Sunday, December 26, 2010

Dehydrating Salsa

Confession time: I'm a real food snob. I like to eat things that I know the contents of. I want them to be composed of actual food not some food product which once resembled some kind of natural substance. I'm not big on additives, sodium, weird chemicals, fake sugars, or preservatives. This isn't to say that I don't sneak Lunchables when they are on sale and my son is asleep. I tend to LOVE Lunchables in a very nostalgic way. However, I openly admit they aren't food and they won't really sustain me.

The real food snob thing tends to really come out when we backpack. Jules likes to live on Snickers bars and Pop Tarts. In fact, he often will judge a day on how many Snicker's bars it will take. "Today's a 4 Snickers day...." It makes my pancreas hurt just thinking about it. He also finds Mexi-Velveeta cheese dumped over murshy pasta a culinary delight. I just can't do it. I get why he does it, but I'm not down. I want real food.

This has required a bit of patience on both our parts. Much like combining a household, we have to combine our backpacking routines as well.

Since I'm in charge of the cooking and food within the house, I've also become in charge of the meals we eat when we are backpacking outside the house. Since he has to also carry the food, and is stuck eating whatever I bring, Jules has given me a few parameters:

Can't Weigh A Lot - We have to carry it, sometimes a lot of it, so it needs to be light as possible. Sometimes, we have to mail it and that can be expensive with heavy items. This includes packaging, cooking needs, and bulky items.

Has to be Palatable - This should read, "It can't taste healthy." After a long day of 'packing, Jules wants food that tastes good. It is great that it isn't filled with crap, but it should taste like it! This also means there needs to be variety. I can eat the same thing over and over and still like it, not so much Jules.

Small and Not Messy - Since our food is jammed into a backpack with all our clothes, it can't leak or spill or smell funny. As important as food is, it also has to compete for space, so it needs to be as tiny as possible.

Easy to Cook - Not only can the food not take a lot of time, it can't be crazy complex. We have to conserve as much fuel as possible and we only have 2 bowls (and a Nalgene or two) to use. He also wants to eat, not fuss over food.

Lots of Calories - Both Jules and I have high metabolisms, plus we are burning calories faster than we can eat them. The Barracuda is burning calories growing as well as with all the walking. The food needs to be dense and really stick with us. If we want to eat again in an hour, it won't work.

Last at Least 1 Week - Sometimes we are carrying food for a week, sometimes it will be sitting in a hiker box which was either packed or mailed weeks previously. It can't spoil.

Water Tight - All you have to do is read about New Mexico to understand this one. The food needs to be able to be submerged in water and still be dry inside.
These are not crazy requests, but when combined with my real food snobbery, they made things a bit complicated. What has come about is the need to find foods what are highly versatile and also extremely flavorful. Once dehydrated, they are then combined with staples like potatoes, rice, or pasta to create multiple meals. Salsa is the best one to date.

Dehydrating salsa might sound a bit crazy since it is mostly water, but when concentrated you only need a small amount. You can also add it to potatoes. You can add it to rice with chicken. You can add it to tortillas with cheese. You can add it to pasta with beef. Jules might just eat it straight if we could find a way to hike with chips.

Dehydrating Salsa
Pour the salsa onto the fruit leather tray of your dehydrator. You can also fold wax paper over about three times and pour the salsa onto it. Be sure the waxy side is the side touching the salsa. Experience has shown me it sucks to peal off otherwise. You do not have to worry about full coverage or how thickly it is poured on. Since you are not making fruit leather, thinner is probably better.

Dehydrate it at 140 degrees for close to forever. I usually set the tray on the bottom of the stack and just let it go on and on with everything else dehydrating on top. Check every 8 hours or so and poke at it. You don't want any part of the salsa to be squishy. At 16 hours or so, it should be close to done. Often we let it run overnight.
If it isn't crackled, I'd put it in for another hour or so.

The salsa will be crackled all over and look way too thin to be able to pull off. Use the tip of a butter knife to pry the salsa up. It will crack and be highly brittle. This doesn't matter because you are going to pulverize it in a bit anyway.

Using the blunt tip of a butter knife tends to make it peel off in nice sized sheets.

Take the sheets of salsa that come off and place them into a plastic bag. Make sure it closes really well. Then beat the snot out of it. You do not want to put this salsa into a food processor or blender or anything where you will be breathing the dust. It has dried chilies in it and it will burn something crazy.
The pulverizing is The Barracuda's favorite part.

What you are left with is salsa powder. It will last easily 6 months without any kind of spoilage. A teaspoon works well on the top of potatoes and about a 1/4 cup mixed into rice while it is cooking makes really nice mexi-rice. Half a cup of the powder mixed in while reconstituting hamburger gives you a fajita like taste.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jesus Died and Then Came Back To Life For Presents

When one of The Barracuda's friends came over the other day, he was incredulous to find out that we don't do Christmas. What? He quickly recovered and responded with a Happy Hanalla (Hanukkah). The Barracuda told him we didn't do that either. This was about when I started to really listen. The interaction was fabulous.

" comes, right?"


"Oh, like you do Christmas somewhere else. Just not here in your house. You go somewhere for Christmas."


"But all those times that your mom leaves without you, she is getting presents and stuff....right?"
The Barracuda was beginning to get concerned.


"Like, your parents go away by themselves all the time right now so they can get you stuff."


"But, God killed his son so we can have presents! Jesus wants you to have them. He came back to life to celebrate presents!" I LOVE this 8 year old logic. I love it so much!

At this point both boys came out of The Barracuda's room with very bewildered looks on their faces. The Barracuda was concerned that Symon's mom was leaving him places and that God was killing his son and no one was doing anything about either. Symon was highly worried The Barracuda was being greatly abused by not getting enough stuff. After all, Jesus wanted him to have presents so much there was a resurrection. What kind of bizarre heathens were we?!

This has always been a hard one for people, and not just kids. In fact, kids are usually the easiest to explain it to.

In our family, we celebrate Solstice. The earth is resting and so are we, gearing up for the craziness of the coming Spring season. We spend time together as a family and are reminded that loved ones will always be with you for support during the darker times of the year, as well as the darker times of your life. Family all get together and we eat, and eat, and eat. There is laughter, and playing, and reminder we have all come a long way. There are 4 separate times when different configurations of family all get together. Even my father has given up the tree and piles of presents after really seeing how much nicer it was to be stress free.

For Solstice, we get one present for the entire family (technically the Barracuda gets 3 if you count each party). The present must be something which brings us closer together as a family and can be enjoyed by everyone. It must also be something which will last at least one year. This year, The Barracuda and I went to a dance camp on Solstice and learned more dances which we can do together in the evenings. The Barracuda also added that his dad coming home was part of our Solstice celebration as well. Jules' absence has been hard for him.

Their mischief rarely stops. It is quite hard sometimes to tell which one is the child and which one is the adult. They are both remind me of 14 year old sophomores most of the time.

My extended family (and that is a whole lot of people) get together for a giant potluck and all children under 8 (The Youngin's) receive a hand made present from "The Grandparents." This includes every family member who is a grandparent. By having everyone work on everybodies, it reinforces the idea that it doesn't matter how we are related, we are family and that is all that matters. All the "Youngin's" get basically the same thing. The gift is never large or lavish, but very well thought out. Last year they got quilts which folded up into pillows. The Barracuda sleeps with his every night and refuses to use anything else. I worry every time I wash it.

An elaborate race car quilt is folded inside the pillow to create the stuffing

This year he got a handmade box which is specifically designed to hold all his Hotwheels and 4 new cars. It is his favorite color, has his name on it, and he can carry it like a briefcase. He LOVES it. The female Youngin's got portable walk in closets for their dolls complete with a new hip wardrobe. The Grandparents work on these gifts for a good portion of the year and the Youngin's are always very excited. It also removes the burden from the parents who are busy parenting and making holiday food, and gives us lots of inspiration for when we become one of the elite "Grandparent" club. I remember being a Youngin and very much look forward to becoming a Grandparent.

The white elastics hold the cars in place and allow The Barracuda to jam the cars in quickly without worry about anything breaking.

My mother has come in from Dubai (located in the United Arab Emirates. Really close to Saudi Arabia) and hasn't seen The Barracuda for a year and a half. We will visit her for dinner on Christmas Eve. My father, his girlfriend, and my brother will be together at our house on Christmas to eat again. Lots of eating, and lots of cooking, and lots of talking. It's a good time. For years growing up I never thought I could do that with my father or my extended family, so this is a very welcome change. To me, family is a much better present than anything in the store.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chair Twirling

So, what do we do without television? We kidnap friend's children, force them into chairs and twirl them in the living room till they squeal!

There are three boys in this chair all cackling and flinging their feet furiously to go faster. The chair was purchased from a Goodwill Outlet when I was in college. I think it cost 5 bucks. It has been a fabulous babysitter!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How to Dehydrate Potatoes

A few weeks ago, 10 pound bags of potatoes went on sale for a buck. We stocked up and they have been living in The Hole. Now that Jules is in Georgia (hi Honey!), I can dehydrate them without worry about the kitchen being a total mess for two days.

One bag down, 3 more to go!

Dehydrated potatoes are a staple of our backpacking. If they are thoroughly dried without any blemishes they will last easily a year. We use them to make mash potatoes that actually taste like and contain some kind of food product.

You can do a lot with mashed potatoes and you don't get sick of it like you can pasta. We top them with dehydrated salsa, dried garlic and chives, and cheese. We smother them in dehydrated hamburger gravy. They go great in dehydrated lentil soup. I like them covered in ketchup, but Jules thinks that is rather disgusting. He is crazy.

Since the potatoes are already cooked, they are a simple food to rehydrate and eat. They also contain valuable potassium, vitamin B6 and Vitamin C. There are some carotenoids stuck in there too.

The best part is the carbohydrates which they contain. The bulk of the carbohydrates are in starch. After cooking and cooling (which is what you do when you dehydrate them) the resistant starch increases to 13%. Resistant starch is not broken down by the small intestine, but the large intestine. This provides significant fiber, is a great way to increase glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, lowers plasma cholesterol (the bad stuff) along with triglyceride concentrations, and reduces fat storage. Basically, they make you feel full and are full of good stuff. More of those sneaky vegetables I'm so fond of.

The only negative reconstituted potatoes have, as far a long distance backpacking goes, is the reduction in fat storage. This can become a problem when you are burning far more calories per day than you are physically able to consume. By the later part of his thru-hike on the AT, Jules was eating an combination of straight butter, peanut butter and half and half. It tasted terrible, but it kept him from passing out from too little body fat. We have to monitor this carefully with The Barracuda when we really start putting on the miles. He is big enough now to be able to communicate how he feels; however, giving us enough warning to be able to do something is another story.
Jules on the AT. I think he's about half way at this point. By the end those bike shorts were over the top of tights and still baggy. Isn't he a cutie! He was 17. He's never going to let me stay home alone again.

The standard way to dehydrate potatoes removes most of their nutrient content. We now bake the potatoes, allow them to cool, peel, slice and dehydrate. By keeping the skins on while cooking and not boiling them, the nutrients are mostly preserved. It also greatly cuts down on dehydration time since the aren't waterlogged.

Wash and cut off any bad spots. Bake potatoes at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes. You're not looking for mushy, I-want-to-eat-it potatoes just slightly soft ones. You want cooked, but still firm.

Remember to stab the potatoes with a fork a few times or they can explode. Exploding potatoes are really cool science for kids about pressure and the atomic bomb, but really messy when trying to dehydrate.

Allow potatoes to completely cool. It is this cooling process which converts the sugars to resistant starch. It is like back stocking the nutrients. As they cool their skins will start to buckle and bubble up. They can then be peeled just like pumpkins.

Slice potatoes as close to 1/8th of an inch thick as you can get them. Lay them out in the dehydrator.

Dehydrate at approximately 130 degrees for 6-12 hours. They take forever, but they don't smell badly and can be done indoors. They will be crisp and translucent when done. Think, mini-Frisbee. If they aren't completely dry, they rot in less than 3 months and get stinky. A flip or two helps them dry faster.

How much you get per bag really depends on the bag, but it seems like I get about 3 quart containers from the 10 pounds.

To reconstitute, soak for a 1/2 hour and then cook in the same water. Cooking water can then be reserved in order to make gravy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Planning A Thru-Hike

Most mornings I get up, refill the firewood box, and go get 5 gallons of water to filter for the day. The Barracuda builds and starts the fire, and then we eat breakfast while talking about what his schoolwork will be that day.

This morning, I got up, laid out clothes for the sleepy child (he had a family Christmas party and personal clothing choices of a 6 year old are normally not appropriate), and then drove Jules to the airport. We sent Jules off at the security check point, I hugged the teary eyed Barracuda, and the two of us ventured back to the car to drop him off at Grampy and Grammy's house for the family Christmas party.

This left me all alone to eat chocolate dipped almond biscotti in the local coffee shop.

Once about every year and a half the planets align and I am left with no Jules and no Barracuda for an entire day. This gives me plenty of time to do wonderful things like plan a long backpacking trip!

It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that The Barracuda is getting to the age where he should feel the satisfaction of walking the entire length of a trail. Not a loop, not a side trail, but the whole of a trail which covers some real miles. His first thru-hike. We're not talking thousands of miles, he is still only 6, but somewhere around 100. This bring us to the Historic Columbia River State Highway Trail.

“You have in the Columbia Highway the most remarkable engineering in the United States, which for scenic grandeur is not equaled anywhere.” Theodore Roosevelt

The last of this trail was completed just this year, so there aren't too many maps of the entire thing. You walk the old historic highway which was originally constructed in 1913 along the basalt ridge lines of the Columbia Gorge, a whole series of snaking forest service trails which have been braided together to create a fabulous view of waterfalls every day, and a couple of state parks here and there for a shower or two. There are also many Lewis and Clark visitor centers along the way to get in all that great learning. Most of the old highway is gone, but preservation efforts have rebuilt and refortified the old tunnels and bridges along the way so now people hike through or across them.

Everyone I know plans long distance hikes a little differently. It is just far too personal a thing to have only one-end-all-be-all way. This is the way that I do it. It is meant as a guideline for others who are trying to figure it all out for themselves.

Create Sections
These sections are not divided into days, they are divided into places I can find definitive information about an area. Preferably rather specific information on topography, mileage, camping, water, sites, towns, etc. Some substantial trails have already done this for you. It is a good idea to remind yourself that you aren' t married to predetermined sections. If your pace is different, if your needs are different, if you have a different idea of what the hike is for you, you can change the sections. In many other cases, even finding a very decent map can be difficult. I'm stringing together multiple different hikes from multiple different sources and know that compass bearings are going to be needed here and there. Often times, many longer hikes are like this. It just plain isn't as simple as walk straight and follow the arrows.

Which Direction?
Most hikes have a standard direction, but just like the sections, you aren't married to it. Which direction do you want to hike? You need to consider seasons on some longer hikes and the ability of resupply. Certain state parks and campsites are only open during peak season

Figure Out Mileage

Once the sections and direction are defined it is much easier to figure out exactly how many miles you will travel each day. In many instances it isn't as simple as a flat number. Some days it pours and you won't be able to cover your miles. Some days are all up hill, just after restocking, or in treacherous terrain and the days are just harder. Other days you will have showered, slept well, the wind is at your back and you fly. Using topographical maps, do an honest analysis of how many miles you think you can cover in each section for the difficulty of the terrain. This will construct the number of days out.
Find Water
This may not be an issue on some trails, but on most that are very long drinking water isn't everywhere. It sucks to have to carry your water for more than about 2 days. Water is heavy and rationing can cause anxiety. In each day, mark everywhere there is water. It is important that you don't just mark where you plan on getting the water, but that all water is marked. Some places dry up, some places will freeze, sometimes things just look gross or signs are posted of people getting sick, sometimes you walk right past it and don't realize. Mark all the water and be sure you can have access at least every other day if possible. This might mean a long day or two.
Find Camping
Around here, you can pretty much camp wherever you throw down your tent. This is not the case everywhere. Designated campsites and open enough areas to camp might be sparse. In each day figure out potential camping places. Topographical maps and overlays of state parks can really help here. Keep in mind that if you are camping in a state park or private campsite you might need reservations as much as 9 months in advance.

With mileage, water, and shelter covered, food would be next. Resupplying is just plain necessary. There are many methods which are all outlined really well here. Whatever method you use, consider that it will probably add a significant amount of time (and/or miles) to that day. A bit of shuffling mileage might be necessary around resupply days. For many, resupply days are down days where you sleep, eat like a pig, and take a day off the trail.
Other Considerations
Who is taking you and picking you up?
Most long distance trails are one way so you cannot drive yourself unless the car doesn't matter to you. Many places offer shuttles to well known trail heads. Family members and close friends are often anxious to be helpful if only to consider themselves a part of the process.

Where is your mail forwarded while you are gone?
If no one is at home while you are gone, it has to go somewhere.

How do you figure out work?
Since very rarely does a backpacking trip go as planned, a day or two here or there (even week or two here or there) can be common. Everything is approximate. It is important any employer realizes this or that you leave yourself plenty of leeway between time home and time back to work.

Lots of trails have special provisions for pets or separate sections where pets are allowed. Many just flat out don't allow them due to the ecosystem or wildlife. Check first.

Family and Friend meet-ups?
It is often fun for family and friends to meet up and hike with you in places. Keep this in mind as it will probably add time or mean you need to check in via phone to report on progress.

Mainly, just read, read and read some more. Then realize that everything you read isn't worth much while experiencing the difficulties which always come on vacation.

This time our trip isn't going to be a long one. At only 80 miles it should take us about 2 weeks. However, ample planning is essential for the trip to be fun and for Jules (and my father) not to be worrying like mad at home.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Tricks for Hiking with Kids

Being a long distance backpacker, Jules began to lose his mind hiking at the 1.5 mile an hour pace of a 2 and a half year old. When it took 20 minutes due to looking at every twig, snail, and rivulet of water, Jules would begin to get a little tense. By the time it got to lagging behind from fatigue Jules would already be worked up and the proposition of not completing the hike would put him over the edge. As such, we developed a bunch of games to play while hiking that The Barracuda really loves and they keep us up to pace.

Mr. H over at Subsistence Pattern was looking for ideas to keep his grandson interested while still covering some miles when they were hiking. Up until this point, I hadn't really considered too much all the games we played with The Barracuda while we were walking along. I figured I'd throw them up here for everyone else out there looking to get a bit more for their mile.

Fort to Sea trail, Fort Clatsop, Oregon

Warning: Many of these games are only played with one parent. For whatever reason or 6 year old has decided, certain things are not allowed to cross gender lines. You may need to experiment with which parent is involved before finding a match.

I Spy

We will play I Spy when The Barracuda seems to be preoccupied with everything around him. This way he walks with us at whatever pace we are going and still gets to look around. We originally started small with "I spy a flower" or "I spy a leaf tree" or whatever. It has now progressed to "I spy a Western Red Cedar" or "I spy Salal" or "I spy a shelf fungus." We take turns and he gets to have us spy things as well. This has really helped with the constant movement. It also works to keep him from realizing he might be getting tired. If we have walked in silence for a while or we notice him dragging a bit, we pick it up and he quickly forgets about any fatigue. I'm amazed at what The Barracuda can remember. The game helps to impart some concept of nature's biodiversity, as well as sharpening observational skills and descriptive adjectives.

This is a Dad only game. I've tried; no dice. Silly things are reserved for his father and I'm there when the games get out of hand and someone gets hurt. When The Barracuda seems completely enamored with something, has had time to look, and is dragging on, Jules will come up, smack him, scream "TAG!" as loud as possible and then go tearing off down the trail. The child cannot resist this. Regardless of how tired he was or how cool whatever it was he saw, he will follow in hot pursuit. Jules (who is 6'4") will allow himself to be tagged after a bit, give the kid a very dramatic head start and then chase after him a while. Jules also will switch it up by sometimes completely pretending to be tired and being very over-dramatic about it. The Barracuda will begin encouraging him to continue. Jules will then say "Psych!" tag the kid and run away again. The fake out then makes the kid all the more anticipatory. He will pay extremely close attention to Dad and not his own hiking. (Personally, mom thinks it gives them both breaks so they don't pass out from an embolism due to running with packs on.) It continues until one person falls down fairly hard, gets pushed over, or Dad becomes exhausted.

You can cover some serious mileage with this game, even if it is only in bursts. The game makes all sense of fatigue and time disappear.

Hidden Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Hide and Seek
I'm sometimes allowed to play this game. More often than not I'm supposed to be the straight man suggesting places Jules could have hidden. I'm also supposed to be extremely surprised when hidden people leap out at me. Scaring Dad isn't funny. Scaring Mom is hysterical.

Originally, Jules would over dramatically run ahead on the trail and "hide." This term is used loosely, especially when he is dressed in orange and 6'4". Now he tends to sneak off like a ninja making the game incorporate ninjas and ultimately be cooler.

I then notice that we can't see Jules anywhere and begin looking in weird places: under The Barracuda's hat, in tree stumps, up in the branches of the tree, inside the dog's mouth, etc. After I can't find him (and much child giggling) I will announce the need for help and suggest that The Barracuda should run ahead and find his Dad. Off he will bound. Jules will give helpful noise clues here and there if the child was really getting distracted or having trouble. Once found, The Barracuda will join Jules hiding. They will wait for me, often with the same noise clues if I'm not traveling fast enough. Another elaborate looking session will ensue "I wonder where The Barracuda went...maybe he is under this nurse log?" I ask the dog for help. I look under pebbles. You get the idea. They then jump out at me, I will fake being scared and exclaim how fabulously he hid. The boy then runs ahead, hides himself for his dad to find, and then both leap out at me again.

Currently this is working because he is 6, wearing bright red, and hides in places like behind a bush which is see through. In a bit we may have to revise it so we do not loose the child.

Though it is a bit like leap frogging up the trail, the running ahead keeps the kid moving. We also have the rule we have to be able to find him from on the trail so he doesn't go off somewhere weird and get lost.

Name Calling
This is a game which is somewhere attached to the Y chromosome. I don't get it. Both the males think it is rad. The Barracuda claims it is his favorite of all the games. The boys will take turns calling each other the most vulgar things they can think of and then laugh about it. Poopy fart face, penis pincher, snot rocket, puke infected drool nose, butt munch, turd nugget, the list goes on and on....I don't know. They will play it for over 45 minutes and compliment each other on when they have a "good one."

Mom has instituted the rule it can only be played with Dad or Grampie since when The Barracuda tried to play it on the playground we got parent complaints. It keeps him moving, he LOVES it, and apparently he is bonding with his father.

Aldo Leopold Wilderness, Gila National Forest, New Mexico

Crazy Science Quiz
This developed when I Spy got a bit old and for a while was apparently "Baby-ish." It isn't anymore, but it was for a bit. Whatever... I just go with it. Since we use hiking to do a lot of homeschool science, this game helps us to see if he is actually applying anything we have talked about. It also helps that it is something fun he likes to do. This is not a Dad game. Apparently Jules isn't qualified....Again, I don't know, I just go with it.

I will come up with a science question like "How do you know it is a Cedar tree?" or "What are the three ways we identify trees?" or "What is this little river called when it runs into the big river down stream?" or "What kind of clouds are those?" etc. This is something we would have covered either in I Spy or in some form of discussion previously. Then I make it sound like I don't know if he will know the answer, that it is really hard, that he might just be too young to know the answer. All of this makes The Barracuda listen really well and definitely gets his attention. Sometime hints are used, sometime profusely. When he gets it right, I then gush over how extremely amazing that was, how there are lots of people and adults who wouldn't know the answer, how he must be a genius. Child is rather giddy and proud of himself.

He then gets to ask me a question. Sometimes this involves the woods that I have no idea about such as "What kind of fungus is that?" pointing to some random mushroom. Sometimes it is totally bizarre like "How come Guadie (the dog) licks her crotch?" or "How come sometime I fart and it smells really bad, but sometimes it doesn't?" Sometimes it involves girls "Why does Claire only play with me if Parker isn't around?" I don't know what goes on in his little head, but it keeps communication open. He will talk much more if we are walking than if I try to talk to him when he is sitting down. It also means that he has to keep his pace up with me and forgets about how far he is hiking.

The Map
The Barracuda is included in looking at the map constantly. We actively talk about features to look for. "There should be a trail intersection up ahead a ways. Can you look for it?" or "See that big lake, which side of the trail would it be on? Can you see if you can find it?" That kind of question keeps the kid not only having to get into the map, but also observe the terrain. He is then looking all around and not paying any attention to how he is feeling tired or how far we are going. It also gives him very tangible rewards. We made it to the lake, next it is the big hill or scree slope, then the trail intersection. He can plan our hike as well as developing topographical skills.
Natural Bridges, Mt. Adam's Ranger District, Washington

Magic Energy Drink
This is so ridiculous I am waiting for the moment it no longer works. Jules first made a big deal out of telling Dae about Magic Energy Drink because it was very special and secret. I thought Jules was crazy. It always works though.

Jules has a special Nalgene bottle. We bring it hiking. It is filled with Magic Energy Drink (aka watered down juice or watered down Gatorade). Sometimes I will put food coloring in to make it look even more mystical. When The Barracuda gets tired and still keeps going, he can then have a drink of Magic Energy Drink. This child will do amazing things after drinking it. He will do amazing things if he knows he gets to drink it. Supposedly he is gifted, but every time this works makes me wonder.

Nature Journal
As another portion of homeschooling, The Barracuda has started a nature journal. We take digital pictures of at least 3 things he wants to remember or finds cool while we are hiking. They then are drawn into his journal later, he identifies them via the internet, and he lists their distinguishing features. It was originally an add on to learning about Lewis and Clark. I thought he would only do it for maybe two entries, but the kid LOVES it. He does it all the time and now that he knows he doesn't have to personally remember every detail that helps with looking at every worm, bug, stick, lichen, rock, leaf, on and on and on. It has also helped him develop quite a nice vocabulary for trying to describe what he sees.

Lemei Trail to Wapika Lake, Indian Heaven Wildnerness, Washington

Environmental Lit
Jules is a high school English teacher with a huge selection of environmental literature. We read a lot of environmental literature and poetry to The Barracuda. When we hike, we now take turns saying lines of the literature. Dad: "Whose woods these are I think I know" The Barracuda: "His house is in the village though" Me: "He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow" on and on and on. Dad: "So much depends upon" The Barracuda: "A red wheel barrow" Me: "glazed with rain water" on and on and on. Dad: "He clasped the crag with crooked hands" The Barracuda: "Close to the sun in lonely lands" Me: "Ringed with the azure world he stands" on and on and on. We talk about the imagery, the setting, the metaphor/similes, the mood/tone, the main idea, etc. Though it is more of the homeschool thing, it is also a great way to bring both the text to life and the woods to words. We have found The Barracuda's ability to articulate himself greatly increased because of the literature we have read. John Muir has this incredible quote about "the burled backbones of trees" or Alfred Lord Tennyson describes a river as "the wrinkled sea beneath him crawls." They are providing language to many things The Barracuda had become frustrated trying to explain. Now he has help with the words.

This game mainly keeps The Barracuda moving and focused on the words not every tiny other thing. In explaining his thoughts he forgets about miles, we are once again communicating, and as a family we are sharing the woods in intimate ways.

Tilly Jane Section of Cooper's Spur Loop, Mt. Hood, Oregon

Mainly, don't underestimate your kid. Often The Barracuda kicks my butt hiking because he is a little powerhouse of energy and doesn't begin to hurt like I do. Talk to them, listen to them and just have fun being with them. The Barracuda is so very full of interesting ideas, neat connections, and awesome goals I never would have learned about had we not just started up a conversation.

We started hiking seriously when he was between 2.5 and 3 years old, and began off trail/backcountry hikes at 3.5. Currently, he can hike back to back to back 8 mile days in stride and would probably max out at 10 miles if we really let him. We're trying to get him up to 12 miles every day for a minimum of a week out. He is determined to through hike the AT before 9 and then the PCT before 12.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cutting A Rug

I just got back from a very fancy date with a much younger man. We got dressed up and he combed his hair (a special night in deed!). There was music and dancing and a big ballroom. But it was getting late and tomorrow is a school night. Bedtime calls. He escorted me home (or vise versa) and was a total gentleman.

Shortly after we arrived, however, I was upstaged by a younger woman in a much prettier dress! I'd call her a hussy, but she was really cute.

Then he began working the room and I was left to guard the punch.
We're going to have our hands full by 13!

They danced several more times that evening.
I snuck in an extra dance here or there in between his harem of girls.

The Barracuda has started taking dance lessons. Shortly after we started, he was asked to join the performance/competition group by the dance instructors and they are currently trying to find him a partner. He is ecstatic and loves to dance. What I did not know is that finding a partner for a small 6 year old isn't really all that easy. As such, we now attend the all classes dance parties offered by the instructors so that we can hopefully find another female which is within the mandatory 2-3 inches of his height without her heels on or 4-6 inches with her heals on. (I know, 2 inch heels!)

The parties are for all classes meaning adult through 5. The instructors are professionals and we got to watch the adult routines of who were attending the World Championships coming up this weekend. The idea is to show the kids and teens what professional ballroom/latin/country dancers look like. We even to got to see a Polka.

They twirled and wore sparkly outfits while the audience clapped and whistled. It was SO much fun.

Mainly, it means fancy parties like this one in a professional ballroom and dressing up. YAY! I'm dragging inviting Jules next time.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

My Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog came today. SEED CATALOG!!!! In case you all out there didn't know, mid to late December is a time of thanks, gratitude, and joy in our house not because of all that religious stuff, but due to seed catalogs coming in the mail. The Roman Catholic Church must have known this when they picked Jesus' birth to coincide with this time of year. Jules is equally dreading excited about all the questions, and pictures, and discussions about seeds that we get to have. Yay!

It is chock full of page after page of full color garden porn. Normally this would call for running a hot bath and telling the entire household to consider me dead for the next 2 hours. With us moving, however, I currently do not know if I'm going to have a garden (or even a yard).

Slight buzzkill.

The bummer doesn't need to be all encompassing, though. I can still pull out a notebook and pine over tomato, squash, and lettuce varieties just in case.

I've considered making a calendar out of all the pretty pictures inside the catalog so that I can have a fictitious garden which always looks beautiful, never has weeds, and produces perfect food. We'll have to see. In a couple weeks we will know a bit more about exactly where we are going to and when.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gluten Free, Veggie Filled, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

This post could also be called, "How to make your real estate agent happier."

We have a great real estate agent. He is neat guy who is always kind, but luckily straight up enough to not blow a ton of sunshine at us. There are some things our little family does that don't lend themselves well to the general buyer. My next few posts (and weeks) will focus on remedying these along with cleaning, scrubbing, painting and polishing.

Things Real Estate Agents Frown Upon

  1. 5 cords of wood on the back porch
  2. One entire floor to ceiling bookcase of gallon jars filled with food
  3. 12 rain barrels lining the back fence
  4. Not having a dryer in one of the rainiest cities in the US
  5. Books, books, and more books stacked in every room
  6. Cottage cheese culturing on top of the refrigerator
  7. All the laundry room shelving filled with canned goods
We're plowing through back stock like no tomorrow and watching the food bill go down even more (trying t0 hit 30 dollars a week). Even better, that means lots of sneaky veggies are creeping into Jules and The Barracuda's food. We also won't have to move a TON of cans into a smaller house. Experimenting with diversifying many of the foods we normally eat keeps me happy as well.

These oatmeal raisin cookies contain over 8 cups of fruits and veggies and contain no gluten (depending on where you get your oats).

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

1 pint carrots
1 quart pumpkin
1/2 cup applesauce
1/3 stick butter
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups ground oatmeal
2 1/2 cups oatmeal
2 cups raisins
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons hot water


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drain 1/2 the liquid from the carrots and pumpkins. Cream pumpkin, carrots, applesauce, butter and sugar. Add molasses and eggs. Grind oatmeal either with a grain grinder or in the food processor/blender till fine. Add ground oatmeal and when thoroughly combined, add the rest of the oatmeal. Dissolve the baking soda in the hot water and add to the batter. Add raisins slowly, but do not soak them first. The raisins absorb excess liquid. The batter will be loose, and the cookies are soft.

Place spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes.

Grinding the oatmeal is a great way to burn off all those cookie least that is what I tell myself.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Thank God, I'm A Country Boy!

Though he has only spent a total of maybe 3 months in the South, my son continually reminds me that half his heritage is from rural Georgia.

He regularly asks for me to make cornbread along with "a lick of honey."

When he says, 'Yes Maam' it is pronounced "Yes, Maaaaaaam" with about 8 a's. And, yes, he does say 'Yes, Maam' as well as 'Excuse me, Maam.'

"Gimme a, Gimme a, Gimme a Redneck girl" is frequently chanted to himself while he works on Legos in his room.

Yeah...that is a hole the dog dug in the backyard. The Barracuda promptly sat in it, in his nice clothes, and started piling dirt in his lap.

He loves his mom something awful with a rather fierce devotion and unyielding faith.

For a long time the alphabet went j, k, ELL. The word 'on' also contains a 'w', sounding something like "Ah-w-en."

One of The Barracuda's chosen grandmothers is in a biker gang. He's been riding bitch for a couple years now.

There are lots of sleeveless cut off shirts in his summer wardrobe, desires for sweet tea, and Chick-fil-a. (I can't blame him too much on the Chick-fil-a.)

The back of that shirt says "I get my muscles from my dad."

It is difficult for him to pick between John Wayne, Johnny Cash and John Deere for his favorite John. Uncle John frequently wins out here, too, partially because he owns a John Deere and resides in Georgia.

You fry it and he'll eat it. Quickly. You cover it in some kind of bread (preferably corn bread) before you fry it and he will sing your praises. You fry it in doughnut batter and he will never come home again. I don't exactly know what would happen if you fried BBQ. He might just combust on the spot.
Shootin' stuff in the backyard is normal. Jules frequently jokes about teaching The Barracuda to skin a squirrel for dinner like he was taught my his father. No, I'm not kidding.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

More Reasons We're Not Normal

Jules has often said that students would never believe his real life. I have to agree. We live a pretty rockin' existence. Perhaps when he retires we'll write a novel.

As a case and point, we are really good friends with a man named Dingo. Yes, Dingo - like the Australian dog. His middle name is Da and his last name is Dizmal. Yeah, that's his acutal name. Dingo Da Dizmal. He's a great dad of two very normal kids. His wardrobe is out of this world, as is his handlebar mustache. One time, he wore combat boots, overalls cut off into knickers, no shirt, and a fur coat. He rocked it hard. He's the Dingo.

Rockin' the duds and the broom!

His sweetheart is a woman named Olive Rootbeer. I'm totally not kidding. Her last name is Rootbeer.
Olive making an awesome balloon animal mermaid

Ready for more?

They make their living as professional street clowns. They sell popcorn. Now they have an adult coloring book which is selling like MAD on Etsy. It is about rubber chickens. Seriously people, I couldn't make this stuff up. They also are quite lucrative in selling paintings of rubber chickens.

Oh, and he rides a bicycle taller than me as well as plays the banjo. He's amazing. He's the Dingo. You all should check out his wacky coloring book so you too can say you know of The Dingo.

How can someone wearing these pants not make your life better?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cooper's Spur and Elliot Glacier

In between Yocum Ridge and playing in the snow, our family continued its water cycle hiking up to Cooper's Spur. We wanted our son to be able to experience Elliot Glacier, the largest living glacier on Mt. Hood and the second largest in Oregon.

The winds are so extreme you need to lean into them and boulders are placed around the trail markers to keep them intact.

The Cooper's Spur Loop is really great for ridge running and provides incredible off trail walks to the glacier which do not require crampons, ice axes, or possibly risking death. This is a little more our speed right now. Next year we will hopefully be tackling summits of glaciated peaks and becoming Mazamas. Jules has already summited Rainer, so he is in, but I still need to take CBE or ICS classes for certification. If The Barracuda keeps working on his knots and conditioning he can test in before the minimum age of 15.

So out we drove to Cloud Cap and the Tilly Jane Trail. Tilly Jane connects with the Timberline Trail and gets you up high enough to the ridges that the trail just stops, but you can continue off trail for quite some time.

Looking back at the historic Cloud Cap Inn half way up our ascent. Supposedly, you can see through most of the hiking trails in Oregon from the summit (8,500 ft) when the clouds clear.

Along the way, you begin in forested evergreens but continue up the mountain past tree line. It is interesting to be able to watch not only the vegetation change, but the geology as well. The basalt along Mt. Hood cleaves very distinctly and you can see the work of years of glaciation. There are also giant boulders thrown all about which just scream, "Climb Me!" Not one to ever turn down a good climb, the Barracuda obliged.

Jules illustrating proper form while manteling and the Barracuda's own attempt.

I was fortunate enough to take an Alpine Environments class in college from alpine geography expert, researcher, and adventurer Keith Hadley. The knowledge he imparted on me has given me a whole new level of observation and understanding about just how fragile and important alpine areas are to a holistic planet. It was for this reason, we wanted The Barracuda to witness a glacier up close.
Viewing the lower portion of Elliot Glacier and its recession.

Glaciers are the largest storage of fresh water on the planet encompassing approximately 70% of the worlds fresh water reserves. Without their backstock of frozen water the entire water cycle crumbles. Not only that, they are the entire lifeblood of every watershed in the world. It is due to glaciers that the water we drink today was the same which dinosaurs lived on millions of years ago. Perhaps I'm just a science geek, but I think that is mind-alteringly cool.

Jules and Guadalupe hike toward the moraine of Elliot Glacier. It is like being on a moonscape once the ecosystems change. There is absolutely no vegetation other than lichen and the sparce Krummholtz trees.

Due to being on the north side of the Mount Hood, off trail and in considerable back country, we all wore bright yellow or orange for visibility. Even so, when the fog rolled in it was the dog who was keeping tabs on all of us because visibility was so low. We are lucky The Barracuda is a responsible enough hiker we can trust him explicitly.

Guadie would protect The Barracuda from anything and stand by him through a blizzard if need be. She was sure to continually run the trail between us and our son to make sure everyone was okay.

We spent a considerable time just marveling at the sheer size of the glacial trough and the midden piles of the moraines. As softly as snow falls and the mountain looks on, this is no act to take lightly. There is a reason the mountain has outlived us all. A quiet respect for the monstrous scale of the topography tends to seep into you like the fog itself.

Jules and The Barracuda throw rocks into glacial trough from the outer moraine of Elliot Glacier.

At this point, The Barracuda has witnessed the glacier, watched it cleave into a crevasse and shatter, hiked the tributary back to its source, played in the waters of the Columbia and the snows of the mountains on either side which feed it, read the journals of Lewis and Clark following the river out to the sea, and hiked up Cape Disapointment where the waters finally meet the Pacific Ocean. He has witnessed his watershed intimately, and he helps me filter its rain water every morning for the day's food. Our only hope is that he will grow to take none of this for granted.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tips to Scoring Deals At Goodwill

Due to the response on the previous post about our finds at the local Goodwill and the Goodwill Outlets, I figured I'd inform others out there how they can probably stumble upon the same great stuff in there locations. We have shopped at Goodwill forever and I guess I figured most of you all out there did too. Apparently not.

Since this was a rather impromptu post, we headed out to Goodwill so that there would be pictures. This was just a regular Goodwill trip only armed with my camera. December is a good month to go because people are not only cleaning out their stuff in hopes of Christmas, but also kids have gotten bigger and need new snow clothes. Tax season is almost over and people are gutting their houses (and closets) for the write offs. The post is sprinkled with items we saw today on our visit. If I didn't visit the store myself, I'd say I was full of crap too. You have to go and go regularly to realize the awesomeness. Click on any of the images for a larger view.

Doc Martin Rain Boots and Haflinger slippers were both under 5 dollars.

When I was in high school, I had this idea of what thrift stores were. People with dirty children, no money, and run down lives shopped there. The clothes were very worn, always off brand, and never fit normal people. If they were certain resale shops everything was fancy, designer, vintage and extremely expensive. Then I dated a guy in college who has shopped at Goodwill forever. I went to impress him with how open minded I was. I was stunned. There were designer clothes. There were clothes I couldn't imagine getting rid of that someone had donated. Even more, there was an actual strategy to shopping and finding the good stuff. I have been a convert ever since.

If any others of you out there have such thoughts (no good stuff, diminished status, or ill fitting) remember that so do most of the rest of the population. They don't shop there and thus are leaving the great stuff to others. The first thing that is necessary to remember is to get over your standard misconceptions.
1. It's not like it used to be! Goodwill used to be a place where people just dropped off their undesirable items or the remains of a garage sale weekend. Not anymore! Not only do people drop off mountains of incredible things, but stores like Target, Kroger, and others now use Goodwill as a place to write off unsold sale items. In this way, you can find underwear and socks at Goodwill now as well. Tags on, never worn, entire rack (like 30+) bras which look exactly the same in varying sizes with the Target clearance sticker right next to the Goodwill tag. The stores can claim they are "greener" since it was not going to the landfill and also get a hefty write off. I interrogated the sales lady when we first saw this because underwear was definitely on the "not a resale item" list for our household.

All of Jules' Carhartts have come from Goodwill and most fleece is 7 dollars regardless of manufacturer.
2. People are lazy! They don't want to take the time (0r have the knowledge) to eBay their stuff. They don't want to garage sale it. They don't want regift it, or have it clutter their closets, or have outgrown it, or whatever. The best thing for them to do is donate it and have the accountant write it off their taxes. By doing it that way, the entire value of the item goes into the write off versus the supposed amount they might get from selling. They can also feel good about themselves for giving to "charity."
3. Every time isn't great. Sometimes you go to the store and you find nothing. Other times when you find the designer item it makes up for it. This means you have to go often and search through undesirable stuff. It also means to not have great expectations. Sometimes things don't fit correctly or have a broken zipper which can't be fixed. Other times, it is like Christmas multiplied by a thousand. Buy it when you find it, because the next day it will probably be gone.

4. Consumer Culture is Rampant.
I will admit we are in a gear rich area where there are many outdoorsy people. However, I do not think the finds we have at the local Goodwill are unique to just that. We have visited Goodwill stores in Oklahoma which also had incredible finds (an Osprey backpack). The problem is the desire for the latest and greatest item. Areas where outdoorsy isn't second nature would mostlikely have even better items because those who participate go out of their way to purchase or have the discretionary income to travel to the outdoors. The constant need to replace gear for greater stuff often leads to incredible items which are only a season old.

The most important thing to realize is that Goodwill is a company which trains people either in English or in job skills. Some of the people who sort the clothing have absolutely no idea what they are looking at when they see a Solstice fleece jacket or a pair of 7 of Mankind jeans. Some of them may have developmental disabilities, some barely speak enough English for an interview and cannot read the language yet, some might not care. The company is awesome for this very reason, but it also means as a shopper you need to look a little deeper than normal. To find out about the sorting process, visit this website.
5. Look Everywhere! Don't just hit the sportswear section. My Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear capaline have often been found in women's tops or blouses. Today, LL Bean turtlenecks in merino wool were in with knit tops as were numerous Columbia Sportswear items. Jules found men's XL Prana climbing pants tucked in with women's miscellaneous pants. Many of my Nike DryFit softshell pants (and my Burton snow pants) have been in the children's section because I am a small female. Sometimes fleece is in with sportswear; sometimes jackets; sometimes sweatshirts; sometimes it is in all the places at once.

Don't forget to check out shoes and other sections as well. Most shoes seem to have never been worn and lots of the dishware can be bleached easily.
6. Forget About Size. My son is a women's extra small. He is 6. There isn't a children's sportswear section, so we look in the women's section. The colors are happy and bouncy, we don't tell him it came from this aisle, and we take a Sharpie to the word "womens" or "girls" on the label. I'm a childrens size large or extra large for shirts, but pants won't work because I have hips (thank you pregnancy) which look funny if I can even get the pants on. Sizes also fluctuate with the year they were made. I'm now a Patagonia extra small; however, I am a Patagonia small if the clothing was produced in the 80's to early 90's. Jules has found many pants which fit in the waist, but are high waters because he has a 36 to 38 inch inseam. They become knickers or shorts. So try it on and see if it works. Don't allow yourself to be married to a size or gender. Part of this is due to the above where many things are miscatagorized, but also lots of retro gear was never made for women and thus is unisex.
7. Know Your Brands. The icon on a piece of clothing often catches our eye long before the rest of the item. Nike, Salomon, Lucy, Prana, North Face and others often have a very recognizable logo which is placed on sleeves, legs, or back collars. The cut and cloth are also a great indicator of price. You can tell Patagonia and L.L. Bean fabric often from quite a distance. The tailoring and cut of Keens, Sorel, Kamik, Burton, and older Columbia Sportswear make them stand out from the rest quite readily. Skimming the shelves for quality can make searching much simpler.

Lucy makes some of the best gear for women, hands down. They only make women's clothes, are designed by active women, and the tailoring shows.
8. Consider the Price. I would never purchase Columbia Sportswear clothing for our family if I had to purchase it new. I don't believe in their company, the things they do overseas to their workers, or the quality of the product. However, I do believe in Goodwill, how they treat their employees, and the quality of their service to the neighborhood. I have to keep these things in mind. Columbia doesn't see a dime of the money and if a 7 dollar jacket it will get us through till The Barracuda needs a new one, the purpose has been served.

Some Goodwill stores are better than others or have a specific clientele of donators. Suburbs where money is ample generally have better stuff than lower income areas. They also have fewer people shopping at their stores. If you don't have luck at one Goodwill, try another in town. Sometimes only a few blocks can make a big difference.

Each week there is a color which is half off the posted price. The red plastic piece in the Columbia shirt indicates its color. If the color was red today, the shirt would have been $2.50. Those Prana pants were under 4 dollars for this reason.

The Bins!
The Goodwill Outlet is by far the best place we have found for deals. However, it is not for the faint of heart. Many people wear latex gloves and carry sanitizer with them because you literally have to root through stuff. This is the place where unpurchased items go. Items can only live on the Goodwill's shelves for 2 weeks to a month. After that, regardless of what they are, they are sent to the Outlet (aka As Is Store or The Bins). In this place everything is dumped (unsorted) into giant trough like bins and then sold by the pound. Some of the items are ripped or stained, some are completely soiled, others are pristine. My designer jeans have come from the Bins, The Barracuda's REI down jacket and Columbia Titanium soft shell are both from there as well. Most of our capaline has also been found there. It is rad. Clothing costs less than 1 dollar a pound. For more information about the process Goodwill's clothes go through and shopping at the Bins, this website is awesome. This is an outlet in our area, but not the one we attend. To find a local outlet this website has a few listed (though I have found out not all of them).

The long and short of it is LOVE YOUR GOODWILL. You will be amazed at what you find if you take the time to frequently look. It is beyond rad. You can not only get all teched out in gear, but regular clothing as well. I only took pictures of gear related stuff, but Banana Republic, 7 of Mankind, Gap, Ibex, Lucky, Gucci, Chanel and others have all graced the shelves. I look at the clothes and still wonder "Why on Earth would anyone give this to Goodwill?!"

Update: I have since learned that Goodwill Outlet stores are called "Blue Hanger" stores in Texas and "As Is Surplus" stores in Hawaii. If the outlet has another name where you are at, please let me know.

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