Summer Travel Map

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Can you believe November’s almost over?

November 29, 2011
Peoria, AZ
Wow, time sure flies when you’re busy.  It doesn’t matter if you’re having fun.  Fortunately for us, the past couple of weeks have been mostly on the plus side.

We’ve completed all of the doctor and vet appointments for now, and everything is fine.  Merlin’s leg is healing, although it will probably be a while before he’s not running on three legs.  The anti-inflammatory medicine helped a lot and he’s able to walk on “all four” to an extent now.  We’re optimistic that he’ll be able to work this out without requiring surgery.

So, what else have we been up to?  Well, we’ve done some cleaning and started getting the house ready for the holidays.  The first holiday is Thanksgiving, of course, and we spent that with our friends Ana and Larry as we have since we settled on Arizona as our winter headquarters.  They we married on 11/23/1978 -- Thanksgiving -- and this year, their daughter got married on Thanksgiving as well.  It was a fine ceremony and a great after-party (“reception” is so last generation), and we were honored to be there for Alex and Brian.  I took a bunch of pictures with a specialized “app” on the iPad, just for effect.

And, much to Geri’s delight, I’ve started to clean out the mess I’d built in the spare bedroom.  Between things destined for Goodwill or eBay, there was just a lot of stuff in there.  Now, 90% of the Goodwill stuff (mostly older clothing items) is gone to a better place, and everything I felt was eBay-worthy is listed for sale.  In fact, one item is already shipped and five more have bids that’ll “win” once the auctions close next Sunday.  

Otherwise, I’ve been spending some time migrating my day-to-day computing over to the iMac.  I’ve found a series of free apps to handle things that I’m used to doing with Microsoft Office on the PC, and I’m getting the hang of the integration opportunities.  Having spent money I didn’t anticipate on the iMac itself, I’m trying to be cautious on the add-on expense.  My next project will be to reorganize the desktop -- the literal one -- by moving things around in the study to make the space more effective.

Once that’s done, it’s time to paint!  This year, we’re planning to paint both bathrooms and our bedroom.  Of course, painting is probably not the extent of the renovation, as we’ll likely tile the floors at the same time.  Fortunately, since we already have the right tools, that won’t be a huge challenge.

And, tomorrow is “Christmas Decoration Day”.  We’ll get out the boxes of stuff and deploy the decorations we have used for the past several years.  Geri will get the tree up and I’ll tackle the outside lights.  With temperatures in the upper-70s, this will be a piece of cake compared to what we used to face in the Northeast.

Meanwhile, we’ve continued to eat well.  We’ve had a couple of nice Porterhouse Steaks (for two), Geri’s made several of the salads she’s famous for, and we’ve restarted our “try a new recipe at least once a week” program, mixed in with “old favorites”.  I’ve started our annual reorganization of the “wine box” as well, trying to identify wines that probably coulda/shoulda been consumed by now, making room for the haul we brought back from this fall’s West Coast travels.  It’s a tough job, yada yada yada...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Back in the swing of things...

November 11, 2011
Peoria, Arizona

Well, things have been hectic since we've gotten back, but that's to be expected.  The good news is that most things are working out well, just like we'd hoped.

The biggest thing is that Geri's kidney continues to have healed well after her 2009 surgery.  We had our semi-annual follow-up at the urologist's office today, and everything is "unremarkable".  That's apparently medical-speak for "you're fine".  We got a similar report from the ophthalmologist earlier in the week; the eyes are fine.  With visits to the dentist (cleaning for both of us), primary care doctor (fine with minor prescription changes), hair and nail salons, and pet groomer complete, the list of appointments is rapidly getting cleared.  Geri goes for a mammogram next week and we're pretty much done.

Unfortunately, we're shifting our attention to the vet at this point.  Last week, we think Merlin got one paw caught in the closing door to the garage on the way our for a walk, and he came up limping.  We got him right in to the vet, and it seems like he's strained ligaments and/or tendons in his left rear knee.  Apparently, it's not uncommon in small dogs and should respond to an anti-inflammatory prescription over the course of two weeks.  If not, he may need a minor surgery to fix things up.  We're keeping our fingers crossed; at 13½, we'd like to avoid that if possible.  In the meantime, he's on "modified assignment", not allowed to go for morning and evening walks (and really not liking that), and restricted from jumping up/down on the bed and couch (not happy with that, either).

In other news, I've almost completed an assignment from last summer's motorhome caravan.  These aren't commercial caravans; they're put on by the members.  While the caravan leaders certainly have the lion's share of the work, everyone gets to participate in some small way.  I was asked to create an archive of selected pictures from the trip via DVD for all of the participants.  If you know me, this is where I say "nothing is ever as simple as it seems".

These days, burning a DVD from a notebook computer shouldn't really be a problem; most full-sized machines have DVD drives built in.  Unfortunately for me, mine (vintage 2009) has been acting up over the past year or so.  It often won't recognize a disc being inserted, blank or otherwise.  I knew this would be an issue at some point, and when I tried to burn a sample disc I couldn't do it.  "No problem; I'll just use Geri's".  Uh, not so fast, fella.  Geri's machine (vintage 2011; we got it in the spring before we hit the road) would burn the disc, but not play it.  Nor would our Blu-ray DVD player in the coach.

So, this is a timing thing more than anything.  Once back to AZ, I have another computer with a DVD burner that should work.  Worst case, I drop $50 on a USB-connected drive.  So, hardware isn't the issue.

The bigger challenges are selection and formatting.  Since I collected pictures throughout the caravan from several other participants, there are a lot of pictures.  Including my own, I have 4,969 images, to be exact.  It all adds up to over 10.2 gigabytes of data, enough for 3 DVDs.  Now, nobody wants to watch a slideshow of that size, so my first task has been to sort through all the images and try to pick the best ones.  Once I started this, I realized that I would have been well served if I'd provided the other contributors with some guidelines.  Things like use unique file names (similar models within a camera brand will use the same naming conventions, creating the potential for a duplicate - or 20).  And, who thinks to set/adjust the date/time in the camera?  Very few, until you're trying to merge multiple batches of photos together by event within day for review.  But, I enjoy this kind of challenge (at least until Geri starts reminding me of all the other to-dos I'm slipping on), so organizing and filtering was right up my alley.

Formatting?  Well, that's another story.  I've never really done a lot with photo slideshows.  "Back in the day", before digital photography took off, you got your prints back, then selected the best for reprints, and maybe even had an enlargement or two made for framing.  Fast forward to today, and most pictures live on hard drives and smartphones, delivered to photo sites like Picasa and Flickr, used in Blog posts, or sent directly to Facebook or Google+ or iCloud.  There may have been a time when digital slideshows (the term still conjures up images of Kodak carousels for me) might have been "in"; I think I was absent that day.

All that said, the caravan wants a DVD slideshow with transitions and background music and I signed up for the assignment, so a DVD slideshow  it will be.  And, leave it to me to find the most expensive and complicated way to make it happen.  After researching no- and low-costs options, I concluded that the best way to proceed was to get that iMac I've been dreaming of and use it to master the DVDs.  So, I made the purchase ("Merry Christmas, George") and have been learning many things "i" in the meantime (iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iLife).

And, I have to admit, it's been a fun learning experience.  I was able to connect the iMac to my Windows machine, import the photos, make my selections and format day-by-day slideshows in iPhoto, import them all to iMovie for rendering, and burn a DVD using, what else, iDVD.  Geri and I watched the first cut yesterday, just over 30 minutes worth.

I've only got a few things left to work out, making final cuts to the picture sets, getting the sequence just right, verifying that the transitions (I'm using iPhoto's "Ken Burns" theme, which pans over the photos as they appear; very professional) all work and getting the music right.  There are a couple of dozen sample and theme tracks, but they're limited and I can include music from iTunes, so that opens things up.

So, in and amongst all the other projects, I'll put the wraps on the DVDs and get them in the mail by early next week.  Geri will certainly be glad when this is over!  We might even burn a couple of extra copies to share with family and friends who wonder what we're up to while we're on the road all those months at a time!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Travel Summary

November 2, 2011
Peoria, Arizona

I always find it interesting to look at our summer's travel in total when we get back in the fall.  This year, we traveled farther than anticipated, since we didn't have a full travel plan in mind when we left in April.  We knew we'd go to Alabama and Connecticut for college graduations, to Wisconsin and Michigan for RV get-togethers, and to South Dakota for my driver's license renewal.  The trip out to the West Coast was an "in-flight adjustment", and a great way to cap off the travel season.

Overall, we were on the road for 195 days, covering about 10,930 miles.  We stayed overnight at 47 different places along the way, which means we averaged a little over 4 days per stop.  We averaged just under $21 per night.  You don't want to know about the fuel.

Here's a summary map:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Back in storage

November 1, 2011
Peoria, Arizona

We must be getting better at this: we had the coach unloaded by 3:00 PM yesterday.  I was up early and started unloading before it got too warm.  Geri made a quick trip to Walmart to pick up some additional laundry baskets; we find that they're just the right size for most of the unloading.  We found that working in waves was best: I could bring in baskets of "stuff" and she could route things to the right place in the house.  This way, the dogs can stay with her and aren't running back and forth.  We've got a large pile of laundry in the queue (aka, the hallway to the spare bedroom), but most everything is back where it belongs (or at least in the right room). 

We did find another casualty, though; the standalone freezer we have in the garage will no longer cool.  It was a cheap model bought over ten years ago in New Jersey, so we probably got our money's worth from it.  One can argue that two people and two small dogs can probably get by with the freezer in the kitchen, though, so we'll hold off on a replacement for now.

Today, the "fun" began.  Every fall, we have a series of appointments for doctors, dentist, vet, grooming, etc.  We actually start making them 4-6 weeks before we get back.  Later this week, Geri has to go for her follow-up MRI to verify that her 2009 kidney procedure went well.  Since nothing is simple, she has to get a fasting blood test done before the MRI, so we were up early and off to the lab.  Then, after a quick breakfast at the local IHop, we stopped at the storage lot to sign up for our space for the coach.  Once we were set there and paid up, we moved the coach over to storage and were able to declare "done" on that phase.  Yea!