Friday, November 27, 2015

Not Exactly A Hummer

The flowers are mostly done from summer and early fall blooms, so now the hummingbird feeders are up. One hangs in front, visible out the living room picture window from where we sit. One sways in back. positioned along the many hook options under the patio roof where, again, it is visible from the living room chairs.  Judging from the noises they make, and the bird guide book descriptions, they are most likely Costas that grace our yard and enjoy our hospitality.

I could be wrong, of course. Last year I was convinced for the first part of the season that they were Lucifers. But those are not noisy, at least according to the books I have. In addition, Costas are supposed to be rare. So someday I may change my mind again about the identity of our visitors. The only thing I am positive about are which are male and which female. And that each feeder has a  fiercely territorial visitor.

At lease, insofar as what other hummers are welcomed to approach, meaning none except when young are being raised and can first fly. But there are other visitors. Both feeders have perches, meant for the hummers to rest while feeding rather than having to hover. Other birds try to take advantage.

We occasionally see finches, or something similar in size. The shape of finches' beaks makes me sceptical of their ability to garner a sip.  Occasionally we see what may be a catbird having a go. Again, I'd have to consult the local guides to be sure of which birds of similar size and coloration are possibilities. The only year-round local birds I'm sure I can identify are roadrunners and gambels quail. Cardinals tint orange down here, and Canadian geese fly overhead to the local grass supply (fore!) with their unmistakable honking, but they are seasonal. I'm positive which birds are hummers, but not what species unless it's a rufus or broadbilled. All the others fall into the category of pink throat, purple throat, or female. That covers a lot of species.

But there is one frequent visitor that is unmistakable, somehow managing to get enough of a reward from the feeder to ensure its frequent returns: a flicker. The feeder tilts precariously, sways wildly when it leaves, but it keeps coming back, several times daily that we notice. After all, who has the whole day to watch a feeder?

Since the syrup level doesn't drop precipitously, I don't mind its visits. There is still plenty left for its hummingbird "owner". And at least it's not apparently drumming major holes in the trees or testing out the house for its habitat. We got enough of that back in Minnesota, including one pileated who thought our screen house was his perfect sounding board. Shoo!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

72 Virgins?

It's been a few days since the Paris attacks, with much still unknown. So this is not a definitive commentary. It's more stray thoughts.

To all you terrorists and wannabes out there, extremists everywhere who think there will be afterlife rewards for spreading earthly hate and terror: I cannot comprehend a philosophy/religion that teaches such. Oh yes, I can put the words together and get the concept. But as Heinlein would say, I just can't grok it. How disaffected must one be, how angry, how self-entitled, how insane, and how evil must one be to consider the concept, much less spread it?

Steve showed me a posting on Facebook with a pair of soldiers, captioned (I don't pretend my memory yields a direct quote) "72 virgins? Let's go get these guys laid!" That sentiment, the retaliatory rage, I grok. I merely hope it is properly channeled, narrowly aimed at the terrorists and not at just any "other" that may be deemed similar and therefore, with most of the perpetrators already dead from their actions and immune from us, suitable targets to vent our fear and frustration on. Let's not turn ourselves into them. And let's not escalate their justifications for their rage, for recruiting more to their philosophy by our own bad actions in the face of theirs.

At lease one of the terrorists is believed to have entered France as a Syrian refugee. My immediate reaction to that news is fear that most of the world would now react by closing borders to the masses of real refugees, people genuinely without options for survival beyond fleeing the horrors of home. Being a refugee is so awful and risky, imagine how much worse it  must be to remain behind with absolutely no hope. Let's please not react that way. Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses... without the religious tests that Jeb! would have us institute: Christians, fine. All others, not so much. Because no Christian has ever been violent, crazy, evil.... Right? Not during the crusades. Not during WWII. Not in Ireland. Not at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Not at Waco. Not in any of the militia groups springing up. Not in street gangs or prisons. Not in domestic disputes anywhere. Not a one.

Nor have any Jews, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Humanists, Atheists. Never. Nuh-uh. No sirree. And no religion ever has spawned extremists of any kind. Nope. Never happens. So let's not isolate Muslims for retaliation under the illusion that we are doing something to make the world our better, safer place. Let's properly target the individuals responsible, understanding that they are  indeed individuals and not typical representatives of whatever their religion may be.

And let's understand that there is no safe place, no guarantee in this world. Nor can we make it a safe place. We can only make it a more loving place, and that is on each individual one of us, not our group, not our government, not our military. Just each of us, alone.

And as for your 72 virgins, you martyred, vicious, violent extremists, may they all be old, ugly, crabby, insane and diseased!

Monday, November 2, 2015

And The Ground Shooketh

Earthquake! Three, actually! OMG!

Down here, everybody is going bonkers over them. I expect Californians and Alaskans who hear about it - should it even make their news - are more or less politely covering their yawns and hiding their snickering. After all, the magnitudes were in the 3.2 to the low 4 point almost nothing range. They occurred a bit north of The Valley, up by Black Canyon City. A few doors rattled. A few people were awakened and got out of their beds, wandering outside to confer with other befuddled neighbors as to what had just happened. (One popular explanation at the time was The Big One had hit California and we were feeling it this far away.)

More than one person reported grabbing their gun and racing downstairs to see who was trying to break into their house. I dunno: can you shoot an earthquake? Is a gun their solution for everything?

Steve and I were still awake for the first one. It passed by unnoticed. No wobble. No rattle. No doggy meltdowns.We apparently slept through the next two, though Ellie did go a little bonkers at about the right time. But then that could have been due to a passing truck, a coyote howling in the distance beyond our hearing capacity, or sheer boredom that there was nobody to give her attention.

I find I am disappointed. Not that it wasn't any bigger or that it did no damage. No, nobody wants that sort of thing. I just feel like I missed out on having felt something that everybody else is talking about this morning.

Maybe next time.

*    *    *    *    *

While we're on the subject of earthquakes, I have a hypothesis that I can't get anyone serious to pay attention to. I believe we will find a correlation in the coming decades between global warming and increasing frequency of earthquakes.

Here's my reasoning. There is a huge amount of water still trapped in glaciers at the poles. It's heavy (duh!), pressing down on whatever tectonic plate it happens to be over. Once they all melt, scientists estimate a rise in sea level over the planet of up to 3 meters!

Yikes! That's a series of disasters in itself, topic for another time. Think dislocations of populations, wars over territory, destruction of coastline buildings especially in major cities, storm damage, disruptions in agriculture. All at once.

I'm just looking at a shift of the distribution of weight over the planet's surface. The poles will rebound, to whatever degree, and the ocean areas will be pressed downward. It may not be much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. But it will be there. I happen to think it logical that earthquakes will increase as the planet adjusts.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

2016: Surgery Year?

As all of you our there "of a certain age" are aware, this is Medicare plan sign up time. There are ads all over the TV, flyers dropped through the mail slot, even a letter from the agent we used last year.

We called her. We wanted something different, something that would actually follow us around the country, rather than something that claimed to be good in an emergency and when the paperwork showed up later revealed that their brand of coverage was to deny everything.

I'd call that fraud. It may not be technically that, since I'm not that versed in the legalities, but we decided we really really wanted something different for the upcoming year.

The agent promised to check through the plans she had and find some way or another to get a plan that followed us. Maybe there was one where we could just call them and "relocate" for three months. Or something.

We had her over Monday. We've both now switched both plan types and company. Blue Cross is getting our business next year. And I've decided to sign up for what my folks had, which I happen to know about from doing the finances for them to varying degrees for several years. They used to call it "Medigap" insurance. Now they gave it a new name, calling it a Medicare Supplement plan. (Steve opted for the "Advantage" plan instead: less out-of-pocket up front.)

At any rate, regular Medicare is the first line of defense, and it follows us everywhere, with no referrals required, no pre-approval needed for a procedure, no system of doctors you have to stay within, no co-pay needed to walk in the door and over quadruple the fee if it's a specialist. Then the other, the one you pay an up front monthly bill for, covers all the rest. There's still a Part D plan to get, which covers all but a minimum for medications, but for now at least that's fairly minimal.

Our agent suggested that this year would be a good year to get my knees replaced. I'd been told years ago that this would be necessary, but put it off because of the 20% I'd need to cover for the hospitalizations. We're still waiting to see if cardiac surgery will be needed, but the doctor is optimistic that the new medication will remove that need.  Personally, I'm not so optimistic. Six months is about the time after which each of the previous two new meds failed to work perfectly, and in fact began to work progressively more imperfectly as time passed. (I have sporadically wondered if the body adjusts to those medications the way it will to painkillers, where they become progressively less effective until the only thing worse becomes none at all.) If that happens with this one, I'll schedule that surgery next year as well.

Heck, if I like, on the new insurance, I could even schedule it in Minnesota if I wanted. I really liked that cardiologist. Now, though, I need to track down a good orthopedic surgeon and start making appointments.

Friday, October 16, 2015


You wonder what will break while you watch it, what you will find damaged afterwords. I knew without really registering what was coming. I'm new here. And there weren't any warnings, certainly not while watching last night's TV.

I had looked at the radar picture, figuring that we might actually get a little rain (undetermined at this point but a large wedge of rain heading our way), but this season's experience discouraging me from the hope that it would do anything but fade out as it approached, go around to all those other neighboring areas that collected weather rather than here.

The sky had gradually changed from blue with white wisps, to distant cumulus hills climbing the sky, to gradual greying. That's when I checked the radar before going back to the TV. Then it all turned brown.

They explain that the front of a storm creates wind which, down here, kicks up a lot of dust. They call it a haboob, showing pictures of the advancing walls swallowing the city. I'm not sure today qualified as one, despite the color, despite everything whipping around. I've always thought it should be much denser, harder to see through, dramatically destructive. Since it wasn't, of course I went outside to watch it go through.

The wind kicked up plenty of dust, wisping through the yard, the neighbors' yards. Trees swayed, the new ones in the yard swayed, resisted snapping. Bits of something pelleted the metal roof of the patio, not enough to bring our basset inside. He just stood under the big pine, looking around as if wondering what the fuss was. The little one, of course, huddled under me, thunder rumbling in the distance. Empty plant pots rolled from where they had lain for several days, our energy having vanished the moment their contents had gotten into the ground, caged from rabbits,  and watered. And watered. And watered. The tiny bit of energy left over was reserved for admiring the way nearly all of them had burst into bloom once in their new homes: orange bells, red honeysuckle tubes, white sage petals crawling up and down the stems.

Wait! What? White? I thought we were getting purple. And fragrant. I haven't gone out to confirm my suspicion that in breeding out the color they'd also bred out the fragrance.

A white plastic bag danced two backyards away, suspiciously like the ones we'd used to protect the car from the plants and vice versa. Perhaps by the time it finds a stopping place it won't be traced back to us. So far there's been not a drop of rain here to weigh it down on its journey. The wind has settled down just a bit, color changing from brown to something fewer than 50 shades of grey, window views showing no signs of damage. The radar map confirms rain all around us, a clear spot in the weather right here, like magic.

Or a curse.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Food? Shelf

We have a great local food shelf here. Steve has been using it for several years now, and since I'm living here too these days, so am I. They do, of course, limit us to one visit a month, so while I am registered for it, if Steve goes I can't.

Seems more than reasonable.

Quantities are generous. There are always about 8 full grocery bags to unpack and put away. Of those, however, there are always a couple bags' worth that go straight to the garbage can.

You could say we're fussy, I guess. Maybe we're spoiled by never having to forage through dumpsters to avoid starvation. I still have high standards for the quality of food I eat. And I don't think I'm unreasonable about it.  I don't mind the very overripe bananas. Those can always be used in cooking. I do mind asparagus where the last inch on the end of every tip is slime. I have a hard time with salad bags where a quarter of the greens are also  disintegrating, apples and peaches with rotten cores.

I don't really blame the food shelf for how quickly the pasta, dried beans, and rice gets buggy. Everything not sealed tight down here does that. It could just as well be us, not them. We've learned to pop them in the freezer, then into a sealed container, which better be round and have a good screw top to qualify. Whatever isn't eaten by the time to head north goes into the car with us, after a quick check for bugs, of course. And I've just ordered a case of No Pest Strips to hang up just as we take off to deal with those opportunistic pests. Those should be good for three or four summers.

I just don't think we're too fussy, that our expectations are too high. After all, the mandatory two cans per month of green beans find a home here. (Steve says he'll eat them.) Apple sauce cans well past the sell-by date are welcomed, as long as the can is in good condition, though I do admit to treating them with a suspicious eye upon opening to make sure the sauce is not brown, growing mold, or tasting either like something else entirely or nothing at all. Canned soups, tuna, gravy, sauces, all are found a spot for as long as one of us can figure out a way of using them.

The breads are generally OK, mostly heading straight into the freezer. Steve likes the simple ones, I like the nuttier and whole grain ones. But the week-old bagels are problematic, especially since they are so carb-dense, as are all the sugary snacks which are generously included. Most of those arrive stale or are wrapped to become stale within a day or so, way faster than either of us can fit them into our carb allowances. When it's regular bread that's stale, it can be crumbled, dried out completely, and saved for holiday stuffing.

See? Not that fussy.

But all of that has become expected. People contribute to food shelves according to what they can't sell or nobody else would ever eat. OK. I get that. But last night was the final big tease. It looked like we could finally have one really wonderful meal, that three things would go together perfectly. We planned our supper together, a rarity for us for a variety of reasons, and both scheduled our carb intakes around the dinner hour.

I got out the can of parmesan cheese, tightly sealed, the jar of spaghetti sauce with mushrooms, which both of us like, also tightly sealed, the both to lavish over the package of spinach ravioli. It was organic, not that organic mattered to us, and looked a bit squished and stuck-together, again not that it mattered to us, and even came in a package which informed us the carb count was perfect for the two of us. That did matter to us.

While the water was coming to a boil, I opened the cheese can. It was brown and grainy, smelling like... well, I don't know what since I've never had that particular experience before.


The spaghetti sauce, once opened, had the top half dried out and stuck to the rim of the jar. While the rest of the sauce looked just fine, to get at it one had to pour through the solidified stuff, knocking it into the bowl I was going to use to microwave the "good" sauce in.

Again, toss.

Oh well, the ravioli solo should still be OK for a meal. It looked well seasoned, herbs and clumps of cheese sticking to the tops of each piece. The water was just hitting a boil, so I hurriedly pried the patties apart to slide into the water, being the economical sort who doesn't want to waste cooking gas.

Especially after just paying the electric bill from having the house air conditioned over the last month.

Once the patties were all slipped into the water, and I stirred them gently according to package directions, I looked at my hands prior to washing them. What was that blue fuzzy stuff? I was afraid I knew all to well what I was looking at, and went back to take a closer look at the ravioli.

Now that they were separated, I could plainly see the patches of mold that had been hiding between the patties, or raviolis if you will.

And hey, I've no doubt that, as advertised, the mold was completely organic too, just like the ravioli was.

A perfect three for three.

On the bright side, this morning was garbage pick-up day.

At least there were some still-edible chicken pieces in the fridge.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


I can't find it on line. Search engines keep diverting me elsewhere, sure I mean a different spelling or combination of words. It's the first poem I ever memorized in school. And no, poems that are song lyrics do not count. I must have run into it as an early teenager, maybe even a "tween". If I had a philosophy for how to live my life, this was it.

I still dredge it up out of memory at odd times, usually when I'm doing what the poem is talking about. We all know about the imperfections of memory. There is a strong possibility there is a word or two wrong, a line missing, the line breaks misplaced, all of which are why I tried to look it up. I wanted to get it right. But here it is as I recall it, with any apologies needed for my imperfections. If anybody can point me to the original, I'd be grateful.

by Carol Coombs

I've mending I must do, and beds to make.
I should not sit and watch the red sun set
Behind the hills of afternoon, nor take
This time to dream when I have work. And yet

Supposing that I go at duty's call
To make the beds and sweep the floors? What then?
These have no great importance after all.
Tomorrow they must all be done again.

No, I shall sit and feel the rising dew
And watch the haze around the setting sun.
And I'll find time for the other, too,
When this, the more important thing, is done.