Tag Archives: Nature

Backyard Visitors

On Friday, I mentioned the unwanted spring cold that has taken up residence in my sinuses. Thank you so much to everyone for your lovely comments and “feel-better” messages. I am feeling a little better after a busy weekend that didn’t allow for as much rest as I should have made time for. But I am still behind. Is it just me or are spring and summer colds the worst?

Slowly but surely, I am putting the banana bread post together and should have it up tomorrow. I decided last minute to bake up a batch of banana nut muffins to add in and have again set myself back. Honestly, I think I am way more excited about this post than anyone else could possibly be. I need to get it up so I can stop thinking about it.

But today, just for a quick check-in to say hello, I thought I would share with you a few pictures of my favorite backyard visitors. We have a lot of interesting visitors to what we call the “Brewer Nature Preserve” and it often feels like we never need visit a zoo again. Well, we don’t have tigers and rhinos (and I am most happy about that) but we do have lots of coyotes, javelinas and the occasional bobcat sitting on the fence or trotting casually through the driveway.

I know. It took me a while to get used to it too.

My two favorite visitors are the bunnies and the quail. They are sweet and peaceful and are always there nibbling on the grass or scratching for seeds when I first look out the kitchen window in the early morning.

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I look forward to seeing them.

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I love that the quail are always in pairs. Do you see the second pair in the background behind the orange tree? We are just starting to see the “mommies and daddies” with a long trail of babies scrambling along after them. So precious.

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The bunnies are usually in pairs too. This guy heard me coming as I interrupted his breakfast; I though I was being so sneaky and quiet.

He stopped for just a moment, listening.

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And then he and his buddy were off for the back gate. But he did make sure to take his breakfast with him.

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Often times the bunnies will be just outside the gate running around chasing each other, playing in the tall brush. So much fun to watch!

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The bunnies and quail are definitely welcome company. And while they might be slightly more terrifying company, I do have to admit it is pretty incredible to see a bobcat just hangin’ out on your back fence post.

Or even up in a Saguaro …

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This is not my original photo, I found it on-line and borrowed it. 

It is amazing to me that these cats climb up and then sit atop these sharp spiny cacti.

Before I go today, I just want to extend my thoughts and prayers to all who were affected by the horrific tornado in Oklahoma yesterday. We lived in Altus, Oklahoma when we were stationed there for two years and absolutely loved the area and the local people we met. They are kind and strong and will overcome.

We have a lot of family in Oklahoma as well and are so incredibly thankful that they were not in the path of the storm and are all just fine. We are praying for those who were not as fortunate.

The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

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Welcome Out-back at The Hacienda

“Kiiiids, where’s your mom?”

“She’s out-baaaaack!”

If you are ever at The Hacienda, you will be sure to hear that.

And if you are ever wondering where I am, there’s a good chance the answer is the same.

Welcome out-back at the Hacienda. So happy you stopped by! If I could, I would hand you a cold drink and invite you to find a shady spot and “sit a spell” as the saying goes.

Perhaps my favorite spot at the picnic table under the Palo Verde tree?

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Out-back has not always been the most welcoming or inviting place to be though. We started with a blank slate. Actually, I wish we had started with a blank slate, it took a whole lot of work to get to the blank slate stage.

Actually, let me just show you …

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This is the somewhat dismal view from the back patio looking toward the back gate.

The only thing I saw was potential.

My husband, on the other hand, saw the endless work ahead. We were both right.

I sure wish I had taken photos before we had done anything (this wasn’t my first reno so you’d think I’d know better). Before we started, you couldn’t even see the fountain from the back door. The Palo Verde branches were hanging down all over the ground and covering it along with many more Creosote bushes and other wild desert plants. What you see above is after the work of a determined husband with a new chainsaw.

What you see below is the same view as it looks today, a little less dismal, after a bit of vision and a whole lot of hard work.

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But first, just a few more “befores”

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The play set in the giant sand pit was a pretty big mess of splintered wood and rotting stairs and ramps. The previous owner had wrapped a lot of the wood in plastic PVC tape to add a protective layer and prevent splinters (I’m guessing). Sadly, the black PVC tape was ugly – really ugly – and had white lettering all over it. Lovely. That was done by a guy, I guarantee it!

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Potential.

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Do you see it?

Loads and loads of potential.

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Now doesn’t that look like the perfect place to put a swimming pool?

And here’s where we are today …

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With kids and a dog, you have to have a little grass!

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We did hire out a few things. A guy with a small excavator was a life saver.

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And the lawn curbing was best left to the professionals. My husband LOVES the natural “organic” shape I designed – it is just so easy to mow. Not really. But it’s pretty.

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The grass looks a little it rough right now as the winter grass is starting to die off as it gets warmer and the Bermuda Grass, which goes dormant in the winter, begins to wake-up and take over.

Yes, in Arizona, you have to plant new winter grass E.V.E.R.Y. winter.

Backyard-After-10I really do love how the “grass” side of the yard turned out. We won’t speak of the crying that occurred during the sod laying phase. Let’s just say our timeline got away from us and my husband could no longer put off heading to the airport for out of town business. One third of the yard was left to do, light was fading, the sod was soppy and heavy and stinky and had to be finished, the dog had tangled with a cholla cactus, the kids were hungry and fighting, I was dirty and soppy and stinky (see reference to sod). There were tears. But the dog lived. And the kids ate. And I finished. And took a shower.

Before we move on to the rest of the yard, I have to tell you what I did with the ugly play set.

Gary fixed all of the rickety and dangerous parts and put on a roof for shade and then I painted the PVC tape. There was no taking it off so I bought about 438 cans (or so) of spray paint – the kind that adheres to plastic – and painted over all of that crazy tape.

It is a lovely cinnamon color.

I was a lovely cinnamon color.

For days.

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It won’t win any design awards but it sure looks better. Actually, I think it looks kind of cool.

Speaking of cool, how about that nice shady spot?

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The lounge chair was my husband’s Father’s Day present last year. Would you like to see my Mother’s Day present from last year?

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I am so not kidding.

But before you go turning my husband in to the “worst Mother’s Day present ever” police, this is what I asked for. I’m not a jewelry girl. When I say I want “rocks”, this is what I mean. Besides, they came with a labor agreement from the sweet man who got me a big pile of rocks for Mother’s Day.

Incidentally, I bought the lounge chair for him after I sat down a the picnic table to take a break from shoveling and hauling my Mother’s Day present and with head in hand thought to myself “I sooooo wish I could just lay down right now and take a nap. Right here. Under this tree in the breeze.” 

The picnic table was not comfortable.

So, I ordered a chaise.

“For my husband”.

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It’s a nice spot for a siesta. It was so nice of me to think of him.

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Moving on. Remember this side of the yard?

Pool-After-5Didn’t I tell you it was a nice place for a pool? Those are some of my rocks.

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The pool. The pool. The pool. That is a subject for another post.

Pool-After-3Let me just say, putting in a pool is not something I want to do again anytime soon. “Monica” plans and supervises pool construction. Remember her?

Pool-Project-8She has meltdowns over un-authorized white grout in her otherwise “natural” color scheme.

The grout didn’t stay white. Monica had them fix it.

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In the end, it really was well worth all the headache (and bank account ache) because it was all about the kids and they LOVE it! Actually, we all love it. I just love it a little warmer than they do.

So that is our back yard. Out-back. But there is also a “Waaaaay Out-back”.

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Just through the back gate.

(That is my peach tree in the foreground, a Brazilian Pepper to the right of the gate and the three tiny trees along the wall are a mandarin orange, ruby red grapefruit and a Eureka lemon – inside the fence I have two limes, an orange, a Meyer lemon and a fig tree). Love my fruit trees.

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The way out-back remains open for possibilities.

There is talk of a basketball court and a chipping green. But I think it is the perfect spot for a small commercial kitchen for recipe testing and catering.

What? It would be small. And a business.

And there would still be room for sports.

Barefoot Contessa has a barn. Barefoot Contessa can afford a barn.

Oh well, a girl can dream.

For now, I’ll just be happy with another big pile of rocks.

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Thanks for joining me out-back this afternoon. Come back, you are always welcome.

No More Bird Watching in my Pajamas!

My sweet husband, apparently unimpressed with my Ninja skills and tired of my less than socially acceptable early morning wild life photography in my PJs, called me in from the backyard this morning to have the kids give me my Mother’s Day present early.

A new 55-300mm lens for my camera. How did they know? You’d think I’d been talking about this lens for months. They know me so well, it was just what I wanted.

You see you have to get VERY close to your subject to get a great picture with an 18-55mm lens. Which is fine when your subject is a cake but when it is a quail, well that’s when Ninja stealth is required.

Giddy, I popped that lens on and raced out the back door; still in my PJs. Here’s what I got …

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I love quail and we have them everywhere!

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This may be an indication that we are getting old but we love to sit on the back porch and watch the birds as they come to the feeder hanging from the Palo Verde Tree in the center of our back yard. We each have our own chair. Side by side. We always sit in the same spot. We are old.

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Pretty soon we will have bird watching books and I will be able to tell you every species of bird that comes to visit.

So very old.

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I can tell you that these visitors are Peach Faced Lovebirds and a Mourning Dove who have landed to enjoy breakfast at the just filled feeder (it will be wiped out in only a couple of hours). There is something in the mixture that the Lovebirds are partial to, you should see the seed fly as those sassy birds fling it out in search of their favorite snack. We joke that they are picking out the cashews – mixed-nut reference, no body wants the Spanish peanuts. I know you know what I’m talking about.

We make bird jokes and laugh at our “cleverness”. We are old.

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Luckily, there is quite a cast of characters gathered below just waiting to clean up the mess.

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I have to tell you about these little guys. I have no idea what they are other than absolutely adorable; remember, I don’t yet have a bird book.  They are still babies but are old enough to fly and are starting to forage for themselves yet are still little enough that they make quite a fuss for their mom’s attention, fluffing up their feathers, flapping their wings and sqwaking for a nibble. Watching their antics is so much fun; could it be because their demands are somehow so very familiar.

Old people use the term “antics” when referring to the actions of the young.

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This one is my favorite. Mourning Doves, perched just outside the back gate, waiting patiently for me to move away from the bird feeder. Incidentally, I have always thought they were “Morning” Doves until a google search just revealed that they are in fact “Mourning” Doves; boy do I need to get that bird book. I find that somewhat depressing and much prefer “Morning” Doves.

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Ooooh, and there was a bunny too!

So for now, I will no longer need to build the “blind” I had planned or sneak around in my jammies and slippers disturbing the wildlife.

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These two pictures were shot a few weeks ago with my smaller lens. I was crouching down taking a picture of a hibiscus blossom when this little guy came in right next to me to get a drink.

I simultaneously heard him and saw him out of the corner of my eye.

He didn’t even know I was there.

Ninja.

Pretty good for an old lady.

Disclaimer: This post was in no way intended to offend the aged. I have three young exhausting children. I am tired. Don’t judge.

Another Spectacular Sunset

One kid is still sleeping and the other two are actually playing nicely together (well mostly nicely) and I am about to go outside and sit on the back patio for my regularly scheduled Saturday morning coffee date with my guy. But real quick, I want to share with you last night’s incredible sunset.

Between finishing up the day’s yard work and making pizza for dinner, I stopped for a moment, the sunset catching my eye, and then ran for my camera. We are blessed by many spectacular sunsets, but they never cease to take my breath away. Never. Each and every one.

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Disclaimer: I am not a photographer in the technical sense of the word (meaning I have a great camera and no clue how to use it to its full capability or the why and how of a good picture) but I LOVE taking pictures and am having a lot of fun learning. So, that being said, I give you, last night’s sunset …

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Have a great weekend.

I hope you get to start your day sitting on the back porch with someone you love.

Blazing a Trail Along the Salt River

A few weekends ago, my husband, oldest son and his Cub Scout Wolf Den were part of a “clean-up” along the banks of the Salt River. My husband told me about the gorgeous spot they found and suggested I take my family hiking there while they were visiting. He was working and couldn’t join us but the suggestion turned out to be a great one.

The Salt River is one of the most popular outdoor recreation destinations in our area and is well-known for tubing – not “tubing” at 40 mph behind a boat, think “lazy river float” with your bum in an inner tube that is tied to the inner tube of one or more people you want to spend several hours floating down a river with. Choose carefully. The Salt River is also a great place for camping, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and of course, hiking.

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We started our hike welcomed by Red Mountain, a well-known and well-loved landmark around here. This isn’t the most famous profile of the mountain but it is still beautiful.

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Of course my overly imaginative Cub Scout had to begin our hike by marking our trail. Side note: he also has ADHD so while the trail marking started out impressive, let’s just say it’s a good thing our ultimate survival did not depend on a consistently marked trail.

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Brothers ready for adventure. I don’t know if I’ve told you, Nathan’s favorite color is green and in his book, three different shades of this much beloved color makes the perfect outfit.

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And they’re off; my 100 mph in every direction at once child in the lead as always!

Our first discovery, the coolest picnic tables ever …

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Okay not overly scenic, but I LOVE these old Forest Service concrete picnic tables. Complete nostalgia.

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These tables have been around for a long time; just think of all of the people, the friends and families, who have come over the years to enjoy this incredible place.

I sure wish I could have one, I have the perfect spot for it. Someone really should make replicas (hmmmm, maybe someone does). I’d like to have the real thing (nostalgia), but I’d take a replica, delivered and placed of course – can you even imagine how heavy those must be? My husband complains when I ask him to move landscape boulders (what? he’s big and tough). Can you even imagine what he’d say to “I’m not sure honey, I think the massive concrete table needs to be just a little more to the left”?

Sorry, tangent – back to the adventure.

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Funny, no one was willing to take a peek and see who might be at home.

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A man, alone with his thoughts. Lots and lots and lots of thoughts. Sweet boy.

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When you are a boy under the age of ten, even a little bit of water pooled in the pit of a rock after a recent rain is interesting. I love that. I love nostalgic picnic tables too.

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A budding photographer and her little brother taking in one gorgeous view.

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The Salt River

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and still snow-capped mountains in the distance. Gorgeous.

I can’t imagine who would want to be inside on a day like this!

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The home of a Cactus Wren nestled in the protective spines of a Staghorn Cholla. Those tufts of purple and gold will soon be the most incredible blossoms.

I promise, my camera is ready and waiting! As are my hiking buddies.

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I don’t know, Nathan may have been onto something with that outfit – he sure “goes with” the budding spring landscape. I’m not sure what will be more interesting (or colorful) the blooming cacti or the outfit Nathan pulls together. We shall see.

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Making our way down after blazing our own trail. Even the bravest adventurer sometimes needs a hand from his big sister. After all, he can’t let his great-aunt, grandma or aunt beat him down.

One last stop …

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 at Saguaro Lake to feed the ducks.

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And one fat squirrel.

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Saguaro Lake is one of my favorite places. It is so incredibly beautiful and deserves a post of its own. I’ll get to work on that. I’m sure our sweet neighbors will take us out on their boat so I can get some great photos to share. I’ll bake something for them.

Oh, and if anyone knows how I can get my hands on one of those picnic tables (legally) – I’ll bake something for you too!

Now get out there and blaze a trail!

A Perfect Day in the Desert

Yesterday was just about perfect. Another welcome reminder of how blessed and fortunate I am to live in such a unique and inspiring place. I have come to love the Sonoran Desert and am always excited to share it with the friends and family who visit. Usery-1One of the best ways to enjoy all the desert has to offer is to get out there and experience it. Yesterday, I took my aunt and my sister on one of my very favorite hikes; camera in hand, hoping to capture the beauty of the desert in the Spring, just beginning to bloom, teeming with life.

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The Usery Mountains and Tonto National Forest are pretty much our backyard and no matter how many times I hike the same trails, there is always something new to discover.

Always something that takes my breath away.

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Always something interesting and unique.

The <PHOENIX sign on the mountain (our version of the HOLLYWOOD sign) was done by the Boy Scouts in the 1950s as a directional marker to the airport. Some people don’t like it but I think it is a little bit of interesting history and for us, always a  “welcome home”.

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Hike after hike, I am still in awe of the harsh and beautiful landscape that is home to us. The surprises I always discover when I slow down and take the time to take it all in.

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What is harsh and threatening to some is safety and home to another.

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Each Saguaro is unique and incredible. They amaze me.

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It really was a perfect day.

If you live here too, I hope you’ll get your camera and get outside. If you don’t, I hope you have the chance to visit and experience it for yourself sometime.

“When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee; How great Thou art!”