Friday, November 10, 2017

{Foodie Post No.13} Pumpkin Chip Muffins

(Post written on Tuesday)

These are some of my favorite Muffins. Well, assuming it's not possible for all types to be my favorite. I love muffins; blueberry, cranberry orange, apple spice, there isn't a single variety I can think of that I wouldn't gobble down one or two of at the moment.
But these, these will always be a go-to favorite of mine.  The combination of pumpkin and chocolate is off putting or odd seeming to some but let me assure you, they are a match made in heaven. They perfectly compliment the other and are absolutely the best fresh from the oven when the chocolate is still warm and the pumpkin muffin incredibly moist.
I made these for breakfast this morning. 
Éowyn drug me from bed at 7:30 demanding "befst" and it took me 15 minutes to mix these up and get them into the oven. 
To be honest these are not the prime example of these muffins and I feel a little bad posting them but who knows when I'll next make them but this is the season for pumpkin and I know you need this recipe now. So, they're getting blogged today.

I had three quarters of a can of pumpkin in the fridge but this calls for a whole can. I often cut the recipe in half but the last thing I wanted was a quarter can of pumpkin left. I was debating between putting less in a full batch or putting too much in a half batch but I hate altering recipe's that are already the. best. I only throw things around in the kitchen with recipe's that are just 'okay'. So there I was debating what to do when I reached in the fridge to get the can and noticed a plate of left over sweet potato casserole, probably exactly a 1/4 of a 15 ounce can's worth. Problem solved; full batch coming up, also first error to the recipe, sweet potato casserole in place of a small amount of pumpkin. Next I had gotten to adding the dry ingredients when I realized I only had a cup and a half of flour while the recipe calls for 3. Thankfully I had whole wheat flour to finish it off with but, error number two, all purpose flour and whole wheat are not equal.

I'd also like to note that you'll see my muffins are in paper liners. I do not prefer to use paper liners for my muffins but I had two hungry girls asking when they'd have breakfast and putting paper into the muffin tin was slightly faster than greasing each by hand with a paper towel and crisco; I've avoided buying non-stick spray for all of my married life and I'm still not ready to give in. As long as Crisco and paper towels/coffee filters are cheaper that'll probably be my method, of course until convenience wins out ;) Also, I'm not convinced my baked goods need aerosol added, that stuff is only allowed in my redi-whip because goodness knows cool whip is an unacceptable substitute and you don't always have time to whip up Heavy Whipping Cream only to watch it deflate as it waits to be used.  
Note: I have to say that as we've been eating these muffins for the last few days the ones lined with paper actually stayed moist longer, which, I guess makes sense now that I'm thinking about it. 

So there you have it, the reasons I feel like this isn't up to blogging par but the truth is this muffin recipe is so good that in spite of these issues, these muffins were still amazing. 
Also, my pictures didn't turn out all that great; we were in a hurry to eat them and couldn't waste time "staging", sorry, but not really. They were delicious and worth skipping perfect pictures for. Please, do yourself a favor and make these, you will understand.
I'm also editing this to say the chocolate chips in this recipe magically multiply. Every time I make these I am amazed how each bite of every single muffin is filled with chocolate chips. It's not logical but make them and see if I'm not right, every muffin will have a handful of chocolate...


First batch cooling

The girls enjoyed their muffins with cups of milk while I had mine with coffee ;)

Pumpkin Chip Muffins

4 Eggs
2 cups Sugar
1 16oz (You'll likely only find 15 nowadays and it'll work) can of Pumpkin Puree
1 cup Oil
3 cups Flour
1 tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Salt
2 tsp Baking Powder
2 tsp Baking Soda
2 cups Chocolate Chips

Mix wet ingredients. 
Add dry and mix until smooth.
Fill lined or greased muffin tins 2/3 to 3/4 full. 
Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes

Yield: 24-30

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sneaking Sprinkles

Yesterday while I was busily working away in a different room I realized the girls were being suspiciously content out of sight...
I found them sitting on the kitchen counter eating sprinkles straight from the bottle.
I'm not always what I'd consider a 'good mom', I'm probably a 'lazy mom' if I'm honest. If I can make my children happy with little effort; I do, if I can make few rules and get around constant spankings for disobeying them; I do. So when I found them sneaking sprinkles I calmed my inner monster-mommy and instead of wailing "What on earth do you think you're doing?! You aren't allowed to eat the sprinkles." I said "Girls, you can't just eat the sprinkles, we have to make cookies with them, do you want to make cookies?" and instead of putting the sprinkles in the cabinet, spanking, and spanking them throughout the days to come until they gave up on getting the sprinkles (or more likely I gave up on saving them and they were eaten), I grabbed a stick of butter, a recipe, and set the girls up next to the kitchen-aid to help me make cookies, and use those sprinkles we did.
No more mommy-daughter battles over sprinkles I've had since two Christmas's past.
A batch of sugar cookies for all to enjoy.
Everyone wins.

So maybe I am a bad mom for catering to my children's sweet tooth, maybe I should have punished and battled it out but hey, I have a sweet tooth, too and I'd rather eat cookies together than pull my hair out saving a $2 two year old bottle of sprinkles.

When I said use the sprinkles up, I meat it ;)

This is the recipe I sort of followed. I only wanted a small batch so I made 1/3 of this, with a few extra tweaks because 4 eggs don't split into thirds very well ;)

A Rug (attempt) 3 YEARS In The Making

You may remember my mention of a t-shirt rug on a project to-do list, but, you also may not, because it was in a post way back when I hardly had any blog views. Also, you may not simply because it was a very long time ago.
If you happen to have clicked on the link to check out the post you will be disappointed in my life to know that that list of projects is still mostly unfinished.

  • I never got more paint for the kitchen
  •  I certainly haven't come close to finishing the scarf 
  • BUT I did make that travel-map-board. I didn't paint or decorate it at all but, there is a map, there are pins, strings, pictures, and looking at it brings to mind lots and lots of memories.

The rug project hit a major slow down when my previous sewing machine became too weak to handle the bulk. I switched to sewing it by hand but it was tedious-time-consuming work which eventually fell to the way-side, rolled up in a box, awaiting an era where I had unlimited free time, maybe in 30 years or so.

However, back in July, for my birthday Wesley bought me this lovely heavy duty Singer Sewing machine. I was very excited to put it to use finishing this rug project but I had a few bridesmaid dress alterations that came first. And a couple quick start to finish projects so I could really feel like I was getting some use out of it. Eventually I settled in to my previous sewing pile and finally, finally, I have finished this rug.

Now, most disappointing of all though, this rug turned out to be, as one might say, a Pinterest Fail.
I'm not sure what variables could have caused mine to turn out so badly but badly it did. When I had finished it I immediately sent Wesley a text with a picture saying 'when I die this is the first thing your next wife is going to get rid of, she'll probably burn it' (yes, I know I'm oddly morbid). But really, that is how badly this turned out. The tension is as un uniform as it could get, creating waves and lumps throughout.
On the Pinterest examples no one seemed to have trouble sewing theirs on sewing machines, I'm not sure what varieties they have but even my brand spanking new, all metal, professional grade, heavy duty machine had trouble handling this rug's bulk. Maybe the t-shirts I used were thicker? Even though I cut them to the same specks as everyone recommended.

I'm not sure, but two things I am sure of;
1:The project is finally complete, hallelujah.
2:This rug will grace my bedroom floor as was its intended use for the three years it was in the making. And I will laugh continually for years to come as I see all the time and effort completed into such a sad excuse of a rug.


Over the last few weeks I have been incredibly excited and blessed to have an unlimited amount of pears to work with.
Originally they were given to my family but as I go over there a couple times a week I noticed that no one was turning them into anything and slowly, but surely, they were beginning to rot. On my next trip to my mom's I took 10 pounds of sugar and as soon as I got there I headed to the cellar to rummage for pint jars, lids, and rings. I found everything I needed and turned most of a 5 gallon bucket of pears into Pear Syrup. I peeled, chopped, and boiled them for a little while in a pot of sugar, vanilla extract, and lemon juice. I'll admit I was going for jam but I had an issue of time constrain so when it had thickened to syrup state I put it into jars and water bathed it for 10 minutes.

With the left over pears I got a little more adventurous. I followed this recipe for Caramel Cardamom Pear Jam. In my opinion it is more of a butter than jam, it's texture is more mashed-fruity and not, well, jell like which comes to mind when I think of Jam. The cardamom amount gives it quite the kick, if I were to make it again I may cut back. I like it okay but I'm kind of afraid to gift it to anyone as it's such an unusual and strong flavor. What I did love about this jam though was the addition of brown sugar, the carameliness is just so rich and as beautiful a taste as this pregnant mama can imagine.

I had used up the buckets of pears by this point and was sad to see them go as I was in full jam making mode. I am not ever the most enthusiastic regular food preserver, tomatoes, green beans, salsa, pizza sauce, etc. putting those up are chores, it has to be done because we have to eat later. HOWEVER you tell me there is a berry patch ripe for the picking, I will be out there picking away, eating not a one single berry, as I dream up what jam to make. Tell me there is a cherry tree filled with those red sour beauties and I would pick every one and happily pit for the rest of the day in order to freeze them for pies and sauces to come. So when I hear of any fruit tree who's fruit is unused by any other I want them and I want them all.
I would turn every last pear from this, my brother's girl friends grandma's, (whom we all know as Nana) tree into syrup, jam, and butter.

So, once I had finished off that first batch of pears I asked Shay if her grandma wouldn't mind giving me more. Nana said I could come and get as many as I wanted. Well, I was baby/sibling sitting my family at the time so I didn't know when I'd get the chance. My brother however came home one afternoon with another load of pears that Nana had gathered and he picked up for me.

Those pears have now been turned into two batches of Caramel Pear Jam with a few saved out for a cobbler.

I have been thoroughly blessed by these pears and I'm starting to feel a little greedy as I wonder if there are any more ready for gathering... I just enjoy turning them into beautiful rows of shiny, sugary filled, canning jars. And not just for me, I look forward to handing a few out as I know if I don't I will be passing them onto my own great grandchildren when I die. I hoard jam. I can't help myself, it's precious and beautiful and must be saved for the perfect and special occasion, which I have yet to come across. ;) I still have Black Raspberry Jam and Pear Butter in my cabinet that I made when I was 16, way back in 2010. I am growing in this area though, I have already left a bunch of the syrup and jams at my family's (who's jars and lids I used...), and I for sure plan to send a jar up to Nana's as thank you for the bounty.

A selection of the quantities I have stored away.

Monday, October 9, 2017

{Foodie Post No. 12} Tomato Jam

Not all of my canning endeavors will make my "Foodie" series but this one is especially yummy and has so many uses so I felt like it deserved to be included.

The first time I had Tomato Jam was on a pizza night at my in-law's, although it was before I had actually married into the family...
At any rate, we were making pizzas but ran out of traditional sauce so someone opened a quart of 'Tomato Jam' and we started spreading it on pizza's. Don't let that fool you, this tomato jam is nothing like pizza sauce, it is however a spreadable tomato product that allowed for us to keep topping pizzas so we went with it. After we all enjoyed the pizza's we've decided to do it multiple times since. It really tastes like a spicy, earthy, katchup BBQ mix, maybe.

So a couple of weeks ago I texted my sil, Katie, who had made it to ask for her recipe, meanwhile I was browsing Pinterest looking for one in case I didn't hear back. In the end the one I chose from Pinterest was the same as the link she sent me!

Mine actually didn't turn out at all like the original jars I'd had of Katie's. I think she must have boiled hers down a lot more than I did, or maybe using different tomato varieties changes things, I'm not sure. I've made two batches and they both turned out the typical consistency of jam and not as paste like as Katie's.

Original recipe.

  • 5 pounds tomatoes, finely chopped (DO NOT PEEL, I promise, it adds to the texture
  • 3 1/2 cups sugar
  • 8 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I substituted Allspice)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon red chili flakes

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large, non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce temperature to a simmer. Stirring regularly, simmer the jam until it reduces to desired jam thickness/texture. This took about 3 hours for me, but it would vary depending on how high you keep your heat.
  2. When the jam has cooked down sufficiently, remove from heat and fill jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe rims, apply lids and twist on rings. Process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.
  3. When time is up, remove jars from water bath and allow them to cool. When jars are cool enough to handle, test seals. Store jars in a cool, dark place.

This Tomato Jam is delicious and it's uses really are endless. I've used it plain as a dipping sauce for Pita Chips. My family served it over cream cheese to be eaten with crackers. I've put it onto pulled pork. Like I mentioned earlier, it could substitute for pizza sauce, just top your pizza more like a BBQ kind; chicken, bacon, cheddar, etc. It is a little spicy (you could reduce or leave out the chili flakes) but I've also served it with butter on fresh biscuits.

Preserving Tomatoes

I have four Brandywine Tomato plants. I started them from seed in a pot early this spring. Once they were growing well I transplanted them to a plot of soil right out our back door that I had turned over, broken up, and kept some grass clippings on in hopes of repressing weeds and maybe improving the soil. The plants grew and stayed healthy and well, I was pretty surprised. I'm not known for keeping plants healthy. I never constructed cages of any sort so my four tomato plants ended up as one massive vine/bush. It took over the entire area I had prepared and little by little as summer wore on it encroached into the yard and my brothers, who mow for me, had to mow less and less. :P Sometime in June, I think, I harvested my first tomato. It was delicious. Very meaty, sweet, and the perfect taste of summer. 

Growing up we grew Roma varieties for canning as stewed tomatoes, turning into sauces, and salsa. I'm not sure if they are actually better for it but as I soon had more ripe Brandywines to give away than I had friends and family to give them to I decided to start stewing them. I've done four batches so far and will probably get to do a lot more if I chose to. 

My cute harvesting helpers :)

Eowyn is always so eager to carry them to a pile

The harvest rinsed

Cored then blanched (not sure how that big guy missed the coring...)

I peel straight into doubled grocery sacks which I then tie up before throwing in the trash; fruit fly control.
I chop them on a cutting board placed in a sheet pan to avoid getting juice everywhere; mess control.

Excited to "help" pack the jars.
I did some in quarters and chopped some others.

1 tsp. Salt and 1TBSP. Lemon Juice in case you worry about the acidity content of tomatoes not being high enough.
Process in boiling water bath canner for 40 minutes.
I don't have a water bath canner but this large pot works. I use a rack in the bottom to keep the jars off the direct heat, I've read a washcloth will work, too.
Coming up: I turned 10 pounds of my tomato harvest, so far, into Tomato Jam. 
Do you have a garden? Or just a few plants like me? What have you done with your harvest(s)?


Thursday, October 5, 2017

He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

Some days you live, you love, you easily see God's handiwork around you. 
Some days you survive. 
But on those days, if you take a little extra time, bow a little lower in seek of help, raise your hands a little higher in worship of Him and not your own accomplishments, you will find that surviving is just as beautiful as all of the other days because God is still good. 

I survived today. A lot of it was in part to two beautiful and seemingly insignificant things. 
These beautiful yellow flowers. 
Last weekend Wesley came Home from the gym and having grabbed a few groceries for me with these. I'm not sure what he was going through but when he gave them to me he said "I was irritated and I knew picking something out for you would make me feel better." So I'm not sure if he was irritated at me, or something else all together, but, he chose loving me to improve himself. I've looked at those flowers multiple times everyday this week and thought of him, and especially today. I looked at them, I sniffed them, I was reminded of Wesley's love and more deeply, of Christ's. And that lovely bright yellow has brought the song "Sunshine In My Soul Today" to mind every time I've looked upon them. Truly I do have sunshine in my soul. Even today. 

The second thing that kept helping me through the day was this WeeSing Bible songbook filled with songs built on the simple pure faith of a child. 
Singing them forces me to go back, to remember who God is and how amazing my life is under His care. 

So, today, from the basic, topical glance back at my day, everything went wrong. 
Éowyn drug me out of bed by 7.
My brilliant "easy" breakfast took nearly three times the time I thought it would take. 
I didn't have any butter to make the cookies I'd planned. 
The girls spilt bubble solution multiple times as I tried to be a good "fun" mom. 
My afternoon plans shifted when my friend wasn't able to come visit as we'd planned. 
My phone spontaneously crashed and died.. again. 
Éowyn got into the cookie jar and crumbled and smeared chocolate chip cookies all over her and the counter top. 
Some keys on my piano refuse to play. 
Now that the disasters have subsided and I take time to truly reflect, today was good, today was beautiful. 
My mom brought me butter immediately when I called to ask if she had any extra. 
The bubble solution cleaned up and the girls had a lot of fun. 
My house is unusually clean and organized since I had the hope of a visitor..
My phone came back alive. 
We enjoyed lots of cookies. 
I walked 3 miles to the walking video since Jerusha chose that as entertainment. 
Jerusha constantly came and gave me hugs telling me to "be happy mommy, you happy?" when she saw tears in my eyes. 
We sang through the WeeSing Bible Song book as I searched for help. 
I was forced to my knees, forced to try for the sake of my girls, forced to find help where it is to be found. 
I remembered who He is and worshiped when all around me my day was crumbling. 

And He, my God, my Savior, showed me that today was beautiful and today was planned by Him. 
So I hope if you've had a bad day, one that you've just barely survived, that you might find some encouragement here to go back, to remember, it's a wonderful life. 
Love and blessings, Haley

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Vacation: Colorado; Budget, Meals, and Reviews

Meal Planning, each meal served 4 adults and 2 children

Biscuits and Gravy - 24 biscuits cooked in a dutch oven over the fire. (I could have made less but parts of some were inedible)
3 pkgs instant gravy (6 cups) and 1 roll of sausage

Skillet Scramble - 12 eggs, 2 cups Wright bacon pieces, 8 oz cream cheese, shredded cheddar cheese

Pancakes - Hungry Jack -just add water pancake mix (I made the entire box)

Instant Oatmeal

Power Bars (on hiking mornings)

Power Bars

Lunchmeat Sandwiches

PB & J

NOTE: at the high altitude bread goes stale in minutes. Seal sandwiches in bags if you aren't eating immediately and seal your bread bags well so you don't come back to a brick.

Tacos - Pre cooked and seasoned meat, frozen and reheated on the camp stove
tortillas or individual frito bags for walking tacos
desired toppings

Skillet Dinner - Polish Sausage, a 64oz can of greenbeans, a jar of sauerkraut, an apple, and some brown sugar, all heated on camp stove

Salsbury Steak - Pre formed 1/3 pound patties at home. Two per person. Cooked in skillet on camp stove
Served with instant potatoes and gravy, also cooked on camp stove

Chili - left over taco meat, a can each of dark kidney, kidney, and pinto beans, and a can of crushed tomatoes heated over the camp fire with all the regular chili seasonings added
sour cream

Shish Kabobs
Teriyaki marinade, beef cubes, bell peppers, onions, zucchini, pineapple and onions cooked over the camp fire
Rice cooked on the camp stove

Hot Dogs - 12 hot dogs cooked over the fire, buns and desired toppings
individual chips served as a side

Peanut M&M's
Brookside fruit and nut bars
Roasted chick peas

Overall Review: Amazing as expected

Weather: I was surprised how hot it was. During the day we saw temps as high as 80 a few days although each night it would dip well into the 40's. I hadn't packed clothing for that warm of weather so the girls had to re wear their only t-shirts during the warm part of the day before bundling up in several layers to get through the night.

Camp Review; Mary's Lake:
Perfect campground. The location is nice. Very close to the Park entrance which is convenient.
They have showers which are affordable ($2.00 for 6 minutes) and laundry at the camp office/store. The items in the store are very steeply price so be sure you've packed all the ingredients you need.
There is drinking water near the camp store so bring a drink cooler and fill as you need.
The camp store also sells ice, very reasonably priced, for packing and repacking your cooler.
My very favorite things about Mary's Lake camp ground is the dish washing facility. It's located on the outside of the bathrooms and has nice hot water. It is a single sink so you still need a dishpan for washing or rinsing as to not waste a ton of water.
The campground has a very nice play ground and pool.

Camp Review; Pinion Flats Campground:
The campsites here are packed in closely but you still feel secluded as each campsite has a stone wall around it with a few trees between you and the next site.
Showers: NO
Bathrooms are decent but don't have soap so bring germX.
There is a "dish washing station" located at the bathrooms but it doesn't have hot water so isn't much of a dish washing station in my opinion. You could just use it as running water and go heat it over your fire, I suppose.
There is no camp store or information site at this camp. There are camp hosts who have signs at their campers so you could ask them questions if you had them.

Park Review; Rocky Mountain National Park
The park has a few visitor centers although I only went into the Alpine one. Wesley went to the Fall River Visitor Center and did pick up a few maps and received helpful information. I enjoyed the Alpine Visitor Center and did some souvenir shopping and coffee buying there.
The park has many many trails, trail heads, and just lots of beautiful scenery.
I definitely would recommend the seasonal Old Fall River Road.
We hiked the Alpine Ridge Trail, which I enjoyed a lot, its a short hike and relatively easy.
We started at the Bear Lake Trailhead and hiked to Alberta Falls then on to Mills Lake. Its a well maintained trail that covers lots of different terrain. I'd put it at a moderate hike. Lots of Aspen groves which are beautiful.
Our last hike we started from Milner Pass. Poudre Lake had lots of wildlife around it. the hike is along the Continental Divide so it allows for a lot of breath taking views.

Park Review; Great Sand Dunes National Preserve
Pinion Flats Campground is located in the park which we find very convenient.
The Visitor Center is very informative and well kept. The gift shop in it has several nice items ranging from a variety of prices.
The Dunes are very neat. You can wander as you want, hike, roll, we even saw people skiing and sledding. They're just a lot of fun. It is very cold out on them in the morning before the sun reaches you but the instant the sun does reach you you will start sweating and feel the sand warm beneath your feet before it starts cooking. Thankfully you can always dig yourself in a little and find cool sand once again.

Restaurant Review; The Egg & I:
Well run, busy little place. The management/staff were very friendly with our kids, they brought an entire lunchbox of toys with as they sat us.
We all enjoyed our food and found the prices reasonable.
We purchased their house made hot sauce as a gift for my dad. It's not very spicy but pleasantly jalapeno-y.

Restaurant Review; Poppy's Pizza and Grill
They have several different variety of pizza's. It reminded me a lot of the pizza I grew up eating as its much the same style as my mom makes: the crust isn't thick but it's not cracker thin and crunchy, heavy on the cheese as well as the rest of the toppings. It was very filling and although a little expensive for a group you are definitely getting your money's worth of ingredients; its a solid pizza. We ordered their olives as an appetizer and they were very enjoyable and only $3 for about half a pint jar full.

Restaurant Review; The Golden Burro
The history of this place in neat and the food is fine. They have a lot on their menu and I chose the Burro Bowl; a heap of mashed potatoes with corn and fried chicken pieces smothered in gravy, it was pregnant lady paradise and was plenty to feed me for $7.
They aren't very kid friendly although they do have a reasonable kids menu.
Overall I would probably only visit here again because of the nostalgia of it being the site of Wesley's and my first date.

Mary's Lake Camp Ground - $150 for 5 nights
Pinion Flats Camp - $20 for 1 night

Groceries - $300

Prepared Food - $150

Coffee Stops - $15

Vehicle Park Pass - $30

Souvenirs - $152 or as little as you chose to make it
[3 adult t-shirts, 2 kids t-shirts, hat, 2 coffee mugs, and stuffed animal]

Gas - $90 - 3 fill ups in Colorado [We got "free" gas through Kansas]

Trip Total = $907

Keep in mind the food quantities would have been different for a different group. We were traveling with 4 adults and two children.

And there you have it, my most detailed break down of a trip, or the most detailed I can come up with at 1:15 AM.. I'm really trying to get back into this blogging thing, working it in around life ;)

I hope this inspires you to plan a trip. It really can be affordable and the memories will be worth it!

Vacation: Colorado Adventure

This trip is so near and dear to my heart. As many of you may recall, on the original "Grand Adventure" I took to Colorado with a group of amazing friends is when Wesley proposed to me. Here is our entire story if you haven't but would like to read it. And here is where you can find a few pictures and sappiness about the original trip.

This years Colorado trip came about because there was not going to be room for us in the beach house on our annual Smith Family Holden Beach vacation. We still wanted to have an adventure, though, so Wesley got to work planning a trip. He booked campsites months in advance and as the dates got closer I did a lot of list making, packing, food planning, and buying.
Two of Wesley's brothers, Lemuel and Gabe joined us on the trip.

We headed out on a Friday evening, Wesley driving his car with the girls, I, and our clothing, and, Lemuel and Gabe in Lemuel's Expedition packed to the brim with all of our camping supplies. I had big plans. I went all out. We brought our market canopy, a folding table, and camp stove so I could set up (well, so the guys could set up for me) a nice kitchen area. We had our tents, our sleeping bags, lots and lots of blankets. Folding chairs for relaxing at camp. The Pack and Play in case Eowyn needed containment at camp. A few weeks prior to the trip I had nabbed two framed hiking carriers from a resale site for really good prices; those things don't collapse for great packing though, they took up a lot of room. I brought my BOB jogging stroller, that thing is huge and doesn't pack very compactly either. You get the picture, I brought a lot, it's a good thing Lemuel's vehicle is spacious.

We drove through the night, stopping several times for Jerusha to go potty, a few times for coffee and snacks, and once to try and nap. We arrived in Estes Park, Colorado at Mary's Lake Campgrounds about 2 MT and set up camp before the guys all crashed and I attempted to entertain the not exhausted girls.

Our first night at camp I heated up taco meat I had made and frozen ahead of time for dinner. I served it with the option of tortilla's or individual bags of fritos for 'Walking Taco's'.

Sunday morning I fixed Biscuits and Gravy over the fire. Some of the biscuits got a lot well done but we broke off the burnt outsides and the inside was still good, the other two batches I made turned out quite a bit better.
After our breakfast was eaten and the dishes washed we headed out to drive around Rocky Mountain National Park. We chose a one way seasonal road for our adventure and it was beautiful. There were switch backs that were pretty tight, drop offs that you just tried to ignore, and a few spots for stopping to get out and take in the amazing views. We drove up the the Alpine Trail where we got out and hiked to the top. The guys had some trouble with adjusting to the altitude and carrying 25-35 pounds of girls on their backs. I was pleasantly surprised with how well my pregnant self was adjusting and didn't find the air or hike difficult to handle. The views from the top were beautiful and amazing. You're going to find I'll use those two words a lot in this post.
Sunday afternoon Wesley and I took the girls to the Campgrounds pool where they enjoyed swimming.
For dinner Sunday I fixed Sausages, Sauerkraut, and Green Beans on the camp stove. After dinner we drove down to Estes Park and found some public parking so we could walk around and explore. We went to lots of shops and had some Ice Cream.

Monday morning I fixed a skillet full of bacon, eggs, cream cheese, and cheddar cheese all scrambled together. After clean up we drove into the Park to the Alberta Falls and Mill Lake trails. We were trying to acclimate. If I remember correctly it was only about a 4 mile round trip hike. We took it relatively slowly, stopped a few times so I could take Jerusha off into the woods to pee.. stopped for snacks, drinks, and picture taking but made it to Mill Lake in good time. This is a hike we had done before so it was cool to see the few things that had changed and try to remember what was up ahead.
After our hike we drove back to camp and I started dinner. I had premade Salsburry Steaks so I cooked them in a skillet on the camp stove and made a pot of instant potatoes. I also used instant gravy packets. Although the meal had "fake" aspects it is one I am most proud of and enjoyed the most.

Tuesday morning we left camp at 5 and headed into the Park to get to the Mt. Ida trail head. On our drive in we saw a lot of elk herds and as we began our hike we saw a moose and some mountain sheep. We were pretty bundled up and the girls were pretty sleepy as we started our hike. Wesley carried Jerusha and Lemuel Eowyn while I led the way for the most part. The hike was beautiful. The area was unlike any of the other trails we'd hiked in Colorado. More romantic I'd say. Lots of bright lush green moss, tall thick pines, and a few boulders scattered here and there throughout the woods. The first part of the hike was the toughest for me, I just wanted to make it above the tree line. It was also very steep but there were quite a few sets of stone or log "stairs" which I found to be easy while the stride was harder on the guys with longer legs. We made it above the tree line and to a knoll where we could look out and see forever in most directions. I knew Wesley was wearing out but I really wanted to keep pressing onward. The altitude and additional weight of Jerusha were zapping his energy very quickly. We saw several Deer and lots of Marmots. The mountain was beautiful, astounding, I loved looking ahead and seeing this faint dirt path leading for as far as the eye could see, steadily winding its way around hills and always upwards. It just was so inspiring and fulfilling to me. I know God is in the deepest valley and throughout all His creation but when I am up in the mountains looking ahead at a path it is all so metaphorical and, in some way, closer to God.
We did end up turning around and heading back having made it a little over half way to the summit. It was hard for me to accept defeat as I was actually feeling really well in spite of being lazy all summer and being pregnant but I understood that we needed to. When we did make it back to the trail head and load up I had to drive back as Wesley was feeling very sick. We went into Estes Park for lunch at The Egg and I, trip advisors top rated restaurant, which all but Wesley enjoyed. His sickness continued to worsen and lasted for the rest of the day. He had all the typical signs of altitude sickness so he rested most of the afternoon and gave up the plan he and Lemuel had of leaving the girls, Gabe, and I at camp the following day so they could summit Longs, another fourteener.
Dinner that night was Chili cooked over the camp fire.

Lemuel went ahead by himself to attempt Long's Wednesday morning while the rest of us stayed at camp. When I got up to start pancakes Gabe pointed out some Elk nearby. Wesley and the girls got up to see them and it delayed breakfast by quiet a bit. They wandered throughout the camp grounds and eventually right through our own campsite. They are massive animals but reminded me of cows in demeanor. They just bumbled along, not very graceful or thought out looking.
Finally I got to start the pancakes but by then I had waited entirely too long to eat. Wednesday was my most pregnant feeling day. I was glad we didn't have much planned as I was awfully slow and kept having the stop to rest and snack.
After breakfast I took all of the dirty laundry to the camp store where I hung out for about two hours, spending $12 washing and drying three loads.
Lemuel made it back but hadn't been able to find the trail to the summit but did hike to the lake at the bottom and had some neat pictures to show us.
Eventually we headed into Estes Park for lunch and to do our souvenir shopping. We ate at a pretty snazzy pizza place then wandered around. Wesley got a t-shirt, I got a hat (I have yet to find Maternity souvenir clothing;)). and we got the girls each a t-shirt as well as a stuffed-animal Elk.
I had to go grocery shopping for dinner items and the foods we'd need for the next leg of our trip.
Dinner this night was Rice (which did not cook in a timely fashion as I failed to realize my pot lid wasn't snug enough so all the water was just evaporating instead of soaking in), and Teriyaki marinaded Shish Kabobs. I had premixed the dry and wet ingredients separately so once back to camp I combined them along with the beef cubes, veggies, and canned pineapple I had bought. They turned out really well cooked over the fire.

Swinging at camps playground :)
This day was pretty special for me. On our previous Colorado trip, Leadville, is the closest town to where we had stayed when hiking and summiting Mt. Elbert so it is a tiny little town that will always hold a special place in my heart. Well, it was going to be a bit out of our way but Wesley routed it in so we could revisit it along with the site of our first actual date.
After packing up all of our camp and heading out we drove through a very windy, hilly, section of Colorado and made it to Leadville by lunch time. We did some more souvenir shopping, it was probably goofy of me but I wanted to get matching Leadville t-shirts, just as we had 4 years ago. Wesley also asked me to help him pick out a meaningful piece of jewelry from one of the shops as an anniversary gift. He is the most thoughtful..
We ate lunch at The Golden Burro then followed it up by a stop at a coffee shop we had also visited 4 years prior.
Back on the road we drove through what is probably my favorite area in Colorado. Rolling foothills with boulders, streams, and lush pastures, all over shadowed by inspiring mountains rising to the clouds.
Then we got to the flat boring part arriving at Great Sand Dunes National Park about 5. We set up camp then walked to the dunes. Jerusha really loved them, Eowyn tried to eat them. They were as cool as I remembered. We walked back to camp and had hot dogs and I started a Berry Cobbler. It rained before that had finished but thankfully not enough to put out the coals so it did keep cooking. We sat in the tent with the girls while it rained, reading books by flashlight lantern.
The most amazing part of the sand dunes are the stars but I'm disappointed to report that our night there it was cloudy. The area is so far out it is unadulterated by light pollution and we were really hoping the forecast would change.

Our plan had been to stay an additional night at the Sand Dunes but as the weather wasn't looking likely to improve, after a breakfast of bacon, eggs, cream cheese, and cheddar cheese scramble along with left over cobbler, we headed back out to the dunes for some last-time fun before starting the drive back towards home.
We drove for nine or ten hours through the most boring destitute part of Colorado I can imagine exists. We made it into Kansas and got KFC before checking into a hotel for the night. With Wesley's job he earns a lot of reward points so we were able to stay for free.

We enjoyed the continental hotel breakfast before continuing on our way home. We arrived around 7 and managed to get everything unloaded, a few things put away, and visit a tiny bit with family before shutting ourselves in and crashing.

Our trip was amazing, it was nearly everything I'd hoped it would be. I am so blessed to have a husband who always makes taking adventures and creating life long lasting memories a priority; having toddlers hasn't stopped us, expecting a baby didn't stop us, at this point I don't imagine anything can. It is a blessing I cherish as I know it is easy to find reasons to stay at home but trust me, adventures can be taken and memories made on a very reasonable budget and they are oh, so worth the investment.

I hope you enjoyed this trip with us to Colorado as much as I enjoyed reliving it in the compiling of this post!

There will be a follow up post with budgeting, detailed meal plan, and reviews of our experiences.