Adventure Day in the Rockies

I’ve just about lost track of the number of times I’ve been to Denver, CO but it’s somewhere around 15 or 16 times.  When I was in college, I went to Denver with the Penn State Livestock Judging Team to judge in the collegiate contest at the National Western Stock Show.  Through a college internship with the USDA’s Ag Marketing Service, I went back out to Denver to tour Harper Feedlots (lamb feedlot) and the JBS Lamb Plant.  The rest of my trips to Denver were with my role at the Northeast Beef Promotion Initiative since Denver is home to our national counterpart, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association as well as the Cattlemen’s Beef Board.  I only mention this because while I’ve been a frequent visitor to Denver, I’ve NEVER experienced the gem in Denver’s back yard- the Rocky Mountain National Park.  Last week, on yet again another trip to Denver, my co-worker (Hey Jen!) and I FINALLY got the chance to visit the mountains!  *Note: As it should be, this blog post is heavy on photos and light on text…the photos will speak for themselves.

Our ‘entrance’ into the park took us through Estes Park, CO- a cute little touristy town at the base of the Rockies.  We blazed through the actual town or Estes Park since we had the mountains on our mind and we only had one day to explore.  The base of the Rocky’s was a beautiful mix of wooded forests and open meadows.

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We drove down to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, near Bear Lake and hiked to Alberta Falls (above).  We also saw a few of these little friends at the base of the Rocky’s– the “Steller’s Jay.”

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So– we found this fun road on our way back from Bear Lake and thought, heck- 11 miles on a narrow single-lane dirt road that’s only open from July 4th until September to reach 12,000 elevation, let’s do it!  We were in a rental car after all and if we wanted to summit a 12,000 foot mountain in a handful of hours, driving was the way to go.

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The base of the mountain was sunny and nearly 80 degrees.  The summit was overcast, windy and in the low 50s.  BURR!!  We did make it a priority to run around on the snow and make snowballs- my July is now complete!

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I had the strong urge to sing “The hills are alive, with the sound of music”…for obvious reasons.

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Ahh- now the trip was REALLY complete– Elk!

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Rocky Mountains– we WILL meet again, this 1-day tour was just a tease and I’m anxious to go back and explore more of you!

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Boilermaker 15K

The weekend was a whirlwind…and for me, it started on Thursday.  For the 6th time, I drove up to Utica, NY for the Boilermaker 5K and 15K road race.  For about the past 8 years, the New York Beef Industry Council has sponsored the race and has had a rather large spread in the health and fitness expo the two days leading up to the race.  At the expo, they typically have various booths dedicated to educating the attendees about the many nutritional benefits of beef, how to confidently cook and prepare it and recipes and meal solutions to get them started.  This year, I primarily helped at the ‘Protein Challenge‘ booth and chatted with runners and their families about protein and how not all proteins are created equal.  Lean beef for example provides 25 grams of protein in a neat 154 calorie package per 3 ounce serving.  Quinoa is a good source of protein for the grain/carbohydrate family but you’ll end up eating 666 calories in 3 cups to also get 25 grams of protein.  We also compared edamame, black beans and peanut butter, all of which are commonly considered decent sources of protein.  Considering the caloric cost of your protein is really important to do if you’re striving to consume 25 grams of protein at breakfast AND lunch AND dinner (which we ARE supposed to do by the way!).  Meat and dairy products generally pack a powerful load of protein, vitamins and minerals with a low caloric cost.  (Just stuff to think about!)

Sunday morning was the 5 and 15K races.  I happily consumed a burger with sweet potato fries for dinner the evening before the race.  I was after all running again as a proud member of Team Beef.  Nearly 80 other Team Beef runners were also participating in the races Sunday morning.  The 15K started at 8:00am…which is too late on a hot July morning for my liking.  I made sure to stay hydrated the days leading up to the race and the morning of.  I didn’t pass up too many ice and water stations along the course either.  My goal leading up to the 15K was to maintain an 8:20 average pace.  I figured that was realistic considering my previous course PR was at an 8:40 average pace.  I knew the first half was going to be hilly so as long as I could hold a steady pace for the first half, I could potentially make up time over the second half of the race.  To my surprise, I was cruising along at a comfortably faster than expected pace just about every time I glanced at my watch.  [Mile1: 8:25, Mile 2: 8:04, Mile 3: 8:18, Mile 4: 8:40, Mile 5: 7:27, Mile 6: 7:36, Mile 7: 8:05, Mile 8: 7:50, Mile 9: 8:02, Last 0.3: 7:43]  I ended with an 8:02 average pace!!  Big surprise for me and a PR of 1:16:01.  I started to get a side stitch with 0.3 miles to go, but thankfully at that point, the race is basically over.  Mission accomplished!

And yes, I did have steak for dinner after the race…and a beautiful steak it was!

Other Team Beef runners– how have your races been going?  Training for anything coming up later this summer or fall?

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2 Miles to Go

I had a bit of a mental tussle going on within me early Saturday morning.  I was running along a single track trail through the Pine Grove State Park with about 100 other trail runners.  For the majority of the race, runners were one in front of the other and there was little if any visibility of the runners ahead of you given the winding and weaving nature of the trail.  For the first 3 miles I was closely trailing my sister at a fairly sustainable pace.  I made the mistake of letting her drift on ahead of me thinking in a few miles I would reel her in along with a few other female runners ahead of me.  I was pacing myself I thought.  She trained for short, faster distances while I trained for longer distance at a conservative pace.  She might not be able to sustain the current pace for long.  I knew I needed to be conservative during the first half of the race to let my weeks of long runs pay off when my endurance mattered more than my speed.

I don’t know why, but for the last 6-8 weeks, I was super focused on beating my sister in this particular trail race. I was a little too focused on beating her and my training reflected that.  I logged more miles building up to the race and was intentional about pushing the pace on the shorter mid-distance runs.  I started the morning of the race fairly confident that I had done what was necessary to really be competitive with her.  I knew I needed to run my own race and keep my own pace and be patient during the first half of the run.

Around mile 9 the mental tussling began…and it was caused by an annoyingly persistent and rather painful side stitch.  (Not something I believe God intentionally gave me as punishment but rather something he allowed to happen to me with the intention for it to further refine my character if I was open enough to Him working inside of me.)  I knew the best way to shake a side stitch was to just keep running through it so that’s exactly what I did.  My pace certainly suffered but I knew I had to keep running to shake it and then hopefully regain some lost time.  When it became pretty apparent that the stitch would follow me to the finish and that I had no shot of catching back up, I started to run through a laundry list of mopey thoughts.  “Who am I kidding, I can’t beat my sister.”  “How silly to think I could have held her pace the entire race.”  “She’s my twin, I should totally be able to do what she’s doing!”  “Those stupid crunches and squats were literally for nothing.”  “Those extra miles logged during training were worthless.” In addition to the self-defeating thoughts, had to fight some shameful jealousy toward my sister.  (What am I, a 6 year old girl again?–grow up!)  I had about 2 miles to trust God to transform my bum attitude and finish the race truly be happy for my sister (who was the 1st place female finisher!)

DSC_0096I needed to replace my selfishness with thankfulness and as experience has taught me, I knew I wasn’t capable of that kind of selflessness on my own.  I needed God to graciously redirect the object of my focus- off of me and onto Him.  “Thank you God for this beautiful morning in the woods.”  “Thank you for the strong legs and lungs to get me this far.”  “Thank you for my sister and the time we can spend together.”  “Give me the strength to finish my race.”  “Help me be truly grateful and joyful for her success today.”  I had to stop thinking about myself and start thinking about who God is and the work He’s doing in me.  I had to be less concerned with the results and more reflective of the journey I was on- the journey throughout training as well as the morning of the race.

I finished the race and was super thankful when it was over.  I was (and still am) really proud of my sister’s first ever 1st place finish.  We have a few more races lined up for the remainder of the year and am looking forward to some more healthy competition with a dose of character building and spiritual growth along the way.

A Garden of Thriving Life

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Looks like a typical garden, right.  Big deal.  People grow gardens all over the world for a variety of reasons.  The difference with this garden is that I can claim it as mine.  To me, its a big deal!  I have the honor, pleasure and responsibility of nurturing along the life in this garden until winter comes and the growing season ends.  Living on my husband’s parents farm for the time being has enabled us the pleasure of being ‘masters’ of the garden this year while my mother-in-law takes some time off.  She established the garden plots and cared for the soil leading up to this spring.  This year, the full responsibility is on us.

In the foreground of this garden, (left to right) you can see kale, green leaf lettuce, carrots, red beets and rhubarb.  Further back are broccoli, spinach, parsnips, celery and various herbs.  Even further back you can see kaleidoscope lettuce, more carrots, yellow beets and lavender.  And far far back, tiny rows of sprouting sweet corn.  A month ago the corn patch was lush, thick grass.  We tilled it up and pulled the grass clumps out by hand on a still, hot day.  Later this summer, that former patch of ‘yard’ will produce sweet ears of corn!  This is the lower garden.

Onto the upper garden.

(Photo below) In late April, a rather abnormal hail storm pelted the farm.  This is what the upper garden looked like after the storm.  Basically nothing.  A few established strawberry plants in the front right corner licking their wounds from the hail storm and a broken greenhouse box.  In the very top half, you can see our mounds of dirt containing the red and white potatoes and yellow onion bulbs.  Nothing has sprouted yet from these mounds but underneath the soil, they’re working their magic…and probably giving a sigh of relief that they hadn’t sprouted to witness the hail pelt the berries.

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(Below)- here we are about a month later in late May.  It was a dry May in Central PA so we actually had to water the gardens every evening. In the top half of the garden, you can see the potatoes and onions really taking off.  In the next few rows are our little tomato and pepper plants we started by seed in late March (indoors!).

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(Below) and here we are in mid-June!  Thankfully, God has graciously been doing our watering the last few weeks and everything is continuing to grow nicely.  The potatoes in the top half of the garden have blossoms, the onions are really getting mature, the tomato plants are so large we need to ‘cage’ them to support their size and the peppers…well, of all of our garden plants, the peppers seem to be in no hurry to mature.  The peppers can’t seem to graduate from nursery school.

The strawberry plants made a full recovery from the hail storm and are now producing a steady quantity of about 5 quarts every other day.  We even doubled the strawberry patch this year with the new sprouts to the left of the mature patch.  (The bricks in the patch are holding down the bird netting to protect the vulnerable berries.)  I can’t say with any degree of certainty, but I think the mockingbird conveniently showed up last week because the strawberries started to ripen.  That mockingbird, by the way, made his formal introduction to me in the middle of the night sometime last week and has been proudly singing his mockingbird songs ever since.

DSC_0112I am really looking forward to when all of the tilling, watering and weeding produces fresh produce for us to share with our families and friends.  Yes, it will be nice to have fresh green beans and tomatoes in a few weeks/months for our evening dinners but I’m really looking forward to when our labor pays off enough to bless others with the return.  There is also something extremely rewarding about watching life thrive.  The seed turns into a tender sprout and then a spindly and awkward young plant and ultimately a mature, hardy, produce-bearing plant.  From start to finish, we’re able to witness the life of those seeds thrive and bear fruit.  Watching our sheep thrive has been equally enjoyable and rewarding this spring.

In a way, I think the joy from watching a life thrive is mirrored off of our Creator, God.  He designed life.  He breaths life into everything living.  He nurtures life.  Without him, creation simply wouldn’t be.  Our Savior, Jesus, came “that we may have life, and have it to the full.” -John 10:10.  He takes great pleasure in watching His creation grow and thrive and that same desire is mirrored onto His creation.  We’ve also been able to watch broken life become redeemed.  The hail storm that thumped the early garden growth didn’t last long.  Life has a incredible will to…well…live.  These tough garden plants have a determined will to live, facing anything short of actual death.  Jesus wants to redeem our broken and empty lives and transform us into a thriving life overflowing with His grace that we can then pour out onto others.  Am I a thriving life?  Are you?

DIY Steaks

Heavens!  What is a beef lover to do when the price of beef at the grocery store rises an intimidating amount from a year ago?  Eat less?–no thanks.  I’m a 20-40 mile a week runner and my body craves protein and iron.  Get resourceful?–YES!  I can be thrifty when I put my mind to it.  YouTube is a great resource for just about anything ‘How To,” including how to cut steaks from a whole beef subprimal.  A few months ago, I tackled my first beef strip loin in my itty bitty kitchen.

DSC_0001I had a few reasons to tackle this project.  The primary reason was actually convenience.  (Tricked you, you thought it was going to be cost!)  Really though, I wanted a super convenient way to eat small steaks on a routine basis.  I don’t want a big ole’ steak for dinner, I want a ‘perfect portion’ that I can include with my meal.  Some grocery stores offer the convenience of these smaller portions of steak but generally, you are going to pay for the extra labor of them bringing you the luxury of that convenience.  I’m not talking the small beef tenderloin filets in the meat case (they’re the gem of the beef animal but they’re really costly) and I’m also not talking about those little eye of round steaks you see (opposite of a gem, they’re super tough and lean…no offense beef round lovers!)  I was after a tender whole muscle that wasn’t going to break the bank.  (So yes, reason # 2 is cost)  Hello Beef Top/Strip Loin!

For starters– find a source for your beef top (or strip) loin.  This is going to be a 18-20 pound beef ‘subprimal’ meaning it is subsection of the beef loin.  NY Strip Steaks are a common cut from this particular subprimal.  You can read on the label that I bought a ‘semi-boneless’ strip loin.  (I couldn’t get it from Giant Eagle boneless)  The overall price per pound is less expensive but it did yield more waste in the form of bone and fat.  No matter–we have a DOG and she loves bones!DSC_0002

When you bring this hunk of beef home, make sure you have a solid hour of uninterrupted time.  Knock it out as quickly as you can since you’re cutting fresh meat and you don’t want it to be out of refrigeration very long.

Clean a large surface (I used my kitchen table with a large cutting board on top) and have some paper towels on hand.  When you remove the beef from the vacuum-sealed bag, there will be some liquids to whip off of the beef.

Also be sure to have two large bowls, the first for the waste fat and bone and the second for your trim (good muscle that is trimmed from the subprimal that will end up as stir-fry meat unless you have a grinder.)  Lastly, make sure you have a good knife!

DSC_0004This was the end of my beef strip loin.  You can see rib bones on the top.  My first mission was to peel those rib bones away from the loin muscle.  This was a slow process but if you’re patient, you can do it.  (Again–buy a boneless loin if you can!)

The beef ribs I pulled off made our very sweet dog very giddy.  She proudly trotted her new prize into the center of the yard and nursed it for the rest of the afternoon…keeping a keen eye on anything or anyone possibly interested in stealing her prize.

DSC_0005 Ok–bone is off!  You’ll find a decent fat covering all of the outside of the beef loin.  Depending on the grade of beef you’re cutting there could be more or less fat.  Again, patiently start working the fat off of the beef loin.  There will also be some ‘silver skin’ or tough connective tissue surrounding the muscle, cut that off as well.

When all my trimming was done, I ended up with 3.12 pounds of fat and 4.0 pounds of bone from the 18.32 pound beef loin.  (Yes- I’m a geek with a kitchen scale!)  I also ended up with a little over 1 pound of trim that was saved for stir-fry.

With your beef loin all trimmed up (photo to the right) you’ll be able to start cutting steaks.  I sliced the entire loin vertically down the middle so I had to fairly even sides.  From those two sides, little 3-5 ounce steaks were sliced.  Mine were all about 1 inch thick.  I was able to get 36 little 3-5 ounce steaks from this loin. (photo below) To me, those are perfect little portions, fit for any weeknight or weekend dinner!

DSC_0006Let’s go back to that total price–hello sticker shock!  $146.38 was the total for the beef strip loin, $7.99 per pound.  If you spread that cost out over your 36 steaks, it comes to $4.00 per steak (plus the value of your 1 pound of trim!)  My dog was a happy camper eating the bone and the only ‘waste’ was the fat.  Anyone with creative ideas to use beef fat in a home kitchen–shout them out!DSC_0007

I bagged my steaks in quart freezer bags, two in each bag since the Brown’s are a happy family of two.

So- $4.00 for an individually portioned, super convenient steak.  What does that really mean?  Well, to me, that means a really cheap steak dinner!  It means endless meal possibilities that will deliver at least 25 grams of protein in about 150 calories along with over 10% of my daily needs of 10 vitamins and minerals.  It means fuel to repair my muscles after a long run.  It means feeling satisfied after a healthy dinner!  Perfect steaks for quick weekday meal- priceless really!

Double Chocolate Chunk Pecan Cookies

There’s nothing like a new cookbook to inspire some culinary creations!  Last weekend, a good friend let us borrow a cookbook–this one from ‘SkinnyTaste’ to be exact.  Since then, I’ve been keeping a solid supply of mangos and avocados in the house to cook with.  (Pick up the book and you’ll pick up the theme)  I had half of avocado leftover from a recipe over the weekend and as luck would have it, there was a rather yummy looking cookie recipe in SkinnyTaste that included avocados (who ever thought to put avocados in cookies??)

I followed the general outline of the SkinnyTaste recipe but altered it a bit based on the ingredients I had and my overall preference.  Here it is– Double Chocolate Chunk Pecan Cookies

1. Whisk the sugar, avocado, egg and vanilla.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 + 1 T mashed avocado
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

2. Add the dry ingredients to the mixed up wet ingredients and blend thoroughly.  Add the chocolate chips and pecans last.

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup white flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

3. Spoon little cookies (roughly the size of a half-dollar) onto a cookie tray.  I was able to fit 15 small cookies on one cookie tray.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes until slightly firm.  Let cool.

Given the RICH chocolate goodness of these cookies, I would strongly suggest enjoying them with a glass of milk and a serving of fresh strawberries.  (You wouldn’t regret the decision!)

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The Big FAT Surprise

BEST-SELLER-cover-imageLast May, investigative journalist, Nina Teicholz was able to publish the culmination of nearly a decade’s worth of work in the form of her book, The Big FAT Surprise. Having not been formerly trained in the field of nutrition, Teicholz was able to approach the decades of nutrition research serving as the guiding dietary principals for a ‘healthy’ American diet with an unbiased, fresh and unique perspective. Since the 60s, Americans were being encouraged to follow a low-fat diet to improve their overall health and decrease their risk of heart disease. Animal products in general were to be avoided for the primary reason that they contained fat, worse yet- saturated fat!  Now, don’t we all know that eating fat makes humans fat? Teicholz’s objective with The Big FAT Surprise was to either confirm or disprove that dietary suggestion based on the available scientific research.

In 337 pages, Teicholz digs into decades of nutrition research centered around fat in the human diet and its overall effect on human health. Several interesting surprises surfaced on the pages of her book that caught me off guard.

(Check out this TEDxEast with Teicholz)

  1. The initial push-back against saturated fat (1961 by the American Heart Association (AHA)) was driven by a surprising amount of flawed scientific research driven by human egos and politics. How the initial research condemning saturated fat was never approached with a healthy degree of skepticism is surprising. Just because one influential man (Ancel Keys) was convinced that saturated fat was the primary cause of heart disease and traveled the world to find populations of people that conveniently fit his ‘diet-heart hypothesis’ doesn’t mean subsequent research can’t question those initial (and rather flawed) findings. Let science have the chance to correct itself if it can.  It’s also concerning how nutrition scientists struggled to get studies funded simply because they sought to challenge this common belief that saturated fat is harmful.
  2. Saturated fat, as shocking as it is to consider, isn’t as harmful to human health as we were all told. Let’s look at fat ‘in general’. One simple fact of human health is we need fat. Our brains need fat, we need fat to synthesize necessary hormones, and we need fat for our bodies to store fat-soluble vitamins. Some minerals (like calcium) we also need actually can’t be absorbed by our bodies without a fat-soluble vitamin (Vitamin D in this instance). Saturated fat, primarily from animal products, actually raises your HDL cholesterol levels (the good cholesterol) and while it does also raise your LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, it doesn’t raise the small, dense subfractions of LDL considered to be harmful, only the large, light LDL subfractions which aren’t associated with heart disease. A meta-analysis (basically study of the results of many different studies to find any type of pattern) with the objective to discover the association between saturated fat and heart disease, published in 2010 in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition actually concluded that saturated fat is not associated with an increased risk for heart disease or stroke.  Finally!
  3. What happened when the AHA suggested people avoid fats in their diet all together? One thing is for certain, Americans didn’t become healthier. We steadily decreased our red meat consumption, adhering to doctor’s orders, and we chose low-fat refined carbohydrates laced with added sugars instead. Our consumption of vegetable oils shot through the roof and interesting enough, our waistline followed the same trend. We of course didn’t reduce our incidence of heart disease or diabetes either. Let’s not overcomplicate this. The low-fat American diet, full of carbohydrates and added sugars and deep fried in polyunsaturated vegetable oils wasn’t working. We stayed away from saturated fat though, so according to the AHA and USDA Dietary Guidelines, we must have been doing something right.

Where do we go from here? What’s a general take-home message?

Disclaimer—I’m clearly not a Registered Dietitian, my years of higher education were not in the field of human nutrition, I studied animal science.  These are my opinions and you can take them or leave them.

  • Be open to the idea that decades of nutrition research might have been saturated (no pun intended) with a healthy dose of corrupt politics, false historical assumptions and weak science. If the USDA is charged with crafting and updating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years, using the most up-to-date nutrition research available, don’t assume they’ll get it right. The yet-to-be released 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans isn’t looking too promising at this point!
  • Consider including an appropriate level of nutrient-dense animal products in your diet. Personally, I would suggest full-fat dairy and any meat you want. Eat it in moderation and get a variety in your diet.  Not only will you benefit from the appropriate level of fat in your diet, but you’ll be rewarded with a healthy dose of protein and essential vitamins and minerals.  (The benefits of meat are another topic for another day.)
  • Second guess yourself when you choose to eat a processed carbohydrate-based anything. It might say low-fat and it might say ‘no added sugars’ but don’t forget that carbohydrates, at their most basic molecular level are indeed simple sugars- monosaccharides- and glucose is a very common one. When fat is removed from a carbohydrate-based food item, you can guarantee they’ll replace it with something you really don’t want.  I’m not saying don’t eat carbohydrates at all, I’m just suggesting to put a serious limit on the processed ones.
  • REALLY second guess yourself when you choose to eat a deep-fried anything! There is enough reason to believe that heating polyunsaturated fats (soybean oil, canola oil for example) to high temperatures can cause toxic oxidative products to form and in-turn, be potentially damaging to your health.
  • Shift away from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.  Avoid cooking/baking with vegetable shortening and margarine.  Store-bought baked goods, snacks, non-dairy creamers and refrigerated dough generally contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.  Cook with olive oil (monounsaturated fat) and bake with butter or lard instead.  Yes, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are cheaper for food companies to use and help keep the cost of those Oreos to only a few bucks and they’ll also last for months and months on the shelf- another win for the company, but they also contain trans fats (no health benefits whatsoever).  As long as the serving size contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fats the food label can say 0 grams.  That ‘zero’ grams here and there of really 0.4 or 0.45 will add up pretty quick considering most of us  don’t eat an actual ‘serving size’ of anything.

If you’re at all interested in learning a little more, read the book.  Again, I am no expert in this complex field of human nutrition so do your own digging and I’ll do the same.  If we can all be a little more conscious of our diets, we have a great deal to gain (and I don’t mean weight either!)…how’s that for cheesy! 

Disconnect to Reconnect

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Our drive last week through the Alleghany Highlands and down to Roanoke, Virginia included a quick stop to see this little gem in the Covington, VA area.  This is the Humpback Bridge and Virginia boasts it to be their oldest covered bridge.  When I stood back to readjust the position of my camera for a better shot of the bridge, I found something almost as exciting as the bridge…

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…see what I mean?  I noticed the “L” and the “E” right away and based on where you were standing, it all spelled out “LOVE”.  My heart melted into a childish romantic mess.  “Family” photos immediately followed and with that, Virginia’s oldest bridge faded into the background.

Nearby, right along Route 220 in between Hot Spring and Covington was another beauty.  This time, a masterpiece from our Creator rather than some creative park rangers.  This (below) is the Falling Springs, an 80 foot waterfall.  Some heavy rains the evening before contributed to an even more impressive falls than usual.

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For us, the trip to Virginia was mainly to disconnect from routine life and reconnect with each other and God.  Other than a stop at High Road Sheep and a overnight in Roanoke, we really didn’t have anything planned.  We drove on the roads that looked the most scenic and stopped when we felt like it.  We hiked a good bit and backpacked in the Shenandoah’s for an evening.

*Note about the ONE night backpacking.  I was fairly certain a bear would visit us in the wee parts of the morning and since we had no means of defense, my main pray all night long was that we would be alive to enjoy breakfast.  (Incredibly enough, We did make it to breakfast).  I also learned that our dear sweet Calla appoints herself as alpha female when the three of us sleep in a two-man tent.  Somehow I managed to be pushed and squished into the corner while Calla enjoyed my half of tent snuggled against the warm soul who proposed to me nearly 6 years ago.  (To be completely honest, I probably would have pushed Calla out of the tent if a bear did visit us.)

Let’s hear it- who has a vacation, a mini vacation or a long weekend trip planned for the summer?

High Road Sheep

With any luck, we’ll be adding a few more sheep to our flock this fall.  We’re in the process of scouting out established flocks with the genetics we’re looking for.  Hubs and I had some time off this week so we scheduled to meet with the owner of a flock high on our list of possibilities.  We chose the scenic route from Central PA down to the Allegheny Highlands of Virginia. Four states were included on the drive south.  Pennsylvania of course, with a rather impressive route highlighting the dairy industry along Route 866 in Blair County.  Maryland was short and sweet with the primary highlight being the historic district of Cumberland.  West Virginia made up a far too lengthy portion of the trip along Route 220 South from Cumberland, MD to the Virginia boarder and sadly, nothing really stood out as inspiring or intriguing to us.  Thankfully, Virginia was very different.  A beautiful assortment of rolling hills, distant blue ridge mountains, clear, swollen creeks and rivers and pastures of grazing cattle and sheep. DSC_0074 The farm we visited was owned by Martin Macqueen originally from Northern Scotland.  Martin came to the Mid-Atlantic region after he graduated from agricultural college.  He’s been a farmer here in America ever since and now he raises North Country Cheviots and Suffolks between Hot Springs and Covington, VA.  You can read all about Martin and his ‘High Road Sheep’ on his website.  Martin was a pleasure to spend the afternoon with- and it really did turn out to be the afternoon.  We were in no hurry and neither was he so the three of us enjoyed a breezy May afternoon talking sheep. I was ‘sold’ on his North Country Cheviots from the moment we saw his primary flock ram but unfortunately the demand on his lambs exceeds his supply so we might be in for a price shock this fall if we do indeed go that direction.  We shall see!

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April Showers Bring…

April showers bring…May flowers.  Everyone knows that!  Tonight I learned that April showers can also bring marble-sized hail that can shred flowers.  Oh my!  Calla and I had settled down for a quiet evening when basically out of nowhere this crazy storm shows up. Our little tin-roofed ‘shed’ got louder and louder and Calla and nestled together underneath the kitchen table to see what happened next.  Hail- buddy, hail is what happened.  Pea-sized to marble-sized hail came down incredibly fast and within a half hour, a flood of rain.  There was a brief intermission for the sky to brighten up and a double rainbow to appear (in which case I trotted out to check on the sheep and cattle).  Immediately following that, darkness, thunder and lightening.

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The garden was getting off to such a great start until about an hour ago.  Tomorrow morning will reveal more but for now, I’d say there is some serious flood damage.  The cute little greenhouse in the center with old windows looks like it took a direct hit.  (Shame too, the hubs JUST repaired the glass in that this spring!)  We have 2 more little greenhouses like that hiding under the pine trees, hopefully they faired better.

It occurred to me rather quickly how incredibly devastating the weather can be.  In a matter of seconds, things can be forever changed.  Pennsylvanian’s are crazy lucky to not have severe weather to deal with all that often.  Our Mid-Western friends unfortunately deal with this enough to learn that nature can alter whatever it wants to when it so chooses.

There is a certain hint of beauty that emerges in the midst of a storm, almost a frightening beauty.  The pair of rainbows that appeared right before nightfall reminded me of that.

“With Jesus in the boat we can smile in the storm, smile in the storm, smile in the storm.  With Jesus in the boat we can smile in the storm when we’re sailing home.  Sailing, sailing home.  Sailing, sailing home…keep singing.