Summer Travel Map

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Day Trip to the Lake

June 30, 2008
Holland, MA

Sorry there hasn't been much to report over the last week or so. Things have been generally quiet, or we've all fallen into a routine, or something! Even Pat's birthday (June 24th) was a quiet affair, with the Bowers' coming over for steaks on the grill. On Sunday (June 29th), we "tagged along" to a party for Al's friend Ted's daughter who graduated with Britt. The weather has been pretty consistent (strange for New England): lousy. We've had high humidity most every day, with showers and thunderstorms most days.

We did have good weather on Monday (June 30th), which was great since we'd made plans to visit with Geri's daughter, Melisa. Her honey, Paul, has a family cottage on a small lake about 20 miles away, just off I-84 in Holland, MA. The lake itself is relatively small, about 3 miles long and bisected by a causeway. It's similar to the lakes where our friends Dave and Sandy (Ontario) and Linda and Wendell (Alabama) have places, just on a much smaller scale. The cottage sits up high off the lake and is set down from the road, so the vertical challenge is significant: about 40 steps down to the house and 50 more to the lake.

Given the break in the weather, we were able to spend most of our visit outside, relaxing by the lake and then taking a short spin around on the pontoon boat. Geri wanted to try her hand at fishing, and she actually caught one! The dogs had a good time as well, enjoying the boat ride and the opportunity to cool off in the lake. Here is a link to some pictures from the day:

We had a nice dinner (shrimp cocktail and seared scallops as starters, then burgers and dogs on the grill) before heading home. All in all, a wonderful visit...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Kate Wilson's Wedding

June 21, 2008
Avon, CT

On Saturday evening, we had the pleasure of attending a family wedding. My cousin Ric's daughter, Kate, married Michael, her long-time beau. The wedding was at the Avon Old Farms Hotel, about 1/2 hour from where we're staying, so it was an easy drive for us and we had a very nice time. It was great to visit with family members from my Dad's side of the family that we haven't seen for quite a while. My Aunt Doris was in fine shape at 87 years young, and we got to see my cousins Ric and Pam with there respective spouses, Jim and Susan.

Here is a link to the pictures we were able to snap:

Catching up on some pictures

June 21, 2008
Broad Brook, CT

While I was posting pictures of Britt's graduation, I also caught up on some other pictures I took recently. Pat's been gradually expanding the flowers and plantings in the yard, and it's especially colorful this time of year. Here is a link to a few pictures I took over the last couple of weeks…

Britt's Graduation

June 21, 2008
Broad Brook, CT

Most of this past week has been oriented to activities running up to Britt's High School Graduation, which was last night in the school's auditorium. In addition, there will be a party on Sunday, so a lot of preparation is going into that as well.

On Wednesday, Geri went to get her hair done and stumbled upon a new Whole Foods in Glastonbury (the last town we lived in before we moved to NYC in 1994). This is a welcome addition to the range of shopping options as it may be a little easier to get there than some of the alternatives.

Since the weather has been variable over the last few days, I've been able to take advantage of the dry times to get some work done on the coach. I treated some rust spots on the frame holding the radiator grill, and replaced a rubber strip that keeps road debris from flying up into the radiator. This way, I was able to put the grills back on before Sunday's guests are here.

Yesterday (Friday) was devoted to shopping as Geri and Pat got most of the stuff needed for Sunday's get-together, which will involve about 30 people. Britt was looking for a simple "hot dogs and hamburgers" type of thing, but that's not the way it's done. Potato salad, macaroni salad, sausage and peppers, kielbasa, cold cuts, desserts - you get the idea. I'm pretty sure I know what we'll be eating next week, and it'll all be great. Geri made up a big batch of her special sauerkraut recipe for the occasion - yum!

The graduation itself was in the evening, and it was very crowded. Like many other locales, they try to have the graduation outside unless the weather doesn't cooperate. They made the right call yesterday by bringing it inside. Even though most of the day was nice with periods of clouds and sun (hmmm, maybe I should work for AccuWeather?), the clouds formed about an hour before the kick-off and just as we arrived at the school it started to pour. Of course, by the time we were going home, the sun was coming back out. It was pretty much the same last year when Alicia graduated.

For some reason, Britt's graduating class was almost twice the size of Alicia's (and girls outnumber boys about 2:1). There was barely enough room on the stage for all the graduates, and nowhere near enough room in the audience for everyone who wanted to attend. Tickets were allocated per graduate, and we were lucky to get seats together. We had a good view from where we were, but I wasn't able to get many photos because we were buried deep in our row and I couldn't get out. I did get a few, though. The overflow crowd was shuffled into two adjoining rooms where they were able to watch the festivities via a TV feed.

After the ceremony, we retired to the house. I got a few more pictures of Britt and her boyfriend, Keith before they headed out to his house and then the "all-nighter". Like a lot of towns, East Windsor sponsors a post-graduation shin-dig at the school from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM. It's aimed at keeping the kids out of trouble and seems to work, at least for that one night. Here is a link to a few pictures I posted:

Al ordered pizza and we opened some wine to celebrate (graduation is an accomplishment for the parents as the kids). The Bowers stopped by for a while (no graduation for them this year; they have a couple of more years to go). After they left and the wives called it a night, Al and I finished with a nightcap (Booker's bourbon for him and Grappa for me) on the deck, where it was nice and cool.

All in all, everything has worked out according to plan so far. Excellent!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Back in a rainy pattern

June 17, 2008
Broad Brook, CT

Remember the saying "April showers bring May flowers"? Well, it's a bit of bunk. We're having "June showers" in an area that was abnormally dry in April.

The days are marching by and we're continuing to plug away at various projects and meal plans. Can't do projects on an empty stomach, right?

Friday night, we had dinner at the Bowers'. Mike did a whole beef tenderloin with a spice rub seared (direct heat) and then finished (indirect heat) on the grill, which was fabulous. Al made "Sangriaritas" (Margaritas with lots of fruit mixed in), so a good time was had by all.

Saturday was a mixed bag. Geri got to spend time with her grandson Josh (Pete's oldest) while he played a Little League baseball game. She had a good time even though they lost (Josh played well, though) and it was on the hot and humid side. My day, on the other hand, was a washout. I'd planned to remove and replace the coach inverter while Al was home to help. When the replacement unit arrived by UPS during the week, I checked the box label to verify it was the right model. Did you ever have a nagging thought that something might be wrong? Well, I did, but didn't act on it, unfortunately. When I opened the box and pulled out the replacement inverter - you guessed it: wrong model. If I'd have ended up ahead of the game, I might have proceeded. Since they sent a 2000 watt model to replace my 3000 watt one, not so much. I spent most of the day on Monday trying to get to Customer Service by phone and email. I finally got through late in the day, and got the wheels moving for a re-replacement and return of the wrong item. I've got to keep pushing them that this is a warranty issue, since they seem reluctant to pick up shipping charges. I'm not paying to return an 83 pound box from Connecticut to Washington on their error. We'll see…

Saturday afternoon, Al and I did some puttering around, making a trip to Lowe's (not Home Depot for a change) with his friend Ted. Ted mentioned that a new store specializing in spices ("The Spice Mill") had opened in Manchester, so we made a stop there. I picked up a few things that are hard to find (allspice berries for pork brine) and a couple of specialized rubs to try on brisket and ribs.

Sunday was Father's Day, so Al and I had a "day off". We delivered some maple logs that Al had cut from the yard to a neighbor, and stopped at the Bowers' for an emergency electrical repair: a ceiling fan had stopped working. We got the ladder and multi-meter and verified that a) it was getting power, b) it was wired incorrectly, and c) the problem was that when the battery in the remote was changed, the "dip" switches setting the code for the remote were moved. It seems that there were two switches in the wall that "didn't do anything". When I tried to check for current on one of them, I blew a circuit breaker just by touching one of the switch poles. This is not normal. Turns out the switches were supposed to control the fan and its built-in light separately, not an uncommon wiring design for ceiling fans with lights. Unfortunately, this particular fan had both fan and light controls built into the remote and only used one live circuit for power. When it was wired up, someone tied both live wires together. Fortunately, both lives were on the same phase, or it would have been a 240 volt circuit. We disabled the extra wire and reset the remote code and all is well. At some point, I'll make a couple of small labels so Mike can know what switch does what.

Geri, Pat, and Melisa took care of Sunday's dinner: surf and turf. We had sautéed sea scallops for an appetizer and then lobster and porterhouse with twice-baked potatoes for the main course. Everything was great but the volume was overwhelming, so there was quite a bit left over. Never fear, though, as on Monday Geri and I collaborated on a Lobster Bisque (she did the prep and I did the assembly) and Pat made steak quesadillas. Melisa, Paul, and Jesse came over for dinner and voila - no leftovers.

It's been cloudy since Saturday, and we've had rain on and off. Last night, we had just started dinner on the deck when it started to "spritz". When the lightning started hitting so close that there wasn't any delay before the thunder, we knew we'd better move it inside. No sooner had we gotten everything in when another lightning strike took out the power. For most of the neighborhood, it was "lights out". In the coach, the inverter held so we had full functionality. Of course, all of the interior lights in the coach are 12 volt halogen or fluorescent fixtures. When the inverter kicks in, it makes 110 volt power for the TVs, Internet connection, microwave, and a few other devices. Basically, we can run most everything except the air conditioning and washer/dryer. I was surprised that it held, since the last power outage was when it threw a fault and I finally got the manufacturer to agree to replace it. Darn inconsistent technology!

Today will be an easy day. Melisa and Paul stopped by to pick up his motorcycle (left here last night in the thunderstorm). I'm planning to find a local distributor of rubber products to get a new piece for shielding the bottom on the radiator in the coach. When I pulled off the grills to power-wash the radiator, I found a large tear in the rubber that keeps road dirt and debris from being kicked up into the radiators (actually there are 4 coolers stacked along the side of the coach: engine radiator, transmission cooler, hydraulic oil cooler, and turbocharger charge air cooler). I'll try to get a thicker and/or more durable piece for a replacement. I found a source on the Internet, but I'll try to pick it up locally first.

The weather looks unsettled all week, so I'm not likely to make much progress outside, but I have plenty of "inside stuff" to keep me busy...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Beating the heat!

June 12, 2008
Broad Brook, CT

The rains from last week stopped, just in time for the first "heat wave" of the season over the weekend, and it's just beginning to cool off. I won't say it is "getting back to normal" since it'll still be warm this week, but much better.

The weather cleared out on Saturday morning, and the temperature jumped 20+ degrees inside an hour once the sun came out. We fired up the air conditioning and headed back inside. On Sunday, we took a short trip with Pat & Al and Mike & Lynne Bower to the shore. Yes, in Connecticut it is "down the shore", just like New Jersey. Of course, it's Long Island Sound as opposed to the Atlantic Ocean, but the effect is the same. It was hot and steamy for most of the day, with temperatures and humidity levels both up in the mid-90s. As is often said, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity"; I'll take the "dry heat" of Arizona any day. As we started to pack up late in the afternoon, we saw the thunderheads growing, and within 15 minutes we were in the midst of a heavy downpour. It rained about 2" inside 90 minutes, which was OK with us as we'd stopped at a "clam shack" for dinner and it was pretty much over when we left.

The heat and humidity continued through Monday, so we stayed "hunkered down" with the A/C on. A line of severe storms came through Monday night, and things were more comfortable yesterday. It's supposed to be nice for the rest of the week, but the weekend looks "iffy".

We continue to do well of the food front. Al and Mike Bower each had a bottle of Brunello that have been burning a hole in their cellars, so I made Osso Buco (or as it was called in NJ, "Awesome-Buco") with roasted garlic fettuccine. On Monday, we made a recipe that we'd found years ago, penne with asparagus and shrimp in a saffron sauce. This came out quite nicely, although I had to modify the recipe "on the fly" (it called for too much cream and I had to add grated Parmegean to thicken it. Really, I just had to. :-) Even though it turned more to an Alfredo, the saffron still came through. Yesterday, it was an impulsive improvisation. I saw a show on Food Network involving brined pork chops, and adapted it to tenderloins. After brining 4 hours or so, they were stuffed with Proscuitto and Gruyere cheese, browned on the stove and finished in the oven - with whole grape clusters. With "Grandma Whites" (pan-roasted herbed potatoes) and carrots, it came out quite nicely. The roasted grapes and pan juices made for an interesting sauce.

Since it was a little cooler yesterday (mid-80s), I started back on some project work. We've been having a problem with the inverter/charger in the coach for some time, and I finally convinced the manufacturer to replace it. Actually, they just ship a new one, and I have to replace it and return the old one. They charge 50% of the MSRP ($1,050!) and then credit it back when I return the old one in the shipping box. That means that this will not be one of those "when I get around to it" projects. Unfortunately, the thing weighs ~83 pounds so I need to wait for Al on the weekend. And it needs to be done in one fell swoop, since the AC and battery power needs to be off (it makes AC power from the batteries when we're not plugged in, and charges all 10 batteries when we are) to do the swap. It should be pretty straight-forward (2 AC lines in, 2 AC lines out, positive and negative battery cables, 6 bolts holding it in. Here's the tricky part: it's mounted upside down on the "ceiling" of one of the storage bays under the coach. Did I mention that it weighs ~ 83 pounds? Well, yesterday, I rigged up a platform that mounts on top of a hydraulic jack that we can use to lower the old one down and lift the new one up. We'll see how it works on Saturday!

I also spent some time yesterday reworking the DirecTV installation, now that my cooling fans (thanks, Dave!) are tested. I want to make the installation more "permanent" so that things won't move around when we're traveling, but not too much, since the receivers move back and forth to the house when we're in Arizona. I bought a set of drawer slide hardware for each receiver, and will mount them in the cabinets and use Velcro to attach the receivers. This way, I can slide them out when needed and they still won't move around while traveling. I still need to pick up a few more wires and connectors, but I'll finish that project off this week.

From there, it's time to do the annual motorhome maintenance (oil, filters, lube for engine and generator, etc.), which I'll probably start next week. It’ll be a busy week, as we have Britt's High School graduation on Friday, my cousin's daughter's wedding on Saturday, and Britt's graduation party on Sunday.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Improving the Blog - Rainy Day Activities

June 6, 2008
Broad Brook, CT

We've had a pretty rainy week, not steady but some rain most every day. We've had moderately severe thunderstorms a few times in the past week, and today we had our second power outage of the week. It was short (not like the last one, which lasted several hours) and we got by on the inverter without needing to run the generator. I think we've only had about 2" of rain this week but it seems like a lot to us. We've gotten quite used to Arizona, where 2" of rain can come in a season, not a week.

So, today I started on some "rainy day" projects. I started organizing a folder full of magazines that I'd put aside to cull relevant articles, most for future travel ideas. I also added some upgrades to the Blog, changing some of the links and adding a map feature that will allow us to show folks where we've been and where we're going in a graphical format. It's a feature I saw on some of our motorhome friends' blogs, and I'll play around with it some more on another "rainy day".

On the food front, we made a simple chicken roulade yesterday that got mixed reviews. It was stuffed with goat cheese and a fig/raisin chutney before being rolled, breaded, and browned and finished in the oven. Of the five of us who had it, three really enjoyed it, one found it too dry, and one said it made her sick. Oh well, you can't please everyone, I suppose. Geri and I felt that it was a "keeper" recipe, so we'll just make it for ourselves! :-)

Tonight, we're making a simple salad topped with seared Ahi Tuna, which will be a nice change of pace from some of the heavier meals we've had lately. And, we'll probably be eating lighter over the weekend since we're in line for a hot spell through Monday. That assumes, of course, that you believe the forecasts. They've been wrong for the last two days, so who knows what the next few days will bring...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Catching up - again…

June 5, 2008
Broad Brook, CT

Well, I find myself catching up once again. Not much interesting has been happening, I suppose. We've done some food shopping and tried to make sure that everyone's fed well, and I've started to get back in the swing of working around "the house" (the coach) on a regular basis.

On the food front, we're struggling a bit because things are kind of spread out in different directions from here, and we're trying to save on both food and gas. It seems like you can do one or the other, but not both, these days! If you're looking for the best values, you have to hit multiple places. If you're trying to maximize the results from a trip, you want to sequence stops for minimum mileage. It doesn't work well if you're going in multiple directions! It doesn't help that the higher-end stores (Whole Foods, Stew Leonard's, City Fish) are all on the other side of Hartford, making for a couple of hours of travel in total. I didn't realize how well off we are in Arizona, with most of what we want within a 10 mile radius.

In any event, we've been eating well, as usual. On Monday, I made a "beer can chicken" recipe with a nice spice rub. Tuesday, I made a recipe from a recent cookbook (sort of) acquisition: Alton Brown's Feasting on Asphalt, The River Run. It's more of a behind-the-scenes look at a Food Network TV show that chronicles a ride along the Mississippi River, from the Delta to the headwaters, by a motorcycle caravan, than a cookbook, per se. There are recipes throughout the book taken from the local cuisine all along the way. I've selected a few I'll try out over the next month or so, and started with a spare rib recipe that came out OK (good but not great) but matched well with Geri's baked sweet potatoes and Pat's grilled veggies.

Last night, we hustled down some semi-home made pizza (Geri did the toppings on pre-made shells to save time) since we had to go to the "Awards Night" at the local High School. Britt received a scholarship from the town's Athletic Booster Club, and a friend of Al's was honored for his contributions to the community's sports programs.

The key thing I've done to the coach is to stop (fingers crossed here) a sporadic water leak that sometimes makes a small wet spot on the bedroom carpet. Leaks are the bane of many motorhomers existence, and ones around a slide-out can be particularly hard to address. In our case, I found that the rubber seals needed adjusting and that the lower edge of the slide itself needed re-sealing. The seals were relatively easy to push into place. The edge of the slide was another story. I had to clean out the old silicone, add spacers for several days to get the wood inside to dry out, then add a row of stainless steel screws (countersunk and coated with sealer) to firm everything up before re-applying the silicone along the edge. It's rained twice now since I did the repairs, and the bedroom is dry, so I think I've got it this time. Yeah!

I have almost everything needed for the "annual maintenance" cycle on the coach, so I'm going to start that tomorrow with the oil and filters. Since Al has little time off from work these days, I'll break it up into multiple days and save the parts where help is required/desired for when he's available. Breaking the processes up will also help make sure that I can clean up after each step rather than leave a mess around. It's bad form to leave a mess when you're a guest. So, I'll do the oil and filters one day, the lube another day, the generator service, the furnace, the air dryer service, etc. I'll make each piece a 1-3 hour block, and work around bad weather. It should work out fine (fingers still crossed).