Man in a Maze: Labyrinths in the Valley

Man in the Maze

The Man in the Maze is a Tohono O’odham symbol of man’s journey through life. I first saw this symbol on the walls of the San Xavier del Bac Mission in Tucson, Arizona.

The building is stunning and suitable for a separate entry. I’ll focus on labyrinths here.

As a librarian, I am always on the lookout for something that will engage my students. A labyrinth is one of my favorite ways to reach that left brained or highly visual student who does not like to read. This week we are going to build a labyrinth out of string in the library. I know the kids will love it.

Public labyrinths are not as rare as you might guess, they just keep a low profile. Labyrinths are most commonly found in schools, hospitals, churches and prisons. To find a labyrinth in your area use the world-wide labyrinth finder. I found a few near my house. This week we have a half day, the weather is beautiful. I plan to take the boys to a few public ones, the closest to us is one at a funeral home. It says open to the public, so last I checked that even included moms with young children. They might regret that.

If you want to build a labyrinth of your own, this is a simple start. I would love to have one in our garden. For older kids, labyrinths are recently featured in books like the Maze Runner. The movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has stunning maze scene. Finally, Halloween is a great time of year to visit a corn maze. Our favorite is Vertuccio Farms, last year it was Angry Bird themed.

Tracing the screen at the White Dove of the Desert



Free National Park Days: Exploring Casa Grande Ruins and the town

Phoenix, Arizona is a unique place, utterly different from where I was raised. I am not alone in that sentiment as Phoenix has always drawn outsiders looking to start over. Because of the growth, sometimes it is hard to see what this dusty town was like 100 years ago. The maps of the region point to growth and sprawl. But if you look a little closer you can see vestiges of what was once here.

If you need to run around somewhere, I can't think of a better place.

Casa Grande is nearby and features the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. I’ve visited the Casa Grande Ruins several times with my boys. The entrance fee for Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is charged per person and is valid for 7 days from date of purchase.  Each adult (16 years or older) will be charged $5.00.  Children 15 and younger are free. Which means I can spend $5.00 and pop in and out all week with the boys or I can wait for a National Park day (likely more crowded) and go for free.

The free National Park days in 2012 are:

  • April 21-29 —National Park Week
  • June 9 —Get Outdoors Day
  • September 29 —National Public Lands Day
  • November 10-12 —Veterans Day weekend
The best time to visit this park is in the winter when the weather is gorgeous. The Casa Grande Visitors Center is wheelchair and stroller friendly. This new visitor’s center features restrooms (accessible from outside), a museum and a gift shop. Before we visited we downloaded the activities from the park website and built the paper models.
The Great House is sheltered under a metal canopy, peek up and you can spot two owls. Ask the rangers about them. The Ruins are surrounded by low walls and the foundations of buildings long gone. We had fun playing hide and seek popping in and out of chambers. The Clan House has a tiny door that I wasn’t going to go through but the boys could not get enough of. Best of all my children have spent hours playing in Hohokam Ruins which blows me away. I think visiting a place like this many times helps connect them with their past — I felt lucky we could walk around the ruins. I imagine someday a place like this would be only viewed through a fence, like Stonehenge is today. I am grateful for our parks.

playing with the Please Touch times at the Visitor's Center

Other items of interest in the area:

Casa Grande publishes a list of structures eligible for the National Historic Register that are still standing. If you are interested in looking at homes from the late 1800s and turn of the 20th century this list will keep you busy. Casa Grande is a quiet town and quite old with respect to my corner of Gilbert, it is like a time capsule. The Casa Grande City Hall “Old Main” is also listed on the local legacies page in the Library of Congress. I would like to visit and find out what makes it so special.

Further Reading

I turn to  Marshall Trimble, the Arizona State Historian to tackle Arizona State history. I learned about Mr. Trimble backwards, the way I learn most things. I was researching the list of Arizona specific items on the Library of Congress list of  local legacies. Marshall Trimble is on the list. I thought, what is a person doing on that list? He had me at “Will Rogers of the West”, his books are easy to read. If you want to try your hand at researching local history, this how-to pamphlet put out by the Arizona State Parks is a good reference. I like it because it organizes the state history so I can track down the source material. I would love to read Prehistoric to Historic Transition Period in Arizona 1519-1692 to organize all of the ruins and early settlers that dotted the area. I need something to give me the big picture.

Marshall Trimble, AZ State Historian

Natural Vegetation of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument by Karen Reichardt

5 Sonoran Desert Seasons and 12 Desert Moons

Arizona seasons baffled me when I first moved here. No multicolored leaves in the fall, crisp apples followed by cold clear winter nights with bare branched trees. No crocuses peeking through snow in the spring. In October when weather is still in the high 90’s, storefronts display winter garb. Stores sell caramel apples in parking lots shimmering in the heat.

Wouldn’t it be nice to make your bedroom ceiling look like this?

Hot, You Must Be Joking Hot, Still Hot, Cold in the Morning and Facebook Bragging Warm.

Summer Sunsets plus Monsoon Clouds equals xoxox

I picked up a small $1.50 leaflet about the desert at Veteran’s Oasis Park shop on Lindsay and Chandler Heights. The pamphlet explains our seasons. We have the 5 Sonoran Desert seasons. They are: Spring, Dry Summer, Summer Monsoon, Fall and Winter.  Do you have botanical markers you rely on to usher in the seasons?

I found the Tohono O’odham Indians had a 12 seasons for the year, based on the moon. Challenge your family to come up with names for the seasons. Or try to match the Tohono O’odham name to the month.

I pulled over on a baking August evening to try to capture the beauty of the prestorm clouds. This is a faint reminder of how pretty it was.

The Tohono O’odham seasons are:

  1. January — No More Fat Moon
  2. Feburary –Grey Moon
  3. March — Green Moon
  4. April — Yellow Moon
  5. May — Painful Moon
  6. June –Saguaro Moon
  7. July — Rainy Moon
  8. August — Short planting moon
  9. September — Dry Grass Moon
  10. October — Small Rains Moon
  11. November — Pleasant Cold Moon
  12. December — Big Cold Moon


I found a reason to love Summer Monsoon season, the clammy, steamy stifling days of August are brilliant for cloud watching because we have moisture in the air for a change. It is easy to dislike August. I say take a look at the clouds in August. They are tremendous.I am in love with clouds. My favorite is the lenticular cloud. What gifts does the weather give to you?

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,

And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.
–Percy Bysshe Shelley

Saguaro Full Moon - Arizona

The moons of 2013 each have a name. Follow this link to learn more.

Downtown Chandler: Vision Gallery and Parking Garage Inspiration

What do Art Galleries and Parking Garages have to do with each other? How do they merge into a perfect cocktail of 21st century design wonder? I love it when my random reading meshes with my random wandering. Let me tell you how it all began.

I returned to the Vision Gallery this week to see the work of Corrine Geertsen a local artist who uses family pictures and creates quirky narratives. If you like to research family history and have access to old family photos she might inspire you. Her work is a creative twist using old pictures juxtaposed with fancy. Visit her exhibit through January 28. If you miss her, follow her blog online and catch a future show. I think her blog is fabulous, I showed my library kids. They were all over it.

I think it is super important to cultivate a design sense in my kids and keep an ongoing conversation about the world around them. What is the intention here? Why did they use this material? What would you change?

First Fridays in Phoenix are full of opportunity if I can manage it. Getting downtown to take advantage of First Friday art events introduces too many logistical challenges for me. The crowds, parking, time commitment and if all does not go well, the retreat are too prohibitive for me to consider these days. I sound like a Debbie Downer but the evening 40 minutes drive with my kids, busy sidewalks and pop in and out of places that they can’t touch and might wander off is frustrating for them and fraught for me. My home run art solution is like all my other home run solutions: Short drive + accessible + free + quality programming. That said, I will go. I just haven’t gone yet.

No such barriers exist for the Vision Gallery. When I attempt an ‘adult” event I have 30 minutes before it becomes a bad idea. I don’t want to blow my 30 minute window walking/parking/waiting. I need instant gratification. The free parking is immediately outside the Gallery. If you go during a weekday, the gallery is seldom crowded. If the streets are full the parking garage is not AND the parking garage is awesome and twenty feet from the door of the gallery. It has a multistory fountain that roars and drops the temperature ten degrees just by standing near it. If you are a Phoenix native you know that is irresistible. I tell the boys, first we go to the gallery then we can run the steps of the parking garage.

The Gallery is a rectangular shaped room full of paintings, sculpture, jewelry, bead work and my favorite a cleverly constructed quilt “A Rainbow in the Dark” by Mary Beth Bella. No photography permitted. You can see everything in 20 minutes. If you linger of course you will enjoy it more but it is possible to treat yourself with a short stroll through the gallery. The gallery has free programming for children. It is open M-F 10 to 5 and Saturdays 10 to 4. Holiday times vary, check the website before you visit.

Now let’s take a minute to talk about parking garages. This week the Wall Street Journal (which I get delivered daily tyvm) featured the hot concept in parking garages as A Sleek Chic Hangout. Brilliant, and just the thing to show my budding builder/designers. The city hall area around Vision Gallery is modern, beautiful and speaks to past prosperity. I feel like we benefited from the pre-recession largesse in the public parks and buildings in Gilbert and Chandler. Take a stroller around the block. Pack some bubbles and climb to the top story of the parking garage, blow bubbles, enjoy the sound of the rushing water and dream up your own parking garage castle.

Parking garage next to Vision Gallery

I sent Corrinne a picture of my Uncle Ray... I wonder if it will inspire her. Check out her blog and share a family picture with her.

Easy Morning Out: Picnic at the Chandler History Museum

Dear Students,

I was looking for something different to do, something that would not require energy or expense on my part. This is a constant challenge during breaks. I don’t need to over-think this, do you know the story of the Gordian Knot? Sometimes the solution to the problem is bold action.

Today we are going to have a picnic under the trees. Our destination is the Chandler History Museum. The Chandler History Museum fits my formula for a weekday outing.

It is nearby, free, uncrowded, has a bathroom and nearby friendly places to explore.


Can you see the picnic bench?

I took a picture of the beautiful trees in front of the Museum and if you look you can see a few picnic tables. Right across the lawn from this spot is the Chandler Public Library with rows of walls to climb, a gazebo and succulent green lawns that attract birds perfect for little ones to run towards and scatter.

Staring into the Sun public sculpture inside the rotunda at the Chandler Public Library

The Chandler History Museum is a jewel. Small in scale but thoughtfully presented. First and foremost it has a full on outhouse. The outhouse is situated immediately to the right (my right not her right) of the reception area. It is reminiscent of those luxury homes built directly across the street from the dairy farms near my house in Gilbert. Although this outhouse is for display purposes only.


Privacy please!

I love the outhouse.

They have a big antique car, an old fashioned fridge with icebox (you can open it). If you like photography or photoshop access to interesting things to photo is rampant. I took a close up of that Fridge dial to use as an icon on a hot day.


Old fashioned fridge dial

Larger displays are segmented, farm, home, kitchen, school, sports hall of fame. The Museum collects and catalogs oral histories. I was most delighted to see an office with view windows to observe the resident archeologist at work. Even if you don’t see the work you can see the office, tools, artifacts and pottery shards. It is easy to imagine that sort of work when you see it situated in an office.


You can see an archeologist at work here. Is this something that interests you?

Conversation starters in the Museum include “What do you do for fun in your neighborhood?”‘
“How did you choose the location of your house?”, “who built the homes in your neighborhood?”‘ “Do you know what was in the area before your neighborhood developed?”

The Chandler History Museum changes the way people learn about Chandler through their ChandlerpediA as they digitize the cities culture and history. Great questions and a place like this will help me find the answers, in person or online.

Mrs. Kenney



Mom Note: this area of Chandler is pedestrian friendly. You can visit the shops, restaurants, library, Vision Gallery or fountains all within ten minutes. I suggest driving the block before you park to pick a secondary place to stroll to. I like the Vision Gallery and the parking garage (it has a fountain and rooftop to explore). The museum is stroller and wheelchair friendly (lots of open space) but the bathroom at the museum is close quarters (down an old hallway). You can do it but with the Chandler Public Library just across the yard if I had my choice and kiddos and strollers I’d pick the library.

Commemorative Air Force Arizona Wing Museum

The Valley of the Sun’s brilliant weather makes it a natural draw for retirees, pilots and airplanes. Our dry heat protects planes from rust. Our big sunny skies are lures for the newest fighter jets and for stalwart bombers from World War II. Arizona is celebrated for stark desert beauty but my favorite aspect of the desert comes from looking upward.

The best part of this for you gentle reader is the quality of the volunteers at our aviation museums. The docents in the museums I’ve visited here in the area rival the collections when it comes to interesting stories. My boys routinely meet vets from WWII, Korea, Vietnam. These men and women take time with my kids to tease them, pat their heads and try to draw them out and help them to love our country as much as they do. You can’t put a price tag on that experience. To the women with her brothers WWI letters in hand to the retired B17 bomber vet who unlocked a classroom to show my boys the coolest moon exhibit, the people you meet at these events are ordinary in their demeanor and extraordinary in their life experience.

The AZCAF Museum has big hangars, shiny planes and best of all the glittering silver massive Betty Grable emblazoned Sentimental Journey one of only a handful of B-17 Flying Fortresses still in the air. This plane is cherished by the people that form the Museum. It is a friendly ambassador from Arizona and spends the summer months traveling the country. 80,000 people tour the interior every summer.

We climbed inside the plane ogling the bomb bays, the massive wings and the ball turret. My boys ran the lot weaving under wings, climbing to peer into cockpits and admiring their reflection in the propellers.

Today the Museum was free, they were hosting a WWI traveling show. The big band 40’s dance is slated for March. Check times and the calendar, their programming is excellent. You can find BOGO tickets for this museum in the Phoenix Entertainment book. The Museum does not receive federal funds.

Mom note: this Museum is stroller friendly. The restrooms are large and contain one toilet, not stalls. There is a large grassy area out front to burn off energy before you go in. In the strip mall next door there is a Starbucks if you want to grab a snack.






Browsing: Pages at the Chandler Public Library

One day on the way to the library, I was stopped by a policeman and invited to take a tour of the Chandler courthouse. On the appointed day I came to the courthouse early to learn that I was in the wrong place. I walked a four block area searching for the courthouse. The Chandler Courthouse is a large multistory building set back from the road. It says “Court” on it. Once you get to the door of that building a small white sign directs traffic court people across the street. Once you get to that building and you go through security and get to the courtroom, another little white sign directs you to check in at the front desk. Then you queue up. After making a significant contribution to the municipality and being told I could skip the tour I found myself childless, not at work and in proximity to a history museum, art gallery and public library.

I have the morning free, absolved of my vehicular iniquity. I go to the library.

The Downtown Chandler Public Library is set on park like grounds flanked by the Chandler History museum and a community center. Outside the library are rows of concrete seating walls with a relief designed by Carl Jansen (named Entropy Walls) suitable for climbing and playing. The library has a small coffee shop, a generously sized seating area for working with natural light and rows of shelves with used books and magazines. On a quarterly basis they host a book sale, I think books are 4 for a dollar or something outrageously persuasive like that.

Inside the coffee shop are 4 tall shelves with the “rare” books. These books were old, unusual and intriguing for any bookworm or crafty type. I imagine as we move to e-books and more people jettison their home library, a small shelf of curated books with unusual titles or covers will become more popular. The books cost between 4 and 20 dollars. The shop accepts credit cards.

I had a lemon poppy seed muffin, a drink. I selected a beautifully bound Jane Goodall book and a book about touring the Panama Canal (small, green linen bound hardcover from 1930’s). I’ll give that book to my mom. She is going on Panama Canal cruise and she is interested in the locks. For four dollars it makes a stylish and unique gift. The old Webster dictionary and the singing primer from the 50’s with its retro illustrations tempted me. Those would make great source material for craft projects that I see online. I left those behind for another day.

If you are a fan of old books, especially ones with embellished covers you might like one of my favorite blogs, Cassandra Considers. She is a bookworm and a nature lover. I enjoy her perspective.

I am guilty of considering using these pages to stamp like she did here:

I don't know if it is a crime but I did consider buying this book to cannibalize the pages in a craft project. Is that wicked?

The rare book shelf is inside the coffee shop at Pages

Love the embellished cover, this would look nice in a boy's room.

Staring into the Sun by Kevin Berry