Sunday, April 26, 2015

Dodge One Bullet, Bite A Bigger

I was looking at my odometer the other week, noticing that it was over 72,000. Now for me with my driving history, that's nothing, though nowadays I barely fill the tank once a month. But it occurred to me to look up when my timing belt needed to be replaced. The older cars said around 90K, but I had the niggling thought that newer models said more like 60K. If that were true, I was past due, and my warantee was screwed. Had I not retired, it'd be moot by now anyway. Now, however, I had plans for making this car last for a very long time.


I looked it up on line. Well, I tried. I found all kinds of prices for new belts, others for replacement labor, still others insisting I had to replace what is still called a water pump, though it has no water these days, at the same time as the belt. We were pushing well over a grand in potential expenses by now.

But what was this? Some models of my car the same year had timing chains? Could I be that lucky? How could I find out? After more internet research, I still had both answers for how my vehicle was equipped. I headed out to the car to pour through the manuals for when the service was required. It should be listed along with oil changes, tranny flushes, etc. Nope, nada. The only answer was to call my dealer's repair shop, give them the VIN, and ask if I needed to schedule the work. Put that way, they were happy to look it up for me.

I have a chain!


About this same time, I changed insurance companies, both for the house, and for the car. I had been paying the same car insurance as I did back when I was filling my tank once or twice a day rather than a month. That didn't seem fair. Plus I knew from past experience there was a discount when one company carried both policies. The quote I wound up with halved my auto premium while lowering the homeowners policy a few bucks a month.

Heck of a deal!

They needed to come out and look over the exterior of the house, a reasonable request from any insurance company. That's when I got the letter. It contained a threat to cancel, provided I didn't send them proof of a seemingly minor repair which had the possibility of causing a major problem, namely a fire.

Down here nobody has basements. One of the results is that the circuit breaker box is traditionally mounted on the exterior of the house. Our house was built in 1961, and presumably the breaker box was also. There was just one wee little thing about how it was designed: the sheet metal cover wasn't hinged and fastened on either one side or the top. Instead it was a separate piece that could be pulled straight off.

Some time in the last couple of years, it had been. And not replaced. Having the circuit breakers exposed to the elements was a bad no-no. So far, that seems logical. Replace that cover or get a new one, and we're good to go. Right?

But it's never so easy.

Not only had we never noticed that cover was missing, we had never noticed anything resembling the cover just kicking around the yard, or the workshop, or anywhere else. Nobody remembered picking up a stray piece of metal and wondering how it got in the yard and finding no answer, tossing it. It was there when we had our home inspection for buying the house. But who on earth would steal one? It's not like they made them from copper, perhaps making it seem valuable. It's not likely that once removed it would be carried by the wind over our 6' fence.

OK, so Home Depot. We measured the existing box and went to look for the right sized cover. No go. Not only do they not make anything anymore in that size, all the new boxes have attached covers, leaving us with a double strike-out. Nothing offered on line either. Everybody's solution was to get hold of an electrician.

Everything about that panel and box was out of code. Big surprise. The estimate required replacing the entire box and breakers, moving it 20 feet east of its current location where the big pine tree has grown up to rub its branches fondly over the wires, install a new mast riser (I had to look that up), put in/replace (depending on whether it had an old one in the first place) the main grounding system, get a county electrical permit to do the work, and relocate the existing branch circuits. After both a senior discount, and the SCHOA discount for being located in Sun City, then adding on sales tax, the total came to over $5 grand.

I guess there are a few good things here. We'll be safer. It will have had to be done at some point. I can actually afford to get it done, though it will be using money being saved for major plumbing repairs, which I think will be severely scaled back to what we absolutely must have, piecemeal. The electrician is reputable, highly recommended by the Sun City homeowners association. PLUS he thinks he can get it done before we want to leave to head north, also before the letter's deadline to keep our insurance.

APS had to come out to approve the new location we proposed moving their wires to. They managed to show up on Saturday, and we were told to expect them no earlier than this coming week. Once the new box and breakers, etc. are installed, the county has to come out and inspect them before the wiring can be transferred over to them. I'm told this could actually be the major delaying factor. How busy are they? (How busy do they think they want to be?)

We may not be leaving when we wanted to be. I'd already begun researching routes and lodging. We plan to avoid the three day monster driving marathon this time - and future times as well - as my body no longer is adapted to nor willing to be chained behind the wheel for 14-hour days. Our thought is head up to Durango the first night, a stop in Montrose for Steve to visit his mom's grave with maybe Denver for the night's sleep, then two more days till "home." Which it isn't any more, but it's been weird finding the right term for it. Maybe I should just call it Paul's.

There have been other, nicer bits of news. It rained last night. Perhaps a whole third inch. Muchly needed and refreshing to all but Ellie, who managed to renew her terror of the 5 lightning strikes at 3AM. Baby quail are running around following their leader parents. Most of what I "needed" to do in lapidary has been finished, though ideas still percolate for next season should I delay it that long. My new credit union offered to refinance my car loan with a lower interest which would save me $50/month. Fresh raspberries have hit the market and on sale, the limited quantity per customer being just perfect to use them up and hit the store again during the same sale. I think I have made a list containing everything we need to bring back north with us. I also think we can cram it all in the car and still be able to breathe.

That's it: breathe, Heather. Breathe.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


She was walking toward me in the WalMart this evening. Brunette, maybe 30, a grey t-shirt snug around her torso, if she wasn't already attracting enough attention, glittery letters decorated the most tightly stretched part of her shirt with the word "GUESS".

After looking her over, I decided to accept her shirt's challenge. I guessed...


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Not Just Eggs At The Hunt

The warnings over local media were going out loudly and often all last week to all the parents and other folks organizing Easter Egg Hunts. Down here where the temperatures are typically in the 70s and 80s for this holiday, egg hunts outside seem to be the norm. That's a change from my experiences with 3 generations of Minnesota Easter Egg hunts where inside hunts are the rule. Piles of snow being not the best spots for eggs and candies, cupboards, closets, and behind and under furniture are the favored locations that I recall. If you want to get really tricky, try inside a shoe, or the heavy boots still sitting by the door.

Hey, they are wrapped, right?

Outside hunts have a whole different set of parameters. You don't just take pets and traffic into consideration, or find an enclosed area for your hunt. Rain isn't an issue except in the rarest year. But none of the warnings were about any of that stuff.

We were being warned not to place goodies under bushes, or in/next to holes in the ground. Never mind that around Phoenix yards and parks there aren't a whole lot of other places where one can actually hide something the size of an Easter egg,  just don't do it in any of those good spaces.

Why not?



Black widows.

They are awake, and apparently ornery about all the incursions into their territories when nobody invited them to have any of the goodies but just want to carelessly run around, make lots of noise, chase their food away, and step on them.

Hey, inside, anyone?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


I had begun to think recently that my body had adjusted to the desert heat and dryness. I seemed to be comfy with about the same amount of water as I was drinking up north. No dry mouth, no feeling thirsty.

But then for whatever perverse reason I decided that there was much pruning to be done in the yard. Today. The 4th day of 95 degree or higher temperatures. But hey, Sunday's 97 didn't count because I hadn't left the house. And no, we're not air conditioning yet because we open up the house after sunset and shut it again after sunrise, keeping afternoon temps inside from hovering much above 80. We had gone so far as to dig out a fan for the living room, though after two days it decided it wasn't going to bother to turn the blades any more in the low setting. High is still fine, though, and there is a back-up fan in the front closet.

This morning I decided that the thorn tree, aka our foothills palo verde, needed to have the middle cleaned out. Not a major project, but the seed of the idea was rooting. The small palo verde has a lot of crossing branches, and even more that are just too thickly growing, crowding everything. So I was out with heavy gloves and two kinds of pruners, plus a folding chair that proved to be less than useless. (I think we can dismantle enough to recycle most of it.) This was just after sunrise, and before I finished, earlier than the task did, I had sweat running down my face. Probably it was running all sorts of other places, but the salt in my eyes was the annoying part. At any rate, one doesn't need to prune something drastically all at once, right? Right?

It just wasn't that hot! Now normally I'm good with just the water I take my pills with, plus whatever liquid comes in my fruit, yogurt, or whatever, at least through the morning. Then a couple glasses before bed in case I didn't get enough. By 10:00 AM however I'd finished my 3rd tall glass and was looking for my next two, even after cooling down in the fan and in the shower.

Call me stupid, but while I was sitting out with the dogs as briefly as possible late this afternoon while they tended to their yard needs - or that was the plan - I looked around the rest of the yard and found other things desperately in need of pruning. The palo blanco was sprouting out heavily at the end of very spindly branches, and I decided they needed a bit of trimming before they snapped in the next good wind. Then the pink poison bush, aka oleander, tucked back in the corner behind the fence but still in our yard, was getting very spindly and top heavy with new leaves and blooms. It too was vulnerable to a good wind. I could at least  cut back the branches on our side of the fence, though we really need a 6' pole trimmer to reach over and get the tops. That $40 tool expense could wait, but I decided to head over and start the job.

Then the neighbor's white oleander was pushing through the fence with a lot of white blossoms on spindly branches, so snip snip. I looked again at the willow, but its trim job to shape it last week still looked like it would hold for the year. It has a fat flower bud growing, and I'm not ready to mess with that.

Were I really ambitious, I would also have trimmed along the west fence, and then trimmed the trimmings so they'd fit in something to get set out for the garbage men to haul away. They don't like thorns. Stinky garbage, fine. Thorns, no. Considering it was hovering above the forecasted 95 and I was on about my 10th glass of water for the day, plus my knees had had quite enough, thank you, I left them on the ground. Maybe the bunnies will come over and munch a few for me. Maybe the oleander will even be nummy but still poisonous for them? One can only hope.

Meanwhile, two more glasses outside and two more once inside, and I'm starting to feel a little like I've had nearly enough water. It took two cleanings to get the salt off my glasses, so maybe it's time to have a salty supper.

The forecast is for highs dipping back in the upper 80s  by the weekend, still well above average. Maybe by then I'll feel like trimming the trimmings. But first another glass of water before thinking on it. Maybe three. And if they sit there a few extra days....

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?