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

 

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

Daily Photo – Idle boats

This is our local harbor on a misty, cool summer morning last week.  The skiffs were all at the dock – wasn’t much of a boating day.  As much as I crave sunshine and heat in the summer, these cool days offer a quiet break and a welcome reminder of why we love living in Maine.

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!!