Monday, August 22, 2016

Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon

There are certain things in life that you just have to see to understand. I supposed most things in life are that way actually. However, certain images come to mind when we think about trees and there's just no comparing the trees we pass by each day to a sequoia tree. Being in a sequoia forest brings about a sense of reverence and respect that is hard to find in other places. We had an amazing few nights camping near these giants.

Went on a fascinating ranger tour with ranger Frank.
This fallen tree was used as a motel and a horse stable.

Baby sequoias. Cue the "awww!"
When loggers first laid their eyes on the giant sequoias, they saw dollar signs. Cutting began and sequoia cemeteries were created – fields of giant stumps. 3-4,000 years of growth to this majestic point, cut down in a few days. Luckily, the sequoia wood wasn’t great for constructing. The fibers were short and the wood split easily. If it weren’t for that, maybe we would have no old growth sequoias left to enjoy.
I think of this story and how it might apply to me. Where are the places in my life where I’m being short-sighted or greedy? If my small choices and actions were amplified, would I be the one cutting down sequoias for quick profit? Where can I slow down, observe and apply wisdom so that future generations aren’t looking back in disgust?

A stump that was once used for dances.

Can you see Lynea?

Counting rings
Biggest tree in the world behind us.

Fig heaven

One of my favorite things to do in this great big world is to find things that are edible and eat them. Wild stuff, cultivated stuff, stuff in my backyard. I would even dare to cross over into wishy washy land and say it is a transcendent experience for me.
So when I heard there were lots of fig trees in California, finding one soared to the top of my priority list. And find one we did.

One of our friend's neighbors had a fig tree that was loaded! We knocked on the door to get permission to climb it, and he replied that it was better we eat them than the squirrels. Couldn't agree more!

Saw these babies for $1 each at a market. We picked a couple hundred!

Blending them up for fruit leather
Picking fruit is always more fun when you enjoy it with other people that appreciate it. Kim and Jon are definitely those people! 
Spreading out the the blended figs on the dehydrator. Fruit leather time.
"Better than any argument is to rise at dawn and pick dew-wet red berries in a cup."
Wendell Berry
"Even better than dew-wet red berries is filling a cardboard box with figs!"

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Glendora, CA and Huntington Library/Botanical Garden

After San Clemente, we got to spend a few days with our friends Jon and Kim Taylor. We met them in Cleveland through mutual friends a few years back and hit it off right away. Kim and I are both teachers and she spent time in Costa Rica years ago. We are all interested in real food, where it comes from, and preserving it. Most of all we all love being outside in nature. Jon is a seasoned backpacker! I hope to be able to go on a back packing trip with them sometime soon! They are so generous and hospitable and it was a breath of fresh air to spend a few days with them.

Kyle and Jon made a memory harvesting figs from a neighbors yard (more on that story to come). We also got to go on a hike together up the mountains overlooking Glendora.

Kim took us to Huntington Library and Botanical Garden. The gardens cover over 120 acres featuring a desert, Australian, Herb, Jungle, Palm, Subtropical, Rose, Children, and Japanese garden. The last scene of Memoirs of a Geisha was actually filmed there! 
Memoirs of a Geisha
Unfortunately the blossoms weren't in bloom when we visited

Me and Kim (the sun made everything look so green!)

The Japanese Garden has an extensive collection of Bonsai Trees. They are amazing! Some even had fruit on them like limes and pomegranates!

San Clemente California

4 years ago we had the opportunity to get to know Keith and Marion in Panama. They were hospitable then and now! They have been family friends of the Mitchells for years and now we share that friendship. We stayed with them many times while in Panama City in 2012. 

Now they live in San Clemete, California near their daughter and son-in-law, Genevieve and Chris. We got to spend a few days with them learning about Chris's organic gardening business, Organics Outback. He is a hard worker and has found a wonderful niche for organic gardening! The gardens he installs and cares for are beautiful! 

Keith, Marion, Kyle and I having dinner on the pier. 

We had a lovely time catching up with them and it was hard to leave! You can grow at least 3 times the amount of species in San Clemente than you can in Ohio. It's 70-80 degrees year round. Sunny and perfect all the time. There is one negative to San Clemente, apparently they have this thing called "June Gloom" where a fog comes over the ocean for the morning. Sounds horrible right? I laughed when Keith told us and responded, "Poor babies. We don't see the sun for weeks sometimes!"

San Clemente 
San Clemente Beach

Gear for Camping and Traveling

I thought I would take a moment to brag and complain about some of our gear through the years. As I  look back at the last 8 years, I notice some items that have been constants in our lives and some that were a one time bust. Every time we have packed up for a trip or to move internationally, someone always asks, "How do you do it?" My answer is, "With the right gear."

Never leave home with out Crocs. Especially when camping it's so easy to slip on around the campsite. The rubber bottoms feel great on tired hiking feet. Also great if it's raining or you want to wade in the river and unlike flip flops, they don't get caught on rocks and break. often has discounts.

We both had a pair living in India in the monsoon and traveling through Thailand.  I'm wearing the north face backpack and Kyle's wearing the Kelty.
My favorite running and walking shoe? New Balance Minimus 10x3 Trail Runner. They are also my favorite climbing and walking shoe. They are a super light, barefoot runner, breathable shoe. Be warned that the summer version with mesh is great for hot weather. The winter version (no mesh) is too hot for summer wearing. I've had great luck finding 2 pairs at Nordstrom Rack over the years for 50% off.

My favorite water hiking shoe are Keen's. They protect my toes, stay on tight, and have great traction! I've worn my way through two pairs of  Keen Newport sandals. The first pair lasted me 6 years! I've also had the Whisper sandal. It's a sleeker, less bulky look, but they foot bed was too narrow for me. My dad has the male version of the Newports and also loves them. I've also found these at Nordstrom Rack.

Kyle has also had cozy feet in Keen boots.

Socks?? SmartWool for every occasion!!! Shop We prefer the PhD or Running socks. We don't get the ultra thin anymore because we would ware holes in them too fast. Thin for summer and medium for winter. I have had luck with Icebreaker, Bridgedale, and Lorpen as well.
Keens helping me to climb in the Panama rainforest. They also have been to India, Banff, and the John Muir trail.  I'm actually wearing them right now :)

Over the years I've used a large old school Kelty and a small Northface. Both were advertised for backpacking. 

The Kelty had great features like side and front pockets, separate bottom compartment and heavily padded belt and shoulder straps. However, the top section was a giant pit. If you needed something at the bottom of the pit, you had to take everything out. 

The Northface looked cool and was great for backpacking in Thailand. However, it was highly impractical for packing everything needed for a backpacking trip in the woods (your sleeping bag and extra shoes have to be attached on the outside). It also was like a giant pit. 

I have been using the Ariel 65 Osprey pack for the last few years. I love it! It's big enough to fit my camping gear but could be pulled small enough to use as a carryon when traveling through Central America. It also has a front access pocket so I can open it like a suitcase. An Osprey feature I love is a moldable hip strap. At the store, they heat it up and mold it to your hips which makes a huge difference around mile 50. I also like that the top flap is detachable and turns into a fanny pack for day hikes. 

We bought Kyle's dad, Owen, a Granite Gear Aji 50 Backpack last year that he has traveled in Europe with. Our friends Kim and Jon also have this pack and they all love it. It has many great features, but the best is the front suitcase style opening. If you need something at the bottom or middle of your pack, you can easily open to the exact location.

My Dad and Kyle both have had wonderful experiences with the Deuter Aircontact Variflex Internal Frame 65 L + 10L pack. Comfy, front suitcase style opening, holds a crud ton of stuff and has loads of places to hook things on the outside!

Deuter Aircontact Variflex Internal Frame

My dad, Dave, preparing his Deuter Aircontact to hike the John Muir Trail. 

Kyle carrying a 70L Arcteryx Backpack
I've been using the Aurora CamelBak Hydration pack all summer and have rarely been dehydrated. 

I also have been traveling with a 12oz insulated wide mouth Klean Canteen. Be sure to check out the lid options (loop cap and cafe cap). Not filling up landfills is important to me. While on the road, I fill it with water at the gas station and it's cold for 12 hours. My Starbucks Chai is hot for 6 hours. I rarely use a disposable cup anymore. That makes me happy. 

We had this trust Eureka for years! We slept for months in it in Central America and it held up great. You can see the stars when the fly is off but the walls aren't all mesh which allows for convenient changing inside. The down fall - no foot print so we always had to carry a tarp. VERY durable though. We recently passed this on to our nephews and bought a Mountain Smith Celestial Tent (2 person, 3 season).  
The Eureka set up at the Lazy Man's Farm in Panama. It rained many, many nights there and it still held up! 
We recently passed this on to our nephews and bought a Mountain Smith Celestial Tent (2 person, 3 season).  It had all the specification we wanted - extra length for Kyle's 6'4" build, a waterproof wrap up bathtub bottom which means so tarp or footprint needed, see through roof for star gazing, some privacy in the walls (not all mesh), and two doorways. At first sight, it seems like a cheapo tent, but we've used it in the rain and it's held up great! We are very happy with it. The only negative is the vestibule (the place under the fly that extends out from the tent so you can put your gear) is smaller than the Eureka. Having that extra outdoor but protected space spoiled us. 

Sleeping Pads
We have used many things for sleeping pads over the years. We had different options at every farm and in every country we've been in. During the summer of 2012 while in Central America, we counted how many beds/sleeping arrangements we had just in that year. I think it was somewhere close to 25!  We've slept on mattresses made from coconut hair, foam, air pads, and more. The ones we liked the most? We happily shared a Coleman twin air mattress for weeks in the tent before Buddy decided to give it try. You know how dogs like to walk in circles to get comfy before lying down? The Coleman was no match for his nails. 

Coleman's are also great for floating in rivers (you need to air them out well before putting them back in the tent...which is how Buddy got ahold of it.)

We each currently have a Therm-a-Rest ProLite 4. We love them! 

Stanley Camp Prep and Cook Set has been great so far. Compact, durable, and relatively light. 

I used to swear by mini Magnates. But over the last 20 years (I've been backpacking for 20 years!) they have greatly developed head lamps. My favorite for price and function is Petal Tikkina II LED Headlamp. I have used this in India when the power went out, in the woods in the middle of the night, and in the back yard to put away the chickens. 

Last notes: having the right gear is key but don't pay full price!!! Follow these steps instead: 

  1. Try things on at the store - backpacks, headlamps, open up the tents, open up the sleeping bags. 
  2. Read reviews
  3. Shop off season - buy tents, sleeping bags, packs in late fall and winter
  4. Shop at discount stores like Playto's Closet and Unique Thrift - I found 2 Columbia rain jackets!
  5. Shop discount websites like,, and

Hope that helps!! Feel free to share any gear you don't leave the house without!