Tag Archives: Photography

Sharing Spring in the Sonoran Desert

Yesterday, we did our best the celebrate Cinco de Mayo or as my sweet friend who made a pinata out of a paper gift bag and hung it over her railing for her kids tagged it, #gringodemayo. She is one of the funniest people I know.

Sadly, I didn’t have a chance to make the blackberry margaritas I mentioned on Friday. Between it being a late evening for my husband on his National Guard “drill weekend” and an afternoon Cub Scout leaders meeting for me, it just didn’t happen. So we made do with chips and store-bought salsa, a glass of red wine and quick and easy soft tacos on whole wheat tortillas. #gringodemayo

Maybe next weekend I’ll get a Mother’s Day Blackberry Margarita?!

While it was a busy weekend, it was a beautiful spring weekend, moderate and breezy and so enjoyable. We are just on the verge of the summer heat and many of the spring blooms are beginning to fade. So, I think it is about time I share with you a little of the beauty of the Sonoran Desert as it comes to life with color each spring.

My camera and growing interest in photography have given me a new appreciation for just how fantastic this unique landscape is and how blessed I am to get to enjoy it everyday. If you think the desert is brown and desolate, take a look, you might just change your mind …

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Ocotillo-Blossom-2The Ocotillo is one of my favorite desert plants. I love the architecture of its long thin spines and the beauty of the orange tufts that appear at their tips each spring.

Palo-VerdePalo-Verde-in-Bloom-2Palo-Verde-in-BloomPalo-Verde-in-Bloom-3We are on 2.2 acres and have more Palo Verde trees than I can count. Well, I probably can count them I’ve just never actually had the inclination to do so. What I can tell you is that in the spring, our property is ablaze in the beautiful yellow blossoms that cover these gorgeous trees. Palo Verde means “green stick” which characterizes the deep green trunk and branches of the tree.

Staghorn-Cholla-Blossom-2Staghorn-Cholla-BlossomThe Staghorn Cholla produces some of the most beautiful blooms in the desert. I think they  look a bit like wild roses. I love the contrast of something so lovely and delicate coming from a plant that is so harsh and hostile.

Teddy-Bear-ChollaHostile? Very. Cholla are pretty vicious plants, particularly Teddy Bear Cholla like this one. An ironic name as this is not a cute and cuddly plant. The thousands of barbed spines give it an almost “fuzzy” appearance, hence the name “Teddy Bear” Cholla. They are also called “Jumping” Cholla as sections of the plant almost seem to jump at you as they get drier and lighter in order to be picked up in the wind and seed. They are beautiful but they are not a plant to be tangled with. Literally. Those spines are painful and we’ve had a few run-ins prompting us to remove many of them from the property. This one sits right over the eastern wall of the backyard where it doesn’t cause any trouble.

Prickly-Pear-in-BloomPrickly-Pear-in-Bloom-2Another cactus that we have in abundance is the Prickly Pear.

There are many varieties with different colors of blooms and pads. Soon the blossoms will be replaced with an edible Prickly Pear Fruit. I haven’t used the fruit yet but maybe this year, you’ll see a few “Prickly Pear” recipes here at Welcome Company. Sonoran-Desert-LandscapeWe have a little garden of this particular variety with its delicate yellow blossoms (which I think is the New Mexico prickly pear), right outside the front door.

Agave-1We trim and manage our own landscape which means several trips to the dump each year where they recycle the yard wast into mulch. On one of our dump runs, I rescued about 15 of these little aloe plants that had been thinned out and discarded (probably by the same landscapers that hurriedly mow down with hedge trimmers prune all of the neighborhood and commercial landscaping into unnatural geometric shapes leaving it looking like a horrible martian landscape – I’ll do my landscaping myself thank you). I guess bringing something home from the dump technically makes me a “picker” but I couldn’t just leave them there. They have recovered well and look great!JasmineOne of my favorite things about spring is the Jasmine that grows right outside the living room windows. Jasmine-2After dinner when we are sitting down watching some TV or reading, the heavenly scent of the jasmine blossoms floats in through the open windows and perfumes the evening.

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Red-YuccaThe blossoms of the Red Yucca are long-lasting and attract humming birds which we love to sit and watch from the back porch.

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But the delicate white bell-shaped blossoms of the Blue Yucca are short-lived. I wish they lasted longer but I look forward to their return each spring.

In fact, most of the blossoms I’ve shared with you don’t last much beyond the spring. Which is part of what makes spring so special.

Luckily, we are blessed to have many plants in our desert landscape that provide us with beautiful color throughout the year.

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When we moved out here nearly three years ago, the back yard was a wasteland and the landscape neglected and out of control. We have worked hard and it has been one of my greatest joys to care for it and watch it come to life.

I’ll share a little more of that journey with you this week.

One last thing …

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A few days ago, I was sitting at my desk working on a post and looked up, spotting this guy through the french door window. I raced for my camera, switched the lens and somehow managed to get these two shots of him. When I saw him through the door, I thought he was a hawk but he turned out to be a huge Turkey Vulture.

Pretty Incredible place we live in.

The Saguaros are just starting to sprout the beautifully unique flowers that will soon crown the tops of their bodies and arms. I can hardly wait to share those photos with you.

And keep checking in because one of these days I’ll get that hawk picture I’m after!

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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 …

Quail

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.

Morning-Doves

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.

How to Make a Bran Muffin Look Pretty

Grandma Ibby’s Bran Muffins are not pretty. They are delicious but they are not photogenic. Not at all. They are also not overly exciting as far as culinary creations go. In fact, I saw many a similar recipe in the church/fundraising cookbooks I have been combing through lately and am pretty sure they were another 1960’s-70’s homecook’s staple.

So, now that you are intrigued and can hardly wait to make them, I will tell you that while they may not be pretty or exciting, they are delicious. D.E.L.I.C.I.O.U.S. My mom made them for us often and usually served them with a light, crisp Waldorf salad – I will most certainly have to tell you about that soon. And that Waldorf salad/bran muffin combo is by far one of my absolute favorite childhood meal memories.

So while I am excited to tell you about these muffins I do have to say, they were a challenge to photograph. Who says hummus and oatmeal are the hardest? I’m telling you, its bran muffins. I actually considered trying to artfully arrange some of the bran cereal with the other ingredients but a shot of flour, one egg, baking soda and a pile of shredded bran is about as exciting as the wall in the doctor’s office after 45 minutes of waiting; just staring at the mint green wall.

Making these bran muffins look pretty was important to me. Add that to the long list of comments that in my career driven 20’s I could never have imagined myself making. Get off of your brother’s head. Why are you standing on the table? No, NO Legos in the toilet. Don’t bite your toenails. You get the idea. Sorry, that last one might have been a little gross for a food post; unless you have boys, then you get me and are no longer grossed out by much.

You see, I have really been working on my photography skills, particularly my food photography skills, and my knowledge of the Nikon D3100 that is just begging me to use it to its full potential.  So, I am reading, studying and learning all there is to know about how to photograph food. Not because I want to be a professional photographer or because I’m obsessive or because I think everything needs to look perfect but because it is fun! Okay, so it is also because I like it when things look sort of perfect. Okay, and I’m a little bit obsessive. Do you think they make a bumper sticker that says “I ♥ Depth of Field?” No?

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All-Bran Muffins

Ingredients

  • 3 cups 100% Shredded All-Bran
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Butter and flour or spray with baking spray, 2 muffin trays.

Mix together 1 cup of the All-Bran and 1 cup boiling water and set aside while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes). Add in the egg and mix to incorporate. Add the buttermilk and wet All-Bran mixture, mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt and then mix the dry ingredients into the wet. Fold in the remaining 2 cups dry All-Bran.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Yield: 24 muffins.

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So, I am still a novice photographer and have a long way to go but I’m sure having a good time. I am absolutely inspired by so many of the photographs of my fellow bloggers; food, nature, architecture, landscape, you name it, you guys are amazing. Photography is such a true individual expression and I love that when I sit down to go through my reader, I can almost always tell who’s post I am about to read, just by looking at the featured photo.

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I would love it if you would share with me any tips, thoughts or ideas you have for taking great photos. Or even if you’d just like share what you love about taking pictures; whether you consider yourself a photographer or not.

Blackberries

I did my best with the bran muffins. But really, it was the blackberries that stole the show!

Enjoy!

Pool Season Begins with My Polar Bear in His Underwear

Sunday evening, after all of the Easter festivities had wound down and Sara and David were getting ready for bed, my husband decided to do a bit of quick swimming pool maintenance. Nathan was still playing outside (no school for him the next day) and of course, when he saw his dad inside the pool fence (the most highly coveted back yard destination), he was more than eager to “help” daddy with the pool. “Helping” daddy quickly led to Nathan stripping down to his underwear and leaping unabashed into the water.

Cold water.

Rather than fish him out and warm him up, we decided to let him have a go, be a kid.

To him, it was a 110 degree summer day. Lip quivering in pure joy.

This child is a polar bear.

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He had so much fun and seemed to avoid any sort of hypothermia so last night, we officially declared the start of pool season! Well, at least for the crazy little people who are willing to brave the 73 degree water. I, however, am not crazy and will swim at 90 degrees thank you.

The crazy little people I live with …

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Sara, how’s the water?

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COLD!

She made it about 10 minutes and was the first one out. Smart.

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David made it a few more minutes but was soon done and snuggled up in a towel. Warm.

And then, there is Nathan. Wild.

I have a significant amount of grey hair. I would like to share with you why that is …

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A fearless and impulsive boy who LOVES the water but is built like an anvil; 70 pounds of thick, solid iron that should sink and yet, swims like a fish.  My husband said it best when he compared watching Nathan swim to watching a helicopter fly; “It defies all logic and yet, there it is, flying” – or swimming as it were. I guess it doesn’t hurt that he is also strong as an ox!

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“What!? I not cold!”

He would have swam and leapt and dove and splashed and cannon-balled all night if we’d let him. But pool season has only just begun. There will be plenty of days ahead for all of that!

Not to Condemn but to Save

Good Friday. A Holy and reflective day for the followers of Christ.

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But why is it called Good Friday. What is good about the suffering, humiliation and death of the son of God? I remember my pastor from childhood posing that very question. A question that has undoubtedly been asked thousands and thousands of times.

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And the answer? Love. The answer is love.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16

Perhaps the most well-known verse in the bible and for good reason. But do you know what verse 17 says?

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” John 3:17

Not to condemn but to save.

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Forgiveness. Cleansing. Resurrection. Rebirth. Salvation. Life. Love.

For ALL of us. He came for us all. All broken. All hurting. All sinners. All stained.

Not one better than the next.

Not one clean enough to sit in judgement over another.

He came in love. He washed us clean and called us to follow Him and only Him.  And He called us to love.

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Why then do we claim condemnation as our own? Why? When even God Himself, did not. It breaks my heart and convicts me to live differently.

I recently read a post by Christian author and speaker Jen Hatmaker that was like a breath of fresh air. Nail on the head kind of stuff. I hope you will click the link above and read it too. I would love to know what you think – whatever you think.

I am blessed by those in the Christian faith who, like Jen, think outside the boundaries of convention. Who believe that Christ calls us out of the pews and our freshly ironed Sunday best to reach deeper, do more.

To LOVE. Not just to say it but to DO IT.

To get dirty. To stand up for the enslaved and oppressed. To embrace the hurting. To minister to the sick and impoverished. To care for the widow and the orphan. To love those who, in the eyes of the world, would be deemed unlovable. Not just to “add a little Jesus to our already awesome lives.” As my current pastor, Mark Connelly at Mission Community Church, has said.

That is what being a Christian means to me.

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Not to condemn but to save. No strings attached.

” … this world needs some Good News, but they can’t decode what is actually good about us. Good is finding a safe place to struggle, to doubt, to ask hard questions. Good is food when you’re hungry. Good is warm, kind, genuine love extended, no strings attached. Good is clean water, medicine for your sick baby, education, family. Good is community, even before ‘belief’ binds us tight. Good is sustainable work, dignity. Good is Jesus and His backwards, upside-down ways.”

Unafraid. Unthreatened. Unreserved. Arms wide open.

“The skeptic, the cynic, the doubter; my arms are wide open. Their questions and disbelief don’t scare me; I am unthreatened. The loosey-goosey, tambourine shaking, barefoot liberal who loves Jesus and the earth and votes straight-ticket Democrat? I love her. The young adult generation who is leaving the church but running to Jesus in unfamiliar, new ways – I gather them to me like a Mama because they are going to change the world.”

Perspective and compassion. Not judgement.

“I am not put off by creed or denomination or sexual orientation or terrifying doubt or outright anger or nationality or socioeconomic status or issues or weirdness or politics. I’m not going to make a deal out of a glass of wine when 25,000 people will die today of starvation.”

Renegades. Closer to the margins.

 “… we need some renegades closer to the margins, building bridges, creating safe spaces to question, wrestle, rethink.

He is everything good and gracious.

Bring me your doubts, your fear. My Jesus can handle it all and then some. He is all of our dreams come true. If you don’t believe me, start in Matthew and read until the end of John. Jesus is a hero, a brother, a Savior in every sense of the word. He is everything good and gracious. His love for us is embarrassing, boundless, without standards at all.”

He is ALL of our dreams come true.

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If you don’t know my Jesus, YOUR Jesus, if you think something like … Christianity wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the Christians;  I invite you to take another look. If reading up to this point you have determined “Oh man, she’s a Jesus freak, I thought she just blogged about food and her kids” … It’s true. You are correct. Jesus freak here. But perhaps that means something different than you might think. Something different than perceived notions or past experience has impressed upon you.

I hope that you will take another look.

What puts-off and offends is not Christianity or Christians it is legalism and judgement. That offends me too. And I promise you. That is not Jesus.

Take another look.

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I love the church and do not mean to sound as if I don’t. I believe we are called into community to live as a body of believers. To gather together, to do life together, to worship together, learn together, grow together. Community. One body. Inclusive. Even if we don’t always see eye to eye. Even if we don’t agree on everything. That is Grace.

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Because Jesus is our savior, not our religion. Because He died for us. For you and for me. Both sinners, both struggling, both redeemed in Him, both made new. Because He loves us. And He wants us to love each other, differences and all.

Be blessed today, this Good Friday. Share a little grace, show a little love. Remember what has been done for you.

If you would like to talk with me or prefer not to comment here publicly or if I can pray for you in any way, please e-mail me at welcomecompany@cox.net.

And, if by chance, you are a renegade, closer to the margins, Jesus freak too – I’d love to know it!

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!