Friday, October 20, 2017

At Last! Back To Lapidary

I haven't been to the Club for more than a few minutes since last April. There were medical reasons, seasonal condensation of hours to times that didn't work well for me, and the emotional drag of having what was supposed to be a major project wind up showing me graphically where the gaps in my skills lay.

This month, I had required attendance as secretary for a couple of meetings, but nothing much else changed. Perhaps it can be considered on the plus side that I was no longer spinning the wheels in my brain, keeping me alert and awake, trying to figure out the next design, the best (perhaps) technique, the special project, instead of falling asleep when I wanted to rather than an hour or two later. But required attendance and winter longer hours got me started up again.

It's starting to feel good. I spent parts of two days with the grinding wheels on various rocks. Unfortunately, every one I chose to work on was either agate or jasper, both very hard, thus a slow slog. Nothing got much closer to completion.

But I was working again. And there was incentive to keep on working with receipt of a check for my share of three items that sold over the summer.

I managed to pop in for the last half of a workshop on a new way to use copper to make a bail which was also big enough to glue on the back of a stone. No more wrecked wire wrapping! In many ways the technique is similar to making bolos, which is where I started out, but hanging from a chain necklace rather than on a braided leather cord.

The slowness of bolo sales meant that I spent most of two years worth of energy in making stones without anything good looking to mount them on to wear. There are a whole pile of polished cabs sitting in a drawer waiting to go.

So today wound up being a long day in the club. I bought a sheet of copper, consulted on a few techniques along the way (one of the best reasons for going to the club, besides all the equipment), cut half the sheet into strips in a couple lengths, and sanded all the sharp edges and corners.

In case you wondered, it's not by using sandpaper, which sounds like an impossible task. Instead, the club saves old grinding wheels which have worn out on the outer circle, but if you lay them flat on the table, you have a big round flat block of surface area to move your metal across. There are a combination of techniques how to best move across that surface to make all the edges and corners smooth without ruining the flat of the copper strip.

Next comes the shaping/punching/fastening the loop part, where the final product becomes an actual bail ready to attach to your stone. Or so I thought. But somebody asked had I thought about decorating the strips, rather than having a plain flat strip which you have to polish smudges, stains and fingerprints off of.

Hmmm, work and work for something plain and flat and showing all its flaws despite your best efforts? Or, the technique I picked from many possible, hammer a design into the copper leaving it already textured and no longer so shiny, so imperfections become merely part of the finished product?

Silly question!

I saw a variety of hammered designs on sample bails and one jumped right out at me. Unfortunately, the person who'd done it, having done a variety of samples, didn't remember just which tools she'd used to produce that particular effect. She did know the technique involved a flat steel hammering surface to lay your metal on, and the technique of how to use the hammer to mark whichever design you wanted,  though not which surface of which tool was the one for this design.

The club only has about 30 hammers and uncounted punches and similar kinds of metal marking equipment. It's good that we have them all. It's just a pain figuring out which to use and how. Take a simple carpentry hammer: you can strike with about 5 or 6 different parts of the head and each will make a different dent. The next hammer offers as many options, slightly different results. And some heads are larger or smaller, some flat, some curved, some have corners, some sides have points or are flat....  There are a variety of wooden ones too, just not for this use.

It can take a while to figure which and how for your desired result. I took a couple small flat copper scrap pieces and tried different things. Not wanting to waste too many, they wound up with several layers of strike-overs. Eventually I figured it out.

Then I had to practice so the strike would both land where I wanted it - fortunately I picked random distribution instead of uniform - and work on holding the hammer head aimed vertically a little further away from me than felt natural, so I could get the right shape in the pattern, shallow oval rather than deep circular.

In addition, there was always the issue of landing on the copper instead of a finger! There is incentive to master that one quickly.

Liking what I'd done with the first strip, I decided to make all of them that way. It was so engrossing that I was still pounding away well after official club closing time. Lucky for me, several others were also there, so I wasn't kicked out, and finished all my strips. I have a zipper bag full of copper strips ready for shaping, punching, fastening both together and to a stone.

Next visit.

I'm back in the groove!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Little Night Music

When the TV is off, conversation gives way to reading, traffic and neighborhood noises are all but nonexistent, and the weather is perfect for having the windows open in the house, that's when it's time for a little night music. At least on the nights when you are lucky. It's not like we live anywhere but in the middle of a vastly overdeveloped desert.

One can almost pretend one is the only person awake in the world, until, a mile and a half away, the oh-dark-thirty train goes by. If the pack is anywhere nearby, or better yet, if competing packs are out running the neighborhood, the coyotes start to sing. One can tell where they are hunting this evening by the direction and distance of the songs, but one has to pay attention because they don't last long.

I can always hope the music stops because the pack has scented another rabbit to rid the world of, but maybe that's just me, hating having to fence the world.

Nighttime, when you are really lucky, is also when an owl might come and sit in a tree and hoot briefly for whatever owl reasons they do. We occasionally had one visiting the big pine in the front yard. Now that the front yard tree has died and been removed, we're much more likely to hear an owl from the back of the house, presumably from a perch in the remaining big pine. If we go out to try to view it, the music stops, so we just enjoy it from the house.

This weekend I was having trouble deciding whether I was hearing "our" owl from the front or back window. I was hearing a lot more hooting and lasting much longer than usual, so I had more time to try to figure it out. It was in the usual pattern, two quick hoots, then two slower ones. In a bit, a slight difference in pitch caught my attention. On a musical scale there might have been a half tone of difference, like between a B flat and a B. Not being blessed with perfect pitch, having only fairly decent relative pitch, I am making absolutely no claim on what the two pitches were, just their slight difference.

Just as I was detecting the pitch differences, I was able to sort out that the deeper pitch came through the rear windows, and the higher from the front. There were two owls! I just closed up my book and sat and enjoyed the concert while it lasted.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Go, Learn Things

Anyone who's a fan of NCIS New Orleans knows that when Pride sends his team out, those are his instructions. Sometimes, however, it's not that deliberate in real life. A chance comment in somebody else's conversation can lead to tons of information.

And now I've got something else to explore and worry about.

One of our lapidary club's oldest and sickest members made a long-awaited appearance at our general meeting on Monday. He and his wife sat at the same table I was at. Unsurprisingly, much of the conversation before the official meeting started was about his health. It turns out that he, too, has to deal with A-fib. Only these days he has to deal with it without the benefit of the medications that keep my cardiac rhythms  pretty normal. Of course my ears perked up, particularly when his wife started talking about the toxicity of what he was, and I am, taking.

If you follow this regularly, you know about the health problems I had when Steve and I tried camping in Wyoming in order to see the totality of the August eclipse this summer, when I spent a few days finding out about the (high) quality of the hospital food in St. George, Utah instead.

I have since seen my cardiologist, a pulmonologist, and my primary, and have follow-up tests and visits upcoming with all of them. We've ruled out a number of things, such as Valley Fever. I am not having problems breathing when I do stuff, but that's probably because I don't have any energy to do anything that might remotely be considered exercise. OK, I vacuumed the house, do laundry, have changed my sheets, done some dishes. But there's a list of "haven'ts" that ought to be easy to do but hasn't been managed yet. There are small bushes to prune, and need another watering. Weeds need to be plucked out of the front yard. I need to work on lapidary stuff, from polishing rocks to putting them in settings in order to make a product to sell.

Somehow the energy isn't there. I take my bag of stuff to the club, and find myself just sitting there. I can't even quite settle on whichever next project there is to do.

OK, I know it's easy to say right off, "depression." It doesn't feel  like it. I have emotional energy, and an optimistic mood.

I have a heck of a time getting up and staying up in the morning, leading to a heck of a time getting to bed when I feel sleepy at night. Shorting myself on sleep to put things right just winds up putting me on the edge of A-fib. Not a top choice.

My cardiologist says everything is perfect. We're trying some experiments to see about cutting down on some meds to see whether and how much I can lower them without causing problems. We're on a try-this-and-report-back-in-a-couple-weeks program.

My primary - well, I'm debating switching but somehow that seems like too much work when I'm already filling out medical forms and more medical forms and.... It's not just that he's terrible about refilling prescriptions, it's that he doesn't seem to have any interest in more than one tiny detail of what's happening at a time, like he only cares about how he can write up each visit for billing. He had, several months ago, noted my thyroid levels are a bit low and I'm now taking pills for that. May I add without his retesting my lab levels? Or my A1C, or...  fill in the list.

Then there's that thing in my lung, which we have to wait till the end of this month for the next CAT scan to see what may have changed and how.

So where is all this going? Well, that table conversation, the part that really perked up my ears, was the phrase "amiodarone toxicity".  My cardiologist had just mentioned that amiodarone is the one of my drugs that he really hoped I would be able to cut down on, since it's very effective but has bad side effects. No details to go along with that statement, of course. Now here was a font of information, first-hand knowledge of the negative effects, backed by life-threatening issues, and all the time in the world to share their story. (OK, 'till the end of lunch, anyway.)

You know that the pharmacist sends every bottle of pills out with a two-page print-out of stuff to watch out for. It's always either too vague (OMG, a headache in some people?) or way too technical, and soon they all sound the same. I know to avoid alcohol,  grapefruit, and too much sunshine, but not for which drugs, and don't care anyway because those are just not me. In contrast, this conversation was hitting a few too many notes close to home. So was follow-up research online.

The toxicity can be a reaction to stressors to the body, such as surgery. (I count 5 procedures in the last 2 1/6 years, two major.) It can mess with your thyroid levels, your lungs (some technical term for damage that shows up on CAT scans), change sleep patterns....

Are you seeing any patterns here? So far my exams have been in aid of looking for horses, as they say, in the array of symptom hoofbeats. It's time to start asking about zebras, now that I know what the questions are. And I know a lung biopsy can make a definitive diagnosis. When you're spread out between three different doctors, the likelihood of any one seeing the whole picture is less. Every one can easily assume somebody else is putting the whole thing together. Throw in a couple of out-of-state docs with their own long-ago reasons for some of these prescriptions, and it can get to be a bit much. Everybody acts in good faith so who questions previous decisions?

I now also know that it can take months to clear the drug out of the system, if it has become a problem. The process involves a lot of steroids, which sounds like a whole 'nother set of battles. But I can go armed to this month's appointments with a different set of questions. In other words, go, learn things.

By the way, that friend from the club? He's had to quit both of the medications I currently take for A-fib. And yep, he's living with it uncontrolled. Day by day. Prognosis uncertain. If you are one of those who believes in prayer, send some Bob's way. Maybe just a well-wish. He's a nice guy.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Raising the Bar

The numbers keep going up. Right now, the Las Vegas shooter has a death toll of 58 and there are over 500 wounded. There is absolutely no reason to think those numbers are final.

But again, I'm absolutely sure that the NRA and their political puppets are going to claim that "now is not the time" to reexamine our gun laws. Like they said after Sandy Hook, or (_______ insert a dozen names here).

Sure, there is a Second Amendment. Most of our country doesn't know there is an introduction to the sentence talking about a standing militia as the reason for bearing arms, since we were breaking away from a powerful country overseas who sent their military over to stop that process.  They don't care to know enough history to realize the framers of the constitution lived in a frontier situation where muskets were loaded one bullet, then gunpowder, for one shot at a time. They forget we were the invaders and the folks whom we were displacing might just have had a legitimate reason to protest losing their land, their livelihoods, their very lives. They forget four-footed predators were abundant in the woods all these immigrants were busy clearing. They just hear it as carte blanche to own all the firepower they can get their hands on, including arms appropriate only for soldiers in war. And as others stock up, that means they have to stock up more.

And don't give me the crapfest about a "good guy with a gun" being able to stop the bad guy. Ask a cop. That alleged "good guy" is indistinguishable  from a bad guy and only adds to the chaos. And is your "good guy" weapon going to be any help against automatic weapons fired from the 32nd floor? You think if you pulled your good-guy weapon during that shooting you were going to do anything but get identified as the threat, get yourself killed, and delay locating the real threat? Remember, there were off-duty cops at that Las Vegas concert. All they could do was identify the direction of the threat and help concertgoers clear the area. Hooray for them, but....

Look, I get hunting. I was raised in a family that hunted deer, grouse, pheasant, geese. Delicious! There are all sorts of other animals which can be shot for the dinner table. I get skeet and other kinds of target shooting as a sport. You don't do any of it with automatic weapons, however.

I get having, or feeling like you need to have, a pistol or two for self protection if somebody breaks into your home. I do, however, lament the accessibility of those weapons to children. We'd know how many are killed and injured from unsafely stored guns in the home if there weren't laws prohibiting the study and collection of such statistics. So we just get the headlines. And these days, those injuries and deaths are so common they often don't even make the news.

Las Vegas, of course, is the only news right now. Nothing about the Russia investigation, the dire need for help for Puerto Ricans and the ignoring of them, or worse, blaming the citizens for needing assistance beyond the dedicating of a golfing trophy, on the part of our... resident of the White House. Just Las Vegas.

I'm not saying that coverage isn't appropriate or necessary. It is. But somewhere out there, some other bumfuck idiots, hearing the numbers rise, are thinking to themselves, this guy has really raised the bar. But I can do it better. I can be even more famous. I can be more important.

And they start planning the next tragedy.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

"Friendly" Planet?

I was introduced to, and immersed myself in, science fiction books back in the late '60s through, oh, somewhere in the '90s, I guess. That of course included the old masters, writing from back in the '40s and on up. I relished having my assumptions challenged by new worlds, new species, new problems and their solutions. My mind expanded. Boggled, too, but that was a good thing.

There was one theme that ran through a huge number of books I read in those days. (Perhaps it still does, but I'm into a lot of other things these days and wouldn't know.) Space travel was the big thing. We would explore and colonize other planets, grow interstellar cultures. We'd find all these other friendly planets, maybe solve an adjustment problem or two, and settle in. Or maybe a previous exploratory colony ship would hit that one insurmountable problem that nobody expected and get wiped out, leaving the next colony ship to land and figure it all out.

What fun!

These books would explore faster than light travel, or the consequences of not having it and what could go wrong with a multi-generations ship. We'd meet other cultures, figure out why they were intelligent though very different from us, make friends or enemies, and sometimes get invaded ourselves.

Underlying all these different adventures was one basic assumption, both stupid and erroneous. We'd be looking for a friendly planet, just like the one we'd left behind.

What friendly planet? I don't mean that old mathematical theory about how many billion of the right kind of stars with how many billion of the right kind of planet kind of idea. Hey, it's got appeal. I get it. But just where is this so-called friendly planet we're living on now?

Yes, I know that we've been successful at spreading our species, 7 billion plus, into nearly every nook and cranny on the globe. That means we're an adaptable species, not that we're living on a so-called friendly planet. Sure, there are a couple of things going for us. The atmosphere has a pretty decent amount of oxygen and not too many toxins in it, though we're working on that. It's got temperature ranges we can comfortably adapt to, or even not so comfortably. There's plenty of water. The other flora and fauna, for a big part, are edible enough to sustain our bodily needs.

All that is the stuff of a desirable colony planet, and way too many authors have stopped there in developing the ecosystems, weather, geography, and what have you in our supposed new homes.

But how on earth did we survive on this planet? Pretty much everything here is trying to kill us. And often does.

First, we're not stable. Our surface challenges us with earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, quicksand, too much or too little water, fires, blizzards, heat waves, extreme winds, lightning, rock slides, mudslides, avalanches... and that's just the surface.

Our food supply can be deadly, whether a poisonous berry, a nut that needs cooking before eating, a predator that wants to eat us first, or some small little snake or bug that just wants to stay alive by sacrificing a few to teach us to avoid the many. Heck! Have you noticed we haven't even figured out the mosquito yet?

That doesn't begin to cover the microscopic threats, all the fungi, bacteria, viruses, prions, and parasites whose only goal is to destroy us. Not all of us, mind you, leaving just enough behind that we can multiply again before they launch their next attack.

Let us not forget what a splendid job we are doing of killing off each other, as if all these other challenges weren't enough.

We all know all this. Yet we think of this as a friendly planet to our species. And try to imagine there are other planets out there in space that can be "friendly" homes for us?

Who are we kidding?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Dear CBS National News,

In this part of the country, your network is doing the most complete and honest job in covering what's going on in the country. (Yeah, it took you guys long enough to get off the Trump-HaHa mindset, but that's a whole 'nother story. So did almost everybody else, finally. A bit late, eh? I trust you got the cause/effect message there.)

Right now I want to address you on your Puerto Rico post-Maria coverage. We get "both sides". First Trump is patting himself on the back, bragging about his ratings, informing us that Puerto Rico is actually an island in a huge, HUGE ocean. Really BIG.

Then you have a news team, boots on the ground, sometimes in the water, showing us what conditions are really like, talking to the people who are really affected and those trying to help them.

Thank you for that.

But that's not really what I'm writing about. I would appreciate it if, once this is back to as normal as it can be, where our fellow Americans aren't struggling (and failing) to find clean water, food, medicines, fuel, transportation, communication, once your crew has returned from telling the complete story, if you would pass along a message to them.

I understand how difficult a job this must be for them. Any human with half an ounce of empathy, any understanding of humanity, must find it excruciating to go on telling this story, when you know that you actually have food and clean water, transportation, fuel, communications, medications if needed ... and you can't share them with the hundreds or thousands of people you are reporting on every day! You have to want to. You have to feel like shit when you need to save these things for yourselves. While those around you suffer because they have not, you suffer because you have.

And that's a story that ought to be worth telling.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Doggone ... Mostly

Those of you who've been following regularly are aware that we found new homes for our dogs while we were on vacation this summer.

Yes, we miss them sometimes. We  fall in love with other people's dogs, dogs on TV, in pictures, online, but only over the short term. It's kinda like being a grandparent, loving the heck out of the grandkids and happy to return them to their parents. I even found a new breed to covet, until sanity returned again. For the record, look up the Louisiana Catahoula Leopard dog. Go through about 50 different pictures for all the coat variations and see if something doesn't hit just that note. And hey, short haired. BUT, it's a herding dog, large and active, not for geezers like us. And there would still be the feeding, training, pooper scooping, shots, barking, traveling issues....

Sigh....

Those of you who follow this also know we've just gotten a new vacuum cleaner. It's finally assembled and working, even though we still have no clue where "Tab A" is. Most of the house has been attacked by it. We're reveling in colors in our rugs that we haven't seen in years. It's taking a while because it's bagless, the canister fills up in a big hurry from all the Fred Fur, and you have to use a long skinny stick to reach up around the edges to pry out the wads of fur that cling to each other as if their very life depends on it.

Come to think of it, it probably does.

And the emptying takes twice as long or longer than the vacuuming did.

By about the fourth time across the rug, you're mostly pulling up dust, and crumbs dropped since the last vacuuming, and they drop out of the canister for emptying pretty easily. And the colors still deepen. Whew!

Now with all this attention, including moving furniture, shaking out the little rugs, hitting the hallways,  and all the other stuff that might actually qualify as a Spring Cleaning, you might think that the floors stay pretty clean now. That the Fred-bunnies are gone. That it's just new stuff to pick up. That the house cleaning has gotten simple now.

Uh huh. Sure.

I think what we have here is proof positive that all those little Fred-bunnies have been taking after their namesakes and multiplying and multiplying and multiplying and....

I think I understand now why my parents put their collective feet down and said no more pets in the house. No cats, no dogs, no guinea pigs, no nothing!

None!

Never!

No!  No!  No!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Losing Puerto Rico

What is it? Nobody cares about "those brown people"? If it's an island, it's not part of America? (Like, you know,  Hawaii, where a president born there wasn't American?)

Are we all just too worn out from Harvey and Irma? And heaven help anybody who might raise taxes on our billionaires to send assistance to Americans who have no food, water, electricity, homes, and are additionally suffering through a record heat wave? Or is it just more important to our so-called president whether athletes take a knee to protest racial injustice at the beginning of a game because he thinks it is about him?

Oh, so the airport control tower is down. How about we send in the navy with supplies and/or transportation off-island rather than put on a show to provoke Kim Jung Un? They don't need radar to land on Puerto Rican shores, and they could be doing a part of our country way more good than trying to start a nuclear war.

Every so often Puerto Rico takes a vote to decide if they want to become a state of ours rather than a territory. Or do they want independence? With this kind of treatment - or lack of recognition - why on earth would they do anything to tighten their ties to us? Heck, maybe they'll chose to join up with Cuba. At least there they would get healthcare!

And while I'm on a rant, let's turn our eyes to Flint, Michigan. Yep, they're still there. Just fewer of them. No, not from moving away, but from drinking their own water. It's been scientifically determined that not only have the lead levels highly decreased pregnancy rates, but highly increased miscarriage rates. What? Hadn't heard that? Can't be bothered with news? REAL news?

Surely you've heard for decades now about the evils of abortion. Your belief or not, you've heard that point of view. But where are all those folks who care about fetuses now, when an plan to save tax dollars is killing them off left and right, just because it costs about $100 a day to add the right chemical to the drinking water so the pipes don't corrode and leach lead into the water? More than that is spent to pay abortion protestors to carry signs outside women's clinics. Can anybody spell "hipocricy"?

Say, this wouldn't have anything to do with all those urban brown people, would it? Why bother shooting them when they run away from you if you can just prevent their existence in the first place?

Yeah, much as it hurts, I'd take a knee too.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Birthday Cause

I just sent an undisclosed amount to my daughter's Go Fund Me page.

There are a lot of reasons I'm proud of her, besides the simple fact of being her mother. She fights for women's rights in a lot of ways, just one of which is on her blog. There's more stuff on it than that, of course, just like mine is pretty eclectic. But in her case, there have been consequences.

She goes to a lot of conferences. One relatively famous attendee/ presenter is what some folks refer to as a hound dog. Apparently believing himself to be the ultimate gift to women, he pushes himself on them in whatever circumstances he believes he can get away with it.

Not all women appreciate his advances, of course. They protest, they bear witness, they talk amongst each other. Steph, in her blog, on numerous occasions, has related - aka warned - about what has been going on. It hasn't mattered to those in charge of organizing and presenting those conferences. Big Name Guy carries on ... all puns intended.

Ever heard of a Slapp suit? It's where one person/group sues another for the express purpose of silencing them. If that term doesn't ring any bells, think about terms like libel and slander. The thing is, if you're telling the truth about the bad things the other person is doing, and can prove it, the lawsuit goes away.

Mr. Big Guy has sued all those he can find who are telling others about his behavior. He's got a big pot of money. The people he's suing don't. Some days that wins the game. It's expensive to fight. Together, the suit recipients have hired a lawyer, who says them he has no case against them. But I repeat, it costs to fight.

Steph has set up a Go Fund Me page. She is asking for anybody who wished to send her a birthday present ('cause today's her birthday) or for any other reason support her cause, to send money to it. Since she posted it on Facebook,and I don't "do" Facebook, and Steve has a heck of a time excerpting something out of Facebook and sending it to me, I had him read off the URL and I wrote it down for me and whomever of you cares:

https;//www.gofundme.com/defense-vs-carrier-slapp

This is not a link. You'll have to copy-paste. We thank you in advance for your support.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Comeback

They're trying to kill all the benefits we've gotten used to from Obamacare ... again. Just because they told their constituents they would. Not because they have any  kind of a plan that's an improvement.

To further the confusion, they manage to get ignoramuses who don't understand the principles of any variety of insurance being the reliance of those who need it being supported by all the folks who don't... at that particular  moment. Your car insurance rates start at a lower payment so if you have an accident you don't have to carry the full load of replacing your car, hospital costs, liability, and what not. Of course, if you persist in driving stupidly, your premiums can rise or you get  booted.  But the whole supports the individual, and good driving can drive your rates back down again.

Homeowners insurance gets paid for by everyone even if your own house never burns down or crumbles in an earthquake or blows away in a tornado, hurricane, etc.

Health insurance should work the same way. It's there when you need it because who knows what kind of illness or accident can come your way. If we knew, who'd buy insurance? It's the unforseen that's the issue. That tree that knocks over your house may hit you too. Got the principle down?

Now, you get the ignoramuses who think health insurance should be parsed out by what they think is likely to happen to them. Like, they'll never need mental health insurance. Uh huh, sure. Not that they'd recognize it if it bit them in the ass.  But the ones who really annoy me are the ones - males, of course - who chafe at having to chip into the pot for maternity care. (Like sperm wasn't half of it.)

This is when you just look them slowly up and down, and ask, "What? You were hatched?"

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Assembly Is A Bitch

This story goes way back to 1964, boys and girls, and ends... well, maybe next week sometime. So settle in, find a cozy chair with a good spot of light, feed the critters, grab a glass of whatever,  and read on.

I'll never forget the year, since my mom complained about it so frequently. That was the year a slick Kirby salesman talked her into throwing away a whole $360-something on a brand new vacuum cleaner. I reminded her years later that she'd have spent much more on replacing ordinary cleaners over the years, and she finally quit complaining. At least to me.

I had faith in that Kirby, you see. It needed a few minor repairs over the years, mostly replacing worn belts. A few bags were needed as well, but like the pink bunny with its drum, that Kirby just kept going and going and going....

I told Mom I wanted her Kirby after she died and had no further use for it. No rush. Just staking my claim. When the time came, I announced to my brother as well that the Kirby was mine. He just shrugged. Perhaps he hadn't had my years of experience replacing worn out broken vacuum cleaners, one after the next, fighting to find room in the budget for each one. Each time it happened, I reminded my mom of how well her Kirby was holding up.

We got accustomed to a certain amount of litter on the carpets.

Once Mom died, at the ripe old age of 90, the Kirby stayed with my dad. There was still a need for vacuuming, and he had hired help to assist with the machine. And for those of you who wonder, NO, that had absolutely nothing to do with my taking him into our house for his final 2 1/2 years. Absolutely nothing!

Once Dad died, and Steve and I moved to Arizona, the Kirby came along in the moving truck. With the condition my knees were in, and the fact that by then most of our floors were uncarpeted and could be swept with a broom, the few rugs in the house were very infrequently vacuumed. The Fred fur coating them was a fairly even grey, and one could willfully ignore its accumulation. Until you couldn't anymore. Then the Kirby got dragged out and used.

Fred fur filled a bag fairly quickly. There were replacement bags aplenty, but somewhere along the line, that danged spring that held them in place got so tight, and my fingers lost enough strength, that the bags ripped each time they were changed. Then the belt, like all rubber finally must, discombobulated. I looked up Kirby stores in the area, but the nearest one, far as I could figure, was 30 miles away. I didn't feel like going there. Shopping on line, I managed to find them, but only in bags of ten. Oh well, a forever vacuum cleaner could use ten belts, right?

The problem was, over the intervening years, I had forgotten how to change one. Plus there was that aforementioned finger strength issue. They finally got themselves all straightened out, and suddenly the rugs showed colors we hadn't actually seen in years! Cool!

But then... last spring... there was a little square of hard plastic, the kind that, with opening and closing the top of a daily pill box over a couple of years, gets folded a few too many times and falls of, just so it can get lost on the floor. Somewhere on the rug. Under a chair. Right where the Kirby could suck it up, emit a partial minute of high pitched squeal, and manage, somehow, what over 50 years of use had not managed to do: kill the Kirby.

I changed the bag, since that needed doing anyway. I dug deep into memory and changed the belt, leaving 8 still in the bag hanging in the closet. I grabbed a good pliers (yes, I do actually have a good one. One. Plus a whole lot of others.) and worked it in between the roller and whatever, managing to pull the green plastic piece out, this time to throw it away forever! When I plugged the Kirby back in, it hummed. When I looked where I had been, big clumps of hair had been left behind. Turning it upside down, the roller refused to roll. Nothing was getting swept up.

Kaput.

Since it was spring and we were about to head back north, I just left the Kirby on the kitchen floor in a spot where we wouldn't trip over it while rushing stuff to the car.

Upon return, I looked one day when I had enough energy to examine it again, thinking maybe the fairies had visited over the summer, or maybe I'd just gotten smarter (equally likely), and discovered the Kirby had disappeared. Steve had thoughtfully put it away for me. I guess I had "forgotten" to tell him it was broken.

While Fred was no longer here to shed over everything, we were. There was an amazing amount of crap on the rug that we could no longer blame on the dog(s). Plus the old stuff was still there, along with the miraculous emergence of Fred fur from all the hiding places where it had been holing up during previous sweepings and vacuumings. That, or maybe I was actually right when I claimed the stuff multiplied all by itself without the need for a dog. Hadn't we been calling those clumps of fur "Fred Bunnies"?

It was time to head to the store and find something with a HEPA filter and get rid of all those allergens ... occasionally. The model we wanted was, of course, out of stock in the store. And I, of course, was out of patience. Upon returning home, I turned to my favorite online shopping-for-everything location, eBay. First thing I found, once HEPA was one of the search words, was the model from the store. Now $80 cheaper.

SOLD! Delivery guaranteed in two more days from now. Arrived yesterday.

I let it sit in its box inside the door. I knew what was coming.

Steve was all excited to see it, cutting open 77 feet of tape first thing this morning. Then there was the box fitting snugly inside the box with several other parts boxed, and those not boxed, bagged. Some both bagged and boxed.

I actually found that kinda reassuring.

Assembly, of course, was required.

I'm still not sure what language the instruction book was printed in, but once we flipped it over, we found English. (But why combine those two in particular?)

It had the usual warnings in it about not electrocuting yourself, just in case you can actually find the plug before you've read the rest of the manual. For those unacquainted with electricity, it explained that plugs come with a narrow and a wide prong these days, and it needs to be inserted into the holes in your outlet correspondingly. No, don't file down the wide side to fit. Go hire an electrician if you don't have a wide opening in your wall socket.

I wonder how many lawsuits prompted adding that bit of wisdom.

Next, blah blah blah, blah blah blah, here is your drawing and naming of the parts. We're already in trouble. It points to a tab "A", showing it in an empty space between two other parts. We can see how those two parts fit together, after all, they are the two parts of the handle (Duh), but look as we might, there is nothing either between them or on one end or another that could be remotely considered any kind of tab.

We decided to carry on, though it'll come back to haunt us, since other directions require locating and using this same Tab A. But the next directions required removing a Phillips head screw, inserting the smaller part inside the larger (though that is not how they described it), and reinserting the screw to hold both parts of the handle together.

Bet you think that would be easy, eh? This thing had the most cockamamie design since the axolotl, and after Steve fought with it for ten minutes, then handed it to me for the same, the task finally got accomplished. And please note, no Tab A showed itself at any time during this process.

After figuring out that we couldn't find a couple of pieces that needed to be inserted inside each other because they already came packed inside each other, and unlike the advertising that the HEPA filter was easily rinsed off between uses,  unless of course it was a HEPA filter which couldn't be rinsed but needed to be bought and replaced, which was probably why we couldn't figure out how to remove it for cleaning, we both decided we'd run out of patience with it for the day. Maybe two. Even three.

That's why the story doesn't end yet. The new vacuum is sitting in an infrequently used corner of the living room waiting for us to finish figuring out which parts of its assembly are still required.

And where Tab A is.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Partial Answer

So I've been to my cardiologist 3 times now. Last week was the echo, this week the stress test one day and results and discussion the next.

First, the good news is my heart is perfectly healthy according to all the tests. There have been no A-fib episodes since late spring, and those were limited to tiny flutters of short duration.

After explaining my recent issues to him, we agreed that perhaps it's as simple as a medication change. The metoprolol slows down my heart, which is necessary when it's trying to gallop down the road three miles ahead of you. It also, however, can make it more difficult  for it to respond to increased demand. You know, like a little bit of exercise. So we're going to cut my dosage to half a tablet twice a day. (In case you were wondering, it only acts for 12 hours, so twice a day keeps it in my system.) I go back in two weeks and report the results.

A possible alternative is cutting the other one, the amiodarone, in half. Since that has worked to keep my rhythm steady for two years, that alternative scares me a bit. My cardiologist likes that alternative better because amiodarone has long term side effects. So we'll be experimenting.

The best part of this is I trust him, unlike my "regard" for my primary physician.  That is in the process of being corrected.

Another possible sign of progress, not fully tested yet, is that I've gotten back behind the wheel again. It's just short stints, but it was me. The one possible glitch seems to be I can't be chatting away and drive at the same time. Maybe that's the slower heartbeat. Maybe I just can't talk and drive. Hey, I've never tested whether I can walk and chew gum either, so who knows where all my limitations lie? Maybe it's all still to be determined. So far Steve still comes along with me, in case.

We'll see what the pulmonologist has to say later this month. Meanwhile I moved some furniture this evening.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reflexes - Or Not So Much

This happened at another birthday dinner some good friends treated us to, the day before the main event as Steve and I actually had already made plans for The Day.

What drove it home for me was the discussion Steve and I had just that morning. A TV commercial showed a man in his doctor's office, the hammer to the knee, and reflexes so strong his shoe was kicked high into the air. It's not about how stupid the commercial was. It was trying to remember how long it had  been since a doctor had actually checked our reflexes that way.

Years, for both of us. We'd both had no knee reflexes since long before our osteoarthritis had seriously set in. How did they know? And why had they stopped trying?

Back to the restaurant:

Sitting down at the table, the person carrying the tray of beverages made the tiniest of miscalculations and bumped the edge of the table rather than setting the tray on the table. Hey, no blame to him, embarrassed as he was. It happens to all of us. I can personally vouch for that on my own behalf.

What registered for me were my own reactions to the event. Imagine, first, how speedily this all happened in real time. Now imagine me reacting in about the time it takes to read the rest of this.

Oh, I heard a noise. Hmm, I guess the tray bumped the table. Hey, there are a couple tall cups tilting my way. They're probably cokes, knowing what this group likes. Oh, look, there are ice cubes floating across the table towards me on top of the coke. Hey look, it's starting to spill over the table top. The ice cubes are hitting the floor going all over. That coke is hitting my lap. Oooh, it's cold! Hmm, I didn't grab enough napkins to stop the flood. Hey, I guess I could push my chair back and stand up to stem the flow a bit. Yep, it's still cold. Look at that pattern of wet and dry on the front of my shorts. Ooh, I feel it on my ankles too. Let's see, we're not home so there are no towels to take care of this. Oh wait, there are a whole lot of napkins back where we grabbed our forks and, oh yeah, our first batch of napkins, maybe two per each of us, because who thought we'd need more? I guess I could head over there like everybody else and go grab some. Let's scoot some of these ice cubes on the floor out of the way first so nobody falls on them. Like me while I get ready to stand up. Good thing they let you refill your cups here so the two people with cokes don't have to pay for more. Oh yeah, remind the person who spilled the cokes that it's no big deal. It easily could have been me. And has. Plus I'll be dry again before we leave here.

Which I was.

And dinner was great, so an extra "Thank You" to my friends.

Pulling a Trump

I've been raised not to create a scene, particularly in a public place. Sometimes I regret that.

It was the one thing that spoiled a very nice birthday dinner that Steve took me out to on Sunday. It was our current favorite restaurant and the food, as usual was fantastic. Our server was absolutely perfect, plenty of attention without being intrusive, knowing what we needed almost before we did.

In the direction I was facing, I had a complete view of a foursome halfway across the room. My guess is they were about our ages. The meal was over, and after sitting for over half an hour, it can be difficult to get knees and hips working again, not to mention with anything resembling grace.

We know about that. That's us too.

The presumed husband of the 1st pair slid out of their booth first, waiting for his female partner to work her way across the seat, stand securely, and start walking towards the restroom. Needless to say, there was none of the fluidity of a 20-year-old in her movements.

He let her precede him down the aisle, ostensibly a show of good manners. But there it ended. As he followed, by exaggerating her movements, he mocked her every infirmity, eyes on his male tablemate who was his primary audience. He apparently thought he was hilarious, and his cohort did nothing to disabuse him of this idea. He reminded me of nothing more than Trump's mocking of the disabled reporter during his campaign.

I run through the excuses in my mind: I was too far away. I wasn't spry enough to get up quickly and and approach him to chew him out, something starting with, "Hey, Asshole!" or similar. I wasn't skilled enough to lay him out on the floor - a major temptation, let me tell you. The restaurant was too noisy for yelling my contempt across to where he could hear it. Same with yelling over to his compatriot challenging him as to whether he actually thought his "friend" was funny.

I do feel fairly confident that, had I been the woman mocked and caught him at it, I could have turned around and "accidentally" stumbled into slamming a knee into the "wrong" location. After all, none of those parts were anything he was likely to get to use in the near future.

Feel free to define "near" as anywhere from 6 months to ever. And I could easily blame it on the clumsiness he'd been demonstrating to the world so entertainingly on my behalf.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Still Waiting

Still waiting... like many parts of the world. Not for earthquake reports, nor strength and paths of 4 sequential hurricaines, nor body counts of any of them, though I'm waiting for those too, and they help me keep perspective. It's not even that I'm waiting for some actual rain, especially when most nights we get spectacular lightning shows, haboob warnings, and watch weather pass on every side of us but overhead.

I'm waiting for my stress test Monday, of which I won't get the results until Tuesday. Still waiting for the results from my new, local pulmonologist, whom I don't even meet till the end of the month. Then again, that's pretty quick for getting in to see a specialist, unless it's one you meet in the hospital. I've already done that. Not too satisfied with, "We can't find anything to treat you for so go home."

I'm waiting to meet my new primary physician, after the former one (who still thinks he's my current one) excuses failing to refill my prescriptions by laughing it all off with - and I quote - "Do you have any idea how many faxes we get in here each day?" Let me give you a tip, Doc: it's about to become a bunch fewer!

I'm still waiting for some way to do a little exercise - and I do mean little - without running short of breath. And still waiting to feel secure enough to get back behind the wheel again without fear of getting ready to black out. Yep, that's still happening. It's not an altitude thing. I made it two miles last time, before deciding that Steve is our driver for now.

And he's still waiting to get his appointment with his new spinal surgeon for what is likely to be fusion of a couple of discs so he can get off the drugs which make it illegal to drive, without really knocking out the pain, especially when he hits the meerest bump in the road.

So good thing there's great TV on right now to help us distract ourselves... oh wait, there's not. Well, then, good thing there are so many books to read in the house to distract us from, say, worrying about getting to appointments safely and legally, and we're not taking so many pills that we can't concentrate on the words on the page.  Oh, wait, Steve can't do that either right now. I can, and just finished that oh-so-cheery book about a Jewish woman hiding her identity to survive in Germany during WWII. Great book but now I need something a little less edifying, like, say, Judge Judy, where the idiots do a little less harm to each other. After that last book, it gains a certain appeal.

Hey, it's something, while we're still waiting....

Then there's still waiting for the first great-grandchild. Her pictures are adorable. Where does her tiny Mama find all that room?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

So Many Harvey Stories

There are so many different Harvey stories. There were the ones showing the cute little tropical depression in the gulf, along with vague promises that it would grow. And land.  And leave, and land again. There are the stories of rainfall records, from bad to what seemed like bragging rights for who got the most water. Ever. There are the folks who left and the folks who stayed, the mandatory evacuations and the idiots who never ordered any because, hey, Texas!

Somehow being bigger magically meant disasters could only be small. You know: Texas!

Cameras had a field day, starting with the obligatory let's-stand-out-in-the-wind-and-water-along-the-beach-and-prove-how-tough-reporters-are-in-the-face-of-Mother-Nature. Because, hey, egos. Because, hey, stupid and unoriginal.

Then photos switched to flooding, how deep the water was compared to cars, street signs, roofs. And how many reporters in waders could step out in a foot of water and pretend bravery. After that, out came the kayaks, the flat-bottomed boats, the huge boats with fans on the back. Then helicopter baskets full of the rescued, dump trucks hauling the hapless around, the overcrowding in shelters and a certain televangelist who refused to open up his massive facility until shamed into it. He even got air time to repeat his defense of how Christian he really was, because, hey, excuse.

Lest you think Mr. Osteen was the only show of selfishness in this saga, note the stories of price gouging. Gasoline in certain stations jumped to $8 a gallon because some folks leave their churches on Sunday and return to worship at the altar of supply and demand all week long. Similar reports filtered in on water and food prices while they could, until free supplies could finally be delivered despite closed highways.

The maps got full play, showing the red bands of heavy rain whirling off the core of Harvey, except that the ones which crossed the border to dump their deluges on Louisiana got no mention because, hey, not Texas.

The rich and famous got their time to shine in the headlines, promising a million dollars here, a half million there, another million and another million from their invulnerable and perfectly coifed photo shoots because they had to be part of the story too. They couldn't just give the funding because it was needed, but likely had their publicists in the background poking them forward for the reflected fame of the biggest story of the week. (Yes, my cynical imagination provides the image of little red tridents. How did you guess?)  Even Trump pledged his million, but with his track record, it either won't arrive or will be other people's money: keep your eye out, folks.

There are still stories to be told. What happens to all those made homeless and destitute next week, next month, once the cameras have turned away to the next big story? There will be a next story, and a next. We as a nation will sit with our eyes glued to our screens, marveling at all the unexpected, horrible things displayed there. Unexpected, because the biggest part of the Harvey and all the other shocking extreme weather stories is simply not being told. The Harveys will keep coming, along with the droughts, the fires, the floods, the mudlslides, rising sea levels, vanishing permafrost, disappearing glaciers, species extinctions... because, hey, climate change!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Chapter 3: Journey Home... Interrupted

We started out from Salt Lake City, bright and early, before breakfast, not even waking the family if we could help it. Our eldest nephew was up, and willingly carried our stuff up from the basement and out to the car. Our plan was home before bedtime, grabbing a hamburger or such on the way as needed. We thought it feasible, having done it once before. But our plans hadn't been implemented too well thus far in the vacation.

Did we foresee even a hint of trouble? Of course not!

Our first stop, shortly before we ran out of Salt Lack City suburbs and hit actual open spaces, was breakfast sandwiches at the golden arches. Plus the usual potty stop. Once again, by the time I returned to the car, I was a little short of breath.

Oh well.

Further down the road, after a lunchtime and pit stop, I was again short of breath, this time taking five or so to really get back to normal. Feeling secure, finally, I drove off again. Steve and I were deep in conversation about ten minutes later, when suddenly I got light-headed, that feeling you get just before you start to black out and faint. Luckily there was no traffic preventing me from hitting the right lane and then the wide-enough shoulder as quickly as was safe.

When I explained what was going on, Steve and I both agreed he was going to drive. His back had been seriously bothering him and he'd taken a morning pain pill. The legal time hadn't elapsed, but his "goofy" stage was over. I trusted his driving way more than mine, and we were our two choices. I opened my door and bent over for a bit until I felt capable of walking around the car to switch places. Once in the passenger seat, I stayed bent over with the door open for a while longer before feeling ready for Steve to take off. Note that there was no shortness of breath at the time of the light - headedness.

We passed an exit for a small town with a freeway sign, "No Services". And another. And another. By then I asked Steve when we finally hit a town big enough to have the blue sign with the big H on it, to exit and take me to their ER. Our next town was St. George, UT, big enough for 6 exits and a hospital. Steve drove right up to the Emergency entrance valet parking station, ran inside for help, and ran out again with staff pushing a wheelchair for me. At that moment I was seriously more concerned for his knees than I was for myself. I had never seen him move so fast.

He had said the magic words: breathing problems and he believed it was altitude sickness. We were whisked to the check-in station for about a half minute triage, then in back to a bed in the ER. They needed my ID. I tried to give them my insurance cards too, but they weren't interested until later.

In a way, I found that very reassuring: patient before payment. Had I thought a little deeper, I would have worried just how sick they thought I might be.

While they were hooking me up to O2 and cardiac monitors, a range of questions was asked. Listening to my lungs they detected rales, or crackling sounds. I've heard them myself on occasion, usually when I'm just nodding off, the house is dead silent, and my breathing is slow and an exhale empties the last bit of air. They've been interesting, not alarming, usually happening at the very tail end of a cold. The most interesting thing about them this day was the ER staff called them "rahls" while the nurses upstairs called them "rails". I've heard the first pronunciation on TV, never the other. Either way, the crackling meant wet lungs.

Since I wasn't coughing, had heard rales before, was now comfortably breathing due to lack of movement, and wasn't feeling like I might pass out, I was starting to think I'd been crying "wolf", except for one thing. The blood pressure registered 210 over ... well, I didn't really hear any other numbers after that because who the hell cares when that's your starting number? I can't even tell you if I was given a pill or a shot to start trying to bring those numbers down. My brain just sort of stuck right there.

When a CAT scan, both with and without dye, showed an "opacity" in the lower corner of an upper lobe of my lung, they did a couple more tests, and came with "maybe" news. Maybe it wasn't cancer, not looking like that usually does. Maybe it wasn't an embolus, because somehow a bi-pap machine was supposed to definitely rule that out while it was simply making me miserable, being totally incapable of breathing at my speed. Try it sometime. Just as the incoming pressure gets you inhaling and you're ready to continue, the air shuts off. It takes a second for your diaphram to reverse course, and before you can comfortably finish exhaling, it's trying another burst of pressurized air in. When I would resist that, it would stop for a second before sending another burst, which I still wasn't ready for, so when my body started to inhale there was again nothing coming through the mask.

Breathing was work!

The doc who set it up even suggested I might try napping while I was hooked up! HA!

When I complained that the machine breathed much faster than I did, he fiddled with some controls but never got it to slow down. I was informed by other medical staff that I had the right to refuse to use the machine any more, which right I immediately exercised. Anyway, something in that misery indicated to them there was no embolus. Since the heart was in normal sinus rhythm the whole time, and the labs came back with "no heart attack", they tentatively diagnosed pneumonia and admitted me, ordering antibiotics, and blood thinners since I was going to be bed-ridden.

By the time I was given a room, hooked up to everything, drained of everything they wanted, tested six ways from Sunday, Steve had returned from their wonderful cafeteria raving about their wonderful grilled salmon steak and its sauce, making me hungry. Unfortunately, the clock said it was well after when any other hospital's food service had shut down, but I inquired anyway. Some hospitals kept pudding cups or something similar.

Let me just say, if you have a choice of where you want to get stuck in a hospital, go for St. George, UT. I was brought in a laminated tri-fold menu, and their room service could bring me whatever and as much as I wanted any time, except limited hours for breakfast dishes. Since I'd been drooling over Steve's salmon, I ordered my own. Everything was marked on the menu with both calories and carbs, so I could, that first night, have my salmon, delightful perfectly steamed broccoli, cottage cheese, and the most wonderful chocolate cake/pudding/whipped cream concoction.

Heaven!

The next morning I was NPO, because the staff cardiologist wanted to see my echo (think cardiac ultrasound, and I told the guy doing it that if he found a fetus in one of those chambers I'd be royally pissed!) before deciding if he wanted to do "another procedure", not explained until later as an angioplasty or angio-whatever, i.e. surgery. The echo showed no cause for one, so I got to order lunch. Mmmm. And supper. Mmmmm. And breakfast. Mmmm.

I kept hearing reports of what wasn't wrong with me. No heart irregularities, no blood clots, no fever, white cell count, or coughing to indicate pneumonia, etc., etc. I was to continue the course of antibiotics because you just do after you have started. They were assured that I peed enough, and finally pulled out the catch cup so I could be totally on my own in there. My blood pressure came back down, so that extra medication was discontinued. I was moving around my room, even up and down the hall, without being hooked up to O2, so even with panting on the longer trek, since my blood oxygen didn't drop, there was, ultimately, nothing they could treat. The only lab result not back because it takes a few extra days was one for Valley Fever. They will let us know.

So go home, check in with your own docs. We can't figure out what to do for you.

Lest Steve get lost in all this, he got to stay two nights in Jubilee House, their equivalent of Ronald McDonald house, but for family of out-of-towners while they had to stay in the hospital. He loved it, having two comfy beds in a good sized room. The cost to him was a mere $25/night, and pulling the dirty linen off his bed after those two nights. I tried to get him extra food off my tray, since we couldn't order a second tray, but my carbs limit wasn't helpful. He ate either in the cafeteria while visiting me, or whatever from a local fast food or convenience joint.

With both his knees doing their usual to plague him, plus his back acting up, he was very appreciative of both their valet parking and the golf carts with which they chauffered him to his parked car or back and forth to Jubilee House. I was assigned a room at the other side of the hospital from emergency, fairly close to the front door, so that helped when he visited me.

They sent me home with a stack full of orders and prescriptions, plus a verbal prohibition against driving. So Steve drove. It meant he couldn't take the "good stuff" for pain, settling on 4 ibuprofin while we both kept our fingers crossed. It also meant he had to drive freeways through Las Vegas, and if you don't know how much he hates city driving, you haven't met Steve. I promised to navigate.

We spent an hour in backed up traffic before reaching Vegas for what we finally found out was three lanes squishing to one for the exit ramp, competing with cross traffic on that busy highway to make a couple turns to get onto the 6-mile-long frontage road before returning to the freeway. We did get a glimpse about the third mile along the frontage road of the rolled over semi and the four tow trucks that weren't seeming to have any success righting it. While in our back-up, a few motorcycles passed us on the shoulder, then a couple cars, until both in front of us and behind us there were semis pulled partly out on to the shoulder to keep any other greedy idiots from trying the same thing.

Thanks, guys. If we gotta suffer, everybody's gotta suffer!

Once we approached Hoover Dam, another pit stop did nothing to make me out of breath, so I offered to try driving for a bit. We switched, and made it a mile before I was again light headed and needed to pull over. Dang! I hadn't been light headed once yet this leg of the trip till I got behind the wheel, and Steve was starting to need a break. On the plus side, for a while the scenery I got to study instead of the road was breathtaking, like it had been at the start of the day's journey through the Virgin River canyon. There were distinct advantages to being in the passenger seat.

Once we'd hit Kingman, we stopped for a sit-down in a restaurant and a short nap in the shade of a sign. Then I tried driving again. This time I made it 30 miles before needing to turn the wheel back over to Steve. But the combined rests had refreshed him enough to finish the way home.

We were both too tired by then to do anything besides airing out the house of leftover noxious fumes after removing the no-pest strips and one found cockroach, bring a few bags in so we'd have PJs and pills. Electricity had to be turned on, fans blowing, and once the house was closed up again, the AC turned back on. There was agreement not to bother with filling prescriptions or stop to buy food until morning. We each had the last bits of an MRE to scavenge, and chairs to put our feet up and lean back in. No Wi-Fi yet, no TV, no gas. The fridge could start to chill some bottles of water, and be ready for filling on the morrow. We had shelter, comfort, water and food.

Other things got taken care of in the next days. We even heard there was an eclipse out there somewhere, though our safety glasses were tucked away somewhere. As far as we knew, it happened while I was in the post office, picking up our held mail and restarting delivery, evidenced by it seeming just a shade dimmer outside than usual. The TV coverage on PBS was great. After everything else, I guess that was OK.

We Were Home!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Chapter Two: Idaho to Salt Lake

As we left behind our campsite, and my dream of seeing the total eclipse, our route headed for Idaho Falls for the first inexpensive motel we could locate. Depending on how long that took, maybe just the first motel, period. Our rush to arrive and settle in did not prevent some sightseeing, however.

Two things stood out. First, on its journey north out of Wyoming, the Snake River became Palisades Lake, a seeming endless canyonfull of placid, inviting water until it reached - you got it - the Palisades Dam. We drove its entire length northwards, before turning west to head towards our hunt for a motel. The east side was bordered by relatively low mountains, compared to the Tetons, of course. Out of curiosity I looked to our east along the way wondering if the tips of the Tetons rose visibly behind these mountains. I was disappointed by the fact that, from this angle at least, nothing showed. Perhaps they were just too close, or perhaps we'd already angled too far west away from them. Maybe both. I decided to just enjoy the scenery we had.

Second, once we'd turned westward, I looked back to our south. We'd been in sunshine since leaving Wyoming, but there was an unending string of dense clouds including thunderheads strung along the horizon aimed exactly at the area we'd just left. It was confirmation that our local Alpine guy in the sporting goods store knew exactly what he was talking about when he said where the weather front was now and continued to sit.

We'd left early enough that afternoon that the sun was still up but not yet in our eyes as we rolled into Idaho Falls. First stop was McDonalds for supper and information on where in town the motel row was located. As it turned out, the complicated directions which had fled from my mind past the "Go west and..." part within a minute didn't matter, as we rolled up to a cozy little place within about a mile. They'd had a morning cancellation, and we were the first to come along and fill their last room. It would have been a great place had we wanted to stay several days, containing a full kitchenette. Our use, however, didn't justify paying about $20 more than the chain we usually stayed at. At least the shower was a relief after days without, but one had to be very careful. The tiles on the floor were way too smooth to offer any traction when wet, and some previous occupant had ripped the bar out of the wall that would have prevented falls. But ahhh, hot water!

Steve and I slept in as long as we could. We had time to kill with just a short drive to the suburb of Salt Lake City where his brother's family had invited us to stay for a couple days or more, or "as long as we wanted." Our preference was to arrive after lunch on the road, in order not to impose unduly on their hospitality. The original plan had been to head there the morning after the eclipse, taking our time breaking camp and giving those other 12,000 visitors their chance to quit clogging the roads.We know how that turned out.

This time the directions from motel to freeway were both simple and clear. "Turn right, go to the first stoplight (just before where the road is closed for construction) and take another right, then straight for two miles to the ramp."

At stops along the way - food, gas, etc. - I was still a bit short of breath after walking to the back corner of the convenience store where they always place the restrooms, thinking you'll buy more stuff if you see more stuff, and back out to the car. It was a disappointment, but after a short pause to quit panting, we were on our way again.

Steve's brother had given us directions to their house, followed by a suggestion we use Steve's smartphone GPS. Of course the two didn't match, so we chose the route we'd written down. It all worked, and we rolled up to be greeted by one of our nephews, the only one home. We asked him to please bring our clothes bags into the house and down to the basement where we'd be sleeping. We would need to sort through to find our proper stuff and reorganize, dry, and repack after the hasty "help" we'd gotten from the kayakers. Don't mistake that for lack of appreciation, but stuff had gone everywhere in the rush. I hadn't the energy to sort along the way, nor the energy or breath to go up and down the stairs lugging heavy bags of clothing, toiletries, etc.

Our nephew was very willing to help. In fact all three nephews and our niece were helpful. Well, at least I assume the second oldest would have been. Having an all-day job despite being 14, we saw him briefly at the table and heading to bed or out the door.

Here's how they line up. The oldest will be a senior this school year, works at his high school, and has dreams of a career either in medicine or law enforcement. To further his knowledge, he has participated in ride-alongs with both local cops and paramedics on a number of occasions, loving every minute. An adult cousin has taken him to the range to learn safety and practice his target shooting. So far, the only hitch in his plans would be his needing to knuckle down and get his GPA up this final year of high school. Dad frequently reminds him it all depends on May, referring to his status at graduation.

Nephew number two is the one we generally didn't see. He works at a nearby amusement park, the kind with roller coasters and other rides. I'm not sure if he likes the kind of job or the paycheck more, but it seems like a win-win for him.

Nephew number three, who met us at the door, has the role of problem child in the family. There are medical issues behind the acting out, and we have seen both the devilry and the angelic sides of him. He'll start junior high this fall, and we hope his teachers are ready for him, with structure and discipline, as well as the kinds of attention which really bring out the best in him. He can ask a question and actually listen to a lengthy and detailed answer. I used that as my "consequence" when it became my position to help settle him down, telling him I would be happy to have a conversation with him but only while he behaved. Competition with a rival sibling seems to set him off, and I think he relished the one-on-one time. It may not even have mattered what I said. In a busy family of 6, attention without scolding may simply have been the prize.

Our niece (number four) has really grown the most noticeably since our last visit, though still in elementary school. Not only is she dramatically taller, but has left all vestiges of babyhood behind. Right now she is very involved with a craft involving plastic beads arranged on forms and ironed just enough for the beads to stick together in a whole. Steve had two sent home with him. I have something promised via mail. She and #1 both held lengthy conversations with Steve while #3 mostly related to me as the visitors in their lives.

Before getting to the adults, we can't forget the dogs. The mostly outside dog is an elderly golden lab. He's friendly enough to notice we're there, but arthritis seems to be strongly affecting his mobility. Once he's in and knows the situation, with the least effort possible, he finds an out-of-the-way corner to lay down in. (I know how that feels.) The little dog is a shi-tzu mix, her base coat white compared to Ellie's tan, and the silkiest hair I can remember petting. Daisy was very friendly the first couple hours, getting all the petting she could from us. After that, I guess we were boring. Her stops by got shorter and shorter and she spent more time alone or with family. C'est la vie.

My brother- and sister-in law are great people to spend time with. Completely welcoming, despite our sudden change of plans. He had taken the day off work for when we expected to arrive, and seemingly without an eye blink took another one off to accommodate our actual visit. She's a great cook, and when told of our updated arrival, asked Steve simply, "What would you like to eat?" We didn't want to make demands, so she made some suggestions, all of which sounded delicious. And were.

I learned that she's a meal planner, figuring out a month's worth of menus and what's needed for each meal, then goes to the store to buy everything except those things like milk which have to be regularly bought fresh. It's not her favorite task. (Me? I'll look through the food supply, decide what appeals, and if nothing does, go get something that will. The shopping is not my favorite part.)

She knew about my health issues, and did her best to keep me from doing anything to help. Feeling like a useless leach, I did help with table setting and clearing - jobs I can do in almost anybody's kitchen. I felt most useful helping to shuck the ears of corn she'd picked the day before for blanching and freezing. I did have to assure and reassure her that I would actually enjoy the job. Nephew #3 helped,  sitting calmly with us two adults, while the niece carried bowls of ears out to Daddy in the back yard for blanching, as well as ice for cooling, then brought corn back in for her Mom to package for freezing. I'm not sure if #3 mostly liked the grownup acceptance, or the thrill of finding the two worms munching in a couple of the ears. He got to look but not squish.

One of the things I like best about this family is that as a family they work. By that I mean, even with some health and behavioral issues, as a unit they function well. It may not surprise you that, living next to Salt Lake City, they are Mormons. This is not the kind of faith that simply takes them to church for weekend lip service, or enables them to show the world how much holier than thou they are. This is who they are, how they live. If that's not us, Steve and I, not only is there no inquiry into our beliefs, there is no attempt to push theirs. We are simply family. Grace is said, alternating among family members, and not a quickie formula but a sincere prayer for thanks and well wishes for those they know. Coffee and alcohol are not present, though nothing is said when I fix my own cup of morning instant mocha. Volunteering at the church is part of life, and going on mission when the children are grown is assumed. TV programs are monitored, as is computer surfing with parental blocks. Swearing doesn't happen, or is apologized for if inadvertant. (Nobody's ignorant: they know what the words are and mean, just choose to avoid them.)

Being there is being family. The warmth is real. So is the welcome.

Hearing that I had never actually seen the Great Salt Lake, we were taken out for a tour. It included this-is-what-they-look-like-now drive-bys of places Steve used to live or know, even a stop where we rode to the top floor of a building  overlooking the Temple and saw all the groups lined up for their weddings. We drove through the airport roads to see where Steve's brother worked when he wasn't being sent out of town/state, seeing the huge cranes constructing the expansion. It was noted that the pilings for support had to be pounded 70 feet into the ground for proper support, since there was a deep thick layer of sand under the ground down to bedrock.

Heading further south, a pair of mountains were pointed out to me. When I acknowledged the right ones, I was informed that each was an island in the lake. The scale of it suddenly came clear.

On this particular outing, the men were in front, we women in the middle, and the two youngest, who were not working, in the back. Not only did I appreciate the conversation we two were having in semi privacy, it aided in another thing. It seems our driver is, by my standards, a tailgater, even in freeway traffic. I could not, could not watch the driving! I just crossed my mental fingers, hoping we'd all arrive back at the house safely.

Which we did.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

So-o-o Not The Vacation We Planned

There's an old saying, in many versions, from many cultures: "When Man plans, the Gods laugh."

Chapter One: Wyoming

Everything started out exactly as planned. We made Kearney, NE the first night, Rock Springs, WY the second, staying in motels that were adequate or better. Having gotten updated information that Greys River Road, heading up out of Alpine, WY, was in driveable condition rather than rutted and washed out in multiple places as we'd earlier been informed, we continued with our original plan of heading up to a favorite campground from past trips.

There came the first change in plans, albeit a minor one. Steve decided heading way up while sitting on the side of the car next to the drop off was not quite his cup of tea anymore, so we found a safe place for a u-turn and headed back to a flat meadow/parking place next to the river across from where a smaller stream dumped into it over a steady fall over rapids. Picturesque, close to town, all-night lullaby from the water. It was completely undeveloped for camping but open for it since this was national forest land and the spot fit the regulations for dispersed camping. We came prepared with all our supplies for the situation, and considered ourselves lucky to have the site to ourselves. Having been along this road before, this was both of our second choices to stop. Free for 9 nights.

Setting up the tent(s) was going to be easy. After finding a site that wasn't sloped or worn down to rocks, we started. Staking went relatively well, though there was one stake that only went in halfway. It didn't look to be a problem, since all the rest were well anchored. By this time, we were pretty beat, so unfolding the chairs for use was done.

Twenty minutes later we got the poles out and figured out which pieces went where.  Now we had practiced this a couple times before leaving with Richard's assistance and oversight. It had gone well. Of course, back in Minnesota there weren't high winds channeling down the canyon trying to set everything airborne, fighting the angle each pole needed to go to support the whole structure. This is one of those tents where all poles must be in place for any stability. After setting the rain fly under something heavy to keep it on site while we worked, it only took us two tries to get the tent itself up. Of course, more and longer pauses to sit were interspersed in the process. And since the center pole couldn't be set all the way up until after the rain fly was pulled over it, due to its height and our lack of it, we had to bring the whole structure down when the center top pole separated.

In the flap-everything wind, we had problems fitting the rain fly over the tent, even to the point of second-guessing ourselves as to which way was long or short, further delaying final pole positioning. The hooks holding the corners were on elastic that had lost some of their stretch, failing to hold it in place. So repeat, repeat, repeat. Once the center of the tent was tied off to the center poles, things fit better, but it still took extra tiedowns fastening the rain fly to the tent stakes to finish the job.

You know, I'm certain, that it was about this time the wind started to die down. Just started, but the rain fly finally quit trying to. Fly, that is.

The first of three tents was up. We were ready to quit, but the tent giving privacy to our bucket toilet still needed to be erected. Luckily it was spring mounted, the kind you fold in circles to put away, and only needed a site found and stakes pounded in. Then tiedowns got attached to those same stakes to hold the top of this skinny tent straight before we could put in the bucket, set its liner in, and dig out a roll of TP, set inside a plastic bag to keep it dry. Our pauses were getting longer between steps, but this had to be finished even after exhaustion set in.

Our last must-do was inflating our  air beds (powered by the car, not human lungs), bringing in sleeping bags and pillows, and hauling in clothes. By then we both were too tired to even think about supper, simple as MREs are, and we crashed before the sky got dark. The third tent, a screen house we'd planned to sit inside while relaxing and reading, was left on the ground in its case for the night. In fact, we never did find the energy to open and stake that last tent.

You'd think a good night's sleep would refresh us. Turns out there were a couple issues. Back when the car was getting packed, we had help bringing supplies up from the basement. We never questioned the sleeping bag that was brought up for me. Big mistake. It was one with zippers up both sides which slid down with every wiggle or breath. Not only was the air cold, our airbeds had no insulation so they sucked the heat out of us from the bottom too. Having the surface flocked only managed to catch on the sleeping bags and hold them where they were even when you wanted to move. Down again on the zippers.

Cold as it was, I put on sweats over my PJs and tried to get back in. The zippers were even less cooperative. I gave up, finally, and crawled in the other bed with Steve, aka Mr. Furnace. The beds were only full sized. While spooning was fine in one direction, warming me partly up, when we needed to roll over, my center of gravity was now hanging off the mattress and nearly dumped me on the floor. I gave up and moved to the one place I knew I could both sleep and be warm: the car, with the engine running intermittently.

I did manage something of a night's sleep. Steve was quite cozy where he was.

The second day of camping we broke out the first of the MREs. For each of us, one package lasted the whole day, separated into three meals. Flavor: mostly OK. Texture, particularly of bread products... well, lets just say they could use all the help they could get from either spreadable cheese or PB&J.

The toilet worked just as it should, with just two minor problems. It was too low to the ground. After all, it was a standard 5 gallon bucket with a seat and lid. Had it been last summer, my new knees would never have allowed it. Because some idiot designed the doorway to its tent to only open up to a height of about four feet, with a bottom lip sticking up six inches, it was always a job bending down while lifting your feet up and over without tripping. Then you had to manage clothing, sit way down, somehow all in time for what was necessary.

Exiting was a process as well, first maneuvering off the seat enough to actually use the TP, though never quite reaching everything you wanted to, then leaning forward to stand up to re-dress without losing your balance. And don't forget to shut the lid, after sprinkling a little clumping cat litter over the bottom of the bucket, just in case it wasn't spillproof as desired, nor you as graceful. Then there was still the bend and step high technique, nothing to hang on to for stability. After that, pausing to rezip the door closed was nothing.

The whole process was work! As if we weren't tired enough already. It was to be avoided as much as possible.

That's one of the things that made leaving camp for town so attractive. (Hey! Real toilets!) First was a shopping trip. Daylight had revealed that not only was my sleeping bag too small for someone who had left "skinny" behind decades ago, but it was only rated for 60 degrees. Sixty! That was about enough for a comfy afternoon nap!

We used an Alpine gas station to dump our bag of garbage and ask how to locate a sporting goods store. Luckily, there was one in town. Luckier still, it's last two sleeping bags were our size (Steve decided to get another and join his together) and rated for 30 degrees. In conversation with the store owner we got an interesting, and discouraging, piece of information. All the TV news interviewees who were asked where to plan for eclipse watching by reason of likely clear skies had pointed to Jackson Hole and surrounding area as a top spot. The theory was the clouds would somehow stay on the west side of the mountains for the first part of the day, not slipping over to the eastern side until afternoon.

It made sense at the time. Apparently 12,000 other people thought so too, since that was the expected crowd size into the area. However, as a native, he had better information. With just a little push from climate change, this had become the time of year when the winds moving weather fronts around were sliding south, and this was their exact boundary site. It was colder (yep) and cloudier (yep) than just a couple weeks before, so the odds of a good view were slim.

Dang!

On the plus side, he pointed out directions to a car dealership where we could get our tires tested, filled, and fixed or replaced as necessary. My flat tire light had just shown up that morning. They were still good enough for a short drive to town. But in the middle of nowhere in a car that was sold without a jack or a spare, I was not about to mess around. Luckily, for the three of them which were a bit low, the air top-up was enough to eliminate the warning light. Better yet, little wait,  no charge! To date, no more leaks either.

Once our local errands were run, we decided to head up to Jackson Hole to scout out the traffic and likely spots to legally stop for a bit to experience the eclipse. Our campsite was a few miles outside totality, and I wanted to get the full experience. The road into town from the south was under construction, giving us a lot more stop than go. Having finally navigated that, crossing town to my top choice for eclipse viewing, the Elk Refuge, we had to stop and wait at every intersection for either a light, pedestrians crossing, or both. I had kind of planned for that, but Steve absolutely hated the whole trip, wanting almost any other spot for The Day Of.

The Elk Refuge was lovely, huge meadows across the valley and climbing in swaths up into the trees on the mountains. Or hills. Your perspective changes with the Tetons in the background. There were no elk to be seen that afternoon, but several parking pullouts along the way gave us choices of where to stop for our lunch and just enjoy the scenery.

While having supper that evening, we watched a family of four, two of them preschoolers, playing baseball across the road from  us. Their noise and activity was not enough, surprisingly, to prevent a mother and baby elk from ambling across a clearing between pine trees about a hundred feet behind them. Seeing no elk at the refuge, we were doubly delighted.

Our plan for the next day, or one soon, was to take the road up into the eclipse zone on the Idaho side, checking its feasibility for viewing and pictures. Meanwhile we anticipated a much nicer night of sleep than the previous one. This was the night it rained through the rain fly, only on my side of course, and I found out that the new sleeping bag was a better fit but I still wasn't warm enough. Back to the car.

We woke to wet clothes, wet tent floor, wet bed (mine only), wet sleeping bag corner, and the canvas chair left outside doing an efficient job of holding puddles both in its curved seat and cup holder. After doing the possible to assist drying over the course of the day, I dug out the camera to get a couple dozen shots of fog trailing downhill along the tips of the mountains we were nested in.

Steve took the one dry chair, the one we'd brought into the tent overnight, and tried fishing in the stream we camped next to. After losing a couple of spinners on the over-abundance of rocks under water, he decided to head down into Star Valley to the Salt River,  a slow stream where people swore they were catching trout. After a quick stop to shoot ospreys in a pole nest box, we found a public access with a gentle slope from a nice parking spot to where he could set up a chair while fishing. I stayed in the car, alternately reading my Kindle and looking at how he was doing.

While no trout were caught, Steve did hook the biggest catches of the day. The first was the bridge over his stream. The second was his pants. I may never have known about the latter, but he hollered at me to bring the nail clipper from the car so he could cut himself loose. On my short way back to the car, I had to stop a couple of times, panting. I couldn't catch my breath.

I was fine when he gave up and returned to the car. We decided to head back to camp, taking advantage of a roadside rest stop along the way. By the time I got back to the car I was again out of breath. For both of us, this was a last straw. With minimum discussion, we both agreed to break camp and head to a motel on lower ground, the operating theory at the time being altitude sickness, despite camping only around 6,000 feet, much lower than I've been at other times with no effect, including Trail Ridge Road which pushes 12,000 feet.

While I drove back to camp, and he still had cell coverage, Steve called the local forestry office, explained that we had a medical emergency, would return to camp only to clear out our personal effects, and apologized for leaving behind our tents on the site. When they offered to watch our abandoned camp until we could return for the tents, he flatly stated we'd not be back. Donate the tents to anybody who could use them, a scout troop, Goodwill, whatever.

Once there, I mostly sat on the now dry chair and he started bringing stuff to the car. When he noticed a group of teenage kayakers loading up to leave after coming down the river, he walked over and asked for a few minutes of their help. Within ten minutes our car was loaded as full as it could be. I mostly suggested how to load, like laying sleeping bags flat since they knew nothing about rolling them up, and flattening them for more room by loading heavy stuff like the MREs on top of them. Some clothes came out of the tent still wet. We didn't care. The car was loaded in minutes, the kids thanked, and there was one single chore to do before we cleared out. That bag inside the pail potty was removed, sealed up, and carried on the floor of the front seat till we hit the trashcan at that same gas station. This time I decided I'd even pay for some gas, despite that they were by far the most expensive in town, not to mention the whole trip. I figured I owed them.

Five minutes later Wyoming was behind us.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Hooray, Home Again!

We arrived Sunday, got our own beds, our own chairs, our own mess. And for those of you who are counting, no, we didn't see the eclipse. It's a long story, so it may take me a couple days to tell it.

So, more later.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Daylily Mystery

Anybody who's grown, deliberately or not, the original, non-hybrid daylilies, knows how hardy and invasive they can be. Depending on your preferences, that's either a curse or a bonus. It holds true also with the semi-wild variant that has double flower petals. Same orange, same height, same habits, just prettier. At least to me, anyway. That holds double for the patch in the Minnesota house's yard. The originals came out of the backyard border from my folks last house, before they cashed in and switched to senior rental living.

These started as clumps carried home in a box the summer I had the house built, 1991. Since I wanted them in front by the driveway and the house wasn't finished until late July, they got dug in way back in a corner of the yard, out of the way of all the contractors. In fact, a lot of transplants from garden catalogues, friends, and my previous yard got moved that way before getting their final locations. The contractors took an extra month, so I had a lot of plants needing to be heeled in.

The first few years there were a lot of weeds in the daylily patch. But true to form, they spread into each other tightly enough that there was no longer a place for any weeds to grow after just a few years. They were kept in check by the asphalt of the driveway, the mown grass toward the street side and deep tree shade on the back and sides.

As an aside, when the latest neighbors had moved in, we had a discussion with them because the patch was reaching the edge of our yard and about to creep into theirs, and I assured them whether they mowed them or kept them, hey! It was their yard. I tend to have the same discussion with all my neighbors about other vegetation crossing the property line. Tree branches in their way? Apples or hazelnuts hanging over their side of the fence? Lilacs moving over full of blooms that beg for cutting for a vase? All yours.

Just don't mess with my side of the property line!

That spot in the back yard where the originals had been parked still had bits of rhizome left underground here and there, and it took several years of mowing the spot to finally discourage them. They are damn hard to kill! (The original raspberry site was the same way.)

That's why yesterday afternoon was such a shock. Paul and I were swapping cars in the driveway so first one out in the morning was closest to the street. Walking back to the house, I noticed something very peculiar. It hadn't been there the day before, which I know because I was admiring them while I was backing my car out to go visit family. Now, with only a couple of exceptions, the entire patch was laying flat, every bit of vegetation dead. Completely brown and dried!

You can't kill daylilies. You just can't. But...  somebody had. We don't know who, nor with what, nor why. I even spent time online trying to find out what's out there these days that might have done the job. There was no information beyond complaints that they weren't killable without working at the job for years.

I went next door and had a friendly chat with the neighbor. It wasn't initially intended to be, since I figured he must have sprayed them with something, deliberately, or as a victim of drift. However, the first time I went over, the neighbors were gone. It gave me time to cool off. So later I approached the issue more with a "Did you notice...?" attitude than a "How the hell dare you...?" one.

By the end of our chat I left willing to believe he had nothing to do with it, hadn't noticed anyone else messing around, and had actually liked watching them bloom every summer. Neither of us knows what could have done the job so quickly, no yellowing or wilting first, just sudden death. The only thing I am aware of that could so thoroughly poison a patch of ground is arsenic, but that's so indiscriminate, and moves through the ground affecting everything for years, that only a fool or someone overflowing with deep malice would use it,  and I still don't know if it would work so fast. I've never been that particular kind of malicious fool. If indeed the ground has been poisoned, we both will be watching our trees and shrubs along the property line, as the patch slopes downward towards it, and everything's roots go under it.

Meanwhile, we're hoping. Hoping that whatever was used was just something to kill back the foliage. Hoping that even if it were a root killer, there will be some rhizomes not affected and the patch will grow back. Paul might be able to tell before the ground freezes, but if not, for sure next spring.

But barring a confession, the sudden die-off will remain a mystery.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Endless Cemetery

I finally got around to visiting my folks' grave this afternoon while running errands with Steve. They were buried, both urns together, in Fort Snelling National Cemetery. For those not familiar, it's located between MSP airport and the 494 freeway.

I remember it from the military ceremony (21 gun salute, flag presentation, etc.) as being huge, and called ahead for the grave location. Given a section and site number, I went online to view their map so I could follow the proper roadways to actually accomplish the task. Of course, the gate that would have made the route simple was closed. All I would have had to do was enter Gate 3 and take that road all the way to the loop at its end, then follow my mental picture of where in the loop section 27 was. To put that in scale, they switched to numbered sections after going through the alphabet, and then throwing in letter-number and number-letter combinations. (And FYI I got a tiny bit lost trying to leave. My changed mental map wasn't up to the job. Just what street had we come in on? Did you notice a name? No? Too busy looking for the way to the originally planned route, that one particular street name.)

 No way was I ever in my life up to the task of wandering through that cemetery trying to track one grave down without a lot of information, and even with my new knees I was hoping that once I readjusted my mental street map to find the right section, locating their site would be self explanatory.

Ummm, not so much. After pulling over to park, all I saw was a block of rows and rows of grave markers. No row signs, no visible numbers, no clues to how it was organized. I snagged the attention of two people leaving and asked them what the trick was. The pair, consisting of a middle-aged woman and a teenager, were very willing to share. She had already utilized his youthful energy to hunt through the rows to locate their own family member. The trick is that, from the road, all the numbers are on the back of the stones. They sit in numerical order, across one row, then starting over across the next row, etc. It's still a hunt. Even in that "small" section, we didn't need to go too far back to find our stone relative to the section size. Our number was in the 900s so you can imagine the number of gravestones in just that section.  Luckily, the teenager took our number and started going through the rows until he located it for me, not too far in from the left side boundary. After thanking them I trudged in with my camera. Steve declined the hike, waiting in the car for me.

Even knowing they were supposed to be buried together, I was surprised by how it was done. I found Mom first, as her name and information were on the back side of the stone with the locator number. I looked to both sides, thinking that a lot of cemeteries define "together" as side-by-side. That wasn't the way here. As I walked around the stone to the front, there was Daddy's, the soldier's, name and info. They truly were buried together, as they wanted.

It was also the only feasible way for Fort Snelling to accomplish it's task. Even though it went through all kinds of channels to expand a few years ago, it's running out of room.

I don't know how early the first soldiers were laid to rest there. We still have several wars worth of veterans alive, owed a free burial by our country for their service. And unfortunately, we're still making more. Way too many more. My Dad was one of the dwindling number of remaining WWII vets. Looking around for just a short space I found vets from Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and other places and times our men and women have served, though these were just the ones who died around the same time he did and were cremated. The rational part of my brain started filling in the data, taking over for the emotional part that was both awed and overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. It kicked me in the gut when I first entered, grew as we drove further in, all the while being unable to see to the ends of the collection of gravestones. Section after section, up and down, back and forth, they were only dropping out of view when the land started sloping. It never ended.

It looks like it never will.

And this  is only one regional military cemetery!