A Letter to My Daughter

Diana Belchase:

This is why I love Heather Balog so much. Her words are for the 9 year olds in all of us.

Originally posted on :

Hi daughter. I see you there, shoveling those crumb top donuts in your mouth when you think I’m not looking. Oh yes, I’ve got eyes in the back of my head, didn’t you know? Oh no, I’m not saying anything because…well, I’m afraid to say something. I know you’re going through a growth spurt right now and that’s why your pants don’t fit anymore and you’re hungry all the time. In my head I’m sure this is a normal thing, a normal almost ten year old girl phenomenon. But my heart is screaming at me to slap that donut out of your hand. Because if you keep eating junk food and stuffing your face, your pants won’t ever fit. And THEN, it’ll be my fault as a mother for not steering you to the celery spears and carrot sticks and tell you to stop eating donuts.

Sounds complicated, right? Conflicting? I don’t…

View original 686 more words

Celebrating Earth Day with Shannon Baker: Aliens, Polygamists, and Hopi, Oh My!

Wonderful Shannon Baker, author of 3 books and several short stories, img_3189-web1is back again to celebrate Earth Day with us — this time with her friend Laura Kamala. Laura  has lived in the spectacular Canyonlands of southeast Utah for thirty-eight years. During this time she was variously incarnated as a filmmaker, writer, artist, business entrepreneur, and Director of Utah Programs for Grand Canyon Trust.

Diana: This is a new twist for me, Shannon. Usually, it’s me doing the interviewing. I’m so glad to meet Laura, but why is she here today?

Shannon:  Although Tattered Legacy is fiction, the inspiration came from my dear friend, Laura Kamala, who is a conservationist living in Castle Valley near Moab. For this Earth Day, I thought it would be fun to talk to Laura tattered-legacy-1about what inspires her to work so hard for Canyonlands National Park.

Diana: Well, that’s a really great reason — and your research shows in this amazing book. I know my readers — environmentally conscious or just plain, die hard mystery fans, will love it. Before we go on, here’s a blurb:

Set against the iconic red rocks of Moab, UT, Tattered Legacy’s heroine, Nora Abbott, risks her career as she gets involved in a documentary aimed at persuading Congress to expand the boundaries of Canyonlands National Park. But someone is desperate to keep the secrets of the land hidden. When her best friend, the director of the film, is found dead, Nora is convinced it wasn’t an accident. As, she draws deeper into danger, she uncovers an unlikely intersection of ancient Hopi legends, a secret polygamist sect, and one of the world’s richest men. 

Diana: Do plots get any better than that? So without further ado, I’ll turn over this interview to Shannon Baker. 

 Shannon: Thank you Diana for inviting me back to celebrate Earth Day and letting me interview Laura and bring attention to her film.  Laura, briefly tell us why the borders of Canyonlands National Park need to be expanded.

Professor Creek at sunset, Photo courtesy Laura Kamala (c)

Professor Creek at sunset, Photo courtesy Laura Kamala (c)

Laura: During my long tenure as a conservationist I worked very closely with local, state and federal agencies and elected officials on concerning environmental issues in southern Utah, gaining a deep understanding of the politics here. That is why I believe the only way to protect the very sensitive and extraordinary landscape surrounding Canyonlands National Park is through the executive order of the President using the Antiquities Act to designate Greater Canyonlands National Monument. It has been heartbreaking for me to see how, in recent years, oil and gas development has ravaged lands on the borders of Canyonlands National Park.

Shannon: Why is it important to create a national awareness of the risks to Canyonlands National Park? 

Filmmaker Laura Kamala with cinematographer Doug Crawford and Brooke Williams, Photo courtesy Debra Anderson

Filmmaker Laura Kamala with cinematographer Doug Crawford and Brooke Williams, Photo courtesy Debra Anderson

Laura: Utah’s current political agenda includes no more wilderness designations, no more national monuments, taking away the President’s power to designate new monuments under the Antiquities Act, and demanding that the federal government turn over all its lands held in trust for the public, to the state. Left to Utah politicians, public lands here would all be sold off to the highest bidder for the development chopping block

Shannon: Why make a feature film about the issue and not just do a local campaign?

Laura: Lands surrounding the national park are owned by the American public, which means everyone no matter where you live; they are under the care of the Bureau of Land Management. The federal agency operates under a multiple use mandate and they invite the public’s input about how these lands should be “used,” not just as a public commons or wildlife sanctuary, but for sale to the highest corporate bidder to extract whatever resources that may be exploited. Most people outside Utah don’t even know they have a right to say how Utah public lands should be managed.

Shannon: Tattered Legacy brings together several disparate elements, including Hopi and Mormon belief in life from other planets, as well as Canyonlands expansion. Did you find the connection between Hopi and southern Utah area strange?

Laura: I loved the part of your story linking the Hopi people to Moab because there is a significant connection. I had a neighbor in Castle Valley, Hershel Nokes, who passed away in 1998. Every year, Hershel would bring me Hopi blue corn piki bread from an elder of the tribe who came to perform a ceremony nearby. One of the sacred places where Hopi elders perform annual ceremonies to keep the balance of the natural world intact is close to Castle Valley. They do this on behalf of all forms of life.

Filmmaker Laura Kamala with Terry Tempest Williams, Photo courtesy Debra Anderson

Filmmaker Laura Kamala with Terry Tempest Williams, Photo courtesy Debra Anderson

Shannon: What did you hope to inspire, besides Tattered Legacy, of course, with your film?

Laura: Visual media is so powerful for storytelling and getting inside people’s feeling bodies to effect change. I conceived my film project hoping to introduce the threatened landscapes of southern Utah to people who might never actually visit them, in a way they could virtually experience the euphoria engendering nature of this place and be moved to care enough to act on behalf of the Canyonlands region.

For more information on the Canyonland Expansion or Laura Kamala’s film please go to her Facebook page, or visit the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. More information can be found on Shannon Baker at her website.

For a chance to win a copy of Tattered Legacy, tell us how you’re celebrating Earth Day or ask a question below. (U.S. residents only).

Postcards from D.C., Washington’s Cherry Blossoms!

The blossoms are set to burst any day now, so I’m sending those photos to all of you in hopes you’ll make the trip to Washington, D.C. and share in this spectacular sight. I promise you, there is no description in the world that will equal the experience of walking through showers of petals, or being engulfed in the scent of cherry blossoms!

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Palms and Traditions: Celebrating Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, a holiday that many Americans overlook. But in churches around the world, people gather, pray, and use palm fronds during the mass to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.

Congregation gathers for palm processional. (c) Diana Belchase

Congregation gathers for palm processional. (c) Diana Belchase

Among Italian-Americans this day is a whole lot more. I remember my father making us go to a second church service if the palm fronds at the first church weren’t to his satisfaction. Then we’d spend the day making little things out of the blessed palms — heart of Jesus rings, crosses, Jacob’s ladder. He regretted not learning the things his father and grandfather used to make — little donkeys, sheep and other animals.

Palm Processional

Palm Processional. Dad would have loved these gorgeous palms!  (c) Diana Belchase


These items would decorate our house all year long. At the end of the year, the church requires palms to be burned, but we couldn’t ever seem to do that. We just added to the ever-increasing collection of straw-like bric a brac that festooned our home.

Dad's Jacob's Ladder

One of my late father’s Jacob’s Ladders still sits on my bookshelf. (c) Diana Belchase


Palm Sunday also meant an elaborate midday dinner with special treats my grandmother made only once a year. Her recipes took hours to make and every bite was infused with love.

Prayerful hands with palm fronds. (c) Diana Belchase

Prayerful hands with palm fronds. (c) Diana Belchase

I miss those days and now, married into a non-Italian family I see the blessing growing up Italian really was. My husband’s family has been here for three hundred years. There are no family traditions other than an annual reunion that will probably die out when the last of his parents’ generation does. His cousins are scattered far and wide. They rarely see one another, rarely call, although the love in that family is as real as it is in my own. They just have a different way of expressing it.

I think, perhaps, this is more common than I ever suspected. It’s recently occurred to me that all those Martha Stewart magazines we love, all those home cooking shows on TV, the special issues and episodes with holiday ideas, are the symptom of a country minus an identity. We are so wonderfully integrated many of us have lost a bit of the “old country” that originally brought us here.

Entering Church with Palm Cross

We long to remember what grandma cooked and what our great-grandfather made. Second-generation Americans like Martha and me are so full of traditions, we can’t help wanting to share them with others. For Martha it’s become a cottage industry, for me it’s stuffing my friends’ faces with food they often say they can’t believe I made.

Boy with Palm Cross (c) Diana Belchase

Boy with Palm Cross (c) Diana Belchase

Today I smiled as I saw first-generation Filipinos and Africans quickly fashioning little crosses during the service from the fronds in their hands. They gathered more as they left the church, and I realized their homes must look much as my own used to. I loved that their families aren’t just full of love, but also full of tradition, the way mine used to be.

Wedding rings and Palm Fronds

Wedding rings and Palm Fronds (c) Diana Belchase


So I wonder dear reader, do you have family traditions? Are you searching for more? Are you able to pass these down to your children? Please tell me, I’d really like to know.

Wishing you all the blessings of a wonderful season — be it Easter, or Passover, or just plain spring. We’re lucky to be here, in the land our ancestors fought so hard to bring us to — whether it be three hundred years or only one. We’re Americans and that’s a tremendously wonderful thing to be.


Mark Catesby: the Curious and Ingenious Naturalist

91fyceeC6xLDiana: Editors E. Charles Nelson and David J. Elliott have compiled a book about a man I’d never heard of: Mark Catesby. One of the earliest naturalists, as well as an author and illustrator, Catesby studied the fauna and flora of North America over a seven-year period. He influenced Audubon, Darwin, and the explorers Lewis and Clark. The book, The Curious Mister Catesby, is a treasure and I’m lucky today to have E. Charles Nelson do a guest post telling us more about this intriguing man.

E. Charles Nelson: The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands is undeniably a rare book, and a very remarkable one, too. Its author and illustrator, Mark Catesby produced the book himself beginning soon after he returned to England from South Carolina and the Bahamas sometime in 1726: “The whole was done within my house, and by my own hands …”. He learned how to etch on copper, and then etched the 220 copperplates, signing most of them with his distinctive “MC” monogram. After the plates had been printed by Godfrey Smith, Catesby hand-coloured them, or supervised the colouring. It is easy to see that to create the 170-odd copies of The natural history … that comprised the original printing required an immense personal investment of time and energy.



Mark Catesby had the first copies of the first part, containing the first 20 plates and accompanying letterpress, ready in mid-May 1729. Several contemporary British newspapers reported that Catesby, introduced to Court by Lord Carteret (one of the Lords Proprietors of the Carolina Colony), personally presented a copy to Her Majesty Queen Caroline. That Catesby and his book about the natural history of North America merited this personal introduction to the Queen Regent was exceptional, as was the praise the book received: “… a Work superior to any Thing of the Kind” being one comment. Dr Cromwell Mortimer, the Secretary of the august Royal Society of London, went so far as to claim that Catesby’s Natural history … was “the most magnificent Work I know of, since the Art of Printing has been discover’d.” The superb copy which Mortimer owned, bound in full russia with his armorial design stamped in gold on the covers, is today in the Smithsonian Institution’s library.


Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society©.

Carolina Parakeet and Bald Cypress. Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society©.

Mark Catesby continued to draw and design, etch and colour, and write for 18 more years until his book was completed in two volumes, each with 100 plates, and with an appendix of another 20 plates. It was no pocket-book: the pages of bound copies measure around 52cm × 35cm (more than 20ins tall, by 12ins across).

Born in 1683, Mark Catesby grew up in the east of England. His father was at one time mayor of Sudbury, a market town situated about 50 miles (as the crow flies) north-east of London. Mark inherited houses and land in Sudbury, as well as

Digital realization or original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

Cashew. Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

houses in London, after his far died in November 1703. Thus he was truly a “gentleman of small fortune” and this legacy surely enabled him totravel to Virginia in 1712 in the company of his older sister, Mrs Elizabeth Cocke. That first visit sparked Catesby’s enthusiasm for exploring the natural history of North America, and by the time he returned to

Digital realization or original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

Magnolia Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

England in 1719, he was already lauded as “a very ingenious gentleman” and had been labelled “that curious Botanist … of Virginia”. Plants raised from the seeds Catesby had sent to nurserymen were blooming in London gardens by 1715.

Although somewhat elusive, Mark Catesby’s links after 1728 with several parishes situated on the eastern side of London indicate that that was where he set up home with his partner Elizabeth Rowland. Between April 1731 and December 1737 the couple had four children, but, unconventionally, they did not get married until October 1747. Mark died “at his House behind St Luke’s Church” on Old Street, London, on 23 December 1749.

Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.

Bobolink and rice. Digital realization of original etchings by Lucie Hey and Nigel Frith, DRPG England; courtesy of the Royal Society ©.


Mark Catesby’s sumptuous Natural history … was  never intended as a “popular” book. The handiwork of one curious and ingenious man, it was grand in execution and ground-breaking in conception.

© E. Charles Nelson

Ten Fingers Touching & Victorian Fairy Tales

I wanted to let you all know about a real treasure of a book I recently came across. It’s called Ten Fingers Touching. What makes it unique is that it’s a fable for everyoneEllen Roth spins a tale that has excitement for adults and kids alike. The illustrations by John Blumen are breathtakingly beautiful.



I love that Roth is reviving a tradition of story-telling that we’ve only recently lost. From the most ancient times when tribal people gathered around their fires, to the Brothers Grimm, and throughout the 1800’s, we grownups were expected to enjoy these kinds of stories as much as the little ones did.

Here’s the trailer.

This became even more apparent with my next pick, Victorian Fairy Tales. I started reading this merely because I do love a good fairy tale. But these were extraordinary.

If you liked the Princess Bride, the kind of story with a plot that twists and turns unexpectedly — and always with a droll sense of humor — you will LOVE this book. After I got through a few stories, I had to research the writers.


Imagine my surprise when they were written by the likes of Oscar Wilde, W.M. Thackeray, and Rudyard Kipling. These aren’t just tales, they are literature. Michael Newton, the editor, does a fabulous job of explaining the role of fairy tales in society, their evolution, and puts together a wonderful volume filled with original illustrations. Who knew Thackeray was originally an artist? His story, The Rose and the Ring, was one of my favorites.


Isn’t this a gorgeous cover? I hope to interview Ross, Blumen, and Newton  in the upcoming months. Stay tuned.

There’s no reason for us to always be so serious and to discount little gems like these. Besides, don’t even we adults need a little fairy magic in our lives? Both books are now on sale. So, enjoy, dear ones, and above all, keep reading!