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The Missing Month of October…and Oh Yeah, Hawaii!

Jeffs Office 2 - 500 Wide.jpg

People are starting to ask me if I’m dead or something; my last post here was at the end of September. I’m by no means dead. I’m merely 65, which means I don’t have the volcanic energy I had when I was a mere child of 50. And there was much on the calendar in October. A certain part of it was medical, which I don’t feel like going into here, apart from saying that it was nothing life-threatening, just profoundly irritating. (Nor is it over, alas.) Some of it was home improvement: We replaced every window in the house. Every. Last. One. Why? Most windows have some sort of flange or handle to grip when you want to slide them open. Not these, no. The only grabbable part was the little lock-handle, which I doubt was designed to take that kind of lever-arm. I broke one not long after we bought the house. So we got rid of them all, in one swell foop.

And we added one. That was the real challenge. My somewhat-too-small office (see photo above) had these weird double doors that swung inward, which (given that my big reading chair was in front of them) made them utterly useless, and left my office without ventilation. So we had a local handyman tear out the doors, 2X4 up a frame for a new window, and then add wallboard, sheathing, insulation and stucco below the window once the window was installed. Because the whole wall had to be retaped and repainted, that meant moving an 8′ bookcase containing all of my reference books and many of my programming books, as well as a huge file cabinet and my reading chair. The handyman added a new outlet box for the benefit of my steampunk computer table, and I changed all the outlets and plates on the wall because the existing duplexes didn’t all match.

I’m fussy about my workspaces, let’s say.

There were whole days (most of a week of them) during which my office was basically unusable. I moved my lab machine out to the wet bar, but it just wasn’t conducive to writing. And by the end of the day, I was generally so worn-out that I sat on the couch with my Paperwhite and devoured novels rather than wrote. Writing is hard work. You knew that, I hope.

Somehow I did make some solid progress on Dreamhealer in October, while swatting off distracting ideas for new novels like flies. I hope not to alienate my readers here, but if I have a choice between making progress on a novel and dropping an entry onto Contra, Contra generally doesn’t win. My low energy levels are making me look at what may or may not be a Real Thing on the personal energy front. The cost seems excessive, but the need is real.

And then finally, on the 25th, Carol and I hopped a plane and flew to Hawaii. At last, personal energy ceased to be an issue. We spent a few days on Maui, and then flew to Honolulu to take a room at the New Otani Hotel on Sans Souci beach, which overlooks downtown Honolulu. It overlooked something else: The War Memorial Natatorium, a titanic ocean-water swimming pool with bleachers, built to commemorate WWI, built in 1927 and now falling apart. The photo below is the view from our balcony.

What did we do in Hawaii? We slept in a lot. We bobbed in the water a lot. After dark we flew a Megatech Firefly until it broke. We talked about the damndest things. We ate maybe a little too much. We took in the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium, both of which were an easy walk from the hotel. (In fact, they were the major reason we chose the Otani.) We tried our best to act like newlyweds again.

Our room faced west, and from our balcony we watched the sunset most nights. They were among the most colorful sunsets we’ve ever seen.

The food at the Otani was excellent. They serve corned beef hash that has so little potato in it that they might as well call it pulled corned beef. The open-air dining room overlooks the beach, and requires reservations even for breakfast. They have a more formal restaurant on their second floor that has geishas, and prices so high even we balked. Fortunately, there is a little convenience store in the next building that sells decent sandwiches and Bugles. Picnicking on the beach was in fact a fine thing.

I made a game out of grabbing driftglass from the surf, which sounds easy until you try it. I picked up quite a bit of it our last afternoon at the beach. One assumes that the brown glass is from beer bottles, but it seems awfully thin for bottle glass. I found a piece of white glass with a blue Japanese design on it, and assume it came from a sake bottle.

While diving for driftglass fragments on the wave-tossed ocean bottom, it occurred to me that Driftglass would make a great title for a novel–and I even got a concept for one to match. Alas, Samuel R. Delany did a story collection called Driftglass in 1971. Will that stop me? Don’t know yet. Let’s just say that I have a lot of other writing to do first.

We spent Halloween at the beach before heading home on November 2. In honor of Halloween, I watched British blob-monster movies on my laptop all the way home. There are several, two of them Quatermass films. Damn, but they seemed way scarier in 1963. We haven’t had a genuine blob monster movie released in quite a while. Reboot, anyone? Once I score The Blob, I may do a writeup on the genre here. No, it’s not British, and like a lot of American horror movies, it centers on ukky creatures eating annoying teenagers, generally while they’re trying to make out. That may say something about something. Don’t ask me what, because I don’t want to know.

And so I return to Contra, with solid plans for several new entries, including one on health insurance that will doubtless annoy everyone. I also feel the need to do a few good rants. Not sure what I’ll come up with next, but I’ll think of something.

The Great American Eclipse, Nebraska-Style

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A little over five weeks ago, Carol and I threw the Pack into the Durango and blasted north for Colorado Springs. We spent a day there visiting, then passed off the Pack to Grandma Jimi (the breeder from whom we bought them) and headed north again. We didn’t drive past our old house. We decided, in fact, that we would never drive past our old house ever again. Closure is good, trust me on that.

We got the the Denver airport just in time to pick up my oldest friend Art, whom I had met in kindergarten, and who in 1969 had dragged me away from my pile of broken TV chassis long enough to meet my wife. All along northbound I-25 were dot-matrix signs from Colorado’s DOT, warning us about heavy eclipse traffic. Well, we had a plan for that. Instead of going straight north into Wyoming, we headed NE out I-76. We left I-76 at Sterling, Colorado, and drilled almost straight north into deepest Nebraska.

This was not an impulse. This was something I had had in mind since we began making plans for the trip several years ago. I had a hunch that most people would make a beeline for places where the path of totality crossed an Interstate. That’s why we didn’t keep going east to North Platte. And forgive me for being right: We saw very little traffic once we got away from I-25. Many other people we know, including Charlie Martin, got caught in some nasty traffic jams coming down I-25 from Casper, Wyoming. Not us. Nebraska’s backroads are excellent, and there was almost no one else on them. We reached Alliance, Nebraska about 3 PM the day before the eclipse. I had reserved a hotel room there a full year before, practically the day they began taking reservations. That was a good thing, as there are (I think) all of three hotels in the whole town.

With the hotel room squared away, we roared off to Wells Ranch, a few miles south of Alliance. There we met my high school friends Pete Albrecht and Ernie and Michelle Marek, along with their daughter Laura. Ernie had reseved space for us all at Wells Ranch, which had cleared one of their cattle pastures (you can guess what that entailed) and set up to receive as many as 1,000 visitors in tents, RVs, and trailers. Ernie brought his Airstream trailer, and Pete a tent. We had a nice little encampment fairly close to the portapotties and the building where the Wells people were providing hot meals, especially burgers and sausage made from (extremely) local beef.

One startling thing we saw on pulling in was that the sky was full of kites. I hadn’t seen that many kites flying in one place since the old WIND kite festivals at Chicago’s Grant Park downtown while I was in college. I hadn’t thought to bring one, but a nearby camper had a few extras and I actually got to join the other campers in sculpting the sky, as they say.

Art did a little better than kites: He brought his professional-quality 4K video camera drone. He didn’t fly it a great deal, but he took some video footage and a few stills of the campers in the Wells pasture.

We spent an hour ot so catching up, and laying our plans for the next morning. Come five PM, we all piled into the car and headed back to Alliance. For that Sunday they had blocked off pretty much the entirety of their main street, and threw one helluva party. A local rock band played, and all the restaurants had tables and catering trucks outside. Beer flowed like water. It was a beer crowd, as you might expect; I looked in vain for wine.

When Monday morning came, Alliance and its surrounds were covered in very dense fog. I got a little nervous at that point. Back in 1972, some friends and I (including Art and Ernie) had driven almost 2,000 miles to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to see a total eclipse, only to be clouded out a mere hour before totality. The fog lifted eight-ish, with only a few scattered clouds remaining, and we began setting up our equipment.

Art, Pete, and Ernie are hobby photographers with fabulous cameras, filters, telephoto lenses, etc. I’m not. I didn’t plan to photograph totality at all. Instead, I brought my Criterion portable scope (which I had bought to see Halley’s Comet from Bonaire in 1986) and arranged it to project a magnified image of the Sun on a sheet of foamcore board. This worked very well for the partial phases of the eclipse. No need for glasses; we were never looking at the actual Sun.

Partway through the partial phase, some denser and far less scattered clouds wandered in. My blood ran cold. This was how it had begun in 1972. Fearing that this was as good as it was going to get, I took a couple of remarkably good shots of the partial phase right through the clouds, with the clouds acting as their own solar filter. All I did was aim my Canon G16 at the sun, and snapped away on auto. But damn, I was worried.

Very shortly after I took the shot above, the clouds dispersed in a hurry, as though God had leaned over the railings of Heaven and yelled “Shoo!” I stilled my pounding heart; it would not be 1972 redux.

As the partial phase of a total solar eclipse nears its end, the quality of the light changes. It gets “thin” in a weird way, which I have always characterized as “elfin.” Some people say it seems a touch green. It does seem more than a touch spooky. We put my spare sheet of white foamcore down flat on the ground, in hope of glimpsing the mysterious and hard-to-see shadow bands. Carol and I had seen them during the total solar eclipse of 1998, from a cruise ship in the Caribbean. It helps to have a large area of plain white to look for them. We had the side of a bright white ship, and the shadow bands were immdiately obvious in the last few seconds before totality. Nobody quite knows for sure what causes them; see the link above for several theories. The Sun became an ever-thinner sliver, putting the area into something like deep twilight. I looked at the foamcore, and damn! Shadow bands! They were hard to see and only lasted a few seconds, because then…

Totality.

Everybody all across Wells Ranch cheered. It got dark, but not midnight dark. Twilight-gray faded to a weird off-black. The Sun’s corona was much larger than I had predicted, and cast quite a bit of light all on its own. Yes, it really did look like Art’s photo at the beginning of this entry. During totality you can look at the Sun through a telescope, and we did. There were several pink-violet prominences at points around the Sun’s limb. You can see some in the photo below (from Pete Albrecht) if you look carefully:

This was a short eclipse, with only a little more than two minutes of totality. I took some quick looks through the Criterion, but mostly I just stood and basked in the strangeness of the light and the weirdness of the corona. I wondered what our primitive ancestors might have thought, when chance placed them in an eclipse’s path. Were I even a hard-headed Neanderthal (and they were very hard-headed) I would have been hard-pressed not to ascribe the sight to supernatural activity.

And as a quick aside, I need to point out that eclipses of the sort we see are a consequence of a truly weird coincidence: That the Sun and the Moon present almost precisely the same angular diameter to people on Earth’s surface. A smaller Moon would merely transit the Sun’s disk. A larger Moon would have blocked out the prominences and even the corona. So why did it work out this way? Nobody knows. It seems an astonishingly unlikely thing. In truth, the Neanderthals’ guesses are pretty much as good as mine.

It lasted for two marvelous minutes and change. The end of totality is signaled by something no less astonishing than the eclipse itself: A dazzling point of light appears along the limb of the Sun, forming what people call the diamond ring effect. Like the shadow bands, it lasts only seconds, before the exposed point of the solar disk broadens to a slowly growing and painfully bright crescent. Again, people cheered, not so much because the eclipse was over, but because we had driven a long way to see it, and succeeded. (Unlike us in 1972.) This was my third total solar eclipse. I expect to make it four, come 2024. I hope to make it five, but more than that…unlikely. So I cheered with the whole gang scattered across the cowfields. We came. We watched. We triumphed.

Then it was over, and before the Moon moved entirely away from the Sun, people were throwing stuff into their cars and trailers and heading for the exits. I expected that, and it was the reason we had all decided to stay the rest of the day and the coming night in Alliance, so that the mad rush out of town would be other people’s problem.

And well that we did. That night, in the mostly empty cowfield, we were graced with some of the darkest skies any of us had ever seen. The air was clear, and apart from Alliance’s lights on the northern horizon, there was nothing to dull the stars. The Milky Way was as bright as I’d ever seen it. We leaned back in our lounge chairs and reminisced about Lane Tech, while spotting a few satellites and several very bright meteors, probably late Perseids.

Earlier in the afternoon, we had taken a quick trip a few miles north to Carhenge, one of the most peculiar things I’ve ever seen. Back in 1987, an eccentric artist created a model of Stonehenge, only made out of 1960s and 70s cars, all painted gray. There is something delightfully human and weirdly Rural American about it. Nobody would do something like Carhenge in the Seattle suburbs. Sure, it’s a tourist trap. We were tourists.

Worked as designed.

And so it ended. In a way, the expedition redeemed our ill-fated coming-of-age adventure to Cap Chat, Quebec, in 1972. Closure, as I said, is good. Pete took a photo of the three of us who had gone that time, along with a little blue souvenir flag that Ernie had somehow managed to retain for 45 years. Better late than never–and it had been well worth the wait.

Tripwander

Colorado Springs blizzard 04-2017

How do you spell “relief?” O..N..E….H..O..U..S..E.

Yes indeedy. Carol and I now own only one house, and we live in it. We bought our Arizona house in the summer of 2015, and since then have been bouncing back and forth, getting this house livable, which was more work than we expected (especially since it’s only two-thirds the size of our Colorado house) and getting the other house cleaned up, placed on the market, and sold.

It’s done, sold, closed, nailed, finis.

We are not real estate people. We are homebodies. And when you have two homes, it gets awkward remembering which home is real home, and which home is a burden that you worry too much about. For us, the home you worry about is the home you’re not in, and when you have two homes there’s always one that you’re not in.

I go on at some length about this because having two houses was making us nuts. So when we finally (after the house was most of a year on the market) got and accepted an offer, the potential relief was palpable. I say “potential,” because we couldn’t just FedEx papers around, as we had done a time or two in the past. Our Colorado house still contained some furniture and other oddments that had to be either gotten rid of or brought back. So we loaded the Pack in the hold, roared north, and got to work.

First discovery: It’s illegal to sell used beds in Colorado, and (for all I know) most other places. It was either find friends who could use a nice wireless cal-king Sleep Number bed, or trash it. Luck was with us: We had friends who were moving to a larger house, with a spare bedroom in need of equipment. Pulling the thing apart was interesting; I took photos at every stage and put them on a thumb drive, so that David and Terry would have some chance of putting it back together again. (They did.)

Second discovery: Large houses are subject to crannyism, which means that they have so many places that you forget some of those places are not yet empty. We made a couple of unplanned trips to Goodwill, and when the time came to fill a U-Haul trailer for the trip home, we found it much fuller than we had planned. How did we manage to miss a beach bag full of snorkels and flippers when we packed the place? How? How? And two suitcases plus a duffel? Kites? 8′ lengths of aluminum strap? An entire Craftsman tool chest? What about about our 1975 Encyclopedia Britannica?

That was a close one: The buyers wanted it. Whew.

The good Stickley furniture all sold for real money. The old and so-so furniture went to the Rescued Hearts thrift store. The ratty stuff went out on the curb. (A lot of Aleve went down the hatch from all that shlepping.) A few odd items (including my 1937 Zenith cathedral radio) went to friends. It was a great deal of work for a couple of sixtysomethings who mostly wanted it to be over so they could go home and jump in their pool.

Oh, and then Colorado Springs gave us a going-away present: an April blizzard. Close to a foot of very dense, wet snow fell one night at our rental house, and the cracks and bumps we heard circa 0300 were branches breaking loose of the large trees everywhere in the neighborhood and thumping down on roofs. The fact that it was 30 degrees that night was an underappreciated blessing: Another ten or fifteen degrees colder and we would have been up to our necks. The city made itself abundantly clear: Don’t let the snow shovels hit you on the way out.

Not to worry, Colorado Springs.

We stayed a few extra days for the Tarry-All dog show in Denver, where we were grooming a blinding-white dog in a roofed but otherwise open cattle pen with floors made of gritty brown stuff that may or may not have been dirt. The second day we were coping with 50 MPH wind gusts, and ran into several mini-haboobs on the way home.

The drive from the Springs back to Phoenix was uneventful, beyond the feeling of the wind trying to turn your high-profile trailer on its side. Carol is as good as company gets, and the dogs had enough sense to chill out in their kennels and not make me any crazier than I already was.

We’re still unpacking boxes and trying to figure out where everything goes. However, I think it’s significant that when I took my blood pressure today, it was lower than I had seen it in years. The back of my head finally allowed itself to relax, and for good reason:

There is now only one Home, and we are in it. All the rest will fall into place.

Odd Lots

I’ve been low-energy for a month or so, following the worst chestcold I can recall. Still coughing a little bit; still low-energy. I’m working up the nerve to write a a series on health insurance that will doubtless infuriate everyone, but since I’m also furious, I guess it factors out. Stay tuned.


A Grand Ride North, and a New Grand Champion

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We’re back in Colorado Springs, and sooner than we thought, too. A day came early last week when we realized that we had pretty much gotten everything done that we expected to while wintering over. Furthermore, there was a big dog show in Denver on April 9-10. Dash’s coat was in pretty good shape. The weather forecast looked marvelous throughout the West. (Sorry about the East Coast, guys.) So we looked at each other, nodded, and started throwing things into the Durango.

It’s 835 miles, all of it Interstate, and we’ve done it many times by now. We did well enough to stop for an afternoon in Albuquerque, to visit with a friend of ours who has Dash’s brother, Charlie. As we had all four of the Pack with us, and Sherry has two Bichons of her own (both boys) it turned into a backyard Bichon party very quickly. There was much running around and squirting-of-things, which is all any (male) Bichon would ask of a party. Everybody slept really well that night, not least of whom were the two of us.

We got into the Springs Thursday night, turned on the water, and got a decent night’s sleep. We dropped everybody but Dash off at Gramdma Jimi’s the next morning, and headed up to Denver for the show. Most of our Bichon Club friends were there, and nine Bichons were entered. Dash won Best of Breed for the Owner Handled category both days. This meant that he would represent the breed in the Group competition. As its name implies, the Non-Sporting Group is a kind of none-of-the-above category containing breeds including the Poodle, Shiba Inu, Dalmatian, Boston Terrier, Keeshond, and others that aren’t good fits in any of the other groups. I’ve often wondered why the Dalmatian isn’t in the Working Group, and why the Boston Terrier–sheesh–isn’t in the Terrier Group. Doubtless there are historical issues, all of which have long been forgotten.

No matter. Dash looked about as good as he ever does, thanks to a foot bath and a great deal of fussing by Carol. On Saturday he took Third Place in the Non-Sporting Group for owner/handled dogs, and on Sunday he took Second Place, ditto. We took home two very fancy ribbons, and–more important–a large number of points. Dash won 45 owner-handled points at the show, which gives him 225 owner-handled points overall. This makes him the #2 owner-handled Bichon in the country right now. Given that the #1 Bichon has only 350 owner-handled points, it’s actually a contest. (The photo above is by Patrina Walters Odette, and used with permission. Thanks, Patrina!)

But more than that, the additional points make Dash a Grand Champion. Championships in dog showing are a little like dans in karate: There is an ascending hierarchy of championships, based on an entirely different tally of Grand Championship points. Dash made Champion a couple of years ago. The Phoenix Project slowed us down; there wasn’t a lot of showing going on in 2015. However, Dash has done so well in the few shows we’ve entered that he accumulated 25 Grand Championship points and took Grand Champion this past weekend. The next step is Bronze Grand Championship, which requires 100 Grand Championship Points. This is four times what Dash has now, but we may give it a shot. Beyond that are Silver Grand Championship (200 points), Gold Grand Championship (400 points) and Platinum Grand Championship (800 points.) Whew. That’s a whole lotta brushing, on both Dash’s and Carol’s ends of the brush. Let’s see how life unfolds for the next couple of years.

And unfolding it is. We now have the task of getting the Colorado house ready to sell. This means sifting, sorting, selling and/or giving away a lot of stuff, and shipping the rest down to Phoenix. It was necessary (if maybe a little unnerving) to dump two boxes of my books into the recycle bin. I have a couple of pristine copies of Degunking Your PC and Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses…do I need a whole publisher’s box of both? It’s going to be harder with my assembly book and my Wi-Fi book, but downsizing means…cutting down the size of your stuff. As people who have been here know, we have a lot of stuff.

So the downsizing continues. More as it happens. Anybody want some plywood?

Tripwander

Colorado really didn’t want us to leave Colorado, and did its damndest to follow us down to Phoenix. We got underway Friday afternoon, having spent the morning tidying up the house and making sure that everything else was in order. There was a snowstorm on the forecast for Saturday, and I really wanted to get over Raton Pass before the first flakes fell, tired as we both were.

The weather was gorgeous, and we got over the pass late afternoon, stopping in Las Vegas NM for the night. My intuition was valid: We awoke Saturday morning to a glowering sky and much lower temps. So we piled the Pack into the Durango and blasted south. By Albuquerque it had started to snow. We got onto westbound I-40 with the wipers still on intermittent, and got almost to Grants before things got ugly.

And once they got ugly, they got ugly fast. We could see the cell on Weatherbug’s radar. It went from nothing to red in almost no space at all. The glowering sky became a blizzard in the space of half a mile or less. Visibility was only a few hundred feet. Predictably, there were crackpots blasting past us at 80+ MPH. I considered stopping, but the right shoulder was relatively narrow and we were a biggish target. So we slithered on, with snowflakes the size of “Have a Nice Day” stickers splatting against the windshield.

As quickly as it began, it ended. The splatting and slithering, however, were not over. We got another hundred miles or so, and crossed the state line into Arizona, before the skies opened again. This time it was sleet. The cell wasn’t as intense, but it was a great deal larger, and I white-knuckled it for over forty minutes until it faded out into rain and then mist. The universe suffers no shortage of crackpots, all of whom were determined to get to Winslow by noon or die trying. A couple of them had to be doing 90…in a sleet storm. What was truly boggling is that we only saw one car in the ditch, with no evidence that it had rolled or struck anything else.

Fifteen miles past Winslow the sun came out. By the time we got to Flagstaff it was 4 PM and the roads were dry. We spent the night at a Quality Inn that was just a notch and a half shy of false advertising. The rooms didn’t even have fire sprinklers, and the outside stairways to the second floor were falling apart and roped off with yellow “Police Line” tape.

The next morning it was sunny, and four degrees above zero, mostly par for Flagstaff in mid-December. We hung out in Flagstaff until the Sun had had some time to work on the road ice. But once we blasted south on I-17, the sky was clear and the pavement almost entirely dry. We got down the Mogollon Rim with knuckles no whiter than usual, and rolled into our new driveway at 2:30 PM.

Colorado wasn’t quite done with us. We emptied the car under cold (by Phoenix standards) but clear skies, and after an excellent meat lovers’ pizza at Humble Pie, we mostly sat around reading trashy novels and trying to make our hair lie flat again after a long day of dancing with freezing storm cells. I dipped into Monster Hunter Nemesis, trying to dope out what it is that makes Larry Correia’s adventures so damned good. In short (for this volume at least): Monsters, guns, endless action, more guns, and, well, Frankenstein as a sort of paranormal Man in Black. I powerfully recommend the Monster Hunter International series, with one caveat: Start at the beginning. There are running jokes, background character arcs, and much else that will leave you scratching your head unless you start with Book 1 and go from there.

Come Monday morning, the Arizona Sun was gone, and it was once more cold and raining. It rained off and on most of the day. This morning, it was 30 degrees with a frost on everything exposed to the sky. Like I said, Colorado didn’t want to let us go. Phoenix barely gets frosts in February, much less before winter actually begins. We didn’t mind; frost kills scorpions, and the fewer scorpions around here, the happier I’ll be. Besides, if Global Cooling ever becomes a Real Thing, I’d rather be here than Up Nawth, staring down blizzards every weekend and monitoring glaciertracker.com with a nervous eye. My hometown was once under a mile of ice, and whereas I often think it’s only what they deserve, I’d just as soon not have Robert Frost’s (!) marvelous little poem come true. (My long-term research suggests that hate trumps desire.)

We’re doing errands today, and generally vamping until tomorrow morning, when The Big Truck O’ Stuff shows up and things get aerobic again. We don’t yet have Internet at the house and are waiting for Cox Cable to dig a new trench from the node in the alley to the house. So again, what you see here has been uploaded from a coffee shop or restaurant, which we at best will visit once a day. I’ll be a little scarce until Cox builds our own personal Information Superhighway. Then again, it’s not like we won’t have enough to keep us busy between now and then, whenever “then” happens to be.

There’s much to write; in fact, not writing at length for over a month has left me very antsy. It’s almost a physical need, and right now it’s not being met.

I’ll keep you posted as best I can. In the meantime, I gotta go throw a couple of old bedsheets over my oranges, lemons, and limes. The world may be warming somewhere. It’s sure as hell not warming here.

Tripwander

Before we left our Phoenix house in September, we arranged for a great deal of work to be done, and spent these past ten days down there making sure it all got done. And it did. Paint throughout, cabinet work, drywall work, and a new air conditioner in the single-bay garage (which will be my mad scientist’s workshop until I build a better one) among many other, smaller things. While we were there we had all the trees on the property trimmed to civilized proportions, had the AC vents cleaned, and had an interesting business called Seal Out Scorpions come out and, well, seal out scorpions by filling cracks and running matte-finish transparent silicone around the edges of all the wall plates. Those guys are into scorpions on a total lifestyle basis, and I learned a great deal about the little bastards just listening to scorpion guru Mike Golleher walk us through the seal-out process. They glow under UV, but I’m sure most of you knew that. (Didn’t you?)

Tourist shops around here sell lollipops with real scorpions in them. You probably didn’t know that.

The real mission was to make sure the house was ready to receive the Big Truck of Stuff, which is scheduled to arrive there on or about December 15. So we vacuumed and mopped and stacked spare floor tiles in the slump-block shed, collapsing into bed a little after nine every night. Oh, in truth we collapsed after spending half an hour in our hot tub, which made the collapsing all the more pleasant…especially on the night we knew Chicago was getting 16 inches of snow. I drew the outlines of my several workbenches in blue painter’s tape on the floor of the small garage. We figured out how to use the washer and dryer. We did not figure out–entirely–how to use the Nest thermostats, but they’re impressive in one slightly unnerving way: When you walk past one, even a couple of feet away, it wakes up the display. When this happened at 6 AM in a dark house, I jumped.

Workshop Taped.jpg

As aerobic as the trip was, we lucked out in a major way not once but twice. I had selected Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 as the successor to our increasingly cranky 2011-era Droid X2 phones some time back, but by the time I did, the inferior Note 5 was out and carrier shops around here no longer sold Note 4s. While shopping the Scottsdale Costco, I spotted a Note 4 on display at the smartphone kiosk. Assuming it was just display leftovers, I asked one of the kiosk guys if they still sold Note 4s. He looked up inventory, and sure enough, there were six of them on the shelves. Sold! said Jeff. We walked out with what amounted to a pair of unlocked phones on the Verizon network, which I’ve seen named as having the best coverage in the Phoenix metro area. At any time we can pay off the balance on the phones and take them elsewhere. I’m not used to that kind of deal in the smartphone world; perhaps the universe is now unfolding as it should.

The display is gorgeous, and although the upgrade to Lollipop (no scorpions!) ate up a spectacular amount of data, we’re very pleased with the phones. I’ll have more to say about them here once I’ve had a little more spare time to poke at them. Such time has been scarce; patience, patience.

Our second bit of luck was even stranger. Carol was going to supper with her friend Jan, and on the way to their favorite Paradise Bakery, they passed Oasis Waterbeds up near Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard. Out of the corner of her eye Carol saw what looked disturbingly like a “Going Out of Business” sign in the front window.

Whoops. We shopped there in August, and had decided to order a waterbed as soon as we got down there for the winter. Carol and Jan took a quick detour and confirmed that the store was half-empty, with inventory going fast. Carol cranked up her Note 4, buzzed me, and told me to get my hindquarters up there Right Damned Now.

A bit of backstory: Carol and I had a waterbed all the 13 years and change we lived in Scottsdale, and when we sold the house, the buyer asked if we’d sell him the bed. We decided to try the new Sleep Number technology when we got up to Colorado, and have been using that ever since. Sleep Number works well, but on balance, we both prefer the old waterbed. With growing alarm, we realized that there were only a handful of beds left in stock, and just a couple in Cal King. Had we waited until mid-December, there might have been none at all. So we bought one on the spot, for delivery December 17.

Crawling Eye Coffee Cup.jpg

Getting the rest of our Colorado house into boxes by December 9 is going to take everything we’ve got, so I expect to be scarce here, as much as there is to say. In closing, I must show you the Einstein Brothers coffee cup I got the morning we had breakfast there, at 64th and Greenway. Evidently Einstein’s has signed The Crawling Eye to be their holiday mascot for 2015. This would be a problem, if anybody but me remembered The Crawling Eye. (Hint: It was Forrest Tucker’s big film debut. Then again, since nobody but me probably remembers Forrest Tucker, that won’t help much.)

Tripwander

Carol and I drove down to Phoenix as homeowners. We drove back as multiple home owners. As I’ve said far too often, the real work starts now.

Not that there wasn’t any work involved in the events of the last three weeks. I took along my Paperwhite and the print edition of Nicholas Wade’s book, A Troublesome Inheritance, expecting to finish Wade plus an SFF novel or two. Well, I got three chapters further on Wade, and no Paperwhite progress at all. Buying a house is a process with a lot of moving parts, as most of my readers will know from personal experience. Some goodly number of these moving parts had contingencies, so the order in which we did things was significant. We felt, at times, bent over the kitchen table of the small house we’d rented on VRBO, making lists and drawing diagrams, like we were waging a brushfire war or planning Thanksgiving dinner for the entire city of Dubuque.

The house needs work. Not a huge amount of work, but enough to involve interviewing and cutting deals with:

  • Painters. The house is off-white (in the direction of gray) throughout. I like color.
  • A color consultant to help us choose colors. This sounds extravagant but worked out very well, especially as the consultant was a very savvy artist lady who had paint color chips considerably larger than my thumbnails.
  • Landscapers. The house is on something greater than half an acre, with fifteen or twenty trees and lots of miscellaneous shrubbery, all of which required some attention. The catsclaw was taking over, and had already devoured our gargoyles.
  • Tree surgeons. Not all of the trees are healthy, as Carol suspected and the landscapers confirmed.
  • Pool services. We now have a 42′ X 20′ diving pool plus a seats-six Jacuzzi spa, both of which will need weekly tending to avoid turning green.
  • Local governments and utilities. We had to establish accounts with the City of Phoenix for water and trash pickup, with Southwest Gas, and APS for electricity. The paperwork, at times, was boggling: The state of Arizona requires a separate title transfer for our septic system, sheesh.
  • Pest control. Where there are palm trees there will be palmetto bugs, and we do not intend to share the house with palmetto bugs.
  • Alarm services. The house has an entry alarm but not a smoke/fire alarm, and we had to add that capability to the system.
  • A general contractor. We hired the guy who remodeled Keith’s house in Scottsdale, to do some drywall repair, put pulls on all the cabinet doors, and install an A/C unit in the small garage so I can use it as a workshop.

We also had to do some shopping, for:

  • Pool furniture. Lounging by the pool by lying on the cooldeck is a nonstarter.
  • Patio furniture. I like to have breakfast alfresco when possible. It’s possible lots more often in Phoenix than in Colorado.
  • A new dining room set. The one we have up here is too big for the space we have down there.
  • Cabinet and drawer pulls. Cabinets without pulls were stylish when the house was remodeled. I realized I was scratching the wood finish with my fingernails trying to grip the doors at their edges. No thanks.
  • A refrigerator. The one that came with the house doesn’t fit the space where the refrigerator is supposed to go. Nor does it have a water/ice dispenser.
  • A waterbed. We had a waterbed when we lived in Phoenix. For us, it’s part of the Phoenix experience. After all, your waterbed won’t freeze in Phoenix.

Etc. Etc. Etc. Ok, it wasn’t all drudgery. Carol and I had two swimming pools to play in: one at the small house we rented as a base of operations, and the much larger pool at our new place. We actually tried the spa one night, when the temps got down to a chilly 78 degrees. The big problem with the house’s water features is that it’s extremely hard to get out of them once you get in, which has nothing to do with the ladders.

Now you may have some sense for why I haven’t posted here in three weeks. We’re still writing lists and the work is far from over, but with some luck (and a far better system than the crappy 2009-era laptop I’m using) you’ll see me a little more often here in the near future.

The House Is Ours!

New House Front Door - 500 Wide.jpg

Finally.

I offer you this photo, the first of us standing in front of our new front door. Taken by Elva Weissmann, Realtor Extraordinaire, without whom I doubt we would have found it at all.

And now the real work starts. First task: Free our new gargoyles from the deadly embrace of the catsclaw vines. That should happen tomorrow.

I have other things of some importance to write about. Nobody has yet written about the true and lasting legacy of the Sad Puppies, so I guess I’ll just have to do it. Give me a couple of days and all will become clear.

Tripwander

corinne backyard 500 wide.jpg

I’ve been away a long time. Sorry about that. We bought a house…at least three months earlier than we expected to.

As you may recall, Carol and I drove down to Phoenix back in May for two weeks in order to interview neighborhoods for a winter place. We hadn’t intended to look at individual properties, but after meeting a local real estate agent during a walk through one of Phoenix’s parks, we decided to accelelerate the process, and saw ten or twelve homes before we ran out of time.

Elva Weissman (who is perhaps the single most expert and energetic agent we’ve ever worked with) plugged our parameters into her MLS portal as a sort of stored query, and the system has been emailing us listings for a couple of months now. We jotted down a short list of properties we wanted to look at during our planned August trip, including a couple that stood out, one in particular in the NE corner of Phoenix that checked more of our boxes than nearly any other. It was about $50K too expensive by my reckoning, but it was at the top of our list as the closest match so far. We figured if it was still listed in August we’d arrange a showing. We were also following another strange and wondrous house that had a patio and a swimming pool right smack in the middle, with the rooms arranged in a rough pentagon all around them. That one sold about a month ago, but it was very cool.

Then, on July 7, the seller cut the price by…$50K. Suddenly the house was dead-center in the crosshairs. Carol and I looked at one another, ground our teeth for a minute, and then got on the phone to arrange a trip in record time. By that Saturday morning we were on a plane, and on Sunday morning we were walking through a 3000 ft2 one-level Southwestern midcentury ranch, which had been gutted to the walls and rebuilt in 2003. I gulped. This was a winner. I took some notes and some pictures, and we walked through another three or four properties that same day. All those other houses just pointed up how close we had already come to a perfect match. By the end of the day we had submitted an offer. 24 hours later, the seller accepted it. We were both nervous wrecks. But hey, do the math with us:

Pros:

  • It’s all on one level, and (like all of north Phoenix) over a mile lower in altitude than Phage House here in Colorado Springs. My lowest blood oxygen reading there was higher than my highest here.
  • It’s on over 5/8 of an acre, with 75″ block walls on two of three sides of the backyard.
  • It has a separate one-car garage to serve as a workshop. I may build a bigger shop later on, but for the time being, as soon as I have an AC unit installed, it will do.
  • There is no homeowner’s association, and having been built in 1966, the deed restrictions are simple and mostly concern setbacks. There is no mention of antennas whatsoever, and there are guys within a block or two with 50′ towers and rotatable beams.
  • The back yard has a great deal of vegetation (including several ginormous palm trees) but nothing with thorns. Carol and I did thorns when we lived near Cave Creek in the ’90s, thank you very much. No more.
  • It has a small walled courtyard with a newish 6-person hot tub.
  • It has a gorgeous PebbleTec pool with a gas heater and a granite-rock waterfall. There is room for a solar pool heater, which is in our five-year plan.
  • It has a nice 25-bottle wine fridge and a huge standalone freezer.
  • It has a dedicated fenced dog run, with a doggie door into the laundry room.
  • It has a huge tiled great room spanning 40 feet at its greatest extent. Good party house.
  • It has a pair of gargoyles to either side of the front courtyard gate. Or at least there will be when we cut enough of the vines down so you can actually see them.
  • The leaded glass design in the front door looks like it has a little Space Invaders guy at the center.

Cons:

  • The walk-in closets (like all the ceilings) are ten feet high, with three ranks of clothes bars, one right at the top. They’ll hold a great deal, but you have to fish your less-often-worn shirts down with a hookie thing on a long wooden handle.
  • The pool still needs a fence, to keep doggies out of it.
  • The walls around the yard and front courtyard are covered with some as-yet-unidentified thornless (whew) creeper vines that shed foot-long bean-ish seed pods.
  • It’s no longer $50K overpriced, but it was still $50K more than we had hoped to spend. Ahh, well.
  • There’s a grapefruit tree. I like grapefruit a lot, but I can’t eat them on one of the meds I’m now taking. Bummer. Maybe someday.
  • It has a gigantic wet bar in the corner of the great room with an icemaker, a fridge, and a two-keg beer keg cooler and taps.
  • It’s painted dark gray.

So as you can tell, the pros win by a Phoenix mile. Most of the cons can be fixed. In fact, we’ve already talked to Keith’s handyman, who says he can get rid of the mirrors behind the wet bar without much trouble. Whether we should keep the wet bar itself is something I won’t know until we throw a couple of parties. Such a thing might well be handy for buffet dinners. The beer taps will have to go, though. I have a reputation to maintain.

As I’ve already told my inner circle, the real work starts now. We’re going from 4400 ft2 to 3000. I will have nothing like my 12 foot high library wall with rolling ladder. We will have to manage two houses for at least a year, while we get Phage House ready to sell. I’m already throwing stuff in boxes to give Rescued Hearts, and our trash can is getting a workout every week.

We may well keep a (small) place here in Colorado, but what and where we just can’t know yet.

As for everything else, stay tuned. I had hoped to mount several ebooks (including The Cunning Blood) before the end of July. Not going to happen, sigh. May not happen in August, either. We’ll see. But the cover art for Ten Gentle Opportunities is going to be spectacular. A novella I’m calling Fire Drill is growing in the back of my head and starting to hammer on the inside of my skull to be let out. I really really want to be a writer again. The word “triage” looms large in my near future.

Whatever. With Carol by my side and an extra-large economy-size jar of Aleve on the shelf, we can do it. Gonna be a wild ride but a good one, trust me.