Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Family Outing

Part of the benefits of running your own business and homeschooling your children is the flexibility.  Ralph had finished a solar installation recently, but had to leave a trailer behind at the customer's new home for a short time.  Yesterday, the whole family piled into the small work truck to go pick up the trailer and check in on the customer.  Life as a private business owner is enough to keep you hopping.  Throw into the mix our remote home location and you've got something unique.  Freedom of sorts.  Whenever possible we squeeze in these impromptu family outings that do double duty, such as customer follow up.  So now we begin the 150 miles one way from our place to her place.

In this trip I got to get out and see some new scenery and meet another very interesting lady who is also our customer.  That's one of the other many benefits, you get to meet some really great people!

This photo is from her 7 mile (or so) dirt road and shows parts of the Weaver Mountains.  Our new friend/customer lives in among these beauties.  One of the peaks is called Rich Hill.  Full of historical intrigue these mountains still harbor gold.  Driving along, you'll spot several signs posting gold prospecting claims.  Don't get caught searching for gold without being legally part of one of these mining claims!  Check in with a mining district office if you get bitten by the gold bug!

These next two photos show just what the "Miracle Worker" is capable of.  He is a strong believer in good, clean, professional installations that meet the individual customer's needs.  This photo shows the solar array mounts and generator.

This next photo shows where all the magic happens.

Like I said, clean, neat, and professional!  Note there are no unsightly and potentially dangerous wires hanging loose or in a mess!  It is all contained, neat and in order.

After meeting her and her animals (wish I had a picture of her mini burro for you!), we started making our way home.  We stopped at a nice little restaurant in Congress.  Good food!  They made "killer" quesadillas!  If ever you find yourself in the little town, on State Route 71, stop by Nichols West.  They embody good small-town hospitality with very good food.  Did I mention they had good food?

After having lunch, we got back on the road.  The kids talked Dad into stopping in Wikieup at the Trading Post Restaurant for some ice cream.  He caved.  It was getting late, it had been hot, so ofcourse ice cream was a sensible choice.

Back on the road for the final leg of the journey home we started up our 17 mile dirt road.  We noticed a helicopter circling an area on the mountain that looked to be one of our "neighbors."  I use the word loosely only because we share the same mountain range.  Up here that makes you a neighbor; and neighbors are anywhere from 2-12 miles from each other.  Few and far between.  We got up there and were asked by one of the Sheriff's deputies there to block the road a little farther up while he blocked it further down.  The chopper needed a place to land and the only safe place was on the main road.  Once it landed the medics attended to our neighbor's needs.

During the wait, I took the opportunity to take picutures of this beautiful desert in the light of the sunset.

This one is on the way up the road we take to get home.

I enjoy this one with the light behind the spent flowers, the blue mountain range in the distance, and the colors in the middle-ground!

Notice how as the sun continues to lower the colors become more dramatic and intense!  There are no words to express the excitement and inspiration!

Wait for it...

Wait for it...

Oh yeah!  Now that's what I'm talkin' about!!!  Quintessential Arizona!!!  Woooohooo!

It really is this beautiful.

No words...

The helicopter takes off and we check in on the neighbors briefly.  Everyone is fine.  It's now after 8pm and we still have another 12 miles of dirt road to go.  We  make one more stop to pick up some hay which another neighbor is using as our reimbursement for watching and caring for things.  Once we are finally home it is well after 9pm.  The kids do their bedtime rituals and land on their pillows by about 10pm.  Having started our day faithfully by our lively children at 6am, we were tired.  We might have gotten to bed ourselves by around 11 last night.  What is that, a 17 hour day?  Yeah, that's about right, and even normal!  Just another day to remind me of the daily unpredictability, beauty, and blessings of life.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Early Summer Garden

The summer sun has finally warmed us up.  When the wind dies down a little, the heat begins to rise.  My garden is enjoying the opportunity to grow stronger and is beginning to fill out.  Hope is in the air as the garden begins to show promise.

This is the garlic I bought from the store.  I broke up the bulbs into cloves and planted each clove.  I want to see what kind of garlic we get from both large and small cloves. 

These are the Black Eyed Peas along with Zinnias and Cosmos.  I hope to see how flowers in the garden help protect crops.  Cosmos is supposed to attract Lady Bugs and Green Lacewings which eat Mealy Bugs.  Zinnias are pleasing to my senses and they attract many pollinators and other beneficial insects, like Butterflies!

Petunias are flamboyant coming in many colors.  Last year I had an infestation of Beetles that were very similar looking to Stink Bugs.  They loved the tomatoes and ate up all their leaves and even the fruit.  I brought Petunias into the garden this year because they are said to repel Beetles.  Nastursiums are supposed to do the same thing along with several other flowers and herbs.

My favorite spot in the garden right now is the Lavender.  It has been beginning to bloom slowly and only now has been exploding into color.  The bees have been working it thoroughly making it the noisiest part of the garden!  I am so thankful that the Lavender has survived our winter here.  It is quite rewarding to watch it bloom so happily.  Here are some of my favorite photos of the Lavender:

Like fireworks!

Glorying in the sun!

Flowers are not simply good for the garden but also good for the soul!

"The Earth Laughs in Flowers"
Ralph Waldo Emerson


Monday, June 21, 2010

New Life on the Homestead

Our biggest surprise this week so far was a cria!  Baby llamas are called crias.  We knew she was due to be born soon, but not exactly when.  Ralph came home on Friday evening June 18th, checked the llamas, came in and had dinner.  After dinner, he was checking outside once again and noticed the cria had been born sometime during our meal.  We ran outside, checked the baby and got the remnants of the placenta material off her nose and mouth.  She was beautiful!  The last cria to be born was premature and did not make it.  This one is big, strong, and vibrant!  We watched carefully the rest of the evening to make sure she began to nurse.  I am happy to report that Mom allowed her newborn to nurse!

After a full day of errands Sunday, June 20th, I come home to a kitchen raided by sugar ants.  Surprise!  Luckily I caught them as they were not fully into any one thing yet.  So instead of immediately getting ready to bake a cake for my 6 year old's birthday, I started into attack mode.  I do a quick sweep of the kitchen and get most of the ants swept up and relocated outside with the collected dust.  The ant trail is where I focus next to find out where they are coming from in the first place.  Then I laid down a powder-bomb of Diatomaceous Earth along their trail as far as I could trace it.  Satisfied, I refocus on baking a cake and making dinner.

This is a meal that has quickly become a family favorite.  Tacos!  Mexican food is always delicious!  This particular meal is easy and packed full of fresh flavors.  I found the recipe in "Women's Day" magazine, the March, 2010 issue.  It's for Salmon Tacos, but I used local ranch ground beef. 

Before beginning the recipe mix up "Terry's Salt-Free Mexican Seasoning Blend" in place of store bought taco seasoning:  1/4 cup salt-free chili powder, 1 Tbsp each of dried oregano, and ground cumin, and 1/2 tsp garlic powder.  I like to store it in an empty seasoning container.  Now here's the recipe according to my tweeks:

1 1/2 lbs ground beef browned and drained.
Add as much seasoning as you like to the beef (start with a couple of tablespoons and go from there), and set aside.

Add to a medium bowl about 2 cups thinnly sliced cabbage, a diced tomatoe, chopped avocado (if you have it), a small onion sliced, and 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro.  Toss in 4 Tbsps fresh lime juice and 2 Tbsps olive oil. 

The recipe calls for serving these tacos with red or green salsa.  So, I make my own quickie salsa:

1 (28 oz.) can petite dice tomatoes, 2 diced ribs celery, small diced onion, 3 cloves garlic chopped, and 2 Tbsps fresh lime juice.

If you have time, let the salsa rest in the fridge for awhile to let the flavors develop.  Serve taco shells to be filled with meat, cabbage mixture, salsa and enjoy.  You will delight in the natural, clean, vivid flavors of this meal!  This is equally good as the orginial recipe with the salmon.  Good stuff... ok, I'm hungry now...

After dinner, I leave my visiting Mom to frost the cake while I go outside with Ralph to check on the cria.  He is concerned that maybe she hasn't been allowed to nurse during the day and looks weak.  We take some colostrum out in case we need to feed her ourselves.  Ralph used some bag balm/udder cream for the mother's teets in case she was in pain.  After awhile we agree that the baby is just very tired, since to my eyes she looks stronger than the day she was born.  We went back for the birthday celebration once we see the cria nursing on mom.  Happy Birthday Weston!  MMMM, good cake!

This is Windy!  It was a windy day (nothing new) when she was born, but it makes for a nice name.  Compared to the first picture above, you can see her legs are more stable and she has gained strength.  This is our first llama born on the homestead.  Hopefully this means we can work with her and get better socialization than we have with the others.  Ultimately, we want her to be a good walking companion, and good pack animal.  We get the impression that geldings are probably even better as pack animals, but we don't know for sure.  We think that in reality, if you work with your animals, you'll get a well behaved working companion.

The first addition to the homestead this year were a litter of puppies.  For the most part they are Queensland Heelers.  We're told they've got some Dingo in them.  These little guys are 4 weeks old.  The one on the right is Bear, and on the left is Patches.  Bear already has a docile, easy going temprament, while Patches is rather frisky.

The garden represents new life on the homestead as well.  This is my first Bell Pepper.  Having begun the year late due to odd weather, the garden is getting a slow start.

These are Black Eyed Peas!  Can't wait for the good meals they will accompany!  They are only a few inches tall, but I can anticipate the good food!  Note the children's chalk artwork on the side of the bricks.  That's the kind of help I usually receive from little ones.  Helps them grow better!


With all the new life on the homestead this spring, maybe the weather will cooperate and give us more of these beauties in the sky.  We could always use some good summer rain storms!  So I'll be praying and keeping my fingers crossed!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Light and Lightning


If you're anything like me, I love a good storm.  Being in the midst of an indefinite drought here in Arizona, I come alive during these thunderstorms.  Saturday was no exception.  It came as a surprise.  We were sitting down to breakfast and heard thunder in the near distance.  I remember looking at the temperature early in the morning and it was in the mid 70's. 

By the time breakfast was finished, Ralph looked out more closely at a wash down below us and realized it looked to be running.  "Where did all that water come from?  There was no rain up north."  Well, there was a very dark raincloud just north of us and that would account for the flash flood in the wash.  A few minutes later the valley down below was covered in a blanket of white!

Snow on June 12th?!  Wow!  These thunderstorms are so intense and expand so high into the atmosphere that they sometimes bring down a great deal of very cold air.  In this case we got hail!  Yep, that's a blanket of hail.

Looking at the temperature again, it was 48 degrees here on the mountain.

The first of June we began using our swamp cooler, at least two weeks later than the last couple of years.  Still, it wasn't up into the mid 90's yet.  Temperatures have been hovering in the mid to high 80's.  It gradually began cooling off a few days before this storm.  It's been a strange and unpredictable year so far.  Either way, we enjoyed the storm so much that we got the kids loaded up into the truck and headed off to take care of some errands.  We've been house-sitting for a couple of neighbors on the other side of the mountain.

This neighbor's place barely got any rain at all, maybe a few sprinkles but that's it.  As you can see, the climate is very different here.  Same mountain, just different exposures.  We live on the east side of the range, while this neighbor lives on the west side.  I love the Desert Bird of Paradise, Rock Roses, and Ocotillo they have in this garden.  In fact, this is where the Sonoran Desert and Mojave Deserts join.  It's beautiful.

The second neighbor's place is just slightly lower in elevation than the previous neighbor's.  This view gives you a great feel for the climate here.  Stunningly beautiful.  Hotter, but gorgeous.  I am intrigued by the multiple changes in flora and fauna as you climb up in elevation and eventually arrive at our high mountain desert climate.  Down on the valley floor below, you'll start with saguaros, creosote, ocotillo, mesquites, palo verdes, and crown-of-thorns (also known as Mormon Tea).  Climbing up the mountain you'll start to see more yuccas, barrel cacti, and sages, along with the intermittent wild burros.  Once over the crest of the mountain, the zones change entirely.  No longer do you see what you've traveled through, but instead junipers, manzanitas, pinon pines, mountain laurel, and scrub oak.  Now you see lots of quail, jack rabbits, cottontails, javelina, mountain lions, bobcats, deer, elk, hawks, and the occasional eagle.  It's a paradise.

Now that the house-sitting errands are done, it's time to get to work on our own property.

Ralph puts me into the Bobcat while he does maintenance on the small skid steer; his mistake, because I don't let him back in!

We are clearing some space in order to get our feet wet growing a crop of garlic for next year.  We are just learning about the different varieties of garlic and their climatic needs.  We may have narrowed them down to Racomble and Porcelain varieties.  I love garlic and all the different types are intriguing if not absolutely delicious.  You can never have enough garlic!  Hopefully we can find the varieties that work best for us and then sell them at the end of each season.  The idea of making the land work for us is a long standing one.  This idea has a lot going for it, and we are now beginning yet another adventure in discovery.

Here's the crew doing their part in clearing the debris out of the field! 
One day they will realize just how lucky they are to have grown up here, like this!

Finally I relinquish the controls and let my "Miracle Worker" husband of mine take over.  I call him the Miracle Worker because if it were not for him, I would not be doing any of this!  It is all because of his wide array of know-how and mechanical expertise that we are here at all.  After all, for any dreamer to realize a dream, the dreamer must have a few, if not a whole bunch, of miracles in order to realize the dream.  So, he is my Miracle Worker!

I now leave the Miracle Worker to do his magic while I go up to the house to start dinner and bathe the kids.  Another beautiful day in paradise!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Adventure Begins

Moving to unimproved property, in the middle of nowhere, with a newborn, a two year old and a six year old, to some, sounded like a recipe for disaster.  Maybe ignorance is bliss.  If I had known what was ahead, perhaps I would have given it a little more thought.  On the other hand,  knowing what I know now, it all seemed (and still does) so natural.  Pioneers never had it so good as we did.

The transition from city life to rural life was exciting.  We had electricity from our own solar system and a comfortable fifth-wheel with three slide-outs.  Baby Cody slept in the bedroom closet within my arm's reach while Weston (2) slept in a play pen as his crib, and Tyler (6) slept on a couch that made out into a bed.

On top of the demands of a new mother caring for everyone in the family, I needed to haul water.  We had no well yet.  A kind neighbor, about a mile away, let us fill up our portable 250 gallon water tank from his well.  This was the water we used for drinking, laundry, dishes, baths, and toilet.  The water lasted about a week before we had to fill up again.  We were soon spoiled by the clean water and couldn't wait to drill a well for ourselves, not to mention the convenience it would bring.

Water wasn't the only thing I had to keep up with.  I had to be sure the solar system was charging sufficiently, otherwise I had to start up the generator.  Nothing is ever easy or straight forward.  I had to constantly be educated by my husband on the merry-go-round of ever changing idiosyncrasies.  There was always (and still is) something to know in order to start the generator, or how to read a read-out, or how to coax a ball hitch, how to anchor a load in the back of the truck, the list goes on, trust me.

This move to the property was my schoolmaster in teaching me that nothing comes without a whole lot of problem solving skills and work.  I was never afraid of work, but I soon learned that it doesn't have to be pretty in order for something to work.  It's easy to think in such a way that you believe things will happen quickly and efficiently.  But they don't.  Not when it all depends on you, and that money doesn't grow on trees.

We began living here in late June of 2006.  Summer kept us hot, so we had to run the generator to keep cool in the fifth-wheel.  Even at 5,100ft. elevation, it gets warm, sometimes as high as 112 degrees at times.  It may have something to do with the thinner air, and that this IS Arizona after all.  As I just said above, nothing is straight forward.  In this case the air conditioner couldn't keep the entire living space cool.  So I had to hang blankets in the windows to block the heat, and close off the upstairs (bathroom and bedroom).  The kids went down for their naps downstairs while I camped out on the steps out of their sight.  I tried being as quiet as possible, and with nowhere to go, I read, studied and  wrote.  Not what most people expect to deal with, having real curtains, other rooms to go to, on demand power from the grid, endless water supplies, reliable cell phone service, internet and even a bedroom to retreat to!

Another thing I learned quickly was that nothing stays the same for long.  Before I knew it, it was coming on winter.  In November, a strong gust of wind knocked our solar system over.  Thankfully nothing was damaged.  Winter brought many more winds as we were forced to rethink our solar panel racking system.  It helped Ralph redesign his portable top-of-pole-mount system. 

This first winter also froze our 250 gallon tank of water!  It was nearly full too!  How can so much water freeze into what looked like a cube of ice?  The water tank inside the fifth-wheel was protected enough that it never froze, so for a few days we had to ration the water until the weather let the cube of ice thaw in the weak winter sunshine.

By the winter of 2008, soon before Christmas, we moved into our little 745 square foot home we built literally with our own hands.  Phase one of the house was pretty much complete and since the kids were growing rapidly we were happy to move into the larger space the house provided!

Moving into the house at this time was significant.  Ralph and I had moved into our new home in the suburbs just before Christmas of 2002.  Now we were moving into our second home in the wilderness just before Christmas in 2008, six whole years later.  A lot had happened and changed in those six years!

How it All Began

Why not?  That sums up our ongoing adventure.  In 2002 we were living in the suburbs as newly-weds, working "normal" jobs.  Our family welcomed our first son in 2004.  My husband wanted a less stressful job.  I suggested solar.  He fit right in by starting his own solar installation business.  All of his previous experience made it a perfect choice.

Working for yourself is a roller coaster ride like no other.  You depend entirely on your self motivation and the availability of work.  As we began the fledgling business it became evident that we needed to sell our humble abode.  We had already put money down on a 40 acre parcel of raw land 60 miles from the nearest stores and gas stations.  The thought came to us, "Why not sell the house, temporarily move into a fifth-wheel, and eventually move out to the property?"  We bought the land not really knowing we would be living on the property within two years!

So, we sold our home, moved into a fifth-wheel with our eight month old son and my six year old step son.  Our second son together rounded out our family in 2006.  I, with our two day old, two year old, and six year old joined my husband out on the property permanently.

And that, my friends, marks the beginning of a very new, unpredictable adventure....