A Song and a Dance

Eliza has a wild imagination, and she’s starting to really show off her musical side. She has always liked dancing, but she recently started singing and playing musical instruments. Here she is on the clarinet.

She also enjoys telling us about her dreams. You’re very lucky if you get featured in one of these–congratulations Andrea and Zak.

Thanksgiving Harvest

Another garden post… Besides school and family, this is my (Matt’s) main past-time, so you’ll probably keep hearing about it. If you’ve forgotten about our last garden attempts, you can check them out here and here.

We had some pretty good success this time around. Check out Eliza beside the garden a couple weeks ago! The cucumbers and squash are getting old (at least I think that’s the problem, but maybe I’m just neglecting them), so sadly they’re looking much less happy now. I’m actually in the process of pulling them out. Notice that we also have a fenced backyard now! Thank you, kindly landlady!


It’s been pretty fun to figure this out. The most important thing we learned in the desert is that it’s important to grow using an in-ground garden if possible. The water just evaporates out of a raised bed, so the plants in our last yard were always dehydrated. This time our plants could grow deep roots and survive pretty well with water coming just a couple times a week. During the monsoon season we hardly watered at all.

Here’s the story of this garden in a nutshell: We moved across town, bringing our soil with us in the U-Haul (good soil isn’t cheap in the desert).

Then we dug out a 4×12 foot plot in our new yard and used our old raised bed planks as walls to contain it, mixing the clay soil with our garden mix, adding some compost, planting and watering.

Skipping to the end… we’ve harvested lots of cucumbers, some peas, squash, and a little bit of chard and other greens. The tomatoes and peppers aren’t doing so well (we planted late and it’s too cold at night, we think), and we’re still waiting on a few other crops. Here are a few more photos… including a pumpkin we cooked up for American Thanksgiving Dinner!

PS: Tomatillos are really cool plants. They might die in a frost before ripening, but they’ve still been really interesting to watch grow. Maybe next year we’ll be able to grow enough for homegrown salsa verde.


Long Weekend Hike


It’s monsoon season in Arizona, which means that things are green (compared to the rest of the year, anyway) around here. Up in the mountains, everything is green and blooming.

We went on a hike and day “camp” up to Madera Canyon last Saturday. We went up in the morning, had lunch, did a hike, and then roasted veggies, hot dogs, and marshmallows on the fire. Then we drove home and slept in our own beds.

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The hike was spectacular, although we took a wrong turn that added a couple miles to our journey. We ended up having to turn around just before we reached our destination because it was getting late and we were getting tired. It was a steep switchback-filled hike… and I was carrying water and a 2-year-old. My legs were spent by the end of our hike (we think it was around 7 miles, but we’re not sure).

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August in BC

Penticton… Canada’s Peach City.


We got back almost three weeks ago from a great trip up to British Columbia to attend my sister’s wedding and spend some time with family (and get away from the Arizona heat). It took some time to post these non-wedding photos because weddings are just more exciting… and I spent the last two weeks studying and stressing about my first week of classes and my first year comprehensive exams. I just finished those on Friday, so I finally have a bit of time to relax over the long weekend! And some time to post this…

This is a bit more like a highlight reel than a story, but loads pictures are more fun to scroll through than loads of text anyway.

We spent a lot of time cooling off in the water. We swam, floated, and built sand castles in lakes and rivers and even the ocean (but that gets its own discussion). Andrea took some time out from wedding planning to play in the sand with Eliza. Grandpa took Eliza out for several paddle board rides, which she loved.


We also went on a short camping trip with Nathan, Todd, and Phil. Here’s our site overlooking the river and the highway. And here’s the muscular trio before and during an epic white water float tube ride on the Similkameen River.


We also managed to spend a day in Vancouver before Andrea and Zak’s wedding at the Latter-day Saint temple in Langley. We took the Sky Train downtown, got some Mongolian Barbecue, and walked to Stanley Park to eat and to splash in the sea.

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Nathan and I did an adventure triathlon together during our last week in Penticton. We did it by ourselves, but it was still roughly Olympic distance. I wasn’t prepared, but I finished. The bike course was off-road so it made for a very long trip (our 20-30 minute transition times also didn’t help). However, the scenery was nice.


On Theresa’s birthday (and on the way home from Andrea’s wedding), her mom and step-dad surprised us with a text saying they wanted to meet up with us. Brad was delivering a trailer in BC, so they were passing through. Unfortunately, between a rainstorm and bad cell phone reception we couldn’t coordinate the birthday meet-up. But they came to Penticton the next day and we went to the farmers’ market together.



Finally, we got to spend a lot of time with Eliza’s Great Grandma and Grandpa Godfrey in Penticton. That was really fun for everyone, and we also convinced Grandpa to let tell us some stories from his missionary years in South Africa. Here are a couple teaser photos (Can you find him in the photo from his last day before heading home by boat?). Hopefully we’ll be able to put something together over the next few months to show those stories to all of his grand-kids and great-grand-kids!


Birthday Portraits


Trying to get a good picture of a two year old is really hit or miss, so on her birthday, I was snapping my shutter basically nonstop, trying to get a good one. I think this one above takes the cake, but I think the rest these photos really show how much this young lady likes to move. She has been trying to teach herself to jump for months now, and finally she got acquainted with a trampoline, which has made all the difference. This weekend, she was basically jumping from dawn until dusk. On the trampoline, on the floor, on the couch, on the road. She didn’t even try to land on her feet. It seemed to be even more fun to pull up her knees, and land on her seat. And every second of in-the-air and hitting-the-ground was laughter.

And I guess if I had to sum up what Eliza is right now at two years old, she is just that: movement and laughter. She is always asking to go running, hiking, jumping, dancing, camping. She loves being outside and she loves building tents inside. She is an affectionate sweetheart, always asking how are you doing, did you have a good nap, did you have a good shower, did you have a good privacy, do you need a hug, do you need a bandaid? She knows what makes her feel good and valued and she is ever giving of that to others as well.

The birthday was spent at the Merkley cabin in Strawberry, AZ. Her British uniform from last year’s birthday doubled as her patriotic outfit for the 4th of July weekend this year. Last year we went strawberry picking on Eliza’s birthday, and we thought it was so great we should make it an annual birthday tradition. This year was in the town of Strawberry, so we’re calling it close enough.  She did get to do feed some animals on her birthday, which is probably Eliza’s second favorite activity, after feeding herself fresh strawberries. There were horses at a neighboring property and a goat and llama farm up the road.

She met lots of cousins and second cousins, many of whom I haven’t seen in years, and a few whom I met for the first time myself. Eliza still gets overwhelmed in crowds and is slow to warm up to people. This weekend in particular, she had some emotional breakdowns over sharing toys with a second cousin a year older than her.

But lots of cousins also made for a great chorus singing “Happy birthday” with cake and ice cream, and of course candles. She was talking about birthday cake for weeks afterward.















Matt and I also took advantage of the free babysitting and went on a hike of our own.  We got to this first vantage point and said we were going to hike through the valley to that point in the picture below where the cliffs pop out above the pines. So we did, and that’s where we took the final two photos, below.






Andrea’s Wedding


Two weeks in British Columbia was exactly what we needed this summer. For now I’m just going to slap up some pictures from the big event to share with the family, but hopefully we’ll get some more pictures of our Penticton adventures up on the blog soonish.

Eliza was the flower girl. She was handed a little bouquet right after the sealing, and by the time the bride and groom came out of the temple, she had already broken all the stems by swinging the flowers around like a paintbrush.

And Matt and I were invited to be the MCs at the reception because we are “funny and awesome.” I think we actually had a good time doing that too.

Anyway, it was a happy couple of days and it was so good to be back in Penticton (and Vancouver!) in the summer. Lots of good things to come for Andrea and Zak.





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Goodbye, Arkansas (Post 2 of 2)


Our last two days in Arkansas were full of ups and down (not just from hiking, either). We saw some beautiful things, but Eliza and I took turns getting sick, and we ended up spending our last night in a cheap motel near the airport rather than cooking s’mores over the fire as we had planned. I think we just tried to cram too much into too few days.

We started the day admiring the low clouds hanging over our campground along the river.

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Then we headed for a morning hike to Whitaker Point. This was a classic Ozark photo-op, and thanks to our early start we enjoyed it alone (we past lots of hikers on our way out, though).


On the way back up the trail the weather got really hot again. I was trying to drink lots of water, but for the last half-mile or so I just got really, really weary and started feeling nauseous. Back in the car the AC helped, but I still kind of felt sick to my stomach for the rest of the day and over the next couple days. I felt well enough to swim in the river one last time before we left our campsite (the cool water actually helped quite a bit), but I just wasn’t my energetic self. In other words, I would have done a much better cannonball if I wasn’t sick.



All our driving along twisty mountain roads wasn’t kind to Eliza’s stomach either. At one point she threw up all over herself, so we pulled over at the nearest open shoulder to clean everybody up.

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We drove to Bentonville, home of Wal-Mart and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (funded by Wal-Mart and started by Wal-Mart’s founding family). It was nice, although we kind of wish we could have spent a little more time at the river instead of in the city. But I think we all just feeling a bit under-the-weather. It was a really nice place to visit, though, and we got some great southern seafood for dinner! A giant side of hushpuppies (deepfried balls of cornmeal and corn) was not kind to my ailing stomach, obviously. Of course, I still ate too many.



The day ended later than we planned, so we worried about not having time to set up camp somewhere close enough to the airport. We decided to book a last-minute hotel room, which was not cleaned or prepared for us when we arrived at a little before midnight. The good news is that in the morning we had plenty to time to clean up, rearrange our suitcases, and clean out our rental car before our flight. The hotel manager also mailed us a voucher for a free night’s stay in return for the hassle.

We arrived back at the Mesa Airport and got hit with a wave of Arizona’s famous dry heat as soon as we stepped off the plane. Welcome home!

Welcome to Arkansas (Post 1 of 2)

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A month ago we got home from a really fun business/camping trip to Northwest Arkansas. I attended a conference at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville (which is a great little city, by the way… see the photos below).


After the conference ended Theresa and Eliza flew out to meet me. They flew into Springfield, Missouri (cheap flight) and we went to church that Sunday afternoon. Then we drove down to Branson, Missouri and camped for the night by the lake at Table Rock State Park.

Branson is famous for musicals, musicians, and amusement parks and entertainment geared to families and retirees. It’s a little bit like a combination between Disneyland and Las Vegas. On Branson’s equivalent of The Strip, you’ll find things like the Segway racetrack and Titanic Museum below. You’ll also find shows featuring The Osmonds or tribute bands covering songs from pretty much any genres that were popular before the 1980s.


Branson also has a really nice waterfront along the White River. We spent a while wandering along the boardwalk. The weather was pretty hot (and humid), so it was nice to be close to the water. Before driving down to Arkansas we had a picnic lunch under a giant tree by a pond at the College of the Ozarks.


Finally, we arrived at our destination: the Buffalo National River, a wild and undammed river lined with bluffs and running through the beautiful Ozark Mountains. Eliza loved playing in the river (and eating s’mores at the campsite).


I think I already said that the weather was HOT, but I should mention this again. I don’t think it ever got above 100F (which was a nice break from Arizona), but it was in the 90’s everyday with a humidity percentage about that high as well. At night it didn’t even get cool enough to use a sleeping bag. After our first night we ditched the rain cover on our tent (that was like sleeping in a steam room) and just slept under a mesh roof under the stars. It was still too warm and wet, though. But at least there were fireflies (below). And we didn’t have rain, which was a miracle given the downpours I saw during the first couple days of the conference!

The next day was our big hike adventure. I had seen pictures of this place called hemmed-in-hollow falls. It was one of the sights that sold me on the idea of taking a camping trip to the Buffalo River, so we had to do it–rain or really hot shine. This was a 5-6 mile round-trip hike down into the river canyon and then up a small valley to the falls. We dropped over 1000 feet in elevation from top to bottom.


These falls are supposed to be well over 200 feet and the tallest between the Appalachians and the Rockies. All the falls in the Buffalo River were rain-fed, so they get much bigger after storms and then trickle down to almost nothing during dry weather. We got something in between that…



After we got back up the hill, we were tired, sweaty, and hot. We went back to the campsite and cooled off at the river, which was just a short walk down a path past our tent.


To end the day, we headed to a town about 30 miles away to join a class about foraging for edible plants. Pretty cool stuff, although we have a very different variety of edible plants here in Tucson compared to what they grow in the forests and fields of Arkansas. Still, it was nice to interact with some people and learn about their plants.

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The post about the end of our trip is coming very soon (it’s going to be posted tomorrow night).

Long Weekend Camping

Eliza and I were planning to go on a church father-and-child camp this Friday, but a wildfire near the planned campsite cancelled those plans at the last minute. I was really looking forward to camping with her, though. I’m teaching a summer course that condenses 4 months of material into 3 weeks, so I hoped to run away from that busy schedule for at least a couple of days. To fill my need for the wild, we planned a last-minute trip to Madera Canyon–about an hour south of Tucson.

We arrived later than we hoped (about 6pm), so all the spots at the small campground in the canyon were taken. Thankfully we asked a park ranger about other options, and he directed us to a primitive campsite just outside the canyon. We arrived in time to set up camp and get a fire going before the sunset. It was free, and actually very scenic and private. Eliza went to bed and slept the whole night, which was a big improvement over some of our last camping attempts.

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We woke up to a warm sunny morning, packed up our gear, and headed back up into the canyon to hike up to Josephine Saddle. It was about a 6.5 mile loop, which is farther than we’ve tried to do with Eliza since September. Now that she’s walking she wants to do a lot of the hiking herself, but this time she actually took two good naps while I carried her. Thanks to sleepy Eliza we got to the top to eat lunch (and listen to the wild turkey’s gobble) and all the way back down as planned.


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Eliza did some hiking part way up and wandered around and climbed over logs at the top. That was just enough to keep her content in the carrier (she usually asks to walk after being carried for 10 or 15 minutes). One day we’ll come back to tackle Mt Wrigtson, which is in the background behind Eliza in this shot. But that’s twice as far (and twice the elevation gain). We’re not quite ready for that. Eliza might need to be able to pull more of her own weight first!

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Gardening, Episode IV: A New Hope

In my last post about gardening, I promised that we would try again. Our fourth garden attempt, which we planted in late January, is actually moving along pretty well. Slowly, but surely. After about a month our garden looked like this, with freshly planted tomato starts in the front box.

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Miraculously, our arugula survived the winter (a few frosts and a couple months without care or water) and sprung up as soon as we started watering it. We actually had to harvest some just before we took the photo above.

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This week (a month-and-a-half since the photos above) things are looking pretty good. Our peas, peppers, and squash were suffering a bit, so I stuck a cute kid in front of them to make the box look better. But we’re harvesting peas and more arugula! By harvest I mean we can eat a few peas every few days. We also got some surprise carrots that came up from last year’s planting.

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The other box has nice rows of greens, tomatoes, and a pineapple (we’ll see how that works… it does have a few new shoots coming up in the middle). Stay tuned!

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