The graveyard shift: Beaver encounter

A few weeks after we had some trees cut down and limbed along the creek, we started seeing this:

It was obvious there was an active beaver (or perhaps more than one) gnawing on the limbs, but I could never catch it in the act.

So we borrowed a wildlife trail camera from the in-laws, attached it to a tree near the chewed limbs and waited a few days to see if we got anything. During the day, it looked like this:

At night, however, lo and behold, we captured this:

Am I crazy or does this look like Oregon State’s angry beaver mascot?

Technically, a rodent, the beaver is the largest rodent in North America. They are active mainly at night, which explains why I never saw it during the day. They eat the bark off trees as well as cattails and other aquatic vegetation. This one seemed to be most active between 2 and 3 a.m.

So far, all they’ve done is gnaw on the cut limbs. They haven’t built a dam. I’m fairly sure they actually live a bit farther down creek and only visit here at night.

They say beavers mate for life, and I think there may be a couple of them on our creek, so I’m wondering if we might capture some offspring if I put the camera in the right place.

I’m having fun with the trail camera. I’m hoping to capture some otters and coyotes. There’s such an abundance of wildlife out here, and unfortunately, these critters seem to be most active when we’re asleep. The trail camera gives us the chance to see what’s going on out there even in the wee hours of the morning. Stay tuned.

Bird of the moment: Nighthawk

Nighthawk atop the chicken coop.

You’ve probably seen this unassuming bird with a quirky way of sitting

Nighthawks are everywhere in the high desert right now. They are a curious little bird in that they are more akin to a robin in size than a hawk. However, if you see them in action, you’ll see where the name comes from.

Li’l E and I were out in the garden. We looked up and there were 20 or 30 swooping and diving in the sky above us. Their tell-tale white stripes stood out from below with their wings making a wicked arc against the bright blue sky.

If you glance at the trees you’ll miss the them, but if you take a closer look, you’ll see them sitting quietly parallel to the tree branch. There coloring blends in with the wood. I’ve counted as many as five in one tree. They look like they’re sleeping but they are ever alert, and if you step too near, they’ll fly.

Habitat: They are found all over North America in open country such as forest clearings, prairies and farmland. They can also be found in cities and suburbs.

Feeding: They eat flying insects including beetles, moths and grasshoppers, which they catch in mid-flight.

Young: Both parents care for the young, which can fly around 21 days old.

Nesting: Apparently the male courtship is something to see. According to the Audubon Society, “his wingbeats become even more stiff and choppy as he circles and hovers high in the air, calling repeatedly; then he goes into a steep dive, with a rushing or ‘booming’ sound made by air passing through wing feathers at bottom of dive. Landing near female, he spreads his tail, rocks back and forth, and calls.” I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed that, but with the sheer number of them here, it’s only a matter of time and my attention span.

Conservation status: Also according to the Audubon Society, nighthawk numbers are seriously declining in many places because of changes in land use and overuse of pesticides. This is disheartening. Nighthawks are amazing to watch whether they are swooping through the sky or quietly sitting on a tree branch. I find them fascinating and a true symbol of summer out here in the high desert.

A nighthawk sits on a tree branch high up in the air with the brilliant blue sky as a backdrop.


This one looks like it’s half asleep, but it’s getting ready to fly away momentarily.


I had a heck of a time capturing them in flight. They move quickly, but I had a couple of frames turn out.


One in flight and one not.


They camouflage with the trees very well.


This is where I usually notice them: on old fence posts.

The good stuff: Chickens, chores and chemistry

The good stuff is a roundup of what I’ve been doing, reading, listening to, watching, etc., simmered down to five tidbits for quick consumption.


Building: Chicken coop. So we got chicks in April, and surprise, they grew quickly. We had them in a small chicken tractor, but we needed to build a more permanent home for them with a bigger run pronto. DJ put this together in less than a month, and we placed our girls in there last week. They are so much happier now that they have room to peck and scratch and dust themselves. I’ll write up a post with more details on exactly what we did. More to come


Creating: Chore chart. With full blown summer here, I was feeling the need to structure our day a little more, hence the chore chart. The boys have four tasks to complete each day. They get rewards for each task and once all of them are complete, they get to have some screen time.


Watching: World of Dance. I’ve been watching all the dance shows this summer. So You Think You Can Dance and World of Dance being the two primary series. World of Dance features judges Jennifer Lopez, Derek Hough and Ne-Yo ranking world class acts in a series of rounds until they winnow the it down to a million dollar winner. I love that J-Lo doesn’t take any crap from the guys. She is the clearly the one who runs the show. We are still in the qualifying round at this point, but there have been some impressive acts. The Bradas from New Zealand have been my favorite so far. They are creative, athletic and so good. Check them out here.


Reading: “The Prince” by Katharine Ashe. So this a historical romance. There’s smooching. This story also features a really good characterization of someone on the autism spectrum, which of The Prince by Katharine Ashecourse they didn’t have that terminology for at the time. The heroine is brilliant and driven to become a doctor, and not just a doctor, but a surgeon. Of course, in the 1800s women weren’t allowed to go to school for that. She decides to disguise herself as a man, but she needs someone to help her out, providing her with a place to live and an “in” to the network of doctors and professors who can help her achieve her dream. Enter “the Prince,” an exile who has found a place in Scotland to hide while his country is in turmoil, though he keeps all of this hidden from his friends and acquaintances. He is an artist and draws portraits to support himself. It’s a slow burn romance and the chemistry between these two is off the charts. Competent heroines are my catnip, and I adore the hero who loves her for everything that she is, quirks, flaws and all. “The Prince” hits all the right notes.


Designing: If you like the photos I’ve posted on this site, I’ve put some of them on cards, totes, cell phone covers, etc. Some items are listed on the right side of the page or you can see all of them at my shop here. But here’s a snapshot of my two favorite creations with three cheers for summer camp outs:

In the tent!

Ah, summer …


Bird of the moment: Yellow-headed blackbird

Our patch of desert paradise is a super highway for migratory birds. You can pretty much tell the season from the kind of birds you see. Snow geese pass through by the thousands in the spring. Red-wing black birds and tanagers brighten up the landscape as well. Night hawks are abundant in the summer as well as great blue herons and snowy white egrets. Our year-round residents include ducks, coots, grebes and owls.

Each spring, our town celebrates with the annual migratory bird festival, which boasts tours, an art show and dinner with keynote speaker. Birders come from all over to see the great variety of water fowl that we have a front row seat to each spring.

So I thought I’d highlight some of our winged visitors with “bird of the moment” posts.

First up:

Yellow-headed blackbird

The yellow-headed blackbirds have arrived.

Name: Yellow-headed blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus

Notable physical features: Bright yellow head (obviously)

Call: According to the Audubon Field Guide “it may have the worst song of any North American bird, a hoarse, harsh scraping.” I wouldn’t go that far, but its call isn’t exactly melodic.

Behavior: These birds are aggressive. They might be the bullies of the bird world, ganging up to overwhelm bird feeders and scaring off other birds with flapping and squawking. To put a more positive spin on it, when they want something, they go after it.

Habitat: They seem to like the tules and cattails in our creek, and I often seem them perched in the tules, their yellow heads standing out in the brown landscape.

Nesting and young: They nest in marshes in colonies, with males staking out territory and defending it. A male can have as many as 5 mates. The nest is built by the female, who lays 3 to 5 eggs. Both parents feed the nestlings, and the young leave the nest in 9 to 12 days.

The yellow-headed blackbird is definitely a harbinger of spring around here, and I always look forward to the arrival of these pushy, striking birds full of personality.

What birds herald the onset of spring in your area? Let me know in the comments.

A yellow-headed blackbird cuts a striking figure among the tules.


The good stuff

The good stuff is a weekly roundup of what I’ve been doing, reading, listening to, watching, etc., simmered down to five tidbits for quick consumption.


Creating: At li’l E’s school this week they hosted an artist who works with silver. She spent a couple of hours teaching the kids how to stamp silver and copper jewelry. They hammered out designs on zipper pulls and jewelry as part of the lesson. Nevada Watt is the artist’s name, and she did a super job of working with the students. I also got to make something! Check out Nevada’s work. She’s a true pro.

My jewelry attempt!


Noticing: Spring officially arrived this week. So did the swans. This was taken with my new zoom lens.

This game of swans paused in our field before moving to greener pastures.


Listening: I love this song, Found/Tonight, that the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda and fantastic Ben Platt released this week. It appeals to my love for musical theater because it’s a “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” mashup, but the message is particularly poignant. It was created for the kids who are marching for our lives. Even as a jaded Generation Xer, I can’t help but be inspired by the passion and fight in these Florida high schoolers. They are taking on politicians, the NRA and the haters. They might not win the battle, but I’m hoping they’ll turn the tide of public opinion and ultimately win the war.


Reading: The Kinsey Millhone alphabet mystery series by the late Sue Grafton. My Dad started me on these, and I’m loving the heroine’s quirky style. She likes to jog, enjoys a drink, relishes her independence and I appreciate the competence with which she does her job and solves the mystery. She doesn’t always play by the rules, and that’s part of the fun as well. Also, there is a refreshing lack of technology as the series takes place in the 1980s before smartphones and Twitter took over the world.


FYI: If you like some of the photos I’ve posted on this site, I’ve put some of them on products like notecards, cell phone covers, totes, etc. You can view them at my shop here. But here’s a snapshot of my two favorite creations:

Brothers on the county road playing with a discarded piece of baling twine.

Bugs, frogs and other critters

A praying mantis looks as me quizzically while I photograph it from all angles. Seriously, I probably took a hundred pictures while he patiently waited for me to finish.

The longer we’re here, the more I find myself noticing the little things. When we first moved to the desert, I continually marveled at the sweeping vistas, the pink-hued sunsets and the snow-capped ridges. Now my eyes drift down to the ground seeking out bugs or parsing the trees with binoculars in search of birds. I had some really good bug sightings this summer and managed to capture a few of them with the camera.

The dragonflies were abundant and amazing, and I finally figured out that they molt out of their nymph stage leaving behind a bug husk. They emerge as a translucent-winged creature before finally gaining their beautiful brilliant color.

Transforming from a nymph to a dragonfly.

The husk they leave behind is called an exuvia.

The dragonfly in all its glory. It seems they come in all colors. I’ve seen blue, green and orange ones here in the high desert.

On one occasion, while trying to pick some salt grass out of the walkway, I almost grabbed a praying mantis that totally blended into the green mass of grass. I saw quite a few around the house this summer. I could sit and watch them all day. They can actually move pretty quickly at times. I even read a piece in the New York Times claiming that they not only eat other bugs but can attack humming birds, punching through their skulls to eat their brains. They are a formidable bug, perhaps to be both feared and admired.

And don’t get me started on the frogs. It was a good year for frogs here. They were all over our yard. I couldn’t take three steps without having multiple tiny frogs leaping to get out of the way. It was almost comical at times. Usually they would congregate on some potted tomato and pepper plants we had sitting in the backyard. They especially liked the bell peppers and would pile up on one another perhaps because the real estate was a bit limited.

How many frogs do you count?

I call this one “Frog on leaf.” Gravity-defying.

Butterflies and moths were in abundance as well. A Swallowtail butterfly and a Blinded Sphinx moth were especially pretty (at least, I think that’s what they are thanks to a quick internet search).

Swallowtail butterfly

Blinded Sphinx moth

In the past we’ve seen coyotes come into the yard this time of year to feast on olives courtesy of the Russian olive trees. This year however, the raccoons have taken over. We’ve counted no less than seven and frequently see a family of four traipsing around gathering olives on the ground or climbing the trees to get better access.

These three. It’s like they’ve never seen a woman with a camera before.

These two elusive creatures can often be found throwing rocks in the creek during the daylight hours and can be identified by their distinctive giggles.

Gardening in the desert

A bloom from our sunflower patch.
A bloom from our sunflower patch.

So fall is almost here. The summer flew by. We now have a kindergartner in the house, and I feel like where did the last five years go? I didn’t expect to be quite so emotional about the whole thing, but it’s a big deal starting school. All my hopes and fears for my oldest boy came to the surface and hit me square in the heart. He handled the first day far better than I did. But enough about my first week of school freak out.

Onto the garden. We just had our first frost of the season, so most of our garden is kaput for the year. We have a lot of tomatoes to process in the next few days, and so far we’ve made freezer salsa and roasted cherry tomatoes. In the past, we’ve canned tomato sauce. We’ve also made loads of pickles this season as DJ experimented with some different recipes.

Over the last few years we’ve expanded our garden area from 9 raised beds to 16 plus an additional area where we had more tomatoes, onions and kohlrabi. (Yes, kohlrabi. If anyone has any ideas on what to do with this, please enlighten me in the comments. I tried some kohlrabi fries that were, um … interesting.) There’s also an orchard, where we have a few fruit trees, which unfortunately didn’t have any fruit this year because of a late spring frost. We’ve fenced off the area for protection from deer, rabbits and mice, but that doesn’t stop the birds from partaking in ripe red tomatoes or the occasional strawberry.

In addition to the aforementioned tomatoes, onions, kohlrabi and strawberries we also grew corn, cucumbers, hot peppers, bell peppers, peas, beans, cabbage, broccolini, horseradish, garlic and potatoes. We used a drip water system on timers that water for about 25 minutes per day.

In a place that is notoriously unforgiving to vegetable crop growers, we’ve had some success, but we still feel like we have miles to go. We are constantly trying to add nutrients to the soil and to lighten it up for better drainage.

While we still feel like novices out here in the desert, we are especially proud of our garlic crop this year and plan to do even more next year. It’s incredibly flavorful and so much better than what we buy at the grocery store.

It is gratifying to grow and eat your own food, but it can also be time consuming and frustrating. To put time and energy into growing something from seed that doesn’t pan out for one reason or another can be a bit defeating. In addition, we’re not always the best at eating veggies before they spoil, so we need to get better about canning and preserving what we don’t eat right away.

On the plus side, we successfully grew sunflowers this year as you can see in the photo up top. After trying to grow them the past two years from seed and having the mice eat them before they even spouted, we finally got smart by starting them inside and transplanting them into a raised bed fenced off with hardware cloth. They were tall and lovely, and I smiled every time I looked at them. I’d say that’s a win.

One thing we’ve added this year is a cover crop. Once we pulled the garlic and potatoes from the ground we planted a mixture of seeds, which includes rye and legumes. Eventually, we will till that back into the soil to restore nutrients to make the soil more productive for next spring. We’re hoping to do that with the rest of the garden once we get the tomato and corn plants pulled up.

So that’s our work-in-progress garden. Scroll through the photos below and tell me about your gardening success stories in the comments.

Big, beautiful heads of garlic.


We were happy with our corn crop this year. Hopefully, we’ll have more next year.


Kohlrabi. Just in case you wondered what it looks like.


Canned dill pickles. We have jars and jars. This is just a small sampling.


Broccolini. It’s delicious.


A habanero ripens on the vine. DJ likes ’em hot.


An onion gone to seed.


A pile of tomatoes that will soon become salsa.


Cherry tomatoes so sweet they taste like candy.


Cabbage is so photogenic.


And these two. This isn’t garden-related, but oh the fun you can have with a mud puddle in the yard.


Walking in a winter hinterland

The last few weeks have been testing my love of snow and winter. At the age of 37 I think I understand why birds and retired people head south when winter descends. Our normally barren, vast landscape has turned from brown to white with temperatures plunging as low as -15. The change of seasons allows for a whole new wardrobe of scarves, hats and layers, but I’m sick to death of my snow boots and would welcome a day in which I could leave my warm, quilted jacket at home.

As the snow slowly melts, it compresses into ice, leaving me “skating” from the house to the dog kennel and from the deck to the car. I can’t count the number of times I’ve caught myself from taking a nasty tumble or fishtailing on the county road despite having 4-wheel drive and going no faster than 25 miles per hour. DJ and I have a standing bet on when the last of the snow will melt. I took March 3 and he took Feb. 21. I’m desperately rooting for him to win that one (but I fear we both may be grossly optimistic). It feels like we’ve had a winter’s worth of snow and according to the calendar, it’s no where near over yet. With that said, the weather has created some breathtaking scenery. So let’s focus on the positive, shall we? Like how much better hot chocolate tastes when you come inside after hours of snow play. Or the fun of building a snowman with a 4-year-old. Or the thrill of holding onto an inner tube being pulled by a ATV. Also, check out these shots courtesy of the lovely weather:

2017 winter 01
We’ve noticed the jack rabbits come out in abundance when the temperatures dip below zero. I counted as many as 11 nibbling on any sort of vegetation sticking out of the snow in the field near our house.


2017 winter 03
Freezing fog covers everything in a layer of ice crystals including this chain on our swing.


2017 winter 02
Just off our deck a ring-necked pheasant searches for something to eat.


2017 winter 05
Li’l E and a snowman sans face, arms or hat.


2017 winter 04
The sunset at my in-laws’ place.


2017 winter 08
Frozen fog builds up on the chain link fence.


2017 winter 06
Thumper’s paw leaves a heat imprint on the deck.


2017 winter 11
Li’l E and Li’l S on the toboggan.


2017 winter 09
Mom gets in on the sledding fun.

Last gasp of summer

Fall truly is just around the corner. This morning I felt that autumnal chill, which is both welcome and unwelcome. I love the change of seasons, but I’m not quite ready to let go of tank tops and summer’s warm embrace. I love crisp, frosty mornings, but I dislike having to don multiple layers to go outside. I love the beginning of the school year with its new supplies and new year optimism, but I miss the long lazy days of summer when a meandering walk was all we had on our to-do list. These are the gasps of summer.

Throwing rocks in the creek: one of our favorite pastimes.

We had a really good pepper crop this year. These jalapenos are especially tasty.

DJ loves the hot peppers, so these habaneros are right in his wheelhouse.

We have pumpkins this year! Plural, as in exactly two.

We’ve had a good tomato crop this year. These purple Russian romas are especially tasty.

Cherry tomatoes are as sweet as candy.

This tomato tart is an especially good way to utilize a surplus of cherry tomatoes.

We’ve seen a few snakes this year, thankfully only one rattler. I much prefer the non-venomous kind, like this guy.

The boys are attempting to build a fort in the garden. We’ve got at little space cleared out. E wants to put a bed in there.

Summer we love you.

Until next year.



L’il E had a preschool lesson on caterpillars and butterflies this last year. When this little gal attached herself to the side of the house, I decided it had the potential to  be a lesson come to life.

2016 Caterpiller hanging

I documented it on my phone, and E and I checked her every day throughout the process. She created a chrysalis.

2016 Caterpiller chrysalis

It took about two weeks or so. And finally, this emerged.

Caterpiller butterfly 02

Yes, that appears to be blood below on the side of the house. That kinds of surprised me. Though I suppose most transformations can get a bit messy. When I think about all the transformations in my own life (student to young adult to professional to wife and mom), none of them came without some major emotional upheaval, if not tears and blood. So, you go girl.

After a little research, we determined that this is a Mourning Cloak Butterfly. It’s really quite pretty. Below are a couple of photos I found to show a better view of what the Mourning Cloak butterfly looks like in the wild.

mourningcloak Jerry A. Payne USDA Agricultural Research Service
Jerry A. Payne, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

mourningcloak 2 Whitney Cranshaw Colorado State University
Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,








Today I turn 37, and I hope I’m continually evolving and transforming. I want my boys to grow up to be strong and confident. But more importantly I want them to think about how they can impact the world. They need to know that words of encouragement mean something and can leave a lasting impression on others, that kindness is not weakness. In this world that seems to reward brash headlines and snarky tweets, I want the opposite. I want thoughtfulness. I want them to look at an argument from every angle and to appreciate everyone’s hard fought life experiences. Some transformations are more obvious than others, but the internal ones are just as crucial as those stunning external changes. It is so easy to judge and cut others down. I hope in this 37th year to be a positive force that builds you up. Yes, you. I’m talking to you. You are smart and talented and gorgeous. So go out and share your gifts with the world. We need you, and you can do this. Be honest. Be deliberate. Be funny. And be kind. That is my birthday wish.