Easy Soda Crackers

These soda crackers are about as easy to make as they can be and taste a whole lot better than store-bought.

When I was a kid back in the days of the dinosaur we ate soda crackers by the barrel full and they were always the Saltine brand. We would joke at my younger brother who would crumble crackers into his Campbell’s Tomato soup. “Rol!”, we’d say, “Are you having a little tomato soup with your crackers?” because he invariably crunched up a whole tube. I have to admit they made the soup taste a lot better. When my mom made homemade chili my dad would sit there with a package of saltines and as he ate he would swipe a bit of butter on the saltine and eat it with the chili.

Now, however, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool make it your-selfer so the other day when we had chili but no crackers I decided to make my own. How hard can it be I says to myself? Just so ya know I am not a cracker new-bie. I am an experienced cracker maker. But for some reason, that is lost to the ages, I have never made soda crackers. The crackers I made before were always whole meal and they always turned out all right if not a bit chewy and hard tack-like. This time I really wanted that soda cracker taste that you get when using white flour.

This recipe is from my mother’s well-worn 1950’s era Joy of Cooking cookbook. It was bequeathed to me when she passed away and it’s full of notes and almost, but not quite, falling apart. I’m taking care of it so I can pass it to my daughter.

Soda Crackers

About 100 crackers (ed. note: depending how thin you roll them out)

Combine in a medium bowl:

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 envelope (2-1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Combine in a small bowl:

2/3 cup hot water

1/2 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. If the dough is sticky, beat in a little more flour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. (Or mix and knead the dough in a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. This is what I did.) Place the dough in a greased bowl and turn once to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or overnight. (I let mine stand a couple hours.) Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease 2 large baking sheets. (I used parchment paper.) On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into an approximate 18 x 6 inch rectangle. Fold into thirds, as if you were folding a business letter, and roll out again into a rectangle of the same size. Cut into squares or shapes. (I used a floured pizza cutter wheel.) Prick your little cracker shapes all over with a fork, and transfer to the baking sheets. Put them close together but not touching. Sprinkle with salt (or poppy, sesame seeds, caraway seeds or a combination of all.) Bake until crisp and lightly browned around the edges, 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough. Cool on wire racks.

Ed Note: I did have some leftover but they weren’t as good the next day. They must have absorbed a little moisture because they weren’t crisp anymore. Maybe a couple minutes in a hot oven would have crisped them up again.

(Image is from New England Today Food. We ate all our crackers before I even thought of taking a picture.)

Birthday! Take a Cha-Cha-Cha Chance!

Me and Grogu. I feel like I’m just getting started, like Grogu and I’ve got powers, but they’re not fully developed. Ever feel like that? Yeah, I can now say I’m 72 years old. As of today, October 13th. That seems like a lot of numbers but compared to, say, a Galapagos tortoise I’m still a baby. Maybe middle aged, at least.

Yet, I don’t feel like a baby and I guess that’s a good thing. Hmmm, maybe not. Let me think about that. OK. I thought and I’ve decided that the jury’s still out so I’ll get back to you on that. In the meantime I’m trying to ring out every last drop of life that I can while I still have the chance. It’s not so easy because the hum drum of life demands attention, so we have an uneasy truce. Ok, I’ll do errands or the rehab project for you and then can we go to explore the planet? Fair trade?

Yesterday we explored and happened upon a rare treasure. We drove over to the Chiricahua Mountains to see where Johnny Ringo, the famous outlaw from Tombstone days, was buried. The legend has it that he, aged 32, went up on Turkey Creek, sat down under an old oak tree, put a Colt .45 to his temple and pulled the trigger. Nobody knows exactly why he did it but there was scuttlebutt that he had threatened suicide many times before he actually did it. People lots younger have ended their lives so it seems plausible. He was seated in the crotch of the old Oak tree, and he couldn’t have picked a prettier spot.

The grave of John Peters Ringo aka Johnny Ringo the real life outlaw who terrorized the area around Tombstone.
The tree where a freight hauler found him in 1882 with a bullet hole in his dang head. It’s an old tree and that’s a limb on the left that fell off.

After we paid our respects, we decided to drive farther up Turkey Creek Road. It was a pretty good gravel road, which is rare in Arizona when you get off the pavement, and as we proceeded it was looking more and more like California terrain. Deer bounded out in front of us, and we crossed four one lane bridges. Turkey Creek was flowing full of water coming from who knows where in this arid land. I must admit I do miss many things about California, so it was nice to see how the area resembled California so much.

Looks very much like California to me.

Look closely and you’ll see a deer smack dab in the middle on the fence line. You’ll see its ears first.

Turkey Creek is full of water which is weird in this dry landscape. There must be springs farther up.


Today Marty is giving me a nice little present of not having to cook! I cook 2 meals every day. We don’t cook breakfast. That’s cereal or coffee or toast. But for lunch and dinner, I get tired of same old same old or having to come up with a new dish. Getting a break on my birthday is a nice present.

What does a birthday mean? I think it means almost nothing. It’s just the march of time as measured on a calendar, and does it seem to you that time is speeding up as we get older? There’s the old saying, “Once you get over-the-hill to the other side, you speed up”. This seems very true to me.

So, as they said in Lord of the Rings, (and I paraphrase) it only matters what you do with the time you are given.

What are we going to do today?

We Build Our Own Stonehenge

One of the great things about being old – but not too old – and retired (this is important) is that you can indulge your fantasies. You’ve got the time. Hopefully you’ve got the resources and if you do, well, then who cares what people think? It’s your ever-shortening life and naysayers and code enforcement be damned! Maybe this is why so many geezers have yards full of glass bottle art or what-not.

We have 4 acres. It was mostly sticker bushes and now is mostly native grasses. The front quarter acre is a tabla rasa waiting for inspiration.

That’s when it hits me. Stonehenge! Let’s make our own version of Stonehenge! It doesn’t have to be to scale. It will look cool. We have local rocks available. Bisbee is just 20 miles down the road and they have all sorts of cool rocks leftover from copper mining days. We have the heavy equipment with which to tote the rocks around. And we have the space.

Pretty soon Marty is going to mow the front quarter acre. The native grasses there have gone to seed and will regrow next year when we get rain. Once it’s mowed then I’ll be able to go out and figure what size of circle will look good. Then I’ll mark out the circle.

After that I will design the arrangement of rocks. While I’m doing this, I figure I will have the design mark the solstice and equinox. Why the hell not?

Things to consider:

How much do rocks weigh?  (do all rocks weight about the same or do different types of rocks weigh differently?)

How much weight can our truck carry safely? (this will dictate how big the rocks can be)

How will I get the rocks in and out of the back of the truck?

One good thing is we have a backhoe so when we figure out how to get them in and out of the truck we can use the back hoe to place them.

Halfway there!

A Boulder in the Road

This isn’t one of my gardens in Iowa. I never took pictures, unfortunately, but this could well have been mine.

I don’t know why but ever since I left Iowa in 1977 and tried to have a garden I’ve encountered one obstacle to success after the other. Could it be that Iowa is special and I am ignorant? Yes, and yes. It’s true that even though much of that luscious Ice Age topsoil has eroded down to the Gulf of Mexico it’s also true that there is plenty left and it makes it almost a given that you will have success gardening in Iowa. When you’ve had it easy like I did growing up and you go somewhere else where that soil isn’t like that you’re in for a big shock. I got a shock. A big ole shock!

Where I lived in Berkeley developers had graded off what little topsoil there was and all I had to work with was hardpan. At Grindstone Ranch the soil was akin to pulverized rock. Water did not percolate into it. Just ran off. In the Central Valley there was that all too familiar hardpan under the sandy clay loam. But the Central Valley soil makes Arizona soil look sumptuous.

If a person – not me – had their thinking cap on they would take one look at Arizona and think “not the garden state of the Southwest”. Except for a relatively small area in Southwest Arizona near the Colorado River. They have thousands of acres of truck farms there. Lettuce, broccoli, brussels sprouts, celery. All growing in the gorgeous effluvium of that redoubtable river. But I don’t live there, nor would I want to, because even though the climate is great in the winter it’s unbearably hot in the summer.

So, it was with great consternation that I found, having done a soil test, that my garden soil was depleted. Zip, zero, nada, bupkis, for nitrogen, potassium, potash. On top of that major alkalinity and high pH. Not good. Not good. A major boulder appears in the road.

This is what I saw for my gardening future when I realized that my soil was completely kaput!

But being the person I am, I am forging ahead just like I did in Berkeley and Madera. I should be used to this, right? And there are ways to fix it even though I’m irritated as heck that I have to. When you get lemons, you make lemonade. No matter that the lemonade will not be served this season. Maybe it might not even come until next season. But, and this is for sure, it will come!

COMPOST… in a word the solution to all soil problems. As I’ve said my long-term goal is no chemicals whatsoever, all organic and eventually no-till. Long before I get to planting I need my soil to thrive because it’s truly the only way to save the planet and make healthy plants that resist insects and disease. The documentary “Kiss the Ground” doesn’t tell you the details of how to do it, but it gives you as taste of what is possible.


So I ask myself, what is good soil? The answer is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to soil. It depends upon the preference of the plant. If you learn how a species grows in nature, and then mimic those conditions, you will find success. A saguaro cactus grows wild in the Sonoran Desert where soils are sandy, lack organic matter, and do not hold moisture between scarce rain storms. On the other hand, a lush fern that grows wild in moist, cool forests with ample shade and rich soil would do very poorly where the saguaro cactus flourishes. Arizona native plants are adapted and designed to thrive in this soil and in the hot, arid conditions.

In my backyard I have Sonoran Desert soil, so the easiest plants to grow are those that are native to the area. This is what I’m doing – to a point. In my previous article I told about how I was going to plant things like amaranth, Navajo corn and tepary beans. They are plants that the native Americans in this area figured out how to grow.

So here are the high points for how I’m tackling my problem: (These are things my dad never had to think about when he grew his 1 acre garden behind our house in Marshalltown.)

Aeration is key: I’m making sure the soil drains well and is not saturated. I’m incorporating 50/50 existing soil and well-aged organic matter.

Then I’m going to insulate and cover the soil with mulch because this conserves water. By creating a barrier, mulch reduces evaporation from the soil and lowers water usage. It also insulates from extreme temperatures during both the winter and the summer. Did you know it can be 10 to 30 degrees cooler beneath a layer of organic mulch such as wood chips or compost? Furthermore, as organic mulch breaks down over time, it adds nutrients back into the soil.

Then I’m going to build up organic matter. Perhaps the biggest difference between desert soils and those of other parts of the U.S. is organic matter. There is a lot of rganic matter in the soils of Iowa if you don’t know. Rocks were pulverized by the momentum of the glaciers and then vegetation decomposed in the temperate climate. While most soils contain up to 10 percent organic matter, desert soils contain less than 1 percent! Yikes!

Lastly, microbes are my friend. They are the mediators of nutrient uptake and are critical to growing healthy plants and food. Pesticides, herbicides, and petroleum-based fertilizers can be detrimental to microbial life, disrupting the symbiotic relationship between soil and plants.

Wish me luck my friends. At this time I am feeling hopeful. I caught the problem before the baby plants and seeds went in the ground.

Making the Desert Bloom

Anyway, that’s what they say.

I think they say this usually in the context of applying liberal amounts of agua. But I am not making the desert bloom doing that. I’m applying just enough water and then doing a lot of other things to make liberal amounts of water unnecessary.

When we bought this place the garden looked like this:

It was in April after a unusually dry summer and winter. Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it? You need imagination to see potential.

Whoever lived here before had put up chicken wire fencing, a gate, a rickety two by four shade structure and the shade cloth covering it had deteriorated in the sun giving it a Pirates of the Caribbean look. The grape arbor had grown completely out of control.

I’m improving this to make it a flourishing vegetable and flower garden. I’m trying to work with the environment as best I can so I’m growing vegetables and flowers that are adapted to this high desert climate (for the most part). My indigenous crops are going to be Santo Domingo melon, Mayo watermelon, Mexican amaranth, Blue speckled tepary beans, Navajo copper popcorn, and Anasazi sweet corn. Crops that aren’t indigenous but are desert adapted are the Windsor fava beans, Armenian cucumbers, Red Russian kale, broccoli raab, and Parris Island cos lettuce.  My flowers are a mix of Southwest natives: Desert bluebells and marigold, lupine, fire wheel, penstemon, Desert senna, Globe gilia, Mexican hat and more.

All that black stuff is the tons of compost I’m incorporating to enhance the sandy soil. My long-term goal is to farm using no-till methods but first I need to get the soil to where it will be receptive to that. Shouldn’t take too long. I hope. The soil will tell me when it’s ready.

Lucky looks on wondering if he’ll get to eat any of it when it grows.
My gardens never look like Martha Stewart’s but what I grow tastes good just the same!

When and if we get the monsoon rains, I will be utilizing the ak-chin method that the Tohono O’odham peoples have used for millennia. That is to say, I will be creating shallow ditches to funnel the rain where it needs to go. The worked-in compost will help the soil hold moisture. In addition to that I will use mulch spread on top, both sheet and straw.

To counter the “pests” (I know, pests have to eat, too, but….) I am reinforcing the fence, making below-ground caging, and companion planting. We had a lot of rabbits when we moved in, but I haven’t seen many for a long time now. However, I saw rabbit pellets the other day so I know they’re out there. The good fencing should keep Peter out! I have one short row of straw bales to raise the tasty roots away from the gophers and homemade hardware cloth cages will deter the gophers from eating the other plants.

Top photo: Upright cage secured with zip ties. Bottom photo: The cage bottom is kinda hard to see but ya gotta cover that, too.

Mint planted next to the brassicas with deter flea beetles and make great mojitos later on. Thyme around the bean plants will deter black flies. French marigolds near the tomatoes will deter white flies. You get the idea. It’s a multi-pronged approach!

The more alert of you will now be getting exhausted reading about all my preparations. This leads me to the last comment I want to make:

Gardening is fun. Once the garden is established.

By and large I would say that projects are the most fun in the beginning. You know, the newness of it. The excitement of trying something new. In gardening this is not true. I want my garden to flourish and not be overrun by insects, rabbits, and gophers. The soil has to be right. If I neglect the soil, it just spells trouble later on. Good soil grows strong plants that resist disease. All this preparation and planning needs to be done up front. Yeah, you can go ahead and throw seeds on the ground and hope something grows but chances are it won’t very well and even that small amount of effort will be wasted. No, gardening is not fun in the beginning if you’re doing it right and this is the phase that I am in right now. The laborious, not fun phase. But it will be worth it. And I can see it all now.

Ten Months In

A short update on our Arizona progress

Why do I do this? I’m long in the tooth and not getting any younger! As a matter of fact, I’m now four months into my seventy second year on this wonderful planet and what do I do? Do I sit down and relax? Oh, no! Here we are in Arizona on our third ranch project. Somedays I wonder if I’m completely nuts. Other days I realize that to relax and sit on the porch gazing at the scenery… well, that’s just not me. I’m the one-foot-moving-one-eye-open gal! I cannot sit still!

Okay, I will admit one thing. I might still be moving but I’m moving a little slower. I’ve earned it. I might still be under the command of the Can’t Sit Still Club but the club is letting me ease off a bit.

We’re thinking ten more years and THEN we can sell off and move to a Hawaiian lanai and really do some serious porch sitting. My inner voice says Yeah Right! So, we’ll see.

Short and Sweet

So, when we got here ten months ago, we bought a somewhat run-down manufactured home on four acres. Half of acreage was cleared. The other half was solidly socked in with mesquite and white thorn acacia. At least it was all fenced even if half the fencing was not visible. The interior of the home was pretty nice, open and spacious. It needed painting so wall by wall I painted it. The carpet was, and is, a spotted, stained disaster like a tenement slum. At least it wasn’t stinky. We’re letting that be for the time being as we constantly track dirt and thorns in and out. Leaving it means I don’t stress over making it dirtier. Someday when the outdoors is under control then we’ll replace it.

This isn’t our furniture but how it was staged when we first saw the house. Our furniture looks pretty much the same in size and layout.

We increased the tile area in front of the fireplace so we could set firewood down on something sturdy and have a larger fireproof area for popping embers. But besides paint, and replacement of worn out ceiling fans and windows in the 2 bathrooms that’s about all we need to do to the inside.

I have blue sky designs for a Japanese soaking tub in the master bathroom and pie in the sky dreams to replace the windows throughout because the windows are crap.

Once we finally got the backhoe here from California Marty was able to (pretty much but not 100%) clear out the rest of the acreage.  Mesquite, yucca and white thorn acacia are tenacious! For example, you scrape off badly placed yucca and it just grows back! Marty has to dig down 3 feet and nearly break the back hoe to get the mother yucca root out of the ground! Now I know why the Native Americans had an endless supply of yucca shampoo. You can’t get rid of the stuff! Well, you can but you have to have pretty damn big equipment to do it!

The deck is now big and not baby poop yellow. There’s going to be a fence around the back yard and the crappy gate and fence are going to be gone pretty soon. There’s going to be a big round pen on the right, a tack room next to a riding arena and horse pens in the middle.

I’m working on the garden area to improve it. I’m taking out the ginormous ramshackle shade structure that the previous owners cobbled together with 2x4s, wire and what-have-you. I’m building a real grape arbor California style and am hoping that my severe pruning hasn’t shocked the life out of the ancient uncared for grape vines. Somehow, I think not. I think that in the spring the ancient vines will come back even better than before. They were allowed to vine all over the place and weren’t putting out many grape clusters last year. Then I’m going to plant a big kitchen garden and sell my leftover produce at the farmer’s market. Since the garden area is big (40’ x 80’) I’m going to put my chicken run and henhouse in there, too.

What a mess! Grape vines are now pruned back and half the ramshackle arbor is gone. Future site of kitchen garden and henhouse.

I also trimmed up the giant Arizona cypress that had been planted too close to north side of the house. Let the Sun shine, let the sunshine in, the Sun shine in! I did the same with two mulberries on the east side of the house. Now they all look like real trees instead of overgrown gigantic bushes.

Marty is going gung-ho on building horse pens, tack barn, riding arena and custom round pen with slanted sides. Slanted sides eliminate the accidental toe catching on the sides that is nerve racking on straight side pipe corral round pen fences. Makes for happier and safer horse training.

He also increased the size of the back porch so it’s actually a place a person can grill on the Weber and not feel crowded.

We’ve planted 20 trees so far: 16 eldarica pines, 2 Chinese elms, and 2 Arizona cypress. We’ve also planted evergreen salvia in front of both porches. We’re going to fence in the back yard and build a traditional ramada out there for backyard bbqs.

That’s Blue’s temporary horse pen beyond three of the 20 trees we’ve planted.

Are you tired yet? I am.

But I’m really seeing progress


For all my friends and family who I dearly love and wish I could be with on this day of giving thanks for what we DO have.

By W. S. Merwin

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is.

My Pecan Sticky Buns Recipe

Good things must be shared, don’t you think?

This recipe isn’t quick and easy but it’s definitely worth it!! I have been told time and again that I need to make these commercially and that people would drive miles for them and pay almost anything but I’m too lazy. If you want to go ahead and make these to sell, be my guest but know I will be demanding royalties… not!

Makes 8 big buns or 16 small buns or whatever fits in your pan

You have to make the dough first. The dough is the hardest part but is integral to what makes these so good. Sort of like when you make a pie. To be the best pie it has to have the best crust. I’ve had many a cinnamon or pecan roll and if the bun part is not good I spit it out. Too bad for the baker. Sorry. It has to be good dough and that’s the end of it. I have tried store bought Pillsbury dough and other recipes and all failed the Renée Taste Test. This bun recipe is the piéce de résistance.

Oh, you should be aware that this whole process will take a few hours so you might consider starting in the morning so you can bake your sticky buns that night.

Beautiful dough for the buns

¼ c warm water (feels warm – not hot – to touch)

1 pkg (2-1/4 t) active dry yeast

Combine these 2 things in a large bowl (or in a bowl of a stand mixer) and let the yeast dissolve. About 5 minutes.

Add to the dissolved yeast:

½ c all-purpose or bread flour

1/3 c sugar

¼ c milk

1 t vanilla

1 t salt

Mix this by hand (or on slow in the stand mixer) until blended. (I’ve done this by hand but after Marty gave me a stand mixer for Christmas I really would rather use it than do it by hand. I’ve been spoiled.)  Once that is mixed, gradually add in 2 to 2-1/4 c all-purpose or bread flour stirring all the while. Mix until the dough comes together. Now dump it all out on to a lightly floured board or smooth counter and knead by hand (you know how to knead bread dough, right?) for about 10 minutes (or if you have a dough hook on the stand mixer knead with that on low for about 7-8 minutes). We want the dough to be smooth and elastic so it’s not sticking to your hands or the bowl.

Add 6 T (3/4 stick) butter, very soft, not melted just soft

and vigorously knead it in. It will be messy but keep working and it will blend. Trust me. I’ve done this many times. It will work. Endeavor to persevere. Knead until completely incorporated and smooth and elastic again.

Now place the dough in a large lightly buttered bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place (like 75 – 85 degrees) until doubled in volume, about 1-1/2 hrs. May take shorter or longer depending on how lively your yeast is.

Now punch down and knead briefly. Just a few times. Then refrigerate, covered, until doubled again. 4 – 12 hrs.

The hard but important part is over!

Finishing. Going for the Gold.

Butter a 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Or iron skillet, whatever you have, pie plate, doesn’t really matter. Just something not too big or small that you can bake in.

Mix together in a small saucepan:

1 c dark brown sugar

½ c (1 stick) butter

¼ c honey

Bring this to a soft boil over medium heat stirring to dissolve sugar.

Remove from heat and mix in 2-1/2 cups chopped pecans.

Pour this lovely hot mess into the buttered pan, spreading evenly. While you’re letting that cool a bit roll the dough out to a rectangle shape approximately 16 x 12 inches and about a ¼ to 1/2 inch thick. This is all approximate. It can be thicker but generally since you want it to roll up in a robust spiral you’ll want it thinner rather than thicker.

Brush that flattened part with 1 T melted butter.

(You realize, at this point, we’re far beyond healthy and low calorie. Who cares?)

Sprinkle evenly with 1/3 to ½ c packed dark brown sugar and 2 t cinnamon

Roll it up into a cylinder from long side. Cut crosswise into however many rolls you want. Obviously cut thin you get more rolls but thinner rolls. Arrange the rolls cut side down in the pan spacing evenly. They can touch or not touch. Not touching is better so they cook more evenly. They’ll definitely puff up in the oven. But first cover once again and let rise at room temp until doubled. About an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350.

When the oven is preheated and the rolls puffed up, put them in the oven and bake until top is golden brown and the syrup is bubbling. By the way you might want to put a cookie sheet under the pan in case of any boil overs. Spare the oven.

Anyway, bake for about 30 minutes and keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Remove from oven and let them cool about 5 minutes. Now you have to flip the whole business over on to the serving plate. To do this place a plate or serving platter over the pan and grasping both sides of the plate and pan (oven mitts help here) flip the whole business over so the buns come out.

Step back and feast your eyes. Not too long though because it’s now time to feast your mouth. Try not to eat too many at once. Try to save some for later.

Beautiful October

October is my favorite month and it’s not just because my birthday is on the 13th.

Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona. An amazing place to hike.

Some of my best memories are wrapped up in October. Riding horses into the timber near the river with my dad and sister as well as hiking along the river and sometimes wading in because the river is very shallow in October. Hunting for hickory nuts on a windy day. The crunch of fallen leaves as I purposely step on each and every one as I walk down the sidewalk. Watching the starlings wheeling in the sky like a school of sardines. Clapping my hands like a gunshot to make the starlings dive away. Chomping into a ripe pear fresh off the tree on an Indian summer day. Magic seems to meet me in October.

I open the windows and let the cool breeze in. Such a welcome relief after the hot days of summer. I spend more time outdoors doing chores. Getting everything just-so in the house because there will be days ahead when we don’t feel like going out. Thinking about my reading list. Putting up canned tomatoes for the chili I will make.

October means making way for seasonal shifts inside our home, planning time together, and, of course, a first taste of fall cooking in the kitchen. Pots of beans, cinnamon sticky buns, homemade bread.

What’s your favorite month?

Near the Iowa River
Leaves waiting to be crunched
They look like a school of fish
There’s nothing better than a ripe pear right off the tree
I make the best sticky buns if I do say so myself


Now begins a new adventure. An adventure in place – but not really – because I always feel best when I light out for the Territory Ahead kind of like Huck Finn. I’m calling our new home Eldarica (el-duh-ree-ka)  for the sixteen pine trees we just planted.

There’s a hummingbird sitting on her nest outside my window. Barely 2 feet away and I try not to disturb her. She sits, flies away to where I do not know and then comes back. Now, there’s no way I’m going to remove any more limbs from that tree! A large Arizona cypress. It’s going to stay the way it is until she hatches her eggs or leaves because something happens. I have to let her do her job. The white thorn acacia that is now blooming everywhere must be nourishing her. Maybe this place will nourish me, too.

Can you see her? Smack dab in the middle of the picture on her nest.

We’ve settled in for the most part. I have my important kitchen equipment now and my desktop set up. I’ve made cookies in the oven. I’m making sauerkraut in the Kilner fermentation jar. I’m working on a story about yucca shampoo for Mother Earth News. The days are hot, the mornings and evenings cool and the nights cold. A gray fox barks outside our window in the dark. Early in the morning a western tanager alights in the mulberry tree and then flies on.

We decided to explore the Huachuca Mountains yesterday. The Huachuca’s are a mere 10 minute drive to the west of us. The highest peak is Miller Peak which is 9,466 feet above sea level. Its next-door neighbor is Carr Peak at 9,237 feet. There’s a road that goes up there that ends at a campground we’re told. The campground is at a respectable 7,200 feet and the road is passable when dry. So we go. It’s six miles and mostly one lane. For the first mile and a half it’s easy going.

Carr Peak is just out of the picture on the left. We’re headed for the top of that mesa on the left.

Pretty soon though it gets rough. Plus, there’s a big drop off nearly straight down into trees. A voice inside my head says quit but I can’t so both hands on the wheel we go slow unrelenting up, up, up.

North Yunga Road in Bolivia gives you a taste of what we experienced on the uphill climb to Carr Peak. I’m not kidding. We weren’t prepared.

I can’t take a picture on the way up because I can’t stop and certainly not let go of the wheel. No place to turn around either. Just keep on keepin’ on. We haven’t turned the trip meter on, so we aren’t sure how far we’ve gone or how much farther we have to go. Then we see a van coming down from above. It scrunches over to let us by and as we go past, waving thank you, we see the van is full of people. Are those people crazy, or am I? Then a Razr off road vehicle comes down the road, too, and passes us. Those people have the right idea! A van? A Toyota? No. A Razr, yes!

Finally, I find a slight turn out that is somewhat flat and let Marty have the wheel. We are closer to the “top” than we realize because there it is. Reef Townsite campground, thank God! The end of the road at Ramsey Vista CG is only a mile and a half further.

OK. Deep breath. Lunch time. Let the Toyota have a break.

Reef Townsite CG is nice and cool. No good views of the valley below because of the many pine trees. We think if it wasn’t such terrible road to get here this would be a nice place to camp. Site of an old mining camp. I wonder how those miners got their equipment up there in the mid 1800s before true roads. Burros maybe? Too steep for horse drawn wagons.

On the way back down, Marty goes in low gear and super slow. Great views.

Yes, you have that right. That’s the road we came up on in the foreground. The San Pedro River Valley out beyond with the Mule Mountains in the distance.
Ah! Mexico. It sounds so simple I just got to go. The sun’s so hot I forgot to go home. Guess I’ll have to go now.

When we get back down to the valley we decide to drive over to Tombstone and try the root beer.

All drunk. Homemade sarsaparilla. Say “sass-pa-rilla”.