December 30, 2010

Office redo: phase 1 complete

We have been busy this week with the office remodel, and it is starting to look great. I painted the walls, and we love the new green, and Dan has been busy building new table supports/computer towers. Two of the "legs" are holding our computers. We also did some small rearrangement of the legs so the dogs have a perfect cave, and the microscope will be more accessible.

A number of details are still being addressed: right now molding is being cut to finish off the table supports, and I will be painting them momentarily (hopefully I will not be lost in the whiteout on my way to shop/shed). A new dog bed cover is on its way here, and the cabling and wiring will still be made invisible. Far from done, but great progress. And that before year's end!


Mom Nature is having a tantrum today: we are having snow. And, as usual, it is arriving horizontally. I thought initially that it would peter out as the day progressed, but it appears that it will continue until tonight. Tomorrow is forecast to be partly cloudy with no snow accumulation. This weather is of course great fun because we have it so seldom, and it is a perfect day to get ready for a party and do some cooking (me), and finish up phase 1 of the office (Dan).

The horses asked to stay in their stalls this morning, and the hens are in the coop. The wild birds are having a difficult time, but I do my best to keep the feeders full. The roadrunner is perhaps worse off as insects and lizards will be in short supply today. That's her in the bottom picture with all the little birds cleared out.

December 29, 2010


Yesterday a special dog passed away, just 2 months short of her 14th birthday. Priscilla was born at the Guide Dogs for the Blind in California; one of a litter of pups all named with the letter P. My friend Gail decided that raising a guide dog puppy would be a good community service for her family, and asked Dan and me to help out once in awhile.

So Priscilla spent her young puppy days at the home of Gail, Dan, and their kids to be socialized and learn to be a good dog to be around. Cilla would come to work with Gail, and Dan and I had the privilege to have her under our desks for time to time, and take her to meetings. Many a time Cill made a boring meeting bearable because I could stroke her velvety ears under the table. Priscilla was delighted to go home with me at lunch time as we let her be a dog and play with our Wendy, whom she dearly loved. Priscilla has outlived Wendy by many years.

But time came at about 9 months that Priscilla had to return to the Guide Dog program to become a true guide dog. It was a tough time, especially for Gail and her family, but it was what it was all about: she would aid a blind person in leading an independent life. However, many dogs do not make it into the program for various reasons, and Priscilla was "career changed" because of a possible eye condition of all things. So back it was to Gail and Dan. Happy days.

Now being in Arizona, I think a lot about Priscilla because of Emma who looks much like her, also being a yellow lab. I will continue keeping Cilla in my thoughts as I see Em bounding down the trail with ears aflying. We dedicated this morning's hike to Priscilla. Here she is in Oregon snow, last year.

December 25, 2010

Wishing you ...,

reader of this blog, a Merry Christmas! I hope you are celebrating today with friends and loved ones, that there are awesome smells emanating from the kitchen and that there is a sprinkling of snow on the ground (no such luck here on that last point). I am fortunate enough on the others.

December 23, 2010

'T was a dark and stormy morning

I bailed on the morning walk, which does not happen often, but clouds were racing in front of the moon and it was raining. Squalling, rather. So I fed the birds, opened the coop and threw hay to the horses. Had to quickly cover the hay bales with a tarp because the wind was whipping rain into the barn. I noticed the roadrunner girl was still on her roost in the rafters. It was dark after all.

A perfect painting day! What happened to the "let's wait until after the New Year's" on the office project? Perhaps it is a leftover from our working days where long weekends and holidays were spent doing "improvements". Truth is that I bought paint yesterday and I am curious to see how the green walls are going to look.

So I do not mind the rainy day, but the roadrunner is not a happy girl. What happened to the sun, and all the edibles that come out with it?

December 21, 2010

In fond memory

My dad would have celebrated his 101st birthday today. (He married late in life and was 40 years old when I was born). He loved being in nature and he loved to walk, so I decided to honor him by taking a beautiful hike in the Chiricahua National Monument on the other side of our valley. (See Dan's web site for some beautiful photos).

My dad was a quiet, understated, man who loved simple things in life, with everything in moderation. He once told me that having a glass of port after dinner while listening to some Haydn string quartets and sitting in the sun at 30,000 feet, was certainly one of life's great pleasures.

He would have enjoyed the hike to the Natural Bridge: unequalled scenery, varying between hillside and valley walking, and not another soul on the trail. He might have grumbled a little at the elevation changes: after all, he was a flat lander.

We had a little picnic afterwards at Masai Point. This on the shortest day of the year, December 21. I miss you, Pap.

December 18, 2010

Two of us girls ...

... went up the Cochise Trail this morning. After the recent rain, the air was clean and pure, and the desert smelled wonderful. Dan opted to stay home to work on photography stuff.

Emma and I set a good pace, but at the big rock outcropping Em came to a halt and I knew something was up. I had already seen the cow plops on the trail, so I was not too surprised to see a small herd of cows in a small pool of water. Emma had not seen cows before, so she was intimidated, especially since her mighty "woof" had no effect, but as a former cowgirl, I know how to move a cow. (Raise your arms and just tell them to move, no yelling required).

You do wonder what the Forest Service is thinking by having cows graze in a popular hiking area. Scare off the city people? Emma was once screamed at by a woman who thought she was a coyote (hello! she is a yellow lab!). Perhaps they think the cows will do some trail maintenance: after all, they are great at trampling the vegetation.

December 17, 2010

Pear trees

The pear trees I ordered by mail came today and as per instructions they were planted asap. That means here "within 15 minutes of their arrival". These are varieties that I was not able to buy locally, and I really wanted to grow them. Rather, I really want to eat them. One of them is Comice, which to me is the best pear on the planet. You have to peel, but the flavor and juiciness are unequalled in my opinion. The other tree is a Sugar Pear.

It certainly helped to have the holes dug and amended months ago, and it was great that we had 0.3 inches of rain last night. I am a little concerned about the transplant shock as these trees came from Georgia, but they are dormant, and I hope that the black plastic mulch around the base will warm up the soil a little bit. If frost threatens, I will cover them with some row cover, although when mature, these trees should be fine in our winters.

The orchard is now complete with 3 apples, 3 pears, 3 peaches, 1 fig, 1 apricot, and 1 Italian plum. Next will be to learn to prune the first set of trees that were planted in 2009.

December 15, 2010

Office do-over

Before coming to Arizona, Dan and I spent a lot of time planning this house. A lot of time. It was our favorite topic of conversation for years. During dreary, wet, winters we built models of prospective houses to see what they would really look like and how it would be to live in them. And all the dreaming has paid off. We love this house, and it works great for us.

When we left Oregon, we sold about half our books back to Powell's Books, our favorite store. It is one of the few things we miss  as we used to visit "The City Block of Books" (and it really is) about once a week and dropped at least $50 there, rain or shine (mostly rain). The remaining books fit great in what we call "the office". But we did not stop acquiring books, though not at the rate we had before. Nonetheless, we are running out of book room and the cheap shelving we bought to house them is starting to sag.

We need to "remodel". First thing is to move anything non-book (fabric, yarn, old photo stuff, slides, art stuff) out of the office and into the brand-new, especially-constructed, huge, cabinet in shop/shed. Next is removing all the books and making new, good-looking, durable bookcases that will be built-in. Paint the room. From the very beginning I had envisioned this room to be green, but the builder was making a fuss and I wanted to move in, so now it is my turn. Make dedicated places for the clutter on the desks. We hope to display our few treasures in special cabinets with glass doors and lighting, and improve the overall lighting in the room.

So, it will be more of a face lift than a remodel. Thank heavens no drywall, no painting floors, just new bookshelves, and Dan says he is looking forward to making them. The computers will remain operational, with perhaps a day off, but with the basic structure of the room staying as it is, we will stay online. How did we ever live without them? Being out here in the desert, life would certainly be different.

Here are some "before" photos, so we will remember.

December 13, 2010

Free flight

It was a good thing I had written ASDM on the calendar after we came home after our last visit to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Otherwise we would have forgotten our new commitment to visit there once a month during the cooler times of the year. I say cooler, because as it turned out, it was 84 degrees in Tucson today. Thankfully it is only 70 at home.

We arrived just in time for the Raptor Free Flight program and there were no school busses full of kids! We had seen this demonstration before, and I love seeing those birds so close up. It is held in the middle of the grounds and is narrated by one of the docents. The birds are surreptitiously released as you learn about their habits and habitats, and then fed little morsels on various parts of vegetation. These are wild birds and not rehabs, so things do not always go completely to script. This morning the prairie falcon went on an extended outing (about 15 minutes) because it was a bit windy and apparently this bird really enjoys that.

The program started out with some Chihuahuan ravens, which are much smaller than we had thought. We have ravens around our place (we call him and his mate Edgar and Edgarina and they nest about 0.5 miles away in the National Forest), but they are common ravens. At least we now know what to look for in identifying these birds.

Next was a female great-horned owl that squeaked along the way (we certainly have heard that call before), and she flew within 3 inches of my head. What a thrill! Then it was the aforementioned prairie falcon who had a great time off in the distance, but finally did return on his own accord. Last was a ferruginous hawk, many of his kind come and overwinter in our valley. I have found that hawks are not always easy to identify, but now I have a much better bead on this big hawk.

As we came into the driveway we saw a red-tailed hawk and a ferruginous way up in the sky. What a great place to live! Dan gave me these pictures for the blog, but the best ones are on his website.

December 12, 2010

Sunday morning

The weather has been beautiful the last week or so, but we have been busy with indoor projects so this morning we felt the need for some hiking or riding. Hiking won out, and I picked Deer Saddle in the Stronghold. It is close by: we just walk out the back door and head up the hill that is part of our daily view.

It's an interesting knoll altogether. It has a variety of different rock types and lots of vegetation. It has been very dry the last couple of months and the grasses crunch underfoot. Once in a while you get a whiff of some herb that has been crushed. It is a bit tough going because of the steepness and some loose rocks, but you can follow some of the trails that the deer have made. It's obvious though that they are shorter than we are.

We spent a little time on top admiring the stunning views before we headed down for stall cleaning, showers, and lunch. Lovely Sunday morning.

December 7, 2010

Downtown Tucson

Even though we have lived "close to" (75 miles) Tucson for more than 6 years now, we had not explored downtown until recently. Then, at the end of October, Dan was given The Barrio as one of his subjects in his Nat Geo Photo Workshop, and because of the federal jury duty I was forced to be downtown for more than a week. This morning we decided to go back and explore a little more. We discovered we had missed a very nice piece of Tucson.

The Barrio is close to the government buildings, which are modern and beautiful with spacious surroundings. Pictured above is the Pima County Courthouse. As the oldest part of Tucson, the Barrio with its adobe building style, complete with private little courtyards, lots of color, its artsy-ness and jumbled plants, is in stark contrast.

We spent a pleasant couple of hours walking around taking pictures, and had a great lunch at Cafe a la C'Arte in the Art Museum.

December 6, 2010

Are we related?

Our friend and vet, Mary, stopped by to show off how much her Lab pup, Emily, had grown. Emily is half-sister to Mary's Clair and our Emma, who are full sisters, but one year apart.

Back to normal

There is a problem with going grocery shopping only once every two weeks. It means you need to make a menu and a corresponding shopping list, unless you want to be frustrated by non-available ingredients while cooking, or are good at improvising (aka a true chef), and that would not be me. So, last time I made menus and went shopping, it was cold, even during the day. But the weather has changed its mind about winter and of course it has that right.

Today it is in the lower 70's, and the sun is shining brightly. And we are having split pea soup tonight. Made in the Dutch style (we call it "snert") with smoked sausage. It recalls childhood memories of going for a walk in the "woods" (this is suburban Amsterdam) in snow and entering a farmhouse restaurant complete with shutters and a thatched roof, the fragrance of wet clothes and snert wafting out as you opened the door.

Good thing is, the greens in the garden mostly survived the frost and tomorrow we may be having a chicken salad.

Meanwhile, the house is wearing Christmas lights, and I decorated the tree and put out some favorite Christmas memories. It is still strange to get ready for Christmas in such lovely weather.

November 29, 2010

Inclement weather

It was a bit unusual to have frost before Thanksgiving, but now it's gotten serious. They are forecasting 13 degrees tonight! Lots of sun right now, but a cold west wind blows and it's only 36 degrees. That's just not normal for southern Arizona. At the end of October I was still in short sleeves and bare feet, now it's fleece from top to bottom.

Thankfully the garden has been taken care of, although I don't know whether the frost covers will give enough protection. I have gathered all the potted plants against the house on the east side and will cover them with blankets at sundown. This will almost certainly be the demise of the Palo Verde, which is marginally cold-hardy for this area.

We are leaving the horses in their stalls today so they have some protection from the wind, and I am putting out extra seed for the birds. I worry about the couple of hummers still around, but there are some nooks and crannies around the house that may given some protection.

The cold and wind are giving Emma the "puppy crazies" and she runs around outside like a dog possessed. Shawna enjoys the cold, but is without her usual fur this year and she is happy to come inside. The chickens will be snug in the Chicken Taj.

Turn off all water outside tonight, drain all faucets. We are hunkering down with soup and foccacia.

November 24, 2010

Work those muscles!

After ending up with sore quads from our climb to Rockfellow Dome a week or so ago, I thought it would be a good to keep them in shape and hike up Blacktail Hill this morning. And with Thanksgiving coming up, we would not feel too guilty about eating a couple of pieces of pumpkin pie.

So we walked out the backdoor, across the bajada and up the hill. It is a deceptively steep climb in places, and it is rocky with a lot of scree. Not my favorite surface on a steep hill. But the rocks are very interesting. It is a lot of pudding rock, which is a sedimentary rock consisting of a lot of other rocks that have been glued together. There are a many different colors and textures and I thought this looked very much like a tree branch had been petrified and included.

We made it up and down without mishaps, Emma included. She is an excellent hiker who obeys very well. At some spots she has to jump up way over her head, and on the way down Dan ends up lifting her down rocks that would otherwise propel her straight down the slope. It is difficult to keep from trying to wriggle out of his arms though.

November 23, 2010

The Dig-Me site

Dan has been working on his web page, a place where he could post his photos for friends and family to enjoy. Always the engineer, he started from scratch after seeing some websites other people had done. Then, a revelation! The photo manipulation software he uses had made it easy, so, for the time being, some of the latest (year or two) photos are up there.

Learning new stuff is fun, so Dan is already back to the drawing board with new ideas on layout. He is also waiting for scanned images of his black and white work as far back as before I knew him (Vietnam). So, check back once in awhile, and let him know what you think.

November 18, 2010

I am just another quail - not

When we lived in the city, I never realized that a lot of birds move with the seasons. Hummingbirds, Canadian geese and swallows excepted of course. Here we have distinct population shifts. Some birds just come here to breed (orioles), others spend the summer (turkey vultures, white-winged doves) and of course we have some year-round birds too (house finches, cactus wrens, curvebilled thrashers, road runners, quail).

Our winter birds have arrived. I recently say some white-crowned sparrows at the feeder, as well as the black-chinned ones, and this morning I saw several flocks of sandhill cranes leaving their roost for feeding grounds in the valley. They clean up the harvested corn fields.

Hawks are winter birds here, although there are some exceptions such as the chocolate-morph red tail that always sits on the same power pole along my route to Tucson (always around the same time of day - we all do have our routines). The last week or so we have seen a young sharpshinned hawk hanging around our place. I can't blame him as there are many quail that come by to eat the spilled seed. Even the dogs recognize the quail alarm call, and so far the hawk has not been successful in catching dinner here. I wonder if his new ploy is to sit on the ground and act like a quail. He certainly blends in well.

November 17, 2010

Up to The Dome

A couple of weeks ago, while Dan was in Texas and I stayed here, Dave and Barbara invited me to hike up to Rockfellow Dome with them. This is the most prominent feature of the Cochise Stronghold as seen from the east. Barbara and I had done a part of that hike a couple of years back during the summer, and dipped our toes in some pools of cool water while having lunch.

This is an ambitious hike, not that long, but steep. It is used by the rock climbers as an approach route to the Dome. Because of my fear of heights, I declined the invitation as I did not think I would be up to going all the way to the top, and I did not want to hold anyone back. But Dan had not hiked that trail, and with him I would not feel a spoilsport if I felt I had had enough. So we went this morning, and we took Emma with us.

We got a lot further than Barbara and I had, mainly because there is currently no water running so the rock faces are not as quite as slick, but I did stay behind with Emma when the trail petered out and there was nothing but bare rock at 30 degrees up ahead. So Dan went up ahead alone. Unfortunately, he did not make it to the top of the saddle either (I so wanted to know what the view was on the other side) because the rock did get slick and it got too dangerous. And there was another 1/4 mile to go.

Dan's view below.

This is not a hike I need to do every week, although it is spectacular; the pictures do not do it justice. I have a feeling we are all going to feel our legs tomorrow morning. 

November 16, 2010

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

We have been members of the Desert Museum as long as we have lived here, but somehow never seem to find the time to visit. Probably because it is located on Tucson's west side and it takes almost 2 hours to get there. But it is one of my favorite places, and we decided that we should make the effort to visit once a month during the cooler time of the year.

We arrived in time to have a number of schoolbusses disgorge about a hundred middle-schoolers, but the place can absorb a crowd and we were able to go off on our own. I love being there because it is beautifully, naturally, landscaped, and although not all plants that grow there are hardy enough to withstand our colder climate, I enjoy seeing a place so wonderfully diverse.

As soon as we entered we saw a cactus wren stuffing a nest in a teddybear cholla. Here the cactus wrens are doing the same thing, but not in these very prickly cacti. There were some cacti with multiple nests.

I enjoy the exhibits a lot, and the museum staff have tried to make the living spaces of the animals as natural as possible. In this day and age of everybody being "afraid", it is so necessary for people, and especially kids, to see desert wildlife in its natural habitat. We both were very much taken with this little elf owl (one of the most common owls in southern Arizona as it nests in saguaros), that was snoozing next to its home. It is too cold here for saguaros, so here we see more of the great horned owl.

And then there was the cougar (who is the museum's mascot, and his name is George). I am thrilled to know that we still have cougars in our mountains nearby as one of our neighbors took some photos in her yard of one earlier this year.

November 14, 2010

Such good horses

With the cooler weather it is time to up the ante a little bit on our rides. So rather than doing our ever-popular loop to the windmill today, we decided to swing off at Ocotillo Hill and head up. This is not a walk in the park. In addition to going up to 5325 feet, it is dodging 7+ feet high ocotillos (very prickly), stepping over fallen agave stalks (horse knee high in places), avoiding big patches of prickly pear, and walking on bare rock faces.

But there was little grumbling on Bueno's and Buggsy's part, and we showed our appreciation by letting them graze along the way. Those horses are so surefooted and willing: they are great trail horses. We were able to find a safe way down and ended up on one of the backroads. Next week we should go out on any day but the weekend as we met 3 trucks looking for good hunting. Hide all animals!

November 13, 2010

First frost

All of a sudden it's Real Fall. Before we left for Texas it was Indian Summer: the windows and doors were open 24/7, and we still walked around in sandals and short sleeves. We came back from Texas and it froze the first night home. The heat even runs first thing in the morning. Temperatures during the day are still in the 60's.

Most of the garden is toast of course. Zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes all gone. The greens are still doing well, and this is really the time to eat those heaps of kale. Think I will make Boerenkool (a Dutch favorite) for dinner tomorrow, and serve it with the sausage I bought at the Allen Whole Foods. I am drooling.

The volunteer sunflower survived the cold and is now one of the few plants still with flowers, the other one is the Mexican sage. It must be time for the bees to go into hibernation and leave the hummingbird feeder for the few remaining hummers.

November 12, 2010

Texas style

Our trip to Texas has come and gone. Two 14-hour days of driving and two days spending with family. Although it is a long haul, I do enjoy those trips and a little time away from home: the place looks different when you come back and you get to appreciate what you have. Visiting family is always good as both of us are apparently isolationists. And then there are the two dogs, Zach and Jessie, who love to see us and so love to be loved.

Texas itself is far removed from our home in the wilderness. It is an artificial world where everything is BIG. Big cars that seem to dwarf our little Subie, especially at 70 mph on some Dallas freeway, the roads are wide, the houses expansive, the shopping malls and stores beyond huge and there are more of them than I can imagine people might need. The interesting thing is that a sense of community is attempted to be developed in the new style shopping mall, which is a "village". Not a covered mall, but an assembly of shops where outside parking may be more than 5 steps away. There is even a community garden. The growing there should be great as all "the village" was built on prime agricultural land.

To my Arizona eyes, Texas knows nothing of recession: people in restaurants and people spending money in all those new shops. I added my bit shopping at a brandnew 42,000 square feet Whole Foods store within a mile of La's house. We were back home in 5 minutes!

All that artificiality is not really for me. Too much uniformity, too much forcing of nature. Manicured lawns, lollipop trees, big fences, way too much indoor living, lack of movement and not enough air. Still, Emma and Shawna may be dreaming of a roll on that luscious grass. I think we, or at least Dan, will be back sometime this winter. We ARE part of a family.