The Cowpatch

Rumen-ations from the Southwest

July 4, 2016
by Betsy

Happy 4th of July

Michael and Betsy Feinberg would like to wish all those in military service, our veterans, and all Americans here and abroad a happy Fourth of July, 2016!

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Nature’s fireworks in the Sonora Desert.

July 1, 2016
by Betsy

Canada Day

Michael and Betsy Feinberg would like to wish all their Canadian friends and family – and all Canadians – a happy Canada Day.  Happy Birthday, Canada!

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 (Photo courtesy of Ian Muttoo of Missagsauga, via Wikimedia Commons)

June 17, 2016
by Betsy

A Gift from an Elder

Margaret Fuller was my best friend. I was eight. She was eighty-three. She lived two houses down the hill from us. It wasn’t a very big hill, but it was a magnet for kids, steep enough for winter sledding and soapbox derbies. There were plenty of kids in the neighborhood to play with: the Bradshaw girls and Tommy at the bottom of the hill, Billy and Harley across the street, Sally, the unscrupulous older girl next door who always won my best marbles, and the blond pig-tailed twins who looked like they had stepped out of an ad for Dutch Boy paints.

Not one of kids was nearly as interesting or as exotic as Mrs. Fuller.

Her house was my sanctuary. She moved like a whisper in her carpet slippers and long, soft dresses. There was no hum from the refrigerator. She didn’t have one. Nor did she have a bathtub or a television or many electric lights. Instead, there was the soft glow of a kerosene lamp in the evening, the comforting, steady tick-tock of the ancient grandfather clock, and the reassuring creak of her rocking chair. On summer days, I might be presented with a glass of her homemade tomato-vegetable juice. When her arthritis wasn’t too bad, she would walk out in the back yard with me to admire the blossoms on her rose of Sharon.

The clock was wound weekly by the Colonial Bread man when he delivered bread in our neighborhood. A tin-lined oak icebox was at home on the screened front porch. I loved hanging around when the iceman delivered his big blocks of crystal-clear ice, carrying them to the icebox with giant tongs.

Margaret Fuller was a generation older than my grandmother, who relied on her for house-keeping and child-rearing advice. When my Aunt Margaret, who was named after Mrs. Fuller, cried inconsolably from the pain of teething, Mrs. Fuller gave her a whiskey-soaked rag to chew on, as the folks in Northern Ireland had done at the time she was born there in 1866. I later wondered if the medicinal use of whiskey was the reason my friend was so calm.

Mrs. Fuller had plenty of time to teach a little girl to play checkers and dominoes, solitaire, war, and Chinese checkers. She taught me how to play Country Gardens on the old pump organ in her parlor, probably the same organ my mother had played as a child. On top of the organ, keeping company with photographs of her two sons and late husband, was a large glass jar of seashells from a long-ago trip to Florida. Because I was a respectful and careful little girl, she let me take all the shells out and play with them. Next to helping Grandma pick raspberries in our garden, it was my favorite thing to do in the whole world.

When I was eight years old, Mrs. Fuller gave me the jar of shells. I was overcome. Never in my life had I dreamed of possessing such a treasure! That same summer, the July issue of National Geographic featured an article on the wife of Admiral Nimitz and her shell collection, with pages and pages of full-color photos. The serendipitous juxtaposition of Mrs. Fuller’s gift and the article ignited an unquenchable passion for the sea and its creatures. That was how my journey began.

By the time I was eighteen, I had a collection that encompassed not only seashells, but prehistoric shark’s teeth, dried seahorses and pipefish, blowfish, octopi, and other creatures in formaldehyde. When dead birds turned up in the refrigerator for an assignment in ornithology class, my mother was ready for me to move out of the house. I did. I moved to Ann Arbor, where I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in plant biology and won the top honors in biology. Thank you, Margaret Fuller.


Margaret Fuller

Margaret Fuller as a young woman.

February 8, 2016
by Betsy

Genealogy Research Links

NEW!  A Guide to Researching the History of a House

Thanks to Charlene at the Hampton, New Hampshire Public Library for the tip!

Pima County Library Online (E-Library):

Genealogy: Links to 7 genealogy resources
Full issues of Time magazine back to 1923
A-Z listing of electronic resources

Reference USA – Business Development & Directory
Reference Shelf: Britannica, World Almanac

Library of Congress Chronicling America:
Good source for weather, gossip, hotel registry, public announcements & more

The People History: Popular history for specific decades and years, including such things as the price of gas, popular songs, home prices, etc.


Public Profiler: (English, Scottish, and Irish names in the U.K. in 1881 and 1998

The USGenWeb Project:
This is a free site, and there is a section on nearly every county in the United States. These are maintained by volunteers and often contain information unavailable from other sources, as well as links to other helpful sites.

Time and Date:
Weekday Calculator:
What day of the week was it?

Baby Name Wizard:
Click on Name Voyager to see a graph of the frequency of a particular name from the 1880’s forward. (You may have to sign up at some point.)

Google Earth:


Wikimedia Commons:

The Tornado Project:

e-Bay Look for books, photographs, counties

Books and Videos

Julia Cameron: The Artist’s Way, a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

James A. Owen: Drawing Out the Dragons: A Meditation on Art, Destiny, and the Power of Choice

Neil Gaiman: (With collaborator Terry Pratchett, he was the best-selling author in the U.K. in the 1990’s.) His 2012 commencement speech at the Philadelphia University of Arts can be seen on YouTube, and has also been adapted into a book, Make Good Art.

January 16, 2016
by Betsy

Readers Benefit from Supporting Indie Authors & Publishers

Imagine that your diet was limited to the ten bestselling grocery items: soda, cereal, frozen dinners, salty snacks, milk, laundry detergent, eggs, peanut butter and jelly, packaged deli meats, and breads. What if you were limited to today’s top ten bestsellers in the grocery category on Amazon: three kinds of coffee products, three kinds of coconut oil, three kinds of energy bars, and distilled water with added electrolytes. Unless you abhor fresh meats, fish, fruits, and vegetables, you would quickly tire of your diet, and you would probably develop health problems.

Now imagine limiting your reading diet to the New York Times bestsellers. If you compare those of 1950 to the bestsellers today, you’ll notice a difference. There’s a new category: mass-market fiction. On January 16, 2016, half of the top ten fiction titles were film tie-ins. In contrast, the bestseller list of October 1, 1950 included books by Ernest Hemingway, A.J. Cronin, Robert Penn Warren, Tennessee Williams, Evelyn Waugh, and Frank Yerby, all of whom became classic authors. Why the mass market approach and movie tie-ins today? Profit.

The Rise of the Independents. Book publishing has changed dramatically with the meteoric growth of print-on-demand and self-publishing. This is good news for small independent publishers and authors. It is also good news for readers who want variety and quality in their literary diet. It is not such good news for mainstream publishers, whose profits are eroding.

The Big Five. In an effort to survive indie competition, publishing houses have consolidated. In the U.S., just the Big Five remain. Instead of dozens of traditional publishers, we have only Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, Holtzbrinck-MacMillan, and Penguin Random House.

The French company Hachette gobbled up Time Warner’s book division in 2006 and Disney’s Hyperion Books in 2013. German mass media company Bertelsmann acquired Bantam Books, Doubleday, Random House, and Penguin. German publishing giant Holtzbrinck owns Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; Holt, Rinehart, and Winston; Macmillan, and St. Martin’s Press. CBS owns Simon & Schuster.

It is difficult for these traditional publishers to take a chance on a new author or one with no track record. It is no surprise many Big Five titles are tie-ins to films and television series. Authors who are already well-known have a tremendous advantage over indies in gaining the attention of such publishers, as do celebrities: mega-church pastors, politicians, and news anchors. The focus is increasingly on blockbusters to maximize profits, not on variety and choice for the reader.

Simon and Schuster publishes just 2,000 titles a year under 35 imprints, including Pocket Books and Scribner, giving even the best independent author only the slimmest chance of having a manuscript reviewed.

Independents Bring Quality, Variety, and Choice to Readers. Today, expert editing, proofreading, layout, and book design services are available to authors through small independent publishers and freelance services — services that were once available only through traditional publishers.

Independents are free to write whatever they want. They are not bound by the chains of political correctness or the whims of literary fashion. They are not subject to mainstream media bias. Because mainstream publishers often acquire the rights to a book, they can influence its content if they want to. Authors can now choose an independent publisher who lets them retain the rights to their own book. With a burgeoning number of independents, every author can find a publisher who is a comfortable fit.

It is a myth that self-published work is of poor quality. Too many traditionally published books these days are not worth the paper they are printed on. The imprint of a well-known publisher is no longer a guarantee of quality.

Independents offer several advantages to the reader:

  1. No matter what your interest, or how specialized, you will find a huge selection of titles to choose from.
  2. You can get to know your favorite authors. They don’t have to worry about being constrained by their publisher. They can take part in whatever book signings, festivals, and popular events they want to. The majority enjoy meeting their readers and they welcome their feedback. Many maintain blogs.
  3. What you read has not been filtered through the mainstream media.
  4. There are a growing number of independent reviewers and sites such as with reviews by fellow readers that will help you find the kind of books you are interested in.

How You Can Help Your Favorite Author. Independent authors face a few problems. It is hard to get a review in a major newspaper. Most best-seller lists are limited to books from the Big Five. That means that many exceptional works never have an opportunity to be listed. Major book festivals often limit their panelists to authors who have been published through traditional channels. Finally, many of the most prestigious awards are limited to authors published by the Big Five. These obstacles can be overcome with the your help. Here’s how:

  1. Vary your diet. Take advantage of online sites like Goodreads to find books. Get to know the staff at your local independent bookstore. They will likely have developed a list of staff picks, books that they have read themselves. Independent bookstores and libraries also hold book signings by local authors.
  2. Write reviews. You don’t have to write a long review. If you like a book, join Goodreads and just write a couple of lines. Go to the Facebook page of an author or independent publisher and “like” it. Share announcements of book launches and retweet them on Twitter. Every time you take one of these actions, your author rises higher in the search engines.
  3. Give an indie book as a present.
  4. Buy direct from the independent author or their publisher. Small publishers don’t have the deep pockets to underwrite the huge print runs that the Big Five do, so their books may cost a little more. In addition, big online retailers like Amazon can afford to sell selected titles from independents below cost as a loss leader to entice people to buy other products from their online stores. Even with print-on-demand books, online megastores pay lower printing costs than the indies. Instead of having 40% or more of the retail price of the book going to the online megastore, support your favorite author by buying direct.

“Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.” Christopher Morley, writer (1890-1957)

Dyffryn Library


Goodreads is a site for readers to find books and rate or review those they have read.  Although recently acquired by Amazon, the site has so far retained its original values and format.  Registering is free.

Stevo’s Book Reviews  Steve Brock is the former manager of Microsoft Network’s Books and Reading Community.  He has  a large following of book lovers who read his monthly list of recommended books.  Steve’s list is a valuable resource for book lovers, as well as for online and bricks-and-mortar bookstores, and the acquisitions departments of academic and public libraries.  Pageviews are running at over 250,000/month.

Tucson.  Bookmans Entertainment Exchange  With six stores in Tucson, Phoenix, Mesa, and Flagstaff, Bookmans is a bibliophile’s heaven.  The stores are the size of a Barnes & Noble, and treasures await you in this Arizona chain for three reasons: three of the four cities are college towns; because Arizona is home to many snowbirds and transplants from other states, you never know what local history or genealogy books you might find from other states and other countries; and old books are generally in better condition because of the dry climate.  Booksmans hosts book signings by local authors and sponsors many community events.

Tucson.  Antigone Books is an eclectic and fun independent bookstore on Tucson’s 4th Avenue, where shops are one-of-a-kind except for a single Dairy Queen Franchise.

San Diego.  Mysterious Galaxy is an independent bookstore with locations in San Diego and Redondo Beach.  They specialize, but are not limited to science fiction, mystery, suspense, horror, and fantasy.  Check their website for the fun events hosted by Maryelizabeth Yturralde and her pals.

Chatham, New York.  The Chatham Bookstore  The children’s section of this charming independent bookstore has a picture window that affords a view of the passing trains.  If you’re in upstate New York, Chatham’s main street is a must.  Big things come in little packages!




January 3, 2016
by Betsy

Favorite iPhone Photos of 2015

These are my iPhone souvenirs from 2015, all but one taken within walking distance.  The only outlier is the photo of the torch cactus at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, a short drive away.

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Prickly pear fruit at the end of August.


Torch cactus at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum on May 26. Notice the visitor with the outfit color-coordinated with the cacti.


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A Giant Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on the neighbor’s potted lemon tree. Their resemblance to bird doo is a defense mechanism.

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A baby Giant Swallowtail caterpillar. When it is disturbed it displays fleshy bright orange antennae.


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Aphis nerii (yellow aphids) on fringed twinevine, a member of the milkweed family. September 17.


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Queen Butterfly on fringed twine vine. The dark androconial scent patches on its hind wings indicate that it is a male.

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During the summer rains, mushrooms pop up in the desert. I’m not sure what kind this is — might be a Chlorophyllum.


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A barrel cactus about to blossom during the summer monsoon season.



Sunset on July 22, at the height of the monsoon season.


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August 31. Monsoon season is nearly over.


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The monsoon is over, and the fall rains have begun to fall in the desert. Sunset on October 19.







December 22, 2015
by Betsy

Chocolate Cake for Breakfast

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            Lady Guinevere of Dyffryn

Jessica awoke to the tantalizing aroma of chocolate. She rolled over and looked at the clock. “Mom’s making chocolate cake at six o’clock in the ?? Awesome!!” She threw on a t-shirt and a pair of jeans and dashed down two flights of stairs to investigate, convinced that Mom must have gone off the deep end.  However, if making cake for breakfast was the result of a deranged mind, she was all for her mother being wacko. She’d willingly put up with Mom’s chemistry-experiments-gone-wrong and the occasional mother-initiated Noah’s flood in the kitchen if the flip side was having her favorite dessert before eating her vegetables.

I woke up to the sound of her footsteps pounding on the stairs. I heard a sharp intake of breath and then a scream. “MOM!!!” Had she fallen? Was she hurt?

I dashed to the top of the stairs, fearing the worst. I looked over the railing. There in the middle of the beautiful pale blue Chinese rug at the bottom of the stairs was Guinevere. She had a can of Ghirardelli cocoa by the throat and was trying to break its neck, shaking and spinning around like a centrifuge. An eight-foot circle of cocoa powder was evidence of her heroic efforts to protect the family from this monster. She was a chocolate Labrador, and like attracts like.

We never expected Guinevere to survive puppyhood. She tested everything for edibility. On a walk she did four times as much sniffing as she did walking. Her idea of vigorous exercise was fetching the Kong and immediately lying down with it, holding it in her mouth like Winston Churchill’s ever-present cigar. We theorized that she had been traumatized in the litter, pushed away from her mama’s teats by the other puppies. Hence her obsession with food.

She got into everything. One lovely summer morning I stepped outside to admire my irises at the height of their bloom. Every single flower head had vanished. Empty bread bags kept company with the remains of chocolate bar wrappers on the pantry floor. One day, Guinevere coughed up an entire Haagen Daz lid. At the time they were made entirely of plastic. How was it possible? I thought of a line from an old song: “She just opened her throat and swallowed a goat.” On another occasion, an entire avocado disappeared, including the thick leathery skin and rock-hard pit. The only evidence remaining was a teaspoonful of hard bits the size of peppercorns.

Keeping food at the back of the counter or in the middle of our extra-wide center island or on a high pantry shelf was not effective. How a chunky, seventy-nine-pound dog with a bum hind leg could reach those alpine heights remains an unsolved mystery.

We needed to find a place that defeated her prodigious mountaineering skills. Something the equivalent of Mount Everest. Aha! The top of the refrigerator! A new verb was born: to Guinevate, which meant to place something in an impossibly high spot, where even the lady of the house had to climb on a high stool to reach it. There’s no way for paws and claws to gain purchase on the slick side of a refrigerator.

Guinevere lived fifteen years and four months, the equivalent of 107 human years — off the charts for a Labrador. From Guinevere I learned four important lessons.

  1. Eat whatever you want, even if the experts say it will kill you. It won’t.
  2. Being fat is okay. You don’t have to be skinny to live a long life.
  3. You’ll get plenty of exercise just reaching for your food.
  4. Image is overrated. What do you care what other canines think!

Guinevere’s parting advice as she crossed The Rainbow Bridge? “It’s beautiful to do nothing, and rest afterwards. Trust me.”

December 1, 2015
by Betsy

The Well-Planned Life

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Sunset in the Sonoran Desert. The best things in life are free.

My husband wasn’t quick enough to mute the commercial that came on while he was watching the morning news last week, and I was subjected to a sales pitch from a financial planning institution. A mellifluous, reassuring male voice intoned something about “a well-planned life” over a visual of sixty-somethings — who looked like forty-somethings — cavorting barefoot in an idyllic lakeside scene of lush grass and large trees. Hypnotic romantic music played in the background.

Pick up a magazine like Worth, Forbes or Wealth, and you’ll see titles like “Life Well-Planned” or “Planning Properly for your Golden Years.” The latter is from, and the first sentence of the article is “Don’t be stuck working full time while others your age are enjoying their retirement.”

Having grown up in a farming community in a part of the country that is prone to blizzards and tornadoes, I’m astonished that people are so easily convinced that with the right planning, unpleasantness — even unhappiness — can be avoided.  Of course, to plan properly, you need to spend money on expert advice.

When you live in the country and a blizzard is coming, you fill containers with water, lay in extra supplies, including candles, and make sure you have a means of getting to the barn to milk the cows. You don’t assume that you can control the weather or that the government can control the weather. On one occasion, my parents drove to work, and a blizzard struck so suddenly that they couldn’t get home for three days, even though they were only three or four miles from home.  This wasn’t planned.

My favorite birding buddy, John, collapsed in the doorway of his apartment at the age of thirty-four, still in his martial arts clothes. He was one of the fittest people I’ve ever known, even considering doing the next Christmas Bird Count on his bicycle. His territory would have been Navajo County and he would have covered 150 miles. He died of an aneurysm in his brain. Not planned. My high school classmate, Mary, became suddenly very sick at the local hamburger joint and was rushed to the hospital. She had a brain tumor. Not planned.

The bottom line is that life can’t be planned. And that’s okay. The implication that a well-planned life will make you affluent and that guaranteed affluence will make you happy is simply wrong.

A headline of November 21 says, “Money really can buy happiness, new Harvard study shows.” Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School Professor, has researched the “science of spending,” and he has the answer. Spending money on experiences like vacations, rather than electronics and such will make you happy.  (Too bad for you suckers who don’t have enough money to travel.  You obviously didn’t plan well.)

Norton contrasts buying big-ticket items, which he says can be stressful, to buying a vacation, which won’t be. For a lot of people in this country, a plane ticket from Phoenix to San Francisco to visit friends is a big-ticket item. For others, going out for dinner with friends is certainly not a small-ticket item.

The dramatic growth of emphasis on self  in our society is disheartening. The media encourages us to be jealous of our neighbor’s retirement and embarrassed that we are still working. It encourages us to worry constantly about our image, our weight, our clothes, to focus on ourselves because we deserve it. It demeans the satisfaction and value of doing useful, meaningful work, of having a passion so strong that retirement is not something you would willingly choose.

Until Woman’s Day was sold to Fawcett in 1958, the magazine’s emphasis was on developing skills that would contribute to the happiness and well-being of your family and community. (In the old days, the class that taught cooking and sewing skills was called Home Economics for a reason. In farm communities, women’s contributions were as economically important as men’s.) Today the same magazine has articles with titles like “These Holiday Toys Will Make Your Children Smarter,” and “Woman Seeks Revenge on Cheating Husband by Secretly Selling House.” We even have a magazine called Self. Today you’re in a competition to make your children smarter than your neighbor’s, and seeking revenge is glorified.

When we decide that helping others will make us happier, we join an organization and volunteer a little of our time. Or we pay our taxes, confident that we’re enabling the government to take care of everyone. Or we give our money to charity. Except in structured ways, we don’t get personally involved.

We’re chasing happiness in the wrong place. When I was in grade school, we cooked Sunday dinner for six people, even though there were only five in our family. The sixth person was Mrs. Fuller, who was in her mid-seventies and had arthritis. I would help carry dinner down the hill to Mrs. Fuller’s and deeply enjoy the pleasure she had in her meal. When my classmate Mary’s house burned down, people in the community got involved in building a new house for her family, who had come to town as migrant workers from Tupelo, Mississippi. In our little town, we each felt a responsibility to reach out personally to those in need or in grief.

My birding friend John left a legacy: by his example, he inspired others to be kind and generous. Although his ancestors were German, he had a Native American heart when it came to reverence for animals and plants and the earth. Maybe if he’d planned better, he would have spent his energy and his money trying to find out what might be wrong with him. (He had no symptoms and no warning.) Instead, John spent his energy and money helping others.

As for Mary, she survived and married the orderly who wheeled her into the operating room. He fell in love with the young lady who had her head shaved for surgery. He fell in love with the beauty in her heart.

I wonder what those people are doing who are “enjoying their retirement” while you slave away. Perhaps they have become obsessed with an expensive active lifestyle, planning to stave off death. But what are they really doing?

The happiest people I know are the ones making a difference to others. My friend Bill teaches continuing education classes, in spite of health problems resulting from exposure to Agent Orange.  Another friend who is a “retired” teacher, volunteers in a literacy program several mornings a week at the local elementary school. My friend Dr. Berkeley continued seeing patients until she was in her nineties. Would she be jealous of those who were living a well-planned retirement? I think not.

I laughed aloud when I came across a title in the Summer 2010 issue of Wealth: “A Well-Planned Exit Strategy.”

My message to everyone this holiday season is two thousand years old: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Empower someone this season. Really focus your attention on someone: a child, a friend, a stranger. Just for a few minutes actually listen, instead of waiting for them to stop talking so you can talk. If you know someone who is housebound, stop by and keep them company for a little bit. No need to take a gift; just be present with them. Share both the sorrows and the joys of others. Write a letter to someone this season, to just one person. Not just a card. Think about how wonderful they will feel to get a real, hand-written letter. The best things in life really are free.