Monthly Archives: January 2017

What’s in a Name?


A man in his late 70s recently asked me the name of my sibling. I thought it was a random sort of question, but I gave him the answer. He looked confused, and said, How’d you get a name like Blaize?

I suppose he thought if my sibling had a weird name, it would make sense for me to have a weird name too. When he learned my sibling’s name is not so unusual, he must have wondered how I got saddled with something so strange.

I told him, Well, it’s not the name my mother gave me, but it is a family name.

He said he’d never heard of the name before. I told him there are a few of us out there. Of course, the only one I could think of was Blaze Starr, but seeing how she was best known as a stripper, I felt weird mentioning her to a virtual stranger old enough to be my father.

This exchange about my name seemed to satisfy the man, and he went about his business.

However, I got to thinking about Blaze Starr, so I Googled her. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Blaze Starr (born Fannie Belle Fleming; April 10, 1932 – June 15, 2015) was an American stripper and burlesque comedian. Her vivacious presence and inventive use of stage props earned her the nickname “The Hottest Blaze in Burlesque”. She was also known for her affair with Louisiana Governor Earl Kemp Long. The 1989 film Blaze is based on her memoir.

On Ms. Starr’s page, Wikipedia tipped me off about an astronomical object sometimes called the Blaze Star.

T Coronae Borealis (T CrB), informally nicknamed the Blaze Star,[3] is a recurring nova in the constellationCorona Borealis. It normally has a magnitude of about 10, which is near the limit of typical binoculars. It has been seen to outburst twice, reaching magnitude 2.0 on May 12, 1866 and magnitude 3.0 on February 9, 1946.[4]

I had no idea! Thanks, Wikipedia!

But I wondered, are there other famous Blaizes/Blaises/Blazes in the world? Oh yes, there are!

The Famous Birthdays website lists Blaise Matuidi (a French soccer player), Blaise Pascal (a French physicist, inventor, writer, math theorist, and Christian philosopher), Blaise Nkufo (a soccer player born in Kinshasa, Zaire, who emigrated to Switzerland when he was 7 years old), and Blaise Diagne (the first black African to hold a senior position in French government).

Then I decided to look for people named Blaze. The Famous Birthdays page for that spelling of the name lists Blaze Brooks (a young Brooklyn-based artist and graphic designer), the aforementioned Blaze Starr (described here as a comedian), and Blaze Koneski (a Macedonian poet, author, scholar, translator, and Herder Prize recipient who is best known for works such as Mostot, Zapisi, and Vezilka).

I had fallen down the rabbit hole by this point.

The She Knows (who is She and what exactly does she know?) website told me Blaize is a name for a baby boy. The website went on to tell me that Blaize is a French name meaning “lisp, stutter.” Uh, what? The website also says Blaize is a Latin name meaning, “one who stutters.” For real?

The Think Baby Names website, confirms this stutter thing and says the name is from Latin Blasius, derived from “blaesus.” It also says the name Blaze is a homonym meaning “fire.”

The She Knows website has this to say about people who have the name Blaize:

Expression Number: 1

People with this name tend to initiate events, to be leaders rather than followers, with powerful personalities. They tend to be focused on specific goals, experience a wealth of creative new ideas, and have the ability to implement these ideas with efficiency and determination. They tend to be courageous and sometimes aggressive. As unique, creative individuals, they tend to resent authority, and are sometimes stubborn, proud, and impatient.

Does this sound like me? I think it does, to a spooky degree!

The best thing I found all day was the user comments for the name Blaze on the Behind the Name website. Folks called it “a corny, tacky name,” mentioned “blazing” as a synonym for smoking weed, and said it’s a name that “will not look very professional.”

One more thing. Some of my new neighbors can’t remember my name and have taken to calling me Flame. I guess now my pseudonym has a nickname.

Goddess Temple Revisited


Every time I’ve visited The Poet and The Activist in Las Vegas, we’ve made a trip out to the Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet.


This photo shows the exterior of the Temple of Goddess Spirituality including the seven interlocking copper hoops made by Richard Cottrell and three of the four turrets constructed by ceramist Sharon Dryflower.

The Goddess Temple is about 45 miles North of Las Vegas, with a lot of desert in between. To get to the temple, visitors from Las Vegas pass the the tiny community of Indian Springs, as well as the military industrial complex in the form of Creech Air Force Base and the prison industrial complex in the form of High Desert State Prison. There’s a lot of sadness on that stretch of Highway 95.

img_5447Thankfully, the land the Temple of Goddess Spirituality sits on is both a literal and metaphoric oasis in the desert. As the Genevieve Vaughan, the woman who envisioned and financed the temple says on the temple’s website,

Hundred-year-old cottonwood trees dot the oasis. Sweet-smelling creosote bushes, mesquite trees and salt cedars drink from the precious underground water. Many birds and wild animals participate in the delicate and beautiful ecosystem.

The temple holds its ground in the midst of many negative energies. Like the land herself, the temple’s energies remain positive, delicate, down to earth, and sane.

When I visited the Goddess Temple for the second time in March 2016, the sun was out and the sky was a

The Goddess Sekhmet with flowers

The Goddess Sekhmet with flowers

gorgeous blue. It was quite a contrast with my first visit on an overcast day. During my second visit, I took more photos. I took photos of things I’d photographed during my first visit, hoping for better shots. I think I got several really nice images.

I really enjoy visiting the Goddess Temple. I like walking around the grounds and seeing little offerings people have left. I like looking at the art that’s been created there too, but mostly I like going into the temple and sitting with Sekhmet and other representations of Goddess(es) there. (Are there many different goddesses or only one Goddess in multiple forms?)

On my most recent visit to the temple grounds, The Activist, The Poet and I had tea and poppy seed cake with the resident Priestess and another woman who is living and working there. After bidding farewell to the two older women, The Poet, The Activist, and I walked the long way to the sanctuary. Two women were sitting on the floor of the temple, having a tarot reading. We three newcomers gave them their space. I walked around outdoors taking photos while The Poet and The Activist sat outside to sing and chant. (Hearing the two of them sing and chant from a distance brings me great comfort. I feel like a little child who knows all is well even though I can’t see the adults because I can still hear them.)

Madre del Mundo by Marsha A. Gomez

This statue Madre del Mundo by Marsha A. Gomez sits inside the Temple of Goddess Spirituality.

After the tarot card ladies left, I went into the temple and sat on a low bench. I lit a white sage bundle I’d brought from my van and offered up the smoke to Sekhmet and the Goddess in all of her guises. I enjoyed the smell of the sage smoke too. When the sage had burnt almost all the way down, I set it in one of the containers filled with sand next to the statue of Sekhmet. I relit some incense sticks that had gone out and savored the tranquility of the place.

I don’t consider myself a highly spiritual person, but I appreciate the Temple of Goddess Spirituality as a place of peace and healing. It is definitely one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in the Las Vegas area.


I took all of the photos in this post.

The Stagg Tree



According to Wikipedia, the Stagg Tree is the fifth largest giant sequoia in the world. It is the largest giant sequoia in the Sequoia National Monument within the Sequoia National Forest, and the largest giant sequoia outside the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.

img_6582The tree’s Wikipedia entry says the Stagg Tree is located

in Alder Creek Grove in California‘s Sierra Nevada mountains.

The tree is NOT in Deer Creek Grove, as was stated on another website I looked at. (I have visited both the Stagg Tree and Deer Creek Grove, and they are nowhere near each other. They are over 40 miles apart!)

According to the tree’s Wikipedia page, the tree was first called the Day Tree, presumably in honor of “L. Day” who

noticed the tree in 1931 and, with help from two others, made measurements of it in 1932.

In 1960 the tree was renamed in honor of

Amos Alonzo Stagg (1862-1965), a pioneering football coach at the University of Chicago who spent much of the last several decades of his life coaching in Stockton in the nearby San Joaquin Valley.

The Wikipedia page also says img_6584

Wendell Flint, the author (with photographer Mike Law) of To Find the Biggest Tree, measured it in 1977 as follows:

Metres Feet
Height above base 74.1 243.0
Circumference at ground 33.3 109.0
Diameter 1.5 m above base 7.05 22.9
Diameter 18 m (60′) above base 5.6 18.2
Diameter 55 m (180′) above base 3.8 12.5
Estimated bole volume (m³.ft³) 1,205.0 42,557.0

Presumably the tree has grown in the last forty years and is even larger than these statistics indicate.

The Stagg Tree grows on private land, but when I visited in the summer of 2016, the tree was accessible to the public.

The tree can be reached from Highway 190, which passes through Camp Nelson, CA and on to the small community of Ponderosa. (Another website I looked at says some navigation systems suggest accessing the tree by turning onto Wishon Drive [County Road 208] toward Camp Wishon. Apparently the road suggested is unpaved and closed in winter. This route is probably not a good idea for most cars.)

From Highway 190, turn onto Redwood Drive. (Redwood Drive is only on one side of the road, so you don’t need to know if you are turning left of right. Simply turn onto the road, which Google Maps also labels as 216.) When you get to the first fork in the road, stay left. At the second fork in the road, stay right to stay on Redwood Drive. At the third fork, stay left to stay on Redwood Drive. (If you take the right fork, you will be on Chinquapin Drive and you will be lost! If you do get lost, ask anyone walking around how to get to the Stagg Tree. The locals know how to get there.) I believe there is a sign pointing in the direction of the Stagg Tree at img_6598the last fork in the road.

If I remember correctly, the pavement ends before the parking area. Keep driving on the dirt road until you img_6597see the sign that says you’ve reached the parking area for the Stagg Tree hike. After you’ve parked, you have to cross a gate to start the hike to the tree. The gate may be closed and locked, but unless new signs say otherwise, it is ok to cross the gate on foot and walk to the Stagg Tree.

There are several signs along the path marking the way to the Stagg Tree.

The walk to the tree is fairly easy. It is not wheelchair or stroller accessible, but healthy folks with no mobility issues should be able to get there and back with no problem. The path is fairly flat until the last fork to the left . The path that branches off from the last fork is a bit steep (downhill to get to the tree, and uphill to get back.) Again, folks with no mobility or health issues should be able to make it to the Stagg Tree and back with a minimum of stress.

img_6587The Stagg Tree is not a heavily visited area. When I visited, I was the only person there. As I was walking toward the tree, another group was leaving, and as I left, another group was arriving, but I got the Stagg Tree all to myself for at least thirty minutes.

I’m not sure why the tree is less visited than other attractions in the area. Maybe drivers are leery of making a drive taking them so far off the main highway. Maybe most tourists who aren’t big into hiking are hesitant to go on a infrequently populated, unpaved, slightly steep trail. Maybe folks who are regular hikers think the short, easy hike to the Stagg Tree is beneath them.

In any case, I enjoyed my time alone with the Stagg Tree. It’s a great tree to visit to get away from the crowds and experience the sites and sounds of nature. Its size is quite impressive, and it’s fun to tell friends about seeing one of the largest creatures on the planet.

I took all of the photos in this post. The Stagg Tree is the giant sequoia in all of the photos.


Medical Folklore


Recently, while sorting writing from my past, and I found papers I wrote for a variety of collage classes in the 90s. I have no idea how these papers survived a multitude of moves during my 20s and 30s or my last several years on the road, but there they were.

Most weren’t very interesting. Most were written in that overly academic style required in the university arena. Most were deposited in the recycling bin.

One was interesting, however.  Written in 1993 for an anthropology class, it was called “Testimonies in Medical Folklore.” I didn’t really do anything to make it interesting. I just transcribed the stories told to me by my mother, my father, and my friend’s mother. Like a good anthropologist, I collected and reported. I didn’t comment upon anything I was told. I suppose the assignment didn’t require commentary.

What strikes me now is the ages of my “informants” who were my parents and my friend’s mother. They were 44-49, in the age group my friend and I belong to now. We were so young, in our early 20s, and our parents seemed ancient. Now i realize our parents weren’t as elderly as we thought they were, and my friend and I were just babies.

Today I’ll share these stories of medical folklore, as they were told to me.

I described “Informant #1” (my mother) as “a forty-four year old Caucasian woman.” (I’m not sure why I didn’t describe her as “Cajun” as I did my father. My mother was just as Cajun as he was. Perhaps I was trying to hide the fact that I hadn’t gone very far from home to gather information.)

[This event] happened to my…daughter when she was six months old. I went to visit her grandmother…and the aunt of my mother-in-law was there and when she saw [the baby], she insisted that thunder or some other loud noise had separated the bones in [the baby’s] head, that the soft spot was opening. So, she said that she would pray over [the baby]. In other words, treat her. I didn’t see anything wrong with it because she wasn’t going to be giving any medicine or they weren’t going to do anything strange to her besides the old woman was going to put her hand on [the baby’s] head and say prayers. So, I agreed to let the lady do this. She prayed and put her hands on [the baby’s] head and then when she was done she [said] that [the baby’s] head would heal. I didn’t notice any change. It satisfied the old lady, and I didn’t figure it would hurt [the baby]…

After this happened and I was sharing this experience with my mother, she told me that when she was growing up her grandmother would sew caps for babies…She would make a white cap and a black cap, and they believed that the baby should wear the white cap during the daytime. At night they would put the black cap on the baby and also in thunderstorms to protect the baby’s head from separating…

This was something that was not new to my mother, she had heard this before, so maybe something had happened to [the baby], but I was taking her to the doctor for her checkups, and the doctor never said that her bones were separating in her head…

Something else…In 1970, I was pregnant for my first child. My husband worked with this man, his wife was also pregnant…These people…were black…When the woman had the baby, she had a son, and so once she came home from the hospital, they invited us to go over and see their baby. When we got to their home her grandmother was at the house outside and the old woman was very shocked to see us get there. I thought it might have been because we were white, that it surprised her that we were going to visit to see the black baby. I went in and went to the crib and looked at the baby and held its hand and talked to the mother and the visit probably lasted about ten or fifteen minutes and we left.

Later that afternoon, I got a call at home that they needed a piece of the dress that I was wearing. This was a surprise to me, but my husband and the father of the little boy came over to the house and cut the hem out of the dress that I was wearing to take back to the house where the baby was. The old grandmother took the piece of fabric and cut strips and tied a strip of the fabric on each of the baby’s wrists. Supposedly, what we were told was that when I went to the crib, the baby, sensing that I was pregnant, had started to strain as if he was in the birth canal again and continued straining and holding its breath until this cloth was tied around its wrist. I don’t know how true this is, if it was the old woman’s imagination…After this happened…I mentioned it to my mother-in-law, my mother, and other elderly people…and it was not a surprise to them, they all said that they had heard of stories before…

I described “Informant #2 (my father) as “a forty-seven year old Cajun, Caucasian male.”

When we were young kids and we got warts–that was before you’d go to the doctor and have them removed either by burning or surgically removing them…My mother’s uncle who lived across the street…would treat you for them. In French it’s called “traiteur.” And he would take you and get you off by yourself…and he would meditate and prayer [secret prayers passed down from generation to generation] and while he was praying he would just continue making a circle around and around the wart very slowly…with his finger and it would take about between ten and fifteen minutes and he did that three days in a row. And the wart would, after those three treatments, the wart would gradually start to reduce in size and shrink and shrink and shrink until it would just disappear…

When I was a young boy I used to get what’s called a sunstroke. I’d get out in the sun without a hat and you would run fevers, have cold chills, at least I would, tremendous headaches, just feel like your head was going to explode. And you could also be treated for that. A gentleman that used to live next door to my grandmother would treat you and he would treat you with water, he would use water, sprinkle water on your forehead and also put his hand on your head and pray and that would get rid of the headache. It didn’t really work that well for me the way he did it, but it did help.

And then i was told by someone else about a Mr. H who treated for that. He had a grocery store…about a mile from the house, and when I’d get a sunstroke I’d get on my bicycle and ride over to the grocery store and the man would take me into the stockroom, turn out all the lights, and place both of his hands on my head, pray in the dark for me, and believe it or not, when I’d leave there [and] go back outside from the grocery store, my headache was completely gone, the fever and chills were gone. He only treated me about three or maybe four times at the most, and I’ve never had a sunstroke since…

I described “Informant #3 (my friend’s mother) as “a forty-nine year old Caucasian woman.” I went on to explain, “The events she relayed to me over the phone…were told to her by her husband and his relatives who grew up in Croatia.”

When my husband was a child living in a poor, rural area of Croatia, they wouldn’t go to the doctor and have their tonsils taken out if they had tonsillitis. If their tonsils swole up, they would take some wool–there was always wool in the house because they raised sheep–and they would wrap the wool around their neck to help the tonsils get better…

My sister-in-law’s mother came from Croatia to visit last year. While she was here, my sister-in-law told me that every day her mother would take plain yogurt and chop garlic and parsley really, really fine and mix it all together and eat it. When my sister-in-law asked her what she was doing, her mother said she was eating the mixture to treat her high blood pressure…

My same sister-in-law went to Croatia a few years ago to visit with her young son. While they were there, the son got a fever and my sister-in-law didn’t have any medicine…An old lady in the village told her to get potatoes and slice them and put the slices on the balls of her son’s feet and this would pull the fever out. She was warned not to put the potatoes on his head because that would pull the fever up and possibly give him meningitis. The potatoes had to be put on his feet so the fever would be pulled down and out of his body. I’ve never tried it, but she said it worked, that the potatoes shriveled up as if they had been cooked and my nephew’s fever went away…

I got an A- on the assignment.

Feeding People in Las Vegas


My friends are part of the Las Vegas Catholic Worker community, although neither of them identify as Catholic. I think it’s unusual to be a non-Catholic Catholic Worker, but I can’t say I’ve surveyed any other Catholic Workers about their beliefs or religious affiliations.

One of the Catholic Worker activities my friends participate in is serving food to hungry people. (My friends  also do peace work focused on the elimination of nuclear weapons development, production, and testing. In addition, they also cook and serve with Food Not Bombs once or twice a month.)

When I mention I’m heading to Las Vegas to visit friends, the person I’m speaking with tends to get a knowing look, all wink wink nudge nudge. People say things to me like Have fun! or Be careful. Although I do have fun with my friends, I try to explain to people that my trips to Vegas are not what they’re thinking. My first visits to Vegas, the three nights I spent there with Sweet L and Mr. Carolina, eating and drinking out of trash can and wondering at the sights of the Strip, those night were maybe a little closer to what people think Las Vegas is about. (Read about those nights in the first part of this post: But since I’ve been visiting The Poet and The Activist, my visits to Las Vegas have not involved one foot touching the Strip or casino property.

The Activist participates in the Catholic Worker food service several times a week. The Poet serves food and helps with washing dishes once a week. Whenever I’m visiting, I volunteer with one or both of them.

Las Vegas Catholic Work house surrounded by a circle of people holding hands.

This photo shows the Las Vegas Catholic Worker house. Image from

The serving of food starts at 6:30 in the morning. I’m not usually out and about so early, but other people are accustomed to it. When we arrive at the Catholic Worker House to meet up with the other volunteers, the food is cooked and people are bustling around, loading everything on the trailer to transport it to the empty lot where the food is served. People have been in the kitchen since 4am, preparing the meal.

The kitchen is warm when we walk in, always a contrast with coolness of the desert morning,but especially pronounced in early December. The people inside are warm too, although they must be wondering who I am and if I’ll be back. I’m sure they see many volunteers who help once to fulfill some sort of obligation and never return. In any case, people say hello to me, tell me their names, shake my hand. If The Poet or The Activist is standing next to me, I’m introduced as a friend.

When we arrive, people are typically sitting around a table in the next room, finishing their prayer meeting. I usually hear some portion of the Lord’s Prayer drift from the room. While the prayer meeting is wrapping up, other people are carrying industrial-size metal pots outside to load them on the trailer which an SUV will pull to the site of the serving.

After all the food and tea and paper bowls and plastic utensils and folding tables and condiments and cups are loaded and the prayer group has dispersed, all the volunteers circle around the wooden counter in the middle of the kitchen to join hands and pray together. I hold the hands of the people on either side of me and bow my head respectfully, but I don’t pray. Other folks recite aloud a prayer, often the following one by Samuel F. Pugh:

O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
And remembering,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help;
By word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted.

The food is served in a vacant lot at G & McWilliams Streets , far enough away from the Catholic Worker house so it makes sense to go in a car. I ride with The Activist (and The Poet too, if it’s Saturday). We always arrive a few minutes before the SUV and trailer.

When we arrive, the hungry people are lined up and waiting. Most people would probably say those people standing in line are homeless. I’m sure some of them are homeless. Maybe even a majority of them live on the streets, but I’m not willing to lump the whole bunch into one category. I know every single one of those people has a unique life, an individual story that’s brought each of them to a vacant lot in Las Vegas, NV on any particular morning.

The vast majority waiting to eat are men. Out of a couple hundred people there to eat, I’d be surprised to see more than five women. Where are all the poor, hungry, and/or homeless women? I feel confident they are somewhere in Las Vegas. I hope they are getting their needs met by some other organization(s).

When the trailer arrives, volunteers scurry to set up. Two tables are unfolded, condiments and utensils set out on them. Plastic milk crates are placed at the head of each line, and giant pots of steaming food are set on top of them. Another table is set up with the day’s side dish and is staffed by two volunteers. Someone else prepares to distribute jalapeño peppers from a large plastic tub to folks who want to spice up their food.

Christ of the Breadlines by Fritz Eichenberg – mural outside the Catholic Worker Houses – painted by Q, photo by Tami Yaron. Image from

The Catholic Worker group also provides warm, damp towels to the folks they serve. I’ve never seen another group provide this service. I think it’s a great idea. A volunteer distributes the warm towels from a 5-gallon bucket. Folks use the towels to wash their face and/or hands, then deposit the used ones in a second bucket. The dirty towels are taken back tot he Catholic Worker house where they are laundered for reuse.

When I volunteer, I usually help hand out bread. (One time I helped hand out the hot main dish.) After putting on gloves, The Activist or The Poet and I take bread out of a 5-gallon bucket and set a variety of choices on the inside of one of the lids, which we use as a tray. The available bread can vary, but I’ve seen it include bagels, sliced wheat bread, hamburger buns, raisin bread, and chunks of baguettes.

I try to be really friendly to people who come up for bread. Good morning! I’ll say with a big smile. Can I get you some bread?

Some people know exactly what they want and how many slices. Others seem confused by the choices. Some seem grateful for whatever they’re handed. I do my best to give folks the kind of bread they want, then sincerely say, Have a nice day! before they leave. I like to think a friendly face and voice and word are as important as the food, but maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel good.

I wonder what the other people in that vacant lot see when they look at me. Do they assume I have a house to return to? Do they think I’m financially secure? Do I seem comfortable and complacent? Do they realize I’m closer economically to the the people there to eat than to the other people serving? Does anyone look at me and imagine I once lived on the streets, that I’m only one step out of my van away from homeless again? But for the grace of the Universe (or God or the Higher Power or Goddess or whatever one chooses to call it), I’d be lined up to receive food instead of serving it.

Saguaros Personified



Is anthropomorphizing a human universal? Do people in all cultures ascribe human attributes to animals and plants, as well as to objects that have never been alive? (The preceding question was intended as rhetorical, but Wikipedia says YES!

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities[1] and is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.[2]))

In the U.S. Southwest, some people look at a saguaro cactus and see human qualities.

The saguaro is the cactus most people think of when they think of a desert, especially U.S. desert. Interestingly,  according to Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum website, saguaros grow only in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico, with few stray plants found in southeast California. Anyone who imagines saguaros in New Mexico or Nevada or Utah has it all wrong!img_4556

I met a woman in New Mexico who had traveled throughout Arizona. She’d grown up in New England, but had been charmed by the saguaros she saw in the Sonoran Desert during her early travels there. She took a lot of photos (back in the days of film and negatives and prints) of saguaros she thought looked like people doing people things. She was still tickled by the cacti when she pulled out her photo album to show me.

She had several dozen photos, one saguaro after another, sometimes two or more saguaros “interacting.” Each photo had a funny little caption describing what human activity she imagined was taking place. There were “hugging” cacti and several jokes about saguaros with droopy arms.

She said she had a photo album with pictures she’d taken of a “wedding party” made up entirely of saguaros, but she wasn’t able to find it during my visit.

The funniest story of the personification of saguaros I’ve ever heard was told to me a couple of years ago. I was talking to a woman who’d grown up in New Jersey, and she told me about her first visit to the U.S. Southwest. When she drove into Arizona and saw her first saguaros, her first thought was, Those plants are flipping me off!

img_4582I look at a saguaro and can image it waving at me, welcoming me to the desert. Leave it to someone from New Jersey to think the saguaros were aiming rude gestures at her.

I took all of the photos in this post. All were taken near Ajo, AZ, in the Sonoran Desert. None of the saguaros look like people to me.


In Praise of a Cup


It’s better to not even go into Wal-Mart because I start thinking I need things.

First I decided I needed a tablecloth, but the super flimsy plastic one for $2 was torn by the wind almost immediately. The next time I was in Wal-Mart, I looked for a stronger one. Once I found a design I liked, I decided I needed the clamps made to hold a tablecloth on a picnic table. There you go, three purchases I really didn’t need to make. (I did use the second cloth for at least four months, making its cost about a quarter a week. The clamps were too small for the thick Forest Service table, and I ended up returning them. My point is, browsing often leads to buying, often of things I don’t even need.)


Cup with handles unfolded for use.

I thought long and hard before I bought the cup. I looked at it in the camping aisle during several shopping trips and asked myself if I really needed it. Well, no, I didn’t really need it. I was currently boiling water in my glass sauce pan, and I could continue to boil water that way. But it was a (minor) hassle to haul out the glass saucepan any time I needed to heat a cup or two of water for tea or cocoa or instant mashed potatoes. Being able to boil small amounts of water in a cup that fit in the tote with my bowl, plates, utensils, and cast iron skillet would make my life easier, right?

Many times in my life as a consumer, I’ve bought something to make my life easier, only to find, not so much. In the case of the cup, it really has helped.

Having folding handles means it fits easily in the tote with my kitchen items. (The glass saucepan is kept in a

Cup with handles folded for easy storage.

Cup with handles folded for easy storage.

special padded bag which hangs at the back of the van, making it just a bit of a pain in my neck to pull it out every time I want to heat a cup of water.) Since the cup is stored in the tote with the cooking supplies I use most, it’s convenient to get to when I want to use it.

I like the size of the cup. It has an 18 ounce capacity, meaning I can get two cups (16 ounces) of liquid in it without filling it to the rim. Unless I’m heating enough water to fill my thermos or serve tea to a group, I don’t need more than two cups of hot water at a time.

My cup is made of stainless steel, which I appreciate. I don’t trust aluminum cookware, but I feel safe boiling water in stainless steel. The cup is easy to clean if I heat something (milk, butter, olive oil,) instead of or in water in the cup.

I find the use I’ve already gotten from the cup has made for money well spent. While I wouldn’t say the cup is a must have item just because I like it, I do think a camp cup with a folding handle is a useful item to have, especially for someone traveling light who doesn’t want to haul around a saucepan. I’ve you got a few extra bucks in your kitchen budget, you might want to invest in one.

I took the photos above of the cup with folding handles I bought at Wal-Mart. sells similar cups in a variety of sizes at a variety of prices. The photos below is a  link to a cup available on Amazon. If you buy anything from Amazon after clicking through links on my blog, I get an advertising fee.

[amazon template=image&asin=B003LDKNZ0]

Life vs. Lifestyle


Last year at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR), I repeatedly heard people refer to the “lifestyle.”

Why did you chose this lifestyle? How long have you been living this lifestyle.

This use of the term “lifestyle” annoys me for a couple of reasons, the first personal and the second more broad.

Of course, this is not the first time I’ve been annoyed by questions about my “lifestyle.” Back in the day, I remember being asked to talk about “the anarchist lifestyle.” Then and now, my answer is the same: I can tell you about my life, but I really can’t speak about a lifestyle.

To me (and Merriam-Webster doesn’t exactly validate my belief), life is authentic, but lifestyle is more about wanting to be. I guarantee you, the life I am living is authentically my own. I’m not aspiring to be something else. I am not trying to be someone I’m not. I’m doing my thing, living my life, not attempting to live in some specific way so I can fit in with some specific group. The only “lifestyle” I can speak about is the Blaize Sun/Rubber Tramp Artist lifestyle; in other words, my own personal, individual life.

The other reason I’m annoyed by the use of the word “lifestyle” is validated by Merriam-Webster. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary (, “lifestyle” is

the usual way of life of a person, group, or society.

So what is the “usual” van dweller or rubber tramp way of life? Is there a usual, typical, customary, normal, standard, established, conventional, traditional, or predictable way that van dwellers live their lives?

While some van dwellers live in banged up old cargo vans, others reside in late-model, expensive Sprinters and Class B RVs. Some folks make their homes in 20+ year old conversion vans and some folks live in minivans. Some rubber tramps aren’t van dwellers at all, but live in cars and SUVs. Are all of those folks living the same lifestyle?

Some van dwellers receive money from pensions or trust funds. Some get monthly disability or social security payments. Some of us have to be frugal to survive, while others are able to live as extravagantly as they desire. Some of us still have to work for money (full-time job or a part-time job or seasonal work) if we want to eat. Are we all living the same lifestyle?

Some people are living in vans that have been painstakingly and expensively customized. Some rubber tramps have insulated their vehicle’s walls and put down nice flooring, tinted the windows, and installed enough solar panels to power a house in the suburbs. Other people throw down a blanket on the floor and call it good because that’s all they can manage or afford, or maybe because they like to live a simple life. Which of these folks is living the van dweller lifestyle?

Some van dwellers are only living in their vans part of the time, taking weekend trips or driving their vans on vacations. Some folks are taking extended trips, but have a conventional home to return to whenever they want. Some people are living in their vans 24/7, with no other home to go to if they get cold or sick or tired of being on the road. Some full-timers have every possession they own with them, while others pay for storage facilities or leave belongings with friends or family. Are the lifestyles of these people the same or different?

I’m not interested in settling on qualifications for “real” van dwellers or rubber tramps. I’m just saying, as far as I can tell, there’s not one “lifestyle” being lived by every van dweller or rubber tramp. There are an infinite  variety of ways to live based on individual choices. Talking about “the lifestyle” doesn’t even make sense.

Personally, I’m not interested in living a ‘lifestyle.” I want to live my life. It’s easier to change that way. If I commit myself to a “lifestyle” of van dwelling, what does that mean when I house sit or stay with friends or rent a room in a house for some period of time? Living my life seems a flexible; I can evolve and change . If I decide to live a “lifestyle” I have to stay within the parameters set by the group if i want to keep my place in the group. I’ll just continue doing things the way that works for me, thank you very much. I’ll just live my life.



Squashing Pennies


I have a friend who collects squashed pennies. Well, I think she collects them. At some point she collected them, but I didn’t ask her if she still did before I went to Las Vegas. She might be over the squashed pennies while I am still blissfully mailing them off to her.

What’s a squashed penny, you may ask? According to Wikipedia (squashed pennies (aka squished pennies, aka pressed pennies, aka elongated coins)

are coins that have been elongated (flattened or stretched) and embossed with a new design with the purpose of creating a commemorative or souvenir token.

Do you know what I’m talking about now? If you don’t, have a look at the two pressed pennies in the photo below to get an idea of what I mean.


According to the Penny Collector website, elongated coins have been around for over 100 years.

Although an example of an elongated coin is rumored to have been produced some years earlier, it is generally accepted that these tokens were first made during the 1892-1893 World’s Columbian Exposition that was held in Chicago, Illinois to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. There were four different designs utilized during that event.

If you’ve never seen a pressed penny before, you probably don’t know how they are made. First of all, the penny pressing machines I’ve seen require 51 cents: two quarters (to pay for the pressing process) and the penny that will be pressed. Again, from the Penny Collector website:

An elongated coin is made by a coin, token, medal or metal blank being forced between two steel rollers. An engraving is on one or both of the rollers and as the coin passes through the rollers it is squeezed or elongated under tremendous pressure from the original round shape to one of an oval and the engraved design impressed into the coin at the same time.

On my way to Vegas, I stopped at the Alien Fresh Jerky store in Baker, CA store because I’d read online about a penny squashing machine there. However, I found the store devoid of penny pressing machinery. So sad! No pennies pressed with an alien theme for my friend!

When I got to Vegas and told my friends about my failure to squish a penny for my pal, they too got into the coin pressing spirit. It was The Activist who found the Penny Collector page listing the locations of pressing machines across the U.S. and around the world.

Penny pressing machine at the Ethel M. chocolate factory.

Penny pressing machine at the Ethel M. chocolate factory.

Before we headed off to the Ethel M. chocolate factory in Henderson, NV, I said I hoped there was a penny

presser there. The Poet said it would be nice if there was a machine there, but I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up. But guess what! The Ethel M. factory does have a penny squishing machine. I quick put my two quarters and one penny in the appropriate slots and turned, turned, turned the crank. It wasn’t long before the Ethel M. elongated coin clinked and rattled out of the machine’s innards and into the retrieval cup.

As we headed back to West Las Vegas, The Activist announced we were going to pass the Bonanza (World’s Largest) Gift Shop. He remembered from looking at the Penny Collector location page for Nevada that there was a penny presser there. He asked me if I wanted to stop.

Hell yeah! I said. The more pressed pennies, the merrier. Besides, that penny portrait of Ethel M. is a little bit boring. I thought my friend needed something with a little more pizzazz to represent Las Vegas.

This photo shows the penny presser outside the Bonanza (World's Largest) Gift Shop.

This photo shows the penny presser outside the Bonanza (World’s Largest) Gift Shop.

The Activist parked the car and I said, Now the problem is going to be figuring out which door I should go in, since the Bonanza has multiple entrances. Then I saw it! The penny presser was outside the store. I didn’t even have to go inside to squish my penny. Quick, quick, I put my coins in the slots and turned, turned, turned the crank. After a clink and a rattle, I had a squashed penny featuring the Welcome to Las Vegas sign in my hand.

You may be wondering if this whole business of squashing pennies is legal. The answer is YES (in the United States)! The Penny collector website gives the following information in it’s FAQ:

The United States Codes under Title 18, Chapter 17, and Section 331, “prohibits the mutilation, diminution and falsification of United States coinage.” However, it has been the opinion of some individual officers at the Treasury Department, though without any indication of approval, the foregoing statute does not prohibit the mutiliation of coins if done without fraudulent intent or if the mutilated coins are not used fraudulently.

You didn’t think I was out there breaking the law in Las Vegas, did you?

Pinball Hall of Fame


img_7801When I was planning my third trip to Las Vegas to visit The Poet and The Activist, I asked The Poet what fun things we should do. She knows I live frugally, so she and The Activist always try to think of free and cheap activities for us to do together. For this visit, she suggested we go to the Pinball Hall of Fame, which has no admission fee.

According to the Hall of Fame’s webpage (,

The Pinball Hall of Fame is an attempt by the members of the Las Vegas Pinball Collectors Club to house and display the world’s largest pinball collection, open to the public. A not-for-profit corporation was established to further this cause. The games belong to one club member (Tim Arnold), and range img_7802from 1950s up to 1990s pinball machines. Since it is a non-profit museum, older games from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are the prevelant [sic], as this was the ‘heyday’ of pinball.

The Pinball Hall of Fame is located at 1610 E. Tropicana, which I guess isn’t too far from the Strip. In my last three visits to Vegas, I’ve only been on the Strip if the car was crossing it to go somewhere else, so I don’t have a very good idea where the Hall of Fame is in relation to the rest of the city.

The Poet, The Activist, and I went to the Pinball Hall of Fame after dark one evening. I highly recommend visiting at night. The folks who run the place keep the overhead lights down low in the evenings, so the lights on the machines really pop! With all the flashing lights and bells and music and other sounds from the games, being in the Pinball Hall of Fame was a lot like how I imagine being in a pinball machine would be, but without giant metal balls trying to flatten folks.

img_7804The museum is set up with several wide aisles with pinball machines on each side. A few machines were out of order, but the ones that were working were available for play. The aforementioned website says,

All machines are available for play, so not only can you see them, you can actually play your old favorites. The pinball machines are all restored to like-new playing condition by people that love pinball and understand how a machine should work. All older pinballs are set to 25 cents per play, and newer 1990s models are set to 50 cents per play.

Although the website claims to have

pinball and nothing but pinball for 10,000 square feet,

After sliding a quarter in the slot, folks can make this clown "dance" by pressing buttons on the machine.

After sliding a quarter in the slot, folks can make this clown “dance” by pressing buttons on the machine.

we saw 80s era arcade-style video games, as well a few other older novelty games. One machine housed a clown. I put in a quarter and The Poet and I banged buttons to move the clowns arms and legs so it could “dance” to the theme song from The Jetsons. It was a ridiculous use of 25 cents, but The Poet and I laughed uproariously, so I guess it was money well spent.

Another non-pinball game at the Hall of Fame approximated bowling. The Activist bowled his ten frames and seemed to have a good time.

The Hall of Fame also boasts a photo booth. For $3 folks get two copies of a four pose, black and white strip of pix. I didn’t partake of the photo booth, but The Activist and The Poet got in there and had some pictures made.

There are several claw machines at the Hall of Fame. I had no interest in any of them, so I didn’t take any photos. I’m not sure what seemingly modern claw machines have to do with pinball, but whatever. It was easy to ignore them in favor of the stars of the show.

Pinball wizard, I am not. I’ve never been very good at keeping those metal balls going, probably because I never practiced very much. When I was a kid, the only place I went with pinball machines was the skating rink, and my visits there were few and far between. My parents were never the type to give me a handful of quarters and drop me off at the arcade in the mall. However, even though I’m not good at pinball, I find playing really fun.

img_7816I tried a few different machines at the Pinball Hall of Fall, and mostly lost immediately. I did the best with a Gilligan’s Island machine. Oh, Gilligan, my first true love! I was happy to see him immortalized by pinball.

The Hall of Fame’s website says,

The Pinball Hall of Fame is a registered 501c3 non-profit. It relies on visitors stopping by to play these games, restored pinball machine sales, and ‘This Old Pinball’ repair dvd videos (available for sale at the museum)…[A]fter the PHoF covers its monthly expenses for rent, electricity, insurance, endowment savings, the remainder of the money goes to the Salvation Army.


This photo shows the Pinball Hall of Fame repair shop.

Speaking of pinball repair, the service area for the machines is at the back of the museum. Although no one was making repairs when we visited, we could see the whole shop.

For only $2, I had an hour’s worth of fun with my friend at the Pinball Hall of Fame. What a bargain! I highly recommend a visit to the Pinball Hall of Fame to anyone looking for a good time in Vegas. Don’t worry if you don’t have quarters in your pocket; there are change machines on site to hook you up and get you playing right away!

The Pinball Hall of Fame is on the Jen Reviews list of the 100 Best Things to do in Las Vegas.

I took all of the photos in this post.