The Mystery of the Roses, and the Mystery of how we got there

Our dog Owen likes flowers, so he liked the idea of going on a flower hunt. The Albuquerque Botanical Gardens has wonderful flowers, and had a bonsai show last weekend, but that is a dog free zone.  Too bad, they have wonderful summer evening concerts starting in June.

With Owen curled in my lap, “helping”, we used Field Trip (a useful app from Google’s internal startup, Niantic Labs) to find the Albuquerque Rose Garden. For those who don’t have a helpful dog to help you find great apps, Field Trip is one of the best ways to find out underappreciated gems to visit, whether in your home town or while traveling.  As you go through a neighborhood, cards pop up telling you about great restaurants, historical sites, unique architecture, and other items you probably would have missed if it weren’t for the app.  And if you want to get deeper into the magic, Niantic Labs has created an online, multiplayer, science fiction and GPS-based game that uses the sites from Field Trip, often as portals to be hacked.  Ingress basics are explained on Wikipedia.  The game is currently available only on Androids, but is scheduled for IPhone distribution in the future.  If you want to get into a world-wide phenomenon, download the game from Play Store, and then go here for the back story before you start playing.  Once you choose a side, Resistance or Enlightenment, you can’t change.

Anyway, after taking some time off to play Ingress, Owen and I went to find  the Tony Hillerman Library using Waze, my favorite navigator app because it combines chat, cute graphics, and good navigation. Despite my lack of directional ability, Waze got us to our destination, a simple local library surrounded by beautiful rose beds . Somehow, it just seems right that all these beautiful roses surround a library dedicated to one of my favorite authors.  Of course, anyone living in New Mexico who hasn’t read his Navajo Tribal Police novels just doesn’t belong here.  After his death, his daughter added to the series, but we still miss her dad.  As we admired the roses, and snapped some pics, volunteers from the Rose Society were busy weeding, watering, and spraying the roses.  This time of year it is almost a full time job for the volunteers, which is probably why several asked me whether I’d be interested in volunteering, black thumb and all.

 With approximately, 1,200 roses, and more to come, the Albuquerque Rose Garden is a fabulous place to wander, read a book, or close your eyes and smell the rich aroma of the older types of roses.  As scientists worked hard to make the most beautiful rose buds and flowers, often the glorious scent was lost.  But fortunately, the garden has many beautiful older varieties that smell just like your memories of your grandmother’s rose garden.

Cash Free in New Mexico

Over the next few months I’m going to test whether it’s possible to travel throughout New Mexico and Alaska and other sites without cash. So far I have managed to use credit cards at unlikely spots such as very small stores and craft fairs.  Caught cashless at a cute craft fair, I was pleasantly surprised when the vendor used an iPad with a card reader and software from Square ( to process my purchase and send me an email receipt.   While it has been over a year since I got this purse and it’s showing the results of daily abuse, it’s still one of my favorite fashion finds.  Now the question is. . .how far can I take the cashless phenomenon?  Can I spend a year of traveling and purchasing without using cash?

This article talks about some of the pluses and minuses of the new retail technologies the future of retail checkout

Making Sense of X11 Numbers

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Recently, a friend told me she had called 311 when she was lost to ask directions and complained that they had been rude. While I was pretty sure that wasn’t a normal request for that agency –which may explain their reaction, however inappropriate; I realized that I was a little fuzzy about what some of the other X11 numbers were used for.  So I got into my internet spaceship in hopes of discovering new X11 worlds.

The X11 series of numbers are a useful group of quick call numbers which were developed as part of the the North American Numbering Plan (everything you ever wanted to know about telephone numbering) but were afraid or too bored to ask. The X11 series of numbers would solve lots of problems for ordinary humans like me, if only I could remember which one I need to call.

111– In the United States, this is usually seen on a cellphone bill in the summary of calls or messages.  Cell companies use it to describe a call or text generated online and sent to a phone, for example by Yahoo messenger. However, if you are visiting New Zealand on your Hobbit quest and get attacked by Orcs or other fiendish creatures, 111 is the go-to number for emergency assistance. But, in the United Kingdom, if you look the wrong way when crossing the street and get banged up by a lorry, call 999 if you need an ambulance or medivac right away, and 111 for urgent care type services.  Confused?  You aren’t alone.  Confusion over 111 in UK.

Fortunately, most of the subsequent numbers in the series are less complicated.
211 – This would be a great tool if anyone knew it existed.  The Alliance of Information and Referral Systems and United Way have made a one stop portal so that a person in need no longer needs to drown in a black hole of agencies, forms, and procedures to get help.  Instead, a person who needs help with food, housing, employment, health care, or counseling can call 211 and a 211 operator will connect them with the help they need.  I have not tested this, and hope I never need to, but I certainly have friends who could have used this service in the past.  So pass the word.  Use 211 for help with United Way type services.

311 –  In addition to being a rock band that has just released a new album, 311 is used across the country by city and police administration for non-emergency calls.  In Albuquerque, where I live, the 311 website, phone app, and call center handle a dizzying array of issues.  The Albuquerque 311 site handles questions ranging from trash and recycling, to pets and wildlife, and has links to health, safety and social services. With the phone app, I can take a picture of graffiti, a yard overgrown with weeks, or another health issue, and report it immediately.

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Call 311 for graffiti and other problems.  Photo by Pixabay on

The 311 center staff email me when the problem has been resolved so I can confirm that it has been taken care of.  I can also check the website for local events, library openings/locations, bus schedules, road construction, and myriad other useful things.  While I can also commend a police officer for excellent service to the community via the website; sadly, the link to  report police misconduct has probably gotten more use in Albuquerque lately, what with a series of shootings by police of mentally ill citizens.

411 – This is your phone book when you misplace your phone book; a local directory assistance number for people, and businesses.  Long distance directory assistance still usually uses 1-area code-555-1212, but the 411 website doesn’t restrict your searches to the local area.  However, while it was able to find my husband’s address and age, it didn’t find his phone — a cell phone.  The same was true for my record, so if you want to call my house, you’d better already have our phone numbers or be prepared to use some of the more invasive programs to track someone down. Even in that case, don’t expect perfection. I tried and it had me still associated with my ex-husband rather than my second husband of 22 years.

511 – Are you stuck in traffic, want to report a horrendous accident that is blocking all the lanes of the freeway, or want to know what road conditions are on your route? 511 is your friend although it is still not completely implemented in some areas.  NM 511 road conditions is the website for New Mexico’s travel information, but calling 511 from any location should get you routed to the appropriate transportation network for your location.

611 – If you are a cell phone user, this number for customer service is probably already loaded in your speed dial.

711 – This wonderful number connects the hearing impaired with hearing listeners.  The person with a hearing or speech disability uses the telephone system via a text telephone (TTY) or other device.  For more information.

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811 – The national “Call Before You Dig” number helps ensure that you aren’t going to excavate a gas line or other utility when planting that pretty tree in your backyard.  So, call before you dig, won’t you!

911 – For real emergencies only.  This number can be the difference between life and death.  One of my friends is a 911 dispatcher and I’ve truly come to appreciate how challenging and stressful her life can be, and how critical her work is to the community.  For all you emergency dispatchers, everywhere, I admire you, appreciate you, and hope I never have to call you!

When Paying it Forward is Paying Too Much

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Like most reasonably charitable people, I’ve always believed in “paying it forward” even before the book and  movie  made the concept famous and it got its own foundation. But lately, I have wondered how to draw the line between doing the right thing for others, while still leaving time and energy for my family and myself. A homeless couple approaching me for a place to stay prompted the reevaluation.  Since the woman was pregnant, I felt like I was turning away the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus.  But, my fear of a bedbug infestation, and a sense that the couple weren’t what they seemed, stayed my natural generosity. (The last place they had stayed supposedly had bedbugs, and I was very aware of how easily the little bugs transfer from clothing and belongings to new digs – in this case, my house.) So I didn’t invite the questionable homeless couple to bunk at my house.  Despite her apparent pregnancy, and their cute little dog, I decided to trust my con-meter, and walk away.

But all the way home, I felt guilty, despicable, and low. Was I inherently selfish?
Later, as I discussed it with a friend, we developed a long list of all the people who I support emotionally and physically.  Perhaps, I had taken “paying it forward” a bit too far.  Lately, I have been struggling with exhaustion, in part from a sense that I never had time to do the things that really mattered to me.  After reviewing my schedule, it turned out that I was trying to support more people and activities than was possible for me — at least if I wanted to have any energy left for my own projects.  So, I reviewed my commitments, evaluated where I really felt I was making a contribution (the English as a second language classes I teach, for example) and the situations that were draining, but didn’t seem to appreciably improve the world.  After that analysis, I cut some charitable activities out of my schedule (for example:  shoveling horse manure out of the corral did help the horses, but it took an hour to get there and an hour to get back back, and I was physically exhausted afterwards.)

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Even though I’ve trimmed my planned activities, I will continue to try and brighten salesclerks days with some light friendly banter and a smile.  And I’ll happily petsit for my neighbors, or share my cookies with my elderly neighbor who loves cookies but doesn’t bake. And I left a core group of “pay it forward” activities in my schedule.  I don’t want to stop saving the world, but I want to save myself as well.

Fueling my Gelato Addiction

On the way to a Kentucky Derby Party, we screeched to an unplanned stop at Chocolate Cartel, which also includes fabulous Van Rixel gelato, as the custom gelato and chocolate were beckoning despite an unprepossessing industrial site.  I succumbed to lime/lavender gelato, and Ray had some sort of hazelnut gelato.  I’m afraid there were no leftovers for our dog, Owen.

The gelato brought us back to our time testing a different gelato on every corner in Italy; I won’t mention how much weight I gained on that trip.  The Van Rixel (now Chocolate cartel) gelato was sublime; perfectly balanced and melting on the tongue. This despite an urban-industrial-grunge style to the storefront — it’s technically a factory, after all.  We are already plotting our next visit, even though it is on the other side of Albuquerque from us.  Still, gelato nirvana is worth the trek across town, and yes, I’ll be using a credit card for the amount of gelato I plan to buy on the next visit.

Cricket Uprising

On a recent walk through the Volcanoes ( Volcanoes worth exploring) there seemed to be a biblical-like plague of crickets.  There were thousands of baby crickets everywhere, landing on my feet, hopping in my mouth, skittering around the rocks, and flying into my hair.  While the United Nations might like us to eat more bugs, and the Aztecs certainly used crickets as a food source, I’m not fond of surprise cricket meals. And I certainly won’t be the consumer for bug filled energy bars, sustainable or not. Energy bars I’ll avoid

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It reminded me of the stories I heard as a child about the locusts devouring the Mormon’s fields until saved by seagulls. (Read the whole story here: Locust plague ).  Or Hitchock’s famous movie, “The Birds”, but with crickets substituting for birds. I’ve always found that movie distressing, and a recent California case demonstrates that my fears may not be altogether unreasonable. Here’s that  real life birds experience,

In any case, my fearless doggy companion, Owen, was oblivious.  Perhaps he liked the extra protein, or the crickets were just too small to register on his doggy radar.  He was far more interested in the knapsacks of two school buses worth of schoolchildren.  He was sure they contained doggy delicacies like peanut butter jelly sandwiches, and he was certain the children would not deny him.  He was disappointed when they only petted him and sashayed on their way.  In the end, we had a nice walk in the hills before leaving the crickets to enjoy the rest of the day.

An article in the local newspaper after I wrote this blog described the insects as grasshoppers, not crickets.  I guess that I’m not destined to be a world-famous expert on bugs!

My Cash Only Nightmare

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Over a year ago, my computer and phone were simultaneously attacked, and for a time I had to do without credit cards while I worked through the steps to protect myself against identity theft.  That was an experience I’d just as soon never repeat, as I’d always taken a high-tech approach to paying bills.  After changing all my accounts to manual/snail mail access (because my phone was still infected), and closing out all computer access to credit card, stock, and other accounts, I went totally manual. Going from managing all my accounts in Mint to collecting hard copy receipts and using a manual ledger was enough to make me start grinding my teeth again, a bad habit I had overcome after leaving corporate America.  In addition to collecting and organizing a mountain of receipts, I had to write down every single electronic purchase, no matter how small – including my monthly magazine subscriptions for my Nook habit.  And since snail mail was irregular at best in  Albuquerque; thanks to a constant revolving door of substitute mail people, I had to constantly request replacement statements (and not by phone, since my phone still was owned by the folks from outer Uzbekistan or some other hacking epicenter.) Furthermore, I had to manually do the math to keep a running balance (since my computer was also still in virus land, despite being totally reformatted twice). So, I honed my math skills by doing my ledgers manually, and then checking them with a handheld calculator.  Those poor people who don’t own computers should be commended for maintaining any sanity or a semblance of order in their finances. While I did manage to keep all those ledgers (one for each credit card, the checking account, the savings account, my cash, and so on) relatively balanced, it took hours, and organizing and attaching the appropriate receipts to each statement, was enough to make me mainline chocolate and coffee.

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An  ill-timed pounce by my cat often sent an hour of receipt organizing flying into the air.  So what do people do who can’t use a computer?  Especially those whose math skills or memory capabilities are deficient?

Many months later, I am slowly surfacing into a computerized world again.  I have learned far more than I ever hoped to about the difference between http and https sites.  (If you’re logging in, you want a https site — think of the s as security).  I’ve also learned to check website certificates – something I didn’t even know existed in my blissfully ignorant past life.  Different vendors offer different levels of security, and it’s important to check for expired certificates, the possibility of hijacked certificates, and certificates that aren’t appropriate for what you want to do — such as a coding certificate for a site login.  Needless to say, all this certificate speak gave me an amazing migraine.  Excedrin Migraine, more chocolate and some wine was all that stood between me and a deranged run through the neighborhood.

I’ve also learned to click the Verisign and Truste seals to make sure that they are live to verify the site ownership, and to check for current review dates on McAffee seals. I still haven’t figured out the Go Daddy certificate system so I basically just avoid those websites for now.  I’m not crazy about their advertising approach, anyway, even though I like Danika Patrick when she’s driving a race car rather than shilling their products.

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During my adventure in cash-land, a friend recommended taking my monthly income, dividing it into envelopes: groceries, utilities, bills, and discretionary spending. While I can see that this is an effective method for many people, for me  it was a frustrating exercise in high finance, and advanced math. I was always at the store with an envelope that didn’t have quite enough money, or I took the wrong envelope with me by mistake, or needed to stop by to pay the utilities but had left that envelope at home.  Clearly, I was a failure at the envelope method of budgeting.

So now that my electronic life is returning to semi-normal, I’m glad to leave the cash-only approach to life and try a high-tech, no cash version.  Today, I used my Starbucks app on my phone to get a coffee, bought my groceries with a credit card, and paid my Comcast bill online.  Heaven!