Sunday, March 27, 2011

After the Freeze

It was a rough winter for Tucson plants. They're much more adapted to temperatures in the hundreds than temperatures in the teens. My yard didn't escape the freeze damage. The acacia trees dropped all their leaves. Many display dead, dried out remnants of last year's growth.
Orange Jubilee

The plant at right is usually covered with lush, green foliage and, about now, starts showing orange blooms that the hummingbirds love. It is neither orange nor jubilant this year.  Tohono Chul Park warned everyone to be patient. Trimming the dead parts back prematurely, before the possibility of a freeze was past, was more likely to do damage than help the plant.

I spent about two hours yesterday trimming the two in my front yard back to the ground. They're not dead. Green leaves are growing from the bottom of the plant. It grows fast, so I'm sure that by the end of the summer, as long as I keep the drip irrigation on, it will have flowers once again.

Lemon Tree
 My lemon tree, last seen covered in snow just at dawn, here shows the extent of the damage. I'm not sure yet whether it's alive or dead. I'm almost afraid to check. The Arizona Daily Star had an article last week on what to do with trees damaged by the freeze. According to that, the worst thing you can do is remove the dead growth before fall. The trunk is easily sunburned and cutting off the dead leaves will expose it to the intense summer light we get here. So my lemon tree will be looking like this for a long time... possibly until next spring. I'll miss the fruit. It's wonderful to pick fresh lemons for lemonade or iced tea.

Globe Mallow



Some plants are a lot more cold hardy. The Globe Mallow regularly grows at higher elevations and wasn't fazed at all by the cold winter we had. Buds are about to burst into bloom.




Texas Ranger  

The Texas Rangers in my front yard bounced back quickly. They may not flower until later this year, but they're happily putting out green leaves.






And remember that poor lemon tree? Well, right next to it, yay, sprouting happily up through the gravel, is a bumper crop of weeds.
I would like it explained how a freeze that managed to kill so many plants also allowed the weeds, the nasty plants that I fight every year in a battle for the back yard, to thrive.

There's a lot of work to be done to get my yard back into presentable shape before the HOA starts leaving me nasty-grams, but I'm not complaining. There's something soothing about working in a garden. Pruning and lopping and sweeping up clears my mind, stretches my muscles, and eases the tensions of the work week. I feel renewed when I'm done, pleased with my progress. I think it must be the English blood in me. The English do love their gardens... as do I, different as a Tucson garden might be from what my ancestors worked in.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Review: Kissing Arizona by Elizabeth Gunn

First the obligatory disclaimer: I know Elizabeth Gunn. Not only have I seen her at a few book signings around Tucson, I attended the
Pima County Attorney's Office Citizens Prosecution Academy with her last year. She's a charming lady and I enjoyed talking with her before the class and during breaks. With the housekeeping out of the way, on to the book.

"Kissing Arizona" is the third Sarah Burke mystery and the first I've read in this series. Detective Sarah Burke is a homicide detective with the Tucson Police Department. Sarah is confronted with two cases to solve in this book. One is the apparent murder-suicide of a husband and wife, co-owners of a prominent local business. The second involves known criminals, the DEA, and an investigation that they hope will lead to jail time for the principal leaders of a prominent gang.

I have to admit, I wasn't grabbed by the homicide cases. They actually seemed to be subplots in this book rather than the focus of the story. I was also disappointed that I didn't get to know the heroine better. There didn't seem to be much depth to her. Detective Burke doesn't have much passion, either for her job or for her boyfriend. A series character has to be someone you care about deeply and I just didn't find that happening for me. Maybe if I had read the previous two books in the series, I would have gotten to know Sarah Burke and just enjoyed following along as she solved the crimes. But I felt cheated by reading this book.

The real emotion of this story is with two teen-aged girls who have nothing to do with the murders. First we have Denny, Sarah's niece whom she took in after Sarah's sister "went postal in a parking lot" and her brother couldn't make an adequate home for Denny out on his ranch. Denny's biggest fear is that her aunt won't be able to care for her and she'll lose the security of her home. Having a homicide detective for a guardian doesn't lend itself to regular hours. When her grandmother has to go to the hospital, Denny is anxious that things will all fall apart.

The second girl is Vicki, whose father carried her across the border when she was an infant, and who has lived in Tucson most of her life. Although Mexican by birth, Vicki cannot imagine living anywhere other than the United States. When her illegal status is discovered and she is sent back to Mexico, a country she knows nothing about, her only desire is to return to Tucson. This leads her on a series of adventures and misadventures as she seeks to get back to what is home for her.

Vicki is the character who inspires the reader to get emotionally involved. Elizabeth Gunn makes a strong case for those children who, through no fault of their own, have been raised in one country and forced to return to another, a country they know nothing about.

This was an easy read of 200 pages, something light to pass away a warm evening. I'm not sure whether I will read another in the series, though. There was nothing compelling about Sarah to make me want to follow her next case. But, since I like Elizabeth Gunn, I might take the first book in the series, "Cool in Tucson", out of the library and see if I can get to know Sarah Burke a little better.







Saturday, March 19, 2011

Customer Satisfaction

These two words, thrown off so casually in advertisements, really make a difference in the success or failure of a business. I experienced two entirely opposite examples today of why.

I have a male friend, whom I often refer to as my second son, who helps out with all those male-type chores around the house and car that I'm not thoroughly comfortable with doing myself. I had one of those to do today (more on that later) and he was considerate enough to call me twice today to see if he needed to drop by and give me a hand. He had to pass my house on his way to check out some places to take his son dirt bike riding, so it wasn't inconvenient for him.

 In his younger days, he used to ride competitively and I think he secretly hopes that his son will follow in his footsteps. Besides, it's a fun way to spend the day outdoors. He knew the general area that he was interested in, but not specific places, so he headed that way and kept a lookout for likely locations. He stopped at one business and talked to the guy about what he was looking for and was pointed in the direction of a place that had memberships to ride their trails.



When he got there, the gate was open, so he drove his truck in to look around.  He pulled into a parking lot in front of what looked like a business building. Security shutters were rolled down over the front. A woman came into the parking lot, so he started to ask about riding there, whereupon she started a rant about him being on the property, that it wasn't open to the public today, and what was he doing there? All he was doing was looking for a place to ride, investigating a membership, and she lit into him like he was a criminal trespassing on her land.

Needless to say, he won't be going back there. The incident made him so angry, he had to vent to me for five or ten minutes on the phone.

I, on the other hand, had a better day. Yesterday one of my coworkers told me I had a brake light out so one of my chores for today was to buy a bulb and try to replace the dead one myself. That's why I put my friend on alert. If I ran into trouble replacing the bulb, I needed to know he'd be available to put things back together.

Now, there are some places that are the domain of women and some that are the domain of men. Home improvement stores and auto parts stores fall into the category of the latter. But I'm a big girl and, despite what my father used to say, thoroughly capable of walking into an auto parts store and buying something. There was one on my way to my hairdresser appointment, so I made a point of leaving a few minutes early so I could stop.

But I found myself in that strange kingdom of men, the smell of new rubber from the tires permeating the air. I had expected to find a display of different replacement bulbs with a chart I could find the equivalent generic part that corresponded to the one I found in the manual for my Camry. I found a display all right, but there was no chart and all of the bulbs seemed to be headlights, not taillights. I looked around for a salesperson, someone who could demystify this seemingly simple task of buying a bulb, but there was no one in sight. Glancing at my watch, it was getting close to my appointment time, so I decided to leave and stop by at the Toyota dealer on my way back. It might cost more, but at least I would have someone to talk to who would probably want to sell me a replacement bulb.

Hair freshly colored and cut, I made my stop at the Toyota dealer and boldly walked up to the parts counter. The woman there tried looking in her computer, but the part numbers didn't match and she said she was out of the bulb she thought it should be. However, to check, she called one of the service guys over and asked him to take the bulb out of its socket so she could compare it to what she had in stock.

It turned out that it was the one she didn't have on hand, but she asked if I could wait fifteen minutes while someone retrieved the part. I assume they have a storeroom or warehouse or something in the back of their new, huge facility. I said I did and sat down to read my book while I waited. I didn't have a whole lot of pages to go, so I finished before the fifteen minutes were up and I wandered aimlessly around the parts area, examining Toyota-branded keychains and floormats and such.

The service guy showed up and asked, "Has it been fifteen minutes yet?"

I glanced down at my watch and thought it had been closer to a half hour and said, "It must be."

He went to the counter and asked what was going on. The woman said that "he" had just called for the part. She apologized for it taking so long and thanked me for being so patient.

For some reason, I wasn't my usual impatient self. Time is very precious to me lately. I'm trying to do too much in too little time and always feel rushed. Maybe it was because I'd just come from the hairdresser and was feeling better about my appearance. Maybe it was because I'd spent an hour in my yard cleaning up a dead bush that froze during the eighteen degree days we had this winter. Or maybe God is teaching me patience. I shrugged my shoulders and said, "And what would happen if I were impatient and left? I'd still have a brake light out."

Shortly thereafter, another man came hurrying out of the back, bulb in hand, and asked, "Are you the lady waiting for the bulb?"

When I told him I was, he asked where the car was and led the way to it. He replaced the bulb, made me press on the brake pedal and turn on the headlights to make sure everything worked, and said, "You're all set."


Thinking he didn't know, I got out of the car and said, "I haven't paid for the bulb yet."

"You're all set," he repeated. "There's no charge because you had to wait so long."

This wasn't the first time that I've had something like that happen at Desert Toyota. But for them to go out of their way to install a light bulb and then not even charge me for the part blew me away. It's one of the reasons I keep going back for service. And, should my eight-year-old Camry need replacing, you can be sure I'll go back there to purchase a new one.

Two incidents, two totally different reactions by businesspersons, and two totally different customer experiences. It's obvious which one knows the meaning of customer satisfaction.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

Given my affection for Sherlock Holmes, it was only a matter of time before this book made it to the top of my To Be Read pile. Or bookcase, in my case. The idea of a mystery solved by a fan of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories was just too intriguing. There's nothing a reader loves more than feeling that they're in on the secret, picking up knowing little tidbits in references that others may miss.

The premise of the story is that missing volume of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's diary has been found by leading Sherlock Holmes scholar, Alex Cale, but, before he can reveal it, he's murdered with his own shoelaces. Supposedly a true story, the author takes this tale, plus the historical fact that Conan Doyle acted as a consultant to Scotland Yard, and weaves the two together into a fictionalized account of what happened.

Harold White, newly inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars, the most prestigious of the organizations devoted to Conan Doyle's detective, determines to solve the murder in true Sherlock Holmes style. A scholarly nerd, Harold is flattered when freelance journalist, Sarah Lindsay, joins him in the hunt.

Meanwhile, back in Victorian London, Conan Doyle is taking abuse for killing off his famous detective at The Reichenbach Falls. He is accosted by strangers in the street, nagged by his editor, and even receives a letter bomb. This last straw brings him to contact Scotland Yard, which doesn't seem to take the incident seriously. Seriously annoyed and having some fear for his life, Conan Doyle decides to attempt to find the perpetrator along with his best friend, Bram Stoker. This investigation leads to a further investigation into the murders of several young women.

Although, as expected, the two tales are eventually joined for the conclusion of the book, I found it somewhat distracting to switch between them. I've read other novels which had parallel stories in two different times or locations and enjoyed them, but The Sherlockian felt like the author had two separate novels in mind and not enough material for either one to stand alone. It wasn't that either story was uninteresting. Quite the contrary. I was enjoying being immersed in each of them as I was reading. It was more that I felt I was jerked out of one story and had to totally reorient myself into the other at each new chapter.

This might just be me and your mileage may vary. However, if I were to give this book a grade, the most it would rate with me would be a B. Possibly a B plus. With so many books to read, I probably won't seek out Graham Moore's next novel.

Monday, March 14, 2011

You'll Never Be Lonely in a Red Sox Shirt


Having lived in the Boston area for eight years, it was destined that I would become a Red Sox fan. It's hard to live there and not be one. The excitement and enthusiasm is contagious, especially for someone who never quite got over the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn.

Now, there are plenty of baseball fans in the USA, but there are baseball fans and then there are baseball fans.  Brooklyn Dodger fans were notorious for taking the game seriously; some say too seriously. One of my neighbors on Long Island used to hang black crepe when the Dodgers lost. It was a sad day indeed when they left Ebbets Field for California. It was a double-whammy in 1957 because the Giants also abandoned the Polo Grounds for the West Coast.

Thousands, maybe millions of New Yorkers were left without a baseball team to root for. (Any Dodgers or Giants fan wouldn't be caught dead cheering for the hated Yankees.) It was years before the National League returned to New York in the persona of the New York Mets. I tried rooting for the Mets; I really did. It just wasn't the same. And so, for a long time, I didn't follow baseball.

Until I moved to Boston for a job and found that Red Sox fans were as crazy as Brooklyn Dodger fans.
They even had a funky baseball field with a manual scoreboard and the famous Green Monster. Maybe it's just me, but older places have character that just can't be matched by newer venues.

I wondered what it would be like when I moved to Tucson, a long way from Boston and the sound of cheers and groans heard through neighboring windows during a game. (Yes, in my condo in Massachusetts, you could hear everyone cheering and groaning in unison depending on what happened during the game.)

I plunked down the big bucks for the MLB baseball package on cable because the idea of NOT seeing the Red Sox play was just too painful. I needed my fix. When they came to play the Diamondbacks a couple of years ago, my son called from Phoenix to ask if I was going to go to any of the games. Was I? How could I not? Seeing them live was wonderful, but what was even more impressive was the caravan of cars heading east on I10 from Phoenix to Tucson that Sunday night, most sporting Red Sox bumper stickers or insignia in the windows.

It really is Red Sox nation. No matter where you go, there are Red Sox fans. There was a picnic at the home of a member of the church where I go to last year. Not surprisingly, I wore a Red Sox tee shirt.
I wasn't there five minutes when a couple walked up to me and started talking about the Sox.

This past weekend I volunteered as an author escort for the Tucson Festival of Books. This is the third year and already it's grown to the fourth largest book fair in the country. It's a wonderful weekend of books and authors and strolling around the University of Arizona mall in the warm sunshine. I wore one of my Red Sox shirts on Saturday and was greeted several times with cries of "Great Shirt!" and "Go Sox!" You see, we really are all over. And I know that any time I need a conversation starter, all I have to do is put on a Red Sox tee shirt. There's always someone to talk about the team with.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Book Review: Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

One thing I have to say about Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series; you definitely get your money's worth. No buying a book one day and finishing it the next, feeling slightly dissatisfied that it didn't last longer. Since I only get to read for one or two hours a day, it's taken me almost two months to complete this 1065 page book. That's why the long pauses between book reviews.

This portion of the saga consists of at least three parallel story lines. We continue the story of Claire and Jamie as they establish themselves in America just prior to the Revolutionary War. We follow their daughter Briana as she meets Roger Wakefield, falls in love, then disappears back in time to find her parents. And we journey with Roger as he waits for Brianna to come back to him, then realizing she won't, follows her through the rent in time at Craigh Na Dun, the ancient stone circle. These stories weave through one another, coming together and moving apart as they unfold and, of course, being all brought together at the end.

There were a couple of things I disliked about this book:

First of all, there were portions that dragged. Diana Gabaldon is a firm believer in working the five senses into a scene. These rich descriptions enable a reader to feel she is part of the setting, but sometimes I found myself thinking, "I don't care about how the flowers smell. Get on with it!" I couldn't help but wonder if some scenes couldn't have been summarized into a sentence or two so that one of the main story lines could be continued. Toward the end, when all of the threads were coming together, the changes in point of view were hard to follow. It took a paragraph or two before I figured out who was telling the tale at this point.

The second thing I disliked about the book were the scenes of graphic violence. In an earlier book in the series, Jamie suffers intolerably, but, despite my dislike of what was happening, it seemed like it was necessary if the reader was to understand who he was and why he made the decisions he did in subsequent situations. However, in Drums of Autumn, is it really necessary for him to be brutal to Brianna? Do we really need the details of one scene while Roger is a captive of the Indians? These felt like the were forced to me, a conscious attempt to ramp up tension.

On the other hand, the scene where Brianna gives birth brought tears to my eyes. So many birth scenes are cliched, echoes of ones that have been told before, with no heart in them. There was nothing cliche about this one.  The same for the love story between Brianna and Roger. There are no easy answers to the obstacles they face. Where a shorter, more romance novel oriented book would assure the happily ever after ending, Brianna and Roger struggle, leaving the reader wondering will they resolve their problems or will those problems be insurmountable?

Claire and Jamie, on the other hand, have settled into their relationship. They have come to know and accept one another, their differences no longer a touchstone for conflict. And their love for one another, both emotional and physical, has not waned. Their struggle is more about making a place for themselves in this new land, establishing traditions to replace or continue those they left behind, caretakers of not only Brianna, but Ian and Fergus and the others who work their land.

I'm sure I'll continue with the next book in this series, but not right away. I always need to take a break from an Outlander novel, read some shorter books that require less involvement, before plunging into the next one. But that's okay. Since Diana Gabaldon admits, "I write slow.", I wouldn't want to finish the series to date and have to wait for her to finish the next book.