Category Archives: Community


Spring is in full bloom in the desert. Snowbirds have flown home, school children are antsy for summer, yellow palo verde blossoms are in the air. Baseball training grounds are empty, stale popcorn in the seats and dreams of the World Series carried forward to a new year.

As the temperature climbs, the garden grows. Bright green pea shoots reach for the tomato trellis, stretching their arms inches per day. Pale coral squash blossoms open and close to the beat of the sun. Tiny white flowers will transform into peppers, and yellow ones into tomatoes. The basil multiplies. The citrus sag under the weight of fragrant new life and the heat of the day.

In this season of life, as friends turn 40 and 50 and 60, I watch with curiosity as relationships strengthen, and others dissolve. Babies are born. Parents and spouses die. Marriages come and go. I wake in the night worried about friends, worried about worry, restless with the state of the world. I carry their heartache with me, wondering how I am so fortunate.

Casseroles baked, letters mailed, cookies delivered on platters with hugs that may not be wanted but are needed. I am thankful for what we can do. As sure as the weather changes, I am reassured that we need each other.

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.

Raising the Modern Family: A Stepchild’s View

In this entry in the series, Raising a Modern Family, Ashley talks about being raised by a stepfather, and how this has influenced her marriage with Nick-and the raising of their two boys. She also talks about how her relationship with Christ changed her life, and brought her to forgiving her stepfather.

{I’ve known Ashley for a dozen years, and she has the most incredible real life hair of any woman I’ve ever met.}

Modern Family

Tell me about you, and your family. How long have you been married? How old are your kids?

My name is Ashley. I am a cake decorator and teachers aide-but my two boys would say I’m a ninja mom because of my ability to sneak up behind them when they least expect it! I’m married to an amazing man who is also a wonderful father. We celebrated our 11th year of marriage this past May. Our boys are ages 9 and 5 and keep us very busy between baseball, school, broken bones, lego building, and sword fights. We are followers of Jesus and teach our children to love others, even when nobody is watching and give generously because nothing here is really ours anyway.

How long have you been a stepkid?

I became a step kid when I was in the 8th grade. Trying not to age myself here, it’s been roughly 22 years.

Did you have a good relationship with your stepparents? Are they still married today? Are you in contact?

No. Not at first, anyway. To me, my step father was the reason my parents got in touch with a divorce attorney and even considered getting divorced. It took a very long time for me to just forgive him and learn to let him in emotionally. Before that, I acted out, getting arrested, skipping school, and in general being a horrible person. It was a rough 4 years before I graduated high school and moved out. When I was 19, I asked Jesus to take control. It was life changing. Letting go of the bitterness, forgiving both of them, really helped grow our relationship into what it is today. They are still married and I do get to see him quite often.

I also have a step mother, which was a totally different experience…but for sanity purposes, I’ll keep these comments about my step father, since that’s who I lived with primarily.

How has this experience changed you?

My parents had nearly divorced a few times. Had they received timely legal guidance from family law solicitors similar to that of a Bradford law firm, we wouldn’t have had to experience what we have been through. I can remember them sitting us down and having the “talk” with us, and then nothing would happen. Then we’d have another talk. And then nothing. Then one day, when my dad was away on a business trip, she moved us to a new house. It was so life-changing, that I never want my own kids to go through that if I can avoid it. I know that there are MANY different reasons and ways to become a stepchild or step-parent. My story is through a divorce. And it broke our family for a long time. So for us, we of course want to avoid getting divorced if possible. That being said, some friends of ours have recently decided to get a divorce, and I genuinely believe that it is the right choice for them. Our friends have only been married for a couple of years, and because they completed a prenuptial agreement, the financial side of their divorce should be relatively straightforward. I can still remember the day when my friend told me that she was going to meet with a team of Los Angeles prenup attorneys. It is pretty safe to say that signing a prenup turned out to be the right decision for them. Nonetheless, of course, in our marriage we have had many ups and downs, but our promise was not only to each other, but also to God. I think going through a divorce experience made me a better wife and mother.

What would you have done differently?

Oh gosh. I would have stopped being such a brat and just listened to him! He had two grown kids of his own and knew a thing or two about how to raise us. I just didn’t want to hear it then. I will say, he did a very good job of just hanging back until I was ready to let him in.

Has your parenting style been influenced by this experience?

I’m sure it has in some way. I just never really stopped to say, hey, I do this because I was a step kid.

What advice would you give to someone new to either the stepkid or stepparent game?

To stepkids I’d say, be open. Let your step parent in. Talk to them; let them know if you’re having a hard time. Be respectful and share some of your favorite family memories, and make new memories together!

Is there a story about your childhood you’d like to share?

My step father knew our family for years before he became a part of it. He was a magician. I can remember him sitting us down as kids and teaching us magic tricks. We each got to learn one. We were sworn to secrecy about how it was done. To this day I can not reveal how the trick he taught me is done.

Is there anything else you’d like folks to know about your experience?

Only recently did I learn that my stepfather actually struggled with forgiving HIMSELF for how everything happened with my mom. Out of respect for him and my mom, I won’t list details, but I will say that it made me look at him with much more sympathy. Over 22 years living with guilt is no way to live life. Forgive yourself. Forgive your step parents. And step parents: forgive your step kids. One day they WILL come around!

Thank you Ashley!

The Inconvenience of Kindness

French Apple Cake

What a place we’ve made of this world. In the last week, we’ve seen Paris attacked by terrorists. Beirut, too. There have been countless other tragedies, including a handful in Africa that resulted in similarly unnecessary deaths, but without the same attention.

Don’t you care about the people who don’t look like you? 

You’re racists for using that French profile on Facebook. What about all the others suffering?

Oh, how quick we are to lash out at others — even in how we are grieving. There is no grievance police.

Fast forward a few days, and the debate currently underway in my social sphere is whether or not to ban refugees from coming into our communities.

They’re ISIS. We can’t know who they really are!

We don’t have the resources.

We don’t take good enough care of our own!

I don’t have any answers to the many hard questions we are facing as a specie. I do not understand how a person could be so angered they would want to kill another. What I do know is our community is fractured. Until we figure out how to have civil discourse about the things we disagree upon, we’re no better than cave men throwing stones at each other. Sure, the proverbial stones today may be snide remarks on social media — but the lack of discourse is precisely the same.

I do not agree that more war will produce peace, but I’m willing to listen to those who support further military action. I do not agree that restricting refugees will result in less safe communities, but I’ll hear you out. I do not agree that the world has to be a place of us vs. them.

It’s just us.

This week, let’s live our lives following the old hippie bumper sticker motto: think globally, act locally. Make your community stronger by being inconvenienced with kindness. Meet your neighbors. Donate blood. Pick up trash. Help someone who is not deserving of your help, and do it with a smile.

I cannot solve the issue of international terrorism, but I sure as hell can make sure the old lady who lives next door to me is getting enough to eat. I can make sure the kids in my home hear every day that they are smart and can accomplish whatever they want in life. I can ask more questions and try to hear a person’s story before blindly passing judgment.

It’s just us.

We can take better care of our own, we can provide refuge to those escaping persecution and we can live in a peaceful world, but we have to get there together.




Sewing Bee and the Buzz

Sewing bee!


This weekend I had a few girlfriends over for a sewing bee. We chatted and enjoyed a potluck. Of course there was laughter and gossip and sharing of ideas and support. It was a lovely way to spend a few hours with friends in my new home.

And I started an intense new project for us: a bit of fall color for the couch. I hope to post photos as this pillow progresses this week.

Sewing Bee

Sewing Bee

Sewing Bee

Sewing Bee

Happy week, friends!




Riding my bike to work

The month of April was dedicated to biking to work in Arizona. I took the challenge with a few coworkers. I ended up riding/taking the light rail some 533 miles. (Some will argue that the light rail miles are cheating. I am not on the highway and I wasn’t a regular user of this form of public transit before this month, so I’m calling it a win. I definitely cycled more than I rode.)

So, this morning, with the last day of the challenge looming, I decided to take my time riding in to take as many photos as I could.

There was that yard in Tempe that is now overgrown with spring bushes nearly covering their pro-vegan hand-lettered messaging:

Riding my bike to work

Rock on, hippies. And the community garden nearby, with the maze of pastel painted tractor tires:

Riding my bike to work

Riding my bike to work

The birthday cake house! As my brother and I always called it as kids:

Riding my bike to work

Riding my bike to work

It is actually the Tovrea Castle. I’ve never been inside, but it has quite the history. Can you imagine landing in Arizona and constructing that house amid a sea of saguaros and adobes? Chutzpah.

There was also the odd landscape, including beheaded palms, a Mary Poppins fence, and a park with a creative state flag:

Riding my bike to work

Riding my bike to work

Riding my bike to work

Riding my bike to work

The Sheriff Joe protesters — who may be getting somewhere.

Riding my bike to work

And then there was the practical I also documented. I’ve become good friends with Aleve, and lesser friends with my right knee. Also, the heat today was serious. It was close to 100 and for the first time, I could feel it coming back off the black pavement toward me as I road with my head down toward home.

Riding my bike to work

Riding my bike to work

And just when I thought I wasn’t going to have anything really funny to share photo wise, this guy got on the my train home:

Riding my bike to work

He said it takes him just a few minutes to do, and then he goes back to bed for an hour to let it dry. It. Was. Mesmerizing. The entire car of people starting chattering.

A full month of riding in. If I learned one thing I’d like everyone to know it is this: get off your phone and pay attention to the road. Please.



Strengthen Our Net

I’ve become an advocate of sorts for the homeless of Arizona in the last few years. Working at the health department, I have seen how and why folks become homeless. There are holes in our social nets, but! But. There are also fiercely strong sections too.

Flagstaff Shelter Services is one of those strong ropes, providing nightly shelter for more than 80 folks year round, and day services to another 200 or more who need to get inside for a meal, or to do laundry. They are having an annual fundraiser in a couple weeks, including a silent auction. I can’t attend the event, but I sent this sweater:

Latest baby sweater

Latest baby sweater

Latest baby sweater

A baby sweater isn’t going to solve much, but it is what I can do for now. That and talk about homelessness and what we can all do to further strengthen our communities to help those most in need. While there are those who say homeless folks enjoy their culture and “want to be on the streets,” — I promise you those are far and few between.

Many in Flagstaff, and Phoenix and Tucson and all the towns between, are families who hit a rough spot and faced eviction. Sleeping in their cars led to further problems and a loss of employment. A bad car accident without health insurance left them penniless. Serving in the military left them with nightmares and the inability to trust, much less work. A substance abuse problem, an abusive partner, a series of bad decisions left them vulnerable and without a home.

These are the more common stories.

I know there are many of you who read this blog from your own communities in Maine, Texas, England, Australia, Japan and South Africa. I know that we face different social issues but each of our neighborhoods have those who need a bit of help, a hand up — as they say. It is delightful to support FSS and iHelp in Tempe, Chandler and Mesa — two organizations that truly are helping the homeless find work, get established and start over.

We are all the same, whether we are on the streets or comfortable in our warm beds. We want to be safe. We want to be loved. Our lives matter.


Beep Beep

This week

This week

This week

This week

We are reveling in spring over here. Have I mentioned that? Have you rolled your east coast eyes so far back into your freezing brains that you just want me and my sunshine to shut up already?

I know. I’m sorry. But what can I say? We are in the last throws of Smug Season. Soon, you’ll be sipping cocktails on your patios by the glow of fireflies and I’ll be leaning over an oscillating fan wearing an iced bikini at midnight swearing at myself for suffering through another summer. (How’s that for a visual?)

Okay, that is a bit dramatic. (Have you met me? I’ve got a PhD in exaggeration.*)

Bloom where you are planted, they say. Don’t drip directly into the fan, they say. We are being dragged into another warm summer. Might as well celebrate the colors and gentle nature of spring while we can, and decorate the house with adorable cactus and desert dwellers where hilariously possible.


*Actually, I don’t.

More of that saving sunshine…

Citrus marmalade

Citrus marmalade

Citrus marmalade


Another 20 jars of citrus marmalade canned this week. (And yes, I did clean up the lip before topping these babies.) I’ve finally got this recipe down after 45 jars of jam made. This time I threw in a twist, adding a stick of cinnamon for the last 20 minutes. Then, I turn that giant pot of popping, smacking, angry boiling sugar to a medium low and just let it think for about 20 minutes, with plenty of steam still rising and my stirring arm finally getting a rest.

We’ve got lots and lots of jam and a mercifully decreasing amount of both fruit and fruit flies in the pantry.

Veggie Pizza


And homemade veggie pizza to celebrate. Yet another creative adventure at trying to use all that garden produce.

What’s cooking at your house?