Friday, September 29, 2006

Is it the nickel? Or the dime?

On Monday my commute-to-work car worked just fine going to work in the morning. But when I jumped in it to come home, it seemed to take a long time to produce any cool air-conditioned air.

In fact, I was several miles down the road before I realized it wasn’t going to produce ANY cool air.

I called Carol from my cell phone and asked her to meet me at an auto air conditioning repair place. She did, and I left it with them to look at on Tuesday.

I figured probably a new (or rebuilt) compressor. At least $500-600. I told Carol that I wondered if the car was going to start “nickel and dime-ing us to death.” After all, it’s 9 years old and has 165,000 miles on it. And it’s just a little Mazda Protégé with a 4-cylider engine and a 5-speed manual transmission.

I was amazed the next day when the shop told me the problem was a $15 electrical relay! Of course, it cost $45 labor to replace that little relay, but still! Only $61.45, and now it’s putting out cold air! WOO-HOO!

Now, however, I figure that might have been the nickel.

Yesterday the car ran great all the way to work. But when I jumped in it to come home, it was hard to shift, and the clutch pedal felt funny when I pushed it. The further I drove, the harder it became to get the darn thing in and out of gear.

I called Carol from my cell phone and asked her to meet me at a car-repair shop. (Is this starting to sound familiar?)

I left the car for them to check out today and tell me the diagnosis. I figured a new clutch was in the offing, for about $300 parts and $500 labor.

Today they called me and said it needed a new master and slave cylinder. (I didn’t know that manual clutches got into bondage situations like that.) It turns out the total bill will be $400.

I figure this is the dime.

But on the positive side, if this repair gets me another couple of months of driving the paid-for air-conditioned (still necessary here in South Texas) vehicle, that’s cheaper than a couple of months of new car payments.

So I’ve had the nickel and the dime. Next probably comes the quarter or the dollar, and that will likely be the signal that it’s time to shop for a replacement.

(P.S. You’ll notice I didn’t mention the “C” even once in this post. I don’t EVEN want to get THAT started!)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Life happens

My daughter Christina (who lives in Tampa) recently had a fender-bender on the way to work.

The good news is the other driver was ticketed, so it wasn’t Christina's fault. Further good news: he has insurance.

So what’s the bad news? Christina’s car is old with high mileage (read: little value). The minor damage done to it was sufficient to “total” the car.

To me that was no big deal. When my daughters were in college they drove old, used, high-mileage Toyotas. And unfortunately they were involved in several crunches. The insurance company would inform me that the car was “totaled.” I would accept the payment less the salvage value and keep the car. Then I would go to a junk yard, buy used body parts, put the car back together myself. After a cheap paint job I would take pictures to send to the insurance company, they would again insure the car, and my daughter had wheels.

I think I did that three times over about 6 years.

So my advice to Christina was to find someone in Florida who would do that kind of work “on the side” (get a recommendation from a body shop — maybe one of their employees would do the work on a weekend for extra cash) and keep driving her paid-for vehicle as long as possible. That’s assuming, of course, it was safe (the lights worked, and it wasn’t going to come apart on a freeway).

Ah! Not so fast!

In Florida, she was told, the law states that once a car has been totaled it can never again be titled or used for transportation.

So fixing the wrecked vehicle is not an option, and now she has to buy a car. She’s only going to get about $2,200 from the insurance company for the wreck. She’ll have to finance the rest, and make car payments—tough for her to afford right now.

I know the insurance company pays “blue book” retail value for a totaled car, but it always seems that the car you were driving can’t be replaced with a car that’s in as good shape for the money.

Life, like shit, happens.

Monday, September 25, 2006


I thought my turn would NEVER come! But now it has.


“We’re in the money. We’re in the money.” (Sing it with me!)

I’ve just been notified that, like many others of you, I’m a winner in a Spanish Lottery.

What? You don’t believe me? Well here’s the proof:

Dear duke.earle,
Sequel to the lottery draw of the above named establishment in europe,conducted on the 11th of September 2006.I am glad to notify you that your e-mail address attached to ticket No ;541 37190162 516 won in the second category a lump-sum of Eight hundred and sixty thousand seven hundred and fifty euro(EUR860,750.00).Congratulations and be advised to keep confidential till your prize is processed to avoid multiple applications/filings.All participants were selected randomly by a computer software ballot device.This promotion is sponsored by a group of corporate establishments and accedited charitable organisations in Europe.Be informed that a minimum of 10% of your prize must be donated to a remarkable charity organisation in your locality.To file for your claim,please contact your fiducial agent;*********************************************Mr. Raul Mendoza(e-*********************************************Congratulations once more,Sincerely yours'Dr. Antonia AsunNB;Kindly state your credit file number when contacting the fiducial agent for your claim.

I mean, isn’t that exciting? You can bet that I’ll be in touch with Mr. Mendoza post haste to file my claim and arrange to pay whatever taxes and fees that surely must be due before they’d release all those hundreds of thousands of Euros.

Oh, and I’ll have to name my charity of course. You know, the one that has to receive 10% of the winnings. But hey, what’s a paltry 10%, right?

Funny... I don’t even remember entering. But apparently that doesn’t matter since “All participants were selected randomly by a computer software ballot device.” I must be a participant, or I wouldn’t have been selected.

Another thing... You’d think that a big lottery organization like this wouldn’t send out an email with so many typos and punctuation mistakes, wouldn’t you? But then, this came from Spain. Maybe in the translation to English some of those errors crept in.

But why should I question this? This prize is a lot of money! I might retire. In fact, I think I will. I’ll just tell my boss today to “take this job and shove it,” and wait for my riches to swell my bank account.

Oh, that’s another point. I’ll probably have to forward my banking and account information to them so they can transfer the funds directly to me.

Wow! This is great! I think that (after I quit my job) I’ll run down to the dealer and buy that big new SUV I’ve been dreaming about. I can finance it for maybe one year, ’cause I’ll have plenty to pay it off in a month or two.

But don’t worry, blog friends. I’ll never let all these riches go to my head. I know you’re all VERY happy for me.

Gee, another coincidence I just noticed. The winning drawing was held on Sept. 11. That’s 9/11. Funny that such a wonderful thing would happen on the anniversary of a despicable, horrible tragedy.

Huh. How about that?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A wedding

On a more pleasant note than my last post, Carol and I attended a wedding yesterday.

Our dear friend and good golfing buddy Ruth tied the knot with Donnie Brown, one of the nicest men you can imagine.

Ruth reads this blog, and I have posted before about her and Donnie (somewhat to her embarrassment). Over the years we have known her she has become almost like a sister to the two of us. She was the first non-family member to get an official Earle Family Ski Sweater, hand-made by Carol and with a Certificate of Authenticity. She traveled with us to Hawaii back in the late 1990s and has shared sleeping space with us in our camper as we’ve taken weekend golfing trips to other Texas locations in recent years.

If you are a long-time reader you’ll remember some of the pictures I’ve posted of the wedding cakes she has designed and made.

Ruth and Carol have a lot in common. Each is a perfectionist in the projects they undertake. They have actually worked together on a few tasks, like putting down ceramic tile on Ruth’s back patio. She asked Carol to take pictures of her wedding, and actually scheduled the ceremony to take place after our vacation trip!

The service and reception were held outdoors at the country home of one of Ruth’s children. The theme of the entire affair was golf. Yes, Donnie is also an avid golfer—that was one of Ruth’s requirements for a husband! They arrived together in a (real) golf cart, complete with bags of clubs on the back. On each bag was a towel with...

Well, here’s a picture.

And here's the cake she designed and made for the reception:

Yes, that's a representation of an actual par 3 hole on our home course here in Victoria. Is that lady talented, or what?

One last picture. This is where the ceremony took place:

The weather was warm and humid, but attire was casual and a steady breeze was blowing (note the blue flag).

A great day for a wonderful, positive event!

Friday, September 22, 2006

A personal post

(No humor today)

If you followed along with us on our trip over the last three weeks, you know that we spent two full days in Virginia visiting my 90-year-old mother and my sister. Sis had told me that Mom was seeming more and more lethargic of late, wasn’t eating as well as in the past, and that her doctor was concerned about her kidney function.

We spent all day Friday and Saturday with them, and then left on Sunday for our golfing in Georgia. Mom was scheduled for another doctor appointment and some blood work on Monday.

We noticed right away that Mom had lost weight and seemed very tired. She’s still quite sharp mentally, but is not very mobile. When we left, we asked Sis to call on Monday and let us know how the doctor visit went.

Monday afternoon we were on the back nine of our second golf round of the day when my cell phone rang. Sis was calling to say that the doctor had called her after she and Mom got home from the appointment to tell her that Mom was dying. Her kidneys were not keeping up with their necessary blood-cleansing job, and there were no alternatives. Dialysis was too strenuous for Mom at her age (and besides, she had a living will requesting no use of machines to sustain her), and a kidney transplant was also ruled out. The time was very short; probably just days.

Sis urged me to just continue my vacation. Mom had not been told, and if I were to show up unexpectedly just after a two-day visit it would be hard to explain. After some discussion with Carol and a lot of thought, I agreed. My presence would do no good, and I had just had a very good talk with Mom including lots of reminiscing about the good times we had all shared and experienced as a family, the training and example she had provided for me and Sis as kids, our fond memories of my dad (who died 30 years ago), and much more.

When we had parted we had told each other, “I love you.” There was not much more to be said.

My thoughts turned to Sis. I asked her if we should come and help her in some way. If nothing else, would she like the moral support? Or would we just be added burden to her?

She convinced us that there was nothing we could do, and she’d keep me apprised of any changes or events. With heavy hearts, we continued our vacation.

The golf, frankly, was not a whole lot of fun. I was never able to just put Mom out of my thoughts and play. I found myself not caring much whether I hit the ball in the fairway or into a water hazard. It just didn’t matter much.

I called Sis every day to keep up with events. Mom was dehydrated, so an IV was started at home to keep fluids at the proper level. That made her feel better, and she ate a bit more. By Friday her blood chemistry actually looked a little better, but the doctor cautioned again that we shouldn’t be optimistic. “Don’t expect a miracle cure,” he said.

Over last weekend Sis reported that mom was eating, and enjoyed watching her beloved Washington Redskins play on Sunday (even though they lost to the hated Dallas Cowboys!).

On Monday of this week, as we were driving home from Tampa, the doctor found Mom to be anemic and prescribed a blood transfusion. He also agreed to Sis’s request that a kidney specialist be consulted. So yesterday an ultrasound scan was performed and a specialist reviewed the case.

The nephrologist sounded more hopeful than the other doctor had. He immediately took Mom off of two medications she had been taking for blood pressure, saying they both could sometimes inhibit kidney function. He held out the hope that without those drugs in her system, Mom’s kidneys might be able to keep her in a stable condition. He made a couple of other recommendations, ordered weekly blood tests, and told Sis he wanted to see Mom in three weeks to check her progress.

That’s a far cry from the first report Sis got! The first doctor was telling her it was just a matter of days, and now she’s being told that it may be weeks, or months.

Mom now knows all the details, and has reaffirmed that she has no interest in dialysis or other “heroic” or mechanical means of keeping her alive. But she is enjoying the time that she has left, however long it may turn out to be. Sis and I figure that each additional day of enjoyed life is cause for rejoicing, whether few or many. Of course, we’re hoping for many.

I’m posting this partly as an excuse for my limited posts during the latter part of my trip and afterward, and because this blog is read by family and friends who I haven’t called since I returned.

Now everyone will know what’s been occupying my time and my mind for the past few weeks.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Early trip pictures

Finally, a few pictures from our visit to Chicago. These are only some shots of the surprise birthday party we threw for Carol, and a couple of views from Amy's downtown highrise apartment.

More to come, when time permits. VERY busy at work after a long absence.

Click here for the pictures.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

We're home. We're exhausted.

Monday morning at 7:00 we left Tampa. We had lunch in Pensacola, and then stopped for dinner and a motel room in Lake Charles, LA at about 9:15.

This morning we slept late and left Lake Charles at 8:30 a.m. (I know -- for some of you that doesn't qualify as sleeping late, but for me it does. By contrast, if I'm awake past 10:00 p.m. I've stayed up late.)

We pulled into our driveway in the early afternoon, unloaded, unpacked, lunched, mowed the lawn (me), went to the grocery store (Carol), paid some almost overdue bills (me), fixed dinner (Carol), ate while listening to one of the audio books we'd taken along on the trip and started but not finished.

Carol is working on the trip photos, and I'm catching up on some emails and writing this short post. MAYBE in the next day or two I'll start visiting your blogs again and leaving a comment or two.

Meanwhile there's that little thing called my job that keeps calling to me that it'll take me a month to get caught up after a 3 week absence.

Ain't life great!?!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Golf phase complete!

Ahhhhhh. Yesterday it was rainy here in Cordele where we’re staying, but the weather was caused by a slow moving front coming in from the west. No golf here, but at a State Park course about 80 miles west of here they weren’t getting any rain. I guess the front had passed them.

Anyway, we called. Determined that they were dry, jumped in the van after lunch and headed west. Two hours later, after driving through hard downpours with thunder and lightning. We arrived at the course under bright sunny skies. One little shower passed over, but otherwise the weather was perfect! And, the course was really nice.

After golf we drove back to Cordele, but the rains had passed and the roads were dry. Well, except for one which was closed with a 10-mile detour because it was under water!

Today (Thursday) we drove to yet another golf course and played two rounds. Really pretty course, but tough. Even Carol couldn’t keep her score below 90. My score had one more digit in it than hers. That’s golf!

Tomorrow we drive about 350 miles to Tampa to visit Christina and Johnny and Trevor. We’ll be there for the weekend and then head back for Texas on Monday. Vacation is almost over.


Then I get to go back to work to rest up.

Oh, and all of you who think you were so smart to make jokes about Carol’s shots of Wild Turkeys? Wait till you see them! (And yes, I got the jokes. Funny people!)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A morning off from golf

Wednesday morning. I'm parked in the front lot of a Super 8 Motel freeloading their free Wi-Fi. Carol is at a nearby laundromat doing some wash.

This morning was rainy, so we opted to forego at least one round of golf (a MAJOR concession!) and take care of some small needed tasks. If the rain lets up we may play an afternoon round, or we'll just sit in the camper, watch a DVD movie (REALLY roughing it here), and relax.

Yes, for those of you who have commented and asked, we DID get some more of that pecan-crusted trout Monday evening, and it was JUST as good as we remembered it.

We are now just outside of the little town of Cordele, GA at Georgia Veterans State Park, where we will stay untin Friday morning when we head south to Tampa. We'll visit my other daughter, her husband and our grandson there, and then drive around the Gulf of Mexico back to Texas. The plan is to arrive home on Tuesday, 9/19.

The trip has been nearly perfect so far, except for a few little problems like that power cord plug. Oh, and a blown fuse. No biggies though. (Rob, PLEASE keep "those things" on YOUR side of the Atlantic for one more week!)

I still haven't had the time to browse your blogs and comment, but I promise that I'll get caught up when we get home. Thanks (really) to all of you who are checking in and commenting. It means a lot to know that y'all are keeping up with this trip and enjoying it with us.

Oh, a quick teaser before I go... During Monday's golf we saw, and Carol got several very nice pictures of, some wild turkeys. (No, not the human kind). Those and other pictures will be displayed upon our return home.

Monday, September 11, 2006

In Georgia. Golf time!

Sunday. We rose early and were out of the campground and on the road before 6 a.m. There was quite a bit of fog along the route until after 9, and that slowed us down some but not too much.

Our goal was to reach the state park in Georgia early enough to check in, put the camper up quickly, go to the nearby golf course (part of the park), and play 18 holes.

About two hours into our 8-hour drive a passing motorist honked his horn at us and gestured back over his shoulder and down. With a feeling of dread we immediately pulled over to the shoulder and checked the camper. Sure enough, our electrical cord (with which we plug into campground power for electricity in the camper) was dangling out of its hole in the left side of the rear bumper.

Ordinarily this 30-foot cord is coiled up inside a small compartment with just the plug protruding. And that plug is held stationary by a small plastic cover or door that snaps into place. Well, the door popped open. Not an unusual occurrence, but usually the cord does NOT then “leak” out of its compartment. Today was different.

We found that the plug had been dragged along the highway for no telling how many miles, and all of the metal prongs were worn away. This meant that when we arrived at our next camp site we would have no electricity. This was unacceptable!

Solution: We found a Lowe’s Building Supply store that was open on Sundays and bought a replacement plug.

(Thanks a LOT, Rob!)

As a result of many years of experience, I always pack my tool kit when we travel. Thus I was able to cut the damaged plug off the end of our power cable and install the replacement plug.

Total cost (replacement plug): just under $10.00.

Total travel time delay: 45 minutes.

However, I’m pleased to report that despite the delay and hassle, we STILL made it to our campsite in time to set up and get our round of golf played before dark.

What’s that? You want to know how we played?

Well, Carol had a 42 on the front 9 including two pars and one birdie. On the back 9 her putter let her down and she ballooned up to a 49.

Me? Well, let’s just say that Carol beat me, as usual.

Tomorrow I should get a chance to go online and post this. We’re driving to another Georgia state park to play twice, morning and afternoon, before returning here to Rutledge. I hope to have dinner in Madison at the restaurant we found last year where they served that scrumptious pecan-crusted broiled trout. (Yum!!)

If so, we’ll stop where we can find a Wi-Fi signal and post this. More soon.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Rob… Please!

Not while I’m on vacation, driving thousands of miles.

I appreciate your visiting my blog, and especially your taking time to comment on yesterday’s post. But you’ve brought up a subject I’m determined to leave unmentioned.

Come on. You’ve GOT to realize that the last thing I need is for “something” to happen to my van or camper while I’m on this trip. Or even the laptop I’m blogging on.

When I get home safely… THEN perhaps I’ll explore that topic. But not now. And please, stop dreaming or whatever you’re doing that’s affecting this phenomenon.

Ahem… Okay, then. Today is Saturday. We spent the entire day with my mother and sister, just getting caught up on all that’s going on in my family and theirs. It was a gorgeous day in western central Virginia with temps in the upper 70s to low 80s.

Tomorrow we’ll hit the road early and drive to a state park in Georgia about an hour east of Atlanta. Hopefully we’ll get there and get set up in time to get in a late-day round of golf at the park. It’s one of our favorite courses, called “The Creek at Hard Labor.” That will begin the golfing phase of this vacation, which is now about half over.

Availability of Wi-Fi is spotty around that park area, so I may be out of touch again for a few days but I’ll post if I’m able.

Meanwhile… Rob, please try to keep things under control.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Out of touch

On a trip like this one, time is always at a premium. We are driving long distances to visit family and friends in far-flung locations. Well, far-flung from our home and from each other.

We spent another two full days in Chicago with daughter Amy and s.i.l. Tom after the surprise birthday party described in the last post. One day (Sunday) was sunny and bright, and we were outdoors roaming the downtown area for most of the day. After dinner one of Amy’s friends came to her apartment and we viewed pictures of the friend’s recent trip to Japan, and then talked until my bedtime. I say “my” because Amy and Tom and friend Julia could have stayed up much longer.

The next day, Labor Day, was rainy. We spent much of the late morning and all afternoon in the Field Museum of Natural History viewing the King Tut exhibit, currently on tour/loan to various US museums from Egypt. It’s a fantastic display of gallery after gallery of many of the most famous artifacts from the pharaoh’s tomb, including more gold than I have seen in one place in a long time.

That night we went back to our camper for an early next-day departure. No Wi-Fi in that campground, and we didn’t want to drive around seeking an unsecured signal due to the pounding thunderstorm we were under.

Tuesday (day after Labor Day) we drove the 5-6 hours to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and spent the rest of that day visiting with Carol’s cousin Linda and her husband Les. They have cable broadband internet at their house, but there was no appropriate time for me to plug my computer in or use theirs for blogging.

On Wednesday, Les and Linda took us on a 350 mile tour of southern Michigan, including all three meals on the road. We saw Sleeping Bear National Park on the Lake Michigan shore, among other sights. We didn’t make it back to their home until after dark and needed to get to bed early for an early start on the next day’s travel.

(Yes, pictures will be forthcoming, but not tonight. Guess why….

Yep, not enough time.)

Yesterday (Thursday) we were up at 5, on the road by 6, and didn’t arrive at our destination (campground in Lexington, VA) until just before dark. Thirteen and one half hours of driving!

Then, today, we spent all day visiting with my mother (90) and sister here in Lexington. We are now back in our camper preparing for bed.


So… I’ll post when I can and get pictures ready as soon as possible. Maybe I’ll be able to make the rounds of all of your blogs soon also. I hope so.

I feel so out of touch.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Well, we pulled it off. The Italian restaurant experience last night was really a surprise birthday party for Carol.

You regular readers will remember that last February, on our ski trip, my family had arranged a surprise birthday party for me on what I shall only refer to as a “significant” milestone birthday. Carol is within one week of that same milestone (somewhere, as Amy put it last night, “around” 30). I figured that turnabout was, proverbially, fair play.

Amy did most of the work. After deciding on a golf theme – and with Amy, everything must have a theme – she found online and ordered a Mylar balloon shaped like a golf bag with clubs in it. On the table she placed two “koozie” drink holders also shaped like golf bags, and in one of them she put her main creation: individual “golf clubs” with wooden dowel handles. Around the dowels, secured with rubber bands, she rolled small printed sheets of paper. Each sheet contained written comments from people who felt Carol had been significant in their lives.

I had contacted the people weeks earlier and solicited their comments – anything they chose to write. They were all heartfelt, and brought tears to all of us.

As the piece de resistance, Carol’s main gift from me was a more powerful zoom telephoto lens for her beloved digital camera.

We had a WONDERFUL evening.

Now, I’ve GOT to show you what Amy did. Here is the real Callaway Golf logo:

And then here is what Amy put on each of the golf club heads (made out of cardboard) that she put in the small club holder (bag):

Finally, here are some of the decorations and the "golf clubs" Amy made:

(She gets her creativity from her mother.)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Viki was right.

Viki told me yesterday that the weather for my Chicago visit was going to be perfect. Right on, Viki! How does a high in the 70s, a steady breeze off the lake out of the northeast, and a crystal-clear sky with bright sunshine sound?

It sounds like weather to which I am unaccustomed in South Texas, but to which I would love to become accustomed.

We walked from the Chicago River south through Millenium and Grant Parks, past the big fountain, across Lakefront Drive down to the marina. Then we continued south to the planetarium and just beyond, about even with Soldier Field. Then we retraced our steps but took a different route through the park back to the river.

I figure the total round trip was about 6 miles. The horizon was sharp and the Chicago skyline breathtaking.

Carol took 230 pictures. Yes, two hundred thirty! I don't know how many will survive the first cut when we download them to the laptop and cull out all those not quite in perfect focus, but surely there will be some to share with you over the next few days and maybe weeks (months?)

Despite the derision of some (Karyn!), the Mexican food was very good and although not a particular treat for us Texans, it WAS a treat for Amy and Tom.

Now tonight we're going out for Italian food, which will be a treat for us. Good, authentic Italian food is hard to come by in Texas, except maybe in the larger cities. Plus tonight's meal may hold a surprise for someone. (You'll have to read about that tomorrow.)

All in all, a very good Saturday. Thanks, Viki!

Friday, September 01, 2006

First stop -- Chicago!

Well, we’ve arrived.

No, not in the universal sense of having attained all of our goals. We’ve just made it to Chicago.

I’m typing this at my daughter’s dining room table looking out at the lake and part of downtown and the park from 42 stories up in the sky. In the past year I’d forgotten just how dramatic this view is.

The getting here was uneventful, again. 335 miles today to the spot where we dropped off our camper and van. Amy came to pick us up and bring us into town. Then we shopped for groceries and fought the traffic to make it into the big city center.

Plans for tonight are to go out for Mexican food with Amy and husband Tom, and their two good friends Rhett and Julia (who we’ve not yet met).

Amy tells us that Rhett’s mother’s favorite movie of all time is “Gone with the Wind.” Figure that one out. No go ahead and think about it. Funny.

We have no specific plans for tomorrow except dinner plans. More on that Sunday. Carol took a bunch of pictures of Amy’s apartment (some new furniture since last year) and the view from her windows, so maybe, when she has time to review and edit them, you’ll get a peek.

Time to go to dinner. Bye!