July 27, 2011

The IPad as a Social Magnet…

We finally broke down and bought an iPad about a month ago. Our old computer is so very slow and with the podcasts I’m recording and editing weekly and trying to write a couple of blogs several times a week, I was always on it and Mrsfabp was left out in the digital cold. I looked at new laptops but then decided that the iPad offered us more, especially in light of the fact that I wanted to learn the Apple system and eventually get an Apple Mac Book or similar new computer when the time to replace the old dinosaur comes (that’s my old computer, not me…).

It took a while to get used to but overall has been a wonderful addition and made things on our recent trip much easier. There are easy to use Apps for Gmail and Twitter and Facebook and Google reader and lots of games to play and Mrsfabp’s favorite, a Netflix app that let her watch movies and TV shows wherever a wireless network could be found. There was however a bit of a serendipitous effect to the iPad. It was a real, genuine social magnet.

Back a number of years ago I was reading a car review by a writer for a car magazine about the newly redesigned VW Bug. He opened up the article by saying that the thing he was most unprepared for was the public’s reaction to the car he was test driving and reviewing. He said everyone asked him about it. He had never experienced the “buzz” that this car was generating in all of his years of reviewing cars. People constantly talked to him about it wherever he went with it. What was it like, did he enjoy driving it. He then said he felt like he was in a fishbowl at times with all the stares and mouth open gapes and said everyone who talked to him said they wanted to try one. Well our experience with the iPad is very, very similar, if not exactly the same.

Everyone who sees it asks about it. What’s it like, easy to use, heavy or light, do we like it. On several occasions we were surrounded by a small crowd of people looking at it. The most memorable was at a breakfast place in the city. Our waitress noticed it and made several comments ending with “I wonder if I should get one.” Within minutes there was a small group of people including a couple of managers and a busboy and sweeper asking about it. “What kind of things can you do with it? Is it easy to use? How do you move around the menu?” Everyone is fascinated by it. And everyone who talks with us ended up saying something like “I think I want to get one”

This thing could be better for the dating world than a new puppy. I’m not sure Steve Jobs and Apple knew what they had here. Or maybe they did…

July 26, 2011

Chronicles of Las Cruces: The Summer 2011 Visit or How did I get to this place

How did I get here?

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautifulwife
And you may ask yourself-Well...How did I get here?

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.

Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...Same as it ever was...

And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?...Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/in the silent water
Under the rocks and stones/there is water underground.

David Byrne, Talking Heads

After almost a year of planning, our second trip to the paradise we call Las Cruces, NM is in the books. I thought I would take a few minutes to begin to tell you a bit about it.

We first visited Las Cruces in February 2010. After months of research on the area, making a connection with a blogger there as well as checking out the city–data boards on the area, we went for a ten day visit. We became friends with a wonderful couple – Claire and Bill, met several nice people, looked at the area overall, checked out housing with a couple of different realtors and generally enjoyed our time there. We knew we needed to go back and so just this past week, returned from a two week stay there. We had several goals to shoot for and basically accomplished almost everything we set out to. There was a bump in the road (I ended up in the hospital for a few days, more on that in a later post) but overall the trip was an A++ in our book. So, what did we accomplish? A summary follows.

Reconnected with some friends, made some new friends:
A move like this is going to require a lot of support. To move away from friends and family is difficult and so we knew from the get go that we needed to establish and cultivate a social network. We were able to do so by starting a friendship with Claire and Bill. They were like family from the first time we met. Despite the fact that they took us out to the desert our first night there, on a somewhat isolated and empty dirt road, telling us stories of axe murderers and people disappearing in the caves of the desert, we knew that we had found some special people. They in turn had introduced us to some of their friends and family and very quickly, we are accepted into the group and became part of that circle. Relationships like this, long distance ones, are difficult to maintain but we worked at it, writing and phoning to maintain the contact. On our return, we frequently touched base with Las Cruces and our friends were ever so helpful in scouting out potential homes and condos and keeping us informed about what was going on out there. During this last visit we had several socials with the “gang”, including several visits to a cafĂ© with great desserts, breakfast at the best place in Las Cruces a number of times, a trip up to Hatch for one of the best chile cheeseburgers in the state and tours of some of the neighborhoods and a local state park. Social connections like this are GOLD.

Checked out some neighborhoods we would like to live in, and NOT live in:
During our first visit, we got the lay of the land so to speak, kind of figuring out where things were in relationship to each other. We had seen lots of nice neighborhoods, saw several types of houses, new, relatively new and older ones and just got a general feeling of our place. Since then we have scoured the internet looking at realtor ads and postings form Las Cruces at a variety of homes. We had hoped that this second trip would help us narrow down the selection and overall it did, another positive note. What did we learn? Well, we had considered several options to live in the city but after exploring the various neighborhoods felt there were two deal breaker issues. First off, the homes there are older and require more upkeep and attention. We do not want to have to deal with this at all. Second many of the neighborhoods in the city themselves are a mixture of nice homes and nice ones, landscaped front yards and cars on the lawn front yards, pretty rocks and cactus landscaping and dirt. It seemed like a crap shoot. We looked at several homes we liked in pictures but ended up next to house with furniture and car parts on the front lawn. We decided we wanted more.

We also had been looking to the north east part of the city, the East Mesa. This is where the developers found cheap land, bought it up and went on a building spree before the market collapsed. This area is marked by little subdivisions of similar housing done by different builders. The areas are a few square blocks in size and there are plenty of homes available there. They go by names that reflect their street names – The Gems (diamond, ruby, sapphire) The Pines (Virginia Pine, Stone Pine, Rock Pine) and the Planets (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and NO I DON’T THINK I COULD LIVE ON URANUS AVENUE AND YES THERE WERE HOUSES FOR SALE THERE…)

We like it there because the homes were newer, the neighborhoods better kept, there are services being built out there now and you could hop on a main highway and be in the center of town in just a few minutes. We figured we could live anywhere out there but discovered that at some point, we just got to far away from the city and so we figured to stay closer in this East Mesa area. We actually saw three homes in the Pines, one of which was too small but two others we would put a bid on in a minute with nice mountain views, covered patios for morning coffee and evening grilling and large back yards with no upkeep due to Xeroscape (my back yard is 5000 pounds of rocks).

Figure out IF we could deal with the heat in the desert:
Whenever we mention relocating to NM, often the first comment (after "is that part of our country?") is about the heat of the desert. This is often followed by a comment about it being a dry heat. Well, having now done it, I am happy to report we did just fine and can handle it. A bit of an explanation is in order.

The east coast is just leaving the grips of a massive heat wave that created considerable difficulties for the population at large and the electric companies. While this was going on, we were n Las Cruces. A comparison: Average temperature in the northeast 94 – 101 degrees. Average temperatures in Las Cruces 93 – 99 degrees. Average humidity in the northeast – 70% or more. Average humidity in Las Cruces – 21%.

When we returned to the east, the first thing we noticed was how oppressive it was here. We were in A/C in the house and could not even go into non-air conditioned rooms. It was not oppressive in New Mexico at all. In the hottest part of the day, you did not want to be in the sun. You could not touch the fender of your car at 2 pm in the afternoon BUT a little bit of shade made it comfortable as did a gentile warm breeze present almost every day. It is dry, you must drink lots of water and if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrating but it was very doable.

We had this figured out by the second full day there. No humidity is one of the nicest phrases I have ever heard. We sat outside in the shade several afternoons and we none the worse for wear. On other thing is that you don’t feel like you sweat. You do but it dries very quickly. Even when you get into your hot car until the A/C can take over, the back of your shirt does not feel wet. I am a notorious sweater and rarely wiped my brow the entire two weeks nor ever had to dry out my hat. One final note. The day we arrived in Las Cruces we opened our suitcase and found our clothing felt damp from the New England humidity. We hung it on hangers and by the next day, they were feeling dry as a bone.

Got all excited about the adventure, all over again:
After our last trip to NM we were on a high that lasted several weeks, excited about what we experienced and how we envisioned where we wanted to go. Of course after a while, this dies down a bit when things like work and bill paying and other mundane household tasks get in the way. For us, this was compounded by putting our hose on the market and dealing with all the stresses that that brings with it and so this trip served as an energizer- again showing us what we had going on for us in Las Cruces – the friends, the adventure, the life. It was great to be reminded of all that this place has to offer and I think we came back appreciating it even more.

This is how we ended up in this place, in another world, with dreams of a beautiful house, with all the worries and concerns and dreams ahead of us…

July 24, 2011

And I will fly no more…

We just got back from our trip to Las Cruces last week and it has taken me this long to get some coherent ideas together regarding the actual trip. I will write soon about the grat time we had out there but this post is about the actual trip there and back.

Flying used to be a magical experience, full of wonder and thrills and providing one of those experiences that you talked about for a lifetime. My first ever airplane trip was a tour of Manhattan, thanks to TWA airlines, which used to offer these free one hour trips out of LaGuardia airport to selected summer camps and school programs. I went on one Sunday afternoon when I was about 10 years old and was enthralled. I have flown to California a couple of times, Virgin Islands, Texas and Oklahoma to visit friends, all before 2001 when flying was changed dramatically. No longer the thrill, now the nightmare. In the last 20 months we have flown to Las Cruces twice and each trip has been more of a hassle and more an invasion of my own personal space and privacy.

Our trip down this time left from Hartford very early on a Sunday morning. Overall the security experience was not bad but because I set off the bells and whistles in the scanner I walked through because of the metal prosthesis I have, I was subject to a pat down. This massage was much more thorough than the one I had experienced last February but by stories I have read, was not too bad. Yes, the TSA agent touched every part of my body including the genitals with the back of his hand but he was gentile, explained each thing he was about to do and did so quickly and quietly. However I was still embarrassed and uncomfortable and even if I opted for a booth to have him do this, would have felt the same. It took a few minutes, was over and done with and I was able to proceed to the plane without further issue.

The return trip out of Chicago was a nightmare that I still am thinking about. The whole day was a nightmare of epic proportions. We left El Paso Texas at noon figuring to get to Hartford about 8 pm. We had a bit of time till we left so we went to gert a bite to eat when Mrsfabp realized we were on a much later flight out of Chicago, one that did not leave there till 10 pm. After some phone calls we found out our original flight had been cancelled but no one informed us of this fact. Thus we had a long layover there. This bad news was immediately followed by our trip thru El Paso security. Because of my previous experience, I opted for the full body scan, given the choice. I informed the technician of the prosthesis and stood with my arms raised in the scanner. What happened next left me totally out of sorts. I was originally informed that opting for the scan was in lieu of the pat down which is why I chose that course but after leaving the scanner I was told I would be pat down too. They took the wheelchair I was in to check it. They took my cane to check it. They took my belt to check it. I had to stand, unsteadily, with loose pants, while undergoing a complete pat down, the most vigorous I have ever had. Every area checked twice. EVERY AREA. It was rough and I was uncomfortable from the start and it seemed like it lasted 10 minutes. I was surrounded by 3 different TSA officials most of the time. I was not expecting it as I was scanned and no one told me why it happened. I felt violated and vowed at that point to think about some other options.

When we arrived at Chicago we ate and wandered the terminal for a while where it was evident something was up. Flights were being delayed left and right. Gates were changed, arrivals were late and the general ambience of the masses was aggravated. No one told us anything. We got our first hint when after boarding the plane, the pilot stated that it was a 90 minute flight after we took off and we would be trying to avoid a “little weather” in the northeast. We waited 30 minutes to take off and flew for about 45 minutes until we saw what a “little weather” was. It began as lightening flashes off in the distance that rapidly got closer. The ride, already bumpy, became a roller coaster ride. The pilot was trying to get around the edge of the storm and we were buffeted repeatedly, dropping, swerving and generally scaring all of us. A woman in front of the plane was crying. A couple people in the back were sobbing. I was scared, maybe more than I have ever been in my life and to be honest felt sometimes as if we were not going to make it. It lasted about 20 minutes, the longest 20 minutes I have experienced and was seemingly over as quickly as it started. This essentially sealed the deal for me. What fun is it to fly if all they do is embarrass you and grope you and then scare you half to death. No, there must be an alternative.

First chance I had, I looked up Amtrak on the internet. There are trains scheduled out of Boston or Springfield or Albany that get us to Albuquerque, NM in 48 hours, through Chicago. The cost is 20% less than the air fare. There is no TSA on the rail lines. Now trains, that seems like a relaxing, romantic way to travel, for sure…

July 22, 2011

MASS Exodus Update July 2011 or How our property became a toxic waste dump…

(How I'm feeling right about now...)

Move over Love Canal, hey, look over here Exxon Valdez…The property at Cider Mill Road is now officially registered as a toxic waste dump with the EPA. Yes folks, we are in for a bumpy ride…

First up, a primer about who is who, the main characters in this passion play. Bob, the oil company man, Mike, the independent insurance investigator, Bill, the Licensed Site Professional (LSP), the Men from Peak Environmental, and the disembodied voice of the EPA from the Worcester Regional office of the EPA. Lisa is our realtor.

What a mess.

Since we began the process of selling our house, our realtor has been gently pushing for improvements to make it more sellable, a worthy goal. Besides minor stuff like painting and having some mulch spread outside, we completely remodeled a bathroom (special thanks to CollegeBoy, MissNicole, MillieJupiter and Mrsfabp for the efforts), got an estimate on roof work, septic repair (that is another story for another day) and then it came to our underground fuel tank. In this era of banks being very tight with mortgage money, Lisa felt that removing the old underground tank and putting a new one in the basement would be a major upgrade to help us sell. Getting the new tank in was easy, a one day job by Bob. He was also going to act as coordinator for the removal of the old tank. We hired the guys from Peak Environmental and they began work. Tank came out without problem, supply line, the same but then the vent line was found ruptured and discovered to have spilled oil into the soil. ALL WORK STOPPED and a LSP was called in to test. The results were twice what is allowed by government EPA standards and so the EPA was notified of a toxic spill. I got the call from the Worcester office telling us what needs to be done and since then we have been doing the insurance company dance to see how this will be paid for.

What a mess.

So, what does all this mean? It means a clean up effort of unknown length, with several different individuals and agencies involved in the actual work, reporting process and oversight. Cost? Well, depending on the insurance claim, anywhere from 200 bucks to 1.6 million dollars (only my guesstimate…) Plus, it’s another bunch of days of worry and anxiety that I won’t get back.

What a mess.

July 21, 2011

To begin with, an apology…

For those who check this sort of thing, the last “Dropping” I left was back on June 9th. That is some 42 days or 6 weeks ago. I’m not happy with this at all. It’s not like there has been nothing going on during this time. No, the crazy, whirlwind thing I call my life has been careening along just fine. There is lots to report and lots to talk about so I promise that over the next few days, maybe weeks, I will update and talk about several things including an update about our house, our trip to Las Cruces, some medical issues, a commentary about flying and the TSA, and maybe a funny story or two.

First up, a MASS Exodus update for July, 2011…