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!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

And Now For Gutting The Military

Yeah, Trump again. Another broken promise. More encouragement for us to hate. Why is it a surprise? Just because it's another broken campaign promise? Haven't we gotten so used to them by now that it's just another day in "paradise"?

So the latest verbal vomit is keeping out and/or kicking transgender people out of the military. He did promise to be a friend to the LGBT community. It's on video: go watch it. Did he not know what he thought he was talking about? Did he think the "T" stood for teddy bears? Or does he just think they are easy targets, without defenders, as a subject for another midnight tweeting spew that would distract us from any of the other awful things he's doing or trying to do? You know, like a shiny thing over there to draw our eyes from, say, Russia? Dismantling laws? Destroying our clean water and air?

Looking at our military now, post draft era, we have volunteers, either brave or foolhardy souls willing to give their lives, or maybe just an arm and a leg or two, in what they believe is the defense of our country. (Sometimes they're right about the "why" of it. Another rant for another day.)  Volunteerism wasn't the first or only change to who served in our military. It started with allowing African Americans in, once enough folks put aside their prejudices to fight alongside fellow soldiers whose contributions didn't depend on skin color. We allowed gays in, since a few smart somebodies finally figured out, like somebody once said, that it doesn't matter if they are straight, just whether they can shoot straight. (Too bad it took so damn long!) Besides, they'd been there contributing all along, just hiding who they were. Now we even allow women in some combat roles, because they found out we don't lack courage and can shoot straight too, besides changing tires and fixing engines, etc. Of course, we still have to prove our combat readiness in high status positions, but growth is happening.

Now we turn to the least understood, most belittled minority in our society, the transgender individuals. (Hey, was your first thought "drag queen"?) Try to get past that nonsense mantra about God not making any mistakes. Think, instead,  evolution still trying to see what works towards survival and what doesn't. Read a bit, take a sociology or anatomy class, and you'll find out about plenty of anomalies in how we humans are put together.

Start with, say, genetic diseases. You can all name half a dozen, even if you don't quite realize the genetic component. While you're doing that, recall that nobody calls any of them lifestyle choices. Add in other anomalies like, say, a sixth finger. (Remember Anne Boleyn?) That was neither a choice nor an indication of witchcraft as thought at the time, just genetics doing something different again.  Did you know, being mammals, some of us are born with rows of nipples rather than a single pair? Do you call that a moral fault?

Just like other body parts have variety, so do genitals. Some babies are born with ambiguous parts, and somebody decides for them what gender they will grow up to be. They could be wrong. And some people with perfectly typical genitals grow up knowing that's not who they are.

But they are still as human as the rest of us. They have the same rights and obligations, the same capabilities and flaws. And if they want, under our volunteer system, they can still make perfectly good soldiers. You know, so you don't have to if you don't want to. And if you do want to, they'll have your back just like you'll have theirs.

Right now, estimates range as high as 15,000 transgender individuals serving our country as soldiers. But Trump wants to kick them out. He "claims" he made the decision after consulting "his" generals. But the Pentagon was in an uproar after those tweets, as nobody had heard a whisper of this policy change, much less been consulted. And by the way, though he is Commander in Chief, those are our, the country's generals, not his.

Besides Trump showing off his dishonesty and flagrent prejudices, what would be the consequences of such a move? Well, how would those soldiers be replaced? Have we got another 15,000 folk out there just dying to become soldiers (Yes, Virginia, pun intended) whom we've put on waiting lists because "their" slots have already been filled? If so, how long would it take to train them to the current levels of expertise of the soldiers Trump wants to kick out? And let's just imagine what, say, Kim Jung Un would think are his new possibilities for attacking us in the meantime? What could Putin get away with? Syria? Fill-in-the-blank?

How would these soldiers be removed? They joined and served just as honorably as their fellow soldiers. Would we force them out under a dishonorable discharge just because of a policy change, along with all the losses of rights and benefits that would go along with that? (Hey, NRA, you want 15,000 folks suddenly unable legally to own a gun?) Do they lose college opportunities? Health benefits? Employment chances?

What about the so-called extra cost of having transgender soldiers? First, statistically few of them chose surgery, opting for hormonal treatments. Compare that to the "simple" cost of dealing with limb loss or brain injuries happening to our "regular" soldiers? Hell, even supplying Viagara to soldiers costs us way more than the needs of transgender soldiers. And while on that topic, why the hell are we supplying Viagara to soldiers? I thought we were supposed to be keeping their minds on their jobs. And don't we already have too many cases of rape in the military, as well as with residents of countries where our soldiers are stationed? Are you telling me that erections win wars? Seriously?

Trump has been so wrong and so awful in so many ways. Can we stop him this time?

Can we?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Boy Scouting? Boo Hiss!

I guess I was very naive when I was a girl scout. Even when I was a girl scout leader. I just didn't get the messages. Ones like nobody gay was welcome. Of course, back then it was "Dyke" but I still never heard the word, much less the exclusion or its so-called justification. Were we that different from Boy Scouts? I just saw moms and daughters, never thinking some might be excluded by anything other than lack of interest in joining, or lack of interesting things to do. Race? Religion? So far as I knew, since they never entered into the equation for me,  I can't tell you if the girl scouts had those policies back then, or even now. I hope not. They were boring, but idealistic, so that was the standard I set for  myself as a result. (Yes, the boring part too. All those icky girly role aspirations.)

The boy scouts caught my attention, and not in a good way, when they tried to exclude gay scouts and leaders. First, who knows if they're gay when they join cub scouts? More to the point, who cares? And by the time one goes through the whole system and becomes a scout leader, why should sexual orientation be an issue? It's not like gay equates with pedophile. Priest, maybe. Coach, maybe. Next door neighbor, maybe. Pedophiles are out there, after all, but sexual orientation does not a predator make.

So the organization of boy scouts lost my respect. And silly me, I thought that was the end of it.

But then, Trump. I just heard a few things in the news which decreased my respect for the boy scouts even more, after thinking it wasn't possible. Trump spoke to them. He was never himself a scout, but hey, any president should have the right to address them and inspire them by setting a good example, right?

Good example? Are we talking the same President? First, he puts down our previous president, Obama for any of you with short term memory issues, and gets the crowd to go along with him. That alone violates so many points of the boy scout oath that I don't know where to begin, but let's end with "brave", because the courage to challenge the president's spew appeared sorely lacking. I get it in the kids, somewhat, but the leaders?

Then, Trump, being Trump, insists that the loyalty part of the oath be directed, not at their fellow scouts, not to whichever God they have been raised to worship, not even to their country, but to him. Trump. Again, so wrong on so many levels. Sadly, again cheered not just by the boys but their leaders as well.

In my apparently ongoing naivety, I assumed that once the scout troops got home and out of the spotlight, their leaders would have a good discussion with their troop members on what scouting was really supposed to be about, as opposed to the verbal vomit spewing from Trump's mouth. But when I heard that the leaders were cheering Trump on, I lost all hope.

Hey, didn't Der Fuehrer start with the young boys as well?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Says It All, Doesn't It?

"If I were to run, I'd run as a Republican. They're the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they'd still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific."

Donald Trump
quoted in People Magazine

UPDATE: I've been informed this can't be backed up. What a shame. It so-o-o-o Trump. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Computer Trails: How Stupid Is Stupid?

We see it over and over, in situation after situation. People up to all kinds of  mischief keep leaving computer records of their deeds, as if they left no records behind them. It's not just the Trumps being stupid so publicly, or fraternity brothers after a hazing turns deadly texting their girlfriends.

Having an affair? Texting your honey? Think you'll never get caught?

Cheating your company? Think the transfer of funds is hidden?

Bullying a classmate? Think you're anonymous?

Videotaping your break-in and vandalism or theft for some warped idea of bragging rights? Think nobody can identify you? Better yet, think nobody has security cameras either inside the store or covering the street from two doors down?

Sending nasty comments about your boss over the company email?

Posting sex tapes thinking they're private?

Got your most sensitive company records on the same network as your email and browsers?

Seriously, how stupid is stupid, really?

Remember this: if it's sent over the internet, it's not - NOT! - private.

Somewhere a record is kept. Someone is willing to share it. Somebody is willing to hack your data. Somebody wants to get paid for your information, if not simply using it themselves. You may be perfectly innocent and still perfectly stupid.

Even your best precautions may not be good enough. You can change your most obscure passwords regularly, use different ones for different accounts, install the latest security software, stay out of wi-fi public networks, scramble and encode everything. Somebody can still break through.  Somebody will. Just because you don't know how to, don't trust that nobody else will figure it out.

And by the way, teach your kids, too, that the internet isn't private. It is possible to be a little less stupid, at least for some of us. Some never learn.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Good Bye Five-O, Good Riddance

I know you're more appropriately supposed to say "Aloha", but that has so many meanings with positive connotations that I just couldn't do it this time.

Five-O used to be a staple of Friday night viewing, The last couple years I found myself getting more and more indifferent to it. Steve and Danny were turning into squabbling children, and disfunctional families have never been my idea of entertainment. Three-year-olds with guns, whoopee. There were still a few decent story lines and great scenery that kept they  eyes on the screen most weeks, but the two main characters kept me squirming. No, not in a good way.

Now the last shoe has dropped. If my vote counts, it'll be coming off the DVR schedule. Why now? I just heard they dropped the last two actual adult characters on the series, Grace Park (Kono) and Daniel Dae Kim (Chin Ho).

The worst part is the reason they were both dropped. Had they gone off to bigger and better offers, starring in better shows, I would have said Halleluia for both of them and followed them both to see how much I liked the new shows where they ended up. But it's a much nastier reason than that. It seems the Hawaiian characters weren't getting paid as much as the white guys, and the show refused to equalize their salaries. So, the two characters I like to watch are gone because the ones I dislike and am totally bored with are paid more?

Chin and Kono, you two are more ohana than Steve and Danny will ever be. I wish you the best in whatever comes next for you two, and hope it beats the hell out of Five-O!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Cleaning... Sort Of

Boy, could I use a bandana! One of those big enough to cover my head above the eyebrows and keep about three quarts of salty sweat out of my eyes. The stuff stings! Messes up my glasses too.

Spoiler alert: Minnesota is back! By that, I mean the humidity that I used to take for granted, the crap which makes stepping outside and moving three feet totally miserable. And that's without even counting mosquitoes! I so fondly recall when we first moved to Arizona, cleaning the crap out of the house and moving our own possessions into newly painted and scrubbed rooms, knowing it was a bit warm and being totally amazed that "warm" translated to 90 degrees!

I think it's only somewhere in the 80s today, but I can't swear whether that's temperature or dewpoint. Perhaps both!

It started - and ended - modestly enough. Now that the critters are gone, it was well past time to sweep floors. I had actually done that once, a week ago. Thought I did a pretty good job, too. It seems the dirt and fur thought otherwise. (I swear the stuff just creeps out at night just to laugh at me!) I reached my limit of sitting in the chair and looking at a recurring supply of the stuff, and dug out the broom and dustpan again. Furniture was easy enough to move around. (I found out I can get rid of Steve just by turning Stephanie Miller on the TV. He does not appreciate her sense of humor.) So both he and Rich were out on the screen house with their various smokes, and taking advantage,  I swept.

I couldn't actually tell I'd just done this same thing a few days ago, with all the fur, but even  more annoying, due to its endlessly recurring supply, was the compilation of leaf bits getting tracked in on shoes from the front entryway. The wind always catches the leaves and blows them up to the door, and walking through them crunches them and brings them in.

They had served a purpose throughout early summer. We get various birds building nests in the entryway, and "decorate" the concrete pretty thoroughly as the young grow beyond the confines of the nest before fledging.  A steady pile of leaves are easier to sweep up than the walk is to scrub. But fledging happened two weeks ago, so I was out of excuses, especially as the bits kept creeping into the house.

So today was the day. The garbage bins head curbside tonight, so what gets in them goes away. I don't even bother with bagging the entryway stuff anymore. If the garbage company doesn't appreciate a dozen scoopfulls of damp crunched leaves, they are free to return them. If I just sweep them over around the corners of the house to fertilize something else, an errant breeze will just return them all in a day or two. There are already plenty on the nearby trees to start the process all over again in the fall.

But, oh! Was it a miserable job! Halfway down the walk I was already blinded in one eye by all the salt, even though I was repeatedly wiping my face with the collar of the shirt I was wearing. (Actually, pajamas, but shhhhhh! It's a t-shirt, and who needs to know from the street?) I stuck with it anyway, knowing if I quit, it'd all just be there waiting for me another day soon. Inside and out.

So, in order, I need: a bottle of water, a chair, half a dozen paper towels, first for me and then a final one for my glasses, and a good long shower.

So, of course, here I sit, blogging!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What NOT To Blame On "Obamacare"

HMOs have been around for years and years. The first one I joined, my only insurance choice offered at work, cost me the ability to visit a favorite doctor. The second one, a version of Medicare "with benefits", again limited my choices of whom to see. I've been too lazy, now that I'm out of that one, to hunt up a primary Doc I like better, but as soon as we get back from summer vacation I have one in mind to try.

In the meantime, there were a lot of years without any insurance. I qualified for Medicare before Obamacare took effect. I guess you could say I "aged out" of the program. At any rate, I know what it's like to be without insurance, when that means being without healthcare except for the barest minimum I could afford, and often having to tell my Doc that whatever she recommended just wasn't possible. I would have loved Obamacare. I still do for all those who are getting by on it now.

Yes, I still and will always believe that a single payer system is the best of all possible choices. Try Canada - though right now they try to keep us out because so many uninsured folks sneak across the border for free-to-them healthcare. Yes, even with Obamacare. There's a glitch in our system. It could have been easily righted, if only Republican ideology hadn't worked overtime to ruin the system rather than fix a glitch. And no, you don't have to take my word for it: just learn to read... widely.

Medicare was expanded in many states so that those with limited incomes could get financial support for their healthcare premiums. If you check out the maps of where that happened, and compare it to the red/blue used in denoting politics, you'll find out that mostly red states, with Republican governors and state houses, refused Medicaid expansion even though it wouldn't have cost them a penny. It was, after all, covered by federal funds, money that their own taxpayers had pumped into the system in, say, income taxes. Other taxes too. Hey, why not get your own money back, doing something useful for you? And if you check those same maps, you'll find that the states benefiting from the Medicaid expansion are mostly those colored blue, politically. There are exceptions, nearly all because a few Republican governors considered the welfare of their citizens over their own political futures. Check out Ohio.

It has become the Republican mantra in the last couple of decades that taxes are evil and the richest among us are to be supported rather than asked to pay a bigger share. Corporations are sacrosanct, and tax breaks to lure them into our communities are sound strategy. Somehow we, the people, have disappeared from this value system, though every two or four years pleasing lies are bandied about to lull us back to sleep so we can't see what is happening. Hey, maybe we can get rich too! And Keep It All!

So we swallow the lies rather than working together to fix the glitches in the system. One of the most widely publicized glitches is in the VA healthcare system. There are solutions. Put more money in the system. Spread care out into the private sector when demand overflows capacity. Put better, smarter administrators in charge, ones whose primary objectives are actually serving those veterans who have sacrificed nearly everything protecting us. But that would cost, so we ration care and essentially throw away those whose service has ended.

I can't help thinking if we reinstituted the draft, where every Senators' child and mogul's grandchild were called up to serve, their actual care afterwards might be improved. No exemptions, no deferments, no excuses not to serve. Of course, we might also get fewer stupid wars, so win-win, eh?

But we still come back to that institution, where spending money on healthcare is rationed not by need but by profit, that venerable old HMO. You get the cheapest care, not the best. Anybody with "MD" after their name will do if the price is right and the care is limited. (Hey, what do you call the person who graduates at the bottom of their medical school class? Doctor!) Medicines are dispensed by cost, not efficacy or lack of side effects. Lab tests look for horses even if you are suffering from a zebra. You need permission to see a specialist, and get to sit back and wait however long for an opening.

If you think I'm angry, even though this no longer affects me, let me just tell you about two people I know trying to live - literally live - with the limits of their HMOs. The first is the wife of a former coworker. I hadn't seen him for months, and we finally had time for a chat. He'd taken on a second job, just to pay for his wife's medications. She had lung cancer. A new drug was on the market, and she/they decided to try it. Otherwise she had only a couple months left. At the point of our conversation, it had been over a year, and the tumors had all but disappeared. She was feeling great, optimistic that they might actually beat this monster. The problem was, each pill cost them $90! And insurance refused to cover any of it because they were experimental. So his hours were now so long I don't know how he survived on the lack of sleep. I bumped into him again about a year later and his wife was still thriving. He was looking more than a little ragged, however.

Another friend hasn't been feeling his best lately. His HMO finally allowed him one of those cheap smear-on-the-cardboard tests for colon cancer. No, not even the full colonoscopy. And yes, lest you think he should just have gone out and gotten a whole regimen of diagnostic tests, money is tight enough that some days food is an issue, there is no car nor computer or version thereof that many claim are reasons nobody is actually poor anymore in this country, so get over it. The test came back positive. He can get right in to see the specialist he needs... late next spring!

Yes, this is July.

If you believe in prayer, indulge. His state doesn't appreciate free Medicaid, so he can't even afford what the rest of us think is a given now under Obamacare. A little glitch fix blocked by Republicans could have helped, but we can all see where they're going.

Uhhh, you are awake and paying attention, right?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bye, Fred, Bye, Ellie

It was one of those decisions that we talked about and found reasons not to make for ages. Then when it finally came, it was instantly right for both of us.

Fred and Ellie are now in new "foster" homes, waiting placement in their new "forever" homes. Steve and I said our "Good-byes" this afternoon.

It's quieter here now, even with the TV going.

For those not in the know, Fred was Steve's basset (mix) and Ellie was my shi-tzu (mix). We'd each had them for several years. Each was a rescue with a history. Each was ideal for the one who owned it, not so much for the other one.

Steve got Fred first, back when he lived out in Dassel. He'd gone to the Hutchinson Humane Society, but had to wait a few months before adoption. Fred had been turned in by someone who (said they) found him alongside the highway, suffering from both a broken pelvis and leg. He needed serious healing before being released. Steve lived in a ground floor accessible apartment, ideal because Fred would never be able to climb stairs. Somebody forgot to tell Fred that. He climbed stairs, chairs, couches, and even into bed with Steve in his earlier years. Until this last trip north, he even jumped easily into the back seat of the car. Watching him struggle to get into the car this trip, we suddenly both knew.

Steve adored him, of course. It took me longer to come around, and was never as bonded as Steve was. First was the allergy thing, but mostly it was the shedding. I know you can guess whose job it became to clean up after the shedding in the house, and the requested outdoor brushing never happened often enough to prevent the "Fred Bunnies" from collecting all over the house, clinging to every piece of fabric available, clothing to furniture to rugs. But he had that gentle, terminally sweet disposition and a look from him was designed for nothing else in the world but melting hearts.

His other notable skill was loudly baying at passing coyotes, enough to both drive the neighbors crazy, and after a pause to size up their would-be competition, persuade the coyotes they had someplace else more important to be. The little dog with him would have been a tasty meal, but they would have to have gone through Fred first.

Ellie was my rescue dog, from my local Humane Society. Her abuse was emotional rather than physical, but we suited each other. I was about to retire, at the time a member of a household of 4 with varying schedules, and a dog with severe abandonment issues would practically always have company, including Fred. One of her previous "homes" thought a dog was fine to have around an hour or so a day, when they thought it convenient. Otherwise, she was kept outside in a crate. Not a doghouse, not a kennel, but a crate. Nevermind the weather, hot, cold, or wet. I put her in a crate to ride safely in the car,  and within a short while she struggled so hard to get out that her paws were bloody. That was her last time in a crate.

She made a great lap dog, especially right after clipping when she was a bit chilly. She was also my guard dog, facing out from either my lap or the foot of the bed. And she certainly earned Steve's nickname of a "yap dog." Nobody got near the house or back yard without notice. She never shed, a great alternative to Fred, and I didn't mind taking the clippers to groom her about three times a year, even though it took parts of three days to keep her still enough to get the job finished.

The downside was that if both Steve and I left the house long enough, especially the last year or so with my hospitalizations and surgeries, even with Fred's company she became upset enough to become destructive. We learned to shut some doors to limit her access to certain parts of the house, to keep garbage well out of reach, and wound up replacing several items of clothing where she chewed through the nastiest bits before we learned to barricade them sufficiently. (Hey, lidded hampers and high door hooks are easy! Right?)

Well, each of us tired of the other's dog, and even discussed never getting another once these had lived their span. We each knew the other's attachment, and much as we each griped, respected the other enough to not suggest your dog should go. We started looking at the possibility of doing a little more travel, but that meant the extra expense of finding a placement the dogs - Ellie especially - could tolerate. Flying them was out of the question, limiting our options even more. Driving the snowbird path became a longer jaunt when it meant they needed their rest stops too, and motels more work to search out. Plus more stuff needed hauling in and out, and a 3AM potty call meant we had to get dressed and walk them to their idea of a suitable spot rather than open the door to the back yard.

So the discussion of having a life without dogs came up, but was always nixed for the forseeable future.

That is, until we watched Fred struggle getting into the car.  It's already just a little hatchback. They don't come lower.  Now was the time. We both knew it. We were just leaving to head north, so there was a whole trip to get through first. Luckily, Fred gave just enough extra effort hearing those two magic words, "Milk Bone". It might take two tries, but knowing one was waiting for him did the trick.

We started with the local Humane Society, the one where I rescued Ellie. Their voicemail wasn't encouraging, and in fact they never bothered to call us back. Unbeknownst to us, Steve's daughter knows a woman who works with M.A.R.S., a fostering agency, where the dogs are loved until someone adopts them for their forever companion. The wheels were quickly greased, paperwork completed, foster homes found, a vet check including updating shots completed, and we said our farewells this afternoon. Fred is going to a home where they love bassets. (We never did hear how many they have at the moment.) Ellie is now busy meeting her five new little canine companions and will be squirming into her place on the foot of the bed tonight. The fosterer was there before we left, and I made sure he knew her issues before she left.

Steve and I both tell each other we're OK. Mostly I think we believe it. It's quieter now, less for the neighbors to complain about. Once swept, the floor can be expected to stay somewhat clean for more than an hour. No dog chow and Milk Bones for the budget to stretch around.  We can sleep until we waken ourselves. Fewer mobile tripping hazards. No bare feet poked by the tiny bits of dog chow Ellie loved to scatter around, just like the pine cone bits she loved to munch. No cleaning the floor after an accident or throwing up who-the-hell-knows-what? It will probably take a year or so for the great majority of fur bits to wash or vacuum out of where they lodge right now. I think, though, as we find them in the future, they'll recall to mind the happy times rather than the irritation of still more work ... AGAIN! They will become the lingering bits of furry love from our past.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

We Have A Plan ... We Think

As everybody by now should know, there will be a total eclipse of the sun over a large swath of the US later this summer. Neither Steve nor I have seen one. I want to, and I found a way to drag him along.

Now, forget motels. I asked at the front desk of one we stayed in on our way up to Minnesota whether, as they were close to the path, they had been getting a lot of reservations. A lot? They'd been full up by the end of the day its path had been announced last year! Hmmm, I guess not the way to go for us.  Another friend had checked a community they wanted, found a single room left in the whole town (!) in a Motel 6 for the night, but for $400! They passed on that one. They can leave a whole lot of lights on for ya at those prices!

Being neither early planners not millionaires, we needed another plan, or to just give up entirely. I wasn't ready to give up. I developed a plan, figuring how to entice Steve into going along with the idea. Just add sentiment... and fishing!

Sentiment boiled down to a  favorite location, one filled with happy memories. (No, I'm not going to tell you where that is! We're hoping for a little breathing room.) In this case, the location involved includes a pair of his favorite fishing rivers, so cross those both off with no effort.

So what's the catch? I mean, other than starting to head back home earlier than usual, and seeing family for a shorter time than usual, there had to be a catch if I had to put in a bunch of work to bring Steve along on a trip  he wasn't particularly interested in to see an event he was fairly indifferent to, right?

The catch is the plan involves camping! Yep, that's right, these two old geezers are going camping! In a tent! In sleeping bags! I doubt I need to explain to you just how unlikely we thought that would ever be for us again. Heck, even RVs were both out of our price range, and required skills and abilities we don't have. (Think crawling underneath to hook up and empty the grey water and black water!) Steve actually talked somebody into taking the old RV off our hands last summer because it was so riddled with problems and bad memories that nobody in the family ever wanted to use it again. Free was the right price for the new buyer, and we see it all spiffed up sitting across town ready to find its next adventure, so we guess everybody is happy.

This is a plan that takes a lot of putting together. Start with the tent. There's an old one in the basement needing to be checked out. Had mice gotten in? Mold? Poles bent? Zippers working? Was it tall enough to stand in? And even if all those things were perfect - which they were - could the two of us in the middle of nowhere put it together? Richard hauled it into the back yard, figured how it worked, and then spent about an hour working with us to make sure we could manage it ourselves. We’re fairly confident. Not totally. Our route has us arriving at the campsite with a full half day to try to work any kinks out.

Even the best tent is no good if we can't get off the ground in the morning. So off to the store for two new airbeds. We got the kind that inflate to a height of 22" off the ground, and have lots of inner support so it wouldn't just roll over while we're trying to get up. They came with inner pumps which worked off the cigarette lighter of the car, and we tested both of them, up, down, carrying weight, comfort. Back to the store for a couple long extension cords just in case we couldn't get the tent close to the car. Or was it if we couldn't get the car close to the tent? We're not sure once fully inflated that they'll go through the tent doors, so we have to inflate them while inside.

Both of us had great sleeping bags last trip, so those had to be checked for mold, mice, zippers, etc. They passed. No air pillows, though, so put those on the list. Plus a pair of ugly pillow cases.

Now great as those sleeping bags are, we could easily be looking at snow for some of this trip. August? Really? Yes. We’ll be at some elevation, and for comparison, Yellowstone just had snow a few days ago. If that doesn’t convince you, consider my very first camping trip to Yellowstone with my kids, ’85 if memory serves, near July 4. I was naive enough to think I could just drive up to the entrance and get a camping spot, no reservations. Of course you snicker! The thing was, it worked. 8” of snow had fallen just a few days earlier, driving all the wimps out of the park. It had  just now melted, and we had a hundred or so sites to choose from! What that all comes down to is we’ll be packing a bunch of extra sweats to sleep in or whatever, just in case.

For the two of us geezers, sitting comfortably is an issue. Fortunately, each of us has a Coleman's steel frame and canvas folding chair with a folding little table, including a cup holder for either beverages or bug spray. It's the only chair we've found that both supports our weight and isn't so low we can't climb up out of it. The table is small but will hold a book or lunch. (More on those later.)

Last time we camped in this location, the campground had been left abandoned. The outhouses still were safe to use, as were the picnic tables, but we have no idea what we'll find now. Plus, if the campground is full, we may have to select a spot in a meadow near the river and set up camp there. Either are allowed, and the price is free. We just need to prepare for lack of amenities. And we hope to avoid difficulties with crowding by arriving a full week before the eclipse.

The outhouse issue will be solved with a portable camping toilet, plumbing free. So far I've only found them online, but that's my perfect way to shop. The toilet is a 5 gallon sturdy plastic bucket, lined with a heavy gage plastic bag, topped with a plastic seat and lid combination that snap tight. Extra bags are available, of course, and the trick to using them without spills or stink is not just the assurances of the seller, but adding a small amount of clumping cat litter. They even come in their own little but tall tent for privacy. Not sure where we'll find an acceptable place to drop all our garbage, but we'll locate something, somewhere.

While researching camping toilets, I read a little Q&A about one. It included the query as to whether the seat was comfortable enough to sit on for an hour and a half? The answer was that nothing is that comfortable,  and referred the questioner to their doctor.

The other garbage will be food garbage. Now make a note: I am putting my foot down and declaring that this is my vacation too. That'll make it a first in ... forever! NO COOKING! Which carries over to no dish washing, no menu planning, etc. It doesn't mean starving, however. I went online and ordered 2 cases of MREs. Each has enough calories to last a day, is sealed off until opening so bears and raccoons don't sniff them out and try to ransack your camp, and each meal is different from the others in the case. Back when Paul was in the military, he brought some cases home and I helped eat them. It's not a sacrifice ... for 12 days. And those little tables on the chairs will be up to the task for mealtimes.

An FYI: as now-Arizonans, we are very used to carrying around plenty of water. There will also be extra room in the car, because next week the dogs both go to foster homes through a marvelous program called MARS, while they await their new forever homes. Both will be with families, not in shelters or kennels, which makes it emotionally much easier on both of us.

We have no idea if we can nail a campground site with a fire pit, but we've got a hatchet, just in case. Oh, and fire too. If we can't, dark happens for us when it does for the other critters. We'll be about 20 miles from any electricity, so no kindles after dark. Paper books and daylight reading only. But as the world darkens, those who remain still and quiet can get treated to the sight of the local elk herd coming down the mountain for their evening drink at the river.

Yes, there'll be a flashlight for finding the toilet, whichever and wherever it may be. I have considered getting another Timex Indiglo watch, though I'm not even certain they're still made. It worked well enough my last camping trip there. In a black world, it's a beacon. Just not enough of one to kill your night vision so you can still stop and look up to see the most spectacular view of stars available. It's also got the advantage of being literally at the end of your arm so you needn't hunt for it in the dark.

We’re hoping to find an easy-assemble screen tent, both for shade and bugs, while we relax. Back to the basement. But this time, the old one has nothing easy about the assembly portion of the job. Another search online, no clue of the results.

On The Day Of, the plan is to wake early, drive about 30 miles, and find the best eclipse viewing spot we can to pull over and park. I also figure it'll take a couple hours for the area to clear out again, so there's no thought of breaking camp that day and heading out ourselves. One last night on the trail, then head for a motel. I'm sure an actual shower will rival the heaven we've spent a week in.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Trip To Prison

Those of you who know me well are aware that an extended family member is in prison. Most summers when we hit Minnesota Steve and I go visit for a few hours. It's contact visitation, so we can exchange hugs, talk all we want (provided rules of common civility are observed), play board games.

Last year that changed. I'd just had my knees replaced, and knew they'd set off the metal detector. So I called their main phone number and asked what I needed to do to gain admittance, explaining my new titanium knees. I was blithely informed that I could tell them what the case was, show my scars if necessary, they'd wand me to verify the metal was inside me, and pass me through for the visit.

Boy were they full of bull****! When we arrived, I was denied entrance. I talked myself blue informing them I'd inquired from out of state, and gotten this nothing-needed response. They didn't care, and treated me like either an idiot or criminal. By the end of that discussion, I'm sure they were as happy to be rid of me as I was pissed to be kicked out.

What, I wonder, did they think I was about to do? Cut my knees open and pull out drugs? A file to work through the bars? A shiv? I mean, seriously, guys? There wasn't already enough pain in the replacement process? So I went back to the car, none too amenably, and sat there while Steve had his visit. I told him to take as long as he wanted, as I had my Kindle along, and there were restrooms in the public part of the building. However, I'm sure he hurried through the visit with me in mind.

He drove up alone for his second visit of the season.

Keep in mind that had I been given the correct information, the two necessary pieces of paper were on file in Arizona, and would have fit easily in a pocket of my baggage.

I brought them this year. They photocopied them for future information and returned them to me for any future need. Probably if I need to fly, or pass some metal detector, or whatever. Who can tell? Everybody down in Sun City knows what those two scars mean. We who have them compare notes, much like new mothers compare birth experiences. Apparently others are perfectly capable of finding more nefarious causes for them.

While I still maintain those people are complete idiots, today I enjoyed a couple hours visit in a prison. And even more, appreciated leaving!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Where Did It Go Wrong?

It was supposed to be a loving trip down memory lane. PBS first aired a Peter Paul & Mary special, then an hour of folk oldies M C'd by the Smothers Brothers. These were the anthems of my teenage years. Folk, peace, love, ending wars, with some great classical thrown in. There was no rock, just idealism and humor on my record player. (Hey! Look it up, whippersnappers!)

It started to feel wrong tonight. At first, I put it down to all those songs that got missed, even though a pledge drive or two couldn't possibly have been inclusive. Then it began to feel like I was left out, so many songs I didn't know, still don't. Since everyone else seemed to, a "should" crept in there, pointing out the gaps and holes. But even that didn't explain it.

What finally emerged was failure. My failure. I believed in all that idealism back then. Of course, I was too young to be allowed to march for civil rights, the wrong gender to get caught up in the Viet Nam War, even though my brother was. All that idealism had no place to go, I tell myself.

So it went nowhere. Just got incorporated and buried. Life went on. There was some college, but without a real goal, got swapped for a marriage "because he needed me", and I needed to be needed. I disappointed my parents, despite - or perhaps because of - years of hearing I wasn't living up to my potential.

No clue what I was to do with that message, however. I was good enough at everything, so no one thing stood out. Life kept happening. There were the kids, putting up with a bad marriage until I finally couldn't anymore, struggling to be a single parent while at the same time putting my own head back together. There was no sense of living up to my potential in anything, nevermind being able to identify what that might have been.

It wasn't whatever all those idealistic messages had been however. There was no sense of making the world a better place, just recovering from what it had dished out. And no fooling myself about my failures along the way. There were no grand schemes, no noble causes, no big contributions in the rear view mirror. The world wasn't a better place for my having taken up a place in it.

Perhaps it's all just an age thing. The body is too old, has too many reminders of what can't be done anymore, carries around too heavy a pile of disappointments in what wouldda/couldda/shouldda beens. Too many years wasted, or at least falling far short of whatever it might have been. It's hard to carry around all that unfulfilled potential.

Songs like "Blowing In The Wind" stir it all up again. I can't help but ask, "Could I have made a difference? THE difference?"

Did we perhaps all fail?

Is that just how the world cycles round?

Or is that just another way to be able to sleep at night and continue on?

Monday, June 5, 2017

So The Motels Wanted Critiques!

My email box has been filling and refilling daily with motel requests evaluating our stays there. I finally bothered with two, our best and worst.

Anneth Lodge in Cortez was our first and best night. It's single story, modest, and if you're skimming along the main drag looking for big and fancy, you could miss a real gem. (Hint: go for the address, 645 E. Main. Don't miss it while you enjoy the view of snowy peaks lit by the sunset as you roll through town.) Inexpensive and dog friendly - defined as dogs stay free unless they damage something - it gave us our best night's sleep of the trip. Climate control worked perfectly, unlike our worst stay. The front desk had practical information on touring Mesa Verde so we could  judge our stay and be getting back before the local food joints closed. There was a grassy area for dog walking, a treat for them after months in Arizona with no grass. We didn't bother with Wi-Fi or TV because we were tired and there for sleep, and that's almost never what I rate a motel on anyway. If there's time for  bedtime TV, we haven't enjoyed local attractions or driven far enough to get where we're going. All the connection beyond phones we want with the outside world is for upcoming weather, and ten minutes of the TV weather channel in the morning in every motel I've stayed in has served that need while I dress and have coffee.

The room was easy for both of us to get into, no stairs anywhere and a slight ramp off the parking lot on our end, always important these days, and more so as years pass. If you're looking for a good solid sleep, try this one.

Our worst night was immediately following, Motel 6 in Pueblo. That was the one with no AC after a hot day, and no real fix for it, other than sitting awake for periods during the late night with the door open so the evening air could cool the room enough for the next couple hours of sleep. I wrote in more detail about that in my previous posting, but we'll never go there again. As far as we are concerned, sleep is what a motel is all about, and if you can't get that, why are you there?

When it came time to fill in their online questionaire, snark was the name of the game. I can do that well. The silliest part was they promised to post it. At least Anneth only offered to post it after their committee reviewed what I wrote. I guess they are smarter in lots of ways.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Hi Points, Low Points

We arrived safe and sound. Mostly. Steve's arthritis hit his hands so hard that I wound up doing most of the driving (no biggie), and the final day of the trip I sunburned both arms through the rolled up car windows. Yes they still hurt. Actual aloe jel  - the pure stuff - helps briefly.

The dogs managed the trip pretty well too, though Fred Bassett, at 9 or so, is finding it increasingly difficult to jump up into the back seat of our low-slung hatchback. This from our already Miracle Dog, adopted from a shelter after somebody turned him in after an apparent road accident where both his pelvis and one leg were fractured. Once he'd healed, Steve had been told he'd never do stairs, but he's managed pretty well to make it onto the living room couch all these years. It finally took his "Magic Word" to get him into the car, after I decided his heft meant I couldn't help him in either: "Milk Bone!" You just better have one on offer for him after using the phrase! He gets down pretty well on his own, but there's usually a lot of incentive from his bladder at the time. We do see an occasional limp, however.

His problems brought us to a decision we'd been discussing for months now. The time has come when we will no longer be dog owners. Bassets are notorious for bad backs, and if we keep traveling with him, that will be much sooner than later.

Ellie, on the other hand, is still frisky as can be, but since Steve and I have decided to do more traveling while we still can,  having any dog still presents issues. Ellie's early history of abuse leaves her with residual issues that also make her a special needs dog. She has severe abandonment issues. We can leave her with Fred for short periods, but if more than a couple hours she can get very destructive. And no, you CAN NOT pop her into the car and bring her along everywhere in Arizona. They arrest you for that. Also, since her early abuse involved being left for long periods outside the house in a wire crate, she absolutely will not tolerate any crate to this day. She is so frantic to get out that she works to dig through until her paws are bloodied. So again, a solution for a "normal" dog is not one for her.

When I got her, those issues were not problems. I was close to retirement, in a household of people with varied schedules which left her getting constant attention. Once retired, I was able to give her that attention nearly all the time. She makes a great lap dog, a wonderful guard dog both around the house and yard, and on her favorite corner of the bed, appropriately facing out to take on all comers. If everybody was sleeping, she still had Fred for company as he also had the run of the house at night.

But with all of it taken together, we decided on the trip up that the time had come for new homes for them. Our ideal, of course, would be home, singular, but we're realistic. I can only hope Ellie's new home is not with some know-it-all who believes a crate is about good behavior and not about the torture it would be for her. I'd rather see her put down than face that, but our favorite vet will not get involved since we can't point to some physical ailment to say this impairs quality of life.

The trip was about more than the dogs, especially the first two days through Colorado. Our always first stop, if our route leaves it at all possible, is at Four Corners where the best - to us anyway - fry bread around is to be had. Steve's history there goes back to when he was in high school and his much littler brother and parents were on a trip. Steve placed himself so he covered all four states at once, bent Max over his knee, and had his parents shoot a picture of a mock spanking in four states at once! Now, no spankings, not even any kneeling, just fry bread.

We made it up to Cortez for the night, checking in early so we had plenty of time to visit Mesa Verde and get back. Our original plan was to see a bit around sunset, and head back for more pictures in morning light. Luckily we went to the "Palace" first, since the trip just to the main overlook  for it with cameras and dogs managed to both awe and thoroughly wear us out. Leaving we spied a coyote leisurely strolling down the road toward us, but even the dogs were tired enough to forgo going ballistic like they usually do in our back yard when one passes. We returned to our motel room, where even considering losing an hour in local time, it was well before our usual bedtime, and were more than ready to hit the sack. None of this midnight stuff for us! In fact, no reading, not even any TV!

Our goal for day 2 was to hit Pueblo. We already nixed a return to Mesa Verde, agreeing it was a great idea for 30-year-olds. Not us. We did, however, detour for Chimney Rock. Nothing much to see there that you haven't already seen and with better views, approaching from the west. At least it was free.  We could have gotten out for a hike, but....

Driving through the San Juans was glorious. Verdant valleys, snow capped peaks, ranches, flowing streams, cattle and horses. For a mountain road it was one of the easiest driving I'd done in years. I've had my fill of white-knuckling switchbacks, thank you very much.

After passing several Forest Service roads, usually with signs letting us know one was there about three seconds before the turnoff while tailgaters were hot on our behind, we finally found one with a safe access and took it. It's one thing to pass beautiful country at 60 MPH, quite another to get up close and personal. I don't guarantee this was the best possible road of the all choices, but it had everything we could possibly want along it.

About a hundred feet in, a private road with a wide turning spot before the locked gate was on our left. PHOTO OP! Below us spread a meadow following the gravel road curving down to a quiet, reflecting lake, a tiny cabin roof just showing above the drop to the lake off to the side. Rising up the other side were a patchwork of bright green meadows and deep green pines, repeat repeat, until above the treeline craggy rock peaks held traces of the last of the spring snow, topped off by scattered clouds in a sunny blue sky. Beautiful as this was, it still was almost ho-hum until the wind started to gust through the pines. All too often the picture has to wait for the wind to die, but this was pine pollen time, and thick clouds of yellow were lifted and carried off  leftward with each blow.

When we were  finally satisfied with every possible permutation available through our shutters, we jockied the car around to head further up the road. There were a few homesteads along the way, until finally we reached where the madly running creek crossed the road we were on. It was narrow enough for a single land bridge, so we very carefully made sure stopping both before and on the bridge were safe for the pictures we wanted. I shot out the driver's side, enjoying how the current lifted over a couple sapplings lying in the water before noting that I was actually shooting through a broken railing in the bridge itself. In fact, on my side there were two breaks! Luckily the bottom planking looked secure.

Live and dead trees mixed, and both Steve and I have a fondness for weathered grainy wood, These were nothing as spectacular as the gnarly corpses back at Mesa Verde, but still worth a few shots. My favorite live tree shots, now that we were way past the blowing pollen, was at a pull-off, where a single spruce stood festooned with reindeer moss, or at least it would be called that in the BWCA. It stood next to the upper part of the creek whose narrow bridge we stopped at, only this time there were many more obstacles causing whitewater, and a wide space allowing a reflecting pond before the water headed out on its way.

We thought we'd taken enough time here, considering how much journey remained for the day, and turned back. A Forestry Ranger pulled up next to us in the one spot on the road wide enough for two vehicles, and we had a ten minute conversation on sights to be seen, where everyone was from, all the usual. He was heading back further up the hill where a small herd of Bighorns were grazing earlier that morning. Tempting as it was, we decided the likelyhood of any being still there were nil or fewer, and proceeded back to the highway.

After that pulloff, the rest of the day was just driving, by comparison. Sure, snowy peaks, clouds dropping small showers, fields and forest. The closer we got to Pueblo, driving east, the flatter it all got. We easily located our Motel 6, had pizza delivered, and suffered through our worst night of the trip. Our elevation was low enough that the day had gotten hot, and we had the -apparently only - room in the place with no air conditioning working. A call to the office promised a repairman. First thing in the morning! Or we could haul all our stuff up to second floor! Uh, hello, there was a reason I'd specified either handicapped or first floor! She couldn't manage to convince me that our comfort mattered to her.

We wound up keeping the dogs on their leashes and having the door to our room open once it cooled down. Not the safest feeling, but... After dropping the room about 10 degrees, and being exhausted again, we locked up until about 3 AM when apparently the heat even woke up the dogs. While Steve took them on a generous walk to cool the three of them down, I sat up with the room door open to collect as much coolness as possible. We made it through until morning. That's another motel on our "Never Again" list.

The last two days were driving, driving, and sunburn through the car windows. We did spy another coyote, two dozen turkeys, one live and two roadkill deer, and several bits of highway hamburger. Just after crossing into Minnesota, Steve was pointing out a towed boat with two vertical posts used for shallow fishing to keep the boat from swinging around at anchor. Before he managed to explain their purpose, the trailer, on our left, blew out a tire, throwing rubber all over. Despite the traffic, I managed to hit the brakes soon and hard enough to allow it to cross in front of us onto the right shoulder without causing any further damage, to themselves or others, so far as we could see before starting up again. Steve thinks they lost the wheel too by the time they stopped.

Our trip, at least, was safe! Maybe tomorrow we'll start to unpack.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

New Sighting

I've heard about them from the neighbors ever since we moved down here. Of course I believed them. They had to  be more than just another urban myth. After all, it took a couple years for me to spot actual tarantulas out in the desert, over a year to see coyotes in the neighborhood, and until a year ago to see a javelina. And while I've still not spotted scorpions or rattlers down here, my reaction is not disbelief, just gratitude.

I love watching the various doves, finches, owls, hawks, and especially the Gambels quail with their little topknot black feather. I even feed them, waiting till spring to attract parents with babies. This year the home baby count was one family with a single, likely day-old chick, and another with 4, either 2 or three days old. Unfortunately the baby quail sighting was limited to a total of about five minutes in a single day.

Too many predators, I guess.

But the bird the neighbors have raved about is the peach faced lovebird. I finally spotted one this morning, while doing a bit of yard cleanup before summer. It sat up on a wire, studying me as I studied it, though I'm sure I'm the only one of us who was regretting that the camera was all the way through to the opposite end of the house, charging. Perhaps my inactivity upon finally spotting one became boring to the lovebird, as it flew off elsewhere, leaving me to finish my cleaning.

In case you can't look one up - though if you have enough internet connection to be reading this, I can't imagine why - think small parrot slightly larger and fatter than a parakeet, emerald green throughout the body though pictures show some royal blue if you get closer than I was, a tiny white parrot's bill, and a black eye set in a face and throat ranging from peach to rose, depending on the bird.

Native to southwest Africa, it is believed some kept as pets escaped their cages in the Phoenix area and found a habitat well suited to them, including roosting spaces in old woodpecker holes in saguaros. They have been spreading throughout the greater urban area, possibly due to plenty of water sources though they are adapted to dry areas, and an abundance of seeds either from everybody's landscaping or the very popular 20-pound quail seed blocks that folks like me set out.

Either way, I count myself lucky to have seen one.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

AWWW, Another X-mas Tree Denied

Yep, Christians are under attack in this country. Uh huh, sure. Boo hoody hoo. They're so-o-o forced underground with their beliefs. To be "forced" to wish 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas' because all good Christians know that there are no other holidays, religious or secular, happening at that time of year... scandalous!

It's not enough that all the stores in the country set up decorations and special sales even before Halloween half clears the shelves. Not enough that lamp posts are festooned and cables high over streets are decorated in greens and lights, not enough that every mall has a Santa and elves for photo ops. Not enough that houses up and down the streets hang lights and inflate snowmen and Santas and reindeer, poke candy canes and stars and blond angels and fake packages in holes in their lawns, competing with every other house in the city for the most garish display and the biggest waste of power ever ever, as if any of that makes them holier than their neighbor because we all know it's a competition and the richest, most ostentatious one wins.

Hey, if a church wants to put a creche on their lawn to illustrate the story of their particular belief, goody for them. That's the proper place for it. I'm not about to haul them aside to quote the forgotten commandment about no graven images. Not my place. And after all, how many of the trappings of Christianity actually follow the principles of Christianity anyway? Was there a decorated tree in the manger in Bethlehem? Did Santa squirm his was down the chimney, not to mention the advisability of even having a chimney for a fire in a building full of straw? Did the shepherds make candy canes? Were the gifts of the wise men wrapped in pretty papers with curly bows? Did the angels smite unto death all who didn't believe the exactly proper way about what happened and what all it meant?

So despite the ubiquity of silly celebrations of Christmas, down here in Phoenix land there is yet another attack on Christmas. Or at least that's one interpretation of what's happening. It's not mine.

First, keep in mind two immutable things about this part of the world. 1:  There are mountains scattered about within our metropolitan area. Used to be they pretty much enclosed the area, but we've grown.  2:  This is a desert. It's made of rocks and tinder. If you want to argue with that last term, consider the amount of rainfall it takes to first, grow a tree or suchlike, and second, the amount of water it takes to decompose a tree or suchlike. See the first sentence of this section. We don't have it.

As a result, any trash you drop, stays. Wind may relocate it, but until the sun degrades it, years on, it's still here, somewhere. All our city parks, generally designated to be on mountaintops where it's just too damn difficult to haul construction materials up that high, and also too damn high to pump water that far, but not too high to keep an endless supply of athletically endowed but often intellectually challenged people from heading to the top, have their own unique set of rules.  By unique, I mean something beyond the usual ones of tell somebody else where you plan to go and when you plan to return, take plenty of water, stay on the trails. You know, the seemingly obvious. We've had to add that you will pay for your own rescue off the mountain.

At least we don't make you prove solvency first!

Unique rules, for example, say dogs are not allowed on the trails, or what passes for trails, once the temperatures reach 100 degrees. Yes, there are folks both stupid and cruel enough to ignore those signs. And no, you can't leave them in your car while you head out, either. I'm not sure if not playing with the local wildlife, like the Africanized bees, scorpions, gila monsters or rattlesnakes are rules, but they should be. And we're fussy about whatever you take in, you pack out.

Which brings us back to Christmas "persecution".  For over a dozen years, hikers have been carrying a decorated X-mas tree up to the top of Camelback mountain, to leave there for weeks, and then haul down again. Well, mostly, anyway. Winter winds do blow. Ornaments get fastened loosely, as if the tree were inside somebody's home with the breezes limited to what emerges from the HVAC system.

I bet you can guess how much of what goes up actually comes down. You might even have an idea of just how dangerous it might be to retrieve something that's blown just... over.... Oops! So the city is working to prevent the placement of another X-mas tree on top of Camelback. I bet you can also guess just how many folks who believe themselves to be well-meaning are fighting that prohibition.

Me? I'm with the city. Put that damn tree in your own yard! Better yet, in your own window, letting your personal message shine out into the neighborhood without your personal mess joining it! And let the mountain stay a mountain. You know, just the way whichever deity you believe in, or don't, intended it!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Just When You Think It's Over...

The day finally arrives: Stent Removal!

It starts out pretty lazily, the appointment not being until 4. Yes, I know I'm supposed to keep drinking a lot, but it's difficult to force myself. Every movement means a new pressure against the stent, a new poke. More pain. Weeks ago, what is seemingly months ago, it was just a spasming reminder of something there.  My body didn't like it, but it was nothing like it is now. I tell those who ask that it only hurts when I move around or I'm sitting still.

They look at me funny.

I don't add that I think now I know what The Clap feels like, a burning every time I pee. It's a bonus.

I take what I hope is my last percoset in a long while, early enough in the morning that I'm legal to drive myself to the appointment. Steve has cards tonight, and one thing or another, mostly me, has kept him from going lately. If he feels up to going, I don't want to spoil it for him. If I need a driver, I can still pop another pill. Or is it that if I need another pill, I can still get a driver. Cause and effect is sometimes getting lost here. Like time. Has it already/only been how many weeks?

It turns out I don't grab another pill. Not then.  Not wanting to offer them any chance to figure out a reason to cancel this one on me, I show up to my appointment 45 minutes early, carrying purse, kindle, paperwork with complete address, jar of dried bits from the filter, and disc from the x-ray. Hmmm, maybe I should have brought a bag, too. There is an open seat next to a magazine table, so I take advantage of that space. Over the next minutes, the crammed waiting room empties out. I'm the last patient.

Maybe they even stayed open late for me.

According to the hand-out sheet on my chair with my clothes afterwards, they're supposed to ask me whether I've had my antibiotic pills as scheduled. They don't, but I'm not going to protest, since I have taken them religiously. They're the same nasty two-tone green ones I had upon leaving the hospital however many weeks ago, the ones which left that peculiarly repulsive chemical tang on my tongue. They didn't this time, but maybe that's a side effect of having taken them in concert with all the other stuff I was given after checking out. Any single piece of good news is not to be questioned.

Like getting to leave my socks on, keeping my feet warm.

The procedure itself is even briefer than promised. It's also surprisingly more painful. I try to dismiss that with the consolation that the stabbing of increasingly tender tissues is now over, and that's true. I can tell that just in sitting up again. While there is residual burning like I still really gotta pee, it's not that stabbing pain. I can start improving!

I wanted to take the stent home with me, partly out of a desire to abuse the thing, torture it like it has me, get revenge. I know, inanimate object and all that. The Doc refuses my request, vaguely referring to some state law. But I get a good look, trying to figure just which part of it was poking, stabbing, creating so much misery. All I see is what looks like a blue piece of plastic coated wire, spiral curled inside itself at both ends with only the outer curl able to touch anything. I can only conclude that either my body was overreacting, or whatever it was had sprung back into shape, erasing any clues. The Doc had nothing to offer as to why, seemed indifferent to my complaint of severe stabbing. Maybe they are too used to this. Maybe they just think we all are a big bunch of whiners. Worse, maybe they just think I am.

I wish him the joy of having one of these stents someday. He takes it with humor. Little does he know.

I'm just happy to be done with it all, heading directly home for one last percoset, the one I didn't think I was going to have to take. Or should I say, the first that I didn't think I'd need.

The burning didn't get better. As ordered, I forced liquids, more than willing to flush out any malingering bits that might remain as irritants. It didn't help. Not only that, but the pain was increasing in my back, what I'd come to recognize as the location of my kidney. I reread the handout about what to expect and when to call the doctor if....

Meanwhile I popped another percoset. This was just 3 hours after the previous one, meaning I'd be overlapping for a total dose of 10 mg. for a few hours. Sitting on the throne and rocking was the only thing that even hinted at relief, so the back of my legs got real used to the discomforts of a hard plastic seat. And yes, now for the first time in this whole journey, there was blood on the tissue. Barely, but there. It didn't qualify me for that late evening call to the doctor, but the steadily increasing pain did.

I got a callback from a member of the practice I'd never heard the name of before. Whatever. He indicated this was "to be expected" (so why hadn't I been warned to expect it? Did they think we were so suggestible that being aware of possibilities would create the effect?), and was just my body swelling temporarily and blocking kidney drainage. I should go take a couple of ibuprofin.

Uh, yes, we have that. Bottles full. I took 3. Then planted myself on the throne for more rocking. Any ease at all, I was clinging for dear life. This doc advised me to wait through it for an hour before heading off to the ER if it hadn't let up. I had changed into my PJs a couple hours earlier, so decided to be prepared and changed back into daytime clothes. Really: who wants to show off our PJs in the ER?

With all the comfort available having been claimed from my last half hour of rocking, I returned to the living room to see if a little conversation with Steve and a bit of late night TV humor might distract me while I waited to see if I needed the ER? About 45 minutes into the ibuprofin, the "bite" of the kidney pain began to ease off. I started counting down the pain levels. By the time I'd watched Trevor and Steve and tried to solve a few Wheels of Fortune - not my best night - we were down to a three and still dropping.

Steve and I decided it was safe to count on heading off to bed. And, I could finally enjoy the scent of wet desert, as we'd finally gotten enough rain to kick those mesquite trees into production. Windows open, everyone!

Friday, May 5, 2017


The saga continues... unmercifully.

Last night after 5:00, as in, after it's to late to do anything about it, I get a reminder call from the urologist's office reminding me of Friday's appointment and to bring the latest KUV x-ray. Wait! What x-ray? Why didn't I know about this? And why, if you're going to "remind" me about it, don't you make this call a day earlier? Somebody else called to confirm the date and time a couple days earlier, after all.

OK, well, I can hit the drop-in radiology place they sent me to last time, early in the morning to maybe cut down on the wait, and bring the disc along with me to my afternoon appointment.

Simple, right?

Yeah, no. Not so much.

I walk in a few minutes after 8AM, and the check-in person searched her computer records. "I don't have any orders for you. Go away." That's not a direct quote, that last sentence, but it's the gist.

I called the urologist's office, left voicemail. Half an hour later, repeat. A little less politely. Fifteen minutes later, call the front desk appointment line, get an actual human. Arrange - I thought - to get the orders faxed over.

Mission accomplished? Of course not. I get put on hold several times while she has to check a few other details with the staff. Did I take my antibiotic pills today and yesterday? No, I took them back when they were prescribed, 1xday for 3 days, per label. Oh, said label also happened to refer to my "colonoscopy", but who's counting? More consultation. OK, they can deal with my having taken them last week, no biggie.  Another discussion ensued, same put-on-hold, come-back process, regarding whether I could get the x-ray done on time. I asked them flat out, citing the process of waiting an hour and a half, getting the x-ray, waiting 10 minutes for the disc, bringing the disc to my appointment this afternoon, if there was anything in that process which would preclude my making my appointment this afternoon? Mmmmm... no, that would be fine.

I left again, since I made it home during the waiting time, back to the radiology office. Still no orders received. Sit and wait for them to show up. 20 minutes later, my Minnesota Nice has evaporated and paranoia sets in. I get back into the line for attention at the check-in desk, and verify that the number highlighted on the business card she handed me this morning, which I passed on to the urologist's office, was the right one.

It wasn't. Naturally.

I called the urologist back from inside my car for privacy, giving them the new number. I decided to wait in my car a couple minutes, needing to fight my way back to some semblance of calm. More than a few f-bombs, or near bombs ("What the effing...?" etc.) had been dropped by this time. Most of the causes for them had nothing to do with the radiology folks. After another wait in the check-in line, I was informed that the orders had shown up just as I was walking out the door to call with the right fax number. Of course.

So there's the waiting, long enough for the super duper AC in the waiting room to make me wish I'd brought a jacket. On a day forecast to top out at 105 degrees, that hadn't exactly been a consideration when I left the house.  (Note: it reached 108.) Then there's the metal-free trousers and backless gown to change into for the x-ray, something which had been skipped last time I was there. They came in one-size-fits-other-folks, so I can't bring my arms all the way forward to properly hold the pants up where they don't make it past the hips. Oh well, who needs modesty? After changing back into civvies, another little wait in the check-in line to start the copying-of-the-disc wait. In other words, everything went pretty much exactly as expected.

Precisely as I'm sitting back in the car, noting that the earlier shade has moved elsewhere and the car is now stultifying, my phone rings. Seeing a too-familiar number, I answer it with the announcement that I have disc in hand and am leaving as we speak. I get a hesitation, then am asked to hold for a minute. Then she comes back and announces that my appointment has been changed to Monday afternoon because there will not be time for the technician to make his report before 3:30. The disc isn't enough? No. You couldn't have mentioned this earlier? Apparently not, despite the previous long consultation pauses before confirming that I could actually make my appointment. He can't read the films himself? He did before the lithotripsy, or at least said that he did. Again, apparently not.

Remember, all this back and forth has been aggravating the spot where the stent decided to poke into my bladder last Tuesday after a few minutes light yard work. It has the entirely predictable effect of continuing to shorten my temper. It doesn't help that Samantha, my caller/contact at the urologist's office, has taken this time to start getting defensive about how all this is my fault, not a speck of theirs. I asked how I was to know this was needed when all 13 pages of paperwork, still stapled tidily together, say absolutely zilch about this x-ray, and the prescription doesn't give a more specific timing of  which days to take the pills and even references a treatment I'm not getting. I even refer to an earlier phone conversation where I ask them to verify my assumption that I need to stay out of the pool until everything's over, during which I'm assured that info was already in my papers because it always is - until she checked their copy of my orders and... surprise! It's not there.

I was getting ready to unload a bit more, but decided to take a deep breath instead, flatly say I'll see them Monday, and hang up.

It's so-o-o-o past time to head home and take a percoset.

While I'm waiting for it to kick in, I get another call from Samantha. They have decided now that they do, in fact, want me to take another 3-day cycle of antibiotics, starting with Sunday. I inform her I'm not able to drive any more today, and they'll have to call it in to my pharmacy for me to pick up tomorrow.  (I purposefully neglect to ask if this also means thaat the x-ray I just had done would also be obsolete by Monday, since it's supposed to be exactly one or two days ahead of the appointment. Enough boat rocking, already!)

In the process, I explain about how the pain has been driving my lack of patience, and dear old Samantha decided I need to leave a message about what the pain is like with my doc's medical assistant, the same one who hasn't been able to return my first two phone calls. I ask Samantha what's the point, since they won't/can't do anything about the stent until Monday now, anyway? She suggests they can maybe tell me if the pain is normal or not, and transfers me back. I duly leave a message, along with, yet again, my callback number.

You all just know I'm holding my breath. Right?

Thursday, May 4, 2017


This is the follow up to my "Easter" post. That will give this some context.

I suppose we all thought once you're sent home from the hospital, all's over, you're well. OK, well, perhaps a lot of us really knew better, but there is a dollop of relief in the fact of the discharge. Just not the end of the story. In fact, barely the beginning. I think that's been the biggest surprise in this whole thing. I started by thinking kidney stone = a few hours of "discomfort". Boy, did I have a lot to learn!

The stent was causing problems. My bladder was spasming, the infection just starting to get knocked down so everything was still extra sensitive, meaning I registered every spasm as a flash of sharp pain. And with everything a bit swollen, the end of the stent was poking the wrong things if I sat straight up in a chair. (What are those wrong things, you ask? Whatever it touched!) So I was stuck on percoset for a few days, which diminished but didn't clear the pain. I could definitely tell the individual spasms now that the background pain was controlled.

While an improvement, it came with side effects, forgotten about in the year since my knee surgeries. It slows the intestines. That's one of the reasons everyone in the hospital inquires about their function. Since I went in empty, was denied food until after surgery, and had no appetite for a couple days afterwards, I wasn't upset about lack of production. Nor were the staff, listening to all the gurgling and rumbling. Something was happening. Back in the olden days, I'd not have been released until they had visible evidence, meaning they would have kept me in for nearly a week.

Glad I didn't have to wait.

Dry mouth came back with a vengeance. It was bad enough the day of surgery when I wasn't allowed anything by mouth. I still fail to comprehend that one can have enough fluids in the system to produce copious amounts of urine but none of that water makes its way to the salivary glands. The first morning waking in my own bed, my mouth was so dry I couldn't talk or swallow until after a sip of water. Unfortunately that persisted for days. I even needed to have water between bites of food, or it would get stuck in the back of my throat, as I found out the hard way.  I couldn't breathe momentarily! Between that and the snafu with not getting anything through the mask jammed down on my face for surgery, I had the makings for the beginning of a new phobia!

I took that as an incentive to get off the percoset ASAP. (Turns out I was wrong about the cause, but...)

Fortunately, my pain levels were decreasing as the spasms were backing off. I figured the infection was getting knocked down. All the pain wasn't gone, but what was left was tolerable. It simply told me now I had to pee.

Every hour.

Day or night.

Screw sleep!

Off percoset a couple days, I somehow had this silly idea in the back of my head that my appetite would come back, when the reality was I could be quite satisfied with three tiny meals a day. Hunger never struck. No cravings. Just eat because I needed to, and let the persisting dry mouth drive hydration.

Now I thought the tap water down here was terrible the first year. Lemons and filters please!! After that, it was just... water. No flavor. Not till a day or so past being home. Every time water hit my mouth, I got a chemical taste on my tongue. OK, plenty of bottled water in stock, time to start using that. Same reaction! It was me, not the water. (Turns out whatever is going on also ruins the flavor of chocolate!) Maybe something in my other meds? I came home with 3, after all, percoset, an antibiotic, and something to treat the regional bladder pain. I'd never heard of the last two, my only concern was that the antibiotic NOT be Cipro, as it makes my heart rhythm regulator do just the opposite. This one came in two-tone green capsules, and as the days wore on, started stinking more strongly every time I took the cap off the bottle. Sulphur! Ick. I can't help wonder if having that in my system is flavoring my food and water. If so, just put up with it till they're gone, and hope my system rights itself.

Tuesday, 8 days post surgery, was doctors' visits day. Morning for the urologist, afternoon for my Primary for a generic after-hospital check. Both of them are the same building, but I couldn't arrange back-to-back appointments. At least it's a very short drive back and forth from home.

My primary basically just said hi and charged me for the visit. After all, the hospital did all kinds of tests, so what did he need to follow up on? Plus, "my" urologist (Never thought I'd have reason to use that term) was following up. So again, nothing for him to do. Makes me wonder just why the hospital sends you back to your primary after discharge.

The urologist visit was only a little less perfunctory. How was I doing, those were all normal side effects, go get an x-ray to see if the stone has moved, and schedule both lithotripsy and his follow up visit to remove the stent. Here's a packet of information, yada yada. Oh, and a free sample of meds for the bladder spasms that should be without the dry mouth symptoms.

Wait, what? That's what was causing the dry mouth?

Meanwhile I decided, if a bit late, to go online and do some more research on the new meds I was taking, or finishing, as the case may be. Turns out that yes, the sulpha was ruining my taste buds. A couple days after finishing with those, I could again drink a sip of water without recoiling from the chemical slap. It was indeed the anti-spasming drug (not a localized pain med as had been explained to me) which caused the dry mouth. I switched over to the freebee but after the first day with no improvement to dry mouth, and finding that it also caused that symptom (but only in 5% of users!) I just quit altogether. With the percoset, pain levels were way down and the spasms were noticeable but tolerable. Way more so than the dry mouth.

Lithotripsy was scheduled for the following Friday, out-patient surgery at a different hospital over in Sun City West. Now the barrage of phone calls started. I was given a time, to be changed later, of course. Why would I expect anything different? I was given directions on where to park and which entrance to use. On the day of, it only took circling the parking lot about 5 times to find any spot at all. ("Oh yeah, we're really busy here Friday mornings, which is why we tell you to park over there instead.") Yeah, right. My meds history was gone over, letting me know which I could take and what needed stopping when. And NPO after midnight, so no cheating by taking more than one tiny sip to swallow those 5 pills! Also no gum, cough drop, or rinse to ease this newest case of dry mouth either!

The funniest was their insistence that I take an antibacterial shower that morning before coming in. Dial soap was suggested. Now, I know enough to appreciate how ubiquitous bacteria are. Also how soap and water actually multiply rather than cut their numbers on your skin. And what's the point when your towel is not germ free, nor your clothes, nor the chair or car seat you sit in, not the dogs who say "Hi" before you leave, nor...? You get the picture.

Besides, lithotripsy is noninvasive surgery. No skin gets broken in the process. It the germ wasn't already there, it won't get added to the system. So why all the fuss?

After getting checked in, getting a new pink-stuff scrub by a nurse who insists there is a point to the home shower, a new show-your-booty gown, and given a final chance to pee (non sterile toilet), it's a ride down the hall to x-ray (also not sterile) for a final look at where the stone currently resides. Yep, there's a light shadow there. Steve is allowed in my cubicle. Oh, fyi, he's not sterile either. A few more items fussed over, and it's wheel away time.

There are two major improvements over the previous surgery. OK, maybe three. First, though I still have to transfer myself from my gurney to the operating table, at least this time the table coverings offer traction so I can actually do it. Second, my memory stops there. No fighting to breathe, nothing. Must have been a pretty good shot they gave me. Third, did I remember to mention the two big bruises on my belly that I came back from the first surgery with? I mean, it's not that they hurt or anything. I had to see them in my home mirror to even know they were there. But no new ones this time.

I don't even remember waking up. Let me just assure you that I did. Must have been a really good shot! The only discomfort was needing badly to pee. I was given a cup that fit into the toilet and a paper and mesh strainer to capture any and all stone bits coming through, plus a container with a lid to put them in. I used them twice before being sent home, and before even hitting the parking lot, I needed to again so much that we went straight home. No lunch, no stopping for prescriptions, nothing. Ahhhh!

That first bit of detectable stone is almost exciting. I know,weird, huh? But it's proof positive that something happened. Even then, it's more of a hint of lint showing up in the paper cone than an actual piece of anything. Less than dust. Silt is about right. A grey shadow slowly grows, until finally! On day two or three there's an actual something in the bottom of the pee cup, something to follow as you pour through the strainer, something to capture, something to prove it really worked.

Of course, all that paraphernalia is logistically impossible to drag around with you. Can you imagine, hauling the big cup and the paper cone with a slowly rising yellow ring working its way up the paper along to a public restroom? And forget about visiting a friend's house! Even if you could get past the disgust and embarrassment, how would you collect the bits for transfer to the container, then clean up after all the mess? At home, the container sits on a few layers of folded TP on the side of the sink, drying out until everything can be scraped out with the rounded end of a nail clipper or something.

Steve and I agreed that our planned restaurant meal would be postponed until the collecting was done. I did manage to hit my pharmacy for my new prescriptions that first evening, finally getting the capacity to wait over an hour between bathroom trips. I only filled two of them, though. The third was another anti-spasming dry mouth drug. Not only was I not spasming, I figured even if I started, the cure was worse than the problem. I still had percoset if it got annoying.

I'm not sure if all the bits have passed. When my urologist told me he blew the stone to smithereens, he wasn't kidding. Most of what collected was silt, and I'm convinced some of that made it through the screen. Still, I dutifully scraped and transferred, noting the occasional dog hair or mine. When a visible piece of something was produced, by the time it dried, it often was about a fifth of its "wet" size, and frequently stuck onto the mesh. It all doesn't seem to add up to a 5mm anything. And nothing has shown up the last few days.

I decided to become a bit more active, since things were going so well. The yard needed pooper scooping again, a couple bushes needed water, and an old sun-rotted hose needed collecting and tossing. Nothing much. But apparently the rhythmic motions resulted in the stent irritating the bladder again, and the spasms are back. Nothing big, but there.

Tomorrow, however, should be my last visit with the urologist, where the stent is removed. He says it's just a quick procedure, no painkillers needed, just reaching a tool in, hooking onto the stent, and pulling it out.

I hope he's right.