Sunday, October 11, 2015


My middle child had a birthday this week.  Luke, blond as a Viking (their blood does, indeed, flow in his veins), obsessed with fishing, a natural athlete and musician, with lots of fire under his butt (yep, just like his mother), turned eleven.  He is really starting to come into his own, his puppy energy maturing into something deeper, steadier, but no less energetic.  I really like who he is becoming.

Here he is holding fishing spoons he received as a gift, made with silver and gold, which apparently attracts the right kind of fish (it works for me, too, since I love everything glittery and have hoarded such things like a magpie ever since I was a little girl).  Watch out, Luke, your mother will steal your fishing gear while you are sleeping!

He also got waders for fishing, and whipping cream, which is to be sprayed directly in one's mouth in our family.  Yep, that's how we roll.

For his birthday party he invited two of his closest friends.  They spent three (plus) hours watching football at a restaurant, since we don't have TV, and afterwards went home to play football in our yard.  As I'm writing this, I hear lots of cheering and smacking (of footballs, and not heads, I hope).

I adore these preteen boys.  They have known each other since birth and are such good buddies, growing into gangly thoughtful young men, and the best thing is that they still think we adults are kind of cool.  There is not too much eye rolling going on.  Yet.

In other news of the week, we went on a family biking trip to Samish Island, which started with breakfast at a famous bakery, then commenced with blue skies, blue water, and lots of pedaling (little Eva on the ride-behind bike).

Later on, because we were having such a good time, we headed to Padilla Bay, a lovely research facility in a vast estuary providing education and research.  Their exhibits are fabulous and kid friendly, and some of the hiking paths sport lovely views of Puget Sound in one direction, and Mount Baker in the other.

If I were a cow, I would want to graze with a view like that.  See snowcapped Mount Baker in the background?

Other activities this week revolved around autumnal walks in the neighborhood, and COFFEE!!!  I am now officially a coffee drinker, a habit I kicked 20 years ago, but somehow started again a couple of weeks ago.  I love it.  I love the taste, and I love how happy it makes me feel.  I also love milking the goats in the morning and adding a few squirts of milk straight from the teat into my cup.  That's deluxe country living right there.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

How to make elderberry syrup - a great medicine (and preventative) for colds and flu

I love making medicine. Growing and putting food by (because food is medicine), cultivating medicinal herbs, making tinctures and salves, collecting and drying wild plants for teas... it makes my heart sing, and it saves a lot of money.

Elderberries are amazing medicine with anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticancer superpowers. Besides lots of flavonoids and free radical-butt-kicking antioxidants, elderberries contain 87 percent of the daily value in vitamin C, and huge levels of vitamin A, potassium, iron, vitamin B6, fiber, and betacarotene.

Here are some of this plant's uses: treating conjunctivitis, cold and flu symptoms, reducing congestion, relieving arthritis pain, soothing upset stomachs, relieving gas, and using for detoxification.

Wow, right?

It's very important to only use the blue elderberries, not red ones, because they can be toxic (as well as green and unripe ones).

Last week, my sons and I picked a bunch of elderberries after our mother-and-sons backpacking adventure. Elderberries thrive on the East side of the Cascade Mountains, and I almost drove our minivan into a ditch when I spotted them on the side of the road. The branches were bending with big clusters of bright blue berries, and it was easy to snap off the stalks just below the clusters. (Leave some for the birds, though, okay?).

Let me show you how we make these berries into potent elderberry syrup, and keep in mind that doing it yourself saves you a substantial amount of money. Just go the a natural food store and compare the high price of a small bottle of elderberry syrup to the money you spend making your own. It's so worth it!

You need:
- Elderberries (fresh or dried - if using dried you can buy them at Mountain Rose Herbs or Frontier)

- Fresh ginger, grated (1 Tablespoon per cup of berries) or dried ginger (1 teaspoon per cup of berries)

- Ground cinnamon (1 teaspoon per cup of berries)

- Raw Honey (1/2 cup per cup of berries)

- Water (1 cup of water to 1 cup of fresh berries, or 2 cups of water to 1 cup of dried berries).

Okay, let's get started, shall we?

It's a bit of a job separating the tiny berries from the stems. Kai and Eva helped me, which made the job faster and funner. You just kind of rake the berries off the stems by holding them between your thumb and forefinger and pushing downward. Don't worry about smooshing the berries too much - it's okay. Also, don't worry about some of the stems staying on. You will strain everything through cheesecloth later, so you don't need to be too obsessive about this.

Our harvesting frenzy amounted to 8 cups of berries, which made two and a half quarts of finished syrup.  That's 10 cups of medicine, folks!  Yeah!

Put the berries into a pot and add water.  Here is the ratio: use 1 cup of water to 1 cup of fresh berries, or 2 cups of water to 1 cup of dried berries. 

Grate fresh ginger (1 Tablespoon per 1 cup of berries) or use dried ginger (1 teaspoon per 1 cup of berries) and add it to the pot of berries and water.

Add ground cinnamon (1 teaspoon per 1 cup of berries).

Now comes the witchy, steaming kettle part: boil this until it has reduced by half.  It took me an hour to get there.  Make sure it's boiling nicely, not just simmering shyly.  Don't put a lid on the affair, because you want steam to escape.

After it has reduced by half, let it cool, then strain it through cheesecloth.  Squeeze the hell out of it so you get every part of the liquid stuff.

Then add the honey (1/2 cup of honey per 1 cup of berries).  Do not put the honey in when you boil everything, since that kills of a lot of the good stuff in the honey.  Also, obviously don't feed this to infants, since they shouldn't consume honey. 

Look!  Isn't it pretty?  And healthy?  And oh so sweet?

During cold and flu season, adults can take one Tablespoon of elderberry syrup per day, and children can take one teaspoon.  You could take this as a preventative by consuming the same amount above every single hour when you start feeling sick. 

Store this in the fridge!

Friday, October 2, 2015

Mother and sons only

Three years ago I started an annual tradition with my sons: a mother and sons backpacking trip.  This is a time for bonding without their Dad or little sister around, a time to be macho with their mother, hauling heavy packs up mountain tops and sleeping there in the wild.  It's a time for uninterrupted time together, without chores, schoolwork, computers or a whiny little sister.  It's a time when we hang out for hours and hours during the day and evenings when it gets dark early, time to talk without distractions like electricity.  You'd be surprised what topics come up.  I learned about a truth or dare game they had played at a sleepover with several friends months earlier, and truth be told, I wish my boys had not revealed some of the dares to me on this year's mother and sons trip.  I think they felt okay to do so, sitting by a river in the safety of darkness.

Alas.  I'm glad they trusted me enough to tell me about them.  I tried not to be too shocked by their confessions, and I shall keep them private and not tell you about them.  

This year's trip found us on Heather and Maple Pass, a gorgeous 7.5 mile hike with unbelievable fall scenery.

Actually, we didn't haul our tent up there because, upon checking in with a ranger a few days before the trip, I learned that camping is not allowed up there.  The day before, I experienced the telltale signs of cramping and realized that backpacking this time of the month wouldn't be a great idea anyway.  So after the hike, we found a place to camp on the Chewuch River, which was too low for fishing in after a year of drought.  

It was a cold night.  We woke up to 28 degrees and discovered Kai's socks frozen outside of the tent.

We made up for the fishing that day.  First, we tried our luck at Patterson Lake, but without a boat to find the deeper places, our fishing poles stayed slack with no trout in sight.

After a beautiful hike up to Patterson Mountain, we went to Pearrygin State Park to fish in the lake there.  Still, no luck.  Oh well... we are salmon fisherfolk after all... And trout or no trout, it was still beautiful to be bathed in light by the lake, fishing, or in my case, knitting.

In case you are curious about our crazy adventures, here are the blog entries of the previous three years' of mother and sons getaways.

Last year's bike trip
Skyline Divide two years ago
Cutthroat Pass three years ago

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fishing fever, or "Why my sons hugged their weeping mother at the river"

I have a new addiction: fishing.  Wait!!!  Before you roll your eyes and turn away from this blog post, thinking "booooooring", or "I don't want to look at a bunch of dead fish", bear with me for a minute, will ya?

It started with Lukas, my ten-year-old son.  He caught the fishing fever.  Bad.  Then it hit his Dad, my wilderness-mountain-man-husband Steve, because he had to keep up with his fish-obsessed son.  Our twelve-year-old son Kai is kind of into fishing, but not as whole-heartedly and obsessively as the other menfolk in our family.

They keep bringing home salmon from their fishing excursions, which I either make into a delicious dinner, smothered in olive oil and garlic, or Steve transforms into heavenly smoked salmon.

One day, I tagged along with Kai and Luke and got curious.  I threw the fishing line in a few times, dreamily admiring the scenery.  Then a fish bit the lure.  Fish on!!!  What a rush!  I shrieked for help, and Lukas sprinted to my side, coaching me on exactly what to do.  When I landed the beautiful fish, Luke asked me if I wanted to kill it.  It somehow felt important that I did.  When it was over, I cried.  Both my sons fell into my arms, held me and reassured me what a great job I did.

So why do I fish?  Yes, it's great to provide fresh meat for dinner.  Yes, it's wonderful to breathe fresh air by a wild and scenic river.  But really?  I fish so I can spend time with my sons, to let them mentor me in a craft I don't know much about, to feel their arms around me when I succeed, to hear them cheer me on and encourage me.  I love these boys of mine.  And yes, I love the salmon, too.

Lukas, the master fisherman
Kai with a big one

Steve with his huge silver salmon

The scenery, as I already mentioned, is breathtaking around here.  There is early morning mist, there are spring-like downpours drenching us and sun heating us up minutes later, there are rainbows blessing our hunt for salmon, and there's little Eva, bless her heart, patiently playing in the sand while the rest of the family fishes. 

I keep winking at the boys as we reel in our fishing lines, telling them, "You could be sitting in school right now."  They roll their eyes at me, but I know they are grateful NOT to be sitting in school right now.

We did start up our homeschooling schedule, though.  They have to do formal schoolwork for about three hours in the morning (unless we are fishing, ahem, then they have to do school work in the afternoon).

With fishing homeschooling in full swing, life is busy.  Since the days are shorter and it gets darker sooner, I do get quite a bit of knitting done.  Eva asked me to knit her a mouse, so I did.  And I just finished a lovely hat for myself, to keep my ears warm at the river.

Let me leave you with a heart full of gratitude for Mother Nature.  How blessed we are to live in the boonies.