Mountaintop Picnic


My short summer bucket list included "picnic on mountaintops". Picnics are always fun, but if you can picnic with a view, they become a mini-vacation -- a sort of removing oneself from the world for a bit -- but with tasty food! One lazy, Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, we packed a picnic and headed to our mountaintop destination, nearly 3,000-ft. above sea level, to the summit of Mount Sunapee, New Hampshire. I had been to the top before (click here) and was excited to show Dave and Julia this unique destination where we could picnic with a view.



Mount Sunapee, which is indeed a mountain, is also a ski resort which offers summer lift rides to the top. To be perfectly honest, heights and chair lifts are not my thing, but I knew the view from the top was worth it. And after some pleading to please lower the safety bar and some admonishments to not rock the thing, I settled in and enjoyed the ride. We could feel the temperature getting cooler as we ascended and the fresh mountain breezes rushed refreshingly over us. Negotiating the on and off of a chair lift with a large picnic basket and a smallish (but heavy) cooler was not as difficult as expected, and before we knew it we were on the top of the mountain with the world before us. What a view!


For once, I think I finally hit on the ideal sort of picnic fare -- simple, delicious, and not too much work. This meant that most of it was purchased from the market, some was foraged from our refrigerator, and an effort was made for dessert.

From the market: rotisserie chicken (sliced), salami, crackers, Brie, Fontina, crusty bread, really good butter, strawberries, plums, French soda.

From our refrigerator: homemade dill pickles (click here), leftover tomato-mozzarella salad.

Dessert: chocolate ganache tarts





We sat there, munching away, having almost the entire mountaintop to ourselves. Julia, at one point, asked, "Is this when bears smell our food and come eat us?" Happy to report that didn't happen! We brought binoculars and playing cards, but amusements paled compared to the simple enjoyment of the view. Occasionally, another group of people would wander close for a good view of the lakes and forests beyond. We'd chat for a few moments. I'd offer them some food. They'd decline and move on. They didn't know what they were missing! The view was great, but the view + picnic was sublime!


By far, my favorite memory of our mountaintop picnic was the several times Dave threw his arms wide to the breeze, smiled, shook his head, and said, "Ahhh...I LOVE this!" I think another trip here in the autumn just might be a good idea!

View on the way down.



Useful Links:

Mount Sunapee  - for year-round fun!

Metal Cooler - This is our absolute favorite cooler! It will pack food for four people tightly, or for two with ample room. All the food you see here that needed to be refrigerated was packed in it (plus room for ice). I'm also quite fond of giving it as a wedding gift!

Grandkids' Camp Ideas: A Useful Guide


Hosting all the grandkids for "camp" at grandma and grandpa's house is a bond-building, family strengthening, and fun-filled (albeit, exhausting) endeavor that will create some awesome summer memories for everyone! It's a great opportunity to harken back to the pre-digital age and fill the grandkids' days with the sort of active, creative, and communal fun we had as kids. But how should you plan "camp" so that it will strike that balance between lazy summer days and busy enough to be fun and memorable? Recently, we hosted all four of our grandkids, ages 4, 5, 6, and 8, for five days of Grandkids' Camp and here are some ideas that should be helpful, if you're thinking of planning a camp of your own.

1. Have a mental game plan. Before they arrive, have a mental (or written) list of a handful of activities and/or excursions to do each day of camp. These are your ideas that will generate the most excitement among the grandkids. For us, these were: a nature program with live animals, a musical production of "Peter Pan", storytime at the library, a movie, and going out for ice cream. If your grandkids are older, they might enjoy: a day at the beach, a hike, a visit to a museum, canoeing, etc. Check your local library, recreation department, and children's theaters for their scheduled programs and see if any of those events will be happening during your "camp" dates.








2. Post the plan. Every day, after breakfast, I would write out "Today's Plan" and hang it up for everyone to see. The grandkids gathered round with great excitement for this each day...eager to know what fun the day would hold! And while having a detailed plan may seem like overkill, it really does help! It keeps anyone from getting bored, because activities change about every 30-60 minutes. And it does seem to accelerate the day for the grandparents, which is helpful when you're no longer used to the daily demands of little ones.

And don't forget to assign chores and switch them up daily. Assigning chores is essential in my book, because nobody needs a free ride, even at Grandpa and Grandma's house, and idle hands get into trouble, and we don't want discipline issues, because this is Grandkids' Camp and it ought to be FUN! So, assign those chores! It's good for them! "Dog feeder" was the coveted chore at our Grandkids' Camp. With older kids, some ideas might be: KP duty, lawn mowing, food prep, some odd jobs around the house you can work on together, etc.


3. Balance is everything. Not everything you plan to do will appeal equally to all kids or to the full age range of grandkids, so try to strike a balance of activities. A full-day of outdoors and competitive games may take all the fun out of Grandkids' Camp for the snuggly introvert, just as a day of book reading and art may make some others quite antsy. When thinking up ideas, I tried to have a nice blend of indoors and outdoors, quiet and loud, individual and all-together. And everyone had a 30-minutes quiet time in the afternoon...mostly because I needed it, and you will too!

For indoors, we: played games, worked puzzles, watched a DVD, had art time, had free play time, did chores, read, etc.



For outdoors, we: walked the dog, colored with chalk, explored the garden, ran through the sprinklers, and more.





4. Keep food simple. Think like a summer-loving kid when meal planning. Think of those great, summer food memories of your childhood...and plan to eat your way through those memories: blueberries, watermelon, hot dogs, pizza, popsicles, chicken fingers, applesauce, and ice cream.

5. Bedtime routines. It's helpful to know their bed time hour and their bedtime routine (baths, books, drinks, lights off, door open or closed) before they arrive. That being said, we could never get them to bed on time. But it's Grandkids' Camp, so staying up past bedtime seems like part of the fun, right? We have found that being firm on staying in bed is important, especially on the first night, because it will set the stage for the rest of the nights. And don't forget that a generous dose of outdoor time each day helps to tire everyone out for a good night's sleep.

By the end of "Grandkids' Camp" at Grandma and Grandpa's house, they should have that good sort of tired -- that "I've run in the sprinklers and chased the sun and eaten watermelon and climbed trees and following the dog all day" sort of tired. And you'll be tired too. You'll have that "I've chased kids for days and I'm not as young as I used to be and their smiles and hugs make my heart melt and I think this was important for us all" sort of tired. And it was.


Useful links:

We loved playing Dog Bingo, which was perfect for kids in the 4 to 8 age range and taught me several dog breeds too! Available here.

The best puzzles EVER for bringing the whole family, of diverse ages, together are Family Hour puzzles, which include pieces in three different sizes: small, medium, and large. The eight-year old could work the smallest pieces, the five-year old worked the medium, and the four-year old worked the largest. Zoom in on the puzzle photo above to see it all coming together in one puzzle. Link here to the one we worked.

Summer Lake Fun with the Family

Some of summer's best memories are made on a lake. Canoeing, swimming, paddleboarding, kayaking, and rope swinging into the waters of a lake are the sort of fun-filled summer days remembered for a lifetime with a smile on one's face! Recently, while my California family was vacationing with us, we visited Pawtuckaway Lake, NH located in Pawtuckaway State Park. Nestled in acres of pine trees, the lake provides a day's worth of summer fun and adventure opportunities for the young and the young at heart. We packed along lunches and planned to make a day of it.


There's a rental office lakeside where we rented one canoe and two paddleboards for a half day. (Julia also brought her own paddleboard.) Dave and I paddled the canoe, loaded with camera gear, towels, and our lunch, hoping we didn't tip over and spill our precious cargo. Everyone else divided themselves among the paddleboards. We pushed off from the docks and headed for one of our favorite small islands.


It's a favorite, because it has that large rock protruding from the right side. Easily climbed from the island side, it provides a great place from which to jump into the lake. We slipped our canoes and paddleboards up to the shore and tied them to the tree roots that lace themselves around the earthen edges of the island. Scrambling up the rock, everyone took turns jumping into the "sweet spot" below -- just beyond the rocks. I thought the water would be chilly, but we were all surprised to find it amazingly warm -- cold enough to be refreshing, but warm enough that you wanted to spend the day in it.


The cousins all swam to some nearby rocks and took turns jumping, diving, and (cover my eyes) flipping into the lake. From our little island, I watched as each one went individually. But it was the trio of them jumping together that really made me smile. They're going to cherish these moments forever! Eventually, they swam back to the island and we all nibbled on some wild blueberries before paddling away for more lake fun on another island.




This island is the best for summer lake fun, because it has rope swings! Ahh...this was truly the day all my childhood summer dreams came true!


Dave and I stayed in the canoe, with him intermittently paddling to keep the canoe in position, and me taking photos. Everyone took their turns climbing the rungs nailed to the tree, swinging wildly out, and splashing into the cool lake water. Every swing was unique -- some high, some low, some twisting, some shrieking -- but all equally delightful to watch!





All of us having worked up an appetite, we tied up the canoe near the paddleboards, and pulled out our picnic lunch. Some people ate perched on rocks on the island. But the water felt so refreshing, I just stood in it, next to the canoe, and passed out sandwiches and handfuls of blueberries, and ate my own lunch.


Before we left, we all had to swing on the rope swing. This time, Dave and I went too! Being, quite naturally, a big chicken, I opted to swing out from a rock protruding out of the water. All the fun and none of the terror of jumping from that height was just perfect! So much fun! But Dave braved the rungs up the tree and made a big splash! Then I had to swing again. And everyone else went a couple times before we headed back to the docks to turn in our rentals. Another great day of family lake fun for the books. Can't wait to do it again!


Links and ideas:


pack: sunscreen, hats, towels, waterproof phone cases that float, water bottles

our lunch: ham and Fontina sandwiches on ciabatta rolls, Cape Cod chips, blueberries and brownies

see more: check out the mini-film I made of this trip (and our swim in the Quechee Gorge) on my Instagram feed (click here).

4th of July Party Essentials


Having a solid collection of summer party essentials makes backyard entertaining easy, whether it's a 4th of July party or any summer gathering. Through the years, I've intentionally worked to build a stockpile of really useful items for entertaining. It would've been helpful, early on in our marriage, if I'd seen a trustworthy list, compiled by experienced party planners, to use as a sort of "wish list-shopping list" from which to build a good collection. We'll be pulling out some versatile pieces from our collection for a 4th of July party this week. We frequently host summer parties and backyard cookouts, so here's a list of our favorite summer party essentials:

Serving Pieces - ironstone platters and bowls, pitchers, galvanized tub for icing drinks, beverage dispensers, a variety of serving spoons

Cooking Tools - grill, smoker, hot dog/s'more roasting sticks, cast iron skillets

Decor Items - bunting, collection of American flags (old, new, all different sizes), nautical flags, strings of Edison lights, candle holders and votives

Backyard Games - croquet, giant Jenga, jumbo Yahtzee, horseshoes, badminton, balls, frisbees, bocce

Misc. - Adirondack and other chairs, wooden barrels for trash, serving tables, folding tables, tablecloths, citronella candles, tiki torches

And don't forget the sparklers!

Update on Changes to Wonderful Life Farm

Starting a new business is a tremendous amount of work. But reinventing one might be even more work! As many of you know, I'm planning BIG changes for Wonderful Life Farm coming in spring of 2020. I thought it was time that I give you a bit of an update on what's been developing. I've spent the first few months of the year figuring out my "why" and doing all the in-my-head stuff...lots of silent days processing all my thoughts and making sure this was a good direction for me, my business, and our family. 

And just when I thought I'd be completely overwhelmed with the enormity of the task before me, I was chosen to be interviewed in a mentoring episode of Josephine Brooks' podcast, "On the Make". Josephine is a productivity mentor for side-hustlers, and I'm completely hooked on her podcasts! And did I ever need her help! She helped me sort through all the tasks, develop areas of focus, and figure out how to break the whole job into manageable chunks. If you'd like to listen to the episode, click here. I will warn you that the day I was interviewed was day three of the cold that turned into pneumonia, and I sound dreadful (but only half as bad as I felt!). I'm grateful that you can't hear me sipping hot tea in the background to keep my voice alive. 

Photo credit here.
Josephine has a great system that utilizes one of her 12-week wall planners. On it, you focus on three areas to grow your business over a span of three months. Then you break each area into tasks divided up and spread out over those months. After talking with her, I spread the planner out on the kitchen table with my list of tasks and set to work filling it in. It now hangs on the bulletin board in my sewing room, where I am gleefully crossing things off as the weeks go by! Currently, my three focus areas are: 1.) travel and sewing for my current Etsy shop, 2.) branding and blog redesign, and 3.) all the learning things (content planning, SEO, Lightroom, and on and on.)


I've also spent an enormous amount of time and thought on my branding. What is branding? According to Fiona Humberstone, the Brand Stylist, "Branding is everything people expect, experience, and remember about your business." It involves everything from the colors you use, to the fonts you choose, to packaging, to how your website looks (big changes coming to this one!), to your photographs, and more. Using Fiona's two books, How to Style Your Brand and Brand Brilliance, as my guides, I've been completely immersed in building the identity for my new brand. And, I have to say, I found it to be one of the most creatively challenging endeavors I've tackled in years. It made me want to pull my hair out and made me euphorically happy...sometimes all in one day! 

When I was satisfied with my work on the branding, I created a branding guide and a mood board. I am absolutely thrilled with my mood board and how it perfectly expresses my brand! And the branding guide is now in the hands of the talented graphic designer I've hired to design a logo!




That's a little sneak peek at what's been happening behind the scenes here at Wonderful Life Farm. Here are some useful links, if you are creating or recreating your own business:

- to read more about my journey, click here






Exploring the Pacific Northwest in the Springtime - Part II

Squishy sand, stunning flowers, and towering mountains were all part of the second half of our springtime trip to the PNW, but our son was not. Military duty called and he jetted out for some training, leaving our little foursome to explore on our own for the second half of our trip.

The first day dawned rainy, as is to be expected in this region, so it was raincoats all around and off into the wet world we went. We made a short foray to Lummi Island, and upon returning we headed to the shore on the mainland. Descending a steep flight of steps, we emerged onto the rocky beach at low tide. The rain had stopped and everything was damp and smelled of the sea. The decaying remnants of a dock were well-exposed now, and the sea could barely be glimpsed on the horizon, with nothing but squishy mud in between us and it. While Dave and I wobbled over the slippery rocks on the shore and unearthed small crabs, the girls ventured far out onto the normally water-hidden land. Julia says it was one of her favorite moments of the trip and described it as "like another planet" out there. A small waterfall burbled down to the shore and ran across the rocks and out into the sea. We all loved our time casually spent at this piece of shoreline, as it seemed a truly PNW experience.









Another day. Another raincoat (just in case). Another ferry. Canada, here we come! While there are many options for travelling by ferry to Vancouver Island, the scheduling gets tricky. We found it best to take the early morning ferry out of Anacortes, WA and then leave Vancouver Island from Sidney with a Canadian ferry to Vancouver on the mainland and then drive back to the U.S. (Just a bit of a PNW travel tip, if you're trying to figure this out too.) This ferry ride was just as beautiful, with a bonus of being of longer duration than the ferry on our first day. There were puzzles and dogs and snacks (and a nap for me). Along the route, we passed Spieden Island, a once private game preserve where exotic species still lives. Our captain called the deer that live there "spiedalopes", but that's unverified information. (Read more here.) We then docked on Vancouver Island, on a bright and sunny day.





Our destination was the stunning Butchart Gardens, acres of cultivated gardens in all their springtime splendor. We wandered the paths for hours admiring the flowers and the work, dedication, and vision involved in creating such beauty for people to enjoy for generations. The Sunken Garden is built in what was once a rocky quarry, and a placard told of how Mrs. Butchart would be lowered in a sling to fit plantings into the crevices of the rocks walls. We passed through the Rose Garden (not yet blooming in mid-April) and the serenity of the Japanese Garden before coming to my favorite, the Italian Garden. I definitely regret not making lunch reservations at the restaurant overlooking the manicured lawn. Outdoor dining with no traffic noise is absolutely bliss to me, and this would've been ideal. But we passed through the arbor, whimsically placed in an enormous hedge, and had gelato while resting in the sunshine instead. Before leaving, we simply had to detour into the staff parking lot to gawk at the enormity of this hedge, That's a hedge! I napped (again) on the return Canadian ferry, so have little to report from that other than to say it was less like a ferry and more like a tiny cruise ship (no puzzles provided).









Our last day in the Pacific Northwest found us driving into the mountains and "Sasquatch country". There was much tittering and laughing about the latter, as we kept our eyes open for "him". We even passed through a town which holds an annual festival in his honor. I asked the clerk at the general store if he'd seen him, and he stared hard at me through narrowed eyes (not unlike you might imagine Clint Eastwood) and replied, "Not lately." Hmm. Escaping Sasquatch's grasp (ahem), we went higher and higher into the mountains. The rivers were rushing with the spring thaw and the waters all looked ever so icy cold. The views were simply spectacular on the way to and at our top destination of Mount Shuksan. Simple astounding! We felt as though we must be in the Alps, the mountains rose to such heights and still had so much snow for mid-April. Parts of Mt. Shuksan looked like an avalanche waiting to happen, and I found myself wondering more than once how real a possibility that might be, how far it would flow, if it would cover the road and strand us, and why we hadn't brought food and more water. But all's well that ends well! We weren't attacked by Sasquatch or buried alive in an avalanche -- just another beautiful travel day in the Pacific Northwest!







Helpful travels links to the Pacific Northwest...

Washington DOT for ferry service out of Anacortes, click here.
BC Ferries for ferry service from Vancouver Island to Vancouver, click here.
Butchart Gardens, click here.
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