Coffee heat rising

Typhoon! Are you insured?

Head for the bunkers! Batten down the hatches!!

The local Play-Nooz is having a field day with today’s rainstorm. Now we’re being told there’s a tornado watch in effect until 10:00 p.m. HO-lee mackerel!

Well, when you go to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s weather watch pages, you indeed find notice of a hazard…in the low to moderate range. Probability of a serious tornado: oh, maybe 5 percent.

LOL! Brings to mind the time the local TV stations told us a typhoon was bearing down on us. Right out of a sapphire-blue sky…

We do occasionally get some pretty spectacular cyclonic winds. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may recall the grand storms of the summer before last, which hit the central historic district hard and flattened a beautiful old downtown home.

Because houses here by and large are cheaply built, it doesn’t take a tornado to wreak serious havoc. A few years ago one of my students was put out of her home with her family—husband, two small children, mother-in-law—when a fairly ordinary thunderstorm took ahold of the  central air-conditioning unit and ripped it right out of the roof. Subsequent rainshowers poured  in through the hole, destroying most of the house’s furnishings and interior.

But genuine, certifiable twisters are rare as hen’s teeth. About 25 or 30 years ago, one did touch down in central Phoenix—right on top of a friend’s veterinary practice. It effectively leveled the building. The insurance company tried to deny that the destruction was caused by a true tornado. When that detail came out in a newspaper report (in those days, we had reporters who worked for a newspaper that reported news, quaintly enough), someone who lived in the area came forward with a photo of the thing. It was undeniably a tornado, headed straight for the Alta Vista Veterinary Hospital.

So, it’s a good idea to be insured for any eventuality, even if the risk seems remote.

And in getting coverage, it’s important to understand what specific events your policy covers. Some homeowner’s insurance, for example, requires extra coverage for events like hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes, either as a rider or in a separate policy. And you should be sure that you understand whether your policy covers replacement costs (the cost of buying new stuff to replace things that have been ruined) or actual cash value (the amount you could have gotten on Craig’s list for your moth-eaten sofa and your ten-year-old TV).

As I was writing this, La Maya called to say her sister was on the phone from Yarnell: the arroyo behind the house is running, big-time, and the water is halfway up the slope to the back door. They’re packing now, in case they have to evacuate. La Maya, who owns the house and rents it to her sister and BIL, said she felt very glad that she had  just sent in the $800 premium for the extra flood insurance.

Pay the insurance bill and pass the ammunition!

Classic Arizona Road in Rain

Yes, Virginia, it does snow in Arizona.

Images: Tornado in Central Oklahoma, May 3, 1999. NOAA. Public Domain.
Arizona road and snow at Mormon Lake: Not so much

Estate-saling in a tropical storm

La Maya and a cousin of La Bethulia’s dropped by early this morning to pick me up on the way to an estate sale in the fancy part of a far-flung arm of the galaxy. The house was located in the elegant suburbs of far, far, far north Scottsdale.

Actually, it dwelt in a small patch of tract houses surrounded by large, expensive late-model houses on acre-plus lots. The tract itself consisted of modestly sized structures—maybe 1,600 to 2,000 square feet—on typical tiny tract lots, what we dinosaurs would call “patio homes” but today’s mammals think of as full-sized family houses. Its saving grace was that its tiny backyard looked out over a vast swath of undisturbed open space, giving it a view across only lightly raped Sonoran desert all the way to the mountains that ring the Valley. Very pretty. Maybe even pretty enough to justify the $600,000 asking price for three tiny bedrooms, a single living area dominated by a wall of ungainly niches built to house a hulking television and an array of large speakers, and not a single wall anywhere broad enough to hold a decent bookcase.

At any rate, the owner had a flair for decorating. We got there a little late to grab the nicest things, but we did see a nice array of lovely Asian pottery and ceramics, many beautiful clothes (once incredibly expensive but all, alas, in the smaller petite sizes), and some very nice artwork. But Gini, the sale proprietor, kept slipping new things onto the countertops as buyers cleared the merchandise, and so, stepping into the kitchen at just the right moment, I scored this nice old carving set:

The blades are carbon steel, a feature much coveted in the Aptosaurus family. M’hijito loves the carbon-steel knives I passed to him after SDXB nabbed them in a yard sale and gave them to me. Tho’ they’re softer than stainless and can’t be left to corrode in a puddle of water on the drainboard, they sharpen easily and take a beautiful edge.

See those little decorative collars at the top end of the handles? Those are marked “sterling.” There’s no maker’s mark on the blade or fork, but the sterling silver deco touch suggests they’re good pieces, like everything else the woman owned. I think the handles may be bone or possibly horn, not plastic. And the blade has been sharpened many times.* The pieces have a little corrosion, as if they were put away and forgotten at some point. I’ll bet the owner inherited it, or else acquired it early in her marriage and kept it all her adult life.

Meanwhile… The tail end of Hurricane Jimena has been drifting north across the Chihuahan and Sonoran deserts, and now it has ambled into the Valley. On the way home we passed through a sharp storm cell, the lightning copious and the rain ferocious. About the time we hit the freeway it really started to fire-hose. People were pulling off onto the shoulder, but La Maya managed to make it to an offramp several miles north of our neighborhood. This put us in the middle of an electrical storm. At one point a lightning bolt struck just a few yards from us. Its C-R-R-A-C-K and BOOM shook La Maya’s sturdy RAV-4 and all three of us yelped at once!

But we outran it a little south of Thunderbird, where the North Mountains blocked the blustery clouds’ passage long enough for us to run ahead of the rain and lightning until we reached our part of town. We were mighty glad to see the rain, and just as glad to get off the road and inside a building!

It caught up with us as I was running from the car to the front door. Just had time to power down and unplug the Mac (which I had stupidly left sleeping despite the encroaching storm) and heat some breakfast before the lightning threatened to fry the local power lines. Now the noise and heavy downpour have come and gone, and we have a lovely steady rain, temperatures in the balmiest of mid-seventies. Lovely!

Next week will be very busy. I’ve fallen behind in my plan to stockpile posts, and so today’s post is today’s post. But have many things to share and so will carve out as much time as I can find this weekend to write and schedule the next few days’ entries. If I miss a day or two, it’s not because I’ve forgotten you but because this fall’s expected flood of work is starting to rise.

* BTW, here’s an interesting article on sharpening fine blades, the most thorough explanation I’ve ever see this side of my Daddy’s workbench.

Storm image: FIR002, Lightning strike, January 2007
Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License
Please note that this image is not in the public domain and must be used and acknowledged accordingly.

Wow! Major storm hits lovely uptown Phoenix

 Power is still out for tens of thousands of Phoenix residents. Just now, at 10:30 in the morning, it’s only 92 degrees on my back patio, but humidity is said to be 61 percent.

So, I account myself extremely lucky that here the power was down for only an hour or so, and even more extremely lucky that the devil-pod tree* did not snap off in winds clocked as high as 100 miles per hour. Nor did any of the other trees, all much in need of thinning: desert willow, Texas ebony, vitex, palo brea, palo verde, yellow oleander, and the moribund ash.

Check out this photo, baldly stolen from ABC News (Channel 15), of a large billboard bent all the way down to the ground! Don’t know how long that link will stay live: it’s worth a visit for the amazing slide show of 185 dramatic photos, among them some stunning shots of lightning.

Our associate editor e-mailed early this morning to say DON’T COME TO CAMPUS! She said trees were down and blocking the way into the building. To get into the office, she had to wade through a six-inch deep puddle. News reports show signals out at several of the major intersections I have to traverse, and so…I believe we’ll be telecommuting today. Unclear whether our offices, which occupy a condemned building (yes) (don’t ask) (it’s better not to know), got any water; I asked her to check, and, having heard nothing, imagine we’re O.K. Hope so. I don’t want to have to traipse two hours through impossible traffic and chaos to deal with that.

It took about three hours to clean up the back yard, though I hafta admit that a large part of that time was spent cutting back the red salvia that tried unsuccessfully to cannibalize the Myer lemon (salvia 10; lemon 98), the overgrown lavender, and the overwatered, rotting sage plant. Even the aggressive salvia was less than happy: we’ve had so much rain this summer that many of the Mediterranean and xeriscapic plantings I put in the yard are turning to black slime. The pool would have been OK — in fact, probably wouldn’t have needed any extra attention — were it not for the devil-pod tree. I pulled a good bushel of pods, pollen balls, leaves, twigs, and small branches out of the water.

I occasionally consider whether to have the tree taken out. That will cost almost a thousand bucks, on top of the thou’ it will take to remove the dying ash tree in front. Really, only in the summer does the tree turn into a real nuisance. The rest of the year it’s quiescent. On the other hand, I was alarmed enough last night to stay out of the bedroom, where the tree will hit if it decides to fall on the house. The wind came up again after I posted last night’s storm report; Cassie and I ended up sleeping on the living room sofa. Less than perfectly pleasing accommodations.

The tree has some advantages, not the least of which is that its thick foliage forms a privacy barrier between the pool and passers-by on the street. Some members of the public are given to using the shrubbery as their toilet, so…as you can imagine, these are not folks you want peering into the yard. It could take a couple of years or more to get something else to grow big enough to block unwelcome gazers. And it does put some shade on the concrete pad, which functions as a horizontal trombé wall to conduct heat into the bedroom all summer long. Removing the tree would make the bedroom even hotter than it is (which is plenty: it’s the warmest room in the house), jack up the summer power bills, and take a great deal away from the backyard’s privacy.

In terms of making the house affordable for retirement, though, getting rid of that tree might be the best thing to do. It would be one fewer tree that needs a professional to thin and groom it every year or eighteen months. Last year I spent about $750 on tree care, all of which needs to be repeated right now. And Matt didn’t even touch the devil-pod tree. Who knows what he’ll charge this year? If I’m to stay in this house, I’ll have to cut the costs of yard maintenance somehow.


* Satan and Proserpine, the previous owners of the House from Hell, planted this tree directly upwind from the swimming pool. They claimed it’s a weeping acacia. Unlikely. Whatever it is, the thing is a good forty feet tall, a height it has attained mostly in the five years since I moved in, and “low litter” is not the operative term: it drops leaves, twigs, pollen puffballs, and seed pods that stain the CoolDeck and the pool’s plaster. This was not a pair who understood much about plants: they thought the two(!) sissou trees they stuck in the front yard would never get taller than about 15 or 20 feet.