Thursday, December 1, 2011

I partially succeeded! (Or I failed at failure?)

My husband and I have a sort of running joke about our shared incompetence. Sometimes, we become abruptly horrified by our inability to carry on as well-adjusted, grown-ass adults with a child. We look around one day and realize that we're watching the third Star Trek: Deep Space Nine rerun in a row instead of cleaning out the garage; and that we're eating our cobbled together leftovers-Taco Bell-hot-sauce-and-melted-cheese quesadillas with tiny cartoon character forks because all our real forks are dirty and the dishwasher is clogged with something unidentifiable.

Anyway, we realize that this isn't the way adults with a child are supposed to behave, and that we would like to have a clean, happy home, and that we really don't want to be featured on an upcoming Hoarders episode. So we decide to grow the hell up. This time, we say, we're doing it right. No more ignoring dirty dishes until they pile up. No more avoiding the garage because we're scared of spiders (him) and clutter (me). From this point forward, we're domestic superheroes.

It never happens. But here's what does happen: We get slightly better each time we attempt it. I think, subconsciously, we know that we have to set ridiculously high goals. Then, when we inevitably fall short, we're failing into moderate success. This time around, the dishes are only mostly piled up, the table is mostly clear, and there are no funny smells anywhere in the house. And it's cleanup day, so it only gets better from here! I know; it's amazing. Yea us!

I'm the same way with most things. I planned to blog every day last month for NaBloPoMo, and I didn't. I guess I have some excuses. We had a ton of Serious Life Stuff issues going on this past month. (The thing with Serious Life Stuff is, it usually involves other people, and I'd much rather blog about rattlesnakes and black widows.) Still, I meant to put something up each time. I didn't. But look what I did do! Twenty-one posts in a month. That's something, right? And it's something I think I can keep up. This month should be a little quieter, but there are still appointments and assignments, family events and Chrismas visits. My anniversary is tomorrow (she said, in a shameless ploy to get "Happy Anniversary" comments), and I don't even know if we're doing anything. So yeah; I'm still busy. But 21 posts a month? Turns out I am totally capable of that. Who knew?

Really, I could have put up something most of those missing days, but I don't want to phone it in. I like making quality posts, and I think you all like reading/viewing quality posts, so I'm going to post as often as I can and not do bullshit "Well, here's a post; I'm busy" entries more than once a month or so. I think that's reasonable.

I could spend more time here. I could stress about spending more time writing, and more time looking for writing gigs, and more time with my son and my husband and our families; more time outside and more time cleaning and more time volunteering. But first, that's not possible. And second, I'm tired of stressing about spending time. I think I'll just focus on the spending quality time.

Anyway, thanks for sticking with me while I found my stride. Have a spider and a sunset.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday goodies: Cactus wrens

I've never understood why cactus wrens don't get more love. Just the other day, I overheard someone pompously telling her friends that the roadrunner was the state bird of Arizona. Um, no. New Mexico has the roadrunner. Our state bird -- like our people -- is loud, feisty, and a resourceful survivor. We get the cactus wren. Other state symbols include, embarrassingly, the bolo tie as state neckwear and, sadly, the Colt revolver as state gun; so I'm happy we at least got some super-cool animals to represent us. These little birds take the prickliest and most uncomfortable of homes, and make it look appealing. Could there be a better spokesbird for this state?

Cactus wrens (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) mostly eat insects, but their diet, like any good Arizona diet, consists of a diverse blend -- wasps, grasshoppers, and beetles supplemented by the occasional fruit, seed, or even frog or reptile. They're larger than our house and canyon wrens by a few inches, but their personalities (birdonalities?) are what really distinguish them -- excitable temper, a call like a car engine, a sort of obnoxious charm. Yep. They're Arizonans.

Enjoy some more cactus wrens. I actually had to cull quite a bit so as not to give you hundreds. Apparently I like them even more than I'd realized. Happy Monday, everyone. Spiders or sparrows next, I think.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Some things for which I'm thankful:

Fall color:

Skies like this:

Distractions like these:

A partner in crime:

...who's just as fascinated by the world as I am:

...and, really, is a blast:

For my other partner in crime, who's a great husband and dad:

...and who puts up with me doing things like this:

...and for so many other things that I don't have in photos. We've had some rough times this year, but there's a lot of good stuff.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone. I ♥ you guys.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday goodies: Great-tailed grackle

I've shown my love for common birds already. I'm easy. A bird need not be exotic for me to love it, just gorgeous. And I think all birds are gorgeous. Today, grackles, Quiscalus mexicanus. Some people hate 'em. I think they're awesome. They're cacophonous and feisty, they're sometimes considered pests, though they're not introduced by humans (unlike house sparrows). They're widespread, but seem to be especially common out here. I swear they follow me. Some people get crows; I get grackles. I'll take it!


What animal should I show off next? Sparrows? Spiders? Sp ... cactus wrens? Happy Monday, everyone.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday night rambling: What do I write about?

I never quite know how to answer the inevitable question that pops up as soon as someone discovers I'm a writer. (Well, other than "Have you written anything I've read?" I alternate between loving this, because it gives me an excuse to show off, and feeling totally irked and invalidated. Do I ask to see toilets you've plunged, or ask whether you've performed surgery on any of my friends or managed any departments I might have heard of?)

The other inevitable question. What do you write about? What's my niche? What's my specialty? What am I about?

"Everything" doesn't sound too terribly focused, and it makes me look like a total wannabe. And really, how do parenting, nature, Arizona itself, and science-denying kooks go together?

I have opinions. Strong ones. Sometimes even political ones. But that's not it. I'm not a politics writer.

I'm not a scientist. I'm not a professional photographer. I'm not a mommy blogger. I play at all those things, but that's not what I'm about.

I think it's this:

This ridiculous, wonderful state I live in. Science, parenting, mucking about, being totally and spectacularly wrong. Getting it just right, once in a while. It's absolutely connected, and that's what I'm about.

I screw up almost every single thing I do. I mess up parenting on a daily basis. But I'm good at this: Being. Discovering the world. Enjoying the mundane, laughing at the stupid shit. Pulling everything apart, just to see what's what. Looking.

I think, maybe, being about that is enough.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday 5: Adorable arthropods

I have insect and spider shots that are better than some of these. But these are the cutest. Yes, cutest. Even people who aren't me, my son, or my buggy friends have awwwed at a few bugs now and then.

Praying mantis

Hey there! Be my friend? And feed me live flies?


He probably sucks at hide and seek.

Fiery skipper

Seriously, don't you just want to pet him?

Pallid-winged grasshopper

Grouchily adorable.

Jumping spider

If I didn't kind of hate the word, I'd squee here. Tiny cute spider! It was my writing muse for an afternoon.

Back to regularly scheduled intelligent nature blogging this evening. Oooh, and a bonus peekaboo damselfly:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Travel Thursday: Mount Graham Part 2

Check out the first set of Mount Graham photos here.

If you're going to Mount Graham, about nine miles south of Safford, remember a few things.

Wait until spring. Graham, the highest peak in Southern Arizona and the anchor of the PinaleƱo Mountains, rises almost 10,720 feet. It gets cold. Besides, higher-elevation campgrounds just closed for the winter this week, and that's where we had the most fun.

Know where you're going. Don't be idiots like a certain blogger and her husband, and punch in the coordinates on your GPS. Don't feel smug and satisfied because you punched in the exact geographical coordinates, so it's not like anything could go wrong. Not that I know anything about that.

Keep an eye out for wildlife. Be safe, but mostly, keep an eye out because it's awesome and there's a lot of it to see here.

Remember to bring your directions. And seriously, don't rely on your GPS.

Plan for inclement weather. Tarps, extra layers, more tarps, coats. It's a pain, but trust me, it's worse to leave them behind.

If you make a campfire, keep it to the fire circles, and thoroughly douse and bury it afterward.

For the love of god, don't use your GPS to get there. And if you do, and something goes wrong, remember -- it's your spouse's fault.

We were lucky the weekend we went to Mount Graham, as even the busiest campsites still had plenty of room. You probably should call the number listed here to check availability before you head out, but something is bound to be open. If you're headed out that way, you want to take US 191 to AZ 366, which winds up the mountain.

Don't try and get fancy with directions. Bring them, and trust yourself and don't take any weird turns suggested by your GPS. Our own drive out there was nothing short of disastrous. After realizing we didn't have the directions ("I thought you brought them!") my husband and I nevertheless felt confident, because we had the precise geographical coordinates. Surely putting those into the GPS would steer us better than some stupid website, or the fact that we basically knew where to go already.

More directly, maybe. What we didn't know, however, was that the GPS was hell-bent on steering us directly to the mountain, serviceable roads be damned. By the time we were in over our head, we had already driven for ten miles on washboards and eroded dirt roads, and we figured pushing on just a bit more would be better than redoing all of that, so we got ourselves in even deeper, and probably almost on some really dumb evening news piece about idiot motorists.

To make an extremely long story shorter, after what might as well have been off-roading (in my PT Cruiser) somewhere between Klondyke and Safford for a couple of hours, we nearly drove off a high wash wall. We turned around, took an extensive series of roads to backtrack, and found ourselves ... at the same damn wash. Finally, we managed to escape the nameless network of rocky paths, and eventually rediscovered the 366.

After that, the trip was nothing but awesome. The crazily switchbacking drive to the summit presents new and spectacular views at each turn, and we could actually feel the temperature change as we ascended, dropping about 40 degrees from the base to our campground at 8,600 feet.

We picked Riggs Flat Campground, because 1) it was a higher-elevation sight, the better for chilly weather and dramatic views; and 2) it has a lake. It's actually one of the more popular campgrounds on the mountain, so you might want to check ahead for availability.

Obviously with our driving misadventures, we got to the campsite a little later than we'd planned. Still, we had time to unpack, roam around for an hour, and start a roaring campfire for marshmallow roasting and general campiness. After consuming enough S'mores to make us all nauseated, we doused and buried the fire, and just as we began to worry about stray embers, a deluge began pouring from the sky, and we turned in for the night. (Thankfully, our weather preparations were much more thorough than our direction-bringing preparations.)

The next morning was sublime. It was like the rain had rinsed the whole world. I watched in the five minutes before anyone else awoke, as the forest glowed blue through dawn's sliver of light and someone's campfire smoke. Soon sharp, bright, clear sunlight woke up my son and husband. We grabbed some slightly smooshed sandwiches, hiked a short trail, and sat on the cliff, eating peanut butter and jelly and watching the world unfold beneath our feet. Pretty sweet payoff for a short morning hike.

We returned to the campsite and spent the rest of the morning at the lake. Mist rolled over the water as a few anglers set up for the day (rainbow, brown, and brook trout are stocked) We traipsed haphazardly between the lakeside and nearby forests and meadows.

We hiked various numerous trails throughout the rest of the day -- trails through spruce and fir and through ponderosa pine, easy walks through open grassy meadows, meandering paths along creeks. We saw butterflies, frogs, sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper's hawks, Coue's white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, several species of lizard, and more. We smelled a skunk, which made my son absurdly happy, and found black bear scat, which made him even happier. All in all, a pretty great trip.

Just don't use your damn GPS.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Unexpected conversations

We watched the sun set behind the horses. A girl brought out some carrots, and we helped feed them a treat. Light filtered through their manes. My son and the girl giggled. The horses munched. It was perfect.

"Are they male or female?" my son asked.

"The horses? I'm not going to check. You check," I told him.

"How do you check?"

"How do you think?"

He got down on the ground, and gave us a report.

"This one has a penis. This one too. Man, some are bigger than others! This one doesn't. Does that mean it has a vagina? What do those look like?"

How did we get from a pastoral, rosy-hued Perfect Moment to horse penises? I wondered in dismay.

He re-emerged, fed a few more carrot pieces to each horse, and we were on our way.

Except the conversation continued.

"So do horse penises and vaginas ..." he trailed off.

"It works the same as with other mammals."

"Oh. Like people?"

"Yes. Horses use a different position, but basically it's like people."

"OK. Hey, I've been wondering. What does sex feel like?"

"It, well ... If you're an adult, and the other person is an adult, and you both are committed to each other and consent ... then, for adults, it can feel very good."

[Long conversation detailing consent for a 9-year-old audience.]

"So ... what if the people are kids?" he asked.

"That's not for kids."

"Ew! You're right. I think it's gross."

"Well, that's fine. You're kind of supposed to. It's not something that you even have to think about for a long time."



"What if one person is a kid, and the other person is an adult?"

I didn't think it was possible to yearn so badly for a return to the innocent topic of horse penises.

Isn't there a giant bubble I can keep him in?