Saturday, May 21, 2022

May In Flagstaff



It's spring in Flagstaff and our world has become beautiful, and but for some windy days, it's perfect here. We hired a new programmer for the team at work and there is hope of reducing the proportion of my time on call and that means I should be able to enjoy more time outdoors on weekends.

Anyway, May has Memorial Day and I will have a couple of days off for the holiday, meaning a four day weekend. I feel a little guilty about celebrating on such a somber day, but on the other hand there is little enough time off for those of us who spend our lives as employees. I'm probably overthinking things again - that's what I meant in my previous post that my mind tends to numb itself.

Maybe some future generation will figure out how to allow people to live without arranging their entire lives around work?

Friday, May 20, 2022

Mind Numbing

 

My old girl Zelda during happier and healthier times. She looks healthy and bushy in this photo from 2018. Lately she's looking pretty skinny and it isn't healthy. We only have so much time on our personal clocks and her's is running out.

Life can be mind-numbing. I think the reason I haven't blogged much lately is because my mind numbed itself to normal interactions with the world. I've been pretty busy with work and other things and my brain went into a near-vegetative state after work every day for the last few weeks.

One of the "other things" is that my oldest cat had her required annual veterinary appointment, legally required to renew her medication. Unfortunately her kidney disease has progressed and she has lost yet more weight. I think we are probably in the last year of her life. It's sad, yet most days she acts normal and even gallops around the house and yard sometimes. It's just that she keeps getting skinnier.

As usual, the vet appointment caused the worst day she's had since the last vet appointment. I sometimes think vets (and human doctors) don't realize just how negative the process of diagnosis and treatment can be. By the end of the day, she lay sprawled and exhausted in an unnatural position, even for a cat. The treatment is often worse than the disease.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Roxy Music

 


I discovered Roxy Music this week. It's a band I had heard of but never paid attention to. They were on the charts a little before my time, but several of their tracks are familiar, and a couple of them are wonderful. You hear them as background music and on movie soundtracks. Some of the earlier material sounds like an inferior copy of David Bowie, but they really hit their stride starting around 1978 and it got better.

It kind of sounds like the lead singer, Bryan Ferry, is somewhat of an icon in the UK, not only of music but also fashion and art. He's not that famous in the USA.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Novel Progress

My first novel was handwritten in two of these, but my latest is in word processor format.


I continue work on a second novel. The first sits on the shelf where I last touched it over a year ago - finished in 2011, abandoned during rewrite. I wrote a few thousand words on my latest several months ago and then ran into the conundrum that my protagonist is the least interesting character.

That's a problem. Not an "issue," or "challenge." I don't like to mince words when something goes seriously wrong.

I've been stuck with writer's block for a while now, trying to figure out what to do about it. Occasionally I have edited a few sentences or added a couple of paragraphs without getting to a point I can move forward. The cause was a combination of procrastination and hesitance to throw out the characterization already written. Of course, I really had to throw out the characterization. Fortunately, I have a solution, or at least an approach.

I admit it wasn't an epiphany, but rather a comment on Twitter that gave me the idea. The comment referred to characterization in Hitchcock movies, and suddenly I realized the value of reading a lot of other author's works to inform your own writing. This is advised by Stephen King, among others, and this is probably the first time I've seen the link directly.

I'm always willing to steal an idea, as long as it is a good one.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Workout

Strength training: I hate it, but I try to do a little every week.


This entry is kind of just fitness journaling so I can look back at it later.

I'm one of these people who goes through yo-yo weight gain and loss. I've been in exceptional shape for periods of my life: carved and fast. And I've been in lumpy, inferior condition through other periods. Normally I do some type of workout, but it can be intermittent for many months at a time, which is how I get out of shape. Currently my weight is greater than I'd like, but I've been in worse shape.


Cardio Training

My current plan is to do cardio two or three days a week. Usually this is two runs and a bicycle ride, but sometimes one of these is replaced by a hike. Running consists of trying to go at least 2 miles without walking, but sometimes I go farther and walk intervals.

Until last winter I didn't bicycle (or run) in winter. I finally got a bike trainer setup in my garage and managed to ride about once per week. I found it difficult to make myself do much more as I dislike the monotony. When the outdoor season begins, I usually start off with 6 to 8 miles and work my way up to as much as 20 - 30 miles by September or October. The farthest I've ever gone is 35 miles at the Grand Canyon a few years ago. I should clarify this is mountain biking, which is relatively more difficult per mile in terms of energy requirements than riding on pavement. I tend to take my mountain bike and ride everything: pavement, single track (trail), gravel bike path, dirt forest roads, etc.

Strength Training

I don't like strength training so I only do a minimum, just enough to make a difference if I'm persistent over time. Persistent means at least 2 days a week for me. I refuse to go to a gym so I only do whatever can be done at home. I used to do calisthenics but had to switch to mostly dumbbells due to joint pain.

Sets of 20 crunches - right now I only do a couple a week.

"Back lifts" or "Supermans" - I lay on my stomach and lift up my head and all four limbs and hold as long as I can. It's important I do these on the same day as crunches to balance out the front and back of my torso or I get back pain.

I lift the dumbbells from the carry position above waist level. I don't know the proper name of that exercise. Usually do a couple of sets of these. They are "easy" yet seem to work out certain muscle groups very well.

Bench press - sets of 12 (1 or 2 twice a week)

Overhead presses - not consistent with this

Curls - once a week, one set of 10 or 12

Sometimes I do other things like pushups or leg lifts on a whim.


Stretching

I'm not very good at stretching but I roll back on a yoga/exercise ball at least 3 or 4 days a week to stretch my back and the vertical muscles on the back of my neck. Skipping punishes me with neck and back pain. I also usually get a few relieving pops from the joins.

I also stretch my gluteus and psoas muscles nearly every day (5 or 6 days a week). Again, this is a back pain thing, which manifests in sometimes severe pain on my lower left back. It's asymmetrical and I think it dates to a back injury I got kayaking one year, but it also might be related to my twisted skeleton, as I have scoliosis of 11 degrees.

Other

I see a chiropractor once a month. I enjoy getting the joints cracked, although chiropractors tend to be quacks when they range off into metabolic theory or nutrition, so I like them to just stick to manipulation. I find this helps my flexibility around my torso and provides pain relief, though usually only for a couple of weeks.

I also sometimes use a foam roller stick, mostly on my calves and glutes when they feel too tight.

Un-American Scrambled Eggs

 

Three eggs only slightly gooey. Sometimes I cook them even less. No butter in these but I can recommend it.

Americans typically expect scrambled eggs to be cooked to dryness, but I prefer European style scrambled eggs, which are curdled but almost fluid. I've preferred them that way since I was a child and my stepfather apologized for undercooking the eggs one morning. For me, it was a happy accident, because I realized how good they are that way. The thing I can't understand is why many Americans will eat an egg fried or poached with a runny yolk, yet won't eat scrambled eggs that are comparatively more done.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Lenticular Clouds and Wildfires and Mountain Biking

 

Lenticular clouds downwind of the peaks, seen through my garage door screen. There is a new wildfire raging in the spring wind somewhere beyond.

I try not to make this blog a register of complaints, but often the most remarkable events in the average day are negative.

Flagstaff has entered wildfire season, and as usual the fires aren't really "wild." People start most wildfires in Northern Arizona and the idiots are off to the races again. We've had an outbreak of several different fires, all of which were likely caused by humans. I haven't heard thunder around here for several weeks, nor has the weather forecast included any lightning. The remaining possible causes are all anthropogenic: cigarettes, vehicles, campfires, etc.

The number of people who believe they are entitled to a campfire without taking any reasonable precautions makes me disappointed in the human race. That is to say, even more disappointed than I already was before I moved to Arizona.

A view from the Railroad Springs trail, about halfway up Observatory Mesa. Might be Mormon Mountain in the distance?


I replaced my back mountain bike tire last weekend and got in an excellent ride up Observatory Mesa. The tire had been flat since sometime last fall. I shouldn't have put it off so long, because I've missed the joy of a good trail ride. I have another bike but it's suitable only for pavement. Changing the tire was difficult and I dinged up my hands, but it was worth the effort. Sometimes you have to invest time in preparation to have a good time.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

April Jackass Day

I've pretty much hated "April Fools' Day" since I was a kid. It's not that I don't have a sense of humor, it's just that it doesn't align with April Fools'. Also, the people who like the day tend to take it as an excuse to act like jerks. Like Carnival, people seem to believe it's a day when they don't have to practice the values they would usually live by. They lie and pretend it is a joke. It's strange to me that some people don't outgrow it. It just goes to show that some people will take any excuse available to act like a jackass.

Seen in Texas recently. Looks like a place where "alpha males" might hang out.


While I'm on the topic of jackasses, I also don't believe in a popular supposed dichotomy of men. There are guys who go around calling themselves "alphas" and other men "betas," like humans are a pack of wolves or something. I don't believe it. In my life all the way back into elementary school I have sometimes behaved like an alpha and other times behaved like a beta. I don't believe we are one or the other. It's situational or maybe a spectrum. When a guy refers to betas, I automatically think "alpha jackass." I doubt they realize that's what I'm thinking.

Jackass is my word of the day for April 1st.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Busy March

I setup my screen door garage home office for the year and my cats are loving it! It was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit today. I rarely get a photo with all three of them this close.

 I guess I kind of skipped blogging in March, but I was busy. I had some travel on the docket and the preparation and arrangements always take up almost as much time as the travel. I met my stepfather in Dallas to go to the Conference USA basketball tournament. My second degree was from Middle Tennessee State and they were competitive in the conference this year. We didn't do as well as I'd hoped but the men's team leading scorer showed up on crutches and I think they did about as well as possible under the circumstances. The women's team underperformed but made the NIT and are still winning so there is that.

Spring has sprung here in Flagstaff, but as always, winter dies hard. I expect to see at least a little more snow before we get to summer. The first year I moved here, we got 7 inches of snow on May 9th, so it isn't over until it's over.

Grinding away. Work has gotten busy again and I'm trying to plan the rest of my year and decide whether or not to flip my house. It seems like a good idea financially but my heart isn't in it. I hate moving and what I really want is a house on both ends of the country. Right now that doesn't seem possible.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Megasnow Again

 

Snow Joe electric snowblower. Back in the 80s electric snowblowers were weak, but the modern ones will move pretty deep snow, as long as you don't abuse them.

Current situation: deep enough to break out the snowblower. I normally just manually push less deep snow with a Manplow brand blade. I've kind of struggled with the snowblower in the past, but I think I've figured out how to use it without getting it clogged or overheated. The good thing about it is that since it is electric, it is:

a.) lighter than a gasoline powered snowblower

b.) does not require small engine maintenance

c.) does not require noxious, smelly petroleum products

My neighbor had a battery-powered version and he wore it out in a single year, but I think I know why. He wasn't using it correctly. You can't force it into the snow. This overburdens motor, belt, and the rest of the system. You just have to let it eat the snow and make sure the snow is clearing out of the "spout/chute" before pushing forward. If you use it correctly, it's MUCH easier than shoveling. Mine is a plug-in model. I could've afforded the battery powered Snow Joe but I didn't want to worry about replacing batteries.

I'm not sure how much snow we've gotten here, but the snowblower supposedly can eat 11 inches and it was already nearly overwhelmed this morning, and it snowed all day after my first run. I think there was at least another 4 to 6 inches at the end of the day.

I'm ready for spring.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Days Off

Taking it easy in front of the fireplace. I can't keep that rug clean, and you can see why.


My employer officially encourages people to take a day off every pay period. This is because they have to reserve the "money" to pay for the Paid Time Off (PTO) anyway, and they are basically paying double if you keep working. If you have a day off and work instead, they have to pay for both the day off and the day of labor. It's better for the company if the employees take their days off.

Funny thing: it's better for the employees too. At least I feel better if I take a day off every pay period (two weeks). Somehow I got out of the habit last year. I think it was because I planned some travel late in the year. I simply stopped taking PTO.

It's started getting on my nerves though, to not have any three day weekends to look forward to, so I have resumed the habit of reserving Fridays and Mondays off. It feels great!

I earn PTO at a fast enough rate anyway, that I can do this and still accumulate time. I earn more than one day per pay period. If you are employed by someone other than yourself, and you don't get a PTO benefit like this, I suggest finding an employer who provides it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Super Bowl Advertisements, Cincinnati, etc

 

By Johann Schwarz from Gumpoldskirchen - TryoutĂ–JNT_2 (217) archive copy, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74384451

From social media I can tell some of my friends and acquaintances still watch the Super Bowl as much to watch the TV commercial advertisements as for the game, maybe more. I can remember when I was a kid I looked forward to the ads, but now it seems silly and gullible (hey, I'm opinionated in case you haven't noticed). When you watch commercials you are exposing yourself to marketing techniques based upon human psychology. Why do that? Yes, some of them are thoroughly entertaining, but I'm not going to go out of my way to see them.

As for the game, I slightly favored the Rams and therefore enjoyed the outcome. It's just that Matthew Stafford was stuck in Detroit for so many years, and I always thought he was capable of winning a Super Bowl if he played for a franchise that solved the riddle. Good for him. I don't specifically hate the Bengals or anything, nor do I love Los Angeles, but I've been to or through Cincinnati a few times, and it's an inexplicably grimy, unattractive city. Of course it isn't all bad, but it epitomizes the rust belt and is hard to love.

I upheld my annual tradition of cooking homemade onion rings instead of watching the halftime show (I hate most halftime shows) but they didn't turn out as well as usual. I was impatient and didn't wait for them to get crispy enough. Live and learn. Same thing for the Bengals.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Missing Person

The rise at center is an ancient lava vent and a site of past encampment.


I received a missing person / silver alert in my text messages the other day. An older lady diagnosed with dementia wandered off from her home. She'd taken many walks before on the trails in her neighborhood, adjacent to mine across a two lane highway, but didn't return. She was gone overnight. It's winter here.

I found the text when I woke and it gnawed at me until I finally decided I should search an area of pine forest near my house. It was on the wrong side of historic Route 66 but less than a mile away and I couldn't stand the thought of it remaining unsearched, so I message my manager that I would be away from my desk for 20 minutes, put on my boots and went for a walk.

Technically I was trespassing, but I decided to worry about the consequences in the event that they arrived and went anyway.

Abandoned clothing in one of the former homeless camps. It's been there a while.


I didn't find her, but I did find signs of several homeless camps around the handful of ancient lava vents. She was found and returned home by an alert citizen around the same time I was searching the woods. I don't regret taking the time to look. When it comes to ethics, you can't leave behind doubts about how you handled a situation.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Snowboarding

Northern Arizona in winter. It was a good day sliding downhill on a snowboard.


I think I've got 5 trips on my annual lift pass at the local ski resort. I've had so much trouble taking advantage of the investment that I decided to arrange a day off work to go. It was a beautiful, blue sky day, with temps in town above 60 Fahrenheit, around the low to mid 50s at the parking lot. It was a pretty good day for riding. I prefer the warm days even though it destroys the snow base. We haven't gotten much precipitation since late December and spring is shaping up to be high fire danger. The snowpack is pathetic right now, but I have high hopes for March. It's often a snowy month in Flagstaff, even in dry years.

My right snowboard binding had some issues. That's part of why I've been skiing instead. I've had spare parts on my Amazon shopping list for a couple of months but never got around to ordering so this morning I improvised a solution involving a screw, washer, and nut. So far it has performed well.

I'm still overweight and out of shape, and I got into another hypoxic state at the end of the day. It took me two or three hours to recover. But I've been exercising since mid-January and I think I'm going to have a good year for fitness. Right now I'm motivated to get back in shape. I need to. I'm not getting any younger.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Infinity Spinning

My messy garage with my Wahoo Kickr setup. I'd like to sell the fishing boat if possible. I don't use it and it would free up some floor space.


My skiing and snowboarding malaise continues. I'm simply not going. But in January I got back on track for running and bicycling. It's bitterly cold here right now so that means I'm stuck in the garage spinning on my bike trainer. It's ok as long as I have a laptop open in front of me with something interesting playing. Not my favorite form of exercise but it's getting the job done.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Lake Pleasant Regional Park Kayaking, Hiking, etc.

The north boat launch. I suppose the distant mountains are part of the Bradshaws.


I arranged a three day weekend, and one of the days I went down to the Valley of the Sun to enjoy a kayak trip on Lake Pleasant, a reservoir just beyond the outskirts of Phoenix and Peoria. The water level is down a little, like most of the reservoirs in the Desert Southwest, but not as much as Lake Powell or Lake Mead.

Entrance to a side drainage. Many of these have slot canyons in them, but I couldn't get back into more than a couple due to so many people fishing. At least, I couldn't get back into them without being discourteous and disrupting their fishing.


The lake's level was around 1680 feet above sea level, pretty far down into the Sonoran Desert ecoregion, and features typical scenery and the statuesque saguaro cacti so thoroughly associated with Arizona. As it was a Sunday, there were too many people, but most Arizonans are intimidated by air temperatures less than about 85 degrees, so it could have been worse. Most of the boats there were fishing, but there were a few other paddlers.

The end of a slot canyon. Sorry about the bad lighting! Unfortunately I got distracted by the brackish water and forgot to take the money shot that showed the sinuous path I had to paddle to get back in there.


I avoided the more crowded main part of the Lake Pleasant Regional Park and launched at the boat launch on the northern end of the lake. From there it is possible to paddle up into some side drainages with mini slot canyons. Unfortunately there were people fishing in almost all of them. I continue to be astonished at the popularity of fishing in the desert. Even though I grew up fishing, I say it's a ridiculous hobby if you live a dry desert. (I grew up in Indiana, where water is everywhere).

Obviously the water level is down. The water levels in most lakes in the Southwest are down. There was a gate open to allow people to drive in and setup camp.


The weather was beautiful. I wore my Sweet Strutter kayaking helmet, not because I thought I would hit my head, but because it has a very deep bill that provides sun protection. Nonetheless, sun reflected off the water and burned me. Unfortunately I'm out of sunscreen.

These were the only cliffs in sight, a point of interest for boaters but not as good as the sea cliffs I saw in La Jolla Cove, California last year. The saguaro almost looks like a telephone pole to me.


It was a good paddle, but there were too many people. I enjoyed the workout, the cliffs and distant mountains, and the beautiful Sonoran desert surroundings, but eventually got tired and headed back to the boat ramp.

A view from the Pipeline Canyon Trail.

After this I ate some leftover pinto beans from El Pollo Loco wrapped in a flour tortilla and looked for a trailhead to get in a hike. I found the Pipeline Canyon Trail, which intersects with some other trails, and headed out. Unfortunately Strava inexplicably crashed and chopped off a few tenths of my track, but I think it ended up being about a 3 mile hike out and back to where the trail ends in a side branch of the lake. Along the way it travels uphill through a saddle and back down. I'm unsure which side of the saddle is Pipeline Canyon, because I never saw a pipeline, but it was all beautiful Sonoran desert hiking. I saw a lizard and few birds, but much fewer than I've experienced in other parts of the desert. This is especially surprising considering the abundance of water in the area. I did see a lot of deer droppings though.

A view towards the lake, somewhere around the crest of the trail on a saddle.


The day wore me out and I had trouble getting motivated to go skiing the following day. I visited downtown Flagstaff, which I rarely do these days since I started working from home, and ate lunch at the Lumberyard microbrewery. I don't think I've been there since before the pandemic! I walked around and photographed a church I've thinking about painting, then finally I got motivated to go up to the ski resort to finish off the day. I effectively used up my three day weekend. I love a short work week!

The natural stone church on Beaver Street, in downtown flagstaff. Built in 1939 from local volcanic rock.

Strava Track (truncated by software issue)


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Cruelty of Lost Memory

 


My Grandma and Grandpa Pogue's farm in Indiana. I can tell from the silo that this photo was likely taken in the early 1980s. I think the farm was sold out of the family sometime after 1984. It was a playground for me, albeit a somewhat dangerous one. I remember sliding down one of the roofs of the buildings, lol.


I remember many things from childhood, some good, some bad, but some of my fondest memories come from visiting my grandparents' houses. Grandparents usually spoil their grandchildren. Grandma and Grandpa's house was a place of good food, candy, and gifts, and relatively free of responsibilities and chores. I have plenty of happy memories from my childhood homes, but I also remember being disciplined and having to do homework and wash dishes. Grandma and Grandpa's house was more fun. I have particularly fond memories from my Grandma and Grandpa Pogue's farm.

I spent quite a bit of time on the farm over a couple of years after my parents divorced. It had open fields, cows, pigs, dogs, and woods. There was a perennial creek along one side. The property around the house exemplified American self-reliance. There were enormous stacks of firewood, apple trees, pear trees, a gigantic vegetable garden with a strawberry patch on one end, rhubarb, a gooseberry bush, a grape arbor, and probably other food plants I've forgotten about. My grandmother's shelves were stocked with rows of canned foods for winter and they had a deep freeze in the mud room full of butchered beef and pork that my grandpa had raised himself. I remember many good things about my days on the farm.

Me on my Uncle Dick's combine harvester around 1982, not certain of the year. He was harvesting on Grandpa's farm because Grandpa's harvester had broken down. This is one of my good memories that continues to fade.

The problem is that the human brain can't store all of the details of memory. It is designed by nature/God/evolution to only store relevant, practical info. We retain important things long term, including some happy memories, but mostly lessons, skills, and recent things. The brain is specifically designed to forget things that are not useful, because they would take up too much room. In order to remember them, we would have to walk around with heads the size of a house. Unfortunately those memories sacrificed include happy days spent playing, or a particular morning baking cinnamon rolls in my grandma's kitchen.

From a biological standpoint, I understand the necessity of purging details from memory. It keeps us moving forward and adapted to react in the moment. I assure you, there are many things I would like to forget, but we also possess the ability to reminisce about the good times, and it's frustrating to not remember everything. Nature deprives us of our memories.

It's cruel.


Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Two Planks of Death and Deep Winter

 

Back to the bottom of the ski resort on skis. (I usually snowboard)

I've had a lot of trouble getting motivated to go to the ski resort this year, despite the fact that I invested in a season pass. Yesterday, second week of the new year was my second time this season, and first on skis (i.e. two planks of death). I rightly decided to go back to the kiddie slope and ride the conveyer belt rather than the ski lift, even though I rode the lift last year on skis. My first run down I was stiff, awkward, and could barely control myself. My legs were shaking from effort by the end of the short hill. I have this problem that I tend to fight myself when I'm learning something new and I was way too tense. Fortunately I worked this out within a couple of rides and was making tight s-turns by the end of the day.

Then I was short of breath and shaky after walking back to my car. I'm not able to exert myself at altitude this year without struggling to breath. I've got to get back into shape!

The main barrier to fitness is seasonal depression. I hate this time of year, despite the winter sports. The days are short and cold. At least we are past the solstice and the days grow longer.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Airline Follies

Frozen Northern Arizona from a United regional jet.


Delays, a canceled flight, a diverted flight, and an unplanned hotel stay characterized my recent trip to visit family in Tennessee. The cancelation was the result of a lack of a pilot. I assume this is a consequence of coronavirus, or at least a consequence of employee testing at United Airlines. The diversion seems less excusable. Granted, there was a winter storm upon Flagstaff at the time, but it was above freezing and other flights were operating from the airport. We ended up in Prescott, which I didn't even realize had commercial service. It does, but the airport is even smaller than Flagstaff. I rented a car and drove back to Flagstaff. The surface never froze. That's the second time I've ended up driving from one airport to another. The previous time I'd missed the connection at Phoenix.

I'd also experienced a delay on my outbound flight when the airline was already running a few minutes behind, and they wasted time until an approaching storm arrived, and by rules had to de-ice the plane, even though it was only a few flurries and any idiot could see the wings were not iced. I got to my connection in Denver in plenty of time, but of course that is the flight that was canceled. What followed was an unplanned night in a hotel near the Denver airport. And I lost a day that was meant to be spent with family. You think of an airline for flying but it kind of seems like United has an affinity for not flying.