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Hey everyone…I’ve got an article on Better Way Moms about the Summer Jar. Go read!
My summer exercise program usually consists of trying to get outside for a walk, or, on days when the planets align, a run. Since it has rained every day in June (and we’re almost at July), I’ve been forced to continue my winter exercise routine of workout videos, mostly the 30 Day Shred.
But you know, sometimes you get a little sick of Jillian, and maybe it’s 7:00 and the drywall contractors are showing up at 7:30 and you really want to get some sort of exercise in before you shower. (Ok, not “you” so much there, but me, last Saturday.) Self magazine had a little feature called “8 Minutes to Slim” which was totally what I needed; it’s like the Reader’s Digest version of 30 Day Shred. Whole body strength moves, short bursts of cardio, children talking the whole time and climbing on you during ab moves. Clearly, it’s better to work out for as long as possible, but if you’re time crunched, and you’re not sure what to do, do the 8 minute thing. I definitely felt it.
(And I was able to get it all in before the drywall guys came, though they did arrive while I was showering, and let themselves in, which either speaks to the friendliness of Maine, or is something I should be massively concerned about.)
For some reason, recently, Henry and I got to talking about New England, where we live, and about colonial times, and just when I was about to start getting nostalgic for colonial times, as though I’d actually lived through them, rather than just fantasized mightily about them from ages 7-14, I decided we should go to the library and get some books that might be a little more factual than what my brain could muster. (Ok, let’s pause a bit and consider how to get Julie to make shorter sentences and give up the comma.)
Our helpful librarian handed us these three books, which are all photo essays as told from the perspectives of a pilgrim girl, a pilgrim boy, and a Wampanoag Indian boy. All the photos are taken of kids who actually work at Plimouth Plantation, and it’s a nice bit to have it be modern photography but otherwise look like it could be a “real” kid in 1627. I guess the characters are all based on actual people, so they are real, in a sense. Henry was fascinated by the clothing (like adding a pocket to your dress) and the food, and I appreciated the books showing how darn hard life was then compared to the cushy world of chore shirking that exists for kids today (in this house, anyway). I do want to read the Little House books and Birchbark House at some point, but these are a great intro, I think.
This whole post is essentially for Emily, who will want to read these books herself. And Anne. Oh, Sarah, I bet you’d like these too. And Sutswana. Ok, all of my peeps who spent childhood afternoons pretending you were grinding your own corn to make Indian Pudding, these are for you. (I’m suddenly thinking this might be 95% of my readers.)
Thursday the summer jar told us to go to the Portland Museum of Art. I’d put it in the jar because I haven’t been in a few years, and I wanted the kids to see all that art right there in our own town, I thought it might be inspiring, and I thought it might be interesting to compare it to the galleries we went to. Instead I spent the whole time feeling like they wanted us to leave.
First they told me that I couldn’t carry Zuzu in my back in the Ergo. I carry Zuzu on my back everywhere and for a moment I couldn’t even get my mind around how I would bring her around the museum if she wasn’t in the Ergo. When I asked why, the woman at the ticket stand (there must be a more official name for that, but anyway) said that it was because I might not be aware of what was on my back. I get what she meant, I think, that if it were really crowded maybe I’d back into a painting? They did at least provide (flimsy) umbrella strollers, so I strapped Zuzu into one of those to wheel her around. But I will say that it felt all wrong to have her all the way down there in the stroller when I’m so used to her being up on my back.
We went into the first exhibit, a collection of paintings from New England artists’ colonies. Eli was pushing Zuzu in the stroller. Within thirty seconds a docent came over and snidely said, “We ask that one adult hand be on the stroller.” Again, I get it. They don’t want a crazed 3-year-old driving the stroller into a sculpture or something. But I was annoyed because I didn’t want the stroller in the first place, and also because it was a crappy stroller that was like a grocery cart with a bad wheel, and also because the docent said it in a voice that said, “I pity you with your horrid, horrid offspring.”
We decided to go upstairs. I’ve never used the elevator in the museum before. There is absolutely no signage telling you where the elevator is (hidden in a hallway off to the side of the entrance). I wouldn’t have to use the stupid secret elevator if it weren’t for the stroller. Anyway, we finally find the elevator after walking all over the first floor, get in, and there’s a sign that says what’s on each floor, which also says, “Interactive Exhibit for Families!” and tells us where that is. We decide to do that, and make the trek through the museum to the adjacent McLellan Sweat House, which requires us to go through small rooms with a jumbled collection of fragile antiquities and an antique couch that Eli said, “Oh look!” about and was walking toward when a guard hissed, “DON’T TOUCH!” at him, so he turned around. Then we went down a small set of stairs and through a giant heavy door (stupid stroller stupid stroller) to get to an empty room that had a sign on the wall that said, “Interactive Exhibit for Families! In Progress!” Sigh.
Up to the third floor we went (in the secret elevator), where the world’s nicest museum worker let Henry wheel Zuzu in careful circles around a bench while he lovingly teased Eli about what he thought might be behind a door in a mural that was taken from the old Westbrook post office. Love that guy. Totally engaged the kids in the art and didn’t yell at Henry about the fact that he was pushing the stroller without an adult hand on it.
Then we got all excited in the next room, which had lots of fun modern art (Warhol! Claes Oldenburg! Roy Lichtenstein!). We peeked up at the Calder mobile, and in the middle of the room was a salvaged-wood sculpture called Gem by Robert Indiana. “Look!” I said to the boys, gesturing at it. “Where do you think those wheels came from?” and as we were debating wagon vs. wheelbarrow, a docent came over and said, “We have an 18-inch rule, and you’re getting a little close with your pointing there.” Translation: “Don’t be exuberant about the art.” Subtranslation: “Please get your rugrats and leave.” And so we did. The boys could tell that they weren’t wanted. They looked hurt. Maybe I did too.
Look, I get it. I know that the museum is filled with priceless works of art. I know that some children are awful and destructive. I get that you need rules to make sure that the art is protected. That’s fine. And I certainly don’t think that the world needs to cater to my children. I don’t think that they should have handed me a “Portland Museum of Art Scavenger Hunt” pamphlet when I walked in (although, hey, that might have been nice). The whole reason we were there was because it wasn’t the Children’s Museum, and I want my kids to understand that the world is not built for them, and that there are also maybe more interesting things in museums than a display where they can milk a pretend cow.
My issue was really with the extreme condescension. People, this is Portland, Maine. It’s a place where we’re nice to each other. It’s a place of genuine smiles. It’s a place where you work at the museum because you love art, and if you see a mom with some engaged kids on an otherwise dead afternoon, you maybe would mention something interesting about the art, rather than throw your mighty docent muscle around.
So we left. We walked down Congress Street and past Whitney Art Works, with its huge window and giant art, and the boys stood there staring and said, “What’s THAT?” and I said, “Let’s go inside” so we did, Zuzu on my back dammit, and the woman in there smiled a huge enthusiastic smile and said, “Hi!” and let us walk around and look at things and we didn’t even have to pay.
Then we got bread and cookies at Big Sky and the boys ate their cookies at Lady Liberty in Monument Square and watched some jugglers and we felt happy about Portland again.
Until we got back to the car and there was a ticket on the windshield.
I’m sure you’re all desperate to know what’s been happening with our summer jar since we started it a little over a week ago. I will say that it’s odd how anxious I get each morning when we pull that day’s activity. But so far all has been great.
Day 1 we picked “Visit an art gallery.” Zuzu had her one-year doctor’s appointment, so we went gallery hopping afterwards. I have to say that I’ve never done this before, and we had a great time, and it did everything it was supposed to: on the drive home, I asked, “What did you learn about galleries?” and Henry said, “I learned that artists can have their own gallery and sell their own art, and that there are so many different kinds of art that people can make. Really cool art!” We went to four different galleries. When we walked into the first one, the Holly Ready Gallery (I love her paintings), Henry said, “This is really SMALL” which opened up the whole discussion on what a gallery is in the first place. The boys also loved Mainely Labs. Predictably. (How often do you get to meet not only the artist, but also the dog who’s in all the paintings?)
Day 2 the jar told us to try a new ice cream place, and we trekked over to Willard Scoops, which is not only a new ice cream place, but a new one in our very own town. I got Salt Caramel, Henry got Candy Shop (which had M&Ms in it) and Eli, a boy after my own heart, got Dark Chocolate (note that they had both Chocolate and Dark Chocolate flavors, and he picked the Dark Chocolate). Zuzu tried some of all of ours.
Day 3 was to hike Bradbury Mountain. This was the first of many outdoorsy summer jar things. I tried to overload the jar with outside exercise, since often the kids’ first inclination is to sit inside reading. And pretty much every time we’ve tried to get them to go on a hike on the weekends, they whine and demand to be carried. I was also nervous since it had been raining for a week without stopping. But trust the Wisdom of the Jar, I say, because it wasn’t raining, and the kids were randomly all happy about a hike, and when we got there they ran ahead of me and jumped up and down with excitement. So much so that I decided to skip our usual shortcut to the summit and took them on the longer route. It was an hour up (and, as other Bradbury Mountain hikers know, five minutes down), and it wasn’t until ten feet from the top that Eli said something about the hike being too long. Plus, Henry found a toad, and we all got to hold him (poor thing). I also took my two new favorite photos of the boys. I took the first picture, saw how glum they looked, and demanded they smile for the second one. Eli’s face in the smiling photo makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.
I forgot that there is a great playground at the end of the Bradbury Mountain hike, and that made it all even better. So Zuzu got to end the hike with one of her favorite activities.
Day 4 was to make a cardboard stool from Foldschool, and that needs its whole own post to talk about, next week some time. Once again trusting the Jar Wisdom, though, since it poured the whole day, making it a bad day for hiking, but a great day for being stuck inside making a cardboard stool.
Yesterday we got “Visit the Portland Museum of Art,” which also deserves its own post, so look for that coming up.
What better time to try a new cookie than at a solstice party (even if it was the zillionth rainy day in a row)? (Ok, I realize that this is yet again just a ridiculous justification for cookie baking.) We were going to Marcus and Lisa‘s for a solstice party, and I’d promised to bring cookies, so we whipped up a batch of peanut butter whoopie pies, which were a lot easier than I thought they were going to be. I was surprised that they actually puffed up into the proper little cakey cookies, and I was sure everything was going to fall to pieces when I spread on the peanut butter filling, but all held just fine. I got the recipe from a Martha Stewart Cookie magazine that came out a few Decembers ago; you can see the recipe here. Yum! Enjoy! Definitely more festive than regular old chocolate chip cookies (which had been my original plan).
Dave’s birthday is in January. So if I think of a good gift for him in late Spring, I’ve either got to wait 7 months, or come up with some other occasion. And so it was that I decided to make Dave bitters for Father’s Day. He’s not my father, and giving an alcoholic accessory for Father’s Day is either wildly inappropriate or maybe incredibly on target.
At any rate, I saw an article in Craft about making your own bitters, and I was inspired, and so I did. The process involved mixing a bunch of herbs in jars and shaking them gently once a day for a month. It also involved me hiding everything, including a bottle of vodka, under the bed, so that if Dave happened upon any of this I’m sure he’d think I was an alcoholic (or a secret mad herbalist, considering what the bitters-in-process looked like).
But in the end, the cherry bitters and orange bitters I made were pretty good. They smelled great. They were very, very bitter (thanks to the gentian root in there, which is also in Moxie). Bitters are supposed to be good for settling your stomach when mixed in seltzer, and I think they’re in a Manhattan. We haven’t actually tried them in a drink yet. But Dave seemed to appreciate them, and it was fun doing something completely non-kid.
There is a reason I don’t usually take photos of the good dinners I make. Tasty dinners are often kind of ugly, plus the lighting at night is just awful and it makes the food look even uglier. But, knowing that, I took a photo of this anyway, and I’m telling you about it, because it was a completely delicious vegetarian dinner (not at all vegan, though, since the butter and heavy cream — though not an outrageous amount — helped to make it so yummy). But look at it. Ech. But ohhh it was good.
I got the recipe from the June issue of Bon Appetit. You’ll probably see a few more recipes from there here soon; it’s a pretty good issue. You can click the link to get the original recipe, or read my revised one below (mainly, I leave out leeks because I have no tolerance for leek de-dirting) (also, I cut down a few steps that seemed superfluous and time-wasting). I will warn you that this is one of those recipes that uses six pots, fourteen pans, two bowls, twelve colanders, and a chafing dish.
POLENTA WITH GREEN BEANS, MUSHROOMS AND PEAS
- 3/4 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 4 cups milk (I used skim)
- 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- 1 3/4 cups polenta
- 1 bunch green onions, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups dry white vermouth (I had about 1/2 cup left, which I mixed with water to make 1 1/2 cups)
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound assorted wild mushrooms (such as crimini, small portobello, and shiitake), stemmed, caps cut into wedges
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley or cilantro, divided
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Blanch green beans 1 minute in boiling water. Add peas and cook until both beans and peas are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set beans and peas aside.
Bring milk and broth to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium. Gradually whisk in polenta. Reduce heat to low. Cook until polenta is very thick, whisking almost constantly, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat; cover to keep warm.
Meanwhile, combine green onions and vermouth in medium saucepan. Boil over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/3 cup, 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Gradually whisk in butter, allowing each addition to melt before adding next. Add cream and whisk over very low heat to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until almost tender, 5 minutes. Stir in onions, 1 tablespoon parsley and cilantro, and thyme. Sauté until mushrooms are very tender, about 5 minutes. Add beans and peas, tossing to coat.
Rewarm polenta and spoon into large shallow bowl. Top with green bean mixture and remaining 1 tablespoon parsley or cilantro. Rewarm leeks over low heat, whisking constantly; spoon evenly over polenta.
Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems
Ok, I am so embarrassed to admit that I only learned a few weeks ago that Mo Willems, author of the wonderments of Knuffle Bunny and the Pigeon books, has written a series of Easy Readers. Of course he has. Who better than Mo Willems to understand the beauty of the Easy Reader, to know how to write something that is both easy to read AND well written? Maybe you all know about these already. But now that Henry can mostly read, we are re-exploring the Easy Reader section of our library, not as a bunch of quickie-quick chapter books, but as books he can actually read.
Let me tell you something. These books are FUNNY. The first time Henry read I Will Surprise My Friend, which he could read by himself, albeit slowly, he laughed so hard he had to stop and catch his breath. The fourteenth time, and I was reading it aloud at this point, he still laughed so hard he wasn’t even making sounds. (Ok, part of it may have been my dramatic reading, but really, these are funny.) So far we’ve read Are You Ready to Play Outside?, There is a Bird on Your Head! and I Will Surprise My Friend. Every single one is a gem. I think that Easy Readers might be the hardest type of childrens’ book to write. You want the kid to be able to read it and not get frustrated, but how many times can they read about Timmy and his puppy before they want to host a book burning party? I give points for books with surprising plots, extra extra points for books that are funny (funny is very hard to do), and special also extra bonus points for throwing in one word that the kid doesn’t know and will be more smartypants if they do know (ok, that’s not an Easy Reader requirement so much as a childrens’-book-in-general desire: how hard is it to throw in an “exasperated” or a “wanton” or a “brouhaha”?).
Willems totally nails the funny bare-bones plot, and, even more, the facial expressions. Get these for your three-year-old, and then continue to administer frequently. Your kid will get them more and more as he or she gets older. And you’ll like them plenty the whole time.