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Posts by A Flair For Words

Space Between Our Mutual High Deserts is Deep

Deep Space Complex, Goldstone CA

A sunset like none other through Goldstone Dish

Many readers have been asking me personally how the High Desert is so important to our economy or its versatile history over the years. While it’s true that most think of the desert as a dry expanse of sand and nothing lives in it, we can blame that on early Hollywood movies and mid-century TV westerns. We know that contrary to those first impressions, the desert is vibrant with wildlife, fields of flowers, cacti, and the people who see it as their home.

The link between what the High Deserts in particular around the nation — and there are more than one –offer to the economy covers a lot of industries. Without wide open deserts in Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico and California, we wouldn’t have a territory to experiment with deep space satellites, radio astronomy, radio telemetry or space telescopes.

Goldstone Complex near Bartow CA

Daylight in the Mojave Desert, Goldstone complex

Part One –

Space industry is a general term that can be split into three parts: manned flight, scientific testing, and deep space. The wide open spaces of our Southern California High Desert promotes terrific radio and satellite signals coming and going. The clear air, lack of cities with street lights, and the reduction in noise levels riding on the airwaves, make the desert a perfect place for doing experiments in sending and receiving amplified signals out to Deep Space crafts that have reported their findings automatically since the 1960s.

The Voyager 1 and 2 space crafts, launched the summer of 1977, used as their fact-finding mission intensive cameras to fly by the planets and probe into deep space. They had an approximate life span of six years – they’re now going on 37 years. However, when it comes to battery life, Voyager 1 has a leg up on the iPhone (and just about any other consumer electronic, for that matter). The spacecraft has a plutonium power supply that boasts an 88-year half-life, meaning we’ll stay in touch for years.

The Voyager space crafts will be the third and fourth human spacecraft to fly beyond all the planets in our Solar System. Pioneers 10 and 11 preceded Voyager in outstripping the gravitational attraction of the Sun but on February 17, 1998, Voyager 1 passed Pioneer 10 to become the most distant human-made object in space.

A diagram of Heliopause concept

Voyager is near the outer edges of the known universe

The Heliopause

While the exact location of the Heliopause is not known, it has been estimated that Voyager could reach this entry into interstellar space 10 years after crossing the Termination Shock. The heliopause is the demarcation of where the Sun loses influence in space as it touches the outer edges of the Universe. It’s a concept still being studied. (Voyager 1 entered interstellar space on August 25, 2012.) As of September 2013, Voyager 1 was at a distance of 18.7 billion kilometers (125.3 AU) from the Sun. Voyager 2 was at a distance of 15.3 billion kilometers (102.6 AU).

Sharing Data –

So, to keep tracking these spacecraft deep into the unknown, there are only three quiet and remote desert locations in the world where the signals can be captured. All three are desert-like, provide clear skies avoiding traffic, city lights, and noiseless skies. One is here in California’s Mojave Desert at Goldstone (Deep Space Network) near Barstow. The others are near Canberra Australia and Madrid Spain. Although they aren’t true dry deserts like ours, they provide the environments for good signals and transmissions.

Voyager probe

Unmanned Voyager launched in 1977

The Deep Space Network (DSN) supports NASA and non-NASA missions that explore the furthest points of our solar system. The DSN has these three ground stations located approximately 120 degrees apart on Earth (120 + 120 + 120 = 360). This is to ensure that any satellite in deep space is able to communicate with at least one station at all times. The ground stations also communicate with satellites in order to initiate course corrections, provide software updates, and alter the way scientific observations are made.

In Part 2 I’ll share information about the New Mexico High Desert called St. Augustine Plains and the Very Large Array that moves on short railroad tracks.

Rusty LaGrange

Hospitality in the Old West Found in Woman’s Home Manual

Home HInts for New Wives

The Hearthstone book helped newlywed wives carry out daily chores of 1886

It was easy for me to think that recipes from the Old West or Civil War Era, were found in every relative’s cookbook from the turn of the century. But the truth is, cookbooks, like the ones we use today, weren’t really on the shelves until about 1920s. No one really had money for the luxuries of buying recipe books. Few had even thought of creating one.

Since I’m an Old West historian, I found that the tastes of the country and city folks coming out west brought with them their skills of cooking. Simple foods required simple instructions. Recipes were handed down on loose pieces of paper, in a handwritten letter, or even stuffed in the pages of a family bible.

More Folklore Than Formulas

And what became our list of specific ingredients followed by detailed instructions began as loosely expressed directions – more folklore than formulas. Many cooks substituted the ingredients with what was on hand. While salt, sugar, and flour were staples, and herbs were gathered out the back door, not many had saffron, ginger, and exotic flavorings like we have today.

Home Hospitality starts in 1886 Hearthstone Book

Early Women’s book for Household Hints

A pinch of salt, a dram of tartar, a ladle of pork fat. Well, those measurements made recipes so different that not one cook could copy the flavors. After years of secret recipes for cobblers and pies, jams and jellies, breads and compotes took blue ribbons at the county fairs across the country, tying down the ingredients into a cookbook was pure industrialization.

I happen to own an original The Hearthstone, Or, Life at Home: A Household Manual Containing Hints, by Laura Carter Holloway written in 1886. It has a small section of recipes almost added into the book as an afterthought. It calls for wives to be good hostesses, caregivers of the ill, managing the household’s daily chores, how to care for a baby, and how to make bread. It’s much more than that. Easily I can spend hours perusing its pages for recipe nuggets.

Here’s an easy sample of an old-time recipe:

MISSISSIPPI CAKE: One pint of the best yellow cornmeal, a pint of buttermilk, two tablespoons of melted butter, two eggs, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of Saleratus. (saleratus: Sodium or potassium bicarbonate used as a leavening agent; an early term for baking soda)

       That’s it. No cooking directions, so it’s presumed that a wood stove is used and 350-375 degrees is an average temperature if using an oven. This recipe could also be created in a Dutch oven over an open fire. No cooking time is given so it may be cooked until brown, or even until the surface springs back when touched. Dutch oven cooking would usually include a lid with a lip that held 8-12 pieces of hot charcoal.

So there you have just a taste — pardon my pun — of some of the earliest attempts at sharing a family heirloom from the kitchen. i’ll be returning each week with more historical recipes and insights into the frontier kitchen and Old West hospitality.

Simple Tools to Stay Calm After a Car Accident

Our Guard Goes Down When the Sun Comes Out

Although the worst of the heavy traffic during holiday shopping has simmered down, there still are days when traffic is heavier. Our weather patterns cause drivers to forget that rainy days need more driving care. Even dry days during winter can be more hazardous than you might think.

Two Drivers Two Cars

Minor Car Incident

It’s like our guard goes down when the sun comes out. But a defensive driver is keenly aware at all times. Watch for sporadic drivers cutting in and out of traffic, regular rise in traffic near schools, and intersections near shopping malls.

Tools to Use

Your handy camera in your cell phone is an easy tool to use if you do have an accident. Take a photo of each part of the car’s damage. Take several. Then be sure to take photos of the other driver’s car. Are there witnesses to the accident? Ask them to give you their information for the report. Keep a pencil and paper pad in your glove box at all times.

camera on your cell phone

Take a photo of the evidence

Exchange information with the other driver (when possible) during the time waiting for the police or deputy to arrive. Be sure to ask for name, address, phone, type of vehicle, model, license plate, and how many people are in the vehicle.

This sounds so simple but after an accident you may not feel like standing, talking or recollecting the situation. People react differently to stress and adrenaline bursts. Even a simple bumper mishap can cause drivers and passengers to freak out, hyperventilate, or feel very upset. Some riders may not even know they’re injured until after the burst of adrenaline has faded.

Stay Calm For Everyone

calm man

Staying Calm will help other stay calm too

Remembering to do these simple tasks can sometime escape your mind. Try to stay calm while others around you may be very upset, even yelling or crying. By keeping your own emotions in check you can maintain a more calming environment around you.

Emotions at an Accident

Emotions Run High

When the person of authority arrives — police, security, deputy, ambulance — be sure to get some form of ID from them. Often deputies will give a business card with contact numbers or even an incident report number for follow up with your insurance agent.

Summarize Your Day

When you get home and feel more at ease, it’s best to sit down in a quiet place and write out the complete incident as you recall it.


What time of day, the weather, how the accident happened, how you were involved, what you felt, what you did afterward, who you talked to, and if you feel confident remembering all these details a month later. shocked girl

By writing everything down early, you won’t be so worried about what you do remember when asked by your insurance agent. Our nation runs on vehicles so it’s just a matter of time before you are involved in an accident. I hope your experiences are minor and without injury, but if it happens just knowing these simple tips will make the experience easier to live with.

Rusty LaGrange

Use Luminarias for Old World Charm

A contemporary design and a magical glow

A contemporary design and a magical glow

This time of year the crafty and creative minds abound. You see decorations that look like a craft wizard fabricated them — and usually overnight. But you think “it would take me weeks to do that.” And the expense! Who has that kind of money?

Luminarias are Old World

Old World Charm to line your walkways


Sometimes the cleverest ideas come from Old World history.

A simple idea that was practical back then is just as practical today. Case in point, the simple light from a luminaria. The charm of these outdoor candles come from as far back as the age of the Pharaohs. You might think it was the Spanish – Latin influences that prompted Mexican cultures to use them for commemorative events or for lining the paths to a family cemetery. You would be wrong.

We think of them as a décor item for the Holidays. Although that’s true, other holidays enjoy the radiant décor, too. When masses were conducted in Mexico, often an evening procession would be led by altar boys carrying lanterns on long canes. Once a long procession arrived at the church or an arranged location, luminarias would be placed along their walkway so no one would stumble or walk on the grave sites or the offering placed on the ground.

Modern luminarias can be made with metal or PVC pipe

Modern luminarias can be made with metal or PVC pipe

Luminarias, as simple as placing a votive candle into a paper lunch sack weighted down with an inch or so of native dirt or sand, have been used throughout history in a variety of ways. Easter candles are often placed on the altars but also as a colorful attractant to guide people to their church. Fourth of July celebrations use luminarias along a shoreline, in a park or along pathways. Many times floating lanterns limb into the sky — these are luminarias with a helium balloon or a sack tied up-side down. The hot air is trapped allowing it to rise into the night skies. Luminarias are used during October’s Halloween events and on porches to add a bit of scary lighting to a dull porch.

Since the glow of a simple candle can take on the shape of a large bag or jar, its brightness subdued yet its light travels very far in its defused state.

Luminarias are made from brown paper, reused grocery sacks, empty glass jar, tall tins with punched holes to let out light, pumpkins and gourds, and even small ceramic pots. As a modern version of this candle, PVC water pipe can be used with small drill holes placed in a pattern just like the punched tin.

Glass jars with a votive candle, a bale handle, and an etched surface is charming

Glass jars with a votive candle, a bale handle, and an etched surface is charming

As long as the wind cannot disrupt the flame, and the light and heat can escape, the luminaria can be placed on steps, in driveways, lining sidewalks, atop walls, and roof lines, creating a path, or any number of uses.

Let us know if you see any luminarias this season. Just drop us a comment.

The Simple Things: Family and Less Shopping

I usually can keep tabs on new trends that are a bit more global. The High Desert may be removed from the hustle of LA city but we are still a  savvy bunch. But when the shift in store and restaurants choosing to shutter their doors for the Thanksgiving Holiday began to be a fast-growing trend, I was shocked — even flummoxed.

Arriving in Barstow.  Photo By Jonathan Cobb

Go on a Family outing

People were actually taking advantage of  The Simple Things in Life — like settling down in a sofa with the kids rather than plopping down in a folding chair in front of Best Buy. There has always been a national undercurrent of those who refuse to fight in line, fight at the counters, fight in the parking lots over their “valuable items” of choice. I just saw on the news a mom rip a “great sale item” from the arms of a little kid. Really!?! Have we come to that?

We often forget that we used to go on family outings just for the day. Some families would donate their time at soup kitchens or make a donation to a worthy non-profit foundation. And others would host an elderly person who didn’t have more family to visit with, or couldn’t travel to be with relatives.

double rainbow_01172015

Enjoy a change with a hidden surprise

These Simple Things still happen but now they have taken on a different symbol of thankfulness, one of tradition, and breaking into the shopping madness that has somehow defined our holidays.

So, I must applaud the single-mindedness of folks who stand firm and denounce Black Friday; the corporate offices of those “big box” stores who refused to open and made a statement and stuck to it. And I must recognize the little cafes and smaller establishments here in the High Desert who see the value of sharing time at home for one day, rather than causing all the angst compounded in a week’s worth of guerrilla shopping.

Wouldn’t that be a blessing in disguise if, over the years, Black Friday turned to Gray Friday, then Smoky Friday, Ghost Friday then just plain ol’ Friday?


Rusty LaGrange

If you like what you see here then please check out my website at

and “coming soon” my digital magazine: VintageWest magazine, for Southwest enthusiasts.

Dining Out — Diner Guider

 One who Dines Out has a Family Event

Dining Out is Often a Family Event

We introduced “DineR – GuideR” just before Thanksgiving to help families find holiday meals. Since then we’ve decided to share other good dining experiences that you can find in the High Desert.

We’ll add to and update this list as a general guide for restaurants that have a standard American cuisine. As the list grows we’ll define other categories in foreign-themed cuisine.

The Coffee Bean Cafe features “The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf ” inside the roomy Green Tree Inn. Their recent remodeling has given the landmark Inn a facelift. The menu as well as the restaurant have changed. Find it at the corner of Palmdale Road and Greentree. 14173 Green Tree Blvd, Victorville,  760-245-3461 x 414

Marie Callender’s traditionally is known for its Americana flavors. Their specialty has always been a variety of homemade pies. Their Victorville location is: 12180 Mariposa Rd., Victorville, CA 92392, phone 760-241-6973. Don’t be surprised to wait in line to get a table. The dinner is very popular. While you’re waiting you can always buy a delectable  Marie Callender’s pie-to-go.

 The cozy cottage restaurant of Mimi’s in Victorville is open daily. Their signature  cranberry muffins can even make your own muffin tops — the one over your belt-line — look tiny in comparison. You can call in to Mimi’s at (760) 244-6888 and their address is 12032 Amargosa Road, on restaurant row in Victorville.


The Diner Guider is brought to you by

Any questions contact: Rusty LaGrange.

A New Feature This Season: DINER GUIDE-r

Your  favorite restaurant could be just down the street or clear across town. The list is growing as the “foodies” in the High Desert weigh in with their choices across the Internet and inside their favorite food blogs.

Same here. You can stop by and see some of the High Desert’s restaurants, cafes, diners, and out-of-the-way comfort food places — whoever knew grilled macaroni would become so iconic — just by checking out our Diner Guide-r.

But we can’t do it alone.

Let us know what your favorite place is to dine. We”ll be listing places to eat from drive-thrus to takeout to gourmet restaurants. We won’t be selecting any based our taste-buds — only by what we hear and read.

It will be a list of places you just gotta  try for yourself. If I were a gourmand, I’d be 600 pounds and not a nickel to my name. So we’re relying on you to share and be fair. Help us develop our Diner Guide-r. We might even have a few dining gift cards to  toss into a drawing.

To start the list:

Johnnie D’s has been around for over 30 years. There menu is mainstream American with a good variety of large portions on their dinner plates. Breakfast is a big draw as well. The place is just west of Apple Valley and Bear Valley roads. They offer selected menus for Seniors Over 55 so the restaurant is a favorite among the silver-haired crowd.

Johnnie D's near Home Depot

Johnnie D’s near Home Depot

Burger Depot

Burger Depot — for 36 years

While we’re thinking about great places, my granddaughter, stopped by to add her favorite spots to eat. One was Burger Depot, a little place with only a few tables, an efficient drive-thru, and their theme inside is the history of trains.

David and Karen Mount, the sole owners, have served Lucerne Valley customers for a little over 35 years. “The food is amazing,” my granddaughter says.

She’s quick to note that the other best place to eat in Lucerne Valley is Cafe 247, right at the intersection where Hwy 247 makes a turn northward. The menu has not only pizza and breakfast burritos with gravy, but it also has for a new addition jalapenos poppers.

In the Middle of Nowhere -- Cafe 247

In the Middle of Nowhere — Cafe 247

She says her dad loves them, but she won’t try them yet. “They’re hot!” The business is under new management since April, and the hours have changed for the winter. If you come out for the quiet ride into the desert, be sure to call ahead 760.248.6088.

Well, that’s enough to start the restaurant list. Let us know, in Comments below, what and where your favorite place to eat can be located.


Rusty LaGrange

From “Fall Back” to “Jump Time”

Ice forming in storm clouds

Ice forming in storm clouds

When we get word through the TV news or a notice in the newspaper that we must set our clocks back an hour, suddenly my world stops.

Vivid skies appear as the nights get chilly

Vivid skies appear as the nights get chilly

double rainbow_01172015

A double rainbow is gift before freezing

I find that I go directly to holiday mode in my mind and each cold breath of winter approaching is a reminder that I only have a few weeks ahead before the holidays take center stage. For me it’s Jump Time. Time seems to jump forward and days fly by so quickly that even planning seems futile. By the time I plan, time has run away.

Is this a bad thing? How do you cope with the changes in weather and in events to prepare for it? Does your world feel like it’s running away from you? Share some of your strategies for

making holiday time fun for your family. (You might check out some of the cool nonprofit organizations that make gift giving easier.)

To help corral this feeling I find that using sticky notes on the calendar do help. Beyond that I try to begin my decorating in the week of the holiday. If I wait too long the decor will be out 24 hours and then put away. I’ve never been a Martha Stewart-type of person. I have good years and bad when it comes to decorating and baking for holiday events.

I must admit that some years we run away and go camping just to avoid the mental clutter of the prep time. Too much to do, to buy, too many to see, and purchase gifts. And don’t get me started on holiday cards. One year I sent out 55 Christmas cards; another year only five. Some cards I make from scratch, others are bought last moment as I race out of the grocery store. Whatever.

This year I plan, notice the operative word “plan,” to get all of my cards completed before Christmas Eve. I plan to have turkey soup made after the turkey is carved on Thanksgiving instead of finding the carcass two years later freezer-burned beyond recognition.

I have two newborn twin granddaughters to welcome into our busy schedules. Actually, they control the schedule as preemies will in the hospital’s NICU wards. We must succumb to their feeding times. A terrible burden of love. So there’s “scrub in” time, “holding” time, “goo-goo in their face” time, “feeding them 4 milliliters” time, and if I drank there would be Miller time.

Time seems to be my biggest hindrance. Wait a minute! If time is the bugaboo here, and I control my own destiny, then I can kill time, waste time, offer up time, and ignore time. I can have time on my hands, time will tell, and time in a bottle.

Getting a bit crazy here. I need some down time.

Rusty LaGrange

Taking time to post in her other blog — VintageWest Magazine Blog and at


Art Appreciation Through a Poem — Ekphrastically

A poetry workshop, focusing on Ekphrasis poem form, was recently held at Hi-Desert Oasis Used Bookstore in Apple Valley. Mary Langer Thompson led the workshop and helped those attending to understand how this poem form was an extension of the art world as early as the 1700s.

Retired educator Mary Langer Thompson lead the workshop on Ekphrastic

Retired educator Mary Langer Thompson lead the workshop on Ekphrastic poetry

Mary is California’s state senior poet laureate of 2012, a member of High Desert branch, and a retired school teacher and administrator.

Members from High Desert California Writers Club enjoyed learning how the arts can influence poetry

Members from High Desert California Writers Club enjoyed learning how the arts can influence poetry

An Ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.

In this session color cards of Pierre-Auguste Renoir acted as our close-up gallery so each poet could study a portrait to glean the details and tones of the works of art. Then poets analyzed and wrote key feelings that each portrait emitted. Then followed the task of writing an Ekphrastic-styled poem to exhibit how the painting reached them.

Others in our workshop created poignant visions of Renoir’s portraits. We shared our concepts and how the artist is able to capture so much nuance from subtle colors, body language of his subjects, and details in jewelry and clothing of the time period that all add to the experience of the poem.

A Renoir painting helped poets envision their feelings

A Renoir painting helped poets envision their feelings

And, as an example, here’s just the first few lines of my poem based on a daughter standing and mother sitting in a somber room:

            “Her Daughter Julie”

We walked slowly from the hilltop monuments.

The Reverend held my mother’s hand until

the sounds of the small brook brought a sigh.

It was too cold, too sad, too early to be

Lain to rest in our countryside.

The Renoir that inspired my poem

The Renoir that inspired my poem

Anyone can be inspired to share how they feel — and how the painting, sculpture, or other form of art made them feel. A poem of this style can be written in free-verse or rhymed, loose or structured. In any account, the act of sharing and speaking out about the art is just as important as looking at it on a wall or in a museum gallery.

Rusty LaGrange

Horror Book Fest Kept Ghouls & Creatures Entertained

Horror 06_Julie Adams_10032015

Special Guest Julie Adams, cult icon of Creature film

Horror 16_Mayor Eric Schmidt and Creature_10032015

Mayor Eric Schmidt of Hesperia pals around with Creature icon

Horror 04_10032015

Joyce (in witchie attire) and Michael Raff shared hosting duties during the event

Horror 07Dwight and E Van Lowe_10032015

Dwight Norris, pres of HDCWC and guest E. Van Lowe enjoy the fest of Horror books

If fright is what you like then you missed the best High Desert” spook-tacular” event for Horror and Paranormal books, their authors, and their fans. The afternoon of Oct. 3rd,  was dedicated to Horror books and history of the Horror film genre.

Hosted by Nevermore Enterprises, the business team of Michael Raff and Roberta Smith, pooled their talents to share their first book novel trailers – video excerpts of their thriller novels.

Horror 12_Loralie vends for J Newcomer with Dwight_10032015

Loralie Kay and Dwight Norris filled in for author Jeanne Newcomer at her book booth

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The Accordo is Roberta Smith’s top title for the “book trailer” seen at book fest

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Michael Raff is celebrating his latest title: Scare Tactics” during the fest

If fright is what you like then you missed the best High Desert” spook-tacular” event for Horror and Paranormal books, their authors, and their fans. The afternoon of Oct. 3rd,  was dedicated to Horror books and history of the Horror film genre.

Hosted by Nevermore Enterprises, the business team of Michael Raff and Roberta Smith, pooled their talents to share their first book novel trailers – video excerpts of their thriller novels.
With over 50 people in attendance, the event was double their first Horror Book Fest held last year in Apple Valley. On top of the bigger venue at Courtyard Marriott in Hesperia, the town’s Mayor, Eric Schmidt, emcee in flashy tux, went the extra mile to get the crowd in the mood.

Known for his teen horror books, Sal Conte AKA E. Van Lowe, read from his latest novel The Secrets of Love and Death. Lowe is a well-known teen book author of horror, and an Emmy nominee for work on “The Cosby Show”, “Even Stevens”, and other sitcoms.
World famous Julie Adams, actress of over 40 films, TV and theater productions, shared a bit of her film history and her new movie memoir book The Lucky Southern Star: Reflections from the Black Lagoon. Sound familiar? She is best known for the female lead of Creature from the Black Lagoon, a 1954 cult classic. Over the years she’s embraced her legendary role and travels to autograph shows with her son Mitchell.

Horror 01_10032015
A book fest is not complete without authors exhibiting their latest books in booths that were set up around the perimeter of the room. Many members of the High Desert branch of the California Writers Club supported Raff and Smith, also members, with their costumes and creative booths, adding to the festive event. Nearly a dozen friends and relatives filled out the volunteer staff. A dozen vendors shared book titles, Halloween costumes, jewelry, and frightful items for parties.
Mayor Schmidt wrapped up the main event by hosting a film and writers information panel with guests and hosts. Questions were taken from the audience and behind-the-scenes stories on movie sets were eagerly shared by Ms. Adams. Lastly, opportunity drawings of books, gift baskets, and an autographed photo of Ms. Adams was given away.

According to the response, if you enjoy being “creeped out” with horror and the paranormal keep an eye out for the third Horror Book Fest coming next year.


Rusty LaGrange

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