Big green egg!

The biggest news for this week is the arrival of our Big Green Egg. This is a special type of charcoal grill, called a kamado grill, made of ceramic. We needed to buy a grill anyway. We had a gas grill in Austin, but I was accustomed to a charcoal grill and could never get comfortable with the gas, so I quit grilling. When I was talking grills with my niece’s husband, he got all excited about the Big Green Egg and kamado grills, something I had never heard of before. They are a cross between a regular charcoal grill and a traditional ceramic oven, and you can use them for grilling, smoking, and baking. The reason I bought one is, I can learn to make tandoori chicken and naan. Although kamado grills are expensive, tandoori ovens are much more so.

Here is our big green egg on our deck.

As I said, the egg was expensive, but we heard about demo eggs, which you could buy after they were used for one day at an EggFest.  They were priced about 20% less. The egg isn’t any less, but they throw in a bunch of free accessories, ones that you definitely need, and some charcoal. We decided to buy one. Originally, we were supposed to pick it up after the EggFest on Saturday. We had planned to go early and watch people using the grill and eat some of the food, but as the day approached, the weather forecast dismayed us, as it was supposed to be very hot, near 100, and the EggFest was in Portland. Frankly, we weren’t looking forward to either the drive or the heat. Also, I was concerned because of reports that the egg doesn’t cool down very quickly. The EggFest was scheduled to end at 4 and we were directed to pick it up starting at 5. I was wondering how that would work out, with the grill just having been used.

I was talking to my husband about this on Saturday morning, and he remembered that the hardware store guy had called on Wednesday, when I was at art class, to tell me that we were supposed to pick the egg up at the store. No more details were forthcoming, because he had forgotten them. In fact, I’m lucky that he remembered at all and that we didn’t end up at the event to pick up an egg that wouldn’t be ready. When I called the store, they told me they had decided not to break down the event until Sunday. They said I should call the store Monday morning to make sure the grills were there before coming out to pick it up.

So, I did, and after some confusion about our last name, we went to get our grill. Now, if anyone else is interested in buying such a grill and wants the discount, I will caution you. Whether you think this is a good deal depends on how fastidious you are. We actually got a free Conveggtor (used for indirect cooking, for example for naan or pizza, and for many of the recipes in their cookbook) with our grill, which was not supposed to be included, because it was used with our egg at the event. So we actually got the whole package for about 30% off.

However, the grill was filthy. They didn’t clean it at all. In fact, the store people had to rake out the ashes onto the pavement in front of the store before putting the egg in our car. I spent several hours cleaning the grill once we got it home, and I didn’t get everything off it. If you can imagine, it was used all day and never cleaned in between cooking. I am supposed to be able to clean it thoroughly by lighting a fire in it. I haven’t done that yet, but I will have to in order to use the Conveggtor, because it is horrible. Trust me, the pictures of the nice clean egg from their cookbook is not what I’m looking at, even now.

Yum, asparagus and pork chops. The chops were just a tad overcooked, but I will know better next time.

I used it last night for the first time. I was a little worried about using it, because I hadn’t grilled for a long time, and when I did, everything was by guess. I had no notion of keeping the grill at a particular temperature, which is the whole deal with the kamado-type grill. However, with a little fiddling, I was able to figure out how to control the temperature fairly easily, although keeping it steady is another thing. When you open the grill to do anything, the temperature goes way down, and if you overcompensate, it goes way up. However reviews that said it took a long time to cool an egg if you overshoot your temperature proved to be incorrect. You can easily make the temperature go back down by adjusting the vents. And here it is: my first meal made with our Big Green Egg. Nothing fancy. I thought I’d start out with something easy.

For those who are still stuck back in the saga of the slope, our young lawn guy came back with his uncle’s brush cutter and cut it. It is not a beautiful job, but it is done for the time being. We will have to get someone out here again in about a month. I’m thinking lawn service, since this guy was moving out of state next month.

And what have we been doing this week besides catching up on the laundry? (A slight mishap there. Our contractor was in too big a hurry hooking up our washer, and when I went in the next day, we had a puddle on our laundry room floor. We had to move everything out ourselves, suck up the water with my steam mop, and move it back. But no big deal and the linoleum floor still looks great.) Firewood is the answer.

A young neighbor came over two weeks ago and asked if we needed to buy firewood. Up here everyone gets it early, to make sure that it is good and dry for the next winter. I don’t know if I said that we got ripped off this winter. Installing a wood-burning stove was one of the first things we did with the house, and we had to look around for firewood. It seemed to be all sold out right when we needed it. Despite a warning on Craig’s List about someone selling wet wood for dry and my efforts to avoid this by checking the phone number, we did indeed get ripped off. Our wood was supposed to be dry and it was wet and of very poor quality. We had to use supermarket wood all winter to get it started. The fire starters alone wouldn’t do it.

Here’s how much firewood we stacked so far. I did most of the stacking while my husband fooled around with the mower.

Anyway, we had been looking around for wood, but our contacts hadn’t come through. I think people were just forgetting we had asked them about it. So, when Scott came over and asked me, I told him, yes, we did need firewood. This kid looks about 14, but the Apostolic kids around here learn to work hard at a very young age. I intend to write a post about some of the more interesting characteristics of the area, and I’ll be writing about the Apostolics in that post. We made a deal, and that boy went out and cut all the wood himself and brought it here with his mom and his younger brother. He delivered it a week later than he said, but he kept us posted all the time. And it is clearly good wood, dry and nice looking.

Here’s how much we have left to do. Yikes!

So, we’ve been stacking firewood. A few months ago, we helped our niece and her husband do theirs, and with five of us in a line, we managed to stack a couple of cords in a couple of hours. But the two of us geezers are taking a lot longer about it, and we don’t have a good place to stack the wood. We have just been putting them in the side parking lot on two two-by-fours, but we’re missing the pieces to hold the wood at the ends. I just ordered two racks for us, although it would be cheaper if we just built something out of wood. But I’m not waiting for my husband on this one. We need to get the wood off the ground. Anyway, you can see by my two pictures we haven’t made a lot of progress. The picture of stacked wood is after about three hours of work. Oh, my back! (When I helped at my niece’s house, I strategically picked a position in the line where I didn’t have to bend over. But that option isn’t open to me now.)

 

 

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

You can’t always see those mountains through the trees.

It’s a gorgeous day today! Yesterday, the high was 51, and it rained almost all day. We had a fire in our wood stove. Today, the high is supposed to be 81. I had an early morning appointment, and the air was fresh, the skies sunny. Now, I’ve had to remove my sweatshirt for the first time since October and won’t be wearing two shirts today for the first time since November (when I figured out what was needed to keep from having to crawl in bed every day to get warm). Here is a picture of our deck this morning. If you look carefully past the trees, you can see mountains.

For those of you who can’t wait to hear the latest renovation news, we haven’t done anything this week, but my marmoleum samples finally arrived. I picked a deep but bright blue called adriatica that only has a few speckles, light and dark (I could have used more speckles, but this was the best color) and looks lovely with our grayish green-blue walls. It will be very dramatic. On Tuesday, I heard from our contractor, who has been on vacation. He said he had found a vendor of marmoleum who has installers, and he is just waiting for pricing information. Yippee!

On the down side, we developed a leak under our kitchen sink last week. Every once in a while we would find a small puddle of water on the floor in front of the sink, and then open the cabinet door to find a puddle inside. Of course, my husband did nothing about this immediately, because that is not his way. I put a towel under the cabinet door to avoid wrecking the hardwoods any more than they are already wrecked (most lately by his dog having an accident and then him not cleaning it up right away—I wasn’t around). Then my husband ground up my pestle in the garbage disposal. I had only used it once. It was in the sink, and he must have taken out the drain plug without putting the drainer in immediately. The pestle fell down into the garbage disposal at some point and then he turned it on. I know I didn’t do it, because I always have either the plug or the drainer in the sink to avoid extra garbage going down, because we compost most of our garbage. We only use the disposal when the sink gets clogged up with the particles that we haven’t captured in the drainer. This saves our septic field from filling up too quickly.

So, the pestle, which was made of porcelain, broke, and bits of it got into the disposal and broke it. Then the drain got plugged so that we couldn’t use the sink. I finally got on the phone and started to try to find plumbers, but it wasn’t easy, because they are all busy putting plumbing into the new houses that are going up in the area, from people moving out of Portland because it is too expensive to live in. My contractor told me I could call his plumber, but my husband finally went out to buy parts and fixed it himself. In Austin we went without a garbage disposal for years, during which he wouldn’t let me call a plumber (he was always going to fix it sometime), so this is an improvement.

We started back at our unpacking last week, because we finally got tired of waiting for our contractors to come back and clean up their junk in the basement. My husband spent a day tidying up the basement, and then we started hauling our bookcases out of the storage room. They can’t make the corner from the storage room to the big room downstairs, so we have to wheel them straight across the hall, through the guest room, out the sliding glass door, down to the other sliding glass door, across the wooden walkway for the sauna, and in the door to the big room. You can see why we wanted to wait for a day when it wasn’t raining. Then we had to clean them up and put them into position. We got all of a set of 10 cherry library shelves (with a crossbar and a ladder) out of the storage room. Unfortunately, they cannot occupy one wall like they did in Austin, nor can they have their top shelves added on. But we set up half of them on one wall, and will be setting up the other half on the other wall. We still have three black bookshelves to move out, and then the bookshelves will be done, and I can start unpacking the books.

Also in the shelving category are our DVD/CD shelves. My husband moved them up from the basement last week and attached them to the walls in my office. Then I unpacked all the DVDs and put them away (alphabetically, of course) and the CDs that were on the shelves before. We have hundreds more CDs, though, that used to be in a 300-CD jukebox that broke. We will have to figure out what to do with them. So much for jukeboxes. That one held up only a paltry 15 years. I still have the 5-CD player that my brother sent me for my birthday 20 years ago, and it works perfectly well. I also have my record player. Yes, I do, and my record albums, which I understand are becoming chic these days. We’ll have to figure out a place for those, too. I do play them sometimes.

Hillary watching birds

It took me a while to figure out what my cat was doing every morning, but I finally did. She stands just outside the bedroom drapes, which are closed in early morning, and watches the birds in the feeders. If it’s a cold morning, she sits directly on top of the heating vent you can see there in the floor. We put a feeder out months ago, but it is only in the past three weeks or so that we’ve seen any usage made of it. I thought it was too close to the house, since we hung it directly under the eaves outside our bedroom window, but that doesn’t bother the chickadees, and they love the suet that is next to the feeder. If I want to get other birds, I’ll have to hang another feeder farther from the house. Sometimes a few small gray birds are on the deck eating the seeds that the chickadees dropped. I think they are bush tits. We had tufted titmice in Austin that hung out with the chickadees, but here I have only seen these little gray birds. The chickadees here, by the way, are lots bigger than the ones that we had in Austin.

If you are waiting with bated breath to hear about my art class, I finished my flower last week, but I forgot to take a picture of it, as requested by Naomi. My flower is okay, but I think my sister’s is much more striking (although our instructor has labeled us the one who doesn’t follow instructions [my sister] and the one who does [me]). I think this is because my sister traced the outlines of her flower petals when the instructor told her not to. I will try to remember to take a picture of my flower today.

Now the instructor has us doing another exercise. The first one was interesting, but now that we have done real pictures, the exercises are boring. This one is drawing everyday objects from the basic shapes. That is, ice cream cones from cones and spheres, etc. I think the school is wise to alternate exercises with opportunities to draw pictures.

Adventures with the health care system

Far be it from me to have anything negative to say about Obamacare. I believe that it is a great thing that everyone in the country now has access to medical care, at least theoretically. But it has had some impacts to us we didn’t expect. I’ll be getting to that in a bit.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we have already had some adventures with the medical system. My husband got bit by one of our cats when he was trying to capture it in Austin, and he visited an emergency room in Fort Stockton on the way out and ended up in the hospital for three days when we got here because of infection from the bite. It turns out that cat bites are somewhat toxic.

But another problem was his Medicare. He has been retired for almost 11 years, and during that time, I insured him through my work. He had to apply for Medicare Part A, but our insurance did not require him to apply for Part B, so he didn’t. But my insurance that I get as part of my retirement requires both of us to be on Part B. I applied for social security online and Medicare Parts A and B at the same time, and my cards came through in a miraculous three weeks. But Wayne had to apply on paper, because he had to get a form completed by my workplace showing that he had been insured by them up until now and his insurance was ending. There was a delay getting this paper signed, because I had to have submitted my resignation and my resignation had to have been accepted by my management before they would complete it, and there was some fiddling with dates for a while because of various factors at work.

Before he left Austin, though, my husband dropped off his Part B application at the social security office. Then to be sure they got it, he also mailed it to Baltimore (or wherever). His mistake was in not getting the form he dropped off date stamped, because apparently both went astray.

I may have mentioned that about a month after we arrived, I found out that my husband had practically shut down from an inability to deal with some outstanding issues. One was that he was late filing for our extended income tax (which he gets an extension for every year for some reason I do not understand, maybe just because he’s a procrastinator), and the other was the Medicare issue. So, that day, we went to the social security office in Vancouver. We spent two hours there, one waiting and one getting things done. I have to say that the guy who helped us was nice, apologetic, and effective, because by the next day, Wayne’s Medicare was showing up with our insurance agents.

Because, of course, our insurance turned him down for not having the Medicare. He had talked to them once and they had given him until January 1 to get it straightened out, but we did not know that we should have also discussed this with our retirement agency, because they cancelled his insurance.

So, knowing it would be useless to expect my husband to take care of this, I spent another two hours on the phone with my retirement agency and our insurance. Everyone was responsive and helpful except, I regret to say, the woman at the retirement agency, who was the only person to get chippy with me. She basically said there was nothing to be done until January. So, I got chippy with her, telling her she was behaving as if this was our fault, that this wasn’t our fault, it was the Federal government’s. And what do you know? There was something to be done. By the time I got off the phone, my husband had insurance.

But the fun part hadn’t started yet. It was time to find a medical provider. Here’s where Obamacare comes in. It turns out that this area has been flooded by people wanting to find doctors who had for years been using the emergency room for their medical care. In addition, very few places took our insurance. I spent a whole afternoon calling clinics to find someone who would take our insurance, Medicare, and new patients. The best I could do was to get an appointment to get an appointment at a place with a two-month waiting list. They took our information and said someone would call me in 7 to 10 days to let me know when we might be able to get in. (I was not sure if I would actually get an appointment then or not.)

I still hadn’t heard from them yesterday, and it seemed that 7-10 days had passed, although I stupidly didn’t write down the date that I signed up with them. I called them yesterday, and it turns out that my first call to them was two weeks ago, so they were overdue. But the person I talked to this time was far less helpful than the first person and just told me she would tell “her” that I called but didn’t know when she would get back to me. I will wait a couple of days and try again, because once we really get into the holidays, things could be delayed by several weeks. So, we may not have a doctor until, say, February.

It also turns out that the number was listed as being in Battle Ground (the nearest town) but that office had closed, so we were going to have to go to Vancouver, and not close by in Vancouver, either. And, our insurance is changing again in January. This clinic will take our new insurance, but I wonder if it would be worthwhile to go back and call clinics again to see if they take the other insurance.

Ah, the fun just gets to be more and more. Tomorrow, I will have to call my doctor in Austin to get my prescriptions extended until we have a new doctor.

On the weather front, more snow all weekend, although it is melted today. Unfortunately, at least at this time, it doesn’t look like we’ll have a white Christmas.

An introduction to the winter weather

Snow on the first day
Snow on the first day

We’ve had a lively week, as far as the weather is concerned. As you know, we moved away from Texas partially because it was too hot for us. Well, we have come to the right place.

We were being lazy last Sunday, just watching TV, when it began to snow a little. We were thrilled. We got a light dusting of snow and then it stopped.

On Monday we got well over an inch. It’s difficult to know what the weather will be here because our weather forecasts all come from the valley in Portland, Oregon. There they were forecasting snow on Monday and again on Thursday, with slippery roads on Friday morning. But they said it would all be melted by Friday afternoon. They were wrong, as you know if you watched the national weather on Friday. But we are up 1000 feet, so our weather is quite a bit different. As my niece said, “If it snows in Portland, we are snowed in here.” I have to take that with a grain of salt, because my niece grew up in California, whereas we are both originally from Michigan, where the state would be shut down all winter if we stayed home for a little snow. On Monday she told me she was planning on staying home all week.

On Tuesday our carpet layers came, and they started out making a fuss about the weather. Down in the valley there was no snow, so they were surprised to find us covered with it and our drive quite messy. They objected to driving down our lower drive to the daylight basement. They said we had nowhere to cut the carpet, which they had brought in a big roll. Finally, I got shirty with them and told them we had been waiting for weeks to get the rooms downstairs carpeted, and that there had been no snow on Friday when they were originally scheduled to come. I showed them the huge room crammed full of stuff that we were not unpacking until the carpet was down. They said they’d go in to the warehouse to cut the carpet.

They did a great job, but there is one more delay. They said we need baseboards over the carpet. We hadn’t even noticed there were none. So, we have to get that done before we move in all the bookcases and create a library downstairs. (We have so many windows upstairs that there is no room for bookcases.)

On Wednesday, we drove down to the valley to run errands. The roads were a little slick in the morning, but the day turned out to be beautiful and sunny, which made the snow look bright and cheerful when we got back home. There was no snow in the valley or even within a couple miles of our neighborhood.

Thursday it snowed all day. We stayed home. I would imagine we ended up with a couple of inches or more of snow.

Friday was the day it was supposed to melt. It is Saturday, and the snow is still here. In Portland it was a mess. Here, it was slick, and we stayed home again, unpacking boxes and cleaning.

Today was our day to go out for breakfast with my niece and her family and then go to the U Cut for our Christmas trees. We were debating whether to take separate cars or let my niece’s husband drive us in his car, which has studded snow tires. We don’t actually have any snow tires yet, although our car has all-wheel drive. We opted for driving with them, and it was a good thing we did, because when we went outside, we found that a tree was down across our driveway. Our power also went out around 9:30 AM.

My niece and her family picked us up and we went out to eat and then had a great time tromping around in the snow looking at Christmas trees. Because we have a 20-foot ceiling, we got one that was several feet taller than we usually do, although I didn’t want it to be too tall, because I don’t want to climb a ladder more than a step or two. My guess is we got a 12-foot tree. I don’t usually talk about money, but this tree cost us $25. It was a noble fir, and in Texas it would have cost about $150. Maybe more, because we used to spend more than $100 for a 7-8 footer. We had high ceilings in Texas, too, but didn’t want to spend that kind of money to get a taller tree.

It started to rain while we were eating breakfast, and by the time we got the tree, large pieces of ice were falling off the trees. We went home, unloaded the trees, and then my niece’s husband brought back his chain saw, and the four of us spent a delightful couple of hours dragging wood off the driveway and out of the road.

We still don’t have the tree up, as it is too big for us to handle by ourselves. Our niece and family went home to put up their tree, and they will be back tomorrow to help put ours up. The power came back on around 3 PM. That was the second power outage of note since we got here. We spent the afternoon playing dominoes.

The snow did not melt, so I expect that it will freeze tonight again, and those who have to drive tomorrow up here in the hills will have an exciting trip.

Oregon > Washington

We left the small town in Oregon where we stayed overnight very early on the 17th. It was drizzling, but after a few hours it cleared up and became a beautiful autumn day as we drove along the Columbia River Gorge.

I drove the truck in the morning, but later we split up so that my husband’s brother could be sure to make his flight out of Portland. He had cut it so close that we didn’t even have time to go see our place first.

My husband and I met up in the small city about 10 miles from our new home and drove to the house together. But as soon as we arrived, I advised him to go to a clinic, as his hand was looking bad. We had just enough time to greet my sister, who drove up just as we were leaving.

Well, our bad luck held, because the first thing we did upon arriving at our new home was get sent to the emergency room. With the tempting offer of a dinner of salmon stew waiting, instead we got to sit for several hours waiting to be called.

Finally, my husband was admitted to the hospital so that he could be treated with intravenous antibiotics. I got to drive to my niece’s house in the pouring rain.

 

How this all got started

I have lived in Texas for more than 30 years. I am from Michigan, and Texas’s climate is not my favorite. When I first moved here, I thought I would stay here five years, tops. To make matters worse, it has gotten significantly hotter in Texas since I originally moved here.

I always thought I’d retire farther north, but when my husband (also from Michigan) and I got married, he stated a preference never to have to shovel snow again. So, we bought retirement property in the Davis Mountains in far west Texas. But as each summer got hotter and hotter, I started to wonder whether it was a good idea to retire in a desert.

Family
My family at the reunion

Coincidentally, some of both of our families now live in the Pacific Northwest. Since most of my family is somewhere on the West Coast, we started having family reunions in Washington. My niece has a home in the countryside of Southern Washington, about an hour from Portland, OR.

Four years ago, we went to the first reunion. My husband and I got up early on the first day and started wandering in the large garden my niece has planted. Chickens were clucking to our left, and a bee hive was humming to our right. There were two aisles of ripe raspberries. The property is lush, a green lawn surrounded by forests, with blackberries and blueberries growing along the edges. I looked around at the thriving veggies and ate a few raspberries and said to my husband, “This is like paradise.”

Then my niece’s husband mentioned that a short distance away was a house for sale. Well, we ended up buying it, and we have been renting it out for four years. Now, if we can only get going, I am almost ready to retire. I can retire in October, and we can leave any time after we sell our house in Texas. But the catch is, I can’t retire until we sell the house.

I can’t stand it anymore

This is the post excerpt.

I have thought about writing this blog for the past few weeks but was worried what my husband would think. But right now I don’t think I care.

After trying to sort through (mostly his) junk and get our house cleaned up just enough to talk to a realtor, I finally hired some guys to come out to the house and haul everything out of the top floor. We have an open plan upstairs, which used to be my guest room and office. I haven’t set foot up there for seven years because my husband had made it such a mess. This is what it looked like when I finally decided to call in reinforcements. The only thing in that picture that is mine is the gray bookshelf (not the books) and the dresser with the mirror on it so mistreated in the back.

upstairsMind you, this is after we’ve been working on it for a solid month.

So, today THE GUYS were supposed to come out while I was at work. All my husband had to do was tell them which things were to go into our shipping container, which things back up in the closet (things that can’t be out in the heat), and which things go to Goodwill.

I wasn’t making him throw away anything he wanted to keep. If he wanted it, they were supposed to pack it up and put it in the shipping container.

When I got home that evening, expecting to see a huge pile of stuff in front waiting to be picked up, there were four things there. I walked into the house to be faced with piles and piles of things in the living room. And guess what the upstairs rooms looked like. Almost exactly what they looked like before.

I have no idea what to do next.