Wednesday, June 27, 2012


So I was going to write a post about pectin being a conspiracy to make money off of an industrial by-product, and my technique for making pectin-less jam (OK, not really my technique, since I adopted and adapted it from many others' recipes), but apparently I already did that last year. (Also, apparently "apparently" is a word I use a lot, because Z says it all the time, which contrasts quite amusingly with his efforts to use "ain't" and double-negatives in an acquired rural Maine patois). 

So instead, I'll just tell you about the jams you see here:

On the far left, rhubarb-ginger, next in line, rhubarb-grapefruit, on the right strawberry.

For rhubarb-ginger, I used about 5 cups rhubarb and about 4 cups sugar* (I say "about" because I lost track of sugar and so added more rhubarb in case I used too much), plus a couple tablespoons chopped crystalized ginger and the juice of one lime. It did not seem very gingery at first, but was more so after it sat (I'm thinking about using some of that Ginger People ginger spread next time). Also, the lime is the perfect touch.

For rhubarb-grapefruit, I used this recipe from Rachel at The Slow-Cooked Sentence. Except I wasn't sure what she meant by peel the zest, so I just grated off only the outermost yellow part of the peel. It has a bitter-tart marmalade kind of flavor that is warming and nourishing and will be lovely to eat near the fire next winter, if it lasts that long.

For the strawberry, which I made in two separate batches in two separate pans at once, I crushed four cups of strawberries, boiled them for a few minutes, strained out the fruit, returned the juice to the pan and added four cups of sugar. I boiled the juice/sugar mixture for a good long while, until it started to gel on a saucer that had been sitting in the freezer for a bit, then added the fruit back in and boiled (which much more frequent stirring) while I boiled the jars and prepared to can it all. It ended up quite foamy, but I couldn't figure out how to skim off the foam without losing fruit, so there's a little foam cap in each jar. I hope it doesn't compromise the quality of the jam.

For all jams, I return the jars of hot jam to the boiling water bath for five minutes to ensure total destruction of all bacteria and mold.

Do you make jam? What is your favorite kind to make? Do you have any ideas for yummy additions to strawberry jam (I was thinking lavender...)?

*I know, I know, the quantity of sugar is alarming, but I've tried low-sugar, no-sugar (using fruit juice, fruit juice concentrate or honey) and it never comes out as pretty or jammy. And I'm always worried that the dark jam is hiding pathogens.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Dear Brain, Child (The Magazine for Thinking Mothers):

Usually when you appear in my mailbox, I neglect all of my other duties to read you—I prop you up next to the recipe card and read “the mail,” “soapbox” and “backtalk” while I make dinner; I hide you behind board books and sneak my way through “nutshell.” I perch on the toilet while my children splash in the bathtub and read the first essay and convince myself that they are putting on their pajamas and brushing their teeth while I read the second. Finally, after I tuck them all in bed, I settle in my own bed to read the “feature” and “fiction” and “motherwit.”
But not this time. When I found you in my mailbox right late Saturday afternoon, I was prepared to steal away with you for a little while. I had already picked strawberries, read, colored and painted with the children, cleaned the house and taken a nap. But no one else was showing any inclination toward making dinner and I had twenty-nine quarts of strawberries to deal with. I settled on the sofa to read “soapbox.” That’s when I learned this was your last issue, and that’s when I put you aside in favor of making jam.

I first met you just before my twins were born, seven years ago. A friend had mentioned your name, and when I couldn’t find you on the local bookstore’s shelves, I plunged in and ordered a subscription, along with the Best of Brain, Child compilation you offered. I spent the week between my last day at work and the birth of my babies on self-imposed bed rest (there was nothing wrong with me, other than being 38 weeks pregnant with more than fourteen pounds of baby) reading you. This may not have been the wisest move, since in that compilation was a story about still-born twins, but nevertheless, I was hooked.

You were my first introduction into the “mommy-lit” genre. Other than reading Naomi Wolf’s somewhat depressing Misconceptions, when my oldest son was a baby I mostly devoured mystery novels and Bridget Jones—brain candy for a baby addled brain. Shortly after the twins were born, my friend gave me a copy of Hausfrau Mutha-Zine and I was hooked. I searched out momoirs and mamazines and became consumed by an urge to write my way through the harrowing world of mother-of-two-babies-and-a-very-unhappy-four-year-old. Reading you and your sisters, and writing my own stories, kept me afloat during those days of bone-crushing exhaustion and mind-numbing repetition.

Over the years I started taking writing classes, and publishing bits and pieces here and there. At the same time, I watched the rise and fall of some great mama-lit venues: Motherverse, Mamazine, Mom-Writer’s Literary Magazine. I realized I better get publishing before all the publishing opportunities are gone. And I did. One of my proudest accomplishments was getting an essay published in your pages.

Which makes my gripe sound a little selfish. Now my one print credit is with a defunct magazine. Not very impressive. Also, I was hoping to publish more in your pages. Because you were not a typical literary journal—you know the obscure academic ones that are only read by people hoping to publish within their pages—nor were you an impenetrable boys’ club, like The New Yorker or The Atlantic, nor were you a glitzy, glossy mommy magazine dominated by ads and filled with articles about tummy fat or taming temper tantrums or breast and bottle wars. You were something more, real stories by real people, who were real good writers.

And so you see, my lament isn’t just for me, but for the state of writing—if not art in general—and any hope for those of us who create it. Does no one read anymore? Does no one want to read anything of substance? Or is it that there is so much free stuff to read online, why would anyone bother paying for a magazine or a book, anyway? The old getting-the-milk-for-free dilemma. This makes me despair for our children (everyone’s children). Is there no hope at all that anyone interested in a creative life—writing, art, music, poetry, photography, dance, whatever—will also be able to make a living at it? Or even find an audience?

Of course there’s always been the image of the starving artist, the expectation that you must suffer for your work, that it be a labor of love. My question, which of course you can’t answer, as you are a (defunct) magazine, but for the universe in general, is: just because this has always been so, does it make it true or right? And why don’t we think the same about professional baseball players or hedge fund managers or financiers? Don’t we value their work enough to believe they should suffer and starve for it?

Anyway, I’m getting off track here. I guess my point in this letter is to say thank you, for opening up a door inside me, and opening up the world of writing and reading and expressing myself, which I long ago had set aside when I switched majors from journalism to human ecology. And I’ll miss you.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Seizing Summer

I'm doing my utmost to squeeze an entire summer vacation into Saturday and Sunday segment (while not resenting those who have actual summer vacations...or who work at home and can pretend they do).

Saturday I picked some strawberries (twenty-nine quarts to be exact).

And did some art projects with the kids.

M wasn't interested in crayons and watercolors, so he did some botanical illustrations...of poisonous plants.

I also read to them a LOT and made some jam (more on that later this week) and set up the tent for the Great American Backyard Campout, just as a huge black cloud swept into the neighborhood and dumped rain on us. Needless to say we did not camp out, and the tent's still out there getting all mildewey.

Sunday, I convinced all the sticks-in-the mud to go to the beach,

Which was gorgeous and sunny and not windy enough for a kite.

I discovered that only one out of three kids can cartwheel (this year), even though M took years of gymnastics when he was a tyke. The cartwheeler is the one kid who can't jump rope very well, so I guess it's an even distribution of skills and talents.

We swam quite a lot, too. The water isn't really all that cold, once you go numb.

Hope you're seizing summer this week!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June Notes & Musings

1.  Summer came suddenly yesterday (ya know, on the summer solstice), with temps going from 60s during the day and 40s (brrr) at night to the 90s with Iowa-like humidity and hazy ozoney air. Hello summer!

2. E found this moth on the sunroom door this a.m.:

I believe it's a rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) of the Saturnidae family. At first I thought it was the primrose moth, which I often find (aptly enough) hiding inside the closed blossoms of the evening primrose. But I that has a different pattern of coloration, and a different body shape, and it's in the Noctuidae family. The sherbet pink and yellow are the same, though. Interesting example of convergent evolution, doncha think? And just plain pretty (we moved it to a less sun-baked location after its photo shoot).

3. I finally finished reading Harry Potter #7 to E and Z last week. We started the series back in September (with a few side forays into the Wind in the Willows and the Magic Treehouse, among others)!! So what did they want to do immediately? Start Harry Potter #1 all over again!!!!! It has provided an interesting opportunity to discuss foreshadowing with M. Like when Hagrid says you'd have to be mad to rob Gringott's. M claims that JK Rowling didn't know what was going to happen at the end when she started (though I heard that she'd had it planned out from the beginning). Regardless of what she knew and when she knew it, it begs the question: is foreshadowing only foreshadowing if the author plans it that way? Or is there serendipitous foreshadowing (or more likely, unconscious foreshadowing)? I only write short stories, which don't provide a lot of room for foreshadowing, which is a good thing, because that would only provide one more opportunity to do something badly.

4. Baseball is finally over!! I would be hooting and hollering, but M's team lost the second playoff game last night and my normally stoic boy spent the rest of the night sobbing. I did my best to hold his sadness and disappointment for him, even though he just wanted me to go away. I think he was probably mostly upset about striking out three times and being tagged out on first the one time he hit. Maybe also about being sidelined from pitching for the most of the season. Maybe that's just me projecting. Anyway, I tried to remind him that "It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, as long as you tried your hardest and had a good time," which has been my mantra since Farm League. Of course, I could point the finger of his misery (or his desire to wallow in it) directly back at myself, because just hours earlier I received an email from a former professor who is at Rio+20, where he ran into an old friend of mine, whom I have lost touch with, mainly because hearing from her was terrible for my self-esteem: she was always doing something amazing with her life, and it always reminded me that I was not quite measuring up to my expectations for where and who I wanted to be (this is totally my issue, not hers, and it's not that I cut off contact her because of this, but I've never gone to great lengths to maintain contact because of this). Anyway, hearing that she's in the midst of the climate talks (even if everyone thinks they'll go nowhere), while I'm at the lowest ebb of my not particularly illustrious career turned my mood very sour for the rest of the evening. So perhaps I should remind myself that it doesn't matter whether you are successful, as long as you try your hardest and have a good time (hmm...cold comfort).

5. After I finished/gave up on comforting M and crawled into bed, I heard a noise outside that sounded like someone (thing) moving rocks. Then I heard peeping/cheeping like chickens. At 9:30 p.m., I had the crazy thought that the two or three chickens whose carcasses did not seem to be among the fallen had somehow hidden out in the woods for a whole week and now were home looking for dinner. I went out on the deck and some large animal (dark, but short. A fisher perhaps?) slunk away and the peeping became louder and more insistent. I called C (who was at his radio show--don't ask) to see if he bought more chickens (even though we had agreed to wait until we had a safer coop) and he said his mother had dropped them by earlier. I looked into the mobile coop and saw chicks running around on the bare ground cheeping loudly. Even though it was a hot night, they were probably cold with no bedding and no light. Not to mention scared sh*tless by the big hairy thing trying to eat them. I spent the next hour outside in the dark with mosquitoes dive-bombing me, trying to coax seven chicks (apparently there had been ten originally) out from under the extremely heavy chicken ark through a gap in the wire fencing. I was not worried about the predator--I was cursing loudly enough to scare away a pride of lions. Sticking my head and arms into this coop--that was still splattered with blood and strewn with feathers (and probably chicken bits that I missed when burying the corpses) by the very dim wind-up flashlight was the last thing I wanted to be doing at 10 p.m. C arranged for his mother to come and get the chicks today, so that we can replenish our flock at the right time, on our own terms--when we have a proper coop that will not serve as a buffet table to hungry predators, and after we've taken the time to mourn our first beloved flock. I don't really think the best response to loss is to get a replacement, and I don't want my kids to grow up seeing animals as disposable, even if they are just chickens. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer To-Do List

I know, I know, I always make these lists (though it looks like I skipped last year--here's 2010 and 2009), and I probably never accomplish a fraction of the items on the list (though with this year's Summer Manifesto, that might change). In fact, I probably never even look at my list again once I've written it. But, I don't know what it is (perhaps it's the thawing out of my bloodstream so I feel like I can function again after nine months of winter), but summer gets me in a Go! Make! Do! kinda mood (which is not to say that I have any problem with Stay! Relax! Chill!--in fact those such activities hold a prominent place on my list.

Places to Go
Coastal Maine Botanic Gardens (check!)
Dept. of Marine Resources Aquarium (check!)
Gray Wildlife Park
Colburn House
Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve

Things to Do
Go camping (one check, one to go)
Go to the beach
Dine al fresco
Go on picnics
Lie in the hammock
Outfit a picnic basket
Read to the kids on the picnic blanket outside
Make a garden playscape
Plant hollyhocks (check!)
Catch dragonflies
Lie in the hammock
Pick strawberries (opening day tomorrow!)
Lie in the hammock
Start a new nature journal
Re-cover the kitchen chairs
Do art/craft projects with the kids on the picnic blanket outside
Organize the basement (I know, I know, but it must be done sometime)
Read a non-grad-school-related book just for fun (and without guilt)
Lie in the hammock

Things to Make
A big beach bag
A summery table runner
Beeswax lanterns
A summery bunting
Jam, jam and more jam (I've already made rhubarb-ginger and rhubarb-grapefruit)

I just reread those 2009 and 2010 lists and they made me smile--the things I've actually accomplished (making good jam!) and the things that just aren't ever going to happen (homemade cheese) and the places I've been meaning to go for at least three years and haven't yet, but they're still on my list (zoiks!). We'll see what we check off this year's list and what gets carried over to next year.

What are your summer plans?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Manifesto: Just Do It

A couple of weekends ago, we were heading to our friend's camp ("camp" being Maineglish for "house/cabin/cottage on a lake") for the day when E said, can we stop at that stone house?

What he was talking about was the Jefferson Cattle Pound, a large circular structure made up completely of dry stone walls (meaning, no mortar holding them together).

We have driven by the Pound approximately a gazillion times a summer for the last ten years, and though we always say or think to ourselves, "we should stop there some day," we never have.

We're always in too much of a hurry to get to the lake and enjoy the sun, or we're in too much of ahurry to get home and make dinner and put kids to bed.

But this time I figured, why not? Seize the day. So we stopped.

And we ran around inside where once (almost 200 years ago) cattle roamed, or were herded, or hung out awaiting slaughter or auction. I'm not sure what a cattle pound is for exactly, but we thought it was a mighty fine place to run around in circles.

And then we got in the car and headed to the lake.

It took all of five minutes, including me accidentally driving past it and turning around in the next driveway.

So this is our philosophy for the summer: Carpe Diem! There's no time like the present! Quit talkin' about it and do it already!

Stop at that farm stand/ice cream stand/antique shop you've always been meaning to stop at.

Go to that place you've always been meaning to go.

Read that book that's been gathering dust on your shelves.

Make that project you've been meaning to make.

Summer's here. Slow down. Put on the brakes. Turn around at the next driveway and just do it.

*"Summer Manifesto" borrowed (and paraphrased) from Meryl at My Bit of Earth
**"Just Do It" borrowed from some footwear company...can't remember the name exactly right now.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Father's Day Project

On Saturday, the boys and I made this garland/mobile thingy for C for Father's Day:

When we were at the Coastal Maine Botanic Gardens, they had a kids' art show going on, and one of the exhibitions included something like this, made by local school kids, and I knew right away that I wanted to recreate one with my kids. Do you know the trick of giving your spouse a gift that is actually something you want for yourself? I don't feel guilty imposing this trick on C, because he practically invented it (also, we gave him a flat screen TV--the first ever TV that we bought and did not inherit after its predecessor began smoking of its own accord). I added a sun, a leaf and a flower (which you can't see 'cause it's rotated sideways) for more color.

My friend Raina recently posed a question on her blog about whether her readers try to control the outcome when kids are creating an art project or whether they just let the kids go and have fun, whatever they create. I answered with an emphatic give the kids the materials and let them go at it. However, that does not mean that I don't require a period of adjustment when their results don't exactly meet my vision (see my post about the painted canvases for example). Anyway, I envisioned a lot more color, a lot less Pokemon, but I love the final project (though I might introduce this again, and provide some animal templates and a select color palette, while giving them more leeway with the scissors (I cut out E's and Z's for them because my fabric scissors are huge).

I had planned on having them sew around the shapes and stuff them, but then I realized that was way too much work/crazy for a last-minute (ahem) project, so I ended up just gluing the front of the animal to the back, with a piece of yarn sandwiched in-between, and threaded on big buttons between each felt animal/thing.

So, the garlandy things I saw in the art show were made up of owls and raccoons and birds and other woodland fauna cut out of brightly-colored felt. One of my kids (M) got on-board with the owl concept, only chose to go with brown, another (Z) made a black tiger with gold strips and big green eyes and the third (E) chose a Pokemon guy, also out of black.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

In case you're wondering where I've been...

...this pretty much sums it up:

Dear Baseball:

My kids love you, so I won't say a word against you, but I do find your need to occupy four months of my year a bit excessive. That, and your desire to have me spend six evenings a week at your side is starting to make me feel a bit stifled.

Not to mention the fact that you require no fewer than eight separate articles of clothing, per child (twelve, for the one who has graduated to "athletic support" and batting gloves). That's about seven more things than seven-year-olds and their busy moms are capable of keeping track of.

Oh yes, and your constant last-minute cancellations of our dates, and last-minute re-schedulings (that I almost always find out about third-hand). Don't you think you're just a bit wishy-washy?

I think, perhaps, you're suffering from an overinflated sense of your own importance. Perhaps you're trying to affirm your status as "America's favorite pastime." Well, I have news for you: the rest of the world prefers the big black-and-white ball. I think that if you want to carve your place in our hearts and minds, you should take a few lessons from soccer: the season is six weeks long, there's one practice and one game a week, at least one game gets rained out (and NOT rescheduled) and by the end of the season it's too dark to practice. Oh, and the games are over in an hour. No one has time to get bored and throw dirt on the pitcher's mound. And I don't have to sit there long enough to get hypothermia ('cause let's face it: Maine's way too cold for either sport).

It's not that I want to break up with you forever, but I definitely need a break from your parasite-like presence. Let's take the summer (and the fall and winter) off and you can think about maybe lightening up a bit, not taking yourself so seriously perhaps? It will do us both good.


The Mom on the Bleachers

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sad Day

Last night, something (we're guessing it was a weasel--or a whole army of weasels) got into the chicken house and massacred the chickens. I mean eviscerated, dismembered, and all that. E discovered the carcasses when I sent him out to open their door. Naturally everyone is very heartbroken (especially Z).

We had a little chicken funeral in the rain this afternoon, and planted this peony on their grave.

If you would indeed behold the spirit 
of death, open your heart wide 
unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the 
river and sea are one.

--Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Walkin' About Freedom

Last Friday, I accompanied M's fifth grade class on a trip along the Freedom Trail in Boston. When I looked at the map of the trail after we returned, I realized that we had pretty much hiked the whole entire thing, stopping just short of Boston Common, which is pretty crazy, considering C and I walked it many years ago and over two days we still didn't see it all. It was like the ADD tour of history--a peek at this here, a walk-by of that there, never stopping in any one place for very long (with twenty eleven-year-olds, you've got to keep on moving). It was a long day--we left Whitefield at six in the morning and returned home at eleven at night--and here's just some of what we saw:

Bunker Hill Monument

The view from the top:

Partway down the 294 steps:

The Charles River (we all wore red to minimize lost kids):

The Freedom Trail (it really is a red line on the sidewalk):

Scary bridge:

 Old North Church ("One if by land, two if by sea..."):

Paul Revere:


Street performer:

Ye Olde State House (site of Boston Massacre):

Granary Burying Ground:

The Capitol:

Faneuil Hall:

Water Taxi:

USS Constitution

I was pretty impressed with how good the kids were. Of course they had a lot of–ahem–energy (Mr. C deserves a medal for being so patient still at the end of the school year), but they seemed to get along really well. I remember fifth grade as being all cliques and mean girls, but it seems like their class everyone is just friends with everyone else--sure some of them hung out with certain other kids more than others, but they never seemed exclusive. They even tolerated the quirks of a handful of kids from the behavior program (of course they might just have been on their best behavior for the day).

I got a call from my brother on Saturday, and it turns out he was in Boston on Friday, too, also walking part of the Freedom Trail (he lives in Colorado). I had no idea he was going to Boston, and he had no idea we were either. In fact, I communicate with my family so infrequently that when I saw his name on my phone, I automatically assumed someone must have died. Hmm, I think we should do something about that...
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