Summer Travel Map

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Getting ready for New Year's Eve

December 31, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Our best wishes to everyone for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2009!

We've spent the last few days enjoying the new-found nice weather. It almost feels like we've been able to break out of winter hibernation. Temperatures have rebounded to the low-70s, and we're loving it. After the Holiday break, we've started back on the project list. I was able to finish up the outstanding plumbing jobs, and spent an afternoon reorganizing the garage to make it easier to get at some of the power tools. I've got a couple of projects lined up for the next week or so that'll require the table saw, so it was good to dig in out. We'd been using the garage as a "staging area" for things we were donating to charity and, now that those things are gone, we can get back to normal.

Since the weather was nice, we were able to open up the house and air things out. We also gave the inside a "spring cleaning" yesterday. Today, it's all about preparing for tonight's dinner. Our friends Ana and Larry are coming over, we'll do the horseradish-garlic crusted prime rib with "creamy and crispy potato pie" (a new recipe we'll be trying for the first time). Then, we'll watch the ball drop and have some Champagne, and maybe even stay up until midnight (for us, the ball drops at 10:00!). Of course, here in Arizona, there's a New Year's Eve tradition of people shooting guns off into the air at midnight and every year there are one or more incidents of things (people, houses, cars) getting hit by the stray bullets. We'll just stay inside.

We have some new "neighbors" that we'll keep an eye on: a group of hawks (white-tailed, I think) has moved in nearby. We've seen them perched in a tree in the distance a couple of times and one of the (human) neighbors says that they've seen a hatchling being cared for. When we walked the dogs last night, a couple of them were having dinner on one of the street light poles, and they were definitely eyeing the pups as a possible meal. I grabbed the camera and shot a few pictures, but the sun was just setting and the light wasn't too good. It did give me a chance to test out the new 2x lens extender that I'd just gotten, and it makes quite a difference on my 70-200mm lens. Click here for a couple of shots of the hawks and a couple of test pictures with the lens extender.

My primary reason for adding to the camera equipment is our planned summer trip to Alaska next year. Since there should be more than a couple of opportunities to see wildlife, and the wildlife is actually "wild", getting good shots while staying safe is important. I've priced out a few telephoto lens options but they're several thousand dollars that I can't justify (once again, I've forgotten to buy those lottery tickets), and the extender is a cheap and practical alternative. It's the new me: cheap and practical!

That's it for now; gotta walk the pups and do the sous chef work...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Follow-up

December 26, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Just to follow up, we had a great Christmas dinner with our friends Ana and Larry and their family. We ate well, we had great wines, gifts were exchanged, and we all had a wonderful time. Our thanks for the invitation! I'll download the photos from Geri's new camera and post those later.

"All I Want For Christmas"...

December 26, 2008
Peoria, AZ

No, not two front teeth, as the song goes. How about a new kitchen faucet? Meet "George the Plumber" (no relation to that "Joe" guy in Ohio).

Just as we were getting ready to leave the house yesterday, the handle on the kitchen faucet broke off in Geri's hand. As it turns out, the part that broke was where the set-screw holds the handle to the valve mechanism. I could probably get replacement parts from Moen, but not at the local Home Depot. Rather than try to order parts online and wait for delivery, I decided to just pick up a cheap (OK, I've learned that there's no such thing as a "cheap" kitchen faucet) replacement. So, my "Boxing Day" is all planned out for me: take care of the plumbing job. Since I've got a toilet kit to install and a slow-draining sink in the bathroom, I'll make a day of it and knock off all these things from the to-do list.

More later; Geri's serving up home-made burritos!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas to all!

December 25, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Geri and I wish everyone a very good holiday and all the best for a happy, healthy, and safe 2009.

Things continue to be calm on this end, as we've been taking it easy in the days ]leading up to Christmas. Geri made some awesome cookies that we shared with neighbors (although she's no longer allowed to play with red food coloring). We've made a couple of special meals with very favorable results. On Sunday, I made a grilled leg of lamb (well, not the whole leg, but a butterflied and marinated piece just right for two people), and it paired nicely with a 1999 Gevrey-Chambertin (red Burgundy) from the wine box.

Last night, we made Swedish Meatballs and an interesting new potato recipe. The meatballs were good but definitely not my Grandmother's; hers were authentic, since she came from "the old country". She used to make them, along with other Swedish dishes, as part of the traditional family meal on Christmas Eve, so last night was a good time to try. Good but I'll have to practice to get the cream-based gravy right. We saw Charlie Palmer make the potato recipe on TV and decided to give it a shot. It involves "Home Fry" style potato wedges, oven roasted with mushrooms and onions, topped with aged cheddar and sunny-side-up eggs. Yes, baked eggs. Well, the whole thing came out great, and it was a great batch to the meatballs (mashers are traditional, but I'm not exactly a mashed kind of guy).

We also got a 3-case shipment of wine from one of our California favorites (DiBruno-Curran Wines), so I had to rearrange a few things in the wine box to fit the new arrivals into the fold. I saved out a few bottles to sample, of course. We had a nice Gewurztraminer (this will go well with our homemade Lo Mein recipe) and liked both the DiBruno and Curran (it's a husband-wife team ad they each make their own wines) Sangiovese (Tuscan grape, but these are from the Santa Barbara area). Their "Badge" Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are top-of-the-line wines from the Santa Rita Hills appellation.

Today, we're headed to visit our friends Ana and Larry for Christmas dinner, and we'll have a great time there. We'll bring the last of Geri's cookies, a couple of bottles of wine, and a special treat: Geri's "Philly Cheesesteak Eggrolls". Yum!

The weather's supposed to clear tomorrow, and the 15-day forecast calls for sunshine and low-70s for the duration, so we'll be back into the project list (coach and house) before we know it. Next stop: New Years!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Still kickin'

December 22, 2008
Peoria, AZ

Things have been generally quiet here, with a few nice days before we headed back into the rainy weather today. We've been taking care of year-end related activities like bundling up another Salvation Army donation and getting our heads examined. Well, at least the "eye" portion of our heads. My prescription changed slightly but enough to get new lenses, and Geri got new contacts, although they recommended that she see a specialist for a more detailed exam (everything's OK with her).

We're basically taking it easy this week, getting ready for Christmas (we'll once again dine with our friends Ana and Larry at their place in Phoenix), baking (Geri's doing cookies and I've done some bread), and doing more reading about next year's adventure to Alaska. I've updated our set of travel books and maps, and started actually mapping out the route and timing. On the coach front, I've ordered some urethane to seal up the small crack in the kitchen drain pipe (impossible to remove) and started on the upgrade to the cabinet slide-out under the stove. I'll probably try to finish those projects off between Christmas and New Years, as well as get back to the project list for things around the house (it never seems to go away).

The other project queued up for the next few days is a major reorganization of the contents of the Wine Box. We just got shipments from a couple of our favorite California wineries and I need to move things around to make space. I'll update the inventory at the same time, so we'll actually know what we have and where it is in the box. Woo-hoo!

That's it for now...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winter has arrived in the desert

December 17, 2008
Peoria, AZ

No, we didn't fall off the face of the earth. It's just been mostly boring day-to-day activities lately, so updates just haven't been rolling off the tongue, er, fingertips. We've gone through the house again and have another batch of stuff queued up for donation (they'll pick up on Friday), we got our eyes examined and updated our prescriptions for contacts (Geri) and eyeglasses (George), although Geri has a follow-up appointment scheduled for Friday, and I still need to get my prescription sunglasses upgraded. See, just boring stuff - except that we did get the Christmas decorations all set. Merry Christmas!

We have had a bit of a change in the weather, though, as has much of the country from what we see on the weather. While it's been nowhere near the extremes seen in the Upper Plains (cold) and the Northeast (ice), we've had several days in a row of clouds, showers, and temperatures in the 50s. We're actually above average for rainfall for the year, and the temperatures have been roughly 10 degrees below normal, but we're surviving just fine. The blood thins out quickly and we're more sensitized to the cooler weather even though we're both from New England originally, but we still have plenty of foul weather gear left from our years in NYC and Philly. We're still glad we're here, and the sun will shine tomorrow (or Friday at least, according to the latest forecast).

Actually, the rainy days and some prompting from one of our motorhoming friends have led me to dig into the planning for next summer's big adventure to Alaska. From what I've read, this weather's right on target for what we'll experience! Rod Bahnson has forwarded several links to the blogs and trip journals from people who made the trek last summer, and I've been going through them and taking notes on routes, stops, things to see and avoid, and what to expect. I'm at the point where I'm starting to map out a general route and think about timing.

Many people, including the various caravans, seem to head North in June and start back in mid-to-late-August (most "touristy" things start closing after Labor Day). Since we are planning to participate in a short caravan in California Wine Country in the second half of September, we'll probably head north and start back a few weeks earlier. Current thinking is that we'll leave Arizona in mid-April, cross into Canada before mid-May, head for Fairbanks (as far north as we'll go with the coach) by the solstice (they have a big "midnight sun" festival), do Anchorage and the Kenai in July, and travel south through British Columbia in August. With a couple of stops (Vancouver, Seattle, Washington wine country), we should be able to get to Lake Tahoe (starting point for the caravan) before the September 10th kick-off date. Sounds like a plan - now all I have to do is put a lot of detail into it. This will be an interesting test for me, who likes to plan everything out in great detail, since we'll probably work with a general schedule and make reservations a week or so in advance. We'll see...

In other news, we had saw a good movie from NetFlix ("Hancock") and have had several nice meals. I made a new pair of recipes for one meal, chicken thighs matched with corn salsa with pancetta, leeks and mushrooms (because I can't stop being a funghi). We also had a nice sage-rubbed pork loin roast and a rack of lamb. Tonight, we're making red snapper with couscous; Geri found an asian market with a large seafood department, so we'll give that a shot. Good stuff!

Well, that's it for today - lots of prep to do for tonight's dinner!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Luminaria Time

December 7, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We stumbled across a fun local event this week: Luminaria at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens. It's an annual event held from roughly Thanksgiving to New Years, where they close the gardens mid-afternoon to set up candles along all the pathways, and open again at dusk for several hours so people can wander around. I'm not sure what they've done in past years, but this year they inserted an installation of hundreds of pieces of Chihuly glass sculptures all over the place.

Some of the pieces were quite abstract, while others seemed like they were custom made for the setting. Since it was dark, photos were a challenge. Trying to get good pictures by lugging around a lot of stuff (like multiple flash units) and setting up the tripod just wasn't an option - unfortunately. We took a few cell phone pics but they really don't do a very good job. We may make a return trip during the day when making photos would be quite a bit easier, although obviously not as dramatic. I'll include a couple of the low-quality shots here, just in case we don't actually get back.

In other news, well, there's not much new. We started putting up Christmas (we're not PC) decorations outside and in, and we'll finish that up over the next few days. We're still trying to decide what goes where even after being here a few years. This year, we've vowed to add anything that doesn't fit here to our next Salvation Army donation. We're looking to put things in places where it's easy to deploy and easy to put things away in January, preferably without the need for a ladder. We're definitely in the mood to simplify life. If it can't go up with zip-ties, back in the box it goes.

We finally got a "dud" from NetFlix. After a string of reasonably good selections, I really goofed by adding "3:10 to Yuma" to the queue. Geri gave up after about 30 minutes and I wasn't far behind. Oh well, they can't all be winners.

On the food front, we tried a new slow-cooker recipe for braised short ribs (not a keeper, although we may try it again with a different cut of meat) and had better luck with a "Mexican Lasagna" that Geri found online. In fact, since the recipe was for 4 servings, we'll finish that off tonight. Last night, we had another winner, a simple pasta dish with radicchio and garlic, paired with a nice 1997 Barolo from the Wine Box.

Well, that's it for now...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Great Thanksgiving

December 3, 2008
Peoria, AZ

We had a great Thanksgiving, and are starting to gear up for the Christmas season.

We accepted an invitation from our friends Ana and Larry to join them for Thanksgiving, and had a great time, as always. They were married on Thanksgiving Day in 1978, and always celebrate their anniversary on Thanksgiving. We were at their wedding down in Melbourne, Florida. I remember it being at a place on a bluff overlooking the beach. Geri and I had just gotten together at that point (we were married about 15 months later, in February of 1980). We were happy to be with them 30 years later!

Otherwise, it's been more of the same for us - pretty quiet. On Monday, Geri had another dental appointment, this time for the impressions on the crowns for her implants on the upper right side. All went well with this process, as usual, and the crowns will be completed in January. It's usually about a six week thing, but the holiday break will push this to 8+ weeks. Of course, the prostodontist indicated that they'll call her in early if the first cut of the crowns are delivered early and if they have an opening in their schedule before Christmas week. Too many "ifs" for me. I'm not holding my breath, but it'd be great to get this whole thing "in the done column". Especially since we've paid for the whole thing already (actually that was my idea, pushing the expense into 2008 when we can itemize on our taxes).

Speaking of itemizing, we've also been working on maximizing our charitable deductions by going through the whole house for items to donate. We filled half of the garage with boxes and bags and other items, and scheduled a local charity for pick-up. What an easy process! sign up online and a couple of days later, 2 guys and a truck show up at 8:00 AM and take everything away. We moved out several things that weren't practical to sell on eBay, like a 36" analog TV and all the wine racks we moved from the cellar in NJ (the buyer of our place there in 2005 didn't want them and I was too ticked off with him to just leave them behind). We even got rid of the snow shovel that got onto the moving truck in error (we were probably the only people in Phoenix with a snow shovel). We still have another load of stuff to organize and donate, I suspect.

And finally, we're in day 5 of "Santa Watch". One of our neighbors has attached a Santa display to their house, and we count the days it's still there whenever we walk the pups. Normally, we wouldn't pay much attention, but these neighbors have had awful luck with vandals and theives with their "yard art" in the past. They have a series of faux "tombstones" in their side yard to memorialize the decorations that are "no longer with us". We'll keep an eye on this one, and fingers crossed.

One final note: we've had some high level clouds over the last week, and this has made for some wonderful sunsets. Sorry for the low picture quality; it's the best the cell phone will do. (Maybe my vintage 2005 cell phone needs updating? Only when I can have an iPhone on Verizon.) Anyone ready for a winter visit to the desert?