Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Flying Fauna

(This post should be less difficult for those of you with phobic reactions to slithery beings.)

Our known-them-forever-friends came down from Phoenix last weekend. It always seems strange to say "down from" when referring to that trip; Tucson is 1000' higher in elevation than our low desert neighbor and, even though we are further south, saying "driving down to Tucson" just doesn't seem right to me. Even the highway has issues with the notion of direction; it's I-10 East that takes you here (and on to El Paso and Biloxi and Jacksonville).

In any event, they arrived on Friday, and, after cracking open the champagne and snacking on treats from Costco (shrimp and cheese and tri-tip and mini-peppers and a yummy multi-grain loaf of just baked bread) we drove to The Rialto to see Pink Martini and marvel at the ease that is seeing music in Tucson. Park on the street. Stroll to the theatre. Feel comfortable in shorts and t-shirts surrounded by an eclectic mix of denizens of the desert hooting and hollering as Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes and 10 other talented musicians strutted their stuff. Je ne veux pas travailler, either.

The next day I spoke about planting trees at TRICO and came home to another annoying visit from the pool people who were repairing the mistakes the prior technician had made. (As Travis Magee often said of his boat, our pool is a hole in the ground into which you pour money.) We dined on multi-grain french toast and bacon and read Tucson Weekly's Best of Tucson edition and then it was 2 o'clock and time to be tourists.

Sending TBG back to the gym for double sessions, we 3 headed off to Saguaro National Park and the Desert Museum. It's a great drive in The Schnozz, though I fear that my passengers were less enthusiastic about its ability to corner quickly and smoothly than I was. The rest of southern Arizona had apparently gotten the memo that the roads were to be mine, and we passed nary a car nor a motorcycle nor a bicycle on the twisty well-paved road to the park's Visitor's Center.

After extricating one guest from the back seat, we watched the movie (do not miss the movie --- and be sure to stay seated until the lights come up --- NO, I will not tell you why..... just believe me when I say it'll be one of your all-time favorite movie going experiences) and exited to find that it was National Parks Day all over America, in tribute to the new Ken Burns extravaganza. A new holiday in the middle of "the Jewish holidays"; I loved it.

Piled her back into The Schnozz and followed Sandrio Road a few miles further and found the subtly signed Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. I bought the membership and in we went, following the path toward the hummingbirds. Aubrey explained the subluxation and stretching of the tectonic plates that resulted in the bowl housing Tucson, and he did so in an unapologetically upper crust British accent. We spent a lot of time looking at the world map covering one wall of the ramada, thinking about the places from which the refugees the front-seat guest resettles had fled. Burma, Kenya, Tajikistan.... these places are really far from Arizona.

The path takes you through tunnels and past pumas and parrots and snack shops and a covered overlook that reminded me of the Carribbean

The signs still pointed us towards the hummingbirds, and so onward we trekked. Seeing the waiters carrying the tablecloths out of the restaurant reminded us that the museum was closing and we ought to walk faster and then suddenly there was the hummingbird house. We pushed apart the heavy plastic vertical blinds and it was quiet and planted and we were happy.

At first, we didn't see any birds. Then we looked closer.

These little birds are really good at camouflage.

Sometimes they are betrayed by a bright red dot on their necks.


Sometimes they just rest, with their wings almost crossed in front of themselves.

And sometimes they find a delicious salvia and slake their thirst


We drove home happy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Herpetological Warning

The Big Cuter is quite upset with my next post. In the interest of full disclosure - dedicated to my big boy and all the rest of you who don't like snakes - today's main post contains photographs of a real live actual living in my yard snake.

You can't say you weren't warned.


There have been equity issues raised regarding the Burrow's coverage. It seems that some readers feel that flora have been receiving an unfair piece of the Burrow's pie, and that fauna have been sorely neglected. Herein, I begin to rectify the situation.

In my own defense, I must say that it is much more convenient to take a photograph of a flower or a cactus than it is of a coyote. If I am outside and have my camera and one walks by, I have a chance. But opening the door sends them running for safety in the open space across the street.

I know the critters are around even when I don't see them, but I'll spare you the scat pictures which would prove me right. Trust me when I tell you that some beasties are carnivores and some are herbivores and that I have the detritus (there's that word again!) to prove it.

I've had two encounters with slitherers. The first was early in our tenure in the desert. I was still on Marin-gardening-time, and had thought nothing of going out to work in the front yard in the middle of a hot and sunny afternoon. Suddenly, I realized that I was running towards the open garage door. I don't remember starting to run. I was just running. As my thinking brain caught up to my limbic system, I heard the snake's rattles. You can believe the experts when they tell you that it is an unmistakable sound. And you can believe me when I tell you that your body will know to flee before your brain can register the danger.

Since then, I've been much more careful, especially since our new next-door-neighbors found a pregnant and very angry Mohave Rattlesnake (crotalus scutulatus -- even the latin name is scary) in their backyard. She's no longer with us in this plane, but the animal control people warned us that her mate is still around. Snakes, it seems, are homebodies, and have a territory of about 200 yards. Relocating them in an effort to save their lives just disorients them as they search for their scent, and they slowly starve to death. My new pool guy keeps his pellet gun behind his recliner and uses that to remove the menace; I'm not quite that Tucsonan yet. I'm sticking to running.

Last week I was planting the Blackthorn Acacia (which, by the way, is not happy in its new home and is showing signs of stress. I'm sad, but I'm not giving up hope. There are smarter people than I who have given me instructions for its care and repair.) As I dragged the hose from the Little Leaf Cordia, in between the ocotillo and then to the acacia, I noticed that the ground was moving. I kept going in the opposite direction and grabbed my camera.

You can see how the camo works for it - the ground really did begin to slither.

For some dumb reason, I wasn't afraid. After I'd repositioned the hose on the acacia I took the camera and looked at the snake again. He was resting.

So I decided to get closer, and then I thought better of it and ran..... that's why this next photo is a little bit blurry..... I didn't see any rattles, but I definitely heard a hiss from that open mouth.

He could be a Pituophis catenifer, a friendly little gophersnake. He might be Crotalus oreganus, the Western Rattlesnake, who is a considerably less friendly guest. Or he might be the mourning father of my neighbor's Crotalus scutulatus, in which case I am seriously freaking out right now. My Nikon Coolpix doesn't have a telephoto lens. I was pretty close to old Crotalus and I'm not too happy thinking about it right now.

These kinds of things did not happen when I was living in ungentrified DePaul in Chicago back in the 1970's. I was once face to spitting face with a squirrel I'd unwittingly cornered in the alley behind the garbage cans. I jumped one way and he jumped the other; we were each invading the other's turf. Somehow, though, with these Squamato Ophidia (Serpentes) I know that I am in their domain and that resistance will be futile.

I now know the precise meaning of giving something its own space.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It Had to be Done

I went through my banker's box tonight. The recycling bin is brimming, the stack of bills was smaller than I'd imagined, and now I have several neat piles on my desk. The only casualty of my procrastination was Yo-Yo Ma's December 5th appearance here in Tucson. She who hesitates reads "Sold Out!" on the website. What self-respecting fan of West Wing could have missed this opportunity? Alas. Other than that, I am pretty pleased with tonight's efforts.

G'ma's bills/alumni organizations communications/small but pretty calendars/incomprehensible medical statements, including one from a physician I've never heard of or met...... that's the one to tackle tomorrow morning. It's living on the extreme left corner of the desk; if I'm looking at the monitor I'm seeing the pile. Grrr...... who invented peripheral vision???

Yo-Yo Ma is staring at me (reproachfully, it seems to my disappointed eyes) from the far end of the middle series of piles. He's sandwiched between one of my journals and a stack of chances to win a $500 shopping spree if I just spend 15 minutes on-line detailing the ins and outs of my last transaction at Target. Actually, it was a great visit. I spent a good proportion of the time I was there looking at the $1 Halloween items, with the Little Cuter by my ear through the wonders of cell technology. I described and she oooh'ed and aaahhh'ed and we missed each other a lot, though mostly we were just happy to be doing it together. (Do NOT tell me that technology is the scourge of creating community!!!!!)

The middle stack is the notes for this post resting on another journal sitting on an incomprehensible BlueCross Blue Shield of Arizona description of our coverage. I will begin drinking after posting and see if that makes it any clearer. Sober, it brought me to tears. On a lighter note, Netflix wants us back as members, and they're even going to give it to me for free. Now that is confidence! We've been pretty happy with the TCM/Retroplex/on-Demand/Pima County Public Library selections so far, and I'm enjoying the leaner lifestyle we adopted late last summer but they're offering it for free............ I have a hard time saying "no" to free.

The carousel horse is the top of a stack of postcards G'ma is sending to her grand children as soon as I get the correct addresses and postage on them. We are working our way through her stationary drawers - everybody's getting postcards this time.

The whole thing looks like a mess, and I suppose, to the untrained eye, it is a mess. But to those with true discernment, these piles are my plan writ large. First I gather the materials in one place. Then I sort through and discard the detritus (a great word which is not spoken aloud nearly as often as it should be) and separate my stuff from the Cuter's stuff (forwarded mail from addresses gone by) and from G'ma's stuff (it all ends up here eventually so why not have it come here initially?).

I pay the bills and put them away before I start on the rest of the piles. Always do the most onerous chore first - it worked for algebra in the 9th grade and it works today in my dotage. Then I'll start with the fun stuff.

I'll go on Craigslist and see if I can create a ticket buying opportunity for the second cellist I ever cared about (after Pablo Casals and just before the third, Pansy Chang, with Pink Martini).
I'll re-read the thoughts I noted in the journals and remember the time and place and the feeling and some of them may actually appear right here in the Burrow some morning at 6am.

The postcards can make me smile at the fact that no one has any idea what postage costs these days? We're all using those forever stamps and postcards used to be a penny according to G'ma so what kind of resource is she??? But I'll figure it out and affix the postage and have a big smile on my face the whole time.

This is the feeling I want to preserve and be able to recall when, once again, all too soon, and with alarming regularity, the bankers' box begins to sing its siren call. There's no need to strap me to a pole on deck, I am perfectly capable of resisting its cry without any assistance at all. Perhaps, if I look back at these pictures of the "goodies" that are in store for me tomorrow now that I've cleared out the debris and taken care of the necessities I'll be able to bring back the relief and the absence of angst and take a dip in the pool of "do it now and don't wait any longer".

I doubt it. But a girl can dream, can't she?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Passage of Time

(That could actually be the theme of this week's posts, don't you agree?)

The Big Cuter kvetched* on the phone last Sunday that I was "the second person today who was talking about Halloween." It's not that he hates Halloween -- it's actually his favorite holiday. It's the fact that it is still September and we should still be in first month of school mode.

Rushing from Back-to-School to Valentines Day was not always the norm. When I was a girl (!!), merchants took their time and displayed their seasonal wares during the appropriate season. Holidays were allowed to come and go before their merchandise was discounted. Then, again, it used to be possible to buy a bathing suit in July in New York - now, if you wait that long, you're looking at displays of corduroy car coats and woolen knit mittens.

I used to shop at JoAnn Fabrics in Marin for all my holiday supplies. They had shelf after shelf of inexpensive but must have items - wooden scarecrows and haunted houses and candle holders of all shapes and sizes and pilgrims and turkeys and even a row or two of Hanukkah decorations. I can't remember which year it was when I realized that it was September and yet everywhere I looked, everything was on sale. Thanksgiving cornucopia were 50% off before I'd thought about how many napkins I'd need for the Halloween party. Only Hallmark stuck to its guns; you always had to wait until December 26th for a price break.

What's the big rush????? There are pumpkins to carve and thanks to be given and they should not be given short shrift. Once I saw what was happening, I began to shop exclusively at Nordstrom's as soon as the inappropriate decorating began at Macy's and J.C.Penny. Nordie's had it right - no decorating until they closed at Thanksgiving and opened thereafter with Christmas in every corner. Up until the fourth Thursday in November, life in the store went on as usual. I loved it. They were in the moment, and they had my allegiance and my wallet.

I do my very best to hold the line. I will buy things early on, but only because that's the way to do it (fodder for a future post : Nannie and preparing the perfect Christmas). But I don't have a single holiday doo-dad decorating a mantle or a doorway, nor will I until October 1st. Dee and I took the girls to the pumpkin patch on the first Saturday in October, and not before. Halloween is put away on November 1st, and no December decorations leave their boxes until every last autumnal artifact is in the garage. These are the rules, and I'm sticking to them.

Mr. 6 and Little Brother wanted to make the scarecrow this weekend. They understand the concept of the calendar, but are having a little bit of trouble with delay of gratification. I feel their pain, but they're just going to have to be satisfied with planning. It's still September and we're going to relish every day of it. The time will pass swiftly enough, without our intervention.

*kvetch(ed) - (Yiddish) complain(ed)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thoughts on Sports

Tim Finchem, PGA Tour Commissioner, has to be the least media-savvy talking head I've heard this week. I just listened to him link his organization to the BCS on PTI ...... "Everyone hates the BCS, but everyone's talkin' about 'em." Wonderful. So what if no one understands it? The rules are there and they're not changing and, hey, any publicity is better than no publicity at all. It was another one of those I can't believe he's saying that out loud moments.

The boys were commenting on Suzy Kolber's new hairstyle during one of their frequent "did you see that????" phone calls last weekend. So much for their consistent response when I'm amazed that they've not noticed a change: "HAIR ??? No group of guys sees a beautiful girl and says 'Great Hair!!'"

Why in the world is Brent Musberger still on the air? We remember him from WBBM in Chicago back in the late 20th century (isn't that what you'd call the years around 1975?) He was no spring chicken then; Kirk Herbstreit looks like a 12 year old next to him. I always want to put a comfy chair under Brent's behind and offer him a glass of tea. He's been repeating the same things over and over with the exact same level of enthusiasm for as long as he's been annoying my eardrums. Isn't there anyone of another generation who could replace him? There has to be someone between the ages of 19 and 50 who could do the job, wouldn't you think?

I just re-read that last piece, and it feels lots harsher than I'd intended. Actually, that's probably not true - I've been saying that out loud to all and sundry for years. Somehow, seeing it in print makes it different. So, to be clear: I don't think Brent is an evil man or a bad person. I do think his time has come and gone. He should feel free to comment and tell me I'm a bloviating idiot.

Dallas Clark is the poster child for ab work. He caught the ball at speed, he got bumped and shoved and grabbed (ok, ok, so it wasn't such a great tackle... but still......), he nearly lost his footing but kept his momentum and his balance then he sped up again and outran the defense into the end zone. You don't do that without core strength. No more sleeping through pilates for me ........

I'm getting a lot more reading done now that TBG is occupied with football every day but Tuesday and Wednesday. We're storing all our shows on the DVR and having a commercial-free-midweek-television-extravaganza.

Best Sports Movies List In No Particular Order: Bull Durham, Angels in the Outfield (both versions are sweet), It Happens Every Spring, Hoosiers, Rudy, Major League, Glory Road, Bend It Like Beckham (if only to see Keira Knightley play soccer)..........

Have a better list? You can always comment and tell me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hello, Autumn

It's 6:43 post meridian as I type this and I am sad. It's getting dark already. Our sun is omnipresent here in the desert southwest, and we come to expect her to warm the driveway as we pad out in our slippers to get the morning paper and to bake G'mas's thin skin in the middle of the afternoon and to reflect off the gas grill as I make a late dinner. I'd gotten used to having her around until 8 or 8:00 every night and now she's not and I'm sad. Summer is really over. The days are getting shorter. And there's way more dark than I'd like.

The Big Cuter is in San Francisco now, so we share a time zone in the summer. But we're at the eastern end and he's at the western end and last night he called to tell us that the sunset was gorgeous on a fog-less evening. I was amused that he'd called to comment about the view (remembering his "Do we have to stop and look again" wails from the back seat on car trips) but I was also terminally jealous. We'd been in the dark for an hour or so.

Our big house in Marin was on the top of a hill. If the sun was out, it was shining on our property. I could look down into the lower neighborhoods and watch as the shadows engulfed them (I've always loved that phrase -- swallowed by the absence of light..... it's an interesting concept, no?). The sun came up over the open space and set over the mountains and my house was bathed in light all day. We rented down near the highway after we'd sold the manse, and I looked with longing at the houses above us as the shadows overtook our space much too early in the day for my taste.

The air has a crisper feel to it, even here in the desert southwest where the temperatures are still creeping into triple digits in the late afternoon. I was planting trees this weekend and wasn't bothered by mosquitoes or snakes or hot, cloying, sticky air. I was dripping sweat and won't pretend that it was totally pleasant, but I could work outside in the mid-afternoon for 3 hours. That was not an option 4 weeks ago...... unless I was courting heat stroke.

The sun comes in through the breakfast nook's window and shines in my eyes at 4:45 now instead of 6:30 and I have to remember to put the sun tea out before I leave for lunch with G'ma. I used to be able to put it together as I began to prepare dinner and the sun would work her magic as I cooked. Now, if I wait til I'm ready to make dinner there are no sunbeams to create my tea. Sad.

The solar heater on the pool is feeling the change, too. Without any electrical stimulation, our pool was a roasty toasty jump right in and swim 85 delightfully cossetting degrees for most of the summer. Suddenly, it's 72 and suitable only for TBG's mile-and-a-half-lap-swim. Lazing on the noodles is now impossible without turning on the heater. And we learned our lesson the first fall we lived here - keeping the pool warm for the Cuters' visit at Thanksgiving gave us a $700 electric bill and children who sat in the hot tub because it was just too cold to swim.

Without the start-of-school drama of new clothes and shoes and routines, I'm free to revel in the long dog-day-afternoons of summer for as long as Mother Nature will allow. I think she's telling me that it's time to let go............ sad.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who'd a thunk it?

You just never know.

In high school he was smart and funny and kind but never really stood out in a crowd. Now, you'd instantly recognize his name. Our parents were better friends than we were; he didn't sign my yearbook.

He played basketball and he was good and tall (my favorite basketball coach's quote: "You can't teach height.") and recruited to play D-I ball, but, after all, it was Marin basketball we'd seen him play. Not exactly The Bronx. Now he's playing right field in the Majors.

She was literary editor of the yearbook, and as she inscribed in mine, .."there's always a certain person who we like to talk about." Now she's married to that certain person and her books are in Barnes and Noble next to Tolstoy and Twain.

Some I expected to do well - the valedictorian who went on to be an editor of the Harvard Law Review, the hotel magnate's sons who run companies and produce movies. There's comfort in the knowledge that those I expected to succeed have done so.

But who we are as adults often bears little resemblance to who we were in high school...... at least a lot of us hope so, don't we?

Wondering where I'm going with this? My friends and I seem to be attending our 40th high school reunions this fall. Artess asked me to write about it, and that involved thinking about it, and that led to butterflies in my stomach and the inclination to take an Ativan. Yes, as one of these reuning friends opined on her Facebook page, everyone seems to be taking anti-anxiety medicine these days. I wouldn't be surprised if these reunions were the underlying cause.

Who I was then is some part of who I am now, but I like to think that I've changed enough that people will be surprised. Or maybe they saw the wonderfulness that is me right now back then. I'll never know unless I ask, and how, exactly, would I phrase that question? "Am I as much of a dork as an adult as you perceived me to be when I was 16?" I don't think I want to go there.

Looking through my yearbook has caused my stomach to drop any number of times. I had forgotten the number of people who intimidated me in high school. Are the bitches still bitches? If I didn't have My True Friend I don't know if I could go. All of a sudden, I understand the Big Cuter's need for a wing-man..... and I am really really glad that I've got one.

I think I always liked myself, but I know I knew I was clueless. I walked around wondering why everyone else knew what to do and I didn't. My True Friend tells me that the cool kids didn't think they were all that cool, and that makes me wonder what my life would have been like if I'd been privy to that knowledge at the time.

Would I have found different friends? Without the fear of rejection, might I have found the courage to approach the unapproachable ones? Had I known that they were as fearful as I, would it have made a difference?

I'm flashing to Back to the Future and Marty fixing his parents' lives. My current reality is quite lovely, thank you, and I wouldn't change most of it. Would I be the same adult if my high school years had been more comfortable? Did I need the angst to temper my soul? Right now, I'm fine with the way things were and the way things are. But I think that if you'd asked me this question in 1967, I'd probably have had a very different answer.

I like to think that the swagger I have now has been well-earned in the trenches of not-quite-as-cool-as-I'd-like-to-be. I still want to be friends with "the cool kids", but my definition of cool has changed. The ones who walk around with attitude, who know that they are wonderful and that everyone wants to be just like them, the ones whose eyes gloss over as I walk into a room because I'm not one of us - they used to intimidate me and now they make me laugh. Does she really think that she can judge me because of my outfit? I'm comfortable and my clothes are functional and they fit........ so shut up! Does she think it's ok to ignore me when I come into a room? What in the world makes her think I would want to talk to her? Her little world doesn't include me and I don't care.

Ok, maybe I care just a little..... we all want to be loved, after all. But the social layering of high school is in the past, as far as I am concerned. I don't care if others think my dorky friends are dorky - they are and they embrace themselves and I hug them right back. I'm not worried about ruining my reputation by hanging out with the uncool. I'm the arbiter of cool for myself these days, and it feels great.


Did anybody get the literary reference in the title? Mary McCarthy's The Group was a big deal in my formative decade - racy and forbidden and an intimate look at girl friends before Hey, Girlfriend became de rigeur. I think I'll get it out of the library and read it again.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How Can This Be?

I used to like opening the mail. A letter, a postcard, a sale announcement and the local weekly newspaper accompanying a bill or two, all placed in the mailbox just to the left of the front door, underneath the house numbers. The mailman was a friendly and familiar face. He shared lemonade and iced tea and once I even got to have ginger ale before lunch because he would share it with me.

Now, sometimes I get my mail and sometimes I don't because it's mixed up with my neighbors' deliveries. And when it does arrive, it's advertisements for stores I've never heard of and solicitations and bills. And it's the bills I want to talk about.

Actually, it's one bill in particular. Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arizona has raised our premium 9.2%. I just had TBG show me how to figure it out on the calculator (my miserable math skills will make for a very interesting post someday) and it's true.

We were healthier last year than we'd been the year before. In fact, the doctor told TBG last week that he is the healthiest patient in their practise. I didn't break anything except the alignment of my spine, and I paid for my physical therapy out-of-pocket since the insurance wouldn't cover it anyway. We only billed BCBSAZ for routine check-ups and blood work. True, my cholesterol is not responding to the statins (when did this happen to me??????) but that's a work in progress with a reasonable solution on the near horizon. And once I'm on the right dosage of the right medication I'll be less of a risk factor than I am now.

And they still raised the premium.

We demonstrate responsible, adult behavior. We exercise regularly. We get enough sleep. We take vitamins and eat a fairly healthy diet. We don't abuse our bodies and they repay us by remaining functional and pain-free. We get our 20 minutes of vitamin D and then cover up with sunscreen every single day. Where's my reward for good behavior?

I ought to be precise here: we are pain free except for TBG's knee. Or, as we now call it, his pre-existing condition. Since I'm younger, we're insured under my name. This saves us a small fortune in premiums. Foolish people that we were, we thought that the Blue Cross Blue Shield policy we had in California would continue to cover us when we moved to Arizona. Nope, that was not the case. There were probably steps we could have taken years ago to preclude our winding up in this situation, but who knew? We are well educated in many things, but apparently health insurance was not one of them. What we didn't know was surprising, and came back to bite us in the buttock-al region.

As I said, we were fools. There was another application process and a physical exam and a review of our records and suddenly, the knee that had been a problem when we moved to California but was still covered there, the knee that is the only thing (says his proud spouse) that's keeping TBG from competing in the Senior Olympics, the knee that is the only body part that's ever gone wrong with his body and which is the main reason he's insured at all, that they won't cover. It's excluded from our policy.

Sure, I could have argued with them. But I didn't have the energy. Again, foolishly, I assumed that our premiums would stay low and seem inexpensive when compared to the rates in California. Not. Even. Close. I turned 55 and all of a sudden the rate went up. Not a bump or a mogul, but conjure up a small hill and you'll be close to how I felt. Not only did the number make me feel old, but the insurance company smashed me into an age bracket that was costing me money. And then, last year, the rates went up again. I joined an affiliation policy with AAA and saved a fair percentage of the BCBSAZ rate hike that way. We also raised our deductible, basically turning the policy into what we used to call a major medical policy.

I think I'm out of tricks this time. If it were an appliance repair, I'd find another mechanic. If it were a car purchase, I'd go to another dealer. If it were a manicure, I'd change shops. This is different. I can't shop around; there's really no place else to go. We're dragging our pre-existing condition along with us.

It strikes me as odd, though, that in a time where every business is cutting prices and making deals, BCBSAZ raises my rates with impunity. I hate being part of a captive audience. It's not fair. I'm paying lots of money for less coverage than we need, the price keeps going up and there's nothing I can do.

I wonder if the Republicans who were sitting on their hands during President Obama's speech last week have pre-existing conditions? Do they have young adult children who want to strike out on their own? Do they have neighbors who want to retire to another state? Do they understand the ins and outs of their policies?

If they do, could one of them come over and explain mine to me? And while she's at it, perhaps she could help me understand why a 9.2% increase every 12 months is acceptable. Or appropriate. Or helpful. I'd much rather take those dollars and spend them in a local shop or restaurant.

This isn't something that's hurting a small segment of the people. We're all noticing it. I'm going to the next Tea Party event with a clipboard and one question - "Do you and your family have health insurance that covers what you need it to cover?" My guess is they'll all say yes.

Once they slip over to the other side of the slope, by moving or changing jobs or tearing an ACL, I bet they'll be singing a different tune.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Bonus Post

The Chief Dispenser of Care at G'ma's pod-castle asked if we had plans for tonight. There were 2 other Jewish ladies in the Community and, if I had no objections, the pod-castle would like to invite the 3 of them to a special Rosh Ha'Shana dinner in a neighboring pod-castle.

All on their own, in a decidedly un-religious-though-leaning-towards-Christian environment, they are going out of their way to give G'ma the kind of experience she had when she managed her own living space. They thought it would make her happy.

Any doubts I had about the wisdom of this move have vanished.

L'shana tova tikatevu - May you have a GREAT new year, filled with sweetness and joy.

My HP 2140

I have issues with technology, as I've written about before. The Cuters tell me it's because I don't have patience and I just start pushing buttons...... and don't get me started on TBG's take on the subject. I had the temerity to try to watch a movie on the system in the living room without asking him to set it up for me, and when the sound wouldn't come on we had a few tense moments surrounding my answer to "Did you push any buttons?!?!?!?!????". Suffice it to say that it's not my long suit.

Setting up my fax machine this afternoon was an exciting experience. The packaging was easily removed, and the sticker on the handset came off in one piece, leaving no residue behind. I can't remember the last time I avoided using Goo-Gone on something new. I didn't need any tools to open any of the parts. There was a tear here instruction that was really meant to be torn. There was none of that annoyingly tough plastic that requires a pointy pair of scissors and gloves (or fast reflexes) to protect you from the sharp edges refusing to separate from each other. The bags which did not need to be sealed weren't, and those that did were closed with readily openable fasteners. Not a staple (whose points invariably end up in my finger-tips) nor a permanently-fixed-and-needs-a-wire-cutter-to-get-through-it plastic closure.

Every piece was perfectly labeled and explained and fit neatly and obviously into its appointed slot. The quick start instructions were just that, and the longer explanations in the full manual were right where I thought they would be. (How often do you look for something under its obvious heading only to find that the editorial staff has its brains on a different operating system than yours?)

There was even a way to send an test fax to HP and find out if the machine actually works. No need to call the Little Cuter and ask if I could send an exemplar to her office; the company that created the device knew I would need to know and they took care of it for me. Nice. Very very nice.

I hit redial when I shouldn't have, and almost sent personal information to the wrong place. But the Cancel button saved me, and no harm was done. The paper went in smoothly and didn't balk at being grabbed, as our previous fax machine was wont to do. Instead, there was a satisfying click and a whoosh and swiftly, cleanly and neatly 6 pages were sent on their way to Palo Alto.

I managed to silence the sounds and reduce the number of rings and created a header all without uttering a naughty word or throwing something across the room. My family would have been proud.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I'm getting a little bit tired ...ok, a lot tired..... of the process stories surrounding health care. There are serious issues being discussed behind closed doors, and while I know that we only hear what they want us to hear, and that the media is manipulated by planted leaks and back stories, I'm looking for the investigative journalists who will present a reasoned, well thought out analysis of what's being proposed and who's against it and why.

Instead, we are overwhelmed with Rep. Joe Wilson and "You lie!" Parsing the phrase has become a national sport; he didn't actually call the President of the United States a liar, he was only referencing the statement. Sure. Any kid on the playground knows there's really not much of a difference. Of course, that child also knows that you don't call out in the middle of an assembly. It's just not done.

And that's where I start and finish with Representative Wilson's behavior. It was "down-right rude", as Miss McCarthy, my gym teacher at School #1 used to say. I always wondered if that was a different kind of bad behavior than regular rudeness would be, but this incident has clarified the distinction. This was more than a burp at the dinner table. The man was an invited speaker in your house. Though his cadence was often reminiscent of call-and-reponse church services, the venue was not a chapel nor a rally. It was Congress.

There are certain behaviors which are appropriate in certain settings. "Good manners make the world run smoothly" is a phrase the Cuters heard on a regular basis. Standing in a crowded elevator in the Sutter/Stockton Garage, the Big Cuter worried how we'd all get out. "Watch what happens," said I, as the doors opened and the gentleman in front of us got out and held the door for the two elderly ladies to his left, whose path was cleared by the young men stepping out of their way. Then the mom with the stroller, then me-and-my-kid, then the rest of the crowd. No one pushed. No one hurried. We went "in order" and everything was fine.

Mr. 6 is learning about keeping quiet even when he really really really needs to tell Will something right now. First Grade does that to a person. The freedom to interrupt and demand attention is severely curtailed as one progresses from kindergarten to the grades to the real world. Even though 184,583 people voted for Representative Wilson in 2008, there was no concomitant dispensation from the rules of common courtesy. Somebody should have sent him to the principal's office when he was 8.

And it's just getting worse as time goes on. Instead of accepting his punishment and using it as a teachable moment, he whines that he's already apologized once and I feel like I'm in a desk with an inkwell watching a classmate try to wriggle out of detention. It's embarrassing. He's a grown-up and an elected official. He should be somebody's hero. Parents should be able to point to him and tell their children he's a man to be emulated. Unfortunately, that just doesn't seem to be happening.


As for the "real issue", we are already paying for health care for the undocumented and uninsured amongst us. Our society has not devolved to the point where we let people die on the sidewalk. The truly ill are receiving care as you read this post. The cost of that care is shifted to those of us with health insurance and to those of us who pay taxes. The process is hidden within the hearts and minds of hospital CFO's and their ilk. It's a dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about. But, the money is being spent and it has to come from somewhere. That anyone could make an argument denying people the opportunity to fulfill their obligations as responsible adults by contributing to the costs of the services they receive remains a mystery to me.

I'll save my rant on the value of a guest worker policy for another post.....

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dentists I Have Known

There's no two ways about it - getting a tooth drilled is creepy. Sure, the hygienist can laugh and say that she and the dentist hear it as "opera... or a cantata" but it's shrill and metallic and loud and in my mouth. It sounds like many things, but music just ain't one of 'em.

As a kid on Long Island, we had a family dentist. His office was a short bike ride away; going to appointments on my own was my first really grown-up experience. Down Benjamin Road, then cut through Ellen Terry Drive, which was named for the actress, not some builder's daughter. I liked knowing that. Ride under the giant poplars hiding the too-big-for0-the neighborhood, gated, wonder-who-lives-there house and then cross Brower Avenue. Carefully, very very carefully, looking left then right then right again because there was a triangle one block down that way and cars came from both sides of it and merged in front of the office. For a while, there was a little farm on that triangle, and that made crossing marginally easier. I came home from college one Thanksgiving to find 3 houses blocking the long view of the furthest right angle.... but I digress.

His office had crisp copies of Children's Highlights (or was it Highlights for Children? I just searched to find out and now it's just Highlights. This really didn't start to be a post about change...... anyway..... ) The magazines were fresh and plentiful and there were pencils to use for the games. There was a clean medicinal smell that made me relax and smile. I was sitting in the office all alone, without any parents or babysitters. I'm sitting up taller right now just thinking about how mature I felt.

His patient's chair was adjustable and I never felt too small. He himself had broad, flat, cool fingers. He'd finish his exam and then gently pat my cheek, lugubriously wondering aloud if I knew that he had children who would need college educations and with perfect mouths like mine he'd never earn enough money to pay for them. I was proud of my teeth and so was he.

Years later, one of those children cleaned my teeth just before my wedding. He'd taken over his dad's practise and most of the patients and their children were still around. It was one of my first experiences with a peer as a professional and I think it was odd for both of us. Well, I know it was odd for me. I got over it soon enough, and he listened when I told him that the smell the drill made was brown. Apparently, there was something called synesthesia and I wasn't crazy to smell it or to know that 8+6=14 is numeric but also pastel. Yes, the 8 and the 6 are pink and yellow Cray-Pas and the 14 is peachy, with a bit of violet wisping through. I kid you not. This is true. And the new young dentist knew about it. How cool was that? Then we started laughing about his dilemma : what to reply when our-parents-age-patients asked him if nitrous oxide was like smoking marijuana. Oh, how he didn't want to go there.

TBG had awful experiences with dentistry, many involving pain and blood. It seems that since their dentist was also their next-door-neighbor Nannie was loathe to find less daunting dental care elsewhere. Once we were married and settled for sure in Chicago, we needed a dentist who would understand TBG's dislike, distaste, distrust, dis-inclination..... he wasn't going to show up unless there were incentives.

It took some doing, but I found one. The office was close, had convenient metered parking and he had incentives. Headphones with great tapes - remember that this was in 1975, and portable personal music was a rarity. A view overlooking Lincoln Park with great trees to watch. Mobiles overhead and interesting flavors of toothpaste for use when he'd polish your teeth. Nitrous oxide, even for cleanings. He didn't last in the dentistry business for very long; he became a general contractor in the suburbs after a couple of years. But for the time that he was around we had very very clean teeth.

The kids' dentist in Marin wore tie-dyed lab coats and once worked at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. Everyone went to him and no one had ever seen him angry. Things got a little testy when the Big Cuter showed up for 4 extractions, and decided that he'd had enough after one-and-a-half teeth had been dealt with. The dentist had to use his very loud "Stay in the chair" voice, and the whole office became silent. There were no hard feelings as the second half of the second tooth came out and we all agreed that, perhaps, this particular kid should be sedated before anything like this ever happened again. Ah, like father, like son.

We can't remember how we found the world's coolest dentist for grown-ups, but we did. He was our age, and so was his hygienist. His music was our music and it was playing just loud enough to distract you from the sounds of the drilling. He was a big reader of non-fiction and could wax eloquent on a range of fascinating topics, while explaining exactly what and why he was doing in your mouth. It's a testament to his wonderfulness that TBG looked forward to seeing him, even though he didn't use nitrous oxide.

Then, of course, we moved and had to find another dentist. We were on our own, since no one in Marin had a recommendation for Tucson. Amster has been raving about her guy ever since I've known her, and with annoying nagging messages from the current-but-I'm-not-crazy-about-her dentist wondering where I've been for the past 14 months piling up on my machine I called and made an appointment and today I had a filling replaced.

Now remember, I have great teeth. This cavity is very old and, as was patiently explained to me, nothing lasts forever. It was a good thing that I'd come in because it was almost getting to be a real problem. Fine. I got it. There was something wrong with my perfect teeth. This is NOT supposed to be happening to me. And, I missed the turn onto Ft. Lowell which made me 6 minutes late. They were waiting and I was in the chair before I'd finished apologizing and then, as she was clipping the paper bib around my neck, I heard the most lovely words: "Would you like the gas?".

With my I-pod in my ears and the grey pig-snout mask over my nose (it still looks the same as it did decades ago in Chicago) I breathed deep and began to boogie. My feet must have been moving along with my hands, because he stopped to be sure I was ok. "Oh, yes....... legally high in public," said I.

The sounds were still creepy, there's a dull ache that's a little bit annoying, and chewing isn't much fun on that side right now. But TBG is motivated to call and make an appointment. That is a recommendation.

I suppose I ought to join Amster at Aquatica in an hour.............nah, I had a tooth drilled.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I thought I'd be bouncing up and down with silly yellow plastic floaty dumb bells. I thought there'd be ladies in bathing caps and lots of good natured sharing of aches and pains. I thought I'd be able to keep up.

Wrong. Totally wrong. Not even close. I was humiliated.

I had to have someone teach me how to stay underwater and glide. By the fourth of 8 25 yard laps I was pulling myself along the lane divider, trying not to swallow any more pool water. Breathing was a dimly remembered skill, albeit one quite useful when trying not to drown. I knew how to do it - I just didn't have the energy. Breakfast was oatmeal and brown sugar and skim milk and vitamins and bee pollen. It seemed like healthy fuel for a work-out, especially after I'd carbo-loaded on semolina toast with strawberry jam last night. Maybe I should've had some protein - like half a cow?

I didn't realize that it was possible for your entire body to be covered in sweat while you were swimming. Mine was part physical exertion and part mental terror - not only was I the oldest person in the class (by several decades, mind you) I was also the shortest person (by many inches). Not being able to have my head above water while my feet are on the ground is an uncomfortable sensation for me, and when it bumps up against tired and short of breath I am not a happy camper.
I couldn't pout, though. Amster had told them I was tough. Quitting was not a viable option. On the other hand, no one was counting my laps and no one would know if I completed 6 or 8. One thing I did know was that there was no way that I was going to be gasping out laps, looking like everyone's nightmare, while the rest of the class watched and waited. What I did, I did as well as I could. How many I did is between me and Joe Weider.

There were many variations of the experience - with and without flippers and kick boards and above the water and below. Most of the other participants looked quite relaxed as they glided beneath the surface, a steady stream of evenly spaced air bubbles rising in their wakes. The deep breath I took before submerging just made me more bouyant. I was floating on the surface in no time. And my air bubbles were uneven, to say the least.

I was fine on the land piece of the class. I'm not much for explosive movements any more, so jumping jacks and squat thrusts were unwelcome suggestions. But I did them all. With perfect form and using all the relevant body parts. I scooped my lower belly and engaged my i-t band to do the roll-overs and snickered to myself when I heard them encouraging each other to use momentum to get their legs up and over their heads. They wouldn't last 10 minutes in pilates. Unfortunately for me, were were in Aquatica.

Once again, I am reminded of TBG's oft-repeated caveat on exercise - each activity prepares you for itself and not much else. I can work up a huge sweat on the elliptical or the treadmill or in yoga or pilates and feel energized and stronger at the end of the workout. But put me in the pool, and I'm a failure. All that aerobic capacity? Gone. All those muscles working in perfect harmony? Missing in action. He's absolutely right -- I haven't trained for it and my skills don't transfer.
I have no doubt that I'd improve if I stuck with it. And Amster wants me to meet her there next week. I don't know. Right now, all I want is a soak in the hot tub and the world's largest glass of ice tea.

I could still make it to my favorite yoga class - if I could stand up, that is.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Age Appropriate Behavior

I was reading dooce this morning, following the Little Cuter's advice. If you like my style you might like hers, too. She's younger and cooler and has fewer boundaries between herself and the world than I, but the Cuters got me into blogging by insisting that "you are waaaay hipper than you think you are, Mom" so I'm just going to continue to believe that you are out there and are enjoying the ride.

I'm pouting just a little; dooce has lots of comments.......

But I can't pretend that I don't understand. Following a blog is not a behavior typically found in my age cohort. Cell phones and texts and emails have maintained friendships over distance and time; my friends and I love the electronic age. It's the intersection of the private with the public that seems to be a stumbling block for us. Updating one's Facebook status is, for most of my friends-of-a-certain-age, a remarkable event. It's not that we're boring or don't have deep thoughts; it just never crosses our minds that anyone else might care what we're thinking right now. I know no one my age who tweets (except when cheering for the Arizona Cardinals!), and I have no interest in getting that close to anyone else, myself. I'm sure you're having a great time; send me a postcard.

So telling me what you think of a post might put you in mind of an email or a phone call, but to share it publicly is a whole 'nother deal entirely. It takes courage to voice an opinion, and why would anyone else care? But there you are, right back at the start of this screed --- in this day and age, people really ARE interested. After all, you're reading this, aren't you?

Anyhow, Dooce's success at sharing the mundane and the ridiculous allows me to believe that you would like to know what happened to the pack rat and the refrigerator:

I chickened out. I got lazy and went to bed without disturbing the fridge and the beast. This morning, I begged the power-washer, who bears a striking resemblance to Rutherford B. Hayes,

to deal with him. "Of course," he smiled. And I didn't care if he thought I was a coward or that my inability to deal with a furry four-legged little creature besmirched my credentials as a true denizen of the desert. Once again, I'd waited and the problem was solved.

Here's what he found :

He thinks the sound of the water roaring against the other side of the wall frightened the resident rodent away. Now it's time to pick up all the other cozy nesting places he might find, so that the same thing doesn't happen again.

I feel a nap coming on.

Once again, procrastination has been rewarded. I may never learn.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I had no specific plans this afternoon except to go through my bills/reminders/fliers... all the detritus now overflowing the banker's box where, having been moved from the desk after accumulating in various piles on a variety of counters in more rooms than you would think possible, they now reside. The box has been yelling at me for a while; looking at it makes me yawn.

They called it neurasthenia in Professor Maas's Psych 101 class. The body's uncanny ability to become exhausted when faced with an unwanted task isn't something I've out-grown, unfortunately. Once I get started, I'm The White Tornado (anyone out there remember Mr. Clean?). It's the getting started part that gives me trouble.

The problem is compounded by a lesson I learned on the job. There were some projects which had taken up permanent residence at the bottom of my Ignore Me At Your Peril box. Over time, I began to notice that if I waited long enough most of the problems seemed to resolve themselves or to disappear. I had to be sure that none of the parameters were changing, but, for the most part, watching and waiting did the trick. I was young, so some of it was probably learning to be patient before barrelling into a situation with my good intentions flailing about me, but some of it was, without a doubt, procrastination being rewarded.

Tonight, though, life is going to teach me a lesson. We've contracted with Blue Coyote Painters to refresh and refurbish the outer covering of our house. It's neither wood nor brick nor metal, but an amalgamation of minerals and bonding agents that could be called stucco but might not be that at all. Before the paint can be applied, the power-washer must come and cleanse. Years of guano and feathers and nests and crud sprayed away from every nook and cranny. And that's where the problem is. There's a refrigerator in one of those nooks. It used to hold cold drinks for our pool-side enjoyment .... until the pack-rat made a nest inside and behind it, using the wiring as part of its home-building materials. How it didn't electrocute itself is a mystery. There are palm fronds as door-mats and dried berries to mark the way and the power-washer won't move the damn thing so I'll have to do it. Packrats are nocturnal creatures, so I have to wait until it's pitch black and then hope he's gone out foraging and that he's not sitting back there waiting to introduce himself with a leap and a snarl.

I've never missed a deadline. I'm always early to an appointment. I know I could do better. After all, I'm always glad to have finished the task and I always promise myself that I'll never let things pile up again. And yet, here I am, once again, in an uncomfortable position because I was putting off asking the window washer or the kid with the truck if they'd help me. And now, I am stuck.

If this doesn't teach me that lesson, I don't know what will.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Chicago Scenes

There are flowers all over this city. They adorn tree lawns and entrances to condominiums, sure. But they also line the median strips, nestle next to bus stops, drape over random containers, and hang from baskets on the overpasses. Urbs in Horto....... City in a Garden .... it's nice to find a municipality which is taking its motto seriously.

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Striding out on the lakefront with the Little Cuter and SIR and thousands of others enjoying the sunshine and the breeze, we spent a perfect Saturday afternoon. Found a bench at Fullerton Beach and watched the world go by. The Theatre on the Lake was closed for the season, but a cafe has sprung up on its northeasterly flank. On the patio (which we'd only remembered as a storage area for the theatre's extra folding chairs) was a sound system and a jazz band surrounded by be-bopping fans. Our bench was a perfect perch, not too close, not too far, just comfy enough to rest our weary selves and revel in the ease of it all.

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The Jay Pritzker Pavilion needs more eloquent and educated explication than I can offer. It's wood and metal and rods and rhomboids and curves and perfect sight lines from the chairs and the lawn. The seating is comfortable and the concert was free and serendipitous; we were wandering before dressing for the wedding and fell into an hour of Motown inspired musical bliss. The singer was young and black and the musicians were older and white and the audience was every shade of the rainbow and everyone was dancin' : the 7 year old boys, each trying to sit right in front of the other, competing all the way from Rows TT to Y until they just couldn't stand it any more and began to boogie; the grandfather conducting, using his lap-sitting 4 year old granddaughter's legs as his batons; the (obviously) family and friends of the band, on their feet and moving in the first 2 rows. And there's a show every day at noon until the end of September.

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Did you know that the Chicago River flows "the wrong way"? Did you know that there are locks governing the exchange of fluids between the River and Lake Michigan? It's true, and here are the photos to prove it:

The boats go into the lock:

The lock is closed and the water level changes:

and then the lock opens and they are free:

(I took these pictures and the two below from our room in the Swissotel on East Wacker. Thank you, Mr. Hawkins, for an absolutely lovely weekend.)

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Navy Pier used to be for the Navy. Now it's for families and water taxis and tour boats and Shakespeare and a ferris wheel and a hot air balloon. The grounds are manicured and there's self-parking in the garage . Different than it used to be, that's for sure. Hearing music at the end of the pier involved walking along the frigid lakeshore from an open air lot on the edge of a really scary undeveloped part of the city. The venue was fabulous and accessible and felt very Chicago. The transitions were uncomfortable. Now, exactly the opposite, it, like Pier 39 in San Francisco, is a place tourists flock and locals avoid. Why they moved the Children's Museum there was and remains a mystery to me.

Still, it was pretty cool at night:

Thank you all for looking at my vacation photos .....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Here Comes The Bride.....

I've known her for all but 6 weeks of her 26 years on this earth, and I've loved her for every one of them. Just 4 weeks to the day older than the Big Cuter, she was a girly-girl in love with Ariel who didn't mind getting dirty. Seret taught her to swim, and she was a dolphin. She played tennis in the cul-de-sac and had a stroke to die for. She was brave and thoughtful and curious and the only girl in Play Group.

Everybody aways wanted to sit next to her; little boys were bitten over the right to do just that. Her smile lit up a room and a McDonald's commercial and the Jumbotron at Kaufman Stadium*. Through it all, she remained the same wide-eyed kid I'd pushed in a stroller.

The Twins thought that they were pretty good baseball players until they caught for her at Stinson Beach. Her dad tried to give them the catcher's mitt, but, hey... we're 13 and totally cool and she's a girl throwing a softball and that lasted exactly one pitch. By the end of her work-out she had a crowd of on-lookers grinning from ear to ear. Oblivious, she ran into the ocean to cool off. And The Twins were right behind her.

There are kids who play on travelling teams for their resumes and there are kids who can't do anything else and then there are kids who are lucky enough to love what they're very very good at and to have coaches who are worthy of their talent. She did. They went to Nationals and she coached a travelling team of her very own when she was really too young but oh, wow, is she good! and now she's the Girls' Varsity Coach at the High School.

Apparently, she's not too young to get married. Having been invited to this event when she was still a babe-in-arms, you'd think I'd have had time to get used to the idea. Forget it. I couldn't look at her or say the words without the little hairs on my arms doing jumping jacks. She found a man who completes her, and since TBG and I have spent the last 34 years filling each other's holes I'm pretty sure I know what she means. Maybe she's not too young, at that.

Daddooooo's mantra was "All brides are beautiful" but this one would have brought a special smile to his face. Her borrowed goods were stunning but it was hard to see them through the reflection of the joy that surrounded her. They were so happy. Their smiles were huge and then they looked at each other and somehow, impossibly, they grew larger. Their eyes twinkled and their hands entwined and they couldn't stop smiling. Grins as she was held aloft on a chair by many strong and handsome and dancing young men. Grins as she threw her Cubs garter. Hugs and smiles and so much love that nobody wanted it to end.

Now they'll go back home and get the puppy from the kennel and resume their lives as if nothing and everything has changed. There's no more planning or organizing or rehearsing. It's just life from a new point of view. A really really nice point of view.

Mazel Tov!

*where the Kansas City Royals play.... for those of us less familiar with the latest nomenclature..... like when did Shea become Citi??????

Friday, September 4, 2009

Finally !!

It's raining. The lightning is 2 or 3 bolts at a time, some vertical, some horizontal, some seeming to cross one another. The irrigation system and I both watered this morning, so the ground was ready to send this new moisture deep down to where the root systems live.

I wonder where the lizards and the bunnies are hiding. I'm typing during their usual dinner hour and I miss their antics. The ground squirrels have been increasing the size and number of their burrows in the front yard; I'm not worried that they'll get wet down there.

I'm watching the places where the water's collecting, and deciding how to berm it once the weather cools off. If I make little aqueducts I can funnel the rainfall to the trees which lie outside the irrigation system's reach. That's xeriscape gardening -taking full advantage of nature's bounty when she deigns to share it with us.

In most of the rest of the country, gardeners are making plans to put their beds to rest for the winter. We here in the desert southwest are just getting ready for our 6 week window of opportunity; September and October are prime planting months. Locations have been scouted and steps have been taken to insure that there is proper drainage. What? you wonder..... where would the water go if not down? Well, my more-temperate friends, our ground is packed and baked and not that easy to crack. Water needs the crevices well-aerated soil provides. Without them, it sits there, on top of that hard packed soil (aka dirt), evaporating but not draining. To test the suitability of a hole, the desert gardener digs a 1'x1' hole, fills it with water, and waits. If the water drains after an hour or so, she repeats the process. And then repeats the process. Third time's the charm. If the hole drains three times, the gardener can assume that the soil won't interfere with the movement of water to the plant's roots.

After the holes have been dug, it's time to shop. I have my plant list ready. As our fearless leader described it today at Master Gardening, going to the nursery without a list is like going to the grocery store hungry. Not a great idea at all. And we are always hungry, here where success demands filling a hole over and over with water before you get to dig an even bigger hole with an even bigger pickaxe.

Desert Survivors, the Botanical Garden, the UofA's Master Gardeners, Tohono Chul...... it's as exciting as if Bloomies had decided to open a branch in the mall across the way. Endless vistas of well-tended and unusual and suited to the environment flora just waiting to ride home with me in The Schnozz. I'll play them some bluegrass to get them in the mood, and then out of their pots and into their holes they go. Loosening the root-ball just a little, and spreading the looser roots out and away from the stem, I'll replace the soil I took out to make the hole and I'll water it gently until there's a little puddle all over the top. Then it gets a blanket of mulch - pine bark that smells of Marin and makes me smile and think of cool hikes on the Deer Park Fire Road on Mt. Tam.

There's a symmetry to the process that makes me happy. I plan, I test, I shop, I plant, I water. Each piece has its joys and its trying moments, but, as Daddoooo would say, "What did you expect?" With some care and attention the resilient ones will thrive and prosper. The volunteers will do well without any help at all (having chosen their spots for themselves), and the oleander will still sit there, smugly, seeking its revenge by not growing at all.

As President of the School Board, I was called upon to give a speech at the 8th grade graduation ceremony. My text was an only-slightly-modified set of instructions from a seed packet. It's a never-ending wonder to me that a tiny seed pod, a bare branched twig, a root that's as gnarly as it is dense.... that all these things turn into lillies and hyacinths and narcissus. You never know, but you hope. And with the proper preparation and love (remember the oleander) they turn out to be much more wonderful than you could ever have imagined.

That's a nice segue into my trip to Chicago. We've known the bride since she and the Big Cuter were look-alike cuties at The East Bank Club pool; they were the two most gorgeous infants there, her mother and I agreed. Somehow, enough years have passed that it's appropriate for her to marry...... though I would swear that we were just in the Astor Street Playlot's sandbox last week.

I'll be back with another post on Wednesday, September 9th. Happy Labor Day !

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Even Grown-Ups Like Rules

I jumped the gun today, and was gently taken to task for it. The whole episode unfolded, quietly and without real consequence, over email. At the end, my correspondent offered an apology for "staying with the process" and that was the first time I felt some urgency to respond. Because staying with the process keeps the wheels running. I love people who follow a process.

I don't want to hear about Mussolini and trains. I am not talking about "just following orders". It's about respect and order and yes, I suppose, about control. But control with the goal of accomplishing an agenda - an agenda that is mutually agreed upon by those involved.

One of my earliest memories of G'ma is watching her leave the house for a PTA Meeting with Roberts' Rules of Order, in a red binding with gold letters, tucked securely under her arm as she bent to kiss me good-night. I loved the notion that there was actually a book with rules that told you what to do. I really wondered why nobody had given it to me before I went to school; had I been absent that day?

As I began to serve on Boards, my appreciation of the little book swelled to adulation. No, you can't interrupt her in the middle of her presentation. Questions come when the Parliamentarian says they come, and, in a well-run meeting, no one is very upset if they have to wait. Everyone understands what will happen and how it will happen and, even better, why it will happen.

The Big Cuter plays games which involve sets of rules upon rules which build upon each other and are completely dependent upon being followed in a strict order. Arguments are resolved by unraveling the rules, layer upon layer, step by step. The intricacy of the rules themselves is a great part of the allure of the game itself. They organize the process, and let you know how things should go.

One of the things I say with alarming regularity is "Policies and Procedures are your Friends". By the time we've reached our 6th or 7th or 8th decade, those of us who volunteer know that our own way is the best way and that the only way to get anything done is to do it yourself. Policies and Procedures keep us in our place.

We can create our own little fiefdoms, demanding the use of certain email addresses, insisting on deadlines and anything else that sounds reasonable. We can refuse to be bullied by some one who knows that doing your job her way will expedite everything. Just refer to the process.

As long as the expectations are published and can be followed the projects will get finished. On time. If people would just follow the procedures.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ramblings on Life in the Desert

There are clouds in the sky over Marana, storm clouds hovering over Safford Peak.... on one side anyway, as you can see. My little piece of the desert is sunny. Blue skies. A slight breeze. And very thirsty plant material gasping for nourishment. I'm doing the best I can with soaker hoses and long deep waterings in the mulch covered wells surrounding the newest acquisitions, but I just can't keep up. The poor crepe myrtle volunteer, usually so perky in the middle of the lantana, is a wilted, wasted remnant of its former vibrant self:

I have my portable rain-harvesting system all ready to go. All I need is the rain.

The house next door has been all-but-empty for a year, waiting patiently for someone to buy it. So, when I drove by and saw the garage door standing open, and a young man carrying boxes out and into his truck, I called the Sheriff. I was just being a cautious neighbor. The dispatcher was friendly and reassured me that my call was totally appropriate. The officer who tracked me down on my cell phone during dinner wasn't aggravated that I couldn't describe the box carrying boy much beyond being slim in an orange t-shirt and a baseball cap, nor that I'd sent him on a wild goose chase since there was nobody there when he drove by. Not to worry, he'd keep an eye on it until he figured it out. In the end, he was quite complimentary, praising my willingness to get involved, thanking me for taking the time to make our area a safer place to live.

I was feeling pretty good about myself until we pulled into our driveway later that evening and saw, across our yard, a tableau we really hadn't expected: professional movers and a wholesome family of 5 obviously interrupted while carting their belongings into their new house by the Sheriff, who was standing, hands parked on his hips, legs akimbo, in their driveway.

I brought them "Welcome to the Neighborhood" brownies later that week. Somehow, the sheriff never came up in conversation.


All the Hot and Spicy Bowlers had their own shoes today, and one of us even had her own bowling ball. At $2.15 it's the best deal in town - air conditioned exercise (believe me, my tossing muscles are talking to me big time) with good company and lots of free parking. Of course, this being Tucson, we never pay for parking except at the airport, where covered parking for our trip to The Windy City this weekend will be $2.95 a day, first day free.

There are lots of reasons to live here. That's just one of them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I haven't indulged in a good old fashioned rant here in The Burrow for quite some time. Are you ready????????

Once again, Comcast pixilated and froze and fast-forwarded itself through the last 2 minutes of a show. We were just sitting there on Douglas, minding our own business, not touching the remote, not un-screwing the cables from the back of the box, just watching the movie when suddenly we had a Mondrian on our wall instead of a flat screen tv. Now, G'ma and I really enjoyed seeing Broadway Boogie Woogie at MOMA back in 2008, but Comcast's lame attempt at replicating it was really lacking.... in style, grace, color clarity and most important of all it was mis-hung - that's supposed to be our TV !!!! Not blobs of color representing reality (sorry Piet) but a real black and white movie on our big, flat screen television set.

Naughty words were spoken, I will admit. Groans and frustrated foot stomping behaviors were seen in the area. Angry looks were exchanged, with caveats of "It's not YOU it's COMCAST" following close behind. And we didn't think that we were over-reacting. After all, we'd invested time and energy (ok, so maybe not that much energy...) in the silly movie and now we'll never know what happened. It was one of those late 1930-early 1940's films that you just can't catch on Hulu and I don't want to waste a Netflix queue spot on something I'll fast forward through 99% of just to see how it turns out and there was no one to call because I bet none of you reading this can tell me how Adventure in Manhattan with Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur ends and we were annoyed. Seriously annoyed.

The next day, watching The Barclays and feeling smug that we weren't living in New Jersey, it did the same thing just as Tiger was approaching his putt. Groan. Stomp. Grimace. And then, the piece de resistance -- when the picture unfroze, the announcers were saying " don't see that very often."

Okay. Deep breath. No, we can't rewind because there's nothing in the buffer to be seen. Exhale. Pick up the phone and call Comcast. Listen to exactly 1 minute of self-promotional babble (and I don't care that it was Shaq's voice selling me something) before I even got to The Main Menu.

Now, I really hate hearing that I'm getting the main menu because that means that there will be several sub-menus to navigate before I can talk to a person and attempt to get the problem resolved. I'm never quite sure under which category my issue should fall - both the tv and the internet were disrupted, my picture had problems and my equipment wasn't functioning properly. I pushed 2, heard no options I liked, and then..... nothing. I was not offered the alternative of returning to the Main Menu. No one told me what to do if I wanted to speak to an attendant. All I heard was silence. Not even Muzak. Total silence.

Except, of course, from me. With a roar that started somewhere on Long Island and ended up over the Pacific I began furiously stabbing my poor, mis-shapen, arthritic finger on the Operator key. Over and over. Pause. Push the button again. Pause. Feel the scream beginning again, somewhere down near my flip-flops, when suddenly a pleasant, adult voice asked if she could help me.

She didn't want to verify my phone number. She didn't ask if I was having cable or internet trouble. She didn't ask for my account number. She didn't want me to hold for just one moment. She didn't welcome me to Comcast or thank me for calling or tell me her employee number or that the call would be monitored for quality assurance purposes. All she said was "How can I help you?"

It's really hard to stay angry at someone who says the right thing.

Somewhat flummoxed, I asked for an appointment as soon as possible with a technician who carried the advanced equipment which had been proven to be necessary on prior trips. She didn't tell me to turn off the tv and cable box. She didn't ask me to shut down the surge protectors and wait a few minutes. No coaxing to tighten cables or check other channels. "Is it on both televisions?" was her only question.

The appointment is set up for this afternoon, and she's crediting my account for the whole month's cable and internet bill since her records indicated that I'd called in earlier this month with the same problem. I thanked her, but I still feel unresolved. I don't mind paying for something that works, but what I've got here is 500 channels with One Moment Please playing on a blue screen and I'm annoyed.

Ranting has its virtues, but I'd rather just watch tv....... if I could count on being able to watch tv, that is...........