Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Over Plum Cake and Chocolate Milk

My breath catches and the page I am looking at blurs.

Recently I started working at a little toy store, Walking Stick Toys.  It is a magical place that fills a sentimental nook in my heart.  You see, much of what is sold here is from Germany and as I am organizing toys on shelves or flipping through the books I run across things that are familiar from my childhood.

Today I am looking around the store, compiling a list of gift ideas for different age groups (a work in progress, but coming soon).

I am flipping through Magic Wool Fruit Children

A picture of sheet cake, with neat rows of plums stops me.  

I found it.

When I was almost twelve, we left Germany in a whirlwind and contacts with people dear to my heart got lost in the mess of it all.

Once a week I would walk down the the city center, ring a door bell and climb up a few flights of stairs to sit on a sofa between bookshelves lined with the most impressive stamp collection I have ever seen and large windows overlooking the cobble street, fountain and courthouse.  Across from me was my godmother, Margot, who was trying to hide the lung cancer ravishing her body under a brown wig, her hands showing me a new craft project and on the table between us chocolate milk and a plum cake.

I don't know that I ever said goodbye.

I tried.

I stopped by before we left, but Margot was asleep and instead I hugged her daughter, asked her to pass on my hug and love and permanently moved across the Atlantic.

On my honeymoon, my husband and I stood in the door way and I scanned the names on the doorbells looking for one that was familiar.  I didn't recognize them.

I still weave the sixteen pointed star Margot showed me out of ribbons.  

Every fall I goggle recipes for plum cake and none have been quite right.

I add the book to my list along with fool and felt: just enough to make a few projects.

Magic Wool Fruit Children - $24.95, Maerchenwolle - $9.00, Wool Felt - $3/sheet
Perfect to be shared over chocolate milk and plum cake.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hotspringing in Idaho: Celebrating my Birthday!

My eyes are squeezed shut, I am gripping the sides of the car, my feet are pushing into the floorboard I am so nervous I have to pee.  I am terrified.  There was an upside down car laying in the boulder field just below the road, granted, It looked like it had been there for 40 years or so, but it instantly gave an image to what I was feeling.  I have a phobia of mountain roads and yet I regularly sit in the passenger seat while Adam patiently tries to drive while I freak out.  Why?  Well,I like picking huckleberries and I love hot springs so I find myself in the situation more often than I would like to admit.  How did I get here this time?

I am entering the fourth decade of life and to celebrate we turned off our cell phones, threw food, clothes, the tent, the dogs and the kids into the car and embarked on a road trip to places we have never been before.  A loop through Idaho stopping to dip into a few of the many hot springs that dot the state as a reminder of when the area was a whole lot hotter.  
Our first stop Bonneville Campground.  

We walked to the springs before breakfast, the steam rising into the sun, and splashed through the creek where hot meets cold and blends into all sorts of perfect.  

The kids pushes the silty sand around and we moved rocks watched the water pool around us until the remnants of the cold night air dissipated and the need for morning coffee was realized.  
We packed up and drove on to Pine Flats Campground.  We set up the tent and just as the sky came crashing down around us we drove off to explore what was ahead.  We stopped at an unmarked pullout, crossed the highway and followed spray painted arrows up the mountain switchbacks. 

 And there it was in the next draw over: Skinnydipper.  

An impressive spring with one summer day perfect pool just over 80 degrees and a steamy hot pool we filled adjusting the flow of hot and cold.  

We bounced from one to the other and when we finally walked down the mountain it was early evening.  

On the way back to home base we stopped to gather firewood and take a quick dip in the remnants of an old bath house at the Hot Springs Campground spring.  

I walked in the morning mist along the river and slipped into a small person sized spring and watched the river flow by.  It is my birthday and the moment was just too beautiful to think of anything.  I watched the sun rise along the trunk of the pine in front of me.  I might have soaked  for fifteen minutes or an hour and a half.  When I walked back to camp there was fresh coffee waiting for me.
Just around the bend from my morning soak, okay in reality it is a little more like a wade along the cliff with hot water cascading down it, a jaunt across a short pebble beach and across a pleasant eddy is the most beautiful natural hot spring pool I have ever seen.  It is comfortably deep and a shower of hot water keeps it hot and clean.  I dunked in, fully dressed.

We broke camp and traveled further west and north.  Our final destination an illusive spring I ran across the internet and is referred to as M-16  or Sugah somewhere along a forest service road in the Payette National Forest.  On the advice of a fellow hot spring enthusiast, and with no help from the forest service employee we asked for directions,  we pulled off the road at yet another unmarked pullout along the way and scampered down a steep slope.

We found a small lukewarm pool and we scampered around the rocks and discovered a beautiful sight.  Two large soaking pools with wooden bridges across the cold rushing stream.  

We were soon joined by a few other groups and I was thankful we had brought along our bathing suits.

We drove on and entered a ghost forest.  It was haunting. The white remnants of burnt trees as far as the eye could see with a lush, green understory of shrubs.  We set up our tent at what is my favorite campground of the trip: Poverty Flats.  It is small.  Tucked against the wet banks of the Salmon River with the remnants of forest green above us.  There was plenty of firewood, and the site was remarkably less utilized than the other campgrounds at which we had stayed.  Before dinner we drove down the road and carefully walked along the sandy path that snakes along the steep drop off to the river.  I turned twice and then I saw the spring.  A blue jewel blue next the river.  

By the light of the camp fire we roasted marshmallows and I cooked my birthday dessert of choice:  Roasted Peaches filled with cream cheese and dark chocolate.  Yes.  They are as amazing as they sound.

And that is how I ended up on a dirt road in a tiny car terrified that I am going to roll off the mountain at any moment somewhere between M-16 and the closest town McCall, Idaho on our way to the hot springs we know and frequent on a regular basis Weir and Jerry Johnson.  I clench my hands together and have to admit to myself that in spite of my fear I am in love.  I love Idaho.  

I love that the landscape changes every 50 minutes and that from one hour to the next I am on a new planet entirely.  I love that the towns on the map are only clusters of a few houses and that gas stations are a rare commodity.  I saw more fruit trees than I have ever seen cover the sides of the road: plums and apples everywhere.  I love that I have a husband and kids I can take on crazy road trips and that I have a driver who will drive me while I am panicking in the passenger seat. And, I love coming home and that during the three and a half days I was away the kale exploded, the cucumbers bulged and the Wichita Pumpkin grew larger than my head.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Long Days, Short Nights and a Recipe for Fennel, Cucumber and Chicken Pasta Salad (Gluten Free)

Since we arrived home, nearly midnight, on the fourth of July, our days have been full.

Our days have been brimming, no, over flowing with activity. 

The weeds were all pulled to reveal little rows of seeds that sprouted in my absence. Kale has been coming into my kitchen by the arm full.

Onions are being pulled. We had our first cucumber, followed quickly by many more. Zucchini, Chard, Eggplant, Purple Beans and Snap Peas, Mint, Parsley, Rhubarb, Strawberries, Blueberries and Currants move from garden to plate and sometimes just straight from plant to mouth. 

Our hens, which were little more than awkward, gangly adolescents, are now shiny and proud. We check the coop every so often for that very first egg. 

Will it be brown? Blue?

There are berries to harvest. 

And a sink full of strawberries fills our house with a sweet fragrance as they simmer in the process of becoming strawberry syrup and butter.  

The first jars of this year's harvest on the shelf. 

Mornings I wake up early and notice the room brighten as I carve the surfaces of the mugs and bowls I have brought home to work on. 

One sunflower after the other blooms over the surfaces of the cold clay. The sunflowers in my neighbors compost pile have been peering over the fence at my garden for weeks and just the other day the green tower of leaves next to the bean tepee burst open. “This is the day our first sunflower bloomed”, I think to myself. When was that again? The day before yesterday? The day before that?

The mornings are brisk.  The days are hot and the water cold. 

In perfect Missoula style the city is bursting with energy. 

There are festivals. There are the markets. There are the tubers on the river and the surfers on the wave. 

There are potlucks and birthday parties. There is Waldo hiding in down town stores and we explore marking off the spots where we find him. We walk through the galleries of the Missoula Art Museum and when we come home we print our own mono-prints of rockets and chickens and when the paper gets old there are all sorts of other surfaces to explore.   

Hands get a brief rinse and paint caked bodies slide onto the picnic table bench next to Adam and I.  
An interlude in all the summer fun to enjoy dinner.  

Fennel, Cucumber and Chicken Pasta Salad 

½ pound gluten free pasta (or regular pasta)
  • heat water and cook according to the directions on the packaging.

1 fennel bulb (thinly sliced)
2 bunching onions
3 Tablespoons butter
  • heat the butter in a satuee pan and add fennel and onion, cook until slightly caramelized
  • pour the fennel into the serving dish and then cook

2 chicken breasts
  • while the chicken breasts are cooking mix up the sauce for the pasta salad

½ cup plain yogurt
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
2 cucumbers (chopped)
¼ cup cilantro (or mint or mint and cilantro)
  • chop up the chicken, make sure it is completely cooked
  • Pour the sauce over the fennel and gently mix in the pasta and cooked chicken.  

The dishes are washed and the kids scrubbed and as the sky grows dark the kids finally crash into bed. 

Cleaning that ring around the tub and the paint splatters on the wall will have to wait until tomorrow. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Road Trip = Culture Shock

In 1960 John Steinbeck embarked on a trip across the United States in search of America.  As an American writer, writing about America, he felt he was only writing from memory and he know longer was familiar with the people of his country.  His adventure is chronicled in his 1962 book Travels with Charlie in Search of America.  With his beautiful use of language he describes a plastic wrapped nation, fed by homogeneous mediocracy, populated by political cowards, and a country side that is so defined by the drive for the next best model of X that the country side itself is invisible.
He noted one exception: Montana.  "It seemed to me that the frantic bustles of America was not in Montana....  that the towns were places to live in rather than nervous hives.  People had time to pause in their occupations to undertake the passing art of neighborliness."  
Fifty some years after Steinbeck's journey I wonder what he would see today.  What would he think of the interstate highway that allows you to see nothing, the ubiquitous chain stores and fast food restaurants, and the attention of individuals anchored to small screens held in the palms of their hands?  What would he say if he exited the interstate system in favor for old state highways and found nothing but empty shells of gas stations and houses as we did?
But, his description of Montana still holds true. In spite of that, this trip 'home' has brought an unexpected homesickness - a want to be close to family - but it has also been accompanied by an equal and perhaps greater amount of culture shock. 

  1. Lack of Public Land - True. This isn't really a shock, I have looked at the maps...  but, just as soon as we turned east, away from the Rocky Mountains our camping options became limited. 
  2. Fast Food Advertising - We crossed the Kansas state border and - BAMM - MacDonald. Arbys. ONE. AFTER. THE OTHER. Pizza Hut. Papa Johns. MacDonald.
  3. The size of American's back sides increases with the fast food advertising.  Really.
  4. Houses SPRAWL and are mostly roof.  The highway is lined by whole developments of black roofs that are identical to developments everywhere in middle America.  I watch the scenery roll by and wonder about the effects of all that black on micro climates, weather patterns and energy bills.
  5. The number of televisions in homes increases exponentially.  AND the televisions are on.  They have cable.  The last time we wanted to watch something on a television (the Olympics) it took us days to remember that we indeed did know someone with a television and more importantly, a television that received the proper channels.
  6. The number of books, children's books especially, read at bed time decreases.  I would be willing to bet it decreases equal to the amount of increase of previously mentioned television time.
  7. The perversion of dairy products.  I have coined this term to describe: a) NON-DAIRY COFFEE CREAMER.  Non-dairy coffee creamer is treated like a real food a gas stations, restaurants and in homes.  I quickly learned to look for or ask if the illusive half and half is available before pouring a cup of coffee. b) YOGURT.  It is hard to find a WHOLE MILK yogurt at the grocery store. Just a reminder: low fat milk is linked to weight gain in children.
  8. SODA.  people drink soda.  a lot of soda.
  9. no one walks.  ANYWHERE. 
  10. Driver's tailgate.  For all the space and sprawl of middle America, it's drivers are convinced that they are in the congested traffic of New York City.  They speed up behind you, swerve suddenly, swerve back in front of you and passing in the right lane is rampant.  Having driven through New York City numerous times, I much prefer the city traffic, because at last all that bumper to bumper, weaving out in and out of traffic mess is happening at less than 70 miles per hour. 

I wonder about the landscape and people.  The cycles of boom and bust that are at the very heart of its settlement.  The land runs.  The oil. The dust bowl. The housing bubbles. The natural gas.  The corn and wheat that grew fence row to fence row until there were no more fences left.  The giant corporate hog farms, chicken farms, commodity is everywhere. One giant cross road; a way through to somewhere else: North, South, East, West. The landscape is devoid of the agricultural communities that should be rooted in the deep, fertile top soil. 
John Steinbeck and I are traveling in opposite directions.  As I read the pages he is moving west and I am moving east.  As he reaches the shores of the Pacific I reach into the thicket of brambles and pick black berries in the dense shade of the eastern deciduous forest. 

What America will I find here?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Many More Miles to Go

My best guess is that we have covered upwards of 2595 miles.  We drove from Missoula, through Billings, across Wyoming, cut across a corner of Colorado and covered almost all of Kansas before we ended up at our destination:  Middle America.  We have been crisscrossing the cross timbers for the past three weeks.

NO - we do not have a DVD player in the car.

I remember childhood car trips fondly: stopping at rest areas, state parks, singing, playing the road kill alphabet game (A is for Armadillo Soup,  B is for Broiled Beaver, C is for Crispy Coyote...  etc.), stopping at old graveyards to make rubbings of cool head stones, tents, campfires, fireflies...  I want that for my kids. I want them to know that a road trip is just as much about the journey as the destination. 

YES - I packed some books, markers, paper, a giant stack of CDs and a cooler full of food.

We purchased a luggage carrier and gave the kids room for their legs.  They are so much longer than when we embarked on our last 5000 mile road trip adventure. And we have the added luxury of competing this trip without a giant stack of cloth diapers.

Why this trip?  Well, to witness my beautiful sister getting married, to see family we never see otherwise and to check in with our ever growing family in Oklahoma. 

As we have traveled around the country I have paged through local papers and ran across an article on how to go on road trips with kids.  A two hour trip was used as an example and I put down the article.  Where we live a two hour drive gets us to the next big town and is hardly considered a road trip.  It took us three days to get from home to our first destination and upon reflection, there are a few things we try to do to make the journey more enjoyable.

1.  STOP FOR LUNCH - and no - I don't mean stop at a fast food joint, shovel food  in your face and keep driving.  Pack a cooler, take advantage of the rest areas and welcome centers that dot the American highway system.  Grapes, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, hard boiled eggs and sandwich fixings and a few treats are easy enough to pack and unpack. The kids stretch their legs, climb around, fill their bellies and when we get back in the car there has been a noticeable reset in the overall mood.  We can go on.

2. Maintaining the KID'S SANITY - choose one or two things of the usual routine to maintain throughout the routine.  For us this is reading bedtime books.  It can be 11 o'clock at night.  We can have just watched a movie.  We can be at grandma's or in a tent.  There will be a bed time book and in reality there will probably be two or three.  And, really, is there anything better than being cuddled up under a blanket in a tent reading by flashlight?
  • Bed Time Reading for Kids: (among other books) Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Bed Time Reading for Me:  Travels with Charlie in Search of America by John Steinbeck
  • Bed Time Reading for Adam:  which ever Game of Thrones book he is on now...  something with dragons in the title, I think.
 3. Maintaining the MY SANITY - let it go - (and yes, we have listened to both of the Frozen CD's on pretty much every drive longer than 3 hours) During long road trips we are perpetual guest in the homes of our friends and family and I have to let go of parenting ideals and routines that are true in our home.  So what if there is TV immediately after waking up, poptarts for breakfast (my kiddos both ate half of a tart before deciding they were too sweet), all the toys make noise, and they have watched a million movies???  We are not at home.

4. EXPLORE!!!!  There are things to see and do everywhere.  This is almost a comprehensive list of places we have explored during this trip.

It was drizzling slightly and I was afraid the kids would protest to walking...  but they loved this place:  they ran from sign to sign, from the first cave to the second and then the tepee.  That night, after our books, we told stories about the caves...


We arrived after dark, gathered firewood and ate a late dinner.  Sylvan was elated to sleep in our new tent. We awoke to more bird sounds than I have ever heard before.  

  • Public Library - a default location to entertain children in an air conditioned space.  There are books to read, toys to play with and often offer free story times.  The public library has served us well in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Aurora, Colorado and is a frequent destination to which I take out of town guests in Missoula. 
  • Never underestimate the fun that can be had in a back yard.  

  • Whenever possible - stick to the smaller highways - there is so much more to see.

5.  BREATHE!!!   Breathe deeply and practice patience.  The kids do get tired, overstimulated, under engaged and short fused...  and through it all I try to remember it is not my child's behavior that defines me as a parent, but rather how I respond to the current situation.  So I try to remember to respond with kindness and love and understanding and then we read bedtime books and go to bed.

Adam just finished the drive from Oklahoma and arrived at our house in Missoula.  The garden is lush - I told him to eat the radishes - and our chicks are almost full grown.  The kids and I will go on to our second leg of the journey by plane, further east, to visit more family.