Sunday, May 31, 2009

Terrorized by the Livestock

Paul and I are being terrorized by cows.

“Bulls!” Paul always insists if he hears me say that. “I’m not afraid of cows!”

Alright, bulls. Bulls in mating season, to be specific, bulls running free on our property and up and down the country roads. They’re territorial, they’re huge, and when so inclined they can move really fast.

We were really looking forward to a walk after the first spring rain. We walked out our driveway, turned the corner to go down the country road that borders our property, and suddenly heard a sound like an enraged tyrannasaurus. “What the hell is that?!” The sound got closer and closer while we stood stock still, not sure which way to go. Then we saw it— an enormous wall of sex-crazed bull stepped out into the road ahead of us. It swerved sharply towards us as it caught our scent and stared at us with the look of a psychotic killer on his next victim’s trail.

“Aaagh! Nice bull” we said as we hastily walked back home. We kept as many trees between us and the bull as possible. Luckily, he had more important matters in mind as he continued to call for his mate.

A week or two later our path was blocked by a family of cows. The calves were scampering about while their mothers peacefully chomped the grass down to the ground and a big black bull guarded them all. We took a couple of steps closer and the bull stared us down. We hesitated and it took a step in our direction.

“Let’s walk off the path and see if we can go around them.” I suggested. So we took a few steps off the road and there was another one in the same posture, only this was an even larger blond bull with horns. We turned around and walked back the way we came.

At first we thought we were silly for being afraid but then we heard a story on NPR about a rancher who had his favorite pet bull bull cloned after it died. The first bull's name was Chance so they called the cloned one Second Chance. Second Chance looked and behaved exactly like the first except for one thing. It was more aggressive. One day the rancher brought food out to its stall like he always did and the bull attacked him, gored him in the groin and tossed him in the air.

Since then we’ve been having discussions about what to do if one of the bulls around here charges. Paul’s mom thinks we should bring pots and pans with us on our walks and bang on them with metal spoons. “Uh-huh,” we think as we nod politely, “that’s not going to happen.”

I think we should zig-zag across the countryside in between the trees. That’s a possibility but I know neither one of us has much athletic ability when it comes to running.

Paul says “How would you feel if I brought a gun?”

Like every household out here, there are several firearms in our house—two or three rifles and a pistol. Paul grew up with guns, was given his first rifle when he was 11 or 12 years old. Santa Cruzans would be shocked to discover that a person can be religious, deeply spiritual even, and know how to handle a weapon. Paul developed a bit of a reputation as a sharpshooter earlier in his life. He could hit a dime five times in succession from 100 yards with a rifle, do far greater tricks with a revolver. A serious meditation practice can do wonders for a person’s success on the shooting range.

I felt horrified that Paul had rifles in our closet in Santa Cruz. I never saw him shoot one—he had moved on from that activity by the time we met—but it bothered me just the same. Now I felt grateful.

“Yeah, next time bring a gun.”

So far we haven't remembered to bring one. Paul has promised not to aim at the animals if he does. He doesn’t like the idea of killing, would just shoot into the ground to frighten them away. Besides, killing a cow in this community has steep consequences. We’ve been warned.

“Don’t play ‘Good Samaritan’ and call the rancher if you happen to hit a cow with your truck.” we were told. “Our friend Jamie down the road did that and, boy, did she regret it!” She was held responsible to pay not only for the bull she killed but for the price that might have been paid for all its offspring. No compensation was offered her for the damage to her truck or for any injuries she might have sustained in the accident.

It doesn’t matter if the animal is running free on the road or roaming on your private land. This is “free-range cattle country.” Let the buyer who decides to live here, beware.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pelican Rock Digital Painting

We made our first sale with our barely opened Zazzle shop and this was the image that sold. A happy relaxed congregation of Brown Pelicans enjoying the sunlight glinting off the water in their favorite roosting area at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz, CA.
Pelican Rock mug
Pelican Rock by paulnsheryl
Put your own photos on coffee mugs with

One Lovely Blog!

Well, I was recently given a nice surprise--this blog was awarded the One Lovely Blog Award by Bellissima who makes some really nice 100% natural mineral makeup and has one lovely blog herself!

Thank you so much, Bellissima and, in keeping with the tradition of the One Lovely Blog Award I'm posting the Rules of Blog Award Acceptance:

1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link.

2. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you've newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

So...Spiritual Counseling, Perfume, Healing and Me proudly passes the 'One Lovely Blog Award' on to:

Kala Pohl Studio

Anne's Inspirational Art and Healing

Little Flowers

A Natural Perfumers Journal White Witch

Roxana Illuminated Perfume


For the Love of Cute

Green Earth Journey

Cow Island

Ellen Morrow

Paul's Blog



Handmade Bits and Pieces

Little Loveables

Congratulations to all the 'One Lovely Blog' Award Winners!

Thank you for sharing your words and your art!

If you have a moment, take some time and get to know a few of the Award Winners by clicking on the links and visiting their Blogs & Shops!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Forgiveness for the LDS

I forgive the LDS. I forgive the Mormons. I forgive you and I don’t know why my shoulders literally dropped several inches when I thought it. I want to know so I’m writing my thoughts stream of consciousness style in hopes that some part of my psyche or my greater guidance let’s me know.

I’ve been having a panic-stricken night. Paul and I had a serious drop in our financial well-being since moving here, especially in the last couple of months. I desperately was attempting a healing on my emotional reaction—we’ve been aware of this situation for some time without panic—but my healing wasn’t complete yet and I found myself musing about the white ribbon in the marriage equality and religious freedom video I put up on my blog yesterday.

The white ribbon is a symbol used by the LDS to represent forgiveness. I didn’t know that. I’m sure not all LDS know it. I had to look it up. But I was musing on that and asked myself: could I forgive the Mormons about Proposition 8 now that I live among them and know more about their culture and way of life?

Yes. I thought it, I felt it, and my shoulders relaxed. I kept thinking it and they dropped further and further and I felt the terror I’ve been feeling drop away. How could that be? What’s the connection?!!!

I forgive you for scaring the hell out me. I scare easily because I’m a product of a people who were persecuted almost out of existence just like you! I know that about your history now. I didn’t know it before. I’m Jewish. We carry a lot of fears about what would happen if the government passed laws that threaten our way of life, too.

Freedom to marry whoever you love shouldn’t have to threaten you—you don’t have to teach your kids that it’s okay— but I understand how fragile it makes one feel to live a way of life the greater culture doesn’t understand and to feel you might have to defend it with all your might. Gay people understand that, too, and Jews and people of any non-Christian faith living in the United States. We all understand it. And that’s why it was SO scary to find out that almost half the money raised to push Propostion 8 through came from LDS sources, mostly from out of state. That such a tiny group had the financial resource and commitment to do that to a community where they don't live was terrifying—what if they thought my group was scary? A lot of people do! What if the LDS came after me?

I forgive you for that now. I still don’t know why I breathe more deeply when I think that.

I don’t see how it changes my situation. We’re still New Age spiritual counselors in a Mormon town. The first thing people have asked when they’re considering whether to use our services is “will it conflict with the teachings of my Mormon faith?” When we answer honestly that we don’t know what the Mormon church says about going to interfaith-oriented spiritual counselors for advice and guidance the conversation ends and they don’t call back.

Our Bay Area based clients can’t work with us in-person now that we’ve moved here. It didn’t seem like we had enough business in Santa Cruz to justify staying but it was better than it’s been since we came here. Maybe with the recession that would be true anywhere we lived but we’re here so it seems like living in this community is the biggest problem we have now. I forgive you for not making it easy enough to stay by using our services—I don't expect you to think like we do! But I also forgive myself for thinking I was wrong for having come. I can see that I needed to get to know you well enough to forgive you for how you treated my community—my San Francisco Bay area community full of gay people I love. I can forgive you for that now.

Could you please try to get to know us, all of us you think are so scary and different, and respect our right to live in peace in the way that’s right for us, too? The fight for equal rights for everyone and religious freedom isn't over. You know better than most communities in the United States the utmost importance of that. Why not come out and tell those stories publicly?

Maybe it's time to put the differences aside and support each other to fight for what all communities who have been labeled different need. A marriage to come home to, with people we love, in a community where we're safe, in a country where all our freedoms are protected under the law. You have this in Snowflake and Taylor! Can't you see how valuable it's been and extend the same kindness and respect to us all?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hummingbird News

We saw five hummingbirds feeding at the giant strawberry at the same time today. They jockeyed for position, sparring a little in mid-air, but all eventually settled in and had a good drink.

Super Hummer is overwhelmed. He can't fight off all the birds at once. The communal uprising of the hummingbird masses is overcoming the oppression of the dominant patriarchy. Hurrah!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Mormon Temple and Marriage Equality

Paul and I had a fun photo shoot late Sunday afternoon after a rainstorm. The light kept changing and there were rainbows everywhere. We caught sight of the Snowflake Mormon temple in the distance after going out to dinner and thought it would be interesting to see what was happening over there. The light at that time of day is always great but as it came through the dark rainclouds it made for a very dramatic effect.

The couple in the far right of the second photo looked very sweet. The bottom photo shows Snowflake and part of Taylor looking away from the temple at the top of the hill.

The Mormon Temple is built of granite and is surrounded by a locked metal fence. There's a reason for that and it's only partly about aesthetics. The Mormons were a severely persecuted group and there's no way they're going to let anyone burn this sacred space to the ground.

At the Taylor Memorial Day Weekend Celebration at the LDS Stake Center in that town numerous statements were made about how grateful the LDS community is for the veterans who fought to preserve the freedom for people to worship God as they choose. They were talking about equal rights, something this community was denied because their beliefs and what was considered to be an alternative lifestyle in regards to marriage were deemed unlawful.

Join the fight for marriage equality and religious freedom! Check out this video to find out more now.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What if People Could Vote On Your Marriage?

Today the California Supreme Court upheld the legislation passed last November that took away the right for gay people to marry in California but did allow the 18,000 single sex marriages that happened before that vote to stand. The court's mixed reponse leaves the door open to change in the future because it is certainly not right to allow some people rights while denying them to others of the the same group.

The Courage Campaign is now trying to raise money to air a really well-done ad in which they say:

What if we could vote to pay you less because of your gender?

To deny you medical care because of your age?

To deny you housing because of your race?

What if we could vote to deny you the right to marry the person you love?

That's what Proposition 8 was all about.

It's a great ad, a powerful statement. Watch it for yourself!

Submarine Vets, Memorial Day

There's a surprising number of submarine vets out here in the desert. Perhaps after spending too much time in cramped quarters under water some wide open spaces is just what these guys needed. Paul's stepdad is the one on the far right. Their float won first prize in the parade. It's a submarine, of course, made from an old propane tank.

Flag Raising, Memorial Day, Concho, Arizona

The flag raising at the end of the Memorial Parade in Concho was a moving event. They read a list of the names of local soldiers who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was a long list. People in poverty stricken areas are hit especially hard in times of war.

Monday, May 25, 2009

At the Parade, Concho, Arizona

Memorial Day Parade

We attended the Memorial Day parade in Concho today. Paul's stepdad Frank was in it. He is a submarine vet and their float won first prize so this slideshow focuses a bit extra on that. For some reason the picture quality eroded terribly and it lost half its sound but I've tried twice so it's going to have to do. I'll post a few of the best photos from this later.

Barn at Taylor, Arizona

I took this photograph of a farm after a rainstorm in Taylor, Arizona. I was across the street at the gas station.

Then I thought it would look better as a painting.


This really great treehouse can be found in the parking lot between Trapper's Restaurant and the post office in Taylor, AZ

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Taylor Ole Opry, Southwest "Plain-Spokenness," and Getting to Be Yourself

Paul and I went to the Taylor Country and Western Show, part of the Trapper Days Memorial Day Weekend Celebration. It used to be called the Taylor Grand Ole Opry but they got in trouble for that this year. For me it was a kind of "slice of life" experience: fascinating in the way that watching a movie about Tibet can be. A look at a different way of life—a living piece of "history" in this case. We are definitely not in Oz anymore. Kansas might come close but only if the part of Kansas you visited was a Mormon pioneer town. It's intriguing, sort of sweet, but also a little discomforting at times.

Even if you watch a well-done documentary about, say, Tibet the filmmaker has a job to do which they always interpret through their own lens. They say the camera never lies but the filmmaker can and often does whether they intend to or not. As a reporter, a blog writer in this case, I'm always making an attempt to cast a light on some aspect of experience but I'm the one holding the lantern. If I focus only on the parts this community would want you to see you'd get a lovely picture. If I focus only on the parts that disturb me as an outsider you would miss the loveliness. If I haven't interviewed the people involved in creating the ugly parts (and I haven't) you won't be able to understand it from inside their point of view. Even if I let them speak you might not agree.

I've been mulling over what I want to say because my overall impression of this event and of this community is one of sweetness, especially now that things are green and the rural charm and beauty of the place is plain to see. There's a lot to love about country living, and a down-to-earth plain-spokenness is part of that. But there's a real down side to it as well.

Back to the Taylor Country Western Show. First, you have to understand that Taylor is VERY country, VERY Western and this is a celebration of what they love best. Dress for men at this event appeared to be cowboy hats—which are not taken off indoors—blue jeans, and checked or plaid shirts.

The event took place at the Taylor LDS Stake Center, supposedly in honor of a member of the LDS community who was killed in a car accident several years ago (although there's great disagreement about the truth of that). That's an aspect of small town living that's kind of interesting—there's always a story, lots of gossip to tell—but that's not what I want to focus on here.

Everyone was welcome to attend the show but it was clear from the inside jokes and anecdotes shared that it was assumed that most people in the room were LDS. No problem, really. We felt welcome enough but we aren't LDS and we aren't cowboy, farmers or even terribly used to being country. We can't help but look at this culture from an outsider's point of view. What we see is that it's a way of life with a lot of heart and tradition attached. Mormons care about their Heritage. I capitalize that on purpose because the Taylor Ole Opry was a celebration of Heritage with a big H.

There were a lot of senior citizens at this event and many, perhaps half, of the performers on stage were elderly, too. A few younger people shared some wonderful songs they had written and new country songs they love but the vast majority of the evening was devoted to the old timey stuff. Some of it was performed beautifully, some not so much. Virtuosity was not the point of this event. Community connection was.

That was the sweet part. The very sweet part. Even the young people catered to their elders through their selection of songs and there were a lot of dedications to parents, grandparents and those who had passed on.

The discomforting part? I really didn't want to have to talk about that. I wish I wasn't shown it. But the MC at this event made a great point out of not being politically correct. He said that he had been told that he should not say anything about Snowflake, the neighboring town Taylor has a conflict with, and that he should not cuss or say anything about Obama. He quipped that that meant he wouldn't be able to say anything at all. Okay, given the context, that was funny. But then he muttered into the mic "rat niggers" and everyone laughed at that, too.

Now, in retrospect I know this is one of the elders in the community. If we were to talk to one of his family members— we know a couple of them now—they'd probably just roll their eyes and say something to the effect of "Oh, that's just Grampa's way. You can't take it too seriously." And that's probably the truth.

Nowhere in the Mormon doctrine does it say that racism is acceptable. In fact, it's quite the opposite. But I have to admit to being a little sensitive on the subject. When we first arrived we heard comments about whether the inauguration dinner would be fried chicken and watermelon and then backhand snipes about Obama destroying the country before he had been a full week in office. That was kept to a minimum at this event but Republican conservatism mixed with more than a bit of racism is part of the language spoken in this town. We know that. We've heard it already.

There are stupid bigoted people everywhere and that doesn't mean this behavior is true of everyone in this area. We've heard the opposite, too. And to be honest, California's over-the-top political correctness and, in particular, Santa Cruz's knee-jerk "progressivism" isn't any less offensive to those of us who like to compose our own thoughts on a given subject than the knee-jerk conservativism we hear in this town. The plain spokenness can be incredibly refreshing. But, normally I wouldn't expect to see the role of MC handed over to someone who would make such a remark on stage. I get that he was making a point about political correctness. He even thanked the veterans who gave their lives so he could be politically incorrect in public. Freedom of speech, fair enough. But if someone stood at that mic and called the members of this community a Mormon slur equivalent to "rat niggers" (I don't know any) I don't think they'd accept that as acceptable use of our veteran-fought freedoms.

It's easy to be all about community when your community is predominantly the same color, religion, political persuasion, economic background and Heritage. And, coming from a Jewish background, I understand the desire to want to preserve one's culture and stay within the confines of your own safe homogenized little group. I feel the comfort that comes from that just living here. But I also know the flip side. You lose touch with your connection to the human race as a whole in all its wonderful and horrible shades of diversity. I admit it, the culture outside these sweet tight little enclaves, whether the enclave is Mormon, Jewish, Gay or Progressive, isn't always safe or pretty. Maybe we need these refuges. Maybe we deserve them for ourselves given the difficulties and demands of multi-culturalism.

But as Gavin Newsom was quoted as saying before the vote on Propositon 8 last election: "It's going to happen, whether you like it or not!" Jewish people are treated better when we're part of such a diverse mix that Christians and other groups wind up being our friends before they know our religion. Gays and lesbians have a much better time of it, too. It's hard to play the game of "otherness" once you've gotten to know each other. In this long transition time we're going through as a planet, places of commonality provide refuge for the weary. It's "home" only better because you can let your hair down whether your grandparents like that or not and be yourself! But wouldn't it be just as good if we could be who we really are whether we're in these enclaves or not?

The Black and White Kitty

What's black and white and reddish-brown all over?

Chloe, after she rolls around in the Arizona dirt.

We're having a Chloe love fest these days. Peeps was such an affectionate cat and Chloe has always been so mixed up about human touch that it was hard to treat the two animals the same. I always thought of Peeps as my cuddle-kitty. Chloe? Well...Chloe has always been strange about affection.

"I want it!" she says. "Really, I'm desperate! Feed me love, now!" But, unless you catch her between her frantic circling around the computer when you're trying to work and jumping into the shower while you're still in it, Chloe doesn't tend to sit still for petting unless she's really tired. She doesn't know how to ask for petting in normal kitty ways. And she gets upset if you approach her too quickly.

Paul's been working with her on that and she has periods of great improvement. But little setbacks send her into regression. It's a constant 1 step forward, 2 steps back, 3 steps forward, 1 step back kind of dance. Erratic. We can't even call it "progression."

But she is very sweet and she was particularly neglected when Peep was ill. She even started to protest and get mad at Peep.

But now she's making up for that behavior. And we're letting her know that she's a lovable pet.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Petrified Forest Pictures

When I first saw these photos from our trip to the Petrified Forest I didn't think they were very good. But Paul has been inspiring me with what can be done with a little editing. I didn't do very much to these, just played with the levels to bring out colors that the camera didn't capture. The eye sees things differently -- better-- than a camera can do. And we don't realize how much we unconsciously edit and shift color balance ourselves to compensate in various light conditions. We're far more technologically advanced than any camera lens is. That's why I'm giving up my trepidation about working with things in Photoshop. The desert is an unusual environment but the more time we spend in it the more we see things to appreciate. I think if you click on the pictures you can see them larger.

Springtime in the Desert

The first rains came this week, just sprinkles, couldn't be as much as 1/2 inch. But everything seems so joyful!

The dried up yellow bunches of grass have turned bright green practically overnight. If the color of this photo on your computer screen looks florescent, that's about what it should be!

An adorable little mouse with gigantic ears shared some time with Paul and me on the back porch last night. This morning Paul pointed out two Raven pair bonds doing some kind of dance together in the sky. Earlier this week I saw two tiny cottontails face off, bow to each other and then leap into the air. We've seen both jackrabbits and cottontails chasing each other back and forth, leaping over each other again and again like they're playing a crazy game of leapfrog. And speaking of frogs, we heard the distinct sound of croaking this morning. There are frogs in the desert! They can go away for years at a time but as soon as there's enough rain they awaken and come back to life.

I read on a flower essence website that desert plants, desert life in general, have a tendency to be still, conserving energy for long periods of time. Then, at the slightest opportunity, they come to life and spring into action. It is said that the Arizona desert encourages inner stillness, patience and peace interspersed with periods of rapid growth and change. We see evidence of this all around us. We're both caught up in learning new things and generating new experiences ourselves this week. We have no understanding of what this will do, where it could lead, it might be the beginning of nothing special at all. But it feels really great to be actively engaged in things we want to learn, things we want to do. And all the creatures and plants around us seem to feel the same.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Arizona Hummingbirds

We have hummingbirds here in the desert but I have no idea what they would be eating if there was no feeder. There are very tiny flowers coming into bloom but nothing I would have thought to be of interest.

Hummingbirds are known to be territorial and can be pretty aggressive but we never saw evidence of it in Santa Cruz. There was such an abundance of things hummingbirds like to eat that we rarely saw any fighting or territorial activities.

Here there is one very large feeder shaped like a giant strawberry and about 9-10 hummingbirds. There's more than enough food in the feeder for an army of hummers but they don't think like that. There's one extra large aggressive hummer and he wants it. He chases any bird that tries to get near. Then he tears away through the air, swoops up in the sky, comes back down and zooms over the house as if he's doing some sort of victory dance. A few seconds later the next challenger comes in and it starts all over.

We've been watching this for a few weeks now but lately I've noticed a brand new behavior. Some of the other birds are ganging up. One will come in and get chased while a third bird comes in to take advantage of the situation and feed. Then they change places. Sometimes the two challenging birds come in at the same time. Super Hummer can only chase one so the other always gets a chance to feed. I've also noticed that the challenging birds tend not to chase each other. They'll both feed together at least for short bursts of time.

It's very interesting to see how this bird behavior has progressed.

The photo on this blog today is by my partner Paul. He'd really like it if you came over and visited his blog, too!

Santa Cruz Blues

Alright, it seems that Good Times article I mentioned a couple of blogs ago and John's comment has me going. I don't even live in Santa Cruz any more, it shouldn't matter, but all the reasons I gave up on the place are coming bubbling up to the surface with a roar! I loved Santa Cruz! And hated it, too.

What I hated most was the knee jerk bleeding heart "progressive" values that deemed a group of people's so-called right to turn the peaceful beautiful vibrant downtown shopping district into skid row as more important than the rights of the shopkeepers who pay exorbitant rents in that district to stay alive. Since when does it make sense to charge some of the highest rents in the country for a property and allow some bum reeking of alcohol or out of his mind on drugs to camp in front, harassing people and panhandling for change?

Yes, I used the word "bum"! That's forbidden territory in Santa Cruz. I've never seen a larger skid row population outside of Seattle or Vancouver but even in those places, they're not allowed in the main downtown shopping districts! At least, not to the extent you see it in Santa Cruz.

And one more thing, about those exorbitant rents: in the local paper here articles have been written encouraging struggling shopkeepers to negotiate temporarily lower rents if they need to. After all, in today's economy it's far far better for landowners to keep their properties full than to allow them to be vacant and collect no money at all.

What happened in Santa Cruz after the downtown was rebuilt after the earthquake? Landlords jacked up the rent. I remember one business in particular, a clothing store that was popular and had been there for years. They couldn't afford the huge increase demanded when their lease was up. I think it tripled but I'm not sure about that. I do remember they put a sign in their window explaining why they were shutting down. And then that storefront stayed vacant for more than two years! It's a restaurant now and an over-priced one at that. The costs were passed on to the consumer...but with the recession making people eat at home more often, how is that place doing now? Oh yeah, a lot of bums sit in front of their lovely outdoor seating area, too. How would you like to pay extra high prices for a pizza and have your dinner ruined by that wonderful view?

Short-Lived Adventure

I haven't been wanting to write blogs much lately because I'm spending a lot of time writing book proposals to literary agents and getting a new book together. But, for those of you who are following our various adventures I thought I'd post an update about the tent.

It's down. We slept in it comfortably only that one night. I enjoyed that, so much that I hope we do have more camping opportunities that work out well. But the next night was quite windy and the tent rattled with a loud crinkling sound like someone shaking a newspaper until we gave up and came back inside.

That was a disappointment because it was still too hot to sleep in the house. The next night was worse and then the first rain of the season started to fall. Paul said "I forgot to tell you, that rain fly is practically useless" and we ran outside to pull our bedding in before it got ruined. Then the wind lifted up the rain fly like a parachute and it started to fly away but we caught it in time and brought the tent inside, too.

Luckily, the rain cooled everything down really well and I think we're going to sleep a lot better.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Santa Cruz Looks Even Weirder Now

"Keep Santa Cruz Weird" is a popular slogan for t-shirts in my old hometown. For a while Paul put a satirical T-shirt on Cafepress saying "Santa Cruz is Weird Enough Already" but later thought better of it and took it down. Why antagonize the mob? They have no sense of humor about this.

Earlier this week I received my weekly email version of "The Good Times", Santa Cruz's largest weekly newspaper. "The Good Times" has tried from time to time to actually be a real newspaper but these days the vast majority of articles are written by overworked and underpaid kids just out of college, interns and unpaid "citizen journalists." Same like lots of weeklies all over the country, same as here.

Last week's "Good Times" reported that the Rittenhouse hole is finally being replaced with a building. Rittenhouse has left an empty space in the heart of Santa Cruz since his original building fell in the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. I'm quite certain he and his family were waiting for a firm commitment from either the city or a major business to occupy the space. The mystery is why it took so long to do this when all the other fallen buildings were replaced long ago.

No matter, supposedly it's happening now or has happened already. I couldn't tell from the article online. The thing that caught my attention was the silly man-on-the-street opinion poll on what that building should be used for. Here were some of the responses:

"I'd like to see some beautiful local artists be represented there, performance artists, visual artists, musicians and have it be another community art space in Santa Cruz."

"I'd like to see half this building turned into a community garden, and the other half a big free school for anybody who wants to take classes. And a part of that would be a meeting space and a library."

"I think it should be turned into an ecological workshop center, and there can be workshops on herbal medicine and urban gardening and composting."

Now, personally, I'd love to see some economic stimulus money for all these kinds of purposes... but my first response was are these people insane?

All the things these people thought should be "top priority" already exist in Santa Cruz. Most places on the planet don't have half the alternative opportunities Santa Cruz provides. But almost no attention is paid to how to keep Santa Cruz financially viable and an affordable place to live. Santa Cruz currently has an unemployment rate over 11.5%. That's worse than most places in the nation. South Santa Cruz county (Watsonville) has an unemployment rate of over 27.5%! I don't know what to make of that. I just glanced at that puff piece and shook my head.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gas Mileage

This is a picture of our Jeep. A Jeep Grand Cherokee that got 12 mpg when we lived in Santa Cruz. We were desperate to sell it and get something much more economical last summer before we moved here. Even though it had less than 100,000 miles on it and was in good condition, nobody else was desperate enough to buy it. So we kept it and brought it with us out here.

Now 4-wheel drive is very nice to have on our dirt road commutes and, for some reason, the car now gets more than 20mpg! Not great if you happen to have a Toyota or Honda Civic but a really significant difference to us!

We're not sure how this happened but here are a few of the factors we suspect:

1) We don't do city-style driving anymore. Most of our miles are on highways and country roads.
2) We're at a much higher altitude--5900 feet instead of at or near sea level.
3) We had to replace the fuel pump and fuel filter.
4) We got snow and mud tires, a necessity out here. They're firmer and seem like they're a better fit for the environment we're in.

I wonder what the experts would say mattered most.

Monday, May 18, 2009


This is Chloe, our remaining cat, doing one of her favorite things -- drinking out of the sprinkler.

Back Porch at Night

I like how this picture came out. I never used to be able to get good night time photos. ISO and F-stops really do count for something!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Tenting Again

This time it worked! Too hot, again, to sleep in the house so we moved Paul's tent off the deck, where we had it before, to a much nicer spot.

This is on our property on the other side of the house where our cat Chloe couldn't see us and call to us all night. The cows stayed away and the moon wasn't full so it was dark and peaceful and quiet and COOL. Nice breezes all night long. Perfect for sleeping and a great location for greeting the day, as well.

Healing Sessions with Paul and Sheryl

There have been so many times I have wished there was a hidden camera or two in the room where Paul and I do sessions. This would be a breach of confidentiality so we'll never do it and if our clients knew there were cameras recording everything it is highly unlikely they would ever be so candid. But if there was a way to make it work out without interfering with the work of the session I feel strongly that people would be fascinated, more at ease with us, and much more interested in trying out what we do.

Recently we got to do a very special session with a person who had a chronic but far from life-threatening pain in his back. We created a space of sacred intent, invited our guides and angels and--to fit with this person's belief system--God to be with us in the room. We asked for the guidance to come from the highest place possible and be for the highest benefit of all concerned. All standard stuff. Nothing unusual about the session either from our point of view...but what we do isn't something that happens everyday for most people.

In this case, the client's dead mother and his ever-present guilt left over from that relationship was what most had to be addressed. His "mother" was present in the session and spoke to him, with my help, saying what needed to be said, healing what was left undone. Was it really his mother or a guide who took that role? I don't know. All I knew is it wasn't me! I didn't know about the relationship enough to role play to this extent. And it was an incredibly healing session. We saw our client's back loosen up almost instantly as the past history was partially released. He'll have some additional work to do on his own--instructions were given--but a significant piece was addressed in one session alone.

Conventional psychotherapy doesn't work like this. Chiropractic and massage would only address one aspect. By doing hands-on healing work in conjunction with spiritual guidance and, dare I say, "mediumship" something much more profound took place.

Paul and I have had a great deal of grief and pain to deal with in terms of telling people what we do. We hate the word "psychic." If dead relatives show up in a session it's always for healing benefit as in the session described here but if you read our website you won't see much indication that this is part of what we can do. Other people who use the exact same tools in their work shout it from the rooftops: "Connect with dead relatives! Talk to your angels! Receive channeled advice from Ascended Masters!"

We've balked at it. The words just reek with disrespect.

Disrespect? Yes, from our point of view, there is a profound disrespect that happens when people are influenced to put all their trust in a disembodied "being" (which could be faked) and discount the value of a session with a caring compassionate, well-trained and well-educated human being who chooses when or if to use the same skill.

We don't talk with dead relatives in most of the sessions we do. We don't have to. We don't always channel guidance from "Ascended Masters" although I'd imagine "the highest place possible" to include an even higher "authority." We don't always even use psychic insights...although that's part of every session we do.

One session, in particular, stands out. We got almost no psychic guidance at all and depended on our education, compassion, intelligence, and peer counseling training to carry us through. That client was so impressed she called a colleague who just happened to be the editor of the most popular weekly paper in Santa Cruz. We were interviewed and featured prominently in an article they did about alternative practitioners and our client base grew as a result. If we promoted ourselves as Psychic Mediums instead we probably would have had a much easier time getting folks in the door, even without that article, but they'd be furious with us if we didn't perform our tricks.

It's far far better, we think, to be honest about the breadth of who we are and what it is we really do.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


The pizza, of course, was ruined. The bottom black, the rest thoroughly smoked. Smokehouse flavor might be a desirable effect when it comes to sausage. Pizza dough, however, is not the least bit improved.

Reminds me of the folly lots of people discover is unsuitable for living out here in the desert. Paul tried to cook the pizza outside to avoid having the oven heat up the house. Not a bad thought, it's theoretically possible we could create an outdoors pizza oven on the property. Perhaps we'll have to just for the fun of it. But, like most people quickly find out, the first steps of doing anything in a new environment are discovering all the wonderful ways to do it wrong.

The most common mistake people make when they move out here is thinking the cheap land means you can live for practically nothing. They bring an old RV or mobile onto the property and expect to make it work out for the long haul.

It doesn't. The weather seems deceptively mild compared to other locations in Arizona. The higher altitude means it's not nearly as hot as in Phoenix and Tucson, what locals call "the valley." In winter the snow that falls melts before it hits the ground, rarely lingers more than a day or two if it stays at all. But that doesn't mean it doesn't get cold! It may be in the 70s during the day but night time temperatures frequently fall into the teens and 20s. If there's a strong wind blowing it's even colder. And, trust me, it DOES feel hot in the summer if you're not used to it. Unless you have a lot of good insulation -- unusual in a RV, rare in a cheap mobile -- you're not going to make it.

The landscape is dotted with the remains of enthusiastic desert homesteading ideas gone wrong. Even wealthy people with mansion-like log cabins and developed acreage with trees and watered lawns frequently have the shell of their initial vacation mobile in the back. The siding will be gone, the wind whistles through the open window holes. We have one on our property, too. Why people here don't take them down or at least have a big bonfire to remove them from view is hard to fathom. Maybe it doesn't bother them. Maybe it represents something they don't want to let go.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Adventures in Barbeque

Paul is so romantic. He's cooking me dinner or at least making a valiant effort. Paul's idea of making dinner is what he calls bachelor food, frozen this, frozen that. Tonight he has put a frozen pizza on the barbeque. He has a fancy gadget -- Paul loves electronic gadgets -- to measure the temperature of the grill with the lid closed. The pizza box instructions say it should be cooked at 350 degrees. Right now the temperature inside the grill is at 250 degrees...but I think it smells awfully strong for that. That pizza will likely be quite well smoked by the time it's cooked through and through. To be honest, it smells like the bottom is going to be black! It helps that we both have a sense of humor.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Wish List

A really great RV in excellent running and cosmetic condition, with air conditioning, a generator and maybe even a solar panel for small appliances, etc. Or something better: Private living, traveling and working quarters for a couple of artist/writer/ spiritual counselor and healers that's cool enough or situated in a place cool enough to keep my Mama Love perfume and supplies and ourselves in excellent condition, too. Peaceful, quiet, and easy to be in. On the grid or easily able to generate our own power, and within satellite connection of the internet.

And maybe, our cat Chloe would like it, too.

Something like we imagine or far far better than we could imagine at the present time. Thank you, Amen.

Happy Cat

Another of my paintings on silk now available as framed or unframed fine art prints or posters on Zazzle. This one shows a very happy cat sitting under a potted plant. I really loved painting on silk. The colors were so rich and vivid but I'm glad I switched to doing my art more digitally. It suits my tendency to change my mind and want to see the results more quickly! I like this image especially as a greeting card or a T-shirt but I also decided to try my hand at designing a tie. That's something Zazzle offers that's unique and different. They also have shoes but I haven't found any of my designs that I think are really good for that yet.

Happy Cat shirt
Happy Cat by paulnsheryl
t-shirts made by

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dust Devils

I'm in a bit of a whirl these days. We plan a trip to Pie Town and I think we have to "justify" it by going to Santa Fe. I look into healing retreat centers and wellness spas that offer services similar to ours and think that's where we should go. Then I hear on television about how the spa industry is going down the tubes. Even people who can afford spa vacations and retreats are holding back, embarrassed to spend so much money even if they have it. Meanwhile we finally got requests for sessions after we went back to our sliding the bottom. Not that that's a problem from where we sit ourselves right now. And suddenly guidance comes from multiple directions to publish our writing and write some more!

Wait a second, I was just getting ready to go on the road selling Mama Love and we're talking to someone in Flagstaff who wants to create a healing retreat center, perhaps with our help, but her current business is flying apart and needs her attention and a close family member just got sick and, and...

A big dust devil suddenly kicked up while Paul and I were on the porch discussing a few of these things. It was silent and suddenly we heard a loud wind building up and getting louder. Paul said "Look over there!" and there was a whirling funnel cloud rising up, getting bigger and bigger, and making its way across the property. It looked like a miniature tornado. I think a dust devil is a miniature tornado or something like it. Wikipedia says "dust devils form when hot air near the surface rises quickly through a small pocket of cooler, low- pressure air above it." If the conditions are right (such as in the desert) the air starts to rotate and a spinning vortex is formed that causes a funnel-like chimney to bring the hot air at the ground's surface up to the sky where it cools and the whirlwind spins even faster and moves across the ground. Eventually enough cool air comes in to make the system collapse but the entire experience can be quite dramatic until it does.

Again according to Wikipedia, the Navajos think a dust devil that spins clockwise is a good spirit while one that spins counterclockwise is bad. I'm pretty certain this one was spinning clockwise.

Generally speaking, a dust devil does little harm. Even in folklore it's more of a prankster or trickster than something more, although there are scarier variants on the theme. I did a mini-Tarot reading on the subject. Just pulled a few cards. What came up was indecision, ungrounded worries, and fear of change. One card suggests that we have the skill, competence and have enough past achievements (already written books and articles) to do well. We just have to let go of feelings left over from past history, old habits of procrastination. Let go of the need to hold tightly to where we have been, let go and allow ourselves to be propelled forward, step by step, until the confusion is released and blows over.

African Violet Dreams of Life in the Serengetti

African Violet in Serengetti print
African Violet in Serengetti by paulnsheryl
Browse the other posters at
Browse other African violet Posters

What do potted plants dream of? This African Violet dreams of drumming, singing and dancing in the Serengetti! This is the newest piece now available in my Zazzle shop. It started life as a painting I did on silk. Now you can buy it as a framed or unframed fine art or poster print by clicking the link above. Or on a variety of T-shirts, greeting cards or other items by clicking here or one of the links below.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mama Love on the Job

Every one of my Mama Love flower essence aromatherapy perfume displays comes with a wooden bar with testers glued into it so retail store customers can try the formulas out without walking away with the testers. I make the bars myself. I designed and used to make the displays myself, too, but now I make modifications to a standard sized CD display instead.

Here I am drilling holes into my wooden bars for the bottles of perfume to fit into. I'll be gluing clear labels for each perfume on the bar under each hole and then applying 2-3 coats of clear gloss medium over the top to make it look professional and easy to clean. I put gloss medium on the testers themselves, too.

It's a bit of work but I consider the investment of time and the display itself the best advertising I can do right now. When the project is done it shows my array of perfume off really well and it really makes a noticeable difference in how well the perfumes do. I have a background in graphic design and marketing. I know the importance of what I'm offering my customers by doing this. I just wish more retail stores understood, too!

Interested in offering my Mama Love line in your retail store, spa or therapy office? Click here now.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Oz and What Comes After

I spent the night, not sleeping, thinking about the topic of a new book. A nonfiction book about two metaphysical spiritual counselors and healers who, at the onset of their adventure, live in the amazingly brilliant Technicolor land of Oz. Their life takes them on a dizzying ride to "Kansas": that bland black and white mixture of good old-fashioned hometown values mixed with mind-numbing conformity and minimal options. They go forward with integrity, attempting to open their minds to what this bleak and forbidding landscape has to offer. And they find lots to recommend in this "no place like home" land the locals love like life itself.

Mormon children come home here again and again. They go to Brigham Young University, go off on their LDS vision quests to poverty stricken foreign lands, intent on converting their neighbors. Some become famous, brilliant actors, authors, musicians. They make it big in some Technicolor Oz-like environment, and scurry back home to where their families live. Where life is so wholesome if you only follow the LDS gospel. You know just what to do if you're one of the brethren, all the roles are written out, so safe and familiar.

It's easy to envy them. We drive by the LDS stake houses, the wide flat church structures with the tiny steeples on top, and sometimes feel a longing to be part of one. Not really. Not for the religion. But for the sense of belonging, of knowing one's role and how to get there, having a map, a citadel on top of a mountain that can be seen as a guiding light like the Snowflake Mormon temple, a grey cement fortress with a steeple—-you merely need to believe in its power to get to the top.

We're not made that way. We're spiritual not religious-- Buddhist, neo-Pagan, Taoist, Christian-influenced and Jewish. None of the above, all of it, too. We're in a committed relationship like gay or lesbian couples. Not married, our union isn't recognized by any institution, but we depend on each other and carry each other through the trials and thrills of living this earthly adventure just the same.

The people here extend a helping hand. They welcome us here and express their desire that we stay and help the community grow. They put a metaphorical arm around us and say "There's no place like home and this could yours" again and again.

This never happened for us in other places we lived. It's touching. They mean it. We don't have to be LDS. They mean that, too.

But it's hard to see how we could accept the conditions of living here without it.

There are no metaphysical bookstores here, no Jewish synagogues. The art galleries are 45 minutes away up in Pinetop. All the movie theatres, too. There will never be a parade for gays and lesbians. The local economy is 100% dependent on cowboys and ranchers, a little bit of farming, and all the things that ranchers and farmers need to do. I sometimes think that maybe I could learn to love all that, to fit in, get a job on someone's ranch, literally learn the ropes. But Mormon families don't hire help, they raise their own. The old-fashioned way, the way all pioneer families had to do. It's hard to make a living if you don't fit the roles prescribed in such an environment. You don't have the right skill set, it can't be learned in school, and what we feel we have most to offer isn't obviously wanted -- not for pay that is. No way, no how.

Lately, a new "Oz" has beckoned to us. Santa Fe. It's at 7000 feet, that means it's a lot cooler than here (we're at 5579 feet which is still pretty high up). It's full of color and fun and eclectic values and culture."Gay and lesbian travelers are welcome here!"-- that's what the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau has to say. When would we ever expect to see something like that here? Wikipedia says Santa Fe is the 2nd largest "art market" in the United States, second only to New York City. It's also home to a wide variety of spirituality. It's a mecca for creative and spiritually-oriented people of all sorts.

But there's a nagging fear as I write these words today. We're interested, a little bit excited, too. But when it comes to feeling welcomed home, like we have been here, is a city really the right place for us to be?

Paul has been exploring themes related to "home", metaphysics and "The Wizard of Oz" for some time now. Two brilliant examples of his writing about this are on his blog: Technicolor Yawn and No Place. There's no place like Home?

Some people say Home is where the heart is. We know that. We can be at home with each other wherever we go. But there's more we're longing for now -- our home within a community that not only welcomes us just because we've arrived but gives home to all we want to express in our lives as well.

How the Getaway Turned Out

We went out to our tent at around 11:30 pm, after the movie we watched on television was over. Paul went out before me. I had a few things to gather. I shut the lights down in the house, grabbed our camping lantern, walked into the night, and suddenly the hills were alive with the sound of coyotes.

Paul cracked up. He knows how unnerving I find that noise and the timing was perfect.

Then our neighbor's dogs started barking and next thing we hear is MOOOOOO, MOOOOOO, MOOOOO, MOOOOOO. The cows had invaded our backyard.

Our cat Chloe got freaked out because we had gone outside after dark instead of sleeping inside. She started crying at the door, the cows answered her and the dogs kept barking in between. Meow, mooooo, bark bark, meow, moooo, bark. For what seemed like hours. Then the moon came out and lit up the tent and all bets on sleeping were off.

At least for me. Paul dozed on and off throughout the night. I got inspired to write a book and composed several chapters in my head. The sun came up at 4:30 am, the birds started to sing and the hummingbirds buzzed over the tent.

We both gave up after 5:00 am and came back into the house to go to bed.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Romantic Getaway?

We'll find out! Paul wanted to sleep with me in the desert under the stars but I insisted on a tent. I'm not much of a cowboy. Paul and his family didn't use a tent on their camping trips growing up. But I'm too nervous for that. Too many coyotes and snakes and who knows what out here.

We scouted around looking for a flat piece of ground shaded by juniper trees but the idea of dragging our mattress halfway across the property didn't appeal. Yes, we're sleeping on a mattress with sheets and blankets and pillows in our tent on the deck of the barn and not on the ground! I'm not embarrassed. You get to a certain age and what counts most is comfort and that's why we're sleeping out in the first place. It's too hot in the house.

There is a tree and a nice view from the deck so it's not as bad as it looks. And we can always drag everything out further tomorrow night if it's not "romantic" enough. We'll see how it goes. We're thinking it will be fun.