lady slipper time

If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of central Vermont this week, you should drop the rest of your plans and get on over to the Eshqua Bog in Hartland. It’s a small wetland nature preserve featuring hundreds of pink showy lady slipper orchids, and they’re in perfect bloom RIGHT NOW!Image

We went for a hike there a couple of days ago, and although it was an overcast, somewhat rainy day, it turned out to be the perfect day for a bog visit.Image

The Nature Conservancy of Vermont and New England Wildflower Society have teamed up to maintain this beautiful spot, including a hiking trail and several boardwalks to help visitors cross the more marshy areas.Image

I recently read about the charming Japanese concept of forest bathing. Since 1982, the Japanese Department of Forestry has been advising shinrin-yoku – a brief visit to a forest – as a stress-relief practice. I can’t really argue with that. Apparently there are significant health benefits not just from being in a beautiful setting, but actually breathing in the forest air.

I have heard British people making fun of Americans for calling a walk in nature “a hike,” rather than just “a walk.” Guess they’re wrong too, apparently we’re all going for “a bath.” Personally I’m rather fond of the New Zealand term, “tramping,” though I can see how the phrase “going tramping” might come off as not the most wholesome activity.Image

Anyhow, a rainy day turned out to be a wonderful time for a bog walk/hike/tramp/bath because not only was it nice and cool and dewy, but the air was so fragrant I could smell it before we even got out of the car. Full of those aromatherapeutic wood essences that Japanese people are so wild about.Image

This bog is a really ethereally beautiful place, and the canopy of trees is so thick that even when it showered a little during our walk, we didn’t feel hardly a drop, and only knew it was even raining by the sound of raindrops hitting the leaves far above us. Image

The bog is home to wildlife too – deer and hares and dragonflies and a whole host of delightfully noisy birds. We didn’t see any animals besides insects on this trip, but we did see some of their food – wild raspberries, Image

and coral mushrooms.Image

Another species of orchid are also in bloom right now – these adorably teeny bog orchids:Image

But the real star of the show is the showies. They were just bursting into bloom when we were there, and some had yet to fully emerge from the bud stage.Image

They actually look really cool right before they open.Image

By now I bet they are all open and showing their fully showy glory.Image

To get to the Eshqua Bog from I-91, take exit 9 to get onto VT-12 north. Follow for several miles then turn left onto Hartland Hill Road. Make a sharp left onto Garvin Hill Road, and follow it about a mile until you see the Eshqua Bog Natural Area sign on the right, just after a small pull-over parking area. Enjoy the flowers and the magical healing powers of the forest!DSC01728

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it’s friday i’m in love

Hey, it’s Friday again already! I had so much fun coming up with cool internet stuff to show you guys last week, I think I’m gonna make this a regular Friday feature. And this week, I’m starting it off with magical nordic elves.

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image via El & Em

1) OMG how lovable is Iceland. They recently halted work on an Icelandic highway because people were worried it was going to disturb the habitat of the Huldufolk, human-sized invisible elves that 50% of Icelanders believe are real. I’m serious.

2) I’m really into Yael Naim this week. She’s a French-Israeli singer/songwriter who had that great song “New Soul” in the Macbook Air commercial a few years ago. Right now I’m digging “Go to the River.” The video is kind of weird but the song is beautiful.

3) I loved this Modern Parents Messy Kids post on “The Summer of Yes.” Doesn’t that sound like an awesome mantra for summertime? Here is just a snippet of Steph’s wisdom, but you should really click over and read the whole thing yourself.

  • I will remember that just as giving my children boundaries and reasonable, age-appropriate expectations is not going to break their spirit, letting a few things slide in the name of being a preschooler is also not going to create self-centered and co-dependent adults.
  • I will remember that my friends have dirty houses just like mine – they’ll barely even notice it, let alone judge me for it.
  • I will remember how special I can make my child feel simply by stopping in the middle of what I’m doing, making eye-contact and listening for 3 minutes.
  • I will remember that a little silly goes a long way.

4) Check out these adorable summer-themed building blocks by Fidoodle:

Fidoodle makes all kinds of lovely hand-printed wooden stuff. I’m also rather fond of their suburban-themed blocks. Who knew ranch houses and station wagons could be so cute?

5) CHAMOMILE CUPCAKES. So sweet. My pint-sized little old ladies will love these. 

6) My friend Michelle, the brains behind the thoughtful motherhood essay-blog Juicebox Confession, is hosting an awesome, Waldorfy giveaway of kid and baby stuff.

Click over to her blog and fill out the entry form to win some sweet, wholesome swag for the little one in your life, including wool felt play food by Bubba Pickle’s Market, fairy wings from Fantasy Kids Wear, and beautiful carved wooden toys from The Enchanted Root.

7) Finally, I’ll just leave you with this to usher in your weekend.

Happy Friday!

rhubarb shortbread squares

Summer in Vermont is idyllic, there’s no question. But I will admit one thing that is a teeny bit disappointing. The fruit season takes forever to get going here. Strawberries, which I think of as a May fruit from my Illinois days, aren’t ready for picking until mid to late June. And the rest of the berries don’t even come around until July. So for a fruit pie lover in springtime here, it’s pretty much all rhubarb all the time. I was so excited when my daughter turned six months old in mid-June, that her first taste of solid food would be some uber-fresh tender summer produce from the Farmer’s Market. Imagine my dismay when I went there and saw nothing but plant starts, salad greens, and rhubarb. Spoiler alert: we gave her a banana instead, so it worked out OK.Image

Prepared well, rhubarb is actually pretty delicious, mouthwateringly tangy and so gorgeous with its pinks and reds fading into pale green. I fell in love with this rhubarb curd shortbread recipe I found on food52 a few years ago. I’ve made it tons of times and have developed my own tweaks and tricks so I’m sharing my adaptation of it here. It’s actually getting to be kind of like a game of telephone, this recipe – Rivka, who submitted it to food52, and has a terrific food blog of her own by the way, adapted it from Cook and Eat, who got the rhubarb curd recipe from Ginger Tablet. So I guess I’ve got a lot of chutzpah to think I can improve upon what all those actual food bloggers did. But seriously guys, my way is a leetle bit better. Kidding. Sort of. Not really.Image

So basically, you chop up a bunch of rhubarb and bung it in a pan with some sugar and a little water. While that’s cooking, go and make your shortbread. Throw a stick and a half of chopped up butter into your Cuisinart.Image

Have your three year-old sous chef add the flour for you.Image

Go check on your rhubarb. Whoa, a lot of juice has come out of it! Don’t worry, that’s normal. You want it to cook until it’s totally submerged, and soft enough to fall apart.
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Now for the first genius part of this recipe. Spices in the shortbread. I would never have thought to combine spices like cloves, ginger, and cinnamon with rhubarb, but it’s perfect together. So perfect that I went ahead and made it even perfecter by adding two of my favorite dessert seasonings, cardamom and nutmeg.
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Blend the whole shebang together until it looks like this:Image

Then dump it all into a baking pan and press evenly into a nice crust.Image

Chuck it in the oven on 350 and bake til golden. By now your rhubarb should be soft enough that you can do this to it just by mooshing with your wooden spoon. Image

But we don’t want it just moosh soft, we want it puree soft. Like a smooth pudding. Like an expensive face cream. So get in there with your immersion blender.Image

Looks appetizing, doesn’t it? Once in a while I find rhubarb stalks that are red all the way up and create a beautiful pink puree. But more often than not, it looks like something out of a Gerber jar. Not pretty. So let’s call in a little of nature’s food coloring. Raspberries. I always have a bag in my freezer for smoothies, so I just made a tiny bit of raspberry coulis. Half a cup of frozen raspberries, a tablespoon of sugar, and some vigorous stirring over medium heat makes this:Image

Strain it into your rhubarb and you will get something that looks like this. Much prettier.Image

When your shortbread looks like this, it’s ready to come out of the oven and cool on a rack.Image

While it’s cooling, mix together some egg yolks, sugar, and lemon zest. Add the rhubarb a scoop at a time and then place the bowl over a double boiler and for god’s sake, keep stirring. After about 5 minutes, it should be warmed through and thickened. I didn’t take any pictures of this part because the steam from the double boiler kept fogging my camera lens, but it looks pretty much like eggs mixed with sugar mixed with pink stuff. When it’s done, spread it over the shortbread and bake 10 more minutes at 350.Image

Droool… seriously you guys, these are so good my mouth is watering just thinking about them. I have one more left in the pan downstairs, I’d better go eat it before the kids wake up…Image

Rhubarb Shortbread Squares
makes 16 bars

For the rhubarb curd:

  • 3/4 pounds rhubarb
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup frozen or fresh raspberries *optional
  • 1 tablespoon sugar *optional
  • egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • teaspoon lemon zest
  • tablespoons softened butter

For the shortbread:

  • 12 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • pinch cloves
1. Cut rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. Add rhubarb, 1/4 cup sugar, and water to a saucepan and cook over medium heat until rhubarb falls apart. Remove from heat and puree with immersion blender. If it looks pink and beautiful, you’re done for now. If it’s not pretty enough for you, cook the raspberries with 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small pan over medium heat, stirring until all the berries are mashed and the juice has thickened to a syrupy consistency. Press the cooked raspberries through a fine mesh strainer into the pot of pureed rhubarb and stir to blend.
2.Preheat oven to 350. Put all the shortbread ingredients in a food processor and mix until combined. Dump dough into an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan and press evenly to the edges. Bake 30 minutes until light golden brown. Place the pan on a rack to cool, but don’t turn off the oven.
3. Fill the pot of a double boiler with a couple of inches of water. Place the bowl of the double boiler on the counter, and add the egg yolks, butter, 1/3 cup sugar, and lemon zest, mixing well. Add the rhubarb one spoonful at a time and stir until well combined. Place over the simmering pot and continue stirring for about 5 minutes, until the curd is warm and thickened. Remove from heat.
4. Spread the rhubarb curd over the cooled shortbread crust and bake at 350 for 10 more minutes. Cool to room temperature on the counter, then store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to cut and serve.

 

midsummer night

bell flowerIn the PKE (pre-kids era) I never really thought that much about marking the passing of the seasons. The autumn equinox was exciting because that sometimes falls on my birthday, and it’s the only one of the seasons that actually coincides with the weather change. At the end of September you get out your cute jackets and your wooly sweaters and your boots and tights and you just feel totally fallish and cozy. But on the first day of winter, anywhere I’ve ever lived, it’s already been freezing for a good month, and there’s usually no snow accumulation for a few more weeks. It is extremely dark so all the holiday lights and/or candles at least make sense. And the first day of summer is kind of weird. It’s usually well into hot, swimsuity weather by now (got my first sunburn yesterday, in fact), school’s already out, white pants are already being worn, and like I said, the mosquitoes. (And don’t get me started on the cruel joke that is the first day of spring.)

However.

Since having kids and especially since moving to rural Vermont, I have come to realize that celebrating the seasons (and micro-seasons, like lilac-blooming season, blueberry-picking season, and maple syrup season) is not just something to entertain yourself, or your kids. Celebrating seasonal change has actually helped me feel more at peace with the passage of time.  Which is no easy task when you have these phenomenal little creatures growing up around you at the speed of light. (By which I mean my children, not some kind of space-time forest of sea monkeys or something.) It’s like, if I have squeezed every last drop of summer-ness out of summer, then it’s not as sudden and tragic as it used to feel when summer is finally over.

So that brings us to Midsummer. Which, may I say, is a much more sensible name for it because it feels like the longest day of the year should be the middle of summer, not the beginning of it! Anyhow, we had a day of summery sun and fairy fun, and even my un-naturey photo-nerd husband got in on the action.

A few days ago he prepared some water color paper to make cyanotypes with the kids. If you don’t know what cyanotypes are, it’s basically the simplest type of photographic process. The paper is the film, and sunlight will turn it blue. If there is something covering the paper, those places will remain white.

Once the paper’s been exposed long enough, you wash the blue-making chemicals off the paper in running water, and dip it in hydrogen peroxide to heighten the contrast.

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And voila! BEHOLD THE POWER OF THE SUN!Image

(In a funny coincidence, I found out after posting this that a local photographer friend also did cyanotypes with his kid this morning. I guess photo dad + hippie paganesque Vermont  + June 21 = solstice cyanotypes.) If you want to make your own cyanotypes, here’s the full DIY instructions, including how to make the treated paper, or you can just buy pre-made cyanotype paper.

After lunch, we crossed one off our summer wish list by attending a bluegrass concert at the nursing home across from our house. The kids danced and ran around, and when they got too squirrelly, I took them back across the street to get some lemonade from some boys who had a stand on the corner, and then watched the rest while eating snacks from the comfort of our porch.

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We’re lucky enough to belong to a CSA that offers unlimited PYO herbs, and the kids had gathered a bunch of chamomile on Thursday to make tea with. I truly am raising two little old ladies. We had our afternoon tea in the backyard with some leftover chunks of cake and frosting from our other morning project – making a sun cake!

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I came across this Mandarin Orange Cake the other day and when I read this in the description, I was sold: “Most of its charm is deeply rooted in the fact that this cake is not for special occasions. It’s a summer cake, a cake to make at the lake house, or cabin, or eaten while sitting in wet swimsuits while wrapped in beach towels.” I didn’t feel like going out and buying canned fruit and a cake mix, so I just made my go to yellow cake recipe instead, but I’m saving that easy peasy one in my back pocket for a beach vacation dessert. What I did make from that recipe was the frosting – whipped cream frosting, my favorite, with orange zest, and the amazing trick of adding instant pudding to stabilize it! Hallelujah! I mixed in some turmeric for a nice hippie-style yellow color.

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We cooked and ate dinner al fresco, courtesy of ye olde firepit and some hot dogs from The Chopper, as I affectionately call our local low-rent grocery chain. Mitigated slightly by the local organic salad that sat mostly untouched on the kids plates. Thanks to the funny gardening picture book that I picked up at a library surplus sale back in Chicago, Muncha Muncha Muncha, they do love to eat the hearts of the lettuce, at least.

After dinner was as consumed as it was gonna get, I brought out the glorious cake. We decorated it with strawberries and some nasturtiums from our garden. Yum!

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To make the sun shape for the top layer, I just cut a small circle out of the cake, placed it on top of the frosted bottom layer, and then cut triangles out of the remaining ring of cake, placing them around the circle, and  then frosted the whole thing. I am not a frosting master, somebody like my cousin Jorie could probably do something phenomenal with this idea.

After bath and jammies, the kids decided we should leave some sun cake for the fairies too, since tonight is their big to do. We made a picnic table outside their cabin and the kids found little leaves for plates and stones for benches. My five year-old was adamant that ten fairies were going to come, so we left ten tiny chunks of cake on ten leaves for them. Hope they enjoy it as much as we did!

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it’s friday i’m in love

Just a quick post to share some things I’m in love with around the ol’ internet this week:

1) All Girl Summer Fun Band. 

I think I’m gonna officially make these gals the soundtrack of my summer. I first heard this song on a college station back in Chicago lo these many years ago back in aught two. Good times.

2) Dandelion clocks.

I never knew the word for the second stage of dandelion flowers, when they turn into the white puffs that you wish on and blow away. But apparently they’re called clocks, and you can preserve them with hairspray, glitter, and a twig. Who knew??

3) County fair-style lemonade.

My mouth is watering just watching this video. Cannot WAIT to make some of this!

4) Gregorian Wind Chimes.

I’m a total windchimer. Send me into any store selling windchimes and I will be sure to swipe them all. I just love listening to all the different tones! It’s part of what lured my husband in on our first meeting. I chimed all 84 thousand of the different wind chimes for sale in the gift shop of the tiki bar we were at, and he turned red and apologized to the store manager. I would like to blame it on the flaming bowl of tropical booze we had just consumed but truthfully I would probably have done the same stone cold sober. Anyhow, I am so in love with the ethereal tones of this alto gregorian chime I found at our local Agway. Go to the link and hear it for yourself. It’s magical.

5. Patterned Paint Roller

Is this genius or what?? All the charm of a monochrome woodland wallpaper pattern, and none of the commitment! If we ever get around to repairing the crack-dennish walls in our children’s bedroom, I am getting one of these for sure.

6. Custom Superhero Stuffies.

After years of loudly proclaiming his disinterest in superheroes, my five year old has finally begun to have a kernel of interest. As he goes, so goes his sister, and they have now become the superduo of Animaleon (who has the superpower to transform into any animal, living or extinct) and Fleaella (able to jump 50 times her own height). I bet they would be ultra cute superdollies.

7. Lullatone Raindrop Melody Maker Game

Lullatone is a Japanese band that I just adore. They classify their style as “pajama pop.” Actually their whole Summer Songs album could be a contender for my summer soundtrack too, with song titles like “Grocery Shopping for a BBQ,” “Secretly Loving the Smell of Suntan Oil,” and “Driving Home with a Towel on the Seat.” But they also have some apps and games and stuff, and I could entertain myself (not to mention the littles) for hours with this little music composition gizmo. Love.

Happy Friday night everybody!

the lupine lady

Welp, cross one off the summer wish list. We went to see the fields of lupines yesterday, and it was glorious.lupines-3

This outing was inspired by the wonderful 1982 picture book, Miss Rumphius. miss-rumphius-cover

If you don’t know Miss Rumphius, you should probably go out right now and get a copy from the library. They will definitely have it as librarians love this book. They even made an award for librarians named after it. The story and the beautiful pictures are by Barbara Cooney of Ox-Cart Man fame. miss-rumphius-1

I was so captivated by this story of a lady and her love of lupines, that after I first read it a couple of years ago, I googled lupines and that was how I found out about this June festival only a couple hours north of us in Franconia Notch, NH. It turns out that in person, the lupines look exactly like they do in the book. Tall, sturdy cone-like stalks with dozens of little bonnet-shaped flowers. lupines-2

In the story, Miss Rumphius starts out as a little girl named Alice, painting skies in her grandfather’s art studio. She tells him she wants to see the world and then settle down in a house by the sea. Her grandfather things that sounds pretty good but tells little Alice she must also do something to make the world a more beautiful place.

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So she becomes a librarian! Told you librarians love this book. No, actually she hasn’t gotten to the world-beautifying part yet, though librarian is certainly a noble profession.

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Then in her middle age, she decides to go off and see the world. Basically Miss Rumphius is a total badass, traveling to tropical isles and crossing deserts on camel back by herself. I love that nothing is made of the fact that she isn’t married or having kids or whatever, she’s just a cool single lady doing whatever she likes. By the way, do you love my new carpet in these photos?miss-rumphius-5

Here’s a better view of it.

kilim rugI’ve been wanting a Turkish kilim rug forever, but my husband is so conservative in his tastes that he found most of my selections way too garish and colorful. I was totally stalking this guy’s ebay store until finally this muted one came up. I feel like with the star-like pattern and the rest of our furnishings beside it, it ends up looking more Scandanavianish than Turkish, but that’s fine with me, I love Scandanavia! I’m totally a Swedish-wannabe.

Anyhow, Miss Rumphius ends up injuring her back in an ill-fated camel dismount, and she decides to go on to the living by the sea part of her life’s plan. She buys a little house, plants some flowers, and then gets laid up with her bad back all spring. I just love Miss Rumphius’ house. I totally want that vanity thing she has over there, and the quilt and rag rug look so cozy. And the view! I almost feel like I wouldn’t mind being in bed all spring if I could do it in Miss Rumphius’ bedroom…

miss-rumphius-4But then she gets totally better. I told you she was a badass. No more camel-injury invalid here. She orders a bushel (A BUSHEL! That’s 32 POUNDS!) of lupine seeds and walks around town sprinkling them all over the place. Everybody calls her crazy and she just doesn’t give a shit. Badass.miss-rumphius-3Then the following spring, she’s totally vindicated when the whole town erupts in lupine blossoms. The townspeople switch to calling her “the lupine lady” instead. RESPECT. Life’s mission: accomplished.miss-rumphius-2So I don’t know what the heck happened to make all these lupines burst forth in the area around Franconia Notch, but there’s definitely some Miss Rumphius-worthy beauty there.lupines-1Nestled in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, this beautiful spot was worth the drive. We found an area near the Sugar Hill Sampler that not only had fields and fields of lupines to admire, but also a mowed path to walk through, with little snippets of poetry posted along the trail. We had fun reading (and singing – some were song lyrics) all the poems aloud as we walked.lupine-poetry-walkI’m with you, Christina. Especially late spring. I could live in a world where May and June were each 60 days long. (To make up for this we need to eliminate February and March. Everybody with me?)

summer wish list

DSC09419Summer’s here! OK not officially, but we’re well into tank top weather, nursery school is out for the summer, and I have 8 mosquito bites, so I’m calling it. I have so many fun things I want to do this summer that I’m making a list so I don’t forget about any of them! I sort of hate the term bucket list (do we really have to invoke the idea of our inevitable death in making our summer plans?) so I’m calling mine a wish list. I liked what Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser had to say about her summer list in the Northampton-area Valley Advocate: “However dreamy these ideas sound, be assured I won’t actually get to some impressive chunk of them. However, it’s nice to wish and it’s nice to remember summer holds so many incredible possibilities.”

That said, I’M GOING TO DO EVERY DADBLAMMED THING ON THIS LIST IF IT KILLS ME. KILLS ME WITH JOY AND SPLENDOR.

1. Swim, swim, swim. I’m hoping that this will be the year at least one of my kids learns to swim. This year my daughter will finally be old enough to take swimming lessons at the local pool, along with her big brother, and I’m so excited at the prospect of just hanging out by myself at the pool during their lessons, rather than managing a toddler in the kiddie pool. I even have a book all picked out to read on my lounge chair on the grass, like I’ve enviously watched the swim team moms doing in years past.

Despite the fact that my paragraph about swimming devolved into my aspirations to sit poolside and read novels, I actually prefer visiting swimming holes, lakes, and beaches, over the pool. We have got some favorite spots to revisit and a list of new ones to check out too.

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2. Go Waterfall Hunting. One of our favorite swimming spots round these parts is by the Timber Crib Dam, so it has this spectacular waterfall-type thing. And it’s next to a covered bridge. I mean, come on, how much more idyllic can you get? The answer is, even more idyllic. There are actually a bunch of natural waterfalls in this area and this year it’s my mission to explore some of them. First on the docket: East Putney Falls. Doesn’t this look stunning??

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3. Enjoy some June flowers. There is a gorgeous place in Hartland, VT, called the Eshqua Bog – it’s a wetland with tons of showy ladyslippers and other bog orchids. A beautiful, easy hike with little footbridges to cross over the more mushy places. We visited it last year and were totally charmed, so that definitely merits a revisit.

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This year I also want to check out the lupines in Franconia Notch, NH. They have so many that grow there that they have a Lupine Festival every June. Very Miss Rumphius.

photo by Rebecca Metschke

4. Pick every kind of summer berry available. We always go blueberry and strawberry picking a few times each summer, and this year I want to get in some raspberry and blackberry picking too. We actually have 25 strawberry plants in our garden this year, and our two long-neglected blueberry bushes are actually staging somewhat of a resurrection, not to mention our very hardy crop of black raspberry canes. But I have a feeling that all the yard’s berries will be consumed in afternoon grazing, so we’ll need to venture further afield if I want to accomplish my next ambition…

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5. Make pies. Make jam. Make pickles. Gonna get my Suzy Homesteader on this summer. We have a pretty good vegetable garden and a CSA subscription, as well as a weekly egg agreement with a local chicken-owner, and I always mean to make some stuff with all the great produce we collect but usually pies is about as far as I get. It’s funny cause I used to be afraid to make pies. Then in a fit of newlywed energy, I started a cooking blog, Kitchen Adventures, where I chronicled my efforts at tackling new skills and recipes. That poor old blog was basically left for dead when I got pregnant and lost all my appetite and energy, with only the occasional “hey, remember me, I made some new cookies!” post in the post-kids era. But I still do love to cook and try new things, so this year I hope to make some new kinds of preserves. I made a peach jam once that was so scrumptious, but it was a rescue effort at a sugar-free jam that wouldn’t set (so I threw a bunch of sugar in it) and I have no idea how I did it. Hoping I can recreate that magic somehow this summer…

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6. Go to a drive-in movie

image via Northfield Drive-In

image via Northfield Drive-In

All my life I’ve wanted to go to a drive-in. They actually had one in central Illinois, where I grew up, but it closed when I was six, and during my lifetime, according to Cinema Treasures, “a typical double-feature consisted of titles like Satan’s Playthings and Centerfold Spread” So I guess I can see why my parents deprived me of the experience. Drive-in movies seemed to me like a relic from the past, until last summer when I found out about the Northfield Drive-In, right across the river from us in Hinsdale, NH! I found out about it just as they were closing for the season, so I’m super amped to go have the full drive-in experience there this summer! (Well, I guess not quite the full experience, unless we decide to ditch the kids and go park in the back row…)

DSC00960 7. Go camping. This is our year. We practiced last year with a 2-day backyard campout and this year I think we’re ready for the real thing. I have been collecting tips on camping with young kids, now we just have to decide when and where. Suggestions within easy driving distance from southeast Vermont welcome!

8. Go on a rainy day hike. Since having it rain during your camping trip is pretty much the worst thing that can happen, short of a wild animal attack, I’ll just go ahead and stick this one on here, and that way it will feel serendipitous when that inevitably happens to us. Last year we went hiking in the rain with some friends and it was actually really enjoyable. It’s all in the state of mind, I guess. The only problem is, what if the sun comes out during our rain hike??DSC01324

9. Go to a baseball game. We don’t have any major or minor league teams less than an hour and a half away, but my husband recently alerted me to the existence of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, with our most local team being the excellently named Keene Swamp Bats. Though not a stellar team, currently at 1 and 6 for the season, they are located only 25 minutes away in nearby Keene, NH, and they serve Walpole Creamery ice cream at the snack bar. Sold. I also like that you can hire a swamp bat to do your yard work. This kind of thing reminds me of the summer after high school I spent “working” for the Champaign County Colts. My boyfriend played the organ and I sang the national anthem and operated the score board. Let’s just say I was much better suited to the first part of that job. At one point the umpire turned around and yelled at me for not updating the count of balls and strikes. What can I say, I was having a really interesting conversation. My skills in the area of collegiate league baseball are tailor-made for the role of mildly interested spectator who really enjoys the ballpark ambience. Oh, and did I mention, you can also have their mascot, Ribby the Swamp Bat, come to your child’s school and read to the class. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to hear a story from this guy?

image via WMUR

image via WMUR

10. Make popsicles.

Making popsicles is pretty much the easiest food ever. Mix some sweet stuff together and stick it in some popsicle molds. I love experimenting with flavor combos – this one is a Mexican chocolate-vanilla ginger swirl pudding pop that puts Bill Cosby to shame. Some of my other favorite combos are mango-cardamom, balsamic-strawberry, and cherry-lime. Yum!!

11. Go to an outdoor concert. There are so many chances to hear awesome music outside in the summertime, often for free, that I feel like pretty much of a summertime Scrooge if we don’t go and take in at least one al fresco concert. There’s a free concert every Tuesday in July at the Brattleboro Common, and free kids’ music and entertainment Friday mornings at 10:30 mid-July through mid-August at Memorial Park. And even our friendly neighborhood nursing home is hosting a free concert/block party this month! Many of the outdoor concerts are in the evening, so I may just bring the kids in their PJs. What’s summer without a little public pajama dancing?

12. Take the kids to see some art. Jon and I were lucky enough to have an overnight date (thanks for babysitting, Gram!) to attend the opening of the Wassaic Project’s summer exhibition, a mere 2.5 hour schlep away in Duchess County, NY.

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I cannot say enough positive things about this amazing show. You have to go and see it for yourself. And I’m not just saying that because my husband’s awesome art is in it. (Go see my husband’s awesome art!) The rest of the show is also just terrific.

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Art in underpants!

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Duct tape tiger rug!

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Murder by ruffles!

DSC00802sThis piece had a motor that made the organism seem to breathe in and out. So very Victorianly creepy. If you like creepy Victorianish things, how about this?

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One of my favorite pieces was this one where the artists watched every John Wayne movie, and every time he spoke, they repeated his lines into a plastic bag. When the bag was filled with breath, they tied it off, and then gathered all the plastic bag-breath-balloons into this jellyfish-like installation in the stairwell.

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And my photos don’t even do justice to the fantastic weather-themed installation on the top floor.

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Did I mention the whole exhibition space is in an old mill? Extra exciting for my kiddos because they are currently obsessed with the Brambly Hedge stories, two of which take place in a mill, with the characters kvetching about how many steps they have to climb to get up to the top. We are going back with the kids for the Arts Festival in early August, which will feature not only this cool art, but also music and dance performances and a film festival. Oh, and they have this great space for kid art-making, including a stick exchange. Bring a stick, label it with the stick’s origin, and trade it for one of the other sticks there. Sticks, a mill, and weird art, three of my kids favorite things – this is sure to be a winner!

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13. Have a weenie roast. After exploiting my womanly prowess at digging and moving rocks to create a fire pit in our back yard, having a weenie roast is pretty much a must-do. With toasted marshmallows too, of course!

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14. Visit the ocean. After spending the first thirty-(cough cough) years of my life in landlocked Illinois, it still feels like an amazing privilege to be able to drive to the ocean in only two and a half hours.

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I’m looking soooo forward to a little getaway we have planned with some friends on Cape Ann. Not only will there be sea air sniffing, ocean swimming, sand castle making (and smashing), shell collecting, and lobster eating galore, but also patio cocktail hours and post-kid-bedtime laughs with our buddies from the Chicago days. Our friend’s house is on the inside of the cape, so you can actually watch the sun set over the ocean, which is not a common sight on the east coast. And if you run upstairs really quickly, you can watch it again! And after all that, you get to fall asleep to the sound of waves splashing on the rocks. Heaven.

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OK, I’ve got my recipe for a great summer; now to execute it. There are 72 days until the first day of school… Ready, set, go!

unusual creatures

What do you get when you mix an endearingly nerdy Brooklyn musician, an infographic designer, two Dutch screenprinters, and 50 of the animal kingdom’s most bizarre members?

ImageYou get Michael Hearst’s awesome book, Unusual Creatures, which my librarian friend Eileen turned us on to. In fact, it’s my son’s very first book checked out on his own account at what will soon be his elementary school library. Sniffle! Now that I think about it it’s probably way overdue – is that a bad omen for his grade school career? Or is it a good omen for his career as a passionate reader… One thing is for certain, he is head over heels in love with this amazing book.

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It starts off with a brief explanation of biological classifications, and offers the following helpful mnemonic: “Kids Place Candles on Foot Gravy Sausage,” which is a pretty good indication of the silly yet informative tone of the book. At the least, it’s much more PC for a rising kindergartener than the one I learned in Freshman Biology: “King Phillip’s Children’s Only Friends Got Slaughtered.” At any rate, mnemonics are probably wasted on a child who can’t read, but my kid got really into shouting out the Kingdom, Phylum, and Class of each animal. In fact for his bedtime story tonight, he chose to “read” us two of his sister’s board books, which he re-titled “What are Mammals and What Are Not Mammals, Volume 1 and 2,” and then proceeded to classify the animals on each page.

ImageBut that is just the beginning of the fun in Unusual Creatures; each page offers beautiful drawings (though the subject matter is often quite hideous) and a dryly humorous description of each animal’s unusual features, as well as quizzes, factoids, and poetry inspired by the animal in question.

ImageSpeaking of beautiful illustrations of hideous subjects, this drawing of a wombat’s cube-shaped poop was hands-down my kids’ favorite part of the book.

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But the magic doesn’t end with square poop, my friends. Unusual Creatures, the book, was inspiration for an entire album titled Songs for Unusual Creatures, composed by Hearst and featuring the Kronos Quartet as well as people playing a bunch of kooky instruments like the tubax, daxophone, theremin and xylobotImage

With a book and companion songs under his belt, Hearst couldn’t stop there, and went on to create a whole series of fun videos about the creatures, which I just discovered tonight while writing this blog post. These are basically the kid-appropriate version of Ze Frank’s True Facts About videos, of which True Facts About the Sea Pig is a family favorite. I can’t wait to wake up my kids on the first day of summer vacation and show them this:

making fairy houses

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We love fairy houses. After seeing dozens of amazing fairy houses last fall at the Grafton Nature Museum, the kids and I built the above one in our yard last fall and they insisted we also “plant” a garden in front for the fairies. It’s just a bunch of sticks and rocks balanced together but amazingly it is still standing, eight and a half months and 50 bajillion snowstorms and melts later.

More ephemeral was the fairy campout we created to lure fairies to our yard last year on Midsummer’s Eve. I started by pushing four sticks into the ground and the kids turned it into a bed by filling it in with plant fluff (I don’t even know what to call it, these weird flower skeleton things that grow on a shrub in our yard) and placing a maple leaf on top for a canopy. They added a picnic table with acorn caps filled with fairy pudding (squashed yew berries), a bathtub, and a bark dance floor. Sounds like my kind of campout.fairy bed

It’s nearly Midsummer’s Eve again, and when I saw the cute toilet paper roll houses on this woodland folk craft at Tried and True, I knew the littles would love it.

Besides all things fairy house, my kids love making stuff out of toilet paper tubes, so this was sure to be a double win. I cut out a couple of circles, slit halfway and folded over to make the cone-shaped roofs, and hot-glued them onto the toilet paper rolls. The five year-old insisted he need a door that could open and close so he cut that one out himself, while I helped my three year-old do the other one.Image

OK, progressing along, now to gather the decorative materials. I told the kids to go outside and get some buckets to collect sticks and pebbles and stuff. At this point my older child said he needed to make a boat for his fairies. Rolling with it, I stapled the end of one toilet roll shut, cut off half the tube lengthwise, and taped a little semicircle in the back to make a boat shape. Then he insisted it needed to be waterproof so he could sail it in the sand and water table (which the kids finally evacuated of the birdseed garden last weekend). Hmm. My best attempt at waterproofing was to coat it in duck tape. Then he needed it to be a pirate ship, so we made a sail with a toothpick and more tape. The finished boat was deemed too plain, so he spent 25 minutes decorating it with washi tape. The newly adorned vessel was taken immediately for her maiden voyage. By now, two things were obvious: 1) She was not at all seaworthy and 2) it was past lunchtime, and we were going to have to wait until the following morning to finish the fairy house craft.

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I’d say 70% of mama-initiated crafts end up going sideways like this around here. Which is why I have 85 thousand awesome pinterest things but only very occasionally actually execute one of them. But I am really good at collecting amazing projects to think about maybe possibly doing one day perhaps.

Anyhow, the next morning I sent them out to collect things to decorate the fairy houses and this is what they came back with:

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a bunch of sticks and twigs which I trimmed into fairy house-sized pieces, a little heap of strings of brown flowers from our oak tree, leaves at various stages of dried out-ness, acorn caps, pebbles, and pinecones, the largest of which we tore apart to make fairy shingles.

I let my five year-old use the hot glue gun to stick the items onto his toilet paper roll house. Some people might think this reckless but hey, if it’s good enough for Teacher Tom, it’s good enough for me. If you don’t know Teacher Tom, you should go over there and subscribe or follow or whatever to his blog right now. He is an awesome preschool teacher in, I think, Seattle, and he makes this blog full of wisdom about teaching and learning with young children. He’s like a guru of early childhood education.

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The five year-old loved being allowed to use the glue gun himself, and sticking the items onto his house base. Incidentally, I noticed in that Tried and True post that not only does she have the exact same hot pink glue gun as I do, but hers is just as gross and ratty looking as mine is. That makes me feel slightly better about showing it on the internet.

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I have to say, these little cottages turned out pretty rad.

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I helped my three year old with the glueing, but she selected the materials and directed me on placement, so this design is all her:Image

When the fairy houses were complete, my son instructed me to take a picture where it looks like he and his sister are fairies going into their houses. I’m afraid this was the best I could do with a point-n-shoot, but I like that he’s already hip to trick photography and the manipulation of images. Chalk that one up to having a photographer for a father.Image

We tucked the fairy houses into a woodsy nook on one side of our yard, where our fairy cabin sits. We’re getting a regular Hendrickson family compound of fairy houses over there… I guess they’ll be sure to do a campout in our yard this year!Image

That’s right, I just made a reference to a TV show about polygamy and the abuses of crazy fundamentalist Mormons in a post about my children’s sweet innocent fairy houses. That’s how we roll here, folks.

number one tip for summer fun

Parenting pop quiz: What is the most difficult and annoying thing about having children? Ding ding ding ding ding! You’re right! It’s getting out of the house with them!

In winter there is little to be done about this, as children must be dressed in 45 layers of clothing which is variously bulky and snow-play worthy, or slim-fitting and carseat-friendly, yet warm enough to protect their soft little cheeks on the -10 degree walk to the car. Many’s the winter day I have wished for one of these: But summer… ah, summer is the time of just walking out of the house with nary a care in the world, right? Slip your feet into a pair of shoes on the way out the door, and there you go, right? If all you want to do is play in your own backyard, then yes, a thousand times yes, YES, ECSTATIC YES!!! to effortless house-leaving. But what if you actually want to go further afield, to the pool or a swimming hole or on a hike or just a hit-the-road-and-see-where-it-takes-us kind of thing? Then you’re in for 20+ minutes of puttering around, packing this and that and running back into the house at least twice for things you might need and then when you finally get there, you think of three other things you obviously should have brought…. Well, I am here to solve all your summer outing obstacles, folks. I started doing this last summer and it is a game changer. Let me just lay it on you: Adventure Bag. BAM. It’s a bag you keep in your trunk, already packed with everything you need to have any kind of fun summer adventure. DSC09970sI first got the genius idea of an adventure bag from a friend who saw it on this post on 3191 Miles Apart, which incidentally is an awesome blog you should totally check out if you go in for beautiful lifestyle photos from two friends living across the country from each other in the two Portlands. Anyways, I think Stephanie, the Portland Oregon one, must have older or more mess-averse kids, because her adventure kit fits in one of those adorable African woven grass baskets you always see ladies carrying at the farmer’s market, while mine fills an entire giant Ikea tote.Image OK, so let’s get down to the actual helpful part of this post that I promised you in my headline. What to pack. Image

1 & 2. Backpack and tote bag. Good for bringing a selection of your adventure bag items along with you on the post-car part of your adventure, and also for dividing the stuff up when it’s packed, so you can find it easily.

3. Sand toys. These are for the beach or sandy riverside spot, obviously, though my kids were also the toast of the kiddie pool last summer with this awesome Melissa and Doug Seaside Baking Set a friend gave us.

4. Empty jar. Empty jar is the workhorse of your adventure kit. Can be used for any kind of collecting, from sea water to pebbles to feathers to wild strawberries. Or litter, in the case of my son, the vigilante garbage man.

5. Bandanas. These are great for everything from wiping your nose to spreading out for a makeshift plate at snack time. Just not in that order, preferably. Or for first aid, though thankfully it’s never come to that, kinahora!

6. Pocketknife. If I need to tell you why a pocketknife is handy to have along, you need more help than I’m able to give. To cut things with, people. Come on.

7. Kleenex. I think it’s against the international law of motherhood to travel without kleenex. Even if you wiped your nose on the bandana, you still might want to use kleenex for peeing in the woods (girl-style, that is) and stuff like that.

8. Nylon grocery bag. Great for carrying wet clothes or swimsuits back home, or collections that won’t fit in the empty jar, like when my kids find 38 awesome sticks that they absolutely must bring home because it’s not like we have any sticks in our own yard. Or, you know, as a shopping bag like god intended, for when you find some amazing farm stand or kitschy antique shop along your travels.

9. Shelf-stable snacks. For all-day outings, I usually pack a lunch as well, but for shorter  jaunts, it’s great to be able to just bust out some almonds and raisins from the adventure bag as hunger strikes.

10 & 11. Swimsuits and towel. These are our back-up suits. If we’re going to the beach or swimming hole or pool, I normally dress the kids in their  suits before we leave home, cause having to stop and change once you see the water is a total drag. But sometimes you don’t know you’re going to want to get in the water until you get there. Countless times I have brought the kids somewhere just thinking we were going on a hike or whatever, and then there turned out to be some awesome stream to tromp in. Bringing suits, or at least a change of clothes (16), keeps you from having to be that “No, you can’t get in the water. Just stay on the dry part. No, I told you not to go in there. Feet on the grass. I SAID FEET ON THE GRASS. Well, there you go, that’s what I thought was going to happen. I guess you’ll have wet pants until we get back to the car,” kind of mom.

12. Sun hats/shades. Can’t have fun with the sun in your eyes.

13 & 14. Sunscreen and bug spray. We are big Badger fans here. My daughter has super-sensitive skin and has never had the slightest blotch from these products, and they are a 1 (low hazard) on the EWG scale, for those of you who like to be neurotic about chemicals. (Says the lady whose 5 year-old once blurted out, “If anybody brings me parabens, I’m gonna squash them like Brando scaring a child to death!” (He thinks Brando is this guy’s name although I’m sure a threat from Marlon Brando would be enough to put anyone off parabens.))

15. Sweatshirts. Here in Vermont, even in summer the temperatures can hover at that spot where it’s warm and comfortable in the sun but the shade brings a chill, and it often gets quite cool after the sun goes down.

16. A change of clothes. I’d say it’s probably about 60-40 whether my children come home from an outing in different clothes than they left in. These kiddos love to stomp in bogs, crawl in muddy creeks, roll in wet sand, and generally comport themselves as if they were creatures of the woods to whom dirty clothes are no more a care than the stock market report. So yeah, I pretty much never regret bringing a change of clothes for both of them.

17. Pajamas. Sometimes an adventure, or just plain old dinner at a friend’s house, goes on longer than anticipated, and it’s pretty much bedtime by the time we get back in the car. In this case, putting on PJs before the drive home is awesome, so we can just sneak sleeping babes straight into their beds when we get home.

18. Water bottles. I keep these empty in the car and then just fill up with ice cubes and water right before we leave.

19. Picnic blanket. This is the most used item of the kit, even above old workhorse, the empty jar. It’s always good to have a clean spot to sit and snack, or to lay on at the beach, and it can also be used as a blanket or extra towel, in a pinch.

And there you have it. Every thing you need for an outing or day trip with young children. Now that this bag is in our trunk, we are officially ready for summer. Bring on the adventures! Image