dinner ideas.

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Let’s talk about food!

I’m having lots of fun with it right now due to the challenge of eating seasonal produce from our garden and the CSA we joined. Right now my recipes reflect that and I plan our dinners around what’s harvested that week. I think I’ll share a few of our current meals throughout the summer, because it’s fun!

In the meantime, I thought I’d give you some tried and true ideas and recipes that we always come back to. I know I’ve mentioned many of them here and there on the blog, so I hope this isn’t too repetitive. I guess the good news is that means we’ve found a system that works!

Here are a few thoughts:

1. I’m a huge plan of meal-planning for the week, and I mean huge. Life is just less stressful when you know what’s for dinner. I like to think that knowing the plan and having the ingredients is what allows cooking to be fun.

I keep a running grocery list all week in my bullet journal (and we have a white-board on the fridge where family members can jot items we need), and around Thursday afternoon I tear my “grocery” flap from my bullet journal and attach it to the fridge with a magnet. I like having it in front of my eyes for a day or so to add last-minute things and transfer items from the white board, and begin to work on my meal plan.

My bullet journal is also helpful because I have a weekly meal plan list that I can add ideas to. So rarely do I start from scratch on Friday mornings. But either way, Friday morning is my time to firm up the meal plan for the next 7 days. Then the kids and I grocery shop Friday afternoon. I love having the house stocked with food before the weekend.

2. If you’re struggling to come up with your own dinner plan, I’d first sit down and do some brain-storming on paper.

What are your favorite family recipes?

What are you continuing to prepare but your family just doesn’t like?

Where do you feel stuck in a rut?

Then think of your dinners on a sort of two-week rotation. So if spaghetti is a hit, plan to have it once every two weeks. In our family we love a big pan of lasagna, but it’s pricey and labor-intensive — and let’s face it, not that great for you! — so I told the family I’ll make it once a month. I have that in a list that I can plug in.

The slow-cooker is your friend! I use it every single week in the winter for soup, and in the summer I use it for chicken or beef for tacos, and spaghetti sauce.

Now that you have some ideas, try grouping them into themed nights. Kids really get into the themes. I know I’ve mentioned this before on the blog, but in case you missed it . . .

How about this:

Monday: Pasta (in the summer), Soup (in the winter) . . . This means spaghetti would be a great fit here. Or you could try a Meatless Monday theme.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! or any sort of Mexican-themed food

Wednesday: Leftovers (we call it Waste-not Wednesday to be funny)

Thursday: For me this is either Indian food, which I try to make every two weeks, or a night to try a new recipe

Friday: Grill or homemade pizza (or even English muffin pizzas to keep it simple)

Saturday: we eat burgers with David’s folks

Sunday: Breakfast for dinner (muffins and eggs, fritatta, waffles, pancakes, etc)

3. I don’t typically plan an eating out night into the schedule. I’d rather have too many dinner ideas than too few and one can always roll over into next week if plans change.

We don’t eat out for dinner often because it’s expensive as a family of 6 and often it feels like more trouble than it’s worth with young children. I’d way rather spend money in our Eating Out budget on breakfast at the Soda City farmer’s market, which we do once a month or so. However we do enjoy meeting friends for dinner from time to time, and sometimes will order pizza.

4. After you’ve done a little brain-storming, copy your themes into your planner or calendar to help you when you sit down and plan dinners for the week. Now half your work is finished!

Every so often (usually when making dinner starts to feel stressful again), I look at my overall themes and then ask, “Where do I feel stuck in a rut?”

For me right now it’s Indian food. I have chicken curry and dal down pat (we make both with chapatti), but there are so many other delicious recipes I should be rotating in. So in my to-do list for this month I wrote, “Choose one new Indian recipe from our Aarti Paarti cookbook.”

5. Google and Pinterest help with new meal ideas too, but be sparing here. I’ve learned to stick with pinning simple recipes that I know I’ll actually make and my family might actually eat, and just search for a couple of new recipes at a time. My most trusted website for recipes is Simply Recipes.

Truly you can lose hours on pinning gorgeous food photos and come away without one single practical thing to show for it (says the person who has done that more times than I care to admit). If you rely on Pinterest for meal planning, it helps to regularly go in and purge/edit your categories of things you’ve never used or made.

If you’re struggling with dinners, try not to reinvent the wheel all at once. Ease into some new recipes — definitely don’t try more than one a week if you work lots of hours or have young children. You’re more likely to stick with a new habit if you take it slow.

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6. My plan for new recipes is to bookmark the recipe I want to try, cook or bake it once, and then if it’s a keeper, print it out in black and white and stick it in my recipe 3-ring binder. I learned the hard way not to print a recipe until I test it out on my family! I add any notes/adjustments I made to help me out next time.

Using a recipe notebook rather than an iPad or computer means I’m not accidentally spraying my screen with lemon juice while cooking or being tempted to surf David’s Facebook page when I should be chopping onions (I mean, who’s ever tempted to do that!?).

I have cookbooks that I enjoy using too and I unapologetically dog-ear my favorite pages for easy reference.

7. My rule of thumb with cookbooks is to always check them out of the library first. If there are 5+ recipes I want to make, then I’ll buy it. This month I bought 100 Days of Real Food: Fast and Fabulous. There are so many recipes I’m excited to try, and I love that the author includes real food shopping lists from some of the top grocery stores.

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8. Okay, food and kids.

I’ll keep this brief. Our kids have to eat what we serve them. Period. They aren’t allowed to complain about dinner, and they get a consequence if they do. They must say “please” and “thank you” and show gratitude for the person who prepared their food.

However, they don’t have to like it. We want them to be able to have their own opinions. They may not say any of the following, “Eew,” “Yuck,” “This is gross.”

They may say, “This isn’t my favorite” or “I don’t prefer this.” But not immediately when they sit down to eat or when they hear of tonight’s dinner. First they have to say “thank you.”

I used to really take it personally when they didn’t like my cooking, but I’ve learned to develop a thicker skin. Now I tell them, “You know what? I know which meals you love and which you don’t. I know most of you dislike brussels sprouts. But there are some foods we eat as a family that are fun and some we eat just because they make us healthy and strong. As your mom, it’s my job to help you grow healthy and strong and try new things.”

We have lots of treats as a family. I regularly make cookies and muffins and banana bread. They get a bowl of cereal with their green smoothie most days for breakfast. They get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch often. So I don’t mind making them eat healthy dinners.

I also read somewhere that it can take kids 10-15 tries of a new food before they begin to like it, so David and I don’t apologize about asking them to keep eating a small helping of something they don’t prefer.

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9. Having said that, I really work hard to make food my family likes. As a recovering picky eater myself, I really do try to be compassionate, especially toward the kids who have texture issues. I still struggle with that.

David and the kids are allowed to tell me when there’s a recipe they just plain don’t prefer to ever eat again, and I delete it from my running idea list. This Tamale Pie was a recent one I just stopped making because no-one liked it but me. We do tacos or taco salad of some sort almost weekly because they are a fave.

10. So to sum it up, my last tip is to work to find a balance between challenging the people in your house to embrace new (especially healthy) foods, but also to compromise when it comes to personal preferences. For example, I truly think I could be a vegetarian. Meat just isn’t important to me. However, my family does not feel the same way.

So we just aren’t going to be vegetarian in this household. I fought that battle for awhile and realized it was silly — and only caused me more stress. We experiment with meatless meals often, for our health and our budget and the environment, but we plan to go on eating meat around here.

After watching way too many documentaries and reading way too many cookbooks, David and I finally settled on saying we don’t want our eating habits to have any label. I eat mostly gluten free, and we try to always move in the direction of adding fruits and vegetables and cutting out processed food. But for our family labels feel restrictive and that stresses us out. Barring any allergies or healthy issues, we aren’t going to be all of any one thing.

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And now, a few dinner ideas:

Here’s our favorite lasagna recipe. Just like my momma taught me, I sub cottage cheese for the ricotta, and pre-cooked pasta for the uncooked.

We love slow-cooker chicken or barbacoa beef tacos. I use the Against All Grain recipe from my cookbook for chicken (photo at the top of this post), but there are plenty online. You can also serve either over rice with lots of toppings or as a taco salad. If you have the foresight to whip up this Cilantro Lime sauce to serve with it, your family will love you forever (I tone down the spice in it).

Quesadillas with sauteed veggies or leftover grilled chicken are a great idea for Mexican night

I know summer isn’t the best time for soup, but this White Chicken Chili is probably our all-time favorite soup.

It’s summer, so you should add Bruschetta to your regular rotation (it’s meatless, so less expensive!). Trader Joe’s ciabatta loaf is my favorite for bruschetta (but any heavy, crusty bread will do) and make sure to buy the real mozzarella that comes in a ball.

Speaking of summer, how about BLT’s? My kids adore bacon and mayonnaise enough that they’ll suffer through the lettuce and tomato part.

The grill is your friend. We brine our chicken first if we’re grilling, and always make a double batch so we can use it to top salads, serve the kids for lunch, or make quesadillas.

Pesto pasta is a hit with everyone in my family but one. Actually here’s a rule of life: even if you make something absolutely amazing, there will be one person in your house who hates it.

As for sides, unless it’s a one-pot meal, we always have at least one veggie. Summer is perfect for corn on the cob. Lately I’ve done a lot of chopping and roasting with herbs: white potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, zucchini. Google the veggie you plan to roast for instructions, but it’s super easy (especially if you spread parchment paper on the cookie sheet first).

If you want to make more use of your slow cooker, how about this roast chicken? You can also roast a pan of veggies, buy a loaf of crusty bread, and voila!

Alright friends, there you have it!

Hey, I know making dinner is hard. Shopping on a budget is hard. Keeping your family healthy and at least somewhat interested in the food you make is hard. It really helps me to look at it as a fun challenge (How can I get Judah to eat more veggies? Answer: zucchini bread!), but there have been seasons when it’s been a dreaded chore.

And if nothing I’ve said helps, do you know what my solution to all your cooking woes is?

That’s right! A book!

If you need a little jump start of fun inspiration, my go-to book is Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. She’s so down to earth and fun and the photos are pretty. Check it out from your local library, or just buy it. I first read it years ago and still use her recipes.

Happy cooking!



here’s to a great summer.

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Here are three ways I’m embracing our summer so far:

1. These thoughtful words have given me permission to feel peace and joy, rather than guilt for what I didn’t do last school year (this applies to you too, even if you don’t homeschool!).

When the school year comes to a close it’s important to let go and move on to the business of truly enjoying summer. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on the areas where you or your children fell short, which could turn into a swarm of negative and worrisome thoughts.

While honest reflection is helpful, too much in the wrong direction becomes never ending and will rob us from the joy of a job well done. You showed up each day, you put thought and effort into your parenting and teaching, you consider each child and what they need, you are nurturing their minds, hearts, and spirits for hours a day. This is the truth: in spite of all the improvements you could make, you still did a great job.

If we focus continually on where we are falling short it will become harder and harder to see the good.

For me . . . that means that no matter what our year looked like or what we may not have accomplished; In faith, I will choose to celebrate it, to be thankful for it, and to be finished with it.

– Toni Weber, Wild + Free

 

2. I loved reading this free Simpler Summer Guide, by Melissa Camera Wilkins, and saved it to my desktop so I can review it in a month. Melissa’s wisdom caused me to immediately change some aspects of our plans, to deliberately decide not to work to provide endless entertainment for my kids at the expense of my own peace.

Isn’t it crazy how much pressure we put on ourselves!? And how exhausted that makes us?

 

3. I’m vacationing from social media. It somehow always adds to the daily angst that I’m not doing enough or being enough or looking great enough. If Pinterest counts as social media, then I’m taking a break from that too, and design blogs. Our house is fine, just the way it is.

Now I want to relax and enjoy it and enjoy the people in it.

What are you doing to embrace summer?



a review of my first bullet journal.

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Friday morning David took the kids on some errands and I spent a happy (quiet!) hour at the dining table starting my new bullet journal.

I did it! I finished my first bullet journal in its entirety!

I didn’t lose steam and shelve the thing halfway through the year as I’ve done with so many day-planners. I got my money’s worth!

Sorry. I read somewhere that exclamation points should be used very sparingly by blog-writers, and clearly I’ve broken that rule.

But I’m just really excited report that this system works for me

The bullet journal I use has 249 pages, and I used it for 7 months. I know, that’s pretty quick. My mother-in-law expects hers to last for an entire year, and David, who has the smallest handwriting on the face of the earth (says the person who painstakingly read his love letters in college), thinks his bullet journal will last 18 months.

All three of us use the same brand, which you can find here on Amazon, or, for a little more fun, here at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

We like it because the pages are already numbered and the dotted graph paper is great for ruling your monthly calendar. I also like the customizable label stickers.

I purchased my newest bullet journal from Modern Mrs. Darcy, because I love her blog and podcast so much, I want to support her work.

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I posted about beginning to bullet journal back in January, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. All of the things I loved about it back then are true today. This post will be full of boring photos, but it’s the only way I know to show you what works for me.

Here’s a couple of new things I learned as I finished up my first notebook:

1. I don’t really track books I read in my bullet journal.

Does that surprise you? It does me. I tried a few different times, but I just don’t keep up with it.

I use the Goodreads website very faithfully now to track what I read, and it works great for me. Typically if I’m out and about and see a book I’d like to try, I’ll snap a photo of it with my phone. Every so often someone will mention a book in conversation and then I’ll jot it down there.

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2. I enjoy the process of migrating tasks and setting up my monthly spread.

It takes a little more time than a ready-made planner, but it keeps my to-do list before me and let’s me purge things that have been finished or canceled. At the end of each month, I’ll pick a few quiet moments and sit at the dining table with a cup of hot tea and a ruler. I find it very soothing to draw up a new monthly spread and add events and tasks. Truly this takes no more than 30 minutes (well, unless you have a half dozen distractions).

I do not draw a cute little “migrate” arrow next to unfinished tasks unless I’ve literally re-written it for the next day. The act of writing it again helps me decide how important this task is, and whether it deserves a little star for “priority.”

Ok here’s a quick run down of my signifiers:

A triangle is an event; when the event is over I color in the arrow (yes, apparently dinner is an event in our house; I write what’s for dinner first thing under the date because my whole day feels smoother that way)

A dot is a task; I “x” through the dot when the task is completed

Side arrows mean “migrate” (as in, move the task to the following day or week)

Hearts are for fun memories

Stars are priority tasks

Pretty simple, right? You can really use whatever symbols you want.

3. Speaking of which, I like my bullet journal simple.

At the beginning I pinned so many adorable page spreads to a Pinterest board. I love people who doodle and turn even their to-do list into a work of art. I tried, I really did, but I am not one of those people. And I’m at peace with that. I started out checking the weather each morning and writing it in next do the date, but dropped that habit months ago.

As you can see from the photos, my pages are very plain-Jane. The plainer, the more likely I am to keep up with them. It’s just what works for me.

The genius is in the lists.

The genius is also in keeping my bullet journal close at hand (laying open on a bookcase at home during the day, in my bag when I go out), so that anything that pops into my head can be written down.

Years ago, a counselor actually recommended this habit of keeping a notebook with me (even at my bedside) since I struggle with anxiety. Little did she know that the bullet journal craze was about to sweep the nation!

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4. I still love planning out my week by folding in a center page.

At the top is the dinner schedule, then underneath I began writing a “To do this week” list, which works well. I also write out a daily list, but I like picking and choosing from my weekly list. I found that it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by tasks and needing to migrating unfinished tasks as often.

As you can see from the photo above, the back half of that center page was my grocery list, which I simply tear out with a straight edge and take the the store. I love this system.

Here’s a novel idea: when you’re waiting in line or have a few free minutes, instead of pulling out your phone, pull out your bullet journal! In this way I often have a head start on the grocery list and next week’s dinner ideas, which eases stress.

5. I don’t do homeschool scheduling or planning in my bullet journal.

This is something else I really tried. I looked up several blog posts and tried to copy other people’s systems, but it didn’t work. It felt too jumbled.

Now, I do keep running homeschool To-do list there, and will jot down ideas that pop into my head. But when it comes to actually planning out our days or record-keeping, I do those separately. I like a larger sheet of paper for homeschool brain-storming (like 8.5 x 11). Plus, as a friend commented, “I’m not sure I want our homeschool curriculum plans that entwined with my daily life.” I wholly agree.

6. I use very few running lists; I find that I didn’t really keep up with them.

Rather, I focus on my monthly and daily lists and when I write down important information (such as swim meet details), I add the page number that information occurs on to my Index in the front for easy reference. If I created an entire separate page for “Swim meets” it would probably mostly go to waste, especially since each meet information is quite different.

And there’s something very organic and “full of life” about scribbling sermon notes and book quotes and recipes under that day’s date. It makes the book more fun to read back over.

Does that make sense?

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I guess something would warrant its own separate page if you have lots of information right from the get-go.

Want to know the few lists I did start in my brand new bullet journal?

– Friends we want to hang out/have over with this summer

– Things I need to do to be ready to start our new school year

– Blog post ideas

– And after all I just said, I simply couldn’t resist creating a new Book Recommendations list. It’s just nice to have.

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7. Finally, I extended my Future Log to 12 months over 4 pages.

In my first bullet journal it was 6 months, and when I learned of a date beyond, like a dentist appointment, I was always crunching it into the corner. I do not stress about writing events in order in my Future Log, it’s more like a scratch box to add anything that will happen in that month. It’s always a bit messy. I’ll make it look all nice and organized when I sit with my monthly spread.

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And that’s that!

It’s not a perfect system, of course. I still forget things.

But it’s the best system I’ve found for reducing how much I forget, for feeling organized, and for clearing the clutter from my head. I love knowing that pages aren’t going to waste.

I love the way it tracks our life.

David laughs because a couple of disputes as to when events occurred were solved by consulting my bullet journal. He says, “The bullet journal never lies.”

All of last December’s Christmas plans and activities and our baby chicks and our whole house addition process are encapsulated in my first now-battered notebook. It’s gratifying to skim back through and remember what we did and see how much we’ve accomplished.

 



here we go again!

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It’s been two weeks since we moved into our room, which has felt like an eternity to Amie, who’s been waiting and waiting for her bedroom to be finished. We temporarily moved her into the space, and then right back out again yesterday to make way for our building crew.

It was actually great to see the guys again! Amie had made them friendship bracelets and passed them around, and was anxious to show them how much her chickens have grown.

Yesterday’s project was to remove the crown molding from the bedroom, tear out that old sealed exterior door, and seal up the space. We talked about putting a window there, but there’s plenty of natural light in the room already, and dry wall is less expensive and leaves more storage options for that space for the future.

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Here’s the view from outside:

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That area will have brick eventually. So basically now we’ll forever have a staircase that leads to nothing, but oh well. Thankfully it’s not in a visible part of the yard. And honestly a staircase that led to a window felt more creepy to me.

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Here’s one more view of the old ceiling before we get a new one!

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The dry wall crew showed up bright and early this morning and said they’ll be completely finished today.

That means we’ll just need new crown molding and some paint and we’re good to go.

Hang on, Amie, we’re almost there!

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anniversary backpacking trip.

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Here’s the story of our first ever backpacking trip:

David was in charge of finding a location and rounding up camping gear, and I was in charge of food.

He decided on a 12-mile stretch of the Foothills Trail, which starts in Caesar’s Head State Park, SC (near Greenville), and extends 76-miles up into Western North Carolina. A couple of our friends had just spent two nights and three days backpacking there and told him that it was great: very quiet and scenic.

David’s done some car camping with the kids on and off and camped on a couple guy adventures, so we’ve collected gear here and there over the past few years. Most recently, he purchased a great two-person backpacking tent on sale at REI, and a second backpack. The backpack is a youth size, so it can be adjusted to either fit me or Judah. The rest we were able to borrow.

I had so much fun planning out our food! Pinterest was my friend.

I found a couple of great posts about portion sizes for backpackers, and this one about using Trader Joe’s for backpacking. A big thanks to the people who shared ideas and made our trip better!

A couple of you have asked specifically what we ate, so here you go:

Lunch (both days): Triscuit crackers, salami, cheese stick (salami and cheese can keep for up to 5 days in a backpack if it’s not too hot out)

Snacks: nuts, Snickers bar, Clif Bar, Turkey Jerky, dark chocolate covered espresso beans (a small handful did the trick for the afternoon slump)

[If you want a real treat, our two favorite Clif bar flavors ever are the coconut chocolate chip and the nut butter]

Dinner: we split one box of couscous and added olive oil and a pack of tuna

If you camp you probably know about the pocket rocket stove, which we’ve used for awhile. This is probably our favorite camping item. You can still build that romantic campfire, but can also cook your dinner at the same time. We used it for morning coffee as well.

Breakfast: dry granola and TJ’s dried pineapple, coffee (we didn’t want to drink instant coffee, so we brought our small plastic Melitta drip cone and a filter)

Okay!

Like I said, I carefully portioned out the food so it wouldn’t be too heavy. We ate a big brunch in Greenville before we began hiking, and a late lunch Friday after we finished. We had almost the perfect amount of food: neither of us ate our turkey jerky or nuts, but they were certainly nice to have.

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Do you know what the absolute hardest part of the whole trip was?

Getting ready.

Oh my goodness, I almost lost my mind Wednesday afternoon after taking four kids to Wal-Mart for last-minute supplies, writing out babysitting details for Linda, trying to portion food and choose the clothes I needed, all with four little people clamoring around me, wanting to burrow in the sleeping bag and try on the backpacks.

Yep. That was the craziest, most stressful part.

But not to worry: it was all worth it!

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David’s mom kept the kids Thursday and chauffeured them to swim practice and a birthday party for the oldest two, then to their cousins’ house for a sleepover. Shari kept them until Friday mid-morning, then Linda picked them up. They had pizza with their grandparents Friday evening and then came home.

Thank you, thank you to our family for taking on four kids to make this trip possible.

It was the first time David and I have been away just the two of us since we adopted the boys two years ago. It was much-needed.

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The trail was 2 1/2 hours from our house. We left at 7:00 a.m. Thursday and drove to Greenville first for breakfast at Biscuithead. Please try this place if you’re in Greenville or Asheville. It’s delicious!

We hit the trail by about 11:00 a.m. and hiked 12 miles in 6 hours.

Was I nervous about this trip and the hike?

Well, yes, I was.

I’ve never in my life camped at all — not car camping, not backpacking — and I haven’t hiked more than about 6 or 7 miles at once. I know, it’s kind of embarrassing how un-outdoorsy I’ve been until this point in my life. But it’s never too late to change, right?

And like I mentioned, this trip was my anniversary gift to David, and he was certain I could do it.

So I channeled my inner Cheryl Strayed and told myself, “I got this.”

It sounds silly, but just thinking that helped me a ton. I never once let myself say, “I don’t think I can do it,” even when I was tired and achey and scared of bears.

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The trail was just beautiful. It was so quiet that in two days we saw only two other campsites. That’s it.

The weather was perfect but I don’t think we’d go back much after mid-June. The mosquitoes were okay, but the gnats were a thick cloud in the afternoons. Probably better to go in April or May — or in the fall.

So, can I just say that it’s one thing to hike 24 miles in two days, but it’s another to do it with a 25-lb backpack!

That thing took some getting used to. We each had a Camelbak hydration system, which is great for any kind of hike (we always take at least one on our family hikes too). I love drinking water as often as I want and never feeling dehydrated. We borrowed a water purifier from a friend and used creek water to refill.

We hiked past two waterfalls and our campsite was along a creek just a few yards from a lovely lake.

It was really, really fun to cross the border into North Carolina on foot.

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I loved our little campsite. There are so many great campsites on the Foothills Trail. It’s very remote, but the trail is well-marked and cleared. There are campsites at regular intervals cleared with make-shift fire pits. This was nice to discover because we’d like to take Judah backpacking there but not hike quite so far.

Just beyond our tent was the river, which made the perfect background noise.

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We arrived at the site a little after 5:00. Because David is nothing if not an over-achiever, he felt the need to then go ahead and run “Heartbreak Ridge,” a fantastically steep stretch of a mile or two just beyond our campsite.

I felt the need to take off my shoes and socks and plop my sore feet into the river.

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You guys, backpacking is a sweaty, dirty business.

There’s nothing that says “true love” quite like cozying up to someone who reeks of body odor as much as you do. Wet wipes help take the edge off.

But I just have to say that it was perfect. It was so quiet. I mean, we were the only two human beings for miles. There was the sound of the rushing water and a slight cool breeze to the air and David off trying his best to start us a campfire with piles of damp wood.

The peace was all around us, and for someone who has struggled greatly with social anxiety in the past couple of years,  I couldn’t help thinking, “Now this is a vacation.” All I’ve wanted so many times was to be completely, utterly alone, and suddenly we were.

My heart rate slowed down just a few notches.

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We ate our little dinner sitting on a log by the fire, then walked to the lake to listen to the bullfrogs.

As dusk fell, we sat by the fire with peppermint tea and read from a slim volume of Wendell Berry poems I found at a used book sale years ago.

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Here’s what I was most scared of about camping:

1. Bears

2. Having to pee outside our tent in the middle of the night

David (for some reason) read an except from his Foothills Trail guide that let us know our particular grove of hemlock trees makes a pleasant campsite, but seems to attract bears.

We packed our food carefully into one pack and hooked it to a (very un-sturdy looking) tree branch, and hoped for the best. We got settled in our tent and took turns reading from the book of John until we felt drowsy.

Still, I had some wide-eyed moments in the dark after he drifted off to sleep, thinking, What the heck have I agreed to!? I lay there conjuring up Reader’s Digest articles involving bears and campers, trying to plan an escape strategy (didn’t all the people in those articles end up maimed or worse?)

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But somehow, magically, I slept!

We both did!

We actually slept from 9:30-7:00 am, if you can believe it. It was blissful. Yes, I had to pee at one point, and yes, I survived it.

David made us coffee and I packed up the tent and we ate a quick breakfast.

Then we hit the trail for home.

My whole body ached, but it wasn’t terrible. It actually felt much easier waking up first thing in the morning and hiking rather than after a road trip and big lunch the day before.

I’m not in bad shape, but not in great shape either. I’ve gotten sloppy about running — just a mile or two once or twice a week — and that is no good. Honestly, it was good to have a wake-up call like this, to realize, “This experience could be so much better if I would build up some more endurance and do a little strength-training.”

The last hour was very rough. I tweaked my knee on all the steep downhills and David carried my pack a couple of times. Thankfully I didn’t get blisters until the second day. I love my hiking shoes, but next time I’ll invest in some Smartwool socks for better support.

But I did it!!!

We reached the parking lot in 5 1/2 hours. I’ve never been so happy to see our little gray Civic. Oh man, we were so dirty and sweaty. Have I mentioned that already?

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It was 2:00 pm by the time we drove 30 minutes to Traveler’s Rest, just outside of Greenville, and we tried to eat a celebratory lunch at Tandem, which as you know is one of our favorite places ever, but it was closed, so someone directed us to Upcountry Provisions, just a couple of blocks away. We had delicious sandwiches, but the sandwich cookie desserts were to die for.

We pulled in our driveway at 4:30, and I could barely walk to the house. But those hot showers sure felt amazing.

You guys, I’m so, so happy we took this trip.

To many people it will seem a small thing (my friend Martha did the same hike with her sister and then went on to hike 20 miles the second day), but it felt like a victory for me. I’m not an adventurer.

Well, I can be with travel but not really with nature. To illustrate the difference between the two of us, here is an actual conversation we had in India:

David: “Let’s plan a camping trip!”

Julie: “Absolutely not. We live in India. This is camping.”

David: “Come on babe, it’s our one chance to camp in the wild with white tigers and elephants.”

Yep, that’s the person I married (he then went on to take that camping trip with some friends. And yes, they saw tigers in the wild).

David always pushes me. Sometimes it creates strain between us (okay more than sometimes). But I feel like he knows things I’m capable of that I don’t believe I can do. In that way, he has forced me to be a stronger, better person.

This trip was one small example.

It felt really, really good to take on a small challenge and overcome it, to say, “Hey, I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

I want to be the kind of person who sets that example for my kids. I want to teach them, “There are many struggles in life that are worth experiencing. Pushing yourself to do hard things can be so healthy and rewarding.” I think it also gives us a glimpse into the truth that even hardships we didn’t choose can build up our character and make us resilient and strong inside, if we let them.

I loved our backpacking trip and can’t wait to go again.

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the condition: may 2017.

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Hi friends, our bags are packed and David and I hit the road at 7:00 am for our backpacking overnight. All the hard work of prepping is finished, and now we’re just excited to be getting away. We promise to tell you all about our trip.

In the meantime, here are some photos of our addition progress!

Above is a little reminder of our “before” living room. Here’s what that corner looks like today:

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We not only got a doorway, we got a nice wide doorway and a sunlit hall nook. I thought I’d miss our brown chair reading corner, but we’re so charmed by that light-filled hall that we don’t mind one bit.

I haven’t decided what to do with that wall to the right of our TV. Any ideas? It used to house another tall pine IKEA bookcase, but we much prefer the open feeling without it.

Clearly we’ll paint over that living room patch, but it’s so low on our priority list, I can’t even guarantee it’ll be done this year. We’ll move that big chair and maybe get a larger rug so the kids can play on the floor in that space.

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Steve and Linda gave us the vintage pie safe awhile back. They’ve stored it at their house for months because we knew it simply needed to go in the addition, we just weren’t sure where. Doesn’t it make you happy?

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Here we are looking back into the opposite corner. You guys! I have a built-in bookcase!

The bottom half will have doors very soon. It’s nice to have a place to stow our not-so-pretty books. I’ve basically commandeered the whole thing for homeschool books and materials.

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And now we enter our bedroom hallway! How about those floors!?

The smell was pretty crazy for about a week-and-a-half after they were stained and sealed. Migraines were suffered. Brain cells were killed. We learned from a friend that setting out bowls of coffee grounds helps.

I’m so thankful it’s just the beginning of summer so we’ve been able to keep the windows open lots.

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Here’s truly the best part about the whole addition: the bathroom. The phone pictures just don’t do it justice.

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You know, it’s funny. It looks so simple now, but I can’t describe how much work it took to put this thing together. Well, not physical labor work on my part of course, but so.many.decisions.

It was worth every emotional outburst and every Lowe’s trip. We love our bathroom. It’s clean and big and restful. It’s truly a game-changer, you guys.

I can’t really explain why, but our tiles remind me of Florida. They’re cool and clean and lovely. I’ve dreamed of getting Turkish bath towels ever since discovering them in India years ago. I love their flowing, mis-matched look. The texture takes some getting used to after big fluffy bath towels, but they dry amazingly quickly. And since David, Amie and I share that shower (who am I kidding, the whole family uses it), it’s fun to have color-coded towels.

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Next up is the closet. We saved hundreds of dollars and bought an IKEA wall system for clothes organization, although after going through the process I now understand why people spend the money for custom wood shelving. The opposite closet wall is still blank; we’re trying to decide what kind of organization we need most (definitely a hanging rack for clothes).

I love having a walk-in closet!

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And here’s the bedroom.

That first night, when we spent our anniversary setting everything up, I walked in here and looked around and burst into tears. It’s just so perfect. Of course at that very moment my kids and in-laws walked in and said, “Wait! What’s wrong!?” David and I keep saying to each other, “This feels like something we don’t deserve.” I hate to think that one day it will become our new normal and we’ll take it for granted.

A very sweet friend gave David and I money to shop for our new bedroom.

We had so much fun picking out the console table, David’s gray reading chair, rug, and that fun India travel poster. The colorful quilt was made by my grandma many years ago. It’s been sitting in the attic, just waiting for this bedroom.

It still looks quite simple, but we decided to take our time with the remaining walls and curtains. It’s funny to try and bring balance to David’s desire for “minimalism” and my desire for “coziness.” We’ll work it out!

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Finally, here we are looking back down the hall toward the rest of the house. A friend told me, “I enjoy looking at your photos, but I just can’t get ahold of the layout of everything.” If you live in Columbia, you’ll just have to come see it in person!

We have some bits and pieces left to finish in the addition, but mostly in Amie’s room (even though she couldn’t help temporarily moving into her space), and the outside of the house. Scott told me he hopes to be back here Monday to get started. Next week I’ll show you Judah’s bedroom!

Thank you so much to those of you who have been praying for us and celebrating every step of the way. We’re so happy!



this week.

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You guys are truly the best. Thanks so much for checking in to see how we’re coping with our house craziness. Here’s a few things we’ve been up to this week:

– Gabe turned six years old on Saturday! We celebrated with a walk at the Farmer’s Market in the morning, and then met cousins and birth family at a splash pad in the afternoon. He got some fun gifts and felt very special. Six is when you start getting a weekly allowance at our house so he’s pretty excited about that too.

– David and I celebrated 13 years of marriage on Monday. Guess what our totally awesome anniversary gift was: we got to move into our new bedroom! That’s right, it’s pretty much completely finished. We even postponed the anniversary date night Steve and Linda gave us in order to hunker down and hang blinds and move furniture. It was amazing.

Like I said, it’s not finished and my temptation is to wait to show you photos until it matches the Pinterest-worthy image in my head, but you know what? That’s silly. When is anything in real life truly Pinterest-worthy? You’ve been cheering us on the whole time. So I’ll be posting some photos this week.

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– David’s anniversary gift to me was to buy a CSA share with a local farm. It lasts for 18 weeks and we pick up our produce on Saturday mornings at the Soda City Market downtown. We joined a CSA years ago in PA when Judah was just a baby and I’ve always wanted to try it again.

There have been many years in between where it was simply not a priority for our family, but I’ve been day-dreaming about reconnecting with this passion. There’s something magical about casting your lot with one farm, for better or for worse, and getting to know the people who grow your food. Happy Earth Farm is about 45 minutes away and we plan to take the kids out soon. They even have an Airbnb glamping tent if we want to stay for a night!

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In the meantime, I met Steve and Karen on Saturday and instantly liked them. Who wouldn’t melt at the sight of those cute cloth bags? And I’m not kidding, the food is just plain delicious. Suddenly our salads have sparkle and verve again. My favorite part of our first produce share was the recipes Karen included. I feel like David didn’t just give me food, but a hobby.

– Speaking of hobbies, Amie started a six-week sewing class on Friday that a neighbor is putting on for a few girls. She came bounding home with great enthusiasm, and a notebook syllabus full of homework and a fun schedule for the summer. If you’re wondering whether I’m the sewing type, I’m desperately not. But I love that my girl is excited about this and vow to do all I can to help her practice this summer. Thankfully I get to sit in on the class with her. And there’s always YouTube to help us out in a pinch, right?

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– You may be wondering whether I’ve given David his anniversary gift yet: our backpacking trip, and the answer is “no.” We’re going Thursday and Friday of this week. As you can see, we practiced setting up our (adorable! new!) two-person backpacking tent this weekend and wearing our packs. Don’t I look like I know what I’m doing!?

If you’re also wondering how a not-so-rugged girl like me is gonna do for two days in the sticks with no running water (and, um, no restroom), the answer is “Who knows!?” But I’m game to try something new! And no matter what, two days of just the two of us is going to be fun. It’s like a sort of marital team-building exercise, right?

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– Guys, I love summer, but I don’t love being out of our regular routine. Wait: I say this every.single.year don’t I? So now that things are slowing down with the renovation, I’m going to sit down tomorrow and write out a little schedule for us. Hear me out: I don’t do it to be rigid and over-bearing.

I just realized that what I want from summer is to spend unhurried time with my children. But somehow, when we don’t have a routine, I don’t slow down and spend time with them, I just find new, non-homeschooling things to busy myself with.  I start thinking that what my kids need is to be entertained, but what if they just need me?

I’m fairly good at being a chauffeur yet terrible about just relaxing and really connecting with each of them. So that’s what our routine will consist of. Also, remember chores? Remember baking projects? Yeah. That’s not really happening either. So this week is about getting us organized to make good use of our summer. If you have any ideas I’d love to hear them.

– Finally, I’m trying to be very selective about internet time these days, but one of my favorite bloggers and her family are spending a couple of months in China, working with kids in a foster home. It makes me so happy to follow along with their adventures. You should check them out.

Happy Memorial Day, my friends!



sunday gratitude.

1. A member of our building crew brought me this lovely house-warming plant

2. As David says, the overpowering smell of wood floor stain and polyurethane is “the smell of progress.”

3. The last coat was applied this morning! The final inspection happened on Friday.

4. Re-watching two favorite movies: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and The Hundred-Foot Journey

5. I haven’t seen a single slug in our yard since we got the chickens

6. The colorful India-made rug I found for our new bedroom

7. Judah and Amie got invited to a friend’s Harry Potter birthday party and both are overjoyed

8. This morning David preached a sermon that I really needed to hear, about idols (you can listen here, today’s will be posted by tonight). Wanting to mull it over for awhile.

9. Hugs at church, from all sorts of people

10. When people who come to CPC tell me, “I feel like I can be myself here”

11. Our Lexington church planter, Adam, will be ordained as a pastor tonight

12. Margaritas and tacos with Anna

13. A new meal plan for the summer, which I’ll most definitely share with you

14. Ideas for the blog

15. My blog readers!

16. Tomorrow I’ll be married 13 years to the love of my life

17. Working up the courage to offer him an anniversary gift of a backpacking trip together, complete with 20 miles of hiking

18. My friends Annie and Liz got me hooked on two delicious tea flavors: Harney and Sons Paris, and Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice. Feeling that coffee is fun once in awhile but not necessary to my existence anymore.

19. Judah ran two miles with David at the river yesterday

20. Six happy little blueberry plants lining the fence behind my chair

21. Neighbors who tell us, “You guys are inspiring us to stay in the neighborhood and make our house great”

22. Unexpected texts from friends

23. Realizing that if I want to be a good writer and an interesting person, I need to do interesting things . . . rather than using my free time to scroll blogs and social media

24. Friends you can go months without talking to, and then pick right back up where you left off

25. The Deep Run Roots cookbook

26. The Aarti Paarti cookbook

27. The Luckiest, by Ben Folds

28. The living-warm feeling of a child cuddled on your lap

29. Being smothered in kisses by Gabe

30. The simple pleasure of making our house look pretty

31. The first blooms on my gardenia, and the neighbors’ crepe myrtles

32. Thankful lists help me remember this fact: There are two ways to look at life. I want to choose the better way.

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all about the chickens.

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Are you tired of chicken pictures yet?

I just can’t resist. What’s cuter than kids and chickens!?

Our flock of eight is 4 months old now, which is hard to believe (the chickens are a week older than our master bedroom addition project). A pullet is a female chicken that’s less than a year old; we call ours “teenagers” right now. They typically start laying at around 6 months. And if you can believe it, we won’t know until close to then for sure that they’re all females, so we use the term “pullet” in faith.

We’ve had some friends say they were certain they had all girls until they suddenly started hearing a distinct “cock-a-doodle-doo,” and had to go searching to find its source.

But we couldn’t resist naming them all, and Amelie continues to pray against roosters.

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Everyone in the family got to name one, and Amie got to name three because, after all, she’s their mother. So here’s the line-up and the breeds, we’ve got two of each:

Wyandotte (pronounced Wine-dot). They’re the strikingly pretty black and white chickens Amie is holding in the photo, and are our largest and feistiest birds. They’re a bit aggressive for my taste, but Amie is very devoted, despite receiving several nasty scratches. She named them Eleanor and Scarlett. They’re strong women.

Black Star. These are black-and-copper-colored. Noah named one Goose almost immediately after we got the chicks and it stuck. I called the other Penny.

Minorca.  The Minorcas are all-black. Gabe chose the name Flowie (short for “Flower”), and Amie named the other, our smallest bird, Lola. Flowie and Lola are the speediest girls of the bunch.

Maran: These two ladies are black and white speckled. Judah’s is called Bellatrix, which you understand if you know Harry Potter (and I suppose reveals what he really thinks about chickens as pets), and David named his bird Annie, after his two favorite authors, Annie Proulx and Annie Dillard.

We’ll keep you posted about which breeds turn out to be the best layers. In the meantime, we love their funny little personalities, and Amelie is definitely the only only of us who can keep all the names straight.

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Thus far, owning chickens has proved to as delightful as it sounds. We read that they’re the easiest pets to care for, and have found it to be true. Amie takes care of all their food and water, and David changes the straw in their coop once a week. We can compost both straw and poop.

Feed for eight chickens costs about $30 a month. I’m not sure how much the straw costs exactly, but it’s quite inexpensive. Don’t ask how much materials and time for the coop cost. Think of it more as a work of art.

Now, like I mentioned, chickens do produce a lot of poop. Though their coop is larger than standard for eight chickens, for awhile we let them free range in our backyard all day. However, we soon became a bit overwhelmed with clean-up (I feel like they deliberately poop on our patio and picnic table), so now we let them out for a couple hours a day. It’s sure hard to resist their longing clucks when we walk outside in the morning. They just love to be free to roam (kind of like our children).

They walk saucily through the garden beds whenever they can get away with it, but haven’t tried to eat anything. Our favorite is when they roost on the playhouse ladder.

We haven’t had trouble with predators yet. Our backyard is securely enclosed, and since we’re in the middle of our neighborhood, rather than bordering the woods, we haven’t seen raccoons. We do have a hawks that like to circle over our yard from time to time, so we keep an eye on them. It’s pretty amazing how chickens instinctively seek cover and are able to blend in with their surroundings, but so many friends have lost chickens to other animals that we don’t want to get lazy.

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The larger the chickens grow, the more difficult it is for Gabe and Noah to catch and hold them, which makes me so happy that we got them as newborns. Holding chickens often supposedly makes them more mild-mannered, although this has not exactly proven to be the case with Scarlett and Eleanor. Come to think of it, maybe it has. How much worse would they behave if they were left to their own devices!? So the kids still play with them lots.

And it’s about the most charming thing in the world to be pulling weeds or reading a book in the pavilion and have a little flock of chickens rooting around for bugs in the pine straw. There’s something about having a happy animal nearby that just makes life better.

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Yes, four months in, we’re very happy chicken owners.

If you’ve got kids and are thinking of getting chickens, as several of our friends are, I’d definitely wait until the kids are old enough to help with the chores. It will make your life easier, and as with any pets, it’s a great way for them to learn responsibility.

We’ve decided we aren’t indoor pet people, but now I’m wondering . . . should we get a rabbit??

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rim of the gap.

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By David

A few weeks ago I grabbed Judah and Amie and headed to one of my favorite places, Jones Gap State Park, a stone’s throw from the North Carolina border and a million miles from distracted days in Columbia.

Weighted down with snacks, books, stuffed animals, and a thermos of coffee, we chatted on and off on during the two-hour drive.  At one point I asked Judah to read aloud from Romans 10.  Amie had asked the night before how someone could be sure they were a Christian.  And so we talked about what it means to confess and believe.

I think that both our older kids are born again, both with very different expressions – Amie loud, confessional, eager; Judah quiet, steady, willing.  I’ve seen Amie sob over sin.  I’ve heard Judah say very simply, “I know God is real because he’s helped me in hard places.”  I have learned so much from both of them.

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Our first stop was Tandem Creperie in Traveler’s Rest, my favorite breakfast in the universe.  If I ever land on death row, I’ll be choosing my last supper between a pimento cheese burger from the Whig bar in Columbia and a Tandem lumberjack crepe.  We loaded up on carbs and more coffee and basked in a glutinous stupor.

Thirty minutes later, we pulled into the park and headed to the ranger’s station.  I’d hiked most of the trails there on my own or with friends but somehow missed the Rim of the Gap trail, touted as one of the top five hardest hikes in South Carolina.  The ranger took one look at Judah and Amie and said, “You know, I don’t see too many kids that age do this trail.  Actually any.  Why don’t you try the waterfall?”

Judah and Amie must have smelled the condescending tone.  Or else they misheard him.  We came for Rim of the Gap and we were going to do Rim of the Gap.  Or bleed trying.  Which we did.

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The weather was overcast and cool, the river water high.  We saw all kinds of animals: turkey, chipmunk, butterflies, salmon, snakes, salamanders.  We walked, jogged, scrambled up and over eight miles of rugged terrain.  I held Amie a few times.  We stopped every thirty minutes or so for a breather.  From parking lot to parking lot we were on the trail for five hours.

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My general rule of thumb is that I like to be hiking slightly longer than I spent driving to get there and back.  We did that and then some.  I couldn’t be more proud.

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There’s something to be said about quantity time over quality time, long hours in each other’s company, with nature unfurling before us one step at a time.  Breathing hard, single file, without a word between us is it’s own kind of intimacy.  I cherish these memories and can’t wait to share them with Gabe and Noah.

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