Thursday, January 31, 2019

January Round Up

And just like that, Chapter one of twelve for this year is complete. Goodbye January, hello February. 

We have had an incredible month, full of wintry fun, outdoor adventures, indoor hibernation, and loads of family time. Here are the highlights...

Winter hikes are so good for the soul. When it's cold and everyone is sick of being indoors, but then the weather warms up for just a minute, long enough to rush to the woods, it just feels so good to breathe in fresh air. 

Our hike this month was to Ha Ha Tonka State Park. I wrote about it here. It was an hour drive for a rigorous 2.3 miles, but we spent lots of time exploring, and some time flying the boys' drones in an open field. It was a great first hike of the year, and we can't wait to log some more miles! 

Winter Weather! 

It happened! 18 inches (give or take) of beautiful, wet, big flake, perfect packing snow. It was amazing. In Missouri, when we do get snow, it's often with frigid temperatures, meaning dry snow that's not good for anything. But this snow was perfect. The temperatures stayed in the 30's so it was perfect for playing outside. The boys built a fort, an igloo, and a snowman. There was also plenty of snowball throwing, and a trip to the park for sledding! I hope this is a snowfall they will never forget.

New Recipes
I tried several new recipes this month. Here are a few that I wrote about on the blog.
Peppermint Popcorn
Spinach Pear Salad
Easy Ranch Pretzels
Yogi Tea

And the links to some other recipes I tried, but didn't post.

Greek Layer Dip (perfect for watching playoff games!)
Broccoli Cheese Soup
Healthy Crockpot Potato Soup


I finished a novel during the month of January. Shocking, I know. Shocking because I typically only read non-fiction. But I'm really trying to like fiction, and so I decided to start checking out novels from the library until I found one that stuck. And this one stuck! It only took me three books before I found one I could get through. I say all that to say that if you're also not a fan of fiction, then maybe you would also like this book. The main character has great inner dialogue, and the book is set in Maine, which is interesting. Also, her family is quite dysfunctional, which always makes for an interesting read. Check it out from the library, or buy it here. 

I took the boys to see The Boy Who Would be King. The boys gave it 2 thumbs up. I thought it was clever, and loved Merlin's character, but it is not a movie I'm dying to see again. The best part was being with these two.

Oh my goodness. This dog has us wrapped around his paws in every way. He is so incredibly spoiled by every one of us. We are so lucky to have this fur baby as part of our family. He turned 2 this month on January 3rd, but he still seems like a giant puppy.

Family Selfies
I'm trying to take a family selfie every Sunday this year. Here's how we did for this month.

Thanks for reading! We are looking forward to the next month of adventures!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Easy Ranch Pretzels

Snow day!!!

Nope, just kidding. It's not a snow day... 

But we do have the day off because of weather...

Polar Vortex weather! 

Negative 30 degree wind chills weather! 

Throw hot water in the air, and watch it turn to steam weather! (Well, I guess we'll see about that). 

I love cozy, stay home days. I love it when all the people who know things about weather are telling you to stay indoors. Not a problem. Not a problem at all. I love the outdoors, but trust me when I say that I love staying in too. I love it when we get a random day off in the middle of the week. 

If you need me, I'll be binge watching the news, catching up on Netflix, playing games with the boys, experimenting with freezing things, and eating comfort food. 

Enter yummy ranch pretzels. 
Easy Ranch Pretzels. So easy in fact, that I have made these regularly for the past few weeks. It only takes three ingredients, almost no prep time, resulting in a perfectly salty snack.

Step one: Mix 3/4 oil and one package ranch dressing mix together, then pour over one pound pretzels. Stir it until the pretzels are all covered.

Step two: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread pretzels out in a single layer.

Step three: Bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes.

Note: I've also done this at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, but you have to watch it really carefully so they don't burn.

Store in a Ziplock bag or eat them right away!

And that's how easy it is. I know, right!?

Stay warm! 

Monday, January 21, 2019

Yogi Tea (by Yoga with Adriene)

Winter weather has arrived! The kind of weather that has you dressing in flannel, wool socks, and covering up with fuzzy blankets. Also the kind of weather that puts soup on the menu at least once per week and the kind of beverages that warm you from the inside out. Hot cider, hot chocolate, and this soul warming yogi tea. I can't stop making it.

I've referenced Yoga with Adriene in a couple of recent posts. Maybe you had heard about her before I mentioned her and so you need no introduction. Adriene is a yoga instructor with endless free online yoga classes on youtube. Not only are there individual classes for specific needs (yoga for back, yoga for neck, yoga for stress, but there are also several free 30 day programs (Dedicate,  (the newest one), Revolution, Yoga Bootcamp, 30 Days of Yoga (my personal favorite)). You can also download free calendars each month that give a theme for the month and then suggested yoga videos for each day. All free. All the time. (There is a subscription option, but trust me when I say that you can access all you need to without the subscription).

What I love about Adriene's videos is that you don't have to have any previous knowledge or experience of yoga (although I will tell you that the Dedicate series was pretty tough after I had taken a break from yoga). The modifications are built in and she constantly encourages you to "find what feels good." #fwfg

So now that winter weather looks like its going to be here a while, I'm keeping stocked up on this yummy yogi tea, recipe courtesy of Adriene herself. The flavors remind me of chai tea and every ingredient has some kind of health benefit. You can make a big batch and store it in the fridge until you're ready. It's good hot or cold. Although this time of year, who doesn't want a good warm cup of tea in your favorite mug?

Here's what you need (click on each ingredient for a link to its health benefits!):
2 quarts of water
20 whole peppercorns 
15 cloves
3-5 cinnamon sticks
20 cardamom pods
5-8 slices of ginger
1 black tea bag (I used more in the pictures below, but 1 or 2 is really all you need)
Honey for sweetening, if you wish
Milk of your choice for a creamy addition, if you wish

To prep:
Break open your cardamom pods (the tea will be strained in the end, so you can throw the whole thing in the tea)

Combine all the ingredients, and bring to boil, then simmer for between 30 minutes and whenever (your house will smell amazing! I've even put it in the crockpot all day).

When you're ready, pour the tea through a strainer. Sweeten with honey, and add milk for a creamy addition. It can be stored in jars or a pitcher in the fridge for the week.

Drink up!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Spinach Pear Salad (Only 5 Ingredients!)

We have had nearly 6 days of being snowed in under 15 inches of perfect snow. We have done all the snow things.
*Build a snowman. Check.
*Build an igloo. Check (work in progress).
*Snow angels. Check.
*Sledding. Check.
*Snow ice cream. Check.
*Board games and Mario Bros. Check.
*Slow roasted soup. Check.
*Hot cocoa. Check.

The list goes on and on. If you're anything like us, getting snowed in means warm and cozy comfort food. Rich stews, saucy pastas, and grilled cheese on the side of just about everything. But I was really craving a salad, and went on the search for something new. I found several complicated salads with pears that all looked really yummy. Yeah for the pears, not so yeah for the complicated. So I put together the common ingredients into something much simpler, and then hid this from the family and ate almost the entire thing myself (I saved a little for Jeremy, but the boys will have to wait for the next one).

5 Ingredients.

1/2 cup walnuts
5 oz. spinach
1 pear, diced (I used Bosc, and left the peeling on)
1 small container of feta cheese
Dressing of your choice (balsamic vinegar for me)

Mix it all up, drizzle with dressing and enjoy! It's got the crunchy (walnuts), the creamy (feta), and the fruity (pears). It's perfect.

Can it get any easier?

Bon Appetit!

Monday, January 7, 2019

Winter Hike at Ha Ha Tonka State Park

Our first hike of the New Year is in the books! Every year on New Year's Day, I think about what the year will bring in the way of hiking adventures. I love looking at Missouri State Park maps and making hiking goals.

The boys have been wanting to get back to Ha Ha Tonka State Park ever since we hiked there last fall (read about that hike here). We loved the views, the trail options, and the geological features. We couldn't wait to get back here to check out some more trails. Hello 60 degree weather in early January! Hiking trails, here we come.

One of the things we love about Ha Ha Tonka is that there are tons of options of trails. You can do short loops, medium loops, long loops... You can do combination of loops without overlapping trails, and every trail is easily accessible from one of a handful of parking lots. On only our second visit, we felt like we had a pretty good layout of the entire park and could easily navigate the trail loops.

So for starters, we hit the Acorn Trail.

Notice the light jackets. The weather was perfect!

 Blazed in green. All the trails at Ha Ha Tonka are clearly blazed, and maps are available at every trail head.

The reason we love winter hikes... You can see so much further than you can on summer hikes.

Even though everything is brown and gray, the landscape is still beautiful.

After 2 weeks out of school, all cooped up in the house, these boys were ready to move!

The Acorn Trail is part meadow, part woods.

 There's a view of the Watch Tower from the trail. We hiked there after the Acorn trail.

Blazed in green.

 Eli loves being in front of the pack. He always has been. He sets a good pace, and he's great at spotting wildlife and trail blaze markings.

Winter in the woods. There's just something about it.

Jeremy spotted this tree first. At first we thought it had fallen over, but then realized that it was growing at an angle.

Perfect for climbing!

Jeremy had to help the boys up. The angle was a little steep for them.

Proving you're never too old to climb a tree!

The Acorn Trail is easy terrain, mild elevations, and away from the more populated part of the park (by the castle). We only saw one other person on this loop!

Eli wondered if this trail was named "Acorn Trail" because squirrels throw acorns at you if you walk on it. We didn't see any squirrels, but we did find acorns, and lots of beautiful rocks!

When you come out of the woods on this loop, the landscape view is amazing and the reason we love this park!

 Lex is a quiet hiker. Just like his dad, he would be happy to walk the entire trail without saying a word.

First loop of the day - easy breezy. Only .9 miles, but we found a tree to climb, some acorns, and beautiful views. The perfect start to this hiking day.

Next on the trail map - the Colosseum Trail.

Here's the thing about hiking. A mile walking is not the same as a mile hiking. Well sometimes it might be (the Acorn Trail was pretty easy), but sometimes, a very short hike can kick your butt. Like this one.

I think if we had done the trail in reverse, it would not have been so bad, but the way we entered had us exiting up a long, steep, rocky slope. A great workout? Yes. A walk in the park? No.

The descent is always easy.

Blazed in yellow.

 The Natural Bridge was first up. It was so chilly down here!

 The boys and me.

As always, we explore!

On the other side...

For the record, this little loop is closer to the center of the park, so much more populated. It wasn't crazy busy this day, but we did have to share the trail.

Always interacting with the trail.

And then on we went. It was flat for a bit, and so pretty surrounded by rock walls.

 This rock wall had water spilling over the side.

After spending the day looking at gray and brown landscapes, we were all excited to come across this view on the floor of the woods.

The pop of green moss covering the trees and rocks was everywhere. It seriously looked like a photoshopped picture where you make only the green color pop out.

The only green we saw all day. And it was everywhere in this little spot.

And then upward we trekked.

One last mossy photo.

From this mossy rock, it was a steep climb to the top of the trail. For our first hike of the year, we managed to do pretty well, but we were definitely tired after that one.

At this point, we were in the middle of the park, where lots of trails connect.

We followed this sign because we were so close and figured we might as well.

The walk to the castle is boardwalk, and lots of stairs.

It overlooks the spring (we did the Spring Trail last time, so we knew to avoid the billion stairs it takes to get down there. Maybe next time).

Here's a closer view of the Watch Tower.

This part of the park is what most people come to see. Which means that there are a lot of people, even in early January. There were cars with license plates from all over the Midwest.

 On the way to the castle, you get the great view of the Lake of the Ozarks.

And then the castle ruins. The castle is roped off now, and you can't get very close. The first time we came several years ago, we were able to get much closer, but now it's a little more protected.

My goal was to do the Quarry Trail as well, but as it turned out, we were just about done hiking for the day. So we wrapped it up with 2.3 miles and called it a day. Not too shabby for hike #1 of the New Year!

Happy hiking!