THINGS TO DO NEAR BEND, OREGON. RAINFORESTS and OLD GROWTH GROVES with MY CHILDREN!

THINGS TO DO NEAR BEND, OREGON. RAINFORESTS and OLD GROWTH GROVES with MY CHILDREN!

Do you ever just pack up your kids, get in your car and start driving? You have a general idea of where you’re going, but nothing more. That’s what I did this Wednesday. I’m becoming increasingly less timid taking my 9 month old and 2 year old out on “adult-like” adventures by myself.

I wanted to revisit the Willamette National Forest (a lush rainforest–almost tropical) and also the Santiam River.The Santiam River has been whispering my name since our last visit. We crossed the Santiam Pass back in May on our drive to the Oregon coast and drove right next to the Santiam river.

Perhaps, one of the most inviting rivers I have ever seen. Sparkling water of various depths weaves over a rock and clay river bed. Every twist and turn of this river has interesting features, like deep blue pools of water (perfect swimming holes!) or stretches of river with a smooth, clay covered bottom. It is densely vegetated in this rainforest and the trees that flank the banks are cloaked in moss.

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The problem with this river– and perhaps why it’s so pristine– is that it fairly hard to find a spot on the side of the road to park. Even more, it’s difficult to find any trails to navigate down to it. It’s not accessible in most places. I guess you could forge your way through a densely vegetated drop-off to reach the river–but with a baby in the front pack and a toddler, there was no way I was trying that. Honestly though, the day was so hot and the bright sunshine was cajoling us to the river so we found another, safer spot to splash:

 

I also wanted to scamper into the Hackleman Old Growth Grove with my children. And we did. These Old Growth trees were unreal… simply magical. I would highly recommend taking your children (of all ages) on this trail–its even (partly) wheel chair and stroller accessible. Even on a hot day you have plenty of shade from all the trees overhead and a nice breeze too. It feels cool in the forest on a hot day!

The best part? We basically had the hiking path to ourselves. What a glorious day seeing nature, past and present.

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The Willamette National Forest:

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COLD BREW COFFEE RECIPE and PAINTING GAUGUIN’S, “THE YELLOW CHRIST”.

COLD BREW COFFEE RECIPE and PAINTING GAUGUIN’S, “THE YELLOW CHRIST”.

This week has been one heck of a ride. Lot’s to be excited about and lots of future adventures on the horizon that I’ll be blogging about. I’ve been doing some “copying” lately with regards to recipes and, well, famous paintings. Learn from the best right? Sometimes creativity is playing around with other people’s ideas–make sure and give them ALL THE CREDIT, of course.

Another thing…I failed at a scratch banana cream pie. I noticed that I had extra whip cream and some bananas (about to go bad), so why not attempt it? It turns out that cooking custard and getting a desirable consistency is something only genius cooks with arcane culinary and mathematical skills can master.

Here is my pie. But I won’t ruin your moment and display the runny, slushy middle. It tasted AMAZING. Impeccable freshness with a deliciously thick homemade graham cracker crust. However, the consistency of the filling was WAAAY off–even after allowing it to set for 6 hours uncovered in the fridge.

Making a “firm enough” custard filling is one of those precarious situations. You better not undercook or overcook it and it has to be done accurately within 5-7 minutes on your stovetop. You have to stir rapidly during the boiling process (no distractions or multi-tasking). Oh, and don’t let your custard brown on the bottom of the pan during your 5-7 minute boil. It’s very difficult to achieve a decent result because the parameters are so strict. Don’t accidentally scramble the eggs either–you’ll get lumps.

I don’t want any liability or litigation, so I won’t be posting this banana cream pie recipe here. I will give the taste of this pie an A+ but the consistency an F–it was very creamy (no lumps) but it just wasn’t firm enough. My daughter keeps asking for more–so we’ll be eating it over the next couple days.

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After my pie failure, I decided to go for something easier. How about cold brewed coffee? I had been skimming over the Pioneer Woman’s cookbook and noticed her recipe. I basically followed her General Plan for iced coffee.

I used a very dark coffee bean (Rwandan Coffee beans) and ground them up. Then I scooped 3 large cups of my freshly ground coffee and dumped them into a glass bowl.

Next, I poured 6 cups of COLD water over the coffee grounds and gave it a quick mix with a spoon. Finally, I covered it in plastic wrap, set it on the counter top and let it brew for over 12 hours.

Once the 12 hours were up, I found a bigger glass bowl, a sieve and some paper towels. I strained the ground coffee mixture through the sieve and about 2-5 layers of paper towels (yes, this will take a bit of patience but I promise it works as a PERFECT FILTER and I didn’t get a single stray coffee ground in my final brew!

 

I poured the cold brewed coffee into a juice dispenser and let it chill in the fridge over night. My only regret is that I didn’t make enough!

Let me tell you, this is the BEST CHILLED/ICED/COLD-BREW COFFEE I’VE EVER TASTED!

Just fill a glass with ice cubes, decant your brewed coffee into the icy mix and dribble in some half and half and a spoonful of sugar (or don’t). Either way, its just luscious!

I thought that the dark roast would be too-overpowering, but it wasn’t at all. It just tasted rich…deeply flavored even after a splash of half and half.

Another thing that I’ve been doing this past month is trying to paint, “The Yellow Christ” by Paul Gauguin. The Yellow Christ has always been one of my favorite paintings of all time. I just find the color scheme breathtakingly original. Gauguin is definitely one of my favorite painters–one of his paintings sold for 300 million in 2015–just to give you some perspective of his classic popularity and talent.

Here is my version:

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We’re also working on another acrylic painting (this one, 100% my own idea) with my little painting helper beside me!

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Boxed Brownies For Imbeciles!!!

Boxed Brownies For Imbeciles!!!

I apologize if my brownie blog post conjures up feelings of oppression or triggers anxiety. I’m happy for you if you’ve already mastered the astute skill of boxed brownie making and I’m not sure I can offer anything in this post.

This post is actually for ME! Because I’m incompetent when it comes to brownie-making. I’m posting it here so that I can refer to it for my future brownie-baking endeavors.

I’m 37 years old. I’ve never, ever made decent brownies to save a squirrel. I’ve tried baking them from scratch. I’ve tried making every possible boxed brownie mix I could find but never any success. NEVER.

Like many, my problem isn’t with flavor (who can’t add a few marshmallows, chocolate chips, nuts or whatever–as if that’s brilliant?). My failure has always been with texture…consistency…how they swim and melt on my palate. In the end, the brilliance is in the baking.

I always make brownies either A. Undercooked or B. So hard and tough that you feel like you’re eating beef jerky.

THE TWO THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT MAKING BOXED BROWNIES?

Over the past few months I’ve been doing some brownie research. Why does this ALWAYS happen to me? I’ve discovered that there are a couple reasons.

The first thing that I kept coming across was that in order to achieve a chewy, gooey texture with adequate density and thickness (but still baked properly) you need to make a double batch (2 boxes of brownie mix) and bake in a 9×13 aluminum pan!

The second thing is to mix the wet ingredients separately, add them to the dry ingredients, and let your mixer swirl the ingredients for just a few seconds–just until they are imperfectly wet and mixed. If you beat the ingredients too long, your brownie batter develops air pockets and makes the texture more like a cake than a brownie.

Today I finally made brownies that tasted delicious, but even better–had the correct “brownie-texture” once I followed these simple rules:

  1. Use 2 boxes of brownie mix. I used this one:

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2. Double all your ingredients as per your box (obviously, you’re using 2 boxes).

3. Mix the wet ingredients separately and completely.

4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and beat with mixer just until mixed.

5. Smear a decent layer of vegetable oil all over a 9×13 aluminum pan.

6. Pour brownie batter into super greasy pan.

7. Heat oven to 325 degrees.

8. Bake the brownies for 50-53 minutes. I baked mine for 51 minutes and they turned out perfectly gooey inside with a crackly top.

8. Let your brownies cool (and continue to cook in pan) for over 1 hour after you pull them out of the oven. I cut mine after about 2.5 hours.

They are still gooey inside but sufficiently baked! This has been my struggle!! Finally I have a decent brownie plan for future brownie creations.

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Practice Writing Every day! Use your Blog to do it!

Practice Writing Every day! Use your Blog to do it!

We’ve all heard it before, “Good writers write frequently, they practice and sharpen their writing skills by writing 500–sometimes 1000-1,500 words each day”. Practice makes perfect.

Stephen King makes 40 million dollars a year for his wordsmithing, and guess what? He writes 1000-2000 words every single day. He’s been doing this for decades, so if anyone’s getting practice writing, he certainly is! Is it any wonder that the people who succeed are getting practice daily?

Nothing comes for free. Not even talent– because it must be continually refined and updated and this takes time of course, precious time that you could be spending elsewhere. You’re going to have to get good at trying… attempting to write and doing it regularly. And you’re going to have to get good at being brave.

Now, here’s an idea, how about using your personal (or public) blog space to practice your own writing? You certainly don’t have to scribe your inner-most thoughts every single day or post anything too controversial that might turn you into a public pariah, but you can find something to blather about.  I know you can.

If you haven’t noticed, this is exactly what I do here on this blog! I’ve committed myself to once-a-week blogging (which is writing, right?). My ultimate goal for this blog is posting 3 times each week. Do you have any long-term goals for your blog?

There are these random thoughts that come to me while I’m unloading the dishwasher. Sometimes they come while lying in bed just before sleep impales my brain. Perhaps a stranger makes a crass remark in a parking lot. More often than not, it is movement–physical movement–that triggers a cascade of thoughts. As writers, we all need a cascade of thoughts.  We need a supply of input in order to have ANY output. Ironically, now that I have two children, I’m moving so much more and my thoughts are swirling but I have less time to write. These thoughts are the jewels that need to be mined.

In my mind I can think of the two most important things for bloggers:

  1. Posting weekly/regularly.
  2. HAVING CONTENT–you NEED something to write about, to babble about that has the potential to draw a reader or arouse curiosity.

People are unable to blog because of the 2 reasons I listed above. I promise. That’s it!

The content part is the biggie. There are far too many people out there who are worried to write because they HAVE FEARS ABOUT THEIR CONTENT. They worry about how they are perceived. They worry that:

A. they look like they complain too much.

B. they look like they’re bragging/being a show-off

C. they’re making too many (public) errors in their writing.

D. they’re writing is too inane.

E. they’ll leave some indelible mark on the internet so that people can, at some point in the distant future, point to what they wrote and say, :”hahaha, you wrote that piece of crap. You suck”.

F. People will think they’re mentally unstable

How about, who cares? None of these reasons are legitimate reasons for the passionate writer/thinker/creator. In fact, all of the above are great avenues for writing from time to time. Eventually you’ll find other topics to explore, but generating content is definitely going to be the thing you struggle with, so don’t let any of the thoughts above halt your progress if you happen to go into such territory.

Now how about a link with advice from an experienced writer to those of us beginners? Here you go:

Why is Stephen King so successful at writing?

How To Stop Being a Perfectionist (when you become a Mom)?!?

How To Stop Being a Perfectionist (when you become a Mom)?!?

It’s difficult, I know. Maintaining general order in as many areas as you could attempt was that one thing keeping you sane, giving you some sense of comfort and control. You didn’t realize the sense of relief you derived from an organized, uncluttered, esthetically pleasing environment. You are a type A, an ambitious, non-time waster. You accomplish things and make plans. You’re not one of these people who allows messes to build-up. You don’t follow the crowd but chart your own course through life.

Alas, no more. Messes are strewn throughout every corner of your home. Whenever you make a laborious, time-consuming initiative to straighten one space, you’re being taken down in another– often 2-3 steps back. Your tot is creating havoc in every possible dimension with the help of a pair of gooey hands.

Meanwhile, you get to enjoy the non-stop screaming chorus put forth by your 6 month old. You’re frantically trying to remove objects that could trip anyone. You can barely think.

You’re not embarking on any kind of major “spring cleaning” adventure. You’re only trying to make your surroundings safe and prevent an ER visit. That’s it. If you had any spare moments you would be doing the have-to’s: diaper changing 2 kids, meal preparation, folding laundry, taking out all the garbages, vacuuming the entire house, filing the baby’s (longish) fingernails, taking a shower, …even these activities would provide a glimmer of hope that you’re succeeding at something.

Tony Robbin’s aptly said, “Happiness is Progress”. But it’s so hard…because you’re not getting this feeling of progress. Ever. And to make matters worse, you’re a perfectionist so this is kind of your M.O. You live for the feeling of progress. Here is a picture of our mantel: This is how I think of perfection…or, my-kind of perfection, at least. Ahhh, this is what I like.

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And this is my kind of imperfection–our house when we first moved in. Stuff everywhere, in disarray. And, to be honest, there are many days where it looks like this ALL OVER AGAIN. This is what I don’t like. My cortisol levels

I often like to joke, “How does one torture a modern, western woman?” ANSWER: You prevent her from accomplishing anything. No career for you, young lady. We will just give you some money “to get by on” and you can clean up all these messes over and over again and you won’t have to learn anything new. Bonus, we’ll bring you fast food and prevent you from exercising.” NOW THIS IS TORMENT.

Joking aside, How can I ever get away from this incessant, mind-overtaking need to be a perfectionist…to get things done and done perfectly? I honestly don’t know. I’m trying different strategies right now. .. everyday. What to do…what not to do.

I guess what I’ve learned about myself is that I do many things for my own psychological comfort– not because they are that necessary. I want to learn as much as a I can because I want to have the skills and education to fall back on if I were to need them. We all are lucky and unlucky at different points in our lives. It’s easy to assume that you’ll always be lucky or that you’ll always be unlucky. You’ll probably cross back and forth on that road a few times in life.

I’ve recently decided to turn down my perfectionism a few notches. That is, I pick one (maybe two) areas where I allow myself to be a perfectionist. It’s important for us perfectionist-types to have at least 1 area where we can still manage our perfectionism–otherwise, things seem so chaotic to our brains that we can’t even think. For me it’s floors. I hate dirty floors. So I let myself vacuum frequently; every other day for sure…sometimes every day. The other area that I’m committing myself to (besides occasionally taking care of the children) is exercise.

So that’s it. I had to set some limits. I give myself 2 areas to be a perfectionist and try to let the rest go until I have more time in my life. Once I get more time, you can bet that I’ll be crazy.