December 18, 2011

Desert diversity

Tiny arrangement of spent seed pods, gathered on our morning hike around Blacktail Hill.

December 15, 2011

Snow walk

So far it has been a wetter fall than I remember here. This week we have had several days of good rains, with snow in the mountains. I would record the actual rainfall had we not had a bug build a home in our weather station rain gauge. It's probably between 0.5 and 0.8 inches.

This morning we set out for a Stronghold hike, in between bike days. And lo and behold, there was running water in the creek! All due to snow melt as the water level in Half Moon Tank is still below the dam. As always, it was lovely, and a nice workout. Emma had a blast, but thankfully thought it was too cold to go swimming.

December 13, 2011

Lettuce, anyone?

The winter garden is doing well. The scheme of using the protective cages as support for frost cover is the right one. So far it has kept the lettuce and escarole from freezing, and temperatures have been down to 13 degrees already. Frankly, the plants are growing so well that Dan made additional bases today to raise the cages off the plants. The only damage I found was where the lettuce leaves had touched the cover.

There are 3 beds growing now. One with cabbage and kale, without frost cover, and the plants are doing just fine without it. One with lettuce and escarole that I started at the end of August, and one bed with additional kale and spinach that was seeded in September. Those plants are still small, but will take off once the weather warms up again.

I do enjoy still being able to go out and gather greens at this time of year.

December 8, 2011

New toys

Santa came early to the WD this year. Or perhaps it was Sinterklaas, a couple of days late. Did he decide that now that I have taken the plunge to commit to the cycling effort by hiring a coach, that I should have the appropriate gadget to record every aspect of my performance?

At the same time, he took pity on Dan and sent some new, fast, road tires for Fabulous Fabian so he would not feel left out, or left behind Racy Tracy. I wonder if now I will have to pour it on to keep up with Dan because I am still on Tracy's cyclocross tires.

Regardless, thank you so very much, Santa!

December 4, 2011

Winter, sort of

This morning we woke up alone in the world. No neighbors, no mountains, nothing in sight beyond 20 meters. Emma thought it was a bit spooky going for a walk. Where did everything go?

As we finished breakfast, it cleared a bit and started to snow lightly, and we decided on a quick walk to talk advantage of what little winter Arizona gives us. It's not that I miss winter per se, but snow in the desert is special. We did a quick turn around Blacktail Hill, and half way through the sun started to peek out. When we came home about an hour later, what snow?

November 28, 2011

Eggs of a different color

Eggs leaving the WD are either brown or green, and egg cartons are returned empty to be refilled. But the other day I was presented with a full carton of these beauties. My friend Phil, a bird lover like myself, had made these as a surprise.

This morning Dan made a small container for them and I look forward to the birds' reaction. They have to be delighted as I was.

November 26, 2011

Good grief, Gracie!

What happened here? Was it some internal explosion that blew off your feathers overnight? Perhaps in solidarity with the Thanksgiving turkeys?

It is a bit late for a molt, but that's just what it is. I hope her sisters are keeping her warm during the night in the coop as our nights are cool now. Thankfully new feathers are coming in quickly. Meanwhile, she is a mean mama, so don't get in her way.

November 20, 2011

El Tour de Tucson

We did it, yesterday Shannon and I rode the 60 mile circuit of El Tour! And we did so in good time, a little over 4 hours, Shannon's personal best for that distance. And we enjoyed ourselves.

Shannon and Denise (her mom) arrived from Oklahoma and Texas late on Friday afternoon. We rushed over to the Tucson Convention Center and spent an hour in lines picking up our tour instructions. There are over 6,000 cyclists in "one of the premier organized rides in the United States" so it was well-organized mayhem.

The next morning we got caught up in snarled Tucson traffic because of El Tour road closures, but made it to the starting line in good time. It was amazing to see the crowd about to take off, and these were just the 1398 cyclists for the 60 mile distance. The El Tour circuit is a route around Tucson, with different distances joining the circuit at various places. The longest distance, and the complete circuit, is 111 miles, so we joined about half-way.

It was amazing to join a line of cyclists that seemed never-ending. There were always cyclists ahead and behind, even after aid-station stops there was never a lull. We rode our speed, passed people and were passed, but kept ourselves in safe situations, and only saw one accident. Hats off to the Tucson police and the many volunteers who made sure we were well protected from traffic, and who made sure we had a good time riding.

I had already said before the ride that this would be my last El Tour because there were so many cyclists, but I think that Dan missed not riding this event so we may do a repeat performance together next year.

At the finish.

November 14, 2011

Reflections on 500

This last post was my 500th. Not that I am counting, but Blogger does. I have also been blogging for more than 4 years, I noticed. How time flies! Especially this year my blog posting frequency has dropped off, and I wonder why. We are still very happy here and love the place. I still see all those things that make living here so special: sunrise, beautiful desert, the animals, the plants and the huge diversity. I enjoy them as much, and maybe even appreciate them more, as I did when I first moved here. But now I am not as often surprised: I sort of know what to expect when. When the praying mantis arrive, when to plant tomatoes, when the wind will stop blowing (as a rule). So I am not as apt to blog about it any more.

There is also a new love in my life: cycling. And I am sure that whoever reads this blog is getting tired of reading about it. Perhaps I should start a cycling blog? But there is very little that has not been written already, other than my perspective on it. I will have to think more about it.

So I have decided to not archive Living a Dream, but perhaps post only when something truly noteworthy in my life happens, or when there is something really fun to share. However, I have found that some of my friends use the blog as a gauge of my physical and mental well being, and to them I will say: not to worry, all's well, no news is good news. We will continue to hike, ride our horses and bicycles, garden, and enjoy ourselves. We love our life, and relish in our ability to do and play as we wish. And all this in good health. We are so very fortunate. We wish you the same.

October 24, 2011

I admit it

I may have gone a bit over the edge. But you know, I don't care. I like it.

Before I brought home my new bike this spring I already called her Racy Tracy, to distinguish her from Amelia, my mountain bike. And that's what I have been calling her ever since.

When we took our bikes in last week to get a personalized maintenance class at her home, Sabino Cycles, the owner, Mac, thought it was cool that both our bikes had names and he suggested we get decals or have a fancy paint job done. At home, Dan got on the web and guess what came today?

I think she looks very special. But then, to me, she is.

October 20, 2011

Tough ride

It was Long-Ride-Day today, and I was determined to add mileage to get closer to the El Tour challenge of (now changed to) 60 miles. Yesterday we were fortunate enough to get personalized bike maintenance training at our favorite bike shop, and both Racy Tracy and Fabulous Fabian were singing as we set out. What a difference a new chain makes.

We headed down the valley and made it to our planned turn around point at Hwy 186 at the end of Kansas Settlement Road. Mostly with a tail wind and we made great time. The wind headed back was not bad and we kept good, steady speed until Dan noticed a bump on my rear tire and he no sooner mentioned it or the tire went flat. How wonderful to have knight in shining armour along who can cheerfully change your tube! And, if it had not been for the puncture, we would have missed hearing the sandhill cranes call and seeing the redtailed hawk do circles right over our heads.

On we went until we had to head straight west and met with a 15 mph head wind. This is not what one wants at the end of a long ride! We huffed and puffed the last 10 miles, but we made it home where we felt better after a shower and some food. Just have to keep thinking about that great aerobic engine we are building in our body. But no wind on the long ride next time. Please.

October 13, 2011

Oh, misery!

There must be something about going out of town that sends signals around the WD that some measure must be taken to keep us home, and it is usually one, or more, of our animals that are happy to pull the trick. A hen that does not want to stay with her friends but decides she belongs in a horse barn, risking to be carried off by coyotes, a horse taking down his stall door while scratching his rear end, that kind of thing.

It's Emma this time. We were a day away from leaving for a reunion of Dan's family, when I noticed a bump on Em's rear end. Off to the vet. Diagnosis: a ruptured anal gland needing surgery to be cleaned and repaired. So, rather than being off to a party, I am staying home to nurse her back to health. It is pushing goodwill to ask neighbors to not only look after the place, feed animals, water plants, but also administer meds and wipe doggie butt. Besides, Emma is "suffering" and "needs" me: Princess Buttercup, The Drama Queen.

She really is doing fine, but having to wear that collar! It totally sucks! I do take it off while we go for walks because she would not get far. When she runs into any object outside, she stops and waits. Not in the house: Shawna runs from her and my legs will not be the same for weeks. But it does give her an angelic quality ...

October 11, 2011

Amelia, the adventuress

All the Buff Orpington chickens have started to lay. They are beautiful girls, and lay (so far) small, gorgeous, brown-tending-to-lavender eggs. It is difficult to tell the hens apart, but some personality is showing through.

Yesterday I found one of them outside the chicken yard. Undoubtedly flew over the fence. She let me catch her, and I put her back with her friends. This morning when I let the hens out of the coop, her ladyship was outside the yard again: she had spent the night quite comfortably behind the hen house on a plant cage.

We had business in Tucson today, so I hoped she would stay in and not become coyote bait or come to other harm while we were gone. When Dan went to clean stalls, my blond friend came strutting out of the horse barn, after proudly depositing her egg on one of the hay bales!

With a short trip out of state in the next couple of days, we had to do something to keep madam in her yard, and not be a constant worry for our ranch caretakers and us. So I caught her, and Dan clipped the tips of the flight feathers of one of her wings. This will affect her balance, and she will not be able to fly out. So the book says. As she continues to grow she will gain weight that will prevent her from flying the coop naturally. Life among the chickens!

October 9, 2011

The Classic

We did it yesterday, rode the Cochise County Cycling Classic. Finished at well under 3 hours for 45 miles, which I consider to be good for a couple of 60-somethings who have been riding for 5 months. And we had fun. It was a gorgeous day, though nippy originally at 40 degrees at start time. It was perfect cycling weather thereafter, and the route is beautiful. We were escorted along the way by police, fire department and because we rode for awhile with members of the Border Patrol team, got plenty of attention from their working colleagues.

After 20 miles and the first rest stop Dan and I set off on our own and had a quiet ride until we came to highway 191 where we encountered the already returning 92-miles who had started earlier. The final finish in Douglas was a blast as they led us down a long, protected, straight away which was great for a final sprint. We finished strong. I would like to do this ride again next year, perhaps 45 miles again, perhaps try for the 92 ...

The breakfast, if not of champions, at least of finishers. Gingerbread pancakes with pear sauce.

October 3, 2011


Because we are new to cycling races, we decided it might be a good idea to bike the route of the Cochise County Classic ahead of time. We could figure out our way through Douglas, a town virtually unknown to us, and see what we will be up against this coming Saturday.

Well, I think we will do just fine. Douglas is not very big and other than having to dodge the large amount of Border Patrol vehicles (Douglas is on the Mexican border), not difficult to navigate. As for the route, we did well for a couple of newbies. Not this well, however...

I don't know whether our cycle computers were caught by a radar gun or what happened, but both our max speeds were 65.9 mph. Not even the Tour de France cyclists go that fast, other than perhaps on a steep downhill. We generally top out at 25 mph. Nevertheless, I think we are ready for the CCC. It will be fun!

September 21, 2011

Mom never has an energy crisis

I have been cleaning out the garden some more after the August debacle. It is amazing that in the spring you put this tiny seed into the ground, or a small pot, sprinkle it with water and weeks later you pick leaves or fruit from it, and at the end of the season you have this mound of foliage. Talk about abundance! Talk about boundless energy! All that from that tiny seed. It never ceases to amaze and thrill me.

So I am down to tomato and pepper plants and a lingering cantaloupe that still has ripening fruit. Dan tilled a couple of beds for the winter garden and I have three flats of seedlings in the cold frame (really a box with protection from wildlife). Another week or so and they will go into the ground. I am making plans for next year's garden already. Hint: garden all year around and green manure.

I fished this praying mantis out of Cody's water bucket, and he sat on my arm for awhile drying his wings and antennae. I think they are some of the coolest insects, he looked me right in the eye and was totally at ease.

September 19, 2011

Emma's hike-u

Running water
Flowers nodding in the summer breeze
I smell deer

September 16, 2011

First sighting

Fall must be approaching because we saw the first sedge of cranes flying overhead. It was "Long Ride Day" today, which means that we bicycle in the valley, where there is a lot of agriculture. The cranes spend their winter here, spending the night  in the shallow water of the Willcox Playa and having their meals in the remains of the harvested fields. It was a thrill seeing them already.

We saw a lot of hawks on the ride as well, also a sign that a new season is getting closer. But there are still a lot of hummingbirds at the feeders, and the turkey vultures are still around as well. A time of transition.

The weather was cool enough this morning to require arm warmers, but it was nice to be able to take them off on our way home.

September 15, 2011

All grown up

The Buff Orpington chicks that I bought this spring are growing up. At least some of them are as we were presented with their first egg today: small, gorgeous, and very smooth.

They are beautiful hens; we call them the Gorgeous Blonds. They should all have names starting with M, like Marilyn, if only I could tell them apart. The old flock are still around, in case you wonder. What do you think this is? Chicken Run? Production has fallen off, but those older hens have done great duty and deserve to live out their lives in quiet retirement. I am happy that the new girls have integrated so well with the flock, they seem to be all one big, relatively happy family. After all, they are chickens, those sharks in feathers.

September 12, 2011


In the past I have blasted the Forest Service for closing the Cochise Stronghold campground for 3 months during the summer. But this morning I changed my opinion after doing our standard conditioning hike, the Stronghold Divide trail, which starts at the campground. It is a popular hike, about 3 miles one-way, with a steady elevation gain, and a lot of campers walk the trail during the 9 remaining months of the year.

The closure allows for the trail to get a breather, and that was obvious this morning. Plants get rejuvenated, especially with the good monsoon rains we have had, and the path was almost overgrown in places. All grasses and a lot of vines are blooming, young plants are popping up along the trail, and the entire path looked fresh and healthy. What a nice side benefit, as I am sure that that was not the Forest Service's intent in the campground closure. The latest showers have contributed to the filling of Half Moon tank (Emma approves), and there were a lot of side streams that contributed to a good flow in the creek.

With all the cycling I thought that I would be flying up the trail thanks to an improved physical condition, but that proved not the case. We made it up to the viewpoint in our regular time. Cross-training is a good thing and we should hike the trail once a week again, now that it's more accessible.

September 9, 2011

Making the most of it

When you live in the desert, pasturing your horses on lovely, juicy, succulent, grass is not possible. At least not at our place. But our "pond", which does not hold water beyond a couple of days, has started to sprout a little crop of Bermuda grass (wonder where that came from :)?). We have been taking turns taking the horses down there to do a bit of grazing.

And do they love it! They just dive in, hardly take a step, and do not even look up from the grass. Here is Cody taking his turn while I inspect the place for the dreaded Russian thistle. I think I am winning that battle, this year.

September 8, 2011

Up very close

As I stepped outside to take the dogs for their after-dinner stroll, Dan called me to get the dogs back inside with some urgency. Everybody back in, and looking out into the yard to see reason for the quick re-entry, we saw 2 javelinas exploring the prickly pear cacti. They were after the cactus tunas, the fruits.

We took some pictures from inside and I went back out to see if the coast was clear, and walked within 10 yards of them, while they were munching away! Dan joined me with the camera: these are his pictures.

After living here for 7 years, the javelinas have always been elusive to me. I just see a glimpse or a shadow. Even though these animals look like a pig relative, they are peccaries and very different. Their eyesight is not the greatest, as you can imagine with me coming so close, but they have formidable teeth as you can see.

While I don't mind them at all eating the tunas, I do hope they move on because javelinas can cause a great amount of damage in your landscape, mainly by digging for roots. But seeing them here, and so seemingly at ease was very cool.

My thanks to the Bonita Bean Company

Cycling training has started in earnest. The Cochise County Classic, our 45 miler, is a month away, and El Tour de Tucson, my (and Shannon's) 66 miler, 10 weeks away. Although we have been doing very well, increasing speed as well as distance, I felt some pressure to step it up. We will acquit ourselves well at the CCC I believe, because we ride 46 miles on a regular basis, but El Tour causes some concern. And, I just love riding my bike.

Problem is, we need more than 2 waterbottles each (carried on the bike) to complete these longer distances without bonking. The thought of carrying additional cold water in my back pockets is not that attractive, temperature-wise, although that's what is done at the big races. There the "Domestique" loads up the waterbottles for the entire team from the team car, stuffing them in his pockets and down the back of his jersey to supply his riders. But because we go by the Bonita Bean Company on these long rides I thought I would ask if we could get our bottles refilled there.

People there were so very nice. Not only could I refill, they insisted that I fill up with their cool, filtered water, and were interested in our rides and goals. And I was told that I could come by anytime to fill up. I really appreciate their kindness. It made my 56 miles doable today. I plan to do that distance once a week for the rest of September, then increase to 66 miles in October. Then I will be set for El Tour.

September 7, 2011

Chicken Taj

It was time for the half-yearly coop-and-chicken-yard cleanup today. The cantaloupe, cucumber and zucchini peels were getting a bit deep out there. Frankly, I am surprised that I did not lose a chicken to an ill-aimed projectile this summer. It is my habit to throw any overgrown produce from the garden into the chicken yard, and I admit, I throw like a girl. And I do not always shout "incoming", although I am sure the chickens would appreciate that. They teeter that fine line between being first to the new tidbit, or getting beaned.

All is gorgeous and clean again, and ready for winter. The new hens are almost full grown and beautiful, I think we can expect to see some of their eggs show up any time.