Where to go when you have too many shoes (yes, it can happen)

There are two reasons I’ll never appear on the Discovery Channel’s Naked and Afraid.

One, the bugs. How people before the modern era lived without bug spray, I don’t know. [They didn’t. They died of malaria. Forget malaria, the itching would drive me mad!]

Two, walking barefoot everywhere. Who cares about being naked? It’s the shoeless thing that would do me in. I like going barefoot through the carpeting in my living room, not over rocky terrain or alligator infested waters.

[There are other reasons I’d never make it on Naked and Afraid, not the least of which are the inability to make fire, hunt or go without food more than six hours, but we’re going to talk about shoes, so we’re focusing on naked feet for the purposes of this blog post.]

I admire barefoot runners, but I will never be one. My Achilles heel are my feet (that sentence is a disaster for so many reasons, but you get my point, right? My feet are made of clay? My soft underbelly is my arches? How to best say this?).

I have insertional Achilles tendonitis, intermittent plantar fasciitis and Morton’s neuroma (or, at least, I have self diagnosed myself with these maladies) and in order to cope, I spend a lot of money on expensive running shoes on the theory they make running less painful.

[One could argue that running is causing these symptoms so rather than buying more shoes, I should simply spend less time running, but that makes too much sense. We runners pursue irrational ends.]

running shoesIn any case, I collect a lot of used pairs of running shoes, and this was no more apparent than last week when I was forced to empty the back entryway in order to remodel it. I found no fewer than eight pair of running shoes, all of which belonged to me.

See the thing with running shoes is that they wear out Most runners put no more than 500 miles in a pair of shoes. Until recently (when I’ve cut back on running — cut back, not eliminated — because of the aforementioned aches and pains), that meant at least two pair of running shoes a year for me.

Given how much they cost in the first place, I couldn’t bear to just dump my surplus shoes in the trash.

So I looked for a way to recycle them, and I found the MORE Foundation Group — Modular Organic Regenerative Environments.

MORE collects gently used athletic shoes, sells them and then uses the proceeds to plant thousands of trees around the world (it’s a little more involved than that, but you can check out their website if you’re interested in grand vision; we stick to personal transactional details here). Trees, as any kid knows, offset the carbon in the atmosphere, and it’s hard to hope for more than that with shoes that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

All of this explanation and whining is to say, if you, too, have used athletic shoes cluttering up your entryway, click here to find the nearest donation site.

Quartzsite, a home for hermits and heroes

One person’s armpit is another person’s oasis.

If I were doing public relations for the travel bureau in Quartzsite, Arizona, that’s the tagline I’d be pushing.

Quartzsite, our point of interest this Travel Tuesday on Minnesota Transplant, is about 90 minutes north of Yuma, Arizona, where my Beloved and I wintered for a couple of months earlier this year.

All I knew before visiting there was that Quartzsite was just east of Blythe, California, which was the home to many happy memories growing up.

Not.

My only memory of Blythe was camping there one night in July 1982 when it got down to — down to! — 105 degrees at night. My family of origin was doing a summer vacation loop from Minnesota to the Pacific Ocean and back, and Blythe was a convenient stop on the way from Disneyland to Phoenix. I remember lying on top my sleeping bag in the pop-up camper sweating it out and dreaming of ice cream cones and Icees and swimming in the iceberg-infested North Atlantic.

Native Minnesotans can’t take that kind of heat.

Quartzsite, at the same latitude as Blythe, is known as the RV boondocking capital of the world. Literally thousands of campers descend on the area for the town’s famous gem show and swap meet every January and February (because, believe me, no one is shopping in July and August in Quartzsite for anything but icy beverages).

Not sure what boondocking is? Think squatting in a Wal-Mart parking lot where you can spend the night for free, but you have to bring your own water and TP. That’s Quartzsite. Combine campers too tight to pay for nightly hookups with a traveling flea market and you get a lot of cheap junk. So if you like cheap junk, you’ll be in paradise. Prefer to buy your baubles at retail? Well, you have to appreciate the natural beauty of Quartzsite.

Quartzsite

OK, I don’t mean the cacti. I mean the endless sunshine and wide open spaces. If you want to escape traffic and zoning restrictions and government oversight, Quartzsite is a hermit’s Shangri-la. It kind of reminds me of Mad Max (the one with Mel Gibson), only with a McDonald’s and cheap gas.

Besides the flea markets, the one place you have to visit in Quartzsite is Hi Jolly’s gravesite.

Before you think folks in the desert may have no imagination, you have to hear the story of Hi Jolly.

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, the U.S. military cooked up a plan to use camels for communication and transporting freight in the arid Southwest. A Syrian named Haiji Ali came with the first 33 camels (later, 41 more camels joined the fray). As is typical with us Americans who can’t (or refuse) to get our tongues around foreign names, the soldiers changed Ali’s name to Hi Jolly, and this is how the camel herder came to be universally known.

According to the historical marker posted near his grave, “On the Beale Expedition in 1857 to open a wagon road across Arizona from Fort Defiance to California, the camels under Hi Jolly’s charge proved their worth. Nevertheless, the war department abandoned the experiment and the camels were left on the Arizona desert to shift for themselves.”

Hi Jolly died in 1902 at Quartzsite, and his headstone, if you can call it that — maybe pyramid stones would be more accurate, is a memorable testament to the Syrian immigrant, noting thusly: “Cameldriver ~ Packer ~ Scout ~ Over thirty years a faithful aid to the U.S. Government.”

Hi Jollys burial place

Next Travel Tuesday: Algodones Dunes

When cake means more than flour, sugar, eggs and butter

If I knew you were comin’,
I’d have baked a cake,
baked a cake, baked a cake.

~ Lyrics by Al Hoffman, Albert J. Trace & Bob Merrill

Not long ago, we met a couple for dinner. We were in Dallas, and my Beloved wanted to show his appreciation for a colleague by buying dinner. Which he did, and it was delicious, and our guests were great company.

But before the evening was over, the wife of the couple insisted on inviting us back to their house for dessert. She’d made a cake.

It struck me as a distinctly Southern gesture — to bake a cake for company. An elaborate, over-the-top expression of hospitality.

We northerners, we put the coffee pot on for guests. We make cake for birthdays and holidays, but plain ol’, run-of-the-mill visitors? Fresh coffee, for sure. Cookies, maybe. But not cake. Too much trouble. Only impeccable Southerners who iron the sheets for the guest bed and decorate their coffee tables would make a cake on a Tuesday.

But the sentiment stuck with me. The woman in Dallas made me feel special by baking a cake. Just for us. So I privately pledged to put my baking skills to the test more often as a way of expressing my appreciation for someone I love. And I’ve had the opportunity twice in as many weeks.

When my dear mother turned 75 in April, I made her a chocolate peanut butter bundt cake. I was nervous as I prepared the batter because one gets only one chance to make a 75th birthday cake for one’s mother. But not to worry — it looked as beautiful as it turned out to be delicious. And she felt special.

Bundt cake

And yesterday, to celebrate Mother’s Day, I served my mother-in-law a slice of perfect pound cake, topped with macerated strawberries and real whipped cream, also known as strawberry shortcake.

strawberry shortcake

I was particularly proud of my pound cake because remembered the disaster of Crusty Cream Cheese Pound Cake I had attempted to make seven years ago for my Beloved. Yesterday’s pound cake was a success, thank goodness (and Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook with the traditional red gingham cover).

To be fair, one opportunity to make cake was for a birthday and one was for a holiday so I still haven’t mastered the hospitality act of the plain-ol’-Tuesday cake, but I did accomplish my goal of making special people — in this case, two of the most special people in my life — feel special.

Happy Mother’s Day, dear Mother and mother-in-law. You deserve far more than cake, but the cakes I made were mixed not only with flour and sugar, but good intentions and great appreciation.

The secret to perfectly buttery popcorn

Have I shared my Beloved’s secret popcorn recipe?

It’s in the bag.


Literally.

A paper bag.

He starts by heating a combination of butter and peanut oil in the bottom of a pot, a trick he learned long ago from his father. He adds a handful of popcorn kernels and a cover, and then shakes the pan until they finish popping.

Here’s where the bag comes in: He dumps the popped kernels into the paper grocery bag, adds a few pinches of salt and pours a few tablespoons of melted over the corn in the bag.

Fold over the top of the bag and shake vigorously. That’s how you get butter on salt on every kernel. None of the greasy-on-the-top-dry-on-the-bottom movie bucket popcorn. This popcorn is perfect from first crunch to last.

Now you know. It’s so good it’s addictive. Enjoy.

‘Tis the season


Nothing like a pedicure to smooth the rough edges of a rough day.

The little snowmen that had been decorating my Beloved’s big toes since Christmas Eve (and slowly melting away) were smeared off like so much nail polish remover. For me, I adopted a smart coral to match the straps of a new pair of sandals.

The nail salon on a late Friday afternoon was a madhouse. It is the Friday before Mother’s Day after all.

But I digress. It’s the way a pedicure turns a pair of dry ragged feet into something pretty and show-off worthy that I appreciate the most about a trip to the nail salon. 

Transformation.

Like spring into summer.

Admiration for the lovely tulip

Tulip neighbor

Their season is short but their days are filled with glory.

I admire the neighborhood tulips every spring. I’m always astonished at how gardeners plan ahead. And trust! They trust those dirty bulbs will erupt some months later with loveliness. I soak in the unique beauty of every color. Red, of course …

tulip red closeup

Yummy yellow …

tulip yellow closeup

What a maroon!

tulip burgundy

Pretty purple …

tulip purple closeup

And variegated varieties …

tulip verigated purple

And I appreciate them in every form. A single bloom …

tulip single

In a bed …

tulips in a bed

In a circle …

tulips in a circle

And in a row …

tulips in a row

They don’t last long, and I’ve learned they malinger, rather than linger, when they’re cut and brought in the house. Don’t harvest the mighty tulip but take in its magnificence.

Travel Tuesday: Yuma Proving Grounds

We’re going to try something different here on Minnesota Transplant.

By we, I mean the Imperial We. (I hate it when my Beloved uses the Imperial We: He says “We should buy some snacks next time we go grocery shopping,” but he means I should pick up snacks next time I go grocery shopping. Don’t say we when you’re only giving me orders. Just give me an order.) Here at Minnesota Transplant, you are only involved if you want to be. I will be doing all the heavy lifting here.

We’ll be doing Travel Tuesdays here for a while. I’ll be reviewing some of the places I’ve traveled, particularly some of the places I’ve seen in the past four months, the lion’s share of which was spent in Yuma, Arizona. (Before you get too excited, one of the places I visited was Needles, Calif., which wouldn’t come close to the top of anyone’s list of amazing places to visit. So there’s that.)

As I explain on my About page, I think a Minnesotan views the world through a particular prism. The truth is, we all do. We know what we know, and everything else is a wonder. Or just plain weird. So these little side journeys on Tuesdays come from the perspective of a Minnesotan who transplanted herself in Illinois.

Today we’re looking at one of Yuma’s claims to fame: Yuma Proving Grounds. That would be YPG to insiders.

Yuma is set in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. Without irrigation, all you get is creosote bushes and sand. Which is perfect if you’re the U.S. Army and you need lots of room for military maneuvers exercised in extreme privacy.

YPG is north of Yuma and comprises about 1,300 square miles of sand and secret stuff. According to Wikipedia, “The proving ground conducts tests on nearly every weapon system in the ground combat arsenal. Munitions and artillery systems are tested here in an area almost completely removed from urban encroachment and noise concerns.” The General Motors Desert Proving Grounds can also be seen from Highway 95, and it’s apparently operated in conjunction with the Army.

While we were there, we witnessed a strange white dirigible, also known as an airship or a blimp. Talk about an unidentified flying object. A quick google search reveals it’s used by the U.S. Border Patrol, but I distinctly felt like it was watching me, to make sure I didn’t cross over any fences and see classified things.

tank

Just off Imperial Dam Road (on the south end of the grounds), there’s a visitor’s center of sorts with about a dozen tanks on display. These massive machines are impressive, even if you have no interest in munitions or arsenals. (If you’re interested in — or irate about — how your taxes are spent, a standard tank nowadays costs upwards of $4 million. And there are 10 of them just sitting here in the desert.)

There is a museum on the grounds. I didn’t visit it because I’m not so interested in munitions or arsenals, but I can imagine some folks might be.

In general terms, the sprawl of the proving grounds is yuge (as is the in vogue way of saying huge), and you have to give props to the U.S. government for putting a lot of empty desert to good use. Or, at least, to some use.

Next Travel Tuesday: Quartzsite