Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Little Camping Luxuries

Before we left for our camping trip Friday afternoon, after we had our gear all assembled, with nothing to do but leave C to jigsaw-puzzle it into the car and an hour before the school bus was due to arrive, I did what any sane person would do, and sewed up this bunting to decorate our campsite:

I told myself it was to bring a little sunshine to an otherwise gray weekend, but really, it was because of this picture:

Check out those sweet banner flags, not to mention the sweet camper vans.

I've become obsessed with two books I've purchased over the last few months:  The Happy Campers* and The Camper Van Cookbook.  Now, I've been camping my whole life, and I don't need a book to tell me how to do it, but these books tell how to do it better.

They're both from England--I didn't even know people in England went camping, but apparently they do, and like most things, they do it in a much more refined way than us 'Mericans.  For instance, real china for serving tea and coffee, and check out that gorgeous tent set-up (I'm keeping my eyes peeled for a granny squares afghan):

Instead of making myself crazy, trying to recreate the perfectly-perfect camping experiences depicted in the pages of these books, I thought I'd pick out a few little things from each to try each trip.  Thus the banner flags (from The Camper Van Cookbook).

I also tried out this camping smoothie (from Camper Van Cookbook):

I lacked the vintage milk bottle, as well as the fresh berries--I made mine with a mashed banana, blueberry yogurt and some orange juice.  It turned out rather grayish in color, but tasty and definitely worth repeating.  (I also ordered a copy of that book it's sitting on--The Cloud Collector's Handbook--mainly for the fabulous WPA-style artwork on the cover).

Cultural stereotyping aside, I adore this Indian headdress (from Happy Campers):

I took along several pieces of ribbon, needle and thread in case an opportunity to construct one presented itself, which it did after E collected several feathers as part of his solo BeachQuest:

And, because melted cheese is my favorite food group, I absolutely had to try this campfire fondu (from Happy Campers) made from a wheel of camembert cooked in its own little round box.  It was a big hit, and, because I made two as well as too much of a lot of other food, there was a whole one left over, which I've been eating as leftovers at lunch (stale bread torn into hunks and placed in the bottom of a mug; cheese on top; microwave for about a minute and a half--yum!).

I think it worked out great, keeping my expectations minimal, but trying a few new things.  It's easy to get stuck in the same old rut of what to do, what to cook and how to be while camping, as well as in life, so it's fun to be exposed to different ways of eating and enjoying yourself.

And, in a great twist of irony, yesterday I got out my lightweight backpacking book after my mom told me my brother is considering hiking the Colorado trail, with a mind to sending it to him, and I started re-reading it and got as (re)excited about minimalist tarp-tents and half-sleeping pads as I've been getting about camping with real bedding and gourmet foods!

*Small warning--The Happy Campers is very poorly constructed--the cover came off first copy I got before I finished looking through it once; the copy that replaced it had already lost its cover by the time it arrived.  But, a slathering of white glue seems to have remedied the problem.  Still, aggravating when it's not an inexpensive book.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Peppermint Bark: The Perfect Camping Treat

When I made that peppermint bark that has been spreading through the domestic goddess blogosphere like some kind of virulent (but minty fresh) disease last Christmas, M declared it "the best candy in the whole world" and insisted that's what he wanted in lieu of a cake for his next birthday.  Neither of us forgot this declaration, but by Friday morning, before we left on our camping trip, when I finally had time to assemble the ingredients, I could not find the recipe in the kitchen and did not want to blog-hop through the internets in search of the original recipe, so I winged it (wung it?), making a few modifications to both reduce the arduousness of the process (all that chopping of chocolate and unwrapping of candy canes!) and to add that certain je ne sais quio that I felt the original recipe lacked (namely a crunchy cookie-ish layer in the middle).

Here is my modified version of the BEST CANDY IN THE WORLD (according to M).
  1. Cover a small cookie sheet or medium cutting board with parchment paper (you may want to secure it in some way to keep it from ooching around when you spread your first layer...I did not do this and though it was annoying, it was not fatal).
  2. Pour two bags of white chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli) in a pan placed over another pan of simmering water.
  3. Bash up a package of peppermint candies (candy canes are scarce in May, so I used these naturally-flavored, artificially-colored Claey's Peppermints, which have the added advantage of not being individually wrapped) with a rolling pin and dump most of the crumbs into the white chocolate, reserving a few tablespoonsful.

4.  Spread half the white chocolate-peppermint mixture on your parchment paper and place in fridge.

5.  Pour one bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips into another pan and place over simmering water.

6.  Bash up one package chocolate Bunny Grahams with a rolling pin.  Add to melted chocolate, along with a couple tablespoons of cream and about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon mint extract or flavoring (mine is a combo of peppermint and spearmint and when used in excess, tends toward the toothpastey end of the taste spectrum, so I go with the smaller amount.  Straight-up peppermint would be tasty at the higher amount, I think).  Spread over firmed layer of white chocolate and return to fridge.

7.  Place remaining half of white chocolate-peppermint mixture back over simmering water to re-melt.  Spread over firmed layer of chocolate.  Sprinkle with remaining peppermint bits and return to fridge.

8.  Break into hunks, place in an airtight container and go camping.

Yes, I did serve my children peppermint bark and hot chocolate right before bed, because who wouldn't want to sugar-up three boys before herding them into a ten-foot by ten-foot nylon enclosure and attempting to get them to stop tackling each other and put on their pajamas.  In the dark.

All weekend long, whenever I bit into a hunk of bark, I had to say, "M---You're a genius!"  Because it really was the perfect, yummiest camping treat ever.  And, sweet kid that he is, he said, "You deserve some of the credit, Mom, for making it."  What a guy.  Although, I do have to say, with, ahem, a cough of false modesty, the addition of the bunny grahams was sheer genius.

Monday, May 23, 2011

May Gray

We went on our fourth annual Hermit Island Birthday Camping Trip this past weekend (accounts of our first three trips here, here and here).  We went intrepidly forth, despite a less-than-stellar forecast and many, many disbelievers inquiring if we were actually planning to go when it might, like, rain and stuff.  But really, if you wait for perfect weather before doing anything in Maine, you'll wait a long time.  I can think of maybe one camping trip in all the years I've lived in Maine when it didn't rain, so you just pack extra clothes, raincoats and a sense of humor and suck it up.  And, truthfully?  The kids have just as much fun in the rain as in the sun, and their good humor can't help but rub off.  And besides, if you're not at home feeling obligated to do things, or at work, how can you help but enjoy yourself?  

C with the fully-loaded Volvo.

The beach requires bare feet, no matter how cold it is.
Interesting things pop up everywhere, if you just slow down and look.

This one was the only one brave enough to swim this cold cold weekend (not pictured, the next day sopping wet and shivering in swim trunks and Hawaiian shirt)

Beach handstands do not require sun.

Seagulls and eider ducks don't mind the clouds either, nor do nature journalers.

The boys' favorite camping pastime--playing with fire.

C kept up his Little Orphan Annie optimism with a steady strumming of "Here Comes the Sun" (though I forbade him from playing "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head."

Chilly morning? Just add leg warmers.

Crocs are the only footwear that can get wet and then dries out overnight--I got a new pair for Mother's Day.

More drawing--a collection of seashells.  I didn't get much reading or any writing in,

But I did manage some knitting on the beach.

I built this cage to contain the fierce creatures we found.

Frisbee played a big role in keeping beachgoers warm--I even hoisted myself from my beach chair and joined in on a game the last day.

With your feet sunk in quick sand, you hardly notice how cold the water is.

A thick layer of dirt helps keep them warm, too.

When you get really cold, you can crawl into Mama's hammock, where she would have spent the whole weekend if the sun had deigned to shine on it.

Anchors away!  Gray though May may be, go out and play anyway.

I'm sure there's a life lesson in all of this.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Do you remember this?

When your baby was a bewildering and bewildered little lump whose main purpose seemed to be to get dressed up in baby shower gifts and photographed?

And then, about five minutes later, they're walking and talking and playing baseball and guitar and turning ten.  Ten!  As in double digits.

Seriously, how does this happen??

When baseball season started up this year, I checked out Shirley Jackson's Raising Demons from the library again, mainly to re-read the part where her eldest son, Laurie, played his first Little League game. What I remembered from my first reading was how hilariously catty the moms are, and how much more invested in the outcome of the game the parents were than the kids (ha! our generation did not invent this tendency!), but on rereading, I now see that it's about your babies growing up.  Jackson writes in pure storytelling style, without the alternating sections of reflection, the circling in on the topic that marks the modern motherhood essay.  But these little moments give more insight into how she's thinking and feeling than a lot of reflective chatter:

"Suddenly, Dot said, 'Oh,' in a weak voice and I turned around and Laurie and Billy were coming through the door in their uniforms.  'They look so--so--tall,' Dot said, and I said, 'Laurie?' uncertainly.  The boys laughed and looked at each other."

I had the same feeling last Saturday when M pitched his first (and so far, only, thanks to the incessant rain) game of the season.  He looked so--so--tall.  And, like he knew what he was doing out there.

His interests have always been, to some extent, alien to me, and more and more, it seems, he's traveling into realms where I cannot follow, but only sit by as an audience member (except fonts; we both get excited about fonts).

Just a year ago, M got a guitar for his birthday, and began lessons in July.  His teacher has been so pleased with his progress, that he handed down his own childhood electric guitar to M several months ago.  C almost immediately bought him an amp, and has been holding it for this special day.  We let him open his gifts last night, since we're going camping right after school.  He immediately put it through the paces--Back in the USSR, Folsom Prison Blues, Purple Haze.

Near the end of the chapter, Jackson writes, "'Well,' Dot said, 'I did hear the boys talking one day.  They said they were going to take some time this summer and clean out your barn, and set up a record player in there and put in a stock of records and have some dances.'

"'You mean..' I faltered.  'With girls?'

"'Dot nodded.

"'Oh,' I said."

We're not quite there, yet, but if he keeps puckerin' those lips while he plays, it won't be long.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Boys' Room Overhaul, Part I

My May project for my room-by-room total house reorganization plan is the boys' room.  All three boys share a room, and I usually do a big clean-out this month anyway in preparation for Second Christmas.  I've been ignoring/avoiding it over the last few months while I was focusing on other rooms.  C has cleaned it up a couple of times, but nevertheless, at the beginning of the month, this is how it looked:

I started out with what needed doing anyway--their clothes.  Every spring and fall, I go through their drawers, take out any too-small or unwanted clothes and then go through the bins of hand-me-downs (we seem to have a never-ending supply) in the basement, "shopping" for whatever will fit for the coming season.  This year, I gave them total say, "do you want this? this?" because I'm tired of drawers that don't clothes they are so full, but only the same few articles get worn and worn again.

M's dresser, which I bought at an antique store, has a somewhat moth-bally odor to it.  I feel terrible that I let him wear clothes that may have some toxic residue in them, but it's a really nice dresser.  Wow, did I really just type that sentence?  Anyway, it's mainly the top drawer, where we store off-season items, that smells, and all of those clothes get washed before they're worn.  Does that make me a horrible mother?

After I cleared out all the drawers, I set them out on the deck in the sun for the day, and then made fabric drawer liners, stuffed with balsam (M's request) and lavender (original idea from here).  I hope it will not only mask any mothball odor, but also create a barrier between the smelly wood and M's clothes.  Is that better? 

After the clothes, I tackled the books.  I used to think there was no such thing as too many books, but I've started to rethink that philosophy in recent years...we may have too many books.  The boys inherited the children's book collections from at least three different families, and I visited more than a few used book sales at the library when M was small, filling up bags with 25 cent bargains.  Some of our favorite reads came into our home that way.  But...we have more books than we can even get around to reading, and more than will fit on our shelves.  And I knew that more would be coming for their birthdays (I'd received a hot tip) and that even I wouldn't be able to resist buying one or two.  

So I moved a bookshelf up from the living room, and E, Z and I went through every single book that had been stored in boxes, crates and the closet.  They sorted them into Keep and Give Away piles.  I vetoed several Give Aways, but we ended up with a pretty significant box of get-rid-ofs, 

And we fit all of the books onto the book shelf, plus one crate for oversized books, and one shelf in the closet (mostly chapter books they're not ready for, and reference books).

I dropped the box off at the library Tuesday (they have an ongoing book sale), after a moment's is so hard to let go of books, isn't it?  But once they were gone, I didn't look back.  It feels good to get rid of things sometimes, too.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Several months ago, long before I was thinking about birthdays, M informed me that it wouldn't be fair if his brothers got a birthday party and he didn't, since they had one last year.  I informed him that they could have one big party and invite as many kids as they wanted, as long as I could write "no gifts" on the invitation.  Both his and C's jaws gifts?  Unheard of. (Despite the fact that C complains far more about the excess of toys than I do).

But I held firm, and eventually M came around to my way of thinking.  He and I made up invitations, to which I added the line, "No gifts, please.  We want to spend a fun day with you, but we have enough," and sent them around to somewhere between 20 and 30 kids.  I felt nervous after I put it out there.  Was I being weird?  Pretentious?  Mommy-Dearest-ish (remember that scene where she makes her daughter give all of her gifts to charity after her big birthday party).  One of E and Z's friend's mom said, "You know everyone is going to bring gifts anyway,"  and I began to feel anxious that some people would bring gifts, some wouldn't, and it would all end up being awkward and weird.  Or that in the middle of the party, my kids would go, "where are our presents???"

But, in the end, it worked out absolutely splendidly.  First of all, about 26 kids (this number included a handful of younger siblings of the invitees) showed up, so gift opening (20-odd times three!) would have just added to the chaos.  Several brought home-made cards.  One friend made a mix-CD, another brought a McDonald's toy, with three guys in it, and another friend brought a bucket with some pots and seeds.  Otherwise, people just came and had a great time.

It was a dreary, rainy day, not conducive to outdoor activities (although the 10-year-old crowd ran in and out, not minding getting soaked), so we brought down the boys' giant drawer of Lego's

In the sunroom, we had a scarf-painting activity, using Kool-Aid on silk scarves.  For a while this ended up being the room where the girls retreated from all the noise and chaos of the boys, but eventually one or two boys joined in.

Two batches of cupcakes and a double-batch rhubarb cake, plus chips, pretzels and snack mix, and two cartons of ice cream was not nearly enough food for this crowd.  They even ate snow peas and carrot sticks and resorted to sucking on frozen orange slices from the bottom of the punch bowl.

I estimated we had 43 people in our home, all-told (including babies and parents).  We never have had a party that big (or that wild) before, even before kids.  After everyone left, with a couple of friends staying behind, I mixed up margaritas, drinking down three myself in short order.

Too exhausted to cook, we ordered gas station pizza from down the road for dinner.

After dinner, the boys planted the seeds in the little pots that one friend had given.  They truly enjoyed and appreciated this simple gift, and I thought to myself, "This is what abundance means."  I have seen these same boys, after opening piles and piles of Christmas presents, toss something to the side and say, "I don't like that."  They get so full of too much, they want more and more and better and better.  I'm sure if they had opened a pile of gifts at the party, that seeds and pots and soil blocks would have lost out.  I struggle to find that middle place between too much of everything, which ends up feeling like too much of nothing, and total deprivation--I certainly don't want my kids to be malnourished or even have to make their own toys out of garbage (of course, thankfully, we are a long, long way from deprivation). I think, for a moment, we found that place, and it is called abundance.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Now They Are Six

I don't think my babies are babies anymore...

E and Z turned six today.  Six!!!  Which, times two is actually twelve.

Here are their presents before:
And here they are after:

I always try to go minimalist with the presents, and then I always worry that I'm depriving them--this year I got them each two pairs of jeans (which really means four pairs for Z, because E doesn't like jeans, but it's not the season for corduroys or fleece pants, and it's time they look a little less like orphans with twice-patched knees), several pairs of socks, a small Lego set each, a Henry Huggins book each, a bigger Lego set for Z and his very own chess ("chest") set for E, and a copy of AA Milne's Now We Are Six, a single copy of which I finally found after several fruitless laps around the Barnes & Noble children's section. They were thrilled with everything, especially after raking in more loot from the grandparents and various other mail-senders.

We celebrated with dinner at the A1 Diner, topped off with warm brownie cups with ice cream:

Which, I must say, they ate with a little more decorum than at their first birthday.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Winner, Birthday Madness and Baseball

The winner of the Writing the Life Poetic giveaway is Lone Star Ma, who I'd also like to give a shout out for being quite possibly my longest-term reader and definitely my most regular commenter.  Thanks Lone Star Ma!  Your book will be on its way this week.

As usual, May is turning out to be a fairly coo-coo-crazy month (I don't recommend having three kids with birthdays within three days of each other, although it could possibly be just as much a pain in the butt to have three birthdays spread evenly over the least we get it all over and done with in one go!).

We're having a mass party this Sunday (I had called it a "joint party" at first, but that just led certain of my friends to snigger and reminisce about college parties), to which at least 24 kids are invited (I lost count), which when you think about it is each child's age, plus one, added together.  I'm counting on the usual 50% rate of no-shows.  And I'll be mixin' up margaritas after all the kids whose parents I don't know go home.

I'm not exactly sure when I'll prepare for said party (not to mention actual birthday shopping and getting ready for our camping trip the following weekend).  We're in full-on baseball season now, which means a game or practice at least four (sometimes six) days a week.  (Yeah, yeah, I said I was turning into one of those annoying people who signs their kids up for sports, then complains about it, but I never said I'd stop complaining!).  Today I went to the store and stocked up on things like veggie burgers and frozen pizzas.  I don't think I've ever bought a frozen pizza since I spent Thanksgiving alone in the dorm when I was a freshman in college, and it's been years since I bought veggie burgers.  Somehow, we've managed to keep dinner pretty much from-scratch all these years, but that often means not eating until 6:30 or later.  Now that we have to be out the door by 5:00 or 5:30 every night (when we don't normally get home until 5:30), we just have to lower our standards.

It's kind of unbelievable that I have athletically-inclined children at all, when throwing, catching, hitting, kicking or dodging a spherical projectile while running is my personal version of hell.  Not saying that my kids are all-star athletes, but they really enjoy it (gym is M's favorite subject) and have at least moderate skills.  E and Z were both able to throw the ball from third to first base.  They still need to work on other skills, though, like not rolling around on the ground, not throwing clumps of dried grass, not wrestling/tackling/hugging, not throwing their mitts in the air, remembering to bring their mitts to practice, etc.  Kindergarten sports are actually fairly ridiculous, and I'm a little appalled at myself for succumbing to the peer pressure of it all and signing them up.

So anyway, that's a really long way of saying, if you don't see me around this space much over the next couple of weeks, it's not because I'm spending the month at a spa in Baja or at a writing retreat in Tuscany or anything.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May Musings

March's Malaise and Aprils Agony seem to be pouring over into May's Misery.  On the drive home from work, I try out ways to describe my day, in case anyone should ask (they never do...I wonder why):  like a crap sandwich with an extra slice of crap, or like a crap layer cake with extra crap filling; or like a tall stack of crap pancakes with double-crap syrup.  Not sure why the food + crap analogies, but it keeps me entertained.

But not all is crap.  We had a gorgeously sunny weekend sandwiched between two weeks of rain last weekend, and we made the most of it.  After T-Ball practice Saturday, we headed to Bradbury Mountain State Park, for the Feathers Over Freeport activities.

Bradbury Mountain is the kind of mountain that is fun to make fun of, hardly being a mountain at all, but since it only takes about ten minutes to climb, it's also the kind of mountain that's perfect for people with short legs.

We watched a presentation by the HawkWatchers up top, and later, back at the base, attended another presentation by an animal rescue group who had some live raptors to share.

I had the experience of being simultaneously proud of and embarrassed by my kids--the little know-it-alls' hands shot up every time the presenters asked a question.  It was actually pretty cute.  M just finished a report on Raptors in Maine (most of which we worked on on the train to and from Philadelphia--if only it was due a week later, he could have taken notes!), so he was in the know, but E and Z knew (or thought they knew) a surprising amount too.  They also suggested naming this little owl, who is nameless at present, Pebble and Lucy, respectively.

On Sunday, after a freezing cold baseball practice (yes I'm turning into one of those annoying people who sign their kids up for sports and then complain about the excessive time commitment) I got some work done around the house.  I finally finished my April overhaul of the bathrooms (as part of my month-by-month home organization plan).  In addition to a thorough cleaning and reorganization of the drawers and cabinets, I made curtains for both rooms and took care of some nagging tasks that I had been ignoring for too long--I had a water test done (it had been nine years; you're supposed to repeat every three to five years), I bought the part C needed to fix the sink that has been dripping for three years (I know it's dirty pool to complain about your spouse on your blog where they can't defend themselves, but seriously, it was a $3.98 part available at any hardware store.  He passes a hardware store every day on the way to and from work, and probably goes into one at least once every two weeks.  Talk about losing the kingdom for want of a nail.  He did replace the part the very day I brought it home, so I'll give him credit for that), I repotted my poor hoya plant, George III, that has been cooped up in too small a pot with its roots tangled up with two other plants for way too long, and I framed the picture my sisters got me in Santa Barbara, oh about two or three years ago (they may not appreciate it hanging in the bathroom, but it's our tropical room, and the picture, of koi in a pond looks good in there).

This is the curtain I made for the upstairs bathroom--I used to have three vintage hankies draped over the curtain rod, but they got damaged by the sun (and would blow off whenever it was a windy day with the window open).  I thought this fabric had a vintage hanky-feel to it, but I'm not sure if I'm thrilled with the result.  I used more of the blue sheet that I used to back my bedroom curtains for the backing, and I think white might have been better.  Also, you can't tell in the picture, but the room is lavender, and the yellow might be just a bit garish for it.  I'm sure they'll grow on me over time, though.

These are the downstairs bathroom curtains (and the newly repotted hoya).  The old curtains (from the same material, which I love) were literally shredding apart from sun damage.  I backed these with more of the blue sheet, so hopefully they'll last longer.

Here's my newly-framed fish print (over the pot).

And here, hanging on the side of the cabinet, is a fabric tube (made from a different old sheet) for storing rags.  They had been just shoved haphazardly under the sink--clean and dirty commingling.  Now I can pull a clean one from the bottom, and dust or clean or polish something, and then throw it in the wash (or the trash, in the case of greasy ones used to wax the table--that sounds wasteful, I know, but there will never be a shortage of holey socks or shot-elastic underwear in this house).

The next room to attack--the boys' room.

Meanwhile, while I was organizing bathrooms, the boys spent the entire day outside, doing things like bricklaying:

And C worked on the gardens.  He does most of our gardening, because I've always thought, I was busy with babies and toddlers, but now that they're not that high maintenance anymore, I find I don't really want to garden.  Earlier this spring, I told C (when he suggested a romantic morning of going through the seed catalog), "I've decided...that you're a really good gardener."  I know this hurts my eco-housewife cred (in case that wasn't already dashed by my not being a housewife), but I just don't really wanna garden.  However, I did order asparagus plants, and as I'm the only one in the house who eats asparagus, it was down to me to plant it (note to seed catalog companies:  do not send plants that require major amounts of TLC in the mail on a Tuesday!!).  C did generously give up one of his garden beds (which he was planning to abandon at some point anyway, because it's far from the house and is pretty much a bunny-feeding station anyway) and helped me dig out the grass and wheelbarrow a load of manure.  Then I planted my octopus-like asparagus babies.

I suppose I'll be in charge of weeding and watering it too (thanks week of rain!).

This is the other part of the garden I'm in charge of, the herbs:

See why I shouldn't be in charge of gardening?  I am la-a-a-zy (but don't those chives look good?  Also, see that compost bin in the background?  I built that about eight years ago.  Nice, huh?)

C's garden beds are looking much better:

Which just proves it should keep being his job (one of our friends inexplicably planted some tulips in the middle of the garden last fall).

My bulbs are looking good, though.

They say, Happy Spring!
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