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Friends

I love people, and I so enjoy my friends. Last night we had a larger group of friends with families over to our house for the evening. We roasted hot dogs and marshmallows and ate potluck food that was so delicious. We had great conversations and I thoroughly enjoyed my evening. We try to do at least two get-togethers like this every year, one in the summer around the campfire and one in the winter, usually around Christmas time.

I find it interesting however, my personality. I so enjoy these parties, I know I am going to enjoy them, but for some reason I allow myself to worry too much about the “presentation,” forgetting that it’s about having people we enjoy come and spend an evening with us. This year in particular, the party is way later than usual. I worried about my yard, about my garden, about the stuff other family members have collected over the years that is around some of the yard. I worry about the yard not being finished, the house not being finished, I worry about lots of weird stuff for sure.

Today as I thought about how much we enjoyed our friends, I thought of how silly the worry is. That’s what I love about friends. They know who I am, they know how I am, and they are my friend anyway! I have a great family; they take me how I am, and they help me become better. But I have learned over the years, that my friends do the same thing. I was pondering this morning on a number of friends who have helped me over the years. I have one friend who, through example, taught me how to show appreciation for others. I still don’t do as great a job as my friend does consistently, but I am so much more conscientious about not just being grateful but vocalizing and showing my appreciation whether it be through a spoken thank you, or a card, or a small gift of appreciation.

I have a number of friends who have encouraged me over the last few years as I have learned to paint and begun my business. Asking what I’m painting currently, or what my new products are. Reading my blog and offering great suggestions, checking my website for glitches and then getting back to me when they find them so I can fix them. I have friends who send me funny texts that brighten my day. I have friends who send me heartfelt texts that mean so much to me and keep me going when I struggle. I have friends that I only see at community events, but who come and give me a hug and visit with me. Friends who share what they’re doing and give me ideas and inspiration. So many people who have taken time out of their days to say hi and spent time with me, even if it’s just a minute or two. I am so grateful!

I admire all those people out there who step out and say hi, especially the ones who I know have to step out of their comfort zone to do so. I am working on that and amazingly, it’s getting easier! I don’t know if I will ever get over my worry, but I hope that with each opportunity I have to open my home and share with friends, that the anxiety will lessen just a little bit more because I know, as I remembered last night, how much I will enjoy having friends come and visit and spend time. It was a wonderful evening.

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Wild Rose

I recently finished a wild rose painting. The very first watercolor flower I ever painted was a wild rose, but I wanted to do one that was from my own photography because we have a ton of wild roses around our property. So, this summer I went looking for wild roses with my camera. I am not a photographer. If my oldest daughter had been here, I would have had her taking the pictures. She would have loved the assignment and has a great eye for composition. But it was up to me. There was plenty of roses to choose from, and I figured if I got a lot of pictures at least one of them would probably work, or I could combine several to make up one. Fortunately, I got several that would work. That’s one thing I love about digital cameras, you can take 100 pictures and then delete the many that didn’t work and only save the ones that you like best. The really nice thing about having a great picture is that it’s inspiring to paint, even if you hadn’t anticipated painting that subject matter.

I started this painting a while ago, the roses bloom in early June. But it took me until the middle of July to finish the painting because it’s summer, and I would rather be outside in my garden or hiking or anything except sitting inside doing anything, even painting! But, when the weather isn’t great, or late at night, I enjoy painting. It relaxes me and helps me sleep better anyway.

I use transparent watercolor when I paint, rarely do I use gouache paint which is not transparent, or only semitransparent. I like the transparent color because you can add a shadow color and then go over it with a bright transparent color and then shadow colors show through. Or you can lay down one color, like an orange, and then go over it with a red or yellow, and it totally changes the color and feel of the painting, whereas gouache often just covers the color beneath. This painting was a lot of layering, lighter colors getting darker and darker, but keeping spots of lighter color as I went along.

I love the depth of color that can be achieved through this layering process, and I love the finished product. This was a fun project, and I enjoyed the complete start to finish of taking my own reference photo to the finished painting. I love getting out in nature, and I am so grateful for the beautiful world that we live in.

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Zucchini

I do not have a green thumb when it comes to gardening. I don’t grow many flowers because I usually end up killing them. They also don’t produce anything I can eat, so I tend to not put in as much time and energy with them as I should anyway. I have learned over the years to enjoy vegetable gardening however, because it does have an end goal, and I can utilize everything that I can get to grow to help feed our family.

We have had our garden in several different locations over the years. The first few years it was too shady, the next garden we had got lots of sun, but was set against a black wall and everything just cooked. Now we have it out in an open area. There is lots of sun all through the day, but there is also lots of airflow and no dark walls. But being open like it is we have also had problems with wildlife eating our plants. My zucchini in particular was a favorite of the rabbits for some reason. Even when I would get some to grow, the rabbits would eat anything the plant produced before it was ready to harvest.

This year we installed a fence around our above ground veggies. This includes the zucchini as well as the lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and peas. This has made the biggest difference in our above ground veggie production, more than anything else we have done. We also tested our soil and have been able to get the nutrients correct the last couple of years. These corrections and additions have led to a much more productive zucchini growing season. The plants are huge and healthy looking, and they are producing many zucchinis!

But, what to do with the zucchini? Over the years, as I have tried and tried to grow zucchini, I have looked up recipes at the beginning of the season, hopeful for the large amount of zucchini that everyone talks about. I have tasted different products from friends who have been successful and have gotten their recipes. I have purchase zucchini from the local farmer’s market so I could make some of these wonderful recipes. And finally, this year, I have been successful in growing 2 zucchini plants! They have been producing a good amount of zucchini, and I have been able to start making several of my favorite zucchini items.

The first thing I made this year was fried zucchini. I remember having this as a kid, who hated vegetables, but loved fried zucchini! I guess anything fried is great, even vegetables. I had made this before, but it was when my kids were really little, so they didn’t remember ever having had fried zucchini, but those willing to try it really liked it now. I used a recipe off of the internet, and they are all very similar, but I can’t remember which one, so I’ll let you research that if you’re interested. But it’s pretty basic, dip in flour, then to an egg wash, then to some sort of seasoned breadcrumbs, then fry.

The next thing I made was zucchini bread. I wasn’t even thinking in that direction as I have several preservation recipes I wanted to work on, but my kids made several requests for zucchini bread, so it had to be done. I used the recipe out of the Cooks Country cookbook, but there are so many recipes out there on the internet. I made 2 large loaves, and they didn’t last 2 days, so I think that was a great use for some of the zucchini. Hopefully we’ll be able to make a few more loaves before the end of the season.

Yesterday I started on the 3rd thing I wanted to make – zucchini relish. I made some of this relish a couple years ago, just a little bit, and it was a hit with the family, so I have wanted to make it again, and more than I made the first time so it would last a little longer. Yesterday ended up being the day. I had picked 4 zucchini a couple days prior. I checked the recipe and had to restock my spices and get some peppers on Monday. Tuesday morning, I was able to get started with the veggies, chopping and soaking in salt water for a couple hours, and then Tuesday afternoon I was able to get it cooked, bottled and processed. The recipe I used came from the Ball Blue Book for canning, but I looked today, and there are a lot of different recipes on the internet. Just remember to process and then water bath the jars for the correct amount of time for your area. I love this relish and use it in a variety of ways. One of my favorites is in egg salad sandwiches.

The last recipe I will be making with my zucchini is a salsa recipe. I tried zucchini salsa for the first-time last year, and it was so good! I bought zucchini and onions from my local farmers market and tomatoes and peppers from the grocery store and made 2 batches last fall. They are almost gone, and I am so excited to make more! This recipe also came off the internet so I will let you research zucchini salsa as none of the recipes are mine. I love zucchini, it is such a versatile plant. I love the savory items I can make with it, and love that it can also be made into sweet treats my family loves as well. If you don’t have a favorite zucchini recipe, try some of these things, and if you do, I would love to hear what you love making with zucchini!

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Pioneers

First off, I apologize, I didn’t get a blog post written on Friday. I thought about it a couple times during my busy day, but ultimately spaced it out by the time I got home. We have had a very busy week and weekend. But it’s been good.

Today is the 24th of July. For most people it is another day, but growing up in Utah, today is Pioneer Day! It is a celebration of the pioneers who crossed the plains and settled in Utah. When I was growing up, Pioneer Day started off with a ward breakfast in the Church parking lot. We had pancakes, some sort of meat like bacon or sausage or ham, if I remember correctly it was usually bacon, but I can’t remember. Then there were strawberries, fresh strawberries in a sauce, to put on the pancakes, and orange juice or milk to drink. That was a fun way to start the day. When we finished breakfast, we would go to the parade. The 24th of July parade when I was a kid was mainly done by the wards from our Church although anyone was welcome to participate. I remember having the opportunity to ride on a float as well as walk in this parade on a couple of occasions. Then we spent the rest of the day as a family. We would often go to the park for a picnic or have a backyard barbeque etc. It was a fun day. But growing up I didn’t really think about what we were celebrating, it was mostly about the breakfast, the parade and the family time.

As I have gotten older and learned more about not only the history of the pioneers, but what a pioneer truly is, I have grown to love this day even more, even if I’m not in Utah to celebrate it, it no longer is just a day about parties, but a day to reflect and remember all the pioneers that I have not only read about but gotten to know in my lifetime. I have a number of people in my family history that crossed the plains and came to Utah, and then were asked to settle other previously unsettled parts of Utah. I have read stories of family leaving England and coming to America to be free, being the first of their family to arrive, or bringing the whole family and all traveling West. Some people had wealth when they left, some had nothing, but not so many arrived with as much. Many came by handcart, some by wagon and ox team, but they came, looking for a better life. I am grateful that they came, and especially grateful that some of their histories have been written so that we can read about them, be inspired by them, and so that we never forget them.

But a pioneer is not just someone who crossed the plains looking for a better life sometime in the 1800’s. There are pioneers in all ages. I am always in awe of my in-laws. They came to Alaska before it was a state. They homesteaded here in Willow, Alaska before the highway was even built this far north. They could travel over Hatcher’s Pass in the summer for a short time, or fly into the airport, but the highway that now runs past our property ended 13 miles south in Houston Alaska, so they had to hike or snowmachine in the winter to get out here. They, along with a number of other hearty families came and settled, built and created the community that we enjoy here in Willow today. I am truly grateful for their perseverance, especially through the winter, for the life they created here, and the opportunities that we have now because of what they accomplished over many years.

We live in an age of change, not that every era didn’t have its own changes, there’s nothing more constant than change, but we live in a time that seems to be exploding with change. Being a pioneer now doesn’t necessarily require us to travel long distance and move to different continents, carrying all our personal belongings by handcart or snowmachine. We can be pioneers in so many ways. Some of us may invent new technology or a new way of doing something that revolutionizes a particular career field. Some may be pioneers in their families alone by making better choices, changing bad habits and affecting generations of family to come. Some may reach out in their communities and affect changes that make the world around them a better place, not just for them, but for their whole community. There are so many ways to be a pioneer, but I have learned one thing about pioneers that sets them apart from others. Pioneers change things for the better. The way they affect the world around them makes it a better place, not only for themselves, but for everyone in the future. Pioneers see a better future and they work toward that future rather than seeing only themselves and how it benefits them, they want improvement for everyone.

So, today on this 24th of July, whether you are a member of my Church or not, I would encourage you to remember a pioneer. Whether it was someone in your family, or someone you admire because of their great contributions to society today. Remembering where we came from, remembering the sacrifices people offered to get us where we are today will help us remember to be grateful, and can inspire us to be pioneers in our own lives and communities in the future.

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Dating

Tuesday morning, I woke up and started on my morning routine. I got my breakfast ready, sat down and was eating and reading my scriptures. It was raining outside, and I had wondered if my husband was going to be able to go to work. About halfway through my breakfast my husband came in and said he needed to run in to Wasilla to take back some building materials they didn’t need any more, and that he was then going to run to Palmer to look at a tool he found on Craigslist that he might want to purchase. He then asked me if I wanted to go with him. This is his way of asking me on a date. I was still in my pajamas, but he still had to load wood, so I said I would think about it. I did have to go grocery shopping, so I quickly decided that I’d like to go so I didn’t have to drive in later. We spent about 4 hours of impromptu time together, getting home about lunch time. I was able to take a nap on our way to Palmer, he was able to get his running around done, and I got my grocery shopping finished. We had plenty of time in the car to visit, and it was a really nice way to spend our morning together.

Now, to most people this would not seem like a date, but for us, this is pretty typical. We do go on traditional dates, dinner, or watch a movie, usually at home with the kids at grandma’s house. But we have learned that spending time together, one on one, even if it’s running to the hardware store, is a great way to spend time together, and often constitutes our dates, especially in the summer when we are both really busy. Living where we do, we have the benefit of the stores being 30 or more miles away, so there is a lot of drive time that allows us the opportunity to talk, or ride in silence sometimes because we both just need quiet. Either way, it strengthens our relationship.

Dating your spouse is important. We often think of dating as something we only do before we are married but dating after we are married is so important in strengthening our relationship with each other through the years. My husband and I set a goal when we first got married that we would go on a date once a week. 26 years later, and we have a pretty good track record. We do miss a week now and then, but for the most part, we get at least one a week. Our kids also loved date night when they were little, as they got to go to grandma’s house and get spoiled. Even now, when they can stay home because we go to town, they still like to go to grandma’s house. I am grateful for grandparents close by so that we could go so regularly and know our kids were cared for and safe.

Today I thought I would share with you some of our favorite dates, and some that friends have done that also look like fun. One thing to remember is that the point of dating your spouse is to spend one on one time with them. It’s not really about the activity that you do, but that you are together. That is why the first idea is successful at our house. Go to the store with your spouse. This sounds like work to some people rather than fun, but it can be fun shopping with your spouse. It’s something that needs to be done anyway, and if you get a treat for the two of you to share on the way home, it can make it feel a little bit more like a date. Dinner and movies are always a great way to spend time together, and dinner is one of our favorite ways to go on dates. Dinner is nice as well because you can invite friends. Sometimes double dates are a fun change to just going to dinner by yourselves every week, and it’s fun to have friends that you both enjoy spending time with.

One of my favorite dates with my husband is when our kids do sports. We will plan on going for at least one night to their away games and tournaments. We enjoy the drive together and spending the night somewhere new is always an adventure. Our kids also love us coming as we tried to stay at the same hotel. They liked being able to come and just be quiet in our room for a little while, watching part of a movie, or enjoying our ice cream with us. They could then regroup and go back to the crazy that is traveling with their team. We enjoyed supporting them, but also seeing new places and just getting away. A night away can be rejuvenating and refreshing for you and your spouse and is a fun date night once in a while.

We enjoy going to our temple together. Our temple is in Anchorage, so it’s an hour and a half drive from our house. Lots of long drives here in Alaska! But we enjoy the drive, enjoy serving together in the temple, and usually enjoy dinner afterward before we head home. It’s a great way to spend an evening. We also spend time looking at jobs for my husband’s business or delivering art for my business. These drives give us time to talk as always, but also give us time to bounce business ideas off each other, as that is the purpose of the trip. We don’t always talk about business, and it’s nice to have the focus of our date be business once in a while, since that’s what pays the bills, and the added perspective is always great. I enjoy going with him to look at new jobs to see where he might be working next as well, see how far away it is, and decide how often I want to visit the jobsite.

Some other date ideas, some we have done, other we haven’t – Hiking together, I love hiking, my husband not so much, but in our young days, he would humor me once in a while and go hiking. Kayaking or canoeing. When we were first married, we went canoeing on Willow Lake once in a while, usually impromptu, and it was a fun way to spend time together. Camping and backpacking are a lot of fun. Service opportunities and communities get togethers of various sorts are fun as well. Hosting parties at your home and going to parties at other’s homes are fun date nights. Sitting around a campfire or lighting a fire in your fireplace for the evening is one I enjoy as well. There are so many ideas, and so many ways to spend time together. Sometimes they cost money, but there are a lot of things you can do that are free. The goal is to just spend time together. Strong marriages are important, not just for your kids, but for each of us individually. I encourage you to get out and date your spouse if you’re married, and if not, set a goal to do so if/when you get married. It will make a huge difference in your relationship.