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Travelogs

Where I went and what I saw/suffered/learned in going

The Missing Month of October…and Oh Yeah, Hawaii!

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People are starting to ask me if I’m dead or something; my last post here was at the end of September. I’m by no means dead. I’m merely 65, which means I don’t have the volcanic energy I had when I was a mere child of 50. And there was much on the calendar in October. A certain part of it was medical, which I don’t feel like going into here, apart from saying that it was nothing life-threatening, just profoundly irritating. (Nor is it over, alas.) Some of it was home improvement: We replaced every window in the house. Every. Last. One. Why? Most windows have some sort of flange or handle to grip when you want to slide them open. Not these, no. The only grabbable part was the little lock-handle, which I doubt was designed to take that kind of lever-arm. I broke one not long after we bought the house. So we got rid of them all, in one swell foop.

And we added one. That was the real challenge. My somewhat-too-small office (see photo above) had these weird double doors that swung inward, which (given that my big reading chair was in front of them) made them utterly useless, and left my office without ventilation. So we had a local handyman tear out the doors, 2X4 up a frame for a new window, and then add wallboard, sheathing, insulation and stucco below the window once the window was installed. Because the whole wall had to be retaped and repainted, that meant moving an 8′ bookcase containing all of my reference books and many of my programming books, as well as a huge file cabinet and my reading chair. The handyman added a new outlet box for the benefit of my steampunk computer table, and I changed all the outlets and plates on the wall because the existing duplexes didn’t all match.

I’m fussy about my workspaces, let’s say.

There were whole days (most of a week of them) during which my office was basically unusable. I moved my lab machine out to the wet bar, but it just wasn’t conducive to writing. And by the end of the day, I was generally so worn-out that I sat on the couch with my Paperwhite and devoured novels rather than wrote. Writing is hard work. You knew that, I hope.

Somehow I did make some solid progress on Dreamhealer in October, while swatting off distracting ideas for new novels like flies. I hope not to alienate my readers here, but if I have a choice between making progress on a novel and dropping an entry onto Contra, Contra generally doesn’t win. My low energy levels are making me look at what may or may not be a Real Thing on the personal energy front. The cost seems excessive, but the need is real.

And then finally, on the 25th, Carol and I hopped a plane and flew to Hawaii. At last, personal energy ceased to be an issue. We spent a few days on Maui, and then flew to Honolulu to take a room at the New Otani Hotel on Sans Souci beach, which overlooks downtown Honolulu. It overlooked something else: The War Memorial Natatorium, a titanic ocean-water swimming pool with bleachers, built to commemorate WWI, built in 1927 and now falling apart. The photo below is the view from our balcony.

What did we do in Hawaii? We slept in a lot. We bobbed in the water a lot. After dark we flew a Megatech Firefly until it broke. We talked about the damndest things. We ate maybe a little too much. We took in the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium, both of which were an easy walk from the hotel. (In fact, they were the major reason we chose the Otani.) We tried our best to act like newlyweds again.

Our room faced west, and from our balcony we watched the sunset most nights. They were among the most colorful sunsets we’ve ever seen.

The food at the Otani was excellent. They serve corned beef hash that has so little potato in it that they might as well call it pulled corned beef. The open-air dining room overlooks the beach, and requires reservations even for breakfast. They have a more formal restaurant on their second floor that has geishas, and prices so high even we balked. Fortunately, there is a little convenience store in the next building that sells decent sandwiches and Bugles. Picnicking on the beach was in fact a fine thing.

I made a game out of grabbing driftglass from the surf, which sounds easy until you try it. I picked up quite a bit of it our last afternoon at the beach. One assumes that the brown glass is from beer bottles, but it seems awfully thin for bottle glass. I found a piece of white glass with a blue Japanese design on it, and assume it came from a sake bottle.

While diving for driftglass fragments on the wave-tossed ocean bottom, it occurred to me that Driftglass would make a great title for a novel–and I even got a concept for one to match. Alas, Samuel R. Delany did a story collection called Driftglass in 1971. Will that stop me? Don’t know yet. Let’s just say that I have a lot of other writing to do first.

We spent Halloween at the beach before heading home on November 2. In honor of Halloween, I watched British blob-monster movies on my laptop all the way home. There are several, two of them Quatermass films. Damn, but they seemed way scarier in 1963. We haven’t had a genuine blob monster movie released in quite a while. Reboot, anyone? Once I score The Blob, I may do a writeup on the genre here. No, it’s not British, and like a lot of American horror movies, it centers on ukky creatures eating annoying teenagers, generally while they’re trying to make out. That may say something about something. Don’t ask me what, because I don’t want to know.

And so I return to Contra, with solid plans for several new entries, including one on health insurance that will doubtless annoy everyone. I also feel the need to do a few good rants. Not sure what I’ll come up with next, but I’ll think of something.

The Great American Eclipse, Nebraska-Style

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A little over five weeks ago, Carol and I threw the Pack into the Durango and blasted north for Colorado Springs. We spent a day there visiting, then passed off the Pack to Grandma Jimi (the breeder from whom we bought them) and headed north again. We didn’t drive past our old house. We decided, in fact, that we would never drive past our old house ever again. Closure is good, trust me on that.

We got the the Denver airport just in time to pick up my oldest friend Art, whom I had met in kindergarten, and who in 1969 had dragged me away from my pile of broken TV chassis long enough to meet my wife. All along northbound I-25 were dot-matrix signs from Colorado’s DOT, warning us about heavy eclipse traffic. Well, we had a plan for that. Instead of going straight north into Wyoming, we headed NE out I-76. We left I-76 at Sterling, Colorado, and drilled almost straight north into deepest Nebraska.

This was not an impulse. This was something I had had in mind since we began making plans for the trip several years ago. I had a hunch that most people would make a beeline for places where the path of totality crossed an Interstate. That’s why we didn’t keep going east to North Platte. And forgive me for being right: We saw very little traffic once we got away from I-25. Many other people we know, including Charlie Martin, got caught in some nasty traffic jams coming down I-25 from Casper, Wyoming. Not us. Nebraska’s backroads are excellent, and there was almost no one else on them. We reached Alliance, Nebraska about 3 PM the day before the eclipse. I had reserved a hotel room there a full year before, practically the day they began taking reservations. That was a good thing, as there are (I think) all of three hotels in the whole town.

With the hotel room squared away, we roared off to Wells Ranch, a few miles south of Alliance. There we met my high school friends Pete Albrecht and Ernie and Michelle Marek, along with their daughter Laura. Ernie had reseved space for us all at Wells Ranch, which had cleared one of their cattle pastures (you can guess what that entailed) and set up to receive as many as 1,000 visitors in tents, RVs, and trailers. Ernie brought his Airstream trailer, and Pete a tent. We had a nice little encampment fairly close to the portapotties and the building where the Wells people were providing hot meals, especially burgers and sausage made from (extremely) local beef.

One startling thing we saw on pulling in was that the sky was full of kites. I hadn’t seen that many kites flying in one place since the old WIND kite festivals at Chicago’s Grant Park downtown while I was in college. I hadn’t thought to bring one, but a nearby camper had a few extras and I actually got to join the other campers in sculpting the sky, as they say.

Art did a little better than kites: He brought his professional-quality 4K video camera drone. He didn’t fly it a great deal, but he took some video footage and a few stills of the campers in the Wells pasture.

We spent an hour ot so catching up, and laying our plans for the next morning. Come five PM, we all piled into the car and headed back to Alliance. For that Sunday they had blocked off pretty much the entirety of their main street, and threw one helluva party. A local rock band played, and all the restaurants had tables and catering trucks outside. Beer flowed like water. It was a beer crowd, as you might expect; I looked in vain for wine.

When Monday morning came, Alliance and its surrounds were covered in very dense fog. I got a little nervous at that point. Back in 1972, some friends and I (including Art and Ernie) had driven almost 2,000 miles to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River to see a total eclipse, only to be clouded out a mere hour before totality. The fog lifted eight-ish, with only a few scattered clouds remaining, and we began setting up our equipment.

Art, Pete, and Ernie are hobby photographers with fabulous cameras, filters, telephoto lenses, etc. I’m not. I didn’t plan to photograph totality at all. Instead, I brought my Criterion portable scope (which I had bought to see Halley’s Comet from Bonaire in 1986) and arranged it to project a magnified image of the Sun on a sheet of foamcore board. This worked very well for the partial phases of the eclipse. No need for glasses; we were never looking at the actual Sun.

Partway through the partial phase, some denser and far less scattered clouds wandered in. My blood ran cold. This was how it had begun in 1972. Fearing that this was as good as it was going to get, I took a couple of remarkably good shots of the partial phase right through the clouds, with the clouds acting as their own solar filter. All I did was aim my Canon G16 at the sun, and snapped away on auto. But damn, I was worried.

Very shortly after I took the shot above, the clouds dispersed in a hurry, as though God had leaned over the railings of Heaven and yelled “Shoo!” I stilled my pounding heart; it would not be 1972 redux.

As the partial phase of a total solar eclipse nears its end, the quality of the light changes. It gets “thin” in a weird way, which I have always characterized as “elfin.” Some people say it seems a touch green. It does seem more than a touch spooky. We put my spare sheet of white foamcore down flat on the ground, in hope of glimpsing the mysterious and hard-to-see shadow bands. Carol and I had seen them during the total solar eclipse of 1998, from a cruise ship in the Caribbean. It helps to have a large area of plain white to look for them. We had the side of a bright white ship, and the shadow bands were immdiately obvious in the last few seconds before totality. Nobody quite knows for sure what causes them; see the link above for several theories. The Sun became an ever-thinner sliver, putting the area into something like deep twilight. I looked at the foamcore, and damn! Shadow bands! They were hard to see and only lasted a few seconds, because then…

Totality.

Everybody all across Wells Ranch cheered. It got dark, but not midnight dark. Twilight-gray faded to a weird off-black. The Sun’s corona was much larger than I had predicted, and cast quite a bit of light all on its own. Yes, it really did look like Art’s photo at the beginning of this entry. During totality you can look at the Sun through a telescope, and we did. There were several pink-violet prominences at points around the Sun’s limb. You can see some in the photo below (from Pete Albrecht) if you look carefully:

This was a short eclipse, with only a little more than two minutes of totality. I took some quick looks through the Criterion, but mostly I just stood and basked in the strangeness of the light and the weirdness of the corona. I wondered what our primitive ancestors might have thought, when chance placed them in an eclipse’s path. Were I even a hard-headed Neanderthal (and they were very hard-headed) I would have been hard-pressed not to ascribe the sight to supernatural activity.

And as a quick aside, I need to point out that eclipses of the sort we see are a consequence of a truly weird coincidence: That the Sun and the Moon present almost precisely the same angular diameter to people on Earth’s surface. A smaller Moon would merely transit the Sun’s disk. A larger Moon would have blocked out the prominences and even the corona. So why did it work out this way? Nobody knows. It seems an astonishingly unlikely thing. In truth, the Neanderthals’ guesses are pretty much as good as mine.

It lasted for two marvelous minutes and change. The end of totality is signaled by something no less astonishing than the eclipse itself: A dazzling point of light appears along the limb of the Sun, forming what people call the diamond ring effect. Like the shadow bands, it lasts only seconds, before the exposed point of the solar disk broadens to a slowly growing and painfully bright crescent. Again, people cheered, not so much because the eclipse was over, but because we had driven a long way to see it, and succeeded. (Unlike us in 1972.) This was my third total solar eclipse. I expect to make it four, come 2024. I hope to make it five, but more than that…unlikely. So I cheered with the whole gang scattered across the cowfields. We came. We watched. We triumphed.

Then it was over, and before the Moon moved entirely away from the Sun, people were throwing stuff into their cars and trailers and heading for the exits. I expected that, and it was the reason we had all decided to stay the rest of the day and the coming night in Alliance, so that the mad rush out of town would be other people’s problem.

And well that we did. That night, in the mostly empty cowfield, we were graced with some of the darkest skies any of us had ever seen. The air was clear, and apart from Alliance’s lights on the northern horizon, there was nothing to dull the stars. The Milky Way was as bright as I’d ever seen it. We leaned back in our lounge chairs and reminisced about Lane Tech, while spotting a few satellites and several very bright meteors, probably late Perseids.

Earlier in the afternoon, we had taken a quick trip a few miles north to Carhenge, one of the most peculiar things I’ve ever seen. Back in 1987, an eccentric artist created a model of Stonehenge, only made out of 1960s and 70s cars, all painted gray. There is something delightfully human and weirdly Rural American about it. Nobody would do something like Carhenge in the Seattle suburbs. Sure, it’s a tourist trap. We were tourists.

Worked as designed.

And so it ended. In a way, the expedition redeemed our ill-fated coming-of-age adventure to Cap Chat, Quebec, in 1972. Closure, as I said, is good. Pete took a photo of the three of us who had gone that time, along with a little blue souvenir flag that Ernie had somehow managed to retain for 45 years. Better late than never–and it had been well worth the wait.

I’ve Been to Chattanooga at a Con with No Politics

Well, that won’t be the title of a Top 10 song, fersure. However, it’s true: I went to my first SF convention in five years. It’s called LibertyCon. It was in Chattanooga, Tennesee, thereby taking my list of un-visited states down to 11. I had a truly marvelous time. I’m going next year, 1,500-mile air distance be damned.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. Libertycon reminded me of the 1970s, minus the hormones, the frizzy hairdos, and the leisure suits. Back in the 70s, when we went to cons it was for the writing, the art, the authors, the huckster room, the parties, and all the other people who were there. We didn’t go to cons to talk about politics. In fact, we avoided the handful of losers who insisted on talking about politics, and if they got too much in our faces, we chewed them out. This element of con culture began to disintegrate in the mid-1980s, which, not coincidentally, is about the time I stopped going to cons, beyond the occasional Worldcon that was within easy driving distance.

Just imagine! There were no panels on how Gambians are under-represented in fantastic fiction, nor panels explaining why setting stories in Gambia is cultural appropriation. The insufferable John Scalzi was not present, and was not yelling that everyone could kiss his ass. (He does this so much I wonder if he’s mispelling “kick.”) There was no code of conduct granting the concom the power to throw you out of the con if you said something that somebody at the con didn’t like.

No. We listened to panels and solo presentations about designing alien species, collaborating on writing projects, overcoming writer’s block, satellites vs. space junk, future plagues, junk science, the New Madrid fault system, the future of military flight, space law and space treaties, writing paranormal romance (with the marvelous subtitle “Lovers and Stranger Others”), inventions and the patent system, the future of cyberwarfare, cryptozoology, and much else. See what’s not on that list? Well, I won’t drop any hints if you don’t.

Note well that this is about con programming and con management. Here and there politics crept into private conversations of which I partook, but I heard neither Trump bashing nor this “God-Emperor” crap. There was occasional talk of governance, which some of us called “politics” in ancient times before partisan tribalism polluted the field. There was much talk of guns, and nobody had to look over their shoulders before speaking. There was also much talk of swords and knives and how such things are made.There was a great deal of talk about whiskey, but then again, this was Tennessee. (And nobody held the fact that I don’t like whiskey against me.) There was, in fact, talk about damned near everything under and well beyond the Sun. What was missing was shaming, whining, and tribal loyalty signaling. (There is no virtue in “virtue signaling.”) It was nothing short of delicious.

The list of authors present was impressive: my friends Dan and Sarah Hoyt, John Ringo, David Weber, Tom Kratman, Peter Grant, David Drake, Jason Cordova, Stephanie Osborn, Karl Gallagher, Lou Antonelli, John Van Stry, David Burkhead, Michael Z. Williamson, Richard Alan Chandler, Jon del Arroz, Declan Finn, Dawn Witzke, and many others. Baen’s Publisher Toni Weisskopf was the con MC, but she always attracted such crowds that I never managed to get within several feet of her. Space law expert Laura Montgomery was there, and I lucked into breakfast with her and her friend Cheri Partain. I also had some quality time with master costumer Jonna Hayden.

In truth, I had quality time with quite a number of online friends, most of whom I met at the con for the first time. I made a special effort to talk to indie writers. Most said they were selling books (generally ebooks on Amazon’s Kindle store) and making tolerable money if not a steady living. The question that has been hanging over the indie crowd for years is still there, flashing like a neon sign: How to rise above the noise level and get the attention of the staggeringly large audience for $3-$5 genre fiction ebooks. I talked to a number of people about that, and there are still no good answers.

But the conversation continued, untroubled by identity politics, or indeed politics of any stripe. The food was good. But then, I don’t go to cons for the food. I didn’t get a room at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, which is in fact a weird accretion of a train station, some old train cars, and a conventional hotel building. I stayed at the Chattanoogan a few blocks away, just to be sure I had a dark, quiet room to escape to when the revels were ended each night. About all I can complain about are aching feet, but then again, that’s why God created Advil.

As best I know, there is nothing like LibertyCon anywhere in the country, and certainly nothing in the West. I will be there next year, with sellable hardcopies of The Cunning Blood, Ten Gentle Opportunities, the Drumlins Double, Firejammer, and (with some luck) Dreamhealer. Many thanks to all who spent time with me, especially Ron Zukowski, Jonna Hayden, and the Hoyts, all of whom went to great lengths to make me feel welcome and part of the club.

It’s amazing how much fun you can have when you agree with all present to leave the filth that is politics outside the door, and ideally across the county line. That’s why LibertyCon is what it is, and why they limit membership to 750. My guess is that there is room for other events like LibertyCon elsewhere in our country. If you ever run across one, please let me know!

Tripwander

Colorado Springs blizzard 04-2017

How do you spell “relief?” O..N..E….H..O..U..S..E.

Yes indeedy. Carol and I now own only one house, and we live in it. We bought our Arizona house in the summer of 2015, and since then have been bouncing back and forth, getting this house livable, which was more work than we expected (especially since it’s only two-thirds the size of our Colorado house) and getting the other house cleaned up, placed on the market, and sold.

It’s done, sold, closed, nailed, finis.

We are not real estate people. We are homebodies. And when you have two homes, it gets awkward remembering which home is real home, and which home is a burden that you worry too much about. For us, the home you worry about is the home you’re not in, and when you have two homes there’s always one that you’re not in.

I go on at some length about this because having two houses was making us nuts. So when we finally (after the house was most of a year on the market) got and accepted an offer, the potential relief was palpable. I say “potential,” because we couldn’t just FedEx papers around, as we had done a time or two in the past. Our Colorado house still contained some furniture and other oddments that had to be either gotten rid of or brought back. So we loaded the Pack in the hold, roared north, and got to work.

First discovery: It’s illegal to sell used beds in Colorado, and (for all I know) most other places. It was either find friends who could use a nice wireless cal-king Sleep Number bed, or trash it. Luck was with us: We had friends who were moving to a larger house, with a spare bedroom in need of equipment. Pulling the thing apart was interesting; I took photos at every stage and put them on a thumb drive, so that David and Terry would have some chance of putting it back together again. (They did.)

Second discovery: Large houses are subject to crannyism, which means that they have so many places that you forget some of those places are not yet empty. We made a couple of unplanned trips to Goodwill, and when the time came to fill a U-Haul trailer for the trip home, we found it much fuller than we had planned. How did we manage to miss a beach bag full of snorkels and flippers when we packed the place? How? How? And two suitcases plus a duffel? Kites? 8′ lengths of aluminum strap? An entire Craftsman tool chest? What about about our 1975 Encyclopedia Britannica?

That was a close one: The buyers wanted it. Whew.

The good Stickley furniture all sold for real money. The old and so-so furniture went to the Rescued Hearts thrift store. The ratty stuff went out on the curb. (A lot of Aleve went down the hatch from all that shlepping.) A few odd items (including my 1937 Zenith cathedral radio) went to friends. It was a great deal of work for a couple of sixtysomethings who mostly wanted it to be over so they could go home and jump in their pool.

Oh, and then Colorado Springs gave us a going-away present: an April blizzard. Close to a foot of very dense, wet snow fell one night at our rental house, and the cracks and bumps we heard circa 0300 were branches breaking loose of the large trees everywhere in the neighborhood and thumping down on roofs. The fact that it was 30 degrees that night was an underappreciated blessing: Another ten or fifteen degrees colder and we would have been up to our necks. The city made itself abundantly clear: Don’t let the snow shovels hit you on the way out.

Not to worry, Colorado Springs.

We stayed a few extra days for the Tarry-All dog show in Denver, where we were grooming a blinding-white dog in a roofed but otherwise open cattle pen with floors made of gritty brown stuff that may or may not have been dirt. The second day we were coping with 50 MPH wind gusts, and ran into several mini-haboobs on the way home.

The drive from the Springs back to Phoenix was uneventful, beyond the feeling of the wind trying to turn your high-profile trailer on its side. Carol is as good as company gets, and the dogs had enough sense to chill out in their kennels and not make me any crazier than I already was.

We’re still unpacking boxes and trying to figure out where everything goes. However, I think it’s significant that when I took my blood pressure today, it was lower than I had seen it in years. The back of my head finally allowed itself to relax, and for good reason:

There is now only one Home, and we are in it. All the rest will fall into place.

The End of the Long Road South

Wednesday morning, whatever else remained in our house in Colorado Springs went into a truck. We spent the rest of the day vacuuming and polishing and getting the Colorado house back in full staged condition. We spent the night (as we had the previous two) at a hotel. Thursday morning bright and early, we went over to Jimi’s to pick up the Pack, and with everything else piled into the back of the Durango, we blasted south on I-25.

I had hoped to keep you all informed, but while stopped for the night in Grants NM that evening I discovered that eight keys on this dorky laptop had ceased to function, making it impossible to enter my Windows password, much less type anything useful. I could, of course, have plugged in a USB keyboard…but my spare keyboards were either already in Phoenix or in a box on the truck.

This morning we got everybody fed and pottied and tucked into their kennels and headed west on I-40 to Flagstaff, where we had a quick lunch and then turned south onto I-17. About 2:30 PM we pulled into our garage, and when we popped the doors we rediscovered what 111 degrees felt like. It felt like…home! Sure thing. We lived here from 1990 until 2003, and in July 1996 we saw the temps at the Scottsdale airport (where the Coriolis offices were) hit 123 degrees. 50C. Don’t get that hot much outside of Death Valley. The heat was ugly when you had to commute in it, but this time I’ll be trekking either down the hall to write starship stories, or out the back door to stand up to my nostrils in the pool.

I can deal with the heat a damsight better than I can deal with snow in May, trust me.

Anyway. Tomorrow we have a day to get everything ready to roll here. We turned off a lot of stuff, like the soda fridge, the standalone icemaker, and the reverse-osmosis water system. We found that there was a little dust and a few dead bugs in the odd corner. All fixable. Then on Sunday the truck arrives, and the crew will unload 50-odd boxes, the treadmill, a teak lateral file cabinet, my steampunk computer table, and some other odds and ends. The coming week will likely see us sorting stuff into various closets and cabinets, with a pile to one side of stuff that will go to Goodwill. I may have kept a few too many winter shirts. I’m sure six brooms are four brooms too many. Etc. It adds up.

The Colorado house is on the market. It’s not a very strong market, and if it takes six months or a year to sell, so it goes. In the meantime, we have a lot to do.

More as it happens. It’ll be a lot easier when my quadcore catches up to me.

A Grand Ride North, and a New Grand Champion

Dash Jeff Carol Tarryall 2016-cropped-500w.jpg

We’re back in Colorado Springs, and sooner than we thought, too. A day came early last week when we realized that we had pretty much gotten everything done that we expected to while wintering over. Furthermore, there was a big dog show in Denver on April 9-10. Dash’s coat was in pretty good shape. The weather forecast looked marvelous throughout the West. (Sorry about the East Coast, guys.) So we looked at each other, nodded, and started throwing things into the Durango.

It’s 835 miles, all of it Interstate, and we’ve done it many times by now. We did well enough to stop for an afternoon in Albuquerque, to visit with a friend of ours who has Dash’s brother, Charlie. As we had all four of the Pack with us, and Sherry has two Bichons of her own (both boys) it turned into a backyard Bichon party very quickly. There was much running around and squirting-of-things, which is all any (male) Bichon would ask of a party. Everybody slept really well that night, not least of whom were the two of us.

We got into the Springs Thursday night, turned on the water, and got a decent night’s sleep. We dropped everybody but Dash off at Gramdma Jimi’s the next morning, and headed up to Denver for the show. Most of our Bichon Club friends were there, and nine Bichons were entered. Dash won Best of Breed for the Owner Handled category both days. This meant that he would represent the breed in the Group competition. As its name implies, the Non-Sporting Group is a kind of none-of-the-above category containing breeds including the Poodle, Shiba Inu, Dalmatian, Boston Terrier, Keeshond, and others that aren’t good fits in any of the other groups. I’ve often wondered why the Dalmatian isn’t in the Working Group, and why the Boston Terrier–sheesh–isn’t in the Terrier Group. Doubtless there are historical issues, all of which have long been forgotten.

No matter. Dash looked about as good as he ever does, thanks to a foot bath and a great deal of fussing by Carol. On Saturday he took Third Place in the Non-Sporting Group for owner/handled dogs, and on Sunday he took Second Place, ditto. We took home two very fancy ribbons, and–more important–a large number of points. Dash won 45 owner-handled points at the show, which gives him 225 owner-handled points overall. This makes him the #2 owner-handled Bichon in the country right now. Given that the #1 Bichon has only 350 owner-handled points, it’s actually a contest. (The photo above is by Patrina Walters Odette, and used with permission. Thanks, Patrina!)

But more than that, the additional points make Dash a Grand Champion. Championships in dog showing are a little like dans in karate: There is an ascending hierarchy of championships, based on an entirely different tally of Grand Championship points. Dash made Champion a couple of years ago. The Phoenix Project slowed us down; there wasn’t a lot of showing going on in 2015. However, Dash has done so well in the few shows we’ve entered that he accumulated 25 Grand Championship points and took Grand Champion this past weekend. The next step is Bronze Grand Championship, which requires 100 Grand Championship Points. This is four times what Dash has now, but we may give it a shot. Beyond that are Silver Grand Championship (200 points), Gold Grand Championship (400 points) and Platinum Grand Championship (800 points.) Whew. That’s a whole lotta brushing, on both Dash’s and Carol’s ends of the brush. Let’s see how life unfolds for the next couple of years.

And unfolding it is. We now have the task of getting the Colorado house ready to sell. This means sifting, sorting, selling and/or giving away a lot of stuff, and shipping the rest down to Phoenix. It was necessary (if maybe a little unnerving) to dump two boxes of my books into the recycle bin. I have a couple of pristine copies of Degunking Your PC and Degunking Your Email, Spam, and Viruses…do I need a whole publisher’s box of both? It’s going to be harder with my assembly book and my Wi-Fi book, but downsizing means…cutting down the size of your stuff. As people who have been here know, we have a lot of stuff.

So the downsizing continues. More as it happens. Anybody want some plywood?

Tripwander

Colorado really didn’t want us to leave Colorado, and did its damndest to follow us down to Phoenix. We got underway Friday afternoon, having spent the morning tidying up the house and making sure that everything else was in order. There was a snowstorm on the forecast for Saturday, and I really wanted to get over Raton Pass before the first flakes fell, tired as we both were.

The weather was gorgeous, and we got over the pass late afternoon, stopping in Las Vegas NM for the night. My intuition was valid: We awoke Saturday morning to a glowering sky and much lower temps. So we piled the Pack into the Durango and blasted south. By Albuquerque it had started to snow. We got onto westbound I-40 with the wipers still on intermittent, and got almost to Grants before things got ugly.

And once they got ugly, they got ugly fast. We could see the cell on Weatherbug’s radar. It went from nothing to red in almost no space at all. The glowering sky became a blizzard in the space of half a mile or less. Visibility was only a few hundred feet. Predictably, there were crackpots blasting past us at 80+ MPH. I considered stopping, but the right shoulder was relatively narrow and we were a biggish target. So we slithered on, with snowflakes the size of “Have a Nice Day” stickers splatting against the windshield.

As quickly as it began, it ended. The splatting and slithering, however, were not over. We got another hundred miles or so, and crossed the state line into Arizona, before the skies opened again. This time it was sleet. The cell wasn’t as intense, but it was a great deal larger, and I white-knuckled it for over forty minutes until it faded out into rain and then mist. The universe suffers no shortage of crackpots, all of whom were determined to get to Winslow by noon or die trying. A couple of them had to be doing 90…in a sleet storm. What was truly boggling is that we only saw one car in the ditch, with no evidence that it had rolled or struck anything else.

Fifteen miles past Winslow the sun came out. By the time we got to Flagstaff it was 4 PM and the roads were dry. We spent the night at a Quality Inn that was just a notch and a half shy of false advertising. The rooms didn’t even have fire sprinklers, and the outside stairways to the second floor were falling apart and roped off with yellow “Police Line” tape.

The next morning it was sunny, and four degrees above zero, mostly par for Flagstaff in mid-December. We hung out in Flagstaff until the Sun had had some time to work on the road ice. But once we blasted south on I-17, the sky was clear and the pavement almost entirely dry. We got down the Mogollon Rim with knuckles no whiter than usual, and rolled into our new driveway at 2:30 PM.

Colorado wasn’t quite done with us. We emptied the car under cold (by Phoenix standards) but clear skies, and after an excellent meat lovers’ pizza at Humble Pie, we mostly sat around reading trashy novels and trying to make our hair lie flat again after a long day of dancing with freezing storm cells. I dipped into Monster Hunter Nemesis, trying to dope out what it is that makes Larry Correia’s adventures so damned good. In short (for this volume at least): Monsters, guns, endless action, more guns, and, well, Frankenstein as a sort of paranormal Man in Black. I powerfully recommend the Monster Hunter International series, with one caveat: Start at the beginning. There are running jokes, background character arcs, and much else that will leave you scratching your head unless you start with Book 1 and go from there.

Come Monday morning, the Arizona Sun was gone, and it was once more cold and raining. It rained off and on most of the day. This morning, it was 30 degrees with a frost on everything exposed to the sky. Like I said, Colorado didn’t want to let us go. Phoenix barely gets frosts in February, much less before winter actually begins. We didn’t mind; frost kills scorpions, and the fewer scorpions around here, the happier I’ll be. Besides, if Global Cooling ever becomes a Real Thing, I’d rather be here than Up Nawth, staring down blizzards every weekend and monitoring glaciertracker.com with a nervous eye. My hometown was once under a mile of ice, and whereas I often think it’s only what they deserve, I’d just as soon not have Robert Frost’s (!) marvelous little poem come true. (My long-term research suggests that hate trumps desire.)

We’re doing errands today, and generally vamping until tomorrow morning, when The Big Truck O’ Stuff shows up and things get aerobic again. We don’t yet have Internet at the house and are waiting for Cox Cable to dig a new trench from the node in the alley to the house. So again, what you see here has been uploaded from a coffee shop or restaurant, which we at best will visit once a day. I’ll be a little scarce until Cox builds our own personal Information Superhighway. Then again, it’s not like we won’t have enough to keep us busy between now and then, whenever “then” happens to be.

There’s much to write; in fact, not writing at length for over a month has left me very antsy. It’s almost a physical need, and right now it’s not being met.

I’ll keep you posted as best I can. In the meantime, I gotta go throw a couple of old bedsheets over my oranges, lemons, and limes. The world may be warming somewhere. It’s sure as hell not warming here.

Tripwander

Before we left our Phoenix house in September, we arranged for a great deal of work to be done, and spent these past ten days down there making sure it all got done. And it did. Paint throughout, cabinet work, drywall work, and a new air conditioner in the single-bay garage (which will be my mad scientist’s workshop until I build a better one) among many other, smaller things. While we were there we had all the trees on the property trimmed to civilized proportions, had the AC vents cleaned, and had an interesting business called Seal Out Scorpions come out and, well, seal out scorpions by filling cracks and running matte-finish transparent silicone around the edges of all the wall plates. Those guys are into scorpions on a total lifestyle basis, and I learned a great deal about the little bastards just listening to scorpion guru Mike Golleher walk us through the seal-out process. They glow under UV, but I’m sure most of you knew that. (Didn’t you?)

Tourist shops around here sell lollipops with real scorpions in them. You probably didn’t know that.

The real mission was to make sure the house was ready to receive the Big Truck of Stuff, which is scheduled to arrive there on or about December 15. So we vacuumed and mopped and stacked spare floor tiles in the slump-block shed, collapsing into bed a little after nine every night. Oh, in truth we collapsed after spending half an hour in our hot tub, which made the collapsing all the more pleasant…especially on the night we knew Chicago was getting 16 inches of snow. I drew the outlines of my several workbenches in blue painter’s tape on the floor of the small garage. We figured out how to use the washer and dryer. We did not figure out–entirely–how to use the Nest thermostats, but they’re impressive in one slightly unnerving way: When you walk past one, even a couple of feet away, it wakes up the display. When this happened at 6 AM in a dark house, I jumped.

Workshop Taped.jpg

As aerobic as the trip was, we lucked out in a major way not once but twice. I had selected Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 as the successor to our increasingly cranky 2011-era Droid X2 phones some time back, but by the time I did, the inferior Note 5 was out and carrier shops around here no longer sold Note 4s. While shopping the Scottsdale Costco, I spotted a Note 4 on display at the smartphone kiosk. Assuming it was just display leftovers, I asked one of the kiosk guys if they still sold Note 4s. He looked up inventory, and sure enough, there were six of them on the shelves. Sold! said Jeff. We walked out with what amounted to a pair of unlocked phones on the Verizon network, which I’ve seen named as having the best coverage in the Phoenix metro area. At any time we can pay off the balance on the phones and take them elsewhere. I’m not used to that kind of deal in the smartphone world; perhaps the universe is now unfolding as it should.

The display is gorgeous, and although the upgrade to Lollipop (no scorpions!) ate up a spectacular amount of data, we’re very pleased with the phones. I’ll have more to say about them here once I’ve had a little more spare time to poke at them. Such time has been scarce; patience, patience.

Our second bit of luck was even stranger. Carol was going to supper with her friend Jan, and on the way to their favorite Paradise Bakery, they passed Oasis Waterbeds up near Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard. Out of the corner of her eye Carol saw what looked disturbingly like a “Going Out of Business” sign in the front window.

Whoops. We shopped there in August, and had decided to order a waterbed as soon as we got down there for the winter. Carol and Jan took a quick detour and confirmed that the store was half-empty, with inventory going fast. Carol cranked up her Note 4, buzzed me, and told me to get my hindquarters up there Right Damned Now.

A bit of backstory: Carol and I had a waterbed all the 13 years and change we lived in Scottsdale, and when we sold the house, the buyer asked if we’d sell him the bed. We decided to try the new Sleep Number technology when we got up to Colorado, and have been using that ever since. Sleep Number works well, but on balance, we both prefer the old waterbed. With growing alarm, we realized that there were only a handful of beds left in stock, and just a couple in Cal King. Had we waited until mid-December, there might have been none at all. So we bought one on the spot, for delivery December 17.

Crawling Eye Coffee Cup.jpg

Getting the rest of our Colorado house into boxes by December 9 is going to take everything we’ve got, so I expect to be scarce here, as much as there is to say. In closing, I must show you the Einstein Brothers coffee cup I got the morning we had breakfast there, at 64th and Greenway. Evidently Einstein’s has signed The Crawling Eye to be their holiday mascot for 2015. This would be a problem, if anybody but me remembered The Crawling Eye. (Hint: It was Forrest Tucker’s big film debut. Then again, since nobody but me probably remembers Forrest Tucker, that won’t help much.)

Tripwander

Carol and I drove down to Phoenix as homeowners. We drove back as multiple home owners. As I’ve said far too often, the real work starts now.

Not that there wasn’t any work involved in the events of the last three weeks. I took along my Paperwhite and the print edition of Nicholas Wade’s book, A Troublesome Inheritance, expecting to finish Wade plus an SFF novel or two. Well, I got three chapters further on Wade, and no Paperwhite progress at all. Buying a house is a process with a lot of moving parts, as most of my readers will know from personal experience. Some goodly number of these moving parts had contingencies, so the order in which we did things was significant. We felt, at times, bent over the kitchen table of the small house we’d rented on VRBO, making lists and drawing diagrams, like we were waging a brushfire war or planning Thanksgiving dinner for the entire city of Dubuque.

The house needs work. Not a huge amount of work, but enough to involve interviewing and cutting deals with:

  • Painters. The house is off-white (in the direction of gray) throughout. I like color.
  • A color consultant to help us choose colors. This sounds extravagant but worked out very well, especially as the consultant was a very savvy artist lady who had paint color chips considerably larger than my thumbnails.
  • Landscapers. The house is on something greater than half an acre, with fifteen or twenty trees and lots of miscellaneous shrubbery, all of which required some attention. The catsclaw was taking over, and had already devoured our gargoyles.
  • Tree surgeons. Not all of the trees are healthy, as Carol suspected and the landscapers confirmed.
  • Pool services. We now have a 42′ X 20′ diving pool plus a seats-six Jacuzzi spa, both of which will need weekly tending to avoid turning green.
  • Local governments and utilities. We had to establish accounts with the City of Phoenix for water and trash pickup, with Southwest Gas, and APS for electricity. The paperwork, at times, was boggling: The state of Arizona requires a separate title transfer for our septic system, sheesh.
  • Pest control. Where there are palm trees there will be palmetto bugs, and we do not intend to share the house with palmetto bugs.
  • Alarm services. The house has an entry alarm but not a smoke/fire alarm, and we had to add that capability to the system.
  • A general contractor. We hired the guy who remodeled Keith’s house in Scottsdale, to do some drywall repair, put pulls on all the cabinet doors, and install an A/C unit in the small garage so I can use it as a workshop.

We also had to do some shopping, for:

  • Pool furniture. Lounging by the pool by lying on the cooldeck is a nonstarter.
  • Patio furniture. I like to have breakfast alfresco when possible. It’s possible lots more often in Phoenix than in Colorado.
  • A new dining room set. The one we have up here is too big for the space we have down there.
  • Cabinet and drawer pulls. Cabinets without pulls were stylish when the house was remodeled. I realized I was scratching the wood finish with my fingernails trying to grip the doors at their edges. No thanks.
  • A refrigerator. The one that came with the house doesn’t fit the space where the refrigerator is supposed to go. Nor does it have a water/ice dispenser.
  • A waterbed. We had a waterbed when we lived in Phoenix. For us, it’s part of the Phoenix experience. After all, your waterbed won’t freeze in Phoenix.

Etc. Etc. Etc. Ok, it wasn’t all drudgery. Carol and I had two swimming pools to play in: one at the small house we rented as a base of operations, and the much larger pool at our new place. We actually tried the spa one night, when the temps got down to a chilly 78 degrees. The big problem with the house’s water features is that it’s extremely hard to get out of them once you get in, which has nothing to do with the ladders.

Now you may have some sense for why I haven’t posted here in three weeks. We’re still writing lists and the work is far from over, but with some luck (and a far better system than the crappy 2009-era laptop I’m using) you’ll see me a little more often here in the near future.

Tripwander

Carol and I just got back from two weeks in Phoenix, in a house rented through VRBO. We had intended to scout out neighborhoods as part of a long-term project to buy a winter place down there. We had a daily routine: After breakfast, we threw QBit and Aero in the car and headed over to one of the local parks. (Jack and Dash don’t travel as well, so we boarded them with Grandma Jimi.) After the dogs had had enough, we got back in the car and cruised the surrounding neighborhood, noting details we would otherwise have breezed past, including For Sale signs. That night we looked up all the For Sale signs on Zillow. The next day we looked at the map and chose a different park. Lather, rinse, repeat.

On Day 2 we paused to watch a ball game of some sort, played by a crew of East Indian guys. It almost looked like baseball, and then it hit me: Cricket! I had never seen a cricket game before. I have no idea what the rules are, and I wasn’t used to seeing the pitcher bounce balls off the ground on the way to the batter. Maybe it was just that they were on a deadline or something, but the game went a great deal faster than baseball. (I’m not alone in thinking that baseball is too slow to be interesting.) So is there sandlot cricket? I’d even be willing to try that.

On Day 3 we ran into a woman walking her little dog (which I think is a dashuahua) and after talking briefly about dogs we asked her if she lived in the neighborhood and what she thought of it. She did, and told us about it, and when we said we were interviewing neighborhoods for a winter place, she let slip that she was a realtor. So although we hadn’t really intended to look at individual properties this trip, she clearly knew what she was talking about, and we spent much of the rest of our two weeks touring homes on large lots in a rectangle bounded by Hayden, Greenway, Tatum, and Shea.

One of them truly called to us, and we looked it over carefully. It has a PV solar array that can put out 5000 watts in peak sun, a fenced pool, and (critically) no stairs. A little pricier than we’d like, but then again, what isn’t? So we’re still researching it and chasing down financing. Besides, I’d have to have another workshop scratchbuilt. Have done that twice now, so a third time would be no big deal. Or so I hope.

We’ll be back there later this year and will pick up the quest again.

A marksman friend of mine drove out from California so we could punch some holes in calibrated cardboard up at the Ben Avery Shooting Range near Cave Creek. We pumped about 150 rounds total, first at 25 yards (with a .22 rifle) and then at 100 yards, with his AR-15. I did a reasonably good job, and got ten rounds into a 3 1/2″ circle at 100 yards with the AR-15, including two in the 1 1/4″ bullseye circle. The range was so crowded that several .38 rounds from other people hit our targets. (They probably struck the ground and got turned to one side or the other by hitting a rock.) There was a miserable crosswind, and I’m far from a marksman, so I’m satisfied with what I did.

It was the first long trip we took in our new 2014 Durango. That car is so comfortable that I could credibly describe it as a Barcalounger with a V8. It’s about 840 Interstate miles, and we split the run at Grants, New Mexico. I forgot to write down the average mileage for the trip down, but for the trip back it was 24.5 MPG, which I thought was pretty good for a thing this size cruising at 75-80 MPH.

Why do I want a place in Phoenix? We lived there for 13 years and considered the weather good for nine months out of the year. Then we moved to Colorado, and consider the weather good about six months out of the year. Colorado winters are getting worse, and (sorry, Certain People) based on my research I’m betting against global warming. Besides, I miss swimming pools.

I found something interesting in the pile of held mail that I brought home yesterday. More on that tomorrow.