Hiking with the Family — Cane Wash, San Rafael Swell

We are so lucky to live within driving distance of many of Utah’s beautiful hikes — both mountain and desert.  The mountains are covered in snow right now, so we aren’t doing mountain hikes, but the desert still calls to us.  This weekend, with daytime highs in the 50s, we decided to head down through Buckhorn Draw in the San Rafael Swell to Cane Wash.  We had hiked the bottom of Cane Wash — where it meets the San Rafael River — several times, but this time we drove down a dirt road which led us to the wide, open top of the wash, and hiked down to the river.

Total Mileage:  13.35 miles round trip

Difficulty:  EASY! with climbing on side hills to satisfy your climbing urge

Time required:  6-8 hours

Reasons to go:  Beautiful scenery, high cliffs and calm desert colors, petrified forest

At the beginning of the walk, the wash was wide and open.  It was 32 degrees at 10:00 a.m., and ice was pretty solid on the little stream flowing down the wash.  It wasn’t hard to stay dry.  The mud was frozen, so it was easy to step on.

Everyone got their fill of ice sliding . . .

And rock climbing . . .

And trick fall practicing.

No, he didn’t hurt himself.  He practiced this fall about 6 times to get his picture like this.

As the canyon began to narrow, about mile 4, we began to see what appeared to be logs protruding from the sides of the cliff.  Soon, everywhere we looked we could see big chunks of petrified wood.  This petrified wood was easy to identify because much of it looked just like fallen, decomposing tree trunks — except they were made of rock.  It was interesting to discuss what kind of massive land slide or flood left these remnants for us to discover.

The rock the kids are sitting on is some kind of petrified stump or burl.

This was the largest log — probably 6 feet long and 2 feet in diameter.  It looked just like a fallen tree.

Since it is nearly winter, we brought along our little backpacking stove with us and had tea and coffee for our lunch break at the river about one o’clock.

It was much colder on the return trip, mostly because the sun had gone behind the cliffs, and we were walking in the shade.

We still took time break some ice, and look at this beautiful little pour-off (one of my favorite things about the desert.)

We made it back to the truck about 4:00 and returned home to a dinner of pumpkin spice waffles.  I think the thought of these waffles sustained us all on the last cold mile, and they were definitely a treat to come home to.  Best of all, they were easier than my usual waffle recipe, so it didn’t wear me out to make dinner.

It was an excellent day spent out in the sunshine.  We returned sunburnt and ready to face a little more winter.

Would you like some suggestions about how to get your family started hiking and backpacking?  Stay tuned or subscribe for some suggestions from my personal experience.

Do you have a good winter hiking trip?  Leave me a comment, please!


Kids in the Kitchen — Navajo Tacos

Since I had a few extra days off over this long weekend, I was able to spend some time in the kitchen with the kids.  This was the perfect opportunity for learning some new recipes and techniques.  They aren’t always as thrilled about this as I am, because they know next week they might be asked to make this meal on their own.  However, Brett won’t be asked to make this meal, because I don’t trust any kids – even really responsible 15 years olds – to deep fry or use lots of hot oil.  Too Scary For Me!  Anyway, we enjoyed working together, and we can always eat this chili out of a bowl with some cornbread muffins or focaccia bread beside it.


As a side note, the recipe for this fry bread came from a tiny restaurant (Twin Rocks Café)  in Bluff, Utah.  It is right on the edge of the Navajo Reservation.  I am not absolutely sure that fry bread is an authentic Native American dish, but I do know it is delicious.  Two other great ways to eat this bread:  with butter and honey (yum.) or as a Sheepherder sandwich.  A Sheepherder sandwich is made with fry bread, scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese folded as a taco.  This restaurant is about 200 miles from my home.  Yes I would drive that far to eat a Sheepherder sandwich – except I learned to make them at home.  Now, if someone would only clean my kitchen for me afterwards……


Vegetarian Chili for Navajo Tacos

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 small onions, peeled and chopped

3 ribs celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 bell pepper, diced

1 quart tomatoes (2–16 ounce cans)

2 cups water

2 Tablespoons chili powder

6 cups cooked beans, drained or 4 cans beans, any type, drained and rinsed

2 teaspoons salt


Saute onions, celery, garlic and bell pepper in olive oil until beginning to soften.  Add tomatoes, water, beans, chili powder, and salt.  Bring to a boil, turn to low, and allow to simmer while making fry bread.


Navajo Fry Bread

2 cups flour (we used half white and half whole wheat this time, but I prefer all white flour for a more tender taco)

¾ Tablespoons baking powder

Pinch salt

½ cup powdered milk

1 cup warm water

Mix together all dry ingredients, and then add warm water all at once.  Mix to make a very soft dough, then turn out on the counter to knead.  That is the point at which this photo was taken:  he doesn’t like pictures and he doesn’t like to be sticky.  After kneading a few times, put the dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to rest for 15 minutes.  Begin heating oil up to a depth of about 1 inch in a pan for frying the tacos.


Divide the dough into 8 pieces.  Roll each piece into a circle with your hands and then use a rolling pin to roll into an 8 inch circle.  As the oil gets hot enough to fry the dough, it will begin to swirl and move in the pan.  DO NOT FORGET THE OIL ON THE STOVE!  IT CAN IGNITE!  If your oil gets hot enough to smoke, remove it from the stove and wait until it is completely cool to dispose of it.  When you think the oil is the right temperature, dip one edge of a taco into the oil.  If it begins to fry, it is ready.  Put the whole thing into the oil carefully.  It will develop tiny bubbles all over the side you can see.  In about one minute, turn over carefully with tongs.  Allow to fry about 30 seconds more, then remove to a plate lined with paper towels.  At this point, I always put the tacos in the oven at 170 degrees to keep warm while I fry the rest of the tacos.  If you prefer, you can serve as they are fried.  I prefer to have everyone eat together at the same time. (I feel persecuted if I am the last person in the family to eat.)

When the tacos are all fried, be sure and turn your oil off and move the oil carefully to a cool part of the stove.  Place a taco shell on your plate, top with chili, shredded cheese, lettuce, sour cream and salsa – whatever you usually like on a taco.


Enjoy your meal.

Kids in the Kitchen — Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins

Eden is getting to be proficient in the kitchen.  She can read a recipe, follow the directions and come out with something edible almost every time.  She has been making this recipe for a while.  We enjoy them for breakfast, but today she is making them for a mid-morning snack break tomorrow, while we have friends visiting.

These muffins have two wonderful fall flavors:  cranberry and pumpkin.  The pumpkin adds sweetness, and the cranberries give a tart “pop” to the muffins.  They are much better chopped rather than whole.

Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins

Slightly adapted from The Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Hermann Loomis

Makes 12 large muffins


2 cups all-purpose flour (we use half whole-wheat pastry flour)

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¾ cup sugar

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 ¼ cups canned pumpkin puree (we use fresh baked pumpkin)

½ cup milk

2 cups cranberries, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare a muffin tin with pan spray and muffin cups.  Sift together the dry ingredients, including sugar.

Whisk together oil, eggs, pumpkin and milk.   Add wet to dry and mix quickly and well.  Fold in the cranberries.  Fill the muffin tins two-thirds full with batter.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before unmolding and serving.

These can also be made with frozen cranberries and (thawed) frozen pumpkin puree.  We have had good success substituting blueberries as well.  They give a great taste of the combinations of fall flavors that we love.

As a side note — the next step for kids in the kitchen after learning to read a recipe and put it together well is to plan a meal and be able to schedule the timing for each step.  That is the step we are working on with the older kids now.  Do you  have a secret trick for how to plan meals to be ready at the right time?   Please leave a comment.

Today Outdoors

We were only able to spend about 20 minutes at the park today.  It was a dreary looking day, but quite warm (45 degrees.)  It was one of the days Mom wears her big coat while the kids play in their t-shirts.  The 20 minutes was definitely worth it.

We had to enjoy ourselves– everyone else in the world was chasing Black Friday sales.  I went into one local boutique that had several $5 sales advertised, and there were about 15 women standing in line.  I guess I will live without an extra scarf and hat for the winter.  People are crazy!  The grocery store was empty, by the way.  I guess everyone ate enough yesterday (and cooked enough yesterday) to last through the weekend.  Not us!  I came home and made homemade granola, and Eden put together muffins for our play-date tomorrow.

We also had cousins over to play and watch movies.  Thank goodness for cousins.  They are better than best friends, not quite siblings.

Hope you’re enjoying your November.

Get Outdoors — How to Cope with “Winter Blues”

Is the approaching winter weather getting you down?  I find that as the days begin to shorten, and especially after the fall time change, my mood worsens.  Here in Utah, we can expect 3 or 4 months of hard winter weather, and some really rotten days in November and May.  It can be depressing to look forward to that much indoor time.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues) seems to be very common among us.  How can you cope with the winter?

Here are some things I do to help myself especially and my kids as well maintain a good attitude about winter:


  •  Get outdoors.  The number one recommended treatment for SAD is light therapy.  You can “do it yourself” by exposing yourself to outdoor light.  Yes, it is cold outside.  Put on your coat.  I find that if I bundle up more than is really necessary for the temperature, I am happier about being outside.  This time of year my body is extra sensitive to the cold, so I bundle up even more than I will need to by the time I have acclimated in January.  I bought a very warm down coat, I wear a scarf, hat and gloves even if it is only 30 degrees outside.   Often, I warm up enough while I am outside to shed one layer.  If I don’t warm up that much, that’s fine, too.  I just don’t want to feel the cold that much.
  • Only expect yourself to spend a few minutes outside, but have a definite plan for what you will do while you are out there.  For me, it is easier to drive to a walking path and expect myself to walk a certain amount – say, once around the pond.  If I’ve gone to that much effort, I usually go ahead with it.  Often, I find I am enjoying myself enough while I am outside to continue the activity.
  • Notice the beauty that comes with the changing season.  This time of year it is easy to look ahead to the long cold days and feel overwhelmed.  Instead, take time to smell the wet fallen leaves, notice the coating of new snow on the trees and the mountains, and enjoy the frost patterns on the puddles.  Take your camera with you on your walk, and try to find one beautiful thing for a photo op.  Take that picture back with you and remember it whenever you are feeling depressed by dreary weather.
  • The color of your winter clothing makes a difference in your happiness level.  I know that sounds silly, but just try it.  Instead of your usual winter grey, black and red, put on a bright yellow hat or turquoise gloves.  That extra spot of color really puts a spring in your step.  Don’t believe me?  Take a picture of yourself or a kid on a grey winter day in that bright color.  You smile, don’t you?  Our eyes see that bright color as a symbol of the light we are missing during our winter days.
  • Enjoy the sun indoors when possible.  Sit in a sunny window.  Find a place in the house where the sun comes through a window, and even if it’s in an inconvenient location, put your chair there.  Sit and read to the kids in the sunshine, enjoy the warmth and the light.
  • Remind yourself of the time to do indoor things that you won’t have when summer comes again.  Find things to do that you can do only in winter time.   For me, one of the things that I do in the wintertime is quilt.  I don’t do nearly as much quilting in the summertime when I can hike and picnic all my playtime away.  During the winter, I get real joy from finishing some projects and thinking of new ones.  I also enjoy helping my kids work on their sewing and art projects.  Reminding myself of my limited time for these projects helps me keep a better perspective on winter.
  • Eat winter foods, but don’t completely neglect summer foods.  Yes, I try to eat locally whenever possible, and winter is an ideal time for soups, stews and baked goods.  But just because it is winter doesn’t mean you should never have a salad or a sandwich.  Those lighter meals help to combat one of the symptoms of SAD – increased appetite—and perhaps with the increased drowsiness as well.
  • Exercise.  Exercise, especially outdoor exercise, is a proven therapy for winter blues.  I find that as long as the wind is not howling, I can usually bundle up enough to enjoy myself outside for my run.  One thing that has helped is to keep track of temperature and what I wore in my running log.  Then next time that temperature rolls around, I think, “Well, I was warm enough in just my running tights and long sleeves,” or, “I got hot in my sweatshirt.”  That helps me get back out with confidence.  When the ice makes it too dangerous to run outside, getting in a good workout at the gym will get my day started in the right direction.
  • Get out of town.  There’s nothing wrong with planning a break from winter.  Any time you can head south, you will gain day light and usually warmth.  We love to head to San Diego during the first of February for a couple days of softer weather and running on beaches.  If there is a way to escape even for
    a few days, you may come back refreshed and ready to face the rest of winter.
  • Pray for summer.


I’m praying, too.  Hope you enjoy your day.

The Value of Running Partners — and a Quick Soup Recipe

This is what we looked like after our run today.

This picture should be  called Eden and I and the Non-Participant.  Yes, he ran.  Yes, it was a good run.  No, he doesn’t want you to know about it.  Eden and I ran four miles because she is starting to train for her first half-marathon next summer.  Our mouths are hanging open because we were trying to show you how we could see our breath (it was only 32 degrees) but we couldn’t catch it in the picture.

I guess I was boinging after my run today.  It is wonderful to have a running partner to help get you out of the house.  When you’ve both got up and got dressed for your run, you can kick each other out the door.  As a parent,  I am excited about setting a good exercise example for my kids.  Having them as running partners is a blast.

Yesterday’s run was even better — I ran 11.4 with negative splits (last miles faster than first miles.) If you can get yourself out the door, the temperatures are great to run in right now.

I also made this great soup yesterday.  I got the recipe out of Runner’s World magazine, and juiced it up a little bit.

Tomato Chickpea Soup with Pesto


2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, peeled and chopped

1/2 bunch celery, washed well and chopped

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

64 ounces tomatoes

1 quart water

2 cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

basil pesto for serving

Saute onions, celery, and garlic in olive oil in a large stock pot until wilted, about 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes, water, salt and Italian seasoning and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 15 minutes, then add chickpeas.  Cook for about 10 minutes more, allowing flavors to blend.  Serve with a scoop of basil pesto on top.  This was a delicious, quick, lunchtime soup.

Hope you enjoy your day.

Kids in the Kitchen — Black Bean Barley Chili

Just in case you think the only things we cook are buttery, sugary, yummy cookies, I want to set you straight.  Lulu cooks healthy food.  Although after she made this recipe for me, she informed me that it didn’t count as cooking, since all she did was dump things into the crock pot.  It still tasted fine to me, and since I didn’t have to cook dinner when I came home from work, Lulu was my hero for the day.

Black Bean Barley Chili


2 16 ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed

2 14.5 ounce  cans fire roasted tomatos

1 can diced green chilis

1 12 ounce bag frozen corn

1 cup pearl barley

4 cups water

1 onion, chopped fine

1 Tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt or more to taste

As Lulu says, dump it all into the pot.  If it’s a crock pot, turn it to low and allow to cook for 6 to 8 hours.  If it’s a regular pot, put it on the burner on medium low and allow to cook, stirring occasionally until hot and bubbly.  Turn to low and allow to simmer for one hour.

When serving, top with sour cream or grated cheese.  Good with tortillas, tortillas chips, or Lulu’s specialty — cornbread muffins.

And now you know how an 8 year old can make dinner, and save her mother’s day.

Have a good recipe for young kids to make in the kitchen?  Leave me a link in your comment so that we can try it out!  Thanks for visiting.  Hope your day is great.

Wednesday in the Kitchen: Potato Strudel and Jam Sandwich Cookies

I got to spend nearly the whole day home today.  Well, the whole morning at home.  Well, a good portion of the morning at home today.  So, of course, I got up early and started playing in the kitchen.  I made a beet green and feta quiche that was amazing for breakfast.  No, there are no pictures … we ate it at seven o’clock this morning.

Then, after my run, for lunch I tried this recipe from Simple Bites for potato strudel.  It was the first time I had used a mandoline.  My store-bought puff pastry was in two sheets, so I had to make two smaller strudels instead of one big one.  They looked and tasted amazing.  They were actually really simple following her directions, and I even think a kid could make them if you trusted them with a mandoline  (which I do not.)  It might seem kind of strange to try out a fancy looking recipe like this for lunch, but I love to play in the kitchen when I am at home and I like to try out new recipes on unsuspecting children before I serve them to company.  This will definitely be made again.

While the potato strudel was  baking, Maximus came into the kitchen to help make jam sandwich cookies.  After making one Grandma’s recipe for raisin bars last week, I got to thinking about these wonderful cookies my other grandma taught me to make.  Certainly not quite as easy, but not that hard either, these are a wonderful shortbread cookie that I loved when I was a kid.

If you don’t have a stand mixer to make this dough, I am really sorry.  When I am as rich and famous as the Pioneer Woman, I will give y’all one.  Until then, start saving your money or begging your honey.  My honey gave me my Kitchen Aid for our second wedding anniversary.  I was not happy with the gift – not romantic.  Needless to say, it has been in use daily and more often than that for 15 years.  I do not know what I would do without it.  I’d probably be skinny, because I don’t hand cream butter.

Jam Sandwich Cookies

Makes a 9 x 13 pan (don’t eat it all yourself)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees


1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

3  cups flour ( I used 2 all-purpose and 1 whole wheat pastry)

1 1/2 cups jam of your choice

cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

Cream together shortening, sugar, egg and vanilla.  Add dry ingredients and blend until smooth.  Spread half of the dough mixture in the greased baking pan.  It is easiest to spread by wetting hands and spreading.

It looks like this:

Then a great helper should spread the jam on the dough while you roll out the other half of the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or waxed paper.

Spread rolled out dough on top of jam, and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until barely brown.

Allow to cool before cutting and enjoy.


Homeschooling 101 — Take Advantage of Your Nearby University

When I was thinking about where to take my kids on their dates (see my date night post), I realized that I had stopped taking advantage of one of a homeschooling mom’s best friends.  We have two universities within 30 minutes of our home.  Along with universities comes something that every mom can love:  museums.

Why are university museums so wonderful?  Some of the good things about visiting them include:

  • wide variety of subject matter
  • changing exhibitions
  • activities for families
  • FREE!
  • small enough to see in an hour or two
The museum we chose to visit this trip was a life science museum.  While visiting the zoo cost and entire day and $50 dollars for 4 of us, the museum showed up close examples of real life animals that we could never see in the wild for free.  I chose not to go into the morality of killing animals for curiosity’s sake (and, for that matter, these animals looked like they had been dead for a long, long time.)  Instead, we focused on looking for animals we had seen in the wild, and comparing them to other animals we may never have a chance to see at all.
Maximus was most impressed with the Kodiak Bear, although the liger and the porcupine came in a close second.  Each exhibit had a lot of information — enough to do an entire science lesson or two.  We chose to skim most of the information this trip, but if I lived within a couple miles of this museum, I would build an entire science curriculum around its ecosystem dioramas.  We did have an indepth discussion of rodent teeth, however.
This museum also has almost daily activities for families, including a story time and a live reptile show.  Because the students are excited about their subjects, the presentations are wonderful.
On this same campus is a Museum of Peoples and Cultures, an Earth Science museum with rock samples and dinosaur bones, and a beautiful art museum.  We have in the past taken sketchbooks to the art museum, and no one is surprised to see us trying to sketch out our favorite picture.  It has also been really wonderful to visit the earth science museum and see students actually working on cleaning their paleontology finds.
Why are these museums better than a picture book?  One of the main reasons is that young children have very little concept of size.  When Maximus stood next to a lion (dead and stuffed, of course) he said, “That’s not very big!”  Even after I pointed out the size of the feet and the claws, he was not very impressed.  I guess he thought a lion was the size of a horse!  On the other hand, when he saw the marlin nearly 8 feet long on the wall, he was very impressed.  He just had no idea how big those things were in relation to each other, or to him, until he saw them.  Even a picture in a book with a human next to an animal doesn’t really do it for a young kid.
Another reason museums are better than a picture book is the possible interaction with knowledgeable students or docents, who really can make a trip wonderful.  At a visit to a dinosaur quarry, we encountered two students, twins, who were so eager to share their knowledge with us that we ended up spending much longer than we had planned, and coming away with much more appreciation for how a scientist comes up with an extinction theory.
Local historical museums (in Utah nearly every town has a “DUP” Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum) are also a great resource for homeschoolers.  You can actually see a butter churn, look over old farming tools, and maybe even wear a sunbonnet.  The docents usually are from the area and can tell a great story which really helps bring history to life.
If you are like me, and have kids of varying ages, it is easy to forget about tools that you once used, such as these museums.  When my older kids were younger, I took them to these museums regularly, until they felt like they had thoroughly explored them and weren’t interested any more.  But I forget that my littler ones have not had that opportunity, and are not bored with these museums.  I need to make a real effort to let them see for themselves the interesting things in these museums.
My suggestion:  Google “free things to do in ” your area.  Chances are, you’ll find something exciting to spice up your curriculum.  And remember, it can be off subject.  Some of the best encounters we have ever had at museums are when we went somewhere we weren’t sure would be interesting.
Do you have a great suggestions for free local field trips?  Please leave a comment.

A Breakfast Date — Spending Time with the Kids You Love

I had a hot date this morning.  Maximus and I went out for breakfast at Guru’s.  We got all hyper eating Bananas Foster Pancakes.

We have a fairly recent tradition in our family.  Each month, Daddy and I each take one kid out for a special date.  That way, every other month is date month for each kid.  We try to do something not too expensive, but a special treat for just that one kid.  We’ve done sushi (my first time, too), a pirate play and a movie.  This month, we had the boys.   I like my dates to be in the morning, because I love to go out to breakfast.

After breakfast, we went to the library.  The library is a great date place because it is free, and no one in our family ever gets to spend enough undisturbed time at the library.  Last time we had a date there, I came home with 30 books.  Luckily the library doesn’t charge by the book.  (This is also the reason date night is never at Barnes and Noble.)

When the museum opened, we went to the Monte L. Bean Science Museum on the BYU campus.  Campus museums are cheap (read — free), quiet and best of all small.  Max had never seen taxidermy before, I guess.  He was really impressed.  We enjoyed all three floors in about an hour, and got lots of new ideas for school.

What I like best about having a date night with my kids is that I get to see them as individuals, and really listen to them without interruption.  They also get to know me better as an individual, I think, and hopefully that contributes to family unity.  I know it contributes to family happiness — everyone is excited for their turn.  It also limits begging, because we can always save up that treat for date night!

How do you find special time to be with your kids?  Leave me a comment.