Poison Ivy Field (Fence?) Guide

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We receive quite a few questions about poison ivy.  I’m embarrassed to say I have the perfect specimen growing right in my yard!  We haven’t had a chance to veeeery carefully get rid of it yet.  Hopefully the photo will help clear some stuff up.  Except for your rash if you already have one.  Can’t help with that at the moment!

Anyway, a common phrase is “leaves of three, let it be”.  But there’s a lot that looks like it could be it if that’s the main thing  you’re going on, right?  Poison ivy can be tricky even for the experienced because it can look so different at different ages and stages.

I decided to get a shot of this because it has multiple good examples.  See how the leaves are a bit shiny when they are little?  That progressively goes away and they tend to darken up as it gets bigger.  And see the actual vine?  That red, hairy vine?  It just looks like it wants to define the word itch, right?  Don’t touch that either; it can also give you a rash.  It can get pretty thick and ropy–up to several inches across.  It can get you even in the winter, when the leaves are dead.  We hope you’re a treehugger, but be careful about it!

Anyway, I may add to this or post a follow up with more trivia, history, and avoidance and treatment tips at some point.  But now that this stuff is out there in earnest I wanted to get the photo up if anyone wanted to bookmark it.  And do that, because I hope to cautiously get rid of it before anyone can come check it out in person!

Camping Checklist


Angelika’s Car-Camping Checklist, with free printable pdf file at the end. I have linked each item to the actual product I use. This is the list I use to go with Alex and Jen. We sleep together on a Queen-sized mattress and all in a double sleeping bag. We put sleeping at one end of the giant 8-person tent and the table at the other. The kids keep their toys and books there so that they are off the floor.

Sleeping

Kitchen

Campsite

  • table
  • chairs
  • insect repellant
  • sun screen
  • bikes
  • clothes line
  • powercord rated for outside use
  • insect bite medicine
  • allergy medicine
  • camp towels

Clothes

  • underwear
  • shorts
  • shirts
  • pants
  • fleece top
  • rain jacket
  • sandals
  • swim suit
  • sun hat

Here is the downloadable pdf file Car-CampingCheckListbyPlaygroundHunt

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Best Body Paint Recipe

We have tried making body and face paint from a bunch of different ingredients. This is the best one we have made: the paint doesn’t dry or crumble, and it washed off easily with soap and water.

  • 1Tbsp shortening
  • 2Tbsp corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp tempera paint powder

Mix and paint on skin with brushes or fingers

Wash off with soap and water

Here are some photos of us testing the different skin paints we made

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Best Play-Dough Recipe

This is the best play dough recipe we have made. It does need to be cooked, but it is totally worth it. We kept this dough in little zip bags and it stayed usable for months. The recipe worked best when our food processor did all the kneading work.

Color, sparkles, glitter, etc. can be added at the end. Unless you need Frozen dough, then according to Jen you add blue and sparkles to EVERYTHING 😀

Ingredients

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups salt
  • 6 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 3 cups cool water
  • 3 Tbsp oil
  • Food coloring

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Directions

  1. Mix dry ingredients in a big cooking pot.
  2. Blend liquids together in a bowl.
  3. Combine with dry ingredients and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.
    • dough will start solidifying – KEEP STIRRING
  4. Remove from heat when dough pulls away from the sides of the pot and can be pinched without sticking (about 5 min.)
  5. Put into food mixer (KitchenAid) with dough hook and knead until smooth
    • alternatively turn onto board or counter and knead until smooth
  6. Store in an airtight container.

Arty Campers

In case you didn’t notice, the big plan I had last year of funding and publishing Recipes for Disaster was, well, as disaster: I was in hospital for a week instead of promoting the Kickstarter during it’s last few days. It didn’t get fully funded and since those projects are an all-or-nothing deal, bajillions of cute children didn’t get to mush around in home-made paint. Sigh 😉

I still got to go and show people what it was all about while we were camping at Searsport Shores Ocean Campground as an artist-in-residence in July 2014. And guess what! They said I could come back for 2015!!! Proof: Artist in Residence Schedule

I will be showing campers how to:

In case you can’t join me in Maine from June 28 to July 4, I’m going to post my best recipes from my Recipes for Disaster collection. I’m so sad I can’t use my slogan: Tested by Children, Perfected by Science

Purgatory Chasm State Reservation–Sutton, MA

Mother’s Day can be a wonderful, joyous holiday.  But sometimes, as thankful as you are, it doesn’t live up to expectations.  Perhaps your family is far away, or passed on, or perhaps you have complicated family dynamics.  Sometimes there is just some understandable frustration if the kids decide to pick that day to begin acting up.

Some kids are tree huggers. Bridget is a rock hugger!

Some kids are tree huggers. Bridget is a rock hugger!

Why not embrace this, and spend Mother’s Day in Purgatory?  Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, that is!  The chasm is a bouldery cliff and cave filled mini-canyon in Central Massachusetts.  Unlike many geological phenomenon where they’ve got a pretty good idea about the science of it, there seems to be a lot of controversy about how this one actually formed.

As always, it can be tricky to illustrate the scope of these things with photography, but here are a few tries.  Note some remaining snow in the last one!

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Yes, we brought the littles to a state park filled with such gorgeous but challenging features.  There were a lot of children there and it was not harrowing.  One should be mindful and very serious injuries are not common, but like any outdoor adventure the payoff is worth it if you take precautions.  Climbing among the cool rocks and exploring the caves was refreshing on this 90F Mother’s Day!

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We were careful to follow the marked trail which leads through the bottom of the chasm and then you can loop around the top on either side.  Be prepared to boulder climb through the chasm and then the loops are easy to moderate.  We took another short extension at the end of the chasm that followed a beautiful stream and led to a waterfall.  There are several more miles of trails around the rest of the park as well. (Click to enlarge any thumbnails.)

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They have a lot of regular park programming just like our Middlesex Fells here in town.  We’d just missed a “skull science” presentation.  In-season there is a very reasonable parking fee of five dollar per car but that doesn’t begin until Memorial Day weekend.  So all it cost us was an “ice cream tax” from the friendly truck driver who correctly assumed it would be a great place to plop down for the day, but overall it was a very reasonable Mother’s Day celebration!  There are public bathrooms, a small visitors center (pick up a trail map!), and the entire park is dog-friendly (on leash).

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In honor of all our playground  lovers, I have to mention the park has a pretty nice playground, considering it is pretty much a natural playground itself, arguably moreso than most day hikes.  The landscaping is beautiful and the merry-go-round was especially popular.  There are also many picnic tables with grills. There doesn’t seem to be an extra fee for those, but I imagine they are staked out quickly in peak season!

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At one hour from Boston, Purgatory Chasm is a good getaway when you feel like exploring a bit farther afield but don’t feel like driving all day.  Or do make a day or weekend of it and check out other Worcester area kid-friendly destinations like the Ecotarium, Old Sturbridge Village, and more.  Time to plan those summer adventures!

deCordova Revisited

 

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We hope you all got some outdoor time on the second beautiful weekend in a row!

One of the places we visited (in addition to the Stone Zoo and the new storybook walk out of Greenwood Park at the Middlesex Fells) was deCordova Sculpture park and museum in Lincoln, MA.  Angelika’s done a post on it before but it has been five years so we figured a quick update wouldn’t be out of line.

Nice to meet you, otter man!  Teach me about art, please!

Nice to meet you! Teach me about art, please!

It was founded in 1950 and is known for its sprawling lawns with large scale sculptures and art installations, as well as a museum with a wider variety of media.  Admittedly, we’ve only taken quick peeks inside the museum because we had so much fun playing outside and need to pay it the attention it deserves someday.  The main indoor exhibit at the moment is on Walden, which is not too far away, although the museum itself is on Flint Pond.

But as Angelika said, the outdoor portion is perfect for small kids.  They can run and play and picnic and the huge and sometimes colorful sculptures are right up their alley.  Dogs are allowed in the outdoor portion as well.

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We made it *right* when the grass was turning green. I swear it was brown in our yard the day before and brightened up that morning. A good day for a picnic!

Another perk to bringing kids is they are free under 12!  Adults are $14 each, but there are all kinds of discounts. We used a combination of library passes and teacher discounts (thanks, Bree!) and there are many more including AAA or Zipcar or biking, to free admission the first Wednesday of the month, and more. Of course it is a worthy institution that I’m happy paying full price to support, and there are membership options as well.

Sneak peaks of some of the new and different things, with more in the works:

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I don’t grow veggies, but I eat them!

Angelika is a good hobby gardener.  I will not be surprised if she updates us at some point about her beautiful flowers and vegetables.  This is on many people’s minds with planting season upon us. Occasionally I’ve had some luck planting tomatoes or herbs (And I’ve kept a houseplant she gave me alive for a year!) but I don’t have much of a green thumb.

But we love eating our vegetables!  Don’t get me wrong.  The kids will sometimes go a week subsisting off of crackers and air, then will turn around and be the most adventurous eaters you’ve ever met the next. I hesitated writing a post on eating our vegetables because while it arguably fits our nature themes, it can come off as “smug mommy-ish”  and preachy and not everything works for everyone.  But many times I’ll get together with friends and it is a frequently mentioned topic so I figured I had enough resources to make it fun and lighthearted.  Some ideas are common, and some are a bit more out of the box.

  • Let kids help cook them, grow them, or pick their own.  We’ve heard if kids feel more ~ownership~ they’ll be more likely to want to devour them.  Try to make it fun or different.  Friends have told us their kids didn’t like certain meals until they prepped them in the Dutch oven while camping.  But inviting them into the kitchen at home can work, too.

    Strawberry picking is a popular spring tradition around these parts!

    Strawberry picking is a popular spring tradition around these parts!

  • Subscribe to a CSA if you have the opportunity and resources.  We get Heaven’s Harvest and the last I knew Angelika was getting Farmer Dave’s.   Kids get WAY more excited about their vegetables if they come in a box they can tear open like a birthday present every single week, believe me!  I’ve actually found the vegetables turn out about twenty percent cheaper than if you buy even the non-organics at the grocery store but the “downsides” are you don’t get to choose what you want (For us this is a perk! We love surprises!) and you’re asked to pre-pay so the farmers can invest early and pay you back later. This can be tough if finances are tight, but more and more are offering payment plans and/or accepting SNAP.
    Plus, you’re apt to get ~different~ things like ground cherries, a kid-friendly tomato relative that some say taste like a combination of strawberries, mangos and pineapples. Or veggies in strange shapes that are deemed too ugly for the store but are actually loads of fun, and might otherwise go to waste. Do you have a CSA you recommend?
  • Alter its form.  Jessica Seinfeld has her Deceptively Delicious books where she suggests things like pureeing cauliflower into your mac and cheese.  These are good additions, but nutritionists are split on the tactic because they love to encourage people to eat veggies for their own sake.  You may not need to hide things that much.  My girls are actually pretty good at eating most things, but avoid leaves, although they’ve been tentatively using Napa cabbage as a gateway.  But one of their favorite foods is pesto, go figure. Of course it  is traditionally made with basil but can be blended up with kale or chard or broccoli or asparagus or pretty much any green.
My nephew figuring out what to do with his first lobster.  If you understandably don't want to splurge on an entire lobster for a toddler, at least let them try a few bites.

My nephew figuring out what to do with his first lobster. If you understandably don’t want to splurge on an entire lobster for a toddler, at least let them try a few bites.

  • Think outside the box with what a “kid food” is.  More than once, I’ve seen a child get offered something like olives or sushi and the parents said, “No, they won’t like it–they’re a picky eater.” only to see the kid eagerly devour it and hear reports they’ve continued to consume it readily at home.  The kid may only have five things they like, but don’t assume brussels sprouts won’t be the sixth, just because of their rep or because you don’t like them!
  • Trade with friends.  Sometimes my kids will balk at a healthy snack I give them, but they inevitably want to try their friends’ snacks and vice versa.  Obviously this is only recommended with good friends  without known allergies but there have been times I called a friend up and said, “Pssst! I’ll pack the bell pepper slices today if you bring the carrots!” and the kids eagerly snatched up what their friend had even if they would’ve ignored their own because they felt like they were getting away with something.
  • Try a cutesy presentation.  We’ve all heard of ants-on-a-log.  My kids have this plate for sanctioned play-with-your-food time.  This is a common suggestion but an oldie but goodie for a reason.
    The "dinosaur jungle" veggie platter at Bridget's third birthday party.

    The “dinosaur jungle” veggie platter at Bridget’s third birthday party.

    Our turkey shaped cheeseball

    Our turkey shaped cheeseball

  • Play around with condiments and sauces.  Toddlers, especially, love dipping their food in all manner of things.  Put out some mini-ramekins filled with a variety of choices and you might find the veggie sticks gone.  Be careful, as many condiments have added sugar, but there are many without and you still might prefer the sweet dips on grape tomatoes versus chips.  And yes, the kids might want to do things that sound odd to you like putting strawberry cream cheese on eggplant or soy sauce on apples.  Let them!  We only cringe because we’re socialized to.  If they are things you’d let them eat in other combinations, don’t stop them!  It probably won’t last forever and it is getting it into them.
    Bridget will choose a pickle the size of her leg over fried stuff at the fair every single time, IF she's allowed to slather it in mustard.

    Bridget will choose a pickle the size of her leg over fried stuff at the fair every single time, IF she’s allowed to slather it in mustard.

    Again, this is not one-size-fits-all, and things can be tricker for individuals with medical reasons for their hesitations or for supertasters.  But it can be fun to share experiences and bounce ideas around.  What are your best tips for getting your kids (or spouses or friends) to eat their vegetables?

    The disappointment surrounding their aunt presenting them with fruit instead of birthday cake disappeared when they discovered it had multiple "arms" and flames shooting out of it.

    The disappointment surrounding their aunt presenting them with fruit instead of birthday cake disappeared when they discovered it had multiple “arms” and flames shooting out of it.

 

Maple Sugaring 2015

I got a fair bit of maple syrup from my trees last year – read the post from then here: Maple Sugaring 2014. Turns out that the first tree I tapped by accident (I drilled a practice hole in the first maple tree I walked to and it started dripping sap immediately so I put in a spile), wasn’t actually a sugar maple. Once summer came around I cautiously identified it as a Black Maple. But, hey! it still produced a whole lot of sap and yummy maple syrup.

So this year I tapped three trees I knew were sugar maples. I got a new kind of spile from Amazon: 5 Maple Syrup Tap Spile Kit 5 Taps + Drop Lines

I just dropped the lines into some clean 1 gallon milk jugs – this is an improvement on the sand buckets we used last year ;-).

A few days later the right temperatures were happening (below freezing at night, above freezing during the day) and the sap started moving, and straight into my bucket and jugs.

In my mind, making maple syrup consists of two phases: 1) reducing water content and 2) caramelising the liquid into syrup.

This year I reduced water content by partially freezing the sap and getting rid of the top ice. The lower liquid has the sugary fraction I want. I also used a deep tray over two burners instead of a single stockpot. This gave me a bigger surface area from which to evaporate the water. Out of necessity I didn’t reduce the sap over a romantic fire outside in the snow. Instead I gave my pan sporadic bursts of bringing the sap to a boil. During the times I had to dash off with children I let the pan sit open and further evaporation would get rid of even more water. Then whenever I came back I would fire up the stove again and heat the sap to boiling. One thing I learned this year is to reduce the pot size to fit the liquid. It’s really hard to get 1/2 cup of syrup out of a big tray :-)

I don’t have a hygrometer to measure water content, but instead just use a thermometer. I’ve noticed that sap will happily boil away at about 210ºF for hours and not go above that temperature. Until the water content becomes low enough. Then it fairly rapidly increases in temperature to 230ºF, which is the required temperature for the caramelization reaction to occur. the most obvious VISUAL change is that the liquid suddenly doesn’t bubble like water any more. Instead there are lot of little bubbles that start to rise out of the pot, unless you add the little bit of butter recommended in the books.

And here to talk about the science of caramelization – from The Science of Cooking:

Caramelization and caramels are not the same.

Yes, it’s a little bit confusing, but you’ll get it in a minute.

Caramels are the chewy candies you are familiar with. They’re made by cooking sugar, cream, corn syrup, and butter to 245° F. Their brown color comes from a reaction between the sugar and the protein in the cream. This reaction is called the Maillard reaction, after the French scientist who discovered it. The rich brown color of toasted nuts and barbecued meats also comes from the Maillard reaction.

Put simply, the Maillard reaction occurs when part of the sugar molecule (the aldehyde group, if you must know) reacts with the nitrogen part of the protein molecule (an amino group). The resulting series of reactions is not well understood even by food scientists, but it leads to the brown color and many flavorful compounds that are yet to be identified.

Caramelization is what happens to pure sugar when it reaches 338° F. A few tablespoons of sugar put in a pan and heated will eventually melt and, at 338° F, start to turn brown. At this temperature, the sugar compounds begin to break down and new compounds form.

As with the Maillard reaction, the details of what happens during caramelization aren’t well understood. But the results are appreciated all the same. For example, caramelized sugar is often used as decoration on fancy desserts. Try caramelizing sugar yourself—it’s easy!

Monkey See

I’ve been doing a bit of cross stitch over the last few months. I started off with a basic kit thing from Michael’s craft store. It took a little while to get used to the back-end mechanics of the thing. Like how do I get the needle over THERE?

After that experiment I started making my own patterns: a honey bee, a cardinal, a chickadee,… Of course it took me a couple of months to complete each cross stitch – they are about 7in across.

I’ve copied photos of the finished products below. I had the chickadee framed, which turned out really well. Alex was apparently so impressed he wanted to do one too. I redesigned the chickadee pattern to be much smaller and simpler. He promised that he would keep working on it even if it took years (it might). Apparently he has to wear a home-made crown while cross stitching.

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I did list these patterns on my super small etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MothersOfInventions