Saturday, June 26, 2021

Saturday Family Fun

It's been awhile since we've all been adventuring locally as a family. We used to set off almost every Friday in Adventure Van to see what we could see, but our current homestead-y activities make that kind of hard nowadays. 


Today one of the farther mission churches was open for their annual feast day Mass. This particular church is dedicated to San Juan Bautista--known in non-Spanish-speaking places as St. John the Baptist--and today is his feast day. So this tiny church in the middle of nowhere is open this one day a year for this Mass.

We had to go down that way to drop the school bus off (we're getting a brand-new school bus this year, hooray!), so we decided to go.

Now. When I say, "that way," I mean in the general vicinity. There was a whole lot of this off the paved road before we got to the right community.

Such a Western view.

We did eventually find the church, after thirty minutes and ten miles of dirt road from the pavement.

It was a modest place.

We walked in juuuust as Mass was starting, and the guy in charge of the church asked me to do the readings.

Uh. Okay.

I don't know who was going to do them if we hadn't walked in the door, but whatever. 

This is not one of the more beautiful churches we've been to, but it has an interesting history. It's way back in a creek-side community that actually still has maybe a dozen occupants. One of those occupants is a man who spent most of his adult life in California, but came back to his family's lands in the 1990s. He found the adobe church abandoned--interior stripped, walls crumbling--and restored it almost by himself. He even found the pieces of the original altar in the schoolhouse of a (relatively) nearby village and replaced it.

Anyway. After church we looked around the small cemetery, which is pretty much all that guy's family.

Most of the headstones were hand-carved from the local stone.

This grave had asparagus planted in it. 

Asparagus does grow wild here, but someone had to have transplanted it purposely to this particular spot.

I immediately told A. that my grave (far in the future, I hope) should likewise be planted with a long-lived edible perennial. I suggested rhubarb, and then the children could make a pie in my honor every year.

Is that too weird? Don't answer that.

On our way back, we stopped at an imposing structure we could see from the dirt road. With an ancient bulldozer parked in front of it.

The children were thrilled.

We couldn't figure out what this building was. It was the highest stone building I've seen around here, but it was just one lofty story with one room. And a giant door.

It almost looked like a church, although I don't know why there would be another only a couple of miles from the one we went to.

Just across the track from this structure was an old homestead. It was a very good example of an old, owner-built homestead of the sort that used to be ubiquitous here before the railroad brought materials from elsewhere.

Three-room adobe house with some of the original dirt roof remaining, although most of it had been replaced by tin roofing at some point.

Dry-stone barn.


And some flowers I can't identify but that were obviously purpose-planted next to the hand-dug well.

I wish I could have gathered seeds from that plant, because talk about a plant that is a survivor.

After a quick snack of graham crackers and nuts, back in the van we went to make our way home.

Country roads, indeed.

It was nice to get off the property and explore a little more. No matter how many adventures we have, there's always more to see.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Friday Food: Chicken Beer


Short version: Scrambled eggs, chili pinto beans, rice, carrot sticks with curry dip

Long version: I put some of the sauce I had drained off the Costco barbacoa in with the beans.

That's about it.


Short version: Barbecue beef, garlic bread, coleslaw

Long version: I'm having barbecue sauce issues. The only purchased barbecue sauce I really like is NY-state specific, and that really can't be ordered online without paying exorbitant shipping costs. I've tried several Texas barbecue sauces, and they're all too spicy. A lot are also too sweet.

But I was tired of being out of barbecue sauce, so I went ahead and ordered the barbecue sauce that comes through the school Sysco program. I had tasted the barbecue sauce used in our cafeteria, and it was fine, so I figured I'd just get that.

Unfortunately, what came is NOT the same as what I tasted. And there's a gallon of it.

It's okay, but it has a very strong smoke flavor, so if I use too much, it makes food taste kind of burned. Boo. I can use it, but sparingly, and I need to dilute it with more vinegar, I think.

I did one last big harvest of the spring-planted vegetables this day:

Very satisfying.

There will be a bit of lull now until the summer vegetables--mostly green beans and tomatoes--are ready.


Short version: Steaks, dill potato salad, green salad with ranch dressing, baked custard

Long version: I know, steaks are the ultimate cliche for a Father's Day dinner. But A. likes steak, so I guess he's a cliche too.

I made the same potato salad with lots of fresh dill that I made for our roadtrip, because A. loved it so much. This time I halved the sugar, with no appreciable difference.

I overbaked the custards, so they were a little separated, rather than smooth and unctuous. But at least I had a proper-sized vessel for the water bath!

I'm working on upsizing my kitchen, because I'm cooking larger quantities of food all the time, and that's not going to reverse course any time soon. I started by buying the largest glass Pyrex pan I could find (4.8 quarts). This was the first time I used it, and I discovered a double recipe of the baked custard I make fits perfectly in two casserole dishes that fit inside that Pyrex.



Short version: Pork carnitas tacos with homemade corn tortillas

Long version: After many days well above 90 degrees, this day was about 70 degrees with high winds. So I could run the oven for awhile. Thus, carnitas. I found a piece of pork shoulder roast in the freezer, and that's what I used.

It was also cool enough to fire up the cast-iron griddle pan to make tortillas, so I did that. It had been awhile. They sure are good.


Short version: Leftovers

Long version: An eclectic meal.

A. had leftover stew meat with some onion I had cooked with no particular purpose, some of the barbacoa sauce from the Costco beef the week before, and some pepperjack cheese. Plus beet greens I had cooked just so they wouldn't take up so much space in the refrigerator.

I did freeze most of them, however.

Cubby had some of the barbecue stew meat, the last of the dill potato salad, and some beets. He's the only child who really loves beets like I do.

Calvin, Jack, and Poppy had a skillet dish of the stew meat with leftover rice, the rest of the barbacoa sauce, the rest of the cooked onion, finely diced beet greens, and a bit of grated cheese left from the night before's tacos.

I had a salad with the stew meat, beets, some of the ranch dressing, and half an avocado. You can tell from the avocado that A. went to a store recently. 


Short version: More leftovers, plus chicken rice

Long version: The refrigerator really was quite full. This time, I had the food processor out to make fruit shakes (smoothies) for lunch, so I rinsed it out and made a quick pasta sauce with the last three cubes of pesto from the freezer, a can of drained whole tomatoes, and olive oil. I added that to the egg noodles I had cooked, plus some finely diced beet greens and leftover stew meat and Parmesan cheese.

Egg noodles, incidentally, are way better than regular pasta. We got this bag from Miss Amelia. I think I'm going to buy those from now on myself, though.

A. had leftover steak with Romano cheese on top, plus some beet greens.

I had another salad, just like the night before, except with leftover pork instead of beef.

After dinner, I used the big pot I had made the pasta in to make chicken rice. Not rice with chicken in it, but rice for the chickens.

We're almost out of chicken food, but I have a dentist appointment next week, so rather than make a special trip to get food I'm stretching the chicken food by supplementing with brown rice and split peas. You might recall I have plenty of each. The chickens forage quite capably this time of year, anyway, since they're very free range, so they just need a little extra.

Cooking for chickens is even more annoying than cooking for dogs, but at least I get some eggs from the chickens. The same cannot be said for the dogs.

Interestingly, the peas and rice, which are in a bowl covered with water, have started fermenting very strongly in the heat we've been having. They're all bubbly and smell like beer, and the chickens LOVE it.

Make of that what you will.


Short version: Breakfast sausage patties, curried split peas, leftover rice, frozen green peas

Long version: Um. I fried the peas in with the sausage, because I didn't want to dirty another dish? Yeah, that's all I got.

Can you guess what I had? Yes! Another salad! This one was pretty light on the lettuce, because the early lettuce has bolted and the summer-planted lettuce is still too small. So it was just a little lettuce, with diced beets, finely diced onion, half an avocado, some of the peas, and shaved Romano cheese. It was very good.

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

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Remote Living, Part 6: The Drawbacks

I don't have any more specific questions to answer, but I thought I'd better explain some things that are challenging about living in a place like this. My answers to the actual questions were all positive, which is how I prefer to frame my life, but there are, of course, some things that are frustrating or worrisome about living here. Like . . .

The vehicle situation. Ugh. This is the worst. Because when your car needs to be worked on, what do you do? You drop it off and arrange for either public transit or someone you know to bring you home. And then to bring you back to pick it up when it's done. 

But what do we do, living where the mechanic is 60, 90, or 160 miles away (depending on which service is needed--local mechanic, or a place that replaces windshields, or an actual dealership) and we have four kids who really do not appreciate a long drive with no reward of anything fun for them?

There is no good solution to this.

A. has driven 180 miles roundtrip--or farther--and spent all day waiting at mechanic shops for cars to be worked on, just so we wouldn't have to go with him. He has tried leaving the van and renting a car for a week, which is a huge expense. He has tried scheduling car work around airplane trips when he's driving to an urban center to go to an airport anyway.

Nothing about any of this is convenient and it's a giant headache. Because the other thing is that you HAVE TO HAVE a car here. Really, two cars. And those cars will occasionally need maintenance. Which is always a pain.

Adventure Van is a trooper, but even troopers need occasional repairs.

Medical care. Family members ask me about this all the time. There is one clinic ten miles away with a nurse practitioner that is open two days a week. The next-nearest clinic is 60 miles away, still with only nurse practitioners. The closest (small) hospital with an ER is 90 miles away. And for specialist care, people drive 100-150 miles. 

Anything medical is, like the vehicles, a giant headache. Just going to the dentist is an all-day affair with long drives on either end. 

Very thankfully, our family is remarkably healthy and literally never goes to a medical professional except for vaccinations, but I would be lying if I said it doesn't worry me a little bit to be so far from medical care if there should ever be an emergency.

Buying clothes. How annoying is it to never be able to try on a pair of jeans or shoes before buying them? VERY ANNOYING. I send a lot of things back, which of course means shipping costs. Cheaper than driving 300 miles roundtrip to a mall, though.

Travel. Even going to the grocery store for us means a long drive. Now imagine tacking that drive on to the beginning and end of any trip, whether you're trying to get to an airport or just to a major metropolitan area. It's exhausting.

DIY eeeeeverything. For A., this mostly means that if something breaks, he has to fix it. Whatever it is. 

For me, this mostly means that no matter how exhausted or sick of cooking I am, I will always have to prepare food. 

This is actually the prep for a lunch salad that I was not too tired to prepare. Not only did I obviously make it myself, I also grew much of it myself. (Isn't it pretty? SO PRETTY!)

There are no service people to call, and no takeout or delivery options. We do it ourselves, or it doesn't get done. 

Okay! I think that's enough wallowing in the negatives, right? Right. But, you know, there are reasons that this is one of the least-populated counties in the country. And now you know some of them.

Monday, June 21, 2021

T.T.: Tossing Without Guilt

(Yes, I accidentally published this on a Monday. Oh well. Consider it an early gift.)

There is a constant battle raging in my house on the subject of paper towels. I hate using paper towels. Spend money on a product that just gets thrown away once it's used? Horrors. Just use a cloth!

It's a kind of joke between me and A. He (and Cubby) always reaches for paper towels first, while I stand anxiously by, suggesting he should get a cloth instead.

Milk spills, water spills, sticky spots on the floor, mud . . . STEP AWAY FROM THE PAPER TOWELS.


One chore cloth I really do NOT want to be washing and re-using is the toilet-cleaning cloth. I don't have enough of them to wash them as a separate load, and I just don't want to throw them in with my other laundry.

Some people use things like Chlorox wipes to clean toilets. I won't use those for several reasons.

A) Bleach is a no-go for me. The MiL used to have Chlorox wipes at Blackrock. I used one once to quickly wipe the toilet seat when Cubby was little, and the very next time he sat down on that toilet seat, he developed a slight rash where he had come into contact with the seat. 

B) Pay money for something I'm going to throw away after a single use? That comes in a plastic container that I will also have to throw away? No. 

And . . .

C) Those things are way too small to cover my hand so that it doesn't come in contact with the toilet all the time.

Good thing I have all these people in my house who destroy clothing with great regularity.

I am constantly having to discard cotton t-shirts because of holes. But before those t-shirts go to their final resting place, they get cut up into rags with which I (and now the older boys) clean the toilet.

Look how cheerful these are! These are the ones I keep in the kids' bathroom for the boys to use.

These are free, I can cut them whatever size I want (usually around 6 inches square, although I don't measure or anything), and they're thin enough to get into those tight places something like a sponge can't easily reach.

And then, when I'm done with them, I have no guilt about just throwing them away. Because I was going to throw them away anyway.

I also use socks with holes in them to dust and wash walls or doors. I throw those away, too. It makes me slightly less irritated about the sheer quantity of socks I have to discard all the time. Now it's not just another holey sock to be tossed; it's free cleaning material!

(But seriously. HOW do they manage to get holes in their socks so quickly? It's incredible.)

So the next time you have an item of cotton clothing that's destined for the dump, consider cutting it up for your very own disposable cleaning cloths. And then feel the sweet freedom of tossing without guilt.

A Monday Bouquet

This is the time of year when I always have a wildflower bouquet on my table. This makes me very, very happy. 

I mean, I always think it would be nice to have what is quaintly called a "cutting garden," specifically to have cut flowers for the house. But, you know, that would require work to maintain such a garden. I find growing our vegetables to be enough work.

For that reason, I'm quite happy to yank off some flowering weeds on my morning walk with the dogs and put them in an old milk bottle on the table. 

Like so.

This also provides an opportunity for plant identification. For example, I just learned on our way to church yesterday that the tall stalks with the tiny yellow flowers are sweet clover. A. was considering gathering some of the seeds and scattering them in our fields for the sheep.

The smaller purple flowers are alfalfa, which A. actually seeded a couple of years ago and which pop up here and there. 

The little white flowers are a wretched weed called bindweed. I spend a lot of time yanking that out of my rhubarb bed. I pulled the stalk of grass one of the flowering ones had climbed so I could put it in my bouquet. Might as well get some use out of that awful stuff.

And I just now learned that the larger purple flowers with the yellow centers are silver nightshade. Those require a bit of cunning to gather without scissors, because the stems are covered in small thorns. I used a sunflower leaf to grab them and pull. Because I do not have scissors with me on my morning walks.

The roadside sunflowers aren't blooming yet, but you can bet they'll be in my table bouquet when they do.

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.