winter’s last gasp wishlist

Oh my god the snow, you guys, THE GOLL-DANGED BEAUTIFUL TREACHEROUS SNOW. About 4 feet so far up where we live, and that’s small potatoes compared to our friends in eastern Massachusetts. Ethereal, marshmallowy landscapes that create impassable roads and frightening ice dams on your roof. I love it and I hate it. I’m enchanted and yet I’m halfway to losing my mind.

In a few hours, it will be March. MARCH! The month in which Spring officially begins! Although it usually arrives in the midst of a giant snowstorm, I’m clinging to the knowledge that in these parts, the first day of Spring means that in about two more weeks, it will actually be Spring. Brown, muddy spring with almost no flowers yet, but Spring nonetheless.

So with that in mind, I’m trying to make the last few weeks of this seemingly endless winter go by more quickly with an end-of-winter wish list. Some wintry things I’d like to do before Old Man Winter finally eats it once and for all.

1. Make an Ice Cube Garland

ice cube garland

This picture is from a few Februarys ago – I can’t believe we could see grass at this time of year! Making an ice-cube garland is super easy and a great way to add a little color to the unrelenting whiteness around us. Just fill an ice-cube tray with water, add drops of food coloring to each cube compartment to make different colors, and dip a bit of twine into each cube with the end hanging out. Once they’re frozen, tie each one onto a length of twine and tie the ends to trees or whatever outdoor place you have to tie things to. The nice thing about doing this project when there’s snow on the ground is that as they melt, the colors transfer from the garland to the snow below, so you end up with a cool rainbow splotch pattern on the ground.

2. Read Snow Music one more time.

Oh, man. This is my favorite winter picture book. I’ve been meaning to write about it literally since I started this blog and now I’m so freaking sick of the snow that I can’t face writing an entire blog post about how magical it is. But seriously, this book makes it extremely magical. It perfectly captures the sounds of a new snowfall. I remember once in college, walking home from work on a snowy evening when everyone had already left campus for winter break, the streets were so deserted that as I crossed Lincoln Avenue, I could literally hear each snowflake hitting the ground. I was so struck by the magicalness of it that I just stood there on the median, listening. Lynne Rae Perkins perfectly captures it in the opening of Snow Music (“Everybody whisper: Peth peth peth peth peth peth peth peth”) and it just gets cooler from there. The music of a snowplow scraping down the street. The music of an escaped dog, running happily through the snow. The “k-tk” of a dried leaf blowing along the pavement. Just trust me folks, this is a good one.

3. Make Ina Garten’s Hot Chocolate.

gourmet hot chocolate

You really can’t enjoy hot chocolate in the spring, summer, or even fall like you can in the winter, so I’m going to go out with a bang. This Ina Garten recipe is the most decadent, yummy thing ever. It’s not my everyday in-from-playing-in-the-snow recipe, but it deserves to be drunk at least one more time before winter’s over. (As do we all.)

4. Make Swedish Snowball Lanterns.

I saw these the other day on The Artful Parent and posted excitedly about them on the facebook page, but my plans to make them the next day were foiled by some unforgivingly cold temperatures. Nonetheless, we still have plenty of snow (rueful laugh) so this is definitely on the docket. Maybe we can even make an ice lantern with the enormous chunks of ice I just had hacked off my roof. Oh New England, you beautiful snowy ice damming bastard.

5. Sugar on Snow.

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This is what spring in New England looks like, folks. You still have plenty of snow, but now with fresh maple syrup. Since we just finished reading Little House in the Big Woods and are entering maple syrup season, this is the perfect dessert of the moment. All you have to do is heat your maple syrup to 234F, drizzle over some fresh snow, and enjoy. Next, eat a pickle. Cause that’s the New England way. Other acceptable accompaniments: coffee and a donut.

6. Visit an Ice Castle

I probably have the only 4-year-old girl in America who isn’t into Frozen. (There was a brief period after we watched it last winter when she spent a lot of time playing Frozen. Which in her case meant pretending to be a dinosaur hunting and devouring Elsa and Anna.) However, I think any kid – hey, any adult – would be enchanted by these awesome ice castles. There’s a couple of these in our region, and I think they’re closing really soon, perhaps as early as next Sunday.

7. Pajama Muppet Show Marathon

What they lack in Elsa and Anna fan-dom, my kiddos more than make-up for in their devotion to the Muppets. Muppets were the only thing they asked Santa for this year. (Unfortunately they had to go and fall in love with the most obscure and un-merchandise-friendly ones: Beaker and Camilla… these kids never make it easy for me, I tell ya.) But Santa delivered, and muppets are right up there with legos, dragons, and dinosaurs for most played-with toys in our house at the moment. So while I love spending the morning outside playing in the snow, I’m keeping this idea in my back pocket for the next time we all just feel like hunkering down with a cozy blanket and having some laughs. I have a feeling they’ll all be excited about this:

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forest bathing in southeast vermont

woodsSo, summer’s hurtling to a close, kids are back in school, and I’m actually wearing a cardigan – A CARDIGAN, PEOPLE! – as I type this. We had so much fun exploring new places this summer that I have decided to make a weekly hike or nature walk part of our fall routine. Places we visited this summer are bound to look quite different and maybe even more beautiful come fall. I’m gonna let you in on a few of the hidden gems we have discovered here in the southeast Vermont/southwest New Hampshire/western Massachussetts area. If you’re within an hour’s drive of any of these spots, I highly recommend! There’s nothing like walking through the dappled forest light, smelling the piney fall air, and being forced by your young charges to stop and examine each and every weird mushroom along your path. Just make sure you bring your bug spray and your patience – a one-mile trail recently took us 3.5 hours to traverse, what with the snack stops, the flower-sniffing, acorn-scrutinizing pace, and the frequent detours to look for wildlife.

Speaking of wildlife, one of our most memorable summer hikes was at the wonderful Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton, MA.
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Featuring five miles of trails, including the easy loop trail around this vernal pool, Arcadia is a great place to enjoy wildlife of both the flora
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and fauna variety.collage

Plus it has this cool lookout tower treehouse thing!lookout tower

Our most local hiking spot – like, we can walk to it from our house local – is Mt. Wantastiquet, just across the river in Hinsdale, NH. If you go there after a heavy rain, the waterfall near the trail entrance is even prettier than it is here:DSC03349

Wantastiquet is also a good place to spot wildlife. Researching a little for this blog post I found out that apparently, Mt. Wantastiquet is also known as Rattlesnake Mountain. Pretty sure this cute little guy is not one, but perhaps best to keep one’s distance just in case.DSC03416

If you want to get up close and personal with Mother Nature, maybe try a tree instead.DSC03428

Or a mushroom.DSC03438

We found these weird little fungus-like plants, which I later learned are commonly known as Indian Pipe. They’re actually kind of rare plants that grow on a fungus that lives near beech trees, and live totally without chlorophyll. However my three year-old daughter insisted they were a species called “Cylene oxide.” World class science BS-er, that one.DSC03466

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On the opposite side of Mt. Wantastiquet is the charming ruin known as the Madame Sherri Forest.9103893113_92098d7b21_k

Madame Sherri, the former owner of this once lavish estate, was a Parisian singer, a costume designer for Broadway, and a die-hard party girl. After her husband died, she bought this 513-acre parcel of land in Chesterfield NH and had a huge, castle-y mansion built. The woods are beautiful and full of wildflower plants like this mountain laurel.mountain laurelProbably won’t see much laurel blooming in the fall, but this is also supposed to be a terrific site for enjoying the autumn foliage.

My kiddos always love exploring aquatic habitats and there’s plenty to see here as the Anne Stokes Loop trail that goes to the castle ruin passes right by Indian Pond, where you can see frogs, dragonflies, and beaver dams, just for starters.9103889141_abcb615749_k

And it’s always fun exploring what’s left of the stone foundation.madame sherri castle

Apparently, Madame Sherri was somewhat notorious, not only for her wild parties full of *GASP* theater people, but also for her pet monkey and her habit of attiring herself in nothing but a fur coat. She’s pretty much the most flamboyant character to ever live in Brattleboro, and that’s saying a lot. That’s right, I said Brattleboro. By the 50s she had fallen on hard times, and ended up becoming a ward of the town and moving to a rest home in West Bratt. Several years later, her house in Chesterfield burned to the ground, except for the stone foundation and stairway. She died a pauper, with only six people attending her funeral. A biography of her came out a couple years ago, written by New Hampshire author Eric Stanway, and if this Keene Sentinel article is any indication, it is juicy as hey-all. Sounds like Grey Gardens meets Mae West, with a touch of Kurt Weill. Sign me up. Oh, and PS, there are also rumors that she ran a brothel out of her castle.

Somewhat annoyingly, although I guess in the spirit of the original house, the ruin seems to be a favorite spot of revelers. The last time we were there, there was a lot of broken glass and trash left on top of the ruin. My son has deemed himself a litter hero and decided that next time we come we will bring a canvas bag and remove all the garbage that other folks left behind. We have tried this on a couple other hikes we’ve gone on and it always feels good to leave things nicer than we found them, although I think it is giving my little garbage collector superhero delusions of grandeur. As we emerged from the woods with a small bag of second-hand trash, he turned to me and earnestly asked, “Are we famous now?”

On to more wholesome hiking locales, coming home from Walpole NH (home of both Alyson’s Orchard and the mouthwatering L. A. Burdick Chocolates) one day, we stumbled across the lovely Ruth C. Warwick Nature Preserve in Westmoreland. Late May was a great time to enjoy the wildflowers the Warwick preserve is known for – we stumbled across quite a bit of trilliumtrillium

and this Jack-in-the-Pulpit, which looks like something straight out of an Uncle Wiggily story (though how a rabbit could possibly hide in one is still beyond me).DSC08144

There’s also a little stream that runs down the hill, from a spring that the eponymous Ruth Warwick had cleared to provide water for the animals that live in the woods. Perfect for some light stomping and splashing in.hiking warwick nature preserve

We spent Labor Day hiking the trail around Sweet Pond State Park  in Guilford VTDSC00765

Tons of cool sensory forest experiences to be had there.DSC00768

I always love how baby pine(?) trees grow so close together they look like a miniature forest.DSC00772

The trail is a 1.3 mile almost-loop (you have to walk about a quarter mile down the road to get back to the parking area) next to what used to be an large pond. The pond was created in the 1800s when developers built a dam in the Keats Brook to power a mill, but it was recently drained due to concerns about the structural integrity and safety of the dam. Apparently there are plans to repair the dam and restore the pond eventually. For now, it’s become an 18-acre marshy wetland in the middle of the woods that has pretty much the most awesome echo I’ve ever experienced. There are several vista offshoots from the main trail, and the kids and I took one to climb out on this fallen tree and sing at the top of our lungs into the echoing meadow.DSC00859

The edge of the pond was rich with little late summer wildflowers, including these little orange lovelies that I keep seeing everywhere, including at the edge of the woods behind my son’s elementary school. Anybody know what they’re called?DSC00883

Of course, you can’t talk about hikes in and around Brattleboro without mentioning Fort Dummer and the Brattleboro Retreat Trails. Our favorite kid-friendly hike on the Retreat Trails is the path past the cemetery up to the haunted tower. Sounds deliciously spooky, doesn’t it? Perfect for a late October outing!5876515623_f3d41662aa_b

The woods are very pretty and lush, and this hike is fairly short though it gets pretty steep at the end. But I’ve taken 2 year olds on it multiple times with no trouble.9162177629_b272c219ad_k

Oh, did I mention the tower was built by patients at the Vermont Asylum for the Insane (now known as the Brattleboro Retreat)? And yes, it’s supposedly haunted.6434554585_389b11f942_b

The tower is usually locked, but if you’ve ever been curious what it looks like inside, or from the top, somebody made a video and youtubed it:

In November, we’ll do our annual Lantern Walk down the sunset trail at Fort Dummer.10769919035_007d20ef10_k

Fort Dummer originated as a British fort pre-dating the Revolutionary War by about 50 years, used in a conflict between New England and a confederacy of Native American tribes who were allied with New France, called Dummer’s War. It’s named for William Dummer, who was the governor of Massachussetts (which what’s now Vermont was then a part of) at that time. Um, yeah, that may be the most confusingly worded sentence of all time. Three tries and that’s the best I can do. Nowadays, it’s a 218-acre state park, with beautiful vistas for watching the sun set (and rise, if you’re the type of person who goes on hikes at sunrise, which I decidedly am not).10089968306_09e0d29d57_k

Fort Dummer is also a great place to visit for the petless dog lover. I’m not really a dog person but my kids so are, and it always makes them so happy to encounter dogs, as we always do, who are taking their people for a walk through the Fort Dummer park. If you decide to do a late afternoon/early evening hike, this is a great place for it but make sure to bring a flash light. Darkness falls quickly as autumn draws on, and there are a lot of roots crossing the trail for you to trip over if you’re not careful.

Happy hiking, and remember, take nothing but pictures (and trash), leave nothing but footprints!

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

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!

strolling of the heifers

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One day, when my daughter is an elderly woman living with her three widowed or divorced friends in a Florida condo, she’s going to tell them endless stories about the quirky little hamlet in the middle of nowhere where she grew up. And the most unbelievably Rose Nylundish of all the stories will begin, “Every year, we would have The Strolling of the Heifers, where all the farmers would walk their cows down Main Street in a parade…”

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Yes, it’s actually true, people come from far and wide to watch the cows walk down Main Street the first Saturday in June.

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We always kick off the Heifer weekend with the Friday night gallery walk, where they close down several blocks of downtown and it is turned into a huge street fair with food carts, performers, musicians, and a blocks long DIY chalk mural sponsored by the Boys and Girls Club.

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Since The Strolling of the Heifers was begun to raise awareness and support for local agriculture and small-scale farming, it’s only fitting that the pizza oven cart advertises their wares based on the local wholesomeness of their flour.

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The next morning the whole town (and several thousand tourists) gather to watch the cows and their compatriots.

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The cows are quite sweet and groomed to their prettiest, but my favorite thing about the parade is the way the local culture creeps in.

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Ya got the local food co-op, the place that literally stocks more than two dozen types of granola in their bulk section, if that gives you an idea of the place, doing grocery cart choreography down the street.Image

Ya got the Eat More Kale (Chips) locavore contingent.Image

Ya got the pee composters.

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Ya got the circus performers. This place is rife with circus people, due to the awesome New England Center for Circus Arts.

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Ya got the grade school bands, featuring Bessie on maracas.

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And don’t forget the local youth thespians. No shortage of quirky, creative kiddos around here.

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I can’t describe how charmed I was when we had just moved here and went to our first First Friday. My husband and I used to go to a fair amount of gallery opening First Fridays when we lived in Chicago and the scene was 99% twenty-something hipsters and 1% actual art buying people. In Brattleboro the “galleries” are local businesses who display a rotating selection of artwork by local artists. The First Friday crowd is a completely mixed bag of middle-aged, elderly, young people, little kids, and amazingly, packs of free-roaming teens and tweens. And I think I might have maybe once seen a singular hipster. (Now that there’s a whole lumberjack/homesteader chic thing going on it’s hard to tell but I’d like to think after 14 years on the north side of Chicago I can tell the difference between ironic flannel and sincere flannel.) Anyway, my whole point is, it was so heart-lifting to imagine that in 12 years our kids would be wandering Main Street on gallery night hoping to bump into their crush, or whatever those packs of kids are doing there, rather than all the stuff that you hope your 14-year-old isn’t doing but let’s face it they probably are. Except here! (she said, batting her eyes in hopeful naiveté…)

The parade was closed, as is every local parade, with our town mascot, Alfred Hughes.

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You might think that cattle farms and flamboyant cross-dressers don’t go together but you would be oh so wrong. Not only is Alfred an excellent beef farm float participant, he is also the Independence Day Parade Marshall, for which he always wears a magnificent ball gown, Santa’s sparkly elf at the municipal Photos with Santa event, and a beloved nursery school teacher.

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So that’s Strolling of the Heifers, in an extremely long-winded nutshell. Just a bunch of cows, hippies, and wackos walking through the town. Sure do love this place.