It was snowing in the desert when we got there. We came through Joshua Tree about noon on December 17, hearing in the convenience store that the roads behind us were being closed down. We managed to get past the vehicles that were sliding off the road around us as we barged Andretti style through 6" of accumulating snow, cutting & fishtailing the curves on the highway, finding welcome traction on the dirt roads that lead to our place, pulling fast and successfully to a sudden stop in our driveway. We knew there would be no going back for awhile.

I had learned and perfected that technique as a teenager who occasionally found himself stranded in a snow bank on the back roads of New Jersey heading for Carol Farley's house out in the boondocks. Now that practice was paying off even though I was occasionally distracted by the sharp indrawn breaths and suppressed screams of my wife Eileen.

As these pictures show, this snow had been chasing us across the country. Almost every morning we would wake in some motel to find a light sprinkling of snow surrounding our car.
After finding coffee for me and tea for Eileen, walking the dog and loading the car, we would be on our way, soon finding clear road ahead of us, then stopping for a 'Lumberjack' cakes & eggs (me; not Eileen) at the first Denny's that turned up after the sun showed itself in the rear view mirror. It was nice being able to program a Denny's into the GPS and just enjoy the ride sipping my coffee, Eileen her tea.

As life would have it we had gotten a late start. I like to get going early November to avoid the winter weather and its inherent dangers. Each year there occurs a battle over leaving then or leaving after Thanksgiving, basically having to choose between common sense and watching tree leaves change color. This year we were also delayed by other matters that pushed our departure to December 13: post-midlife medical concerns that can't be avoided but end up being nothing to worry about.
The nice thing is that our arrival put all that behind us; it was done; we had survived the medical inquiry and the trip, and now we could relax. By morning the snow had stopped at 11 inches. Thank god we had put a carport over the trailer in March. It kept most of the snow off of the fragile and leaky flat tin roof. Of course the solar panels on the roof of the utility house were covered and it took awhile to push the snow off of them with a broom. The 12 deep-cycle batteries had been fully charged so we had electricity through the night. We also had a good supply of propane so the heaters kept us cozy.

First Grandchild
The snow was about half gone two days later, the 19th, as we headed east to Tempe so that Eileen could meet her first grandchild, daughter-in-law and step-granddaughter.
On December 16, 2008 Jensen Findlay Kerr was born to Jody & Tiffany Kerr and to his delightful 9 year old big sister Tanith. He is in fact a good looking baby and a pleasantly quiet one just laying there soaking it all in learning what this new world is all about. I'm told that prior to birth he became well acquainted with the sounds of The Clash. To me they sound something like a slowly disintegrating car wreak with pulsing strands of music woven within, so I guess he finds this new life comparatively peaceful.

Eileen had brought a quantity of Christmas gifts and we also delivered a large heavy cradle carried in the back of the Prius from our east coast home, which was a trick and a half. It had been built by Jody's late father when Jody was newly born, so he appreciated that.

We kept our visits to the house short because Tiffany was still totally exhausted and in need to sleep. Eileen spent a few hours the next day washing dishes and cleaning though Tanith had already been doing a good job of that. We went to dinner the next evening. On the 23rd we returned to Joshua Tree. We would make one more visit 2 months later.

Tiffany and Tanith are a delight and, with Jensen, appear to be successfully transforming Jody, an obsessed antique car mechanic, into a dedicated family man and doting father.

Renovation And Remodeling
Back in Joshua Tree the snow was gone but the days were still overcast, which enabled me to discover the limits of our solar system, or the ability of the batteries to provide electricity while there was little sun to recharge them. Oddly enough, this was when I decided to experiment with a new 'energy efficient' electric heater. It worked, kind of, throughout the day. That is, when it cut out periodically I would restart it. I think the problem was that it could not completely synchronize itself with the electronics that regulate the solar system, so that it would throw some heat for awhile and then quit. However it did suck up a lot of power.

Sometime after dark on Christmas Eve the batteries drained below a certain charge level and the system shut down. We had no electricity for the rest of the night, reverting to the flashlights and the camping stove that had kept us going in previous years. In the morning the batteries began to recharge and after a few hours we had electricity again. This was an interesting experiment but not worth my now being unable to run the coffee maker. I put the heater away.

By the end of December it was back up into the 60s though the nights were still dropping to the upper 30s.

This visit to Joshua Tree in 2008 was the first time Eileen had seen the transformations that had occurred after her departure the previous February, all of which have been described on the 2007 web site. Between late February and mid May we had gained:
  • a secure steel Carolina carport over the trailer,
  • a life changing solar power system on top of the small utility house,
  • a generous supply of outlets and lamps in and out of the trailer and utility house,
  • total renovation of various relevant walls inside the trailer (in serious need of same),
  • an honest-to-god refrigerator, plus a microwave and coffee maker, and
  • in the utility house, a fully wired office desk unit, brass pool table lamp and overstuffed swivel chair.
However, the first thing she did was rearrange the kitchen. I would usually eat at a one-legged table hinged to a partition that I had built 40 years ago to separate the toilet-sink area from the living-dining area. The table is actually a cutout in the partition that when down becomes a table. In May I hung a reading lamp on a track over where I eat but far enough back so that bugs that hit the lamp would not fall into my food.
Eileen prefers that the table serve only as a partition, so it went vertical and we moved the tubular glass top kitchen table over against the partition, making it the new dining table. Then the chest refrigerator that had been carefully positioned and balanced against the side wall was moved to the adjacent end wall where the glass table used to be. (You can look at the adjacent pictures to see what I'm talking about.) I like things functional and convenient, whereas with Eileen it just has to look right. Well, the new position of the glass table put the placemat right under the hanging lamp which could not be moved back because the track was too short. This was resolved by replacing the 2' track with a 3' track.
Moving the chest fridge created another problem. Its new position was such that one could not easily retrieve those things that inevitably fall off the rear whenever the lid is raised. One would expect people to remove those things before the lid is opened but that just doesn't always happen. This was resolved by purchasing a white plastic gutter guard at Home Depot and attaching it loosely with plastic ties to the top hinges at the rear of the fridge. The outer edge of the gutter guard leans against the rear wall and rides up the wall whenever the lid was opened, thereby catching anything that slides off the top.

While we are inside, one more thing I did later on was add a full length mirror inside the sliding bedroom door. The original had been smashed by vandals back in the '80s. I had cleaned it up when we returned in 2001 but left it at that. This new one I laid in with clear silicone around the edge and under the trim to keep it from rattling when the door is moved. The hanging door already rattles inside its pocket anyhow, in spite of having added little rubber bumpers. I also attached a similar mirror to the shower stall wall.
Speaking of doors, the screen in the hanging-sliding screen door to the outside had recently been pushed out by our reactionary dog when a neighbor came to visit. After doing the above bedroom door I went to work on this one. When I removed the trim I discovered that there was almost no excess screen to fit under the trim on one side. I do not know why this was done that way 40 years ago, though I probably had a reason. It did in fact work just fine for 40 years until it meant Molly. Being the original brass screen (with no holes), I wanted to preserve it. What I did was carefully drive a series of brads into the wood about a half inch in from the inner edge. Then I wove a tough but flexible thin wire between the brads and the edge of the sturdy screen gently pulling it taut. I then bent the brads over to lock the wire in place. Replacing the original trim hid most of this and further helped lock it in place.

Connecting to the internet at home
This year I connected to the internet by plugging my computer directly into my Blackberry smartphone, using it as the modem. Last year's arrangement with my neighbor to connect wirelessly through their modem was no longer an option. They had moved back to their Las Vegas home, and their new renter was not interested in such an arrangement.

Instead I subscribed to a $60 AT&T Data plan, rather expensive for dubious quality. There were plenty of times when I had to wave the Blackberry around in the air until it found a 'data connection', which usually turned out to be too weak. The Voice signal was almost always strong, but the Data signal arrives at a different frequency or whatever and was often too limp to accomplish anything online. Then I would have to remove the back, remove the battery, wait a minute, replace the battery and back, wait a few minutes, and then it would regain a strong connection to the internet. This occurred too frequently.

Though an extraordinary nuisance, it ultimately did work and I was able to download emails, do business, run searches for things like water tanks, and keep an eye on the news, all from the convenience of my new office. Now that I have electricity, I will probably look into hooking up a router of my own next year and connecting through the local internet service, Flashbyte. Though they are notoriously flakey, my wireless connection through them via my neighbor in 2007 was probably better than this AT&T cellular data connection. Hopefully by then they will have gotten their act together or perhaps there will be a new competing service. We will see. If not, I can always drive into town and connect wirelessly through any number of establishments for free, but I would prefer to do so from the comfort of my new office.

Newsflash: after typing the above I ran a search to see what the current situation is. It appears that Flashbyte has disappeared leaving a lot of very unhappy people in their wake. So much for that. DSL and cable are not yet available in my valley, and I don't have or want a phone line so the only remaining alternative is satellite. As far as I can tell the best deal is being offered by 'WildBlue Satellite Speed Internet'. My neighbor Bill had been looking into them. Though their web site is not entirely clear at the moment, they seem to be charging a setup fee of between $100 and $120, and then $50 monthly if you sign up for 24 months. That would not work for me because I don't want to pay for the 6 or 7 months that we are away. At least I am able to cancel AT&T's $60 Data plan whenever I like, which I did after returning east in May. Conversely, on the east coast we subscribe to a $76 Comcast internet/TV package, which drops to $10 when we head west.

Copyright © 2009, Van Blakeman