Monday, March 2, 2015

Curmudgeonly Critique

Steve and I both had the blessing way back in junior & high school of being in respective marching bands with a perfectionist for a band director. Then again, it could be considered a disadvantage, leading to dissatisfaction with sloppy bands and indifferent directors. Our internal standards were set high, though with differing results. He became so good that he earned a night on stage with Satchmo. I... well, I did the marching thing really well but the horn practicing thing, not so much. I did, however, take my standards of what a band ought to be with me when the family moved to St. Paul, and it was just a part of my dissatisfaction with relocating to the big city to have gained an indifferent director.

We both still have high standards for what a band ought to be. And we were both prepared with high expectations for tonight's Sun City Concert Band Sousa Concert. We cheerfully forked over the $16 for our tickets. We arrived early for good parking and good seats. Then we looked at our programs.

I don't know about you, but when I see something advertised as a "Sousa Concert" I expect it to be Sousa's music. Does that really seem so unreasonable? I know not all of his music was marches, but there should be a plentiful representation of them, shouldn't there? Steve and I spent the drive over guessing which marches we played back in school we'd hear again tonight.


There were 12 selections on the program. Of those, 5 were by Sousa. Not even a majority. Of the 5, two were marches. Of all 5, there was 1 we'd heard before. It was, of course, "Stars and Stripes Forever." Had it not been, I would have walked out demanding a refund. I was tempted to walk out anyway, but they held that selection for the finale. I'm not opposed to learning new music by a beloved composer, but part of the reason he/she is beloved is because there was some great music produced, and with so little to be heard anyway, why not some more familiar stuff? Seriously, why not?

For the record, I was already butt-sore halfway through. Somebody running the community center must have stock in the Most Uncomfortable Chair Company. Not only is the seat padding an optical illusion, but the chair seat folded open tilts slightly downward, so one spends the entire time bracing against sliding forward and off the chair.

The band itself was fun to listen to, despite the - shall we call it false advertising? Bait and switch? Several musicians stood out to us both, and in a good way. Most were on our side of the band, so we may have missed others on the other side, but our side had percussion and trumpets. We both got a kick out of the tympanist. While she appeared to be 90, possibly even past it, age was no issue in her command of her music. She was exact with her rhythm, able to vary volume exquisitely, and jumped right in there with damping out the sound like she was showing those drums just who was boss, leaving no question that it was she.

Well before the music started, we noted the second chair trumpet player: he had a scooter rather than a chair. While a few other musicians had walkers that we could see, he was the only one we spotted on wheels. Shortly before the concert, the first chair stepped away and we also noted that the 2nd chair was on oxygen. Blowing a wind instrument when one didn't have sufficient wind for just being? This could be interesting! Steve commented it showed his passion for the trumpet. I personally couldn't imagine continuing to try playing once I needed oxygen, but then I was never that dedicated to playing. Having seen what he was playing  through, we took extra special appreciation when he was featured as the only trumpet in a leading phrase of one work. You couldn't call it a solo since a few other instruments were playing, but he was the one you really heard. When he finished, the first chair trumpet gave him a pat on the back.

Those were the good parts of the concert. Unfortunately, somebody decided they needed a "guest artist." Remember, there were 12 selections. She sang 5 of them. So much for expectations, eh?

The first impression wasn't promising. Look, I know I'm in no position to criticize somebody for being in the Plus Size category. But just because it happens to be the current fashion trend to wear dresses that emphasize big butts and sculpt themselves around every torso bulge and curve no matter how huge, that doesn't mean they are actually a good choice for performance apparel. Or for that matter, any kind of apparel. If fashion sense were her only flaw, I'd not bother to comment on it. But there was this whole overwhelming package.

She was everything the two of us hate most in opera singers. Her vibrato could cover three notes for every one she was trying to hit. In a way that was a plus for her, because it meant she could - mostly - eventually reach the note she was trying for before it was time to move on to the next. At least it seemed to work when the notes were fairly slow. Rapid notes could be anywhere, though by three or four of them she usually got back on the proper note. The tonal quality I think is what is called mezzo soprano (Steve thought it should be nasal soprano, though I don't think they have that category), and sometimes it wasn't too hard to listen to. Occasionally when she started a phrase she made more of a non-musical growl rather than a musical note.

I guess there are people who like that sort of thing, but Steve and I are not among them. She did get a lot of applause, and nice comments from the conductor on how easy she was to work with. That seemed to me like getting good grades in school for perfect attendance rather than learning the subject. The most applause was when she finished her last song, though only Steve actually said in my hearing that it was because she finished, though I agreed.

Besides, for the last song the 1st chair trumpet switched to a fluegelhorn and stepped up on the mini stage with her in order, as the announcer said, to help her with her last song. I suggested to Steve that it was a good thing. She could use all the help she could get. Him I could applaud: the horn was a great counterpoint and had a lovely tonal quality.

Not that anybody will, but should someone from the band want a bit of advice, I'd suggest a little (hell! a LOT!) more Sousa in something called a Sousa Concert. It's their 23rd annual one, so maybe everybody else gets the joke and we're the new ones who get fooled thinking the title means what it says. But I like coffee in my coffee, chocolate in my brownies, meat in my hamburgers, and yes, Sousa in my Sousa concert.

LOTS of Sousa!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sailor Take Warning

Remember that old poem? Well, no sailors here, at least not in this part of the Sonoran Desert, and for that matter, the sky wasn't really particularly red. Deep salmon/orange, rather. Lovely for silhouetting palm trees in the back lighting. But we are expecting rain. Perhaps a whole quarter inch, though they say it'll be scattered. Clouds from the west are darkening, and until a couple minutes ago not interfering with some lovely sunshine.

Exciting, isn't it?

The local news crews have relocated for the morning to Flagstaff to show us Phoenecians some of that white stuff newly fallen up there. Bring skis! Snowboards! Good insurance policies!

Down here, rain prep involves moving a couple of the wicker chairs on the patio out from the wall and away from the leak in the roof which otherwise would soak the seat cushions. We also set a bucket or two under the drip line at the edge of the roof to keep us lazy enough to not have to water the dogs three times a day. They can dip their snouts on their way in/out of the back yard.

Rain this time of the year also means switching from short sleeves to long, and today deciding mid afternoon whether it will be over in time for the 3:00 concert at the local outdoor venue. We geezers don't like sitting out under the rain even if it's down to light drizzle by that time, especially since parking is at a premium and we scooter down instead of driving. It's almost a whole mile!

Each way!

What does it say about a life when this is the excitement of the day?

It's not the only excitement today. I'm expecting rock slabs in the mail. I need to leave in about 20 minutes to find the other branch of my new doctor's office for my protime check. And for the record, yes, spell-check hates that word! Didn't I really mean protein? No? Maybe they could convince me? Slip it in anyway? Once back, Steve and I are running a couple errands involving his bank and pharmacy. After supper, Steve has his 500 club for a few hours of cards, and I get to do whatever the heck I feel like.

I could read. Watch TV. Wire wrap if I can only figure out just how I want to try making a peace symbol inside the wires holding the stone in place. (I fall asleep many nights plotting how many wires, from where to where, how they join, which are front and which back....) Need I say that not one piece of wire has been cut yet? I could super glue some stone fault lines to stabilize them before more cutting and grinding takes place, now that the special ultra thin stuff has arrived that will run down into the cracks.

I could take a nap. Have my measured serving of ice cream. Hunt for Ellie's rabies certificate so that I can schedule her increasingly-needed grooming since it's time for the pro's touch instead of the home clipper botch-up. Somebody else can figure out how to get her to hold still long enough to get within 6 inches of her toes. And eyebrows. When I show up, I'll be the hero rescuing her from all that terribleness. And loving her because she'll smell so-o-o-o much better.

I could print out forms to do my taxes. Print out the 8 pages of amortization schedule before that email disappears into the ether. Print out the amended book list from organizing the library. Move rocks around in the yard - just the little ones, not the 60 pounders. Those were left by the previous owners, and treasures are hiding there. Two days ago I found a great piece for slabbing that's full of fossils.

I could spend the whole time deciding what I wanted to do out of all those choices and more, yet-to-be-thought-of ones, without actually doing any of them.

Hey! After all, it is my retirement!

What? Was that a raindrop?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Notes From The South Country

Feel free to remind me of this late next spring when it's 116 down here, and we haven't left yet for 80 degrees up there: We're 70 degrees warmer here than there so far today, and were 81 degrees warmer yesterday. Our lows haven't gone much below 55 for a few weeks now, and our highs fluctuate mostly between 70 and 80+. I think we actually had three nights with frost warnings in December. When we get current weather condition for Minnesota, Steve and I try not to gloat. (OK, full honesty: I try not to gloat. Steve gloats.) We did work hard for this, after all. No, we don't miss the snow and ice, no matter how much somebody else tries to claim how beautiful it is.

Enough! Nothing is beautiful when you've had years of too much of it, accompanied by being miserable and even injured. We don't fall on ice and ruin our knees down here! Halleluia!

We also don't have to mow. Landscaping the yard with rocks beats grass any day. Less to water, nothing to mow and fertilize, and very few weeds.  There is, however, pruning. This fall our Mexican Bird of Paradise had bushed out and bloomed spectacularly, thanks to having somebody around to finally prune it back in February. That job just got finished for this year, at leisure. I still have to chop the branches into small lengths for disposal inside a box. The garbage company insists that thorny clippings be boxed for the safety of its employees. Can't say I blame them.  We saved a lot of moving boxes for just that purpose.

Speaking of moving boxes, a lot more are empty now. We finally finished moving into the library. The super-sized books are grouped but not indexed: maybe next year. The other two walls of mostly fiction are alphabetized and indexed on my laptop with a printout for easy reference, as well as finally alphabetized on the shelves. That was this week's project, with the two of us working through most of three days. There was a nearly complete printed list for reference as we worked, making the job fairly easy. It's so much better when you can't find a set of books but know that you need to save however many inches of shelf space for when they do turn up. It's also handy for adding in the surprise books to the index list. Once complete the list can be referred to when thinking about shopping for the latest from a certain author so one doesn't double-shop. (Hey, nobody else does that, right?)

Anyway, Paul, many thanks for building us the library. Eventually we'll decide what we want to do to turn the closet into an office and invite you down again. OK, OK, you have an open invitation regardless, but....

The two-day rain we had last month has brought leaves again to the palo verdes and ocatillos, reassuring us they actually survived transplanting into our yard - or not, in one case. Our recent trip to the Botanical Gardens again assured us that some things that have not leafed out in our yard haven't done so there either, so it's too early to write them off quite yet.

The new trees in the back yard got a bonus last month, and I'm not talking fertilizer or such, though the dogs do their bit for the cause. No, we finally took the two boxes of solar lights picked up at auction three years ago which sat down here unopened all this time, and the two of us assembled them and poked them in the ground around the bases of the trees. They not merely decorate them in the evenings, but should we have company trying to wander the back yard at night, they can avoid tripping over, breaking, or impaling themselves on otherwise invisible young trees. For that matter, it works for us too.

Steve actually organized his closet this winter. I have plans to do so with mine. My thought is to separate by warm and cool weather, tops and bottoms, and what fits and what doesn't (but might someday). I call it a thought-in-process. Definitely not a work-in-process. I may actually get bored enough to do so one day. Alternatively, I may find myself working so hard to avoid doing something else that the closet actually gets done instead. Perhaps around tax time?

Somehow the more we do down here, the more we feel like doing things down here. I suspect it has to do with the weight of expectations and obligations lifting as we emerge from the chaos. The job ahead is not so daunting that it seems impossible, to be avoided at all costs. There's still a preponderance of leisure making up our schedules. Reading, TV, food prep, lots of napping rule the days. There have been weeks when doing dishes become the major "extra" activity. Keeping up with recorded TV can become a chore. That shower can wait another day. Maybe two. But then stacks of full boxes shrink, stuff becomes identified and relocated, simply living becomes easier where it used to - however ridiculous it seems - just add to the list of challenges.

One simple example of simple being complicated is X-mas cards. Every year it involves selecting THE picture, pairing with THE caption, finding the company that comes closest to turning plan into product, and addressing all the cards. However, we skipped last year, resulting in a higher number of changes of address and addressees. Topping it all off, there was actually finding the source material: where was that darned picture anyway? Which camera, SD card, what interfaces and linkups? When it turned out it was a digital file that a hardware problem turned to irretrievable, requiring a reshoot, it was just another reason for delay even after the determination was finally made that it had to be done, now. Everybody's cards became New Year's cards, and I just now received a missing address so there's still one I can send out, plus one I still can't.

So it goes.

We just passed our anniversary yesterday. Steve and I agreed this year to do nothing special for it. No dinners out, no flowers, no presents. No straining the budget. No extra expectations. Just appreciation for each other. And hey, finishing the library was a pretty cool thing to do for each other. And with each other.

What more could you ask?

Well, besides a beautiful sunset, sitting out on the patio, in shorts, in February, listening to the birds settle in for the night, watching the solar lights pop on.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

NOT a Diet Pepsi

Steve was the one who came up with the mnemonic. That's after I blanked for hours on the name of what I was working on. Somehow Snowden" got stuck in my mind, preventing anything else from occupying that space with real information. I don't know where that came from. It's not like he's been in the news for ages. It's just another pesky thing he's done that hasn't helped a bit.

After wire wrapping, my next class was Lapidary. It involves cutting up rocks to turn them into - in this case - cabochons. In other words, jewelry. You start with a slab of whatever rock you like, the harder the better for working with, the more patterned or colorful, the more interesting the result. Lessons involved two kinds, a jasper and a mystery rock. The slab is generally about 1/4 inch think, and we started there. I had brought two rocks of my own to the class, hoping to learn how to create the slabs in the first place, as well as being curious what their insides looked like. I was promised I'd be taught that technique at some unspecified later date.

I'll remember.

Using a template with a variety of shapes and sizes on it, you pick out your shape, then where you want it on the slab, tracing it out with a pen or Sharpie. then you add straight lines for where to saw through the rock without either taking too much rock or getting so close you wreck the cab. In this planning process, you watch for lines and cracks in the rock where it could split apart, ruining your project.  One person explained the drop test, where you hold the slab flat about 3-4 feet over the concrete floor and let it drop. That will tell you which lines are flaws in the rock, and which ones have filled back in and become solid, or remineralized.

A broom can be handy afterwords.

Next come lessons on the saw, followed by a lesson in clean-up. Then lessons on the various grinders and polishers, and since these are all water-using machines, more lessons on cleanup after using each. The grinders shape the cab and the polishers follow up using finer and finer grit, eventually leaving your stone so smooth it shines.

Assuming you've done it right.

The first lesson is the instructor starting each step and you repeating it to learn the technique. The second lesson is you doing all the hands-on (sure, you remember each tiny step, don't you?) with the instructor looking over your shoulder with comments, corrections, and tips.

If there's a third lesson, you flunked your 2nd. They don't let you loose on the equipment unless you've passed.

While I was learning how to turn rocks into cabs, I was also scouring eBay, looking for my own materials. I found two sources I liked in the US, Utah and Phoenix. Both my orders arrived in two days and with bonus rocks! So last night I made templates, marked several slabs, and today went down to the community center with rather grandiose plans of what I could accomplish.

The first grinder developed a leak in the tray where water collected in the bottom with bits of rock dust, leaving both me and the floor wet. Cleanup was needed, and the monitor decided that this grinder was now out of commission. That left only one for what I needed to do. It was already in use, meaning about a half hour wait.  One part of the process involves heating hard wax to affix a stick on the back side of the cab as a way of holding it without grinding your hands while you work rock. The new heater for the "dop pot" takes 45 minutes to heat up instead of 5. Yes, I said new. They can't explain it. So there was another wait for a next step. There went my grandiose plans.

I worked nearly through on 4 cabs until discovering that my rock was so soft that increasing grinding was chipping and gouging my stone.

It was time to check in with the experts. Luckily, 2 instructors were there working on their own projects, and happy to share knowledge. There were suggestions on how to adjust my technique, with only marginal success. One cab started looking like it might split, so full stop. This time both had the same solution: super glue.

Not just any super glue, but exceptionally thin super glue, as in pours like water. No, it's not at the big box store chain. One instructor buys his on line, the other thought he found some a while back at one of the craft store chains. Once I get the stuff, I heat my stones, turn them face up, pour the super glue over the top, and let dry overnight. The usual cautions about not gluing myself to the rocks were proffered. I'm thinking these instructors are used to working with some very dim people. Once dry, I am to bring the rocks back in for grinding/polishing. The glue expands into the cracks and crevasses to hold the stone together and allow me to finish the job.

I decided to try the craft supply store, but while they had a wall of glues, none claimed to be exceptionally thin. Those that did mention their consistency varied from honey to solid. It wasn't a total waste of time, as I found a couple colors of crystals I've been wanting. So I came home and went on line. Google had precisely one super glue of the right consistency. A lot of ads, pushing similar products, they thought, but just one product.

I ordered three bottles. Who knows, maybe I can sell one.

I also chose standard postage for under $4. I could have opted for next morning UPS delivery, if I were in that much of a hurry, for a mere $108.30! Even with all the delays, I wasn't in that big a hurry. There are other rocks to work on while I wait.

The day's frustrations did have one side effect, however. About halfway through, I blanked on the name of the stone I was having all the problems with. I could NOT come up with it. As mentioned above, the wrong information plugged up the memory channels. I had to actually go look it up on eBay to see what I'd bought: it was sodalite. I know that stone. I've had a snuff bottle in sodalite for years. It's a beautiful deep blue - think navy or denim blue - mixed in with a very white rock. But I just couldn't come up with a name.

Or a way to remember it. But Steve could. "Diet Pepsi!"

Huh? Say what?

Diet Pepsi. Soda light = Diet Pepsi.

Except the stone is prettier.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Morning Fog

I've already been outside with the camera. Chilly, in PJs, and barefoot. Palm trees and cactus in the fog. Amazing. It's not that the pictures are so spectacular. It's the rarity. So rare, in fact, that the local weather centers use it as the reason for today's "Local Storm Report".

I further expect that it will be the excuse for dozens if not more highway crashes. I've gotten my Arizona drivers license. The process is a joke. Rather than actually checking vision, for example, I am asked on a form whether I think I need corrective lenses. No booklets are handed out to give you a chance to review rules of the road, seeing which may be different from last year or one's last state. So start with the fact that one can drive if one passes a mere 70% of the 20 or so questions asked in the first place, add that rechecks are never done, then throw all those folks out on the roads and never never stop them from driving a minimum of 10 mph over the posted speeds. Now add fog. (Or rain, dust storms, night, alcohol, any combination thereof. Doesn't matter.) Just for fun, throw in the extra million or so here for the Superbowl, the Waste Management Open, or just the escape from snow. 

The freeways are bad enough in a normal rush hour, weather-free. Six lanes each way including HOV and on-off ramps that extend the full way between exits should stay reasonably clear and speedy. You'd think so, anyway. Friday morning nearly the whole metro map was in red already by 6AM. Visibility was fine, if a little dark, but the freeways are well lit, even better so when you throw in headlights.

One can only wait to see how long it takes the fog to lift. The sun has officially been up over an hour, and the fog seems thicker than when I rose. I need to head out later for a haircut and to hit a UPS store, thankfully in the same strip mall. Also thankfully in the opposite direction from the Superbowl. I'm thinking I'm not in a big hurry to go play in traffic.

I might go shoot a few more fog pictures, however.  How many chances will there be? The palm trees a block over have disappeared. Cool!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Loving / Hating E-Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'd like to enjoy reading it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wire Rapt

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

Pretty ones.

Sparkly shiny colorful ones.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am, simply put, wire rapt.

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