Friday, February 28, 2014

Stormy Memories - and Potty Watch 2014 Continues

From parched and dusty to soaked and flooded – we do NOT mess around here in California!  SoCal is keeping up its practice of extremes with downed trees, mudslides, neighborhood evacuations, and multitudes of car accidents.  And although we are experiencing the worst drought in centuries you can bet the vast majority of all this wonderful precipitation is rushing down the concrete Los Angeles River and into the ocean…..leaving behind very little relief.   I’ll never understand our pathetic water management in this state, and yet I remain hopeful that some brilliant earth-minded college student is figuring it out as we “speak.”  They better be quick because the reservoirs are at 15% and the Colorado River tribes are going to cut us off. 

Drought or not, we seldom get enough rain to ever get sick of it.  It sounds nice here in town, but when it’s raining I want to be either on the coast or in the desert – actually I want to be in those places when it isn’t raining too – but I love watching a storm cross the plains, valleys, ocean. Seeing that dark wall of clouds and moisture and wind moving toward you, smelling it before feeling it, then feeling its power overtake everything around you……incredible! 

Living in the desert most of my growing-up years I remember storms being such a big deal.  We would pile into the truck and head out to a small rise where we could see 50+ miles in three directions, and watch the power move across the valley.  A one-time funnel cloud sent us hightailing back to the house and not long afterwards two of the Cessnas at the little private airport were destroyed.  One storm brought snow and ice and turned our brown home-world into a completely different planet of white.  For some reason I don’t remember (if I ever knew) the big sprinklers in the park were on and their 12 foot high spray froze in the air.  One of the creative moms sprayed food color on them and 50 years later I can still see the wonder of those ice sculptures in our little desert park before they melted the next day.  Winds were crazy and there were many that brought very dangerous dust storms with zero visibility.  Coming home in the dark from a monthly 90-mile grocery run with my best pal and her parents we got caught in one on the two lane highway.  It was terrifying when her mom had to walk along the side of the road with one hand on the passenger door window while feeling along the edge of the blacktop with her foot to tell where the road was and direct her husband’s steering.  The sand on the side of the road was soft and deep and if we had pulled off we would have been stuck in seconds.  It was the sound of the metal sign banging in the wind that led us to our turn off for home.  There were other bad dust storms but fortunately none I spent on the road – and I don’t ever need to experience another one! 

I only had to see one storm move in from the Pacific Ocean to know that they were as powerful and magical as those in the desert.  Partying with other twenty-something year olds at a beach house and when the storm started building on the horizon we grabbed our chairs and all just sat quietly and watched it come to us.  We were all soaked and happy when we returned to the house.  Rain and wind and lightning over miles of open water…….breathtaking. 

We are so looking forward to being “out there” in the weather.  Right now the sky is a weird yellow and must look amazing where it isn’t just a peek above the neighborhood.  We aren’t so naive as to think there won’t be times we’ll be trying to outrun it, or hating the cabin fever it causes, or dreading the jacks stuck in the mud…….but I believe we will embrace the storm more often than not!

On the home front the storm is adding to the doggy drama that is “Potty Watch 2014”.  If I’m not standing out in the rain in the front yard, Tessa just stands on the porch with me – because it’s cold and wet out there and she’s just as smart as I am……  So I walk out on to the grass, and she goes inside – because it’s cold and wet out there and she’s smarter than I am……..

This is not the first rain we’ve had since she came to live with us.  She will go outside and do her business in the rain.  In the backyard.  In her backyard.  In private.  The rain may also prolong the return to said backyard as some of the seeds are swimming in small ponds.  Oh well, I’m sure we’ll be mowing it this summer no matter what.
In the meantime..........


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Time for a Doggie Intervention?

I have suspected for a while that our dear fluffy dog Tessa is a member of the “Nopoopinpublic” tribe.  On road trips she will rarely go potty while on the leash, and then she has to be far away from other people. Last weekend we re-seeded the backyard which means no doggy paws on the lawn for several weeks.  We have a front lawn with trees and Tessa can be out there without a leash, but she will rarely do her business.  She still lets us know when she needs to go outside, but once out there she is more likely to just lie down. Especially when it is light outside!  Or if there are people or other dogs around……Are you kidding me?? 

Nice, but not nearly private enough!

It seems that the majority of fulltimers are animal-lovers like us.  Dogs are most common, from tiny pocket pups to big labs and shepherds. These dogs have wonderful lives, spending lots of time with their humans and having the same marvelous adventures.  Many of their names are as recognizable as their owners’, and their antics make for great story-telling in multiple blogs.  Some of the most touching posts I’ve read have been about the loss of beloved doggie family members.  We are very much looking forward to Tessa being a part of our new life.

Unless it is a well-kept secret, I think all of those traveling doggies go potty outside of a fenced yard, in the daylight, even when there are others around.  I’ve tried explaining this to Tessa.  She seems skeptical.  Or maybe it’s stubborn.  Maybe there was a tribal oath at birth.
You're making that up!!
Regardless of her motivation there will have to be a change in this area over the next year.  I suppose it’s a good thing we learned this now and not after we were in our first camp site.  Not taking her with us is NOT an option so we will have to figure it out.   

Maybe an intervention before we hit the road.  I think Polly or Bridget or Sasha could probably set her straight – maybe we can set up a conference call on Skype and they can all explain it to her! 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Are There Unknown Consequences for Capturing Humans?

People-watching is a wonderful pastime that many of us enjoy.  Having spent many, many hours waiting in California airports (and a few others), stuck in traffic on multi-lane highways, and just the general hanging-around in customer lounges and retail lines I have certainly done my share.  In fact once I learned to just observe others around me I found real pleasure in these otherwise irritating pauses to my “schedule.”  Many of these observations are of humorous situations and some are heart-warming interactions between strangers.  Yes there are the annoying “I can’t believe they just did that in public” moments, but I’ve become pretty jaded over the years and little surprises me in that area anymore.  There is a reason that shopping carts have signs telling parents not to let their kids stand up in the cart seat………

So we’re all out there together being human with our actions and interactions on display.  There are a lot of us and even those who stood out in a single day quickly fade from our memories.  We may remember and repeat to friends the incident or the outfit or the words, but these disappear eventually.  Unless we capture them in a photograph. 

Humans are interesting and make for great photos.  Some of those photos win awards for major photographers.  Most of us have taken our share of candid shots for a number of reasons.  Recently I came across some pictures taken at the old Riverside Raceway (now the Moreno Valley Mall) of strangers in the stands and in the pits.  Nothing particularly moving about any of them, they captured a fun t-shirt logo or a cool silhouette or a cute child.  The usual.  They were in a box in the attic.  No one but a handful of family and friends ever saw them, maybe nobody but the photographer.  They were taken before (long before) the Internet.

When I photographed the person in that t-shirt, the photo went from my camera to the developer to the box.  In essence the person was only seen by those at the raceway that day.  They chose to go to the event, to be seen by all the other people who would be there; in Riverside, California; on a Sunday.  Here’s the question:

What if it wasn’t safe for them to be seen somewhere else?  What if they were in California because it was far away from a threatening ex-spouse, a stalker, a malicious person who they got far, far away from?  No problem when the candid photo goes in a box in the attic.

A whole different story when a candid photo is posted on the Internet?  Are there unknown consequences for that person because I captured them and sent their location out to the whole world?

There are tens of millions of photographs on the Internet.  Google Images is more crowded with humans than all the entertainment venues and sports arenas in the world combined.  If I were looking for someone I wouldn’t know where to begin to search on the Internet for their picture.  It may be impossible without facial recognition software (but don’t those scary malicious people always have that stuff?)

Of course the flip-side is the happy ending of a separated family being reunited…….of a good and loving person finding them.

It is surely a ridiculous thing to worry about, sparked by too many Lifetime movies in my past.  For some reason though, in the last few weeks when I see candid shots of people captured for a blog post, I wonder…….were there unforeseen consequences? 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

No Tucson in Arizona This Year

For the last several years, for a couple days in April, we have joined our friends from high school in Laughlin/Bullhead City.  The last two years we went in our Hyundai Tucson.  Not this year.  We won’t be going anywhere in the Tucson. 

Tucson in Utah

After running the numbers, or is it crunching them? - I don’t like numbers in general - we figured that unloading the car now was the best move.  Although the “experiment” was shorter than planned, it was long enough to know that we don’t need a second car when only one of us is working.  It will require more planning and consolidating but those are good habits to have anyway.
Because I love to drive I tend to do it for entertainment, which adds up in gas costs and wear on the vehicle……and of course if I’m out anyway I might as well stop in there and see if they have something I should pick up! My spending habits have changed significantly during my first year of retirement but when I look at where the money goes I still see places I can cut back. Only having a car a couple days a week will make that pretty easy.
The money that was the monthly car payment, insurance and XM Radio subscription will now expedite the payoff of the tax bill and the last credit card, getting us to debt-free by our deadline.  For that reason alone it feels right to have gotten rid of the car!  Reducing our personal impact on the environment, fixing lunch at home every day, increasing the time I spend walking and riding the bike, parking the Jeep in the garage……..these are all added bonuses that have us feeling really great about the decision. 
I made sure I included all this in the blog so that in a few weeks when all this self-righteousness is wearing thin and I want to go get another car, I’ll have a reminder in my own words of why it was a good idea J!
We took some great road trips in our Tucson, including Highway 1 along the coast and Monument Valley.  We visited family in and out of California, and took some family to see other family.  It helped Brian move twice and took all of Jeff’s belongings to Seattle.  It got great gas mileage, was always reliable, and had that really bitchin’ chocolate brown interior!  I’ll miss the XM radio until I figure out the sound studio in the Jeep. 
No Tucson in Arizona for us this year - time to start making new memories in the Jeep and getting closer to our dream!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Everybody Relax. Our Tax Payment(s) Will Resolve the National and State Debt!

Ouch!  We knew we were going to take a big hit this year due to some movement of investment accounts and final payments from my employer that rolled into 2013.  Still, those big numbers really sting.  Certainly as we look back at 2013 it doesn’t feel like we “made too much money.”  Compared to what/who?  Alas, it is actually a relief to know for sure what we owe and that next year we will be just fine without making any adjustments to the income we have moving forward.  It will slow down the payoff of those final pesky bills, but we will make it work.  As I told Bill: it’s just money, not a cancer diagnosis.

There was good news this week to somewhat offset the tax numbers.  First, I went to CarMax as planned and was very pleased with their offer-to-buy.  It is much higher than the online calculators gave me, and enough to “nearly” pay off the car loan.  Second, housing prices have risen 21% since we bought our place in 2011 and are expected to increase another 8-9% by the end of this year.  This, coupled with very few houses on the market, gives me more confidence that we can afford the rig we want once the house sells.  Will keep an eye on things between now and then, but the projections are good!  Finally, I received positive confirmation on a question regarding the impact of Bill’s retirement next April for Richie’s (our youngest still at home) health coverage.  Thanks again to my BFF Janis for the heads up and the necessary kick.  She always says I’m lucky that things go my way, but she forgets that a lot of time she is the one responsible for that good “luck.”  I know I’m blessed to have her in my life J!

On a completely separate note…….

As an admitted blog/forum junkie I’m enjoying the comforting similarities and differences between the hooked-up RV parkers and the unplugged boondockers.  I try to live my life with responsibility and respect: responsibility for my own actions and respect for others.  As we prepare to completely untether from our current lifestyle and join the growing number of full-timers, I am encouraged by a similar common thread that seems to run through those “out there”.  While the “how” they do it is vastly different, the “why” is nearly identical.  It is like one big organism with many brains and one heart.  Whether they are always connected to full hookups with multiple amenities available, social events every day and night, close to major towns, and comfortable parked close together; or living on solar panels with bi-weekly moves to a dump station, days and weeks without other human contact, far from any conveniences, and feeling safe completely alone in the wilderness; or a combination of both – full-timers  seem to support and truly enjoy each other!  A great example comes from reading regular bloggers’ posts and comments on the big January show in Quartzsite – sort of like Miracle Whip, hate it or love it - with strong opinions attached!

The regulars generally know where others stand on the Quartzsite fence and have good-natured fun lobbing a few zingers back and forth for a couple weeks.  Still, even with strong differences just on this one topic, it is clear that in a crisis those cables would be unhooked or those solar panels lowered, and without hesitation help would be on its way.  I’ve “seen” it happen several times, with people who have never met in person, being there for each other on so many levels.  Even politics and religion, although rarely referenced, are handled with tolerance and good humor. 

So maybe bloggers are special and the rest of the full-timing community is a bunch of jerks who will burst my bubble the first night we open the slides……..but I don’t think so.  It’s also a lot of pressure – so much to live up to!!

Regardless of where they park their home, all will be able to relax come April 15 when the government receives our check and is once again in the black!


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Experiment Update and Spring Snow in SoCal

We started Week 2 of Operation One Car yesterday.  I just don't know.  Maybe it was a bad week to start. Bill worked late a couple evenings to complete inventory so I didn't keep the Jeep any of the days.  The wind made getting out on the bike or walking the dog too uncomfortable <insert wimp here>.  So the first week I was admittedly a tad bored and feeling like a slug.  Then I ran the numbers on the car loan against the current resale value of the vehicle.  Hmmmm, maybe we can't sell it yet. Yes, that would have been a good place to start rather than thinking of it after starting the experiment.  Oh well.

But I did say we started Week 2, so what's the plan??  Before throwing in the chamois I'm taking the car to CarMax to get their we'll-buy-it-from-you-and-you-don't-have-to-buy-one-from-us amount.  I'm pretty confident it will be lower than we need but maybe another creative solution will present itself that can save us some money now and help get us to debt-free by next year.  I even drove Bill to work this morning in keeping with our pretend-one-car-lifestyle :-).

If nothing else comes of it, we probably saved a gallon of gas - woo hoo!!

When is "snow" on the ground a sign of early Spring?

Where the cool picture would go if I had thought to take one!

Our neighbor's fruit tree has been an over-achiever when it comes to "getting its flowers on" for the last two years we have lived here. The huge sycamores that line our back wall are bare as are the other trees in the neighborhood. However the little some-kind-of-faux-fruit tree next door is full of white flowers with small leaf buds ready to pop. While still early, the flowers usually show up the middle of February. Not this year. I noticed them a few weeks ago when we were in the high 70's and low 80's - you know, like less than a month into Winter! So when the cold winds came last week our backyard was covered in hundreds of small white flowers - spring snow! You just never know what you're going to get in Southern California.

Not sure what triggered the sudden increase in blog hits this last few days but it's very exciting!  In case anyone comes back for more I'll attempt to keep the posts stimulating and educational - like this one :-)!