Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christmas is coming--

And the goose isn't the only thing getting fat. As Younger Daughter said a few minutes ago (with a beatific look on her face), "Chocolate truffles for breakfast, turkey with gravy for lunch, and did you say there's pie left? Do we have any whipped cream, or shall I go get some?"

We haven't even hit the marshmallow-walnut fudge season, yet, let alone tamales, enchiladas, machaca and green chile. (We're traditional; we eat Mexican for Christmas, in honor of our roots. Bar the fudge, which has no ethnic allegiance.) ("Gabaldon" is my own name, btw; my husband's' name is much easier to pronounce, but after spelling "Gabaldon" for twenty-five years, I was attached to it and didn't intend to give it up. Being a Hispanic name, that means that were we speaking Spanish, it would be pronounced


(probably originally had an accent mark over the "don," but that's been lost sometime over the last 500 years in the New World).

Since we are for the most part speaking English here, it's normally pronounced


(still with the long "o" sound at the end, right? Rhymes with stone? Amazing how hard it is for people to wrap their heads around that, no matter how often I tell them. No one in New York City, for instance, can make themselves not say "don" (as in mastodon) at the end. Just can't do it.)

But I digress...

Rather than join in the gluttony (well, rather than join in it right _then_), I drove up to the Rim country yesterday--about 90 miles north of Phoenix, 50 south of Flagstaff. That's where the Pinon (there's a tilde over the first "n" in Pinon, btw, but I haven't figured out how to insert one and am too lazy to go find out)/Juniper woodland begins, and thus the closest place in which to cut greenery for the family Advent wreath.

Beautiful day. Still, warm air--perfect for hot-air balloons, and I saw six of them floating over the Valley, just hanging in the air like slow-moving cherries. I could walk the woods in my shirt-sleeves, even that far north.

Now, one of the things I enjoy about wandering around in the wild is that you never know what you might see. I've come round a small tree and face-to-face with a surprised pronghorn antelope (I was pretty surprised, too), met mule deer and elk--once came upon a fresh elk carcass, sans head, neatly butchered, guts buried, backbone standing white like the keel of an overturned ship--with the hair on the lower legs all fresh and shining and the hooves black and still caked with dirt, as though those legs might spring up and the hooves carry off the ghostly skeleton. Eerie.

Met a porcupine once--but not as closely as the dog who came down the trail and thought that was One Strange Thing that ought to be barked at and closely inspected. Helped the owner pull quills out of the poor dog's nose; I have five of them in a dish on my mantelpiece in Flagstaff.

You also find a lot of broken glass in the woods, because people go a little way off the road to make a fire and drink beer (and stronger stuff). Most of the people I meet in the woods are hikers, occasionally hunters--I try _not_ to go into the woods in hunting season, but what qualifies as "woods" varies, and so does various people's notion of what constitutes hunting season--but by and large, nice folk. I do carry a gun, though, because I'm alone and nobody knows exactly where I am (that being part of the charm of woods-walking). Never needed it, never expect to need, HOPE never to need it--but I do have it (and the concealed-carry permit and sixteen hours of training that goes with it).

Anyway, yesterday I passed a small group of men and boys gathering firewood for sale, waved to them, drove on up a "primitive" road (one that's not maintained, so could be anything from drivable to morass--but the weather was dry), and found a promising looking stretch of land, so pulled off, parked, and went agathering, pruning shears in hand.

And I found toilets.

Three brand-new, pristine, white toilets, crouched under an alligator cypress. One standing (ready for some passing bear, I suppose), two fallen on their sides. And a big mess of heavy-equipment tire marks in the clearing where these were dumped.

Your guess is as good as mine. [g] My own guess would be--given the tire marks--that the toilets were dumped by someone working on a subdivision or building a house in the neighborhood (there were houses within a half-mile). Whether these were stolen toilets, and the dumper planned to come back and retrieve them under cover of darkness, or whether the general contractor suddenly shut down construction and they were dumped in disgust...who knows? Maybe the lady of the house saw them, insisted she'd chosen _green_ toilets, not white ones, and the plumber figured it was easier to dump them than return them to Home Depot.

Anyway, I got my Advent wreath cuttings: Pinon Pine, juniper (with big, blue, aromatic berries), Arizona holly, buckbrush, and saltbush (I'm sure that will prove to be a huge mistake--it has fluffy, airborne seeds, and they'll be _all_ over the house within hours--but it was beautiful, with the seeds shining in the sun), with a handful of tiny Pinon cones for decoration.

And what I started out to tell you--before I got sidetracked by toilets in the woods--was that Christmas is coming--and so is a brand-new, spectacular, completely redesigned website!

The designer finished work on it this week, and as soon as I can put in all the new content (kind of a massive job, but I'm on it), we'll unveil it--with luck, December 1st!


  1. I am intriqued...not only by the toilets in the woods...(gives a whole new meaning "Does a bear s*it in the woods", well by golly, they do, and they use American Standard! *G*)

    I'd like to hear more about the "Advent Wreath", do you add a different type of branch, leaf, pine cone, for each day before Christmas? It sounds lovely by the way, I love the fragrance of pinion, one of the very special memories of Christmas in New Mexico is of the fragrance of pinion smoke as we walk around looking at luminaria displays during the holidays.


  2. Dear Diana,

    If you are typing on your Mac and want to use a tilde, press your "Option" key in combination with the letter "n" key. A yellow highlighted tilde will be posted. Then, without hitting the space bar, type your "n" (or whatever other letter calls for a tilde) and it will be placed under the tilde. The yellow highlighting will disappear.

    Experiment by pressing your Option key with any other key (except Tab, Shift, Space Bar, Return, Delete and the F1/2/3 etc) and you will be delighted by what you find.



  3. Dear Midge--

    I have a Mac, but don't normally use it for writing, as it's majorly slow by comparison with my big laptop PC. It's good for media-type things (and in the fullness of time, I plan to use it for podcasts and video), but with the exception of Scrivener (which I like, but had a bug that caused keyboard lockup in the early version I had, and I haven't updated it yet), its word processing S-U-C-K-S, to put it bluntly, and that's 95% of what I do with a computer.

    Thanks for the advice, though!


  4. Do you think a bear knows how to flush? Just a thought!
    I also would love to hear more about your Advent Wreath. Our neighbors had a beautiful mountain ash tree that was taken out by an early summer storm this year and I will sadly miss the branches with those lovely orange berries for my table arrangement.
    Looking forward to the new site and your adventures through the Christmas season.
    Bright Blessings,

  5. Dear Lauren--

    I think you need plumbing before you can flush. [g]

    The Advent wreath looks great--I posted a couple of photos of it on Twitter. Let me see if I can email them to myself (took them with my camera phone) or take a better shot with my real camera, and I'll add it to this post.

    (For those of you on Twitter--my ID there is Writer_DG.)

  6. Ah and people wonder why it takes you so long to write a book.;)
    It just snowed today and iCan't wait to start my Own decorating!

  7. I would love to see a picture of your wreaths!! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!!

  8. Sounds like a fun and interesting day. My husband recently got his concealed-carry permit and started carrying. I wasn't for it at first but finally warmed up to it. Just curious, what do you carry, if you don't mind me asking?

  9. Diana, using a PC, hold down the Alt key and type 164 using the keypad to the right, not the numbers above the letters. That gives you this: ñ

    Lovely to walk out in the wilds, isn't it? We have lots of that up here in Canada. Happy Christmas preparations! And thank you for the instructions on how to pronounce your name. I've been sounding like a New Yorker all this time. ;-)

  10. Dear Ponita--

    Well, it would, if I had a keypad to the right. [g] It's a laptop, so I don't--but thanks!


  11. Ahh Diana, I love your sense of adventure, and your stories, (even about abandoned toilets in the woods!) Bet you could write a whole book about that alone! LOL Love it!

  12. Congrats on the new updated site. Hiked Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument today. Only about 3.7 miles and wonderful! Have you done it yet?! You should!

  13. Just a random memory from childhood. My grandmother used to go pick a plant called Goat's Beard out in the field, then put them in vases around the house. The Goat's Beard is like a giant Dandelion puff, about the size of a softball. Before she put them in the vases she would spray them with aerosol hairspray. Kept the downy seeds in place. Might help with your wreath! =-)

  14. Oops... should have thought you'd probably use a laptop for portability!

    There is a free program you can download to get the accent keys for a laptop: Shortkeys Lite. You might want to try that.

  15. Diana is this in the Prescott area? I have been thinking of driving up to gather some wreath material also. There is Arizona holly in that area? I'd like to find some.Did you see any mistletoe?

  16. Dear sanderson--

    Summat near Prescott--but just off I-17. Normally, I cut my Christmas greenery around the Fox Ranch Road or Schnebly Hill exits from I-17, coming down from Flagstaff to Phoenix. Since I wasn't going to be in Flagstaff until well into Advent, though, I made a special trip up for the purpose, and stopped as soon as I was into the Pinon-Juniper woodland, rather than drive that far up.

    I made three stops, the first off the Cherry Road exit (that's where I found the primitive road and the toilets [g]), another at General Crook Trail, and the third just on a straight stretch of I-17 (heading upward over the pass near Camp Verde) because I spotted a nice, lush Pinon right on the verge, and hadn't found a good one before that.

    But you'd find that kind of vegetation near Prescott, sure. Arizona holly isn't really holly--it just has small, sharp-pointed leaves like holly. I'll have a quick look in one of my plant guides and see if I can recall what its real name is--that, or take a close-up picture of it. [g]


  17. Ha ha, love the toilet story! I will say tho, there is one thing you might want to add to your supply bag, something called a "spot tracker", it's a satelite device that with the press of a button will notify either 911 that you need help, or who ever you set up on your "help" button... Very cool life saving device. Just a thought, like you said, woman alone in the woods cannot be too careful! I have one, I feel safer with it.

  18. One blue candle missing? :D

    Have nice first advent Sunday.
    Here's an advent calendar with some of my pictures if you want to have something nice until Christmas.
    Sorry no Scottish men on the pictures. ;)


  19. Dear Kristi--

    Doug has a "Find Me Spot." [g] But he goes on long motorcycle trips into the backcountry pretty frequently, whereas I go woods-walking alone rather infrequently--and not in really remote places, either. I was never more than a hundred yards from a major highway on this particular expedition, for instance. Still, next time I need something to suggest as a Christmas or birthday present...[g]

  20. Dear Julia--

    [g] No, there are three purple candles. One of them is hidden behind another, owing to the angle of the shot.


  21. Dear Keri--

    Sounds great! Though I may wait 'til spring--the temps in Santa Fe are gettin' down there, and I'm kind of expecting snow for Christmas.


  22. Sadly, it is not uncommon to find toilets tossed in the woods or byways around here. Not a bid to service the s**tting bears, but due to the fact that garbage haulers won't take them, and it costs money to dispose of them at weigh stations, and busting them up with a sledge to make them a part of a retaining wall or something is too much like W-O-R-K.

    Wait till DH hears about the Glock...he is constantly pestering me to take something with me when I forage/walk...

  23. Dear Melanie--

    Well, I wouldn't have been surprised to find _used_ toilets tossed that way. It was the fact that they were brand-new and shiny that was mildly startling.


  24. Dear Diana,

    Maybe the lack of pristine toilet facilities is another reason besides the rotten acorn season this year in Japan that bears have been making a record number of forays into human habitat ...

    Having grown up in rural Arizona and New Mexico, I really enjoy reading your locally flavored notes (and all the previews, explanations, and general updates). There's nothing quite like tamales on Christmas. We usually eat ours before dashing out to Christmas Eve services (and again when we get home, if any are left)... Here in Japan, masa can be had by special order, but corn husks are a different story. Several times I've made do with dried bamboo leaves, but it ain't the same . Guess it's time to suggest to care-package-sending family that they use corn husks instead of Styrofoam peanuts, huh.

    Thanks for sharing another fun story. Enjoy a wonderful Advent and Christmas season!


  25. Oh my God, Diana....I think you have stumbled across the mythical Throne-Henge. Don't touch it! I hate to think where it could transport you to...

  26. hahaha very funny Throne Henge .. good one !
    actually you could use the dunnies in the bush - translation from Australian - Toilets in the forest. The plumbing isnt really needed so long as they are set up for a long drop, you cant flush but you can go (G)
    what a view you would have whilst resting on the Throne .........

    Cheers Jo-Anne

  27. I am cracking up right now at the pronunciation guide to your name. As I'm trying to sound it out I'm thinking "I just can't say it". Then you explained it for me...I'm from New York City. Too funny.

  28. Dear Amy--

    "Rhymes with stone."


  29. Diana, can I just say that I absolutely LOVE how interactive you are with your fans! I adore coming here and posting and reading your responses. You are AWESOME :)

  30. Most of my dabbling in field botany has been done in the southern U.S., so some of the western plants are unfamiliar. Buckbrush is a common name for 3 genera that deer like to browse. Saltbushes (Atriplex sp.) are halophytes that humans may browse. Is Arizona holly a local name? It's not a "real" holly. Does it have another more widely used name?

  31. Hi Diana,

    While driving around today I was thinking about some of the comments I read yesterday. One in particular got me.. the remarks where about "what do you carry". I am an Australian and if we asked someone what they carry whilst bushwalking or hiking the answer would be maybe a backpack, or mobile phone, water or even E-Perb ( personal emergency beacon )...... I had a chuckle that “what do you carry” means something completely different in the States. We don’t need to carry a gun as kangaroos and other natives are pretty skittish. Snakes might be less wary of you especially if cornered or annoyed but.. you leave them alone, they leave you alone  we don’t have a hunting season as such, and you are not allowed to hunt in state forests or national parks anyway. As to carrying any weapon into these areas or in public... .. oohh no.... a sure way of getting into trouble with the authorities.

    Guess I will stay happy and gun free here...........but that doesn’t mean I haven’t hunted.. I have but on private property for rabbits and foxes which are pests.

    Cheers Jo-Anne

  32. Hi Jo-Anne
    I usually don't write here much (English is my second language),but I read a lot, so I would like to say something about, what you write in here.
    Yes I think we are "completely different" here in States. Thanks to our "founding fathers" who give us our "Constitution", which, if you don't know is about our rights.Very smart and wise people!
    I grow up in socialism, so I know very well how it works,when government take rights from people.
    I was lucky to escape from there and I am very glad that I pick U.S.A. for my new home and for years now I am very proud American, who carry a gun.

  33. ñ Ñ, here you go, cut and paste, I made my mother send them to me and I frequently use theseletters when I chat to my cousins in Chile,I cut and paste them onto facebook, messenger when chatting. Can't wait to see the new site, will there be another excerpt from book eight to celebrate???


  34. Wow…this post tingled my toes. I’m so full of admiration and respect for firefighters in general and now you in particular Stewart. Thank you for sharing.
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