Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Retreat, repair, rebuild, restore …

Retreating was all that came to mind when December 2016 finally made way for January 2017. Having spent a Christmas Eve with our daughter, Anna, and her husband and three children, it was so quiet to withdraw into the sanctuary of our own home to celebrate the New Year in a manner that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Yes, pop the cork on the champagne and throw a couple of lobsters over some pasta – nothing better! And of course, if you take a good look at the photo above you will notice the presence of the martini shaker, as naturally, this was a multi-course evening with all the trimmings.  A far cry from the rumbustiousness of only a few nights prior and arguably, after a tenuous year, a lot more enjoyable!

December had proved to be a trying time for Margo and me and enjoying our quiet retreat on New Year’s Eve was symbolic in many ways of all that transpired that month. Snatching a few moments for just us has been getting a lot harder to do! Whether it’s issues on the home front or concerns about the grandkids or simply addressing the needs of clients, as the year wound down there didn’t seem to be any let up in requests for our time. And of course, with the onset of winter, it was no longer a case of jumping in the car for a relaxing drive in the mountains. If anything, it was the complete opposite as Mother Nature put on quite the show.

The month had started off unseasonably warm but that quickly deteriorated as temperatures dropped below freezing and, after a nervous start to the ski season in the mountains, it quickly turned around and now there’s daily avalanche warnings appearing in the nightly television newscasts. The all-important snow depth has arising rather quickly to where it’s now at depths well past the average and that sounds promising for the farming community so dependent these days on the spring run-off. However, it’s also made travelling in the high country treacherous and plans we have for travelling to California later this month may be changed to include a more southerly route. 

Waking up to single digit temperatures is always a cause for concern. After a lengthy summer, will all our furnaces kick in as they should? Will the water pipes freeze on us? Will the power stay on as the winter winds pick up? December proved not only to be bitterly cold but extremely windy as well, with several days of hurricane force winds including gusts topping 90 mph and this only added to the traditional winter concerns we always have – will trees crash down on our roof? Will we lose some roof tiles or worse, will a neighbor lose their roof tiles only to have them come through our windows.  But no, everything worked as was required of it and there was only a minor irritation on Christmas Day that I will cover a little deeper into this post.

It might be a tad superfluous including pictures of our backyard in winter but with the first decent snowfall of the season I always like to take a few photos. Many end up on Facebook, but then again, not all of our blog readers tune in to Facebook on a regular basis. Despite all the energy we put into adding colors to our outside kitchen – plenty of blue hues with dashes of yellow and brown, with the first decent snowfall the backyard becomes monochromatic. I guess it’s one of the reasons we all get so excited when spring finally arrives as the effect of more intense light changes everything. If it’s a case of retreating in winter it’s definitely a case of renewal by the time the sun’s rays actually hold much anticipated warmth. 

Retreating for winter took on a whole new meaning Christmas Day. Following our celebrations the night before with the grandchildren, Margo had made a commitment to help out Anna on the day itself. Little did either of us know that the “gales of November come late”; more than a month late, to borrow from lyrics of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot. If you like Jimmy Buffett and the Zac Brown Band then, by definition, you have to like Gordon. 40,000 plus homes along the Colorado front ranges lost power Christmas day as the power lines gave way and took a sizeable portion of the power grid with them as the wind brought down one power pole after another, so it’s not hard to imagine songwriters like these penning a ballad or two!

Fortunately, in a world of smartphones and tablets, by the light of candles and torches I was able to continue catching up with friends from around the world even as I resorted to turning on the gas range for heat. It’s amazing what six burners can generate! For more than two hours, I gave little thought to what exactly we would be eating later that evening but after the hours had passed, power was restored. There were numerous questions asked as to why Margo and I didn’t have a back-up generator on hand. Aren’t we fervent believers in fault tolerance and the automatic recovery following any single point of failure? Seems like we apply little of what we have learned in business to our private lives or so the prevailing sentiment suggested.

With the conditions at that time we did expect to be hit with power outages and so we should have been better prepared. Back in 1999 and on the eve of our wedding, we experienced similar hurricane-force winds so it wasn’t the first time we had witnessed the havoc that they can cause and perhaps a simple generator deployed in the garage may have been a prudent option. On the other hand, parked in another garage nearby, we have a monster diesel-powered generator – our RV! Unfortunately, while we could tap “shore power” from our home, we didn’t have connections to support the reverse and that’s something we should take into consideration when the time comes to move to another home. 

Repairing a severely damaged vehicle was totally unexpected and yet, those were the actions needed to recover from a bad traffic accident – yes, as the sole occupant of our Jeep SRT, I caused a sizable wreck. Fearful of what to expect, when I surveyed the damage I immediately knew it wasn’t simply cosmetic but rather, had caused seriously bad things to happen beneath the metal skin. Travelling in an unfamiliar part of town, following a colleague as we headed to his office, I was unaware that a housing development had pushed through a new road on my right and I was T-Boned by a car coming from my left. Yes, the STOP sign said All Ways STOP, but it had always said STOP. No, I just didn’t expect to find someone already in the intersection and without my always attentive copilot; I am now headed to face the local magistrate.

Not the way I had planned to spend the first part of December but I tip my hat to our lovely insurance agent, Melissa, who made everything happen for us. From the selection of the body repair shop to guiding me through the paperwork, couldn’t have been more painless. With all the years I have lived in America, this is my first accident and travelling as we do almost 75,000 miles a year in one vehicle or another, I had been very pleased with our driving records. But no longer, and I am still suffering from shock each time I think back on that accident. I never saw it coming …

As December came to an end, the body repair shop returned out Jeep to our home – no, we didn’t have to go pick it up, they brought it to us. Impressive! But then again, it was December 31 and it allowed them to close their books for the year. As for the work that was done on the Jeep, we gained a new driver’s side fender, driver’s side front door and driver’s side passenger door – almost twenty thousand dollars’ worth of repairs all up! New driver's side wheels and tires and a new front strut as well as a whole bunch of bolts and nuts and rods that constitute the front suspension.  Ah but funding repairs for the Jeep carrying a sizable deductible, naturally, was not the stuff that makes for a great Christmas but seeing the Jeep returned New Year’s Eve soon put all further thoughts about the accident well and truly behind us. 

Of course, nothing happens in isolation. As one vehicle was being repaired it turned out another vehicle required rebuilding. Not in its entirety, mind you, but in one of the more important aspects of its roadworthiness. The brakes! What can we say, we run through tires and brake pads (and rotors) at an alarming rate so when we took our Mini in for an oil change, being told we had no workable life left in our pads and that our rotors too would need replacing – the Mini had only done 50,000 miles for crying out loud – it seemed like déjà vu! Only a year ago we purchased the Mini when we had run out of cars – the Maserati was in the shop with tire pressure monitoring issues, the Jeep was in the shop for a routine service, the Corvette had no brakes and was being worked on.

And now, we had the Jeep being worked on, the Maserati sold and our BMW had been recalled to replace a half shaft. The Corvette was good to go this time, but if the weather failed us, it wasn’t going to be pretty. But fortunately, Tire Rack turned around our order for a good set of Stop Tech rotors together with high performance street Hawk brake pads – the Mini would now have the same rotor and pad combination as we have on the Corvette and the Jeep, the only exception being that the Corvette has more track-oriented Hawk performance brake pads. Otherwise, we have now successfully rebuilt the braking capabilities of all of our cars (except, of course, the BMW i8) using the same mix of products. 

There is nothing that restores our spirits faster than to spend time under the Christmas lights in Denver’s Larimer Square. Business took us to Denver for a client meeting so we made reservations at a charming old-world hotel we have stayed at several times before and that we have referenced in previous post to this blog – the Curtis Hotel. Now a DoubleTree hotel and part of the Hilton chain, it still retains a certain quirkiness Margo and I find amusing. Whereas for prior stays we stayed on the floor with a car theme, this time our floor had a star wars’ theme and even though there was a big Bronco’s “must win” game on that night and the hotel was crowded with football fans from Boston, the atmosphere was electric to say the very least.

The plan had been to spend Sunday night at the hotel and then have the meeting Monday morning but after checking in our client advised us that they couldn’t make it into town after all – the weather was having yet again influencing our plans. So we were able to be more relaxed that Sunday night than we had thought and as the weather began improving, it was perfect for a walk in the snow to see the lights of Denver. Larimer Square has always been a favorite walk for us with bars and restaurants all around us but as we had done on previous walks into this part of Denver, we headed to the old Union Station. The atmosphere was magical with all the commotion and sounds one associates with the great railway stations in other countries. Denver has done a great job in both, just overhauling the place and restoring it to what it must have looked like almost a century ago, and now it’s simply a fun place to visit. 

Dinner was finally an occasion to sit down and to take time to smell the roses. Margo had told the restaurant that this was just our simple away from home Christmas dinner and they reciprocated by decorating the table with roses. A nice touch! Apart from pointing out the martini shaker in the photo at the top of this post, you would be hard pressed not to see the yellow roses on the island. Roses have always played an important role for Margo and there’s rarely a week that goes by without fresh roses gracing a vase or two somewhere in our house. 

There is still no real let up to the cold. Snow continues to pass over us in waves but with little to no humidity it’s almost gone by the time the clouds clear. Nevertheless, at this time of the year, there’s always enough lying around to remind us why we both love this time of year. And to restore our faith in everything Christmas and the New Year stands for – a time to simply slow down, pause and consider how fortunate we all have been. The last day of December saw all of our cars repaired and rebuilt and once again, present in the garage. In fact, there’s a new vanity plate on the Mini now – simply PYALLA3. In hindsight, the PYALLA3 should be on the 3 cylinder BMW and a separate PYALLA4 would then be more appropriate on the 4 cylinder Mini, but that’s getting a tad too clinical. Maybe, in the future, the 4 X 4 Jeep inherits the PYALLA4 vanity plate, but that’s a decision that doesn’t have to be made right now. But in my solitude here even as I enjoy a little peace, I am beginning to digress way too much …

What does need to be said is that from Margo and me, the very best of wishes for the New Year and may 2017 prove to be a joyous year for you all!