Monday, February 28, 2011


We spent some time wandering the back calles (streets) of the nearby village of Mesilla the other day. Coming across this worn old adobe gate, we mourned the terrible damage done to the prickly pear plants by our recent spell of below freezing weather. As you can tell, these are plants that have been growing at this site for a good many years through all kinds of winters, but the bitter cold of this past month has done them in.

If you are able to do adobe repair and reconstruction, the house is in the same shape as the gate--a fixer, for sure, but located in a lovely old back lane of a beautiful town.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Orange House, War Zone

On a recent weekend, 53 people were killed in Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. The murders were part of the ongoing violence between rival drug cartels--a Dec. 15, 2010 CBS article reported over 3000 people killed in 2010, with almost 7400 killed in the last three years. A quote from that article: "More than 28,000 people have died throughout Mexico in the four years since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug cartels when he took office in December 2006." 

When we go down to the El Paso Airport, we usually stay away from I-10, which parallels the border along the Rio Grande for some miles. Although El Paso is one of the safest cities in the U.S., Ciudad Juarez is one of the most dangerous in the world. Stray bullets have been known to hit buildings and cars on our side of the border, which lies just down the slope in the foreground of this photo. 

I shot this through our [dog-drooly] car window as we hurried past this place where people live in poverty and unimaginable danger, day in and day out. In spite of the poor quality of the photo, I thought it was important to show you this scene.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why I Don't Live in El Paso, for Skywatch

I'm sure there are pretty parts of El Paso, but this is what I see when we travel through: Blue skies, yes; but too many cars, too many people, and too much speed and noise. 

I-10 heading north

Looking toward downtown El Paso with poor, war-torn Juarez, Mexico in the distance

I like a little more peace and space around me: A little more solitude, as you can see from the header photo of Beez at White Sands (click here if the header photo has been changed) and from the photo below, which was taken not too far from where we live.

Looking across wetlands at the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park toward the Organ Mountains. We saw a coyote out for a ramble on the day we were there

To see both urban and rural skies from all around the world, please visit Skywatch Friday.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Peaceable Kingdom

Pity the poor blogger's husband--he can't just slip off and have a retired guy's little afternoon nap with a few of his friends without having it documented and published here.

Click twice to enlarge

But they were just all so darned cute hanging out together in the sun that I couldn't resist taking this photo. The human is Beez; the dogs are Weetzie, Leny, Little Pete (getting some napping directions), and Emma; and the cats are Gracie and Cody-Ko. 

So goes the retirement--just one task after another...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Adapting a Fair Isle Motif

I came across a star motif knit into a pair of gorgeous hand spun mittens and wanted to use something similar in one of the little Knit for Kids sweaters that I was planning. A search around the internet resulted in this Spring Star pattern, found as part of a Wee Fair Isle Sweater Project (which I can no longer find online as of 7 Oct 2017).

It was meant to be done across a multiple of 26 stitches, but my pattern called for 69 stitches for the front and 69 for the back. Although you knitters most likely know all about this stuff, I was delighted when I figured out a way to repeat the motif and center it in the number of stitches I was allowed. 

First, I printed out a copy of the pattern. I planned to use both "Spring Star" and "Spring Clover" designs in my sweater.

Then I made several more copies and cut them up, trying them together this way and that, folding under and thus leaving out sections of the pattern, and even (gasp) turning some sections upside down. When I had something that I could center on my sweater front, I taped the whole thing together and attached it to my little magnetic board--all ready to knit!

For each row, I just had to repeat the pattern shown below twice, since I was knitting in the round and wanted the pattern on both the front and back of the sweater. I had to leave a few stitches in plain white at each of the sides, but that didn't affect the overall look. I was just thankful that the pattern appeared centered on both sides. 

Here is the completed sweater (click to enlarge, if you wish). You will see that I am working my way through my yarn stash and trying to use up a variety of colors before buying any more. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Adopt a Pet!

Rescued dogs come in all shapes and sizes (and facial expressions)

Did you know that approximately 4 million adoptable dogs & cats are killed each year due mainly to overpopulation? Did you know that 25-30% of dogs for adoption in animal shelters are purebred? The other 70-75%, of course, are lovable, wonderful mixed-breed pets, just waiting for a chance to be your perfect new friend.
In an effort to help people make good choices when they adopt a dog or cat, many humane societies, SPCAs and pet rescues provide adoption counseling to help match you up with a pet for adoption.
If you have your heart set on a specific breed, before you check out a dog breeder or pet store, why not adopt a pet from a breed rescue organization? Breed rescues are groups that specialize in a particular breed of dog or cat.
Don't be fooled into thinking that animal shelters and pet rescues are filled with dog or cats that were discarded because they're "bad". Shelter pets for adoption are wonderful companions who became the victims of family tragedy, unlucky circumstances or irresponsible owners.
Did you know that many backyard dog breeders and pet stores who supply the majority of purebreds simply are selling inbred pets without care for preventing genetic problems? Mixed breed pets have less inbreeding, generally less inherited genetic disease, and therefore overall lower vet bills and happier pets! And the best place to find a mixed breed dog or cat is at an SPCA, a humane society or an animal shelter. (from Adopt a

Monday, February 14, 2011

Craig Childs on National Public Radio

I've been reading a lot of Craig Childs lately--House of Rain, The Secret Knowledge of Water, and now Finders Keepers; A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession--so I thought I'd gather up some links to his own website, some quotes, and his audio interviews on National Public Radio.*

Tracking a Vanished Civilization in the Southwest
About the book House of Rain
" ...This is where the Anasazi lived. Their ruins are everywhere out here, the remains of a great Neolithic civilization. Single buildings the size of the base of the Sears Tower. Huge, round ceremonial chambers with 90-ton ceilings. This was a landscape of monuments... The Anasazi lived here for more than 1,000 years. Then, within a single generation, they were gone. Between 1275 and 1300 A.D., they stopped building entirely, and the land was left empty.

Soul of Nowhere; Author Craig Childs Journeys into the Wilds of the Desert
"There are some landscapes in the desert Southwest where Craig Childs will walk for a month without maps, or even a compass. Maps often do no good in these wild reaches, the author and explorer says."

Archaeology: Not as Dry and Dusty as You Think
About the book, Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession
"...Childs says it can be difficult to strike the right balance between expanding archaeological knowledge and preserving historical sites. 'I've worked on quite a few archaeological excavations where you're down in a trench, digging with a trowel, and wondering, ‘What on earth am I doing, digging through some dead person's belongings?' "

The Civilizations Buried Beneath Us
"Once workers tore up a Phoenix parking lot and found nearly two hundred ancient human burial sites under it. Ceramic jars and finely crafted offerings were tucked among the dead, who rested beneath parked cars for decades. After hearing about that, I look at parking lots differently. I imagine the asphalt like a glass-bottomed boat. Skulls and bones and the blueprints of villages float below."

The Coyote I Didn't See
About the book The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild
"There was a faint shape in the snow, curved as an eggshell. It had been left by a sleeping coyote. I took off my glove and touched the slight glaze of ice from its body heat. It had lain here maybe three hours earlier. Sometimes you can see more of an animal's life in its tracks than face to face."

Craig Childs' own website:
Audio, photographs, guides to the books

* National Public Radio is in danger of losing its funding. Please consider signing a petition to let Congress know that you support public broadcasting. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Gray Skies = Excitement! For Skywatch

I put together this Skywatch post before our recent stretch of below-zero weather. I'm not so excited to have snow now. But I did want to show you that we get occasional snowstorms out here in the Chihuahuan Desert. 

There, I hope you've seen enough, because I am not planning for us to have any more snowstorms. Or freezing weather. Or broken water pipes

For sky and weather photos from all around the world, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We Get Running Water and Ponder the Lives of Those Who Never Had It

Well, now that I've depressed us all with that photo of the inside of our torn-apart hot water heater shed, I'm happy to report that all is back in order today--neat, tidy, and shipshape--and looking like nothing ever happened. It's too dark out still for me to get a photo of the little shed, all restored and looking much better, but it is so. We have water, blessed running water. We have it in hot, and we have it in cold. We don't have any yet to the back bathroom (this house has multiple additions, built on over time, and that back bathroom is pretty darned far from where I sit in the original front room of the oldest part of the adobe), but that will come once the plumber and his good men have made sure all their customers have running water of one sort or another.

In the meantime, I've been reading a book about people who lived in far more ancient adobe structures in this part of the world with no running water at all. The book is called House of Rain, and is written by Craig Childs, the wonderful Southwest nature writer.  According to the back flap, he is a "naturalist, adventurer, desert ecologist, and frequent contributor to National Public Radio's Morning Edition."

The Ancient Puebloans, formerly called the Anasazi, disappeared from their elaborate cultural centers in the 14th century--leaving their cities pretty much intact, with the dishes still on the table, so to speak. Where they went has always been a great mystery in this part of the world, and Childs sets out to find what happened. Childs journeys through the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado; then down into northern Mexico, tracking this vanished civilization.

In following the trail of these "lost" people, he makes the reader aware of the abundant archeological record that they left behind, just under the surface of our own towns, cities, and agricultural fields. I have the sense now that every rise in the landscape must hold some key to the mystery, some other piece of this old civilization's ruins. It's a bit like when I was a child and convinced that every rock I found was a geode, full of wonders within.

We have personally experienced this link with ancient times most strongly at Pecos National Historical Park, where we were stunned to realize that the place was littered with artifacts. What we had first assumed were pieces of rock alongside the paths were, when examined more closely, actually thousands and thousands of pieces of ancient pottery sticking up out of the ground.

I also came away from reading this book with a feeling of admiration--real awe, to be exact--at how today's Pueblo peoples have continued their culture and kept their secrets in the middle of a modern American society. We still don't know what happens down in their kivas, and I don't think we ever will. After all, as Childs tells us: It was none of my business, really, the private rites of another civilization.... These were someone else's secrets, not mine.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Las Cruces Report: Early February and a Deep Freeze, Part 2

In our recent sub-zero weather here in New Mexico, our pipes froze last Wednesday and thawed on Friday. That was when we knew we had a broken pipe and got the water shut off at the main. Here it is Monday now, and we are still without running water.

Oh, we've seen our wonderful plumber, Paul, who is still his handsome, cheerful self, in spite of being absolutely exhausted from dashing from house to house on his list, deciding who has the worst water/pipe issues and which ones can be easily and quickly repaired. While he was here, he disconnected and pulled out our hot water heater and located the problem pipe. Sadly, it is inside of a wall behind our refrigerator. Because our job will take longer than most, Paul asked for our patience and will get back when he can to start ripping out the interior wall.

This really has a Third World look to it, don't you think? Who has a hot water heater located outside? The heater is now in the backyard (yes, even more charming) and the outdoor shed walls and pipes have been ripped about in the search for the leaking pipe

In the meantime, we've learned a few things about our modern dependence on running water. Although, as desert dwellers, we are always careful not to waste a drop, we find that we take for granted flushing toilets, washing hands, shampooing hair, taking showers, and doing laundry. On the other hand, we've discovered just how little water we can get by with from day to day, especially after the local grocery store started running out of drinking water. 

We also found just how hard it is to clean up a kitchen full of the pots and pans used to prepare Beez's signature white lasagna, which he considers a "must-have" for any Super Bowl party. Yes--we decided to go ahead with our party plans, and hosted a wonderful group of friends who kindly carried in their own water for flushing, and brought us drinking water, too!

They were from the parts of the city that still had running water. Even though water was not a problem at their houses, they had all experienced rolling blackouts with no electricity for several hours at a time, as well as the fear of no heat in freezing temperatures, due to the state-wide shortage of natural gas brought on by the increased demands. That was a very scary part of our recent brush with an arctic storm--our utility companies just weren't prepared to handle unprecedented energy demands and their own instrumentation apparently froze up. 

There is a lot of anger at the electric company--after all, people had tvs and heat pumps blow with the electricity surging off and on. While I don't think the company is to blame for the results of the kind of weather that hasn't been seen in our area for 60 or 70 years, I am very worried that with global warming adding more moisture to the atmosphere (as I understand it) that these kinds of winter "aberrations" will become more common. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Las Cruces Report: Early February and a Deep Freeze

Newspaper photo: Ice from somebody's broken pipe (Robin Zielinski/Sun-News)

The weather is the big news here, just as it has been nearly everywhere else this winter. According to the Sun-News, the temps were below freezing for over 91 hours straight over the last few days; that's some kind of new record. Here in the North Valley, we got down to -1 F.  At the 7MSN Ranch nearer to the center of the state and at a higher elevation, temps got as far down as 27 below!

Here in New Mexico's southern desert, we aren't prepared for this kind of weather, EVER. Our hot water heater is located outside on the north side of the house, and is housed in a small shed-like jog. You can imagine how well that works out in sustained, near-zero weather.

Yep, our pipes froze and we're pretty embarrassed. As New Englanders, we know how to prevent this kind of thing, but we were too snug and warm in bed to get up and deal with the issue. In our own defense, pipes have been bursting all over. The whole darned city is a mess.

We babysat our frozen pipes until things thawed out yesterday and the open faucets began to run free. Then there was that ominous sound of running water inside the wall and Beez took off for the main water shut off. That was frozen, and when I saw him heading out the door with a sledge hammer, I headed him off and called the water company before things got even worse. They managed to fit us into their gigantic list of people with emergencies and were outside within minutes because one of the water guys happened to be passing by.

So, here we are in the sunny Southwest with no running water. It's a clear day, and the temps will be above freezing--we'll even see 60 on Tuesday. We're not dealing with mountains of snow like our old neighbors back east. We have electricity and heat (more about that in the next post), so we can't really complain. But no water equals no bathroom facilities, which means we probably won't be hosting our first annual Super Bowl party tomorrow.

The plumber, who has always been on speed dial since we moved here, is so backed up that we have no idea when he'll be here to repair the pipes. There are stories of weary plumbers working almost around the clock.

Will our walls have to be ripped out? Will the repairs take up the whole carpet replacement budget? We were so hoping to get the next phase of the floor project done by spring. It looks like that is a dream deferred...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why We Won't Eat Veggies

We love the idea of eating fresh, organically grown vegetables and fruits. However, we don't always do what we should, and house guests in the past have asked where we keep the vegetables and do we, in fact, ever serve any with meals?

Thanks to an article (no longer available online, I checked) published in the local newspaper, we have recently discovered that we can buy a weekly harvest box directly from the growers in Mesilla. [Later note: Some of the produce comes from their "partner farms"]. We are pleased to report that it contains an amount of fresh produce that we can actually eat in a week. No more strange, soggy unknown masses down there in the vegetable drawer--this produce is so lovely that we actually want to eat it, and we are learning to eat fresh fruit for snacks instead of cookies. Really.

The contents of last week's box--kiwis, roasted chile peppers, mushrooms, baby spinach, etc. 

Do we get stuff we have never tried? Yes--how about collards and green cabbage! I discovered that collard greens don't have to be cooked forever with fatback--they can be steamed. I also found that green cabbage can be made into a lovely vegetable stew that smells pretty darned good while it's cooking.

However, I think it's an insult to label this good stuff with that modern slang word--"veggies." It's entirely too familiar a form of address. These dignified and beautiful vegetables deserve our respect, and I insist on calling them by their proper names. "Veggies," indeed!

Harvest boxes ready to pick up on Friday afternoon. Nice farm guy, too!

You might want to spend some time visiting the Los Poblanos website. Here is the link for the Las Cruces page. You can also read about how the Los Poblanos Ranch got its start