Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tis the Season!

OK, it means different things to different folks, and to me it now has an additional meaning as an employee of the Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center.

On Thanksgiving day, it has been traditional to ensure that there are some lights put up on the house before going to bed. While a lot of folks have been sleeping off their l-Triptophan overdoses, or have sat glued to the big holiday games, I have tried faithfully to usher in the Christmas season by putting up some lights, regardless of the weather. This year there were a couple of unique challenges; the first being that we I can't drive nails or screws into the coach in order to mount any lights and the second being I be careful about amperage and load management (after all, I no longer have a 200 Amp service panel).

Not to be daunted, I did get 400 lights strung on the coach and to an adjacent tree using those 3-M Command tabs. The lights were burning brightly by sundown, and I did it in shorts and a t-shirt this year. That's a first ... ever.

But what really rang in the 'season' was the sound of Robin playing "Sleigh Ride" on her keyboard. The evening was graced by the music of Christmas and carols filled the coach and spilled out the door into the park. We're thinking of having a caroling time and inviting the neighboring campers to the place for some sing-along action. It's going to be quite a different feeling of the Christmas season, as we adjust to warm air and palm trees. Maybe not much of an issue for Californians and natives of frequent visitors to Florida, but quite different to those of us accustomed to snow shovels and deicing fluid in the windshield washers. We will adapt.
Robin and I are also learning that there is a new meaning to the word "season" here in FLorida. It's a term used in the air traffic control circle defining the time of year when the state's population increases dramatically with the influx of 'snowbirds' from around North America. The traffic count (number of airplanes handled each day) will rise dramatically fro just after Thanksgiving ti just after Easter. This is the high season for tourism, hotel rates go up and everything coss a little more because the population is cmprised of a higher percentage of seasonal tourists.
We've been told that we will even see temporary help from other air traffic control facilities come in to the Center to help the full-time controller staff cope with the increased traffic loads for the next few months. Today Robin and I spent about four straight hours observing the phenomenon first hand, and the traffic density was markedly higher as airline schedules change and private and charter flights increase to bring the folks escaping the cold weather.
So, we are coming in to the 'season'. Hang on :)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Genuine Thankfulness

I'm not real sure where to begin...

This Thanksgiving was unlike any that Robin and I have ever experienced. Thanksgiving is marked by reflection and gratefulness, and by traditions and family times. This one was different, as it marked the first time we've not been able to trek to Washington state to be with family and to share the good times and warmth of the gathering. The travel to Florida and the schedule for our training has put us in aspot where we can't really get away for more than a weekend, so we were able to plan a first for us; Thanksgiving for two.

Thanksgiving day started at 5:15 A.M. with a trip to Fort Lauderdale to deliver two fine young ladies to the airport. These two guests had spent a week with us exploring the territory, scouting out South Beach and setting out for the Keys on their own adventures while we had our normal work week and managed to spend as much precious time together as we could squeeze out of the days.

Last week Brecca arrived on Thursday evening after an adventurous trip and Friday evening Nichelle arrived to complete the package. We stayed two nights in Fort Lauderdale and got as much beach time as we could stand given the reather chilly, windy weekend (there...I said it ... it got 'chilly' here in Florida :) ).

We shared a great meal and after dinner visit time with Robin's uncle Tommy and thoroughly relished exploring, hiking, dining and visiting in the Fort Lauderdale area. The Yankee Clipper hotel is a nice place to stay with walk-out access to the beach and the gracious folks a couple of hotels down the road allowed Robin and I to have breakfast in their cafe even though it was for guests only and the only payment method they would accept was the room key (which we didn't have). ... After a visit to the front desk it was all squared away, and when we asked if we could come back tomorrow they said 'no'. :)

Ah well, it's all about adventure, no?

After the weekend we returned to the fifth-wheel and spent the next three days in the work routine while the girls went driving, beaching, and exploring. It sure sounded like the had a grand time, which was the ultimate goal of the visit.

Wednesday (the day before Thanksgiving) we all met up a Joe's Stone Crab in South Miami Beach. It is an acclaimed restaurant and we weren't disappointed. A fine meal with an amazing atmosphere. Good food, good service, and best of all great company.

Thanksgiving morning dawned early, as we needed to make the FLL airport by about 7:00 A.M. and it is about 45 miles north of us. There was very little traffic (I never get to set the cruise control on Miami expressways) and we made it in plenty of time to drop them off. I truly hope they had a great trip and know that they are welcome any time.

The rest of Thanksgiving day was spent in a non-traditional non-traditional as I have ever done. We did laundry and I washed the exteior of the fifth-wheel ... well .. most of it ... umm ... ok ... about half of it, but it was the hardest part! I still had Colorado bugs on the front of the coach that were tenaciously hanging on to their ride. Since you can't use abrasives on gel-coat, it took a good while, a lot of elbow grease and a few paper towels to get them cleaned off.

OK, so there were some traditions being kept up after all ... I did indeed manage to get some Christmas light hung up and turned on, we did sit down and share a meal, although turkey sausage on the grill is as close as that came to being traditional. We did send some time chatting about our fortunes and that of those around us. And we played the older Christmas videos (Miracle on 34th Street, The Bells of St. Mary, It's a Wonderful Life) all day on the TV. I also got to make a couple of phone calls to stay in touch with family. All in all, a great day and a great week.

So, here's my speech: I'm thankful for what I have, for who I have around me and for the gifts that God almighty has given me. These gifts include love and freedom, friendship, health, family my job and my history. I look back on the blessings that have been given me with true awe. The path has been strewn with joy and pain, and like so many of us I've made good and bad decisions along the way.
Well, I wouldn't be here if I hadn't been there so as the song goes; "God bless the broken road ..."

I'm most thankful for a second chance.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fire in the Sky

A unique oportunity presented itself on Nove 14th and Robin and I decided at the last minute to try to give it a go. So; throwing together an overnight satchel we jumped in the car immedaitely after work determined to drive as far north as we could practically get and see if we could spot the Space Shuttle Endeavour We drove a expeditiously as conditions would allow and made it approximately 175 miles north of our home, but about 35 miles south of the launch site. Even in our position, some 19 miles south of Cocoa Beach, the traffic was harsh and roads were getting close to clogged up. We opted to pull over at a beach access and set up the lawn chairs with about 20 minutes to spare.

At liftoff time, the northern sky lit up as if an impossibly brilliant sunrise were occurring. Then the fireball that could only be the shuttle cleared the horizon and began racing up into the sky. It was bright enough, even from our vantage nearly 30 mile away, to be hard to look at directly. The speed at which it leaves the earth and careens heavenward is absolutely astounding. The bright light of the shuttle's engines showed us where the smoke trail lay as the vehicle pushed toward, then through, a thin layer of clouds. A nearly full moon graced the partly cloudy sky and the on-shore breeze was fresh enough to prevent us from hearing any sound except the surf and the cheering of those people around us.

I tried to video the launch, but the camera was overwhelmed trying to focus on the fireball and get any sort of light-balance. The picture up top is not mine, and is shot from north of the launch site, but I like it :)

It was a long drive, over 3 hours and our reward was about five minutes of spectacle. We could see the red-hot boosters fall away from the orbiter as the shuttle climbed down-range and we watched as the giant fireball turned away and graudually diminished into a very bright pinpoint of light.

This was my second, and Robin's first viewing. Was it worth the drive? ... oh yeah!!
We're already planning to see the next one in February. Perhaps we can get more than a four-hour head start and we will be able to get to a proper up-close and personal vantage point.

Still, 30 miles away, ... it was awesome. Simply awesome.

=== === === ===

After the launch, we meandered back along Florida's highway A1A, heading for Vero Beach and a hotel reservation. It's been a pretty demanding couple of weeks and the thought of spending a relaxing morning sounded very nice, so we found a vacancy at a Holiday Inn Express and had a late evening meal and sat on the lawn chairs just up from the beach. It's very pleasant to slow down from a hectic pace and take some time to just zone out and relax.

We spent most of Saturday driving and stopping, driving and stopping as we worked our way back home. We visited a couple of other beaches, stopped and toured some state parks and gawked at the marinas, drawbridges and expensive homes along the way back. We discovered a couple of places we'd like to visit again, and had a very enjoyable afternnon trip back home.

A fun Friday and Saturday to be sure.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Learning the Ropes

This week has been relatively consumed with study and practice drawing the new maps we are faced with. For those of you not experienced in the Air Traffic Control field, let me just say that the learning curve is pretty steep. Even though Robin and I are experienced at what we do, the real 'meat' of the job is that every place that does ATC has its own set of challenges, procedures, traffic flows and nuances. Each and every flight is subject to procedures based on its route of flight and destination, and even what type of airlplane it is. This is even more pronounced along the coasts, where international overwater and trans-oceanic flights are routine.

To begin our learning process we are handed maps of the airspace. We pretty much have to learn the equivalent of a road map, including all the exit numbers, miles between the exits, the speed limits along the way and what each gas station expects from the drivers along each route. .. ok .. bad analogy, but it is a detailed level of study and it's time consuming and, I'm discovering, a little more difficult now that I have aged .. ermm .. I mean .. matured a bit.

The part about sending airplanes out over the ocean is new as well, and it involves detailed rules and strict procedures for interfacing with other oceaninc facilities and even different countries.

We will diligently pursue this learning because it matters greatly that we become as expert as possible in our jobs. There's precious little margin for error and we need to have a lot of information on tap quickly. It's tiring, and it's fun.

OK, in the other half our world (the non-employment half) Robin and I have been pursuing a couple of endeavours to keep us moving. We spent some time chasing lost paperwork and disposed of a bunch of old (and I mean old) records from the past. We are still actively downsizing where possible and we are finding that some of the 'stuff' that we brought along as 'essential' isn't really all that necessary.

We are learning about doing battle with the humidity. We came from very dry air to wet air, and aside from the fact that every cold drink you have drips on you when you pick it up, the high humidity presents a real danger of mold or mildew forming in the closets and elsewhere. We've tried a few of the commercial moisture-absorbers and to their credit they work well, but we will need a better long-term solution so we are going to have to make room for a de-humidifier somewhere in the living room or dining area.

The fifth-wheel was built with an 'arctic insulation package', and it is actually pretty tight and well insulated. This is good and bad, as the only real airflow comes from the Air conditioners or powered vents so moisture is trapped inside with us. On the good side, it keeps the bugs out and once we get the inside air dry, it'll stay dry longer. It's a quest. I love quests :)

We joined a fitness place. We've worked out twice ... I'm sore. We will be stepping out of our boxes big time with this venture, as it will involve both fitness exercises and a look at beginning self-defense classes. We've talked about this a lot over the last few months and have decided that it might be prudent to learn about self-defense from an expert. If we plan on traveling around in a sailbot, we may indeed be exposing ourselves to a slightly higher risk of some idiot trying to steal something from us and it will be good to know how to defuse or protect ourselves in such a situation. It's a new stretch in a series of eye-openers that we are in the middle of as we draw closer to setting sail someday.
Still no word on the repairs on the Solara. We've had a couple of phone calls indicating that they 'expect' the car to be back to us, but as of today no word on setting up an appointment to retrieve it. Hopefully this means that they've taken extra care to see to all the details that we mentioned when we checked it in. We will see. It will be nice to be back in our own wheels, and have the option of putting the top down when the time is right.
That's just about any time it isn't raining.

Friday, November 7, 2008


TGIF ... we haven't had much chance to have that saying relate its true meaning to us in a long time. Shift work, and varying days off all tend to mess up your idea of what a 'normal' working week ought to look like. So far at least the next several weeks, we will be 'out amongst them' as we keep reguilar working days and weekends off while we train. It will be unusual, but we will make the adjustment. Sometimes having weekdays off from work has its advantages, like missing the bulk of a crowd, but it also has its inherent difficulties like having to work weekends and not being able to partake of activities which are invariable scheduled for the masses. Oh well, it's why we have the big office and all.

Yesterday we stopped in and interviewed with a fitmess facility and soon we will be scheduled for classes and training again. It will be good to get back in to a program that will hopefully lead to a better us and I am looking forward to stretching our horizons as we try out some very new things here in the next few weeks.

We also discovered a couple of new (to us) shopping centers with both familiar and new-sounding stores and restaurants. Someday I might stop commenting on this, but traffic still astounds me after only to weeks here. Where are all these people going???

Robin and I will likely spend the weekend being domestic and working around the 'house'; continuing to settle in. We have also looked into a day's worth of exploration as well, perhaps to scope out different campsites/rv parks or look for marinas and beaches. How can you go wrong with that?

On a much-further-in-the-future note; I received an email from a former co-worker (thanks Brad) with suggestions and thoughts on being a full-time sailor and the problem with piracy in unfreindly (or sometimes friendly) areas of the world. While Robin and I still have years ahead before we actually cast off and leave the sight of land for weeks at a time, it still bears serious consideration for us.
Many hundreds of people sail freely around the world and enjoy the awe and wonder of exploration as we hope to do. Planning, preparations and precautions always lead to a safer venture in any category of activity and noother sport exemplifies this principle like long journey sailing. Our goal is to be trained, prepared and careful. Robin and I will be spending the next four years getting ready for this adventure and we will learn as much as we can along the way.
Already it is easy to see that avoiding hot-spots is the easiest way to avoid trouble. I would not invite trouble by walking alone at night on a street populated by gangs, nor would I sail alone, close to shore and within a pirate's radar coverage along the coast of Croatia right now. Our sail planning will necessarilty consider areas that are know the be troublesome and we will avoid them. Another option it so team up with other sailors and form a flotilla of boats to cross worrisome spots. This happens all the time and there is even a radio network where such crossings are organized. A proper amount of concern, and proper planning will minimize risks and push the fun-factor up where it ought to be.
Am I worried about pirates? ... hmmm .. maybe I ~am~ a pirate! :)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Conspiring ?


There are no doubt a million plus blog entries about the election, and I have no interest in discussing results. I just know thatRobin and I didn't get to vote, and it took a lot of concerted planning and effort to get me in that spot. Everything came together just wrong, and it was quite a chain of events that led to our being unable to participate in the election. Bear with me a bit...

Back in July we began to make firm plans for our move to Florida. This included applying for a residence address, even though we would be mobile in the fifth-wheel. Florida has a lot of people that do this kind of stuff, in RVs and on boats so there is a application procedure that you go through to declare and verify your residence and that you are indeed domiciled in Florida. It involves forms and phone calls and I knew it'd take some time.
We successfuly met the requirements to establish residency and made application to declare Florida as our domicile. We also made application to register to vote in Florida since we figured we'd be there a couple of weeks prior to election day.
The Domicile papers came back approved, but the Voter's Registration came back to us not approved because we'd submitted the wrong version of the form. (We downloaded and printed the form from their website...) OK, so now it's September and I start thinking that this is getting to be tight timing after all. So ... to cover our bases, I applied for mail-in voting in Colorado. The rationale was that even if the paperwork for Florida didn't get back in time we could still vote absentee in Colorado. I would feel really good about that anyway because I was familiar with the ballot (of course, if we're leaving the state I wouldn't really feel right in voting on local issues).

Now, let me explain mail forwarding :) ... we have a physical address in Florida, but we don't actaully park there. We'll be switching RV parks and eventually boat docks relatively frequently and a properly validated mail forwarding address allows us to get our mail anywhere, any time we like. You mail it to our 'street' address and the company forwards it to us wherever we tell them to, either on-the-spot or on scheduled intervals (ours is twice a week). They will screen out junk mail if we ask them to, they will even open our mail and scan it and we can have access to it on line immediately. Great services for folks who travel full time. Not too expensive for what they do and nice when you go to apply for a driver's license :).
So; theoretically you'd mail to our Longmont address, the Post Office forwards it on our forwarding order to the 'residence' address here in FL and the mail forwarding service sends it to our RV or boat location, wherever that is. Sure there'll be some delay, but oh well.

Well, the voter's registration cards from Florda arrived a couple of days before we left on the trip, but we still did not have our mail-in ballots from Colorado, and it was time to put the forward order in to the Post Office. No big deal, I thought, it'll be waiting for us when we get there and we'll take care of it then.
I sat down at the laptop to put the forwarding order in (you can do all kinds of stuff on the Postal Service's website) and after I'd filled in all the information I discovered that the Post Office did not want to forward mail to the new address for me at all. It rejected my request based on the fact that the address I gave them was a business address, not a residence. Uh Oh ...

Well, all was not lost ... Robin and I had taken the precaution of securing a Post Office box near to where we'd be working, just as a hedge of safety should we need to have stuff delivered quickly to us rather than through the mail service. I tried to put the forward order in to the P. O. Box ... ... nope, no go. hmmm

The next day was Friday, and we were hoping to leave on Sunday so it was becoming apparent that this last little detail could unravel a lot of planning. I called the Postmaster and explained the situation, she said that it was the the computer safeguarding unauthorized activities and that filling out the paper form, with signatures, and mailing it in would serve the purpose and make the forwarding go.
OK, got the forms package but did not get it mailed out until we were underway (maybe from Kansas or Missouri). No worries, I figured, we'd be a couple of weeks in transit so it should all happen as planned after all. I put together a package with our mailbox keys and a note of thanks to our carrier and another request to change our address and dropped it the mailbox outside our house and off we went on our cross-country venture.

Well, it all pretty much fizzled, I guess. Two weeks later, we still are missing a bunch of mail and we did not get our Colorado ballots. I have no idea what happened, and the Postmaster just assured us that the forwards 'sometimes take a couple of weeks to kick in :(

The downside of 'residing' through a domiciled address also became apparent, because in order for us to vote in Florida we would have to appear in person at our polling place, necessarily in our 'home' county, which is actually about a 6 hour drive north of here. We could not manage to get time off work to make a 12 hour round trip trek and we had to go home Tuesday night having not voted for the first time in ... well, for as long as I've been registered, I guess.

While I was very disappointed, I and while I'm still a little frustrated that the 'system' let me down, I can see how it all came together in a series of little things that all went their own way a little bit. I think that Robin and I planned well and did a lot of things right, and there were some unexpected twists that added up to the eventually missing our voting opportunity.

What you learn along the way is that plans are just that ... plans. The difference between our plans and our experiences is what make life interesting and challenging.

We won't miss the next one...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Easing in.

We found a couple of nice restaurants this week, and I'd like to thank the folks at Garmin, Inc. for providing us with relatively flawless driving directions whenever we ask the little GPS to find some new place for us.

We're doing map study, both at work and on the streets here in the area, and we are gradually becoming familiar with some of our immediate surroundings. Running into several familiar businesses makes it far less disorienting when you are in new surroundings. It does seems as though the Starbucks around here are much harder to access than in Colorado, but I believe that is a testimony to the general 'tightness' of everything around town. It's not only the streets that are crammed, so are all the strip-malls, corner businesses, and parking lots. It's crowded here.

We tried to drive north to hook up with our good friend Pam who was in the area for a visit but fell about 20 miles short of the destination when it became apparent that the traffic congestion would prevent us from accomplishing our goal in a reasonable amount of time. Ah well, we'll plan it better next time and get to visit properly some day.

We did find our way to North Beach and worked our way back home through some pretty cool areas of the city. After dark, we stopped alongside a beach access and walked out to listen to the ocean. We were still in our work clothes so we didn't get to go very far into the sand but it was still a pleasant few minutes while we stopped and watched the surf and felt the cool breeze coming on shore. About an hour later we were back home and is rained off and on for a while.

We learned that the really cool, automated, variable speed, programmable vent fans we have in the kitchen and bathroom have counter-intuitive switches on them. The fans ("Fan-tastic" vents) are supposed to sense rain and close down on their own. This is easily overriden by the 'Rain Sensor' switch adjacent to the fan itself. It has a two position switch, red and black. Somehow I figured red must mean 'on' and black would be 'off' but noooooo! We did get a little wet in there during a late night rain shower:) It's all part of the learning curve.

Yesterday Robin potted a couple of herbs, mint and basil. The basil will make great caprese and the mint .. well .. it's an essential ingredient in Mojito's, no?

The Solara is at the shop, and the repairs will take a couple of weeks. The insurance company provided a Jetta for us to use in the meantime and it will get us around just fine now that I've figured out how to lower the seat (only took 4 days) so my head doesn't touch the headliner all the time. It has a turn signal lever on it, but I think I might be the first person to ever use it. It seems that freeway/turnpike driving is a lot like a video game and folks are far too concerned with their next 'Frogger" like lane-hop to take time to locate and throw that annoying lever. I'll get used to it I suppose.

Robin and I will be getting our own Driver's Licenses here shortly and then we will register vehicles as soon as we have the tax-law limitations satisfied.

We asked for and received permission to pick a few avacados from the nearby trees in the campground (they are everywhere!). We'll just have to be careful, as they are high in cholestrol and fat, and we like them ... a lot ... and they're free .. and abundant .. and tasty :)

It's a beautiful day here. Think we'll go explore a little bit more.

Oh .. and be sure to get out and vote. It really matters.