Sunday, June 14, 2009

Culture Passes

The public libraries here in the Valley have a new program that allows us to check out a "Culture Pass" for various museums around the valley. There are Culture Passes for the Heard Museum, the Desert Botanical Garden, the Phoenix Art Museum, Taliesin West, and a bunch of other places. Each library has 5 passes available for each venue. The downtown Mesa library makes one of each of the passes available each day Tuesday through Saturday. A culture pass will give you four free admissions to whichever location.

This has proven to be a very popular program. Who wouldn't want four free tickets to the Zoo? An adult ticket costs $16. And Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West costs $32 for each ticket. The four free tickets on the Culture Pass apply to the most expensive tickets, so we use them for two adults and two children.

To get a Culture Pass, show up about half an hour before the library opens, and get in line. Bring a book to read... at least at the Main Mesa library, the line is in the shade. If you are lucky, you will be first in line, and get to pick which Pass you would like. The first Passes to disappear are for the Zoo, the Science Center, and the Natural History Museum. If you don't get in line before the library opens at 10:00, the only pass left will be for the Bead Museum(?) in Glendale.

After a couple weeks of uncivilized behavior on the part of a few visitors who would cut in line, shove, and grab a big handful of pass cards in hopes of getting what they wanted, the library now has a "monitor" who spends five minutes getting people to line up and be polite. I never thought that free tickets to anything was worth running or shoving for, so I had to go back several times before I was able to get a Culture Pass. Now it seems the library has figured it out, and people are generally polite and helpful.

To limit the stampede, each family is only allowed to check out one pass per week, and two passes per month. That is two for the month of June, then July, then August, etc. As an added bonus, if you attend a location, and decide you would like an annual pass, the museum generally offer a 10% discount on membership when you visit with a Culture Pass.

So far we have been able to visit the Phoenix Art Museum and the Arizona Science Center using the passes. We saved $45 on the Arizona Science Center, which the children enjoyed immensely. We saved $28 on the Art Museum, which received mixed reviews from our children.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Summer fun

Summer is fun here in Arizona. We've been swimming often, and enjoying the nice weather. We've been trying to do family activities on Saturdays.

Primary softball was this week, Monday, Tuesday, and today at 6:30 am. The girls had fun and did a pretty good job considering they don't really play softball anywhere else.

The children have been having a lot of fun with small projects this summer. Play dough is a fun activity.

That's about it for today.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Garden Update

I know I've written a lot about our garden, but it is very cool to have a garden that grows something besides radishes and weeds.

It seems that Arizona gardens need a lot of water. As long as I water every day, the plants do great. If I forget, the plants go all wilted and the chard leaves go crispy on the edges. I water late Saturday evening and on Monday morning to keep the garden alive over Sunday. I might be over-watering some of the plants, but watering six days a week seems to keep them alive.

We are estimating that this garden costs about $18 a month to water daily. It should be an accurate estimate, since the only change to our water use in February and March was to add the garden. So, if you exclude the cost of the bricks and dirt, the garden is very economical. We definitely eat more than $18 worth of vegetables from the garden every month. It may take a couple of years to recover the cost of the building materials, but the garden is already worth it just for the experience of building it together as a family and the excitement the children feel as they pick (and eat) the vegetables.

The garden is doing great. We planted a pack of six zucchini starts from a nursery, and so we have a few more zucchini than we can eat at a time. I have been freezing bags of squash for later on. As good as Mom's recipe is, a double batch of zucchini bread is about all we can eat before everyone is tired of it for a week or so.

Now, if you lose track for a couple of days, the zucchini will be enormous. Here is a cool picture of the two oldest children holding the biggest zucchini they had ever seen. It was, however, not the biggest for long! We have had several even bigger that got turned into zucchini bread. Now I won't let them get that big anymore.

So here's a picture of our twenty-foot long butternut squash vine. We were wishing it was a watermelon or cantaloupe, but we didn't plant those this season! When the plant sprouted, I just directed the vine over the edge of the garden, and kept re-directing it every day as I watered the garden. Now it borders one entire side of the garden.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Our Garden

So, our garden actually came up. This picture is a couple of weeks old. From the back to the front, you can see the onions, cilantro, chard, beets, cucumbers, and finally carrots. We also have four lettuce plants and some yellow squash and zucchini. I couldn't find another photo of the garden, and it's dark out, so I might take a picture this week.

The radishes were up three days after they were planted. Now they are going to seed just as the other plants are ready to eat. Jo and Rob are eating the radishes, but I am not a radish fan. We ate some of the chard and a three-inch carrot.

Chard is especially good cooked until tender, and served with butter and lemon juice. I make sure to wash each leaf, since I have found caterpillars in the past! Not cooked, fortunately. Ugh!

Easter Dresses

Have you been shopping for a girl's dress lately? Where are the sleeves?

We spent about four hours looking for an Easter dress for my oldest daughter. We went to three stores together, and I had been to four others previously. Grand total of size 12 dresses with sleeves: about six. Three were in the last store we visited.

After an hour at the final store, I finally put my foot down and told her she would have to wear a blouse under a sleeveless dress, so we spent another hour looking for blouses or sweaters to match the sleeveless dresses.

She finally found a dress with sleeves. It looks white in this photo, but it is really ivory.

And here are the other two girls. The pretty green/butterfly dress was from Costco. She made me cut off a layer of netting ruffles on the bottom of the skirt before she would wear it because it was itchy. Miss E. didn't complain about anything!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Building the Raised Bed Garden

I was reading a news story about how people are putting in "Recession Gardens." Is that something like a Victory Garden?

Anyway, our garden was planted without the recession in mind. We wanted a garden so we could have fresh vegetables whenever, and because home-grown vegetable seem to taste better. Maybe because you put in so much work to get a garden to grow in the Salt River Valley. In the Phoenix area, it takes a lot more work to have a successful garden than in other areas of the country.

We spent some time at the various stone and brick yards and finally found a style of modular block that we liked. We considered flagstone, and other types of stones, but eventually decided on a cast cement modular block.

First we had to level out the ground where the garden was going to be... not an easy task. If the ground wasn't level, the blocks wouldn't be level either. We figured that our ground is pretty much cement unless it is soaked and dug up, so as long as wh didn't disturb the ground under the blocks, they would never move.

But we soaked the ground the night before, and it was a bit easier to dig through the bermuda grass and the rock-hard dirt that we have here. Then, I used a level to make sure that the dirt was flat. At this point, it was very simple to lay the first course of blocks, although it took a bit of extra levelling to get the blocks to lay flat.

We used a black landscape fabric to line the blocks so the dirt wouldn't wash out between the blocks when we water the garden.

The children put on the other layers of blocks until the garden wall was just tall enough for me to sit on comfortably. If I'm going to be weeding the garden, I wanted to be able to pull weeds without bending over too much.

Then we filled the garden with volcanic soil and sand, mixed with compost. And planted the garden. We planted squash and zucchini from a nursery, and small onions from starts. The rest of the garden was from seed.

...and three days later, the radishes were up. Pretty soon after that most of the rest of everything came up. Now our squash and zucchini are about three inches long.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yard Work

When we bought our house, there was a little raised garden in the corner of the back yard. Here's a Google Earth view of the backyard. You can see the big blue slide on the swingset, and a nice tree, and then the garden in the corner.

Well, the nice big tree died a slow death after the big 5-day frost a couple years ago. Rob and the children had fun chopping it down and digging up the roots. After three years of struggling with the corner garden, amending the dirt, replacing the dirt, and not having any results, we gave up and built a raised-bed garden where that tree used to be. We took the dirt out of the raised corner bed and planted a Diller Arizona Sweet, which is supposed to ripen later than the Navel orange tree we have.

On either side of where the old garden was, we put in another Navel Orange and we also planted an apricot. I guess we'll see how long the apricot lives. The guy at the orchard said that we shouldn't have to worry about the tree getting Texas Root Rot if we kept the grass out of the basin and only watered it every two weeks in the summer.

Over on the other side of the yard, we topped the lemon tree. It was getting too big, and the guy at the Greenfield Nursery, a very knowledgeable guy, said we could chop the top off, since the bottom half of the tree produces the best fruit.

So we chopped up our unruly lemon bush and made it into a lemon tree. We had stacks of lemons that we pulled off the branches. This really is the best time of the year to prune citrus, although you really don't want to cut your trees up very high.

And do you know the most interesting thing? The children absolutely loved helping trim the trees, build the garden, dig up the old garden bed, and pitch in with all the yard work.

We even got our little Pickle to pull weeds. Although he's only 4, he can pull most weeds if we soak the dirt first, and he loves the mud.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Well now

Obviously, I am still living in the dark ages and need to figure out what to say on my blog. Oh well.