Monday, December 4, 2017

The Return of the Mountain Man and Other Important Happenings

I have heard some people say before that with 11 people living at the same household, you shouldn't notice so much when one person is missing. I have never found this to be the case. Each member holds a special place in our household.

A large greeting committee gathered at the PDX airport on November 18th to await the arrival of their brother returning from a four month transfer to Malaysia. It was perhaps the largest group there, awaiting the homecoming of a loved one.  Some people were amused by the enthusiastic waves coming from the youngest members of the family as the girls recognized the big bearded mountain man walking their way.

Austin recognized Jonathon's big flannel jacket but saw no familiarity in the face, hidden as it was behind all that scruff. Dad described Jonathon as looking like one of those faces you would see on the "FBI's top wanted list" :)

Annie and Ania were standing as close to the "Do Not Enter" sign as they could wanting to be the first ones to envelope Jonathon in a hug. The rest of us waited eagerly in line for our turns. Austin bragged to Jonathon that he was now officially taller then his big brother. 

Even though Jonathon was a little dazed from his 24 hours of travel, he filled us in with stories the entire drive home. We had planned a special breakfast for Jonathon and were planning on feeding him with all of his favorite fall dishes whether he was hungry for it or not. Pumpkin pancakes with whipped cream were on the menu for his brunch, accompanied by a steaming hot cup of hazelnut coffee. Of course, the day's menu wouldn't have been complete without pumpkin sausage soup, bacon sourdough bread, and fresh apple cider. A pumpkin cheesecake was the last little touch to a lovely evening. 

Much thought had been put into to the events of the day. Mom had purchased unshelled nuts at Winco and we had them sitting out in bowls waiting to be cracked later that night while we watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown". Up in Jonathon's room, Austin had set up a Charlie Brown Christmas tree with Linus's blanket for a tree skirt and one lonely ornament hanging on the tree. There beside it was a Christmas mug with Charlie Brown sitting inside it...the first of the Christmas decorations to go up. 

After a superb breakfast, Jonathon handed gifts to each of his family present. (Kayleen and Cosette were visiting Grandma and Grandpa in Redding at the time.) Each of us girls received a lovely Malaysian scarf from Sarawak and Dad and Austin were each given a souvenir from Germany to commemorate the Reformation. 

Only three days after Jonathon's return, we made a trip to Redding to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family. It was the fist time in four months that we were going to be a complete family again. 
We left a despondent Bear moping in his crate as we loaded up the van for the 7 hour drive.

Six of us adults camped out in Grandma's living room that week. Sometimes we would sit out on the porch at dark and enjoy months-worth of catching up with each other. Other times, we would stay up till the AM hours watching cheesy holiday movies together. No matter what we did, it felt so good to all be back together again!

It took Jonathon a little bit of time to recover from his jet was nice that he had a week to recover before returning to work.

Twenty-nine family members were able to make it to this Thanksgiving feast at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Before Dad said the prayer for the meal, he announced to everybody that this would probably be Charae's last Thanksgiving with the family. (of course making the acknowledgement that our family is a little bit of a late bloomer :D )

We set up the Thanksgiving feast in the garage and enjoyed a most delicious feast. With all of the cousins having new little babies, they were the center of the Thanksgiving Day for some people :)

The following day, boxes were pulled out of Grandma's shed and we decked her home for the holidays. Dad and Jonathon worked on hanging a shelf that Dad had built for her birthday up in her kitchen. Grandma had wanted an area to display the plates that she and Grandpa have collected over the years from all of their travels. 

Grandpa enjoyed taking his grandchildren for rides throughout the day in his Model A. The model of this car is the exact model of the first car he purchased at age 14.

Our last day in Redding, the family came together once again for a very special celebration: Grandma's 80th birthday. It was a small way that we could show Grandma what a precious part of the family she is to everybody!
 Sara had made an elaborate cake for her: apple caramel (Grandma's favorite ;)

The next day, Grandma's house was cleared out and it returned to its normal, quiet, organized state as our family returned home.

 I am convinced that we will always have fond memories of the cramped seven hour drive to Redding, sharing Grandma's two bedroom, two bathroom house with 13 individuals, taking up every square inch of floor space with sleeping bags and luggage; the general chaos at lunch time when Grandma's kitchen is taken over by many different hands making a mess of her spotless kitchen, and the volume in Grandma's calm house increasing a great deal over those five days. Even though it can be kind of crazy sharing such a small space with so many people, it is a time filled with many memories for me!

 Now, the Christmas festivities have begun in the Spafford household. We arrived home from Redding around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday and made quick work of unpacking and cleaning up. It had been the goal of some people to have the house fully decorated by nighttime....and so it was. By 11 that evening, the house was aglow with the warm gleam of Christmas lights. Garland was strung over every possible cupboard and fireplace. A collection of snowmen and other Christmas nick knacks were placed for display in little cubbie holes and stockings were hung from the balusters.

Christmas packages now arrive at the door almost every day and are immediately sent up to "Santa's wrapping workshop" and then placed under the tree to be counted and shaken every which way. 
Christmas music is playing all hours of the day and the whole feel of the house makes it the best place to be for Christmas! 

Our school projects now center around the holidays. Before we had even reached December 1st, the kiddos, Mom and I had read through Charles Dicken's "A Christmas Carol", each one of us reading parts to different characters in the story. The other day, we went shopping for supplies to fill care packages for our soldiers as a thank you to them for the sacrifice they are making for our freedom. Christmas must be an especially difficult time for them to be away from their homes and families.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Last Recap Before the World Traveler's Return

Here's a little catch up of the past couple weeks....

We had put aside a couple weekends to work in the yard and prep the garden for the winter months. Everyone pitched in and we got the yard in a fairly good state before the colder weather set in. When the next Saturday finally rolled around, some of us felt like it would be nice to enjoy a relaxing weekend. It was decided that we would have a girl's day out. Of course, those kind of things hold no interest for Austin and Ania who would rather stay back and play around the farm. And for Dad, Saturday was another chance for him to spend time in his workshop making progress on the first of seven hope chests.

The rest of us took off for a day out together. Dad had told mom to treat us girls to breakfast so she took us to Hudson's Bar and Grill for a 1st class meal. The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Troutdale outlets browsing the shops at a very female pace. Charae was able to purchase some things that she wanted to get before she leaves for Korea in February.

The weather has been getting chillier and it is already beginning to feel like winter. 
Leisel worked two of the home games at the Hockinson High School selling tickets. A couple of us girls were able to make it to both of those home games. Everyone on the bleachers came fully prepared with warm blankets and winter coats for a chilly night ahead. 

Leisel and I had the opportunity to go hunting with Mr. Bowers again this year. We were too busy to make it for the deer season in October, so we put aside the first two weekends in November for elk season. We hunted up by Indian Heaven somewhere near the base of Mt. Adams. It was biting cold up there, and the snow was falling fast. Already, there was about 4 feet of snow covering the ground. It couldn't have been more perfect weather for hunting though as the elk tracks were very easy to follow. 

We woke that morning at quarter to five (not a very long nights sleep as we had gone to bed at midnight the night before :)
Although we never encountered any elk on those two trips to Indian Heaven, we enjoyed a lovely hike on both occasions. I also had the opportunity of seeing a bobcat and Leisel spent two hours hot on the heals of an elusive elk.

...she and Marlene (whose company we had the pleasure of having that day) waded through snow waist deep following a set of rather fresh elk tracks. At one point, Leisel's footing found a stream below and she became thoroughly soaked. Finally, the trail became too difficult to follow and she and Marlene turned back around.

When I encountered my bobcat, it was while tracking another set of fairly fresh elk prints. Mr. Bowers had sent me down a pathway to follow the tracks while he and Leisel went up the hill to see if they could scare anything down. I followed the tracks for a good 15 minutes to a spot where I decided to wait and listen. Immediately, I heard branches snapping and heavy breathing. I was sure it was the elk, and I only had to wait for it to emerge from behind the trees. It was then that I looked up in the trees and discovered a bobcat looking down at me. "That is no elk!" It was a little disconcerting to find that I was the one being traced, but I was thankful it was merely a bobcat.

One fall day, we made it over to Mrs. Kryger's house to enjoy a lovely tea and lunch. What a blessing to share that time with such a dear lady! The weather was ideal for a cozy tea, creamy potato soup and pumpkin pudding. 

When we had finished lunch, Mrs. Kryger had a gift for each one of us waiting at our places. We opened the packages to reveal an oyster shell. We were going to have our own "girl's pearl party", each one of us unearthing our own pearls from the oyster. There was no one pearl that was alike; each one had a unique hue and shape. Along with each of the pearls was a lovely silver encasement and chain to put it on. 

School continues to go well. It is encouraging to see the maturing process of the three littles this year as they take on more responsibility and use their time in a more profitable way without mom and me continually herding them in the right direction ;)

This year seemed like such an ideal time to be studying the reformation in school as we celebrated the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg Germany.
We recently finished reading through the Spanish Brothers together. The kiddos have also been working on creating a reformation day poster as well as writing their own "Gutenberg newspaper articles".

Charae had the once in a lifetime experience to join Jonathon in Germany for this 500th celebration. She got to be in Wittenberg on the exact day that Martin Luther would have posted the theses. I think more then the sights that they saw, Charae enjoyed the opportunity to see Jonathon again. They planned about one or two big events for each day and then spent the remainder of the day relaxing and visiting at the local gelato shops. For Jonathon,  it was some of the best ice cream and coffee that he has had in four months. 

Dad and Mom took the kiddos to Hood River over the weekend to pick up some more apples (as if 900 pounds had not been enough for one year) Only these apples were not for apple cider pressing...they were for eating and turning into all kinds of other delectable treats like: baked apples, strudel muffins, and apple pie :)

Cosette finally got a job at the Hockinson school as a sub which means that she has job opportunities from the high school, middle school, and elementary. She's been quite a regular there, working about three days a week. She absolutely loves the work and is finding she has a special soft spot in her heart for the little ones at the elementary school. She has found it quite difficult to continually be explaining to people at the school that she is not Leisel.

The countdown for Jonathon is now less then a week away! The menu has already been planned for the day of his return. We are all ready to see him again after 4 months away!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Annual Apple Cider Pressing Report

In which I relay to you the events of the Spafford's 7th annual apple cider pressing :)

It is during the time of year when the crisp autumn morning carries with it a thick veil of fog; when the covering of the trees fall down to make a colorful blanket on the ground. It is the time when apples and pumpkins are the flavors of the season and spiced apple cider and chimney smoke are the scents that fill the air. 

The month is October, and you never know exactly what kind of weather you will be getting for this seasonal event of apple cider pressing. Saturday was cold and the surrounding field was blanketed in fog. 

Mom and Dad had driven up to Hood River the night before to pick up 900 pounds of apples...a bit of a reduction from last year's 1,800 pounds ;)

Inside, mom had the kitchen counters covered with 160 jars in preparation for the pitchers of cider that would be rotating inside. Outside, the production had begun: tables were set up and cutting boards laid out. A large white cooler and several crates were filled with apples.

It was 10:30 in the morning and Dad made sure to impress upon us the urgency of returning the press by 5:00 P.M. when our rental time was up.

We stopped our work only half an hour into the morning to fuel up with some hot spiced cider, egg casserole, and coffee cake.

Dad acted as the much needed manager that day, assessing our hourly progress. With that, he also took on the full responsibility as the main photographer and pest control expert.

Austin filled Jonathon's traditional position at the juicing station turning buckets of ground apples into apple juice. Kyle joined our family that day for cider pressing and was an immense help in leading the whole process along! With the extra help, we got done in record timing setting the new standard for next year ;) 

By 3:30, the last of the apples had been juiced and were ready for mom to can them.

7:30 that night, mom had a final count of approximately 30 gallons of canned apple cider ready for a cold winter :)

Eleven tired workers spent the rest of the evening relaxing and enjoying fellowship together. That night, everyone was treated to some well deserved brownies and ice cream :)

Mom, the kiddos and I have been working on a short little production for Jonathon. This is his favorite time of year when he gets to enjoy all of the fall festivities and the anticipation leading up to Christmas. Jonathon always looks forward to the first time Costco carries their Christmas decor, or when sweet potato fries and pumpkin milkshakes are in season at Burgerville. Some of his favorite traditions are building the gingerbread house with the kiddos and watching Charlie Brown movies around Thanksgiving and Christmas time. Since he is not here to be a part of all of the October festivities, we combined a list of his favorite traditions and put it to music :) 
 The season will not have officially begun for all of us till Jonathon gets home ;)