Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Camping in Black Canyon

Last week, we spent a few days at the Black Canyon Campground in the Santa Fe National Forest. This is a wonderful campground. We first camped here last summer and now we think it may be our favorite of the ones we've tried around the state. It's clean, well-maintained and quiet, even though it has been nearly packed when we've camped there. We tried a different campsite this year, further up the hill toward the trail head for the Black Canyon Loop hiking trail, which is a very nice 1.5-mile hike. This was our first time using two tents, one for the children and one for us. They're plenty old enough to sleep in their own tent, and though the larger tent can sleep four, giving them the boot allowed us to really stretch out.

All of the campsites have their own parking area, and most can be backed into. We have a small utility trailer on the back of our car, which you can't see from this angle. It was simple to unload everything from the trunk and the trailer when we came in, and put it back again when we left.

I didn't get a great photo of the whole campsite, but this gives you an idea of the other amenities. Our site had two picnic tables and a fire pit. All of the sites have stone walls built around some of the sides, which is nice. It gives you more places to put things, can be used for seating, and helps delineate the site area. I don't know about you, but I like the feeling of a bit of enclosure when I'm in the woods.

When we camp, we usually bring a cooler, a box for dry foods and a big, heavy plastic trunk (which is actually a surplussed shipping container for computer chips, courtesy of my scavenger spouse by way of his employer. We will never, ever be considered "glampers"; our things are too weird and ugly). We use the trunk for all the cooking/eating and campsite-living equipment, like our Coleman stove and lantern, matches, towels and soap, etc. We also bring a 6-gallon Aqua-Tainer water jug. This campground has drinking-safe water, which is a great feature. It does not, however, have shower facilities. The bathrooms contain "vault toilets" - latrines to you and me. My family doesn't mind one bit, and I'm fine with it up to a point myself, but I'll admit that two nights of shower-free camping is plenty for me.

Our campsite included an open space under several large pine trees. We made this into a little sitting area with a tent over it, as it soon became obvious that the trees' shade would be short-lived. We used a big tarp, ropes and some aluminum poles to rig up a pretty good shade tent and put our folding canvas chairs and camp table underneath. All the Bears played the guitar in turns. We drank beer and soda, and ate trail mix. Some of us (well, me, because I'm the only one who has terrible reactions) got eaten alive by biting flies. Later, we strung up another rope between the front two trees as a clothesline for our towels. I usually bring two: a small one for washing dishes, and a bath towel for washing faces and hands, brushing teeth, etc.

For washing, we use a plastic basin. After we wash ourselves up in the morning, I keep the basin on the picnic table with a little soapy water throughout the day and all the dishes go into it as we finish using them. Later, I boil some water on the campstove and add it to the cold water in the basin for better dishwater. I try not to wash every dish as it gets used, which is something I do at home. As much as I can't stand seeing the dishes sitting there, it would be wasteful of water while camping, so I sit on my hands and leave them be. After all the dishes are done, I wash out the basin and fill it with clean water (again adding boiling water to cold for warm washing water), and we wash up for bed. I could use two basins, but then I'd have to wash them both anyway, so I stick with one. It's like musical chairs, only with a basin.

I try to take lots of photos when I'm camping. It's so nice to be in the outdoors, and the higher-elevation woods are so different from the city, where I live. The campground is actually 3,000 feet higher in elevation (about 8,400 feet) than we are at home, so the vegetation is all different. I walked around the campground looking for interesting things, especially flowers. I love forest wildflowers; they seem to leap out of the darkness. I also came across a robin's eggshell and a beautiful feather with an orange spine.

Less beautiful but still interesting was this metal jar lid the Bear found in the woods. It must be fairly old; I can't recall Kraft Mustard being available in my lifetime. I didn't save the lid; it was so rusty as to be crumbling, but I appreciated that he thought of me and brought it down from the trail so I could have a look.

We were at high enough elevation to be surrounded by quaking aspens. If you've never seen one in person, these are beautiful, delicate trees with spindly trunks and branches, and flat, rounded leaves that shiver in a breeze. They're always moving and are so interesting to watch. We don't have many at 5,500 feet, where we live; it's too hot. But if I could plant any tree in my yard, it would be aspens.

The whole campground is beautiful and I really can't say enough good things about it. Our site was very close to a path into the woods, which led to a nice hiking trail. On the canyon walls, ponderosa pines, birches and aspens grow thickly, and all around you is the sound of the wind in the trees, day and night. It's relaxing and soothing, and it makes you feel cooler just to hear it.

During the days, we spend lots of time together but we also do our own thing. I always bring books. I didn't bring yarn this time, but I have in the past. The Bear reads or paints; he brings his Koi travel watercolor set and a sketchbook on most of our vacations or camping trips. There is the aforementioned guitar-playing. There is lots of running around getting absolutely filthy if you're small, along with lots of climbing in and out of the tent until it gets too hot to be inside. There is bird-watching, compass practice and hatchet training. We stay busy.

At last, in late afternoon, there is fire-building. We bring our own firewood, from our supply at home. We also bring a small tabletop charcoal grill and briquets, as well as our Coleman stove. We usually use all three; there are different reasons for each. The Coleman stove is especially good for boiling water and making Jiffy Pop. The grill included on the fire pit is never clean enough for my taste, so I like having our own charcoal grill for foods that need to be cooked on one.

On our first night, we ate chicken kebabs, cooked on the charcoal grill. I assembled the kebabs at home, using marinated chicken breast, green and red peppers and crimini mushrooms. After everything was cooked, we took the food off the skewers and loaded pitas with it for sandwiches. It was really good, and very easy. Bonus: you can pack the raw kebabs in gallon-size Ziploc bags and freeze them, for more coldness in your cooler.

The second night was for roasting hot dogs on the fire. There are only so many nights of healthful, low-fat kebabs that they'll let me get away with. I do love hot dogs, though, and the more blackened, the better (in my humble opinion). I forgot to bring condiments, so they spread baked beans (heated on the Coleman stove) over their hot dogs. I ate mine plain, so as to better enjoy the char. On both nights, we snacked on Jiffy Pop and s'mores. We used the roasting tools above for the marshmallows too. Sticks work too, but these are so handy.

I think morning is my favorite time while camping. I love the coolness and the sounds of crows waking up for the day. I love to drink my tea under the trees and watch the campground stir - people walking to the toilet hut, someone starting a fire for breakfast, someone else walking a dog. I wish we'd had a chance to talk to other campers, but people kept to themselves. We chatted with the campground hosts, an older couple working in the campground for the first three months of the season. They made several daily rounds of the campground in their Kawasaki Mule, checking on things and making sure everyone understood the National Forest's fire restrictions (which were tightened during our stay). We love to talk to people and they were very nice. Otherwise, we enjoyed each other's company and bickered a little and shushed each other when the yelling or laughing got a little too loud. We spend a lot of time together and we really like it that way. Camping is more of the same, but a change of scenery - a few new challenges mixed with lots of new adventures.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Summer, this week

This was our fourth week of summer break, 2017.

The small Bears and I attended an event at the library called Tower of Pasta. The librarian gave each child handfuls of mini marshmallows, elbow macaroni and spaghetti, and told them to construct a tower. There were no other guidelines. The object was to see who could make a tower strong enough to support a paper plate with large nails added one at a time onto the plate. It was hard! The librarian made a friendly competition of it. The winner's tower supported 15 nails, which was very impressive. He got to take home the remainder of the bag of mini marshmallows as his prize.

We camped in the Santa Fe National Forest for a few days, which was really nice. I'll tell you more soon.

The heat of last week seems to have ended. It's still hot but not as brutally so. My geraniums are thriving. I think I've finally hit on the perfect annuals for that barrel. The sunflowers are well over a foot tall now. The roses of Sharon are in bloom, which means the hibiscuses are only days away from blooming. And the monsoon is hopefully on its way. It's full-on summertime now.

I finished the book of short stories by Jojo Moyes that I was reading last week, and started a new novel, Outline by Rachel Cusk. I like it so far. I'd read one of her novels, Arlington Park, years ago and loved it. I'd actually picked that book up mainly because the title interested me (Arlington was the name of my high school), but it turned out to be very engaging. I'll have to look for some other books she's written when I'm finished with my current one.

I bought a set of real Tupperware bowls. I say "real" because most of what I have bought new for myself is Rubbermaid because it's cheaper. Almost all the real Tupperware I've ever had was hand-me-downs from my mother-in-law. But I've been trying to replace old, worn-out things in the kitchen lately, and decided to get a nice set of nesting bowls with lids, for fridge storage mostly. I got a set of Wonderlier bowls, a very classic Tupperware product, and I looooove them! They're so sturdy and easy to use. I'm just so darn excited about my Tupperware.

I didn't do anything crafty this week. Too much else was going on with preparing to camp, and I didn't bring any yarn with me. But this week, I firmly intend to crank out a few more Maybelle squares.

We're very happy to have Sunday night shows on Masterpiece again. I'm really enjoying My Mother and Other Strangers so far. Tonight will be the first episode of Prime Suspect Tennison, which I'm looking forward to. And we're glad to have Grantchester back, of course. I sure do love my summer Sunday entertainment. I just love having a show to be in to, really. As much as I enjoy having shows at my fingertips with Netflix, where I do most of my TV-watching these days, sometimes it's nice to have shows to look forward to as they air, like it used to be. 

Thank you for reading these posts. I know they're probably boring, but they help me appreciate the good things about summer, which is not my favorite time of year at all, and give me a way to jot down the things we've done. I hope you have a good week ahead!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sun standing still

On the longest day of the year, I roamed through the backyard at sunset. It was 97 degrees at nearly eight o'clock in the evening. We're in the middle of a severe heat wave in the southwest; my weather app told me it was 106 degrees in my neighborhood around three in the afternoon. It felt like only 101, the weather app said hopefully.

The day, and the evening, felt like forever. Dusty, oven-baked eternity. In summer, I often long for the sun to go down, wanting darkness and the relative cool it brings. But on Solstice, a celebration of light and warmth, it feels right to let go and watch the long slide into night.

For the past few weeks, we've been watching the light move inside the house at sunset. It comes in through the window in the family room, on the back wall of the house, inching its way across the family room, kitchen and breakfast nook, illuminating appliances and artwork. We watch as the column of light lines up with walls, windows and door frames, the angles changing as the days pass. The Bear calls it "Househenge." Even here in our eighties ranch, it's plain to see why the movements of the sun have always captured people's attention.

Marking time with celebrations and special days is very important to me. I watch my world carefully as the seasons pass; rhythm and ritual are integral to who I am. Seasons come and go, and summer will never be my favorite, but I'm learning to embrace it, the good with the not-so-good. In June, I'm not necessarily seeking the sun, but I can see the magic, and the possibility, in an endless summer's day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Summer, this week

This was our third week of summer break, 2017.

We finished the session of swimming lessons. Both children passed their level. The GB will move on to the next level, while the LB will move on to diving lessons, having finished the highest level of swimming lessons. We'll go back in mid-July for another two-week session, at a different pool, which has diving facilities. No more tree for me this summer; the other pool is an indoor one.

There were two trips to the library. The children had their summer reading logs stamped and got their prizes (they can get a prize every week), and we attended two different activities: a workshop to make Pipe Cleaner Ninjas (basically poseable action figures made from pipe cleaners, beads and drinking straws), and an afternoon of free play with Zoobs, a building toy.

I tried to photograph our food more often but most of it was really boring. The highlights were pasta sauce with basil from the garden, and lobster tails. I made the lobster for the Bear and me, on our at-home Saturday date dinner. I'd never cooked lobster before, afraid to mess up such a nice food, but it was really easy. The small Bears did some cooking this week too; he made scrambled eggs and she made meatloaf! She also helped me make Raspberry Lemonade Cheesecake Bars, the June recipe in my Betty Crocker calendar. They were a bit of work, but really delicious.

I didn't finish a book this week, but I'm in the middle of reading Jojo Moyes' Paris for One. This is a collection of stories. The title story is more of a novella, I'd say, since it's longer. They're really nice stories, very sweet and romantic. She has some really famous books, such as Me Before You and After You, but I like her lesser-known books better. If you want a wonderful, funny love story, you should read One Plus One.

We have a ripe tomato in the backyard! It's almost ready for picking. We will split it four ways and celebrate our nascent gardening success.

The bathroom is finished. I mentioned last week that we were doing some work in the main hall bathroom (we have two, a larger one that the children use, and a smaller three-quarter bath for us). The Bear did most of the work and it looks great. This was a light bathroom renovation and not too hard for us. We've done a complete DIY bathroom remodel (down to floor joists and wall studs, totally gutted) in a previous house, before we had children, and it was a nightmare. This was a breeze compared to that.

I made seven Maybelle Squares this week. I'm almost finished with my fifth ball of Grey.

We'll be camping later this week, and we're starting to get ready now. I expanded my menu beyond hot dogs. We'll be there two nights; one will be hot dogs but the other will be chicken kebabs, for variety.

Today, I'm cooking for a Father's Day dinner with my in-laws. The Bear has ribs in the smoker, and I'm making The Pioneer Woman's baked beans, broccoli slaw and Cool 'N Easy Pie, one of my favorite retro summer desserts.

I hope you have a great week! It will be very hot here (100+ degrees every day), yikes. Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Crochet as crochet can

These summer days have proven to be busier than I expected. It's good - nobody has complained much about boredom yet, and the sibling squabbling has been minimal. We've kept up daily math, writing and art homeschool time, as we'll do all summer. I'm also trying to leave plenty of time for them to entertain themselves, which is also important. It's really hot now. Today has the added bonus of being smoky outdoors. I think there's a wildfire in a national forest somewhere in the state; smoke is blowing into the valley and making everything hazy. You can smell it in the air too; I'm just hoping we can keep the swamp cooler running without getting smoke inside the house. Anyway, we're busy and it's good, but of course there isn't a lot of time for me. I'm complaining just a little, but that's me in the summer: slightly disgruntled with the whole situation. Meh. I'm not good at taking time for myself, or getting over the guilt when I do, but I'm working on it.

I've been crocheting as much as I can, in the in-between times when I'm not teaching, driving, cooking, cleaning or sitting through a lesson somewhere. I've debated bringing yarn with me, as I have sometimes done in the past, but I haven't felt like it yet this summer. I've been reading a lot instead, aiming for a book or two per week. The crochet has been wonderful, though. I'm almost halfway through my Maybelle squares. I've finished four colors now and have started my fifth. I'm enjoying this project so much, even still. I had such a hard time finally settling on a blanket motif - it took me about a year of trial-and-error crochet! But now I feel settled and it's fulfilling the way I want it to be. I don't feel stressed out. Instead, I feel like I'm doing something I love. Plain and simple.

The square pattern comes from here, a blog called My Rose Valley. I've made 78 squares so far. My blanket plan calls for 169 squares. I want a big square blanket - 13 by 13 squares. It will be about 100 inches on each side before adding the border. I haven't even begun to think about the border yet, though. First things first - finish all the squares and join them. I will probably join as I go, but that's not set in stone yet either. For yarn, I'm using my trusty standby, Stylecraft Special DK.

This is the main flower color I'm working with at the moment, Pale Rose. The outer rounds are done in Grey. I'll join the squares in Grey too. It's for our bed, and we prefer a cool, soft color palette in our room. I've been thinking a lot about rooms and light lately. Maybe it's the searing sunrise as we approach solstice. I considered making a blanket with bolder colors (burgundy, mustard, leafy green, navy) and cream as the main color, but I might save that scheme for the next blanket I make for the LB, who has a bright, sunny bedroom on the western side of the house. Our room, at the back of the house with northern exposure, seems to want soft, watery colors instead.

After I finish with Pale Rose, these are the remaining flower colors. From left: Petrol, Grape, Denim and Duck Egg. Petrol and Denim look very similar to each other in my photos, which is unfortunate because they're quite different in real life. Petrol is dark blue-green; Denim is, well, like a softly worn pair of jeans.

My full range of colors for this blanket, as seen in my yarn basket. I wanted a small palette for this one. I realized a few months ago that my biggest problem in blanket planning is trying to work with too many colors. In some incarnations of this blanket, I had as many as 25 colors I was attempting to wedge into granny squares, hexagons and other motifs. It's just too much. I'm in awe of people who can wrangle a huge color palette into a pleasing blanket design. I am not one of them. I can't tell you how liberating it feels to finally admit this to myself. Crochet feels creative and fun again.

(Glamorous grocery bag where I keep my squares, lest anyone think it's all pretty straw baskets around here).

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Summer, this week

This was our second week of summer break, 2017.

I see now that I need to remember to take more photos in my summer weeks. Of food, especially. It seems like I'm always cooking, serving or cleaning up after meals now that my children are home all day.

We started swimming lessons. We went every morning in the week and we'll go every morning this week too. The pool is...well, the pool. Nothing ever really changes up there. I sit under the tree, I read a little (it can be difficult to focus on a book depending on who's nearby), I chat with other parents and family members. I've known some of them for years; babies have become school-aged children in the time I've sat under that tree at the pool!

It's really hot now. May was surprisingly cool and somewhat wetter than usual, but June has taken care of that. The swamp cooler runs day and night. I try to do all my household chores in the early morning. The swimsuits and towels dry in no time flat on the clothesline after we return from the pool.

We're in the middle of some DIY renovation in the main bathroom. The vanity top and porcelain sink were in really bad shape so we bought a new all-in-one vanity top, the kind with an integrated sink bowl. The countertop is a nice, light-colored Corian and the sink is white. We bought a new faucet, light fixture, and towel holders too, all in brushed-nickel finish. And we'll be painting the walls. We hadn't had a major headache home improvement project in what, a few weeks, so we went and found ourselves a new one. Any excuse to go back and forth to Lowe's three times a day.

My repaired dryer is actually making me really happy. I didn't realize how poorly it had been working before it finally gave up. Clothes are drying much faster now.

On the subject of laundry, I got a great deal on Tide this week. My goal is eight cents a load. I only manage to do this a couple of times a year, through a perfect storm of store sales, manufacturer's coupons and other discounts, but when I do, wheeee! It's a rush. Seriously.

The Bear and I went to Which Wich for lunch yesterday, after our second trip to Lowe's. The children were spending some time with their grandparents, enabling us to shop and work, so we took advantage and stopped for lunch. It was just sandwiches but it was nice to eat a meal out, and alone with him. I saved half of my club sandwich for today. Lately, I've been eating a lot of PB&J's and cheese slices with my usual lunchfellows.

The GB started her summer ballet class. It's rigorous, which will be really good for her. She will go back in the fall with new skills. 

I finished one book, I Found You by Lisa Jewell. Do you like her books? This is her newest novel. I really enjoy her books, which are mostly mysteries. Her characters are very believable and the dialogue is good. This book involves a man with amnesia, which seems like a tired plot device, but it's a good story and it kept me guessing.

In the yard, new things are happening. Nicotiana is in full bloom, evenings and mornings only. The hibiscuses are just getting their swirly cage-like buds; there should be flowers in about three weeks. I pruned back the second rosebush bloom and am now watching the third bloom just beginning to unfold. We cut back the nandinas, which had become very overgrown. One of them is right behind my clothesline on the back porch. Isn't it lucky how we keep finding ways to make sure I can stay on the laundry?

I've been working on my Maybelle squares again. It's so nice to be back in the crochet habit after a few weeks away. I've just started my fifth of nine colors! I'm nearly halfway through making the squares for this blanket. 

The Bear took the small ones on a hunt for obsidian, in a place where he knows you can find it, and they came home with a big bagful of interesting pieces. They washed and dried them and have been studying them all week. I don't know what we'll do with it, but even I have to admit it's really cool stuff.

This week, we'll be back to the pool and we'll go to a couple of library events for kids. Today, in between whatever I can help with in the bathroom, I have plans to bake with Miss GB, and later I will roast a chicken. It's hot for the oven to be on, but the leftovers will come in handy for the Bear's lunches this week. I'm making lists for a camping trip later this month. So far, I have: s'mores ingredients, hot dogs, buns, ketchup. That should be plenty, right?
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