Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Joshua Tree Hunt

At first, there's just the suggestion that you may have seen a couple of them along the road. Likely it was just that you wanted to so much, and they were supposed to be out there somewhere. You were still wondering if they'd be close enough to the road to actually see, or better yet, a chance to pull off the road (safely!) and get a good picture. Or seven. Dozen.

Nobody needed to set an alarm. We just all got up at our usual time, trying not to dawdle over breakfast too much since this close after winter solstice there's still so little daylight. For the record, we have an hour ten minutes more here than back in Minnesota, but the days are still short. In not leaving immediately, we avoided the coldest morning temperatures too, both for ourselves and for the dogs. This trip they were not coming along, now that Paul had fixed what we hope is the last spot where Ellie can dig out of the yard. We were planning on leaving them outside for the day with plenty of water and winter sunshine. The museum we were also going to see in Wickenburg, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, didn't even open until 10:00 anyway. It was the reason we had packed (when I say "we" I of course mean Paul) both scooters in the car, leaving no room for dogs but just enough room for elbows and knees. Or at least Paul said he had enough room.

Then again, he's pretty easy going.

Filling the tank for $16 was a treat too. It's been a long time since gas was under $3/gal., not to mention under $2!

The museum was relatively inexpensive, and the exhibits were interesting enough to keep us absorbed for a couple hours. That's even before checking out the gift shops. I wouldn't have appreciated the Old Wickenburg exhibit as much had it not been for my years working for Doug as an auction clerk, getting an on-the-fly education in antiques. My southwestern pottery hobby left me in better position to identify pottery types and origins, apparently, than the folks who had labeled the  pots in the exhibits. Paul especially enjoyed the minerals on display, though he also thought several of those were mislabeled. Steve's favorites were the Remington bronzes and the western paintings. He definitely wants to visit again.

For future reference, I will have to keep an eye on their website for upcoming events. This last fall they had a Mata Ortiz potter make and fire a pot at the museum, and plan to repeat that with several potters next year. They also have a nice little selection of Mata Ortiz pottery for sale, plus - new to me - jewelry utilizing  some of their distinctive pottery patterns, and their prices are nowhere near as outlandish as many other museums and tourist sites I've checked out.

Eventually we were back on the road, having spent way more time in the gift shops than they warranted. Not much money, just time. Hwy. 60 for us goes from a mile from the house straight up to Wickenburg, and now we were heading up Hwy. 93 to Wickieup. That's the stretch where the internet claimed we'd see Joshua trees. Everybody else, including whoever is responsible for signage, seems to think of it as the route to Vegas.

If you are new to the idea of Joshua trees, they look like yuccas, only branched and grown to tree height once mature. And like yuccas, they are members of the lily family, which includes those potfuls sold by the millions every Easter. These are just adapted for desert, the Mohave to be specific, and there are three stands of them in Arizona, plus a national park full in California. The spot we would be driving through is where Mohave meets Sonoran Desert, and there are places where you can see saguaros and Joshua trees in the same place.

I spent so much time looking, first for them and then at them, that I came home that night with sore neck and shoulders. I did manage to keep the car on the road, however. Within a mile of the spot where they first appear as you  head northward, there is a nice wide shoulder making a safe pullout, likely because there are three huge specimens there with mountains behind, otherwise known as a photo op. A word to the wise, however: this is also a great spot to regret that you chose tennies rather than leather boots. It looks innocuous, but the dried grasses are brittle and shatter into hundreds of little spikes that worm their way through your shoes and socks and into your tender feet. If you stay on the shoulder you don't find that out, but some of us go searching for that perfect angle....

In just a few more miles the trees become so thickly abundant that even a jaded Minnesotan can appreciate the idea that somebody attached the word "forest" to them. We do know up there what a real forest is, and it's not any of those things down here that have a 6' tall something every 100 feet, even if they do call themselves forests. The ponderosa pines up near Flagstaff, now they qualify as a forest. But scatterings of mesquite or junipers - never!

These, finally, were a forest!

Even better, they were plunked right in the middle of some very scenic country in its own right: mountains, cliff, and canyons. Occasionally one of the things that the highway bridges passed over claiming to be rivers actually had, if not water, at least traces of muddy spots meandering down the middle.

We had plans for lunch at Luchia's Restaurant, just north of town, known for homemade pies and peacocks. No, the peacocks were not on the menu, just wandering around the back yard showing off. Well, theoretically. A large "CLOSED" sign greeted us instead, no information on whether it was temporary or permanent, so we headed back into Wickieup. There was a trading post selling not-so-cheap gas and souvenirs, and food could be had in a little sit-down restauruant. The food wasn't spectacular, but adequate, particularly since we had now waited until 3:30 to eat lunch.

I think next time we'll hit McDonalds in Wickenburg. "Adequate" is a whole lot cheaper there. We can revisit the museum and hit the Joshua tree forest for spring blooming. Maybe my mysteriously-vanished camera will reappear by then, since the library shelves are now installed, needing only a bit of trim and paint touch-up, and we can unpack stacks of boxes.

Next year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

X-mas Excuses

You haven't gotten your X-mas cards yet. Just in case you wanted to know why....

1: I retired. This doesn't mean I have found all kinds of time to be on task. It means I've been recovering from a regimented lifestyle, learning how to organize both waking and sleeping hours, adjusting my self-esteem to my new status, figuring out how the new budget works. It's a process.

2: I moved. There are still stacks of boxes all over, not quire matching stacks of spaces to unpack them into, and seldom matching their labels to enable items to be organized as wished. Or for that matter, found.

3: The plumbing needs major repairs. I think we can afford it in about two years. How this affects getting the cards out, I haven't quite decided, but, hey, it's an excuse.

4: The traditional card always involves selecting one or more pictures. Steve and I have known for nearly two years what that picture would be. It's been shot three times now. We spent hours looking for wherever the image has been stored, unsuccessfully. This required a last-minute trip into the desert with a functional, charged, and accessible camera to take the last shot, in proper lighting.

5: The traditional card also needs an appropriate text to match the selected picture. Back in the olden days, there were picture cards which offered one the choice of doing your own text. Those are no longer available. Thus it took a long while to figure out how to get the text onto the card anyway. Collage photo cards are now available, so a picture of text could be added. How convoluted is that?

6: Once decided, there was a learning curve. It involved figuring out how to get a large colorful font onto a computer screen, something I've never done. I'm still not sure just how I did, so I expect to go through this again next year. Be warned.

7: The text had to be located centrally enough so that the text margin lines could be eliminated, and large enough that an economy camera could close in sufficiently to shoot within those lines and still maintain reasonably sharp focus, otherwise known as having a decent focal length. Close ups are not generally the forte of economy cameras. Many shots were taken.

8.  Once satisfactory pictures were available, they needed to be loaded into my laptop. Unfortunately, my laptop often forgets just exactly how this is supposed to be accomplished. It has fought me on this procedure for months. First it required a source media whose own harddrive has not crashed. Imagine being so picky! Then it needed specific hardware to connect the source to the laptop, and a specific order of connecting, starting up the photo software, labeling the file, etc., etc. Once inputted, the files were carefully and I'm sure gleefully hidden away from view.

9. Additional hardware needed to be located in order to export the finally located and chosen pictures in order to take them to the store for printing. While I was still working and in Minnesota, one of my key rings (I always had two, one per pants pocket, so I'd never get locked out of my car. Again.) carried a thumb drive. It was very decorative. Also never actually used. But it could have been. Those two key rings are now split not between my pants pockets but between Steve and myself. Minnesota keys have been removed. Somewhere in that process said thumb drive has disappeared. Thus the search began for a disc to carry the needed information. There seem to be an amazing number of unpacked boxes scattered throughout the house labeled "computer stuff" which do not, in fact, contain anything resembling a printable CD or DVD. Additionally, every single one of said boxes seems to be stored under a stack of boxes labeled "heavy books". As I know I have dozens of disks somewhere, I was not in any mood to do some additional shopping.

10: Once located and loaded into my laptop, my laptop again demonstrated its memory issues and dogged stubbornness. It refused to let jpg files be loaded for burning. I had to call Paul away from his carpentry project - the one where we have high hopes that the new supply of shelving on two walls will finally enable us to empty boxes and thus sort and locate all sorts of missing items - so he could talk some sense into my computer and smooth the way for task completion. It seems the file needs to be transferred first to the desktop, then given a new name which changes the notation under the thumbnail from dark blue to light blue to white, after which completion of said process enables the jpg file to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the disk for burning. Since I wasn't exactly sure which pictures would be cropped how at the store, several options of each were loaded. Thus, repeat the process for each. The actual frustrating part of all this is I'm sure my computer will balk at doing this next year as well.

11: A printing source needed to be located. I started online. Target and WalMart are good starting points. With a firm idea in mind of the final result, I shopped thorough pages of choices offering both two and three picture spots, one of larger size than the other/s. Since the whole point of the card was inclusion of the entire holiday season and inclusion of people not particularly religious or even Christian, I tried to stay away from those cards that only recognized X-mas. Seasons Greetings and Happy Holidays were the top choices. It turns out that combination of layout and messaging is rare. So rare it's nonexistant at Target and offers two choices at WalMart. At least I now knew where I was going shopping. Physically shopping, that is. I won't even begin to explain the issues with trying to do cards online, not to mention additional delays with waiting for delivery.

12: One can only go to the photo department at the store during certain times of the day. Not because they're only open for limited hours, though that's true. But because the store is a huge box store with a supply of electric scooter shopping carts that never quite matches demand and which never quite manage to get recharged during most of the day. One learns: never after 10 AM, never after school, never after work, never on Saturday, never on Friday paydays, never on month end paydays, never on days when SS checks go out, and never never ever during the Thanksgiving or X-mas holiday shopping rushes. Good luck.

13. Once the photo area is located, in this case hidden and barricaded inside the entire electronics section back in its corner, there is a wait in line for access to the machines to set up your order. Often this requires waiting for two adjacent machines to open as the scooter must be parked sideways to the machines. It is impossible for someone with normal length arms to reach to the end of the basket, nevermind past it in order to use the touch screen. I have found that even with a row end machine open, the many children of the person using the next machine spill over into the space I need to use, making it inaccessible.

14. Every year, the process of using the machine has changed. Options are different, searches are different, even changing from upper case to lower case text has changed. I spent a full minute trying to convince the machine that I didn't really want the Grinch card it thought I selected, finally cancelling the whole process and starting over. I spent 5 more looking for either of the choices I'd selected online, finally resigned to the reality that in-store used a whole separate data base than online offered and I had to start the search over. Eventually there was an option I could settle for. Printing would be finished in... oh hey, just 9 minutes! Cool. Then I had to go to the counter to pay and get my envelopes. The whole time I had been in the photo department there had been not a single staff person behind that counter. Not one. Nowhere.

15. Some of you have died. That's a problem in sending out cards. (We are, of course, upset about that for other reasons as well.) I don't know for sure just who to stop sending cards to, or whose name to leave off the card. I've been out of touch. Then again, so have you. When you move, I don't even know I need a new address, much less what it might be. I ordered extra cards to replace the ones that get returned, assuming there is still somebody to send something to. It takes time just to figure out as well as possible just how goofed up the card list really is. At this point, actual Christmas Day, I'm still at that point in the process. Plus there is a meal or three to prepare. And once I do...

16. I still have to figure out where the local post office is. I haven't needed to yet because everything gets dropped off and picked up at the house. I came down here with what was a good supply of stamps. Until card season, that is. Maybe I'll catch the carrier when he delivers tomorrow and ask him. Unless I'm in the bathroom or something.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Kartchner Trip

When looking around for places to take Paul while he was visiting and working on building the library, my mind turned to Kartchner Caverns. I had visited the first year it opened, back when there was only one room ready for visitors. Back then reservations needed to be made months in advance, so I didn't delay after making sure Paul would be interested.

It turns out he hadn't been in a "good" cave since he was little, when on a camping trip I took the kids to Ruby Falls in Tennessee while we lived in Georgia. When I inquired of Steve, though only after checking on accessibility issues (yes, they take small scooters, like mine), it turns out that he had never been in a cave. OK, guy, Merry Christmas then! Considering we would be taking three people, two dogs, a scooter and a cooler for sandwiches, all in my little hatchback, I made reservations online for just two. Plus a mental note to pack my Kindle. It's pricey enough that I didn't do the tour this time. And there was no place for a second scooter in the car, not to mention is would have been too big to take some of the turns anyway.

There will be more chances.

The drive down was pleasant enough. We avoided the worst of rush hour by taking the 101 up north and around, avoiding downtown/airport traffic. Once we headed away from the metro area, the air cleared up a bit so we could see surrounding mountains without a bottom band of yellowish haze. With our timing being as good as I'd hoped, we headed first for Tombstone and a quick tour of Boot Hill. It's free, but the entrance is through the gift shop, hint hint. I did find one perfect thing for a X-mas present for somebody I won't name, plus a great refrigerator magnet: a buzzard requesting we send more tourists down that way as the last ones were delicious.

They have recently done some work to refurbish the place, going from old records as best they could. They can't promise every marker is in exactly the right place, after decades of neglect and only having wooden markers, but they think all are within three feet or so. There are some marked unknown, some with a single name, most with only the year of death, not birth. It turns out 1882 was a good year to die. Some were murdered, occasionally listing by whom, a few suicides, one case of diphtheria. While several markers bear colorful messages, my favorite is: "Here lies Lester Moore, 4 shots from a 44. No Les, No more."

We only had time for a short stay. Our reservations for Kartchner were for 2:30 and they request that you check in an hour before your tour. The roads between the two were an unknown, and I knew there would be at least one (there were two) border patrol check station on the way, as close to Mexico as we were. I wanted to leave sufficient time. The tour takes nearly two hours and I'd signed them up for the last tour of the day. No making it up if late.

Once at Kartchner, we split up. The guys headed for the tour check-in desk, and I hit the gift shop. Some of you will see what I picked out for you. (Hey, it won't be jewelry again until next year, after I've taken a couple classes in new techniques. The first starts next Monday, not enough time to learn, create, and ship.) One thing surprised me about the shop. They stocked a wide variety of Mata Ortiz pottery. Their biggest piece was about the size of my smallest, and their smallest were priced about what my largest and best cost me from eBay. I didn't do more than appreciate theirs. The cashier was surprised to find out that Mata Ortiz is available in wide variety on eBay, and they may well have a new customer.

I returned to the car with my two bagfuls of goodies, dug out my Kindle, and got about 10 pages before a nap seemed much the better idea. It's not that the book is boring, just very detailed in history and who's in which clan and which plot they're involved in on whose side. It needs attention. Ellie tried to keep me alerted to every person, dog, or bird that passed by. Somehow she thinks I need to know that, awake or asleep.

The guys returned unexpectedly early. They had arrived early enough to take advantage of an opening in the 1:45 group instead of waiting for the 2:30 group, and enjoyed being in a group of only 6 adults. There were also school groups touring, so lucky them. Doubly lucky in that nobody was a block away from the guide and unable to hear what was being said. When Steve scootered up to the car, I asked him how he liked it.

"WOW! Just WOW!"

Then he scootered back to the gift shop for a hat.

There was still plenty of light left on the way back, until after we passed Casa Grande. Then we got treated to the sight of all the lights scattered over the seemingly empty desert, or what looks empty by day.

When we hit the metro, I took a detour on Chandler to head back behind South Mountain, since this is the X-mas lights season. I was gratified to see that they have done this year what I appreciated the first year I was down here, trying to earn a living, when I stumbled on the neighborhood after dark. If you want to see it yourself, just head west off 10 on Chandler. Ray (also a freeway exit) joins it about three miles in, and Chandler turns straight west again. Another quarter mile and suddenly you are in a winter wonderland. All the lights are white, and they cover every saguaro and tree trunk both on the center of the boulevard and sides of the street. They have arranged clumps of lights in the tree canopies so it looks like they are either flowering or fruiting. It goes on for about a mile or more, and the effect is well worth a drive.

The whole thing was about 12 hours and 450 miles. I am beginning to learn how to drive like an Arizonan, meaning 10-15 mph over the posted limit. There were still a lot of cars passing me, in case you thought I was a maniac. I was happy to find out that my muscles have not completely adapted away from driving long distances comfortably, even happier at lowered gas prices. And the guys kept me entertained on the drive back with such details as the difference between varied shapes of bacon and curtains - or maybe they were called draperies? - in the cave formations.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

When the Family Carpenter Visits

My youngest has arrived, a visit combining work and tourism with the holidays. Work, of course, mostly means taking advantage of his carpentry skills to put more shelves up in the library. Rich and Brenda got it ready on their visit, removing the hideous leftover decorations, spackling, and painting, painting, painting to hide some other regrettable decor choices. Three coats of primer finally covered a very dark green painted saguaro on the wall. Now the room's getting two more walls of shelves.

Even though the project was delayed by a little tree planting in the morning, to which Paul added a few other minor tasks in the back yard, by suppertime measurements had been taken, plans made, lists of supplies written, and the two of us went to Home Depot for two hours of selecting the best pieces of lumber and nearly all the hardware needed to make it go together. I say "nearly" because we ran them out of a couple items. But there are other store branches nearby to finish supplying us.

The hardware was the simple part. Paul is a perfectionist when it comes to his projects, and this is most notable when he's picking out the lumber. He takes a board out from the rack, and sights down the length to spot all those places where it's not flat or straight. There are a lot of those. On one board I swear you could have surfed the waves down the edge. Some were crowned in the middle down the length, others took a left or right turn a foot from the end, sagged, or had a split three feet long. In one instance when he was looking for 8' 1x10s, there were two vertical stacks of them in the store and after going through the complete supply he found two perfect and settled for one "good enough". By the time we were loading up the car even Steve had started to worry if we had fallen into a hole somewhere.

We're taking it easy today. There's still plenty to do, but over three weeks to get it all done. Plus  a variety of day trips to enjoy being down here away from the ice and snow. I believe we should be able to even unpack enough of the boxes of books to create space to put up the Christmas tree in time for Santa.

Hey, maybe I'll even find that camera. Oh, and that glass goldfish mobile and the little wind chimes that were packed up nearly three years ago.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Botanical Gardens Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

At Long Last, THE Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My knees said I didn't want.

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

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Sans Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Better Day

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

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

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

Just in case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Where Are The Parents?

That has become a punch line between myself and Steve. It started with insomnia.

Which started with a day full of frustrations. Well, and the first cup of caffeine in about a week. After my last fibrillation episode, I pinpointed excess caffeine as the proximal cause, and have been laying off. This leads to excess inactivity, leading to a stretching didn't-do-it list, leading to feeling useless, and on and on. Yesterday was to be the get-'er-done day.

It was to start with an early shower and breakfast, but while we were still catching the morning news and feeling depressed at the hoards of "citizens" who don't bother to vote, we had a visitor. He's a nice young guy who cycles past each morning with his young son on the back of his bike, then cycles back with an empty seat. When we're out in front, working on the garden or watching our little Lucifer hummer, we wave and say, "Hi. He wondered if he could rake the pine straw off the front yard, quoting a price less than half that of the guy who's been doing it and whom we haven't quite called yet. Moreover, he wanted to earn the money so that he and his fiancee could move out of her parent's house.

So we hired him, after negotiating adding in the back yard. The combined price was now under a third of what we've been paying. He left, we found out later, to go buy garbage bags and look at a house they were considering. Not knowing how long he would take, and feeling constrained by his presence to delay showering and leaving, I let my departure be delayed. By over two hours, and then finally three, since I had a meeting I wanted to attend about supplemental Medicare, and the original delay prevented my running the other errands in the remaining time until the meeting started. I did, however, squeeze in breakfast. At noon.

Yeah, I know.

By then the raking was done, bags strewn around the garbage can for pickup, and the guy offered to dig out and rake up the remaining spurge I hadn't gotten to yet, which was getting ready to go to seed while I continued to not do it. He only wanted another $10. I offered him $20, and counted the job cheap at that. I'd already spent two large chunks of time on it, and the worst was ahead.

The meeting went well, and I signed up for a plan that only will cost me the small penalty for not getting Part D yet, not even the Part D regular premium, and offers some great savings on what has become a rather onerous monthly sum for Rx refills. Yes, I know what my medications really cost. Do you? I also picked out a primary provider, and will get her recommendations on a cardiologist, etc. The guy I'm using for lab work now and am not impressed with? He's not in their system. That all starts Jan. 1.

By now it was 3:00, and time to head to the DMV. We'd tried stopping by the one in Surprise on Tuesday, and the line was SRO and half a block down out the front door. No way were my knees up to that. So I'd spent some of the morning time "wasted" looking up the Glendale location. We'd gone there for Steve's drivers license the previous year, but I forgot just where it was. After five websites that dead-ended around downtown Phoenix locations, I finally located one which gave me the information I needed. They may have long lines, but even more seating, so the waits are not intolerable. Even for my knees.

By 3:30 I was at the info desk. I had two goals, new car plates and new drivers license, making the residency change official. I thought I had all the documentation needed as well.

Yeah, well, not so much. The first issue was the drivers license. Arizona is pretty paranoid about non-citizens getting documentation. I had the birth certificate, but there's this little thing about having done a name change back in '68. How were they to know that I was the person my birth certificate said? Note that it was never an issue in Minnesota, where I got the drivers license after being married - and a mom as well - or in Georgia, or back in Minnesota again. Just Arizona. And hey, I look like I hail from Mexico or something, right? The birth certificate was just fine with the feds for applying both for Medicare and Social Security, even though my social security card still has the old name on it. But... this is Arizona. I need a certified copy of my divorce decree to show how my name got changed from Maxson to Rosa.

33  years later, you think I can put my hands on that? Well, as it turns out, almost. I have a copy. It shows the seal, but only as it comes across on a very old Xerox copy of the divorce decree. However, in the hunt, I came across the original wedding licenses, yes, two copies, original signatures of best man, matron of honor, and  minister, and imprinted seals. They aren't divorce papers, but perhaps if I take the whole kaboodle down with me today, they will suffice. Otherwise, I have to search out Fayette County, Georgia and find out what it takes to officially copy an ancient divorce decree.

If that doesn't work, I'll know before waiting two hours like I did yesterday to get a little piece of metal for the rear bumper.

She told me it'd be one hour. She lied. But hey, I was sitting down. And people watching. I didn't bring in the Kindle so as not to miss my number being called from being too engrossed in some book.

I also hadn't bothered to eat anything since leaving the house, hurrying to the DMV. It got to be a very long two hours.

Things went wrong. She quoted me a price for the license plate, but reading it upside down, she got the cents wrong. Luckily, I had a purse full of change, and just added in the right amount, another $.42. I didn't have, or couldn't find, the insurance information. It's always in the glove box, you understand. Just not where I could put my hands on it after official closing time, trying to get everything taken care of before they locked me out. There was an alternative. She gave me a website I could go to and add the information, said website and I getting along about as well as we had early in the morning when all I wanted was an address. But that's later, after supper. (Yes, I finally ate!)

One thing that went right was her observing me walking back in after hunting for the insurance papers, and asking if I wanted my Minnesota handicap placard replaced by an Arizona one, no cost, no paperwork, and good for 5 years. I just had to walk back out to the car again and bring in the old one. It took all of about three seconds for me to decide the walk was worth it. After all, I had just been resting my knees for two hours, right?

On the way home, Steve asked me to pick him up some tacos. He'd been thawing hamburgers on the counter, but was hungry now instead. The burgers could go in the fridge for later.  Of course, "now" turned out to be a more relative term than expected. Thunderbird had some kind of incident near the hospital, and two squad cars were diverting traffic. After driving in a twisty loop for a slow residential mile, we all ended up a block east of where we were diverted from, and needed to head back east to the 101 and down to the next exit instead. All of us. So it was extra slow. For all of us.

Even after eating supper, my blood sugar level wasn't immediately high enough to make sense online of either the DMV's or my insurance company's websites. That's assuming it's me and not the site that's the issue. I decided to do something useful and go out and replace the license plates. That needed a screwdriver, and the workroom holding all the tools has no light. Steve finally finished his pipe, just in time to go rummage around and locate the proper tool, so out I went. The front plate came off fine. So did the back plate. But the new one didn't go back on fine. I couldn't properly find the right set of holes that were small enough to hold the screws in place tightly enough to not have the plate fall off while working in the dark and at about the level of my toes. So I gave that up too until daylight and with a chair brought out for the job.

I wound up leaving voicemail for my insurance company, giving the new license number and requesting a hard copy version of the proof of insurance, as the printer is still not functional. The insurance company loves e-documents. I don't.

I also decided it was time to watch TV with Steve until bedtime. Bedtime became a more relative term as well. My body still hasn't decided on a time zone. I couldn't get to sleep. The room was too cold/hot. Maybe both/and. The dog had to sit next to my head and work on an itch. Pipe smoke came wafting in the open window. Etc.

So I came out to watch TV again. Steve had recorded a movie that he advertised to me as terrible sci-fi but I'd get a kick out of Elizabeth Shue, something before she joined the cast of CSI. He was right about the terrible sci-fi part. The movie was "Piranha." We agreed about it being even worse than "Dante's Peak" as far as science goes, quite an accomplishment. What predator has red eyes that glow? Isn't the point to sneak up on your prey rather than to let them know where you are? How can green plants grow in a cave totally cut off from light? I could go on and on here, but it all served as a good chuckle. As for Elizabeth Shue, I'm not sure what kind of a kick I was supposed to get. He made it sound like she was silly. For my nickel, she was the one sensible character in the whole flick, and well-acted. Don't know how they got somebody that good in something that bad.

We had a few good chuckles during the flick, poking fun at the movie rather than laughing along with it, cheering when certain characters added to an astronomical body count, wondering how others remained breathing rather than bleeding out instantly from loss of half their body mass. The biggest yuk came at the end, however, once everybody you cared about was rescued and the characters were congratulating themselves. The line was never finished, and it was hilarious. It was to have been, "So where are the parents?" and how it got cut off left us both laughing repeatedly. And finally, after 2:00 AM, ready for some sleep.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Spa Games

One of the better things about wintering in Sun City is the system of recreation centers. We are just beginning to explore the range of offerings, both together and individually. Steve will vote at one of the rec centers next week. We've both been to Spanish Club, and are finding classes and instructors who fit our needs in learning Spanish. Both of us have library cards. Steve actually uses his, while I have a huge backlog of titles to get through on my Kindle. Neither of us will ever hit the links, even though the closest golf course has just been redone and is getting good reviews. I plan to learn more about jewelry making, waiting for enough others to sign up for a wire wrapping class that the instructor will actually hold it.

By far, the facility we both use the most is the pool system, both on our own and with guests. The big pool, kept at 85 degrees, has three sections. The walking section is a serpentine course with levels varying from three feet to four and a half. I enjoy that for the exercise without the knee pain, even in the low water sections where I scootch down as I walk so the water still supports my weight. The swimming laps lanes I ignore, leaving that kind of swimming for those with good shoulders. Occasionally I hit the last section, going from 3 to 6 feet, just for relaxing and playing in the water. Treading water is still resistance exercise.

Eventually 85 degrees gets a bit chilly. Then it's time for the spa, 104 degrees and jets at multiple levels. It's about sitting. And conversation. This is where the games begin.

So far it seems to be a guy thing. I don't know why they don't just whip them out and measure, but there seems to be some drive when any two or more are in the spa to assert their superior status to all other males in the spa. Conversational topics vary all over the place, but I'll just summarize last night's offerings between two newly meeting men. The patterns seem similar to most other nights, just minor details differing.

It starts with comparing how long each has been retired. Depending on the individual, that's either a declaration of how rich they were that they could retire early, how necessary they were that they couldn't, how vitally healthy they were/are that they could work so long. Careers may or may not actually be mentioned, which I find ironic, considering how they're used among those still working to assert status. I also find myself wondering how many early retirements actually translate to layoffs, and late retirements translate to no savings in the bank.

Then conversation shifts to how busy each is keeping themselves post retirement. Organizations they are involved with, number to times per week they hit the links with a little name dropping of favorite courses, visitors stopping by, travel done both involving grandchildren and avoiding family.

Houses are listed, sometimes by states they are ( or more often, were) located in, sometimes by remodeling projects underway or the number of years taken to accomplish creating the dream homes. Included under this topic are declarations of where they go to avoid the summer heat, even if under the layers once peeled away it comes down to which relatives they are mooching off of. Even the monster remodeling projects can be boiled down to the fourteen years it took to get the house perfect meaning it had to be done on a budget, a little here, a little there. They just don't see that. But guys, here you are, living in an inexpensive community with modest fees allowing access to an abundance of activities. If you were as rich as you want us to believe, you'd be over in Fountain Hills or Scottsdale, some place with quintuple the square footage and staff to take care of it for you.

Last night had a little extra twist in the status games. One fellow was talking about his racing car. 16 years ago he enclosed his garage and parked the racing car in it. Apparently it's still sitting there because "they" wouldn't "let" him race it any more, something to do with having had a stroke. Somebody offered him a nice price for the engine not too long ago, which I guess means the rest of the car is crap, at least to the potential buyer. But the guy who was speaking is still hanging on to it, tucked away, unused, useless.

Probably how he's feeling too. Isn't that what all those games are really about?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Piecemeal. But Progress.

The planting is finally done. Not permanently final. I still want another specific kind of tree, and some interesting aloes, something with colors beyond green and white. Other plants will demand my attention in upcoming months or years. But everything brought down or purchased here is in the ground. It took a few different days, with a couple or more days worth of breaks in between. But they're in. Two new trees, four Ocatillas, 3 ponytails, one aloe, three agaves, one nasty little but attractive dickia, and a scattering of hawarthia. Chicken wire cages surround them all. We bear assorted scratches and punctures.  I think the shovel is still in the front yard.

The knees are now demanding a few more days before something else is tackled.

They won't get them.

I'm hoping for the time when all the moving-in projects are done and the daily tasks are just that, merely daily tasks. That's not happening either, not soon.

Steve now has his own bedroom. It's cluttered with boxes to be unpacked, full of stuff needing spaces to be unloaded to. Spaces like the library, once two more walls are covered with shelves, and a closet is turned into an office. His room is much less messy than before we came down, since he got an attack of unpacking and we discovered where the Red Wing had been, and a few pieces glassware and of southwest pottery purchased long enough ago they had actually been forgotten. Those now have temporary homes until, again, the library shelving is completed and things taking up space in the living room cabinets are relocated so... well, same song, different verse.

Despite that work, the house remains full of packed boxes. We did organize Steve's room to the point where a full garbage bag of bubblewrap went back to the thrift store which had Steve's bed delivered, so we can now walk on the floor. The lady carrying it off to the truck had a bit of fun, going pop pop pop-pop pop all the way down the driveway.

I will finally believe the boxes are unpacked when I find the one holding my orange glass fish mobile/wind chime, and several other wind chimes. They are probably in one of the dozen remaining boxes marked "cabinet crap." Seriously. I packed a whole lot of boxes labeled "crap." Two and a half years ago.

Looking around, unpainted walls bear new colors, new-to-us furniture serves our needs, broken things have been repaired - not all, but some - and hastily placed things have been more thoughtfully located. A simple example of the last is our hummingbird feeders. We have three, formerly all located around the edges of the backyard patio. Hummers are territorial, however, and I though it might be more interesting, and better for them, if one were to be moved to the front yard. I found a spot where a hanger had been left by the previous owner, and moved a feeder there.

It's been appropriated. The back yard is full of battling females. A male has claimed the front feeder, and not just any male, but my favorite of all the hummers down here. We have a Lucifer! I fell in love with those lovely purple feathers when my parents stayed down here and a male Lucifer claimed their feeder as his own. Steve has now seen his first Lucifer, and he loves the color as much as I do. We have moved the wicker loveseat out to the front, and sitting there during planting breaks gives us plenty of times to appreciate him as he perches on the chicken wire cages protecting the garden plants about three feet from us.

We are waiting to get the "lawn" work done. That translates to having Felipe and his grandson come out with the backpack blower and rakes and rid us of pine needles and cones. He's done work for us for two years now and is appreciated enough that Steve has his business card to contact him when needed. While doing planting, we have already had 4 men stop by offering their services. Two were this morning, and the second one seemed skeptical when we turned him down with the excuse we already had somebody. I just told him that we were waiting for the first of the month so we could afford to get the work done. More needles and cones will fall by then anyway. He still may not believe we have our own preferred helper, but the suggestion of no money at the moment seems to have done the trick.

Cleaning is backed up a fair bit. It's not enough that every time I turn round, Fred has left another growing clump of hair to drift into a corner. They get picked up one here, one there, and occasionally a whole floor gets swept. That's just the normal cleaning. Mice have left presents, and not only do those have to be tackled as energy permits, but sticky traps are set out and baited, to no avail. I do not see new droppings, so maybe our return has chased them out.

Sure, right. Uh huh.

Lots of cleaning got left undone when we left last spring. It was a very short visit before hitting the road. Laundry has included all kinds of bedding in addition to the daily stuff. Food was left sitting in from-the-store boxes, and there appear to be a lot of tiny critters who are experts at invading pasts, beans, rice, pancake mixes....  There have been days spent sorting buggy from -we think - non buggy, and finding or buying sealable containers for future storage. Just to be more secure, the "good" stuff spends a few days in the freezer before heading back to the shelves.  I'm hoping that works. In case there were eggs.

Our garbage company will take all our moving boxes at once for merely $10, so we are sending them out a few at a time, mostly either as extra containers to take away recycling, or holding prickly pruned branches from yet another set of just-returned-down-here chores. Those go in the garbage but understandably our garbage collectors hate grabbing thorny stuff by hand. Non-prickly branches can be bundled with twine and laid on the ground by the can. Prickly goes in a box, thank you.

No problem. We have boxes. Lots of boxes. We'll still have boxes to dribble out next spring. That $10 fee is simply annoying.

There's a lot of wandering through the house opening and closing windows. We kept the AC on while Rich and Brenda were working in the house. Then we got the bill, so now it's open up at night (it helps they've finally gotten cooler and dryer) and close before morning heats the house, so we can get by with perhaps an hour of cooling via the AC. Open windows of course give Ellie a myriad more excuses to bark at whatever, even if that whatever is across the street, or perhaps, if our suspicions are correct, totally imaginary. Fans are a great help at night. Rich fixed the one in the master bedroom ceiling. The one in Steve's bedroom has always worked fine, and is hanging down from a short enough stem that nobody's tall head had bumped it out of whack. If Rich had more time here, the fan in the living room - brand new and with a shorter stem than the one it replaces - would also have been installed before I took them to the airport. I guess we can stare at the hole and wires for another... what, two years? He at least climbed through the attic and put in proper bracing so that this time a fan could be adequately supported.

Did I mention that he also found out that the attic fan does not work? Another repair for the future.

Like replacing the plumbing. Rich tried to fix a clog in one bathroom sink. After two trips to get the proper tool to open the trap, it turned out that 1) the trap was so rusted in place that it could not be replaced once moved, 2) the clog was up by the sink anyway, and 3) both bathroom sinks drain into that same trap so now both are unusable.

Speaking of nights, as I was a long while back now, I've discovered a weird adaptation to the time zone change. I go to bed on Arizona time. No problem there. But I wake up on Minnesota time! For somebody whose doctor is concerned that I get enough sleep, this is NOT HELPING! Even the dogs are getting into the act, creating a plethora of noises starting about 4:00 AM. About the only positive in the whole situation is that I'm getting to see a whole lot of beautiful desert sunrises.

And I can take naps. They cut into my reading time, but...


Monday, October 13, 2014

When They Say It'll Be Simple...

Don't be too quick to believe them. Especially when they're just sending along second-hand information.

Take a piece of medical advice I received as an example. I need my coagulation levels checked, now that I'm finally conceding I need to be on a blood thinner. We're still juggling the dosages, trying to find the level that prevents a clotting stroke during some future A-fib episode, without allowing me to bleed out in case of an accident.

Moving in the middle of the start-up process is a complicating factor. I needed to find a new lab in a new state without any actual medical referrals from my former clinic personnel. They don't know who practices in Arizona, who's good or not. They have no connections.

What they do have is other patients who've turned snowbird, needing the same kind of follow-up medically. Those other patients have successfully located labs to do the testing, sending the info back to the Minnesota staff for feedback on medication levels to maintain the proper coagulation levels.

Therefore, it must be simple.  Right?

First, there's finding the right kind of lab. I wanted something associated with the local hospital, keeping travel simple, along with maybe establishing a medical relationship with someone with local admitting privileges. I started with the hospital's administration office.

 Is it too much to ask that somebody might actually know what I was talking about? Much less know how I might go about learning what the area choices may be? They did finally refer me to a clinic several miles away who couldn't figure out what I needed but would be happy to accept me as a new paying patient. Ummm... no.

 Start again.

There are medical referral systems down here. You can look them up in the phone book, after, of course, trying in vain to find the exact specialty needed in the lists of doctors and clinics names. I go way back to when Yellow Pages listed doctors both by specialty in one list and by locality in another. All my local phone book offered was an alphabetical list, leaving me to try to figure out who was local as opposed to 40 miles away, and who would know what I needed.

Having given up on getting anybody who understood the term "coumadin clinic", I figured I could at least ask for a local cardiologist, thinking their staff should know how to locate a lab. They did. It was there, right in their office. And did I want to establish a medical relationship with one of their cardiologists, so I'd have one locally who knew me and my history should something happen?

Well, yes, in the near future. But right now I just needed a finger prick test done (more of a stab, actually), resulting in a number ideally between 2.0 and 3.0 that could be faxed back to Minnesota as per the "snowbird letter" my clinic sends south with its patients, allowing them to contact me with their recommendation for any dosage changes and how soon the next test needed to be done. Besides, my bills from previous work, accumulating after Medicare paid their bit, were become discouraging. If my heart would behave, my budget could get a break. Then let's talk.

Apparently they heard only the "yes" part. A letter was sent out requesting four pages of medical history, to be filled out and brought to my appointment this morning. Fine, I could do that, but the more blanks I filled in, the more I wondered just what all they figured on charging me with once I arrived.

Deciding to clarify that with the receptionist when I checked in, I caused a minor back-up at the window while she checked with other staff to see if they could do that little wee thing for me. Oh, and the copier was just fixed leaving a backup of copying to be done so she needed my Medicare card for a while so they could copy it. (Note to self: don't forget to get it back!) I finally requested to sit down while that was straightened out, incidentally allowing the next 7 people to check in.

When I was called back, we went through weighing, BP check, and the nurse was going to have me undress and put on the paper gown before I got it through to her just what I was actually there for. Now she too had to leave to see if my miniscule request could be granted. After all, silly me, coumadin clinics were only held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. My inconvenient appointment was set for a Monday. While she checked, I should sit and the Doctor would be in to talk with me shortly.

His first question to me was whether anybody had ever talked to me about a surgical solution to my A-fib.

Really. I'm in for a simple blood test. You start talking surgery. Already I'm starting to have issues with this guy. Not getting enough money from the procedure. fella? He continues, pushing my need to establish a medical relationship with a local cardiologist in case... etc. etc. I'm liking my 50 mile commute to Fairview Southdale back in Minnesota more and more as this guy talks. Eventually, however, he decides to respect my declining another EKG, opting for a simple stethescope listen to prove to himself whether or not I can actually feel for myself when I get a flutter.

I almost think he was disappointed to detect normal sinus rhythm.

For the record, once I was finally down here, stresses removed, sleep schedule not ruled by alarm clocks, tasks accomplished by convenience and momentary need versus arbitrary schedules, there has not been a single flutter nor A-fib episode. Not a one. And leading up to the move, they had become a fairly regular part of my daily life. I hadn't realized they were gone until I started thinking about this appointment.

He also took my BP while I was in his exam room. The nurse who took it several minutes earlier got 110 / 70, my normal on medication. He got 160 / 110. I'm thinking he pissed me off. Or maybe she's just better at taking it accurately.

Finally he got me set up for the test, with a last offer to experience more care from him before turning me back over to my nurse.

The major inconvenience I caused by showing up on a Monday involved turning on a room light, getting out the test meter, inserting a test strip, getting out an alcohol wipe, setting up the "stab", squeezing a drop of blood on the strip, and reading the resulting number about 30 seconds later (2.5), then offering me a cotton ball to hold against my finger until the bleeding stopped,  and throwing away the stabber and test strip. A number was entered on a piece of paper, and they prepared to fax it to the Minnesota clinic.

That last paragraph is the usual routine for this test. In Minnesota they also offer a bandaid. It is simple. It should have been simple down here. I understand the expectations that getting tested down here would be simple.

Except that it wasn't.


It's always been a work day for me. Not this year, simply because there are no more work days. Long years ago it was something to celebrate, a point of pride in a historical bit of progress, a we-are-better-than-they-were kind of pride.

Not so many years ago, attitudes changed. Things that were never taught in schools began coloring attitudes. It became harder to be proud when genocide became a result of Columbus landing on the shore in this hemisphere. Proving the world was round, opening new lands to conquer, all morphed into tales of shame. Perhaps the day should be remembered, in the spirit of acknowledging the real history of Europeans swarming over these continents and the tremendous cost that accompanied that piece of history, a lesson for all of us, a more real perspective. Be as proud as you wish of our form of government, our Bill of Rights, our system of laws. Just know how we got here.

The best comment on the day came this morning out of the Stephanie Miller Show, from Chris Lavoie. I don't know if it originated with him, leading the relatively sheltered life I do, or whether he was quoting a well-used phrase. I do know it sharply caught my attention:

"Columbus discovered America like the asteroid discovered the dinosaurs."

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Plant Sale At The Desert Botanical Garden

I had been looking forward to this sale for nearly a year. Last October Steve and I went plant hunting for the yard, after finally getting the water-wasters dug up and gone, with mixed results in finding things we liked. One of our stops had been the gift shop at the Garden, where a few lonely specimens remained from the sale which had just ended.

We were too late.

However, the staff gave us assistance in choosing likely plants, along with the information that they held plant sales twice a year. Coming down a couple weeks earlier would enable us to shop this year's fall sale. The spring sale we ruled out since nobody planned on staying the summer to water newly establishing plants. We started planing our shopping list.

My priority, after seeing one in a friend's sister's garden, was a palo blanco tree. I added a palo verde to the list, loving that smooth green bark. With a third space in the back where a dead citrus tree had been removed, I kept my mind open for something to attract wildlife, particularly hummers. Steve and I planned on establishing a series of clumps of ocatillo along the east backyard fence. It would be multi-purpose, part privacy screen, part source of blooms in season, part cover/shade to maybe entice the quail into our yard. More aloes and agaves were on the list, of unspecified varieties. The plan was to look them over and get what we could agree on, adding as much variety to the yard as possible.

We had planted aloes and agaves last fall, only to discover to our anger that the local rabbits found them exceptionally tasty, leading to our finding them exceptionally gone the next morning. The few remaining were hastily protected with chicken wire, which remains as a garden accent to this day, and for a couple years to come at least. I read somewhere that it's the rich soil the plants are grown in at the nurseries which attracts the rabbits, and after a couple years the nutrients wash away, no longer tempting the predators.

The plan on sale day, aka this morning, was to leave the house at 6:00 AM, arriving by 7:00, the start of the sale. It turned out that coffee, showers, and dressing were starting at 6:00, and arrival at the sale was much closer to 7:30, including assembling our scooters for leisurely perusal of the goods.

It was early enough. 

A volunteer assisted in emptying the car and in scooter assembly, followed by directions to the section of the parking lot covered by plants. Another volunteer helped with a flatbed cart, selecting trees, and loading. There were, alas, no palo blanco trees. It seems growers didn't bother much with producing those this last year. A well-branched palo brea substituted for an ordinary palo verde, and its miniature leaves will be much easier to ignore as they litter the landscape. For a wildlife-attracting tree, he recommended a variety of desert willow, and seeing one in bloom convinced us to go with it. It will produce seed pods, and if the critters don't scarf them down, at least they will be easy to rake up. Both trees, once established, can be mostly ignored, water-wise: a major point to us.

We found a spot out of the way to park the flatbed while doing more shopping. I grabbed a couple more aloes while Steve detoured over to some goat-milk fudge. (He shared: YUM!) We found some baby ocatillas, selecting the four best from the large patch of pots. An agave finished the selections, as well as the budget for this year. Besides, some of these still needed holes dug, meaning now that the kids had gone back north, that Steve and I have the upcoming thrill of putting the strain on our own knees for the process.

Paying and arranging delivery for the lot put the finishing touches on our trip. We already knew that the trees would require delivery rather than hanging out the back of the car and being blown to shreds on the freeway, and with no extra cost for the rest of our pots, we opted for simple in loading the car back up for the trip home. Once back at the car, the same volunteer who helped unload the car assisted in dismantling scooters and reloading the car.

All of the volunteers we encountered were more than helpful. They had information we needed for our choices plus planting tips (prune or no? how deep? shade, sun, or mix?) and when one plant I really liked had somehow missed being cataloged by light requirements, brought in all sorts of resources, written and breathing both, until the question was answered. With all that help so promptly offered, we were done and out of there in time to go have breakfast on the way home, and plan where exactly the unanticipated plants would go.

I am probably a tad sunburned, but that's my own fault for no hat and open neckline, ignoring the need to prevent burning that early in the morning just because the air was comfortably cool. (Note to self: this is Arizona, not Minnesota. Duh!)

 I am also beginning to think about next year's fall sale. There were, after all, hundreds of varieties we didn't pick from... this time.

Monday, October 6, 2014

When Do I Write My Blog?

I just responded to an email from a good friend who located a new blog posting about 3AM and sent me the above query. I answered her, and brought her up to date on what's happening,  then decided to mostly copy it and do the same for everybody. Yes, it's the lazy way, but you'll begin to see why as you read:

"The simplest answer - and the least helpful - is whenever I need to.

Been really busy, both with company and getting house stuff done. Jordan flew back Saturday, Rich and Brenda tomorrow afternoon. We're scrambling to get the last stuff off my wish list done before they leave. There's a bit of painting still, Rich crawling through the attic to put in proper support above the ceiling for the two fans that pulled off when tall heads bumped them - or if not off, then loose enough to fall if used in the case of the master bedroom fan - digging holes for planting, including two trees yet to be purchased (Desert Botanical Garden plant sale this weekend) and replacing the dead dead dead ponytail with what I'm calling a curly-haired agave, real name unknown because it was too cheap to label, apparently. There's been cleaning (yes, we packed dirty laundry to move down, now hanging in closets and no longer dirty), some picture hanging and Rich will put the insulation skirt around the water heater because we can feel the heat through the door vent as we pass it in the hall.

The really awful motion-sensor light fixture over the patio has been replaced with a modern, non-motion light, and some decorative dragonfly lights in a X-mas-like string were hung as well for very minimal lighting there as an alternative. Imagine sitting enjoying the darkening evening when an arm motion starts a glaring light to ruin night vision, followed by sudden departure of light, usually when eating out there, because nobody moved in exactly the right way. What idiot installed that?

Then just for fun and reward for the workers there was a two day trip to the Canyon and nearby scenic/historical spots, shopping for Brenda and Jordan at Navajo stands along the road into the Canyon, and a day off to visit some giant 55-acre flea market for Rich and Brenda yesterday topped by a visit to her uncle and aunt in Mesa. (I stayed home for that one.) And where ever did I pack my camera before the move?

I haven't hunted for any more of your drapes or curtains because everything in both extra bedrooms is covered in drop cloths for the painting, and right now nothing is findable. Steve can't even locate his Kindle! What I have found is a great color match for the living room, and I'm looking forward to their addition to the decoration scheme.

I'm also looking forward to feeling retired, eventually. Oh yeah, plus sitting down and sorting through the bills, of which there currently is quite a stack. Now is the first month with the imposed budget, so I need to see just which medical bills, for example, get paid how fast. And those don't stop just because of the move, unlike the second house bills. In fact, I meet my new cardiologist Monday, along with seeing how my coagulation levels have or haven't changed in two weeks of a higher dose of Warfarin.


So back to your first question, I blog when I must, because then I take time for it. Eventually too I plan on sitting down to turn on the TV at news time and beginning to catch up with the rest of the world. I heard there was an Ebola thing happening in Texas. I imagine, without any more information than that, that it must be 1: overblown, 2: Obama's fault, and 3: well, it's Texas, so maybe they deserved whatever it is with all their opposition to regulations which might control outbreaks and to taxes which might help pay for medical infrastructure necessary to help its citizens and other residents. But of course I spout off from a point of knowing nothing. OMG, I'm turning Republican!!! 


Hope you are feeling better, and yes, we need to get together for our endless conversations sans phone bills.

Hugs, Heather"

Note: I see the drapes comment is confusing out of the context of knowing the rest of the story. She replaced hers when redecorating and thought I might be able to use the old ones, still in excellent shape, and as it turns out a good color match. They were dropped off over the summer, as they have the key to the place and check on it for us periodically. In all the chaos, some were misplaced.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Miracles at 34,000 Feet

And on the ground as well. Not sure which was more impressive. One was ordinary, if you happened to be in the right place at the right time, though spectacular. The other was... well, rare enough and so contrary to what I've seen of human nature that it may as well have been a miracle.

The two were different enough that you might not think they were connected, but the first led to a chain of events that ended in the second.

Monday Jordan and I flew down to Phoenix together. She had the window seat, I had the middle. A bit past midway through the flight the captain's voice came over the intercom, letting us know that while we lifted off on time, we were going to be about 45 minutes late landing. We'd had to detour south to the Texas panhandle before heading west. The reason was visible out the window on our side of the plane, a thunderstorm over Tucumcari. Also over whatever else we flew past for the next 25 minutes or so at about 500 mph. We were just about level with the cloud tops, and while it was late enough that the sky was pretty dark, just enough definition to tell the line of the top of the clouds, the nearly continuous lightning lit the clouds enough to keep us entranced while the show lasted.

Jordan had her smart phone with her and shot several sections of video of the displays, posting them on her Facebook page before we even left the plane. Those of you who know her should enjoy watching them. Please note that her phone camera shot a pretty wide angle so the view on  the screen severely minimized what we were really seeing.

The "real" miracle came later. Because we were running late, several passengers would be challenged in making their connecting flights that evening. We were requested to please remain in our seats so they could depart as quickly as possible. Those needing quick exit were asked for a show of hands, and the flight attendants noted that several were from the back of the plane.

If you fly enough, you have heard this request before on a late-arriving flight. I have.  It's never made a difference in my experience. Before the plane hits the gate half the passengers are standing in the aisle, hauling down their carry-ons, blocking anybody else's motion until they've gotten off themselves.

Not this time. That was the miracle. We all sat, politely waiting for those in need to get off. We waited for the flight attendants to ask if anybody else needed to catch a connector and finally inform us that all who needed to had now left. I don't know if any of them made their flights, but they were given the opportunity.

The flight crew told us we Phoenix people were awesome.

I agree. Mind you, not on my own behalf. I would have been waiting for a cleared aisle before standing anyway, so I could actually get out of there once my knees unkinked after sitting nearly 4 hours. By then my scooter would have been brought up to the walkway near the plane exit door and I could ride to the shuttle bus. It's the rest of the passengers who were awesome.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Retired! Kind Of...

It has finally happened. YEEEE_HAAAAAAA!!!!! I am a free woman, as I informed Steve last night, just not inexpensive. I officially dropped my last run and logged off the last time around 6:00 PM, then swung by HQ to drop off all the stuff that needed to be turned in to them. Farewells were said, hands were shaken.

 This is as opposed to the morning stop-off, where the morning dispatchers both offered hugs. They have been around as long as I have, meaning close to 29 years, and this was the first time I got close enough to Brian to know what his after shave smells like. No really: after the hug, I was wearing it myself! For hours!

NOT my choice of a nice fragrance! Sorry Brian.

I'm trying to figure out how I'm feeling. It's been a mix these last weeks, part relief, part celebratory, part loss. I'm still a bit too busy to sort it all out. I have to shower in a few minutes and head out to the clinic for another finger stab to check blood coagulation levels, now that I'm finally out of denial about needing warfarin. Those needles are way nastier than what I use for testing blood sugar. Then I come home, pick up Paul and head to the attorney to finalize the house sale legally. After that, go and early vote at the county courthouse, do a last bit of grocery shopping, partly for the trip, partly for the retirement+ party Sunday, and partly because I'm working the auction tomorrow.

Yeah, me. Retired. And yet working.

Then Monday is getting the rental, supervising the packing of both vehicles by Rich and Brenda who will also be coming along, catching up on unwatched programs on the DVR (got into the Roosevelts, which makes 7 2-hour stints), getting the last minute packing/moving out of the bedroom done, plus whatever else comes up that we've forgotten or not gotten to. Then Tuesday is hitting the road early, like 7-ish. Tuesday night is Emporia, Kansas.  And Wednesday is Albuquerque, Thursday is home, or what will then be home, and settling in, unpacking the rental, repacking my stuff for the return, Friday making it to Tucumcari, Saturday to Lexana,KS, Sunday to Paul's house (funny twinge there), Monday picking up Jordan, returning the rental at the airport, and waiting for the flight back home. Then another two weeks of fixing up the house, touring AZ with family, sending them back to the airport, and finally, on October 8th, settling back with my feet up and taking time to wonder just what retirement really is.

I will, of course, let you know.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What Else Has Changed

This, not New Years, is my time of year to pause and reflect. School starts, another birthday looms, milestones like Medicare - last year - and Social Security/ retirement - this year - mark the emotional calendar. Some years nothing changes noticeably. That's not the case this year.

The biggest thing is not that I am retiring later this month, years earlier than planned. The big thing, the thing changing my world view, is why.

Last year the big thing was getting health insurance again - finally. I got lucky, slipped through the holes in coverage periods with nothing major happening to bankrupt me. Now there wasn't just coverage but affordable coverage. Some call it an entitlement program. Yes, I'm entitled, having paid into the program for nearly all of my working life, just like I'm entitled to withdraw my own funds from the bank or be compensated by my auto insurance or homeowners insurance when something happens. Qualifying by age for that coverage lifted a burden of fear from my future, nebulous as it was.

And just in time. I spent last year's birthday in the hospital. There've been medication adjustments after each of the following ER visits this year for the same thing. There have been tests finding little, lists of dos and dont's which pretty much haven't changed my life any since I already don't smoke, limit caffeine, get plenty of sleep, don't do drugs like coke, get moderate exercise but not heavy, etc.

It's all come with a cost, and I'm not just talking about the after-Medicare bills that keep showing up. I'm talking about how I see myself and my future.

I used to look at my folks and judge my lifespan by theirs. Since Mom made 90 and Dad made 97, the thought was that I was likely to have a similar lifespan. True, medical issues are creeping up, but medicine has advanced. It might be a wash. Or at least close. I planned on having to save for a long retirement, and as soon as the kids were grown, I did. Being a single parent without financial help post-divorce put a crimp on those savings plans, but I did what and when I could. I invested conservatively, avoiding the ups and downs of stock markets for the security of smaller but guaranteed investments. The only devaluing that occurred was in home value, but that doesn't count when you're not selling until the market recovers anyway. Plus you can't be underwater when the mortgage is already paid off.

The one thing that bit was when the company I contract with dropped everybody's commission percentages. Because they could. I was busy eliminating that pesky credit card debt until then. My inability to keep doing that as quickly led me to adjust retirement age to 70. It was going to be a sacrifice, spending winters away from Steve, but I'd be much better set for retirement.

Then the heart problems started. Each time another episode of A-Fib hit, I lost a bit more optimism, a bit more ability to stay in denial. And they kept hitting. Everything I read, internet to ER handouts, said to seek medical attention, and since I was always away from home, on the road, inconvenient to anything but an ER, that's where I went. It gets costly. It shouldn't be how medicine is practiced, especially with insurance. Tests showed little. Everybody just said to me, "Learn to live with it."

Nobody said how, exactly. Coping seemed like just another revision of my life expectancy downward. And again. Plus piling the bills upward. And of course, facing my need to get out from behind the wheel. A little investigation after bout two left nothing but pessimism about any chances to pass another DOT physical. Retirement, then, ready or not, at the end of my grace period before the next physical was due. The last round left me calling Paul to come meet me at the ER, pick up my last package, and deliver it for me. I did of course clear it with dispatch, but she was just grateful she didn't have to try to track down an available driver in the Forest Lake area late on a Friday night. Luckily the drop was a regular one, and I could describe to Paul just where to take it.

Each time it happens, my meds get changed, the metoprolol dose gets doubled, in hopes of stopping the next time. Obviously, that is not working. The last time added in the complication of what they call paroxsysmal A-fib. That means throwing in a flutter of rapid heartbeats every so often. My pulse would go dub dub du-du-du-du-du dub dub ... dub dub.... dub du-du-du-du dub and so on. I could feel it in my chest, besides getting light-headed from improper oxygenation. But the road I was on had wide paved shoulders, allowing me to pull over a couple times to allow the light-headedness to pass, and continue till the next time, until I pulled into the ER parking lot. And yes, if you must know, no matter how bad I was feeling, my first stop inside the door was the bathroom. No need for another complication, eh?

The treatment in the ER was, as usual, more IV doses of metoprolol. After three, and no conversion to normal sinus rhythm, they decided to send me to the ICU overnight. The nurse I had then started showing me what nobody else had bothered to yet: ways to maybe stop the A-fib myself.

Wow! What? Something I can do besides take daily pills and wait for the next bout? First was abdominal pushing, like if you had constipation and needed to force a bowel movement. Of course, you didn't actually have one. Just kept pushing. No dice.

Then there was coughing. I had hopes for that, because sometimes I've felt a single little flutter, now that I know what that feels like, and I involuntarily cough and it goes away. Only now I was to cough-cough-cough-cough fast and with many repetitions. Alas, again no dice.

Another option is dunking the face or head into icy cold water. We didn't actually try that. She got busy with a trauma patient, other staff popped in and out, and somewhere in there, about three hours after walking in, I converted.

It was noticed. I was informed that they would keep me another couple hours on the monitors, so they could tell for sure that it was going to take. Then I could go home instead of to the ICU. One nurse asked me what I converted to? Was I now Jewish? Catholic? I just told her cheerfully that this as a free country and I didn't have to tell her. Luckily she had the right sense of humor. Doubly so in that I was struggling to keep mine.

No longer able to keep in denial, I made my appointment to start with the coumadin clinic, something I've found excuses to avoid for nearly a year. The side effect of A-fib that everybody keeps warning me about is stroke. The blood pools when the heartbeat is wonky (technical term, eh?) and can clot, making stroke likely. Blood thinners are standard as preventative, but need monitoring regularly for the rest of your life.

My annual physical was due a week later. I decided I had questions. Just what was "live with it" going to entail? Were there any other options? Was this going to kill me in a year or two? How did I stay out of the ER? Since they dosed me with metoprolol, could I just stay home, pop extra pills myself, and wait for it all to go away again?

My primary doc listened and decided I needed another visit with a cardiologist. Only this time I got sent to one down in Edina, primarily because the move is coming up and time was to short to get an appointment with the guy I'd been seeing.

I got really lucky, starting with an appointment the very next morning. But it got better. I found out that even cardiologists have sub-specialties. This guy's expertise was in the electrical system of the heart. In other words, exactly what I needed. And, boy, did we talk.

I could, next attack/s, just stay home, relax with my feet up, and ride it out. Not driving was a good idea for the duration. As to dosing with extra metoprolol, that was a bad idea. Really bad. It slows down the heartbeat, potentially useful with the fast flutter, but too much slowing down is, well, just way too much. (I had noted that my new pulse rate on the increased dose was 54 the day before. Not bad for a prime athlete, perhaps. Not so good for an out-of-shape geezer.) He thought it likely I converted despite the ER meds, rather than because of them.

He added a new med and halved the metoprolol. The combination would do a much better job of controlling the A-fib. I just needed an EKG in a week to make sure  my rhythm was doing what it should, and note whether side effects like headache or skin rash occurred.

And long term, there is a possibility of a surgical procedure called abladement (I think) where they send a catheter up a vessel to the heart and cauterize/kill the cells that are sending the wrong signals to the heart as to when to beat. It sometimes needs to be done twice, but is about 90% successful.

WOW! HOPE! I left the ER the week before completely discouraged. I left his office optimistic again. What a change in such a short time!

Oh, and what else has changed, is the retirement date got moved up a day. When I cancelled my commercial drivers policy, I told them I would be working through the 19th. They cancelled it on the 19th. My new AZ policy starts the 20th, so I've got one day uninsured.

I won't be driving.

There'll still be packing to do.