Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Where are we?

We woke up this morning to a low temperature of 34 degrees. Are we really in the Arizona desert? Tell me it isn't so. But it is. Today's high of 62 was 8 degrees below normal. The low was 11 degrees below average. Brrrrr. I guess we've become Arizonans, not Coloradans. A couple of years ago, we would have thought this was a warm day.

Later in the day, we went Christmas shopping. As we walked through the Chandler Fashion Center Mall, trying to get some inside exercise as well as some gifts, we really thought we were walking through Park Meadows Mall which is just about a mile from the house we own in Centennial. The shops were all similar, the halls full of suburban shoppers. We realized we haven't used a shopping mall to get our walk in for at least a year. And we haven't even shopped in a mall for perhaps that long. Wal-Mart and Target are our usually venues for just about everything.

I even felt out of touch with the gifts available. Have you ever heard of a spy pen? I hadn't. It is a ball point pen with a video camera that will work even when the pen is in your shirt pocket. The memory card has 3 gigs of sound and picture storage. Brookstone sells the pen for $79. Wouldn't 007 and M be surprised?

We wandered into a Mac store and took our first hands-on look at an I-pad. Amazing! But at $499 to $699, even without the 3G network, I think I'll pass for now. And Mac makes a very small and light notebook computer. I think it is smaller than the old folder I carried around with a legal pad inside. We first considered a computer for our business in 1981 or 82 and passed because the cost was $11,000. Two or three years later, we bought a personal computer for $3,000. Today they are available for $600 or less. Our last one cost less than $1,000 and must be 100s of times faster and better. I guess there are lots of things about that good old days that really aren't all that good, aren't there?

Friday, November 26, 2010

At the Corner of Apatite and Bornite

Life is good at the corner of Apatite (Apatite is a group of phosphate minerals) and Bornite (Bornite is an important copper ore mineral) in Valle del Oro (valley of gold). Most of the streets here are named after minerals and I sure don't know how to pronounce many of them. I'm glad we live at a corner that seems rather simple. So, what is life like here? We have some wildlife. In addition to lots of small cottontail rabbits, there are Gamble Quail

and doves.

Last week it rained. We looked out the window and wondered what these doves were doing. We finally figured out they were taking a bath in the falling rain! I guess there aren't any bird baths or ponds anywhere nearby.

Once in a while we have to take time for routine housekeeping chores. One day we washed the outside of our RV.

I've always wanted to learn how to make things out of clay, so I quickly signed up for the first basic pottery class I saw. Here is my work area, before the class started.

And this is the small plaque I made. It then had to dry for a week or more and wait to be fired. This week I applied glaze and now I wait for that to be fired.

Lots of park model owners decorate for the various seasons. Here is a Halloween arrangement.

These two black figures sit in front of a park model and are fun to watch. Last month they were waving "Hi!."

Next, the man was washing windows and the woman was pointing out where he missed some dirt. Right now, the woman has her arms full of packages and the man is sitting with his hear buried in his hands. I have been remiss in taking pictures since the one above. I will try to get some more before the end of the year.

Last year John carved two walking sticks from Agave flower stalks. He wanted to make another one this year, but since it is illegal to go pick them in the wild, he had to look around the park to find one in somebody's yard. Finally, last week he found one and the park model owners didn't want it. So we cut it down, then took the parts he didn't want to the dump area. Here you can see the flowering top of the stalk in the bed of our truck.

And here the two pieces of stalk cleaned off. He only kept the skinny portion.

Yesterday we attended the community Thanksgiving dinner at 3 pm with several hundred of our closest friends. Actually, 880 people signed up and the kitchen staff cooked 500 pounds of tukey breasts in addition to legs, baked stuffing and made gravy. Everyone who attended brought side dishes. I took pumpkin chiffon pies. Here is a view of part of the crowd.

And here is our table, right after the food was served.

We had a great time and left stuffed with food. We really miss being with family, but it good to be able to celebrate this holiday with other snowbirds.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Congratulations, John!

Friday we drove to Flagstaff for the Graduation Banquet of Park Ranger Training Program XX, run by Northern Arizona University. Why? you ask. Because John Dodson, a fee collection ranger we worked with for the past two years at Casa Grande Ruins, was graduating from this park service law enforcement training program. John is a fine young man we enjoy working with and we are sure he will do well in his career with the park service. He works hard and takes his position seriously, but he also is a lot of fun.

They served us a very good lunch and we had a chance to meet John's parents and his sister and her boy friend. Diane Chung, superintendent of the Flagstaff National Monuments, gave the keynote address.

As we left the graduation, I took this picture of John, flanked by his parents, and his sister Kayla and her friend Paul.

It was a long day. Flagstaff is 175 miles northwest of Mesa. On the way back south we were grateful for the HOV lanes on the 101 Loop from I-17 to US 60 and on 60. We drove at 50 to 65 mph all the way-that is until the last 4 miles of the 101, as we had to move to the right to exit on 60. The traffic was at a crawl because of an accident and car fire just before the entrance ramp. We arrived back at the RV about 5:45. I can't imagine how late we would have been without the HOV lanes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Retired and Debt Free

There has been lots of conversation on the web, in RV forums and blogs, about full-time RVing and debt. At least for people who are retired, I can't imagine going full-time without being debt free. That doesn't mean everybody agrees. One of the first full-timing couples we met had been on the road for years. They were ready to hang up their keys and move into a stick house. But they owed more on their motor home than it was worth. We wonder how long it took them to sell it.

Early in our marriage, we would accumulate a balance on our credit card, then pay it off each year with our tax refund. But then we left the world of paychecks and tax withholding, moving to business ownership and quarterly estimate payments--meaning no refunds. That first year we struggled to pay off the credit card balance. Then, going forward, we paid the credit card bill in full each month. I imagine since the late 1970s we haven't paid more than $2 or $3 in credit card interest.

Our accountant when we owned the business recommended we always save ahead and pay cash for any automobiles we purchased. That wasn't possible for another 10 years or so. But it has been our way of doing business since then.

After selling the business, we did have home mortgages for many years. But in 2000, when we received an inheritance, we paid off our mortgage--against the advice of two different financial advisers. Even though we lost out on the mortgage interest deduction, ending up with no mortgage made it possible for us to travel extensively for several years after retirement. Then we decided to go on the road full-time. We also had to buy a new RV. We could have paid cash, but this was September 2008 when the stock market and the economy was going into the tank. Instead of losing money by selling investments to buy the RV, we got a loan--and paid it off in less than 18 months, rather than the 30 years the loan was for. Those 30-year loans for RVs that probably won't last 10 years are part of the debt problem full-timers face.

As I said, we went full-time as the economy and real estate market went downhill. It certainly wasn't the time to sell our house. So we decided to rent it. Since we didn't have a mortgage, it didn't matter if the house sat empty for several months--after all, we had traveled six to eight months a year in the past and it sat empty. And once the house was rented, it provides a nice additional income stream.

Although we aren't wealthy, we certainly feel secure. We have no loan payments to meet and we don't have to worry about what the economy does. That has made our retirement and our full-time lifestyle relaxed and carefree. We are grateful for our pre-planning and feel very fortunate.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Group Hike

Friday we went on a hike with the Valle del Oro Friday hiking group. Three days a week, groups of residents go hiking. There is a 50-cent-per-hiker charge, plus payment to the driver of the carpool group you ride with. We did a 6-mile round trip hike on the Lost Goldmine Trail in the Superstition Mountains. The trail goes through a really nice area of the desert. We enjoyed the scenery.

There were lots of nice, old Saguaros.

We didn't get many chances to take pictures or enjoy the scenery, however. We don't know if all hikes are like this one, but this Friday group hikes at a really good clip. We stopped for about five minutes after 1/2 hour of hiking, then resumed the same pace till we reached the 3-mile turn-around point--that was 3 miles in 1 hour 20 minutes. This is part of our 12-member group walking up the trail.

When we signed up for the hike, our main concern was that the group might stop every few minutes to rest or chat. That isn't what we are interested in. But pushing for the entire hike isn't all that fun, either. We tend to get kind of smug about our fitness. There are only 2 or 3 other runners here in the park, as far as we know. But this hike confirmed that we are living among lots of able, fit seniors. We like that.

This is a view of the mountain we hiked along, with a good stand of Palo Verde.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Day at the Zoo

We had so much fun with our grandson John at the Denver Zoo in September that we decided to visit the Phoenix Zoo yesterday. You can read about the earlier visit here. One big city zoo isn't that different from another, but here in Phoenix there are more African and tropical animals and they are in outdoor exhibits, not behind glass to protect them from winter cold.

We have seen lots of Prairie Dogs, but the ones we saw yesterday were about the fattest I remember. Maybe it's because they are eating carrots?

This Gila Monster isn't nearly as nice. But I hope I never see one up any closer, since they are poisonous, like some snakes.

We are aware that Burrowing Owls live at Casa Grande Ruins, where we volunteer. But this is the best view we've had of one. He (she?) is pretty cute.

Not as cute, but very regal and impressive is this Golden Eagle. It looks like he is posing for me.

You know we love cats. Doesn't this one look sweet? Don't you want to go and pet it? Well, maybe not. Mountain Lions aren't really very cuddly.

It is easy to spot Turkey Buzzards in this country. But they aren't nearly as imposing as this Ruppell's Griffon Vulture from Africa.

There is a family of Mountain Sheep that live on a hillside behind the zoo. It was fun to see them contentedly sunning themselves in the middle of the city.

This Baboon is sitting there looking like a wise old man.

Through the years, we've seen lots of pink plastic Flamingos. But I think this may have been the first time I have been up close to live ones. When they spread their wings, they show bright pink feathers and some black. But most of the time, they are white with just a touch of pink.

What a treat to see this young Zebra drinking it's mother's milk. I don't think I've ever seen a Zebra with stripes all down its legs, have you?

I have no idea what kind of bird this is, but it is the brightest, most intense blue I think I have ever seen. God has created so many interesting, fun, and beautiful creatures, hasn't he?

One cage held a group of Mexican Wolves. They look a lot like coyotes, but we watched them pace around and stalk one another. We guessed there was a struggle over who was the leader of the pack. This is another animal I don't want to meet in the wild.

I've seen lots of monkeys in zoos, but this was the first time I had been able to go into an enclosure and see them up close. This is a squirrel monkey and they jump from branch to branch, just like squirrels. They sure are cute.

And I leave you with a view of the most impressive long-horn cattle I have ever seen. They are Watusi cattle from Africa. I wonder if they have Saguaro cactus in Africa, too?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

More Hiking

We've been on two hikes in the last couple of weeks. Yesterday we took the Pass Mountain Trail at Usery Mountain Regional Park. That is a 7.4 mile hike--imagine that! I don't know how long it has been since we hiked that far. But we made it, and in less that 4 hours!

The hike took us through a beautiful section of the Sonora Desert, filled with Saguaro cacti.

I love these magnificent plants. This one has just about the most arms I have ever seen on a Saguaro.

John thought this one looked like a dancer twirling around.

The Saguaro skeletons are also very interesting.

Further along the trail, we encountered an entire hillside covered with Manzanita. It must grow best on north-facing slopes.

Isn't this a great landscape?

We often see ornamental grasses planted in gardens. I was surprised to see it growing at Usery Mountain. Do you suppose it is a native Arizona plant?

Last week we did a less ambitious hike at Lost Dutchman State Park. The park must be at a different altitude than Usery Mountain because there are very few Saguaro but a lot of Teddy Bear Cholla.

We started out on the Siphon Draw Trail, then turned on Jacob's Crosscut Trail. At some point, perhaps at this cairn, we made a wrong turn, and what was supposed to be a 3 mile hike ended up being 5 miles long.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sunday Visits

During the first half of the last century, it was common for people to go visiting friends on Sunday afternoons. Last Sunday we went visiting, but not to friends' homes. After church, we stopped at Pioneer Park in Mesa where the 22nd Annual Pow Wow was going on. Later in the day, there were dancing contests. We didn't see any of that, but we did see a group of men, some in rather elaborate clothing, others in jeans with a cape or stole over their shoulders, drumming and shaking rattles.

I was fascinated by the long row of silver medallions hanging down the back of these two men.

There was a large number of vendors. Some were from the Acoma Indian Pueblo, others from the Navajo Nation. Many of them displayed beaded jewelry. There also was this bead vendor. Aren't they colorful?

Next we drove to the Mesa Performing Arts Center to look at the Dia De Los Muertos, Day of the Dead, Celebration.

On November 2, the day after All Saints' Day, in Mexico and some other countries people go to the cemeteries, build altars and share food and memories of their family members who have died. This Mesa celebration offers related items for sale and includes a competition for artistic altars. No photos were allowed there, but there was a public altar that I could photograph.

Here is a sample of the face painting available to the children.

It seems there are skeletons and pictures of skeletons everywhere these days. And nowhere more than Sunday in Mesa.

In addition to the Day of the Dead activities, we enjoyed looking at the Performing Arts Center. Can you imagine what it sounds like on a windy day if this really is a wind chime?