Wednesday, October 21, 2015

2016: Surgery Year?

As all of you our there "of a certain age" are aware, this is Medicare plan sign up time. There are ads all over the TV, flyers dropped through the mail slot, even a letter from the agent we used last year.

We called her. We wanted something different, something that would actually follow us around the country, rather than something that claimed to be good in an emergency and when the paperwork showed up later revealed that their brand of coverage was to deny everything.

I'd call that fraud. It may not be technically that, since I'm not that versed in the legalities, but we decided we really really wanted something different for the upcoming year.

The agent promised to check through the plans she had and find some way or another to get a plan that followed us. Maybe there was one where we could just call them and "relocate" for three months. Or something.

We had her over Monday. We've both now switched both plan types and company. Blue Cross is getting our business next year. And I've decided to sign up for what my folks had, which I happen to know about from doing the finances for them to varying degrees for several years. They used to call it "Medigap" insurance. Now they gave it a new name, calling it a Medicare Supplement plan. (Steve opted for the "Advantage" plan instead: less out-of-pocket up front.)

At any rate, regular Medicare is the first line of defense, and it follows us everywhere, with no referrals required, no pre-approval needed for a procedure, no system of doctors you have to stay within, no co-pay needed to walk in the door and over quadruple the fee if it's a specialist. Then the other, the one you pay an up front monthly bill for, covers all the rest. There's still a Part D plan to get, which covers all but a minimum for medications, but for now at least that's fairly minimal.

Our agent suggested that this year would be a good year to get my knees replaced. I'd been told years ago that this would be necessary, but put it off because of the 20% I'd need to cover for the hospitalizations. We're still waiting to see if cardiac surgery will be needed, but the doctor is optimistic that the new medication will remove that need.  Personally, I'm not so optimistic. Six months is about the time after which each of the previous two new meds failed to work perfectly, and in fact began to work progressively more imperfectly as time passed. (I have sporadically wondered if the body adjusts to those medications the way it will to painkillers, where they become progressively less effective until the only thing worse becomes none at all.) If that happens with this one, I'll schedule that surgery next year as well.

Heck, if I like, on the new insurance, I could even schedule it in Minnesota if I wanted. I really liked that cardiologist. Now, though, I need to track down a good orthopedic surgeon and start making appointments.

Friday, October 16, 2015


You wonder what will break while you watch it, what you will find damaged afterwords. I knew without really registering what was coming. I'm new here. And there weren't any warnings, certainly not while watching last night's TV.

I had looked at the radar picture, figuring that we might actually get a little rain (undetermined at this point but a large wedge of rain heading our way), but this season's experience discouraging me from the hope that it would do anything but fade out as it approached, go around to all those other neighboring areas that collected weather rather than here.

The sky had gradually changed from blue with white wisps, to distant cumulus hills climbing the sky, to gradual greying. That's when I checked the radar before going back to the TV. Then it all turned brown.

They explain that the front of a storm creates wind which, down here, kicks up a lot of dust. They call it a haboob, showing pictures of the advancing walls swallowing the city. I'm not sure today qualified as one, despite the color, despite everything whipping around. I've always thought it should be much denser, harder to see through, dramatically destructive. Since it wasn't, of course I went outside to watch it go through.

The wind kicked up plenty of dust, wisping through the yard, the neighbors' yards. Trees swayed, the new ones in the yard swayed, resisted snapping. Bits of something pelleted the metal roof of the patio, not enough to bring our basset inside. He just stood under the big pine, looking around as if wondering what the fuss was. The little one, of course, huddled under me, thunder rumbling in the distance. Empty plant pots rolled from where they had lain for several days, our energy having vanished the moment their contents had gotten into the ground, caged from rabbits,  and watered. And watered. And watered. The tiny bit of energy left over was reserved for admiring the way nearly all of them had burst into bloom once in their new homes: orange bells, red honeysuckle tubes, white sage petals crawling up and down the stems.

Wait! What? White? I thought we were getting purple. And fragrant. I haven't gone out to confirm my suspicion that in breeding out the color they'd also bred out the fragrance.

A white plastic bag danced two backyards away, suspiciously like the ones we'd used to protect the car from the plants and vice versa. Perhaps by the time it finds a stopping place it won't be traced back to us. So far there's been not a drop of rain here to weigh it down on its journey. The wind has settled down just a bit, color changing from brown to something fewer than 50 shades of grey, window views showing no signs of damage. The radar map confirms rain all around us, a clear spot in the weather right here, like magic.

Or a curse.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Food? Shelf

We have a great local food shelf here. Steve has been using it for several years now, and since I'm living here too these days, so am I. They do, of course, limit us to one visit a month, so while I am registered for it, if Steve goes I can't.

Seems more than reasonable.

Quantities are generous. There are always about 8 full grocery bags to unpack and put away. Of those, however, there are always a couple bags' worth that go straight to the garbage can.

You could say we're fussy, I guess. Maybe we're spoiled by never having to forage through dumpsters to avoid starvation. I still have high standards for the quality of food I eat. And I don't think I'm unreasonable about it.  I don't mind the very overripe bananas. Those can always be used in cooking. I do mind asparagus where the last inch on the end of every tip is slime. I have a hard time with salad bags where a quarter of the greens are also  disintegrating, apples and peaches with rotten cores.

I don't really blame the food shelf for how quickly the pasta, dried beans, and rice gets buggy. Everything not sealed tight down here does that. It could just as well be us, not them. We've learned to pop them in the freezer, then into a sealed container, which better be round and have a good screw top to qualify. Whatever isn't eaten by the time to head north goes into the car with us, after a quick check for bugs, of course. And I've just ordered a case of No Pest Strips to hang up just as we take off to deal with those opportunistic pests. Those should be good for three or four summers.

I just don't think we're too fussy, that our expectations are too high. After all, the mandatory two cans per month of green beans find a home here. (Steve says he'll eat them.) Apple sauce cans well past the sell-by date are welcomed, as long as the can is in good condition, though I do admit to treating them with a suspicious eye upon opening to make sure the sauce is not brown, growing mold, or tasting either like something else entirely or nothing at all. Canned soups, tuna, gravy, sauces, all are found a spot for as long as one of us can figure out a way of using them.

The breads are generally OK, mostly heading straight into the freezer. Steve likes the simple ones, I like the nuttier and whole grain ones. But the week-old bagels are problematic, especially since they are so carb-dense, as are all the sugary snacks which are generously included. Most of those arrive stale or are wrapped to become stale within a day or so, way faster than either of us can fit them into our carb allowances. When it's regular bread that's stale, it can be crumbled, dried out completely, and saved for holiday stuffing.

See? Not that fussy.

But all of that has become expected. People contribute to food shelves according to what they can't sell or nobody else would ever eat. OK. I get that. But last night was the final big tease. It looked like we could finally have one really wonderful meal, that three things would go together perfectly. We planned our supper together, a rarity for us for a variety of reasons, and both scheduled our carb intakes around the dinner hour.

I got out the can of parmesan cheese, tightly sealed, the jar of spaghetti sauce with mushrooms, which both of us like, also tightly sealed, the both to lavish over the package of spinach ravioli. It was organic, not that organic mattered to us, and looked a bit squished and stuck-together, again not that it mattered to us, and even came in a package which informed us the carb count was perfect for the two of us. That did matter to us.

While the water was coming to a boil, I opened the cheese can. It was brown and grainy, smelling like... well, I don't know what since I've never had that particular experience before.


The spaghetti sauce, once opened, had the top half dried out and stuck to the rim of the jar. While the rest of the sauce looked just fine, to get at it one had to pour through the solidified stuff, knocking it into the bowl I was going to use to microwave the "good" sauce in.

Again, toss.

Oh well, the ravioli solo should still be OK for a meal. It looked well seasoned, herbs and clumps of cheese sticking to the tops of each piece. The water was just hitting a boil, so I hurriedly pried the patties apart to slide into the water, being the economical sort who doesn't want to waste cooking gas.

Especially after just paying the electric bill from having the house air conditioned over the last month.

Once the patties were all slipped into the water, and I stirred them gently according to package directions, I looked at my hands prior to washing them. What was that blue fuzzy stuff? I was afraid I knew all to well what I was looking at, and went back to take a closer look at the ravioli.

Now that they were separated, I could plainly see the patches of mold that had been hiding between the patties, or raviolis if you will.

And hey, I've no doubt that, as advertised, the mold was completely organic too, just like the ravioli was.

A perfect three for three.

On the bright side, this morning was garbage pick-up day.

At least there were some still-edible chicken pieces in the fridge.

Saturday, October 10, 2015


I can't find it on line. Search engines keep diverting me elsewhere, sure I mean a different spelling or combination of words. It's the first poem I ever memorized in school. And no, poems that are song lyrics do not count. I must have run into it as an early teenager, maybe even a "tween". If I had a philosophy for how to live my life, this was it.

I still dredge it up out of memory at odd times, usually when I'm doing what the poem is talking about. We all know about the imperfections of memory. There is a strong possibility there is a word or two wrong, a line missing, the line breaks misplaced, all of which are why I tried to look it up. I wanted to get it right. But here it is as I recall it, with any apologies needed for my imperfections. If anybody can point me to the original, I'd be grateful.

by Carol Coombs

I've mending I must do, and beds to make.
I should not sit and watch the red sun set
Behind the hills of afternoon, nor take
This time to dream when I have work. And yet

Supposing that I go at duty's call
To make the beds and sweep the floors? What then?
These have no great importance after all.
Tomorrow they must all be done again.

No, I shall sit and feel the rising dew
And watch the haze around the setting sun.
And I'll find time for the other, too,
When this, the more important thing, is done.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Planting Season

Yep, it's going to take us a whole season at this rate. We did get one bush planted.


There are excuses. I found out that the rock covered bed they all are going into has been kept so (relatively) weed-free because some idiot covered it all with solid black plastic!


Down here, the ground is penetrable when it's nicely wet. The rain we just had should have accomplished that nicely. Only, not when those damn plastic sheets cover everything. They don't even do a good job of sorting out the decorative rocks from the dirt underneath. And really, tall weeds and spurge do come up just fine anyway. We still get to kill tall stuff and pull out the spurge that the ants have been using for their shade parasols about twice a year. So I figure the only real reason for the plastic is somebody owns stock in the company.

I freely grumble about it the whole time I'm trying to get the shovel to break through the plastic and all the rocks and all the concrete-like ground just to make one singe little hole. Just dirt with a few rocks? Not a problem. This? There are lots of resting stops while a little more bucket water loosens dirt enough to get a couple more shovelfuls out, then more water, more chopping through the hole, more water....

You may gather that we are just back from the Botanical Garden's semi-annual plant sale. Today is Member Preview Day, just a fancy way of saying our membership lets us and 30,000 other folks in a day earlier than just plain folks to select our plants. They open at 7 AM, and really, it was just as well we arrived 15 minutes later than that because they were still letting in the waiting line of first arrivals
as we got there. The thought of getting there early enough to stand around and wait, stand around and wait, stand around and wait, and finally have the privilege to walk through a couple acres of plants and select the ones we wanted just makes me cringe.

And I came with my scooter!

Poor Steve decided to try making the sale using just his walking stick rather than putting his scooter in the back also and still expect room to tote half a dozen bushes home. He learned just how sensible a decision that was. Yes, we did fit the bushes in. But he's currently lying down trying to find a way to feel better, recovering from our morning.

We arrived with a plan. It started with a list that we had been working on for over a month, including some last-minute revisions. Most of those were changes in varieties in favor of fragrance or being better for hummingbirds. The next part of the plan was to wake up really early, hit the road fighting rush hour traffic since the Garden is on the other side of downtown Phoenix from us, and hope for a close parking spot to the sale entrance.

OK, that last little bit wasn't perfectly implemented. At least we did find handicapped parking, but it was much closer to the Garden front entrance than the sale entrance. Still....

The last part of the plan was to find a staff volunteer both helpful and well informed as to what was located where, and convince (him) to lead us to the good stuff. In turn, he parked us in a findable spot and took our shopping list with him, returning six times with a listed item. Oh, we forgot to tell him that we only really wanted 5, but when his first find was the rarest of the plants on the list, we decided to make room for all six. Why argue with success?

Steve and I swapped which of us was sitting and which standing while waiting for our plants, so it wasn't complete torture  for either of us. Still, it wasn't the last time this morning that we mutually agreed that this was our last time to stock the yard with plants.

When I said that the above was our last part of the plan, I lied. Sorry. We also brought garbage bags with drawstring tops to surround the plants as much as possible. They kept dirt confined on the ones that had to be tipped to fit in the car, and kept most of the branches confined on the sprawlers. We'd already noted several broken branches as we were checking out and wanted to minimize the damage.  Then we sat in the car for a few minutes, partly to rest, and partly waiting for a break in the traffic as other customers wound up and down the aisles looking either for parking or exits. Apparently none of them wanted our spot.


So, home before 10 AM with delusions of planting. By 11:30 we settled for getting one in. The bags were opened around the rest so they wouldn't bake, water was added to their pots, and the biggest broken branch was pruned and set in the water tub that the dogs have been under the illusion was for their personal private use. I had given up on the branch, wilted as it was, but it started perking up quite quickly, enough that I now suffer from delusions of it rooting and providing us with a bonus plant.

Of course, with space being limited, I expect if it does survive, it'll get planted right next to its clone. Just a bigger bush faster.

Or not.

At any rate, we think maybe another bush can go in early this evening. It'll still be beastly hot but the sun will be gone. If we pick the littlest pot, we should manage planting and rabbit caging it before the light is all gone. Then one tomorrow morning before the sun comes up, etc., etc.

Assuming we still have some energy for the task.

I think I've got a sunburn.

The first bush in was the Flame Honeysuckle, and we didn't even have it in the ground yet before it's first winged visitor was exploring the nectar content of the red blooms. Kinda makes you want to keep going.

Later, that is.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Counting New Recipe Carbs

Polish up those math skills, ladies and gents. I don't mean trig or calculus, not even algebra. (Like Peggy Sue, I never ever have needed those, and whatever I learned is vanished. Some, like calculus, were wiped clean two minutes after I walked out of the final. Aced it, by the way.) No, I'm talking the basics: addition, multiplication, division.

Ever notice when you're talking about carbs, calories, stuff like that, there is never any subtraction?

Back to the task at hand. I was given a new "simple" recipe by my sister-in-law, in this case meaning Steve's younger brother's wife, Alta. Raising 4 rambunctious kids, easy is her preferred version of cooking unique treats for the family. This one was pumpkin spice chocolate chip cookies.

While easy is also my preferred method of food prep, I have the kind of brain that finds so many alternative ways of interpreting contents and instructions that a host of questions arise before we even get to the store to shop for ingredients. Good thing this recipe has only three of them.

Here are the directions: combine a spice cake mix, a can of pumpkin (pie filling), and a bag of chocolate chips. Drop onto a cookie sheet like you would any cookie, bake 10 minutes or more at 350.

I bet you could go right out and get busy. Me? I need to know what size can pumpkin? What size cake mix? Do those still come in sizes? I do presume the smaller size bag of chocolate chips, though my favorite grocery store has double-sized ones, because the larger quantity of chips would be just too good to be true.


Then I need to know whether you follow the directions on the cake mix box for eggs, water, etc. Turns out you don't, that the pie filling adds all the moisture needed. Armed with this information, and Alta's assurances that this is a very favorite treat for her whole family, you'd have them half made by now. Not me. There's one more step I need to take. Here's where the math comes in.

I get to count carbs. Steve and I both need to count those these days. So we have to know, once the cookies are done, how many carbs we're talking about. Can we have one? Two? Only half a cookie?

First, the chocolate chips. The label believes that there are a total of 220 carbs in the whole package. That of course isn't that simple. They arbitrarily pick a number out of the air that nobody would ever actually consider a full serving, then assign a carb count, leaving us to multiply it back out for a package count. In this case, 220.

The cake mix box presumes that somebody can cut their baked cake into 10 pieces. Ten? Really? Twelve, maybe. Sixteen if you're stingy, two if you're really into cake. But ten? And by the way, this time of year it's impossible to find spice cake mixes unless you know to look at the island display that holds all the goodies that somebody might conceivably use for Halloween holiday baking. That aside, the total carb count for the cake mix is 360, with or without adding the eggs and water. (If you don't know why, well, you need a lecture on carbs vs. protein vs. fats....)

The can of pumpkin pie filling lists a total of 42 carbs, once  you can get past the concept of 3 1/2 servings. (C'mon guys: really? Who only gets the half serving? And how do you cut a pie into 3 1/2 pieces? Think of the fights around the table that that would create!) That gives a total for all the cookies of 622 carbs. Divide that by your number of cookies, which you're only going to figure out after you see how many you've spooned out on the sheet. Burnt ones that  you toss in the garbage, not that we know anybody who ever does that, still count towards that total.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Storm Report


No, nothing like South Carolina, though no doubt there will be plenty of people down here complaining about it. Personally, I've gotten tired of watching the precipitation going around us in every direction but never falling here. Mesa, Tempe, Scottsdale - they've all gotten plenty of rain this so-called Monsoon Season. Those are just in-The-Valley communities. All the mountain areas have shown lots of water on a regular basis. We get TV coverage of flooding - yeah, looks like a whole three inches there, buddy! - and the usual stupid folk who think whatever they see that used to be pavement is OK to drive through.

But as for weather here, it's been dry and sunny, with temperatures in the three digits. I'm sure the AC bill is also going to be way higher in the three digits for the last month than we'd like too, and we cranked it up over 80. Hey, not bad for folks coming down from a Minnesota summer where there were a whole two days over 90 in our three months there.

It's been wet for us the last three days. You could actually hear the occasional raindrop hitting the metal roof of our patio. That is, as long as you were quiet and listening for it. I've been optimistically checking the new rain gauge I put up in the fence a couple weeks back. It's the kind that collects from a wide area so the rainfall of an inch rises about 4" in the tube. The orange ring floating on top of the water makes it easy for our geezer eyes to read, even from inside the patio or house.

Nada. Even the more optimistic 5 minute sprinkles that occasionally stray into the actual shower category, the kind that actually coat the driveway enough for it to get wet rather than each drop evaporating by the time the next one lands, don't show up in the gauge. Yesterday morning my neighbor across that fence asked what that gizmo was for, so I got to explain the concept to him. He left scratching his head. He had long since decided that Del Webb had measured precipitation in various spots around The Valley, found the one where it never rained, and built a whole community there, calling it Sun City. Truth in advertising, don'cha know.

Last night there was enough rainfall that it was dripping off the roof. I mean really dripping, enough rain to slide down the incline and splat on the ground! Wheeee! I looked at the rain gauge this morning and... nothing.

I headed out to lapidary this morning, leaving after another such memorable but unregistered shower, planing to spend a few hours at least, making up for staying away for over a week with a miserable cold. I've improved to the point where I can actually yawn without feeling like I was ripping open the back of my throat prompting yet another coughing fit. Plus, it's been well over 5 days and I shouldn't be contagious any more.

You're welcome.

A shower went through while I was busy inside. I never noticed it, but somebody commented on it and there were actual puddles here and there! Puddles! Golleee! The only reason I noticed the puddles was that they locked up the room and shooed everybody out about 11:30. They can do that because there aren't enough volunteers back south yet, and without a monitor (to call 911, I guess, if you decide to do something really clever like pour molten metals over yourself or grind your fingertips off while working a stone) you can't stay in the room alone.

I checked the sky while scootering home and saw the cloud that had recently pretended to wring itself out over the area. I also noticed a darkening to the south, from whence our weather commeth these last few days. Looked like we were in for another teeny shower, if we were lucky.

I checked the radar when I got home. It looked like we might be blessed with another shower but we could just as easily be skipped, depending on upper level winds. Steve and I had errands to run, and I talked him into our using the car rather than scootering.

Just in case.

OK, I get it. This all seems really minor to you, doesn't it? Ho hum, a few drops of rain, big deal. Really, I get it. I also get the water bill, and to try to figure out what bushes we're going to be able to plant in the yard this weekend after the Botanical Garden's semi-annual plant sale and maybe have them survive over next summer. I get to check the daily radar for the homesite from up in Minnesota while we're vacationing, so I can see what's not happening. A whole month of dashed hopes in situ does matter in our scale of things.

So back to actually getting our storm.

Our last stop was KFC for their Tuesday special, then heading home. Since the last few days were cool even if not wet, our plan was to sit out on the patio and watch the weather roll in. Or not. Facing the system on the last mile of our drive, we noted not only how dark the clouds were, but the greenish blue tint where the clouds kinda split apart.

Now that was a familiar sight!. Hail, maybe?

While we sat out with our lunch, we heard a steady rumble, and I mean steady. No breaks. Lightning flashes didn't bring an increase in noise levels, so we knew there was enough of it going on in the tops of the clouds to give an unceasing barrage of cloud to cloud strikes. We only saw flashes of brightness, not individual strikes, so it all must be high. By the time we finished eating, there was again the pitter patter of little raindrops on the metal roof.

Dang! It looked like we were going to be missed again.

But then we weren't. Boy, it came down. In fact, it still is, though it's back to a light shower now. The wind has shifted, so I had to close the windows on the north side of the house. We'd kept them open the last three days to cool off the house and quit running the AC. It's officially 62 degrees outside at the moment, and that stiff breeze has me chilled.  The sky's lighter to the south now, so it should clear before too long, though the radar still shows plenty of green over the area. The buckets we set out under the patio eaves when there's a reason to expect runoff are full up. The rain gauge, read from my bedroom window, shows about a half inch. Puddles stand in the yard, including over the painted spots left this morning by the call-before-you-dig guys. The paint isn't water soluable, apparently. Good thing, though the yellow and orange flags are still standing. We start digging as soon as we feel up to it, and now we know where and where not to. I'll take pictures too, but not till after the rain stops.

Hey, do you know how long I've waited to be able to say that?

*    *    *    *

For the record, we're going to be looking for orange bells (yellow bells if there are no orange), Chihauhaun sage, Texas mountain laurel, yellow San Marcos hibiscus, yellow bird of paradise, flame honeysuckle. If all are available, we have priorities, since space has some limitations. All will be kept pruned to bush size. All need TLC the first 6 months or so, and then should adapt to Sonoran conditions. It worked for the 3 trees and 4 ocatillos we planted last fall. The succulents gave mixed results. We did learn about protecting EVERYTHING from our voracious local rabbits. In fact, I just finished pruning dead branches from our palo verde where the bunnies burrowed under the fencing and stripped the bark before we discovered it and went out and purchased tent stakes for the fencing. The red yuccas will be getting taller cages, since our bunnies don't know that bunnies don't normally eat those and have leaned in over the top to prune them low for us.