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The thing you can count on in life is that although summer seems endless when you’re little, it just zooms past you like a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 Super Sport when you’re big. I’ve missed you these past several weeks—a crazy month that entailed (Geez! Here we go again!) way too much to do within just a scrap of time.
Summer entails behind-the-scenes work—harvesting carrots, radishes, garlic and peas; juicing lemons for the stand; keeping squash tendrils at bay and tying up tomats; getting poison ivy; catching bullfrogs; making pesto; and then making more and more pesto. It’s just now that I glanced up and realized summer is just about through, and while I should be enjoying every last morsel of it and then licking its plate, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that fall is fast approaching.
Suddenly the days will be cooler and shorter, and we’ll pick the last sweet fall tomato. I feel it. Now it is here. The time of change. The greens of summer will yield to yellows, reds, and rich browns. Carefree days of p.j. pancake breakfasts, grass-stained knees, salty un-brushed hair, dirty hands, late night treats, backyard campouts, and lazy late-sleeping kids will soon silently surrender to organized chaos, breakneck breakfasts, sanitized hands, and scheduled playtimes and appointments.
Fall’s structured pick-ups and drop-offs trigger a new urgency for imaginative exploration and messiness. This is the ultimate challenge—finding time for your smallish people to examine life’s perplexing puzzles while enveloped by the grind of everyday. If you live nearby me, groups like Pottery on Hudson, Art Academy of Westchester, and Jacob Burns Center are certain to get creative juices flowing. And few things make me happier than discovering a new program like that of Robin Dellabough’s Rock, Paper, Scissors. Artistic ventures and active outdoor exploration merge in this hands-on Irvington cairn-building, finger-knitting, labyrinth-designing, wool-felting young-ish kids program.
Consider putting a handful of these events on your calendar:
I know this much is true: This small sliver of time when our kids are our kids—when we hold sticky popsicle hands while crossing Main Street or Beekman or Broadway, when we valiantly help save caterpillars from small puddles, make secret codes and cram pockets with special sparkly rocks—it is fleeting. So, drink up the last delicious drops of summer, and unwrap the small, secret gift of everyday.
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As mentioned here and here, I don’t like to cook. Or even to bake, really. For me every meal is a trial.
There have been a few times when I actually have enjoyed my time in the kitchen. Almost all have involved a glass or two of wine.
And, so when my smallest person returned from school the other day determined to enter a homemade apple pie in the farmers market pie contest, I immediately broke out in a cold sweat.
I have never baked a pie.
My pie-o-phobia is mostly due to years of extensive advice provided by well-intentioned gastronomes—freeze the flour, mix with a light hand, roll from the center, pre-cook the apples, heap them up high, wet the top crust—to me, this is dizzying. But how do you dismiss a small pie-obsessed enterprising firebrand who makes a completely convincing case—Mom, we could do it together, she says.
In the end, I have learned that if you can make a purple Play-Doh pie (and my daughter is a self-proclaimed master), you can make an apple pie.
Oatmeal, hazelnuts, boiled cider, sour cream, ground cloves, lemon zest, pepper, melted apple jelly, vodka—all can do wonders for an apple pie, I’ve heard. We stuck with a few simple ingredients we had on hand—fresh fruit, flour, butter, eggs, sugar. Homemade pie can only be as yummy as the produce put into it. We put in a mixture of local Honeycrisps, Macouns, Jonathans and Crispins. Other late-fall blends could include Northern Spy, Pink Lady, Rome, Cortland, Braeburn, Rome, Idared, and Black Twig.
This recipe is perfect for making one double-crust apple pie.
Flaky Butter Crust:
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup butter, chilled and diced
- ½ cup ice water
In large, refrigerated bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter only until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water, a Tbs at a time, until mixture forms a ball. Don’t overwork the dough. Shape dough into two flat disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour. Unwrap one dough disk and roll out on wax paper. Invert over 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Ease dough into pan bottom and corners. Refrigerate.
- 6 cups apples, quartered, cored, peeled and sliced very thin
- 1 Tbs lemon
- ¾ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup flour
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- Pinch of salt
- 1 eggwhite
- 1tbs milk
- 1 Tbs butter, frozen
Set pizza stone or cookie sheet on center rack of oven. Preheat oven to 475. Brush bottom piecrust lightly with egg white. Bake for 5 minutes. In large bowl, mix apples with lemon. In separate bowl, combine sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add apples and mix. Add salt and mix. Arrange apples in layers on dough-lined pie plate. Heap them up high, since they will cook down a bit. Cover filling with diced butter.
Roll out second dough disk. For a lattice-top crust, cut ¾ inch strips and carefully weave onto filling. For a solid crust, center dough onto filling and cut steam vents near crust edge with paring knife. Trim and tuck edges. Place pie in freezer for 10 minutes. Brush top with a light layer of milk and sugar. Reduce oven temperature to 400. Bake on preheated pizza stone until top crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Fasten foil rim around crust edge. Continue baking until juices bubble thickly at pan edges and big slow bubbles rise up through the vents, about 35 more minutes.
Transfer pie to wire rack and (the ultimate challenge) commit to an hour-long mouthwatering wait. At least.
The Story’s End
At this point, you are most likely at the edge of your seat wondering about our pie contest outcome. To our complete surprise, the pie was a prize-winning one. Yay! And so, later that week at a friend’s house, composed and confident, in an attempt to replicate success, I made the same exact world-class pie and popped it into the oven. And broiled it. A total flop. I will spare you the gory details. And yet, I remain fully committed to trying this recipe out with fresh local Anjou pears next week, er tomorrow.
Now, go forth and bake ye some pie! And at Thanksgiving dinner (It’s coming, you know!) when folks ask your kids, What have you been up to lately? He or she may reply, Oh, nothing much. Just hanging out.
And making the best pie ever.
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If you’d like to find me anytime soon, you needn’t look far. Recently, my little team and I made a few zesty concoctions for Whipup’s latest issue of Action Pack. Themed around the concept of Zap and Zest, this issue is jam-packed with enough recipes, crafts and science projects to keep an active family busy throughout the fall (and longer). Joining me in contributing to this issue are Whipup’s very own Kathreen Ricketson, Lisa Tilsa (The Red Thread) and Pascale Mestdagh (Between the Lines)—a double 60-page issue (without advertising!) full of electricity and battery experiments, poppy and fizzy reactions, zesty recipes and concoctions, and hands-on games and activities.
Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—generating and understanding static electricity, assembling a lemon battery and a citric acid fizz popper, cooking up lemon syrup cake and lemon cordials, concocting zesty bath fizz, and making top secret lemon-y messages and spooky orange candles.
Be sure to check out this download-able, 60-page, paperless e-magazine for an affordable $6, featuring Mossy’s recipes and detailed instructions for candied citrus peel and citrus body scrubs.
Have fun mixing it up!
Click HERE to find out more info.
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Now we will count
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be a peculiar moment,
we would all be together
in a sudden uneasiness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to whales;
and the peasant gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green war—
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victory without survivors—
would put on clean clothing
and walk alongside their brothers
in the shade,
and do nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about.
If we were not so devoted
to keeping our lives in motion,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a great silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything appears at its end
then everything is, in fact, living.
Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
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Sometimes small fingers (and old fingers) find small projects to be tricky— tying a shoe, handling scissors, zipping a zipper, buttoning a button—they all require precision and a steady hand. As does hand sewing. Sewing not only demands dexterity, but also requires patience. On top of this, it adds the threat of a potential finger prick. Followed by little watery eyes. Yowch!
This is incredibly unfortunate, since small people frequently like playing with small friends. Dollhouse people, finger puppets, Lego people, tiny wooden animals—they are all good company and don’t seem to eat much. My small people have been captivated by my friend Charlotte’s small friends for quite some time now. This has been a challenge for both them and me since Charlotte’s small friends, remarkably sweet and delicate, are very very small. They are hand-sewn mice—reflective, contemplative furry friends with strikingly large personalities. As well, they have microscopic eyes and noses, giving them extra bonus points.
Tortured by the opposing forces of teeny, wild fingers and the love of all things small, my design team and I made futile attempts at replicating Charlotte’s mice. In the end, we designed a simple, slightly larger pattern with exposed stitching that is just perfect for small fingers.
For this project, you will need a small collection of 100% wool sweater scraps. Solid, striped or patterned. As with the Tiny Birdhouse and Swittens projects, add your wool sweater to the laundry batch and wash and dry on normal. This project also requires a needle, thread and some stuffing like organic cotton stuffing, hemp fibers or wool. We are renowned for borrowing (well, stealing, really) synthetic filling from retired threadbare elderly friends. Those of you who are fancy may opt to insert a small rice or bean-filled fabric bag in the base of the mouse to provide some weight.
Pattern: Size is up to you. I recommend that you size your first mouse on a slightly-larger-than-life size (dare I say, rat size?). As with the Swittens project, I have found that there is a significant positive correlation between successful project outcome and project size, when measured by various indicators, such as big smiles. Don’t start out too teeny.
Cut the sweater as below. In addition, you will need a tail. It should be a long, skinny rectangular piece (that will later be folded and sewn).
Sewing Instructions: Fold the tail in half and secure with a blanket stitch. (Just a note: Futuregirl has a fantastic photo-filled tutorial on blanket stitching.) With wrong sides together, stitch down the back of the body. Stitch from the nose down, stopping about ½ inch before the end. Insert end of tail at bottom of back and secure. Finish stitching bottom of back. With wrong sides together, stitch the bottom edge of the body to the oval base, leaving approximately a 2-inch gap for stuffing.
Insert stuffing into the mouse, filling the nose first. When almost full, insert bean bag and continue stitching to close the back seam. Fold the base edge of ears in half and secure with a few central stitches. Flatten the seam and position the ears on the mouse head. Stitch. Use a felting needle and wool roving to make eyes and nose. Use strong button thread for whiskers if you are most able.
(And, “most able” sort of sounds like “vote on Babble,” which reminds me to ask for your vote, since Mossy has been nominated on Babble for an important thingy, and if you enjoy the post you’ve read or any you’ve read in the past, or if you plan to enjoy any posts you’ll read in the future, please give Mossy a “thumbs up.” It’s just a click. Here on Babble. Thank you in advance. I will mail you a hug.)
Now you have a new small friend. And you and your family will love your friend more than you ever thought was possible. I mean love. More than anyone should.
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We are a swarm of busy bees. Fussing and fretting and scheduling and shuttling from one playdate to another, from piano lesson to math tutor, from homework to pizza to bed. We are endlessly engaged. We are attentive and purposeful. We are genuine. We want what’s best. In the midst of it all, it is the silence that is important. It’s in this stillness within the turbulence that we’re given the chance to soak it all up, to make sense of it, to make a mess of it, to be resourceful and self-sufficient, to take a separate path. It is important to sometimes be still. To be solitary. To be alone.
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Once you’ve perfected the Felted Wool Ball and your design team is ready to rally, see if you have the technical adroitness to make something super crafty—The Felted Finger Puppet.
For this project, you will need bowl of hot, slightly soapy water, a bowl of cold soapless water, carded wool, scraps of 100% wool felt, a needle and thread, warm water and warm hands. As posted previously, carded wool (or “wool roving”) can be purchased at local farms, craft stores or online (e.g. Local Harvest, Etsy, Halcyon Yarn, or Peace Fleece). Peace Fleece offers a “Rainbow Felting Pack” that is perfect for this project.
As with the Felted Wool Ball, pull off a small length of wool and divide it into many thin longish strips.—multiple thin layers will produce the sturdiest felted material. Wrap one strip as you would wind a ball of string—in thin layers around your index finger making sure you cover the fingertip. Wrap the remaining wool strips around the first, adding layers until you can no longer feel your knuckle. The wool should be snug, but not too tight (about 1/8 in thick when pressed).
Dip your wooly finger into the bowl of hot, slightly soapy water. Remove your wooly finger from the water and gently press the wool with the fingertips of your other hand, squeezing gently. Continue to re-wet and squeeze the wool until you feel the fibers become entangled and you feel the fabric becoming firmer (you will notice this within a few minutes). When the fabric is very firm, submerge your wooly finger into the bowl of cold (soapless) water to set the fibers and rinse. Remove excess water by gently squeezing your wooly finger. Like the Felted Wool Ball project, if your hands are perpetually cold like mine, you will find this project somewhat challenging. Carefully remove the wool from your finger.
After air-drying the wool for several hours, you and your starry-eyed design team must envision the outcome— cow, wolf, librarian, martian—the brainstorming starts now. The puppets can be embellished with needle felting (e.g. bumblebee stripes, eyes, nostrils), cut wool sweaters (e.g. lion mane, dragon wings) and embroidery thread.
These little friends, as seductive as they are, often are central to my operation. With their cheerful banter, they lure my girls into unappealing household tasks such as eating veggies, washing dishes or brushing their teeth. These little friends are known to appreciate clean plates and good attitudes. As well, they provide teeny shoulders for us all to cry on after challenging days.
Wool felt is the earliest known form of fabric—therefore the process of felting has been around much longer than any of us—including supertalented felt artists Marjolen Dalinda, Renata Kraus, and Irena Rudman. Additional tutorials and inspiration for felting projects like the ones we have made here can easily be found on many blogs and craft sites like Wee Folk Art, Rhythm of the Home, Laura Lee Burch and Martha Stuart. For those in a hurry, finished products can be found on Chickadee Swing, and in many Waldorf catalogs.
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I am an optimist. I envision a utopian home in which all family members are empathetic and think before they act. Despite the obvious obstacles, bumps and stumbles, I maintain my mental focus on my fantasy and figure if they see me on the road to making (often futile) attempts at keeping it real, they will, in turn, follow.
It doesn’t make much sense for me to send my girls to school with a paper bag lunch full of Capri Suns and Lunchables when they are learning that day about recycling in school. In fact, I am hoping that if my girls see me making an effort to make good choices, they will (ultimately) make good choices—pack an organic waste-free lunch, bundle up and walk to and from school and feel it—the drizzle, the crunchy leaves, the wool scarf—talk about friendships, about concerns, and listen. Just listen.
It’s about finding the lesson—the value and realness of everything—everything thought, felt, touched, said, eaten—every moment of life is a teacher.