Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Friday, January 25, 2008

Recuperating on a Gray Day

Wow! Two posts in two days—that’s got to be a record for me.

With the medications doing their thing, I’m now feeling almost like new. Oberfuhrer Frau Sandy, my Nazi guard, allowed me my daily outing yesterday, and even let me out of her sight for a while due to my obviously upgraded condition. She did some shopping while I went to Lowe’s and got some wiring supplies for a small project to be done in Homer. Then we went to look at granite and tile samples, because she is freaking out about how to decorate the bathrooms in the new house. I think my role was to encourage her sweetly, which I did, and she made some excellent tentative choices. I say tentative, because Sandy, like most women, can change her mind quicker than a subcontractor can snatch a check out of my hand.

We then had dinner at a new Thai restaurant in Irving—the Blu Ginger—very good, but a little pricey. Feeling good about the uncharacteristically healthy meal, we settled into Homer for the evening, where I began the task of adding a 110 volt light underneath the vent hood above the stove. The light installed at the factory was a 12 volt DC version, and it didn’t provide enough light for me to be able to discern the difference between ham hocks and my own fists when cooking. Realizing the potential danger of not knowing exactly which was which when wielding a sharp knife, I decided that better lighting was essential. So, I removed the microwave above the vent hood and tied into its AC power source, running a pigtail down through holes I drilled in the vent hood, where I installed a light bulb receptacle and rotary switch. I stuck in a 75w bulb, and voila! I can now do surgery! Sandy marveled and offered effusive praise, of which I felt deserving and lapped it up like a bulldog drinking beer.

Last evening, the local TV weathercasters announced with their typical “sky is falling” alarm that the DFW Metroplex would fall victim to an ice storm in the morning. Much air time was given to live shots of scores of sand trucks standing by to attempt to save the hapless drivers from themselves. As predicted, the freezing rain began about 2:00 a.m., except that it wasn’t, ah, freezing. The temperature was 35 degrees when I awoke this morning, so all the hype and overtime paid to the road crews was to no avail, as there was no ice anywhere. Can’t say I was unhappy, however.

As I am writing this, the portable icemaker I recently bought on the recommendation of Gordon Pierce is happily churning out ice on the kitchen counter behind my computer desk. This is the coolest gadget, and it has solved a huge problem in keeping an ice supply in Homer. It is amazing how much ice it produces, which is lucky, because we are heavy users of ice. Sandy is an iced-tea-aholic, and each of the myriad of glasses she drinks in a day must be completely full of ice. I happen to agree with her—I think because we grew up in the South, where it would be improper to serve iced tea any other way. (A sure-fire way to identify a Yankee in our midst is to observe the amount of ice in his or her glass of iced tea. If there are only a few cubes floating at the top, well, you’ve got yourself a carpetbagger, for sure.) Unfortunately, there are many Yankees among the wait staff at restaurants we frequent, so we have developed the habit of instructing them to bring a spare glass of ice when they bring the iced tea. To supply our habit in Homer, we found ourselves buying sacks of ice a couple of times a week. Happily, the icemaker changed all that. Thanks, Gordon, for the recommendation. By the way, in keeping with our somewhat disturbingly infantile penchant for giving names to inanimate objects, the icemaker will hereinafter be referred to as “Igor.”

Next week promises to be much warmer, so we are expecting a lot of progress on the house. We’ll see.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Winter Perils Slow Us Down

I think Sandy and I are a bit addled by some of the surprises that have come our way as winter settles in and we work through and revise our plan to get us from the old house to the new one. For the most part, our steps have been measured and fairly well thought out, but it has not been without some levels of stress that were, perhaps, unnecessary because of some complications that we largely brought on ourselves. But hindsight is always 20/20, and we’ve got to keep focused on our goal of adjusting our lifestyle to fit our needs as we approach retirement.

The original plan was to move from our rented apartment into the new house at the conclusion of a six-month lease, which we thought would be adequate for the construction of the house. We even thought about what we would do if construction fell behind schedule: We would just keep on renting on a month-to-month basis. The logical question to have asked early on was what the rent cost would be if paid month-to-month. But we didn’t, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear.

Well, things did fall behind because of problems with a couple of the subcontractors, a batch of brick not to our liking and, of course, the infernal cold weather. So, when we told the apartment management that we would need to rent month-to-month at the conclusion of our lease, they said that would be fine, but that the rent would increase by more than a thousand dollars per month!

Needless to say, I was apoplectic. I told them there would be no way I would be subjected to such price gouging, and that we would be moving out on schedule. But where? Homer, of course!

It was the perfect solution, we thought, as we pondered this new twist. After all, why not take advantage of this comfortable RV that we had ordered and customized just to our liking? We would also be saving a good deal of money on the already rather pricey apartment rent. What could be better?

So, we hired a couple of guys and a truck to move our stuff from the apartment into yet another rented storage unit. Unfortunately, I guess we hadn’t paid much attention to the amount of our things we had accumulated in the apartment, as the new storage unit I had rented proved to be too small! This was a complete surprise, as we thought we had settled into the apartment with only a minimal amount of furnishings since our stay would not be long. So, I had to scramble and rent still another unit, making four—yes, four, rented storage units in all!

Because we had grossly misjudged the amount to be moved from the apartment, we had not had time to pack everything that had to go by moving day. The result of that was that the movers took mainly the furniture, and Sandy and I had to pack up the odds and ends and move them ourselves. We worked to utter exhaustion, late into the evenings, and we still didn’t get everything out of the apartment on the last day of our lease. We even had to rent a truck to keep from having to make so many trips in our pickup and Suburban. It will remain a mystery forever, I guess, as to how our goal of keeping the apartment furnishings minimal went so horribly awry.

I know it seems like a broken record as I keep lamenting that we are prisoners of our belongings, and a casual reader’s logical reaction would be that it’s high time we took some corrective action, now that we have identified the problem. However, this is not as easy as one might think.

In our view, we have been diligent in paring down our excess. We know this because we recall our many, many trips carrying clothing to Dallas Life, our church’s outreach ministry to the homeless. We’ve also had several garage sales and then gave away what didn’t sell—sometimes entire pickup loads. But alas, it is still not enough. One of the problems, I guess, was the modesty of our circumstances growing up—but much less so in my case than Sandy’s. Her family had little extra money and could never discard anything that still had some usefulness, for they knew there would likely be no means by which they could purchase a replacement. For this reason, I think, it is easy for her to find a place to tuck away an object of questionable use because of a nagging but groundless fear that she may someday need it and not be able to buy a new one. While the economic circumstances of my upbringing were significantly better than Sandy’s, my parents were very frugal and I, too, sometimes find it difficult to discard things. As I see it, we have a chance again soon to perform some really meaningful triage—when we move into the new house. I’m hoping we are able to work up enough gumption finally to overcome our senselessness in hanging onto things we obviously don’t need.

We follow a few favorite blogs written by RV fulltimers like Ed and Marilyn Dray and Gordon and Juanita Pierce, and we marvel at how they were able to divest themselves of so much of the detritus of life that seems to attach, like parasites, to Sandy and me. Of course, the obvious answer is that if you don’t hang on to your stick-built house, you just don’t have anywhere to put your excess stuff! While of inestimable comfort and value, stick houses demand the acquisition and retention of all sorts of things to furnish, decorate and maintain them. We just need to redefine our concept to one of moderation and find a good therapist, I guess, to help us stick to it.

In preparation for RV living, we moved Homer from its longtime storage berth in Keller to the Vineyards Campground in Grapevine. This is a wonderful RV park, owned by the city and located on the south shore of Lake Grapevine. It is beautifully maintained, with huge spaces and views of the lake from every camping spot.

Homer at our campsite at the Vineyards; and no, we don't pull Homer with the Suburban. 

View from our living room window.  These are very nice rental cabins.

More RV spots near the marina.
Campers on a neighboring peninsula in the Vinyeads. 

Settling into Homer was relatively uneventful, except for our having to make hasty decisions about the number and nature of living essentials that must be taken aboard to maintain our daily routine. Because of our mind-numbed exhaustion after clearing out the apartment, we had abandoned toward the end any attempt at organization; we mainly just threw stuff in boxes. This resulted in my showing up at Homer’s doorstep with no fewer than 80 neckties! Sandy looked at me as if I had lost my mind, and she was probably right. But the hour was late, and I was just too tired to deal with it anymore. I decided to do triage on the ties later. This exemplifies a significant problem with fulltime RV living if you are still employed, especially in a white-collar job. Business attire is still a requirement for me, and I can’t begin to fit all of those clothes into Homer. So, I have on hand about a week’s worth of clothing changes, along with a few suits and sport coats. The rest is accessible in one of the rented storage units, so I have to go by there occasionally to refresh the clothing items. Sandy, on the other hand, does not require a business dress wardrobe since having retired, so her collection of clothes within Homer’s closets is miniscule compared to mine. I can’t help but marvel at this upside-down state of affairs. In the big house, where we had no fewer than six closets and a large dressing room in our master suite, Sandy’s clothes occupied four of the six closets. One should not infer, however, that the ratio of male/female clothing between us has changed. While Sandy keeps only a minimal amount of clothing in Homer, the remainder of her attire occupies a vast array of wardrobe boxes carefully tucked away in our network of storage units across eastern Tarrant County. And there they hibernate, while Sandy anticipates their emergence with the enthusiasm one would have for a child returning safely home after being kidnapped.

I should not leave the impression, however, that Sandy has not made progress in this area. She has done a surprisingly good job of paring down her clothing, and there is now a remote possibility that it will fit in the (one) master closet in the new house.

Adjusting to the tiny space for fulltime living was not the only challenge we faced with Homer. As luck would have it, our unusually warm December and early January gave way to some really cold weather as the polar jet stream suddenly moved far south in mid-January. The whole nation, almost, was in a deepfreeze, and the DFW area was not spared. I was quite concerned as to how well Homer would do in accommodating live-in occupants during freezing weather, as I knew this coach didn’t have an arctic package to enable occupancy in very cold climates. I hadn’t seen the need to worry about that when we ordered it, for I thought the rig would get little use in the winter and, if we did go anywhere, it would be farther south.

On the second night after our arrival at the Vineyards, a norther blew in and the temperature dropped to 24 degrees. Shortly after midnight, the water ceased running. I suspected the fresh water hose had frozen, but the culprit was an extra pipe fitting that I had placed on the end of the hose to hold a water pressure gauge. So, I got a hair dryer and defrosted the fitting, which I then removed, and then I hooked the water hose directly to the receptacle on the side of the coach. I had noticed that a number of neighboring RVers had disconnected their fresh water hoses altogether, but I decided to keep ours on and just let a water faucet drip inside the coach when the outside temperature was very cold. This seems to be working fine, and we had no further trouble with the water. Unfortunately, we had far more serious troubles in store, and they didn’t involve Homer.

The exhausting move from the apartment, coupled with my plumbing adventure in the bitterly cold wind apparently provided the knockout punch for my rundown body and fragile immune system, which had been battling a series of sinus, ear and bronchial infections for a number of weeks. I soon became very sick, with a spiking fever, chills and breathing problems. Sandy drove me to our family doctor, who gave me an injection of antibiotics and, observing my continuing decline, grabbed a wheelchair and took me down to the emergency room of the hospital in whose complex his office is located. After a chest x-ray, the doctors determined that I had a mild case of pneumonia. After a while, the antibiotics began to take effect, and I began to improve to the extent that I was allowed to be dismissed from the hospital with strict instructions to rest and stay out of the elements. Sandy took this to heart and has taken a role similar to that of a guard in a Nazi concentration camp. I am fairly well tethered, therefore, to my very comfortable easy chair, where I am frequently threatened with grievous bodily injury if I get any other ideas. However, I am allowed to venture out once a day, but Frau Mills is always vigilant as she marches nearby, goose-steps and all, with her riding crop at the ready in case she observes any infractions. (Well, okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the picture.) Actually, I am very thankful that I have a mate who cares for me so much that my well-being is her constant focus. I'm glad God made her that way, and I wouldn't change a thing.

Now, as to the progress of the new house: After a couple of weeks’ delay while we were tussling over problems with a bad brick shipment and incompetent bricklayers, the correct brick is finally going up on the walls! The foam insulation is also in progress, but the foam spraying has also been delayed because of the cold weather. Drywall should be going up in a few days, I hope.

Finally, bricklaying under way!

Foam insulation being applied to underside of roof.
Our cyber acquaintances mentioned earlier, Ed and Marilyn and Gordon and Juanita, will be traveling northward from their winter camps in South Texas soon, and we hope we can talk them into stopping by the Vineyards if they come through the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. It would be a real treat for us finally to meet these folks, whom we feel we already know through their excellent blogs.