Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maybe it's just that our family traditions are a tad nascent.... maybe I'll start to feel the Solstice if I celebrate it every year starting now!

Monday, December 26, 2011

the meaning of christmas

This is a tough one for me. I've always loved Christmas, but it seems like there's always been a touch of sadness about it, too. So this year it was anxiety about the onslaught of stuff. I really worried about it. It's partially an environmental concern... all that plastic, all those batteries, the imports from China. Not exactly an ecologist's dream holiday (but then again neither are earth day celebrations with "free giveaways" of junk with the recycling symbol on it-ugh). But I also worried about the general sense in this culture that we show "love" with stuff (we do). I worried that our little guy would get overwhelmed (he did). I worried about acquiring more things than we could store (it happened). I worried about getting a bunch of gifts that would dampen my child's creativity (we did).

It all happened like I thought it would. He got some gifts that I probably wouldn't have selected for him. He got some gifts that I certainly wouldn't have selected for him. And at the end of the night, I asked him if he had a nice Christmas he looked at me and said "It's not nice to get too many presents at Christmas." At some point Christmas morning he just looked kind of quiet and befuddled. When the relatives came in the afternoon and we opened more gifts, he opened his first one, and went off to assemble it and play with it, but then people *insisted* that he come back into the fray to keep on opening gifts. It made me a little sad because that greedy present-ripping behavior that adults so often criticize is a learned behavior. It really is.

And I could try to put a stop to it all. I could hand everyone a list of the "Christmas Rules." I could try to dictate all the terms of everyone's gift-giving. I could try. But then I would run the risk of actually making Christmas about stuff, after all. I would ultimately be saying that the stuff you give him or don't give him is more important than our relationship. I really do love our relatives very much, and they love our boys, and it's their Christmas, too. They get so much joy out of giving him things. And once the holiday is over, we can make choices about what keep and how we use the gifts. That's sort of an unspoken contract, right? The holiday is for everyone to share and celebrate in the way that works for them, but our home is our home is our home.

People love Thanksgiving, and that's a holiday without gifts. In my perfect world, Christmas would be kind of like that plus a couple of gifts, but not so much gift madness. And lots of Christmas music. And snow. Lovely, sparkly snow.

I think it might be particularly strange for people like me who want to have a meaningful Christmas, eschew consumerism, but also aren't deeply religious. We talk about Jesus being born, and the whole Christmas story. We read him the accounts from two of the Gospels (which he called poems), and he sweetly asked for "more poems about Mary and Joseph" (we did oblige). But I think that Christians feel that story in a very real, meaningful way. I've always felt like I was faking it when it comes to religion. For as long as I can remember I've felt that way. I love church services, music, etc., but in terms of having a truly spiritual experience on Christian holidays, well I don't. But nor do I feel any special connection with Solstice, even though that seems like the natural alternative for --ahem-- the crunchy and semi-crunchy folks like me. I could work on these things.

Yet I do feel Christmas. I like making candy and doughnuts for the neighbors and having a special meal together. I love Christmas music and singing carols. I like looking forward to winter. I love our Christmas tree and the "end of the semester" feel. I adore getting the mail in this season and seeing the pretty cards and photos people send. I like making it seem magical for the little ones. It may sound odd after my ranting, but I really do like giving and receiving, despite my many reservations about that whole process.

So another Christmas season has started and will end soon enough. I think that some of the most wonderful moments of the year have happened in the past month. All the singing that our little boy has been doing around the house. All the love that he has for our beautiful tree. All the fun he has giving candy to our neighbors. Ultimately that little guy is right about Christmas, I think. It really is not nice to get too many presents, but it is nice to give and receive a little something around this time. In his stocking he found a sketch pad and colored pencils, and he took great pleasure in drawing a picture for everyone who had Christmas dinner with us. At the end of the night he said that he hoped "Phil's knees would feel better so he could walk." (Phil is my mother-in-law's husband who has MS, and no, we haven't been talking about Tiny Tim with him). So I must say that on Christmas day I just felt grateful for having such a wonderful little boy who is so sensitive to others and to the world around him. The meaning of Christmas is in that sweet little soul who thinks about others* and sings, sings, sings.

*Lest I end on an overly sentimental note, I'll also share another Christmas thought from the little guy. As his Auntie was playing with him on the rug, she said "Oh I'm so full from dinner!" And he said "If you go poo-poo, then you will have room for more food!"

I hope you enjoy all the pictures below!

have a holly jolly christmas!

It's so much fun to wait and wait until the right moment to give a gift. Papa found that wonderful piano at a consignment shop for under 2 bucks, but we saved it for Christmas. It's got a beautiful sound for that sort of instrument and it's pre-loved (which is a plus, in my opinion). There may be a time in our son's life when a brand new item carries some special cache. Luckily we haven't reached that age, and the piano is just as exciting a gift as any. And as for the guitar, well, Santa's elves made that one.

Our musical boy has been giving us many Christmas concerts from the couch. I'm too lazy to post a video, but if you swing by our house he will serenade you.

handmade christmas cheer

For those of you who've chatted with me in real life during this season, you probably already know how the holidays can seems excessive to me. Although I'll admit this is one of my favorite holidays, if I focus too much on the consumerism of the holiday I can get really down. It's nice to focus on some of the handmade gifts we were lucky to get and give this year. I would love to make something for everyone on my list one year in the future, but the only time I reached that goal was when (pre-marriage, pre-"real" job, pre-kids, pre-adult-life-as-I-know-it) I lived in an isolated cabin in the Adirondacks with a bunch of crafty people and a wonderful cook. A cook!

Mimi made the new sock monkey for Charles, to match the one made for Theo when he was a baby. I made some bean bags (and cut out more so that we can work on making 3 more together), and Aunt Ellen made the boys hats, glorious wool hats. The ones above are for Charles, but there's also one for Theodore who is napping with it as I type. I also made a gnome shirt, to match the gnome hat and belt I made a couple of weeks ago. Theo was really focused on me making him a gnome shirt, but when he opened it, he wasn't so thrilled and he hasn't even tried it on! Huh.

santa's visit

setting out milk and cookies for santa & carrots and water for the reindeer & clementines for all

early (!!) christmas morning, checking to see if he could see the sleigh flying away

family visits for baby holding

christmas baking & making

mixing the dough for gingerbread cookies

old-fashioned doughnuts

last-minute christmas day centerpiece

almonds and sea salt for dark chocolate bark

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This afternoon my toddler certainly must have learned that the word BANANAS can refer to something other than fruit. Namely, my state of mind. I do know that it was I who needed the nap most today, but at least I don't start kicking people when I'm overtired. I win the prize for not being 2, I guess. So here are some of our better moments..

just this morning before breakfast

the only action our garden gets these days

in his room

look ma, i have the sharp knife!

...and pat it...

for papa

i got that look a lot today


it's me!

apples for sauce

all chopped up


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Apple Picking

pear picking, too

first taste of a fresh-picked pear

a pair

munch, crunch

my boy

i'm apple picking!

i'm apple picking!

high hill orchard

The state of fruit-growing in New England is in crisis, if you ask me. While there has been a big push in recent years to buy local produce (and local apples have long been a tradition anyway), there are usually very few local fruit options for those concerned about pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and the kinds of chemical fertilizers one doesn't want a dog, let alone a toddler, ingesting. My spring quest for a u-pick strawberry patch that seemed like a safe place to unleash my finger-licking kiddo ended in disappointment. Safe, local, u-pick blueberries can be found if you really look hard and are willing to drive. But I'm happy to report that safe, local, u-pick apples and pears are just a short jaunt up the highway from us. Alas, it IS fruit in New England and they are not entirely pesticide-free, but they are leagues safer than most orchards.

We had such a relaxing and fun day. It was sunny and brisk, and the orchard was not crowded at all. What variety we picked (and sampled)! We found Bosc Pears, Golden and Red Delicious, Jonagold, Cortland, Macoun, and a small one called Liberty. There were others, too. We also bought a huge bag of Ginger Gold seconds to make applesauce. The tiniest one slept through it all (even nursed sleepily while I took in a nice view). The little guy kept saying, "I'm picking apples!" over and over again. We lingered and wandered and picked at a toddler's pace, which is just how a day like that should be enjoyed. Agree?

peace & apple love!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I've done more pleasure reading than I thought possible in these early weeks. I've read Life Work by Donald Hall, and my goodness, I am more excited about this poet's prose than his poetry. But I've also been reading poetry-- Marilyn Nelson's (though this book is published under her former last name, Waniak) The Homeplace. Like all her work, this is such good reading, and so rich with history and imagination. This book is a collection of poems about different family members, some of whom were born into slavery. I'm also reading essays of E.B. White, whose prose is so breathtaking that I can't help reading passages aloud to my husband if he is in the room. I just finished an essay about a pig dying, and various attempts to save him by enemas and expectorants, and yet the best word to describe it is beautiful. Next on my list is one of the many Sam Pickering books out there that I haven't read, probably Living to Prowl. Praise be that he is so prolific. I might perish if I ever come to the moment when I'm reading the last unread essay. I'm still waiting for Anne Fadiman to put out another book of her essays, but it's slow coming. If I were a wee bit less lazy I could hop on the MLA database and see if she's had anything in journals lately... but then again holding a book in my hand is what I crave. I'm starting my Christmas wish list now, and the second volume of L.M. Montgomery's journals is definitely at the top. I loved the first volume, and although I know she heavily edited them (i.e., probably took out a lot of the good, juicy stuff!), I still enjoy a peek into the mind of the genius who created Anne of Green Gables.

And so despite the typical newborn stressors-- the poop analysis, the fussy/gassy episodes, the volcanic spit-up (and it's no exaggeration), the diapers to wash/dry/fold-- and the typical toddler episodes of elation and despair (often within 15 minutes), I am finding moments that are mine alone. True, on almost all reading occasions I have my little nursling happily sucking, they are still moments of indulgence for me and I'm appreciating them. Before long we'll hit the phase of nursing when he'll be more interested in my book than my breast, so HURRAH to long, sleepy newborn nursings.

What's on your bookshelf right now?

Friday, September 16, 2011

new look...

I'm getting a little tired of the way this blog looks. So, if it changes its look a few times in the next few days (or weeks) till I settle on something, don't be surprised!

{this moment}

Monday, September 12, 2011

the beach

We went to the shore Sunday evening for a picnic and a romp in the ocean. It was too cold for swimming, but it was beautiful end-of-summer weather. We didn't plan to do anything specific to remember the events of 9-11-2001, but being right across the sound from NYC did make me think of the horrors of that day. It made me remember to cherish every day that I live with security, safety, and the freedom to have a quiet evening at the beach with my family. I am a lucky woman-- may I never forget that.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

tiny bear

after a joyful labor, our big little guy is here! he arrived 5 days early, but mama has been resting.... sorry for the late update!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Well, there's no update in the pregnancy department. I'm officially one week from my due date, but still awfully eager. I have to remember that September, not August, has always been a favorite month of mine, so if the babe is late at least he'll be born in one of my favorite months.

Still, I'm getting to be large enough that picking anything up off the ground or floor is rather tough. My nesting seems to take the form of cooking more than cleaning. Today, for example, I made one meatloaf for eating, and 5 for freezing. Hurrah for the chest freezer. Tomorrow I plan to have another Beet Soup mania. My sister is here, making cooking pretty easy. Not only did she bring a double of her CSA share, but she also dotes on the little one so that I can cook in relative peace! That's nice.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

a little tomato carnage

I finally did it. I used my own tomatoes in a recipe that called for "canned tomatoes." Don't ask where I had the energy to do this the other day, but I suspect that it had to do with the cooler, rainy weather. What nice thing it is to spend a rainy day making a quintuple batch of our favorite Beet Soup for freezing when my wonderful husband is around to keep the little one out of the kitchen. I froze 5 dinners worth of soup... the best kind of soup. There are many veggies in this soup, and nearly all of them were naturally grown in lovely Connecticut.
-Tomatoes from our yard
-Cabbage from our CSA
-Carrots and Beets from Shundahai and Tabacco Road Farms
-Onions from Tabacco Road
Next time, maybe we'll also have potatoes and celery from local farms, but as for now I'm pretty happy.

Now, Calamity Jane has a point, tomatoes frozen for a "later date" may never get the peeling, seeding and use that the good-intentioned freezer imagines. (And thanks for the shout out, Calamity Jane.) In this case, I did actually have to tap into my tomato stash in the freezer, because the 50 or so Juliette tomatoes we picked that morning didn't actually make the 5 cups of tomato puree I needed. I think that was the most shocking thing about this process--how many freaking tomatoes one needs in order to equal a modest amount of tomato pulp, or what-have-you. I mean, it's no wonder our tomato plants are over 7 feet tall and producing like crazy... they have to do so in order to earn their keep. An old Italian girl like me needs me a lot of tomatoes for the winter. More than I'll likely get from our patch this year.

Mind you, I actually find some pleasure in the dunking and peeling process. I remember writing a poem about it in my early grad school days... the visceral pleasure of peeling tomatoes. Again, it's one of those homemaking things that counts for a lot more than 5 cups of puree. It's just an interesting feeling to have tomato skins slip off in your hands, and even more fun to squeeze the seeds out. If I had been feeling patient, I would have called the little guy in from the sandbox to help, but the effort needed to coordinate boiling water, hot tomatoes, and a 2 year old seemed a bit excessive.

The color of the pulp was more pink than red, but the flavor was oh-so-tomato-y. It really changed the whole soup for the sweeter, the tangier, and the better.

Hurrah for nesting.

May my next post be about birthing.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

visiting the old market

flowers from the market

It was a crazy weekend, and I'm paying for a it a little bit in the body-aches category. But! Our fridge is now stocked with some great food. On Friday we visited some aunties in the town just north of us-- had a delightful lunch and swim-- and came home with a big bag of lettuce and cucumbers and herbs. On Saturday we decided to head up to our old farmer's market to connect with some friends before the baby comes, and to buy some veggies to make up for our missing CSA share this week. So glad we did. It just felt so good to have produce that we completely trust and that looks (and tastes) beautiful. I spent a lot of time (and wished I could have spent more) chatting with our friends from Shundahai Farm and Tabacco Road farm. It was great to see them! I wish I had my camera with me at the market. The beets in particular were impressive, especially because the greens looked just as good as the roots themselves. I'm planning to make up a quadruple batch of my favorite beet soup for freezing.

We also just bagged and froze 24 more Juliette tomatoes from our backyard.

The flowers we got were a gift at the end of the market from the woman who did the flowers for our wedding, almost 7 years ago. She didn't do the market for a few years, but I was so glad to see her back. She sells plants (I finally got a little pot of hens and chicks), onions, garlic, and flowers. But most people know her as the guru of the local food co-op. She's been managing the place since sometime in the 80s, I think. Have you ever met someone who you know has made a difference in a whole town? She has. Or, at least that's how I understand it. It must be really hard to be the leader not of a regular "business," but of a store-front food cooperative in a town that doesn't always seem to have too much going for it (in fact, it was dubbed the heroin capital of the east a while back). She exudes a kind of calm confidence. She seems to unabashedly speak her mind. She's clearly kind (the "co-op" kids love her). She has a generous spirit. When I asked if she'd be interested in doing the flowers for our wedding, she hesitated, and wanted me to know she was a gardener, not a florist, and she'd only done one small wedding before. But nothing beats seeing the seedlings for your summer wedding bouquet growing in the greenhouse in the middle of a snowy spring. Our flowers were one of my favorite parts of the wedding and I'll always be grateful that her adventurous spirit didn't balk at the thought of our somewhat formal church wedding.

Hope your weekend was full of happy reunions as well.


Friday, August 5, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. Thanks to SouleMama for the idea!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

getting closer

big mama & little bear

This is now an old photo. Over a month ago we were up in the Adirondacks for a vacation before the ultra-hugeness of pregnancy descended. I guess we cut that a bit close, but I've still got 3 or 4 weeks to go.

Being so close to having 2 little bears around the house is exciting, but I'm apprehensive about the transition. I'm in a good rhythm with my little one *right now*. He's been extremely loving (throwing his arms around me and the belly and saying "I love you so much" and "I love the baby so much") and I feel as though I've actually been more patient than usual. Not that I'm a saintly earth-mama, but just that I've been able to put off my own tantrums more than I used to (maybe it's because the Papa bear has not yet returned to full-time teaching). I'm really enjoying our little guy's company and finding him charming in a new way each day. I know the next phase for us is bound to be challenging, but I'm also looking forward to the sweet moments of seeing the two guys meet for the first time, and seeing T. take a turn at being mommy's helper. Maybe that's a fantasy, but I know there will be some wonderful times in the months to come, though they'll often be crowded out by exhaustion and exasperation. I hope I remember to look for the magic in the chaos.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

ready for the freezer!

our first tomatoes for the freezer

Oh! Our tomatoes, especially our Juilettes, are just growing like wild. It's amazing to see, especially since we haven't had to do all that much to encourage this growth. I was hoping that between our CSA and our tomato patch that we'd have enough tomatoes to save some for all the zillions of recipes for soups, stews, sauces, etc. that call for "canned tomatoes." Well, dear readers, though someday I may learn to can, it's not going to be this summer-- 9 months pregnant and chasing a toddler.

Instead, I'm freezing these beauties and crossing my fingers. Now, several resources suggested that I core, blanch/peel, and seed before freezing. But two reliable sources (Mother Earth News and a book on home freezing) said that it would work to simply core them, bag them, and freeze them. Apparently the skins, having been loosened by freezing , will simply slip off. Clearly, this is the method for me. I cored them, tossed them in freezer bags and created a vacuum by sucking the air out of the bags with a straw. Zip!

Hopefully it works. I'm sure I'll still have to use some boxed (gave up cans last year) tomatoes, but I'm also hoping that I'll have good enough luck with the freezing process to plant even more next time and go for broke. I wanted to start off slowly, so if it really didn't work I wouldn't feel like I invested too many hours in this.

I am quite sure anything I am able to stash for the winter will be from our own backyard. Our CSA has been terrible this year. So far the crowning jewel of the season was a recent e-mail from the "farmer" that this week's distribution was canceled due to lack of produce. Ugh. Most other CSAs are really in full swing and enjoying a particularly abundant season. It's been sort of sad to get one 2-3inch (long, that is) summer squash as our "share" of the harvest. But it's downright strange to have a week cancelled during a season like this, with NO explanation at all. I joined a CSA in our new area to try to connect more with our food and our community. It's been impossible to do either with this CSA. It's basically "run" by a board of directors who hired a farmer. They seem far more concerned with fund-raising dinners to restore their stone barn than with growing good food. I'm much more comfortable with family farmers who are devoted to the land and seem genuinely interested in the process of growing food. I can't help but think that this farmer doesn't care very much, because he's never once communicated with the shareholders about WHAT is happening at the farm. Something is gravely wrong with the soil, or the organization, or something, and we are left in the dark about why things have been so scant this year.

So, scratch that CSA for next summer. It makes me want to grow more and more in our backyard (small though it is). The tomato harvest (and it's just beginning) is encouraging. Very.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Our CSA officially started a few weeks back, and we are starting to get some really nice looking vegetables. The beets above are wild looking, aren't they? Glad I got this shot, because in my attempt to "braise" them, I kind of charred them to a crisp and they lost that peppermint candy appeal. The beet greens were deliciously tender. The little guy, however, prefers his beets raw and plentiful.

beet boy

We had some delicious radishes that I sauteed in butter, vinegar, and salt. Yum! If you've never tried cooking radishes, it's worth the effort, let me assure you.

I'm pretty happy so far with the share, provided I don't compare it with the farms in our old area... not only do I miss their veggies, but I also miss really knowing the people who grow what comes to our table. Our current CSA is run by a board of directors who hired a farmer to work the land! I mean, it's cool, but it's not exactly the small family farm scene.

Our own little family farm (ha ha ha-- read: 2 overgrown pea patches and a row of tomatoes) is faring pretty well, despite the neglect. We missed the boat on our shelling peas. Somehow they matured and got too old before we even noticed them. But we are loving our "sugar 'nap peas" as our little guy calls them. Can't wait to see what the tomato plants will yield.

Our summer has been wonderful so far. Just delightful. I'm relishing every moment.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Father's Day

Late on Father's Day morning we decided to head out to the shore. We had a wonderful time picking out shells to bring home, looking at horseshoe crabs pacing the ocean floor, watching seagulls drop shells from the air to get the goodies inside, and (of course) splashing about in the water.

I'm so lucky to have a partner like I do, and although we're not too big on the whole Father's Day thing (I did offer to buy him a power tool), we are big on appreciating one another. He's the most wonderful dad a boy could ever want, and the most loving partner a woman could ever ask for.