Falling into winter….

It is that time of year, again. Here in Alaska, the leaves start going yellow. We usually have that one night where we go to sleep and awaken to all the leaves yellowed and falling off. We are almost there. We have termination dust – that’s the first bit of snow on the peaks, letting us know summer has been terminated. And I am sad, and yet I am ready, too.

Matanuska Glacier

We took some friends around Alaska the past couple of weeks (they stayed 11 days and it was such a blessing) and it is amazing how quickly the summer was ending. We wore sweatshirts almost daily, and we usually were dealing with some off and on rain. Seeing as how they were from Oregon, rainfall was not an issue for them. The skies are so clear after a rainfall and it makes these vistas so breath-taking. I try to remind myself how blessed I am to live in this incredible place so many millions have on their “bucket list.” For some, Alaska is a place to visit, but they could not imagine living here. And I am very okay with that. For me, it is a dream-come-true. I recall joining some “Save the Whale” groups back in college, complete with coffee mugs and bumper stickers. So much of the literature was about Alaska and I dreamt of leaving Southern California for the “Last Frontier.” Only took me another 40 or so years, but I made it. And I cannot imagine living anywhere else.

Eagles dining on the Kenai River

I still sit in wonder and awe some days. We were blessed to be offered a chance to stay in a cabin on the Kenai River with our son and his family for an extended weekend. What a trip. The trip, in and of itself, should have an entire book written about it. That is for another time. The photo above occurred on our first night. We sat at our table on the shore of the river, dining on grilled steaks and some amazing garlic potatoes, while we were privileged to watch two adults and 1 juvenile Bald Eagle eat their dinner. It was like having National Geographic up close and personal. The site brought us all to silence as they flew in and out, enjoying fresh-caught salmon. And I felt so blessed.

Fishing the Kenai River

Watching our grandchildren fish for the first time was such a joy. They were having a ball, just casting away. They aren’t big on particulars; they just loved the process. And their interaction with their grandpa made my heart just soar. They all had so much fun and he was one of the biggest kids out there. These small snippets of time we grab with family make for a lifetime of memories, if we can hold on to them. This weekend was insane insofar as disasters and mishaps, but like our son said, “We did it!” We made it to our destination and we crammed in as much sightseeing and being family as we could. And it was very, very worth all the hassles.

Sunset with Dad and his dogs

We discovered our dogs are amazing travelers and adapted to our car and a cabin, instead of our truck and trailer just fine. They also discovered life on the Kenai River and were loving splashing around in it, seeing all the fish near the shoreline. They loved watching all that nature was throwing at them and we loved having them alongside us. We are so pleased that we have two dogs to accompany us on our many adventures in the future. Kolbe (Black Standard Poodle aged 2) and Maggie (his sister, a cafe au lait Standard Poodle, aged 5 months). Between us and our son and his family, we had 6 dogs along with us on our trip and it was just so fun. It wasn’t too much of a hassle and they all did so well. More of these trips are waiting for us next camping season. And I am so excited for next summer. Hopefully both families will have acquired better trucks to get us where we want to go by the time the snow melts and there is once again Spring in the air!

New Wood Stove and Surround of Fossil Rock and Granite

Our summer house project was pulling out our gas surround and installing a wood stove. It was the project of “I know a guy.” It was hilarious as well as costly. But you know what? I am beyond thrilled with the results. I started this post 2 weeks ago, and since then we have had our first snow. We had to race to get the veggies out of the garden. Harvesting our peas was an adventure in frozen fingers and ravenous dogs – who knew dogs would love peas and their pods so much? My husband has been working tirelessly to save what we could from the frost and snow. And I’ve been busily processing that bounty. So when we got our stove finally installed, I almost wept with joy. It is a gorgeous brown enamel (Chestnut) and it burns cleanly and efficiently up to 30 hours! It warms our entire home. And the installation came right as we got our first snow. How great is that????

One of the most amazing things is the the rock comes from Alaska and it is almost exclusively “fossil rock.” As I sit and look at it I can see fossilized leaves, stems, sticks, and shells. And it makes the archeologist in me just glow. To be surrounded by local history that is 1000s of years old is just amazing. Our son put in lights above the stove and the way the rocks are highlighted makes me feel like I am in a museum! Watching our stone mason (another “guy”) work was watching a master craftsman. It was incredible how he made all the pieces fit perfectly. A game of Tetris in real life. Another “guy” in the project was the granite man. He measured that so perfectly, when they installed it there was no gap anywhere. I was stunned. He was hilarious, too. In a Russian accent he schooled me on the differences between average and works of art. After our discussion and his measuring, he told me he knew what I wanted. We went to his stone yard and he picked this piece out for us. It was a perfect choice. I loved working with all the “guys” on this project, as haphazard as all the recommendations were. So funny. “I know a guy” – hilarious.

Some of our harvested veggies…

And so I have learned more than I ever thought possible about preserving vegetables. I have had catastrophic failures and some major successes. I have learned to can salmon and how to vacuum seal. I have made my own cole slaw from everything in my garden. I have 50 pounds of tomatoes waiting on processing, but I also froze sliced leeks, and shredded, halved and whole cabbages. I learned to blanch and freeze peas. I am putting potatoes and carrots down in the crawlspace with gunny sacks and sand. Who knew? I fermented some sweet peas with garlic and onion (from my garden). A friend made us cabbage rolls and we have relished each meal we have had of them. I am getting ready to take an online canning class this afternoon. Why not? I have so much to learn of all these lost arts. I was pushed to the academic side of life by my parents and never was taught all the womanly arts of keeping a home and feeding a family. We never grew anything – we had gardeners most of my life. The only time we had something to eat from our yard is when we bought a house with a fig tree. My brother and I hated that thing. We used to throw figs at each other and I never recall my mom doing a thing with them, other than to tell us to rake them up and put them in the garbage can out back. I was never modeled all the things I have talked about in this post. And so for me, this summer was packed full of new things. My brain feels like it is going to explode and still, there is more.

The world is spiraling out of control. Keeping my feet in the dirt has helped me in so many ways. I loved gardening. And I never knew I would. It gave me peace when all around me is quarantined and locked down. When the doors of the Church were locked to me, I could garden. When my Church was afraid, I was gardening. It has been a revelation to watch things grow; to get my hands so dirty I would just have to cut my nails to get them clean. And it gave me time in the sunshine to commune with God and with my dogs, and alongside my husband. It filled me when the world around me was sucking me dry. I got to learn what it is like to load all my stuff in our little trailer and camp away from it all, with our son and daughter-in-law, grandkids, and all our 6 dogs. We spent time as a family and it was – and is – precious to me.

While everything is out of control and our world is literally falling apart around us, if we keep an eye on God, He will be in everything. And I trust God more than I trust man. Will things get worse? More than likely. We are trying to plan for the worst, but hope for the best, as the saying goes. But all the while, we keep focused on God. Because in the end, not only is God the victor, that is truly all that matters. Keep your head up – focus on God -pray – and live your life to its upmost. Do not live in, nor accept, a life lived in fear. Find your joy amidst this chaos. And be sure your preparations are twofold – practical and spiritual. Because I am feeling something is coming. Not sure what, but something ominous is coming. Pray for your friends and family, pray for our country, and pray for God’s merciful blessings. And prepare.

Amazing photo with our dogs on the road to Homer, Alaska

“To everything there is a season…”

“To everything there is a season…” Ecc 3:1
pumpkins

Autumn is my favorite season. And I love decorating with a fall theme. I am not that into Halloween. It has just never grabbed me and my kids never really liked it until they were teens and then it was just to scare each other. The candy thing was always a pain. Do you let them eat it? Do you parse it out, a little at a time?  Have you ever found Easter Candy in July? Well, I have found Halloween candy in August! As the kids got older, we started a family tradition where we would take them to dinner and a movie. The next day, we would take them shopping for one bag of candy each – it was always on clearance – and they usually got more than if they would have trick-or-treated, and they got exactly what they wanted. Worked for me. Tonight, I am attending a pumpkin carving party. We’re supposed to wear costumes. That is so not me. And we got 6″ of snow last night. Kind of dims the party spirit.

The party was actually fun. The people were so very nice. And I had a great time. The pumpkin carving was funny. I was able to drive to and from our friend’s very isolated home, up steep and icy roads, without a problem – I was quite proud of myself. And during this party, I found myself seated at the table…right in front of some cute cupcakes and some sort of peanut butter dip covered in Reese’s Pieces, to be scooped up by chocolate ghost cookies! And after a short chat with a new friend, I was even offered a drink of 15-year old Macallan Scotch!!! The absolute torture!!!

scotchneat

For those of you who know me, I would much rather have one to two fingers of scotch, neat, than pretty much any other alcoholic beverage. Even after discovering Chocolate Martinis – I still prefer my scotch. And the thing is, I am still on Whole30. Part of the program is no sugar in any form – and no alcohol in any form. None. So far, so good. Today is day 24. About a week to go before we add things back in. Now before you freak out, I had no problem sitting in front of all that sugar. I kept seeing chemicals and pasty-feeling frosting on my tongue and I was not even tempted. I happily reached for the fresh baby carrots and celery sticks. Truly. I did not miss it at all. I was sorely tempted by the scotch (it was Macallan!!) but that was about it.

porkbutternutsquash

Don’t feel too badly for us. Tonight we are having the recipe above – Pork Shoulder Roast with Butternut Squash and tomatoes. I am opting out of the kale, because we are just not kale people. But we are not suffering in the recipe department. Last night I made bacon-wrapped chicken breasts on sliced white sweet potatoes and a side of green beans with garlic. It was amazing! We are devouring eggs and we discovered British Breakfast Smoked Bacon. Oh my goodness – where have you been all my life??? No sugar added. No extra salts or seasonings that are not compliant. It is delicious. We have adopted many butternut squash recipes. I love to eat them but not so much in the prepare department. They are a pain to peel and gut and dice! Ha-Ha.  But they are so tasty! We have discovered that our taste buds were somehow in a coma. We could not taste – we thought we could, but truly, we did not taste. Now, I am in love with all these amazing spices and ways of cooking. I had to go out and buy two more pans because I kept running out. The prep is a  lot but I am re-discovering my joy of cooking.

sausage

I learned how to prepare my own sausage from organic ground pork. It’s simple and fast and we have found we like the flavor much better. I discovered a new way to make meatballs (a family tradition in the Kaiser household) and we discovered we like that recipe better, as well. We have slowly converted our teen son to a better way of eating. He is still eating snacks a lot, but his meals are far better. His choices are better. We found this recipe for “Mexican” meat that is so good. We fry it up and put it on a bed of raw spinach and mixed greens, topped with salsa and guacamole. Oh my goodness! The teenager had seconds. And asked that I make it again.

oilandvinegarcruets

The journey of Whole30 has taught us so much about how we have been trained to eat. How we have also been trained to shop. It truly is less expensive to shop the perimeter of the store! We buy a grocery cart full of fresh ingredients and spend far less that we ever have. I have learned that I actually prefer WALNUT OIL and APPLE CIDER VINEGAR with simple salt and pepper on my salads. I even cook with it. But you have to know that prior to this, I was a heavy ranch and thousand island user! I would dip in it. I would cook with it. I would slather my salads with it. I loved my dressing. But now, I am enjoying the taste of my salads, enhanced by a mild oil and vinegar. Wow. This is big for me. It is huge. Whole30 is changing my relationship with food, and with my kitchen!

masonjarstorage

Because we shop for pretty much all fresh ingredients, I have discovered Mason Jars! Oh my goodness. I have all my dried fruits and nuts in them. We go through them so quickly. I love making my own “trail mix” using fresh, bulk-bought, dried fruits and nuts. I now love shredded coconut with no sugar, and add it to a mix of nuts and fruits and keep in my purse for a pick-me-up. Mason Jars are pretty awesome. You can see what you’ve got and what you are running low on. I am using small and large ones, not having discovered the need for medium ones, yet (give me time). And this week, I am re-doing my kitchen insofar as organizing it for easier prep and use. Whole30 has up-ended our lives.

dishesrestaurant

Another thing that Whole30 has done is positively affected our budget. One way, other than eating fresh ingredients made at home, is that we have not dined out. Most of the dishes served locally are very non-compliant with Whole30 guidelines. And for now, that is fine. We mostly miss the convenience of grabbing a bite on late, rushed evenings. And we miss the social aspect of Saturday morning breakfast with our grandkids at a local Grill. But, we are eating better and we are eating simpler. And we are sharing it so much, that we are seeing others adopt the process, including some people very close to us, just by modeling this behavior. Eating simple and cleanly has changed not only how we see food, or taste food, but it is slowly changing how our bodies absorb food. Our bodies were so used to using quick energy from sugar-ladened foods, that they are now learning to grab energy from our fat stores, and the healthy fats we are feeding ourselves. This process has causes a few reactions. We have found ourselves sluggish and days of a headache or two. But as we are starting to see the finish line, we are not questioning the process.

This process has caused me to think more about the end of the day when we gather for dinner, the breakfasts and lunches we will share and prepare as the family goes about its day, and the healthy snacks we will consume in-between. We have become planners and label-readers. We have become more concerned about content and quality, rather than quantity.

kitchensinkeggs

But one of the most amazing things, is that it truly has taken the emphasis off food for food, and replaced it as food for health. Think about that. Why would I ingest a BigMac meal with fries and a soda? I can feed my body a healthy meal, for less money, less negative affect on my body, and with very little effort? Convenience? We need to stop being so lazy. The recipe above has you gather whatever you have left over insofar as fruits and veggies, and with some spices, add them to eggs for breakfast…or lunch…or dinner. Why not? I no longer crave McDonald’s fries. No more. It’s simply not tasty for me, nor worth the damage to my body. I do crave that British Breakfast bacon and some eggs over medium. Yum. With a side of a sliced apple. Yes, please. And one of the biggest things? I have discovered that I actually love the taste of coffee. For coffee. Not the creamer or sugar I had added to it. I like black coffee. Who knew? I actually went to a business meeting at one of our local coffee houses and ordered decaf drip, black (it was at night – still can’t do caffeine late in the day!!) in an awesome mug…with free refills. First.Time.Ever.

blackcoffee

I am not sure, once we reach day 31, what I want to add back. I do not miss bread or crackers or cookies or cake or noodles or rice or cheese or many of the other things I have not eaten. My first thing to add back? I have thought long and hard about this. And to be perfectly honest, I am not sure. I am enjoying learning to eat this way. I am proud that my body is now getting better nutrition. And I am not sure if I want to re-introduce the things I have loved eating without. There are a lot of Whole30 graduates who pretty much adopt the Whole30 lifestyle in perpetuity. We just might. My husband misses pizza. I think I would scrape the toppings and cheese off and skip the crust part. Maybe. Sometimes what we think we are addicted to, we really are not. We are just in a rut or have developed a bad habit. And Whole30 challenges you to break these habits. It challenges you to think about your choices. It challenges you to choose healthy over convenience. And I have always liked being that stick in the river, refusing to go the way everyone else does. Whole30 is not really going against anything, but rather, returning to how we once ate, before chemical additives and boxed everything. Join me! You might be surprised at yourself.

woodinrivers

For some, it is not time, yet. It is hard to look at habits and how we live. It is hard to delve into things that are not comfortable. Looking in a mirror is not easy. Trust me. I am overweight and out of shape. I have, however, faced my fear. I have enrolled in a water aerobics class. Ha-Ha. The first laugh is my bathing suit. I have had it since our kids were little. I am surprised the material is still hanging together (sort of scares me, wondering what it is made of). And the other funny thing is I have re-entered the world of the dreaded locker room. When I was in high school there were girls who could walk around naked with no care in the world. Even back then, I could not do it. And being 60 and overweight, it is just not happening. However, those same girls who walked around nude at 14 are still doing it at 70 – and there are some things you just cannot unsee. They are not literally the same people, but are sort of like the same ones, if you get my point. And changing and showering and all of that has been the subject of quite a lot of laughter. The funny thing is that while we do water aerobics, they have children’s swimming lessons. So there are little children from toddlers with their swimming diapers all the way through to us old grandmas, running around the locker room and shower area. The noise level is hysterical – my head just about explodes! But the sights are quite something to see.

wateraerobicsbarbells

Do not poo-poo water aerobics. Join me, I dare you. During the night right afterwards, I am already rolling over in bed, aching. This last class caused me to wake in the night to revisit my oils and relieve some of the aches and pains, and to ensure a restful night of sleep. It’s been two days and I am off to play with those silly noodles and water barbells again tonight. Those barbells, made of foam, are no joke, either. My arms are killing me. But I am moving. I am out and about. I am giving my body the proper nutrition, and I am moving all my muscles. Movement is so important, even if it is just to walk to the corner and back again. To stroll through the mall. To park the furthest away at the store and walk in (except for in ice and snow – I park as close as possible). The Whole30 program challenged us in more ways than one. I know it has been life changing and I cannot see us returning to the lazy ways, the lazy days, prior to Whole30. And I’m not sure if we’ll add foods we have done with out for 30 days, back into our diets. We are still thinking about the long term process, once we realize the full affects of this program. It is pretty amazing, and so very simple. Think about it, and, again, think about joining us!

whole30on