. There is usually a place to squeeze in between the 18-wheelers, and it’s sometimes easier than finding a spot at an Interstate rest area. Unfortunately, the planning so far makes the fuel stops too early in the day for the overnight stops, so I’ve identified rest areas that should work. We have a couple of things working in our favor in this area: we’ve been across the country several times so have some history in this area, we have RV directories that help identify rest and fuel stops, we use computer mapping software to lay everything out on a timeline, and we use Google Earth to actually look at the places we’re planning to stop at before we get there. I can tell exactly where we need to turn, and can gauge the size and shape of the parking facilities before we get there. How did we ever survive without these tools?

It’ll be interesting when we get to Alabama. Mom has been in the hospital since mid-week, and her condition has weakened to the point where the assisted-living facility can’t handle her. Rick’s arranged for her to move to a nursing home close to them when she’s discharged next week. We’ll have to get the rundown on the new place when we get there.

Well, that’s it for tonight…

Friday, November 9, 2007

Puttering on both "houses"

November 9, 2007
Peoria, AZ

The last few days have involved puttering with various projects. It's a little more complicated when there are two "homes" involved, with the Peoria house and the coach both needing a few things done.

On the "stick house" front, I've continued to work on the conversion off Cox cable. I have the new DirecTV HD dish mounted in a new, stronger, location out back, but ran into a technical snag that's brought that project to a halt. I did my research and purchased a new signal meter for aiming the dish. The old one I had in the coach when we used a manual dish isn't sophisticated enough to handle the new dish, which has to "see" 5 different satellites at the same time. Anyway, I found the right tool and ordered it, but the unit was DOA on arrival. So, I had to invest in several phone calls with the manufacturer to get a warranty return authorization. I started that process on Monday, and it was finally picked up by UPS this afternoon. Of course, the manufacturer won't send the new one out until they get the old one back. That means that the replacement won't arrive before we leave for Alabama on the 18th, so we'll have to impose on someone local to watch for the package.

In the meantime, I'll continue to work on the non-satellite portion of the program. Yesterday, I hooked up a network router that will allow us to have Internet access via a broadband data card. We'll be able to use that in the house and in the coach, where it'll be a back-up to the MotoSat dish. I bought the card when we were in Oregon and set it up to work in our notebook computers. The router will allow us both to access the Internet at the same time and to connect the printer as well.

The other portion of the program is to deploy an “over the air” antenna to get local HD channels. There are community rules against having any kind of non-dish antenna outside the house, so I’ll have to position it carefully. We need this add-on because we can get the locals for free without paying extra to DirecTV. This is important for the TVs in the kitchen and bedroom, where we usually watch network channels (local news, etc.). I’ve got to place the antenna in an appropriate spot and position a splitter to minimize the wire runs needed.

Wednesday was a “coach day”. I used the Bissell on the bedroom and dinette carpet again. It still doesn’t look completely clean but the thing picks up a lot of dirt, so I’ll hit it again when we get back in December. Geri cleaned most of the inside windows, and I did a few routine maintenance items. I’ve separated the list of things we need to do into those required before we head out next week, and those that will wait until we’re back in early-December.

We’ve had a few good meals this week, continuing our program of fresh ingredients and planning for leftovers (don’t you prefer pre-made, planned-ahead meals?). We found some nice sea bass at AJ’s, which I baked with a dusting of a chipotle-lime seasoning and served with a mushroom risotto. We also made a peppered flank steak from a Food Network recipe that looked interesting because of the sauce. Well, the sauce (a cabernet-balsamic reduction) was too acidic (made according to the recipe) and the flank was really tri-tip (an acceptable substitute), so it was OK but not a “keeper”. Wines have been off the “everyday rack”, so nothing special to report in that department.

Today, Geri gave the pups each a bath and I worked on our travel plan. We’re leaving on Sunday, the 18th, and should be in Albertville by Wednesday afternoon. I’ve purposely scheduled more stops and a slower speed to make the trip out manageable. We could make it sooner, but the strain isn’t worth it. We’ll have Thanksgiving with Mom (she’s back in the hospital this week, but hopefully she’ll be out by the holiday) and Alyson (she’ll be back from college and isn’t making the trip to NYC to see Erik in the parade). Rick’s planning the traditional meal for Saturday (they get back on Friday afternoon), and we hope to catch up with our friends Linda and Wendell in Birmingham before we leave on the 26th. We’ll visit with Dave and Sandy Thompson at their Florida place for a few days the following week and then head back to AZ. Geri has a doctor’s appointment on December 6th, so we have to be back by the 5th.

Tonight, it’s a pre-planned meal plus: we’re having pasta with sauce started from some that Geri made and froze a while ago, and (of course), we’ll have enough for two meals. I’m really getting the hang of this…

Monday, November 5, 2007

Food and wine update

November 5, 2007
Peoria, AZ

I'm a little behind in posting about our recent food and wine selections, so I'll do a quick update. We're actually doing pretty well with two "resolutions" we made when we got back home. First, we're working hard at shopping every few days in order to have fresher ingredients and (more important) to avoid having to throw things out after they start turning to compost in the kitchen. Second, we decided that it's OK to make recipes that call for 4 servings (instead of trying to scale them down or -- worse -- overeating) and planning to get two meals out of them. By shopping more frequently, we seem to be getting more fish (buy it today and cook it tonight) and are definitely not wasting much. By planning better, we're also avoiding those "what are we having tonight?" conversations. So far, so good.

An unexpected side effect of all this is that we're trying more new recipes out this year. Of course, some of them are "impulse buys" after seeing something on the Food Network that looks tasty, but we're cracking the cookbooks as well.

Sometimes, we work with base recipes and improvise or merge. I made Gnocchi with a vodka cream sauce the other night and added chicken-parmesan sausage to the mix and it came out pretty well. We paired it with a Poggio Antico 1999 Altero Brunello di Montalcino from the wine box. I think the '99s may need a little more cellaring, but it was good to try one out.

On Saturday, we made one old and one new recipe, as our friends Ana and Larry were coming over for dinner. We hadn't made Geri's "tuna tower" (diced raw tuna dressed with wasabi topped with avocado and julienned pepper strips, done in a ring mold) for a while, so that was the appetizer. For the entree, I merged several recipes for a chicken roulade, using proscuitto, toasted pine nuts, basil leaves, and Fontina cheese. The sauce was a stock reduction with tomato puree and demi-glace that came out pretty good. We had a Mount Veeder 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (thanks to Ana and Larry for that one) and two wines from the Piedmont region in Italy from an obscure producer (G. D. Vajra), both 2003s. The Dolcetto d'Alba was very good, but the Langhe Nebbiolo was slightly corked. Since we're a long way from Moore Brothers Wines in NJ, there's not much that can be done about that. We started out with Al-tinis, so maybe I'm the only one who noticed...

We also found a couple of "value wines" that we've had in the past at the local Costco. Both are from Chile and are blends based primarily on Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2004 Aureus Gran Reserva is a little tight and not quite as good as the 2003 we got last year. The 2003 Escudo Rojo is excellent (I think I hear a bottle calling our name for tonight's leftovers).

Well, gotta go walk the pups. The temperature is dropping a bit when the sun goes down, but we're still supposed to have a few more days of record breaking temperatures over the next few days. It's in the mid-90s when it's supposed to be in the upper-70s at this time of year.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

No good deed goes unpunished...

November 3, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Yesterday, we thought we did a good thing. We'll see how it works out...

We were walking the pups mid-morning and were about halfway through our normal route when a small dog, about the size of ours (length and height, but not girth), appeared from between two of the houses. He shied away from us, but was very interested in getting to know Merlin and Maya Lynn. Geri rang the bell on the house he came from, thinking he belonged there, but the lady said he'd been roaming around loose for a while. We figured that someone would be looking for him, so continued on our walk. He followed along, and eventually I was able to get a grip on his collar. He had a name tag and a license tag, and Geri called the number but got voicemail.

We let him follow us home, and he walked with me right through the gate into the back yard. I hopped in the car and drove over to the address from the dog's tag, about 6 blocks away, but nobody answered the door. The house was ill-kept, the yard was strewn with debris, and there were two junk cars parked there, so I went home.

A little later, the owner called Geri back and came over to pick the dog up. She had a lame story about how her kids let him out when they went to school and how he was going to the vet to get "fixed" because he was roaming around "looking for love". She put him in the car and off she went.

End of story, good deed for the day done, right? Not so much.

Yesterday afternoon, we headed out to do some grocery shopping. When we got back, I started unloading the stuff from the back of the car. As I got my second load of bags and turned to go inside, there was the same dog standing 10' away looking at me. It seemed like he had just come from the side gate like he was looking for Merlin and Maya Lynn. I tried to grab him, but he trotted off down the street. I alerted Geri, who called the owner again. This time, it was the husband who let him out, but there wasn't anyone to come and get him.

I finished unloading the car and, as I closed the tailgate, I could hear one of the neighbor's dogs barking several doors away (we call him Cujo; that's another story). I saw the little stray (his name's apparently "Morgan") wandering back, crossing the street to "visit" another house. I walked halfway down and called him, which got his attention but not enough to get him to come to me. Doing my best Cesar Millan impression ("dogs want to be followers"), I called him again and started walking home. Within 30', he was walking along behind me and we went right back into our back yard. This time, I called Animal Control. We let Merlin and Maya Lynn out in the back, and we hung out until the officer came.

It was sad to watch him get loaded into the truck, and it's possible that if he's not claimed he'll be put down. On the other hand, it's not fair to let him wander around and become a snack for the coyotes, either. We tried to do a good deed, but who know how it'll work out in the end?

Anyway, the last couple of days have been productive on the project front, as planned. I cut, painted, and mounted the reinforcing joist needed to mount the new HD satellite dish, and removed the old dish and wires. I'll run all new cable and route it in a less visible location. I'll also relocate the ground wire from the dish, which was originally connected to the patio light fixture.

I also cut, assembled and stained the new shelves for the coach cabinet. They're not large, about 6"x8", and will turn one under-utilized cabinet into a better place to store small containers with spices, etc. Today, I'll polyurethane them and they'll be ready to go. We'll probably make another "coach run" tomorrow.

Well, I'd better get going on today's list of things to do...

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

October 31, 2007
Peoria, AZ

One benefit of living in a 55+ community is that you don't need to buy Halloween candy. We didn't expect any trick-or-treaters, and we were right. We've lived in communities without a lot of kids in the past (CT, NJ) where we saw a lot of carpools of kids "bussed in". Here, not so much. A few of the neighbors put out s0me decorations, but nothing like we're used to. On the other hand, all the stores are rolling out the Christmas decorations in earnest, so it's time to start counting the shhopping days...

Yesterday featured another record high temperature, or maybe two of them. Here in the desert, they also keep records of the "highest low", and we've set a few of them over the last week or so in addition to a couple of actual records highs. We grew up with "record lows", so this is a new concept. We've been generally up in the 90s, although we've had a couple of upper-80s, and have even left the A/C on several of the last nights. Since "normal" (whatever that means) highs are around 82-83F, we're hoping it'll cool off soon. Preferably without a huge swing to the other direction! We still remember the cold weather of last winter!

Since it was warm, yesterday was also an "inside day". Geri had a doctor's appointment (never on time) so she was gone for quite a bit of the day. I caught up on some stuff in the study, making sure that the last few remaining mailing address changes are in place (I don't want to have anything important coming here while we're away) and doing some online research into parts I need for a couple of projects on the coach.

Geri picked up some catfish on the way home, so we had that with steamed broccoli. I made another rendition of the curried couscous we had last week, and we had cherry pie for desert. Woo-hoo! I opened a bottle of Chilean red (Escudo Roja) that was particularly good. It's a non-typical blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc) that we picked up at Costco. We had some last year and it was gone when I went for more. Hopefully, they'll still have some the next time we stop by!

Today, I put in some time organizing things in the garage (how does it get disorganized when we're away???) in the morning and did some "project shopping" in the afternoon. I needed a few things from the home supply stores for the DirecTV setup (e.g., a 2x8 to attach the new dish to, lag bolts, paint that matches the trim color on the house), so I'll get started on that tomorrow. I also picked up a few things to make some new shelves in one of the cabinets in the coach. I'm copying the setup that Wayne and Eva had added to theirs for a spice cabinet. It's amazing how the little things can make you happy. Of course, I had to get the right grain, stain, and polyurethane to make things match the rest of the coach. I'll work on this project a bit each day (cutting staining, fabricating/gluing, finishing) until done. It'll be good to test this out when we visit Rick & Annette and Dave & Sandy in the second half of November.

Tonight, we had the rest of the pork roast from the other night. Geri made her new recipe for "crispy smashed potatoes", this time with a bit of grated Parmesan. She also made Provencal Tomatoes, an old recipe we haven't had in a while. A cheap ($3.99, I think) red was drinkable but disappointing, so we won't try that one again.

Tomorrow, I'll start on the new satellite dish and the shelves for the coach. Each will take a few days. Hopefully, by next week, it'll start to cool off and I'll be able to start on the water feature in the back yard.

Monday, October 29, 2007

How 'bout those Red Sox?

October 29, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Well, we actually watched most of the World Series this year. It seems like we're pretty good at watching pro sports during the playoffs, but not so much before that. Game 4 was a bit of a nail-biter, but it was good to see the Sox prevail.

Thursday and Friday were spent running errands. Geri had a follow-up Doctor's appointment (no change from last spring's positive biopsy results) and I had new tires put on the Range Rover. I'm trying a different brand and size to see if we can get any better performance. This is the second year in a row that we've put tires on; they seem to get ~30k miles (combined driving and towing). I'm trying Bridgestones that are warranted for 60k miles, so we'll see (in a year or so).

We also gave the house a better than average cleaning, as we were expecting a visit from our friends Wayne and Eva. They were at a motorhome rally in Tucson, and stopped by on Saturday on their way back to Indio, CA. It was good to see them again; we last caught up with them at the rally we went to in Salem, OR, in September. We picked them up at Cotton Lave RV park in Goodyear, had lunch at a Thai place in Glendale, did some shopping at AJ's (local gourmet grocery), and had Geri's antipasto for dinner. When we dropped them back at their coach, we finished off the evening with a taste of Patron Café (tequila doctored with coffee). Yum!

Yesterday, we relaxed a bit and did some shopping in the afternoon. I had a hankering for Steak Frittes, so we ended up back at AJ's (the only local place with Prime beef). The steak came out great and Geri made her excellent roasted baby beets for a side dish. I made too many fries, but they were good as well. We really need to invest in a new deep fryer, since the one we have dates to the late 90s; another web search project. With dinner, I decided to sample some of the value wines I'd purchased years ago from the 2000 vintage in Bordeaux. We had a Chateau Bernadotte from the Haut-Médoc, which was drinking nicely but probably reflected its place lower on the quality scale. Given the overall high quality of the vintage, it was good but not a blockbuster, probably as good as it gets for a $15 bottle from a region known for triple (and more) digit prices.

Today, we made a maintenance run to the coach. I did a few quick things (changed the tow bar lock, put on the tire covers to provide some sun protection) and used the Bissell on the remaining carpet. Geri cleaned all the woodwork. I also crawled underneath and got an oil sample. I signed up with a lab that does oil analysis to tell how well things are going on the inside of the engine. I'll send in samples a couple of times a year and see how the chemical and metal content changes. It should be interesting.

Tonight's dinner is a pork loin done on the rotisserie. With Geri's pan-roasted potatoes and sauteed carrots, it should go well with a Gevrey-Chambertin from the wine box.

Time to go check the grill...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Where did the week go?

October 25, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Wow, where did the week go? Seems like it was just Monday...

Monday and Tuesday, we hung around the house. I've been working through the planning on a couple of projects (posted separately), and Geri's caught up on some laundry and stuff. On Monday night we had a salad for dinner (mixed green and a small piece of sirloin, pan-seared and sliced thin across the grain) and I tried an Argentinian Malbec (Kawel Riserva 2005) from Costco with it. The salad was great and the wine wasn't bad, but was kind of flat and "flabby". We won't get that wine again, I suspect. Tuesday was "surprise night" in the dinner department, as we didn't have much planned and ran out of daylight before we realized it. Geri found a recipe for "Crispy Smashed Roasted Potatos" that she wanted to try, and it came out great. It's incredible simple (boil baby red potatos, flatten them with the blade of a large knife, and roast them with salt and EVOO), and could only get better with a sprinkle of grated Parmesean right before coming out of the oven. She remembered that she had some pre-made meatballs in the freezer, so we had "Italian meatballs Swedish style" with roasted zucchini. I opened a bottle of Screw Kappa Napa Cabernet, and it went well with the meal.

Yesterday, we did some running around. The pups went to a new groomers, and their practice is to have new dogs spend 1/2 day in "doggie day care" to get acclimated before gromming. That sounds like a way to grab some extra $$$ to me, but it was probably good for them, since we haven't had a chance to go to the dog park since we've been back due to the heat. While they were at grooming, we did some shopping. I was able to get most of the remaining materials I need for the DirecTV project, and we stopped at a new (to us) Italian Deli in Phoenix for cheese and stuff. We stopped in at one of the first wine shops we ever visited in Phoenix: Sportsman's. We stopped there years ago to pick up some wine when we were staying at the Phoenician resort and went to visit our friends Ana and Larry for dinner. I couldn't resist a couple of California Pinots from the Santa Rita Hills area and a coupl eof hard-to-find Australian Shiraz bottles. We did a little grocery shopping and, voila, it was time to pick up the pups. Another day filled...

For dinner, we made Skillet Lasagna, a recipe we've found works well in the coach. It's a one-skillet meal that takes less than an hour. Geri says she may never make traditional lasagna again, but I'm hoping that's not true. I realized I didn't haveany everyday Italian wine (bad planning!), so I found a Francesco Chianti Riserva 1997 in the wine box. It was quite good; you'd almost think Brunello.

We actually watched the Red Sox close out their series with the Indians and win World Series Game 1 last night, strangely enough. I grew up a Yankee fan, but living in the Hartford area for so long, plus spending so much time elsewhere (traveling, living in Jersey near Philly) seems to have tempered that. We never got into the Phillies, and the D-backs seem so far away when we're not here during the summers. So, "how 'bout dem Red Sox"? All in all, a good start to the week.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Planning more than doing

October 24, 2007
Peoria, AZ

The last couple of days have involved more "puttering", which is another way of saying "a series of not too well focused activities generating little completed work". I feel like I've been jumping from thing to thing, not necessarily "doing" anything. I decided to focus on a couple of projects, and that's helped but I'm still in the planning stages so don't have a lot to show for it yet.

One of the things I want to do is convert the house to the same communications processes we use in the coach. Currently, we have DirecTV and Hughes Internet in the coach, and Cox Cable in the house. It's a pain to try to manage both services on and off when we're home, especially like now when we're heading out in a few weeks. We end up paying for both, which isn't acceptable in the long term.

Last spring, I bought a DirecTV Hi-Def DVR (Digital Video Recorder). It's like TiVo, but for DirecTV. Since we have HD-friendly TVs in the house, I should be able to add the HD DVR to our existing account and drop the cable TV. We can also get over-the-air HD; I picked up a cheap Radio Shack antenna and the network stations come in great. When I bought the DVR, I picked up a new 5-LNB dish for outside at the same time. I got everything on eBay for a pretty good price. You'd think we're all set, right? Au contraire...

The new dish is larger and heavier, so it needs a better support. The new dish doesn't fit the rules of our HOA, so it'll have to be mounted lower, below the 6' wall level in the back yard. HD requires new RG-6 cable to be run from the dish to the DVR inside, and multiple cables at that (the DVR is cool and will allow recording two channels at the same time -- if you have two cables from the dish), and I've realized that the old dish that came with the house wasn't grounded correctly. Lastly, I've researched the setup process, and realized I need to upgrade my signal strength meter to get it aimed right. So....

I've found pretty much everyting I need so far online. Fortunately, I'd bought a good crimping tool several years ago, so I can make up the custom cables -- once I resupply on the cable itself (I only have 30-35 feet left. I may be able to source that locally. On the other hand, I need to work through the planning side a bit more, since it's not just getting the TV in the living room to work. I need to decide if over-the-air channels are enough for the bedroom and kitchen (generally, it's only local news and maybe a bit of Jay Leno we watch there) or if I need additional DirecTV receivers. I have one from the old coach, but it's not HD-capable. And running the antenna for multiple TVs isn't a picnic, either. Still more ruminating to do here.

The Internet side is a little more straightforward since everything's wireless these days. We can add a fixed Hughes dish and shuttle the satellite modem back and forth between the coach and house, or we can try to survive on the Verizon wireless broadband service I added as a backup to the dish in the coach. I picked it up in Oregon when we were satellite-challenged for a while (parked under trees or coach in the service center), and I've ordered a router for the card that'll allow us to use it anywhere in the house. We'll see how that works out...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hey, where are my gloves?

October 22, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Just kidding about the gloves, but we've had a real cooling-off over the last couple of days. Yesterday's high was 79F, which is probably the first time it has been that "cool" since spring. It's been breezy as well, which means that everything's covered with a fine layer of brown dirt. It's supposed to be back up in the low 90s for most of the week.

Yesterday, I put in some time in the garage. I'm doing a complete re-do on the tools from the coach, trying to "thin the herd" to reduce weight and make things more accessible. I picked up an electrician's tool pouch from Home Depot, and all of the frequently-used hand tools fit in there nicely. I'm using two older boxes I've had for years for the rest of the stuff, although I might consolidate there as well. I went through all the sockets from home and coach, and decided what I need to pick up to fill in the gaps. I've gotten caught a couple of times where something needed was in the wrong place. It's less on an issue if I'm at home and need something in the coach, as it's always nearby. The other way around, well, that's a trip to the store.

I also got around to installing shelves in the study. They're by ClosetMaid, and have adjustable tracks that mount on the wall so the space between shelves can be changed to fit the stuff you're storing. Now, I'd bought these shelves specifically for the study. Unfortunately, it was the study we had in our townhouse in New Jersey and I bought them circa 2001 but never had the time (or inclination?) to put them up. Well, they survived the move from New Jersey to Arizona, and have been sitting in the garage here for the last 2+ years, so I figured it was about time to deploy them. It turns out that I have enough vertical space and support brackets to add a third shelf, so I'll add that to me Home Depot list (if they still have them!).

Last night, I made chicken breasts stuffed with a pancetta/mushroom mixture served with fettucine with olive oil, sauteed onions and sun-dried tomatos. I didn't follow a recipe (other than from Geri's chicken piccata recipe for the coating on the chicken), and will keep trying this with different ingredients until I get a "keeper". I hit the wine storage device for a 2000 Damilano Barolo that was excellent; medium-bodied with lots of berries and leather and a clean, smooth finish.

Today is supposed to be warmer but not hot, and still on the breezy side. We don't have a plan yet, but will be getting in gear shortly...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The best laid plans, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da...

October 20, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Well, today went almost according to plan. No shelves in the study yet, but there's always tomorrow.

We were lazy this morning, and didn't get our morning walk with the pups in until after 11:00 AM. It was really getting warm, as today's highs were predicted to be in the mid-90s. When we got home, we decided to have breakfast before heading out for some grocery shopping. This is always a good idea, as hungry shoppers are excessive shoppers. We're trying to buy for 1-2, maybe 3 days at a time in order to work with fresher, more healthy ingredients. Everyone (pups included) could stand to lose a couple of pounds. Now, we just need to get the exercise part down.

After brunch, we headed out for shopping. I made the mistake of stopping at Costco first. The lot was almost completely full, and getting around the store was a nightmare. You'd have thought it was the Friday after (US) Thanksgiving! It was only when I got to the checkouts (several cashiers were standing around waiting for customers) that I was able to pick up speed. The reason? It was just after noon on a Saturday, which is prime time for "grazing". There were more people wandering the aisles (and in many cases blocking the aisles) for the free food than actually shopping. As I finally left (Geri was smart enough to wait in the car), I reminded myself that it was my own fault and I should know better. Lesson learned (again)!

Next, we stopped at the local "health food" store, "Sprouts". They have non-healthy stuff, too, but focus on organic-ish stuff. I was making a recipe for Mahi Mahi that called for a bunch of stuff that we didn't have, and we were able to get most things in bulk. In our case, that meant in very small quantities. A handful of raisins, several ounces of sliced almonds, 3/4 cup of couscous, 5 ounces of macadamia nuts, one tablespoon of curry powder -- you get the idea. While we have a bit left over, it's less likely to go to waste than if we bought conventionally-sized packages.

And, the dinner came out quite nicely, if I do say so myself. In addition to the Macadamia-crusted Maha Mahi and Curried Couscous, Geri made a wonderful roasted zucchini from a recipe in a magazine (Cucina Italia?) that she'd picked up. It looks like there are a number of "keepers" in there that we'll have to try over the next few months. The wine was OK but a little astringent: a "2 Buck Chuck" Shiraz from Trader Joe's. The appeal of $2.99 wine (it's only sold for "2 bucks" in California) is in the value, and the Cabernet and Chardonnay are OK. The Shiraz, not so much. But it was decent (as Geri says) and drinkable, more than we can say for some other wines we've had at much greater prices.

Tomorrow: it's back to the project list, since it's supposed to be cooler, in the low-80s.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Pups and Shopping

October 19, 2007
Peoria, AZ

Yesterday went pretty much according to plan. I lubricated and adjusted the garage door in the morning, paid bills, got a start on filing 6 months worth of accumulated stuff mid-day, and we took the pups to the vet in the afternoon.

I used a new (to us) product, Kent Dry-Lube, on the door. I picked it up at Monaco. It’s the primary dry lube that they use on almost everything (other than where they use white lithium) and seems to work well. If I like it, I’ll try to find a source for it at a reasonable price (Monaco charges more for everything).

The dogs never really “enjoy” a trip to the vet but they were good, as always. They both gained a little weight (which we knew) and we got a new treatment for Merlin’s ear itching. They each got a couple of immunizations and we’ll get a refill on Merlin’s main seizure medicine over the next couple of days. We had them draw blood to check the Phenobarbitol levels, since it hasn’t been done since we lived in NJ.

For dinner, Geri made a nice salad and I reheated the leftover Linguine with Shrimp and Chorizo from the other night. Again coupled with a simple Chianti, it was just as good the second time around.

Today, we planned a journey to Phoenix and Scottsdale. Since the Phoenix area is relatively spread out and congestion and construction are everywhere, it takes quite a while to get anywhere during the day. I dropped off exposed slide film from our summer trip (it had been resting in the refrigerator) at a professional lab, and we stopped at Brookstone and Williams-Sonoma and then Sur La Table (we always need kitchen stuff). By that time it was about 4:00 PM, so we decided to defer the Macadamia-crusted Mahi Mahi with Curried Couscous I’d planned for dinner until tomorrow and grab a bite. We thought about North (we ate there with Bob Lopes last fall, and at their other place with Dave and Sandy, and Ana, Larry and Al on separate occasions in the past), but chose a “sister restaurant called “the Green House” next door. Geri had a cheese plate and truffle fries and I had a warm flank steak salad. Although she’s not a goat cheese fan, the one they were serving was excellent, as was the Irish Cheddar. We started with a glass of Domain Chandon Rose sparkler, and finished with a Robert Craig “Affinity” Meritage (claret), both from California. Both went well with the meal.

We had quite a bit of traffic on the way home, both on Scottsdale Road (construction) and the Loop 101 (sun glare and an accident heading the other way). We’d left the pups from Noon to 6:00 PM, which is a little long for them but they were fine. After a quick walk and then dinner, they were ready to play!

Tomorrow, it’s supposed to be warmer, back up in the mid-90s, so we’ll focus on inside activities. I have some shelves to put up, etc., so that will be a good project…

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My Andy Rooney Impression

October 17, 2007
Peoria, AZ

[Andy Rooney voice]

Did you ever notice how sometimes you make a list of things to do, or things to bring somewhere, and then you forget to do them or get where you're going only to realize that you didn't bother to look at the list before you left? Why is that? People will say it's because you're getting older and old people forget things, but I'm not sure. Maybe it's because it's easier to make the list than do the things on it. Or maybe, you just didn't want to do those things in the first place, but felt better writing them down so you could say "See, I really meant to..." later. Either way, I'd like to see someone invent a machine that wouldn't let you leave the house if you were forgetting to bring something you needed. Maybe Apple could do it; they seem to have more gadgets than anyone else. They could call it the "iList" or something like that.

[End of Andy]

So, yesterday was a "coach day". I'd made a list of stuff to bring (tire covers to cut down on sun, batteries for various detectors). Needless to say, I neglected to check the list before we headed to the coach! I remembered, of course, when we got there. Oh, well; we'll make another trip soon enough. I did collect most of the remaining stuff that needed to head for home from the coach, so I'll be able to lube the garage door to keep it from stopping 1 foot short of completely open. Unfortunately, that didn't stop me from missing the fact that it wasn't completely open today; I put a dent in it but it seems to operate OK at this point.

I forgot to mention a couple of things about where we've parked the coach this time. First, it's much farther than I thought, taking about 1/2 hour to get there. The city of Peoria is very oddly shaped. It's about 3 miles wide where it's developed, but extends about 20+ miles to the north with roughly half completely undeveloped. It'd be great to buy a few acres and let development catch up. Better said, it would have been great to buy a few acres 10-15 years ago!

The second thing I forgot to mention was about the last time we went up there. As we were driving up Lake Pleasant Road (the only road through the norhern end of own), we came across an animal carcass. It wasn't the normal mule deer or the odd coyote. It was a longhorn steer dead on the side of the road. I have no idea where it came from, as the nearest range land is miles away, but it was as big as a small car. Whatever hit it must have sustained a lot of damage. After we passed the carcass, about a mile away there was a Peoria Police SUV heading the other way, and when we returned home it was gone. I wonder if someone got a whole load of hamburg out of the deal!

Last night, we made a recipe that we've had for a while: Linguine with Shrimp and Chorizo. The last time I made it, I used waaay too much sausage, and it was too spicy. This time, I gravitated back toward the proportions in the recipe, and it was better. It went well with a simple 2006 Chianti.

Today, we had a few things scheduled. Geri had been looking for a place to get a flu shot, and I noticed a sign in the Doctor's Office that they were giving them Wednesday and Friday from 9-11 AM. Since I needed to stop in to get blood drawn for tests, it made sense to combine both in one trip. After we were done therre, we did a little shopping at Wally-World and AJ's, the local gourmet grocery. We had a slice of pizza for lunch while we were at AJ's, and then headed home to drop off the groceries. In the afternoon, we were out again, stopping to pick up Geri's films from her mammogram (everything OK) and order some tires for the Range Rover (I found a local shop that won't destroy the tire sensors AND will match's price). We picked up the resto f the things on the shopping list, and were home by 4:30 PM.

Tonight, Geri had selected Seared Ahi Tuna for dinner. I found out later that we were also having mushroom risotto, so I had a lot of work to do! With Geri's sauteed Snow Peas and some horseradish cream sauce (because I didn't think to make a wasabi sauce), it went very nicely with a Rosemount Shiraz.

Tomorrow, I'll finally get around to fixing the garage door, and we'll take the pups to the vet for a check-up and their needed shots.