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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Running Away

Lately, when the girl gets really upset she runs away.  Now, she doesn't run far, she doesn't go away for long, and she always comes back, but she still runs.  The last time she went away I told her that everyone needs to run away sometimes.  Don't you think that's true?

I run away frequently.  I run away to the woods - that's why I hike with just the dogs frequently, and why I backpack.  I run away to the city - nothing like leaving all responsibilities behind and being spoiled for a while.  I run away with music - isn't it fun to crank the radio and drive by yourself?  I frequently run away in a book - that's the whole point of reading, right?  Sometimes, I even run away with someone else.  Last week the Woodsman and I took an anniversary trip (18 years folks) and headed off without the kids to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

We paddled almost every day (Keuka, Cayuga, and an attempted paddle at Honeoye which got rained out).  We biked every day (the Keuka Outlet trail between Penn Yan and Dresden is awesome).  We went out to dinner (love Moosewood in Ithaca and found a great little pub in Penn Yan).  We also visited a copious amount of wineries, breweries and distilleries).  It was a great little trip.  We came back ready to tackle the last of our to do lists, and prepared to start the school year.  It's good to run away.

Taughannock Falls - Ithaca

Orchid Room at Sonneburg Gardens

Italian Garden at Sonnenburg

Pan Statue in the Rock Garden at Sonnenburg Gardens

View of Keuka Lake frome Dr. Frank Konstantin Vinefera

Keuka on a stormy morning

Ports, Sherries and Ice Wines

Christmas Shopping - Finished!

Whites and Champagne

  If you're headed to the Finger Lakes Region and plan to do some wineries (and you really should) we recommend:
Pleasant Valley Winery - Hammondsport
Americana - Trumansburg, Miles - great view of Seneca Lake
Dr. Frank Konstantine - wonderful wines- great view of Keuka Lake
McGregor - really unique tasting experience - you stay seated at your own table in their beautiful tasting room (view of Keuka) and they serve you.

There are lots of other wonderful choices too.  Check them out!  Have fun running away, wherever it is that you run.

Keuka Lake Wine Trail
Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
Seneca Lake Wine Trail

Monday, August 24, 2015

Getting Ready for the New Year

If you work in education, or if you have school age kids, then you know that the new year doesn't start on January 1st.  The true first day of the year is the first day of school.  For us it's also the first day of after school activities.  Let the games begin!

Goodbye relaxed easy days of summer when time wasn't at a premium, and the day planned itself.  So long to not caring if the To-Do list was finished because you could finish it tomorrow.  Sayonara to saying yes to one more episode, one more game or one more chapter - sorry kids - the alarm will go off when it's still dark.  Au Revoir to afternoon naps... welcome to afternoon coffee instead.

But still, it's fall, and as much as I hate for summer to end I'll welcome the change in the weather, the lessening of garden and food prep chores, and being the first born, Type A that I am, I'll even welcome the return to routine.

There are a few things on my before school starts check list that make our year run much more smoothly.

1)  Food Prep:  When I'm making something that will freeze I always double the recipe, but I also dedicate one day over the summer to preparing an abundance of freezer meals and lunch box muffins.

Pizza Biscuits:  In a muffin liner - biscuit round, pizza sauce, pepperoni slice, shredded mozzarella.
Bake at 400 for 15 min.
In picture below - Dogs in a blanket:  Biscuit dough wrapped around a hot dog, bake at 400 for 15 min.  Send with ketchup.

Mexi Muffins:  In a muffin liner - corn bread mix, salsa, black beans, shredded cheddar.  Bake at 350 for 20 min.
Not show - corn dog muffins:  In a muffin liner corn bread mix, half of a hot dog cut up, corn bread mix.
Bake at 350 for 20 min. Send with ketchup.

Twenty Three Freezer Meals (took about 5 hours total to make - including clean up time).  From back:  Burrito Bake, Oven Enchillada, Burgers and Fries Casserole, Mommy's Recipe, Pizza Casserole, Mac and Cheese, Chicken and Biscuit, lunches packed and ready.  Not shown:  Vegi Lasagna, Tuna Rice Casserole
Most of these at this point are really no recipe recipes.  They all pretty much bake at 350 for 20-30 min.  I try to freeze them in throw away pans, but I usually wash and reuse the pans if I can.  I label them all on the outside with the oven temp and the time so other people in the family can start dinner.  I pull out what we'll eat the night before and let it thaw in the fridge, but if it's still frozen when I go to start dinner then I cover it with foil, crank the oven to 425 and bake it at high heat for about 15 min. before proceeding to the regular time and temperature.

Burrito Bake - adapted from Simply in Season:  Cook some brown rice with some tumeric and salt.  Put it in a casserole dish, cover with taco seasoned black or kidney beans, cover that with sauteed swiss chard and garlic, cover that with cheese.  Freeze with flour tortillas so they'll be there when you need them.

Burgers and Fries - adapted from Taste of Home:  Saute about a pound of hamburger, turkey burger or vegi burger with some onions and garlic.  I also add TVP to make it a bit healthier and to stretch my budget.  Drain the meat mixture.  Add in a can of golden mushroom soup, and a can of cheese soup or a cup of shredded cheese.  Put the meat mixture in the bottom of a casserole dish, cover with frozen fries.

Mommy's Recipe:  Make your basic chili, but don't make it as soupy.  Make your basic corn bread.  Fill the casserole dish about half full with chili.  Top with corn bread mix and cheese.

Pizza Casserole:  Cook some noodles.  Toss with Spaghetti sauce.  Add in some cooked ground sausage and pepperoni.  Cover with more pepperoni and shredded mozerella cheese.

Mac and Cheese:  Cook some macaroni.  Toss with a cup of shredded cheese and a cup of cottage cheese, add a T of dried onion and a t. of dry mustard.  Add salt or soy sauce if needed for flavor.  If you have an egg add that too to help it all hold together.

2)  Processing and Garden:  I try to get as much of my big processing chores out of the way before school starts.  Our after Labor Day start is a big help, so I usually have everything except Spaghetti Sauce done before students start.  I'll keep chipping away at my processing tasks, and doing garden maintenance during the teacher work days, but once school starts I won't make it into the garden or do any processing until the weekend.  I take a Laissez-Faire approach to the garden at this point in the year.  I figure that any plant that has made it to this point in the summer will probably make it to the frost, and if it doesn't then we like supporting our local farmers.  At this point, if the zucchini dies I think I'll be OK.

The August kitchen....

Salsa party!  The girl chopped the peppers.

Onion goggles make chopping onions much easier.  Kids with good knife skills make this job much faster.

3)  Decluttering and Organizing:  Life is easier if you don't have as much junk.  We did a huge purge this summer, five truck loads, and multiple other smaller loads to the thrift shop and the dump, so the house is much easier to maintain and organize.  I'll also continue to hold everyone accountable for putting their things away every day.  If everything has a place, and it gets returned where it belongs, then there is no early morning scramble for soccer cleats, or science homework.  Of course, my kids are... well kids, so this doesn't save us from all headaches of missing things.  Why, oh why, is it so hard for the boy to keep track of his shoes?  Must he always take them off in the car and then leave them there?  However, being organized goes a long way to keeping us all sane.  Backpacks are packed with school supplies and hung on hooks; the dance bag, gymnastics bag and soccer bag are all packed and ready to go; closets and dressers are organized, clothes that don't fit have been passed on to younger friends, and new clothes have been bought and put away.  If I can make it to December without the boy wanting to wear the same pair of pants three days in a row because "He has no pants"  translation- he has no pants he likes - then I'll be really happy.  The pantry is stocked with fast meals for those days when life throws me a curve ball and there's no time to turn on the oven for a freezer meal.  The snack box is filled and ready for lunches and before practice snacks. 

If you need to buy a backpack I highly recommend L. L. Bean.  The red one is mine - bought 22 years ago and still in great shape.  The purple one is the girl's - new this year - but I won't need to buy her another one ever again.  The black on is the boy's - bought 6 years ago.  He'll grow out of it before it wears out.
4)  Routine:  I'm back to getting up super early in the morning and I'm working my way back to an earlier bed time.  It's time to reset my clock.  We'll do the same thing with the kids after they finish their last grandparent adventure.  We'll relearn how to set our alarms.  We'll remember the sweet spot to leave to avoid the bus and school traffic and still make it to our classrooms on time.   We'll make it.  It won't always be fun, and it won't always be simple, but at least we'll start the year off as well as we can.

 May your coffee be strong, and may you never spill it on your white shirt on the way out the door.  May you remember to turn the burner off, and let the cat out every day.  May you see your house in the daylight, at least for a little while, and may you find some peace in your day.

God Bless and Good Luck!  Happy New Year everyone!  I hope 15-16 is a good one.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier

We were tired of being soaked on the Oregon Coast so we headed to Eastern Washington for some sun and the mountains.  

Mt. St. Helens was an amazing place to visit, but it's not the view that's so amazing; it's the stories.  The displays in the visitor's center, the audio and video clips, the ranger's talks about her first hand experiences, the memories from the lady running the fruit stand - they all made St. Helens come alive.  Being from a place known for its disaster (The Johnstown Flood) I understood how the people in this community had wrapped this tragedy into the fabric of their lives.   

We stayed at a wonderful campground at Mt. St. Helens State Park.  Great large sites, and good spaces for the kids to play.  We had showers too - which on this trip was always a bonus.

We started at the state park visitor's center - an excellent introduction to what happened with the most recent and with historical erruptions.  There was also some great general information on volcanoes.  We learned a lot, and were ready to see the mountain.

We traveled up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory seeing views of the lahar flow (hot volcanic mud flow that buried the valley) and the trees blown down by the blast.   The destruction over 20 years later was still very apparent.  Be warned - Mt. St. Helens is not the place to find peace and quiet.  It is a very popular destination.  We saw more International visitors there than we did in most of the other places we visited.   

The next day we headed to Mt. Rainier:  I fell in love.  Rainier was one of those places that just instantly felt like home.  We camped in the Ohonopecosh area - beautiful old growth forest, and waterfalls.  Our site was quiet and peaceful, and the sound of water was all around us.

We spent the bulk of our time at Rainier in the Paradise area of the park.  The view from Paradise, is well, Paradise.  We also arrived just at the right time to see the alpine in bloom.  We hiked the Nisqually Vista Trail which was mostly snow covered.  The kids enjoyed the snow ball fights, and I enjoyed the vista.  Another favorite at the Paradise area was the ranger programs in the lobby of the old hotel.  They were our favorite programs of the entire trip - not only were the topics engaging, but I loved being surrounded by the hand hewn beams in this magnificent old lodge, and the kids loved that we bought them snacks.

Avalanche Lilies

We also really loved the Sunrise area of the park.  This area is just as beautiful, but not nearly as crowded as Paradise.  We spent the better part of the day hiking the Sour Dough Ridge Trail to Frozen Lake.  The intense blue/green color of glacier fed waters will never cease to stun me.

Our first view of real glaciers.

Box Canyon Falls

I hope I get to return to Rainier someday.  Next time I'm staying longer and hiking deeper into the back country.  It's definitely best enjoyed on foot.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

It's All Bliss

I spent last week enjoying one of my favorite places on earth, spending time with my favorite people.  I read almost all day and didn't feel one bit guilty.  I ate good seafood.  I inhaled the ocean air and tried to fill my soul with peace for the upcoming year.  It was bliss.

This week - I'm spending time at one of my favorite places on earth, with my favorite people.  There's a bit more work to do, but it's that satisfying, fill the freezer, organize the house, cross the last items off of the summer to do list, get ready for the frenetic fall kind of work.  Guess what?  It's still bliss.

It's all about the perspective my dear, all about the perspective.

I think the flowers are the best crop this year.

There were some monster potatoes.

The winter squash/pumpkin crop looks huge.

It's pretty much a jungle in the garden now - but not too many weeds or bugs.  I'll take it.

Oh man, this one hid - it was bigger than my forearm.  I'm gonna sneak this baby onto someone's porch!  Beware neighbors.

Can you see the fall crop of red raspberries - hoorary!

Finally, tomatoes.

The boy's lunch request.  Bliss on a plate.