Friday, February 5, 2016

As you know from my previous post, we spent the first half of 2015 taking care of my husband’s mother in our home. After she passed away in early July, we decided to proceed with our original plan for 2015 which included getting an RV and leaving this area.

We are currently in the process of fixing up the used RV we purchased, emptying out our house, and fixing up the property to put it on the market. The challenge has been that there are far more problems with the RV than we suspected, resulting in it taking months longer to get it road-ready than planned.

My husband has essentially been working full-time (and unpaid) on the RV since last fall. We are very grateful for his wide range of skills that enable him to do most of the work himself. Every system in the RV has needed some kind of repair: the engine, wiring, plumbing, air and ventilation, and structural. In addition to the repairs, we have had to do a very intensive deep-cleaning of the entire rig, something that appears to never have been done since its manufacture in 2003.

The idea of staying in crowded RV parks with hook-ups all the time does not really appeal to either of us so we are setting it up to allow more boondocking. That means we can be self-reliant and camp in a wider range of locations. We switched to a composting toilet which allowed us to remove the black water (sewage) tank. The plan is to install a second fresh water tank in its place to give us more water storage capacity - with new plumbing, of course! We have also installed a solar system so that we aren’t reliant on a noisy generator anytime we use power.

There are still some small upgrades he is working on for the RV, mostly to do with the solar system, but it is getting closer to completion. I still need to deep clean the kitchen area and he still needs to build in a couple of shelves for books, music, and movies. After he installs a new fresh water tank, we will then take it in for new tires and to have the windshield gasket replaced.

In the meantime, I am trying to sort through our house to determine what will fit in the RV. There are, of course, space limitations in a 38 foot RV but there are also weight limitations. All of our personal belongings, from kitchenware and clothing to tools and books, must weigh no more than 2,000 pounds. That sounds like a lot until you start paying attention to the weight of what you own. For instance, my stack of mixing bowls weighs an amazing 4 ½ pounds! Books, which we love, are also heavy.

It has been brutal making the decisions about what to keep and what to let go of, even though it really is all just “stuff.” We humans tend to attach so much importance to our belongings, in addition to the emotions and memories associated with them. I continue to pare down to what we truly need and want in our new adventure. The many books I’ve read over the years on de-cluttering and minimalism are helping me through the process. Ironically, I had just begun to work through Marie Kondo’s bestseller, “The Magic of Tidying Up,” before my mother-in-law had her health crisis and we ended up as her caregivers.

We don’t intend to keep a storage unit as we’ve read the accounts of many RV full-timers that regret doing so. Instead, we are taking a huge leap of faith that we will like this lifestyle. We recognize, however, that if we don’t, we are not stuck with it. We can find a new place to live and sell the RV if we find it does not suit us.

While we don’t have a deadline, we do hope to get out of here before summer. We need to get the house on the market and my husband will need to find paid employment somewhere. We hope he can find a contract position in his field somewhere we wouldn’t mind staying for a while. We do want to travel, but we don’t intend to be on the road changing locations frequently. We’d like to spend several months at a time in each new place to really explore and get to know an area. Getting to bird in new locations is, of course, something we’re looking forward to doing. Who knows; we might end up in your neck of the woods!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Quick & Easy Dinner After Pruning Marathon

On nights when we are both tired, it's tempting to make a run to a nearby Subway sandwich shop or Chinese take-out place for dinner. However, with no income at present and the need to eat up what's in the pantry, I am striving to just knuckle down and force myself to make dinner at home. Luckily, I still have some foods on hand that can be put together for a relatively quick and easy meal. Often I manage to keep it healthy, too.

In the past week, I have put in a tremendous number of hours on yard work. I wasn't able to do any pruning for the previous two winters and could not let the trees go another year. Two winters ago, it didn't stay cold enough for long enough to do any pruning. Last winter's plan for pruning went by the wayside with my mother-in-law's heart attack and subsequent moving in with us. This winter has been a chilly one, which is the perfect time to get the pruning done.

A storm several weeks ago was the driving factor in pushing pruning to the top of the to-do list as the wet heavy snow broke four large branches on a palo verde tree. It only took about an hour to remove the branches but it took much longer to cut them up for disposal. The next day, I tackled our terribly overgrown olive tree. That one took me two days because I also had to remove some old barbed wire and fence posts to clean up the area, while also being careful not to get poked by the nearby cholla cactus.

On Friday and Saturday, I tackled some mesquite trees. Not only were they overgrown from two years of pruning neglect, we also wanted to prune them higher than we prefer in order to give a better view of the house from the road. We are working to increase curb appeal factors on our property since we hope to get it on the market sometime this spring or summer. I am usually quite good at looking at a tree and seeing exactly what branches need to come out to give the tree a nice shape. This week, though, I found that I was overwhelmed by the overgrowth of branches and kept losing my vision of the best shape. I had to enlist my husband's help in shaping the trees.

I also enlisted his help in cutting up the large branches once they were down so that we could put them out with a "Free" sign. Mesquite burns nice and hot once seasoned; the neighbor that picked them up will have some great firewood for next winter. With the exception of a couple of branches my husband removed with his Skil saw, I did all of the pruning with manual saws. Although it would be far quicker with a chainsaw, I am clumsy enough that we've agreed that I should avoid their use.

Dinner, on the other hand, can be quick and easy with little risk of cutting off limbs. Last night, I was able to put together a surprisingly delicious dinner that took no longer to make than it would have taken to drive to Subway and get sandwiches. I apologize for not taking a photo of the food. I was very hungry and it didn't occur to me until I was almost done eating.

My pantry is dwindling because we have been trying to use up food that I've purchased when on sale. I still shop for produce because we don't have much in the garden now except for lettuce. I used to keep quite a bit of frozen food on hand, but we ate it all up in order to sell my beloved chest freezer. Last night's side vegetable was some asparagus I'd purchased on sale and then forgotten about in the fridge. I was able to salvage about half of the two bundles. The rest had to be composted. We are still maintaining the compost bins as we hope that the garden set-up will be an appealing part of the property once listed for sale.

The main dish last night was just a simple pasta dish. Pasta keeps a long time if stored in a cool part of your home so I always bought plenty when the price was right. This box of medium shells had a 'Best By' date in 2013 but still tasted perfectly fine. (Note: whole grain pastas do NOT store well for the long-term because the oils go rancid.) For the sauce, I mixed two cans of tomatoes together, one with green peppers, celery, and onion, and the other with basil, garlic, and oregano. No additional seasoning was necessary, which was a good thing. I was too tired to even chop up an onion or dig out the jar of Italian seasoning! I added some Daiya mozzarella shreds when I heated everything together. The advantage of the non-dairy Daiya is that it has the flavor but not the stringiness of real melted Mozzarella cheese. It simply made the sauce nice and creamy.

The meal was simple, colorful, healthy, and filling. And the pantry is cleared of two more cans of tomatoes and one more box of pasta. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that we were able to harvest some fresh basil from the Aerogarden to stir into the finished dish.

Why are we planning to sell the house? And why did I have to sell my chest freezer? I promise to tell you in the very next post!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Droppin' Like Flies!

It strikes me as rather funny that while my blog sat inactive for over three years, the number of readers I had did not change. I'm guessing it was a case of 'out of sight, out of mind.' Now that I've resurrected the blog, however, my readers are droppin' like flies! I'm trying not to take offense at this as I realize my posts showing up on your feeds may remind you that it's time to clean up your list of blogs to follow. It's also obvious that my content has changed, although those that stick with me will see that there are some changes on the horizon that may be interesting.

I plan to change the header of the blog to reflect that, just as soon as I can figure out how. Sometime while I was away from blogging, Blogger changed some things with my template. For some reason, I cannot edit or even delete the image in my header; it simply will not allow me to access that. If I can't get to it by changing my template, I may have to start a new blog and import everything to it. Knowing this is likely to take me some time to figure out is why I haven't tackled it yet.

How in the world did I find the free time to do all the fun blog stuff years ago? I miss reading other blogs, too, but currently don't have the spare time for that either. I have plans to at some point, but my husband reminded me yesterday that "life is what happens while you're making plans for the future." True, that!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

I'd Rather Be Birding

I haven't posted much here lately because we've been busy with projects and when not busy, we've been out birding. With my husband's eye still not back to normal, he is unable to work on a lot of the items on the to-do list nor can he read or work on the computer much. He is able to enjoy being out looking for new birds, though, despite still having enough floaters in the one eye to be rather distracting.

This past week, we met our goal of seeing 100 different species this month. Getting the last few felt like pulling teeth; we had to really work for them. A short afternoon trip to a local park on Wednesday yielded numbers 99 and 100 on our list. Ironically, later that same afternoon, a new bird showed up in our yard. And the next day, another new bird showed up in our yard. So, after struggling to hit that "100" mark, we jumped past it with ease.

While bad weather hammers the East Coast, we have unseasonably warm weather here in the West. Yesterday was so nice that we took a drive north to do some birding in agricultural fields. Lots of driving around on dusty dirt roads yielded eight new birds for our list. Sadly, despite another warm, sunny day in the forecast, we do have to get some chores done today. I'd rather be birding!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Watch Out for Your Eyes

Let me give you a bit of advice for the New Year: if anything suddenly changes with your vision, get it checked out by an expert. Make an appointment with an ophthalmologist post-haste and have an exam. Do not waste hours or days googling the symptoms and deciding it’s nothing to worry about. By the time you realize you should have gone to the doctor, it may be too late.

Sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it? Well, here’s a cautionary tale for you.

After having so much fun birding on Christmas Day, my husband and I decided to start the New Year birding, if weather permitted. New Year’s Day dawned with sunny skies and no breeze despite earlier forecasts for wind. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time. Even though we opted for a more relaxed pace than Christmas Day, we saw more birds, thanks to good weather.

Since a week of rain and cold was predicted starting on the 4th, we went out again on the 2nd and 3rd. We got this crazy idea that it would be fun to keep track of bird sightings for the year to see how many different species we could see, but without necessarily chasing down individual rare bird sightings. (Remember, in the last post about birding, I told you we aren’t obsessive-compulsive about this.)

I was feeling pretty good about the year starting out so nicely, especially since last year started out so horribly with my mother-in-law’s heart attack. However, after birding all day on the 2nd, my husband mentioned how frustrating it was that he apparently now had another symptom of aging: more floaters in his eye. They had appeared in his dominant eye and were proving to be quite distracting while birding. I hadn’t even known this was going on but he told me he’d checked his symptoms online. Although most medical sites recommended getting any vision changes checked out by an ophthalmologist, he also saw numerous YouTube clips from ophthalmologists that said floaters were normal with aging and there was no need to worry. So, like many people, he opted not to worry and to just 'wait and see.'

'Wait and see' is an acceptable approach for some medical issues. A cold or a bout with the flu will generally clear up with no medical intervention. A minor cut in the skin, also unlikely to pose a big problem. (Yes, there can be rare cases of flesh-eating bacteria introduced in a minor cut, but for most minor cuts, the normal steps of cleaning and treating the wound at home will suffice.) With the eyes, though, we are now convinced that one should have any sudden change checked out.

Luckily, he did have some niggling worries and made an appointment to see our regular eye doctor on the 4th. As I sat in the reception area during his appointment, I got a bad feeling when the doctor came out and rooted around in the desk for a minute, taking a business card back with him. Sure enough, he had recommended a retinal specialist and had gotten my husband an appointment the very next morning at 8 am. He went home with a tentative diagnosis of “vitreous hemorrhage.”

The inside of the back part of the eyeball is filled with vitreous, which is a gel-like substance. The new floaters in my husband’s eye were evidently blood specks. A more thorough examination, with dilation, was needed to determine the source. I went along again the next morning so that I’d be able to drive since this kind of eye exam requires dilating the eye. That leaves the eye very light-sensitive for several hours and unable to focus well.

We were nervous when we arrived for his appointment. I brought a book that I hoped would keep me distracted while he saw the specialist, figuring it would possibly be a long wait since they’d fit him into a full schedule and might need to do a variety of tests. I was surprised when he came back out only an hour later. As we waited to see what was required with our new insurance, he quietly told me that he’d just had surgery.


The retinal doctor’s exam quickly revealed that my husband had a severe tear in his retina. There is no pain with a retinal tear. There may be no vision loss with a retinal tear, as was the case for my husband. The new floaters were indeed due to blood as the tear happened right over a blood vessel. But, why did the retina tear in the first place? He’d had no impact to his eye, no recent surgery, nor does he have diabetes.

Apparently, as we age, the vitreous in our eyes begins to liquefy. The vitreous is attached to the retina, and as it liquefies, it can peel away and detach from the retina. This in and of itself is not a medical emergency and does not impact vision. However, in rare cases, there can be points at which the vitreous is firmly attached to the retina and the force of it pulling away from the retina can tear it. If a retinal blood vessel is torn or damaged, as in my husband’s case, the blood can leak into the vitreous and cause new floaters to appear.

The eye surgeon told my husband that he was very lucky. It is rare to have a retinal tear happen this way and it will not get better. Had he tripped or even sneezed, the jarring could have torn the retina off completely. A detached retina is serious and will result in vision loss. Retinal detachment is painless but symptoms include a sudden profusion of floaters, flashes of light when your eyes are closed, or obscured visual field in one eye. If the retina is not re-attached within hours, the vision loss my result and be permanent. My husband frequently has violent sneezing attacks so we are amazed that he avoided this fate.

But, wait. The news gets worse. Even if a person with a torn retina is lucky enough to avoid tripping or sneezing, they are not out of the woods. Once there is a tear, fluid begins seeping in under the retina through the tear. In time, simple hydraulic pressure will detach the retina. A ‘wait and see’ approach could easily lead to losing the ability to see out of that eye! Again, if a person gets to ER and can have eye surgery done in a matter of hours, this can be repaired. But, as my husband pointed out, this could have happened at any point, including in the middle of the night while he was sleeping. He could have woken up, blind in one eye, and past the timeframe during which surgery would help.

Retinal detachment from hydraulic pressure, especially in a tear as severe as the one in my husband’s eye, can happen within hours to days. When the doctor counted up how long it had been since the original tear – 5 days – he was shocked that it had not happened. My husband was apparently very, very lucky.

It will take a while for him to fully recover from the surgery but his eye seems to be getting incrementally better every day. Until he gets the doctor’s okay in another 10 days, he’s being cautious about physical activity. No skydiving, horseback riding, and such. Okay, so he wouldn’t have been doing those activities anyway, but he is avoiding projects where he might trip, bump his head, fall off a ladder, or do anything jarring. It may take another month or so for all the blood from the original tear and from the surgery to clear out of the eye so that the floaters disappear. In the meantime, he’s trying to ignore them, although he says the “flocks of blackbirds” he sees everywhere are pretty distracting when we’re out birding.

Please remember: if you have any sudden change in your vision, see an eye doctor right away. As they say, better safe than sorry!

Saturday, January 9, 2016


How long has it been since I last posted? Long enough for the plants in our new AeroGardens to grow big enough to start harvesting!

Guess you could say I've been neglecting the blog a bit. Sorry about that but I hope to have an explanation up soon.

Kale on New Year's Eve

Kale today

Basil, dill, and parsley on New Year's Eve

Herbs today

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Birding on Christmas

We had no plans for Christmas this year. In the past, we'd traipse down to the town where my husband's mother used to live to spend the holiday with her and, at some point, I'd zip over to a sibling's house to visit with some of my family. With my mother-in-law gone, we opted to stay home for the holidays for once.

Except, at the last minute on Christmas Eve before retiring for the night, we decided that spending Christmas Day out birding (aka "bird-watching") would be a fun way to celebrate. In the months since my husband's mother died, we've been out birding quite a bit. It has proved to be a restorative activity, one that gets us out into natural areas and directs our focus toward something other than memories, frustrations, and endless planning for the future.

To successfully find birds, you have to be fully present in the moment, watching for the slightest movement in the trees, on the ground, or in the skies, and listening for the faintest call, flap of wings, or tap of a woodpecker's bill against a tree's bark. To identify a bird once found, you must catalog a multitude of details, such as the bird's size, shape, color, behavior, and location.

Our plan was to visit half a dozen locations finding as many different species as we could in one day. Hardcore birders often schedule a "Big Day" with official rules, reports, and a competitive spirit, during which they will record as many different species as possible in a single 24-hour period. We are not hardcore birders. We had no desire to get up super early to find lots of owls nor to spend the entire day driving hither and yon to a wide range of habitats in order to find more species. We wanted to have fun and see whether we could pick up all the various birds we'd been seeing over the past couple of weeks when we'd birded in each of these areas on separate days.

Our efforts were hampered by the weather. Christmas Day turned out to be cold, overcast, and windy - less than prime conditions for finding birds. We missed quite a few birds we'd found easily within the last week but such is life. There are no guarantees, no matter how good you think your plan may be. And we thought our plan was pretty good. We'd been in each of these areas recently and even found some of the rare birds (Baltimore Oriole, Rufous-backed Robin, Northern Parula) reported in the local Rare Bird Alert on those visits. But, alas, with the poor weather and less time available for each area, we missed the rare birds and some easy ones, too.

All in all, though, we were happy with a total of 66 67* species when we called it a day at 4 pm. Yep, we're such lightweights that not only did we not get up in the middle of the night, we hung up the binoculars before the sun even set. Okay, that's not entirely true. We did sit in our warm living room and watch our feeders until it was too dark to see just in case anything new showed up in our own yard.

The habitats we visited included urban and rural areas around northwestern Pima County (Tucson, AZ): dry and wet washes, the lower foothills of a mountain park, an urban lake, and wetlands created from treated wastewater. While the quail seed block and suet feeder in our yard attracts birds, there were no species in our yard not present in other locations.

After spotting a pack of 4-5 coyotes trying to catch something in a big bush at our very first stop, we hoped it would also be a good mammal day. In the past few outings, we'd seen a raccoon stalking coots at the wetlands, a bobcat at the same wetlands carrying a dead cotton rat, and another bobcat unsuccessfully pouncing on something in the mountain park. We've seen deer and javelina on occasion both near our home and in the mountain park. But, alas, we struck out on any other mammals yesterday. Blame it on the crappy weather!

Without further ado, here is our 2015 Christmas Day bird list in taxonomic order:

Snow Goose (dark morph)*
American Wigeon
Northern Shoveler
Green-winged Teal
Ruddy Duck
Gambel’s Quail
Pied-billed Grebe
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant (immature)
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Cooper’s Hawk
Harris’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Sora (heard only)
Common Gallinule
American Coot
Sandpiper Sp.
Rock Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Great Horned Owl (heard only)
Costa’s Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Gila Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
American Kestrel
Gray Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Common Raven
Bridled Titmouse
Marsh Wren
Bewick’s Wren
Cactus Wren
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
Curve-billed Thrasher
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Green-tailed Towhee
Abert’s Towhee
Rufous-winged Sparrow
Black-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow

*Edited to add dark morph Snow Goose which we didn't originally write in our notes.