Adventures in Home Ownership: “Foist It Off” Edition

How tired can you get from watching someone else work? Just this moment, I’d say plenty. 😀

Yesterday nothing would do but what I had to take on the overgrown layers of foliage that border the west end of the pool. The pool equipment is hidden behind a veil of cat’s claw vines, which climb the steel fencing around the gear. “Veil” had morphed into “pile” over the past few years. Cat’s claw, an invasive and pesky imported plant so named for its scratchy little thorns, is a vigorous and aggressive monster of a vine. Like the jungle plants that cover ancient cities in the Amazon, it will inundate anything around it, leaving nought but a green mound visible to the human eye. It has its uses, but must be kept under control

That latter bit has decidedly not happened in the Funny Farm’s backyard.

A blue plumbago — a lovely plant — had disappeared beneath the green tsunami, as had much of a very assertive rose bush. A cape honeysuckle, quite a pretty shrub, had escaped being submerged by growing about 12 feet high. Green tentacles were reaching out to eat the Meyer lemon on the far end of the planting bed.

So yesterday afternoon I managed to trim back the rampant growth on the north and south faces of the pool-equipment fence, but couldn’t reach the towering overgrowth without a ladder. That plant extends  about 12 feet high. Instead, I wanted to free the rose bush from the strangulation…not an auspicious job: the rose is about dead, suffocated beneath the jungle. WHAT a gawdawful mess over there! The rose and the cape plumbago and the blue honeysuckle were BRAIDED with cat’s-claw runners.

About the time I got most but not all of the cat’s-claw runners unwound and pulled out of the ornamental plantings, along came the cops. 

Is there some reason we can’t have any peace in this place?

Cop copter streaks in, barely clearing the tops of the palm trees, and starts roaring around down at the end of the next street north. That’s one (count it: 1) row of houses north of where I’m standing with the back gates unlocked and the inside gate hanging open. They’re actually searching the end of that block and the alley that runs behind the Funny Farm. Drop everything and run to shut and lock the gates. Stumble inside and think Fu*k it! Time to knock off anyway.

Probably a good thing: I was getting pretty tired, and it did, as predicted, reach almost 100 degrees yesterday.

Anyhow, what I thought would be a two-day job morphed into at least four days’ worth. Maybe more: wasn’t counting on how much dead stuff underneath there would be.

At the point when this realization dawns, the giant trash bin in the alley is now full to the top. Trash pickup isn’t until next Thursday.

This seriously risks the neighbors reporting me to the city, since you can’t miss where all that cat’s claw came from. The reason I’ve let it grow out there is that it adds about three feet to the height of the six-foot backyard wall. Many of the neighbors have piled a couple extra courses of cinderblock atop their original walls — very possibly without benefit of permit. Apparently nothing will be done about this particular violation unless a neighbor complains. Which of course they won’t, because they’re doing the same. The cat’s claw gives me, legally, an eight- or ten-foot wall that the local prowlers can’t see over, making it impossible for them to spot the dog door or to case the windows and human doors on the back side of the house.

This morning I took on the tangle of dead twigs and branches that were left behind (though more cat’s claw needs to be trimmed off the top of the mound — that will require risking life & limb on a ladder). Filled the wheelbarrow three times and BARELY cleared out most of it. There’s still at least two more barrows-ful under there, and when I climbed in under the damn mound to pull out a gigantic sucker, what should I find but a goddam GROVE of baby palm trees growing under there!!!

With the trash bin in the alley already almost full, I figure I’ll have to sneak the wheelbarrow down the alley to dump the debris in other houses’ bins. This won’t matter much, because none of those people ever seem to throw anything away — only the young parents across the alley (four tiny kids = a whole lot of diapers and junk-food wrappers!) and I seem to use the one that serves four houses here.

After wrestling and yanking and cutting and hacking, I come to appreciate one basic fact: I am too old and too out of shape to keep on doing this for the next four days or so. That’s how long I figure the job will take, with me working until I can’t lift my hand, giving up, and then coming back out the following day.

***

Stumble inside. Call Gerardo to see if I can put him up to fixing this mess.

He says he’ll be over at 1:00. That means 2:00. Eventually he surfaces, along about 4:00 p.m.

Gerardo’s men cleaned up the mess out back, per my instructions. They did more in under an hour than I figured to accomplish in another three for four days!

Yellow yard
Yellow: the desert’s favorite color.

Gerardo, if you calculate how much he earns here and then expand that out to, say, six hours a day, giving him two hours to drive from pillar to post (and he does — he has jobs ALL over the Valley), and then has to schlep to the dump on the far, far north side: at $80/job, if he can get in two jobs per hour he’s earning $160/hour, which would give him $960 a day. However, from that he has to pay his two underlings (who are his cousins and so know where he lives…) and cover the costs of fuel and maintenance for his truck, trailer, and lawn equipment. And he says it costs $50 to take a load into the county landfill.

Hard to guess what he nets…but…some years ago I read a newspaper article (remember when we had newspapers?) going on about where the Valley’s largest concentration of millionaires resides. Turns out it’s not Paradise Valley or Scottsdale…it’s a mid-middle-class development on the westside called Arrowhead. Nice, but not gaudy: these folks don’t put on airs. And as it develops, a large number of our millionaires are in the landscaping business. Hard, grody work, but if you work smart and handle money well, you can make a decent living at it.

At any rate, he’s highly motivated to give a low-maintenance yard like mine a lick and a kiss, since he no doubt earns a lot more elsewhere. I asked a guy who was working on a house over in Richistan to give me an estimate, and what he wanted was so ridiculous I can’t even remember it. Gerardo has been trying to build his business in commercial properties — apartment complexes and office buildings. No doubt that kind of work would add up to a lot more per job, and require a lot less schlepping around.

So…yeah. I’ll have to chat with him about keeping that damn vine under control. One major problem is that Gerardo and his guys are not really gardeners. They’re landscape maintenance dudes. That means they do the heavy, broad-stroke work, but not the dainty little details of planting and cultivating things. They seem not to know much about plants — they know about lifting and heaving.

Thank the heavens…since that’s something I’d like to know as little about as possible. 😀

Coffee…and Changing Times

Coffee Makin’s

So a friend wrote in passing about making cold-press coffee (all the rage these days), which reminded me that I’d learned how to make the stuff years ago…and caused me to wonder if you couldn’t make it very simply in a French press. I mean, think about it: rather than having to filter it through a Melitta or other type of filter, all you’d have to do is push the French press’s filter down…et voilà.

The idea is to measure out your ground coffee into a pot or carafe. Pour in the amount of water you’d usually dispense into the pot. Cover and place in the fridge overnight. Then, in the morning, run this slurry through a coffee filter (a Melitta filter would work well) and zap a cupful in the microwave. Or serve it as iced coffee.

But why not use a French press?

So I tried it. And by golly! It REALLY works!

The French press plunger did a fine job of filtering the brew. The result is a strong but also mellow cuppa. Very successful. Very easy. And exactly zero coffee-puttering chores in the morning.

There’ll Be Some Changes Made…

And in other precincts, other kinds of changes are majorly under way.

The covid-19 flap has inspired some serious revisions in the way business is to be done here at the Funny Farm.

Number one entails “Mormonizing” the approach to buying and storing food. I do not intend ever to find myself without necessary food and household supplies as a result of panic buying, whether the public panic is justified or not. After this I intend to have a bare minimum of three months’ worth of food and supplies in the house; preferably more like six. Or better: a year’s worth.

Costco now has paper goods back. This week I contrived to score a package of paper towels and a package of toilet paper, ô hallelujah! A package of Costco paper towels has 12 generous rolls (that are NOT loosely wound so as to make it look like there’s more on the roll than there really is… (Never buy Safeway PT’s!!). I figure that barring a major mess to clean up, one roll of paper towels lasts at least a week or ten days. To be on the conservative side, then, one package of Costco paper towels should last 12 weeks, or three months. In reality: probably longer.

So, in the stockpiling department, I figure if you can get two Costco  paper-towel packages on hand, you have enough to last six months. So the plan is to send the Instacart crew off  to Costco again to grab (among other things) one more package of PT’s, guaranteeing a six-month supply. Then, as the first 12-roll bag begins to dwindle toward two remaining, buy another bag. This would mean (in theory, barring another national catastrophe) at any given time I would have no less than a three-month supply. And if the things didn’t show up on the shelf over a period of three to six months…well…paper towels would be the least of our problems.

A Costco bag of toilet paper contains 30 rolls, which for me is effectively a lifetime supply. Same idea, though: start with two bags full, and as the first 30 dwindle down to around 15, get another package. In that case, you’d never have less than a bagful and a half: 45 rolls.

Grocery store shelves here are still half-bare, and many necessaries are unavailable. At Amazon, though, I managed to find a 2-pound bag of King Arthur brand yeast (King Arthur is about the best in the baking-products industry), which should arrive here in another couple of days. That will go straight into the freezer. Also contrived to buy some more flour.

And therein lies another covid-inspired Big Change: discovered that the bread I can make in my own kitchen, even the simplest version, is far better than even the very best, fancy, European-style bread from AJs. So that will improve the lifestyle, and at the same time save a bit of cash: those fresh-baked French- and Italian-style loaves ain’t cheap.

In the bread-making department, the other thing I wanna do is get a smaller, brand-new, un-greasy propane grill that I can use exclusively as a baking oven. The countertop oven DOES work to bake a loaf of bread. However, its capacity is limited. And, in keeping with a friend’s suspicion of the things as a potential fire hazard, every time I use it for anything other than toasting a piece of bread, I unplug it and drag it out of the garage and into the kitchen, where I can keep an eye on it all the time it’s baking the bread. The proposed propane “oven” could also be used to bake casseroles — again, the countertop oven will do that, but I ain’t lettin’ the thing mumble away to itself out in the garage while that’s going on. If this second propane grill were used only for baking bread and casseroles, it would never get greasy and so would go quite a long time without having to call the BBQs Galore guy out here to work on it. And it would save on hassle factor.

And also, in the prepping for catastrophe department, my present propane grill doesn’t have a stovetop-type burner on it. A couple of the small ones of the sort I propose to use as a bread oven do have them. If the power goes out for any length of time, the gas stovetop won’t work — to protect us from our idiot selves, gas stove burners now no longer will come on unless the sparker inside the unit is functioning…and of course, the sparker runs on electric. In that case, you couldn’t even heat a pot of water in this house, unless you have portable propane camp stove. Or a grill with a side burner.

Le Shopping

Another change in the strategies for daily living that I think will become permanent is what we might call the Shopping Mode. I’ve learned a lot about shopping with Instacart and through Amazon. My guess is that about 90% to 95% of the things you can buy that are not fresh meat or fresh produce can be had remotely. Some of this 90% would be a bit of a PITA to acquire online or through runners. But that would still leave maybe 85% to 90% of groceries and sundries shopping that need not be done in person.

So first, I’m going to sit down and think through, in a systematic way, about what items are best purchased in person — and where, and about what items can be ordered up online. Then make lists of what to get, where to get it, when to get it, and how to get it.

Of course, you have to pay extra for stuff you have delivered…BUT…my guess is you’d save that much in gasoline alone. I have yet to purchase a full tank of gasoline since the covid scare started! Back in March. Right now the Annoying Venza still has half-a-tank of gasoline, and I’ve only been to the pump once in all this time.

This will change the vendors that I use routinely. Alas, I fear, the beloved AJ’s is going away. Fry’s may, too: it’s a long drive from here to get to an upscale outlet. Meat and household goods will come from Costco; fill in with household stuff from Target, Fry’s, or Amazon. Fresh vegetables and fruits from Sprouts.

And in the fresh produce department, I’m going to get a whole lot more serious about growing vegetables. I think I’ll buy a couple of raised vegetable beds or large that are deep enough to accommodate root vegetables. Chard grows magnificently here, and I love the stuff. So that will be Crop #1. The tomato plants in back already have ten or twelve tomatoes ripening. The ones in front, not so much: they’re kinda stunted. I think that may be the soil, which is hard as a rock. That can be remedied with some compost and a man with a strong back. I’ll ask Gerardo to set the cousins to digging a few bags of Lowe’s best compost into that dirt out there, and while they’re at it, put them up to improving the drip system in that flowerbed.

Then I could have chard, possibly spinach (or not: it tends to struggle here), several varieties of leaf lettuce, carrots, beets, chives, little green onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, possibly some new potatoes, possibly yellow onions. Most of these (except the peppers, tomatoes, & eggplant) grow only in the winter here, but it’s mighty easy to blanche and freeze any of them. Interestingly, even tomatoes can be frozen…who knew?

One of my friends has gotten artichokes to grow here (though they do a lot better in a coastal climate like Salinas’s or Hollister’s) — that might be worth a try. She also gets blackberries to grow in gay profusion…exactly how escapes me, but I intend to ask her. Apparently blueberries will grow here, too.  Looks like more trouble than it’s worth, though. Apples and pears used to grow at the ranch (which was up on  the Rim), but I believe the Valley is too hot for those.

And finally in the produce department: I may start buying most or all of my produce at farmer’s markets. A thriving farmer’s market does business in the parking lot of a church just east of the ’Hood. I could almost walk over there, though hauling stuff back here would be a chore. That’s assuming the market revives after the covid scare dies down.

Then there’s the wine cellar scheme: Get two crates of wine: one of reds and one of whites. Total Wine will sell you a nice boxful of wine with cardboard separators (i.e., a crate) and let you choose which ones you’d like for the contents. I think they give you a discount if you buy 12 bottles. These get stored in the closet of the spare bedroom/storage room, which is nice and cool even in the dead of summer. Then, when I use up a bottle of wine, I replace it with a new single purchase, so that at no time will this stash be down more than two or at most three bottles.

Come the Apocalypse, at least I’ll be able to stay drunk through it.

My son’s strategy, in the wine department, is boxed wine. And I hafta admit, he has found a brand whose deliciousness rivals the fine $9/bottle vintages I favor. That would be a simpler strategy — a box of red and a box of white, at any given time. I’ll have to think through the logistics of that: how to keep from (horrors!!) running out.

Kilt-Lifter, my current preferred beer, can be had at a ridiculous discount by the case from Costco. This stuff, too, could be stored in the “wine cellar.”

So that would make some significant changes in day-to-day and long-term ways of doing business here at the Funny Farm.

Even though setting up a garden is expensive at the outset, if you grew that much produce and froze it, over time you’d save a fair amount on grocery bills. And on gas: because most of my grocery junkets are occasioned by the need for fresh produce (I eat a lot of it), over the long term I’d make a whole lot fewer trips to grocery stores. Same is true if I walked to the farmer’s market every Saturday.

Meat would have to be purchased in person…but if you’re buying lifetime supplies at Costco and freezing it, you’d only need to go up there about once every two or three months. Same would be true of household supplies: you could probably cut the Costco junkets by 30% to 50% by not buying produce there.

Wine? Beer? Same thing: If you had a stash in-house, there would be no reason to buy booze at Costco more often than about once every two or three months. And that is stuff you can send Instacart to get. So really, you’d never make a trip to Costco or Total Wine to buy wine or beer: you could have the Instacart runners replenishing your supply every few weeks, as you go through a bottle or three.

And of course household products such as paper towels, TP, laundry and dish detergent, and the like, could also be picked up from Costco by Instacart runners.

So you’d do a whole lot less driving, on a permanent basis. If you actually walked to a farmer’s market or to a reasonably close-by supermarket, you’d get extra exercise during the cooler months (couldn’t do it at this time of year, hereabouts!). That would cut not only your gas bill but your car insurance: mine was already reduced by 15% this year. If I could show a lot lower mileage overall, they’d probably make that a permanent cut.

You’d get more exercise with the gardening, too. So overall, these kinds of activities would probably help improve your health, as well as your bank balance.

Interesting outcome, isn’t it?

Gaaah! One Thing After Another

Is there an explanation for the one thing after another phenomenon? Clearly, it’s very common. So common that we have a variety of folk terms for it: never rains but it pours…damned if you do, damned if you don’t…Houston, we have a problem…out of the frying pan, into the fire…all part of life’s rich pageant…

Argh! With pageants like this, who needs Mardi Gras?

In the background, we have, as we all recall, the lamp fiasco, the driver’s license nuisance, the raccoon/coatimundi question, the foisting of the raccoon nest upon the Yard Dudes of the Century (more about which, sooner or later), income tax prep, the busted deadbolt, and similar bidness as usual. And in the further background (please, God! Make it as far in the background as possible), the endless series of visits to the Mayo’s ER.

To begin at the ending — or at the latest, because you just know this will not be the end of the infinite cosmic jest — last night as I was flying around getting ready to go to choir, I peered in the mirror to paint myself and saw…WTF?  Some kind of ZIT in my eye????????

Yes. It looks like a little blister or pustule on the white of an eye. It doesn’t hurt. But it’s bloodshot around the damn thing, and it looks potentially ominous. Whaaaa? Infection? Injury? Allergic reaction? Some new fiasco incident upon the dental implant (right below it) that refuses to heal up?

Call the Mayo’s night line. Wait and wait and wait and wait  and wait and wait x 10²²… Paint face, paint face, paint face, comb hair, comb hair, comb hair, pull on clothes, pull on clothes… Finally a nurse gets on the line.

She listens to the sad story, asks a few questions, opines that it’s nothing to get hysterical about (but of course she does so in far more professional-sounding terms), and advises me to douse it with some artificial tears and call back if it doesn’t get better.

Ohhh god. It’s time to leave for choir practice, which won’t end until after 9, when everyplace in reach will be closed.

FLY out the door and, astonishing luck being on my side, zip into the Albertson’s parking lot without a traffic jam and without undue driver nuttiness. See with pleasure that Albertson’s has posted an armed guard in the parking lot, THANK you verymuch (this is a store that I do not enter after dark, not on a bet…not under ordinary circumstances). Race in the door, find a not-very-distracted pharmacist, ask where the “artificial tears” are (whatever those are), and am swiftly directed to the product. Not only that, but she agrees to take my money, so I don’t have to stand in line interminably at a check-out register.

Fly back out, dodge the damn light-rail tracks, circle back through the ‘Hood, and fly down Main Drag East to the Cult HQ, where I arrive just in time for choir practice. Just. Barely.

Two & a half hours later, apply this gunk to the affected eyeball. It’s soothing. But does nothing to clear the bloodshot look. Condition unchanged this morning.

I have receptionist duty at the church this afternoon — which happens to be where this missal originates, right this minute — but before I get out of the house I have GOT to finish the latest Chinese mathematician’s paper, proofread the damn thing, generate visible edits from my copy, and disgorge a statement.

This takes several hours.

Now I’m running late to get ready for the front-office gig.

Send off the edited copy and bill, fly to the back of the house, and start painting my face. The eye thing looks…certainly no better, possibly worse. I’ve looked it up on the Hypochondriac’s Treasure Chest and now believe it to be something called a pingueculum. Apparently it’s not considered very serious, at least not at this stage…but sometimes it does need to be treated with surgery. Godlmighty…here we go again!

Not only that, but there are tumors that can look suspiciously like that. gaaaaaaaa! c -a-a-a-n-c -e-r!!!!

So after I’ve sent off the client’s work, while I’m getting dressed to come down here to the HQ, I get on the phone to the Mayo again, by way of asking: does this thing actually need to be seen by…you know…a DOCTOR? A person with the letters “M.D.” after their name?

My beloved ophthalmologist passed away a long time ago. The guy who took his place was a raving fruitcake. The guy who took that one’s place, a study in overkill. I’ve been getting my eye exams and glasses prescriptions at Costco, whose contract staff do the job with one whole of a helluva lot less hassle and expense.

So I call the Mayo while painting, combing, and clothes-throwing on. And wait and wait and wait and wait  and wait and wait x 10²²… 

Just as their nurse picks up the phone, it’s BARK-BARK-BARK-BARK-BARK-BARK-BARK-BARK-BARK-BARK-BING BONG!

ooohhh shee-utt! NOW what?? I’m half-dressed and it’s almost time to go out the door.

Run to the front of the house: it’s SDXB…sur-PRI-I-I-ISE!ˆ

He wants to socialize, just having come away from coffee with one of his oldest cronies. Ruby is having a yap-fest. The nurse is on the phone. I dodge down the hall trying to find enough quiet to explain the issue and ask: is this something that should be seen by a doctor?

“Not yet,” says she. If it hasn’t gotten better in about two weeks, call back and make an appointment.

…godlmighty…

Then…yes: The raccoon/coatimundi/Creature from the Black Lagoon issue…

Ah, I see I haven’t blogged about this one. How could I have let such a juicy story lapse?

So a few days ago, I stumble out into the back yard behind the dawg and find these weird pawprints. Something with very long, strong claws has been digging at the surface of quarter-minus top-dressing in the backyard. Quarter-minus, for the uninitiated, is finely crushed granite. After you lay it down and it gets wet and dries out a few times, it packs down to form a practically weed-proof surface. Unlike gravel, it’s comfortable enough for you and your dog to walk around on barefoot. Also unlike gravel, it looks a lot like the surface of the Sonoran desert. And it doesn’t make your yard look like it belongs in Sun City, home of the green-gravel lawn.

What ARE these? think I

Welp, the locals have spotted both coatimundis and raccoons in the ‘Hood. Our resident gadget enthusiast has set up cameras in his backyard and captured images of a coati cavorting around out there. Other neighbors have caught pictures of raccoons visiting their yards.

A raccoon, I could do without. They make a big mess and can be destructive. A coati, however…ohhh yeah! A pet coati is exactly what the Funny Farm needs. They eat bugs. That scratching behavior reflects an attempt to scruffle up some slugs and such.

However, the foot seems not to be shaped quite like a coati’s. Ultimately we conclude it’s probably a raccoon.

And where do raccoons like to nest? In woodpiles, that’s where. And what do we have in the backyard? Uh huh…

Shortly after I moved in here — 16 freakin’ years ago, for hevvinsake! — SDXB decided to move to Sun City.

SDXB just loved his fireplace. He was very, very fond of sitting in front of a roaring fire. This, apparently, is characteristic of Michiganders and Minnesotans. 😀  To supply his habit, he used to scavenge for firewood hither, thither, and yon. Understand, as a Master Cheapskate our SDXB would never in a million years pay for firewood. Whenever someone would chop down a tree, the remains would be stacked by the curb or in an alley for the trash pickup guys to haul off, once every four months. So he would grab this miscellaneous stuff off the side of the road, whenever he found it.

When the quarrel with Tony the Romanian Landlord erupted — Tony was living in the place right next-door to SDXB — SDXB decided to flee to Sun City.

I was not goin’, though SDXB tried to persuade me to sell the place and move out to Mausoleum West. Even though the judge wouldn’t let us leave the courtroom. Even though my terrorized lawyers begged me not to return to the house and to vacate the place right this goddamn minute. I ain’t a-scared of no Romanian mafiosi!

Reluctant to leave his priceless collection of dead wood behind, he toted it over here and stacked it neatly in my backyard.

And there it has sat, for lo! these 16 years. I tried it a couple times in this house’s fireplace and decided I really, truly HATED the stink it poured into the entire house, and that I really, truly do NOT want to spend my time cleaning out a fireplace. So…I’m pretty sure that’s where both Rattie and the Raccoon have dwelt, on various occasions.

It’s too heavy for me to move en masse, and besides, I don’t have a pickup. But after Rocky the Raccoon arrived on the scene, I figured I was just gonna have to get rid of the rodent habitat.

So my latest plan was to slip the stuff into the alley garbage bins, one piece a week, from now until the end of eternity. This had many practical disadvantages, not the least of which is that it’s illegal. Soo…I was at a bit of a loss as to how to dump it. Stacking it in the alley for the bulk trash guys was not very practical: I don’t have the physical strength to haul that many partially split logs, and I don’t wanna, and if you put the stuff out there before The Time to put out bulk pick-up you’ll get a fine, and…did I say I don’t wanna?

Yesterday, however, I finally prevailed upon the redoubtable Gerardo to remove the stack of rotting, termite-ridden firewood so generously deposited in my backyard lo! these many years ago.

The trick was to ask one of his barely English-speaking cousins to do the job before the boss showed up on the scene. So his guy Tony agreed to do it, in his sweet naïveté. By the time Gerardo arrived on the scene, it was tooo late to wiggle out. 😀

He asked for the usual 50 bucks to haul the debris to the dump (which is a long, LONG drive from here). I gave him 80.

Good riddance to that mess!!

Back to this morning: SDXB hangs around telling me about his buddy’s (very trying) recent Troubles of Old Age (and of landlordship… Mothers, don’t let your children grow up to be landlords!) while I’m pulling on clothes, wrangling the dog, rassling up the things I need to bring with me to the church.

Finally get him out the door, splash some of the drops onto the suspect eyeball, grab the keys and the credit card, and shoot out the door.

At least for a change no aspiring burglars were lurking around the house trying to suss out the easiest way to get in. That’s something. I guess.

Later — tonight, tomorrow, whenever, as long as it’s LATER — I’ve got to get on the phone to the Apple Support gurus and put them up to helping me figure out how to fix the Mail program.

Apple computers have a feature that computer geeks apparently think is passing Kewl but that normal people find aggravating, annoying, and infuriating: you can set it so that when you change windows or switch to different programs, instead of just going “clickola” over to the page you crave, it does this goddamn “slide-show” thing! Like a slide on a slide projector slimpsing over to the next picture to view. It’s time-consuming, it’s irritating, and it screws iup the menu in the bar at the top of the screen. I hate it, hate it, HATE it.

The computer, therefore, is set not to do that.

But apparently there’s some accursed keyboard command that will switch it on, within a given program. And apparently as my hot little fingers were jetting across the keyboard, I unknowingly hit that command, in typo mode. Suddenly, MacMail starts with the car sick-making slide-show mode.

Now I cannot for the life of me find out what that command is, nor can I find, on the Web or anywhere else, how to undo the damn command.

Soooo…there’s another time-sucking hassle waiting to be coped with.

See what I mean? Never a dull fukkin’ moment!

 

A Minor Triumph…and a YIPES!

So when I moved into the Funny Farm, lo! these many years ago, the flowerbed under the front window hosted four strange and rather dowdy plants. These things, a variety of bamboo (we’re told), were planted by Satan and Proserpine (the previous owners) as supposedly highly xeric. The path of least resistance has long been to ignore them. They need to be hacked back every couple of years — a task honored more in the breach than in the act. By and large, they’re forgotten until it occurs to me that I can’t see out the front window.

But fall being Arizona’s answer to spring — and fall finally having arrived in the past week — I decided I would spend the day cleaning up the gardens out here. And one of the things I’d like to do, thought I, is get rid of those damn bamboo-oid things and replace them with something prettier. Such as three or four dwarf bougainvillea.

The full-size boug over by the gate has thrived for years. It’s pretty well sheltered, so even a hard frost doesn’t faze it much. And it does appear that hard frosts are, once and for all, no longer in the cards. And a bougainvillea is truly a beautiful plant. Look up dwarf bougs online and indeed do find them…to the tune of around $30 to $35 apiece. Holy mackerel.

But I remain determined: these are the perfect plants for that spot. If I’m going to get them, I’ll just have to spay some stupid amount of money.

Amazingly, just as I’m about to finish my breakfast and get down to gardening, along comes Gerardo and his crew. I ask them to pull out the bamboo-oids, which they do…with enormous difficulty. The ground is dry and hard there, and the plants are firmly anchored into the concrete-like ground. They have to take a pick-axe to the things to get them out. But get them out, the eventually do.

Exit Gerardo and friends. And over to Whitfill’s.

The place is a madhouse, fall having sprung…you never saw so many pushy rich people in your LIFE! And all of the nursery’s numerous blue-shirted staff were collared. Open your mouth to ask a question and somebody barges in and collars the buy.

I finally manage to push my way up to the cashier to ask if the have any such critter, and she says all the bougainvillea that are staked are regular size; all the ones that are not staked are dwarf size.

Ohhh-kayyyyyy… Back onto the lot to explore two or three cluttered acres again. Just about to give up when I spot a cluster of small bougs in pots, but I can’t tell what they are, except to see they have wonderful classic maroon blossoms. And along comes a blue-shirted fellow, clearly fresh from the men’s room, who is unattached. Ask: “Are these dwarf bougs?”

“They are,” says he.

Since I haven’t been able to snag a cart, either, he helps me carry them to the cashier.

“Are those $10?” she asks.

“Uhhmmmm…” Say what? “Well, they have a number marked on the pot.”

“That’s ten bucks, then.”

Seriously? They’re upwards of $30 at the other merchants that stock them. I don’t argue. Outta there with four healthy little plants, only $43 lighter.

***

Back to the house. Loaf around for awhile. Admire the sparkling clean pool, visited this morning by the brand-new pool guy. He has fixed it, and apparently it is going to stay fixed, at least for awhile. He came by at 7, chatted, cleaned the walls and steps, fooled with the chemicals, chatted some more. Played with Ruby, who thinks (like all guests) he’s some sort of god.

Get up and clean the front window, which, for the first time in several years, I can reach.

Drag an old hose long enough to reach the excavated flowerbed out to the front; unkink it, and miraculously to get to work. Pour water on the flowerbed (we might note that an hour later said water has not soaked in: a sterling bad sign).

Ruby is coming and going (mostly going) during all this.

A little later, for reasons I do not recall I happen to look out the back door…and the back gate is standing open.

WTF?????

Remember, that gate has another barrier behind it, in the form of a padlocked steel gate. And that gate? Ruby can easily slip under it. Once escaped, she’ll run off to Timbuktu.

In a moment of real panic, I call and search for the dog.

Mercifully, she’s fallen asleep in her favorite nest under the back bathroom toilet.

This would mean, you understand, that she hasn’t noticed the gate hanging open. An  hour or three ago, she was soaking up the sun out by the orange tree that happens to stand right next to that gate. If it was open then she would have noticed.

You understand: Ruby can slide under that gate. I can crawl under it. And a fairly slender man could no doubt squeeze under it. Not only that, but this morning the cop helicopters were buzzing back and forth for a good hour, obviously looking for someone.

All of which that suggests strongly that somebody came into the alcove, over or under that locked steel gate, and unlocked the wooden gate into the yard. OR…more rationally, one of the lawn guys could have opened the gate, found he couldn’t get out to the trash can, and just turned around and hauled his leaves and junk out to the truck’s trailer…forgetting to close the gate.

Holy crap! The back door has been standing open most of the afternoon — the day is gorgeous and Ruby has been wandering in and out. If anyone actually got into the yard and he did it while the kitchen security door was hanging open he could’ve just walked right into the house.

Find another padlock and attach that to the latch on the wooden gate. So now we have to negotiate two goddamn locks just to take the trash out. Make that four: the deadbolt on the kitchen door and the deadbolt on the heavy-duty kitchen security door.

Well, thank God that Ruby slept through whatever happened there, or just didn’t happen to wander into the backyard while that gate was open. If she had, she’d have been long gone. Her collar has her name and phone number on it, but she doesn’t wear that thing in the house. And she is chipped. But either way, she’s quite a stealable little cherry. Chances are about 50/50 that whoever found her would never bring her back.

Dogs and Depots…

…two entirely unrelated topics. Why not?

Dogs

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! Ruby the Corgi and I did not run into one single dog during today’s morning perambulation. Normally the place is overrun with dog-walkers, especially in the park-like million-dollar groves of Richistan and Upper Richistan. Yesterday we encountered 11 dogs in about a mile and a half.

Not that I begrudge other people the privilege of walking their dogs around the ‘Hood. It’s wonderful that neighbors here feel safe enough to gallivant the streets with their poochies at the first glow of dawn or the last ray of sunset. The problem is that Ruby is ill-trained. She came to live in my precincts right at the start of the Year of the Surgeries. And believe me, at no time during that period was I in any shape to train a vigorous, energetic young shepherd dog — not even a dwarf shepherd dog. Result: even though Ruby will now walk on a leash peacefully enough and sometimes will even heel (it’s a miracle!), she will lunge at passing dogs, especially if they show even a glimmer of interest in her.

Many of these animals do show more than a glimmer of interest, and it is not friendly interest. Some are fine and would probably play with her — we do have one big old funny-looking doggy pal, a rescue named Sammy. But Ruby has been attacked three times, twice by dogs off the lead, and lunged at murderously by more leashed dogs than I can count. It means every time we encounter another dog-walker, I have to wrestle Ruby under control, cross over to the other side of the street (these people invariably hog the shady side of the street! 😀 ), and physically drag Ruby past.

Often, a person’s dog will not be well under control. Some are off the lead, illegally. Many accompany women pushing strollers, who are often preoccupied. Sometimes an Orthopedist’s Friend goes bicycling past with a big dog on a leash — the other day one such dog yanked its human off the bike when it charged at us from across the road. (Seriously: an orthopedist once told me he just loves people who run their dogs beside their bicycles — they’re a gold mine for him!) And then there are the folks who think their dogs and my dog “just want to play.” God help us.

All of which is, in short, a damned nuisance.

Where was everybody? That escapes me. The weather, though still a little overcast after the past two days’ rainstorms, is gorgeous. A spectacular rainbow was glowing just to the west of us, an amazing thing to see. It’s cool (at last!) and not about to rain and…?????  Not a holiday, far as I know.

Thought we must have gotten a late start — I suspect many of these folks are walking their dogs before they go to work, although some of the women are clearly Junior-Leaguers or other women affluent enough to be stay-at-home moms. But no: we got back to the house right at 7, which means we left around 6 or 6:15 a.m., right at the height of the doggy rush-hour. So what kept all these folks and their dogs indoors, I cannot imagine.

Depots and Daisies…

Speaking of dogs — in a metaphorical sense — I am soooo done with Home Depot!
Why do I go to HD at all? Well. Because it’s closer than the Lowe’s. Except it’s not significantly closer: if I were to get off my duff and drive up the freeway to the Lowe’s, it would be about the same distance as the surface-street junket to the nearest annoying Home Depot.

So day-before-yesterday I go by Whitfill’s, the small-business-owned nursery next-door to the Safeway, a long trip from either home improvement emporium. This is the preferred shopping destination for plants, because Whitfill’s is NOT owned by a Trumpeting megacorporation, but by a local family. Several generations of local family.

The shelves were pretty bare in those precincts…didn’t see any of the several specific plants I coveted. Figured it’s between seasons and so probably their stock was low because it was all sold out. But, thought I, HD would have the pretty much plain-vanilla plants I had in mind. Also needed: a couple of pool chemicals the SPS&R dude recommended this yesterday morning, by way of beating back the resurgent mustard algae. He dumped in a couple ounces of SkillIt, said who told you to put in 16 ounces? (The instructions on the side of the bottle, boss!), and recommended having some PhosFree and some Silvertrine on hand. And his parting shot?  “Don’t buy this stuff from Leslie’s. They’re pirates!”

No. They did not have either of the pool products recommended. We already knew they don’t carry Skillit. So no, these were not on hand as of yesterday afternoon, but probably will be today, because Amazon says they’ve shipped and are on the way.

Nevertheless, I load up on posies and various other home-improvement tchotchskies, and then head for the checkout.

In the garden department.

I always check out in the garden dept, because HD has replaced most of its cashiers with effing DIY self-checkout computers. To get a human, you have to hike to the far end of the store, halfway to freaking Wickenburg, and then hike back halfway to the Superstition Mountains to find your car. But for some reason unknown to 21st-century personkind, they’ve kept a human in the garden department.

One. Human. So, the garden department is my exit.

They used to have two or three cashiers in there. Now they have one, locked up inside an air-conditioned cubicle, and…yes…a goddamned computer checkout station.

SIX PEOPLE were standing in the human cashier’s line.

Over at the robot cashier? None. Zero point zero-zero.

So I join the long line and wait. And wait. And wait. And finally think ooooo fukkkit! 

Roll the full cart over to the side, abandon it, and stroll out of the store.

Cruise down to Whitfill’s — the family-owned nursery — figuring WTF, I’ll just make do with the dregs of whatever they have left on hand.

But WHOA!! Nooooo…since yesterday afternoon, they’ve received a truckload of new inventory. Hot diggety DAYUM, do they have the new inventory!  The gods reward those who persist in support of employees with minimum-wage jobs.

So I grabbed a lovely big blue salvia to put in the large empty pot on the west side. And a raft of strange little blue posies. And a raft of strange little orange posies.

Back to the Funny Farm.

Oh, joy: this pile of plants was enough to spiff up both the back west garden and the front courtyard. Courtyard still needs a little clean-up, but that could wait until morning, when it’s cool again.

What do you suppose possesses the management of Home Depot? Do they have no cameras in the garden department? Is there no manager who can see the endless line at the human’s cash register and the vacant station staffed by a f*cking computer? What COULD they be thinking? I bought about $70 worth of stuff. At Arizona’s minimum wage, that would have employed a cashier for just over six hours. Yes. One customer’s purchase would have covered almost an entire shift for a living employee!

I cannot justify continuing to shop in stores run by people who can only be morons. That is the sole explanation for this stupidity. Well. That, and brain-banging greed.

Crabby Gardening Lady

Okay, stand back! I’m goin’ in!

Or off, actually. As in off the fu*kin’ wagon. There’s nothing like a nice cold bourbon and water to brighten your crabby day.

Actually, there’s nothing but bourbon and water, as I’ve unloaded all the wine and beer in the house on friends, by way of refraining from drinking it. I’m not all that nuts about bourbon, so I didn’t donate that to anyone’s cause when I went on the current wagon ride. But..well. One has to allow that bourbon does have its high points.

As it were.

For the past several weeks, I’ve thought the portulaca living in the hanging Mexican pots and growing in ground pots over by the west wall was being eaten by some kind of insect. What kind of insect escaped me, since as far as I know we don’t have anything around here just now that’s capable of stripping the leaves off a portulaca. And even if we did…hmmm…well, the leaves are laying on the ground, not occupying space in some bug’s innards.

Soo… I google “leaf drop portulaca” and discover lo! the main cause of leaf drop in elephant-food plants is overwatering.

Overwatering????? WTF? The watering schedule is exactly the same as it is every summer in these parts: 20 minutes a day, early in the morning, leaving about 14 or 16 hours of sunlight to dessicate the soil in those pots. If you don’t water a potted plant every day in these parts, it will croak over by nightfall. In the summertime, that is.

And summertime is what we’ve had, with a vengeance. It’s been hotter than the hubs of Hades for the past three months. It’s 100° out there, as we scribble. This morning when I took the dog out, humidity was 52%; now, at a little after noon, the air has dried out to a mere 22%, which isn’t quite what I’d call “a dry heat.” It’s particularly not “dry” when you need to work outside but you’re required to cover every square inch of your skin to keep from exposing any part of you to the sun.

That humidity isn’t so horribly high, but we’ve had very little rain. Effectively, “monsoon” season passed us over this year. It just didn’t happen. We got humid, stuffy, yucky, Georgia-summer air, that’s true. But precious little rain.

So I would’ve thought, if anything, that the problem was the plants were underwatered.

But now I think not: the pots’ soil is soggy. If it’s been that wet for the whole summer, well…yeah. The succulents could very well be drowning.

Meanwhile, the rest of the garden has been mightily neglected. The spider plants are dancing the hula in skirts of dead leaves. The calla lilies, also apparently overwatered, are curling up and dying. The bulb thingies Joan gave me are barely clinging to life. The citrus needs to be fertilized. My neighbor Terri’s accursed pepper tree has again seeded the yard, so half a dozen baby invaders need to be sprayed. One of the pots of chard croaked over in the summer heat: new seeds need to be tracked down and planted in that thing.

Ugh. How do I want to work in this heat? Let me count the ways…not…

That profound non-desire notwithstanding, I charged out and cut back dead stuff, cut back dead stuff, cut back more dead stuff. Transplanted one very sick-looking spider out of the pot it had outgrown into a much larger pot that had enough soil to accommodate it…noted that said plant, too, appears to have been overwatered. Dragged three bags of debris out to the garbage, along with two trashcans full of household garbage that was living (heh) in the garage.

Turned off the watering system. Made a calendar note to check soil moisture on Sunday and turn the water back on, as indicated. If indicated.

Having no potting soil, I was unable to transplant the suffering portulaca in the hanging pots. The next time I’m out running around — which will be tomorrow — I’ll stop by a nursery or Home Depot and buy a bag of dirt; then figure out what on earth to do with those things. While there, I’ll get a packet of chard seeds and drop them into the bereft chard pot.

Now we await the defrosting of the scallops, which we intend to stir-fry with garlic and pine nuts and serve up over some lovely chard  + spinach, possibly curried  (there’s not enough chard in that pot to supply a meal just now). Yes. Possibly curried, or possibly just smothered in Pomí tomatoes, which handsomely approximate a decent tomato sauce.