Category Archives: Vacation

Campsite Kettle Beans with Bacon and Mushrooms

I found this recipe two days before our camping trip in a Country magazine at the library…it sounded fantastic so we zipped over to the grocery store and bought the ingredients. Turned out to be even more delicious than I hoped! And perfect for fixing ahead and packing the canned goods along to add at the last minute. Just don’t forget to pack a can opener!

Kettle Cooked White Beans with Rosemary

  • 2 cups mushrooms, quartered
  • 4 slices bacon, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste concentrate OR 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 15.5 ounce cans butter beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • kosher salt, optional
  • 2 Tablespoons virgin olive oil

In a large skillet, cook mushrooms and bacon over medium-high heat, stirring often till bacon begins to brown around edges and mushrooms are tender, 3-4 minutes. Drain most of fat, leaving one tablespoon.

Stir in garlic, fennel seeds, and mustard seeds. Cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add tomato paste and let cook for 30 seconds.

***the above I did ahead of time and froze for the camping trip in a small Gladware container–then I just took the rest of the ingredients with me and added them to it when we were about ready to eat***

Add undrained tomatoes, rosemary and balsamic vinegar. Bring to boiling. Gently fold in the beans. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for ten minutes. Remove rosemary, season to taste with salt and drizzle with oil. Serve or pack in a gallon sized ziplock and keep chilled. Makes eight 2/3 cup servings.

I doubled the whole recipe, wanting enough to feed the five of us and the eight in my friend’s family. Our plan A was to camp together, or at least have them come to our campfire for one of the meals. Alas, the rain kept us from camping, but we enjoyed the beans anyway…along with bacon cheeseburgers, salad and watermelon! And for the record, I’m pretty glad it rained. The nearest campsite to our friends was forty minutes away, and we girls wouldn’t have had near the capacity for heart-to-hearts…not to mention the time and gas wasted in commuting to and fro.

Anyway, this would be a perfect side for a fourth of July picnic!

Big Families: The Outsider’s Scoop

As promised, my gleanings from three days spent with a super-mom of six!

Some may consider a family with six children smallish, especially when contrasted with broods of ten-sixteen…but in my book, six is big. Consider the conversation I had the other night with friends at the pancake feed benefit for my s&bil. I was surprised to hear the husband admit that they were done (and glad to be!) after two children. I kind of gave him a hard time before sharing that I’d really like to have more. This is a Christian couple. I knew this guy in high school and he was ALL gushy over kids and babies. I thought he’d have a passel.

Anyway. *I* have always been somewhat intimidated by the idea of expanding my apron strings times six, so this visit to Jana’s was my chance to see how the pros do it!

First of all, I have to totally commend Jana and her husband for a job well done. Consistent in their expectations? Check! Scheduled? Check! Loving and fair? Check, check! Prayerful and always seeking God’s leading for their family? Definitely, and she’d honestly tell you she’s had to hang on tight to God, it’s been far from easy.

A little background, this lovely Christian couple have four biological children and are adopting two that they’ve fostered for two years. Both of the foster boys are high-maintenance, to say the least. We’re talking fetal alcohol syndrome, attachment disorders, etc. It’s been a long, tough road, and knowing their background, I half expected them to melt-down by the minute, but wow! I have such high admiration and respect for how far they’ve come with my friends’ dedication and persistence in training, and by the Lord’s grace on this special family.

How this family blessed me…

Something blossomed in my heart at each mealtime. There is something about fixing three hearty meals a day for nine children (hers and mine) that makes mothering take on an old-world worthiness again. I cherish my mental inventory of all these beautiful children seated around my friend’s island/bar and her table, waiting, smiling expectantly as Jana and I “dished” their plates up with steaming, rib-sticking fare. Like little birds. Oh the thought and time that went into preparing these three squares. After each meal, the troops would make their way into the kitchen, and file by the dishwasher inserting their plates and silverware into the appropriate racks. We always had one little guy who would gladly finish up anyone else’s scraps, interestingly, this boy was too picky to eat anything when Jana first welcomed him into her home. He’s since learned to be grateful and to branch out. You should hear the stories…can it be the same child? It didn’t happen by magic, people!

If challenging children suffering from neglect and FAS can be retrained this successfully, the rest of us have no excuse to put up with bad behavior from our sons and daughters.

A few of tricks that I learned:

On keeping track of details…

  1. Big families need a “cup system”. With that many thirsty kiddos, a dishwasher could get dizzy. My friend solved this problem neatly by giving each child a place on the counter for their cup, with their name neatly labeled on masking tape at the counter’s edge. (See picture, and nope, t hose aren’t her kids’ names) This way they can keep drinks straight and use the same cup all day. Handy, huh? I decided to implement this one, even with my paltry three…mostly because I like the idea of 3 yo learning to recognize her sisters’ names…
  2. Each child has different colored socks, for sorting ease at laundry time. I’ve also read about mom’s of many children marking a “dot” on the outsides of their sons’ tube socks with a different colored permanent marker for each boy.
  3. Jana keeps a breakfast menu on her refrigerator…they’ve given up breakfast cereals (except for oatmeal) and now everyone knows what to expect Monday-Sunday. And breakfast is at 8:30 am every morning. This keeps her from serving breakfast for two hours as each child wakes up and straggles into the kitchen. She confided in me that she’s recently nixed the morning snack, realizing that a healthy breakfast really will carry a child till lunch. This is true, and I’m going to nip morning snacks in the bud as well. Afternoon snacks are different, the stretch between lunch and supper is quite long and needs broken up, but I’ve found that morning snacks usually work against you when lunch time arrives!
  4. At each meal, Jana would have one or two helpers. Patiently she would show them how to chop potatoes or strawberries, or let them mix up ingredients. Likewise, her husband is so good about varying the children he takes with him to check pasture or ride along to a job site. Each of these six are getting quality mom and dad time.

On child training:

  1. Jana taught her children the “stop, look, and listen” rule. She says they even had a sign up concerning this for a while–most of this type of training she had to do b/c she was starting from scratch on manners with the two foster boys. Basically, the stop/look/listen goal is to teach awareness of conversations going on, to keep the kids from interrupting when adults are conversing. Occasionally when we were chatting, one of the little ones would interrupt, and she’d remind them “Stop, look and listen!” and they’d place a hand on her arm and wait till she was done to speak. (Btw, having your child place their hand on your arm when you are busy talking to someone is a great way for your child to let you know that they need to tell you something w/o them barging in rudely. In turn, you cover their hand with yours so they are reassured that yes, Mom knows you are there, and she will give you her attention as soon as she is done with that thread of conversation. We learned this trick from Gary Ezzo’s Growing Kid’s God’s Way series)
  2. You know how children sometimes chatter non-stop, or keep asking the same question as if they didn’t hear you answer them the first time? Jana has a really unique way of dealing with this, and again, she’s had to figure out ways to crash-train two little boys who had absolutely no training in how to be civilized before they came to live with this family. She has them cover their mouth. For however long it takes for it to sink in that they were running off again. What a concrete way to reinforce self-control that may be lacking in this area.

All in all, I was so impressed at Jana’s training and love for her family. In spite of all her protesting, she and her husband are amazing parents, with incredibly big hearts for God and family. If every child out there had parents half so dedicated and serious about their mission…I only wish we’d had more time there. What I glimpsed was just a drop in the bucket of what this couple’s commitment to the Lord, and to each other is being reflected in each of their children’s lives.

Proof of this? I left there wanting more kiddos. Suddenly everywhere I go I see pregnant women rubbing their bellies or young moms with baby carriers in tow. How can three days spent with a family of eight affect me so strongly? Dimpled, angelic smiles and wholesome happy faces could charm Snow White’s wicked step-mother into changing her M.O. It’s the families with one or two rude, bickering, spoiled children that make so many people want to stop at two. Families like Jana’s are the exception, folks. And I’m convinced with big families, so much more is required of every individual to make things successful, that responsibility, thoughtfulness, and gratitude almost come about naturally.

I want in. How about you?

Back From Vacation

So my hubby springs his vacation plans on me during the week of the stomach-flu from you-know-where (or was it salmonella from tomatoes? we’ll never know…). I had one week to prepare for a 1500 mile round trip camping vacation. Joy! Here I was just thinking we were fortunate to get healthy in time to be of some small help during our church’s Vacation Bible School. But with the help of my dear mom, we were rolling out the weekend after VBS with full coolers of food–enough to last us a week. (More than enough, actually, we finished up the chili dogs just last night)

Our destination? Well, you know how I am with persons/places and things. I’m kind of careful about what I share online, but suffice it to say we went way up North–not quite to Alaska, but… We have friends up there that we haven’t seen in five years, and hubby declared it time! What fun we had, me and my friend Jana and our combined households. It stormed off and on while we were there, so instead of camping, we bedded down in Jana’s living room on her hide-a-bed…which really added more talk-time and helped us to make the most of the visit. Being “rained in” with this family was a treat, believe me!

We did enjoy two nights of camping in perfect weather and gorgeous settings…one lakeside and one creekside, both with great facilities (hot showers, clean bathrooms, awesome playgrounds, freshly mowed campsites!) We picked up two Australian shepherd stockdogs on our way home and picnicked our way across three states and several VERY COOL playground parks! No restaurants and no hotels, and almost all our sightseeing ventures were freebies! Our gas-chugging Suburban averaged 15 miles per gallon loaded down and fighting side winds most of the way, and with gas prices hovering around $3.89/gallon, we paid out less than $350 for gas. Campsites, ice for the two coolers and visiting a Butterfly House combined to total another $40-$50…not too bad for a six day road trip across 1500 miles! Imagine if we’d had a more economical vehicle…but we sure appreciated the room to spread out in the Sub, and the back was packed floor to ceiling with camping gear! Three nights parked at our friends’ home helped bunches too, and that’s where the highlights of our vacation happened!

All in all, a great few days! I don’t have all our pictures developed yet, the ones in this post I happened to take with my digital camera…

Coming up:

Big Families: The Outsider’s Scoop My experience as the guest of a super-mom with six kids

Meatballs with Dill Sauce, Garlic Mashed Red Potatoes, Crockpot Cake and French Toast Breakfast Casserole Super scrumptious recipes my friend made for us during our stay at her home…keepers for SURE!

What to Pack for a Do-It-Yourself Vacation From traveling entertainment to snacks to cooler/ice chest meals, I can’t wait to share what I do and learn all of your tried and true tips!

Campsite Kettle Beans with Bacon and Mushrooms A delicious make-ahead campfire dish, perfect for fourth of July get-togethers

Mega-cooking for Camping Trip

When I mention campsite cooking, I get the same response from almost everybody:

“When I’m on vacation, I don’t want to cook!”

So don’t cook while you’re on vacation, cook ahead of time, like I did, and let your husband do the grilling and reheating! Honestly, our biggest worry was keeping ice in the coolers, the meal-fixing was a cinch.

And look at it this way, if you’re camping, and eating food you would have eaten at home anyway, you’re only out finances-wise for gas and any sightseeing expenditures you decide to splurge on.

Here are a few things I did that would be classified under mega-cooking, in the weeks before our trip:

  • Every time I browned hamburger I put aside some in a container in the freezer. By the time we left I had enough browned meat to use for the biscuits and hamburger gravy.
  • The campsite manager warned us ahead of time that South Dakota nights are cold, so I decided to make chili and beef stew–something to stick to our ribs. I just doubled these meals ahead of time, and stuck the extra portions in the freezer. They reheated great in a cast iron skillet over the campfire.
  • In the same way I baked extra cornbread, muffins and biscuits to accompany our meals. I froze the muffins because I made them 2 weeks prior to our trip. The unfrozen cornbread and biscuits reheated in foil on the grill were as good as fresh from the oven!
  • Take some mixes along…I bought a McCormick’s homestyle white gravy mix that only needed water added. I also took a box of pancake mix that only required water to mix up.

I took some frozen yellow cake, planning to serve it with blackberries and whipped cream. Unfortunately, the gallon-sized bag I had the cake stored in was punctured and let melted ice in…ruined the cake. But we enjoyed the sugared blackberries over crumbled blueberry muffins.

My mom gave me a bagful of clean peanut butter jars…these were perfect for transporting eggs. I cracked them into the jars ahead of time and just stuck them in the cooler. Mix and pour for scrambled eggs to eat plain, or mixed with foil-cooked potatoes, or in breakfast tacos. Then toss the jar!

I also packed canned peaches, grapes, applesauce, raisins/craisins/dried blueberries and way more snack items than we were able to consume. (You just never know with my dh, the self-proclaimed snack king) and took dry cereal along as a breakfast back up.

We had milk that needed used up by its expiration date, so I filled two peanut butter jars up and took them instead of the powdered milk I’d planned on taking. Worked great!

Of course, you’ve got to take along hot dogs and ground meat for hamburgers and my girls’ favorite: MARSHMALLOWS to roast…

We ate well, and had food leftover. And by lining the pans with foil before cooking, I saved myself a lot of clean-up.

Have I convinced you yet? :)

Patriotic Car Songs

faces.jpgI worked hard on our vacation scrapbook yesterday, determined to finish it up this week, and guess what I’m printing off online right now? Yes, my post title kind of gives it away: Patriotic songs.

You see, they were a big part of my childhood traveling days, before portable dvd players became necessities, when families learned relationship skills by having to get along for several more miles of the ABC billboard game or another round of The Minister’s Cat. My family traveled a lot.

While in the car, my mom taught us every patriotic song out there, and we belted them out from sea to shining sea. And she knew the stories behind them also. I’ll never forget our trip to the top of Pike’s Peak, how she told of Katharine Lee Bates, and how a wagon ride to the summit of this mountain stirred her to write the lyrics to the hymn, “America the Beautiful”.

So on our recent trip to the Black Hills we sang. We sang “God Bless The U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood, “Grand Old Flag”, “This Land is Your Land”, “The National Anthem”, “My Country Tis Of Thee”…my eyes are watering justoursuburban.jpg remembering. They’re not just songs, they’re the spoken melody of those moments when we’re so inspired we can’t speak, such as that moment between dusk and dark when Mount Rushmore is illuminated to those that have lingered for the final ceremonies.

As we sang, certain songs brought back memories…for three years my older daughters and their cousin have sung the National Anthem to open the local youth rodeo. My oldest won alternate top blue for singing “This Land is Your Land” at 4H Club Days. We’ll never forget hearing Acappella sing live, and their rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.”

With July 4th right around the corner, why not start teaching your children the great tunes of our nation?

The family car, surrounded by this great country and God’s creation, is a pretty good place to start!

and I’m off to insert these lyrics into our scrapbook…

Needles Highway And Other Sight-Seeing We Enjoyed

theneedles.jpgWe saw Mount Rushmore, even walked the new (to me) Presidential Trail and stayed for the Ranger’s Program at 9 PM. Patriotic and inspiring don’t even do it justice…but interestingly, my favorite part of our trip found us meandering the switchbacks and tunnels and granite spires of Needles Highway. If you ever go to the southwestern corner of South Dakota, you must treat yourself to both Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road.needles.jpg

These scenic routes will both land you in the vicinity of Mount Rushmore, and have many outlooks along the way full of granite outcroppings to clamber upon and around. Great family photo opportunities abound. Sadly, my youngest slept through most of these pleasure jaunts. The best oneedles2.jpgutlook exploring/picture taking we did was on Needles Highway at the outlook between the first two tunnels as you head north on 87. I even marked its location on our map, that’s how much we enjoyed it.

I just have to say that for the money, you can’t beat this area of South Dakota, especially if you’re camping at $15 a night as we were. We took our own food, and gas cost us $287 total for a week away (and remember, we drive a gas-chugging Suburban!). Everything we most enjoyed was free…these highways, and the Wildlife Loop Road we took every morning and night to exit our campground. Even Mount Rushmore is free except for the $8 parking garage fee. The best things aboutimrtunnel.jpg Iron Mountain Road were its pigtail bridges and that all the tunnels framed Mount Rushmore. We also saw plenty of wildlife along the beginning of this route…buffalo families, antelope and their young, etc.

We gave the girls some spending money for the rock shops in Custer, and for the kettle fresh taffy we watched being made at Rushmore Mountain Taffy Shop in Keystone. We visited Cosmos where no one stands straight and balls roll uphill, Bear Country U.S.A. with its hundreds of bears on 250 acres, and Evan’s Plunge a natural hot springs swimming resort that refills itself 13 or more times each day at a rate of 5,000 gallons per minute!

But all those things merely succeeded in wearing us out, fun as they were. I’m so glad we started out that first morning exploring and playing in French Creek near our Bluebell campsite. That and Needles Highway were our personal family favorites.

…it’s hard to see them, but my girls are atop rocks in the two middle pics…

More Camping Pics

South Dakota weather won us over…cold at night, chmarshmallows.jpgilly in the morning and evenings, and hot during the day. Lovely for camping to be able to snuggle down deep into your sleeping bag, and enjoy hot chocolate w/marshmallows first thing in the morning.

This is my youngest daughter and myself on our second morning, note all the gray hair I have at age 31. Strangely, dh loves it. Or so he says…I guess his opinion will save me a bundle in hair coloring and upkeep!

Anyway, that second morning after the hot chocolate, we had biscuits and gravy for breakfast. I’d browned some ground beef at home and frozen it for the journey, and took a packet of McCormick’s Old-Fashioned Homestyle Gravy mix…it was so good I may not ever make hamburger gravy from scratch again! (Except I know it’s much better for us!) At any rate, I highly recommend it for camping, it was one of our fbgbreakfast.jpgavorite breakfasts and very easy. I’d also made biscuits prior to the trip, and I wrapped a bunch of them in foil and placed them on the grill for a few minutes to heat. Yum!

Of course, the girls had to roast marshmallows with every campfire meal!wldflwrreading.jpg

And for a bonus, here’s a picture of my six year old inside our tent. My mom sent two wildflower books along, one with a flower-color directory focusing on varieties of the Black Hills. Fascinating. That’s what dd is reading. You can see she’s wearing her jacket. Like I said, chilly mornings there!

Our First Morning Camping

After harrowing t-storms the night we set up our tent, we woke up to crisp clean air, sunlight filtering through pine trees and no mud to speak of! (Big sigh of relief from this mama!)hike1.jpg

We decided to eat a quick breakfast (I think it was Jessica who recommended buying those small boxes of very sugary cereal and just pouring the milk into the waxed paper cereal pouch? Went over GREAT!) and took off on a morcamplooking.jpgning hike across the hills to an outcropping of rock that overlooked our campsite and the area around us.

What a view…and just the night before, we’d seen elk grazing on this same hillside. Best of all, our height allowed us this very welcome sighikeview.jpght: French Creek!

So we hiked down this incredible creek1.jpgcountryside, hubby with toddler clinging to his back…

And played in the cool waters with thefrenchcreekfun.jpg minnows and crawdads.

When one of our girls slipped and fell with a splash, dh was quick to join her so shechilidogs.jpg‘d laugh it off…

We hiked the horse trail home, feasted on chili dogs and had a family devotion!

A great first morning, wouldn’t you say?

And I’ve got the poison ivy to prove it!

Home Again

We arrived home around midnight Thursday from our South Dakota camping trip! Friday was a blur of unpacking and at least six loads of laundry, hosing out three coolers, chasing away the house-webs that took over during our absence, getting umpteen rolls of film developed…etc.

Yesterday was more laid-back…we three girls worked on our individual photo albums, filling them with our trip-pics. Oldest made peanut butter cookies, 6 yo had to get some crafting in (having gone all week without her fix) so she sewed up a diaper bag for her baby sis. For lunch we had the last of the biscuits I’d taken on the camping trip with hamburger gravy…

Then we threw a couple salads together, cut up a watermelon and made a peaches and cream pie. Marinated some steaks for supper. We had hubby’s parents over for a thank-you meal–they did our animal chores each night the week we were gone.

Our trip was wonderful, btw. We had the bestest of times all around. I’ll catch y’all up eventually. God was sooo good to us! It was one of those trips that you don’t want to endburro.jpg…I even got teary-eyed when I threw the last woodsy-campfire smelling towel in the wash…

Can’t wait to catch up on all your news! In the meantime, isn’t that burro the cutest? My oldest took the pic at Custer State Park. Even the baby burros were friendly…

Happy Sunday to you all!