New Mexico Agave, Agave neomexicana
Finally I’m starting these west Texas posts! It was after lunch when we arrived close to Fort Davis and the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute and Botanical Gardens. Chris had found the place in his scouting for other things do in the region and the admission for that day was half price, I believe. Just a day or two before there had been a presentation and book signing with an author on plants for the region and Chris was bummed to have missed it. That didn’t stop us, well, especially me, from oogling the excellent selection of books on their gift shop shelves.
And as the title suggests, this is really a peek into the botanic gardens because that’s about all we did. We spent the majority of our time hiking on the Clayton’s Overlook Trail. Both Chris and I were intrigued about hiking the Modesta Canyon Trail which had a spring somewhere in the middle but we were really pressed for time to hike, see the botanic garden, and then get to the state park before it got dark so we could set up camp and cook dinner. So, we chose the shorter Clayton’s Overlook Trail and then dipped into the botanic garden for a few minutes. We could have easily meandered through there for the rest of the afternoon, looking at the interesting desert specimens that we weren’t familiar with. Yay for plant labels! They helped me figure out a few things I’d seen during our hike.
Next up will be a post about the hike and then we’ll switch over to Davis Mountains State Park….just need to work on more photos!
As I mentioned a few posts back in my 2018 Year in Review, I thought I might try to write out 39 Goals or Wishes to Complete for 2019. I’ll be 39 in July and so I thought I might write up a list of things I’d like to do this year instead of a random word that I seem to continue to forget sometime mid-way through the year.
I may not hit all of these but I do find when I see what I have listed that I tend to try to make things happen. At least that’s what I did when I had the 28 list, or when I write out my weekly to-do lists.
- Resubmit book proposals to publishers and find agents to submit to as well. Deadline: March/April 2019.
- Camp at one of the East Texas National Forests
- Three 1+ night backpacking trips
- Complete 5 pieces of art
- Paddle down Village Creek
- Go back to Enchanted Rock to camp
- Read 20 of the books on my bookshelf that I already have—that have been sitting there waiting for me to read them.
- Complete two more sections of the Lone Star Hiking Trail
- Master(-ish) the pistol squat
- Plan at least one more girl’s weekend trip with my friends Michelle and Stephanie
- Plan a second girl’s weekend with my mom and SIL
- Weekend trip to the Big Thicket—it’s been too long!
- Visit the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve—same as above!
- Backpack on the Turkey Creek Trail in BTNP
- Host a plant/gardener swap for Houston gardeners
- Take Forest to the Congress Avenue bat bridge in Austin.
- See Attwater Prairie Chickens at the Attwater Prairie Chicken NWR
- Find the Bartonia texana (Texas screwstem)
- Take Forest to the San Bernard Oak
- Find 7 historical trees in our Famous Trees of Texas book.
- Hike at Lake Houston Wilderness Park
- Hike on the new sections of the Spring Creek Greenway in Harris County.
- See the whooping cranes at Aransas NWR
- Go for a spring wildflower drive and photo excursion
- Find a wild Southern Lady’s Slipper Orchid, Cypripedium kentuckiense
- Meditate consistently for 5 min a day
- Finally learn to use the SLR camera that was my grandfather’s and that I bought film for a few years ago
- Finally make mead with the kit Chris got me for Christmas a few years ago
- Learn to use my Instant Pot
- Visit the Sam Houston Statue (instead of driving by it on I-45!)
- Commit to morning pages 3xs a week
- One 6-10 mile rollerblade once a month to go with regular rollerblading and cardio that I do.
- Start a yard flora and fauna species list
- Update and revise our photography website — maybe actually do something with this?
- Brainstorm and outline a potential fiction book
- Practice my piano once a week for 30 minutes (I got a new keyboard a year and a half ago and haven’t really played on it much!)
- Make sourdough bread from scratch
- Figure out something to do with all of my grandmother’s crocheted doilies—framing, blanket, some kind of art???
- Write letters or cards regularly to my friends.
Oh boy was the last 10-15 tough! I don’t know about doing this again next year—hah! I wanted to throw some easy stuff in there and then of course some cop out type items but I refrained and tried to do things I knew could be accomplished if I at least tried. We may not find a southern lady’s slipper or the Texas screwstem but it’s worth a try. Same as the other stuff. But, it’s a start!
Alright, 2019—let’s do this!
Having an extended weekend has meant a little more time to get a lot of different things done as well as leaving plenty of room for laziness. I’ve dabbled around the garden the last few days, more than I’ve done in the last month or so. And that meant taking time to get a few photos in…so here goes a photo tour of our late December garden.
The greens that are furthest along are the ones I sowed in the blackberry bed back at the end of September. Kale and bok choy make up most of it in addition to self sown cilantro.
Other than the cooler fall and early freeze, winter has been rather mild and on par with average winter events. Which means bok choy is up for bolting already!
Morris heading collards and daikon radishes. I’ll thin the collards one more time around New Years and they should do well through spring. I’ve not tried that variety before so I’ll be curious to see how well they do compared to Champion or Georgia.
It was a really good luffa year. The only bad part was that all of them are 20+’ up in the sweetgum tree! One was low enough to pick and another fell recently but the rest, I’m going to have to wait for.
A lot of the tender tropicals got nipped back by the freeze so much of it has gone dormant though some like this Justicia spicigera was unfazed and other have begun resprouting already since December has been mild.
I hacked down the banana trees which are usually in the front left. They will resprout in the spring and we will probably be moving at least one clump around because they had migrated too far to the back.
I also took out the almond verbena which had graduated into a monstrosity that we didn’t imagine when we planted it. I believe we were told it would be a more shrub-like and then it grew tree-like and a freeze knocked it back to where it started regrowing about 3′ up and sending stem boles out everywhere—it was a mess.
The gingers are looking nice but I saw deer browse on some of them. Usually the deer leave them alone. I wish we could have a one day, limited tag bow season in the neighborhood. Too many deer at the moment.
Last week I noticed our white brugmansia that is near our backdoor had sent out new leaves from a good portion of the plant. It hadn’t been killed to the ground in the freeze! It always resprouts from the roots every year. I’ll be interested to see if it makes it through the rest of winter like this.
Some fall maroon colors from the oakleaf hydrangea! I’m glad I dug it up and saved it as it was on its last legs in the flower bed. I think I’m going to move it to a flower bed at the office and see how it does there. Less deer pressure in that area.
These last few weeks have had me itching for February weekends and preparing for spring. It’s around the corner!
Well, 2018 is closing out and I honestly can’t believe it. We’re inching closer to the end of the decade and it feels like yesterday we were at the beginning of the decade. And as per usual it is time to start reflecting on the previous year and thinking about the next.
First, I think I should review my word for the year, which was apparently strong and of course I forgot about until I went to look it up. I think I tried to be strong in some ways. I’ve been fairly consistent with workouts despite not losing weight (lots of thoughts on that for another time) and have definitely put on muscle since I began focusing on lifting weights again. I feel strong in that aspect. In other areas I still need to work on those.
As for a word for 2019, I don’t think I’m going to do one this year. I have a lot of specific goals I want to achieve and maybe that will be in a separate post. I also like the idea of putting together a list of 39 things I want to do this year (since I’ll be turning 39 in July!) as I did when I was 28. Oh boy, looking back at that list made me realize how ambitious I was but also how much free time I had!
Anyway, to review this year:
Best in the Garden
Honestly, the garden wasn’t my favorite this year. There were good parts—let’s go find a few:
I feel like we’ll get our groove back for 2019 in the garden!
Best Book(s): My reading fell of precipitously the last quarter of the year. I’ve not been in the mood and I think having to read some of the NetGalley books put a damper in my mood. I sort of felt like I should finish them even if I’m not loving them so I may be pulling back on NetGalley and not being as heavy in the requests for previews next year.
I’d say my favorite books this year have been:
+North: Finding My Way While Running the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek
+Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home by Boyd Varty
+The Romanov Empress by CW Gortner.
I’m also not quite finished with Walking with Spring by Earl Shaffer but it is on my list, too.
I subscribe to a ton of podcasts but I don’t necessarily listen to each and every episode of all of them, though some I do. I’m also one who doesn’t follow all of the famous podcasts that are produced by public radio or major podcast networks—yes I listen to some of them from time to time but I much prefer an indie podcast setup.
A few favorites are:
+Friendlier: two friends sit down and chat on a certain theme every other week as well as a few other items such as books and life lately. It’s just a cozy listen and makes you feel like you are friends with them!
+Nova Scotia Kitchens: Sherrie goes to the kitchens of friends and acquaintances in her home province of Nova Scotia and records episodes of them cooking a favorite recipe. I love it because it feels like you are there in the kitchen with them, having a drink and making up something good to eat. Sherrie was on my podcast earlier this year.
+The 2180: A podcast of 70 stories from the Appalachian Trail to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Earl Shaffer’s walk on the AT.
+Girls Gone WOD: This is a Crossfit adjacent podcast that I really started listening to more this year. I’ve been enjoying the host only shows as well as their guests which range from Crossfit atheletes to other people in the fitness and wellness industry. You don’t have to do Crossfit to find value in the show.
+Pod Save America: I tuned into this quite frequently this year to get some details into the weekly political issues.
I have not listened to a lot of new music this year, though a few things stand out.
I have really been enjoying the soundtrack to the movie Dumplin’. It’s all Dolly and I’m here for it!
Always a Florence + The Machine fan, I love the new album, too.
Best Movies & TV:
I haven’t kept tabs on the movies I’ve watched but maybe I can dredge up a few.
Mostly recently I watched Dumplin’ on Netflix and I really loved it. I highly recommend it! Ok, so I can dredge up one and that’s recent! I guess I’m not watching a ton of movies at the moment. TV, well, that’s my typical shows I watch seasonally. I think Better Call Saul was probably the best show I’ve watched this year but I’ve always been enjoying The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina which is a reboot/revamp of Sabrina the Teenage Witch sans cheesy 90s comedy. Decidedly darker and I’ve been loving it.
+High Island Birding and Marc and Eliana Visit: Miss those two so much! Not enough time to spend with them on their brief visit through the region.
+Paddling Juniper Run when we were in Florida. So glad we got to do that again and take Forest, even if he slept half the trip!
In retrospect, Disney was fun as well but in the moment it was quite chaotic and hard. I’ve never published a write-up because it was exhausting and I had to wrap my mind around everything. If we were ever to do it again I’d slot in rides for early in the day and later in the evening, after dinner, and spend more downtime at the hotel and pools in the Disney complex. Being at a park the entire day without a break was the hardest, I think, and thankfully there were only a couple of days where this was the case but those were some hard, hard days. As we were with extended family we had to go with the flow of everyone else, too, though we did do our own thing at times as well. I definitely did not understand how many families I saw with 2-3 kids, all under 5-6 years old—how and why were they doing that?? With the amount of standing in line you had to do unless you had a Fastpass, it didn’t seem worth it for all of the kid meltdowns. But, I know there are Disney addicts out there so, to each their own! A few months after Disney, Forest saw a commercial on tv for Universal Studios and proclaimed he really wanted to go there! Yeah, maybe when you are 10, kid!
Well, that’s a wrap for my year in review! I think I’ll work on 2019 goals and soon I’ll be sharing posts from west Texas which I’m really excited to share!
In mid-October Chris mentioned that he wanted to go look for a particular rare plant, Bartonia texana, aka Texas screwstem. It is frequently on the list of protected plants we survey for but here’s the kicker, the photos available for this plant are few and not many people see this plant. It also doesn’t have visible vegetation on it throughout most of the year, sending a flower spike up only when it is time to bloom. Luckily, it also fits a particular habitat niche so you would only come across it in certain locations, and these locations aren’t places most people are going to be trekking to. So, it really has a lot working for it in not being seen!
Now, Chris gets to bushwhack for work on occasion but I haven’t done any good bushwhacking or off-trail hiking since before Forest was born. When he mentioned he wanted to go see if he could find this plant I really wanted to come along but that meant Forest would have to tag along. And that could be tricky. We managed to make it sound like an adventure and thankfully he really only complained as we were heading back to the car because he was tired. Chris knew of a certain location so we headed out to a remote section of Sam Houston National Forest, turning down a dirt Forest Service road and pulled over to park. In all it turned out to be about a 3 mile hike round trip because of all of the weaving in and around habitats and trees. On the way in there was a wide ATV track that dwindled and then turned into a narrow hunter’s hiking trail before it fizzled and we were left to finding our own route.
In all, it was a great hike! We did not find what we were looking for and will try to return next year to search a little more. The trip reminded me of all of the hours we spent traipsing around Florida looking for plants, geocaches, or really, anything! We need more of this again, though it was a lot easier to do when there wasn’t the prospects of owning a house and having a kid!
Below is a bit of what we saw and I’ll add tidbits of information under certain items.
Raspberry Wave, Leptostales laevitaria
Forest pointed this out to me right near the car. I believe it is the same moth that I’ve noticed around our yard but it quite shy and will always flit under a leaf and is camera shy. Very cool to see it with open wings!
Strobilurus conigenoides On our way out I noticed all of these fungi growing only on decaying magnolia seed pods. I figured they were a specialist but my google searches revealed nothing. Luckily a mycologist on INaturalist identified it and well, my suspicions were correct! The rest of the species in that genus are specialists on other conifer cones!
Thanks for making it through this long post! I wasn’t in the mood to break it up. Next up, tackling the many photos from the Davis Mountains and some year-end wrap-up posts.
I took that top photo four years ago yesterday. I remember taking it, too, as I was folding laundry one evening and Forest was being his chunkalunk self! It must have been a warmer December day because of the diaper only outfit, which is how he spent a lot of those first three to six months, hanging out in just a diaper!
Then on Wednesday night we went to my studio to hang out for a bit and for some reason he finally noticed the baby chair sitting there, where it’s been for well over a year waiting for me to sell it or donate it. (It’s going to Goodwill soon!) He dragged it out and I almost told him not to sit in it for fear he would break it but I let him go anyway. He got up too quickly after his test sit but I got him to lay back down so I could snap a photo since I knew I had the first photo already. I didn’t realize how close to date the photos would be though until I dug the first photo out of my Flickr archives.
From rolly poly baby to whip-smart and expert little kid negotiator in just four years! Time flies.
The final post for Mission Tejas State Park! A few little morsels between photos but a write-up at the end!
Indigo Milk Cap, Lactarius indigo: I was so excited to see this! The state park had shared a photo on social media a few days prior to our hike of this cool mushroom and I had seen someone else share their find in Ohio, so I put it on my bucket list to see one of these. We kept our eyes peeled for them but it was Chris who found them in an early morning hike before Forest and I got out of the tent. We went back later to find them and I looked underneath on the gills but didn’t really see any blue ‘ink’ oozing so I wasn’t 100% certain that’s what they were until I compared photos online. A pretty great find—thanks Chris!
On Sunday morning before we left the state park we opted for a long hike between breakfast and packing up for lunch. Piecing together the Cemetery Hill Trail, Lightning Trail, Olen Matchett Trail, Fire Tower Trail, and Karl Lovett Trail, we made a giant loop from our campsite back to our campsite. I can’t recall but I believe it was around—errr, hey, I have a handy dandy Garmin watch and so I checked my app for that day and it looks like that hike was only 1.5 miles. It certainly felt longer with some of the steep hills!
The morning was gorgeous, a perfect early fall morning in east Texas with sunlight pouring through the pine canopy and punctuating the understory with golden glow. The terrain was quite rolling, particularly along the Lightning and Olen Matchett trails, with steep ravines that begged to be explored. I think Forest was rather happy, too, as he stopped along the trail and spread his arms wide for a few moments to pretend to be a bird. A downed tree along the trail was no match for him and was a perfect play opportunity for him to crawl under!
I’m now quite enamored with the blue sage, especially after growing it in the garden this year. I ordered more seeds so I’m hoping to have even more this coming year. The little euphorbia find was a nice surprise as I almost walked past it but decided to stop and take its photo. At the time I didn’t know what it was but upon reviewing the photos and seeing the seed pods I knew it was a euphorbia and after that it was fairly easy to identify to species.
After climbing the steep Fire Tower Trail we arrived to view the remnants of the fire tower for a few moments. Forest didn’t quite understand what it used to be so we showed him the display materials at the site and told him how they used to work. Maybe some day he’ll see a real one! There’s not too many left in east Texas.
After that it was an easy sloped downhill back to the campsite where we packed up quickly to grab lunch in Crockett on the way home. As I stare at the photos from this trip I fall more in love with this little state park. I know we will be back next year!
Imagine my surprise when I got home at lunch today to find a pipevine swallowtail had eclosed in the butterfly cage! The pipevine chrysalides I have in the cage have been in there since September and I fully expected them to continue over wintering until spring. I still have two monarchs that have been darkening the last few days and figured I would see them out soon so when I saw a butterfly on the bottom of the cage I assumed it was one of them. But no, I was completely surprised! When I checked underneath the rock that the chrysalis had eclosed from I noticed it was the one that hadn’t secured itself properly to begin with. I had worried that it wouldn’t form properly but apparently thinks went just fine, though for a few minutes I worried about it and later dismissed the worry when I realized it just needed to warm up a bit more before it flew off.
That’s another thing, while we had the early freeze and cold weather in November, I’d say December has been fairly average so far. Though, still chilly, which makes me worry more about the monarchs eclosing than it does for the pipevines. Who knows? I have to trust that nature knows what it is doing.
Hidden away on the Olen Matchett Trail near a remote corner at the front of Mission Tejas State Park are a set of old CCC tubs. Constructed when the CCC workers had set up camp to construct the state park, the tubs are a few feet downhill from a spring.
Before our dinner the night we stayed at the state park we made one last hike to see what this interestingly labeled point on the state park map meant. At a slope behind the top of a hill we found the set of tubs. The spring was at the top, the clean rinsing tub in the middle, and the bathing tub at the bottom. I can’t imagine a whole bunch of men lined up to get their weekly baths in the 1930s—maybe they took turns throughout the week? And I wonder if they had to hike up to take their bath or if their camp was nearby? Either way, it was interesting to see this relic of the past hiding in the woods. It’s hard to believe it’s nearly 100 years since the New Deal was passed. I just hope all of these CCC built parks throughout the country can be preserved as the years pass.
An interesting write up from Houstonia magazine about the park if you’d like to read: For the History Hounds: Mission Tejas State Park. Since the Caddo Mounds is mentioned in there you can read about out trip in 2014 here.
We were supposed to be camping this weekend. And then the weather forecast last week stated temperatures in the 40s and rain starting Friday afternoon into early Saturday morning, tapering off around breakfast.
The rain started later than anticipated on Friday so the rain became heavy by nightfall. The problem pipe draining our front yard still hadn’t been solved; Chris had been unable to pinpoint the actual issue. Friday night I started packing up my clothes and Forest’s clothes and a few other items, with Chris to bring in the storage bins for packing the rest of the gear later in the evening. However, the rain never let up. Secretly I had already been hoping not to go camping, though I was going to make the best of it if we were going. It still felt too close to our last camping trip just a couple of weeks ago at Thanksgiving to be packing up once again for a camping trip.
The evening wore on and I meandered upstairs to find a Christmas movie to watch on Netflix and settled on Christmas with a View which wasn’t terribly cheesy. Earlier in the week I had watched A Christmas Prince: A Royal Wedding which is the sequel to the original movie from last year. The sequel was definitely cheesier than the first. Around 8pm or so Chris decided to go outside and attempt to see if he could work on the clogged pipe after he’d done a yard surveillance to see where water levels were heading (the pond went over the dock but the stuff in our fire pit didn’t float away—so, not terribly high). The front yard was becoming a pond of course and if nothing drained my poor winter seedlings would have succumbed to submersion. Thankfully Chris managed to dislodge something or the amount of water already accumulated managed to start the draining process because when we woke up on Saturday morning there was on a small puddle in the low spot instead of a flooded garden. We still have no idea what’s going on with the pipe. Chris’ new theory is a tree root is pushing the pipe up somewhere so a little amount of water isn’t able to start flowing but a larger amount is. Who knows?
It proceeded to rain sporadically Saturday morning and paired with the cold weather we canceled our camping plans. Instead we did chores and Chris worked on our back door which he’d replaced the weekend before. I never wrote about it here, maybe I mentioned it but I can’t remember, but during the fall of 2017 Chris built a giant stand inside the house for a 205 gallon freshwater aquarium he bought off of Craigslist. Chris had kept tanks up until our move from Florida, ranging from freshwater to large salt water reef tanks. We hadn’t had a tank since we’d moved back to Texas and I guess he got the itch and went ‘Chris style’, which means he went all out, and got really into aquatic plants and raising discus fish. Welllllll, one morning last spring we woke up to nearly the entire tank drained out onto our dining room floor. Luckily there is only one or two spots with any kind of minor warping and he was able to save some of the fish and sell them that day. It was a disaster. Anyway, part of the reason the back door was replaced, other than it opened in and hit our sofa chair, was that we needed the second double door to actually open so we could get the tank stand out of the house. The tank itself barely fit through our front door.
It was a slow Saturday, the chores and back door, lunch out, getting groceries, and I managed to escape by myself for a few hours to do some Christmas shopping. I actually love to get out and shop at Christmas. It tires me out now but it was one of the things I really enjoyed doing with my parents as a kid. Even if I’m not buying something I do enjoy looking at things, especially now because I don’t really shop that much or have the chance to get out by myself. Back when I had the weekend away with my friends we went to the Temple mall and even then it was just enjoyable to walk through and see things and bring by memories from being a teenager and spending hours at the mall or when I worked at Hallmark in the mall in high school. I did get wistful as I passed a Hallmark yesterday but didn’t go in since I didn’t need anything. I can’t resist the urge to straighten cards when I do go in and I always turn my cards around to show the barcode when I do buy cards because I know how annoying it is to have to flip them over.
Today was similarly as quiet, though we ventured to the museum district to get another trip in from our membership to the Houston Museum of Natural Science before it expires sometime in January. We arrived around 10:30 and surprisingly the place was not packed, which has been our experience for every single visit we’ve had there. Considering the weather was terrible I thought more people would be inside but I suppose they were all shopping! We bounced from exhibit to exhibit with an exuberant 4 year old towing the adults around. Chris and I would attempt to look at the various exhibits but that mostly happened in a blur. Apparently trilobites and ammonites hold no interest to kids excited about dinosaurs!
I’d been promising to make sugar cookies with Forest for a few weeks now and despite being tired from our museum trip I decided we’d just buckle down and do it today. I quickly checked my grandmother’s recipe but wasn’t interested in using shortening and then my next go-to recipe involved powdered sugar which I think Chris used the last of when making Forest’s birthday cookies a few months ago. So, to the internet I went and came up with something I could do with regular old butter, sugar, and flour and we made it work. I quickly realized that once Forest ran out of patience for cutting out cookies that I didn’t have the patience to finish cutting the rest of the dough by myself so I saved about half of the dough in the freezer to make at a later date. Our Christmas cookies are an eclectic mix of your typical Christmas holiday cookie cutters thrown in with a heavy dose of orange T-Rex’s.
All of this is to say that it was a quiet winter weekend for us, the kind that I really enjoy the most because we’re all hanging out together. Not that camping wouldn’t have been fun if it had been sunny and in the 40s—it would have been more fun in the 70s and sunny—but it was a lot more fun to relax and have a good weekend around the house.
ohmygah-this-is-so-hard…trying to come up with realistic but also challenging myself type goals…