April 23, 2017

A few thoughts to ponder while in between some serious house cleaning…

It’s the end of an era as The O’Reilly Factor is no more. Wonder what Megyn Kelly is thinking about. She got too big for her britches too fast and should have just cooled her jets. Now she’s in nowheresville and the chance of a lifetime – heading up the nightly FOX News lineup – has gone buh bye.

Tiger Woods has another back surgery. It’s becoming increasingly hard to see him coming back to play professional golf full-time. But if it truly is – as his agent says (an agent, BTW, who has yet to tell the truth in a single statement he’s ever made), a way for Tiger to simply live the rest of his life pain-free, well, after all he’s been through the guy deserves at least that.

Lydia Ko has now gone through nine – count ‘em, nine! – caddies in her brief professional career. Either the girl is nuts or she’s getting mucho bad advice from her team. As Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie can both attest to, as Frank Sinatra famously sang, “you’re flying high in April, shot down in May.” At least Ko is young enough to grow up.

…which is why I’m never crazy about these teen phenoms turning pro so early. Your youth years are so short. If you’re that good, you’ll still be good enough when you’re 23 or 24. The risks of early burnout and injuries (as Wie can attest to) are just so high. No matter how good you might be, kiddies, professional golf is still for grown-ups.

If an asteroid strike is truly coming, I’m just gonna sit on my patio with a Hemingway Daiquiri or two or three and just watch it happen.

Can I just say a word or two about the Doc Ford series of novels by Randy Wayne White? I’ve already read nine of them and there hasn’t been a bad one yet. Just good entertainment and a fab alternative to sitting in front of the TV and feeling your brain cells getting sucked out of you. If you like fiction set in southwest Florida and all over the Caribbean and the St. Somewheres of the world let me know – you can have them after I finish them!

If you’re a Red Sox fan, I hope you haven’t bet the farm on seeing David Price pitch this year. Dollars to donuts he’s going to end up having Tommy John surgery, and you heard it here first. And with that go their chances for a deep playoff run this year. I’ve seen just a few games so far, but it’s not hard to see that the team’s weakness is their bullpen and inconsistent 3-5 starting rotation. They’re just not deep when it comes to pitching, and it will kill them in the long run.

Much as I hate to say it, keep an eye on the Yankees this year. They are up and coming!!

Woke up the other day with this early Pink Floyd tune in my head. Reminds me just how cool a band they were and how much my brother Mark and I loved their early music before Dark Side of the Moon turned them into superstars. I hear this song and I’m transported back to the old house on Main Street, lying in bed in the morning and hearing the birds outside.

My latest music craze is Hawaiian music. If you’re interested in mellow music that’s bound to help keep you sane in a world like this go to YouTube and check out the likes of Cyndi Combs, Hawaiian Style Band, Dennis Kamakahi, “Sister” Robi Kahalakau (she, Stevie Nicks and Charlotte Church are my favorite female vocalists), Elua Kane, Gabby Pahinui, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Keali’i Reichel, and Kuana Torre Kahele. Believe me, you’ll catch my drift.

These clowns are lucky they weren’t born 55 years ago – they’d find themselves storming beach heads in the South Pacific. It makes one almost embarrassed to be an American.

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April 21, 2017

Yo! Cats and chicks out there, I gotta confess there have been only a relatively few times in my life when hearing a song for the first time absolutely blew me away. Like in a life-changing way.**

But it was while surfing the Internet the other night and checking out one of my usual haunts, a Phil Spector/Wall of Sound appreciation site called Cue Castanets! that, much to my surprise, I came upon this video by none other than “The Boss”, Bruce Springsteen backing a track from his 2007 release Magic. And I have to say, not only has it rocketed into a very exclusive list of my favorite tunes of all time, it seems to have occupied a place in my brain ever since – even while sleeping. I seem to fall asleep and wake up to the song in my head.

Truth be told, I’ve never been much of a Springsteen fan – he’s always seemed a bit too much of a limousine liberal for me to fully embrace his music. Sure, there have been releases over the years (Born In The USA and Nebraska, to name a couple) that I’ve enjoyed, and just about every release of his has had at least a couple of tunes that were OK, but not enough to turn me into a bona fide fan, if you catch my drift.

But I am familiar enough with his music to know that amongst his greatest influences as a musician is Phil and his so-called “Wall of Sound” (“Born To Run” the most obvious example; there are others). And just hearing those first opening bars with the multiple guitars strumming in sync (a Phil trademark – “Be My Baby”, “My Sweet Lord”, “Isn’t It A Pity”, to name just a few, but to these ears it sounds like a faster version of John Lennon’s and Phil’s unreleased “Be My Baby”) was enough to perk up my ears and think that something special was obviously happening.

Although recorded nearly a decade ago, “The Girls In Their Summer Clothes” sounds like a period piece, something that easily could have been recorded in the mid-to-late sixties by the Righteous Brothers or the Walker Brothers. Besides the multiple guitars creating a lush background, you have castanets and Bruce’s weary vocal carrying the initial verse before Max Weinberg’s drums lead the E Street Band into a full band second verse (another Phil trademark). The piano flourishes in the choruses sound like something Jack “Specs” Nitzsche would have arranged for Leon Russell to play. There’s nothing here that smacks of 21st century electronic wizardry: it’s a band just going all out and playing their asses off from start to finish.

And the lyrics are just what you’d expect from Springsteen. Images painted of small-town Americana: the front porch, the sidewalks filled with people and lovers walking hand in hand, the bank building and the department store in the center of town, the diner on “the edge of town” (just off the interstate?) a respite and means of escape from the loneliness and restlessness he’s feeling. After all, the girls in their summer clothes are not just passing by, they’re passing him by. And you have the waitress serving him coffee asking “a penny for this thoughts”, as if that is all he’s worth.

Well the street lights shine
Down on Blessing Avenue
Lovers they walk by
Holdin’ hands two by two

A breeze crosses the porch
Bicycle spokes spin ’round
Jacket’s on, I’m out the door
Tonight I’m gonna burn this town down

And the girls in their summer clothes
In the cool of the evening light
The girls in their summer clothes
Pass me by

Kid’s rubber ball smacks
Off the gutter ‘neath the lamp light
Big bank clock chimes
Off go the sleepy front porch lights

Downtown the store’s alive
As the evening’s underway
Things been a little tight
But I know they’re gonna turn my way

Frankie’s Diner’s
Over on the edge of town
Neon sign spinnin’ round
Like a cross over the lost and found

Fluorescent lights
Flicker above Bob’s Grill
Shaniqua brings a coffee and asks “fill?”
And says “penny for your thoughts now my boy Bill”

She went away
She cut me like a knife
Hello beautiful thing
Maybe you could save my life

In just a glance
Down here on Magic Street
Love’s a fool’s dance
I ain’t got much sense but I still got my feet

La la la la, la la la la la la la

No matter what happens, even amidst the weariness and the melancholy there remains a sense of hope that things are just ready to turn around – after all, he’s got both the ability and the agility (his feet) to take advantage of the opportunity if only it would come.

The lyrics are timeless: he could be singing about last weekend or memories cherished (or not so) from long ago. Either way, the sentiments of loneliness, restlessness, desperation, and coming to terms with the fact that youth does not last forever are universal. I love the way the chord change at 2:49 seems to express a sense of hope that one person or one thing can change everything, can bring it all back. It’s all these things that makes the song so meaningful and personal to me.

Want to hear something funny? I listen to the song and its lyrics and I can picture my fellow Goodboy friend “Cubby” Myerow sitting in an aluminum lawn chair on his front porch in Salem, Massachusetts, just a stone’s throw from that Elizabeth Montgomery statue, the ocean just blocks away, a cold beer in his hand watching the world passing by on a summer night as the heat of the day starts to wane. With perhaps the aroma of an Italian restaurant just down the street filling the air along with the sounds of basketball being played on a nearby playground. Not sure why that is, but that’s the image I get. Hope you don’t mind, Cubby!

But I digress.

The whole purpose of this post is to say that “The Girls In Their Summer Clothes” is a memorable and breathtaking performance from start to finish, destined to take its place in the roll amongst my favorite songs of all time. Well done, Bruce!

BTW, if you want to see the official video for this song click here. It’s really good. Catches both the mood and the underlying melancholy really well. And the fact that both of the videos were shot at the Jersey shore, well, I’m a sucker for anything that involves the ocean.

But I have a feeling y’all knew that, already.


** For those wondering, off the top of my head, the Ronettes “Do I Love You” (my first exposure to Phil’s “Wall of Sound”), The Beatles 45 RPM of “Hey Jude” b/w “Revolution” (in my view the greatest single in rock music history), Fleetwood Mac’s “Think About Me” and “Bleed To Love Her”, the first time I heard the music of Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys In Concert and the Pet Sounds albums, The Sandals’ “(Theme From) The Endless Summer”, and Charlotte Church’s “Cold California”, to name just a few.

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April 19, 2017

For Easter I dug out one of my prayer candles from out of the office closet and lit it this past Saturday, then placed it under the table in the prayer grove. It looks nice there, glowing amidst all the bougainvillea flowers that have fallen off the bushes in the past couple of days.

Death and resurrection, I guess that’s what it’s all about.

I titled the post in the hope of the Resurrection rather than in the faith of the Resurrection. I think that’s a more accurate statement of where my spiritual situation stands at this juncture in my life. I was thinking about it on Sunday and realize that outside of my mom’s funeral service last year I haven’t been to church for the better part of four years. And it really didn’t bother me. I still think about religion, and God, and the Church a lot, but what I believe is a whole different thing.

A large part of me has come to believe that we who are privileged to live here in the US of A, with the freedoms we take so much for granted, our supermarkets full of the bounty of God’s creation, plentiful clean water to drink and food to eat, a governing system that, while far from perfect, is hands above just about any other on this planet, and everything else we tend to take for granted: well, perhaps this is what heaven is. We’re not enslaved by totalitarian regimes, the majority of our people don’t live amidst garbage and filth and poverty beyond anything we can imagine like folks do in large swaths of Africa and Asia. For all bitching and complaining we do, to be alive here in the USA of the early 21st century is where it’s at. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than this, is what I’m saying.

What happens after we die? Well, I’m not going to worry about it. When my time comes I’ll deal with it then and let God, whomever He, She, or It is, handle things from there. I like to live in the present: I find thinking about the past makes me feel melancholy and a bit lost – not because of what I have or haven’t done, or under achieved or over achieved in, it’s just those I’ve loved and everything I knew as I’ve grown to this age is increasingly lost to the passage of time. I look at my life and have very few regrets about anything I’ve done, decisions I’ve made or things I should have done differently, and can only ask how do I know whether I would have come out of them better or worse than I am now? You can’t dwell on that kind of shit – it’ll eat you alive.

So I focus on the present: the things I need to do at work, the quiet joys of relaxing on my back porch, the golf clubs left to complete my set, the books I’m reading, the tasks of everyday life at hand. As far as the future is concerned, Tracey and I have done as much as we can to plan and prepare for our retirements (mine coming much sooner than hers!), so it’s just prepare just in case you live long enough to experience it. I know things will change, some for the better, perhaps, most surely for the worse. But you can’t fixate and worry about it: life has its own way of coming at you just like it always has. Life is fleeting. Joy and anguish equally so. You deal with the cards you’ve been dealt and deal with it as best you can.

Which is why a candle burning in a little secluded prayer grove may seem a small gesture in the grand scheme of things, yet perhaps it means so much as well. It’s a gesture that recognizes there are much bigger and smaller forces out there that we simply can’t comprehend. And that, in the end everything comes down to death and renewal. It may not be resurrection in the most Christian of terms, but it’s a symbol of how tenuous our holds are on our own little existences that mean even more little in the long run. It’s my own little reminder of just how fragile life is, and how important it is to live every day to its fullest, ever mindful that my life, just like that candle’s in the prayer grove, and just like all those fallen flowers that were once so full of life and color, has its limits.

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April 17, 2017

A items to start the week:

The 2017 Masters has been history for a week now, but for some it will remain a precious memory forever.

I guess my Augusta National is Portsmouth Country Club, where the view upon turning into its oak tree-lined lane with its clubhouse at the end of the driveway doesn’t look a whole lot different. It’s a drive I’ve made many times, and it’s one I never tire of. Hopefully I can play it again sometime this year. All I need now is a set of clubs!

Folks might notice I haven’t posted much about the politics lately, and that’s because I haven’t got a lot to say. I’m pretty much with the Prez on just about everything he’s done to date. He’s pretty much as advertised – impulsive, unpredictable, still feeling his way around who the players are and what is and is not possible. Unlike the nattering loons in the mainstream media, I don’t think a president’s first one hundred days means squat outside of setting a tone for the rest of his presidency. Talk to me in six months as to whether I think he’s doing a good job or not.

That being said, this seems about right to me:

“It has become increasingly clear to me that there was widespread wiretapping of President Trump and his associates and that the underlying justification was pretextual — it was actually intended to spy on a political opponent. And it is equally clear that the nonsensical post-election tale that Russia colluded with Trump so that he could beat Hillary Clinton was a coverup tale to justify the unmasking and leaking of some of the information — particularly about General Flynn — which has taken place. The prior administration was so confident Hillary would win that they left their tracks uncovered and afterward were desperate to hide the truth so they projected and whispered the Russians were colluding with Trump.”

The whole Trump/Russia thing only makes sense when you accept the fact that the mainstream media is nothing more than a group of Democratic Party operatives.

…and they still can’t believe that Hillary Clinton lost the election. And they’ll never accept it. Nor will she. When will people finally wake up to the fact that she was, and was always, a lousy politician who headed up a lousy campaign? But I guess it’s easier to say that it was the Russians who through Donald Trump decided she shouldn’t travel to Wisconsin at least once during the campaign.

I can’t say I’ve agreed with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on much, but if he keeps this up I might have to start paying more attention to him. I’ve watched her in action during a number of Senate confirmation hearings and she’s an embarrassment to the Senate. Not, unfortunately, to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I’ll bet. All the more reason to live in Arizona.

President Trump is right, you have to wonder who’s funding these organized protests. Me? The moment I see Barack Obama’s medical records and college transcripts then I’ll ask PDJT to release his tax returns.

I miss the team of Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy. Thanks, YouTube!

I miss Warren Zevon. Thanks, YouTube! Another must listen is Mohammed’s Radio, with Lindsay Buckingham and a (then) Stephanie Nicks doing on background vocals.

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April 6, 2017

…so the last time I left this topic I was discussing my plans for the middle section of the back yard, the area you see when you’re standing inside the house and looking out back. In my original post, I detailed why I was seeking a kind of radical redesign – one that would use space and light colors to create an airy kind of buffer between the east side of the back (the swimming pool and pool deck) and the west (lawn and Tiki bar deck). As I mentioned in that post, the idea was to have the patio and that area of the back yard create the kind of theme we sought to achieve in the overall landscape design: in our case, something both whimsical and tropical in the “St. Somewhere” vein, a combination of the Caribbean and the South Seas.

The original post showed what the area looked like. Now let’s do some before and after shots to give you an example of everything that went down over the past few weeks. First: the patio. Amazing what a sprayer and some white flat latex paint can do to make wicker look bright and cheery. Here’s the before:

…and here’s the after, albeit from a slightly different angle, but you still get the idea:

We also re-positioned the chairs around the Jimmy Buffet “Boat Drinks” table so that anyone walking outside onto the patio to get to the barbecue or the swimming pool no longer has to walk around the furniture. It’s all designed to make an area that’s actually quite small appear more open an allow the new “strand” area and the pool deck stand out.

Speaking of the “strand” area, just to jog your memory, here’s a picture of what the area looked like before – definitely more of an Arizona, desert-y feel than anything remotely tropical, right?

And now after, showing what a ton and a half of light-colored rock, a second queen palm, and a tiki purchased from a local artist who distributes his work at the nursery down the street can do:

Actually, to call it a “strand” doesn’t really describe how the area ended up, it actually looks more like a small tropical island in the South Pacific than anything else – especially with the palm debris that was allowed to stay right where it dropped courtesy of Mother Nature and a big windstorm we had the day after it was done. Funny thing: last Friday I came home to see the debris picked up by our landscaper Carmelo’s crew (they’re thorough if nothing else!). Fortunately, they only tossed the debris into our trash barrel, so I was able to retrieve it and put it back where it was.

I’ll have to speak to Carmelo this week to make sure it doesn’t happen again – you can’t let landscaping stand in the way of art!

But it’s not just the view from the back door that is transformed: look at the before and after pics taken from the lawn looking towards the swimming pool. Like I said in the original post, it was a jumble of stuff masquerading as an Arizona backyard:

Now the area looks bright and airy, especially after I spray-painted our patio dining set the same white as our wicker chairs. It looks especially nice in the late afternoon sun:

Pretty nice, huh? The area also looks really nice at night with the new palm softly lit and the big mesquite in the far right corner brightly lit with a new spotlight that enables you to see it from inside the house at night, thus emphasizing the four-season (actually, it’s only two, “hot” and “not”) lifestyle we have here in the Valley of the Sun.

Total cost? Between the landscaping, three tikis (I bought two others, will show you those in a later post), the queen palm, and the patio furniture painting project (including one false start due to bad advice from the True Value guy), the whole effort cost a shade under two grand. Not a bad investment for getting the back yard looking pretty close to way I originally envisioned it so many years ago.

Of course, when you own a house no good deed goes unpunished. In this case, by upgrading everything around it you end up highlighting stuff that still needs to be done. In this case, it’s the pool deck, which may not look too bad in the photos above, but it’s in dire need of resurfacing. But that’s a project for next year. Tracey has her own (strong) ideas of how it should be resurfaced; I think in this case I’m just gonna sit back and let her decide once we get all the quotes. But that’s a long time away – for now, it’s nice to just sit outside, during the day or at night under soft pineapple lights, and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment not just for a job well done, but of a vision and concept successfully realized.

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March 27, 2017

My neighbor John and I were talking last night about the bougainvillea all around the subdivision and how we’ve never seen anything like it as long as we can remember. I think it must be because we’ve had the unlikely combination of a wet winter without anything close to a freeze. Has to be, because the bougainvillea are thick and bountiful no matter where you look. Here’s what our front looks like, the prayer grove’s natural archway as maintained by our landscaper Carmelo:

..then, on the other side of the same wall, the bougainvillea as viewed from our cactus garden. The yellow ones I planted a decade ago are having their best year ever and reaching up to join the red ones cascading over the wall:

Pretty, ain’t it?

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March 22, 2017

March in the Valley of the Sun is chock-full of frenzied activity. With “Arizona winter” for all intents over, and the first nineties of the year only hinting at the bigger heat to come, there is much to do. The literally hundreds upon hundreds of A/C companies are in the midst of their busiest stretch of the year, selling and installing new systems, and running maintenance checks. For swimming pool owners, it’s the most common month of the year to do drainings, acid washes and refills. Landscapers are busy planting trees and new bushes – it’s the perfect time of the year for new plantings to get established before the heat comes on.

And that’s sorta what this whole week has been like. Monday we welcomed into our backyard a brand new queen palm that would balance off the existing one on that middle area I was calling “the strand”. On Tuesday Daniel from Hawkeye Landscaping show up with a crew to spread 1 1/4 tons of light rock on top of the old, darker stuff; there was so much rock they were able to make it look more like a tropic island than a strand. Today was a busy day: a morning visit by pool bodhisattva Alan to start draining the pool and collecting our vacuum for refurbishing, and in the afternoon the first of what will be many visits to the dentist by my sister-in-law; we’re finally getting around to get her long-neglected teeth issues taken care of. All I can say is, poor Tam, I’m glad it’s not me!

Tomorrow (Thursday), it’s back to pool care with the bead blaster guy coming to remove the calcium ring from around our pebble-tec pool surface, then in the afternoon our A/C guy is coming to do their spring maintenance call. On Friday, P.B. Alan reenters the dharma of pool maintenance to start refilling the pool and checking the filter’s O-rings to see why we’re getting a small flow of dirty water back in the pool whenever I do a backwash. By that time the pool vacuum will be fixed and we’ll be back in business.

This weekend the weather looks to be both calm and warm, so I’m planning on repainting our brown wicker furniture and green patio set white. I’ve never attempted this kind of thing before, but I’ve been doing my research and believe I’m up for it, so it promises to be both a learning and (hopefully) rewarding experience.

Once all of this is done, I’ll only have a few precious weeks before the heat returns to stay to wash down and re-stain the tiki bar and the tiki bar deck, then spray with preservative all our decorative signs, silk flowers, and anything else that needs to be protected from fading.

So much to do, so much left to be done! I still need to get back to the more inside work of consolidating our living trust documents and getting them to the lawyer for review, and Tracey needs to finish our taxes. Our reward for getting that stuff done? Getting our firearms safety training certifications out of the way so we can buy the guns we’ve been looking at and start target practice at the range just up the road.

After such a dreadful last year it’s fun to simply be doing stuff that doesn’t require a whole lot of emotional investment.

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March 19, 2017

It has been a beautiful weekend here in the Valley of the Sun – temps in the mid-90s, the air still fragrant with fruit tree flowers. We have a sparrow nest in the lemon tree and the babies are hungry all day. Not doing much today – just relaxing ahead of what promises to be a busy (and expensive) week. I’m still only operating at ~ 80% and I’ve got a physical in two weeks to see what might be going on. Still, it’s a perfect time to toss out a few observations and links.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational finishes up today, so here’s a nice story about “The King” and his legacy.

R.I.P, Chuck Berry. He had a huge influence on a lot of bands – the Stones, The Beatles, and the Beach Boys to name just a few. From what I’ve read he could be a total a$$hole as a person, but there’s no doubt of his impact and lasting influence in rock n’ roll.

R.I.P. Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies. When you watched him introduce movies you felt like he was a guest in your home. He just oozed those qualities of grace, taste, class, and appreciation that are almost non-existent these days. His kind and his generation is rapidly disappearing before our very eyes, leaving those of us who can truly appreciate what those qualities are and the impact they had on this country and to our value system feeling like a bunch of dinosaurs. I’m just glad I’m of an age where I could appreciate and experience it all, because I don’t much like the world I live in.

This is both fascinating and frightening at the same time. While dropping the bombs on Japan was the right thing to do at the time, here’s hoping no one ever has to use these things again. Next time I go to Vegas I gotta go see the atomic testing museum there. It’s right off of Flamingo above Paradise.

Just finished reading biographies of both Bob Marley and George Harrison. While they were both very different people and from very different cultures, I now know why I find them both such captivating musical icons. They were both very spiritual people trying to find the fine line between their earthy success and spiritual sides. In George’s case, he was always trying to break free of the long shadow his Beatles past cast; in Bob’s case, he was endlessly touring to support his music as a way to express his creative muse and deliver his Rastafari religious message of peace and love to the masses. But both had a huge impact on what we now call “world music” to this day: Harrison introducing the western world to Ravi Shankar and Indian music, and Marley through popularizing reggae music and his message of black empowerment and liberation.

Golf is hard. Maybe one of these days I’ll pick the game back up again, but boy, am I still feeling haunted by those shanks I had in Vegas.

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March 18, 2017

Strand: the land bordering a body of water.

Weekend talk radio in the Valley of the Sun is, I think, fairly unique in its programming given the culture, lifestyles, and demographics of the area. We’ve got lots of retirees down here, so there’s lots of programming about retirement planning, financial and stock portfolio management, quacks selling all kinds of products designed to make you feel younger and healthier, golf talk (not as interesting as one might think), and – of course – real estate. Most of the time it’s all half-listened to – especially now that Tracey and I are well ahead of the retirement planning game, which means I don’t have to feel guilty while someone is promoting his or her services and upcoming events complete with the inevitable and free chocolate chip cookies.

But every now and then, something someone is says something that breaks through the noise and causes you to pay attention, even if it is for the briefest of moments. In this case it was a Saturday real estate show featuring a lady named Carol Royce who is a well-known real estate agent around these parts who nationally advertises with the slogan, “Carol Has The Buyers”. She’s obviously pretty successful, but it wasn’t her selling technique or the properties she was presently seeking buyers for that caught my attention; it was what she was talking about as far as properties and first impressions go.

Basically, her view was that, what people first see outside your back door as seen from inside the house makes a powerful statement about your property and how that property relates to the kind of potential lifestyle the house represents. For example, if the whole idea of your house is a turnkey operation requiring very little in the way of maintenance and upkeep (perfect, in other words, for snowbirds with an active lifestyle) the view out the backdoor should reflect that: austere, no pool, not a lot of foliage, lots of rock. It’s not necessary that everything has to have a theme or has to make a statement, but if it does and is well appointed and represented, your house stands a much greater chance of being sold.

Not we’re not interested in selling our house – at least for the foreseeable future – but it did get me thinking about the backyard. Primarily thanks to the initial owners we bought the house from, the backyard was already nicely designed: walking out onto the patio there was a lawn area under a big mesquite tree with a large sandbox (they called it their “beach”) to the right, the pool deck just off center left, and then the swimming pool on the left. There was a large palm tree straight ahead and three more palms in the far left corner. With a palate like that to start with, it became pretty easy to create my idea of a whimsical “St. Somewhere” kind of tropical paradise. The patio was redesigned and painted in colors and appointed in a sort of Caribbean / Margaritaville theme, and the sandbox was filled with a tiki bar and various tikis to create a Hawaii / South Seas kind of motif:

To push the theme even further, I supplemented the palm trees with mini date palms interspersed between the desert bushes already planted along the back and side walls. (You can see one of them along the west wall in the above pic.)

In and of itself, that was probably good enough, but after listening to that real estate show I took another look at the backyard through the doors from our kitchen and saw that more could be done to the area separating the right and left sides that was created when I redesigned the lawn area last year to reduce its overall size, align it with the tiki bar area, and make it easier to water. I now had a larger area that was basically sitting there and doing nothing, practically begging for a re-do. Presently, the area was a jumble: the big palm, two good-sized cactus I had grown from scratch, a funky piece of metal art in the shape of a large roadrunner, two red yuccas left over from when the area was a lot narrower, and a chiminea we rarely used.

Originally, the thought was that the area could perhaps be used for an in-ground barbecue, but discussing it over with my landscaping guru Daniel from Hawkeye Landscaping (he and I have overseen all the major landscaping projects ever since we came here, starting with the east yard, the front yard restore following our sewer line replacement), and the backyard irrigation system replacement and lawn redesign) we decided that the area was too small for the typical size of BBQ you see around these parts, and that between the yard as presently constructed and our lifestyle we really didn’t need to go that route.

So what to do? He agreed with my desire to create a strand: a big, bright, open area with clean lines that would stand out simply by its very openness. The first step would be to remove the two red yuccas left over from when the area was a lot narrower. The roadrunner, of course, had to go – it could be moved to the cactus garden on the west side of the house where it could add a splash of color and whimsy when you’re looking out one of the living-room windows. Same thing with the chiminea: there was a spot at the entry to the cactus garden where it could kinda sorta fit in (at least for now). Daniel liked my idea of planting a new palm tree on the right side as a companion to the one on the left. We could then add another spot light so that it, like the other palm, could be lit up at night. And, we would get rid of all the old brown rock and replace it with the lighter, almost but not quite white rock used when the lawn was downsized and re-bordered. And once that was done, the final touch would be a good-sized, smiling tiki that would give off this new bright and open area positive vibes. Tracey’s contribution was to suggest that we emphasize the theme of bright and open by replacing all our current patio furniture (brown wicker and green metal) with white.

So how will it look when all is said and done? Stay tuned…

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 13:31 | Comments (2)
March 16, 2017

Bodhisattva: A person who has attained prajna, or Enlightenment, but who postpones Nirvana in order to help others to attain Enlightenment.

Alan is the man. A true swimming pool bodhisattva if there ever was one. Alan is (I’m guessing) in his late mid to late sixties. Used to be a corporate guy in an earlier life who did pool maintenance on the side before he decided to retire for the first time, doing pool consulting work for a local firm, Cactus Valley Pools, before they got bought out by a company called Poolwerx. Not wanting to get caught up in the mumbo-jumbo of corporate takeovers, Alan then decided to retire for a second time, only to discover yet again that one can only do so much traveling, gardening, and golfing before you miss being in the gameaction. When Poolwerx encouraged Jeff, the manager of the old Cactus Valley I used to frequent, to take over his old store, they asked him if there was anyone else he’d like to bring back. Alan was the first name off his lips. Alan accepted. He was back in the game.

It was Alan who drained our pool for the first time a decade ago. Alan who replaced our old cartridge filter with a sand media filter three years ago. Alan who saved us a thousand bucks by suggesting he could caulk the big cracks that appeared in the pool’s decorative border where no one could see and came by on four successive days at the crack of dawn to add a new layer of caulk so it could dry before the heat came up. Alan who suggested how much the pool water could be safely drained two summers ago before it was covered over when we had our bee infestation.

And it’s not just us: Jeff at the Poolwerx store estimates that there isn’t a pebble-tech pool within ten square miles of the branch that Alan hasn’t either seen and serviced. And given the value a well-maintained pool means to one’s property here in the Valley of the Sun, someone like Alan is right up there, somewhere behind your A/C guy and next to your landscaper. He’s invaluable. And, as a result, expensive. Because owing an in-ground swimming pool is just like owning a boat. Expensive to operate, expensive to keep up. And, like a boat, you have to keep it up and stay on top of it; if you don’t both can get away from you and real fast.

In the grand scheme of the swimming pool universe, there are lucky pool owners and unlucky ones. The unlucky ones find themselves battling with one problem after another: green water, gray water, black water, chlorine and acid level imbalances, filter issues that never seem to go away. Fortunately, we’ve always seemed to live on the charmed side of that coin: outside of the occasional chlorine shock and going through several incarnations of pool vacuums (all expensive) before finding the right one for our particular size and shape, the pool basically runs itself. Keep the chlorine container filled, add a cupful of phos-free every week once the real heat comes in, and the water always looks good. For whatever reason, our pool light has never worked longer than a month or so after replacing the bulb (another expensive item!) but that’s never been a big deal. A lot of it is just being lucky and being diligent when it comes to sweeping the floor and the sides of the dirt that accumulates, but I have to think a lot of it also has to do with being able to rely on Alan’s expertise.

I usually see Alan every two years on the odd year, because it’s every two years we replace the water and start all over again. This past Tuesday was our day, which meant two things: 1) an enjoyable conversation by the pool catching up on things, and 2) lots of money about to be spent. That’s just the way it is.

First on the list was the pool water level regulator: I could never figure it out, and had resorted to using the garden hose to fill the pool to its normal level after the one that had worked so damned well for ages finally gave out last fall. Alan took one look at it, had it properly adjusted in a minute’s time.

Alan then noticed that the pool vacuum seemed to be only doing one section of the pool. “How long has that been happening?”, he asked. I told him I couldn’t remember. “It probably needs its bearing and runners adjusted”, he says. “I have the same model and mine goes all over the place. I’ll take care of that when I drain the pool.”

I wanted Alan to take a look at the calcium ring where an older, higher water level used to be. “I can get a guy to bead-blast (how’s that for a term!) it for you. It’ll cost, though…”. “What doesn’t?”, says I. “He won’t be able to blast the calcium line on the pool deck surface, it’ll rip it all to hell”, Alan cautioned. I told him that was OK, we’ll leave as is – pool deck resurfacing is on the backyard to-do list for next year.

Alan remarked how good the pool looked overall and said I wouldn’t need to have it acid-washed once the water is drained, which was good news – $130 that won’t need to be spent. He asked how often I backwashed the filter, and I told him every 3-4 weeks unless things get really dusty during the monsoon season. He gave a nod. A good sign, until I casually mentioned how, after my last backwash this past weekend, a stream of dirty water went back into the pool after I had started the filter back up again. Alan frowned. Not a good sign.

“How long did you backwash it for?”

“Two minutes.”

“Well, I’m going to have to check your filter pipes.”

Alan proceeds to tell me there are three sets of O-rings (I immediately start thinking of the space shuttle Challenger and what bad O-rings did to that) and how they probably need replacing. Not big money, fortunately, but time, and Alan’s time is, of course, money. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned when it comes to swimming pools and Alan: if he advises something, don’t think, just grab the check book.

We arrange for Alan’s planned visit next week to recheck the water level regulator, drain the pool, take the vacuum back for servicing, and check the filter O-rings. That’s enough for this year, I think. When all is said and done, we’re probably talking a grand. But a grand well spent in the grand scheme of things. Because, just like just about everything else, there is no cutting corners when it comes to swimming pools. It’s either pay me now or pay me later.

And if Alan says pay me now, well, that’s the way it goes. Because that’s the way the game is played when your house comes with an in-ground swimming pool in the Valley of the Sun.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:51 | Comments (0)


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