Summer Travel Map

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Happens every year...

February 15, 2012
Peoria, AZ

Yes, every year around this time, I post something to our Blog that starts out with excuses for not posting anything for so long.  Yep, it's happened again.

Once we settle in for the winter at our southwestern location, Blog-worthy things just seem to dwindle.  It's not that there's nothing going on; not in the least.  Maybe it's that I started the Blog to focus on our travels, so stationary things aren't "good enough" to post.  Maybe (probably more likely if I'm honest) it's a lot easier to post the odd tidbit and photo to Facebook and/or Twitter than it is to sit down and actually compose a Blog post.  Well, as we all know, easy doesn't make it right, so let's do a little catching up, eh?

When last we heard from George and Geri, it was Christmas and we were wishing everyone well.  Not being particularly religious, for us "the holidays" are more of a time to acknowledge our good fortune and our enjoy family and friends.  Since we've chosen to spend our winters in the godforsaken desert where many fear to tread, that means long-distance communications.  Fortunately, we're some of the most technology-connected old farts retirees we know.  So, Facebook and FaceTime, email and SMS, and even old-fashioned phone calls and Parcel Post got us through.

I did spend a bit of time developing the “year-end message blast” posted in December, and used that as a triggering event for quite a bit of clean-up of the old address book.  No, not the musty leather-bound book of old, but the shiny new synced-from-my-Mac-to-iPad-to-Android-phone-and-don’t-forget-iCloud list of addresses.  I used our year-end missive as a trigger to get better organized in this department.  Why, you might ask?  Well, it’s all part of my grand plan for world domination moving more of our communications online.  Yep, if you get a birthday card, anniversary card, Christmas/Holiday-of-your-choice card, or even a “We-love-you-and-miss-you” card from us and I have your email address, it’s highly likely that you’ll be hearing “You’ve Got Mail” on your special day.

You might recall that I almost lost all my “Contacts” last year when the hard drive in my notebook PC failed.  Well, I was able to recover, but lots of learning about the Mac and syncing to the phone left things in a bit of a mess.  Once I had things cleaned up, I realized that there was still more organizing needed: documents!  Woo-Hoo!  Exciting stuff, right?  Well, actually, I’m quite pleased with what I’ve worked out, especially since it’s all free.

I started doing research in the Mac App Store and various technology feeds I follow on Twitter.  Great sources of information.  I found an app called Evernote that’s not quite as good as Microsoft’s OneNote but runs almost everywhere and automatically syncs my stuff.  Good start, but I’m not moving all my documents in there; I like my folders.  More reading pointed me to Dropbox and Skydrive, both with free storage options.  I signed up for both and have partitioned out various folders to each.  We have access to our medical records (us and the pets), finances, travel documents, and vehicle records wherever we are (OK, wherever we have an Internet connection - but with Smartphones and a Mi-Fi device, that’s most everywhere) across all devices, plus I have other key folders synced between the PC and Mac.  All automatic and all free.  Definitely worth the time to research and very easy to implement.  Great “winter projects” for when temperatures plummeted into the 50s and 60s for (several) days at a time!

And, speaking of projects, what winter wouldn’t be complete without a little home improvement?  We, not ours.  Armed with a trusty Home Depot Gift Card received for Christmas (Thanks!), we tackled a bathroom upgrade.  I’m never sure whether to call this the “main” bathroom or the “small” bathroom.  It’s definitely smaller than the one in the master suite (which sounds too pompous as it is), and it’s hardly “roomy”, but it’s what we have.  

Geri got some interesting advice: “start with a new shower curtain, then work the color scheme around that”.  That was all well and good until we started looking at paint.  They can “color match” anything these days, so off we went with the newly-acquired shower curtain in tow.  The “burgundy” color came out shocking pink (we were smart enough to pass on that; they don’t make you pay if you’re not happy with the color before you leave the store) and the “gold” was just crappy.  Literally.  It was “poop brown”.  

I gave Geri the “maybe it’ll look better when I do the second coat” routine.  Not so much.  All I heard was “why didn’t you do just one wall”?  Uh, because we agreed to paint all the walls the same color I misunderstood how the colors were to be applied?  No matter, it can be a do-over.  Two coats of Kilz primer then two coats of “Silver Jade”, plus two coats of the metallic glaze later and this room is starting to look good.  Oh, let’s add two more coats of a different color on the ceiling, plus a nice “copper” finish on the vanity.  It’s a good thing that the room is only 10’ x 10’.

Once the paint was (mostly) dry, we tackled the floor.  Out with the cheap linoleum and in with a nice porcelain tile.  Maybe not the first tile we picked out, but at least no do-overs.  Install border tiles to replace the baseboard, grout everything up, and put in a quick “lift kit” for the commode to account for the height difference and we’re done.  Not so fast, buster.  Let’s not forget matching towels (for the aforementioned shower curtain).  And, why not add a tile accent backsplash above the sink.  A new mirror, some shelves over the loo and a little metal fish sculpture -- now, you’re done.  And, I have to admit, it does really look nice.  And to think, it all started with a shower curtain.

Always one to press my luck, I noticed a local billboard advertising the Maricopa County Home Show down at the Fairgrounds in Phoenix and suggested we go.  “We don’t have to buy anything and we might get some ideas for the rest of the house and the yard”.  Our next major projects are to upgrade the master suite, the kitchen, and the patio, in that order and allocating roughly one project per year.  So, I signed up for the discount tickets online and off we went.  We were a little disappointed in the range of vendors; more people selling services than “stuff” (not too exciting for a DIY Guy like me) and quite a few pushing things pretty loosely connected to the “home” show theme (like 8% Return Guaranteed Investment Scams Deals).  All that aside, we did get a few ideas for the kitchen and yard (assuming I can get that pergola I want approved by the HOA and City).  And who knew that built-in home saunas were the big thing in home improvement this year (we assumed that everybody had one already, called “Summer”).  And it was nice to see all the Ginsu Knife, Vita-mix, Microfiber Towel, Waterless Cooking, and Stove-top Grill vendors we’ve missed at RV enclaves.

We actually did run into one vendor that we knew: Siding Guy.  Several houses in our neighborhood have had finished aluminum trim added to the soffit and fascia areas.  We got a quote a couple of years ago that I thought was too high, but I really learned the value of this upgrade when I painted the outside of the house last year.  Scraping and prepping the fascia and under the eaves at least doubled the project timeline, and the results were mixed.  So, I was excited (as excited as you can get about aluminum siding, I suppose) to see Siding Guy offering a Whole House, “Show Special” deal.  He came out a couple of days later and did up a new estimate.  By cutting and installing the soffit myself and having them focus on the fascia (that needs special tools to create the various bends in the metal), it was about 50% of the price quoted for the whole job a couple of years ago.  Sign me up!

A week later, we were the proud owners of two boxes of soffit and one of “J-Channel”, all in a nice neutral cream color.  The concept is pretty simple: attach the J-Channel to the side of the house at the right height then tack it with staples to the bottom of the fascia.  When they cover the fascia, it’ll cover up the edge of the soffit.  Simple, right?

Not so fast, Buster.  You have hip roofs?  Yes, around the garage and along the front of the house.  Well, then you have to cut everything at an angle.  Oh, by the way, it’s not a 45 degree angle since the builders don’t really make everything straight.  Hmmm; the stucco isn’t quite straight along the sides of the house, especially at the corners?  Well, you’d better get thee to Home Depot for the masonry disc for the angle grinder and smooth things out.  There isn’t anything to attach the J-Channel to along the peaks?  Get some furring strip and make something, Buddy.  And you put some chicken wire up under the eaves to keep the birds out after you painted the house?  Now you get to build some brackets to replace that with flashing to finish off the job.  

Needless to say, this was another of those “It’s complicated” projects.  Fortunately, I was able to work through all the issues and complete my part of the work in a little over a week.  We’ve had the fascia guys here before 7:30 AM (aka “oh-dark-thirty”) the last two days, and now the project is complete.  It really does finish off the house nicely.  By selecting a neutral color for the trim, we’ll be able to change the house color to whatever we like (or whatever we can get the HOA to approve) the next time we paint.  Hopefully, that’ll be several years down the road!

Last Friday, I took the coach over to a local shop for some work.  The dash air conditioning failed last summer, so that needed to be recharged.  Unfortunately, the compressor needed replacing, so that took an extra business day to get and install.  I also had the brakes and suspension checked.  With over 100,000 miles, I was surprised that everything was OK.  We picked it up today and it’s back in storage, patiently waiting for our next adventure. Before I took it in, I replaced the macerator, so we’ll be able to pump the tanks as needed for the next couple of years.

So, now we’re at “happy time”.  Chronologically, that would start with “Happy New Year”, since we left off at Christmas, I suppose.  Then there’s “Happy Martin Luther King Day”, which a lot of people put down.  Because we don’t want to celebrate a “lesser holiday” or, worse, because we don’t appreciate minority contributions?  To the contrary, recognizing the Civil Rights movement is incredibly important at this time, when the country is tearing itself apart, often based on rigid stereotypes.  

Now, we have “Happy Valentines Day”, when we celebrate the great loves of our lives.  Coincidentally, February 14th represents Arizona’s Centennial; the 48th State was added February 14, 1912.  Being from New England where things date from 1620-1800 and having been to various places in Europe where they’re much older, this isn’t a huge thing for us.  The local TV stations did the best they could with it, but it didn’t appear to have made much of an impact.

And, as we continue through the week, it’ll be “Happy Anniversary” for us and “Happy Birthday” for Geri, but more on that later...

So there you have it: a 2,000 word essay on life in the slow lane from here in sunny Arizona!