Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Gans Creek Winter Hike

Finally, finally,  I can write about hiking again. Which means the cold snap has passed, at least for now. We are creeping out of our state of hibernation. I lie. We are running out of hibernation and heading straight for the woods. Missouri weather has spoiled us the past few years because we have been able to hike straight through the winter. But not this year. When the windchill is below 10, or even 25, we prefer movie watching, game playing, puzzle solving, and staying indoors in general. But watch out when the thermometer peaks above 30, because we are out of here, and on the trail.

My New Years Resolution was all about being outdoors more, so I was sad to watch day after day pass by without logging a single mile on the trail. We've hiked at least partial trails at pretty much every trail system in our county. But there are still loops and connectors within those trail systems that we have yet to venture, so last weekend, we headed back to Gans Creek (Shooting Star Trailhead) to  complete another loop.

Christmas brought us all some new hiking gear including these hydration packs for the boys from their grandparents. They absolutely loved having their own water source and we absolutely loved not having to stop every half mile for a water break. The packs are small enough that the boys can manage them without issue, but surprisingly, there is also room for them to carry their own snacks and a couple of other small things (like Eli's new compass).

The other new addition to our hiking game was action cameras for each of the boys. I thought they came with head and chest straps but they didn't, so for this hike, they just each wore them on their wrist. I'll be getting the chest/head straps soon though, because having a camera strapped to your wrist is not conducive to climbing, falling, etc. That being said, the boys absolutely loved recording the hike from their viewpoint. Perhaps on another post, I'll share more about these cameras, but the truth is we haven't even downloaded the videos yet and I don't really know that much about them. It was sweet to watch them narrate the hike though. I can't wait to see what they recorded.

As for the trail conditions on this beautiful day, muddy just about sums it up. For nearly half of the hike, we walked on the edge of the trail instead of down the middle, because the mud was deep. I got some new hiking boots for Christmas, and getting them covered with mud was the perfect way to break them in.

Eli took a couple of spills on this hike. Maybe because his feet were covered with mud, or maybe because sometimes he just takes the most difficult path he can take. Little adventurer.

 The entire trail has been recently reblazed and it made it so easy to follow! There are trail maps at every trail head and the blaze marks are bright and frequent. We have been known to miss our turn off on the trail system before, but that almost seems impossible now with how clearly they've marked it. The loops are blazed with different colors, and the connectors are marked with white blazes with numbers. The boys lead the way the whole time.

We saw several fallen trees close to the trail. They are really good at maintaining the trail and removing any fallen trees that fall on the trail (or at least a section of the tree).

 One of the things we love about this trail is the change in elevation. You can be on the top of the bluff overlooking the creek bed, and then a few minutes later, you're at the creek bed and hiking back up. Here are the boys on the incline.

Looking down over the valley.

The sky...Sigh. We all started shedding layers early on because it was just so nice.

The boys up high on the bluff.

And an incredible Missouri view. One of many reasons we hike. #Missourilove

Overlooking the river. We'll be down there in about 30 minutes.

This actually is a pretty popular trail system, but because it's so expansive, you can go quite a ways without seeing anyone else.

Heading back downhill. The boys with their hydration packs and cameras barely talked to us throughout much of the hike.

Finally, we spotted some water, er, I mean ice. That's a really cool thing about winter hikes. Instead of throwing rocks into the water, we throw rocks at the ice and predict if it will break or not. Even though there was a thin layer of water on the top of the ice, the ice itself was surprisingly thick. We couldn't break it.

But we tried.

More fallen trees. I also wonder what caused it to fall. Lightening? Old age? The wind?

This moss covered rocky ledge was interesting, and somewhat eerie. 

 Every once in a while, they let me be the leader. So kind. Here are the boys all clearly dodging the muddy trail.

And finally we came to the main creek bed. This rocky path is actually part of the trail, and this part of the trail is actually the convergence of several paths in the trail system. Which means lots of people stop here to rest or play. It looks as if the creek is melted, but under that water is ice thick enough that adults were out walking on it.

The boys remembered being here once before when they sent leaves floating down that little stream over the rock. They did it again and again. 

The icy creek that was probably completely melted just a few days later.

 And then the loop we were completing merged with a path we have hiked before, taking us back up to our car.

 With more beautiful overlooks of the creek bed.

 This path is one of my favorites. Walking into it feels like you're walking into a different world.

And finally we rounded the corner to the parking lot, where we took off our muddy shoes before climbing into the van.

Here are some stats from Geotracker, although they are a little off. See those gaps in the blue line? That's where we lost cell service, which means the app assumes we stopped hiking. So the final hike was actually a bit longer than what it says here.

First hike of the year is in the books! 

Monday, January 1, 2018

Go Outside!

Happy New Year! My family has enjoyed every single minute of our winter break. We have barely left our house and have played more Yahtzee and Quixx games than I count. We also completed a 550 piece Harry Potter puzzle, learned how to wire circuits, and also built a small engine (well actually that was Jeremy and Eli, but we all spent time around the table watching them work). We stayed in our pajamas all day every day and watched movies and Netflix (is anyone else watching The Crown?!? LOVE IT!), while feasting on all the goodies from the holidays. I can effectively say that I feel relaxed, rested, rejuvenated, and ready for the New Year.

I have been working for a few weeks on my resolutions for the new year. I take my resolutions pretty seriously and don't resolve to do anything that I don't actually think I can do. This year, one of my big goals is to be outside more and hike more! I am totally bummed that we have a negative windchill here which is keeping us from our New Year's Day hike, something I was really looking forward to. But never fear, because the Super Moon is here, which gives us another excuse to head out tonight for a good view. We have the perfect spot, away from the lights in town, to get the best view of the Wolf Moon.

There are 13 full moons in the year 2018, and I love that the first one is on New Year's Day, giving us a reason to head outdoors, (even if we don't get out of the van.) I only recently learned different cultures assign names to the full moons depending on the time of year they occur (tonight's full moon is the Wolf Moon.)  Just in case you want to get outdoors to enjoy some full moons this coming year, here is a master list of the dates and names (I used NASA's names) of all the full moons in 2018.

January 1, 2018 WOLF MOON
           This one is also a Supermoon - the closest we will have in 2018!)
January 31st, 2018  SNOW MOON
            This is also a Supermoon, and is also being called a BLUE MOON. Not only a full moon, but                a supermoon AND a total eclipse of the moon.
March 1, 2018 WORM MOON
March 31, 2018 PINK MOON
April 29th, 2018 FLOWER MOON
May 29th, 2018 STRAWBERRY MOON
June 28th, 2018, BUCK MOON
July 27th, 2018, STURGEON MOON
August 26th, 2018, CORN MOON
September 24th, 2018 HARVEST MOON
October 24, 2018 HUNTER'S MOON
November 23, 2018 BEAVER MOON
December 22, 2018 COLD MOON (Also the day after Winter Solstice)

Moon and star gazing is a great way to get the family outdoors. I am a sucker for full moons, but I also find anything celestial to be magnificent and fascinating. If there's something interesting happening in the sky, I want to know about it.

In case you don't want to use this reference every time you want to view a full moon, there is also a cool app at the Play Store that will do all the tracking for you.

Other Moon resources that you might find interesting are:
Farmer's Almanac Full Moons
NASA's List of Full Moons (Space.com)

So with that done, Happy New Year, and may the New Year bring your family peace and happiness!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

My mom's pot roast is a recipe I can make in my sleep. A good chuck roast, topped with potatoes, onion, carrots, celery... A little bit of water in the bottom of the pan, and then topped with salt, pepper, and cream of mushroom soup - from a can. Slow roast it for a couple of hours and it will fall apart. The mushroom soup works as a gravy that coats every bite with a creamy richness. 

But I'm sure you know the deal with canned soups... as in the bazillion ingredients that you can't pronounce and therefore, are probably not good for you. I hate that about food that is otherwise convenient and tasty. But as it turns out, cream of mushroom soup is actually pretty easy to make from scratch. And it tastes better and fresher (obviously) than the gelatinous stuff that comes out of the can. 

I'll say upfront (because you're probably thinking it), that yes, you lose the convenience factor. I have read that it can actually be canned, but I haven't gotten that far yet. I make a fresh batch every time I need it. But in the event that you want to have this stocked up in your pantry, a Pinterest search will likely lead you to someone who can teach you how to do that. Another option is to freeze it. Something else that I have read about, but not yet tried. 

This recipe will make about 4 cups. If you don't need it all at once, you can store it in the fridge for up to 4 days. 

8 ounces chopped mushrooms (of your choice)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (give or take) onions, diced
5 Tbsp butter, divided
1/3 cup flour
3 1/2 cups milk


Start by chopping your mushrooms.

And also your garlic and onions. Now is a good time to tell you that the onions and garlic are actually optional. I put them in just about everything, but it's possible that whatever you are making with your cream of mushroom soup already has onions and garlic in it. If that's the case, then maybe you'll want to leave them out of the soup.

Start by melting 2 Tbsp of butter in a large skillet. You'll want to use a skillet or pan large enough to hold 4 cups of soup.

Add in the onions and garlic and cook over medium low heat for just a couple of minutes.

After a couple of minutes, add in the mushrooms and stir. The mushrooms will shrink down as you cook them. Keep stirring until they are cooked through - several minutes.

Once they are cooked through, remove the mixture with a slotted spoon. Leave the drippings in the pan, and add the remaining butter to it. Cook over medium low heat until the butter is melted, then add in the flour. You get this pasty looking mixture which is the magic thickening agent for the soup.

Slowly pour in the milk, and start whisking away until there are no more flour clumps left. Continue stirring (whisking) over medium heat until it begins to thicken.

Once the cream mixture is smooth and thick, add the mushroom mixture back in and stir to incorporate it all together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

And then transfer it to your storage container or recipe!

Note: While this is a thick soup, it is not as condensed like the canned version.

And there you have it! No additives or preservatives. Just straight up Cream of Mushroom Soup.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Month of Traditions

Growing up in our family of 6, the passage of time was marked by the coming and going of seasonal traditions. The food, decorations, and family gatherings were predictable and cherished in every sense of the word. My parents constantly instilled the importance of traditions in our family. Now that I have 2 boys of my own, I love mixing in the traditions I grew up with and the traditions our family of four has created. With my own boys now 6 and 8, they seem to not only crave the traditions we have created, but also understand the importance of them. They really took the lead on a lot of holiday festivities, making sure we covered all of our favorites.

Here's a look back at December.

Buddy the Elf joined our family last December, and let me tell you that I am all in when it comes to this particular tradition. I resisted the elf for so long even though the boys desperately wanted one. Then last year, in a moment of clarity, it hit me that the boys would only be into this kind of Christmas magic for a few more years. Our elf arrived and we haven't looked back since. I actually get a little sad when he goes back to the North Pole for the year.

We made him some elf sized cookies on one of our many baking days.

And he left us a grocery list...

 During the month of December, Buddy also played with the boys' blocks, cars, stuffed animals. He played Checkers one night and played a game of Yahtzee, in which he apparently rolled all Yahtzees. He wrote letters back and forth to both boys and managed to not get chewed up by Kylo. He brought the boys some new pajamas on his last day with us on Christmas Eve and promised to tell Santa that the boys have good. I love this tradition!

The Magic Tree

We changed up this tradition this year. Normally, we go to the West side of Columbia to view the magic tree, but this year, they decorated a new one on the South side of town - much closer to us. We went right at dusk, so there weren't a ton of people there yet. No matter how many times we see this thing, it's always incredible and the boys absolutely love it.

Game Nights

Growing up, we always played games around the holidays. It's such an easy way to be with family, sans screens, and well let's face - it's just not the holidays without some healthy competition. Our games of choice of late have been Trash and Yahtzee.

Holiday Baking

Here's another tradition that came straight out of my childhood. We always had a day in our house to make sugar cookies and then decorate them. If my mom had any issue with the disaster we made of the kitchen in our mission to make festive plates of goodies, she never let on. The mess is half the fun, right? Sprinkles, and chocolate, and icing... AND you get the added bonus of eating sugar for weeks.

I have acquired quite the cookie cutter collection. The metal ones came from my mom, and that rolling pin was my Grandma's.

And Eli, like always, was right at my side, rolling cookie dough like a pro.

Music Programs - 
Lex participated in his piano studio's Harpsichord Recital for the third year. It's such an amazing event and the students all get to play Baroque songs on a new instrument. It's so much fun. I love hearing them play.

Other Things to Celebrate. While Christmas is the main event in our house, our boys learned about Hanukkah last year. I don't remember how, but they started asking questions, and since I'm not Jewish, I headed straight for the library and checked out some books for them. And just like that, we celebrated Hanukkah. We broke out the menorah again this year and lit it almost every night. I recently learned that there's actually an order in which you are supposed to light the candles. I'm going to have to remember that for next year, because we didn't do it the right way this year. Our intentions were good though.

Another celebration of light this time of year is Winter Solstice. For 3 years now, we have headed to one of our favorite trails, had a camp fire with friends, and put out food for the wildlife. It is one of my favorite holiday traditions because it's a celebration of the days getting longer and let's face it, by the time Solstice rolls around, we are all ready for some longer days.

This year we hung cranberries and bird seed covered bagels.

Christmas Eve

I heard a news story recently about a report that more than half of people prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. You know, because of all the build up, traditions, and general party atmosphere. Personally, I don't think I can pick a favorite. I love everything about the Christmas season, including the days after Christmas, when the pressure is all off and you can stay in your pajamas for days.

We were lucky to get snow this Christmas Eve which set a beautiful scene for our holiday. We couldn't believe our luck since often in Missouri, even when they do call for snow, it doesn't come through for us. And then it did come through just in time for Christmas.

Eli and Kylo both licking snow off the door. Gross.

Christmas Eve evening Eli read us "Night Before Christmas."

We made some food for the reindeer. Oatmeal, carrots, marshmallows, and glitter. We also set out eggnog and cookies for Santa and left a pillow in the fireplace for his soft landing (got that idea from my big brother's family).

And just like that, we were ready for Christmas.

Whatever, however, and wherever you celebrate, I hope your holidays were magical and full of tradition!

Merry Christmas!