Friday, January 30, 2009

Desert Beauty

As I was looking back through some pictures today, I was struck with the beauty of some of the desert photos from our stopover at my parents' house in Tucson during our Christmas trip.

My mom has her front porch converted to a sort of greenhouse area. I don't know exactly what this one is, but it is one of many beautiful and interesting plants - a lot of them euphorbia or echeveria.

She keeps zebra finches in a large cage at one end of the porch. She was doing some daily cleaning in the cage and Zack was "helping"... and before we knew it the finches were out of their cage. They were skittish, darting from one end of the porch to the other as we tried to come near them, but most often lit on the pencilstick euphorbia (at least that's what we call it, I can't seem to find the info under that name online). It's a large plant, scraping the porch roof. The birds congregated on it whenever they got enough space from us people. It made the porch feel like a little aviary, but it was a little nerve-wracking whenever anyone entered or exited. At nightfall they went back to their roosts, I think relieved for their little adventure to be over.

The yards in Tucson don't look like most people are used to. There is little to no grass in individual lawns, especially in the front yard, though you see at little at businesses. The front yards have "desert landscaping" or, as it is more recently called, xeriscaping. You see part of the front in this (adorable, I couldn't resist!) picture of my mom and Sammy. Grass will grow there, as evidenced by the georgeous golf courses, but it takes a level of water that most individuals can't justify in a desert climate.

Some people have a small lawn in the backyard, but my parents' is pavers surrounded by flower bed. The amount of plant life my mom can squeeze into those beds is amazing. There are two grapefruit trees, other trees, and many plants. Although it isn't pictured, I've always love the iceplant that overflows some of the edging on the beds. The hummingbirds come to her feeder, as you see here.

And finally, one of the most magnificent features of the desert landscape are the mountains. Tucson in ringed in mountains so that pine trees and cooler air are always a short or medium car ride away. At sunset, they light up pinks and purples in the fading light, as you can see from the view from the road in front of my parents house. Wow!

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Word Count

I've been slowly building up my Starbucks order and I think it's reached a certain level of yuppie-cachet. I started with Venti Mocha. But, unfathomably, a Venti only has two shots of espresso. There are two in a Grande! So it's just a large watered down double shot. Lame. Ok, so I added and extra shot of espresso and made it a Triple Venti Mocha. That's more like it.

But wait, isn't the sweetness a little excessive? I accept that a Starbucks coffee, both in calories and in price, needs to substitute for a meal. But should it substitute for a meal AND a dessert? My sister orders a three-pump (as opposed to the standard five-pump). I tried that... but it seems like we were getting a little carried away with the reasonableness of that. Let's instead go for a Triple Venti Four-Pump Mocha. Mmmm, yummy.

But wait, why have a Mocha when you can have a Peppermint Mocha! And why have a Peppermint Mocha when you can have a Peppermint Mocha Twist with peppermint flavor in the whipped cream too! So make it a Triple Venti Four-Pump Peppermint Mocha Twist!

But wait, have you noticed that lately the coffee is lukewarm before you can drink the first third? I think they somehow reduced how hot they make it to start with... Aha! You can ask for it to be extra-hot! It is with great excitement that I'm settling on the Triple Venti Four-Pump Peppermint Mocha Twist Extra Hot!

At least for now.

p.s. The time I sent my husband inside to make this order (my boots were KILLING my feet!), I just couldn't bear to part with anything but the "Four-Pump". He walked up to the counter and said, "Um, my wife sent me in to order and I have a string of words that I don't know what they mean. Can you help me?" But hey, the coffee turned out perfect!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Book Journal

It's a shame I haven't done anything interesting this week. Been too busy pretending I'm in a never ending Mucinex commercial. But, I thought I would write about an idea of my sister's that I'm trying.

My memory is very strange. I know a lot of random facts (to quote my sister: "Deanna, not everyone is full of useless bits of information!"), but I can't remember my chemistry classes (pathetic, as my major was chemical engineering) or what I signed up to do at the last whatever meeting. I have very specific memories of some things and none of others. So, when I read a non-fiction book and think I'm going to use the content, I like to make some notes. The problem with these notes is that they are in random places and I don't always know where to put my hands on them again. One recent set was on a large post-it in the book, where it remained when I returned the book to the library (half read and overdue, as usual).

Julie uses a journal as a place to take notes on books or write explorations of thoughts they prompt. I decided to try it, though I don't often stick with doing such things regularly. I have journals, purchased years ago when I was on one kick or another, still blank. This is a nice one, spiral bound so that it will lay flat for writing, sturdy, pretty but not sappy. I transferred a set of notes on a favorite parenting book and now I'm trying to get down some notes on that Crunchy Cons book.

After all, it's due back to the library...

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Monday, January 26, 2009

She's let herself go.

First, before I'm permanently labeled as a shlumpadinka, I'll say in my defense that I'm sick, Sammy is teething and slightly feverish and it's chilly and rainy out. Also, it's our stay-at-home-day, which we try to do every Monday to balance out our weekends that tend to have too much running around.

Today, I put on a sweatsuit. I changed out of my jammies into a pink jogging-type outfit with a black t-shirt. It isn't something with sweatband ankle cuffs and a freebie logo on the chest. It isn't torn or grease-stained. The pants are boot cut, the sweatshirt is a zip-up hoodie, and the black t-shirt is a feminine cut with detailing around the v-neck. I'm just saying that though it isn't something I'd wear to a party, it isn't that bad.

This was the response from my four year old:
Zack: Are you wearing that today?

Me: Yes.

Zack: As your clothes?

Me: Yep.

Zack: Mommy. I don't think you can really wear that.

Me: Why not?

Zack, head shaking, chin pulled back, face scrunched in distaste, sputtering: It's... too... pink! and jammie-y!

Me: Well, it isn't jammies, I changed out of my jammies. And it is our stay at home day.

Zack: And are you still wearing it when Daddy comes home?

Me: Yes! It's fine!

Me, calling out after him as he shakes his head and leaves the room: And I'm sick!
Sheesh. He's strict.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Keep Those Kiddos Busy

Here's a tip I learned on today's shopping trip! Keep the kids occupied in various stores and checkout lanes with a little game - count the Obama photos! They'll learn to count into higher and higher numbers with every turn of the shopping cart!

Ok, I'm not really being snotty. Wait, yes I am, but it's directed at the ubiquity and uniformity of media rather than at a particular political figure(s).

And it did work.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Book on Crunchiness

You'll never believe it: I finished a book.

I first saw this book on a webpage, I'm sure of it. I think it was Facebook, but it could have been on a blog or... I don't know. I tried to trace back where but didn't find anything. It was during the height of the election this past fall and I immediately felt drawn to read it. It took me a while to get it from the library, and then of course I had to read half of it and return it, repeat. In the intirim, my head has been buzzing with the ideas and perspectives of this both conservative and countercultural author.

The title, Cruncy Cons, in confusing. He means "Cons" as "Conservatives" rather than con-men or convicts, two unfortunately intuitive guesses. I find myself stuttering around the title when I talk about the book: Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers, Hip Homeschooling Mamas, Right-Wing Nature Lovers, and Their Diverse Tribe of Countercultural Conservatives Plan to Save America (or at least the Republican Party). "Crunchy" is in the sense of the granola-types, usually leftists, but not this time.

I struggle with my politics; I feel like so much of what I believe is a logical following of my faith and convictions, yet my attitudes don't seem to match anyone around me. I've been wondering how politics are supposed to fit in anyway, since I can't agree with most of the examples I see. A dear friend of mine once described those who can't seem to pick Republican or Democrat as "morons!" and while he didn't know he was describing me, he didn't change his stance when he found out. Remembering the conversation still makes me chuckle. It wasn't offensive; I understand that I'm the one who doesn't fit. And in a lot of ways I'm not politically well read or educated enough to figure myself out. But this book tied together some threads for me.

This book is full of ideas about stewardship of the land, the ubiquity of overwhelming consumerism and the dangers of elevating the free market economy to the highest good. There was some that resonated with me and some I didn't agree with, but the viewpoint was useful and I definitely recommend the book.

I think I've still got a lot of thinking to do.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I try to keep my posts in the interesting and/or helpful realm. Does this little bit fall under interesting or just gross and whiny? This morning I coughed so hard I choked and threw up. FOUR TIMES. Stupid cedar pollen. Harrumph. Once I get over being so miserable, maybe I'll come back and delete this.

p.s. I read this just after writing this post. There. This post is officially interesting.

All the way from Lordsburg

My sister "stopped by" this weekend. She lives in Yuma, so it's a bit of extra effort to find herself in the neighborhood, but she and her husband attended a wedding of an old friend in Houston, so lucky us, our house was on the way! It was a whirlwind trip; they were here from about 10pm Friday until noon Saturday, then again from about 1am to 10am Monday. Aside from the pesky time spent on sleep, we made the most of our little visit.

And guess what she held in her little cooler when she arrived at my door? SALSA!!!

Wow, is that thoughtful, or what!
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Burgeoning Harvest

The garden we planted way back here is beginning to produce some lettuce. It was planted some time ago, and really should be going strong by now, but it spent our whole two-week Christmas trip covered, so when we got back we had more sprouts than full leaves. But after intermittent sun and even a little rain there is enough to take leaves as we go.

I love this stage of the lettuce production - the leaves are young and tender, succulent and delicious. The arugula is mild and the spikier lettuces are still soft. It's so good that I've even had James go harvest some for me to eat with breakfast (the rest of the family likes it, just not quite enough to add it to breakfast). I love it with just salt and a little drizzle of olive oil or lemon juice.

The down side of this stage is that it's just so scarce. I'm stealing little leaves from here and there, trying to strategically thin without mowing down the future harvest. I keep putting my tender little salads on the side when I'd like to have a giant fluffy bowl of the stuff.

Today my small but luscious salad is on the side of my current go-to lunch, black bean soup. It's been different each time I've made it, but today's was the best!

p.s. For balance, let me tell you my go-to dinner, which James brought me home tonight for a late dinner after the kids were in bed: Fully Loaded Nachos from Taco Bell! Mmmmm, additives! :)

Time keeps slippin' away...

And on what am I spending my free time? Could it be preparing wholesome homemade yogurt for my children? (Ok, really, it would be cheating to say the yogurt was spending time. It sits unattended so it's not exactly a time sink.) Could it be finishing all those books I'm supposedly reading? Recreating that rockin' Lordsburg salsa?


It's time to confess - I'm hooked on Veronica Mars. This is a really entertaining little detective show with a young flair. It's fun and highly addictive. Each night my husband and I have been watching a DVD (that's FOUR episodes of an hour-long show). Even without the commercials, we've been staying up way too late. But I've got these characters in my head and they aren't leaving until they tell me what happens!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Dockray Farm

Grandad's wagonwheel fence surrounding the house and yard and Grandad's rock wall outlining garden beds
My Granny and Grandad had a farm in the mountains outside Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Their land encompasses some of the mountain on each side of the road that winds through those hills on a longer, prettier route to Mayhill than the main road takes. There are fields down the center of the valley, along the road, where they had cattle the whole time I was growing up. Granny still keeps a small herd, even though she lives in town in the house she build after Grandad died.

My mom recounts stories of a time when they grew gladiolas in the fields and artists would come and sit along the road, painting the scene. Even without the flowers, and even in the browner days of winter, it's beautiful country. I have a lot of memories of this place. It's rich with family history, history that should be written down by someone. I'm not sure who that's going to be. Last year, through a combination of events, so many were told and retold back and forth between my mom and Granny that I *had* to write some down. They are on little scraps of yellow paper, picked up from the scrap notes pile at our church office, where I was when I realized I was going to miss out on these jewels of memory if I didn't at least start taking notes. I found them when I was packing my scrapbooking stuff to take on our trip and realized that it's been a whole year and I haven't done anything with them. I know that every family has these stories of the everyday, but these are from mine and I wish they were put together in a way that we could enjoy them. Hopefully I'll start relaying a few here!

Zack working on crossing the cattleguard
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Monday, January 12, 2009


This is Zack's "goodbye" to James when he leaves for work each morning:
I admit that I had him add the first "TURN YOUR PHONE ON!" but he added the second one himself. I only had him add it because he had the rest of the litany going anyway. I guess it's some parallel balance to The Questions?

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Nine hours is a lotta wedding coordinating for one day. I'm beat.

But, I did get a sense of what it's like to come in after a long day to kiddos who need hugged and bathed and put to bed. When I was driving home, I found myself thinking that I was so tired that surely James would do the lion's share of the bedtime routine. Then I realized that if it doesn't work that way on James' workdays.... ahem.

But, when I walked in to Yay, Mommy's home! and big smiles, I really did get a second wind. I didn't mind handling the baths on my own, even when Sammy tried to stand up in the tub and immediately fell and started burbling blood (minor, cleaned up much more quickly that it looked like it was going to). Funny to be seeing things from another perspective. Nevertheless, I'm glad they are in bed.

Now for some feet-up time!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Lordsburg, it isn't.

I made some red chile salsa. It's pretty good, I guess. But it doesn't compare to what we had in Lordsburg. I did the full thing - started with dried chiles, toasted them, soaked them, then ran them through the blender. I added dried oregano per the waitress' information, and the green onions I could see were in the original salsa, but then I was on my own. I put in two cloves of roasted garlic, two fresh jalapenos fromt the garden (seeds included), cumin and salt. It was too much red chile - no balance. So, I added some tomato paste and one small roma tomato. The texture is good. It's nice and spicy, but it's still missing something...
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Yogurt Results

Our milk turned into yogurt!

Wow, this was really really easy. I thought the process was more involved, but not so. The milk is heated to sterilize then cooled to a warm temperature. You add some existing yogurt and let it sit in a warm place. That's ALL!

It tastes good, the texture is thick and creamy... pretty cool stuff!

(For the record, I'm not claiming I'm going to make all our yogurt from now on. I might not. Just saying.)

If you want the detailed instructions, check out this site.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Adventures in Yogurt

On Monday, James came come asking if we could make yogurt and reciting detailed instructions, complete with temperatures in Celcius. His Indian coworker had come back from a long visit home asking if James has some yogurt starter he could borrow. When James said we'd never made yogurt, and that he didn't even know you could make yogurt at home, the coworker told him exactly how to do it.

I have wanted to try this, but either I was a little intimidated, or I thought James would think it was insane to eat milk that has been sitting out warm for hours, or I just never got around to it. Some combination, I guess. But James wanted to try it, so here we are!

We buy plain yogurt anyway for Sammy's food, and ever since Zack turned into a Wild Thing I've been making up plain yogurt with fruit for him too (just what I need, one more item to do before I can go to bed every night!). In fact, it seems like I can't keep enough yogurt in the house. I was just at the end of the large carton (that I bought yesterday) and wishing I'd bought two, even though I had to buy the even more expensive organic brand because my usual expensive organic brand was out of stock. So, we used the end of that carton for starter on our experiment. It wasn't difficult at all. Could it be that this would be sustainable enough that I could keep us in yogurt with minimal purchases???

Expect a report on sucess or failure in the morning!

For now, I've got to go cheer against OU.
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I want to go back to Lordsburg

...words I really didn't expect to hear from myself.

On the long road back from our trip, I was reading yet more about food politics, policy and choices. There were some interesting points, and I read snippets aloud to James as he drove. By the time we were ready to break for lunch, McDonalds didn't hold much appeal for us. James picked a local diner called Kranberry's. I was a bit dubious about giving up the time, but it was soooo worth it. We really enjoyed sitting down to a real meal while we were on the road, plus the break was good for James' back, which he had pulled the day before. But the real prize was the salsa. Oh my goodness. So good.

I asked who makes it, thinking, "Could it possibly come out of a jar? Could I buy it? Maybe I could set up a weekly standing order!". Of course, they make it in-house.

I studied the rich red color. I couldn't detect any tomatoes in it. I decided it must be red chile based and asked the waitress. She thought it was tomoatoes, but agreed to go ask the cook. She came back saying it was indeed red chiles, dried ones, "like you put on pizza..." she finished, seeming puzzled by the information. She also offered me another bowl, to go. I was thrilled to accept and put it in our little cooler of Sammy food. I thought I might have to share, but it turned out to be too spicy for anyone else I dined with, so Lucky Me!

I enjoyed the extra bowl over the next two days but now that it's gone, I'm stalking about the house, smacking my lips, looking for that spark of flavor in the foods we've got. They aren't cutting it. So, I got some dried chiles from the bulk section and broke out the Rick Bayless cookbook. Wish me luck!

Monday, January 05, 2009

We're Back

Zack at the Dockray Farm in the mountains of southern New Mexico

We're back from our long trip and and I'm really enjoying looking through the pictures. We captured more moments than it seems like the time could have held! We had such wonderful visits with family and it was fun to do something different. Now I'm glad to get back to normal. I've been writing in bits and pieces, on scraps and programs. I have half written posts in draft form that I am going to try to fill in, so pardon the disjointed chronology and old news as I finish and post them.

Views Over 2540 Miles

Our holiday travels took us to three states and a sliver of a fourth. We came through mountains and deserts, heat and snow, really great and really bad food. There were family visits and family places at each turn, though, and times were very very good.
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