Category Archives: Arizona

All things about the great desert I call home.

La Posada

We had a chance to get away last weekend to La Posada in Winslow. It is a historic Mary Coulter-designed hotel on the rail line, and is home to one of our favorite restaurants, The Turquoise Room.

If you aren’t familiar with Mary Colter and Fred Harvey, they are icons in Route 66 Americana history. (La Posada and the Harvey girls are featured in Counting Coup.)

One of the magical parts of writing novels is discovering bits of history that make me want to learn more. Several years ago, we traveled through Winslow and I learned about the Harvey girls. The novel was essentially done, but I went back to the story to add these details.

On this trip, we bumped into a woman who told us about the Winslow Historical Society. Our meeting felt like kismet; she shared that many of the buildings in downtown Winslow, by the railroad, had tunnels originally connecting them. No one knows why, and the tunnels were filled in during the 1970s because the foundations of the buildings were slanting and starting to fail. However, in the cellars and basements of many of the buildings, there is reportedly Chinese writing from the workers who built the rail (and likely had to dig the tunnels.)

Another little gem of Arizona history that I am tucking in my pocket for a future story. It does make me wince that there are photos of white pioneers to be found in multiple places in Winslow, and yet the Chinese workers aren’t mentioned, and nearly all the service staff are American Indian. I’m guessing the history of the land for the northern Arizona tribes is told differently.

A few photos of the grounds and the weekend. Even if you don’t take the time to stay at the hotel, if you are ever in Winslow, make time for the corn and black bean soup at the restaurant. It is among the best dishes I’ve ever eaten.

Life in the Time of COVID-19

Today marks week 6 of working from home. Life has changed in some ways that feel permanent. Our eating habits have improved. We’re being intentional and cautious about going to the grocery, planning meals, and food economy. Sleep and concentrated thought are a luxury. The heaviness of what is happening around us keeps me from being able to focus on reading anything of value. I lose count knitting. I toss and turn between 2-4 am.

I’ve found peace in sitting outside mid-afternoon and watching the white clouds float overhead. This spring has been one of the most beautiful I can remember, but perhaps that’s because we’ve all been forced to stop and notice. Yesterday I watched hummingbirds come and go, monarch butterflies flitter, and quail bobbing along with their head feathers dancing as they searched the edge of the garden for seed.

The tomatoes and peppers are still green, but the basil and dill are in full bloom. This week spring will morph into early summer as the temperatures will climb over 100. We’ll put out water for the birds, refill the feeders, and close the windows to keep cool air inside. I’ll miss the sounds of the garden from the kitchen.

We’re staying connected to others as we can. We join neighbors nightly at 7 pm to bang pots and pans in the driveway, a global celebration of those working on the front line. I’ve joined others in my quilt guild by sewing and handing out masks to loved ones and others in need. We’ve checked in on those who live alone on our street, and picked up groceries for those who can’t get out of their homes. And we’ve been blessed with bags of citrus from neighbors’ trees, swaps of loaves of bread and dozens of eggs, going back and forth across the street as people have extra and others are in need. We’ve met people in our community we didn’t know before and been delighted to witness their generosity.

This weekend, feeling stir crazy, we took a long drive north to hike and wander. I don’t remember ever feeling so fortunate to be outside, away from home, adventuring with my husband. On the radio, a talk show host reminded listeners that this is the first time we’ve ever had to all slow down like this. Rediscovering the simple joys: watching the clouds, listening to the birds, meeting the neighbors, going for a drive: I’m thankful.

Growing Community

Last weekend, while wandering Miami, Arizona after a lovely walk through Boyce Thompson Arboretum, a girlfriend and I stumbled upon a community demonstration for hydroponic gardening. We were “just in time for the tour!” Elvin Fant was leading several others through an old building downtown that was once owned by the copper mines.

Gardening in Miami, and its neighbor towns in the Copper Corridor southeast of Phoenix, is a dangerous proposition. Once a booming mining community, today the towns are littered with tailing pools and other remnants of the industry. The smelter smokestack was removed just last year in neighboring Superior. Commemorative t-shirts are available at the Circle K for $20.

That Circle K is one of the largest convenience stores I’ve ever been in. They don’t just sell the typical sodas and gas, but also a counter for hot sandwiches. The Copper Corridor is a food desert. The largest grocery is Wal-Mart, and that’s 25 miles away.

Elvin discovered that the Safeway next to Wal-Mart was closing, and the owners planned to leave the 27,000 square food building vacant. The retiree, who still owns a local mechanic shop in town, found this infuriating. How could they leave that space vacant and where was everyone going to get their food?

The Vietnam veteran did some research and discovered hydroponic gardening. Within a year, he met with hydroponic researchers at the University of Arizona, secured an intern to write grants and help with planting and research, and secured two vacant buildings in town. Today, he’s growing food for his community and evangelizing to all who will listen about how easy it is to grow your own food when the earth is poisoned. He has more than 60 volunteers who help, and several local restaurants buying his produce.

They’ve also created a classroom and have regular community discussions and demonstrations about growing food.

He’s growing food in both locations, selling worm farms to neighbors, and has organized a community garden that feeds the local food bank. The man is a local hero. I felt so fortunate to spend some time with him, hear his excitement at watching this work grown, and amazed at how quickly he was able to get his idea off of the ground.

If you are in Miami, stop and say hello. You can support the Cobre Valley Indoor Farms work here.

The Productivity Trap

I’ve been struggling a bit lately. This isn’t uncommon for me this time of year. We’re mid-July and really only starting our summer season. The weather’s already climbed over 110, and this shifts life. To be outside, where I’d rather be, you’ve got to get up before the sun.

None of this is new. You’d think after nearly 40 years of living in one place, I’d be adjusted. But no, as the temperatures rise and the days grow longer, I feel a heavy weight of seasonal depression wrap itself around me like a hungry snake.

Further, I’ve noticed a source of my sadness is that I’m not spending all the time doing all the hobbies. Pieces of a quilt waiting to be sewn are scattered on the dining room table. My knitting is on the couch, where it rests in a colorful heap waiting for me to have a moment at the end of the day. The tomato leaves have browned and curled in upon themselves, frustrated that my lack of time and love has left the garden looking rather apocalyptic.

I lived for so long alone, close to work. I had nearly every moment, outside of the 40 hours a week I was at a desk, to play. Today, in lieu of having a new recipe or quirky story to post on the blog, I’ve got a happy husband and three dogs on a leash pulling me around the block before I race across town to work.

I’ve hitched my happiness for too long on how much I could get done. How many crafts can I make? How many neighbors can I feed? How many XYZ can I do and write about and show the world that I’m busy and productive?

What a trap. In retrospect, this behavior is boastful smoke and mirrors. If you can’t be happy sitting still, are you really at peace?

Mindfully, I’m adjusting to this new schedule and trying instead to find moments of happiness in the routine. The way the dogs greet me at the door after a long day at work. The magic of an Instapot recipe that puts dinner on the table with minimal effort. The basil that grows under our Ficus tree and soldiers on regardless of the heat. The tiny bag of sock knitting I keep in my purse for conference calls at work, because the methodical movement is soothing and helps me focus on whatever I’m listening to on the phone.

This is where I am today, friends. No great photos to post. No funny conclusion to the story. Putting one foot in front of the other and pushing through another summer in the desert.

~K

What a week

PBS!

 

This week has been a whirlwind. On Tuesday, we hosted the neighborhood bookclub. This likely doesn’t sound like much, but it took a considerable effort to have 20 people over for dinner after a work day. That said, everyone sat shoulder to shoulder in our living room, holding tiny plates of shrimp and sandwiches. There was quite a bit of feedback on “Counting Coup,” which was both wonderful and always awkward to sit through.

It’s hard to hear critique of something you love without being defensive and a jerk in response. I’m learning. I’m trying. I’m far from perfect. (And neither is my writing.)

PBS!

On Thursday, I was interviewed on the local PBS station about “Counting Coup” and it went well. It was terrifying at first, but quickly became fun. The host, Ted Simons, was a doll. Personable, kind, and generous. I hope I get to be a guest again.

As far as writing goes, this has been the best week yet. Thank you for your constant support!

 

~K

The February Garden

February in the garden

February in the garden

February in the garden

February in the garden

February in the garden

February in the garden

We are enjoying this beautiful, temperate spring weather. Everything is blooming and happy. Even the avocado tree is sprouting new leaves and growing. The acacia trees, with their yellow pom poms of pollen are making the entire neighborhood smell heavenly.

Our raised bed garden, fondly referred to as the “dong garden” because of its vulgar shape, is not thriving. We need to pull everything out, turn the soil, add amendments and replant. I have to remind myself it took years for the garden in Tempe to take off. While this is year 3 in this garden space, it still isn’t quite right.

Gardening is a hobby for those who need help with patience. With a few free hours next weekend, we’ll have new tomato and squash transplants in the ground, and hopefully a booming garden come summer.

What are you planting?

~K

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is near Page, Arizona — the tippy north center top of the state. It is free to see. You park in a gravel lot and hike about a quarter mile to an overlook.

When we were there last week, construction crews were working on the trail. It seems like the park service is going to make it handicap accessible, which it is not currently.

Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend trip October 2017

It is very pretty. I’d love to have the chance to go back when the water is high and take photos at sunrise and sunset.

It is hard to stand before land that has been carved by slow drips of water and not feel like the universe is huge, we are small, and it is all going to be okay.

~K

Antelope Canyon

Last week, we visited the Grand Canyon on our annual pilgrimage. We have hiked in the canyon each year of our relationship, and my husband’s love affair runs deep. This year, we invited some friends from Indianapolis to join us, and my extended family came along—including my card shark 15-year-old niece.

The trip started in Antelope Canyon. If given the chance or if you are able to join one of those antelope canyon tours, you should see this. From the road, it looks like nothing other than a crowded parking lot and an odd array of tourists huddled together around guides. Within 100 yards of the parking lot is a set of steel stairs that descend into a deep slot crevice. One by one, we trickled into the canyon with our guide. The lighting was magical. The crowds were not.

Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend trip October 2017

Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend trip October 2017

Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend trip October 2017

Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend trip October 2017

Hi Dan and Lisa!

Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend trip October 2017

Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend trip October 2017

Hi crazy crowds! The selfie sticks alone were b-a-n-a-n-a-s. I had to focus on deep breathing in parts where the canyon was tight and there were streams of people in front and behind me.

 

Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend trip October 2017

But then, this happened. There were a group of monks visiting and I was able to snap this quick shot.

Antelope Canyon is worth the trip, especially if you can find a time when it isn’t busy!

~K

Come on in!

Nelson Mandela Fellowship dinner

This weekend, we hosted a handful of women from Africa for dinner. They are here studying with the Nelson Mandela fellowship at ASU for the summer. Hawanatu is a doctor from Sierra Leone. Sia is an accountant, also from Sierra Leone. Theresa works in human rights in Ghana. Tsige is a civil engineer from Ethiopia. They were learning as much about each other, and the 30-plus others in their group, as they were about America.

Nelson Mandela Scholar Dinners

I am thankful to have sat with them and listened as they talked about their country’s university systems, healthcare and what they expect as they return. I wish the program worked in reverse and I could go for six weeks to learn from them!

~K

Into the Garden We Go

January in Phoenix is an ideal time for gardening, believe it or not. I planted tomatoes from seed, which are popping up all over the beds, along with garlic and onions. The cruciferous plants are hanging in there, but not flourishing. The soil needs more work and it didn’t get cold enough this winter to set these vegetables.

However, the citrus are going crazy. The peppers continue to produce. The larger tomato plants are blossoming and the lettuce and rainbow chard is happy. The rosemary is perennial and the Thai basil is happy. Poinsettias and geraniums are blooming red.

Gardening in January www.africankelli.com January 2017 Mesa, Az

Gardening in January www.africankelli.com January 2017 Mesa, Az

Gardening in January www.africankelli.com January 2017 Mesa, Az

Gardening in January www.africankelli.com January 2017 Mesa, Az

Gardening in January www.africankelli.com January 2017 Mesa, Az

And for Christmas this year, Jason received an avocado tree. We planted it yesterday and I took a photo next to this planted cactus for size. She should grow to be 6-8 feet tall. We’ll have to work on a shade structure sooner than later to help her through her first of many hot Arizona summers.

Gardening in January www.africankelli.com January 2017 Mesa, Az

Now, if we could only figure out how to make those agave in the front yard magically transform into tequila…

-K