Ode to the garden

The garden in May

“I will NEVER have a garden!” my 15 year old self exclaimed.  When I was a kid we had a HUGE garden and guess who’s job it was to weed it?  Me & my brothers.  Ugh, I couldn’t think of anything more boring.  Yes, it was great eating food right out of the garden, I still love my mom’s zucchini relish recipe, and using my brother’s broken hockey sticks for cucumber trellis was genius, but me garden?  No thank you.  As with most things you change as you get older.   Over the last 7 years of living in a big yard I have come to enjoy gardening to the point I think I can call it an official hobby of mine.  Three years ago we put in an asparagus patch and this was the first year we got to taste the harvest.  There is nothing so delicious as harvesting asparagus, throwing it on the grill, and eating it all within an hour.  This year we also re-arranged our garden to maybe get some better harvests and boy did we ever!  The tomatoes have been amazing!  Now I’m getting the itch to do more.  I’ve been inspired by the blog “One-Hundred Dollars A Month” by a seattle area mom with the pseudonym Mavis Butterfield.  Mavis’ goal is to feed her family of four on $100/month so she can use the savings to travel.  She does this by converting her entire yard to an edible landscape complete with greenhouse and chicken coop, bartering, getting free “throw-away” food from supermarkets, coupons, etc.My hope was to plant a fall garden to take advantage of cooler weather crops.  I dug out some extra pea, bean, spinach and lettuce seeds and as my green beans died off I thought I could replant.  I also wanted to try beets & kale. My friend Christine has had some kale adventures in her blog “Please repeat.” And in the last year my husband and I have discovered with love beets!  Who knew?  So I went to my local gardening center to try to find seeds or, if I was very lucky, some starts.  Apparently, I don’t live in an area where people do much fall gardening because at this very well-known garden center not only were there no starts, there were no seeds.  At all.  They did have rows and rows of fall mums, but nary a vegetable seed to be found.  This just goes to show that I need to plan better.  Next year we hope to add another garden bed (or two!) and expand my tilled area to include more room for pumpkins/squash and the husband and I have other pet hobbies we want to explore (bees for him, chickens for me).  My goal is to turn as much of our big yard into edible as possible.  It’s a lot of work, but enjoyable too in a meditative way.  I care and nurture my kids much like the garden, but my garden has yet to yell at me, get into fights, or not clean up its toys.  It does get sick on occasion, but at least not all over me.  Maybe someday my yard will be more like my friend Martha, whose blog Scrumptious Life says it all.

Tomatoes, Zucchini and some Zucchini Bread from the harvest.

In the meantime, enjoy this gazpacho recipe.  It’s a conglomeration of two recipes in The Raw Food DeTox Diet by Natalia Rose and I’ve been making it all summer to devour our delicious tomatoes.

Gazpacho

  • 5-6 large tomatoes-coarsely chopped
  • 1 cucumber peeled and seeded
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 C. olive oil
  • 1/3 C. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 a red bell pepper- diced
  • 1-2 ears of corn, cut off and cooked for about 1 minute

In your blender/vitamix take the garlic and chop up.  Add the cucumber and tomatoes, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and soy sauce.  Set the blender to chop and then puree.  In your soup bowls add the red pepper and corn and then pour the blended tomatoes over it.  Season with salt and pepper and enjoy.

PS: I like this with some olive oil flat-bread that I make using the recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and topped with a garlic/red pepper olive oil from Barefoot Contessa’s Back to Basics Cookbook.

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Summer Reading Round-Up

Every summer it seems like the days stretch before me and I’m going to fill it with SO MUCH!  Especially books.  I fool myself into believing that I have the same kind of time as I did as a lonely-can’t-drive-yet-high schooler.  The amount of time may be the same, but my life is filled with SO MUCH! Kids activities, being a wife, caring for parents, having a garden-the list goes on and then poof!  Fall is here.  Today is the first day of school for our city and summer is winding down. I still read a lot in the summer and enjoyed my book choices this summer.  Here’s a reading round up….yee-haw!

1) The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel– This is an economics book, so it’s not for everyone, but it had some great points on how and what we value and the true cost of things.  Mr. Patel works a great deal with food systems in developing countries, but his background in economics is solid.  This was not the trickle down economics book, but rather a book that faces the reality that nothing is free and our $2.00 cup of coffee costs about $200 to produce in terms of labor, fuel, and materials.  My favorite quote from this book though was one I’ve seen attributed to others so I’m not entirely sure if Mr. Patel actually said it first or was just re-using.  “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged.  One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world.  The other, of course, involves orcs.”  Now, I loved both The Lord of the Rings books and I’ve read Atlas Shrugged about 4 times (still can’t get through the John Galt speech though) and I laughed out loud when I saw that bit.

2) 9780393059748_300 The History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer.  Those who know my homeschooling tendancies know I love Susan Wise Bauer.  Really, I want to be her when I grow up or she’s the person I would love to be friends with and get together for coffee.   She was homeschooled when homeschool was certainly not cool and barely legal, she went on to become a professor at The College of William and Mary where she still teaches and homeschools her four kids on a farm in VA.  I use some of her homeschooling materials now, but this coming year we are starting history using her Story of the World series for kids.  So I thought to myself, “you know I do like history, but haven’t taken it since college.  I guess I’ll read SWB’s adult version.”  This is a tome, but if you enjoy history it is worth the time.  What I like about SWB in this book is she is not trying to give you all the little details.  Rather she pieces together what is happening across the globe in the same time periods.  So you get what is happening in Ancient India and China alongside what is going on in Ancient Egypt.  I loved that.  So much of the school-appropriate history just focuses on the big stuff and we forget that there were other peoples, cultures, and contributions happening all over.  I also like SWB’s writing style-she is coherent and gives the facts, but also throws in her own snarky observations for the occaisional funny.

3) This Life is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman: While trolling through the library catalog looking for books on having backyard chickens (yes, we are considering; no, we are not jumping into it) I came across this memoir.  It was about a family who, in the 1960s purchased sixty acres of land in rural Maine and tried to build a self-sufficient lifestyle.  This was on the tail-end of the 60s and moving into the more conservative 70s.  The author writes about her parents struggles as homesteaders and trying to live an ideal while also herself being a child in that environment.  The marriage struggles even as their work prospers and when the author’s younger sister tragically drowns the family comes apart.  One reviewer compared it to Jeanette Wall’s The Glass Castle and I would agree.   IT is a moving memoir and an interesting warning for those who might idealize farm life.

4) False MermaidFalse Mermaid by Erin Hart: Now this was a beach read!  Erin Hart has written three mysteries involving an Irish-American pathologist Nora Gavin who specalizes in ancient bog remains.  This was the latest one.  It follows Dr. Gavin as she travels back to the states from Ireland to look into her sister’s death and she thinks her sister’s husband is the prime suspect.  I would recommend reading the first two, Lake of Sorrows and Haunted Ground, before reading this one because it helps to know the storyline.  However, if you like good mystery novels with a little murder and romance thrown in it is, like I said, the perfect beach read!

5) The Pellinor Series by Allison Croggon (The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow, and The Singing): ok, I’ll admit it.  I have a fondness for young adult fantasy books.  The Harry Potter series is one of my favorites and every so often I’ll troll through the library to see what is on the shelves.  I guess I like this genre because it has absolutely no bearing on my life and the young adult versions don’t get bogged down by adult worries.  My husband reads the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series and each time he starts a new book he says how much he hates the series, but feels compelled to finish it.  I don’t want to to feel like that, so I go for lighter stuff.  This was a series by an Australian author and of course it is compared to Tolkien.  Folks, nothing can beat J.R.R. so stop trying!  But it was a series that had a strong female hero and I liked that.  The series follows Maraed and her brother Hem, who are orphans and bards (in this fantasy a bard has some magical powers…I guess it would be a wizard who sings).  They, of course, have a huge quest and get help and hinderences along the way.

Along the way I also discovered a cookbook I love, Supernatural Every Day by Heidi Swanson, and a great read-aloud series for my kids, The Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuinProduct DetailsThe Catwings series has four short books about a group of cats that were born with wings.  My daughter, who loves cats and horses and unicorns and butterflies, loves this series and it is well written (it should be since it is by Newberry award winning LeGuin).  We’ve read The Catwings, The Catwings Return, Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings, and are now starting Jane on her Own.  This summer, as every summer, I’ve had an overabundance of cherry tomatoes and I never can eat them all on salads or plain.  I discovered an amazing recipe in Supernatural Every Day for oven roasted cherry tomatoes and I love it.  It’s awesome to eat on bread, but the author mixes it in with her salads too. Below is the recipe.

I make these roasted cherry tomatoes constantly when cherry tomatoes are in  season. The tiny globes collapse and caramelize, while their flavor concentrates  tenfold. I keep them in glass canning jars in the refrigerator, to add little  explosions of flavor to any dish that needs them.

When selecting cherry tomatoes, look for baskets of various colored  tomatoes—red, orange, and yellow. I love the combination of colors, but using  all same color is just fine, too.–Heidi Swanson

Active time:5 minutes | Total  time:1 hour

Roasted Cherry  Tomatoes Recipe

Ingredients

| metric conversion

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, whether red, orange, yellow or a  combination, stemmed
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespooncane sugar or maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoonfine-grain sea salt, plus more to  taste

Directions

Buy the Super Natural Every Day cookbook1. To make the roasted  cherry tomatoes, preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C). Adjust the oven rack to the  top third of the oven.

  • 2. Slice the tomatoes in  half and place them on a rimmed baking sheet.
  • 3. In a small bowl, whisk  together the olive oil, sugar or maple syrup, and a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Pour the mixture over the tomatoes and gently toss until well coated. Arrange  the tomatoes in a single layer, cut-side up, and roast, without stirring, until  the tomatoes shrink a bit and start to caramelize around the edges, 45 to 60  minutes.
  • 4. Nibble the roasted cherry  tomatoes straight off the baking sheet. Or, if you aren’t using them  immediately, let them cool and then scrape them into a clean glass jar along  with any olive oil that was left in the baking dish or sheet. Sometimes I top  off the jar with an added splash of olive oil. The tomatoes will keep for about  1 week in the refrigerator.

 

Vermont Trip Recap Part II

It’s been awhile since I posted and months since we returned from VT and I’m still thinking back to those good times.  The next few days we were in VT were marked by a lot of family time and introducing the kids to new things. For me, much of this part of the trip was strange because I was a tourist in my home state.  There’s something very deja vu about visiting places that you mocked as “touristy” as a child.   

Sunday May 20th- settling in and family time with my brother, sister-in-law and new baby nephew.  We did explore Woodstock and Quechee a bit.  It’s funny, as a kid we enjoyed going into Woodstock not for it’s quaint charm or many art galleries, but to people watch the tourists who came to Woodstock.  I still found the area very overpriced- for example; we went to the Village Butcher to get something for our family dinner and found it to be more of a wine/specialty food shop with a tiny butcher counter with little to offer and what they did have was expensive. We grabbed a creamee at the White Shack on the Ottaquechee River just outside of Woodstock and headed out to Sugarbush Farm.  I’m in love with them now.  Sugarbush is a family run farm specializing in maple syrup and cheeses.  They had a little DIY farm tour and the kids got to pet a calf and goat.  We skipped the nature walk, but spent lots of time trying their cheeses.  We picked up a hickory smoked cheese and sharp cheddar that were both gone a few days later.  Guess I know what will be going in some of my Christmas packages this year!

Monday May 21st – One of my favorite days-the kids climbed a mountain!  Actually, the VT parks department has a list of “family friendly hikes” and we discovered that at Mt. Ascutney you can drive about 3 miles up the mountain (and it is straight up the mountain; the park staff warns you to go into lower gear on the way down) then park.  The hike is only about .5 mile up to the summit where there is a look-out tower.  The hike was awesome-full of boulders for the kids to scramble over.  Once at the top they were jumping up and down saying, “We’re the luckiest kids in the world!  We climbed a mountain!”  The observation tower rises 24′ up and I admit I was getting a little scared of heights climbing up!  However, once up you have an amazing view over the Connecticut River Valley.  At the summit we also found the gold stamp from the US Geological Society stating the height of Mt. Ascutney (Homeschooling moment!).  This area is also ideal for hang gliders, although we didn’t see any.  After our little day hike we headed over to Rutland to visit my brother.  He lives just around the corner from my high school, Mt. St. Joseph Academy, so we took the kids and my baby nephew to the local park.  Later, we got Gill’s grinders for dinner.  Every town has their favorite hometown joints and Gill’s is a Rutland icon.  Their sandwiches are generous with toppings/meat, the bread is fresh, and it’s been around forever.  Everybody knows Gill’s so I was happy to introduce it to Gregg and my brother and I relished the memories.

Tuesday May 22nd- we embarked on Vermont’s own food tour!  This is a fairly new development that various groups are coming together to share marketing, but I think it’s brilliant.  All the foodies piled into the car and headed on a road trip.  We stopped at King Arthur Flour, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, outlets for Cabot Creamery & Lake Champlain Chocolates, Cider Hollow Cider Mill and a great coffeeshop- the Skinny Pancake.  We tried to get to the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters station, but arrived after it closed for the day.  There is NOTHING more frustrating to a coffee lover than showing up, finding the doors locked and the smell of coffee all around.  This is why we ended up at the Skinny Pancake.

Wednesday May 23- the Beach!  We woke up with nothing on the agenda and Gregg said, “let’s take the kids to the ocean.”  Off we go.  Hampton Beach, NH is about a 2 hour drive from where we were in VT and is a great public beach.  The sand is sandy, the park facilities are nice, and because it was before Memorial Day, it was rather uncrowded.  I had been to Hampton Beach once before, but it was nice to have a family day there.  The kids loved the ocean.  Again, there were cheers of “We’re the luckiest kids in the world!”   Dinner was where the real fun started; we packed a light lunch and were really hungry by the time we were ready to eat dinner.  We also really wanted to find a great little place to eat seafood.  I mean, if you are at the ocean, you need to eat seafood!  First we order our dinners- clam chowda, fried haddock, burgers for the kids, a lobster roll for my husband.  Next thing I know he’s asking the waitress how much a whole lobster is, to which she replies “The twins are $19.99.”  The twins?  Yup- two lobster for $20 clams.  So guess who had another dinner?

Thursday May 24- easy day.  We made a great trip to Vt. Institute of Natural Science (VINS) and had fabulous ice cream in Quechee Village.  VINS is dear to me; I interned at their Manchester office in college.  They are in a beautiful new facility with a lot more space and it gave me lots of ideas to share with our own local Brukner Nature Center.

Friday May 25- Trip down memory lane!  We visited a bit more with brother and adorable nephew before heading to my hometown of Brandon, VT.  We took the kids to the house I grew up in, which was looking worse for wear and made me so sad.  Then we saw first-hand the devastation of Hurricane Irene in Brandon.  Even 9 months after the disaster there was still so much loss.  Then we made a trip to the Warren Kimble Gallery.  My husband was making a purchase and says to the guy behind the counter “Do you know if Warren Kimble is still alive?”  To which the man says “Well, that’s me!”  Then I took the kids on my favorite hike up to Silver Lake.  However, I forgot it was 1 mile straight uphill!  Man- I think my family was about ready to toss me off the cliff, but we made it and they loved it.  Silver Lake is this beautiful man-made lake made from a hydro-electric power project and is part of the Green Mountain National Forest.  It is so peaceful there.  On our way out we grabbed ice cream at Kampersville (do you sense a theme with the ice cream)? and headed up to my relatives in Burlington.

Saturday May 26- Stayed with my aunts in Burlington-area and went to the Memorial Day parade where my aunt was in the Making Strides against Breast Cancer float.  After a quick stop at a really cool military museum right behind my aunts apartment (and the kids being told my the national guard, no you can’t climb the tanks) we headed downtown to the ECHO Center and Church Street Marketplace.  I had never been to the ECHO Center, but it was fabulous!  Small, but jam-packed science center based on the ecology of Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley.  Then Church Street Marketplace is always a fascinating place, but it was really humming because the Vt. City Marathon was scheduled to be run the very next day.  We capped off the day with a BBQ at my cousin’s house.  Luke is his biggest fan.  My cousin has a pet iguana and fixes cars and is really into rally races.  For an almost 5-year old boy that’s about as close to hero worship as you can get!

At this point we decided we just wanted  to be home so we decided to just drive all night.  Other than being really tired, it worked so well with the kids!  They slept for 8 hours and we could drive without traffic and lots of stops.  Finally we made it home, but we all can’t wait to go back.

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Vermont Recipes

I’m working on completing the wrap-up for our Vermont trip and they are long!  Here are few Vermont recipes that I don’t have room for in the regular posts.  And a note about maple syrup.  Maple Syrup is created in different grades from light to dark.  We prefer Grade B- the darker syrup.  To us it has more maple flavor, but you may prefer Grade A or Grade A fancy.  Most maple syrup sold in grocery stores are those two grades, but if you know a local farmer you can get the other grades.  In Ohio, we get our syrup from Dohner’s Maple Camp in West Milton, but there are others such as Hyrdro-growers in P.Hill and Stone’s Throw Market Co-op uses Stonewall Farms Maple Syrup.

Vermont Maple Sundae

  • Good quality vanilla ice cream
  • REAL maple syrup (we prefer Grade B syrup)
  • 1 C. Walnuts- toasted

The family at the New England Maple Museum

Toast the walnuts gently in the oven or on a skillet.  Scoop your ice cream in bowls, top with maple syrup and chopped walnuts.  YUM.

Mel’s Spice Pancakes– year’s ago my mom worked for this amazing Italian family, the Toto’s and this was Mel’s recipe for spice pancakes.  For my family it has been one of our absolute favorites.

  • 1 c. flour (can use whole wheat)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 C. old fashioned oats
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. each of ginger, nutmeg
  • 1 C. milk
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 Tbsp. honey- try for local honey.
  • 1/2 c. each chopped nuts or apples or berries (optional)

Mix together all the dry ingredients. Stir in the milk and egg.  Melt together the butter and honey and stir into the mixture.  If using, add in the nuts and apples.  Let the mix sit for 10-15 minutes and then cook pancakes on a griddle.  Top with REAL maple syrup (grade B if you can get it).

Rhubarb Maple Creame Brulee (taken from Edible Green Mountains Magazine and is delicious!)

2 cups diced rhubarb ¼ cup maple syrup 1 teaspoon finely diced fresh rosemary 1 cup cream ¼ teaspoon vanilla 2 large rosemary sprigs 1 large egg 1 large egg yolk 3 tablespoons maple syrup 4 teaspoons maple sugar 4 four-ounce ramekins

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°.
  2. Put the diced rhubarb, maple syrup and diced rosemary in a     small pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until     the rhubarb is soft. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. While the rhubarb is cooking, put the cream, vanilla and     rosemary sprigs into a small pan and, stirring occasionally, cook     over medium-high heat until the cream just starts to bubble.     In a medium bowl, beat the egg, egg yolk and maple syrup with     a whisk until even. While whisking, slowly pour the hot cream     into the egg mixture. Strain the egg and cream mixture into a large     measuring cup with a spout (capacity at least 2 cups).
  4. Divide the rhubarb mixture among the ramekins. Place the     ramekins in a casserole dish and place the whole dish on the middle     rack of the preheated oven. Pour the cream and egg mixture into     each ramekin, over the rhubarb mixture (it should just fill the     ramekin). Then pour enough hot tap water into the casserole dish     that the water reaches halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake     the custards in the water bath for about 35 minutes or until the     custards still quivers when shaken but have no liquid beneath the     skin. Cool the custards in the fridge for 1 hour, or up to three days.
  5. When the custards are cool, turn on your oven broiler, evenly     spread 1 teaspoon of maple sugar over each custard and place the     custards on a cookie sheet. Move the oven rack to the highest     location in the oven and put the sheet of custards under the broiler.     The sugar will take about 5 minutes to burn, although broilers vary     widely in intensity, so keep a careful eye on the crème brûlées. The     crème brûlée is done when the maple sugar is a mix of light brown     and black. Quick-cool the crème brûlées in the fridge for about 1     minute and then serve immediately.

Country Roads, Take Me Home! Part I

After not being back in my home state of Vermont for 5 years and never having taken the kids on a trip longer than 5 days we decided to do both in May.  My brother and his wife had just had their first child and my parents were already going and asked if we’d like to come along.  I’m so glad we did.  Most days the weather was perfect, the food was good (and local!), and the family time was much overdue. It was the kind of vacation you pack so much in and yet never get to do it all; here’s a little play-by-play wrap up.

Thursday May 17- leave Troy at 10am for Buffalo, NY.  Pit stops at my parents, a road stop outside of Cleveland (lunch), Erie, PA welcome center and finally Buffalo.  We stayed that night at the Lord Amherst hotel (a place that was clean, but hasn’t changed a bit since 1976) and ate dinner at the Lake Effect Diner, featured on Guy Fieri’s show Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives.  Their grilled mac & cheese was yum and my mom had the most amazing Chicken Cordon Blu with their own smoked ham. Being in the area brought back memories of traveling from Ohio to VT in college/grad school when I would stop and catch up with friends in Buffalo; hope to do that again some trip.

Friday May 18- take a trip to Niagara Falls & riding the Maid of the Mist.  My husband had never visited Niagara Falls and we decided this would be a way to break up the drive.  Even though we did not have passports for the kids and had to stay on the American side of the falls, it was a great little day trip.  Well, except for the part where my husband lost his cell phone and we discovered we had forgotten to pack our camera battery charger.  The phone was found and we called family back in Ohio to mail the charger.  If you can get past all the touristy-kitchy stuff at Niagara Falls it is really lovely.  There is a riverside park that winds around with lots of green lots and places to sit.  And the Maid of the Mist ride is a classic.  It’s been in operation for over 100 years.  After spending the morning at the falls we headed back to the car to Amsterdam, NY to view my brother in his wrestling show.  My little bro has been working with In Your Face Wrestling for the last few years and touring as “Vigo, the Force from the North.”  Although it was not your typical family reunion site, it was a blast.  Nothing like seeing my sweet little girl yelling out “Hit Him!” among a few wrestling fans.  My favorite part?  Holding my new little nephew for the first time.   We also grabbed dinner at a fantastic little pizza place in Amsterdam.  Let me tell you, Amsterdam, NY is one of those towns that has seen its day pass.  We had no idea where to get some food, but walked into this hole in the wall pizza place and it was bright, clean, and the pizza was delicious.  As we were picking up our pizza, an employee pulled out the most beautiful buttery, oozing cheese, calzone I’ve ever seen.  Check out Riverside Pizza if you are ever traveling through!

Saturday May 19 – after a very loud night in a hotel in Albany, NY (our room was next to the vending area and around 3am we were woken up by an arguing couple) we made our way to Vermont.  Finally!  “Look, kids!  Those are REAL mountains.”  We had no agenda except to make it to our hotel/condo by dinner so we meandered our way to Bennington, VT.  I knew we must be in VT, not from the lovely views or earthy people, but how my husband starts commenting on all of the great planning & urban design features of towns (look at that sign-post/wow, that’s a great parking lay-out).  As planning geeks we have our own separate collection of “urban design photos” on each vacation.  I fear for my children. We made a stop at the Bennington Monument, an obelisk much like the Washington Monument that commemorates the Battle of Bennington during the Revolutionary War.  As we arrived folks were cleaning up from a 5K race that included racing to the top of the monument!  After our monument trip we made our way to the Walloomsac Farmers Market.  This was a lovely little farmers market in a little park next to a little creek (the Walloomsac?).  We were about to leave when my daughter spied these two little girls “selling” their drawings for ten cents next to their parents coffee roasting booth.  She wanted to see if the girls wanted to trade one of her pictures for one of theirs.  That started off a really nice conversation and about an hour long visit as my husband bought some fresh bread and cookies from the Russian Baker, we made our PB & J in the park with my kid played with the girls.  When my daughter and their youngest were chatting I asked what grade she was in.  She said “I don’t go to school, I’m homeschooled.”  So Gwen replied “Me, too.”  Then the little girl said “I’ve never been to school.”  Gwen: “Me Too!”  Instant friends. On our way out we grabbed some of their delicious coffee for the road-check them out at Lucy Jo’s Coffee.  I can’t wait to order their Wada-Wada-Hooka Blend.

After leaving Bennington, we took the scenic roads through Ludlow, VT (think Okemo Ski Resort) and across to Brownsville, VT.  This part of our trip was marked by observing all the damage Hurricane Irene wrought last August.  In the southern and middle parts of the state there are new bridges, temporary bridges, new rocks to prevent erosion all along the creeks and rivers.  It was humbling to see how much was damaged and how much had been repaired in less than a year.  It was also the first time my husband and kids observed fly fishing.  Vermont is a great place to go fly fishing and there is something very serene about watching folks calmly wading in to the rock filled waters with their long lines.  For me, this part of the trip was like letting a breath of air out.  Ohio is my home now, but being back in the Vermont Mountains, that’s my roots.  Our condo was tucked away in the Mt. Ascutney Ski Resort, or should I say the defunct Mt. Ascutney Ski Resort.  I never knew this could happen in VT!  About four years ago, the owner bankrupted the ski resort and it has been boarded up ever since.  Holiday Inn Resorts bought the main hotel, the condos, and the fitness center and reopened those parts last fall, but it was strange to see half of the area closed down and the base lodge boarded up.  That said, it was a really nice place to stay.  We had a 2 bed/2 bath condo with my parents.  We brought a little charcoal grill, but had access to a full kitchen for meals.  Since the condo part hadn’t been used in years, there was a lot of stuff missing or not working, but the staff was great!  The fitness area had a playground for kids and an indoor/outdoor pool.  My kids were in heaven.  A lot of sharing was going on to conserve resources, like the main maintenance guy was also the personal trainer for the gym, but I liked that it wasn’t so formal and stuffy.

Stay Tuned…more coming up (like trips to Woodstock, Rutland, Hampton Beach, NH, the top of Mt. Ascutney, Burlington & Brandon).

Keep America Beautiful- for 5 year olds

If you know me, I mean really know me, you would realize that litter prevention is big.   I’m more of an all-around-environmentalist, but there was a period where I lived and breathed recycling, and way before that I was the “don’t be a litter bug” girl.   Much of this comes from my family and my history.  Growing up in Vermont (a posterchild for the environmental movement and a darn lovely place to live) and having parents who were environmentally minded were probably the two strongest influences in that arena.  Fast forward to now.  I’ve got two little ones, it’s April (Earth Month),  and we’re homeschooling for the first time.  What’s our science topic- Litter Prevention!

What I would discover is that the topic of litter prevention is not so fashionable anymore.  I searched the library and the web for good resources specifically on teaching kids not to litter, what litter is, where it comes from and struggled to find age appropriate materials.  Much more common are books on Earth Day,  animal conservation, recycling, and energy use.  Those topics are important for the well-rounded environmentalist, but I wanted to start simple.  My kids get litter.  They see it on our roads and in our parks and already know it is NOT ok.  My first stop was the Keep America Beautiful website.  Although it was a great place to start, much of the material was not appropriate for young children (Pre-K and K), but there are a lot of resources for elementary and middle school children.  They have the video archive of some of their more known PSA’s (like the crying indian), which I loved but my kids didn’t get because they don’t yet have the context.  There was also a you tube series of a superhero “Keep America Beautiful Man”, but that had some adult innuendos and my kids did not get the dry humor.  However, in their KAB Kids Zone, there are links to other sites that were helpful.

Here are some of the things I did find:

  • Retrieving with EVIE– an on-line game with a dog on picking up litter and placing it in the right container (trash or recycling).
  • A show on PBS called “Design Squad Nation” where two designers work with kids to come up with cool uses for problems.  We watched the “Trash to Treasure” Episode.  This show was a little old for my kids, but I would recommend it to anyone who has kids ages 8-14.
  • Going over the KAB Tips for Kids list and talking about where we see litter.
  • Reading books.  Here are two current ones:  “Here Comes the Garbage Barge” by Jonah Winter and “Sullie Saves the Seas” by Goffinet McLaren.

Finally and most importantly, we did a litter pick up day. On Arbor Day, our homeschooling group met the city park superintendent at our community park to pick up litter.  For 45 minutes about 15 of us combed the park for trash.  Then we traveled to another park to witness the annual Arbor Day celebration with the Mayor, Councilmen, the local beautification committee and other school kids.  That experience was probably the most advantageous of all for teaching the kids about litter.

 

Birds! Birds! Birds!

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a blog piece wholly on our homeschooling activities, but I really enjoyed our last month looking at birds.  We are lucky enough to live in a neighborhood that, while truly suburban, has a creek running through it, lots of mature trees, and lots and lots of wildlife.  There are times when the wildlife and our home clash-bats in the house happen at least quarterly, getting woken up in the middle of the night to the obscenely painful sound of racoons mating.  Then there are times when it’s cool.  We’ve seen foxes and deer run through the area (not together), raccoons, possums, the aforementioned bats, and lots and lots of birds.  Small song birds, to water birds like ducks, geese & herons, and large raptors like a Great Horned Owl, Red-Tailed Hawks, and Coopers Hawks.  We’ve also been lucky enough to have some birds nest close enough to the house that we have seen steps A-Z from eggs laid to eggs hatching.  With all that in mind I wanted to do a month unit on Birds.

And this is where I side-bar.  Do you ever have those, well, duh, moments?  That’s how I feel about homeschooling sometimes.  I was looking around online for homeschool lesson plans to recreate (ahem, steal) and discovered that the Ranger Rick/National Wildlife Federation has done a host of these teacher manuals on tons of natural science subjects called the NatureScope seriesNot only birds, but mammals, and even about habitats.  And then I found out our library had a lot of them.  I got the one on Birds and that was my aha moment.  There were at least 10 different lessons, activity pages, crafts, you name it.  The NatureScope series was developed for classroom and/or science center teachers, but also works well in homeschooling because there are very few activities that specify a certain number of kids.  It was great.

And so began our bird activities.  We took a neighborhood walk and looked for bird and/or squirrel nests.  We walked down to the little pond in our area and drew ducks.  I led the kids through an imagining exercise about being a hawk and we tried to see if our arms could match the wing-beats of some common birds (a robin can beat its wings 23 times over 10 seconds- can you?).  To wrap up our little adventure into birds I took the kids to the Grange Insurance Audubon Center in Columbus and we attempted to hang another bird feeder in our yard.  The Audubon Center was great- a high class building with lots of trails that connect to Columbus’ other bike paths and a great kids room with a climbing “tree”, bird costumes, and an underground root system for play.  The bird feeder attempt- not so much.  Have I mentioned we have a lot of wildlife?  That includes squirrels.  Very aggressive squirrels who have manged to pop-out an entire suet cake out of one feeder and trash my little plastic-made-from-a-recycled-soda-bottle feeder (ok, the parts for the recycled soda bottle feeder WERE cheap, but still, it should have lasted more than 2 days.    To wrap up our unit on birds we made bird nest snacks for my sons PEEP class (Pre-school Environmental Education Program) at Brukner Nature Center.  Here’s the recipe:

BIRD’S NEST SNACK:

  • One pouch (3-4 C) of Fiber One Cereal
  • 1/2 C. Peanut Butter
  • 1 C. chocolate chips
  • Jelly beans to decorate.

Combine the chocolate chips and peanut butter in a small saucepan on the stove and, stirring frequently,  melt until smooth.  Place the Fiber One on a bowl and pour chocolate/PB mixture over top.  Mix until the cereal is well coated.  Drop onto wax paper lined trays in small round clumps and top with 2-3 jelly beans.  Let cool until set and enjoy!

Here are some other photos: