Summer Travel Map

Friday, October 31, 2008

Merlin on the mend

October 31, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Happy Halloween!

We brought Merlin home on Wednesday afternoon, and he's doing much better. Not completely well, but much better. The first thing he did when he got home was eat (he hadn't eaten for a week) and poop (about the same). He's still slightly weak and unsteady, but getting better each day. We're very pleased with his progress, even though we still don't know what was wrong with him in the first place.

Hopefully, life can start getting back to normal for all of us at this point. I've started installing the water softener, although several of the copper sweat joints I did while Merlin was in the hospital had minor leaks and needed to be re-soldered. It just goes to show that distractions are always trouble. I got the bypass in this afternoon, so I could remove the old non-functioning softener. I hope to get the new softener in place tomorrow, so that'll be done.

Next week is "race week", so we'll have a complete change of pace. We have tickets for the four different NASCAR events at Phoenix International Raceway, about 15 miles from here just south of the I-10. We're planning to use the motorhome as temporary living quarters, and we can move it into the grounds starting Monday, with "staging" (getting in line?) any time now. We're thinking we'll load some stuff in the coach on Sunday and get in line, then find a spot on Monday. There's not much going on at the race track on Monday through Wednesday, so I'm not sure how much time we'll spend there. There are races Thursday through Sunday, so we'll probably sleep there those nights, and then move the coach back to storage on Monday morning. I'll hit the local truck stop on the way in to top off the fuel tank, and get propane (first time in a year) while I'm there. We'll then be all set until spring!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some good news, and some non-news

October 29, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Well, one of the vets (the mobile ultrasound guy) called around 9:30 PM last night to let us know that Merlin's liver biopsy results were back and that there was no sign of liver cancer. Great news! Of course, the tests don't shed any more light on what's been wrong with him for the last week and a half. The report from the animal hospital yesterday afternoon was that he was "doing better but we still think we should keep him for another night for monitoring". We have another call scheduled (sounds like my days at work!) for 9:00 AM, and if he's truly stable and showing some improvement, our plan is to try to bring him home today.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It’s all about Merlin

October 28, 2008
Peoria, AZ

The “Dog Whisperer” corrects people when they say “Dogs are people, too”, but we can’t argue that they’re not “family”. We’ve had a week of emotional ups and downs with Merlin, and we’re not out of the woods yet, by a long shot.

We had him back at the vet on Wednesday for another cortical steroid shot, and he was better (not well, just better) on Thursday. Unfortunately, on Friday he was weaker and his fever continued to go up and down, so it was back to the vet in the afternoon. They felt that he needed special care (IV, antibiotics), so he went back to the emergency animal clinic, which is open 24 hours a day.

By Saturday, he was much worse, with some swelling on his eye and hind leg, and x-rays that showed (poorly, since they’re very murky and two dimensional) all sorts of potential issues (enlarged aorta, liver and kidney shadows, possible abdominal mass, yikes!). The clinic arranged for a mobile internal specialist to come in for an ultrasound, which showed his heart and aorta to be OK, no abdominal mass (just funny-shaped stomach, pancreas and spleen), small kidney stones (not likely to be causing his symptoms) and some “nodules” (what the heck is a “nodule anyway?) in the liver. They wanted to do more blood tests and maybe a liver biopsy on Monday or Tuesday. We directed them to proceed with the biopsy while the internist was already there, rather than wait for more tests. We’re hoping to get the blood and biopsy test results back today, but nobody’s guaranteeing anything.

After spending the weekend at the clinic, vet-to-vet consultation recommended that we take him to yet another specialist about 30 miles away in Scottsdale, so we brought him over there in the morning. The new specialist recommended that they keep him overnight – again – for IV and monitoring pending the test results. They just called with the morning update, which is that he’s somewhere between stable and better (walking – still wobbling – more, in-office blood tests better, showing signs of wanting to drink, but suffering a little nausea), and that they’ll continue to monitor him until the afternoon. We’ll have a check-in call around 2:00 PM. That’s where we stand right now; we hope the test results show up.

Sorry for the “blow by blow” on Merlin, but not much else has been going on. We don’t want to start anything complicated because we don’t know when we’ll need to do something or go somewhere with Merlin, and the whole process can be distracting. I need to install the water filter/softener and bypass, but I’m worried about interruptions or mistakes once I turn off the water and start cutting pipes.

The only other thing going on is that Geri’s dental implant work is proceeding well. As previously reported, the first two teeth were completed a couple of weeks ago and she’s adjusting well with no problems. We’re at the periodontist this morning to start the process of getting the second set installed. This dentist is the one that installed the implant screws in the jaw, and he’s got to verify proper healing and make sure that the gum tissue hasn’t grown over the implant base. Since they want the gum to cover the implant for ones in the upper jaw, he’ll be cutting that back today. It needs a month to heal, and then the prostodontist can take impressions and have the teeth fabricated and fitted, a process that’ll take from early-December to late-January. It’s usually a 6-week schedule, but we have some delays built in due to the holidays.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Returning to normal -- and a scare for Merlin

October 21, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We finally had a chance to get the pups groomed (Friday), and we had a great "catching up" dinner with our friends Ana and Larry. Starting yesterday, Merlin's been under the weather.

Friday's grooming was a non-event, we thought. We're not sure if it was the source of Merlin's being ill, of course. You always suspect anything when a pet gets sick, especially when (like right now) you can't really tell what's wrong with them! He was fine all weekend, but started out lethargic on Monday morning. By later in the day, he had labored breathing and was starting to get some swelling under his chin. By evening, he was running a fever and the swelling had increased, so off to the emergency animal clinic (cleverly named "Emergency Animal Clinic") we went. They shot him full of fluids, steroids, and antibiotics, and he was OK overnight (other than snoring louder than me).

Today, he wasn't much better, and the swelling increased more, so we moved up his appointment with the vet from Wednesday to this afternoon. The vet wasn't much more definitive about the diagnosis (I suppose it's tough when the "patient" can't talk), so off we went with additional meds. He did say that some pain was indicated under the jaw, but that he couldn't find any evidence of a bite (we've never seen a scorpion, but the woman next door swore one killed her cat in the spring). So, a pain medication (1/2 dose of Geri's) got added to the mix. The poor little guy's got more meds than most humans at this point. We've made an hour-by-hour schedule (OK, I made it, being the planner in the family), and will be monitoring closely for the next few days.

In other news, we had a great dinner on Saturday night with our friends (and Phoenix residents) Ana and Larry. We made our take on "steak frittes", with filet mignon au poivre and truffle-parmegean new-potato fries. With several nice wines (Coppolla Zinfandel, Zaca Mesa Syrah, two hands Shiraz), it was a meal to remember. Capped off with Geri's Harvest Pie (apple and pear) with vanilla gelato and a 375 ml 1996 Chateau d'Yquem - oh yeah!

On Sunday, we shopped for a water softener. We really need something to address the hard water we have here, and ended up with a nice Whirlpool unit from Lowe's. I ordered a whole-house sediment filter online, and we should have everything here by Thursday, so my Friday is booked! First, I'll install a bypass so I can work on anything without having to turn the water off. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the idiots who installed the "H2O Magic" thing we have (worthless) didn't include one. We won't make that mistake...

Well, that's it for now. Gotta go give Merlin more meds!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Settling in, mostly

October 16, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We're baaaack! After the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, capping a great summer "vacation", we've landed at our winter place. It's been a pretty busy week, but we're settling in nicely.

We had a great time at the Balloon Fiesta, spending some time with our friends Wayne and Eva. Unfortunately, the weather turned lousy at the end, and Saturday and Sunday events were cancelled. Of course, this means we got an early start on our drive home, which worked out fine. We hit the road around 8:30 in the morning and were parked in front of the house a little after 5:00 PM, having picked up an hour when we crossed into Arizona. It was a fair day for driving, with quite a bit of crosswind, but the gray skies cleared up magically as we got closer to Arizona. We arrived home to an unusual "cool spell", with temperatures all the way down into the 70s! It was short-lived, though, as we were quickly back to "normal" in the low-90s.

Since we arrived home late in the day, we did most of our unpacking on Monday morning. Everything went smoothly, and we had the coach back in storage (using the same storage lot as last year) by mid-afternoon.

It was a good thing that we were able to get back a day early, since this is shaping up to be a busy week with appointments at the dentist, doctor, hair salon, and pet groomer all on the calendar. It's all going well, though, and we should be settled in by next week. Of course, I've already got a list of things to do going, and won't run out of things to do for quite a while!

The big news on the home front, though, is that Geri's first round of dental implants were completed yesterday. She's been a model patient, and the permanent crowns were attached to the implants with no problems. Two down; two to go! I never realized how drawn out this procedure can be. We started this last fall, and it won't be completed until January! But, at least one side is done, and she can start getting used to eating normally again. We'll celebrate with a Steak Frittes on Saturday!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Balloon Fiesta 2008

October 11, 2008
Albuquerque, NM

We've had a great time at the Balloon Fiesta this year. We have much better parking than when we attended two years ago, and the weather on Thursday and Friday was perfect.

We made the short drive from Santa Fe to Albuquerque as planned on Wednesday morning, arriving just after the designated 10:30 entry time. Several of the Monaco club members were already in place, so the arrival time wasn't too strictly enforced, but we're in a great spot about 100 yards from the launch field. We were about a mile away the last time we attended.

There were no scheduled events for Wednesday, so we just relaxed and got set up. Wayne and Eva are next door, and we set up our tables and chairs and Wayne's grill outside.

Thursday's schedule started at 5:30 AM, way before dawn. They launch several balloons as a "dawn patrol" before the activities formally start, allowing for a gauge of the flying conditions. We wandered over to the launch field and watched while everything got under way. It was a "gotta do" thing, so we put the check mark next to it. As the sun rose from behind the Sandia Mountains, the first balloon (sponsored by Wells Fargo, primary benefactor of the Fiesta) took off carrying an American Flag while The Star Spangled Banner was played over the field's speaker system. Over the next 90 minutes, several hundred balloons inflated and ascended. Although cool, it was a beautiful, cloudless morning, and the balloons drifted slowly overhead. No matter how many times you see it, it's always a magnificent sight.

Activites are broken into morning and evening schedules, so we had free time during the day. The group we were with sponsored a lunch at a local country club, so we carpooled over there. In the afternoon, Wayne and I started playing around with tailpipe extensions for our generators, since we're parked relatively close and exhaust fumes are a concern. We've both developed "prototypes" but we have more work to do when we get home. We're bound and determined to do better than the $150 version sold by Camping World. So far, we're each into it for about $30, so we're off to an OK start.

Thursday night's schedule called for a "balloon glow" (they inflate just after dark but don't fly, just run the burners to light up the balloons from the inside - didn't do much for me) followed by a fireworks show. Since we're parked so close, we were able to watch the latter from the coach, which was quite nice.

Friday was another beautiful day, with roughly the same schedule of events. We bypassed the Dawn Partol and watched the "special shapes" launch. After the special balloons launched and drifted away, they had a "rodeo" for the "normal" balloons. There were two separate contests set up on the launch field: "golf" and "key grab". For the golf course, they set up several "holes" around the field, and the balloonists were able to throw coded tokens as they passed overhead, with "closest to the pin" winning a prize.

The "key grab" was harder, with five 25' poles set up around the field, each holding a token that the balloonists tried to grab on the way by. One prize was a set of keys for a new Honda, so they were somewhat motivated. We saw a "hole in one" in the golf contest (they threw a ringer) and watched one pilot actually get the keys but drop them (sorry, apparently droppsies don't count).

We were treated to another lunch, did some more prototype exhaust work, and made a Costco run before Friday's fireworks. Unfortunately, Friday's events were marred by a fatal accident when one of the special shapes balloons hit a power line and burst into flames before crashing. Ballooning isn't for the faint of heart.

Today, the weather turned for the worse, with lots of clouds, strong and gusty winds, and (just a few minutes ago) some heavy rain. We were prepared, though, since we'd packed up all of our outside stuff yesterday afternoon. There wasn't much on the schedule for today anyway; Geri and Eva went shopping and Wayne and I are relaxing at this point.

Tomorrow is "departure day", after the final "farewell" mass ascension just after dawn (weather permitting. Depending on when we hit the road, we may make it all the way home, or we may stop for the night between Winslow and Flagstaff, along I-40. Either way, we'll have completed our "summer adventure" by Monday, when we'll be back in Peoria for the winter.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

First Snow Of The Season

October 7, 2008
Santa Fe, NM

No, it didn't snow on us, but we had some rainy weather over the weekend and ended up with snow on the mountains to the east of Santa Fe. The locals seem happy, since winter recreation is a big draw in this area. For us, not so much. We'll be heading south tomorrow (OK, only to Albuquerque, about 55 miles away, but we head for Phoenix on the 12th).

We're looking forward to the Balloon Fiesta, as the forecast (for what that's worth!) for the next few days is nice and mild. Most of the events we'll see are scheduled for Thursday and Friday. The longer-range forecast (way out on a limb here) calls for windy conditions on Saturday, which can curtail the activities. The stormy weather we had over the weekend did cause cancellation of some scheduled launches.

We'll be parked in a different, closer location than we were two years ago, so we hope to have a better vantage point. As long as the weather cooperates, we'll have a good time, no matter what.

There's not too much new to report, as we've been taking it easy. Geri's caught up on the last of the laundry until we get home, and I've been getting back into my self-study Photoshop lessons. Other than that, it's just been a matter of watching the financial markets tank, and thinking through money-saving techniques we can apply to both the coach and the house...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sandia Crest, plus catching up

October 3, 2008
Santa Fe, NM

Can you believe it's October already? In just a couple of weeks we'll be back in our winter digs outside Phoenix, putzing with projects around the house and planning next summer's adventures.

We've been following our normal plan over the last few days, getting in both relaxation and sightseeing. Monday, Geri did some laundry and I cleaned several hundred miles worth of bugs off the front of the coach. I've got to give the coach another treatment, though, since there's still a spattering of road tar all over the front from a section of resurfacing we went through near Socorro. I'm sure I have a spray for that in the basement.

Tuesday, we took a drive south on the "Turquoise Trail", aka NM-14. We didn't find much turquoise but did go through the little artist enclave of Madrid (touristy shops interspersed with buildings you'd expect to see in a ghost town), and then made the trek up to Sandia Crest. At 10,400' in elevation, the drive up the mountain (about 3,500' in elevation gain) is about 13.5 miles long. Of course, we stopped a few times to get some photos. The aspens are just beginning to change color, and they provide quite a contrast to the primary greens of the pine forests.

At Sandia Crest, I took some time to get some additional photos before we headed back down. We've determined that 8,000-9,000' is about Geri's limit. Similar to Pikes Peak, she opted to stay in the car while I poked around. There's not much at the peak, other than a gift shop, a snack bar (don't feed the bears), and a large complex of radio antennas. Signs around the site tell you that the radio signals may interfere with car alarms and keyless remotes; we can confirm that the latter is definitely true.

The interesting thing about the crest is that, while the drive up the eastern flank of the mountain is typical steep grades and switchbacks, the western face is almost a vertical 4,000' drop that directly overlooks the city of Albuquerque. It was a bit hazy, but I could see all of the city and pick out various landmarks (downtown, Sandia Casino, Balloon Fiesta Park, the Rio Grande, I-25 and I-40, the airport south of downtown). I walked for a bit along the Crest Trail, south toward the top of the tramway that brings tourists up, but it was a 2 miles walk and I wasn't water-equipped, so I limited myself to about 3/4 of a mile round-trip. OK, it was also a bit strenuous, with several sections of steep terrain, or stairways cut into the rock. In one area (probably too close to the edge), there were different kinds of rocks, with some just embedded in the main surface of the cliff.

On the way back north to Santa Fe, we saw an interesting house that was built into the shape of a pyramid under a faux sandstone arch. Of course, our budget is more in line with the other interesting place we passed by...

Our friends, Wayne and Eva, rolled into town Wednesday afternoon. They are staying at a different park (reserations are hard to come by this time of year, as a lot of RVers stay here, or stage here, during the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, about 50 miles away), but came over to our place for dinner (Geri's kicked-up meatloaf with shallot mashed potatoes and sauteed haricots verts). We went over to their coach for dinner last night (Hatch chiles stuffed with crab meat that Wayne caught over the summer in Oregon, Eva's Chili Verde with Spanish Rice and baked pinto beans). We've been focusing on "value wines", so several bottles of Mattie's Perch and Little Penguin are no longer with us.

We'll be hanging out here for the next few days before moving to Albuquerque. The Balloon Fiesta starts tomorrow, and it's essentially broken up into two "sessions". Most groups have reservations for either the first (arrive today and depart 10/7) or second (arrive 10/8 and depart 10/12) waves. We're in the second group, although a large number of the coaches parked near us left this morning (there was a group rally of 30+ Prevost bus conversions - the $1-million-and-up land yachts - here; we're not sad to see them go). We'll have an opportunity to get in the last grocery shopping, do some laundry, fill the water tank, etc. before we leave on Wednesday.