Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Boot On His Nose

saguaro bootWhat does my husband Dave have on his nose?  It is a boot.  A boot from a saguaro cactus.  When birds like gila woodpeckers build nests in saguaros they chisel out holes in the cactus.  The nest cavity is fairly deep so the baby birds will be hidden from view after they hatch. The saguaro creates a kind of hard callus around the wound created by the nest cavity. Since the bird has damaged it’s tissue the cactus must protect itself. So it secretes a resinous sap that, over time, hardens into a bark-like shell that prevents the cactus from losing fluid and also protects the nest hole by making it waterproof.

nest hole in saguaro cacti

You can see a nest hole in this saguaro. When the saguaro dies and its soft outer flesh rots the hard callus remains behind in the shape of a boot. Long ago native Americans used these saguaro boots for storage containers.


We learned about saguaro boots on our visit this week to the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden.  I was lucky enough to get a couple of photos of a woodpecker at work building a nest in a saguaro cactus as we walked along the trails.


gila woodpecker phoenix
We learned lots of other cool things at the Botanical Gardens which I will write about in other posts.

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Art From All Kinds of Things- The Phoenix Art Museum

Cowboy Comics by Gary Thomas Erbe

Cowboy Comics by Gary Thomas Erbe

Think this is a stack of old comic books? Think again.  It is really folded sheets of bronze the artist painted to look like a stack of 1950’s comics. 

On my visit to the Phoenix Art Museum I saw art made from so many interesting things. 

All the One Hundred by Jac Leirner

All the One Hundred by Jac Leirner

Thousands of cruzeiros, a worthless currency used in Brazil till the 1980’s, were used to create a snake-like art piece. 

Mike Kelley 13 by Jennifer Steinkamp

Mike Kelley 13 by Jennifer Steinkamp

I stood for a long time watching a computer digital projection which shows a wind- blown tree changing with the seasons.

Nude Man by Viola Frey

Nude Man by Viola Frey

Viola Frey makes giant ceramic images of men and women that a New York Times reviewer calls kitchy and compelling.

Mass- Colder, Darker Matter by Cornelia Parker

Mass- Colder, Darker Matter by Cornelia Parker

The charred remains of a Texas Church struck by lightening were used to create a thought-provoking installation.

Pin River by Maya Lin

Pin River by Maya Lin

The map of the Colorado River has been outlined with thousands of silver pins.

I enjoyed watching a series of art films including Telephones which shows clips from lots of different movies of characters using phones. You can watch Telephones too.

Canyon Country by Georgia O' Keeffe

Canyon Country by Georgia O’ Keeffe

Of course there are plenty of traditional oil on canvas pieces in the Phoenix Art Gallery as well.

Curves for E.S. by Dan Graham

Curves for E.S. by Dan Graham

My husband Dave stands in an outdoor art installation by an American artist. It is made from two way mirror glass, stainless steel and slate.

Partisan by Sergei Jensen

Partisan by Sergei Jensen

A Berlin- based artist used burlap to create an art piece.

The scariest experience at the gallery is a dark room with mirrors on the floor, walls and ceiling. Dangling from the ceiling are strings of LED lights that dim and brighten.The installation is  called You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies by Yayoi Kusama. 

So many different media have been used to create the work displayed at the Phoenix Art Gallery. It makes your visit interesting and intriguing. 

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Filed under Arizona, Art, Culture

His Kids Made Him Cry

Professional racing cyclist Lance Armstrong was basically straight faced during his recent interview with Oprah Winfrey. He barely betrayed any emotion until he started talking about his children.  Lance was describing how his son had been defending his Dad’s innocence to his classmates who were repeating the doping allegations reported in the news. When Lance discovered his son was sticking up for him, he knew he had to tell the truth about using banned substances to achieve some of his Tour de France victories. Lance’s voice quivered and tears filled his eyes as he described how he had told his son the truth. 

Lance’s reaction was a reinforcement of something I have long believed. Our children make us better people. We may be ashamed of something we’ve done in front of the whole world but nothing makes us feel so bad as letting our children down or having to admit to them we’ve been wrong. 

Many times my concern about what my children would think of me has guided my actions and decisions. I may have been tempted to do something I knew was unkind, dishonest or less than exemplary but then I’d stop and think about what my actions might do to my children’s image of me or to their concept of what was right and wrong.  I don’t know how often I have been stopped in my tracks and prevented from doing something foolish because I considered whether what I was doing was something I would want my children to imitate. 

I can think of times when both my children have set me back on the straight and narrow by reminding me of things I had taught them but was forgetting myself. It is a humbling experience.

Sometimes I sink into phases where I’m lazy about my health, community responsibilities, career goals or family commitments. Thinking about the kind of example I want to set for my children snaps me out of those indolent phases and gives me the inspiration to move on.

I have failed many times at being a good human being, doing things that weren’t right or kind or honest. But I am absolutely certain that without my children there would be many more of those instances. I am a much better person because of my kids.

We all reach the point in our lives when we realize our parents aren’t the perfect people we thought they were when we were small. However if we truly believe they love us and are trying their best to be good parents we can accept their imperfections and forgive them for the things we think they did wrong. 

Lance Armstrong says his son has forgiven him. According to the disgraced athlete his son said. “Look, I still love you. You’re my dad. This won’t change that.”  Lance is a lucky parent to have such a child.

Most children are very forgiving when their parents fail to be the kind of example they should. That unconditional trust should make us feel even more accountable to our kids and more mindful of our responsibility as parents to be good role models. 

Children are an incredible gift and they make us better people. I think Lance Armstrong has figured that out.  Until he showed his vulnerability as a father in his interview with Oprah I had a hard time believing he was really sorry for what he had done. He clearly is deeply saddened by the impact his choices have had on his kids and that should give him hope that he can change for the better and live the rest of his life with a greater measure of integrity. 

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Filed under Media, Parenting, People, Sports

Hopi At the Heard- Kachina Dolls

Hiking Coal Mine Canyon Arizona- 1990

Hiking Coal Mine Canyon Arizona- 1990

I had never heard of kachinas till our family lived on the Hopi Indian Reservation for a year. My husband and I were teachers there.  I learned about kachinas from my students and their families and from attending Hopi ceremonies and dances.
Kachinas are spirits who live in the San Francisco Peaks and come to the Hopi villages at different times of the year. These religious beings are really Hopi males dressed up to look like the various kachinas. There are hundreds of different kachina spirits. At some dances I attended the kachinas gave out gifts or danced and at others they acted out plays that taught a lesson. 

kachinas heard museum I was always amazed at how even my grade one students could identify so many of the kachinas and would draw colorful and detailed pictures of the various kachinas. I even kept and framed some of their drawings. I was reminded of the things I had learned about kachinas when I visited the Heard Museum and saw their large collection of kachina dolls. Kachina doll carving is thought to have begun as early as 1300. The dolls were made by Hopi men as gifts for children to help them learn the names and attributes of the various kachinas spirits. I remember that my students thought of some kachinas as friendly but they were scared of others who were sent to mete out punishment to them if they had been bad. 

Young children didn’t know that the Hopi kachinas were really their fathers and grandfathers dressed up to look like the spirits. They believed the kachinas were real just like kids believe in Santa Claus. It was only when they reached age eleven or twelve that the boys went through an initiation ceremony in the kiva and were told the truth about the kachinas. A kiva is an underground chamber where sacred ceremonies are held.

My husband with the Hopi basketball team he coached

My husband with the Hopi basketball team he coached

Since my husband taught grade six and was the basketball coach for some of the boys who were being initiated he was given the rare privilege of attending a Hopi initiation ceremony in the kiva as some of his students were initiated and found out the kachinas were really the men of the tribe dressed up in costume and paint. 

hopi kachinas at the heard museumWe did buy one kachina carving when we lived on the Hopi Reservation but it was from a beginning carver and unfortunately it has had some feathers broken during our many moves. The best carvers can charge thousands of dollars for their work and I read that one kachina doll sold privately for over $300,000.

hopi kachina heard musuemOne of the guides at the Heard Museum said kachinas used to be carved very simply but in the 1960’s when art collectors began to show interest in them the artists started making them more colorful, often creating the dolls in an action pose. They also began to sign their work. 

goldwater kachina collection heard musuemSenator Barry Goldwater of Arizona had 437 kachina dolls and his collection is on display at the Heard Museum. Kachina dolls are made from the root of the cottonwood tree using various tools like knives, chisels, rasps, mallets and saws.

hopi kachina heard museum Often the various body parts are created separately and then attached. Once the carving is finished the pieces are whitewashed and painted and various decorations added. I enjoyed finding out more about kachina dolls at the Heard Museum and remembering all the things I learned about kachinas during our year of living with the Hopi. 

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Filed under Arizona, Art

Climb, Climb Up Silly Mountain

I’ve climbed Silly Mountain with three different companions since our arrival here in Gold Canyon Arizona. 

on silly moutain gold canyon arizona My husband Dave
IMG_0925My friend Esther
climbing silly mountain And my sister Kaaren

silly mountain signSilly Mountain seems like an odd name for a mountain but when I tried to find out how it got that designation all I could discover was that a road grader named Harry Cadwalader had a home on the road leading up to Silly Mountain and told his supervisor he’d like to name the road Silly Mountain Road and the supervisor agreed. huff and puff trail silly mountain

A little more creative thought went into naming the trails. There are lots of different ones to climb. Some are easy, some moderate and some difficult. Here is Dave at the Huff and Puff Trail sign. 

You can hike the jackrabbit trail sign

Jack Rabbit trail


The Old Baldy or Superstition View trails

old miner's trail silly mountain

The Old Miner’s Trail

the crest trailThe Crest Trail and several others including Palo Verde and Coyote Loop. 

consulting the map on silly mountainWith so many trails you can get lost. Here my friend Esther is consulting a map with two ladies we met from Minnesota on the trail. 

fellow travelers on silly mountainSilly Mountain is a popular hiking trail and guide books say up to 50 hikers at a time can be on the trail. Since Dave had to wait for me to catch up at intervals he had time to strike up conversations with some of his fellow hikers. hikers at the top of silly mountain

Kaaren and I hiked Silly Mountain on Martin Luther King Day, a school holiday so there were lots of families and kids out on the trails enjoying the near record-setting warm weather, including these three adventuresome teens who had left the path and scrambled up to the top of one of the rocky ridges. 

view from silly mountain

The views from Silly Mountain are definitely worth the climb. silly mtn view

Saguaros on silly mountainThere are lots of beautiful cacti along the trails.
inside a dying saguaro My daring friend Esther actually decided to put her hand inside a dying saguaro to see what it was like. She said it felt like wood.dave on silly moutain

I’ve enjoyed climbing Silly Mountain with each of my companions. woman on silly mountain

friend on silly mountain I wonder who’ll I’ll climb the mountain with next?
end of trail
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Hopi at the Heard- Piki Bread

marylou's grade one class on hopi reserveWe lived and taught for a year on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. Here I am with my grade one students in 1990.  Because of that experience the many exhibits about the Hopi culture at the Heard Museum in Phoenix were of particular interest to me. One favorite treat that my Hopi students often brought to school for a snack was piki bread. They had some on display at the museum. 

piki bread on display at the heard musuem
I really liked piki bread . It had a slightly sweet taste and was so much lighter than bread. Once my students knew I enjoyed it they often brought piki bread to school for me.

Piki bread is made from blue corn. The corn is harvested and taken off the cob. 

grinding stones at the heard museumThe corn is ground into meal using a grinding stone like these I photographed in the courtyard of the Heard Museum.  I remember when we lived in Arizona one of the Hopi women let our sons who were ten and four try grinding the corn on one of these stones. It was hard work. 

The blue cornmeal is mixed with water and the burnt ashes of juniper trees. You can see the mixture in the bowl at the side of this photo. 

The Hopi women then use their bare hands to spread the mixture on a special baking stone that has a fire built beneath it.  I watched this process quite a number of times during my year on the Hopi Reservation and I could never understand how the women didn’t burn their fingers when they were spreading the cornmeal paste on the hot stone. They were soooooooooo fast!

The bread bakes quickly and once it starts to lift off the stone, the women roll it up. 

Hopi women have been making piki bread this way for hundreds of years. I don’t think you can buy it anywhere. I miss piki bread. It was delicious! It was nice to be reminded of piki bread on my visit to the Heard Museum in Phoenix. 

If you want to know more about piki bread check out this You Tube Video Making Piki Bread. 

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Filed under Arizona, Culture, Food

Adventures With My Sister

sunset in arizona

My sister Kaaren and her husband have spent the last week visiting us here in Phoenix. We’ve had a great time. While the men played four golf games together we went on long walks and checked out the Mesa Flea Market. Here we are at sunset walking to the club house of the golf course which borders our yard. The Superstition Mountains are behind us. We had an excellent dinner that night at The Ledge and when we returned home the four of us spent some time in the outdoor hot tub under the star-studded sky.

finished jig saw puzzle

Kaaren and I have done a jigsaw puzzle together, played games of Rummycube and enjoyed each other’s cooking. As couples we’ve alternated making suppers.

the good lovelies at the mesa cultural center

One evening the four of us attended a concert at the Mesa Cultural Centre by the Good Lovelies, a Canadian music group from Toronto. The three talented women all have soft but lovely lilting voices and sing songs about the little things in life. One of my favorites was Kiss Me In The Kitchen. 

We’ve been to two movies The Promised Land and Zero Dark Thirty. Both are fictionalized accounts of true events and we left the theatre wondering how much each film director had played with the truth. curves for E
We spent hours at the Phoenix Art Gallery. Here my sister is posing in an art piece called Curves for ES by Dan Graham. It is a pavilion made with stainless steel and two-way mirror glass. This piece was just outside the Palette Restaurant where we enjoyed a terrific lunch in the sunshine on the patio. 
at a highschool basketball gameMy husband Dave was a high school basketball coach for most of his teaching career so when he is visiting a city he enjoys going to watch some highschool basketball. He took us to see the Mesa Jackrabbits in action. mesa jackrabbit cheerleadersThey are rated the third best highschool team in the state of Arizona. We watched an exciting basketball game against the McClintock team. The Jackrabbits won. Their cheerleaders were pretty talented too.

Tonight we are off to watch the Phoenix Coyotes play the Chicago Blackhawks in a hockey game. That should be fun. We still have one more week of holidays together so I’m looking forward to more adventures with my sister. 

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Filed under Arizona, Family

Hopi at the Heard- Pottery- Elegance From Earth

hopi pottery at the heard museumWe have a number of Hopi pottery pieces in our home, gifts we received during the year we lived and worked on the Hopi Reservation, so I was pleased that on our visit to the Heard Museum in Phoenix they had a whole gallery called Elegance From Earth dedicated to Hopi pottery. 

elegance from earth timeline hopi pottery heard musuemA time line illustrated with actual pieces of pottery shows how the art of making pottery has evolved among the Hopi. I believe pottery creation used to be primarily the domain of women but now many male potters are making and selling pottery too.  Skills are passed on from one generation to another. A grade one student of mine in the Hopi community of Kykostmovi wrote a story in class about how she and her mother and grandmother made pottery. The lessons start at an early age. 

nampeyo first hopi pottery

The exhibit at the Heard featured a large photo of Nampeyo the  first woman to be recognized as a Hopi potter. She lived from 1849 to 1942.nampeyo vase

This is one of Nampeyo’s signature pieces- a low pot with a spherical shape. Many other kinds of objects are fashioned by Hopi potters. 

Canteen by Ai Qoyawayma

Canteen by Ai Qoyawayma

Vase by Rainy Naha

Vase by Rainy Naha

Plate by Garnet Pavatea

Plate by Garnet Pavatea

Wedding Vase by Joy Navasie

Wedding Vase by Joy Navasie

A series of photos in the Heard exhibit showed how the pottery is made.

making a hopi pot with coilsClay is collected from places on the Hopi lands. The location of certain clay deposits are well kept family secrets. The clay is cleaned of all impurities, soaked in water and then kneaded for a long time. The artist does not use a potter’s wheel but rolls the clay into long coils which are fashioned into the vessel. pottery making stage two heard musuem

The clay is coiled up from the bottom. A scraping tool is used to smooth out the coils until they become one solid wall. 

making hopi pottery heard musuemThis potter is using a gourd rind to smooth the finish on her vessel. The piece is left to harden for three to seven days and then a white wash is applied to it. 

painting hopi pottery

The potter creates a design using yucca leaves as a paint brush and pigments from plants and minerals. The piece is then polished and fired.  Sheep and cow manure is used for fuel and large broken shards of pottery are placed down to protect the piece from too intense a flame. The vessel remains on the fire for several hours. 

Wedding Vase by Tonita Hamilton Nampeyo

Wedding Vase by Tonita Hamilton Nampeya

Making Hopi pottery is a very labor intensive process. During the year I lived on the Hopi Reservation I was fortunate enough to watch several times while women made and fired pottery. That was over twenty years ago however and so it was great to revisit that experience at the Heard Museum.

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Filed under Arizona, Art, Culture

Streets of Gold- Gold Canyon Arizona

gold canyon drive sign gold canyon arizonaWe are staying in the Gold Canyon area of Arizona located at the base of the Superstition Mountains. The Superstition Mountain area is the site of a famous gold mine and so streets have been named accordingly. dead sure place street sign gold canyon arizona On my bike ride yesterday I took photos of the many streets with gold or mining related names. Throughout the last two hundred years many people have been dead sure there was still gold in the Superstition Mountains. 

strike it rich street sign gold canyon arizonaA gold mine was discovered in the Superstition Mountains in 1845 by Don Miguel Peralta the son of a rich Mexican family. He went back to Mexico for money and supplies to start extracting the gold he’d found. He soon returned to Arizona and began shipping millions of pesos worth of pure gold back to Mexico. The Apache, angry over Peralta’s presence in their territory, attacked and massacred all Peralta’s men just as they were heading back to Mexico scattering his wagons, burros and gold all over the area. treasure place street sign gold canyon arizonaFor years after people found remains of Peralta’s wagon train and recovered his gold. The area became a place for people to get rich quick. little nugget way street sign gold canyon arizona

Dr. Abraham Thorne was an army doctor who came to Arizona in 1865 and ended up working among the Apache Indians. He made friends with them and earned the respect of their leaders by caring for the sick, delivering babies and teaching hygiene. In 1870 the elders said because he was their friend they wanted to show him a place where he could find gold. hidden treasure court street sign gold canyon arizonaThey blindfolded the doctor and took him on a twenty-mile journey to the base of a canyon wall where there was a stack of gold nuggets, the doctor believed had come from the Peralta mine. He sold them for $6000. gold dust place street sign gold canyon arizonaJacob Waltz the legendary “Dutchman” who lived in the Superstition Mountain area in the 1880’s was thought to have discovered the Peralta mine as well because he would show up in Phoenix and buy things with gold nuggets. pay dirt place street sign gold canyon arizonaPeople tried to follow Waltz when he left Phoenix but he evaded them all. He refused to draw a map or tell anyone where his gold cache was located.  He kept coming back to Phoenix with saddlebags of gold and finally died there in 1891 the home of a lady friend, Julia Thomas leaving a sack of gold ore under his deathbed. IMG_5469Since Waltz’ death thousands of treasure hunters have searched in vain for the lost mine and many have been injured or killed in the process. Just this past November Fox News published a story about recovering the body of a Denver man who died looking for the mine.

IMG_0812The gold related names on many of the streets in my Gold Canyon neighborhood are a reminder of the Peralta Mine and the way its story has influenced the lives of so many people. 

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Filed under Arizona, History

Hopi At the Heard- The Art of Dan Namingha

Hopi Dancer Heard MusuemOn our visit to the Heard Museum in Phoenix I was struck by what an important role the Hopi nation has played in the culture of Arizona.  We lived and worked on the Hopi Indian Reservation for a year and I was delighted to find that the Heard has devoted more than half of its exhibit space to things Hopi. Here I’m posing with a Hopi woman in traditional dress. She is part of a sculpture by Doug Hyde called Intertribal Greeting which stands in the front courtyard as you enter the Heard Museum. 

Red- Tailed Hawk Katsina by Dan Namingha

Red- Tailed Hawk Katsina by Dan Namingha

The first gallery I visited featured the works of Hopi artists from the Namingha family. I was particularly taken with the paintings of Dan Namingha. Dan who holds an honorary doctorate from the Institute of American Indian Arts is from Polacca, a village on First Mesa of the Hopi Nation. He has been an artist for more than forty years. 

Kachina Symbolism #4 by Dan Namingha

Kachina Symbolism #4 by Dan Namingha

In this piece he features many of the symbols you will see on Hopi kachina carvings like the eye and the outline of the snow maiden. 

Tranquility by Dan Namingha

Tranquility by Dan Namingha

This was my favorite of Dan’s pieces. It evokes the peace and calm of the Hopi landscape. 

Cardinal Directions by Dan Namingha

Cardinal Directions #17 by Dan Namingha

This painting made me think of looking down a long hallway.  The four cardinal directions are very important in Hopi culture and each is symbolized by a different color which is featured in the inner frame. Yellow is for north, red for south, blue for west and white for east. The colors frame what seems to be a glowing yellow light at the centre of the painting. 

Receding Rain Cloud by Dan Namingha

Receding Rain Cloud by Dan Namingha

It doesn’t rain very often on the Hopi nation, only about 10 inches of rain and snow a year so rain is very important.

West of Oraibi by Dan Namingha

West of Oraibi by Dan Namingha

This is a painting of the landscape west of  Oraibi one of oldest most continuously inhabited villages in the United States. It is over a 1000 years old. We lived in Kykostmovi which is at the base of the third Hopi mesa and Oraibi was the village at the top of the third mesa. It is where we went to church, to shop in a little village store and my friend and I made our way through the village every morning on our walks.

I was very taken with Dan Namingha’s artwork and it brought back lots of memories for me. If you want to see more of his art go to the Niman Fine Art Gallery website. 

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January 17, 2013 · 9:15 am