Category Archives: Hiking

Gardens, homeschooling, running, Paleo failure, mothering failure (?)

  1.  After eating mostly Paleo for about eight years, it stopped working.  I don’t know what the deal is, but I’ve talked with other Paleo people who have had to switch up their eating habits, as they have started to gain weight, even while eating grain-free, sugar-free, refined-foods-free…  It doesn’t seem fair, but I had to decide to do something different.  After gaining about ten pounds since Jean was born, which put me at 160 lbs — the most I’ve ever weighed, non-pregnant, I started hiking at the end of November.  I went two or three times a week, early in the morning, 3-4 miles at a time.  In that time, I didn’t really change my eating habits.  So, what did that effort net me?  I gained eight pounds.  Ugh.  And, no, it wasn’t muscle.  Well, maybe one pound was muscle.  So, in the last month or so, I started tracking calories — something I’ve NEVER done before — on My Fitness Pal.  I also started running more often, in addition to hiking.  I’m now running or hiking, four or five times a week.  And what has all that tedious tracking and MORE exercise netted me?  A loss of five pounds for the month.  It seems like very little in return for such effort, and I’m still way over the weight at which I feel comfortable.  But, it’s five pounds.  And I ran my first 10K.  That’s 6.2 miles.  I came in last for my age group…  But I finished!  I ran the first four miles (slowly) without stopping, then walked for a minute or two, ran the rest of the fifth mile, and then walked/ran the sixth mile.  One hour, 23 minutes.  I’m running to improve that time, and also hoping to complete the Phoenix Summit Challenge, which is in November.

    So, this photo has a copyright on it.  I'm aware of that.  I *DID* purchase a photo from the photographer, but it won't be delivered for 2-3 weeks, at which time I'll update this with the "real" photo with no watermark.

    So, this photo has a copyright on it. I’m aware of that. I *DID* purchase a photo from the photographer, but it won’t be delivered for 2-3 weeks, at which time I’ll update this with the “real” photo with no watermark.

  2.   Today is the last day of 4th grade and 2nd grade for Audrey and Fiala, respectively.  I’m kind of relieved, and I have a VERY long list of summertime projects from the mundane to the complicated.  Grant, who is in 11th grade, is still doing work, mostly because he didn’t do enough during the school year.  Sigh.  Thanks to the homeschool group that I (very loosely) lead, we have a fabulous end-of-year party tomorrow.  I really stink at planning parties, so I’m pleased that, while I had the idea for the party, other people who are much more skilled than I am are planning it.  Speaking of the homeschool group, we have 210 families who now are members.  THAT IS A LOT OF FAMILIES.  I kind of envisioned 15-20 families, but the group meets a greater need than I knew existed.  We have attended weekly park days, near-weekly field trips, and I lead a (typically small) mom’s night of grading and chatting every week.  And the girls are in piano lessons.  It has been a good year of homeschooling for them, which was my goal.  Tomorrow is my son Wesley’s last day of 9th grade at a local charter school.  It was mostly very successful:  He loves it, but his grades aren’t the best I think they could be.  As long as he finishes the year with a 3.0 or higher (which he almost certainly will), he will most likely be returning in the fall.  “Baby” Jean is no longer a baby:  she will be three years old next month!!  She is bright, full of fun, and VERY active.
    Grant promoted to the rank of Chief in Civil Air Patrol Cadets on Monday.

    Grant promoted to the rank of Chief in Civil Air Patrol Cadets on Monday.


  3. My oldest son, Ethan, who attended Arizona State University on a near-full scholarship this last year, very likely won’t be returning to school in the fall.  From my perspective, this really isn’t a good situation, and I cried for two hours when it all came down.  But, my son is almost an adult, and he’s making more adult-y decisions, and that’s hard when your children don’t choose for themselves what you, as the parent, see as wisest.  But, God is faithful, and Ethan’s times are in His hands, and this is an opportunity for faith on my part, bathed in prayer.  Still, it feels like a failure on my part.  I don’t know if it is, but it FEELS like a failure.
  4. My garden is thriving.  It’s nearing the searing heat of summer, and I’m hopeful for its continued success.  I have two beds:  one is 8′ x 12′, and the other is 12′ x 12′.  I am tracking, by poundage, how much I harvest.  These past winter months, things DO grow here, but more slowly.  I’d typically harvest 4-6 lbs of produce.  Now that it is warmer, I’m harvesting 8-12 lbs each week.  A couple of weeks ago, when I harvested the last of my beets, it was 16 lbs, 6 oz for the week.  I am currently reaping:  I’itois onions (bunching onions);  Greek and Italian basil; Cardinal Chard; Top Bunch Collards;  Tyfon Holland Greens;  Harris Model Parsnips;  four kinds of tomatoes; Greyzini (a summer squash like Cousa or Mexican Grey Squash);  Sweet Banana Peppers; and just yesterday, the first of the Homemade Pickles Cucumbers.  Soon, I’ll have Sweet White Spanish Onions (the largest have tops that are over 4′ tall!  I hope they’re as giant as their tops suggest);  Asparagus Yardlong Beans;  Garlic; and Honeydew Melon.  I’ve also been collecting seed from radishes, lettuces, and cilantro.  And, I have at least nine kinds of flowers blooming, including 8′ tall Lemon Queen Sunflowers.  And in another 3-4 weeks, I’ll have okra and Armenian Cucumbers.

    Beets are beautiful.

    Beets are beautiful.

That’s about it from our home.  Well, actually, that’s not nearly it.  There is always more that is happening than I can write about.  And, I don’t know if this update is all that interesting, actually.  But, I felt like I was overdue for posting one.

I traveled to Portland…

My friend Kathy told me I need to write more.  So, I comply.

Though I struggle with feeling irrelevant in this age of blogs that are perfectly photographed, engagingly-written by self-assured experts in every imaginable topic, she tells me that I do have a niche, and I fill a role…  I’m still not 100% certain what that role is, nine and a half years after I started blogging.

I’m also going to — at Kathy’s urging — start to journal more on the things about which I cannot write publicly.  I find that, as my children grow toward adulthood, I can’t really disclose to the faceless masses — or even friends I know and trust in real life — many of the things that truly weigh down my heart, as they are often not my secrets to divulge.

Then, when all of these thoughts and feelings and words are teeming in my mind, considered but unwritten, everything else seems like fluff — truly irrelevant and not worth the time invested in writing a blog post.

This, however:  Worthwhile.  To me, at least.

I did something this past weekend that I’ve never done before:  gone on a girlfriends’ weekend with no kids and no husband.  Well, I haven’t done anything like that since I’ve been married.  For Mother’s Day, my husband surprised me with a trip to the Portland area, to see some dear friends.  I had been semi-planning this trip for, oh, about a year…  But, with my oldest son’s high school graduation, my second son going to Civil Air Patrol Encampment in June, a house that sucks up our remodeling budget and most of our discretionary income, a family camping trip to plan, and more — always more — I was certain that it wouldn’t work out.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been scheming with my friends.  He’s a good man.

So, while my headcold-ridden husband stayed home with our six children, I flew to PDX, and went criss-crossing southern Washington and northern Oregon with three friends for four days.  Mountains!  The beach!  Gardens!  Farmer’s market!  City!  Country!  We packed a great deal into a short period of time.

One friend, Dee Dee, traveled up from the desert — though not the same flight as me — and we met our two friends who used to live here, but who now live in the Portland area.

This time is a treasure to me.  I have no great love for the Phoenix area… Yet, as my husband says, it is the land of our anointing.  It’s where God has us, and where He has blessed us.  We have not plans — not any hopes, even — of ever living elsewhere.  There are far too many attachments here in the desert:  our beloved church, my husband’s job of 24 years, nearby family (though no one remaining who actually lives in the Phoenix area)….  So, it’s a hard balance, something I’ve struggled with — with varying degrees of success:  I long for green, for water in creeks, for rain, for tolerable weather…  Yet, I cannot give in to discontentment.  It wants to eat my heart, and I can’t let it.  I won’t.

So, any trip outside the desert is a delight, and this one was particularly so.

In my absence, my husband bought me a second-hand rototiller, so all things considered, it might have been the Best Weekend Ever.

at Salmon Creek

At Salmon Creek — on a little hike shortly after my arrival.  The only imperfection was that I forgot my binoculars at home, and there were many birds calling out to me, reminding me of my poor eyesight and forgetfulness.


Mt. St. Helens — beautifully stark, profound in its impact, awesome in the recovery of the land.

We four:  Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

We four: Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.


At Oregon Garden in Silverton. I was quite amazed that, in its original state, Oregon had many hardwood timber forests. This particular oak was over 400 years old. The whole garden is very worthwhile, with both sculpted vistas, extensive veggie gardens, and acres of more wild, native greenery.

Upper Ape Cave.  This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lava tube.  Otherwordly and a priceless experience.  This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the cave.

Upper Ape Cave. This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lightless lava tube. Otherwordly and a priceless experience. This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the otherwise COMPLETELY DARK cave.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon.  What a gorgeous beach -- with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools.  I *think* I saw a puffin.  I also realized that this sweater I dearly love makes me look pregnant.  Love/not-love.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon. What a gorgeous beach — with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools. I *think* I saw a puffin. I’m holding sand dollars.  I also realized that this sweater which I previously really liked makes me look pregnant. Love/not-love.

My other favorite times:

  • Hanging out in Allison’s home, with her hubby and their two sons.  The living room is on the second level, and it is like being in a tree house, with massive windows on two walls, tall trees surrounding the property.  We curled up, kicked back, scritched the ears of her two Westies, and chatted for hours.
  • Eating.  Every restaurant in the Pacific Northwest has a gluten-free menu, and even the gelato at the grocery store (Chuck’s, I think it was called) was labeled as g.f.  We also ate at an Iraqi restaurant, which I wish I could transplant here.
  • Kathy made a delicious dinner for all of us, which we ate in her back yard.  As we waited for the meal, we had hors d’oeuvres of fresh blueberries, plucked from the bushes in Kathy’s yard.  Blueberry bushes.  In her back yard.
  • Just the friendship of other women who know and love each other and have similar values…  I feel rich in the blessings of friendship.  And we laughed a lot.  And exclaimed over the same things.  We’re all alike enough to enjoy most of the same things, but different enough that conversation is enlightening and lively, and we learn from each other.
  • On Sunday morning, as we drove to the Oregon Garden, Allison — the driver — made an executive decision that we would worship and pray aloud.  We did, for about an hour — praying for each other, our families, our churches — three represented by the four of us…  And we listened to the Housefires.  Time flew.  And then right at the end, as we were drenched in the Spirit, someone up the way started backing a 60-foot Winnebago into a driveway, and a lady strode purposefully onto the two-lane blacktop highway and held up her 5″ palm, telling us to stop.  This struck all of us as hilarious, because, really… we couldn’t see the Winnebago, and we would have been lost without her direction.  We were so grateful.  (Much laughter.)

I must return.  We’re already making plans, the four of us, to do so.

Indoctrination. It’s working!

When I was a child, my mother — an only slightly-recovered hippie — was a health nut.  At least I thought she was a health nut.  I spent my childhood thinking, “When I have kids, I will let them drink Kool Aid and put Twinkies in their lunch boxes!”  I was tired of peanut butter and honey on whole wheat bread, sliced apples, and plain potato chips in my school lunch.  I envied other kids’ white bread and jelly, sweetened applesauce cups, and the lovely, perfectly-formed, hermetically-sealed chocolate cupcakes with a swirl of white icing adorning the top.  I was certain she was skewed in her perspectives and couldn’t wait until I could make my own decisions about what I ate.

Given my own experiences, I have been quite surprised about my own children’s apparent buy-in to my own health nuttiness, which has MORE than raised any bar my mom ever set.

Here are a few things from just this past week:

  • Chow down, baby!

    I tend to worry that when my children see commercials for junk food on TV, they’ll be swayed.  It turns out that concern is misplaced, at least with my six-year-old, Audrey.  Upon seeing a McDonald’s commercial the other day, she remarked, “The box for a Happy Meal is more nutritious than the food inside!!”  This made me laugh!  And, NO, I have never said anything like that.  As far as I know, this is her own analysis.

  • My 15-year-old, Ethan, went home with a friend after church on Sunday.  Upon his return, he reported to me, “Guess where we went for lunch after church?  Taco Bell.  Jacob became very exasperated with me because I didn’t understand the menu and he had to explain the whole thing to me.”  We couldn’t remember the last time Ethan had been to Taco Bell, which in his own mind, ironically enough, is even an even more nefarious food-offender than McDonald’s.  “I had a Burrito Supreme.  It wasn’t very good.  It was about 30% water.”  Well, at least it hydrated him…
  • I published this tidbit on my Facebook page;  forgive the repeat, if you’ve heard it already.  My four-year-old, Fiala, ran a fever for about 48 hours. No other symptoms. I saved a (gluten-free) cake pop from a little friend’s Saturday birthday party.  I took Audrey, but Fiala missed out, though the mother of the birthday girl sent us home laden with a goodie bag.  Fi keeps asking to have the cake pop, which she calls a “lolly cake”.  At the best of times, her body has a hard time handling sugar, so I told her she has to wait until well after her fever is gone. “Why do you have a fever?” I asked her. “Because my germ-fighters are working HARD!!” she said. “And what makes germ-fighters weak?” I asked. “Sugar!!!” she replied with no hesitation at all. I was proud of her for remembering all my indoctrination, even if she still wants the cake pop.

Running and dreaming (but not TOO much)

This isn't me. Too skinny. But the background looks reeeeealllly similar to my route. Thanks to this blog post for the pic:

I haven’t hiked in months.  I have recently, though, started jogging around my neighborhood.  I love getting out in a natural setting, and my feet take less of a beating on dirt than on asphalt.  But, I had to drive to my hike-location-of-preference.  Now, my jog starts roughly fifteen minutes after I roll out of bed, no car needed.  Less travel time to get out means I can wake up a half-hour later, spend more time hoofing it, and get back home earlier.

Previously, I was mostly concerned with arriving back home before my hubby left for work.  However, we were having trouble with our littlest one, Fiala, getting out of bed early and wreaking havoc while my husband was getting ready for work and I was out hiking.

We live in a fairly hilly location, which is unusual for Phoenix;  most everywhere around here is flat.  So, even though it’s on asphalt, I can still go for a challenging, scenic run, with virtually no traffic, which is almost as good as hiking.  Well, actually, saying “run” is pushing it;  a slow trot, alternating with fast walking.  I hope to work up to a run.  Right now, I’m at about a 14 minute mile, which is lame, even though I can blame some of the slowness on the hills.  I can, right??

According to Map My Run (which is REALLY frustrating to get a handle on;  it took me more than an hour to create a map of my little route, and that’s after I viewed the tutorials), my route is 2.79 miles with an overall 3% grade.  It would have a greater grade percentage if I disincluded the flat part that starts and ends my run, but I guess that would be cheating.

I have to fight my dreams about this whole running thing, though.  Well, not really.  Sort of.  What I mean is that I’ve been out jogging a grand total of about seven times now, and I already have lofty visions of finally completing a marathon.  That’s not a BAD dream, certainly;  it’s one I’ve had for years.  But, I tend to count my chickens before I even have a henhouse, let alone eggs, if that makes sense.  I start thinking in my head about how amazing it would be if I completed  this project — any project — that I can actually start coasting on my dreams instead of actually DOING them.  And, I tend to get discouraged when things don’t turn out as rosily, as rapidly as I’m dreaming.

So, like virtually everything else in my life, this is a plot to strengthen my character, as well as my physical endurance, and hopefully to lose enough fat that I don’t have to pick out my outfit by how well it hides the various bits of chub surrounding my middle section.

Here’s hopin’.

Summer panic… and peace

Right about this time every year, there gets to be a tight feeling in my chest, which I have to fight for… oh, about five months.  It’s a bit like claustrophobia, but it’s more along the lines of heat-o-phobia.  Truly, I despise summer in the desert.  Some people really love the heat and thrive in it.  That, however, is not me.  I have worked hard to find things to appreciate about the place I live so that I’m not living with a crappy attitude and wishing to be elsewhere, half of my life.  My husband is a native, his dad is a native (which is REALLY rare;  the Phoenix area is a valley of transients)…  My mom and stepdad are here, my sister and brother-in-law are here, my niece is here… plus, we truly have the most amazing church where we both serve and are fed.  Not to mention my husband’s fabulous job that he’s been at for 19 years.  It’s highly unlikely that we’ll be leaving any time soon.  I have come to value the benefits to living here, apart from the weather, which, any time I really let myself think about it, I could pretty easily conjure up some tears.  I mean, I really despise summer in the desert.

But, I will not dwell on the endless 110°+ days;  I will, instead, continue to look for things that make the desert tolerable or even pleasant, and fight the heat-o-phobia and its accompanying tears which threaten to steal my peace.

Several things have made the transition into summer easier for me this year:

  1. There have only been a handful of 100° days so far.  Today, as I write, we have been the beneficiary of some low-pressure front, or something like that, and the temps are supposed to top out in the 70s.  Yesterday’s high was 80°.  I know that God doesn’t allow these sort of days solely for me, but I like to think of them as Him giving me a bit of hope and reprieve, letting me know that I can make it, and that it’s not ALL oven-like misery.
  2. I have been waking earlier.  Much earlier.  A couple of weeks ago, I started hiking a mountain — hill, more like it — that is nearby.  I wake at 5:30 a.m., am on the trail by 6:00, and home by about 7:15 just in time to help my hubby gather his lunch for the day, his to-go mug of coffee, and to kiss him goodbye.  The first day I did the early-morning hike, Martin said, “You could do that every day and it would be OK with me.”  Other than a spunky 2yo who sometimes wakes way too early and won’t stay in bed, and has the power to open the fridge and take out everything she can’t eat and have a surreptitious binge whilst Daddy is in the shower and Mommy is not yet home, it works really well.  And, I have the great feeling of becoming fit and healthier, as well as breathing in the cool, early morning air and being there to (almost) greet the sunrise.  I do a balloon-shaped trail that is about 3.6 miles, savoring the temperatures that are in the 60s or 70s…  It has been wonderful.  And, somehow, it’s SO MUCH EASIER for this night owl to roll out of bed at 5:30 for a hike, instead of, say, the stationary bike.
  3. I think ours is taller than this, and it's in bloom.

    Our backyard is now over five years old, and the pathetic little saplings have matured and grown into a lush (for the desert) green oasis.  This may not seem like much, but when I’m surrounded by hot, brown, and dry, it’s such a blessing to be able to walk into my back yard and breathe in a little bit o’ GREEN.  The trees are now climbable, and one of them even has a little rope swing attached.  We have two medium (but lovely) fruitless pistachio trees and two large tipu trees.  Wonderful.

  4. My garden.  Again, it’s only May, and I got it in a good month later than I should have, so who knows how fruitful it will actually be.  But for now, it’s medicine to my soul to push the dirt around and coax and nurture little plants into being.  Usually once a day (at least), I pull out my kneeling pad and just sit on it, looking at the garden.  Even when there’s nothing to do in it, I feel good looking at it either up close, or just glancing out the window while working in the kitchen.  Over the weekend, my hubby installed soaker tube for the irrigation and put up a little wire fence to keep our dog (and small children) from romping through the tender growth.  He proclaimed, “Now it looks like a real garden.”  I concur.

Small things

  • Audrey and Fi on the trail Fri 04/29/2011

    My friend Kim and I took our collective nine kids out for a hike on Friday on a trail only ten minutes from my home, but which I’d never previously explored.  Fiala, at 2.5 was the youngest.  She is a more willing hiker than Audrey, aged 5, but her legs are shorter.  They tired at about the same point, halfway into the hike, which totaled about 1.5 miles, maybe a bit further.

    6:30 a.m. on the top of Deem Hill

    Both Kim and I decided that we wanted to go back to the park, sometime in the near future.  So, I went this morning.  I’m not an early bird, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was motivated.  I was up at 5:30 and on the trail at 6:00.  I hiked about 3.6 miles in an hour and 20 minutes.  Lots of altitude changes, but when I got back home, I checked the map,

    Looking towards the sun

    and as best as I can tell, even though I picked the highest trail, I only gained and lost an altitude of about 500′.  Felt like more than that.  Like a LOT more than that.  Clearly, I need to hike more.  As I walked in the door at 7:30 this morning, I could smell and hear the coffee percolating, and my hubby was wielding a spatula over the stove, trying to shoo our waking children back into their bedrooms.  🙂  It made me feel good.

  • I am daily checking my garden for sprouts, even though it’s only been six days since I planted it.  🙂  I’m eager.  I also started some tomato seeds in homemade/improvised seed trays, and will do some more today — either tomatillo or chile pepper.  The rest of my compost simply won’t be ready by the time I’m ready to plant some more, so we’ll be getting some bags of manure from Home Depot.  I’m trying not to feel like a composting-failure by resorting to the home improvement store, but at least they’re only $0.85 each, so it’s not like I’ll be throwing more money at the garden than is justified.  I tend to get really gung-ho about a project, drop a hundred of our non-existent dollars on it, then abandon it.  I’m rather hedging my bets this time — investing as little money on the garden as possible, both so that if it fails, we’re not out a big chunk of change.  Also, the less money I spend, the more profitable the garden is.  I’m also trying to resist the urge to quit before I’ve even really begun, when seeing some head-high plants from a friend’s garden.  A friend here in the Phoenix area.  However, I won’t.  I won’t quit.  I have spent a lifetime of giving up on things when it appears that I won’t (or even possibly won’t) TOTALLY EXCEL, and that’s a really, really, really bad habit, which I’m ready to kick.  It’s hard, though.
  • I love the Body of Christ, the local church.  The guy who is leading the small group I attend — actually, he’s sort of leading it, but more like mentoring another guy into leading — is going to be moving next Saturday, and mentioned something about it on Thursday.  Another guy — who has only been attending for 4-5 weeks — pipes up, “I have a trailer!” and in a few minutes, the two had made plans for the Trailer Guy to help the Moving Guy move.  The whole thing made me smile.  I guess if you’re not part of the Body of Christ, you rent a U-Haul.  🙂  Along the same lines, my hubby is helping the daughter of a friend from church (she goes to our church, too) move today.  Even though I’m sure he’ll get a sore back and a few trips to the chiropractor out of it, I’m happy that he can help…  We’ve been on the recipient end of the Body of Christ SO OFTEN, and it’s right and good to reciprocate.
  • Small Fiala update:  She had her half-day last week.  She is officially 2½.  We are cautiously testing bananas this week.  So far, so good.  I wouldn’t even have tried bananas, but last week, she woke early, climbed up to the fruit basket on the countertop, and helped herself to a banana, with no apparent ill effects.  But, some of the foods we’ve tested this year have appeared safe for a week or even two, before she absolutely exploded in a rash.  That’s what happened with corn.  We are only able to test one new food every 3-4 weeks or so, because it takes anywhere from one day to two weeks for a reaction to show and then an additional week or two for her to heal enough from the bad reaction to get her back to a “baseline” from which we can test another food.  So far this year, she has failed carrots, corn, potatoes, and coconut (and all other palm-related foods & products).  She has only had a successful trial on eggs, which have made a delightful addition to her still really, really limited diet.  I’m starting to consider another trip to the allergist.
  • So now, today, it’s not yet noon, and I’ve hiked 3½ miles, had eggs and coffee with my hubby, made pancakes for my children, and blogged.  🙂  Laundry, ironing, baseball, starting another tray of seeds, and preparing to lead worship in SuperChurch tomorrow will take up the rest of my day.  It’s one of those days which I call to mind when I’m talking to someone I haven’t seen in a while, and they ask, “What’s new?”  Well, nothing is new.  Nothing at all, really.  It’s not really an eventful life I lead, but it’s still a good one.

It has sprung, in the Sonoran Desert.

This last week, the acacias started blooming.  For me, that’s always the mark of springtime.

Here in the Sonoran Desert, the three major flowering trees are the sweet acacia, the palo verde, and the ironwood.  They bloom in that order:  sweet acacias in late February or early March, palo verdes in March-April or so, and ironwoods in late April or early May, usually.  Acacia blooms are dark orangey-yellow little ½” puffballs, and have a very distinct, cloying, powerful scent.  Palo verde blooms are usually (depending on the variety) bright, bright yellow, blanketing the entire tree with delicate flowers.  Ironwoods are more subtle, a very light lavender color, among the grey-green leaves.  Neither palo verdes nor ironwoods have much scent.

acacia farnesiana

acacia farnesiana, seed pod and bloom

I cannot stand the scent of the acacia.  Ugh.  When I was a kid, my mom took my sibs and I, weekly, to the Phoenix Library.  Each branch of the library is named after a native plant.  We usually went to the Acacia Library.  In the springtime, I remember taking a giant gulp of air while still in the car, then sprinting up the acacia-lined path to the entrance while holding my breath, to avoid smelling the nearly unavoidable fragrance.

The palo verdes to be found around the Phoenix area are typically either the Blue Palo Verde, parkinsonia florida (which is NOT native to Florida), or the Mexican Palo Verde, parkinsonia aculeata.

parkinsonia florida bloom, close-up (beautiful!)

parkinsonia florida

I didn’t know until now that the palo verde is an invasive species in many places, worldwide, especially Australia.  I was about to post something preachy about landscaping with only native species, but remembered that, while my front yard has only native plants, my backyard has several non-natives, including the Australian tipu tree.


My fave desert tree is, by far, the desert ironwood, olneya tesota.  Part of it is just because I like purple;  so many native plants around here bloom yellow and only yellow.  Part of its appeal is just because I like the shape of the tree.  And, I think it’s cool that the wood is so beautiful, often burled and two-toned,  not that I think one should go around chopping down ironwood trees.  The wood is so dense that it will sink in water.

A couple of years ago, I looked into visiting the Ironwood Forest National Monument, established by Clinton only days before he left office.  There wasn’t much info on it, especially on the hiking trails I sought, so I called the Tucson field office of the BLM, which administers it.  Well, it turns out that the Ironwood National Monument is a MAJOR illegal immigration corridor, and I was vehemently advised to stay away, especially as I had small children.  Golly.  The field officer blamed the situation Clinton, who had established the monument, but had given no funds for its development or protection.  Hm.  I still want to go, but maybe we’ll wait a few years.

Respite from the heat…

There were no vehicle breakdowns, no relationship troubles (spouse or child), no scheduling snafus, the weather was beautiful, the locations magnificent… even our dog did well.  It was, my dear hubby and I agree, the best vacation we’ve ever had as a family.  🙂

We went:  First to visit my husband’s brother in Pagosa Springs.  Then, to a USFS cabin north of North Fork.  Then, to a VRBO rental just outside of Dolores, into whose 400 s.f. the owner graciously let us cram our seven bodies.

It’s just hard coming back to 110° in the desert.  Oh.  And, I broke my camera.  By sitting on it.  While trying to restrain my 20-month-old from giddily flinging herself into the rushing Piedra River.  (Toddlers:  Gusto without wisdom.)  So, 3/4 of my pictures were taken without a viewer:  I cracked the LCD screen, and there is no manual viewfinder on my camera.  I thought, “I’ll blindly snap away, and hope I can crop some fairly decent pics from them.”  Well, 90% of the “blind” pictures are still wonderful, which is humbling, as apparently, my skill in picture-taking is really the “skill” of the camera.  Or something.

The pictures for most splendid and picturesque part of our journey —  the Dunton Road, which takes one along the West Dolores River, and over 10,000 feet in elevation to the foot of the Lizard Head Wilderness, with magnificent views of the backside of the mountains of Telluride — were taken with my decrepit mobile phone, as I forgot my camera.  Ugh.

I’m sure I’ll be posting more, but here are a few pics for now:

I never tire of the amazing scenery of the US 160, which passes through the Navajo Reservation and Monument Valley

Baby Rocks, or, as we call them, "Cheeto Rocks"

My dear husband and our baby Fiala, near the Piedra River trailhead

Audrey discovers that Uncle Adam will more willingly offer his shoulders than Daddy, thereby Adam won her love and trust forever.

While the boys went shooting, the girls and I played in Mill Creek, south of Pagosa. I made a daisy chain, modeled here by Audrey.

Fi, toodling around in the front yard of the Alder Creek Guard Station

Ethan, Audrey, and me on the Alder Bench Trail, which we made 80% of, until small feet gave out.

Wesley, Grant, and Ethan, along a pristine creek (East Fork Creek, I think, which pours into Middle Alder Creek), exactly 7 miles north of the Alder Guard Station on the Forest Road 610, which was a HARROWING drive

During the trip, we saw three beavers, a cow elk, several deer (including the tiniest fawn ever seen by my husband or me), I identified three new birds for my list (with very little actual birding time), we absolutely SOAKED in the Spirit during the after-service worship-and-ministry time at my brother-in-law’s church… we discovered that Fiala would very happily live in any body of water, and that 4yo Audrey is now a nearly-perfect little traveler; she must be made to live outdoors.  Grant is still the best hiker of the bunch.  We picked out a campground for a future visit (Mavreeso Campground, along the West Dolores River– site 6).  We successfully made a number of hikes and excursions, though none to the numerous National Parks and Monuments in the area.

And… though we purposed to take no calls while on vacation, we did make a few exceptions, and gained the very exciting news that there is a publisher VERY interested in the book I ghost-wrote.  They said they’d give a reply (to query letter & first chapter) in 4-6 weeks.  It took 10 days.  Then, they asked for the whole manuscript, and upon receipt, called back in 24 hours to say they want to talk more.  🙂  It’s the publisher that was at the very top of our list of preference, and that is very encouraging, though absolutely nothing is for certain yet.

So.  I hope y’all will forgive my absence.  Before I left, my friend Kathy encouraged me to, “Soak up every delightful moment, and let Jesus minister to your every molecule.”  That’s what happened.  It was lovely.  Bless God and the restorative properties of His creation.

The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose

When my family moved here from Illinois in the mid-’70s, my mother would often pull out a map and decide where we would take a day trip, often based on the interest-factor of the place name, and if it was by water.  To her consternation, she quickly discovered that in Arizona, just because it says “river” on a map does not actually mean there is water at that location.  “River” almost always actually means “DRY river BED.”

Most rivers in Arizona are dammed for hydroelectric power and/or for reservoirs to supply water to cities.  While I’m grateful for the liquid that streams from my kitchen tap, I do feel like this is, somehow, wrong.  The natural desert landscape is robbed of the too-few streams and rivers, making riparian areas few and far between, destroying habitat for flora and fauna.  I’m not such a tree-hugging type that I’m saying that animals are better than people and we’d all serve the earth much more effectively by dying.  However, it does seem that we could do a much better job at living symbiotically with the desert environment.

All of that serves to elevate my enthusiasm when I find a desert location that has a naturally-occurring source of actual water.

This current winter/spring has been the wettest that I can recall in at least six years.  Its overcast right now, in fact.  Phoenix has gotten around four inches of rain in 2010 so far (many locations are closer to 5″), which may not sound like a lot to Midwesterners, but when you consider that we usually (in non-drought years) get only about 7″ for the year, four inches in barely over two months is a whole lot.

On Friday, I took the kids out for a drive/hike that we’ve done before, off of Castle Hot Springs Road, which arcs north of the Carefree Highway, east of Wickenburg, and west of Lake Pleasant.  I was hoping that in addition to the vivid green desert hills, there would be some actual flowing water in the creek to which we were heading.  Now, I already knew that “my” secret spot holds a spring-fed perennial creek, so I was pretty certain that there would be water, as most springs are dependent on the availability of groundwater, which would obviously be greater after an abundance of rain.  But, in the desert, one never really knows.  (Plus, the last time we were there, a couple of years ago, there had been some illegal gold-mining activity, likely using cyanide, leading to some unnaturally bright-orange rocks and no life in the water.)

There WAS water in “our” creek.  In fact, there has been so much water that we didn’t recognize our spot until driving past it three times.  The teensy meadow of years past, small but startling in the midst of its brown and dry surroundings, was no longer there.  (Scroll down to photo #7 on this post from Sept 4, 2006 and photo #6 on this post from Feb 5, 2007, for a shot of the meadow)  In its place was evidence of  a grand torrent, five or six feet high, which reshaped the little valley, leaving a preponderance of boulders, removing the topsoil, and carving a new path for the stream that did remain.  Also gone was a GIGANTIC cottonwood;  a very large stump was there, as well as a sapling — its child, no doubt.  Also, some work had been done on the dirt road (for erosion control, it appears), moving its path a bit.

I know it doesn’t appear like much, there on the right, and it still looks dry and deserty — and of course, it IS the desert.  But, down in it, it does not seem dry at all.  All along the drive, I kept exclaiming how lush and vividly green everything was.  There is an abundance of green undergrowth — desert grass and teensy flowers, which will likely all be gone by May or June, burnt off by the searing summer heat.

In addition, Castle Hot Springs Road crosses both Bitter Creek and Castle Creek at many locations.  Most of the time, this just makes for bumpy, sandy going but on Friday, there was water at every crossing — too many to count!  Water crossed our paths at least 15 or 20 times in the space of about 15 miles.  Normally, even in wetter months, the creek might splash away from your tires once or twice.  Three or four times, if you drive the route a day or two after some rain.  On Friday, every single gully, wash, and creek bed had running water in it.

The pic above looks mostly south over Bitter Creek.  On the right-hand side, just around the bend that you can’t see, another, smaller creek converges with it, to the east of the road, heading south and west from Bitter Creek.  I cannot find a name for that little tributary on any map.  One time we went and found some mining claims posted, which identified the area as “Hold-Up Creek” but I can’t find anything to substantiate that name, either.  So, we just call it Bitter Creek, though most of our time was not on that creek itself.

The good news is that the creek appears to have recovered from the cyanide use from a couple of years ago, somewhat to my surprise.  I’m sure the abundance of water has helped that recovery.

We spent about three hours, exploring and playing, sort of hiking.  We didn’t get further back than 1/4 mile or so.  The creek was quite overgrown with prickly bushes and trees, and as it was entirely boulder-strewn, I had to carry Fiala, my 16 month old baby, in my arms.  She was not a fan of this sort of hiking, and screamed pretty much the whole way, both from wanting to GO on her own, and from the occasional scratch.  😦  That was surprising; she’s usually a fabulous trouper.

In the past, we have hiked the creek back to its source, roughly 1/2 mile.  I was a little bummed out that we weren’t able to do that.  Next time.  “Next time” will be fairly soon, actually, as I’ve convinced another homeschooling mom to accompany us, with her two boys in the near future.

The Desert Boys.

I love the fierce expressions that the boys always seem to get while playing in the desert.

Grant got stuck on a cliff, probably about 40 feet up. I talked him down.

Fi 'n' me

Audrey tells a story during lunch

The kids play along the wider section of Bitter Creek

According to the topo map (Garfias Quad — but at about 33.9669°N 112.4444°W, not exactly where that link takes you), there is another 1/2 mile-or-so trail that leads to a spring (St. Anthony Spring), only 1000 feet or so from where I parked.  I think we’ll try to find that, next time.  Also, next time, maybe there will be more flowers;  it’s about 2800′ elevation at that location, and not much was yet blooming, even though my title suggests it.

Field trip! (Ostensibly, desert survival)

Good thing I looked a little more closely at the e-mail with all the info for today’s field trip, in order to tell a new friend the details this morning;  I thought it was to be at Spur Cross Regional Park.  It wasn’t;  it was at Cave Creek Regional Park.  That would’ve stunk to have gone to the wrong place!

The event didn’t start until 1:00 p.m., and I decided we’d get there early and do a little hike, and eat lunch beforehand.  At least one other family was going to arrive early, as well, but we ended up being the only one, which, actually, was just fine with me.

Before we set out from the truck, I asked the kids if they wanted the longer one-mile hike, or the shorter.  I shouldn’t have asked;  as expected, only Grant wanted the longer one.  If we didn’t have an agenda that day, Grant’s vote, along with mine, would have overruled the other three.  We’ll have to come back for certain and do the one mile loop, and soon.  Still, it was worth it.  However, it’s actually a bit of an overstatement to call it a hike.  It was more like a mildly hilly ¼ mile stroll on a dirt path.

It has been literally SIX YEARS since I’ve seen the spring foothills so green (the pics below do not do them justice;  it is SO GREEN).  In the Sonoran Desert, January showers bring March flowers, and there will be a LOAD of them in a few weeks, as both January and February have been awash with wonderful rain.

Today, there were just a few flowers in bloom:  some desert bells, Mexican gold poppies, a few desert marigold, and an even fewer brittlebush.  The hillsides of the park are covered in brittlebush, so when they bloom, it will be absolutely garishly bright yellow.  I can’t wait.

Also, this was the first hike in which Fiala was walking.  I brought along a sling, to put her on my back, but she would have none of it.  She didn’t want to hold anyone’s hand or anything.  Even Audrey remarked on her baby sister’s eagerness and toughness.  That, too, makes me look forward all the more to really start hiking in earnest again.

Along the way, we saw a lovely female cardinal, who serenaded us as we walked along.

Here’s some park scenery:

Although I’m philosophically opposed to there being playgrounds in parks primarily used for hiking, my kids sure aren’t:

Fiala, who fears no slide

Wes, my beautiful son with such unfortunate teeth (my fault!)

My kids hate staged pictures. So do I. But, I needed a good one for extended family. This was take #5, so I'm going to overlook Grant's sour face and the giant tendon in my neck.

There was a good turnout for this ranger talk, which was supposed to be on desert survival, but my boys (and myself) were hoping for something a little more gritty than, “If you get bit by a rattlesnake, get to a hospital ASAP.”  Still.  Ranger Jim was very nice, and it was interesting, if not particularly informative (other than the nice section/diagram of a desert solar still).

About a third of the way into the talk, I had to slip up and whisper to Grant that he had answered more than his share of questions, and to give everyone else a chance.  (I was very proud of him for being mindful of that the rest of the time.)

I’m probably biased towards homeschooled kids, but I think all the kids did a very admirable job of eagerly both asking and answering questions.  However, a slightly awkward hush fell over the group when Ranger Jim asked if anyone knew how long scorpions had been around.  Later, my daring friend Allison said that she very nearly hollered out, “Um, you’re talking to a group of young earth creationists!”  But, she was saved by a little girl who wisely answered, “As long as the animals have been!”  And, yes, that is true, no matter which way you look at it!

Good times.  🙂

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