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Archive for December, 2007

“Home” for New Year’s Eve

When I was preparing to leave Denver, Fred gave me directions home: left onto Monaco, right to I-25, left ramp, then right on I-10 and right to Tucson.   That’s basically it if you want the fast route, I-25 for about six hundred miles, then I-10 for another 220 miles.   Not much chance to see the back roads and “blue highways”, except for one spot where the best route is to cut the corner between I-25 and I-10 on NM-26.

That’s where I found the town of Hatch, which is known as the “chile capital of the world”.   I had no idea it was here, but of course a stop was called for.   See the chiles on the roof?

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Via phone Eleanor put in her order for a bunch of chipotle chiles, which are smoky and fantastic (and are really jalapenos, not chiles).   I picked up a quart-sized baggie of them, and I am sure to be rewarded for this minor effort with something really delicious.

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Hatch has   a chile festival in September that we’d like to attend.   I’m not sure if we will be here in September, however.   Our long-term planning only extends through August at this point.

At long last I am home again.   I’m not sure what constitutes “home”, either Airstream or house.   I think it’s really just Eleanor & Emma.   In any case, our family is once again reunited.   The   little Fit is tucked into the carport next to the Airstream and it looks happy to be here too — or at least, it will once I get it to a car wash to remove the gray splatters (souvenirs of the Denver slush).

With all the traveling rush I had forgotten that today is New Year’s Eve.   A lot of Airstream friends of ours are up at Picacho Peak State Park (about 40 miles from Tucson). We had planned to be there too, until my Thursday flight got canceled.     Instead tonight we will make a fire and eat pizza on the rug of the living room (because there is no furniture), and perhaps watch a movie.   It will be a quiet New Year’s Eve, but a memorable one.   We are settling into our new house, Emma is seven years old, and never again will this moment happen.     It’s good to be home.

The Fit and I

It’s always hard when I have to be dropped at the airport early in the morning.   The whole family has to get up in the dark with me.   This morning Emma was a sport about being woken up at 6 a.m., but I was less happy about it.   Actually, I would have been OK with 6 a.m., but Eleanor mis-read her watch at 4:20 a.m. and woke me up then, thinking that it was nearly time to get up anyway.

That wasn’t the most glorious start, but at least the flight was uneventful and nobody sneezed on me.   I may yet survive this flight without a cold.   From the jetway, it was three moving walkways, three escalators, and an underground train ride just to get from Concourse B at DIA to the Main Terminal.   Huge place, and yet it looks just like every other modern airport in the continental US.

Fred Coldwell met me at the airport. Fred writes the “Old Aluminum” column for Airstream Life magazine, and he also writes the “From The Archives” photo spread that we run every issue.   He has been storing our car in his garage since September, so I took him out for lunch before hitting the highway.

Since the lunch was long and included discussion of business (IRS take note), I didn’t get on the road until 1 p.m.   Fortunately, the speed limit along most of I-25 is 75 MPH, so the Fit and I were able to make some good time and wound up in Las Vegas NM by 6 p.m.   That’s 300 miles from Denver, a reasonable start on my 900 mile roadtrip.

I have been wanting to drive I-25 for a while.   It passes through a section of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico that we never visited in the Airstream.   As I suspected, from the interstate highway there’s not a lot to be seen (other than a range of mountains to the west all day, and a lot of grassland) but there are a lot of hidden things to investigate on a future trip.   The historic Santa Fe trail passes by here, and there’s quite a bit of old railroad history too.     Some summer we will check it all out with the Airstream.   Right now it’s too cold for me, and there’s snow on the ground, which is my cue to keep heading south.

Knocking ‘em down

I’m starting to look at this phase as a sort of journey in itself. We really have to, in order to avoid being intimidated by the scope of the work to be done. As the proverb goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with just a single step.” Every day we take another step and we try not to think too much about the hundreds of miles ahead.

And we are making good progress. We nailed down a few of the appliances. We’ve bought a refrigerator, cooktop, vent hood, dishwasher and toilets. We’ve settled on the kitchen cabinetry design. I’ve sealed the tile in all of the house (two coats) except for the living room and dining room where all of our boxes are.   We’ve turned the corner from demolishing to rebuilding, which is an important milestone.

Our good friend Rob Super has advised us to take breaks from this process once in a while and enjoy the “pleasures of civilization”. He’s right, of course, and in a few days we’ll slow down our frenzied pace. The initial sprint was just to get the ball rolling. Now that we’ve got the contractors lined up and the materials purchased for the first couple of weeks, we’ll be able to do some exploring of Tucson.

We’re also aware of the risk of burnout in a house renovation. It’s easy to go over budget, overwork yourself, get frustrated, and lose the joy. This is our third house renovation, so we’re working together very well.   We’ve done this hike before.

Tomorrow I get another hike … from Denver to Tucson.   It’s time to get that Honda Fit that we left up there. I’m flying up in the morning and will drive the car back over the next day or so.   900 miles.   Can you say, “ROADTRIP”?   Oh yeah.   I’m all packed and ready: iPod, overnight bag, snacks, camera, roadmap.   Once I’m done with this blog entry, the laptop goes in the bag too.   Hey, we’ve been stationary a whole week now.   It will be good to hit the road again, even if it is just a ferry job.

Frozen in Tucson

When we were first walking through this house last March, we noticed only one living thing in the otherwise desolate back yard: a small lemon tree.   The poor thing was so dry that its leaves were curled and it had borne just a pair of pathetic lemons.   Since the house was vacant, we took pity on the tree and watered it.

Every time we came back to the house after that, we watered the tree, and it began to respond.   So we asked Jerry the caretaker to keep it happy while we were gone all summer.   Now, in December, the “lemon” tree is lush and green, twice the size it was last May, and bearing fruit — grapefruit. I was a little surprised to find out that it was really a grapefruit tree, but can’t complain.   The fruit is delicious and juicy, and there’s something inspiring to me — a lifelong northerner — to have an actual citrus tree growing in my yard.   I may plant an variety of orange too, when we get to landscaping next fall.

Last night I flipped on the TV to to catch Colin Ferguson doing the Late Late Show and there, crawling along the bottom of the screen was a SEVERE WEATHER WARNING.   Eleanor and I both perked up, because we’re used to those things containing scary news like tornadoes, flash flood warnings, destructive thunderstorms, etc.

The crawl said, “HARD FREEZE POSSIBLE”.

Uh-huh.   I suppose in southern Arizona that’s cause for fear and anxiety, but to us Vermonters a hard freeze is something that comes every October and continues until roughly May.   We don’t even get interested until it dips below 10 degrees during the daytime, which happens every January.   But in a place without hurricanes, tornadoes, levees to break, heavy snow, earthquakes, and only about 12 inches of rain a year, a hard freeze for a few hours may be the scariest phenomenon the TV weatherman has to work with during winter.

So I snorted in derision (try it sometime; the trick is snorting loud enough that other people can hear and yet not blowing anything rude out of your nose) and was about to flip the channel to see what Conan O’Brien was up to.   But then a horrible thought occurred to me: What about my new friend the grapefruit tree?

Images of Florida citrus farmers spraying their crops with water to protect them flashed through my head.     Would our lovely grapefruit all be destroyed by freezing?   Did I need to dash out of the Airstream in my pajamas like a deranged version of “The Night Before Christmas” to collect all the fruit?

Reason won out.   It was already in the 30s, and I was not anxious to go pick grapefruit by headlamp.   They’d have to fend for themselves.   I like my grapefruit but it’s also a fact that the Fry’s supermarket down the street has more if ours freezes.   Besides, Colin was pretty funny last night.

Today I moved the office into the house so I could crank up the new Bose SoundDock while working, and spread out on the dining room table.   I sent Emma out to collect all the grapefruit, and now sitting on the floor next to me is a grocery bag holding a dozen yellow softballs.   During the day I can grab one, peel it, and munch on sweet grapefruit while working.   I also turned the furnace up to 68 degrees.   With that, I think we’re prepared for the long hard winter ahead — all four hours of it.

11 days to the next Airstream trip …

All about things

I was supposed to fly to Denver early this morning but United canceled my flight.   So I found myself with a free day on the schedule.   I should have stayed put and gotten some work done on the Spring magazine, which is currently in layout, but instead we went out shopping for appliances.   What a nightmare.

I don’t even want to talk about the joys of shopping for the house.   Suffice to say that we visited a plumbing supply store, two big box stores, Sears, a window supply store, a “scratch and dent” appliance store, and a few miscellaneous places.   We looked at fixtures, sinks, refrigerators, dishwashers, cooktops, hoods, washers, dryers, laminates, vanities, and replacement windows. What did we buy?   Nothing. We ended up at 7 p.m. with a notepad full of scribbled model numbers, prices, rebates, delivery fees, colors, and confusion — but not a single sales receipt to show we’d actually accomplished something.

But hey, at least I bought two toilets online.   Can’t wait for that big box to arrive. “Oh look!   Quick! Everyone come round!   It’s the toilets!”   Then we’ll gleefully install them and stand, holding hands in a semi-circle, to watch the First Flush.   Such are the joys of a renovation.

Sorry if I’m too sarcastic.   I would prefer to wave a magic wand and have the house done.   How can it be that we can see 27 different dishwashers and still not find the “right” one?   Who is responsible for the dysfunctional design of gas cooktops that causes the ones with good flame control to be the hardest to clean?   Why was the highlight of our day the burritos at Nico’s?

The low point was when I reluctantly turned over my beloved Nikon to the repair shop for cleaning and repair.   It was almost emasculating.   I am like a gunslinger with no six-shooter now.   The world’s most interesting photo may pop up in front of me tomorrow, the equivalent of having the bad guys right in my sights, and I’ll be powerless to take a shot.   The Nikon won’t be back until late next week, due to the holiday, so for a while the blog will be somewhat devoid of photos.   I’ll borrow Eleanor’s camera for a few days to help bridge the gap, but it won’t be the same.

There’s one bright spot in the day.   My father sent me a Bose SoundDock for the iPod, so now we have tunes in the house.     If you’ve ever worked on a house, you know how essential it is to have a little music to work by.   It makes everything go faster.   Tomorrow, once I get a few things done for the magazine, I’ll be back on the floors again, so the SoundDock will get a good workout.   It’s also portable enough to travel with the Airstream, which is a major reason why I wanted something like this rather than a typical large stereo.

Notice a common thread to my ramblings lately?   It’s all about things now.   That’s what the house is doing to me.   I want to talk about experiences but instead my experiences seem to be related to the acquisition, disposition, or maintenance of things.   This is why the burritos were the more memorable   thing we did today — they were the only positive learning experience we had.   I learned that Nico’s makes a truly awesome al pastor burrito for $4. It’s a little thing but if that’s all the day yielded, I’ll take it.

12 days to our next Airstream trip …

Git ‘er done

Our last house took eight years to complete.   Actually, we never completed it.   What I should say is that when we sold it after eight years of on-and-off work, it was 90% complete.   To get there we spent many a night and weekend painting, cutting trim, nailing, sanding, staining, and tweaking.   So when we started this project, my motto was “I’m not doing it myself.”

Doing it yourself can be a source of pride.   You can learn new skills and save money.   You can also learn expensive lessons, as we did many times.   I’m not against DIY projects in general — I think they’re fine for people who want to do them — but in this case neither Eleanor nor I have anything to prove.   We just want it done and we’re OK with the concept of writing checks to get there, if it means we don’t have to spend hours on our knees with a brush or a pneumatic nailer again.

But there I was today, on my knees, mopping the floor with a big yellow sponge saturated with sealant.   I could have had the painter’s crew do it but it would have caused delays (floors always do).   Each coat of the floor requires a drying time and that means people standing around waiting instead of working efficiently.   And, without some protection the new slate was likely to get stained.   So it made sense for me to do as much of it as possible today, before the dusty-booted crew shows up.

Little resolutions like “I’m not doing it myself” keep falling prey to the house’s demands.   I was planning to take Christmas off entirely but then in the afternoon I found myself browsing online for appliance sales. How much lower can I sink?   Well, late that night when ordinary people are doing online chat or hunting for nude celebrity pictures, I was shopping for toilets online.   On Christmas.   That is not how the classic holiday tales usually end up.

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At least my little effort helped show what the house will look like when it is done.   With the sealant on, the colors have “popped” and there’s a satin sheen. It’s full of rusty orange-red and blue-greens.   Now that we have seen the final product in day and night lighting, we are able to finalize our paint colors.

Again, the colors in the picture are not quite accurate.   At some point I’ll have to take a carefully calibrated photo to show the true colors of everything, but right now all the paint chips are just ideas and not final choices.

One valuable lesson of our last house experience was that we should avoid “analysis paralysis.”   We spent weeks agonizing over cabinetry and countertops, months testing paint colors in big swatches on the walls,   and it was literally years before we finalized the layout of parts of the interior.   Every decision was questioned and re-examined a dozen times, mostly because we had no idea what we were doing.

On this house, we’ll have the colors picked in a week, the appliances ordered by Friday, the cabinets ordered by Saturday, and the other details (countertops, faucets, knobs, a couple of light fixtures) hopefully wrapped up by Sunday. We might get something wrong but we’re not going to worry about it.   We’ve got other things that are more worth worrying about than whether we picked the perfect countertop.   The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can go explore something new.

Change of lifestyle, trial run

We tried living in our house for a day, and it was nice.   We lived like ordinary people — if you overlook the near-total lack of furniture.   We had a nice Christmas morning doing the sort of things that people usually do when they are celebrating Christmas.   Since the house lacks a kitchen, we were forced back out to the Airstream for breakfast, but for the most part we stayed inside and sampled the suburban life: a few holiday phone calls to friends and family, reading books, snacking on Christmas treats, trying out the presents, and assembling those things that have “some assembly required”.

It felt nice, as a change of lifestyle, although I’m sure I don’t want to live like this all the time.   Coincidentally, today I finished a book called “American Nomads” by Richard Grant, which attempts to describe and analyze the phenomenon of modern nomadism.   The author alternately tells tales of nomads both historical and current, and his own restless story in which he is uncontrollably driven to wander the American southwest seeking the company of freight train riders, hitchhikers, hippies, “Mountain Man” re-enactors, and RV’ers. Although the book is a bit uneven, there are many gems of truth and I found myself wincing several times at the accuracy of Grant’s understanding of my personality.

It is undeniably the best analysis I have read on the subject of modern nomads.   Most articles and books treat those who are compelled to explore as misfit exceptions, social oddities, and sideshows to mainstream American life.   Only someone who has the bug himself can begin to understand the inner pressure that motivates us, and the author does a nice job of bridging nomadism and sedentary life so that each side can understand the other.

This is helpful to me.   I have to admit that many times in this blog I have been a nomad snob.   Forgive me — I’ve been so enthusiastic about this lifestyle that I’ve become like a reformed addict, trashing “sedentary” life at every opportunity.   Without saying so directly, Grant seems to believe that it is in the genes and makes good points about the validity of each lifestyle, although I wish he hadn’t focused quite so much on the grittiest of travelers.   Essentially he says, “to each their own.”   I think he’s right.   There’s nothing wrong with all you people who love your houses.   It’s just that I am part of a minority of people who feel very differently.   If it is wired into your genetic code and mine, that’s cool with me.

Apparently Grant lives here in Tucson, at least occasionally between trips.   I’m sure we would get along if we met, although we’re nothing alike.   He’s a hard-living Brit who thrives on rugged travel (sleeping in the car for weeks, walking the desert for days, riding freight trains with hobos), he smokes, he admits to a fair amount of drug use in the book, he seems at several points to be self-destructive and perhaps even toxic to others except in small doses.   I’m far past any interest in living ruggedly except where it is necessary to accomplish a specific goal.   I like traveling by Airstream with the occasional tent or hotel thrown in for fun; there’s no need in my lifestyle to sleep in a cold rolling boxcar with vagrants, not even “to get the story”, as Hunter Thompson would say.

Which brings me back to the house.   We could have bought a condo (and seriously considered it) instead of a house.   It would have been easier to maintain and there wouldn’t be this renovation task to complete.   But at the time we bought, in the place we bought, there was better value in houses than condos.   So now we have approximately 9 times the amount of space that we have in the Airstream, which means when we are stationary we can spread out.   That extra space means comfort for all involved.   It’s one thing to share 200 square feet when the world is your living room; it’s quite another to share 200 square feet when the days are short, the nights are cold, and there are fewer options of things to do outside.

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Wendy enjoys a balmy evening outside our Airstream, near Destin, FL, Jan 6, 2006  

That has been the one issue I’ve had with full-timing.   The winters can be a bit boring.   Really the only place in the continental USA where you can be guaranteed warm weather all winter is southern Florida and the Keys.   In the rest of the south, and particularly the southwest, winter is characterized by changeable weather, warm days and temperatures plummeting to near-freezing at sunset.   This makes for long evenings inside the trailer.   Last winter we avoided much of the cold by staying in Florida in November and December, but this year we took an entirely different route.

Even a trailer as well-insulated as an Airstream is hard to keep warm on a 20 or 30-degree night.   The trailer begins to feel like an old New England farmhouse with cold floors and drafts.   People start to congregate around the furnace ducts, and the fuel bill shoots up.   If it still feels like you’re in New England every night, and the nights are still 14 hours long, the enjoyment of being in the “sunny, warm southwest” is lessened.   If I wanted to sit inside a confined space and surf the web, I could have stayed home.

So that’s what we’ll do.   Parking here for a couple of months every winter seems like a good thing to me.   We’ll get the pleasure of the southwest with the sheer comfort of a house.   There’s better insulation, more room to stretch out on long evenings, better entertaining space … and while we are whittling away at winter we will be refurbishing and planning for the next bout of travel.

Do I sound like a suburbanite all of a sudden?   I’m just trying to find that ideal balance to perfect our lifestyle.   If we can’t be somewhere interesting in the Airstream, this house will be a good place to stay for a while.   It certainly passed the test for Christmas Day.   I wonder how long it will be before the genetic code starts demanding that I find out what’s around the corner, and we hitch up the Airstream to move out again.

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