Garden Update: Mid-June

Cucumbers, corn, green beans

As we’re heading off on vacation soon, I figured I should put up an update on the garden, so if the Squirrel Apocalypse takes them, we remember what all our crops looked like…

Overall, everything appears to be coming up pretty well and some of the plants (notably the green beans, tomatoes and peppers) have some flowers on them.  The cucumbers are starting to vine out a bit, so by the time we get back from the Grand Canyon, I expect them to have taken over the yard…  The green beans look great as always.  I’m pretty sure we could plant those in sand and rocks and still have them grow, as we always seem to have good luck with them (despite my hard work at killing them off…).  The corn keeps on trucking, albeit inconsistently.

Tomatoes and soup beans

Again, the tomatoes are starting to get some buds on them, so hopefully we’ll grow some sooner than usual.  We aren’t focusing on soup beans much this year (we still have some from last year and we always end up with more than we need), so they’re just planted in two of the corners of this plot.  Most of the tomatoes should end up being “paste tomatoes,” though we’ve got some “slicer” varieties planted, too.  Hopefully we won’t end up with any weird varieties, but we had to transplant a few “volunteers” from last year’s plot to fill some holes of plants that didn’t make it.  We’ll see!

Green peppers and lettuce

The green peppers have finally taken off in the past week.  We got some rain (1.5″) earlier this week and I’ve been watering them , so they’re looking better.  The lettuce is doing shockingly well still, but we expect it’ll be done by the time we get back.  We ended up getting quite a bit of lettuce this year and I think Brooke’s going to plant another round when it starts to get toward the end of the season.  She comes home from work and grabs a few leaves for her sandwich every day.  Like ya do. 🙂

…herbs?

This plot is still kinda a mess, now that the mint has almost fully taken over…  There’s lemon balm in there still, as well as a random orange flower that came back from last year that I can’t identify (and/or remember).  There are a few other flowers in the northern portion of the plot, but they’re already dying off.  A volunteer sunflower from two years ago has popped up recently, too…

Raspberries, sweet potatoes and “pole beans”

We’ve got raspberries!  Not a ton, but we ate a few last night and there are still some on now.  The pole beans are vining appropriately and the sweet potatoes are truckin’ along.

All the trees!

And the trees.  Still lots of apples and lots of peaches, but still no cherries or pears.  We didn’t expect almonds, though we did see some flowers on there over a month ago.  The peaches are looking especially good, so I hope they make it!

That’s it for now!  The harvest will be plentiful, as usual…as long as the squirrels leave it all alone…

A Memorial Day Weekend Project

Those bushes…

The bushes in front of the house have been there since, likely, the 1950s.  It’s hard to know for sure, but considering how “full” those things were, it had to be for decades.

They weren’t particularly good looking and housed wasps and ground bees from time to time, so we’d talked about removing them for the past few years.  The floorboards on the porch have gotten worse this year and needed replacement, so we were prompted to move up our timetable a bit on removal of the bushes.

We need to do some work on the porch…

We haven’t had much time this Spring so far, so Memorial Day weekend was the best option to try and get some of the work done.  Last weekend in Columbia, I picked up a new reciprocating saw and some blades; we picked up some new clippers for Brooke for her birthday; and we borrowed my Dad’s chainsaw.

We went at them with the clippers first and then employed the reciprocating saw to go closer to the stumps of the bushes.  There were two bushes in the front on each side that we were trying to remove, as well as one pine tree on each side.  The spirea bushes were also overgrown, but we wanted to keep them and our local landscaping company, Springwater, recommended trimming them back substantially and letting them grown out again.  Springwater also gave us some other landscaping ideas that we’ll employ as the Summer progresses.

Demo time!

The first two bushes went down relatively quickly and we had the next two trimmed down before lunchtime, so we made good progress before the temperature increased, though the sun got intense as the afternoon went on.

High of 93 F that day…

We took some breaks, of course.  The kids were in the backyard with the pool up and various water toys, so they were entertained while the grown ups did actual work on their Memorial Day weekend

I ended up using Dad’s chainsaw on the stumps and was able to flatten them out a bit to make it easier to cover them up.  The stumps proved a lot stronger than we’d anticipated and the chainsaw proved useful, but not enough to complete the job.  I hacked at the last stump as best I could but may need to let it rot a bit first before I can take an axe or something to it.

Done for now!

The wood under the porch floor seems to be pretty well intact, so we don’t think we’ll have to gut the whole thing and should just be able to replace the floorboards.  Obviously, that could change (because we’ve never done anything like that before…), but we’re hopeful that it should be a relatively easy project.

We’re going to wait until after vacation before we kick that one off, though!

Backpacking: Return to Bell Mountain

“I can fly!

After last year, I wasn’t sure Meg would want to try backpacking again for awhile, but late last summer, it came up again and she seemed interested.  Since then, every once and awhile, she framed it as “when we go back to Bell Mountain next year,” so it appeared that she had forgotten the serious amount of crying she did a year ago…

We had a limited window to pull this off, as I’m doing summer classes again starting in early June, and importantly, Calvin will be home for most of the summer, making it difficult to make a trip like this.  Combine this with the fact that the high temp is in the low-90s for the next week, we opted to do a one-night trip down on a Tuesday when the high was 83 F and the low was 60 F.

Just the two of us.

It rained the day before, so by the time we got down there (four hour drive…), it was pretty moist along the trail.

Taking a step back, I should also note that we learned a fair bit about the trail and opted to start from a different location.  Last year when we did this, we parked at the southwestern end of the loop and had to hike uphill along a rocky creek bed…and infamously, we missed the turn and went the wrong way.  This time, we parked at the northeastern lot and had a much easier time.  The trail in was mostly flat, though, again, somewhat muddy from the rain the day before.

We took a left first to head up to the Bell Mountain peak to get some pictures, then turned around and headed down to the creek we never found last year.  When we got there, we found plenty of water to make our evening run far more smoothly than last year!  We did about 5.4 mi that first day.

Meg liked drawing in her notebook

It was pretty easy to entertain Meg at this site.  She waded across the creek with her sandals on a few times, threw some rocks, drew some sketches in her notebook, and filtered some water for me.  That latter part was of particular interest, so she made us keep hydrated so she could filter more water.

The site was perfect, of course.  The creek was next to a permanent fire pit and in a semi-open area that was flat and cleared for tents.  Again, this is where we wanted to go last year, but never made it.  I’m pretty sure Meg would have enjoyed last year quite a bit more had we actually found it…

She also liked filtering water!

We had macaroni and cheese (again) that night and, having the water source nearby, it was easy to do dishes with plenty of water, making the cooking experience more efficient than last year.  I couldn’t get a fire going because the wood was so wet, so we ended up playing card games in the tents.  Crazy Eights, Go Fish and Memory were the choices, and I’m pretty sure Meg won them all.  It was pretty hot still, as it didn’t cool off into the 60s until after midnight.  We stayed up until 9:00ish and fell asleep quickly after that.

Turns out Meg is good at Crazy Eights…

The next day, we packed up quickly and made it back to the car around 10:00.  It was about 3.5 mi or so and Meg didn’t start flagging until toward the end of it.  The drive back was mostly uneventful and we made it back to Marshall by mid-afternoon, plenty of time to air things out and grab showers.

It was a great trip!  Two nights may have been better, but one night was plenty.  Perhaps next year we’ll try somewhere else!

A Camping Weekend at Van Meter

Meg was pretty helpful in setting up the tent!

Brooke wanted to get a test run in on the tent and camping gear before we head to the Grand Canyon later this summer.  The logistics of this trip were somewhat…”rushed”…as it was the weekend before Finals and we’d been busy for the weekends running up to it.

Meg and I went before Brooke was off work so we could get the tent set up.  The site itself was very flat (as all the sites at Van Meter are), though we had to move some leaves and sticks around.  It was pretty early in the season still on April 27th, so few people had camped in the area in 2018 before we got there.

Yay, dinner!

The weather was set to be great and it largely was.  It was pretty breezy Friday evening, but we were still able to get the fire going and roast some hot dogs.  We didn’t stay up all that late, as the temperatures were falling and the wind was blowing around the smoke all annoying-like…

…and…breakfast…

The temperatures dropped to ~42 F overnight and, while the kids slept just fine, Brooke and I were not as fortunate.  I was mostly warm, but Brooke got a bit chilly (and she subsequently bought a new sleeping bag for the Grand Canyon…good thing we went on a test run, yes?).

We got up, had some breakfast, and then the kids played for a little while at the playground.  The nice thing about Van Meter is that you can see the playground from the campsite (just about all of the sites, really), so the kids could go back and forth without us having to worry (much) about their safety.  There were many other kids around that weekend, some of which Meg and Calvin recognized, others of which they met for the weekend and ran around with for a time.

Playing in the sand at the playground

We didn’t have extensive plans for Saturday except for a hike around Lake Wooldridge.  We’ve gone down to the lake before, but we’d never hiked around the entire thing because Calvin is the slowest person on the planet.  It’s a 2 mile hike and, this time of year, the vegetation and insects are more limited, making it far more pleasant than usual.

Lake Wooldridge!

Calvin started out alright, but Brooke had to carry him on and off for periods of time.  In all honesty, he did a lot better than usual for this length of a hike, but it still took us well over an hour to go the full two miles.

Going on a hike!

The weather was absolutely gorgeous that day!  The hike killed a solid amount of time that morning, but we still made it back to have lunch and rest for a little bit.  The kids went back over to the playground while I attempted to take a nap (it was a bit loud…and bright…so yeah, didn’t get very far).

Still hiking…

Early that afternoon, we went by Van Meter’s Missouri’s American Indian Cultural Center for a presentation on the Sun conducted by a gentleman from the astronomy club in Columbia.  It was a bit above the kids’ heads, but after the slide show, we went outside to use a few telescopes with filters to look at the Sun.  Again, I’m not completely sure they got much out of it, but I think they thought it was at least something special to do!

Looking at the Sun!

Later that afternoon, we had mostly “downtime” around the campground, again including playground time, as well as a nice open space to go fly kites.  You couldn’t ask for a more perfect afternoon!

“Let’s…go…fly…a kite!”

That night we had “cowboy beans,” which consisted of baked beans, peppers and pork.  The kids weren’t the biggest fans (shocker…), but it was nice and warm.  We stayed up a little bit later that night, but otherwise got to bed as we were nice and tired from a long day.

I’m an idiot.

We slept better that night, though it still got down into the low-40s.  The next morning, we opted to pack up the cars and head out before breakfast, but as I’m a complete idiot, I had been using the Forester to charge my phone because I forgot the appropriate cable to charge it from the battery backup I’d brought along.

So yeah, we spent an extra hour trying to jump the car using the new jumper cables we’d bought for Brooke’s car.  Guess what?  They didn’t work.  So, we dug out my cables from underneath all the camping gear and they worked like a charm.

Lesson learned.

It ended up being a great weekend!  We got a few pointers for our trip to the Grand Canyon and are that much more prepared for the journey ahead.

Progress

Boom.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been thinking of running a Half Marathon this October in Kansas City.  “Early bird” registration is due at the end of May, so I have been pushing it to get as much training in before the kids are out on their summer vacation so I know whether I can even meet my goals of a). running for that far without stopping, and b). doing it in under 2 hours.

Well, I did it.

Honestly, I started out the run this morning a little later than normal, on account of the weather being somewhat mild at 76 F this morning.  I grabbed a few cups of coffee, something I haven’t been doing for the last few runs.  I ran 6.25 mi yesterday and didn’t run at all over the weekend, though I put in four days of 6.2 mi runs and a 20 mi bike ride last week.

Not too bad…

I hit 8 mi and still felt pretty good, so I decided to keep on going.  Another change from last time (when I only got 10.5 mi in) was that I took along some “hydration mix” for the run rather than just water.  Did that really make much of a difference?  I dunno.  But Brooke picked up a few packs in her last Sierra Trading Post order so I could check it out and it seemed to do alright.  I’ll probably order more of it, or something similar, for the rest of the summer.

I’m nothing if not consistent…

I’ll be signing up for the Half Marathon soon enough, as I’ve proven to myself I can do it.  I’ll likely keep doing between 6 and 10 miles on runs for the rest of the summer, and hit up 13 mile runs when I get a chance (e.g. when Meg and Calvin are elsewhere).

Oh yeah, and I needed a nap this afternoon.  I had 20,000 steps after I was finished running.  :-/

Garden Update: Early May

Garden 2018, ya’ll…

Well, the garden’s finally planted.  In some ways, I feel like it’s later than usual, but in other ways, I feel like it’s early (probably because we planted popcorn in, like, July last year…).

The tomatoes are in the rightmost plot this time and green beans and popcorn are in the leftmost, largest plot.  New for this year, Brooke put in some cucumbers.  The kids actually eat sliced cucumber sometimes, so perhaps we’ll get something useful…

Looks kinda desolate so far…

Brooke planted radishes, carrots, spinach and lettuce about a month ago now, but there was a massive rain (~4″ in a few hours…), so the seeds she’d just put in the ground shifted out of their rows and/or didn’t come up.  Honestly, they look a little better than we expected, but we need to water the garden and get some grass clippings put in to limit weed proliferation.  Last week was the first time I mowed the lawn (fully, at least), so I’m only now getting to the point where I’m mowing regularly.

Pretty flowers!

The “herb garden” section still needs a little more work, though.  Brooke put some bulbs in last Fall and they came up looking all pretty-like.  Some of the other perennials have returned, but we’ve added some milkweed and indigo from the Botany class on campus.  Again, lots of landscaping to finish off.

Millions of peaches…

The trees have also had their flowers on already.  Like last year, the peach tree had a bunch of flowers (and they didn’t freeze this time…yay!), but new for this year, the apple trees, cherry tree and almond tree also had some blooms.  We’ll have to see if anything comes of it, especially on the apple trees where the buds were on the smallest of branches…

First harvest!

That’s it for now!  We’ve got some radishes ready and the lettuce is moving right along, so onward, summer!

State Park #4: Van Meter State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Hey, remember when I said I was going to make blog posts about all the State Parks we’ve visited??  Yeah, back in 2016?  I suppose I should get back to that.

Incidentally, we went camping at Van Meter last weekend, but I’ll put that in a separate post.  Before I do that, perhaps I should share some of our “greatest hits” from previous years.

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Remember this kid??

Van Meter State Park is the closest state park to Marshall, so it’s the one we’ve visited the most since we moved here in 2014.  There’s a small playground and a campground (that we only recently camped at!), and a few relatively light hiking trails that hit various parts of the park.

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Hiking has gotten…faster…over the years…

A few of the trails head down into wetland areas, and for short legs, they’re pretty easy to handle.  We’ve probably visited those most often, as we could put Calvin down and let him roam mostly freely (albeit slowly).  The other trail we’ve visited with relative frequency is the Lakeview Trail that (spoiler alert) goes around Lake Wooldridge.

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The Lake is one of the best parts of Van Meter!

The lake is especially nice because you can get close to it, but you don’t have to.  The kids get some interesting scenery to check out, and we get a halfway decent hike.  That trail gets “spider webby” as the Summer goes on, so it’s definitely better in the late Spring/early Summer months.

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Picnicking on our very first visit.

The other interesting note about Van Meter is that a series of Native American mound structures are present on the site.  The Missouri American Indian Cultural Center is on the park grounds and has a few displays to explain this history to visitors.  The mounds found at Van Meter aren’t as large as those found in Cahokia, but have similar features.

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One of our multiple New Years’ hikes!

One tradition we’ve tried starting for New Year’s Day is to go hiking.  This year proved a tad chilly for that (high of 11 F, low of -8 F), so we put off our hike a few days (but still went!). Typically, we’re the only visitors at that time (because duh…), so it’s nice being out in the new year with a fresh, nature-esque perspective.

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Again, I can’t emphasize how slow Calvin is.  Seriously.  He’s the slowest hiker ever.

Anyway, Van Meter is a fun park to visit.  I’m not sure it’s a “destination state park,” but the camping experience was near perfect and the hiking is relatively simple for kids and adults, alike.

Review: Avengers – Infinity War

So many characters…

I’m still a bit conflicted on Avengers: Infinity War. It’s effectively what all of the MCU has been working for since Iron Man released in 2008, though the villain, Thanos, first appeared in The Avengers in 2012 (still a long time). Much like the first Avengers movie, bringing together heroes from the existing MCU films of the time, Infinity War brings all of them in, to varying degrees, to battle the greatest threat to the universe.

And it’s a big threat, as Thanos’ deal is “universal population control,” wiping out half of life in the snap of his fingers.

The film is at times deftly navigated, while also convoluted.  Each character seems to “get their due,” but at the same time, Thanos gets so much time it really does seem like it’s more his movie than an Avengers movie.  I suppose we’ve seen most of these characters together as recently as Captain America: Civil War, though the original team, it’s been since 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (and some of those characters, notably Hawkeye, aren’t even in this one…).  I guess I’m saying that I’d have liked to see a bit more interaction between the main Avengers squad, because, you know, it’s an Avengers movie.

That said, we still get to see everyone, and Thanos really does seem to be the threat he’s been played up to be all this time.  The audience has been exposed to the Infinity Stones over multiple movies now, so finally getting to see them “assembled” (see what I did there?) and added to the Infinity Gauntlet was indeed a thrill. Thanos, himself, took some getting used to as he’s entirely CG, but I think Josh Brolin‘s performance mostly came through.  Everyone else was as great as they’ve always been, but again, it just seems like we got so much less of them, even in a 2.5 hr movie.

Ultimately, I think I liked it, but it’s just so hard to judge without seeing Avengers 4.  This movie ends on a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers, effectively blowing up the MCU, and we’ll have to wait another year to see how it all pans out.  There’s a lot going on in this one and I think, for the most part, it’s handled as well as could possibly be expected.

I just wanna see Tony Stark and Steve Rogers hug it out, though…

R.I.Bees

Brooke had been meaning to get into the hives for the past month or so, but the weather simply wouldn’t cooperate this Spring.  March and April had very few warm-ish days and they were typically followed by long rain sessions.  Then, if we actually had some good weather on a weekend, we’d be out of town and still unavailable.

Eventually, after Girl’s Weekend, Brooke was able to leave work early and open up the hives and see how the bees were doing.  We’d noticed that there wasn’t much bee activity coming out of the hives on the warm-ish days, but again, as weather was back-and-forth for awhile, we couldn’t be sure whether there was a problem or whether the bees simply didn’t know what was going on with the weather situation.

Unfortunately, there were no bees.  Our original hive from 2016 was completely empty and was likely “robbed” by another hive of bees.  There was still some honey in the 2017 hive, but no bees to speak of, so they likely took their queen and swarmed sometime earlier in the year.  The food Brooke put in late in Winter was still there, so it’s likely they left sometime shortly after she was last in the hive.

In many ways, we count ourselves lucky, as many beekeepers lose 1/3 of their hives in a given year and we didn’t lose any last year, so we were probably due to have something like this happen.  We’re going to “re-set” the hive boxes to be lifted up a bit before putting any more bees in there, so in some ways, it’s a good opportunity to take stock of how we’ve been managing them and correct a few things before any new bees take up residence.

Thankfully, we’ve still got a decent amount of honey available to get us through the next few months.  We think we may be able to score an extra package of bees from Brooke’s Dad in the next few weeks, depending on how his bees hold up.  It’s the right time of year for bees to be delivered, so we’re hopeful that if Mark doesn’t end up having extra, someone else will, and Brooke has enough contacts now that we can probably get something going.

Here’s hoping!

My Legs Hurt

Ouch…

I went for a “long run” today, as the rest of the family were elsewhere and the weather was passable for part of a weekend (it’s snowing in KC right now…seriously…April in Missouri…).  I was hoping I could make it the full 13.1 mi today, but settled for breaching the “double digit” line for the first time.  I ran around much of Marshall, which is almost required when the town isn’t all that large, but I still only hit the 10 mi mark when I was within a block of our house on the return trip.

I spent much of the rest of the afternoon laying on the couch watching the Cardinals game, and as of now, it sure feels like I pushed those leg muscles to their limits.  I wouldn’t say it “hurts,” per se, but I feel my legs every time I stand up and move from room to room.  I’m interested to see what tomorrow brings…

I suppose I’ll need to step it up more slowly, but the next few weeks will get more convoluted due to various meetings and work.  Once we’re clear of school, I should have more time for these longer runs (and they’ll probably need to be in the mornings…I ordered a hat to keep my bald head from burning if I run in intense sun…).  Based on the time I put in today, I suspect that I’m on track to do a half-marathon in under 2 hours, and honestly, I think I could have finished it off today, but it probably wouldn’t have felt all that great tomorrow (or Monday, for that matter…).  Assuming I can keep on schedule, I’m pretty confident I can achieve a respectable time by October.