Summer Travel Map

Monday, November 30, 2009

"99 bottles of wine on the floor, 99 bottles of wine..."

November 30, 2009
Peoria, AZ

Well, we did it. We finally tackled one of the tasks that's been on the "to do" list for too long: organizing the "wine box". Even though it's been hanging over us for a long time, the boxes of wine sitting in the hall since we got back to Arizona was the triggering factor.

So, we got up early, I printed out the spreadsheet inventory, and we started removing bottles. I called out each wine and Geri checked it off on the list. I then started organizing the bottles into one of three groups: wines that should age for a few more years, wines we probably should have consumed by now, and everything else. When I initially packed up the wines when we sold our place in New Jersey in 2005, I tried to do a rough estimate of the year we'd target to drink each. Well, the wines went into storage, first in the bunker in Connecticut (Horse Ridge Cellars) and then in the "wine box" here. While we've certainly consumed, my lack of organization has made that process more of a hit-or-miss proposition.

By lunch, we had the whole wine box emptied. The box has 16 rows that hold 18 bottles each. The racks are two deep, so each row has 9 bottles in the back and 9 in the front. Trying to think ahead, I decided to put all the "age for a few years" bottles in the back, and all the "Drink in the next few years" ones in the front. All of the "oh, wish we'd had that last year" wines will live "outside the box" until we're done with them. I counted 99 bottles in this last category, so needless to say we won't be heading to the wine store any time soon.

I labeled the box like a spreadsheet, with letters for the "columns" and numbers for the "rows" (old habits die hard). By late afternoon, everything going into the box, including a good chunk of our new purchases, was in place and noted, and the box was turned back on. By bedtime, things were back to their normal 55°F temperature. Now all I have to do tomorrow is put the remaining "drink quickly" bottles in the racks outside the box.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Raindrops and Rainbows

November 29, 2009
Peoria, AZ

We've had a weather front passing through over the last few days, bringing some clouds, cooler temperatures, and even a few raindrops.

Friday was "recovery day" from the Thanksgiving feast for us, like many others. We relaxed, we puttered, Geri made a pot of sauce and I made the veal parm.

Yesterday, I focused on our "Holiday Letter", a stuffer we put in with many of the Christmas cards to let friends and family know what we've been up to over the course of the last year. The text was easy, but picking out a few pictures from the many we took over the year is really hard. Dinner was a great rack of lamb with couscous and oven-roasted haricot verts and an almond aioli sauce.

Today, I finished up on the pictures, formatting each and adding a bit of text. Photoshop is your friend, I guess. We both made interesting recipes today. Geri made an asparagus and melon salad with crispy prosciutto and toasted pine nuts and fresh mozzarella. I tried to recreate a dish I had during the summer, making Chianti-braised beef ribs over a butternut squash/brown butter puree with wilted greens. Oh, yeah - keepers all the way around.

We've started pulling older wines from the "wine box", with mostly excellent results. The Chateau Bel Air 2000 we had mid-week was very good, probably reflecting the vintage more than the producer. A d'Arenberg "Dead Arm" Shiraz 2002 was drinking nicely with our Thanksgiving dinner, as was a Fiddlehead "728" Pinot Noir (check out the cover of the November Food & Wine). We used a Trinitas Petit Syrah 2002 as a "opening wine" for the last couple of days - this one was a surprise to me, having been bought at Moore Bros in NJ years ago and drinking pretty well now. An Utni California Syrah 2002 (who ever heard of that) went very well with the lamb, but a Damilano Barolo 2000 was a bit over the hill and port-like with the beef ribs. You can't win them all. This highlights the need to work through wines in the "wine box", as many are at (or slightly beyond!) their peak of drinkability. It's just something we'll have to work through. :-)

Today was sunny for most of the day, with a few clouds flying by at times. We walked the pups late in the day and - surprise, surprise - we got a few raindrops hitting us, and even saw both ends of a rainbow. No pot of gold, though. It'll be interesting to see if the rain was "measurable" on the news tonight, and if we're on track for the record for "driest year on record".

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 26, 2009
Peoria, AZ

Geri and I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving from here in sunny Arizona. We have so much to be thankful for as we enter this holiday season, including a fantastic meal with our friends Ana & Larry and their family. We're stuffed, we're wined, and we're happy...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Towing Again

November 25, 2009
Mesa, AZ

We're back in business! Repairs to the Range Rover's towing system were completed this morning. Since we didn't plan to stay at Camping World overnight (even though we could have), we schlepped home with the coach and I headed back to Mesa in the morning. I was able to verify that the base plate was installed the way I wanted (Loc-Tite Red plus jamb nuts on everything), and had them make modifications to the wiring so that the Rover's signal lights work better. It was originally set up so that the brake lights did double duty as signals.

We're pleased that Camping World stood behind their "lifetime installation warranty", including the fact that they ordered in a new base plate rather than re-installing the old one. Since it was just laying around, I grabbed the old one to use for spare parts (pins, brackets) if needed.

At this point, the only remaining repair item is the cover we use on the front of the Rover. I sent that off to the manufacturer in Southern California about two weeks ago, so I expect we'll get that back next week, in plenty of time for our next trip.

OK, time to head back to storage.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Are we towing again?

November 24, 2009
Mesa, AZ

We'll see. We're at the Camping World store in Mesa, AZ, as I write this, and we're hoping that the towing system will be back in operation by the time we leave. We'll see.

But first, a little bit of catching up from the past week or so. Busy as usual, which is good I suppose. Tuesday was a "rainy day project day". Not that it rained, mind you, but we used the day to catch up on a whole bunch of things in the house. Geri tackled another mountain of laundry and I started catching up on bills, budgeting, and filing. Wednesday, I took the Range Rover over to Scottsdale to have the residual repairs from the September accident handled. All three washer pumps were missing (windshield, rear window, and headlights) and the external temperature sensor, which lives in the bumper assembly, was missing. This took about two hours to estimate (for the insurance) and repair. Replacing the temperature sensor fixed the problem we were having with the air conditioning (funny, the computer doesn't allow the system to blow a lot of cold air when it thinks it's -40°F outside).

Thursday was "medical day". We were up early and on our way to the urologist for Geri's follow-up appointment. She had the second of her follow-up MRIs done in late-October, and we had this appointment scheduled to hear the results. As we expected, everything was fine, the radio frequency ablation was a success, and the follow-up exams will gradually tail off. We'll do another MRI in the spring before we leave and then next winter when we're back. With this good news well received, we were off to the imaging center for her scheduled mammogram, which also came back fine.

We tried a new recipe for an old dish on Friday, working on a Lamb Ragu. We found this recipe in the Wine Spectator, and it was a bit of a project. It started with grinding the lamb, which meant trimming a bunch of shoulder chops and getting the grinder out. I was a little short on lamb after the grinding, so I had to make a run to the store in the middle of things. Geri did most of the prep work for the vegetables and spices. We made a "quick" trip for a couple of last-minute things in the afternoon, which turned into a three-store, two-hour project, but the end result was very good. It paired quite nicely with a 1997 Carpazo Brunello from the "wine box". I've got mixed feelings about all the 1997 and 1999 Italian wines I bought years ago. I'm so glad I did, since they are drinking so very well now and they were a relative bargain, but I'm sorry to see them go because I know we won't be able to replace them.

Over the weekend, we finished up on things around the house. Bills are all caught up, the laundry room is cleared out, and Geri started tackling the major housecleaning that's been waiting for us since we got back in October. I even had a chance to watch a little football (Colts and Cardinals won) and catch the final NASCAR race of the year from Florida. Of course, catching up on the finances means I now have a better picture of how much over budget we went wining our way through California and Las Vegas. Oh well, can't take it with us!

Yesterday we were back on the road, first to Geri's eye doctor in the morning (all OK, no glaucoma or cataracts) then dropping the pups off for grooming. I picked up and installed a new battery for Geri's watch in the afternoon, which turned into quite a project since one of the "set" buttons on the side wanted to stick. Some WD-40 and bending of the spring actuator back into alignment seems to have done the trick. We didn't get home from picking up the pups until after 7:00 PM (felt odd driving after dark), but Geri still managed to turn out an excellent Chicken Marsala with pan-roasted baby red potatoes and steamed peas. With a 2006 Curran Syrah that we picked up in our travels (it never made it to the wine box), it was a great end to the day.

As an aside about the weather, it's been almost 80 days since the last "measurable" rain, and they measure it in hundredths of an inch here. It's possible that 2009 may be the driest year on record, as there has only been 2.78" of rain all year against a record just under 3". We're not complaining of course, although temperatures have been cooler than we're used to. Or is it just thinner blood?

So, that brings us to today. We got the coach back to the house in the morning and I tackled a couple of minor projects, trimming a plastic guard that was rubbing against the kitchen sink drain pipe, and grinding the heads off several screws that were sticking up into the carpet in the rear closet. I replaced the broken handle on the washer, although that will take some testing since it doesn't feel like it's right yet. I wanted to have the coach with us so we can hook everything up and make sure it's all right before we leave. We headed over to Camping World for our 2:00 PM appointment. Now, mind you, I asked twice if a 2:00 appointment would allow enough time. Of course, the first thing the shop manager tells me is that there's no way the technician will be able to finish today. Hopefully, he'll have a conversation with his scheduler!

End of day update: "See you tomorrow morning and we'll finish up"...

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wrapping up a week at the races

November 16, 2009
Phoenix International Raceway, Avondale, AZ

Once again, we had a great time at the race track, spending the week dry camping and attending the races Thursday through Sunday. Today we packed up, headed home and put the coach back in storage.

Monday was set-up day. Parking started at 8:00 AM, and we were rolling around 10:30 (we were about #300 in queue). After a short consultation with the "parking police", we were at our chosen spot and all set up by early afternoon. Since we'd been here last year, I knew exactly where I wanted to park, and checked with the guys managing the entry before parking started. Although they said "fine, it's all open parking", of course they were nowhere to be found when we got to the front of the line. I got a bit of a hard time but prevailed in getting us into the "overflow" area early so we could get a nice level spot near the tram stop. I'll have to try to contact the track and get clarification of the "key words" to use to avoid the hassle next time.

Tuesday and Wednesday were days for relaxing, catching up with Wayne and Eva (we haven't seen them for a while except one evening when our paths crossed in Paso Robles/Atascadero), and a bit of shopping for supplies for the week. Wayne helped me remove the front TV to tighten up the cabinets, and we went to a nice sushi place in Goodyear for dinner one evening.

Racing began on Thursday. There are three classes of NASCAR races (trucks, "Nationwide Series", and "Sprint Cup Series") over the weekend, and practice and qualifying began during the day. Thursday also showcases two classes of USAC open-wheel cars. The Midgets (4-cylinder 900 pounders) qualified and ran a 25 lap feature first, and then the "Silver Crown Series" cars (8-cylinder 1,400 pounds) did a 100 lap race. Both were good races, with a lot of action and a little drama.

On Friday and Saturday, the weather turned cooler and cloudy. We actually had an "Arizona Downpour" on Saturday - it sprinkled for about 20 minutes, just enough to make a bunch of water spots in the accumulated dust on the cars. We had good seats for the Truck race on Friday night, and better ones for the Nationwide Series on Saturday afternoon.

The weather cleared for Sunday's main event, the Sprint Cup race. It was an interesting race, relatively quick with few cautions until late in the game. That meant several green-flag pit stops, and a lot of jockeying for position. We were happy to see several drivers do well (we're not rabid fans of any particular one), even though the end result was a bit of a runaway.

We watched all the races "old school", equipped with earplugs and a program. It was interesting to look at almost everyone around us in the stands, since they were outfitted with all manner of electronic regalia. Most had scanners and headphones, allowing them to listen to driver-crew conversations. Some had microphones and an intercom system so they could talk to each other over the noise. And then there were the people with specialized handheld TVs rented out by Sprint for $49 per weekend that show the race, in-car cameras, and on-demand replays, along with track announcer and crew audio. Instead of "just like being there", it's "just like being home and watching on TV". Hmmm.

We ate pretty well over the week (surprised?). The slow cookers got a workout, as Eva made ribs braised in a homemade barbeque sauce one day and her famous Chili Verde another. I made Rack of Lamb with Mushroom Risotto, we grilled burgers, and we did steaks with baked potatoes and snow peas to finish up on Sunday night. All the cooking was done outside, since we had the grill/stove setup deployed. The griddle and wok got a good workout and seasoning as well; they'll get more use over time now that they're broken in. We shared wine duties all week, with the focus being on California (various Syrahs, Petit Sirahs, and blends plus a very nice 2006 Badge Pinot Noir) and Washington (Syrah and blends), with a range of "value wines" thrown in for good measure. Given the venue, a few Bud Light Limes were consumed as well.

Click here for a picture album...

All in all, we had a great time and are looking forward to doing it again next year. This morning's projects involved putting everything away, dropping the solar panels, and breaking camp. We left around 10:30, routed Wayne and Eva to I-10 for their trip back to the Palm Springs area, unloaded the coach at home and had it back in storage by 1:00 PM. Now, back to the "real world"...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Off to the races...

November 8, 2009
Avondale, AZ

We finished up our preparations for the NASCAR races at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) and made the long (15 miles?) trek to the track.

Thursday was an easy day. Geri and I both went to the dentist for cleaning and exams. With x-rays, it was a pretty expensive stop, but needed. Can't eat without teeth! After the dentist, we did a bit of shopping: Costco, Total Wines & More, and Sears for a new garage door remote - basic stuff). Dinner was wings and margaritas, very good but with probably too much of both.

We started Friday by getting the coach from storage and starting the loading process. We'll be headed to PIR for 10 days. Strangely enough, packing for a short trip is harder than for a longer one. We load less stuff, but are always weighing the need for each item, so it becomes more of a process. On the other hand, we know we're only 30 minutes from home, so forgetting or overlooking something is less of an issue. Dinner involved a take-and-bake pizza - no sense getting too complicated with travel in the future.

Saturday, we finished up loading, I put a coat or two of high-temperature paint on the exhaust stack for the generator, and we were ready to go. Our friends, Wayne and Eva, are joining us for the races, so we waited for their call (they left southern California in the morning), and met them where they got off the I-10, then made the short drive south to the track. I was hoping that we'd be able to get into the RV parking area, but we ended up in the staging area until they open parking first thing Monday morning. Geri and Eva made salads for dinner, and we had a good time catching up before turning in early.

Today was another beautiful sunny day in the desert. We took our time getting started in the morning. I took the pups for a long walk, all the way around the staging area. Many people have been parked here since they opened up for staging on October 30th. There are two lots in use, each holding around 200 RVs; we're about 300th in line. Given that there will be several thousand RVs here by next weekend, that's not bad. In the afternoon, we did some meal planning and ventured out to Costco and Safeway for shopping, so we're pretty well set for the week. We watched the end of this weekend's NASCAR race from Texas (gotta get in the right frame of mind, after all) and snacked for dinner as nobody was particularly hungry (must be those Costco hot dogs we had?). We'll have to get an early start tomorrow, as parking is supposed to start at 8:00 AM. We'll need to be ready just in case they start early. Once we move tomorrow, we should be set for the rest of the week, so we'll do the full deployment of mats, stoves, chairs, dog pens, etc.

Well, that's it for now...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Progress, Progress...

November 4, 2009
Peoria, AZ

We made some progress on leftover items from the Range Rover "accident" over the last couple of days. Other than that, it's been life as usual.

Yesterday, I was able to notify the insurance folks that we're ready to get the remaining repairs to the Range Rover done here in AZ. I made the appointment at the Land Rover Centre over in Scottsdale to have their work done after we get back from the NASCAR races . Other than that, Geri did some more laundry (will it ever end?) and I picked up a few things at the store to tide us over for the next few days of fine dining. For dinner, we made chicken sausage (Geri found individual links at Sprouts, a local chain, one with parmesan and one with basil) in a tomato-pancetta cream sauce with fresh gnocchi from DiFalco's, an Italian specialty store in Scottsdale. Wow, we range far and wide just to eat. We paired it with a Sicilian Primitivo, a hearty and rustic red wine. Other than not dicing up the pancetta enough for Geri's taste, it was definitely a keeper.

Today, we made the long (30+ miles?) trek over to Mesa to visit Camping World. They are the ones (albeit at their Denton, Texas, store) that sold and installed the tow setup for the Range Rover, and they offer a "lifetime installation warranty". I wasn't sure how much convincing they would need to reinstall everything under warranty, and I suppose I won't be satisfied until they are done. So far, we're not getting any flak. Their first step was to contact the tow bar manufacturer.  Even though the base plate that attaches to the front of the Range Rover wasn't damaged, they want to make sure there aren't any changes made to the parts since 2005 when we had it installed. While I'm OK with that, I really want to get this work scheduled so we can get back to "normal". I'm sure I'll have quite a few follow-up calls to make over the next couple of days.

After Mesa, we made a quick stop at Ikea in Tempe on the way home. It's always fun to get ideas on how we could make upgrades, particularly to the kitchen and bathrooms, even though the economics of the situation don't support making additional investments in the property. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" really applies these days. Doesn't cost much to look, of course...☺

This afternoon turned cloudy, which kept the temperature down a bit from yesterday's record high of 96°F in Phoenix (it was only 92°F today). Dinner was the left over pork roast from the other night, paired with baked potatoes and grilled artichoke. We need to practice on the chokes, but everything else worked out OK. Paired with a Cabernet blend from Tres Hermanas that we brought back from California, it was a pretty good "easy dinner". Now, it's time to watch Game 6 and see if the Yankees can close it out.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Back in the groove

November 2, 2009
Peoria, AZ

Well, we're back in the groove of being here in the desert, or mostly there anyway. I didn't finish the back yard stuff on Saturday as planned, but did get it done, and we've knocked off several things from our to-do list.

Sunday was an easy day. Geri had nail work done and did some shopping to fill in the gaps. I got everything finished up in the back yard (waterfall filled and working, patio and furniture washed off, decorations put out, grill hooked up) and even washed the Range Rover and driveway/sidewalk as a bonus. Geri picked up a pork sirloin roast and half of it went right on the rotisserie. With roasted red potatoes and haricots verts, coupled with a Domaine Alfred Syrah we brought back from California, it made a great meal. The rotisserie takes a while (almost 1½ hours for a small roast) but it's one of our favorite cooking methods for certain things. And the Yankees won.

Today, we were back into the whole "appointment thing", up early and out to the periodontist for Geri's follow-up appointment. Since she had all the dental implants done over the last two years, she's been rotating appointments between the two dentists. She's had "perio" issues in the past, the extra attention is welcome; we definitely don't want to get into scaling or gingivectomies if we can avoid it! Everything is OK right now but we'll keep an eye on it as there are a couple of areas with bone loss.

Once we were back home, we focused our attention to future appointments. Geri scheduled her annual mammogram and I made arrangements to get the Range Rover over to our "local" (Scottsdale, about 30 miles away) Land Rover Centre for the last of the two repairs. I also dug out the receipts from when we had the tow bar installed; we'll have to get over to Camping World in Mesa to make our case that they should do the re-install under the "lifetime warranty".

All day, we talked on and off about what to have for dinner. Geri had picked up a package of butternut squash ravioli, and we were trying to decide on the whole menu. We settled on a recipe that involved a brown butter sauce with crispy sage leaves, and Geri added in her fabulous pork medallions. What a winning combination! We paired it with a bottle of Badge Pinot Noir (this was a special bottle - it was shipped in error during the summer and two neighbors teamed up to "save" it from the heat) from the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County. I think they did a great job, as it wasn't showing any signs of being "cooked" (flat and port-like).

On a final note, we heard from the vet late today that Merlin's blood work came back fine, so the "old guy" continues to do well.

OK, back to the Series...