Friday, July 31, 2009

Ahhh, Hillcrest

We really love our new neighborhood, called Hillcrest. The walk from our house to our office takes us through 5 blocks of leafy streets, stately old homes, and neighborly people.

The streets in Hillcrest are named for all of the U.S. presidents who served between 1817 and 1901. We have Monroe, Van Buren, Pierce, Tyler, Harrison, Polk, Fillmore, Arthur, McKinley, Garfield, Jackson, Taylor, Buchanan, Cleveland, and Grant - but no Lincoln. There is a street named for the great Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, and I'm sure that the folks who developed this area in the late 19th century forgot Lincoln on purpose. But Hillcrest today is a liberal neighborhood. In 2006, our neighbors were the first Arkansans to elect an openly gay person, Kathy Webb, to the Arkansas House of Representatives.

There are two coffee houses in the neighborhood, and the drinks are much cheaper than at Peets in Berkeley. But the cappucinos are often more like lattes and vice versa. Peets really spoiled us!

I got a library card this week. There isn't much room for bookshelves in our new house, so I’ve determined to become a library user instead of a book buyer (with apologies to my book publishing friends). I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to break the book buying habit - don't hold your breath. But there's a darn pretty public library just 11 blocks from home, see:

Everybody told us to buy a house in Hillcrest, and I can understand why, now that I live here. Within a half mile of home, we find a veterinary, car repair shop, two banks, a post office, a grocery store, two pharmacies, several dentists, two hair salons, liquor stores, coffee bars, and about 9 restaurants, not to mention a handful of antiques stores and consignment shops. It feels more like Berkeley than any other part of Little Rock. It also reminds me of my grandmother's neighborhood in Houston, with its mature trees and vintage houses.

Hillcrest is 42 miles from Perryville, where Katie lives. I drove out there last Sunday to watch Honey while Katie and her crew were harvesting chickens. They started working at 6 am and finished at about 2 pm. I got to spend the whole of that time with Honey, who likes my gadgets. Here she is aiming to take the camera out of my hands, and then playing with my laptop.

Tomorrow, we are going out to Perryville again, to watch Honey while Katie and Travis give medicine to the sheep...see, its been the wettest July since 1861, and the fields are so wet that the sheep are suffering foot problems. When their feet are sore, the sheep don't walk freely around the pasture and they graze the same spots over and over again. They can get worms and quickly lose weight if the foot sores persist. Katie needs to corral and medicate them before that happens.

Leo is out in Perryville, too, and I hope to take him out for dinner. We saw both of them on Thursday when we drove out to Perryville for lunch at Heifer ranch. It was taco day. I wanted to take Leo's picture in his ranch clothes with his volunteer name badge in the Heifer ranch cafeteria, but he wouldn't allow it. Maybe I can snag a photo tomorrow . . . stay tuned.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Whew! Glad That’s Over . . .

Naturally, it rained on moving day, which was last Tuesday. I cringed as the new house filled up with soggy cardboard boxes, muddy footprints, and the smell of wet dogs – certain that everything would be ruined in the process – but eventually, the truck was empty and the movers moved on. It turns out that almost nothing was broken or soaked beyond repair. Even the piano landed safely into its new nook.

That first night in our new house was pretty glum with everything piled willy-nilly around us, appliances unexpectedly missing, no phone and no Internet. We could not find our shower curtains, but we showered anyway (I don’t recommend the practice). Mick and I were so glad to finally take possession of our new home; nothing could dent that satisfaction. We happily dashed off to buy new appliances and other essentials. We were dead tired when we dropped into bed that night, but we were home.

Katie and Honey turned up early the next morning to help us unpack. Honey’s favorite thing right now is sorting things – laundry, the contents of my purse, the pots in kitchen. She loved helping us take stuff out of boxes and move stuff around.

Working one box at a time, the adults slowly transformed the mayhem. By late afternoon, Katie had pretty much finished the kitchen, and the other rooms were roughly taking shape.
Tashi found a hole in the fence and ran off in the afternoon, but we were able to retrieve her almost immediately because someone found her and called my cell phone. By that second night, we could start to feel almost comfortable here.

Thursday, everybody came into town from Perryville, even Leo. We had our first family dinner that night – it was pizza – and Travis installed our new refrigerator, range, washer and dryer for us, with help from Mick. It’s amazing how thoroughly those appliances improved our comfort level.

Today I could shop for groceries, make a meal in the new kitchen and eat at my own dining room table. Whew. That feels good.

The commute from our house to Perryville is 40 miles each way. And so yesterday, we settled Leo into his own room out at the Coffee Creek motel about 2 miles from Heifer ranch. He is volunteering full-time at the ranch this summer – working for Travis in the maintenance department – and we decided he would be better off living out there.

This morning, I begin to see how life can settle into a regular routine here. And it looks very good. The hardest parts are behind us now, especially the uncertainty about what house we would buy and when we could move into it. Now, we’re just left with the small details, which can be fun, like where to hang the pictures or which lamp to put where. Heck, we even have lovely new shower curtains in each bathroom. O joy!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sweat, Bug bites, and Phone Companies. . . a few complaints

It is hot here – and muggy. The days start out at 85 degrees and grow hotter until its over 95 degrees by supper time. The heat index hits 100 by noon. And because of the humidity, sweat breaks out when you walk from your house to your car. Consequently, I find myself hunkering down in air-conditioned spaces. We aren’t even walking the dogs properly, let alone getting any exercise for ourselves. I’m just going to have to get used to the heat, or else find an air conditioned place to exercise, because hiding indoors will transform me into a flabby, lifeless donut in no time.

And Arkansas has bugs, too. Apparently, the hot muggy weather spawns hoards of flesh-eating creatures adept at biting me, even as I scurry between my house and my car. Last night, I made the mistake of sitting down on our lovely deck overlooking Harris Brake Lake with the idea of watching the sunset. But within 3 seconds (no exaggeration) I had collected six new dime-sized bug bites on my arms. I still have about 45 ugly, itchy bites on my legs because we attended two outdoor parties our first weekend – which was July 4th – without using bug repellant. I have cut back my fingernails to stop myself from scratching my own skin off. Even so, my legs are covered with red splotches and scratched bug bites.

And now to the phone companies: AT&T installed our office DSL line two weeks ago, and we have already logged 53 sales calls on the new phone. Clearly, AT&T sold our brand new phone number as a sales lead to credit card companies, insurance agents, and who knows who else. By chance, we have not been working in the office, so we didn’t have to hear all these calls. But what happens next week, when we are working there?

Verizon is no better: my Verizon cell phone started failing as soon as I became completely dependent on it two weeks ago, when we cut loose from our California landline phones. And of course, nobody at Verizon can fix the problem unless I buy a better phone (from Verizon), and sign up for a longer service contract (with Verizon).

I wish we could do without the fine print, grumpy service people and punishing contract terms that all of these companies uniformly attach to their services. But we are plugged in people and thoroughly addicted to phone calls, media and broadband access. I have been trying to decide which phone and cable TV companies to use in our new house. To me, the process feels like choosing a new drug dealer – hoping the guy won’t take too much advantage of me, but knowing that he probably will.

Face to face, we have been treated extremely well by everyone here in Arkansas. People look you in the eye, and offer a few pleasantries before jumping into whatever business you have with them. It feels very relaxed and civilized. We both grew up in the South (Texas for me, Florida for Mick). The Southern culture rings familiar for us both, but in an unpracticed way. We have to remind ourselves to slow down and be friendlier than Berkeley custom would have allowed. I would like to make that natural, unconditional hospitality a habit again, if I can.

Enough ranting. This morning, Katie called to ask for a babysitter while she 'settles some new chicks' and I spent a happy half hour holding Honey while Katie moved the new batch of chicks into their backyard brooder. The chicks are delivered by US mail, if you can believe that. And they live in the brooder for a few weeks before she moves them out to the pens in her pasture. Calls like this one take the pain out of all my other complaints. Thank you, Katie!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Almost There . . .

We're days away from taking possession of our new house, and we can hardly wait. Here are front and back views of the house, which is located at 5013 N Lookout Street. It has 3 bedrooms and two baths, totaling almost 1500 square feet. Here are pictures of the front and back of it. I'll show the inside when we actually get into it.

Our realtor got sick last week, and so did her two young children, but she still managed to keep the sale process moving forward. I missed her message about the final closing date, though, and Mick and I spent a frantic couple of hours today filing out forms, getting them notarized, and overnighting them to our California bank so that the money will be wired to the local title company in time for the closing tomorrow afternoon. My head is bursting from all the details I'm trying to track and I will be soooo glad when this process is finally completed!

Here's Mick telling Travis what kind of desk to build for him, with Honey looking on. I'll post pictures of the desk, and our office, when we finish setting up everything. Right now, the place still looks like a storage locker!

Another big Arkansas revelation today was at the Toyota dealership in Little Rock, where we went for service to our Prius. The place was enormous. It would have covered about 4 square blocks of downtown Berkeley. And it had its own coffee bar (see the picture), with massage chairs, big-screen TVs and a kids' playroom. I've never seen any repair shop like that.

I promise to stop gushing about how cheap it is in Arkansas – surely you would quickly tire of that, and actually, some things are not cheaper here, like phones and cable TV. But it felt pretty sweet last Friday night to fork over only one $20 bill for three tickets and a bag of popcorn at the movie theater. I could get used to that!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Setting Up Shop

We can't get into our new house yet and so this week, we have focused on setting up our new offices. We got the DSL line installed and set up new accounts with a bank across the street. The furniture is slowly taking shape, too. Here's Honey helping Mick put the drawers on my desk.

We are shopping for bookshelves, file cabinets, and a mailbox to hang outside the door. Shopping is fun, kind of, but difficult in a new location. I mean, if we were still in Berkeley, we'd head over to Urban ore and be done with it, but here? Well, we're learning. And it helps to have family nearby.

For instance, Mick needs a tall desk - not exactly a drafting table, but not a regular desk, either. We despaired of ever finding anything suitable until Travis offered to build one. And now, Mick is happily designing what he wants. (Travis is a master carpenter!)

Katie is also very helpful, steering us toward the best places to shop. I had a great time yesterday combing through some second hand furniture stores with Katie and Honey. More of that will come, too.

Meanwhile, the inspector gave a good report on the house this morning. He was a kind man and willing to answer all our questions about living in a new climate. For instance, he told us to close the vents to the crawlspace in summer and open them in winter, so that moisture cannot collect under the house. In Berkeley, we had wet winters and dry summers, and the basement vents stayed open all the time. We never had to worry about mold in Berkeley, but here, its a big issue.

It looks as though we will close on the house next week and take possession by next weekend.
Until then, we are very comfortably resting in a lovely vacation rental house about 1.5 miles from Katie's house in Perryville. You can see the lake through the trees, and country noises surround us - birds, dogs, cows. Its very restful. Our dogs have enjoyed staying in one place this week. And so have we.

We have a kitchen at the lake house and we are eating very well: Katie gave us eggs, milk and meat from her farm - yum. And Leo made a wonderful curried cauliflower dish the other night. Yum again.

I miss my friends. I miss my beautiful Berkeley home. But adding it all together, I feel really lucky to be here. And when we get settled into the new house, I'm sure I'll feel even better.
New Addresses:
Home - 5013 North Lookout Street, Little Rock, AR 72205
Office - 2821 Kavanaugh Blvd, Suite 3D, Little Rock, AR 72205
No phone numbers yet - use our cell numbers to reach us. Email addresses have not changed. We enjoy hearing from everybody, and may not be able to respond immediately. Please be patient with us.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Windy Drive and a Soft Landing

I expected to see the buffalo, but the wind turbines behind him came as a surprise, until I remembered that Oklahoma is “where the wind comes sweeping down the plains.” Apparently, it ranks 8th among all states in terms of its potential to generate wind energy, and we passed dozens of wind farms as we crossed Oklahoma yesterday. You can hardly see them, but there are a dozen windmills in the background behind this buffalo.

Just last week, Judy Woodruff posted an NPR story about oil workers retraining themselves for wind.

Besides the hot winds, there was little to note except big sky and big spiders, like this one Leo captured in his room.We zipped across Texas and Oklahoma.

We finally reached Perryville on Friday afternoon. Checked into this cabin at Coffee Creek, and reconnected with Honey (and her parents).

Today, we got to visit with Katie while she worked the farmers’ market.

The dogs have settled down and seem to be tolerating the weather pretty well. People made much of them at the farmers’ market today, and really wherever we take them. This is definitely dog country, and people like to compare Arkansas to California, as soon as we tell them our story. One family happily described how their visitor from San Francisco kept bringing a sweater everywhere “For when it gets cold later” even though they explained to her that it NEVER gets cold in Arkansas in July, even at night. “We told her to just pack that sweater away until she gets back to San Francisco, but she kept on hoping it would cool down in the evenings,” they said.

Another lady told me that she’s still waiting to acclimate, even though she moved here from Fresno 15 years ago. “I didn’t know how much I could sweat until I moved to Arkansas,” she said. I wonder.

Mick saw our new office today for the first time. I think he likes it, even though it’s just a big room full of boxes right now. Please, raise a toast to the fine work we will accomplish in that room!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hard Hats, Hot Weather, and Grand Views

Did you know that hard hats were invented for the construction of the Hoover Dam? Tuesday, we crawled slowly across the top of the dam in a thick traffic jam, and we saw plenty of hard-hatted people building a new suspension bridge over the dam and expanding the highways leading up to it.

Because of the dogs, we could not park and leave the car, so we had to content ourselves with a dam-top view from the cars.

Temperatures remained above 110 all day, and so we stayed in the cars, moving as fast as possible across the unforgiving Nevada countryside. Eventually, we found a shady park in Kingman Arizona, and some take-out Mexican food that we could enjoy under the trees while the dogs lolled happily on real grass, tongues out, smiling.

We drove through a thunderstorm in the afternoon, and the outside temperature dropped instantly from 110 to 70. We were dead tired when we got to the hotel, but dragged ourselves back into the car (dogs and all) to see sunset at the Grand Canyon. Needless to say, that extra driving was worth it.

Leo perched on the canyon’s edge for a couple of hours. Mick and I walked the dogs on nearby pathways and looked at all the people: weather beaten bikers, busloads of tourists, and families from all over the world. We heard parents warning kids away from the edges in a dozen different languages. And everybody petted the dogs.

My mind comes back to money when I see so many people who still have the resources to come here from Germany or China or India. I begin to wonder if the world’s money problems have been exaggerated, or if these vacationers have some kind of protection from money trouble. It’s a puzzle that carried over into Wednesday when we noted numbers of shuttered businesses across Arizona and New Mexico. The highway is filled with trucks and busses and carloads of tourists, but the byways are deadly quiet.