Saturday, November 28, 2009

Post Thanksgiving Recovery

Here it is Saturday and we're kind of relaxing again. (Or do we do it all week?). We attended the usual Thanksgiving dinner in the club house where each couple brings a plate to share and we paid $3 each for the park to provide Turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. I referred to it as like feeding cattle, as one fellow led us with a "blessing" (well done) and then it was "go get it". It reminded me of my days on the farm when we opened the gate to let the cattle access the feeding trough. There was no pushing here, but otherwise it was similar. (The idea of calling out numbered tables seems foreign to them here.)

We have quit watering our newly poured patio slab and it is slowly drying out. Yesterday I tried to drill into an electrical pipe I buried in the concrete and didn't find it. Apparently they moved it slightly. Today I'm going to push a magnet up the pipe from the outside and hopefully using a compass, I can find where they moved it to.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I got kind of excited about heading into Best Buy early on Friday to try to get one of the HP computers they had on sale Friday. Then Sandy read where you had to get a coupon at 3 AM in order to get in the computer line at 5 AM. We decided that it wasn't worth it. If they have reduced the price once, they'll do it again.

I have tilted our solar panels and they are working wonderfully. We're burning about 50 Ampere-hours each night and with the tilted panels, the batteries are recharged by noon. I'm now assuming that when we arrive at Quartzsite, we'll not use the old interior lights but instead use the LED lights and then run the inverter to power the computers so that Sandy can surf all evening.

It looks like we're going to find out what a dust storm is like in Arizona today. Supposedly a weather change is also to bring some rain, which they have not seen in 3 months. Right now there is a definite dust cloud in the air.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Stopped Dead in our Tracks

We previously told you about finishing the patio pour and our satisfaction with the service. So Monday we decided we ought to put a shed on the pad just poured. Sandy suggested that before we go to Casa Grande to buy a shed, I ought to talk with the local wheels to make sure we don't need a building permit to install the shed. Well, we were stopped dead in our tracks. There is a park wide survey being done to validate all lot boundaries and until it is done, no building permits are being approved. So no shed until at least mid December.

We did go into Casa Grande any way to do some shopping and look again at our shed options. I think we know what we want. Sandy's comment as we left Walmart, "We don't want to go shopping at Walmart the few days before Thanksgiving!" The place was busy, but not over run with shoppers.

Today I decided that we'd tilt our solar panels to see how much better they would perform. Woh, is there a difference. The panels are almost 60 degrees above horizontal. Yes, they work much better. I still don't like the idea of tilting the panels when we park, as it means I have to get on the roof, which is inherently unsafe for an old duffer like myself.

The big task for us in the next few weeks is to assemble the sunscreen that we bought the parts for. Actually, we bought the material and some rods to hold the two ends up. Sandy is to sew the material to the proper dimensions. Gene has to figure out a way to hold it in place without drilling lots of holes. We are hoping that then when we are parked facing the west, the afternoon sun will not be so hot through the sunscreen.

One little item that nearly sank me on Sunday was when I drove the wrong way across those steel guards that supposedly puncture your tires. Well, we drove across the grating and when the gate didn't open, I realized I was at the entry gate, not the exit gate. the only thing I can say is that I was going very slow when I did it, plus we have fairly new tires. Needless to say, I feel very lucky! What was I doing? I was waiting for the cement truck to arrive and I needed to open the gate. I was waiting on the inside and decided that I'd go outside of the park where I had a better view of the road. An impulsive decision that nearly bit me really hard, had they worked as they are supposed to.

We're still collecting lady bugs. I'd guess that there are between 50 and 100 bugs each day. Maybe we'll have them eradicated by spring!


Sunday, November 22, 2009

We have a Concrete Patio out front!

Another week has passed us by and we do have a major milestone to report. The contractor finished the patio for our lot here in Casa Grande today. (I know it is Sunday, but he does his moonlight work on the weekend.) It looks great, if I must say so myself.

Two years ago, we bought a lot in a park in Florida and that fall went there to put a patio in. Actually, we paved the entire lot. The red-tape necessary was minor, as few people were in the park and our Iowa friends were good friends with the park president who was also the chief approval authority while everyone was gone. So we verbally presented out plan to him and his response was (referring to our helpers Denny and Chuck), "you guys know what the rules are." So we did it. Of course, he zoomed by almost daily on his mini-bike as he kept the park running.

In the Florida park, it was a self help job done by residents of the park. We had very able helpers from Iowa that we've known for years helping us during the preparation which seemed to take forever. When it came time to pour the cement, there must have been 10 to 15 fellows there with all kinds of tools. It was apparent that they had done this before, as they all seemed to know where they were to fit in. In one case, a fellow showed up when it was nearly done with the finishing tools. His self appointed job was to trowel the wet/damp/drying cement to make sure it had the right finish on it. And just as quick as they had all shown up, they all seemed to disappear. Our cost was for the concrete, and the skid steer loader we rented for one day.

Here at our lot in Casa Grande, all of the effort was by the contractor, his 13 year old son and a very skilled helper.. Of course, we haven't really gotten too well acquainted with the local residents, so I'd also not expect too much neighborly help had we tried to do it ourself. So our arrangements were with a local contractor that has done other work in the park. His workmanship is great. Probably our biggest complaint is that he kind of kept us in the dark until the day before he was going to do it. It was really no problem, other than when you order something, you want it right away. (We had no deadline or personal schedule to keep relative to the patio, so it was only a minor inconvenience.)

As it was, he called us Thursday night and said that he'd be here Friday or Saturday to form it up and then back on Sunday to pour the cement.. He showed up Saturday afternoon and finished the forming by 5 pm. Then he was here at 6:30 AM on Sunday morning to do the last minute form checks and the Cement truck (local on site mixing) showed up at 8 AM. They started pouring by 8:15 and finished by about 9:30, with only the contractor and a helper working the cement. (The driver started and stopped the mixer.) Sandy and I both commented that while in Florida, we had about a dozen fellows shoveling, raking, leveling, and toweling the cement, in this case, there were only two workers. The contractor directed the truck operator where to dump the slurry and then he leveled it some with a medium sized long handled scoop shovel. His helper did the final leveling with a long 2 by 4 and a shovel. They didn't do any troweling of the leveled cement. until it was entirely poured.

For the next 5 hours, they continuously troweled with both a hand trowel and some long handled push pull trowels. The final finish was to pull a push broom across the nearly set cement to give it a textured non-skid finish. (There are no trowel marks in the finish. Also, there is no need to saw the slab, as they have laid in deep cuts to mark each break line. After 6 hours, they pulled the forms and were gone shortly thereafter. I'm to lightly water it after sundown and again before sunup for 2 or 3 days. They used one tool that we didn't have in Florida. It was a metal mesh, about 1 foot by 4 feet that they had a stand up handle on. After the entire slab was poured and leveled, they used this mesh to pat down the surface. It seems to press the gravel down and allowed the surface to be fine cement. My gut feeling was the the cement here was slightly more moist than what we had in Florida. (Especially after they did the pat-down operation.)

Okay, so you've read the differences. The big difference for us was that we ended up paying probably about double for the local project for about a third of the amount of concrete. But we're happy with what we have and it is done. With the few people that we know in the park now, we didn't feel comfortable asking them to join a heavy work crew. Besides, we learned a little bit.

While the work was going on, we moved the motorhome off to a vacant lot nearby. We thought we had made good plans to the extent that we have buried in the cement an electrical conduit for a light to the front of the lot. Plus we buried a sewer pipe for an eventual stool in the storage shed plus another sewer pipe for a washer drain line. We also installed an underground electrical service pipe. All of the "future addition provisions are just below the surface" with good dimensions on a paper and hidden away in Sandy's files. When we were all done, it dawned on me that one item we forgot was a water service line. Okay, so it is no big deal if we never install a washer. (The park commercial laundry is a 150 feet north of our lot in the Activity building.)

Tonight we're back on our lot and feeling much more relaxed now that it is done. Perhaps we could say that it is all over but the shouting. Actually, one little task remains, that is to install a shed on the base that we poured adjacent to the patio. We weren't going to do it this season, but we decided that the lot would rent out much easier if there was a shed, so we're doing it. Tomorrow we head to Home Depot to see what is available and if they'll give us the "Black Friday" discount now.

Then it will be time to relax and think of Turkey day. As always, we will miss the old fashioned family gathering with parents, siblings and daughters. Thankfully, there is the telephone and it gets well used on the weekend. We will join our park family here for a big Thanksgiving dinner in the club house Thursday noon. Then we'll relax and watch a bit of football.

Have a great day.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Patiently (or Impatiently) waiting for the Contractor

Well, our contractor called us on Monday and apologized for taking a long weekend off out of town. I guess we can live with that. (What choice do we have?) Supposedly, he'll be here tomorrow to do some grading and then Sunday morning to pour the cement (or is it called concrete in the slurry state?). We were well trained which was which when we were at our park last winter in Florida. But time moves on and I don't remember.

We have permission to park the motorhome on a nearby lot while he is working here. Okay, we're only putting in a patio, but why take a chance when they are moving stuff with a tractor plus swinging forms around. (It is nice to have neighbors.) We aren't plugging in or parking it for a long term hookup, probably 3 or 4 hours each day.

Yesterday I went to a meeting in the park, entitled "Long Range Planning and Property Committee" Did I get an education. The committee is really only concerned with park property, forget the planning. And if you donate anything to the park, it had best be in tip top shape and not have a power cord, as anything electrical breaks and needs repair. "The park is not a dumping grounds for your old recliner!" It is interesting to watch how park politics plays out. (I doubt if anyone from the park reads this, so I'm not on too much thin ice.) The bottom line was that there is a process and you must play by the process. Of course, they also agreed that most people don't understand or know the process, including the park management.

Before the meeting began, I broached the subject of park lot rentals and the need for chart in the Welcome Center showing what was available for rent by private members. Did I get my ears penned back. I've heard it from just about everyone when I bring the subject up that Arizona rules absolutely prevent park involvement in the rental of private lots, unless they have a licensed broker in the office. I think it is really the accumulation of some years of questionable practices plus supposedly a letter from the Arizona AG that the park could not collect money for the owners unless they had a bonded and licensed broker in the office. Perhaps the crowning blow was that for a while, one of the volunteers in the Welcome Center also owned several lots and if someone appeared at the gate needing a lot, he directed them to his lots. I guess when others found out what he was doing, there was a bit of an over reaction. So now there is absolutely no information about private lot rentals in the Welcome Center. You are directed to either drive around, visit the club house and look at a notebook listing rental sites or visit the parks commercial web site. (In my opinion, not very prospective guest friendly.

So yesterday after the meeting, I decided that we'll advertise our lot on the park web site and include in the listing a link to a page (that we maintain) that tells the prospective renter what months are available. As it is now, if you want to rent a lot, you go to the classified listing of lots (about 30) and start calling until you find an opening. With the link to another page, we can post the lot rental status of our lot and make it less frustrating to the prospective renter. We shall try it. Last night I found a web site that provides a free webpage hosting service. Don't they say, Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We'll try it.

One of the things we see in a group owned park is that it is difficult to get leadership changes made. If the park is owned by an individual, they can see the need for a change and they can make it happen quickly. A characteristic of seniors is that when they assume a responsibility for a job, they treat it as if it is theirs for life. Sadly, most of them ought to be replaced after 5 years more or less in the same job. They have bent the job into a mission that specifically suits their interests, not necessarily the interests of the group. We have seen a case of that here and changing it will not be easy, if at all. Short of death, the job title is theirs!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Closing out Week 2

The old adage of "Hurry up and Wait" is still true, even in our retired years. We have made arrangements to have a concrete Patio poured sometime. We negotiated the deal last Sunday and he wasn't too specific on when he'd get at it. Possibly this Saturday or Sunday or maybe next weekend. It seems that he had another job partially committed for this weekend. Well, we called his number and as usual, we get the answering service. Since we haven't heard or seen him, I'm not assuming that it will be next weekend.

Does it really make any difference to us? Not really, other than once we get it done, we are free to leave should someone want to rent our lot. Of course, with the large number of vacant RV lots in the park, there is a very small chance that someone would want to push us off. Show me greenbacks and we can rapidly pack. (We're so new to the park that we're not really locked in to any activities.) Our biggest loss would be a fixed mailing address so that I can buy some more stuff on eBay.

A year ago, we upgraded our solar system and we love it. This past summer, we replaced the OEM batteries with four 6 volt golf cart batteries that we're happy with. Now to further extend our boondocking time, we're wanting to replace the lights with lower power LED lights. We've tried 4 or 5 products and the verdict is so so. We're using 3 salvaged LED lights from a Walmart Christmas sale string for a night light in the bed room. It works great. (Sandy even said it was too bright until I relocated it to cover it up some.) We have purchased 3 multi-LED assemblies with so so results. One was a 24 LED flexible string which is much too bright for a night light and not bright enough for general use.

A second purchase was a bulb assembly that is a replacement for the common single filament brake lamp. It has 12 LEDs and has plenty of illumination, but it is almost a spot light, so it really doesn't cover too much area. The third purchase was a 36 LED bulb assembly that is almost sufficient for general lighting. It is probably a bit weak for reading, but otherwise is more of a general flood lamp. The problem with it is that it has an MR16 base (two pins a quarter of an inch apart.). But I like it otherwise. We have made a base for it so that I can plug it into our normal wall fixtures. (I'll probably order more of these or perhaps a similar bulb assembly with 48 LEDs.) Finally, we are waiting on a fourth assembly which has 18 LEDs, 12 out the front and 6 around the base. Hopefully, it will work in our shower fixture where the illumination is off of the side of the bulb. If we're able to use only LED lamps for illumination, we can probably reduce our lighting load from 8 amperes to more like 0.5 amperes. That really translates into more computer time!

This morning we went to the club house for sticky rolls. I guess they were okay, but I though $1.75 a roll was a bit on the high side for a park service. They did taste good. Yesterday, we went to the Friday morning breakfast, thinking I could have my pancakes again. Well, pancakes are only served every other Friday, so I had to settle for an omelet. I guess in the future, we'll go every other Friday.

While I rant and rave about using or living on solar, I have to admit that on Wednesday, we threw in the towel and enabled the battery charger again. We were not getting enough sun to fully charge the batteries in a day, so back to using the power company. If you have been watching the weather maps, a series of fronts have moved into the southwest, so for almost a week, we have not had full sun shine. Even when the thermometer was hitting 90 degrees plus, the sun was partially obscured by light clouds, enough to seriously affect the solar charging rate.

However, the outside temperature of 70 degrees sure feels good!


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Day is it?

I hate to say it, but it sure is easy to lose track of time here in Arizona. Perhaps the real problem is that other than church on Sunday, we are not involved in that many activities that are on a scheduled basis.

Now that we settled the issue of getting our patio done, we've moved on to other issues. It would make our lot more "rentable" if it had a shed for others to use. So we went to the early morning coffee yesterday to mix with the old coggers that know it all to see what they recommended. We were thinking a metal shed and they highly recommended a plastic shed. So we've been walking around doing an eyeball count of what is most popular in the park and how do they look. Okay, we'd prefer plastic.

So today we attend an Escapee's RV Club luncheon at the Golden Corral. Afterwards we go shopping, especially to find out what sheds are available and how much. We also need some electrical conduit to lay under the concrete so that we can run a power line to the front of the lot for a security light. Fitting 40 feet of pipe in the Saturn will cramp our style a bit, but I think it will work.

There are the little things that really get me. We secured our neighbor's wireless router and then could not get one computer to find the signal and log into it. Oh, VISITA strikes again. I really have a hard time accepting what Microsoft has done to the developed world by changing some of the basic computer functions with each operating system. With XP, service pack 2, finding and logging into a wi-fi signal worked very well. With Visita, it is some times nearly impossible. At least for me, I can stick with XP and I keep saying I'm moving to Linux (the sooner, the better.)

Have a great day.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Closing out another Week

Here it is Friday evening already and we seem to have gotten so little done here in the park. I guess we make progress in small steps, a little bit at a time.

For starters, we have a park building permit approved to lay a concrete patio on the lot. Supposedly, the contractor will be here tomorrow morning to give us a price. We can handle that. The building committee agreed with my drawing with one minor change. I had understood that we needed to stay away from the lot lines by 3 feet. It is really 3 feet from the side lot lines and 4 feet from the back lot line where the utilities are located. Okay, we can live with that.

When all seemed to be pretty well settled, I mentioned that I had talked to Dale (manager) about adding a sewer inlet so that I didn't need 20 feet of sewer hose. Big mistake, as they informed me that the county rules have changed and I needed a county building permit. Ouch! The committee chairman wasn't certain and called the county office this afternoon. Yep, it is very easy, come to the office, give them $48 and they'll authorize it. A bummer. I decided that I'd skip that effort for a while and this afternoon, we filled the half dug trench back in. I guess as a friend used to say, "You win some, you lose some and some get rained out!"

One piece of good news this week was two LED lamps that I ordered via eBay came in today. (That means our address is correct.) Tonight I tried them to see how much light they put out. To put it simply, it was fantastic. It is plenty of light, but more of a bluest white. The thing I like about them is that the current consumption is very very small. They are an ideal replacement for a general lighting bulb. (Except that the base is two pins, not the standard 1141 socket.)

Sandy and I went to the park breakfast this morning and I got to have my pancakes. They were filling. (I miss the Saturday morning pancakes that were served in Tropic Star RV park in Texas, pancakes, apple sauce, two sausages and juice for a very modest price. Okay, it was 8 years ago.) There were not that many folks present. Tomorrow morning, there will be sticky rolls available.

The weather has finally moderated and the high was only 82 today. It was very pleasant and many more to come next week.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Yes, it is Warm Here in Casa Grande, AZ

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, but when the temperature gets to 90 degrees around here, it is WARM. The problem is one should slow down during the heat of the day and I normally don't.

Today was a big day for us, we went to town for no other reason than to get a haircut (for each of us.) Otherwise, we didn't do any shopping which is a first for us. You don't often find us driving 20 miles round trip and not doing a lot of shopping. After we returned, we looked at our drawing of our proposed patio and then used the tape measure to again confirm our plans. It will be nice!

I'm itching to get it done. One thing we do miss is the group effort that helped us when we did some concrete work on our lot in Florida 2 years ago. My Iowa friends went all out to help us, as they were known to have done for others in the park. Here at Sunscape, there may be a self help work crew, but we're not tied into it. Of course, it takes time to establish those connections and we have not spent that much time in the park. What we have learned is that most (if not all) of the concrete work in the park has been done by local contractors. Such will be the case for us. (I'm sure I'll groan when I see the difference in costs when it is all done.) But some times you just have to do it their way.

This afternoon, I checked out a shovel and a that we can install a second sewer inlet closer to the motorhome. With the present inlet, our 20 foot hose is nearly stretched to the maximum. Our intention is to locate a second inlet right below where it exits the motorhome. There will not be a tripping hazard when you walk around the rig. We had initially checked out only the shovel and quickly decided that a more aggressive tool was needed. We are also soaking down the dig area so that the soil (rock or gravel) is something other than hard dried clay or what ever they call the stuff here. It needs to be an early morning job only. By definition, there is no hurry.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Getting Stuff done in the Park

Okay, the weekend is history, we've been here since when and if we don't get with it, we'll be ready to leave and our "to do" list will be unchanged. So we dug in.

First there were a few administrative things to get done, like access to our mail box. Gene was at the mail room before 8 AM to catch the mail room clerks, but no one answered the knock on the door. Finally a local friend came by and told me that they were in the lounge drinking coffee. So he took me in the building and introduced me to the mail room staff.

Then it was back to the mail room where Tom picked up the mail in our box plus the new key and gave it to me. We did a quick test of the lock to make sure it worked and headed back to the motorhome. Our next task was to pick up some wire rods to mark the outline of our proposed concrete patio. We then dug out the 50 foot tape and laid out the patio and the adjoining outline of the shed in the corner. They meet with about 6 inches space to spare. All seemed to be going well. Of course, the real problem is just how big should the patio be. It will be roughly 12 feet wide and 25 to 35 feet long. It appears that 25 feet is more than adequate, but 35 feet connects it to where the storage shed would be. Thankfully, we have a little time to look at the outline on the ground.

At noon, a neighbor asked for help to get his wi-fi working so that he could log into his neighbor's wi-fi. The source wi-fi is a new Linksys Wireless N with internal antennas. Our first task was to get the router working. As usual, we're not sure what was done, but it finally started transmitting a signal. My first reaction is that with antennas buried inside of the case, the router is not configured for distance. It works great in of his rig, but at the neighbors rig and in our rig, there just isn't enough signal to reliably work (Neither of us are using Wireless N receivers for maximum distance.)

At 4 pm, we joined another neighbor for a social hour. At 4:45, the contractor called and was in the park and wanted to look at the proposed or tentative patio work package. What a pleasant surprise. He was there in a few minutes and we walked him through our outline. We also shared that we were a bit uncertain what we wanted yet. He took measurements on what we had and said that he was pouring a pad elsewhere in the park on Saturday morning and would stop by afterwards to drop off his proposed work package. Woh, we could see how he works and perhaps have it done in a couple of weeks. It is nice when the customer doesn't have to chase down someone to do the job.

The other task done during the afternoon was to capture all the loose ladybugs that we could in the motorhome. There is hope and perhaps we're nearing the end of the lady bug invasion. We picked up less than a fourth as many bugs today as yesterday and it was warmer.

When we arrived in the park, the weather was about 15 degrees below the average. This week, the temperatures are now expected to be about 10 degrees above normal. We'll take it!