Ajo: a tiny town with a big heart

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The old Spanish Mission Church

Last Saturday I was in Ajo (pronounced ‘Ah-ho’) a wee mining town– a stone’s throw from the Mexican border. Ajo is as cute its name (population 3,500). The other Arizona town that rivals Ajo in its teeny name is the town of “Why”. I learned from the folks at Ajo the residents of “Why” wanted to name their town “Y” because it is located at a Y-shaped intersection – but the post office does not accept a single letter for a town name and that is why Why came to named Why! So much for trivia.

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The downtown plaza

The “Friends of the Ajo Library” – a volunteer organization had invited me to give a talk. Ajo is a 2 hour drive from where we live, and what a beautiful drive it was through a highway lined with wildflowers. I wished I had stopped to take pictures but I worried I’d be late, so we drove straight on. P1030944The quaint little Ajo Salzar Library is located right in the middle of the town plaza and the Friends of the Library gave me a very warm welcome. After my slide show and Q&A there was small reception with the most delicious baked treats and tea. We drove around the town and up to see the big open pits and a cute little historical museum. Here is a picture of me in my rather loud dress standing outside the mining museum. What a gratifying day! Thank you Ajo!

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There’s a stingray in my pool!

stingray shorts

We live in the desert and things fall into our swimming pool –all the time.

A desert turtle fell in once and we found it lying at the bottom. At first I thought it was a brown hat. We fished it out and sat it on a rock and I was about to declare it DOA, when lo and behold the creature opened it’s bleary eyes, coughed up a tablespoon of water and shuffled off into the rocks.

Another accidental fall-in was a wee baby bat with a cheeky face amazingly like a Chihuahua. Batty was revived with milk fed with a Q-tip, kept in a dark shoebox in the laundry room (the closest thing I could find to a cave) and released at dusk. Bats probably send out a sonar signal like they say, because only seconds after I set him out on the patio, a whole bunch of aunties and uncles, cousins and friends showed up en masse, and Batty joined them after a rather drunken take off that almost landed him in the pool the second time.

Baby Chuckwalla lizard rescued from the pool
Baby Chuckwalla lizard rescued from the pool

Rescue#3 was a baby Chuckwalla lizard – which had ingested so much water, its stomach was bloated and tight like a Ping-Pong ball. After reviving in the run, Chucky waddled off to live another day. Hurrah!

This wild bobcat (the size of a large dog) lives up by the rocks in my backyard and sometimes pays us a visit. It recently had 3 pups.
This wild bobcat is the size of a large dog and lives up in the rocks behind my backyard. Recently it had 3 pups.

Other pool visitors include a beautiful bobcat that pays us the occasional visit. It has striking markings and elegantly tufted ears.

A young Sonoran king snake once jumped into the pool to grab a juicy chlorine-marinated mouse and probably nursed a stomach ache for the rest of the day. King Snakes (they can grow up to three feet) are harmless to humans and it’s a good thing to have them around  because they kill rattlesnakes.

Baby King snake slithering off after eating a mouse
Baby King snake slithering off after eating a mouse (note bulge).
This mallard duck flew in to romance with our plastic chlorine tablet holder (seen pouting in the far corner.)
The mallard duck that flew in to romance with our plastic chlorine tablet holder (seen in the far corner.)

Then, there are surprise drop-ins. An amorous mallard, veered off its migration course to crash-land in our pool looking no doubt, for a last summer fling. But sadly, the coy female lounging in the corner, turned out to be only a plastic chlorine tablet holder. Mally flew off with a disgusted ‘quack’.

Another time, a not-so-lucky raccoon was found floating belly up, eyes rolled back with  its ghastly teeth showing. My sister who was visiting from India the next day, heard all about it. Sis, if you must know, has little knowledge of raccoons.

Talking to her friend in California, Sis says. “I missed all the excitement, yesterday. A moose fell into Shona’s pool.”

“A MOOSE!” shrieked the friend, “My goodness, what did they do?”

“Oh it was already dead so they just threw it out into the desert,” Sis replies, casually.

“But HOW?”

“With a shovel.”

(More shrieks from the other end)

Sis covers the mouthpiece and tells me. “She can’t believe the moose fell into your pool.”

“Not a moose – a raccoon,” I correct her.

“Sorry, it was a raccoon,” Sis tells her friend, “Not moose. I got the animals mixed up because of the two ‘o’s in the spelling.”

“Then it could be a baboon, too, for that matter, ” says the friend, dryly.

Giving all creatures falling into our pool, it was hardly surprising when hubby looking out the patio door, one morning, declares. “Something large has fallen in the pool.”

I grab my glasses, “What is it? A raccoon? A moose? A baboon?” Anything is possible after all but I’m stunned at what he says.

“Very strange,” says hubby, slowly. “but it looks a little bit like a stingray.”

I can hardly believe my eyes. The creature is HUGE, with dull mottled markings and it’s flapping away at the bottom of the pool, obviously alive, because its large wings, fins or whatever they are, move up and down. In the refracted light of the pool it looks sinister and threatening.

“A stingray!” I scream. “Oh my God!”

Hubby is less prone to theatrics. “That’s ridiculous. We live in the middle of the desert! I’m going out to take a look.”

“No!” I pull him back. “You will scare the thing. It might jump.” The thought is too terrifying.

Suddenly, I have an idea. “Wait here, I’m getting the binocs.”

I peer through the binoculars, hands shaking, unable to focus. I almost drop them when the automatic timer on the pool pump suddenly comes on and the creature jolts forward and flaps around furiously, looking agitated.

“What?” Hubby grabs the binocs from me and adjusts the focus. He stares through them, opens the patio door and goes outside. He is laughing. “Come here, you’ll never believe what it is.”

Can you guess what it was? Hint: look at the first picture. Now wouldn’t you think it was a stingray if you saw it flapping  away at the bottom of your pool – that too, first thing in the morning, before drinking your first cup of tea?

Life is never dull, I tell you.  Cheers, my friends!

Update“What were the shorts doing at the bottom of the pool?” is the sneaky question I am getting. I hasten to explain – they were drying on a deck chair and got blown in by the wind. 🙂

 

New year, new beginnings

This was the most beautiful rainbow I saw in the parking lot, the day I turned in my manuscript for Flame Tree Road
The incredible rainbow I saw in the parking lot, the day I turned in my final revisions for Flame Tree Road

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I am shocked to realize it’s been a whole year since I posted anything. 2014 was a crazy year! I turned in my final manuscript for Flame Tree Road (my second book) in mid-December – just before my editor went on maternity leave. That same evening I saw the most glorious full-arc rainbow in a parking lot. Being an incorrigible optimist, I take that to be a good sign.

Now to clear up some confusion: there has been a name change for book #2 from Song of the Flame Tree to Flame Tree RoadThere’s also a new cover in the works which I will share soon. The pub date for Flame Tree Road (as of now) is 30th June, 2015. These are very exciting times but more updates in separate post. Right now, I am trying to ease myself back into blogging as it feels like I’ve just returned from a long expedition to the North Pole.

Beautiful tea party setting for my author event put together by the West Side Stories and CELC Book Clubs of Goodyear.
Beautiful tea party setting for my author event put together by the West Side Stories and CELC Book Clubs of Goodyear.

Added to my writing deadlines  were a string of author events last year. Teatime for the Firefly has drummed up some serious interest in Assam tea. Readers want to drink the same tea I drink, even though I insist it’s no fancy tea– just good, strong Assam CTC. Several events I attended  this year served Assam Tea. Some groups went to extraordinary lengths to plan elaborate tea parties complete with exquisite table settings, fine bone china and dainty treats. Seeing all the excitement and appreciation over Assam Tea, I am convinced the days of the frufru herby teas are numbered.  America now wants earthy and good, strong Assam tea is right up there with the mud-clumped beetroot, goat cheese, pork belly and crusty bread.

If you want to try Assam Tea try this Assam Tea Sampler from Upton Tea
If you want to try Assam Tea, check out this excellent Assam  Sampler from Upton Tea. There are some nice varieties here. The CTC is the kind I drink because it brews stronger and takes milk well.

There’s breaking news on the caffeine front as well. New medical research shows Caffeine is good for you and a regular caffeine intake can prevent the onset of dementia and Alzheimers. If you consider the copious amounts of high-octane Assam Tea I drink, I should be sharp as a stiletto, yet I can never remember where I last set down my tea-cup! There are half-drunk cups of tea all over the house, and possibly a dead one trapped in the microwave.

But nothing brings more cheer to a winter’s afternoon than the old cuppa, don’t you think? I will need plenty of cheer, I tell you, as I roll up my sleeves to tackle Book#3 this year. The electric kettle has just come to a rolling boil, as I write, and here comes the welcome “ting” as it shuts off. So join me dear friends to welcome this beautiful new year and thank you for your continued love and support. You keep me bushy-tailed and wanting to tell stories. Cheers!

Put the kettle on, please…

Shona, to put it poetically “all things tea remind me of thee”;  when I saw this picture from Sandy’s vacation at  Sequoia national Park Just last week I knew I had to get a copy for you.  I told her this is perfect postcard for you. She was gracious enough to indulge me. Sandy sends her regards.
With that I’ll have a cuppa, pass the biscotti, please. Anitra