Category Archives: Weather

A few things

  • I cleaned up my blog reader and blog roll.  I’ve pared it down to 39 blogs on the reader, which sounds like a lot, but I deleted about 10 or 12 of them, so it was even more!  I just had to re-prioritize my time spent reading, although I felt like a bad bloggy friend deleting blogs…  I hope none of them were yours!!  Also, some blogs were on the WordPress reader, and some were on the Sage/Firefox reader.  Apparently, reading blogs in TWO different places was too difficult for me, so I consolidated them.  There are only 21 blogs on my official blogroll on the right.  A few are new;  you might wanna give ’em a gander.
  • It is so lovely to be having a cool snap in the Phoenix area the last couple of days.  I had to shut the windows earlier today, because it was 67°F in the house, and getting cooler.  I’m enjoying it, because I know the heat will be here far too soon!  And, I’m happy for our electricity bill, as we’ve only had the AC on for two days so far this year!
  • It looks like the EIGHTEENTH TIME is the charm!!  My gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, vegan, whole-grain, rice-free, corn-free, millet-free bread recipe-tweaking is now DONE.  Seriously.  Eighteen batches.  Finally, I have some results that I’m very happy with.  95% happy with, but that’ll have to do, as it may be impossible to achieve the perfection I’m looking for, whilst still disincluding ingredients I need to leave out.  95% is still an “A”, right???  In spite  of it being “free” of nearly everything, it is surprisingly tasty bread, with to-die-for crust, works great for sandwiches, nice high rise, very healthy…  Mmmm…  Recipe to be posted soon.
  • My mom is very ill and in the hospital.  She is having severe trouble breathing — when she arrived by emergency transport, her pulse ox was at 78%.  The doctors just can’t seem to agree upon/figure out what is wrong with her.  First, it wasn’t pneumonia or emboli, but they didn’t know what it was.  Then, it was pneumonia.  Then, it was pneumonia plus something else, possibly bronchitis.  Now, they’re saying that maybe it’s not pneumonia nor bronchitis, but they still don’t know what it is.  My mom is very feisty… quietly stubborn.  She wants desperately to go home;  she’s been in since Monday afternoon.  But, obviously, she needs to be able to breathe.  Dear Jesus, help my Mommy, and give wisdom and supernatural insight to the doctors.

Remind me of this post when it’s 115 degrees in August

This is now the desktop image on my computer

Yesterday was the sort of beautifully glorious day that makes me realize why millions of people live in the Phoenix area:  Giant cumulonimbus clouds breezing across the most impossibly clear, deep azure sky.  Bright, warm sun which made the world simply sparkle.  Clean, invigorating breeze, temperature in the low 60s.  Recent rains have given a green tint to the rocky, desert hills which surround my neighborhood, and the play of cloud shadows on their slopes and valleys added to their drama and beauty.

I kept praising God for His amazing creation, and thanking Him for where I live, exclaiming countless times, “It is SO BEAUTIFUL out here.”

Today is similar, but much of it has been spent looking out the window, as we’re back to school today.  Yesterday, I spent as much time as possible outside.

Late in the afternoon, the boys wanted to watch the Super Bowl (I did, too, and a good game it was!), but I wanted to a) take advantage of the day, and b) give the girls a chance to run around, as all too soon, the rest of the family would be plunked in front of the TV, in which they had no interest.  So, I took ’em to the park, which we often do on Sundays.

We had a little dietary setback this past week, causing a facial rash again; the likely culprit is corn, which has been removed from Fiala's diet again.

I met another mother, there for similar reasons with her very small nephews and 8yo son;  her husband, 12yo twin sons, and other family members at home watching the game.

Audrey (um, not pictured) successfully pumped her legs on the swing for the first time!

Fiala thought she wanted to go down the very long, steep slide, so I took her with me, restraining her from going down by herself, precariously perched on the landing, as I wrestled to get her onto my lap.  Then, I comforted her as she squealed with tearful cries after we reached the bottom.  It was the slide equivalent of one’s eyes being too big for one’s stomach.

Other than lovely little girls and the weather, yesterday, I was thankful for:

  • Finding oranges for 33¢ a pound.
  • The fact that, when adults, my children will not put errant apostrophes in signs:
  • A new family at church who homeschools, bringing the total up to three.  The mother is so dear.  I’ve spent the last week contrasting, in my mind, the character of her, and of another mother, with whom I had a conversation recently, who is such a knot of fear — no freedom, no peace.  Yesterday, I wrote the hs’ing mom a note of encouragement, telling her that the Holy Spirit is bearing fruit in her life.  (I’m NOT implying that homeschooling equals peace;  many homeschooling mothers are not particularly peaceful;  it’s just nice to anticipate hanging around with a family whose matriarch is a beautiful, peaceful woman of God, who is submitted to His plans and whose life reflects it, and I’m thankful for God putting her in my path.)
  • And I’m thankful that I did not grow up listening to The Who.

Mystery birds (or, six on a quilt)

The last three mornings have been lovely, in the low 70s.  This morning was warmer, but a breeze was blowing, making 78° at 7:00 in the morning seem much cooler.  This week, I’ve been spreading a quilt out in the back yard, starting the day with Fiala, who is an early riser.

She usually wakes up at 5:30, and I nurse her and put her back in her crib.  She doesn’t go to sleep, but she’s usually content until 6:30 or so, at which time I try to catch a few more winks.  Pre-Fiala, I would generally get up at 6:30, but as she is still waking 2-4x/night, I think partly from habit and partly from discomfort, I am just not ready to wake at 6:30 these days.  So, from 6:30 – 7:00, I usually grab a blanket and pillow, and lay down on the floor of my bedroom, letting her crawl around our room as my hubby gets ready for work.  At 7:00 or nearly so, I start feeling lazy because my hubby is bustling and I’m trying to sleep, so I get up.  But, I don’t really want the whole house awake yet;  if the kids sleep until 7:30, that’s preferable, in my book.  So, Fi and I go outside.

Eventually, the other four children join us, and pretty soon, it’s crowded but pleasant and lively with my five children and me.  And our dog, who thinks she’s a person, crowding onto the quilt, crawling all over us, getting in as many scritches and as much attention as possible.  🙂

This week, in the mornings, our yard has been visited by a pair of birds that I did not identify until yesterday.  I was baffled.

  • They are almost all yellow, with dark grey wings with white wing bars.
  • They are shaped like sparrows, but larger, with a longer-but-thinner, notched tail.
  • Their beaks look akin to warblers — small, pointed, and thin, darker on top and orange-ish on the bottom.
  • Their legs are dark.
  • They forage in our grass, hopping around.
  • They are mostly silent.

As one of the birds is more brightly yellow, the other a tad smaller and duller, I thought that it was a male-female pair, and was congratulating them on their monogamy, even with breeding season over.  THAT is what most threw me off.  I kept combing my Sibley guide looking for a bright yellow male bird whose size, shape, markings, and habitat matched all the clues.

I finally realized yesterday that they are not a M/F pair;  they are mother and juvenile.

Once I had that realization — looking at the mottled grey-and-yellow of the more dully-colored bird’s belly, I took to my Sibley’s guide again.

I came to the realization that they are Western Tanagers.  I am certain of it.  I have NEVER seen Western Tanagers so low in elevation.  I have seen them in Arizona in the mountains, and likewise in Colorado.  But they are, without a doubt, Western Tanagers.  The brighter Tanager’s top wing bar is definitely yellow, and she has just the barest amount of reddish orange circling her beak.  All the markings fit.  I wish I had my camera.

(Not my pic.  Thanks to this blogger/photographer for the pic.)

Female Western Tanager

Female Western Tanager

By the way:  Birding with five kids, in the back yard on the quilt doesn’t really work.  We just get glances at the few birds that are brave enough to present themselves amid the ruckus.  But… I think it was Monday, and myself and the four older kids were all laying inside on our bellies by the back arcadia door, peering out of binoculars, flipping through our Sibley book, each kid noting to me where he’s spotted a bird, what its markings were, etc.  That was FABULOUS.  It was about 15 minutes that thrilled my heart as a mother, as a birder, and as a homeschooling mom.

Free swingset in “great” shape, and other weekend adventures

  • Note to self, for the billionth time:  When someone offers something that’s in “great condition” on Freecycle, please don’t get your hopes up.  😦  I was so excited that a fellow Freecycler offered a big wooden playset in “great” shape.  We had been talking about getting a playset for outdoors… but don’t have the $400-$10,000 that wooden ones typically go for, new.  Even on Craigslist, the cheapest they go for are around $150, and those are the ones in really bad condition.  Ones in good condition never go for less than $350, and that’s just too much money.  So, enticed by the “great” free one, Martin went out there on Saturday to disassemble it and cart it home.  He called to report that one of the swing’s seats were totally split, the wood was rotting and super-splintered, and he doubted that he could even unbolt it!  We passed.  Oh, well.
  • My friend Erin’s baby finally came home from the hospital on Saturday evening after 9+ really long days.  Woo hoo!!!!
  • Fiala has been on generic Omnicef since Wednesday, but when I dropped her off at the church nursery and mentioned a staph infection on her skin… well, they were understandably concerned.  I had long pants on her, and told them not to change her diaper, to just call me if her diaper needed changing…  However, they were still freaked out, and asked me to come get her as soon as worship was over, as I was singing.  I did, and they had her quarantined in a room by herself!!  I took her into the back of “big church,” but as she kept hollering — very sweetly, but very loudly — to EVERYONE, “Hah-ah!  Hah-ah” (which means ‘hi’), I decided to just go home.  I took Audrey with me, too… and the same girl who didn’t want to stay in the nursery earlier that day, didn’t want to leave when I came to get her!  Fickle little girl, Audrey is.
  • I love Sunday evenings.  Well, all of Sundays, actually.  Church, lunch, then the kids go into quiet time while Martin and I nap or watch sports, then we often have a “Galaga challenge” with a plug’n’play TV/arcade game console thing we have, then we often head outside in the late afternoon or early evening.  When the weather is really nice, I take all the kids for a walk around the neighborhood… the view at the end of the road is just gorgeous.  But, here in the summertime, I have to wait until the sun is almost-set, and it’s “only” like 100° or so, and long shadows are cast, and we head down the street the the little neighborhood park.  Most often, we stop at a friend’s house on the way, and invite them to come with.  Occasionally, a mom with come, too, and I’ll particularly enjoy the time, dandling Fiala on my knee, talking with another mom…  I got a fabulous picture of Audrey, looking deceptively sweet and peaceful, at the park yesterday evening, but for some reason, the picture upload button isn’t working;  I’ll have to add it later.  (Can you tell by my language that Audrey is driving me a bit nuts lately????  ~sigh~  In some ways, she is so amazingly precious, and in some ways, I could easily pull all my hair out in frustration with her… antics.)
  • We were going to start school today, but I’m just not ready.  Plus, we have three appointments at the allergist’s office for Fiala this week (the first was this morning), and it just makes it too much for me to be gone for 2-3 hours PLUS school.  Fiala now has 30 “dots” on her back sandwiching potential food allergens to her skin, which is then covered up by two layers of medical tape.  It frankly makes me a sick to the stomach, because positive reactions end up looking like blisters, and I’m certain she’s going to have positive reactions to something, likely more than one something.

Schooling with “disabilities”, antibiotics, Silly Putty, dinner guests that make me nervous, and a storm

  • I am so thankful that, as homeschoolers, we don’t have to wrestle with other parents, teachers, school administrators, district policies, etc., to tend to my nearly 8yo son’s severe peanut allergy and celiac disease.  I’m part of one Yahoo group for Phoenix-area families with celiac disease, and a different one for those with severe allergies.  This time of year, the biggest topic is how to keep kids safe at school — tips on dealing with teachers, copies of letters to send home to other classroom parents, detailed descriptions of 504 plans, pleas for help…  Each time, I want to respond, “OR, YOU COULD JUST HOMESCHOOL!” but I don’t.  People often comment to me, “I don’t know how you do it!” regarding homeschooling.  I respond similarly to them.  There is no way I would want to trade the peaceful, simple process of homeschooling — with barely a thought for Wesley’s “disabilities” — for the fear and fiasco of schooling him in a classroom setting.  Plus, it would be all that times two because Grant has a learning disorder (very akin to Asperger’s Syndrome, but without the obsessions, and with fine and gross motor skill problems), and we’d need a 504 plan for him, too, and an additional IEP.  No way, thankyouverymuch.
  • I caved.  After treating Fiala’s staph infection with honey for three days, I gave up.  Did it work?  I think so.  But, the… peripherals were too much for me.  The longer we had her bandaged, the more annoyed and less cooperative she got with the process of nursing her wounds.  Even with keeping long pants on her, she kept pulling the bandages off, which meant I was repeating the process about 4x/day, and changing her pants 2-4x/day because they became sticky with honey.  AND, she developed a contact rash from the bandages — of which I tried three different kinds (plastic tape with nonstick pads, paper tape with gauze pads, and big Band-Aids — with and without additional gauze).  So, on the back of her legs, in addition to the “normal” eczema, and the lesions from staph infection, she now has an additional red and prickly rash from the dumb bandages.  There probably is some kind of non-adhesive sleeve-style bandage that would work for her, but I didn’t feel like I had time to research that and find it and try it.  So, I went and picked up the Omnicef prescription last night.
  • To add to the files of “Things I Never Thought I’d Have to Do as a Parent,” please add:  irrigating my 10yo son’s ear to get out a wad of Silly Putty.  At first, I thought it was a big chunk of wax, but when it finally came out, I saw it was a pebble-sized ball of Silly Putty.  He insists that he has no idea how it got in there.  Hm.  Then, he “remembered” trying to make a casting of his ear.  All of this with Silly Putty that was not his, and that he was not supposed to touch.
  • We are having dinner guests over tomorrow night, and I am irrationally crabby about it.  It’s a family with whom Martin used to live, before we got married.  I have great appreciation for them as a family, but the wife — really, a fantastic woman in a multitude of regards — has always made me incredibly nervous.  She’s the kind of lady who brilliantly excels at all the things I do poorly.  She’s very ladylike, and her home looks like a museum.  A spotless museum.  A spotless museum that looks like it was decorated by Martha Stewart.  I am confident in my cooking abilities;  I’m sure everyone will enjoy the food.  Their youngest daughter gets along wonderfully with my boys.  The husband is dear and thoughtful and funny…  There are so many reasons to tell me that it will be a good evening, but I’m still having a hard time with it, to the confusion and consternation of my husband, who is trying — but not succeeding — to understand my difficulty with the whole thing.  I “just” need to be hyper-alert to keep my attitude and racing heart in check, and be humble and accept my deficiencies.  That’s hard.  😦
  • It stormed hard last night.  Wonderful.  I love dark nights full of lightning and pounding thunder and driving rain and the overcast, drippy days that follow.

Lovely weather, allergies, Stellar Kart, diet results, and cloth diapers!

  • Probably, in another month or so, I will be whining about how hot it is.  So, to give balance to that, please let me express how gloriously, beautifully, unexpectedly lovely the weather has been for the last week.  Here in Phoenix in early June, highs are usually in the low 100°s.  Today, though, marked the sixth consecutive day with a high in the 90°s, mostly in the lower 90°s.  It has been so wonderful to have the kids be able to play outside, or at the park, for multiple hours in a row.  Mornings are in the 70°s.  I spent the first hour of morning outside, and finally dragged my feet inside, summoned to the needs of children.  🙂  The fine weather is supposed to last another week or so.  Amazing.  I’m very thankful.
  • Thank you all for the bloggy outpouring of love and concern and prayers for my baby Fiala!  After nearly five days of being both tree nut- and egg-free, her skin seems to be improving.  The spots are still awful, but the perimeter of them seem to be shrinking.  We did get an appointment with a dermatologist who is aware that eczema IS allergy-related, and who won’t just medicate, but will test for the trigger.  The appointment isn’t until mid-July, though.
  • I found out that Stellar Kart is giving an after-the-game concert on July 24 after the Diamondbacks play the Pirates!  Woo hoo!  I love SK, and I love the Diamondbacks, even though their season has been a mostly downward-trending roller coaster.  (They have some GREAT videos on YouTube, but for some reason, even on their official channel, the videos are disabled.)
  • This morning was a weigh-and-measure day for me.  I’m sort-of dieting (which I’ve only done twice in my life before!), and definitely exercising, both with The Firm DVDs and walking (which, when I’m in better condition, will hopefully turn back into running).  I decided that it would be a good idea to do a weekly weigh-and-measure, to motivate myself that the work is actually producing results.  My weight can fluctuate a good 5 lbs in a few days, so the weight isn’t all that big of a deal to me;  it’s more the idea of being FIT and fitting into clothing without anything pudging out over my waistband.  I still feel like exercise DVDs are corny and so unrealistic, but I am definitely getting a workout, with sweat and sore muscles.  Anyways.  I’m down a grand total of 1.6 lbs and 1 5/8″ since last week.
  • I think I’m going to switch to cloth diapers.  Golly.  The world of cloth diapering has dramatically changed in the last 10 years!!  There are 20 billion new products and options, all which overwhelm a simple girl like me.  However, I have decided that I want a product that has cotton next to my baby’s skin, and a great many of the newer cloth diapers do not.  So, I think I’ll just use the 30 or so cloth diapers I already have (plain pre-folds), which were mostly sent to me by my Grandma.  Diaper covers these days aren’t your mama’s plastic pants, either!  They’re really nice!  I have an e-mail into a lady who listed a bunch of diaper covers on Craigslist, all new, and all ¼ to ½ the price of me buying them somewhere else.  I haven’t really talked to my hubby about it.  I think he’d worry about the extra laundry for me, and he may be wise in his concern.  But, I figure if I give it a go for a good month or so, and spend less $$ on it than on a month’s worth of disposables (due to purchases on Craigslist, etc.), then he’ll likely be onboard.

Answering Your Questions Part 1 (Phoenix weather, and ‘Did you plan all those kids?’)

Earlier today, I posted, asking for questions.  I meant to start answering them tomorrow, but here I am at home — Martin has Ethan at his Little League game, and I’m home with the rest of our kids, two of whom are sick with high fevers.  (Grant got up to 104.1° last night!  Scary.  I had him in the bathtub at 3 a.m.)  Martin is actually playing tag-team with my Mom and Stepdad, because he had to leave early to go to kinship, and they arrived late, after work, and will stay for the end and bring Ethan home.  Anyways.  All that to say that I have a rare evening in which I can blog.

Daja asked first, about the love story of my husband and me, but that’s a long story, even for me!  So, I’m giving that some thought about how to best answer it.

So, for now, I’ll start with the (somewhat) shorter ones!

Adrienne asked:

I want to know what the weather is REALLY like in AZ.  We’re considering moving, and we need to be somewhere it doesn’t rain all the stinkin time.  I’m not sure I want to smolder in the 150 degree heat though!  So, how bad is it, really?  Does the vast amounts of sunshine and lack of rain make up for the heat?
~Ade

Well, it depends on what you prefer.  We basically have six months of summer, from mid-April to mid-October.  Yesterday was the first day of 100° temps.  I heard on the news last night that the Phoenix area averages 89 days per year of 100+° temps.  I’m surprised it’s that low, frankly.  And, we only average 7.5″ of rain each year.  We can often go for 2-3 months between rainfall, then have a big storm that violently dumps 1.5″ in a short time.  I used to hate it here.  I really, really hated it.  It’s brown, hot, and dry.  I love the green, rolling rain-soaked hills, punctuated by 90 ft high leafy trees, with their roots soaking in a sparkling stream, all of which are in short supply in Arizona.  However, I don’t hate it any more.  Actually, I’m liking it better and better in Arizona, each year.  We have a vast complexity of life, both flora and fauna, and such striking vistas, and wide, clear blue skies…  Plus, travel an hour, maybe an hour and a half, and you’re in the mountains and cooler temps.  I have lived in the heart of the city (or near it), and on the fringes, and I like it on the fringes.  The scenery is much better.  🙂  In cooler climes, folks have to stay indoors nearly all winter.  Here, you have to stay indoors nearly all summer.  The summer days are literally like a blast furnace.  It’s too hot to roll down the window of your car as you drive.  It’s too hot for a walk, even at night, where it can stay over 100° even past 10:00 at night.  The norm is to travel from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to the pool or air-conditioned other place, and back home.  Kids don’t play outside in the summer, unless you have a pool.  (We don’t.)  Or, if I do send the kids out to play, it’s early in the morning (like around 8:00) and they have to come in 20 minutes later, because they’re drenched with sweat because it’s already over 100° at 8:20 a.m.  So, you have to get really creative with indoor things to do for kids here in the summer, especially if you aren’t into video games and vegeing out in front of the t.v., like we’re not.  But… there are lots of things to like about the Phoenix area.  There are TONS of hiking opportunities, all year ’round, both within the city, and in the area around it.  As far as cities go, it’s really not claustrophobic;  it’s spread out (which is both good and bad — urban sprawl and all that).  We have lots of amenities, some great sports teams, a fairly good arts scene, pretty much any store you could ever want — I hardly buy anything online except for books!  I don’t need to, because it’s all right around the corner.  Right now, it’s uber-affordable to buy a house in the Phoenix area!  The market has tanked, which is great for first-time home buyers.  Some friends of mine had a house next door to them just sell for $45K.  Granted, it’s an extreme fixer-upper.  But, you can get a nice house for $100K right now.

So, that’s more than you asked, as I review your question, which was ~ahem~ just about weather.  Sorry about that.

Jessie asked:

Did you plan to have “all” those kids?  Lol!  I only put it that way (being a mom of 4 so far myself) because that’s the way people ask me! 🙂

Sort of.  Before we got married, my husband and I agreed we wanted 3-5 kids.  But, then, I had ONE, and suddenly extended grace to all the parents of only children, of whom I had previously stood in judgment.  It was hard, and I was done.  Fifteen months later, unplanned, we got pregnant with Grant.  That was a shock, but mostly OK, especially since Grant was such an easy baby.  Fifteen months after Grant was born, I got pregnant with Wesley, which was NOT OK.  I wept.  I didn’t understand what God was doing to me.  I was very ill, and getting worse.  Not many people knew about it, except my husband, because I was embarrassed, because “all” I’d been diagnosed with was chronic fatigue syndrome, moderate depression, chronic bone pain, intersticial cystitis, and a few other things, but none life-threatening.  Plus, in the 2.5 year search I had undertaken to find out what was wrong with me, I had twice been called a hypochondriac by two different doctors, which was humiliating.  And, I had been raised with a paradigm that Christians didn’t get depressed, so I felt guilty or something for that part of it.  So, I didn’t share much with others about how poorly I was doing.  And, at the height of me feeling like I was barely keeping my nose above water with regards to my self, let alone my husband, my 1yo and my 3yo, I got pregnant.  I really wept.  I had to make a conscious decision to trust God because this was a child He had decided to give us, so I had to trust that it would be the right child for our family, and would have a special, specific purpose in our lives.  As it turns out, Wesley’s diagnosis of celiac disease is what led to my own diagnosis of the same, and I really feel like Wesley saved my life, because celiac disease was the core of my problem, and all the other health issues I was having were symptoms of celiac disease.  So…  After I got healed up, and once my three boys grew just a little, I started wanting another child;  our family did not feel complete.  For a while, Martin wasn’t willing;  my health was a great concern to him;  he didn’t think I could handle another child.  But, eventually, he said to me with a grin, “Wanna try for #4?”  And, we did.  🙂  When Wesley was 4.5yo, Audrey was born.  Then, it felt like we had a set of siblings with the three boys, and little baby Audrey dangling off at the end, with no sister, nor any sibling really close in age to her.  So, we decided to try for one more child, and for the first time, were really hoping for a specific gender — a girl.  And, God said, “OK!” and Fiala was born when Audrey was 2.5yo.  So…. it was like all the kids were planned, then they weren’t, then they were.  😀  And in the end, we’re back to our pre-marriage plan of 3-5.  It is uncommon to have five children and not be Catholic, or LDS, or QF, or have it be an accident.  But, five it is, all planned for, more or less, and we’re really pleased with ’em!

Probably more than you care to read about the Podunk Guard Station

(This is part 2 in my 2008 vacation blog.  You can read part 1, about the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, here.)

Dirt roads.  You never know what you’re getting into when you see a dirt road marked on a map.  They can be a rutted trail where even a 4WD only lurches along at barely 10 mph, or a wide, raised, recently-graded throughway where you can sail along at 40 mph or faster.  Until you travel ’em, it’s just a tossup which one you’ll get.

So, when I knew we’d have to travel 16 miles down a dirt road in order to get to our cabin in southwestern Utah, adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park, I was a little nervous.  Not so much because I’m scared of dirt roads;  on the contrary;  I love ’em, even the bumpy ones.  But, as this cabin was the access road for our excursions into Bryce Canyon, I didn’t want it to take us an hour to traverse it each time, in and out.  But, when we turned south off of Utah 12 onto South Fork Road/Forest Road #087, my hopes increased.  Indeed, it’s a very smooth road throughout the length of it that we travelled.

I found out, while we were there, that it’s an “official” Scenic Backway, which is why (I guess) it’s so nicely maintained.

It’s also an exceptionally beautiful road to travel.  On the northern end of it, it’s a little dry, since the East Fork of the Sevier River is dammed to make the Tropic Reservoir, but it’s still forested with pines, with glimpses of Utah red rock on the hills bordering the road. 

As you continue south, the elevation rises just a bit, and the terrain changes quite dramatically to lush meadows divided by a wandering creek, forested all around, with hills on each side.  Each mile we travelled south, my heart just continued to rise in my chest.  It was better than I’d hoped for.  But, then… I’m from the desert, and all you have to do is fill a landscape with a few green hills and a meandering stream, and I’m highly contented.  I realize, though, not everyone favors such views.  In fact, if you live somewhere green, and you’re blase about pastoral valley scenes, you may just want to stop reading right now.

It became a bit misty as we drove, however, that just intensified the greens.  The road travelled by a mostly-dry creekbed for seven or eight miles.  Then, we reached Tropic Reservoir, whose dam was the reason for the creek having no water in it.  Tropic Reservoir was bigger and more lovely than I’d imagined.  Once we passed it, there was water in the creek.  (I’m still not sure if it was the East Fork of the Sevier River, or East Fork Creek.)  All along East Fork Road, we passed (and were passed by) numerous trucks, RVs and ATVs, and passed a good number of camps along the way.  (And quite a few flyfishermen in waders, standing in the creek.)  It didn’t feel crowded — just fairly well-used.  I’m not an RV’er nor an ATV’er, but I could see how appealing it might be to gather the wagons with family and friends and camp out in such a valley for a weekend or longer.

Finally, our destination, Podunk Guard Station, came into view:

And, here’s the little drive up to the cabin:

The creek is rather tucked away in the brush, but, obviously, the boys were drawn to it immediately.  That’s Grant and Wes down by the creek, with Ethan coming down the road.

It wasn’t very wide nor deep, but during our four nights there, Martin and the boys (and even Audrey, a bit) spent a LOT of time fishing.  Ultimately, they only caught four keepers — Brook Trout, all — but they caught an additional 15 or 20 little guys that they threw back.  Both Ethan and Grant had caught fish on previous trips, but this was Wesley’s first time catching any on his own.  He caught one, assisted by Martin, then later, caught one entirely by himself.  Of the 250+ pics we took this trip, not ONE did we get of the boys with their fish.  Oh, well.

Here’s the creek, which flowed through the front “yard” of the cabin:

The cabin didn’t really seem all that small.  It had a large-ish living area that contained the kitchen and futon/couch.  There was a table with four chairs, and a fold-down table/pantry/thingie to provide more table space, and one additional chair.  We pulled up a camp chair to seat everyone for meals.

It also had a bedroom with two sets of bunks, where the boys slept.

The cabin is reservable, and rents for $30 a night (plus a one-time booking fee of $9).  It was built in the 1920s, and had a bit of updating done recently:  new panelling throughout, and nice, new, crank windows.  One bummer is that the wood stove was completely non-functional.  It’s my guess that it is too heavy or wide to take out of the cabin, so they just leave it in there, filling up space in the corner of the kitchen.  I stored my cookpans in it, and used the top to put our ice chest upon.  It also had a sink — with a spigot, but no running water — and a stove, powered by propane.  One internal propane light in the kitchen, as well.  No electricity.  I can do without electricity, but water would have been nice.  It’s my guess that the water used to be piped from the creek, but it’s now unsafe to use because of the cows which roam around the property.  So, we had to make the eight-mile daily trip to a spring by Tropic Reservoir to fill up our five gallons or so that we used daily.  My only serious problem with the cabin, though, was that the pilot lights on the stove wouldn’t stay lit — two on the cooktop, and one in the oven.  That meant that we had to go outside and turn off the propane after each time we used the stove (then go through the hassle of re-lighting all the pilot lights for the next meal), or else propane would seep into the cabin.  And, of course, we turned it off every time we left the cabin, and at night… but the bummer about that was that we couldn’t use the propane-powered kitchen light, then, either.  Good thing we brought two Coleman lanterns.

No running water means no showers, of course.  We’ve discovered that while showers are nice in the woods, we’re not dependent upon them.  However, if we would have stayed a day or two longer, we would have taken advantage of the pay showers at both Bryce Canyon and nearby Red Canyon campground.

One exceptionally nice feature of staying in a place so small, and elevated on a hill, was that while I was indoors doing dishes, or preparing a meal, I could look out of own window and see “the boys” all fishing down at the creek, and look out the opposite window at Audrey, who liked to play on the little hill behind the cabin, picking wildflowers and displacing rocks.

The window on the left was over the sink, looking down towards the creek.  On the far left of the pic is the permanent outhouse.  Outhouses are not my fave, but if they’re necessary, at least it’s nice when they’re well-maintained, as this one was.  (Oh, and the quaint brick chimney?  That’s for the non-functional woodstove.) 

The property to the cabin was surrounded by an old wood fence.  I thought there must be 20 acres that the cabin was sitting on… my husband thought, five, tops.  I called the ranger station after we got home, just to see if they knew how many acres it was.  The ranger said, “Well, I don’t imagine it’s more than five.”  Well, it’s a BIG five — from the road, including the creek, up the hill, and a wooded section past the cabin.  The fence usually did a good job keeping out the cows, who are best viewed (and smelled) from some distance…  One night we did come ‘home’ and there were three deer in our yard, sipping from the creek.

Here are Ethan and Audrey, comin’ round the corner:

Off the back porch was a concrete area with a picnic table, charcoal grill and firepit.  We never did use the picnic table, as all our lunches were eaten while we were at Bryce Canyon NP, and during all our dinners it was dark and/or raining.  In fact, it rained all four days we were there, but not steadily, and it didn’t decrease our enjoyment of being there.  Finally, the last night was clear, and though Martin had a blazing headache and had to lay down early, the boys and I lit a big fire in the firepit and roasted marshmallows.  It’s just not a vacation without roasted marshmallows.

When not fishing, the boys spent a lot of time outside, of course, either down by the creek, or up by the cabin, gathering “spears,” which they sharpened on a handy “whetstone” they found.  We also explored the “forest” on the property.  On one venture, I gathered a wildflower bouquet with 17 different kinds of flowers.

Here’s the back porch area:

At 8600′ elevation, the days we spent there, in late July, were in the 70s or low 80s.  It never felt warm enough to play in the creek, so we just used it to toss in pebbles, and to fish.  Nights dipped down into the 50s, but it seemed snug in the cabin, and we slept with the windows open.  As I mentioned earlier, it rained most days, but it never was a downpour, and it seemed like the rain would blow in, then blow out an hour or so later.  And, never was it rainy enough, nor cold enough that we had to stay indoors.

All in all, other than the water issue, we found Podunk Guard Station to be absolutely ideal, both as a destination in itself, and for its proximity to Bryce Canyon National Park.  (As the crow flies, Bryce is actually less than a mile east of the Podunk property, but one has to drive the 16 miles down East Fork Road/FR#087 and then two miles east down Hwy 12 into the national park itself.  We did find a back road that took us to the property line of Bryce Canyon NP, but the road ended in a barbed-wire fence.) 

So, if you’re not a high-maintenance kind of family, and you’re looking for cheap and scenic digs, Podunk is the way to go.  Think of it as camping without having to pack the tent, and with a LOT more space and privacy.  With many campgrounds now more than $20/night, and most other cabins WAY more than $30/night, Podunk is a steal.  Even with my researching, penny-pinching ways, I was hard-pressed to find any place else where I can easily fit my family of 6 for four nights for $129.  That’s less than ONE night in a cabin at the Grand Canyon North Rim. 

Two more pics.  Here’s the view off the back porch:

And here’s our family, right before we reluctantly left:

Since I’m such an explorer at heart, I never want to go to the same place twice.  However, I hope we can return to Podunk, maybe even next year!

Four kids and a pregnant mom at the city pool…

Today, as well as being now-11yo Ethan’s birthday, was our first day of swimming lessons for the summer.  We take them through our city;  it’s 9 consecutive weekdays, 1/2 hr lessons, for $18 per kid, with most classes limited to six kids or so. 

I decided to go ahead and enroll Audrey in the parent-and-tot class, so we wouldn’t roast on the bleachers while waiting for the guys — especially since the earliest time-slot that had all three levels that my boys are in was 11:00.  By that time, it’s over 100*, and I just couldn’t bear to be miserably hot for that long.  Last year, I was able to get them in the 8:00 time slot, and it was hot then.  So, I decided that Audrey and I needed to be in the water, too.  But, I didn’t even own a regular bathing suit, let alone a maternity one!  So, it was shopping I went on Saturday.

You think its hellish shopping for a bathing suit?  Try doing so when you’re almost 6 months pregnant!!  Ugh.  Not fun.  At all.  After trying on eight, and nearly crying, I opted for this one, which doesn’t look nearly as fetching on me as it does on the model.  I actually liked the one-piece version of the same suit a bit more, but all they had was a medium, which fit me “just right” right now, meaning that it will no longer fit in about one week.  So, I thought it would be wiser to size up to the large.  ~sigh~  I also got some black board shorts to go underneath, largely because I am FREAKED OUT over an explosion of vericose veins, spider veins, and assorted lumpy vascular ugliness on the back of ONE of my legs.  One.  My right leg.  Now, I do agree with my hubby, that one is better than two.  But, I think it’s highly odd that it’s just one leg.  It wasn’t there before I got pregnant, either.  And it’s painful.  I’m considering going to the doctor about it, but I may wait until after I deliver the baby, to see if it’ll all go away when there’s not so much extra blood pumping through my body. 

Which brings me to an only tangentially-related bit:  After 23 weeks of gaining virtually no weight, last week I gained five pounds.  In one week.  Ack.

Anyways, I shouldn’t have worried;  even being large and pregnant, I’m not the largest woman in the parent-and-tot class, so it’s not like everyone is staring at the huge pregnant woman.  Also, folks, that “tankini” top?  It floats around.  “Balloons” might be a better word, actually.  Ugh.  At least my giant belly with its vast array of stretch marks is obscured by the water.

Which brings me to another tangentially-related bit:  I read, before I got pregnant, that not only is pure Vitamin E oil good for reducing the body’s tendency to produce stretch marks, it will actually heal them (and other scars).  That’s what I read, anyways.  I only put it on 2-3x/week;  maybe that’s why it’s not working.  But, I haven’t given up hope.  Still, it’s not the easiest to use:  It’s thick and sticky, and doesn’t soak/rub in well.  I pour a handful and try to put it on pretty much all of my body from mid-thigh to above my bellybutton (yes, that entire area is covered in stretch marks), and then add some regular lotion afterwards.  And, you have to be careful what clothing you put on afterwards, because it’s likely that it’s going to get oil-stained.  Still, when one has as many stretch marks as I do, one goes to certain lengths…

Anyways.

Ethan was bummed out and nervous, because though he graduated from Level III last summer, he didn’t think he had the skills for Level IV, and that he’d be left holding onto the poolside whilst everyone was dashing away down their lanes doing perfect butterfly strokes, or something like that.  Turned out (like I was encouraging him) that that wasn’t the case;  he isn’t even the slowest swimmer in his class, even though it is challenging.

And, it looks like both Wes and Grant will be able to (finally) advance this year.  Grant has been stuck in Level II for a couple of years, mostly because of large-motor difficulties, which makes it nigh impossible for him to do alternating “big arm” strokes, like for freestyle, and impossible for him to tread water.  However, he reported today that he was able to do both!!  Hurray!

Wes has been stuck at Level I for a couple of years, mostly because he didn’t want to submerge his head, and because he has virtually no value for actually following the teacher’s instructions.  However, when I looked over at him, early in the lessons, his entire head was wet.  And, he reported to me that he did, in fact, follow all of the directions given to him.  Hurray!!

Audrey spent the first 15 minutes screaming in that high-pitched, piercing tone that only a 2yo girl can produce, and clinging to my neck with her arms and my torso with her legs, in a death grip.  (Strangely, this made me a bit happy, because she is SO not cuddly, and has NEVER been clingy.  So, it’s nice to know that when she does feel danger, The Mom is a safe place to cling.)  Then, she immediately switched gears, and decided that swimming lessons were fantastic!  In fact, after the lessons were over, I had to keep a firm grip on her wrist, so she wouldn’t go running back to the pool.  “Swimming lessons fun!  ‘Happy an’ a know it, ‘plash a wattuh!  ‘plash!  ‘plash!’  My try swimming lessons, OK, Mom?”  This, after 15 minutes of tears and wailing, “Not want to!  Get out now!!”

So, all in all, it was a good day at the pool.   

Four Girls, Lost (sort of) in Pine Mountain Wilderness — Part One

Tip #1:  If you choose to go to Pine Mountain Wilderness, and you don’t particularly enjoy trailfinding, I highly advise you to stick with the first 2.7 miles of the Nelson Trail #159, then take a left onto Willow Springs Trail #12, which, after an additional 1.6 miles, will lead you to an the always-exuberant experience of cresting a mountain.  Then, turn around and go home.  If you decide you’d like to brave some trailfinding, invest in a GPS unit that has topo maps on it, or you’ll be up a canyon, surrounded by sheer walls, not knowing how to get out (more on that, later).

Tip #2:  If you have a map, even a very good map, like this one, where the map’s creator has handily placed little fishies where there is supposedly running water, even if you go hiking directly after some torrid rainfall, don’t expect the fishies to actually mean that there’s running water.  Also, especially in Arizona, if the first mile or so of your hike is by a babbling creek, and you see other creeks on your map within the wilderness boundaries, don’t expect them to similarly babble.  Invest in a good water filter (like Erin’s Katadyn — more on that, later) and be thankful for those cloudy pools of odd-tasting, but now filtered-and-safe, life-giving water.

Tip #3:  If, in spite of being well-equipped with said GPS, good maps, and multiple trail descriptions, you still get lost, make sure you do it with a group of level-headed friends, so that everyone still enjoys themselves, in spite of treacherous circumstances and a bit of niggling fear. 

And now, on with the real story.

(Note:  I didn’t take the pics for this trip;  many thanks to Jessica for toting the camera along.)

My friend Erin and I have been semi-planning an overnight hike for, oh, about a year now.  The planning began in earnest a couple of months ago, and we mostly settled on a place called Willow Valley, on the northeast end of West Clear Creek wilderness.  It would be 9-ish miles of boulder-hopping and swimming through a canyon that is, at times, lush and brilliantly green, and at other times, more like a slot canyon, with narrow passages framed by towering sheer rock walls.  We had picked May 23-24, a Friday and Saturday.  As we were planning, our friend Jenny got wind of the trip, and we invited her along, too.  Then, Erin was chatting with her friend Jessica about it, and invited Jessica, too.  Frankly, my husband (and I think Erin’s, too), felt a lot better about there being three or four women on the trip, rather than just Erin and me.

As the weekend approached, we anxiously watched the weather reports.  Now, it’s the end of May.  It hasn’t really rained in the Phoenix area since early February.  Normally, rain is eagerly looked forward to, and joyously welcomed, here in the desert.  However, when the rain comes on the very day that you’ve been planning for a YEAR to go hiking… well, I wasn’t all that excited about the cooling temps, wind, and big, splattery raindrops, after all.

Thankfully, all of us either a) didn’t have work on Memorial Day Monday, or b) were able to get it off of work, so we opted for a Sunday-Monday hike, instead, delaying for only two days, which also worked fine for all of our families.  The rain did clear, as predicted, and we were able to set off, after meeting at Erin’s at 7 a.m. on Sunday, under blue skies.

However, since it had rained, and the temps were a good 15-20 degrees cooler than normal, we thought it would be best not to hike in a narrow canyon choked with rainwater runoff, which we’d have to swim through.  So, we decided on an alternate hike we’d already looked into, Pine Mountain Wilderness.

It took us just over two hours from Erin’s house to reach the Salt Flat campground, where the trailhead was for the hike.  It’s a gorgeous, small campground, with three or four sites, each with a picnic table and fire ring, with a mix of huge deciduous trees and pines.  However, there was no water in the creekbed that runs through the campground.  Maybe one can find running water earlier in the spring, with snow melt, or in midsummer after the monsoons.  I don’t know.  But, it’d be perfect for family camping if there was water in the creek.  (There is, however, plenty of water in Sycamore Creek, only a few hundred feet from the campground, though I prefer my creeks to babble and chatter right outside my tent flap.)  Perfect, that is, except for the toilets.  (More on that below.)

There’s pretty much no “official” information on Pine Mountain Wilderness online, but we did find a number of hikers who had gone, taken pictures, and posted trail info online.  This was a big help.

Well, it was sort of a big help.  When the trail disappears, and the GPS unit is really of no usefulness, and you’re surrounded by brush and trees and boulders, those trail descriptions that say “trail grows faint;  watch for cairns” really doesn’t help, either.

I also firmly decided that the well-travelled Todd, of Todd’s Desert Hiking Guide, is absolutely surly.  He gave the beginning portion (which is all he did) of this hike only half a star, out of a possible five.  Now, it could be that since it’s been five and a half years since he’s made this hike, things have greatly improved, but golly.  It just seems to me that every trail description he writes up, he finds something (usually somethings) completely to his disliking, and he gives a perfectly fabulous hike one star.  Or two.  Or, like this one, a half, out of spite for his being somehow inconvenienced or disappointed.  I’ve even seen him down-star a hike simply because he should have worn pants, and his shins got scratched up.  That’s not the trail’s fault, Todd!!  Most of the outdoorsy people I know are rather chipper, the kind who find the silver lining in each cloud.  Not Todd.  He finds the cloud in the silver lining.  Granted, he’s right about some of his trail description at Pine Mountain:  The trail does grow faint, but not until much later on the hike.  The whole way up to the crest of the mountain is great.  And, as he noted, the pit toilets at the trailhead are trashed.  They’re both missing their doors, one toilet seat is broken, and they didn’t look (or smell) like they’d been serviced in, oh, at least a year.  However, who comes to a Wilderness area for the pit toilets???  Not me.  Big deal.  So the toilets are trashed.  Todd says:  “What [Pine Mountain Wilderness] really is: a poorly managed hangout for hunters and cows.” I disagree.  I’m more in line with this hiker’s description: 

“As an Arizona native, I must say the trail along Nelson Spring is among the most beautiful I know, passing through an oak riparian area with clover and other greenery.”

From Todd’s description, I thought we’d possibly be traipsing through foot-deep cow pies, with nary a real trail in sight.  We certainly saw evidence of cows being present rather recently, but it’s not like they tore through the place, and even though cow droppings are a pet peeve of mine (especially in hikes on public lands — double-especially in federally-designated WILDERNESS areas), there weren’t so many of them to bother even me.

Anyways.

We mostly followed the trail description and map of helpful hiker “Moovyoaz” at www.hikearizona.com, which is a free alternative to the (IMO) huge ripoff of www.trails.com.  However, as described above, our group hiked along Nelson Trail #159 until the junction with Willow Spring Trail #12, at which point we continued east.  The trail was well-marked and well-travelled all the way to the summit.  It grew a bit steep towards the end, but since it’s a mountain, that’s to be expected.  The actual summit is a short scramble up off of the trail.  We hung out at the top for a while, snapping pics, and enjoying the view.


Jessica, Jenny, Erin, and myself


There was an alarming number of ladybugs/ladybird beetles at the top.  Some sort of beetle convention??  Or do they migrate???  I don’t know.  But there were millions.

After we descended the crest and headed to the southwest for the hike towards our campsite, things started to get… interesting.

However, I’ll have to save that for the next installment.  😀

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