I love plants–especially flowers and fruit trees. I appreciate beautifully planned landscaping, but I also wonder at wild forests and meadows of flowers that grow without direction or nurturing. A person might not be able to tell how much I love plants by looking at my yard. This is because I lack the time to care for an elaborate garden. I don’t even have time to care for a few pretty pots. It’s just like interior design. Few people know that I am interested in that because our house has half-painted walls and no pictures up. But that’s because I have limited time and resources and I choose to focus my time and resources in caring for the immediate needs of my family. I suppose you could argue that my house and yard would look nicer if I spent less time writing blog posts, but I would win that argument. My blog posts are written when I’m sitting at swim practice or other kid activities that take me away from home.

One of the perks of our new house is that the previous owners loved flowers and plants too. Though the yard was quite overgrown in some areas and under watered in others, the planning that went into making our yard beautiful is obvious.

I was so happy when this rose bush finally bloomed. There are three other rose bushes there that aren’t looking too healthy. I think the javelina and rabbits are munching on them. I’m still trying to learn the name of the bush in the background. It’s an evergreen that blooms with pale pink flowers in the spring. Anybody have any ideas?

I spent a few minutes last week laying in the hammock in the backyard with the kids. I love the gnarled black branches of the mesquite trees. Our yard is bordered with large oleander bushes. Many of them died our first summer because I didn’t know their watering zone was off. These are hardy plants, though, so some survived. I know they’re poisonous, but I still love the color variety they bring to the yard–even if they’re in desperate need of trimming. Andrew brought some blooms in last week for me to enjoy in the house. As long as none of us ingests them, we will be OK. We have a hedge of bushes on the back side of our pool. They surprised me by producing small green fruit last fall. I did a lot of internet searches in the hopes of naming the fruit and finding out if it was poisonous or edible. I just couldn’t figure it out, so I ate one. Dumb, I know, especially with a yard full of oleanders, but i didn’t die or even get sick! And the fruit was tasty! This is what it looks like, and this is what I thought it was:

So, I thought, cool–we have feijoa bushes. And then I noticed these flowers on the bushes a week ago.Google told me these are guava flowers. Hmmmm. So I asked Google to tell me the difference between feijoa and guava. Guess what…they’re the same thing. Feijoa is also called “pineapple guava.” I know not everybody who reads this will appreciate my discovery, but I think it’s cool that I have guava bushes in my backyard. It feels so tropical!

I also have lovely bougainvillea bushes. They’re actually a tropical plant too even though they’re popular in the desert. Winter ripped off a branch and brought them to me last week.I am so happy we have a yard that we can enjoy. Even the horseshoe pit has come in handy as a sand box. Check out that sunset!Sometimes, though, we have problems with our plants. Besides the work of keeping them trimmed and cared for (which is work I do like, but don’t necessarily have time for) sometimes they cause problems.

I have learned the names of most of the cactus in our yard, but this one was a mystery to me until Brooklyn crashed her bike into it and forced me to take another look. Brooklyn taught herself how to ride a two-wheeler a couple of weeks ago. She felt confident enough in her skills to follow Makayla and Winter on a walk. They weren’t even gone 5 minutes when Brooklyn returned crying and covered in spines–large and small.

Not all cactuses are particularly painful, but cholla is the worst of the bunch. Brooklyn had crashed into a Christmas cholla, named for its bright red winter fruit. The large spines from a cholla are not nearly as painful as the small spines. The small spines are like tiny hairs or slivers–almost like what you see on your shirt after a haircut. Though the small spines look like harmless hairs, they are very painful because they are barbed and you can get as much as fifty in the palm of your hand by just touching a cholla. Brooklyn’s hands, arms, legs, and stomach were covered in small painful spines. It was horrible! People say to use duct tap to remove the spines, but that only took care of about half. They were too fine to stick to the tape and had embedded into her skin. We threw her clothes away and tweezed and taped like crazy for about an hour. Then I sent her to the hot tub to soak.

You can bet she was a lot more careful on her bike after that!

I planted some pretty flowers in pots on my front porch. One morning, I woke up to this:

Javelina. I don’t like them. They’re ugly, smelly, and they eat my plants.

After a few weeks, I planted more flowers, and a few days later there was an even bigger mess. Right now my pots have one or two flowers that have survived the blind beasts. I have since done a little research. If any of my family is reading this an needs ideas for Mother’s Day . . . . buy me new javelina-resistant flowers for my pots.  I’d like to try cosmos or vinca because I like their bright colors.  In fact, I’d also like some replacement plants for some other areas in our yard: 3 or 4 salvia bushes, 3 or 4 purple lantana.  Or let me go to the nursery by myself to pick out some plants.  It’s really hard to go plant shopping with little children.

The prickly pear are blooming. Yellow isn’t my favorite flower color, but it’s kind of pretty. I prefer reds, pinks, and purples. Orange is OK too.

This next picture has nothing to do with plants, but it does have to do with the outdoors. Sometimes the kids leave the slider in the game room open and we end up with wildlife in the house. So far, it has only been spiders and lizards. I did kill a scorpion by the back door once last year. I sure hope a snake never finds it’s way in. Oh, and thank you for asking how the puppy training is going. It’s going.

I have a great story about how Winter saved my life this morning. I told it to Emily and she was cracking up with my facial expressions and hand gestures. Unfortunately, you can’t see that on a blog post. So here’s the short, boring version–Winter was barking like a maniac with her hackles raised on our walk today. We walk the same route every day for training purposes, so I couldn’t figure out why the horses we were passing were making her jumpy. She was barking and backing away from the side of the road. I was embarrassed, so I picked her up and carried her far from the horses before putting her down. On the way home, as we prepared to pass the horses, there was another neighborhood dog barking at something in the same place. As I got close, the older couple warned us, “Look out guys! There’s a rattlesnake!” It turned out, Winter wasn’t freaking out about the horses at all. Just on the side of the road where we had been walking was a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike. Good job, Winter!


More Guests and More Fun

After our Easter guests left, we had one day to wash sheets and towels and prep the casita for more guests. Our friends from Iowa, the Henstrom’s came to spend some of their spring break in sunny Tucson.

Most of our time together was spent hanging out in the backyard and swimming.

Nicky gave Brooklyn a swimming lesson. After only a few minutes, she was swimming across the pool and floating on her back.

The hot tub was the preferred hang out, of course.

We had a couple of fun afternoon outings. First, was a trip up Mt. Lemmon.

We got some great pictures at Windy Point.

Our trip up Mt. Lemmon would have been perfect without the vomit. Poor Gavin. He looked a little green on the way up the mountain, but seemed to get over it while we explored Windy Point. We continued up the mountain to the Cookie Cabin in Summerhaven. Again, when we stopped he seemed a little sick, but brightened up right away with some fresh air and running around.

The drive down the mountain did him in. I went very slowly, but he couldn’t handle the many turns and change in elevation. We stopped about halfway down and got out after he did a mini-puke. He seemed ready to go again, so we loaded up and continued our descent. When we were just a few minutes from the end of the canyon, he lost it.

My mom used to say, “It’s not a family get-together unless somebody throws up.”

The Henstrom’s may not be blood relations, but they are family. For our last six years in Iowa, they were our neighbors. We spent many holidays with them and even went on a few family trips. When Gavin threw up, Nicky was right there with wipes and a trash can as I tried to find a safe place to pull over. Yep, we’re family!

The next day’s outing was not nearly as eventful. We went on a cave tour at Colossal Caves.

I was surprised at how nervous Andrew was in the cave. He kept telling me to watch out for drop offs and warned me of low hanging rocks.

Brooklyn and Gavin were kind of nervous too. I carried Gavin through the whole tour.

The younger kids were relieved when the tour was over. I love geology and interesting stories from history, so I thought the tour was great–at least the parts I could hear above the whining and Andrew’s safety warnings.

There are so many fun things to do and see in our area, so I’m thankful for our visitors who come and help us explore.

Our friends left on Friday morning, and we had one last set of visitors that evening.

My friend is the girls’ camp director and she and her husband planned a pre-camp camp out and hike with the Young Women. Her youngest two children came to our house after school and stayed with us that night and into the next day while their parents were camping and hiking with teenage girls.

It was fun to have them, but I was relieved to have a break from overnight guests after they left.

The next week found me playing catch up on all kinds of things that I had put off during our weeks of visitors.

We are expecting another special visitor tomorrow…Emily!!! She will be visiting for a week between BYU winter and spring semesters. Family pictures are on the agenda. I am stressed about what to wear. I rarely invest much money in my clothes, so the result is I don’t love anything I wear. Most of what I wear is meant to be comfortable instead of cute. I tried ordering some shirts online because I can’t get to a store by myself to shop for myself. They came today, and I’m disappointed. Organizing outfits for everybody is the most horrible part of family pictures. The second most horrible part is trying to look pretty while also trying to get everybody else presentable. I’m dreading the process, but hope I like the results. You will know how well things go by how many pictures I post.

Easter 2018

Before going to bed on Easter Sunday, Brooklyn told me, “Mom, I want to get a time machine for Christmas, so I can go back to Easter again.”

In other words, Easter weekend was pretty great.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures on Easter Sunday. I must have been tired or busy or both.

But it’s true that the kids had a great weekend. Oddly, our kids look forward to listening to General Conference. They like to color and listen and the older kids like taking notes. They like the fun breaks in between sessions when we try to do something very active together to get the wiggles out. They’re not perfectly attentive, but they do well. And the little ones always ask me to replay conference on the Monday after so they can sit and color and listen like they did before. There is a special spirit in our home during these meetings, and they feel it and want to replicate it after the big weekend is over.

Like at Christmas time, we had a lot of different visitors over two weeks. Four different groups came and went with only a day or less in between to wash sheets and towels and prep for the next set of guests. We were happy to have all of them, but having many visitors along with the work of a brand new puppy wore me out.

The week before Easter, our kids had Spring break. And two days before that, Rick and Ricky went to Disneyland.

While they were at the “happiest place on earth,” we got Winter.

The first day of spring break consisted of us cleaning, shopping, and preparing for guests. We also took Winter on her first outing/walk.

This little outing turned into quite an ordeal which probably deserves its own post entitled, “Ricky Gets Lost and MacGyverMom Saves His Life.” It’s a great story that is probably better told in person with exaggerated hand gestures and facial expressions, but maybe I can do it justice with written word. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll get it on here.

The day after I saved Ricky’s life, Chelsey, Kenzie, Riley, and Jake came for a few days. We so enjoyed spending time with them–even if we mostly hung out in the backyard with the puppy and practiced sweet Ripstick skills. Again, I wish I had taken more pictures.

I was super grateful to Chelsey for getting me to the top of the Seven Falls hike, finally!

I love to hike, but don’t get out on hikes too often. First of all, hiking with small children is slow and painful. It’s nearly impossible to get more than a half mile in without more adult help. Second, I’m too scared to go on my own–what if I got lost or hurt? So, I either get Rick to watch little children and take older children or plan on not going very far very quickly.

My guess is that this particular hike was about 6-7 miles round trip, so it took us about 4 hours. It was harder and longer than I thought, but it was worth the view at the top and worth it to say I actually made it. I tried to get the older kids to the top last fall, and we tried with some of the kids the day before, but both times we left too close to noon. Hiking at noon in Arizona–even in the fall or spring is unpleasant. But Chelsey got us out the door around 9 am and we persevered. Coming down at noon was pretty hot, there were a few good trips and slips, and both Chelsey and I turned our ankles, but we did it!

The evening after our hike, we all headed north to Mesa for the Easter Pageant.

The pageant was a lot different than I thought it would be. After attending the Nauvoo pageant for years, I expected something similar–a live show. This one was awkwardly scripted and seemed out of date. I know some my wonder how the story of Jesus Christ’s life can seem “out of date” but it’s the presentation, telling, and musical numbers that seemed antiquated–not the actual story or quoted scripture. This was the last year for the pageant for the foreseeable future, so I guess it was good for us to experience it. I’m hoping if they begin the tradition after the Mesa temple reopens, the program will also have undergone remodeling and updates.

That evening, we brought Anjee’s kids, Kelsey and Josh, home with us to spend the weekend while Anjee and Jeremy prepped their house to go on the market.

They had a great visit with us–just playing with the puppy, swimming, playing basketball and soccer and football. On Saturday, we watched General Conference and balanced going to basketball games.

Sunday was Easter. I made a nice ham dinner which we ate for lunch. I was completely exhausted because a few of the kids hardly slept with their excitement over the Easter bunny’s arrival. I think I have said this before, but holidays never truly feel like holidays to me because there’s just so much work involved–planning, decorating, making food, cleaning, gift giving, etc. Maybe it’s just the life of a mom. I guess I rather be busy than bored.

So, Easter was great. Anjee’s family left during the afternoon session of General Conference. I had finally gone upstairs for a nap so missed them leave.

That afternoon, we took Winter for her first family walk. It was slow with many, many stops.

I’m learning a lot about raising a puppy. I assumed dogs naturally like walks. I had no idea they have to be taught–same thing with playing fetch. I’m definitely in over my head.

Winter Basketball 2018

How many Mergenthaler blog posts have “basketball” in the title? Our kids do try other things. In fact, Sean is on swim team and I think it might kill me. He has practice every day Monday through Friday for an hour, and meets on Saturday (which I’m supposed to sign up to help at–how do you help at a swim meet with a 2-year-old?).

Back to basketball–our boys play with the Tucson Dragons. Rick has developed a relationship with the guys that run the organization, so he is able to coach. Time constraints only allow for him to coach one team at a time, so this time he coached Sean’s team. We were a little nervous about Sean playing on a 3rd/4th grade team (he’s in 2nd grade), but with Dad coaching he was fine. In fact, he learned a lot very quickly, and by the end of the season was defending against 4th graders and getting rebounds all of the time. At his last practice, he won Bump against one of his older teammates who thinks he is better than he is because he makes a lot of points in games.

I was able to go to two of Sean’s games. He is number 50.

It’s always fun to watch Rick coach. He enjoys the boys and he’s good and positive with them. Parents love him coaching their boys, and I’m no exception there. Andrew’s and Sean’s teams did very well in the final tournament. The last games were intense and exciting and they were matched against good teams.

Andrew’s last game was especially fun to watch. His friend made a three-point shot at the buzzer to tie the game. They finally lost by a few points in double overtime. Andrew played very well and was an awesome defender.

Both of the boys came home with silver medals for the season. Ricky will play again starting in May. Andrew wants to take a break and try football. Sean is trying swim team. I’m trying to keep it all together with a busy family schedule. It’s worth it to see the kids improve and learn and stay physically active.

Dreams Do Come True!

Makayla has wanted a dog her whole life. She was never scared of other people’s dogs. She loved them–big and small.

For her first years of life, pet ownership was not financially possible. Rick had a PhD program to get through. Besides that, our backyard was very, very small. I had other reasons for not getting a pet. Our family was growing, and sleep deprivation with a newborn does not encourage a mom to seek out new ways to have more work to do with even less sleep.

We did have a dog run in our tiny backyard in Everett. Once, a family in our ward that knew how much young Makayla loved dogs and that we had a dog run asked us to babysit their puppy over a weekend. I don’t know what insanity compelled me to say yes. I’m going to blame my shrunken post-partum brain and my need to please others. Andrew was less than 6 months old and Ricky was a very early riser. Makayla was experiencing night terrors most nights. I hadn’t slept more than a few hours at a time in quite a while, so my brain was not firing on all cylinders. As the time approached to babysit a yappy new puppy, my dread grew. I was hardly taking care of my four kids, for goodness sake! What person in their right mind would inflict a sleepless two nights upon me with their untrained vocal kick dog?!? I did something shameful. I called just the day before the scheduled puppy sitting and said I couldn’t handle their puppy. I was just too overwhelmed and overtired to take on the responsibility–even for two days and nights. I still feel bad about the last minute cancellation which left them to scramble for a new dog sitter, but also a little angry that this person asked me in the first place. Obviously they didn’t clearly see how hard things were for me.

When Rick graduated and we prepared to move to Iowa with a well-paid job, we hinted to the kids that we could get a much bigger yard, and maybe a dog.

We lied.

Well, we didn’t purposely lie. We just didn’t quite grasp the severity of the Iowan winters, the scope of our house remodeling, and the 3 additional children that would join our family (4 children if you count adding Reyes to the mix when Sean was just a few months old).

We still couldn’t handle a dog. Not even a fish! We had a bunch of kids! Our house was already overrun with “animals.” That’s what we told the kids until they may have possibly began to resent each other for existing.

One day, in desperation, Makayla made a sign and placed it in our front yard near the sidewalk. It said, “FREE PUPPIES! Put them right here!” The sign included a glittery arrow pointing to a basket with a blanket.

Unfortunately, her puppy basket remained barren. Another time, she threatened to not believe in Santa Claus anymore if he didn’t bring a puppy for Christmas.

Santa brought a Fur Real breathing and purring cat.

She was slightly mollified, but her Christmas sparkle dulled significantly.

And then we learned that Gavin would probably be our last baby and we moved to a warmer climate with a nice fenced yard and the begging, cajoling, pleading, and planning became incessant.

Somehow we cracked. And we got a puppy.

This is Winter. She’s a golden retriever and she’s very sweet. We named her Winter because she is white, obviously, but also because she is the only white winter we expect to see much of here in Tucson and she was born in January. The kids were super excited to have her.

We have had her two weeks now. She is learning quickly. Either I’m an excellent dog trainer or she’s smart. I think it’s the latter.

But, here are my true feelings–I don’t really want a dog. Rick doesn’t really want a dog. Puppies are a lot of work and not a whole lot of reward. They’re messy and they smell and they bark.

But, Makayla’s dreams have come true. You would think after the years and years of deprivation she would be with the puppy every second, constantly catering to its needs.


You know what she said to me the other day as I begged her to please take Winter out to do her business? “I think I’m not really a dog person.” What?!?! I could have thrown that dog down her throat.

Good thing I’m not that violent. And good thing Andrew and Brooklyn are smitten with Winter and are willing to take on the responsibilities of caring for her. Ricky too. Sean likes her a little.

So, we have a dog. Insert eye roll and big sigh here.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like her and she LOVES me. I think she will be a great exercise companion once I get her trained to walk more than ten steps before laying down or sniffing the roadside. And she already keeps Andrew and Brooklyn happy and busy, so that’s good. She has a lovely personality and isn’t too hyper for a puppy.

I go back and forth between regretting the decision to get a dog and thinking it will be OK in the long run. Honestly, I feel like I have been tricked.

I mistakenly believed I could count on our crew of kids to clean up after, feed, train, play with, walk, and generally care for the puppy. But, as with all things, I am the mom and I am the one who is home most of the time. Whatever work isn’t done by the kids becomes my work. I should have known this because it’s true with every bit of family work around the house. I can either do more work or work at making them do their work. Neither option is appealing.

I also feel like Rick has tricked me. He said, “Sure, I think we can get a dog. I think it would be a good thing.” When a shelter asked if we would consider two dogs, he actually said, “Maybe we should. They could play with each other.” I immediately nixed that idea. Double the dogs means double everything else–mess, poop, digging, walking, barking. But Rick’s positive attitude about dog ownership gave me confidence. I thought, “Maybe we can do this. Maybe we can get a dog for the kids and not completely lose our sanity.”

But, after a rough day and loud evening of barking, he lost it. I asked him to please help me with something dog related (I can’t remember what it was now) and he said, “I never wanted a dog. It’s not my responsibility.” Yep, I’ve been duped. So much for “Maybe we can get a dog.”

Can you tell I’m a little bitter? Like I said before, it’s a good thing some of the kids love her. And it’s good that she’s super cute and furry and has a nice personality. Everything will be OK in the long run–even if Makayla’s dreams have turned into my nightmares.

We will get along just fine…eventually.