A Wintery 24 Hours in #Vermont: Gymnastics, Cheese and Markets

Although I was raised in New England there are still a lot of spots in the region that I haven’t visited. Since moving back here from Texas a few years ago I made a vow that we’d take our kids to do more and see more in our area. New England is beautiful! It’s an outdoor adventure park! It has cows, maple syrup and apples! Mountains, oceans, rivers, forests! I love every ounce of New England’s charm and character.

barn, apple, red, vermont, history, farm, farmer, winter, snow, cold, roadside, travel

Sadly, I admit that we haven’t been doing the best traveling around the area so far which really bums me out.

But it’s never too late and when opportunity calls, we must seize it! So when we found out about our daughter’s gymnastics meet in Brattleboro, VT we knew we needed to jump on it and turn it into a mini-getaway.

We didn’t have a ton of time in the area, but the escape we did enjoy was beautiful and the perfect opportunity to take this area for a “test drive”. The best part of our trip was realizing that we want to go back this summer to explore more.

Here are a few highlights:

Brattleboro Winter Farmer’s Market was a really unique experience. From locally sourced foods to artisans and craftspeople, this market was a beautiful testament to sustainability, community and local lifestyle.

farmers market, farm, vermont, art, craft, local, food, asian, dumplings, dim sum, rocking chair, wood, organic

The picture above shows at left a view on the market, top-right is a wood-carver who is hand carving rockers for rocking chair and on the bottom right a plate of delicious Chinese  dumplings that we got for a snack.

Grafton Village Cheese is a beautiful series of apple red barns majestically standing near the banks of the Connecticut River. You can’t miss their complex when you drive into town. They offer a great selection of hand-crafted cheese made on- site and their 4 year cheddar is to die for! If you go during the warmer months, we were told you can watch them make cheese on weekday mornings. The cheese maker may come out to greet you and discuss the cheese making process.

cheese, vermont, cheddar, travel, visit, new england, red, barn, antique, local

cheese, girl, vermont, new england, travel, happy, cheddar, sample, store, local, food, farm, dairy

Cool landscapes abound in this region! From antique New England barns to creaking but quaint cemeteries, to small ice-fishing shacks dotting the many frozen lakes this area is simply breathtaking.

cemetery, vermont, history, new england, ghost, winter, snow, forest, cold

Now we have our sights planned for a longer voyage up to the Green Mountain State this summer. Love having a “scouting trip!”

Oh, and also, our daughter did GREAT at her gymnastics meet! Congrats to her!gymnastics, kids, floor, parallel bars, beam, vault, vermont, nh, atlantic

 

The Other West Texas Giant

“You just kind of drive through it. Push on the gas.” He was so calm.

west texas, ozona, sonora, el paso, marfa, bump gate, ranch, cattle, sheep, oil, livestock, dust, interstate, taylor box,

My jaw clenched,  left eyebrow frowned and good ol’ right eyebrow raised high in an arch of stubborn New England skepticism.  My future husband smirked at my reaction.  Although his lilting Texas drawl was bursting with trust, the sheer craziness of “just driving through” a 4′ tall, 10′ wide gate made of solid steel bars, was anchoring my right foot. We weren’t going anywhere. New England skepticism: 1, Texas Bump Gate: 0.

“You can do it.  Just go kinda slow, then push through.”

skull

 

Thousands of what if’s and why’s flooded my brain as I slumped my shoulders in frustrated despair.  Why can’t I just get out of the truck and open the gate?  What if I break the gate? What if I break the truck? Or the horrifying question – what if the gate swings back and hits us? This swinging behemoth of steel, wood, pulleys and cables was scaring the hell out of me.  Instinctively my future husband read my mind and said again, “You can do it.  You won’t hurt anything.”

The parched dirt below the parched tan 1975 Chevy  Silverado cracked in the scorching Texas sun. Hungry buzzards screeched overhead watching a death march below.  I felt like I was in a wild west shoot-out with steampunk villain.

rusty truck, wild west, west, vintage, texas, ozona, sonora, junction, ranch, cattle, sheep, oil, gas, classic

No, not the 1975 Silverado, but another beauty and former gate bumper.

“This is nuts!”  was the only thought reverberating to the tips of my shaky toes.  I finally hit the gas, pushed the gate open and drove through.  The back swing of the gate came inches from scratching down the side of the truck as I plowed through in a cloud of dust, gas fumes and fear. But I did it.  I opened my first Texas bump gate without killing anyone.  My future husband laughed.  This was my crash course in the rare West Texas bump gate.

Wikipedia offered this definition as to what a Texas bump gate is:

bump gate is a drive-through gate used in rural areas to provide a barrier to livestock that does not require the driver to exit the vehicle, open the gate, drive through, and then close the gate. By contacting the swinging bump gate with the front of a vehicle and then accelerating, the bump gate is pushed open, allowing the vehicle to pass. This requires some skill to avoid the gate swinging back and striking the vehicle. Accordingly, a bump gate is unsuitable for long vehicles.
The bump gate self-closing mechanism consists of two cables mounted on the gate, and also on an elevated crossbar. The gate does not swing on a conventional hinge. Instead it is fastened to cylinders that encircle a post. When the gate swings open, the swivel action causes the cables to raise the gate slightly. After the vehicle passes through, gravity causes the gate to swing like a pendulum (parallel to the ground) until it settles in the closed position.
While not a common type of gate, it has been observed in several locations in West Texas.

If you’ve never seen a bump gate before they seem to defy all logic and common sense.  Plowing through an imposing steel structure seems, well, crazy.  But then I realized that the swinging ton of rolled steel IS actually the most common sense approach to opening the gates out where the days are long, hot and lonely.

bump gate, bump, texas, dusty, dust, ranch

Approaching a gate that has clearly been bumped before.

From a rancher’s perspective, why would he want stop their truck and get out to open as many as 20 or more gates on a 104 degree August afternoon? Especially when they could stay in the cover of their truck and drive through them saving precious time and energy.  It’s practical.  West Texans are practical and the bump gate’s simple reason-for-being reflects the pragmatic ideology of the ranchers using them.

But it’s also a recipe for some naive “city-slikah” Yankee to come down and really mess things up…

A few years ago my father-in-law entrusted my husband and I to drive his brand new truck down from the dealership in Dallas. My husband drove our truck and I followed him in the new one.  The 6 hour trip to Ozona, TX was smooth and uneventful.   I heaved a sigh of relief as we drove onto their ranch. We made it!

Fueled by a desire to finish the drive we rashly decided that to get up to their house (another 20 minute drive from the entryway) we should double up on the bump gates and drive both trucks through at once so we could save time and I wouldn’t damage the grill on his dad’s new truck by bumping the gates.  My husband would bump with our truck and I would follow him closely in the new truck and drive through behind him.

I think we were both a little nervous.

The gate swung open as my husband plowed through and I punched the gas and followed.  Time stopped when I saw the gate swinging back at me – FAST!  I swerved to the left to try to avoid the inevitable screech, crash, metal twisting convulsion that ensued.

Thankfully, my in-laws still talk to me.  And I think he’s had a few more bump gate mishaps judging by the fresh scars that now adorn his truck.

kids, family, ranch, texas, heat

Future gate bumpers

To me, the bump gates are an integral part of the West Texas culture.  They’re hard working, unapologetic, and strong.  Just like the landscape.  Just like the people.

ranch, west texas, rancher, family, life, work, outside, hard work, sunshine, heat, dust

Brother-in-law and niece at the ranch

 

 

 

 

 

What’s In My Bag? Essentials for a (Make Believe) Day Trip.

Let me preface this by saying the road to hell is paved with the best of intentions. Our family is really excited for our holiday break this week and I really want to take our kids on a super fun adventure of spontaneous outings. But in this case we can translate spontaneous into “I’ve planned nothing” and adventure into, “Guess where we’re going? The grocery store!” I wish I had some tricks up my sleeve… sigh.

However, since I do try to have the best of intentions and am still trying to convince myself that we will make it out of our pajamas this week, I’ve packed dreamed up a very basic bag of essentials so that when the time is right, we can grab it and go. My make believe Christmas is gettin’ real!

So what is in said bag o’ tricks? Again, super basic but covers most of the bases.

craft, pen, journal, scissors, glue, color, A few craft and journaling essentials. Notebook, glue stick, markers, scissors. We like to log our adventures plus having a few extra supplies gives the kids have something to do while we’re traveling. They still like to cut out pictures or glue ticket stubs into their journals plus they can play games while we’re on the road.

winter, health, cold, kids, travelI’m sure a few things could be added to this group. Sanitizer perhaps (not for us – we like germs), or Neosporin. Winter is dry where we live so lip balm, tissues and hand cream are a must. As long as we have Puffs Plus Lotion travel size tissues and some water, we’re covered. We like the lotion tissues because they work well for painful winter cuts. They’re also absorbent for clean-ups and soft on runny noses.

snacks, kids, travel, healthy, food, oranage, almonds, appleHealthy snacks 101. Packing a few small snacks extends the outing and save us money. We love our Klean Kanteen for water.

Now we need to find somewhere to go. I want to pack this stuff. In a real bag not a pretend one.

Happy 2014!

White Christmas

winter, new england, snow, white, barn, shed, fence, forest, peace, holiday, MaineWinter’s snow is an unavoidable evil blessing in New England. You know it’s coming, but only Mother Nature (and the Farmer’s Almanac) knows when it will arrive. This year, we were fortunate enough to have two beautiful, fluff producing storms just 1.5 weeks before the holiday. A White Christmas for 2013 indeed.

snowman, winter, snow, maine, white, happy, kids, outdoorsHappy Holidays!

Spend Less, Play On! 5 Free Family Adventures For Summer.

Summer break is still weeks away and your family has already said “adios!” to copious amounts of cash for airline tickets, accommodations, kid’s camps and new summer threads.  You’re wondering what will be left in the bank by the time you’re ready to go. Fear not fellow travelers!  Money can take a backseat for these fun, fabulous and free family outings.  You can still get the most out of your summer and enjoy meaningful family experiences whether you’re on the road or staying home.  Spend less and play on!

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1. Letterboxing –   Let your kids unleash their inner Indiana Jones! Letterboxing, or “low-tech geo-caching” for kids, blends clue decoding, mapping, journaling and treasure hunting.  The best part?  The leg-work is already done! Here is what to do: 1. Visit  Letterboxing.org.  2. Find your location on their website (locations include the entire US and worldwide) 3. Your destination will likely show several clue trails you can choose from. Click on the trail of clues you’d like to follow & print them.  4.  Head outside on your hunt.

What you will need:  a journal, a rubber stamp & ink pad and a ballpoint pen (weather proof). And of course any other fun treasure hunting equipment you want to bring (compass, canteen, fancy crumpled hat)

So what’s the treasure? Once you’ve followed your trail of clues to the end, you will uncover a box that has a journal with a stamp inside.   Stamp your journal with their stamp and vice versa.  Your Letterboxing journal will become something of an explorer’s passport.  Keep in mind: Letterboxing members create these scavenger hunts for the public, so once you’ve conquered a few hunts of your own, you may consider designing one for future letterboxers.

My friend, and fellow blogger, Dianne (Random History and Offbeat Trivia) introduced our family to Letterboxing a few years back when she invited us on a hike up Mt. Blue Job in southern NH. Armed with a trail of clues, sense of adventure and some delicious snacks, Dianne had us ALL hooked!  The hike went from “just hiking up a hot, giant hill” to “hey, check out this cool tree (or flower, or animal track).” Letterboxing is a great activity to incorporate on a day hike or family picnic.

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2. Local Outdoor Markets– I love markets and our family frequents them both at home and when we travel.  We could spend hours roaming through tented rows of vendors checking out the local foods, crafts and music.  From squawking chickens to vibrant flowers  or spicy garlic wafting through the air, local markets are a feast for the senses and  a savory slice of local culture.

When we visited the Saturday market in Uzes, France a few summers ago, our kids talked futbol with locals, sampled local cheese, danced to folk music, played with kids and dogs and had an authentic connection to their surroundings.  Plus we filled up on some tasty (and very affordable) street food and brought home some lovely olive wood spoons.

Do your research!  Near and far, community markets are easy to find and enjoy. Find out if your destination has a standing market day or if there are any craft fairs or flea markets being held while you are visiting.  Search local event calendars, blogs and even trip planning websites (such as Trip Advisor) for up-to-date information and reviews.

Olives at the Saturday market in Uzes, France

Olives at the Saturday market in Uzes, France

 

Visiting the candy stand.

Visiting the candy stand.

3. Historic Sites – So this may not sound super thrilling for kids but in can be; especially if you dot it around a hike, picnic, trip to a playground, etc.  It’s also a great way to connect with their school curriculum or great books themed around your location. Do your research before your adventure and find out what places of significance or historical importance are at your destination.  Whether it’s a colonial meeting house, place of worship, lighthouse, battlefield, or geographic point, historical landmarks abound as do the stories they hold.

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Driving through Wyoming

We were driving through Wyoming last summer and stumbled (clumsily) upon Sacajawea’s grave in the Wind River Reservation.  Our son had just completed a unit on Native Americans in third grade, and our daughter was about to start.  Because of their class work and several Lewis & Clark books we had read together, finding her grave site gave a touch of reality to a vast and vague history and they forged a deep connection. The unexpected detour became one of the highlights of the drive and a significant learning opportunity for both the kids and my husband and me.

Kids viewing Sacajawea's grave.

Kids viewing Sacajawea’s grave.

 

Color and spirit dot the dry and windswept landscape in this Wind River Reservation cemetery  - the site of Sacajawea's grave.

Color and spirit dot the dry and windswept landscape in this Wind River Reservation cemetery – the site of Sacajawea’s grave.

4. Artist Studios and Studio Tours– Have you ever seen a glass blower create a wineglass from a blob of molten glass or watched a potter magically transform a hunk of clay into a beautiful vase?  Have your kids seen paint splattered studios, heard violins being tuned, or watched the heavy but delicate hand of a blacksmith shaping beauty from a chunk of red-hot metal?   Witnessing art in action is captivating and energizing.  There are talented artists everywhere  happy to demonstrate their technique and inspire budding artists.  Check listings for artist co-ops that house several (or many) artists renting space or source out individual studios.  This is also a great opportunity to buy a one-of-a-kind treasure from your adventure and a great way to support a local arts economy.   We’ve been fortunate to find beautiful pieces of functional and decorative art at very affordable prices.  Art studios have become our favorite destination for buying gifts and souvenirs.

Watching a blacksmith create his art.

Watching a blacksmith create his art.

5. Museums – Yes, they can be free (or at least cheap)! Whether you are on the road or wandering out your back door, most cities or regions have museums that offer periodic free admission (or great discounts) throughout the year.  Specifically, many offer “Free Fridays” on the first of the month, or after school free hours.  Plus, if you are visiting a museum close to home, check your local library for free passes. Museum web sites will post deals and discounts, but take note – sometimes the deal dates are tricky to find.  Check the museums calendar of events or make a call!

Museum memberships have their perks. If you purchase a family membership at an ASTC (Association of Science – Technology Centers), AZA (Associations of Zoos and Aquariums) or ACM (Association of Children’s Museums) associated museum, your membership will get you into hundreds of reciprocating museums nationwide.

Check out the links at the bottom of this post for a few sources to get you started on a budget friendly museum stop.

American Museum of Natural History, NYC

American Museum of Natural History, NYC

So, don’t let the burden of expense wear you down on your next family trip!  There are loads of free or inexpensive opportunities at your fingertips.  Have fun, spend less and play on! 

HELPFUL MUSEUM LINKS:

US – Nationwide:  If you are a Bank of America customer, check out this link to find free admission to over 150 museums nationwide during the first full weekend of each month.  A perk indeed.  http://museums.bankofamerica.com/

Also, check out Target’s sponsored museum days.  They offer free or reduced admission to different museums and theaters nationwide.  Check here for details

New York:

http://www.ny.com/museums/free.html

http://freemuseumday.org/nyc.html

http://gonyc.about.com/od/museums/ss/Free-Admission-And-Discounted-Admission-At-New-York-City-Museums.htm

Chicago:

http://thelocaltourist.com/chicagofreemuseums#

London:

http://www.eurocheapo.com/blog/london-budget-survival-guide-20-free-museums.html http://golondon.about.com/od/londonforfree/tp/Best_Free_Museums.htm

Paris:

http://www.parislogue.com/free-paris (great round-up of “always free”, “sometimes free” and “almost free” listings).

Rome:

http://www.activitaly.com/inglese/home_ing.html (this website gives great tips for visiting Rome’s sites as well as contact info for the museums to find out if any deals are being offered).

Learning to Fly: Kids, Caterpillars and Unfinished Homework

When our kids started kindergarten many moons ago, they were asked to bring in a Monarch caterpillar for their first day.  We searched and searched.  And searched.  And searched more, wandering through overgrown fields and frantically turning over the leaves of milkweed plants that the caterpillars eat. But no luck.  As a parent, I kind of felt like a failure. “Sorry kids, I know it’s your first day of full-time school and all, but we can’t hand in your first EVER homework assignment.”  Gulp.

As the years passed, I still searched for the elusive Monarch caterpillars and got that pit in my stomach every time we saw a milkweed plant.  That kind of crazy fist waving, “Ooooh, I’ll get you!” feeling. Clearly, I was tormented.

By early this summer however, as our kids prepared to enter fourth and fifth grade, my obsession faded.  I gave up hope of our family ever raising caterpillars and to witness first hand the miraculous metamorphosis of the Monarch.  I felt like it was time to throw in the towel.  My scrappy, hunting prowess had failed me.

…Until my friend Stacey tells me about her caterpillar menagerie!  (Cue the valiant trumpets!)

Stacey and I have been friends for many years and she is a fifth grade teacher so I often look to her for advice and guidance.  So when she mentioned in passing that she had LOADS of caterpillars, caterpillar eggs, milkweed plants in her yard, etc etc etc, I knew it was kismet.  She was to become my caterpillar sensei.  All hope had not been lost.

Stacey loaded us up with four caterpillars all at varying stages of growth, and a bundle of milkweed leaves to bring home.  She suggested wrapping them in a damp paper towel and storing them in a plastic air tight container in the fridge.  We did this and it worked really well.  We would replenish our supply every few days and change the caterpillars leaves daily.

Stacey taught us about their different phases, timelines for each phase and more.  We discussed the Monarch’s annual journey to Mexico, organizations that can track your butterflies, and different books  about the life of these magnificent and complicated creatures.

Our front row seats to the the circle of life exhibition performed by the monarch caterpillars was nothing short of awesome.  Doubling in size every few days, the journey was like watching our own lives in fast forward.  Egg, baby, shedding your first youthful layer, growing, getting big and fat (HA!), unzipping the outer layer you no longer need, and eventually becoming the being you were intended to be… then spreading your wings to fly.   Maybe I’ll go to Mexico too.

In the end, our kids were not scarred permanently because we did not complete their first ever homework assignment. Hooray! They were however thrilled to “raise” their caterpillar family and watch them grow, evolve and eventually fly away.  One in fact, hatched from his chrysalis in our car.  We knew he was close to breaking through and didn’t want to miss the transformation so we brought him with us. When we arrived at our destination we were in possession of a beautiful, newly emerged Monarch.

In an ironic twist our caterpillar adventure came full circle.  The afternoon after I started writing this post, I got a message from a friend, desperate, as her daughter was starting kindergarten in a few days and SHE DID NOT HAVE A CATERPILLAR!!! We still had one chubby guy in our possession. We packed him up and sent him with his new caretaker, Annie.  Grateful, she marched off with her new creature and her kindergarten homework, her first big homework assignment EVER – complete.

 

Pools… Beach style! #FriFotos

When I saw that today’s #FriFotos segment was focusing on pools, I thought – TIDAL POOLS! Being raised in coastal New England and now living here again with my Texan husband and kids, this type of “pool” has become an integral part of our family’s summer fun and a symbol for our lives.  They grow life, foster curiosity and change with every tide.

When I was a kid we spent every summer soaking up the sun (harvesting our winter supply of Vitamin D!) on the granite sand beaches of New Hampshire.  Tidal pools offered us an opportunity to find star fish, crabs, and krill during the day and a quiet place to reflect in the early evening.

Kind of like nature’s infinity pool!

 

Quiet and peaceful

searching for crabs

 

You never know what you’ll find at the beach.

Climbing Inside a New England Lighthouse

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse

If you’ve ever visited the New England coast, you know that lighthouses are a major part of the local charm.  One hour north of Boston in the historic village of New Castle, NH (just outside of Portsmouth, NH) at the mouth of the Piscataqua River, stand two of the areas beaming beacons: Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse and Whaleback Lighthouse.

View from the beach

Both are historically significant and breathtakingly beautiful.  A postcard shot for your travelogue.  What’s even better is that Portsmouth Harbor Light is open to the public on select days during the summer months.

The Interior & Spiral Staircase of Portsmouth Harbor Light

Our kids climbed inside the spiral staircase to the top and could view the enormous light firsthand.  They loved it.

Viewing the "Candle"

Great volunteers with fun info and insight shared their knowledge and captivated our kids.  Truly an “off-the-beaten-path” destination, Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse and the surrounding area are a MUST SEE destination!

For more info contact:  Friends of Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouses

Bouncy Balls for Snow Balls

Pink Bouncy Ball!

It’s 2 March and we just had our first snow day (no school) of the year which is pretty unheard of, this late in the season, in our part of the world.  I’ve been waiting for this day all winter!  The first snow day is unique because you haven’t been jaded by the wrath of snow and cold and you’re still happy to see some of the white, fluffy stuff and snuggle by a fire.  However, this usually happens in November. Not March.  But I’ll take it.

The first snow day (for us anyway!) is a day of celebration.  It means family fun, food, games and crafts.  So when we found a recipe  online for making polymer bouncy balls(here is original recipe from About .com) we all agreed it was a perfect snow day activity.

Although the balls were not super bouncy, nor were they clear like the original picture I saw on the recipe the project was a lot of fun and we had a great time experimenting.

Here are the basic ingredients:

The Ingredients

  •  borax (in the laundry section at a grocery store or superstore)
  • school glue (we used clear and Elmer’s Gel which is blue.  White is supposed to make them opaque, but ours were anyway so I’m not sure it makes a difference.)
  • Cornstarch
  • Disposable cups for mixing (I recommend clear small Solo cups, but any paper cup will do)
  • Food coloring
  • Warm water
  • Spoon or craft stick or mixing
  • Ruler (to measure the bounce!)
  • Zip tight sandwich bags to store the balls in when your done.

Here is my really ingenious tip for organizing ahead of time.  Get your ingredients out of their store bought container and put them into something that is easy for your kids to scoop from.  Probably a tip that most people would figure out ahead of time, but it took us one round until this one registered upstairs…

But I digress…

First, label your mixing cups – one with borax mixture and one with ball mixture.  Next combine 2 Tbsp. of water in you borax mixture cup.

Mixing the Borax Solution

Then add 1/2 tsp. of Borax powder.  Stir the until borax is dissolved as much as you can. (Ours never dissolved completely but it was ok).  Add some food coloring.  We did about 5 heavy drops.

Next grab your ball mixture cup and add 1 Tbsp of glue.  Then add 1/2 tsp. of the borax solution you just made.

Measuring the glue

Next, add 1 Tbsp. of cornstarch to your ball mixture.

Adding the Cornstarch

Do not mix.  Wait 10-15 seconds and watch the chemical reaction take place.  This is why I suggest using clear plastic cups over paper or colored plastic; you can see the reaction through the bottom of the cup.

Checking out the chemistry

After you’ve waited a few seconds you can stir the mixture until it becomes difficult or impossible to stir.

Take your mixture out of the cup and begin to knead with your hands.   This will be REALLY sticky at first but after a minute or so your creation will solidify and begin to form a firm consistency.

A Fantastic Sticky Mess!

Super Sticky in the cup

Form it into a ball and bounce away!

Observations:  Does the length of kneading it affect the bounce?  How high does it bounce?  Does it bounce in different directions and why?  Just a few observations we made.  Please feel free to post your own observations below!

Store in a zip close sandwich bag.  FYI – they flatten out when not used but you can easily remold for extended play.

Have fun!!

 

 

The Final Product!

 

In which strawberries replace snow

I believe that it is necessary to hold off on putting lawn furniture out until we’ve picked our first berry.  We live in Maine and I’m pretty sure that if I set the Adirondack chairs out in our yard, it will promptly snow and summer will be lost forever in a pile of slushy mud.  Thankfully, we picked our first strawberries this week, so no fear.  Lawn furniture is out, patio umbrella is up and we have over 20 lbs. of juicy red berries in our lives. Let the summer begin. Finally.

 

Twenty pounds of strawberries is a lot of berries.

 

The juicy red ones

The funny thing is that when you are out picking them, you just kind of “go”.  There is no limit.  You pick and pick and pick and then you figure out what you should do with them.  We’ve waited months to see these little nuggets of sweetness dangling from their lanky shrubbery.  Damn it. Pick them all!  (Well, maybe not all, but lots.)

 

Our first year picking was overwhelming mostly because we had no idea we would come home with so many berries.  My husband and I probably picked 5 lbs. each and the kids, who were around 3 &4 years old at the time, picked about 2 lbs each (and ate more than what they put in their baskets).  This is when we realized we really did need a plan so we didn’t waste them all (duh). We could make pies or cobbler, but we needed a longer shelf life than baked goods can offer.  I needed to preserve summer so when January rolls around and we are totally snowed in, we have a small reminder that indeed summer will return someday.  Enter… JAM!


Our daughter has taken over the family jam business at the ripe old age of 7 and it has become her claim to fame.  “Sweet Strobery Jam”. She named it the year before she entered kindergarten and the name has stuck.  This is now her signature creation and her Christmas presents to our family.

 

The berries are plentiful and the kids love our annual pilgrimage to Butternut Farms in NH to harvest the crop.  We usually take one morning to pick and the next to jam it up.  This year went according to plan except that silly mom scheduled a dentist appointment for the kids during the canning hours.  I should know better than to plan a mid day appointment during strawberry season (or blueberry for that matter). So after a painful chat with our dentist, canning resumed and all was well.

 

mash those berries

The kids and my husband washed, stemmed and hulled the berries for a good hour while I washed jars and got the water for canning up and boiling.  After the berries were  ready to go we had our “mash-fest”.  This is where the kids take turns mashing the strawberries with a potato masher.  We go for broken up strawberries, not pulverized.  But sometimes that is hard to avoid as the potato masher is a lot of fun to use.  For everyone.  I am guilty of having a very heavy hand with the masher  – there’s nothing better than feeling the strawberries pop and ooze their sticky, red deliciousness!

 

We used a recipe from Allrecipes.com although we changed it a little.  They called for 4 cups of sugar per 2 lbs. of berries and we used WAAAAY less sugar.  For us it just gets too sweet.  But the lack of sugar coupled with a really WET spring and extra juicy berries made the jam a little runny.  I should have drained a little bit of the excess juice off.  Still yummy and delicious, but a bit thin.

 

Strobery Jam

Ah well.  All in all we have 23 jars of Strobery Jam! We didn’t use all of our 20 lbs. on the jam.  We saved some for eating, pies, etc.  Instant gratification still needed!

 

So summer has officially started for us.  Strawberry season is our family’s kick-off for a few months of warmth, sunshine and lawn furniture.  On a side note, I just put away our snow boots feeling confident that I will not jinx the weather.  Fingers still crossed.

 

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!!