Some moments from the week—good moments even if bad photos!
We've been very celebratory over the last couple days, and as I sit here listening to the grand finale of someone's fireworks display somewhere I wanted to wish you all a very happy Independence Day. I hope yours was fully as fun and delightful as ours, but with less dangerous sun exposure!
We had a great time at Concord's "Picnic at the Park", and I took lots of pictures. I hope to be able to find time to put them in a post soon, but given that I still don't think I've managed to put up anything about Harvey's birthday two weeks ago I'm not making any promises. Suffice it to say that the two bigger boys at least did great, and demonstrated their own independence it lots of exciting ways! (Lijah was fine too. He's a two-year-old.)
The solstice is a grand thing, and we did it right this year, but it's hard to really celebrate properly when most everyone else is going about their everyday business. But no worries, because we have a big national celebration of summer to share just a couple weeks later. We tend to head over to Concord for their charming festival—it has lots to recommend it, not least the fact that it's in the middle of the day. This year the bigger boys and I biked there; good thing we have a bicycle that can carry plenty of supplies.
And, just as important, a seven-year-old who can confidently ride the five-and-a-half miles there and another back, with plenty of energy left over for enjoying the entertainment on offer.
Like the bounce house, which the boys jumped right into as soon as we arrived. I worked on setting up our tent, which I brought along to liberate us from the narrow band of shade at the side of the field, where most folks listening to the bands have to squeeze together. We really appreciated it on a warm day with blazingly hot sun; we also appreciated our packed food, including peas and raspberries fresh from the garden.
I was a little worried about the tent being in people's way, and made sure to set it up at the far back of the field, but it turns out concern wasn't necessary: about twenty minutes after we arrived a large group showed up and put up this considerable edifice right in front of us.
But that was fine because there was plenty to do all over the place. We played in the spray from a fire hose.
And explored a ladder truck.
The boys rode a "train" all around the field—all by themselves, without making me squish into one of those little seats to go with them (like lots of other parents had to do—or maybe they really enjoy it..).
I was impressed by that, but even more when they decided they wanted to go through the interactive theater / obstacle course experience by themselves. They learned what it was like to be an early immigrant to Massachusetts.
The immigrants had all kinds of adventures, including having to carry swine out of the maize fields.
And of course we listened to music!
Lijah napped and lunched at home, then he and Mama joined us in time for some of the fun—and all of the italian ice!
Then we went back home, where we totally meant to lie down in the dark house for the rest of the evening—but then our neighbors invited us over to play and eat pie, so we did that instead. They had red-white-and-blue glow bracelets to share too, which was perfect: we didn't get to see any fireworks this year, but staying up until after dark to throw the glow things around was a fine substitute, and a great end to a fine celebratory day.
Our house is lovely, but one problem we do have is that not many of the downstairs windows open. Out of eight, we can conveniently open and close only three. That's not so helpful when you're trying to avoid air-conditioning by harvesting the cooler nighttime air; a good cross-breeze is impossible. On the other hand, we do have outside doors on three of the walls, so mornings and evenings having them open makes a world of difference. Only none of them have screens.
They used to, once, but dog and kids put paid to all three of them. Just as well most of the time, since we're constantly in and out in the summer, but it does mean that the bugs are in an out as well. But with an unusually dry June we haven't seen too many mosquitoes so far, and there are plenty of fruit flies inside already in the usual way, so with the doors open it might even be an equal exchange. We're not minding it too much.
Now when the hens try and come inside, that's another story. Luckily Lijah has taken on the job of chasing them out whenever that happens (he gets a little upset if someone else does it). With the chicks, there are already enough chickens living in our house!
One of my delights at the farmers market is checking out the prices for things that are growing well at our own farm. Seeing that raspberries—which we have so many of that they're a chore to pick—are going for $4 for a half-pint eases the pain of having to buy kale, because I didn't plant nearly enough. Seriously, I think we've brought in four or five quarts of raspberries so far; say $64 worth, at the low end. Not counting my labor, of course, but any real work (besides the trouble of picking) was so long ago I hardly remember it anyway.
I've always felt that way about crops that do well here—in this culture even we anti-capitalists like to reference market economies to help us feel our efforts are worthwhile—but this year there's a new extreme: purslane for sale, at $4 a bundle!
Now, we've been eating the stuff every now and again for a while, so I won't argue that it doesn't belong on that table next to the basil. Lijah wouldn't either; he's a big fan. As we were picking some the other day—and I was trying to pick faster than he could eat—he exclaimed unprompted: "I like purslane... ice cream and purslane!" (I assume he didn't mean together).
But if you want to count dollar values, we've probably eaten about $8 dollars worth, fed $20 to the chickens, and thrown $60 or $70 on the compost pile. Probably because I always let it grow a bit here and there, purslane is a serious weed on our farm. I wonder if there's any chance we could get in on the market! Actually, as I think about it I assume it's pretty win-win for the farmers: they can set aside a few bundles of the stuff each market day and if it doesn't sell, it's no loss. If I had more space in the garden I'd have at least one dedicated purslane bed and would be willing to sell to all comers.
As it is, I'll pull out most of it and rest happy in the knowledge that, whatever else happens, our garden will always be full of something that somebody, at least, thinks is valuable. And we also have lots of zucchinis.
A couple days ago I took the boys out for a hike around the Old Reservoir. We walked over a mile, and Lijah was on foot almost the whole time. I was pretty confident he would be, so I didn't even bring anything to carry him; correctly so, because even when he was getting tired he couldn't stand to see his brothers walking for long without wanting to join them. He just needs to be a little quicker—as well as his legs, his voice gets a workout as he shouts after them to wait up. Sometimes they even do! Of course, every strenuous hike needs to include a snack break!
The only bad part of the outing was that Zion lost the water bottle he was carrying in the side of his backpack; it rattled right out as he ran along the trail, and we didn't notice at the time. We tried to retrace our steps to find it—and the boys were all very patient with the change in plans—but without any luck. Too bad... it was one of our best ones!
Today it was too hot to do any hiking, or really anything at all, except go to a pond that we'd want to jump into. Other people had the same idea, so we were able to meet up not only with friends but with Grandma too! It was a great time, and all three boys—and their friends too—put in some quality swimming practice. Lijah was particularly impressive in how comfortable he is with the water: he just lay there chillin, with his hands on the bottom and the rest of him floating comfortably... He'll figure out how to swim before his big brothers if they don't hurry up!
Leah got to do some swimming too, all the way across that big pond. Based on past performance she was a little nervous about leaving Lijah for long, with nap time approaching, but he continues to surprise: he played happily with the big kids the whole time, and didn't mind a bit about her being gone. And I was delighted to sit in the tent out of the blazing sun and watch him.
This time the well-earned dessert at the end of the outing was ice cream from Bedford Farms, but I was too sticky to try and take a picture. It turns out ice cream is pretty melty in this hot weather! Harvey and Zion each almost finished a kiddie cone, which is really something—Zion actually ate more of his. Lijah isn't quite there yet, and he was still happy to share with me... but the way he's going I guess pretty soon he'll be ready for his own cone too!
I'm maybe starting to figure out this sourdough bread business. At least, I've settled on a process that accomplishes three key goals: it keeps the starter alive, doesn't take too much time or effort, and turns out acceptable bread.
For me, one key is not keeping the starter in the refrigerator. When I did that I could never manage the long-term scheduling required to get it out, let it warm up, feed it, and then make the bread—with all the steps that requires. It's a two-day process, minimum, and at my current stage in life that is very much beyond me. So my starter lives on the counter, where I feed it every morning with a quarter cup of water and half a cup of all purpose flour (which we buy in bulk).
When I want to make bread, I start the night before by scooping a cup of starter into a separate container and feeding it (as above) before I go to bed. Then in the morning I put all that starter into the stand mixer bowl together with 3/4 cup of water, a half tablespoon of kosher salt, and about two-and-a-half cups of bread flour. I let it mix all up with the dough hook for 20 minutes or so while I do other things (trying to remember to check to make sure it's not too wet, in which case I want to add more flour). If it's dry I knead the dough for a couple minutes by hand—if it's wet enough the machine does fine—and then I form it into a ball and leave it in a glass bowl, covered with a wet cloth.
There it stays until it's doubled in size or I get back from the day's outing or I get bored of looking at the bowl. I "punch it down" and let it rest for ten minutes, then I shape it amateurishly into a ball or, less frequently, a baguette, and leave it to proof on a heavy aluminum baking sheet greased with butter. Usually it can proof uncovered, in this summer weather at least—but if the day seems particularly dry I'll cover it with a wet cloth for at least the beginning of the proofing.
When it seems to be pretty well risen I preheat the over to 500 degrees, with a beat-up old metal 9x13 pan on the bottom rack. After 15 or 20 minutes of preheating I slash the loaf (as seen above), pour a couple cups of boiling water into the hot pan for steam, and bake for 25 minutes to half an hour. When the bread smells like bread and sounds hollow when I tap on the bottom, it's done.
Clearly, this is not the most precise of methods, and I have no doubt it's far from making the perfect loaf. But I don't care about perfect—when I worry about perfect I get paralyzed and don't make anything. Acceptable is better than nothing! There are two more pertinent problems. First, having the over on for close to an hour isn't really ideal in the summer. At least it tends to be in the evening, when it's cooler outside than in the house anyways—with windows open and fans on we don't notice the oven's heat so much.
Second, not refrigerating the starter means I have to make bread an awful lot; sometimes more often than we can manage to eat it. So I'm trying to give it away. Let me know if you'd like to try a loaf, or take some starter so you can try your hand at it yourself! If I can figure out how to make adequate bread in my spare time, I'm sure you can do even better.
It's been really hot here the last couple days: hot enough to take over our lives—our entire theory of existence. But we put the air conditioner up in the bedroom (to make napping possible) and I figured out how to open most of the stuck windows, so I think we're going to pull through. I got to the windows this morning when I went downstairs to discover it was maybe ten degrees warmer inside the house than outside—too much to fix with the doors open before the sun got up and the outdoor temperature raced back up again. So the house was warmish today, and we didn't know what we were going to do with ourselves all day; until the boys solved our dilemma by coming down with a debilitating fever. Then they were happy to lie on the couch with the fan on them and alternate between sleeping and watching movies!
Two of them, anyways; Lijah has escaped so far, so he spent his time at home jumping on his brothers, messing with the iPad, and putting the vomit bucket on his head as a helmet. To defend them he got to go on errands with Mama and Dada, and enjoy AC and samples at stores as diverse as Whole Foods and Costco (no points for guessing which outing goes with which parent). Here's a picture of Zion sleeping on the floor this morning; he dropped there on the way to the breakfast table for pancakes, and if Lijah hadn't sat on him he probably would have been there all day. As it was he transitioned to the couch where he stayed all day—until maybe 7:00 when he got up to have a pancake at long last.
By that time the heat had broken (after a terrific windstorm with only a little rain). Yesterday it never broke at all: terrible hot well after dark. And we were all healthy, though less raring to go than we would have been in more temperate conditions. Though in retrospect, maybe the early warning signs were there. We certainly took very well to the news that it was, apparently, National Hammock Day.
Just the thing when the heat index is over 100°.
I have no problem with it being hot in the summer. It's to be expected. And I think with the AC and the windows (and the hammock!) we're all set for a couple more days of this craziness—all set, that is, as long as the other three of us don't get sick!
We're not doing our day camp this year, which is both a relief and a disappointment to all concerned. Since we miss a lot about the things we did the last two summers, it was nice to get together last week to reprise the fun with a slightly more manageable crowd.
Well, I say reprise; but with fewer kids—and each of them a year older—we actually blew any of our previous camp adventures out of the water with a cycling trip down the Reformatory Branch Trail to Concord to visit some of the historic sights. I figured it would be a tough ride for the kids (though I knew it was possible, since Harvey rode it a couple weeks ago)—but as it happened they just about rode away from Bridget, Leah, and I! We were plenty hot and winded by the end... though in our defense, we were all carrying the weight of at least one other human. Zion very much enjoyed the ride.
The Old North Bridge is always a nice stop on an outing—there's the history and the water and lots of space to run around.
And room to chill and relax with friends too.
Actually, we didn't plan for the day to be like a summer camp adventure; we barely planned it at all. Nathan was the first one to point out how much it felt like "Camp Archibald", and then we all went with it.
Since the kids rode so well on the way out we took a longer route home, with stops to check out an old cemetery (oldest grave we found, 1726) and Louisa May Alcott's childhood home (where we worked really hard to learn the maypole dance). They weren't unstoppable though—when I offered the choice between yet more distant adventures and a shorter way home, most of them definitively chose the latter. Zion and Eliot's votes to the contrary didn't count. The revised route—for 11 1/2 miles in total—led through some agriculture.
To be as much like camp as possible, we ended our adventure by turning on the sprinkler (also because it was super hot). But there were only two takers among the kids—without twice a week camp they don't get to see each other enough, so they wanted to use all the time they did have at home doing important things like building with legos! The adults went in the sprinkler, though; we can cool down and talk at the same time.
It was fun; we'll have to do it again soon!
Summer is tough. There's the late nights and early mornings, lots of work to do outside, and all that pressure to have fun every day! It takes a toll in the best of times, and over the last week-plus we added some sickness (and Lijah came down with the disease the beginning of this past week) and then Harvey's big oral surgery to take out the extra teeth that were coming in through the roof of his mouth. So most of this week was kind of a blur: as the days drifted by there were many moments when I had no idea what time it was or what I was supposed to be doing. But we're all healthy now; it's time to get some sleep and hit the ground running for another week!
I told you I would get these moments and images from the past week posted; here they are!