Saturday, September 28, 2013

All About Arizona - Naco on the Border

Naco is a tiny little town that straddles the U.S./Mexico border just south of Bisbee, Arizona.  I first visited in 1997.  I had gone to Mexico to shop in Nogales before that, but wanted to see another view of Mexico.  It was so quaint.  Here's what it basically looked like in 1997.  The only different is as you look to the right of the picture, there is a permanent block across the road I traveled in 1997.

Funny story I love to tell about Naco.  In 1997 I was driving through the little village on the U.S. side when I came to what looked like a broken down toll booth.  I drove through and realized I had just crossed the border.  I didn't see anyone and thought: This must be the way they do the border in small towns. 

I kept driving down the charming street with little pushcarts and a town square.  Suddenly, a large red Dodge truck drove up next to me with a big guy in shades at the wheel.  He was motioning me back toward the border.  Realizing he was a federale, I went back.  OOPs.  I had passed the border station, which was a couple of Mexican officers sitting in front of a little store to the side of the "toll booth."  Wow, did I get scolded in Spanish (which I don't speak)!  They also searched my car - thoroughly!

I drove back down the street, stopping in a little liquor store.  I bought a six pack of Pacifico in mini bottles and drove back to the border.  Wow, there was a huge building at the U.S. side and I drove up to a new inspection lane.  I didn't realize you could only take 2 liters of alcohol back to the U.S. and the border control agent made me turn around and go back into Mexico to get rid of the alcohol.  This time, the federales REALLY searched my vehicle!  I gave the alcohol away to some guy down the street and headed back to the U.S.

It's a funny story, but one of the past.  Here's the border in Naco today:

Yeah, I guess I know why we've done this, but to see that black line undulating over the little hills in either direction as far as the eye can see is a little depressing.  Notice how the area immediately in front of the border wall is graded for driving and those poles aren't for electricity, they are high tech cameras with infrared sensors.

It used to be such a quaint place . . .


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Try it Tuesday - Lemon Crinkle Cookies

For those who follow Straddling the Gap on Facebook, I have been saving lots of those "Facebook" recipes to test out on my family (and you!).  I tried this recipe for Lemon Crinkle Cookies a couple of weeks ago.  These are FAST to make because they only have 4 ingredients and allegedly, they are low fat.

WARNING - My attempts at food photography suck.  No, really.  I would steal the picture from the recipe on Facebook but that would be blatantly wrong (and you would know it).  So, here are my pictures.  In my defense on these cookies, they didn't even make it off the cookie sheets except to go in my family's mouths!  For whatever it's worth these cookies were very pretty - yellow and well formed.

Here's the recipe:

1 box lemon cake mix
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 cups (8 oz container) Cool Whip
1/2 to 1 cup powdered sugar (enough to roll through)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine everything in large bow EXCEPT powdered sugar.  (I can confirm that, consistent with the Facebook recipe, the dough is sticky!)  Form dough into tablespoon size balls and roll in powdered sugar.  Place on greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until edges are golden.  You might want to consider even a little longer if they aren't getting too brown because these cookies don't get crispy.  Allow to cool.

So, how did they do?  The recipe yields about 2 dozen cookies and there were none left when we went to bed that night.  They are chewy more than crunchy but they are lemony and yummy.  I always try to have a "takeaway" thought of how I could do a better job next time with this recipe.  For this one, I would try baking it a little longer.  I'm curious to see how much crunchier I can get these cookies without burning them.  

These cookies are so easy and great for a quick desert or after school snack.  Thumbs up from me!


Saturday, September 21, 2013

All About Arizona - Blue Skies and Sunsets

One of the best parts of Arizona living as monsoon season ends:

Big fluffy puffy thunderheads near the eastern horizon at sunset.  They actually reflect the sun in the west as it is sinking to sunset.  Here's the other direction:

Hard to take a bad picture.  'Nuf said.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Little High School Nostalgia

Tomorrow is my 30th high school class reunion.  Unfortunately, I'm not going although I'm regretting that decision more every moment.  I am fortunate that many of my classmates are friends on Facebook. We weren't all so close in high school, but it's funny that as the years go by, we realize we have so much more in common that we thought when we were teenagers.  Most of us now have teenagers - some actually have kids in college.  I'm one of a smaller group of late bloomers - our kids are still in elementary school.

Right now a few of us are starting a little trend on Facebook and posting our senior pictures from our high school yearbook

Yeah, I'm feeling a little old tonight, but I don't feel as old as my age would indicate.  I still feel a bit like that girl in the picture.

Happy 30th Class Reunion Althoff Catholic High School Class of 1983!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

All About Arizona - Scorpion Season

O.K., I know that most of my "All About Arizona" posts are about the beauty and advantages of living in the Sonoran Desert.  Today's post is not one of those posts.

It's scorpion season.  Actually, in my neighborhood, most of the year is scorpion season.  We live near the open desert so they are part of deal, including the ones living in your house.  This summer has been particularly bad, probably because of the recent heavy rains we have experienced.

Here's a perfect specimen.  Small, light brown with nasty front claws and the all-important curved tail.  That little stinger over its back is what gets you.  I've been fortunate - no "tags" (I prefer my term to "stings") in the 17 years we've been here.  Unfortunately, that's not the case for my family.  My husband was tagged on the hand last summer and my daughter has been tagged three times, most recently last week as she put on her shoe (it was inside the shoe).  I'm told the feeling is like stepping on a cactus needle or shard of broken glass, but that's just the beginning.  The next 4-6 hours is pretty excruciating pain which can spread over the extremity.  After that, it's about 24 hours before the numbness goes away.  Luckily no medical attention is necessary, unless there is an allergic reaction, which is rare.

In the last 12 hours I have killed three scorpions in my home.  Two were tiny, about the size of a dime. (The one below is dead.)  The tiny ones are supposedly the worst ones.

By now you're wondering why we haven't called an exterminator.  I'm not a big fan of pesticides in the house, and frankly, they have limited effect on scorpions.  As the weather cools off, we're waiting them out because they aren't around much in the fall/winter.  Also, this year I have a secret weapon:

Those stories you hear about cats being immune to scorpions - that's pretty much true.  Actually, the theory is that cats are very fast in striking and their pads are a little too thick for a stinger to penetrate.  Whatever the reason, Lulu is an awesome scorpion hunter.  She found two of the three I've seen in the last 12 hours.  Unfortunately, she's not great at killing them, mostly because she likes to play with them too much.

So it's not all perfection here in the Sonoran Desert.  There are a few pests to deal with, but I have my cat and a little time to wait them out until the most perfect time of the year rolls around.

Hopefully no one else gets tagged before then.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

School Daze

I guess I'm feeling a little preoccupied with school this year because this is my second post about it.  Today I'm thinking about all the things my kids are doing that we never had to do.  It seems a little different from the conversations my generations had with their parents about school:

"When I was a kid, I walked 3 miles to school in the snow, all uphill."

Even though I spent 12 years in Catholic school, the stories I could tell my kids pale in comparison to the things I see them do in connection with school:

They carry too many books.  My 98 pound kid is carrying 30 pounds of books.  All the time.  To every class.  Everyday.  My daughter has a rolling backpack that has a broken zipper because it's stuffed with books (and she still carries a 3" binder separate from the backpack).  Our solution?  We just bought an extra set of books for my son ($60).  It's absolutely worth every penny.  We have found some of my daughter's books online so she doesn't always have to carry her binder.

Homework.  Where do I begin?  I know I've said here that I've done too many salt dough maps and book reportsI know my parents didn't do that, probably because I was kid #4 and they refused to go there again.  I understand that kids have homework, but I just didn't realize we they would spend so much time each night doing homework.  2-3 hours is not unusual.  And is it really necessary to do 30 math problems every night?

With all the books that are coming home and the amount of homework we are doing, I'm wondering what they do at school?


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Are You Ready to Tie "The Knot"?

If you or someone you know is getting married, you must check out The Knot.  It's a great website with information about all types of wedding planning, including a bunch of stuff you didn't even know you didn't know!  (Who knew that cocktail hours had themes, including theme drinks?!?)  I guess I am about as far removed as you can get from weddings - I'm too old to be in the market for wedding ideas (I'm married already anyway) and the children of my contemporaries are not quite old enough.  But hey, if you know someone who is planning (or wanting to plan) a wedding, The Knot is the place to go.

I think the best part are the free websites for your wedding!  I wish I could have had the one place where my guests could get information about everything from hotels to registries while reading about us (awesome if you have extended family and friends who don't know your fiancĂ©).  I just saw one of these and talk about cute!  Click to see Heidi and Justin's wedding!

I wish The Knot existed when we were married!  Who knows?  Maybe we could have had a theme wedding.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

All About Arizona - Bisbee

Ahh, Bisbee.  This is probably the most fascinating but overlooked town in Arizona.  Located in the far southeast corner of the state, it's less than 15 miles from the Mexico border, but that's not what defines the town.  It's mining.  Bisbee mining yielded 8 billion pounds of copper (that's $26 trillion in today's dollars), nearly 3 million ounces of gold ($4 trillion today), 77 million ounces of silver ($1.8 trillion), 304 million pounds of lead and nearly 380 million pounds of zinc.

Here's the Queen Mine, the underground way copper was mined at the turn of the last century.

 This is the Lavender Pit, a more "modern" open pit mining:

As impressive as all this wealth is from a little town, if this was all there was to say about Bisbee, it wouldn't be worth a visit.  But Bisbee is so much more than mining, especially today:

Bisbee  is an adorable little town with so much history and charm!  In the early 1900's it was the largest town between St. Louis and San Francisco.  Mining executives, laborers, gamblers and prostitutes all flooded Bisbee and claimed a little part of it as their own.  This is the famous Brewery Gulch, where the saloons, brothels and gambling halls could be found.  It's still a cool place today with restaurants and bars.  Like so much of Bisbee, it was rebuilt by an eclectic crowd of artists who moved into Bisbee in the early 1970s after the mines closed.  These are the people who made Bisbee vibrant so it didn't become a ghost town.  

Even though Bisbee isn't a ghost town, that doesn't mean there aren't ghosts.  There are daily tours to show you the places in town where people have encountered spirits of times gone by.  Some of the tours take you up through Brewery Gulch and through hillside haunts.  One of the favorite haunts from Bisbee's heyday is the Copper Queen Hotel.

It is a jewel and if you stay in Bisbee, this is the place to stay.  If you're expecting a modern full service hotel, this isn't it.  However, it has original wood floors, transoms over the room doors and vintage bathrooms.  Once reserved for the most important mining executives visiting Bisbee, today it's open to the public.  

There are also plenty of small galleries and jewelry makers (using local gems and minerals) in town, but the thing that brought the original visitors to Bisbee is the one thing that should attract you to Bisbee.  We've come full circle - the Queen Mine.  During a visit to the Queen Mine, you will don a yellow slicker and miner's helmet (equipped with a head lamp) and hop on a little rail car (you straddle it).  When you're all ready to go, you will descend about a mile into the mountain to see the actual mine.  There's nothing I've found quite like it.

While it may not make the list of places to visit in Arizona during a one-time trip to the state, it is a must see for people who frequent Arizona or who call it home.  I've been there a number of times and I never get tired of seeing the special little town in the Mule Mountains.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Public vs. Charter vs. Private Schools

My son has always been a challenge to educate.  He's a really good boy and very smart, but it's been hard to find a school that is the right fit for him.  We started in our "neighborhood" public school; that is, the default public school.  Kindergarten was fine, but First Grade was a nightmare - a classroom with a loose structure (i.e. group working in "centers") that wasn't suited to a kid with auditory and speech issues.  About this time we also figured out our son had ADHD.

Next step - a "traditional" public school.  A traditional school is a regular public school except the kids wear uniforms and are taught in a more traditional way - desks that face a teacher who centrally presents the lesson from a textbook.  In our case, the "traditional" public school used Saxon math and Spaulding reading methods which were very beneficial for our son.  A kid who could not memorize 15 simple spelling words without a lot of frustration and tears became a great speller because he understood the phonics of the words.  Also, the teaching method was better because it cut out distractions by having only one source of instruction - the teacher.

Fast forward to 5th Grade.  In about 4th grade in our traditional public school, students were learning how to keep a "planner" - an organizer so they can track their assignments.  By the time 5th Grade rolled around, missing assignments counted as a "0" and students had approximately 5 subjects to track.  Executive skills were a must - the ability to prioritize, manage time, synthesize important points and stay organized.  Flat out - he lacked executive skills.  In a classroom with 30 kids even with his 504 accommodation, there was no way the teacher was able to work on these skills.  At the end of 5th Grade, he was failing most classes and convinced he was stupid.  Time for a change.

We made the radical decision to go to a charter school, but not just any charter.  We turned to an online charter school.  It's very close to home schooling, but with a structure of a school (curriculum, grades, lesson plans, etc).  My husband did the day-to-day teaching with the assistance of online lessons.  It was very successful - Christian had good grades and proved to himself that he could be successful in school.  Unfortunately, it was very difficult for my husband who was also trying to work full time, so we just couldn't continue.

This year we are turning to the next school choice option - private school.  Christian is attending a very small Catholic school that uses a "classical" teaching method.  So far we are very impressed with both the quality of the curriculum and the values and sense of community we definitely did not find in public school.  The small class size and the knowledge that he can do the work is motivating him to step up in both his study but also in those organizational skills.  After our experience with online school, we also recognize the importance of understanding exactly what he is learning and how to help him.

I'm so thankful we have so many choices for educating our children.  Not every kid learns the same way, but the only way to get the right education for a child is to keep pursuing what works for him or her.  I sometimes feel like a whiner for complaining about school, but I'm not sorry about advocating for what is best for my son, whether that is public, charter or private school.

Let's see what this year brings.