Saturday, July 31, 2010


Back in April, I bought nine jalapeno starts for $3.00.  This summer we've been picking them like crazy, eating some with our burritos, giving some away, but mostly they've been accumulating in our refrigerator drawer.  Today Chad helped me can six jars of jalapeno pepper rings (I let him do the slicing...he doesn't have contacts, and doesn't need to stick his fingers in his eyes).  I loved working with him in the kitchen, teaching him the ins and outs of canning.  He was really pleased with how easy it was, and told me how proud he is of my gardening skills.  And he asked what else we're growing in the garden that we could add to our pantry of food storage.  I don't know why, but this makes me very happy.

Bree added her own grocery list to the fridge


The mine here in town is the sole sponsor of the Phoenix ZoooMobile, which tours the rural towns in Arizona with a small collection of animals.  Tuesday, Amy and I took our kids to the mine's large office building to see the animals.  The zookeeper had brought a tarantula, a night hawk, a beetle, a boa, and a ferret.  Bree and Calan watched and listened carefully as the zookeeper talked about each animal.  And Mason climbed on the table, took off his shoes and threw his socks across the room.  At the end, the kids got to pet the ferret, and give it a sniff.  Ferrets stink.  Then we took the kids back to Amy's house to play, and poor Cora, who had been under the impression that we were actually going to the zoo, found herself sorely disappointed.  Don't worry, we'll go to the zoo again this year.  Just not when it's 110 degrees.

What the...cucumber?!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dinosaurs in Arizona

On my drive home from Zion last week, I stopped at the Big Water Visitors Center, which is near the Glen Canyon Dam.  I took this picture of a hadrosaur's tail there, discovered in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument area.  I learned about the steps of the Grand Staircase, and how it exposes so many layers of earth, each representing a different time period in history.  For this reason, dinosaur fossil finds are prevalent in this area.  Something about this visitor's center sparked a yearning in me to learn more about dinosaurs.  
I bought an awesome book for the kids, which we have been reading through together.  Bree and Mason love looking at the pictures, and enjoy the fold-out and pop-up features.  I love the little facts I'm learning.  Which dinosaur was the longest?  Which was the fastest?  Which was the smartest?  I also talked to an employee at the visitors center who personally found a sickle clawed dinosaur (Genus Nothronychus) skeleton two miles away from the building.  That skeleton, the most complete specimen of any in its Family, is currently at the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa, just over an hour away from here.  I've added that to my list of places we must see.  Chad and I realized that we can't remember ever seeing a real dinosaur skeleton.  And that's just sad.  A travesty, really.  It must be remedied, and soon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Road-tripping by myself

I have recently made several observations about driving long distances on my own.
  • I can play country and/or chick music and sing loudly without anyone complaining.
  • I don't have to clean up Mason's vomit because he got carsick on the twisty mountain roads.
  • It's kind of difficult to read directions and drive at the same time, and heaven help me if there's a road closure and I have to find an alternate route.
  • I can stop at a visitors center or two without needing a "How will the kids handle it?" discussion.
  • There's no one to hear my pleased reaction to the beautiful scenery.
  • I can't stop and let Chad drive when the torrential rain and standing water elicits post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
  • I can stop for ice cream without Chad asking me if it's really necessary.

Zion with Mackenzie

A couple weeks ago Mackenzie emailed me and said she had a weekend free, and asked if I wanted to go camping.  I was busy with planning and packing for our family reunion, but I knew that the weekend following the reunion was open.  I emailed back and said, "Yes!"  Chad's job was sending him to Phoenix for training during those days, and my mom volunteered to watch the kids.  I knew that another perfect opportunity like this might not happen for a long time, and I knew we had to do it.

We thought Zion National Park would be a good half-way point, and we both wanted to do some hiking.  I was super excited, because I'd never been to Zion before (all that time living in Vegas--we were so close and never went!).  We decided on hiking The Narrows slot canyon, since it would be the only hike bearable in the over-100-degree heat.  I managed to get a campsite reservation at Zion Canyon Campground, which is just south of Zion's south entrance.  Our spot was right on the bank of the Virgin River, and we set up the tent and got a fire going (Mackenzie showed that a girl can start a fire on the first try) to roast our hot dogs for dinner.  It was quite hot still, so we got in our swimming suits and waded in the river, getting a feel for what we'd be up against the next day.  I even tested out the special river shoes and socks I'd rented for the hike.  Stylish, aren't they?  I felt like I was wearing bright yellow old-person velcro sneakers. 
Then we cut up the watermelon I had brought from my garden.  I think I hadn't let it ripen quite long enough, because it hadn't gotten very red, and it wasn't super sweet, but it was very juicy, and cool from sitting in the river, so it was perfectly refreshing.  We also roasted marshmallows, and Mackenzie said the S'mores made with Reeses Peanut Butter Cups were superior to those with plain chocolate.  The dark chocolate S'mores are still my favorite.

Then we decided we needed a jumping picture to showcase our impressive fire (okay, so it's tiny, but it was like 90 degrees still, and we just needed enough heat to roast the marshmallows).  What followed next was a long series of attempts to get a photo of both of us in the air at the same time, which is hard enough to do with a timer, but as Mackenzie points out, is nigh unto impossible when you're using two cameras whose timer intervals are different.  I especially like the bottom left photo, where we've reached the "I'm laughing so hard I'm squatting" stage.
I think this photo ended up being the best, even though I look like I'm just doing some serious stretching.  Let it be said that Mackenzie is far more experienced when it comes to jumping photos, and I'm afraid I may have let her down.  Finally, even though our photos were inadequate, we decided we needed to get some sleep if we were to get up at 5:00am.  We were serious about the hiking thing.  Unfortunately, the chatty girls on one side of us, and the huge group of drunken Brits on the other had other ideas.  I did go over to the drunks in my PJs (it was 11:00pm, after all) and asked them to please be quiet.  Amazingly enough, they actually went to sleep.  Only to wake us up again at 4:30 with pots and pans and car doors slamming.  People can be so inconsiderate.

We were so glad we got an early start on the hike, though.  We rode the park shuttle all the way up Zion Canyon, looking at the amazing sandstone cliffs, which are some of the tallest in the world.  We watched the shuttle empty at stops along the way, and got off at the northern-most stop with a small handful of people who were definitely not dressed to hike.  So we were pretty much on our own.  We started off with some jumping pictures, of course.
We started the hike on the paved river-side trail, passing the few people who had been on the shuttle with us.  Then, when the trail ended, we plunged right in, hiking up the river.  It was an incredible experience.  We passed just a few people who had gotten started earlier in the morning, but for the most part, we had the canyon to ourselves.  I wish I could have captured the grandeur of the canyon walls with my camera, but it was impossible.  In one portion of the hike, "Wall Street," the canyon walls squeeze down to 25 to 30-feet apart, defining the aptly-named “Narrows.”  The Virgin River itself was not moving very fast, which made for relatively easy hiking (as easy as hiking on slippery river rock can be!).  
By noon we had made it to the five-mile mark, "Big Springs,"  which is also the place where hikers without a permit must turn around.  We ate our lunch here, enjoying a rare patch of sunshine, then started our hike back.
We made pretty good time on our way back down, passing some of the same people we had met on our way up.  It had gotten warmer too, so we swam through all the deeper parts, not bothering to pick our way around as we had on the way up.  The Narrows had gotten very crowded by that time though, which really marred the scenery!  Plus, we had had a long day of hiking, and we were impatient to get back, so getting stuck behind slow people was unbearable.  I was so glad I had rented those river shoes, because even with them my feet were tired and sore, and my ankles and leg muscles were screaming.  Of course, I can't remember the last time I hiked for 10 miles straight.  And I'm pretty sure the 8 miles of hiking in a river bed was a first.  Mackenzie and I should feel quite accomplished.

After we got back to the campsite, it took a little time, food, and caffeine to bring us out of the coma of exhaustion we had slipped into on the shuttle ride back.  But then we were at it with the jumping pictures again.  This time, we jumped off the picnic table benches, to increase our chances of success.  Not bad.  We played some games, and talked late into the night, enjoying our time together.  I love that girl.
The return drive brought it's own scenery.  I had to drive all the way through the park on my way home, which delayed me a bit, but not for too long.  I will definitely have to come back to Zion again, to see more of the amazing geology that I only got a glimpse of on this short trip. 
My drive home took me past views of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon and the dam in Page, The Vermilion Cliffs, the mountains in Flagstaff, the desolation that houses Meteor Crater, and the beautiful Salt River Canyon, which is about an hour's drive away from my house, and looks like a miniature Grand Canyon.  I stopped to take a picture, enjoying the brief reprieve from the rain, and was surprised to see that the usually blue-green Salt River was a muddy orange.  We do live in the desert, but when it rains, the aftermath can be amazingly violent.

In the past couple of weeks I have seen many of the wonders of the Colorado Plateau, an area rich in geology and human history.  I now have a longer list of must-see destinations--places that I have only gotten a peek at.  The more I see of the Southwest, the place I call home, the more I realize how incredibly unique it is, and how I've only experienced a fraction of the beauty it has to offer.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Wallace Reunion 2010

We just returned from the Wallace reunion, a fun-filled week at Vallecito Lake in Colorado.  What does a Wallace reunion entail?  I'm glad you asked.

Lodging details:
We stayed at the Croll Cabins, which are right on the lake-front.  The 24 of us took up two cabins.  The cabins may have been old, a little dirty, and the mattresses may have been as comfortable as plywood.  But that view!  The view was amazing.  The family spent hours enjoying the green lawn and soaking up the sun.  The water, the mountains, and the sunsets were beautiful.
Fishing highlights:
Well...there was a lot of fishing, but not many fish.  My six-year-old nephew Shea caught the only one that was kept and eaten.  Chad caught a few small ones.  I think the record-breaking heat may have had something to do with the lack of biting.  But the men were not to be discouraged.  They went through plenty of worms, trying to get a good catch.  Actually, I think they went through all those worms because the little kids kept taking them and playing with them.  Bree and Nathan played hide and seek with their pet worm for a while.  And Bree discovered that worms don't do well indoors.  At any rate, several worms met an early end at the hand of the preschoolers.  And the rest of them made a midnight snack for the local raccoons.  Oh, right, so, the fishing.  I know Chad had fun sitting in the boat with his brothers for hours on end.  The fact that they didn't catch anything is unimportant.

Fran wore herself out entertaining the grandkids.  She organized two separate treasure hunts, one for the older kids, and one for the younger.  She called Bingo for hours on end.  She cooked, cleaned, hugged, played, and acted silly for the kids' entertainment.  I don't know how she does it.

Hanging around:
We spent a lot of time just doing nothing.  And when I say "nothing", I mean that the adults would try to relax while simultaneously keeping an eye on the kids, who were constantly running off, rolling in the poison ivy, falling down the cabin's stairs, standing too close to the water's edge, throwing rocks or sticks at each other, and not eating balanced meals.  Sheesh.  But we did have fun playing board games, doing puzzles, reading books, baking bread, and playing Family Feud.
The kids had fun visiting the horses that were corralled behind our cabin.  And I took Bree and Mason to the big corral on the other side of the lake for "pony" rides.  Bree loves horses, and rode like she'd been doing it all her life.  Mason wasn't as steady in the saddle, and he was more interested in the tractors than the horses.  I took Bree again later in the week along with her cousin Nate.  He ended up being too nervous to ride, but it was definitely one of the biggest highlights of Bree's week.
The boat:
Chad's friend let us borrow his little boat for the reunion, and we drove to Colorado with it strapped on top of our Suburban.  The guys used it a lot for fishing.  But there were also a few rides just for the fun of it.  The motor was just a little trolling motor, so the boat didn't move very fast, but it was Bree and Mason's first time in a boat, and they thought it was pretty cool.  
Mesa Verde National Park:
The first National Park established to "preserve the works of man" (Theodore Roosevelt).  Home to Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, and almost 600 other cliff dwellings.  This was definitely my favorite part of the week.  We stopped first at the visitor's center, and purchased tickets for the Cliff Palace tour.  Then we drove to see the Spruce Tree House, which is a cliff dwelling just a short hike from the road.  We got to walk around where Ancestral Puebloans (formerly called Anasazi) made their homes almost 1000 years ago.  Bree and I climbed down a wooden ladder into a kiva, which was used for religious ceremonies.  The ranger there told us that Puebloan descendants granted permission for park guests to walk inside the kivas only after several inches of dirt were lain over the floor, so we wouldn't be desecrating holy ground.
We went on a little hike after that, hoping to see some petroglyphs on the Petroglyph Point Loop Trail.  But we soon discovered that getting to the petroglyphs would require more of a time and energy commitment than we were prepared for.  We did have fun scrambling over and through interesting sandstone rocks.  And we enjoyed some gorgeous views.  We walked through the museum, which had a very impressive collection of artifacts uncovered throughout the park.  We saw ancient pots, baskets, seeds, cloth, sandals, tools, etc.  We learned how they date the dwellings by comparing the rings in the logs used in the buildings.
Cliff Palace was the highlight of the day.  This place is huge, with 150 rooms.  I've seen "ruins" before, but this was far beyond anything I expected.  I took the first picture as we drove around the Mesa Top Loop, and looked over the valley at the amazing view.  Cliff Palace was just one of several cliff dwellings that could be seen from that particular overlook.  The magnificence of that view couldn't be captured by photograph.  I live in an area of Arizona where a view of a mesa rising from the desert floor is not uncommon.  But add to that the sight of ancient stone dwellings built into natural alcoves in the sides of those cliffs...I can't explain it, but my brain wouldn't didn't want to believe my eyes.  It was magical and impossible and beautiful.  Actually walking through it, poking my head into a window of the tallest tower to see the cross-beams and painted designs on the interior walls, climbing up and down treacherous steps to access the dwelling, imagining what life was like for these amazing was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Purgatory Lodge:
We spent some time at a ski lodge north of Durango, and had a blast.  Bree and Mason started off in the bouncy castle.  Then Bree, Chad, and I all rode the alpine slide (you ride the ski lift up the mountain, and slide down a chute in a little cart).  Then Bree and I each had a blast on the bungee trampoline, and I even did a couple of flips.  Then I felt like vomiting.  But that didn't stop me from getting on that mechanical bull.  Then my muscles were sore and I really felt like vomiting.  But it was so worth it.
Bar-D Chuckwagon:
I had heard great things about this musical cowboy dinner show, so the whole family went.  We rode the little train around the place, then toured the little shops while we waited for our dinner.  I found a cute Christmas ornament for our tree to commemorate the vacation, per tradition.  We enjoyed sampling the confections from the chocolate shop.  Then we had to get Mason a toy train from the toy shop after he had a jealousy-coronary over his cousin's train.  Then we enjoyed our barbecue dinner, which was quite good, and were entertained by an extremely talented guitarist and his band.  Everyone's favorite song was "Old Matt Palmer had a Misfit Farm", which featured a lisping snake (hith, hith here), a dyslexic sheep (aab, aab there), a narcoleptic pig (picture a cowboy "asleep" with a microphone up his nose), and a foul-mouthed chicken (profanity was bleeped; it was a family show).  It was quite hilarious.

The Piñata:
Sydney organized the making of the piñata.  She inflated the huge balloon, and let the kids drip flour glue all over themselves as they stuck strips of newspaper to it.  All was going well, and the piñata was drying nicely, until the balloon popped and the piñata shriveled.  But, not to be daunted, Sydney filled it with candy anyway.  It was too fragile to string up on a tree branch, so we just sat it on a stump and let the kids take turns whacking away.  Candy is always a big hit, no matter the means of obtaining it!  Then we headed back inside for Rachel's baby shower, and some family karaoke.

 Water Balloons:
The kids had a blast shooting water balloons into the lake, trying to hit their cousins and Uncle Mike.  I'm sure the balloons were biodegradable and least no one reported us to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The last night:

We watched the sunset, played some games, and spent a few precious last minutes with each other, knowing that being all together like this is a rare thing.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My garden this week

The first strawberry.

 Corn stalk tassels.

Peruvian Daffodil.
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