Thursday, January 22, 2015

Loving / Hating E-Books

I spend a lot of time on my Kindle. So much that over 200 books each are in both my read-me list and my archive list. Think of the archive list as I-have-rights-to-the-book, have-read-the-book-unless-it's-complete-crap, and have-tucked-it-out-of-the-way-to-keep-room-for-lots-more-books list. It's storage, where only titles are stored along with whatever piece of code allows me to re-access the book/s when I'm near a wi-fi signal if I wish to reread.

Obviously with something approaching 500 books there, I mostly love my e-books. With the upcoming task of organizing our library, the one where three walls are covered in what are lately referred to as hard copy books, my appreciation for my e-books library grows even more.

But I also have a growing annoyance with what seems to be an increasing sloppiness in the medium. I still purchase the very occasional paperback, and do not see the same issue there. So I can only assume it's a side-effect of not needing to invest the money into paper publishing where errors are fixed as much as possible ahead of time, with publishing making any needed fixes very expensive. Nobody seems to bother with that process when publishing happens (only?) on line.

Or in short, e-books need proofreaders and are not getting them.

I just finished what could have been a damn good series, the Black Douglas Trilogy by J.R.Tomlin. It's got everything I could want in historical fiction: good plotting, well-developed main characters, apparently good research into events, landscape, clothing, food, attitudes: everything needed to put the reader into the time and place. There's a heft to the books that's often missing in trilogies. Many of them seem to be a single book divided into three in order to garner more revenues, a tendency which annoys me enough in many case to never read past the first part. This set was well worth sticking with.

Add my own interest in the subject matter here. The setting of the trilogy is the 20+ years past the brutal death of William Wallace, better known to movie fans as "Braveheart". The trilogy starts with his death, and follows Robert the Bruce and more particularly his knight James Douglas until their deaths. My ancestors came from there, at least the ones whose stories have been passed down in even minor parts to the present. Fighting with Wallace became the reason for them needing to flee Scotland, changing names, and eventually winding up in America. So a good story that picks up where the movie leaves off is just the thing to appeal.

However... (You knew that was coming, right?)

Without exaggeration, nearly every 2nd or third page contained a major editing, i.e., lack of editing, error. She joins the ranks of modern authors that have little awareness of the proper usage of commas. These days they get inserted between nouns and verbs in the same sentence with no reason for one, as well as plenty of other inappropriate places, or left out altogether even though needed for clarity. Truthfully, she's not anywhere as bad as many. But that's not my major gripe.

Using a word processor, it's very easy to add and delete words or recombine phrases to make your text better. Cut, copy, paste, add, delete, proof.  One hopes proof is the final step, with proper corrections, but even that is not - pardon - foolproof. When you proofread your own stuff, it's common to see what you know you meant to say rather than what's actually on the page. Ask me: I know from experience. I make it a practice to go back to the very start of a posting and reread the entire thing. Sometimes several times are necessary. I pick up a lot of mistakes that way. Just not all. A fresh pair of eyes can be extremely helpful.

Unfortunately, many different authors these days seem content to leave me, the reader, to be their second pair of eyes. When I have to come to a screeching halt every couple pages in order to figure out what the author thought they were saying, I get annoyed. I could claim it is because I'm doing the work without getting the royalties. But really, the gripe is much more immediate. My enjoyment of the book is interrupted when I want to go galloping ahead to see what happens next, assuming, of course, that whatever I'm reading is worth that.

If not, my irritation gets that book kicked right into the archives, not even a memory, author or title.

This trilogy is too good a read to consign to forgetfulness. That doesn't make the irritation any less. If this were a book report, I'd recommend you read it anyway, sitting hard on your irritation. And in my case, I whipped off an email to the author this morning requesting her to please please please get a good proofreader. After all, she has another book out, a prequel to the trilogy.

I'd like to enjoy reading it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wire Rapt

I have a new hobby. Well, no, that's a bit of a lie. I have a new variation of an old hobby. It's all about rocks.

Pretty ones.

Sparkly shiny colorful ones.

I was always the kid walking along nose down looking for a pretty rock to pick up. Not always even pretty. Sometimes just uniquely lumpy, or stripey, or textured in a pleasing manner. To me, anyway. Mostly they'd be kinda ugly, especially in retrospect, like when Mom would be "helping" me clean out my room.

My biggest impediment to the hobby was growing up in the one small bit of Minnesota without agates. I see them all over these days, but never found them when I was young. Minnesota agates are characteristically narrowly striped in shades of reddish brown and white. I brought home pocketfuls of quartz, or feldspar, even chert, hoping that they would somehow redefine themselves as agates overnight, but they never would. Eventually we moved, and suddenly agate chips were all over the place. My best find ever was a spot along Lake Superior - nevermind where - that was/is easy to access by the public and where every square foot of tumbled rocks yielded at least one agate, some as big as a cubic inch!

Heaven!

On occasions when there was spare change to be spent, I'd buy polished agates. When older, I'd go for agate/geode bookends, or agate slice mobiles, and drool over the truly fancy, pricey stuff. Once the kids were grown and gone, I had a bit more money to spend, and in my wanderings on line discovered snuff bottles carved from rocks. They seemed to be exclusively made in China, and back in those days were quite inexpensive on the whole. Then the Chinese rediscovered their cultural heritage at the same time they developed a capitalisted middle class, and prices skyrocked. 

The bottles were my education in various rocks and minerals. I'd never before heard of all the different jaspers, or agates defined by something other than state of origin, like Minnesota or Montana. New terms like dendritic, plume or drusy entered my agate vocabulary, along with rhodonite, labradorite, malachite, pietersite, charoite, chrysocolla, sodalite, azurite, and on and on.

But snuff bottles are hard to display, and nobody else seems to appreciate them, much less know they even exist. So I was more than receptive when a friend offered to show me how to properly string beads together. If nothing else, it offered me a whole new way to collect and enjoy rocks. There was the added bonus of being able to make presents for others. Eventually, however, there are only so many ways to string rocks and glass together. I needed to find more options, or some way to expand the jewelry making. Using up my rather large supplies of beads would be a bonus, and finding a market would be even better.

I thought about learning wire wrapping, but the local classes were offered during working hours, and I was not going to take time off work. But then, of course, retirement forced its way into my life. Suddenly I had an abundance of time. I just needed lessons.

Somehow I was smart enough to relocate into a retirement community that provides lots of activities - for a modest price - including a club called Sterling and Stones. I can make everything I could possible need to make jewelry. Major equipment is available, along with training, supervision where needed, classes, ideas, networking. I can see other people's products, buy - or even sell - on site, or off.

My first class was wire wrapping, using relatively inexpensive copper wire. Class taught us how to make three projects: a bracelet of all wire, plus a pendant and a ring each incorporating a stone cabochon. One thing our instructor stressed was the availability of free patterns for different kinds of projects on line. I started researching those, found other kinds of wrapping, other styles of projects. I suddenly had a bazillion ideas, dozens ways of implementing each, ways of incorporating stones, wires, crystals, varieties of metals. I can start with cabochons, or a single bead, go anywhere. Pendants appeal the most, but now I can even make my own earrings. If rings appealed I could do those, but I was shown how to cut through the band of a ring and use the cut wires to integrate the mounted stone into a wire bracelet.

I'm fascinated. (Go figure, eh?) Tools are being located, ideas being hatched, cabs and wires ordered. It's much cheaper if they come from, say, Hong Kong or India, using economy mail rates. Translation: next month or even March. So I'm chomping at the bit, imagining all the projects I can create, while waiting for supplies. I've gone through the two cases of already acquired beading supplies, seeing how this works with that, what still might be needed, how leftovers gain new life. I see projects while I'm trying to read, or flick through commercial breaks, or prepare a meal. I go back over plans, finding new questions, new possibilities, toss out ideas for others, and pretend I'm still normal.

I am, simply put, wire rapt.

(Oh, and those of you on my X-mas present list, be warned for next year. I'm thinking about you!)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Test Driving the New Insurance

New year, new insurance plan, new doctor, new state. I also needed new Rx refills, and the old doc in the old state was getting tired of providing services long distance. It was working, at least for me, after finally finding a clinic with a lab that would test my blood coagulation levels, after which I'd call the old clinic with the information and they'd tell me whether and how to adjust my Warfarin levels and when to test again.

January 1st was the start of the new plan. After a lot of phone runaround, I found a clinic within the plan who actually had a doc accepting the insurance and new patients. Hey, who knew their card and inch-thick catalogue of information wasn't perfectly accurate? At any rate, the 6th was the first appointment I could wrangle, and managed to convince the old doc that if she'd keep me in meds through then I'd quit bugging her for refills.

It was the usual new patient visit. It started last year with a pre-visit to fill out paperwork to transfer my medical records, plus 6 pages of my summary of my medical history. Gotta wonder how much of anything actually got read. And really, who actually remembers exactly what date my tonsils were yanked or my tubes tied? Now the caesarean date I celebrate every year, so that's easy to remember. Some procedures I can winnow down to my age at the time, like 5 for tonsils, 12 for appendix, and 40 for gall bladder. But when did I have Bells Palsey? Break my nose or wrist? Especially the latter, since, without insurance and with the urgent need to keep working anyway, I treated it on my own and never sought medical help. I found a couple ways to immobilize it and let others assume it was just carpal tunnel, a sprain, or some such for a few weeks. It let me know when it was usable again. And family history? Hey, bro, if your health status is anything other than "healthy", I guess I lied on the form.

Other than blood pressure, O2 levels and pulse, the visit was just questions, followed by a perfunctory stethescope check through my shirt followed by being sent over to a lab for samples and told to report back in a week. For the record, the BP was fine, especially for being taken 30 seconds after walking in the room rather than sitting for 5 minutes. Pulse was 60, O2 was 97. I was given a sheet with the lab address, a new appointment for next week, and sent on my way. Oh yeah, the mandatory co-pay was made at the point of entering the office. I'd given them the insurance card back at the pre-visit.

The lab tests were to be made while fasting. Nothing for 12 hours before. He apparently doubted the diabetes diagnosis, either because he hadn't made it himself, because I was controlling blood sugar levels by regulating carb intake, or because that status somehow affected my insurance. I've been relying on A1C tests semi-annually at the old doc's office for a couple years now and hadn't needed any fasting tests. Let me just state for the record that when I get hungry, there is an amazing correlation with with a mood condition best labeled CRANKY. Keeping this in mind, I'm very proud of myself for my forbearance with the rest of the next  morning.

The lab takes both appointments and walk-ins. So did my old doc's lab, though hers was about two doors down the hall from the exam room, and not several blocks away. At any rate, I got up, caught the first few minutes of local news while the dogs were in the back yard, and did the usual getting ready to leave the house routine. I figured 8:00 AM was a good time to show up, get poked, and go find breakfast on my way to pick up my filled prescriptions. After finding the lab, I signed myself in and managed to find one of the two remaining empty seats in the waiting room. they must have had over 30 chairs in there. Not looking promising so far.

Eventually they called my up to the desk. Was I new? Did I have insurance? Had the doc send (emailed) over his orders for which tests? Yes, yes, yes, and... Oops! They didn't take this particular insurance plan. Or perhaps the plan didn't take them. Whatever.

They were both very sorry and very helpful. I was given a map plus name and address of the right kind of clinic, and they printed out a hard copy for me of the tests my doc wanted taken. They were so nice that I didn't bother to ask just why they were snickering about something on his orders for one test. I wasn't sure I wanted to know. I was sure that I figured a little amusement on their part was reward enough for putting up with the inconvenience of an unpaid visit as well as their respectful treatment of me.

Before leaving the parking lot I pulled out my cell and called the the doc's office. No help there. It was just a few minutes till 9:00 and they weren't open yet. While I sat and waited, I made a call to the insurance company. I needed to verify that this new lab was indeed in the system and this visit would get paid for before driving the mile or so over there and waiting again. They confirmed it was in thier system. So, since it wasn't the one the doc recommended, did I need to get ahold of him to reissue his orders to the new one? No, but I should call his office and let them know what was going on. Something along the lines of a polite reminder that insurance status needed to be checked out before referrals were made.

Fine. I could do that later. If I were going to eat, I needed to get moving and get the testing over with.

On the way over, my cell rang. I recognized the number: I had just called it. My doc's office was now open, and they were calling me. I doubted that they returned missed phone calls, and wondered what was up. This time it was their recommendation for my new-to-be cardiologist. Since I was still driving, and pulling off, parking, and reentering traffic is a tad complicated down here on major streets, I asked her before giving me the data whether she could check with that doc's clinic and verify that in fact they took my insurance, giving her the story of my current expedition for lab work. She said she'd check and call back.

This lab was harder to find than the last one. Phoenix has this habit of putting buildings with an address on a particular street behind other buildings along the street, separated by parking, shaded reserved parking areas (often covered with PV solar panels), more parking, and wandering driving lanes undistinguished by any traffic lane designations, designations of intersections, or indications of who should yield to whom whatsoever. In short, you better know where you are going before you attempt to navigate to safely get there. AND prepare to stop for everybody else as they won't see or stop for you. At least this building had an open handicap parking spot.

This lab had also done a decent job of clearing out their waiting area. I began to hope I was getting closer to having breakfast.  After handing over my accumulated paperwork, they handed me a cup and asked if I could please pee into it. I reflected that it had been enough of a delay since leaving home that it should indeed be possible. The request surprised me, however. Other than random drug tests and possible infections, I hadn't been asked to do that as part of my lab work for years. Before heading back, however, they asked for my credit card, and handed me another form to sign stating that I would cover whatever part of the bill (over $500 for today's tests) the insurance refused to cover.

Oh goodie.

The process itself was speedy, punctuated by a conversation on the scar tissue inside my elbows from being a 10-gallon Red Cross donor, an apheresis donor, and a plasma seller at the stab lab during the really lean years of single parenthood. A good phlebotomist can navigate through it, but it gives the rookies fits. She was good.

OK, now breakfast?

Well, no. I needed to head to WalMart for the meds, plus grocery shopping. If I didn't go straight there this late in the morning, all the electric scooter carts would be in use. Besides, there was nowhere I passed on the way that offered anything even remotely tempting. And topping it off was the niggling thought that I wasn't sure if the drug plan had a deductible at the start of the year or not. If not, I knew one of the meds cost nearly $60 in WalMart prices per month and the scrip was written for three months. That kind of consideration is not best conducive to a hearty eating-out appetite.

I wound up having to pull off and stop along the way anyway. I got my callback with the cardiologist referral, now confirmed to be in the insurance system. What should have been a quick off/on turned into a long wait for the green light and a resulting backup just to get back onto the cross street.

There was a solitary scooter left for me at WalMart, functioning even! I got in line to pick up meds. It happened to be the longest line I've ever seen at any WalMart, just because I was hungry, I'm sure. Even with two waiting the counter, it stretched back between the benches and around the corner down the main aisle. Lucky me, I was sitting down for it. Of course, to get near the counter required a bit of scooter jockying for the sharp angle. As I was backing into place, I nearly ran over the elderly lady who saw my maneuvering as her opportunity to approach the counter for her own order. Lucky for us all her daughter of about my age was with her and pulled her out of the way, also gently letting her know it wasn't her turn quite yet.

It's never a good sign when the clerk starts hemming and hawing, preparing to tell you something about your order. One of my meds was there. The other one, the pricey one, would be coming in, say, maybe the next afternoon? Good thing I have about three days worth left. It's not a medical emergency. She checked on its ETA for me. I hate the hassle  for nothing. Their ETA translated for me into either coming back late enough in the evening that there are again some scooters available and working, i.e. charged, but early enough that the pharmacy is still open, or I head over early the next morning. With that being Friday, that means really early, but late enough that the pharmacy is open. Hmmmm......

I still didn't know if I had a deductible on the meds. The one I paid for was about the same price with or without coverage. I'll find out. Tonight. Tomorrow. I'll decided when I decide.

Breakfast was finally accomplished at 11:30, breaking into a pre-cooked chicken before leaving the parking lot. And using about three of the doorful of napkins I keep in the car, left over from dozens of take-out meals back in the days of 12 - 14 hour work days.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Joshua Tree Hunt

At first, there's just the suggestion that you may have seen a couple of them along the road. Likely it was just that you wanted to so much, and they were supposed to be out there somewhere. You were still wondering if they'd be close enough to the road to actually see, or better yet, a chance to pull off the road (safely!) and get a good picture. Or seven. Dozen.

Nobody needed to set an alarm. We just all got up at our usual time, trying not to dawdle over breakfast too much since this close after winter solstice there's still so little daylight. For the record, we have an hour ten minutes more here than back in Minnesota, but the days are still short. In not leaving immediately, we avoided the coldest morning temperatures too, both for ourselves and for the dogs. This trip they were not coming along, now that Paul had fixed what we hope is the last spot where Ellie can dig out of the yard. We were planning on leaving them outside for the day with plenty of water and winter sunshine. The museum we were also going to see in Wickenburg, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, didn't even open until 10:00 anyway. It was the reason we had packed (when I say "we" I of course mean Paul) both scooters in the car, leaving no room for dogs but just enough room for elbows and knees. Or at least Paul said he had enough room.

Then again, he's pretty easy going.

Filling the tank for $16 was a treat too. It's been a long time since gas was under $3/gal., not to mention under $2!

The museum was relatively inexpensive, and the exhibits were interesting enough to keep us absorbed for a couple hours. That's even before checking out the gift shops. I wouldn't have appreciated the Old Wickenburg exhibit as much had it not been for my years working for Doug as an auction clerk, getting an on-the-fly education in antiques. My southwestern pottery hobby left me in better position to identify pottery types and origins, apparently, than the folks who had labeled the  pots in the exhibits. Paul especially enjoyed the minerals on display, though he also thought several of those were mislabeled. Steve's favorites were the Remington bronzes and the western paintings. He definitely wants to visit again.

For future reference, I will have to keep an eye on their website for upcoming events. This last fall they had a Mata Ortiz potter make and fire a pot at the museum, and plan to repeat that with several potters next year. They also have a nice little selection of Mata Ortiz pottery for sale, plus - new to me - jewelry utilizing  some of their distinctive pottery patterns, and their prices are nowhere near as outlandish as many other museums and tourist sites I've checked out.

Eventually we were back on the road, having spent way more time in the gift shops than they warranted. Not much money, just time. Hwy. 60 for us goes from a mile from the house straight up to Wickenburg, and now we were heading up Hwy. 93 to Wickieup. That's the stretch where the internet claimed we'd see Joshua trees. Everybody else, including whoever is responsible for signage, seems to think of it as the route to Vegas.

If you are new to the idea of Joshua trees, they look like yuccas, only branched and grown to tree height once mature. And like yuccas, they are members of the lily family, which includes those potfuls sold by the millions every Easter. These are just adapted for desert, the Mohave to be specific, and there are three stands of them in Arizona, plus a national park full in California. The spot we would be driving through is where Mohave meets Sonoran Desert, and there are places where you can see saguaros and Joshua trees in the same place.

I spent so much time looking, first for them and then at them, that I came home that night with sore neck and shoulders. I did manage to keep the car on the road, however. Within a mile of the spot where they first appear as you  head northward, there is a nice wide shoulder making a safe pullout, likely because there are three huge specimens there with mountains behind, otherwise known as a photo op. A word to the wise, however: this is also a great spot to regret that you chose tennies rather than leather boots. It looks innocuous, but the dried grasses are brittle and shatter into hundreds of little spikes that worm their way through your shoes and socks and into your tender feet. If you stay on the shoulder you don't find that out, but some of us go searching for that perfect angle....

In just a few more miles the trees become so thickly abundant that even a jaded Minnesotan can appreciate the idea that somebody attached the word "forest" to them. We do know up there what a real forest is, and it's not any of those things down here that have a 6' tall something every 100 feet, even if they do call themselves forests. The ponderosa pines up near Flagstaff, now they qualify as a forest. But scatterings of mesquite or junipers - never!

These, finally, were a forest!

Even better, they were plunked right in the middle of some very scenic country in its own right: mountains, cliff, and canyons. Occasionally one of the things that the highway bridges passed over claiming to be rivers actually had, if not water, at least traces of muddy spots meandering down the middle.

We had plans for lunch at Luchia's Restaurant, just north of town, known for homemade pies and peacocks. No, the peacocks were not on the menu, just wandering around the back yard showing off. Well, theoretically. A large "CLOSED" sign greeted us instead, no information on whether it was temporary or permanent, so we headed back into Wickieup. There was a trading post selling not-so-cheap gas and souvenirs, and food could be had in a little sit-down restauruant. The food wasn't spectacular, but adequate, particularly since we had now waited until 3:30 to eat lunch.

I think next time we'll hit McDonalds in Wickenburg. "Adequate" is a whole lot cheaper there. We can revisit the museum and hit the Joshua tree forest for spring blooming. Maybe my mysteriously-vanished camera will reappear by then, since the library shelves are now installed, needing only a bit of trim and paint touch-up, and we can unpack stacks of boxes.

Next year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

X-mas Excuses

You haven't gotten your X-mas cards yet. Just in case you wanted to know why....

1: I retired. This doesn't mean I have found all kinds of time to be on task. It means I've been recovering from a regimented lifestyle, learning how to organize both waking and sleeping hours, adjusting my self-esteem to my new status, figuring out how the new budget works. It's a process.

2: I moved. There are still stacks of boxes all over, not quire matching stacks of spaces to unpack them into, and seldom matching their labels to enable items to be organized as wished. Or for that matter, found.

3: The plumbing needs major repairs. I think we can afford it in about two years. How this affects getting the cards out, I haven't quite decided, but, hey, it's an excuse.

4: The traditional card always involves selecting one or more pictures. Steve and I have known for nearly two years what that picture would be. It's been shot three times now. We spent hours looking for wherever the image has been stored, unsuccessfully. This required a last-minute trip into the desert with a functional, charged, and accessible camera to take the last shot, in proper lighting.

5: The traditional card also needs an appropriate text to match the selected picture. Back in the olden days, there were picture cards which offered one the choice of doing your own text. Those are no longer available. Thus it took a long while to figure out how to get the text onto the card anyway. Collage photo cards are now available, so a picture of text could be added. How convoluted is that?

6: Once decided, there was a learning curve. It involved figuring out how to get a large colorful font onto a computer screen, something I've never done. I'm still not sure just how I did, so I expect to go through this again next year. Be warned.

7: The text had to be located centrally enough so that the text margin lines could be eliminated, and large enough that an economy camera could close in sufficiently to shoot within those lines and still maintain reasonably sharp focus, otherwise known as having a decent focal length. Close ups are not generally the forte of economy cameras. Many shots were taken.

8.  Once satisfactory pictures were available, they needed to be loaded into my laptop. Unfortunately, my laptop often forgets just exactly how this is supposed to be accomplished. It has fought me on this procedure for months. First it required a source media whose own harddrive has not crashed. Imagine being so picky! Then it needed specific hardware to connect the source to the laptop, and a specific order of connecting, starting up the photo software, labeling the file, etc., etc. Once inputted, the files were carefully and I'm sure gleefully hidden away from view.

9. Additional hardware needed to be located in order to export the finally located and chosen pictures in order to take them to the store for printing. While I was still working and in Minnesota, one of my key rings (I always had two, one per pants pocket, so I'd never get locked out of my car. Again.) carried a thumb drive. It was very decorative. Also never actually used. But it could have been. Those two key rings are now split not between my pants pockets but between Steve and myself. Minnesota keys have been removed. Somewhere in that process said thumb drive has disappeared. Thus the search began for a disc to carry the needed information. There seem to be an amazing number of unpacked boxes scattered throughout the house labeled "computer stuff" which do not, in fact, contain anything resembling a printable CD or DVD. Additionally, every single one of said boxes seems to be stored under a stack of boxes labeled "heavy books". As I know I have dozens of disks somewhere, I was not in any mood to do some additional shopping.

10: Once located and loaded into my laptop, my laptop again demonstrated its memory issues and dogged stubbornness. It refused to let jpg files be loaded for burning. I had to call Paul away from his carpentry project - the one where we have high hopes that the new supply of shelving on two walls will finally enable us to empty boxes and thus sort and locate all sorts of missing items - so he could talk some sense into my computer and smooth the way for task completion. It seems the file needs to be transferred first to the desktop, then given a new name which changes the notation under the thumbnail from dark blue to light blue to white, after which completion of said process enables the jpg file to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the disk for burning. Since I wasn't exactly sure which pictures would be cropped how at the store, several options of each were loaded. Thus, repeat the process for each. The actual frustrating part of all this is I'm sure my computer will balk at doing this next year as well.

11: A printing source needed to be located. I started online. Target and WalMart are good starting points. With a firm idea in mind of the final result, I shopped thorough pages of choices offering both two and three picture spots, one of larger size than the other/s. Since the whole point of the card was inclusion of the entire holiday season and inclusion of people not particularly religious or even Christian, I tried to stay away from those cards that only recognized X-mas. Seasons Greetings and Happy Holidays were the top choices. It turns out that combination of layout and messaging is rare. So rare it's nonexistant at Target and offers two choices at WalMart. At least I now knew where I was going shopping. Physically shopping, that is. I won't even begin to explain the issues with trying to do cards online, not to mention additional delays with waiting for delivery.

12: One can only go to the photo department at the store during certain times of the day. Not because they're only open for limited hours, though that's true. But because the store is a huge box store with a supply of electric scooter shopping carts that never quite matches demand and which never quite manage to get recharged during most of the day. One learns: never after 10 AM, never after school, never after work, never on Saturday, never on Friday paydays, never on month end paydays, never on days when SS checks go out, and never never ever during the Thanksgiving or X-mas holiday shopping rushes. Good luck.

13. Once the photo area is located, in this case hidden and barricaded inside the entire electronics section back in its corner, there is a wait in line for access to the machines to set up your order. Often this requires waiting for two adjacent machines to open as the scooter must be parked sideways to the machines. It is impossible for someone with normal length arms to reach to the end of the basket, nevermind past it in order to use the touch screen. I have found that even with a row end machine open, the many children of the person using the next machine spill over into the space I need to use, making it inaccessible.

14. Every year, the process of using the machine has changed. Options are different, searches are different, even changing from upper case to lower case text has changed. I spent a full minute trying to convince the machine that I didn't really want the Grinch card it thought I selected, finally cancelling the whole process and starting over. I spent 5 more looking for either of the choices I'd selected online, finally resigned to the reality that in-store used a whole separate data base than online offered and I had to start the search over. Eventually there was an option I could settle for. Printing would be finished in... oh hey, just 9 minutes! Cool. Then I had to go to the counter to pay and get my envelopes. The whole time I had been in the photo department there had been not a single staff person behind that counter. Not one. Nowhere.

15. Some of you have died. That's a problem in sending out cards. (We are, of course, upset about that for other reasons as well.) I don't know for sure just who to stop sending cards to, or whose name to leave off the card. I've been out of touch. Then again, so have you. When you move, I don't even know I need a new address, much less what it might be. I ordered extra cards to replace the ones that get returned, assuming there is still somebody to send something to. It takes time just to figure out as well as possible just how goofed up the card list really is. At this point, actual Christmas Day, I'm still at that point in the process. Plus there is a meal or three to prepare. And once I do...

16. I still have to figure out where the local post office is. I haven't needed to yet because everything gets dropped off and picked up at the house. I came down here with what was a good supply of stamps. Until card season, that is. Maybe I'll catch the carrier when he delivers tomorrow and ask him. Unless I'm in the bathroom or something.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Kartchner Trip

When looking around for places to take Paul while he was visiting and working on building the library, my mind turned to Kartchner Caverns. I had visited the first year it opened, back when there was only one room ready for visitors. Back then reservations needed to be made months in advance, so I didn't delay after making sure Paul would be interested.

It turns out he hadn't been in a "good" cave since he was little, when on a camping trip I took the kids to Ruby Falls in Tennessee while we lived in Georgia. When I inquired of Steve, though only after checking on accessibility issues (yes, they take small scooters, like mine), it turns out that he had never been in a cave. OK, guy, Merry Christmas then! Considering we would be taking three people, two dogs, a scooter and a cooler for sandwiches, all in my little hatchback, I made reservations online for just two. Plus a mental note to pack my Kindle. It's pricey enough that I didn't do the tour this time. And there was no place for a second scooter in the car, not to mention is would have been too big to take some of the turns anyway.

There will be more chances.

The drive down was pleasant enough. We avoided the worst of rush hour by taking the 101 up north and around, avoiding downtown/airport traffic. Once we headed away from the metro area, the air cleared up a bit so we could see surrounding mountains without a bottom band of yellowish haze. With our timing being as good as I'd hoped, we headed first for Tombstone and a quick tour of Boot Hill. It's free, but the entrance is through the gift shop, hint hint. I did find one perfect thing for a X-mas present for somebody I won't name, plus a great refrigerator magnet: a buzzard requesting we send more tourists down that way as the last ones were delicious.

They have recently done some work to refurbish the place, going from old records as best they could. They can't promise every marker is in exactly the right place, after decades of neglect and only having wooden markers, but they think all are within three feet or so. There are some marked unknown, some with a single name, most with only the year of death, not birth. It turns out 1882 was a good year to die. Some were murdered, occasionally listing by whom, a few suicides, one case of diphtheria. While several markers bear colorful messages, my favorite is: "Here lies Lester Moore, 4 shots from a 44. No Les, No more."

We only had time for a short stay. Our reservations for Kartchner were for 2:30 and they request that you check in an hour before your tour. The roads between the two were an unknown, and I knew there would be at least one (there were two) border patrol check station on the way, as close to Mexico as we were. I wanted to leave sufficient time. The tour takes nearly two hours and I'd signed them up for the last tour of the day. No making it up if late.

Once at Kartchner, we split up. The guys headed for the tour check-in desk, and I hit the gift shop. Some of you will see what I picked out for you. (Hey, it won't be jewelry again until next year, after I've taken a couple classes in new techniques. The first starts next Monday, not enough time to learn, create, and ship.) One thing surprised me about the shop. They stocked a wide variety of Mata Ortiz pottery. Their biggest piece was about the size of my smallest, and their smallest were priced about what my largest and best cost me from eBay. I didn't do more than appreciate theirs. The cashier was surprised to find out that Mata Ortiz is available in wide variety on eBay, and they may well have a new customer.

I returned to the car with my two bagfuls of goodies, dug out my Kindle, and got about 10 pages before a nap seemed much the better idea. It's not that the book is boring, just very detailed in history and who's in which clan and which plot they're involved in on whose side. It needs attention. Ellie tried to keep me alerted to every person, dog, or bird that passed by. Somehow she thinks I need to know that, awake or asleep.

The guys returned unexpectedly early. They had arrived early enough to take advantage of an opening in the 1:45 group instead of waiting for the 2:30 group, and enjoyed being in a group of only 6 adults. There were also school groups touring, so lucky them. Doubly lucky in that nobody was a block away from the guide and unable to hear what was being said. When Steve scootered up to the car, I asked him how he liked it.

"WOW! Just WOW!"

Then he scootered back to the gift shop for a hat.

There was still plenty of light left on the way back, until after we passed Casa Grande. Then we got treated to the sight of all the lights scattered over the seemingly empty desert, or what looks empty by day.

When we hit the metro, I took a detour on Chandler to head back behind South Mountain, since this is the X-mas lights season. I was gratified to see that they have done this year what I appreciated the first year I was down here, trying to earn a living, when I stumbled on the neighborhood after dark. If you want to see it yourself, just head west off 10 on Chandler. Ray (also a freeway exit) joins it about three miles in, and Chandler turns straight west again. Another quarter mile and suddenly you are in a winter wonderland. All the lights are white, and they cover every saguaro and tree trunk both on the center of the boulevard and sides of the street. They have arranged clumps of lights in the tree canopies so it looks like they are either flowering or fruiting. It goes on for about a mile or more, and the effect is well worth a drive.

The whole thing was about 12 hours and 450 miles. I am beginning to learn how to drive like an Arizonan, meaning 10-15 mph over the posted limit. There were still a lot of cars passing me, in case you thought I was a maniac. I was happy to find out that my muscles have not completely adapted away from driving long distances comfortably, even happier at lowered gas prices. And the guys kept me entertained on the drive back with such details as the difference between varied shapes of bacon and curtains - or maybe they were called draperies? - in the cave formations.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

When the Family Carpenter Visits

My youngest has arrived, a visit combining work and tourism with the holidays. Work, of course, mostly means taking advantage of his carpentry skills to put more shelves up in the library. Rich and Brenda got it ready on their visit, removing the hideous leftover decorations, spackling, and painting, painting, painting to hide some other regrettable decor choices. Three coats of primer finally covered a very dark green painted saguaro on the wall. Now the room's getting two more walls of shelves.

Even though the project was delayed by a little tree planting in the morning, to which Paul added a few other minor tasks in the back yard, by suppertime measurements had been taken, plans made, lists of supplies written, and the two of us went to Home Depot for two hours of selecting the best pieces of lumber and nearly all the hardware needed to make it go together. I say "nearly" because we ran them out of a couple items. But there are other store branches nearby to finish supplying us.

The hardware was the simple part. Paul is a perfectionist when it comes to his projects, and this is most notable when he's picking out the lumber. He takes a board out from the rack, and sights down the length to spot all those places where it's not flat or straight. There are a lot of those. On one board I swear you could have surfed the waves down the edge. Some were crowned in the middle down the length, others took a left or right turn a foot from the end, sagged, or had a split three feet long. In one instance when he was looking for 8' 1x10s, there were two vertical stacks of them in the store and after going through the complete supply he found two perfect and settled for one "good enough". By the time we were loading up the car even Steve had started to worry if we had fallen into a hole somewhere.

We're taking it easy today. There's still plenty to do, but over three weeks to get it all done. Plus  a variety of day trips to enjoy being down here away from the ice and snow. I believe we should be able to even unpack enough of the boxes of books to create space to put up the Christmas tree in time for Santa.

Hey, maybe I'll even find that camera. Oh, and that glass goldfish mobile and the little wind chimes that were packed up nearly three years ago.