Finding Little Moments

To observe, enjoy and create in everyday life

A Weird Obsession

One of the very first natural body products I tried to make was deodorant. About ten years ago, I was on a kick to make more of my own things, and I had read that the aluminum used in anti-perspirants was potentially unhealthy. Plus, there was the money saving factor that came into play with making my own body products. So I thought I would give it a try. But in my attempt to find a homemade deodorant that worked, I failed many, many times. There were numerous times I would dash home in a stinky emergency to reapply whatever failed concoction I had used that morning.
I had become obsessed. I read about and/or tried so many recipes found in books or online in an attempt to find an easy-to-make, inexpensive, kind-to-my-skin deodorant. Some recipes called for ingredients that were just too costly or plain weird. The strangest one I ran across had you soaking grass clippings in vodka to make a homemade chlorophyll infusion...this is one I did not try. The other issue with homemade deodorants is that most rely heavily on baking soda for odor absorption. Many people, myself included, have really negative skin reactions to baking soda. Others sources swore that all you needed was a little witch hazel or a small smear of coconut oil to provide some deodorizing power. I am not quite sure who these folks are, but I needed a little more oomph than that. 
After all of these trials, I thought maybe it wasn't possible to find a homemade deodorant that really worked for me. I thought instead I could find a store bought deodorant that didn't contain aluminum. But again, many of these either did not control the stink factor, included too much of the rash causing baking soda, or were crazy expensive. So I went back to the drawing board. 
Finally a few years ago, I stumbled across multiple deodorant recipes on Wellness Mama's site and noticed her coconut oil based recipe. It used simple ingredients, was inexpensive, and I thought I could play with the amounts of corn starch and baking soda to keep it skin friendly. Her version called for equal parts baking soda and corn starch, but I knew that would be too much for my skin. Instead I cut back the baking soda to half the amount and increased the corn starch. 
I made up a small batch of the deodorant and crossed my fingers. And what do you worked! I did not break out in any skin rashes, I didn't get stinky and I didn't spend a lot of money or time making it. I have worn this deodorant for many years now. And even on the hottest summer days, it has not failed me. So in case you are on a quest to make more of your own products, want to save some money, or are as strangely obsessed with making your own deodorant as I was...I thought I would share this with you.

Coconut Oil Deodorant (based on this recipe)

6 Tablespoons melted coconut oil
2 to 3 Tablespoons baking soda
4 to 5 Tablespoons corn starch -- Essentially you want your combination of baking soda and corn starch to equal 7 Tablespoons
10 to 15 drops essential oils (if you choose)

Stir these ingredients all together in a small jar. Set the jar in the fridge initially to help the deodorant set up. After it sets, I have just kept it in my bathroom. Use a small, pea-size amount under each arm.

That's it. Pretty simple, huh?

Some additional notes about using homemade deodorant.  In other words, let me pass on more that I have learned in my ten plus years of trying to find a suitable deodorant:
  • Some people have zero rash causing issues with baking soda. And when that is the case, they simply put a little poof of baking soda under their arms and away they go.
  • When you move from anti-perspirants to either store bought or homemade deodorants...there is a transition period. I would recommend making this switch during a cooler time of the year (like now)...not the summer. 
  • If you don't feel like making your own deodorant, we did find that Jason's Tea Tree Deodorant worked quite well and did not contain any baking soda. This is the brand that two of the guys in our family use and like.
  • Coconut oil stays solid at temperatures below 72 degrees. So when the temperatures are warmer, this deodorant will not be as solid. You can move it to the fridge for the summer months if you choose. I haven't had it turn to a soupy mess, so I haven't bothered moving it out of our bathroom. 
  • The longer I have used this homemade deodorant, the more baking soda I can add to the recipe. But I still do not feel that I need as much as the original recipe states. The amount I have included here, seems to do the trick. 
Have you ever considered making your own body products? If so, which ones?

Sweater Progress

This last month I have found quite a bit of time for knitting, quilting and reading. Having the boys back in school has freed up some of my time during the week. I move through my household tasks faster and have fewer daytime meals to make, so that leaves a bit more time for me to sit and sew or knit. I did find myself ripping out some rows again from my sweater. I did not read the directions well enough when beginning on the short rows for the shoulder shaping, so it was totally my fault. But I made good progress regardless. I am about four rows shy of finishing the front body and will just have the shoulder shaping on the back of the sweater to do before I start the sleeves. I can't believe how well it is moving along.
Our little kitten Cookie was spayed this month (which is why she has a cone on in the pic above), and it has not slowed down her interest in my yarn stash or knitting needles. Lately when I come home from running errands, we have found balls of yarn unwound throughout the house. She also sits on the back of the couch while I knit and tries to grab or bite my knitting needles. It's cute the first few times, but then gets a tad frustrating. Thankfully kittens are not much different from toddlers....they are easily redirected to something else that will hold their attention so you can get back to doing what you were doing.
When I met up with my friend Heather from Quilts on the Fly for our monthly quilting day, I had decided to bring along a blue and white snowflake quilt I had started a few years back. All of the pieces had been cut and a few blocks were pieced as well. The quilt had originally been destined for my mother-in-law, but I ended up making a different quilt for her. I have decided to finish this quilt and keep it for a winter throw. It's funny to sit at our dining room table, looking out the window at the fall sunshine and imagine that in a couple of months it will be cold enough to really need a warm quilt. I have three more blocks to piece and then I will be able to pull the top together. It should go quickly from there.
I read a few different books this month. The first was a fiction book based on a true event in history my friend had recommended. The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams is a book about, "The stories of two unforgettable women thread together in this extraordinary epic of espionage, sacrifice, human love, and human courage, set against a shocking true crime . . . and the rise and fall of a legendary royal couple." Typically I like historical fiction and books that go back and forth between who is narrating and what time period the story is in, but this one didn't seem to meld all of that together well enough. I did like the twist at the end, but overall it wasn't a huge hit for me.
A book I am currently reading is Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things by Amy Dickinson. Dickinson's book is a memoir recommended to me by Tracy of Garden Cook Eat Repeat. I love to read memoirs. I love how they are a peek into other people's lives, different time periods, and often take a look at what we might consider an ordinary life but preserve it for others to read. From reading some reviews online, I know that this book will take a sad turn when the author discusses the grief experienced when her mother passed away but I am not to that point yet. It may be a timely read for me as the mothers of two of my friends passed away this last month. Maybe reading about someone else's experience with grief and the loss of a parent will help me understand a little more what my friends are experiencing right now, or know how to be the friend they need during this. 
And just for fun, and because I LOVE all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, I am reading The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories by Barbara M. Walker. This is an enjoyable book to flip through. I don't know that I will make any of the recipes from it (I have no current plans to hunt Mallard ducks or starlings), but it is interesting none the less. I love the combination of history, excerpts and illustrations from the Little House books and the recipes. If I make a few, I will be sure to let you know!
Here is where I leave you. How has your fall season treated you? Have you found more time for making things with your hands or reading? I hope you have!

Linking with Ginny's monthly Yarn Along

A Week of Creating

A spider and its web seemed quite fitting for Halloween week! As a Master Gardener, I get to serve my community in a variety of ways. I work in our Answer Clinic on a regular basis answering the public's questions about their plants, plant problems/identification, insects and a whole variety of other questions. I also get to lead workshops and trainings, and I have helped with some of our school gardens. Every once in a while, I get a creative project handed down to me for use in the program. Recently I was asked to create a hands-on activity revolving around spiders for a group of Master Gardeners to use at a local kids event. I like these types of projects because they stretch me creatively. 
After a couple weeks of thinking this through....what appeals to a variety of ages, what kind of activity can be done in less than a minute, what do kids really want to know about spiders....I came up with the games "Feed Me Lunch (please)" and "Build a Spider". Yours truly constructed the spider seen above as well as a framed web. The web above on my kitchen entry was my practice for the game. 
For the "Feed Me Lunch" game, kids threw cotton ball 'insects' at a framed web I built out of string and double sided tape. For such a simple game, the kids were able to learn a ton about how a spider builds its web out of different types of silk and how it senses its prey. The "Build a Spider" game was a simple game of rolling a dice to earn felt pieces of a spider's body parts. The kids would put the pieces together to create a spider and learn about all of the different body parts in the process. The event went over really well, and I am told that the volunteers and kids in attendance had a lot of fun with the spider activities.
While I was working on this project, I learned so much about spiders. They are fascinating creatures! So fascinating that I thought you might like to learn a little about them as well...
  • There are over 40,000 species of spiders in the world, but only 30 are poisonous to humans.
  • Of these 40,000 species of spiders, only one species is vegetarian (and it is found in Central America)
  • Even though most spiders have eight eyes, web weaving spiders in particular have pretty poor eyesight. Instead of relying on their eyesight, they use the hairs on their legs to sense movement on their webs. 
  • A web weaver needs to rebuild or repair its web at the end of each day.
  • Spiders can smell and taste using their legs.
  • Spiders use fluid pressure to extend their legs and muscles to flex their legs.
  • Baby spiders (spiderlings) have the ability to produce silk and know how to spin a web from the time they hatch.
  • Spider silk is stronger than steel, tougher than Kevlar and almost as stretchy as rubber.
Maybe I am boring you with spider talk? Sometimes I can geek out about this stuff. If you want to read more about web weaving spiders (not all spiders weave webs), I found this great article: The Wonders of Webs. And another fantastic read was about spider myths found here.

Making a spider and its web is not all I was at work at this week. I also pulled out a quilt project I had begun a few years ago and got to work on it again. I am not really sure why I set it aside in the first place. All of the pieces are cut and ready to be sewn up into blocks, so it is not a very difficult project. I think because it does not have a set deadline, I am slow in finishing it. I have let other projects step in front of this one because they needed to be completed by a certain time or for a particular person/reason. I am hoping to keep picking away at this and finish it up this year. I love the blues and whites...reminds me of winter. I think a cozy blue flannel would be the perfect backing fabric for this quilt. 

How about you? Have you had any fun projects that you have worked on this week? Maybe something that stretched you creatively? 

Building New Friendships

At the beginning of this year, I joined a gym near our home. I started a membership there for all of the usual reasons...I wanted to lose weight, be more fit and gain overall strength. And all of that has happened, but I have gained friendships as well. But not with the 'typical' people I would have guessed when the year started out. It's possible that the average age of members at my gym is older than me or that the time of day I go in to workout is not when women my age typically work out, but whatever the reason, I found myself working out each day with women who are quite a bit older than myself. They would often joke that I could be one of their kids, or grand kids even. They would encourage me by saying that they wished they had taken the time when they were younger to get in shape instead of waiting until they were retired. They would joke that having a younger person to workout with inspired them to keep going. I, in turn, told them that they were each an inspiration to me to continue to exercise for as long as I am able.

One of the women I workout with regularly just celebrated her 85th birthday. We have become very good friends over the last year. We found ourselves swapping recipes or sharing about current quilting projects while working out. We discovered that we both had a shared love of gardening and reading as well. These common interests led to us getting together over the summer for coffee, scones, book swaps and garden tours. She is a little more than twice my age, and I joke with her that I want to be her when I grow up. The other ladies at the gym say that she and I are like twins, or that I am a younger version of her. I consider that one of the best compliments.

A few times now some of us have gathered together at a local coffee shop or around a kitchen table to celebrate someone's birthday or recovery from recent surgery. It is at these gatherings that I get to hear their stories. Tales of growing up on farms or in cities, the adventures they have had parenting, and stories of marriages that have been amazing or rocky. Sometimes the stories at the surface seem so foreign to me like being taken to the bus stop in a covered wagon because a family was too poor to own a car. Or the woman growing up in Minnesota whose mother made her wear wool pants under her dresses in the winter (which were promptly removed when she arrived at school for fear of being considered unfashionable...don't tell her mom!). Or parenting a rebellious teen who decided to leave home and hitchhike across the country.
I haven't experienced any of these things. And, yet I have. Most of us have in some way or another, haven't we? I quite literally may have only seen a covered wagon in a museum, but I know what it's like to not have money. Most of us have had seasons in life when money is stretched so thin we can't afford what we might consider a basic necessity. I didn't have to wear awkward winter layers under a required-to-wear-dress, but I know what it's like to want to fit in socially and attempt to be fashionable. Being in the thick of the teen years, I know what it's like to worry that your kids might rebel and throw off all that you have hoped for them. When it comes down to it, the difference in generations between myself and these women don't really matter. We still share many of the same experiences throughout our lives.

So a year that began with a goal to gain more physical health has also resulted in gaining new friendships. And not in friendships I would have pegged at the beginning. To be honest with you, I can't say that I would have sought out relationships with women who are twenty, thirty or forty years older than me. I would have thought that we didn't have much in common. But the truth is that I was wrong, and I am glad to be wrong. These friendships have shown me that all women, regardless of age, have much in common. Women of all ages can come together to share, mentor and encourage one another. I have also learned that it is worthwhile to others to share your stories. Whether those stories are needed to make someone laugh, to provide advice, or to help someone see that they are not alone...your stories need to be and should be shared.
I encourage you to strike up a conversation with someone new. Particularly someone who you think you might not have much in common with. You might surprise each other and find the beginnings of a new friendship. And share your stories with others. Do not think that they don't want to hear about the time you and your brother got in trouble for giving the chickens a bath in the cow trough, or the first time you fumbled trying to flirt with a boy and ended up utterly embarrassed. Others truly do want to share in those stories with you.
Have a wonderful week!

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

Over the years, I have begun to make or bake many of my own things for our family. I bake our bread for sandwiches, make yogurt, soap, jams, pickles, household cleaners etc. Some of these I make because it's less expensive than buying it from the store, or because it tastes/works better, or just because I enjoy the process. Making my own vanilla extract fits just about all of these categories. 

For the last few years, I have made a big batch of vanilla extract at the end of each summer so that it will be ready in time for the Christmas baking season. One year, I made a doubly big batch so that we would have some to give as gifts at Christmas. Giving someone homemade vanilla along with your favorite recipe to use the vanilla is a perfect gift. And, it's so easy to make!

You can purchase vanilla beans from many online retailers, and that is how I recommend you find your vanilla beans. Many grocery stores sell them, but they are quite expensive if you go this route. I bought a package of ten, grade B Madagascar vanilla beans from Amazon for about $23. This is enough to make 16 ounces of vanilla extract. The price of vanilla beans fluctuates, but most run about this price.
You will also need some vodka for the extract. I don't spend a lot of money on this purchase. If you plan on drinking the leftover vodka after you pour what you need for your vanilla, you may want to splurge for a nicer brand. The cost for 16 ounces of the vodka I purchased was $6.50. It may seem that these two ingredients make this project quite expensive, but the reality is you are saving money. For this batch of vanilla extract (16 ounces total), I spent $29.50. A 4 ounce jar of pure vanilla extract at my local grocery store is $16.89. Can you see the difference? If I had bought the equivalent 16 ounces from the grocery store, I would have spent $67.56! 

So how do you make this lovely concoction for your own use or for gifts? It's simple. Cut your vanilla beans into one inch pieces. You will use five vanilla beans for every 8 ounces of vodka. I split my ten vanilla beans between two 8 ounce jars. Place the beans in the bottom of the jar, pour in 8 ounces of vodka, and put a lid on it. You're done with the hands on part. Now just shake the jar every couple of days (or, if you're like me, whenever you remember to do it) and wait 8 weeks. Once the beans have soaked in the vodka for at least 8 weeks, it is finished. Various websites say you can use a little less or a little more vanilla beans with the 8 ounces of vodka, and I have found that 5 is just right. Fewer than that and the vanilla extract is too week, more than that and the cost per ounce goes up.

If you plan on  making this as a gift, you may want to pour your finished vanilla into smaller jars. You have about ten weeks until Christmas, so just enough time to order some vanilla beans and make this simple gift! And if you need a recipe to use some of the vanilla you make, I suggest my Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe!

Happy Baking!

Purge Saturday

For years whenever my husband would come home from helping some friends move, he would scramble around our house working to get rid of stuff. After having spent a morning of moving boxes marked 'miscellaneous', he would want to make sure our home would only be filled with items of function or meaning. In his ideal world, we would live in a hotel room. He loves the clutter free, calm environment of a hotel. While I am not signing up to live in a hotel room, I do prefer a clutter free house myself. Yet another reason he and I work so well together :)

Just the act of everyday living seems to create clutter though. Add kids or pets to the mix, and you get more clutter. Our family of four (plus pets) does not live in a large home. We live in an average 3 bedroom, 2 bath, single story home. As I am sure is typical for most homes, ours can sometimes be a magnet for excess or unused items.
A few years ago, in an attempt to gain control of the excess that kept accumulating in our home, we came up with Purge Saturday. Purge Saturday happens on the first Saturday of each month in our home. Ten Saturdays out of twelve, it takes all of 20 minutes with the four of us pitching in. Most of our Purge Saturdays consist of us identifying one area for each of us to cull. It might be that one of our boys goes through the game closet while the other looks through their bookshelves. Or maybe they each go through their clothes. Each of the boys is asked to look through the items and determine if they are still being used and enjoyed or if they are no longer interested in a particular game/book/craft/toy/clothing item/etc. While they are doing that, my husband and I will be tackling another area. It might be our own closets, kitchen cabinets, or a shelf in the garage. The point is that it does not take all day. Some months we remove many items from our home and others it may just be a handful of items. Everything that is pulled from the house is placed in a tote in the garage. And then every couple of months, I load up the items and donate them to a local thrift shop. 

A couple of times a year, we pick a larger project for Purge Saturday. This often requires setting aside a few hours to accomplish. In the summer, we will pull everything out of the garden shed and go through it all, throwing out what is no longer needed, donating others and then reorganizing what is left. We will do this type of purging for the garage or the attic at other times of the year. 
Keeping up the consistency of a monthly Purge Saturday has helped our family keep the clutter at bay in our home. It's been a good practice to walk through our home and regularly ask ourselves if something is still useful or appreciated. Yes, sometimes our teens roll their eyes when we tell them it's "Purge Saturday!" over a stack of pancakes at breakfast, but they are good sports about it and have begun to pick up the habit on their own. I have found our younger son going through his clothes on a regular basis now working to remove items he no longer likes to wear or that have become too small. This small practice, over time, has helped us all to keep our home filled with things that we know we are using, are in good working order, and that we enjoy having in our home. An added bonus is that it takes us less time to take care of our home because there is less stuff in it to take care of!
I encourage you to give Purge Saturday a try! Decluttering an entire home can be an overwhelming task. But planning a day on the calendar, setting a timer for a short period, and getting everyone involved makes a huge difference. After a few months, when you have worked through many of the rooms or closets of your home, going back through them will be even easier.

Sloooow Knitting and Reading

I hit a lull in the last two months where it was taking me forever to read any books or to make any progress on this sweater. The books I read in the months of August and September were quite good...they just took me awhile to work through them. It is strange how some seasons I can zip through a book and others I cannot. 
One of the books I read, Firefly Lane, got to a point in the story that I knew was going to be horribly sad so I set the book down for at least three weeks before picking it back up again. I only had 30 pages left, but I could not bring myself to finish it. I finally grabbed a box of kleenex and finished the book. It was a good story, but I typically do not like books that end sadly. There's enough sadness in real life, that it is hard for me to read fiction that is sad as well. Does that make sense? 
Another great but slow for me read was the first book in The Crusades Trilogy by Jan Guillou. This was a fantastic book, and I plan on reading the other two in the trilogy. It takes place in Sweden in the 1150s...not a time period I would choose to live in! This first book follows a very young boy from his family home, to his education in a monastery back to his family home as a young adult. Why he lands at the monastery and the type of training he receives (from scholarly training to sword and archery skills) is not very typical, which causes complications when he comes back home. I am interested in seeing what the next book holds for this character.
Currently I am reading Jane Kirkpatrick's latest book, One More River to Cross. I am only a third of the way through the book, but I can tell you already that I will love it. I can say this, because I have yet to read a book of Kirkpatrick's that I didn't love. This particular novel follows a real world story of a wagon train that crosses through the Sierra-Nevada mountains in 1844, two years before the Donner Party's crossing. As is usual for me and her books, I am already sucked into the characters! 

We traveled quite a bit through the month of August, so I didn't knit as much as I would have liked. I didn't want to bring my sweater project camping, so I worked on smaller projects like some new crocheted dishcloths. I did pick the project back up in September and added more rows. I am finally finished (as of last night!) with the body of the sweater and am ready to split the front from the back to begin the sleeves. It's exciting to see the project grow little by little.
I was slowed down this month by a kitten who decided to chew my yarn in half and a pup who always wanted to sit on my lap whenever I sat down though! We had my sister's dog Auggie (isn't he a cutie?!) staying with us for a couple weeks in September while she and her new husband honeymooned in France. Auggie is a frequent visitor in our home, and we always love having him here. He just went back home this week, so I am back to knitting with a free lap.

One last project I have worked on this month is a little baby quilt for some friends who just adopted a newborn baby boy. I pulled a stack of blues and greens from my stash and settled on a scrappy patchwork quilt. I decided to add in the melon orange fabrics for a pop of color, and I am really happy with how the quilt top tuned out! I love scrappy quilts. It's fun to pull the squares as I build the rows and remember the different quilts that I have also used those fabrics in. Some of these fabrics were leftovers from my nephew's quilts, my boys' quilts and other baby quilts. Sewing together a quilt for a little one is a great experience. It's a good time to think about the parents and the adventure they are beginning on and to pray for the new baby who will be wrapped up in all of these patchwork squares.
I had thought I would have had time to quilt it last weekend, but that was not the case..maybe this weekend? Either way. It will be finished soon!

Linking up with Ginny's monthly Yarn Along.

Fall Hike

I think September might be my favorite time to go hiking. It's typically not too hot, there is often a mist in the air, the trails are not as crowded, and you get a beautiful color combination of green mosses and ferns with the orangey-yellow leaves on the ground. 
This last week my friend Sadie and I met up for a fall hike. We piled a few of our pups in the car and explored two areas not far from our homes. Our first stop was at Lucia Falls. This is really a short loop, but there are fantastic views of the falls. We also, thanks to the dogs, stumbled upon the beautiful hillside covered in ferns. What a gorgeous spot to discover! There are many, many oak trees along this section of the river, and on our way back to the cars, we found some oak galls (some people call them oak apples) on the ground. Oak galls are a funny, and often large, growth on the twigs of the oak tree caused by the California Gallfly. The gall was home to cynipid wasp larvae earlier in the season. But as you can see, they have left their home already. This particular type of gall does not cause any significant damage to the tree.
Sadie and I decided that since the rain was pretty much holding off, we wanted to walk on further. So, we drove a few miles further up river to Moulton Falls. Here there are many more trails to walk as well as offshoots to other trails. In the summer, this is a popular swimming spot. I was surprised at how many other hikers we saw in the middle of the week...on a soggy day. We had a wonderful time walking the trails, smelling the wood smoke in the air from a nearby home, and just soaking up some of the beautiful fall day. I was so thankful for the time to get out in the woods with a friend. It's always the best of both worlds...exercise outside and good conversation!
I hope you get a chance to explore some of the areas near you this fall!

Claiming a Weekend

We rolled from an amazing summer, to the beginning of the school year, to a weekend long celebration of my sister and her now husband's wedding day. So when this weekend came around, we claimed it as our own. We had very, very few plans. Well, really our plan was to relax and enjoy a weekend at home. And that is exactly what we did.
Our weekends always begin by gathering with friends for a church service on Friday evening. While I was prepping for my kids' class Friday afternoon, I decided to bake a spiced apple cake for our evening service. This was a good chance to put a dent in the apples we had picked in Hood River a few weeks back. I frosted the cake with a maple buttercream frosting...delicious! It's nice to begin a weekend with friends and cake!
On Saturday morning, my husband and I attended a workshop on Wild Edibles that a local community group was hosting. Learning what can be eaten in the natural areas surrounding us has been a personal goal of mine for awhile. I have checked out numerous books from the library over the years, and the class this weekend reinforced what I have begun to learn. I think my next step in this area would be to attend a class that takes you on a walk through the woods and shows you what can and cannot be eaten. I think seeing the plants and berries in real life, instead of in a photo, will help it all stick in my head a little better.
Having a weekend at home allowed for plenty of down time. I was able to continue work on knitting my sweater and also begin a new baby quilt. Some friends of ours are adopting a new little one very soon, and I would love to have a quilt ready to gift to them. Hopefully I will finish up the quilt this week. We also spent a lovely evening outside chatting around a fire. The next day was raining, and we found ourselves inside sipping coffee and chatting in front of the fire. I even found an hour to spend napping on the couch with my sister's pup Auggie who is visiting us while his parents are on their honeymoon.
Sunday began with a yummy breakfast of waffles drizzled in apple syrup I had canned a few weeks ago, and dinner was fresh baked bread and beef stew. Football played in the background, while I worked away on my quilt. One of our boys finished a book he had been reading, and the other tackled a bit of homework. It was a good ending to our weekend.
In the weekends to come, we have volunteer events, birthday parties and trips out of town. But, I hope we can also continue to claim some down time as well. It is so wonderful to block out some days on the calendar for nothing more than to spend it at home with family. I hope you are able to do the same.    

Gathering Fruit

We are so blessed to live in an area of the country where we have easy access to dozens of U-pick farms AND beautiful views of the Cascade mountain range while picking! Over the last ten years or so, our family has established a fall tradition of heading over to Hood River, Oregon every Labor Day weekend to pick fruit. A short 45 minute drive sets us at the foot of Mt. Hood and right in the middle of Hood River's Fruit Loop.

We found that if we time this trip for Labor Day weekend, we hit the tail end of peach season and the very beginning of pear and apple season. We do have a few small apple and pear trees in our garden at home, but some are so young they are not bearing fruit yet and others bear a little fruit that we cannot always manage to beat the squirrels to. So, what we do grow at home is good for fresh eating. Our goal for picking from the orchards in Hood River is to have a large quantity of peaches, pears and apples for canning and dehydrating.

The first few years we went out for our Fruit Loop drive, we visited a variety of the farms along the loop. As traditions (or habits) go, our family has landed on our favorite farms to visit for particular fruits. We always stop at Mt. View Orchards to pick peaches and pears. Their farm also has many other fruits to pick throughout the growing season. Their orchard has Mt Hood as it's backdrop, so it is an especially gorgeous spot to pick fruit from!

The second farm we always visit is known for their apples. We love to walk the rows of the Kiyokawa Family Orchards and look at the many, many varieties of apples they grow. They grow 120 different varieties of apples, pears and Asian pears. Kiyokawa's of course has some of the varieties that you see in the grocery store like Honeycrisps, Braeburns, and Fujis. But what we love most are all of the other types of apples that you don't see as often. The Tokyo Rose, Empires and Ginger Golds are some of our favorites. This year we added in a few pounds of crabapples to try a new canning recipe!

A car load of fruit is not our only tradition. We also stop for lunch along the way, which is a favorite of our boys. For the last few years, we have stopped in Parkdale for BBQ at Apple Valley BBQ. They have a delicious pulled pork sandwich and this amazing pear coleslaw. Our last stop on the Fruit Loop is at the Apple Valley Country Store. This is the place where dessert happens! They sell some of the most amazing pies, dumplings, hand pies, and milkshakes. They also offer a wide variety of fruit butters/spreads and handmade items. We always pick up a dessert to eat on the way home. This year I chose an apple dumpling with caramel sauce. It was so, so good!
We all look forward to this trip each year. It's fun to go out and pick a TON of fruit and have some yummy food along the way. But it's after the trip to Hood River that the real work begins. I tackled the 20 pounds of peaches the day after our trip. And, I have about 80 pounds of apples and 80 pounds of pears to can and dehydrate this week. All of it will be so nice to have through the winter and spring though! Most years the boys will come into the kitchen and help me prep the apples and pears for canning, so I don't typically do all of it by myself. I guess it's more of our fall tradition!
How about you? What type of family fall traditions do you have? What are your favorite ways to preserve apples, pears or peaches?
Happy Fall!

August Happenings

We have had quite a month! When my husband and I were planning out our summer, waaaay back in the cold, wet months of January/February, he said he wanted to take time to play this summer. And, for the month of August, that is exactly what we did!
We began the month with a trip we had been talking about for YEARS...a trip to Alaska! Taking our boys to Alaska before they leave for college has been on our list-of-trips-to-take-with-the-kids for a very long time. Yellowstone was one that had been on our list, and we made that trip a couple of years ago. Grand Canyon, and Yosemite are still on the list.
The bonus to this trip is that we were able to invite Brandon's dad and his dad's girlfriend to come along with us. Gale, Brandon's dad, had wanted to go on a family trip to Alaska for quite some time. He had tried to get us to go along with him a few years ago, but with school schedules we couldn't manage it. So, this was the summer!We thought a cruise to a few cities in Alaska would be the easiest way for all of us to get a glimpse of this very, very large state. 
Our cruise ship went through the Tracy Arm Fjord on the second day of our trip. When we started out, it was a cold and cloudy trip into the fjord, but then it opened to these beautiful turquoise blue waters. Eventually, we made it far enough back into this fjord to see a very large glacier. This was one of the most amazing days of our trip!

Our first stop at a town was in Skagway, Alaska. Here we took a trip up to the Yukon Territory of Canada. This is an area famous for its gold rush. The landscape is absolutely breathtaking. Brandon and I had just watched a short series on the gold rush before taking this trip, so it was amazing to be going through some of the same areas we had just learned about. After our drive, we came back into Skagway and checked out some of the shops and sites in town. I found the local quilt shop and bought some fabric, and the boys picked up some souvenirs. 

For our day in Juneau, we decided to take a shuttle to the Mendenhall Glacier. We were there during the annual salmon run, so we saw many, many salmon. Knowing there were salmon in the streams, we were hoping to see a bear as well, but we had no luck that day. We did, however, see a porcupine! He was up in a tree nibbling on some leaves. We took a short hike to see Nugget Falls while we were at Mendenhall. This was another beautiful area of Alaska! When we came back into Juneau, we had a fantastic lunch of halibut and chips and then wandered through the shops before getting back on board the ship. 

Our last stop in Alaska was in Ketchikan. This was a really fun town to walk around and explore. The area pictured above is called Creek Street. The buildings are all built above this creek. If you were to look down into that creek, you would see hundreds of salmon swimming upstream.
Our family felt absolutely spoiled on this trip. We loved seeing a snapshot of Alaska and hope to come back for a longer visit in the future. We had not been on a cruise before, so it was fun to have this new experience together. Our favorite part of each day were the dinners. Not only do the waitstaff know how to make you feel special and feed you delicious food, but the time we had to slow down and enjoy together as a family was wonderful. Each evening we would spend a couple hours around the table talking about our day, past trips, what the next day had in store, and just enjoying the time together.

Our second August trip could not have been more different than our first. This time my husband and I loaded up our camping gear and headed off to the San Juan Islands. This is our third summer of taking off for a couples only camping trip while our boys are away for a week at church camp. Brandon and I had not been to the San Juan Islands since our honeymoon over 20 years ago. It was fun to revisit the area. It was also special to be able to take the time away for just the two of us. We did let our dog Sadie tag along for this trip though. We went on hikes, explored the towns of Orcas Island, rode the ferry over to Friday Harbor, and slept in. We had a wonderful few days away!

Our last trip of the summer is one of our family's favorite traditions. We spent a long weekend up at Timothy Lake on Mt Hood and camped with a few other families. None of us is quite sure how many summers we have taken this trip...some say ten, some say eleven. I guess that's the way traditions go. It's such a part of what you do that you don't even know how long you've been doing it. I do know that we began this trip with our very good family friends, the Ablins. When our kids were very little, Jen and I would meet together once a week for what we called 'home preschool.' We essentially had a mini preschool time for our kids and at the end of the school year, we decided to plan a camping trip for our families. After one trip, we decided we wanted to do it again. 
Since our first trip, other families have joined in on the tradition. Our kids say that summer doesn't count until we have gone camping at Timothy Lake. This year, all of the teens were sitting around the campfire talking about what it would be like to come back to Timothy as adults, and would that be ok. Ok? Of course! How amazing that this little trip that started in preschool has become such a part of who these kids are and what they do. I love that they want to continue the tradition with all of us after they have grown up and moved into the next season of their lives. I can't wait for next summer!

Well, there you have it. I hope you have made it this far with me. Now my boys are heading off to school. In my mind the beginning of the school year feels more like the start of a new year than January ever does. Our youngest starts high school this coming week. I cannot believe that I will be the mom of two high school boys. How lucky am I? Looking forward to a fantastic year ahead.