Posted in family life, sqt

{sqt} – seven reasons to visit the sonoran desert museum

A few weeks ago my parents and I took the kids down to Tucson to visit the Sonoran Desert Museum. Despite its name, it is not very much like a traditional museum (although it does have an art gallery) – it is part botanical garden, part naturalistic zoo, and part museum. And all of it is exceptional. We were there for over six hours, impressive enough with three littles even before factoring in the 2 hour drive to get there, and we still didn’t get to see or do everything. But here’s a taste of what we did experience!

  1. So many native plants! – The museum irrigates their grounds, so that while the desert there isn’t representative of any exact part of the Sonoran Desert, all the plants that are native to the region can thrive in a smaller, more accessible space. I could have spent the whole day just looking at the plants and reading all the information about them.
This cactus was one of my favorites – I loved the shades of color running through its prickles. Those broad spikes earned it the name Cat’s Paw, or, more evocatively, Devil’s Tongue.
  1. The Hummingbird Aviary – While we didn’t visit at the optimal time of year for birds, bees, and butterflies, there were still a lot of hummingbirds zipping around the aviary. All the kids loved looking up into the branches to see if they could spot a bird, and Aubade got especially excited when one flew just over her head and landed near her. The aviary has a large informational sign as well for help in identifying the different species of hummingbird, which I appreciated!
  1. The Desert Bird Aviary – Yes, there are two aviaries at the museum! In this aviary, there is a wide range of different birds – we saw doves, ducks, cardinals, orioles, and quail, and my mom commented that she’d seen even more types on a previous visit at a different time of year. There were places to sit and be still and watch the birds, with water features trickling through the center of the aviary, creating an overall very calm and peaceful atmosphere. We had to be sneaky and peek under bushes to find most of the birds though 🙂
  1. The Animal Shows – Every day, the museum hosts at least one live animal show where a docent will bring in a variety of native Sonoran species and talk about them with an audience. Unfortunately, I had to miss most of the show on the day we went because it was lunch time and Aubade was having a hard time – but Rondel and my dad absolutely loved it. The docent asked for questions and actually meant it, engaged with the audience, and explained things well. Rondel even asked several questions himself, loud and clear! And at the end, a few of the animals stayed up at the front for people to look at more closely and even pet. This was Rondel’s favorite part of the entire day, and I wish I hadn’t missed out on so much of it.
  2. The Animal Exhibits – The exhibits here recreate the natural desert environment, and can often be viewed from multiple levels. All the riparian animals have underwater viewing areas, for example, and cliff-dwelling animals like the ocelot can be seen from two different vantage points. We saw a beaver curled up in his den, and a playful river otter swam around by the window for a long time with Aubade and Limerick. He would swim right up to the glass and around in circles and back again; Aubade kept jumping back giggling saying that he almost touched her and Limerick kept trying to explain to her that the otter couldn’t actually touch her because there was a glass wall in the way 😛
  1. The Raptors – My mom and the kids also saw an ocelot, a fox, and a mountain lion, but I have no pictures of these because I was too distracted by the Harris hawk family winging over the desert. It was such a beautiful and wild thing to see, the hawks on the wing, or perched on top of the saguaros like sentries overlooking the land, glorious and fierce.
  1. The Packrat Playhouse – If you have little kids, this is a great place to stop in and play! The museum limits the number of people allowed in at a time, and restricts the time spent to a half hour, so you’ll probably need to reserve your time in advance and come back later. But after several hours of walking in the sun looking at plants and animals, a little time out of the sun climbing and sliding and tunneling was perfect for the kids.
Rondel and Aubade in the mouth of a large rattlesnake statue, pretending to be eaten
A couple of packrats didn’t get back to their burrow quickly enough and ended up as rattlesnake food!

Honestly, I could keep going. The views are spectacular. The offshoots from the trail with nests for solitary bees or gardens for butterflies are fascinating and beautiful. The day we were there, the museum had a rocks and minerals event going on and we got to learn about a lot of the different rocks that are part of the Sonoran desert – and even take samples home! The reptile and amphibian houses captured Rondel and Limerick’s attention for ages, with so many unique types of snakes, lizards, frogs, salamanders, and more, and a wonderful display describing the life cycle of an amphibian.

In short, if you are anywhere near Tucson and in any way interested in the Sonoran Desert (or birds, or animals, or plants in general), I highly recommend the Sonoran Desert Museum. It can be a bit pricey, but there is a lot to see and do and it is very much worth the cost – just plan on spending the whole day there!

Again, here is the link for the museum’s website: https://www.desertmuseum.org. Check it out!

I’m also linking up with Kelly for quick takes again this week – head over and read the rest of the linkup!

Posted in musings

do not grow weary

Every morning (more accurately, most mornings), I sing the invitatory psalm for the liturgy of hours. Even if I don’t manage to pray any of the actual hours, I have the invitatory memorized now so it is easy to fit in.

And every day I find myself pondering the human struggle – my own personal struggle – to live the life of faith with perseverance and endurance, as a journey of many years rather than a short climb to a plateau of spiritual accomplishment.

Today, listen to the voice of the Lord.
Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness
When at Meribah and Massah
They challenged Me and provoked Me
Although they had seen all of My works.

Do not harden your hearts, reads the non-liturgical translation. It reminds me, every time I read it or sing it, of the apostle Paul’s injunction to the Galatians: Do not grow weary in doing good. (Probably because it gets quoted in the book of Hebrews in the context of the eternal rest to which God is leading His people.)

Do not grow weary, God says. Do not give up, do not abandon the faith for something else, do not forget all you have seen of Him and all He has done just because nothing spectacular is happening right now. Like the Israelites, sometimes we follow God through the desert, and our only sustenance is the daily bread He sends, and we don’t know how much longer it will be until the promised land or even the next oasis – and in those times the thought of just sitting now and not traveling any longer, or the possibility of following some other guide, can be so tempting.

Do not grow weary, do not grow stubborn, we sing each morning in reminder to ourselves. Do not lose heart, do not forget that God is working all things for good or that He is making all things new. My heart cries, “why is the road so long? why do You keep me waiting for the food and drink my soul needs so desperately?” But let me ever cry in childlike trust, knowing there is a purpose, believing it is good, not in the proud self-righteous judgment that led the Israelites to rebel against God at Meribah and Massah when they saw no water and thought that God would not be faithful.

Do not grow weary, the apostle reminds us, in doing what is right. Do not let boredom or fatigue or the worries and cares and pleasures of this life steal your will away from following God and doing His will. Do not spread yourself so thin that a hole tears through the center where God used to be. Do not let grudges and bitterness against other people build up in your soul and lessen your motivation to love and serve those around you.

For in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. - Gal. 6:9

Again he sets a certain day, "Today", saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, 
"Today, when you hear his voice,
"do not harden your hearts."
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day.
So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; let us therefore strive to enter that rest. - Heb. 4:7-11

Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter our fatih, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the same, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. - Heb. 12:1-2

I find that I need this, every day: that it is good for me to be reminded, each day anew, to look to Jesus, to endure, to run the race with endurance, to prepare myself for battle with the armor of God, to strive for the promised sabbath rest of joy with God and man – to not grow weary in this wilderness, to not harden my heart against the hope that is in Christ.

Posted in musings

for the feast of the presentation of the lord

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. – Luke 2:25-26

I wonder what it would have been like to live with that promise: to wake up each day to the brokenness of the world; to witness sin and sorrow and suffering and still not see the promised Savior; to wonder, in the back of his mind, if he’d actually received the promise from God. I imagine it would be a fiercely held hope, a belief clung to with claw-like fingers in the face of all the opposition doubt and despair could dredge up.

And because he had clung so fiercely to the promise, when the time came for it to be fulfilled, Simeon was ready: ready to drop whatever else he was doing, ready to act in faith without the choking chains of fear, ready to claim that which the God he knew to be faithful had promised him.

And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God. – Luke 2:27-28

I can just see him, standing the temple, watching the people drift in and out, surrounded by the sounds and smells of worship and sacrifice, wondering with each family his eyes passed over, “Where is he? Where is the coming Messiah?” And oh, the joy, the almost paralyzing thrill of of undeserved, unparalleled, ecstatic knowledge! For here was the child. Here was the fulfillment of the promise. However long and winding the journey of salvation, Simeon was content knowing he had seen this moment, knowing he had beheld with his own eyes the promised Redeemer of the world.

As we sing each night in the liturgy, remembering Simeon’s faith and the hope that Jesus brings,

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
Posted in learning together

learning together: biomes

While the kids were playing together, I set up an activity for the next lull in their imagination. Pulling out two of our giant whiteboards, I quartered them and placed a biome card (from our Waseca materials) into each of the eight sections: Oceans, Wetlands, Tropical Forests, Temperate Forests, Grasslands, Desert, Mountains, Polar Regions. Pulling out the box of toy animals, I began sorting them into the biomes: zebras in Grasslands, tigers in Tropical forests, dolphins in Oceans.

It wasn’t long before Rondel came out and was instantly engaged, asking if he could help sort the animals. So we sorted together, talking about which biomes would make the most sense for animals which are domesticated, for example, or adapted for a range of habitats. When we had at least a few animals in each biome, I brought out the biome question and answer cards.

There were six questions altogether (asking about temperature, moisture, soil, plants, animals, and humans), and each one had an answer for each biome, so Rondel’s task was to match each answer to the correct biome after I read the card. He only needed help on one or two of the cards, and showed a good conceptual understanding of how the environment differs between biomes, how plants and animals have adapted to different biomes, and how humans have interacted with biomes in different ways (both positive and negative).

I noticed that our animal representation was heavily skewed towards African grasslands and oceans; the Waseca teacher’s guide recommended using animals cutout from magazines, which would increase the diversity, but I didn’t have any that I was willing to cut up. I may just need to buy a big batch of old National Geographics or ZooBooks off of Ebay – old magazines can be really useful craft and learning supplies!

This activity was a good summary of the information we’ve learned about biomes as well as a good overview before diving into more detail on any one area; I think we’ll explore animal adaptations next but I have a lot of ideas.

Posted in miscellaneous

tea!

I purchased some loose leaf tea (from Adagio Tea), mostly because I was curious about how it would compare to the bagged tea I’ve been becoming addicted to, and realized very quickly that the quality is much superior 🙂 The tea is much smoother, with more layers of flavor, and the leaves can be re-steeped more times before becoming weak (which is nice, because I like cream in my tea and you need strong tea to support the cream!).

I also realized that I’m fairly particular about my tea.

It’s not just that I prefer black tea to green, white, red, or matte; it’s not just that I prefer black tea over most flavored tea; no, I prefer assam black teas (and blends) over ceylon black teas. I had already suspected this, as I like Irish breakfast tea much more than English breakfast tea, but this order confirmed it. You see, along with the order they sent a week’s subscription to their communiTEA program – a daily cup of tea with a new flavor or blend – and the only one I really enjoyed and would want to drink again was an assam black tea blended with peach, marigold, and caramel. The oolong and raspberry teas I couldn’t even finish.

What’s kind of neat (since my favorite tea is Irish breakfast) is that the way I like to drink tea (strong, with plenty of milk or a dash of cream) is apparently the Irish way to drink tea! You know, if you can believe what you read on the Internet 🙂

Are any of you tea drinkers? What are your favorite blends, or your tea idiosyncrasies? I’d love to hear from fellow tea-lovers online since I don’t know many in real life!

Posted in sqt

{sqt} – biking!

I’m joining the SQT link-up today, hosted by Jen at Meditatio this week! She mentions in her takes that she’s been blogging for 20 years which I find completely amazing – head over to read the rest of her post as well as the other linkers 🙂

  1. I’ve worked at the same place for close to 10 years now and I’ve commuted by bike off and on throughout that time – from two different homes, on three different bikes, and across widely varying work schedules. Currently I’m riding a $5 3-speed cruiser with pedal brakes that I bought from a retiree in a trailer park in Apache Junction and biking mostly at night.
  2. Biking at night is very different than biking in the day. I actually wear a helmet now (with a headlight strapped around it and a built-in taillight), and a fluorescent pink vest with reflective stripes. I have pictures but they’re pretty awful 😛 Safety over fashion though! I’m very visible and I can tell that most drivers are giving me a wide berth, but a lot of people just aren’t expecting a biker or feel irritated by the presence of a biker and don’t drive as safely as they could.
  3. I also put cost over fashion and instead of using something like real bike panniers to carry everything I need each day at work, I just have a plastic crate zip-tied to the rear rack of the bike. (I actually Googled how to do this just to make sure it would be stable and I found the most hilarious step-by-step guide. If you need a laugh, or want to attach a crate to your own bike, check it out!)
how not to tie a crate to a bike, image courtesy of the Eugene Bicyclist blog mentioned in take 3
  1. The hardest part about biking to work is making myself do it. Every day I think, “I’m tired, I don’t want to push myself that hard”, or I put off packing a change of clothes or procrastinate checking my tire pressure and lubricating my chain ($5 bikes haven’t had a lot of TLC in their lives and they can really benefit from it. I reduced my commute time by 10 minutes just by lubricating the gear chain, after one horrendous commute home where the bike was fighting me the whole way.). It’s just easier to take the car, since most days I don’t leave until after Paul gets home and his little commuter car is available and driving it doesn’t mean stranding him with the kids.
  2. So why go to the effort? Because every time I get off my bike at the end of my commute, I feel less depressed, less anxious, and more motivated than I did when I got on it. (The therapist I saw after Aubade was born described it as mindfulness biking and it’s pretty accurate – I just sink into the present world around me, the warmth of the sun or the whir of the wheels or the light catching on the trees, and the whirl of anxiety fades.) Of course, in the long-term it’s also just a healthy practice since I don’t have another way to squeeze 25 minute intervals of hard exercise into my daily life, but those short-term benefits are what keep me getting on the bike each day.
  3. Another benefit to biking is the sensory experience of commuting in the dark. I really, really, really loathe driving at night. Between the windshield and my glasses, all the head lights and tail lights and traffic lights and building lights fracture across my vision like broken shards, stars and lines and webs and points that feel like they’re stabbing me, and I have to stay on maximum capacity and focus the entire time just to deal with the lights and be safe and aware. When I bike, head lights are sometimes too bright (and police lights are still desperately painful) but I don’t feel like my whole field of vision is splintering apart.
  4. The flip side, of course, is that a car with a loud engine and a driver who wants to rev that engine proudly is much, much louder without the walls of the car to muffle the sound; it makes me want to get off the bike and stim until I can feel calm again. I wear headphones and listen to music or podcasts when I bike during the day, but at night with the added risk of poor visibility I don’t want to dampen my other senses. So it can make things difficult – but still definitely worth it.
My eyes don’t make such geometrically perfect patterns with the light, and the dimmer lights fracture as well, but other than that this isn’t too far off from what I see. Public domain, picture credit JB Stran.

Do any of you have the option of biking to work? Have you tried it? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts and experiences 🙂

Posted in family life, hikes

hiking with littles: mormon trail to fat man's pass and hidden valley tunnel

January is really an exceptionally good time to hike the low desert – the sky is clear and brilliant blue, the little cool-weather ground plants are green, the breeze and the shadowed rocks are crisply cool, and the sun is cheery and invigorating. So I took advantage of some extra adult helping hands and decided to attempt a trip to Fat Man’s Pass and the Hidden Valley Tunnel on South Mountain. (Actually, I had intended to go alone with the kids, but my parents wanted to come too and I’m very glad they did!)

There are multiple ways to get to Fat Man’s Pass, but because Limerick is an avid climber I thought we’d try starting at Mormon Trailhead, where the trail climbs steeply upward for 1.3 miles before leveling off and descending to Hidden Valley. I may have underestimated just how steep it was… but the kids did really well! Aubade trekked up almost the entire first leg of the hike on her own two feet, and Limerick charged ahead and even took detours to boulder off on the side.

Limerick was so happy about climbing out this high that he actually let me take a picture of him!

One of the benefits to hiking so steeply up the side of the mountain was the view gained by such a rapid increase in elevation. We could see out to downtown Phoenix and over to the ASU Tempe campus, even while looking up towards the mountain let us see beautiful desert slopes.

It was definitely helpful to have an adult paired with each child for this trail, however. It was also helpful to carry a lot of water, despite the cool weather, and plenty of snacks for well-timed breaks. Jackets, on the other hand, while comfortable at the trailhead, quickly became just extra weight to carry – hiking in the open sun gets your body warmed up fast!

Rondel hiking with my dad 🙂 We mixed up the pairings throughout the hike but Rondel really loved getting to talk with my dad when they were together.

Towards the top of the mountain, Mormon Trail comes to an end at a junction with National Trail, and there is a turnoff to the left for Hidden Valley Tunnel. While you could turn in here and go through Hidden Valley beginning with the tunnel and ending with Fat Man’s Pass (giving yourself a longer descent back to the trailhead afterwards), we followed National Trail about a quarter of a mile longer to the turnoff for Fat Man’s Pass. After the sun and heat of the trail, the pass feels almost frigid, the eerily smooth rocks around the narrow path very cold to the touch; it is quite refreshing, and the pass itself is really fun to play in. The kids ran back and forth through it for a long time, and we ate a picnic lunch in the shadow of the overhanging rocks behind it.

From Fat Man’s Pass, the trail meanders down through flat sandy washes towards a tumble of rocks through which hikers must clamber or slide. When you approach them, it appears that the trail has reached a dead end, but don’t give up! Going to the left and through an opening in the rocks leads to a series of short slides; going to the right involves a short climb and a trail down to the bottom. I convinced the kids to come with me on the right to show my dad that it was an actual safe trail, but then they saw my mom sliding down the left side and climbed back up so they could go the “fun” way 🙂

Aubade playing in the sand at the edge of the upper half of Hidden Valley – the rocks behind her conceal the path down towards Hidden Valley Tunnel

The rock barrier between the upper and lower sections of Hidden Valley are really a fun place to climb around – I came with some friends back in college (we must have taken some other trail to get there since I don’t recall either Fat Man’s Pass or Hidden Valley Tunnel) and we spent a lot of time clambering up and down the boulders and joking about it being a great place to pose for an album cover photo. Aubade kept marching up to every tall rock she saw and doing her best to get to the top of it, giving my poor dad much anxiety while being exceedingly cute, oblivious, and self-confident.

When we reached the lower end of Hidden Valley not long after, we found the tunnel filled with other hikers so we didn’t stay long, unfortunately, and I didn’t get any good pictures. It is a really neat place, though – the rocks have made a literal tunnel leading out of the valley, long and thin (though not nearly as narrow as Fat Man’s Pass!) and cool, the rocks again polished slippery smooth.

Then it was back up to National Trail and a short ways to the junction with Mormon Trail, and the long (for tired little kids) descent down the mountain. Every few tenths of a mile there was a trail post with a picture showing how far you were from the bottom or the top of the trail, and Limerick and Rondel took great encouragement from these as their energy wore out – it was a great way to visually confirm that the end was getting closer! Aubade did have to be carried down as she was completely exhausted, and ended up napping on my mom’s back (we had been alternating the carrier – I had it most of the way up without Aubade, and my mom got stuck with it going down. She does have better knees though…).

Limerick explaining to Rondel that this trail post meant they were at the end of the trail! All the red on his face was chapping solely caused by the time spent hiking, a combination of the wind, sun, and stimming 😦

According to the South Mountain Trail map, the total distance of the loop was about 3.4 miles; according to my mom’s Apple watch tracker, it was 5.5 miles. My guess about the discrepancy is that the trail map measures the flat distance traveled, while the Apple watch measures the actual distance traveled, including the vertical aspect – which was not insignificant on this trail! The hypotenuse of this particular triangle was quite a bit longer than the base 🙂 Either way, it was the longest trail the kids have every hiked, and I wouldn’t recommend doing it with more than one little without help (I could have hiked with Rondel and either one of the others, for instance, most likely, but definitely not all three). However, if you can do it I would encourage you to go for it! Hidden Valley is worth the trek to get there, and the Sonoran desert is beautiful this time of year.

How to get there: from the I-10, exit on Baseline Rd and drive west till 24th Street. Turn left and continue south till the road turns left and becomes Valley View Dr. The trailhead is to the right very shortly after. It does fill up quickly on weekends, but there is roadside parking available on 24th Street. There are no bathrooms or water at the trailhead, so come prepared! Mormon Trail is the only trailhead, and the path is well-marked the entire way except through Hidden Valley itself.