Road Trip Soundtrack

Do you cry at the movies?  I find that with each passing year I can well up with incredibly little provocation.  A couple weeks ago the second-to-last episode of Parenthood aired (I’m waiting on the edge of my seat for the show to be renewed for a 6th season…nerd, I know) and I cried a minimum of 9 separate times.  Did you see the movie “Get Low” a few years back?  That speech at the end by Robert Duvall’s character had me weeping.  If not for the two percent of self control I had left, I would have wailed and snorted and choked in that packed theater, much to the horror of those around me.


They say we cry at shows and movies because scenes depicting various types of pain cause oxytocin to flood the brain, allowing an empathetic response that promotes better survival for all of us.  The thing is, our neurons do not distinguish between screen life and real life, so it all feels (relatively) the same.  Scientists are finding the same to be true of other types of brain chemical responses to media, whether it be the news, violent films, video games, or even your Facebook feed.


These sorts of things remind me how important it is to unplug from the digital world for large chunks of the day.  Instead of stimulating the ol’ brain with new posts/pics/updates/headlines/tweets/tags/videos/etc., what about doing something that involves actual connection to other people and/or the physical world we inhabit?  Eh?  It’s an increasingly novel idea, it seems.


My one suggestion to help cure the digital black hole disconnected mental state (beyond gardening, duh, but it gets boring always talking about gardening, don’t you think?) is to go on a solo road trip.  I know, you’ve got a partner/kids/a job or two/pets/a house/blahbity blah blah.  I know.  But even if you can just swing it for a night, it’s so worth it.  If you’ve never done a solo trip, maybe it sounds boring or scary to you.  Yes and yes.  But that’s part of the fun of it.  You will notice new things about yourself and your inner dialogue, the people around you, and the environment you’re traipsing around in.  So in the next few months as summer presents itself, grab your keys, pack a tent, shut off your phone, and head somewhere you’ve never been.


I’ve done solo trips to the following places, and each one has had an accompanying soundtrack.  That part is key, because when I don’t have the opportunity to head out on my own, I can turn on these songs and be right back on the open road:


Vermillion Cliffs National Monument narrated by the whistling of one Mr. Bird



Capitol Reef National Park accompanied by Lady in the Moon, Neko Case

capitol reef


Kodachrome Basin State Park with the fine sirs of Calexico

kodachrome basin


Canyonlands National Park with my buddy Brandi Carlile



Dinosaur National Monument guided by The Avett Brothers



And, last but certainly not least, Canyon De Chelly with Gregory Alan Isakov


Obviously I have a thing for the Colorado Plateau.  You could scramble around that region for a lifetime and still not see any of it, don’t you agree?  Anyway, I do hope you’re able to take a solo trip or two as the years roll on.  It’s good for the soul.  While you can’t look over at anyone and say “remember the time I almost rolled the Honda off the cliff while trying to reach the Green river?”, you’ll have memories that are fully yours that will be seared into your brain forever.  I call upon mine when I’m feeling particularly loony (weekly, at least) and I remember that there’s this whole world out there that could care less about the finicky little details of my life, and that’s just great.


Staking Trees – Just Skip It

Remember how I mentioned I was sick about a million days ago?  Well here it is, day number 11, and it’s possible that this bird flu or SARS or whatever it is, is finally lifting.  I’m still dreaming of getting my hands on one of those dental suction tools and sticking it up my nose and then down my throat to clear out the goop once and for all.  Can anyone make this happen?


Let’s talk about trees for a minute.  Anytime I’m working on a project my number one recommendation is to plant a couple, better yet a bunch, of native shade trees.  It’s a basic first move, it’s easy, and it makes tons of sense to shade your house and yard from our intense (relentless) sun.


One of the main things that goes wrong for people and their trees is the act of staking them when it’s unnecessary, and it’s almost always unnecessary here in the desert.  Properly grown trees are allowed to develop multiple trunks that stand up to wind without the help of a stake.  Like this:


no stakes 1-03

Lots of times, though, you’ll see poorly-grown trees that have had all but one trunk trimmed away, leaving this:

no stakes 2-02

If you’ve purchased one of these crappily-grown trees, you’re aware of the staking battle that follows.  If a tree needs serious staking to keep it from being essentially horizontal, it becomes hard to create an exit strategy.  The longer the tree is staked, the less strength it develops to stand on its own.  I could get into the scientific nitty-gritty of this, but here’s the main point: buy native trees that have multiple trunks (desert willow, native mesquite, palo verdes, ironwood – they should all have multiple trunks), leave them alone for the first 2-3 years after planting, then do some light pruning to get the shape you desire.  I’ve seen trees that have been in the ground for 5+ years and still require their original stake to stand up, and my opinion is that they’re mostly a lost cause.  Just start over with a specimen that has been grown by someone who knows what’s up with our desert trees.




Heat-Proof Container Plants

As we creep up into the 90s, I’m reminded that my idea of lovely hanging baskets and container plants is not a great fit with our climate:


not great for desert



Isn’t that beautiful?  With a boatload of water, some filtered sun, and a couple dedicated misters you can probably pull something like this off in our heat.  But doesn’t that sound like a lot of effort?


My solution for potted and hanging plants looks more like this:


heat loving containers

I know, it’s not as much of an in-your-face display of color and foliage.  But, don’t you think it has tons more character and a unique offering of form?  Plus, I regularly forget about this pot for weeks (months) at a time, and it’s all still alive!  Try that with Mr. Dead In Two Days Without Water Petunia Pot.

So next time you’re in the market for a heat-proof container planting, here are my recommendations:

*Mix it up with form –  combine something vertical with something spiky with something roundy and you’ll have instant interest.

*Mix it up with flesh color – our desert plants have skins of all colors, so skip the solid gray-green palette.

*Try a gradient planting – yellow barrel cactus (roundy) + green San Pedro cactus (vertical) + blue Parry’s agave (spiky) + purple prickly pear (?) = show stopping.



A Modest Shade Structure

trampoline 1



Well, the shade structure frame is finally up!  What do you think?  A little goofy?  I wanted something circular to mimic the circular garden space around it, and I think this solution fits the bill nicely without breaking the bank.


This is a project that falls into the “what if I have less than $100 for some shade, but plenty of DIY skills” category.  Is that you?  If so, let’s review this gem.


If you can’t tell from first glance, this is a reorganized trampoline frame.  The legs have been stacked together in order to form four 10′ tall poles.  I bolted the leg sections together (2 per joint for a total of 6 bolts per leg) using self tapping screws that end in the hollow core of the tubes.  The circular part is also bolted together, and then the circular part is bolted to the leg part.  All in all a decent amount of time was spent drilling and bolting – I’d say 6-8 hours.  The 10′ tall legs are buried 2′ in concrete footers, leaving 8′ above ground.


Next up I will add a 10′ circular tarp to the top – reflective silver facing the sky and white facing the ground – secured with small eye bolts.  Then I’m pondering some canvas drop cloth curtains for the west side, some round string lights for the perimeter, and a couple hanging plants around the sides.  I’ll show an updated photo when those supplies arrive.  When it’s complete I plan on putting the kiddie pool, some chairs, and a huge fan in there, and you will find me in that position until October.  Come over and say hello!



Trampoline frame: free on craigslist

Concrete for footers: $12

Screws: $20

10′ Tarp: $45

Drop Cloth Curtains: $20


trampoline with bling


Lookin’ Fly : Cholla Flowers

lookin good 8



How much time do you spend pondering the water situation in the West?  Some?  None?  I think about it a lot.  Maybe I am somewhat prone to thinking about catastrophes and potential survival situations due to the ol’ INFP/INFJ personality characteristics.  I’ve mentioned to you before that I added “Cargo Ships” to my Google news feed after watching Captain Phillips (so much interesting stuff about ships – but never good).  Well, I’ve also added “Colorado River” and “Lake Mead” to the list, and let me tell you, no good has come from knowing more about where our water resources stand (beyond fretting, that is, and spreading the good word about planting cactus instead of  citrus trees).  To make things more fun, I now watch these two sites regularly, one showing the daily elevation and input vs. output of Lake Powell and the other of Lake Mead.  And then there’s this handy piece of information, showing us where Arizona sits in the game of rights to water from the Colorado River.  There are all sorts of people writing articles about where our water issues are headed, and none of them sound too great.  In fact, a first round of alarm bells is supposed to go off when Lake Powell hits an elevation of 3575 feet, which happened sometime in March.  Another series of bells go off when Lake Mead hits 1075 feet, which is potentially going to happen sometime this summer since we’re only 21′ away from that mark.


Should I go on?


I’m not sure what it all means.  Do you?  I think it might mean that a huge percentage of us will have to move out of the desert, and maybe not too far from now.  50 years?  Maybe that’s being optimistic.


Clockwise from top left:


They’re all Cholla Flowers!  Staghorn Cholla, to be precise.

I know, I know, I mention cholla way too much and you already know how much I love it.  But I do!  And you should, too.  It’s low water (let’s just say no water, because rain alone will do just fine), birds love the fruit, pollinators love the flowers, and they’re just all around awesome.  All four of those pictures are from the same kind of cholla – Optunia versicolor, to be exact.  It’s marvelous that they range from red to orange to yellow to brown with all sorts of variation in between.  Plus, I’ve already shown you how to snatch some of these lovelies and add them to your space.  So let’s gather up our optimistic selves and dream of ways that we can continue to live in dry climates.  One way would be to stop dumping water on non-native landscape plants and instead cultivate what grows here naturally.  Cheers to cholla this fine dry day.




The Sunday Snatch featuring African Daisy Seeds

Happy Easter everyone!  Squee finally laid some Cabury Creme Eggs and 2 baby chicks, which we’ve been waiting a long, long time for, so it’s truly a great start to the day.


You know I typically stick to talking about plants from our general area, so today’s snatch is a bit of an outlier.  I’ve always called these flowers African Daisies, but now that I’m looking into it they’re also called Namaqualand Daisies and Glandular Cape Marigolds (slightly less of a ring to that one).  They’re from southern regions of Africa, including (you guessed it) South Africa and Namibia.  They germinate with just about the same amount of winter rain as the native wildflower seeds in my yard, so there’s very little to feel guilty about as far as the non-native aspect goes.


daisy 1


While I’m not interested in carpeting the whole yard with these flowers, I think they look nice when they come up between various cacti, flowers, and shrubs.  They add a splash of vibrant orange or yellow for about a month that’s hard to replicate.  I love pairing them with purple verbena.


This snatch is really easy – probably our easiest yet.  All you need to do is scope out a yard (more ideally an easement…don’t go creeping around someone’s backyard, please) with these growing, stop for a minute to tie your shoe, then pinch off a few of the whirligig-shaped seed heads.  If the seeds are dry and ready, they will easily come off into your hand.


daisy 2

daisy 3

daisy 4

I spent about 3 minutes collecting seed from my own yard and came up with this bowl full – enough to get a decent new crop going.

daisy 5

I’ve noticed that the mourning doves are eating the heck out of the wildflower seeds in my yard, so I’ll probably store these until the first winter rain comes in November.  If that sounds like too much planning for you, take your seeds and tuck them under a nice layer of mulch where the birds will have a harder time finding them over the course of the summer and fall.  After you get one crop of these established they will reseed year after year, all for just a few minutes of your time!



Cloudy April Skies

Today I’ve found myself secretly hoping that climate change shifts our weather so severely that the monsoon season begins in April rather than the beginning of July.  But that it still lasts until September.  Wouldn’t that be lovely?  I’m trying to soak up the dark, roundy clouds outlining the sky right now as much as possible, knowing that we’re set for blue, cloudless, hot-as-blazes conditions for the next 2+ months (and then another 4+ months of heat after that).  Yikes.  It must be the way other people feel about impending winter snow and cold.


desert museum
On the upside of things, we finally have some trees that are getting close to making shade, the shade structure is (partly) going up tomorrow, and we bought the requisite baby pool for summer dipping.  It’s mostly for the dogs, but once it’s steadily 95 it’s all mine.


Is your yard ready for summer?



Shade Sail Installation : Part 2

I’m back!  I had to take a day off due to this spirit-draining illness that has grabbed me, but I suspect things are on the way up.  I’m committed to drinking as many gallons of ginger + garlic + cayenne potion as necessary today to scorch the remnants of this micro-creature.


Alright, so we’re back to shade sails.  Remember part 1?  In that post we talked about digging the holes, setting the posts, and drilling holes in the steel to prepare for the attachment hardware.  Nothing too complex about any of that, it just takes time, tools, and a moderate attention to detail.  You can do it.


Part 2 is also doable.  I won’t say easy, but definitely easier with some of the tips I’ll share.  At first I thought I would give you the complete top-to-bottom installation manual, but then I realized I’d have to produce all sorts of detailed diagrams and well-worded instructions, and I don’t think it’s all that necessary.  We’ll go over the basics, and I bet you can figure out the small stuff while you’re in action.


Let’s start with the mounting hardware – there’s quite a lot.


In the 3/8″ hole at the top of the steel post, you’re going to insert a 3/8″ stainless steel eye bolt.  Secure that bolt with 1) the nut that came with the eye bolt, 2) a 3/8″ washer, 3) a nylon lock nut.  The nylon lock nut will have to be secured using a wrench (but isn’t all that hard to twist).


Once you have that part set up, you’re ready to attach the hardware that will connect the eye bolt to the sail.  The picture shown is not quite accurate – I could explain why but it’s a long and boring story, so let’s not.  What’s missing in the photo is a length of 3/8″ steel chain, another 2 “D” shackles (more on that in a minute) and something called a “quick link.”  Tons of hardware.  Here’s the order of the whole works:

eye bolt + D Shackle + 6 links of 3/8″ chain (buy it by the foot, have it cut at the store into equal lengths) + D Shackle + 8″ long 3/8″ turnbuckle + 3/8″ quick link


This whole series of stuff attaches to the corner of the shade sail.  Why so much?  One reason is that shade sails stretch over time, so you need a way to take away the slack over time, which in this case can be done by closing the turnbuckles or taking away a link of chain.


shade 1


The particular brand of shade sail we went with for this project, made by Tenshon, is made for use with a 3/16″ steel cable that is inserted through the perimeter of the fabric.  The cable is what gives you the most ability to tension the sail (less movement in the wind = longer life) and it also distributes the weight of the wind against the sail more evenly, rather than causing distress at the corners.  In order to weave it through the sail you’ll need to wrap up the end with duct tape (or the cable will fray and not move forward).  Better done with two people, but I managed on my own.


shade 2



shade 6


When the whole cable is through the sail, you’ll secure the two ends with a series of two cable clamps.


shade 7


By this point in the game you have your sail stretched out on the ground, cable through the perimeter, and hardware hanging from the posts.  The next part requires 2 people, 2 ladders, and a piece of equipment called a “come along.”  The fantastic installation manual I was using said “you may want to consider using a come along for extra help.”  What they meant was “without a come along, you will need hulk-like strength, summoned with all the anger of the world in one key moment.”  It’s not an option, at least if you have your poles set at the distance the same installation manual recommended.


shade 3


You put one hook of the handy-dandy come along on the eye bolt (on the post), and the other hook on the corner of the shade sail.  Then, from your ladder perch, you start ratcheting until the corner meets the quick link.  Repeat for corners 3 and 4 (corner number 1 is done by hand).  Ta-dah!  I know, you think I’ve left out tons of steps.  Yes and no.  It’s one of those things that you have to get your hands on, then it will all make sense.  Plus, this post is getting way too long.


shade 4



shade 5



Isn’t it a beauty?


Okay let’s talk money for one minute.  Part #1 came to about $400 in materials.  Part #2 breaks down like this:

Connecting Hardware: $150

Steel Cable: $50

Come Along: $30

18′ Square Sail: $380

Total: $610 (no labor included)

Part 1 + Part 2 Total: let’s call it $1000 (no labor included)

Here are some ways this could drop: there are cheaper sails out there (I’ve seen an 18′ square for $60 – I can’t vouch for quality), you might find a deal on hardware online (?), you could mount one or more corners to a stable house beam and not use steel poles.  So as a DIY, you could bring that $1000 down by as much as $500, maybe more (I don’t feel like doing the math right now).


If you’re not into DIY (who has the time for this stuff?!) installation can be costly.  For this same installation, not including materials, I found quotes ranging from $1600 to $3500 (!!!).  What’s my charge, you ask?  Less than $1600!  Inquire within if you’re preparing for summer and shade is becoming an urgent requirement.

Tubs and Grudges

Are you good at holding a grudge?  I think I’ve let most of mine go, but sometimes old feelings sneak up and I realize bad vibes are still brewing.  For instance, I had this college roommate that I held in super high esteem, and some (small to medium) part of me wanted to belong to the same squeaky clean group that she was part of.  Life at the time seemed so much easier given a strict set of rules and roles.  Many years after college, long after losing contact, she messaged me out of the blue and said “hey girl, are you getting married yet or what, I want to come to Arizona for the wedding!”  I followed up with something about how I had met a woman, and that while marriage may or may not be a goal, I was truly in a good and happy space (a repeat song, but still love it…people from all over the world are making their own videos!).

That was quite a few years ago now and no further communication has occurred.  I know she is part of a religious community that does not support same-sex relationships for whom we recommend this prostate massagers list, so there’s no mystery as to what happened.  And I admit that I still carry at least a small grudge.  My question to both of us – her for the cut-off in communication, me for holding the grudge – “what’s the point?”  On both counts it’s unnecessary negative energy being put forth or harbored.  It’s something I’m actively trying to come to terms with.  One of many things I took from a fabulous stint in therapy is how to respond to people when you’re not living life the way they think you ought to (in minuscule and gigantic ways).  The magic words:  “I’m so sorry you’re feeling bad about this, I hope you find a way to feel better.”  Don’t you love that?  Obviously you should say it (or in my case, project it to the universe) with genuine feeling, but the reality is that you can’t solve other peoples’ feelings and troubles for them.

On a related note, of all the people I know, intimately or loosely, I’d say 0.05% had a problem when I revealed that I was in a relationship with a woman and that I suspected it was going to be a long term pairing (I’m counting on another 60 years, at least).  In fact, most responses were on the underwhelming side of things.  What I have found over the years is that most people just want other people to be happy in very basic ways.  Hooray for that!


I currently have the flu.  Fever, chills, bone and joint pain, you name it.  Therefore, I lacked the motivation to write a proper garden-oriented post today.  The one thing I will say is that you can feel free to drop off one of those steel horse tanks, the 2′ wide x 4′ long x 3′ tall variety, so I can have a bathtub to sit in for the next day or two.  I will then promptly turn it into an amazing fish pond and tell you how to do the same.  What a bargain!  Seriously though, those tanks make super cool ponds, and soon I will show you some that my friend has in his yard, and maybe he’ll help with a step-by-step tutorial.  We’ll see!

horse tank

Uplifting Additions

For the last 3 weeks I’ve felt pretty flat.  Not exactly depressed, just flat like a pancake on a hot summer sidewalk.  Know what I mean?  Some of it is explainable, and some of it is probably related to my personality type.  I alternately come up as INFP or INFJ, but either way I’m at least 60% nuts so the whole thing rounds out fairly nicely.  One fantastic thing about getting older is that when I feel like this I can much more easily imagine and remember what it’s like to not be in this state, so hope is not lost.  That being said, if you were considering hiring me for some work but now find yourself wondering if I’m up to the task, these are often my most physically productive times!  I don’t know why.  So let’s get going on that weed-filled wasteland.


Remember the shameful post about my lack of shopping skills?  Well, in relation to the pancake flatness I visited Ross (Dress For Less) a couple days ago in search of a few essentials.  Sometimes, rather than having a complete shopping breakdown, I enter into a bit of a zombie condition that can really take hold for an extended time.  So after 2 long hours at the store, guess what I walked out with for the bargain-basement price of $5.99?





I know.  It’s definitely made for those in the 10-14 age range.  I’ve never purchased anything like this before.  But my basic thought was “this is so pretty, how can I wear all of it at once and just use it up in one go?”  I actually really like makeup, but given my daily routine it usually ends up smeared around and mixed with dirt and sweat after 10 minutes.  I wear it anyway.  I’ve known plenty of guys who enjoy wearing makeup, and who can blame them?  Honestly, whose face couldn’t use a little extra jazz from time to time?  So, I think my very, very loose point in this jumbled stream of thoughts is that sometimes you need a lift, and sometimes you can spend $5.99 and have your needs met in a material manner.  I also think it’s worth noting that cats seem to be magnetized to sitting on/sleeping on/knocking around these kits (and I leave mine open so I can visually soak up its glory), which is something to consider given the cat hair + lip gloss combo you end up with.



Who wants to come up with the plant portion of today’s post?


The one thing I can think of mentioning is that plants are also good for the flattened state, and they are a far less ridiculous purchase.  In fact I just saw a snippet of another study about how plants are great for your mental state.  So even if you’re not up for starting on your whole outside space, why not go grab a nice desert plant and throw it in a beautiful pot?  Done.  It’s a great start, and you’ll reap all sorts of rewards.  While you’re at it, can you find out for me where the shopping nook at Broadway and Country Club bought their pots?  Love them!  Here are a few pictures to get you motivated.


pots 1



pots 2



pots 3



pots 4



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