Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas Tree Adventures

Long time no post! It's been a busy couple months. Since camping in Shenandoah we also spent some time in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Which is several other posts by itself. Andrew's parents and grandparents came out for a couple days to see our house. Sadly, I had to work, but I got to spend the evenings visiting and hanging out. We've also done a lot of work outside, fixing up our yard for next spring and what seems like endless cleaning of our house.
Then, don't forget, Thanksgiving was already last week! It seems impossible that Andrew was gone for six months out of this year, and 2012 is almost over.
I am so thankful that my husband is home with me. And in our home, the holidays are in full swing. The day after Thanksgiving we did some shopping and went to get our Christmas tree.
We wound up at Carl and Dorothy Young's Christmas Tree Farm. I've talked about Young's before because they have awesome ice cream and Jersey Cows (so cute!).
 The set up was super simple, you park and head up to the front. Where a nice old gentleman explained the different types of trees and prices. We told him what we were looking for...Douglas Fir. He explained that they don't actually grow in Ohio and we'd have to explore Canaan Fir if we wanted to cut our own. They are almost identical. They gave us a sled and saw and a map of the farm.
For a 8 1/2 to 9 foot tree we had to go over the bridge and past grandma's house to the back 40. : )
Those were the baby firs, way too small for what we wanted. But adorable.
 It was a windy and chilly day, but beautiful. Walking through rows and rows of trees was wonderful...snow would have made it magical, but Andrew said snow would just make it difficult.
What a Grinch! : )
 After finding a few maybes...we found the one! Andrew actually found it, he's pretty good at tree picking.
 I made Andrew do all the work...because I had to take pictures. This is the first time we've ever cut our very own Christmas tree. It had to be documented!
 Manly Andrew after cutting the tree! See how tall the tree is. It almost dwarfs my 6'2" husband!
We got home and set the tree up right away, ate lunch and got to decorating. I'm going to show you all the little details first and the tree last! To build up anticipation...
 The lamp is from Target! Not exactly Christmas-y but we love it.
 We put greenery around in random places to make everything smell and look pretty.

Our table decor is pretty simple, we do have a pretty small table. 
We got some really cute ornaments from our camping trips several weeks ago. And I think we started a new family tradition. Ornaments from our travels...we might need a second tree.

And drumroll.....

Yes, Andrew is vaccuuming, and yes the Princess Diaries is on television. That's what we watched while decorating the tree, don't judge!
The tree is beautiful and smells wonderful! The only thing we need here in Ohio is snow, snow snow!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

More Shenandoah

Now for more Shenandoah National Park. We woke up early Wednesday morning, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, after a better nights sleep. There was no loud rain drops to keep us awake throughout the night.
 We made a quick breakfast and went on our way south to the other end of the park for our first hike of the day. It was such a beautiful day, I am so glad Andrew convinced me to stay another day. The weather was perfect, and we could now see more than two miles out from the overlooks!
 We decided to do a section of Riprap trail, according to our Falcon guide: one of the prettiest hikes in the park...
 Really, the coolest part of this hike was the ~.4 miles you walked along the Appalacian Trail, I took some pictures next to the white blazes, but I looked like a dork.
 The best thing about this hike was the views, you'd hike for a bit, come to a clearing with some rocks, and could see all the mountains in the distance.

 Here is the end of the first leg, to Chimney Rocks. Not exactly what we expected, but once again, the views were great. We hiked just a bit further but decided to turn back.
I'm not sure about this being a "pretty" hike, the views are great, but you walk through the woods for most of it.
After that we went back north to check out the #1 falls in the park, Dark Hallow...which, from my post not the same thing. The first day was White Oak trail, I got confuzzeled, so eventually I'll go back and change the other post.
 Can you see me being silly behind that tree? Andrew was taking a picture of something and said I was in the way so I took a step to the side to hide behind the tree but stuck my head out : )

 Dark Hallow Falls! Very pretty, and a much busier trail than the others. It's relatively short, but it's almost straight down...and what goes down, has to come back up.
That was it for hikes...but I have to talk about our amazing campground.
 Those are my new boots! I love them. We stayed at Lewis Mountain campground the whole time, all sites are first come first served, so we were a little worried. But we drove the loop and campsite 18 was perfect.
 Across the road the first night, there were two small campers, but they were gone by the time we got back from our hike on Tuesday, and so was everyone else on our side of the campground. The loop is split in half by a hill and in the middle are the restrooms, we were the only people on our side. It was so wonderful.
18 is definitely the best in the campground, it's the largest and has the most trees. We turned our tent away from the road so we had even more privacy.
We weren't able to have a real fire until Wednesday night, and fire we had! Andrew chopped a bunch of wood, while I sat there.
That night I made foiled potatoes. Potatoes, sausage, carrots (mushrooms for me), olive oil and spices all put into a foil packet and cooked over the fire. It was really good!
 It never fails, cold and fire make me look like a jolly Santa Claus. But, I gotta say, I was pretty jolly while drinking up our hot cocoa before bedtime. : )
The sky finally cleared too and the stars were ah-mazing!

The next morning, we had to leave : ( But, the bear signs finally came true and on our way out of the park we saw a bear! He was super cute, too! It looked like he just woke up because his hair was sticking up funny, like bed-hair, or bear-hair (har, har...I know).
This is actually when we were leaving, we never got a picture of the sign on the way in.
Shenandoah is beautiful. Andrew and me both like how most of the features involve several miles of hiking, which for when we were there meant small crowds. It would be interesting to go during a busier time to see how many people hike the trails.
Busy or not, this place was beautiful and we cannot wait to go back. But next, we're going camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Shenandoah National Park

We've been pretty busy lately! September started with my birthday and Andrew coming home after six months away!!! We dove right into a housing project (which I'll post about later).
But, we also went camping!
 We planned to camp in Ohio, but last minute we decided to go down to Shenandoah National Park. We are so glad we did, the seven hour drive was worth it! We camped at Lewis Mountain, towards the center of the park, but I'll talk about the campsite more later.
The first night, we set up camp and made stew for dinner while the fog and mist settled in around us. We arrived Monday and the forecast for Tuesday was 100% rain, and it got there early. By the time we were done cleaning up dinner, it started to come down and we called it a night and curled up in our tent.
Rain...rain...rain. All night, we woke up quite a bit due to the wind and pelting of raindrops on our tent. We stayed dry though, we're very happy with our REI Halfdome tent.
We woke up early (still pouring rain) and decided we'd go eat breakfast at the Big Meadow Lodge. It was delicious and worth not cooking in the rain. We needed gas and drove from Big Meadow north out of the park. Stopping at the Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center along the way. Can you see the rain in that picture??
Along our drive we realized that the rest of the park was exposed to way more wind than our campground. We even encountered a tree across the road. Instead of turning back, Andrew and I got out of the car and moved it ourselves. We felt pretty badass. Sadly, I didn't take pictures of it across the road. But, you can see where it came off the rocks and to the other side.

After getting gas, ice and a car-charger for Andrew's cell phone we went back the way we came and had a few nice moments of no rain.

That's when we decided we'd go for a hike, it was barely sprinkling and we just had to get out of the car. We were right by White Oak Trail, and decided to do that. We ate a quick lunch in the car and headed down. Just before we stopped at the Skyland Lodge and I bought a rain jacket (such a good idea).
Not 500 feet down the trail it started to rain...then pour. We hovered under some pine trees for a few minutes hoping it would slow down but it never did. So we just pressed on. 
 Within minutes, exposed skin was soaked through. But the trail was very pretty...and there was no one else on it.
 You wind your way down, coming close to the water from time to time. I was pretty happy with my gift shop rain jacket, it kept me pretty dry up top. My jeans soaked through in minutes though.
We saw lots of salamanders!! I've never seen a salamander in the wild and I was silly excited about every one. It was too wet to stop and get any pictures of them though.
 Finally, we made it down to the falls, this was only the first leg of the longer hike, but we decided we should head back.
 Despite the pouring rain, it was gorgeous. The rain probably made the falls even more impressive.
So, after a Cliff bar, we headed back up to complete the 3.6 mile trek in the rain.
We headed back to camp for hot showers and dry clothes. Then decided we didn't feel like cooking dinner in the rain either and went back to the lodge for a delicious, hot, filling...and so yummy dinner.
 All in all it was a good day in the rain. Originally, we had planned to leave on Wednesday but the weather was supposed to be perfect and we decided to stay another day so we could hike in the sunshine. And Wednesday turned out to be gorgeous...but there are pictures and another post for that.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

WIAW: Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

This week I'm not going to focus too much on what I ate, but more on what I made. There are some food pictures at the end. But yesterday, I was too busy cooking to take pictures of what I was eating.
But, I'm still going to link up with the awesome Jenn at Peas and Crayons, because I made something that's going to eventually be in a WIAW.
Spaghetti sauce!!!
I have three rather large tomato plants, Big Boy, Rutger and a Julianna Grape. In about two days I had ten ripe tomatoes, and that's more than I can eat before they go bad. I decided to make spaghetti sauce. Apparently, it can be tricky, you want a pressure cooker or the right amount of acid to kill botulism. Well, I didn't want to mess with that. So I looked around for recipes specifically for freezing. I went with this Freezer Spaghetti Sauce (link). I left out the green pepper and tomato paste (I wanted something fresh, no point in adding canned stuff).
 To peel a tomato, you want a pot of boiling water. Drop in your tomatoes, about two at a time and boil 45 seconds to a minute, some took longer than that. You're good to take it out the pot when you see the skin split. Take the tomato out with a giant slotted spoon and dump into a icy water bath.
The skin will slide right off. Then I quartered and de-seeded, and chopped the tomatoes. If you have stubborn seeds, run the tomato under water to help wash the seeds out. I had about 6 cups of tomatoes, and adjuted the recipe as needed. 

After the onions are cooked, add the tomatoes and spices and cook, cook cook. It took mine about
1 1/2 hours until they were done. 
Of course, it was way too chunky, so it got a ride in the blender, weeeee...and turned orange as a result. whatev
To make scooping easy, I placed a freezer quart bag in a wide mouth mug and dumped in 1 cup of sauce. 1 cup between Andrew and me will probably make two dinners. I don't like drenching my noodles in sauce. After they cooled for a few minutes in the quart sized bags I squeezed all the air out and sealed them. All three small bags went into a labeled gallon freezer bag for extra protection. 
I just had a little taste-it was pretty good, a little sweet (I think from the onions) and needed some more spice. I wasn't sure if frozen spices would get stronger in the freezer, but I didn't want to mess it up. So when I thaw these for cooking, I'll add some more spices while reheating.
Since I have so many tomatoes, this is something I will do again, I would love to not have to buy spaghetti sauce all winter long.
Alright, now to the food I did eat. Breakfast and lunch were pretty much the same as usual. But, I had to talk about some cool stuff. 
Wholly Guacamole! I first saw this product out in Texas and it was sooo good! It's gluten free and has no artificial anything. I finally saw it here in Ohio, but they also had these 100 calorie snack packs. So, cool. They have a bunch of potassium, and avocado is great. It's an easy, energy-packed snack pack...say that 5 times fast. 
Next up: More fake meat. Remember my Smart Sausage from last week? Yummy, well I decided to try their lean ground sausage in one of my favorite dishes. Sausage stuffed acorn squash.
This is a leaner meat, so there are less calories, less sodium, but still has excellent protein and potassium. Cut your squash in half, take out the seeds, form a ball of sausage and stuff into the squash. Cook at 350* for about 55 minutes. After it's cooked, add pepper and a touch of cinnamon.
Delicious! I am so pleased with their products, it smells and tastes like regular sausage. You can also see in red on the package that they don't use any freaky soy beans. I love that!  

Have you guys ever made spaghetti sauce?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thrifting and Fall Decor: Owls Ahead

Is anyone else ready for fall? I am. I am already drooling over holiday decorations, I even have several holiday/fall related Pinterest boards. : )
This week our Hobby Lobby had 40% off all Fall Decor and I figured I should check that out...

I wound up with only a few things. Several candles (which smell delicious). We love candles. As soon as the temperatures drop our house is alight with candles. I love the warm glow and scent of candles and we have boxes full of them.
Most of our candles sit on trays, so I bought the cute yellow glass owl votive holder. I also got the owl statue. It is meant to be a fall only decoration, but it looks pretty good holding up my James Herriot book, doesn't it?

I also decided to check out a thrift/consignment store we've only been to once. I didn't have anything in mind but figured I'd go check it out.
I've never considered myself a good thrifter. When I used to walk into a Goodwill or thrift store where I used to live I would feel all panicky and gross. They were so unorganized, messy and everything looked seriously used...badly.

The places I've been to in Ohio are so different. They are pretty neat and organized, and there are a few things that look battered but most everything looks like it came from a good home, was loved but just wasn't needed anymore.

With my thrifting odds greatly in my favor, I went over and wound up with stuff!!!
 Christmas tins!! Do you guys put your holiday treats in these kind of tins? I grew up with tins like this and I was telling my mom, that the sound of opening a tin to get a piece of chocolately fudge was part of the holiday experience. Putting goodies in tupperwares just isn't the same. The ugly green one on the left actually has a music box in the lid and plays "We Wish You a Merry Christmas". I think I'll spray paint that one to cover up the ugly green and yellow stuff.

Everything wound up being on sale and when I first went to check out I didn't have enough for the minimum purchase. So I had to go bulk up my finds. At the last minute I spied these awesome owl prints!
It was immediate love! I don't care for the frames, but those are easily replaced or painted. The feel of the prints is so vintage and cool. Plus, they're owls.

Like how Arson totally photo bombed the bottom pic?

I also bought two small milk vases and a reusable bag that says  "Keep Clark County Beautiful". I'm having fun getting ready for the holiday season and loving Ohio thrift stores.

Do you guys go thrifting? Find anything awesome?