Forest’s First Week of School


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We kicked off the year with Forest finally going back to be with his peers at school. He had been home with us since late March 2020. While he had spent most of his life going to daycare 5 days a week and making friends and learning there, the 9+ months at home made him cozy and it was a bit hard to get him motivated to go to school at first. We spent the month leading up to it talking school up and getting him excited but he was still rather ‘meh’ at first. Even to the point of crying that Wednesday before we left the house, which of course, I would have done too! Play with my toys, stay in my jammies all day, eat snacks all day, between my two zoom classes? Sign me up! And leave all of that for school? Yes, tears would be involved!

But it only took like two days and he was like SCHOOL’S THE BEST! OMG THE PLAYGROUND! LUNCH TIME!! FRIENDS! And on Friday evening last week he was really sad he wasn’t going to school the following day so he could play with friends! So, I think that 9+ months was nice but getting to play with friends blew all of that out of the water! Then, on Monday he was upset they cancelled school because of the “snow” (reader, our area *missed* the snow by 20-30 miles), though there was some sleet mixed with rain and I suppose areas on the outskirts *may* have had more precip, but it was laughable that they closed school. But here we are a week later and he is enjoying school and can now navigate walking to his classroom on his own after a few days of having a teacher or older kid help him to class. So, I’m very proud of that, especially because even last spring at daycare he was still quite attached to us at drop off!

School pickup is the hardest but is turning out not to be as horrible if we leave about 10 minutes after school gets out, which means we will not have to sit in the horrendous line for very long. And luckily we work across from his school so we are able to bring him over to the office for the last hour of the day.

We got his first batch of papers from the teacher this week and it was nice to catch up on what he is learning since we were so involved in that for the semester. It was a bit strange not having my finger on that pulse last week but after a day or two it was easy to let it go. So, school is going well so far for Forest!

Chinquapin Trail Loop at Huntsville State Park


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As the saying goes, “What a month this week has been!” Let’s step outside for a bit, even if it is in retrospect, to last Halloween weekend at Huntsville State Park. It was our first camping trip of the season, the first since our last one in late February/early March before the pandemic closed everything down. I believe it was Huntsville State Park that was our last camping trip, too!

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We set off for the large outer loop, the Chinquapin Trail, around the lake. Forest decided these roots along the trail were mountains to climb so he crawled up them and proceeded to do that for several others we found during the loop.

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Mikania scandens

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Greater Marsh St. John’s-Wort, Hypericum walteri
This hypericum doesn’t get a lot of notice from what I’ve seen so when I see one in the wild I’ve been trying to document them and get more sightings of them into iNaturalist.

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Flowering Spurge, Euphorbia corollata in seed. It took me a bit to figure this one out. It looked so familiar but without it being in flower I had to think a little harder.

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Years in the future, I will look back at all of Forest’s long haired days with awe. I loved his hair long, even if it was a bit scraggly in the end before he got it trimmed up for school. He looks like my little nature child here.

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Being that it was fall, the fungi were in excellent form, and I stopped to see who was fruiting and decaying along the way.

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I was also astonished to find a couple of brugmansia that had rooted along a little creek crossing along the way. I had never noticed them before but I’m assuming that they have been there for a year or two based on how it appears they have been hacked down at least once. It will take a significant freeze or digging up to remove them, though I don’t suspect they will be invasive here. Also, did you know that all brugmansias in their native ranges have been extirpated from the wild? I didn’t know this until I logged this particular plant and tooled around iNaturalist for a bit and saw their information. I had to go and Google it for myself because I couldn’t believe it. There’s a tiny tidbit for you today—a genus very much alive in horticulture but gone from the wild on its own.

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Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia

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Obscure Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca obscura

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Salt Marsh Moth, Estigmene acrea

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Nuptial Scorpionfly, Panorpa nuptialis

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Elegant Gayfeather, Liatris elegans – it was just about the end of the season of them but we found a couple still blooming. Most had gone to seed.

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I wish I had taken a better photo of this beetle to better identify it.

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I have several iterations of this photo with Forest and this tree over the years. Some day it would be nice to have a frame or collage of all of the different ones we will eventually have.

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Sparse-lobed Grapefern, Sceptridium biternatum with its fertile frond.

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Lesser Ladies’ Tresses, Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata – I knew when I saw this spiranthes orchid it was a different species than the ones we typically see. Thankfully there are a couple of more knowledgeable spiranthes identifiers on iNaturalist and this one was figured out quickly. A good find!

Ah, every time I sit down to write these older entries I really wish I was outside hiking and taking new photos so I could write about them another six months from now! Anyway, it was a good hike that day, though because the weather was so nice and the close proximity to civilization the trails were rather busy. One of the busier times I’ve seen there that wasn’t summer, even in the far back side of the loop.

September on the Lone Star Trail


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Whiteleaf Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum albescens

Digging back into some of my drafted posts, today we are going back to September and yet another jaunt on the Lone Star Trail. I really need to figure out what gaps we have left on this trail. We’ve very nearly finished a lot of the portion west of I-45 but there are some small gaps where we turned around and didn’t connect. This trip was after our yearly trip to a patch of beautyberries where we take birthday photos for Forest.

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A wine colored fruiting beautyberry.

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Violet Coral Fungus, Clavaria zollingeri
This may be one of the coolest fungi I have ever come across and we almost walked by it before Chris noticed it. It was practically in the middle of the trail but was quite small and we had to get on our bellies to get a good photo.

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I’ve come across this plant a couple of times in other areas we’ve hiked but never bothered to take photos. This time I stopped because I was curious but it has proved to be a stumper. I *think* it is Northern Spicebush, Lindera benzoin but I don’t know that I’m totally set on it being this. If anyone wants to chime in with an ID, feel free!

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Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum

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Downy Lobelia, Lobelia puberula
This time of year the lobelias are popping and typically the red-cardinal lobelia is the showstopper, but I think downy lobelia may be a favorite to find.

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And an alba version of the beautyberry. It has been a few years since I’ve seen one this white. Usually they are that diluted wine color.

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Common Wrinkle-leaved Goldenrod, Solidago rugosa

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Coral Bean, Erythrina herbacea

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Perennial Wooly Bean, Strophostyles umbellata

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Southern Slender Ladies’-Tresses, Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis – another reason to love fall besides lobelia season–spiranthes season!

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Plains Snakecotton, Froelichia floridana

Now, when so much is dormant, I relish looking back at these photos and knowing that the growing season is coming soon. Just the last couple of weeks I’ve noticed leaf buds developing on trees. Spring is around the corner.

Along the Nenana River


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I still have a good handful of posts that share from our August/September 2019 trip to Alaska. There’s no reason I shouldn’t have wrapped these up a lot sooner than 1.5 years later but I hope in the coming months I can get everything squared away. I think part of the problem is I really wish we could travel and get to Alaska again. There was so much to see and explore up there that even if we lived there it would take a lifetime to get to it all.

This will be the last post from along the Denali Highway, where we stopped alongside the Nenana River as it comes closer to the road and makes for easy exploration.

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Prickly Wild Rose, Rosa acicularis

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An ursine friend had been through, and this was the primary reason for stopping. Chris wanted to cast more prints if he could find them, and he did.

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Cottongrass, Eriophorum sp.

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The fall coloring was spectacular here with the grasses and made a lovely area for Forest to play. Also, he was newly 5 years old and he looks so small compared to his nearly 6.5 years now.

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American Slough Grass, Beckmannia syzigachne

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A scatter of bones, perhaps from hunters or perhaps natural causes?

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There was plenty of rocks and other debris to search through along the riverbanks.

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Bird print castings for Eliana.

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I loved exploring along the Denali Highway and would love to spend a few days camping and driving along the entire route. While you occasionally see another car or two, it is quite desolate like so much of Alaska.

New Year’s on the Texas Coastal Bend


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We checked in with an old friend yesterday, The Big Tree, aka: The Goose Island Oak. We hadn’t been by to see it since Forest’s second birthday, before Hurricane Harvey. Of course, we had plans to visit the year he turned three but Harvey struck the week before and shattered those plans. And it has taken us this long to get back down to Rockport.

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She’s showing signs of wear and age but thankfully there’s a team working to keep her going after all these years.

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Before we made it to the oak, we stopped into the main area of Goose Island State Park to walk around and go out on the recently rebuilt fishing pier. Harvey also decimated that. I had forgotten how shallow it is out there, plus it was low tide, so we were able to go out on an oyster bar about mid-way down the boardwalk from some stairs that lead there.

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Over near The Big Tree, Chris spotted two whooping cranes in a field with a group of sandhill cranes! I haven’t seen a whooping crane since 2009 when we were lucky enough to see them at Payne’s Prairie in Florida. I, of course, have some better photos with my camera and will share those when I get them processed. It was easy to spot the bird nerds in the area because a line of cars pulled off the side of the road and gazing across folks’ wet pasture was the giveaway. Chris and I joked that it was basically like looking for bears in Yellowstone!

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Afterwards, we tinkered around in Rockport to get lunch and ate it at the Rockport beach park. I had Chris drive by an old beach house that my parents used to rent in the 80s and 90s over on Key Allegro. It is one of the smaller houses over there these days and the oyster beach across the street now has a house on it. I was hoping Zillow would have photos up so I could take trip down memory lane but I don’t think it has been sold in many years, so no photos. Next time I am at my parents house I will have to dig out photo albums! On our way back up the coast to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge we took the Fulton Beach road and passed many old haunts, including the Boiling Pot and Charlotte Plummer’s restaurant—which were both pretty busy. It was good to see the Fulton Mansion still looking good post-hurricane. And there are certainly far more houses along the wind-swept oak mottes than there used to be on that road. I remember it being quite desolate on the Copano Bay end of the road, but now, lots of development.

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The refuge had a decent stream of cars, most congregated near the entrance of at the viewing platforms near the bay. Chris recently bought some lanyards to hold Forest’s mask while he is in school. I put lanyards on both Forest’s and my mask and it made it infinitely easier to deal with on the trail than pulling it out of a bag or pocket when people came around. And there were actually more people around than usual on a trail so we left our masks on for the most part on the few trails we did go down.

Towards the end of the day Chris spotted two more whooping cranes in the far distance down one of the marsh trails but we were running low on time and didn’t have enough daylight to get down to the end for a closer look.

It was a long day trip and I hope we can make another trip down to just the refuge again soon. We may have to do a camping reservation at Goose Island State Park so we have more time.

Happy New Year, friends!

2020 In Review


Well, let’s recap this wild, strange, and insane year!

January
Sandra Friend, me, Kate Dolamore - Chuluota Wilderness to Joshua Creek Trailhead, Florida Trail
Somehow I went to Florida! How was this in 2020? I left Billy Goat Day thinking that in 2021 I would possibly come back and go to the FT Kick Off and then maybe hike through Big Cypress with the thru-hikers, and possibly convince Chris to come along. Ahh, dreams! Travel! Those were the days! I still laugh when I remember seeing folks wearing masks in the airport (more so on the way to Florida) and they weren’t necessarily folks from Asian countries (to be clear, this was still very few people, but more than the usual International Traveler sort of thing). I thought it was odd and maybe over the top because I’d heard the rumblings in the news but didn’t really bat an eye. *laughs in 2020*

+Scenes from Billy Goat Day

February
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February was fairly busy. We went camping twice, drove to Fort Worth for my friend Stephanie’s 40th birthday, Forest went to a birthday party for his daycare BFF, we saw trout lilies after a few years away. This was the last full month of enjoying life as we knew it.

+Weekend at Lake Livingston
+Silent Sunday: Trout Lilies
+Life Lately February 2020

March
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The first half seemed…ok, but also on the precipice of falling off a cliff. The first week we had a meeting with our 401K manager at work who was absolutely not worried about the virus or recession. Chris and I were, and we moved some things around to blunt the potential damage, which ended up helping us a bit. My parents came to visit for Spring Break. We had already started buying some extra stuff to stash away but it wasn’t until that Thursday my parents were here that he went out and got even more stuff because things just deteriorated fast after that. We ended up beating the craze by a day or two. I had plans for the end of the month to have a get together with two of my friends and their kids and we ended up canceling early because the writing was on the wall. One of those friends was on Spring Break in Port A and hadn’t been paying attention to the news so she didn’t quite get why we were already calling it for the weekend fun. And then we made one last hiking trip and ate out in a restaurant for the last time. If I had known it was going to be this long I would have chosen a better place to eat than the hole-in-the-wall TexMex in Brenham, but it was post hike and any post hike TexMex is good. But…still. I would have loaded up more! It would be months before we even dared to do drive-thru and then more months before we did take out. We still have only done take out twice now. We sent Forest to daycare that week after Spring Break and it was already becoming a ghost town. To be honest, we could have kept him in through March and into April because things really weren’t off the rail here at that point but I think at some point they closed to only children of essential workers anyway.

+Lepidopterans and Sunshine at Lake Somerville State Park
+Neighborhood Nature 1

April
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Ah, life working at home and caring for a boisterous 5 year old! I remember going into the office at some point late in the month to do something and realizing my calendar was still on March. It still felt like the whole two weeks/two months and voila! Life would be normal again! Again, *laughs in 2020*. I started bike riding which really turned out to be cathartic for me and I’ve kept it up ever since. Everyone was out walking and biking and golf-carting in the neighborhood. It was peaceful and quiet. When we finally did start escaping close to home it felt surreal to be further than a 3 mile radius from home.

+Escaping to the Lone Star Trail
+Forest’s Rainbow Afghan

May
zebra swallowtail caterpillar
In May we dared to venture further from home than we had gone. We packed everything up that we would need and made no stops other than to top off the gas tank. We explored a new section of the Lone Star Trail and ventured to a few areas at the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge. Chris had still been doing all of the errands so when I saw Real Life it was weird to experience. There were more people coming out in May because the governor was starting to open businesses again but it was still a lot quieter than normal. In a way, I miss these early times when life was less rushed.

+Exploring the bottomlands at Brierwood Dayuse Area at TRNWR
+A New Section of the Lone Star Trail

June
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In June we started venturing out further from our home radius and headed to east Texas to visit the Big Thicket. We also went south towards the coast to San Bernard NWR. This month Forest and I also ventured out for our first drive-thru visit since March and I also made my first trip to the grocery store. What a wild trip that was compared to how it was when I had last visited in March. We were still on 2-3 week rotations to the store and it was in the summer we started going slightly more often to pick up fresh fruit. We still tend to get our main bulk of food in a 2-3 week rotation with trips out a little more often for fruit and items we run out of in the meantime. Summer was in full-swing and Forest was spending a lot of time in the pool in the afternoons!

+Watson Native Plant Preserve Part II
+The San Bernard Oak Trail
+The beauty of Aslecpias linearis

July
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Our first trip to the beach! We arrived early to beat the crowds but ended up leaving early when it got too crowded for us. We did more hikes and I turned 40! It was certainly not the way I envisioned turning 40! Leo started taking a turn for the worst this month and we honestly thought he was going to be gone in July. Somehow he hung on for us for a few more months.
+Escape to the Beach
+Goodbye to my 30s

August
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In the garden the highlight was finding saddleback caterpillars for the first time! What a trip that was watching them over the course of a week or two before I lost sight of them. August was a big month because that’s when Forest started school! Working out all of the kinks of online school took some time but eventually we found a rhythm that worked for us to get us through the semester. Of course this wasn’t how I thought Forest would go to kindergarten but I did appreciate and enjoy getting to do school with him and help him learn. And seeing him go from barely being able to read to being able to read and understand some small books, it really is pretty exciting!

+A Brush with a Saddleback
+Exploring (yet another) new section of the Lone Star Trail—oh boy, the LST was our go-to this summer!

September
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As COVID numbers started coming down from their summer high, we decided to attempt seeing our families (or part of them) outside at a state park about halfway between our houses. Masks were involved at some instances but for the most part we attempted to stand away from each other. It was difficult to do, to be honest, and stressful to keep track of not only yourself but everyone else. I think we had all hoped numbers would continue to go down and we could attempt to visit with family again later in the fall but of course that wasn’t to be. Now I’m just counting down the days until all of our parents get their vaccines and I would feel safer doing this again. Of course, I can’t wait until everyone is vaccinated and we can feel safe being indoors at everyone’s homes together. When will the first part of this happen? I dream of mid-spring but to be honest I’m skeptical. *sigh*

+Grief and Worry

October
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We started camping once again in October! This was interesting and an adjustment trying to navigate our behaviors at state parks with other groups of people. Early in the month we found Bartonia texana which was a very exciting addition to our plant explorations. And of course, late in the month Leo crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

+Over the Rainbow Bridge | Leo
+Halloween Weekend at Huntsville State Park
+Finding Bartonia texana

November
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The big thing of course was the election! I was thrilled the following Saturday when the election was called for Biden and to join in the chorus of celebration, opened my front door and let a big WOOHOO out—mostly for my neighbor to hear! haha! I finally had to tune out the post election chaos and focus on getting to January and the inauguration and can only hope we take a turn for the better after. We capped off the month with a great camping trip to the Hill Country for Thanksgiving and it was the break and rest I needed from online school and working from home.

+A bit of wildlife from the Texas Hill Country

December
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I’ve barely blogged this month because everything was quite overwhelming earlier this month. Chris went out of town for over a week so I was trying to balance it all and I was failing miserably. I am very much looking forward to Forest going to school in-person so that I can finally get back into a schedule that is much more balanced. I will miss having him home and I know he is going to miss being home as well but it is for the best. Ending the month a little quiet is exactly what I needed. Moving slower and just soaking in this in-between time is what I needed.

What. A. Year.

Galveston in Winter


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I had hoped that we would have made a trip back to the beach, from our last trip in the summer, before now, but here we were, late December and just now getting back to the beach. Back then I think we thought online school was going to be different and we could just skip Zoom lessons and do work later. Which, we *could* do, but it turned out to be more complicated than just being flexible and up and going to the beach in the middle of the week. So, we never made it there.

Since we found ourselves with some time over this holiday break we made the trip down there on Monday. Temperatures were in the high 60s, low 70s, and perfect winter beach weather. As I mentioned in a post a few days ago, Forest and I dropped Chris off at San Luis Pass to fish and we drove back down the island to splash in the water—well, Forest splashed in the water and I stayed dry! I mostly wanted to play with my new toy lens for my Canon, a Holga HL-C lens that sorta replicates the effects of a Holga camera. It took some getting used to but I really loved it and shot all of the photos I took that day with it.

Aside from the beach, we popped into Galveston Island State Park to hike some trails and check out their bird observation towers. And we detoured back down the island to the Artist Boat Bird Observation Blind afterwards to check it out. It turned out to also have a 1-mile long trail but we didn’t go down it in favor of returning to the beach. I will keep that in mind next time we’re down there so we can scope it out.

The weather seems to have been better this week than we (and the forecast) anticipated and now we are just waiting for the rain and front to push through later this afternoon. So, maybe we could have squeezed some camping in? Oh well.

Christmas 2020


Our Christmas was quiet this year. Christmas Day is always quiet and then the day after we typically pack up and head to DFW and spent the next 5-6 days visiting 3 different groups of families. This year none of that was happening. We did a modified Christmas with one group via Zoom and I called my parents on Christmas Day and had Forest open his presents from them while they could watch. It was a bit somber and sad to think about missing out on holiday goodies and hugs and time with the family but I know it was for the best. Since seeing reports of record travel at airports since March I’m glad we kept it low-key.

We were given the week off between Christmas and New Years and last week we decided to go camping Mon-Wed, coming home on Thursday evening (as in, I should be in a tent tonight instead of typing this out). Of course as the weather forecasts came together later last week, it appeared that Tuesday into Wednesday was going to deteriorate and now it looks like Thursday is going to be a bit rough too, so we cancelled our plans. Today we adjusted and went to Galveston for the day. Forest and I dropped Chris off at San Luis Pass so he could wade fish in West Bay all afternoon and then we bopped back down the island to a couple of beach access points and Galveston Island State Park to hike and play in the sand/splash in the intertidal zone. We picked Chris back up at 5pm and just got home a bit ago. It was nice to get on the beach again and it not be crowded. I’ll write separately about the beach soon.

Otherwise we’re mostly laying low around here. Chris has been working on the attic, getting it ready for insulation. He’s been trying to do as much electrical work as possible before he puts the insulation in there because it will be hard to move around after. Earlier this year he installed recessed lights in our upstairs living area which greatly improved visibility up there. And we’ve finally spruced up the balcony outside our bedroom and he installed a ceiling plug in case we ever need to use electricity up there. So, between lounging and other projects around here, we will keep occupied. I’d like to get some gardening in tomorrow before the storms come Wednesday and Thursday in hopes of maybe getting some mulch this weekend. It’s time to think about our yearly mulching sessions again and I have two beds that are practically ready for mulch and maybe a little work done out in the edible garden on the paths and that will be ready for mulch. I still have work to do in the other flower beds before I can think about mulching those again.

For New Years we’re planning another trip down the coast for the day, hopefully to see some whooping cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. It will be chilly but I think we’ll have fun.

I’m due to do some kind of yearly wrap-up post here so maybe I will get to that as well. Plus, the bazillion posts I’m backlogged to write here and maybe finishing up my Alaska photos? Maybe??

Here’s a few photos from Christmas:

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A few from Facetime…
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Escaping the House to Lake Creek Nature Preserve


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On Saturday Forest and I escaped the house for a short hike. We had actually first escaped mid-afternoon on Thursday for a wonderful, warm and sunny hike to another nature preserve after a very frustrating online school morning. But otherwise we’d mostly been clinging to the house from online school to work, and if the weather was nice we would go out and wander the yard a bit. Chris had gone to Mississippi the Sunday before and I was single parenting it for the next week+. And by the end of the week my mental reserves were gone and getting outside was needed. We hadn’t been to Lake Creek Preserve since early 2019. I just went to look for a corresponding blog post but apparently I didn’t write one? I have a Flickr set here that includes those photos from that first trip, though.

It was close and wild enough to get some time outside.

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Forest thought this mossy tree was a cozy place to pretend to sleep.

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One thing this park boasts is a lovely older community of dwarf palmetto, Sabal minor. Most dwarf palmetto I see growing are not all that large but these had some taller trunks that were reminiscent of saw palmetto, Serenoa repens.

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Lovely autumn colors in the floodplain forest.

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I was happy to see more concrete blocks and the like in some of the muddier sections as they weren’t there the last time we visited and the trails can be pretty messy during wet conditions. I was actually nervous they would be this way on our visit because we’d just had some rain but they weren’t bad at all.

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A lot of lovely, quiet scenes. It isn’t far from a major road so you do hear traffic and there is a subdivision to the north but it is a nice reprieve into nature.

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We made it down to Lake Creek with only seeing a small handful of people, two women, two dogs, and a baby on their way out near the beginning, and one other woman who went down a side trail just as we were approaching a trail junction. Despite the location and easy access, it wasn’t crowded. I think the overcast skies and slightly chilly weather was a deterrent.

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Overall, Forest had a good time and it was short enough (1.5 miles) there was no (well, not much) complaining. And it quenched my need to get out of the house and see something beyond our walls and relieve a bit of the stress of parenting, online schooling, and working! I do think we should hit this park up a little more often than once every nearly two years, though! It is easy to access and diverse enough in habitat that you could encounter some interesting things in a variety of seasons.

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