Sunday, November 27, 2011

on the homefront

Amidst the busyness of our days outside the home, we have had weekends filled with beloved house guests, exciting outings and a much needed long holiday weekend.

Jupiter spent many weekends in September and October getting free wood and this weekend we are splitting and stacking it. We are stacking it in a round stack called a holz hausen which holds more wood, looks nicer and some say allows the wood to dry, or season, faster. This wood is for next year. Whomever invented the hydraulic log splitter is one of my heroes. Even with the log splitter, this is tough work, but without it, it would take us years. We love our wood stove and it is providing us with almost all of the heat for the house. The added bonus of the wood stove is that we can watch the fire and warm ourselves by it and it makes us feel cozy and happy.

Last weekend was the local Thanksgiving day parade and it was the best parade experience I can remember. There were many balloons, roving entertainers, marching bands and dancing troupes, it was not crazy crowded like the one in New York and we could park nearby. I love my town!!

Jove's soccer team were the undefeated champs in their league. Jove improved a lot and really enjoyed playing. Next he's trying basketball. He really wanted to learn to be able to play with one of his friends.

Halloween was fun if a bit anti-climatic this year. We went trick or treating with some friends of ours that live in a more populated neighborhood, since we live in an almost rural part of town. The kids loved going out with their buddies. Us adults were a little tired after having lost power over the weekend and dealt with a unusual late October snow storm that brought down a ton of trees. Some nearby communities lost power for a week and a half. Some towns postponed trick or treating because of all of the downed trees and wires. You can see some snow on the ground in the picture of Jove. We counted ourselves among the lucky to not have lost any trees or lost power for more than a couple of days

Our first October house guest was Jupiter's dad who was visiting from the Dominican Republic. He wanted to see the fall colors so we drove out to Bear Mountain to meet up with some friends and we paraded through Octoberfest and took the kids to the Bear Mountain Zoo and Trailside Museums which showcases only local, native wildlife and local natural history. A very interesting place.

Our second October house guests were Maggie and Bruce, one of my oldest and dearest friend's parents. We felt so honored to be included on their East Coast road trip itinerary. They arrived in a snowstorm (the aforementioned Halloween weekend snowstorm), luckily before it got too bad. We had a pleasant afternoon of visiting and I even got dinner on the table before the power went out. The wood stove kept us warm, but of course the real issue is that our well pump doesn't work when the lights are out, so we don't have running water. Hopefully, they'll return when we don't have a snowstorm, or at least when we have power.

On a final note, sometimes events occur that make me feel very lucky, beyond my normal gratefulness for a good life filled with loving family and friends, like there is some magic in this world. This past October, Patricia Polacco, one of my favorite picture book author/illustrators came to our local library to do a a reading and book signing. It was very exciting for the kids and I. She is amazing. She told stories of her family, of growing up with a learning disability, of overcoming it and she spoke in defense of teachers. She is one of my heroes.

She grew up in Oakland, CA and spent quite a bit of time at her grandparents farm in Union City, MI. She lives there now and every summer the town hosts a Meteor Festival in honor of her writing and specifically her book about a meteor that landed on her grandparent's farm. We hope to go there someday.

Friday, October 21, 2011

fall days

As the end of October approaches, the days are getting cooler and the leaves around the lake are blazing red and yellow. This is our first fall in our new house and our new town and we are loving it. Jove started at his new school and has a wonderful teacher. Jove and Miranda have become fast friends with the kids next door and they have many outdoor adventures. It is the childhood I dreamed my children would have: catching frogs, building rafts, making shelters in the woods and riding bikes back and forth between houses. The girl next door spends hours playing school with Miranda and Miranda loves it. We also have very lovely, retired neighbors in between the two houses of kids and they delight in all of the activity and have sacrificed their back woods to the cause of adventure. We are grateful every day that our two neighbors are good people.

Next week our wood stove is being installed and our pastime for September was picking up free firewood that people are trying to get rid of after Hurricane Irene downed so many trees. Our house has electric heat which is prohibitively expensive to use. We will have to let a large amount of our firewood season for a few more months but next year we shouldn't have to buy any wood. I grew up with a wood stove and we are so excited to have one for ourselves. Jupiter has always liked to keep the house warm and we could in the old house, but this one is too big (a first world problem for sure) and we are trying to keep the heat off for as long as possible. Jupiter has achieved a new level of cold tolerance.

Our local nature center is a favorite spot of ours. We stopped by for a fall hike a couple of weeks ago and built a scarecrow to enter into a contest to be held at Harvest Fest. We didn't win, but the whole process was pure fun. Harvest Fest was a blast: the kids got to walk llamas, try out antique farm equipment including a goat treadmill that Jove said we could use at home to burn off some extra energy and do all of the traditional fall fare.

Our new hobby is crafting with wool by wet felting and needle felting. The kids and I are obsessed. It is something that even I can do with my very limited crafting abilities. We primarily make people, things for the people like blankets and we are venturing into seasonal decorations like pumpkins. I thought I was actually getting pretty good at it until I taught our nine year old neighbor and after about an hour she was much better than me. Oh well...

Our last bit of exciting news is that we got some help from Jupiter's cousin, Joselito, to remodel our upstairs rooms and Miranda's bedroom is ready to be set-up. She is very excited. We have Jupiter's dad coming to visit this weekend and the following weekend Maggie and Bruce will be here (cant wait!!) and then after that the spare bedroom will become Miranda's room. We're not sure how the kids are going to manage sleeping apart for the first time ever. Maybe sometime before 2012 we'll get our bedroom done as well. We're going slowly, but eventually the house will be all fixed up.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cape Cod

We spent a week in Cape Cod exploring the shorelines, marshes and towns. A large part of the peninsula is protected as a National Seashore and you could literally walk for thirty miles long the beach.

The kids were sworn in as Junior Rangers at the NPS visitor's center. I love the National Park System. The rangers and volunteers do good work for the planet. We hiked down the beach over a mile to a known seal haul out and there were supposed to be over 500 seals on a sand bar and we saw only about 40 near the shore. A volunteer told us that someone comes down to study them every day and that this was the first day in two years that there weren't large numbers. We would have loved to have seen all 500 but I was so impressed that someone is there everyday recording what happens. We went on short marsh hikes through the parklands and other sanctuaries and I saw the biggest and most beautiful salt marshes I have every seen. It really makes me wonder how the East coast looked before colonization. It is breathtaking.

We visited Woods Hole, the most famous marine biology research town in the country. I would love to return there someday for a course. We went to all of the small exhibits about marine research and the aquarium, which was the first public aquarium for education in the country. The town is right on Nantucket Sound and is filled with marine scientists.

The highlight of the trip was the beach. We went to a different beach every day. My favorite was Coast Guard Beach in the National Seashore. I read Henry Beston's famous book The Outermost House about his observations of nature while living in a house perched on the edge of Coast Guard beach. The house has since washed into the sea , but as you walk where he walked back in 1926, the landscape is magical; his descriptions are perfect. I ran for a distance farther down the beach and along the dunes to soak it all in. There are some protected Dune Shacks farther north and you can apply for a permit to stay in them. I think that is going on my life bucket list.

The kids swam in the ocean, in the waves, for the first time. We live on Long Island Sound and while it is connected to the ocean, it is not the same. I love that the kids are experiencing the ocean and all of its life forms. We will go back to Cape Cod. Jupiter plans to get a surfboard before the next trip.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

coastal living

The past two weeks have been a mixture of the sublime and the mundane as we spent a sunny week exploring the towns, beaches and marshes of Cape Cod to return home to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Irene. The hurricane wasn't a hurricane anymore by the time it got to us and we luckily didn't get any damage. We only had strong winds and some downed branches, but we lost power. Losing power wouldn't be such a big deal by itself but our well pump needs electricity and with no power we have no running water. Doesn't that sound like fun. We were very optimistic the first couple of days, but as we got grimier, we started to feel a little less patient. Yesterday evening, day four of pioneer boot camp, we came home from a dinner out with my mom, who flew in on her way to Italy, and the power was back on. We hooted and hollered and happy danced for a good five minutes. We put away the camp stove, paper plates, emptied the tubs of the lake water we had been using to flush the toilets and we showered, for a long time. Jove is convinced that Grandma had something to do with the power coming back on.

Today we got phones and the Internet back and a normal day with modern conveniences has never seemed so exciting. We, of course, are going back to work promptly. Miranda starts school tomorrow, Jove was supposed to start today but his school just got power back and Jupiter and I start after Labor Day. Happy start of school to all. Happy electricity to us.
Woo hooo!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

summer road trip

In twelve days, we visited Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and Virginia and had wonderful time visiting loved ones and having adventures. We hadn't undertaken a extended trip with so many stops since Jove was two years old and we camped at the Finger Lakes in New York, visited Niagara Falls, visited my parents and camped on Lake Erie. Now, the kids are big and more prone to asking, "When will we get there?" countless times and backseat skirmishes erupt, of course. I planned ahead: we never drove more then 9 hours in one day, we had plentiful snacks and the kids had lots of fun lap games and books on CD to entertain themselves. The most hilarious road trip moment was when they were arguing about who would get to sing and Jupiter told them they would each take turns and sing for five minutes and then they sang the most hilarious, original songs for about an hour until neither of them wanted to sing anymore.

We stopped first in Sandusky, OH, home to Cedar Point Amusement Park, the one that my parents took us to every summer. It is a great park and we're thinking we may stop there every summer on our way to Michigan.

We drove up to my folk's place on Lake Huron and made two very important stops on the way. We spent the morning with Nan's family and met the newest addition to the family. We also visited my maternal grandmother so she could see how her great-grandchildren are growing.

We stayed with my parents at their amazing lake house. The kids spent every waking moment down at the beach and in the water. They both went tubing for the first time and loved it. I drove my dad's jet ski for the first time and it is so fun. The environmentalist in me wanted to not like it and happily return to just kayaking, but I'm hooked. Miranda and Jove got rock painting sessions and garden tours with their grandma. My dad was a trooper and did a lot of one-armed super-grandpa time with kids despite having a broken arm. My paternal grandmother spent the day with us and she really bonded with Miranda. They sat and chatted on the swing for quite a while. We spent one day visiting the NOAA maritime heritage museum and the Besser Museum (with a fossil dig) in Alpena and had a chance encounter with my old friend Eric at a Dinosaur Garden. The Great Lakes are so beautiful and we feel so lucky to spend time with my family on the water every summer.

Then we headed south and we visited my cousins Johanna and Butch, who live right across the Ohio border in West Virginia very close to where both of my paternal grandparents grew up. Johanna and my father are first cousins and I also got to see my great Aunt Betty. I hadn't seen any of them since before Jupiter and I were married. They were such gracious hosts and a lot of fun to spend time with that we didn't want to leave.

We drove across the mountains (or into the mountains) to my friend Katie's house in VA. Our families are great friends and our kids seem to disappear on us when they are together. They boys run off to collect materials in the woods, check on the chickens, look for the invisible monster, etc. Katie's daughter and Miranda were pretending that they were a family of lost children camping in the woods complete with costumes, made up pseudonyms and bags of pretend food. We had a very refreshing hike up Roaring Run complete with wading in cool river water and tubing down some small waterfalls. I got a lot of great chicken keeping advice and I think we'll be ready next year for a few laying hens of our own. Miranda loved tending the rabbits and chickens. She is such a mini-mama.

Then, before dawn, we departed at an hour carefully calculated to avoid all NYC traffic upon our return. Thank you to everyone who hosted us in their home or fixed us a meal along our journey.

Happy trails.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


You know how sometimes during a short period of time in your life the same idea keeps popping up and it almost makes you wonder if there if there is a force out there in the Universe deciding on a theme for your present life. I must write this down, and all future serendipitous theme emergences, because I know I will grow old and forget and, in the future, I want to be able to read it to myself and any kids or grand kids who will listen.

So, it all started a few weeks ago when a colleague of mine told all of us science teachers that he is organizing a Food Day at our school and he welcomes our participation. Since I am a botanist at heart, I immediately start to think of ways I can incorporate plants and my eye wanders over to a shelf in my classroom and my eyes rest on my old copy of "Wild Edible Plants." This book was my parting gift at the end of the first summer I taught outdoor environmental education at nature preserve in Ohio when I was eighteen, a long time ago, ahem...

So, I decide that I am going to teach my students to forage and we will prepare and eat wild plants for Food Day. Then, as I leaf through my book I find that many invasive plants, like Japanese Knotweed and Garlic Mustard which grow "like weeds" all over the forest near my high school, can be eaten. So, at this point, I am feeling like I have come up with a novel solution to a pretty big, bad and expensive environmental nightmare (removing invasive exotic plants) and as a side bonus, found a local food source that is free, which could, I don't know, alleviate hunger. It is a great idea, but it turns out that I am not the first person to suggest eating invasive species as a way getting rid of them. In fact, there is a NY Times article in this week's Science Times all about it. Last week, in an environmental course my teacher shares an article with us and on the opposite page is a small blurb about the latest trend in the locavore movement, "invasivores." So, I guess my wild edible plant workshop for my students might have to have some trendy title like "invasivores for a day."

So now that this idea is taking shape I am foraging with Jove and Miranda in the yard. I must say that I really wish crab grass was edible since it is the primary weed in my garden. The biggest hit so far with the kids is purslane. It grows pretty much everywhere as a weed and it is yummy. We like it so much we have left a spot for it in the garden. Today, Miranda told me that she went out to get some when she was hungry for a snack. We have also harvested some dandelion greens and plantain leaves and added them to soup. They are a little on the bitter side to eat right out of the lawn.

I have a couple of month to prepare and I will have to be creative since a lot of plants you can eat in summer won't be so tender in October. I am keeping my eyes open every time I am outside and reading as much as I can. I may even take a foraging class with the legendary Wildman Steve Brill who is local and makes his living teaching people to eat wild plants.

Summer of Foraging here we go!