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.