In 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.)
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.
(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.
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!
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.
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!
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!