Friday, April 25, 2014

3862 Miles Later

Well, we're home, and dealing with jet lag and climate shift simultaneously. Three days down, three days there, three days back, and back to "normal". Meaning work. There were high points and one very significant low point, and I'm not referring to trying to find a Subway or Arby's open on Easter Sunday.

Maria, Steve's daughter, came along both to see the house and experience Arizona, and walk dogs at rest stops. She quickly bonded with Ellie, bestowing the nickname "Ewok". It fits, at least from the neck up. That face does have the look of an Ewok.

Ellie has decided her role in life is protecting us. She sleeps at the foot of my bed, guarding, and barks at any threat. Of course, what constitutes a threat to her does not necessarily mean one to us. Anybody walking near the car counts, which makes gas fill-ups very LOUD. Somehow she always lets loose about two inches from somebody's ear. When it's really annoying, as if it weren't already, is in the motel at night. Once the TV is off, she can hear everybody passing or walking overhead, cars in the lot, tumbleweeds, you-name-it. Without taking a poll, we are sure it is just as annoying to our fellow travelers as it is to us, all trying to get some sleep in strange beds in rooms with thin walls.

Marie turned out to be our savior. She snores! No, not dainty little buzzes scattered through the night. I mean she rocks the place. It's well known in her family. She freely admits it. I got to experience it first-hand from the next bed. After listening to it for about two hours when I had thought I needed sleep instantly instead, my body and brain finally gave in, accepting it as a white-noise machine, noting it absently when I woke to roll over before popping back to sleep. The important part of this is that Ellie no longer heard our neighbors. No more barking. I did have to keep her on leash with the loop over my arm to keep her from running over to the door, but once she knew her limits, she settled in and we all got some sleep. Our neighbors too, one presumes.

The further south we got, the warmer, a welcome break from the long long winter. We heard about 12-19" snow back home from everybody, but didn't miss it a bit. Nope, not a bit. Halleluia! We were busy adjusting to heat and sun. Maria had brought sunscreen, something I completely spaced. After all, that cold winter had meant I was still mostly in long sleeves and high collars. Now it was T-shirts, and the sun is strong enough that I can burn through the car window. Maria was willing to share her sunscreen. It was some Avon product that goes on blue (!) and gradually fades to clear. Fun, I guess, though the hand stayed blue for a while longer that I appreciated, especially under the nails. I didn't want it on my steering wheel cover. But I applied it, waited for it to fade, decided not to use it again, and promptly forgot about it. For then.

Our first tourism experience for Maria was  driving through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. The logs were OK, but she really loved all the colors in the Painted Desert. Problem was, she had a camera issue, and wound up trying to take pictures with her tablet. You had to point in the general direction of what you were trying to shoot, since there was no way to view through it like a normal camera. Lots of pictures of blue sky were deleted, until she finally gave up. She did get some selfies, where she could see something of what the picture contained, but the touch pad meant a lot of motion between setting up the shot and capturing it. So more deletions. Then ending the frustration in favor of enjoying the scenery.

We had packed extra light, so my camera for the trip was my Blackberry. I deleted a fair number too, but had more success with seeing what I was shooting. The pics are only 5mp, but enough for some memories.

On the way down from Flagstaff we opted for routing through Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona. If the Painted Desert was impressive, the red rocks were absolutely awesome upon first sight for Marie, particularly in contrast with the very green emerging spring foliage, itself a surprising sight to someone who only envisioned cactus-filled desert for Arizona landscapes and was already green-starved at winter's end. Had nothing else good happened on that trip, those moments would have made it worth the effort.

Steve had developed back problems before we arrived, trying to do too much cleaning all at once and last minute before we came. Thus the house was covered with Fred fur. It is a bit oily, and made it impossible for me to stand up from my recliner in the living room until me feet were properly planted on the third try! Barefoot or rubber-soled in shoes, they kept slipping over the rug.

It also had me imitating cold symptoms the next morning: runny nose, sneezing, dripping, lasting hours after leaving the house to visit my friend Joan's sister Linda's yard while I still could. She had just sold her house to move to Oregon, and as a Master Gardener she had a back yard worthy of a visit for somebody interested in possibilities for desert landscaping. I repeated that I wasn't as contagious as I looked to everyone I met, while taking the tour.

I fell in love with the Palo Blanco in her yard, and plan to put at least one in the Sun City yard. Later. Spring may be the best time for planting, but not when nobody will be there to water it to get it established. As a matter of fact, no plantings will be watered this summer. I want to wean everything away from artificial water sources. What won't survive will by definition have been a bad idea. Our plans for citrus have changed as everybody else has more than they can use and happily give away bagfuls, the remainders of which we brought home in every available nook in the back of the car. And limes apparently grow in Mexico, not here.

Steve and I will spend parts of this summer going through the books Linda offered me on desert plantings, including selection and care, so we can make plans of what to do with the yard. Few if any of what we plant will be in the category labeled "cactus". There are still plenty of plants with thorns to defend themselves without dropping clumps of spines all over to poke into doggy feet or even ours. And eventually water restrictions will become more sensible, meaning stricter, and thirsty plants will become a thing of the past down there. It may take the depletion of the aquifer to accomplish that change, but I personally will welcome the end of our addiction to grassy lawns in the desert.

By my return, Maria had done a great job of cleaning Fred fur out of the house, at least enough that I could return and my symptoms disappeared for the duration. She was still cleaning off the rug in front of my chair when I got home, and it continued to accumulate fur during the visit as Fred continued his spring coat blow-out despite Maria's brushing him regularly. But I could now stand up easily. And the colors began to show, reminding me why I liked it so much.

We spent one morning having breakfast with Joan and Bob, the same friends I'd seen the previous day enjoying the sister's yard. No symptoms at all, proving my allergy vs. cold point. Lovely meal, great conversation, lots of laughter. At one point, Joan told us all to mark our calendars, because something Steve had just said was absolutely right! Of course, none of us, including Steve, can remember now just what it was he said. I suspect it was something political as the context seems to fit the comment.

In the interest of showing Maria more varied views of Arizona, we took her out to Lake Pleasant. There is one nice high overlook on the east side, even though you have to pay to drive in to see it, but $6 was worth the view. It was sunny with a light breeze, and sitting on a picnic table under its roof was very relaxing. That was followed by a drive through the desert, hoping to see the wild burros we'd spied last time. They, however, were unimpressed by our wishes.

The bad news with the house arrived on the last morning. Fortunately, it can wait to be fixed, at least for a while. But it is a symptom of a problem that will require a very expensive fix, hopefully at our planned time rather than as an emergency repair. The knob that pulls out in my shower to switch the water flow from tub to shower just pulled away from the wall in my hand that last morning. There is another shower in the other bathroom. However, the two are back-to-back, and all that plumbing will need replacement soon, requiring also wall replacement on at least one side as there is no other way to access the pipes. As expensive as that will be, I am considering also changing my bathroom's tub to one of those with a side door, high walls, a seat and water jets. The question becomes available cash at the time, vs. repairs postponed until after the sale of the Minnesota house.

 A new issue sprang up during the stay. I developed a rash on both forearms and around my neck. The appearance screamed contact dermatitis. What had I brushed into? Was it while I was back by the ocatillo looking at the neighbor's lemons hanging over our fence? It was the only time I could recall getting up close and personal with plants, but all the contact I could recall was gently disengaging from thorns as they snagged my shirt. It certainly didn't seem to account for what was going on. I left it a mystery until the drive home, when somebody mentioned the blue-to-clear sunscreen: AHAH! Good thing I only used it once. While the rash hasn't disappeared yet, at least the neck is finally tolerant of clothing contact, since it's part of wearing the uniform for work.

For me, one of the best parts of that too brief stay was just sitting out on the patio enjoying the back yard. Gambel quail, doves and rabbits were plentiful, weather topped out in the low 90s, and Fred and Ellie were working out who was literally top dog. (Ellie, until Fred finally objects.) The thought of just sitting there whiling away the day was simply seductive.

The trip home had its amusing moments. After a meal, Steve would announce a nap and close his eyes.  For the next 20 minutes, he would interrupt his own nap every minute or so by making a comment to Maria or me, all unnecessary because they already stated something that we already knew, like telling her she now could tell folks she had seen Oak Creek Canyon. (Yes, Steve, she was there when that happened.) At one point he started asking Maria if she was sleeping, which she had been, in the back seat, until he woke her with the question. It became so regular with him every time he declared a nap that I started laughing with each interruption. I never explained why I was laughing. I'm not sure he actually took a nap of over 2 minutes the whole drive back.

Once back, I took a few minutes sorting receipts from the trip. Totaling all the gas receipts I figured out the overall mpg. Most of the trip was freeway, though not all, and most freeway speeds were 75 mph, regulated by cruise control. There were of course a few mountains along the way. With all that variability, and this being a fairly new car, I was curious. I know it was doing well, but not sure what that meant, exactly. My last Accent did about 38 mpg in best conditions, including carrying just me, not three people and fully loaded. The new one wound up doing 42.84 mpg!

I like this car!

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