Poison Dart Frog

I was having breakfast on the terrace and something small and blue caught my eye as it hopped across the cement.

I’ve seen these little frogs in the past, but not very often. It is said there are also red ones in the area but I haven’t seen any of them. Sorry for the less than wonderful photo but the frog was not interested in being visible and I was lucky to get this one.

There are many kinds of poison dart frogs in the world and only a few are dangerous. I wouldn’t put this one in my mouth, but it is said that it could be handled without a problem (not that I touch anything I see!). These frogs are also valued as pets. They get their toxins from the toxic insects they eat, so if you give them non toxic food they become perfectly safe to handle.

An aside…. my friend Jim in Florida was excited about these frogs and we had some interesting conversations about keeping them as pets. He was one big computer project away from early retirement, and then he was going to sail his sailboat to Panama and live his dream. He was found dead of a heart attack before he finished that last project. Live your dreams NOW whenever possible! You just never know. I will always think of him when I see a poison dart frog.

Here is a much better picture of the beautiful little frog that I found on kids.nationalgeographic.com.

It’s always interesting living here in the tropics. Most of the wildlife has become more familiar so I’m not always chasing things with my camera like I used to, but it’s still fascinating. There’s an incredible variety of insects and critters, and so many birds. I wake up every morning to birds singing everywhere, and others often sing for us at night.

Green/rainy season has returned to Panama so hopefully it’s easier for everything that lives outside. It’s cooler and much more pleasant for us too.

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California Wildfires Recovery

There have been many disasters in the US and world wide, but the fires in Northern California concerned me especially since they destroyed so much of Santa Rosa where my daughter lives. She evacuated with her family in the middle of the night when they saw the nearby hills on fire. Dozens of people she knows personally lost their homes and everything they own, and a number of people lost their lives in the fires.

Photo taken by my daughter as they left their neighborhood in the early hours of Monday morning

We went to a NPR live broadcast about the recovery six months after that fateful night. https://www.kqed.org/forum/2010101864650/forum-on-the-road-santa-rosa-six-months-post-wildfires

Something dramatic happens overnight and it’s in the news for days, but it soon fades behind the next stories and we forget that it takes months and years to recover from what happened so quickly.

The broadcast had four people on stage the first hour, all people who had lost their homes. One lived in a more rural area north of Santa Rosa, another in a more affluent area near Fountaingrove with his family including an autistic son, another was renting in Coffee Park with his family, an area of mostly working families that was almost completely destroyed, and the forth was a teenager who was living in a FEMA trailer with her family.

In the second hour they had officials, the mayor, the county supervisor, a woman from an organization helping with rebuilding efforts, and a man from an organization helping undocumented people survive and recover. They talked about where they were in the recovery process, their goals, and their challenges. Throughout the broadcast people could ask questions by email, phone, and in person if they were in the audience.


There was a housing shortage in Santa Rosa before the fires and housing was very expensive. Many working people like teachers and nurses workers couldn’t afford to live there. Now, after the fires destroyed 5000+ homes, of course it’s much worse. Rent for a 1000 sq ft home is $3000+ and there is very little available to buy. A house in my daughter’s block is advertised for $2800/mo which she thought was crazy expensive until she heard people at the broadcast. No wonder there has been a steady stream of people coming to see the house. There are laws limiting how much rent can be raised but they don’t apply to a property being rented for the first time, unfortunately.

The other main challenge people talked about was working with insurance. One said it’s almost a full time job, and one of the most painful things was submitting an itemized list of everything lost. Imagine if you had to list everything in your home – your table, your chairs, the sofa you chose as a family, the chinaware from grandma, your son’s favorite teddy bear, whatever your family has collected through  the years. They said it brings the pain and trauma right back front and center all over again.

And, for additional pain, many people discovered they were under insured. What exactly is “replacement cost”? Is it the cost of buying a new similar item, or what your 8 year old item is worth today? Will your insurance cover the significant cost of clearing the lot before you can even begin rebuilding? Then of course, there is a shortage of manpower and materials which drives prices up. The area needed to significantly increase the amount of housing available even before the fires, and now the need is hugely increased and it’s going to take years to build everything needed.

As for the rebuilding process today, the burned lots have been cleared. Even that was a huge job because there were toxic substances in the debris. Very few sites show the beginnings of rebuilding. My daughter said about 90 permits for building have been issued, and about 90 more have been submitted for approval. That’s not many compared to the thousands of homes burned. Many lots are also for sale by people who don’t intend to rebuild, but at this point it’s hard to know what’s a fair price for a lot. Is it high because of the housing shortage, or low because many lots are available? It will take time for it all to settle.

There are still many burned trees and plants. People waited to see if things would recover, and now that they can see what is actually dead they are starting to clear trees and plants. The wine industry is huge in the area and many vineyards burned. Some are regrowing and some are not. Then there is the marijuana industry. There aren’t many legal and permitted operations now because they are still so new in the process, and none of them burned but others who aren’t permitted did burn, and still others suffered enough smoke damage to make their crops worthless.

The ramifications of a night of fire are huge! Some houses in Fountaingrove survived but the water supply is contaminated with benzene and the whole water system needs to be replaced. http://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/8147434-181/sonoma-santa-rosa-fountaingrove

Who knows what other problems will surface as the rebuilding process moves forward. There are a lot of people working hard for the many people who need to rebuild their lives, but it’s going to be long and complicated. Looking at how difficult this is, how must it be for people in poor countries who don’t have the resources and manpower to help them?

I think this is the last of my posting about the US. I’m happy to be back in Panama where life seems so simple. Will it rain? It’s hot. It rained today so it’s pleasantly cool. What ate the flowers on the hibiscus? The dogs are barking. These are our daily problems. Mi vida difícil (palm to forehead) has become the neighborhood humor, but also reminds me to give thanks every day for our good fortune.

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A Week in California

I was in the US when I wrote most of this during the busy week in northern California with my other daughter and two grandkids. It was spring break (even at Montessori) so my daughter took the week off, and we had lots of family time and the opportunity to do a number of interesting activities.

There was a fun Easter egg hunt at the house of the other grandparents. Spring is starting so there are sunny days along with rainy spots, leaves are budding on the trees, and spring flowers are beginning to bloom.

There is a nice park with playgrounds, green spaces, and walking paths  in my daughter’s neighborhood which is fun for kids and adults alike.

Both kids have increased their abilities to climb and enjoy the playground equipment. There were lots of dandelions blooming too, and Camden picked a big bunch to bring home. Funny, we went again later in the week after a night of rain and there were hardly any blooms. It had also rained enough to turn the playground into a lake!

One day we went to Cornerstone, a really interesting place with shops, restaurants, wine tasing, beautiful gardens, and picnic areas. Click on the link to learn more about it and see more pictures.

The huge chair was fun. The other grandma was walking along the pond with Camden in the second picture. Then, Marian and mom walked through another garden. There are some grape vines on the right just starting to get some leaves, which seems typical of most vines in the area right now. The redbuds have always been my favorites in the spring.

On the way home we saw many of the hills and other areas that had been burned in the fires (more on that in another post). Then, both kids are obviously very excited to be in Costco for a shopping trip. Ha!

Being in the US always feels different, of course. One thing that has come to my notice (besides the usual things I always mention) is advertising. It is everywhere! If you watch a TV program, you will see an increasing number of ads throughout the program. Ads come in the mail on a daily basis. And, YouTube…. I use it a lot for music practice but in the US almost every video is proceeded by an ad. It’s so tedious. If I lived in the US I would have to cave and buy YouTube red.

And, all those automatic flush toilets?? I never know if they are going to actually flush, and I usually can’t find the way to manually flush. There are a lot of automatic faucets and paper towel dispensers too, which I have trouble getting used to. I don’t seem to have the knack of putting my hands in just the right place.

And, for the love of everyone on the plane, get organized before you board! I got stuck behind people digging through their backpacks before they could put them in the overhead bin. Meanwhile the line of people in the aisle was piling up. It’s also good that you don’t pack your backup battery, earbuds, etc in checked luggage. At least I tossed a new, spare set of earbuds in my purse, never thinking about how hard it is to open those darn packages! Sheesh. I got a memory foam neck pillow though and really like it. It will be coming with me even on daytime flights from now on.

But, all in all this was an easier trip. I took a plane instead of the bus to Panama City. The direct flight to San Francisco was great and allowed me to go on to Seattle first. This meant I could return from San Francisco instead of Seattle without that overnight in the airport. It was an overnight return flight from SFO which is tiring, but there was hardly anyone on it. There was no one in first class, and no one sharing a row with anyone they weren’t traveling with. At baggage claim there were only 6 people waiting! After the SFO flight I went directly to my flight to David and made it home before we are usually eating breakfast.

Whatever the differences and travel arrangements I like or don’t like, it’s so important to me to have some time with my family. FaceTime is a wonderful thing but sometimes you up just have to be there!

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Homeless in the USA

The homeless problem in the US has really tugged at my heartstrings. I rode my bike through the Pacific Northwest a couple years ago and write about how I felt out there. https://silverwheelsblog.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/the-homeless-traveler/   It was the most lonely experience I can remember. It’s bad enough to be homeless, but to be so shunned as well?

It’s easy to say they are mentally ill. They are lazy. It is their choice. They should just get a job. They should take care of themselve and stop expecting handouts from the rest of us. This is easy to say until you talk to homeless people. I met only two homeless on my bike trip who were relatively young. All the rest had silver in their hair, and many were clearly seniors. I read a statistic recently that said half the homeless were over 50. It’s hard enough to get a job at that age when you have a home, let alone when you are on the street without an address, shower, or clean clothes.

I talked with the elderly greeter at Walmart. He was sitting on a stool inside the door, cane in hand. He said it isn’t too bad. People are good to him, and the money helps him get by. I saw another guy sleeping at a bus stop while people waited for the bus, totally ignoring him. Someone must have given him a sleeping bag. It looked quite new. The sun was out and it’s was tolerably warm, but what does he do at night when temperatures are in the 30’s and dew, if not rain soaks everything?

This guy below was begging at an intersection, sign in one hand, dog in the other. He was totally gray with a gray beard, clearly not a young person. I was across the street in stealth mode, not wanting to intrude without asking.

A homeless man and his dog

I did have an extended conversation with Jean, however. I don’t know how old she is but she has a fair amount of gray in her hair. She was doing OK until the recession and real estate downturn. She lost her house, and then her job. Then her husband also lost his job. She managed to find another job but then go laid off from it too. The stress of all this unraveled the marriage and she ended up alone.

She said she has applied for every source of help she can find with no results. There is a 15 year wait for section 8 housing. She would love to have a job and be able to take care of herself but she just can’t get there on her own. She is trying to get enough money to pay off a ticket so she can get her drivers license, and then maybe get a job driving. She has no teeth and no way of changing that, so this makes her look less emplyable. She is thankful she has a friend (also homeless) with a car who lets Jean sleep in the car and keep her things there. She says homeless shelters aren’t very helpful because you need to get there with all your stuff, and in the morning you are put back out on the street again.

Jean and her dog

Chloe, her dog, is a source of comfort and warmth at night. I can only imagine, alone on the street, how much it would mean to have a dog. I asked if there was anything I could bring her on my way back from shopping. She said kind people had brought her socks and warm clothes, but could she have a coke? It would such a luxury and a treat. What’s she thanked me for the most though, was stopping to talk. She said she feels like poison much of the time, and it meant a lot to her to be seen as a human being.

When you see a homeless person, don’t be quick to judge. You don’t know their story and their struggles. It could be any one of us. A series of bad turns, bad luck, no family or safety net, and down you go. How this is OK with this country is beyond me, but I see this administration taking away rather than extending help to our most vulnerable. I only hope the future brings a strong and swift backlash to this attitude.

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Back in the USA

It’s been a while since I’ve written in the blog. I’ve been busy with the band, getting ready to travel, and life in general. Now I have landed in the US and have some time to catch my breath.

Usually I take the bus to Panama City, an all day undertaking. This time though, I decided to spring for a plane ticket. What a difference! I had most of the day at home, went to the airport in the late afternoon, and arrived in the city after less than an hour flight.

I stayed at the Airport Express hostel which I may have to rethink next time. We know it’s a no frills, but clean and decent place but this time *sigh*, I was on the 3rd floor, up an odd curving stairs with luggage to a door with a puzzle for a lock. There was no light in the bathroom, but the only outlet was in the bathroom. The AC had no controls so I had to toss my coat over it to keep from freezing. There was only a sheet, no blanket or comforter, the only light was a glaring one in the ceiling, and there was no cup or glass for water. But, there was breakfast and shuttle to the airport, very important.

Breakfast – coffee, water, and whatever was in these packages.

I was very happy to get an affordable direct Copa flight to San Francisco (SFO). In the past they had been something like $1400, but now they are around $600. I don’t know why but thank you Copa. It’s a long flight but still got me to SFO early enough to go on to Seattle. This means I will go to CA later, and on the return only have the SFO to PTY flight, not the all night in the airport crazy long trip back from Seattle.

I’ve been here almost a week. I don’t know how the time has gone so fast. I’ve been walking to shopping to get things on my list, practicing bass a bit, helping a little in the house, and of course enjoying time with family. My granddaughter is growing and changing so fast, and the expected new baby is big enough that I felt a couple kicks, very exciting. Facetime is wonderful, but sometimes you just have to be there in person, especially for the little ones.

Of course there are the usual differences. It’s cold here! It hasn’t been warmer than mid 50’s, and nights are usually in the 30’s. Everything is very clean, manicured, and orderly. People follow traffic signals, and there are lights at every crosswalk for pedestrians. It feels odd, not in a good way, to pass people on the street with no eye contact or greeting. Food is crazy expensive. Yesterday I bought a 1 1/2 lb bag of grapes, two little boxes of raspberries, and a 15 oz tub of butter. $17.19. I’ve spent that much for a whole week’s worth of produce from the guy who comes to our door.

I am thankful for our Panamanian life for many reasons, but I’m also thankful that I am able to travel to spend time with family. This is way up at the top of the list of my priorities and as I get older, it only gets more important.

I will leave you with some pictures of why I am here. Most of these were taken Sunday on an outing to a nearby park with a great playground.


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Let’s Put the Elderly in Jail and Criminals in Nursing Homes

One of my readers sent me this. (thanks Jim!)  Let’s Put the Elderly in Jail and Criminals in Nursing Homes by Mike Gamble on Our Aging Parents website. It’s humor, but with a sad amount of truth.

To copy from the website….

The elderly would have access to showers, hobbies and walks. They’d receive unlimited free prescriptions, dental and medical treatment, wheelchairs, etc. And, they’d receive money instead of paying it out.
They would have constant video monitoring, so they could be helped instantly if they fell or needed assistance.

Bedding would be washed twice a week, and all clothing would be washed, ironed and returned to them.

A guard would check on them every 20 minutes, and bring their meals and snacks to their cell.

They would have family visits in a suite built for that purpose. They would have access to a library, weight room, spiritual counseling, pool and education.

Simple clothing, shoes, slippers, PJs and legal aid would be free, on request. The elderly would all have private, secure rooms, and an outdoor exercise yard with gardens.

Every elderly person could have a computer, a TV, radio, and daily phone calls. A board of directors would hear complaints, and guards would have a code of conduct that would be strictly adhered to.

Criminals would get cold food, be left all alone and unsupervised. Lights off at 8pm, and showers once a week. They would live in a tiny room, pay $5,000 a month, and have no hope of ever getting out.

Justice for all.

I’m sure jail is no picnic, but I have heard stories about people getting themselves arrested because they needed medical care, or didn’t want to spend winter on the streets hungry and cold.

I’ve also heard about elderly living on cruise ships. It’s a lot more fun and about the same cost as a facility if you are independent enough to manage in that environment.

Nursing homes are definitely no picnic, especially if you don’t have money. I’ve done some agency work where I was sent to nursing homes. You run your feet off all shift but rarely have time for a personal touch, a human connection. If everyone is clean, dry, fed, had meds and treatments, and no one ended up on the floor it’s been a great shift. And these were decent nursing homes, not slums. If you want more attention than that, it’s available but you will pay.

Check out this book
Being Mortal  Medicine and What Matters in the End
By: Atul Gawande

The book talks about quality of life, especially at the end of life. We don’t have to warehouse our elderly and wait for them to die with no joy of living, no reason to get up every day. We don’t have to send grandma to ICU for her last days.

I had to have the hard talks with every one of my home health patients because it’s required, and because it’s the right things to do. Not all, of course, were facing death but you never know what tomorrow will bring and it’s important that you plan for the “what if”.

Read the book. Really. I think it should be required reading for everyone.

Ok, enough doom and gloom for now. People sometimes comment that Buddhists think about death all the time. Yes, but in knowing you aren’t promised one more day, one more moment, you appreciate how precious life is and live every day to the fullest.

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This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like

A friend sent me this article recently. This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like. It talks about the financial issues facing many seniors.

As a home health nurse, I worked with many seniors. I saw many who struggled.  There were people who skipped medicine because they didn’t have the money, or didn’t eat well, had clothes and furniture well past their wearing out point, and houses in need of many repairs. They also had medical problems, and far too many were socially isolated which is not healthy. Social workers were called in, resources were scrounged, but there is only so much you can do when there isn’t much out there. And, according to the article, the situation is likely to get worse as more people reach retirement age without adequate resources.

This is exactly why we are in Panama. Even if we worked until 70 it would be very difficult to live on our social security in the US. We don’t have pensions and our savings aren’t enough to generate interest of any significance.

I know we are hardly alone in moving elsewhere for a lower cost of living. It has worked really well for us, but it’s not for everyone for a variety of reasons. I worry about our brothers and sisters struggling to survive on very limited resources. Our government, rather than helping, seems to want to take away the limited help that is available. Nearly half of all single homeless adults are over 50? That is so sad but I think true. I encountered many homeless on my bike trip and very few, only two that I can think of, were younger.

I don’t have any answers. I am so thankful that this life in Panama is working for us. It is life and attitude changing to have the need to make money removed, to have the worry about having enough money removed. I wish it could be so for more seniors. I hope changes are coming in the future that will offer more help.

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Yay Water, All the Time!

This morning, the installation of our water tank was completed, and it’s wonderful. You can keep water on hand to see you through outages and do laundry at midnight if you have to. Washing dishes without running water is more challenging, needless to say, and I prefer keeping toilets flushed.  This summer has been worse than usual and we are without water for part of the day almost every day. I finally decided to get a tank.

I enlisted the help of our neighbor Lucho who can do pretty much anything, and if he doesn’t he knows someone who does. I gave him money and he showed up that afternoon with a 1100 liter tank on the roof of his car. I gave him more money and he showed up with a pump. He gave me a list of necessities for the concrete pad which I bought.

Wednesday, Lucho’s nephew/helper came with another guy to pour a pad for the tank, closely supervised by Lucho. Thursday, I awoke to rocks being thrown on the roof, and there was Lucho with Rey, the plumber/electrician. I wrote about that yesterday.

Rey worked hard all day yesterday, assisted by another nephew of Lucho who came after work at his day job. There was electrical work.

A line was wired into the fuse box, then fished up into the wall and run across the ceiling and down to the pump.

There was a lot of pipe to be laid out, cut, connected, and glued. The electric cable had to be wired into the pump. Some of the time Jerry worked while everyone else’s stood around and watched. Lucho was over frequently because he was in charge but he also has a big project in process at his house, which will include a tank for his family too.

This morning the crew returned to put in one final component, and then it was done.

Joel feliz! We now have better water pressure than we’ve ever had, and having water all the time is going to take some getting used to. We can shower anytime we want, or leave the breakfast dishes in the sink because I can wash them along with the lunch dishes. We can flush without first turning the faucet to assess the water situation.

If you look closely, you’ll see two shut off valves. One shuts off water from the tank, and the other shuts off the pipe that goes nowhere, but apparently is available if you ever want to attach something. Inside the tank is a float that senses when the tank is full, and another that senses when it is empty so the pump won’t turn on under that condition and burn itself out. There is also a check valve that prevents water from back flowing into the tank.

At the other end of the system is another shut off valve. It can shut off the line to the tank and send water from the city supply directly into the house. There is also a check valve to prevent water from flowing backwards to the street and a master shut off valve since, according to Rey, the one in the meter is hard to find and hard to shut off. I was concerned at first about the pipes just lying on the ground but that is very common here. It’s not like they are going to freeze. We will probably bury them at some point just for looks. We also need something to protect the pump from the elements, and something to protect the tank from the sun so the water will stay cool.

Nothing makes you appreciate something like doing without it. I never thought I’d be so happy and thankful to have water 24/7!  The whole thing, materials and labor ran us around $700-750, if memory serves. I have a feeling though that Lucho didn’t charge us for his part, so I’ll talk with him about that tomorrow.

There are many people without access to any clean water, and many more who have to haul all their water home from somewhere else. There are so many people who would be thrilled to have water in the house, even if it’s was only at night. We are pretty darn lucky to have clean, drinkable water from the tap any time we want it.

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My Day Today

A lot of things are very much like the US, and other things are not. It keeps life interesting. We are getting a water tank installed here (more on that later)

I awoke to our neighbor calling from outside the fence, and then throwing rocks on the roof. A rock makes enough noise hitting a metal roof that you will definitely hear it. Lucho was there with his friend Rey who is doing part of the work.

Workmen don’t come with materials. Sometimes they don’t even come with tools, but this wasn’t the case today. But, materials had to be bought so off we went to Novey for PVC pipe, connectors, and many various things. Rey had been very organized, drawing plans for the job and making lists of everything needed.

We left the neighborhood and passed a couple dozen cows, calves, and a bull being driven up the road by a guy on foot and another on a horse. Yes, we live within the city limits.

At the store, Rey tore off the list for electrical items and handed it to the guy in that department, and set off for plumbing items with the other list. Items bought, we head for home and he starts digging in the side yard. He figured the water comes from the meter, down beside the house where it makes a turn at some point to enter the house. But no.

We went downtown to do a couple errands and when we returned he was still hunting for the pipe. Finally he started digging up near the meter and discovered the pipe curved towards the driveway and then went under it. Plans are revised, and now the plan is to connect the pipes below the meter, above the curve, and run them straight back to the tank. This will need more pipe.

Lucho and Rey survey the scene.

There was one item they didn’t have at Novey (a check valve so water won’t run back towards the street), so we went to DoIt Center. He got a few more connectors but they didn’t have PVC pipe or a check valve, so back to Novey we went. He will go elsewhere for the check valve in the morning.

I make tuna salad, crackers, fruit, and ice tea for lunch. It isn’t required,  but it is customary and appreciated if you make lunch for people working at your house, and be sure they always have something cold to drink.

Work continues. We start music practice which is interrupted a bit by Rey removing a panel in the drop ceiling so he can run an electric line to the pump. Then, he is busy running pipes, glueing connections, and the project starts to take shape. He comes in to tell us he’s going to get his helper.

His helper, I’m not sure how it is spelled but sounds like Jerry, works at Novey and is Lucho’s nephew. He works full time, and is also constantly busy with side jobs like this. Most Panamanians are hard working people!

By now the sun is lower and it’s cooler, so I go out to do some yard work. We learned that it is much better to clean up dry leaves and other flammable material in your yard in the dry summer.

I was interrupted by a guy going door to door, on foot, selling paintings, fairly large paintings to hang on the wall.

After a very long day of work, it’s all done except a check valve which will be installed in the morning. Tomorrow they start on Lucho’s water tank. There are four working adults and two kids in that house, and numerous other family and friends who visit frequently. I told him his tank definitely takes priority over ours and our two person household but he wouldn’t hear of it.

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Sunset Photos

I’ve been riding my bike in the late afternoon lately. It’s cooler, I feel better later in the day, and I’ve seen some gorgeous skies. It’s also fun because there are lots of other people out walking, running, biking, and kids playing.

There have brush fires in the area. I’m not sure if the last photo has some smoke along with the clouds. Fires are common as summer wears on with hotter days and no rain. Thankfully houses are cement block with metal roofs and not flammable, and fires happen often enough that there isn’t years and years of growth to fuel a fire. Still though, it can be scary and smoke is very unpleasant.

I have neglected to bother you all with bugs for a long time. This cute weevil visited me the other night. He looks like he is wearing a bottle brush on his snout.

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