Gourd art

Written by karen on May 11th, 2018

Last year, I grew some bushel basket gourds with the hopes of making them into drums. The gourds didn’t really get big enough for drums (I’ll try again this year), but I thought I’d use them to practice in the meantime.

I got a bunch of books from the library to get inspirations for what I might make and to learn the techniques. It’s quite a process.

First, the gourds need to dry outside for several months. They go from being very heavy to being quite light as they dry.

This is what the gourds looked like when they were done drying. Those black spots are yucky mold.

The next step is to soak them in hot soapy water overnight. You have to weight them down so they don’t float up.

Then you scrub the outside of the outside of the gourds with a metal scouring pad to get all the skin and mold off. When I got done and dried them out again, they looked like this:

Next I cut open the gourds. Depending on what I was going to make with them I either used a hand keyhole saw or drilled a hole in the top with a hole saw. This is that the insides looked like.

I scraped and separated the seeds to save for this year’s growing. Then I scraped out the other dry stuff out and sanded the inside to get it smooth. Then came the fun part, finishing. I stained the outsides with some soy-based wood stain.

For one of the gourds, which would have a visible interior, I decoupaged the inside. I used tea bag envelopes and tags, since I was making a tea holder.

To finish the outsides, I used acrylic paints and then varnished thewhole thing.

Here’s the end product. The one of the left is a tea candle holder.

Given that this is the first time I’ve done anything like this, I am happy with the end results. I have several more “practice” gourds and am looking forward to experimenting more with these.


The people we know

Written by karen on March 11th, 2018

I just got off the phone with our 83-year-old neighbor, who has been for some time back home in Wisconsin. We talk on the phone regularly, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from him. He is one of the sharpest, most thoughtful people I know, and I am lucky to count him as a good friend.

Back when we first came here, if you’d had told me that I’d be such good friends with this person, I wouldn’t have believed it. But that’s been one of the surprises of living in a small rural community.

While there are things about living here that drive me crazy (it’s almost impossible to have privacy…I’ve heard stories about myself repeated back through the grapevine until they are nearly unrecognizable, and as one distant friend said recently “our public lives intersect with our social and economic ones in ways that in cities you can have different spheres. There are not many ‘anonymous days’ in rural communities.”), there are other things that are delightful.

One of them is the riches I have found in unexpected people like our neighbor. It makes me think that I might make more of an effort to connect with diverse* people if I ever lived in a city again.


* While I often lament the lack of “diversity” here, I am coming to understand that diversity can mean different things. While we sadly lack racial or ethnic diversity, we do have a collection of folks that span a crazy spectrum of political ideologies, backgrounds, and ages.



Written by karen on March 11th, 2018

It looks like it’s going to be a great year for favas. There’s nothing like fresh favas; they’re not at all like the dried beans. They taste like pure green freshness.

A seed meeting yesterday gave me extra motivation to spend time in the garden today.

Here’s what’s growing now: lettuce, spinach, tat soi, arugula, garlic, onions, and of course, fava beans.


Take a hike

Written by karen on February 4th, 2018

Yesterday, we took a 16.5 mile hike from our doorstep back through Horseshoe Canyon, then to the south and back out of the mountains through Jackwood Canyon.

Strangely, though it is so close, we’ve never been through Jackwood Canyon. I suspect that the gate into it from 80 is usually locked but I need to verify this. At any rate, it was a very beautiful hike.

You might remember that we did another long “from our house” hike in preparation for the Grand Canyon. That one ended up being mostly off trail (there supposedly was a trail but it was so seldom used as to be gone) and was very difficult as a result. Looking the maps, you never really know whether a trail will be there or not, and our area is remote enough that many trails have disappeared over the years. This time though we were pleasantly surprised to have a good trail for the entire trip. Much nicer!

We started off from our house and went back into Horseshoe Canyon, a hike we’ve done many times. About 7 miles from our house (5 miles into the canyon), there is an old homestead house. About a half mile past that, there is a branch of the trail/road that goes to the south. This goes to Jackwood Canyon.

Much of the hike followed an old forest service road. While most of it would not be passable even with 4 wheel drive, it was perfect for hiking. The trail/road went south through some beautiful grasslands. It wove behind the mountains and eventually cut through a pass, so there wasn’t even a huge climb.


We almost made it the whole way without seeing a soul, but about three miles from the end, we were approached by a pickup driven by an old cowboy. He stopped, and we said hi. He started out with a look of deep suspicion on his face (the normal expression here when regarding “strangers”). As we told him where we hiked and where he lived, his expression changed to looking as though he thought we were a bit crazy. Eventually, by the end of our conversation, he had a slight smile and seemed to think we were ok. He proclaimed us “quite fit” and wished us well.

We finished the hike in Apache, where we’d left a car. That’s about 6 miles on Highway 80 to Sunrise.

Oh, and there were lots of cows in Horseshoe.

Here’s a map of the hike.


2017 in books

Written by karen on January 8th, 2018

As I usually post each year, below is a list of the books I read in 2017.

The books are listed in the order I read them with my favorites in bold.

I had a goal to read 50 books for the year, but I cut myself some slack on that for a couple reasons. First, Brad and I both did Nanowrimo in November, which took a chunk of time. In addition, toward the end of the year, I started the Red Mars series by Kim Stanley Robinson (thanks to MA); these are fairly big books, and I opted for finishing that instead of cramming in a few shorter reads at year end.

  1. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  2. The Oral History Workshop by Cynthia Hart with Lisa Samson
  3. The Tree Bride by by Bharati Mukherjee
  4. We Are Stories edited by Margarita Ramirez Loya and her students
  5. Epitaph for a Peach by David Mas Masumoto
  6. Revival by Stephen King
  7. Adnan’s Story by Rabia Chaudry
  8. Heirlooms by David Masumoto
  9. Sowing Seeds in the Desert by Masanobu Fukuoka
  10. Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön
  11. Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben
  12. The Innocent Man by John Grisham
  13. One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka
  14. The Nix by Nathan Hill
  15. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  16. The Chamber by John Grisham
  17. The Education of Dixie Dupree by Donna Everhart
  18. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
  19. Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie
  20. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  21. So Big by Edna Ferber
  22. Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer
  23. Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
  24. Public Library by Ali Smith
  25. Four Seasons in Five Senses by David Mas Masumoto
  26. Desert Sanctuary by Hank Messick
  27. Rebel Mother by Peter Andreas
  28. The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan
  29. Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow
  30. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  31. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  32. The Postman by David Brin
  33. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  34. The Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick
  35. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  36. Ten Years on the Line by Mike Ligon
  37. Assignment Eternity by Robert Heinlein
  38. A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
  39. Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance
  40. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  41. Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
  42. India Calling by Anand Giridharadas

What were your favorite reads this year?

As always, I’m on GoodReads. If you’re there, let’s connect!


First freeze

Written by karen on November 20th, 2017

This is the annual recording of our first freeze of the year.

It was 27 degrees when I went to work this morning. Brrr…

We’re hoping for a year of minimal cold and snow this year. (Last year was the first year since we’ve lived here that we had no snow at our house. I didn’t miss it.)


Free Book Boxes

Written by karen on October 16th, 2017

I am often looking for opportunities to get involved in positive community building work, and this year has been more a challenge than ever.

A project that I’m now spending a fair amount of time on is the Free Book Box project, sponsored by the Cochise County Library District. This was funded by a grant that I wrote and am now implementing. It involves putting 10 boxes around the more rural parts of the country where there aren’t public libraries to provide free books to people. (You may have heard of Little Free Libraries. This is similar except that our boxes are MUCH larger. Also we aren’t necessarily emphasizing returns or donations, though both are welcome.)

The books include adult as well as juvenile titles, in a variety of genres and in English and Spanish. The boxes are mostly outside and will all have 24/7 access.

One part of the project I’ve really enjoyed is working with community partners to host the boxes and with local artists to paint them.

It’s also been fun to procure the books. We’re getting them from a variety of sources, with some being donated and others being purchased. A great source for books has been various Friends of the Library groups, who operate used book stores.

Our first boxes are being installed this week. I’ll be interested to see what challenges and opportunities pop up along the way.

So far, this project has been very well received and a very positive experience. And it’s books — you can’t go wrong with that.


The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Written by karen on August 13th, 2017

Monsoons have been going strong for about a month now. The garden is now in a state at which I’m afraid to walk around it. The rains have led to waist-high grass and beds with viney crops growing a foot or more every day and weeds that are impossible to keep up with.

Along with the crazy plant growth, this time of year brings an explosion of bugs. As in my youth, I am bug-bitten and riddled with allergies, but still love the monsoons.

This morning, I went into the greenhouse to find about 20 of these caterpillars on one plant. There were none yesterday. Are they good or bad? I don’t know (but have since determined that they are eastern swallowtail butterfly larva and are not harmful but are partial to dill, which perhaps they mistook my parsley for…now that I think about it, I may know just the butterfly that laid these eggs. It was stuck in the greenhouse one night, and I freed it the next morning.). I didn’t want to kill them if they weren’t harmful, but didn’t want to leave them to continue to multiply, so decided to cut the plant (it was an herb going to seed anyway) and heave it over the fence.


It’s a good day to be solar

Written by karen on August 12th, 2017

(written on 8/10/17)

This morning I woke up and as usual, I checked my tablet for notifications. I found no Internet access. I checked the wireless, which seemed fine, and so went over to the office to check my desktop computer. No Internet access there either.

I spent a half hour or so resetting the router and trying all the things we do when we have Internet problems, but to no avail. Finally, I realized that we had no phone service either. That explained the Internet outage.

That isn’t completely unusual, but with no cell access here, I’d have to drive somewhere to call our local phone co-op to put in a service request.

In the spirit of mindfulness, I decided to do my morning yoga first. (Fortunately, I have a few yoga sessions saved offline for just this kind of times.)

After yoga, I hopped in the truck and drove off to Rodeo. I can usually get a cell signal there, but not today. I saw a few people congregated in front of the local café and so asked them if they had phone service. (Often phone outages here are very localized to a small area.)

“No phone. No power. Not here or in Portal or in Animas.”

Oh, that’s not good.

I had a couple work calls scheduled for this morning, so I decided to drive towards Animas until I could get a signal to at least text people to reschedule.

Once I got a signal and sent the texts, I called a friend of mine here to see how she was doing and to tell her what I knew about the scope of the problem.

“Forty-eight hours is what we hear.”

Oh, that’s worse.

On the way home, I stopped by the local post office, which is a hub of our community. Several people were there exchanging news, and I was able to confirm that 48 hours was the expected outage and that it was widespread. There had been a big storm north of us (ironically, we got no rain at all at our house), and 25 poles had been knocked out.

I let our postmaster know that if anyone had a “power emergency,” she could send them our way since we have solar. Yes, with solar, we have power, even though the rest of area is out. (This has saved us several fridge/freezers full of food as well as other inconveniences.)

Listening to everyone talk, it seemed like it could have been a hundred years ago. People gathering at a central spot to share news, tell stories, offer help, and laugh together.

One thing I learned is that even cell service would be ending soon, since the towers use power and apparently only have a limited power backup. (Imaging end times is a popular pastime here so this got my mind going.)

With big storms supposed to be rolling in this weekend (though I now have no access to a weather forecast), I wonder if it might be longer than 48 hours.

There isn’t a lot of work I can get done with no email or Internet, so today will be spent doing some offline projects and baking for the market tomorrow. (I already had the dough ready before this happened, so I might as well bake.) I’m also going to do some writing, send some postcards, edit some video, and of course, work in the garden. With no baseball or movies tonight, I’ll curl up with a good book, which I have several in a stack waiting for me.

This makes me reflect on how dependent we are on the Internet and more broadly on other infrastructure that we have little control over. It is simultaneously a little worrying and kind of quaint. For the next few days, I will hunker down here and live like everyone did not so long ago, glad for my solar power, for offline pleasures, and for my large stores of food and comfortable house.

(written the evening of 8/11/17…the end of day 2)

I had a lovely day yesterday, enjoying a relaxing and guiltless day of non-work. I finished two books I had been mid-way with and then read another whole book that was very enjoyable. (If the Internet doesn’t come back soon, I may catch up on my Goodreads goal.) I also baked for market, edited a video I’d been putting off, and organized some things.

I often imagine a dream life (“When I win the lottery…”) of no email and no phone, and this day of that lived up to my expectation.

I didn’t realize though how many times a day I consult the Internet for other things, especially living where we do. Checking the weather, reading the news, listening to music, looking up a new word or idea, chatting with friends. And I did miss all of that.

This morning, I got up and checked the phone, which was still out. I got ready for the market as I normally do on Fridays and drove into town. Going through Rodeo, I noticed lights were on, meaning power was back there. When I got to Portal, there were sporadic reports of phone service returning. By the time I left at 1:00, the library had Internet again.

When I returned home, phone service had returned but still no Internet. I reset the router again and tried to be patient. Finally, after a few hours, I called our local phone co-op and Internet provider. They said there were no known issues and passed me on to technical support hell. That began a cycle of troubleshooting questions and “escalations” that has as of yet not resulted in Internet service being restored.

What was quaint and enjoyable yesterday has now grown old.

Eventually, I imagine that our tall cowboy service guy will come out to the house and fix things. He seems to be the only competent person at our phone co-op, and we are fortunate that he is the one we interact with face-to-face when it comes to that.

Stay tuned….

(written afternoon of 8/12/17… day 3)

Frustration set in today.

No word from our co-op and no success after resetting the router every hour or so…until about 2pm when the Internet mysteriously came back on. There was no visit for our service guy, so the problem was something out of our area, as I suspected.

It’s good to be online again.

Now to catch up on the long list of things that has accumulated.


Rim to rim

Written by karen on June 17th, 2017

Our Grand Canyon trip was a great success. Most notable, our training paid off — we never felt hugely taxed, and after it was all over, we weren’t sore (unlike last time).

You might remember that we decided to do the trip in four days this time instead of two. That worked out well. However, leaving camp at first light to avoid the heat sometimes brought us into the next camp before 8am! That let us do a couple day hikes though, including Ribbon Falls and Plateau Point, which were both spectacular. It’s always nice to hike without the heavy packs once you’re used to them.

Ribbon Falls — cool on a hot day

Me on the plateau

We hadn’t been on the north rim before this, and it was very beautiful. Also the trail down from there had fewer hikers which was nice.

It’s always striking the range of people you see on this trail. We saw people who could barely hike (just doing a short day hike from the rim) to people who were running it rim-to-rim. We also met folks doing rim-to-rim-to-rim.

The weather was good. It was a bit windy but not as hot as the last time we did it. At the rim, nighttime temperatures were cool (40s), and we even saw a couple patches of snow. At the bottom, the high in the shade was 106.


31.5 total miles (including side trips)

starting elevation: 8327 feet

elevation at the bottom: 2445 feet

ending elevation: 6851 feet

Our team, getting ready to set off from the North Rim

More pictures here