Sunday, December 30, 2012

Xmas Fun From the Dark Side

You like your traditional Xmas carols, right?  They get played so much for a few weeks each year that you might beg for some diversity. Remember the fun when Manheim Steamroller turned them into rock hits years back? Perhaps you like all the variations of 12 Days, like the one which always ends "and a beer". Or better yet "Christmas Countdown" which details the consequences of actually receiving those 12 days of gifts.

Well, there's something new, a special treat for those who like a little twist with our carols. Start with turning them into minor key variations, and them pairing them with classics like "Ride of the Valkyries", "Sorcerer's Apprentice", "Funeral March of the Marionettes", better known as Alfred Hitchcock's theme. If you're up for some fun, check these out. Better yet, pass them around.  The first is "Santa and Isolde", not a minor key transformation, by Bruce Adolphe. The last two are David Lovrien's "Minor Alterations" and "Minor Alterations No. 2".

Bah Humbug

It's finally over. Hooray. It hasn't been a great Xmas.

It hasn't been that horrible either.

The worst part, of course, has been leaving Steve in Arizona and returning to Minnesota. Home. Family. Friends. Snow. Ice.  All in all a mixed bag, one I've spent 60 years in. Had the family not lived outside just Atlanta for nearly 4 years when the kids were small, I wouldn't have considered an alternative. Had my folks not turned into snowbirds during their retirement, I wouldn't have fallen in love with Arizona.

While global warming is making winters here milder, I am growing to hate them more. Each fall there is a point where the realization of impending winter puts a chill over my spirit. This year it didn't happen. It was to be different. The chill came much later, once things weren't to be so different after all.

It will be again. Just not yet.

I haven't been in a position to host my traditional Xmas family dinner. Steph held it instead and I am grateful. The new extended family held theirs at the same time and I wasn't able to attend. I missed that after participating for three years. It matters not a whit that I would have missed both of them had I stayed in Arizona. I still went dragged into the season kicking and screaming.  Bah humbug!

No tree went up, though there's a little fiber optic one in the basement.  Presents were packaged but mostly not wrapped, at least those not already given before departing for Arizona. Cards and letters were sent out, though late enough most arrived after the day.

It's behind now. Time for looking ahead. Work, the reason for the return, is going well. People tell me I'm appreciated. This week end there'll be a "normal" check deposited into the bank. The following week a CD will be cashed in, credited to 2013, and taxes and bills will be paid down. It'll be time for starting again, building back the resources, planning the vacation/reunion.

Planning. That's a good thing. A new year is coming. I'm ready for it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Small Change in Plans

It started with a postcard. Or at least this latest incarnation did. I love southwest pottery. A piece here, a piece there. The first were cheap, affordable. Gradually I got fussier, more discerning. Eventually I discovered Acoma, the more detailed the better. But then there was the postcard, showing several high end pieces of Hopi pottery. A museum collection. I blew a whole quarter on it, mounted it on the fridge, and began a new obsession.

On the trip home from Arizona I took a few breaks at spots selling pottery, scoping out what was available. Not much, and nothing I was interested in. No Hopi. No budget either, so no big problem.

Come X-mas, and a gift card arrived for a major chain store. I decided to make a swap. Put the card against the staples budget, and devote the funds not taken from bank funds towards a small piece of Hopi pottery. I'd been scoping the internet and found a growing appreciation for the artistry (and prices!) and a few items within that budget. One, my favorite, was in an eBay auction, and several others on the site at firm prices.

It was not to be. The auction went way over my budget. There were issues with the little pieces, such as just how little they were. Ever heard of an ant pot? Just a bit bigger than a thimble, used by filling with honey and placing somewhere you wanted ants to be rather than where you and your food were. Other pieces were a hair bigger but the painting was sloppy when looked at carefully. And they were only a hair bigger. I decided not to part with my money.


On a whim, I checked out another favorite site, They had a couple pieces way over my budget. No go. But they also had several books on Hopi pottery, as well as other kinds of southwest pottery. (Note to self: check out Mata Ortiz. And find a bigger budget and/or more patience.) At any rate, the books I could afford, in used versions. Once they arrive I can spend some time researching, appreciating, and deciding what I really want while I wait for the budget to catch up.

Just a small change in plans.

Friday, December 21, 2012

If the World Ends...

12-21-12. The end of the ancient Mayan calender. Some drama queen somewhere decided that meant they knew the world would end today. I choose not to go along with that idea. Some scribe back then just decided a distant ancestor could carry on his work: he'd gotten arthritis in his hands and needed to retire. I attest that the end-of-the-world concept has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I haven't made the latest payment on my credit card yet. Honest! I'm waiting for another bill to come in first. Once that's paid, the balance minus a bitty cushion will go on the card.

But there is a segment out there who believe that not only is the end of the world coming soon, they need to stock up on guns and ammo to prepare for it. I have a question for them: if the world is really ending, then what do you need those guns for?

It's over. This means you too. He who dies with the most guns is still dead.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

From the No-Cook Recipe File: Holiday Yogurt

Not everybody is lucky enough to have tree-ripened oranges, courtesy of a going away present from good friends in Arizona, but you can make do.

I start with a big container (4 servings they way they call it) of Dannon's  plain unsweetened Greek yogurt. Right now it's both best ( flavor, additives, protein and carb levels) and cheapest. And I have to watch the carbs, of course. Take one of those oranges and grate half the peel to add. Peel the rest and cut the slices, minus the rare seed, into pieces. A second orange can be added if your tastes and carb allowances allow. Add a rounded teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/4 cup craisins, and half a cup chopped walnuts or pecans. If you want it sweeter, add a rounded tablespoon stevia or sucralose (Splenda, etc.) A little goes a long way with those. Stir it all together and either eat immediately or set aside for up to a couple days and let the flavors blend. The craisins help absorb the extra liquid the yogurt weeps.

For me the one-orange version divides into two full meals, easily packed into a cooler for breakfast and lunch.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Questions, Post-Shooting

After listening to the coverage for most of a day, feelings are still running high. One is tempted to think that they can be better managed if one can only get the answers to certain questions.

Chief among those is, "Why?" It presupposes that that answer brings with it a way of preventing more of these tragedies. We wish to believe if we know why each shooter did his act, we can find the cues to stop more of them. So we dig. And we lay out the facts as if they meant something.

We can describe the shooters, find patterns. Mostly male, young, finding themselves aggrieved, having often legal access to guns. Mental illness seems guaranteed, whether or not there's an established history, for how could any sane individual even contemplate such an act, let alone carry it out? And there is no explanation which can really  explain what happened  in a way to make it comprehensible.

But each of these characteristics describe tens of millions of us. Collectively they still describe many thousands. If they were clues, wouldn't they be predictive? And wouldn't there be many many more of these tragedies? Only after the fact do we even sort these things out as we scrutinize the shooters' lives. But we seem to be missing the trigger, the one thing that spurs each of these people to violence, the one thing that lets them step across that line, the one thing which separates them from us.

We need to separate them from us. And from our neighbors. We need not to be them or to be around them. How on earth do we do that?

It's easy to fasten on to a single facet. Take gun control. If there were no easy access to -pick your weapon or ammunition - this couldn't happen. Perhaps. We can look to similar incidents happening in China, school attacks by men wielding knives. Yesterday, the same time the news broke, there was a report of an attack on 32 children. They were wounded, not killed. Make of that what you will, but can it stop these attacks? Will it be enough to lessen their severity? Likely there are 20 sets of Connecticut parents right now who would choose that option if they could. But would it be enough?

Or take bullying. If we stop that in schools, surely countless lives will be improved, a goal worthy in itself. But will it be what stops these shootings?

Or take mental illness. There are many kinds and many levels of illness. So many of the mentally ill are non-violent, and even those who are not would never contemplate this kind of act. If we fasten on this facet, we are picking the meaningless. It merely serves to separate ourselves from the incomprehensible.

Some will take their meager comfort in the idea that it is "God's Will". What kind of a God wills this? The follow up phrase is always that we are merely human and God is unknowable. Trying to come to grips with that issue through the ages has driven many from their faiths. Whatever kind of Creator or force you hold responsible for us all being here, it seems apparent there is no effort to prevent these events outside of our own. Justify that any way you please. Then ask yourself what is your personal responsibility now?

This particular time there was a horrible difference. The reports are all of persons killed. Not ___ dead, ____ wounded. They haven't explained yet. Were the victims shop with a - pardon - dead aim, kill shots all? Or shot so many times they bled out before help arrived? Or shot with such damaging bullets that too much damage was done to allow survival?

We as a nation are left with grief. Some level of fear.  And our questions.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Home" Again

At least I came in behind the storm: 16-18" just a few miles from home.

Saturday morning I left bright and early. Lots of miles to go (740 that day) and losing an hour with the time zone change. I kept an internet eye on the weather before leaving, so I knew about the storm. But I also knew that I wasn't expecting any precip until nearly home. The only thing the weather people lied about was the temperatures. Those dropped much faster then predicted, spurred by a brisk northwest wind from the time I poked my head out in Amarillo Sunday morning.

Koda quickly learned to take his potty breaks in a hurry, still sporting his Arizona hot-weather haircut.

Arizona scenery was both familiar and not. I expected snow on top of the San Francisco Peaks in December, but found only a trace via the rear-view mirror as I headed east away from the mountain. The air was much cleaner once I left The Valley, enabling me to actually appreciate mountains more distant than those visible in Phoenix. The other unexpected note was high gas prices in Flagstaff. The local news had announced gas prices were lowest and highest for AZ in Flagstaff and Tucson, respectively.  They got it backwards. I probably could have waited to fill but there's a whole lot of nothing along the road and I didn't want to take any risks.

On the other hand, prices only got better as I traveled, until hitting Minnesota where they rose again. The low was $2.959, which of course was spotted 5 miles after taking advantage of what seemed like a great deal at $3.079. C'est la vie.

I made notes of where the likely trading posts were for checking out Navaho pottery on the spring return trip by mileage number of the exit: 341, 257, etc. for Arizona, and for my favorite spots in Oklahoma for other pottery, 108 and 81. 108 in New Mexico for Acoma. I'm hoping to come back through with a budget. If not, I can at least scope them out for later.

Wildlife was scarce, aside from a few roadkills. In Arizona I had been treated to lots of birds, rabbits, and even an early morning coyote hauling a rabbit back to it's den. Now the only birds were hawks perched along the road and a single flock of wild turkeys somewhere in the blur of northern Oklahoma/southern Kansas. By the time I hit Missouri there were a few late flocks of Canada Geese, fleeing the weather I presumed. I think they were smarter than I.

Bethany, MO had a nice Super 8 I'd stayed in before, though I passed on their free breakfast, being all carbs. At least they were welcoming to dogs, and I secured a room right next to the exit for dogwalking purposes. Both nights I parked under major lights at the motels, and the fully loaded car was not disturbed. I was not going to completely empty out the car and refill it, and had packed even valuables in old cardboard boxes with anything resembling junk on top. That included a couple ratty blankets (one for the dog), my two-wheeler with bungie cords in lieu of a back, a milk crate with dog supplies, a partial pack of toilet paper, a taped Milk Bones box. The second evening I removed the bottles of water and bags of fresh-picked AZ oranges to make sure they didn't freeze. Even my laptop had been packed up and was inaccessible, so no cares about dealing with a new wi-fi system each night. Heck, I didn't even turn on the TV in either room. The second night offered a recliner so I tucked in with a paperback until my eyelids turned to sandpaper.

The first snow appeared on the north side of Des Moines, just a dusting on the ground, over in about 20 miles. Another appeared later. By the Minnesota border, the snow was solid, with chopped corn stalks and tall grasses breaking the white. Roads were dry until the rest area at Dundas, where sidewalks were a bit icy and Koda had trouble finding a likely spot since he couldn't get near any trees or posts. Roads turned to packed snow/ice just as I hit the metro proper, and finally driving slowed under the posted speeds.

I made it into the area in plenty of time to hit HQ on my way through, chat with dispatchers, and deal with paperwork for starting work here again. Everybody even got to meet Koda, since I didn't trust the car to keep him warm enough while I was inside. I'm all set to start working.

I'm just not working.

It's pretty much the same story it was for starting in Phoenix. There is a single person in Dallas who is responsible for entering drivers in the system so that they can receive runs via the computers. She has no back-up. She wasn't in Monday. She wasn't in yesterday. We don't know about today yet. There are three drivers up here waiting to get on the road, and slow as driving is right now, we are badly needed. Dallas doesn't care.

Yesterday I caught up on missed TV shows recorded on the DVR. I also unpacked, mostly, though the floor in my bedroom is being resurfaced with laminate instead of carpet, and I can't really move back in. I'm sleeping in Steve's bed. My stuff in piled in the living room, where the resemblance to how it looked before we loaded the moving truck in uncanny. Also discouraging. And stressful. Not what I need right now, if ever. The stacks of mail have been gone through, 99% for the recycle pile. The X-mas letter has been typed up, and will be printed once I head out for proper paper.

I headed to WalMart Monday night to pick up perishables, having brought a box of staples back with me, intending to also get Xmas letter paper. The only available shopping scooter had only 2 bars of power left, with 6 being a full charge, so I only got the real necessities. Paper wasn't one of them.

I'm waiting. Out the windows some icicles hang from the roof, the cranberries and Nanking cherries are bowed from the weight of the snow, and everything else waits too. News reports say roads are beginning to improve, and temperatures a hair above freezing for a couple hours are expected to help. They wait for next Saturday's storm to decide whether it will head south or hit here again.

Everything waits.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Preparing for Cold

It's been decided, announced, scheduled, and packing has started. I head north Saturday morning.

With Koda. That will settle just who is/isn't properly housebroken, just who gets into all the foods, who chews furniture and pipes. We've already settled which dog sheds last spring by clipping Koda's coat down to nothing.

He's going to be thrilled by winter almost as much as I am.

There will be both more and less room for stuff in the car. A smaller part of the back seat will be dog bed, and the front passenger seat will hold freight. But things that came down in the moving truck will return in the car, like all my work equipment and uniforms, some of the cool weather duds, cameras and beading stuff. A box of food is already packed, with a single casualty along the way: dropping a chunky soup can on my big toe. Yep, naked toe. Yep, funny in the classic sense. And somehow I managed to avoid chipping the bone as it landed right across the joint, leaving it looking much like a ripe plum.

Yep, funny.

I gave notice yesterday at work here, having given notice of my return last week in Minnesota. They're waiting for me. Down here Alfredo indicated he'd talk to the head guy to see what could be done, but unless they want to double my commission, it's too late. And they won't. But it's nice to be appreciated, on both ends.

That's just the details. Emotionally I'm trying to be shut down right now. I have already cried over missing Xmas with Steve when a particular Xmas carol came on the radio, and vowed that we won't miss any more of them together as long as we can have them together. I checked next year's calendar and decided I can take a week to fly down and barely miss any meaningful work, with the holiday being midweek. There will be two vacations a year, driving Steve and Fred back and forth, maybe varying the route and visiting family in Idaho and Colorado.  This spring it'll be right after tax time, so Steve gets to be in Arizona 6 months plus 1 day, making this his primary residence now that he's part owner of the house. I'll be able to enjoy Arizona again, rather than stressing about work. Driving can be to places we enjoy rather than work or waiting for work that delays coming.

On the positive side, I've learned a whole lot about this area, where things are, how to get there. When it is time to drive out somewhere, I'll know how to get there.  I just can't wait to start to love Arizona again. I haven't now for over a month.