Sunday, June 20, 2021

Snapshots: The Magic Carpet Ride

And by "magic carpet," I mean "our gigantic van." Or something. 

Whatever. I like this song and thought of it as I was writing a title, so there you go.

And here we go, on a photo timeline of our roadtrip to and from Tucson. Whee!

Although the drive to Tucson can be done in one long day, it's much more bearable with children to split it up over two days. We left around 8 a.m. on Thursday and drove the majority of the way the first day, stopping in the mountains in the Gila National Forest outside of Silver City.

There were lots of trees and a little stream nearby. Even a pit toilet. 

Listen, I take when I can get when I'm on a family roadtrip.


In all seriousness, it was a very nice campsite.

Because I am a high-maintenance princess, I insisted that A. bring the tent. He doesn't bother with such frippery when he goes camping with the kids, but after our raccoon adventure a couple of years ago, I vowed that never again would I sleep under the stars unless it was the direst of circumstances. 

We did have one not-too-close neighbor--a guy who has spent the last five years riding his bicycle around and was on his way to work at a Renaissance Festival in Colorado--but he was nice and didn't seem to mind the occassional visits from the dogs.

The dogs are on high alert at all times, but particularly at night when they're camping with us. They spent the night patrolling the perimeter of our campsite and barking at whatever they heard or smelled. Unfortunately, this included a skunk that came to visit the stream at about 3 a.m. I'm sure it would have just wandered away without bothering us, but Jasper took it upon himself to chase it away. With the predictable result.


He was a bit, um, fragrant for the rest of the trip.

With the two dog crates in the back of the van, we actually didn't have much room in the cargo area in back for the camping gear. We have a car-top carrier, though, so A. used that for the sleeping bags and so on. Of course, the car-top carrier is really meant to be used on an actual car with a reachable top, not our giant van.

This meant that every day, A. had to climb up on top of the van to re-pack the carrier.


This is a peak Dad on a Family Roadtrip moment, right here.

We still had a few hours to drive before we got to Tucson, so we stopped once in Bowie, Arizona, for a break. 


The village playground was . . . spartan.

The playground was also adjacent to a chainlink fence surrounding a house at which lived two HUGE bulldogs. Which we discovered when we let our dogs out of their crates and the bulldogs launched themselves at the fence. 

There then followed a frantic few minutes of A. throwing our dogs back in the van and me throwing our kids back in the van so we could find somewhere to eat lunch that wouldn't result in a dog fight.

We did go to the school playground, but it was so hot, the kids played for about ten minutes and then we got back in the car and they ate their lunch while we drove.

The house I rented on Airbnb was very, very nice.


A bit more luxurious than our previous night's lodging.

The house was on the east side of Tucson, in an area of larger properties, many with horses. This house was on fifteen acres, which included a path that leads to a large wash. I took the dogs on a walk to the wash every morning.


The path led through an old mesquite forest, and it was really cool. Literally cool, too--only around 60 degrees at dawn, even on days that got to 112 degrees.


Well, technically before dawn--around 5 a.m.

There was a walled-in backyard where I would sit and have my coffee after walking the dogs.


Coffee time with dogs.

During the day, when we were gone at the gathering for my brother-in-law's celebration of life, the dogs were put in their crates in the air-conditioned house. It was over 110 degrees every day we were there. Too hot for them to be outside that much during the middle of the day.


I placed the crates so they couldn't see each other. Odin was a little bit anxious during the trip, which manifested in snarling at his brother.

It was, in short, the perfect house for our family. Only about 20 minutes from the places we needed to go, but rural enough that it was relaxing for us country mice.

We had to check out on Sunday morning at 10 a.m., and we spent the morning with the members of A.'s family that live in Tucson, so it was a late start to our drive. We were planning on stopping earlier in the day to set up camp, but we ran into some terrible weather at that point in the day. It was hot and windy, dusty (or smoky--couldn't tell), with ominous clouds near the mountains. So we kept driving until we were out of it.

Unfortunately, that meant we drove until just after the sun had set. We camped on Bureau of Land Management land just a few hours from home, in the middle of the range. (Ranchers can lease BLM land, but anyone can camp on it.) We were just a few miles from the main road, but it was very quiet and pretty nice out there. 


No skunks, either.

We made it home by 9:30 the next morning. Everyone was very ready to be out of the car by then and very happy to be home.

And there you have it! Our trip, snapshotted.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Friday Food: Costco Meat by Way of Arizona

Friday 

Short version: Soft tacos, beans, and treats

Long version: My mom had planned this meal, and she packed it all up and schlepped it over to our rental house so we wouldn't have to get back in the car to go to her house. She had bought a bunch of pre-cooked and shredded meats at Costco--beef, chicken, and pork--which she and my sister heated up for tacos. She had also made pinto beans, and my sister made some Spanish rice. There was also guacamole. That I did not make.

What did I make? Nothing. I ate, though. It was very luxurious.

My mom had also brought chocolate chip cookies and these little individual brownie things, both of which came from Costco and thus were in GIANT tubs. My children were thrilled, with both the indulgence of not one, but two dessert options, and by the sheer quantity.

It may be a good thing we don't have a Costco nearby.

After eating as many sweets as they could get away with, they all went to run around on the surprisingly verdant lawn with their cousins. Excellent mesquite trees for hanging a tire swing, too.


It's amazing what water will do in a desert.

Saturday

Short version: Spaghetti and meatballs, green salad

Long version: And what did I contribute to this meal? Again, nothing. We went to my parents' house for dinner, and again, my mom and my sister did everything. Well, my mom did ask me how I make meatballs, so I guess I provided a recipe, but that was the extent of my involvement.

The children ate poolside after burning approximately a million calories swimming. 

They could get used to this lifestyle.

Sunday

Short version: Salami, cream cheese, crackers, grapes, tomatoes, animal crackers, graham crackers with peanut butter

Long version: On our way home. We were trying to drive out of some terrible weather--heat, wind, ominous clouds, and what looked like smoke or dust--before camping, so we were in the car until just after the sun set. That's why the kids ate various snack foods for dinner.

They had the graham crackers and peanut butter after we finally set up our camp in the middle of nowhere. And that's all they had, because then it was dark.


Setting up the tent after the sun was down, but before it was completely dark. 

Monday

Short version: Chicken tacos, frozen corn

Long version: We made it home around 9:30 in the morning, so I had plenty of time to make dinner. What I did not have was the energy. Luckily, my mom had sent me home with all the leftover, unopened packages of meat from our Friday meal, so I used two pounds of the pre-cooked and shredded chicken breast to make taco meat. It didn't have any seasonings other than salt and garlic powder, so I added salsa, chili powder, cumin, and more garlic powder.

The lettuce I used both for my salad and the taco topping wasn't mine. My mom had also given me one of the fruit trays from Saturday's event for my brother-in-law, and the grapes and so on were on a bed of green leaf lettuce. I suspect a normal person would have thrown that lettuce away.

I, however, am not a normal person. I am a person who lives many miles from the nearest store-bought produce, and I have spent enough time without fresh produce that I could never bring myself to throw any away. So I brought it home. It was fine.

Tuesday

Short version: Sun-baked chicken casserole, pinto beans

Long version: I live in a place with very, very high UV levels. The combination of the blue, cloudless New Mexico skies and our high elevation means some extremely strong sun. So why, I have been asking myself, do I not have a solar oven?

Because someone has to build it, and A. is so busy all the time, he hasn't had a chance to do it yet. I mean, this is rad, but it would take a lot of time to build.

So I decided to experiment with the simplest possible solar oven.

I was just planning on making a casserole with the leftover taco chicken anyway, so I didn't even need to cook anything--just warm up and melt cheese. And it's certainly been hot enough; we arrived home just in time for temperatures well over 90 degrees every day.

I used my cast-iron dutch oven, because it is dark and retains heat well. I covered the bottom with corn oil, then a layer of the chicken (to which I had added some onion, green chili sauce, finely diced beet greens, and sour cream, plus the remainder of the cooked corn), then a layer of corn tortillas (thriftily using up the pieces from the ones that I had ripped in the bag), then some garlic powder, and then shredded cheese.

I covered the dutch oven with a glass lid and set it outside on the hood of the Honda.


This is actually my idea of fun, yes.

I put it out around 3 p.m., which is why I had to prop it with the rock, to get the angle right so it would get full sun. I left it out there about an hour, at which point the cheese was mostly melted, the chicken layer was warm, and there was some condensation on the underside of the lid. Unfortunately, some thin clouds covered the sun at that point, so I figured it wasn't going to get any hotter.

We actually could have eaten it like that, but I put it under the broiler for a second anyway, just to get the cheese all the way melted. 

So it kind of worked. If the clouds hadn't come over the sun a bit, I think it would have definitely worked. And it tasted really good.

Wednesday

Short version: Italian chicken, pasta, frozen peas

Long version: Yet more of the pre-cooked, shredded chicken. Since it's all breast meat, it's basically a blank slate, flavorwise. So this time I cooked some bacon earlier in the day, then I cooked some onion in the bacon grease. To that I added the chicken, a cube of green garlic puree, olive oil, and the last bag of Finny's sauce from the freezer.

For the kids, I cooked pasta and added butter, cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, and garlic powder, then mixed in some of the chicken mixture. A. and I had just the chicken topped with Parmesan and Romano cheeses.

It was a very good combination.

Thursday

Short version: Barbacoa tacos

Long version: This was the last of the several pounds of Costco meat my mom sent home with me. This package had barbacoa, which is chili-seasoned beef. Since it actually had a sauce with the meat, I didn't have to do anything but heat it up.

Actually, it had too much sauce, so I drained some of it and saved it for flavoring plain pinto beans. It didn't have any weird ingredients in it, and it tasted good, so I definitely wasn't going to let it go to waste.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?


Thursday, June 17, 2021

Remote Living, Part 5: Churches and Libraries

A few more questions popped up . . .

How far do you travel for church? 

Our church is in the village ten miles from us, so that's not a big deal. But our larger parish (we're Catholic) is an interesting one. There are three churches in our parish that have a regular schedule of weekly services. To get to all three on Sunday morning, our priest drives a total of 100 miles. Every Sunday. Plus various midweek services at different churches, although he doesn't go to all three any day but Sunday.

There are also at least three "mission" churches, which means they don't have enough of a congregation to have weekly services. Instead, those mission churches have once-a-month services, and also some special occasion ones, like Christmas Eve. Those mission churches are even more remote, but so incredible to visit. We go sometimes just because they're so old and beautiful. 


Beautiful churches are good for the soul.

On the days the priest celebrates Mass at those churches, he drives over 100 miles just to get to one.

Obviously, this assignment for priests is not for the faint of heart. Or the hater of driving.

What about midweek church activities?

There are no midweek church activities, because there aren't enough parishioners for committees, groups, meetings, and so on. Calvin was the only child at our church to receive his First Communion this year, and will probably be the only one until Jack does his in a couple of years. So no religious education or anything. We essentially homeschool that. 

HomeSundayschool? Whatever.

Oh wait. I think our priest is doing an online Bible study class, but I've never participated in it.

Can you get to a library, or will they mail you books? Or are you on your own?

Well. Buckle up, Kit, because I have MANY WORDS on this subject.

Books are very important to our family. We are readers (well, all of us that can read so far, anyway). My first job as a teenager was as a library page. I am a Library Person without doubt, and visiting libraries had always been a regular part of our lives. Until we moved here.

The library situation here is complicated. There are three small cities, all 90 miles from us in different directions, that have small libraries. However, we don't really use them anymore. Those cities all have different services. So, for instance, we might make our Town Visit one month to the city that has the mechanic, but then the next month we might have to go to the city that has the dentist. This means we can't reliably check out and return books.

There is also the issue that A. almost always goes alone to do all the Town Visits, because the kids and I don't really want to do the drive. And when we DID go with him, it takes so long to do all the errands, visiting a library is just one more thing that makes the trip way too long.


Book Baby checks out the selection (this is Poppy two years ago.)

So. The brick and mortar libraries aren't really an option. Which leaves us with what the library system calls "Rural Services."

There are two of those. One is the bookmobile. This is an RV with bookshelves in the back that drives all over rural New Mexico, bringing books to people. They just started up again after COVID, and last month was the first month patrons were allowed to go inside the bookmobile. 

I appreciate the service, but it's not entirely satisfactory. For one thing, the selection in the actual bookmobile is necessarily limited, and is mostly current fiction of the sort I don't really care for. It is possible to request books from their larger collection and they'll bring them, but you have to know what you want. Also, they don't seem to have reciprocal agreements with any other libraries and their collections, so it's still pretty limited.

For another thing, the bookmobile only comes once a month to the village near us, and stays for just one hour. So if you miss that window, you're out of luck until the next month.

During the pandemic, when the bookmobile wasn't running, I was also able to sign up for Books by Mail. This is a state program out of Albuquerque that, as you could have guessed, mails books right to you. They come in a zippered nylon bag with a return card, so when you're done, you just put them back in the bag and mail them back.

This is a great idea, but the problem with this is the same as with the bookmobile: limited selection. They don't offer books from the larger Albuquerque system, instead maintaining their own small collection. Again, you have to know what you want, and I often can't find what I want. They do have a pretty good selection of New Mexico-specific things--I got quite a few books about native plants for Cubby, for example--but they're pretty lacking in fiction. That we want to read, anyway.

I have used all of these resources in the past, and now I mostly just get a few things from the Books by Mail and buy other books used on Amazon or Thriftbooks. Keeping track of books from so many sources was too hard and stressful. Now I have too many books in the house, of course, with more all the time, but at least I don't have to worry about losing them or returning them to the wrong entity.

Maybe I should start my own lending library.

Okay, I'm all caught up on my answers! Unless you've thought of more questions. I'll be standing by . . .


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

A Few of My Favorite Home Things

We are home. 

We have actually been home since Monday morning. There's nothing like taking a trip to bring home (ha, yes, I did that on purpose) to you what it is you love about where you live. That is certainly even more true for me, the homebodiest homebody that ever was.

You want to know what made me happiest about being home again? Of course you do. Here, have a list.

My bed.  It is always the case that my own bed always feels best. But after sleeping on rangeland with cow patties and rocks under me? I could write a ten-stanza Ode to My Bed full of superlatives with no trouble whatsoever. (Aren't you glad I stuck to writing this list instead?)


It looks smooth, but trust me, dried cow patties can really ruin your night.

More-consistent sleep for the kids. None of them sleep as well or as long when they're not in their own rooms and their own beds. Some wake up in the night, some wake up early in the morning, all stay awake later than they normally would. Once we get home, I have every expectation that all the children will be asleep by 8:30 p.m., sleep through the night, and not wake up until 6:30 or so. Since sleep time is the only time I am not actively caring for children, knowing I have that block of time is really important to me.

Quiet and peace. Driving is loud. The car itself is loud. The places we're driving through and to are loud.  Unfamiliar urban environments are noisy, visually stimulating, and a little anxiety-inducing as I count kids and make sure I know where everyone is. I'm on high alert at all times. Not only is it quiet at our home, but the kids can be out of my sight and I'm not worried that they're going to get lost or kidnapped or something.

Home toilets. With four kids on the road, I spend a lot of time either in public bathrooms, or holding steady a kid who needs to use a bathroom where there's nothing but empty space all around. (I prefer the latter. Peeing in the middle of the range is much cleaner than a gas station bathroom. Gross.) Having not one, but two toilets that are stationary and on hand whenever anyone needs them means that I am not constantly hunting around for the toilet paper in the van or waiting in line at a rest stop.

My garden. I wrote about this before. And yes, the first thing I did after we got home (once I had released all dogs and children from the van) was visit my plants. The lettuce survived the heat! Hooray!

In sum, traveling is fun, but getting home is better.

 What do you most appreciate when you get home from being away?


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

T.T.: The Parental Tedium of Literacy

Presently in our house, we have two children who are very proficient and advanced readers and writers; one who recognizes seven letters of the alphabet and can write a single one; and Jack, who is just learning to read and write.

The good thing about having two older siblings who read and write so frequently is that the younger children accept that reading and writing are normal. The challenging thing about that same scenario is that the younger child tries to keep up with those older siblings before he is really ready.

In that stage, the younger sibling spends a lot of time trying to sound out words and asking for help with the ones he inevitably gets stuck on.* Also a lot of time asking for help spelling words, which requires a parent to stand there spelling entire sentences one letter at a time.

It is very tedious.

However! Here's your tip: Whenever you get frustrated with the letter-by-letter spelling and the very slow sounding-out process, visualize the day when that same child will be sitting quietly on the couch, reading on his own. For hours. Because that will happen eventually. 


Book ends, bookworming.

I promise, it will be worth all that tedium. And then some.

* Because English is a really inconsistent and confusing language to learn. So many rules with just as many exceptions.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Snapshots: Dancing Queen

A very fine collection of randomness for you this Sunday . . .

When we cleared out the barn/shed last week, A. took stock of all the black walnut wood he brought back from New York last summer with an eye to supplying wood for my dad to make us a giant bookcase.

We have so many books. So so many. And more all the time. We need lots more space for them. This should help.


These pieces are about four feet long, in case you were wondering.

Poppy and I came out of the bathroom the other night after her shower to find that A. had employed our oversized weed whacker in the back garden.


How much is that horsie out the window?

A. was right there to supervise, but I was a little afraid for my small tomato plants at the mercy of those giant hooves. No damage was done, however. And the more Samson eats, the less A. has to run his trimmer.

That girl up there with the wet hair certainly has no fear of the camera. She requested I take her picture and this is what I got.






She got moves.

I was working on mulching my asparagus, pulling weeds as I went and tossing them over the board fence. This made my neighbors very happy.


I spy, with my little eye . . .

And there you have it! My life, snapshotted.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday Food: Arizona Bound

Friday 

Short version: A melange of leftover meats, bread and butter, raw cabbage, sauteed beet greens

Long version: A. had the leftover steak, and the rest of the leftover rabbit, plus the beet greens. They were the greens from just one beet that I pulled because it was starting to go to seed. I sauteed the greens in butter with a bit of vinegar and garlic powder, and there was just enough for him.

The rest of us had the remainder of the accidental sauerbraten-like stew meat. I had mine in a salad with the singular beet, some sprouting broccoli, a bit of cheese, and some leftover peas. The kids had theirs heated up, with the raw cabbage and the bread and butter.

Random, but it worked.

Saturday

Short version: Sausage-y meatloaf, tater tots, Holy's cabbage, cucumber and dill salad

Long version: I thought I was out of ground beef, but then I discovered a few packages hiding at the bottom of what I thought was a box full of stew meat.

The excitement was real.

So I stretched the ground beef with some of the Sysco breakfast sausage, which actually makes for a better meatloaf, anyway.

And why are we having tater tots again? Because of the GIANT BAG I bought.

When I bought the tater tots, I of course looked for the store brand, as I almost always do for things like that. I mean, it's junk food. Does it matter if it's Ore-Ida brand junk food? No.

Anyway. 

The only generic tater tots came in this huge bag. "Yikes," I said. "That's a huge bag." To which A. responded with confusion, "So?" And I thought, Oh yeah. There is no such thing as too much anymore in our house when it comes to food.

So. Tater tots.

Cubby was thrilled to be having not only tater tots, but also meatloaf. And not only meatloaf, but meatloaf with sausage in it. Three of his favorite things, all at once.

The cucumber salad was just sliced cucumbers with a tiny bit of onion, sour cream, vinegar, and a TON of fresh dill from the garden. I actually thought ahead and salted the cucumber slices to release some water. But I actually don't like the result, which is soft instead of crunchy. No more thinking ahead for me.

Sunday

Short version: Green chili stew meat tacos, sauteed scapes and snow peas, pots de creme

Long version: How lazy have I gotten with the stew meat? So lazy that literally all I do is brown some of the meat (it takes too long to brown every single piece of the four pounds or so that I cook at once), then dump things in. No chopping, thank you. In this case, four cubes of green garlic puree, two cubes of green chili sauce, and half a jar of rooster stock that was in the refrigerator. I put some sour cream in there, too, when the meat was tender.

I think this was the last really big skillet of scapes and snow peas I'm going to have this year, which is sad. Because not only is it so delicious, but look how pretty:


Nothing is more vibrantly green than this. It's spring in a skillet.

Pots de creme was Calvin's toilet-cleaning-reward choice. I couldn't help but note how much easier it was than those Floating Islands. More universally appreciated, too.

Monday

Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, bread and butter, snow peas with ranch dip

Long version: I also discovered in the freezer a bag of hamburger patties I had made and frozen some time ago. That was like striking gold.

We hadn't had hamburgers in awhile, and everyone was very happy to see them again. All the children had seconds. Good thing I had fried a couple of eggs for A., too, which meant the eight hamburger patties went a little farther among the six of us. 

A. likes to stack his cheeseburger patties with the fried eggs and then top them with mayonnaise and ketchup. He calls this "The Tower of Power." I still don't see the appeal, but it makes him happy.

Tuesday

Short version: Leftover green chili stew meat, fresh bread, beets, beet greens

Long version: I actually got beets of a usable size this year! Hooray! Last year's beet planting in the back pasture just got fried, I think, but this year's smaller cell* of beets in the propane-yard garden grew well and I pulled a few out for dinner.

I love beets. LOVE them. I keep trying to grow enough to pickle some so I can have them in the winter, too, but I haven't managed that yet. Next year, I'm planting twice as many.

Poppy, apparently, does not love beets. And Calvin doesn't mind beets, but does not appreciate how they stain the rest of the food on his plate bright pink. 

It is a little unappealing when your meat looks like it's bleeding, I must admit.

Wednesday

Short version: Scrambled eggs, chicken patties, fake baked beans, green salad with ranch dressing, leftover crepes

Long version: This is the sort of meal I make the night before we leave for a trip. Scrounged food to use up stuff in the refrigerator. The crepes the kids had for dessert fall into that category.

I made some baked beans with a pint jar of the canned pinto beans, plus ketchup, mustard, vinegar, dehydrated onion flakes, and maple syrup. They weren't bad. The three kids that like baked beans liked them, anyway.

Thursday

Short version: Camping food

Long version: And we're off! To Tucson, that is, for my brother-in-law's celebration of life. Although the trip can be done in one long day, we're splitting it up over two days. Which means camping. And because we're bringing our semi-feral dogs with us, that means wilderness camping.

We won't be at a campground or anything, just somewhere random in the mountains, so there is every possiblity that we won't be able to have a fire due to the drought conditions in our state. But we also might be able to have a fire!

So I planned for food that can be either heated in a campfire, or eaten cold. And that food is meatloaf. 

Meatloaf is greatly underrated, in my opinion.

Also, I had the remainder of a bag of potatoes to use, so I made a potato salad with an oil-and-vinegar (and mustard and lots of dill) dressing. There's some bacon in there, too. 

I used this recipe and actually added the sugar, against my better judgement. It's not inedibly sweet, but I don't think it needed the sugar. Certainly not that much, anyway. It's good otherwise, though, so if I ever make it again, I'll keep that in mind.

I made extra of the dressing so I can also tear up some lettuce and add it right to the potato salad. Two salads in one, a green vegetable with the starch, and it uses up some lettuce. I harvested most of the lettuce before we left. It's going to be hot, and I didn't want it to bolt (send up flower stalks--it gets bitter then) and become unusable while we're gone. 

I don't worry overly much about extra vegetables at meals while we're on a roadtrip, because we always have raw fruits and vegetables in the car with us that the kids snack on while we're driving.


For this trip, that's carrot and celery sticks, and a LOT of snow peas from the garden. (This is a gallon-size bag.)

I have some marshmallows, too, although if we can't have a fire, the kids can't roast them. In which case, I'm sure they'll have no problem eating the marshmallows cold.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

* One of the most important things we have learned about gardening here is that every plant needs to be in a depressed area so it can be flooded with several inches of water. So things are either in trenches, or in cells, which have walls of soil all around to hold the water.