Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yarn Along...and a Seal Island vest

For Yarn Along this week, I started a new knitting project. For myself. In late September. (As if I don't have a million knitting/sewing projects on my list to finish before birthdays and Christmas over the next 3 months.) I've had this Suri Alpaca yarn in Earth from Blue Sky Alpaca just sitting in my stash since January waiting for the perfect project. The Claymore Vest is the project I finally decided on, a vest that could go casual or a little more smart depending on how it's paired. I really want to finish it quickly and hopefully get some use out of it this fall.

I also just started reading Average is Over by Tyler Cowen. Paul bought it for me recently. It's a relatively depressing read, but I think the author's perspective on the state and direction of the American workforce is worth considering.

I also finally finished Finn's Christmas vest. The Seal Island vest is one of my favorite knits that I've worked on recently.  

The cables were fun without requiring a pattern at all times.

The vest required blocking to flatten the ribbing in the back and make the front panels line up correctly before the cute little sassafras toggle buttons, which I found on etsy, and loops could be added. The blocking, of course, took forever, which is why it took me so long to post final photos. I love it though and I really hope he'll wear it some this winter and spring. The size is plenty big to last him for at least a couple of years.

I also just recently started a pair of thick orange socks for Finn, probably as a Halloween fairy gift. He loves his handmade cozy socks!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

first meal of autumn

In addition to our little hike to celebrate the first day of autumn, we also enjoyed a special meal, full of local harvest goodness. The butternut squash came from our garden, and the pumpkins, apples, and corn were thanks to local farmers. The return of autumnal tastes and smells were welcome in our home, in addition to the gratitude for the bounty and the labor of our nearby farms.

I'm not sure a particular meal would signal the transition to other seasons, but autumn just seems to require specific tastes: pumpkins, apples, hard squashes. And we enjoyed them all.

Our menu:

Butternut Squash Risotto
Pumpkin Custard (I double the eggs and pumpkin and sub half and half for the evaporated milk.)
Chunky Applesauce (just apples simmered with cinnamon, then stirred well and chilled)
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Corn on the cob

For dessert, we had an Apple Galette with homemade whipped cream. The kids asked if we are going to have apples with every meal until we burn through that nearly 3 bushels we brought home from the apple orchard. I think the answer is "likely". It will certainly get us in an autumnal mood, right?

Monday, September 23, 2013

first day of autumn hike

The first day of autumn dawned clear and bright after a previously soggy, rainy day. We took full advantage of the gorgeous weather and took a walk around a nearby lake. The first hint of color is just starting to appear in our trees, while the goldenrod and jewelweed are still blooming everywhere. And autumnal light is just beginning to peek through the forest. A few of the local wildlife even greeted us in the form of a snake and a skeleton that the kids thought might have been a raccoon. Welcome autumn! We're looking forward to your cooler air, beautiful light, holidays, and seasonal offerings.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

apple picking

Although we woke up to a foggy almost-autumn morning with the threat of rain, we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best as we drove up into the mountains, just over the Virginia border, to the apple farm. While we didn't enjoy the same beautiful view as last time, the orchard shrouded in fog displays a subtle beauty different from the picturesque wide blue sky and mountain peak charm. It's easier to notice the wildflowers right in front of you, or the shading of the tree limbs. When we were soggy from our jeans down to our squishy shoes, we had about 1.5 bushels of apples, with more purchased from the packing house, and 5 happy soggy children. That's the essence of successful apple picking trip, I guess. 

PS. The muffins you see in the photographs are Pumpkin Streusel Muffins. A requisite snack for any autumnal adventure, in my opinion.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

the tooth fairy

You'll have to ignore the terrible photos in this blogpost. They were both snapped quickly and on the go with my phone camera. The message of this post is certainly more important than the pictures that accompany it.

Finn's first loose tooth was fraught with emotional turmoil.  He first discovered it was loose, or maybe it became loose, because he tried to pry apart 2 Lego bricks using his teeth. "My mouth is broken!" he wailed and whined for nearly an hour.  He was not consoled in the slightest by the reassurance that his tooth was ready to be loose and this would mean a visit from a tooth fairy. (And MONEY his siblings informed him.

When his tooth was finally loose enough that it was truly ready to fall out, Elizabeth desperately wanted to pull it for him.  She begged, tried trickery, but he wasn't having it. He decided that he wanted his beloved school principal, who also pulled at least 7 of Elizabeth's teeth, to perform the rite of passage. That evening as Elizabeth was trying to cajole him into allowing her to pull his tooth with enticing words like "I wonder how much money the tooth fairy will bring?", Finn said, "you mean, the tooth MOM!" Elizabeth looked at him with a floored expression. "Finn, do you not BELIEVE in the tooth fairy?!" He backpedaled, "I believe in a mom fairy who takes our teeth and brings us money."

Paul and I have different theories on why Elizabeth needed so desperately for Finn to believe in the tooth fairy. One thing you have to understand about Elizabeth is that one of the few times she's been in trouble at school is for writing on the bathroom wall (in 2nd grade). What she wrote: there is a ghost in the old church. She had a friend who wouldn't believe that a ghost existed in the old church behind her school. She thought that writing it on the bathroom wall would lend more credibility and would force her friend to believe. This is the theory Paul subscribes to as to why Elizabeth needed Finn to believe in the tooth fairy. I tend to think that she just wants all life events to be the most special they can be. She's highly sentimental, my girl, and has a shoebox of mementos from each grade of school tucked under her bed. She's the one who decorates for each brother's birthday and fancied up the library for mine. She needed her brother to believe so that his first tooth fairy visit would be as special as possible.

Whichever theory is correct, and maybe they both are, she decided to impersonate the tooth fairy for an evening and write a letter and send a bottle of fairy dust to Finn.  Her plan worked like a charm.  His special letter and bottle of dust thrilled him and earned a special place on a high shelf. And as a mama, I'm taken aback at how thoughtful my girl is, and I'm grateful that my little boy had an enchanted experience on this momentous occasion.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Yarn Along

Even though I haven't finished the vest I started last week, I cast on a new project to have something more manageable to work on while we drove to Shenandoah. I didn't get as much done on this Tuscan Leaves Neckwarmer as I'd hoped. The pattern is such that it's almost impossible to look away or you'll lose your place. It's really working up as lovely as I'd hoped. I think the recipient will be pleased. The yarn is Shine Worsted by Knit Picks in Currant, a lovely autumnal color for these leaves, I think. I've been reading Old Yeller to the kids for the last week.  We're nearly finished now and I think they've enjoyed the story so far. It has sparked quite a debate on why they called rabies "Hydrophobia" and what castration is. (!) I find myself lapsing into quite a southern accent while reading this aloud.

I'm still working on Finn's Seal Island. I'm about 99% finished with the body of it with only a few rows to go until I can start the trim. Maybe I'll be finished by this time next week. I really hope Finn likes it. I've even bought him a few long sleeved t-shirts (in burnt orange and red) that I think will go nicely with this brownish-gray.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chocolate Zucchini Cookies

My kids have an odd problem. Not a single one of them likes brownies. I'm not sure how a chocolate-loving mama managed to raise 4 children with brownie disdain, but somehow, despite my best efforts, it happened. A particular recipe I've tried a few times and liked, but with brownie-hating children had to eat on my own, is the zucchini brownies. If you google "zucchini brownies", you'll get 7.2 million hits. (See kids! Your mom is not crazy trying to hide a veggie in the brownies!) 

A good chocolate chip cookie, however, and you won't bat an eyelash before half a plate of them are missing. So I wondered and googled to see if zucchini chocolate chip cookies might exist. Lo, and behold, they do! I adapted the recipe I found, because that's what I do.

One of my kids can be picky if she happens to find shreds of zucchini in her cookies, breads, or cakes. This recipe called for Greek yogurt, and since I always have too much homemade kefir lying around, I used it instead. Blending the zucchini and kefir in the food processor first seems to make the zucchini much smoother and lessens the chance of rejection by the non-shred-loving child.

I also happened to be without butter the day I made these cookies.  I found that coconut oil is a great substitute, but you end up with a grainy batter when the coconut oil hardens as it comes in contact with the cold ingredients. It didn't affect the end result though.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cookies (adapted from Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies)

1 medium (6-7 inch) zucchini
1/3 cup kefir or yogurt
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1 egg (the original recipe did not call for this, but I didn't want crumbly cookies)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup granulated or turbinado sugar
1/3 cup almond meal
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Blend the first 2 ingredients in food processor until smooth. Pour into bowl and blend with coconut oil, then egg and vanilla. Add cocoa powder and dissolve into mixture. Add remaining ingredients and stir just until blended. Drop by tablespoon onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets. If batter seems too runny, add another few tablespoons of flour until dough is wet but not runny. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are set.

These cookies really do taste very brownie-ish (shh! don't tell my kids!), and they freeze well. Now you have a treat that you can feel good about sending in lunch boxes!

Monday, September 9, 2013

camping in Shenandoah

After wistfully reading Cindy's blogposts and staring at her gorgeous photos of camping in Shenandoah National Park, we were invited to join her family for a weekend of camping. We tried to squeeze the last bit of summer fun and gorgeous warm weather into these days, and we were handsomely rewarded. I'm almost ashamed to admit that even though the Shenandoah National Park is only a 4.5 hour drive from us, we'd never actually been into the park yet. (Driving up 81 through VA will give you a lovely taste though.) The amazing scenic views on Skyline Drive rival almost any I've seen in Alaska and Colorado.

We arrived a day after Cindy's family, and we immediately set up camp and then dove into our first hike. Paulie decided to rig up a quick fishing rod from a stick, yarn, and a hook-shaped rock while his siblings hunted for worms.

I think their noisy splashing about may have frightened the fish away.

(I need to remember to ALWAYS have Finn switch to a swimsuit if water is involved in the hike. Otherwise, we end up with a 6 year old hiking in underwear.)

After a steep hike down the mountainside, we reached Dark Hollow Falls. (sounds ominous, eh? I think it's the warning for the steep hike straight UP to get back to the campground.)

Paulie, of course, had to scale the largest rock in the vicinity. (I try not to watch to preserve the health of my heart.)

Finn became a little salamander and tried to dry off in the sun before our hike back up the trail.

Back at camp, there was torch making (and plenty of discussion about how Bear Grylls made one),

ash made into face paint,

and numerous games of hide-and-seek in the ferns and among the deer.

On Saturday morning, we visited a park ranger talk on Birds of Prey. She spoke specifically of the bard owl and the screech owl.

After a few minutes of sharing information, she pulled a screech owl out of a cage. He'd been permanently injured a few years before, and he's now used as a teaching tool

It's amazing how well his coloring blends in to the nearby trees!

Following the ranger talk, we ventured out into the Big Meadow.

The primary wildflowers we saw were Musk Thistle and Goldenrod.

We also saw several of these red berry (almost tomato-looking) thorny bushes. I'd love to know more about them if anyone knows what they are.

We rested at an outcropping of rocks. Well, at least the adults rested. The kids scampered in and around the rocks.

We also brought some art supplies for sketching, weaving God's Eyes, and watercolor painting.

Once we rested and had our fill of artistic endeavors, we walked a little further into the meadow to the ruins of a old farmplace. The brick cellar was really the only remains and it was so overgrown it was quite hard to photograph. Finn and Zach seemed to enjoy poking around the place, despite the warning of possible snakes lurking.

Once we finished exploring, we hiked back across the meadow, such a beautiful, if warm in all that sunshine, walk.

After some lunch back at camp, we wandered up to the lodge, which has an amazing view of the valley and mountains beyond.

The lodge is also full of games and rocking chairs to entertain the children out of the sun for a few minutes.

Cindy let me borrow her wide angle lens, which was great fun to play with. I might need to add one to my Christmas list. (ahem, Paul!)

The lodge also has a fun little grassy hill just outside which the kids found quite delightful for rolling down.

One last hike called our names before we headed out yesterday morning. There was a small road straight off Skyline Drive with a 2 mile hike to an abandoned Episcopalian mission.

More exploration fun for the children!

This was one of the most beautiful places we've ever camped. As if the beauty alone weren't enough, their are plenty of ranger-led hikes and talks, and a lodge to escape the rain or heat for a bit.   We are already planning a return trip for next year!