Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Screw You-ker!

OK, I guess it's really spelled euchre, but the anger behind the pun makes the spelling appropriate. So what happened?

Steve loves card games. I mean really loves them. He was a blackjack dealer in his final career before he retired, and it was one of, if not the, top favorite things he did to earn a living. Down in Sun City, he has joined the 500 club and that weekly game is fast becoming his favorite activity and social event. In fact, he likes it so much that when some of the players invited him to also attend the euchre club, with a little extra prodding from me and reassurance that I wouldn't feel abandoned by his 2nd night out per week, he finally decided to show up for it this week.

Big mistake. Now Steve has never played euchre, but he's familiar with many other card games and is a fast learner. Within a couple hands or rounds or whatever they are called in euchre, he would be sure to have the basics and be well on his way through the finer points of strategy. He believes that. I believe that. His fellow 500 players obviously believe that too, or why the invitation? He'd already told them he hadn't played it yet.

Apparently the folks who run the euchre game don't. He was firmly turned away at the door. The excuse given was that the people playing there were a very competitive bunch and would not tolerate a beginner in their ranks.

Really? None of them? Not even the ones who invited him? And if they are so competitive, what's wrong with someone there who ought to be easier to beat? Seriously?

Just to assure him that they were really a swell bunch of folks, and not a bunch of tight-assed rigid jerks, he was told to go learn the game and then come back, when he would be welcomed into the fold.

I figured I knew what his reaction to that would be, but just to make sure, I asked him whether he planned on following their instructions. If you don't know what his reply was, re-read the title.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A PPM Tribute Concert

When the Sun Bowl amphitheater in Sun City fills up to capacity, they estimate a crowd of 7,000. There are spaces for chairs in a semicircle down in front, usually reserved for folks bussed in from assisted living centers, and they include space for walkers. The rest of the tiered rows are flat and deep enough for everybody's lawn chairs which they haul in, or scooters, plus ample walking room for folks to move around during the concert. Such movement happens when folks head around back for popcorn or food truck items, restrooms, whatever they may have left in their car, such as whoever got called to remove their dog from their car or have the car towed by the local law.

They also move around to come down by the stage and dance. That happened tonight, and with visitors coming with residents for this free concert, we enjoyed watching dancers from 3 to 93. Steve and I got to sway in our seats, clap, sing along. Had we good knees, we'd have been out there dancing too. Bittersweet. Not dancing was the bitter, Listening, singing along, reminiscing, even the tears, those were the sweet.

PPM: for those not in the know, that refers to Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Tonight was a cover band out of Prescott, AZ: Rick, Ron and Mary.  Their thing is to replicate as much as possible the biggest and best hits of PPM. They do it well, always keeping in mind the unique voices and personalities they are paying tribute to. Their skill enables the rest of us to recall just how it used to be for each of us as we grew up with this music, watched their concerts, lived our lives to their soundtrack.

Tonight was two hours of pure pleasure, a little magic in revisiting long-lost youth, a time of uniting with 7,000 strangers sharing a moment just the same way we are before heading in our 7,000 separate directions carrying new and old memories with us.

Please, can we get them back again next year?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Uninvited Visitor

With furnace and AC not operating now, we find it easier most middays to leave the sliding door to the patio and back yard open enough for the dogs to let themselves in and out. No doggy accidents and less stress on our knees. It also lets fresh air circulate, and few bugs take advantage.

We did get one surprise the other day, however. I'd been reading rather than having the TV on, or I might never have noticed. I heard a strange little noise from the lanai and would have dismissed it as the dogs, except that both had recently hopped up on the couch for a nap. Quick check. Yep, they were still there.

I moved so I could see the doorway, hoping it wasn't anything furry. Rabbits cross through the chain link with ease, but I didn't think they were bold enough to enter the house. Anything else with fur would be even less welcome: squirrels, mice, rats, even coyotes which might have managed to figure out how to climb our 6' fence. While I've never seen any of them inside the fence, if at all, except for one mouse in a trap, the imagination reaches for explanations.

There she was, right next to the open kitchen door. Nothing furry, thank goodness, but a female cardinal, pecking at the door mat, picking up the tiny bits of dog food that Ellie scatters messily about while she relocates a mouthful away from the bowl to eat. She's so bad about it that I refuse to refill the bowl until after a pair of hungry dogs clean up all the crumbs a day or so later. Now Mama Cardinal was helping with the cleanup, letting me watch for about a half minute before she flew back out the patio door opening.

Who knew cardinals liked dog food?

Mail: Collusion? or Coincidence?

All the mail today was for me. That's not completely unheard of, but it can happen, just like there are days when Steve gets everything incoming. What was interesting was how it all fit together, as if everybody sent theirs in conjunction with the others and knew in just what order I was going to open it.

The first was from somebody who thought I should be using their services to renegotiate my credit card debt. Now technically I can dump some of it. Above a certain $ amount, it can happen. I've known that for years. However, I have never intended to shortchange Capitol One from what I owe them. They have been and continue to be good to me. I earned every penny of that debt, and barring a truly major disaster, I intend to pay it off. If Social Security continues with their obligations, and Medicare with theirs, I will with mine.

So, recycle bin with that one.

Next was an offer including a fake credit card from somebody who thought I wanted a new Mitsubishi. Never mind that my Hyundai is just over a yer old. Never mind that I now drive under 7,000 miles a year rather than the 85,000 or so I did when I was working, a change so drastic that I got offended when my new insurance policy renewal was to have cost 5x what gas in the tank does  these days, enough to prompt a change of policy/company. As I commented to Steve after skimming that piece of mail, obviously these guys have not seen my credit card balance discussed above.

Again, recycle bin.

The last was a really huge envelope. This time the Mayo Clinic was offering to let me spend a whole lot of money with them in order to greatly improve my quality of life as a senior citizen, reassuring me that even at my advanced age I needn't avoid correcting chronic problems that I may otherwise have thought intractable, or just inevitable. Yada yada yada, pagefuls.

As that one sailed toward the recycle bin, I again commented to Steve that they obviously hadn't seen my credit card balance either.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spring In "The Valley"

It has sprung, exactly 6 weeks after who-cares-whether-the-groundhog-saw-its-shadow? In Minnesota we would call this summer, with temperatures pushing or crossing the 90s. Here however it comes without the thundershowers. Or mosquitoes.

Opposite habits are called for, harder to adjust to. The furnace got turned off several weeks back and we closed the house up in the evenings and opened it up for warm afternoons. Now suddenly we open the house at night and close it down when we get up. That's if everybody remembers the new plan.

We could leave the patio door open in the warm daytime for the dogs to come and go at will, but lately the local coyote pack has been prowling outside the fence during the day as well as evenings. Our high fence and Fred's low bark so far have driven them off, but we no longer trust it if we have to leave the house.

Weeds have started springing up in the yard, so Round Up use has resumed. With two of us here, we optimistically hope to nail them before they have a chance to seed and spread. Of course, who knows how many years of seeds lay in the ground, waiting?

We are waiting for our first glimpse of baby Gambel's quail. I want pictures, as well as just being able to enjoy the cuteness. All kinds of birds gather in the yard behind us now that the citrus are dumping the last of their copious fruit supply in favor of flowers for the next crop and the renters aren't keeping up. Hummingbirds have abandoned our feeders for the abundance of "real" food, including tiny insects. We haven't seen those bitty bugs, but their predators, the mosquito hawks, fly into the house when the patio door is open.

The rear pine tree is wild with blooms, so we're expecting a humungous crop of cones this fall. We've never seen that one bloom and it's graced us with a mere handful of cones each year.  I can just imagine the mess, considering Ellie loves to chew them into bits... inside the house! How does she sneak them in?

Meanwhile the hummers seem fascinated by the pine blooms, though whether any kind of nectar is produced I doubt. My guess is they go for whatever flies to or crawls on them. Or perhaps if it's not too late, they're going for the spiderwebs for their nests while the spiders are going for the bugs going for the flowers. Considering we saw active nests on our February honeymoon when we hit the hummingbird house down by Tucson in the Sonoran Desert Museum, it probably is too late. No signs of young ones yet though.

Butterflies have started visiting the neighborhood. We saw our first today. Coincidentally our pink oleander in the back corner popped with its first hundred blooms or so, compared to less than a dozen yesterday, and two last week. I'd prune it as the branches are becoming spindly but whatever idiot fenced the back yard angled it across that corner, blocking us from the tree.

The new plantings seem to be thriving, though it's been hard to tell over the winter. Our desert willow is finally leafing out all the trunks and branches to the tips of the stems, after showing its first baby leaves a couple weeks ago near ground level. The palo blanco is sprouting more needle-like leaves, but unlike the mature trees at the community center has not yet produced a catkin, much less the thousands they are showing off. The foothills palo verde - what Steve refers to as our thorn tree - has no leaves but its thorny branches are lengthening. There was a wooden stake in the pot with a tie to one of the branches, and we planted it with that intact, giving us a comparison point. I get to go prune it in the next month or so, sorting out where trunks will stay or go out of the bottom cluster and ridding it of crossed branches. Lucky me! Even the heaviest gloves don't quite meet the demands of that job.

Speaking of thorny things, the baby ocatillos along the ease fence have all 4 leafed out and are growing taller. I was convinced a month ago all but one had died, but then buds appeared on the branch tips rather than just dried cut ends, and hope renewed. Each ocatillo is surrounded by rocks holding chicken wire cages in place to defeat the rabbits, and suddenly the green is getting taller than the rocks so we can actually see the plants! Upon planting last fall, only a couple tips were visible, and those rocks aren't all that big.

This next weekend is the semi-annual plant sale at the Desert Botannical Garden in Phoenix. We're going to see about a baby tree aloe. There were none for sale last fall, a much more ideal time for planting so it can get watered and established properly, but if ya gotta, then ya gotta. We might consider taking the pot elsewhere for summer TLC, then planting when we return, unless we can enlist a bit of watering help. We did that one summer already, paying a fellow named Felipe, and those plants thrived.

While there, we plan to also do our monthly tour of the gardens, seeing what's blooming, what's flitting around, what new pictures demand to be taken. Who knows? We may even fall in love with something new that needs to be added to our yard.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Lapidary Lessons

You get taught a lot in lapidary class. By the end you will have operated a saw, chosen stones and templates, worked a series of grinders and polishers, been shown how to clean up after yourself, and produced two reasonable cabochons for... whatever.

There's still a lot the class doesn't cover, however. If you keep going with it, asking questions, making mistakes and learning from them, you will begin to find out what those things are. Perhaps the following will help you on your way.

It took you a while to produce your first cab. The second was a little faster,. You will continue to speed up as you become more comfortable with the machines and your coordination and skills improve. Then you will get slower. The day you decide you can produce 4-5 cabs is the day you start to learn why you can't. And why you shouldn't.

Murphy is alive and thriving in the lapidary room. And with practice, your standards of what you should produce will rise, unmet, at least for a while.

Let's start with the stones. Chances are you had pretty ho-hum ones to practice on. Why let you ruin the good stuff first thing? So while infatuated with your early success, you head off and acquire something fancier. It will, guaranteed, be harder to work with. The prettiest spot on the rock slab will be the place where it cracks, chips, and/or is soft enough to gouge with an eye blink. (Hey, I swear that's all it took!)

It's easy and convenient for source material to browse through the donations box at our club, where people who have a leftover chunk of rock donate it for the club to sell, for $.50 or a buck, depending mostly on size. You can't believe some of the things that get donated! One has great colors, the next a druzy, the next pockets of agate or some wonderful new mineral or who knows what? So you donate your buck and start working the rock, and find out just why somebody else tossed it. But just to keep you on your toes, the next donation will be a real gem, keeping your hopes high.

Personally I love to browse eBay for rock slabs. If browsing were all I did, my Master Card balance would be much lower. But I do wind up with some great specimens, and get a lot of questions from others in the club about what and where on my stones. Apparently I'm the only one who knows about eBay. So here's how it works, rubes. Name a rock, say agate or jasper or whatever. Add "slab" to your search. EBay then offers you a list. Select your choice under "in rocks and minerals". Browse. When you see something you particularly like for color, quality, etc., click on "see sellers other items" for other ideas, and the possibility for shipping discounts on multiple orders. And off you go.

The next independent working lesson is that you need to be adaptable. Whatever Plan A was for your rock, you better be able to switch to Plan B, C, or on a particularly bad day, Plan D.

Starting with the saw, somebody else is likely using the particular one you want. Or it needs Gem Lube, or wasn't cleaned. Or some idiot bent the blade and the replacement is on order. If you are lucky, everything works or you have other projects in process you can switch to. Even in the best of shape, it vibrates, and it can vibrate your rock to pieces, like the black turritella fossil chunk. You also find out, just when you smugly thought you had a soft touch with the saw, when you ease off for a second on your pressure on the piece you are cutting you have actually been pushing it a bit sideways rather than straight ahead, and with luck have stopped short of being the one to bend the blade.

The saw is noisy. So are the grinders and polishers. Nobody bothered to mention earplugs, but go get some before your next session. One could assume nobody else cares about their remaining hearing, but that's not an excuse. They do not reach the decibel level of that rock concert back when - or not so when - but at this age every bit matters.

They show you the safety glasses in class, but don't bother to let you know that all the aerosolized oils and rock dust coat your glasses, so you not only need to clean them before sawing and grinding to see just where you are cutting and when to stop, but afterwards as well so you can see, say, to drive home. And while we are on that subject, you will be coughing the sprays back out while you sit near the saws, and even after washing it all off your hands, arms, etc., lotion is a must to repair skin and nails.

Once you are ready for grinding, there is again the competition for the machines. If you see the ones you want free up but choose to take another 30 seconds in the conversation you've been having, chances are excellent there will be another 30 minutes to talk because you missed the opening. With three sets of polishers, you'd think waits would ease, but the person who cleaned it last time likely put it back together so that the air hose (which spits water onto the belt so it can do a proper job) is in the perfect spot to get cut by that same belt. Leaky hoses are not efficient at pushing air to the desired location, and your machine is useless. Waiting till late afternoon is an alternative to long lines, but while the room is supposed to be open until 4:00, low occupancy results in pressure to close early, and there are fewer people present who know how to fix whatever happened to whichever machine it is that you need next.

With all the various messes you make or otherwise need to deal with, it helps to bring a variety of rag towels from home. The oils go all over during the sawing parts of the project, and you don't want them messing up stuff later, so that towel should stay separate from the ones that mop up water, and the cerium oxide towel should not mix with the tin oxide towel because you want your cab clean between the two steps. They don't have to be big towels, but plan on laundry. The clean oil goes in the machine a pale orange color but spreads all over everything in a medium blue. At least it's easy to tell which towel is full of the gem lube. And even though you wipe off your hands thoroughly before riding the scooter to the hand- and rock-washing sink, the handlebars get gooey with the stuff. And do assume  the cleanest towels will be full of lint or critter hair: deal with it.

Let's assume that everything goes well. Machines are cleaned, maintained, available. Your skills have grown, your rock stayed together. Surprises still await. The cab you get is never the same as the rock you started with. Occasionally it is the result of "operator error". A gouge or scratch "appears" (magically) and has to be ground away and smoothed over, leaving a smaller, perhaps differently shaped cab than intended. Colors and content change as you take off layers of rock to cut and shape it. Old bits of pattern disappear, layers bend and new substances, even geodes emerge. Polishing intensifies colors, some of which can be seen ahead of time by wetting  the rock. A couple of cabs revealed and then hid hematite, others surprised me with fools gold, some of which disappeared again before the stone was finished.

Whatever you are working on, three other people will have 4 better opinions of what you should or could have done with it. Working with mahogany obsidian today, one fellow thought I should stop and split it into two thinner slabs, leaving me two cabs instead of just one. He didn't take two things into consideration, however. Thicker obsidian is easier to work with, sturdier, less likely to chip and shatter, more forgiving when it does because it has additional material for a workaround. And second, we have no saw capable of splitting one slab into two thinner ones as he was suggesting. I'd wind up with zero if I tried on what I'll call the slabbing saw, the one which slices a chunk of rock into slabs. My rock would have to be glued to a flat wooden surface and I'd neither get the perfect angle for even thickness, nor the thinner slice unglued from the wood. The way the stuff chips, I would anticipate a pile of glass shards. Perhaps a laser cutter? Anybody?

Anyway, I still have most of the original chunk left to slab, and can adjust thickness as desired for the next times.

On the other hand, sharing ideas increases your stockpile of both ideas and skills, making you more flexible and productive. Lapidary is like working on computers: there are always other ways to get something accomplished. I can click-and-drag, copy-paste, Command c & command v to move data to a second location on my laptop. I have options of when and how to fix a problem in a stone, or even change stones to accomplish what I'm after. My cab can be drilled, wrapped, set in a bezel, glued onto a bolo backing, or many other options for display or use.

We started out using templates. I didn't like the ones supplied and designed my own. Then I started looking at smaller rocks and seeing what the rock had in mind. None were symmetrical, patterns went where they would. So now my cabs do too. And since they are larger than the templates, they take a lot more work. Part is the obvious: bigger stone takes longer grinding. Another part is the big challenge of keeping a rounded surface on a large flat rock. We start with a 90 degree edge, then carve off a 45 degree angle leaving about an eighth inch still vertical. Then we grind that to round. It has to be a very long slow slope to have anything round in the middle of a bigger stone. That's what takes the time.

You can want it flat, like it flat, adore it flat. The problem is in the polishing. If you want an unscratched shiny middle to your stone, the machines can't do it on a  big flat one. The grinders and polishers are flat belts across revolving wheels. Any part of the rock that sticks up roundly can be smoothed off. The wheel misses where it is flat. Worse, when big enough, it is wider than the belt, and the edges of the belt touching the rock leave a gouge. Actually, lots of gouges. Every-which-way gouges. Any time they touch.

And there's nothing around to polish them off. After a point, rather than improving your polishing job, all you get are more gouges and scratches.  Still worse, with all the extra work and frustration, it becomes easier to slip a little bit and put gouges into the rest of the rock. Yes, the very one you've now been putting hours of work into. This is possible no matter how fine the belt is you are working with, even the final polishing belts that seem to be nothing more than layers of cloth stretched over a wheel with a polishing agent. They too can scratch. Just when you've relaxed thinking the belt is harmless.

It's mind boggling.

I'm getting better. The center scratches are getting teensier, the flats are smaller, the accidents fewer. I'm becoming a perfectionist, finally knowing why I can't put out 4-5 cabs per day. And almost meeting my own standards. I'm sure there will be more lessons ahead the instructor missed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Heaven Scent

At first it was just a hint on the evening breeze: delicate, intriguing, vanishing with a change in wind direction, disappearing in the morning sun. After several days it became steadier, stronger, wafting in from multiple directions, lasting through daylight. Yummmmmmm....

My allergies are going crazy lately, so I am lucky I can smell anything. ( Wipe wipe dab honnnnk!) It might be that Fred is starting to blow his coat. Another strong contender is spring tree pollen, also the likely source of whatever scent is delighting me. The big pine out back is starting to bloom so this fall might be the first season we get more than a handful of cones from it, unlike the generous one in the front. However, it's not fragrant. Not the source of olfactory delight.

News stations list pollen counts now, but attributing it to ash and similar trees. Ash? In Phoenix? Where?

Steve pointed out a bush a block away, covered in tiny yellow blooms. He passes it on his scooter. He swears it smells wonderful. He had me drive over and park next to it, but traffic kept me in the car and I smelled nothing. There are bushes planted in the center boulevard along Hwy 60 which are full of purple clusters but traffic is even more dangerous there and I have no idea of scent, much less identity of the plants.

Maybe the locals knew. Of course, in what crowd in Sun City in winter do you find locals? Snowbirds abound, but few are permanent residents. I checked at the lapidary club. Yes, they had been noticing fragrance. More had noticed their allergies kicking up, even blocking any fragrance getting through.

I had one suspect for the cause, but looking around at all the citrus trees in neighboring yards, was unable to detect any orange blossoms. One woman at the club thought they were blooming already, warning that they soon would be so overpowering that we would hate opening doors and heading out into the yard. Heck, right now I'm opening up the house just in order to get the fragrance!

That works just fine until our neighbor Mr. Cigar-Expletive lights up upwind of us. I guess whoever he lives with kicks him outside to smoke! With the first whiff, Steve and I hurry around the house and close up EVERYTHING! I find it hard to believe we'd do the same to block out the blooms, even overpowering as they are claimed to become.

They are finally identified positively as orange blossoms. Now scenting everything all day and night, though still stronger at sunset, I keep the car windows down while I head wherever. Yesterday I drove to Joan and Bob's, stopping to inspect their naval orange tree along their driveway. It had started blooming, though the first citrus tree in their yard to do so, and the scent was definitely what I'd been enjoying. With so many trees yet to start blooming, I can well believe the scent will overpower almost everything.

I can't wait!