Franciscan Grapes for Authentic Wine

Last year I hiked the Montezuma Pass in Coronado National Memorial. At the ridge, I stood in awe as I beheld the vast landscape with golden vegetation that glittered in the sun; or maybe I had heat stroke. Still, it was a treat to imagine Francisco Vázquez de Coronado leading the expedition to find Cíbola, and the Seven Cities of Gold. Many historians believe the expedition followed the San Pedro River through the valley east of the Memorial. Was that a crossbow dart I saw lying in the valley below? Time and erosion have surely covered the tracks, but at places like these it’s hard not to envision a trinket or two.

I rode with the windows down

We returned to civilization via the back way, a switchback dirt road where we passed several border patrol vehicles, a tiny village, dirt bikes, and the prettiest scenery of rolling hills, craggy blackjack oaks, flat land, and sky. Oh my, the sky! We seemed to be forever approaching it and never arriving. At one point, a cloudburst brought  the sweet fragrance of a cleansing autumn rain, then the clouds regathered into big bunches of cotton balls. I could go on about the beauty forever! And of course I rode with the windows down.

As we neared our next destination, I assumed I would enjoy a glass of wine, but I got much more than that. Following a driveway through open range grasslands with a backdrop of soaring mountains, the Sonoita Vineyards resembled a wealthy rancher’s hacienda. Inside, sommeliers poured jeweled liquid into wide rimmed wineglasses.

I placed my hands on the long counter. “What do you have that will turn my cheeks as rosy as your best Cabernet?” I said, as my eyes wandered toward the food shelves.

“Oh, almost everything here will perk up your complexion. What brings you to our vineyard?”

I explained my interest in Coronado and the Old Spanish Missions.

The handsome woman’s eyes lit up. “I have something here you are going to love.”

And she proceeded to pour me a glass of 2013 Arizona Mission wine. As she explained it, the rootstock for mission grape vines were brought from Europe and planted in the New World because they made an excellent ceremonial and table wine. As the story goes, 16th Century Jesuits and Franciscans brought the bud wood to the Arizona valley where they flourished in the lush, warm soil. The ancestors of those original vines produced the ruby red wine I drank that day. Not only that, but because of the 19th Century French Wine Blight, thousands of Europe’s vineyards were decimated, which makes the vines that now survive in America all the more evocative. To sip the wine from the same rootstock so many mission priests enjoyed is a little unsettling. It’s like drinking a cup of history. I still get chills …

Do you have a favorite wine story? Or a favorite wine? I’d love to hear more, and maybe even enjoy a glass in your honor.

Dragon Fruit, Better than Gold?

As eyewitness accounts go, Pedro de Castañeda’s Narrative of the Coronado Expedition is as fresh as if the search for gold was only yesterday. Too bad they didn’t find gold, yet they did find other treasures — even if they were the edible kind.

Castañeda recounts events in the Valley of Suya (exact location unknown, but probably about a five hour drive south of Tucson near Banámichi, Mexico — see figure 12 in the book Searching for Golden Empires). One notation in particular had me dreaming of a superfruit smoothie on the menu at “Juice It Up!” raw juice bar.

“They drink the juice of the pitahaya, a fruit of big thistles which opens like the pomegranate.”

You may know pitahaya more commonly as dragon fruit. It is a great source of antioxidants, omega 3’s, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin C.

Although dragon fruit is most readily available from June through December, you may find it in Asian markets (I bought mine at Whole Foods). I love to experiment with exotic fruits, especially those I first learn about in historic manuscripts. For me, finding the first pitahaya of the season is like hearing the first hummingbird of spring. Until then …

Best Fruits to buy in March

  • Avocados
  • Grapefruit
  • Guavas
  • Kumquats
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Mandarins
  • Oranges
  • Pomelos
  • Strawberries

As a substitute for dragon fruit, try a combination of kiwi and pear.

“Dragon fruit is very subtle, very delicate. So you want to be careful not to kill it with things that have very strong flavor.” (Quote from chef José André; follow him on Twitter!)






Forty Ways to Be Guilt Free

Mardi Gras, a day of covetous activity before the temperance of Lent. But I do not have an overindulgent personality, nor am I a drinker of too much wine, so on this day of grabbing for the gusto, I felt pretty good about myself … until

I opened my exploding closet. It seems I partake in gluttony of another sort.

And on this day of eating cake, I decided to ask myself an honest question.

Why do I have so much stuff?

A few reasons …

a) It was a gift

b) Someone I know might need it

c) It could come back in style

d) It was on sale

e) Guilt

The last point is an excuse that gives the rest their weight, and that is one thing I don’t need more of.

Why do I feel guilty if …

I don’t use or like a gift, I don’t have something that someone needs (when I know perfectly well if I don’t have it, somebody else probably does), I get rid of something and it comes back in style, I discard something I never use even if I bought it on sale?

I needed courage to resolve my guilt, so I did something radical. I cleaned out my closet. And my pantry. And my basement. And in honor of the upcoming forty days of Lent, I chose to get rid of 40 categories of stuff.

What’s so special about the number 40?

For forty days and forty nights rain fell on the earth during the great flood of Noah’s time.

The Children of Israel wandered the desert for forty years before arriving in the promised land.

The Prophet Elijah walked forty days on his journey to the Mountain of God (Mt. Horeb or Sinai).

Jesus Christ spent forty days fasting in the wilderness in preparation for his ministry.

He also spent forty hours (3pm Friday until 7am Sunday) in the tomb.

As I consider the significance of the number, as I clean my closets and symbolically clean my soul in preparation for the next forty days of Lent, I am jubilant in a way that has nothing to do with Mardi Gras. My guilt is abolished. I am free.

Here’s the list, in no particular order, of what I lost to gain my focus on God’s gift, a much better thing.

1.  purses (I kept four plus two evening bags)

2.  although I’m loathe to admit it, cassette tapes

3.  several small kitchen appliances (a grease encrusted waffle iron, electric knife, ice-crusher, and a broken thing-a-ma-jig that warmed tortillas because at one time somebody thought I needed that!)

4.  little tubes of half-full hotel supplied shampoo and conditioner

5.  blue eyeshadow. Oh! green eyeshadow too. Actually, lots of colorful eyeshadow. Sorry. (Egads! Guilt returns so easily!)

6.  a sushi kit

7.  diet books

8.  stacks of old magazines

9.  old eyeglasses

10. at least forty half-burned candles

11. flip-flops that dangerously became slip-slops

12. chipped plate chargers with fingernail polish painted over the chips

13. fingernail polish

14. body lotion (it seems to reproduce in the closet!)

15. a mish-mash of unmatched drinking glasses

16. lunch bags (one still had an unwrapped granola bar inside)

17. wide-ruled notebook paper from when my children were little

18. stretchy fabric book covers, so essential for elementary school (someone will snap those up fast)

19. the last one reminded me to discard all stretched-out panty hose (does anybody still wear panty hose?)

20. spices older than a year (goodbye nutmeg dust!)

21. unfinished crafts (like the cross-stitch I started in the ’90’s)

22. pillows, all shapes and sizes, so cute and inexpensive, but now I can see the sofa!

23. the hair brush drawer (still have the heebie-jeebies from the bit-o-hair nest found in the bottom)

24. a collection of cleaned out peanut butter jars

25. crayons

26. two scales, one broken and one that’s so old it’s growing some

27. too small hats and mittens (see number 17.)

28. paint samples, quarts, and gallons ready for my county’s hazardous waste pick-up

29. how many pairs of yoga pants do I need anyway?

30. expired food (do cookies ever expire or are they the reason God created hot tea?)

31. did I mention stretched out panty hose? Oh.

31. stained, unmatched, and really thin linen (pillowcases and sheets)

32. chip and dip serving plates (but the one handmade in Santa Fe stays)

33. belts with holes that are big enough to fit my fingers through

34. a box of adapters for electronics that were donated years ago

35. I really don’t like to watch movies over and over again anyway …

36. plastic flower pots

37. two boxes of maroon hair dye (don’t ask)

38. a whole chicken beer roaster, used once on a Sunday, so it’s good

39. those plants with thorns and leaves that fall off even when they’re treated right

40. uh … feeling the need for inspiration … what would you suggest?

Okay! Now that that’s done, I feel ready and able to focus on what really matters; the season of Lent may inspire you to give away a few things too.

[ctt title=”What one thing can you give away today?” tweet=”Living with less makes room for so much more.” coverup=”HTd69″]


Praying for Springtime

Yesterday afternoon I received a wonderful gift: in my courtyard came a robin … in February! Although it is still winter, the robin’s song gave me hope for longer days, warmer weather, budding trees, and the sweet smell of spring.

As I listened to the lilt, I was reminded of another springtime when I traveled to Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. While strolling its pebbled trails, where a mere few centuries ago Roman Catholic Priests and American Indians formed a history of their own, I found a marker that includes an excerpt from a prayer by St. Francis of Assisi composed sometime around 1220.

Sermon to the Birds

“My dear sisters, birds of the sky, be grateful to God your Creator. In every beat of your wings and every note of your songs, praise Him. He has given you the freedom of the air. You neither sow, nor reap, yet God gives you the most delicious morsels, rivers and lakes to quench your thirst, mountains and valleys for refuge, trees to build your nests, and beautiful clothing, a change of feathers with every season. You and your kind were well looked after in the Ark of Noah. Clearly, our Creator loves you. His gifts flow in abundance; so please be careful of the sin of thanklessness, and always sing out your praises for the Lord, our God!” (paraphrased)

Listen to the Sound of Spring!

American Robin – Voiceover
The Miracle of Nature, Vimeo


The Sermon by St. Francis and the song of the bird are reminders of God’s goodness. I am grateful for another gift too: the opportunity to listen an interpretative song of a prayer by Black Elk, a holy man of the Oglala Sioux, 1863 — 1950 (CLICK HERE to listen: push the arrow at the bottom of that page).


“Hear me, four quarters of the world — a relative I am!

Give me the strength to walk the soft earth.

Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you.

With your power only can I face the winds.

Great Spirit … all over the earth the faces of living things are all alike.

With tenderness have these come up out of the ground.

Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms,

That they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet.

This is my prayer, hear me!” (John Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks)

Black Elk and St. Francis of Assisi lived centuries apart in diverse societies, yet both understood the power of creation. Their words attest  the importance of giving credit to the source. Likewise, the contemplative soul recognizes the essence and necessity of embracing a thankful heart.

“Always sing out your praises for the Lord, our God!”

“With your power only can I face the winds.”

Longer days, warmer weather … or the chill of a wintery blast, whatever the season brings, I pray you will “face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet.”

I am thankful for the wind and the quiet … and the robins that sing in my trees.

What are you thankful for?

Halo Shapes and Meanings

Who do you know that walks around with a halo over their head? Be honest … is it you? Well, once in my life—long, long ago—it really was me. Rather, I dressed up as an angel. My sister Sharon made me a flowing gown out of old drapes, and as she stitched, her fingers itched, but not as badly as my little eight-year-old body, for the old drapes she used were made out of fiberglass! But I’m not here to put horns on her innocent head. Rather, I want to talk about the halo.

To make mine, we reformed a wire coat hanger into a circle on one end and used the long wire on other end to hook onto my cardboard wings. We then wrapped the halo in white crepe paper, and that was the last time anyone called me an angel. I yelled and scratched all through the night.

Have you ever considered …

If you’ve been to an art museum that houses religious art, you’ve seen haloes hovering over saintly heads. But did you notice the various halo shapes? And did you wonder why the orbs are there?

Haloes — Original Idea

The illumination from within portrayed as emanating light probably began in Asia (Hindu, Buddhist), with Romans and Greeks following suite. It was not until the 4th Century that Christians borrowed and amended the halo to fit their image of piety and holiness (former and latter information taken from Wikipedia–and I might mention, other resources abound, but my intention is to give you a general idea and send you on your way).

Although the word halo is not in Biblical text, the symbolism is likely referenced:

Exodus 34:29 “Moses didn’t realize as he came back down the mountain with the tablets that his face glowed from being in the presence of God.” TLB

Revelation 22:5 “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.” NIV

What kind of shape are you in?

Speaking allegorically, of course, to the halo.

Different halo shapes have different meanings. Here are a few explanations, but keep in mind that contemporary artists often use artistic license in their endeavors. (Visit my Pinterest page, and the board The Art of Haloes to see one made from a sunflower.)


Placed behind a holy person who at the time of artistic rendering was still alive


The most common and therefore used for saints, angels, the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ …


God the Father, in bodily form or symbolized as a hand emanating from a cloud, may have a triangular halo


Baroque and beyond, a circle of stars portrays Mary as Queen of the Apocalypse (Revelation 12:1)

Scalloped Bars (or beams that radiate out like a sunburst)

Typically for holy people who have not, at the time of the painting, been canonized as saints

Variations within classic forms

When a cross is evident within the circle, this cruciform represents Christ and/or the Holy Trinity

Whole Body Aura

Usually used for Mary or Christ Jesus, and rarely but occasionally used for saints

For a more in-depth study, I found Alberti’s Window a good resource.

The next time you see religious art with haloes, take note of the style. It may indicate the person or their status. And share your knowledge with others. To do so is surefire proof that you have learned the fine art of Linking Yesterday to Today.

I welcome your comments, especially stories about how you made your own halo. Until next time, be good!

Wholly Toledo

Toledo, Spain 1965Toledo Trivia

This old photograph, an original “Kodacolor Enlargement” dated December 1965, was taken, as indicated on the sign, in Toledo, and, judging from the landscape, it is Toledo, Spain.

In the hills high above Toledo, Inigo Montoya lived as a boy (his father made stellar swords apparently, and for want of one such blade, he was killed by the six-fingered man of Princess Bride fame). I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and as a child I never thought about my town’s namesake, but now I realize Spain may be the reason why my hometown’s newspaper is called The Blade.

Toledo, Iowa; Toledo, Oregon; Toledo, Illinois; Toledo, Washington; Toledo, Ohio; Toledo, Spain

… the February 2015 edition of Architectural Digest features the Cigarral de Menores, an ancient manor that once housed a monastery for the Congregation of the Clerics Regular Minor. Established in the year 1588, the Adorno Fathers remain active worldwide including places like Africa, India, and the Philippians. The manor is replete with 14th Century plasterwork, 16th Century tiles (salvaged from a local convent), 19th Century pottery, and a modern abstract sculpture made by Martin Chirino. How’s that for “Linking Yesterday to Today?”

The name Toledo is taken from the narration of Roman praetor Marcus Fluvius’s 193BC statement Toletum, ibi parva urbs erat, set loco munita, which roughly translates, “Toledo, A small city that is well fortified,” the fortification being the embrace of the Tagus River all around. (Click HERE for a pretty video of the river’s scenery, and if you are able, make time to click on the Roman praetor’s name to read a spectacular history.)

Did I mention El Greco, renown artist of our day (yet not so much in his own). His painting The Burial of Count Orgaz, along with many others, is in the Santo Tomé Church of Toledo. Senor de Orgaz, who died in 1323, gave generously to religious institutes and to the poor.

Where is the man in the photo going?

His basket is full, so maybe he’s going to a party. Or, inspired by El Greco’s subject, a place where he can share what he has with others. And that’s what I want to do: share two places where you can appease your appetite for more of Spain.

If you have a Pinterest account, this page has lots of Toledo, Spain photos to browse. And if you want to find killer recipes, visit Janet Mendel’s blog (I suddenly feel hungry for sausage and lentils!).

To finish, can you guess where this phrase is from? “To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause …” The answer is on my to do list!




When is it Okay to Take a Cat to Church?

A long time ago I heard a sermon which told of a woman who was filled with despair. Week after week she came to church , sat in the same seat, listened to the preacher, and left without having her sadness addressed. She felt so alone!

Then one day, someone left the front door open during the service, and a dog came inside.

He wagged his tail and moved from pew to pew, and if anyone has ever wondered if a dog could smile, this one’s sweet face proved that they can and they do!

The preacher talked to the dog, and the congregation talked to the dog, even God talked to the dog since the animal was very good and did not leave his mark on anyone’s pant leg.

The woman, however, grew indignant. She stood up and said, “I have been coming to this church for years and no one has paid me any attention. This dog comes in and no one can stop giving him attention.” She pushed her way through to the back of the church, but before she could step outside, someone took her by the arm and said, “We gave that little doggie affection because he wouldn’t stop asking for it. Perhaps you asked simply by showing up. Please forgive us. We judged your quietness as a preference for isolation. But as God’s word says, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.'”

[ctt title=”Despite Our Actions, We All Need a Blessing.” tweet=”Despite Our Actions, We All Need a Blessing.” coverup=”SPbl9″]

St. Anthony the Abbot is the patron saint of animals, and the yearly “Benediction of Beasts” is celebrated on January 17, the day on which animals are blessed in his name.

A few facts about St. Anthony (Antonius):

  • ♦  Born around 250 AD, he withdrew from society and lived in a cave.
  • ♦  Religious persecution was rampant, and he was abducted but not harmed.
  • ♦  After his release, he retired to the desert yet still found occasion to preach.
  • ♦  It is said that Satan’s minions thrashed St. Anthony as they transformed into rabid animals.
  • ♦  He was called on often to pray against illness in both people and animals.
  • ♦  Strangely, “The researches of French antiquaries have brought to light the records of ninety-two processes against animals, tried in their courts from 1120 to 1740, when the last trial and execution, that of a cow, took place.” (for more information, CLICK HERE)

While searching for other bloggers who have highlighted this saint, I came across one I like by Tracy Ariza. I don’t know her, but her blog is informative and fun. I hope you pay her a visit.

It is quite apparent that a man who lived over one-thousand-seven-hundred-sixty-five years ago is still affecting contemporary activities. Now that’s what I call “Linking Yesterday to Today.”







Grime and Astringent

First things first. This post is clean.

Second, I write it because my friend Debbie Wilson said I should clean my cleaning supply closet. She offers very good advice, so I usually do what she says. Usually.

Funny what a mess I found: almost empty bottles of expired solutions, squirt pumps that would not squirt, rusty spray cans of unknown origin whose original intent had something to do with an archaic chore called ironing, and the odd tube of what once may have been a stain releaser, but judging by the cloudy gray glump curling around its edges is now most certainly a stain giver.

Third, an explanation: Astringent is often found in the cosmetic aisle, in this instance the purpose being to make facial pores smaller. The result is tighter skin, which means less wrinkles, which is one less thing to worry about, which means you have more time to clean your cleaning supply closet. Whichever way you want.

Did you know that during the Renaissance, the preferred beauty routine was to NOT cleanse the skin? Those lovely ladies believed a protective layer of dirt kept the body alive, and being alive is much more attractive than being dead.

Now that we have that cleared up (unlike the complexions of so many Renaissance ladies who might have benefited from a reading of Sir Hugh Plat’s book, Delightes for Ladies to Adorn their Persons, Tables, Closets and Distillatories, with Beauties, Banquets, Perfumes, and Waters (published in 1602 and later editions), I return to my earlier admission of having a very messy cleaning supply closet.

Fourth, the issue of grime is unclean, therefore the first thing I wrote is incorrect. The second thing, however, is correct. Debbie Wilson offers very good advice.

Fifth, as I cleaned my cleaning supply closet, I wondered what cleaning supplies Sir Hugh Plat might have suggested (this book sits in my shopping cart and I look forward to finding the answer so as to share it with you … later … after I finish cleaning my cleaning supply closet, which, by the way, is still a mess).

Not long ago, I made my own eucalyptus oatmeal soap using lard as a main ingredient. After it cured, I cut it into bars and wrapped it in butcher paper. I found a bar recently. Very recently. In the back of my cleaning supply closet.

Sixth, and last, if I may, I would like to tell you about a blog recently discovered that has lots of historical information pertinent to the Renaissance period. And as far as I can tell, it’s clean. Visit History Actually and let me know if you agree.


God is My Help — Socorro

Late last year I had the good fortune of visiting the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Standing on a bridge overlooking the cottonwood and willow lined river, I visualized prehistoric hunters whose discovered stone tools were probably used to hunt bison … and mammoth! Nearby, petroglyphs abound that tell mysterious stories of ancient peoples. Where did they live? What did they do? How did they pray?

The river flows through a land that never changes and can never be the same.


In 1598 Don Juan de Oñate and his expedition arrived at the pueblo of Teypana (or Pilabo Pueblo) hungry, tired, and weak. The people of this pueblo, the Piro tribe, cared for him and “more than 100 families, almost 300 single men, numerous wagons, and 7,000 cattle.

In response he named the pueblo Socorro, a Portuguese-Spanish word that translates “help.”


San Miguel in Socorro, NM is 400 years old!

In 1615, Franciscan priests established a mission in the area. Today, the renovated San Miguel Mission Church in Socorro has an installed glass panel through which portions of the old pueblo can still be seen. Those who worked in the original mission and those who did the renovation most certainly called upon God for socorro.

Throughout history, Christians have used simple hand gesture to symbolize their belief and call for help. Russian artist Vasily Surikov painted The Boyarynya Morozova, in which the central figure gestures with two fingers raised. Is she asking for help? (Click here to read more about this painting).

When life becomes burdened to the point of despair, when a one-word prayer is all we can muster, socorro is enough.


Trinitarian Hand Gesture

Replicating a hand gesture where two fingers represent the dual nature of Christ (God-Man), and three represents the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; also used for the Sign of the Cross.

When have you asked God for help? Did things turn out the way you wanted?

How to Get in Shape

Take a walk of about twenty-five hundred miles— and never leave your seat. That’s what I did when I read the eye-witness account of the 1540 expedition led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, written a mere twenty-some years after the event.

The Pedro de Castañeda de Nájera Narrative of the Coronado Expedition may have been composed as a result of renewed interest. Research from Dr. Richard Flint and Shirley Flint allege a certain Alonso de Zorita asked the King of Spain to mount another expedition. A veteran of the first expedition would have been able to furnish invaluable details of the trails and people he met along the way.

Captain Juan Jaramillo, a compatriot of Pedro de Castañeda also wrote a chronicle around the same time, but I have read only excerpts. (If you know where I can get a copy in English, send me a comment.)

To get a contemporary feel for the lay of the land, there is more than the aforementioned 475-year-old accounts. Dust on the supposed Coronado trail (the exact route is not verifiable) has been kicked up by several authors, and there are two that I have found instructive and enjoyable.

When I want  to exert some mental muscle, I read The Journey of Coronado 1540-1542 by George Parker Winship (click the title for the free online version).

And when I want a less strenuous itinerary, I curl up in a cozy armchair with my copy of Cities of Gold by Douglas Preston. This author recounts his own expedition when he traveled a portion of what probably was the same trail as Coronado’s; some parts of his story are very funny, but on the whole it is a poignant portrayal that I highly recommend (and plan to re-read in 2015).


If you’re looking for a less cerebral, more physical way to get in shape, what are you doing on the Internet? Click to Tweet!

Best wishes to you for a Happy New Year!