so what did you do this weekend?

Have you ever been so tired from talking at work that your face starts to hurt? But you keep going because you still have another hour and a half left. Your head hurts. Your neck hurts. You feel like you have heard yourself say the same thing way too many times?

I volunteer at the Superstition Mtn. Museum. A big part of my role at the museum is helping our guests understand the history behind the Apacheland Movie Ranch memorabilia we have. Apacheland filmed movies, TV shows and commercials from 1960 until it burned down on Valentines Day 2004. The only structures unharmed were the barn and the chapel and they were moved to the museum grounds.img_4250

I work in the barn in the General Store on Saturdays and for the last year I have watched the western movie “Charro!” as I sell ice cream and trinkets. Elvis made “Charro!” at Apacheland in 1969. He plays a gritty cowboy. There is no singing in the movie. Elvis does sing the opening song but you don’t see him. It’s a fun movie. I watch it roughly 2.5 times a shift. I have the t-shirt for it. I am in a unique club of people who have it memorized.  So far, I am the only member I know of but I’m sure there are more of us out there.IMG_0701

This weekend we had a big event at the museum. Amazing artists came for three days to showcase their work.IMG_1402

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The museum also has a lecture series on Thursdays while the weather is fabulous. You get to learn all kinds of cool stuff for free. Hundreds of people show up to these lectures.img_8527

I am told this past Thursday they talked about Dia de los Muertos/ Day of the Dead and asked the artists if they wanted to put up a display/altar for this weekend. They did. It is fabulous. It is in the Elvis chapel.

(Side note for any out there not familiar..Dia is celebrated Oct 31, Nov 1 and 2 and this is March 10,11 and 12.)

I said yes to volunteering an extra day, going in on Friday and Saturday. I was told I would be a “wrapper” (…of course I rapped…badly…at my crispy but adorable boss. Apparently, that is the standard response and his blank face at me made me enjoy my stupidity even more.)

I get over to the barn and start sweating profusely when I really realize what they are actually asking me to do. Oh, that hand painted one of a kind pottery people are paying lots of money for? Yeah Stace, wrap it up and bag it while they go pay and make sure you give them the right bags when they come back. Don’t drop, chip, bump…breathe…..!!!!!IMG_1424

The wrapping station is in the barn in an old movie prop Saloon area that is too small for me and the elderly volunteer couple I am assigned with. IMG_4264 (1) (actual space…yes we moved the props, no those are not the other volunteers)

The barn is filled with artists showing original works, some worth thousands.IMG_1399

I’m terrified.

My boss comes back about five minutes later…I am needed elsewhere.

Halleluiah thank you baby Jesus! I can’t get out of there fast enough.

“Where am I going?” I ask but honestly don’t care.

As I am being escorted over to the Elvis chapel I am given the edited, ridiculously shortened, a third of a readers digest version of why. The Dia display combined with the Elvis chapel is making some of our guests brains explode (not exactly my bosses wording but…)IMG_1439

I had no idea what this weeks lecture was about. Bad volunteer me I didn’t go. Spank me. All I knew was we had three days of artists coming and it gets busy.

I am also “half Italian and half some form of English Irish mutt mix” is what my dad used to say, who knows. But I’m not Mexican, so no, I can’t give you a museum level run down on Dia de los Muertos on less than a two minute notice with no prep. Sugar skulls are cool. Dia isn’t in March. It’s a celebration. That’s the extent of my Dia knowledge.

But I sure as hell can tell you about Elvis in Charro! and my boss knew it. Plus, he knows my sense of humor and how shy I am….

Throw Stace into the Dia de Elvis Chapel for two days and see what happens.IMG_1441

Instantly its go time.

About two hours in there’s a lull in traffic and I’m alone. A banana falls from the top of the altar sending fruit and candles tumbling onto the floor. My completely inappropriate response to this is to quietly whisper/yell “fuuuuucccckk!!!!”as I am diving to the floor for the fruit and candles.

I have no clue how to put it back and now of course people are coming in. I hastily put the fruit and candle over to the side, positive both my dead grandma and mother just knocked me upside the head from the grave for messing up an altar and cussing at it.

The “Elvis Chapel” is only in the background of the Elvis movie and the top gets blown up. They did not film inside of it for Charro! but I am told Elvis did go inside during breaks.

Combining Elvis with the fact that this chapel didn’t burn down when practically everything else at Apacheland did, well, you will never convince a die-hard Elvis fan that THAT chapel isn’t special. Add hundreds if not thousands of weddings performed to date in the chapel. It’s a special building.IMG_6237

The outside of the chapel photographs beautifully with the Superstition behind it. The chapel is famous in it’s own right but most of our guests have the facts all wrong. Two days of “ no, Elvis didn’t get married here….”, “no…this is not Apacheland this is the museum….” “…you’re right, today isn’t Dia de los Muertos….”

My face hurts.

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The Better Weather Game

“I don’t know how you live here in the Summer.” Not so much a question but more of a statement directed at my sanity for living somewhere that sustains temperatures in the 100’s for months at a time. I say the exact same thing to people who can live in snow. “I don’t know how you live there in the Winter.”

As a desert dweller, I love to be warm. Hotter the better. Warm to me does not go below 75. At 70 I question a sweater. Down to 65 I now am wearing layers. If we reach 60 this lizard is whining about freezing and searching for her ear muffs. Single digit temps or even wind chills in the negatives? You’re going to have to set me on fire.

The Canadian travelers I meet this time of year at the museum where I volunteer, openly laugh at how bundled I will be in such “pleasant” weather.IMG_8533.JPG But I tease these Snow Birds right back. They want to stay “pleasant” all year round? Never getting much past say, oh, 78 degrees eh? That sounds awful to me. I need that blast of sunshine a good 350 days out of the year! Plus, I enjoy a tan. Then we laugh and share stories. Total strangers talking, laughing and connecting… about the weather.

The smell of rain in the desert is wonderful. We need the rain, but I’m good after a day or two. During Monsoon season the storms just roll through.IMG_5677.JPG I’m good with that. Weeks or months of grey skies and rain or snow? Nope.

Snow birds “Yeah, we don’t do that either, eh. That’s why we come here for 6 months.”

My husband and I lived in Port Royal, South Carolina for a year. It was there I was officially introduced to humidity. We are not friends. For a lotion slathering, dried out, desert kid, I could barely comprehend the smothering feeling that occurred every time I stepped outside. I spent 90 percent of my time at the beach, not to tan but to get what felt like fresh air blowing around me. SC also has more tiny flying bugs than I prefer but Port Royal is beautiful.img_0615

But almost immediately living there I realized I didn’t need lotion anymore. In the desert, for me at least, applying lotion happens all day every day and my skin still wants to be dry. I plan to make you all a video showing how quick a regular piece of bread dries out here in the Summer. It will be our little Science project so when we talk dry heat we mean DRY heat.

Does it make it easier to be in the extreme heat when it’s dry? For me it does. Hot in humidity to me was yucky, bad, smothering, wet, nasty that included flying bugs and having some form of repellant onIMG_0563.JPG

Hot in the desert…well, there ain’t much flying, more like circling overhead. Are those heat waves moving across the road…? My shins are burning from the radiant heat coming off the pavement… the SPF 75 should be strong enough… it’s a dry heat.

I say the same about the cold. I’m fine if it’s dry and windy but wet and cold? It literally hurts my feelings.img_4505

Everyone has their own personal opinion on what the perfect weather is. That’s what makes the weather one of the oldest universal topics of conversation. No one even expects to agree about it! It’s a badge of honor to brag about the weather conditions you come from and what your preference is.

Where you were born and raised seems to also play a big part. Through my many absurdly non -informed conversations with Snow Birds we have come to the conclusion blood thins or thickens due to heat or cold where you live. Is this medically sound? No idea. Doesn’t matter anyways. It sounds good and is part of playing the Better Weather Game. Why you like what you like has a simple answer “It’s in the blood.”IMG_7079.JPG

Snow as high as your roof versus bright and sunny? Rainy versus the ocean sunset? We all play because the Better Weather Game really has no right or wrong. You can’t compare a tornado with ten feet of snow. But both are worth talking about. Or how about a wall of dust so dark it blinds entire freeways? Flash floods? Winds tearing off roofs?

We all have moments where the weather gets extreme to the point of questioning our sanity.

I guess unless you are a Snow Bird…. eh?

 

 

 

Bee Cause

If you play along and are one of those who read my madness on a regular basis, you already know all of my photographs are taken on my iPad mini. Getting a shot of a bee flying means I am up close and personal. I am not using a high-powered zoom from a yard away.

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This limitation has allowed me to learn how to relax and be in the moment. To take such intimate pictures I, at the very minimum, must be tolerated in the bees’ space or I will get hurt. Plain and simple. To be honest, I am more afraid of the hummingbirds. Thank goodness they don’t have stingers! I was dive bombed by a seriously angry hummingbird trying to get this shot.img_7692

img_7686The bees I watch have no time nor patience to be bothered by anything. Flowers are in bloom now. Period. They don’t seem to want to share flowers either. I have witnessed midair buzzes, heated discussions on the matter. Basically, its get your own flower.img_7923

And again, if you have been playing along you also know I claim to be nothing more than Desert. I am not the bee expert nor am I trying to be here. I cannot name these particular bees nor am I going to give lectures on them.

I love honey as much as Winnie the Pooh. It’s that simple. Bees are valuable, endangered and get a bad, reputation.

Did you know:

A honey bee dies after it stings.

 

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My purpose has always been to take everyone to the desert with me. To share with anyone who wants to see, hear about or experience the amazing Arizona desert that bumps up against the Superstition Mountain.

This desert is not always brown and dry. We have seasons. When it rains, we bloom. Overnight flowers pop up. The temperatures have been in the upper 60’s to 70’s with mild winds. I giggled when I almost fell over trying to capture a bee flying into a lightly blowing flower.IMG_9764.JPG

I must move slowly. I have to relax and not send off crazy energy at this tiny flying creature. Can you imagine Godzilla hovering over your every move shoving a huge black square towards you? Yes, keep that image of me.

Respect is what I believe allows me to stand there unharmed. Time and again the bees have ignored my presence and worked as if nothing else mattered. Taking these types of photos does not happen in one or two shots…I’m there for a while.

I don’t swat at them or move them or the flowers. I am just there. It’s a form of meditation. I follow the flight. The focus. The persistence. The knowing if you just keep searching there is more out there to find, gather and store.

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I see flowers…

I remember me as a little kid in the desert looking for things to do, having been sent outside to play. Alone and bored, I would notice tiny flowers. Mostly tiny yellow ones but there were also tiny purple ones and tiny white ones.img_9217

Carefully picking them with enough stem to put in a vase once I got back home, I would gather these delicate flowers until my hands were full.img_9216

I remember proudly walking in to the house with my dirty little fists full of the bounty of wild desert flowers I had collected all those long, hot hours wandering around outside alone.img_9219

Finding my Mom in the kitchen, I could hardly wait to give them to her, positive she would just rave at what a wonderful child I was.

My mom turned, looked at my offering and flatly said “Stacy those are weeds.” Then turned back to her dishes.

I remember arguing that if she looked close enough they were flowers, forcing her to see. Being a mom, she grabbed a Dixie cup and humored me along by putting them on the window sill then sending me right back outside.

As I got a little older, one of my main chores was to weed along the fence line. My parents, now convinced I’m the family expert on the matter, figured I should have no problem locating them and removing them.

No dead heading allowed. If I had a pile of snapped off weed tops to put in the wheel barrow at the end of the work day I had hell to pay. I better have a pile of weeds that look a lot like sad undeveloped carrots with visible roots if I had any chance of getting to go out that night.

Now as an adult, I live on 2.5 acres in the amazing desert that bumps right up against the Superstition Mountain. Things have started to bloom all over due to recent rains and our never-ending sunshine. I spend hours outside alone still but enjoy it so much more now that I’m taking pictures to share with everyone.

I may not pick those tiny little colorful buds and put them in Dixie cups anymore but I will argue all day long that I don’t see weeds… I still see flowers.img_9270

The Bone Yard

In the far back right corner of our property sits a grouping of trees and cactus and rocks. And a bone yard.

We bought this house and property from a lovely elderly couple. The bone yard is their work. I am no anthropologist but I’m saying its Dinosaur.

If I was my 8 year old self it would be. Guaranteed. Dinosaur.

Bones scattered as far as my 8 year old child’s eye and mind can imagine! Bones everywhere! Bones hiding under trees so there’s actually some shade and relief from the awful heat! Can it get any better?

My adult self is jealous.

Growing up I was told to go outside to play. Now people I want you to really think about that. If you have read my post “Desert Cred” you know part of my childhood was spent in Baker CA.” Gateway to Death Valley”. I’m living in the hottest, middle of nowhere desert and I’m told to “go outside and play.” That’s when I learned to catch lizards.

Thanks Mom.

Actually the 8 year old me had moved to a much larger desert town by comparison… Hesperia CA (This is 1976 and that was a joke)

Now, I had hoped, if I’m lucky, there is another child possibly my age living somewhere only miles away. But no, sadly my hour morning bus ride to school proved all ten or 12 of us desert children were separated by miles and miles of not much.

So I played outside alone. Don’t feel pity. I’m a desert kid. I’m desert strong. I can play outside in the heat alone. Please.

The shrubs and bushes and trees by my home in Hesperia did not have a hidden bone yard for me to uncover. Had it, I would have never come back inside the house.

I used to steal my mom’s spoons and go dig in the dirt, mostly believing I was digging a tunnel to my best friend’s house so we didn’t have to keep asking for rides to each other’s houses. 1976. No cell phones just one loud main phone ringing to announce that you want your friend to come over with her spoon to dig in the dirt with you. That means asking one of the Moms to drive you over in the station wagon, leave you there and then drive back a few hours later to pick you up. Oh and it’s 110 degrees outside.

So I would dig alone.

Eight year old me would have died and gone to heaven had I found ANYTHING let alone a whole bone! My little heart wouldn’t have been able to take a whole YARD of bones!

So yes, still after more than eight months living here I get twinges of jealousy when I glance over at the bone yard. I know I can’t just plop down there and dig with one of my spoons. It’s not the same. And I really don’t need to by secretly photographed doing that either.

The bone yard will stay as it is. No raking it up or clearing it away. This treasure is waiting for future generations to discover.

Intro to Wildlife Photography: Second Semester

If this were an actual class and the teacher asked me what have I learned so far I would have to say ” Oh honey grab you a drink and sit down…this is going to take a while…”img_7172-2

I live in Gold Canyon Arizona. It is at the base of the Superstition Mountain. Though there are golf courses and mansions all around there is still  plenty of natural desert for all the native critters to roam. Our house sits on top and over looks 2.5 acres of desert. Home to coyote, javelina, jackrabbits the size of a dog, snakes, birds, and the list goes on and on.

The amount of nature plus stunning beauty out here is almost overwhelming to me. I want to photograph everything I see but it is not that easy when you are talking about wild animals and I work with an iPad. Instead of making the excuse of needing high-powered equipment, I push to see what I can do with what I have. ( read Intro to Wildlife Photography if you are confused)

The local coyotes I have recorded and posted numerous times. I wish someone would pay me to study them and the howls they make. They are beyond ridiculous. They yip and howl and party all night. Then, they do that gangsta style trot on the way home in the morning. I love them. But me taking a good picture of one is not going to happen unless it’s blind luck. Oh I see them in the day time quite often but has never been close enough or me quick enough. Honestly sometimes I’m still just in awe watching them roam that I don’t want to miss the random glimpse to run off and grab a camera. The most coyote I have seen in our back acreage at a time was six making their way over to a seventh that had been howling earlier. This was in the mid-morning and sunny out.Construction is happening over on the golf course and I think the coyotes were having a meeting about it.img_0250

The Javelinas deserved and got their own article posted “…wasting the day away in Javelinaville” They are a handful and I have no plans on getting closer for your entertainment.img_8474

Which leads me to having a huge tarantula on the front door. Another experience that prompted a full post ” Shut the Front Door!” img_1404

I no longer hope to take a simple good picture. Oh no! Nature out here says ” You wanna come play? Let’s do this.”img_6714

The awareness of what is actually living in some of these holes has changed my flopping onto the ground with abandon. img_1429

I have been circled by a bird large enough to do me some damage. Seven vultures one day made me question my dog Tucker’s safety. Again another post.img_3954-2

Zooming in requires me to now forget my surroundings. Ask the bunnies or the quail, pay attention to your surroundings.img_7274-2

I have learned about old wives tales and birds in your house. One in the house is supposed to fore shadow death! img_6503

Not too sure what it means if it happens regularly except close the doors. Of course I wrote about that ” An Old Wives Tale”img_6592I have learned patience.

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Wild animals have their own rhythm. They do what they do.img_6797

If I’m lucky I see it. img_4733

So for this semester I give me a B.

 

 

…wasting the day away in Javelinaville

7:30 pm. Javelina time. The family of four that roam our area have been seen in our front planter often enough around this time to put higher bets on the possibility of seeing them…

but they are wild so…all bets are off.

The fence is flimsy, temporary and meant to stop a seventeen year old dog from falling down the hill when he wobbly lifts a leg to pee. The area is just off the back porch and runs the length of the house. It was never meant to hold, corral or deter an angry and confused Javelina.

The dogs need to go outside to pee so I open the sliding glass door. This will again answer the ongoing question of why we don’t have a doggie door.

I have let my guard down and not looked outside to see if we were alone before opening the door nor have I turned on the back-porch light. Tucker, small and insane, immediately charges to the left along with Cotton close behind. The Javelina are out there and the dogs know it. Though they have been all over our property at one time or another, this back area is not the usual Javelina route.

Tuckers spiney backed, over the top barking, answered by grunting snorting confusion sends both Tucker and Cotton running straight back into the house. These spoiled little dogs are NO match for a Javelina of any size. Pretty sure one of the good-sized Jack rabbits around here could kick both their ass.

So now we have a startled Javelina who has charged our “fence” and is way too close for comfort. From safely behind our sliding glass door we watch as this confused and adrenaline filled animal realizes he is trapped inside our back fenced area and without a second thought he makes a run directly at the fence and breaks free.

This is our new normal.

Now this video I took just a few days ago but I put it towards the top for you who don’t read all the way down.

 

 

When I moved to Gold Canyon I became obsessed with the wildlife around us. Born and raised desert you would think I would be unfazed. As a child in Baker all I ever saw were lizards and sidewinder tracks. In Hesperia CA or even Mesa AZ, I don’t recall ever seeing any critters. But Gold Canyon is different. I am surrounded by nature. I am in the middle of it. The Superstition Mountain is overwhelmingly beautiful. The desert is alive. It’s that constant nagging, that fear that I’m going to miss something, that leaves me spending more time than not staring out the windows.

Within the first week of moving here the Javelinas made their presence known. Happily munching on cactus in our front planter, a family of three good sized Javelina were mere feet from our window. It was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. They uprooted a cactus and seemed completely unconcerned as I tapped on the window asking them to get out of my planter. Momma Javelina rolled her eyes at me I swear.IMG_1300 (1).JPG

Now I spend most days keeping an eye out for them. The wash below our house seems to be a regular spot of theirs. Our house is on a hill. I can safely stare out the kitchen window and watch as the Javelina wander their way across the open desert.

Just a few days ago I was outside watching the now family of four. I squint and stare and feel the excitement as I see Momma Javelina scoot her little nugget along with Jr and, by his size and coloring, Poppa Javelina. He’s impressive.

I’m proud to know they are doing well against all the dangers they face daily. The wash behind us is coyote territory no question. I see at minimum one coyote regularly and have seen as many as six at one time making their way over to meet up with a howling seventh. That wash is not safe to casually walk through. I have never seen the Javelinas over there.

Another recent night around 7:30 pm my “bark first ask questions later” dog Tucker takes off outside losing his mind at the fence. We look out the window to see FIVE Javelina in our front yard only mere feet from our living room window and even closer to Tucker. One Javelina is staring Tucker down. They have TWO babies not one. Poppa Javelina is huge and ready to defend but it’s Jr. that’s in the staring contest.

 

We grab Tucker and go inside so everything will settle down and we can watch what the Javelina will do. Jr. is still staring at nothing. Javelina have poor eyesight. Combined with not being the brightest animal it was going to take a while before Jr. would be convinced Tucker was not behind the fence anymore. Frozen like a statue, he stood there in the dark staring.

We shut off all the inside lights so we could get a better view of outside. Though prickly pear, a Javelina favorite, grows all over our property, this planter has nothing growing in it. We have nothing that we know of attracting them to walk all the way up here. As I said, we live up on a hill between two washes, this would make for a decent trek with little pay off.

Now a momma of any sort is usually not the beast to upset. This Momma Java has two babies to protect in a land swarming with coyotes. You think she’s edgy? Damn right she is. Poppa Java is big and bristly. I can see why the ‘yotes have left them alone. He is more than double their size and this Poppa is on alert. One look at him and I’m sure the coyotes are like “uh… let’s go chase a rabbit…”

Saturday. 7 ish in the morning the dogs go out back to pee. Immediately theres a problem. The dogs charge to the left side of the yard. The Javelina family is wandering on up at a different time…morning. We never see them up here in the morning! I usually don’t see them until the late afternoon or evening. The dogs startle them enough to send them running off.

Now… grabbing for an iPad to take a shot of any of this is ridiculous but I do it anyways. For you. You’re welcome. I get nothing.

It’s been really cold for us lately so we have been building fires in the fireplace at night. My husband and the dogs start to head out side and over to the garage to grab more wood when the dogs realize the Javelina family is out there in the dark with them. Tucker has no sense and Cotton has even less so my heart goes into my chest when I hear the panic in my husband’s voice as he’s telling the dogs to get into the house. Miraculously, two dogs that normally only sort of pay attention when they are called both come running back to the house.

I step outside and can still hear the grunting and snorting but cannot see them.

The most recent encounter I was able to safely catch on video. Thats the one up top.

The other morning the Javelina family were making their way across the bottom of our property to head over to the wash. I figured if I moved slowly and stayed far enough back maybe I could get a picture or two. As I reached the side of the garage the big male changed his course and now was taking a path that could lead directly to me. I quietly eased behind the car thinking if he spots me and charges I’m climbing up on the hood! He notices me but just freezes and stares. I videoed it for a few but realized he literally doesn’t move so what is the point? Hoping to change his path I shuffle a bit and that’s enough to send him trotting down the lower trail and over with the family.img_8471img_8477img_8474

Gee…thanks?

My dad used to make the best oyster stuffing for Thanksgiving. Not only was the flavor amazing but the texture spot on. Not dry, not mushy, wonderfully sturdy enough to hold its own against a mountain of homemade gravy. Yummy stuff worth fighting family members over.

I don’t know why oyster. My dad was not really the type of man who was going to be your next star on a food channel explaining why. He spent very little time in the kitchen except for Thanksgiving when he took over completely. The kitchen became a no kid zone. I was not permitted to get in my father’s way on such an important cooking day. I truly have no idea how he made his stuffing. I’m almost positive some, if not all of the stuffing went into the bird, then came out, then went in the oven in separate pans with or without raisins. Labor intensive and highly monitored is what I remember. No notes were ever taken.

Years back, sweet, loving, friends of mine tried to recreate my father’s oyster stuffing for me. Waves of terror rolled through me when they informed me of this fact that fateful Thanksgiving afternoon. My fear made substantially worse when told how difficult it was for them to find the oysters.

I grew up in the desert in Hesperia CA. Guaranteed our oysters came from a can from an ordinary grocery store. My father went to no extremes to locate a single ingredient for his stuffing. What on earth had my friends bought and in what quantities? Please don’t tell me you spent hours in the kitchen turning into a grumpy and stressed old man too!

Obviously I had raved too much about loving my dad’s stuffing. So much so that now people who love me have invited me into their home for a special meal and have gone to great lengths to try to make it in my honor.

I brace myself as an oven warm ceramic container of soupy gray is presented to me at the table with pride. All eyes on me.

I cannot print the response my father would have had he seen it.

Mixed into mashed potatoes it tasted just fine. Not much else was going to help the color or texture. I will be eternally thankful I never told my friends we used to make stuffing sandwiches with it the next day!