"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Nature Table

We came through Hurricane Irene with hardly a wound. Our property is high and so we stayed dry although there is some flooding on the shore nearby and in some low-lying areas. The big old trees around our house all held and though we have leaves and few branches to clean up, there were no major collapses. We got lucky and I'll take it.

That said, lots of people were hit harder including the farmers at our new CSA. I was pretty shocked to see these photos of the damage on the farm. Hard to say what the rest of the season will look like as far as food stock goes.

But in our corner of the world all is well and the outdoors is still our friend. We are gearing up for schooltime learning season and my maiden voyage into the world of kindergarten homeschool instructor. One of the big changes we've made in our homeschool room/playroom in anticipation has been the creation of a Nature Table.
We've had a Nature Shelf for years now, (see this post, this post and this post for mentions of it) just a little spot on the bottom level of the corner cupboard, china cabinet but I think we've outgrown it. We are to the point where we can sustain a larger collection because there are some older, more conscious children emerging from the baby/toddler world that used to be our family, not to mention with three small collectors (not to mention a collecting prone mama!) we just make a larger collection without trying. And so A's grandmother's beautiful desk has become our larger space for displaying outdoor finds. We have a Nature Table!

 It's also really exciting to have a place where we stash all our guidbooks and identification manuals, right next to the treasures we're examining. I hope to add some magnifying glasses or jeweler's loops to the stash and a set of binoculars for hikes and bird watching out the window.

 I am trying to get the boys and myself outdoors every day, even if it is just for a few minutes of mania running around the big rock in the backyard before dinner prep. I feel like daily contact means connection and relationship with the natural world and in some tangible way it means stress relief and health too. During the "school year" I am hoping to get out for a serious outdoor outing once a week...a hike, a sledding expedition, a fort building, a long lay on the grass watching clouds, a big leaf raking...something. And I am planning to have take along our new art journals and do some kind of art work that reflects some small thing we saw together....a leaf, a bird, a cloud.

I am planning to pick the medium ("Today use these oil pastels to draw what you see.") on a rotating basis and set a time limit for sketching out our art so that it doesn't get to feel like a huge unwieldy project. I have never tackled anything quite this ambitious before and am not sure I will actually do it, or if I will do only sometimes or if it will be a huge success. We'll just have to wait and see!

Happy Learning Season to all of you perpetual life students out there who will be sharpening your pencils along with us...and if you see a guide on identifying insects, send it our way...we suddenly need one!

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Baby's First Haircut

 Just because I'm a slightly detail-obsessed mommy, I deemed the slightly mullet-esque style my youngest was sporting reason enough to whip out the scissors and give him his first trim. His brothers were both slightly different ages, Ru slightly older (his hair grew so, so slowly...he might have even been two before he had his first trim) and Dee was younger since he never really had a true "bald period." As usual, Nib is right in the middle between them.

 You can see his hair isn't "long" at all it's just a little uneven, growing a little longer and thicker at the back which makes him slightly dated and a little chunkier. I care about these silly little details...and visible earwax....but, yeah. We won't talk about that.

I always keep the boys hair shorter during the summer months anyhow, it just feels right to me, not to mention cooler. And I almost always trim their hair myself, scissors and a little comb and my two hands, which might make me slightly more obsessive about the whole department. Maybe I somehow feel like it reflects on me more or that I should keep tighter tabs on the length of their hair since I do it all myself...I dunno. I'm sure there's some interesting psychology there but I don't think I can unravel it all just now.

The point is, although I may have trouble keeping my house neat, I can be a little obsessive, it's just conveniently mind-bending like that.

 So, now he looks like this. Bing! All neat and trim. Which make me smile...and the bits that got snipped were just little tiny locks, but long enough to tuck in a tiny wax paper envelope for his baby book. So, there you have it. He's a real boy!


Friday, August 26, 2011

Creativity Stew

Been thinking about ways to get creative, getting a jump on Christmas presents and the idea of making things again together with the boys as a part of our school time this fall. All that to say...I have a bunch of fabulosity to unload out of my brain tonight before I go to sleep.

Women from all fields have joined the producti...Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Drink it in, Friends..."The world is so full of a number of things..."

These might be a good way to deal with our burgeoning feather collection, and my own insatiable desire to pick up and haul home any pretty feathers we find. Feathers as useful gift. Genius. And how much fun would the boys have, color dipping them?
Two feathersImage via Wikipedia

Fresh Ricotta. I think it has my number. I have been listening to a lot of The Splendid Table. I hear all the past shows as podcasts while I drive Aaron to work and he does math with Ru in the backseat and the little boys listen or look at books. So inspiring! Seriously, I wish all of you could start every day with a huge infusion of culinary brilliance like that. I drive back to the house salivating and full of ideas, fresh ricotta is my latest yen. I especially like the list on the right hand side of that link with ideas for how to use ricotta. I feel like lasagna and cannoli is it for my own personal exposure to the cheese. And then, when I have made my own fresh ricotta...I will make this with it. *slobber slobber slobber*

Rigatoni with Homemade Marinara and fresh RicottaImage by Rooey202 via Flickr

Maybe I had too much Tasha Tudor in my life but I always kind of fancy the romance of animal versions of our human holidays. (Tasha always talks about The Animals Christmas for example) I have this fluttery fantasy of making these little ornaments on a Valentine's Day afternoon with the boys to hang outside our windows for the birds, so that they feel their own little bit of love. I had no idea Knox gelatin was the key to those bird seed cluster thingies, by the way.

Am looking around this old house at the dated bits and wondering what hardware I could update in an hour like these clever diy bloggers did. Oil rubbed bronze spray paint, here I come!

scissorsImage by alsokaizen via Flickr
I was recently given a little wooden, windowseat style storage bench (Yay!!!) which I put in the boys room but turns out they don't use it...I thought they'd plop there with story books  but no such luck. They want cozy seating for storytime...so they head to the office loveseat or even their beds and leave the bench all bare. I have new plans to paint the bench a grown-up color (its all bright primary colors right now) and move it downstairs to the entryway (Convenient shoe donning spot and secret mitten storage location all-in-one? Yes please!) but moving the bench means I again have no home for the out of season or back-up blankets, quilts and flannel sheets. I have been plotting some rolling underbed storage beneath the boys bunks, imagining high glamour in the form of plastic Rubbermaid products but check this out, Holmes! Is that not hot? Am now keeping my eyes peeled for loner dresser drawers.
Henna HandsImage by adwriter via Flickr

And finally, in closing. I can't think of a single, blessed reason why it would be useful or appropriate or helpful for me to make these cookies. Oh, but I want to! Aren't they beautiful? Indian dinner party anyone?
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dee, Front and Center

 Time for another focus-on-my-middle-boy day, so says A, who unbenownst to me has started learning to depend on these lists for short-cuts to staying in touch with all the little pieces of his sons. I kinda love that they're practically useful, beyond the sentimental record keeping purpose. Time to fill Daddy in on all the latest....

Dee Likes:
  • Jam. Having jam on bread is getting to be a standard dessert at our house...kind of fun for a mommy who likes to pick fruit and preserve it.
  • Dr. Suess. He's finally gotten old enough that he loves the bigger, longer stories which makes Story Hour a pretty fun occurance these days. He's requesting The Butter Battle Book a lot right now.
  • Waking up slowly, and alone. Ever the introvert, he's really a bit slow to start but he'll be much more cheerful if he's allowed to rouse himself and totter into company with the world once he's had a slow alone period to get his feet under him.
  • Yellow! Still his personal favorite color, all things yellow are private messages of affirmation from Providence direct to him. :)
  • Silly Rhymes. He loves to play with words and the sounds of their rhymes, one of his current favorite jokes is to ask me for "fred" or the even funnier "kled" when he really wants bread. I think this is part of the appeal of Suess. I'd say he ripe for introduction to limericks, wouldn't you?
  • Being the big brother. He's really starting to grow into the role of older sibling and super enjoys helping, guiding and comforting Nib. Fun to see him stretch those big boy "muscles."
  • Helping out in the garden. I can get him out of most any funk by suggesting a wander out to the veggie patch with a basket between us.
  • Beets. A recent romance. He begs for a bunch at the Farmer's Market and then slurps down about a third of the serving bowl when I cook them up. We just bought another cluster of them today!
  • Letters. He's very curious about the world of words right now and often asks me, "What does that spell?" or wants to know "How do you spell ________?" and "What does that sign say, Mommy?" I love seeing the gears turn as he toys with the non-tangible world of written language. I sometimes notice him indentifying letters by their name but he's not the point where he knows all 26 by sight yet, still just fooling with them and trying to understand what the big deal is with all these shapes and words.
  • Outing Night With Daddy. He's really excited about his rotating special night out with A and his current favorite activity is a private trip the local ice cream parlor or Dairy Queen. He'll talk for a whole week about what flavor he had.
  • Storytelling. He's a private story-man unlike his brother Ru who started storytelling to his brothers or to me. If you want to catch Dee story-telling...wander by an empty room with the sun streaming in the window onto his own patch of the floor. Pretty delicious stuff. One day this month I overheard a story he was telling about taking two kites outside and letting them "be frwee, all the way up to wherever they want!"

Dee Dislikes:

  • Loud Machine Noises: Wanna freak Dee right out? Set off a siren nearby, or a bleeping, honking machinery sound of some other kind. He'll be very concerned and he will need a lot of hugging.
  • Having his hair washed: I keep thinking he'll grow out of this one but we still have tears at every bath when it comes to time to soap his locks.
  • Being the center of attention: He hates to have people ask him questions, request performance in front of a group or have someone point out his error. He will melt down, he will scream, there may be some name calling and he will be pretty hard to calm. The world can take all kinds of things but a stranger telling him hello can send the boy into a tailspin.
  • Specks in his food. Herbs are suspect, stray crumbs are frown upon, and all little dots require inspection. If something is deemed a contaminant it has to scooped out or carved off before anything can be eaten. Purity is a great good.
  • Going down stairs: It's not like we're carrying him down every flight of stairs or anything he just doesn't go bouncing up and down steps like his brother. Stairs are concerning, stressful things. They require slow sidways stepping, tightly gripping the handrail and nobody touching lest they make you slip.
  • Having his hair cut. All that personal space invading, physical touch stuff is not his bag. He sobs through every trim.
  • Seaweed: It's all well and good at the beach but on the dinner table he has to trim it out and see it gone. He unwraps all his sushi rolls, picks the flakes out of miso soup and won't have any of the sea veg salt I like to use sometimes. Contamination!
  • Being hurried: There is no faster way to ruin a morning than to rush Dee to the car after breakfast. He will scream and rail and stomp his feet and he still won't hurry so you might as well save your breath or just carry him. He wants to go at his own darn pace through life.
  • Soup: Not sure why, it's just not to be trusted. Nary a spoonful will pass his lips...no matter the variety.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hydrangeas Don't Have To Be Blue

 We're getting to the end of the heady blooming season for most gardens. All that really seems to be left are the hardy, and ever optimistic black-eyed-susans. In our garden the same is true, although some previous owner left us one botanical trump card, two stunning hydrangea trees. They're not really trees...in the classical/botanical sense of things, they're shrubs, but over the years somebody worked hard to prune them into beautiful fountaining tree shapes, and with very little care on my part they're the late-season garden stars.
 I love how amazing it feels to be underneath them, the world barely visible through the emerald umbrella the arching stems. They are perfect little dream-houses, wonderful places to play on hot days when the boys are scheming up a world of secret kingdoms.

The Latin name for these hydrangeas (in case you're interested in hunting one up for your own garden corner) is H. paniculata 'Grandiflora.' I love them for being such lush, spectacle bloomers (check out those blossoms as big as my head in the shots above!), their carefree nature, sweet scent, and the way my honeybees are drunkely stumbling all over themselves to get back and forth from the blooms to their hive. Some of my sources tell me that this hydrangea which is a garden plant over 150 years old is out of vogue, and has been overdone in many gardens. I say, baloney! You can't overdo the classic plants, and the only thing it could do to impress me more would be produce fruit. I'm a wild fan.
 The blossoms are positively humming with visitors, tiny butterflies, shimmering irridescent flies and of course the girls from our hive, I even saw a ladybug there, doubtless eating some less fortunate visitors.
I am thinking about trying to dry some of the blossoms this year and hoping for some kind of artful arrangement. I love the delicate, papery way they can end up, like a million tiny wings. See here, here and here for examples of what I'm dreaming of. I could do that, right?

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sundried Tomatoes, Sans-Sun

It's tomato season...we're rolling in them. I am to the stage where I have started packing a small container of tomatoes to take with us when we leave...just in case any of our friends want tomatoes. (Yay friends!) Almost time for making tomato sauce. I'd be all over it this week except we're wildly busy with Vacation Bible School at church every single day so, all other major accomplishments (hello Laundry!) are out for a while. Next week will be sauce week, and our counter will be splashed with tomato seeds, and we'll have tomato skins dropped all over the kitchen floor and the house will smell like tangy, sweet sauce for days on end, long after the jars are sealed and rinsed and making their way to the pantry shelves.

 But, I just couldn't wait to do something with tomatoes...they beg to be used, and loved and enjoyed. So, I decided to try making my own "sundried" tomatoes. It's been raining this week and the heat is finally down a bit so I decided to skip doing it outdoors (maybe another year) and just do it simply, in my oven.

Now, this week is insanity at our house so low key was really important if I was going to be working on anything at all. Is tomato sauce intimidating but you'd like to dip your toe in the water of food preservation and old fashioned home-making skills? Dry a few tomatoes. They're dead easy and so luscious good.
 I took some really beautiful plum tomatoes (from the Farmer's Market, not our garden) and sliced them in half. I laid them on a cake rack, to give them good air circulation, set it in a cookie sheet....and popped the whole shooting match into my oven on the lowest setting which on my oven is 150 degrees Farenheit.

They slowly, slowly wrinkle and darken and after a day or so, depending on the humidity, the moisture content of the tomatoes, the heat level of your lowest oven setting...etc. they'll be done! I rotated the cookie sheet around in a circle sometimes to make sure they dried evenly, and towards the end I checked more frequently so that I could start picking finished tomatoes off the sheet as they started to stagger towards done. I turned my oven off at night just because that's a long time of unsupervised cooking and I worried they'd finish somewhere around 3AM and then keep toasting away till I woke up and found them sadly dark and hard. When they're finished they're this sumptuous lipstick red, beautiful, just teetering on the edge of burgundy. And the flavor has intensified to a wonderfully  deep, zippy sweet...almost like fruit leather.

You know they're done when they feel like nice flexible, leathery dried fruit....nothing gushy left to them. I am keeping these in a ziploc bag in the fridge at the moment but next week...when all that tomato canning happens, I'm planning to take them up to the next level and try making this amazing looking tomato confit with them....slobber slobber slobber! I forgot to pick up a couple of heads of garlic at the Farmer's Market today but otherwise I have all of the ingredients ready and waiting...it's just a matter of time.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Swimming In A Waterfall

Number 38 on my Lifetime Bucket List, "Swim in a Waterfall"..........Check!

Pretty incredible feeling. We found this local spot via this amazing website I just found. Wanna check out your own local swimming hole secrets? Check out the amazing lists and scoops published and reviewed by other local swimmers at Swimmingholes.org.  What a really fun find! A and I thought it was a beautiful place to cool off together in the water after a picnicky date night out without the kids

Swimming area in the river, above the falls.

Playing with the feel of the waterfall. Pretty amazing.
I feel like we've put a pretty fabulous gold star on our summer activities with this one. It's not every day you discover secret, romantic water hang-outs. I felt like a character out of a mermaid legend, letting the water tumble over my hands. Major kudos to whichever romantic soul set that sturdy stump up under the waterfall, my Bucket List says thank you.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Poetry Friday: A Moment of Peace

Happy Poetry Friday to you all! I hope the weekend carries you off into a pillowed August dream, full of sunbeams and ripe peaches, distant lawnmowers and cicada song.
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) singing in a treeImage via Wikipedia

Today I am playing with a little poetic device, one of those mind tricks to peer out over the edge of "the box" and get my brain thinking differently. I started with a list of one syllable words with the challenge being, to try to write a poem of entirely one syllable words...in fifty words or less. I can get too wordy way too fast. I need to work on being succinct, so this is me, practicing.
Dad's mugImage by rpongsaj via Flickr

The Bracelet

In the pink new day
While my spouse snores
I sip back stoop tea
And let my ear wind
Skeins of high bird song,
Sweet thread with no heft,
Each scale thrown in a loop
Eyes closed, I knit them snug
A braid of peace for my wrist.

Today, you can find the other Poetry Friday participants offering all kinds of great verse at Karen Edmisten's blog. Hop on over and have a little look see!

I'll be back, on Monday!
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