Thursday, August 27, 2009

First Day......

Right from the beginning, we always thought we would home school our kids. Zach was home schooled for part of elementary school and he loved it. Our idea has always been that our kids would probably spend some of their school years with us, and some going to school. I had actually thought we would have them stay home for elementary school and then revisit our options as they got older, and Kai had always been adamant that he wanted to stay home. And then we went to France, and, as much fun as he had there, he missed his friends and expressed a deep desire to go to Kindergarten. And really, who are we to deprive him of the magic of Kindergarten? I still remember so much from my year with Mrs. Soper, a woman so wonderful that all other teachers are judged by her glory. In fact, to this day she still remembers her students' names and many details of their lives, and whenever I run into her at the farmers market or the store I act like my 5 year-old self and throw myself into her arms for one of her fabulous hugs. She insists I call her by her first name, but I CAN NOT DO IT. She will always be Mrs. Soper to me.
Yesterday was Kai's first day of Kindergarten. He was nervous and excited and both of those emotions have been the talk of the house for the last week as we have been helping him process this important transition. Hilda went into his room yesterday morning as he was making his bed and overheard him quietly practicing saying his teacher's name.

"Excuse me, Mrs. Hammett?" and "Mrs. Hammett, I have a question."

This child will brake your heart with his absolute sweetness.

Our town has 1/2 day Kindergarten, and Kai has the afternoon session, so we went out to breakfast and to the store and in the process ran into half the town coming back from dropping off their morning session kids or their 1st graders. There was lots of talk of tears (mostly on the parents' side) and a few traumatic drop-offs for new 1st graders going to full day school for the first time. But also lots of stories of kids who were excited and giddy and brave and held it together even as their parents started to lose it.

We had breakfast and ran a few errands and went home. Kai played with Lego's and had a snack and I packed his lunchbox and water-bottle and put it all in his back-pack. He changed into clean clothes and brushed his hair and all of a sudden it was time to take my oldest child to school.

He put on his back-pack and said a loving good-bye to his sister and brother.

And it was time to go.

We were the first ones there, and Mrs. Hammett greeted him happily. He learned where to hang up his his back-pack and where to put his lunch. He inspected the class room and asked lots of questions. Then the next 2 kids arrived and Mrs. Hammett asked him if he could show them where they could put their things, so of course he felt very important and proud to do that. Then he and the kids started playing while the teacher went over paperwork and schedules with the parents and suddenly it was time for me to go.

I asked him if it was OK for me to go and he just gave me a big hug and said "Yup. Bye Mom, I love you."

So I left.

And went home where Grace was having a play date with her friend Anna, and her mom and I made a tea party for lunch. We cut the sandwiches into flower shapes and broke out my great-grandmothers china and had "tea with the queen."

With polite conversation, of course, and a study of exactly how to hold your pinkie when drinking a cup of tea.

Noah was practicing his words and has finally learned to say "Hil..DA!"

A feat that amuses him to no end.

And then it was time for me to go pick up Kai. I parked across the street from the school, and he saw me walking over the green and yelled a cheery "Hi mom!" Then he talked as fast as humanly possible for the 5 minute drive home. When we pulled into the driveway and he was getting out of the car he said "MOM! That was SO good. I wanna go, like a BILLION more times!"

Yeah, it worked out just fine.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I love picking blueberries. There is something so soothing about sitting in a high-bush berry grove, hidden from view and filling my basket to brimming. I love listening to the kids as they wander in and out of the bushes, picking, eating and chasing dragon-flies. I love the way the dog uses her lips to gently pick off the ripest and fattest berries, without ever seeming to accidentally pick a green one. I love chatting with my mom and sister as we pick from the same bushes we have harvested for the last 20 years. I have used the same container for years. A metal basket that I think was once part of a vegetable steamer and that, when filled, holds the exact amount I need to make 10 jars of jam.

I have never once bought already picked berries for jam. For me, the process would be the less for skipping that first step. Earlier this summer, I saw a couple unloading their hand-made, wooden touring kayaks off their car. Kayaking, be it white-water, sea, or touring is always fun, but I bet there is an extra element to the sport when the craft you are paddling was made by your own hands. The same goes for preserves; they are always tasty, but there is something extra in the flavour when they are the product of your own labor.

When I was in my early 20's, I used canning as a way to avoid studying. Zach and I were living in my childhood home (now home to my sister's family) with our great friends Mark and Kipp at that time and Mark is an incredible bread baker. I have the best memories of the four of us standing around the chopping block in the kitchen and pouncing on the loaves as they came out of the oven, trying not to burn our fingers as we slathered butter and blueberry jam all over them. It was very liberating for me to live with two immensely cool people who were smart, accomplished and who took huge pride in the fact that they had mastered many domestic arts that many people deem "quaint" or "old-fashioned". Kipp is a great sewer and knitter and maker of all kinds of fabulous things (as well as being a Yale trained nurse-midwife), while Mark, well there isn't much Mark can't do. He seems to be gifted and motivated in all areas of life from building hilarious winter sporting equipment (I'll tell you about the "Jack-Jumper" another time) to baking, to building saunas, cider presses and having a mean green-thumb. Their offspring have out-standing genes.

Zach comes from a family of ridiculously smart, talented people who put an emphasis on hand and homemade in their lives. Zach's mother has two Master's degrees, is a teacher and writer and also spins, knits, quilts, cans, and makes all her food from scratch as a matter of course. She does it because she LOVES it, not because of some feminine ideal she feels she needs to live up to. I love the fact that she is a truly domestic woman, who is also a terrible house-keeper. I can SO relate to that. Zach sister is a violist with the NY Philharmonic and yet she gets as much respect for that as she does for the fact that the woman can BAKE (with a capital B.) as well as sew beautifully. Growing up in that household brimming with creative people, Zach has always loved and appreciated my domestic bent in a way that is genuine and not in the least patronizing. He was raised in a family where the domestic arts are equal to all the arts, literature, music, politics etc.

I came from a family of talented academics and artists as well, but of a different kind of art. Classical musicians and people high up in the New York art scene. They hang out with, what my mom amusingly dubs, "the greats and the near-greats." My mother has always had a deep appreciation for what Jane Brockett calls "the gentle arts" but she was never much of a practitioner. While she is a fabulous cook and gardener, and homemade food was the norm for me, she was not a knitter, quilter, or fiber artist. She didn't can things (probably because we ate everything before it could be preserved, her food is that good,) and yet lately I have noticed jars of ruby-red crab-apple jelly and rich black-currant syrup showing up on her counter. She has a natural gift and a great palate. I think I have converted her to the ways of the jar. My sister, oh my talented sister whose gifts are too many to mention, she and her husband make mead. Do you know about mead? It's a liquor made from honey. They make all kinds of flavors but my favorite is the blueberry made with Vermont honey and blueberries picked 100 yards from their kitchen.

For me, canning has been something of a passion for many years. When Zach and I got married , I made little jars of blueberry jam, blackberry jam, apple butter and peach butter as favors for the guests (all 195 of them.) It was a 3 season labor of love, and one which I so enjoyed. We had a 14 month engagement and taking the time to capture the flavors of the seasons was a really special way to prepare. One of my bridesmaids caught people hoarding them in their jackets as the left at 4am. They needn't have bothered. I made enough for everyone to take 2.

Blueberry jam takes no time at all, and I am emphatically haphazard about my recipe. I never follow the suggested proportions (I think they call for too much sugar) and almost always use double or more the amount of blueberries. It's yummy.

It is the colors I love the most when I am preserving. These fruits take on hues that you wouldn't notice unless you took the time to work with them. I particularly like the hot fuchsia shade of the foam that I have to scrape off. That color would be tacky anywhere else, but in nature or when it comes from a natural source, it is stunning.

The kids get such a kick out of eating something in the dead of winter that they helped to make, from start to finish, on one of the hottest days of the summer. I hope it becomes a happy memory for them in life, like the way my mom made Christmas cookies with us, or my grandpa read the Declaration of Independence every 4th of July.

The pantry is full of the bounty of summer, some of it gifts, some made by us. It seems like a lot now, but I promise you, come February, each bite will taste like sunshine and help keep us going until the spring peepers come out and the robins return. The only problem is making sure we have enough to get us through. These first 10 jars won't even get us to Thanksgiving.

The day we picked the berries, we were driving home from my sister's when all of a sudden the kids started yelling for me to pull over. I slammed on the brakes (with no one behind, thank God) and for a minute we all stared. They had never seen the sun quite this color. It was almost as if it was celebrating summer too.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Conversation at my kitchen table....

Three little girls are sitting around the table this afternoon, beading necklaces. Jillian holds hers up and says,

"This one is gonna be for my mommy!"

Grace holds hers up and says,

"This one is gonna be for Ellie!"

Six year old Ellie holds hers up and says,

"This one is gonna be for sale."

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Ooohhh, look what came in the mail. It looks deceptively like a big pile of fabric, but really, it's new table linens. I just need to actually cut and sew them into their new shape. Aren't they pretty? I mean who wouldn't want to wipe their mouth with a napkin with a spider web on it or a little purple pig surrounded by dots? I am currently a tad obsessed with Japanese fabrics, especially Echino. I think my family is hoping it will pass.

Speaking of making things, we had reason to celebrate yesterday. It was Daddy's 36th birthday and the kids and I got busy. We sent the birthday boy off to get a massage and went to work. The kids created a birthday banner. All I did was write the words, the pictures were all theirs.

I stole the idea of birthday garland from Amanda Soule's beautiful book The Creative Family. I had plenty of leftover fabric from other projects and just spent a few evenings cutting and sewing them into little flags. Then it took about 15 minutes to sew them onto strips of double folded bias tape. Now we have festive garland for all our parties. Cheap, easy, beautiful and reusable.

The garden has been on overdrive so Grace helped me cut a beautiful bouquet.

Then we strung the garland and I took a bunch of bad, back-lit pictures of it.

And when Zach came home we went swimming in the pond first because DAMN, summer has arrived with a beautiful vengeance, and then came in to eat the delicious cake the kids helped bake. Seriously, do you bake with your kids? 'Cause if not, you should. Everything I make with them comes out better. Maybe it's the enthusiasm with which they mix and stir, I don't know, but they have magic in those little hands. When we are feeling seriously hassled and the day isn't going well, we usually haul out the mixer and get baking. It calms everybody down. Counter intuitive, yes, but effective.

It has been hot here, which is fabulous, and we have spent most of our time in the water, but we try to spend a part of the afternoon being quiet. When it is this hot that usually means playing quietly inside to get out of the sun for a bit. Kai usually goes and builds with his Lego sets, Grace likes to go around and take pictures with her camera (yesterday she did a whole study of my toes) and Noah likes to roll around on his sheepskin rug. This usually lasts for 30-45 minutes and then the kids tend to gravitate toward each other again. A wrestling match usually starts, but instead of dissolving into tears, they are rejuvenated from their quiet play and the wrestling involves lots of hugs and sitting on each other.

It's good to remember and document these sweet moments because, at this very moment, they are trying to make me prematurely gray. The fighting, dear Jesus, the fighting! And then the laughing and giggling, followed by more fighting. It must be exhausting to be on such an emotional roller-coaster ALL THE TIME. I'm tired just listening to it. Zach is going away for a week for work so they are extra psycho right now. We are not used to being apart as a family and the kids hate the separation. I'm thinking of taking them camping tonight to distract them. S'mores and shooting stars can't replace daddy being gone, but they can certainly take a person's mind off it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


We have been spending a lot of time by our pond and Grandma's pond. We play with Violet, we garden, cook, craft, hike, eat lots and lots of ice cream, go for rides in Grandma's Toro and generally try to soak up every last ray of sunshine this soggy summer has had to offer.

The early morning light right as the sun peaks over the mountains is so inviting. Grace, Daddy and Hilda are still sleeping so mama and her boys go out to explore and play in the dirt.

We went to the Jersey Shore at the end of July to meet up with my dad, who had a rare week's vacation. He had his young daughter Isabel with him who is sitting behind Grace in the picture below. We LOVED Asbury Park. It was a wonderful week.

Oh yeah, and you may have noticed that Noah has learned to walk. Below is a picture from June the moment he first put more than 2 steps together. Magic!