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.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Botanical Gardens Surprise

When we had Minnesota friends stop by for a couple days, we enjoyed a couple of dinners plus a little local sightseeing. Peggy was looking for a long walk for exercise along with a good taste - figuratively - of the Sonoran Desert. So for their last day, we decided to explore the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens. I made the assumption that Steve thought it was a good idea just for being able to spend more time with Les, his fishing buddy.

Walking is not our forte, so we wound up taking two cars. Our back was filled with the disassembled parts of both our scooters. Their rental car held their possessions after checking out of their motel, enabling them to head straight up to Sedona when their schedule required them to. It turns out Les wasn't as enamored of long walks as Peggy, so he took advantage of the ability to rent an on-premises scooter for his own use. The result was over 5 hours of usage, so a very good decision.

It turns out I still haven't located the box that my little camera got packed into, and I didn't feel like hauling the monster SLR digital with a variety of lenses and other equipment, so Steve and Peggy were the ones with cameras. After the first hour, Steve hadn't started using his yet, so I borrowed it for a shot of a blooming tree aloe ("Hercules"), and wound up being the one using it for the rest of the day. Go figure.

About three hours into the tour, Steve started telling me how much he was enjoying the gardens. He repeated it for about the seventh time that evening after we were home, also after we had let ourselves be persuaded to use our admission price as a deduction off the cost of an annual membership before driving away. We both wanted to come back, even bringing friends along. Either of us could come singly and bring a friend for free, any day. There were lots more benefits as well.

Now the fact that Steve enjoyed the place so much could have been the surprise of the trip. But he had a bigger surprise for me. This from the man who just the week before had commented he was almost afraid to let me go shopping for fear I'd come home with yet another plant to be put in the ground: he'd found a plant in the garden he wanted to buy and plant. It was a tree aloe, beautifully blooming up on a tall trunk.

Now the one he fell in love with bloomed red, and the one I fell in love with was a few feet away and blooming yellow. That will be a discussion for another day; say, until next fall when we return south for the next planting season. For other things as well, but definitely for the planting season.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

At Long Last, THE Tree

Last spring I fell in love... with a tree I'd never seen or even heard of before seeing it in my friend's sister's yard. I had been invited over to see her landscaping, something quite different than the two-cactus-and-a-palm model most everybody else seemed to have, with an average of about one orange per average per back yard. Linda's back yard was a Sonoran Desert version of a jungle with footpaths and a huge gazebo. To save you looking it up, the tree I fell in love with was her palo blanco.

I started researching it throughout this summer online, from characteristics to growing needs to where I might be able to buy one when we got back down here. Please notice that we arrived here in September, and it's now the 9th of December. There are a lot of nurserys, and garden departments of other big box stores, which do not stock palo blanco trees. Trust me on this.

We did locate one nursery about a month ago which stocked one. We could see immediately exactly why they still stocked it. It was a double trunk tree, about 20 feet tall and 2 feet wide each from leaf tip to leaf tip in the canopy, sitting in a wooden box that might have held about 30 gallons of dirt had anybody bothered to put that much in it. It/they badly needed a rescue, so ugly that just seeing it/them made me cringe, but at $250 -plus tax of course - it wasn't going to be me who did it. I wasn't even going to ask what delivery charges might be on top of that, but it for sure would not be haulable in my hatchback. Not to mention the two of us being remotely able to drag it out once home.

We had actually seen some nicely planted versions of the tree earlier that day. A Circle K convenience store had used them in landscaping. Steve pronounced them to be ugly, but he generously also decided that he would tolerate my planting one in the yard. On the other hand, after seeing mature specimens, I was wanting my own more than ever.

Back to the internet, I kept researching who might have the tree available. It would have to be soon, as planting season is nearly over. The roots need to be well established before summer heat hits, particularly since we won't be here to water. I located one source way south of downtown, but they required pre-ordering and a wait of 1-3 days to have the tree in stock - whatever the tree was you ordered. So I put in my order and waited. On day 4, I called, having heard nothing.  He was still looking for a "nice" tree, and if I'd give him until Monday, he might still came up with one. If not, he'd let me know to try elsewhere.

He let me know try elsewhere, even recommending a nursery about half as far from my home as he was.

We went out shopping this morning and passed another chain nursery center near our route. These guys were very expensive, and had they even had a palo blanco, or known what one was (to be fair, our guy was new), we likely couldn't have afforded it. So I called the place the internet guy had recommended, and were delighted to find out they had a number of the trees in stock, and significantly cheaper then even the internet guy was charging. I didn't find out exactly what that number was, but three were displayed up front, and more were in back if I wanted.

My knees said I didn't want.

But there was one I liked in the three, and we managed to get it in my little hatchback, the 15 gallon pot in the back corner and about 4 feet of branches sticking out the passenger window in front. A couple sat across the dash, but the branches and leaves are so fine that they were no obstruction to vision. It was a long ride home, however, as the top of the tree bent more than I wanted whenever I went over 25 mph. Living in a state where everybody drives 10-20 miles over the speed limit, that made me real popular. Even though I avoided the freeway and had the 4-way flashers on the whole trip. There were only two guys who felt the irrepressible need to let me know just exactly how popular I was.

With Steve's help we got the pot and tree out of the car and standing alongside the driveway. When Paul gets here in a couple of days, I'll show him where in the back to plant it. Perhaps it will have dried out a bit by then, making it about 10 pounds more portable.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Sans Family

Down here they start giving out the weather predictions way in advance. What's the harm? Nothing much changes. They started by forecasting  temps might approach 80, say 78 or 79. Caution ruled; we had been having a bit of a cool spell, finally, with some days barely hitting the 70s. As the date neared, they suggested 80, then 82, then possibly even 84! Catching the morning news Friday, we found it had hit 87 on Thanksgiving!

We hadn't noticed. It was pleasant. We were more focused weather-wise on back home. Their day started below zero. Might hit the teens above. We tried not to gloat too obnoxiously while patting ourselves on the back for heading down to Phoenix. It we ever spend a summer here, the satisfaction may wane, especially as the electric bill rises. But we're not planning it in the near future.

There is a suggestion of rain occurring either next Tuesday or Wednesday. It would be nice. There's a large mulch pile burning a few miles southwest of us, and for the last few days a southern wind has left us a whitish streak across the western sky. While it doesn't outright stink here as it does other places directly downwind, eyes are irritated, coughing increases. It's tempting to wonder of allergies are getting worse or whether the pollution spreads more than the visible smoke plume.

We're not traveling much. Sleep patterns are goofy and seldom overlap. Reduced incomes and the abundance of home entertainment help keep us home. Planting the last batch of agaves left me with a sore back, further decreasing any ambition to get out and about, or even clean up for going anywhere. I've been rearranging my southwestern pottery so that it better fits cabinet spaces and origins are kept together, taking up my existing ambition. Four shelves are finished now. Two hold Navajo, one Santo Domingo, and one Hopi. Two more shelves need to be cleared off so there is room to organize Acoma, Jemez, and Mata Ortiz. Then the smaller collections can be given their spaces so they all make sense, to me anyway. Zia, Zuni, San Felipe, Sandia, San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Taos, Nambe, Laguna, Santa Rosa, Isleta, Casa Grande, Cochiti, Maricopa... even when there is only one representative piece from a pueblo, it needs its place. There will still be unidentified pieces and other outliers, like Cherokee. Definitely not southwestern, coming from North Carolina, but represented nonetheless to honor Steve's heritage. It takes energy to organize them all. Add in the baskets and wall hangings, figure in the weird angles that have to be reached in one of the cabinets with side doors instead of front, which knees and elbows begrudge, not to mention that still sore back, and the size of the job becomes a bit more apparent.

It's just one of many. Boxes of books wait on Paul's next trip down, creating more shelving in the library. Then room gets cleared for the Christmas tree, and some selection of the hundreds of ornaments collected over the years. Fred keeps shedding, dishes keep getting dirtied, clothes keep needing washing, the patio keeps collecting pine needles and dog fur, and Ellie has discovered the fun of chewing pine cones to bits land leaving those right where bare feet could safely walk hours earlier.

At some point I will resume calling plumbers for estimates. The first one came in at $18 grand, NOT including replacing the wall and floor they would tear up, and not guaranteeing the sewer pipe replacement for more than 7 years, even if we take out the big pine tree whose roots are destroying the old pipe. After they insisted pine tree roots could/would continue to grow for up to 15 years after the tree was taken out, we decided there must be other, more honest plumbers in the state. But again I'm gearing up the energy for the search.

Now plumbing may seem an odd topic for a Thanksgiving blog post. Unfortunately, it has a lot of holiday history for me. When the kids were young, there was always some kind of plumbing disaster over the holiday. Pipes would freeze, living in a mobile home with a sudden cold snap and heat tapes that picked that day to fail. Sewer lines would clog, from I-don't-want-to-know-what got flushed  into the system. Repairs were always inconvenient and expensive. At least the current issues can be worked around and lived with, probably because I wasn't hosting this year.

Insomnia has become my companion. I can discover it's midnight, sneaking up on me unnoticed and unfelt, and toddle off to bed. Once there the mind kicks in with to-do lists, or ways of organizing books or pottery or plantings or pictures to be hung or items to be packed and brought down next fall, or...  At any rate, it's not ready to sleep. And I'm a person who has always been able to be completely zonked within a minute of hitting the pillow, even in the middle of a conversation with Steve. I am guessing it has been due to years of sleep deprivation. The alarm has been set for work for so many years I can't remember when it wasn't. Even without that, the dogs had to be let out. Nobody told them about the sanctity of weekends.

I've started trying to put back the pieces of old sleep habits. If I think about being sleepy earlier in the evening, I try to go to bed then, rather than staying up to the end of a program or chapter. I try melatonin, which seems to work a few times until it doesn't. I try to get up early again, with the assistance of reminders from my bladder. I dug out the allergy filter/fan, better known as my white noise machine, a great improvement on listening to doggy toenails pattering up and down the halls. Less caffeine, including chocolate, near bedtime. Some days, many in fact, no coffee whatsoever. I have even considered - and rejected - the idea of setting the alarm on my bedside clock.

Hey, there has to be SOME benefit to being retired!

I can sleep during the day, having a nap or two even on days when the night has provided 12 hours of good sleep. But even without those daily naps I can still see that nighttime clock declare midnight, 1AM, 2AM, even OMG 4AM! before the head can hit the pillow and the brain can shut off.

I am told I will adjust, told by people who have already retired themselves, folks who presumably have come through the other side of the problem successfully. I trust they are right.

It in fact became one of the topics of after-dinner conversation this Thanksgiving. We were invited by friends to join them and other friends of theirs for an afternoon feast. We gratefully accepted. There were 9 of us in all, fortunately of similar political views so that wasn't an obstacle to our enjoyment of meeting new folks. In Arizona, opinions run strong, as we've noticed from an across-the-fence neighbor who loudly both plays Rush Limbaugh and even more loudly defends him. Note that we've not bothered to introduce ourselves. There is a lovely screening of various bushes and trees between our houses. If it gets too bad, I could retaliate with opera. I won't. But I could.

At any rate, at our ages, food conversations can easily morph to health conversations. Recipes have notations of what is included or left out, as more of us find things we can no longer eat or should no longer eat. If the system still tolerates it, the latest prescription likely prohibits it. I'm sure some people there must be taking my same medications, as they are forbidden many of the same exact foods. It's actually comforting. Had I been eating with family, nobody else would have needed to avoid the same foods and - besides simply being the weird one there - there would have been fewer foods brought to the table I could partake in. Here I fit right in!

So while I missed hugging the ones I loved back home, it was still a very nice holiday. Good food, good company, old friends and new ones. What else does one need to be thankful for?

Thursday, November 13, 2014


We used to kill honeybees here. There'd be dozens every day. It's not like we'd do it on purpose. Our favorite rec center has an open air pool and they would come in to land on the water or crawl down the walls from the floor to the water. Many of them would never make it back out. By the time we were swimming after I was done with work, there would be maybe a dozen dead ones floating on the water. Very rarely one would still be alive and I could scoop it up in a handful of water and set it on the side of the pool to dry up and leave, if it still could. Perhaps the night cleaning staff would just step on it or sweep it into the trash instead if it was too dark to fly, but I tried.

There haven't been bees this fall. Tiny flies or gnats show up, floating on the surface. So it's still a trap. But there haven't been honeybees.

There might be innocent explanations. It was a wet summer, and there have been an abundance of flowers everywhere. It is possible they haven't needed a water source with all the nectar in the flowers. Then again, I haven't seen bees near our back yard's assortment of flowers. There have been flies and mosquitoes, butterflies  both familiar and alien, the latter being represented by a huge yellow and black one which flutters its fore wings while holding the back ones folded over its back as it drinks from each flower on the Mexican Bird of Paradise. One could almost think it a tiger swallowtail but for the lack of tails and the weird fluttering, and from a distance it seems larger than a swallowtail. No bees.

It might be that colony collapse disorder has hit here. We haven't caught any local news on the topic, not being here for months, to hear if it's been an issue in this area. I have been hearing about it in Minnesota. I do know that our two mature apple trees produced a total of two apples from the loads of blossoms  they flaunted last spring, though the cold wet spring was at least partly responsible for keeping existing bees hivebound. It wasn't, however, cold or wet in The Valley last spring: quite the opposite.

What I do know for sure is that we used to kill honeybees in the pool. But not this fall.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Better Day

The wait for a driver's license today was less than half as long as yesterday's for vehicle plates. Of course, I didn't leave until after Steve got up and put the AZ plates on for me. I could have done it in the daylight, but then so could he. And I understand much better how important it is to feel useful and capable.

The AZ services website cooperated much better this morning, so my proof of insurance is registered with the state and acknowledged. The insurance site is working as well. It turns out it was their problem last night, not mine. The right page refused to load, then, but no issues this morning.

As far as my identity documentation, this info desk tender sent me straight to a supervisor, who in turn approved my documents after seeing only what I had brought yesterday. She did look at the rest very briefly, but approval had been given by then. Debra, where were you yesterday? Better yet, where was the clerk who knew to send me to you? The new license will be arriving in the mail in 15 days. That's the official story. I note the temporary card is valid for two months.

Just in case.

I found an alarm clock at the store. Not just any alarm clock, but one where I can set the time myself. To some of you, that will not sound like anything new and different. That's the whole point. I got talked into new and different last time I needed a clock and got one that was supposed to set itself, even changing for daylight savings time and back again. It was the only kind on the shelves at the time. Apparently it was the thing.

When I plugged it in, it set the time. Three minutes early. Several months later it gained another minute, then another. Last week it dropped off daylight savings time even though Arizona doesn't even go on daylight savings. Well, unless you're on the Navajo reservation. At any rate, for the last week my can't-change-it-yourself clock has been running 15 minutes fast and an hour slow. Or 45 minutes behind, if you combine both issues. I don't need a clock that requires two mental adjustments to know what the time really is. It's in the trash. I won't even recycle it or donate it. I'm feeling too kindly disposed to the rest of the world at the moment.

I planted 4 new aloes when I got back from the store. That's after buying two on eBay. We've been chatting, the seller and I, as this is my second purchase from her, and I had to draw her attention on the original order to the shipping expectations as placed on the order by the delivery company were unrealistically fast, making me think they shipment was delayed. The plants arrived when they were actually supposed to and in great shape, and being a very rare aloe, I decided to order another one. Plus a different kind that looked like a nice addition to my garden. Then there was combined shipping to discuss with her. The upshot is that the order arrived with two babies (thus 4 total plants) of a completely different kind for me to try. Free! I guess we bonded over aloes.

They were unrooted cuttings, so they got my immediate attention. I needed not just any pot, but something to keep the cuttings down in the soil, rather than popping out during, say, watering. Something that let me see when they were actually rooted enough to plant successfully, without destroying those tender roots in the process. Plus, I was hungry.

Those of you who follow this blog will find that both a non-sequitur and a bit of deja vu. Didn't we hear about me skipping eating yesterday too? This time, though, the seeming non sequitur turns out to be relevant. Late lunch was going to be Greek yogurt with blueberries and walnuts. The blueberries came in a little clear plastic lidded container. Once the berries were out and washed, I lined the bottom half with plastic wrap to hold some water in, adding an inch of yard dirt and said water. The lid when closed was perfect to hold the cuttings down in the soil and let light through, and the slots let air circulate or water in as needed. It also incidentally protects from rabbits, as it now sits out in the garden which will be its new home while the baby aloes root.

Let me put in a good word here for an eBay seller: her business handle is "idreamofsucculents". When it's time to put more in the garden, I will be looking through her items first. If you want aloes, in particular, I recommend ordering from her, keeping in mind seasonal temperatures affecting the order. She's in California, so I can shop for Phoenix area just about any time. Lucky me. All I really need is a budget. And, soon, more yard space. And chicken wire until they establish well. And...