For Desert Lovers Everywhere

Its appeal is not the appeal of things universally attractive, like smiling fields, bubbling springs, and murmuring brooks.  To some it seems merely stricken, and even those of us who love it recognize that its beauty is no easy one.  It suggests patience and struggle and endurance.  It is courageous and happy, not easy or luxurious.  In the brightest colors of its sandstone canyons, even in the brightest colors of its brief spring flowers, there is something austere.  From The Desert Year by Joseph Wood Krutch

Since I am not in the desert, I have been reading about the desert and daydreaming about desert hiking.  There is just something wonderful about the sense of space and breathing room achieved only where there are not even any trees to block the view.

I hope you’re enjoying your week!  Are you pursuing your summer reading goals, or have you been sidetracked, as I have?  Please leave me a comment.

Preserving the Harvest — Fruit in Bottles

Although the nearly-lost art of preserving food in jars seems to be in revival on the web these days, almost everyone will tell you about “small-batch” food preservation.  Many recipes make 2 or 3 half pints of whatever wonderful, tasty food they are preserving.  While that might be great for a couple or a family with one child (who doesn’t eat!), for my family of 6, I hit more on large batch food preservation.  This is one of the reasons we don’t school through the summer months — unless you call harvesting and preserving school (which I do.)  It is too difficult to teach math and stand over a boiling pot!

This is the season for that canning, as we call it, although we don’t use cans.  As my mother taught me, and as her mother and mother-in-law taught her, I look for the best fruits and the least expensive price and put as many of them in jars for the winter as I am physically able.  My recipes come mainly from the Ball Blue Book, which as I look for it on Amazon, doesn’t seem to be blue at all.  Mostly great fruit with a very light sugar syrup and processing, this fruit helps us through the winter when fruit that is available is far from local and not in the best shape.

Two weeks ago, I bottled 13 quart jars of sour cherries.  Originally, I bottled cherries for pies and cobbles, and some of them still get eaten that way.  But most of them go straight under vanilla yogurt and granola and are gobbled up in the winter months. I bought some strawberries to make 2 batches of jam, because we opened the last jar from last year that morning.  I also thawed some plum juice from last year and made two batches of jam while the kitchen floor was already sticky.

That same weekend, I found an apricot tree next to a vacant house which was loaded with fruit.  Usually, apricots are a fruit which people will nearly pay you to pick to keep the squishy fruit from falling on their lawns.  But this year, people wanted us to buy their apricots by the bushel(!).  They were even advertising apricots as organic (I have never heard of anyone spraying apricots– they hardly ever get bugs.)  So I was delighted to find this tree at the same time the management company truck pulled up and was able to give me authorization to pick as much as I liked.  In about 20 minutes, we picked enough apricots to eat ourselves sick, make apricot kuchen, apricot jam, and bottle 14 pints of apricots.  I would have liked to do more bottled, but they weren’t quite ripe and when they did ripen I was too busy with other work to do them.  However, I did freeze apricot puree and make this wonderful apricot nut bread recipe I will share with you!

Apricot Nut Bread (especially wonderful spread with homemade apricot jam)

Makes 1 loaf

2 cups whole wheat flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup butter

2 eggs

1 cup pureed apricots

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Cream together the sugar and butter.  Add eggs, apricots and lemon juice.  Beat until fluffy, then add dry ingredients and nuts.  Bake in a greased 9 inch loaf pan 45-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool at least 10 minutes in the pan on a wire rack, then remove from pan and cool completely before cutting.  To make this bread extra special, sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of sugar across the top of the loaf about 10 minutes before the ending of cooking.

This week was blackberry week. Mom and I went and picked blackberries at a local patch.  10 pounds of blackberries for $20 is a score!  I made blackberry cobbler, blackberry smoothies and blackberry jam.  Jam is the easiest thing in the world to make if you use pectin and the recipe in the pectin box.  While other recipes are certainly unusual flavors, my family always enjoys the traditional fruit and sugar the best.

Since I have zucchini literally running out my ears, I think today is zucchini relish day.  Anyone for a hot dog?  Are you enjoying the summer harvest yet in your area?  What are you doing to save some of those great flavors for winter time?  Please leave me a comment.

Summer Learning: Bluegrass Workshop

Three of the kids were able to participate in a really fantastic activity this summer.  This is actually the third year Brett has been involved, but Lulu and Max were able to join Bluegrass Workshops sponsored by a local city government.  For two weeks, they spent one hour every morning playing guitar or fiddle along with other kids and adults interested in making music together.  Led by a wonderful teacher, this was a great way for them to expand their repertoire and enjoy their music.

At the end, they had a show in the park to demonstrate what they had learned.

This was the  first time Max had ever played any guitar at all.  He enjoyed the picking, but not the chords so much.  He really enjoyed the singing — he learned “Grandma’s Featherbed” and “I Saw the Light.”

 

Lulu enjoyed singing, but her fiddle playing has significantly improved over the past year.  She was able to do a solo and do some backup with other players.

 

Brett was in the advanced class, and the songs they played were amazing.  They played “Old Joe Clark” and “The 8th of January,” and their fingers were flying.

 

In one of the Malcolm Gladwell books I read recently, he pointed out how much learning time many kids lose during the summer, because they are left to their own devices or to the TV instead of having learning experiences.  We certainly enjoy our summer learning experiences — such a change of pace and different style from our normal lessons.

In the past, the girls have participated in dance workshops and piano camps, but so far I think this is our favorite summer “camp.”  Do you try to schedule this type of activity into your hectic summer?  Do you think this is beneficial for kids?  Please leave me a comment.

Lessons from a Failed Backpacking Trip

We planned a big hiking trip this weekend.  Well — not such a big one, just an overnighter into the Amethyst Basin area of the Uintas.  We have packed into the Uintas only twice before, each time in a late July weekend when rain threatened.  We took along tents, rainflys and rain ponchos and never used them at all.  This trip was different.

About 4 miles into the hike, it was looking alot like rain.  We stopped for lunch in a spot which would not have made a good camp site, but we could have set up our tents and waited out a storm if we needed to.  As we cooked and ate our lunch, clouds and thunder moved overhead, and then cleared leaving sunshine.  So, we left our packs in this spot, propped against a tree, and continued up the trail with just one day pack.  While we left our packs and gear, thunderheads moved in again, and this time instead of threatening, we got wet.  It began to rain about 2 miles from our packs, and we didn’t turn around at the first sprinkle because we were trying to reach a lake.

When we did turn around, we had about 2 miles to go to get to our rain ponchos.  We tucked our electronics (cameras and GPS) inside the one day pack and hiked fast.  Even so, we were thoroughly soaked by the time we reached our (also wet) gear.  We decided to hike to a camping spot we had noticed about 2 miles back, and decide there if we would camp or hike the last 3 out to the car.  It rained steadily all the way back to the car.  Instead of setting up camp on the mud so that we could clean our tents when we got home, we put on our ponchos and packs and hiked out.

This seemed like a failure as a backpacking trip, especially since we had carried our heavy packs without camping, and when we got home not a drop of rain had fallen at our house.  Even though this seemed like a failure, I still count it a win because we learned some great lessons.  Positive lessons we learned:

  • We are braver than we used to be!  No one was reduced to tears by the rain, and we were able to pack out of a messy situation.  A little over three years ago, we were caught on a day hike in a similar situation.  Although the hike 3 years ago was colder and scarier (near flash flood,) we were only 1 mile from the car.  The kids and I seriously lost our cool on that not-so-long-ago hike.  This time, we were even able to crack jokes and sing even though we were wet and had hiked much further than we had planned.
  • If there’s a chance of rain — don’t leave your gear uncovered!
  • If there’s a chance of rain — carry your rain ponchos in your day pack!
  • If you have a rain poncho on, hiking in the wet is not bad at all.
  • When changing clothes in the car, everyone can take turns keeping their eyes closed to keep from having to change clothes in the rain or in a stinky outhouse.

So, while it was not the trip we planned, it still turned out to be a successful trip.  I’ll have to share photos of the beautiful river we hiked beside in a future post.

Have you ever been rained out on a hike or camping trip?  Were you able to find any positives?  Please leave me a comment.

Summer Must Do: Snow Cones

The kids are taking a bluegrass music workshop that is occupying a LOT of time.  As we drive home in the hot car (no air conditioning this summer in the ‘burb,) we are taking advantage of a little extra fun time.  After all, buying a snow cone is cheaper than fixing the air conditioning, right?

 

 

And then again, some of us just dive right into our ice.

I’m hoping it’s the simple things in life that build up to good memories of a happy childhood.  I know they make good memories of happy parenthood.

What are some of the simple, fun things you consider a requirement  during the summer?  Please leave me a comment.

 

4th of July Hiking: Maple Canyon

Near my parents’ home in Sanpete County, there is a canyon famous for excellent rock climbing sites.  The canyon walls are made of a conglomerate rock that I have never seen anywhere else.  Cobble rocks approximately the size of my fist are stuck together with mud to make hoodoos and even an arch.  The last time we visited this area was in the ice and snow.  Mom has been inviting us to hike the loop trail that exits the campground for years, but finally on the fourth of July we were forced by fires in the other areas we wanted to hike to visit this trail.  It was a great little trail.  (There has since been a fire in this canyon — I don’t know exactly what the damage has been.)

Starting from the campground, we took the middle fork and circled back on the right fork trail.  The trail climbs about a half mile, then branches off to visit an arch made from the conglomerate rock.

We continued up the trail about another mile, to where the arrow pointed to the right with a very steep climb to a “viewpoint” and then following the right fork down to the campground again.  The views were fabulous from the top.  We could see the whole valley spread out below us, and the buzzards were circling below us around the cliff tops.  We spent time looking for buzzard (the local name for turkey vultures) nests.  The research I had done said that they nest in caves, and we spotted several likely spots, and even heard the calls of baby birds, but nothing we could identify certainly as a nest.

The area below the viewpoint, as the trail dropped sharply down to the canyon bottom was the best for the kids.  The Forest Service has actually built stairs and installed a ladder to come down this steep incline.  It was beautiful and fun.

Round trip, mileage was about 4 miles for the loop with the arch detour.  At the bottom of the canyon, we were able to stop and watch some of the many climbers that were there taking advantage of their holiday to try out their ropes in the canyon.  Now we have a new goal — let the kids try rappelling.  We’ll have to find some good instructors!

How do you spend the extra holiday time during the summer?  Do you take time to visit trails that are close to home?  Please leave a comment below.

Hiking (and Life) Advice from Annie Dillard

Advice:  (from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard)

When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find.  It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since.  For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street.  I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk.  Then I would take a piece of chalk, and starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions.  After I learned to write I labeled the arrows:  SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY.  I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe.  But I never lurked about.  I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped by the impulse to hide another penny.

It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans.  I’ve been thinking about seeing.  There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises.  The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand.  But — and this is the point — who gets excited by a mere penny?  If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way?  It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stop to pick up a penny.  But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted with pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.  It is that simple.  What you see is what you get.

Application:

Eat every wild raspberry you see.

Hope you find a few pennies today!

Celebrate your Teenagers: Eden’s First Half Marathon

Eden ran her first half marathon this weekend.  I ran beside her to pace her and encourage her, but mostly I just marveled at the determination and strength of this marvelous young woman who is growing up in my home.

She ran so strong she was able to race me through the finishing chute — and win!  She finished in 2:13, and won her age group.

My experience this weekend makes me want to revisit again everyone who told me (and still tells me) to dread having teenagers.  If I could even count how many people have told me the horrendousness of raising teenagers, and how sorry I am going to be to have 4 in the house at one time!  Although I only have two so far, I really don’t know how families survive without teenagers.  It’s having an extra best friend, an extra pair of hands, and an extra smile around the house.  It’s wonderful.  Whether you are raising little ones or teenagers, work hard together and enjoy your time together.  It is precious.

Do you have teenagers?  How do you respond when someone starts telling you about how difficult it is to raise teenagers?  (My first response is, “Not in my house!”)  Hope you are having a great week as well.

July Reading

After a long phase of non-fiction reading, I’ve switched back to fiction for the last couple of weeks.  I read A Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler, a book which I enjoyed very much.  It was very reminiscent of her book The Accidental Tourist, and made me want to watch that movie again.  I finished The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.  I had not read any books by this author before, and it is really not my usual style.  I am not a mystery reader.  This book was an enjoyable read with an engaging heroine (actually 3 or 4 engaging heroines) and a plot which although fairly transparent was interestingly developed.  I usually say “this was written on a postage stamp” when the solution to the mystery is obvious halfway through the book, but enough of this mystery was left unknown to make finishing the book worthwhile.

Eden recommended Impossible  by Nancy Werlin.  It took me an afternoon to read, and was not a typical rewritten fairy tale but a twist on a classic ballad, Scarborough Fair.  The most interesting thing to me about this story was the description of the attachment between the pregnant woman and the child she is carrying.  It made me nostalgic for the days when I would “speak” to my pregnant belly, longing for the day I could hold the baby in my arms.

I also read Finding Ultra by Rich Roll.  I have read several endurance training stories recently, since I read Born to Run. This book actually contained far more information about his recovery from alcoholism than his training and change to a plant-based diet.  As such, it educated me about some of the challenges facing a recovering alcoholic, but did not fulfill the promise of its title.

Lulu and Max have been reading the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull.  She has read all 5, and Max just finished book 3.  They really like this series, and have been using these ideas in the imaginative play all week.  Perhaps your kids would like these books, too.

The other books on my list for July are nature essays.  One is a book about the Grand Gulch area of southern Utah that I am really excited to start, and I am also looking forward to reading the others.  One problem I have with essays and short stories is that I have a tendency to gobble them down.  I think of a book of essays or short stories as a box of chocolates.  I really should just eat one, enjoy it, and come back for another tomorrow.  Instead, I gobble them down quickly and end up with a stomach ache!  I am going to exert myself to read these books slowly.

Do you enjoy reading essays and short stories, or do you prefer novels?  What is on your reading list for July?  Please leave me a comment below.

Hiking Fifth Water Hot Springs

One of our favorite summer hikes is in a canyon only about a 30 minute drive from home.  Located in Diamond Fork canyon, there are two trails that lead from the Three Forks trailhead.  The less traveled hike is also beautiful, following a tiny creek, Second Water,  along a pretty drainage.  But we like to go early in the morning to beat the traffic on the well traveled trail along Sixth Water Creek, crossing the bridge to Fifth Water, and hiking all the way to the hot springs at about mile 4.5.  If we leave early enough, we can be swimming in creek water warmed by natural hot springs by 9 a.m.

Last Wednesday, we headed out to the hot springs for the first time this summer.  The flow of Sixth Water creek is controlled by a reservoir high in the mountains above the creek, and it was roaring this year.

Unfortunately, right after I took this picture, my camera ran out of battery — someday I’ll remember to check this before I go out.  I want to share some pictures with you from another year, though, because this is a great little hike you might like to do with your kids sometime.  As you can see, someone has built walls around the pools and even piped mixes so that there are pools about mid-thigh deep that you can sit or swim in.

There are little waterfalls to stand under, swim around and slide down.

We play in the lower pools, but the higher pools are warmer for soaking, so if you’ve left the kids at home, try those out.  After you’ve played in the water as long as you like, the hike back to the car takes only about one hour.  This is really a great short hike to take early on a weekday morning so that you can have the little pools all to yourself.

Do you visit a local hot springs or swimming hole?  Do you enjoy swimming in natural waters, or are you a feet soaker like I am?  Please leave me a comment.