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    3. New Year's Resolution

      This year, my resolution is to get a handle on our yard and outdoor areas. We have a lot of potential, but our outdoors needs some help. We have a xeriscaped front yard, with a cact garden in the corner and a front walled patio. In the back, we have two patio areas, the pool, and a small lawn area. I’ll try to take some pictures soon, so there are Before pics.

      My goal is to make the front yard even more low maintenance and declutter some of the plants. There is too much going on in the part that is not the cactus/aloe garden. There is too much going on in the cactus/aloe garden, but that is more bearable for now.

      Other than that, I would like to furnish and decorate the outdoor rooms portion of the patios, start growing some food for ourselves and any wildlife that visits our yard. I would also like to make our yard a bit more friendly for Jac. We also have to get a handle on the irrigation system, which is a total mess.

      One good resource I have found is the Desert Botanical Garden’s month by month garden guide.

      Welcome 2013!

      This past year was amazing in so many, many ways for me, personally. We moved to Arizona. Jac became mobile and his personality began to shine. We bought a hoe! We bought a new car (hello, independence!). We settled into the community where we will be for many years, likely, and possibly for the rest of our days. I met a wonderful group of mothers who empower me to be the mother I want to be. I became a member of a church that is beginning to look at itself in new ways.

      It is fun to be at the beginning of so many endeavors. There is little bitter with the sweet right now, although one knows, at least theoretically, that those times will come. I hope that it will not be soon.

      May we all dream a bit bigger this year. Happy New Year!

      Fall in the Desert

      Turns out, it’s jt a cooler, drier version of summer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for getting out of the triple digits. It’s only the mid-nineties these days, and I can handle that for interminable amounts of time. I’m glad to be done with the weekly haboobs that cover the patio in mud.

      But I miss fall. I miss sweater weather and waiting to turn the heat on and warm drinks with baked goods. I miss purple sweet gums and yellow tulip poplars and red maples. I miss cold, sharp wind.

      And yet, as our trip to the zoo to celebrate the jaybird’s birthday reminded me, I don’t know that I will ever tire of the desert. Not the everyday part of being in a desert town, which is not very much different from a suburb anywhere else, but the natural desert. We walked out toward the older part of the zoo today, where both the African animals and the Arizonan exhibits are, and the landscape was gorgeo. Saguaros, rocks, whatever palo verde/mesquite/legumino things that I can’t tell apart–it’s beautiful.

      If I really need cold weather, hot drinks and a sweater, there’s always Flagstaff.

      Goals update.

      My, oh my, it has been a while. We have moved to a new home since January, so packing and unpacking are bizarrely still part of our lives as we settle in. I have made some friends through church and storytime and babywearing. I think the meet new people goal is going along quite well, and much better than I expected.

      Birds! I am not doing so well with this, so maybe I can make some time in the remaining year to go out birding for a bit.

      Hiking, however, is going fairly well. I honestly had forgotten about this goal. In February, we went to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum and walked the main trail (1.5) and we returned in May. At that time, I walked about .5 of the main trail and other garden trails. In Augt, we traveled to Show Low and walked about .25 of a trail to an overlook of the Mogollon Rim and then went to Petrified Forest N.P. and hiked about a mile while there. There may be a few jaunts I can’t recall, where we might have picked up a quarter mile or so, but I will not worry too much over them. That leaves me with 8.5 to go this year.

      Adventures in the Kitchen: Bo Ssam

      The moment I read the associated article for this in the NYT, I felt that this was something RA and I would have a good time making. It jt sounded like something right up our alley, and delish. Pl, it was something we could do in stages and not get too stressed out about it.

      Friday

      After RA came home from work and finished up some paperwork, we headed out to grab some dinner and pick up a few things at the nearby Korean market, Paldo Market. It’s always fun to explore a new grocery, and we walked up and down the aisles, scoping out new ingredients. Although Jac was falling asleep in car, he perked right up inside in his sling. He loves grocery stores!

      We were looking for three ingredients in specific: ssamjang, kimchi, and kochujang. We found the sauce aisle, and started looking. That’s when we ran into a bit of a problem. There were about half a dozen types of ssamjang! And no kochujang, but we figured gochujang was probably the same thing–chili paste. Apparently, the recipe does not contemplate there being that much choice. We ran into the same problem in the deli section, picking up kimchi.

      Before leaving, we also picked up some soy sauce and sriracha and a few drinks. Paldo Market has a small counter in the back that serves lunches. We might go back to pick up something when we are in the mood for something new.

      It was late at that point, so we decided to come home and get the other ingredients later.

      Saturday

      We had a nice day on Saturday. Lunch with a friend of RA’s from high school and his family, which was very pleasant. Then we came back home and did some serio napping. Jac doesn’t have a very set nap schedule, but ually between 3 and 6 pm he goes out for a good chunk of time. Reed finally went out and picked up the rest of the ingredients this evening.

      Before we went to bed, we mixed up the salt and sugar and patted it all over the roast. Then we put it in the fridge to hang out overnight.

      Sunday

      Jac and I went off to church this morning (where he was again declared to be a delightful baby by people who sat near becae the only noise he made was smacking his hands or paci before going to sleep) and when we returned we popped the roast in the oven.

      It cooked along all afternoon, and around suppertime, we made up the sauces and rice. Then, it was time to add the last sugar crt and caramelize it. I should have taken pictures of one of our plates with all the yummy goodness ready to be wrapped up in lettuce leaves.

      The roast was delicio, if a bit salty in some spots. Next time, I would rinse it before cooking, and might even do most of it in the crockpot with an oven finish. The sauces were very good, although the scallions one was more like a relish than a sauce. We have loads of roast left, even though we ate on it twice more after Sunday supper–but that is what the freezer is for.

      All in all, it was a great dish and fun to try new flavors. Pl, we got to explore a new store in town and know where to try other new things. I’m glad we tried this, and I’ve already got an idea for my next TWO cooking adventures!

      Oh, what a difference a year can make!

      It has been nearly a whole year since I last wrote. And there have been some major changes in our hoehold! There will be no more Lone Star Editions as we are now in Arizona. And it is no longer jt the two of , as Mr. Jay Alexander made his appearance in September! So life became quite adventuro and still is.

      This is the place where I talk about goals and adventures, but it has been hard to set grand goals recently and when every day seems like an adventure one doesn’t have as much time to write about it. I think I am in the mood to work on some goals again as I settle into motherhood and starting over in a new town and a new year.

      First, an update on my old goal. I did not meet my birding goal for last year, but I am about 20 birds closer to 200 than I was a year ago. Perhaps this year I will make it to 150. I already have an idea for a birdy field trip that shouldn’t be too hard to manage!

      Now, on to new goals. In the short-term, I would like to get the apartment unpacked enough to feel settled. RA is doing a fine job of that, as he is tackling a couple of boxes a day and I am able to do one or two some days as well.

      But that is an everyday goal! You all mt know by now that everyday goals don’t excite me! (My other goals are a shower every day and making dinner. Woohoo, right?) The only thing about my goals this year are that they have to be amenable to my constant companion, Mr. Jac. I’m sure by the end of the year, he won’t necessarily be my constant companion (a realization that makes me pae a bit since right now that is all I know! A year is such a short amount of time.)–jt near constant!

      My New Year’s resolution this year is to meet new people and make some friends. Jac and I have been to a La Leche League meeting, church, and to storytime at the library, so we are getting started. I hope this is one resolution that doesn’t get phed to the back burner! I would like to try one new event every month, jt to see what sticks. This month I certainly met that goal.

      I’ve already mentioned working towards 150 birds on my life list. That means 15 new birds to discover, which is about what I saw last year and quite do-able. Jac is a very good birdwatcher! Another outdoorsy goal would be a hiking goal, which is harder with Jac, becae I have to be willing to carry him and/or the trail has to be stroller-worthy. Let’s go for a 12 mile goal this year. (It’s so hard to be realistic.) We walked a quarter mile on the nature trail at Papago Park last weekend, so only 11.75 left to go! This weekend, RA and I are also planning to try a new recipe at home, so maybe a joint cooking event each month would be fun. Maybe I should get RA to agree to this beforehand? Nah.

      What do you think? Any new goals for this year?

      Birding Goal for 2011

      I still can’t really believe that it is 2011. Last year went past like a blur! I was updating my life list this afternoon, and realized that I am at #119. There are so many opportunities here on the Gulf Coast this year, that I am in a great location to add to those numbers. I jt need some motivation!

      So my birding goal this year is to make it to #200. I guess I will be tackling shorebirds this spring, and maybe making some special trips. Exciting!

      Yesterday, we had a great day in the outdoors. We drove down to Lake Jackson and visited Sea Center Texas. It is a nature center/fish hatchery that foces on sea life. We went inside and browsed around before walking the boardwalk out along the ponds. Inside, there is a touch tank and a number of aquariums exhibiting different habitats and the fish that live there. We did not have an appointment to tour the hatchery, but it would be neat to see it.

      Outside, we walked down the boardwalks and looked at the different birds. I saw two new birds for my life list, the Common Yellowthroat and the Sora. Other birds there were: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Blue-Winged Teal, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, White Ibis, and American Coots.

      After that, we ate lunch at the Luby’s and then headed over to Brazos Bend State Park. We visited there last April and walked along the 40-acre Lake. This time, we walked around Elm Lake. We saw several large alligators, but they were all on the islands and none were on the banks or the trails. We also saw many, many birds, but I did not identify any new ones for my list. I really enjoy this park, and we talked about coming back and planning to visit the observatory at night.

      Books

      I have always been a reader. I learned to read well before school, and was rarely seen without a book or heard for long without the phrase “I read it in a book!” being spoken. Trips to the library were frequent, and one of the first things I do when moving to a new town is to stop by the library and get a new card.

      Of course, the older I got the less time there was for reading. There was the desert of law/grad school which made reading for pleasure seem impossible. Then, there was work which was frequently overwhelming and left little mental space for reading something new–especially if it required much thought. One of the few good things about living apart was that I had time to read on the plane–that’s how I discovered John Hart and Tana French, both of whom pull you in and make the time fly. Fortunately, I have the luxury of time again, and reading abundantly is making its way back into my life.

      The NYT released its Notable Books of the Year list this weekend, as well as its book critics’ 10 best books of the year lists as part of its Holiday Gift Guide. While I was working my way through it and thinking about books that I would like to read, I wondered what other people do to find their next favorite books.

      Also, what is the best book that you have read recently? I jt finished a batch of mysteries based on what was available at my branch library from the Edgars nomination and winners list.

      The Girl She ed To Be by David Cristofano – This was an interesting story about a woman in the witness protection program who is torn between safety and danger. However, I would call this a romance instead of a mystery, so I was a little meh about it.

      A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield – The main character, who killed her abive hband, is hired by abed women to set their abers straight when she isn’t working at her sewing machine repair shop. Stella’s latest case involves a missing child. It is set in rural Missouri, and there is a romance, but this is not a romance novel. This is a solid A for me.

      The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz – We meet the Spellman family through the eyes of the black sheep during a family trauma. The Spellmans are a family of private investigators, and it is a quirky, interesting tale. I think there is a movie coming out soon, and this is the first of a series. This is a great book, but it didn’t click with me for some reason, so I’d have to give it a B+.

      Blue Heaven by C.J. Box. Two children witness a shooting and find themselves on the run and unsure who they can trt. This is a crime thriller meets cowboy plot, with an interesting theme about the conflict between old-timers and newcomers in developing rural areas. Another solid A. The Night Following by Morag Joss. A woman involved in a fatal hit and run accident find her life increasingly entwined with the hband of her victim. This was an unual book in the way that the story was told between two characters, and there is a book-within-a-book. I don’t entirely know what was going on, but it doesn’t matter. An A.

      Day 1, The Gorge

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      We arrived in Portland on Tuesday about noontime after an uneventful flight, picked up our rental car, and checked in at our hotel. There were three things I wanted to do during our exploring phase: the Columbia River Gorge, the coast, and the mountains. The Gorge was the closest and shortest, so we decided to head out that afternoon and start our adventuring immediately.

      We had a quick lunch at Burgerville, then headed out to the Gorge. We brought our GPS from home, so had no problems navigating (well, other than the ual GPS problems). I wanted to drive on the old historic highway until we reached Multnomah Falls, which I had seen plenty of pictures of in the past and was looking forward to seeing.

      The historic highway is a tiny road that is very twisty and narrow. Very fun to drive on, even when you are not driving a Mtang. Our first stop was at Chanticleer Point, where we got our first good view of the river and of Crown Point rest area. We continued our drive out to Vista Hoe on Crown Point, which is a gem of a rest stop, and where we read a bit about the historic highway.

      Then came the falls. We both agreed that out of all the falls we saw on our drive, the first one was our favorite. Latourell Falls is stunning, both the falls and the rocks which create the backdrop, and you can walk practically to the base. Here is a video I took, which does not do it jtice.

      We stopped at several other falls along the way; Bridal Veil, Shepard’s Dell, Wahkeena. It’s an embarrassment of riches. You are almost tired of waterfalls when you reach Multnomah! We parked at Wahkeena and hiked a pleasant half mile along the road to see Multnomah. It is right off the interstate and has many visitors. You can see the falls from the parking lot/rest area/visitors’ center, and it is a short walk up to the bridge for a better view.

      Don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful! But not actually our favorite. You miss too much if this is the only one you stop to see.

      Me looking under a giant rock on the trail.

      After we reached Multnomah Falls, my itinerary was simply to drive back to the hotel–perhaps on the Washington side of the river. Little did I know what we would get up to on our way back.

      We stopped at Cascade Locks and learned about the locks (now defunct) and crossed the Bridge of the Gods. It was a nice drive back towards Portland, and Reed mentioned that he would like to stop at Beacon Rock if we saw it. Eventually, we wound back up the gorge to Beacon Rock and pulled over to take a picture and read the signs.

      Reed had been joking that back east, someone would have found a way to put an elevator to the top of Beacon Rock and we could pay $7 a person to ride to the top. As I read the sign at the edge of the parking lot, I said (fateful words), “Well, there’s a trail to the top.”

      This is where the hilarity began. We figured that we would jt go as far along the trail as we could, and when/if it became difficult, then we would jt turn around and go back to the car. After all, the trail is not even a mile long! Surely we can walk a mile. So, off we went. The sign near the trailhead says it is .9 miles of easy to moderate hiking to the top of the 848 foot tall rock.

      Did we have any water with ? No. Any snacks? No. Cell phones? Mine was out of juice and Reed’s was on its last gasp. Jackets? Ok, I had my sweater. At least we were both wearing our sandals, and it was very cool so we didn’t have to worry about being overheated.

      Tra-la-la. This trail has over 50 switchbacks. Before the serio switchbacks begin, you go through a metal door on the trail that warns you to be off the rock before dk (whenever that is), or you will be locked up there on the rock.

      Really, it wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t what I would call an easy hike, but it is jt one foot in front of the other and knowing when you need to rest a bit. You can see some of the trail here. Once I saw the door, I tried to be really aware of the time. We started after 6 p.m., so I decided if we weren’t to the top by 7, then we would have to go down anyway. There are magnificent views of the river and countryside nearly all the way up. After a while, you go around the rock to the other side, where there is an evergreen forest and it is nice and cool.

      At long last, we made it to the very top of the rock. We were mildly ecstatic that we had not collapsed.

      A view from the top.

      Going down mt be where the easy part comes in, and we made it back to the car without any problems. Then, it was back to Portland. We drove out to Beaverton to eat at Yuzu, and had a lovely Japanese dinner before doing some grocery shopping and heading back to the hotel.

      Portland Recap

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      One of the best things about travelling is coming back home. I always appreciate having my little nest more once I have been away from it for a while. We are back from spending a week in Portland, Oregon for the Evolution 2010 conference that Reed attended. Besides the conference, we also spent three days exploring the region in general.

      Oregon might jt be the most beautiful place I have ever been. We went to the coast, drove along the Columbia River Gorge, traveled through huge forests and out to a beautiful plateau. When we were in town, we were in the midst of a large, decently old, city with meums and restaurants, weekly markets, open-air mic, and with no need at all for a car. People were very friendly and laid back, and they don’t drive aggressively (a huge change from Hoton!).

      It wasn’t all perfect, of course. Portland was cold–it made its way up to 80 degrees one of the days we were there, and people acted like they were melting. Most of the time it was between 50 and 70. There were many people living on the street and begging. Things were more expensive there than other places we have lived.

      All in all, though, I would love to go back. There was no way to do more than the tiniest fraction of what interested . Over the next few days, I’ll write up our trip in more detail and with pictures.

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