12/09/05:
Just so you know right up front, we are not in Joshua Tree - yet.

In fact, my primary motive for putting this newsletter together and sending it to you right now is to make it happen in 2005. Then I can feel legit about labeling this year's site: "Joshua Tree 2005". They have progressed in even succession since 2001 - 2002 - 2003 - 2004. I could not bear the thought of having to call the next one "2006", even though we did not make it back there last winter. So now it will be "2005" and that is good.

I have even created the bare bones "Joshua Tree 2005" web site, so if you are not already there reading this [well, you are], feel free to do so. The Journal is a duplicate of the Newsletter except that it has pictures and a picture is worth a 1000 of my words, multiplied.

12/13/05:

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Thank you for using OPEN Network Business Travel Center. ...
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CRS Locater # EMPKOV
Car Rental Confirmation #1 ZI-43094683US2 (Avis)
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Name(s) of people traveling:
Passenger #1: Van Blakeman
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ITINERARY
Car: Avis (airport)
Pick-up: Dec 31 Hyannis
Drop-Off: Jan 04 Burbank
Car size: Compact Conf: 43094683US2
Rate: USD 47.00/day Extra Day: 47.00 Extra Hour: 15.67
Total Car Cost: USD 223.40
Special Requests:
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AGENCY INFORMATION
Agency: American Express Interactive Business Travel
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Look at that price! I had researched the alternative car rental deals at AAA.com ($475), Expedia.com ($475) and the standard travel service at AmericanExpress.com ($451). I accidentally found this deal later when I logged into my AMEX account to view my statement. Down near the bottom right was a small box that said "Search for special low rates on business routes for Small Business Card members. Go to the Business Travel Center". So, what the heck, I clicked on it. [Ah, cancel that - read about my enlightenment further down.]

This car rental thing was definitely not the plan I had set in motion. On October 31, I had bought a van on eBay and arranged with the seller to pick it up in Van Nuys, CA by mid-November, after flying in from Providence. The plane ticket for the two of us would have been about $224, plus another $100 (or less) for our dog Molly, plus another $49 for a car to get us to Providence: Total $373 max - if reserved far enough in advance.

(You know, don't you, that you can click on any of these small "thumbnail" images to get a full screen rendition?)

However, we did not expect to be sabotaged by the tenants in our cottage. For various reasons, including a 4 year history of late rents, Eileen had asked them to leave. A month's notice would have had them out by October 13. It didn't happen. Instead we found ourselves going back and forth to court having been accused of harassment, negligence, spying, etc., being threatened by their lawyer and sued for 3 months rent plus court and attorney fees (meaning Eileen would have to pay them). Massachusetts laws favor tenants to the extreme. These ones know how to manipulate the system. They can lie through their teeth and the court will bend over backwards to meet their every whim.

We never felt good about this guy after he and another girlfriend (whom we liked) moved in 4 years ago but circumstances were such that we did not do anything about it until now. His girlfriend left him after he beat her up. Since her name was on everything and his was not, she is now being sought after by the propane company for his unpaid bill. I think his new girlfriend, a self-proclaimed screenwriter, is the brains behind this seemingly premeditated scam. He is hiding behind her skirts as he did his ex.

On December 3 we found their keys in an envelope. Thank God! All of their stuff was gone, except for excessive crud and stench in the cottage, broken glass and other trash mixed into the ivy ground cover, dead car battery, etc.. On December 15 we will be in court filing for Eileen's loss of 3 months rental income, plus the court and sheriff fees that she has already paid.

Meanwhile the cottage has been cleaned, repaired, painted and rented to a nice young couple with excellent references and good jobs. We feel very good about them; what a relief. They offered Eileen an extra $200 so they could begin moving stuff in now even though they will not actually move in until January 1 when their current lease expires.


Our departure date is based on Eileen having received the balance of the rent by then. With time getting short, I called a local travel agency for a quote: we could fly out January 6 for $348, plus Molly and a car to Providence, roughly a total of $500. On top of that, if the temperature at any airport along the route is forecast to be less then 45 degrees, Molly can not fly (though a certificate from our vet might allow for a lower temperature due to her Labrador heritage). As I was getting this quote, the news was showing a jetliner sliding off a Chicago airstrip onto a highway during a snow storm. Hence, our decision to just drive the 3000 mile trip.

I am thinking about a new route. It is a little more direct then the route we have used in prior years which was I81 southwest to Tennessee and I40 west all the way to CA. The new route, I78-I70-I44, heads more west, gradually dropping to meet I40 half way across the nation. It is about 150 miles shorter. The two routes diverge at the Hudson River and they rejoin at Oklahoma City. At one point, the new route is 460 miles north of the old one putting us closer to potential winter storms. It runs through a few more major cities increasing the risk of getting stuck in traffic. On the other hand, we have experienced the worst of snow and ice storms on the old route, so who is to say. I will check the forecasts of some of the major cities the night before we depart and then decide accordingly.


On October 21, I began selecting tools on Amazon. Three full days and 117 tools later, I came up for air. I also have them copied into a spreadsheet. Many of the items are stocked by Amazon and ship for free. The others are provided by suppliers who list with Amazon. They charge for shipping and handling. The spreadsheet allows me to sort the items by supplier so that I can juggle things between them and thereby minimize
the shipping. Ordering 1 or 2 tools from one company can result in a relatively high S&H charge, whereas if they are grouped in with another order of 10 or 20 tools, the relative S&H should be considerably less. Anyhow, those 117 tools are sitting in my Amazon Shopping Cart waiting for me to hit the Checkout button, but I don't want to do that until just before we leave so that I can be there in Joshua Tree when they begin to arrive.

Prior to making these selections, I took an Amazon catalog to the Home Depot in Hyannis and compared prices. There is a Home Depot down the hill from Joshua Tree, outside of Palm Springs. A high end DeWalt cordless drill kit was the same price. Everything else that I checked was more expensive at Home Depot. With nearly half the tools at Amazon shipping for free, I think it will average out as quite a savings.

Not everything I need is cheaper when compared to outside suppliers. A battery charger and tire pump will be cheaper at the AutoZone in Yucca Valley, next door to Joshua Tree (I checked this out online). Also a screw jack (20 ton capacity) I want for moving boulders is the same at SouthernToolCompany.com, but shipping there is free where through the Amazon supplier it is estimated at $50. I know that because I emailed the supplier and asked them. However, the 3 foot bar that pumps the jack sells separately and it is cheaper through Amazon, so I order the handle from Amazon. Hah! :)

The whole idea here is to eliminate the need to carry things back and forth so that in the years to follow we can travel light as we hop the jet planes. (With that objective in mind, I am mulling over ways in which Molly might tow her own cage.) ;)


12/17/05:
I would not say the court session went well. We are waiting now for the decision to come in the mail. Eileen's lawyer had told her that she would not need his services; that it would end up with nobody having to pay anybody anything, with each claim canceling the other. Their lawyer was present and he went after Eileen for harassing his clients and for abusing their security deposit. Over the years, Eileen and the ex-girlfriend handled things; again he hid behind her skirts. When they were late on the rent, the girlfriend would ask Eileen to borrow from the security. He says he never authorized that. Of course his ex is long gone and cannot substantiate Eileen's claim.

Also, Eileen does not have any bank statements to prove that she dutifully maintained the bank account accordingly. She has a terrible compulsion to throw out old papers and that practice has returned to bite her. Apparently the landlord is not permitted to touch the security for any reason until the end, and then she must have irrefutable proof that damage was done to the place.

She may be fined 3 months rent and the $1000 lawyer's fee. She says that she will not pay it and that she will go to jail if necessary. I doubt it would come to that. However, it seemed to me that it was very apparent to the court that she had done right by her tenants throughout the years, in spite of technical mistakes, and that there were indications that these tenants had not done right by her. Hopefully the judge will recognize this for the scam that it is and find a way to circumvent the unjust Massachusetts law.


We have done a lot in that year and a half. It has been interesting.

Eileen of course has continued to develop her shop, even into cold hard winter days sitting by a wood stove or out and about gathering or receiving merchandise. For example, yesterday a new load of hand-made birdhouses and stools were delivered by David Gurney and processed (by Eileen). She already has an overflowing barn of stuff ready for reopening in the spring. Thank God her business did do well this year because it helped offset the losses from the deadbeat tenants and this month's $777 oil bill, a chunk of that resulting from our having had to remain here.

I do my part by leaving the heat zone off on my half of the house - where my office is. I have been using an electric heater instead. I turn it on at about 7:00 AM and the office is warmed up rather nicely by about 11:00 AM. Well, that was the case. Now I begin with the steam heat. It warms the place quickly and then I switch over.

For most of the interesting events that have occurred, I have developed a web site: Brianny's Graduation, Darby's Graduation, Eileen's Shop, even my old Shop, A Cataumet Christmas (I grew up there, summers) and I still haven't gotten over that horrible snow-shoveling ordeal. (I really need to get out of this place before that happens again.) I have also installed a network camera overlooking the driveway and have written prolifically about that - written primarily from desperation. I am still writing and uploading that one almost bi-daily.


Finally, I have developed a web site for Grafstick Tape & Label and I am pleased with it (so are they). The web site takes orders and turns the customers over to PayPal.com where they pay for the order. PayPal then emails the order back to me where I then forward it to the guys in the Stoughten shop and make sure that the process goes smoothly. For that I receive a monthly retainer in addition to having been paid for developing the web site. They get about as many phone orders from the web site as they do via PayPal, but the latter has thus far accumulated $1189 in sales primarily of $1.50 tapes.

I even broke into brand new territory by getting their merchandise up on Amazon.com. That is primarily a task of developing a somewhat involved spreadsheet according to Amazon's specs - including 74 images according to specs, the latest batch of which I began by attaching the metallic tapes to the front of our dishwasher, setting my camera on a tripod and firing away from all kinds of angles and lighting until I accidentally got a good one. I then processed that one through Photoshop Elements until the tapes ended up looking like what they really look like. Then into more challenging territory by advertising their web site through Google's Pay-Per-Click setup - and getting them registered just about everywhere else.

We also finally saw the end of the long and painful family ordeal of inheriting some of my parent's possessions. That was a heavy matter that began in 1998 when my mother passed away. I developed a private web site to list and display all items so that I and the family could look them over and make our selections.

So the above is pretty much why we didn't make it to Joshua Tree last winter.

Did I mention the Big Dig - searching for and excavating the tenant's septic line and tank last December and January? There will be no web site for that one. BUT - I did want to get an online record of where all of the components are buried, so this is as good a place as any. Besides, I need to keep you fascinated with some down-to-earth content until I get to Joshua Tree and have something truly rock-solid to talk about. (Sorry) Turned out there were well developed roots thriving within the elbow where the pipe first turns to head for the tank.


First, located the pipe Then dug up much of this - searching Finally found the tank The interior view



Oh hey - I might as well add the rotted out triple window unit that I replaced in the barn. That is 3 individual windows placed precisely to fit around the off-center tilted studs of the building and not look like it - glued and screwed to a 9 foot sill. The interior view of the new window can be seen in the image of Eileen's shop a page or two above.



I really need to get back to the casual and peaceful pastime of moving a few boulders around.




12/20/05:
I was just sitting here in my nice cozy office watching Eileen on my other computer screen which sits immediately above and behind the one I use as I type this and do everything else. She was loading stuff into the Jeep to take to the dump, which is strictly a voluntary matter, but remember: she needs to throw things out. The last I checked, it was 18 degrees out and here in New England that is a bitter cold 18 degrees.

Then she disappeared from the screen and a few moments later was outside my door quietly yelling "Are you ready? Let's go!". (She does not open the door because of the smoke and because I yell at her about letting my heat out.]
I could not recall our having planned on my going anywhere out there until this afternoon when we'll be going to get some shrimp for a small gathering of daughters and friends here tomorrow. For some reason I have to participate in that adventure (well, maybe it's my card that has to participate). I said "Huh??". She explained that she wants to get in a car now and go to a warm climate - NOW!

Two days ago she came to me and asked if we could leave on the 27th instead of January 1. I reminded her that she wanted to wait until she had the new tenant's check in her hands. She said "They are okay; I'll give them some deposit slips and they can put it into the bank let's get out of here".

I drove to the Hyannis airport yesterday to talk to the AVIS lady and see an example of the car we'll be driving. Sometimes I need to look things over just to get my head around the situation. It will help me when I am preparing everything that will be packed the evening before we leave. I measured the back seat of a Ford Focus to make sure the 2 foot wide dog cage will fit, and it will though I may feel it pressing against my back. That cage is Molly's "home" and it is the place where she can truly hang loose without a care in the world, so I think she will appreciate riding in it as we venture across country - with the gate open.

The AVIS lady was patient with me when I handed her my rental invoice and commented on what a deal it was. She pointed to that little line on the invoice that said ".40MI" and gently explained what it means. "What? How'd that get in there? I didn't even see it!" I had always diligently clicked on the "Unlimited Mileage" buttons in all of my searches so I don't know how that snuck in there. She rewrote the ticket for $405.87 to pick up on 12/26 at 3:00 PM. That is $45 better then the best that I had found online and that is very upsetting.


It arrived today while I was writing the preceding. I saw the mail truck through the camera and I heard it through my window. As I usually do, I went out to walk Molly and to get the mail. In the mail box was a circular, a Christmas card and an envelope from the Barnstable District Court. It occurred to me that Eileen would need to discover this; that she had been waiting for this very moment, so I left it in there, closed the lid and returned to my office.

About an hour later, I looked up at the camara's screen to see the Jeep adjacent to the mail box and Eileen standing there with the sun gleaming through her hair, reading a sheet of paper. She seemed to be standing there for quite some time.

Eventually she arrived outside my door just as I was on my way out to meet her.
She handed me the sheet of paper. It said:

After hearing, judgment is to enter for the defendant, [his name].
On the counterclaim, judgment is to enter for the defendant, Eileen Blakeman

So it is over; one cancels the other. Their scam worked. They skipped out on 2 month's rent but now they owe their lawyer $1000. Of course they were shooting for about $4000, but the judge nixed that. Eileen lost almost 3 month's rent, but has their security deposit to cover almost one of those. She also lost a few hundred in fees - and paid two plumbers to do what I could have done, that is enter the cottage to verify that the faucets work. They were also paid to stand with a Sandwich officer and watch a video put together by the "screen writer". It showed a flow of water dwindling to nothing. One plumber commented afterwards that somebody off camera could have been operating the valve under the sink.


Well, that's about it for now. If there is not a "NEXT" button at the bottom of this page, there will be after we settle in at Joshua Tree.       Bye.

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December 21, 2005 1:01 PM          Subject: RE: News from Joshua Tree - NOT!
Merry Christmas!! I know I tell you every year to keep me on the list (by extension Allen), but I want to write anyway and say congratulations, it's over! I wish Eileen had gotten what was duly Eileen's but at least it's not dragging on any longer and you can head west. Go west, relax and think of us all when we dig out of the next blizzard.       Love, Sue


1:02 PM Van ... By all means keep me on your mail list. I read the whole thing man. wow!!!       Bernie


3:33 PM Hi Van, Nice to hear from you, and a Merry Christmas! And a safe trip out west. Hope you miss any bad weather.
Yes, rentals can be a real pain. Almost nobody in our neighbourhood rents any more, unless they are people they actually know. Once stung, they just close the house up for the winter.       Janie and Richie


4:38 PM We're rushing around like the usual nuts we are, heading for Florida tomorrow and 2 months in our new RV in Sarasota FL. The laptop is in it and we plan to keep in touch. Good luck with your travels.       Ginny & Rick


5:14 PM HI Van, got your newsletter. Thanks. Wishing you a Merry Christmas. My best to Eileen. Take care. :)       Jane


5:29 PM Van: Got your latest missive. It's firmly entrenched in "Favorites". All aspects considered (I think we have some sort of soul connection, because I understand it ALL!), it's all excellent.

I don't think that I will ever get as far away and as close to the land as you two. Medical reasons will interfere, and I will probably need regular energy for the rest of my life. Refrigerate medicine... that sort of thing. Maybe refrigerate myself too.

As an aside, I'm very familiar with the Out Islands of the Bahamas. It's our dessert, but with 10 or 15 feet of water all over it. Abaco Sound is full of strange creatures and the clear atmosphere allow the stars to descend at night to the palms of your hands, and dance. It is wondrously both very, very like the dry land that drives our spirits, and very, very much different. You have to trade in your AWD for a sail, and you can get to the same gateway to heaven. Fresh water is precious and electricity very sparse, and the SILENCE is fantastic. It's the same...(again), it's our dessert.

Do you have some kind of travel van? I thought I saw one in one of the photographs. They can make a long road trip a lot easier. You mentioned investigating "flying". I used to work for American Airlines. They give you the most room and do a pretty good job with animals. I used to go to Arizona with my last West Highland Terrier. I never had any problems.

As for driving, I've done it several times. For where you're headed, your route seems good. I would stay as far south as possible when I'm traveling in any bad weather season. Sometimes I head south, and go through Richmond, Chattanooga, Vicksburg, Dallas, El Paso to Tucson. Make sure you have good SUNGLASSES, and if you're going to stop for the night near a city, always stop on the far side of the local (to avoid the morning rush).

Your efforts look and sound good.

- Robert Tinel


7:27 PM Got it...hope you have a good trip. Merry Christmas & Happy 2006       Bob Scott


7:46 PM Christmas in Joshua Tree, how cool. Wish I were there. Have a great time and xmas.       Doug Perske


11:21 PM Just finished reading your newsletter and I'm exhausted!       You guys live a rather hectic life!

I've always wondered but never inquired, what do you do in Joshua Tree?       A friend of mine who is a wildlife rehabilitator, has a sister in Joshua Tree - I had never heard of that town before I met her at her mother's funeral a few years ago.       I'm glad you're driving there, Molly will like that much better.

Keep us on the list - your life is more interesting than ours!!! Merry Christmas and safe journey.       Virginia Y.


12:37 AM The first time I heard of Joshua Tree thirty something years ago was from a "hippie" who was traveling to Joshua Tree because it was a "spiritual place" exactly on the opposite side of the earth from Jerusalem, or so he said. I marked it down to LSD. Soon there after, I noticed an ad in the paper: "Land for sale by owner ... Joshua Tree ...".       After 11 years of $25/mo payments, I owned it.

Much of the town of Joshua Tree, as you drive through it, appears to be little better then the same old same old - broad expanses of starkly vegetated desert. The predominant trees are the Joshua Tree - magnificent waving and praying prickly sentinels scattered across the rough terrain. Along Route 62 as far as you can see is an eclectic collection of ancient and new structures, from stone and parched wood shacks and old aluminum trailers still legal under the grandfather clause, to red tile roofed developments, to individual (very) haciendas on lots from 2 to 2000 acres, often heavily shrouded beneath massive old trees of nearly every variety - just add water. Enormous piles of rock hundreds of feet high are the backdrops to these fascinating ramshackle vistas. They look like God backed up with an enormous truck and dumped them there.

As you turn onto one of the roads leading up into the Joshua Tree National Park, where you begin to get up close and in between the magnificent formations and hidden valleys, your appreciation for the surrounding terrain begins to develop, and in fact can almost overwhelm you with 'Oh Wow' surprises. Those enormous piles of rock have become breath-taking sculptures. People literally come from all over the world to experience this magnificent realm of quiet enchantment, many with their figurative prayer books and many more with high-tech ropes, carabiners and pitons.

An antique wooden Branstrator trailer (no aluminum) is parked at the bottom of my ten acre sculpture overlooking a peaceful valley of silence, broken only by the distant sound of voices on front porches, chirping quails dancing, forlorn coyotes talking - though too often the distant wail of a siren chasing towards a piton that lost its grip.

Eileen and I stumble into that trailer from time to time to slump down into the pleasant relief of leaving the "hectic" life behind. I get into my routine of moving rocks around and improving our living conditions as Eileen strolls the neighborhood saying hello to horses, dogs and the people we know and love. She or we often mingle into those quiet voices on their front porches. Eileen has been known to return from such a journey to comment on how spiritual it is. I agree with her.       Van


12/23/05 4:27 PM Wow, I envy what you two have!       Although raised be two very strict Catholics, I've abandoned organized religion, not God, and I feel completely in tune with that spirituality that Eileen talks of when she arrives home from her walks.       So many people don't get it, that "we are one" - everything living on this earth.       You two have that understanding.

Thank you for telling us about Joshua Tree - it sounds wonderful.       I might add, that we enjoy books, Ed listens to them on tape and I read whenever I can - and I am also into writing.       You have a nice, easy flow to your writing, very recognizable.       Among the other things you do, you should be writing!       Virginia Y.


10:13 AM It was quite the informative news letter! Best of luck with your trip!       Julie



           

Copyright © 2006, Van Blakeman