Monthly Archives: November 2015

Tourist Day in Las Vegas


When The Poet and I were in communication about the things I wanted to see and do in Las Vegas, I sheepishly admitted I wanted to visit the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop where The History Channel program Pawn Stars is filmed.

I can’t remember when I first watched Pawn Stars. It was probably in some crappy motel room when my then-boyfriend and I were trying to distract ourselves (and each other) from our ridiculous, relentless fighting and our steadily deteriorating relationship. Then, a couple of years ago during a house sitting gig, I watched a Pawn Stars marathon, half-hour episode after half-hour episode all day and into the night. The marathon sealed the deal: I was a Pawn Stars fan.

I enjoy the show’s focus on items of historical significance. Unlike Hardcore Pawn , which I remember focusing on the antics of the wacked-out customers (and not-quite customers), Pawn Stars really does attempt to teach some history. Sure, some of the sellers featured on Pawn Stars are a little zany, but colorful characters do make for good entertainment. And while familial bickering is a subplot of every Pawn Stars episode, it always takes a backseat to trying to educate viewers via the items brought into the store.

When I realized I’d be in Vegas and the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop is in Vegas, I decided I wanted to see it. I was a bit embarrassed to admit this desire to The Poet. First, it seemed like such a stereotypically tourist thing to do. What next? I imagined The Poet wondering. An Elvis impersonator extravaganza, topless showgirls, and all night at the blackjack tables? Also, I didn’t know which side of the TV wars The Poet was on. Some of my friends think all television is soul sucking and mind mushing, while others think a person who doesn’t watch TV is weird. What if The Poet judged me harshly?

I told her in the letter I sent outlining my Las Vegas interests that of course I didn’t expect her and The Activist (her husband) to accompany me on my visit to Gold and Silver. I told her I’d go alone, at some time when they needed a break from being hosts and tour guides. So I was a bit surprised when The Poet told me The Activist wanted to accompany me on the pawn shop visit, unless I needed special alone time there. I assured her I didn’t need to go alone, that I wasn’t on some kind of a pilgrimage. (I’m not that kind of fan.) I told her I’d be happy to have  The Activist along.

The day we went to the pawn shop started with a peace vigil.

Every week, members of the Las Vegas  peace community hold a vigil in front the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse at 333 Las Vegas Blvd.

…a group of people stand with signs about peace, about the cost of war, asking people to honk in a sign of solidarity if they’re in a vehicle. This particular vigil has been taking place for over ten years. It is very friendly and encouraging.

In warm months, we stand on So. LV Blvd. near Clark. In colder months we stand on So. LV Blvd. near Bridger.

It was a pretty low-key affair the day I attended. About seven of us held signs with various peace slogans on them. The youngest women in the group held the sign that read “Honk for Peace.” She got a lot of honks.

After an hour, the peace group split up and The Activist and I walked The Poet to a coffee shop called The Beat  on the corner of  6th and Fremont. In the back of the coffee shop is a large area with art displays and The Las Vegas Zine Library (LVZL). We poked around back there for about half an hour, then The Poet settled in to write while The Activist and I went on our excursion.

We walked down Fremont Street to get to Las Vegas Blvd. Fremont wasn’t very busy since it was a Wednesday morning. I did the tourist thing and took some photos.


And since I was playing tourist, I took some photos of the wedding chapels we passed on the way.



I mean, if getting married in a ceremony with the “KING” is good enough for Rock Star Jon Bon Jovi, it must be good enough for me. (The question is, is Mr. Bon Jovi still married to the lady he wed in the Graceland Chapel?)


While we walked, The Activist told me he was glad to have a reason to go to Gold and Silver. He said he’d wanted to check it out since he’d moved to Vegas, but none of their other house guests had expressed any interest in visiting the place.

We approached Gold and Silver from the parking lot side. There weren’t many cars parked there, but there were several guys in orange vests monitoring the lot and the people in it. I wondered if they only allow people with items to sell or pawn to park in the lot.

During my preliminary research, I’d read there’s sometimes a line to get into the shop. I was glad to see that on this day there was no line outside and we wouldn’t have to wait to get in.

I’d also read online complaints from people who’d expected to see the actual stars of Pawn Stars–Rick, The Old Man, Corey, and Chumlee–and were disappointed when the guys weren’t in the shop. Give me a break! I’d never expect the stars of a big History Channel program to be standing around to chitchat with the riffraff. Maybe in the earliest days of the show, a visitor might run into one of those guys in the shop, but now? Forget it! Those guys are big shot famous people. They probably only come around for filming and probably stay in the office until the cameras are ready for them. I would have been astounded to see one of the show’s stars hanging around in public.

When The Activist and I approached the entrance, there were three other tourists (a family, perhaps, and by their accents European) blocking the sidewalk while taking photos of each other. Ugh! I don’t like to be the kind of tourist who gets in the way of other people, so I decided I was not going to be taking a lot of photos.


This is my one tourist photo from Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, the outdoor sign in front of the store.

The Activist and I went inside, and I was shocked by how small and…shabby the store looked. On TV, the shop seems spacious and glamorous, but in real life it looked something like a warehouse lit with fluorescent lights, the merchandise on display crammed too closely together.

The first thing The Activist noticed and pointed out to me was a display case full of the same model of Rolex watches. Why were they all the same?

As we made our way through the store, we saw a lot of collectible coins and currency, jewelry, art, items I guess would be referred to as “collectibles.” I didn’t see anything that even mildly piqued my interest, but I’m weird that way.

At the back of the store was a life size cardboard cutout of Rick folks could stand next to for a photo-op. No one was doing that.

One area of the store was filled with Pawn Stars souvenirs. One could buy the book Rick wrote. (Until the moment I saw the book in the store, I had no idea it existed.) One could buy dashboard bobble heads representing the guys on the show. One could buy Pawn Stars magnets and keychains and ink pens. (They almost got me with an ink pen, but I told myself sternly that I did not need one.) There were several Pawn Stars t-shirts to choose from displayed on the wall next to the cash register and its bored-looking cashier. There were even wristbands with the words “Chumlee Is My Homeboy” stamped on them. And then there were postcards.

I love postcards. I probably came to love them when I was in middle school. Whenever my family went on one of our infrequent trips, the first thing I wanted to do was buy postcards. Then I’d spend as much time as possible ignoring my family and writing out postcards to send to my friends back home. Now I look at thrift stores for postcards from places I’ve never been. I send them to friends when I don’t have enough to say for a whole letter.

I wanted to send postcards from Vegas, but I hadn’t seen them for sale anywhere I’d been. I thought if there were Pawn Stars postcards, maybe I’d buy some and give my friends a good laugh about what a tourist I’d been.

When I was a kid, I was thrilled when I’d sometimes find 10 for $1 postcard deals, but those days are long gone. Now 4 for $1 is a good deal for postcards, and 2 for $1 is about normal. (I did buy postcards with local historic scenes on them for $1.50 each when I was in Trinidad, CO, but that was partly because they were the only postcards in town and partly because the guy selling them was my friend’s friend on whom I had a tiny crush.) I know I probably wouldn’t get four Pawn Stars postcards for $1, but I figured 50 cents each would be ok.

I turned the rotating rack until I found the few remaining postcards. They were kind of boring, but they would do. Then I saw the price tag: $2 each!

Are you fucking kidding me?!?

Where do they get off charging two bucks for their postcards? Even when I bought postcards of my own photos from Vistaprint 100 at a time, I only paid 20 cents each. Certainly Pawn Stars gets a better deal than that.

At that point I was over the whole Gold and Silver experience. I’ll continue to watch the show (and try to figure out how the cameras make the store look so big and upscale), but I won’t be giving them any of my money…Greedy bastards…

On the way to lunch, we were stopped in traffic right in front of the driveway to the Bonanza Gift and Souvenir Shops.


Hey! I called from the backseat. Can we stop here so I can get postcards? I’ll be real quick.

 My friends indulged me, and we pulled into the parking lot. I jumped out of the car and went in one of the many doors. Right inside was a rack of postcards. The price? 3 for 99 cents. The price was right for me.

Several of the attractions mentioned in this post are on the Jen Reviews list of 100 Best Things to Do in Las Vegas. Bonanza Gifts is #18.

If you’re going to Las Vegas and have a bigger souvenir budget than I did, check out this Tripedia article about the Top 7 Souvenirs to Buy in Las Vegas. Elvis jumpsuit, anyone?

I took all the photos in this post.

The Temple of Goddess Spirituality


When I decided to visit my friends The Poet and The Activist in Las Vegas, NV, they offered a list of places I might like to visit. The most intriguing place on the list was the Goddess Temple, more accurately known as The Temple of Goddess Spirituality.

The Temple of Goddess Spirituality is dedicated to Sekhmet and is located about 45 miles north of Las Vegas.


This photo shows the exterior of the Goddess Temple and a bit of the interior too.

I didn’t know much about Sekhmet before I visited the temple. According to the temple’s website,

Sekhmet…is a very ancient goddess; with her lion’s head and woman’s body, she is the opposite of the Sphinx who has a man’s head and a lion’s body. Sekhmet is the goddess of four thousand names, of which only a few hundred are known to normal humans.


This photo shows the statue of the goddess Sekhmet inside the temple.

One story about her is that she was outraged at the evil of men and wanted to destroy them but was tricked into submission by drinking a gift of beer which had been colored to look like blood.

Sekhmet is “Mother Fury” and the goddess of fertility.  She is the great Being in us all, the liberated planetary human animal who will not allow the destruction of a Mother Earth.

There is an essay on the temple’s website written by Genevieve Vaughn, the woman who provided the land on which the temple is built. In addition to providing the land, Vaughn financed the construction of actual temple as well.

The temple was built in 1993. Several months of construction were necessary to lay the foundation in the shifting sand, to arrange the straw bales and cover them with stucco. I tried to employ women whenever possible. Architect Molly Neiman took my Taj Mahal idea and designed a small and environmentally appropriate structure with simple lines. Yole Reyes, Pamela Overeynder and Jody Dodd managed the site, while a group (called CHAOS) of young peace activists, mostly women, did the actual construction. Later a dome made of seven interlocking copper hoops was made by Richard Cottrell,


Here is the dome made of seven interlocking copper hoops. I took this photo from inside the temple.

and four turrets were constructed by ceramist Sharon Dryflower. The temple houses a statue of Sekhmet made by Marsha Gomez, and facing her is the Madre del Mundo…



This is Madre del Mundo.



This is the dedication plaque for Madre del Mundo.


Smaller statues of goddesses of many cultures adorn the walls.


The Virgin of Guadalupe.


There were two statues of this image in the Goddess Temple. My friends and I didn’t know what was going on here, so I did a Google search on “Virgin Mary three men in a boat” and found that this is Our Lady of Charity also known as Our Lady of El Cobre or Nuestra Senora de la Virgen de la Caridad. According to Wikipedia, she was “pontifically designated by Pope Benedict XV as the Patroness of Cuba.”



Various other goddesses in the temple. Unfortunately, the photo I took of the Kwan Yin statue didn’t turn out well enough to reproduce, which made me sad. I really appreciate Kwan Yin and was glad to see a statue of her in this temple.


Mermaid art (ceramic?) in the Goddess Temple.



I was standing just outside the temple, in one of the doorways, when I took this photo of the temple’s interior. The fire pit shown in the lower right corner of the photo is actually in the middle of the temple. The statue of the goddess Sekhmet is just beyond the orange flowers on the lower left edge of the photo.

My friends and I left Las Vegas before daybreak on the Friday morning we’d set aside to visit the Goddess Temple. We drove north through the dark. I’d expected the morning to be hot once the sun rose, but there were clouds in the sky at dawn. When we got out of the car in the temple’s parking area, the air was surprisingly chilly. I’d brought a long sleeve shirt to protect me from the sun, but I ended up using it to protect me from the cool morning air.

One of the cats that lives on the grounds of the temple met us as we approached the area where the guest house and the priestess’ house are. (Yes, the temple has a live-in priestess. Unfortunately she was away at a conference on religion when we visited, so I didn’t get to meet her over a cup of tea.) The cat was black and white and fluffy and accompanied us all the way to the actual temple. Although my friends had never seen the cat that far out on the grounds, it entered the temple with us and stayed in the area until we left, leading us back through a light, cold rain to where the car was parked. I felt we were very well protected.


To the left of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the cat which accompanied us into the temple.

We were the only folks on the grounds and the only folks visiting the temple that morning. Our visit was very peaceful.

My friends did some chanting/singing from The Poet’s spiritual tradition while I wandered around looking at every little thing in the temple and taking photos.

I absolutely enjoyed my visit to the Goddess Temple, and would love to visit again, especially if there were some event happening and other people to meet and talk with.


(I took all photos in this post.)





The Other Las Vegas


I’d been to Las Vegas one time before.


It had been a three night whirlwind dirty kid tour of eating strawberry shortcake and drinking fine tequila we pulled from trash cans, exploring the Hard Rock Hotel while high on the finest of hallucinogens, and napping in a park during the daylight because we’d been awake all night. We’d been kicked out of Caesars Palace when Sweet L accidentally hit a slot machine with his knee and a panel popped open, exposing wires and lights. We’d apparently been banned for life from the Las Vegas Margaritaville location after we’d tried to take a shortcut through a barricaded area in the wee hours of the morning. We strolled The Strip for hours, marveling at the excess of the casinos, watching the water shows performed by the Fountains of Bellagio, pressing in with the crowd to see pirates battle sirens in the cove in front of Treasure Island.

We even gambled one night. Mr. Carolina asked me for a dollar, and I gave him one from my meager stash. He put the bill in a slot machine, and he and I took turns pushing buttons (he knew what he was doing, but I had no clue), until we were up $5. I insisted we cash out, while he stared at me incredulously. He knew we’d never win big if we didn’t play big, but I wanted the five bucks to buy gas for the van.

We mostly saw rich people, or at least people rich enough to take a holiday in Las Vegas. In addition to the rich people, we saw the workers in hotels and casinos and gift shops who served the tourists.

We also saw locals putting the hustle on visitors. We saw people dressed up in costumes (superheros, Muppets, Disney characters) hoping to have their photos taken with tourists in exchange for a tip. (For an interesting discussion of these folks in costume, see We saw panhandlers (especially on the bridges used to cross from one casino to another while bypassing vehicular traffic) asking tourists for spare change. At one point, I was carrying around a white takeout box we had pulled from the trash, and a local woman asked me for my leftovers! I thought that was funny and weird, because in no way did we look (or smell) like Las Vegas tourists. I told her she could have the food, but she changed her mind when I told her it had recently been in a garbage can.

But mostly we saw tourists with money. We were on The Strip, after all, and The Strip is a prime hangout location for tourists with money.

Almost exactly three years later, I found myself back in the city, but this time I got to see the other Las Vegas.

I was visiting my friend The Poet and her husband (who is now my friend too) The Activist. They’d moved to West Las Vegas in March, and now it was October.

According to,

West Las Vegas is an historic neighborhood in Las Vegas, Nevada. This 3.5 sq mi (9.1 km2) area is located northwest of the Las Vegas Strip and the “Spaghetti Bowl” interchange of I-15 and US 95. It is also known as Historic West Las Vegas and more simply, the Westside.[1] The area is roughly bounded by Carey Avenue, Bonanza Road, I-15 and Rancho Drive.[2][3]

(I highly recommend this Wikipedia article, as it explains a lot about the history of segregation in Las Vegas.)

The Poet and The Activist are involved with Nevada Desert Experience. According to the group’s website (,

In the 20th century, the Western Shoshone Nation’s homelands began to suffer from nuclear weapons testing conducted by the U.S.A. & the U.K. A few peacemakers came out in the 1950s to challenge the nuclear testing, and a few more in the 1970s. People of faith gathered for the first “Lenten Desert Experience” at the Nevada Test Site in 1982 to witness against ongoing nuclear violence. Soon the resisters were calling their movement “Nevada Desert Experience” (NDE). The name also refers to an organized activist group which continues to conduct spiritually-based events near the Nevada National Security Site (the NNSS/NTS) in support of peace and nuclear abolition. NDE celebrates the power of God’s creation, analyzes the tragedy of the nuclear weapons industry, and calls for ending the destruction and repairing the damage.

The Poet and The Activist live in a cute little house that includes the NDE office. Their place is in a compound with two other houses where activists live. Each house is painted a lovely bright color, and they all face a tranquil courtyard. My friends have a guest room, where I stayed during my visit.

The Poet and The Activist also work with the Las Vegas Catholic Worker folks, although neither identify as Catholic. They are both definitely workers, arriving at the Catholic Worker house (500 West Van Buren Avenue) around six o’clock several mornings each week to meet the folks they work with to serve a 6:30 breakfast to a couple hundred poor/homeless/hungry people who gather in an empty lot at G & McWilliams Streets.

I got up early too on two mornings during my visit and helped serve breakfast.

The breakfast crew is a well-organized bunch. When we arrived at the Catholic Worker house a little after 6am, folks were gathered in the common room off of the kitchen for their morning prayer group. Breakfast was already cooked, and food and equipment were ready to be loaded on a trailer for the trip of several blocks to the lot where the morning meal is served Wednesday through Saturday. Before we left, the dozen or so of us there joined hands for another prayer. (I’m not one to pray much, so I just bowed my head politely and kept all snarky comments to myself.)

Christ of the Breadlines by Fritz Eichenberg – mural outside the Catholic Worker Houses – painted by Q (image from Las Vegas Catholic Worker website–

When we arrived at the site of the meal, I was surprised by two things.

#1 There were a lot of people there. I didn’t try to count, but I estimated there were 200 people. The Las Vegas Catholic Worker website ( confirmed my estimate. I knew Las Vegas is a major city (with a 2013 population of approximately 603,500, according to, but I was surprised to see so many people in need in one place.  Based on my prior Las Vegas experience, I would have said the city didn’t have a large homeless/poor population. I would have been wrong about that. (I tried to find an estimate of the number of homeless people in Las Vegas. I couldn’t find statistics pertaining specifically to the city, but according to the Nevada Homeless Alliance 2015 homeless census, 34,397 individuals experience homelessness in southern Nevada. To learn more about the Nevada Homeless Alliance, go to

#2 All of the people waiting for breakfast were lined up and waiting for the food to arrive. They’d obviously done this before. There were six or eight lines of people. When the food arrived, the folks serving the food set up at the front of each line and started dishing out breakfast.

I was not surprised to see that most of the people waiting for breakfast were men. In most of my experiences with services for poor/homeless people and being on the streets, men typically outnumber women (with the possible exception of clients at food pantries). I’d say out of the approximately 200 people there to eat breakfast, maybe 10 were women.

On my first morning serving, I helped The Poet hand out bread. On the second morning, I served bread alone while The Poet distributed jalapeños. On both mornings, everyone who came up to get bread was polite and friendly. I was polite and friendly myself and did my best to greet everyone with a smile and some bubbly happiness.

After seeing so many homeless people gathered for breakfast, I was outraged by the number of obviously abandoned houses throughout West Las Vegas. I was totally flabbergasted when my friends and I went downtown, and I saw abandoned hotels.


El Cid Hotel was just one of the obviously abandoned and fenced off hotels I saw in downtown Las Vegas.

Las Vegas is not lacking space to house folks experiencing homelessness. Las Vegas has plenty of space to house people. The city could buy some of the abandoned hotels and provide housing to several hundred individuals. And if the city bought up all the abandoned houses it could provided them to families dealing with homelessness.

I was outraged and sputtering while standing in front of El Cid, taking photos and outlining how Las Vegas could alleviate homelessness. My friends just shook their heads and said the city was unlikely to do any such thing.



Hemp’s been on my mind lately, as I am making and selling jewelry made from the fiber. A couple of years ago, I did some research and wrote down hemp talking points so I could share information with people who were curious or had misconceptions about it. I’ll share that information here, along with new details I recently learned.

Many people think hemp is the same as marijuana and can get a person high. (Read about my experiences with people who want to know if they can get high from my hemp jewelry here: and here:

A  state of Colorado website (, defines

Industrial hemp as ‘a plant of the genus Cannabis and any part of that plant, whether growing or not, containing a Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of no more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis.

According to an article in The New York Times (, “That is compared with 5 to 10 percent [of THC) found in the hallucinogenic and medicinal varieties.” When comparing hemp and marijuana in the same article, James Savage, who started a company to create building materials derived from cannabis, said

“It’s like the difference between a wolf and a poodle… Same species, totally different animal.”

(The same comparison was made in the documentary Bringing It Home, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning a whole lot more about industrial hemp. To learn more about Bringing It Home, go to To watch the movie’s trailer and to purchase or rent online streaming, go here:

Even though hemp and marijuana both come from Cannabis sativa L., the varieties that make industrial hemp products and those that produce marijuana are distinctly, scientifically different and are cultivated in different ways. Hemp products such as the cord used to make jewelry comes from the outer filaments of hemp plants, while marijuana comes from the flowers and leaves of a different variety of plants.

Despite these differences, in recent years, The United States has been the only industrialized nation to refuse to distinguish hemp from marijuana. Because of this refusal to distinguish the two plants, when folks ask me where I get my hemp cord, I have to explain it is imported from another country because hemp is not legally grown and processed in the U.S. According to, some of the countries growing hemp that might be made into the cord I use include Hungary, India, and Poland.

The U.S. is (slowly) beginning to distinguish hemp from marijuana. According to, “Six states (Hawaii, Kentucky, Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Tennessee) in 2015 had hemp research crops in accordance with section 7606 of the Farm Bill and state law. Three states (Colorado, Oregon and Vermont) in 2015 licensed or registered farmers to grow hemp under state law.”

Once Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use, many people assumed I was now getting my hemp cord directly from that state. According to,

In 2013, after the legalization of marijuana in the state, several farmers in Colorado planted and harvested several acres of hemp, bringing in the first hemp crop in the United States in over half a century.

However, just because the state of Colorado registers hemp growers and inspects their crops to make sure the THC levels are no greater than 0.3%, a statement from the Colorado Industrial Hemp Program in February of 2014  ( says

The State of Colorado has no jurisdiction over many other factors that producers are faced with. While Colorado legalized the production of Industrial Hemp (Cannabis spp), growing it is still considered illegal by the Federal Law.

The following issues may cause concern for those interested in growing this crop in Colorado.

  • Seed Procurement/Seed Quality – Seed that exists in Colorado may be variable and have unknown THC levels…Importation of viable industrial hemp seed across State lines and Country boundaries is illegal under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. [Hemp seeds already in Colorado may be too strong to be legal. It’s illegal to bring hemp seeds across state lines and into Colorado.]

  • Pesticides – There are not any pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc.) currently registered for use on…Industrial Hemp [sic]…due to the predominant federal nature of pesticide regulation.

  • Federal farm programs such as crop insurance, farm loans and conservation reserve may be jeopardized if industrial hemp is planted… [A farmer might literally lose the farm for growing hemp.]

  • Banking – … banks including state-chartered banks may be reluctant to provide services to Cannabis growers for fear of being prosecuted for federal laws and regulations violations. [Farmers growing hemp might not be able to get loans.]

  • Processing – Colorado’s industrial hemp rules state that industrial hemp producers must provide documentation of in state processing as part of registration. It is unknown at this time how many processing facilities will be available in Colorado at time of harvest. [Hemp farmers can’t be registered if they can’t show their hemp will be processed in the state. Hemp processing facilities may not exist in Colorado when the hemp is harvested.)

So, no, just because hemp is being grown (legally by state law, but illegally by federal law), in Colorado does not mean I can pick up cord made from hemp grown there. I will be totally happy when I can buy cord from hemp grown and processed in the United States, but that day has not yet come.

Hopefully the days of domestic hemp production comes soon, because hemp is a great crop for many reasons.

A hemp crop grows to maturity in about 100 days and produces three to six tons of dry fiber per acre. Hemp plants reach heights of six to twelve feet.

Hemp cord is made from hemp fibers, the long, strong outer filaments of the hemp plant. This fiber is the strongest and one of the most durable natural fiber known. Hemp also has better anti-bacterial properties than any other natural fiber, making it extremely resistant to mold, mildew, and rot. Finally, hemp is flame retardant and is not affected by UV rays.

Hemp is an environmentally friendly crop. Hemp plants flourish with minimal use of pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. Hemp is planted tightly together with no room or light leftover for weed growth.

Not only does hemp grow well without chemicals, it also improves the soil. A large percentage of nutrients that hemp uses for growth are returned to the soil when the leaves fall, reducing the need for fertilizers and increasing the quality of the soil. Growing industrial hemp restores PH balance to soil and enables other crops to grow on soil that has been acidified by acid rain.

Evidence suggests that hemp cultivation can lift heavy metals from polluted soil. Hemp cleans the soil by absorbing and trapping pollutants ranging from radiation and pesticides to toxins leaching from landfills. According to, Poland has “demonstrated the benefits of using hemp to cleanse soils contaminated by heavy metals,” but gives no further information.

During my research, I found researcher Przemyslaw Baraniecki was associated with these assertions about the soil cleansing properties of hemp. I did not find any information–or at least no information I could understand–explaining how exactly, scientifically, hemp absorbs and traps pollutants. Also, if hemp absorbs and traps pollutants, does that mean those pollutants are present in the end product made from hemp? I don’t know if I want to wear a necklace or a t-shirt made from hemp full of radiation or pesticides or toxins. Hopefully the hemp neutralizes pollutants, but as I am not a scientist, I’m not sure how exactly that would work.

Finally, not only is hemp drought resistance, hemp crops use a lot less water than other crops grown for similar purposes. For example, while cotton requires about 1400 gallons of water for every pound produced, the production of an equivalent amount of hemp requires about half the amount of water. Also, ” hemp produces about 200% – 250% more fibre [sic] in the same amount of land compared to cotton.” (Information in this paragraph from

I hope I’ve increased your knowledge of hemp. I also hope you will choose hemp next time it is an option.

When I looked at my original talking points, I found that I had not attributed a source to each piece of information. I do however, have a list of sources [website links] from which I gathered the facts.

Two of the links in my notes were no longer valid. One was totally useless, so I didn’t include it. I couldn’t get to the specific link of the second one, but I was able to give the site’s homepage. Sources for new information are included in the body of the text.


November’s Book Review: Living Oprah


[amazon template=image&asin=B011MEZ2ZA]This month I am sharing a review of the book Living Oprah: My One-Year Experiment to Live as TV’s Most Influential Guru Advises by Robyn Okrant. I read this memoir at the end of August/beginning of September 2015 and wrote the review shortly after finishing the book.

I bought this book for $1 at the Dollar Tree. Score!

I don’t remember hearing about Robyn Okrant’s life experiment in 2008 when she was actually living Oprah. In fact, I don’t recall having ever heard about Okrant’s experiment or the book she wrote about it. So I came to this memoir with no preconceived notions. (That happens so seldom, but I love it when it does.)

So for any other latecomers to this book, the premise is that for an entire calendar year, whatever Oprah said her audience needed to do (via her television show, O magazine, or the official Oprah website), Okrant did. When Oprah said every woman needs a crisp white shirt, dark jeans, and leopard print shoes, Okrant bought those articles of clothing and wore them (as shown on the photo on the book jacket). Okrant turned to Oprah resources for makeup tips and recipes. Okrant decluttered and decorated her home according to the word of Oprah. When Oprah said, “Watch this movie” or “Read this book,” Okrant did it.

Okrant kept meticulous records of the time and money she spent living Oprah. (Her monthly spread sheet information is included in the book.) All told, Okrant spent just shy of 1,203 hours and $4,782 living Oprah in 2008.

(When Okrant started her project, she was blogging about it. The book deal came later.)

Overall, liked this book very much. I found the whole “walk[ing] the walk of the Queen of Talk” premise fascinating. I’ve never been a huge Oprah fan, although of course, I am aware of the phenomenon that is Oprah. If I ever sat down and watched an entire episode of her show, it was in the last century. I have read a few (thrift store purchased) issues of O magazine (but Oprah’s favorite things are all out of my price range). I was really interested to find out what sorts of things Oprah might tell people (women, mostly) they should do.

The part of Okrant’s writing here I liked the least was her super corny joking and the way she usually felt the need to point out she had just made a corny joke, which came across to me as a written version of her elbow jabbing me in the ribs, letting me know I should be laughing. Thankfully, as the book progressed, there was less of this sort of joking and less of Okrant’s (written) elbow in my ribs. By the end of the book, I had laughed spontaneously and out loud at several truly funny cracks Okrant made (one of which was referring to Oprah as her own personal Chicken Little).

I first started liking Okrant (as a writer and a person) when she got real about her scoliosis. In my eyes, this personal sharing (in a highly personal book) made Okrant seem like not some whiny, busy, “broke” grad student I couldn’t relate to, but a like a real person.

The parts of this book I liked the best were the times Okrant critiqued the dissonance between the messages Oprah gave her audience. Why does Oprah sign the Best Life Challenge contract, then let herself be shown on TV a few days later eating a decadent ice cream treat? Why does Oprah tell her audience it’s what’s inside that counts, then tells them they need to buy specific clothes and have those clothes tailored to fit perfectly? Yes, I loved the critiques and analysis, and Okrant was up for the task.

I am envious of Okrant for picking a topic that was certainly hot at the time, figuring out a project she could carry out related to the topic, writing herself a blog on the topic, then getting a book deal out of the experiment. Good for her! I wish I could pull of something like that.

I would like to read more books by Robyn Okrant. Another memoir (maybe about her life with scoliosis) would be fine, but I’d dig some nonfiction. More analysis, more critique, please Ms. Okrant.

World’s Largest Thermometer


Do you know where the world’s largest thermometer is?


If you looked closely at the above photo, you’ve probably guessed it’s in Baker, California. You’ll also see that Baker, which is close to the Nevada border, calls itself the “Gateway to Death Valley.”


According to Roadside America,

The World’s Largest Thermometer is a 134-foot-tall symbol of the record high temperature in the U.S., in nearby Death Valley — 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913.

I’d heard of this thermometer before, but I thought it was in Needles, CA. (I don’t really know why I thought it was in Needles.) I had no idea I was going to see it as I drove from Barstow to Las Vegas, but there it was, rising out of the desert. I decided to pull over and see it.

It was still early in the day (around 11am, I think) and only 91 degrees. I wanted to see that sucker lit way up, but it wasn’t hot enough for that.

Here’s the history of the thermometer, from the aforementioned Roadside America Article

Willis Herron, a businessman, dreamed of a huge thermometer for 25 years before he made it real in California’s high desert.

The site chosen for the thermometer was along the main drag through town [Baker], visible from the interstate. In 1990 Herron paid to have the thermometer constructed by Young Electric Sign Co., manufacturers of many neon and bulb monstrosities on The Strip in Las Vegas. 33 tons of steel and almost 5,000 lamps went into the three-sided digital display.

But strong winds broke the thermometer, smashing a gift shop under construction. Herron, undaunted, had the thermometer rebuilt, filled with concrete…

Herron died in 2007. In 2012 the Baker thermometer stopped working and was put up for sale. Its owner blamed its shutdown on a bad economy and a thermometer-topping monthly electric bill. In 2014 the thermometer was purchased by Herron’s daughter, and his widow paid to repair the thermometer; it was officially turned back on Oct. 11.

Willis Herron’s decision to build his thermometer 134 feet tall has proved to be just tall enough, as the highest temperature it’s recorded was 127 degrees in August 1995.

When I pulled off of I-15 at exit 246, and drove through Baker to get as close as possible to the attraction, I felt as if I had been there before, although I didn’t have any memory of the thermometer. I thought maybe Baker was the place where Mr. Carolina, Sweet L, Robbie, the Fighting Couple, and I  slept the night we left Las Vegas. However, as I drove through town, I didn’t see where we might have parked or where everyone would have gone after piling out of my van. Maybe we slept at a rest area somewhere right outside of Nevada and then went to Baker in the morning? If we did stop in Baker, it was only for a short time, but how could I have forgotten about seeing the world’s largest thermometer? The workings of my memory is very mysterious.

In any case, now I know I’ve seen the thermometer, and I have photographic evidence to prove it.

What Do People Do?


It was my last day as a camp host, and I’d been busting my ass. I spent the morning checking in campers and making sure all the restrooms had toilet paper. I spent several hours in the afternoon working at the parking lot, which was busy for so late in the season. I was tired when I got back to the campground, and I still had to drive back to the parking lot right before dark to empty the iron ranger. I was trying to complete as much of my paperwork as I could so I’d have less to do after collecting the last of the self-pay envelopes.

I was sitting at the desk in the office/garage when a tall young man with curly hair approached me. He told me (in an accent I couldn’t identify but which marked him as a non-native speaker of English) that his party (“we,” he said, which turned out to be him and his wife) had a reservation for site #4 but were concerned because there was no bear box on the site. He wondered if they could have site #6 instead. Site #6 wasn’t reserved and I really didn’t give a damn where they pitched their tent, so I told him sure, no problem. I said they should go ahead and set up on site #6, and I’d come around when I finished what I was working on and get them to sign their permit.

The young man seemed happy with my willingness to let them camp on the site they wanted. As he was leaving, he said, We’ll have to bother you later for some firewood.

Oh no! They didn’t know about the fire ban. They thought they’d be buying wood from the camp host (me!) and spending the evening in front of a toasty fire. Apparently it was going to be my job to burst their bubble.

I shook my head and told him no fires were allowed anywhere in the National Forest. I told him I had no wood to sell because campfires were prohibited.

He stood there and looked at me as if in shock. He wanted to know how they would cook. He wanted to know how they would stay warm. I told him campfires were not allowed. I told him campfires were prohibited. No campfires. No campfires. No campfires.

He said he was going to get his wife. I don’t know if he thought he and I had a language barrier and his wife (with her presumably superior English language skills) would understand my words as something other than no campfires. I don’t know if he thought his wife and I would have some female bonding, and I’d give her permission to have a fire. I don’t know what he thought, and while I didn’t mind talking to his wife, I knew whatever his wife had to say wouldn’t change anything.

The two of them were soon standing right inside the garage/office. The woman was short, with curly hair pulled back. Both were wearing shorts and tank tops and sandals. Both seemed, if not athletic, outdoorsy. The woman spoke with no discernible accent.

She said “the website” said they couldn’t bring firewood into the National Forest and should buy it from the camp host. (Campers often referred to “the website” when I gave them information they didn’t like. “The website” said the campground had water. “The website” said the nightly camping fee was $12. Apparently people don’t realize that not every website with some information about a campsite is the official website with official, accurate information. Apparently some people do believe everything they read on the internet and forget that much information on websites is old, and while perhaps correct when posted, is currently wildly inaccurate.)

The wife said the woman on the phone who’d made their reservation hadn’t mentioned a fire ban. I agreed that the woman should have mentioned the fire ban, but I couldn’t allow them to have a fire just because they hadn’t been told about the ban in advance.

I mentioned the signs throughout the National Forest which boldly proclaimed No Campfires. They claimed to have not seen a single one of them.

The couple started to grow a bit frantic.

They’d been in the car for many hours, the wife told me. They were hungry. How were they going to eat? I suggested they cook on their camp stove. Of course, they didn’t have a camp stove. (I wonder what they’d planned to do if it had been raining or snowing and they couldn’t get a fire started or keep it going.) I suggested they might want to go to the restaurant two miles down the road. They ignored that suggestion. It was getting cold, she told me. How would they stay warm, he asked, without a campfire? (I didn’t mention socks, long pants, long sleeves, jackets, and hats might be a good start for staying warm…in the mountains…in October.)

They kept talking in circles. They hadn’t been told. They didn’t know. How would they cook? It was cold. What would they eat? No one had told them. How would they stay warm? They didn’t know. The website didn’t say. They were hungry. They’d been in the car. They’d be cold. The lady hadn’t said. They couldn’t cook without a fire. They were hungry. No one had told them. It was cold.

Finally, I told them they could have a fire if they were on private land, since the fire ban only applied to National Forest–public–land. Then (of course) they wanted to know where to find a private campground where they could stay.

Honestly, the only private campground I knew of was at least twenty miles away, and I didn’t know if their season ended after Labor Day weekend of if they were still open. I suggested they go to the little community nine miles north and ask around about a private campground in the area where they could have a fire. (I also let them know there was at least one restaurant in the community, but I think they were hellbent on cooking over a fire.)

I was trying to be compassionate and helpful, but I got really annoyed when I realized they expected me to solve problems which were caused by them being totally unprepared. The bottom line was that no matter how (or how often) they explained their problems and no matter how compassionate and helpful I was, I was not going to allow them to have a campfire. And a campfire was all they really wanted.

As they were finally about to leave, the young man looked at me sadly and asked, What do people do at night if they can’t have a campfire?

I kept my mouth shut, but I thought, Buddy, you and your wife must not have a very happy relationship if you have to ask me what you should do at night to pass the time if there’s no campfire to sit next to.

When I mentioned the situation to another camping couple, the man looked lovingly at his lady partner and while snickering, said, I know what we do to stay warm.

To read more stories of campers and fire restrictions, go here:, here:, and here:

We Were Cold


My last days as a camp host were some of the hardest.

After Labor Day, the company I was working for had me move to the large campground where I’d started as a camp host. Even with a golf cart, thirty-two family campsites and seven group campsites made for a lot of ground to cover. I had sixteen vault toilets to keep clean, and I was still working at the parking lot, which involved a twenty-four mile daily commute.

The temperature dropped, and I was cold, especially at night. I could barely get myself out of bed and dressed in the morning without firing up my Mr. Buddy heater. (To read more about my Mr. Buddy Heater, go here:

The campers were cold too. People were not happy when I told them the fire ban was still in effect and campfires were strictly prohibited. Folks were begging me to allow campfires, and some of them were probably considering offering me a bribe (which wouldn’t have worked.) I stood firm. I was not going to let a campfire slip by and be responsible for a wildfire.

One weekend I checked in three groups, two on group campsites and the third on two side-by-side single campsites. They all claimed ignorance of the fire ban, and none or them were the least but happy when I told them about it. However, someone in each party signed a permit on which I had written “no fire–wood or charcoal.”

On Saturday evening, I left the campground and drove to the parking lot to empty the self-pay envelopes from the iron ranger. It was dark when I returned to the campground.

As soon as I turned off of the highway and pulled into the entrance to the  campground, I smelled something. Sniff! Sniff! What was that smell? Sniff! Sniff! Someone had a fire burning!

I turned the truck into the group campground area. I had two sites occupied by parties of young men–and I do mean parties. I’d seen the alcohol being unloaded. I’d seen the ladder golf setup in the middle of the parking lot. I’d seen the one guy in the giraffe suit. (Please do not ask me to explain this cosplay because I simply cannot.) I suspected I’d find the fire in that area.

I stopped the truck near the first occupied campsite and peered through the darkness. I saw a flickering light, but determined it was from a propane lantern (which was allowed) and not a prohibited campfire. I slowly drove the truck around the curve to the next campsite and saw the fire.

The young men were on an unfortunate campsite for having an illicit campfire. There was no hiding what they were doing, as the fire ring was in full sight of the road.

I got out of the truck and walked over to the group of young men.

Is that a campfire? I asked. (Not my finest opening line, I do admit.)

Well, said the very short man I soon realized was the ringleader, it’s hard to tell.

I told the group that campfires were not allowed.

We were cold, the short man said.

I told the group that Mr. Lee (not his real name) had signed the permit and knew campfires were not permitted. Hadn’t Mr. Lee told them that campfires were not permitted? They admitted that Mr. Lee had told them campfires were prohibited, but they were cold.

Where is Mr. Lee? I asked the group.

Uhhh…They thought he was sleeping. I thought he was standing over there, in the shadows, by the tree. Luckily for Mr. Lee, I didn’t have a clear memory of his face, and it was dark out there, so I wasn’t sure if he were standing close by.

I gave the young men a stern lecture on forest fires and responsibility and monetary cost and the loss of animal and human life. I told them they’d probably face a stiff fine if I had to get the Forest Service involved.

One guy was kind of dancing around and apologizing and assuring me they’d put the fire out.

I knew the fire was going out. I knew I was going to put the fire out before I left the campsite. I knew they’d have to put on more clothes or get into their sleeping bags because we’re cold did not override a complete fire ban covering the entire National Forest.

I knew I had a five gallon bucket in the truck, so I walked over to fill it from the water tank in the truck’s bed. The short guy said he’d help, and he followed me.

The whole time we were waiting for water to fill the bucket, he told me he understood if people couldn’t have fires in the summer, but now it was cold people should be allowed to have fires. I tried to explain that the forest was till in danger because it was dry, that the danger hadn’t gone away just because it was no longer hot. All he cared about was not being cold, and I had little sympathy because all I cared about was not burning down the forest. I don’t think we reached any kind of mutual understanding.

He offered to carry the bucket of water back to the campsite, and I let him. I figured since he started the fire, the least he could do was carry the water to put it out.

I poured the water over the fire, pretty much putting it out, then filled a second bucket with water and dumped that on the remains of the fire. I wanted to make sure not an ember, not a spark, was left to blow away and cause trouble.

Those young men must have been really cold early the next morning when the temperature dropped and the precipitation started. Last I saw them, they were runny through the icy rain, hurriedly packing their cars so they could return to their (presumably) warm homes.

To read more stories of campers and fire restrictions, go here:, here:, and here:

Hard Times on the Highway


I was back to selling jewelry on the side of the highway at a small arts and crafts market near a large natural tourist attraction. I’d missed the summer crowd, and this bunch of mostly old, mostly stuffy visitors was not my target audience. Most of these folks had no personality; the ones who did have a personality, well, their personality type was “asshole”.

One morning a man strolled up to my table. I saw him looking at the rocks, so I said to him (as I say to almost everyone who looks at my rocks), Let me know if you have any questions about my shiny rocks. Usually people chuckle or say thank you, but this guy said (in a snotty tone of voice), I have a rock business myself. I don’t know if he meant, Don’t try to hustle me because I know about rocks and their prices or if he was trying to tell me he wasn’t going to buy rocks because he already had a bunch, but he came across as a real jerk.

I just said (coldly), That’s nice. 

Then he picked up a piece of skeletal quartz and demanded, Where did you get this? 


This is the piece of skeletal quartz the jerk man picked up. It may be difficult to see in this photos, but there are three clear quartz points that formed around a chunk of quartz.

I said sweetly, From my rock guy, even though I knew he wanted to know where on the earth the rock was originally found.

No. he said. Where did it come from?

I don’t know, I said (because I didn’t, although since then I’ve been told it came from Colorado).

By that point I was 97% sure the man was not going to buy anything from me, and I was 100% sure I didn’t want him to have that beautiful piece of quartz. If he had asked the price, I would have said $50, even though I usually ask $20 for it. I didn’t want him to have it , but I’d want $50 more than I’d want to keep the stone from him.

On another morning, two women and a man stopped at my table. The man was admiring the winter hats I’d made. He asked one of the women if she wanted one.

When have you ever known me to wear a hat? she snapped at him.

She stalked off, but the man and the other woman stayed at my table. The man asked the price of the hats, and I told him they were only $10.

Where are y’all from? I asked them. Due to his accent and the first woman’s attitude, I wasn’t surprised when he said Chicago.

I commented on how cold it gets in Chicago and said the lady must be really tough if she never wears a hat during a Chicago winter.

She’s tough as nails, the man said.

He asked me if men wear my hats. I said yes and told him about the man who’d bought one the day before.

He liked the hat my styrofoam model was wearing, so I told him he was welcome to try it on.


The man from Chicago liked the hat the model is wearing.

He pulled it on while I got the mirror.

I told him the hat looked really good on him. I wasn’t only trying to make a sale; the hat did look really good on him. He said he wanted it so he could keep his ears warm while walking his dog this winter.

With the hat on his head, he called to the woman who’d walked away and was now three tables down the line of vendors, How do I look?

She replied immediately, after barely looking at him, Stupid!

Wow! I said. Is that your wife?

Yes, he said. We’ve been married 30 years.

Wow! I said again. “Y’all must really love each other.

He called out to his wife again. Should I get this hat?

She looked totally disgusted and said, You’re the one who’d have to wear it.

He didn’t buy the hat.

I thanked him for his admiration of my work, and he said, We haven’t left yet. He said if his wife bought something, he’s be back, tit for tat, but I didn’t see him again.

A few days later, a young man and woman stopped at my table. The woman was wearing a pink hoodie with “Vinton, Louisiana” printed on the chest. Since I have family in that area, I asked her if she was from Vinton, Louisiana. She said no, she wasn’t from there. But there’s a pit there, she said. She turned around and there was a rooster screen printed on the back of the hoodie.

Cockfighting, you mean? I asked her.

Yeh, she said. My dad made his way down there…

Whenever they asked me the price of something, I added a few dollars–let’s call it a cruelty to animals tax–but they didn’t buy anything. It wasn’t until after they walked away that I realized I should have said, That’s barbaric, as soon as she confirmed we were talking about cock fighting.

The most annoying jerk was a young guy. He was clean-cut and looked totally straight, but the young woman he was with had long dreadlocks. It was the end of the day, and I had all of my rocks and most of my jewelry packed up.

They expressed interest in my highest priced necklaces.

Pendants of wire wrapped stones by James Smith. Hemp work by me.

These are the necklaces the couple was interested in.

I told them the pendants on the necklaces were made by a young local artist who charges $45 for them; I offered to let them have an entire necklace for $40.

The young guy said, They don’t charge that much at the expensive stores in town.

I replied (in a calm, neutral tone of voice), I don’t know where you’ve been shopping, but I know this guy charges $45 for his pendants.

The woman liked the lepidolite necklace, so I gave her the spiel.


This is the lepidolite necklace the woman liked. In real life, the stone is a deeper purple. Please forgive my overexposed photo.

That’s lepidolite. It’s a local stone, mined in this county. It contains lithium, so it’s good for lifting depression and stabilizing mood, and it helps with insomnia.

The young man kind of snorted and said, I’ve never heard of it before, as if I were lying to them about a stone so they would buy it.

Sure, there are people who would lie about a stone to get someone to buy it, and the guy had no way of knowing that I’m not one of those unscrupulous people. But this guy was acting as if because he’d never heard of lepidolite, it couldn’t possibly exist. I hear about new rocks all the time. I never think a stone can’t be real just because I’ve never heard of it.

The couple wandered off, and I continued packing.

Soon they were back, and the woman was looking at the necklace with the ledpidolite pendant again. I hadn’t made much money that day, and one more sale before I left would have been nice, so I told her she could have it for $30. The man was standing next to her, and he asked, Would you take $20?

I flatly replied, No.

It was cold and windy, and the man left to get his coat.

I told the woman, For $30, you’re getting all my work for free and $15 off the pendant.

The woman also looked at a short necklace with a pendant made with a local amazonite. I’d done the pendant’s simple wrap and was asking only $15 for the necklace. I told her the price and said the rock had been found locally.

The man walked back up to the table, and the woman showed him the necklace with the amazonite pendant.

That looks like just a rock, he said,

That’s because it is a rock, you idiot, is what I wanted to say, but instead I said, It’s a natural stone. It hasn’t been polished.

The man told the woman she should only get it if it were the best necklace she’d ever seen and she was totally excited about it. She put down the necklace, and they were off again.

I finished packing quickly, hoping they’d come back wanting the $15 necklace so I could tell them they were too late and had missed their chance. If they’d wanted the lepidolite necklace for $30? Well, I guess I would have unpacked that one.

(I took all the photos in this post)

To read more about customers, go here:, here:, here:, here:, here: or here: