Saturday, October 31, 2009

Distraction - The Texas Book Festival

The Texas Book Festival has become a seminal event for authors and readers. Thousands of authors, or agents, apply for just a few more than a hundred slots. Anyone who has a book published during the year is eligible. Two authors I was assigned to help had written a book about Davy Crocket's congressional career. Their book was released the day before the festival started! So, when they had applied to be in the festival the previous January, their book wasn't out but was scheduled to be published. Those who choose who will be presenting books at the festival have to choose among lots of unpublished books and many unpublished authors, hoping to choose those books that will be hits. I wonder whether Sarah Palin will be here next year.

For a reader, it is fun to meet authors and hear the m talk about their new books. But it is also special to just be at the festival and see the crowds of readers. There are almost all full sessions at every talk in the festival, with some full of people in the back: "standing room only." There are always famous authors there, talking about their newest books. They get to speak in the large venues; the Senate and House Chambers and the auditorium.

I like to volunteer as an "author escorted." This means I am assigned to lead an author or group of them through the maze of the Capitol building to get to the room where they were scheduled to speak. I make sure they and their entourage are comfortable and that everything is right for their talk. Then I lead them outside and down the Capitol lawn to the "signing tent," where they sign copies of their books for anyone who wants to meet them. There are usually a few fans who are getting signatures on a souvenir T-shirt or poster.

The authors I have escorted have been many and varied. Most were humble, excited to be there, and very nice. The most impressive in fame as well as personality was Alexander McCall Smith. The Scotch author wrote "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series as well as several other series, some short story collections, some single volumes, and lately an opera, many about or taking place in Botswana. Smith spoke in the House Chamber to an overflowing audience. He wore a full Scottish kilt outfit, with wool matching kilt and jacket. His talk was delightfully funny, and when he answered questions from the audience, he showed a wonderful quick wit. Then, at the signing tent, although he had a long line of fans waiting for him to sign books, often several per person; he stood and shook hands with every fan and then sat down to write "To Claudia" or whatever they wanted and sign each book.

Three authors I escorted gave me copies of their books, two have exchanged emails with me, and one came to my book club and spoke.

I always enjoy the TBF!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Downsizing - Trusting in Craig's List

This afternoon, I had an email message from my recent Craig's list ad offering a used wetsuit for a low price. I was surprised, as I had placed the ad more than a few days ago; soI figured it would languish until expiring, as do most Craig's list ads after a day or so. But, I guess this guy searched for a wetsuit, and there weren't that many for sale; and the main selling point for him was that mine was a size small wetsuit. I called the guy and he had an Asian accent. He said he usually gets size extra small, and so he might want to try on the wetsuit.

I felt that it wouldn't be very polite to ask him to meet me at a gas station and take the wetsuit into the rest room to try it on. So, since he sounded like the "nice" Craig's list type and maybe even there was a little Asian stereotyping going on in my head, I gave him directions to my house.

Then I got a little nervous about it. Not too nervous, but I thought I should do something the smart way, since I was taking a risk. I called a friend and arranged that she would call me if she didn't hear from me after a certain amount of time. I guess there was just that comfort that at worst, my body would be found before it putrefied.

The guy arrived! He was a very small person, smaller than me, and I was the one with the size small wetsuit! The wetsuit looked as thought it would be a little large on him, but he decided to take it without even trying it on. He might have been having a hard time finding a small wetsuit. He just wanted to expand his swimming. He was also going to get some gloves that have webbing, but he wasn't going to get any foot flippers. Have fun swimming, nice little guy!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Downsizing - House Selling - 2 Steps Forward?

Selling a house simplifies life, but I'm not so sure. I'm selling a house I have been renting out for about 8 years. The rental business has had its ups and downs. It requires various amounts of time, without a dependable schedule, but has brought in monthly cash, usually on a regular schedule. Up - my first tenant was a young single woman taking care of 2 small children for a friend who was having problems; and my last was a man who wanted a place to have his 2 teenage daughters stay with him so he could help them graduate from high school, which he (and they) accomplished! Down - I had to evict a family and go all the way through with having the Constable put all their stuff on the lawn, where it sat for days in the rain before I could get enough garbage trucks out to clean it up.

Selling the house will save me the time I have been giving to the rental business and will immediately give us some cash, but to me that adds decisions. Decisions, decisions, decisions! What to do with the cash, and what to do with the time! Nice decision to have, certainly! I do tend to be a "yes, but" person. So, I'll say but will we miss the income and tax advantages from the rental business. And if so, what will we do? To buy a new rental unit, we would have to use the cash from this sale plus incur a new monthly cash debt.

For now, I'm selling. I want to be finished with this old house. It will be good for me to unload it - to downsize!

It's not a done deal, but the house shows well. We have had some offers!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Downsizing is Easy with Craig's List

We used these tree rings for a year or 2 to keep our robot mower from banging into tender new trunks of trees we planted. The rings protected the new trees and shrubs, but they caused the mower to get stuck a lot, and instead of having beautiful flowers planted in these rings around the trees, we tended to have stray grass growing inside them. Once the trees had become established, decided the mower doesn't bump very hard anyway, and we deleted the rings from the yard.

The rings were so helpful and so strong that I was sure they would be great for reuse and would sell easily on Craig's List. I listed the 6 of them in the spring for $20. Nothing happened. The rings sat there on the driveway. In the fall, the rings on the driveway gathered a lot of leaves. I listed them in "Free Stuff" on Craig's List. Within minutes I had an appointment to meet someone to give him the tree rings. Within a few more minutes, I had 2 more inquiries.

Downsizing=1, Moneymaking=0

Cleaning up that corner of the driveway = priceless!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Distraction - Hot Springs

We went on a vacation to Colorado, complete with soaks in hot springs in 5 locations! It was a wonderful time, with energetic mountain hikes followed by soaks in the hot springs. What a perfect combination!

It's fun to compare hot springs. When I put the photos onto the computer, I realized that we didn't take photos of the pools! There were reasons for this! (1) It was cold outside, so when we went to the pools, we were in a hurry to get into the water rather than stand around with a camera. (2) The pools are wet and steamy, an environment not suitable for a camera. (3) We went to the pools in bathing suits and left our bags with towels and shoes by the side of the pool. So there weren't too many conditions suitable to cameras. However, if I had it to do over again, which I will certainly try to do, I would take the camera to the pools at another time fully clothed and take some pictures. You can go to the pools' websites to look at pictures of them.

Hot Sulphur Springs, in ... Hot Sulphur Springs

We went to these springs at night after a nighttime drive over Berthoud Pass (11,307 feet high) in a snowstorm. The snow didn't seem to be sticking to the road, but the temperatures were dropping as we drove. The hairpin turns labeled "15 mph" were indeed hairy in the dark and snow! So we relaxed that stress away in the springs. There were a bunch of small pools of various temperatures. We couldn't see the layout too well, as it was dark and not brightly lighted. The temperatures seemed to be accurately marked and there were pools of several very comfortable temperatures: we soaked very hot for a while, then a little cooler for a while. Hot Sulphur Springs were the only springs on our trip that had a sulphur odor. The odor wasn't disturbing during the soaking, although we could smell it. What was a bit annoying was that the smell stayed on my bathing suit throughout the trip, even after going into different hot springs every day and rinsing the suit every day.

Mount Princeton Hot Springs, in Buena Vista

We stayed at the inn/motel, which was one of the nicest on our trip. The room was large and clean and seemed somewhat new. I particularly liked the very large granite counter outside the toilet/tub area, where we could spread out our toiletries and coffee/water things. The pools are a work in progress and will probably be among the best when they are done. As of now, they are somewhat lacking. There is a large rectangular soaking pool that is hot enough but has no seats. There is a cool pool for swimming and families. They have a steam room outside, too, which is very warm and a nice touch that we didn't see anywhere else. And there are some springs along the river. The river springs are along the side of the river, but in the river. They are little areas where the river has hot springs. They're marked with stones. So you sit in a little stone-surrounded circular pool about 5' in diameter and about a foot deep. With the cold air and the sandy/muddy bottom of the river, we didn't find these pools appealing. None were very hot and none were very deep or even deep enough to stay warm. People seemed to be enjoying them, though. Another problem with these pools was that the pathway to access them without climbing over rocks was a long path that required walking in the cold air in a wet bathing suit for an amount of time that raised the bar high for the excellence of the river pools. As I said, more pools are being built, which should add just what Mt. Princeton Hot Springs needs.

Cottonwood Hot Springs, in Buena Vista

Cottonwood is one of the oldest and most famous of the springs spas. The motel is old. Reviews of the motel are mixed but mostly somewhat negative. We decided to stay there one night to see whether we would go back again. We...might go back again. The room was ok, not great. It wasn't really dirty, but it seemed old. The walls of the motel were thin. Because we were there off season, there was no one in the rooms next to us. I thought it was nice that the management set us up that way. So we had a nice quiet relaxing stay. There are cabins available, which we will certainly choose if we go during a busy time.

Cottonwood has an interesting history. The part I liked is about the rabbits. The current owners seem to be a pair of sisters who have been there since the 1980s. When they first moved there, they attempted to breed rabbits for food. Not only were they psychologically unable to kill the rabbits, but the rabbits went forth and began mixing with wild rabbits, resulting in some legal trouble. Introducing a new species into the wild is not considered a friendly idea. So they built a cage (rabbit jail) which is still there but apparently was ineffective. Supposedly there are a lot of rabbits around. We didn't see any, but the rooms have stuffed toy rabbits, which I thought were a cute idea but which can be construed as dust-gatherers.

The pools are right outside the motel. There is a very cold one not used much outside of summer, a luke-warm one that is nice for kids and for relaxing and cooling off after the hotter pools. There are 2 hot pools, one a little hotter than the other. We found the pools to be quite comfortable. They are nice and clean and in a lovely setting. There is enough room for having a quiet soak or visiting with other bathers.

Cottonwood has an array of spa services, such as massage. They don't have bathrobes in the rooms, though!

Wiesbaden Hot Springs, in Ouray

Wiesbaden is a spa, with a spa atmosphere, though it is in the heart of Ouray, if a mountain town can be said to have a heart. Ouray is in a valley among tall rocky mountains (see photo at the top of this post), so most everything is in the city. There are mostly farms or more mountains on the way into and out of Ouray. Although we didn't stay at Wiesbaden, the rooms are probably nice. And, they seem to have bathrobes. Or maybe just the spa has the robes. Anyway, I saw robes, which makes it an upscale spa in my mind.

There are 2 pools: one outside that is hot but not too hot, and very comfortable. It's rectangular and seems like a small swimming pool, with a seat around the perimeter. Inside is the vapor cave. It's a real cave. First you go through a door into the cave, which has all rock walls and has water flowing down one side. The ceiling is very high so it doesn't feel small at all. Then, you go through another door into the pool area. It's very dark in there. My glasses fogged up immediately, so I couldn't see anything. The pool takes up most of this room. It's very hot and steamy. One guest felt a little closed in, but we didn't. On the day we were there, someone had stopped the cold water hose or something, and the pool was very very hot. We couldn't stay in the pool more than a very few minutes at a time. We didn't realize that it was hotter than usual until later when we overheard someone talking about it. It was too hot, actually. I guess it's usually about 110 degrees. Should be very nice for those who like it hot.

Ouray Hot Springs Pool in, of course, Ouray

For our last soak, we decided we should go to the huge Ouray municipal pool, where my husband remembers soaking as a child. We didn't expect much from this very large and very public pool, but then we also figured it would have to be good to continue attracting people for so many years. The dressing room was very large, with lots of hooks and lots of private dressing areas with curtains. It was heated, which was especially nice for changing back into dry clothes after the soak. The pool had 3 large areas...not just large but huge. Each was at least the size of 2 Olympic-sized pools. The first was warm and had many children in it. The hotter pool was very comfortable. Not too hot but hot enough to heat you quickly on a cold day. In the hot pool, we found some inflow grates, where we could feel the hottest water coming in. It was nice to put our tired achy legs near this influx of hot water for a while, but the whole pool was hot enough to enjoy in any spot. The third pool was cold. I did not enjoy dipping into it, as I just don't enjoy dipping into cold water no matter how hot I am; but many people did.

We were pleasantly surprised by the Ouray public pools. There was a lifeguard on duty, fully dressed including a coat, and carrying a hook and a ring life-preserver on a rope. These guard are good to have around but probably rarely need to get wet. The ambiance was pleasant, with some tourist visitors but obviously a lot of local people enjoying a Friday-night soak.