Tuesday, March 31, 2015


I had begun to think recently that my body had adjusted to the desert heat and dryness. I seemed to be comfy with about the same amount of water as I was drinking up north. No dry mouth, no feeling thirsty.

But then for whatever perverse reason I decided that there was much pruning to be done in the yard. Today. The 4th day of 95 degree or higher temperatures. But hey, Sunday's 97 didn't count because I hadn't left the house. And no, we're not air conditioning yet because we open up the house after sunset and shut it again after sunrise, keeping afternoon temps inside from hovering much above 80. We had gone so far as to dig out a fan for the living room, though after two days it decided it wasn't going to bother to turn the blades any more in the low setting. High is still fine, though, and there is a back-up fan in the front closet.

This morning I decided that the thorn tree, aka our foothills palo verde, needed to have the middle cleaned out. Not a major project, but the seed of the idea was rooting. The small palo verde has a lot of crossing branches, and even more that are just too thickly growing, crowding everything. So I was out with heavy gloves and two kinds of pruners, plus a folding chair that proved to be less than useless. (I think we can dismantle enough to recycle most of it.) This was just after sunrise, and before I finished, earlier than the task did, I had sweat running down my face. Probably it was running all sorts of other places, but the salt in my eyes was the annoying part. At any rate, one doesn't need to prune something drastically all at once, right? Right?

It just wasn't that hot! Now normally I'm good with just the water I take my pills with, plus whatever liquid comes in my fruit, yogurt, or whatever, at least through the morning. Then a couple glasses before bed in case I didn't get enough. By 10:00 AM however I'd finished my 3rd tall glass and was looking for my next two, even after cooling down in the fan and in the shower.

Call me stupid, but while I was sitting out with the dogs as briefly as possible late this afternoon while they tended to their yard needs - or that was the plan - I looked around the rest of the yard and found other things desperately in need of pruning. The palo blanco was sprouting out heavily at the end of very spindly branches, and I decided they needed a bit of trimming before they snapped in the next good wind. Then the pink poison bush, aka oleander, tucked back in the corner behind the fence but still in our yard, was getting very spindly and top heavy with new leaves and blooms. It too was vulnerable to a good wind. I could at least  cut back the branches on our side of the fence, though we really need a 6' pole trimmer to reach over and get the tops. That $40 tool expense could wait, but I decided to head over and start the job.

Then the neighbor's white oleander was pushing through the fence with a lot of white blossoms on spindly branches, so snip snip. I looked again at the willow, but its trim job to shape it last week still looked like it would hold for the year. It has a fat flower bud growing, and I'm not ready to mess with that.

Were I really ambitious, I would also have trimmed along the west fence, and then trimmed the trimmings so they'd fit in something to get set out for the garbage men to haul away. They don't like thorns. Stinky garbage, fine. Thorns, no. Considering it was hovering above the forecasted 95 and I was on about my 10th glass of water for the day, plus my knees had had quite enough, thank you, I left them on the ground. Maybe the bunnies will come over and munch a few for me. Maybe the oleander will even be nummy but still poisonous for them? One can only hope.

Meanwhile, two more glasses outside and two more once inside, and I'm starting to feel a little like I've had nearly enough water. It took two cleanings to get the salt off my glasses, so maybe it's time to have a salty supper.

The forecast is for highs dipping back in the upper 80s  by the weekend, still well above average. Maybe by then I'll feel like trimming the trimmings. But first another glass of water before thinking on it. Maybe three. And if they sit there a few extra days....

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Screw You-ker!

OK, I guess it's really spelled euchre, but the anger behind the pun makes the spelling appropriate. So what happened?

Steve loves card games. I mean really loves them. He was a blackjack dealer in his final career before he retired, and it was one of, if not the, top favorite things he did to earn a living. Down in Sun City, he has joined the 500 club and that weekly game is fast becoming his favorite activity and social event. In fact, he likes it so much that when some of the players invited him to also attend the euchre club, with a little extra prodding from me and reassurance that I wouldn't feel abandoned by his 2nd night out per week, he finally decided to show up for it this week.

Big mistake. Now Steve has never played euchre, but he's familiar with many other card games and is a fast learner. Within a couple hands or rounds or whatever they are called in euchre, he would be sure to have the basics and be well on his way through the finer points of strategy. He believes that. I believe that. His fellow 500 players obviously believe that too, or why the invitation? He'd already told them he hadn't played it yet.

Apparently the folks who run the euchre game don't. He was firmly turned away at the door. The excuse given was that the people playing there were a very competitive bunch and would not tolerate a beginner in their ranks.

Really? None of them? Not even the ones who invited him? And if they are so competitive, what's wrong with someone there who ought to be easier to beat? Seriously?

Just to assure him that they were really a swell bunch of folks, and not a bunch of tight-assed rigid jerks, he was told to go learn the game and then come back, when he would be welcomed into the fold.

I figured I knew what his reaction to that would be, but just to make sure, I asked him whether he planned on following their instructions. If you don't know what his reply was, re-read the title.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A PPM Tribute Concert

When the Sun Bowl amphitheater in Sun City fills up to capacity, they estimate a crowd of 7,000. There are spaces for chairs in a semicircle down in front, usually reserved for folks bussed in from assisted living centers, and they include space for walkers. The rest of the tiered rows are flat and deep enough for everybody's lawn chairs which they haul in, or scooters, plus ample walking room for folks to move around during the concert. Such movement happens when folks head around back for popcorn or food truck items, restrooms, whatever they may have left in their car, such as whoever got called to remove their dog from their car or have the car towed by the local law.

They also move around to come down by the stage and dance. That happened tonight, and with visitors coming with residents for this free concert, we enjoyed watching dancers from 3 to 93. Steve and I got to sway in our seats, clap, sing along. Had we good knees, we'd have been out there dancing too. Bittersweet. Not dancing was the bitter, Listening, singing along, reminiscing, even the tears, those were the sweet.

PPM: for those not in the know, that refers to Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Tonight was a cover band out of Prescott, AZ: Rick, Ron and Mary.  Their thing is to replicate as much as possible the biggest and best hits of PPM. They do it well, always keeping in mind the unique voices and personalities they are paying tribute to. Their skill enables the rest of us to recall just how it used to be for each of us as we grew up with this music, watched their concerts, lived our lives to their soundtrack.

Tonight was two hours of pure pleasure, a little magic in revisiting long-lost youth, a time of uniting with 7,000 strangers sharing a moment just the same way we are before heading in our 7,000 separate directions carrying new and old memories with us.

Please, can we get them back again next year?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Uninvited Visitor

With furnace and AC not operating now, we find it easier most middays to leave the sliding door to the patio and back yard open enough for the dogs to let themselves in and out. No doggy accidents and less stress on our knees. It also lets fresh air circulate, and few bugs take advantage.

We did get one surprise the other day, however. I'd been reading rather than having the TV on, or I might never have noticed. I heard a strange little noise from the lanai and would have dismissed it as the dogs, except that both had recently hopped up on the couch for a nap. Quick check. Yep, they were still there.

I moved so I could see the doorway, hoping it wasn't anything furry. Rabbits cross through the chain link with ease, but I didn't think they were bold enough to enter the house. Anything else with fur would be even less welcome: squirrels, mice, rats, even coyotes which might have managed to figure out how to climb our 6' fence. While I've never seen any of them inside the fence, if at all, except for one mouse in a trap, the imagination reaches for explanations.

There she was, right next to the open kitchen door. Nothing furry, thank goodness, but a female cardinal, pecking at the door mat, picking up the tiny bits of dog food that Ellie scatters messily about while she relocates a mouthful away from the bowl to eat. She's so bad about it that I refuse to refill the bowl until after a pair of hungry dogs clean up all the crumbs a day or so later. Now Mama Cardinal was helping with the cleanup, letting me watch for about a half minute before she flew back out the patio door opening.

Who knew cardinals liked dog food?

Mail: Collusion? or Coincidence?

All the mail today was for me. That's not completely unheard of, but it can happen, just like there are days when Steve gets everything incoming. What was interesting was how it all fit together, as if everybody sent theirs in conjunction with the others and knew in just what order I was going to open it.

The first was from somebody who thought I should be using their services to renegotiate my credit card debt. Now technically I can dump some of it. Above a certain $ amount, it can happen. I've known that for years. However, I have never intended to shortchange Capitol One from what I owe them. They have been and continue to be good to me. I earned every penny of that debt, and barring a truly major disaster, I intend to pay it off. If Social Security continues with their obligations, and Medicare with theirs, I will with mine.

So, recycle bin with that one.

Next was an offer including a fake credit card from somebody who thought I wanted a new Mitsubishi. Never mind that my Hyundai is just over a yer old. Never mind that I now drive under 7,000 miles a year rather than the 85,000 or so I did when I was working, a change so drastic that I got offended when my new insurance policy renewal was to have cost 5x what gas in the tank does  these days, enough to prompt a change of policy/company. As I commented to Steve after skimming that piece of mail, obviously these guys have not seen my credit card balance discussed above.

Again, recycle bin.

The last was a really huge envelope. This time the Mayo Clinic was offering to let me spend a whole lot of money with them in order to greatly improve my quality of life as a senior citizen, reassuring me that even at my advanced age I needn't avoid correcting chronic problems that I may otherwise have thought intractable, or just inevitable. Yada yada yada, pagefuls.

As that one sailed toward the recycle bin, I again commented to Steve that they obviously hadn't seen my credit card balance either.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spring In "The Valley"

It has sprung, exactly 6 weeks after who-cares-whether-the-groundhog-saw-its-shadow? In Minnesota we would call this summer, with temperatures pushing or crossing the 90s. Here however it comes without the thundershowers. Or mosquitoes.

Opposite habits are called for, harder to adjust to. The furnace got turned off several weeks back and we closed the house up in the evenings and opened it up for warm afternoons. Now suddenly we open the house at night and close it down when we get up. That's if everybody remembers the new plan.

We could leave the patio door open in the warm daytime for the dogs to come and go at will, but lately the local coyote pack has been prowling outside the fence during the day as well as evenings. Our high fence and Fred's low bark so far have driven them off, but we no longer trust it if we have to leave the house.

Weeds have started springing up in the yard, so Round Up use has resumed. With two of us here, we optimistically hope to nail them before they have a chance to seed and spread. Of course, who knows how many years of seeds lay in the ground, waiting?

We are waiting for our first glimpse of baby Gambel's quail. I want pictures, as well as just being able to enjoy the cuteness. All kinds of birds gather in the yard behind us now that the citrus are dumping the last of their copious fruit supply in favor of flowers for the next crop and the renters aren't keeping up. Hummingbirds have abandoned our feeders for the abundance of "real" food, including tiny insects. We haven't seen those bitty bugs, but their predators, the mosquito hawks, fly into the house when the patio door is open.

The rear pine tree is wild with blooms, so we're expecting a humungous crop of cones this fall. We've never seen that one bloom and it's graced us with a mere handful of cones each year.  I can just imagine the mess, considering Ellie loves to chew them into bits... inside the house! How does she sneak them in?

Meanwhile the hummers seem fascinated by the pine blooms, though whether any kind of nectar is produced I doubt. My guess is they go for whatever flies to or crawls on them. Or perhaps if it's not too late, they're going for the spiderwebs for their nests while the spiders are going for the bugs going for the flowers. Considering we saw active nests on our February honeymoon when we hit the hummingbird house down by Tucson in the Sonoran Desert Museum, it probably is too late. No signs of young ones yet though.

Butterflies have started visiting the neighborhood. We saw our first today. Coincidentally our pink oleander in the back corner popped with its first hundred blooms or so, compared to less than a dozen yesterday, and two last week. I'd prune it as the branches are becoming spindly but whatever idiot fenced the back yard angled it across that corner, blocking us from the tree.

The new plantings seem to be thriving, though it's been hard to tell over the winter. Our desert willow is finally leafing out all the trunks and branches to the tips of the stems, after showing its first baby leaves a couple weeks ago near ground level. The palo blanco is sprouting more needle-like leaves, but unlike the mature trees at the community center has not yet produced a catkin, much less the thousands they are showing off. The foothills palo verde - what Steve refers to as our thorn tree - has no leaves but its thorny branches are lengthening. There was a wooden stake in the pot with a tie to one of the branches, and we planted it with that intact, giving us a comparison point. I get to go prune it in the next month or so, sorting out where trunks will stay or go out of the bottom cluster and ridding it of crossed branches. Lucky me! Even the heaviest gloves don't quite meet the demands of that job.

Speaking of thorny things, the baby ocatillos along the ease fence have all 4 leafed out and are growing taller. I was convinced a month ago all but one had died, but then buds appeared on the branch tips rather than just dried cut ends, and hope renewed. Each ocatillo is surrounded by rocks holding chicken wire cages in place to defeat the rabbits, and suddenly the green is getting taller than the rocks so we can actually see the plants! Upon planting last fall, only a couple tips were visible, and those rocks aren't all that big.

This next weekend is the semi-annual plant sale at the Desert Botannical Garden in Phoenix. We're going to see about a baby tree aloe. There were none for sale last fall, a much more ideal time for planting so it can get watered and established properly, but if ya gotta, then ya gotta. We might consider taking the pot elsewhere for summer TLC, then planting when we return, unless we can enlist a bit of watering help. We did that one summer already, paying a fellow named Felipe, and those plants thrived.

While there, we plan to also do our monthly tour of the gardens, seeing what's blooming, what's flitting around, what new pictures demand to be taken. Who knows? We may even fall in love with something new that needs to be added to our yard.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Lapidary Lessons

You get taught a lot in lapidary class. By the end you will have operated a saw, chosen stones and templates, worked a series of grinders and polishers, been shown how to clean up after yourself, and produced two reasonable cabochons for... whatever.

There's still a lot the class doesn't cover, however. If you keep going with it, asking questions, making mistakes and learning from them, you will begin to find out what those things are. Perhaps the following will help you on your way.

It took you a while to produce your first cab. The second was a little faster,. You will continue to speed up as you become more comfortable with the machines and your coordination and skills improve. Then you will get slower. The day you decide you can produce 4-5 cabs is the day you start to learn why you can't. And why you shouldn't.

Murphy is alive and thriving in the lapidary room. And with practice, your standards of what you should produce will rise, unmet, at least for a while.

Let's start with the stones. Chances are you had pretty ho-hum ones to practice on. Why let you ruin the good stuff first thing? So while infatuated with your early success, you head off and acquire something fancier. It will, guaranteed, be harder to work with. The prettiest spot on the rock slab will be the place where it cracks, chips, and/or is soft enough to gouge with an eye blink. (Hey, I swear that's all it took!)

It's easy and convenient for source material to browse through the donations box at our club, where people who have a leftover chunk of rock donate it for the club to sell, for $.50 or a buck, depending mostly on size. You can't believe some of the things that get donated! One has great colors, the next a druzy, the next pockets of agate or some wonderful new mineral or who knows what? So you donate your buck and start working the rock, and find out just why somebody else tossed it. But just to keep you on your toes, the next donation will be a real gem, keeping your hopes high.

Personally I love to browse eBay for rock slabs. If browsing were all I did, my Master Card balance would be much lower. But I do wind up with some great specimens, and get a lot of questions from others in the club about what and where on my stones. Apparently I'm the only one who knows about eBay. So here's how it works, rubes. Name a rock, say agate or jasper or whatever. Add "slab" to your search. EBay then offers you a list. Select your choice under "in rocks and minerals". Browse. When you see something you particularly like for color, quality, etc., click on "see sellers other items" for other ideas, and the possibility for shipping discounts on multiple orders. And off you go.

The next independent working lesson is that you need to be adaptable. Whatever Plan A was for your rock, you better be able to switch to Plan B, C, or on a particularly bad day, Plan D.

Starting with the saw, somebody else is likely using the particular one you want. Or it needs Gem Lube, or wasn't cleaned. Or some idiot bent the blade and the replacement is on order. If you are lucky, everything works or you have other projects in process you can switch to. Even in the best of shape, it vibrates, and it can vibrate your rock to pieces, like the black turritella fossil chunk. You also find out, just when you smugly thought you had a soft touch with the saw, when you ease off for a second on your pressure on the piece you are cutting you have actually been pushing it a bit sideways rather than straight ahead, and with luck have stopped short of being the one to bend the blade.

The saw is noisy. So are the grinders and polishers. Nobody bothered to mention earplugs, but go get some before your next session. One could assume nobody else cares about their remaining hearing, but that's not an excuse. They do not reach the decibel level of that rock concert back when - or not so when - but at this age every bit matters.

They show you the safety glasses in class, but don't bother to let you know that all the aerosolized oils and rock dust coat your glasses, so you not only need to clean them before sawing and grinding to see just where you are cutting and when to stop, but afterwards as well so you can see, say, to drive home. And while we are on that subject, you will be coughing the sprays back out while you sit near the saws, and even after washing it all off your hands, arms, etc., lotion is a must to repair skin and nails.

Once you are ready for grinding, there is again the competition for the machines. If you see the ones you want free up but choose to take another 30 seconds in the conversation you've been having, chances are excellent there will be another 30 minutes to talk because you missed the opening. With three sets of polishers, you'd think waits would ease, but the person who cleaned it last time likely put it back together so that the air hose (which spits water onto the belt so it can do a proper job) is in the perfect spot to get cut by that same belt. Leaky hoses are not efficient at pushing air to the desired location, and your machine is useless. Waiting till late afternoon is an alternative to long lines, but while the room is supposed to be open until 4:00, low occupancy results in pressure to close early, and there are fewer people present who know how to fix whatever happened to whichever machine it is that you need next.

With all the various messes you make or otherwise need to deal with, it helps to bring a variety of rag towels from home. The oils go all over during the sawing parts of the project, and you don't want them messing up stuff later, so that towel should stay separate from the ones that mop up water, and the cerium oxide towel should not mix with the tin oxide towel because you want your cab clean between the two steps. They don't have to be big towels, but plan on laundry. The clean oil goes in the machine a pale orange color but spreads all over everything in a medium blue. At least it's easy to tell which towel is full of the gem lube. And even though you wipe off your hands thoroughly before riding the scooter to the hand- and rock-washing sink, the handlebars get gooey with the stuff. And do assume  the cleanest towels will be full of lint or critter hair: deal with it.

Let's assume that everything goes well. Machines are cleaned, maintained, available. Your skills have grown, your rock stayed together. Surprises still await. The cab you get is never the same as the rock you started with. Occasionally it is the result of "operator error". A gouge or scratch "appears" (magically) and has to be ground away and smoothed over, leaving a smaller, perhaps differently shaped cab than intended. Colors and content change as you take off layers of rock to cut and shape it. Old bits of pattern disappear, layers bend and new substances, even geodes emerge. Polishing intensifies colors, some of which can be seen ahead of time by wetting  the rock. A couple of cabs revealed and then hid hematite, others surprised me with fools gold, some of which disappeared again before the stone was finished.

Whatever you are working on, three other people will have 4 better opinions of what you should or could have done with it. Working with mahogany obsidian today, one fellow thought I should stop and split it into two thinner slabs, leaving me two cabs instead of just one. He didn't take two things into consideration, however. Thicker obsidian is easier to work with, sturdier, less likely to chip and shatter, more forgiving when it does because it has additional material for a workaround. And second, we have no saw capable of splitting one slab into two thinner ones as he was suggesting. I'd wind up with zero if I tried on what I'll call the slabbing saw, the one which slices a chunk of rock into slabs. My rock would have to be glued to a flat wooden surface and I'd neither get the perfect angle for even thickness, nor the thinner slice unglued from the wood. The way the stuff chips, I would anticipate a pile of glass shards. Perhaps a laser cutter? Anybody?

Anyway, I still have most of the original chunk left to slab, and can adjust thickness as desired for the next times.

On the other hand, sharing ideas increases your stockpile of both ideas and skills, making you more flexible and productive. Lapidary is like working on computers: there are always other ways to get something accomplished. I can click-and-drag, copy-paste, Command c & command v to move data to a second location on my laptop. I have options of when and how to fix a problem in a stone, or even change stones to accomplish what I'm after. My cab can be drilled, wrapped, set in a bezel, glued onto a bolo backing, or many other options for display or use.

We started out using templates. I didn't like the ones supplied and designed my own. Then I started looking at smaller rocks and seeing what the rock had in mind. None were symmetrical, patterns went where they would. So now my cabs do too. And since they are larger than the templates, they take a lot more work. Part is the obvious: bigger stone takes longer grinding. Another part is the big challenge of keeping a rounded surface on a large flat rock. We start with a 90 degree edge, then carve off a 45 degree angle leaving about an eighth inch still vertical. Then we grind that to round. It has to be a very long slow slope to have anything round in the middle of a bigger stone. That's what takes the time.

You can want it flat, like it flat, adore it flat. The problem is in the polishing. If you want an unscratched shiny middle to your stone, the machines can't do it on a  big flat one. The grinders and polishers are flat belts across revolving wheels. Any part of the rock that sticks up roundly can be smoothed off. The wheel misses where it is flat. Worse, when big enough, it is wider than the belt, and the edges of the belt touching the rock leave a gouge. Actually, lots of gouges. Every-which-way gouges. Any time they touch.

And there's nothing around to polish them off. After a point, rather than improving your polishing job, all you get are more gouges and scratches.  Still worse, with all the extra work and frustration, it becomes easier to slip a little bit and put gouges into the rest of the rock. Yes, the very one you've now been putting hours of work into. This is possible no matter how fine the belt is you are working with, even the final polishing belts that seem to be nothing more than layers of cloth stretched over a wheel with a polishing agent. They too can scratch. Just when you've relaxed thinking the belt is harmless.

It's mind boggling.

I'm getting better. The center scratches are getting teensier, the flats are smaller, the accidents fewer. I'm becoming a perfectionist, finally knowing why I can't put out 4-5 cabs per day. And almost meeting my own standards. I'm sure there will be more lessons ahead the instructor missed.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Heaven Scent

At first it was just a hint on the evening breeze: delicate, intriguing, vanishing with a change in wind direction, disappearing in the morning sun. After several days it became steadier, stronger, wafting in from multiple directions, lasting through daylight. Yummmmmmm....

My allergies are going crazy lately, so I am lucky I can smell anything. ( Wipe wipe dab honnnnk!) It might be that Fred is starting to blow his coat. Another strong contender is spring tree pollen, also the likely source of whatever scent is delighting me. The big pine out back is starting to bloom so this fall might be the first season we get more than a handful of cones from it, unlike the generous one in the front. However, it's not fragrant. Not the source of olfactory delight.

News stations list pollen counts now, but attributing it to ash and similar trees. Ash? In Phoenix? Where?

Steve pointed out a bush a block away, covered in tiny yellow blooms. He passes it on his scooter. He swears it smells wonderful. He had me drive over and park next to it, but traffic kept me in the car and I smelled nothing. There are bushes planted in the center boulevard along Hwy 60 which are full of purple clusters but traffic is even more dangerous there and I have no idea of scent, much less identity of the plants.

Maybe the locals knew. Of course, in what crowd in Sun City in winter do you find locals? Snowbirds abound, but few are permanent residents. I checked at the lapidary club. Yes, they had been noticing fragrance. More had noticed their allergies kicking up, even blocking any fragrance getting through.

I had one suspect for the cause, but looking around at all the citrus trees in neighboring yards, was unable to detect any orange blossoms. One woman at the club thought they were blooming already, warning that they soon would be so overpowering that we would hate opening doors and heading out into the yard. Heck, right now I'm opening up the house just in order to get the fragrance!

That works just fine until our neighbor Mr. Cigar-Expletive lights up upwind of us. I guess whoever he lives with kicks him outside to smoke! With the first whiff, Steve and I hurry around the house and close up EVERYTHING! I find it hard to believe we'd do the same to block out the blooms, even overpowering as they are claimed to become.

They are finally identified positively as orange blossoms. Now scenting everything all day and night, though still stronger at sunset, I keep the car windows down while I head wherever. Yesterday I drove to Joan and Bob's, stopping to inspect their naval orange tree along their driveway. It had started blooming, though the first citrus tree in their yard to do so, and the scent was definitely what I'd been enjoying. With so many trees yet to start blooming, I can well believe the scent will overpower almost everything.

I can't wait!

Thieves and Coyotes

Some folks used to think the two were indistinguishable. I can pretty much guarantee that's not the case here, except in that we've had visits from both recently.

Those of you who've helped with the move or who've seen the house will have seen the rocks I insisted be moved down here from Minnesota. You probably joined in the derision. Who moves rocks cross country? Arizona has plenty of its own, doesn't it? The thing is, I personally collected those rocks after getting the house built. I wanted a rock garden around the front of the house. Spaces where rocks sat wouldn't grow weeds that needed pulling. Rocks would decorate and organize spaces for plants to grow. Rocks were free, just a quick stop along the road or in a parking lot or construction site, one here, one there, maybe two if there was a particularly nice scattering of granites. They were whatever was convenient to grab, would be unmissed, and appealed to my esthetic sense.

They also had to be within my capabilities to pick up and load in the car, so ones over 50 lbs. stayed put. There were two exceptions to that. When the city was building its new Public Works building a half block away, I noticed two huge boulders along the curb. I asked the city clerk to inquire whether the contractors had a plan for them. Perhaps they'd insert them into the landscaping? Maybe they had a customer willing to take them off their hands? During my rounds I've passed piles of large boulders for sale to - presumably - landscapers. I was thinking if they didn't want them, I could locate somebody willing to relocate them a half block at minimal expense. I didn't get a direct answer, but that evening when I returned from work the two boulders were sitting on my front yard, reasonably close to where I'd have put them. Good thing, since they were going to sit forever right where they were.

The last couple years before the move, gardening became harder to keep up with, and the decision was made to shrink the garden. That left an excess of rocks. I managed to come up with a new home for them. The moving van got two sturdy wooden crates set way up front, then rocks loaded in, and the rest of the household furnishings packed in around them. Once here, and the "real" stuff moved into the house, the rocks were off-loaded to the ground, eventually mostly decorating a corner where driveway and sidewalk meet.

When the water-hogging bushes were removed from the front of the house and succulents moved in, many of the rocks were relocated to fill in spaces between plants to accent the greenery. The rest of the rocks were left at the corner, spread around to outline where white decorative rock had been placed. It was too much work to move them all right then. Or later. So we thought. Other chores always seemed to have priority. So they sat.

There weren't enough rocks to completely line the perimeter of the space. With a gap or two the expected sight, it was hard at first to tell whether increasing and more scattered gaps meant bad memory or someone was actually stealing rocks from our yard. I mean, who'd go around and actually steal rocks from somebody's landscaping? I hadn't done that when I was collecting. We finally figured out it wasn't our imagination when a particularly unique hunk of pockmarked limestone disappeared.

The gall of somebody!

It was evening when Steve and I returned home from somewhere and I glanced over while pulling into the driveway and noticed it missing. While he took care of letting the dogs out and smoking his pipe, I started moving rocks up into the bed along the house, one or two at a time. I had to pause after each trip, both to catch my breath from the unexpected workload and to apologize to my knees, but I was determined that nobody was going to think they could get away with stealing any more of my hard-collected rocks! Anger kept me going long past the point where my knees were willing to go. I even had to enlist Steve's help with his scooter, loading the largest onto its floorboard and wheeling it up to its new location.

So far there have been no further disappearances. I guess it takes a bit more nerve to steal from next to the house than from the outer edge of the yard. Perhaps our rock thief thinks the edge of the yard is their fair game, but the house puts our stamp of ownership on it. We have noticed, however, that fewer of the leashed neighborhood dogs are stopping for a sniff and a lift as they pass the driveway. Hmmm, good thing for that rain just before I did all that toting.

Our 4-footed visitors have been much less of a bother. When we first moved in, it took me several days to even hear them, and then it was only to accompany an ambulance siren. The surprise was not their presence, but their calls coming from three directions at once. While I was trying to earn a living down here, I actually spied one crossing the road while I was driving to work, carrying a dead rabbit in its mouth. Having recently lost an expensive lot of plants to rabbit predations, I was happy to politely stop to let the coyote cross the road, cheering it on to garner future meals the same way.

This fall everybody else but me was seeing and hearing coyotes. I was still wishing for more of them, with rabbits so plentiful and our dogs uninterested in chasing them. The rabbits can pass through the chain link with no problem, but does that really excuse the dogs ignoring them while they are peeing 20 feet away from the pests?

The local pack is frequenting our neighborhood more often recently. We hear them singing from closer locations, including one evening when they drowned out the television. We figured they must be at the back of the block across the street, and turned off the TV and opened the front door to better pinpoint them, hoping to even spot them if they moved closer.

They've gotten bolder, showing up during more daylight hours and closer to our line of sight, even across the street or on the other side of the fence. They do pause to scope out the source of that big deep basset hound voice, since Fred goes dependably ballistic whenever he catches wind of them. Steve still sees them more than I do, being out with his pipe more than I sit out. And so far I've never been near enough to the camera while they make their appearances.

A couple weeks ago we both got a drawn out sighting of the pack as they moved up the line along the back yards. The first were spotted only because I was looking that way and their movement caught my attention. Being downwind from us, the dogs never noticed their presence. Initially there were two. Then one, as the other disappeared behind a bush. Then two appeared much closer, coming from behind another bush. There was a gap where I should have seen them crossing but hadn't, so I started thinking we had more than two. Three? Then the first two reappeared while one of the second two still were visible. It went back and forth like that a while, with differences in size as well as changing locations helping us distinguish multiple animals. Eventually we both agreed that there were five in the pack. One was small enough to be last summer's pup, unless the pack tolerates runts.

There have been other recent sightings. While sitting out front waiting for the mail to deliver him a new pipe courtesy of eBay, Steve called me out to view a pack crossing the street a few yards down. I was too late of course, and they didn't reappear. There were five, so it was declared to be "our" pack. A couple days later, Fred was going ballistic in the back yard while the pack stared at him through the fence before moving off.

Between Fred and our 6' fence, they have not come into our yard, so far as we can tell. If they have, it would have been while everybody's asleep, and around here that's not dependable. Many nights somebody is awake for part or all of it. But as close as they've been lately, we are seriously rethinking our trust in being able to let the dogs out into the back yard unattended, such as while we are off on a short road trip. Later this week, for example, we're thinking of piling the dogs in the car while we hit the Apache Trail. Leave the rabbits to the mercies of the coyotes!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Curmudgeonly Critique

Steve and I both had the blessing way back in junior & high school of being in respective marching bands with a perfectionist for a band director. Then again, it could be considered a disadvantage, leading to dissatisfaction with sloppy bands and indifferent directors. Our internal standards were set high, though with differing results. He became so good that he earned a night on stage with Satchmo. I... well, I did the marching thing really well but the horn practicing thing, not so much. I did, however, take my standards of what a band ought to be with me when the family moved to St. Paul, and it was just a part of my dissatisfaction with relocating to the big city to have gained an indifferent director.

We both still have high standards for what a band ought to be. And we were both prepared with high expectations for tonight's Sun City Concert Band Sousa Concert. We cheerfully forked over the $16 for our tickets. We arrived early for good parking and good seats. Then we looked at our programs.

I don't know about you, but when I see something advertised as a "Sousa Concert" I expect it to be Sousa's music. Does that really seem so unreasonable? I know not all of his music was marches, but there should be a plentiful representation of them, shouldn't there? Steve and I spent the drive over guessing which marches we played back in school we'd hear again tonight.


There were 12 selections on the program. Of those, 5 were by Sousa. Not even a majority. Of the 5, two were marches. Of all 5, there was 1 we'd heard before. It was, of course, "Stars and Stripes Forever." Had it not been, I would have walked out demanding a refund. I was tempted to walk out anyway, but they held that selection for the finale. I'm not opposed to learning new music by a beloved composer, but part of the reason he/she is beloved is because there was some great music produced, and with so little to be heard anyway, why not some more familiar stuff? Seriously, why not?

For the record, I was already butt-sore halfway through. Somebody running the community center must have stock in the Most Uncomfortable Chair Company. Not only is the seat padding an optical illusion, but the chair seat folded open tilts slightly downward, so one spends the entire time bracing against sliding forward and off the chair.

The band itself was fun to listen to, despite the - shall we call it false advertising? Bait and switch? Several musicians stood out to us both, and in a good way. Most were on our side of the band, so we may have missed others on the other side, but our side had percussion and trumpets. We both got a kick out of the tympanist. While she appeared to be 90, possibly even past it, age was no issue in her command of her music. She was exact with her rhythm, able to vary volume exquisitely, and jumped right in there with damping out the sound like she was showing those drums just who was boss, leaving no question that it was she.

Well before the music started, we noted the second chair trumpet player: he had a scooter rather than a chair. While a few other musicians had walkers that we could see, he was the only one we spotted on wheels. Shortly before the concert, the first chair stepped away and we also noted that the 2nd chair was on oxygen. Blowing a wind instrument when one didn't have sufficient wind for just being? This could be interesting! Steve commented it showed his passion for the trumpet. I personally couldn't imagine continuing to try playing once I needed oxygen, but then I was never that dedicated to playing. Having seen what he was playing  through, we took extra special appreciation when he was featured as the only trumpet in a leading phrase of one work. You couldn't call it a solo since a few other instruments were playing, but he was the one you really heard. When he finished, the first chair trumpet gave him a pat on the back.

Those were the good parts of the concert. Unfortunately, somebody decided they needed a "guest artist." Remember, there were 12 selections. She sang 5 of them. So much for expectations, eh?

The first impression wasn't promising. Look, I know I'm in no position to criticize somebody for being in the Plus Size category. But just because it happens to be the current fashion trend to wear dresses that emphasize big butts and sculpt themselves around every torso bulge and curve no matter how huge, that doesn't mean they are actually a good choice for performance apparel. Or for that matter, any kind of apparel. If fashion sense were her only flaw, I'd not bother to comment on it. But there was this whole overwhelming package.

She was everything the two of us hate most in opera singers. Her vibrato could cover three notes for every one she was trying to hit. In a way that was a plus for her, because it meant she could - mostly - eventually reach the note she was trying for before it was time to move on to the next. At least it seemed to work when the notes were fairly slow. Rapid notes could be anywhere, though by three or four of them she usually got back on the proper note. The tonal quality I think is what is called mezzo soprano (Steve thought it should be nasal soprano, though I don't think they have that category), and sometimes it wasn't too hard to listen to. Occasionally when she started a phrase she made more of a non-musical growl rather than a musical note.

I guess there are people who like that sort of thing, but Steve and I are not among them. She did get a lot of applause, and nice comments from the conductor on how easy she was to work with. That seemed to me like getting good grades in school for perfect attendance rather than learning the subject. The most applause was when she finished her last song, though only Steve actually said in my hearing that it was because she finished, though I agreed.

Besides, for the last song the 1st chair trumpet switched to a fluegelhorn and stepped up on the mini stage with her in order, as the announcer said, to help her with her last song. I suggested to Steve that it was a good thing. She could use all the help she could get. Him I could applaud: the horn was a great counterpoint and had a lovely tonal quality.

Not that anybody will, but should someone from the band want a bit of advice, I'd suggest a little (hell! a LOT!) more Sousa in something called a Sousa Concert. It's their 23rd annual one, so maybe everybody else gets the joke and we're the new ones who get fooled thinking the title means what it says. But I like coffee in my coffee, chocolate in my brownies, meat in my hamburgers, and yes, Sousa in my Sousa concert.

LOTS of Sousa!