Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rocky Mountain High

It snowed right before Thanksgiving.  It was beautiful, soft and lovely, but it made me miss the mountains.  Not our gentle, rolling Appalachians, but the rugged, snow capped peaks of the Rockies.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of our favorite places in the country.  Once we left Kansas, we logged miles until we were back camping in Glacier Basin.  Rocky is one of those places that instantly feels like home.

When we're there, hiking is by far our favorite activity.  But, we've also found RMNP to have some of the best Ranger programming in the National Park system.  There's a wide variety of programs, and all of them are informative, creative and engaging.

This year we had an epiphany and realized that now that the kids can handle long driving days we can be in Rocky in two and a half days.  We know we'll be back soon.

At Lake Lucy

On the Tundra at the top of Trail Ridge Road (too bad his tongue is sticking out)

Indian Paintbrush - my favorite Western Wildflower

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Another Reason I'm Glad My Kids are Readers

It's a rainy Sunday afternoon.  We didn't do much for Christmas so most of the clutter is cleaned up, and the few new gifts from Grandma are stashed away.  My mom did my laundry when she was here.  We're headed to a friend's house for dinner and I only need to bring cookies which I pulled from the freezer.  Then ski resort didn't need me to teach.  Both kids are inside, and yet, it's quiet.  Why?

Because they're readers.  Both kids got stacks of books under the tree, and the girl loaded herself up with borrowed books from my classroom library.  So what are they doing instead of whining or fussing or fighting or being wild on this rainy day?  They're reading.

Bliss, Comfort and Joy!

When The Woodsman comes in, I'll ask him to stoke up the fire and then the world will be perfect.

Silent Night Indeed!

I had to duck under the roof of the pillow house blanket and he was quickly covering a magic trick instruction page.  

Full Disclosure:  Right after lunch I kicked them outside for an hour because I could... not... stand... their noise.  At least for this moment it's peaceful.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness

I don't know about you, but I hug my kids a little tighter this time of year.

If you're an educator or a parent, you just can't forget about the anniversaries of loss.  There have been so many senseless acts of violence against our children and their teachers.  It seems like every year there's a new date to mark and a new set of names to mourn.  For me, mid December and mid April are the darkest days.  My mind just can't forget the parents, siblings, friends and colleagues who are still here.  I wonder how they're coping, and I wish that I could do something.  But then I think of how powerful the gun lobby is in this country and I feel totally helpless.

Sometimes I feel like just a voice crying in the wilderness.  I've learned over the years that when I feel hopeless I should do something, or I'll wallow in the overwhelming sadness of it all.  So, today, I made a donation to The Newtown Action Alliance.  Tonight, I'll light a candle and hold the victim's loved ones in my hearts.  It doesn't seem like much in the face of so much violence, but if I act, and you act, and we share our actions... maybe together we can change the world.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Always Over Extending Myself

Sometimes old friends really do know you the best.  They're so good at picking out the patterns of your life.

Recently, I was discussing a new part time job (working a few hours on Saturday and Sunday as a ski instructor for teeny weeny ones) with a friend who has known me almost as long as I've known myself.  I told him about the plan for the new job and then pondered, "I hope I'm not overextending myself."

His response....  "Sweetheart, you're always overextending yourself."

And isn't that the truth.  I think I've always been like this.  I don't remember ever, ever being a person without several projects or plans on my plate.  I don't do well with idleness or being unproductive.  It's not that I don't like to relax - I do.  I just think it's more like that old joke...

How do Germans relax?  They work.

The thing is, as long as I have a plan, and I have time to prepare, the stress of having a full calendar and a to do list usually keeps me moving forward and engaged.  I don't like being so busy that I don't sleep, and I don't like having so much happening that it impacts on time I get to spend with my kids, but usually, being busy really fits me.

So, am I overextending myself?  Check back next week after I don't have the weekend to regroup from this even more than normally busy week and I'll let you know.  In the meantime, here's some of what's been keeping me flying.

Had a great Thanksgiving visit with my family including:  cookie baking and house decorating with my Grandma, Black Friday Shopping with my sister, kids and mom, a wonderful Thanksgiving feast with everyone at the farm, a date night with the Woodsman (lunch - Italian and a movie - Hunger Games), and buying a car (Forrester - replacing the Outback that died the week before).

Before Thanksgiving we all ran in the local Turkey Trot.  The Girl ran the 10K with her Daddy and came in second.  The boy and I completed a 5K (I wasn't even last like last year).  I also cooked a couple of incredible dishes using fall ingredients.  It's been lovely having the CSA, but the kids are already sick of winter squash.

Smoky Black Bean and Butternut Ragout

Arugula Salad with pickled beets, clementines and Asian Dressing.

Butternut Squash Shepherd's Pie Recipe

Prepare 3 c. of mashed winter squash.  Season with salt, pepper, butter and fresh parmesan cheese.  Set aside.

Saute 2 lbs. of sausage or ground beef or vegi burger or a combination.

Add 2 cans/jars of tomatoes, garlic, oregano and 1 t. soy sauce.  Simmer until the mixture reduces by about half.

Stir in green beans or peas, then place in individual ramekins or a 9x13 pan.  Top with squash mixture.  Top squash mixture with good sharp cheddar cheese.  Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes until heated through and bubbly.

Finally, our favorite activities, and the ones that keep us the busiest have been the ones involving the kids.  In the past few weeks we've had a dance recital, Lego Club, Code Club (including a presentation to the School Board members), Orchestra concert, musical practice, confirmation class, acolyting, usher, special music at church, Sunday School, Youth Group, and a boy's trip to the Redskins game.  Of course, there's also the regular, normal, everyday activities of running a household and working full time.   Busy?  Yes.  Blessed?  You bet.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tall in the Fall: Kansas Prairie

After we left Kentucky we made a hard and fast push towards Colorado.  After all, we'd been across the Mid-west before, and knew that it was (for the most part) hot, flat and boring.  We did decide to make one side trip in the Flint Hills of  Kansas to stop at the National Tall Grass Prairie Preserve.  After reading the Little House series, The Woodsman has really been fascinated with the pioneers, and I was eager to see the fabled grass as tall as a man on horseback.  Also, I'd read that the TGPP had great living history, so we thought it would be well worth the trip.

It's hard to do big cities when you're camping and hauling a trailer.  Don't worry - we've been up the arch before.
As we drove closer and closer to the preserve I found myself wondering... where was the grass?  If it was really that tall, shouldn't I be seeing some?  The Flint Hills were beautiful - but where was the grass????

When we walked into the visitor's center and saw the first display I realized my error.  Oops -
"Tall in the Fall".  Well, that explained it.  We were there in June.  Also, the living history areas were mostly closed due to reconstruction.  Obviously, this was one area where my pre-trip research was lacking.

The day wasn't a total bust though.   There was a great old school (even as a grown up middle schooler The Girl still loves being able to play school), and we saw some beautiful flowers and butterflies.  But, overall, a disappointment.

The Woodsman and I agreed that we'll return here another year in the fall - we'd still like to see that grass.

Friday, November 7, 2014

So Long October - Welcome November

Over the past several years I have decided that, while I love the festivals and fun traditions of October, by the time we get to Halloween I'm craving the peace and serenity of November.

Mostly, the weather is dreary.  I like that.  Today, when the sunshine came out briefly I found myself feeling a bit disappointed. November is not a time to be out; it's time to be in, so let it rain.

 I look forward to warm sweaters, comfy tights and cozy skirts.  I want the pop and crackle of a wood fire and the warm you to the bone feeling that only comes from radiant heat.  I want hearty soups and stews simmering in the crock pot.  I want blankets, and fleece robes, and flannel sheets.  I want darkness, so I can savor the homey light inside.

November, before the cold gets so raw we can't stand it anymore.  November, when snow is still a rare, fleeting, delight.  November, no big Holiday, no big stress, just a time to Give Thanks and reflect on all the blessings in my life.

Despite it's busy nature, October really was wonderful.  We have so many delightful times with family and friends.

Campfires - just us around the fire on the last few pleasant nights of the fall.  Hot Dogs and S'mores make for simple, and inexpensive Friday nights.

For more years than I can count, we've been making caramel apples with some of our favorite friends.  Really, the kids just lick off the caramel - most of the fun is in the creation.  However, I think it's the easiest dessert I prepare all year.

The annual Fall Campout and Bonfire was much smaller this year - we mostly stuck to inviting the kid's friends and family.  After having had such a busy summer, a smaller, more relaxing weekend was perfect.  But, as the boy said, "This year was a little too small."  I think we'll be back to our bigger party next year.

The girl's tent was quiet long before lights out.  They were reading and talking quietly together.

The boy's tent was a different story - it stank.  They spent most of the time before they went to sleep having farting contests.  I will never understand boys - but they seemed to have a blast. 
 We visited a different pumpkin patch this year, and only picked up two.  Since we've been getting our produce from the CSA, I didn't feel compelled to squirrel away big Hubbard squash and Cinderella pumpkins.  The kids needed very little help this year with their Halloween preparations.  I helped rescue one carving boo boo, and I fixed the devil horns.  Otherwise, it was their own show.

We had a great soccer coach this year, and a really hard working team.  Coach surprised everyone with trophies at the end of the season.  We had a great final game too.  It was wonderful to see all of the kids grow and develop their skills.

We made a few apple dumplings and put them in the freezer for cold snowy evenings.  Apple dumplings were the last of my very limited processing list for the fall.  Now, I can enjoy all of November and enter Advent with (hopefully) a clean house and a rested spirit.

This weekend is the first weekend with absolutely no plans since May.  I've been absolutely giddy about it all week.  I love being social, and I love traveling.  But for now, I'm glad to be hunkered down inside enjoying the last of the fall views on the mountain while catching up on all the small projects that have been needling at me for weeks.  The weekend's menu is full of simple foods perfect for fall:  sweet potato waffles and sausage, cranberry beans and kale, red lentil curry, raisin bran muffins, peanut butter vegetable soup.  Food for the body and for the soul.

How about you?  Are you making time for yourself?  Are you giving yourself the gift of an empty calendar weekend?  We may not go dormant in the winter, but as the months get colder winter is a perfect time to stay in, recharge, reconnect and reflect.  Happy hibernating everyone!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mammoth Cave, KY

The first stop on our trip this summer was Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.  We had visited Mammoth on our first big out west trip and had fallen in love with the programming (above and below ground) and with the campground.  Since it is only about nine hours from us it makes a great first stop.

The last time we went The Boy was too young to participate in the special ranger program for kids called TROG (short for Troglobite - critters that live both in and out of caves).  We were so excited about this program that we registered in February as soon as the summer schedule came out.

The first day of driving was beautiful - it was sunny and clear.  It's always so exciting to set out on a big trip, and the mountains of Western VA and KY gave us a good chance to see how the trailer brakes were working, and to see how the engine worked with the transmission cooler (we'd decided to add those two devices to our current Subaru Outback instead of buying a new vehicle).  En route to Mammoth we decided that the hitch was too low, and that The Woodsman would spend part of the day when the kids were doing the TROG program in Bowling Green getting and installing a new hitch.

 After a quick supper we headed off to a ranger talk about technology used in the cave from prehistory until now.  We always learn so much from the ranger programs, and this one was no exception.  The ancient peoples explored much of the cave using only reed torches.   Then the guides took over using candle and then gas lanterns.  Now of course there are electric lights and battery powered headlamps.  An illuminating program to be sure...

It was a very hot and humid night, and in the middle of the night the power went off which meant that the generators that power the hotel kicked on - and they were very, very loud!  I am a light sleeper which meant that I had a very restless night.

The next day we took an early morning tour of the "New" Entrance  (Domes and Dripstones Tour) and saw some formations we hadn't seen before.  The Frozen Niagara formation was really beautiful.  But, overall, we decided that we enjoyed The Historic Tour more since there was more variety of formations and history of the cave.

After a quick lunch we tore the camper down and sent The Woodsman off to fix the hitch.  Then, in the afternoon the kids headed to the TROG program.  I was so tired that I did one of Farmer Dan's tricks and took a nap on top of the picnic table.  Then, because it was so hot and humid I took advantage of the natural air conditioning flowing out of the cave, and sat at the mouth of the cave until I was cold.

All suited up and ready to go
The Historic Entrance- a great place to cool off on a hot summer day.
I heard the kids before I saw them.  Their excited echos floated up out of the dark.  I couldn't wait to hear about this adventure.  As soon as I saw them I could tell that TROG had not disappointed them.  The rangers that lead their trip were great with kids and took them in places of the cave that the regular tours don't get to see.  Two highlights were belly crawling through "the worm hole" and seeing the remains of an ancient Native American sooty hand print on the wall.

We ended our day with a ranger campfire program (our favorite reason to stay inside the parks) called "Bat Chat" where we got to listen to the Bats using a special tool that brought bat sonar down to a level that human ears could hear.

That night we had an adventure of another kind.  Let's just say, there's a reason I carry a bucket, rags, Clorox wipes and Lysol.  Hello sleepless night number two.  On the up side, if there were going to be sick kids thank goodness it happened above ground and not deep in the cave - that would have been a disaster.

Day three of our trip found us leaving Kentucky with an early morning start as we began the push across the plains and into the mountains.  One of the commitments I'd made to myself before leaving was to make sure to walk for at least 45 minutes a day.  So, even though I was tired, in the early morning before the rest of the crew was awake, I headed down the River Styx trail to find where the river exits the cave and to see the Green River before leaving.  It was a peaceful and meditative close to our time at Mammoth.

 As we were driving, we made plans to return to Mammoth again soon.  We love it too much to wait until our next major trip west, and because it's so close we enjoyed knowing that we'd be back underground again soon.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall Fun 2014

I love October.  It has to be one of my favorite months - we've had so many wonderful activities going on, and there are still a few more before winter arrives.

Mountain Craft Festival, Somerset PA


Shelling Corn
 Daddy Daughter Camping at Trout Pond

The Girl learned how to make mountain pies herself.
 Dad and Kid hike on Old Rag, Shenandoah National Park

These are the same kids that complained all summer when we hiked!  Amazing!

The last long hair picture for the boy- it's now much shorter, and I'm much sadder.
 Applesauce and Woodcutting Party

My cousin and her girls were able to join us.  Perfect Day!

The middle child keeps up a running commentary the whole time while working - love it!

We lucked out this year and got Honey Crisp Apples - maybe the best sauce we've every made.

Every Christmas The Woodsman gives Farmer Dan a coupon to bring in his winter's supply of wood.  What a guy!

Cousin love

Beside herself with joy - wish we saw this sweet boy more often.
 Family Campfires

What have you been up to?