September 28, 2012


The carpet ripping up continues. We still have the den and the stairs to go and I'm hoping that the rain forecasted for the weekend will help us get the job finished. A combination of sunny days when no one wants to be inside working and soccer, which is taking over our lives, our week day evenings and our Saturdays has seriously stretched the project out. But in the bedrooms upstairs it's done. Yay! Thank goodness too because every time we had the wood stove cranking Evelyn's room smelled like pet birds.
The downside to having no carpet upstairs is that there is less noise insulation between the floors. With carpet we really couldn't hear the kids when they were upstairs romping around, and now we can, although it's not too bad. And better, by far, than bird smell.
The upside is that, under the nasty stained and smelly carpet we found that our bedrooms have, not plywood, but wood plank sub floor. It is, in fact, the top side of the living room ceiling except without the grooves between the boards. There is still plywood in the closets and right at the entry but the bulk of the space is surprisingly smooth wood which, except for the splotches of paint all over, looks pretty good.

So now the question is what to do with it. Paint? Leave it splotchy? Cover with rugs? I've been experimenting with aging wood which does a good job of covering the darker splotches which makes me think some light sanding to take off the worst of the lighter spots and then aging it might work. I'm undecided. What do you think?

On a related note, I'm kind of loving this chalkboard wall in the bedroom. I don't think Will will go for it and I'm not sure I could live with it forever, but it might be fun for a while.

September 26, 2012

the woodpile and the woodstove: a learing curve

Once upon a time, in a fit of early relationship romanticism, I took Will up to the mountains near Eugene to cut down our first Christmas tree. On the way there we realized that there would probably NOT be a handy dandy chainsaw guy hanging around on the side of the hill, so we stopped at a Sears and bought the cheapest axe we could find. Except it wasn't an ax, it was a splitting maul. But since we were young and stupid and didn't know the difference, it's what we bought. We didn't realize that it was a splitting maul till later, I think my dad spotted it in our apartment (because, you know, that's what you have in your apartment when you are 20- along with the required futon and the rickety mismatched chairs) and told us what it was. Until then we just though we had a really crappy ax, because it sucked at chopping down Christmas trees. My dad always laughs at that story. Because despite spending most of our married life living in cities or medium to large sized towns in houses without fireplaces, we've held onto the thing. And everytime he (or we) see it leaning in a corner of whatever house we're living in, it's hard not to remember it's backstory. But what he didn't know (although, to be fair, how could he, we sure didn't) was that one day we would move to Vermont and have to learn how to use a wood stove. And after a few weeks of struggling with too large chunks of firewood, we would pull that crappy-Christmas-tree-cutting-thing out and holy cow, it's handy for chopping big wood chunks into small wood chunks (obviously, since that's what it's made for).

It's cold here in the mornings. Some days it's cold all day. And YES I know I ain't seen nothing yet. But still, it's hovering near the freezing point most nights, which means when we get up at way-too-early in the morning in order to get the kids on the also way-too-early in the morning bus, our house is pretty chilly. So we start up the wood stove. Haltingly, often with copious amounts of paper and sometimes a firestarter as well because I'd rather be a wimp and have to use firestarters than sit in a cold house all day.

Heating with wood is a thing here. So much of a thing that the local NPR station just did a show about how much of a thing it is. The culture of firewood. There is much debate surrounding the best way to stack it, and more debate over its virtues, or lack there of, on the sustainability front. There are showrooms for different models of wood stoves (we are lusting over something along these lines, pretty and functional!) and I can't tell you how often I've heard the phrase "It's the heating source that warms you twice! Once when you stack it and once when you burn it!" Although now that I'm experiencing it, I'd say it's more like three times, because splitting it into usable pieces is a pretty good workout as well.

We have, at the moment, half of our firewood "in". This week we gave away our hot tub (I know, those of you who love hot tubs are wondering WHY? But a) we don't love hot tubs and b) it needed a new cover for winter and therefore c) it seemed like a bad idea to pay to keep it running and pay for a new cover when we weren't really going to use it) which leaves us with an excellent spot to stack and store the other half of the wood we need to get though the winter. In fact, next year we have plans to build a new woodshed on the spot so that our wood is just out the sun room door instead of across the yard. See, I'm thinking ahead here. Of course, we also have plans to buy (and learn to use) a chainsaw so that we can cut some wood off our own land (according to the NPR story, 1/2 a cord per acre is the right amount to clear per year to keep things healthy and stable). And to get bees. And also maybe meat birds. Crazy, we are.

I'm developing a love hate relationship with this heating with wood thing. I love the smell of it. I love the way it heats you up. I kind of even love the ritual of hauling in wood (that may change). Actually, there's nothing I really hate about it, although I don't love our actual stove, I'm just not particularly good at getting a fire going. So I guess it's a love-not good at it relationship. I'm hoping that in time (and after the chimney gets cleaned on Friday) we will get better at getting it going. And then it will just be a love-love relationship (with a lot of sweeping).

Anyone else heat with wood? Advice would, of course, be much appreciated.

September 25, 2012

a view, a memory

One of my favorite memories of high school is of the annual barn dance and cider pressing at the farm of a family we knew. In reality I probably only went to it twice, maybe even once, but somehow it's become an integral moment from my childhood, something that defined what it was like to live where I lived, when I lived there. The long tables in the barn spread with a hodge podge of potluck dishes, everyone eyeing them up, trying to decide which dishes would be best. The women sitting around an old picnic table, quartering apples, then cutting them into smaller chunks, filling the buckets that would be taken by the boys to the big press, bolted to a cement pad in front of the barn. The dads would take turns with the crank, occasionally some of the bigger kids would get in there and try their hand as well. And by the time we were ready to eat, there were jugs and jugs of cider. More than you could possibly drink in one night, although we tried. We drank it cold during dinner and then hot later in the evening, sitting around a big bonfire while people danced in the barn, climbed on the climbing wall, hid in the loft. Babies slept in peoples laps, people sang, stars twinkled. It's a good memory. A perfect moment.

This week there was a note in the school bulletin about a harvest dinner. All welcome. Bring a dish to share and your own plates and utensils. It sounded like fun. Something to fill our Sunday evening.We could stop by for an hour and then come home. In the end, though, we stayed for hours.

East of our little village there is an old schoolhouse that's now a food coop and store. We've been there several times. It's on the way-ish to the lake and has one of the best beer selections in town. Plus it's just a fun place. Behind the schoolhouse is a community garden and the school garden that provides our school with most of it's vegetables (ours is not exactly your average elementary school in many ways, the amazing school lunches being just one of them). And behind the garden, the hills roll away to farmland and mountains beyond. A beautiful view.

People showed up with bags of apples for the press. Crab apples and windfalls and strange little warty green apples. The kids washed them and cranked the chopper and then took turns at the wheel of the press. And then we sat at long tables covered with a mish-mash of tablecloths and ate squash and apple dominated dishes with our fresh cider until it was way past time to take the kids home to bed.

It almost didn't seem real- the view, the setting, the cider, the milling people, the twinkle lights and candles. It looked like something that would be staged for a tourist brochure or a movie. But it was. And it was perfect. One of those nights that is sure to stick in our minds. I hope it does. I hope that twenty years from now our kids will look back and say, "Remember that night? That dinner? Remember running around in the garden? Watching the bees file into their hives? Pressing apples until our fingers were sticky? How good the hot cider was when the sun went down and it got cold? Remember that?" Actually, I hope that twenty years from now we are still going to that Harvest Dinner. But even if we aren't, we have this one. A good memory. A perfect moment.

September 21, 2012

spilling out

Oh you guys, I was good, I really was, all though Evelyn's sweater. I had two projects on the needles, one small enough to keep in my bag (a handspun wool hat for Briton) and the sweater. And that's it. And then I bound it off, and cast on Briton's and I was still good. Just two projects, cranking along. So I'm not sure how I got to the point where my workbasket is literally spilling over with yarn and all my bags have projects in them and I have both a quilt and embroidered ornaments in progress (this kit - how could I resist?) and yet I still spent a good two hours cruising Ravelry last night because I need to make a sweater for me, and a scarf,  or maybe some mittens, ohhh look at that cape!  I wonder if Evelyn would wear that?

I blame the cold weather. I always want to knit, but when the wood stove is cranking away and it's 35 degrees out there at night, I really really want to knit. I NEED to knit. All the time. Or at least sit with wool in my lap.

So these days I have one, two, THREE hats a going.

And Briton's sweater.

And some mittens with my favorite me-spun yarn.

And some socks that I found half finished in my long lost yarn box (which wasn't lost, but just in storage.

And also I realized I have lots of crazy sock yarn sitting around that needs to be crazy stripy socks, so there's that too.

I can't tell you how many times Will has accidentally sat on, knelt on, or tripped over knitting projects this week. Sock needles are particularly painful to step on I'm told (oops) I'm out of control, and the cold weather has just begun. We may be engulfed in yarn before spring comes. So if we stop responding to calls, my friends, send help, because the yarn probably has us trapped.

Oh, Rhinebeck and the Vermont Wool Festival are both coming up which means....more yarn! Mummmm, I can't wait.

Anyone else feeling the cool weather knitting/project bug hitting?

September 20, 2012

apple crumble buckle

Something about the crisp weather and the fire and cozy animals made me hungry for something sweet and yummy yesterday. So, after taking stock of what baking supplies I had on hand (only one stick of butter! The horror!) and the big bag of apples in our pantry, I decided to try a buckle.

I've been a lifelong fan of crumbles, and crisps are pretty high up on my list of favorite desserts, but I've never made a buckle. Or maybe I have, I'm not really sure what makes a proper buckle. This one was a mix of several recipes I found when browsing around pinterest, a little bit buckle, a little bit crumble, and so yummy. It tasted like fall.
I had intended to give the kids a slice when they came off the bus but there were too many things to hear about - Briton got to play the symbols in band (please oh please don't send them home with him to practice) A boy in Evie's class keeps saying she has a crush on him but she doesn't, because he likes to burp and she would NEVER have a crush on a boy who likes to burp (which probably rules out most of the under 20's for her, thank goodness), they are choosing lab partners in science, Briton knew almost all of the countries on his geography quiz thanks to a combination of Risk and the Princess Bride ("I even knew Greenland. NO ONE knew Greenland, but I did, because, you know 'Unemployed....In Greenland'") And then it was time for soccer and then baths and then dinner.
But eventually, reheated on top of the wood stove after the kids had gone to bed, we dug in. Will said I should write it down so I don't forget and to not tweak it next time, because he liked it just as it is. So here we go, the apple crumble buckle. No tweaking. Except, maybe next time with some blackberries thrown in?

Apple Crumble Buckle

This makes a pretty small dessert, enough for four medium servings really. I baked it in my smallish casserole pot and it was perfect but I bet you could double it and make a big one for a crowd and it would be just as delicious. The buckle part is not very sweet, which works well with the very sweet crumble. So make sure you take a bite of all the layers at once!

For the buckle:
3/4 cup plus 2 T flour
1 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cup apples, cored but not peeled and cut into chunks
1 tsp cinnamon

For the crumble:
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla

Beat the butter and sugar for the buckle until they are well creamed then add the egg, vanilla and sour cream. Mix until combined. Sprinkle the flour, baking powder and salt over the mixture and  beat lightly until just combined. Pour into the bottom of a buttered pan and top with apples. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the top.

In a food processor, pulse all ingredients until combined then crumble over the apples

Bake at 350 for 40 minute or until a knife pushed in comes out clean.

September 19, 2012

sunshine and storm

 Yesterday it rained all day long. Not just rained, poured. The wind blew, the rain blew and I stayed indoors, curled up in the armchair with my computer, covered in blankets and kittens. I wrapped my teapot in a dishtowel to keep it from going cold and kept the wood stove going for most of the day. And it was nice. Nice to just snuggle down with slippers on and big mugs of tea.

But sunshine is also nice as well. Today the sun is out, in that after a storm bright and shiny kind of way. This morning I planted mums outside our door and then took the dog for a kindling gathering walk since tonight it is supposed to get down to almost freezing. The old green crate, which used to be strapped to my sled to keep me in as a toddler, is full, ready for the cold snap. I stacked firewood in the sunroom, ready for this evening. For now the house is still warm from yesterday's fire. Later there will be some knitting, because even in the sun, it's sweater and hat weather out there, my favorite kind. Wishing you a beautiful fall day, wherever you are.

September 17, 2012

sunday at the fair

 Sometimes Will and I, especially I, get so caught up in renovating that we forget to stop and play as a family. The kids are generally so happy to stay at home and run wild in the woods, which makes it all to easy to spend our whole weekend working working working. And that's great in it's way, but it's also something we have to watch, because otherwise we miss the fun things that are going on around us.

So, on Sunday, even though we had still not ripped out the carpet upstairs, hadn't finished cleaning up the yard and had a 3/4 painted upstairs bathroom, we set off for the Tunbridge Worlds Fair.

I love fairs. Not the rides particularly and not the midway at all. But I love the animals and the blue ribbon jams and the decorated vegetables. The old timey things. Which Tunbridge had, along with, of course, the rides and games. And also a cow standing in the river. I'm not sure why, but no one else seemed to think that was strange.

But they also had antique farm machines shooting corn and splitting logs and spinners spinning flax and wool and people in costume roasting chickens over a fire and wooden water pipes being drilled. The kids sat in the old schoolhouse and wrote on slates. We drank freshly pressed apple cider and bought candy from the general store. There was a surrey, with a fringe on top (no, really, but the upholstery was black on this one) And we went on the Ferris Wheel, all together. I'll take that over ripping up carpet any day.

September 14, 2012

new little faces

This morning I find myself a bit distracted by the two newest members of our family, added late last night after a post-soccer-practice drive over the pass. Delphinium Daisy (otherwise known as Finn) and Pebble (or PB, to go with our Jelly). Finn is the darker (and the more adventurous) of the two.
We've been planning this for a while. A cat that will enjoy the kids, and the dog, and being inside. (Since ours doesn't enjoy any of those things. In fact, she's gone totally feral, feared missing at the moment) And then when we started reading about kittens, we found that bringing home siblings is often better for everyone involved. But I'll tell you what, neuter and spay programs in Vermont must be pretty effective because finding one kitten, let along two, was not very easy.

We visited several shelters and talked to many more and with no luck. The only thing available seemed to be skittish barn kittens or older cats, neither of which quite fit the bill. So when these two popped up for adoption, two little girls just the right age, from a family with kids and dogs who just happened to be the tiger stripy variety the kids wanted, it was too good to pass up, even if it meant a slightly late in the evening drive over the mountains.
They are, as you may have guessed, well loved already. Especially by the dog who either thinks they are her puppies or that she is a mama cat. She woke me up every time they crawled out of their basket over night and has spent the morning pacing between them in case one gets lost. The kids, and I must admit Will and I as well, are equally taken with these two. So this morning each time I sit down, I seem to be getting up again to fish someone off the piano bench or out from under the cabinets, the dog whimpering at me until they are safe again.
It was a hard sell to get everyone out the door this morning and only done with many promises of a weekend of cuddle and play time. Now we just need to figure out how each of the kids can have one sleeping with them (their plan) when Nigella clearly has other ideas for these two.

September 12, 2012

oh to live in the woods, a cautionary tale

Some days I wake up in wonder. I look out our living room windows and it seems that we live, not just in the trees, but in a tree house. A sea of green, slowly changing to reds and golds. Dappled sunlight, babbling brooks, forest paths. It's all there, right outside our door.
And then some days living in the woods is not quite so picturesque. Like when these suckers wake you up at two in the morning doing a seriously good impression of someone being murdered on your front porch while trying to carry off your cat. (Scary fisher cat picture courtesy of Google, because I'm sure as shit not going out to snap a photo of one in the middle of the night)

Or when you have to put EVERYTHING in glass jars because, people, there are mice.

Or when, yesterday, you sat at your desk, industriously working away, only to be distracted by strange scrabbling noises. At first, thinking it was your missing- possibly taken by fisher cats- feline, you check outside. No dice. Then you move to the basement where a manic squirrel is trying desperately to climb through the basement windows,  up the walls,  along the plumbing, over your shelves and though your previously neatly arranged crafts supplies. Keeping calm of course, you use your husbands prized fly fishing rod to try to coax it away from the (closed) windows and toward the (now open) basement door while your dog tries to squeeze through the cat door to come to your aid (ok, that part was pretty funny). And then, in a last ditch effort to escape, crazy squirrel leaps ON TO YOUR VEST causing you to scream  loudly, throw the fly rod in the air, fling off your vest and, scare the hell out of the utility guy who only came to mark your underground lines so you can put in a driveway fence.

I bet you wish you lived in the woods, right?