Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re a fact of life for many of us. I think most of you probably have a love/hate relationship with yours; I know I do with mine.

My HOA does some good things – well, at least one. For my monthly dues, the HOA takes care of both the common areas in the neighborhood and the front yards of all the houses. When I moved in, 18 years ago, I was (and still am) perfectly happy to have someone else take care of my front yard without any effort on my part. Granted, the “yards” are all xeriscapes, with desert-adapted plants, but even those have to be trimmed and maintained. The irrigation bill is also part of the monthly HOA fee, and I’m fine with that.

But they can be pretty pissy, too, and last fall I bumped up against one of their taboos.


Back in 2010, when Toni and I were creating an actual landscaped back yard out of the dry, dusty nothing that I had lived with since 1998, one of our projects was to include a rainwater harvesting system so we could reduce our need for city (paid) water. The house has a flat roof with four scuppers along one side. You can see them here. The water simply flowed through the holes in the wall, fell to the ground, and then flowed out to the street.

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I was a good boy and submitted an “Architectural Change Request” (ACR) form to the HOA, asking to replace those with collectors that would empty into downspouts which, in turn, would drain into barrels. The request was approved. The next photo, taken from about the same place in May, 2014, shows the final arrangement of the new collectors and downspouts. The nearest tank is 500 gallons; the two closer to the front of the house are 50 gallons each (connected, for a total of 100 gallons from that scupper); and there is a 50-gallon barrel under each of the downspouts beyond the block wall. The small barrels were part of the original 2010 project; the 500-gallon tank came later.


And there it was – 700 gallons of water available for irrigation.
Everybody was fine with it for five years. FIVE. YEARS.

Last October, I got a call from the HOA’s manager, who wondered if I would let the Architectural Committee come take a look at my system. The Committee was finally getting around to writing guidelines for water-collection systems and they had heard about mine and wanted to use it as a sample. I said sure, no problems.

The next thing I heard from the manager was that she found the ACR for the downspouts but couldn’t find one for the barrels. (I had never submitted one.) So I took pictures and got my neighbors to sign the request and crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s and sent it in.

It was rejected. The barrels in the front yard were visible from the street and therefore not allowed. This is what they had looked like FOR FIVE YEARS.


This is not the street view. There is a big tree and a large shrub between the barrels and the street. Nevertheless, the HOA wanted them gone.

Not one to take things lying down, I took a walk around the neighborhood to see whether anyone else had any kind of collection system. I found some homes with standard gutters (we have both flat roofs and pitched roofs in the neighborhood); I found one with a basic barrel sitting under where the water would flow out of an existing scupper; I found several homes where the plants had grown up so much in the past two decades that nothing could be seen from the street; and I found a lot of homes where it wouldn’t be practical (or even possible) to locate a collection barrel behind a privacy wall. I documented all this and sent it to the Architectural Committee, suggesting that instead of a complete ban on barrels outside the privacy walls, perhaps they could implement a size limitation – like, oh, 50 gallons – or require some kind of screen (like a wall or shrubbery).

The appeal was denied. I learned later that the Architectural Committee had split their vote, so it went to the HOA’s Board.

I had actually anticipated this outcome, so I had already bought some of the pieces I’d need to run downspouts from the front two scuppers at an angle to get their outlet behind the privacy wall.

Then I discovered that my solution wouldn’t work. The downspout elbows come in 30-, 45- and 75-degree bends, but even using the 75-degree elbows, the downspout from the front scupper would run into the wall. So I took lots of pictures of my efforts, and showed how it wasn’t going to work, and re-appealed their denial. This picture summarizes the problem: If you extend the straight line (it’s actually a tape measure) to the left of the lower white elbow, it’ll run into the wall. Since that line represents the bottom of the downspout tube, there’s no way the downspout can be routed from the front scupper to the back yard. And even if I *could* get it over the wall, by the time it turned down and away from the wall to be over the barrel’s opening, the barrel wouldn’t fit under it.

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At this point the HOA finally said I could keep the barrels in front of the wall (YAY!) if I put a wall around them. -sigh- Well, I had to find out what they meant by “wall” – could I just put a curved wall of dry-laid decorative blocks around the front barrel? Nope. I had to build a wall that matched the existing block wall and completely surrounded the barrels, with a gate in it so that utility readers could get to the gas and electric meters (which, IMO, are at least as ugly as the barrels!).

I priced that wall and the two quotes I got ranged from about $850 to near $1130. I decided that, if I had to spend that much money to protect 50 gallons of rainwater capacity, I’d go another route and spend the money on bigger tanks that fit behind the wall completely. I bought a 200-gallon tank that will sit directly behind the existing block wall, will not be visible from the street, and will collect water from the left-hand downspout, and brought the right-hand one, which produced the smallest amount of water anyway, down to ground level to drain into the street.

This photo shows the current status. I got the street-visible parts done right away, because I was given 90 days from one of the denials to remove the barrels and I didn’t want to get in *real* trouble with the HOA.


I still have to rebuild the left-hand downspout to supply the 200-gallon tank, and I’m going to get a 400-gallon tank to replace the two 50-gallon barrels you saw earlier. My total capacity will grow from 700 gallons to about 1100, even after losing the 50 gallons from the front downspout.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to plumb the tanks into my irrigation system so the rainwater will be automatically used when it’s available.

Sometimes I just hate HOAs.


House and Building Seeds

Have you ever noticed that long-time vacant land will sometimes spontaneously sprout a new subdivision or office park or other structure, seemingly overnight? I think I’ve figured out what happens.

Backstory: A little over a week ago I went to Phoenix to participate with my eldest daughter in the annual JDRF One Walk. This 5K walk is an annual fundraiser for Type 1 Diabetes research. Last year I supported Ali in her walk; this year I also walked the 5K myself.

The walk took place around the Chicago Cubs’ spring training park. As we walked, Ali noticed that a parcel of land that had been vacant about 6 months ago was now fully-built with an apartment complex. Shortly after that, we made a turn and I saw vehicles rapidly moving along the 202 Loop. Without prompting, my brain came up with this obvious conclusion:

Cars and trucks are the method that existing buildings use to spread their seeds to vacant land and therefore propagate their species!

As proof, I offer the following:

  1. You very rarely see a building that isn’t near a road of some kind.
  2. Buildings that *aren’t* near a road tend to be run down and decayed, as though they’re not being pollinated or fertilized to maintain their health.
  3. The larger the road, the more buildings there are near it, and the faster they grow. As an example, a dirt road, with few cars or trucks traversing it, will likely only have a few, widely-spaced buildings (farms or ranches), because the seeds can fall off the vehicles anywhere. At the other end of the spectrum, an eight-lane limited-access highway will have lots of cars and trucks on it, with only certain places where they can exit and deposit the building seeds. This is why so many buildings are seen at the on- and off-ramps.
  4. The higher the speed limit on the roads, the faster the building species spread. This is because, like water, fast-moving cars and trucks can carry more and larger seeds than slow-moving ones. This further explains why you’ll see clusters of buildings near the on- and off-ramps – as the vehicles slow down, they drop their cargo of building seeds, which then take root. It also explains why you don’t see many buildings in between the ramps: the cars and trucks drop the heavy seeds at the ramps, while those on the highway continue to carry their seeds past the fallow ground between the ramps without dropping any.
  5. Buildings compete with each other for sunlight and water, just like other species. This explains why they grow taller and taller in crowded areas, and not as tall where there isn’t as much competition. Instead, they tend to spread out and stay closer to the ground. Tall buildings know they can’t propagate as well in a crowded area, so they deposit their seeds on cars and trucks that circulate around, under, and through them, hoping that these seeds will eventually be deposited on a fertile piece of vacant land.

I admit this isn’t a fully-developed theory, and that it needs more research. But I think I’m onto something, here.

A little over a year ago, I posted an entry called “I’m a Volunteer!” detailing the beginning of my journey as a volunteer for Donate Life AZ. It’s been really gratifying to be able to help at registration events over the past 13 months or so.

Early this year, I stepped up my game a bit by going through the Volunteer Speakers workshop. Since then, I have told my story to a graduating class of nurses at Tucson Medical Center and visited three lawmakers (two state Senators and a state Representative) at the annual Donate Life Day at the Capitol.

Since April is National Donate Life Month, I was going to tell you about what I’m doing this month to promote organ donation, but then I thought it might be better just to tell my “story” – how I came to be involved with the Donor Network and why I do what I do. So here it is:

My story began in January 2010, when my son-in-law was admitted to the hospital after arriving by train in Tucson. He and my daughter were living in Illinois at the time, and they were having issues that both felt would be resolved better if he came back to Tucson for a while. One of those issues was his drug use. Unfortunately, he apparently used some meth on the train, and within hours of his arrival in Tucson he had a stroke. I became involved as my daughter’s surrogate until she could get here from Illinois, and of course I supported her and did what I could after she arrived.

While in the hospital, he suffered a second stroke, and at that point he became eligible to be a donor. I certainly didn’t know, and I don’t think anyone else knew, that he had registered as an organ donor years before then. But it made perfect sense to all of us, and he was able to donate his left lung (even though he was a smoker), his liver (in spite of being a drinker) and both his kidneys (even though he drank, smoked, and abused drugs).

Point One: Never assume that your organs, eyes (corneas), and tissues will be unusable. It’s all done on a case-by-case basis, with on-the-spot evaluations of the potential for donations. (Point One-A: Never assume you’re too old. The oldest donor I’m aware of was 94.)

Because of my son-in-law’s selfless act, four people’s lives were saved that day. Additionally, at least six people were directly influenced to register as donors – my three daughters, my other son-in-law, my wife, and me. I know there have been others, but these six I can vouch for personally.

Chapter Two began in November 2012, when my wife was killed in a car crash in Pinal County, outside of Oracle, AZ. She and I were working on some rental property in Oracle that day, and one of our tenants asked if she wanted to go for a short ride in his sandrail (dune buggy) to see how it was working. Toni was literally bouncing on the balls of her feet and grinning as widely as she could as she accepted the invitation. She and the tenant hopped in, buckled up, and drove off for what I *thought* was going to be a short shakedown ride.

She never came back.

She was airlifted to the University of Arizona Medical Center (now Banner – University Medical Center where the ER and surgical teams did all they could to save her. Unfortunately, her brain trauma was too great, and she became a donor about 48 hours after the crash. She donated her liver to a gentleman in Phoenix.

Point Two: You may be concerned that your medical care might be curtailed, modified, or otherwise changed if the hospital staff knows you’re a donor. In the first place, they don’t know. It isn’t until a person is declared deceased that organ donation is even considered. But even if they *did* know, they would act no differently toward their patients. Toni was given something (I don’t know what, exactly) that ultimately prevented her from donating any of her tissues. And her treatment and subsequent care lasted to the point where her kidneys shut down and were not suitable for donation.

Donate Life AZ has been extremely good to me. In fact, just the other day I received an invitation to attend the annual donor-hero recognition ceremony at Banner – UMC. It’s a chance to honor Toni’s life, her death, and her decision to donate. In return, I have chosen to help spread the word about donation as much as I can.

So I have two requests of you, Dear Reader. The first is, if you aren’t already a registered donor, please become one. Register in your home state, and if you spend a significant amount of time in a different state (perhaps as a snowbird?), register there, too! There is not (yet) a national donor registry, and if you aren’t “at home” when you die, your donation decision may be for nothing. Less than 2% of all deaths develop into donations – please make it as easy as possible for yours to be one of them!

The second request is this: In addition to making this decision for yourself (and letting people know about it, of course!), please decide what you would do in the event – that I hope never happens to you – a child of yours dies. I read recently of a child who received a heart transplant at 6 days of age. That donor heart didn’t come from an adult. It came from another child, whose grieving family decided to help others live through the donation of their child’s organs.

If you’re willing to help others in this way, the love and gratitude will come back – if not to you, then to your family – manyfold.


Toni Stalker (3/21/53 – 11/26/12)

Last weekend was the annual Rails in the Garden tour here in Tucson, hosted by members of the Tucson Garden Railway Society. Every year, the club opens up ten or so of the members’ railroads to the public, and every year I go get my annual fix of the trains. I posted about last year’s tour here, but since (a) it’s been a whole year and (b) they open different railroads each year, I figure it’s worth another write-up.

Each of the railroads is unique. Some are more-or-less-faithful recreations of a particular place and/or time in railroading history (one of the weekend’s locations was at the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum and features a representation of Tucson in the 1880s, when the railroad was newly-arrived), while others are more whimsical. And the whimsy itself can range from a pun-filled landscape (for example, a place where dromedaries are for sale is, naturally, a “camel lot”) to a beautifully-detailed miniature world of buildings, hot-air balloons, and people, all built into the surrounding full-size landscaping.

It took me all day, and about 100 miles, but I managed to visit all ten of the available layouts.

The first one was at the Rodeo Parade Museum. It’s a small loop of track with several dioramas of typical buildings and activities from Tucson in the 1880s. In addition to the railroad display, the Museum holds a plethora of antique carriages and wagons, most of which are used in the annual Tucson Rodeo Parade. There are also other exhibits, like a re-creation of the lobby in the El Conquistador Hotel (torn down to make room for the El Con Mall, which itself has been [mostly] torn down to make way for a group of big-box stores and a multiplex).


Although it’s not a train, this next photo *is* an absolutely beautiful carriage (just one of many).


My next stop was at a mobile-home park, where some of the residents have gotten together to build this amazing road:


Among other things, it features a circus (with music), a literal train wreck, two streams (with real water), and a group of men about to shoot a moose that’s holding a “No Hunting” sign. It also has an entrepreneur who uses his Jeep to help other men climb to the top of the rocks (for a fee, of course) so they can look downriver at the women who are sunbathing on the rocks below.

The third railroad was the first at a private residence. This one features two “islands” of railroad, connected to each other by removable bridges to make it easier to walk around the yard (although there isn’t much non-railroad yard to walk around in any more) when the trains aren’t running. There are also multiple trestles, tunnels, and switches to keep things interesting. Vignettes include a “hobotown” built around a caboose hulk (and including a campfire) and a train wreck.


The owner creates his structures from scratch, and had several on display on a table. This is but one of his masterpieces:


The next railroad was a little more abstract, with all the tracks laid on concrete blocks and the town sitting on poured concrete. But the owner does like his roundhouses – there are three of them! This photo shows two:


The next layout shows how a lot of railroad can be packed into a small space. What interested me about this road was the “spur” line that ran along the side of the house to the owner’s workshop. The track runs through its own door into the workshop, and the owner can thus leave the trains on the track all the time and still protect them from weathering. Also, the mix of “railroad-scale” decorations and “full-size” ornamentation is good.


Here are some of the whimsical elements in this yard.


The next road, “Quail Ridge”, features a large mine at the entrance and an exquisitely detailed railroad scrap yard. I suspect some of the rolling stock in the scrap yard was created for the purpose, but it’s also possible that some of it simply wore out and was repurposed, as it would be in real life.


The owner is also a prize-winning customizer (it’s called “kit-bashing” in the modeling world). This is a standard articulated steam engine that he rebuilt in a cab-forward configuration.


Moving along, our next stop is at one of the “emptier” railroads. For me, this more closely represents early Arizona than any of the others, because everything is dirt and there are no trees. (I suspect this is under construction, though, and I look forward to seeing it on future tours.) The unique element here was one of the trains – instead of it being electric, it was running live steam! It was fun to watch the steam and smoke be expelled from the engine as the train ran its course.


The next layout had lots going on all the time. With four computer-controlled trains on two independent loops, and an end-to-end trolley line, there was always a train coming or going. There was also a section of the yard where I couldn’t tell if the line was being expanded or abandoned – the two spouses seemed to have differing ideas about that. This owner took a different approach to train storage – instead of a spur going into part of the house, he built covered train sheds along the back wall. Their tracks are connected to the main line by a folding bridge, so that people can walk around the yard without having to worry about the tracks. The first photo is the railroad (with the train sheds in the background); the second is the electronics that control the trains.



Next up: The Cholla Patch Railroad. This one is the most whimsical of all the lines on this year’s tour, but it’s also internally consistent. The buildings are all to scale and feature real copper roofs; the trestles (and there are a LOT of trestles) are built to scale; and the figures are all set in realistic poses. It’s not *their* fault that their world is composed of giant cacti!

This is the Tree House. It serves as the social center of their world, and is wildly popular with the citizens. There are multiple levels and lots of activities. It even has its own station (on the other side of the tree, of course!).


There’s also a very popular lookout tower. You can see at least two people using telescopes here; there’s also a third one in the enclosed room at the top, as well as a lighted Tiffany lamp!


Unfortunately, not all is sweetness and light in Cholla Patch. One unlucky citizen had the misfortune to fall on a cactus spine. Although a rescuer is trying his best, I fear the worst.


The final stop of the day is also the “piece de resistance” of the tour – the Eagle Mountain Railroad. This road is *always* on the tour, and it’s no wonder! The owner adds something new every year, and it’s amazing how much of Arizona he has captured – including early aviation, open-pit mining, prospecting, logging, cliff dwellings, and much, much more. It’s impossible to capture the whole railroad (or even a significant part of it) in one photo. This shot includes the red rock mesas and the underground-mining portions of the road.


This is the open-pit mine:


I always have a great time on the Rails in the Garden tour. If I ever win the lottery, I’m spending some of the winnings on my own garden railroad!

I took way too many photos and videos this year, but if you want to look at them all, click here. You can also pick any of my other albums to browse, as well.

The next Rails in the Garden tour will be March 4 & 5, 2017. If you’re in Tucson that weekend and want to take the tour, I’ll be happy to chauffeur you around.

Out of Context

As I do most days (Sundays being a notable exception for obvious reasons), I checked my mailbox yesterday to see if anything was in it. Since I live in a neighborhood with “bulk delivery,” my box is about a hundred yards down the street. Normally, I walk out my front door, down my sidewalk and the thirty-foot-long driveway, down the “real” sidewalk, and then cross the street to the mailboxes. After retrieving my mail (if there *is* any), I retrace my steps and return to my cave – er, house.

Yesterday’s sojourn started out as usual, but as I walked down my sidewalk to get to the driveway, I noticed a car in the street. It was stopped more-or-less in front of my house, but it was also more-or-less in front of my neighbor’s house, too – and it was stopped *directly* in front of his trash barrel, which was against the curb in the street. This meant that the unknown car was stopped about three feet away from the curb, which I thought was mildly strange. Why wouldn’t the driver choose one side or the other of the barrel, and park closer to the curb? AHA! He must be waiting for someone! Since no one I knew should be waiting for me, I deduced that he was waiting for my neighbor. (Also a bit strange, because that almost *never* happens, but it’s not unheard-of.)

The engine was running, and the driver had the windows down and the sunroof open, so as I passed I did the neighborly thing and said, “Hi!” I promptly got “Hi!” back, and I continued down to the mailboxes. I do this with most people I see on my street. I greet the ones I know, obviously, but I also greet the ones I don’t know because I live in a Neighborhood Watch area and I want people to know that I noticed them (and therefore might remember them if something happens).

On my way back from the mailboxes, I saw the car still there. It hadn’t been moved to a spot where it could be parked closer to the curb, so I assumed the driver was still waiting for my neighbor. Having done my neighborly thing, I walked past the car, up my driveway, and to my front door. I didn’t see any point in talking to this person any further, because obviously he wasn’t there on my account.

As I opened my front door, I happened to catch some motion from the corner of my eye. I turned and saw the man coming up my driveway. Being neighborly again, I turned and asked, “May I help you?”

At this point, he’s about twenty feet away from me. He took off his ball cap – and danged if it wasn’t my big brother!

So, of course, I invited him in and we had a great visit.

You may be wondering why I didn’t recognize my own brother. After all, I’m 64 (well, that *could* be the reason, but it’s not – at least, not yet!) and he’s 71, so we’ve known each other for a while. Well, here’s where the out-of-context part comes into play.

Big Bro lives in New Hampshire, and only comes to Tucson on rare occasions, almost all of which involve visiting his daughter / my niece (she’s stationed at Davis-Monthan, as is her husband). Further, he, Sis-in-Law, and Nephew had just been here over Christmas, and they *never* visit twice this close together! Third, when Big Bro *does* come to town, he calls to invite me to breakfast / lunch / drinks, or he lets me know ahead of time and we set things up before he even gets here.

So when he comes walking up my driveway, totally unannounced, just 60 days after he was here last, why on earth *would* I recognize him?

I felt foolish that I hadn’t, of course, and he asked me what I had thought about the car with the New Hampshire plates when I walked by. I told him I never even saw the plates. In the first place, I was still wearing my “computer glasses,” which are slightly nearsighted in the real world, so I literally didn’t see the plate clearly enough to realize it was NH. Second, I wasn’t focusing on that. I saw an out-of-place car and person in the neighborhood, and I was focusing on letting said person know that I had seen him, so he shouldn’t try anything.

That, of course, raises the question of why I didn’t recognize him when we said “Hi” to each other.

I never saw his face clearly while he was in the car. It was mostly obscured by the roof, and additionally obscured by his hat, and “Hi” isn’t enough to override the “stranger danger” mindset and trigger the voice-recognition abilities I still retain (if any). I also wasn’t really looking at him; I just said “Hi!” as I walked past.

[Note: As I’m writing this, it occurs to me that I *should* pay more attention to the faces, clothing, and speech patterns of unfamiliar people in the neighborhood, as well as any unfamiliar vehicles, so that if something *does* happen, I can say more than, “I saw a man in a dark-colored car parked in front of my house that day.”]

But the fact remains that I didn’t recognize my own (and only) brother until he walked up my sidewalk and took off his hat. He was out of context.


Oh, and if you’re wondering why Big Bro was in town, well, he had been invited to an event put on by a longtime friend of his (they met in Vietnam in 1968 or thereabouts). He hadn’t thought he’d be able to attend, but the stars lined up just right for once, so he flew out for the event and decided to surprise me while he was here. I have to say that the surprise part definitely worked!

*sigh* No, I didn’t win.

As I write this (late morning, Thursday, Jan 14) three winning tickets have been identified for yesterday’s obscenely large Powerball grand prize of $1.5 billion. Had any of my picks been a winner, it would have been (at least) the fourth. A quarter of that much money is $375 million. Since I would have taken my share in cash (as opposed to the 30-year annuity), they would have given me about $233 million, of which about 40 – 45% would go to Uncle Sam and Uncle Doug (Ducey). That would leave me with a measly $127 million or so, on which I would have to survive for the rest of my life.

I have actually given some serious – okay, maybe not all that serious – thought to what I’d do if I ever won that much money. Without going into specifics, because everything would depend on exactly how much I won, here’s some of what I’d do:

After conferring with a select group of advisers (lawyer, accountant, etc.) I’d give enough money to my relatives to seriously disrupt their lives, too. Misery loves company, right? I also have a select group of long-time (and long-suffering) friends whom I’d like to buy off – I mean, reward.

I would obviously set aside enough to take care of my personal wants, like a serious chunk of land somewhere (so I wouldn’t have to live in a subdivision any more). I also have a list of toys I’d like to have, like an Icon and a P-51. And I’d build (or, more likely, have someone build) a custom 1927-ish Dodge (or Graham) Brothers stake-bed truck with modern running gear and seating for four.

Imagine this with a modern diesel, 5- or 6-speed stick, and seating for four!

There are some experiences I’d like to accumulate, too, like cruising in my own yacht from New Orleans up the Mississippi and other rivers and canals to the Great Lakes, out through the Saint Lawrence Seaway, down the Atlantic coast to Key West, around the Gulf of Mexico to the Panama Canal, and then up the Pacific Coast to Seattle or Vancouver.

I would make substantial gifts to Penn State and the University of Arizona. I received my BS from Penn State and my MS from the UA, and while I give to them every month, I’d like to do more. (The thought of getting my name on a building or something has no bearing on this. 😉 ) In other areas of education, I’d like to sponsor a school’s worth of sixth-graders from disadvantaged backgrounds, guaranteeing them a four-year degree in whatever they want to study, wherever they want to study it.

There are some national organizations, like the JDRF, to which I’d give money. One of my daughters is a Type 1 diabetic and I would like to substantially help the JDRF’s research efforts to find a cure (and a way to prevent it in the first place!).

There are also some local groups that I’d like to support. One of them is a no-kill cat shelter that’s in the middle of a fundraising campaign to raise money to rebuild their home. I’d like to step in and say, “Here. All done. Go build it.”

There are some infrastructure projects in Tucson, too, that I’d like to fund. One of them involves the roads near my home. Before the Great Recession, both of them were supposed to be rebuilt, with medians, bike lanes, sidewalks, and so on. That was cancelled, and I’d like to get it put back on the schedule because the roads *need* to be rebuilt. The other involves an early bike path in the city that desperately needs resurfacing. I’m a recreational bicyclist and use this path on many of my rides. It would be *much* nicer to ride on new pavement than on the 30-year-old worn-out path that’s there now.

The biggest chunk of my winnings, though, would go toward establishing a “flight experience” museum at one of the local airports. Tucson boasts the Pima Air and Space Museum and the Titan Missile Museum, both of which are excellent facilities. If I remember correctly, Pima Air and Space was in the running for one of the Space Shuttles. It also hosts an SR-71 and a B-36, among a *lot* of other planes. And, of course, the Titan Missile Museum is a one-of-a-kind facility where you can go see how the US protected itself during the Cold War. I think a flight-experience museum, where you could actually *fly* in historic aircraft, would be a good fit.

Had I been the sole winner, or even one of only two, there are, of course, other things I could do: Buy a flight to the International Space Station; give money to more organizations; ruin more people’s lives with cash gifts; and set up some kind of enduring legacy through a trust or foundation.

What would you do?


I saw Riverdance a couple of nights ago, at Centennial Hall on the University of Arizona campus. This was my first real exposure to Irish line dancing (second overall, if you count the video to Shania Twain’s “Don’t Be Stupid“), and I was transported to another world.

The show was a tad over two hours, including the 20-minute intermission, and It. Had. Everything.

The musical selections have an overarching theme to them that reminded me of “concept albums” from the ’60s, like The Moody Blues’ “Days of Future Passed.” There was travel, and separation, and reunion, all through the music and dancing.

It had flamenco.

It had ballet. (Although there weren’t any traditional ballet pieces, the dancers were very balletic!)

It had jazz music with American-style tap dancing. In fact, one of the selections featured a “dance-off” between two tap-dancers and three Irish dancers. Naturally, they ended up using each others’ moves.

It had soft- and hard-shoe dancing.

It had Russian folk dancing.

It had *AWESOME* vocals! One of the sopranos had a voice that I would describe as glass-clear, while another’s sounded like it had honey poured on it.

It had drums. Oh, boy, did it have drums!

It had top-of-the-line Irish fiddling. And the bodhrán, uilleann pipes, low whistle and tin whistle, among others.

It had awesome choreography! Both the principals and the “chorus” gave us amazing footwork. I was so absorbed in watching their feet that there were times I’d glance up and be surprised to see that the backdrop scene had changed.

It had audience participation – during several of the numbers in the second half, they encouraged the audience to clap along, which we did enthusiastically.

It had so much more that I can’t even describe. I knew at the outset I was going to like the show, because I like up-tempo, active music. But I had no idea how *much* I would like it! When the whole line was dancing, each step sounded like it was one huge shoe, they were that together. The second thing I did at intermission was to buy both the music CD and the DVD so I could enjoy it again…and again…and again… (You can probably guess what the first thing was. 🙂 ) Now I have to get a better sound system so I can crank up the bass and relive the thumping rhythms.

If you haven’t yet seen Riverdance, you should – no, you NEED to. It’s that good. Tell ’em Dave sent you. 😉

There isn’t anything profound or radical or even very thought-provoking tonight (it’s 7:45 PM MST as I’m writing this), but I wanted to take a few of the remaining minutes of 2015 to say Thank You to my readers. Whether you’re crazy enough to follow me, or you’ve simply stumbled across The Peripatetic Traveler by random chance, you have become a part of my universe.

According to the WordPress “annual report,” the top five referring sites are:

  2. Reader

#1 makes a lot of sense, since I crosspost there. #2, I guess, is the “random” source – when you click “next blog” that’s where I show up. #3 is a longtime blog of my longtime friend, Bilbo. He’s been doing this since before the Interwebz existed, I think, and has his own worldwide following. #4 is my other blog, “From The Ground Up,” where I’m chronicling the build of my 6-wheel-drive JeepMonster.

Number Five is the oddest one, because it’s a derivative of #3, aimed (I guess) at Bilbo’s many followers in Germany, although it’s in English. Since he spent a good part of his adult life over there, and speaks German fluently (?), I would have thought he’d make a German-language blog. (Maybe he’ll be good enough to ‘splain in a comment.)

Also according to the report, y’all hail from 53 countries! I’m quite impressed! The US is first, of course, but I had double-digit (between 10 and 99) views from Germany (42), Canada (36), France (28), United Kingdom (21), Australia (17), Italy (10), and Mongolia (10) (*MONGOLIA*?!?).

In return, I have found some awesome other blogs that I follow (although I confess that I don’t always read them). Among these are “Plying Through Life,” “Girly Camping,” “Smokey the Jeep,” and “IHRA” (International Historical Research Associates).

I’ve had some amazing travels this year, and enjoyed blogging about them. I hope you have enjoyed reading my posts and that you’ll come back in 2016 for more adventures. Right now, the only trip I *know* I’m taking will be back to Penn State in April for the 65th Anniversary reunion of the AFROTC Drill Team & Honor Guard. I’m considering a couple of other possibilities, such as completing Historic Route 66 (from Holbrook, AZ to Los Angeles – I rode from Holbrook to Chicago last summer) and then continuing up the Pacific Coast Highway on the Honda, or maybe riding cross-country to attend the Laconia Bike Week in New Hampshire (but I also might wait a couple of years and go to the 95th Bike Week in 2018). If things work out with the JeepMonster, I might get that up and running, too, and then I’ll have more hair-raising adventures to blog about!

However you look at it, 2015 was an … interesting … year. 2016 promises to be more of the same – and it’s longer, too, since it’s a Leap Year! So, although I doubt I’ll be the first, let me wish each of you, Dear Readers, a Happy New Year!

Oh, wait – that should read, “It’s a Christmas baby!” As in, born on Christmas. Which I was.

But it’s okay. It really is, because my parents were great about making sure I didn’t get shortchanged. Our typical Christmas started with me getting up at oh-dark-thirty to open my stocking stuffers. At 7, I was allowed to wake the rest of the family (I’m the youngest, and it’s my birthday, so naturally I’d be the first to wake up), at which time we’d all drag ourselves to the Christmas-tree room. While the presents were being distributed, Mom would put together her Christmas breakfast and bring it in to us. After all these years, the only thing I specifically remember about those breakfasts was that they included fresh-fruit cocktail made of grapefruits, apples and pears, with maraschino cherries mixed in, and all served in the half-grapefruit rinds that had been cut with pinking shears to have a fancy edge. She’d also cut strips of grapefruit rind and attach them to the halves with toothpicks to make handles.

Once all the Christmas presents were distributed to the recipients, we took turns opening them. Dad, who made lists of *everything*, would keep track of what we got and from whom, so that we could send appropriate thank-you notes to grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends.

Opening the Christmas gifts usually took until about 8:30 or 9. Then it was time for my birthday gifts, which I also dutifully oohed and aahed over – and which Dad recorded for posterity. Then, for the rest of the day, we played with / admired / tripped over / tried not to break our presents. Dinner was around noon, and was always followed by a family-recipe raisin spice cake liberally covered with vanilla butter cream frosting. About the only thing I don’t remember ever having was an actual birthday party, but because everyone was celebrating Christmas, it didn’t seem like a big deal.

Mom and Dad also realized that a year is an awful long time for a youngster to wait for any presents, so for the first 8 – 10 years of my life, they also gave me a gift or two on my brother’s birthday (in mid-May).

Yes, I was a very lucky boy. I was also a very lucky man, because when my first wife and I combined our holiday traditions, it got even better! You see, her family’s gift-giving tradition was to exchange presents on Christmas Eve. We adopted that, and adapted it so that she and I exchanged our gifts on Christmas Eve, and we exchanged presents with the kids on Christmas morning. Again, around 9 AM, I would get my birthday presents.

Shortly after we moved to Tucson, her dad retired and he and her mom moved west to be near us. This meant that we went to their house on Christmas so the grandkids could get stuff from Gramma and Grandpa (and, of course, for the big dinner). Mom and I also exchanged presents with Gramma and Grandpa, and they also had some gifts for my birthday. So, as a young adult, I got presents for about a day and a half every year!

I have always felt very lucky to have been born on Christmas, rather than near the holiday. I have never had to work or go to school on my birthday. I have never felt that I got shortchanged in any way; in fact, I think my loved ones went overboard in making sure that I didn’t miss out on anything. I am very grateful to everyone – Mom and Dad and my in-laws, who are gone now; my ex-wife, with whom I still get along; my three lovely, talented and smart daughters (and their partners); and my brother and his family.

Nowadays, of course, I prefer experiences over things, and there again I’m very fortunate. This year, for the first time in 34 years, everyone in my family will be together for Christmas dinner. I hadn’t expected it, but events conspired and transpired such that my brother & sister-in-law will be here from New Hampshire; my niece and her husband are stationed here in Tucson; my nephew is just out of Squadron Officer School and has time to fly in for a couple of days; my youngest lives here in town; my oldest and her partner will be driving down from Phoenix; and my middle girl and her husband will be here from Chicagoland.

While being born on Christmas is statistically not much more or less probable than being born on any other day, the odds of having four people in one family (even an extended family!) with the same birthday would be, I think, rather low. Yet I am a member of one such extended family. Not only was I born on Christmas, but Toni’s nephew, her brother’s stepdaughter, and her cousin’s wife all share December 25 with me.

So, to all of you other Christmas babies out there, Happy Birthday!


You may be wondering why binoculars are worthy of a Peripatetic Traveler blog post. What if I told you that this particular pair is 5000 x 8408 and consists of two mirrors, each of which is about 27 feet (8.4 meters) in diameter? Would that pique your interest?

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to tour the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) on Mt. Graham in southeastern Arizona, not far from the town of Safford. The tour was conducted by Dr. John Hill, who is the LBT’s technical director. He is also a member of the Tucson Rough Riders and sets up this tour every couple of years as an official club event.

We left Tucson shortly after 10 AM and caravanned east on I-10 to the junction of US 191 (north), which is a bit past Willcox. About 30 – 35 miles later, we turned left onto AZ 366. We regrouped at the Base Camp complex, after which we drove up to the telescope itself. Just before the pavement ended, we stopped for a late lunch at a “scenic view” pullout. This was our view toward the west:


After finishing lunch, we all piled back into our vehicles for the final few miles to the top of Mt. Graham. The mountain is about 10,700 feet high, which made it significantly cooler than Tucson. When we arrived in midafternoon, the temperature was in the 50s, and by the time we left shortly after sunset it had dropped to 34. (By contrast, it was right around 60 in Tucson when I got home at 9:30 last night.)


This is the telescope enclosure. The green part of the building is stationary; the white part is the enclosure itself and rotates with the ‘scope – but is physically separated from the telescope by a small gap in order to minimize or eliminate any movement due to wind.

After touring the lower part of the building, we took an elevator to the “transfer level.” This is the top level of the stationary section, where people going higher have to switch to a second elevator that is wholly-contained in the upper (moving) section. Then we went up another level to the telescope room.

Like any pair of handheld binoculars, the two mirrors of the LBT are separated. This photo shows the central part of the telescope assembly. The shiny arcs are the load-bearing surfaces on which the whole instrument rides; they’re physically separated from the base during movement by a microns-thin layer of oil. This oil layer reduces friction to the point that four 3-hp electric motors (a total of 12 horsepower) can move the whole thing 90 degrees, from horizon to zenith, in just over a minute. Even when you’re standing right next to it, you can’t hear it move.

The center assembly

The center assembly

Each mirror is mounted to one side of the assembly; this photo shows one of the mounts.

Right side of assembly

Right side of assembly

We were able to climb up on one of the catwalks behind the telescope and look down on the mirrors. This is the “right hand” mirror, seen from the top. All of the light that it captures is reflected up to one of two devices: a collector, or a secondary mirror that focuses the light back down through the center opening in the big mirror to a third (flat) mirror below. The third mirror redirects the light to the instrument(s) in the center of the telescope.

Mirror - from above

Mirror – from above

This is what the right side looks like with the whole assembly rotated to a zero-degree elevation (so it looks at the horizon).


Just before sunset (around 5:10 PM) they opened the main doors. Then they rotated the telescope (with the building following along) to make sure everything was working smoothly. It was.

Back to vertical, with the doors open

Back to vertical, with the doors open

Just two doors cover the entire front and top of the building

Just two doors cover the entire front and top of the building

By this time the temperature had dropped from chilly to COLD. With an unobstructed wind blowing through the building, the wind-chill was probably in the lower 20s, if not the teens. Despite this, I was surprised to learn that they often run the telescope room’s A/C almost every day. The reason is because if the telescope isn’t at ambient temperature (i.e., the same as outside), then there will be air currents around the ‘scope that will distort the incoming view. “Ambient” ranges from, say, the 60s in the summertime to below zero in winter, but it’s not the absolute temperature that matters – it’s the difference between the outside temp and the telescope’s temp. So they typically open the doors before dark to help cool off the structure and scope. It gave us a perfect view of the day’s sunset:

Sunset from Mt Graham

Sunset from Mt Graham

Some of us left shortly after; others stayed for a while to look at the stars. Either way, it was a fantastic day and tour, and an opportunity to see something that most people can’t.

[Please note: Any inaccuracies in my account are entirely due to a faulty memory and not to any misinformation that Dr. Hill gave us on the tour.]

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