Saturday, September 10, 2016

Mark Twain National Forest Hike

We are full into our fall schedule now. Lex and Eli have both started soccer which means weeknight practices and Saturday morning games (in different locations). Lex is back into piano which means weeknight lesson and many weekend performances. School is busy both for me and the boys. Committee meetings, lesson plans, and paperwork for me. Curriculum night, packed lunches, permission slips, library books for the boys. You know the deal. It's busy. And I love it.

Weekends are great for us because we get to reset as a family. We have lots of downtime, catch up on things at home, and try to get out and do something. Usually hiking. Not always. But usually. 

We've hiked so much around here now that we have a menu of trails from which to choose, depending on our mood, our available time, and our energy. We know where to find long trails, short trails, rugged trails, and grassland trails. We know trails with elevation and flat trails. Trails with river views, creek views, and rolling hill views. We know where to go if you want to swim in a creek. We know where to go if you want to catch crawdads or frogs and we know where to go if you want to most certainly spot a snake. 

And one thing we have learned is that you can have 4 different experiences on a trail if you hike it during 4 different times of the year. That was our experience last week when we returned to one of our favorite trails from this past spring. Same trail, but different views, different vegetation, different experience. The trail is part of the Mark Twain National Forest which spreads all over Missouri. We used the Englewood Road Access close to the Columbia Airport. Although there were 3 other cars in the parking area, we didn't see another soul on the trail. Our favorite kind of hike.

Lex standing at the trail head while we get the backpack ready.

The end of summer flowers. 


It was our first hike in a little while since it's been so hot. We couldn't wait to get to it.

These boys. 

So much yellow everywhere!



This is a very popular swimming spot in the summer. We haven't used it for that purpose, but we almost always see people swimming here when we come. Not on this trip though. 


We did take the short little trail down to the water so we could throw rocks.



And then hiked back up.


And crossed the enchanted bridge to get our hike really started.


Pretty view, huh?


Seventy degrees and sunny made for a perfect hike.


It's a rather rough trail. It's uneven in lots of areas and rocky in others.


Eli found himself a walking stick and used it the whole trail.


I wish I had one of these signs.


Here's the dried up old creek bed you have to cross to get to the actual climb to the top.


More of the creek bed.


The view at the top. This was one of the big differences from the fall. The last time we were here, there were no leaves on the trees and you could see so much more. It was still pretty though.



A family selfie. I love those boys.


We found this log with a notch cut out of it like a step. the boys thought it looked like a rowboat.


More of the view.


And more.


Such a natural trail. I love it.


Eli has such an eye for wildlife. If there is a frog, lizard, or a turtle nearby, Eli can spot it, no matter how much it blends in and no matter how still it is.


On our way back to the car now.


And over the enchanted bridge one more time.


Here's the map view thanks to the Geotracker App. By the way, the stop logo is past the start logo because I forgot to stop the app until after we started driving.


Hiking stats.

And there you have it. Happy hiking! 

Monday, September 5, 2016

One Pan Autumn Chicken and Vegetables

I recently made the most amazing chicken meal on a bed of roasted fall vegetables. It was easy prep, inexpensive, and delicious. I will definitely be making this one again.

Start with 4 chicken quarters (or 7-8 thighs/legs). Put them in a large ziplock bag with 4 T. olive oil, 2 tablespoons each sage, rosemary, and thyme. Mince 6 cloves of garlic and throw that in there too. Rub the oil around so the herbs get spread evenly on the chicken. Let it marinate while you prepare the vegetables.


Spread the sweet potatoes on a large rimmed baking sheet.


 Add the brussel sprouts and the apples.


Drizzle with the remaining olive oil, mix to coat the vegetables, then salt and pepper.


Yummy!


Place the herb chicken over top of the vegetables.


And then spread the bacon over top of the bacon and vegetables.


Ta Da!


Bake uncovered in 450 degree oven, for 35 minutes or until chicken is cooked through to 165 degrees.





And the finished product! It is so easy, and so delicious. The vegetables, and apples, combined with a bite of chicken and the saltiness of the bacon - oh my goodness.


And for the record, it is even better as leftovers. Seriously. Go make you some.

Here's the quick - read only version.

Ingredients:
4 chicken quarters (or 7-8 thighs/legs)
8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons each, thyme, rosemary, and sage
6 cloves garlic
2 large sweet potatoes, cut into bite sized cubes
1 lb. brussel sprouts, cut in halves or quarters
2 fuji apples, chopped
8 pieces of bacon, chopped

Marinate chicken in a large ziploc bag with 4 tablespoons oil, herbs, and garlic. Spread the oil around to evenly cover chicken with herbs.

Place vegetables and apples on large rimmed baking sheet. Toss with remaining oil, stir to coat, then salt and pepper to season.

Remove chicken from the bag and place on top of the vegetables.

Top with bacon.

Bake at 450 for about 35 minutes or until chicken is cooked to 165 degrees. You also have the option of broiling it for the last few minutes if you want some extra color on the chicken.

Enjoy!

Inspired by recipe found here.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Five Fun Traditions to Kick Off Fall


If you are like me, then you know exactly how many days until fall is officially here. And if you're really like me, then you don't care that the official date is still a few weeks away - because the fall decorations are already up, apple cider is in the fridge and your fall wreath is on the front door. Because people like you and me - we are ready for fall. Maybe it's because I'm a teacher and thus operate my life on a school calendar, not a real one.  For me, fall actually starts the first day of school.  It stinks that the first day of school is usually 90 degrees, because I would much rather show up to the first day in cozy boots and a jean jacket.

So now that Labor Day is upon us, football season has started, and the weather is dipping into the 50's at night... well in my house, that means fall is officially here...unofficially.

I have spent the past week cleaning the house, cleaning up the yard, cleaning out the garden beds, and storing garden vegetables away in the freezer. Basically putting summer to bed. Closure. And now... I am ready for fall.

I wanted to share some ways that I like to make the "changing of the season guard" somewhat ceremonious.

1.) Pumpkins
Photo Credit

Here's how to get in the fall spirit right off the bat. Pumpkins, pumpkins, and more pumpkins. Eat them in desserts, drink them in your coffee, decorate with them in your yard and in your house. And in another month, carve them up and stick a candle it them. Nothing makes it feel like fall like pumpkins.

Here's a couple of links if you need some help getting started.


Pumpkin Food Inspiration

2.) Refrigerator and Pantry Makeover

Out with the strawberries, and in with the apples. Out with the basil and in with the rosemary (don't actually get rid of your basil - but maybe move it to the back. Rosemary is so much more fall). Scour your Pinterest boards, cookbooks, and recipe collections for your favorite fall meals - then go shopping to make sure you're all stocked up for your favorite meals. And while you're at it, make sure you have everything you need that first chilly night when you're dying for a pot of chili but don't want to get out of the house.

Here is my personal favorite recipe for chili - It's white chicken chili and probably the best chili I have ever had.




3.)  Fall Scents
Photo Credit

I picked out my fall home scent a few weeks back (Leaves by Bath and Body Works).but I didn't light it. Lighting it before its time would be sacrilege. You think I'm weird, don't you? Here's everything that had to be done before I could light it. Burn out my summer scents. Check. Clean house. Check. Cool day. Check. Open windows with attic fan on pulling a perfect fresh air breeze through the house. Check. Fall decorations in place setting the cozy mood. Check. And now my house is clean, cozy, and smells like fall leaves. 


4.) Fall Jackets and Jeans

Try fall jackets and jeans on your kids (unless your kids are older - then you can skip this one). 
You don't want to wake up to a cold morning one day and realize that the sleeves on their jackets come up to their elbows, and their jeans are now man capris. 
Having this part of their wardrobe planned ahead will give you so much more time to just sit on the front steps a few minutes longer on that first cool morning rather than turning your coat closet upside down looking for something that fits. 


5.) Synchronize Sports Calendars


Fall is just as much about sports as it is about pumpkins. Friday night games at the high school, Saturday college games, and NFL Sundays... Part of our fall traditions include getting calendars out and checking out our favorite teams. Some suggestions: Put the big rivalry games on your calendar so you can plan amazing football food days when those games are on. Find out when the first game is and see if it will be televised or if there is a venue near you that will be showing it. Check your sports team apparel to see if anything needs updated.

For us, fall sports include a lot of football, both college and NFL. But ALSO, soccer - as in both boys are playing on different teams in different cities at the same time each week. So we are synchronizing calendars like we never have before. Who is going to which game, making sure chairs are already in the vehicles, a section in the van designated to sports equipment. When that first game arrives, we want to be able to roll out with our thermoses filled with coffee rather than stressing about who is supposed to be where.

On the off chance that your favorite fall teams are actually the same as my favorite fall teams, well then here are your team schedules. You can get your own at www.printyourbrackets.com




And that's how I'm rolling out fall in our house. What are your fall rituals? How do you know when it's fall?