posts tagged with 'summer'

climate control?

It is possible for our house to stay cool on hot summer days. Or coolish, at least: cooler than outside, enough to make the children disinclined to get off the couch when it's steamy outside. Without air conditioning, that seems like a win. Of course, if takes a little action on our part. We need to have the right windows open at night, with the fans going—that's easy enough. First thing when we get up we need to open the doors to bring in that lovely early-morning air, the coolest of the day. Then—and this is the hard part—we have to close up the house at the right time. The windows and door facing east are easy: as soon as the sun is above the trees we can feel the heat pouring in that side of the house, so the curtains there make an immediate perceptible difference. But often, even as the air outside gets warmer and warmer, it's hard to close the other windows because we don't want to lose the breeze. If we don't, often by 3:00 it's clear we've made the wrong choice.

That's what happened yesterday. We were tricked by the misty overcast, and distracted by the forecast afternoon thunderstorms, and we left everything open all day. It wasn't super hot, but it was humid, and before long the mist burned off and the sun started burning in... and the house sure heated up. Worse, while we heard some distant thunder the five minutes of light rain that fell didn't do much to change the outside temperature.

We'll try again today, and since the forecast calls for sun and heat we'll be more focused on the job. It only got down to about 70° overnight, so that's our starting point. We'll close up the house after 8:00, and see how we do!

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celebrating midsummer

Since Harvey's birthday took up the solstice proper, we've had to celebrate midsummer across some other days too. Thursday was beautifully summery. We took a family woods outing.

Harvey and Zion eating lunch by a stream

real summer lunch

With a goal of finding a place with water, not too many people, and a relaxed policy on off-leash dogs, we header to the Hapgood Wright Town Forest in Concord (or Fairlyland Pond forest, as we call it!). It was a good choice—because it meets all those criteria and because it was beautifully cool and shady on a hot day.

Harvey walking up a woods path, Elijah and the dogs a bit ahead

deep cool woods

Well, most of it was cool and shady. We also explored a section that had been cleared or burned, and was a little meadow and a lot of quickly recovering forest. Concord folks had adorned the trails there with Thoreau quotes about new-grown woods on pieces of stone stuck into the ground, and a charming granite monument to Dr Seuss's The Lorax.

Lijah sitting on a Lorax monument, the dogs looking up at him

remembering the Lorax

Fairyland Pond itself is easily accessible from the main trailhead, but we took the long way around so we would get to it and lunch time, and properly hot and tired. Many of us were happy to take to the water.

Harvey and Zion out in the pond with Blue, Scout watching from the shore

pond days

Not Scout, though! You'll notice there that he isn't sure about water yet, which lets Blue tease him unmercifully by running back and forth along the shore just deep enough to be out of reach. For his part, Blue went all the way underwater for the first time—and then the second, third, and a great many more. He was the most enthusiastic about the pond and stream by a little bit; Zion probably came in second.

Zion splashing more than waist deep in the pond

splash!

It was wonderfully summery. And then in the evening we topped off the day with a socially distant ice cream social with friends. For them it was a celebration of the last day of school; that doesn't apply to us, but summer by itself is plenty to celebrate!

Elijah licking a chocolate ice cream cone

yum.

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night soak

It got hot today, so of course after a day filled with hiking and cycling and running I decided to make jam. Because it would have been too easy to do it five days ago when it was practically below freezing in the mornings. Leah managed to take a shower before supper, but I didn't. And I still didn't before I finished the jam at quarter past nine. What a pain to have to shower that late, with everyone else in the house asleep. Then I remembered that we have a pool now! It's six by ten feet, inflatable, and cost us $25. We got it on Sunday and I'd never been in it. The boys filled it icy cold yesterday, but after a day of sun it was cool and comfortable when I went out into the dark yard to test it. So instead of showering, I lay back in a foot of water and looked at the stars as I felt all the heat drift out of my body. I highly recommend it. I only wish we didn't live cheek-by-jowl with our neighbors here in the suburbs; I was a little embarrassed to think that someone might notice my nocturnal soak. Never mind. It was worth it.

summer show

Friday saw the first real summery weather of the year, and it ended with a summery thunderstorm. It was just getting started at bedtime with far-away rumblings; since I didn't want to miss the show I stayed up a little late. After everyone else was tucked in I went out to the garden to see the distant lightning away to the north, and it was as good as a fireworks display: some of the flashes were high and sharp, others low to the horizon, long-lasting, and flickering. It was all far enough away that the thunder was just a low background. But before too long I noticed clouds scudding overhead, and the wind started picking up. There were were just one or two closer thunderclaps before a light mist started falling and then, all of a sudden, the big drops. I was maybe thirty feet from the back door, but by the time I reached it I was as soaked as if I'd jumped in a pond. That was fine: I needed a shower anyway! I took off most of my clothes and went back out long enough to feel properly scrubbed—as long as I could, actually, before I died of hypothermia.

Back inside I dried off, closed the windows where the rain was pouring sideways into the house, and watched more of the show. The sheets of rain under the streetlight, swirling back and forth, were very satisfying. But there's a limit to how long I can stay up in the dark house, so I went to bed and fell asleep to the sound of the downpour and the last grumbles of the thunder.

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fall regrets

Our maple tree gets color late in the fall; late and underwhelming. (Why couldn't the previous owners have put in a sugar maple in the middle of the lawn instead of a Norway maple?) As I look out the window now, though, it's browning leaves are colored orange by the rising sun and it looks as good as it's ever going to. Properly fall-like.

The waning days of the fall make me think of the failures of this past summer, yard-wise. One, we didn't use the hammock nearly as much as we should have. I always want to make sure it's put away when it's going to be wet out, and too often I was late putting it up again so fine days went by without anyone being able to use it. Worse, towards the second half of the summer I "temporarily" took apart the hammock stand to mow the lawn... and it never got put back together. Tragedy!

And speaking of mowing. Remember how last year I talked big about using the push reel mower all summer? Well, in the fall I got a working power mower so I could chop up leaves, then in the spring I thought I'd use it for the first pass over the fast-growing grass. That was it, the push mower never made it out of the shed all summer. The good news is the lawn is still in good shape—delightfully green. I was telling a friend the other day, "it's mostly weeds, but they're all perennial weeds so they hold their color!" But I did feel pretty guilty every time I started up that gasoline engine. Using a power mower is habit-forming, I think; you get used to those straight, even rows of cut grass and it's hard to go back to the more naturalistic effect produced by the push reel mower.

Oh well. At least we had many lovely adventures, and got to travel more than ever before, and spent lots of time swimming. Now we're looking forward to winter fun. And next summer will be perfect!

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we beat the heat

It was super hot here Friday and over the weekend. Hot enough that it was all over the news, with heat warnings and cancellations and everything. The official word was that it was dangerous to be without air conditioning, so those of us who don't have were directed to visit the mall to seek relief—and, presumably, to pick an AC unit from Sears or whatever. I'm on the record pooh-poohing similar panic around extreme cold weather, and while I don't know that I've written about it I've certainly talked about how I don't care for the heat, as a general thing. And you can bet we don't have AC. But I want to say, it wasn't that bad. I don't even think it topped 100°F.

Sure, there was some humidity. Sure, it was probably close to 100°F inside our house by Sunday afternoon. It wasn't really enjoyable. But sitting in front of the fan, or outside in the shade, was totally fine. And by this morning it was already much cooler; in fact, I needed to get up in the middle of the night to get the comforter off the floor since I was getting chilly. Right now it's 66° in Bedford and raining, and tomorrow's high is forecast at 68°. I think we survived it. And now I'm looking forward to the kids complaining about being cold tomorrow morning!

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screen time

I've mentioned before about the lack of screens at our house; it remains a problem. On the one hand, we have more windows that can open downstairs—in fact, all but one of them can now!—but no more screens. Less, in fact, since Leah took the screens out of the kitchen window to improve the dishwashing view. And upstairs we've lost a couple to breakage. So as always there's a balancing act between cool air and bugs. A couple big flies are entertaining me with acrobatics as I type this. But it's not too bad: we've got some good fans upstairs, one of them with a built in fan, and we get the house cool enough overnight that the littler boys want to cuddle in blankets when they come down in the morning. Still, I think it's time to get the screens back on the kitchen windows.

midsummer

We don't celebrate the summer solstice as much as we do some other astronomical moments, because Harvey's birthday is at the same time. But we're totally enjoying this midsummer thing nevertheless. The best part is of course all the evening light—so much to play outside for a couple hours after supper. The strawberries are good too. I'm hoping to get the jam done tomorrow. One disappointing thing though: today was the first weekday of summer vacation for the schoolkids here in town, and our boys were really looking forward to playing with their friends all day. But none of them were around—two families on vacation already, and one all jammed up with activities. We didn't do any activities; just read books, rode bikes, weeded, and went to the library.

No, that's not quite true... there was a little more than that. Last summer our complete formlessness was a little trying at times, so I'm trying to hold on to a bit of a schedule even as the weather calls us to wild outdoor adventures (and to lying around on the hammock...). After breakfast we spent some time thinking about how stories are structured, and then Harvey and Zion did some writing/dictating of their own accounts of playing in the rain yesterday. It was fun, and it made the rest of the delightfully relaxing day all the sweeter. A good start to the season; let's keep it going tomorrow!

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summertime at 40

On my commute I pass by the DCR pool in North Cambridge, a lovely free community pool of off Rindge Ave. Lovely for a brief, fleeting moment of the year, that is—because in Massachusetts they open the outdoor pools in mid-June and close them again at the end of August. And to me, this summer, that time went by impossibly fast.

Of course, when I stop to think about it I did a lot of different things this summer. And Lijah is much more mature now than he was back when he first decided the coming of warm weather was no reason not to wear fleece pants every day (in many ways; he's still rocking the pants). But even as I intellectually appreciate the passage of time as marked in those ways, this summer felt like just a blink.

Maybe it's because we hardly went to the pond at all. It was hardly hot, and the boys were always playing with friends so and resistant to going anywhere. I don't think we swam more than three or four times. Or it could be the terrible state of the garden—I've been mentally hurrying along to next year since mid-July. Or maybe it's just that I'm old now. Against 40 years, two and a half months isn't much. Oh well, that just means that winter will fly by too, and before I know it I'll be planting again. I'm sure the six-year-olds enjoyed the heck out of that pool; as for me I'll be thinking about seeds for next year.

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I think I can feel a little satisfied with myself

There's so much to do in the summer. With our sort of camp, I find myself with a house full of kids all day Monday and Tuesday, which is lovely—but it doesn't leave much time to take care of the house and yard. Still, I don't think I did too badly yesterday. Besides showing the kids—ours and the two visitors—a good time, I managed a little weeding, baked bread, made pickles, and made a cake. It helps that all five kids are wonderful human beings and interacted peacefully for the seven or eight hours they were together. They also made some money selling candy and cycled around 10 miles round trip, to and from the Farmers Market in Lexington. So they didn't do too badly either!

two quarts of pickles on the porch railing

pickles

The cake came out good too: just the thing to end our long busy day, served on our friends' back porch as it started to get dark (you see why all three boys are still sound asleep well after the sun came up this morning!). I made up the recipe; it's based on this chocolate cake, which I've made a few times and which revealed to me that buttermilk and baking powder are magic for making home-made cakes rise almost like ones from a mix. We have lots of blueberries—four of the five kids here yesterday helped pick them last week—so I decided on a blueberry variant.

blueberry cake in the front yard

the cake, pausing on the way to the car

Here's the recipe.

Blueberry Cake

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a bundt pan with plenty of butter. In a large bowl, combine

2 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4th tsp. salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

In the stand mixer, mix at medium speed

3/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar

Increase speed to high and beat for five minutes, until pale and fluffy. Add one at a time, beating at medium speed after each one

3 large eggs

At medium speed beat in

2 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of one lemon

Mixing at low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts alternating with two parts of

1 1/2 c. buttermilk

Fold in

1 1/2 c. blueberries

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes.

For the glaze, combine in a medium bowl

1/3 c. melted butter
2 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Whisk until smooth and pour slowly over the cake, letting a layer dry before adding more on top (I didn't have time to maage that last part between getting back from the farmer's market and leaving for dinner at our friends' house... my one failure in an otherwise pretty successful day!).

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