A year in review (Christmas newsletter with photos)

Family Picture

This is the picture we ended up sending out this year with our Christmas cards.

As I look back over the past year, there are several things that stand out in my mind. The first is: God is so good to us! Second: Family is an amazing gift that should never be taken for granted. Third: Friends are also an amazing gift that should never be taken for granted, and there are many friends we have missed dearly over the past year! Fourth and last of all: We feel privileged every day to live in such a beautiful place as we work and play and get to know more folks around the community.

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Our beautiful hills and hometown!

The last year has brought a lot of challenges and growth to our family. We have been through thick and thin together with Christopher’s parents, and through it all we have managed to forge much deeper and stronger relationships all around. We have done a whole lot of work and had a whole lot of fun together!

Our home business (computer consulting) has gotten off to a somewhat slow, but quality, start and we are feeling very hopeful about being able to stay in the area and become a permanent part of the community. This year we participated in the Christmas parade and handed out business cards and candy to help spread our name around town. Word of mouth is incredible in such a small town!

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Our first parade float! Yes, those ARE computer monitors mounted on the toolbox. High-tech, isn’t it!?

Thomas, Ellie and Mariah have grown like weeds…in height as well as personality! Thomas is sharp as a whip and more than ready to start schooling. He knows all his letters and numbers and is beginning to spell words and add numbers together in his head. He LOVES games of any kind and is always begging us to play War, Stinko, Monopoly Jr. or Mario with him. He’ll be so happy when the girls are old enough to play with him (and so will we)!

Thomas Tied to the Dock @ Campbel2

Ellie and Mariah have really come a long way since last year. They are different from each other in almost every way, except they both give great hugs and kisses, cause lots of trouble, and keep us laughing all the time. They are inseparable and it is amazing to watch as they learn to communicate with each other. Both girls can communicate very well and are learning to say a lot of new words….although Ellie is a few steps ahead of her little sis.

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Not crazy about having pictures taken, but at least they have each other to hold onto (and those ever handy thumbs)! Aren’t they sweet?

Christopher has been working hard over the year laying the groundwork for the home business, doing odd jobs to help pay the bills, and making sure everything stays in tip-top shape around the house.

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Of course, we have to take a break from the work and do some sightseeing! This was taken at Selway Falls.

My main job has been to keep the kids occupied and quiet during office hours (no easy task), help with the cooking and cleaning, and try to keep the morale high around the place. During the summer I started getting up early in the morning and going fishing with Gary (my father-in-law) to enjoy some peace and quiet before the day started. It turned out to be a tremendous help in relieving stress, and I was quickly hooked (no pun intended) for life! The fishing slowed down when the weather turned cold, but we still go out occasionally to try to beat the cabin fever while we wait for spring.

Gary & Anna tap out at the pond in an hour

One of many enjoyable fishing trips with “Dad” at a nearby pond!

We’ve taken some major steps forward this year and we’re anxious to see what is in store for us next year!

Trailer Living: Going on 8 months (and still nearly sane!)

When I first started blogging, I assumed I would be writing a whole lot about our new lifestyle in a 28′ trailer. It seemed like there would be all kinds of adventures to share as we adjusted to our new way of life and I would have an endless supply of stories to write about.

But, as always, I find myself looking back in amazement at just how quickly we adjusted to our new life and how “normal” it now seems! After more than 7 months, we have really learned a lot about patience and contentment and learning to let each day take care of its own troubles. When we first moved into the trailer last February, we dealt with cold temperatures and the necessity of keeping a propane heater running almost all of the time. Besides the cost of propane adding up, the heater also took a great big chunk of space on my ONE counter top and caused me a lot of grief every time I tried to cook or wash dishes (which is just about all day long)!

Lots of action goes on around here!

Although it looks nice and cozy, this space starts feeling real crowded after awhile!

(Not only did we deal with the cold, but also a feeling of being “cut off from the world” as we adjusted to having no electricity and no full-time internet.)

I rejoiced when the nighttime temperatures started rising and we were able to do without the heater! Finally, I had my counter back and I no longer needed to dress the kids in 2-3 layers of pajamas as if we were camping every night.

Next we were blessed with a month or two of moderate spring weather and life began to feel downright normal! I finally got the hang of my little trailer oven and started baking regularly, as well as gardening a little and getting some reading done. Trailer living really wasn’t so bad!

Trailer life

Springtime oasis. Nice, right?

By July, summer had really hit and the temperature was getting up into the upper 90’s. By noon our trailer was often up to about 90 degrees inside, rising to about 98 degrees by late afternoon. Ouch! Thankfully, we have been blessed with excellent “neighbors” and have spent many hot summer afternoons at Christopher’s parents house enjoying the air conditioning and cartoons (to keep the kids busy), not to mention the excellent company! We often share meals together and help each other out as much as possible, which greatly eases the burden of our situation.

We finally started getting used to the summer juggling act when the weather decided to take another turn. We seemingly have passed from summer into winter and now we are dealing abruptly with cooler temperatures again. Nighttime has started feeling quite bit like camping and we have finally had to bring the heater back onto the counter again….NO!! But, we know we will make it and we try to take the time to appreciate all the little things along the way. Now instead of enjoying afternoons in front of the air conditioner, we enjoy sitting in front of a toasty fire. There is so much to be thankful for and, despite all the stress that quickly piles up, we feel so blessed to be together through it all!

Flaky Butter Pie Crust (nearly foolproof)!

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If you don’t like making pie crusts or have never been able to get them quite right, then this recipe is for you. It is delicious, fast, easy to make, and contains none of that nasty shortening stuff!

The butter in this crust gives it a great flavor, and when properly prepared, will yield delicious, flaky crusts every time. The best part is, this recipe makes enough dough for 4 single crusts so you can always freeze some for later. This dough is great for all pies and turnovers and works especially well for homemade pop tarts (recipe coming soon)!

Before you start, here are some tips to help you achieve a perfectly flaky crust every time:

  • Be sure to use very cold butter, and don’t cut it in too finely. A flaky crust is created during baking when the chunks of butter heat up and melt, leaving little pockets of crispy, buttery amazingness throughout the crust. Cut in the butter until it is evenly distributed throughout the dough and the largest pieces are about the size of peas. 
  • Be sure to use ice water when indicated to help the butter harden up when mixing.
  • It is always a good idea to chill the dough before rolling it out. It gives the butter a chance to harden up (again) and makes the dough less sticky.
  • Store the prepared crust in the fridge until it is ready to fill. Basically, the point is to keep the butter firm at all times until it finally goes into the oven.

 

Flaky Butter Pie Crust (nearly foolproof)!
 
Prep time
Total time
 
Be sure to give yourself an extra hour of prep time for chilling; two hours for a pre-baked crust. Chilling could be omitted if you are in a hurry, but the crust won't be quite as flaky.
Serves: 4 single crusts
Ingredients
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1½ cups cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup ice water
Instructions
  1. Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or very clean fingers until the largest pieces are the size of peas.
  2. Whisk the vinegar, egg and ice-cold water together in a small bowl and add to the flour mixture. Toss the mixture lightly with a fork just until combined. (The dough should hold together when pressed, but not be sticky. If too dry, add water a teaspoonful at a time and continue to toss the mixture with a fork until evenly moist.)
  3. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and gently press to form a dough. Divide the dough into four equal parts and press each part into a disc. Wrap in plastic and chill for about one hour before rolling out.
  4. Use for pies, turnovers or homemade pop tarts. Freezes well double-wrapped.
  5. For a pre-baked crust: Preheat oven to 425° . Roll out crust and place it in the pie pan. Crimp the edges or use a fork to make a simple decorative edge. Prick the bottom and sides of the crust generously with a fork. Take a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper and press it into the pie pan, gently pushing it right up against the pastry. Fill the pan with pie weights or dried beans to help the crust keep its shape. Bake the crust for 20 minutes, then remove it from the oven and take out the foil and weights. Lower oven temperature to 375° and bake the crust an additional 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely before filling.

 

House for sale, Kids at play!

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The time has finally come! After months of remodeling, Christopher’s parents house is finally up for sale! The papers have been signed and yesterday a fancy new sign was pounded in at the end of the driveway.

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The “fancy” new sign.

The outside of the house has been improved greatly, although not as drastically as the inside. That deserves a whole post of its own!

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Beautiful house and grounds. If you are interested, call the number on the sign! 😉

We are excited to see what will happen next and hoping the next place we land will be permanent! We really want to stay in this area and it’s only a matter of finding the right place for the right price.

In the meantime, our little family has been trying to get through the summer without scorching too bad in our little trailer! With thin walls and little insulation, the trailer has a tendency to stay close to whatever the temperature is outside. We had quite a few 90+ degree days over the past few weeks and that meant a very toasty trailer! We combat the heat by spending as much time as possible outside in the shade or over at the house where there is air conditioning. Sometimes we crack and just turn the generator on so we can enjoy some AC in the trailer for a little while!

Here’s what the kids have been up to lately:

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Thomas is proud of his plum harvest!

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Mariah thinks Thomas’s boots are just her size, but apparently she doesn’t appreciate being photographed in them!

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Thomas shared his plum with Ellie. She’s not sure whether she should thank him or not.

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Playing “train” to liven up the walk back home!

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My little forager snacking on some red clover.

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My other little forager enjoying plantain!

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Ellie’s not a big fan of greens and prefers to hide behind them instead. Peek-a-boo!

Happy Father’s Day! Father-in-law special

When I was growing up, Father’s Day wasn’t much of a red-letter day for me. You see, my dad passed away nearly twenty years ago when I was a little thing of 4 years old. I have no memories of the grief that must have gone on at that time, and in many ways I am thankful I was young enough to be so little affected by the loss.

Thankfully, I was very close with my mom and 4 older siblings and had a very enjoyable childhood. It was a  happy time filled with great memories and I don’t remember particularly feeling like I was missing out on anything. That is, until I got a little older. During my teen years, I really began to feel like something was missing from my life. I knew my heavenly Father was more than adequate to supply all of my needs, but at the same time I really craved having a father figure in my life who I could look to for guidance and wisdom….and love.

(Although no one can replace the position of a father, I do want to acknowledge the amazing job my mom and brothers did in fulfilling some of the roles a father would have played in my life. Besides, this is not a story about what I lost, but what I have gained!)

When I married my husband nearly 5 years ago, I married into an amazing family that has become very dear to me. Not only did I gain an awesome (and hilarious) brother and sweet mother-in-law (who has become one of my closest friends), I also gained the one thing in life I have missed more than anything; a father.

Now it is true that we don’t have a lifetime of memories together like a real father/daughter would, and I certainly didn’t inherit his love for spaghetti or his git-r-done spirit. But when it comes down to it, I can’t imagine having any more love and respect for a real father than I have for my father-in-law, or more confidence in his character and abilities. He is a remarkable man and I am proud to be able to call him “Dad!”

So here’s to you, Dad, and to all the fathers-in-law out there who fill a special place in their daughter-in-law’s heart and make them feel like their own. Happy Father’s Day!

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Me and my “new” Dad on my wedding day!

Honey Sweetened Strawberry Jam

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I have always had this habit of substituting or cutting back sugar in recipes. I guess it could be considered a good habit, although occasionally producing less-than-perfect results! Most recipes do fine with much less sugar, but there are some types of recipes that do not take too well to adjustments. Jams and jellies generally fall in the latter category, since most jam-gelling agents rely on sugar to thicken and it is necessary to use several cups of sugar in relatively small batches. I’m just not cool with that.

Thankfully, there is another option! When I first started making jam I heard about Pomona’s Pectin, a jam thickener that relies on a combination of pectin and calcium to thicken instead of sugar. Because of this, the amount of sugar can be reduced considerably and even substituted for honey or another sweetener. I love having that sort of power(mwahaha)!

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Pomona’s Pectin can be purchased at most health food stores or larger grocery stores that have a health food aisle, or ordered online (I usually order mine from Azure Standard). I have been completely happy with this pectin over the years and haven’t bothered trying anything else. An instruction sheet with recipes and canning instructions is included in every box of Pomona’s Pectin, so you really should just skip the rest of this post and go buy some already! The following recipe is my own adaption from the original recipe and instructions.

Honey Sweetened Strawberry Jam
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This recipe is super easy and the results are delicious! Mildly sweet and very fruity, it is perfect on toast or served hot over waffles. Makes about 2 pints.
Serves: 4 cups
Ingredients
  • 4 cups mashed strawberries, fresh or frozen
  • 2 teaspoons calcium water
  • ½ cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons Pomona's Pectin
Instructions
  1. First, open your box of Pomona's Pectin and find the smaller packet that contains the calcium. Combine ½ teaspoon of the calcium with ½ cup water in a small jar. Store in fridge between uses.
  2. Place the mashed berries in a medium saucepan and add 2 teaspoons of calcium water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. Meanwhile, mix 2 teaspoons of pectin (from the big packet) with the honey in a small bowl.
  4. Add to the boiling fruit and stir well for 2 minutes to evenly distribute the pectin. Bring the mixture back to a boil and remove from heat. The jam will thicken after cooling completely.
  5. May be preserved by canning or freezing, or stored in the fridge and eaten within a week or two.

 

Summer Jobs, Yard Sales, and Kids!

The past few weeks, things have really been starting to look up for us as we continue to get out into the community and meet more people in the area. Through connections in our church and new friends we recently met through the local homeschool group, we have not only met some great people, but also got referrals for some lawn mowing jobs throughout the summer. With several mowing jobs a week, Christopher will be bringing in some much appreciated income while still having plenty of time to invest in helping his dad with the home remodel and building their computer business. His dad is also starting to help him with the mowing jobs and they are becoming quite the team! It has been great to have so many opportunities to work together as a family.

Yard Sales!

Another thing I am finding out is, despite the size of the community, the yard sales and thrift stores around here are pretty amazing! The selection and prices are great and I have been able to find a lot of things at just the time I needed them, as well as a lot of things I didn’t know I needed until I saw them! My most exciting recent finds include a USPS postal scale (which I needed) for $3 and a super cool bottle capper for my homemade soda-making experiments (something I didn’t know I needed until I saw it) for $2!

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A few useful tools: The bottle capper with plenty of unused caps, and a nice 10 lb. postal scale.

Kids

As for the kids, they are doing great and causing as much mayhem as they possibly can! :-) Since it has been getting pretty hot during the day, we have been letting them play with the hose and fill containers with water for dipping their hands in (and drinking, unfortunately). They think that is the greatest thing!

Here are some pictures of the kids from the past week. Gotta keep the Grandmas happy!

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Mariah looking….chubby!

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“Huh?”

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Thomas happily helping Papa put tools away in the shed.

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Mama’s little girls!

 

Adventures of a newbie gardener; Buying and planting!

Now that Spring is in full swing I have been spending a lot of time thinking and reading about gardening. And actually doing some gardening, too! I started off with the best of intentions, as always. As a beginner, I told myself I would only plant a few things in containers and wouldn’t overdo it. Lettuce and tomatoes is all I would grow, I said. And maybe some carrots. And perhaps just a bit of herbage. And maybe just a few potatoes, I said.

Now I’m still not even sure how it happened. I WAS being good, you know. Just a couple of tomato plants and some lettuce growing. Then I was in town one day and saw a sign; “Greenhouse liquidation sale. All plants 1/2 off!” That’s the last thing I remember. When I got home, there were no less than 5 plants in the back of my Jeep! Strange, you say? That’s what I said!!

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This is how my windowsill looked last week. From left to right we’ve got zucchini, cherry tomato, fenugreek sprouts, baby watermelon, lettuce, cucumber, Jerusalem artichoke, chili pepper and pizza pepper plants.

Thankfully, I have plenty of helpers to help me get these things planted!

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Ellie is always delighted to push the wheelbarrow!

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These girls are great helpers when it comes to filling things with dirt!

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Thomas likes to help out by watering the blackberries. And his face.

After giving myself a good scolding for buying so many plants, I went back to the greenhouse with my Mother-in-law and we bought some more zucchini, tomato, and pepper plants. Now that we’ve got most of them planted I’m starting to regret that I didn’t buy more! Sometimes I get greedy like that. Maybe after I get the last few starts planted in their permanent containers I will reward myself with a few more zucchini plants. And another pepper plant or two. Wait, what am I saying??

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My most exciting and unusual plant of the year; Jerusalem artichoke. It is a member of the sunflower family and grows very tall with yellow flowers blooming at the top. The roots are edible and taste somewhat like artichokes. Cool, huh?

Anyway, while the poor cucumber, pepper and tomato plants wait patiently to be transplanted, I have been focusing my attentions on the little garden area in front of the pad where our trailer is parked. It’s a neat little area with some well-established bushes and plants, and now a zucchini plant and Jerusalem artichoke have been added to the scenery. I also put in some peppermint starts and wildflower seeds recently and am anxiously awaiting the results! I can’t wait to see how it will transform throughout the summer as I continue to weed it out and add new things.

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My little garden. Any suggestions for improvements?

Now it would be a good idea for me to start focusing my energy on ensuring a good crop from my tomato and pepper plants. I would love to hear everyone’s suggestions for the best inexpensive fertilizers for organic gardens. In the meantime I will try out some fish fertilizer and see how my plants do!

So, what are you growing this year?

 

Simple Homemade Sandwich Bread Recipe

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Do you eat regular white or “whole wheat” bread from the store? If you do, please don’t! Do you know that almost all commercial bread is filled with preservatives and dough conditioners to keep it looking soft and fresh for longer? And did you know that one common dough conditioner listed as L-cysteine is often manufactured from human hair (from China, no less)? Sound appetizing yet? Makes you wonder what else could be lurking in that loaf. That’s not even to mention all the other cheap ingredients used which make the loaf entirely devoid of any nutritional value!

My most basic rule of thumb when I am buying groceries is this: If you cannot pronounce an ingredient and/or do not know what it is, then do not buy it OR eat it! Unfortunately, bread rarely gets by that rule unless you can find a nice expensive loaf in the health food section. Thankfully, you can make your own bread at home for less cost and the satisfaction of knowing exactly what goes into it!

The following recipe is one I have used and adapted for years and it consistently produces a nice, light loaf that is great for sandwiches! Although I do recommend gearing towards more nutritious traditional methods of preparing grain such as soaking, sprouting or sourdough, I still see this homemade bread as a huge step up from the sad options at the grocery store! I use it as a stand-in when I want a lighter taste or when I’m too lazy to sprout some grain or figure out why my sourdough starter isn’t working properly.

Recently I figured the cost of the ingredients to be somewhere around $2 per batch, which comes out to a whole .67 per loaf! Not too bad, eh?

Note: If you are new to making bread from scratch, don’t let the detailed instructions intimidate you! Making bread is so easy once you get a feel for it. At first you will want to make it when you know you will be home for the afternoon, but eventually you can figure out ways to make it work around your schedule. It is worth it!

Simple Homemade Sandwich Bread Recipe
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Prep time includes the approximate rising time, although that time can vary a bit depending on how warm the rising area is. Makes 3 loaves.
Ingredients
  • 3 cups warm water (warm to the touch but not hot, approx 105 degrees)
  • 2 Tablespoons (or two pkgs.) active dry yeast
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar or honey
  • 5 cups unbleached white flour
  • ¼ cup oil or melted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar or honey
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4+ cups of whole wheat flour (hard white wheat makes a nice light loaf)
Instructions
  1. Heat water until it feels warm to the touch (too hot and it will kill the yeast, too cold and it will not activate as quickly). Add to the yeast and sugar (or honey) in a large bowl and stir to dissolve. Add in the 5 cups of white flour and stir well until the mixture is a nice moist mash. Leave the mixture to rest and rise for 20 minutes.
  2. Add the oil, sugar and salt and mix well. Add the whole wheat flour one cup at a time until it becomes very difficult to mix, then continue to mix and knead with clean hands until the dough pulls together into a ball. Dump onto a well floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or so, adding more flour as needed, until you have a nice soft dough that is slightly tacky but not sticky. (If you round the dough into a ball, it should hold its shape and only relax slightly.) Oil a clean bowl and set the ball of dough in it upside down, then flip over to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise. (In the oven with the light on works great if you can remember not to preheat it while the dough is in there!)
  3. After the dough has doubled in size (about 1-1½ hours), press down and divide into 3 parts. Shape each part into a nice tight loaf. Grease three 4x9" loaf pans and place the shaped loaves inside. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise.
  4. When the loaves are nearly doubled in size (about 30-60 minutes), preheat the oven to 350. Place the risen loaves in the preheated oven, being sure to leave some space between each pan. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the tops and sides of the loaves are nicely browned and they sound hollow when thumped. Let rest in pans for about 10 minutes, then remove to racks to cool. Dig in and enjoy! Makes great sandwiches for the first 2-3 days, French toast and grilled sandwiches after that, and then great breadcrumbs and croutons! Freezes well double-wrapped.

 

Good Times:The Buttermilk Festival and Park Days!

Last week and the previous weekend we have had some opportunities to get out in the community and have some fun! This being our first Spring in our new community, we have a lot of events to learn about and people to meet. The first event in the Spring is the Buttermilk Festival, an annual fundraiser put on by the Kiwanis Club. So, we packed a lunch and went to check this thing out.

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Ellie was thrilled to ride in on Daddy’s shoulders!

By the time we got there, most of the fun was already over. The buttermilk pancake breakfast was over, and “Babe” the giant steer was nowhere to be seen. But there was live music and a lot of neat local vendor booths (not to mention free food samples) and we enjoyed wandering around and checking everything out. In the end I think we wound up spending most of our time eating and admiring the Clearwater River.

Believe it or not, the only picture we got of the actual event is this one:

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The backside of the park stage and some of the vendor booths.

Going on at the same time as the Buttermilk Festival was the annual community yard sale, so we spent the morning walking around town, checking out all the sales. It was great fun, but we didn’t find anything too exciting. I guess maybe we should have skipped the sales in favor of the buttermilk pancakes and the giant steer!

On Sunday we took the kids to the park after church. They always have fun there! Mariah loves playing in the sand and Ellie likes to swing and explore. Thomas likes to do just about everything but I think the slides are his favorite! We managed to get them all to pose (sort of) for one good picture:

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While we were there we met some really neat homeschool families and had a nice time visiting and getting to know some of them a little bit. Thomas met a little girl about his age and they spent hours playing “house” under the slide. He was so excited to finally make a friend here! The girls also met a few toddlers close to their age and Mariah really hit it off with one of the little boys. That is, until he hit her in the head with a basketball. It was an accident (I think) or possibly revenge, because Mariah out-toddled him to the ball to begin with. Either way, they patched things up fairly quickly and their friendship continued.

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Mariah having fun in the sand, before meeting her little friend.

On Thursday we went to the park again (lucky kids) and this time I brought a ball for them to play with. All the kicking, throwing and running helped them burn off quite a bit of energy, and It was extremely entertaining for me to watch them as they tried to learn new coordination skills!

100_8043 100_8046Unfortunately, Thomas didn’t make it into any of the pictures since he was always in action. Maybe next time I can get him to pose for a photo or two!

Here are some pictures of the park so you can see why we like to go there so often!

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Great playground for the kids!

And a playground toy featuring the story of Noah's Ark.

And a playground toy featuring the story of Noah’s Ark.

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Plenty of swings (this is only half of them).

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This river makes the park beautiful and relaxing!

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And I can’t fail to mention the awesome tile work on the restroom walls!

There’s even a basketball court and a sand volleyball court! But do you want to know the best thing of all about this park?

The adorable kids who often show up weekly!

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