Friday, July 31, 2015

Gear Review ~ Sleeping Quilt

Before we headed out on our trip, I made myself a sleeping quilt.
Oddly enough, there are no photos of me sleeping in my sleeping bag, so we'll just rerun this picture, shall we?
I made it from a kit designed and sold by Ray Jardine, lightweight backpacking guru. I made the 1-Person Alpine version in purple. I write a little bit about the making process here.

Now, as far as the sleeping here's what I found:


  • It was so comfortable. I loved the light, soft nylon, which was silky and much less crinkly than some sleeping bag nylon. I It had enough weight to it that it wasn't like sleeping in the open (which I hate) but was still super light and put no pressure on the body. I also loved the puffiness created by the batting being tied, rather than quilted or baffled.
  • I loved that it has no zipper. There was none of that confining claustrophobia of being zipped in. The quilt drapes over you and I would just cozy my feet into the foot pocket and tuck the free edges, including the loose flap of fabric ('draft-stopper') under myself. (My sleeping mat is a Thermarest with a smooth, canvas-like texture; another type of sleeping mat might have been less pleasant to sleep directly on).
  • There was no annoying velcro or drawstrings to get stuck to or tangled up in.
  • Light! I finally weighed it: just over 2 1/4 pounds. By comparison my old down bag is: 4 pounds!
  • The only downside, was that I got cold the night we were in the Sand Dunes. I looked up the temperature data and the low that night was 43 degrees F. This quilt is supposed to be good to 28. But I am a cold sleeper and I was wearing summer pajamas (having expected summer weather--and forgetting that we always took our winter coats camping in Colorado when I was a kid). I found a pair of yoga pants and a long-sleeved shirt in my suitcase and wore those, along with socks on subsequent nights and was much warmer. (Ray Jardine has a whole chapter in his book about sleeping warm in a lightweight bag...guess I better reread that!).

I still have plans to make more for my other family members, but I want to try it out in more camping conditions first.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

1000th Post

This, my friends, is my 1000th published blog post.

Back when I started this blog, nearly eight years ago, I had twin two-year-olds and a six-year-old. I had a job three days a week that could at best be described as "uninspiring." The other four days a week I spent trying to make up for those three days away--taking my kids to gymnastics classes and swim lessons, to the park and the children's museum. Doing craft projects and reading books. Trying to maintain a modicum of order in my house.

I also had a car whose original owner had been an obese chain smoker. It had low mileage, because he only drove it into to town (presumably to buy food and cigarettes), but it also had a broken-down driver's seat and a headliner so completely saturated with tobacco smoke that it was a revolting yellowish brown color and, not long after the car became mine, it lost its tenuous hold on the ceiling of my car and began to droop. Before long, it had fallen halfway down and spewed little balls of gummy, dried-up, tobacco-stained glue all over the occupants whenever I drove anywhere.

At the same time, I was reading blogs that depicted the lives of other women, other mothers, through the soft-focus lens of a high-end camera. Their children were beautiful and well-mannered. Their houses were clean, well-organized, and decorated with crafts they made themselves. Their gardens were abundant and well-tended. The headliners of their cars most certainly did not droop and sprinkle their angelic cherubs with carcinogens.

I started this blog in a fit of pique, over the perfectly perfectness of everyone else's life, and the fingernail-deep grip I had on holding it all together in my own.

When I started the blog, I didn't have my own digital camera (I sometimes borrowed my husband's work camera). I didn't have a computer (our household computer had been overtaken by my husband's business). We had dial-up internet (it sometimes took ten minutes or more to upload a single photo). I conducted all my blog business in the dark hours of the night or very early morning, when C wasn't working on the computer, when the children were sleeping.

Eventually I got my own camera (and then a better camera) and my own computer. DSL made its way to our road. I replaced the headliner in my car and eventually got a new (old) car, which has its own share of problems, but none with the potential to trigger an existential crisis like a fallen headliner. My job became full-time and I loved it, briefly. Then it completely imploded and has hovered somewhere between abject torture and numbing misery ever since.

My blog also stopped being about frustration. I began taking pictures (when I had a camera) of our weekend activities. And I began orchestrating more activities in order to have something to put on the blog. It was blog imitating life imitating blog. In truth, I wanted what those other bloggers had--not a perfectly perfect life, but fun with my kids, beautiful things in and around my house (made by me). I wanted to make memories for me and my family. And I wanted to record those memories here.

Over time my blog has been at times more wordy, other times more picturey. I've written about crafts, about food, about parenting, about writing, about nature, about hiking, about books, sometimes about politics. But this isn't a craft blog or a food blog or a mommy blog (is it?) or a writing blog or a nature blog or a hiking blog or a book blog or a wonky blog. It's just a blog about whatever I happen to be thinking about or doing or living at the moment.

I've also never done much planning or editing of it either. For this reason, I don't count it as "real" writing. I may be shooting myself in the foot by not polishing my words in this space, if prospective editors visit it and decide I'm not a "serious" writer because I'm not doing serious writing here. But I guess I don't care. Because this is real, and it's whatever I want it to be.

I've never had a good answer for why I blog--I'm not very good at ascribing motives to my actions--it's just something I've felt compelled to do ever since I started. Some days or months I feel more compelled than others, but it has never felt like a burden, something I had to do. Looking back over the years of my blog, I see in retrospect the best reason of all for keeping up with this space--it's my pensieve, the place where I store memories. Numerous times I've come back to old posts while writing an essay to remind myself what I said to M when I became frustrated with his fascination with World War II, or when it was that he caught his first fish, or which kid held the humming bird in his hands.

I've also found myself scrolling through the photo file for this blog (I've never gotten on top of uploading and storing them in an organized fashion, so there's a single "Remains of the Day" file in Picasa with 1000s of pictures) in search of a certain image at a time when I was really feeling down. As the images rolled by, I thought to myself, "This woman has a really lovely life," from a detached place, not even realizing, for a second, that it was my own lovely life I was admiring.

This blog hasn't brought me a book deal, or a job offer. I don't have 1000s of adoring fans, or even 100s of readers (more than 75 is an exciting number of hits these days). I haven't forged lifelong friendships through it, though I have made connections with some lovely people (connections which come and go as people's lives change and they move on from their own blogs). I don't make any money from my blog--but it doesn't cost me anything either.

I'm also obviously terrible at following blog rules--look how long this post is! But this is me. This is my life's record. And while it's lovely to see the numbers in my stats go up, and even lovelier to get comments and discover other fun blogs that I can read too, I don't come back here day after week after year for validation. I just come for me. A friend of mine once said that blogging is inherently narcissistic, and maybe this is what she meant. And I'm okay with that. As a mom there aren't too many things that are just for me (I have to hide in a closet if I want to eat a piece of chocolate without sharing). I'm happy for this to be one of them. Thank you for coming along with me (and reading this really long post!).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday ~ Desert Plants

This week I'm sharing some plants of deserty places--Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison--although they're not necessarily plants confined to dry land.

The Great Sand Dunes covers a wide range of landscapes--from the nearly (but not entirely) bare sand to alpine areas. The area we visited was generally dry and deserty, although this first plant is one of wet areas--Rocky Mountain beeplant (Cleome serrulata) must be enjoying the wet spring and early summer, because it was blooming all around the campground. (Caper family).

This plant had me all kinds of confused--those were white flowers, but what on earth were the flowery beneath the leaves? It turns out they're the seed pods of the small-flowered sand verbena (Tripterocalys micranthus). It reminds me of the hoya I have in a pot, but that's a member of another family (milkweed) altogether. (Four o' clock family).

More Lupins (Lupinus spp.). There are something like a dozen species growing in Colorado.

I'm not sure what this one is, but I think it might be a scrawny miner's candle (Cryptantha virgata).

These gorgeous musk thistles (Cardus nutans) grew all around the campgrounds at Mesa Verde, and in the roadside areas approaching the park. They're an invasive species, but I love the way they look so much (like an artichoke!).

This red penstemon (Penstemon spp.) superficially resembles fairy trumpets and the two are a good example of convergent evolution--nice long, red tubes for feeding hummingbirds. (Plantain family).

This is just one of several species of Indian paintbrush we saw throughout all of the habitats (Castilleja spp.) we spent time in. Broomrape family.

Here is another:

We saw cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia spp.) blooming in the fields all along the highway on our drive south from Denver, but once we finally hit a rest stop, I could find none nearby to photograph, to my disappointment. But then there was just one big plant growing in the natural gardens outside of the museum in Mesa Verde that I was able to capture.

When we went back the next day, there were even better blossoms.

This fluffy, fun, Dr. Seuss-looking flower is prince's plume (Stanleya pinnata). We saw it growing along the rocks and cliffs when we were hiking in Mesa Verde. (Mustard family).

These are the ecstatic seed plumes of clematis (Clematis ligusticifolia). (Buttercup family).

I took the picture of this pretty little bud during an early morning bird walk. It looks straight out of a fairy tale. I didn't know what it was, and sort of forgot about it until I was looking at my pictures and saw the next one, and realized this bud is just a baby mariposa lily.

My dad found just one of these Gunnison's sego, or mariposa, Lily (Calochortus gunnisonii) growing among the tall grass near our campsite, but when we got to Black Canyon they were growing everywhere. I'm not sure what "sego" means, but "mariposa" is Spanish for "butterfly" and is the perfect name for these lovelies. (Lily family).

Well, I didn't take a picture of this flower's leaves, so I can't be sure what it is, but I think maybe sulphur flower (Eriogonum umbellatum) of the Buckwheat family.

These little guys, which are like asters with a million ray flowers are called showy daisies (Erigeron speciosus), and they were blooming like crazy at both Mesa Verde and Black Canyon. (Aster family).

This pretty white flower is from the mock orange bush (Philadelphus icrophylius). (Hydrangea family).

Many people think of deserts (or semi-deserts, which might be a more technically accurate description of the areas we were in) as barren wastelands, and they have been abused accordingly, but really  they are rich with a wide array of plants and animals--and lichens and fungi.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mesa Verde National Park

After we left the Sand Dunes, we headed to the far southwestern corner of Colorado, to Mesa Verde National Park.

Mesa Verde is basically a big, free-standing mountain with its top lopped of, on and around which members of the Ancestral Pueblo cultures lived from around AD 550 to the late 1200s.

During the last few generations before they disappeared, the Ancestral Puebloans build impressive stone homes under alcoves eroded into the cliff sides.

These cliff dwellings survived surprisingly intact (and some have been partially restored).

There are hundreds of archaeological remains in the park, including cliff dwellings, rock art, storage areas, and the mesa-top homes build prior to the cliff-dwelling era.

I spent part of one summer after I graduated college in this part of Colorado on a volunteer project for an organization that studies, preserves, and educates about archaeological remains of the Ancestral Pueblo, so this area and this history holds a special place in my heart.

We visited a few of the cliff dwellings, both on guided and self-guided tours.

Saw gorgeous sunsets.

And sunrises.

E and Z were sworn in as Junior Rangers.

(Self-portrait with heart-shaped rock.)

We took a nice, long hike and the boys tried out cliff-dwelling.

Bits of history everywhere.

The goal of the hike was this: pictographs.

Just stunningly beautiful. Is it art? A message? A story? A Map?

And the views!!

Another place I'd love to go back to and spend more time, especially in the back country.
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