Dog Days!

You know the dog days of summer. Those steamy, hot days where it feels like summer might drag on forever. While the ancient Romans established the dog days as the period pretty much between 10 July and 10 August (having nothing to do with actual dogs, of course, but rather Sirius, the “dog star”), I think many of us think of the term mostly during August.  August has always seemed like the hottest month, the heaviest-feeling month in the summer, and as such might be my least favorite month.

Not this year!  We’ve had a spectacular August and are now on our second spell of cool weather. Cool enough to not need the air conditioning at all. (In fact, we wouldn’t need even the fans we use if our danged living room had opening windows in it!  Curse those big ol’ fixed slabs of glass!)

Cool enough for positively delightful sleeping. (Lows the last couple of nights have actually been down in the 50s. Ahhh….)

And rain. We’ve had a bit of rain! Now I understand that for many folks, rain may not seem like something to cheer about, but we live in the high desert (a fact that’s easy to overlook since everything is lush and green thanks to an almost universal “secondary water” sprinkler systems) and have the dubious distinction of being the second driest state in the nation. So rain is a very good thing!

The cooler weather has given a delightful hint of fall to come. And fall brings all kinds of fun things.

First, school starts. And Avila is joining the crowd by starting in at the Happy Panda two days a week.  We all went to a pre-school open house on Saturday and she had an absolute blast checking everything out.   Guess we’ll be learning some basic Mandarin as well, just so we can help reinforce what she’s learning.

Then, on Saturday the 6th, our Rec Center’s annual Dog-a-pool-ooza will be happening. Yankee looks forward to this every year! (Oh, okay, maybe it’s David who looks forward to it; Yankee doesn’t seem to have a very good sense of the calendar.) Yankee does have a blast, though, and we’re hoping to take Avila this year too. A good time to be had by all!!

Speaking of Yankee, he not only doesn’t have a good sense of the calendar, he apparently doesn’t have a good sense of his size either.  He thinks he’s a lap-dog! Ridiculous creature.  ;-)

Tomatoes are going crazy, peaches are ripening on the tree, apples are starting to show the first blushes of color….

So, what’s going on in your corner of the world as the summer winds down?


A recent sunset....

Posted in Family, Food, Life in the U.S. | 2 Comments

Elephants and more elephants

Anyone who knows David and his passion for all-things-elephant will not be at all surprised to hear that we’ve been trunk-deep in elephantness lately. Okay, maybe it’s more like knee-deep or something like that, but nonetheless, elephants-r-us, at least for the moment.

The Pink Elephant in Full Bloom!

Now, the first of our elephantness is probably not so much what you might be expecting, although if you read my last post it might not come as a complete surprise. You may recall that we were amazed to discover these ginormous flowers on our recent trek to a nearby castle and further research turned up a nursery not too far away that carried these new-to-us hardy hibiscus plants.

A couple of weeks ago, Chris and Louise ventured forth and acquired a “Sultry Kiss” plant for each of us—quite spectacular itself with a deep dusky-colored blooms—and now that we’d all caught “hardy hibiscus fever” we made plans to go back there the following week.

Just to help give perspective on the bloom size!

So last Saturday found us all wandering around a well-stocked nursery debating amongst various varieties, when we discovered the “Pink Elephant” which lived up to its name. Not only were the blooms truly dinner-plate sized (whereas our lovely Sultry Kiss boasted something more along the lines of a generous salad-plate bloom) the plants themselves were far bigger than most of the other varieties with multiple buds visible (all for an astoundingly reasonable price) so we each bought one.

We enjoyed ours indoors for a bit after high winds kicked up one evening and we were worried that the pot would be blown over and break the plant, but I finally got it planted a few days ago and, as you can see in the first picture, a LOT of those buds have burst into bloom.  It’s strategically placed to be visible from my all-too-constant location on the living room sofa. (Who needs a desk?)

Oh, but you thought I was talking about real elephants? Not to worry. We have those too.  As our third Davis County Fair was in danger of coming and leaving again without our attending, we finally overcame some complicated scheduling issues and Wednesday evening saw us, Chris and Louise, and Avila at the fair.

We ate the requisite corn dog (yay!), admired the bizarreness (but resisted eating any) of the deep-fried twinkies, ice cream, and so on (although had they had fried green jello I might have been tempted), watched the bears, and then came the highlight—Poppy and Avila rode the elephant.

I know there’s some controversy these days about wild animals used for entertainment, but we were impressed at the care these animals appeared to receive.  They were unchained (actually unrestrained in any way), seemed content, had lovely long grass to munch (along with their several-hundred pounds of provided food), were clearly gently treated, and the program was fascinating.  I hope that if you fall into the “boo-hiss-evil” camp we can agree to just disagree.

And to round out our elephant week, David is currently reading the New York Times bestseller Elephant Company so our days are punctuated by his reading out-loud miscellaneous (and often obscure) tidbits of elephant lore.  Some very interesting stuff there, and he’s noted a number of times how closely the information corresponds to the info we heard at our Country Fair elephant experience, so at least it would seem that the educational portion of their program is accurate.

And what of life beyond elephants, you ask? Well, summer is “winding down” with school starting  in just another week or so.  With Avila’s entering pre-school this year, we’re back into a world where the school year matters. (It took us years in Costa Rica to adjust to their school year, which ran February through December, and we finally had.  But just like the proverbial “riding a bike” that supposedly comes back to you, our U.S. school year is obviously deeply ingrained so we’ve fallen right back into back-to-school planning without even a hiccup.)

In a few weeks, we’re heading off to a few days in Yellowstone, a trip we’ve been looking forward to for several months.  That’ll give us an early taste of fall, although with my tomatoes in full swing and a 92-degree sunny day outside, fall seems like a ways away. We’ve had a remarkably lovely August though (and how many times do you hear that said?!?) with a spell of weather that lasted several days that was cool enough for no A/C at all, and we almost never turn on the air until lunchtime or later, turning it off again overnight, so quite delightful.

Avila has continued to enjoy summer. She finally convinced us to take her to the Rec Center a couple of days last week, where she just had a blast in the “river”, in the play areas, and outdoors on the pirate ship.  The incredibly happy smile on her face as she stomps up the stairs of the play tower to shoot the cannons and slide down the slide is something magical to behold.

But while far less exotic, she also enjoys an afternoon swim almost every day that she’s here in our inflatable pool.  Here she is scrubbing Poppy with her Tinkerbell washcloth.  She is nothing if not a method actor, saying quite sternly to David, “You’re so dirty, Poppy” as she scrubbed away. (For the record, he was not dirty at all, which just shows the power of her imagination!)

Hope that your summer is going swimmingly, and if you have any elephant experiences to share, do speak up!

A couple of closing pix….

Our "gateway drug" plant—the Sultry Kiss hardy hibiscus


Avila enjoying the pink boat at the County Fair. (She loved to ding the bell. Over and over again.)

Posted in Family, Food, Life in the U.S. | 6 Comments

Castles and Crocodiles

Castles, indeed. Right here in the heart of Utah.  :-)  Last week we went out “adventuring” with Chris and Louise, to some place they had scouted out but were keeping secret from us. After driving north about 15 minutes, we got off the highway and Chris followed Louise’s carefully issued directions as we headed eastward and upward.

Fernwood CastleJust before the road ended at the trailhead entrance the National Forest, high above the valley floor, we rolled to a stop in front of this amazing castle! They’d stumbled across it while looking for a route (apparently non-existent) that would let us drive up and check out the huge radar station up this way and thought we might have fun checking it out. (Remember you can click on any of the pictures and get a larger view!)

Bonneville Shoreline Trail

It’s apparently simply a private home, albeit with some mystery and conflicting stories behind its history, but it was a fun little “destination” for a Sunday drive. After gawking appropriately for a bit, we drove a very short distance further on the road and stopped to walk the first 100 yards or so of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, a hiking/biking trail that follows the old shoreline of the ancient Lake Bonneville (of which the Great Salt Lake is the final remnant).

We continued on for a drive, meandering around through Ogden Canyon, around the Pineview Reservoir, winding our way eventually back to Ogden for a repeat meal at Uncle Lee’s.  Other menu items looked intriguing, but I couldn’t stop myself from ordering another of the excellent bacon cheeseburgers with baked potato.  ;-)

Aside from the nice drive, beautiful day, yummy lunch, time spent with good friends… one of the most exciting parts of the day was the discovery of the “hardy hibiscus” which actually not only grows in this part of the country, but produces these enormous dinner-plate sized blooms. (Notice in the photo the street curb, to give some perspective on size!) More research since then has turned up a nursery that carries them and they report they’re fine to plant at this time of the year and let them get “settled” before mulching them in for winter.  So I’m very excited to bring a touch of the exotic to our gardens!

And other exciting news? Well, we set up a new “breakfast bar” out on our west deck where the mountains and then the house shelter the deck on that side from the sun until early afternoon, so we now have a delightful space for outdoor dining for breakfast—and lunch, too, if we eat before it’s too late. Avila, of course, was formally dressed in a ball gown for breakfast!

Oh, and the crocodiles?  Well, I’ll admit—it was a bit of a stretch for alliteration’s sake. But it’s quite true that Avila is fascinated by the crocodiles in Costa Rica.  She’s not entirely certain that we’re telling the truth that they don’t have crocodiles in Utah!  And David was recently moving some books around and found my dad’s old copy of the Cajun Night Before Christmas, where Santa’s sleigh is pulled by alligators. We figure they’re close enough for a 3-year-old to crocodiles to amuse her!

And, although it feels like we’ve only just hit the full swing of summer, I know that Christmas will be here before we know it.  I went “school shopping” for Avila today with her mom for a few new clothes as she starts Mandarin semi-immersion preschool in a few weeks.  And Baby Scoopie is now about halfway to term, so he’ll certainly be the primary Christmas present for everyone this year.

Closing, as usual, with a few more pix and a plea for comments.  ;-)  Come on, tell me how your summer’s been going? What are you looking forward to this fall? How’s your grandchild(ren)? Show me some comment-love.

In any case, hope your July was magnificent and your August will be even better!

Avila at Bear Lake

Happy family—Jen, Larry, and Avila (and Scoopy in the baby bump)—at Bear Lake

Loves the sand!

She loves to look at pix on the iPhone! (Especially if they're of HER!)

Pioneer Day fireworks from our deck




Posted in Family, Food, Life in the U.S. | 11 Comments

Summer in Full Swing

Yep, it’s definitely summer and it’s been a fine one.  Had some hot days (Salt Lake City officially hit 100 the other day although it was a touch cooler here) but we still marvel at the difference the low humidity makes in keeping things comfortable.  Many days we don’t even turn on the air conditioner until late morning or even early afternoon.

Yankee chillin' in the shade

At our elevation, the sun is pretty fierce, though, so David’s dog walking in the National Forest behind our house takes place early in the morning, before the sun has popped over the mountain-tops to keep the dogs (and him!) cooler. And we’ve finally learned that Yankee is a much happier pooch in the heat with a short haircut (and we’re much happier since he goes in the river most days and he dries out a LOT faster with short hair!) so he gets a clip a couple of times in the summer. He’ll be all grown out again before he wants his fur coat back for winter.

'Tis apricot season

Fresh, frozen, in ice cream, they're everywhere!

We know it must be summer because we have apricots coming out our ears! It’s only one tree, but it produces plenty—I’ve been freezing them by the plateful so they’ll stay “individual” rather than turn into huge apricot-flavored ice blocks (which was our previous experience) and then put them in ziplocs so we can use them later in the year. And we eat a lot of them just as they are. And Chris and Louise dry some in their dehydrator.  And we make apricot smoothies and apricot ice cream. And… well, you get the idea.  Good thing I love apricots!

"I'll have corn for dessert" she says!

It’s also corn season and Avila loves corn on the cob.  After she’d eaten 2/3 of an ear the other day, she declared she wanted the final third for dessert! Amazingly enough, we just discovered cooking corn still IN its husk which is transforming our corn experience.  It’s great on the grill, but we also found that you can just throw them into the microwave, cook for 2 minutes per ear (4 minutes, in other words, for 2 ears), leave them to hang out a few minutes afterwards, and not only are they cooked perfectly but the husks AND all the silk comes right off.  It’s incredible! I generally try to stay away from the microwave, but now that I’ve discovered this, I think it’s the only way I’ll do it from now on, at least when I’m doing small batches. How do you cook your corn?

Lots and lots o' apples

The Pineapple tomatoes starting to ripen

I’m finally getting tomatoes this year, so more success on the gardening scene. And the apple tree is so laden with apples it’s amazing. Since we don’t spray, and I missed the magic window to try out my bagging experiment, we’ll see how much usable fruit we get come fall.  With that many apples currently out there, I have a feeling we’ll have plenty, even after sharing some with the worms.

First time filling the new pool

And what is summer without swimming? Avila’s blow-up pool from last year mysteriously ripped a couple of weeks ago so we ventured forth to buy a new one.  It’s already considered “late” in the season for pool purchases so selection was limited, but we ended up finding a monstrously large one for less money than her elephant-slide pool last year was (plus we can still use the elephant slide), so we felt okay about that. As you can see, even grandma gets into the action sometimes—although usually only at Avila’s insistence! When full it’s big enough for Avila to actually swim around with her floaties, so other than the fact that we’re killing off more and more of the grass, it’s a winner.

Our flag a'flying

For the 4th of July we had friends from Costa Rica who have also moved back visiting in their new 5th wheel, so we played tourist one day and went out to Antelope island to look for bison, antelope, and owls and float in the Great Salt Lake.  It was fun to catch up with them and a little shocking to realize it had been 8 years (almost to the day) since we’d met in Costa Rica.  How time flies!

As usual, I’ll close with some more Avila pix for those of you who only endure my ramblings in order to get to the good stuff.  ;-) And don’t be alarmed at what looks like Avila at the hospital. We’d just gone in for the 1-year follow-up for David’s valve replacement so she’s just goofing around, waiting for the doc. (Oh, and yes, the surgeon’s report was that David’s heart looks great! And he gave us two great pieces of advice—one was that chasing after Avila was the best cardiac rehab David could ever wish for and two was to stay away from doctors. He said the more you go to the doctor, the more chance you give ‘em to break something! My kind of doc!)

Okay, enough out of me!  How’s your summer going?


Just hangin' at the hospital

Kissing fingertips

What do you mean you don't wear gloves on your feet?

Hugging little brother "Scoopie"

Still lovin' the sand turtle

Posted in Cost of Living, Family, Food, Health and Medical, Weather | 4 Comments

Earthquakes and Egrets

Yes, we felt just like we were back in Costa Rica last week as we felt the unmistakable shake, rattle, and roll of an earthquake! I say “unmistakable” now that we spent those years in Costa Rica and experienced quite a number of temblors (the Spanish word for earthquake)—from barely discernible to pretty substantial—but if it hadn’t been for that I suspect we would’ve wondered what the hell had just happened.  As it was, we looked across the living room at each other in amazement and simultaneously pronounced, “Earthquake!”

It was only 3.3 on the Richter scale but located quite nearby, just about 10 miles SSE of us. Unlike many we felt in Costa Rica—where the epicenter was likely to be much further away but the strength of the quake stronger—this one gave a good solid “boom” and the whole house shook resoundingly. The Costa Rica quakes seemed more likely to be a rumble felt most distinctly “under-foot” sometimes even with the telltale “rolling” feel.

Other than the general local advice that one should always be prepared for anything—earthquakes, wildfires, floods, whatever!—there seemed to be no stepped-up warnings of anything more serious to come our way after this one.  So we just enjoyed it in the rather perverse way we enjoyed the quakes in Costa Rica, thankful that in these small ones there was unlikely to be any damage or injury so one could just freely appreciate the excitement.  ;-)

Bear River Migratory Bird Sanctuary

And egrets?  Well, let’s just say we had one of our best birding outings the other day, and we almost didn’t go so that made it seem extra special.  We’d planned on a morning trek up to the Bear River Migratory Bird Sanctuary, but woke Tuesday morning to the unusual sight of heavy, low-lying clouds and spitting rain.  We consulted by phone with Chris and Louise, a few miles to the south of us, with our primary scientific data consisting of me standing out on the deck, peering northward and declaring that the sky seemed to be clearer up that way.  I suppose folks have set out on expeditions with less data than that.

Yellow Headed Blackbird, Photo by Chris Roe

It rained for most of our drive north, but we held firm to our optimism (and figured in worst case we’d wasted a bit of morning driving nowhere, but even that wouldn’t have been a complete waste since there was s sub-agenda for this trip to pick up a copy of a wonderful free magazine Chris had recently found at a gas station there about Yellowstone where we’re going in September) and, sure enough, about the time we made the turn-off to head out to the Sanctuary itself, the sky cleared.  It stayed overcast and cool, which actually made for perfect birding, so we were delighted.

Breeding Great Blue Heron, Photo by Chris Roe

While we’ve been there at other times of the year and seen more birds, as in total “quantity” of birds, we saw more variety on this trip than ever before, including 21 great blue herons, both wading along the water’s edge and in flight.  We even saw a bird that no one could identify, so Chris captured a photo for future research and later determined it was a breeding great blue heron, with some rather peculiar plumage. (Remember that you can click on any of the pix in the blog and see a larger version!)

White Pelican, Photo by Chris Roe

Northern Shoveler (Female), Photo by Chris Roe

We enlisted Louise to keep a list as we slowly drove around the 12-mile loop through the Sanctuary of all the birds we saw and she dutifully wrote each one down as it was spotted. We saw…

  • American Avocets
  • Western Grebes
  • Clark’s Grebes
  • White Pelicans
  • American Coots
  • Black Crowned Night Herons
  • White Faced Ibis (Ibises?)
  • Cinnamon Teals
  • Barn Swallows
  • Red Winged Blackbirds
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Black Necked Stilts
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Yellow Headed Blackbirds
  • Great Blue Herons
  • Breeding Great Blue Heron
  • Snowy Egret
  • Breeding White Pelican

In addition to the birds we saw a very pregnant mule deer and a baby skunk!

Black Crowned Night Heron, Photo by Chris Roe

When we first moved to Costa Rica, we were amazed to find so many “exotic” birds right in our yard.  And we thoroughly enjoyed them for all of our years there. But in time, of course, the exotic became somewhat common-place—they are, after all, just the regular ol’ “local birds” for that part of the world.  And so we now find that while generally less colorful than those tropical beauties, the birds here are “exotic” for us since most we haven’t seen before and we have great fun spotting them, identifying them, and enjoying their antics.

To just round out a wonderful outing, Chris had researched and come up with a lunch suggestion for a place we’d never been before—Uncle Lee’s Cafe in Ogden.  Really good (and huge!) burger and one of the best baked potatoes I’ve ever had.  Fast service from a very nice waitress and modest prices, so a great choice.  Ironically, almost as soon as we left the Bird Sanctuary and were back on the highway, it stated to rain again!

And Avila, you say? What about Avila? Glad you asked.  ;-)  She’s wonderful as always.  Funny as ever.  She continues to talk in such complex sentences with concepts and vocabulary that seem pretty “out-there” for a barely 3-year-old, she’s the source of steady amusement for us. Her baby brother (“Scoopie” as she’s named him) is due in December, so that’s added some excitement to the family scene.

We just haven’t quite figured out where and how to make him a bedroom—Avila’s room is so decidedly “girl-y” plus they’ll be on different schedules… I might just have to accept the fact the having an entire room for my office is an indulgence, not a necessity.  With the advent of laptops and wireless internet, I’ve gradually moved from working full-time in my office to working full-time on the living room sofa.  I love having my office, but truthfully it’s not a very functional use of square-footage, so I’m pondering options.  We have a while to think about it still, so no hurry.

I’ll sign off with a few recent pix and really hope you’ll leave me a comment to let me know you stopped by.

Avila showing off the daisy she picked to match the daisy on her sweater

"I'll play quietly before bed. I'll play 'napkin rings'!" (A direct quote.)


Playing in the SandTurtle

Now that the recital is over, she can (and does!) play in her Lambie costume




Posted in Life in the U.S., Weather | 11 Comments

From Tiny to Majestic

Birds, that is. Although we’re intrigued that there are at least some birds year ’round here (winter just doesn’t seem like it would be that hospitable to our feathered friends), spring certainly brings an explosion of birds and we’re enjoying them all.

Although as you know from my musings here it starts feeling like spring quite early—March-ish or even before—you can still presume it will drop below freezing many nights, right up through the cleverly-named “last frost date” which is usually in mid-May. So we don’t put our hummingbird feeder out until we’re pretty sure we won’t have worries of it freezing, which means we put it out last week.

It’s such a blast to watch them arrive, one at first, then two, pretty soon we’ll have as many as six or seven eating regularly at this one feeder.  They put on a constant show, dive-bombing each other, zipping around, and drinking an alarming amount of the nectar we’ll continue to make and put out for them until it’s time for them to fly south in the fall.  Now with our dining room out where the living room used to be (yes, we decided to keep it that way after the holidays) it’s good encouragement to eat meals at the table where we can watch the show!

Golden Eagle, "Holi"

Now, for the other extreme in size range, we regularly see eagles here—flying right by our home—which is quite exciting.  We have bald eagles—the quintessential majestic bird—as well as their slightly less dramatic (albeit actually larger) cousins, the golden eagle.  This past Saturday we went with Chris and Louise about 10 minutes up the highway to Farmington to the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival.

Photo thanks to Skymasters Foundation

Although it turns out there were lots of cool presentations and such going on, we had gone specifically for a workshop on “Golden Eagle/Bald Eagle Comparison.”  There was supposed to be both a live bird of each type, but the presenter (Ben Woodruff of Skymasters Foundation) explained his bald eagle was having some challenges and he decided it was better not to bring him. We were disappointed but also really respected that he was putting the bird’s welfare first.

He did have Holi, his golden eagle, and she was something to see. We were able to actually touch her (how many of you can say you’ve petted an eagle!) and Ben gave an amazingly informative and entertaining talk. He’s one of only 31 folks in the entire country licensed to do the rehab and training work he does with eagles (although his work encompasses many other kinds of critters as well) and we were sorry when the workshop ended.

While the eagles might represent the most “majestic” of our local birds, they’re not really the “largest” that we’ve seen here. We make trips a couple of times a year (at least) out to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge near us and have been lucky enough to hit it a few times when the American White Pelican was out in full force.  This bird looks “big” when you see it out on the water, but is truly amazing when you realize that it has a wingspan of 7 to 9 FEET, second only to the Condor.

We used to say that we were never “birders” before moving to Costa Rica, but how could you not become interested in birds when you were surrounded by such exotics as colorful toucans and parrots, laughing falcons, oropendolas with their bright yellow tails and crazy call, the bright blue motmot with its long tail, trogans, flycatchers, and so many others.  And we do miss those exotics!

But we’ve found here, now that our interest was piqued, we’re similarly intrigued with everything from our local hummers to our eagles and everything in-between.  I’ll report on other bird sightings in the future (there are truly so many!) but I’ll sign off for now, as our hummingbirds have finally quieted down for the night.  They’ll be at it again before daybreak in the morning!

What birds have you seen recently?


Posted in Life in the U.S. | 11 Comments

Goblins and Snow Storms

But wait, isn’t it May? Do I have my seasons and my holidays seriously mixed up? No, actually we were in Goblin Valley (Utah) last weekend, home of some amazing rock formations (the “goblins”) and did, indeed, drive through a fluke snow storm on our way home. Just a normal old day in Utah.  ;-)

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley

The brochure put out by the Utah State Park folks had this to say: “From deposits 170 million years ago by a vast inland sea, Goblin Valley was sculpted by forces of nature such as uplift and erosion by wind and water…resulting in the stone gnomes inhabiting the valley.”

~Pic by Jen/Larry Ostroski

It really is some phenomenal looking terrain, although the cloudy weather means our pictures don’t really do it justice.

This was really a camping trip for Jen and Larry and a bunch of their friends, but we got to tag along by virtue of providing the transportation for Avila to join them the second day of their trip. (This weekend had been long-planned before anyone realized it was the same weekend as the must-attend dress rehearsal for Avila’s ballet recital.)

It was lots of fun despite very uncooperative weather. It was spitting rain on Saturday when we arrived and continued to do so until bedtime, when it began to rain in earnest.

The kids’ new-to-them pop-up tent camper was a champ—kept us all dry and comfy through the long rainy night. But the downside of the weather was that the entire gang began breaking camp first thing on Sunday morning—concerned as much as anything about their ability to slog out through the sandy road which was now looking pretty swampy.

We felt most vulnerable in our two-wheel drive minivan, so were among the first to actually leave, before the “road” got too torn up.  David did some masterful driving and we made it out, although that entailed driving on the desert itself some instead of the swamped road! The remaining drive home was uneventful, passing through more dramatic terrain and for a good chunk of time the spitting rain turned into a pretty good snow storm, just to keep things interesting!

But, beyond that, spring has continued in full force.  I had tomato plants that were going crazy inside so I succumbed to the lure of the warm weather and planted them early in the month.  We, of course, had early morning frost the first couple of days of last week, so both plants froze.  But internet research suggested they might well come back (thank you Mr. Google) and one has resoundingly done so, with the jury still out on the other. But we do truly seem to be past frost now (she says, hopefully) so in went the other ‘maters, along with a few other things in big pots and our front bed.  We’ll see what happens. I’m not nearly as successful channeling Daddy’s inner-gardener as I’d like.

A Lambie and Her Flowers

The big news of the past week, though, was the ballet recital—Avila’s first performance on the big stage. She was a little lambie and, as you might expect, was cute as a bug. (Always wondered about that expression—how many bugs are really that cute?!?) Anyway, you know what I mean!  She’s been looking forward to this for weeks, if not months, and her performance at the dress rehearsal last weekend was great but she was somewhat “oddly” stunned by it all. Apparently the dress rehearsal helped make the big stage more comfortable after all, though (as it’s somewhat designed to do) and she had an absolute blast in her performance Friday evening, although the most joy seemed to come at the end when she got flowers!

Another “big one” for us recently was a great visit by son, Collin, and his sweetie, Katy.  It was just a “long weekend” but we had a great time just hanging out together, getting to know Katy a little, and catching up with Collin. Looking forward to the next visit.

I’ll close with some more pix of Avila for those who, like us, can’t get enough (okay, well there’s probably NO ONE like us in that regard, but I know there are some of you who do enjoy a few more pix!) and hope that you’ll leave a comment to let me know you dropped by!

Posted in Family, Life in the U.S., Weather | 7 Comments

Spring Has Sprung

I almost feel bad saying so—since so many of our friends around the country are still neck deep in snow!—but it definitely feels like spring has arrived here.  I used to laugh all our years in Maine when the official arrival of spring, around the 20th of March each year (give or take a day or so) we were still in the depths of winter.

Here, truth be told, we’ve spent fully the last two months waiting for “the next big snow” feeling that surely it would come, but it never did.  Never say never, I suppose—certainly it could conceivably still come—but it seems increasingly unlikely.

Winter was “odd” this year—the snow started very early, barely even November when the first good snowfall came, and there was no question we’d have a white Christmas. But after the first few (not all that deep) snows, there really wasn’t much more.  We did have one really cold spell—single digit temps—but even that was brief and most of the other days have been pleasant with ample sunshine to keep it from feeling too cold.

Forsythias from Chris and Louise's yard

Flowers are out!  Our first little crocuses popped their heads out not too long ago and, true to all those pictures you see, it snowed a few days later and they bravely bobbed their pale purple heads above the snow.  All the white-stuff was gone by midday, though (too quickly for me even to capture a photo) and they’re now gone, giving way to the tulips, forsythia, and apricot blossoms.

We used to think, during our years in Costa Rica, that we’d seen enough change of seasons to last us and we thoroughly enjoyed the “year ’round spring” that Costa Rica is famous for.  It’s funny, we’d not even felt that we “missed” the different seasons until we were actually back amongst them, and now we thoroughly enjoy each change, four times a year.

Apricots in bloom

Utah has a particularly nice “set” of seasons.  All four are very clearly represented, and really nicely so.  Starting with where we are now, spring is spectacular. (A nice spring is one of the few things I missed once I left the south, some thirty years ago. It’s nice to have it back!) Then summer can, of course, be hot, but the dryness makes it remarkably bearable.  We are able to turn the A/C off almost every night and not feel the need to turn it back on until midday the next day, so we enjoy much of the “open windows” climate we liked in Costa Rica.

Fall Leaves

Fall Leaves up in the Mountains

Fall is, again, lovely, with cooling temperatures, blue skies, bright sun.  We don’t have the spectacular leaves that we had in Maine, but still plenty of nice color, particularly when we take the season as an excuse for nearby day-trips further into the mountains.  And then winter rolls around with its snowy beauty but with dry sunny days to keep it from feeling too grim.

Of course all is not perfect (is it anywhere?!?) so there are winter days with the Salt Lake Valley’s infamous “inversion” and resulting bad air. We’re lucky that our home up here on the furthest “uphill” side of Centerville is almost always above it, so while we can look down on it, we’re not actually in it.  And let’s not forget that we’re essentially living in high desert, so lack of rain or snow—i.e. drought—can be a problem.

But we find those to be minor issues—described more in the interest of full disclosure rather than true annoyances—and now that we’ve been here a bit more than two full years, we continue to appreciate it literally every day.

Now I’m looking forward to gardening season.  Louise—bless her heart!—came over today and helped me clear out a big part of our landscaping bed that runs along the side of the house and David was so inspired by our work that he took the big loppers down and pruned back the roses. (Louise was a bit horrified since he had no real idea what he was doing, but I said he couldn’t possibly know any less than I did last year when I pruned them, and they’d survived and thrived, so I thought it would be fine!)

Re-growing romaine lettuce in the window

Meanwhile, I’m doing a bit of “gardening” indoors, having learned that you can re-grow things like romaine lettuce and scallions in water in your kitchen window-sill. The romaine is amazing—it begins growing so fast you can’t believe it, literally within the first day of putting it up there. But the actual rate of growth is pretty slow, so now some weeks later, just as promised in what I’d read, we have lettuce that’s about four inches tall.  So, it’ll be a while before we’ll feast on the resulting salad, but it’s still fun.  It’s free, it’s organic (we started with organic romaine), and fun to watch.

She's a great puzzle-doer

And, what about Avila—our primary “reason” to move here?  Well, glad you asked! She’s wonderful, approaching her third birthday next month.  She’s incredibly verbal, literally narrating her life as she moves through it.  She continues to come out with things that just stop us in our tracks as we look, amazed, at each other and say, “How is it possible that she knows that?!?”

Nothing is as precious as when she snuggles up to me, lays her head against me, and says, “I love you, Grandma!”

Stealing M&Ms from the table while she was supposed to be napping!

If we’d ever wondered about coming back—and frankly, we never do!—that would surely overcome everything else!

A few more pix below….




A great cook already!

Ta-Dah! Olympics day at Gymnastics

Entranced with Clifford the Big Red Dog on PBS

Posted in Family, Life in the U.S., Weather | 18 Comments

Tis December

Yes, it’s December which means Christmas trees, snow, Santa Claus, and surprises — all wonderful things as far as we’re concerned.  Interestingly, we’re not finding the snow to be particularly bothersome.  In fact, after a surprisingly deep snowfall the other day (the forecast was for less than an inch, we got ten times that) one of our neighbors hollered out from their car as they passed — “Missing Costa Rica?” And we found we really weren’t. ;-)

Early snowfall

We actually had our first snow (definitely a surprise!) more than a month ago — the planned blog post that never happened (the story of my life, it seems) was titled “Fall Back = Snow Fall” since it did, indeed, snow on 2 November, the day we went off daylight savings time.  And we’ve had several other snowfalls since then, but each was gone within the day, with sunshine and blue skies returning to keep things cheery.

Now that December has arrived, the snow feels a little more permanent.  Oddly enough, after Monday’s snow turning into much more of a storm than expected, there were warnings galore about the “big storm” due today, but although it started snowing right on time this morning, so far it’s only been little flakes that aren’t amounting to much, so sounds like they maybe just got their systems reversed! We’ll see how things look tomorrow.

Avila smelling the Christmas tree!

We bought our Christmas tree a week ago (on a warm sunny day!) and are very pleased. It’s incredibly fresh, was reasonably priced, and looks great in the house.  We flip-flopped our living and dining rooms in early November to accommodate birthday parties, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and the tree, so rather than having to crane around the tree to watch TV (always an important consideration), we can enjoy it in its spacious surroundings.  We’re almost tempted to keep the room exchange, although I imagine by the time the holidays are over we’ll be ready to move it back.

Christmas Tree

Isn't she a beauty!

Avila decorating her tree, with Pato (her Duckie lovey) at the top

Avila is old enough this year — at just over 2-1/2 — to really be enjoying all things Christmas.  She had a great time picking out Christmas trees, including a small one for her room at home.

And she oh-so-carefully helped decorate ours, earnestly threading the hooks on and handing the glass ones to me saying, “This one is very delicate, Grandma. You should hang it up high.”

Avila and Santa

Avila sitting on Santa's lap

She got to visit with Santa today and was apparently quite happy doing so.  (She gave him a big hug first, before settling in on his lap!)   And she seems as interested in wrapping presents for other people as she is in getting them herself. (I’ll be surprised if that lasts, but so far, so good.)  We haven’t yet started in on the Grinch marathon, although that’s probably coming soon. I’m referring, of course, to the original Grinch TV show from 1966, which she became absolutely obsessed with last year. Luckily it’s always been one of my favorite holiday specials, so it wasn’t too painful to have to watch over and over again!

Of course, all the hubbub of December and the holidays also means that another year is coming to a close.  And that’s a surprise, of course, since it seems that it only just began! And yet we look back on a full year — beginnings, endings, the astonishing process of watching the daily changes in our sweet little one… a lot has happened this year.  Much to appreciate, and much to look forward to next year.

And as a final surprise (“final” for this post, that is) Nelson Mandela died yesterday.  His actual passing was not really a surprise — I mean, the man was 95 years old and we all knew had struggled with some major health issues over this past year.

The surprise was that I started crying when I heard.

I would not have ever considered myself to have any particularly deep connection with Mandela — I, of course, have always had the deepest respect for him and what he accomplished in his lifetime, but I wouldn’t have said that it was an especially personal experience or relationship.  So I was surprised by my response.

I actually had to go hide in the bathroom for a few minutes.  Since David knows me as possibly one of the least politically-involved people on the planet, I feared he might think I’d lost my marbles.

I think it just shows that sometimes, even below the surface, below our conscious recognition, there is some part of us that cannot help but be touched by someone like Mandela.  Touched in a way that experiences a visceral sense of the loss to the world. May we all remember him as a symbol of courage and dignity that should offer inspiration to us all.

Posted in Family, Life in the U.S., Weather | 8 Comments

Being Bumped and Braving Bison

Yes, we braved the bison on Friday as we (David and I, Chris and Louise, and Avila) drove out to Antelope Island to watch the annual bison round-up.  Okay, maybe not too much bravery was required, although Louise did tell Avila that bison were so big, she was afraid of them, to which Avila replied, “I’ll help you be brave!”  It is true, though, that many folks think of bison as big, shaggy cows, not realizing their truly wild nature.  One doesn’t want to “brave” them too closely.

Big fella!

We look out of our living room across the Great Salt Lake to Antelope Island, home to a herd of 600 to 700 bison (along with antelope, big-horn sheep, and other critters) so we feel a special affinity with the island and its wild inhabitants.  Each fall they round all the bison up to do some overall health checks and cull the herd back to the 550 or so that they’ve determined is the number the island can support.

The herd coming down over the mountain

It’s a two-day event, with about 300 horseback riders on hand to help.  (Despite it being a lot of “hurry up and wait,” I’ve added riding in the round-up some year to the “bucket list” that I don’t have.  What more could you ask for—a gorgeous fall day, riding a beautiful horse, participating even peripherally in something as exotic as rounding up bison! And you don’t even have to own a horse—which is a good thing since I don’t see that in my future—you can rent them just for the day.)

We weren’t entirely sure what to expect as spectators, but we sure lucked out.  We arrived there around 9 in the morning and headed down the east side of the island toward the ranch.  Turned out to be excellent timing since the cowboys (the pros) and the other riders were basically starting at that end and “driving” the herd toward the pens on the northern end of the island.

Yes, those dark dots are all bison (with cowboys in the foreground)

From what we understand, “driving” the herd is a loose concept since bison have a tendency to do what they want to.  Since they do this every year, I’m sure the pros have developed some techniques to help, but even so it seems the best they can do is encourage them along a bit.  They have a mind of their own, we’re told!

Avila checking out the bison with her 'noculars

Avila was great and enjoyed using her ‘noculars.  We weren’t too sure if she was really “seeing” things through them, but as she waved them all around, looking this way and that, up and down, she exclaimed suddenly, “I see the moon!” which was, indeed, right up there where she was looking.  So apparently she got the knack of the ‘nocs pretty readily.  Of course, her true love—picking up random gravel and other rocks from the road—competed with the bison for her attention, but hey, who are we to say what’s fun and what’s not to a toddler.  ;-)

Since we all love bison meat—and it’s a very healthy meat, too—we’ve been fantasizing about some year buying one of the animals and splitting it amongst several of us. But the sheer size of a bison suggests that a heckuva lot more freezer space than we currently have would be needed.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to enjoy the majestic sight of these fine animals in the wild.  The bison (sometimes called the American Buffalo) has made a remarkable come-back from its state of near extinction in the 19th century. There are now reportedly about a half-million bison in commercial herds inthe U.S. and another 30,000 in conservation herds.  We’re glad to have our 500 nearby enough to visit!

So, what about “being bumped” you ask?  Ah well, luckily we weren’t bumped by any bison.  We were, however, bumped from our flight this past week back to Salt Lake. We’d spent the weekend in Shreveport for a really wonderful event on Saturday in memory of my dad, mom, and little brother David, all of whom have passed from this physical incarnation back into the spirit world—David nearly 20 years ago, Mom, of course, just a few months ago, and Daddy back in ’07 in Costa Rica.  Old friends and colleagues of Mom and Dad’s put on a beautiful reception and many folks came by to “remember” them, sharing stories and memories.

I can do it MYSELF!

It was a quick trip for all of us, and Avila traveled like a trouper. She was quite insistent on pulling her own weight, literally, as she rolled her own suitcase along the airport corridors.  (This is not as easy as it sounds when you consider she was being rolled along herself in a stroller!) Although we’d all bought our tickets at the same time, weeks before, and reserved seats, when Jen and Avila checked in for our return flights on Monday, their “boarding passes” for our second leg, from Houston to Salt Lake, carried the somewhat alarming phrase “not assigned” where the seat number should be.

Sure enough, turns out the flight was overbooked and they’d randomly bumped Jen and Avila.  (They’d also bumped one other young woman who was practically hysterical in the Houston airport—her bags were already on the plane, she was going to miss making a presentation in Salt Lake, and to top it off she was on crutches from some recent injury.  Understandably when they did eventually free up one seat, we gave it to her.)

But, wait, you say, I thought it was Jen and Avila that were bumped!  Well, yes, but surely you didn’t think we were going to leave them adrift in Houston while we flew back to Salt Lake without them?!  Of course, we gave them our seats, not concerned about inconvenience for ourselves but still worried about not being along to help with Avila, handling bags, and so forth. But luckily they managed fine, and we got re-routed through San Antonio and arrived home only a few hours later than originally scheduled. PLUS we got vouchers for future free flights, so it was a classic case of all’s well that ends well.

So, there you have it—our excitement for the past week.  I’ll close with some more random pictures of our cutie.  (And you do know, right, that you can click on any of the pictures to open it up full-size.)

Fall is in the air here and we’re thoroughly enjoying it. Hope that wherever you are, your life is bringing you even half the satisfaction and contentment that ours is—in which case you’ll be very happy indeed.  And, hey, don’t forget to comment.  I LOVE comments, even if it’s just to say hi.  ;-)

Avila meets her first bison (statue at the entrance to the island)

Our first attempt at taking Avila's picture at the statue

A really tall tower of blocks!

Grandma and Avila at the library

You'd think she was praying, right, not just watching Clifford the Big Red Dog

Poppy trapping Avila's shadow

This is what happens when you put hair up in curly piggies when it's wet and then take it down later, coupled with eating a blueberry lollipop

Picking out pumpkins

The outfit of choice (HER choice) for running errands

Posted in Family, Life in the U.S. | 6 Comments