My First Tattoo!

It all started about a year ago. A thought popped into my mind that I wanted a tattoo. At first, I didn't know what to get a tattoo of. Then I thought of two of my favorite things- animals and travel. I decided to combine them to represent all of the countries I've travelled to so far, besides the US of course. I'd like to get a tattoo representing the US once I travel to all 50 states. Originally, I was thinking of getting separate tattoos for each animal, but once I chose a tattoo artist and met with her, she explained that it would be a lot better to have a big tattoo of all the animals thus far, and then another big tattoo later. The more I thought that over, the more it made sense. So I came back for a second consultation with Fronkie and brought pictures of all the animals this time.
We decided to do about 4 sessions, which worked out well with how much I anticipated spending per time. Before the first session on 12/13/14 I was really nervous. I knew that I would be fine and would be able to handle the pain no matter what, but it's scary when you don't know what to expect. Luckily, I really felt comfortable with the atmosphere at the tattoo shop and with Fronkie, which is really important.
When I arrived Saturday afternoon it was the first time I saw the tattoo sketched out. I really loved how she brought it all together with scroll work from the fachada where the skull/frog is located!
She let Andrew come back for the tattoo as long as he didn't get in her way. So he sat on the left side of me and I was able to squeeze his hand during the process. I felt so much better having him there because I knew he would be there for me and he would also distract me with conversation.
Before we even got started, when Fronkie was giving me a run down on what to expect for your first tattoo, she suggested a visualization exercise of a peaceful place to try to distract yourself during the more painful moments. I told her I already has an exercise in mind, and she liked it so much I repeated the visualization exercise and we made a video: !
I was at the tattoo shop for about 2 hours but the actual tattooing time was only around 45 minutes. It hurt, sometimes more and sometimes less than I expected. It certainly wasn't easy, but it was tolerable pain. And it really only hurt during the tattooing process. Afterwards, it was a little tender but I was able to sleep on my stomach that night just fine and since then. 4 days later it started getting really itchy, and it's hard not to scratch it, but I'm leaving it alone so it can heal properly (other than washing it twice a day and applying coconut oil twice a day as directed).
At the end of the appointment, Fronkie filled me in on how to care for my tattoo. I asked her if coconut oil would be ok instead of oitment and lotion, since I prefer to use all natural chemical free stuff as much as possible. She said that should be fine and to let her know how it goes.
I've gotten tons of compliments on it already, and it's not even shaded or colored yet! I can't wait to see how it turns out when it's all done. I love it!

Skull with frog represents good luck in Salamanca, Spain, the camel I rode in Morocco, the butterfly that landed on Andrew's head at the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls, Canada, and an ermine (white weasel) from Italy

2014 In Review

This year has been the best one yet!

I accomplished a lot of "firsts" to level up my life:
Went on my first solo trip (Camp Nerd Fitness)
Went to camp for the first time
Kareoke-d for the first time
Blobbed for the first time
Went on a conference trip for work
went on a whitewater rafting dam release trip and was in the front of the raft during the highest water- so awesome!
went to a Spanish club (Galaxy in Rockville)
got an instagram account
started a newsletter for my paleo recipe blog
throwing a toga party for New Year's (my first toga party)
enjoyed creme brulee (not paleo)
enjoyed ceviche
a picture of me was in the Wall Street Journal and a quick clip in a video from the article on Camp Nerd Fitness
high ropes team challenge course
meditated in a tree
travelled to NH and TN
spectated at a Tough Mudder
got ready with the bride and bridal party before a wedding
got a manicure
went to Trader Joe's
hosted parties, holiday gatherings and dinner parties
coached friends through Whole30's successfully
hosted meal prep sessions with friends
walked over the Solomons bridge (normally closed to pedestrians)
made my first solo youtube video
went backpacking with friends
hosted my first overnight guests
listened to my first podcast

I started new habits:
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night
using my neti pot on a regular basis
walking Jubi almost every morning
getting to bed between 9-10 every night and waking up at 6 am every work day even if I could sleep in later

I made major progress:
Completed my to do list
created a motivation wall in my bathroom
got a pocket calendar to keep myself even more organized
planned lots of trips for next year
made a life goals list

I made several life changes:
got my first tattoo
moved from a large three story house by myself to renting a small room with two roomates (and many furry roommates) and in the process got rid of a lot of "stuff"
stopped selling homemade dog beds and blankets but took on new clients and made more income this year than ever before with my pet sitting business
joined a Small Group bible study group where I didn't know anyone

I made changes for my health:
taking 1-2 walk breaks daily at work
enrolling in Kate's Ignite Your Power Beta Group where we worked on self esteem/confidence, yoga and meditation for 10 weeks
won an 8 week weight loss challenge through my zumba group
donated my high heels in favor of flats for more natural walking
jogging now and then including occasionally on my lunch breaks

I made changes in my diet:
I started eating more and more paleo and it's truly become a lifestyle for me
I did a 60 day Autoimmune Protocol Whole60
I did a 21 day sugar detox/Whole30 combo
I did a 30 day low histamine Whole30
I found out certain paleo foods that trigger a lot of mucous for me so I can eliminate those
made (rice free) sushi
made fruit leather
made fried bananas (fried in coconut oil)- first time frying something

I went on lots of adventures:
summited Mount Washington in NH (a very difficult hike)
went backpacking in Dolly Sods
went backpacking in dead winter in the snow (twice)
went hiking/car camping in Shenadoah
Andrew won an expensive white gold diamond necklace from a zumba charity event we attended together and gave it to me
kayaking in Assateague
kayaking in TN
went to the Baltimore Aquarium
went to see "Moses" at the Sight and Sound theater in PA with Mom
became a certified pet sitter through PSI
trimmed and styled Andrew's mohawk
saw a nest of baby bunnies
made a famous friend- Steve from NF (and Staci too!)
was captivated by saltwater hermit crabs in their natural environment

Bring it on 2015!! I got this!

Sweet Potato Breakfast Casserole

Andrew and I went to his Canine Search and Rescue team's holiday party over the weekend, which was a potluck. Since I always have lots of eggs and sweet potatoes, plus I had leftover feta cheese (a lot!) from when it was on sale, we decided to make a casserole dish out of it all. It was his idea and it turned out pretty well!

2 large sweet potatoes
1 dozen eggs
1 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
2-4 tablespoons coconut oil or other high heat oil of choice
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse and dry sweet potatoes. Peel if desired. Shred using food processor or cheese grater. Alternately, you can dice them into bite sized pieces.
2. Heat a large skillet on medium heat. Add coconut oil. When melted, add sweet potatoes and cinnamon and ginger. Sautee until soft but not mushy.
3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350.
2. Once sweet potatoes are cooked, add to a 9 x 13 pan.
5. In a large bowl, add eggs. Whisk with salt and pepper. Pour over sweet potato hash.
6. Top with crumbled cheese.
7. Bake for 30-45 minute or until egg mixture is no longer mushy. Drain excess fat if desired.

Serves 5-10.

90 Day Countdown to Andrew's Appalachian Trail Thru Hike

Some of you may know that Andrew and his Doberman Aramis will be thru hiking the entire Appalachian Trail starting March 10, 2015. He estimates it will take him about 6 months to complete.

He's been planning this for the last few years and is very excited about it. In terms of backpacking experience and gear, he's ready. He's been backpacking several weekends per month pretty much all year, in different areas including WV, VA, PA and the White Mountains of NH. He's got quite a collection of gear and very little left to get.

Today, Tuesday 12/9/14 marks his 90 day "anniversary." In 90 days exactly he will be starting his hike. While he's on the trail, I'll be blogging about his progress for our friends and family to follow along. We are planning to drive down to GA on Saturday, 3/7/15 for Trail Days over the weekend. We will rest up on Monday 3/9/15 and then he will start the hike Tuesday 3/10!

I'm planning to visit him about once per month while he is gone. When I'm there, I imagine we will resupply at a local grocery store, get a hot meal at a restaurant, he will take a bath/shower, I'll cut his hair, we will give Aramis a bath and he will rest in a hotel bed. I'll also drop off "trail magic-"  or assistance from strangers through kind actions, gifts, and other forms of encouragement.Trail magic is sometimes done anonymously.In other instances, persons have provided food and cooked for hikers at a campsite. He won't have all the options some through hikers have because bringing along a dog limits many options like coffee shops and hotels/hostels. I'm really curious to see what kinds of foods/items he asks me to bring when I come to visit- I'm sure some of them will be unexpected!

I'm really excited for him as he makes this trip of a lifetime. Hope you all will support me in wishing him well.

A little hard to read but you get the gist

Birthday Weekend

Thursday 12/11 I'll be turning 25! I celebrated with friends this weekend in the Washington DC area.

Saturday I had Andrew make me birthday cupcakes. We used XO gluten free vanilla cake mix and their vanilla buttercream frosting. I try to avoid regular old baked goods and most gluten free mixes have rice of some form in their which really does not settle well with me. I used to make baked goods with almond flour and coconut flour but I've recently discovered nuts do not agree with me. And coconut flour or coconut flour blends just turn out waaaay too mushy and moist for my liking. XO is the only gluten free mix that that is also rice free and makes cupcakes. I feel like a cheater for eating a mix but it sure was good! There is just a little corn in it in the corn starch that is part of the baking powder, but otherwise it is grain free and made of a cassava/coconut/potato flour blend. Normally Mom makes me a peppermint angel food cake but now that I have a particular style of eating it's just easier not to impose on others.

The frosting makes or breaks a cupcake, and yes Andrew sang to me <3
Saturday afternoon/evening we went up to La Tasca tapas bar in Rockville. Stephanie, Andrew and I drove up together. Unfortunately the weather was really rainy and yucky but we had a great time anyway. They have Happy Hour from 4-7 pm and have specials on sangria and tapas. We tried so many different kinds over the course of Happy Hour. We also had two different kinds of sangria- La Tasca which was red wine with apples and cinnamon and Blackberry Mango which was with white wine. One of my favorite tapas was fried manchego (Spanish sheep cheese) with orange marmalade sauce. I also loved the fried mixed seafood I got. I don't eat fried stuff often but I certainly enjoyed it on Saturday night. My roommates Xavier and Lena joined us later in the night along with Cassandra. If the weather was nicer I would have liked to do some ice skating on the outdoor rink right by La Tasca. The downtown Rockville area where we were was really nice! We spent a little time at La Tasca once the rest of the group arrived then we drove to Galaxy nightclub/sportsbar.
La Tasca, view from the lounge

Steph and I at La Tasca
On the way there my engine started overheating again, like it did before Thanksgiving. Turns out it was low on coolant before Thanksgiving, and a nice guy at AutoZone filled it up for me. Well I guess there was a leak because after being fine for a week or more, it was overheating again. So we stopped and got more coolant (silly me should have just left the coolant I bought before Thanskgiving in teh car but oh well) and that fixed that. (Not to worry, Andrew doesn't drink and he was our DD for the night.)

I was really looking forward to going to Galaxy because on Saturday night's the broadcast on 107.9 El Zol Radio and that's actually how I found out about them. Their djs are really good and I love their Saturday night broadcasts. When we first got there it was pretty empty but it filled up quickly. We had fun dancing for several hours to bachata and reggaeton. I wished they played more reggateon because I feel like I can be more creative dancing to that, but we still attepted bachata dancing. It had been a while for me so I forgot the rhythm. The drinks were pretty expensive there so I only had one. I was happy that I recognized some of the songs.

All of us at Galaxy
We headed home around 12:30 and were in bed by around 2:30, making it about 12 hours of celebrating including driving. I had a blast and was glad we could celebrate with friends!

Sunday I had to get up early for pet sitting, but after pet sitting and walking our dogs I went back to bed until Andrew got home from Search and Rescue training. I stayed up for a bit, ate a cupcake or two, then went back to bed for most of the afternoon until I went out to dinner with my parents at Bollywood Masala. I had some delicious chicken and veggies and kulfi (Indian ice cream). My parents had never been there before so it was good for them to try something different. Mom got my some beautiful flowers and a card which was nice.

I don't have much else planned to celebrate this week although Thursday I'll go to lunch with my coworkers at Pho Saigon. Thursday night is bible study and I'll probably bring little mandarin orange cups to share. Thursday I will also open the presents that my friend from camp Alejandro sent me! Saturday I have the first session for my first tattoo! I'm excited and nervous at the same time, but I know it will turn out well.

You probably won't see any recipe posts from me this week as I don't really plan to do any cooking. I've got lots of veggies already cooked up and I'm going to reheat some Applegate hotdogs and cook some Applegate bacon and eat the tilapia I've already cooked in an attempt to clean out my freezer and fridge.

Pot Roast Breakfast (W30 Friendly) & Thanksgiving Update

There was a lot of interest last week when I posted updates on my personal life, so I will try to include more of that in my recipe posts to keep things interesting.

We had a really nice Thanksgiving in Harper's Ferry with friends. There were two deep fried turkeys (my first ever) which were really tasty. There were so many vegetables, too, I was so happy! It is so strange to be around people that eat healthy! We had butternut squash, mashed potatoes, green beans, brussels sprouts...hmm, did I miss any? I had a little canned cranberry sauce. Then for dessert I had a baked apple which was filled with sliced apples and spices- like an apple pie without the crust. It was a pretty successful Thanksgiving with not too much junk eaten on my end. Also, it was cool because it was snowing in Harper's Ferry while we were dining at Maple Treehouse Camp. We never get snow in Southern MD over Thanksgiving! It was nice to see our friends Joie and Rachel again- I think it's been over a year since I last saw them!

Snow in Harper's Ferry

View from the campground where we had Thanksgiving dinner- it backs up to the Applachian Trail

Also, no cranberry sauce recipe for you all this week as unfortunately I burnt it. Oops. I should probably use a recipe next year so I don't cook it too long!

Black Friday went well. Andrew and I did the shopping thing two years ago and that was the first and last time I will do that. It's crazy how materialistic our society is- the things we do to buy stuff. I did some pet sitting, organized my recipe collection, and organized my spices/herbs instead. After my evening pet sitting, Andrew and I walked into downtown Leonardtown near his house and checked out the Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Although things were winding down, we still got to see the lit tree, all the vendors, pet the farm animals, check out the John Deer display and see the ice sculpture. It was so romantic with the Christmas music playing and everyone out celebrating.

Ice sculpture. I am wearing Andrew's Carhardt over my wool pea coat- it was cold!
Christmas tree on the square
Saturday and Sunday were pretty uneventful. I watched Maximus while Andrew went backpacking in PA and finished the Tuscorora Trail. He's been hiking it pretty much every other weekend since this spring. Other than taking care of Max and Jubi and pet sitting, I did some chores/cleaning around the house and then mostly just vegged out and watched New Girl on Netflix. It's so rare that I have hours of free time to myself on the weekends. Usually I am so busy. I also took a nap. Oh, I also tramped through the woods near my house to attend a new church and I liked it!

Maximus is so cute with all his wrinkles
Jubi hanging out this weekend

Anyway, without further delay, here's your recipe. This was freaking delicious. I savored every bite.

Be on the lookout for a birthday celebration update next week. My birthday is Thursday 12/11 but I'll be celebrating this weekend. I love to celebrate.
Side view

Yummy goat cheese on top

All mixed together

2-3 pounds beef roast (or other fatty cut of beef)
2 large sweet potatoes
1 dozen eggs
several tablespoons coconut oil for cooking sweet potatoes and eggs
garlic powder
onion powder
sea salt
your favorite beef seasoning- I used Bangkok Blend
garlic & herb goat cheese- optional, omit for W30

1. If you plan this in advance, you can put the beef roast in your crock pot while you are at work. Put it in, shake a little salt and your beef seasoning on top and cook on low for about 8 hours.
2. Meanwhile, rinse and dry sweet potatoes. Shred using food processor or cheese grater. Alternately, dice into small cubes like home fries.
3. Heat a large skillet on medium. Once warm, add about 2 tablespoons coconut oil. Then add sweet potato shreds/cubes and sautee until soft but not mushy.
4. Meanwhile, scramble eggs in a large bowl with a sprinkle of garlic powder, onion powder and sea salt.
5. Heat a large skillet on medium low. Then add scrambled eggs. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through.
6. Refrigerate eggs and sweet potatoes until beef is done cooking. When ready to serve, layer beef, sweet potatoes, and eggs. Top with cheese if desired. So many tasty flavors!

Serves 5-10.

Tip: This is a good make ahead breakfast that will keep for about a week in the fridge (unless you don't like to keep your meat that long cooked, then you can package it into individual servings and freeze.)

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes (W30 Friendly)

Who's getting excited for Thanksgiving? I am! We are going to have dinner with friends in Harper's Ferry, WV. It's a really pretty area and I'm also excited because I don't have to cook a whole meal! I'll be making crock pot cranberry sauce, which you will see on the blog next week probably (assuming it turns out well).

I'm actually really looking forward to Black Friday because I'll be able to catch up on some "deep cleaning" chores around the house like organizing my massive amount of spices/herbs and also my recipe collection. It's gonna feel so awesome to have them organized. I am also eating up all the odds and ends dry goods I have stored at my house and that will be awesome to have very little in storage.

This weekend I'll be able to get a lot of relax time in between pet sitting so I am looking forward to that. Monday through Wednesday of this week in addition to my 8 hour day at the office, I've put in 2 hours before work pet sitting and 2-3 hours after work pet sitting each day. 12-13 hour days are exhausting. I've made it a priority to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, which leaves me about 30 minutes per day that I'm not at work, travelling, pet sitting, or sleeping. I use that to eat my dinner (which so far has been one of these each night with fruit.)

Also, I have had two major revalations this week. Niether are really a big change but they will make a big difference.

First- In my Ignite Your Power 9 week course that I am doing with Kate Marolt I realized that I am mostly in alignment with my truth. One of the small things that is out of alignment is that I occasionally shop at a local small business pet supply store for high quality treats and such for Jubi. I was formerly employed there for a few months, and while as a customer I think the store is excellent and I really love the high quality products they offer, as an employee I feel that I was treated poorly and disrespected in many ways. I won't go into that further, but I have decided not to financially back a business/few individuals that disrespected me. It's just not true to me. That feels so good to say, and just making that decision makes me feel empowered. I'm not sure why it has taken me this long to realize that...

Second- I realized that I am also out of alignment when I go grocery shopping on the weekends. Occasionally I am able to beat the rush by going early in the mornings, but with my pet sitting schedule which often entails several early morning pet sitting visits lasting 45 minutes to an hour each, that's not always possible. So each time that I end up at the grocery store at any point on the weekend that is not early morning, I always get stressed out. I hate maneuvering through crowds and the fake politness and constantly saying excuse me when everyone is hogging up the whole aisle. Even though I am usually only in the store for about 30 minutes, it's never a pleasant experience. Yet, many weekends, I find myself in that same position again. And I realized that the crowds are never going to change. But I can change my actions, especially when I choose to go to the store. Usually I have more free time on weekends plus we get paid on Fridays so that's why I go on weekends. But since I have direct deposit, my pay check deposits on Thursdays. Thursdays I am usually at bible study in the evenings. I have to drive directly by BJs, Walmart, Food Lion, and Giant on my way to bible study and back home, so I should be able to go either before or after bible study most nights. Then the food only has to sit in the fridge until the weekend for me to cook it. Plus, I have a cooler so I could fill the cooler with fresh stuff on the way to bible study and unload it at home afterwards.

I am actually thinking I will attempt to go to the grocery store only once every 2 weeks and cook once every two weeks. Right now I go once a week and cook about once a week (I freeze a lot of food in serving sizes.) But every other week is usually a really light trip for me. Most fresh stuff will keep 1-2 weeks, and I can eat the stuff that won't keep first. I'm going to give that a go and see how it works out. I get a weekly organic veggie CSA so I almost never have to buy veggies unless they are for a particular recipe and not in season locally, so I am usually just buying fruit and meat. I get 2 dozen local farm fresh eggs delivered every week, too.

Also, this weekend I have a surprise amount of free time. Originally Andrew and I were going to spend most of the weekend relaxing (other than pet sitting) but he decided to go backpacking this weekend and finish up the Tuscarora Trail in PA with another thru-hiker (class of 2015). So that means I have a lot of free time and not a lot to do considering we have two extra days off. I always have tons to do on the weekends, but I have tons of meals in the freezer so I just have some odds and ends stuff to do plus my normal weekly cleaning (about 1 hour since I just rent a room and bathroom). I will probably see a movie on Sunday with friends at the new theater in Brandywine and I am also thinking I will check out the church next door to my house. I can easily walk there and I'd guess it's about 3/4 mile away. Plus, it's non-denominational. I've been thinking for a while about leaving SouthPoint and I honestly haven't gone since spring because of pet sitting and travelling. Now that I live in Mechanicsville, Southpoint is a lot further away. Also, I just realized Advent is just around the corner. I love Advent- it's such a magical time. (Is that a bad adjective to use? Hmm...) I'm going to try to go to church every Sunday of advent. I love the tradition of lighting the candles.

Yay me!

Now here's your recipe...

3 large white sweet potatoes (you could also use white potatoes or regular sweet potatoes)
1 pack bacon
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons sausage seasoning
1 dozen eggs
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons butter plus 1 tablespoon to cook eggs- use ghee or coconut oil if on W30

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Place bacon spread out on a baking sheet so they are not touching. Use more than one sheet if needed.
3. Slice sweet potatoes in half. Place cut sides down on a baking sheet lined with tin foil.
4. Put sweet potatoes in the oven for 45 minutes or until insides are tender. If you have space put bacon in for about 15 minutes or until desired crispiness.
5. Meanwhile, add 1 tablespoon butter to a skillet on medium. Once melted, crack and add all eggs to skillet. Scramble with heat proof utensil. Add salt and pepper. Cook until scrambled. Set aside.
6. In another skillet heated to medium, add ground pork and sausage seasoning. Mix with heat proof utensil, breaking up as you go until cooked through. Set aside.
7. Once sweet potatoes are cooked through, remove and scoop most of the flesh out of the skins. Add to a large mixing bowl. Leave a little flesh around the edges so the skins can stand up.
8. Add remaning butter to mixing bowl. Dice bacon and add to mixing bowl (I cut mine in 1 inch strips with scissors). Add scrambled eggs and pork. Mix until well combined.
9. Scoop the mixture back into the potato skins, heaping it up.
10. Once all sweet potato skins are heaped up, bake for another 15 minutes to let flavors combine and mashed sweet potato to toast a little. (This step optional since there's no cheese to melt unlike in regular twice baked potatoes.)

Makes about 6 servings. Can also work as a breakfast!

Spinach Artichoke Dip (Primal)

Spinach artichoke dip is one of Andrew's favorites. I couldn't find a good recipe online so I asked myself "What ingredients must you have to have a successful spinach artichoke dip?" The answer was spinach, artichokes, and cheese. Knowing that mozzerella cheese is mild and melty for a good dip base, I bought a block of it. Seeing the results, I would buy 2 blocks next time to make a cheesy-er dip but it was still good. I ate mine with Tostitos (gasp- but Tostitos aren't paleo! That's right, they aren't. I eat about 80-90% paleo with occasional other foods that are generally gluten free, preservative free, free of artificial stuff, etc. Corn does make it's way into my diet occasionally.)

small block mozzerella cheese (or two if you like your dip really cheesy)
1 bag baby spinach
2 soup can size cans of brined artichokes

1. Add cheese to microwave safe bowl and heat for about 1.5 minutes or until just melted.
2. Add artichokes (without the brine) to food processor. A
3. Add spinach to food processor.
4. Add melted cheese. Blend until evenly diced and incorporated. Serve warm.

Makes about 2-4 meal size servings with one block of cheese.

Shenadoah Waterfall Trip 11/15-11/16

Originally we planned to do a 3 day backpacking trip on the Tuscarora Trail in PA but the friend that was going to join us drove up on Friday rather than Saturday. Oops- serious miscommunication! So Friday evening we had to re-plan our whole weekend since he no longer wanted to join us after driving 3.5 hours each way to meet us at the trail. I didn't want to drive up in a separate car because I knew after hiking 30 miles in 3 days I would be exhausted and I wasn't sure I'd be able to drive that far without falling asleep at the wheel on the way home. I also didn't want to drive Andrew up there and drop him off- that's a whole day spent driving. But at the same time, it's rare that I have a weekend with no pet sitting so we decided to take advantage of it.

Luckily, I woke up early Saturday morning because Andrew called me around 7:30 to make plans. We decided to go to Shenadoah and do all the waterfall hikes. We had already done one on the Overall Run trail. So, by the time I got ready and got on the road, we started the hike around 2 pm (it's a several hour drive to Shenadoah). We decided to hike White Oak Canyon which was probably about 8 miles total and had 2 waterfalls. The waterfalls were beautiful especially with the partially frozen portions. Since we got a late start we ended up finishing the hike in the dark, but luckily it was just up a not-too-challenging fire road and we were prepared to hike in the dark with our headlamps and lights on the dogs' collars. We got done around 6 pm and went to have dinner at the Wayside in Big Meadows which is a casual sit down restaurant. We both got burgers and salad and they were good. I was really looking forward to a hot meal after a long, cold hike. It worked out well since this was the last weekend the restaurants were open in Shenadoah. We could have eaten camp food but that's only meh so we decided to get a hot meal including spiced hot cider.

White Oak falls and Maximus
By then it was about 7 pm and our sleeping options were either to tent camp in Big Meadows (surrounded by lots of other tent campers where the dogs would almost surely bark A LOT during the night), hike about a mile in on the Appalachian Trail to a shelter where there might be campsites left (we've hiked in and camped at this particular spot before) or stealthily sleep in the back of Andrew's SUV. Considering the temperatures and the dog factor, I made the call to sleep in the back of the SUV, which may or may not be allowed in the park. I slept about as well as I do normally camping (which is not well at all) and we got up early to walk the dogs and catch breakfast at the Wayside when it opened at 8. Overnight, we had Maximus in one front seat, tucked in with his jacket and a blanket, Jubi in the driver's seat with her two jackets, my Carhardt, and a blanket, and Aramis in the back seat with a blanket and his jacket. During the night Andrew decided Aramis was too cold sleeping off on the side in the back of the car so he shared his sleeping bag with him as usual, which meant poor sleeping for Andrew.

Aramis at a falls overlook
The kids (including Jubi in her new expensive pink jacket)

We had a nice hot breakfast (I had breakfast potatoes, scrambled eggs and bacon along with more hot spiced cider.) then hit the trail again. We did a loop hike that encompassed several waterfalls. Although I enjoy hiking, the uphills still tire me out! Jubi was having a great time, though, and I think she was comfortably warm with her new (very expensive) winter jacket. Then we did two point to point hikes that were probably about 2 miles each (probably about 8 miles total the second day) to see the last two waterfalls. We didn't see too many other people on the trail and we had a nice time out.

Andrew and I <3
Me holding the kids at the last waterfall while Andrew went to the lookout to take pictures (where there was another dog)

We stopped at a diner on the way home for more burgers (I had a salad and green beans with mine) then we also stopped for frozen yogurt. It had really good froyo (except the strawberry lemonade flavor which tasted like cleaning chemicals to me- yuck! but the angel food cake and dulce de leche were very good topped with fresh fruit.) We made it home around 7 ish and then did some unpacking, showered and relaxed a little.

Monday I had already requested the day off so I stayed home and caught up on stuff- mostly meal prep, then relaxed in the evening.

Pumpkin Cheesecake (Primal)

Inspired by a crust-less cheesecake at a conference recently, this is my pumpkin version.

1/2 neck pumpkin or 2 normal size cans pumpkin puree
4- 8 oz boxes plain full fat cream cheese
1.5 cups maple syrup
1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Note: If you really like pumpkin pie spices, double the amounts above. What is listed gives just a hint of pumpkin pie flavor.

1. Preheat oven to 400. Slice pumpkin in half and place sliced sides down on a tin-foil lined baking sheet or inside of an oven-safe casserole dish. Bake for 1 hour or until interior pumpkin is soft. (Skip this step if using canned pumpkin).
2. Meanwhile, thaw cream cheese at room temperature.
3. Once pumpkin is cooked (or if using canned pumpkin) add all ingredients to food processor or electric mixer. Mix until well combined.
4. Grease a spring form cheesecake pan with coconut oil. Dump in cream cheese mixture. Bake for 2.5-3 hours at 350 or until firm inside. (I over baked mine a little at around 3-3.5 hours.)

Makes several servings.