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Uranium in the China Cabinet

I love glass. And glass seems genuinely attracted to me—especially if it’s radioactive.

When I stumbled upon my first pieces of this strange glass back in the early 90s, I could scarcely believe my eyes. Three nesting bowls glowed fluorescent green from the bottom shelf of a display cabinet in a tiny antique mall booth. I asked to see them and was disappointed when the salesperson handed me an uninteresting set of pale yellow bowls.

“What happened?” I asked, already doubting what I was about to say. “They were glowing.”

What I didn’t know was that the bowls were displayed under an ultraviolet light—you know, the purple bulb that makes your teeth and all the little specks of dust on your shirt luminesce—otherwise known as a black light. The only information the salesperson could give me about the bowls was that they were Vaseline Glass.

I would not purchase the set of bowls on the spot, not that I didn’t want them—desperately. But, I was on a mission. It was mid-December, and I was supposed to be Christmas shopping. I had a long list that did not include my name. The minute I returned home, however, I gave Mr. Lee explicit instructions on where he would find my Christmas present, down to the particular booth and precise location of the display cabinet. “Go now!” I suggested.

Thus began my collection of, and education in, this phenomenal and misunderstood glass. While uranium glass is the correct name, vaseline glass is commonly used. To clarify, only some uranium glass is vaseline glass, dubbed so because of its resemblance to the pale greenish-yellow petroleum jelly product with the same name. But one thing is for certain, all of it contains uranium. I’m told that my china cabinet would most assuredly register on a Geiger Counter.

Should I be worried? That was a concern, especially as the collection grew. I mean, if each piece measures as much as 2% by weight uranium, then what of two shelves full? I’ve learned that these quantities are harmless, especially considering that most pieces these days are for display only. Although, I do admit to having served radioactive mashed potatoes with uranium butter on special occasions.

Vaseline Glass cigarette box in normal daylight

When uranium was first reported in 1789 by a German chemist, it was named after Uranus, the planet well known for being the butt of tasteless childhood jokes—the likes of which you won’t read here.

Rather, I’ll tell you that more than 100 years ago, uranium oxide was being added to glass as a yellow colorant. Back then, unlike mine, china cabinets would not have been rigged with a black light, but the owners of these pieces learned that certain lighting conditions made their pale yellow glass fluoresce. At dusk the sun emits the same ultraviolet light as a black light.

Uranium glass gained popularity between 1880–1920, and continued to be produced until the availability of uranium was sharply curtailed in the United States around WWII.

In 1958 production of uranium glass resumed. American glass manufacturers started filling their existing molds with the radioactive concoction, which explains how the majority of my collection ended up being reproductions from that time period—and, with a decent supply of it still in circulation, you too can start collecting glowing glass from Uranus.

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Verde Canyon Caboose & Fermin


If you have the good fortune to ride the Verde Canyon Railroad from Clarkdale to Perkinsville, and the even better fortune to do it in the Caboose, you’ll likely cross paths with Fermin (pronounced, Fair•meen). He is the knowledgeable, self-proclaimed ex-hippie, caboose butler with whom you’ll spend four solid hours. He’ll point out caves and rock formations and mineral deposits and the house he used to live in until his father-in-law kicked him out and sold the homestead out from under him and even the dirt road he drove down to get there, until you’ll want to scream, “For the love of god, can we have a little peace and quiet around here.”

But you won’t.

You’ll just climb the ladder up into the cupola so you can enjoy a few minutes of serenity, but only a few—Fermin can climb too!

Of course you are happy that he is there, straddling the ladders and pointing out where the same Bald Eagle couple rear their young every year. We’re too late to see them—they generally leave the nest in April.

I should point out that this is a Luxury Caboose ride, where finger food is warmed in “silver” chafing dishes and champagne is served in glass glasses. If you’re wondering how I managed to find myself in this situation, then you don’t know me very well. I am blessed with marvelous good fortune—and a generous sister who invited me to join her family on this fun-filled excursion.

The most important thing to remember about being in a caboose is that when you step out of it there is nothing behind you—nothing but track and wilderness. I suffer from acrophobia, combined with a less common condition characterized by the urge to throw oneself off perfectly good (and safe) standing spots—the back of a caboose for instance. So I always make sure there’s something to hold onto. I don’t know if there’s a name for this disorder, but I’m apparently not be the only one with it. I couldn’t help noticing that there are plenty of things to hold onto on the outside of trains.

Because I announced this affliction at the start of our ride, I wasn’t allowed to leave the caboose without my sister or one of my nieces in attendance. That’s how we all ended up on the very last two feet of a quarter-mile-long train when it entered a surprisingly deep tunnel. To say that it was pitch dark would be a waste of a sentence. The only sounds came from the wheels rolling over the seams on the track and the shifting of the car as it took the gentle curve inside the tunnel. It was like being on an amusement ride—before the thrilling part.

The switchman hands off vital provisions to Fermin

Traveling at a maximum 12mph, it took a couple hours to get to Perkinsville (population: 2?). Just beyond a necessarily long white-painted, black-lettered wood sign announcing the ghost ranch, there was an abandoned bunk house and the remains of the former depot. Also standing, and apparently occupied (by 2?), is the old station master’s house.

There the double engines disconnected, switched onto a parallel track, and backed up to the caboose for the return ride to Clarkdale. On the pass Jason, the switchman, handed Fermin a bag of what would turn out to be ice cream sandwiches. We watched from our private platform as the engines switched tracks and headed straight for us. There’s something not quite right about seeing a more-than-100-ton locomotive approaching. I resisted the urge to throw myself in front of it.

The return ride gave us an opportunity to really take in the amazing scenery. Thanks to the summer rains, the desert was lush and the Verde River was flowing. Of course the rain also stirred up the silt in the river bed, making it a milk-chocolate brown instead of green, as the name would imply. The prickly pears were in abundance. The ocotillo stalks glowed, covered with tiny leaves and topped with red flowers. The sky was turquoise and the canyon magnificent. All of this appreciation of the landscape was of course under the watchful gaze of Fermin.

My sister and I slipped out the back door to have a private discussion regarding the appropriate gratuity for an attentive caboose butler. Alas, we were discovered by the attentive butler, who was suddenly standing behind us, pointing out black walnut trees. We gave in and returned to our caboose, where Fermin was busy showing everyone his rocks. I should clarify here that Fermin had a fine collection of samples of the area’s geology: sandstone, limestone, copper ore, and the waste from mining it.

We rolled back into the depot just before 5pm, having had an enjoyable (and educational) afternoon. I took some measurements and promised to make pajamas for everyone, even Fermin.

* * *

If you want to have a similar experience, go here.

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Willow Lake

Willow Lake at Low Tide

When your creative juices begin to dry up there is only one thing to do. Go for a drive. Usually it’s to Goodwill to check out the kitchen wares or the DAV Thrift Store for art books. But this day it was beginning to rain. So we just drove. Only a few months ago Willow Lake was as full as it’s been in decades, and I’d have been standing in waist-deep (stinky) lake water. Just off the pier, which was grounded, slimy green moss lay stagnant.

Just as we were leaving, the rain really started coming down. I probably begged to stop for a nonfat caramel latte somewhere. They’re best sipped while sitting behind windshield wipers on high speed. We drove some more and ended up, as usual, at the cemetery.



For years I’ve been alternating the same two pairs of summer pajamas. My favorite bottoms are nearly in shreds—mostly because they fit so perfectly, and I love them so very much. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find ready-made pajamas that are nearly as comfortable.

Slightly X-Large

Wait. I know how to sew!

When it finally occurred to me that I could quite handily replicate my perfectly fitting pajama bottoms by making a pattern out of the old ones, I headed to the fabric store for the least expensive 100% cotton I could find.

Despite the fact that I’m pretty good at fabricating one-of-a-kind baby quilts, the knack for tracing a pattern seems to have escaped me. After ruining over a yard of my luxurious fabric, I enlisted the help of an expert—and a commercial pattern. I was in fact so happy with my find that I cut out enough fabric for two.

In less than one hour I had assembled the first pair. It was remarkably easy, and I began fantasizing about making dozens of pajama bottoms to sell on Etsy. The only question was what would I do with all the money?

I ironed and clipped the seams and turned the pants right side out so that I could admire them, which I did—until I noticed that I had missed one important point. Patterns come in different sizes.

Not only are they double wide, but the pants are easily five feet tall.


Yoga, I love you

On Tuesday I arrived  for my first Yoga class—one carefully chosen from a class list of many unpronounceable Hindu words. I arrived a few minutes early, while the previous class was just finishing up. Over a dozen sweaty bodies lay deceased-looking in a room that felt like it was 150 degrees. Maybe, I thought, this Yoga’s not for me after all—it looks hard. I wanted relaxing.

The teacher welcomed us to Joint Therapy and directed me to choose a mat and blanket. One hour and fifteen minutes later I was most definitely relaxed. Joints are vastly under appreciated, you know. For how long can one ponder her ankle? Meditate on her hips? Or breathe into her shoulder? The answer is one hour and fifteen minutes. Each and every joint was acknowledged and, by the end of the session, commended for its selfless service.

I skimmed the list and signed up for Friday’s Restorative Yoga. It sounded safe. However, when I arrived my classmates—three of them—were warming up with back bends and unbelievably long stretches. One was even standing on her head. As the teacher started handing out props (bolsters and extra blankets) I asked if perhaps I was in the wrong class—she knew what I was capable of from Tuesday. She assured me I would be just fine. She was right. I nearly fell asleep in child’s pose.

It turns out most of the classes are suitable for beginners, but it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. I did not, for instance, sign up for Upside Down/Outside In: An Inversion Workshop.

Zucchini Bread and Zuccanoes – Already ?!?

It’s been more than twenty-five years and two major moves since I grew a squash. But I seem to remember it being mid-August before I’d find myself scavenging for zucchini recipes. Not so this year. I’ve been shredding, baking, scooping, stuffing and eating zucchini for days. I attribute it to Jerry’s magic manure.

shredded zucchini

zucchini canoes and stuffing










zucchini loaves










Printable Recipe for Wheat Germ Zucchini Bread


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