We missed out on visiting Old Frog Pond Farm last year during the month it was open, which was disappointing after how much we enjoyed it the year previous. So I was happy to be able to schedule a visit this past Friday, a day when all five of us were available to take in some art and some beautiful fall weather.
There were lots of new pieces to marvel at, but the first things we noticed were old favorites: the "porcupine egg" and the teapot, now floating in a rowboat with a chickenwire figure emerging from under its lid. Delightful! It was also delightful to pull up to the farm and see the "Open" sign flying despite the complete absence of anybody there to, say, take our money or show us where to go. I like that kind of trust in an establishment.
The boys were big fans of a very realistic late-dinosaur-slash-early-bird, maybe six feet tall and made almost entirely of natural materials, but Leah and I were very taken by an installation back in the woods called "Tales from the Fells". It was centered on a sort of mossy troll figure with giant thistle flower eyes, but there was so much going on beyond that. It was all so beautiful and natural that none of our photos of it look like anything at all, but you can trust we spent plenty of time taking it in. (You can see some photos from last year at the artist's site; but they give just a piece of the experience.)
Then there were more lighthearted interactive pieces, where we got to be the sculptures ourselves! Thanks to Harvey for the photo here.
As I said to Leah at the time, one of the best things about viewing sculpture is it makes you look at everything around you in a new light. We finished the walk ready to run home and dive into practicing some artistic creation of our own! But we needed lunch first. Luckily we're already good at that.
Old Frog Pond Farm is open for another week, if you want to check it out. I highly recommend it!
Day length changes quick this time of year! Just last week were celebrating the equinox, and still feeling pretty summery; now we find it's still pitch dark at six in the morning. That's tough! Unlike most everyone around us, though, we don't mind so much the earlier sunsets. As a family of morning people, we tend to be winding down after dinner—or even before dinner!—anyways, so it's nice when the sky agrees with us.
Unlike a lot of Americans, I don't object to winter to the point of Seasonal Affective Disorder or anything like that. We don't have it that bad here in New England—there's not a lot of talk about SAD in Spain, I don't think, despite their sharing a latitude with us. We just happen to have some darkness and some snow, and I guess that's enough to get folks down. If you ask me, though, we most of us are sleep deprived all the time; maybe the shortening days can be a helpful hint to get to bed a little earlier! I imagine how cozy things must have been before electric lights and capitalism, when at midwinter there was nothing to do but sleep or sit around telling stories. Assuming you weren't starving to death, of course—first-world modernity does have some benefits.
I think the real problem people have with SAD may be because they have to work indoors all day. It's super hard to get up in the dark to go in to work, sit all day under florescent lights, and then come home in the dark. The natural world is telling them to go to bed, but that would mean a day of doing nothing but meaningless alienated labor. Like in this AskMe question. But if you ask me the answer isn't to stay up late and wake up with the help of fancy light alarms, it's to quit your job and become a hobo who sleeps and rises with the natural rhythm of the sun. Though I understand that doesn't work for everyone.
Ahem. All that is to say, I certainly agree that dark mornings make it much harder to wake up. I'm so glad we live on the eastern edge of our time zone! And I'm one of the few people to welcome the arrival of standard time, when it finally rolls around after Halloween. Until they get rid of entirely, which I imagine is only a matter of time. Oh well, by then I'll be a hobo myself so it won't bother me at all.
So I haven't written anything about our apple trees since last time, but I should have: they lived up to the promise of those blooms and produced an impressive crop. Impressive for us, anyway, since except for the crab apples it's the first time we've gotten any fruit off of any of our many fruit trees. This year we ate countless Macintoshes, five Golden Russets, four Moonglow pears, and the one precious Honeycrisp apple, watched carefully over long months of ripening, and finally picked last Tuesday (as pictured in this post). All those trees are done, but the Northern Spies are just now coming into their own.
Back in the end of September I picked that pile—the ripest ones I could find—to make a pie. Because that's what Northern Spies are for, I'm told; that's the reason I planted the tree. How good are they? I had to find out!
Very good, it turns out. They made a pie with plenty of juice, but with each apple slice still entirely distinct and firm. Impressive and delicious. Of course, it was also the first time I ever made a pie with apples picked less than an hour before, so maybe that has something to do with the good results too. Either way, I'll take it!
I'd also love to take credit for our bumper crop of fruit this year, but I probably shouldn't... apples are doing great all over this year. What I can take credit for is properly using the ones we have. All over town I see trees laden with unpicked fruit, surrounded with drops. Sure, they might not be the tastiest apples for eating out of hand, but they can at least be applesauce or jelly! Or even cider... what if we could have a shared community cider press?!
We're leading the way in full utilization of the Malus family by even using our crab apples, to make the jelly so beloved of our middle child especially. We didn't get any last year because of the late freeze, so it was gratifying last week to be able to pick a couple gallons. Of course, now I need to find the time to actually make the jelly!
Of course, if you ask the kids apples are really just for eating. I was excited to pick those finally-almost-ripe Northern Spies for the pie the other day, but we've actually been getting apples off that tree for a while because Lijah, notably, much prefers "a green not-ripe apple from the tree!". The Macs were all ripe by mid-September, so he had to move on. Northern Spies now. They're so big, he gets plenty of enjoyment out of each one. We do like our apple days.
Last week we picked lots of crab apples. Then on Monday Harvey and picked them over to get rid of the yucky ones, and then I washed them and pulled the stems out, and after the boys were in bed I put them in a big pot with some water to start cooking them into crab apple jelly. It was exciting, since we didn't have any crab apples last year, and the boys really like the jelly. But I shouldn't have started the cooking late at night, because I didn't give the pot my full attention, the water boiled away, and the apples burned. All ruined. I've had plenty of thoughts about why it happened—things I did wrong, and unexpected characteristics of the apples—but that's not important. What's important was how much it felt like a crushing failure. As tired as I was—if I hadn't been tired I would have done a better job!—I couldn't go to sleep: my mind kept running over this failure, other failures... the notion that everything I ever try and do is a failure. You know, things like that.
But then not all failures are as crushing. My Monday morning baking of sourdough was much too slack to rise properly—instead it just spread out all over the sheet pan. Since I wasn't baking for any particular purpose I just glanced at it from time to time and passively wondered what I'd do with the disaster. Throw it away? Try and reshape the dough into a couple of pizzas? Just bake it anyway? Then the correct answer occurred to me: focaccia. All it took was a little oil and some rosemary, red onion, parmesan, and salt, and I turned a failure into a gourmet treat!
Sadly, the crab apples—the second failure of the evening—weren't so easily twisted into something positive. The best I could do with them was the compost bin. It's not nothing, but it's pretty far from a year of delicious jelly, and enough to give away too. It was seriously a blow, one that I'm still feeling pretty down about. I think I need more sleep.
Summer weather is hanging on yet, and I'm still mowing the lawn. And I'm delighted to report that, true to hopes expressed back in April, we're still going strong with the old push reel mower. Not only has it done a fine job with the grass all summer, it seems to be doing better and better every time I mow.
I have no real idea why that might be. But I have two theories. First, I do think that the mower sharpens itself—the way the blades scrape against the cutter bar seems to at least wear them into a finer point. Second, I think the grass is growing better this year—more tender and easier to cut—than ever before. Obviously there are a lot of factors in play—the weather surely plays a part—but I'd bet that at least part of the improvement is due to the mower. The way the blades work is a scissor-like action, rather than the high speed sword-like force of a power mower, and each blade of grass gets cut much more cleanly. I'm sure that's healthier for the plants, and lets them start growing again quickly and more evenly.
Or I could just be making it all up. Maybe next year the lawn will prove impossible without a power mower and I'll have to take it all back. But for now, at least, I have some advice for anyone considering a push real mower: keep at it! Don't do what I did, and give up when at first your brand-new mower doesn't work perfectly. It'll get better! Just look at the picture heading this post—have you ever seen more inviting grass? Free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and, now, free of gasoline residue too. Perfect for lying down on... as long as it stays warm.
Last weekend—I mean, the one before last—was the Honk Festival in Somerville. As promised after last year, I didn't try and take the boys to the Saturday part of the affair, and that was a great decision. Operating alone, I was able to bike the whole way there after lunch and fully enjoy several hours of wonderful loud music and anarchist culture.
I managed to take in two whole hour-long sets: the Party Band, who were the best, and What Cheer Marching Band, who were the unremittingly loudest. Also 45 minutes of New Creations Brass Band, 15 of Emperor Norton's, and assorted fleeting moments of other groups. And when the music was good I was dancing the whole time—except when I needed to take breaks due to exhaustion or to give my bleeding ears a break.
Then I made the long ride home in the dark. All that anarchism and band music put me in a great mood to begin with, and it was only improved by a perfect ride: from just beyond Davis Square all the way to our front walk without so much as a toe touching the ground. I was so delighted I removed all restrictions on the boys' screen time at the neighbors' house; the kids can make their own good decisions, man!
Then on Sunday torrential rain beginning at 9:30 made the noon parade look a little doubtful, but things cleared up wonderfully at about twenty of, so all five of us made the short drive from church towards Harvard Square, where we set up camp at the Kemp Playground to wait for the music. And it was well worth the wait!
Besides the bands, the kids loved the stilts, the puppets, and the bicycles... and there was even one group handing out candy! (And really handing it out, not tossing it to the ravening crowds like at Bedford Day; it was a lovely experience of personal connection.) Even better than candy, one group of marchers was even distributing free hot dogs to the parade audience, complete with ketchup and mustard to order! Let's hear it for music and anarchy.