Saturday, April 27, 2013

Home Again

Made it through two days of windy, but at least it brought the heat with us, as promised. Already miss the mountains and the carefreeness of being on vacation. Later this morning I clerk an auction, and Monday is set up with a very early run. Effectively it means losing three hours rather than just the two we hit crossing time zones.

The dogs' reunion went smoothly, the unpacking was accomplished by others, the tangelos were welcomed and Paul instantly saw the benefits of having bits of peel frozen in hopes of a peach crop this summer/fall to make marmalade.

We froze in Raton, NM. Motel 6 has this "green" policy. The heat in our room had been turned off and it was already below freezing with snow on the ground when we arrived. I quickly turned it on, but what came sweetly from the ceiling fan was only moderately warm even with settings on high. Steve was fine. He's a furnace at night. What makes summers a bit uncomfortable lying next to him was what finally stopped my shivering when I crawled in with him (and Fred) after an hour of trying my tiny bed. Crowded, sure, but finally, sleep! By morning the air in the room was almost comfortable, and the floor was still cold! With everything still set high, I'd expected needing to turn it down mid-night.

Won't be staying there again.

Fortunately my car heats up fast. Morning outside temp was 18. As we climbed over the pass and into Colorado, the low clouds suddenly cleared and we had full sunshine. Hoarfrost and later ice covered tree branches, weeds, even yuccas, and they were spectacular with the rising sun behind them. Of course I stopped for pictures. The first town, with a high clear view of Spanish Peaks on the other side, had a convenient frontage road higher than the freeway and with no early morning traffic, making it possible to take some time with the camera shooting in both directions.

Greeley was what Steve called a closure. Last time we'd been through, he was both shocked and disappointed at how much it had grown and changed. This time we drove from childhood location to location, with him taking pictures of homes, schools, and other buildings as they are now. The house he grew up in was now a business, and he was invited inside for a tour. A park he played at had some changes, but the central pond still had its island, this time occupied by pelicans and cormorants, so even I had some fun with the camera. We met with cousins of his who took us out to dinner after a friendly argument on which Mexican restaurant served the right kind of food. The motel - different chain - was expensive, but hey, the heat worked!

Until our actual homecoming, everything after that was flat: geographically and emotionally. We took turns driving and sleeping the first day. My wrists got sore from fighting the crosswinds. Yesterday when we had turned north I marveled at how our southern wind became a western wind just in time to be a nuisance on that leg of the drive as well. And as expected, gas prices greeting us were the highest in Minnesota from the whole trip.

Unpacked, and after a good night's sleep, everything's hunky-dory. Almost. One Grrrrrrrrrrr!

While on the trip, my credit union decided I had to update my security settings so nobody else could log into my account. New password, even a picture that was my selection of dozens of pretty mundane and even crappy ones, but ones they picked to chose from.  I dutifully went through it all, then sent myself an email to remind me for the first few times what the changes were. This morning I tried to log in, check my balance.

"Tried" being the operative word. The picture that came up was not my picture. The password was declared invalid. There will be nobody answering the phones at the credit union to deal with this until Monday. By then I'll be on the road, no laptop, no wi-fi, no fix. So yes:


Vacation is officially over.

But hey, right outside the dining window, the hedge of viburnum cranberries is full of hungry migrating cedar waxwings.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bringing Spring Back

That's what we're optimistically trying to do anyway. It was in the low 90's as we pulled out of Sun City. I won't tell you all we forgot, but it includes Steve's warm jacket, and boy is he missing it! It was on the list, but, well, he got super efficient and packed the list.


Going down to 18 tonight here in Raton, New Mexico. Snow is on the ground. Last night was much nicer. We ended up in Monument Valley with no reservations. Memo to all: do not try this. If visiting a very famous place in the middle of nowhere, without reservations, without good cell coverage, and without unlimited funds, well, bless all y'all's hearts. We finally found a place which takes dogs. The only one within who knows how many miles. Nevermind the price. The alternative was driving over a hundred miles when we were already tired. I'll just say it wasn't the $220 + tax that staying in Monument Valley would have cost. And the hot breakfast was really good.

Tonight it's Motel 6, and while they may have left the light on, they turned off the heat and made the wi-fi impossible to access. Or nearly, as proven by my typing this. Breakfast will be under the golden arches.

The plan is Greeley tomorrow, a sentimental journey for Steve with lots of pictures to be taken. Then heading for home by sometime Friday, dragging every moleule of warm weather we can along with us. It's practically May, ya know.


Thursday, April 18, 2013


No, we're not talking Frankenstein's monster after the lightning hits. But if you remember the movie(s), I'm thinking in about that triumphant tone of voice.

I'm referring to my "dead" ponytail palm. A brief recap: bought in 1978 in Georgia, brought to Minnesota in '81, repotted as necessary until finally a galvanized washtub was the only thing that would fit, cut back once enabling 5 new trunks to grow and support full heads of foliage, weighing enough that it took both Richard and Paul to take it outside for the summer months and return it to the south window again, allowed to freeze (2 nights of 19 degrees) on the deck last fall because in preparation for the move there was not a speck of room left in the house for it, and moved to Arizona anyway to be planted here last October.

It looked like it was dying. Leaves yellowed, browned. Tiny new shoots which had spring up around the base last summer had disappeared. When it finally went in the ground, I took a knife and cut into the bark a bit. I found a bit of green. Despite everything, a bit of green under the bark. So I had my dead ponytail watered regularly. Steve reported around February all was brown.

I had him keep watering it. I refused to lose faith.

A landscaper stopped by and offered to dig it out too as a favor when he dug out unwanted bushes and old orange stumps from the yard. I declined.

I ran into a sale early this spring at WalMart of "bonsai houseplants" which included tiny multi-trunked ponytail palms, picked up two to replace my mourned one, and brought them down with me this week. They are planted on the north side of the house, facing the street.

Now, there was one sprig of green leaves greeting me when I pulled in the driveway, about 6" long. Steve kept it as a surprise for me. I was tickled. But the rest of the plant was all long brittle brown blades. Today I pulled out a box and a chair, grabbed scissors, and sat next to it to groom off the dead stuff. I noticed a green bud under one of the leaf nodes, then another and another. It was time to quit pulling and start cutting so they weren't disturbed. Once finished, each of the five trunks had at least one and usually several new shoots starting back up, now perfectly acclimated to the new sun levels of this permanent location.

My faith and Steve's watering had paid off: it's alive! IT'S ALIVE!!!!

And now I have three.

Mark the Date

Joan and Bob invited Steve and myself over for supper yesterday. For someone who insists I hate sauerkraut, having been exposed to school cafeteria versions, and even having gone through the disgusting process of actually making the stuff, I am forced to admit Joan's version in the crockpot with pork was scrumtious.

I even had seconds!

But this was not the real notable event in this day. Nor were the hours of great conversation in good company. Joan is the one who pointed out the real milestone event of the day, going as far as checking to verify the date.

Bob offered to clear the table!


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Come Ride... Day 3

If you're still following the trip, I hope you're enjoying the ride. At least your sleep isn't being disturbed, your pocketbook being drained, and your butt cramping. So let's try one last, and shorter, day.

I slept through until 8:00, or 9 central. There's one more hour to be gained, later today, but even with the extra sleep on the tail end, I'm drained. Plans that sounded feasible, even interesting, last night now have lost their attraction. I had thought about stopping at Albuquerque's Old Town area with its pueblo cultural center, another possible source of real pueblo pottery. It was only a few blocks away from the motel, but right now it was more of a challenge than I wanted to handle. Perhaps another time through.

Likewise with a possible stop at the Petrified Forest park's Fred Harvey Store. I've found that if they have something interesting, the price is reasonable. They might not have anything I'd be interested in anymore, however, now that my tastes have been educated.

Loading my car, I noticed how full the parking lot still was. Usually folks in motels are out early for wherever they're heading. Only one fellow was putting something in his car. Apparently I lucked into a whole bunch of night owls. Thanks for last night, guys. Not! I was feeling late. This was after all three hours later than my start on Saturday.

I had gotten a brochure with one of my recent pottery deliveries for a place in Milan, NM. It turned out to be right on 40, adjacent to Grants. His quality was good and prices rock bottom, so I had called before starting out to find out his hours on Mondays. The reply was, "Call when you leave Albuquerque. We know how long it takes and we'll have somebody at the store to meet you."


With consideration like that, you can bet if I would do only one non-potty stop today it would be there. I called, got voicemail, left my message with my cell number. About 15 miles down the road he called, asking where I was? I read the upcoming mile marker, and he decided he had enough time to give somebody the ride they needed.  Between road construction and "indigestion" I was able to give him plenty of time to get back and wait for me.

Oh, and let's not forget stopping at Laguna Pueblo, which happens to be on 40 as well, and checking out their authentic local pottery. Most was Acoma, but there was some actual Laguna stuff as well. By a couple of famous potters, even. Just, nothing that appealed to my tastes or pocketbook at the moment.

In Milan, the door was open when I pulled in. I explained who I was by reminding him what I'd already bought from him. Did he have more from that potter to look at? No, she was due in but hadn't stopped by to drop off more for a while. I was still looking for a couple specific designs, specifically the parrot and the deer-in-his-house. He showed me three parrot ollas, two by well-known artists, one who made a pot I've already collected, another by her daughter. The prices were so low I broke down and picked my favorite.

I also picked up a Hopi ant pot. These are usually about 1" x 2", or even just 1" x 1". The design I've seen is a ring of ants playing flutes - think Pied Piper - around the outside. Honey is placed in the pot and it is set outside away from the house to keep the ants from coming in without having to kill them. I've seen these on eBay for $100 - $200.  This was really cheap and he gave me a markdown besides.

I'll be back. He had some nice deer-in-the-house pots as well. It's Kachina Country if somebody's interested, right on Route 66, west of exit 81.

Now I was really feeling late.

I don't think it is possible to feel neutral about New Mexico. I can see people hating it. It's so vast, empty, arid, lonely. I can see people falling in love with it. It's so many-colored, so much vertical in the terrain, so majestic. The wide vistas one drives through are surrounded by mesas, mountains, and red sandstone cliffs, the latter tilting up in layer beyond layer beyond layer, a visual proof of geologic upthrusting and tilting. Black jagged lava flows cover the landscape for miles. Mount Taylor rises close enough to the freeway for you to see the spiderwebbing of snow remaining at the peak. For all those things, I chose to love it, at least to drive through.

Gallop shows a change in terrain, as if Arizona is spilling over onto this state the way New Mexico appeared to spill over the Texas border. Red is gone. Black is gone. Buff rules. It's kind of a between landscape. One compensation is there's finally a Wendy's, exit 26. Since Emporia, a total of 4.

Pulling out of Gallop, I'm reminded of where the moving truck broke down last October. Remembering how it ended in Subways for all while we waited, I've gotten my next meal idea. Italian herb and cheese, 6", pepperjack cheese, tuna with onions, spinach, tomato and green pepper. Yummm!

Arizona brings another change in terrain at the border. The cliffs on either side have huge but shallow caves in the walls. One is big enough to be turned into a souvenir shop. As the walls fall away, the crosswind really picks up. Speeds are reduced while I struggle to keep in my lane. Dust columns rise in the distance in every direction, faintly tan against the sky. Curious, I check them out with and without the polarizers. With, lots of detail. Without, barely visible at all in most cases.

This also brings the first elevation sign I've seen this trip. Mile marker 346, elevation 6000.

Holbrook is time for gas. I don't want to fill in Flagstaff, the most expensive spot in the state last fall. Phoenix should be reasonable (not so much I see later), and I can easily make it on a full tank from there. Priced here actually beat New Mexico's typical prices. Problem is, the wind pushes my car door so hard I can't get it open. I debate driving around to the other sice of the pump, but on that side the wind would actually fling my door open so hard it'd knock into something. Hard. I've got enough micro dings in the door. I don't need any macro dings in it, thank you vary much. Push harder. Use those feet! Once standing, get out of the way fast!

After Winslow signs start announcing Meteor Crater. I know what to look for. Once I'm 10 miles east of it, looking southwest I can see it rising above surrounding land, It's visible that way for only a couple miles. Otherwise the road or rolling hills block the view. Just before the exit, there's a rest stop. It's punctuated with piles in groupings of red sandstone boulders, carved by wind over eons. I think what a marvelous playground they'd be for an active kid after being in the car too long. But there's a bit of a hitch: a sign warns of fines for defacing or writing on the rocks. I'm sure somebody would be stuffy enough to find climbing the same as defacing.

While spending so much time looking for the crater, I haven't noticed what I should have seen long since. The thick dust is also to blame. Suddenly ahead of me are the San Francisco Peaks, my favorite natural feature of the whole state. (Man-made, it's Wukoki ruins. Not going there today.) Puffy clouds try to cover the peaks, coming in from the south, but generally stay just above them. There's still a lot of snow in the Snow Bowl, very bright in reflected sunlight. The closer I get to Flagstaff, the more they rise above the horizon, until just before Walnut Canyon when the foreground starts to obscure the view.

At 2:10 I hit Flagstaff and start south on 17. Ponderosa pines are thick for miles, giving way to cedars of some sort before I've actually noticed the change. It's downhill all the way, until the bottom of the Verde Valley. For once it's green enough to live up to its name. Cottonwoods are well leafed out, showing watercourses. The roadside rest stop is closed, due to lack of water. Rather than putting up a sign and barricades, they actually hire a guy to stop people from entering the building. Well, there are two towns in the valley with businesses having usable facilities. Or another rest stop along the way.

But signs now say otherwise. First, the next rest stop is closed as well, due to construction. Further, we can expect delays from 60 to 90 minutes when they are blasting. OK, so when to they do the blasting, huh? Now I really better make sure to stop, so I pick the McDonalds just before the road heads uphill again. Camp Verde.

Oh hey, there's a sign for Wendy's! Uh, 12 miles thataway after you come to the stop. Nevermind. Pulling into McDonalds, I do a double take, then tripple. Gas for $3.94?!?!? Not Diesel, either. Unleaded. Captive audience, I guess. Really reeeeally glad for that stop back in Holbrook.

One more long climb, and then it's really downhill all the way. Downhill for the mood as well. I finally tune into an accessible public radio station, preset on my dial from last fall. There are stories of a bombing at the Boston Marathon. Awww jeez! My first guess is some creep who wants to do it bigger and worse than one of those school shooters like at Sandy Hook, should he in fact ever be caught. Obama promises the full weight of justice. Bring it on!

Meanwhile, saguaros appear, then flowering mimosa trees, and things start to get familiar. I recognize landmarks, make well known turns, and finally pull into... home! And hey, Wendy's all over the place!

And what happens next is nobody's business!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Come Ride... Day 2

With no alarm going off, I slept in to the ripe old hour of 6:47 AM. It was enough.

Motel breakfast was the usual disappointment. How do I carb thee? Let me count the ways.... 2 processed dried cereals, sugar, orange juice, waffles, toast & jelly, powdered and cinnamon sugared donuts, mini muffins with frosting - or were they cupcakes? Another trip to Mickey D’s for my usual. Gas was reasonable at $3.35, but the station caught the strong south wind and the mostly empty trash can tried to make its escape into the next county, getting as far as obstructing traffic. At least it wasn’t boring.

The interstate morphs into tollway from Emporia to nearly the OK border. There are three center facilities islands during that stretch, and I visited all of them. Make a note: other than the one neatest OK, the gas prices are actually cheaper than in Emporia. I’d have thought otherwise, captive audience and all that.

The restrooms are great. They are also a place for some interesting conversations, however brief. One mother of two was commenting on having to push the soap dispenser. The toilets flushed automatically, the water ran automatically, so her expectations were set for this too. Nope. However, I reassured her that the automatic hand wrinklers were fully functional, inserting my clean hands underneath to watch the show. Bless Xlerators! I have no patience anymore for the old standby slow dryers. I thought about trying to wet down my hair again to tame it, but the wind was still as strong between me and the car as it was when it gave my damp hair its stir fried style earlier. At least it was warm, about 54.

Yesterday’s green grass gave way to mostly dead and dried, except for low spots. This area is called Flint Hills (they had a sign) and is rolling and eroded. Trees are spare, again found in low spots around even temporary water. A few ponds had been formed by building an earthen dike over a channel. As the miles rolled by I could envision herds of bison and plains horsemen hunting them centuries past. Would bison have fallen and been injured running where the earth dropped off or were those spots more an artifact of the destruction to habitat made by cattle? Was it always this dry, notwithstanding last year’s drought, or is climate change contributing to its inhospitibility?

The sole exit not requiring payment to return to the tollway was the site of pens and chutes for loading cattle for transport. Having to pay to get to it, though, must have made it very popular with the truckers.

The road wandered all over this landscape, not necessarily where I’d think to place it.  Why not between hills at some locations rather than over the tops? The boredom of long drives gives way to imaginings like conversations between the engineer attempting to lay the best route and whoever had the funds to demand this path instead. One high point provided a view way in the distance of rocky outcroppings on the horizon, a tease of what was to come later, after a whole lot of Texas, to name one state, to get through first. As the road wandered, the wind also tried to push me all over in (mostly) my lane. With my zigging while the road zagged, we mostly made out OK.

El Dorado Lake is a surprise the first time you view it. Obviously somebody dammed a really big-for-Kansas river. It’s chock full of dead snags, from stump to full tree height, remnants of what lived there before flooding. Water levels now show drought, with shorelines deeply recessed and numerous sandbar islands showing where a few years ago was just water. One of these way back from the road sported a huge flock of pelicans, likely grounded by the wind. It was well past morning feeding time.

I could suggest a few changes to the signs in the area. “Whitewater River” is highly optimistic, on both counts. How about Dry Mud Crick? El Dorado itself was nothing like a city of gold, unless you count black gold. Pumpers were busy all through the area. Maybe we should change the signs to El Dorado Nigre?

The landscape started greening up south of there. Wichita showed that large amounts of trees can actually survive in Kansas. Who knew? About half of them were beginning to leaf out. And pines and cedars were added to the mix.

Another note to self: the toll for that stretch has been raised. Starting last February, it went from $6 to $6.75 for a car. It’s still worth it, though. Gas prices at the first station past the OK border are low, then the rest are higher than KS. Weird.

I hit Oklahoma at 9:45. Two things stood out. First was that I was again in a state that believed in wind farms. (Why not Kansas? They proved they have just as much wind.) Second, trees were showing off purple flowers. I had no idea what they were, but one of those restroom conversations gave the answer. I’d stopped for gas in OK City. While washing hands, I asked the middle aged woman next to me if she was a local. She cited the town she was from. I’m really good at looking as puzzled and stupid - uh, uninformed - as I am, so she went on to explain it was near Tulsa. I told her that was local enough, and asked what the purple flowering trees were? Redbuds, the state tree. She suggested I should enjoy them as the blooms would only be around another week. I told her I had been, and thanked her for the info.

Even with short sleeves, the AC had been turned on by 10:25. Just another reason for bad gas mileage, adding to the 70-75 mph speed limits for guzzling. Not that I was going to turn the AC off to save money. Occasionally yes, when it got chilly, it’d go off a few minutes until it was too warm again. Something to do. Like counting Wendy's.

You haven’t noticed any mention of Wendy’s yet. That’s because there haven’t been any signs. As far as I can tell, OK has 1, located in OK City after you hit I-40 heading west, at exit 136. And to save you all the breathless wait, Texas has 1 also, in Amarillo at exit 67, where there’s also a Phillips 66 I like to stop at because it has the cheapest prices in the state at, today $3.27. So far only New Mexico has prices above $3.40, but they still average cheaper then home where Shafer has the best price for Minnesota I’ve found at $3.43. Last week I saw anywhere up to $3.65. What’s up with that, Minnesota? What makes us so special?

So, westbound at 11:30 for the rest of the day. My first time of the year in short sleeves and even through the glass I’m picking up sunburn. After a couple hours I notice the pink tint and wind up with an unfolded napkin draped over that arm, cumbersome as it gets for driving. The hands are fine, exposed year round, but this sun is fierce for a half-Scandinavian  who just left snow country. Another thing I forgot to pack: sunscreen. I realized this morning that I also forgot my body powder. 2 dozen cans scattered between Minnesota and Arizona and not one in the car. Why 2 dozen? I can only find my brand online, and apparently hit the buy button twice. It’s cheap enough and I’ll use it, but each location has an actual drawer full. Q-tips came up on the short list as well, but I did pack fairly carelessly, except for the pottery.

The best part of being on I-40 through OK is a pair of tourist traps called Cherokee Trading Post. I try to stop every trip, and sometimes even buy something. Back when I was driving a car down or back for my folks while they flew, I found them. It's become a tradition. Pottery-wise, they have all the usual junk for the tourists. But behind the locked glass is the real deal, traditional styled pueblo pottery. Before I got that far today I saw the Navajo pitch pots. Mine, a wedding vase with corn appliques, is more detailed than those offered here. Their corn is barely three-dimensional.

The building layout is like a sea star with the locked case behind the central check-out at the first one, mile 108. Looking over the selections, I recognized the work of a couple potters, aided of course by a sign giving the artist’s name. I have his work, love it, not interested in more. But a couple things are on my short must-have-someday list, in terms of design. One was a darling pot the size of a coffee mug with the deer-in-its-house design. Unfortunately the price tag was $900. I couldn’t even afford to ask the artist’s name. Another jug with a finger loop handle had the Laguna rounded-tailfeather bird - parrot -I’ve been looking for. $400. I thanked the clerk for showing me the pots. Another trip, perhaps. More likely another potter in another setting without quite the overhead.

While at that exit, I decided to try the Indian Trading Post on the other side of the freeway. I never had. Walking in, their selection of tourist pottery is right by the door. A couple styles were new to me and I looked them over. One piece caught my eye, at a sign labeled Navajo Etched Pottery. This one was a bear effigy, the standard curved back, in turquoise with etched places showing red clay, meaning copper colored. The pattern was a bunch of Mimbres fish, and the price only $33. Turning it over, wondering who the Navajo potter was, it declared its source to be Acoma Pueblo. It stayed in the store that couldn’t even properly label its pottery. While I still like it, the place just turned me off on it. I did wander to be back wall where their locked cases were. A couple pieces impressed me, including a tiny seed pot, and I do mean tiny! The clerk saw my interest and informed me that these were the owner’s personal collection. Oh well.

The second CTP is at exit 71. I though I’d try that as well. The building also features a mocassin and boot store, which formerly took up 2/3 of the floor space. Now when you walk in, the beams are exposed but a sign points you to the left saying Gift Shop Open. That was what I wanted anyway. The good stuff had caught my eye as I parked, displayed at the front window, so I didn’t waste any time hunting around. Two pots caught my eye. First, a huge wedding vase with my wanted bird pattern ($300), and at the other end, something that looked suspiciously familiar. One potter I’ve seen so far in all my research and eBay shopping has two unique characteristics in her pottery: a yellow slip, as opposed to tan, red, white, black or brown, and a narrow neck with a stopper, topped off by a stylized turtle. Could this be?

Elizabeth Medina! I longed for one of her pots, watched one for a while on eBay. Way out of my league. Well, till now. Her pot sits in the back of my car, in an ugly box looking like just another piece of junk, exactly the way I want it. And the price? Nevermind. I’ll just say it’s not the most expensive pot in my collection. Just close.

While basking in the euphoria, I called Motel 6 and booked a room in Albuquerque for the night. $33 plus tax, still totaling under $40. Time to be cheap. I’ve done my splurge. Time to roll!

Texas was next. Like Thelma and Louise, I’d like to avoid it.  It’s flat, boring. Most trips I arrange to go through at night. In the dark you don’t lose any of its charm. But this wasn’t night. Very minimal entertainment is provided. The eastern end was roadkill central. There were several incarnations of Bambi in various stages of fresh, bloat, and dessication. I also noted coyote, possum, and my first ever real live (well, recently anyway) armadillo! At some point along 40 you notice a certain familiarity in the county line signs. Gray. Donley. Gray. Donley. Gray. Donley. Gray. Donley.  The road didn’t seem that crooked. What on earth are those county borders like? Somebody have a turf war? Groom has an old water tower right next to the road, tilted like the next puff of wind will knock it over. The northern legs of it are off the ground. Good thing it’s a south wind. However, it’s been this way for years, and I could see no reason it hadn’t fallen yet. Maybe there’s nobody to sue as an incentive to take it down before it does crash on somebody. Look for it just before you get to the monster white cross you can see from miles away. Texans!

It’s hard to find something good to say about Texas, but here’s a few.  Amarillo was where I picked up my Wendy’s chili for supper. It was early, but I’d let it cool enough to pour in my mouth straight from the cup when it was eating time. From just west of Amarillo to mile 29 a huge wind farm extends across the landscape on the north sice of 40. At mile 16 the ground suddenly falls away in front of you and you descent into some actual terrain! New Mexico spiled over the border just a tad. I’m happy to be crossing at the panhandle, because the best thing of all is seeing it in your rear view mirror!

Apparently New Mexico understands how we feel. It’s the only place I’ve seen a humungous yellow banner across the freeway welcoming us to a different state! The Land of Enchantment! And still 207 miles to go before bed! Damn good thing I’m used to this! It’s 5:52, now 4:52 with the time zone change. 1145 trip miles so far, 1356 by nightfall. If you think the numbers don’t quite add up, there’s a reason. There was just this tiny little snafu at the end.

But that was later. Before getting to Albuquerque, I had to drive west for miles and miles directly into the sum. I mean it was setting just over the end of the road. I already had sunglasses on and the visor down, and held my hand up for as long as I could to provide additional screening. Each time the eyelids closed huge spots glowed back at me from retinal fatigue. That's the fancy name. I just think of it as blindness. I will never understand how other drivers managed it. I suddenly found myself with a way off the freeway and took it. I had no idea where I was headed. Everything that wasn't road was black. No signs were readable. Where I ended was a parking pull-off where semis spend the night for their enforced down time. It was empty other than for a dumpster. I parked crosswise, finally not looking at the sun. While waiting for it to finish setting I enjoyed a snack of peanut butter and crackers.

If you've never been to Albuquerque from the east, the approach is very deceptive. It looks like a low ridge is ahead of you. You know there's a pass there - there has to be, right? - but the road starts winding and you can't quite decide which low spot might be where you're heading. After Moriarty the road starts heading down, and down, and somehow you're passing on the south side of a mountain. Your downward trek keeps going and going, through towns and open spaces, until finally a city surrounds you. You're still heading down.

In my case, my exit comes before I reach bottom. If this were daylight and I were heading straight through, I could turn around after starting the long climb up from the river valley and see just how high a mountain that "little ridge" actually is. It delighted me my first trek through.

But this time I have a Motel 6 to find. My only instructions were the name of the exit and the reassuring words that "you can see it from the freeway." Once in the exit lane for my stop, I do see the sign. My lane keeps going and keeps going after that until the actual exit. I do a u-turn a block over and head back up the hill. I keep going and going and going - I knew it was there! -until finally I wonder just how I managed to miss it. I need gas anyway, and stop for directions with my fill. I'm just two blocks away!

When I start checking in, the desk clerk asks me if I was given a confirmation number. It happens I wasn't. She couldn't find it under my name. Thinking it was a truly stupid question, I asked just how many hotels that branch had for that exit?

It turns out there are two. She gave me directions to the other, which, by the way, you can't see from the freeway. (You got that, voice on the other end of the 800 number?) She also explained that this wasn't the only location with two so close, only in the other case they were across the street from each other. And this has happened before, a fact which doesn't make me feel less stupid for some reason. But that's part of the reason for the mileage not adding up in real life to what the signs claim.

It was nice enough. Wi Fi? Sure, for an extra $3. For some reason my inner cheapskate picks that moment to kick in again and I decline paying for it. I don't know where it was when I was buying Elizabeth Medina, but it was alive and well now! At any rate, I can type this as ordinary word processing and copy-paste it to the blog. I proceed to do that until my eyelids turn to sandpaper, around 11:00, and turn in.

The pillows are a pair of pancakes. I can make do with them, if that were the only issue. But the walls are paper-thin, and I have some very interesting neighbors. The ones who parked their car outside my door like to play with the electronic door lock. Beep Beep. Every ten minutes or so, Beep Beep. Beep Beep. Somebody else likes to run up and down the sidewalk. Several doors down there's a singer. Not a good one, just enthusiastic. Upstairs a pair of dogs break out in loud snarling-barking fits every so often. It's accompanied by the yelling lady. I can't hear all of what she's yelling, but at one point she's challenging somebody to just go do it then, whatever "it" is. Over and over. She's obviously talking to another person, but the other partner in the argument is much quieter. They all settle down for a few minutes, and either she or the dogs start in again. One of the dogs sounds like a little one, the other full sized and deep throated. Eventually I just want to add my suggestion to the ruckus: why don't you just feed the little dog to the big one and they'll both shut up!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Come Ride With Me


Your invitation to come along is figurative, of course. There's no room even for the dog. Plus, when I'm putting on the miles like this, I like getting out early, driving as long as I can stand, and stopping at my need and convenience. Like this:

5:50 AM alarm goes off. I set it to off. A peek out the window on the way to the bathroom brings disappointment: again? snow? another whole inch? Is it ever going to end?

The morning routine goes bare bones. There's no reason to turn on the TV, the laptop is packed and in the car. All I need to do is have coffee and pills, shower, dress, bring the dog back in with a Milk Bone bribe, and load two gallons water and a box of plants which also hold my pocketbook, stuff that, other than the pocketbook couldn't freeze.

6:22 AM, and I'm on the phone to Steve, letting him know I'm rolling, a bit late due to scraping snow. My back windshield is wonderfully clean, a status it will retain for at least 10 miles. The radio says it's 27 degrees. That's metro, likely a few cooler here. McDonalds furnishes breakfast: 2 sausage egg muffins. Lest you think that's way too much carbs, fat and calories, I "adjust" them before eating. First, I order no cheese. Then I throw out half the muffin pieces, cutting carbs in half. It's the top part they slather with butter, so that's the one tossed. The abundance of napkins come in handy. I take one to surround the egg, another the sausage, soaking up a ton of extraneous grease. Before reassembling my two open face sandwiches, I split a packet of strawberry jam between the two remaining muffins. My next stop is one that requires handwashing, even if I didn't need to from the jam.

My third stop of the morning puts me at a restroom in Lino Lakes about 7:30, less than 25 miles down the road. Now it's time to book some miles. By this time the roads are wet/salty, not snowy. My wipers are good, washer reservoir full. They'll get a lot of use for the next 80 miles. Everything is solid white, except roads.

9:13 AM has me leaving the rest stop south of Owatonna. Once I hit Forest Lake, it's freeway all the way till a couple miles from Steve, except for stops. 35 to 40 to 17 to 101. This stop includes a 15 minute nap. A kitchen stove timer rides in my car always, just so I can sleep without worrying how long before I wake up. Handy both for road trips and work to cure drowsiness. By now the roads are dry enough I take time to use spare napkins to polish off salt from the side mirrors, though they film over before I'm driving again.

The sky has been solid grey - dark grey - all the way so far, so it takes me a bit to notice the wind farms down near the border. Windmills on my left are dark grey, on my right grey or white. Once I notice them, I find them reassuring, more so as I pass wind farm after wind farm.  With nothing much for scenery, I have time for musing over which way the blades are turning. At first they appear to be in opposite directions, but it's obvious I'm seeing the front of the eastern ones and the back of the western. So it's a west wind, and I already know it's strong from my brief forays out of the car. If you are upwind, the blades rotate clockwise.

Entering Iowa, it's at mile marker 201 I notice for the first time there's no longer a solid cover of snow. At 194 we finally run out of snow, barring a few places where chunks got knocked off semis rolling through. There's also a Wendy's there. I start making a log of mile markers where they are, something good to know while traveling, and this is a route that will be well traveled. Wendy's has two menu items I love, both of which are comfortably within my carb parameters: chili, and chicken apple pecan salad. I'll likely pick up a salad later in the day.

A bit further down the road, I finally get one full second of sun. Later, 7. Then 15, followed quickly by another 15. Time to quit keeping track. I notice the lakes are ice free. When did that happen? Maybe by the time I get home, the local lakes will also be ice free. Right now they have liquid edges, maybe 10 feet from shore to the ice.

At 10:35 I grab my next rest stop. 208 miles down the road so far. Time for a packet of jerky, followed by ibuprofin. It's not that I need it for a lot of walking, but driving long periods are also hard on the knees.

Noon finds me gassing up in Des Moines, leaving the jacket on the seat before I hop back in. Mile marker 128 shows the first bits of green grass. A few score miles later it's solid bright shaggy green everywhere on the ground. Wendy's pop up at 90, and 131 where 35 and 80 run together, changing the numbering system briefly.

1:30 brings the Missouri border. Wendy's here are more plentiful, at 92, 54, 9 and 5. Mile 50 has the first actual leaves on a smattering of trees, yellow green mist among a forest of bare branches. 3:00 is a rest stop with the salad I picked up back at mile 92. It turns into a half hour break. They stuffed the bowl so full of lettuce that each forkful dislodges an additional forkful over my lap and onto the floor until I finally get enough out to be able to actually stir the ingredients up in the dressing. Not helpful, guys! While there, I take advantage of the break to figure out where I want to spend the night, settling on Emporia, just before the turnpike starts. A couple phone calls yield no luck with motel reservations on the first floor. With my knees, lugging a suitcase up stairs is a no-go. It seems there is a golf tournament in town plus a business convention and something else I couldn't quite decipher through a very thick accent. The what didn't matter anyway, just the lack of rooms.

Kearney advertised gas for $3.25, the best price I've seen since last December. Only 5 gallons go in, but get it while you can, right? As I pulled in, I noticed an Econo Lodge next door. Maybe they had an 800 number so I could check that chain? They did, and I booked a room in Emporia.

Feeling like I'd "wasted" an excess of time by now, it was time to get back on the road. 70 mph is a nice mile eating pace, but it ended quickly. Liberty had a lane closed for shoulder construction, with a back up of about 5 miles. ZZZZZZZZZZ............. I rolled a window down to welcome some warm air. With no road noise, I managed to hear my first singing frog of the year.

Finally able to get some speed again, I breezed through the Kansas Cities. Both had the first flowering trees of the year. Of all I saw, only two were pink, likely flowering crabs unless the flora is significantly different down here. All the rest were white, tiny flowers and not apple shaped, so I can't offer identification. Leaving the low lying cities, the flowering trees ceased for about 60 miles, then started popping up again. Heat island effect.

Wendy's showed up at miles 225, 182, and 128, right up the street from my motel. So far the only other notable thing was when I hit Ottowa a big juice bug returned the favor. So did a bunch of his tinier compatriots. I'll have a scrubbing job in the morning.

588 miles. 12 hours. Theme song for the day: "Winter Into Spring".

Albuqureque tomorrow?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Chomping At the Bit

24 hours to go! Before leaving for Arizona, of course. There's still a day of work to get through, but I'm mostly ready. More than ready to get out of this lingering winter crap! Solid white everywhere again! Ick! Ick! ICK!

The boxes of southwest pottery I've been collecting are stacked in piles in the living room. They've been indexed on the computer, so when I get down there they can be labeled for display so they don't have to be handled for somebody to know originating pueblo and artist. Interspersed in the piles are travel food (jerky, peanut butter, gallons water, etc.), bathroom rugs and a shower curtain, X-mas presents needing a southern home, even a doggie blanket to keep Fred comfy for the return trip with Steve. Buried under and behind all that are the spare boxes of cedar boards to go in the closet, leftovers from lining my bedroom closet here. They won't get installed this spring, but  just having them in the closets there will still discourage bugs while we're gone. A generous supply of sticky-boards goes down to trap invading mice. We already know we had one, so these will go out in all the likely spots before we close up the house. Not till after Fred's out of the way, though.

In the window is a box with a pair pf small ponytail palms to be planted next to the house down there. (The big 35-year-old one is still looking dead, neglected on the deck before the move last fall.)  Like the water, with weather being as cold here as it is, they don't go into the car until tomorrow morning. The box has an open top so light can reach them for the trip.

My room holds my carry-on with clothes, toiletries, the latest pottery books to read, and tonight will have this laptop and charger added. Yes, it's heavy. Maybe I'll rethink some of those books. Next to it is the Nikon. Steve and I plan on a little touring with photo ops down there. My clothes for tomorrow are already laid out as well.

The boys will load the car tonight, so nobody has to wake early tomorrow besides me. Today before work I'll hit my favorite oil change place, taking care of both that and a tire rotation before I even log in to work. With all the late nights they're always closed before I can get free, and mornings are rush-rush. I'm just putting my foot down and taking the time this morning so I don't have to lose time tomorrow. Once home tonight I'll watch Blue Bloods and Grimm if possible, or if late, ask Steve to tape them for me to watch down there. I also want to get to bed early-ish.

My only goal tomorrow is to get as far away as fast as possible, away from the snow, closer to Steve!!!!!!!! If all goes well, there'll be a reunion Monday night. Chomp! Chomp!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Bad Address

Some times a bad address can come with a story.

Tonight it was a late drug run, coming out of a pharmacy that meant the recipient had hospice status. The good part, for me, is the destination was (rural) Chisago City, practically home. Better, in this season, I'd be able to locate the address before it got dark.

Pulling into the driveway, I noted a little bit of light in the kitchen window. The doorbell, however, brought no response, even after three rings. This could be a problem. The originating pharmacy closes at 7, and it was already a minute past when I left the car. (I hadn't checked the clock, but the theme music for the next program was playing on the radio as I shut it off.) We couldn't call them to find out whether it could be left in the door (usually not with meds), or needed to be returned. The latter meant a trip back into St. Paul. Tonight. Ick. In addition, our main dispatch was now closed, and though we had late dispatching options, things became more challenging.

While I'm standing at the top of the steps debating my options and reaching in my pocket for my phone, I finally hear noises near the door, then the bolt being drawn back. A cheerful, inquiring face greets me. I explain that I've meds for _________, which changes her expression to confusion. He isn't there. She had him - her husband - put in the nursing home on Sunday, the _______ home in Forest Lake.

Yes, I know the one. I've delivered meds there on several occasions.

She inquired what kind of meds I might be delivering? The real, unasked, question was just how urgent they were. I explained HIPPA rules while I showed her the mostly blank sealed tamper-proof white plastic envelope. Its only markings were an address label, with a Forest lake address crossed out and this one hand-written next to it. A closer look at the address made it recognizable as that of the nursing home where he now resided, though I double-checked that it was indeed where he now was.

Before I could even think to ask, she requested if I could take it there for her. Weather was expected momentarily, including both rain and sleet, and she didn't think she could safely make it there. No problem for me, with all the driving in the stuff I'd done as recently as this morning. And it was still dry. Plus I knew I could get approval and payment for the trip, as the sending pharmacy had made the screw-up by second guessing their address, wrongly. If the meds were necessary, they were needed where the patient was. And whatever they were, they were necessary.

At this point she apologized for taking so long to answer the door. She'd fallen asleep at the kitchen table over supper. She'd been the only one taking care of her 80-year-old husband until last Sunday, when she'd finally had to put him in the home, and she was still recovering her energy and strength. She would be 80 herself next month. I chatted briefly with her explaining why I know how tiring a job she'd had, and assuring her again it was not problem for me to wait for her to answer the door, before excusing myself to call dispatch, get the formal OK, and go deliver the meds to the nursing home.

I now had not just a new leg of the journey, but a piece of their story. Usually it's just a faceless name and an address. This delivery I will remember.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ghosts of Easters Past

While the first Easter I can remember happened when I was five (and a half), what I remember about it tells me a lot about how our family had been celebrating the holiday. As a kid, the holiday was all about bunnies, eggs and candy, of course. Religion entered the holiday later.

This particular holiday occurred while my mom was hospitalized for a "nervous breakdown". I had been staying with my Aunt Agnes and Uncle Larry in Minneapolis. Steve, being older and going to school, stayed up at the resort with Daddy. There wasn't kindergarten offered in Nevis at the time, so I was the only one of us to go to it. For some reason, I had been relocated down to Austin to stay with Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Virgil for the last few months until Mom returned home again. I remember little of that stay, other than watching Howdy Doody and Pinkee Lee on TV, something else we didn't have up north then. And Easter, of course.

My bed was located out on an enclosed porch. No more sharing a room with a cousin. When I woke, there was this huge Easter basket sitting on the floor next to my bed. I was amazed, and not sure I was allowed to touch it. This was the first Easter basket in my life. I already knew that our family wasn't rich enough for such fancy things. Was this really mine? Would I have to share? I hardly dared hope, and remember waiting to dig into it until I had permission.

Would there be an egg hunt too? I tried not to be disappointed when the answer was "no", since after all there was the miraculous Easter basket all mine. But still, that had always been part of the fun. The family (Daddy exempted) had cooked eggs, decorated them with white crayons to create design that wouldn't get dyed in the colored liquid smelling of vinegar. While we slept, the Easter Bunny hid our eggs for us to find the next morning, along with pieces of wrapped home-made fudge. I'm convinced the whole tradition was designed as a way to allow parents to sleep in while the kids were safely occupied finding their own breakfasts. That was the only disappointment about Easter of course, having to eat hard-boiled eggs. If we were really lucky, uneaten eggs would get turned into egg salad, but mostly we had to eat them plain.

This time no egg hunt. But there was also the even bigger surprise of new clothes. The only picture I have of myself at that age is of me in my new coat, Easter bonnet barely covering a multitude of blonde curls, and - wonder of wonders - patent leather shoes! I'm holding the basket for the picture, but recall it had to be left home while the family dressed up to go to church.

When my kids were growing up, the family traditions remained much the same: dying eggs and having the Easter Bunny hide them for a morning egg hunt. With funds being scarce, this also became a good time to add to the spring/summer wardrobe in the disguise of "presents". Two years stand out.

The years spent in Georgia offered the first chance for an outdoor egg hunt. Minnesota springs are seldom amenable to such events. Peachtree City offered a candy egg hunt in one of its parks, and Paul, being youngest, was just the right age. I was allowed to supervise him. When the gates opened, most of the kids charged straight in. We headed left, with much less competition for the eggs.  There was a special prize, including your picture in the local paper, for the kids collecting the most eggs. We were still counting his when they tried to announce a winner, but hearing a total below what we already had, I stepped up and offered them a chance to make a correction. I recall his total being 102. I still have the newspaper clipping.

After returning to Minnesota, we lived in a 3-bedroom mobile home. One year I was both very tired and thinking I was being creative when I offered to let each kid hid the eggs for a sibling. All the eggs had been identified with white crayons for each kid, so they knew which ones were theirs. Everybody became the Easter Bunny, now that they no longer believed in a magical one.

There was just one problem. Richard was a much better hider than Paul, 4 years younger, was a finder. For that matter, he was a better hider than even he could remember. Some of those eggs were never found. After a while we started to smell them, still without being able to locate them. Eventually, like dead mice in the walls, the smell faded away.

Don't ask me how I know.

As a grandmother, I was allowed to participate in one of Jordan's Easters. She was five when I first was awarded court-ordered visitation, just in time for Easter. Visitation was still supervised, my being an unknown quantity to the courts, so it was held at her other grandmother's house. This was where she was staying temporarily, due to the CHIPS court proceedings which encouraged me to get into the court process in the first place. It was a warm day, and we set up at the picnic table in the back yard. I brought everything needed for dying two dozen eggs, all to be left for the Easter Bunny to hide. I was shocked to find out that she had never dyed nor hunted Easter eggs before. At the end of the afternoon I had hopes that a new tradition would be started by her other grandma, but no control over the process. But it was the beginning of a much treasured relationship.