Posted in sqt

snippets of life

  1. We are now flooded with blackberries! I have made 4 jars of jam, a crisp, and the most wonderful simple sauce to pour over crepes filled with tangy whipped cream – not counting all the berries we’ve simply eaten straight off the bushes! And honestly this is just the beginning of the season; we probably have another few weeks of fruit.
  1. I’ve been texting my sister all about my blackberry goodness and I think she’s a bit jealous, as she lives in a place where blackberries ripen much later. It might even be one of those places where you can legitimately eat the last of the blackberry harvest on September 29th for Michaelmas (which just boggles my mind as that seems so late for berries). But her turn will come in a couple months and then she can make me wistfully recall these blackberry days.
  2. My other sister, who lives locally, made me a very nice cloth mask to wear when I need to go out! She’s actually been making a lot of them and donating them to one of the local grocery stores where she knows some of the employees, and she even offered to donate some to the security personnel where I work after they commented on mine and on their anxiety about not having enough (the man I spoke to was going to be on patrol on one of the floors scheduled for deep cleaning after a confirmed covid-19 diagnosis and didn’t have a mask, so there’s clearly a problem here for people’s state of mind at the very least, even though the masks aren’t as crucial as keeping your hands clean and off your face).
Sporting my mask! It’s like the opposite of one of those superhero masks that just go around their eyes.
  1. I also got to wear the mask down to Aubade’s dermatology follow-up this week. Of all the places I’ve been, they are definitely taking the virus most seriously. Two people wearing masks stood outside the waiting room to take our temperatures before letting us in; the chairs were mostly removed with just a few left in isolated locations; and everyone there was masked and gloved. And while Aubade’s eczema (about which we were following up) is well under control currently, it was still a useful visit with regards to the molluscum epidemic among the kids (a possible treatment at last! Hurrah!) as well as Aubade’s nevi spilus birthmark (which apparently slightly increases her risk of skin cancer over her lifetime and is something to watch as she grows). Also Aubade got to show a bunch of new people her sparkly light-up sneakers, and we got to chat just the two of us for the whole drive down and back, which is always nice.
  2. Limerick is still loving numbers over here. He really just needs a whiteboard and a marker and a new concept to sink his (figurative) teeth into and he is so happy! This week he spent quite a bit of time calculating powers of different numbers until they got to be 6-7 digits long; he made lists showing the conversions between fractions and decimals for 1 down to 1/12; I introduced him to long division; and we had a fun afternoon counting in different base systems. (It always seems like we aren’t doing enough school, but I think that’s actually a lot for one week now that I list it out like that).
We did base 10, 16, 2, and 3 together; then he did base 4 on his own and here he’s working on base 5. He ended up making lists for bases 6-9 as well, counting as high as he could fit on the whiteboard for each base.
  1. In general, Limerick has a good mind for solving problems of the quantitative sort. Paul’s been setting up the boys’ loft beds so that one of the ladders and the two railings lie across the space between (with Aubade’s mattress on the floor below) so that the kids can crawl across and hang and swing and jump off them. Well, they decided they didn’t want to wait for him to be done working, so Limerick and Rondel figured out how to do it together. It’s not easy! The ladder is heavy and difficult to position even for me, as is the mattress they have to drag in from the other room (through two doors and a narrow hallway). But Limerick has an eye for angles and positions and possibilities, and was able to figure out how they could set it up without the advantage of adult height. It was really awesome listening to him direct the whole project, with Rondel providing good input and feedback as they worked together.

And… that’s all I’ve got for quick takes this week! (Well, I suppose I could add that Rondel and I have almost finished The Horse and His Boy since last week’s takes. I’m not always sure just how much he understands, especially in places with lots of names and places, but he keeps wanting me to read more.) Visit the link-up at This Ain’t the Lyceum! I hope you all have an excellent week filled with unexpected pockets of joy 🙂

Posted in family life

mary, mary, quite contrary

Finally, finally, our yard has come to life.

It’s been almost two years since we moved in to a home with a large empty dirt yard, and  slowly began to shape it as time and budget allowed – and the final step, this spring, was to add irrigation and plants.

  1. Instead of grass, we planted a lawn of clover and herniaria. And then on impulse I threw in a bunch of wildflower seeds and they took over. Not so great of a decision there – but they brought all the butterflies to our house while they lasted, and they aren’t perennial so the main staples of the lawn should eventually fill in the space. Rondel spent a few days prowling through the wildflowers with an old salsa container trying (and succeeding, surprisingly often) to catch the visiting butterflies.191140
  2. On another impulse, fortunately with a more fortuitous outcome, I planted a row of mammoth sunflowers along the eastern side of the lawn, in between the lawn and the gardens. They still have another two months to grow (and won’t those bright blossoms be a gift in the hottest, most barren part of summer here in Phoenix?) and already the largest is taller than me! 

  3. On the west side of the yard we planted our first two little saplings, a lemon and a peach (we have room for three more on the east side, but the ground isn’t ready). And the little peach tree has the softest, fuzziest baby peaches on it right now! We pruned off most of them so the tree wouldn’t be over-stressed, but we left a few – I don’t know exactly which variety it is but I believe it should typically finish ripening by mid-May, depending on the weather. 191138
  4. Speaking of weather, our cold, wet winter has turned into an uncommonly mild and rainy spring, which I really appreciated when I realized that my cantaloupe vines were taking over everything and I seriously needed some sort of trellis to provide them with the necessary space to grow. Two trips to Lowe’s (something is always forgotten) and many hours of work later (spread out over several days), I got them built and in place, and un-tangled and tied up as much of the viny mass as possible. They’re like tunnels over the path between the garden beds and if the cantaloupe grow to the top I will be very happy but not at all surprised as they are already halfway up. Word to the inexperienced: have ample space or trellises in place before your cantaloupe have seven-foot long vines twisting around each other and trying to take over the neighboring garden beds! 

  5. Cantaloupes are not the only vining plant we have growing right now, though the others are still much more restrained. Opposite from the cantaloupe on the north side we have cucumbers and butternut squash, and on the other side of the southern trellis from the cantaloupe we have pumpkins. I am doing my best to train these up the trellis as soon as they are long enough to reach it to avoid the tangled mess that is the bed of cantaloupes…191150
  6. In the remaining un-trellised bed I have mostly herbs: lavender, rosemary, oregano, purple basil, sage, mint, and dill. It is so convenient to have those herbs on hand when I’m cooking (especially the dill, which I love and which is expensive and doesn’t last well when bought at the store). I am, however, going to have to put a barrier around the mint to keep it from spreading, as I ignored everyone’s advice about it when I planted it and have been amazed at its rapid growth in just the past two months. The basil has also grown like crazy and I’m thinking there will soon be enough to make purple pesto. This bed is probably the kids’ favorite since they can pluck a leaf off any of the plants for a quick bite whenever they walk by 🙂191146191147
  7. Finally, out front, we have a blackberry bush filling in the planter along the front wall! We are in the middle of blackberry season right now and Limerick makes sure to go outside at least twice a day to see if any more berries are ripe! There aren’t a ton of berries this year, but given the amount of new growth, next year’s crop is going to be insane. (And yes, that’s a tomato cage. I didn’t have any stakes and I wanted to encourage one of the main stalks to grow more vertically…)IMG_5399

How does your garden grow?

Head on over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for the rest of today’s linkup!

Posted in hikes

hiking with littles: horton creek

When I worked full-time, I would seasonally find myself walking back to my car at dusk past a row of orange trees in bloom. If you have never had the privilege of smelling orange blossoms, I feel sorry for you; sweet and sensual with a sharp almost spicy bite underneath, their perfume would flood the evening air, overshadowing the smells of asphalt and car fumes and cooking dinners in the nearby apartments. There aren’t many other plants whose scent is quite so powerful and intense (I believe lilacs are, though I haven’t lived in a place where they grow since I was very young).

Here in Arizona, one of the only other such plants that I can think of is the ponderosa pine. While there are many different species of pine, including several native to northern Arizona, the ponderosa has a very distinct scent: like honey and vanilla, with a whiff of hazelnut, sweet and heavy and warm, with only that faint nuttiness in the background in place of any other bitterness or spice. When the trees are healthy and hydrated, the sun’s warmth seems to pull the odors out into the air (or maybe keep them from blowing away), giving the whole forest a unique character. If orange blossoms make me think of a tower room with sunset-colored hangings, blowing in the breeze of an open window, where a couple is about to share in each other’s mysteries, then the smell of the ponderosa bark lingering in the air reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s description of Perelandra, where the outside air among the trees has a warmth and golden richness that our crisp cool world is lacking.

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image is of a ponderosa pine, looking up the trunk toward the sun-illuminated branches. They are very tall trees.

If my feeble attempts at describing their aroma have managed to convince you that you need to immerse yourself in the ponderosas at least once in your life, then Horton Creek Trailhead should be on your shortlist. Ponderosas are scattered all over northern Arizona, but they must be particularly concentrated here because their scent nearly overpowered me when I stepped out of the car, in contrast to Ellison Creek and Tonto Natural Bridge State Park (which have more of the typical clear, clean feeling in the air).

Parking for the trail is a short walk away from the actual trailhead, and two small creeks actually run near each other (and eventually join up, I believe) near the parking area, which led to some confusion on our part. So at first, instead of heading down the actual Horton Creek trailhead, we wandered up Tonto Creek along an elk trail and through the water. The grass was consistently up to Aubade’s chest and in some places was higher than Limerick; the creek meandered through level ground in places instead of the typical steep canyon; and blackberry bushes threatened to overtake the entire western side of the creek.

All that to say, it was wild and overgrown and absolutely beautiful.

A short ways up the creek (short by the road; long by way of elk trails with an 18 month old who won’t walk because the grass is too tall) there is a short waterfall with a small pool at the bottom; just to the west of the falls is a path up to the road, and at the base of the falls below that trail is one of the largest blackberry thickets I have ever seen. We were a bit late for blackberries – I found about 10 ripe ones within reach – but I’m thinking that sometime in early September the bushes should just be covered with berries.

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Being just a bit too late for the blackberries also meant that we were just a bit too early for the fall colors; only the sumac and a few other isolated leaves were beginning to deepen into red. Coming from the low desert, we still got quite excited about it, and we’ll probably be going up north more often over the next month or so to catch more of the changing autumn colors.

After we reached the waterfall, my mom hiked a bit further with the boys while Aubade nursed (teething plus the long grass had made her miserable – I was so glad to have another adult with me!), and we found an open area near the creek to play for a while.

After that, we went downstream to the waterfall again and up to the road and back to the parking area for lunch. At that point, my mom wanted to find out where an actual trail was; she had hiked here before and was confused as to why the creek seemed so different than she remembered. So she explored a bit further down the road and discovered that we had actually been on Tonto Creek and never made it to the Horton Creek trailhead – where there was a very well-kept and walkable trail.

Since the boys still had enough energy, we decided to check out the real trail as well! It turned out to be wide and sandy, leading up the high ground between Tonto Creek and Horton Creek. Horton Creek was mostly dry at the beginning of the hike, unlike Tonto, although other hikers told us there was running water a mile or so down the trail; it was still incredibly green and lush, however. Aubade had a much better time on this trail since she didn’t have to push her way through the grass 🙂

If we go back to Horton Creek, I would try to do the designated trail first, while everyone has energy and the temperature is lower, and then play in Tonto Creek after lunch. And I do think this is a spot worth going back to – there is a lot left unexplored, and I have the feeling that things change a lot here seasonally, with berries, changing leaves, and fluctuating water levels. Without another adult I would be loathe to attempt more than the well-marked Horton Creek trail, however! It was a challenge getting everyone through the undergrowth around Tonto, though worth it for the hidden beauty.

To reach Horton Creek Trailhead from the East Valley: Take the 87 north to the center of Payson and turn right onto AZ-260 E at the McDonalds; about 16 miles later turn left on Nf-289. The parking area for the trail is on the left just after a one-lane bridge; it is marked and has a vault toilet and picnic tables. To get to the trail, walk back down the road across the bridge and up towards the Horton Creek Campground. The trailhead is at the base of the campground and is well marked.

When to go: For maximum water flow, go in spring after the snow melt or during the monsoons. For blackberries, go anytime from late August through mid-September. For fall colors, go in October. And I can’t speak from personal experience, but I’m guessing that April or May would be best for wildflowers 🙂