Finding Momo in Tempe


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How many hundreds have books been written about dogs by the people who love them? It seems like everyone who has ever had a dog has written a book, or at least a story or a poem, about him, but that turns out not to be true. Stanley Coren estimates in Psychology Today that there are at least 725 million dogs on the planet, so the percentage of people who publish accounts of their dogs is actually rather small. The percentage of dogs who allow strangers to fondle them on book tours is arguably even smaller.

One such productive human is Andrew Knapp who has made a playful hide-and-seek photography book called Find Momo about his patient dog. While Momo is not as adept at hiding as is Waldo, he is at least 100 times cuter. He’s also real, a real border collie to be exact, and he enjoys peeking out from hiding places while Andrew takes his portrait. In some of the pictures he is easy to find, in others not so easy to find.

It all began innocently enough when a man adopted a dog (hear how it changed his life in his TEDx talk here). Andrew, like anyone with a camera (or iPhone) and a dog put the two together. Noticing that when he played stick with Momo the dog preferred to hide rather than bring the stick back, he decided to take pictures of his hard-to-see pooch when he was hiding. What started as a game became an urban landscape project in Ontario and then became a voyage of discovery, actual and metaphorical (really, listen to the TEDx talk, it’s inspiring). Andrew began posting his photos of Momo on Instagram, where he now has more than 150,000 followers, and created a website for the project. Now he has made his first book, and the second is in development.

Andrew and Momo stopped at Changing Hands Bookstore in nearby Tempe recently during their book-tour and I took the opportunity to go and meet a pooch I felt I already knew from his on-line personality. Both he and Andrew turned out to be as delightful in person as they seem on the screen and the page. I arrived in time for the Q & A, and Momo was already working the crowd as Andrew met fans and signed copies of his book for them. Andrew KnappI have not been to many book-signings, and I learned a couple of things from this one. First, get there at the appointed time. If you’re 20 minutes late you’ll miss most of the content. Second, get there on time, if you’re 20 minutes late there will be no books left. Third, if you have to be 20 minutes late, go anyway because it’s a lot of fun to meet other people who like the same authors and books you do. It was great fun to watch Momo play with anyone who asked – as stars go, he is decidedly accessible: Momo, his toy, his book momo's little fan fallsmomo and fans-001Louise and Momo-006This one shows Momo doing what he likes to do best: hide! momo hidesIf you’ve enjoyed meeting Momo and visiting his sites, you might also like to know about Maddie the Coon Hound, whose human, Theron Humphrey, photographs her upon things. What a delight it was to discover that Momo and Maddie are acquainted. In this photo taken by Andrew Knapp and/or Theron Humprey you can see each dog doing what s/he does best.

There are a lot of dogs, and a lot of books about dogs. The happy news is that there’s always room for one more good one.

Not Enough of Most Things, Too Much of Some


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Food Bank. What pops into your head when you hear those words? For me it’s an image of a small room, probably part of a church or social agency, shelves lining the walls laden with boxes and tins of food, some dusty, some out-of-date. In my imagination it’s open a few days a month, and a stream of hungry people trudge in and out, arriving empty-handed and leaving with a brown paper bag of food. Other more fortunate people have bought extra when they did their own marketing and dropped it off, or a local group had a food drive and donated the gleanings to the Food Bank, or someone cleaned out her cupboards and got rid of unwanted items.

Well no, Expatriate. That’s not quite how it is. You may remember reading about the great fun we have picking fruit for the food bank on winter Fridays. It was the subject of a post here at just about this time last year. This year a group of us pickers had the great good fortune to be given a tour of the United Food Bank (for whom we pick), an operation that is almost the exact opposite of my imagined picture.

Here we are outside the United Food Bank warehouse. Yes, you read that correctly, warehouse.

United Food Bank Tour

The United Food Bank serves almost one-quarter of the state of Arizona:

United Food Bank Tour service area

It was organized in 1983 as a joint venture among East Valley cities and their respective United Ways to gather and distribute food to organizations; today they serve upwards of 200 food banks in the region. They do not distribute food to individuals from this warehouse, but instead organize and ship it to those who do.

Here is Melissa, one of only about twenty-four paid employees who handle this large business. She is explaining to us why our fruit-picking operation is in jeopardy (I’ll tell you later).
United Food Bank Tour melissa explains Some of the astonishing facts she told us are:

1. 1 in 5 Arizona residents lives in poverty, 1 in every 4 children under the age of 18 lives in poverty (Arizona is tied as the worst state in the union when when it comes to child hunger, and the 5th worst for overall food insecurity rates).

2. 1 in 4 children, 1 in 5 adults, and 1 in 7 seniors in Arizona struggle with hunger.

3. More than 888,000 individual Arizonans receive emergency food assistance every year.

4. United Food Bank distributes over 51,100 meals every single day of the year through its affiliated food banks.

5. That works out to almost 1.5 million pounds of food every month, which are some 500,000 pounds fewer than the need.

6. The greatest influx of assistance to the Food Bank comes in November and December. The greatest need occurs in the summer, when the children do not receive a daily meal at school.

Speaking of school, the Food Bank has a terrific program called the Backpack Program. It was developed when the FB discovered that many children had nothing to eat between school meals on Friday and Monday. Each backpack is filled with nutritional food that is child-friendly, non-perishable, and easily prepared. The schools identify the children at greatest risk of weekend hunger, and invite them to take home a full backpack on Friday and return it empty when they come back to school on Monday.

United Food Bank Tour backpack program

Where does the food come from, I hear you ask. A variety of sources. Some is donated by food companies and stores:

United Food Bank Tour palette of food-001

Some comes from food drives run by Scouts, Churches and so forth:

food drive box

And a lot is flat-out purchased by the Food Bank. United Food Bank is a member of Feeding America, a national organization. Using the leverage of large purchasing, Feeding America and its affiliates are able to buy large quantities of food from producers at greatly reduced prices.  In fact, this poster illustrates a startling fact:

United Food Bank Tour what $1 will do

That’s right! The Food Banks are able to cobble together 5 meals from a $1 donation. Amazing, especially when you consider that you and I pay .79 for just a liter of water at the supermarket.

You might be wondering how a mere 20 or so employees can move such a vast quantity of food over such a large area. The anwer: volunteers.  Here are two, who scampered off before I could get their names:

United Food Bank Tour volunteers

Other volunteers come courtesy of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his infamous Tent City (not all reviews of Tent City are as negative as the one I’ve linked to). We saw several inmates in their signature pink skivvies and striped suits, but I was asked not to photograph them (I really wanted to). Last year volunteers provided over 51,000 hours of work, equivalent of another 25 full-time employees.

When the food comes in it is stored in either the regular warehouse:

United Food Bank Tour warehouse

or in the cold storage room:

United Food Bank Tour cold storage-001Then ‘orders’ from the various food banks are put together on palettes ready to be delivered (the pink slips identify the food bank recipient):

United Food Bank Tour waiting to be delivered

The trucks that pick up food from large suppliers reload and take the palettes off to the local food banks:

United Food Bank Tour colorful truck

United Food Bank Tour loading docks-001

Remember up above I mentioned that the fruit-picking program is in jeopardy? Here’s the reason:

United Food Bank Tour bad fruit-002

Bad fruit! That’s right, just as the old saw says, one bad apple, or in this case grapefruit, spoils the whole carton. Our group is extremely careful to put only perfect fruit into the boxes. One little puncture and the fruit is useless. Our pickers look at each piece, and a team of checkers stays at the bins and re-examines every piece. That is why one of our team leaders, Bev, is so proud of the boxes of fruit we pick, which do NOT look like the fruit above. Here she is with one of the six bins of fruit we picked.

United Food Bank Tour Bev and some of our boxes

You might imagine that having a bad carton of fruit is a pity and a waste, but not such a big deal. Magnify it by many cartons and it becomes a big deal. The cartons alone cost about $25, and if there’s rotten wet fruit in them, they are ruined and have to be discarded. Then there’s the problem of the bad fruit. Last year it cost the food bank $18,000 to have the bad fruit trucked away and discarded. That is money they would have far preferred to put into meals.

There’s also the question of quantity. There is simply a lot more grapefruit in the Valley than the food banks here can use. Another food bank is working with a local juicer to turn excess fruit into delicious juice. The drawback is that the juicer will work only with professional gleaners, not with volunteers (I imagine it might have something to do with quality control). So far United Food Bank is working only with volunteer pickers.

Up until last year our United Food Bank, through Feeding America, was able to send our excess fruit north to Washington and Oregon in exchange for their excess apples and potatoes. Unfortunately the Arizona citrus has been attacked by a scale disease which is not yet present in the northern states – and they don’t want it. As a precaution they are no longer accepting our excess fruit.

So you can see, the whole thing is very complex. As a casual observer it seems to me that United Food Bank is doing a superb job at getting as much food as possible out to the people who need it the most. The sad fact of the matter is that there are more hungry people in Arizona (and in the rest of America, too) than there is food to feed them. Here, in pie charts (what could be more appropriate?) is a breakdown of income and expenses for UFB:

United Food Bank Tour pie charts

I asked Melissa what was the more useful contribution, food or money. Both, she said, although the money is more flexible.  Some of each is certainly a winning combination. The most needed items in food banks (in addition to cash) are: peanut butter, canned meat, canned fruit and veggies, cereal (whole grain and low sugar preferred), soups, stews, chili, beans, pasta and rice, and milk, either canned or dried.

So it turns out my preconceptions of what a food bank is and does were pretty wrong. There’s nothing sad about it – it’s positive for the people who work and volunteer at food banks, it’s positive for the people who donate food and money, and most of all, it’s positive for the food recipients. Often it is the catalyst that helps them get back on their feet after a run of bad luck. For a hungry child it might provide the zip to do better in school and, therefore, in life itself. If you want to find a food bank near you (if you’re in the U.S.) where you can either volunteer or drop off a bag of food or a check, you can find one here.

Just a humorous note to end. Like every large organization, United Food Bank has Rules and Regulations, especially in the warehouse area where forklifts are zipping back and forth. As in other matters, they are very organized, posting all the rules on a Wall of Don’ts. I don’t know why it amused me so, but it did. Do not pass go! Do not collect $200!

United Food Bank Tour wall of no-no's

PS – thanks to the United Food Bank brochures for facts, figures and concise language describing their programs, which I have shamelessly copied.

Making Mozarella


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Cheese.  It’s one of the things I miss the very most about Italy when we are not there. Cheese has always been one of my major food groups (others: vegetables, fruit, rice-bread-potatoes, and chocolate; I believe that adds up to the requisite five). We are spoiled in Italy – the Italian Cheese book put out by Slow Food (edited by Rubino, Sardo and Surrusca) describes 293 different kinds of cheese. Granted some of these are kissin’ cousins: add a little smoke to fresh mozzarella and you have smoked mozzarella, two different cheeses but close relatives. Still, you can eat a different cheese every day in Italy and not run out for almost a full year.

Speaking of mozzarella, it is the comfort food of the cheese world.  Soft, not really bland but not challenging, it goes with everything. On its own with a bit of oil, salt and basil it is the perfect first course. Mix it into pasta, make a sandwich, put cubes of it in your salads, make pizza – there’s little that is not improved by the addition of fresh mozzarella.

Photo courtesy of Woodstock Water Buffalo Company

Photo courtesy of Woodstock Water Buffalo Company

Sad to say it is almost impossible to find it here in the States (unless you live near Quebec). And when you do find it, it is generally shrink-wrapped with a token amount of liquid, not swimming in the briny water it prefers. Store-bought mozzarella here is of dubious age and provenance, not like Italy where we know it has come from very nearby, unless it is mozarella di bufala – then it is made from the milk of water buffalos (see the winsome face above) from ‘the south’ - Campania, Lazio, Apulia or Molise.

Map courtesy of

Map courtesy of

What to do about this sad lack in our lives? You already know the answer – we decided to make our own. Thanks to Emma Christensen’s delightful website thekitchn we discovered that mozzarella is not only easy to make, it’s FUN to make. Basically all you need is a gallon of milk, some citric acid and rennet (readily available online) and about an hour.

making mozarella

The hardest part of the exercise for Speedy and me was getting the temperatures right; but evidently we didn’t do too bad a job. In the photo above you see the milk, to which has been added the citric acid and rennet, coming up to temperature. Curds and whey are already forming – this so so much fun!

making mozarella-001

Once the curds had clumped up we separated them from the whey (Emma suggests using whey for bread-making, soups, smoothies and so forth) and… microwaved them! I know – we were really surprised too, but it turns out to work very well. We had to bring the cheese up to an interior temperature of 135 F in order for it to become elastic.

making mozarella-005

After that it was a simple matter of adding salt and ‘kneading’ to make the cheese elastic and glossy.

making mozarella-006

Our finished ‘balls!’ I’m not sure why ours flattened out so much. Perhaps we left too much whey in, or perhaps we didn’t knead enough – or too little – or perhaps we were off on our temperatures (a new instant thermometer is on the shopping list). In any event, they taste just fine. Maybe not quite as good as what we buy in Liguria… but maybe so.*

Now… what to do with 3 quarts of whey. If only we had a pig…

*Honesty compels me to admit our cheese was a bit strange.  The balls didn’t hold their shape; instead they flattened out into large discs.  The texture of the cheese was denser than we expected, though the flavor was just fine, sweet and rich.  Bottom line: we need to do this again!

A week later and a second try: better, but still not *perfect*.

Hikin’ Dogs

Lola rescue dog-001

Meet Lola, a lovely rescue dog on her very first hike. She was a little worried about the whole thing, but seemed to be enjoying it.

Some hiking friends are with us for the weekend, and we went to the very beautiful, but very crowded, Peralta Trail that leads to Fremont Saddle. It’s not a difficult trail, so it attracts everybody – young people, old people, families. Also it’s a very dog-friendly hike (not a lot of cholla waiting to prick paw pads). My usual hiking buddy doesn’t much enjoy making this trek with me because I HAVE to stop and photograph so many dogs – just can’t resist.

Here’s a small gallery of some of the hikin’ dogs we met today:


This is Lola’s friend, and the one dog whose name I can’t remember (and thought I would never forget because it begins with a ‘Z’). Speedy and I have decided to call him Zanzie.

Frankie and Georgie

Here are Frankie and… no, not Johnnie, Frankie and Georgie.


“You’re speckled!” I said to Ginger, and her human companion said, “Why thank you” – clearly a woman with a good sense of humor.


Pickadilly was the only long-haired dog we saw on this walk.


Key was the last dog we encountered. At 9 weeks she is certainly the youngest hikin’ dog I’ve ever met, and is too irresistable not to include (cross between a Lab and a German Pointer). Hikin’ Dog regulations do not allow inclusion of dogs that are being carried. But though she is not technically a hikin’ dog, her companion assured me she had done some of the trail, just not the steep parts, so she slipped in under the Cute Exemption.

Putting a Face on the Salvation Army



Salvation Army truck

There goes our old sofa! It’s a long story, and not the one I want to tell you today. The one for today is about the people who took away the old sofa – and the matching loveseat, the beat-up computer table, bits and pieces of the old computer, a long-handled kitchen fork and a couple of bags of miscellaneous household goods: The Salvation Army.

If you’re like me, you have a vague sense that the Salvation Army helps people, that its volunteers raise money around Christmas by ringing a bell next to a red kettle into which one may put cash.

Photo courtesy of (Oregon)

Photo courtesy of (Oregon)

Perhaps you’ve visited one of the almost 1,500 thrift stores, looking for bargains or dropping off contributions.  One of those stores is no doubt the destination of the disapearing sofa, etc.

I knew from some volunteer work years ago that the Salvation Army is a ‘front line’ agency – that is, they are there to help people in immediate need: those with no place to go, those who are hungry, those who are in dire straits. The United Way I was with so long ago gave money to the Salvation Army in spite of its being a religious organization because it was front line, and because the work it does can literally save lives.

I also knew from hearsay that the organization is evangelically Christian (Army??) and that it is rigorously conservative, taking a dim few, for example, of homosexuality. Happily, a visit to the Army’s web site suggests that, in spite of their extremely orthodox, conservative and evangelical approach, they are making a concerted effort to be more inclusive, at least in their rhetoric (if you want to know more about the Salvation Army’s history, organization and tenets, click here.  It’s pretty interesting).

Wikipedia tells us “the Salvation Army is one of the world’s largest providers of social aid, with expenditures including operating costs of $2.6 billion in 2004, helping more than 32 million people in the U.S. alone. In addition to community centers and disaster relief, the organization does work in refugee camps, especially among displaced people in Africa. The Salvation Army has received an A- rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy.”

Well, okay.  That’s all interesting. But back to those sofas. Two men came in the “Sally Van” to pick up our no-longer-wanted furniture; meeting them was one of the highlights of my week.

Meet Steve and Scott:

Steve and Scott

We got talking as they shifted our furniture, and Steve mentioned that he had been homeless for ten years.

“How could you be homeless for ten years?” I asked. “Did you lose your job and just couldn’t find another?” He is a bright, organized man, and it just didn’t make sense to me.

“Drugs and alcohol,” he replied.

“Ohhh,” I said, in some embarrassment at being so dense.

“That’s my story too,” said Scott, who volunteers 40 hours a week with the Salvation Army (Steve is now a paid employee).

Steve went on to tell me with justifiable pride that he had just celebrated his fifth anniversary of being ‘clean and sober.’

Scott has been off the streets and sober now for five months.

I wondered aloud what percentage of people who work at the Salvation Army are volunteers like Scott, and what percentage are paid. Scott opined that only about 10-15% of the staff are paid; all the rest are volunteers. And each one has his own story, no doubt. Just here in Phoenix there are ten vans that go out every single day alternating between East Valley and West Valley. Each day they come back to the warehouse chock-a-block full of things like our sofa (on a good day) and our computer desk (on a normal day). That is to say that they will take things for which you might not be able to imagine a use, things that might be a little beat-up and well-used. Some items the volunteers will repair, some will go right into the shops after being cleaned and sanitized, and some are auctioned off to others who will find a use for them.  It is a great way to breathe new life into old things.

But much more than that, it is a new way to breathe new life into a person who has faltered and needs help. I can’t imagine anything more difficult than being addicted to drugs or alcohol, and then being strong enough to recover.  What courage! While one might or might not agree with the religious tenets of the Salvation Army, one can only applaud the work they do saving people like Steve and Scott. Meeting them was a humbling pleasure.

Virga at Sunset



dramatic clouds Gold Canyon-001

Virga, which is very common here in the southwest U.S., is a shaft of rain which evaporates before it reaches the ground. You can see short streaks of it under the lower cloud in the photo above.  The sky is frequently beautiful here in Arizona at sunset, but not usually quite as dramatic as this one. You’ll see it more clearly if you click on the photo. The snail has landed!

La Transumanza (Till the cows come home…)


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Il Secolo XIX calls the transumanza ‘the most spectacular event of the year in the val d’Aveto.’  Not having seen other events there I can’t say if I agree, but this festa, held when the cows are brought down from the high pastures where they’ve spent the summer to the barns and lower land of the valley is charming and fun.

Friends took me with them to Santo Stefano d’Aveto to see the transumanza on a rainy Sunday.  The arrow on the map below points to Santo Stefano; at an elevation of about 3200 feet, ‘low land’ is a relative term.

map of Santa StefanoArrow

We arrived in plenty of time to walk through the small village (population about 1200, probably double that the day we were there) and savor the anticipation. When would the cows arrive??

Not being able to stand the suspense we started walking up the street down which they would come, a walk which provided a sweet view of the town from above.

Santo Stefano from above

We met and chatted with others whose level of excitement matched our own. When would they arrive? When would they arrive? Finally the first outriders appeared, and it quickly became evident that this had as much to do with costume and play-acting as it did with herd movement. All to the good! The horses were buffed, fluffed and bedecked:

be-ribboned horse

well-trimmed horse

The riders, dressed as gauchos, gave the impression they had spent the summer keeping order among the vast herds on the mountain side:


more advance riders

a real gaucho


Then the first cows arrived, festooned with flowers and accompanied by a pair of flowery goats.  Many of them moved to the music of their cowbells, a sound we associate much more with Switzerland than with Italy.  Each bell has a slightly different pitch, making the herd an orchestra of happy random dissonance. With them was a group of people dressed as old-timey farmers, brandishing the antique tools of high meadow agriculture.

cows festooned

people in peasant dress

the cows arrive



And then it was over:


The fact that there were perhaps 50 head of cattle made me suspect that those handsome gauchos had not, in fact, been tending the herd all summer.

The cows continued their procession through the village and disappeared up a winding road on the other side of town.  We did what all sensible people do after so much excitement and activity:

Locanda dei Doria menu

At E18 this huge mid-day meal was a real bargain.  I enjoyed the anti-pasti, followed by the squash stuffed ravioli, veal scallopini with fresh porcini mushrooms and a killer plum tart.

ravioli with pumpkin

Such a large meal calls for a post-prandial stroll, which we took, admiring the shops (closed at that time of day) along the narrow streets of the old part of town. (Santo Stefano, with a rich history, has been inhabited for centuries. Its first written mention is from the 2nd century BCE at the time of a battle between the Romans and the Ligurians. The castello in the center of town dates from 1164.)  At a time when many small towns are dying for lack of occupation, Santo Stefano has cast itself as a center of ‘bio’ food – what we would call organic.  People from a wide radius make the long windy drive up the mountain to buy fresh locally produced cheese (San Sté cheese has been made in the same way by the same families for several centuries), yogurt, eggs, vegetables and at this time of year chestnuts.  My friends staggered out of a small food shop we found open with bags of locally ground flour, fresh ricotta and other delectables.  I brought Speedy a small basket of ricotta, and I have to say, it is the best either of us has ever eaten.

other chestnuts

garlic in market

You can’t have a good festa without some live music.  A trio of musicians was performing (and clearly enjoying themselves) under the covered arcade in front of the shops on the main street.  If you want to see and hear them you can do so here and here.

Is life in a mountain all fun and games?  I would say not. Farming in what is one of the wettest parts of Italy comes with its own particular set of problems, exacerbated by long cold winters.  But we saw plenty of indication that people still farm there, in spite of the influx of holiday homes.

he took goats up the mountain
Maybe you could call this man ‘before.’  He’s clearly serious about his farming – he was just returning from taking the festive goats up the hill to march with the procession of cows.

Then you could call this man ‘after.’  Giorgio Carpanese has lived all of his 84 years in Santo Stefano d’Aveto.  When I asked him if he had seen an awful lot of changes there in his life he just shook his head with a whimsical look and said, ‘Si.  Si.’

Giorgio Carpanese

The Answer



The question was, What is it?

mysteryReader Jay was correct.  This is one in the large bank of umbrella holders in the Palazzo Reale (unfortunately their calendar is not up to date and does not advertise the exhibit we went to see, Jackson Pollock and the Irascibles. Largely borrowed from the Whitney Museum, it was a quite interesting show about the New York School of avant garde artists in the 1940′s, ’50′s and early ’60′s.

Anyway, here is what the whole umbrella ‘stand’ looks like:

umbrella stand Palazzo Reale

The fact that there are few keys and no umbrellas suggests to me that perhaps this was something that seemed like a good idea once, but proved not to be.  In any case, I thought it was interesting, and, in its way, lovely (or at least rhythmic). It certainly seemed appropriate to stare at it for a while after seeing the Pollock exhibit. So I did.


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