Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Big Girl

The day before Kindergarten classes started, I gave my little munchkin free reign of our itinerary. 

Me:  What should we do today?

Olivia: It's too nice to stay inside, mama! I want to go play in the playground!

And so we did. Under the bright sun and clear blue skies, I played with my little girl...

Cheering her on as she slid down with hands in the air.

See-sawed and laughed with her.

When Daddy came home for lunch, we took her to Marble Slab Creamery and let her have her ice cream in a cone for the first time ever.
 Afterwards, she requested to pick fresh raspberries to pack for her lunch the next day. 

And when she jumped into my arms and wrapped her legs around me as I helped her out of the car, I cried.

I cried because the next day she would officially be a big girl...
 Going to big girl school
not needing her mommy as much.

She was eager to start on her "What I did last weekend" coloring project, deciding to draw and color a scene with her on a boat on the lake. She gave me a tight squeeze and turned to the work at hand as I side-stepped to the door, reluctant to let my baby girl out of my sight.

 It seems like it was just yesterday that she just started to crawl.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Blueberry Festival

The fam enjoyed the annual blueberry festival at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood even more this year because we had three families accompany us.  We didn't spend too much time at the festival itself since our big goal for the day was to harvest some berries!

It was pretty comical at times, the huge herd of our four families lumbering down the Winner Creek Trail, the energetic children gallivanting through the rainforest, oblivious to the vicious pricks of the devil's club thorns brushing up against their clothes.  As for the berry harvest itself, we weren't very impressed.  It seemed Winner Creek (on the resort side) was either picked over already or is still trying to recover from last year's moth infestation. The few that were still there were small and tart.

In any case, the mini hike was still fun for all.  
Never mind the formal footbridge crossing the creek...the fallen log was much more enticing to cross to the other side...

 The kids had a great time along the trail boardwalks, keen to spot a ripe berry or two waiting for them off the trail.

After heading back to soothe our grumbling tummies with some bison burgers and mac and cheese with reindeer sausage, the group slowly started to disassemble.  One fam decided to stay behind to pick on the slopes of the ski mountain.  Another had to leave to make a prior engagement.

The rest of us left behind drove to the other end of the trail to pull ourselves across the gorge, where the confluence of the Crow, Winner, and Glacier creeks roared below, via hand tram (mentioned in a previous post).

 The view from inside the cage, suspended midway between terminals.

 The girls peering down, just a bit nervous.
The berry picking on that side was more successful, with large ripe almost black Alaska blueberries and juicy salmonberries all for the taking.

On a side note, I just found a treasure trove of picking places on post!  
 Small but sweet and juicy raspberries

We had found this bush plus a couple others during a nice drive around base one night. I had wanted to bring a friend along the next day with me to pick them, but since she was busy, I just took the kids instead.
 The kids got a kick out of this pic since Liv's position in the foreground made her look a bit gigantic compared to the other two.

Now, the big surprise of this mini-picking trip with my kiddos was not the red currants, lingonberries, and raspberries we picked...but these HUMONGOUS watermelon berries! They were the biggest we've ever seen them...big as grapes!

 And then we found THESE.  The dreaded and DEADLY baneberry. All it takes is a couple of these berries and a small child will suffer cardiac arrest within minutes.
I was quite excited to find them just so I could see a plant in person. I used that as an opportunity to teach the kids to look out for this berry/plant and to NEVER EVER pick them. (Actually, as a general rule, the kids are not allowed to pick round red berries because of this very reason.  Blueberries, watermelon, and salmonberries/raspberries are all they are allowed to pick.)
They look pretty scary, don't they?

My bowl of watermelon berries. We had stopped by hubby's workshop to drop him off some of these (they're his favorite...and he couldn't believe how big they were). Thank goodness we did as these were GONE a minute or two after this picture was taken.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Random Updates

August is a busy busy month.  Aside from the ripening berries fueling my berry picking obsession, this month has much in store for us.

  •  As you can tell, the fam is winding down in regards to the constant go-go-go excursions. The big camping trips are out of the way, now replaced by quick drives/hikes to forage for berries. Last year's berry harvest was unimpressive, yielding tart blueberry pancakes. Yuck. This year's bounty so far has been excellent.
  • With our berry inventory building in the freezer, I've been able to experiment on new recipes. I've never had any luck with berry muffins (they always sank to the bottom)...until I found THIS RECIPE online.

The batter was so thick I worried a little, but it seems it was the key to holding the berries aloft throughout the muffin.  They were delicious! I did substitute the streusel topping with a different recipe provided by the first reviewer's comments (less butter). 
  • Next recipe to try is this with the batch of red currants I collected from the base!

It's so gorgeous, I can't wait to try it. To get this recipe-->CLICK HERE!

  • Back-to-school shopping is finally over. Either my Miss Sophia had finally grown or I've somehow shrunk all her clothes...she needed a complete new wardrobe. I only bought Liv a couple of new tops since Soph's clothes from last year fit her now. My high schooler was by far the easiest to shop for, with the majority of the items he chose ordered online. And by golly, once pencils and backpacks and shoes were all purchased, my checkbook was hurting.
  • Drafting a resume after ten years of military service is tough. I'm trying to translate everything I've done into civilian terms. I'm hoping this degree plus my experience will land me a job I'll be happy in. 
  • A new chapter in our lives is about to start. All three of the children will be in school full time for the first time. The days of having a baby in the house are over, and I am in a state of heartbreak over it.  I'm trying to stay positive and note the endless possibilities that this situation actually presents to us...although there are times I am simply mourning. 
  • Classes for my MBA program have started again. The month-long break was wonderful. I'll be hitting the books hard for this course, although I am actually enjoying the subject.
  • We have one major holiday (Labor Day) coming up before the start of snowfall arrives. Plans are still undecided. Any locals have suggestions? Thinking Seward getaway (Exit Glacier hike)...but I don't know...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pinterest Project--Giant Multi-Picture Frame

 I love gallery walls. I have always wanted to hang one. The problem is I can't quite choose which pictures to frame and hang.  The Fam has SO many pictures...from SO many adventures and precious little moments...I can't pick just a handful.

Soooo, on my daily perusing of Pinterest (oh how I love you) images, I zeroed in on a larger than life frame with a grid of Instagram pictures, I knew I had my solution. No more despairing about having to leave out a great picture...I can put them all in there!

First, I narrowed down which pics I wanted in the frame.  Instead of Instagramming it and figuring out how to download onto my computer and then printing, I purchased a $5 desktop app called Instant.  Same premise as Instagram, with the various filters that can be applied to the images, it just applies a Polaroid-like layout to the finished picture.  I selected the 150 or so pictures (I told you I had a LOT, and picking those was difficult, too) I wanted on 4 x 6 photo paper and trimmed them to the Polaroid dimensions.

 I then put together four 20 x 30 foam core presentation boards ($2.99 ea at Michael's) with Masking Tape.

 Giving an allowance for the crown molding that will act as its frame, I laid out the images onto the board.

 I struggled with Mod Podging the images to the board as the paper kept curling and warping on me. I actually had to rip some pictures off and reprint them.  I finally settled on a very very very thin layer on the undersides of the pictures, waited for it to dry, and brush an even thinner layer on top.  Then I used a spray sealer to evenly coat the whole thing.

I had the hubby cut the crown molding to size and stapled the board to it from the underside.

A simple caulking job for the molding corners and voila! CHEAP as heck giant picture frame!

The whole thing sits on the floor, but is mounted to the wall at the top to keep it from toppling over rambunctious kiddos who like to play tag around the dinner table. It took me two days to complete, mainly because of my Mod Podge issues (printing out the pictures and trimming them took the longest). Not bad for a total of $23. I don't think I can find a frame that big for that much.

Oh, yeah and this project was done to ignore that to-do I've been ignoring forever....those too-short curtains! LOL

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Getting Dirty: Mud Run

The fam participated in Anchorage's first ever mud run. The adults and kids 13 and older got to run a 5k on a muddy trail before the mud "obstacle course" at the end. Children under 13, to include my Sophia ran a 2k with the course at the end as well.
 There's my Dylan, jumping if he wasn't filthy enough. LOL

Dylan and his friend David. 

Sophie loved having a friend to run through the icky mud with her. 
Note the shirts and tutu (Sophie didn't want to wear hers....booo). The mommas got together a couple days before to make the "Real Girls love Mud" shirts and colorful tutus just for this race.

 My loves. So proud of all of them. Especially proud of the hubby who had just come off profile, re-injuring his back at the start of HIS race, and still managed to finish and go straight to accompany Sophie in HERS (another mile or so).

 The whole 537th group who participated in the run with their finishing medals. It's so much more fun with friends!

 These went straight in the wash when  we came home. I have no idea how to clean their nasty shoes...I'm thinking they'll go straight into the garbage!

Berry Success!

 From the start of summer, I am constantly berry scouting. A hike here, a bike ride there...I am always looking to the brush alongside the trails for any promising berry picking locations come August.  And this *place*...well, everywhere I turned, a berry bush/plant was smiling at me. The Mister had a day off yesterday, so we headed north to this *place* for a second visit to check out berry prospects.

The two hour drive was well worth the fuel and time. We haven't even reached the trailhead yet and our 2 liter container was already a tenth full.

This was one of the bushes THIN with blues. These are what they call Early Blueberries or Blue Huckleberries. We would find a bush (away from the Devil's Club and its wicked thorns), just step off the trail, and find a bonanza of blues fat and plump for the taking. 

 This was a nice surprise.  Watermelon Berries! I've mentioned in earlier posts that these are scattered around, and that harvesting enough to make anything out of them is almost impossible.  Usually, pickers will grab these for a quick snack and go on their merry way.  Not *here*!!! This is Sophia's and the Mister's absolute favorite berries!!! There came a point that I had to race the girl and pick them first before she got her hungry little hands on them...they went STRAIGHT down her gullet once she grabbed hold of them! The watermelon berry harvest yielded about three cups worth (an insane amount) not counting the loads that Sophie beat me to.

A way to identify this plant? It is called Twisted Stalk because the leaves sprout from the stem in a twisting roundabout fashion. Their veins run lengthwise, and the berries drop from underneath the leaves.  I've taught the girls that these are the berries that look like dangling red earrings. (There are a couple poisonous plants they can be confused with, as their leaves are similar, but these are the only ones in which the berries dangle this way.)

 Here's Dylan picking right from the trail. He's my berry picking buddy, especially when it comes to picking blues as they are his favorite. 

He is also the reason why I haven't identified the exact location of this *place*.  As I was taking pictures mid-pick, he angrily said,"Don't you post this on Facebook or on your blog so everyone can trample in here and take everything!" Hmmmm, sounds very ALASKAN to me.  Locals here are VERY protective of their "spots" whether it be berry picking, hunting, or fishing. It seems Mister D is as well. And so I promised I wouldn't, leaving the folks we went up here with the first time around as the only ones in the possession of such valuable knowledge. *wink*

Note the pretty shiny red ones? Those are red currants! I wasn't expecting them there, but the translucent  rubies were too tempting not to pick. I didn't get enough to make anything substantial with it, though.

Two liters, two hours, and probably not more than a tenth of a mile into the trail, and our containers were full! I can't imagine what the rest of that trail holds!!!

After picking out leaves/stems/bugs and squished berries, they were sorted, washed, and dried.

We had enough blueberries to set aside some for snacking and the rest to freeze for baking/cooking/making preserves!
(To freeze, just lay them out in a single layer on a large baking sheet (dry) and stick them in the freezer. An hour or so later, pour them in a heavy duty freezer bag.)

 I got maybe about half a cup of these currants. They went to the freezer, awaiting more so I can make a  jelly out of them.

These watermelon berries are in the fridge for snacking and a smoothie or two.

It is definitely berry season!!! 

This Saturday and Sunday is the annual Alyeska Resort Blueberry Festival from 12noon-6pm. Parking is free, entrance is free, but there are plenty of vendors selling blueberry themed goodies to spend your money on.  (My some snacks there...but leave the meal for up the road at Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ in Indian.) They turn on Chair 7 (again, free) so you can ride up the mountain to some prime blueberry spots. There is a live band and beer garden. Also, there are children's activities like decorate your own berry baskets, etc.

For those of you friends who are coming with or meeting us there, be ready for a good time! Bring rain gear (it's called a rainforest for a reason), bug repellent, water, snacks, and berry containers (anything will do...I use a pitcher and the kids get the little $1 buckets you find at Target). Rain boots are great, as the ground is usually wet there...but also make sure they're in comfortable footwear if you want to hike.

  It's a good idea to explain to the kiddos beforehand that it is NOT OKAY to pick and eat (dangers of berry poisoning) unless mom and/or dad has identified the plant/berry. An easy way around this is to restrict their snacking to just the parent's bucket stash and not their own. 

Also, Fam Och will be doing the hand tram across Winner Creek Gorge again that day (just down the trail a bit), and you are all welcome to accompany us...(everyone should do this at least once).

Anyway, there is much much berry picking to do until fall comes around the corner...and it is just right there...whether you come with us or find your own secret stash, happy pickings to you all!