December 31, 2009

Blue moon

A rare event tonight: a blue moon (second full moon in a month), and on New Year's Eve to boot. That only occurs once every 19 years. And what a beauty!

A happy and healthy New Year to you!

December 27, 2009

Hill 5325, aka Ocotillo Ridge

Because we had already done the Stronghold hike this week, in the snow, we decided to go "outback" to do more exploration this morning. It is still pretty chilly early, and there still is some snow on the protected north faces. (Shawna loves the patch to the north of shop/shed and makes a beeline for it whenever she is outside).

Our destination was Ocotillo Ridge, which we ride by on our Windmill trail. The rocks are almost all pudding rock, as if a east-west dike of it was pushed up. The ridge has 3 "tops", the highest of which is 5325 feet, and we climbed all of them. None are as tall as Hill 5445, just south of this ridge. Lots of ocotillo and prickly pear, but also a lot of grass and fresh deer sign. This is the ridge looking back (east), with Blacktail Hill in the background.

No spectacular surprises this time, such as big crystals, but the scenery is gorgeous (the pictures do not do it justice), and we have a better understanding of the lay of the land. We can overlay our GPS tracks on the Google map and do a fly-over.

December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas ...

... to you, reading this blog today. I hope you encounter some of the following on this special day:

  • a gorgeous Amaryllis bloom, a face you love
  • a beautiful piece of music, laughter, a horse's soft nicker
  • delicious smells emanating from the kitchen
  • the taste of something special that bring back happy memories
  • a hug, a (doggie) kiss, a feeling of wellness and gratitude.

December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

We just went to Dave and Barbara's house, the strawbale that they have been building since June, to have the first "guest" dinner there. It looked so welcoming, walking up.

And how wonderful the inside is shaping up! The kitchen cabinets are still being installed, but that will be the finish. Then it will be "just" the small stuff, like hanging quilts, building bookshelves.

What a cozy place, and what a wonderful, and delicious, Christmas Eve.

Stronghold in the snow

It was an ambition of mine to hike the Stronghold trail in the snow, and this morning we had the opportunity to do just that. Generally snow is here for just a number of hours, but it remained cold yesterday, and from here it looked like there was plenty left because the Stronghold is so protected.

It was a beautiful hike in now-gorgeous weather. We set no speed records as we had to watch for ice here and there, and slog through 4 inches of snow. It is always peaceful there, but in the snow it was total silence. Delightful!

Next June we will remember that we hiked this trail in the snow: Christmas Eve, 2009.

December 23, 2009

White pre-Christmas

We were sure we were going to be skunked again. The weatherman predicted rain and snow last night but when we went to bed there was just howling wind: it looked like the system passed us by. I woke up during the night hearing rain, but I was surprised to see snow when we got up. This may be the most accumulation we have seen here yet. The wind was still blowing, and the morning walk was cancelled, or at least postponed.

A pack of four coyotes sauntered through the front yard when we were having breakfast, in a lazy pursuit of a cottontail who got away without putting on any afterburners.

The horses were fine, as long as the hay keeps being dispensed, but the hens will have none of this. Their door blew open during the night, but nobody is venturing out in the snow.

The dogs do enjoy this weather, especially Shawna of course, who is finally in her "'Mute" element. Tomorrow's forecast is for sunny, and in the 40's. At least I can depend on the weatherman to get that right.

December 21, 2009

Voor Pietje

It is the shortest day today, and I am always happy for this turning point to lengthening days. But it is a special day for another reason: today would have been my dad's birthday. His 100th. I am grateful really, that he did not get to see this day because that would have meant he would have seen my mother decline and eventually die, and that would have been terrible. He loved her so very much.

My dad was special. He was the silent, quiet type and I still see him sit in the corner of the couch, smoking a pipe and listening to classical music, or reading a book. Music was important in his life, as well as some other simple pleasures, all in moderation. He loved going out to breakfast when he was here to visit, and Lazy Susan's in Canon Beach, Oregon was his favorite. Afterwards taking a walk on the beach with the dogs was "the good life" to him. As was sitting in first class in the airplane over here, sipping a glass of port, having some good cheese to go with it, and enjoying some favorite concerto over the earphones.

I have fond memories of my dad. He was the one to take me to my first concert at the Concertgebouw. I must have been about 7. Just him and me, and I was wearing a dress. I felt so grown up. I also remember my dad coming to my (field) hockey games, cheering me on on the sidelines. He also loved to walk and we went on many outings to our local town park, without much conversation.

It was my dad who watched airplanes I was on take off from his office at the airport, just to know I was off safe, and it was my dad who cried at the airport when I left for the US some 38 years ago. That one still hurts.

Hartelijk gefeliciteerd, Pietje, ik houd van je!

December 18, 2009

Hill 5756 via Sparkle Ridge

When we were on Hill 5445 last week we saw this interesting ridge that is really part of Mt Glenn, but which did not look too daunting. It is a little further from home, but we opted to walk out our back gate anyway rather than driving part of it. We just packed a sandwich instead and set out with Emma.

After an hour of easy hiking we started going up the ridge at some watertanks, left over from times when cattle grazed here in the National Forest. The going was pretty easy, though we had to choose our path carefully to keep Emma from getting too many prickly pear stickers. This time we brought tweezers.

The rocks here are fascinating. We walked over some sedimentary rock and suddenly we were upon the metamorphic rocks that have a lot of quartz crystals. They sparkled everywhere, and some of the crystals were big. I oohed and aahed, and we finally set some favorites aside to pick up on our way back: no use lugging that stuff to the top. People had obviously been there before, but we discovered it by ourselves.

At the very rocky top we ate a quick snack and scampered down again, picking our new finds up on the way. Dan overlaid our GPS trail on the Google map that shows exactly where we were. So much more to discover!

December 16, 2009

Cookie swap

Sometimes I wonder where my head is. Tonight is Lucy's Christmas cookie swap; only 6 people are participating this year. Frankly, that is fine with me because it's a bit boring to make 9 or 10 dozen cookies of one type to exchange.

I had already decided to make ginger crackles: they taste good, are easy to make, and can be frozen ahead. As a matter of fact, I had already made up the dough, shaped it into balls, and froze it one day when the weather was a bit ho-hum.

But, Lucy has had a bit of a rough year, and I found this recipe (from a trusted source) for Polish-type cookies ... Lucy likes to honor her heritage, so I decided to honor her. The recipe was simple enough, but I never take the time to shape cookies, leave alone needing a ruler to make 2" squares, so I had a bit of a frustrating afternoon. Then filling those 2" squares with apricot preserves? What a sticky mess! What was I thinking?? Not knowing what they are supposed to taste like, I hope they are ok.

This one's for you, Luce. From me, and the ever-present, and ever hopeful, kitchen vulture.

Saddle tryout

We have a new neighbor moving in, half a mile away. She is a bit younger than we are, and from the few conversations I have had with her, she is a real horsewoman. She splits her time between here and Vermont where she and her husband have a farm, and she talks of breeding Morgans at some point in her life.

One of the times she rode up to the WD, I admired her saddle as it seemed so light. It is an endurance/trail saddle. Cindy immediately offered the use of an extra saddle she had and an hour later the saddle was in the tackroom.

This puppy weighs only 12 pounds! Compare that to the 45 pound saddle I normally ride. There is no way I can lift that onto the horse gracefully, so Dan rigged the mounting platform so I can saddle from it. But check this out: that is me holding the saddle over Buggsy's back.

And here is how it fits. We have taken it out twice, and I think Buggs likes it as there is real spring in his step. I like it too other than saddling and unsaddling, because it is close to the horse. Dan and some of the other guys think it is "not secure feeling", but I think I have a winner.

December 11, 2009

Driveway project

It's kind of like when you have little on your to-do list: nothing gets done. We have been hiking and riding so often that our projects have taken a back seat. The pads for the driveway entry sign were poured weeks ago, but that's been the extent of it.

The last couple of days have been great, windless, weather however, so we decided to get cracking and do the rock work. It was to be my project, but it was obvious early on that I was not on the right track (admittedly), and I asked Dan to take over under my watchful eye.

We worked all morning yesterday and were able to finish up one post today. I now need to gather more Goldilocks rocks (not too big, not too small, kind of flat ...) and we can finish up the rock work next week, if the weather is conducive.

One interesting tidbit: when we started work this morning, with temperatures still warming up from the 30's, we found this young western banded gecko clinging to the curing mortar. It probably came for the heat from the chemical reaction, and sure liked sitting on my hand. When he was good and warm we put him under a protective yucca.

December 9, 2009

The new gadget

Dan bought a new GPS, the old one having died, aside from having been not all that helpful and difficult to use. This one has a more visible screen and better software, including topo maps. I look forward to having a grip on where we have been, and how it relates to other hikes and rides that we have taken. It would for instance be fun to see if we could find our way through the mountains to Dragoon Spring.

Today we took it to Hill 5445, where Dan and Emma had been while I was shopping for groceries in Tucson last week. While on top we saw a number of other hikes we plan to take this winter. And all this in view of our house!

December 8, 2009

A perfect baking day

The storm system did get here, but as usual there was a lot more hype than action. We did wake up several times last night wondering what those noises were (there goes the patio table, what do you think that was?), and I spent some time this morning retrieving our possessions.

The bird feeders were blown off their stand, the patio furniture was laying among the cacti in the yard, but the Christmas lights on the house were still there. The biggest item that was moved was a horse feeder that had been standing upright in the barn, leaning against the wall of the tack room. The wind must have blown it through the barn and along the drive, rolling along Buggsy's stall. No wonder the poor guy could not eat this morning: he's still freaked.

I am planning to get cookies (ginger crackles) going for the cookie exchange and I also want to try my hand at some truffles. Good morning to be inside. But six to 12 inches of snow ..., yeah, right.

December 7, 2009

The tree

It is a perfect day for tree trimming: we have a storm moving in, and winter storm watch will be in effect for the next 24 hours. They are forecasting snow tonight and tomorrow, but I am not holding my breath. It would be too much fun.

I love the tree that Lucy gave us last year. It is the perfect size and it looks real. It even sheds like a real tree ... If only it smelled like one too. Before I would have scoffed at an artificial tree, but now I prefer it to killing one, even if it was raised as a Christmas tree. As a kid I did not realize that our little Christmas trees really grew up in a forest in Scandinavia, rather than being cultivated. And when I lived in Montana we cut down a tree in the forest and it pained me every time we drove by that spot afterward. What was I thinking?

There are not a lot of ornaments on the tree, but what is there all has meaning. Most of them are gift from friends, then and now, and some I bought on special trips. Good heavens, some of them are starting to be antiques ... This year the ornaments whichI got when I took my parents around Oregon have special meaning, as well as the dragonfly that was my mother's special gift.

Decorating the rest of the ranch is a bit of a challenge. It is all so big, and unless you put up really big stuff or lots of it, it loses itself. I did hang up the wreath that Dan welded from old horse shoes so you see it when you come up the drive, but even the horse's stockings are but a drop in the bucket. I guess to them what goes in it is all that counts. Better get to baking horse cookies, and some soup for a cold evening.

December 5, 2009

Christmas prep

All indications are that Dan and I will spend Christmas alone, which is just fine with us. I briefly thought about not putting up decorations, but dismissed it quickly. Not celebrating a holiday is giving up on a special time of year, and giving up on building memories that will be precious to us. One day will just blend into another, and when you die you will wonder "where exactly did time go?".

When I lived in the city and drove through the country on the way to our boarded horses during dark, late afternoons at this time of year, I loved seeing houses decorated with lights. It all seemed so welcoming. Now that we live in the country, where there are hardly any lights, it is our turn to make our house look inviting and happy.

Dan is currently working on getting the 1600 lights on the Christmas tree that my friend Lucy gave us last year, and I will hang ornaments tomorrow after our Stronghold hike. Then it's time for some holiday baking! I already have one invitation for a cookie exchange and this year I want to especially honor my grandmother and try to replicate some of her holiday recipes.

December 3, 2009

Hill 5445

Today was Anneke's foray into Tucson for groceries, so Emma and I continued with our tradition of taking a hike while Anneke performed this loathsome task. Emma and I have come up with a plan of scaling all the small hills around our canyon that are less than 6000' elevation. Looking on the topo map, we picked this particular nearby hill. It is next in sequence after Blacktail and a smaller hill west of Blacktail. Since the new hill is unnamed, Emma followed the best military tradition and named it after it's elevation: Hill 5445.

Turns out that it was a relatively easy hike. Going out was up, coming back was down. Pretty straightforward. Nevertheless, the AZ weather cooperated beautifully. We left in brilliant sunshine wearing a sweater that was shed before we reached the forest boundary. After following FR795 for a mile or so, we cut across country and straight up Hill 5445. The climb was less strenuous than Blacktail, but we finished higher. The last 100 feet in elevation was a little nasty because of the dense growth of agave, prickly pear and ocotillo. Picking a safe path was sometimes a challenge. Poor Emma came back with a prickly pear thorn in her side. Still, the view from the top was worth it.

Looking west towards the next challenge. If the hills weren't in the way, you could see Tucson.

Looking north towards the windmill (a favorite riding destination).

December 1, 2009

Going for snow

The weather system brought just a dusting of snow to the higher elevations last night, but it is back to sunny, though cool. We decided that a hike would be a good idea and we headed out to the hill with the hole in the top, with a flashlight this time.

We did not encounter snow, it would take us too long to get to those elevations and by then it would have all melted, but we did make some new discoveries. The hole in the mountain is just that, a hole, and not a mine as we had previously thought.

We also found a fenced off area that was set aside in 1965 by the Forest Service to study the difference in the environment between areas grazed by cattle and those by deer. It did not look like anyone had been there since then, and because the area outside the fence has not been grazed for years, there was hardly any difference.

On the way down we came upon a great stash of crystallized rocks, of which I had to bring home a number of course. I plan to use some of them in my driveway entry project. It is a good thing that I have a small pack, or I would have been bringing home 100 pounds.