Thoughts of Things and Souvenirs

While our kids were being spoiled by the grandparents, my husband and I were walking around the streets of Paris. It was so nice to have the chance to celebrate such a momentous occasion—the tenth anniversary of our wedding—the way we began it ten years ago, just us two, and I’m grateful to my parents who were willing to lend a helping hand, granting us the freedom and peace of mind to travel so far away knowing our kids would be so well taken care of.

Eiffel

They were far from our reach, but not from our thoughts. I was surprised—then after some thought, maybe not so surprised after all—by how often we found ourselves talking about them, pointing out things they would find interesting, wondering what they were doing at that very moment, making plans to somehow shift our priorities and save some funds so we could travel as one whole big family circus. Traveling with four small kids however, is no small feat; we now exceed the maximum occupancy for one hotel room and it’s not as if Europe is known for their extra spacious rooms. Regardless of its difficulties, I’m pretty confident we can find a way to make it work.

It turns out—thanks to check baggage and luggage weight limits—it is also no small feat to bring home a little something for each of our four. We stopped in a number of shops, every single one of which I found something for at least one of my kids. All the museum shops were chock full of over-priced t-shirts and books, funny little oddities, and of course, tons of crap that would be tossed aside in less time than it took me to type this last sentence. Since I’m the one who gets to clean it all out and throw it in the trash, I needed to find something else to bring home.

The Supplies

In the end, I found a few pencil bags for all four, and at each of our stops, I picked up a little school supply related item. Pencils and erasers from the museums, a few markers from a small shop from my husband’s hometown in Germany, little notebooks and graph paper pads from a stationary store in Paris… I managed to cross off a bit of back-to-school shopping as well as fulfill a desire to offer them each some physical token of how often I thought of them.

The Pencils

Rhodia Pad

The Thinker

They have been much adored by the kids. And even though I paid a fortune for those doggone pencils from the Rodin Museum with “The Thinker” on the top—I put them back the first day we went there because they were so ridiculously expensive—I’m glad we went back the next day to get them… I suppose it’s reasonable to find a better excuse than “I really need those pencils” to get back to Paris next year.

 

 

With Open Arms, Welcome September

It never fails… ever.

August rolls around, the cicadas start to sing, the grass is burnt to a fragrant, golden, late-summer crisp, the shops pull out all the stops for their back to school displays, and my creativity starts to trickle back to life, slowly building into a steady stream that come September is a full-on flood. I welcome its return. Often, I find this time of year more rejuvenating, more full of promise and excitement than the turn of the new year in January. Surely I’m not the only one?

Travel Prep

This summer was so very, very full for us all. There were :: broken bones, or I suppose, just one bone; lengthy stays with the grandparents back in Pennsylvania, European travel to Greece, France, and Germany; ten year wedding anniversaries to celebrate (hence the reason for the grandparents and travel!), garden created just for flowers, a visit to a yarn facility run by family, birthdays galore, visits from new friends just to devote some time to making, creating, lobster bakes, time for socks and sandals (socks and sandals? my goodness who let that happen?)… oh I could go on!

Thems the Breaks

Socks and Sandals

Already there are ambitious plans shaping up for this Fall as well :: a cookbook club, some long-planned and much-needed home improvements, a new photo project or two, more knitting to finish up and even more to start, some amazing fiber to spin, a few rooms to revamp and/or finish up, a much neglected blog to return to, maybe a weensy bit more travel, Christmas projects to begin (I’m determined to get a jump start this year!)… oh I could go on!

I’m really looking forward to diving into all these projects that are floating around my head. Do you have any exciting plans?

“Sparklers” for the Fourth

This year, instead of running back to Pennsylvania after school let out at the end of June, we decided to stick around and enjoy our seaside community’s early summer activities. One of the first things we crossed off our list was a friend’s famed 3rd of July party… The 3rd of July, so that everyone could take the 4th to recover. It was brilliant! We enjoyed homemade pizza from their hand-built, backyard wood-fired oven (where I took notes from the oven’s builder to add to my ever-growing list of dreams), and then walked to our local beach to watch the neighbors put on competing fireworks display up and down the coast. With the light breeze and clear sky and beautiful calm low tide and most excellent company… we could not have asked for a nicer day. I am so thankful for the people we have met here.

But before the festivities kicked off, the kids and I decided to make our recent tradition of chocolate covered sprinkled pretzels to bring along to the party. One of the kids decided they looked like sparklers, and so now we have a little family name for our fourth of July treats!

The Set Up

It really is a lovely little craft-like dessert project that all our littles can enjoy helping with. And the best part for me it that it requires no baking, which—as many of my friends and family can attest—is not my strong point.

No Baking Required

The process could not be more simple:
• Melt a few bags of chocolate candy coating (my kids also enjoy the vile vanilla, but maybe they’ll outgrow it) either in the microwave or over a double boiler, taking care to not burn it, which is really the only trick. I find a double boiler a bit more cumbersome for set-up, but easier to control for heat. Inevitably I burn the coating in the microwave, which causes it to seize up and crystalize.
• Pour melted coating into a tall, thin glass
• Dip pretzel rods—I’ve found the rods in buckets have fewer broken pieces than the rods in bags—into coating, placing dipped rods onto parchment or wax paper
• Shake your choice or sprinkles over the still-melted coating
• Let cool, then eat

Foodie Crafting

So easy, I promise!

Add Sparkles

All the kids enjoy the dipping, and with as many kids as we have (and one extra who was here on a play date!), we’re able to make a whole bunch in a short amount of time.

Too Many to Eat

Once we were done with all the dipping, we took the rest of the melted coating and put it in a lidded jar to save for next time. And yeah, if you have the time and patience, it would probably be even better with real chocolate, but I have neither the time, patience, nor equipment for proper tempering. I have made my peace with chocolate candy coating, since we have it only once or twice per year.

TaDaaaa

We brought them to the party in a galvanized bucket filled with rice so they could stand up on their own. We didn’t even get the bucket set down on the table before our sparkers started walking off in little (and big) hands.

What a nice little crafty-type foodie project to start off our summer!

Squam :: Of Pathfinding and Salt and Hay-Scented Fern

During the summers when I was a small child, we used to drive several hours to my grandmother’s camp nearly every weekend, to a small, no-longer-mobile home placed on a small, cleared piece of property up a hill from a not-so-small river. There were, on any given weekend, a range of five to ten adults and seven or more of us little cousins. I remember that time more as a vignette than a storyboard, an abstraction of knees and heels and elbows, sharp angles and unfiltered energy covered in mosquito-bite scabs and sunburns; sweaty, our hair plastered to our foreheads as we lay on the floor of the back bedroom, a jumble of blankets and pillows, too excited to sleep, each of us filled with whispers and summer songs and scary stories.

Memories of a River

There are a handful of particular moments that rise above the din, but for my purposes here, it is the gestalt where I am finding my thoughts drawn. It is difficult to describe this phenomenon fully, what I picture is more of memory of a memory, a trace left behind of what has been forgotten. I believe these are the roots of nostalgia, a longing to capture those wispy threads and weave them into something more than a few frames of a short movie clip, a desire to process their meaning into something relevant to our lives as we live them now so we can preserve the ephemeral and transform it into what we believe is more concrete.

Sitting on the Dock

It is within this space where I am now processing the past week spent at Squam. I have been trying to write about the experience for the past three days, but haven’t found the right way of stringing together the words to properly convey and commit those moments to the meaning I intend. I find myself thinking about the pleasures and taste of salt, the difficulties of describing that intensity, the brightness, complexity mixed with desire, and somehow an understanding of how it all comes together without the ability to call it anything else than by what is already known. There are no simple words for it, and using metaphor is the only clumsy way in which I can imagine it might make sense.

Little Bits of Work

On Friday morning I found myself a tiny bit lost in the woods of New Hampshire, not realizing I was on the incorrect path until I found myself at the far edge of the camp. I wasn’t truly lost with the lake on my right, and I didn’t have a particular schedule so I felt little need to continually compare the forks in the road with the map I carried along. I was trying to find a way to capture the beautiful paths that led through the woods through the lens of my camera, paths that were hard to find and impossible to photograph while looking ahead, yet magically appeared under your feet with each steady-paced step.

Hidden Path

That walk was so very evocative of the woods in the backyard of my childhood and the entire placed smelled like my grandma’s camp. “Hay-Scented Fern,” my cabin mate Ivy pointed correctly toward the lacy green covered ground, but she didn’t know what she was missing in her description; she carries none of my memories of elbows and summer scabs. Her nostalgia was fed by the sounds of squeaky sliding summer doors. Olivia, by thoughts of screened-in lake-view porches for a summer’s worth of writing. Or Jenn, by the paths left on her body mapping her entry into motherhood. Only short, shared glimpses of a whole that is difficult to see, capture, or describe fully, but imbued with meaning none-the-less.

Hay-Scented Fern

And so it is with Squam. A collection of amazing women, in an incredible setting, exploring our creativity, and restoring our spirits. Each of us finding and losing and finding once more our own paths, intersecting with others, connecting through experience and stories over smoky camp fires in rustic cabins, coffee served in thimbles, and meals announced by the ringing of a bell carrying clearly over the still waters of the lake. Words that describe only the vaguest sense of what the experience actually meant to those who participated. And therein lies the crux of my problem; I am grasping at all the threads gently drifting on currents of thought, trying to tie together that which is amorphous and unwilling to be shaped by restrictive constraints of words falling inextricably in line to explain the entirety of something too abstract to properly convey.

Process Piece

Squam is the path; impossible to see beyond the length of your step or to capture through the limitations of any lens, but unfolding steadily as it was always meant to be. And we are the salt; a richness, a point of saturation in sensation, an experience that defies description, but is instantly understood by all who know it.

Be Back Soon

This is an incomplete and unworthy metaphor, this talk of salt and paths, but it the best I can manage. Perhaps the words will come to me next year—and yes, I will absolutely return—when likely I will once again find myself following an unexpected trail with an unknown destination. I will think of the friends I made; fellow mamas who pack up all the belongings and move themselves and their four children on a boat to set sail to far away islands; women who feed the hungry of their community every Tuesday for eight years with soups and salads and twelve loaves of the bread they make each week; two women who maintain their cross-coast connection through Squam every year but are willing to open their arms to welcome new friends; vibrant women who have already written two books before they’ve reached mid-life, and who will share openly their passion and talents and offer honest advice; women who are our personal icons who teach and nurture us along this path and share themselves and open their hearts (and studios) as the most amazing resources…

And I will be sure to think of salt once more.

Of Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

Start Where You Are

Start where you are.
Use what have.
Do what you can.
—Arthur Ashe

It has been a long, drawn out, tumultuous sort of year for us, full of surprises—welcome and not so much—where most energy has been sunk into getting through the days with as little drama as possible.

Slowly, though, the tide is shifting, and the art of surviving is taking less of my focus and the daydreaming and wishful thinking displacing the strain is making me hopeful that time for creating won’t be too far behind.

Vacationing :: Cherry Picking

To The Sky 

Pictureskew

Apple Bins

Bounty

Getting Started

Picking With Pappy

Abundance

Ladders

Beautiful Buckets Reaching

Huge Haul

Big Barn

A few days ago, the eldest two finally finished up with school for the year, so I packed up the car, stuffed the kids and the dog in, and drove back home to Pennsylvania. After a weekend of sleeping in and catching up with family, we kicked off our newly schedule-free days with an early morning of cherry picking.

The orchard we visited opened at 7am, but the day was forecast to be rather rainy and dreary, so my dad and I decided we didn’t need to be there at the crack of dawn since we thought not many people would venture out. Well, that turned out to be a bit of a mistake. Bu the time we got there at 8.30, the place was mobbed and the sour cherries—which we love for pie baking—were completely picked through and we barely collected enough to make two pies. There was an overabundance of sweet cherries though, and we are working our way through the many pounds of them at an alarming rate, although not fast enough for my dad who claims there isn’t quite enough room in the fridge and we need to eat. more. now.

And that big haul up the page a bit, with the dozen or so 5 gallon buckets of cherries? They were collected by a group of Amish women (who obviously showed up at exactly the crack of dawn!) the total cost of which was two cherries shy of $500.00 worth. The women checking them out gave them five free fruits, which I though was a nice little bargain, but she did make them run and grab the five themselves. I wonder what deliciousness they will make with such an abundance, and I also can’t help but to be curious how they’ll pit them all.

Buck In Velvet

Black Raspberry

Rolling Hills

Big Sky

Stormish

Enclosure Path

After the cherry picking adventure was over my dad took us all to a local deer farm for a little walk. The weather was, well, it was quite unpredictable, but absolutely lovely at the same time. And the views? Let’s just say I miss the sweeping views of all those rolling hills more than I could have imagined. But then again, that ocean view of ours does make up for a bit of what we lack in purple mountain(ish) majesty.

Inlows

DriveIn Diner

Foot Longs for Lunch

After all that picking and walking we just happened to find ourselves at one of my favorite little local drive-in diners for foot-long hot dogs and malted milkshakes. I love this place and stop by every summer I come home, even though the drive-in part is a bit of misnomer; no one has come out on skates to take your orders ever since I can remember. Those are the original 50’s counter-tops by the way… not much has changed here since they opened up back in the day of car hops and greasers.

I would say overall, we’re off to a great start to our vacation!

On today’s agenda? Resting, pie making, and maybe a nap or two! The black raspberries are coming in, so I suspect there will also be some jam-making soon.

Pickled Kale Salad

This has to be my number one favorite salad at this very moment…

Pickled Kale

…well, actually, for the past  three years worth of moments. We call it the Pickled Kale Salad ’round these parts. It is not for the feint of heart or palate. It’s this recipe here, although at this point, I’m not sure I use the recommended ratios anymore, I just wing it.

Green Green Green

Of course we still use the kale…

Fresh Parmesan

and fresh parmesan.

Dressing

The dressing is incredibly acidic, which is what you need to break down that tough kale into tender little bites of deliciousness. The garlic and hot peppers really stand up to the strong flavor of these greens, so don’t be afraid of

Favorite Salad

I make this with three bunches of kale, or whatever I can grab from our garden. Unlike most green salads I’ve experienced, it actually tastes better the next day, so making a big batch is a huge time saver and gives me a few ready-to-eat meals throughout the week.

Delicious Bite

When I make it for new initiates, I tend to dial down the garlic and chili, but when it’s just the two of us (oh no, the kids don’t go for this one!), I do not tend to hold back.

One Last Look

I just finished up the last bit of this week’s batch tonight, so looks like I’ll have to make another.