Shamrockin’ Half Marathon and Crockpot Lamb Stew

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Our St. Patrick’s Day was really different this year, although we did do some of our traditional family celebrating, such as creating this cool party space for the leprechauns.

Ian ran in the Shamrockin’ Half Marathon—his first—and so our boys had an overnight with their besties while the leprechauns partied in our front yard. They all had a blast it seems (boys and leprechauns). Ian and I woke up bright and early on St. Patrick’s Day to make it to Raley Field for the half marathon.

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I am so proud of him. Seriously, I am amazed. He’s awakened early nearly every day for five months to train, in part for this event. He’s run in the dark wee hours of the morning, in the winter cold and rain and fog to do this.

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13.1 miles. In a row. His time: 02:00:56. Awesome! This is my best shot of him crossing the finish. Bunch of people were in my way, even though I had the best seat open to the public in the whole stadium.

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I’m so proud of you, honey!

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Afterward, we celebrated with some friends, eventually collected our children, and then came home to this:

Leprechaun gold

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Leprechaun gold and golden chocolate coins! The leprechauns must have enjoyed the goodies we left them. And then we ate an Irish family feast.

Crockpot Lamb Stew

This is a recipe for a crockpot Irish stew I found and then altered. I don’t have a pretty photo of it, so you’ll just have to trust me. I made this crockpot version because I needed something that would cook itself while we were at the Shamrockin’ Half Marathon. It was delicious.

Ingredients
1.5 pounds boneless lamb stew meat, cubed and browned in a skillet
1 14.9 ounce can of Guinness stout
4 to 5 medium russett potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces
2 onions, chopped
2 to 3 medium carrots
8 ounces of sliced crimini or shitake mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 or 3 stems of fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 bay leaves
10 ounces frozen peas
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca

Last Step: I’ll just put this right up front because this is the type of thing I always miss when reading and (not) following recipes: Add the peas in the last hour of cooking.

OK, First Step: Brown the lamb in a skillet. Add it to the crockpot. Add the Guinness, onion, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper, and tapioca. Stir a little. If your Guinness isn’t almost covering your lamb and veg items in the pot, add a cup of water or more Guinness.

Another Tip: Quick-cooking tapioca will make a really thick, luxurious gravy. I had never used it before. I found Kraft Minute Tapioca did the trick. It looks like Bob’s Red Mill also makes some tapioca products.

Cook your lamb stew in the crockpot for 10 to 14 hours. (I cooked mine for 8 hours. Then slept. Then turned it back on before we left for the day to cook for another 6 or 7 hours so it would be ready to eat for St. Patrick’s Day dinner.) I don’t think the extra cooking time harmed it at all. I think you just have to make sure your lamb is tender. Again, add the frozen peas in the last hour or so.

Makes 8+ servings. Enjoy!

 

Boys and Cans

May I present to you the thoughtful and funny writing of my dear husband, Ian, who describes a fairly typical activity in our home. This is only the second time I’ve talked Ian into letting me publish his writing on Love in the Suburbs. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and welcome him as a guest blogger.

Note: I’m the one with the nasty Diet Coke habit. Sometimes I add whiskey.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At our house, like at many houses, recycling aluminum cans is a way for our boys to get a little pocket money. Of course, cans have to be stored, and it’s best to flatten them in order to store them.

How would an adult handle this problem? Take the cans, put them on the patio, smash them with your foot, put them in a bag, be done. 5 minutes, maximum.

But how do boys handle this?

The smaller brother stands in the wet-bar where the empty cans have piled up. He opens the back door wide and hurls the cans outside. His brother stands outside with a stick, whacking the cans out of the air like Babe Ruth. The cans fly erratically, dripping bits of flat, sticky Diet Coke. Some bounce off the house, some fly into the garden, one came straight back into the house, over the little brother, and careened off the TV hutch.

I could, at this point, interject some paternal guidance into this operation. However, that would take all of the fun out of it. Adult methods, I have come to realize, are quick, efficient, effective, but altogether too much of a drag.

Once the cans are outside they need to be gathered into one place for crushing. This is accomplished by taking whatever tool is handy and hitting the cans with maximum force a la ice hockey. Since the cans have been distributed a great distance an argument is necessary to determine who is responsible for gathering the most distant cans.

While the big brother continues to herd cans, the little brother comes in to find a bag into which the cans may be put. The bags are on top of the clothes dryer, but he can’t find them. They are on top of the clothes dryer, but he doesn’t see them. The clothes dryer! The laundry, they are on the—oh, he found them, good.

The presence of the bag necessitates another argument about who has to pick up the cans. While one can see both points of view, one really doesn’t care, just pick them up.

Finally, the bag of cans is stored in the middle of the walkway in the overcrowded garage, but at least the task is done. Or is it? Stray cans can be found under the rhododendrons, behind the hot tub, and on the lawn. Asking the boys to pick up these cans as well elicits a complaint: “But Dad, we’ve already done the cans!” as if these cans were not part of the original project.

Chinese New Year 2013

Chinese New Year at home

Tofu stir fry with pot stickers for dinner tonight. Gung Hay Fat Choy! upload

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy New Year!

Today was a busy day at home. The boys tackled making both class sets of valentines, with some support from us. We worked on our family book-related art project, which I cannot wait to show you (when it’s finished). Ian and I both worked. And we washed tons of laundry. When the day wound down to evening and I realized we needed a grocery run for tonight’s dinner and to be ready for next week, I trudged out for supplies. Meanwhile, Lucas tackled chores, spelling words, and piano practice. (What a great kid!) We had a 6-year-old hunger meltdown while Daddy prepared a simple dinner of tofu stir fry and pot stickers.

Add a candle, a red place mat, and some toy snakes, and break out the chopsticks and—voila! Instant celebration! I love that my kids enjoy all types of foods. Asher will tell you he doesn’t like tofu, but he gobbles it up! Anyway, I have a Chinese New Year craft project to do with the boys, but frankly we did so much arts and crafts this weekend that I knew I’d be pushing my luck if I brought it out. Perhaps tomorrow.

 

Autumn Farewell

Tree stars

We’ve had buckets of rain in the past week. Our jacuzzi has stopped working again, due to flooding. The chicken run is a soupy, smelly mess. The pretty leaves have largely fallen from the deciduous trees in the neighborhood, but my liquidambar is still full of golden stars.

My tree

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The palette of my surroundings is fading. Bright oranges, golds, russets, and crimsons are vanishing, giving way to more muted tones. Browns and grays, straw, and dusty greens—punctuated by lurid, store-bought red and green for Christmas—are the colors of December in Northern California’s central valley. The transformation is gradual and a few flowers seem to have missed the memo. I’ve seen marguerites shouting “yellow!” at the top of their voices, and a few purple irises are confused enough to bloom even in the heavy rain.

A couple of weeks ago, we took the boys to a local amusement park called Funderland, which has been in operation in Land Park as long as I can remember. The day was perfectly glorious, the kind of day November hopes to achieve—with sparkling, flaming trees and crystalline skies.

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The rides, horseback riding, and pretty slanting afternoon sunbeams inspired many shining smiles.

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And plenty of autumn frolicking.

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It was a wonderful day. Land Park had lots of finery to show off while we were there.

Thank you, November. Your brilliance is fortifying.

Kind Saint Nicholas

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Yesterday was the feast of Saint Nicholas and we marked the holiday in our usual small ways. The boys polished their shoes and put them out near our door. We also left out some hay for the saint’s donkey to eat. (Lucas left a note for Nicholas, asking for oranges, a taser gun, and a katana; the kid can dream big!)

Polishing boots for St. Nicholas Day Eve of St. Nicholas Day

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I updated our nature table a bit, with Saint Nicholas surrounded by some little children. Together we read Christine Natale’s Saint Nicholas stories. My favorites are the ones when Nicholas is a boy because he shows generosity in ways that children can—by sharing what he has, by cheering people and giving comfort to those who are sad, and by being kind and generous to those who are different, disadvantaged, or disabled.

In the morning, we all found some treats and treasures in our shoes. Nicholas must have come in the night! Lucas and Asher got oranges, fancy chocolates with honey caramel inside, a bag full of magnetic hematite stones (gold for Lucas and rainbow iridescent for Asher), and they each got a beautiful heart-shaped agate worry stone. (We parents also received worry stones, too, and I think we need them more than the boys do. They are delightful for hands to find in pockets.) Simple. Sweet. My kids think it’s out of this world to be allowed a chocolate first thing in the morning!

Saint Nicholas also visited all the children at school. He and Rupert brought oranges, cookies, and crystals to Asher’s Kindergarten class, and he brought chocolates and pretty stones to Lucas’s fifth-grade class. I wish I had a photo, but I wasn’t there.

My kids chose some toys they no longer want to keep and we are donating them to others. We have a pile of donations outside at our curb, just waiting for the United Cerebral Palsy donation van to come and pick them up. It always feels good to give away things that no longer serve us to those who need them more than we do.

I think Saint Nicholas must be pleased with us. I am.

Tough Mudder 2012

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Once again, my dear husband tackled a huge dragon and completed the Tough Mudder in Patterson, California. He trained hard for it and had a great time. Somehow this was a kind of birthday celebration for him. I don’t know. He’s kind of weird. (That is a safety pin in his mouth, not a piercing. He was pinning his number onto his shirt when I snapped the photo above.)

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Ian joined our friend Cherylyn and her family’s team, the Jog-or-Naughts. They were all in pink, and Ian gamely donned their color for the event. I was able to follow them from the start and to the first couple of obstacles.

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We mistakenly thought it would be relatively flat terrain. Wrong. Tons of climbing through hot, dusty hills.

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I soon lost track of Ian and the team because I couldn’t follow. I spent my time eating a hot dog, drinking a beer, and taking photos of hunky hot athletes. That was just fine. The mud spatters on my clothes were worth it. I got some terrific photos.

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It was a very hot day, 95 degrees or more. I never really could check because I had no Internet connection. Unlike the previous Tough Mudder he did in Squaw Valley up on Tahoe, in Patterson the water/mud events were actually a little refreshing, and not freezing cold. I sat a very long time by this muddy pond to wait for my Mudders to swim and wade through here and to get this one close-up photo of Ian. I also got a stinky, muddy kiss for my troubles. After hours of waiting while my friends were miles away, climbing hills, slogging through mud, going over and under umpteen yucky, dangerous obstacles, I was very relieved to see them coming down the hill and entering this gross pond, hale and safe.

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Here is the last obstacle, named “Electroshock Therapy.” Those are electrified wires hanging down and the Mudders have to run (or fall, slip, crawl, and slide) through them, getting shocks all the while. This was the second obstacle with electricity. Ian had already gotten shocked pretty bad, which he says felt like being kicked in the head.

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All six of our Mudders completed the course. What I like about this event is the emphasis on camaraderie and helping one another through it. Our Jog-or-Naughts stuck together and everyone tackled the obstacles that were right for them.

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Here is their celebratory beer, which I am told, never tasted so good. I am terribly impressed by all of them! Congratulations, Ian, Cherylyn, Kimberly, Cybil, Susan, and Nina!

Our Autumn Equinox Celebration

Equinox Apple-Picking #apples #orchard #autumn #fall #family #seasonal. #traditions

Apple Tree, Autumn Equinox

What a lovely weekend! It had just the right amount of “home” and “away” time, although our laundry piles might beg to differ. We hopped in the car on Saturday and drove up to the foothills to Apple Hill, where we enjoyed gorgeous scenery featuring vineyards, Christmas tree farms, and orchards full of apple trees laden with fruit.

Apple Orchard, Autumn Equinox

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We found a “you-pick” farm and picked apples for the first time.

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Aren’t they pretty hanging on the tree?

Apple Song

The autumn lights are twinkling,
The evening breezes chill.
The ripening apples fall from trees
Upon the apple hill.

The daylight has turned golden,
The air is fresh and clear.
The apples sweet have fallen
For you to eat, my dear. The days are getting shorter,
The nights becoming long.
The farmer harvests apples.
He sings this apple song.

(Yep, I wrote this for our Autumn Equinox & Michaelmas Festival E-Book.)

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Ian had a bit of a height advantage over the rest of us. He was a good sport and carried our heavy bucket, too.

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We picked 14 pounds of Fujis! Turns out we picked a few that weren’t quite ripe, but they should ripen nicely at home in a paper bag. I guess it’s a little early in the season.

Pretty Goats

We stopped at another farm that was having a little festival. We visited the farm animals.

Lucas, a Little Tall for the Hay Maze

And the kids had a great time in this hay maze. Asher was so fast I never captured a photo of him.

Zinnias Growing by a Barn

Empress Plums

Then we went to a big market at Boa Vista orchards, which is a year-round ranch market. I bought some produce for the week.

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At home, Lucas helped me gather clippings from our garden to make our annual Autumn Equinox Wreath. I have a tutorial here, if you’d like to try making one yourself.

Finished Autumn Equinox Wreath, 2012

Here’s our finished wreath. I think it turned out very nice. We don’t have much fall color here in Northern California yet. Our trees don’t change colors until mid- to late October, and the colors are best and brightest in late November. So, we make do.

Equinox apple, pancetta, chevre, pecaan, baby greens pizza, eaten outdoors with good, good friends. Happy equinox, darlings! Blessings of the season on all. Xo #autumn #equinox #food #love #seasonal #apples #home #gourmet

Soon after we finished this, some dear friends came over and we feasted on an Equinox Apple Pizza of our own concoction. It featured apple slices, caramelized onions, pancetta, baby greens, chevre goat cheese, pecans, and for a light sauce, a drizzle of olive oil and a drizzle balsamic blue cheese walnut salad dressing. It was sublime!

So, now we have a bunch of apples to make into apple sauce, and I’m hoping some apple butter, too. I understand we can make it in the crock pot. We love kitchen science.

We hope your equinox was every bit as nice as ours. (Please leave a comment and tell me how you spent the first days of autumn!) Blessings of the season to you and your loved ones!

Visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium

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Last weekend we got to visit one of my favorite places on earth, the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We were invited to stay with Ian’s brother Danny in Capitola for the weekend and we jumped at the chance. Saturday, bright and early, we drove down to Monterey to show the kids the aquarium. If you’ve never been there, you really must put this place on your bucket list—especially if you never intend to become a certified scuba diver. After you see it and the glorious sea life it holds, you might just change your mind about that.

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This was Asher’s first visit to the aquarium. Lucas was here once before, when he was three.

A Sense of Wonder

This time, both kids were into it.

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The exhibits are outstanding, well lighted, and beautiful. There’s lots of wonderful interactive things for the kids to do, including a wall-size touch screen that taught us about plankton. It looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.

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There are nooks and crannies where only children can go, like into a little cavelike space, where Asher was on the other side of a tank.

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The places to touch creatures and feel their various textures are a delight. This time, none of the rays came close enough to touch. They may have gotten wise to all the eager hands.

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We learned about the habitats that are created when human beings build at the water’s edge. We learned about the deep ocean fish, their endangered status, and got a card to show us what seafood to avoid and what seafood to buy because it’s sustainably raised or sustainably caught. I’m afraid the “good” list is shrinking. Our pocket guide list is specific to the west coast, but you can visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium website for a seafood watch pocket guide or app. They even have a substitutions list, in case your favorite recipes call for seafood that is on the “avoid” list. Since we got home, I’ve spent some time watching their webcam at the Outer Bay exhibit. It’s fun to see the turtles swimming past the camera.

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The aquarium rescues sea birds and rehabilitates them for a lovely Sandy Shore and Aviary exhibit. This is a snowy plover.

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Man, I miss diving!

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A highlight for me this trip was seeing this Giant Pacific Octopus change from red to pale white when he moved over to the white wall. I’ve held small octopuses in my hands before on dives, but never anything this large. This fellow is magnificent!

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My favorite by far are the jellies. (These are sea nettles.) Lovely spacy music plays in this exhibit and you can watch these creatures gently float around—I feel I could watch for hours, if little hands didn’t pull me away to the next amazing sight. The only thing I regret is missing the sea horses exhibit. I don’t know how we did that! The sea otters exhibit is temporarily closed, but we got to see some wild otters floating in the bay!

I’ve restrained myself to sharing only these few photos. It was tough to do because I truly love this place and I think it is the best, most educational zoo/aquarium I’ve ever been to. It sings to me in the way the kelp sways to and fro with the currents, in the way that the touch pools offer learning experiences that few people will ever get in the wild, and in the way that the public is gently encouraged to care about our oceans and the life within them.

It was a wonderful day. We rounded it out with Mediterranean lunch and a wander through the older part of Monterey. We went home and Ian cooked us a delicious dinner.

I’m so grateful to Danny and his family for letting us visit. It was such a treat!

Nature Therapy

I love this meadow

A couple of weekends ago, we joined 30 of our best friends for camping in the mountains south of Lake Tahoe at Grover Hot Springs State Park. I got to visit my favorite meadow for some much needed nature therapy. After four solid weeks of difficult work, I was ready for an escape.

Lucas Holding Baby J

It was just the ticket for me, really. We got to be outside in a beautiful alpine forest. We got to hold a wee three-month-old baby (sublime!), and play with friends.

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I got to watch this, and watch my competent 10-year-old son light the campfire.

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The only hard part came on Friday afternoon, when my boys were stung by wasps after moving too close to their hive near the creek. They each received five or six stings, which were very painful. D, a brave 12-year-old girl, ran for help and trundled through the forest to find some, eventually making her way to the road and the ranger station. She brought a ranger who was prepared to give us medical help. Meanwhile, Lucas bore his brother away from the wasps and helped him back to camp. I am very proud of my son for helping his little brother! Honestly, my heart is full to bursting about this. When they arrived at camp, traumatized and sore, there was still a wasp in Asher’s armpit, stinging him. Fortunately, friends had Benadryl on hand and that, with some ice, did the trick. Within 2o minutes or so of resting, they were up and playing again. They are brave, irrepressible boys.

Holding Hands

Everything after that was sweetness and light.

Daddy and Solstice

Our little dog Solstice surprised us with his desire to confront forest creatures in the dead of night, and “boof” at every nighttime sound. Hmm… He is braver than he is smart, I think. Apparently, bravado is just a part of our family.

E, T, and Suki

T and J

It was gooooooood to see some friends out there. Quite a few of us have been having a rough time this summer. I’m so grateful to have these amazing, inspiring people in my life. And I’m grateful that they continue to put one foot in front of the other.

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Ian made us hobo stew (custom dinner for each of us!), which we cooked over the campfire. It was yummy, and I have some notes to make it even better next time.

Potluck Barbarians Party

The second night we had a huge group potluck with TONS of veggies. I totally failed to get photos of everyone. Sorry, darlings. I was determined to relax and didn’t cart my camera around everywhere.

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On Saturday night we had a thunderstorm and it rained and rained. We were cozy and dry in our ancient Coleman 1970s tent. The rain sounded wonderful on the canvas of our tent!

Ivan the Terrified and Luna

We had eight dogs of varying sizes and shapes in attendance. Amazing! These were particularly kooky.

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Some of us traveled six or more hours to join us. I am grateful to them for all the extra effort they expended to share this weekend with us.

J and Oscar

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I got to spend a little time with my easel and oil paints in my beloved meadow, which is what I wanted to do from the moment I first saw it last summer. Plein air painting is hard and delightful. The only thing missing from my painting experience was a tall glass of cold white wine. Next time!

Nature Walk in June

On the Trail

We all went on a nature walk yesterday to one of our favorite areas on the American River. We like it because it’s close, it’s beautiful in all seasons, and it’s a nature preserve. Lucas has done many day camps here over the years and he really knows the place well and feels very comfortable and confident there. The day was warm, but not too hot. We took Solstice along with us, but learned that we’re supposed to keep dogs out of the nature preserve. So we skirted the edges of it and made our way to the river and back again.

Woods

The sun was shining so beautifully through the trees. We saw many deer on our walk, and lots of butterflies, and some quail. Things scuttled away from our feet into the grasses—probably lizards although we didn’t see them.

Woods at Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve

Everything looks like a potential landscape painting to me now.

Heart

We found a treasure along the way.

Solstice Gets His Paws Wet

Solstice is getting better at walking on a leash, but still has a lot to learn. I’ve never seen him touch the water on purpose before, so this was interesting. Usually he is fastidious about keeping his paws clean.

Grasses

We relaxed a while at the water’s edge.

Asher

There were sticks to poke and rocks to throw. Lucas spotted a crawdad in the water.

River View

Kayaker

We watched the rafters and kayakers float by. Almost everyone waves from their little boats, which is a funny, friendly quality about being in nature and encountering other people. We seem to retreat into anonymity so much of the time while we go about our daily business, but out on a trail, under a big sky we tend to be better about saying hello and striking up conversation.

Lucas Splashing

We made that typical warning that parents make—If you get all wet, you might be uncomfortable on the hike back. It went entirely unheeded, as expected.

Now, we are new dog owners, you see, so we learned something important on this little hike. Ticks really do jump onto your dog and even people. This has never happened to me before. Three little buggers hitched a ride home with Solstice and one with Ian. We were able to treat the problem quickly, so all is well now. This info will be retained for future precaution.

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  • About Sara

    Thanks for visiting! I'm Sara, editor and writer, wife to Ian, and mother of two precious boys. I am living each day to the fullest and with as much grace, creativity, and patience as I can muster. This is where I write about living, loving, and engaging fully in family life and the world around me. I let my hair down here. I learn new skills here. I strive to be a better human being here. And I tell the truth.

    Our children attend Waldorf school and we are enriching our home and family life with plenty of Waldorf-inspired festivals, crafts, and stories.

    © 2003–2017 Please do not use my photographs or text without my permission.

    "Love doesn't just sit there like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new." —Ursula K. LeGuinn

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