Apple Picking and the Start of a Tradition

When I was little, one of the key indicators that fall had arrived was going apple picking. Chapin Orchard was a couple towns over, and we'd visit the animals, take a hayride, and of course...pick apples. I don't actually remember what we did with the apples we picked, but they definitely all got eaten one way or another!

By the time I got to college, the yearly outing was treasured enough (and similarly loved by friends) that we made it a priority to go to a nearby orchard in the fall to continue the tradition despite being away from home. We added on apple cider donuts to the animal visiting, hayride, and apple picking, and that became as important as the other aspects. Perhaps more so, if I'm being honest!

I don't know if I really thought about it as a tradition until lately though. But this year, with a tiny human with whom we'd like to establish some annual traditions, it suddenly felt more important. So when my friend Meghanne suggested apple picking with our respective families, the idea was irresistible. 

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So we loaded up our babies and met at the farm, and headed out to the orchard to gather our apples. 

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Elise is still a little too small to get excited about the picking process at this point, but she did enjoy spending time in the wrap while Chaz and I did all the gathering work!

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We stopped picking long enough to take a few family pictures, which is great since I have precious few photos of all three of us together. I mean, 99% of the pictures I take these days are of Elise and Elise alone, so it's nice to mix it up every once in awhile. 

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We got some good ones of Meghanne's family as well! 

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We each gathered a half a bushel of Cortland and Red Delicious apples, making sure to only grab the good ones. That turned out to be harder than expected, because many of the apples looked like they'd been afflicted with some sort of apple-y disease, but we managed to find some spot-free ones without too much trouble. Several of the good ones were high up, so Meghanne and I stood back and let the taller ones among us grab those. 

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And before we left the orchard area, we made sure to get a group photo, because it didn't happen if it wasn't documented, right? Right.

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As we walked back to the farm center, we found one of those...cut out things where you can poke your head through a hole. I'm sure there's a name for those, but I'm not educated enough to know what it is. So Wooden Hole Thing is the official term for now. Obviously, more pictures were in order, because when a Wooden Hole Thing is available and babies are present, such an opportunity should not be missed. Behold, a series of photos: 

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Elise wasn't too sure about it. 

Elise wasn't too sure about it. 

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All the modeling tired Elise out, I suppose, since she cuddled right up and proceeded to fall asleep. 

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We ended our adventure with apple cider donuts, since we had already established that the donuts were the secondary goal of apple picking. This farm did not disappoint - I'm pretty sure they were the best apple cider donuts I've ever had, and I've eaten quite a few in my day. 

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In short, we had a grand old time. Elise definitely won't be old enough to remember this trip, but it's something I hope to repeat year after year so that we can start establishing traditions of our own. 

I love fall - I mean really, who doesn't - but it isn't just because of the pretty colors on the trees, the crispness in the air, or the sumptuous food that ends up on our tables with the change of season. Instead, it's the gathering in, to pull an idea from The Lifegiving Home (frequently mentioned here of late). I love the feeling of the pull homeward, the desire for warmth and stocking up, preparing for winter, and making things cozy. And so I made 11 jars of applesauce with our apples while Elise slept this afternoon. I took a little break when she cried a bit in her sleep, taking more time than usual to snuggle with her and breathe in her freshly-bathed baby smell before settling her back in her crib to snooze the afternoon away. Gathering in doesn't just have to be about stocking a home pantry. I gathered Elise in my arms, knowing that she won't be small enough to gather this way forever. I gathered memories of our apple adventure, storing them away for years to come. We're slowly gathering traditions throughout Elise's first year, hopefully giving her an anchor in life as she grows.

We're already planning on doing an apple picking trip next year, because traditions are important. They gives us the peculiar opportunity to gather both memories and hopes all at once. 

Project Days

We were so excited on Friday because we had a weekend where nothing was going on, for the most part. Every once in awhile, that's a much needed thing, I think, as it gives you a chance to catch up on sleep and cooking and all the other things you've put to the side. Say...cleaning the house. We knocked that one out first on Saturday morning.

Since we had so much left over time, the rest of the weekend sort of morphed into a weekend for building things. First, I put together the headboard and bed frame for our guest room, which means that if you come to visit us, you no longer have to sleep on either a twin sized bed or an air mattress!

Next, we hung up a picture that had been sitting in our office for months, just waiting for us to nail a little hole in the wall. This particular item should have been hung much, much earlier, considering it took us a total of five minutes to do it on Saturday.

It was a wedding gift from our friends - it's a painting by their uncle of the spot where we got engaged! 

After that, I decided to try to make monkey bread. We had gone to the store before looking at the recipe and got ourselves some Pillsbury crescent rolls. Those are delicious, but they aren't the right sort of Pillsbury product needed for monkey bread. Nevertheless, I attempted. The pre-baked version looked promising.

It smelled amazing while it was baking, but when we tried to take it out of the pan, all of the pieces just sort of fell apart. They're still delicious, but you can't really call it monkey bread. We dubbed them Joy Nuggets.

Then on Saturday evening, I decided to get started on a project we'd been thinking about for awhile: building a wine rack. We still have leftover wine from our wedding over a year ago, and right now it's sitting in a giant cooler that doesn't look aesthetically pleasing just hanging out in our basement. Thus, a wine rack. I'm following these instructions. It took me two trips to Home Depot to get all the stuff, and I realized at the end of the day yesterday that I actually need one more board, so that's going to make it three. 

I then spent all afternoon on Sunday cutting up pieces of wood. I hadn't used a circular saw since probably 7th grade Tech Ed class. Thrilling.

Chaz did some of the initial cuts to make sure the saw was working and to sort of figure it out, and then I took over and did the rest.

It's not done yet, so this is sort of a home-improvement cliff hanger. I'm sure you're just dying to read about my finished product, right? 

Ha.

This post is brought to you by Tell-Don't-Show Writing, Inc. I'll do better tomorrow. It's Monday, after all...what could you expect?

A Wedding

I wasted nearly all of my available blogging time this morning reading through the ancient blog. For the most part if just confirmed that I went through a weird emo period after my senior year - all the posts became very short and were apparently focused on random things I found on the internet. Even I got bored, and past-me was the one writing it. My apologies, former blog readers.

Nevertheless, I did find some good material. Namely, I found a couple of pictures of me and Heidi (who got married last weekend) as little kids.

Those were the beautiful days full of everything that childhood should be full of. 

Heidi and I sort of fell out of contact sometime in middle school. I'm honestly not sure what happened, but I have wished ever since that I had had the presence of mind as a middle schooler to run after the good things in my life with purpose, because not doing so was a mistake. Nevetheless, we got back in touch a little bit in college, and that was wonderful. An then last weekend, she got married. 

It was the most perfect of fall days in Vermont. 

Almost cloudless, with just the right amount of chill in the air, with enough sunlight to keep everyone comfortable. The leaves were far more vibrant than the picture above would indicate. 

Heidi was beautiful, the ceremony was perfect, and everyone present was overjoyed to witness it. Phil is a lucky man.

After the ceremony we all headed down the hill to the tent for the reception. Everyone had brought food to share, which I thought was exactly the way a wedding should be. It's a celebration of a sacred event with the gathering and support of family and friends, and because it was so laid back, that's what we were all able to focus on. 

The afternoon finished with cake and toasts, as all weddings do. Such an event was a beautiful culmination of the years of childhood and growth that I'd had the privilege of witnessing growing up, and it was an honor to be present.

And so, to Heidi and Phil, I wish you the very best. May God bless your marriage through all the many years to come!

The Hike

Well, the wedding was about as glorious as could be expected. The weather completely cooperated - picture the perfect Vermont fall day, and you have it exactly right. Perfectly clear blue sky, vibrant leaves, crisp air, you name it, and it was there. I will recap it in the near future, but it won't be today! Instead, I'm going to reverse the order and talk about Sunday first.

We were heathens. We skipped church. But I might argue that once in a great while, spending your Sunday morning out in nature is just a little bit like church. 

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Since we were on a bit of a limited time budget, we decided to spend time outside with the family. Christopher, the only remaining child at home, will no longer be at home as of Wednesday as he's flying out to California to spend 10 months working with AmeriCorps. That, combined with the fact that we were visiting, gave us the perfect excuse to go for a hike and soak in the extraordinary beauty that is Vermont in the fall. 

And thus we found ourselves on our way to Sterling Pond on Sunday, following an attempt to eat breakfast that had us stop at three different places before getting a seat. Leaf peepers...they're the worst.

This particular trail leads the average-paced hiker on a 45-minute trek uphill to a pond, and if you tack on an extra five minutes you can get to the top of a ski trail with an amazing view. (We did both.) The first 10 minutes of the hike are essentially stone steps, and it is hilarious to people-watch. As my dad said, "Well...you can tell just at a glance who's going to make it to the top and who isn't!" We passed:

  • A girl wearing sparkly Ugg boots
  • A girl wearing ankle boots, a dress coat, and a scarf
  • A guy going barefoot
  • The real hikers

We can't really judge as we weren't really fully prepared either, but we at least had reasonable footwear. And I guess you can't really tell for sure, because the barefoot guy was actually heading down instead of up.

After a spell, we made it to the pond.

Despite the seeming calm of the picture, the place was actually a bit crowded, so we didn't stay there long. However, it's worth noting that a girl wearing leather riding boots had made it that far. Mad props, riding boot girl. Continuing on the extra five minutes, we made it to the top.

I call this picture "The Hair-Do, the Lack of Muscles, and Usain Bolt."

I call this picture "The Hair-Do, the Lack of Muscles, and Usain Bolt."

Behold. Pictures from the peak. 

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I expect to see this picture on my parents' Christmas card this year. #photocredits.

I expect to see this picture on my parents' Christmas card this year. #photocredits.

After having our fill of both clambering over ski lift equipment and munching some Swedish Fish I'd squirreled into my bag, we turned around and headed home.

All in all, I think it was a fitting parting adventure. On the way back to Massachusetts that evening I thought about Vermont and how lucky I was to grow up there. Being surrounded by that much beauty all the time can't help but encourage folks to get outside and explore, and having a strongly instilled longing for exploration is not a bad thing to claim as my own. I miss living there. MA does have a lot to offer in terms of pre-built attractions - I'll give it that much - but the ever-present sense of wildness at your doorstep is something that can't exist in a place where the land is mostly flat and the houses are a little more squished together. 

We're back at home now (in MA), but thinking fondly of a place where breathtaking beauty is a part of everyday life.

What about second breakfast?!

Hobbits, they say, eat several large meals per day. While I am not a hobbit myself, I did try out their many-meals philosophy on Saturday. My friend Beth and I got breakfast after I dropped Chaz off at the airport. She lives just outside of the center of town in Beverly and it was a beautiful day, so we walked into town and went to our quasi-normal breakfast place of choice. As usual, the food was your average breakfast food: eggs, bacon (me) or sausage (Beth), home fries, and toast. 

I guess you could say there was nothing notable to mention there, but the food was good and like almost all New England breakfast places, the price was cheap! Side note: did you know that breakfast places are mostly an East Coast thing? Chaz at least says that they are, and he would know, being from Seattle! You can find breakfast on the West Coast, but it's normally more expensive. So there, West Coast! You can have your public beaches, big mountains, and more mild weather. WE have breakfast.

I digress.

Amidst the ingestion of our eggs + bacon + other assorted breakfast items, we talked about other breakfast places in the area. Specifically, a place called Waffle Hauzz (yes, with an A and two Zs) that served gloriously delicious waffles adorned with a number of toppings. It was irresistible. So we finished up our meal, paid our bill, and hightailed it a quarter mile down the road to get ourselves a waffle to share. 

The decor of the place is a bit...unusual. There are snowboards on the walls, which is hilariously out of place on the North Shore of Boston where there are zero mountains. Below the snowboards there's a picture of trees, a painting of a boat, and a poster with R2D2. If I were to throw out one word to describe it, the only thing that comes to mind is "eclectic."

Obviously, the decor is not the point of a restaurant. The point is the food. So since the great they declares that a picture is worth a thousand words, here's the picture:

Or in other words, you must have one of these waffles in your life. Immediately. We split ours, which was the perfect "breakfast dessert" finish to our earlier breakfast. And yes, I think I did gain 10 pounds that morning. WORTH IT. 

 

Siblings: the Key to your Inner Child

This weekend, two important things happened:

  1. Chaz left for India for an infernally long time. We left for the airport at 5:45 am on Saturday and he will return until 1:30 pm on September 30th. The level of detail included there was for no other purpose than to emphasize that it's a long time to have the queen-sized bed to myself figure out what to do with myself when he's not here.

  2. My family came to visit for the weekend during his absence, which gives me a chance to stop acting like a responsible adult.

Here's the fam's next album cover, pre-Photoshop:

I don't know how I managed to avoid getting my toes in that picture. Miracles DO happen, I say. 

During the course of their visit, I have done the following:

  1. Sung along with a Brahms symphony at top volume to prove that the melody was singable.
  2. Climbed a tree.
  3. Eaten far too much chocolate.
  4. Played dress-up in a store.
  5. Bought a bouncy ball out of those machines that you think hold not-so-buried treasure as a child.

Siblings bring out the weirdest side of you imaginable. It was glorious. And I know for a fact that we inspired a child, because a dad and his three-year-old were walking by as I cranked the magical wheel, and five seconds later she had her dad digging a quarter out of his pocket.

So if you ever feel like setting your burdens and cares aside for a few hours, call me up. I'll lend you either of my brothers, because as the oldest, I clearly own them. They'll teach you all sorts of useful things, like how to play video games until 4am and not fall asleep, or how to dress like a trendy pre-college fashion icon (key point: wear a "mid-thigh or higher skirt," according to the one pictured above). Due to their advice, I even became a world-class hipster for the duration of the three takes it took to get this photo to an acceptable state.

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If they really think you're cool, they might go so far as to dress up for you. At least one of them knows how to tie a bow tie.

I guarantee that they'll make your day. And heck...you might even find yourself smiling like a kid on Christmas morning while hoisting yourself into a tree.

Happy Monday, y'all.

The Tale of the Burning Stench

Last weekend, we had a few friends over on Saturday evening for dinner and some board games. When it's not the summer, we try to do that once a month or so, and last weekend marked the very first one after the summer craziness had mostly ended. It was also the first time that we were hosting it, since our prior apartment couldn't hold eight adults and four kids. I guess you could say it was a trial run for us and our house.

Side note: we do a thorough house-clean every two weeks on Saturday. We'll wake up Saturday morning, eat our cereal, put on some junky clothes, and clean. This Saturday morning happened to be a cleaning day, so we did exactly that, plus running the dishwasher and some weeding/Round-Up. It also should be mentioned that I mowed the lawn for the very first time in my life that day, but that doesn't play a part in this story. I'm just amazed that I got through 25.5 years without managing to do that. #brothers.

Eventually, we finished both the inside and outside work and collapsed on the couch momentarily before going to get ourselves cleaned up for the day. Carefully. We didn't want to get outside dirt/cleaning products/sweat on the couch. I was gearing myself up to launch myself off of the couch when I suddenly noticed something.

J: "Do you smell...burning?"

C: "Yeah...let's check the basement."

J: "No, it's stronger in the kitchen."

C: "Oh wait - is that the dishwasher??"

Sure enough, we opened the dishwasher and out poured a cloud of very likely toxic steam that I promptly inhaled. Sick. At the bottom of the dishwasher, right below the heating ring, was a puddle of black, dripping, disgusting goo that was giving off the most foul odor, which was now wafting into our nice clean house. Turns out, Nalgene water bottles are NOT INDESTRUCTIBLE. Or at least their plastic lids are entirely destructible when they make prolonged contact with hot metal heating rings. 

We scraped it up as best we could with a wooden spoon (that will never be the same, unfortunately) and let the dishwasher finish its work on the rest of the non-destroyed dishes, and I opened all the downstairs windows, figuring that the ungodly scent would dissipate in short order.

The leftover evidence - not what you want to have sitting in your dishwasher, but it will. not. come. off.

The leftover evidence - not what you want to have sitting in your dishwasher, but it will. not. come. off.

Afterward, we got ready for the day, and I ran a couple of errands in preparation of having people over that evening. But when I came back in through the door, the smell of burnt plastic hit me in the face as soon as I opened the door. No! I thought. This is NOT the way our house should smell on our trial game night! So I pulled out every candle I could find in the house and lit them all. 

About an hour later, Chaz looked up from his book, sniffed the air, and said, "You know...I think it's time to blow out the candles. We don't want it to smell like the Yankee Candle store in here." 

When people arrived that evening, no one commented on the smell, so it had either disappeared or they were just being nice. The smell really is gone now, but if you open the dishwasher, you may still catch faint traces of the stink. So a word to the wise: if you're having guests over, make sure to wash all of your plastic dishware at least a day before they arrive.

Homemade Ice Cream

About 3.5 years ago, Chaz gave me an ice cream maker for my birthday. In that time, I've probably only made ice cream three times. That all changed this weekend, because we hosted a game night and I was tired of making cookies, which is my usual go-to. 

Despite the fact that ice cream wasn't in my usual rotation of homemade desserts, I kept the bowl of my ice cream maker in the freezer at all times. Since it's always in there (and always has been in there since the earliest days of bachelorette-hood, when I didn't stock much food), I don't feel like I'm losing space in the freezer because of it. It's a mind trick though, because it totally takes up room. Nevertheless, it's totally going to stay there for the time being because there aren't many things worse than wanting to make homemade ice cream on a whim and then realizing you need to wait at least eight hours for the bowl to freeze. In addition, I don't have extra space in my kitchen to store the thing, so that may be the real reason.

Given that the bowl had been frozen for years, I really don't know why I haven't made more ice cream. It's as easy as pie! Easier, in fact. Pie isn't actually that easy. The ice cream base only has four ingredients!

  1. Heavy cream
  2. Eggs
  3. Sugar
  4. Milk

After that, you can decide what else you want to put in. I made two flavors: mint oreo and cookies and cream.

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I always pose with my ingredients before cooking...don't you?

FIrst, you whip the eggs until they're light and fluffy. Then you add your sugar, a little at a time, until it's fully mixed with the eggs. Next you add your cream and milk, and then after a bit more mixing, you dump it into your ice cream maker until it does its thing and produces delicious ice cream.

If you want to make a different flavor base, you'll need to mix that in before putting it into the ice cream maker. For mint, I just used peppermint extract, and for the cookies and cream, I used vanilla extract. 

As for the chunks, you'll want to wait until the ice cream is almost done before throwing those into your ice cream maker. If you put them in ahead of time, they'll just sink to the bottom and, though it wouldn't be nonredeemable, it would be less good.

Maybe your ice cream maker is magical, but mine can only get it to a soft-serve consistency. To make it more like "hard" ice cream, it's best to stick it in the freezer for awhile so that it can get as solid as ice cream you buy in the store. And there you have it - How to Make Ice Cream 101. And just because I'm from Vermont, I need to put in a plug for this ice cream recipe book:

It's $7.00 on Amazon, and you can't go wrong. It may just be the best $7.00 that you'll ever spend. Now go make some ice cream!

Polo Sans Marco

Despite having lived on the North Shore for 8+ years now, I had never made it to the local-ish polo country club. That all changed this past weekend when some friends put a group together and invited us along. I learned some things:

  1. Polo is a sport designed for the top 0.0001%. If you're able to afford the four to six horses you personally need to have in order to play the game, you are most likely managing a hedge fund in Boston during the work week. 
  2. Polo provided an excellent opportunity to throw the word "plebeians" around in normal conversation.
  3. Polo has given me an excuse to go find myself the perfect fascinator.

I couldn't tell you any of the rules, but the point of the game is that there are four players on each side who all try to hit the ball through two goal posts while on horseback. If you understand that much, watching polo is an enjoyable experience. 

Yes, Myopia Polo is the real name of the place, and yes, it was  named after nearsightedness .

Yes, Myopia Polo is the real name of the place, and yes, it was named after nearsightedness.

While the wise among us fit right in with the bourgeoisie throngs, SOME of us (who, me?) didn't even try and played papparazzi instead.

I'm secretly hoping that if I spend enough time around the polo fields, I'll learn the ways of the highest echelon of society so that I can learn how to be supremely classy like Kate Middleton, but for now I'm still the one eating ice cream while everyone else drinks chilled white wine.

Holy freckles.

Holy freckles.

This guy seems to have pulled off the classy vibe without even trying though, so maybe I can just learn from him.

Overall, I'd highly recommend going to see a match! It isn't free to drive and park, but someone among our group just walked in and didn't get charged. I'm not sure that's legal, but it's certainly possible. There were a number of kids present, and all of them really liked watching the horses, and because it's easy to tell when someone scores, it was fun for them to get into the sporting aspect of it as well. Games are at 3:00 on Sunday afternoons, and halfway through the event, you get to help the players out by stomping the divots back into the ground. It's either a fun community participation factor or free mass labor - your choice!

Fun blurry phone pic...hip hip hooray!

Fun blurry phone pic...hip hip hooray!

As a bonus, you get to hang out with folks like this guy:

But if you ask me, the horses are the stars of the show. Cheerio!

Tacos: a Guide

Compared to the rest of the more all-natural, holistic-living world, I was late to join the "#ohmygoodnesswholefoodsisthebestthingever" train. But when the granola gods saw fit to install one less than a mile from my office, I hopped on that train pretty quickly. Even if I was hopping on the caboose.

Almost everything about Whole Foods is good. The pros: tasty food. Close to work. Organic. Concerned about animal welfare. The cons: relatively expensive. The people who make tacos.

Let me elaborate a bit. The tacos are delicious, but I think the people on the line have never made tacos even once in their lives. I put forth this statement based on not one experience, but multiple, so you can be fully assured that it's an indisputable fact.

Note the lack of lettuce.

Note the lack of lettuce.

I hereby present you with the step by step guide that I presume WF team members use to instruct themselves on how to make tacos:

  1. Ask the customer if she wants soft or crunchy tacos.
  2. If crunchy tacos are desired, look puzzled, and then check for shells under counter.
  3. Make sure that only one crunchy taco shell is present.
  4. Go search every aisle in the store for 10 minutes to find a new box of taco shells. Make sure to only grab one box so that you'll be equally prepared for the next time a customer wants the same thing.
  5. Attempt to open the taco shell box and interior plastic wrapping with food gloves on for a full minute before using your knife.
  6. Ask how many tacos the customer desires.
  7. Take another full minute to remove the shells from the recently opened plastic wrapping.
  8. Ask the customer what kind of meat is desired.
  9. Proceed to stuff the taco shell with as much meat as will fit to make sure that there is absolutely no room for other toppings.
  10. Look extremely confused when the customer asks for more toppings.
  11. Attempt to force cheese and salsa to stay on top of stuffed taco for at least two minutes.
  12. Inform the customer that you don't have any lettuce in either the taco line or the sandwich line, and ask if she wants to substitute spinach or arugula.
  13. Attempt to put the lid on the to-go box by tipping the tacos on their sides. Carefully spill as many of the toppings as possible.
  14. Wish the customer a nice day, just to make her feel like the 20-minute wait for her three tacos was worth it while her husband stands by with his now-cold lunch.

So there you have it: how to make tacos according to Whole Foods in Lynnfield. Definitely pick some up next time you have a spare hour!

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