Fly Away

Since we bought this Arizona home in 2010, I have seen exactly one live scorpion either inside or outside our house. Bill talked me out of putting the house on the market immediately after the little b*****d scooted across the floor when I turned on our kitchen light one morning a few years ago. Some people have more of a problem with them than one in a 11-year-period.

What we lack in scorpions, we more than make up in flies. You don’t need to tell me that scorpions are scarier than flies. But flies are mighty dang annoying. And they love our house.

Behind our house we have a nice desert area of open space. It will never be developed because there are power lines that run across the area. We might grow a second head from being exposed to so much electricity, but there will be no development. However, behind that open space there is a house that has probably been there for 40 years and belong to no homeowners association. They have some horses. Not a lot of them, but perhaps three or four. Maybe it’s a horse boarding place? I don’t know. All I know is that as a result, we have flies.

When we first moved into this house, I optimistically purchased an outdoor dining table and chairs. I envisioned eating dinner every nice spring evening outside, watching the roadrunners and mockingbirds, and feeling the evening breeze. After three or four attempts, it became abundantly clear that the flies would make the al fresco dining experience a no-go. Nothing ruins cole slaw like seeing a fly tasting the creamy dressing.

Bill, Jen, and I have learned some of the necessary tricks to keep the flies manageably outdoors. Prior to exiting to our back yard, we give the screen door a solid tap to get rid of the flies that are lurking there, wanting to get in. Prior to sitting outside for our evening “cocktail party,” we spray the area so that by time we venture out, there is only a slight chemical smell. We’re not enamored with the smell, but the flies seem to like it. We keep a flyswatter on hand, and, despite the fact that flies are also one of God’s creatures, we swat them relentlessly, and cheer when one of us succeeds in smashing a fly. Most important, we all know to close the screen door — and quickly — when entering and exiting our patio. Jen worked with her grandkids at learning this habit. Austin is the best at remembering. Jen and I are amused at just how wholly unsuccessful we are at actually hitting the flies with a flyswatter. I would guess I successfully hit one fly out of 20 tries. Bill, on the other hand, has a 90 percent effective rate at fly-killing, despite his Parkinson’s. Who’d a-figured that?

Still, no scorpions, so there’s that.

So, Influence Me Already

I was talking with someone recently, and they told me their daughter had recently moved to Los Angeles with her boyfriend.

“Oh, really?” I said. “What will they do for work?”

He told me the boyfriend works from home and home can be anywhere. As for the daughter: “She wants to be an Instagram Influencer.”

I acted appropriately surprised and impressed. I left out the confused until I ended the call. Then I asked Jen, “What the hell is an Instagram influencer?” Jen, while legitimately a Baby Boomer, is much more with it than me, as indicated by the fact that I used the phrase with it. I’m reminded of the Progressive commercial in which the man is trying to help the people to not turn into their parents. Don’t call television shows PROGRAMS and don’t say the words WITH IT.

Being an “Influencer” by profession is something I hear more and more these days. Hearing about it more and more doesn’t seem to make it any clearer to this Baby Boomer, who decidedly ISN’T a social media Influencer. I’m pretty sure I haven’t influenced any one of my readers to do a single thing.

Jen explained to me that a social media Influencer is someone who people follow on Instagram or other social media to learn how to dress or cook or buy appropriate toys for their children or purchase jewelry or figure out what foods are no longer acceptable to eat. Like gluten. Or cows’ milk. Or anything with eyes. (Every American pioneer is rolling in their graves as that’s how they sustained their families. Also, an Influencer would probably remind me the word pioneer is no longer politically correct.)

While I’m not an Influencer, I’m not reluctant to take advantage of the Influencers that Jen follows. When I was trying to figure out what color to paint our bedroom, I cleverly posed the question to Jen: What color should I paint our bedroom? She immediately began poking her iPad to find out what the Influencers’ thoughts were on bedroom colors. We seriously had my color picked out in 20 minutes or less. Whites are in; grays are out. The Influencers have spoken.

I don’t know exactly how one becomes an Influencer. I imagine you have to have several social media accounts. Instagram seems to be popular. I look at Instagram almost every day, though I rarely post. But since most of the people I follow are members of my family, I don’t find them to be Influencers (unless they’re trying to influence me to come to their house for dinner.) I did follow Kelly Clarkson for a while during the early quarantine years, but frankly got tired of seeing her without makeup and telling me how cozy it was living in their Montana cabin. Especially since she announced her divorce a few months later. A little too cozy perhaps, so it didn’t influence me. And I’m glad she’s using mascara again.

I get a weekly email from a blogger I used to like. I say “used to” because she picked up that blogging is so 2000-ish and now she mostly posts on Instagram and has a podcast. I’m not interesting enough to post on Instagram and Lord have mercy if I ever tried diving into podcasting. But I am glad she is willing to send out a weekly email with fashion suggestions to people like me. And I will admit that — while I never put a name to it — I have been influenced by her suggestions. I’m such a simpleton, however, that it never occurred to me that the companies were paying her to show me and others cute clothes. I just thought she was being nice to me.

I wonder if teachers still ask their first-grade students what their moms and dads do for a living. My mom’s a doctor. My dad’s a construction worker. My dad’s a lawyer. My mom’s an Influencer. Hmmmm.

Making Dinosaurs

My paternal grandmother was born in 1897 in Switzerland. When she was in her early 20s, she and my grandfather packed up their things and their toddler daughter and moved lock, stock, and barrel to the United States. How scary that must have been. On the ship over to Ellis Island, she was separated from her husband and was down in steerage with her little girl for I don’t know how long. I would have been a big baby. She was brave, albeit very seasick. Grammie, Gramps, and their then two children (my father was born shortly after they arrived in the U.S.) ended up, after a bit of hither and yon, in Columbus, Nebraska.

I think of my grandparents often when I’m contemplating our ever-changing world. In the past 30 years, technology has transformed our world. Jeezo peezo. I just FaceTimed my grandson Cole to tell him that Papa and I are coming home for a visit very soon. I TALKED TO HIM FACE-TO-FACE. I SAW HIS SMILE. WHO WOULD EVER HAVE IMAGINED THIS POSSIBILITY?

What’s even more surprising is that this 5-year-old knows waaaaaay more about technology than his nana. As we’re talking, he is changing his face to different animals. I have no idea how he does it. Suddenly, I am talking to an animated dinosaur whose mouth is moving just like Cole’s mouth would be moving if it was he I was looking at. “How do you do that, Cole?” I asked. He tried to explain to me how I could do the same thing, but I was quite unable to do anything but keep my own face. I suspect it’s for one of two reasons: 1) My iPad is older than his; and 2) I am mostly inept at All Things Technology.

Grammie and Gramps saw many changes in their lives. There was electricity, and television, and air conditioning (or cooling systems as Grammie called it). Cars took the place of horses and carriages. Music changed from ragtime to rock-and-roll and rhythm and blues, and rap (though, blessedly, I think Grammie died before rap hit the airwaves). Swiss folk dancing turned into disco. On and on and on.

Baby Boomers have seen a lot of changes as well. Bill and I are watching a Netflix program about a man in Vancouver who refurbishes old cars. Most of the cars we’ve seen him fix are old 50s and 60s Fords and Chevys, Plymouths, and Dodges. I am unabashedly shocked at the size of those mid-century automobiles. (I don’t want to call them vintage cars, because that could conceivably make me vintage as well. Admittedly, vintage has a nice sound to it. Much better than Old Bat.) Like cell phones, the size of cars is fluid. They were huge in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. They became very small in the 80s. The first car I purchased after getting rid of my 1969 Mustang was a Honda Civic hatchback. It was the size of a Barbie car. Nowadays, cars are bigger, more energy efficient, often electric or at least hybrid, and most likely an SUV. If you’re in AZ, the car is white. If you’re in CO, the car is black.

I know I’ve talked about this on my blog before, but it continues to fascinate me. My brother and I wondered out loud recently just what sort of changes we would see in 10 years when it came to technology. Chips embedded in our heads, almost undoubtedly. By that time we will be fully used to having absolutely no privacy.

Whatever it is, bring it on. After the past year, we can all handle anything. (Except figuring out how to turn my face into that of a dinosaur on FaceTime.)

Saturday Smile: Talk About Crazy

Crazy Hair Days is something they didn’t have at Catholic elementary schools when I was growing up. At least, not on purpose. It’s probably true enough that my pixie haircut with the unwavering crooked bangs looked plenty crazy.

Jen’s granddaughter Lilly had crazy day yesterday at her school, and she was all-in. May I present to you:

CUPCAKE HAIR

Man, I’ll bet her head hurt by time the day was over. But I’ll bet she won the prize!

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: Confessions on the 7:45

I love trains. I love fast trains, slow trains, A-trains, commuter trains, cross-country trains, Polar Express trains. You name it; I love it. My fondness for train travel leads to me liking books — particularly mystery books — set on trains. Murder on the Orient Express, Strangers on a Train, The 4:50 From Paddington.

Prior to now, I had never read a single book by Lisa Unger, a prolific mystery writer. But the title of her recent book, Confessions on the 7:45, caught my attention. I love trains and I love confessions.

Selena lives a storybook life with a great job, her handsome husband Graham, and two great kids. Except is her life a romance or a horror novel? Following a hunch, her nannycam catches her husband Graham having sex with, who else? The nanny. This fact won’t be posted on the artificial life she characterizes on social media. She’ll keep this to herself.

Except, when she gets on the 7:45 commuter train, she immediately notices an attractive woman sitting all by herself. For reasons Selena can’t explain, she’s drawn to the woman. She sits down next to her and strikes up a conversation. Before she knows it, she is confessing that her husband is having an affair with the nanny. The woman — Martha — confesses her secrets as well. And then the train ride is over, and the two go their own separate ways.

Over the next few days, Selena tries to figure out if she should give her cheating husband another chance. In the meantime, she begins getting text messages from Martha, even though Selena never gave Martha her telephone number.

The author lays out the rest of the story very well, dribbling pieces of information to the reader little by little, allowing us to try and figure the curveballs she delivers until the very end of the book. I found Unger’s writing extremely readable, and the characters satisfyingly complex and real.

While I had not read any books by Lisa Unger in the past, I will be reading her in the future.

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

Summertime?
My sister Bec always jokes that Autumn in AZ is one day long. Seriously, she says one day in January, the leaves on the trees turn yellow and fall off, and it’s on to Winter. I don’t know if that’s true because we don’t have any trees with leaves, only cacti with needles. But I’m beginning to think our Winter was only one week long. We had a week with high temps in the 50s and low 60s, but now it seems to be over. My long-sleeved t-shirt got too warm for me yesterday afternoon with temps in the high 70s. I’m not complaining, especially when Jen sent me this photo of her back yard yesterday…..

Chirp
One of the best things about spring in AZ is the birds that visit us daily. I’ve mentioned our road runner, and I continue to get excited every time he walks by on our fence. I mean A ROAD RUNNER! But I see cactus wrens flying in and out of the saguaro cactus I see as I sit in my recliner. They must have a nest. Hence, their name. Every day I see mockingbirds and mourning doves sitting on the fence checking out their world. Funny little coveys of quail run across our street, dodging cars. There aren’t a lot of song birds in our neighborhood, but I love the variety of tunes the mockingbirds sing. Somewhere between 250 and 350 in all.

He Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog
Yesterday I gave the house a good cleaning. I found about three or four of Winston’s doggy toys under the sofa or behind the chair. I put them in his little basket for when he comes back. I also broke down and put his doggie dishes in the dishwasher. I miss that little pooch.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame
Spring training will begin in a few days. Pre-season baseball didn’t happen last year of course. This year it’s on, with some restrictions. I’m hoping that Bill and I can see a game this year when we get back from our Denver visit. Go Rockies!

Home Alone

Back in the days BFT (before FaceTime) and email, when my sister Bec or my brother Dave would visit us in Denver, I would start dreading their leaving even before they arrived. My thought is why not use your down time before the visit to begin anticipating heartbreak? Waste not, want not. After they would leave, I would listen to the sound of silence (hats off to Paul Simon). Especially when it was my brother visiting. He — then and now — arrives with a pack. First it was just his kids. Then his kids started having kids. Try as he might, he can’t outrun them. (I’m just kidding Gloor kids. He could outrun you if he tried real hard, but he likes his pack.) So there was plenty of noise to get used to, and then to miss when it’s gone. Bec is considerably quieter and doesn’t travel with a pack.

Anyhoo, Jen left yesterday, and today Big Bad Bill (finding his nickname is still a work in progress) are clunking around the house listening to our footsteps practically echo off the walls. Jen also doesn’t travel with a pack (perhaps because most of her pack live here in AZ). Nevertheless, Winston and Jen provided daily entertainment and a bit of noise. Jen, working hard for her money, and Winston, barking at dogs being walked past the house and whining anytime Jen appeared to be even thinking about leaving without him to run an errand.

I’ve mentioned before that I wondered if the three of us would get under each other’s feet or on each other’s nerves. It seemed to work just fine. We fell into patterns. Jen and I took turns cooking. We traded off cooking and cleaning up the kitchen afterwards. We bought the food for our night of cooking. We figure we came out even in the end.

Some television we watched together. Often she would go to her bedroom after dinner and watch a movie or television using Dish Anywhere on her iPad. Bill and I would watch TV in the living room. Breakfast and lunch were on our own, though we often shared. It all worked just fine.

Jen was in AZ since October, and understandably, was eager to get home. All of us are the same. We love our house here, and we couldn’t possibly enjoy the weather more. We miss our primary home, however, both for the people and for the familiarity. Like us, I’m sure Jen will be trying to remember where she stores her toilet paper or where she keeps her good cooking skillet for the next few weeks. I always do.

Despite our congeniality, there are things about me that I know she won’t miss. I hate cleaning house and can live around dust for longer than I should. That likely drove her nuts. Despite my lackadaisical attitude about dust, I am persnickity about how to load the dishwasher. She would load it, and then when she wasn’t looking, I would move things around to “where they belonged.” I have a way of putting the waste basket liners in that is different from the way she does the same task. I would change it every time she put in a liner.

Winston will miss me because as I have mentioned before, I am a sloppy cook. Winston spends every moment that Jen is at home touching her in some manner. Sitting on her lap. Sitting behind her back in a chair. Lying next to her in bed. Jumping, jumping, jumping if he thinks she might be leaving him behind. There is one exception to that fact: When Winston would hear me cooking or baking, he was in the kitchen right next to me, awaiting the inevitable next food droppage. Sometimes it was a disappointment, maybe a piece of broccoli or a frozen pea. But there were enough jackpots to warrant his company. Often enough, I would drop a little bit of ground beef or a piece of Italian sausage. Don’t tell Jen, but sometimes it was on purpose.

Yesterday afternoon when I came home from the grocery store, I opened the door carefully, making sure Winston — who I just KNEW would be waiting there — didn’t run out into the street. Sigh. The laundry room was empty.

It won’t take long before we’re back to normal. The silence won’t be so deafening in a day or so. My eyes won’t tear up when I see one of Winston’s dog toys under the sofa. In the meantime, Big Bad Bill and I will enjoy our solitude. In a few days.

Sit-In Movies

I haven’t mentioned my husband’s name in a blog post for a couple of weeks. He was not particularly happy when I mentioned him by FULL NAME in my blog post in which I speculated that our neighbor was a serial murderer. In retrospect, that might not have been very well thought out. In my defense, I have mentioned him by name in previous posts. I tried to appeal my case to him, however, and he pointed out that in those self-same posts, I was not writing about a killer. I might just have to give the man that point: 15/love. Advantage Bill. Er, my husband.

A lot of bloggers use initials when they write about members of their family. I just can’t make myself refer to my husband as BM. It just ain’t right. I could give him a false name. Something cool and sophisticated like Barnaby Reginald Astor III. BA sounds much better than BM.

Bill My husband simply doesn’t look like a Barnaby, however. It reminds me of a story that a friend once told me: When her mother was pregnant, she and her father selected the name Caroline. The whole time she was pregnant, if it was a girl, she was going to be Caroline. After she was born and laid into her mother’s arms, her mother looked at her and said, “Hello, Amy.” Her father was confused and said, “I thought she would be named Caroline.” Her mother replied, “Does she look like a Caroline to you? She looks like Amy.”

So, since we can all agree that my husband doesn’t look like a Barnaby, it’s going to require more thought. In the meantime, he is My Husband.

So anyone who knows my husband will not be surprised when I tell you that one day he informed me that he had purchased a projector.

“A what?” I asked. “What are we going to do with a projector?”

“Project things,” he patiently explained. “Play movies in the dark in our backyard. The grandkids will love it.”

Well, that last statement is true. They would love it. The problem is that our closest grandkids are 900 miles away in Denver, and the other two are 2,600 miles away in Montpelier, VT. Nevertheless, we now own a projector and (because we needed something onto which we could project) a screen that puts most drive-in theaters to shame. Again, anyone that knows my husband is not surprised that he went with the large size. It’s how he rolls…..

It remains to be seen whether or not this nana and papa will ever make it up past dark to watch a movie outdoors when we can sit in our comfortable recliners and watch inside.

Movin’ On Up

In the early 90s, when the company for which I worked for 20 years outgrew its office space in a glorious old mansion near the Governor’s Mansion in Denver, the Board of Directors decided to be pioneers. There was an area in the lower downtown Denver area near the the railroad tracks that was all but abandoned. If there is such a thing as skid row, that area fit the description. Once-beautiful buildings that had been long-abandoned lined the streets. Confluence Park and the South Platte River were within walking distance, but folks rarely walked there because of the threat of crime. A vacant but relatively new building was for sale, and that’s where they decided to move. The company purchased the building.

It wasn’t a reckless decision. For several years just prior to the move, the city had begun talking about the possibility of a major league baseball team locating in Denver. A potential buyer had raised his hand and agreed to move a team to Denver. Now they all just had to figure out where to build a ball park.

Voila! There was all of this vacant land — or if not vacant, filled with only crumbling buildings — in lower downtown. It was perfect — close to downtown Denver and buildings that could be purchased at a steal for restaurants and bars. And my company’s office building right in the thick of it all. For the first couple of years, women employees were advised to walk together to their cars. Once the baseball park was built, crime — at least that kind of crime — diminished mightily.

Just across the river and I-25 was an old Denver area then referred to as North Denver. It was the home of Italian immigrants who had moved to Denver in the 1850s to work on the mines. They established the area, including St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, and restaurants known to old-time Denverites such as Carbones and Pagliaccos and Lechuga’s. In the 80s and 90s, the area had begun to include a Mexican population and subsequently, delicious Mexican restaurants. None of these were fancy, but all were family-friendly and delicious.

With the coming of Coors Field, the area began to change again. Can you say GENTRIFICATION? The small brick homes began disappearing as young lawyers and financiers and doctors and such began buying the homes and razing them to the ground. Suddenly the neighborhoods that had long ago been filled with old people sitting on their porches or small Italian or Mexican children playing in the streets while wonderful smells came from the windows now consisted of boxy modern-looking McMansions.

People stopped calling the area North Denver and began calling it the Highlands. Those same old people whose homes were long paid off found themselves looking at property tax bills that they simply couldn’t afford. Many had no other solution but to sell their homes.

I’m not anti-progress. While many people rebuilt homes, probably a similar number of people simply remodeled the insides with the standard open concept and fancy Wolf stoves. The area is safer and cleaner. You can probably still hear the sounds of children playing, but this time they are having Play Dates. Now the cost of housing in the Highlands is out of reach for most Denverites or Denverite wannabees.

As for lower downtown (now called LoDo because every neighborhood needs an acronym these days) is a thriving and vibrant area. The Board of Directors didn’t check with little ol’ me on whether or not to buy the building back in 1992. Nor did they tell me how much they paid. All I can say is that it was undoubtedly a hell of a deal.

And little ol’ me doesn’t have an answer for gentrification. Everything cycles and perhaps this will too.