Monday, April 25, 2011

First time Jammin'

I finally took my first stab at any kind of canning (and this isn't really canning). My parents canned all kinds of good stuff as I was growing up. I remember canning pickles, tomatoes, peaches, pears, applesauce, grape juice (once the grape juice was done wrong and we got something a little stronger than we wanted...good latter day saints makin some wine - by accident of course!) and of course jellies - canned and frozen varieties. I've been married just about 11 years and have never done any of these things. My main excuse was having room enough for it, but that excuse was really only good for about the first 5 or 6 years. Then we moved a whole bunch (Air Force) and I wasn't all that excited about my produce options in Texas (other than lots of great watermelon - who knew, Texas?) When we lived in Maryland I would drive up and visit my parents in NY a lot and steal some of their freezer jam and bring it back with me. Didn't have to do any of the work - just had to make a 5 1/2 hour drive to get it. Totally worth it!

We move here to Cali last summer and didn't get settled in this house until mid August. By then the strawberry season had passed. We have a stand/farm really close to our house and I've been waiting all winter to get my hands on some of these fresh picked strawberries. They are so sweet! So I got the recipe my parents use and got a bunch of strawberries today. Strawberry freezer jam is a pretty simple thing to do. (I'll know for sure tomorrow when we can test it out - it has to set for 24 hrs) Since it was my first go at this I thought I'd take some pics to commemorate it.

First I got everything set up and ready to go, including washing and drying all the containers. I measured out the sugar very precisely (I never do this when I bake but I want this to turn out well) and started mashing the strawberries a little at a time.

I got Maya in on the action too. Since it was my first time I wanted to do most of it, but next year I'm going to have her do more. This is the type of thing I want her to know when she's all grown up.

(She sporting her new glasses, by the way. So cute!)

Once I got the strawberries mashed and mixed with the sugar, I boiled the water and pectin then added it all together. Man, strawberries smell good! My mouth was watering like crazy!

Next we poured it into our containers so they'll be easy to fit in the freezer.

Luke was happy that he could finally get into the strawberries. Here's our finished product.

While I was doing this, Matt and Maya and Luke were out working on our garden project.

Here's the kids by our new berry bushes. (Black, blue and raspberry. I think there's even a boisenberry bush - I've never had a boisenberry before...I think.)

Here's the plants the kids have been growing for the past month or 2. They all started off as little seeds. They love checking them every day and seeing how they are growing. We've got cucumbers, carrots, peas, and different kinds of flowers growing.

Along with some other supplies, we picked up some strawberry and tomato plants to add to the bunch, but these have already been started for us, so we hopefully won't have to wait as long to see the "fruits" of our labors. (I know, stop groaning. I'm aware it's cheesy.)

We're renting this house (since being in the Air Force will only have us here a few years). Our landlord is fantastic and has given us lots of freedom in using this home as our own and we plan on taking great care of it. The only part of the yard that would fit a garden doesn't get any sun. So Matt and Luke have worked hard on building a portable garden bed that won't hurt the yard here and we can do whatever we want with. We'll see how well the plants grow in it.

Luke and Matt mixing the soil and pete moss. Luke and Maya really love far.

(Sorry, these last 2 pics were taken through a window, so they're hazy)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hawaii part 3 (whale watching)

One of the best (and most nerve-wrecking) parts of this trip to Hawaii was our whale watching adventure. (All right fam - throw in the whale jokes done? Moving on then.)

I was pretty excited to go. At first it was going to just be me going with my sisters and my brother and his family. Me... kid-free - can you imagine? Well, it almost happened, but the original day we were going to go got postponed because of high winds; You don't want to go out on the water in high winds. So our reservation got moved to the next day and upgraded to include breakfast. The only reason Matt and the kids weren't coming with me was because of the cost. But we found out that it wouldn't really cost that much more for us all to go b/c Luke and Seth were young enough that they were free. So yay! my fam got to come, but that's why the trip was a little nerve-wrecking. I had an ironclad grip on Seth the entire time and Matt was responsible to hold onto Luke. The overprotective worrywart mom in me didn't want any children overboard.

Because of the Tsunami a few days before the meeting point for the boat was a little drive up to another bay (a long hawaiian word that I'm not even going to attempt to spell out). Because I was calling on the way to make reservations for Matt and the kids, we found out that the meeting point had been changed back to the usual place right near our hotel. The Bay had been cleaned up and opened again. It's a good thing I had to make that call, otherwise we would've been in the wrong place and missed the boat.

Our Catamaran

It was an absolutely gorgeous day for this trip. Luckily no wind which made the trip a lot smoother and easier on those in the family who get sea sick (ah hem...Matt...). As soon as we got out of the bay and on our way to find some whales, some spinner dolphins decided to join us.
Those who know me well know that dolphins are my favorite animal.

There's a dolphin in the water (in the pic under my armpit...see it?)

The crew was really awesome. They were so good with the kids and lots of fun to talk to and learn facts from while we waited for dolphins. One of the guys got Luke (and the rest of us) settled on the nets right up front while we were sailing out so we could see everything.

My sisters, Rach and Kendra

It took a little while before we found some whales. When one was spotted you were seriously supposed to shout "There she blows!" Ha! While waiting to see them we learned lots of cool facts about the whales (humpback) that come to that area each winter. While waiting in the hot sun and floating in the waves, Matt started to not feel so hot. I felt bad for him, but honestly, for me personally, I was in heaven. I LOVE the water and the views and the nice hot sun. They put a microphone in the water and we could hear lots of whales singing down there. It wasn't long after that we found a pod (mother, calf, and male escort/bodyguard).

By the end of our trip, there were pods on all sides of our boat. At one point, the big guy of a whale came swimming and dove right under. It's pretty crazy seeing one of those come right at you. He would've had no problem knocking our boat around.

For the ride back to the bay, the crew put on some Bob Marley and we took it easy enjoying the ride. The picture at the top of this post sums up my favorite view. Is it any wonder that my absolute favorite color is blue?

Seth konked out shortly on our way back. Made for a much more relaxing ride for me. Before I forget: Imagine the sound a whale makes when they surface and clean out the blow hole. Seth recognized it pretty quick and starting making that sound with his lips to point out the whales to me. It was pretty cute (and I thought it was pretty clever).

The crew brought out a conch and let everyone (who wanted to) have a try blowing the conch. (A conch will forever make me think of Lord of the Flies)

I pretty impressed with Maya and Luke who were able to make the conch sound on their first try. Even some adults had trouble with that.

Kendra kept me company while I was taking care of Seth. We jammin'

Our family (mom and dad didn't come because my mom gets really sea sick)

Happy Easter

Happy Easter, Everyone! It turned out to be a beautiful even though it started out gray and drizzling. Maya and I had fun yesterday shopping for Easter dresses. The talks at church were beautiful as was the music. The kids enjoyed waking up and having to find their Easter baskets which the Easter bunny hid. They were full of all kinds of goodies. After Easter dinner we went out and had an easter egg hunt. We used my parents idea and put numbers on the eggs and assigned each kid a number. That way the 2-year-old will find as many eggs as the 8-year-old. The kids had a very exciting time finding the eggs. We emptied the treats into their baskets and took the empty plastic eggs upstairs to the toy room to play a game with them. The video of the ensuing craziness is in the previous post. Love and miss all of our family on these holidays!

Happy Easter!!

All Hopped Up

Happy Easter!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hawaii part 2

Waipio Valley

[These posts won't go in order of when we did everything in Hawaii.]

Like I said previously, after the tsunami passed, the rest of the vacation was amazing. I had mentioned before that I hadn't told people we were coming. It was so fun to surprise them. My parents and my sisters arrived 2 days after us. We decided to meet them in the lobby. When they finally pulled up, my little family hung back while my brother's family went and said hi. Then Matt and my kids and I held hands and quietly walked toward the front of the lobby where they were. The lobby is open front and back to the outside. So the sun was behind us which was nice, because we were able to get nice and close before they could see our faces. My sister Rachel noticed us first and came and tackled me with a great big hug. Then Kendra noticed Maya and she realized what was happening and came and tackled me as well. I got the reactions I hoped for. It was so fun!

Now on to our hiking adventures. We figured that on Sunday after church we would drive to the green side of the island and see some sites. The first place we drove to was Akaka Falls. Total hike time to get there and back to the cars (including stopping for pictures) was only about 30 minutes. They had a paved path and fence up (which made me feel better about my little ones hiking with us) so it wasn't a difficult hike, though there were a lot of steps.

Kendra walking with me and Seth. I was a little cranky at the beginning of the hike and she helped cheer me up.

It was a really pretty hike.

Once we got to the falls, instead of checking out the amazing views, the kids needed to check out the amazing climbing opportunities - a big old tree stump.

Akaka Falls

Left to right, back row then front: Me, Kendra, Rachel, Jason (with Blaine on his back), Maya, Bethany, Andrew, and Tyler

I don't know if Luke was just making a sily face for the camera or it was his reaction to some of the smooching pictures Matt and I had just taken.

After Akaka Falls we decided to stop on the way back and see Waipio Valley. (I hope I spelled it right.) I believe these are the valleys they shot for Jurassic Park scenery.

View from the parking area

Hanging out with my honey while the kids run up the crazy, steep hill

Me and my sister-in-law Tiffany

While I was chasing after Luke down the insane hill, my sister Rachel was the lucky one who got to hold a very cranky Seth for me.

All in all it was a beautiful day. I was content to have gotten some hiking and site seeing done and was happy to spend the rest of the vacation playing on the beaches. Those posts will be next. We have hundreds of pictures from this vacation so I'll post some more like I did this one and then I may do a slideshow for the sake of time and ease.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hawaii part 1 (Tsunami)

This may take a few posts, but I'm finally getting around to documenting out trip to Hawaii. We've been home for 2 weeks and I want to get this posted before I forget details.

It was an absolutely amazing trip - but what trip to Hawaii isn't?? After waking up at 4 am to get everything in car, including kids, we had a relatively smooth trip to Hawaii. Flights were on time and the kids did well. We flew from Oakland CA to Honolulu HI then took a short flight from Oahu to the Big Island, landing at Kona Airport. Kona is the cutest little airport. Everything is outdoor, gates and all and it's right on the coast so you get to enjoy the view of the pacific as soon as you get there. Before this trip we had only been to the island of Oahu (and we LOVE that island), so we were excited to try out a new island. The Big Island is very different than Oahu. Obviously, it's much bigger, but the terrain is very different too. I believe it's the youngest of all the islands and it has the world's most active volcano, which has been errupting since the early 1980s. We stayed on the dry side of the Island. The Hilo side is very wet and rain foresty. So we got the best of both world's - lot's of sun at our resort and then we drove to the beautiful greenery on the other side of the island. All that will come later with pictures.

This was our view driving from the airport to our condos. These are lava flows. I believe this is the area of the island where the famous Ironman triathlon takes place.

So we got there without problems, until we got to the rental car place. We made the mistake of being the last ones off the shuttle, so we were the last ones on line to get our car. Then when Matt finally got up to the counter, they had no record of our rental order on their computer. We had one printed out as proof. In return for the mistake, they gave us an upgrade at a discounted rate and didn't charge us a per diem for a second driver which was nice. The reason I'm telling you this seemingly insignificant detail is that have the bigger car (a minivan instead of a sedan) came in very useful the next day. SO, we got our rental car and after a trip to Costco (since we had the extra room with our luggage in the minivan) we headed to our condo. Gorgeous 2 bedroom luxury condo with full kitchen and granite counter tops, 2 baths and 2 bedrooms plus a pullout sofa for a very amazing price. The only problem was the AC was very finnicky and we coud not get it working that first night, so as exhausted as we were, I did not sleep well in our 80 degree condo.

We were very excited about this trip because the only people who knew we were coming on the trip were my parents. My brother and his family was going to be there along with 2 of my younger sisters. I was pretty proud of myself for holding out and not telling them. The surprise was totally worth it. We knew which condo my brother and his family was going to be staying in and my dad had mentioned they would be flying out the same day. So the next morning we had Maya and Luke go up to their door and knock and they were supposed to say they couldn't find their parents. I thought it would be hilarious to see how long it took for my brother to recognize my kids. So the kids do this and I don't hear any reaction from whoever opened the door. So I walk around the corner into view and see a strange older asian guy standing in the doorway looking very confused. So embarrassing. I apologize and we head out not sure if there's another B-4 in the condos. Turns out my brother and his family weren't checking in til later that day. The asian guy checked out that morning. So we did the surprise later when we saw them hanging out on their back lanai. I sent my kids running over and the surprise was fantastic. My brother was shocked just asking "My sister's here? Jenny's here?" So great and my kids had a blast with their cousins. The last time they'd seen each other was almost 3 years ago - the last time we were in Hawaii together.

It's a good thing my brother and his family were there because that night was the night of the Earthquake near Japan.

We had tucked the kids in bed. I had spent the evening organizing the condo and was settling in my bed to read a book. I turned on the TV about 8:30 and saw the live news coverage of the earthquake and tsunami. Within half and hour the Hawaiian Islands were under a Tsunami warning.

With our condos being right near the beach we started packing our things (that I had just finished organizing) and loading the nice big minivan with our luggage, food and water and lots of blankets and pillows. We carried Luke and Seth out to the car, but made Maya walk. I was struggling to get her up, so I tried to explain what was happening. I started with the wrong sentence. I said "Maya, there was an earthquake." Her eyes popped open and I quickly realized my mistake and assured that the earthquake happened far away, but there might be a big wave called a tsunami coming, so we need to leave the condo.

The tsunami was expected to hit around 3 am. We followed my brother and his in-laws (who knew the island well - they own the condo my brother's fam was staying in) up to first a bank and grocery store [sidenote: My brother's father-in-law went in the grocery store to buy food and water in case it's a disaster here on the island. He's loading up on sandwiches and water bottles while every else on line at the store has armloads of beer!] Then we followed them up to a church building in Waimea, up high in the mountain - a 30 minute drive away from the beach. Luckily the missionaries live in a house on the church property and they opened the building for us to use. That gave us bathrooms which was very nice. We took our pillows and blankets and a few couch cushions for the kids to sleep on and hunkered down for the night. It took another hour or so to get Seth back to sleep.

This is where we spent the night. Grateful for the safety and shelter, but I got no sleep on the hard concrete floor.

We set our phone alarm for 2:45 so we could go turn on the radio in the car and listen to what was happening. Matt went out while I stayed with the kids. After a few minutes, the tsunami sirens were going. They lasted quite a while. Matt came back and said that Japan was devastated. My heart broke in that instant. Regardless of what was going on with us, we were safe. We had warning. I'd already seen horrible footage before we evacuated. I truly hurt for Japan. At about 7am we headed back to the condo. Our resort was unharmed. Though the big Island stayed under tsunami warning for most of the day. The was some damage at different parts of the island. A few homes destroyed and a couple of hotels. Near us, the only damage that I know of was to "A' Bay" (It's a big long Hawaiian word that starts with A so it's called A bay)

A bay is backed by the Marriott resort. Across the street, inland, is the King's shops and then our condos are behind those. The morning before the earthquake we played on A bay. I saw a few humpback whales breach on the horizon and had a wonderful 1st morning on the island. A bay was closed to the public for a couple of days while they cleaned it up and made sure it was safe. Below are pictures of the damage. A bay was a semicircle beach. As you can see in the picture below to the left, ocean water is now freely coming in where there used to be beach. Behind the beach was a wall that separated the beach from some ponds. That wall was destroyed as are the ponds. The picture below to the right shows that ponds, drained and freely mixed with ocean, which is bad because is was a delicate habitat for the animals that had been living in them.

The picture below is from the pond area facing out toward the ocean. The wall is washed away and the ocean water is flowing through.

This was our experience with the Tsunami. I hope to never have another one. I'm grateful for our safety and that we had a place to go.

After 3 nights of no sleep (travel, no AC, then tsunami evacuation) I was so excited to finally get some sleep.

The rest of our trip was nice and uneventful disaster wise. Now that I've documented our experience with the tsunami, next I'll post with all the pretty and fun "vacation" pics.

The Kids