Friday, October 17, 2014

Five on Friday: Lessons from a Homeschooling Newbie

Biker Dude started school this year. Kindergarten! I can't hardly believe it.

Something I don't think that I mentioned on the blog before is the fact that we have chosen to homeschool. There were several things that factored into our decision, but I'm not going to go into that in this post. We're about one month into our homeschool journey at this point, and things are going pretty well so far. We have a bunch of friends who are also homeschooling their kiddos, so I was able to get a lot of good advice and help with curriculum from them before we started, which was really great. We've also joined a homeschool co-op group that has proven to be super, super beneficial for both the kids and I. (I'm really glad I signed us up for it, even though it was pretty far outside my comfort zone at the beginning.)

I'm a complete homeschooling newbie. I wasn't homeschooled myself. I'm kinda learning as I go - what works, and what doesn't, where to find resources and get help or support... I'm also learning that here is no "one size fits all" approach to educating your kids. What is working right now for Biker Dude is probably going to need some adjustments in a couple of years when Mountain Girl starts kindergarten. I've always had an interest in teaching, and I'm actually really enjoying myself so far. (Of course, like anything, it does have its moments...)

Anyway, for Five on Friday this week, I'm sharing a few lessons I've learned so far in our journey:

Five Lessons from a Homeschooling Newbie

#5 - If you reach an impasse, break the frustration by approaching the problem from a different angle or break away and do something completely different. Sometimes, Biker Dude just gets totally stuck on a certain point or problem in his work. (Hey... that can even happen to me sometimes.) I'll try to have him look at things from a different angle, or I'll try to explain it in a different way. But if we're still not making any headway with it, we are free to do something else and come back to it later. I love the flexibility that homeschooling offers!

#4 - Find your child's learning style and capitalize on it! Biker Dude has to move, like, pretty much all the time. Getting him to sit still and stay focused for two hours is a real challenge. If he can't stay on his chair for math... we move the chair out of the way and he can stand to do his lesson. (It's not what I would want to do myself, but he likes it!) Sitting and doing alphabet flashcards gets tedious for him, so we play a game where he can throw a ball for each letter he identifies correctly the first time. Same thing with counting - sitting still and counting to 50 gets old, so we go for a walk and count our steps instead. I'm working on helping him to learn to sit still and focus also, but that is something that is going to come with time - I can't force it.

#3 - Be flexible. We use a purchased curriculum, and generally we do one lesson per day... but if things are going very well (quickly, smoothly, and being comprehended well) we can do two lessons in a day. On the flip side, if things are NOT going well at all... we can repeat the same lesson two days in row. I really like to stick to my scheduled lessons, but I'm learning that it is okay to be flexible and make changes and adjustments as needed.

#2 - If at all possible, get the lessons done in the first part of the day. We get up, have breakfast, get dressed and then go downstairs to our school room as soon as we can. It is so much easier and more painless to get our lessons done in the morning than the afternoon. Biker Dude's focus is so much better first thing in the morning. I almost HATE it when our schedule gets switched around and we end up schooling in the afternoon. Today was one of those days. We survived it, but... whew...

#1 - Don't go it alone. Don't isolate yourself. I have found fellow homeschoolers to be very supportive. We can discuss curriculum choices and bounce teaching ideas off of each other. We can get together for field trips, and even just to let our kids play together. Our co-op (as I mentioned above) is just awesome. We meet weekly and us moms take turns teaching things that can be taught more easily in a larger group than at home - art, music, P.E., public speaking (just to name a few). There are also quite a large number of resources available online.

So there you have it! Five lessons from a homeschooling newbie. I'm sure I am going to learn a lot more as our journey continues. If you have been homeschooled, or are homeschooling your children, I'd love to hear about the things that you've learned along the way! Share your thoughts in the comment section below...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Five on Friday: Road Trip!

Well... we made it! We survived!

What did we do, you ask?

Why... we road-tripped across the country - Wyoming to Pennsylvania, and back again - with a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 10-month-old.

Of course, it had its moments, but overall... it went very well. And we had a wonderful time visiting with all our family and friends in Pennsylvania when we (finally) got there. So, this week I give you some tips for surviving road trips with young kids. It's not an exhaustive list by any means, but it's at least a starting point!

Five Tips for Surviving Road Trips with Young Kids

#5 - Prepare the little ones for the hotel stay beforehand. Mountain Girl had a complete meltdown the first night because she wanted to "go home"(!!!!) and sleep in her own bed. I realized that I had mentioned that we would be staying in a hotel, but I hadn't really explained what that meant... Oops. (And sorry to our hotel-room-neighbors...)

#4 - Always, always, always bring a bucket and paper towels. Always. And keep said items within an arm's reach... always. You just never know when someone is going to get carsick, and it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Trust me.

#3 - As a sort of follow-up to #4, here is a basic list of items I always like to have on hand in the car: A map (printed on actual paper - technology can be fickle), car charger for your phone, first aid kit, water, snacks, old towels, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, tire pressure gauge, jumper cables, a basic tool set, blankets (and maybe travel-size pillows too), extra clothes, etc, etc, etc...

#2 - For long trips, I like to put together a goodie bag for the kids in addition to letting them choose a few of their own toys/books/activities. Some of the things in the goodie bag they may know about (DVDs, coloring books, CDs) and some of the things I like to keep as a surprise. That way, when they get really, really restless and the regular stuff just isn't cutting it, I can dig into my bag and pull out something new. It usually keeps them busy for a while. This time, I made some seek-and-find bottles and road trip bingo cards, and we had some new storybooks and activity books also.

#1 - And the number one tip is... keep yourself sane! Yes, we listened to kid's cds for hours upon hours... but when the kids were sleeping or watching a movie in the back we'd fade the speakers all the way to the front and put on some more "grown up" type music. We also brought snacks (with chocolate on them) that we kept to ourselves. It's the little things...

So how about you? If you've road tripped at all and have any tricks or tips to share, please leave a comment below!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Five (Minutes) on Friday: The Whoopie Pie

Hello, Friday! I don't have a list for you this time, but a post written in (approximately) five minutes.

The Whoopie Pie

Hello, nemesis.

[I'd "insert whoopie pie picture here"... if I had one... Just picture two thick, cakey chocolate cookies with a liberal layer of creamy white icing in the middle.]

The famous whoopie pie. Have you ever eaten one? It's sort of like a hand-held cake, only much, much better. This treat originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (maybe?). The state of Maine tries to lay claim to the invention of the whoopie pie also, but anyone from PA will strongly dispute that! I've enjoyed my fair share of whoopie pies in my life, but I've only made them a few times. And apparently only once since getting married. And my husband doesn't think that I know how to make them. That really got my dander up – any good Lancaster County-raised gal knows how to make a Whoopie Pie! So I set out to prove him wrong!

And didn't I go and prove him RIGHT?!? Ugh.

Halfway through – not nearly enough cocoa powder. As I was unwilling to waste half a pound of butter (have you bought butter lately? wow.) , I improvised and used hot chocolate mix to fill in (also known as setting myself up for failure). And despite the fact that I knew I should reduce the baking soda to compensate for the altitude (over 5000 feet here), I did not do it because I thought I had made the recipe successfully before with no alterations. The batter looked great! It smelled right, too. I spooned it onto the cookie sheets and off to the oven it went! And about ten minutes later, I had... giant, flat, super-dry chocolate pancakes. I tried to redeem myself and baked the remaining batter in a cake pan. And now I have a whole pan of nice-looking, dry-as-breadcrumbs chocolate cake. I'm not convinced that there is any amount of frosting that will be able to help it out. I'm going to chop it up and smother it in pudding and whipped cream and chocolate sauce (hello, trifle!).

I still haven't admitted my failure to him (unless, of course, he's reading this right now). I'm planning on telling him what happened later... just as he's taking his second bite of an irresistible, perfectly baked, made-by-me whoopie pie (next week) (after I go and buy more cocoa) (and alter my recipe). That's my mission for now! I'll let you know how things turn out...

(By the way... hot chocolate whoopie pies are totally possible. The cake does taste good. And it did bake evenly. I think I should spend some more time in the kitchen perfecting that idea...)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Some Assembly Required"

A little more than sixteen years ago PJ and I met each other for the first time. Just over a year later we started dating. And nine years ago (plus a couple of weeks) I married my best friend. I can't believe it has been that long already! When we got married, we were very much “in love”. From my point of view, he was (mostly) perfect. We shared the same interests. We shared the same (or very similar) views on important topics such as children, finances, etc. We talked about anything and everything together. There was no one else I would have rather spent my time with. Thinking of spending the rest of my life with him made my heart skip a beat. *Cue wedding music...

Wait. Stop the music. Stop everything. I have a confession to make: I didn't really love my husband at all when we got married. Well... not in the same way that I do now, anyway.

I think that sounds kind of harsh... but I don't intend it that way. It's just that what I called love at the time was really more of an infatuation. A surface type of love. The kind of love I might have for an awfully cute little puppy, before it chews up my favorite pair of shoes. (Oh dear, I don't think that sounds any less harsh...)

Oh sure, I thought I loved him more than anything. He thought he loved me more than anything, too. Then again, we also thought we knew each other pretty well at the time (but we both found out fairly quickly after we said “I do” how little we really did know about each other, right PJ?). Yup, it didn't take me very long at all to figure out that the feeling I had – which I was sure was true love – was really just... puppy love.

The puppy-love/dating stage was fun! But after the wedding, the realities of married life set in and they began pushing puppy love right out of the picture. Everything from toothpaste conflicts (I can't believe he squeezes the tube from the middle and not the end!!! *yes, I'm serious – we really fought about that*) to very real financial troubles. The reality of living with someone with a chronic illness (and the expense associated with it). The dirty laundry on the floor and not in the hamper. The TV-watching when I thought he should be doing something productive (or paying attention to me, at the very least!)... Some couples (or so I've heard) have a “honeymoon period” of their marriage – six months or a year where all they see are the stars in each others eyes (or something like that) before any real kind of tension begins to surface. We, however, did not. I blame a lot of that on our personalities and - perhaps mostly - our immaturity. (It is easy to look back and identify this now! But at the time, I (of course) was impeccably mature and oh so very perfect and it was my man that was the sole perpetrator of any disturbance of our wedded bliss. Ahem.) … And we hit bottom.

Yeah... it turns out that puppy love doesn't carry a relationship very far when things get tough. At some level I guess I bought into the fairytale that living “happily ever-after” was something that just happened – no assembly required. It turns out that love – real love – is nothing like Hollywood. It is gritty and messy and unbelievable. It takes work – and not just a little bit of it! It takes a lot of work! Cultivating real love that lasts in a marriage requires a husband and a wife to make the choice to love each other and to make a commitment to put forth the effort that it takes. Because believe me – it won't just happen on its own.

Rock bottom was a difficult place to be. The idealized picture of marriage I had held in my mind was shattered. I guess that in my planning and dreaming, I kinda forgot that a marriage is made up of two people with different plans and dreams. PJ's ideas were valuable to him – but not so very valuable to me. My ideas were valuable to me – but not so very valuable to PJ. We reached a point in our relationship where “hopeless” is a pretty good descriptor of how we felt towards the idea of reaching any kind of resolution between our differing opinions of how our life together should go.

Thankfully, somewhere down at the bottom, we found that there still existed a foundation for the continued existence of “us”. Getting past the frustrations and disappointments I found in the beginning stages of our marriage for me meant discovering that PJ was still my best friend... and above all I didn't want to lose him! And most importantly, there was the foundation that came for us from our relationship with God and the fact that we had based our marriage upon Him. We invited Him into our lives and into our marriage as a vital part of both. We stood in front of a crowd of witnesses and promised in front of them and God that we would be together “til death do us part” - and that's not something that we took lightly at all. We chose to make it work. We faced our issues. We got help from our pastor and his wife. We leaned on trusted friends for support. We prayed. We relied on God. We chose to love each other. It was a process – it certainly didn't happen overnight – and we faced setbacks along the way. I'd like to say that we've got it all together now... but it seems that being married is not something that you ever totally stop working on. The times I become complacent and think I can stop working at it are the times that problems arise. And because PJ is a human, and – like all humans (myself included) – can sometimes be a little less-than-easy to love, I have to continue to choose to love him every day, even when I don't feel like it.

Marriage licenses should come with a disclaimer: “Some assembly required”. Yup. But guess what? I love this man now more than anything. Yes – I really truly love him! I know that I do, because I have chosen to. We chose to not give up on each other or on our marriage together even when it was difficult. Even when we couldn't go a day without arguing about one thing or another. The hard work was definitely worth it. Puppy love may be gone... but real, deep, lasting love is so much better than that anyway.

PJ – You are the love of my life. I'm so glad we have each other. I'm blessed to have spent the last nine years married to you, and I look forward to many, many more years together. Thanks for working at this marriage thing with me... I don't know what I'd do without you! I love you!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Five on Friday: The Merits of Fall

Ahhhh.... fall.

Another summer is drawing to a close as the first day of fall (September 23 this year) approaches. For some I guess this change elicits deep groans of disappointment. But not for I! Fall is my most favorite season. The only thing I don't like about it is the time change and when it gets dark at 5:00. But, hey... nobody's perfect.

In Wyoming, I guess we are skipping fall this year, since we just had our first SNOW. Seriously. A couple of inches this week and really low temps already. Crazy.

Well, without further adieu, here are:

Five Merits of Fall

#5 - All things PUMPKIN. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cake, pumpkin...pumpkin...PUMPKIN!!! Yum. Oh, and also punkin chunkin'. (And if you don't know what that is, you should really look it up. It's lots of fun!)

#4 - All things APPLE. Fresh homemade applesauce, apple crisps and apple pies, apple cider...  Mmmm...

       #3.5 - CINNAMON. Because both #4 and #5 are greatly improved by the addition of it.
                  ('scuse me, I'm drooling a bit)

#3 - The trees putting on their FALL COLORS. In Wyoming that mostly just means brilliant yellow leaves (I love seeing the aspens in the fall - see the picture above for reference). But where I grew up in Pennsylvania, and especially further up the northeast corridor, the leaves become a myriad of shades of yellow, orange and red - and it is just gorgeous.

#2 - HUNTING SEASON. We depend upon a successful hunting season to fill our freezer with fresh, lean game meat. Throughout the year I buy only small amounts of meat - mostly chicken, pork, fish, etc. Our red meat is nearly all supplied from the deer or elk that we harvest. Plus, we just enjoy getting out and spending time in the mountains, breathing that crisp, fall-scented mountain air...

#1 - But most of all - COOLER WEATHER. I hate hot ('nough said). Cooler weather means that I can break out my comfy hoodies and flannel pajamas. I can cozy up on the couch with a book in front of the fireplace. The thought of hot chocolate no longer seems disgusting! And it is time to put the comforters back on the beds. Yes. I love it.

Happy Fall Everyone!!!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Five on Friday: Five Projects I've Started and Haven't Finished (Yet)

This week I was having a conversation with my sister-in-law about projects that have been started, but not completed. I was telling her about #5 below. At least I know that I am not alone, since she admitted that they have things they haven't finished either. (And I have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps you do too!)

What is it that makes us not finish things? I have these fantastic ideas that never even really have a chance to succeed (or fail) because I can't seem to get much past the planning stages!

Now that the summer is coming to an end, it feels like a good time to start thinking about finishing some of these.

(By the way, I did finish the wallpaper border removal project pictured here. And I painted, too! 
I was, um... very motivated. I mean, really, what were they thinking? lol)

Five Projects I've Started and Haven't Finished (Yet):

#5 - Twin-size headboard. I found a cute pattern. PJ was on board with it (which is good, because I'm not exactly an experienced carpenter...). We bought a piece of plywood. We planned to go the next week and get the rest of the lumber and supplies - and we never did.

#4 - Make-your-own diaper bag! I still have the fabric setting somewhere...

#3 - Blogging... I have six or seven blog posts in draft stage right now. The dates on them are as follows: February 2013, March 2013, March 2014 (2), July 2014 (2). I think there's one somewhere from Christmas 2012 too. Sad.

#2 - I've been saving old jeans to make a recycled denim blanket since the first year PJ and I were married. I have a bunch cut into squares, and a few strips sewn together - so I guess I'm doing better on this project than some of the other ones!

#1 - In high school (or maybe middle school?) I bought a large counted cross stitch project with a picture of a golden eagle on it. I worked on it off and on for one, maybe two winters. And since then it has sat. I think it is my longest unfinished project to date. (Or maybe I still have somewhere a counted cross stitch project of a killer whale that is older than the eagle...)

So - a challenge? This fall and winter, I am going to try to finish at least one or two of the projects mentioned above (and I'll post pictures if I don't forget). Maybe you could try to finish a project you've been working on for a long time too? Leave a comment and let me know what it is. I might even remember to remind you about it in a few months (or years). :)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Five on Friday: Portraits of Summer

This week - a (relatively) wordless Five on Friday. Enjoy five "Portraits of Summer" from my camera lens this year.

Okay, so there's six.

(I had a lot of trouble choosing so few. I could have made this Fifty on Friday...)

Five okay, Six Portraits of Summer:

 #6 -
 Cow on the Range, Meeteetse, WY

#5 -
 Bald Eagle, Buffalo Bill State Park, Cody, WY

#4 -
 Bluebells, Beartooth Lake, Shoshone National Forest, WY

#3 -
Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, WY

#2 -
 Gray Jay, West Thumb Geyser Basin, Yellowstone National Park, WY

#1 -
Sunset at Wardel Reservoir, Basin, WY

Monday, August 18, 2014

Just When You Think You've Got It Together...

a.k.a. The Bologna Castle Incident

One week, recently, I went grocery shopping.

I have a simple philosophy when it comes to groceries – the less often I shop, the less money I spend. I make a menu plan for the next seven to ten days, check my pantry, then make my grocery list. Then I go shopping once. Sometimes, I forget things. Like toothpaste, or laundry soap. And then I have to go back before the week is up. But generally, it works pretty well. Or at least... it did.

And then we had kids.

And now... going grocery shopping once a week, with three kids in tow, is like running a marathon. (Well, that's my best guess for a comparison. I've never run a marathon though. No plans to, either. Not a runner.) Anyway, I'm always exhausted by the end of it. And the kids are usually totally over it by the time we get done get halfway through our list enter the doors of the store. Sometimes I go by myself at night after the kids are in bed! It's like a vacation! (Well, that's my best guess for a comparison. I don't really get vacations though...)

Anyway, back to the week in question. On this particular day, we were expecting company. They were due to arrive in the evening, somewhere around suppertime, and we needed some groceries and sundry items. It couldn't wait until after they arrived, and I hadn't planned ahead, so that left me with no choice other than to go shopping in the middle of the day with my kiddos. Not really my favorite thing to do, but hey... I do it all the time, so no big deal, right?

Well, we got through the non-grocery sections pretty quickly and painlessly, then moved on to the grocery aisles. We got our milk, yogurt and cheese. Then we stood in front of the lunch meat. And as I decided whether we wanted turkey or ham (we got both), Mountain Girl made a monumental discovery.

Bologna packages STACK in a fashion quite similar to blocks.

“Look, mom! I'm making a castle!”

Me: “Wow, honey, that's great.” (She had about three packs stacked up at this point.) “Okay, kids, let's go.”

One thing that preschoolers struggle with is... listening. I guess adults struggle with that sometimes, too. If it's fun, and I only do it for one more minute, then I don't have to come exactly when someone calls me, right?

I begin walking away from the deli case. And at that time, Biker Dude sees what Mountain Girl is doing and since it looks like more fun than following mom around the grocery store (I can't imagine why), he starts stacking bologna too.

The more steps I took away from the deli case, and the more often I called them to follow me, the faster and more haphazardly the bologna packages were stacked! They were making the most of their time, that's for sure.

Finally, upon threat of jail time the loss of their afternoon snack, they come running over to me. YES.

Then, I look beyond their happily mischievous little faces to the deli case. NOOO...

It looks like... like... well, I can't even think of a suitable comparison. (Tsunami? Earthquake? Hurricane? Landfill?) Anyway, it's bad. There are bologna packages everywhere. (Not on the floor, thank goodness, but strewn everywhere through the deli case.)

“Okay, turn around,” I say. “You guys are going back over there and cleaning up the mess you made. We have to put all the bologna back where it belongs. Somebody worked hard to set that out, and you guys trashed it!”

We go. We fix the bologna. I can't figure out where the Beef Cotto Salami is supposed to go (what is that, anyway?), but we do the best we can. Then we go to find potato chips for daddy's lunches.

And then IT happens. A nice young lady stops me and says, “You're a good mom. I saw what you did there, and I was impressed.” I was a little embarrassed, to be honest. I didn't realize anyone was paying attention. I said “oh... thank you”, then moved on.

And then I thought to myself... “Yes, I think that was a pretty good mom-moment. Making my kids take responsibility for their behavior. I can do this mom-thing.” And I walked down the aisle feeling a little happy with myself. A little pat on the back. Yes, it is nice to be recognized sometimes for things that we do as moms that are generally pretty unremarkable.

BUT, just when you think you've got it together, life happens.

Life, in this case, refers to the full-scale mutiny which my (lovely) children unleashed on me in the next aisle.

I'm sure there was a whispered conversation between them. “Psst, MG, mom thinks she's got a handle on us here.” “No way! What do we do about it?” “Oh, it's on now! Just follow my lead...”
(P.S. - This is all in fun. I love my kids. I know they're not actually out to get me – well, most of the time anyway. :) )

They ran up and down the aisles! They darted in front of other patrons and their shopping carts! They didn't come when I called! They said things like, “let's play tag!” and “let's play hide-and-seek!” to each other! They shouted! They (well, mostly Mountain Girl) screamed!

I tried to get a handle on it. I picked up Mountain Girl and put her in the cart. She cried. Loudly.

(Sometimes people, the lady in the store with the crazy kids that you look upon judgmentally (and yes, I've been guilty doing that myself)... sometimes, she's doing the best she can. Maybe show her a little grace...)

They weren't done yet!

I put MG back down after she “pom-missed” to behave herself.

And they danced! And they played ring around the rosie! And they fell on the floor! And crawled on the floor! (Which is just gross, by the way.)

PJ called. He was on his way home from work. He was going past the store. I said, “rescue me!”

A few minutes later, my knight in shining armor husband in dirty work clothes came riding walking through the door on a white horse in boots. Reinforcements had arrived! I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Kids. Sometimes they make you proud. Sometimes they keep you humble. Sometimes they make you laugh. Sometimes they make you cry. Sometimes you find yourself celebrating your apparently awesome skills in parenting. And sometimes you wonder where on earth they came from and who taught them how to behave.

At times like this, when our kids make us feel like a complete disaster, I keep telling PJ that consistency is the key (even though sometimes I feel like it's not working at all). I have to believe that as long as we keep on reinforcing the same concepts – eventually something is going to stick in their little minds. And later, when we can't be there beside them, they'll hopefully have learned enough from us to make the right choices.

Next time they stage a mutiny in the grocery store and I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle... I'm gonna try and remember that. And in a few years, when we're facing much different challenges, I'm maybe even gonna wish for a deli case bologna castle.


We'll see.

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."
 -Proverbs 22: 6 (KJV)

"Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him."
-Psalm 127: 3 (NLT)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Five on Friday: Five Things that Confuse Me

It's Friday again! I'm confused about where this whole week went. I had a pretty busy week, but now that it's Friday night and I'm looking back on things... I'm not really sure what all I accomplished this week.


Well, in honor of my confusion, here are -

Five (more) Things that Confuse Me:

#5 - Kids. Ha! I love my kids, and most of the time they make sense (or if not, at least I can usually figure out their line of reasoning, even if it's not the way I would think). But sometimes... sometimes, there's just no figuring them out. Hmm. You know... sometimes... adults can be pretty confusing too... Maybe I should rewrite this point...

#4 - This list is confusing me right now. Yeah... I completely just forgot what I was going to write for #4, and I've tried and I totally cannot remember what it was...

#3 - Our "good" old dog. Yes, Superlab is really confusing me right now. This dog... she's almost eight years old now. She's always been so good, and trustworthy. I mean, I could leave a plate of food on the floor and leave the house for a while, and when I came back she would not have touched it. But lately if we leave anything on the kitchen table and walk out of the room, she gets up on the table and eats it! My poor table has the scratch marks to prove it! (The other day, she ate half a stick of butter off the table. Gross.) She'll also dig in the trash can if we leave lid open and rip open trash bags if she gets a chance. Why, Superlab, why? Why are you being so... weird?!?

#2 - Cake without frosting! Sometimes, I read a recipe that says something like, "this cake is so rich it doesn't even need frosting". Yeah, right. That's absurd. A cake is not a cake without frosting. A cake without frosting is basically just... bread (sort of).

#1 - And finally, I think it would be very confusing to live too close to the "line" where the time zone changes. How does that work? You leave your house at 2:00pm to pick up some groceries. You drive for thirty minutes. When you get to the grocery store, it's 1:30pm - or 3:30pm, depending whether you're traveling east or west. (Poof! Time travel!) But it's 2:30 at your house, so if you have an appointment at your house at 4:00 you'd have to remember to do the math so you got there at the right time...

Friday, August 8, 2014

Five on Friday: Ice Cream!

We just wrapped up a week of VBS (Vacation Bible School) at our church. It was a lot of fun! I think all the kids really enjoyed it.

It was also a lot of work, and...

I'm tired.

So, this week, something simple is on the menu for Five on Friday. Something I don't have to think too much about.

Here are:

My Five Favorite Flavors of Ice Cream!

#5 - Vanilla. It's classic and wonderful on its own, but the best thing about vanilla is that it is a blank slate... an empty canvas upon which the artist (that's you!) can paint delicious shades of caramel, chocolate, strawberries, whipped cream, sprinkles - pretty much any topping you can think of goes great with vanilla.

#4 - Peach. But not just any peach ice cream! It's got to be my Grandma G's homemade peach ice cream - so incredible! However, that can be hard to come by, so any peach that tastes like real peaches and not something artificial will do in a pinch.

#3 - Peppermint. The kind they only stock at Christmas. (Which is one of the biggest disappointments ever. I think they should sell it year-round.)

#2 - Chocolate. Just because... it's. chocolate.

#1 - Coffee. Yup. That's my absolute favorite.

I love ice cream! Who doesn't? List your favorite flavor...

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Seven on Saturday: Things I Like About Pennsylvania

 Oops. I forgot to post my Five on Friday this week... To make it up to you I'm giving you not just one, but TWO extra points! Yes, you heard right. It's Seven on Saturday! lol

This week was pretty unusual. We have dubbed it "Pennsylvania Week" here in Wyoming. Three different families that we knew from our time in PA came through town on their vacations, and we were able to meet up with each of them. It was really great to see them all and reconnect a little bit, and we had some fun times at supper, the rodeo and the frozen yogurt bar. We were even honored to host one of the couples at our home for one night. They surprised us in the morning with a straight-from-Pennsylvania Shoo-Fly Pie. They brought it with them on the plane. It was quite the treat, and completely unexpected! (Thanks, guys! It was still very fresh and awesomely delicious!)

I much prefer living in the west compared to living in Pennsylvania. But, of course, I still hold some fondness for the area in which I grew up. So many memories there.

So, in honor of our visitors, here are
Five Seven! Things I Like About Pennsylvania:

#7 - Farms. So many farms. I love farms.

#6 - Fresh produce! With so many farms, and gardens that grow so easily in the rich soil, and orchards full of fruit trees, there is such an abundance of readily-available fresh produce. And it is lovely. (I do miss that.)

#5 - Roadside stands. Where the farmers sell their produce. Seems like there is one on every corner.

#4 - Greenery. PA is GREEN. Lots of rain + lots of good soil = GREEN. And in the fall, I loved seeing those green leaves change all sorts of colors. So pretty.

#3 - Fireflies. Or lightning bugs, as we always called them. They're everywhere in PA for a few weeks each summer. We used to spend lots of evenings chasing them down and catching them in jars (or our bare hands). I wish my kids could do that! But we don't have them in Wyoming. I wonder why? I always assumed they were everywhere, until I lived out here.

#2 - The food. Pennsylvania Dutch style food. Is. Amazing. Lots of good cooks around there. (I get food like that out here because I know how to make it myself. But there are a few things that I have not figured out how to duplicate. Like Ham Loaf. (Any of my PA friends reading this have a good recipe for ham loaf???)

#1 - Family! With the exception of just a few people, almost all of our family lives in PA. That is, most assuredly, the best thing that state has going for it (in my mind). Oh, and I like my friends in PA too, of course. :)

Well, there you have it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go have some lunch. Which is going to include a slice of Shoo-Fly Pie for dessert.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Five on Friday: Five Ways to Beat the Heat

I grew up without air conditioners. We had to come up with other ways to cool off in the heat of summertime. My mom had one of the best ideas EVER. She used to fill up several plastic containers with good, fresh snow sometime in the winter and stick them in the back of the deep freeze. Then, when summer was at it's absolute peak and we were so hot that we couldn't stand ourselves anymore, she'd break out the containers of snow (which everyone else had forgotten about by then) and we'd have ourselves a snowball fight in the backyard. It was so much fun!

This year, we've got a couple of window a/c units sitting down in the basement that we haven't installed yet. It really hasn't been that terribly hot this summer... until this week. Ugh! But, having made it this long without the a/c, I'm kinda determined to hang in there and just tough it out. It just seems like too much work to put them in and then take them out only a couple of weeks later.

And I neglected to save some snow for us, so here are some of our (other) favorite ways to beat the heat:

Five Ways to Beat the Heat

#5 - Hang out in the basement. (If you have a basement, of course.) I think ours is at least 10 degrees cooler than upstairs. It practically feels air conditioned. The kids have been playing down there all day so far, without me even saying anything about it. Smart kids.

#4 - For a good night's sleep, try taking a cool (not cold) shower or bath right before you go to bed.

#3 - Go away. Go to the store, or the library, or your friend's house... anywhere that is air conditioned... and hang out for a few hours. Or half the day. Whatever.

#2 - Go swimming, or have a friendly water fight.

#1 - Get ice cream. Or any other kind of frozen treat. Then eat it as slowly as you can without having it melt and drip on the floor. Alternatively, you could just drink ice water. But, I figure I'm probably going to sweat out all the ice cream calories anyway, as hot as it is, so why not go for it? Mmmmm.... ice cream. I wish I had some right now.

How do you like to beat the heat? Tell me in the comments below! I could use some more ideas.
Have fun, and stay cool out there!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Five on Friday: Five Things I Am Thankful for This Friday

This week was kind of... meh. So for this week's Five on Friday, I'm making myself think of things that I am thankful for. I'm hoping that I can turn my attitude about this week around by focusing on the things that are good instead of the things that are kind of... blah.

So, here are:
Five Things I Am Thankful for This Friday

#5 - My (new! last Christmas) sewing machine. I've really been enjoying creating cute stuff for my new
little nephew lately. This week, I did a toddler-bed size flannel "rag" blanket and a great set of bibs. I've caught the sewing bug... and now I'm dreaming of yards and yards of wonderful new fabric with which to craft more and more projects (maybe even some for myself and for my own kids).

#4 - Friends. Especially those who come bearing ice cream on hot summer days (thanks, A.)! And those who are willing to look after your children for a few hours (thanks, L.)!

#3 - My washing machine. Last Friday my old washing machine kicked the bucket - two loads into at least a four or five load pile of dirty laundry. And because laundry is like rabbits, you know those piles only kept growing over the weekend! But, I am thankful because we were able to connect with a new (used) machine and had it home, hooked up and running by Sunday night (thank you, God, for providing!). It did four or five loads for me today. And I am thankful that I didn't have to go to the laundromat or wash it by hand.

#2 - Family. PJ's parents were out to visit a little bit ago, and we just said good-bye to my parents at the beginning of this week after a nice, long visit. Spending time with family is something that has always been very important to me. With where we're living right now we are pretty well distanced from our families. We have to make the most of the time that we have with them, and I'm very thankful that we've had good opportunity to do that this summer.

#1 - My husband. I may be biased, but I think he's pretty great. He's stuck by me through this blah sort of week and I'm grateful for his support and companionship.

You know, I think my plan worked. I feel better about things already. And also, I didn't really want to stop at five things I'm thankful for! I keep thinking of more. :)

Comment and share something you're thankful for this week below.

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever."
- 1 Chronicles 16: 34 (NIV)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Five on Friday: Five Things That Are Good About Summer

I'm about to share an opinion of mine that you may not agree with. Are you ready? I'm preparing for the backlash on this one, but here goes!

*Summer is NOT the best season of the year.*

There. I said it. I don't really like summer a whole lot. I never have. I can't take the heat.

(Seriously. I hate being hot. It's been close to 90 degrees all week. Ugh.)

Anyway, that being said, I will admit that there are some good things about summer. And honestly, I can probably come up with more than five things - but since this is not FIFTEEN on Friday I will stick with five of my most favorite things.

Five Things that are Good About Summer:

#5 - Thunderstorms. I like a good thunderstorm. Not of the damaging variety, but just a nice, hot afternoon rumbler with a good rain shower. And I love the way it smells after a storm.

#4 - Greenhouses. I really like wandering through a greenhouse and looking at all the beautiful flowers and plants and imagining how my flowerbeds and garden would look if I could afford to buy all the plants I liked. (Which would pretty much be the entire stock of the greenhouse. Except for geraniums. I do not like geraniums.)

#3 - Ice cream. Okay... ice cream is good at any time of the year. But especially during summer. And when served outdoors, on a cone, at the end of a long, hot day.

#2 - Fresh produce. Whether it is from your own garden, or someone else's, nothing beats fresh, locally grown, vine-ripened veggies and fruit. (Bonus points if it is from your own garden, because there's just something miraculous and special about growing your own food.)

#1 - Outside activities. The weather is usually perfect for all kinds of outside activities (unless it is over 84 degrees) - hiking, water play, biking, boating, horseback riding, etc. And if the kids are restless I can just send them out the door and they can play for hours in the backyard with nothing more than a shovel and a bucket and their swingset/playhouse. (Or, lacking that, they can play for hours with a pile of dirt and a couple of sticks.... tell me again why we have so many toys???)

How about you? What do you enjoy the most about summer? Leave a comment!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Spring in Yellowstone

My first introduction to Yellowstone was – I believe – sometime in my elementary school days, although I can't really remember exactly. Some friends of my parents had taken a big trip out west, and when they returned they hosted a slide show of pictures from their trip at their house for a group of friends. I have a pretty vivid memory of sitting in the room watching a video of a boiling mud pot. It made quite an impression on me.

I made my first trip to Wyoming (and Yellowstone) in 2004, and I've visited the Park probably a dozen times or more since then. In spite of that, I still have not seen it all! There are so many hiking trails that lead to hidden mountain lakes, wonderful waterfalls and interesting thermal areas that are off the beaten path, and I've been on almost none of them. Not only that, the Park is different every time you go – even if you're only visiting the main attractions. The thermal features can change significantly from year to year, with some areas becoming much more or much less active. And while you can pretty much be guaranteed to see buffalo whenever you go, you never know what other animals you may see from one visit to the next. Grizzlies, bighorn sheep, black bear, elk, moose, fox, coyote, deer, antelope, wolf... not to mention a plethora of smaller critters, birds of all types and sizes... And don't forget the wildflowers, insects and butterflies. Things change a lot with the changing of seasons also – from baby animals in the spring to majestic antlered bull elk in the fall.

That's why I can't stay away from the place! It's ever-changing and never boring. And that's why, if you ever have the opportunity to visit, you really should. (And bring a good camera.)

Our first visit for this year was back in May, just a week before Grandma & Grandpa H. flew out to see us. It was a beautiful day and we had a great time. I took a ton of pictures, as usual (hooray for digital cameras, cause I never could have afforded that much film...), and (as usual) I want to share all some of them with you! (I'll try to practice restraint...)

Mountain Girl requested me to take this picture. Go figure. :)

Meet our new puppy! He's a Corgi (mostly Pembroke Welsh Corgi, with just a little touch of Australian Shepherd mixed in), and the newest addition to our family.

This picture is from our first sighting of the cow moose and her calf (if you haven't read the calf's big adventure story yet, click here). The calf stayed hidden pretty well, but I caught a couple glimpses of him. You can see him - well, just his nose - just to the right of the mom. He's the dark shape right up against the mom's front leg.

In addition to seeing the moose before we got to the East Gate of the Park, we also saw a couple of buffalo and a group of bighorn sheep rams. It was shaping up to be a good day already! Shortly after we entered the Park, we came across another ram. This guy was pretty nice-sized, too! He was running down the road, and we were stuck behind a few cars that were stuck behind him, so we got to watch him for a little while. He finally decided to get off the road and stop running so he could catch his breath.

We've been in Yellowstone at the end of May before, but we've never seen it as snowy as we did this time! It was a cold winter with a lot of snowfall compared to recent years, but it still surprised us. At Sylvan Pass we could see where an avalanche had come down the slope. I missed getting a picture of it, but there was a decent sized area of tumbled snow with broken trees and branches sticking out of it. It came right up to the edge of the road, so possibly it had even gone across the road and they had to plow it. Here is a picture of the snow in Sylvan Pass.

When we got to Yellowstone Lake we were amazed to see that it was still largely covered with ice! Not a solid sheet of ice, but the remains of it – as you can see here.

The kids were getting restless, so we stopped at the Mud Volcano area so we could all get out and stretch our legs. We walked the little loop that goes through that area. It is partially boardwalks, and partially paved trail. It's not that the trail is really difficult, but it does go up a pretty decent hill... and we had made the mistake of leaving Little Mr. in his car seat and carrying him that way. Man, did that get heavy after a while! He was asleep, so I had figured that it would be better than waking him up to put him in the stroller. (Yeah - it wasn't.)

Anyway, here are a few of the features in the Mud Volcano area. 

Dragon's Mouth Spring

Here is the Mud Volcano itself.

Sour Lake.

So many colors! (These two photos are from the area called Sizzling Basin.)

I like the contrast in this picture between the sulphur and steam of the thermal area in the foreground and the blue freshwater river in the background. This was taken overlooking the Mud Geyser area.

And this is Mud Caldron.

The Mud Volcano is a nice little thermal area to stop at and explore. Since we were there, I read somewhere (it may have been on the NPS website, but I can't remember) that there are some really interesting thermal features behind where you are allowed to go on your own, but there is a ranger-led tour that you can go on that takes you further back in. I thought that sounded like a fun thing to do.

It was nearly lunch time, so we continued on down the road towards the Canyon area. This is the Hayden Valley.

We saw some elk.

And some ducks. These are (I believe) a pair of Lesser Scaup.

And these are Mallards.

We were hunting for a picnic area, but I guess everyone else had the same idea because every single picnic table we found was already occupied. So we improvised. And our parking lot/sidewalk picnic was... fine. The seating was a little uncomfortable. The spot was not very private. And the wind kept blowing the plates away (so PJ got his exercise chasing them down... lol). But we had fun anyway!

After we ate we took the kids over to see the Canyon and the Lower Falls. We didn't make it to this area last year, so this was their first time seeing it.

It is always beautiful!

And very unique.

Then we got back in the car and switched drivers. :)

Next we stopped at the brink of the Upper Falls. The Upper Falls are the smaller of the two. The river comes pouring towards the drop...

...and it is amazing to stand right there at the brink of the falls as the water thunders over the edge.

The spray mixed with the sunshine and made this pretty little rainbow.

There is also a viewing platform at the brink of the Lower Falls (the big one). I've never been to that one, but I imagine it is pretty impressive.

And we found some snow piles! Yay!

We also stopped at a Canyon overlook.

Next we drove up over Dunraven Pass. There was quite a lot of snow up there too. It was up over the roof of the car in a lot of places. This road was still closed just a couple of days before we were there, but it was now open for the season.

Coming off the mountain.

A little while later we came across a wildlife jam. I was hoping for a bear, and so were the kids... and there he was! (Can you spot him?)

Sleeping. Up a tree.

It was neat to see this black bear, but he didn't move at all while we were watching him. (How is he not falling out of the tree???) Mountain Girl was a little disappointed. She said, “I want to see a bear what's walking around.”

I was determined to get some pictures of some waterfowl this time. We have seen a lot of different ducks and other birds on our trips into the Park, but I haven't gotten many on camera. PJ... (I love you, PJ) …well, he doesn't really like to stop the car for birds, he prefers to watch the bigger, furrier animals. But...

Ruddy Ducks.

Ruddy Ducks. The one with the blue bill is the male, the plain brown one (flying) is the female.

American Coot (I think).

Yellow-Headed Blackbird.

We found all these guys at Floating Island Lake. (And even PJ admitted that they were pretty fun to watch. Thanks for stopping, babe.)

The kids had wanted to go up to Mammoth Hot Springs, but we were running out of time for that since we weren't planning to eat supper in the Park, so we turned around and started heading back towards the Northeast Gate. On our way, I spotted the sign for the Petrified Tree. Having never been back there before, I asked PJ if we could drive back real quick and he agreed. The road to Petrified Tree kinda goes straight back off the main road, then turns and goes behind a hill, so you can't see the tree from the main road. Neither could we see this from the main road.

A bear what's walking around! Hooray!

There weren't a whole lot of people back there, and we were able to watch this black bear for a while, which thrilled the kids. He was just moseying along, eating grass. (Yes, bears eat grass. They are omnivores. Biker Dude just learned some new vocabulary – carnivore, herbivore, omnivore.)

After watching him, we didn't even have time to get out of the car and go see the Petrified Tree! But here's a snapshot of it that I took out the car window.

And of course there were buffalo in the Lamar Valley. And people who were walking way too close to the buffalo. (Please, if you ever visit Yellowstone, do yourself a favor and give the animals some space. Please.)

The Lamar Valley is a place where you are supposed to be able to see Yellowstone's wolves. And I have never seen a wolf yet. Not even once. Not even a glimpse of one. And it has been ten years since I first set foot in this place. We were driving through there in the early evening this time... Still no wolves. Maybe another time... For today... just more buffalo.

After exiting the Park, we drove for a little while before we stopped and ate supper. We ended up getting to Dead Indian Pass (on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway) just at sunset. 


It was so beautiful up there, and my camera didn't really capture the scene that well (believe it or not) so you'll have to just come out here and see it for yourself!

We were home after dark and we carried sleeping kids into the house and put them in their beds. It was a peaceful end to a beautiful, relaxing day. It was wonderful to be able to take a family day after being so busy lately. I highly recommend it! The mountains are essential to the preservation of my sanity (lol). Where do you go to unwind? Feel free to comment below!

"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; 
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, 
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."
-Isaiah 55: 12 (NIV)