Monday, April 15, 2013

Camping with a Bug, a Hailey Bug

Last November, our church hosted a Father/Daughter camping weekend at Camp Penial.  When I was registering for that trip with the church I decided that it should be for Grace and I.  I wasn't sure that there would be much for Hailey to do, since she was only 3.  All in all, it was the right choice.  Grace and I had a blast, and it was a special weekend for just her and I.  We camped in a tent, we rode a zip line and shot a .22, and she also mastered the rock wall.  Truthfully, there really wasn't much that Hailey would have gotten to do.  But it was obvious that her feelings were hurt that she didn't get to go.  I finally appeased her by promising her that she and I would go on our own camping adventure on another weekend.

As we got into the holiday season, and the weather got colder, we ran out of weekends to go camping.  Then we had some issues with our camper, and countless other reasons came up that kept me from keeping my promise.  Hailey cornered me about a month ago and reminded me that I promised that she and I would go camping, just the 2 of us.  This weekend, I got to keep my promise.

On Friday afternoon, we loaded the trailer, hitched up and headed out for Bastrop State Park.  It was just Hailey, myself and Daisy.  Daisy loves to go camping, and Hailey decided that it could still be a Daddy/Daughter camp-out if Daisy came too.

Bastrop State Park has been on my list of places to check out for quite awhile, and it definitely moved up the list after the devastating fires last year.  I felt it was more important now than ever before to support this state park in a time when state budgets are shrinking and costs are rising.  The park is about an hour away from our house, making it still close enough for a quick escape for a weekend.  On a side-note, we are incredibly blessed to be so close to tons of great state parks here in Central Texas.  Inks Lake (our reining favorite), Pedernales, McKinney Falls, Bastrop and Buescher State Parks are all within about an hour.

Hailey had input on planning our meals, and I promised her that she would get to decide on what activities we did.  The only request I had to veto was canoeing in the lake.  The water was just too cold, and with no swimwear, I wasn't risking an unplanned water landing! The biggest hit of the park for an almost 4 year old was definitely the playground.  This thing was massive, with 7 slides.

Another favorite was hiking on the trails.  While she isn't able to read the map, I did show her where we were, and taught her how to read the trail markers.  She was so excited to find the trail intersections and to tell me which way we should go.  It was definitely an introduction into orienteering.  I think she did amazing.  She was even able to point out on the map to Mommy and Grace which trails we took when we got home.  You may notice in our pictures that she is wearing 2 toilet paper rolls around her neck.  Those are the binoculars she made in her preschool class.  These were a "must have" when we were ready to hit the trails.

Her other favorite was the campfire and looking at the stars.  I never imagined that she would be able to pick out constellations at such a young age, but she saw the big dipper as soon as I pointed it out.  I asked her if she could see the upside down spoon, and she found it immediately, telling me that it looked like a backwards "5".  Love that kid.  Love her heart for adventure.  I love seeing this world through such young, new eyes.

I am excited beyond words at the thought of showing my girls the great big world we live in.  And I hope both them continue to love camping.  There is just no better way to experience some of the most beautiful places in our country than looking out the window of a camper. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Springing into Gardening

I am sure it comes as no surprise that I like to make fresh salsas.  I have several recipes that I make on a fairly regular basis.  One of my favorites is a tomatillo salsa, another is a smoked tomato salsa.  And summertime is a natural time to make salsas, I use them for tacos (breakfast and dinner), as a salad dressing, or as a sandwich spread.  The fresh produce I use to make my salsas usually comes from the store or occasionally from a farmers market nearby.  But even during the peak growing season, the best ingredients are often hard to find and can be expensive!   

I am not characterized by my green thumbs.  I haven't been known for lush landscapes, but I am getting better.  So far, I haven't been able to kill my roses, and my grass is looking better with each passing week of our early spring.  We still have a house plant we received from a friend when Hailey was born, that qualifies as a minor miracle, I am sure.  Now, my mom has a green thumb, she inherited it from my grandfather.  Pa could grow anything, I swear.  I can remember him planting castor beans by the backdoor of their home in Tulsa that grew as tall as the 2 story house.  I have still never seen plants that tall since.  I can also remember the spring we planted a vegetable garden out at the farm on the Illinois River in northeastern Oklahoma.  The tomatoes were my favorite.  Pa kept a shaker of salt under his seat in the pickup truck.  We would pick a couple right off the vine, wipe any dirt off with a rag, cut into it with a pocket knife and sprinkle them with salt.  The tailgate of the truck down, just a kid and his granddad, eating tomatoes.

For the last several years, we have worked hard as a family to make better food choices.  Not that my waistline proves my success, but I have really tried to make educated, responsible buying decisions, especially with our meats and produce.  If you haven't read any his books, Michael Pollan makes some strong arguments for sustainable, local and organic foods.  Produce grown to a ripe stage on the plant, consumed close to the time it was picked really does have a higher level of nutrients and flavor than produce picked before it is ripe and shipped across the globe in the cargo hold of a ship, that then sits in a distribution warehouse and on various container trucks on the way to the local mega-mart. 

That doesn't even broach the topic of selection.  Even a well-stocked mega-mart, during the peak of growing season won't have anything close to the spectrum of tomatoes available.  There are dozens of varieties, many of which most of us haven't even heard of that have been growing for generations.  Heirloom varieties and new hybrids grow in various climates and conditions, yet you are lucky to find 3 or 4 tomato varieties in the store.  Usually some variety of a Roma tomato, a greenhouse variety and maybe a beefsteak tomato can be found. 

For our first vegetable garden, we selected plants themed as a salsa garden.  We chose vegetables that would be easy for me to make quick use of, even if we end up with more than we can use a particular time.  I also chose varieties that I can't get in our local grocery store, or that are expensive.  We planted 2 tomatillo plants, 1 Cherokee Purple tomato, 1 Hillbilly tomato, 1 other tomato plant (we received as a gift from a neighbor who had 1 too many), 1 Lilac bell pepper, 1 Chocolate Beauty bell pepper, 1 Poblano chili, 1 Holy Mole chili, 3 Straight Eight cucumbers, some Texas 1015 sweet onions and some Crystal Wax onions.  We also got a Mexican Thorn-less Lime tree/shrub that we put in a container on the patio.  I decided not try cilantro just yet.  I heard from experienced herb gardeners that cilantro was very difficult to grow well.  Plus it is probably the one herb that is abundant and very inexpensive in our local grocery store, at around 25 cents for a bundle.  Depending on our success with this garden, I may add a small container herb garden for the patio next year. 

So, please send your kind advice, prayers and blessings for an abundant crop from our new garden.  I can't wait to start harvesting.