Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Consumer Gripe

Same song, many verses. It boils down to this: every time I find something I really like, it becomes unavailable.

Let's start in the grocery store. There was a brand of little boxed Chinese entrees in the freezer section several years ago. After trying all of them, I settled on three as my favorites. Best flavor, best quality, a little heat in the seasonings, and meat that didn't disappear in the breading.  Guess which varieties they quit stocking? Guess who doesn't buy any of them any more?

My favorite brand of hot dogs disappeared, the one and only one that was both inexpensive and tasty. They discontinued the best pumpernickel rye. Can't find blue cheese more than once a quarter or so, except in the gourmet $ection,  and the extra hot jalapeno pepperjack is gone, the only one where you can actually taste the peppers and not just see green flecks. I found a brand of pre-cooked grilled hamburger patties with onions, just nuke for one minute. Yum. First they moved them to the top shelf in the freezer case so I have to ask for help every time I want some. Now they're no longer stocked, though the other varieties are still up on the top... way back.

It's not just food. I find some pajamas I like, or socks I like... it's like the kiss of death. Vitamins quit being offered in the dosage I prefer. I have a favorite baby powder, but they discontinued the larger more convenient size. The tiny one is still offered but either I have to pay double in a store I never otherwise shop at, or order online. Need I say I order by the double case? Just like I do with Sap Sago cheese, going back to food for a moment.

I should have known my life was going to be like this. Before I got married way back in the 60s, we picked out a china pattern, a crystal pattern, a flatware pattern. Every one was discontinued within a couple years, so whatever I didn't already have, forget it. My Betty Crocker coupons got me a lovely stainless pattern, very high quality and for everyday use, but... well, you know by now what happened there too. There actually isn't another pattern I can stand our there, and I've been looking for decades. They are ugly, flimsey, too thin and sharply cornered so they hurt my hands when I actually use them. Now I can, if I want, go on eBay and fill in the blank spots in my pattern for, say, $25 per single dinner fork!

Uh huh. Sure. Soon as I win that lottery.

Colors I like to decorate the house with, and didn't quite buy enough towels or whatever in, gone. Maybe they'll be back in fashion in 30 years or so.

Maybe not.

The type of stainless mixing bowl I love, in sizes and shapes I like and use most, that don't have those narrow bottoms that make them tippy, and do have a small loop/handle on the side for klutzes like me to hold on to them with... maybe in a thrift store, donated after some other long ago purchaser died. Same for the kind of measuring cups I prefer, the cereal bowls I like, the shoes that fit and support my arches properly.


I have been using a tube of Johnson & Johnson first aid cream for years. Occasionally it gets lost, like when I move, but eventually gets found again. It's nearly empty. I cut myself grating orange peels this afternoon and needed some. There might be one more bitty dose left. But there is NOWHERE another tube. Not even online. I've checked. Everybody thinks I want ointment instead, imbedded with whatever the latest fad in antibacterials may be. I don't. Ointments do not let the skin breathe while they are protecting it, so it won't heal as fast. I'm also not so keen on antibacterials as marketers think I should be. Anybody remember Phisohex? Everybody bought it by the half gallon jugful because it was what was used surgically, now wonderfully available to anyone, kills anything. I guess they were right. It turned out it caused nerve damage or something from skin contact. Oops.

That last tube of first aid cream with its last dollop is my treasure.

The heavy duty plastic cooking spoons that didn't scratch teflon and could really stir the thickest stews or whatever, even though lasting for 3 decades still broke. You know there's nothing like them out there any more. Not even the brand I like enough that I bought several family members some pieces (online after they too disappeared from the stores) are as sturdy as those original ones.

I have at least learned when I find socks I like, I buy a dozen pairs. Likewise undies, bras, whatevers. Shoes never come home in single pairs, nor do jeans. If it turns out I'm not so enchanted with them as I was in the store, it's a risk I take. This will be my one chance to get some.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Is For Memories

Steph just posted on her blog that Christmas is for stories. ( here  ) I have a slightly different take on the holiday. To me it's all about the memories of Christmases past, what happened through the years, both as I grew up and watching my family grow up. Or not. It's the one time of year that many of the memories are tied to, when I can say "this is when it happened."

From the early years of childhood I can remember the ornaments on the tree, the lights back when they were huge, or better yet, bubblers, stringing popcorn or cranberries, painting and putting glitter on pine cones, hanging tinsel carefully from every branch. Bags of peanuts and candies, maybe a popcorn ball were given out to us kids after church. Presents tended to be modest on the family's post-WWII budget, like a chunk of modeling clay the size and shape of a quarter pound stick of butter.  Perhaps a doll. 

The biggest present, my most asked for, was an Easy Bake oven. The family tradition was always to delay present opening until Christmas morning, the timing to be determined by our parents who thought a good night's sleep was important. I couldn't wait that year, so in the very wee hours when the family was still sound asleep and the house totally dark, I slipped down without turning on any lights to give me away, and opened the wrapping paper as carefully as I could to see what that big box for me really was. The problem was that some of the letters in the name were black, and others red which meant that they were also black at night. So I still wasn't completely sure until the next morning, when I pretended the tape was still tightly affixed so nobody would suspect my nocturnal sneaking, that my present was the much hoped-for oven.

Music was always a big part of the holiday. There were the carols sung in church, heard over the radio, played on records, tapes, CDs, in stores or elevators, even sung once out caroling through a neighborhood with a group of other single adults needing something cheery for their holiday. Concerts were sung by different generations, some a bit more musical than others. New songs became popular, some tug the heart. I learned harmonies to some, long ago forgot lyrics to others. My one choir solo ever was in the youth church choir of a Mexican Christmas Carol, never to be heard anywhere again.

When it was time to form a family of my own, the memories changed. Some were good ones. Each year there was the selection of a new kind of ornament for the tree, building up a supply from none of our own to, finally, way too many to actually put on a tree. Once the kids came along, I worked on some new traditions, trying to make up for less than ideal conditions in the home. My favorite of these, one never in my own childhood, was The Nutcracker Ballet. I first took Steph, after buying and reading to her a book giving the story of the magic. She was two her (our) first time. While that was fun, something happened that year which made it really magical for us.

We were down in southern Minnesota at the in-laws family farm. Mostly I dreaded those visits, as alcohol played way too large a part in the social interactions. While the kids were too young - I deeply hoped - to understand what was happening, and in fact told me years later that they had no bad memories of those visits, they were ruined for me.  That year I talked the family into watching the new baby for a bit and took Steph and the farm toboggan out for a walk and a badly needed getaway down the driveway and back. It had rained that day, turning everything into icicles: branches, fence wires, everything. The rain had finally ended, freeing us up to finally get out, but it was now dark and a thick fog had drifted in. Between ice, fog, and the traditional farm yard light, the world became a magical place, one that reminded us of the recently seen Nutcracker. Down at the end of the driveway the fog was so thick we couldn't see traffic on the highway, though a muffled noise and passing glow let us know when someone was crazy enough to be out driving.

Other years there were more Nutcracker ballets, all the kids going finally, but never one as beautifully etched in memory.

Other traditions were developed. Pictures with Santa, homemade ornaments for the tree, homemade decorated felt stockings for each of us. But if the holiday sounded idyllic, it also became the worst holiday. Living down in Georgia for a few years (where I was astounded to watch the neighbor mow the lawn on Christmas Eve!), Paul and I were divorcing, and at my request we postponed the announcement and separation until after the holiday that year. Unfortunately, it didn't happen quite as planned. Paul couldn't wait to get out of the house, and the very second the presents were opened he gave us his final one. He left. Steph in particular was hard hit by that. I was furious at his timing but for the most part it truly was his best gift. The alcohol and the craziness became a rapidly diminishing part of our lives and mostly ended completely in a couple years.

Many years blurred together after that, though one stands out, and just remembering it made me cry for years after - still can. I had returned to Minnesota with the kids, and Paul had remarried and was living in Oklahoma. There was no contact. In fact, there was none again until his mother died after the kids were grown. This particular year the child support was faltering, and we were about to find out that it was not going to be paid again. My job then was low paying, the kids were growing fast, the application for food stamps had been denied because one very last child support check showed up with just the wrong timing. I didn't know how on earth we were going to have either a Christmas dinner or any presents for the kids.

The neighbor across the street found out what was going on, and her place of employment, a local hospital, "adopted" a family each year to give a Christmas to. We were that family. Food and clothing poured in, toys were provided, and we had one of our best holidays ever. I sent the hospital a thank you note, but I doubt I was ever able to express just how much that kindness meant. Then or still now.

Once our family economics improved, a new tradition developed of shopping for the metro Toys for Tots drive each year. Other kids needed help with their merry Christmas.

The worst years were when there was a missing family member, when drugs and life  on the streets took over, and the rest of us tried to celebrate as a family while not knowing even whether our missing member was warm, healthy, or even alive and not the subject of the latest news reports of "there was a body found...." Fortunately those days are behind us, and we are only separated geographically. 

Most recent years the traditions shrank down to presents and  turkey dinner for whomever of the extended family could attend. Now that we are in Arizona, it involves a tree some years, always with bubbler lights if one goes up, turkey dinner with few trimmings, a box or two of wrapped things sent north, and the annual Christmas card. Each year, at some point in the year, I look at my pictures and know just which of them is going to be the one on the card that year, some times even as I take it. Other than after our wedding, the cards have all been something I shot, not the usual family portrait on the card. There was a time I could chose my own wording to go with the picture, but for the last several years the choices have been limited to the couple dozen offerings the stores have programmed into their machines. Each year the offerings are different, and each year the machines are also a bit different. There has not yet been a year when I could put together my desired card without help from some store employee, and some years like this one, not even then. (If you've seen my card, the picture was cropped too closely and one of the quail's heads was chopped short. The machine refused to zoom out no matter how many times either of us tried to do so. )

I guess it'll just have to become the special memory from this year. That, and maybe all the wonderful chocolates.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

AZ Traffic School: It's Different Down Here

Once registration was over, the first thing he said was that he always held these classes in a hotel. At the end of the evening some of us would not want to drive. Anywhere. So we could spend the night. We all laughed politely. It seemed like such a lame attempt at a joke.

We all knew how to drive. We knew the rules and regulations, had likely been driving for many years, several of which had even been here in Arizona. This was just a handy way of getting that pesky little speeding ticket, illegal turn, or whatever minor offense off of our records. Because the first thing different down here was that taking the class eliminated the offense. MVD never got informed in the first place, never mind needing to get it "erased". Our insurance companies could never get the information for an excuse to raise our rates for the next 39 months, because after the class there was no information to be gotten. And hey, if anybody needed it, this could be repeated once a year.

Or we,  or our kids learning to drive, could just take it because it was a good idea. We'd learn things. Practical things. Finer points of interpretations of the law, as well as safer driving. Things that should keep us from ever being required to come back.

To emphasize that point, he handed out a test to fill out. We could even chat with our neighbors to discuss the correct answers. Really simple, right? We knew this stuff, had it cold, were positive about our answers, scratched our heads when our neighbors had different answers than we did and were just as positive about theirs.

Need I mention that we all found out what we didn't know? Even the people whose driving had happened solely in Arizona? And as an out-stater, long time commercial driver with approximately 2 million miles under my belt, but in another state, I was astounded at just how much of what I knew was wrong.

It truly is different down here.

Arizona is ranked as the worst driving state in the union. We have three cities that rank nationally as 1, 3, and 5 on the worst drivers scale. We haven't even banned texting while driving yet, though Tempe just put a city-wide law into effect to do that. Also no cells, no cameras, etc.

Do you know where the Tempe city boundaries are?

I have done enough multi-state driving to have  made a point of checking which of several laws are in effect where I plan to go. Right turn OK on red? Stay right except to pass? Pedestrian rights / obligations? Move over a lane to avoid emergency vehicles on shoulder? Lights on in the rain? Cell phone restrictions? Once I moved down here, I picked up a copy of the rules of the road before switching my license over to here, and read it, looking for differences. Aside from finding no cell phone or texting restrictions, I thought it was all pretty much the same. If you can drive there, you can drive here; that was my conclusion.

Half my test answers were wrong! Take speed limits. I tend to watch them closely. I also tend to watch other vehicles zoom past as they ignore them, particularly on freeways. I've seen posted speeds anywhere from 15 to 25 in school zones, 55 to 75 on freeways (where 55 means traffic flows at 65, barring accidents, and 65 means 80+), 2-lane streets from 25 to 30, and 4-lanes from 40-45. I found out I didn't actually know what the default speed limits were. For the record, school zones are 15, residential and business streets are 25, highways are 55, and freeways are 65 in the city, and outstate only increase to 75 where there is an actual physical sign that says so!

If you think this only matters when you can identify a squad car nearby, AZ can use undercover vehicles like Mustangs, invite you to race them from a stop by revving their engines, and tag you for rising to the bait. That undercover vehicle is even legally allowed to carry an out-of-state license plate. But who needs a cop when the state is putting cameras up all around, and has gotten savvy enough to take 2 pictures of any offending vehicle, one of the license in the rear, one of the driver.

Back to speeds. Any ticket more than 20 mph over the speed limit, or over 85 regardless, is no longer a civil (pay the fine) offense but a criminal one. Meaning life gets complicated. Any time they can write you up for three offenses at once, it's criminal. So if you speed, forget your seat belt, let a bulb burn out, do an illegal lane change or a sloppy rolling stop, any three, watch out! Even if it's just a "simple" speeding ticket, each community can set its own fine levels, so they can vary from just over $100 to over $600.

Think you know when you can legally execute a U turn? Think again. Any left turn sign either at an intersection, or within a block enabling, for example, entry to a shopping center actually prohibits a U-turn. The only legal U-turn is in a left turn lane without a sign.

They're hard to find.

You may as well take a legal left into a parking lot, turn around and come out, making a right turn to complete your directional change. Of course, when you are pulling our from private property like that parking lot or your driveway, you must first make a full stop. Sign or no sign. Full stop. Then you must yield to everybody already on the road.

But then again, left turns too are problematic. Yes, they're legal, except....

Understand there is no recognized vehicle right-of-way legally down here, So even if you have a left turn arrow and everybody, and I mean everybody else has a red light, and you're making a left turn, if you get involved in a collision it's your ticket! That holds even if the car which hit you had to break the law in order to do so. Your ticket! It's so bad that companies like UPS and Fed EX have their drivers all make only right turns. If that means passing your turn, taking three rights around the block to be able to go straight in the direction you wanted, it's still all just right turns.

Our instructor recommended that practice to all of us.

There is one situation where you are not at fault if you get hit while making that left turn in an intersection. At the green, pull forward and wait  for everybody oncoming to clear, even if they run a red light and you're sitting out in the middle of the intersection unable to move before your light turns red. When cross traffic gets their green, they are legally not allowed into the intersection until all traffic has cleared, including you who have been sitting there more or less patiently. If they start as soon as they get the green and wind up hitting you, it's their ticket, not yours.

That of course does wonders at erasing any crunchies or injuries they may inflict.

Four way stops are another example of there being no legal right of way. It is the usual requirement that if two arrive at the intersection at the same time, drivers yield to any driver on their right. Who also have to yield to anybody on their right before they can proceed. Who also must yield to any driver on their right, who must in turn yield to you. Any time  three or four drivers reach a 4-way, legally things proceed one car at a time. Not two and two as most of us are used to and is practiced despite the law down here. So when you're facing north and the southbound driver takes their turn, you are not also allowed to take yours.

It could easily be one of those little extra things to write on your ticket, or that gives a reason for you to be pulled over. You know, by that sporty Mustang with the California plates.

Not only are cameras in place for speeders, they are in intersections with sensors that note just exactly where you stop. Exactly. The legal procedure is to stop at the stop line, the first line you come to across your lane. It's back a few feet from the intersection, and you can't properly see cross traffic for that right turn you want to make on red once it's clear. So after your proper stop you may creep forward until you can see it's safe to make that turn. The sensors are set both before and after that stop line. If you didn't stop in time, the first one is triggered. The only way at that point to avoid a violation is to stop before making your turn and stay stopped. No matter if traffic thins and you could otherwise take that turn, stay stopped. Once you get a green light, the system resets and you can proceed without getting recorded.

Minnesota recently required drivers to move left - or slow way down if that lane is blocked - when an emergency vehicle with lights flashing is on the shoulder, extending the requirement to when utility vehicles are on the shoulder as well. Many states now have a version of that law. Down here, it's - you guessed it - a tad different.

Any vehicle stopped on the shoulder counts for the requirement for you to pull over. If the land next to the road is level and dry and the vehicle pulled off by 30 feet, it still counts! Not only that, they are still legally considered to be using the right lane whether they are partly in it or not. So the next lane over must be kept clear for them, and you need to pull over into the 3rd lane in order to clear them. Of course, you can slow way-y-y-y-y down in order to pass when you can't move that far over, should the desired lane be blocked, traffic be too fast or closely tailgating each other for you to maneuver in, or that 3rd lane not even exist.

There' a twist for crosswalks down here. Pedestrians rule in a crosswalk at all times. That's not different. But watch out for the color of the crosswalk lines. White is a regular crossing, meaning you may proceed once your whole side from curb to center median is clear. Yellow means  you're in a school zone, whether you noticed the signs or not, and you may not move across the crosswalk unless it is cleared of pedestrians from curb to curb.

Speaking of curb to curb, when emergency vehicles are approaching you with lights flashing, you must pull over. You think you know that. But many states say that on roads with a center median, if it's on the other side you may continue forward. Here you must pull over and stop whichever side of the road it is on. Even on a divided highway.

Try not to get rear-ended when you are the only one who knows the law.

We thought our instructor was joking when he said some of us might not feel like driving home after class was over. As he dismissed us, many of us weren't sure any more whether it was safe for us to be out there or not.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Give Me COLOR!

I'm coming down (perhaps "up"?) from nearly 30 years of wearing uniforms, most of which required navy as the main part. That, over the years, could (must) be paired with federal blue, black, charcoal, or ... you guessed it ... more navy. Shoes were white, or black: no biggie, because that is what serious shoes came in, white or black. And the navy I didn't mind, really. Being blue-eyed, I had always been told that was "my" color. And it tends to bring out the orange in my skin, an improvement from all the red to my way of thinking.

Shopping was easy. Navy was always a staple, even as jeans became the casual American uniform. All I had to do was pick navy or what blended. See above. And I was very content to hide behind the neutrality of that palette. At work, I was identifiable, not as me but as a part of the uniformed tribe.

Even after retiring, navy was still the primary go-to choice for a while. I still had all those navy or grey pants with very little wear, a sufficient supply to last for years. For the record, the one pair I've tossed was already full of holes, brought down here as something grubby to wear for those jobs that might destroy otherwise good pants. Besides, I love the texture of those pants, probably why the wear pattern was right where my hand rested on them while taking a break from the steering wheel.

Navy so monopolized my life that back in '91 when I had the Minnesota house built I painted my bedroom a shade of blue that blended perfectly with that color, a pale greyed shade called Heron blue, and bought a bed comforter to match. That was ME at rest. Comfortable. Inoffensive. Automatic. Blah.

Underneath the navy, there was white. I grew up being told underthings were white. Just white. Always. If - horrors! - it ever showed, the world could instantly tell how fastidious, moral, and well-groomed you were by how white that white was. Plus, undies with dyes in them would lead to a lady developing a UTI, so for heaven's sake at least buy something with a white cotton-lined crotch if one dared to delve into a little naughtiness with color.

It's been my experience that UTIs are really caused by dehydration resulting in lack of flushing out the system, poor personal hygiene, sex with a partner who didn't consider his own personal hygiene to be of any concern to his partner, or too high levels of blood sugar. Not undies. Especially not colored undies. So those were my first, hidden, venture into adding colors to my life. Now there must be a dozen different colors popping out when the drawer opens, neatly folded and stacked, of course.

With retirement pending, my latest shoe purchase was a pair of very bright blue shoes with touches of yellow, and a pair of green and pink ones. The blue were for work, despite the recent company crackdown on black-only shoes. What? They were going to send me away early when they were already bemoaning how they would ever fill my niche of long days, late hours, and willingness to travel anywhere to the tune, often, of over 500 miles a day? I'd risk it. And did.

Not one word.

With the purchase of the Arizona house, I decided to alter my color palette a little. While the living/dining room is still a pale cornflower blue, and the concrete floor painted slate grey, options being very limited there, the Persian rugs defining usage spaces both have generous patterning of burgundy, and my recliner is all burgundy. The rug in the lanai, otherwise in a very neutral cream, has intense greens and rose shades throughout. My bedroom, for the first time ever, I had done in two different intensities of teal. You can still call it blue, though many call it green, and think of it as a southwestern turquoise shade, but it is color, color, COLOR. Accents in furniture and window blinds are white, bringing out the teal even more.

Of course, the old, perfectly serviceable grey-blue comforter needed to be replaced, though for the record, I still own it for the comfort of cool-weather guests, should there be any who chose to visit during that month. While clerking an auction a few years back, I spotted a bedspread with some curls of a dark teal wandering through the design, and without much thought as to what the rest of it might look like inside its bag, I put in a winning bid on it. Upon finally opening it to lay out on my bed, I was surprised to discover that the rest of the swirls pattern includes deep non-metalic gold, fuchsia, and a violet-purple. Little flecks of black all over too, to keep it from being obnoxious.

I love it!

In fact, I love it so much I have trouble setting it aside during those super hot nights in late spring and early fall. After all, the blankets under it are simply ugly, never mind that they are cotton thermal and nicely cool with just a touch of warmth for the wee hours just before waking. I just love those colors. All of them.  All together.

With the old long work days, I basically wore uniform shirts 5 days a week while not in pajamas, also mostly navy by the way. So I needed a new shirt wardrobe. Just in time, a line of cheap, multi-colored, glittery hot-weather shirts became widely available (OK, I admit it was Wal Mart) and I snatched up a few. And some more. In fact, mostly everything in those shirts they sold. Not a single offering on their shelves was in navy. Of course, most of what they will be paired with is still navy, but the pants are still serviceable and I'm neither silly enough nor wealthy enough to toss them all out. So I make do.

Baby steps.

I went out for some new sweats a couple weeks ago. I bet you think I bought a lot of purple, don't you? Well, those had already been picked over and my size was out, so I came home with ... navy.

And grey.

But I did find a pretty (or pretty thin) hoodie and a matching thermal long sleeved shirt in teal too. The matching pants were sold out in my size, of course.

I plan to keep trying.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Shuttin' Her Down ...Oops

For those of you who missed the excitement, or worse, for those of you who didn't but had no idea what was going on, it was all my fault. I freely confess: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

I shut down the whole rec center.  Just me. The whole thing. Everybody had to leave.

It started out with perfectly good intentions.


No, really.

Joining the lapidary club comes with obligations as well as the privileges of instructional classes, use of expensive equipment,  and being able to display/sell your creations in the sales shop. You need to pay your dues and class fees, of course. And you need to volunteer a few hours to the club each month.

For me, that's been a bit of a problem. I could sell other folk's jewelry, but with the scooter I'd be a very unruly bull in the china shop. Same for the parts sales room for the members. I could be a room monitor, but I need silversmithing class (mucho $$$) to understand some of the equipment in order to properly either turn it on or shut it safely off. So finding my niche has been a challenge. I've still been taking classes and using the equipment, but cannot sell anything through the club. There is a definite incentive, besides personal pride, to figure out how I fit in.

Ideas have been proposed. Last year things were going missing, and it was suggested I could review our in-shop security tapes to pinpoint a culprit... or more. But that activity stopped and I wasn't needed. Our outgoing president thought I might be able to take just the equipment/safety portion of the silver class - free - in order to be able to be a monitor, but others shot that idea down. I'd need the whole thing at the full fee. The hunt continued.

Then last week Donna offered a solution: I could clean. Understand, everybody is supposed to clean the equipment they've just finished using. Apparently most of them skipped that part of their classes. I've always tried to be the good Girl Scout and leave it better than I found it- not a difficult thing to do. Most of the cleaning happens at my reachable heights, or does when it happens. So yes, I can do that!

This morning I showed up all gung ho to get going. I had a few stones which needed their final polish with Zam, something I was unable to do last week because lack of a monitor forced closure of the shop just before I got to that point in my process. But that only took a few minutes. I still couldn't use the slabbing saw on a fat rock since it was "red-tagged" for needing repairs. Still. After at least three weeks. But that left me between projects with plenty of time to share with the club, cleaning.

Every step of the lapidary process, from rock chunk to polished jewelry-ready stone, has one thing in common. They all produce rock dust. If you are using the equipment correctly, the dust is mostly contained in either water or oil lubricant. This means every droplet or splash leaves behind a splotch as it dries, white or colored, depending on the stone in use. These are not only unsightly, they can build up and wear down the equipment faster. Even when wiped off hastily with a damp towel after use, the machinery carries a thin rock dust coating on it. If not wiped, it and everything around it will be covered with splotches, running drips, and streaks.

Somebody else was cleaning the saws room, so I started in the grinders room. Just for clarity, this room is not the only location of grinders and polishers, but it is dedicated solely to them. By the time I neared the end of the first counter, over an hour had passed, and I had cleaned spaces where I'd never even thought to look for crap while I had been using the equipment. I started seeing accumulations of stuff in crevices and corners heretofore undreamt of. Mostly I could deal with them "well enough" with my frequently rinsed wet towel. But I finally reached the most-used machines where, logically enough, the deepest accumulations of dirt resided.

I started by locating an old table knife, thin and firm enough to scrape up over a quarter inch of rock dust and lint in narrow spaces between the machines and the frames which secured them to the counter tops. Most of that, once loosened, I was able to encourage to head out the front side where my hand could act as a large scoop to take it over to one of the trash cans. Some of it, however, exited out the back, into a narrow space between parts of the equipment where nothing really reached.

Not to worry: one of the guys had the perfect idea! (You notice this was a guy, right?) He turned on the shop vac, aimed the hose into the narrow area, and... well, maybe somebody could locate a narrow crevice tool to fit the hose another day. He had his own project to get back to. I plodded on, doing what I could, leaving what I had to. But notice, please, that the shop vac worked perfectly for him.

Remember earlier where I said the rock dust mainly was confined to the water/lubricant areas? Well, the machines I was cleaning have trays underneath, partly to hold the water running through, partly to evacuate water out a tube attached about half an inch up from the bottom. While nobody has explained the purpose of its height to me, I assume it is to keep the worst, aka heaviest, of the particles in the tray so the water exits with the least clogging of downstream plumbing. If that's not the reason, it's certainly the result. After months of use without cleaning, the bottoms of those pans hold a thick slurry. Any stone dropped in them is instantly invisible, and fingers that go fishing them out come out coated in the color of the month which is never the color of one's skin or nails and which defies all washing and brushing attempts to effect removal. I'd been thinking for a long time that somebody ought to clean those out.

Today that somebody was me. The thing is, one can only really clean them out while they are dry and caked, meaning before somebody uses that particular machine for that day, leaving me two that could be cleaned. A wedge of wood (there are plenty around, just with a different use) will scrape up and break up the sediment for fairly easy removal.

Or at least it should be easy. Access to the tray bottoms themselves involves enough angles and obstructions that what appears a wide space is in fact quite narrow. But AH-HAH! I had been shown the way: the shop vac. Its hose was both large enough for efficiency and small enough to maneuver in the spaces required. And let me mention, once again, that a GUY had just used it for exactly the same thing, just different spaces. And with no problems.

Murphy's law has a new corollary. The time it takes for a shop vac without a filter on the back end to kick enough dust into the air to set off the smoke detectors is only a quarter of the time needed to for  a person using it with their back turned to the machine to notice what is happening and shut it off. You know: two seconds.

We in lapidary all knew what the cause of the alarms and evacuation notice, loudly and constantly repeated to the point of ear pain, was: me. And rock dust. There was no fire. No emergency. One of the club members trotted down to the main desk to explain the situation so the fire truck callout could be cancelled.  We were still all evacuated, staff members checking rooms to chase us all out. It took about 10 minutes for the alarm/notice to shut off and for staff to allow us back in.

I finished cleaning the area I had been working on. There was no point in leaving it a worse mess than I'd found it. After that, I decided I'd roll on home, relax, have lunch, read a book. You know, before I managed to create another incident.

It's a rare and unique talent.