Friday, August 28, 2009

Action Wildlife

Not too far from us, in Goshen, CT, is a smallish zoo, called Action Wildlife. Jamie and I drove past in numerous times last summer, and I always wondered what it was all about. One afternoon in July, when we had a block of time in the afternoon and needed a field trip, we took Duncan to check it out. Action Wildlife is bigger than than the Trevor Teaching Zoo in Millbrook and smaller than Southwick's Zoo, close to John and Melissa. It seems to be a privately owned establishment and doesn't have too much variety. As Jamie pointed out, it has lots of animals with horns, for what that's worth. You can drive or walk through it, and we took the opportunity to stroll as we enjoyed exotic animals like miniature donkeys and horses, ibex, and American bison. The zoo has an education center that houses an oddly complete taxidermy collection (it was beautiful but gave me the creeps) and a collection of reptiles. Under development is a 50 acre, drive through safari where the animals are not penned but free to roam. Action Wildlife is a great, local destination that I'm sure we will visit again and again.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Self-Portrait in Crayon

On one of our Duncan free days, Jamie and I had lunch and a movie in Great Barrington. This self-portrait, in crayon, on placemat, reminded me for a minute of times we had 12 or 13 years ago when we were dating, carefree and childfree. Even though our life is so much richer now, it's nice to recapture those informal dates once in a while.

I Grew This!

Enough said. Anybody want some? Even three plants is too many.

21 X 2 Follow Up

Back in June, I embarked on a new project to build a healthy life habit (as I discussed earlier, from Shawn Achor, the happiness guru). I challenged myself to 21 straight days of exercise, and I think I wrote about it when I was about halfway through. It turned out to be a successful challenge. I managed about 25 consecutive, and when they were over, I took a day off and got right back on the treadmill. It has been an interesting experiment that challenged a lot of things I thought about myself.

I have never been a person who enjoyed exercise. I went to a college that required 8 gym classes for graduation, and I did have some fun learning cross country skiing and playing racquetball and cross country skiing with friends. That was about it. Sometimes Jamie and I develop a walking routine, but it often falls apart after a month. Sometimes we go through hiking phases, and I usually complain bitterly about being forced to march in the woods. What happened in those 24 days, though, was that I honestly began to enjoy walking on the treadmill. I enjoyed it so much that I began to feel that I needed it. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I had to take a week off for an injury, and it bothered me all week that I couldn't exercise. I was hugely relieved to get back to it.

My next challenge was the age-old question of finding time. It wasn't too difficult during the summer. Jamie was very supportive and gave me the 30 to 60 minutes a day I needed on the days when we weren't all walking together. When I started back to work full time, however, I was concerned about how I could fit in my exercise. By that time, I was determined to make it work. Although I still have to take one day and one week at a time, I am working out (no pun intended) how to carve out the time in my day. I decided that if I set myself a weekly distance goal, I can chip away at it on the days that I DO have time. I have been using 10 miles as my goal and have found that if I walk half of it on the weekends, it's not too difficult to fit in the rest on two or three days during the week. The last three weeks, I have been doing office work and training teachers so my schedule is not what it is during the school year, but I'm making it work for now by walking before I go to work. When classes start, I'll work it out again, probably on two afternoons during the week.

One of my best friends in this challenge is my pedometer, which I started wearing each day. I thought that maybe if I track how far I walk during the day and how far I NEED to walk during the day, I can plan out how much exercise I need to supplement my everyday activity. It hasn't quite worked out that way (hence the 10 mile goal), but wearing the pedometer has had other interesting results. I have started enjoying incidental exercise. Instead of trying to fit 10 errands into one trip, I'm willing to make two trips to add a little more exercise. I'm willing to take extra trips to the compost or the laundry. I park farther away at the store so I can rack up some extra steps. At work, I take the long way. I discovered last week that if I leave my office, walk down the back stairs, walk the length of the first floor hallway, walk up the front stairs, and return to my office, I clock about 1,000 steps. If I do that a few extra times on the days I don't have time to exercise, well, maybe I WILL make time. I added dumbbells to my exercise routine and just purchased exercise bands. I started running a little (just tiny little .25 mile sprints for variety; I'll never be a runner). I find myself dreaming of buying a bike rather than dreaming of taking a nap, and the idea of taking Duncan to the Rail Trail sounds exciting rather than tedious.

I don't know that I'm out of the woods yet. In fact, I'm nervous about posting this because I may quit tomorrow, and you'll all know that I have failed again. I feel more optimistic than that though because I'm really enjoying it. I'm beginning to see all the benefits I never believed were real; I feel more energetic and less stressed and am seeing my weight loss attempts revved up a bit. I almost feel secure that exercise has become part of my life, which is good because I have a new 21 day challenge waiting in the wings.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Old Sturbridge Village

(Duncan takes in the sights at the Colonial outhouse).

Although we love to camp, the real purpose of our last camping trip was to visit Old Sturbridge Village. We weren't sure how Duncan would like it; before we went, we spent a lot of time talking about the "old days" and shared the OSV website with him. He spent hours watching videos on YouTube of everything from war reenactments to smithing and pottery. Our efforts were rewarded in his boundless enthusiasm on the day of our visit.

Duncan's favorite parts were the cobbler, the horse and carriage ride, and the potter. The cobbler makes shoes that are worn by OSV employees. He explained to us how shoes were made and that many shoes during the Colonial times were made with no discernible right or left foot. The leather was soft and conformed to the foot over time. The horses, Tom and Jerry, took us on a ride from the center of town around the mill pond. It was an old-fashioned form of public transportation that Duncan loved so much that he begged us to go again (alas, we didn't have time). The potter was his favorite, which is apropos since Duncan's father and grandfather have thrown more than their fair share of pots. Duncan watched with rapt attention as the potter threw several pieces, explaining how the Colonial potter would have had to schedule his pottery around the farm schedule. He would have hauled clay form a site near the river all the way back to town and would have spent a great deal of time preparing the clay. He would only have had time to finish a few pieces at a time and would fill his studio with nearly 800 pieces before beginning the several-day-long process of firing. I'm sure that when we return to OSV, the "pot man" will be Duncan's first stop.

I'm not sure what Jamie liked best, but he spent a lot of time under the mills, explaining to Duncan how the river water turned the gears to operate the grist mill, the carding mill (to prepare wool for spinning), and the saw mill. Actually, the saw mill may have been Jamie's favorite stop. Though there were no interpreters at the mill when we stopped by, he was fascinated by the scary saw and use of simple machines to roll logs into the the mill and finished planks out to the ground. He and Duncan also enjoyed watching several innings of a Colonial baseball game, where the rules seemed a little lax, the gloves lacking, and the bats primitive broom handles.

While Jamie and Duncan watched baseball, I watched hanks of yard dyed by hand in colors more beautiful, vibrant, and organic than anything produced synthetically. Once the wool was carded and then spun, the yarn was dyed in cauldrons over an open fire. It looked a little witchy. I don't remember what the dyes were made of, but natural ingredients like indigo and sage made delectable colors. I loved all things textile; the sheep, the carding, the spinning, the dyeing, and the looms. I was glad to wander those areas freely while the boys took the game.

When we first walked into OSV, we couldn't imagine needing two days there. Within hours, we understood why OSV issues a free return admission within 10 days of each paid admission. We had a very full day - several hours more than we anticipated would maintain Duncan's interest. After our return, Jamie noted that OSV offers a fantastic, period celebration for Independence Day. We just might spend America's NEXT birthday in the Colonial Era.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Good, Good, Good, Good Intentions

Dear Blog,

I really miss you. I really, really, miss you. Please try to understand. I have a long list of things to write about. I have many photographs and even a video or two to upload. My intentions are good. Nevertheless, My laptop has been at the computer hospital for a week. My desktop computer at home is old and clunky. My photos are all on my laptop. Suddenly, my camera does not like the desktop computer any more. This borrowed Acer Aspire One netbook is moderately useful, but it's not the same. The keyboard is uncomfortable enough that I don't like to type for long periods of time on it. It's great for surfing the net and for dealing with my e-mail. In fact, it's a pretty good substitute, but it's just not the same. Add in the variables of juggling going back to work full time while Jamie and Duncan are still on vacation, and I just can't do it. I know my excuses are feeble, and if I REALLY loved you, I would make time for you somehow. Hey, I showed up TODAY, didn't I? Please forgive me. I hope we will catch up with each other soon.



Tuesday, August 11, 2009

So Many Farmers, So Little Time

When we pulled up at the Chubby Bunny last Friday, Duncan exclaimed "We're at our farm!" I loved his use of the personal possessive because that's what a farm share is meant to be. Even though it's not really OUR farm, I'm excited that he has assimilated it as part of our life. I was further heartened by this week's news from the farm. It seems there is a tomato blight that is knocking out all the tomatoes, at least in our area. Our organic farmer has worked long and hard to try to stop it with all natural means possible, and yet several crops of tomatoes are just gone. As his wife pointed out last week, when she wrote the news, it's good that they are in the CSA business and grow such a wide variety of crops. If they were tomato farmers, they would be in bad, bad shape. This week, I enjoyed the farmer's rant about the tomatoes because it was darned funny, but then I realized that he's not upset about losing the tomatoes because of the money. He already has our money. He's upset about the tomatoes because he feels like he has let us down. In fact, he threatened to plant something like 21 tomato plants PER SHAREHOLDER next year to make up for it. So, I've been thinking (at Jamie's suggestion, actually) that it must be so much more rewarding to farm this way. He gets to talk to the people who consume his life's work. Otherwise, it could be a pretty solitary job. I've only actually seen the farmer once (let's call him Dan, because that's his name), and I've only seen his wife Tracey once too. We must just arrive at times when they're busy. But last week, I enjoyed watching my colleague Todd share his Lyme disease experiences with Dan, who contracted his fourth case at about the same time Todd was suffering with his first. Can you honestly say you know about YOUR farmer's Lyme disease experiences?

But I digress. Saturday, we went to Ellsworth Farms, in Sharon, CT to pick blueberries, peaches, and plums. I had always known Ellsworth was there, but we've only ever gone to pick apples in the fall. Then I tasted Ellsworth's blueberries, which are out of this world. I didn't stop thinking of them between our last picking and this one. I HAD to have more. When we drove in, Duncan asked "We are at our farm?" I said, "Actually, we are. We are at our fruit farm." I realized we had two farms. Then, as I talked out loud, I realized we have not one, not two, not three, but four farmers. Local ground beef from Whipporwill Farm is available at the Chubby Bunny, and it is located in Lakeville, CT. It makes the best burgers I have ever eaten, if you like that kind of thing. Chubby Bunny also deals in heavenly goat yogurt and goat cheese from Adamah Dairy. As I talked it through with Duncan, he said "That's a lot of farmers, Mama." I said "You're right Duncan! I think that's pretty great."

In a short year, we've become CSA shareholders who have four farmers. Now THAT is priceless.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Duncan's Art

Much to the frustration of my friend and colleague Stephen, my MacBook is suffering from issues with its AirPort card, and so I have been divorced from it for the time being.  The camping follow-up, which is about our trip to Old Sturbridge Village will have to wait until my computer stops being a pig because it has all the photos.  In the meantime (one of Duncan's new I understand why), here are some pictures of Duncan's art work at the end of the "school" year.

Rest assured that Old Sturbridge Village photos will be plentiful, but I'm sure you'll enjoy these more.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Into the Woods, Into the Woods

Our second camping trip landed us in Wells State Park, MA. A relatively small camp ground, it is essentially two large loops, each with one restroom/shower facility. The campsites are spacious and far enough from each other for comfort. In those two ways, it outperformed Takghanic State Park. Wells also boasts a beaver pond for boating and a small beach for swimming. We didn't have time to hike the trails in search of the beaver dam, but we would have liked to. We were not so keen on the restroom and shower facilities, which could use updating...and about three more daily cleanings. Another concerns was bears, which don't worry me so much in general, having survived a bear on my campsite before. Being a mother bear myself, however, adds a new perspective. In my mind, bears and children don't mix. In the end, the warnings on the Reserve America website were not repeated by the park rangers so we suspected it had been some time since the last bear sighting. And of course...there were fierce, persistent mosquitoes who would not be controlled. It was a fine place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Duncan attacked camping with a gusto equal to that he showed during our last trip. He loved the camp chairs, the fire, the propane stove, the tent, the air mattress, the s'mores, and his own "room" in the tent, complete with his backpack of books and toys. More than anything, he loved the flashlights. He wanted them on, all day, all the time. We tried giving him his own flashlight, but he kept liking someone else's torch better and trading. He loved everything so much, in fact, that he was reluctant to succumb to the powers of sleep. After our trouble last time, we decided that a three year old boy cannot be expected to go to sleep at 7:30 in daylight, in a tent, in the woods. We thought we were clever this time. We kept him up until around 8:30, yet he bested us again, staying awake until around 10, both nights.

Our camping trip ended abruptly, like a jump into a cold lake on an April morning, except it was July, and the wetness was less pleasant. Duncan woke at 4 a.m. on our second morning and said he needed to pee. Jamie got up with him and discovered Duncan had completely soaked through his pull-up. It was hard to tell if his bedding was wet since everything in the tent was damp. Jamie cleaned him up and took him out to finish his business. And that was when the rain started.

Duncan went back to sleep, but Jamie did not. Duncan and I woke up around 7 a.m. to pouring rain. We waited a while to see if the rain would abate. It did not. We left in search of a diner, where we all ate too much fried food and reluctantly returned to our campsite to begin the obstacle course of breaking camp in the rain. Luckily, because of the bear threat, our food, everything related to cooking, and all our toiletries were already in the car. We sprinted with our clothes and bedding to the car and threw the tent and all things wet into the car-top carrier. Duncan whined in his car seat about being alone. After the fastest break down in history, we hauled our posteriors home without even one potty break.

The ensuing days were, of course, consumed by laundry, tent drying in the yard in the small amount of sunshine we had that week, and sleeping bags strewn across our office. Despite our wet departure, we remain confirmed campers. With the hope that Duncan can last for at least three consecutive nights next summer (dare I wish for four?), we are already talking about Acadia National Park, Cape Cod, and Rhode Island. Maybe by then, someone will sell blackout curtains for tents.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

It has been a difficult week for produce. We were out a few nights, and there were several things we didn't get to cook when this week's share was ready. I thought a lot about my friends Courtney and Matt, who just started their CSA share, and were already overwhelmed with their bounty. They indulged in one of America's rapidly dwindling arts; "putting things by." In a fit of canning madness, they pickled cucumbers, and then rutabagas, and then kohlrabi.  And then realized they hadn't used distilled water and spent many of the following days wondering if they would contract botulism.

I am not ready to purchase pickling spices, jars, and distilled water so that I can boil glassware and preserve my produce there, and I have enough problems with anxiety without having to worry about botulism. I admire Matt and Courtney for doing it, but I'm just not ready. In a similar fit of madness, I engaged in another age-old pastime; filling the freezer with things I will probably never use in the future. I had two weeks' worth of chard, and it hadn't gone bad enough to justify throwing it into the compost. I also didn't want it mocking me each time I opened the refrigerator. I'm not yet ready to give up my battle with chard, but today was not to be the day I would find the perfect chard recipe. Instead, today was a good day for Blanche. At the suggestion of one of my high school friends, Susan, I decided that chard would best be used thrown into things like spaghetti sauce, where it might take a back seat to other flavors in the mix. I blanched it, chopped it fine, and threw it in the freezer. Presto, change-o. No chard in my line of vision; no chard in the compost.

While I was at it, I blanched last week's carrots, which were enough for a meal. I feel a little bit better about them. I know we'll eat them, but I have carrots from the store, two small bags of mini-carrots from the store, and this week's Chubby Bunny carrots; an extravagant abundance of carrots. I know that I can pitch a handful into a soup or stew this winter, or I can saute them, or I can probably mash them up for a cake or muffins. The possibilities are endless.

I'm thinking that my friend Blanche might be a good solution for the green beans and peas growing in my garden as well. They're ripening in small batches; there is not enough at any one time to make a meal, but I think they'll continue to produce for a while. Perhaps if I blanch them in small batches and keep adding them to container in the freezer, I can come up with a few meals' worth. I think it's worth a try.

With a great deal of sarcasm, Jamie echoed my feelings about the chard stash in the freezer: "...because I know I WANTED to be able to eat chard this winter." It may end up in the compost after all. And if, for some mad, crazy reason, you share our interest in food preservation, check out the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which is a great resource for canning, pickling, dehydrating, freezing, and possibly even burying your food in the sand until you're ready for it. I will skip the sand and continue to fantasize about a small, chest freezer in the basement...mmmmm.