Friday, April 20, 2018

How Do You Catch A Snake?

The two orange bells bushes in the back yard are again blooming full tilt. Planted deliberately under my bedroom windows, for both privacy when the shades were up and for the enjoyment of watching hummingbirds flit through them, even when I'm not paying them much attention they bring me joy. Being desert plants, I'm grateful they don't also bring me a hearty water bill, though this ongoing drought does not entirely relieve me of the duty of watering them.

It hadn't occurred to me to note, much less wonder at, the very little bit of cleanup they required around the ground. Obviously, petals drop. Bougainvillea  blossoms drift everywhere, pine needles pile up, stalks from aloes, agaves and yuccas all need trimming back when spent, palm trees are incredibly messy and expensive to trim. I was just too busy to notice what I didn't have to deal with until the day I saw why.

During a very early morning trek to the bathroom, I paused to look out the window. Movement drew my eyes down. There was a Gambel's quail scarfing up a dropped petal, evidently finishing up a meal of several from the previous day. While that was striking enough - Hey, hooray, we have free food for quail in the yard! - it was the manner in which it was consumed that held my attention. Orange bells, for obvious reasons, have long bell-shaped blossoms. Tiny where they attach, they flare out to allow thirsty pollinators in. Primary purpose fulfilled, they are discarded to the whims of gravity and wind. The quail picked up the fallen bell in its bill by the smaller back end, then worked each side of its beak open and forward, alternating sides, until its beak "walked" its way to the end. Swallow. Browse on.

The only other animal I have personally watched eat anything in that manner is a snake. Lots of them, actually. At one time I kept several in cages as pets.With a very few exceptions, I bought them from a St. Paul reptile pet store. The rest I caught.

Some of you are recoiling right now. Whether by instinct or training, most people hate snakes. Slimy! (Not.) Scary! (Well, OK, I'll give ya that on the poisonous ones, unless they're behind glass.) They eat you! (Hmmm, you've been watching that Hollywood movie before bed again?)

I grew up in the northern part of Minnesota, a large swath of territory totally bereft of any kind of poisonous snakes. Moreover, our family owned a resort, and a pair of bored kids found it great fun to test out our skills at catching frogs, toads, salamanders, and best yet, garter snakes. My older brother always did better than I did, but it was still great fun. Frogs made great fish bait, so we weren't totally useless. Sometimes we'd just let the garter snake go and try to catch it again. It was tricky to pounce in front of where we'd last seen it because the tail could be disappearing eastward following the body which had already turned south, east again, west, and have disappeared into the lake before we knew it had moved more than two inches.

Oh, and by the way, for all those of you who think you know what you're talking about but have never bothered to actually check it out, these black snakes with yellow stripes running the length of their body, or sometimes red stripes in California, are g-a-r-t-e-r snakes. Not garden snakes. Not gardener snakes. Garter. Our parents did train us to be too polite to argue with the paying customers, but they never succeeded in training away the annoyance. (Spelled "c-o-n-t-e-m-p-t.)

So how do you catch one? Pretty much any way you can. Grab ahead of whatever moves and hope you picked the right direction it's moving in. Grab hold both gently but firmly. Squeeze too hard: dead snake, or at least broken which means the same thing but takes longer. Don't grab hard enough: wave bye to your escape artist. And be prepared for their great escape trick once you really catch them: they poop liquid crap all over you and it really, really stinks! Seriously nasty!  You might give some consideration to holding it securely at arms length for a minute or so until it's empty, and in the meantime a second hand to grip the other end of the body to control the writhing can assist in preventing it from spraying in all directions, particularly yours.

Note that this is a natural response to its usual predators, which tend to catch the snake in their mouth in order to eat it. Not only the smell, then, but the flavor, help influence the would-be diner that tastier food can be found elsewhere. Of course, I'm just guessing, never having that particular experience. Assuming you, as worst case, only get poop sprayed on your hands and clothing, now that you've caught your snake, do not use that as a reason to let this one go and try for a different one. First, the odds are the second snake will likely react the same way as the first, giving you a double dose. Second, once the odor is on your skin and clothing, it's there for as long as it takes both to become well acquainted with a good dose of soap and water. Perhaps too. Live with it and keep your snake, if that was your goal.

This all pretty much applies to any non-poisonous snake.

You better know the difference. You never want to randomly grab at a poisonous snake. There is a special technique which usually protects the catcher from the catchee, but if those snakes are your goal, go get a proper education from a professional and don't rely on your self-perceived level of holiness to protect you. 'Nuff said?

Knowing a few things about your snake will help you locate one in the first place. Where does it live? What does it eat? How does it like the current temperature?

Going back to garter snakes, they live in the grasses and weeds near bodies of fresh water. Sometimes, actually in the water. The reason for the where is in what they eat. Garters love earthworms, small frogs and toads, and (slow, stupid) minnows. A few seconds thought will clue you into where those can be found. Yes, sometimes that will be a garden, but that does not change the name of this particular snake.

Temperature plays a factor because snakes are cold blooded. In winter they slither deep into a burrow to estivate, the snake version of hybernation. This makes them terrible year-round pets, because most of them seem to need this cycle to survive, and few homes can provide it. Thus, if you've kept one all summer, turn it loose before the leaves drop, somewhere near where you caught it. There will be the proper kinds of tunnels there. In the summer, on a cool morning, snakes will find a sunny warm spot to get their metabolism going, and can often be found on paths or along roadways. In hotter weather, like the rest of us, they seek shade. If you keep one in the house, once  you understand what a genuinely escape-proof cage is, never put their cage in the sun as it will overheat. Dead, stinky snake! Likewise, a warming light or rock can give them an assist when it's cool.

Obviously, if you wish to keep a snake as a pet, you need to do a lot of research and preparation first. You thought hamsters got loose easily? Whoo boy! There are a lot of excellent books out there: read a couple. Find out what your snake is, what it eats and which items on its menu can eat it, how much it will grow if you're damn lucky and smart. Does it climb? Burrow? Hide or hang out in the open? How do you clean its cage without killing it? (No, seriously!) How big a water bowl does it need? Does it prefer a rock or a tree branch to assist it with shedding its skin, and how do you tell if that's happening or it's dying, because if it's the first and you start handling it, it might become the second.

I have strong memories of a few of my snake pets. Garters were my first, for budgetary reasons. I never had to go out and catch a frog, something I'd hate to kill anyway. Worms and minnows are available as fishing bait, and if you can convince the bait shop owner you will happily pay for just a very few minnows of the proper size, you can have some real fun. I used a clear Pyrex bowl as a water source for the two garters I had at the time, perhaps 5" tall and 8" across. Uhh, the bowl, not the snakes. The snakes could drink or soak in it as they chose. When it was feeding time, I dropped a few minnows in the water. There was one issue here, because garters are so incredibly stupid: they couldn't tell my fingers from the  minnows I was dropping. Luckily their teeth aren't really that sharp and rarely did more than a light scratch. Once past that hurdle, however, they instantly zeroed in on the fish and chased them around and around the bowl until they were caught. Nothing else ever made those garters move so fast! Of course, on those days when one of the idiots had gone after me first, I found much humor in it when both latched onto different ends of the same minnow and met nose-to-nose in the middle, having to battle over possession. Sure, there were three or four equally lively and tasty minnows swimming around in the rest of their bowl, but like I said: STUPID!

After their feeding, and with my freshly-washed hands, I changed their bowl to fresh water again, of course. About a week later, the newspaper on the cage floor got changed as well: slow digestion. And my little escape artists were snugly secured during cleaning in a pillowcase with the top securely knotted.

I only ever named one of  my snakes. He or she, I never knew nor cared, was a reticulated python, about 4' long. I called it "Nasty". It well earned the name. It's the only one of over a dozen snakes of about 8 varieties which never ever grew accustomed to handling. It always struck, and at that size, there was a guaranteed scratch requiring soap, water, and a bandaid. Luckily it didn't need frequent attention, because it didn't get it. It also discouraged me from collecting any more.

By then, anyway, my family had moved to Georgia, which had enough poisonous snakes that I didn't want to encourage any of the kids in the idea that it was safe to pick up any they found in the yard. I did, however, take advantage of the offer of a neighbor just up the road, coincidentally who grew up in the same county in Minnesota where the resort was at, to let him bring over the body of a copperhead he had killed in his yard earlier in the day. First, however, I insisted that its head be completely removed, not wanting anyone to risk an accidental fang puncture with a residue of venom. Unlikely, you think, even after showing it as an example of deadly danger? You don't know my boys! At any rate, of all the snakes I'd kept, and there were some beauties, this copperhead was far and away the most beautiful snake I had ever seen in my life!

I did learn one tip down there for driving away those snakes which might decide your warm basement was a good spot to winter. You didn't have to even know if they were there, or might be, so it was great for all those folks afraid of any snakes at all, poisonous or not, i.e., pretty much everybody. All you needed to do was set out a small open container of turpentine in your basement. The fumes drove out all the smart snakes to go hunt for more amenable winter housing. Any that didn't leave, died.

Had I thought about it, I would have known. Any product with a pine tar, any cleaner with a name ending in "-sol", is deadly to snakes. That's why you can never clean your snake cage in, say, Pine-Sol, no matter how wonderful it is for other uses. It's also why, if you must paint part of a snake cage, you can only use latex. The solvents to clean your oil paint brushes leave deadly residue.

Of course, here in Arizona, nobody has basements so I don't need to remember how to keep snakes out of them. Somehow, though, I still do.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Generous To A Fault

That's my guy. Mostly it's lovely. but this time not so much.

I do blame him, you know.While I ca't figure out just how he shared the bug, he did have it first. So it must be him, right? If only I could figure out how. I can eliminate a bunch of ways it was shared. We mostly don't eat the same things. Even when it's the same kind of thing, he buys his and I buy mine. They are stored on different shelves, fridge, freezer, and cupboard. There have been two exceptions lately, but the timing seems to nix those possibilities, not to mention cooking times. Several hours in the crock pot, or a pan of brownies baked in the oven and shared, seem unlikely culprits.

We're both thinking food poisoning. He blamed the meatloaf he made, but I didn't have any. A general bug, however nasty, had little chance of being shared. It happened to be a week when there wasn't a lot of kissing involved. I mean, who feels like kissing in the middle of a vomiting frenzy? And while he did use my Immodium, I hadn't touched it afterward until I was in deep need of it myself. Already too late for it to be the culprit. Moreover, all his symptoms disappeared a couple days before mine started.

So what did we share? Air. No coughing, little sneezing, hardly seems likely. I did drive him to a doctor's appointment, but again, his symptoms were done and mine hadn't started. We do occasionally hit a "two-for" special at a fast food joint when we're out and about, but not this time and why the difference in timing? We  do share counter space, notably in front of the toaster and microwave, but again, timing is problematic. Besides, neither toast or microwave dinners seem likely, and the dishes had just been done before his bout started.

We share the same blood pressure cuff, but, again, unlikely. I did find out however that the illness spiked my BP. Big surprise. We share the TV remote, but again, how does that fit? We also pull the same chain to turn the light on or off between our chairs in the living room. Again: timing?

But this morning I woke early as usual. After hitting the toilet, I take advantage of the gap where I head   back to sleep as the perfect time to take my thyroid pill. You gotta wait at least 20 mniutes, and a little more nap seems ideal. Somehow, though, the second that pill hit my stomach it didn't quite sit right. I couldn't get back to sleep as usual. I still had my morning pills with coffee once I was really up, and things started heading downhill from there. Nothing stayed down. Fever and chills resulted in my adding sweats and heavy blankets to the bed, with no result. No nap, no rest, no liquids... Well, no need for more details.

Steve was a sweetie, waiting on me hand and bucket. I wound up needing an assist from bed to bathroom and back again. The only good news was I was finally able to keep some 7-UP down  by evening. I'd been doing the pinch test to see how dehydrated I was, and I was. Once I turned that corner, I was able to nap. By bedtime - that's past midnight for you folks - I was able to keep Ibuprofin down and chased the chills away. Eventually I managed to take the rest of my evening meds, and my feet quit hurting. I shed the sweats, lay in bed for another several hours, and finally believe I'll manage a nightful of actual sleep.

I'm hoping.

Still, nothing seems appetizing for breakfast yet.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Almost A Perfect Solution

The frustration was sudden, abrupt, inexplicable. Wells Fargo has now earned a spot on my "shit list". Having long been a grateful fan of my credit union, and the opposite of most banks I have done business with, I was shocked but acknowledged it fit right in with my prejudices. Or can you still call it that if it comes from years of bad experiences?

My jewelry is starting to sell! Hooray! A little spending money here, a little there, a justification after developing my skills for graduating into working with sterling silver. That's pricey, though, making the ability to use the earnings for more supplies important. It hadn't been a problem. Until last month.

My credit union is way back in Minnesota. We've had a good connection for something like 30 years, and the benefits I received gave me - still give me - no incentive to change. I could have chosen to endorse and mail checks back from here. But Steve and I had a better system. His Wells Fargo bank is nation-wide, and they don't care where he does business on-site. I would endorse my modest checks to him, he'd deposit them in his account, and hand me cash. There was never a big enough check coming through that it couldn't already be covered in his existing balance. And had we been informed that they reinstated the old practice of not cashing anything for X number of days until it cleared, very common before the internet handled such issues immediately, we could have understood. Not a biggie. That wasn't what they did, however.

Last month I did my usual of endorsing my check over to Steve so he could make the deposit, This time he returned with the now twice-endorsed check refused by Wells Fargo for deposit. No stipulations, just flat refusal. No warning, just an announcement of policy already changed.

I wound up taking the check back to the club, seeking their advice, thinking  possibly voiding and reissuing of the check. I hated to make extra work for our new treasurer, but hey, money is money and I worked for it. They had a solution. I could get the check reissued, along with funds from a couple additional sales, the next time checks were written. (They have a thing with their software that three checks print at a time. Sometimes somebody waits until the next three are ready. Again, no biggie.)

Further, they would cash it for me. Ideally, of course, I could run it through the supply store for whatever I needed to make more jewelry. Seemed like a win-win solution. I started making out my supply wish list, keeping in mind wanting to continue working on jewelry while on summer vacation without the difficulty up there of acquiring the "right" supplies, quickly, and of course with my accustomed club discount instead of retail. I can get great beads and beading supplies 5 miles from home, but sterling? Try silver-filled instead. The right gauge? Shape? Other metal? Uh, no, don't carry that, don't plan to. Forgetting to supply myself in advance meant waiting on whatever the project was  until my return. Much can be done without relying on club machinery with advance preparation, returning in the fall with a bucketful of items ready for that final finishing before sale.

I got that replacement check this morning. It was a pretty nice one, as a hefty sterling piece had sold. I took my check and list to the supply room and got everything on it. I knew I was outspending my check, but that's what plastic is for. I was going to be equipped!

The plan was to pay the bill with the check first, and follow with plastic for the balance. Everything I wanted was available, and the tally ran up. Just one little thing was forgotten. The club uses something called the "Square" system for keeping track of sales, categories, etc. Even refunds if necessary. Checks, folding green, and plastic all accepted. Receipts are given both hard copy and via email. There was just one little snag.

It turned into two. The "Square" isn't programmed to split payment into two types per single sale. OK, we'll put it all on the plastic, then refund the check amount. Well, it's not programmed to refund an amount that is not directly connected to a full sale. So, after consultaion, would I mind cash back as a separate transaction? Nope, groceries are on the shopping list too, and it'll get spent either way. Thus the first snag went away.

The second snag was theirs, not mine to deal with. It seems the stamp the club uses to endorse checks received for deposit refused to work. In fact, it had refused to work yesterday, which explained why there was another check sitting on the counter (bad choice!!) waiting for endorsement. By the time the fourth person, two supply room staff and two mechanical guys, including out treasurer, was trying to fix the stamp, it finally dawned on me that I had everything needed and had done everything needed for my purchase. Confirming that with the supply room, I headed home for breakfast and a nap.

And, of course, organizing all my purchases for either working on before the trip or safely packing them for travel. One of the chunks of wire needs to be cut and torched, pickled and polished, for use as head pins the right size and strength for a specific project designated to be done on vacation. (Yes, Virginia, you can make your own head pins.) Another needs to be flattened in the rolling mill, cut and stamped either "sterling" or ".925" to identify the finished item it would be attached to so buyer and seller would know its quality, hard to tell by eye. The small amount of wire remaining on a big spool had to be removed and wound around a small one that it fit, and which would now fit in the box with other sterling items so all the sterling could be kept isolated and protected.

Oh, and for the record? Any further club checks this spring can be held on to until I'm back near my credit union offices for simple deposit. Last year's treasurer had a fit when they weren't cleared right away so her books were simpler. This one is not so fussy... at least not yet. We'll see after he endures his first summer. Meanwhile those of us who anticipate possible summer sales are asked to leave a couple of SASEs for wherever we plan to be while we're gone to facilitate payment processing.

Now, off to buy those groceries. I seem to have cash to spend.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Back To The Practical: Politics

Our whacked-out government has decided that the upcoming census should include a citizenship question, something America quit doing in the 1950s.

Why do we count people? To determine congressional representation and distribution. It has been used to allow political parties to gerrymander districts in order to ensure the highest number of their own people get to represent them in both state and national legislative bodies. It also allows governmental budget makers and bean counters to decide whom to tax by how much to either fund or de-fund upcoming budgets. And let's not forget the impact of packing our judicial system with judges who lean in one direction or another.

Historically, our forefathers loaded the dice from the very beginning when white property owners counted more than others. They wanted the "right" people to build this country. The "wrong" people counted, literally, less. They couldn't even vote  in order to make changes in the system. Nearly all of us today agree that policy was wrong, inhuman, swaying power to the wealthy white men. We have amended our constitution to correct those inequities. Unfortunately, the relative few who agree with the original system have regained power in our government and are busy dismantling your rights.

Why is a citizenship question important? Not only does it generate fear in those who fear deportation, while still contributing to society by their work and their taxes, but that fear leads them to not answer the census. The result of this is they don't count! Literally!  Not only do they not count, but other members of a family with, say, one undocumented immigrant and a citizen spouse and perhaps several citizen children, don't count either. It's no accident that a large number of these are brown skinned.

It's also no accident that our darker skinned population tend to vote for the Democratic candidates on the ballot. They're not stupid about where their interests lie. All the fear mongering among Republicans about non-citizens voting has been shown time and again to be hogwash. Unfortunately, Republicans have done a great job of finding ways of blocking our darker skinned citizens from turning up at the polls. This is just another sneaky tactic.

Right now this proposed census question is in the courts system. It may get knocked down. It may sail through. Time will tell. But if it does go through, how about the rest of us agree to boycott that question? Don't answer yes or no. Simply fill the rest of the paperwork out but leave that space blank. Spread the word to others. Let's get the government back to counting heads, not citizens; people, not white folks.

An Unanswered Question

OK, all you theoretical physicists out there:

I've been fascinated by the photos and information we've gotten from the Hubble Telescope. Not only are the pictures spectacular (look 'em up!) but the information gleaned about the size of the universe is truly mind-boggling. The very definition of it, in fact.

One piece of information from all those new discoveries has me puzzled. All those gazillion (technical term) galaxies are not only moving away from  us, it has been determined that the rate at which they are traveling is increasing! 

I heard that scientific speculation has therefore pushed the conclusion that eventually everything else will be so far away from us, that aside from our own galaxy, the night sky will be dark. Everything will be too far away to see, not because they are so tiny, but because their light can't possibly reach us. Now that's where I have a problem.

We believe, at this current moment (a qualifier given that knowledge historically increases and updates), that the speed of light is an absolute limit of possible movement. Nothing can travel faster. Nothing. So-o-o-o-o....

As all those other galaxies approach the speed of light, and we suppose their speed will match up with lightspeed, why will the sky go dark? Won't that light reach a - to us- static point where they will all appear to freeze in relation to us rather than winking out?

Yes, this is not an urgent question. My lifetime will be too short for this to be a remotely practical question. So will yours. The sun will likely burn itself out long before then, something that will likely prevent any earthly life from answering the question. In fact, even allowing for continually increasing advances in optics so one could actually follow retreating galaxies, solar burnouts would likely make it impossible for anything to answer that question, making it moot.

But just suppose....

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The THREAT Of Social Media

We all hear about the downside of using social media. Privacy can be lost. Stupid adolescent postings can lose you a potential job. Bullying happens. We don't even have to mention the inappropriate rampaging of the current occupant of the West Wing. And rating systems can get out of hand. I well recall one criticizing Motel 6 for, frankly, not being a 5-star motel. (Hey, it's a two star, priced accordingly, and adequate for that, especially when you consider their pet policy. Get over yourself.)

But sometimes using the threat of negative comments on your social media platform can have beneficial effects for you, the consumer who's been screwed by the big bad company. Steve just found that out this morning.

Last Thanksgiving, give or take a couple days, Steve and I both gave each other an test kit for an X-mas present. They were running a sale, and we had both been curious for years. The instructions are simple but precise. Don't eat or drink for a specified period of time ahead of taking the test, then spit into a tube until your saliva reaches a designated level, screw the cap on which releases a blue preservative into the tube, and shake to mix. A mailing box comes with the kit, and you wait perhaps 6 weeks for getting your results emailed to you. In color. And along with regular offers to take "advantage" of a plethora of other services they offer, for fees of course.

Mine was returned promptly. Steve waited. And waited. Finally a notification came through that they had been unable to process his sample, and a new kit arrived. Repeat process and wait, a couple weeks longer this time. Presumably the extra wait was due to the continuation of their sale and a whole lot of folks thinking that X-mas was a good time to either take or give the kit for testing.

Steve still waited, a tad less patiently this time. I had to remind him of when they had said this 2nd kit's results would be ready, and they weren't yet late. His mental clock was still ticking from the start of the whole process, understandably enough. Finally, late yesterday the e-mail arrived.

Deja vu: they still were unable to process his kit.

This morning he got on the phone 1st thing after getting out of bed. There was the typical voicemail maze, punch whichever number to get into the next menu, figure out which number they meant you to punch this time, and so on. And on. Finally, a human. Remarkably, one with English as their native language.

"Oh, you had this problem? Tsk tsk. We''ll be happy to send you out another kit, no extra charge.... Oh, we've already done that?... Are you sure you followed the instructions precisely? ... Well, we'll be happy to send you another one, again no charge.... That won't do? You want your money back?... OK, we can do that, minus $25 for our handling and testing, of course.

That's when Steve informed them that he would be willing to accept their offer. but they should understand that he would be posting very negative comments on social media about them.

After another brief hold, the company representative came back on the line and informed Steve that they would, of course, refund the whole amount!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Dumbest Answer Yet

A month ago (  ) I posted a question to anybody who was willing to read yet another commentary on school shootings. So many stupid ideas have been voiced instead of actually passing and enforcing some laws to help curb gun violence, particularly school shootings. I'm sure the NRA is smugly secure in its role of supporting gun sales by buying off legislators or threatening them with a well-financed campaign  ("primarying") against any effort to have some effect. A lot of stupid ideas about how to protect our school children have been discussed, some even put into effect.

I asked at the end what other stupid ideas people had out there to do anything but something effective. I've gotten an answer, I'm sorry to say. The school district of Blue Mountain, PA has decided to institute a program of supplying every classroom with a bucket of rocks.

WTF? Are you shitting me?

Are they thinking the bullied students - because popular culture has that as the root cause for all school shooters - will turn to the rocks and throw them at their classmates instead of bringing in a "legal" AR-15? Or are they suggesting that the students can actually defend themselves against a hail of bullets by throwing a rock or two the shooter's way before the target they present in the process gets them among the first to be killed?

Yep. Dumbest idea yet.