Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sedona Christmas Shopping

     Sedona is one of Arizona's most beautiful places, especially this time of year.    When the red rocks are layered with snow they look magical.    Last week I had the chance to see the beginning of their winter season.
     We took a bus trip to Sedona for a day of Christmas shopping.   It had been warm and balmy for weeks during the day here, but a winter storm was descending on Arizona that Wednesday.     It was overcast and cloudy when we left Sun City Grand, which is rare here.   We are almost always sunny.   As we traveled up I-17 it began to rain.    By the time we reached Sedona it was still raining and in the 30Fs.   Brrrr! 
      Instead of walking around in the rain, we did the only sensible thing---we enjoyed an early lunch.   Oaxaca Restaurant was warm and inviting, with Christmas carols (in Spanish) playing in the background.   I ordered the Red Rock Omelet, which was both tasty and matched the scenery.  Here's the view out our window:

Snow is beginning to stick to the red rocks.
        Even though the weather wasn't great, Sedona was still beautiful.   As soon as the rain stopped, we began shopping. 
        After a couple of hours in downtown Sedona, we boarded the bus for Tlaquepaque Village.   What a great place!   Lots of little artisan shops and beautiful art galleries set in a wonderful Spanish villa.   
      They were featuring a "Festival of Trees".   Different groups and artists created themed Christmas trees.  The trees were being sold to raise money for Toys for Tots.    There were over 50 different trees (maybe more) in every imaginable theme--dogs, toys, cookies, adventure trips, etc.
      Two of my favorite trees were the Quilt tree and the Italian Glass Bead tree.   They are even prettier in real life, but I had to try a few pictures.

A close up of one of the ornaments and a picture of the tree skirt.

The tree is called "Together" and was designed by the Red Rock Quilters.
The Italian glass bead tree was created by an artist, but I didn't see the artist's name.

       What a wonderful way to raise money for children while giving the rest of us a treat, too.
        After the Festival of Trees we shop, shop, shopped.    There were art shops, Christmas shops, and even a bead store, Cocopah Beads.   What more could I want?
       We ended our great day the same way we started, in one of Sedona's best restaurants.     We stopped at Rene for a glass of wine and bit of bread.   On this trip we only had time for wine, but I would love to return for lunch or dinner.   It was warm, with beautiful Christmas decorations and soft music. 
         Too soon we were boarding the bus for home....but we'll be returning in the spring.   


Monday, November 4, 2013

Christmas in July

    I'm so excited!  Christmas has come early!  One of my bracelets, the aventurine and pearl spiral one, was featured in today's Christmas in July blog.     It's the third one listed.  
    The focus of the article is on the latest Pantone color for fall, which is Koi.   I wasn't familiar with that name for a color, but when I saw the picture of it I recognized it immediately.  It's the same color of the aventurine beads I had used.  
     Until now my bracelet had reminded me of orange sherbet.   Now it will remind me of Koi, Nemo (as in the movie "Finding Nemo"), and all things fun and wonderful.
     Thank You Christmas in July for making my Monday special!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Aunt Virgie's Jewels

    Aunt Virgie, my father's sister, was my favorite aunt.    She was fun to be around and, since she lived out of state, her yearly visits were always a special treat.   
     As the years rolled by, I grew up and the family changed.   My father, my grandfather, and my uncle all died.    When Aunt Virgie came to visit, she stayed with my mother.   
    In 2004 Aunt Virgie gave me an envelope that had broken beads in it and a note.   She wrote that the crystal necklace and bracelet had been given to her in 1950 by her church friends when she and my uncle moved to Chattanooga so he could attend school.   They knew they weren't going to return to Ohio.  They later moved to New Orleans and made that city their home.   At some point the necklace broke, but she kept it because it reminded her of her friends.
     I'm not sure why Aunt Virgie gave it to me.   I didn't make jewelry back then, and I didn't wear fancy crystals.   But, like my aunt, I kept the beads and the note because it reminded me of her.    When I moved to Arizona, I brought the broken jewelry and her note with me.

     Last Friday I took a workshop on how to make a crystal pendant.   I wasn't very happy with the one I made in class, and I thought I would try again at home.   That's when I remembered Aunt Virgie's broken jewelry.    I found the envelope with the beads and the note.
     I had to modify the pendant a bit in order to make it work with her crystals.    The workshop used 11/0 Delica seed beads in between the crystals and to form a bail.  But when I tried to use them, they were too small for Aunt Virgie's crystals.  The seed beads kept going inside the large crystals.  Their pretty effect was lost. 
     I tried Toho #6 gold beads, and they worked better.   Then I tired gold Czech glass, and I liked that look best of all.       

   The workshop used all 6mm bicones, but Aunt Virgie's jewels were larger.  They were also in graduated sizes because they had come from one of the broken necklace strands.   I used larger ones on the bottom of the pendant and smaller ones near the top.  I used the smallest ones for the earrings.    I added gold filled ear wires and a gold chain that I had been saving.   The beads have a new look, but they are still Aunt Virgie's jewels.  
     Next week we're going to a music show entitled "Sentimental Journey".   I plan to wear my new/old jewelry there.   I think Aunt Virgie would approve.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Golden Friends

    Last week we had a special treat when Ohio friends Larry & Connie came to visit us for a few days.   Larry had been a chemistry major with Kent.  He retired earlier this year, and they were planning a trip to the national parks to celebrate.    Unfortunately the government shut down ruined their park trip.  
      They decided to come west anyway since we had been planning this long overdue visit for months.  We were glad they did.  It was great to see them again.   We picked up the friendship as if it had only been a few months, not 30+ years, since we had been together.   Golden friends are like that.
     We took them to the Desert Botanical Gardens, one of my favorite places in Phoenix.   They had never seen so many cacti.   I remember thinking that, too, the first time I visited there.    

     We had lunch on the patio at Gertrudes at the Desert Botanical Gardens.   Yummy as always. 
     The butterfly pavilion was filled with Monarchs, too.
      Another day we went hiking in the White Tanks.   This county park doesn't compare to a national park, but it is beautiful in its own desert way.   Unfortunately there weren't any plants in bloom this time of year.   

We took the Black Loop trail, an easy and popular trail.   

      They visited other great Arizona sites--Sedona, Jerome, Tombstone--and we had lots of grilling out on the patio time.   We've already made plans to visit their lake house in Ohio.  
      And we're not going to wait 30 years to do it!


Saturday, October 5, 2013


     The newest visitors to the neighborhood have been javelina.   I haven't seen them here, but our neighbor, Irene, saw two in her yard.     
      Here's what a typical javelina looks like:


       Although they look like a small pig, they're from the peccary family.    Fish and Game has info on them here:  
       He's not a beauty, that's for sure.   This pix came from a Tucson newspaper since none of us have been able to photograph one.  
       I saw a small herd a few times while I was driving through the Aquila area, which didn't surprise me.   It is very rural out that way.   Having them here inside Grand surprised me.  
       When we were walking last night, we passed a couple who said they had just seen one crossing the street.   We kept a look-out, but we never saw any.   
        We know they've been to our yard, though, because they knocked pads off of the Indian Fig cactus and ate bites out of it.  

     I love the wildlife here, especially the coyotes and roadrunners.   But the javelina can keep on traveling as far as I'm concerned.    

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Arizona Swing Kings

Arizona Swing Kings


       Once again the Grand Cabaret gave us a great evening out.    The Arizona Swing Kings performed to a sold-out crowd last Saturday and got a standing ovation at the end of the evening.  
        We enjoy all of the Cabaret events, and the Swing Kings are one of our favorites.   Lenny King is the musical director and plays trombone.   This time they were even better because they added two treats to the mix, vocalists and a program.  
        The Swing Kings usually play swing and jazz.  But this performance featured all Broadway hits, which is why they needed singers.    The five vocalists were great.     The two men, Art Bigornia and Mike Rust, were new to me, and I hope to get to hear them again.   Bigornia first sang "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You", which was very good.  But he nearly brought the house down with "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables in the second half of the show.    Mike Rust sang "Who Can I Turn To?" and "Almost Like Being in Love", which was my favorite.   I love Brigadoon, and he gave a fantastic performance.  
         The three women were wonderful, too.   Joni King and Katie Iverson were new to me.  Joni King sang the first song of the night .    The Swing Kings had started off the show with "There's No Business Like Show Business", and Ms. King followed with "Lullaby of Broadway".  What  a great way to set the stage for the evening!   In the second half of the show she did a great job singing "Over the Rainbow".
          Katie Iverson has appeared in Grand productions in the past, but I missed them.   She  sang two great songs, "All That Jazz" and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina".  She was in fantastic both times, but especially when she sang the Evita hit.  Ms. Iverson will be appearing on October 25 in Broadway Broads here at Grand.  That show is already sold out.  Lucky us --  Kent and I and our friends, Chris and Lou, already have our tickets.                   
         The third woman, Cheri Seith, performed recently at the smaller Cimarron Cabaret.   On that night she was acting as well as singing, and she sang in character.   It was a good performance, but the character limited her.  With the Swing Kings she sang "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Broadway Baby" as herself, and she was great.  I'll be watching for her again, too, in the future.   
         The Swing Kings were, of course, great.   There were five saxophones, four trumpets, including Dan Reed, a Sun City Grand favorite, four trombones, plus drums, bass, piano and guitar. 
         This is the first time that I remember the Cabaret using a program, but I hope they do it again.   It's great to be able to see the names.   The band directors always introduce the musicians, but it's impossible to remember all the names.   Having a program will help so much!   Plus it's fun to look over the order of the songs and remember them again.
          The AZ Swing Kings are performing again at Grand during the Oktoberfest on October 12.  Some Ohio friends will be visiting us that weekend, and I hope we'll be able to introduce them to one of Grand's real treats.              

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Flat Spiral Bracelet

     One of the great things about Sun City Grand is that it offers clubs and classes in so many things.    Grand Stitchers, my favorite club, recently offered a class in how to make a Flat Spiral Bracelet.    I used amethyst for my bracelet. 

      This is a popular class both at Grand and everywhere else.   A quick Google search turned up lots of hits on "how to's" for it.   A beautiful one is Emerald City Flat Spiral Bracelet.   There's even a video on how to make it on Auntie's Beads

       I found the center row of amethyst at a bead show last year.  I've been waiting for the perfect project for it.   Along the edge are smaller amethyst beads and Delica #11 crystals.   I added a silver plated crystal magnetic clasp to it.    Although I sell a lot of my jewelry on Etsy, I'm keeping this one.

        One of the interesting things about the Flat Spiral pattern is that you don't have to make it flat.   I used faceted round aventurine to make this one:

  Along the edges I added 4 mm glass pearls.   It's like wearing an orange sherbet. 
This one is for sale on my Etsy shop.
   The Flat Spiral is so versatile, it can be doubled for another different look.    Auntie's Beads did a video on this version, too.  I can't wait to try it.    


Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Unofficial Last Weekend of Summer

        Labor Day weekend always meant the last weekend of summer when I was a kid in Ohio.   School always started on Tuesday after Labor Day Monday.     All the schools started at the same time back then, too.   The trees wouldn't start turning red and gold until after the first frost, which might not be until late October.   Still, as soon as school started, summer was over.
         Here in the desert, summer isn't much of a treat.   Actually it's a time to leave, if you can. 
         The heat rises from mid-June until August.  Most days are well over 100F.  The really bad ones are over 115F.  You try to do all your outside work (as little as possible) early in the morning.   Same with running errands.   Then it's inside for the rest of the day.   I've made a lot of jewelry this summer in my air conditioned casita. 
         Occasionally we'll get a cool day or two where the temperature drops below 100F.  Whenever there's a little rain, like today, we get excited and frequently walk around in it.  It's very scattered, however, so not everyone will get a shower.   This morning the rain was light and gentle.
         The huge monsoon rains start anytime after July.   I always hate driving in the summer here because you never knew when a storm might pop up.      
        A monsoon storm is totally different from any rain I had seen in Ohio.  A monsoon rain comes down so fast and hard you can't see the road, or even the car, ahead of you.  The roads flood and washes fill with water. The wind howls, kicking up dust, tumble weeds, and who knows what else.   Dust storms are huge walls of dust that completely obscure the road.  They are terrifying. 
        These storms were a real problem when I was working in La Paz County and had a 2 1/2 hour commute each way.  It's very rural there and not much weather forecasting seems to go on.    More than a few times I left Parker when there were sunny skies and no hint of trouble ahead.  But the farther I drove toward home, the darker the sky would get.  I knew I was in for trouble.  
         One of the greatest things about being retired is not having to worry about driving home in a monsoon.   When you're in the city, you can always pull into a lot and park.   But in the country, there's no place to pull off.   The roads are narrow and the shoulder is frequently non-existent.    When the road gets flooded, it's very dangerous.   The water is muddy so you can't see how deep it really is, and it is amazingly swift and strong.   I don't think there have been any deaths this year, but there were last year when a few drivers tried to cross the washes.   I'm very grateful to be spending this monsoon season safely inside.

       Right now raindrops are on the leaves and the temperature is 83F .   Even though it will get hot later today, I'm going to enjoy this little break.  Summer isn't over here, but it's on its way out.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Wild in Alaska

Denali Backcountry Lodge

       There's only one road that goes into Denali National Park.  It's about 90 miles long, and regular cars can only go on the first 15 miles.  After that traffic is limited to Park buses and a few local residents' vehicles.  
     The road is partially paved.   It's bumpy and dusty in the summer and snowed closed in the winter.  Some parts are single lane.   In a few spots, like at Polychrome Pass, it twists and turns and offers more thrills than an amusement park ride.   Bears, moose, and caribou graze within a few feet of it.   Some animals walk right down the middle of it.    Just riding the bus is a great adventure. 
        But there is more at the end of the road--four backcountry lodges--hidden away in the vast wilderness of Denali.   We were lucky enough to stay one night in the Denali Backcountry Lodge, although I wanted to stay there longer.   They were booked up so one night was all I could get.   This sign marks the turnoff.   

        The area is huge and very secluded.  One other lodge was visible from the road as we drove down a long hill toward our destination.  Later we looked up the mountainside from Moose Creek that ran past our lodge and saw the back of that lodge.   But the other two lodges were totally hidden from view.  I think one of them belongs to the Princess Cruise line, but I'm not positive.   If it's inside the Park, it has to be near here. 

      Here's the sign that marks the end of the road.   The air strip is a few feet past here.   Some people took flight seeing trips from here or flew back to avoid the long bus ride back.
       We went on a botany walk with one of the naturalists.  It may not be visible in the picture, but we were wearing mosquito netting and a ton of Dreet.   Fortunately this was the only place that the mosquitoes were really bad.  
       Not too far from the turnoff is this cabin.  A pioneer woman, Fanny Quigley, lived here for many years.  She was known for her pies and provided food for the miners and others.   The cabin was used by a few other people after her death, but now it has been restored as a landmark.   Every nail, board, table, etc., had to be hauled in from the outside!   She gardened and cooked, but it had to be a lonely way of life. 
         This area, Kantishna, was brought into the Park in 1980.  The private lands are "in holdings".  The Lodges remain, but the mining operations have ceased.   From this location the Park continues west to the sea, but there are no roads in that area.
       I loved the Denali Backcountry Lodge!   It's beautiful, spacious, and just rustic enough.   The main building is two story, with the main dining room downstairs and a library, fireplace, and small gift shop upstairs.  There was a wine and cheese party before dinner, and we enjoyed our  wine on the deck off of the library.  

             There are rows of "cabins" and a separate building where they serve lunch.   After dinner one of the naturalists gave a talk on owls in there, too.   Very interesting.   You can see that building in the picture below.   Even the swinging bridge was fun.   On the other side of Moose Creek was an old miner's tent, a maze, and a few other spots for reading and relaxing.

             A view of the buildings from the other side of the creek. 

      The Lodge was even better than I had imagined.   Lunch was very good and very informal.   Lots of options for sandwiches, soup and salad.   Many of the people were only there for a short time.   They had to return to town when the afternoon bus left.   
       Dinner, however, was gourmet quality.   It was only served to the overnight guests.   We were seated at tables for 6 so you had a chance to talk with other people.    Two of our table mates were from Australia, and the other two were from Washington state. 
        If you ever get the chance to go, do it!        

Thursday, July 4, 2013

I Wanna Be a Bear


           Denali is so green and the air is filled with the scent of the pines.  

     For four days we toured the park on an Adventure Bus and took hikes along the streams and through the woods.    We saw lots of moose and caribou, a fox, a wonderful grizzly bear, and more.  

The first moose was off the road, munching away.   We saw it fairly soon after entering the park on the Adventure Bus.   Our bus driver was great.  He stopped quickly and stayed until we all got lots of pictures.

       Something was so delicious that this moose never raised his head long enough for me to get a picture of his face.  

Another one was right by the road near the Park entrance.

But our closest encounter came while we were on a walk very close to the park's Visitor Center.   Our bus driver had told us that the cows frequently came closer to the entrance, where there were people and more activity, in order to keep their calves safe from wolves.  

  Caribou were plentiful, too.  I like their other name best, reindeer, because it reminds me of Santa Clause and Christmas. 

       This one was sitting on snow to keep cool.   Denali was experiencing a heat wave, nearly 90F, which is really hot for them.
     We saw a fox walking right down the road next to the bus.  In fact, she was so close I couldn't get a picture.  But she was beautiful.  Our driver believed she was a female because of her size, and he seemed to know a lot.    At one ranger station we saw Dall sheep up on the mountain, and lots of small squirrels.
   But the star of my show was this grizzly bear.    A lot of the grizzlies in Denali are blond.

      We watched him for quite a while.  At one point he stood up and scratched his back against a tree.   I was so busy watching I missed taking the picture!  I had been hoping to see a bear, and I wasn't disappointed.  We stayed until he ambled out of sight.

       Later I found this great description of a bear's life on I Love Teddies
"If you're a bear, you get to hibernate. You do nothing for six months. I could deal with that.
Before you hibernate, you're supposed to eat yourself stupid. I could deal with that too.
If you're a bear, you birth your children (who are the size of walnuts) while you're sleeping and wake to partially grown, but cuddly cubs. I could definitely deal with that.
If you're a mama bear, everyone knows you mean business. You swat anyone who bothers your cubs. If your cubs get out of line, you swat them too. I could deal with that.
If you're a bear, your mate expects you to wake up growling. He expects that you will have hairy legs and excess body fat.
Yup, I wanna be a bear."
- Author unknown
Me, too.

Sunday, June 30, 2013



      We left early Monday morning to travel from Anchorage to Denali National Park, a 240 mile trip.    The motor coach picked us up at the Ship Creek Comfort Inn, where we were staying, at 6 AM.   We weaved our way through the Anchorage streets to three other hotels to pick up fellow travelers.   Altogether there were only about 12 of us.  The small size was nice, and a pleasant surprise.  I thought we might have a full bus.  The motor coach was huge, spacious and very comfortable.  By 7 AM we were on our way. 

      Alaska is amazingly huge.   One of our guides said it is twice the size of Texas!   Denali National Park alone is bigger than some East Coast states.    So it's no wonder that the trip would take several hours. 

       After the first hour or so we pulled into Wasilla for a bathroom break.  It's also the home of  the offices of our travel group, Alaska Denali Travel.   They do a great job organizing a variety of trips and adventures that let you pick and choose what you would like to do.   

        We wanted to stay our entire time in Denali, which we were able to do.   Other people we met were taking cruises and fishing trips as part of their vacation.   We met one couple who had been traveling for over a month, and they still had a few weeks left on their trip.    That's way too long a trip for my tastes, but I could understand why they did it.  They had flown in from Australia, and that's a l-o-n-g, l-o-n-g way to come.   No wonder they wanted to stay a while. 

        After a few minutes it was back on the George Parks Highway.   Alaska has three main highways.  We had started out on Highway #1, and somewhere along the way the name changed to George Parks Highway.    We continued along it  for another hour or two until we reached the Denali View South scenic viewpoint.   When we stopped here, I took the top picture of Denali.     

         Officially Denali is still listed on U.S. maps as Mt. McKinley, but most people call it by its Alaskan native name of Denali.  I was surprised to learn that only about 20% of the visitors get to see the mountain because it's normally shrouded in clouds and fog.  We were very lucky.  Alaska had been enjoying a stretch of clear, hot weather when we arrived that continued for nearly our whole trip.

       Denali is amazing!  The mountain is 20,320 feet high.  With its size and large areas of snow and ice, it can create its own weather!    At the point where I took this picture, we were miles and miles away from it.  

        As we continue to travel up the highway, I watched for wildlife.   We passed through a variety of woods, lakes, and open land.    My eyes were constantly on the lookout for bears or moose.   I saw a lot of float planes, but no animals.    I suspect that the heat and the noise of road construction may have caused them to be holed up somewhere.

       After another delay or two for construction--summer in Alaska means road construction and mosquitoes--we finally arrived at our destination, the Denali Cabins and Prey Restaurant. 

    By the time we arrived, it was early afternoon and we were starved.   The sandwiches at Prey were huge and tasty.

       The cedar cabins that dotted the campgrounds would be our home for Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights.  Our cabin had a TV, but we never turned it on.  There were walking paths around the cabins and a nearby airport that we wanted to explore.   We spent Monday afternoon and evening exploring and resting up.
        Early the next morning, on Tuesday, we would be traveling to the Backcountry Lodge.  We were to ride a smaller bus to the end of the only road that goes into the heart of Denali National Park.   We were leaving early again, a thing which has to happen in order to arrive anywhere in Alaska at a reasonable time.   We spent our night packing our essentials into one small suitcase for this trip.  Everything else would be stored at the Cabins.   We could only guess what clothes might be needed, but we knew two things that were crucial--Dreet and mosquito netting.   


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

North to Alaska

           From the time I first heard Johnny Horton sing "North to Alaska" in 1960, I've wanted to go there.   This month I finally made it. 
           Alaska was everything--and more--than I expected.
           The first clue that Alaska was different came when I saw the Alaska Airline's plane.  A flying fish.  

     In Anchorage, fish rule.   
          Ship Creek was lined with fishermen and women from early morning to night.   Except there isn't "night" in Alaska now so I'm not sure if the creek was ever without someone fishing there.    
  The Comfort Inn, where we initially stayed, was next to Ship Creek.   You could borrow poles, go across the street, and catch your lunch.     There was even a bait shop nearby.
One man caught his fish while we were there.  I don't know what kind of fish it was, but it was big.
        We went to the local artisan's fair on Sunday where we found more fish.   I love quesadillas, but I wasn't ready for ones made out of salmon.  
         Walking around Ship Creek and down to the bay was interesting, but I was after bigger fish.   I came to Alaska to see Denali and the wildlife that live in the Park.    Early Monday morning Kent and I would board a motor coach, the Anchorage Denali Express, for the 5 hour drive to Denali.