Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In the footsteps of the Lone Ranger and Silver...

Last weekend I joined the American Competitive Trail Horse Association(ACTHA).   I paid $35.00 to join and was promised a horsey magazine and opportunities to meet other people and compete in obstacle course rides.  I really didn't care about the competition , but really wanted to find more people to ride horse with me.

I also had the chance to ride amidst the huge  dangling boulders, assorted cacti and dusty trail s that the Lone Ranger and Siver  rode each Saturday morning of my childhood.

The Triangle T headquarters  is set just off Interstate 10 at the Dragoon Exit near  the Texas Canyon rest stop. It has a saloon and cafe, some bunk houses and casitas. Best of all it is where my childhood heroes rode their horses into the sunset.  Thanks to the ACTHA I was gonna be able to do the same.

I signed up for the Dragoon competitive ride in the pleasure division and paid another$58.oo for this privilege!  Pajon, my elderly but with mucho brio  former Mexican drug horse and I started practicing obstacles.

We opened gates together-no problem.  We rode over tarps lined with boulders and then spritzed with water-ho hum. We backed up and down hills and around object...yawn.  I called Dora Lee,  a former rodeo queen and learned to sidepass.  I went to Carole's the queen of Parelli whispering  and practiced riding through shower curtains and doing pirouettes.  We picked up stuffed animals pretending they were injured calves and put them on the saddle and took off into the hills.  We cantered  and loped and galloped to Yippe Ay Oh....

I knew we had no chance of winning or even placing. I was not an expert at anything and bungled along on the back of my brave and wise horse.  I just wanted to ride and retrace the footsteps of those great cowboys in the sky.

Dust devils and blast of 40-50mph winds and the first dark skies in 6 months dampened the event along with the chance of rain and snow. It should have been sunny and 70's with a chance of rattlesnakes. Instead it was dark  and dusty with a sinister  gloom when the ride started at 10am.

I was surrounded by women of my age.  All had younger horses, new 4wheel ride trucks and sturdy combo RV/sleeper/ deluxe horse trailers.  I had my battered rescue mustang, a pathfinder with over 150,000 miles and a spray painted purple and white rickety 40 year old double horse trailer and a tent from a yard sale.

Still I was undaunted. Then a grey haired 60 something in  an Armani riding  outfit I would expect to see in Virgina -not the old west told me, "you should win a prize for oldest boots"! I responded and not joking, "these are my new and good boots"! And they were-she should see my old ones. 

Later while riding to the starting point I complimented a woman on her gorgeous black leather and silver adorned full chaps. I said chaps like in cheese.  She went ballistic and proceeded to give me a lesson from the OED on the etymology and correct pronunciation of "chaps with a ch like shut up".  I was starting to feel more like Tonto surrounded by a sea of white hostiles.  I told her "CHaps" were variable in a hasty retort.

Let the good guys win; the timer started.

 Pajon and I galloped up the hills, past the delicately balanced boulders; we  picked up Easter eggs out of a basket and were the first to ride through the tunnel. We raced down the hill and stopped at the log.  However when we got to the gate, it was plastic. We were slammed with a dust devil and I dropped the chain. Pajon tried to help but penalties for me if my  horse did the human part of the trick . . We were doing great when we got to the backing obstacles. Pajon is a fantastic backer. I cant even back his trailer and must always find a circle. I was  even worse as once again a huge dose of dust sprinkled into my eyes as i removed my glasses to study  the challenge and the jusdges grimaced.  I was no help to Pajon on this one.

The competition ended with a long ride through the washes and rock formation. My final obstacle was to be able to finish this race without peeing my pants and to be able to walk when the ride was over.  I successfully dismounted my horse; tore off my number 133, threw the rains around the hitching post  and semi raced to the saloon bathroom. 

I was victorious. The challenge was a success and Pajon and I came in 16th out of 84. the  The Virgininan in her English riding habit of the old boot  remark wasn't even able to finish the race as thought obstacles were too difficult and quit. The   elegant rude cowgirl  with the fancy  SHhaps came in 32nd. When I got home I looked up the pronunciation and it is a variable with Ch being preferred over Sh....

Pajon and I did ride in the shadow of the Lone Ranger and Silver ; the good guys beat the rude and rich.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Baskets, Beanies, and Mata Ortiz

I really dont collect anything. I am assuming dust and pet fur dont count as valuable collectibles. I am always the skeptic when people pay high prices for items that have little use in their everyday life.

A decade ago  an Iowa friend was extolling the value of buying every Beanie baby that came on the market. I tried not to laugh. when I went to her house and found a beanie baby Christmas tree and these Tyco toys lining all the shelvin in her little room-I felt like crying. How could someone believe these mass produced would be worth more than gold. TV propoganda and society gulliblily prevailed.  Now every thrift store has these stuffed animals for 25cents and not even a new  puppy will play with them.

Then there are the Longenberg Basket parties.  These are valuable because they are made in America?
 There is a building shaped like a basket where they are made? They are madde out of wood not plastic?Housewives in Illinois can take turn hosting these parties and making money off their friends? I dont getit-there are no unuusual designs-they are outrageously overpriced. You can get the same basket to do the same thing at Micheals or Hobby Lobby for $5.00 or a Resale shop for 50cents.  Yet you can walk into every other home in the Midwest and there is a collection of these baskets hanging gaudily from the walls or falling from all the shelves in the kitchen. Why are women buying these overpriced baskets.

Recently my friend Therese, an artist  and I went to a pottery workshop at the Chiricahua Desert Museum in Rodeo, New Mexico.  There were probably 100 attedning this desert event which featured pottery making from the town of Mata /Ortiz. After watching  the pigments ground from rocks an brushes made from human hair, we became more enamored of these pricey pots for sale. We heard the history of this reborn lost art, we met the artists who also worked as bus drivers, and laundry workers. The wedding vases, squatty pots and figurines started at $50. Less than half of what they sold for at other museum gift storesand about the same price if I made the difficult journey to this mountain Mexican vllage.

Other particpnts in the workshops gatthered at the sales counter and display-we had to have an original Mata Ortiz pot...these could be worth alot some day. I bought a pot  with a road runner and cactus in hues of green and brown.  Therese opted for the traditional wedding vase. I cant tell you how much we paid as our husbands might read this; but they were a good investments

I now have them proudly on diplay in our home. this is the Southwest we dont collect anything like overpriced  Beanies or  baskets....

Monday, June 7, 2010

From Basements to Bookmobiles

I have been an addict for over 50 years now. My earliest fixes were The Bobbsey Twins. I would ride my bicycle to my Aunt Merle and Uncle Claude's dairy farm . It was a four mile round trip in the hot humid sweetcorn summers of Illinois. I would be greeted with a hug by my great aunt given sugary iced tea and maybe a homemade snickerdoodle and then I would retreat into the cool dark basement filled with books over a quarter century old.

There were my summer adventures with Freddie and Flossie and Nan and Bert; I traveled with them to Holland Michigan, to a Dude Ranch in the West, to the Empire State Building in New York city... places that were so unlike my life of bean fields, tractors and Angus cows. I read the Five little Peppers and how they grew; sobbed over classics like Little Women, Black Beauty and Jack London's tales of wolf dogs.

The following summers I solved mysteries with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys but didn't really like the hospital settings of Cherry Ames-student nurse, but couldn't get enough of Trixie Belden .I eventually gobbled all the old tomes in the basement library and begged my parents for a membership to a public library.

We were 30 minutes by car to the closest library. At age 10 I was not allowed to ride my bike that far and so I waited for the weekly outing to the Hoopeston Public Library that became more sacred than a junkie's habit. This Andrew Carnegie architectural wonder was my portal to other worlds until I went a way to college and had a forced reading list of numerous texts.

My addiction to books have not faded over the years. There have been times when my half hearted pursuit of academics changed my reading habits. Semesters when the grading load as a professor strained my eyesight so that reading student essays had to become the priority. Then there was a time when I felt I should be writing not reading rhetoric.

When I rented my ocean balcony, complete with tiny kitchen and a bed, I was determined that the porch overlooking the ocean and town's gazebo was to be for writing books,  not reading them . Unfortunately I soon discovered the Oak Bluff library which was only a five minute walk from my house.

 The only words I wrote during those summers were postcards to my friends. I did spend allot of time on the porch mornings were spent drinking coffee and perusing the  newspapers and evening ended with a mudslide and D.H. Lawrence as the sun slid under the Atlantic's horizon. This procrastination of reading instead of writing remains even today despite my best intentions.

I never really had the habit of buying books....although recently a young neighbor came to our house and said he had never seen a home with so many books. I was surprised. We don't buy that many books, although my husband is a fervent reader too.

The books I have collected in my home are my non-fiction resources: writings about the historic West where we now live. There are shelves devoted to Native American literature, art, crafts, history, Anasazi sites and archeo-astronomy. With the abundance of varied species of hummingbirds visiting our homes we have been forced to identify  birding books, as well as pictured texts of venomous creatures of the Southwest, tracking books, and books about holes in the desert books have been recent acquisitions. Of course I must have my reference books- caring for my dogs, cats, donkey, alpaca and llama as well as Horses for Dummies and self help books by Dr. Oz , Dr. Phil, and cookbooks for cuisines from Japanese to Middle East to just carrots or chile pepper feasts.

We keep our fiction books by our favorite authors for our guests who are here. Tony Hillerman and JA Jance and Betty Webb who all write of the desert. My husband has some well worn manuals on electricity and home building and I have my secret stash of autographed books by authors I have met...not just their signatures, but authors I have dined with and had conversations and cocktails ...Maya Angelou, Rudolf Anaya, Chris Bojhiilian, and of Sand and Fog Fame. There are the books where I keep the pictures of myself with Annie Liebowitz (one of my pal's childhood friends) and a pix of Tony Hillerman and my mother who were Marines together in WW2.

Otherwise we purchase our books at thrift stores or yard  sales. When we have digested them, Cousin Bernadette also an avid reader is first on our recycle list after we score a new Baldacci, Patterson or Grisham . In return she shares her Costco new releases with us. After reading we pass these to Linda a prison guard with an addition for alpacas as well as books  or to neighbors  Tim and Theresea  who also share in our  habit.

Now isolated in the southwest desert; I must wait once a month for my big fix. It is one hundred miles to Tucson, and I really cant justify ordering the newest Swedish release of Sieg Larssen from Amazon.com.  Especially when the book mobile journies to Dos Cabezas near my home  the first tuesday of every month.

The air conditioned internet  friendly library on wheels  always arrives on time and parks next to the abandoned adobe home in the  ghost town just off 186 on its way to the Chiricahuas. My dog Dharma and I never missDharma.

I hungrily grab the latest Susan Miller Cummings, a geologist who writes mysteries occasionally set in our neck of the woods, and am surpsied find the trio  of Chelsea Handler's comedic exploits on the shelf. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is checked out, but Ted orders it for me along with the sequel. It will arrive in a few days or a week or two in my mail box. In the meantime I have filled my book tote with my mind meth-all free thanks to my tax dollars and work.
I marvel at this unexpected luxury in my life and anxiously take the monthly calendar from Ted to post at home on my frig .  I am retired now. There are household and animal chores as well as my special projects.  I have gourds to paint, alpaca fiber to card, the great American novel to write. I plan to do all those things this summer. But first,I just have to finish this book I started..

Thursday, April 1, 2010


My cousins are in NYC celebrating their 60th birthdays. They have wanted to do this for a long time-maybe 60 years?
I love that they want to sit in on the View...watch Joy and Whoopi take on Elizabeth-the Right, and maybe get some free goodies. I can understand that and I would join them if the View was filmed in Tucson, but not NYC.
There was a time when I spent both my free time and money in the city. New York is "the city" if you are cool and live within 200 miles. Back then I thought I was very chic, very sophisticated, and very hip whenever I went into the city.
My pals and I would get tickets for Letterman or Saturday Night Live; we would go to a coffee house in the "village" when Starbuck was only a literary reference. We would take the subway uptown, downtown, midtown. We would buy Willi Wear and Norma Kamali.
I would speak enough Japanese to get a few free dishes at a sushi bar before California rolls were invented. The Prixe fix dinner was our French friend and the Met and Guggenheim were the eye candy dessert.
My knees shook coming down the narrow stairs from crowded Lady Liberty's crown; and we got souvenir glasses from Top of the World revolving bar in the World Trade Center.( I should never have sold those at my yard sale in 1984). We hiked to the top of the Empire State Building and got lost in Chinatown after having a Sunday full of dim sum.
In Little Italy we ate the best puttanesca, had the most authentic espresso and had the guilty pleasure of incredible tiramisu. The restaurants were all a shade of shadowy red,(maybe to hide the blood baths?) the waiters either courtly men, or grandmas keeping the bread and butter baskets filled.
I drove my VW convertible, my friends new Toyota, or Penn's States bus with a group of screaming yet to be enlightened students in downtown Manhattan. We yelled and shouted and cursed always in quest of the perfect parking spot but always ended up in a dismal spot for an outrageous fee.
Clean bathrooms were found at the library in Midtown, at McSorley's in the Village and at an old grad school pal's apartment on the edge of Harlem.
I vowed to move there before Sex in the City was a TV show. However always after 3 days or 3 Broadway shows I would be out of money and ready to go home.
Patti Lupone was Evita in first run, songs in "a Chorus Line " weren't cliches, and Barbara Walters was lunching at the Russian Tea Room, High Tea was still affordable at the Plaza and there were still long lines outside Studio 54. These are my memories of New York.

I am now 3000 miles and thirty years beyond celebrating any occasion in the Big Apple.

Now lunch out is at Grandma D's along old business 10 at a picnic table with my dog Dharma munching a toasted hot dog, while I enjoy a sloppy Joe. Dinner is at one of two Mexican restaurants and the bill for my husband and I comes in under $25.00 and that includes our margarita and beer.
We occasionally splurge with a latte from Tom's in the tumbling down old antique store, or a dipped cone from the drive thru Dairy Queen.
We went to see Spy Kids in 3d in the 100 year old theatre while our shoes stuck to the floor and celebrated St, Patrick's Day with $1.00 lime jello shots in the Palace Saloon where Warren Earp (Wyatt's not so famous brother took a bullet in his vest.
I shop for clothes at Bealls where the closest to upscale duds is a Jjill or Coldwater Creek shirt with tags marked off 80%. wait until Monday when I get an extra 15% off with my over 50 senior discount.
Ah and the cleanest bathroom is the Maid Rite feedstore where I buy my horses hay and grain. I drive to town in my husband's pickup truck or my ptcruiser convertible-(some desires stay the same). Parking is free; I almost always park in front of where I want to shop. I smile when I pass Rex Allen's statue and his horse Koko's grave. The landmark of downtown.
For my 55th birthday I walked our lighted alpaca in the Apple Festival Parade, gave the kids lining the street candy canes, and took Pizza Hut hand tossed home for my birthday's haute cuisine.
I am not sure where or what I want to do when I turn 60, but New York city doesn't beckon, to me anymore. Its allure has been lost. I am changed-I laugh at the thought of being chic.

I no longer need to travel to celebrate. Every day in the desert is a special occasion,but I am thinking when I turn 60 , I am gonna paint my horses nails gold and ride in Willcox's Rex Allen Day Parade.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

View from my horse...

Depression hits; pills are popped. The head is fuzzy; the heart still sad. Effexor, Prozac, Paxil-all chemicals remain the same. Ahh but clarity can surface. The heart can be transformed; the mind can be revived.

The smell of alfafa, old leather, sweat and sage are my elixors. I head to the barn; I call for my horses. My burro is first looking for treats or to play a trick. Smoke my appaloosa stands in the shade of the sturdy mesquite. Pajon, my paso fino cannot stand to not get treats. He follows me to the hitching stand. His coat is brushed; his feet are picked. I remove my leather gloves, smearing the greasy Swat on my hands to cover his face. Endure is sprayed on his legs and the saddle is place. I grab my water bottles, stuff them into the saddlebags, and check the cinch and bridle buckles one last time; giving Pajon a last tasy apple oatmeal treat.

Alien my coyote'/golden retriever mix, and Dharma my Australian Shephard bark with ecstacy as I struggle nto the saddle. Almost any other horse would stamp and snort and heave as these crazy canines erupt, but Pajon somehow patiently waits as my arthritic joints find the stirrups
and settle in saddle.

We are off.

The western sky is blue. A red tail hawk leads the way. I ramble through the acacia brush, by the push up posing lizard, and watch the dogs chase the jackelope from their maze of holes. My horse and I climb the rocky path. I feel good. My head is clear. My happiness surrounds me. Below my husband is puttering patiently on fixing something that needs to be fixed. The dogs are back by my side, waiting to see what direction to turn.

But I am content and happy right where I am.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why do you have all these animals?

Why do you have all these animals?

John and I get asked this question often,along with other animal related questions. Most are easy to answer, ,but some even we have to ponder.

Do you ride your horses?

What do you do with a burro?
We feed him!

Don't you think three dogs are too many?
No-perhaps ten would be-if they were all the size of Nahkohee (100lbs)!

Do you let your cats in the house?
We try not to let them out of the house!

Why do you have a llama and alpaca?

Hmmm ....now that animal question is more difficult. We don't raise them for their fleece. Although some people are able to earn money for the alpaca fleece which is incrdibly soft and not scratchy like wool. Other love llama fleece for felting hats or bags. .

We do not show them at fairs or competitions, but we know people who do . Other owners we know spend much of their time trucking their critters to win blue ribbons or best of show. But our animals don't like leaving the ranch,nor does my husband John! I was informed that if Skippy , my 3 year old alpaca was in Peru, he would have been a rug a year ago, and Desi, my llama would be ever so humiliated to trot around a ring. He much prefers to chase after our donkey on forty acres.

Originally I thought having a llama would be the ideal answer for backpacking into the wilderness. About ten years I spent several days having two llamas carry my wine, luggage and small guitar to a lake ringed by wildflowers in the Rocky Mountains. I only carried my water trail mix and camera. These were wonder animals. They pooped ver y neatly off the trail, only leaving raisinettes . They nibbled the grass when we stopped for the night and were very satisified with llama kibble for deserts and snack that they lso carried in a small bag. They didnt spit, except at a racoon which they also alerted us when they screamed at our small campground intruder. Best of all my back didnt hurt from carrying a fifty pound pack.

So when Desi the llama was rescued and offered to us, shortly after we retired to Arizona -I quickly bought "Camelids for Dummies". Learning that it is never good to have just one camelid and with no camels or other llamas coming our way we accepted Skippy, the inquisitive doe eyed alpaca as a companion for Desi.

We soon learned that having cameli (the genus of camels, alapcas, and llamas) are much like having cats. They do not always come when called. Treats are sometimes desired and sometimes Desi and Skippy act like they are being posioned when offerd a carrot or apple or slice of watermelon. I have discovered, however if I leave it in their dinner dish it always disappears, but never when I am watching. They also scream and wiggle and run away if they even think I might have a brush in my hand! They also do not want to be ridden and do not reallyenjoy it if i put on a halter or leash.

It has been two years and we have not gone backpacking with or without or llama and alpaca. I can not really blame it on the animals. It seems like too much trouble to head to the Chiricahuas or White Mountains to get away. We are away!
So what do we do with these creatures?

We spend our time watching our camelids. Whether it is Desi peering through the windows as we watch his antics outside,or laughing as Skippy dances while being sprayed with water while filling the horse trough, or laughing as both camelids take turns at chasing the dogs,we are amused. When Skippy puts his nose to the ground to check out a fluttering butterfly and Desi prances to the fence and stares at the cows on the other side , we have to watch too.

Our animals are our entertainment. We do not go to concerts, or movies, or sporting events. We
have our coffee in the morning and watch our animal interactions. In the evening we have a glass of wine , view the glorious Arizona sunset and watch our animals so more .
This is why we have all these animals.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Crying Wolf (berries)

Yesterday our neighbor called and told us the wolf berries were ripe. As new denizens of the desert, my husband and I were both clueless about this announcement. I was thinking that a wolf berry was an exotic cousin to the much hyped and sought after goji berry or a cousin to a mangosteen of Noni juice fame or perhaps it was the exotic wonder that my brother bought at Whole Paycheck err Food. Regardless I was sure it was something I too should be excited about.
Immediately I got on line and discovered that indeed this was a wonder plant from the nightshade family resembling tiny tomatoes. It was rumored to cure almost anything, very expensive to purchase and most people ordered it from some place far away like China or Sedona.

Even after looking at the leaves and the berry/fruit/globule pictures on the internet, I wasnt sure if it grew on the ground or high in the tree. Hoping it would be hanging aloft since it is rattlesnake season I opted for the wolfberry quest on horseback.

I gathered up empty plastic cartons to laden with berries, bottles of water as I was sure it would take awhile for me to find this holy grail of flora and a camera so I could take a picture of Smoke my horse and I proudly retrieving nature's bounty. I quickly saddled Smoke up with extra cantle pack and saddle bags to hold all the goodies and we took off despite the darkening sky.

When I heard thunder I didnt even consider turning around -our all knowing neighbor Raven said if I didnt get them soon- the birds would have them. I thought about how much the dried berries sold for on the internet and urged Smoke to keep going.

It started to rain. I hadn't included a jacket in this excursion-this is the Sonoran desert and early June. My head gear was enough to keep the rain off me. Of course my first hint of doom was when my large brimmed hat had blown off as I cantered down the drive. I had been to lazy to pick it up, convincing myself I really didnt need it and could use some tan on my face.

As the drops trickled down my face, I started searching the vegetation with blurry vision. All I could find were striped lizards scurrying among the rocks from the hoof beats or the rain. I saw nothing red.

When we had traveled three miles from home, I started to wonder just what I would do with these berries. Would they really give me more energy? Could you eat them on ice cream? Could I can them and present them as gifts at Christmas. Perhaps I could dry them and use it as tea? This would be a wonderful story to tell my Midwestern family and friends. However,
I was beginning to wonder if I was looking on the right trail?

I called Raven and asked again where he had seen the elusive plant. He repeated where they were and I repeated back to him that is where I had been. There was no sign of any wolf or berry along the deserted roadside-no birds feasting on anything and the only foliage was mesquite and a few pricklypears that werent yet bearing fruit.

Perhaps I had missed them in the rain. I turned around, Smoke quickened his pace. The rain came down faster. But still I kept looking . I must admit i was losing my fascination with the wolfberry. I had plenty of vitamins. My Christmas shopping were done. I already had plenty of stories about Gila monsters and rattlesnakes to entertain family and friends from afar. I just wanted to get home. I would be altruistic-the birds, deer and javelina needed this desert delight far more than I did.
However this afternoon adventure was not without treasure. I didn't find the wolfberry, but the sun came thru the rain and the gleaming rainbow appeared with the tail disappearing behind the hill where my house and husband were waiting. I took out my camera; the rain dissipated, I took the shot, and I went home with empty cartons , but a great picture and memories of a rainy day in a dry desert. But I am beginning to think Raven was just crying WOLF "berries".