Monthly Archives: January 2015

Mystery Ducks

I rode my mountain bike up Eastern Canal yesterday before noon. The canal runs diagonally to the northwest from University Drive. I crossed Adobe, Brown Road, Lindsay Road and McKellips before I reached the intersection of Old Gilbert and Gilbert Road. From there, the canal makes a turn to the northeast. I followed it for a while, then turned back.

I was surprised when I saw fish in the canal. At first, I only saw the water swirl as the fish would dart away from the side of the canal as I approached. Then I got a good look at a white amur. The canal is operated and maintained by the Salt River Project (SRP) which is the local power utility. They have a permit to stock the canals with white amur fish, which are non-native. The fish must be contained in the canals to prevent them from proliferating and competing with native species. In the canals, they control aquatic plant growth as they are voracious eaters of aquatic plants.

I also saw a large common carp. The fish was big enough to resemble an eel. Its long, slender body with a dorsal fin that ran almost the length of the body gave this impression.

I stopped at one point and snapped a photo of a couple of ducks with my smartphone. These ducks were large – their bodies were a little bigger than the average mallard. They were dark, with brown on their sides and dark iridescent feathers on their back. When I returned home, I looked in my field guide and online but had no luck identifying these ducks. I’ve never seen them before. Anyone have any idea what they are?

Mystery ducks

Mystery ducks

Donna had an appointment for lab work and left around noon. A few rain showers fell while she was out. Later, she took off again for a book signing in Phoenix. By the time she left around 4pm, it was raining steadily.

The rain continued overnight and it looks like we have a rainy day ahead. I think I’ll hang out and read an Elmore Leonard western that I started yesterday.

Taking Care of Batteries

Yesterday, Donna drove to Phoenix around 10:30am. She went to the National Bank of Arizona Conference Center where the Phoenix Chapter of the American Marketing Association holds their monthly meetings. Donna did a presentation on “Organizing Yourself for Success” for about 55 attendees. She’s had this event on her calendar for about 10 months.

While she was away, I decided to tackle a job I’ve been putting off. It was a warm and relatively windless day, perfect for cleaning the battery banks and compartment. We have two banks of batteries in our coach.

One bank is made up of two 12-volt batteries connected in parallel. The output voltage of batteries connected in parallel doesn’t change; (i.e., two 12-volt batteries in parallel produce 12 volts). However, the available amperage is equal to the sum of the two batteries. These 12-volt batteries in our coach are sealed, maintenance-free lead/acid batteries. They’re used for starting the engine and also power some of the instruments in the dash panel. These batteries are designed to provide a high current for a short period of time, such as the demand of a starter motor.

The other battery bank in our coach is made up of four 6-volt deep-cycle batteries. The battery wiring on this bank is a little more complicated. Two pairs of batteries are wired in series. Wiring them together in series increases the voltage output – two 6-volt batteries in series produce 12 volts. The current capacity (amperage) doesn’t change. In effect, two 6-volt batteries are wired together to create a large 12-volt battery. The two pairs of batteries are then connected together in parallel to create a larger 12-volt battery with a high-amperage capacity.

These batteries are designed to handle smaller loads for longer periods of time. They can be discharged to less than 50% capacity without harm. These batteries are typically used in golf carts or small forklifts. Our coach uses this battery bank to meet the household 12-volt needs (lights, vent fans, etc.) and also power the inverter which can provide 120-volt alternating current for most of the household appliances and other items plugged into the electrical outlets. These batteries are lead/acid type and require the electrolyte level to be monitored and topped up periodically with distilled water.

The charging cycle on the deep-cycle 6-volt batteries can produce hydrogen gas due to electrolysis of the water in the electrolyte, causing some of the water to evaporate from the cells. This gassing of the battery also leaves residue on the battery case and compartment. Dust, dirt and other road grime clings to this residue. It’s not only unsightly, it can be corrosive. Our batteries are charged by the inverter/converter whenever we are hooked up to an electrical power outlet or our generator is running.

I haven’t had to add much water to our batteries, but it doesn’t take much gassing to create a mess. I haven’t cleaned the batteries and compartment in the last 12 months and 6,000 miles, which is when we bought this coach and had all new batteries. They were overdue for cleaning. I used baking soda and water. The baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) created a base solution to neutralize the battery acid residue.

Battery clean up - baking soda, water brush and cloth

Battery clean-up kit – baking soda, water, brush and cloth

A little elbow grease with a brush and cloth cleaned the batteries and compartment.

Dirty battery banks

Dirty battery banks

Battery banks after cleaning

Battery banks after cleaning

I need to add a coating to the terminals and metal tray to prevent corrosion, but the compartment is looking good now.

While I was at it, I washed our cargo trailer. I thought it was a good time to do it since it wasn’t windy. Unfortunately, there was just enough wind to carry overspray from the trailer onto our coach and our neighbor’s rig. I washed carefully, but couldn’t avoid overspray. I ended up wiping down our coach and our neighbor’s rig with microfiber cloths to prevent water spots.

After Donna returned from her speaking engagement, we drove over to the Cactus Grill at the Mesa Regal RV Park. A happy hour meet-up of RVillage members was scheduled there from 3pm to 6pm. We arrived a little before 4pm. The place was packed! It was much larger than we imagined and all of the outdoor tables were filled. It was standing room only. We searched around and asked a couple of servers if they knew where the RVillage group was located. No luck. We gave up and drove over to Lucky Lou’s where we had drinks and dinner with Leendert, Pat, Stan, Jackie, Mike and Jodi. It was good time.

Today we have cloudy skies. The temperature should reach the mid 70s. Tonight, rain is supposed to move into the area. Donna is speaking and doing a book signing at Changing Hands book store in Phoenix this evening. She’s also meeting some colleagues for an early dinner prior to the signing. It might be a good day for a bike ride.

Flank Steak

The sun was hidden behind a heavy overcast Monday afternoon. It wasn’t raining, but it was threatening to rain at any moment. Around 2:30pm, Donna took an Uber ride to a hotel on South Power Road, about 10 miles from here.

She checked into the hotel so she could do interviews with radio stations from coast to coast via telephone. She’s promoting her new book, Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness. She had six hours scheduled with radio stations and needed a landline to avoid dropped calls or dead batteries. On Tuesday, her day started before the sun came up.

It rained overnight and we had a few showers Tuesday morning. By 11am, it cleared up as the clouds scuttled off to the east.

I rode the scooter over to Rubio’s Grill on the corner of Baseline and Power Road. The hotel shuttle dropped Donna off there at 12:30pm and we met for lunch. After enjoying our lunch out on the patio, we scootered a couple of miles west to the Hertz rental car agency.

Donna picked up a car so she can drive to Phoenix for a speaking engagement at a meeting of the Phoenix Chapter of the American Marketing Association. She’ll keep the car until this weekend as she has more speaking events this week.

I have a few chores to catch up on while she’s out today. Later, we’re planning to go over to the Mesa Regal RV Park for a happy hour with fellow RVillage members. Our friends that we met in San Diego, John and Sharon, are at the Sun Life RV Resort next to Mesa Regal. We hope to catch up with them at the happy hour today.

Yesterday, I picked up a pound and half of flank steak at Midwestern Meats. This market was recommended by several people for their superior cuts of meat. Donna had a recipe for Brazilian Steak that called for skirt steak or flank steak. It seems to me that flank steak was a cheaper cut of meat when I was young. It was often served as London Broil. Nowadays, with the popularity of fajitas, stir-fries and such, flank steak commands a high price. It can be a tough cut of meat, so it’s best cooked very hot and seared to rare or medium rare and sliced across the grain.

She served it over organic spinach with heirloom cherry tomatoes a garlicky butter sauce. It was delicious and the leftover steak will be nice on a salad.

Brazilian Steak

Brazilian Steak


Mesa Flea Market

Can’t complain about yesterday’s weather. It was a warm, sunny day with the temperature topping out at 80 degrees. Donna went out for a 20-mile bike ride before noon. She said it was a little breezy – she had a headwind as rode east. Of course, that gave her a nice tailwind when she circled back. But the breeze was nothing like the gusty winds we had on Saturday.

After her bicycle ride, we rode the scooter to the Mesa Market Place on East Baseline Road. It was about 15 miles from here. Mesa is a big city – the largest city by area in Arizona. The Mesa Market Place is a huge flea market. It has four covered breezeways, each a mile and a quarter long. The Mesa Market Place has been in operation since 1996 and attracts many snowbirds who spend the day wandering through the vendor stalls.


Mesa Market Place breezeway

Mesa Market Place breezeway

Our first order of business was lunch. Donna had a bowl of chili and I had two hard shell tacos. The chili was good, the tacos were ordinary. From there we were on a mission to find local raw honey. I want to  continue taking daily doses of local honey to try to combat the effects of pollen allergies. It seems to work, I haven’t had nearly as much allergy trouble as I had last year at this time.

We found someone selling local honey after asking one of the vendors. He directed us to the south end of breezeway “C”. The woman selling the honey told us she has been in the same stall for the past seven years! She’s phasing out of the honey business though and will focus on selling her aprons and other handmade items of clothing.

Local honey

Local honey

As we wandered back to the north side where we were parked, we found a vendor with local salsa. The Arizona Byers Salsa is sugar-free, made by the Byers family here in Mesa. We tried a couple of samples and bought two jars of the medium to hot salsa. They don’t have anything without hot in the description. They also have Ghost Pepper salsa that I wasn’t brave enough to try.

Arizona Byers salsa

Arizona Byers salsa

We were back home around 3pm. The marketplace is fun, but you would need a full day to get through it all. I’m not sure it’s something I could spend a full day at though. We did see another flea market, the Apache Trail Flea Market, on the way home. We’ll have to check that out.

Donna has a doctor appointment this morning. We’ll take the scooter. This afternoon, she’s checking into a hotel room a few miles from here. She has a series of live and taped radio appearances scheduled by her publisher, Storey Publishing, to promote her new book Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness. She needs a landline to connect reliably with radio stations over the course of six hours.

It’s supposed to rain this afternoon, around 3pm. If the rain holds off, I will scooter Donna to the hotel, otherwise she’ll take a cab.

The Monastery

Donna has had a number of projects tying her to her computer lately. While she worked on Friday, I attended a fun event. My friend, Leendert Hartoog is retiring from Boeing after 30 years of service next month.

Boeing is downsizing their helicopter division here in Mesa, Arizona. They’ve offered early retirement packages to a number of employees. These retirements will take place in January, February and March of this year. The soon-to-be retirees organized a get-together on Friday afternoon for the guys leaving and a number of previously retired colleagues also attended. Leendert invited me to join them at The Monastery at Falcon Field at 3pm.

The Monastery is a unique place. They have an indoor restaurant/bar and an outdoor one. You can order food off the menu or grill it yourself outdoors! The property includes a large outdoor barbeque area with a sand volleyball court.  While we were there, a group of college-age kids were playing volleyball and enjoying beer in the sun.

Sand volleyball court at The Monasery

Sand volleyball court at The Monastery

We sat at a table with Patrick, another Boeing employee and one of the Red, White and Brew regulars. Patrick didn’t get a retirement package and plans to work for another five years. We enjoyed good local draft beer and I heard stories of “the old days” at Boeing. It sounded a lot like some of the experiences I had in the corporate world at Volkswagen of America.

Leendert on the left with the Boeing group

Leendert on the left with the Boeing group

Friday night, Donna prepared a cast iron pan-seared garlicky flank steak served over bok choy and carrots. I really like bok choy, especially when it retains a bit of crunch after cooking. The flank steak was prepared with a quick marinade and a pan sauce made with the steak drippings, beef broth and soy sauce. Very tasty! We enjoyed leftover steak on a salad the next day.

Beef with bok choy

Garlicky beef with bok choy

We had clear, blue skies and temperatures in the mid to upper 70s on Saturday, but it was windy. The wind was from the northeast at 10-15mph with gusts over 20mph. We scrapped bicycling plans and spent most of the day as homebodies. Donna spent the day catching up on work after taking a few days off this week – she did a 7.4-mile hike with a group of park residents on Tuesday morning and we were out most of the day on Wednesday.

While she worked, I dumped and flushed our tanks and did a little clean-up. I relocated our hummingbird feeder to the bedroom window on the passenger side. It was at the left front of the coach, but I think there was too much activity in that area from our neighbors, keeping the hummingbirds away. We’ll see if they come to the feeder now.

After lunch, we went for a walk around the park and stopped at the pickleball courts. The courts were empty. Donna and I found paddles in the equipment box and a ball and knocked the ball back and forth for a while. We think pickleball might be fun. We signed up for lessons next Friday.

Last night, Donna prepared flax and almond crusted chicken. She pounded the chicken breasts before spreading a thick marinade of almond butter, olive oil, and spices over the breasts. After resting for 30 minutes, she patted the mixture of ground flax seed and almond meal over both sides of the chicken breasts then baked them. Another great recipe – and more leftovers for salad today!

Flax and almond crusted chicken

Flax and almond crusted chicken

The weather guessers are calling for fine weather today with a high of 80 degrees. We might head over to the Mesa Marketplace – it’s a big outdoor flea market in east Mesa that’s open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Add This to the Maintenance List

The wind gusts persisted into the early afternoon yesterday, so I scrapped my bike ride plan. Instead, I completed a task I’ve been putting off. Once I got started on my project, it was clear that I had put it off for too long.

Like most RVs, our coach is equipped with roof vents. We have fans that draw fresh air through an open window and circulate it up to the ceiling and out the vent. Ours are made by a company called Fan-Tastic Vent. It uses a 12-inch, 10-blade rotary fan with a three-speed 12-volt motor to draw maximum airflow with minimum noise through the ceiling vent. By leaving a window slightly open on the shaded side of the coach, a continuous supply of fresh, cooler air is circulated. It can drop the interior temperature of the coach by 10 degrees or more. The vents have screens on the inside to keep mosquitoes and other insects out. On the outside, it has a cover that opens when the fan is in use. Most of the Fan-Tastic Vents have rain sensors. If it detects water, it closes the cover and turns off the fan. We have rain sensors, but we also have Maxxair vent covers on our coach. It’s a belt-and-suspenders approach.

We have two of these Fan-Tastic Vents – one in the galley and one in the bathroom. The one in the galley also serves to draw smoke out of the interior when Donna is cooking. Over time, an oily film builds up on the galley fan and dust sticks to the screen and fan blades. The one in the bathroom also collects dust, but it isn’t sticky. It’s more like the lint you find in a clothes dryer screen. Donna vacuums the screens, but the galley fan gets too sticky and eventually the bathroom fan also collects a fair amount of stubborn dust the vacuum cleaner can’t remove.

Yesterday I removed the eight screws holding the screens in place on each of the vents. I was surprised to find how dirty the screens and fan blades were.

Dust covered screen

Dust covered screen

I washed the screens with a mixture of Simple Green and water. Then I used a step stool to wash the fan blades with a microfiber cloth and the Simple Green mixture.

Dust clings to the galley fan blades

Dust clings to the galley fan blades

The dust clinging to the fan blades was stubborn, but they cleaned up nicely.

Clean as new again

Screen clean as new again

After I reassembled the vent screens, the fans seem quieter than before. It’s one of those insidious things – the dust collects slowly and you don’t really notice the slight increase in noise and drop in efficiency over time. This will have to become a quarterly maintenance item.

Donna decided to keep the rental car for an additional day and went grocery shopping in the afternoon. When she returned, I took the car over to Red, White and Brew to wet my whistle and discuss the New England Patriots Deflategate scandal. We’ll return the rental car today.

We don’t have any wind this morning. Maybe I’ll get my bike out today.

Not the Healthiest Food Day

I continued to work on setting up my new computer yesterday in the morning. I was able to add the device to my Norton anti-virus subscription. I was afraid I would have to start a new subscription even though the old one has a couple of months left. I called the Norton support number, but they were no help. English was obviously a second language for the support person and I could only catch about every third word he spoke.

I went back to the Norton site and after clicking around, I found that I had the ability to add another device to my current license at no cost. Bingo! Now I have to buy and load Microsoft Office and Photoshop. I’m undecided on how to go about doing that. The new PC doesn’t have a DVD reader, so it seems I’ll have to download the programs. They’re big downloads, meaning they’ll really eat up my data plan. I’m looking for an alternative way to do it.

We headed out at 11am. I scootered Donna over to the Hertz car rental agency on McKellips. She wanted a car to drive to her hair appointment with our friend, Jodi Hall, at Total Bliss in Gilbert. Donna didn’t want to ride the scooter to the salon and show up with “helmet head.”

While Donna was getting her hair done, I drove over to Costco, about a mile away from the salon, and bought a few items. I grabbed lunch while I was out at a Mexican place by the salon. I asked about the burrito supreme on the menu. They said it was beef, beans and cheese with pico de gallo and sour cream on the side. I went for it. Bad choice for me. They neglected to mention the fact that it was also loaded with onions and peppers – overloaded in fact.

I picked up Donna at 1:30pm and we drove to the Harkins Theater at Superstition Springs. We watched American Sniper. It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in quite a while. Powerful story and it moves along so smoothly I could hardly believe 132 minutes had passed. I had a bag of popcorn and a large Coke during the movie. I rarely drink Coke or any other soft drink.

From the theater, we drove directly to the Handlebar Pub in Apache Junction. It was Andy King’s birthday. I went to school in San Diego with Andy King and we’ve been friends since our junior high days. He was at the Handlebar performing Bluegrass music with The String ‘Em Up Band. Andy plays the dobro (resonator guitar).

String 'Em Up Band

String ‘Em Up Band (that’s Andy in the back)

The place was packed. We had three tables pushed together in front of the band with about 10 people. I had a nice local milk stout and a couple of IPAs with a plate of wings and potato skins. Not the healthiest food day for me. Donna stayed sensible and had grilled salmon and veggies.

Donna with Sandy and Lana in the background

Donna with Sandy and Lana in the background

The music was good and we had a fun time. Our friends and former neighbor, Lana, and her fiance, Joel, joined us there. We cut out early, during the second set. I’d been sitting all afternoon at the theater and then at the pub. I needed to stretch a bit.

At bedtime, I paid the price for the large Coke and food choices. I had a hard time getting to sleep, then I slept fitfully. I woke up several times with heartburn. I’m dragging a bit this morning.

Speaking of food, I have a couple of food photos to share. I couldn’t post them earlier with all of the laptop woes. The first is a cauliflower cheese chowder with bacon that Donna prepared last weekend. It was absolutely delicious and much healthier than it sounds.

Cauliflower cheese chowder

Cauliflower cheese chowder

The other dish was a banana pancake breakfast plate with almond butter. The only ingredients are mashed bananas and egg. So good! (Note from Donna: Just mash one banana and one egg per person to make 2-3 pancakes. I used coconut oil to coat a nonstick pan. Top with nut butter and fresh berries, chopped walnuts and maple syrup, whipped cream or whatever you like on regular pancakes. You can also add chocolate chips or blueberries to the batter.)

Banana pancakes with almond butter

Banana pancakes with almond butter

It’s blustery this morning, but today promises to be another fine weather day with temperatures near 70. This weekend will warm up to the upper 70s, maybe 80 degrees. I have a few projects I should attend to, but I may go bicycling instead!

You Get What You Pay For

Computer trouble is so much fun! Not really. I tried all afternoon on Monday to get my laptop to function reliably. It would lock up randomly and at times I had to manually shut it down and reboot. I couldn’t save anything.

Yesterday, after talking to my friends and former colleagues, Khaldoon Tufail and Bob Clogg, I tried a few other approaches. I ran malware software to try to detect if that was the problem. The thing is, it couldn’t complete the scan before locking up. I tried over and over again. Then I ran a hardware diagnostic and came up with a laundry list of faults in the memory and motherboard. The laptop I’ve been using is an inexpensive HP Pavillion G6. These are prone to overheat and have known issues with the cooling fan. I’ve been using mine on a laptop cooler to control the heat. Apparently, the heat won.

Khaldoon does part-time work for Best Buy in their customer service department. He knows which products get returned and which ones people seem satisfied with. After consulting with him, I went to Best Buy. I had a few notebook PCs in mind. I ended up with a new ASUS notebook. It has a 15.5″ touch screen, so it operates like a normal laptop with a keyboard or you can use it like a tablet. The screen rotates completely around the backside, so you can set it on a counter, keyboard down, and use it like a tablet.

The features that sold me on it were the performance and the aluminum shell – not plastic like most laptops. It has 8GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive and the processor is an Intel Core i5. This new laptop has way more power and speed than my old HP. It runs cool. But, it also cost twice as much. Oh well, you get what you pay for.

I’m working on file transfers (when I can get the old one to transfer a file!) and set-up. I’m transferring files with a 32GB thumb drive. It’s hard to believe that thumb drives hold up to 64GB nowadays. The 32GB drive cost me $16. Unbelievable how cheap memory has become.

We have a busy schedule today, so I don’t know much of the set-up I’ll accomplish. I’ll post more when time allows.

Simple Switch

Friday was a beautiful day for a bike ride. The temperature reached the mid-70s and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Donna took off on her road bike and headed east on Adobe Street. Shortly thereafter, I unloaded my mountain bike from the trailer and took a ride.

There are nine canals in the Phoenix area that supply irrigation water. In addition to the nine major canals, there are smaller canals called laterals that interconnect the major canals. Some of the laterals are underground. Most of the laterals south of the Salt River are large ditches.

Eastern Canal south of University Drive

Eastern Canal south of University Drive

I followed the Eastern Canal, which was built by the federal government in 1909, south. I made a loop through Mesa and stopped in at a couple of RV lots to kick tires. I also stopped at two trailer sales lots to see if I could find a pneumatic tire for the front jack on our cargo trailer. I have a six-inch wheel on there now, but it’s made from hard plastic and doesn’t roll well unless the trailer is parked on a hard surface. If I drop the trailer in gravel, it’s difficult to move it. I didn’t have any luck in my search though.

Donna spent the remainder of the afternoon working. I went to Lucky Lou’s at 3pm for an early happy hour. I met up with the usual gang there.

Patrick, Leendert, John, Mike and Jodi at Lucky Lou's

Patrick, Leendert, John, Mike and Jodi at Lucky Lou’s

Mike Hall told me about a 1978 Mercedes 450 SL he’s working on. It has a cooling system issue – the electric fan doesn’t work. I threw out a few ideas, then told him I would stop by and have a look on Saturday.

When I arrived at his place on Saturday and looked at the car, I was surprised to see the radiator has an engine-driven clutch fan in a shroud behind the radiator and an electric auxiliary fan in front of the radiator. When we spoke the day before, I assumed it only had the electric fan.

Mike had a Haynes manual for the Mercedes, but it didn’t have any information on the auxiliary fan nor did the wire diagram show the fan circuit. I searched online but couldn’t find anything useful. I spent the next two hours following wires back to the fuse panel and relay panel. It was a real head scratcher. We had already confirmed that the fan motor worked by jumping power directly from the battery.

There are two temperature sensors in the cooling system – a single pole sensor and a double pole sensor. After looking around and thinking a bit, it occurred to me that the single-pole sensor was a simple temperature switch. The double-pole sensor must be for the temperature gauge.

I disconnected the single-pole sensor and had Mike turn the ignition on. Sure enough, I had battery voltage going to the sensor. Here’s what I was thinking. The single-pole sensor is probably a simple bi-metallic switch. It has a metal strip in the center made of two dis-similar metals. As the  coolant heats up in the sensor, the metals expand at different rates, causing the strip to bend. When the strip bends far enough, it touches the metal housing on the sensor, grounding the circuit and the voltage at the connector flows. This low-current voltage activates the relay which, in turn, supplies current to the fan motor.

To test this theory, I grounded the wire connected to the sensor with the ignition key on. Voila! The fan started running. We have a defective sensor. It isn’t grounding the circuit, so the fan relay doesn’t activate. The single-pole sensor is easily replaced and the part is available online.

With that done, Mike bought me lunch at Red, White and Brew. I spent the rest of the afternoon cleaning up the engine compartment on our coach and re-securing some insulation that came loose in the compartment. I also cleaned and waxed the right rear corner of the coach. The lawn sprinkler behind our site sprays the right rear corner and leaves hard water spots.

Today is NFL Conference Championship day. I think I’ll hang out and watch football. Donna’s heading out for another bike ride.