Monday, December 31, 2007

Suggestion For a New Year's Resolution

You know you have moments here and there when your hands are idle—riding in the car, watching TV, sitting in meetings, or chatting with friends. Why not use that time to produce some warm mittens, socks, hats, simple baby quilts, or sweaters for someone in need? If you’ve been reading this blog for any time, you know that I make hand-knit sweaters for Knit for Kids. I’m on sweater number 32 right now, and all of them have been created with time that would otherwise have been wasted. It warms my heart to think that some little kids might be more comfortable this winter because I put my spare minutes to work.

Here are some links to web sites that will get you started, no matter what your craft or level of expertise. Why not pass on this information to other people who might help out? You might even organize a group at your club or church to work on projects together.

Charity Connection:
Search by craft or organization, and by zip code to find a local charity that needs what you make.

Crafting for a Cause:
Many crafts are represented here, including quilted sleeping bags for the homeless. Patterns are included.

Handmade for Charity:
Baby blankets, sweaters for adopted kids, blankets to make animals in shelters more comfortable, afghans for Afghans, socks for soldiers—here are all kinds of crafts: Knitting, crocheting, quilting, etc.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Lights in Clovis

I've been experimenting with nighttime photography without a tripod. The pictures of our house and neighborhood so far are very out of focus, so I'll have to try again. However, these shots taken down at Jimenez Custom Harvesting came out much better. Apparently, the guys down at Jimenez spend several days setting up this display and have done an incredible job. You can enjoy the animation if you drive by 1000 W. Brady Ave..

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Around New Mexico

For those of you, like Towanda in Kansas, who may be far away but still thinking about Christmas in New Mexico, here are some links to videos that will give you a tiny bit of the flavor of the season here.

Farolitos on Canyon Road in Santa Fe: (has some odd audio)

Lights on the Plaza in Santa Fe:

Las Posadas, Taos, NM:
Learn about some Northern New Mexico beliefs: The miracle at El Santuario de Chimayo y Santa Niño de Atocha, Santa Niño’s empty basket, and the Ceremonia de Compadrismo.

Christmas on the Pecos Parade, Carlsbad, NM:

Clayton, NM Christmas Light Parade:

Living Christmas Tree, Las Cruces:

Christmas Lights of Clovis:

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Mall in Clovis

I'm not much of a shopper. I know that's practically un-American to say, but there it is. When faced with absolutely having to buy something I'd much rather do it online that to have to trudge from store to store looking for a particular item. I do my best to support local industries when I can, but you will rarely, if ever, find me out shopping just for fun.

However, Harry O from the City-Data New Mexico Forum asked if I could get some exterior and interior photos of our local shopping mall, so I headed on over there this morning. It was fairly early for shoppers, I guess, because at 10:30 AM there were lots of parking places available. I wandered around the parking lot, getting shots of the bigger stores, then went inside. I was hoping to get some pictures of everything all decorated for Christmas, but was soon stopped by a nice mall employee who told me that for "legal reasons"
interior photos of the North Plains Mall are not allowed. I was pretty embarrassed and kind of worried that he would want to confiscate my beloved new camera (purchased online, of course), but instead we chatted a while about malls in general. I found out that GGP (General Growth Properties, Inc.), the company that owns the Clovis mall, owns over 200 regional malls in 44 states; and that Habitat for Humanity is their corporate charity of choice. We parted in good spirits with holiday smiles and I scampered out to the car, glad to have escaped a run-in with mall security.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Dangerous Childhood

The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden. Collins, 2007. 270 pages.

When I was a child in the 1940s and 1950s, our neighborhood in San Francisco was noisy with the shouts and cries of the children who lived there. We rode our bikes, we roller-skated, we played dodgeball, and we played jump rope. We raced on foot, on bikes, on scooters, and on skates. We took our skates apart and used the wheels on various invented riding vehicles. In quieter moments, we sat on stoops and played jacks and pickup sticks. We collected rocks and cracked them open on the sidewalk, always searching for that elusive geode. We played every sort of game of “pretend” that we could dream up, most memorably something called Covered Wagon, where we used a sturdy wooden gate as a wagon seat for the lucky wagon-driver-of-the-day, while the rest of us hunched down behind him in the “wagon” bed as we traveled west. We took turns playing good guys and bad guys, riding pretend horses and shooting at each other with our cap guns. We ran, we skipped, we hopped, we jumped, and we turned cartwheels. We fell off our bikes, my sister’s foot got caught in the spokes of my bike when I gave her a highly illegal ride on the back fender, my friend Skippy broke his arm roller-skating, and Trudy’s little brother broke several things when he discovered that he couldn’t fly off a second story porch. It was an exuberant, vigorous, and yes, somewhat dangerous life, at least by today’s standards. In those days it was just what kids did all day until called in for supper.

The Igguldens remember that kind of childhood, one where every day was spent outside playing. It’s the kind of childhood that doesn’t exist any more, for whatever reason. They have written a book that might inspire some of today’s kids to have some adventures, covering every subject that kids—boys especially—get excited about. Keep this book on your bedside table and grab it up when you wonder how to make a tripwire, or a paper airplane, or a bow and arrow; or if you’re wondering about the stars, or the clouds, or the tides, or famous battles; or if you want to read extraordinarily inspiring stories about courage and bravery. It’s all here, from tying knots to Shakespeare, from skipping stones or cooking a rabbit to the Ten Commandments.

The Igguldens are unapologetic about providing instructions for potentially dangerous activities which they note “…should be carried out under adult supervision,” although they obviously realize that children have secret lives that adults know nothing about; and they aren’t afraid to inspire and instruct: “Stories of courage and determination are sometimes underrated for their ability to inspire.

This is the second book I have read on my personal challenge list. I didn’t actually read it from cover to cover, as it is a kind of reference book, to be picked up and perused before going off on another adventure. I think that it is the perfect book for my grandson, an inspiration for bringing back a healthy kind of childhood, full of exploration and excitement.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dear Bradley

Dear Bradley,

I’d like to tell you something about the retirement gift you left on my desk last year on my very last day of being a school librarian. I was just about to walk out the door when I saw it lying there. I knew that by then you were back in class, and I knew if I said good-bye to one more person I would start to cry. I also knew that, once started, I would have a hard time stopping. I was leaving so much behind—my career, my school, my library, my friends, and my wonderful students. So, I tucked your present into my pocket and continued on my way. When we got to our new home in a new state where I didn’t know anyone, I put your gift on my bedside table, with its little note still attached.

I don’t even know what to call the little gadget you gave me. I guess it’s a desk toy, shaped like a little hourglass. It reminds me of a tiny lava lamp, and when it is turned over the bubbles shift into a new design. Every time I see it, I turn it over and think about you. It brings back all my old school memories. When I turn the little “fidget gadget” over--

-I remember when you first came to school, a brand new first grader and a good reader already.
-I picture your cute little-boy "skater" haircut.
-I think about how kind you were to your classmates in 2nd grade, even when they weren’t being lovable.
-I remember your first disagreement with your best friend, and how hurt you were.
-I think about the tragedy that struck your family. It was way too much sadness for a little boy. Even the adults at school were worried about what to say when you came back, but you put us all at ease with your matter-of-fact approach and frank words.
-I picture your kind smile.

You are almost a whole year older now, a big third grader. Even though I mailed you a thank you note for the gift long ago, you have probably forgotten all about it. Perhaps the gifts we give that we hardly notice can turn out to be the most important ones.

Bradley, I just wanted you to know how much you gave in a moment you might not even remember. Funny, it’s just a little gift for which I have no name, but it means all the world to me.

Mrs. Z

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tony Hillerman: The Man and His Books

Every time we travel through the Four Corners area my eyes follow those little dusty roads that disappear off over the horizon. I find myself thinking about Tony Hillerman’s characters Jim Chee, Bernie Manuelito, and Joe Leaphorn, driving alone to some far-off hogan to investigate a mysterious death. The books of Tony Hillerman are set in this part of the country, and although I started reading them long before I came to New Mexico I could already see those lonely little roads in my mind’s eye.

Hillerman writes with respect and knowledge about both the Navajos (as exemplified by Leaphorn and Chee) and the Hopis (the wonderfully named Cowboy Dashee, for example). In reading his books, you learn about this part of the country and its peoples--their beliefs, their ceremonies, their prayers, their homes, and their customs and traditions.

While I've been a fan for many years, here is what I’ve always wondered about Tony Hillerman: How accurately does he portray Native Americans and what do they think about his writing?

In searching for the answer to this question, the most helpful and complete biographical information that I have found so far online is from the Public Broadcasting System’s Mystery! web site. Here is a quote I found there: Although the tribe has named him a Special Friend of the Dineh [Navajo people] for his accurate portrayals of Navajo life, Hillerman still worries about getting it wrong. He reads copiously and runs his manuscripts by Navajo friends to check not only for accuracy, but for believability as well. He even had a Navajo English class in Shiprock consider a subplot he was planning to see if it would work. When the students said no, he junked it. "For me, studying the [Navajo] has been absolutely fascinating," Hillerman told Publishers Weekly, "and I think it's important to show [my readers that] aspects of ancient Indian ways are still very much alive and are highly germane."

It's also interesting to note that Hillerman has also received the Center for the American Indian's Ambassador Award, and the Silver Spur Award for the best novel set in the West, in addition to a great many other awards.

For a chronology of Hillerman’s books and reviews of each one:

For information about the films that have been made from Hillerman’s books:

To get some insight into Hillerman’s character, his writing process, and how he
feels about the Navajo people, read the PBS Interview with Tony Hillerman:

See a video interview of Hillerman at

Tony Hillerman’s web site:

Thursday, December 6, 2007

"Feeling Uncomfortable in This World"*

Born on a Blue Day; Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant. A Memoir, by Daniel Tammet. New York: Free Press, 2007.

This is the first book that I’ve read from my personal challenge list and reading it has made me very glad to have embarked on this project. This is an amazing book, both because of the author’s “extraordinary mind,” and because he is able to describe what is going on inside his head in such a clear way. Reading his descriptions made me realize that understanding the thought processes of anyone to such a degree would make incredibly fascinating reading; being given this chance to look inside the mind of an autistic savant is like traveling to another planet. Daniel’s mind works in ways that are so unique—well, let me give you a few examples.

Before reading these quotes, you need to know that Daniel has a rare condition known as savant syndrome—think Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man. He experiences numbers in a visual and emotional way that is called synesthesia, and his synesthesia is an unusual and complex type, through which he sees “numbers as shapes, colors, textures, and motions.” Daniel is able to perform incredibly complex computations in his head, and he is able to give us an inkling of how that process works and what it feels like. Here are a few quotes from the first chapter:

“The number 1, for example, is a brilliant and bright white, like someone shining a flashlight into my eyes."

"Five is a clap of thunder or the sound of waves crashing against rocks. Thirty-seven is lumpy like porridge, while 89 reminds me of falling snow."

"When I divide one number by another, in my head I see a spiral rotating downwards in larger and larger loops, which seem to warp and curve. Different divisions produce different sizes of spirals with varying curves. From my mental imagery I'm able to calculate a sum like 13 [divided by] almost a hundred decimal places."

As a child, Daniel hardly noticed his peers, and kept to the edges of any social gathering. He is able to describe in great detail what exactly was going on in his head during these childhood years—what he was thinking at times when he appeared to others to be merely staring at a spot on the floor for hours at a time, or rocking, or walking around and around trees in the schoolyard.

Daniel brings us along on his journey from being an isolated loner to growing into a young adult within a loving relationship--"from profound isolation and sadness to achievement and happiness," as Daniel says in his NPR interview . I have known children with autism, and I wanted to find them all and give them this book to read so that they would know that someone else had experienced life in a way that was similar to their internal experiences.


To read an excerpt from the book, listen to a powerful interview with Daniel and with autism experts, and to hear callers with questions about autism, go to the National Public Radio program Talk of the Nation at It was extremely touching to me to hear Daniel describe his experiences in his beautifully quiet voice, and there was a heartbreaking moment when a caller named Ethan, who was apparently autistic, said that for him the "candle wasn't worth the game."

While you're on the Talk of the Nation page, be sure to scroll down and check out the links for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a novel featuring a math whiz who has Asperger's, and the interview with Temple Grandin, a livestock facility designer who is autistic.

Daniel's web site, Optimnem, can be seen at

Find out about the documentary Brainman, which follows some of Daniel's experiences: For other excerpts and information about this documentary, Google "Brainman."

Daniel Tammet Meets Kim Peek (who was the original inspiration for Rain Main):

To see other videos about Daniel, search "Daniel Tammet" or "Brainman" on YouTube:

*The title of this post is a quote from Daniel in the NPR interview

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A "Few" Good Books; Our Mass Collaboration

I admit it--I'm compulsive, or I wouldn't be a librarian. I couldn't leave well enough alone and just had to go through your comments on the Looking for a Few Good Books post and put everything in alphabetical order. Here they are--all 68 titles (so far) that we recommended to each other. If you want to read the original comment, I have included the name of the person who recommended the book. Just go to Looking for a Few Good Books and scroll down to the comments section.

-Baker: Mezzanine (Benjamin)
-Barry: History of the Millennium (So Far) (brassring)
-Beyond Brokeback; the Impact of a Film (j)
-The Bible (j)
-Bin Laden: Inside the Kingdom (photokeeper)
-Blight: A Slave No More; Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation (Anonymous/JL)
-Boonshaft: Teaching Music with Passion (brassring)
-Box: Books featuring the character Joe Pickett [Savage Run, Trophy Hunt, for example] (photokeeper)
-Brashares: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (jacksonrnnr)
-Brown: I'm Just Here for the Food (Benjamin)
-Colbert: I am America (and So Can You) (clairz)
-Counselor: Wild, Woolly, and Wonderful (lin)--This book is out of print. Ask your librarian for a copy. Note: Lin originally posted the title for this book over on La Casa de Towanda. Because she is living off the grid and has electricity for just a short time each day, I was glad to copy and paste it here for her.
-Crystal: Seven Hundred Sundays (ameriaussie)
-Dante: The Divine Comedy (brassring)
-Denton (editor) : Plays and Playwrights 2006 (Benjamin)
-Diaz: Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (clairz)
-Dyer: Real Magic (brassring)
-Enright: The Gathering (clairz)
-Esquith: Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire (This title was recommended twice--by Anonymous/jl and clairz)
-Feinstein: Winter Games (b)
-Gilbert: Eat, Pray, Love (Anonymous/JL)
-Greenlaw: Slipknot (brassring)
-Gruen: Water for Elephants (ameriaussie)
-Horgan: Rational Mysticism, Spirituality Meets Science in the Search for Enlightenment (j)
-Hosseini: A Thousand Splendid Suns (clairz)
-Iggulden: Dangerous Book for Boys (clairz)
-IIibagiza: Left to Tell; Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan (Anonymous/jl )
-Joyce: Ulysses (b)
-Junge: Until the Final Hour (jacksonrnnr)
-Kakalios: Physics of Superheroes (Benjamin)
-King: Cell (brassring)
-King: Lisey's Story (brassring)
-Kitchell: Coyote Speaks (j)
-Kitchell: Get a God (j)
-Kitchell: God's (j)
-Kline: Shock Doctrine (S)
-The Koran (j)
-Kuo: Tempting Faith, An Inside Story of Political Seduction (j)
-Lao Tsu: Tao Te Ching [available online] (brassring)
-Mabry: Twice as Good: Condoleeza Rice and Her Path to Power (b)
-Mahoney: Down the Nile; Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff (Anonymous/jl)
-McCarthy: No Country for Old Men (b)
-McKay: Saffy's Angel (brassring)
-Miller: The Crucible (j)
-Montgomery: The Good, Good Pig (photokeeper)
-Moore: Lamb (S)
-Obeidi: The Bomb in My Garden (photokeeper)
-Ohler: What Next (ridin' geeky)
-Oliver: Why I Wake Early (j)
-Pica: Jump into Literacy (ameriaussie)
-Pratt: Radical Hospitality; Benedict's Way of Love (j)
-Preston: The Wild Trees; a Story of Passion and Daring (Anonymous/jl)
-Pullman: Golden Compass (jacksonrnnr)
-Saunders: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (jacksonrnnr)
-Schultz: 1000 Places to See Before You Die (jacksonrnnr)
-Sedaris: Me Talk Pretty Some Day (Benjamin)
-Sedaris: Naked (Benjamin)
-Taleb: Black Swan;Impact of the Highly Improbable (clairz)
-Tapscott: Wikinomics; How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (clairz)
-Tolstoy: War and Peace (brassring)
-Toole: Confederacy of Dunces (ridin' geeky)
-Tracy: Eat That Frog (Anonymous/jl)
-Troost: The Sex Lives of Cannibals (jacksonrnnr)
-Tsukiyama: The Street of a Thousand Blossoms (ameriaussie)
-Twitchell: Shopping for God; How Christianity Went from in Your Heart to in Your Face (b)
-Ung: First They Killed My Father (jacksonrnnr)
-Walter: The Zero (ridin' geeky)
-Weiner: Legacy of Ashes; the History of the CIA (b)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Hubbell Trading Post

The Hubbell Trading Post, now a National Historic Site, is located on the Navajo Reservation. It's in Ganado, Arizona near the intersection of Highways 264 and 191, on the site of the original Hubbell family 160-acre homestead. It is the oldest continuously operated trading post on the Navajo Reservation, and was purchased from earlier traders by John Lorenzo Hubbell (1853-1930) in 1878.

After the Navajos had been exiled by the U.S. government in 1864 to Bosque Redondo at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, they were finally allowed back in 1868 onto their ancestral homelands where today’s Navajo Reservation lies. Early on, the Navajos traded wool and sheep at the trading post for Anglo products like coffee, sugar, flour, etc. Later they began to trade rugs, jewelry, baskets, and pottery. You can read a more complete history in the Wikipedia article about the post.

Today the Hubbell Trading Post site consists of:
  • The Visitor Center, where you can watch demonstrations of Navajo rug weaving, see a small museum display, and purchase books.

  • The Hubbell family home, which you can tour during the summer months.

  • The fully active trading post, which still trades with members of the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and other tribes. There are rugs, baskets, jewelry, and other arts and crafts, such as kachinas, drums, and pots offered for sale.

There are two Native American arts and crafts auctions at the trading post each year; the next will be on Saturday, May 10, 2008.

Here’s an interesting fact. The trading post is on the Navajo Reservation, which recognizes Daylight Savings Time; the state of Arizona does not, and continues on Mountain Standard Time year round. Remember that during the months April-October, the reservation is thus one hour ahead of the rest of the state.

If you would like to look at some truly unique documents, see the drawings, photographs, newspaper articles about the Hubbell Trading Post in the Library of Congress American Memory Collection. Go to and search “Hubbell Trading Post.” You will be directed to 13 pages of lists of primary source and archival materials. The site is slow, but worth the wait.


Friends of Hubbell:

Hubbell Trading Post on DesertUSA:

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site:

Saturday, December 1, 2007

My Favorite Blogs

My favorite bone

You may have noticed my list of favorite blogs on the left side of this page. Here is a little additional information about each one. Go ahead, check them out--but beware of blog addiction!


-Bonobo Handshake: Vanessa is a writer and researcher with the Hominoid Psychology Research Group. Her blog is about her 2007 research trip to study endangered bonobos in the Congo.

-A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: Liz B. writes about books, movies, and TV shows, with an emphasis on books for children and teens.

-Incurable Logophilia; reflections on a love of words, of literature, of language: A wonderful resource when you’re looking for books to read next.

-A Patchwork of Books: Amanda is a bookworm and children’s library assistant who is working toward her Master’s in Library Science. She writes about children’s and young adult literature.

Fiber Arts
-Knit Lit: Kate says “I write. I knit. I write about knitting. And I like you. I really, really like you.” Great writing, terrific ideas and photographs, and a list of links that includes I May Be Knitting a Ranchhouse, Skein Cocaine, and Fondle My Sweaters . What else do you need to know?

-Yarn Harlot; Stephanie Pearl-McPhee goes on (and on) about knitting.

Food and Recipes
-Desert Candy: Mercedes does some wonderful Middle Eastern cooking, then photographs and writes about it in this beautifully designed blog.

Life in the Southwest
-greenchilesandroses: Night Lightning Woman is a retired social worker who has lived her entire life in New Mexico and Texas.

-If the Creek Don't Rise: Lin (“I figure that fantasies should be game plans”) writes about living off the grid in the remote desert Southwest.

-La Casa de Towanda: Sharon is doing some New Mexico dreaming while planning her move from Kansas to Santa Fe. She writes lovely posts on northern New Mexico, with gorgeous photographs and a stylish layout.

-Picturing New Mexico: Lots of intriguing photos.

-Santa Fe Journal: “New Mexico, past and present, with photos and text.”

Sites That Appeal to My Librarian Self
-Love the Liberry : Amy and Marian write about the weird stuff that happens in libraries; librarians won’t be surprised, but you may be!

-Planet Esme: Children’s author (Sahara Special, etc.) Esme Raji Codell writes about children’s literature.

Impossible to Classify
-Overheard Lines: I love those snippets of conversation you hear when passing through a crowd. This eavesdropping playwright captures odd bits in that most fertile of listening posts, the San Francisco Bay Area.

-Philip Greenspun's Weblog: A posting every day, an interesting idea every three months. I’ve always loved Philip G’s photographs, now we can find out what he has to say.

-PostSecret: Anonymous handmade postcards each tell a secret never before revealed about their maker; an ongoing community art project that is now featured in several books. People slip even more postcards into the books on the shelves of bookshops and libraries.

-to-do list : A collection of lists and what they reveal (“quirks, compulsions, and habits”) about the people who make them.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

How I Became a Vegetarian

Death is all around here on the eastern New Mexico prairie. At least that’s how I feel today.

Yesterday, when driving home from volunteering at the community college, I saw a herd of cattle running along inside the fence line of a large pasture. I’m used to seeing placid groups of cattle grazing peacefully and this was something unusual, so I stopped my car by the side of the road to see what was going on. There was a huge cattle truck parked off by the fence with its gates open and ramps down. Because I didn’t remember seeing any cattle in this particular field, I assumed that they had just been unloaded there.

There was a cowboy mounted on his modern day steed, a four-wheeler, attempting to herd the smaller groups into one big herd--at least it looked like that to me. I wondered why he would stir up what I was starting to realize were already panicked animals, but I eventually decided that he must be trying to move the cattle to the far corner of the pasture so that the big truck could make its way out of the gate.

As I watched, the cowboy drove back over to the truck, perhaps to talk things over with his co-workers (co-cowboys?). And then the cattle headed down the fence line toward where I was parked. As they passed me, some of them stumbling and obviously worn out, I was able to look closely at each animal. Their eyes were rolling, their tongues hanging out, and some of them had foam coming out of their mouths. They were wet all over with what looked and smelled like liquefied cow manure. It ran down their sides and their legs; it ran down their faces into their eyes and mouths. They were breathing hard and just moving forward by instinct.

It made me so sad. I know that they are born and bred for slaughter. I know that they will make up the hamburgers I’ve always eaten. But looking at them, I couldn’t understand why an animal that is destined to be killed and cut up and turned into meat wasn’t being treated with some dignity during its brief life. There was no reason for those animals to be living in filth. There was no reason for them to be turned out into a pasture while soaking wet, with a night of freezing temperatures ahead of them. They were exhausted and no doubt thirsty, and I could see no accommodations for watering them.

I drove home, feeling that the world is a bad place and that I am a bad person for driving fast by the feedlots around here and never, ever really looking.

This morning I headed out on my bike to look at “my” cattle and to see how they had fared during the bitter night. I was hoping to find them grazing tranquilly, all panic somehow forgotten. It was a hard ride, cold and extremely windy. I had to travel down what I classify as a “scary” road: Scary = fast moving (though occasional) traffic and no shoulders. At times I got off and pushed my bike into the wind, lest it push me backwards.

When I arrived at the pasture…I got it. There were no tranquil cattle grazing. There were no cattle at all. I had completely misinterpreted and misunderstood what I was seeing yesterday. Those cattle were about to be loaded into the big cattle truck. And for an animal raised for meat, going somewhere in the big truck is never a good thing. They were panicked and trying to get away. They were hopeless, because they knew that the cowboys always win. Sure, I’m assigning human emotions to animals. But I defy you to look into the eyes of manure-covered beasts like them and not see a life of unwilling, unrelenting, and miserable slavery.

I know there is a better way. I have raised meat animals myself, in my “back to the land” days. Although we were inexperienced, we did everything we could to ensure that our animals had good lives and that they met their end in as humane a way as possible. They were raised in a clean barnyard and were never sent to the slaughterhouse. They were killed at home with a quick shot, usually as they ate a peaceful meal in familiar surroundings.

Here is my challenge to you: Learn about how the animals we eat live and die. It’s not easy reading, believe me. And don’t just read about it—go to a feedlot and look into their eyes.


Read about the raising, transportation, and slaughtering of animals at

Read about another way to celebrate the that animals we raise and who nourish us:

Read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for information about humane raising of meat animals.

Sleeping with the Stars (sort of)

We stopped at the famous El Rancho Hotel for lunch when we passed Gallup through recently. The hotel was built in 1937 by the brother of movie magnate, D.W. Griffith. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and protected by the National Historic Preservation Society, it is now owned by the family of the respected Indian trader, Armand Ortega.

The Hotel is located on the old Route 66. When I stepped through the door, I was reminded of some other fine old lodges in other parts of the country, built sometimes as public works projects and often during the Great Depression. The ambiance was similar, although on a smaller scale, to that of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone , and the Quinault Lodge on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. The El Rancho lobby was built with polished brick floors, massive ceiling beams, and a stone fireplace that is flanked by two handmade wooden staircases that lead to the second floor gallery. It’s furnished in that kitschy and beloved rustic Old West style. There are Navajo rugs, and mounted animal trophy heads, and longhorn cowboy furniture everywhere you look.

Because of all the movies that have been filmed in the area, a great many movie stars have stayed at the hotel and there are great old black and white autographed photos hanging on the walls of the upstairs gallery. You’ll see pictures of Burt Lancaster, Paulette Goddard, William Bendix, Jane Wyman, John Wayne, and lots more. The rooms are named for them; as are the New Mexican and American style dishes available in the restaurant, where a friendly and attentive staff welcomed us in.

Next time we go to Gallup, we plan to stay at this historic and picturesque Hotel. The Ronald Reagan Room sleeps six, and is a bargain at $128, considering the wonderful ambiance, décor, and sense of tradition. Where else in New Mexico can you sleep where the stars have slept?

Well, that would have been a nice line for an ending, but I’m sure you can think of other New Mexico places where the stars have slept—Santa Fe's Silver Saddle Motel and La Fonda are a couple that I know about. So here is today’s challenge—what other hotels do you know of in New Mexico that have a star-studded past? Please leave a comment, you know I love them!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Place Called To'hajiilee

The empty road--traveling toward Tucumcari, NM (nowhere near
To'hajiile, but I like the photo)

Crossing New Mexico on our recent road trip to California, we passed by a place with the intriguing and beautiful name of To'hajiilee. It is the name of the city located a bit west of Albuquerque, and it is also the name of the band of Navajos that live there, away from the main reservation (the "Big Rez"). Driving past To'hajiilee signaled the beginning of our passage through Navajo country.

Here is what the New Mexico Tourism web site has to say about the Navajo Nation:
The largest U.S. Indian tribe, the Navajo Nation consists of more than 298,000 members, about 106,807 of whom live in New Mexico, according to Census 2000 figures. The reservation includes approximately 27,000 square miles. Its boundaries extend from northwestern New Mexico into northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah, larger than many states.

This was just a quick week-long trip, driving to and from California with a few days in the middle to spend with family to celebrate our Thanksgiving. Along the way, I saw many places that I want to go back to and explore in depth. In the meantime, I’ll learn what I can from home. Here is my list of places to travel back to and explore:

We had lunch at an amazing place in Gallup, the El Rancho Hotel (“Home of the Movie Stars”). I’ll tell you more about that later.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Looking for a Few Good Books: A Challenge

I read a lot. There are certain authors that I follow, and I always want to read both fiction and nonfiction about New Mexico and the rest of the Southwest. However, I would like to challenge myself to read some books that are a bit different from what I usually seek out, so I have compiled a list of books I’d like to read over the next few months. My friend Sonja in New Hampshire used to let me know about great reads but alas, there is no Sonja here in New Mexico, so I’ve picked these ten titles from a variety of award-winning and “best” lists. I’ve linked the titles to reviews and/or additional information from resources like The New York Times Book Review and National Public Radio.

Now, here is where you can help. As the Wikinomics subtitle (below) says, “mass collaboration changes everything,” so I’d like to see the list of books you’d like to read. If we share, we can broaden our horizons. Please send a comment that includes your list. Thank you for collaborating.

My Challenge List:

I Am America (And So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz.

The Gathering, by Anne Enright.

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire; The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56, by Rafe Esquith.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini.

The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn and Hal Iggulden.

The God of Animals, by Aryn Kyle.

Black Swan; the Impact of the Highly Improbable, by N.N Taleb.

Born on a Blue Day; Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant, by Daniel Tammet.

Wikinomics; How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Mabel; A Biography of Mabel Dodge Luhan by Emily Hahn. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1977.

In every book about New Mexico, Santa Fe, or Taos, the name Mabel Luhan comes up again and again, so I needed to know more about her. Although there are newer biographies and books about Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (1879-1962), I was interested in reading this one by Emily Hahn (1905-1997). Hahn was a freethinker and unconventional woman of her times, as was Mabel, who married and divorced three times before marrying Tony Lujan (Mabel changed the spelling later), a Pueblo Indian from the Taos Pueblo.

Mabel started out as Mabel Ganson in Buffalo, New York, born into a well to do family. During her life she spent time in New York City, in Florence, and in Taos, and was right in the thick of all sorts of societal movements. She “collected” people, and knew revolutionaries, labor leaders, Bolsheviks, writers, artists, early psychologists, and many of the “new women” of the time, including Margaret Sanger and Gertrude Stein. She was headstrong and willful; argumentative and ambitious. She married, divorced, and moved on again and again (and again) like an unstoppable force.

I was interested in learning about Taos history, and this book was tantalizing in its glimpses of the early artistic and literary colony that grew up there. D.H. Lawrence and his wife Gertrude make a tempestuous appearance in the book. Alice Corbin Henderson, Alice Henderson Rossin, and Witter (Hal) Bynner also appear—all of whom were interviewed for the book Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog.

The experience of reading the book was somewhat marred for me by the obvious dislike and almost scorn that Hahn had for her subject. She seemed to want to disprove every autobiographical statement that Mabel had ever made about her life. However, the author’s attitude actually ended up making me very curious about Hahn and her life, and it looks like that will be another subject for me to learn about.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Harvey Houses

It seems that whenever I read about New Mexico, the history of the Harvey Houses is intertwined with the history of the state. In the fictional Night Journal, author Elizabeth Crook describes the life of a Harvey Girl in Las Vegas, NM. When I read about the history of Santa Fe in Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog, by John Pen La Farge, I was reminded that La Fonda was one of the Harvey Houses from 1926-1968. I needed to learn more about Harvey and his empire, and this is what I found.

Born in 1835, Fred Harvey emigrated from England to America when he was 15 years old, and worked for his living in restaurants, on river boats, and at a railroad post office. Along the way, he noticed the plight of the poor hungry travelers, who apparently had to scramble to find meals during their journeys. In a time before fast food (imagine!), train passengers ran the risk of being left behind when they tried to eat a quick meal at a restaurant near the train station during a short one-hour dining stop.

Using his restaurant experience, Harvey opened the first Harvey House Restaurant in Topeka, Kansas in 1876. Harvey’s idea was to provide quality food to railroad travelers for a reasonable price in a clean environment with good service, back when trains didn’t have dining cars and food service along the way was either nonexistent or of low quality. Harvey's new customers appreciated having good dining facilities where the food was served on china and customers were required to wear coats. By the late 1880s there was a Harvey House Restaurant every hundred miles along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad line, from Kansas to California. Fred Harvey even got the contract to run the dining car food service for the Santa Fe Railroad.

Harvey found that hiring men to work in his restaurants was not such a good idea, as they often turned out to be “as wild as the west was,” so he began hiring women, who soon became known as Harvey Girls. In order to qualify as one of the “Harvey Girls, the women had to have at least an eighth grade education, good moral character, good manners, and be neat and articulate. Harvey paid good wages, as much as $17.50 per month with free room, board, and uniforms. In return for employment, the Harvey Girls would agree to a six month contract, agree not to marry and abide by all company rules during the term of employment. In no time, these became much sought after jobs. When they were hired, they were given a free rail pass to their chosen destination.”

When Harvey died in 1901, his idea had grown to 15 hotels, 47 restaurants, and 30 dining car operations along the Santa Fe line.

In Clovis, the Harvey House building is still owned by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, which uses it for storage at the moment. Next door is the privately owned former Clovis Railroad Station, which now houses a railroad museum.

For photos and more complete information, please see:

Arizona Lodges:

[Harvey] Hotels, Lunchrooms, Restaurants in New Mexico:

Legendary Route 66; Harvey House Hotels and Restaurants: This web site gives a history of the Harvey House and the locations of all of its restaurants and hotels.

Slaton [TX] Harvey House:
This is a delightful 1992 article from the Slaton Slatonite that contains lots of details about Harvey Girls and their impact on the West, and even includes a song written in their honor. It includes a quote from Will Rogers: "Fred Harvey kept the West in food and wives."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Believe in Me

"Never let them tell you what you can't do"

If you want to see what the land around Clovis looks like, you can't get a better view than by watching the 2006 movie Believe in Me. It is based on the true story of Oklahoma high school basketball coach Jim Keith, who arrives at his new job in 1964 to find out that he will be coaching girls, not boys, at a time when girls' athletic teams were not at all respected or taken seriously. After a lot of hard work, team bonding, and some threatening local politics, the team goes on to the state championships. Though predictable (especially now that I've told you what happens) the story is a sweet one. It took me the better part of a box of Kleenex to get through it.

The producers chose the Clovis/Portales area for most of the filming because many areas had a mid-century look about them, and because there are a lot of vintage autos here. They were met with that famous Clovis hospitality--the locals brought them homemade suppers, donated vintage clothing and props, and lent them classic cars. The producers said that if they had a particular need, they had only to broadcast it on the local radio station, and they'd get donations by the next day. You can read more in the Production Notes.

The video is, of course, a big hit around Clovis, and the local video stores have a hard time keeping enough copies on their shelves. People here watch to see local street scenes, their cars, and themselves in the crowd scenes. Even though I'm fairly new to Clovis I recognized a few spots. The prairie scenes and the sunsets were absolutely stunning.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More Sweaters for the Knit for Kids Project

I've just finished up another batch of sweaters to send off to the Knit for Kids organization, which will distribute them to needy children in the U.S. and around the world.

I was surprised when I checked my records to find that my last batch of five sweaters was sent away just this past June 2007, and that I have already produced another nine since then! It didn't seem as though I was knitting all the time--I just picked up a sweater to work on mostly when I was doing something else like traveling in the car or watching a movie with my husband. Oh, yes, and while driving across the country and while hanging out in a motel for two weeks while waiting to move into our new home. It's pretty amazing what you can turn out when you use an idle moment here or there.

So here are the latest sweaters. My total will now be 26 since I first heard about the Knit for Kids organization at the Candia Town Meeting in March 2006. This will be my last batch of size 2 sweaters, as a careful check of the organization's web site reveals that they are looking for bigger sizes. Output should slow down a bit as the larger sweaters will naturally take longer to knit.

I encourage you to take part in this project. If you have any questions, I'll be glad to answer them. Just send me a comment.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

Veterans Day, also called Remembrance Day, was originally called Armistice Day in honor of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. Here are some related links (thanks, sonjag!) that I found interesting.

Catalog of Political Cartoons by Dr. Seuss:

Powers of Persuasion:

Remembering Pearl Harbor:

War Stories:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Visual Offering: Tribute to the Day of the Dead

Virgin Mary 22" x 28"

Artist David Martinez first started developing the idea for Visual Offering: A Tribute to the Day of the Dead two years ago. His show is currently at the Eula Mae Edwards Museum Gallery at the Clovis Community College, running from October 30 to December 14, 2007. You can visit at any time from 8AM to 5PM--just stop at the office across from the gallery or at the front desk and ask for the doors to be opened for you. I would recommend getting there soon, before all the pieces have sold. This is a great time to collect this artist's work, while it is still reasonably priced ($50-$1000).
Couple of Drinks 14' x 6'

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Photographs were taken and are posted with the artist's gracious permission.

Red Skull, Blue Skull, Green Skull 31" x 39" each

Saint Mary 12" x 24"

Waiting 48" x 24"

The Eula Mae Edwards Museum Gallery is located at the Clovis Community College, 417 Schepps Blvd., Clovis, NM. 575-769-2811. Hours are 8AM to 5PM weekdays; check at front desk to have gallery opened.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge

We went to Muleshoe, Texas over the weekend. I don’t know why, but I just love that town. Maybe it’s the name, or maybe it’s the metalwork you see around town, but Muleshoe is just a place where I like to go.

Just 22 miles south of town is the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge, which covers 5809 acres and is the oldest national wildlife refuge in Texas; it was established in 1935. It is a 49-mile ride from here in Clovis.

The refuge contains White Lake, Lower Paul’s Lake, and Goose Lake—playa lakes, which have no outlets and depend on runoff for their water supply. Only Upper Paul’s Lake is spring fed. When all the lakes are full there are 600 acres of water available for wildlife, in addition to other saline lakes in the area. Coyote Lake and Salt Lake are both nearby. The latter is part of the 3236 acre Grulla National Wildlife Refuge located near Arch, New Mexico.

Sandhill cranes winter over at the Muleshoe refuge and at Grulla as well. They start arriving in late September, with their populations peaking between December and February. According to the Muleshoe Brochure, an all time record of 250,000 cranes was witnessed in February 1982. The cranes “roost on the refuge lakes at night…at sunrise they fly to surrounding agricultural land where they search harvested fields for waste grain and invertebrates and graze in the grasslands and wheat fields.” (Brochure, p.5)

There are an amazing 320 species on the Muleshoe refuge bird list, ranging from raptors such as the bald and the golden eagle, to shorebirds like the snow goose and wood duck, to songbirds like the horned lark and the prairie warbler. Mammals include prairie dogs, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, skunks, rabbits, and porcupines. Prairie rattlesnakes are common throughout the area.

We only saw one other person during our visit to the Muleshoe refuge. She was watching the ducks at Paul’s Lake, so we just drove on over to White Lake so that we could have our very own lake to ourselves. We watched flocks of sandhills coming in for landings and joining the hundreds of birds already in the water. The sky was huge as it always is here, the sun shone on the lake below the mesa, and there was an incredibly peaceful feeling about the place. The night sky must be wonderful as there are no nearby light sources to interfere with stargazing. We want to go back and camp there and watch the stars. I suppose it will be just the two of us, the sandhill cranes, the stars, and the prairie rattlesnakes.

Grulla Bird List:

Grulla National Wildlife Refuge:

Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge:

Monday, November 5, 2007

Things I Didn't Know About Cotton

It’s cotton harvest time right now in West Texas and the High Plains of New Mexico. We see fields of cotton still growing, fields that have been recently harvested, and lots and lots of cotton that has escaped the machinery and has landed along the roadside. I’ve been gathering a bit (I like to think of it as gleaning) and will be doing a cotton handspinning experiment that I’ll write about in a future post.

Cotton is a food, fiber, and feed crop. Being a handspinner, I have always thought of cotton as just a fiber. I didn’t know that two thirds of the crop consists of cotton seeds, which are crushed to provide oil (used in cooking oil, shortening, snack foods), and meal and hulls (used in animal feed and as fertilizers).

Back when cotton picking was done by hand, an experienced worker could pick 450 pounds of seed cotton a day. Today’s modern cotton harvesters can cover up to 6 to 8 rows at a time and can harvest up to 190,000 pounds of seed cotton a day.

500 pounds of cleaned cotton—seeds and trash removed--will make 325 pairs of denim jeans, or 300 diapers, or 1200 pillowcases.

Just in case you want to learn more about cotton, here are some great web sites.

Cotton Counts; Educational Resources:
Includes information about the cotton content of U.S. currency, an online presentation called "Cotton: From Field to Fabric in Forty Frames," and a list of links to additional resources.

The Story of Cotton:
Using non-technical language, this web site tells the history of cotton cultivation and gives a clear description of the production of cotton today. It includes photographs showing how cotton plants and fields look as the crop grows.

National Cotton Council of America’s education pages give lots of technical information:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog

After the war [World War I], artists, writers, poets, Indian-rights activists, seekers of the exotic, intellectuals seeking an unstructured society, remittance men, and all others who did not fit in elsewhere arrived in increasing numbers.”
~John Pen La Farge

Although I didn’t have a name for it, oral history was what I wanted as a child, as opposed to the dry history textbooks that we were given. I wanted to hear what happened to ordinary people and not to have to read about a lot of boring battles and facts that I had to memorize without context. I’ve always learned best when reading fiction about a particular period because it made the past seem more alive, and recorded oral histories are even better than fiction.

In his book, Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog; Scripting the Santa Fe Legend, 1920-1955, John Pen La Farge recorded the oral histories of 24 of Santa Fe’s colorful characters, getting the details while they were still alive, so to speak. He takes care to tell us that this is not a history and that individuals may blur certain details. Of course they do, and part of the fun of this book is reading about incidents from several different viewpoints. He tells about family life, local politics, parties, artists’ lives, Indians, ranchers, La Fonda, merchants, the coming of the opera, and any number of quirky individuals. It is the best kind of social history.

"...word got back to the East that one might find a rather exotic freedom in New Mexico, in an atmosphere like no other." p.2

La Farge, born in 1951 to Oliver La Farge and Consuelo Pendaries y Baca, is a Santa Fe native. His father was an anthropologist and author of scientific papers, fiction (notably Laughing Boy, Pulitzer Prize winner in 1929), non-fiction about Indian culture, and a column for the Santa Fe New Mexican. His maternal grandmother, Marguerite, was onetime Secretary of State for New Mexico.

"Toward the end of the [19th] century, anthropologists and archaeologists adopted New Mexico as the prime American location for study. So many anthropologists came that the Zuni Indians joked that their typical family included a mother, a father, three children, and an anthropologist." p.3

Over a number of years in the late 1980s, historian La Farge talked with people representing “a cross-section of Santa Fe during the best of times: native Santa Feans, both Spanish-American and Anglo, artists, immigrants, those who came by accident, those who came intending to stay, those who fought to preserve the older cultures’ traditions and values.” (Quoted from the book cover). The people La Farge talked with were friends of his family, people he had known all of his life, many now gone.

"Those who did not or could not fit in elsewhere found a good fit in New Mexico, where people's natural tolerance and the territory's vast spaces allowed them to live as they pleased."

"The people of the land were nonjudgmental as well as exotic, welcoming as well as foreign, and reasonably willing to let a man do as he pleased as long as he did not do it in the street and frighten the horses." p.3

Their world was Santa Fe at its most charming when it was a town where people could walk to find all their necessities, when the plaza was the true town center that had the stores that they needed to buy groceries, clothing, hardware, and medicine. It was a time when the population was small enough for the neighbors to all know each other. And it was a much quieter time, when one could give directions to a visitor by telling him to go up the hill and turn left at the sleeping dog.

Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog; Scripting the Santa Fe Legend, 1920-1955, by John Pen La Farge. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 2001. 396 p.

More about Oliver La Farge:
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

More about Santa Fe (Scroll down and you will see a link to an article about Santa Fe by John Pen La Farge):
Santa Fe Basics; The Story of Many Peoples

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Los Dias de los Muertos

There are as many ways to think about death as there are cultures. In my own culture (Anglo-Saxon New Englander roots), we tend not to talk about it too much. But think about the beliefs expressed in this poem* that was read at the funeral of a friend, who was given back to us with these words:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on the snow.

I am the sunlight on the ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn's rain.

When you awaken in the morning hush,

I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry:

I am not there, I did not die.

I think of that poem when it is time to celebrate Los Dias de los Muertos (Days of the Dead) here in New Mexico, observed from October 31 to November 2. On November 1st the souls of children—los angelitos—are believed to return, with adult spirits following on November 2nd. It’s a time to celebrate the lives of those who are no longer with us.

In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver tells how she is drawn to this celebration because our culture “allows almost no room for dead people.” It’s true, we honor our military dead in a formal way on Memorial Day and on Remembrance Day, but there really is no holiday that gives us a chance to honor our own lost loved ones in a personal way.

When I first moved to New Mexico and experienced Los Dias de los Muertos, I have to tell you that it shocked me in some fundamental way to see children happily munching on candy skulls, surrounded by grinning skeletons on display and altars (ofrendas) built in remembrance of the dead—perhaps for a grandmother or grandfather, a beloved pet, or even, in the case of the Las Cruces Museum of Natural History, an altar built in memory of extinct animals. Some ofrendas may be publicly displayed, as they are in the plaza of La Mesilla in Las Cruces, and some may be built at home. The altars might contain pictures of the deceased, religious symbols, objects to remind us of the person, dishes of their favorite foods, marigolds, and lots of candles—maybe even a calavera (also a colloquial term for skulls), a short mocking poetic epitaph. I was amazed to see the familiar attitude expressed toward death—a kind of sly, humorous, and elbow-nudging nod to our mortality.

Here is a calavera that I found on a teacher web site, with their English translation.

Ahi viene el agua
por la ladera,
y se me moja
mi calavera.
La muerte calaca,
ni gorda ni flaca.
La muerte casera,
pegada con cera.

Here comes the water
down the slope
and my skull
is getting wet.
Death, a skeleton
neither fat nor skinny.
A homemade skeleton
stuck together with wax.

I guess I needed to undergo an attitude change toward death, because it was something I was so uncomfortable with. I believe that now I’m ready to take part in the Days of the Dead celebration. I have the short life of my own little “angelita,” to celebrate. My daughter Angelina, who died not very long after being born, has never had a birthday party and has never been included in any other family celebrations. This year, I will build an ofrenda to help remember her, and I’ll make another for the lives of my parents.
Please enjoy my sister's photographs of the amazing ofrenda she built in Angelina’s honor. Thank you, dear Auntie.

*Note about the poem, "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" from information I found out on further research: It turns out that there is much controversy surrounding the origins of this poem. Some believe that it is the work of Mary Elizabeth Frye (1904-2004), but apparently she neither published nor copyrighted it, although that doesn't mean she didn't write it. It is often thought to have native American origins. On the prayer card from the funeral of my friend, it is called a Hopi poem.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

McGarrity on Kerney

Thanks to Towanda, over at La Casa de Towanda, I have been reading Michael McGarrity books one after another. McGarrity has a wonderful web site with all kinds of information about himself, his books, and their settings. I am now about halfway through the books in the series featuring Kevin Kerney, which are set in various areas of New Mexico. Here is what McGarrity has to say about Kerney:

“When I developed the character of Kevin Kerney, I wanted to put on the page a fully-drawn individual who would run counter to the trend of quirky or emotionally damaged protagonists in mystery fiction. Kerney carries his scars and emotional baggage well, and has a strong moral fiber which rarely takes him over the edge. He is a man who knows the difference between right and wrong and practices his profession with a sense of ethics, responsibility, and pride. While he's strong-willed and persistent, he is neither overly macho or flashy.Born on a ranch in the Tularosa Basin in south central New Mexico, Kerney has long dreamt of returning to his roots, which was taken away from his parents when the military expanded White Sands Missile Range, a high-security weapons testing facility.A college educated, decorated veteran of Vietnam, Kerney's life took a different turn when he entered law enforcement after military service, advancing through the ranks to chief of detectives in the Santa Fe Police Department until a gunfight with a drug dealer forced him into a painful, unhappy medical retirement.”

The books in the series, listed below, clearly show that to Kevin Kerney the idea of “being retired” means something very different from the usual definition.

This is a list for me as much as it is for you. I wanted to be able to scan through the titles in chronological order and to know where each was set in New Mexico. The links will take you to McGarrity’s page for each title, where you will find a synopsis, reviews, a location map and information/photographs about the locale, and book ordering information. As a recent retiree, I’m always interested in how people fill their time. Read what Kerney does with his!

Kevin Kerney books by Michael McGarrity, in chronological order, with the New Mexico setting noted

Tularosa (1996): Tularosa Basin and White Sands Missile Range
Mexican Hat (1997): Gila Wilderness
Serpents Gate (1998): Mountainair
Hermit's Peak (1999): Las Vegas (NM) region
The Judas Judge (2000): South central NM
Under The Color of Law (2001): Santa Fe
The Big Gamble (2002): Lincoln County
Everyone Dies (2003): Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Socorro, Mescalero Reservation
Slow Kill (2004): Northern New Mexico
Nothing But Trouble (2005): Boothill area of NM
Death Song (December 2007): Santa Fe and Lincoln County

Monday, October 29, 2007

In the Night Sky

“I think this is about the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in the sky!” ~Florian Boyd, Palm Springs, CA

"What a sight!” ~Alan Hale (co-discoverer of Comet Hale-Bopp), Cloudcroft, NM

I didn’t know that an amazing phenomenon was taking place in the night skies until I was alerted by a scientist friend in Canada. Periodic Comet Holmes was acting just like its own little nonentity of a self only a week ago when suddenly, according to Sky and Telescope on Wednesday, October 24th, skywatchers looked up to see a bright new yellow-orange "star" shining in Perseus. For no apparent reason, the comet had brightened about a millionfold to shine at close to magnitude 2.5. That made it plain to see even in the bright moonlight and through all but the worst light pollution….It looked like no comet ever seen.

Luckily, the comet was still up there at the Red Sox’ victorious conclusion of the World Series last night. In spite of the bright moon, I was able to find Comet Holmes in the late evening (11 PM) northeast sky. I wasn’t too sure about what to look for until I came back inside to look again at Sky and Telescope’s Photo Gallery, then I realized that the comet was the bright orange-brown “star” I’d been seeing out the bedroom window for the past week.

“In ALL my years of observing...this is the most unusual comet, I have ever seen!” ~Dr. Sky

Here are some facts about the Comet:

-Comet Holmes is somewhere in the neighborhood of 152,000,000 miles from the Earth.

-The comet doesn’t have the characteristic comet tail. If one does form, it will be nearly away from us in space and will not be visible from here.

-The comet flared twice before, once in 1892 and again six months later in 1893.

-The only theoretical explanation that I could find for why the comet is flaring comes from Dr. Sky (Steve Kates, whose biography you can read at He theorizes that a chunk of the comet has broken off and has released a surge of ice and dust which is moving toward the sun.

-Spooky fact: The last time the Sox won the World Series we were in the middle of a total lunar eclipse (Sky and Telescope)

Read more about the comet and see the photographs that are being sent in from all around the world at Sky and Telescope:

Sunday, October 28, 2007


It’s the bountiful season in the Clovis area. Hay is being baled, the pumpkin fields are full, cotton is being harvested, and fresh peanuts are being roasted out in Portales. Before moving here, I’d never seen peanut fields or peanut plants, for that matter. I was fascinated when one of the farmers brought in a peanut plant to show off at the Clovis Farmers Market. A passing old timer shuddered and said it reminded him too much of all the peanuts he had to harvest by hand as a kid.

Peanuts are grown in the warm climates of Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America. Depending on where they are grown, they may be called monkey nuts, ground nuts, goobers, or earth nuts, although they are legumes, rather than nuts. George Washington Carver created 325 products from peanuts, including familiar and not so familiar food products ranging from peanut butter to mock goose. His peanut product inventions included types of stock foods, cosmetics, cleaning products, beverages, medicines, paints, dyes, stains, paper, and linoleum.

You can grow your own peanuts. Buy raw (unroasted) peanuts in the shell. Carefully take out the peanuts, doing your best to keep the skin intact. Plant an inch and a half deep in well drained sandy soil, to which you have added fertilizer and a legume innoculant. The plants will grow to one or one and a half feet tall. Don’t fertilize later in the season, and don’t overwater. The flowers are borne on shoots called pegs which then grow down into the soil and form the peanuts. When the leaves start to yellow, stop watering. Harvest at first frost. Pull up the entire plant and hang it up until the shells are dry. A single plant will produce 40 or more pods. For more complete instructions, see Painless Botany Lesson: Growing Peanuts.

I'm sure that peanut production is affected by the fact that many public schools now ban peanut products, due to the increasing numbers of children with peanut allergies. According to a Feb. 2007 news release from New Mexico State University, while commercial peanut production across the U.S. fell 29% during 2006 and “the planted area – 1.24 million acres – is the lowest in the United States since 1915” the organic peanut market is growing. New Mexico, Texas, and Georgia are the only states so far that are growing organic peanuts on a commercial scale.

There are a couple of peanut producers in nearby Portales—Sunland Peanuts, Inc. and the Borden Peanut Company. The Sunland plant has a retail store that sells raw, roasted, shelled, unshelled, salted and unsalted peanuts by the bag. They also provide an amazing variety of natural and organic peanut butters and peanut spreads (“Peanut Better”) flavored with raspberry, chocolate, caramel, cinnamon, peanut praline, vanilla cranberry, and sweet molasses; as well as a line of savory spreads, including Thai ginger and red pepper, onion-parsley, spicy southwestern, hickory smoked, and rosemary garlic. We bought some of the Thai ginger peanut butter and plan to use it as a sauce with grilled marinated pork satay. See the Sunland recipe page for ideas for using these flavored spreads.

More links:

The Legacy of George Washington Carver:

Peanut Allergy Facts:

World Geography of the Peanut: