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…