Restaurant Review: Big Earl’s in Cave Creek, AZ

Watch for this sign on the South side of the road.

Big Earl’s Greasy Eats doesn’t sound like a place you want to spend two seconds, much less eat lunch, but you’ll be missing a great lunch if you don’t pull up to the converted gas station and enjoy a meal.  Full address: 6135 East Cave Creek Road
Cave Creek, AZ 85331

Big Earl’s is in Cave Creek, Arizona. It’s cleverly located on Cave Creek Highway, about three miles north of Carefree Highway. Yes, that Carefree Highway. The restaurant is about 10 miles north of state highway 101, which is a freeway surrounding Phoenix. Out here we call it “the 101” It’s a Western thing.

It’s hard to miss Big Earl’s because the tent-like roof is bright red, as are the seats and the old gas pumps. You walk into what used to be the station and the menu is about what you’d expect–hamburgers, shakes, fountain drinks. You can eat greasy,  but you can get a great low-cholesterol lunch. Incidentally, Big Earl’s serves a garden burger and a number of salads, so take a vegetarian to lunch.

Try the buffalo burger. Buffalo meat is low in cholesterol and has a good umami flavor. You can get cheese, onions, tomatoes and lettuce in any combination you like. The fries to have with this are sweet potato fries. Crisp and hot, but not greasy, the sweet potato fries are a great mix of sweet and savory. It’s a frequent stop for motocryclists, which is how I got there. There’s always a friendly conversation to have and new people to meet under the red roof.

While the food is consistently good, what I love about Big Earl’s is that I have never had anything except polite, fast service. Even in the heat. Even with a big rush. The patio and the inside is always clean. It’s a fun place to eat–and I know they serve breakfast, although I’ve never been in Cave Creek that early in the morning.

The old gas pumps are still on the patio, but you won't get gas here. Not with this menu.

Cave Creek is a stop on the way to great hiking, two lakes with breath-taking views and shopping at some of the most interesting places to shop, even if you’ve lived in Arizona for your whole life.

Quinn McDonald is a motorcycle rider, writer and trainer.

Taking an Art Class to Sharpen the Saw

Even artists take art classes. You can’t create and teach your brains out without re-filling the well. Or, as a friend of mine calls it, sharpening the saw.

Why do you need to take a class? Learning something new is a good reason. But there are other great reasons to take an art class. You can see the world through the eyes of the instructor–which can be a whole new view. You get to meet other people who are also open to learning–my idea of the best people to meet! You get to try something without fear of failing,

Mediterranean aloe, maybe a yucca, but a desert flower in any case.

competition, or being wrong. You get to relax and play. And most of us don’t play enough.

Artists who teach need to take classes to relax, to be on the other end of the desk, to see a new palette, a new view. Having fun in a class also makes an instructor aware what it’s like to be in class. Just as everyone who has a guestroom should spend the night in that room, every artist who teaches should take a class.

This week, I’m taking a three-day watercolor class. I’ve had some bad experiences in water-color classes,  largely due to me. I once chose a class for experienced watercolorists because the instructor told me they worked a lot alone, and he could help me begin. It was a big mistake. He really wanted to help the advanced students (completely understandable) and when students walked around, they looked in horror at my inexperienced mess. “Do less, do less!” the instructor said, as he breezed by. Once he looked at my color mess and said, “Who’s winning? You or the paint?” I didn’t know there was supposed to be a winner. After three classes, I decided that it was a bad situation for both of us.

Another class was for college students, and we spent the first three hours studying the color wheel. Appropriate for the people in the class, but not for me, who has been friends with the color wheel for years.

So when Alice Van Overstraeten gave three, two-hour classes at Jerry’s Artarama in Tempe, (classes are on August 28, 30 and September 1, 2010), I signed up. I love Alice’s easy approach. Nothing is a mistake. Anything can be worked in, worked

Three imaginary flowers. Not Rudbekia, not echinachea, just flowers.

out, worked over, or adapted. She’s full of energy, and in yesterday’s class offered to demonstrate for each person, personally, right at their table, on any image they had chosen from the huge pile she brought in. (That’s a lesson in teaching in itself!) That’s a lot of work, but Alice’s technique works well because she focuses not on details, but on the overall impression of the subject.

In the first class, I chose florals. I like them because I do a lot of nature journaling, and don’t want to do a botanical rendering. Catching the color, the mood is perfect. I also tried a chicken. It’s hard to do just enough chicken to look like a chicken without too much. Less is more.

The watercolors in this post are the ones I did in the class. I’m not looking for perfection, just relaxing into a new technique. I can’t wait for the other two classes!

–Quinn McDonald is an artist and raw-art journaler. Her book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art will be published in June, 2011 by North Light Books.

Journal Pages: Look Up, Look Down

Look up and see, in that big blue sky, a hot-air balloon.

Keeping a journal doesn’t mean you have to spill your guts every day. Nor does keeping a journal mean you have to be profound, or have a life-changing “Aha!” moment, and record it. And, if you believe in the power of raw art like I do, keeping a journal doesn’t mean you have to gather pounds of cutting, trimming, shaping equipment and pre-printed photographs, stamps, and assemble a pleasing, pre-processed image.

Raw art is about your life at any one moment. It opens doors to ideas and creativity.One of my favorite techniques when I’m taking a walk in the morning is to change my view–I look up and see what’s happening in the sky or in the trees.

Surprising blossoms, unusual birds, interesting cloud patterns all make looking up  worthwhile. While most walkers keep their eye firmly ahead of them, I find it interesting to look up and look down.

Yesterday when I looked up, there was a hot air balloon floating in mid-sky. It was the familiar Re-Max and I wondered if it was carrying clients for a view of their new neighborhood.

There on the sidewalk are cracks that create interesting shapes, accidental mosaics of cracked pottery, interesting patterns in hard-water stains. Or in this case, elegant calligraphy that could be the number 388  or 3W. It doesn’t matter, the graceful curves are beautiful.

You can use your journal to wonder about what you have seen, or to take off to find a new meaning–what would it mean to

Look down and see graceful sidewalk calligraphy.

look at your life by flying over it? Or what is ordinary but gracefully curved in your life? But it’s also perfectly fine to simply record the small joys you find by looking up and looking down.

—Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who keeps a raw-art journal.

Your Information is the New Money

Websites promise riches. Image from:

Information has always been power. Now it’s money, too. You get an invitation to a meeting. You’d like to go, but in order to accept, you have to sign up and join a website, check the box that allows them to send you “information” –which turns out to be spam. You read an article, want to comment, but before it gets posted, you have to sign up for a blog, even though you already have one on another system.

Why do all these places want you to sign up and join? It’s not to put the “social” in media. It’s to get your information. Why? Because information available through cookies (small pieces of software placed on your computer without your permission) is gold to marketers. Big marketing companies gather tiny pieces of information on you. All the time. If you are on your computer, your moves are tracked. What websites you visit, how long you stay there, how many pages you look at, what you look at on a page. The marketing companies correlate this information–they know your age, your birthdate (you put that on Facebook, remember?) where you live (you allowed that on Twitter, remember?), what size clothing and shoes you wear, where and how often you travel, how much you spend shopping online. If you don’t care about your privacy, they also have hundreds of photos of you, the name and type of your pets, what your pets eat, what you eat, how you spend your time.

If you have a grocery or drug store discount card, the companies gather what you buy and how often, how much money you spend on each transaction. This is combined with your photos, age, clothing size and address. The data mining companies also have your pets, their names, what you feed them, what accessories you buy for them. Gathered in one package, they may well know more details about you than most of your friends.

So who cares? This information about you is packaged and sold. The ads that appear on your computer are not accidental, they are targeted to you. When I switched my birthdate to my moms, I no longer got Uggs boots ads, I got ads for pharmacy coupons and diabetic equipment information. (Yep, my mom was diabetic.)  That means the internet is no longer wide open and to take you where you want to go, it means you are guided and fed information the marketing companies think you should see.

The common belief that everything on the internet should be free has been replaced with the idea that information can be monetized–someone is making money from your information and your choices.

It may not bother you, but it bothers me. First of all, my private information is just that–private. If I want to take part in surveys, it’s one thing, but having a marketing company in my computer is another. But the second part is actually what bothers me more–monetizing information means that the people who have money get the information. The bigger the company, the more money, the less privacy you have from pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and marketers.

You apply for insurance and are denied. They don’t have to tell you why, but they know it’s because you have a pit bull and haven’t purchased a muzzle. Or have bought a lot of alcohol in the last six months. Or have a prescription for a pain medication that isn’t corroborated on your medical records.

The other part of the worry is that in this economy people who need cash are willing to monetize their blogs, tweets, and Facebook. That means writers are being asked to write marketing material for nothing–they get paid by how many people visit a product site from their blog, or by how many people purchase a product. That means the writing is discounted, but the result is paid for. What writing wouldn’t be tempted to lie a little or to say things they don’t really believe to get the reader to click over? That translates to raising the “really?” level from marketing writing to all writing.

It’s not a good direction. I think J.C. Penny’s paying kids to post haul videos, grocery product companies paying people to say good things about their product is turning us all into marketing writers, shilling for a buck. It turns friendship into a selling opportunity and friends into money generators. It makes me feel queasy because I don’t like the idea of monetizing friendship and I like it even less to think that the people with the most money will have access to information I didn’t want to sell.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who trains people to communicate more clearly.

The Long March of Walking Meditation

Around the world once. That’s how far I’ve walked. Before your eyebrows shoot up and you wonder why you haven’t read about it, let me add that it took me 30 years to walk that distance.  And I didn’t walk around the world at the equator (that distance is about 24,900 miles) but considerably north of the equator when I lived in New England and Washington, D.C.

I walk every day that isn’t icy, every day I’m not sick. Sometimes 3 miles, sometimes 6, occasionally 2 miles. Having had a healthy life, I’ve walked over 22,500 miles in 30 years.

Every morning, before I do anything else, I brush my teeth in the dark, put on sweats and head out to walk. Sometimes, the constellation Orion keeps me company, sometimes it’s Bootes (the herder).  I’ve seen skunks amble two feet in front of me. I’ve seen an owl snatch up a rabbit, the only noise being the sudden rush of air pushed out of the lungs as the owl struck.

I’ve walked crying from loneliness or sadness, and in deep joy. Much of my creative work and ideas happen while I walk.  In the beginning, I’d tape radio shows and carry a tape player the size of a brick to listen to A Prairie Home Companion in its infancy. (Note to you youngsters: This was in the days of dinosaurs, pre iPod, iPhone, and ear buds. My earphones were the size of half grapefruits.)  The more I walked, the more I came to value silence. I’ve listened to sacred music, hard rock, audio books, and finally, nothing.

I’ve tried walking in groups, with dogs, with a walking buddy. But it comes down to a recognition of the truth of life–you are alone.  So I walk alone, listening to my breath, listening for a voice in my heart. For me, prayer is not a petition, it is listening. I haven’t learned much by talking.

It is late August now, and while, for many years, this was the time I’d need a scarf, it is still hot, even early in the morning. But the lingering heat will soon be defeated by the shortening days. I notice the sun rising later, we are losing light at the rate of 3 minutes a day.

It’s a tiny moment in each day that I treasure, that I set the intention for the day and reach for clarity. When my coaching clients tell me they can’t tackle some huge task, I think of walking around the world. And I answer, “You don’t have to do this all at once. Do a tiny bit–the smallest piece you can finish–but do it each day. The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She walks every morning in silent meditation.

Yellow #2 Pencil. . . Sock

OK, OK, I love my pencil. Love it enough to wear a talisman of a pencil in gold and silver around my neck. I’ve seen giant pencils, pencil skirts, pencil notecards, and pencil-thin mustaches. But until Journey sent me this pair, I had never seen a pencil sock before. Complete with graphite-colored toe and eraser-colored top, the pencil sock fits like a glove. Or, ummm, a sock. Or a pencil.  In any (pencil) case, thanks, Journey! It made my day!

What IS a Muse, Anyway?

After the muse swap a few weeks ago, I began to think about the definition of a muse. What are they? Friend or foe? Helpful or distracting? Laurie Doctor, an artist and calligrapher posted this great poem on her website that comes as close to a great answer as I can find:

This Work

My friend, the poet
asked me
what I was doing.
I said, you know,
the visual form
of mumbling, the verbal
version of stumbling.
Leaving my hands
to their own devices,
closing my eyes,
transforming vices
into color and verse
Saying this work is my prayer.

Your muse is the part of your heart (or soul, or spirit) that isn’t influenced by purpose–not by selling you work, or pleasing others, but only by the power of creation. You can certainly re-tune your muse to your purpose, but when your purpose doesn’t match your values, your life’s purpose, stuff goes wrong. That isn’t about your muse. That’s about you.

Another view by the poet William Stafford:–Quinn McDonald is a writer and raw-art journaler. She is publishing a book, Raw Art Journaling–Making Meaning, Making Art, in June of 2011. North Light Books is the publisher.