Magic in the Cornfield

It has been said that there is magic in a cornfield. One of the world’s largest crops, legend has it that corn originated through the spirits. Easy to grow, easy to harvest, and easy to store, most of us think of corn as a vegetable. It is, but only when eaten on the cob.

The corn plant, a tall grass, is classified as a cereal grain; its’ botanical name is Zea Mays; “zea” meaning “to live,” and “mays” meaning “mother.” The word maize is thought to have evolved from the Taino people of the Caribbean and their word mahiz, which meant “source of life.” This early designation transmuted to the Spanish maiz, and then to the English maize.

Read the rest of the article, featuring my brother’s farm and my book, at

Interview With Southwest Writers

As a member of Southwest Writers, I was happy to give this interview about The Corn Whisperer

What is your elevator pitch for The Corn Whisperer?
In the book, written for children 7-10, young Charlie is apprehensive about visiting his grandfather who lives at a pueblo in New Mexico. However, Grandfather Joe is a storyteller. He tells Charlie ancient legends to help him live a better life in today’s world. And, as a result, Charlie and Grandfather Joe develop a close relationship.

When readers turn the last page, what do you hope they take away from it?
A realization that cultural myths and legends hold universal truths that apply to everyday life. In this trio of stories, the lessons are about becoming self-sufficient, accepting and valuing change, and forgiveness.

To read the rest of the interview, visit Southwest Writers.

Rabbit Stew

In my book, The Corn Whisperer, young Charlie is introduced to some new foods.  In the first story, “The Corn Whisperer,” Grandfather Joe has prepared rabbit stew for dinner.  Perhaps this recipe is similar to the dish that Charlie was hesitant at first to taste. But he wound up eating every bite.

Rabbit Stew

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2-3 pounds of rabbit meat*, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Flour for coating the meat
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch of oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 small cans of green chiles, chopped
  • 6 cups of chicken broth or water
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks

Dredge rabbit meat with flour. Heat oil in large pan until oil smokes slightly. Place meat in hot oil without crowding pan. Using tongs, turn the meat and brown on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.  Turn heat to low and cook onion and garlic until onion is wilted. Raise the heat to medium and stir in oregano and cumin. Add salt and pepper. Cook 2-3 minutes until spIces are fragrant.

Add the browned rabbit meat, green chiles, and chicken broth (or water). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer about two hours. Add potatoes and cook an additional 45 minutes. Serve hot.

*Or substitute mutton, lamb, chicken, beef or pork.


Autumn in New Mexico

Pencil-tall aspen sprinkle gold coins by the roadside,

Clumps and clusters of chamisa burst into radiant chartreuse,

Glistening red ristras hang from porches, eaves, and arches,

Aromas of roasted green chiles infuse balloon-filled skies,

Fields of dazzling orange pumpkins await their next incarnation,

And cords of cedar, piñon, and pine burden pick-up beds.

It’s autumn in New Mexico.


The Corn Whisperer: Finalist in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards

The Corn Whisperer has been named a finalist in the 2017 New Mexico/Arizona book awards in the following categories:

  • juvenile book
  • parenting/family issues book
  • young readers book

What readers are saying about The Corn Whisperer:

  • “This is a touching story about Charlie and his grandfather, both Native American, who bond after the storyteller, Grandfather Joe tells the boy legends from his childhood. It’s heartwarming to watch the boy grow in love and knowledge as their relationship develops.”  –Jan
  • “The well-researched and authentic stories are an easy read for children. Includes an afterword and sources.” –LWG
  • “Wonderful book that captures the feel of the Southwest and the feel of childhood. Houser brings care and warmth to these native-based stories of life close to nature.” –Robert

Have you read The Corn Whisperer? Add your review to the above on Amazon.


A Tradition Kept for 305 Years

On September 8-10, 2017, the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico, will honor a promise made over 300 years ago. General Don Diego de Vargas’s skillful negotiations with the Indians in 1692 resulted in an agreement that would allow the colonists to return home to Santa Fe after 12 years in exile. De Vargas gave credit to La Conquistadora, the oldest statue of the Virgin Mary in the United States, for her role in the intercession and promised she would be remembered each year. But the promise wasn’t fulfilled until 1712 when the first City Council of Santa Fe issued the Proclamation of Santa Fe Fiesta. Signed by nine individuals, the Proclamation established the event that honors the colonists’ return to Santa Fe―a tradition that has been kept for 305 years.

Fiesta officially begins at 6:00 a.m. on September 8 at Rosario Chapel, the site where―in 1693―De Vargas and the exiled colonists camped outside the city walls, waiting to enter the city. A mass is held and the mayor of Santa Fe reads from the original 1712 Proclamation, which calls for religious ceremonies, celebration, and thanksgiving to La Conquistadora.

Throughout the weekend, the historic plaza showcases Santa Fe’s rich cultural heritage―an open-air fine arts and craft market, traditional foods, and dances that include Pueblo Indian dances, Mexican folk dances, mariachi dances, and matachine dances.

On the morning of September 10, a solemn procession―carrying an image of La Conquistadora―makes its way from the historic Palace of the Governors to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi where a mass is held.

The fiesta comes to a close on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. at the cathedral with a mass of thanksgiving followed by a candlelight procession. Participants wind their way from the cathedral through downtown streets to the top of the hill where luminarias light the way to the Cross of the Martyrs.

Smokey Bear Has Two Birthdays!

Around the country, people celebrate Smokey Bear’s birthday twice each year―in May and, again, in August.

It was in May 1950 when a burned bear cub was rescued from a raging forest fire in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, New Mexico. After recovering from his injuries, he joined the poster bear―Smokey Bear―in the fire prevention campaign that began in August, 1944.

The campaign was in response to an urgent need to preserve our forests and protect our resources, especially during World War II. Lumber was needed for building battleships, bombers, PT boats, and barracks. Lumber was necessary for making rifles, gliders, and other military uses. But forest fires had claimed thousands of acres of timber and robbed the military of man hours required to fight fires.

Because California’s forests were vulnerable to enemy fire, the Pacific Coast Advertising Club and Ad Council founder, Don Belding, with offices in Los Angeles, had initiated a fire prevention campaign in 1941. Along with radio and television advertising, the council also designed fire prevention posters. But the first posters were dark and war-like in appearance. The public reacted negatively.

Walt Disney was then asked to create an educational, but appealing, poster for fire prevention. Disney produced a Bambi poster with the notation, “Please Mister, Don’t Be Careless.”  This poster was widely accepted and displayed in schoolrooms, public places, and on billboards. But since the Bambi image was only on loan from Disney, there were copyright issues. A new image was needed to represent fire prevention―a stronger forest animal.

On August 4, 1944, a meeting was held at the Department of Agriculture Building in Washington D.C., and a new fire prevention symbol was chosen―a bear. A well-known animal artist, Albert Staehle, created a poster that depicted a bear throwing water on a campfire.  His sketches were approved, but the bear was said to lack emotional appeal. More discussion ensued.

Richard Hammatt, the director of the Wartime Forest Fire Prevention Campaign, suggested naming the bear “Smokey Bear.” Bill Bergoffen recommended dungarees and became known as “the man who put the pants on Smokey.” Now, the bear had personality. Staehle completed the poster―adding the dungarees, a ranger hat, and the tag line “Smokey Says―Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires.”

And that is why Smokey Bear celebrates his birthday in May and, again, in August.


Growing My Own Corn

In addition to the books listed under Story Sources at the back of The Corn Whisperer, I found these two books to be quite informative and useful to the blogs on my website.
Coming from Midwestern corn farmers, the author weaves in personal antidotes with the history of corn. Fussell traveled through South America and across the United States researching this ancient grain and its impact on western civilizations. Ms. Fussell spent considerable time in the Southwest, documenting the role of corn in myth, religion, and culture.
According to the authors, in 1920 there were about 48,000 Native American farmers in the United States. By 1982, there were about 7,000 and today, even fewer.  Mirabal and Zink are making a concentrated effort to revitalize pueblo agriculture at Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. They plan to grow corn in an effort to protect water rights at the pueblo and to start a movement to protect the traditions and religious practices related to corn.
This manual provides step-by-step guidelines for growing corn― the pueblo way―beginning with selecting the seeds through harvesting the corn. Included are songs for singing up the corn and calling for the rain.
After reading these books, I felt inspired to grow Indian corn myself.  On May 26th (the day following the New Moon) I planted corn kernels in three large pots on my patio. I’m enjoying tending the plants and watching their growth.

Quarai National Monument

One of my favorite day trips is to the Quarai National Monument. Situated between the Manzano Mountains to the west and endless turquoise skies to the east, Quarai is a quiet, austere reminder of New Mexico’s early history.
Around 1300 AD, prehistoric Pueblo Indians established the village of Quarai next to flowing springs and salt-filled lakebeds only a day’s journey away. They raised corn and other grains along with squash and beans. When Europeans arrived in the late 1500s, they found a thriving village of 600-800 people―an ideal location for Spanish missionaries to settle and convert the Indians. A mission church was built in 1626 alongside a kiva where indigenous people were allowed to practice their own traditions along with the new Christian religion. But over time, a combination of drought, disease, famine, and waring Apaches caused the population to dwindle. And by the late 1670s, the village had been completely deserted.
A weathered, metal marker standing next to the forsaken stone church reads:
. . . for three years no Crops have been harvested. Last year a great many Christian Indians starved, left dead along the roads in the ravines and in their huts. There were towns like Las Humanas where more than 450 starved. Now the same Calamity still prevails, for in the whole kingdom there is not a bushel basket of corn, nor of wheat to be had at any price.
                                                            Friar Juan Bernal, April 1, 1669
Quarai is one of the three Salinas Pueblo Missions managed by the National Park Service. The nearest town is Mountainair, New Mexico. 

Corn Dances

Most of the New Mexico pueblos hold dances throughout the year. There are summer dances and winter dances. There are fall dances and spring dances. But all corn dances speak to the rain because rain mediates between sun and earth―the father and mother of corn.
The schedule for dances at various pueblos is available at the Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico,  or the New Mexico Tourism Department.
When visiting a pueblo, be respectful of the community―as if you were entering a stranger’s home.
  • Call ahead to make sure the dances will be open to visitors.
  • At most pueblos, photography is prohibited. Some require a permit.
  • Obey all posted signs.
  • Do not enter a kiva. Do not climb on walls, structures, or ladders.
  • Do not bring alcohol, drugs, firearms, or pets into the pueblo.
  • Silence is mandatory during all tribal dances and ceremonies. Dances are religious ceremonies, not performances. Therefore, applause is not appropriate.
  • Do not enter a home unless you are invited. If food is offered, be gracious and accept the invitation, but do not linger.
  • Limit questions about religion, culture, or traditions. Some information cannot be shared with the public.
  • Do enjoy the experience. You can feel the earth’s vibrations from the dancers’ pounding feet, hear the rhythmic sounds of chanting and drumming, smell the aromas of bread baking in outdoor ovens, and savor stews and tacos.