Coffee heat rising

Melatonin: Does the Stuff Actually WORK???

quack! quack! quack! quack! quack! quack! quack! quack! quack! quack!

A few months ago, I bought a bottle of melatonin — a supposed sleep aid — at a local Walgreen’s. But after hearing the pharmacist, who seemed to be a certifiable moron, natter on and absurdly on about how it’s…oooooo!!!! homeoPATHic!!!, I figured it was a quack nostrum and didn’t bother to try it.

But lately I’ve become pretty desperate for sleep. So decided to try it, on the theory that it couldn’t do any more harm than a steady routine of four-hour nights.

The main ingredient in it is vitamin B-6, not in enough quantity to do you any harm unless maybe if you swallowed a whole bottle of the stuff…or rather, not unless you take it every day for a significant period. B-6 is neurotoxic, and the effects of overdose are irreversible. Neuropathy develops at around 200 milligrams; the smallest reported toxic doses have been 24 to 40 mg. These things contain 10 mg, so obviously you wouldn’t want to be dropping it if you were taking a regular vitamin supplement. But I don’t. There’s no evidence that vitamin B-6 treats insomnia, or much else of whatever ails you. It isn’t well regulated, because it’s not a prescription drug — what you see on the bottle’s label may not be what you get. But probably it’s not harmful in short doses over a short period.

Nor is there any evidence that melatonin effectively treats sleep disorders. But apparently it can help reset your system to synchronize with a normal circadian rhythm — i.e., cause you to sleep between dusk and dawn, instead of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. It also apparently helps your blood pressure.

Well. I can tell you: there’s nothing like the endless frustration of insomnia to jack up your blood pressure. So if it actually keeps you asleep until 5:00 a.m. or so, that alone would help bring the old-fart blood pressure numbers into the reasonable range.

Anyway, there’s some evidence that the stuff helps the elderly to stay asleep until dawn. So, in desperation, last night about 10 p.m. I dropped a pill containing 5 mg — two to five times the recommended dose.

And lo! This morning I slept till 5:30 or 5:45…was rolled out of the sack by the dogs right at 6:00 a.m.

Holy sh!t.

Normally by 6 o’clock, I’ve fed and walked the dogs, fixed coffee, had breakfast, read the news, answered the email, cleaned the pool, taken a swim, watered the outdoor plants, and at least started a blog post or a client’s project.

Not only that, but contrary to published warnings, I’m not at all sleepy this morning. Benadryl, the only other thing that has ever helped me to stay asleep more than four or five hours, leaves me in a haze until noon the following day. It’s really unsafe to drive in that state, and I feel awful until the damn stuff wears off.

There are different types of insomnia. Some people can’t get to sleep at bed-time. Some wake up  in the middle of the night for a short period and fall back to sleep. Some wake up two or three hours before dawn and can’t get back to sleep.

Mine falls into the last category, which would be OK if it were practical to go to bed at 8 p.m. However, a 14-hour work day tends to militate against that… Last night I sent a finished project back to a Chinese mathematician and forthwith he sent me three more papers! AUGGH!

At any rate, summer is beginning to slip away — it’s 8:30 in the morning and still livable out here on the back porch, for the first time in weeks. When winter comes in, it’ll stay dark longer, and then the dogs and I will sleep longer naturally.

But wouldn’t it be marvelous if this nostrum actually did reset your internal clock so you’d stay asleep until dawn? Have you had any experience with the stuff?


Gotta Get My Life Back…

This morning the beloved swimming pool finally got a good cleaning and backwash. The yard is a disaster area: things dying, things falling apart, trash piling up, algae decorating the pool walls. Between a searing hot and dry summer and a full year of Adventures in Medical Science — surgeries on average of once every two months — I’ve neglected the house and the yard shamefully.

Gerardo has kept the worst of it at bay, but he only comes around once a month. And he knows exactly nothing about swimming pool care. On the few occasions that I’ve drafted him to help with the heavy pool work, I’ve had to teach him step-by-step what to do. He looked flamboozled by the whole affair!

And he doesn’t do tree work.

The lime tree, silently running amok unnoticed by the ailing human, has grown up against an eave and is resting its limbs on the roof.

Luis, a lovely gentleman and true artist with trees whom I ran into by serendipity while walking the hounds, is coming by this afternoon to deal with that quiet disaster, and also with the Meyer lemon that’s trying to take over Philadelphia.

The heat has been so unremitting and so extreme, even plants that don’t ordinarily mind an Arizona summer are dying. The bougainvillea on the wast side are struggling, even though they’re sheltered to some degree by the gigantic paloverde. A good half of the potted plants died, in spite of daily watering.

The other day I decided I’d better get off my duff. I’ve carted away a lot of the dead potted plants — more remain to be attended to…later!

Meanwhile, how d’you like this?


Unlike the two orange trees, the lime tree has never had a berm around its base. That’s because the flagstone walkway there was in the way. And really, letting the irrigation pool up into a puddle against the tree’s trunk is not very good for citrus.

It doesn’t seem to have harmed any of the other trees, though.

Without a berm, the irrigation water has flowed down a slight grade from the tree to the northwest corner of the house, where it merrily soaks into the soil around the foundation.

This is singularly bad for a house’s foundation — certainly around here, where much of the soil consists of caliche, which expands like a sponge when it gets wet.

It’s bothered me for years, and in fact has caused some damage to the wall in that corner — inside, around the fireplace’s big wall-length hearth, cracks now need to be repaired and disguised with paint.

So the other day I finally bestirred myself to build a little earth dam across the flood plain. Didn’t run it all the way around the tree, first because I don’t have that much energy (the tree is so overgrown I can’t stand up under there and so have to hunker down and crawl around), partly because a berm that circumnavigates the tree would block passage from the west to the north side of the house and would certainly preclude rolling a wheelbarrow back and forth.

Anyway, the above is the result: you can see that it works (!!) to kep the water away from the house.

This afternoon, I hope, Luis will trim the tree back enough that humans can walk back and forth. For which, I expect, Gerardo will be grateful.

The beautiful and much beloved climbing roses on the back number among this summer’s casualties. I don’t know if they’re dying or just suffering. Quite a few canes are dead, and the little foliage that remains is sickly and burnt-looking.

Roses will suffer in the summer here. These two usually do OK because they’re shaded by the paloverde and the weeping acacia. But…climbing roses don’t live forever. I suppose they could be nearing the end of their lifespan. Some tea roses last only about 10 years, although they say species of climbers can live for 50 years.

The horrid paloverde beetles came back, despite my mistaken belief that the beneficial nematodes had done them in. They emerged late and they emerged with a vengeance. Those things eat rose and citrus roots, too, so it’s also possible that the damned grubs are simply eating the roses out from their base.

As the weather has cooled a little, though (it’s 9:40 a.m. and I’m still on the deck! and the AC hasn’t come on!!!), a few tiny springs of new growth have appeared. That’s hopeful. I guess.

So I dosed them both with Meyer’s rose care, a systemic insecticide and mildew protection. If the problem is the accursed borers, maybe that stuff will at least upset their buggy little stomachs. If it’s some kind of disease, sometimes Meyer’s will beat it back. And if it’s neglect (as seems most likely), fertilizing and deep watering the things should perk them up.

Speaking of bugs, the place is freaking overrun with ants! This ant city, which apparently has been a-building under an orange tree all summer, unnoticed, is among the largest anthills I’ve ever seen.


It goes on and on. That white thing in the middle is one of Ruby’s toys, which she evidently dropped there and dares not try to rescue. As soon as the little ladies feel your footsteps on the ground, they come swarming out in a collective fury.

They’re near the back gate, so every time I take the trash out, I get all bit up.

I laid down three different varieties of ant bait (ants will favor one type or another, depending on what the hive’s nutritional needs are at any given time), but so far they don’t seem very interested.

Next strategy: put up the bird feeder and call in a few species that eat ants. Fortunately, we have quite a few of those. If you bring them into your yard, they’ll eventually help to bring an ant problem under control.

Choir season begins this evening, lhudly sing huzzah! I for one will surely welcome something to take my mind off the endlessly time-sucking, often frustrating bidness enterprise.

I think, too, I should plan to do a little gardening or some such every morning (at least until it gets too cold). The daily mile-long doggy walk is really not enough exercise, and it doesn’t do much to relieve stress and frustration. Just the little bit of yard-puttering over the past few days has helped to reduce the general crankiness.

Speaking of frustrating time-sucks, yesterday I was HORRIFIED to discover that all of those images I purchased for the Fire-Rider covers were not cover images. In fact, following Ken’s instructions, Gary had tricked them all out as thumbnails.

I’d thought they were cover images and that Amazon’s software was reducing them to create its thumbnails.

Oh, no. Other way around: It’s been stretching them to build covers.

Probably very, very pixelated covers. But I don’t know. The Kindle I have is an antiquated piece of junk that shows only  black & white. I’m viewing Amazon’s e-books on my iPad. Normally when I buy an e-book, it appears on both the ugly Kindle and the iPad. But this one, goddamn it, does NOT. I can only see it on the Kindle. No idea why.

The image actually looks OK on the Kindle, in b/w. It’s not especially pixelated. I’m told the newest HD versions, whatever they’re called, do require higher resolution images, and so I’m told I need to get Gary to create ALL NEW IMAGES (just imagine what that’s going to cost!!!!!!!) and re-upload the fuckers to Amazon.

If I can figure out how, which so far I have not succeeded at doing.

Twelve of the damn things have been posted at Amazon! I was supposed to have posted another yesterday. So now we’re waiting on Gary’s images for those to go up.

Posting books on Kindle is a time-consuming process. Nothing as tedious as registering an ISBN, but still: time-suck.

Meanwhile, in order to publish Fire-Rider series to Smashwords, I have to register ALL NEW ISBNs for the entire 18-volume series. Yes. For every new format, you have to get a different ISBN. Smashwords does not do .mobi — everything you post there has to be in ePub, or else you have to go through the tortures of the damned trying to run your .doc file through what they cutely call their “meat-grinder.”

Ken (Your eBook Builder) is going to convert them all to ePub and post to SW. But to do that, he’ll need EIGHTEEN new ISBNs. That represents hours of filling out page after page after page of ditzy, tedious forms. Last night I sat in front of Netflix and watched an episode of Bones and two or three of Law & Order: SVU to create some distracting noise while trudging through this chore. By the time I could no longer hold my head up, a total of nine new ISBNs were registered. I’d started, though, with three: so that’s how long it takes to register just six of the damn things.

Today I’m going to launch the CONTEST to name the Camptown Ladies.

Our Aunt Tilly
Our Aunt Tilly

Aunt Tilly feels the girls should have a nom de guerre…she’s not real thrilled about any association with the House that might develop. And she has nixed their plan to call themselves “Madison” and “Ashley.” She is, after all, a businesswoman, and she does not approve of Ashley Madison’s business model. “Indiscreet,” “ridiculous,” and “laughable” are some of the kinder critiques she’s shared. “The Internet!” she snorts. “If you’re going to have a fling,” says she, “for heaven’s sake go to a reputable house. If you want the world to know what you’re up to, we’ll be happy to give you a megaphone, show you to the roof, and let  you shout your conquests to the world.”

She’s so old-school.  🙄

Existential Angst, Depression, or Just Plain Boredom?

So here’s the problem:

I cannot make myself get back to productive work.

No matter what I try to do to get back on track, I just. cannot. do. it. Before the past seven months of surgical fun began, a normal day’s to-do list consisted of fifteen to twenty tasks. Now I’m lucky if I get through five. Day by day, I’m not getting any work done, and perhaps more alarmingly, I don’t want to get any work done.

If this is the New Normal, it’s going to freaking bankrupt me.

When I am supposedly working, I’m spending about half the available time cruising the Web: reading various news sites, reading up on the odd item some client or student addresses (how do you spell Genghis Khan’s real name, and why, and who was he anyway, and did he really bring civilization to Europe, and speaking of Europe, I wonder what the BBC has to say this afternoon?), playing computer games, blogging, reading e-mail, hanging out at the corgi site, and whatnot. Add up the actual  number of time-stamped hours spent on a client’s Wyrd file, and you get about half the number of hours I sat in front of the computer while pretending to work on the project.

Okay, I’ve always had that tendency. But it’s never stopped me from getting work done, one way or the other, sooner or later. But now I’m not getting much done. Because…

I don’t want to start.
I don’t want to stay focused (or can’t stay focused?)
I’m stuporous with boredom.

So I decided to devote some time today to trying to figure out what the heck is the matter with me. Hence, the following rumination…

The Problem: I can’t get back to productive work.


1) What I’m doing bores me stupid!

 Even though most of my paid contract work is pretty interesting, even the best of copy can get a little old on the second read and what we might call “boring” on the third read and exponentially more boring on the fourth read.

Reading student work is not only boring, it’s often annoying. Yea verily, even infuriating.

BUT: It pays the bills.

BUT1: The bills aren’t so huge that they can’t be paid from other funding sources.

2) Possibly I’m suffering some sort of existential angst.

Any health crisis brings one’s mortality to mind: Do I really want to spend what little time remains to me on work that puts me into a coma?


BUT: What else am I going to do?

Can’t afford to travel
Can’t work up much enthusiasm for any other pecuniary endeavor
The status quo is comfortable

3) Possibly the status quo is too comfortable?

4) Possibly I’m mildly depressed?

Are There Any Solutions?

1) Bored with work

a) Stop editing copy

This would cut boring tasks by about 20% to 50%

BUT: I use the money to keep computer hardware up-to-date and to support websites.

BUT2: Most of the websites would be redundant if the business were closed.

b) Stop teaching

This would cut boredom by about 50% to 80%.

BUT: Teaching makes it possible to live without drawing down much from retirement savings.

c) Get a job

This would make Social Security pure gravy and eliminate the need to spend savings. All required IRA withdrawals could be reinvested or gifted to M’hijito.

BUT: I dislike few things more than having to trudge to a workplace every day.

BUT3: I’m too old to get a decent job.

d) Take a break

Go on a vacation somewhere. Get out of here for two to three weeks.

BUT: Who’s going to care care of the dogs?

I can’t afford to travel.
I find flying aversive in the most intense way.
My car should not be driven into the sticks.

One could go camping. It’s easy enough to camp for a week or two at a time. Rent a truck and get some new camping gear. The dogs could then go with.

BUT: Who’s going to take care of the house, pool, and yard?

Simply sign off all work, including Scottsdale Business Association, for a couple of weeks.

BUT: I’ve already done that, perforce, thanks to the past five surgical procedures. The effect was to make me not want to come back to work!

Find ways to take mini-breaks.

Set aside days in which no work will be done.
Rent vehicles for day trips.

2) Existential angst

a) Find something else to do with life.

Quit teaching, quit editing, sell the house, and go someplace utterly different.

BUT: This seems way too risky and could lead to more, not less angst.

b) Find some other line of work.

Look for a paid job.

BUT: I don’t want to go back to work! UGH!

BUT4: Last time I tried to get hired, prospective employers made it abundantly clear they considered me too old. That was six years ago!

Try going back to freelance reporting. It’s fun and does allow one to meet a lot of people.

BUT: Talk about your second childhood!

BUT5: It pays no more than what I’m doing now.

BUT6: And it would put a helluva lot more wear and tear on the ancient vehicle.

Get a real estate license. This could be amusing and might even earn some money.

BUT: It’s costly and there’s no guarantee I’d earn anything. The amount of work put into marketing real estate could be devoted to selling books.

Quit working for others and do your own thing.

BUT: The chance of earning a living wage is exactly nil.

3) Change the status quo

a) In a small and subtle way: Devote specific amounts of time per day and per week to the boring work. Do not devote any more time than allocated to these tasks.

b) Make day trips once or twice a week or a couple of times a month. Rent vehicles and bring the dogs.

c) Change the effin’ attitude!!

4) Address the possibility of depression

a) Limit boring work to specific, scheduled periods. Do not work outside these periods.

b) Get more exercise.

Back on the mountain!
Specific, scheduled period, maybe more than once a day, for exercise; e.g.,

dog walk
human hike
yoga/physical therapy exercises

c)  Train the puppy properly

Take Ruby to obedience training

d) Take art classes

Check at Shemer, Desert Botanical Garden
Or just start drawing again

e) Break loose time in which to do only my own thing

Set computer to run offline; use offline time to write my own books.
Or do my own writing on paper, of all things, and then type second drafts online

So if I were to organize time so as to accomplish the following, what would that look like? The following:

1 day trip per month
2 days/week to do my own thing
1 new endeavor, such as returning to art
4 hours of paying work per day, five days a week, for paid work, limited to that.

4 hours x 5 = 20 hours
20 hours x $60/hour = $1200/week, max
4 x $1200 = $4800/month, max

20 hours x $45/hour = $900/week, max
4 x $900 = $3600/month, max

Okay, I can live with either of those scenarios.

When do these famous work hours get done? Eight to noon or one to five, obviously. This leaves the evenings to grade student papers in front of Netflix, which dulls the pain. It leaves four hours a day for exercise, dogs, shopping, and housecare. And it leaves two full days per week in which to do nothing or to go on day trips.

On Thursdays I’m in Scottsdale, getting out of a meeting around 9 a.m. An upscale Costco is located on the way home from that venue, as are two Trader Joe’s, an AJ’s, a Walgreen’s, a fancy Fry’s, and a less than perfect Whole Foods. If I diddled away an hour until Costco opened, I could go there once a month and hit the grocery stores on the other Thursdays, thereby minimizing the car trips and allowing me to shop in much nicer stores than the ones in my part of town — for the same price.

{Sigh} It’s hard to believe that just “getting organized,” which is what all this comes down to, would dispel whatever the present cloud is — whether it’s boredom, angst, or nascent clinical depression. On the other hand, some steady exercise certainly wouldn’t do any harm. And starting something new, such as a new art course, doggy obedience training, or just exploring more by bicycle would at least create a distraction.


Giving Oneself Little Gifts

What with the boobectomy still in the healing stages, walking the dogs is out. Wrangling them requires a lot of arm work: Ruby is still not well trained to the leash, and while she’s charging forward like White Fang at the head of the sled-dog team, Cassie poops out after about half a mile and starts to drag behind. So I end up with one dog pulling me forward and the other pulling me backward.

But I do need to get up and move around.

So yesterday and today, I decided to leave the dogs at home and go for a nice, quiet, SLOW stroll around the ’hood. No power walking: just ambling.

It was soo incredibly nice! The weather, now that the recent rain and frost have passed, defies belief it’s so gorgeous. And when you slow down, you end up seeing things you ordinarily miss and — get this! — actually talking with people. Isn’t that a quaint idea?

Working has come almost to a halt. And I’m finding that not too obnoxious: suddenly I have time to perambulate around at my leisure.

I enjoyed these mile-long strolls, quiet and undogged, so much that I’ve decided to give a solitary walk to myself as a gift. The dog walks normally take place after dark, anyway — there’s no reason that can’t continue once doggy-walks resume. But I’m going to take time out of my work every day to make a comfortable, non-athletic amble, and use that time to relax and unwind.

And why not, I say, why should we not give ourselves occasional gifts of this nature? Gifts that have the potential to improve life — preferably nonmaterial gifts. Not a thing but time, an activity, some privacy or some company.

What gift would you give to yourself? And why haven’t you done it?

Phone Solicitor Discouragement: The Long-Winded Voicemail Message

By pure, ridiculous serendipity, I found a way to almost bring a stop to phone solicitor calls, a major nuisance for dinosaurs who wish to hang onto their land lines. As we know, the National Do-Not-Call List does nothing to discourage phone solicitors, and playing mind games on the creeps just seems to egg them on. They’ve found a way to outsmart the formerly effective Telezapper, and the new analogues to that technology come out of Great Britain and so work less than optimally in the US. A few weeks ago, though, by way of asking the political hucksters to quit invading my private space, I recorded a new phone message that was altogether too long-winded. It goes on and on and ON all the way to the end of the available recording space.

It annoys the friendly caller as much you might imagine, alas, but it does have one surprisingly delightful unintended consequence.

Videlicet: It appears that automated robocallers, whether they deliver recorded messages or whether they have some trained cockroach on the other end, are programmed to hang up after a certain period of jabber.

Yesh. Thanks to Caller ID, I never pick up the phone unless I recognize the caller. So I don’t pick up until the voicemail greeting ends and a real person starts to speak.

After I engaged the byzantine phone message, I noticed the incoming nuisance calls all hung up at EXACTLY the same place in the recorded greeting. They’d shut off right at a specific word. Most of them canceled without even trying to leave a message.

Few robo-calls start babbling as soon as the line opens, for the obvious reason that if they start yakking while your voicemail greeting is running, you’re going to miss some of their golden words. So if they detect a recorded message, they stay silent for a short time — probably the length of a typical voicemail greeting. If they don’t get a person at that point, they disconnect.

Think of that….

This accidental strategy instantly stopped the political messages, because those have humans at the end and they don’t want to listen to that stuff again. It stopped almost all of the robo-calling business and scammer solicitations, because their auto-hangup never gets past the automatic hang-up point.

Just now, the only recurring nuisance calls are the ones coming from some outfit that Caller ID identifies as “UTILITY.” I assume that’s the scam where they threaten you with cutting off your power and water unless you pay up right this instant, but I don’t know because of course I’ve never talked to them. These people are extremely persistent. They have a way of making your phone emit a busy signal, which signals their system to automatically redial. So whenever one call comes in from this bunch, two more will follow, one from the same number and then another from a spoofed number.

That’s annoying, but it’s sure better than the vast quantity of incoming annoyances that slammed into my phone before the Endless Greeting went live.

If you have a home-based business, it’s pretty easy to make an Endless Greeting. Just pitch the business until you run out of talking time. Mine starts with “You have reached The Copyeditor’s Desk, Incorporated…” (Five syllables in that last word! Drag it out!!). Then it delivers the corporate motto. Then in goes on to describe all the wonderful things we can do, of which we have a-plenty. Then it says “If you would like to discuss a book publishing project, please leave word…” and “If you would like to [blah blah blah],” each time giving rather obvious instructions to leave an effing message.

It’s unkind to friends and business associates. But it does work on most of the phone nuisances. And it’s free. And it’s easy. No dollars flying out the window. No time wasted figuring out complicated programming instructions. No confusion over British vs. US phone system functions. Very nice.

Just talk the ba*tards down.

Resuscitating My Life: Überlist 2

So yesterday I decided I need a couple of broad, overarching lists to get back on track for managing my life in the middle of the current healthcare madness. The first outlines steps to try to recover my health. Next, a strategy for dealing with the dog situation.

Dog Management To-Do’s

1. Decide whether to keep Ruby or not

Find out if M’hijito wants to keep her

• If he continues to refuse to answer emails and phone, physically go to his house and get a response
• If he wants the dog, leave her there
• If he doesn’t want the dog, retrieve her and make a decision about what to do next

2. If decision is to return dog:

Call Lindsay
Get SDXB to help navigate back to Wittman, turn dog over to Lindsay

3. If decision is to keep dog:

Simplify feeding

• If M’hijito has switched Pup to Charley’s kibble, keep her on it
• If not, feed her cooked commercial dog food rolls

Order vibrate/shock collar from Amazon and put it on her full-time. Use it to…

• Bring a stop to food competition
• Break up fights with Cassie

Keep pup off bed

• Only Cassie goes on bed
• Get Costco dog  mattress; place in crate
• Get hinged gate for bedroom door
• After 2 or 3 weeks, leave crate door open at night, with hinged gate closed
• After another 2 or 3 weeks, remove crate from bedroom, leave mattress in place, and close hinged gate at night
• Use hinged gate to confine Ruby to bedroom while gone, leaving Cassie at large in house

Teach Ruby to use doggy door

Keep dogs separated when I’m not home

• When weather is clement, leave Ruby outdoors
• Confine her indoors only when it’s too hot, cold, or wet to leave her in the yard
• When she has to be indoors, confine Cassie & Ruby in different spaces

Effing nightmare. As if there weren’t enough to cope with…