Oh, the Lord is good to me

Can you spot Grey in this picture?

For my birthday, I got a new point-and-shoot camera. My prior camera really annoyed me on my trip to Mt. Rainier. It just wasn’t as good, as clear, as sophisticated, as HD as I wanted my record of that trip to be. But it did fit in my pocket, which is a definite advantage. I believe I got that camera shortly after Grey was born. Certainly I had it before Thane was born, which puts it at the 6 year old range. That’s downright elderly for a digital camera.

The need for a new one was made inarguable when Thane dropped my old one. So for my birthday I got a sparkly new point and shoot camera. It has pretty much everything my big camera has except a hotfoot for a flash and the ability to switch lenses.

We went apple picking today – a very hot day for late September. We got a bushel of apples, a dozen apple cider donuts, three ice cream cones and a tour of the farm. I figured this was a great opportunity to give my camera for a spin. I’m definitely still learning how to use it most effectively. It did run out of battery halfway through, but I think that I didn’t charge it when I thought I did. So hopefully that’s indicative of nothing.

You can find all the pictures here.

The other pictures I’ve taken this month on my “big camera” are here, including some really cool pictures of our last beach day of the year, which was bookended by a crazy thunderstorm.

The very last set off my old point and shoot can be seen here.

October is Over

Sometime around Halloween, I usually start to despair. My life is such that I’m always busy. But between September and November I’m not just busy, I’m epically busy – and it’s been even truer than usual this year. Contributing factors include four birthdays in six weeks, apple picking and preserving, Halloween and the last good weather of the year (see also: raking time!).

This year I added to that normal busy mix a cat who requires tube feeding, soccer-which-requires-practices, a new role at work that has me travelling fortnightly and the World Series (I didn’t miss a game this year, at the cost of sleep, relationships and using my spare time for anything that wasn’t baseball). Somehow I felt just a touch busy, even with the strong effort by my husband (and mother-in-law for the past week).

So this is a catch-up post, where I get back on the horse and update on you a few activities.

Grey striking, surrounded by two of his good friends.

Stoneham has a great town Soccer club. We haven’t done it in the past because it’s on Sunday mornings. But this year, it really seemed like something we needed to do. (It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that all their friends are in the league.) We showed up to church in cleats a lot, and only missed a handful of Sundays. It was pretty great. Grey was on team Greece, who pretty much rocked it. They lost two games (I think) and won several quite decisively. By the end they were doing things like “passing” and “having a strategy” and “knowing what they were supposed to be doing”. There were a few actually thrilling moments of soccer! It did involve practices, but Grey’s coach understands that I’m coming from work, and so it was relaxing instead of stressful. Greece will hit the fields again in Spring, and I’m excited for it. Thane did soccer too, but his version seemed to involve a lot of falling down.

My best preserve, I think, is the autumn pear.

This year I made: 2 strawberry jam, 3 pesto (frozen), 4 plum jam (shiro, red, Santa Rosa & mixed spiced), 1 plum compote, 2 autumn pear, 1 ginger lime pear (remind me never to accept a bushel of pears again), 1 crabapple jelly (from wild crabapples on the soccer field), & 1 apple butter. I think that’s it. I missed making a second batch of apple butter (I usually make two) and pepperonata (the red peppers didn’t do as well this year). Next year I hope to have damson plums from my tree.

Thane listens to Grey read a very sick Tiberius a story about cats. You can see Grey petting Tiberius.

One of our new cats (what was I THINKING getting new cats at the beginning of heavy season?) developed fatty liver disease, and required a feeding tube. It was put in three weeks ago (I think?). For the first week, he was being fed four times a day and throwing up five. He was within two days of me deciding that this was no kind of life, and ceasing his pain. The second week we started getting some traction. It’s been up and down since then (it was a great day when I got down to three feedings a day, eliminating the middle of the night feeding). Today, for the first time, he started eating food. You’ve never seen someone as excited as I was about a cat eating cat food. He’s going to make it!

Best friends in line for a roller coaster

Grey’s birthday
Grey turned eight, and I took he and two of his best friends to Canobie Lake Park. I had a blast as we rode very mild roller coasters, hung out in the arcade and made fart jokes. Well, some of us did. Then we had sushi, followed by a Minecraft cake. It felt… older. It was the first time I’ve taken Grey and his friends out to do kid stuff and be kids. I loved it – they were old enough to have so much fun with, but young enough that all of them would hold my hand. Pictures here

Scary birthday goers!

Thane’s birthday
I will confess that I just threw an invite out there at the last minute for Thane’s fifth birthday, figuring I’d figure it out as I went along. Two days before the event, I panicked as I realized that it was EXACTLY THE SAME TIME as the Main Street trick-or-treating! I was going to miss it, and all these five year olds were going to miss it too. So I sent out a last minute change asking that the kids come in costume. We spent the first hour trick or treating together. We had a blast, and I felt brilliant. Let the record show that it took 5 years for a kid with a 28th birthday to have a Halloween/Birthday party. I held out that long.

(Does it say anything that I’m going through my pictures trying to remember what the heck I’ve been doing that’s made me so busy?)

Well, that’s about it. I think you’re caught up. Don’t get too comfortable with it though, because Mocksgiving is in (EEEEK!) a week and a half, so yeah…

Anyway, pictures of my super-busy October can be found here!

Procurement of apples in celebration of explorers

So I have learned through many long years that you should never, ever go apple picking on Columbus Day weekend. However, timing (and knees) being what they are… once again we found the only good weekend day for apple picking to be today – one day after Grey’s birthday party on an 85 degree October day.

It was packed. The traffic jam to get up the road to the orchard was the first of many lines. However, we eventually worked our way to a point where we could hand over our money and wander to the remoter parts of the orchard. It was a lovely (if tiring) time. And yesterday was Grey’s birthday party! There was a large number of young folks wandering around, playing with legos and hitting each other with cardboard tubes. Then I fed them large amounts of sugar. It was fun.

This is all a lead in to say… I actually have pictures. I mean, this is only like 6 weeks worth of pictures on one of my two cameras. It includes: Hurricane Irene, walking in the Fells with Laureen, first day of Kindergarten, my “Last Ambulatory Weekend” party, Grey baking my birthday cake, Grey’s birthday party & apple picking.


Just keep moving

Don't worry - the story ends with blue skies
Don't worry - the story ends with blue skies

This weekend was a study in inertia. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to be cranky.

Saturday didn’t start well. There was a serious bout of crankiness going through the house, and we kept reinfecting each other, like some nasty virus. The weather was gorgeous outside, but we just couldn’t shake the storm clouds. It was a busy day, which was probably part of it. We tried Grey on a piano lesson (we’re trying to figure out which activities will be fun for our FIVE YEAR OLD — I still can’t get over that). Thane was rather nightmarish during the lesson. I’d planned on getting him out of the way, but (confession time) my kryptonite is getting up in the morning, so I wasn’t ready to whisk him away. Halfway through I took him on a walk to the library to return all but one of the books we’d taken out a fortnight ago.

Grey and Adam did aikido, and Grey even entertained himself during the older kids’ session. I put Thane down for a nap, and in a complete departure from form, he wouldn’t go. Once I finally got him down, I mowed the lawn & then hand-scrubbed the back fence, which was moldy. (Digression: I’d bought one of those power washer attachments for this. I tried it out. After about 20 minutes, it became clear this was no panacea. I was compiling a complicated fence-cleaning plan including special fence-cleaning chemicals and a REAL pressure washer when it occurred to me that maybe I could just wipe it off. A dish scrubber and biodegradeable dish soap did the job with admirable alacrity. It was touch and go whether I had that much common sense, though.)

But Thane woke up after only about half an hour’s nap (he needs more like 2.5 hours). The stormclouds still thundered. Through sheer force of will, I got clothes and shoes on everyone, packed some snacks, and loaded everyone into the car.

The clouds began to break.

We got to the Middlesex Fells reservation and started hiking.

There was laughter.

We walked from dim darkness to golden autumnal twilight, running and singing and laughing and chasing each other. We watched our sons climb a big hill together and hit things with sticks. We found mushrooms. We at chocolate at the top of a hill, surrounded by pines, with golden glimmers of sunset water in the distance. We sang “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”.

Eating chocolate
Eating chocolate

The day was saved.

Taking the lesson of it, this morning we skipped church. (Note: I really like church, but I was having trouble figuring out how to fit apple picking in this fall. This was my solution.) We drove out to the hinterlands of New Hampshire (ok ok… right across the Massachusetts border, but in an obscure spot). We got lost in a corn maze, admired goats (or as Thane called them, elephants), rode a hayride tractor (Thane refused to get off so he and I did it twice), ate our weight in apples, rough-housed in the grass and selected two very fine pumpkins. Then we bought and ate some apple crisp. The over-long drive home, windows down, singing to Peter Paul & Mary was as good as mistakes of over-reaching come.

I have to go to work on Columbus Day. I’ll be bringing the boys to Abuela’s. Grey didn’t “count down” to his birthday, but he is to this daycare day. With a weekend as rich and joyful as this, though, I don’t mind working.

Thane was beside himself to be on a TRACTOR!
Thane was beside himself to be on a TRACTOR!

Apple Butter

Last Thursday night I made Apple Butter. I find that my hobbies — the things I do for myself — have to fit into smaller and smaller spaces. Moreover, like so many workers in corporate America, they need to be more productive. The boost I have to get out of doing something for myself has to be considerable to be worth the price in sleep loss, opportunity cost, or making my husband work harder. This summer, I found that canning fits the bill. It doesn’t take a wild amount of time — one evening plus thinking ahead. It’s very different than what I do all day (computer hobbies, for example, have the downside of being just like work). And it’s intensely satisfying, both right after you’ve completed it and throughout the year as you watch happy people nom down on your cooking. So in an indirect response to my life time-crunch, I did a lot more canning this year.

The cook in the kitchen
The cook in the kitchen

Which brings us back to apple butter. It was an obvious choice. One of our yearly traditions is apple picking. Abuela gives us apples from her tree every year. And the farmshare has also provided us with a hearty harvest. Added all together, and we had a ton of apples. Worst yet, although I make a mean apple pie, none of the men in my house like it. So although I’ve never eaten apple butter in my life, I figured it was worth the effort.

For my birthday, my mommy bought me the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving and some canning toys. I used the Cider Apple Butter recipe.

The recipe
The recipe

Without a doubt, canning apple butter is best done with a chatty best friend working with you. (Now taking applications for next year!) It took me nearly an hour and a half to peel and core the SIX POUNDS of apples the recipe called for. I’m not a novice peel-and-corer, either. It was rather tedious. It was interesting to see how different all the apples were. Since my apples came from a wide variety of sources and types, it’s a mutt of an apple-butter — never to be reproduced. I liked seeing how different all the apples were. Here are the results of my peeling-and-coring extravaganza:

That's enough for four or five pies, by my reckoning
That's enough for four or five pies, by my reckoning

I dumped them all into my biggest pot (note to Santa: I need a bigger pot if I’m actually going to do more boiling-canning. None of mine were large enough to fit the canning rack I got.). I added the two cups of cider. This seemed woefully inadequate for such a large “cider soup”.

My biggest pot
My biggest pot

I also got the jars going. I’ve aided in making jam since I was 8 or 9 years old — mostly in the squashing raspberries and stirring departments as a young child. But only once have I been around canning where you boiled the cans afterwards, so I paid careful attention to the instructions. Please note an important idea: you preheat the jars filled with water, but you better have enough room/not so much water so that when the jars are filled, the pot does not overflow. Happily, I caught that one before I found out the hard way. I thought the jars were pretty in the pot.

Did I mention I need a bigger pot?
Did I mention I need a bigger pot?

Cider soup stage
Cider soup stage

Then I pureed the apples, attempted to food-process my whole cloves to ground cloves, failed miserably, and ground them in a mortar and pestle instead. Despite carefully measuring the POUNDS of apples, I didn’t have the volume the recipe called for. I added apple cider to make it up. I’m pretty sure that was a mistake — since I wasn’t adding pectin, it wasn’t as necessary to be precise. I bet that added significantly to the cook time. However, strike 1 for the recipe. It offered no guidance. I added the pureed apples/cider and spices back to the pot for the Long Cook.

The stovetop during the Long Cook
The stovetop during the Long Cook

Included in my birthday present was this clever device (upper right). Just one problem: it uses about 10x as much water as boiling the lids flat and using the neat magnetic lid-grabber-thingy I also got. So…. very cool but I’m not sure it’s worth it.

The apples cooked and cooked and I stirred and stirred. Since I’ve never EATEN apple butter, I wasn’t quite sure what it was supposed to look/taste like, or what the consistency was supposed to be. Here’s what the cookbook said:

Testing Fruit Butters: Butters are cooked until they thicken and begin to hold their shape on a spoon. To assess doneness, spoon a small quantity of cooked mixture onto a chilled plate. When liquid does not separate, creating a rim around the edge, and the mixture holds a buttery, spreadable shape, the butter is ready to ladle into jars and process.

I think I read that about 18 times. I never decided if the clause “creating a rim around the edge” was something that it was or was not supposed to do when it was ready. I thought of my sister, the tech-writing cooking-savant and how she would blanch at this obfuscatory help. Clearly, assessing apple-butter-doneness is the sort of thing you have to learn at the apron of someone who knows it. Here was my attempt at being a good little recipe-follower:

Chilled plate and buttery texture?
Chilled plate and buttery texture?

I’m pretty sure it didn’t cook long enough, but I was running out of time. When the butter started “spitting” and burning me, I decided that I’d better start jarring it. Here’s a picture of what happens to your hand when you wash it as often as I did making this butter. I expect sympathy, people.

Cracked knuckle skin = not fun!
Cracked knuckle skin = not fun!

It was time to start the canning bit. I’ve done this a gazillion times with jam. I advise you to move the jar right next to the pot. A funnel is one of the few truly critical pieces of jamming equipment (you CAN do it without a funnel but it’s HARD). If you are doing jam, use your jars in a bell curve: smallest known jars first (they are hardest to get to seal), then middle, then big, saving a few small jars for the remnants in the pot that won’t fit in a big jar.

In the middle of jarring
In the middle of jarring

At that point, the recipe gets a HUGE strike 2. They had helpfully told me how many jars I would need. I prepared equivalents (I like to use three jar sizes: sampler, medium and big) and added a few extra for safety margin. They were WRONG. I needed three medium jars more than they called for. That’s huge. I actually ran out of prepped jars and had to use an unprepped jar, which I marked with an “X” because I didn’t want to trust the seal on it. ALWAYS HAVE WAY MORE JARS THAN YOU WILL NEED (and enough lids for all the jars you have).

Because of the additional jars, I had to boil them in two sets, making me even later for bed.

Post-boiling process
Post-boiling process

It took me roughly 3 hours, start to finish, to make the apple butter. The good news? It’s delicious, especially on cornbread! The bad news? It’s really sugary, spicy applesauce. We definitely didn’t achieve buttery consistency!

The fruits of my labor
The fruits of my labor

The Best Team Won

Thane discovers the leaves
Thane discovers the leaves

I had one of those weekends that should’ve been awesome. Saturday we drove to New Hampshire, as planned, to the Fall Festival at the Shaker Museum. We did have fun, but it was about 15 degrees colder (and windy!) than it had been at home. The Festival was rather smaller than I expected. Our tour guide seemed to have a highly unsympathetic view of the Shakers, and spent most of the time on various scandals within the order instead of the cool things about it. Still, there were great points. Grey spun a piece of yarn from wool he helped card. Thane danced to a live band singing “Mountain Dew” (yet another sign that Shaker influence had, er, waned). Grey and daddy rolled down a tall hill they climbed together. Thane investigated bright autumn leaves. The wild apple cider was tart and brilliant.

Grey climbed and rolled down the hill behind us
Grey climbed and rolled down the hill behind us

Then to the State Park. All I can say about that is apparently “closing the weekend of Columbus Day” means closing BEFORE the weekend, not after it’s done. No poking sticks into a fire for us.

Grey didn’t vomit Sunday at church, and we were given some awesome beef barley stew. (I kept saying that I’d gotten pregnant just for the care packages. I didn’t even have to get knocked up this time!) I even found some time to sit on the couch and watch the Red Sox vs. the Angels while Adam played baseball in the backyard with our eldest. I watched the Sox come within one strike of getting to game four… twice. I watched Papelbon give up his first post-season hit, and do his first postseason blown save to end the Red Sox year. Next year, it’s entirely possible that there will be only one man left from that miracle bunch of idiots in 2004: our own Greek God of Walks. But some of the players suffered who may leave have been my favorites: Jason Varitek. David Ortiz. Tim Wakefield (who’s been playing for the Sox since I was in high school) can hardly walk. Maybe Mike Lowell? Getting swept sucked, and it’s a long way until March.

Then I made dinner, which turned out ok, and bread pudding, which turned out ok. Followed by bills, which turned out ok.

Monday, I took a vacation day. Grey’s preschool was closed. Adam was off work. I packed us into the car for the second time this weekend to Experience Autumn on a bright, brisk day. We went to Honeypot Farms in Stowe. It was a zoo. You were hemmed in at every corner, denuded of your cash and caught in a crush of crowds. I don’t know how else they could’ve managed the hordes that had descended, but it was much less bucolic reconnecting with nature and much more standing-in-line. Plus, we hadn’t brought a singe Thane-conveyance-device so we had to carry him the entire time. But. Yet. The skies were brilliant blue. We ate Empire apples picked with our own hands in the shade of the trees which had borne them. We had cider donuts crisp from the cooking. Grey saw a pig for the first time. It was not without consolation.

Both Thane and Grey love apples
Both Thane and Grey love apples

When we came home, I’d had dinner cooking, so I let Adam (who was feeling run down) veg while I took the boys to the park. They were FANTASTIC. Grey played wonderful imaginary games with other kids and ran around and was chased by dinosaurs and swam in the imaginary ocean. But on the way home, he refused to come. When I insisted it was time to go home, he pitched one of his most epic fits to date. I actually had to call daddy to please come rescue me and carry him home. I put him to bed without dinner because I couldn’t get him to stop swinging at me. I’m quite sure he was tired past bearing and hungry – those were my fault. But it devolved so fast, I didn’t see it coming. You always wonder, thinking back, how you could’ve used humor or something and made it work out. He was so wonderful and then he was such a stinker.

Dinner, which I prepared with great hope ahead of time, was so-so. After the boys were in bed, I celebrated by losing at Odin’s Ravens.

After that, I realized it was my father-in-law’s birthday and called my mother-in-law to let her know I was thinking of her as she suffers through missing him.

I spent the time after that holding Thane while he screamed for 1/2 hour until either the Tylenol took or the constipation eased.

I woke up this morning to a dark, cold world.

Moments of glory, joy and memory all packed around by the dismal and drear. I suppose that’s the way life goes.

Zombies, Madeleine and apples

Friday: I spent Friday madly doing chores. Upside of being a human adult: ability to plan for the future. Downside: doing as much laundry as humanly possible on a Friday night. After I collapsed into gelatinous goo, I got to watch a bit of the playoff game. I have yet to watch an entire game this playoff season. That is sad. But with the west coastness and extra-inningness… oh well.

Saturday: This was an entirely fun for me day! While I did get up with Grey to give him his waffles, applesauce and strawberries while turning on “Robin Hood” (why yes, I am up for the “Parent of the Year” award — why do you ask?), A. took him to dance class, allowing me to sleep in. Then I went all by myself to our monthly local gaming get-together and played no fewer than three Zombie-related games. (Braaaaaiiiins.) I had to leave early.


Because I had a date. Better yet, a date coupled with a surprise. My loving husband had gotten us tickets to *something* and gotten a friend to babysit Grey.  Anyway, we fed our friend dinner and then went downtown.

On the T in I asked A. where it was we were going. He said that we were going to a concert with a folk singer named Cesaria Evora. Ok. A bit random — never heard of her before but it sounded like fun! And I was wearing a dress! And going out! And with my beloved husband!

Then we got to the actual theater. Hmm… seems like there’s an additional name on that marquee:

Wait a minute... what's that second name?
Wait a minute… what

I totally went squeey-fangirl on him. It was an excellent surprise and I was completely bamboozled. He did very well.

I really, really, really like Madeleine Peyroux’s music. It’s some of my absolute favorite. I was totally expecting to just love her concert. Instead, it was utterly bizarre. For one thing, the Orpheum was this strange combination of rococo opera house meets Fenway park (seriously — they sold hot dogs in the lobby) meets Shakespeare’s Globe theater. (Where I come from you don’t get seated after the lights go out. People were still arriving and being seated an hour later!) For another thing, I have never in my life seen a performer as terrified and uncomfortable as Madeleine was. This includes the 7th grade concert where April Kenny threw up beforehand. She was dressed in a long suit that was at LEAST 3 sizes too large for her. My mother in law would not let me out of the house in this suit. She held her guitar protectively in front of her. When she wasn’t playing, she sort of hunched over and clutched her suit jacket together as though attempting to be invisible. She looked completely miserable — like she wanted nothing so much as to disappear and get OFF THAT STAGE. She got this sort of grimace that was supposed to be a smile when she approached the microphone, which she only did when absolutely necessary. Her patter when she retuned between songs was about as feeble as I’ve ever heard — and the next act didn’t have anyone on stage who spoke English. And worst of all, she didn’t even relax and enjoy when she was making music. She played with her timing in some sort of attempt to… I don’t know… but it didn’t work. She didn’t hit the timing at all. When her set was done, she introduced the rest of her band but refused to introduce herself, and when the playing was done she FLED offstage. She nearly ran, I swear. I have no idea what was up with that — if she hates live performance ever and always, if she got broken up with 5 minutes before curtain, or if she had some sort abdominal pain issue, but it was almost upsetting to watch.

The act after her, on the other hand? The one she was opening for? ROCKED. It was this 70 year old Cape Verdean singer who practically limped on stage and drove the crowd WILD. Her band was FANTASTIC and everything about the show was totally on. And she just exuded confidence and presence and dontgiveadamness. She only spoke in Portuguese. And when she put down her microphone and did the ever so slightest shimmy of a dance, the crowd went absolutely nuts as though Elvis had just done a pelvic thrust.

If you asked me which one I’d rather have a CD of? Totally Madeleine — way more my style. Which performance did I enjoy more? Without a doubt Cesaria was more fun to experience. It was weird.

After the show, I found myself in dire need of dessert. For some reason, the Theater District in Boston does not cater to the “I need dessert” after a show crowd, so we ended up walking all the way down the street to the first place that would take us and feed us something sweet.

By the way, not that this is apropos of anything, but I’m apparently pregnant enough that even the wait staff at the Four Seasons will congratulate me on sight.

It was an awesome day.

Sunday: But wait! The weekend is not over yet!

Sadly, Grey wasn’t feeling very well on Sunday. We went to church, where he melted down in Sunday School. (Seems like every other week — he’s either great or totally melty.) Then after church I had a meeting and A. and Grey helped plant a few trees. Grey was definitely really tired and not feeling 100%… we’d planned on going apple picking. Was this still a good idea?

The way I figured it, we’d have a melty, tired, not-quite-right boy at home or a melty-tired-not-quite-right boy at the apple orchard, so why not pick apples while the sun shined? It was the right decision. The weather cleared just in the nick of time. Grey was GREAT at the orchard. He loved picking the apples. He played hide and seek. He loved eating the apples. We got pumpkins. It was a really lovely time. One should go apple picking at least once a fall when one lives in New England.

But the fun didn’t stop there! I realized when I got home just how many apples half a bushel is. The answer is: a lot. Many. More than we are going to eat. So I figured I’d send Grey and A. over with some apples for Jefferson and his family while I made dinner. Grey did a great job of decorating a bag to put them in. Then the guys took the apples over. Long story short, this resulted in Jefferson coming over to our house for the boys’ first ever playdate! They did really really well together (and looked soooooo cute!) It was fun.

Then I collapsed on the couch and the Sox collapsed in the 12th and I’m tired today. But all in all, it was one of the finest weekends I’ve had in a long time.