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The Swing of Things

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Jack Be Littles All in a Row
It’s been a couple weeks since school started and we are definitely in the swing of things. The kids are adjusting well to their new days, but I feel like I’m still figuring things out for myself. I thought that I would have dived into creative projects, but that hasn’t been the case. Instead I find myself flitting from some housekeeping project, to reading, to other stuff.  I’ve been doing a pretty good job of sticking with walking every day, doing 2 1/2 -5 miles each time.  I also seem to have had a lot of lunch dates (though today it was spiced up by being a breakfast date-we went out for a lavish breakfast and then a nice long walk on a trail that Clark and I biked this summer.)  You’d never know it by the look of our house, but I have also been focusing on reorganizing/cleaning small areas.  I also haven’t even been taking many pictures lately. It’s been a strange time! Yesterday I decided to get back to it, picked all the gourds, and brought the guinea pigs out for a photo shoot. They were terrible models! But the gourds were great. It’s definitely been feeling autumnal lately-chilly mornings and nights, sunny days with bright blue skies.  I loved seeing these grow alongside the driveway-huge leaves and blossoms, very cheerful. And then this wonderful assortment of finished vegetables:

Pigs n' Punkins

A Cuddle with Nibbles
The garden is well and truly done now and I will have to write up a summary post for it soon. I actually do refer back to them and it helps me with the next year’s garden! We will definitely plant more swamp milkweed in the spring since we had the amazing monarch success this year. This weekend Tabby and I went to Duke Farms to be guest speakers at the Jr. Entomologist class. They were learning about monarchs and the lifecycle and we shared our photos and experience. Mrs. Bird, the wonderful instructor, was so happy for us and hoped that it would encourage more people to plant and support monarchs. Coincidentally, as we were headed out the door to go to Duke Farms I looked over at the garden and we saw another monarch that had just hatched!!!
A New Monarch
I think that next year if we ever have 30 caterpillars on a plant again we will bring some inside to observe.

So far I’ve just done one sewing project on the big craft to-do list–pillowcases for the kids.  They had chosen some beautiful fabrics at PQW and I promised to make them pillowcases out of it. I used a fascinating tutorial to make these and while I truly don’t understand how this works, it’s pretty neat and a clever and quick way to sew everything up neatly and nicely. I think they turned out beautifully.
Sweet Dreams

Sweet Dreams
Yesterday I found myself sitting among my fabrics contemplating a big pinwheel quilt I want to make and ended up playing around with a charm pack I got for Christmas and stitching something up right then and there. It’s certainly not on my to-do list and the quilt I really need to get to work on is Tabby’s, but hey-inspiration hit. Of course, once again I find myself realizing just how small a charm pack is when put together so then you need to add a lot more to get anything of usable size. And, as I start that, plan Tabby’s, and contemplate the big pinwheel, you do start thinking, “Just how cold do I think we all are that we need all these quilts?” But it’s not really about need is it? It’s about the pleasure in creating something beautiful and practical.

Summer’s End

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Once we got back from Michigan we had one more good week of relaxation, late bedtimes, and a combination of idle days and busy events before school started. We definitely had the idle days down, and to wrap up Labor Day weekend we went to two festivals two days in a row. First up, ScanFest.
Leif Erickson Viking Ship
This is our 3rd year going and we really love it.   This year there were new foods to try
Copenhagen Street Dogs
and exciting new things to see, such as the Norse games of strength.  This troop of guys from Sweden demonstrated all traditional games that were very easy to imagine men in a Scandinavian village with little else to do entertaining themselves with. At our next party everyone needs to be prepared for these crazy games!
Nordic Games of Strength
Ginger Viking
The next day we went to a Polish festival held at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, PA.
Of course you wear your Polish eagle shirt to a Polish festival!
The festival was fun-good Polish food and a small midway with rides included in admission. We shrieked with glee and nearly made ourselves sick on the “Extreme” scrambler
Fastest scrambler I've ever been on. I screamed the whole time. The kids loved it.
and the Dizzy Dragons-a ride we laughed at and mocked (it’s for little children.) And then we spun it very rapidly and it was very enclosed and hot and  Paul and I thought we’d throw up, much to the delight of our children. Ah, well.  What was so fascinating to me about the whole experience was the shrine. This place is apparently a big deal. The church was huge with gigantic stained glass
Walls of stained glass, depicting not just religious but also historical scenes
, there were many chapels, statues, a giant store of religious objects, a priest outside the store to bless your purchases, a museum of Polish things, a Polish cafeteria, and the shrine itself.  I grew up Protestant and thus found the whole of idea of Catholicism (confession! communion! nuns!) fascinating. The shrine was like a little cave with a statue in it and people had tucked hundreds of slips of paper (presumably with prayers) into the crevices of the caves.
Our Lady of Czestochowa Shrine
They had also left rosaries and other objects. The whole thing was super interesting.

The rest of the week we puttered about, watched Harry Potter movies for the first time (the kids loved it and I loved seeing them love it), and getting ready for school.  The first day went off with nary a hitch.
First Day of School
We’ve had 4 days of school now and the kids like their teachers and we’re getting adjusted to our new routine.  The biggest change is probably for me–this is the first time that both kids are in school all day, leaving me at home with many hours to myself.  As you know, I have a million to-do lists and hobbies to fill the time.  One goal for myself is to go for a three mile walk every day, and so far I’ve been keeping that up.  Surprisingly I haven’t been online here updating the blog! I meant to do it but had too many other things going on. The kids also started playing soccer, and once again Paul is coaching both of their teams. And so, the busy fall season begins!

And the cycle is complete

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We are so lucky-yesterday morning we watched the monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. The previous night I observed that you could see black and orange clearly through the transparent chrysalis, so assumed it would hatch the following day.
The Monarch Emerges!
In the  morning we ran outside and, unbelievable timing, saw it crawling out of the chrysalis.
The Monarch Emerges!

The Monarch Emerges!
It was amazing! It crawled out and its wings were very small.

The Monarch Emerges!

The Monarch Emerges!
We watched as the wings unfolded and lengthened
The Monarch Emerges!
And then it began to crawl up the branch.
The Monarch Emerges!
It hung there and gently occasionally moved its wings in tiny flutters to begin drying them.
The Monarch Emerges!

The Monarch Emerges!
We had to get out the door to go to the first soccer games of the season so we did not get to see it eventually open the wings all the way.  When we got home from soccer we ran over to the garden to see if it was still there. It was no longer on the milkweed, but as we stood there making noise, it rose up from the catmint behind us and we watched it flutter and fly across the yard and away. It was wonderful to see that it successfully completed its transformation. Godspeed, Monarch!

What an amazing experience this was to witness.  There was something about seeing it occur naturally and outdoors that made it extra wonderful.  I can only hope that the many other caterpillars we saw (and no longer do) crawled off to better shelter than the emaciated milkweed to form their chrysalises.  If possible next year we will definitely plant another of this same milkweed variety, and should we be so lucky as to again see 30 caterpillars there we will move some to indoors to watch.

Lifecycle of the Monarch Butterfly

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One of my favorite parts of our yard is the butterfly garden we put in a few years ago. This year it didn’t look quite as pretty as it has in the past, but the honeybees and bumblebees still went wild for the catmint, and this year the milkweed (we put it in last year) attracted monarchs.  The milkweed is, frankly, not an especially attractive addition to the garden. I didn’t realize how big it would get and put it in the front. It gets so tall that the big central stalks snap over to the ground. And, again, it ended up covered in millions of little aphids. Though this year I did see a couple of ladybugs on them as well. However, none of that matters because, as I said we did see a few monarch butterflies flitting around the yard and on the plants.
More monarchs
To our absolute delight right before we left we saw a handful of monarch caterpillars on the plants. Since we’ve returned I’ve counted 11 at a time on the plants, ranging in size from tiny new ones with itty bitty squished up stripes, to great big ones chomping away on the milkweed leaves.
Caterpillar Eating Milkweed Leaves
And yesterday I saw an actual chrysalis dangling from one of the leaves! I’ve seen all this in butterfly exhibits at botanical gardens and zoos, but never right here in my own yard. I’m pretty thrilled about it.
Monarch butterfly lifecycle
Apparently it takes 10-14 days to transform into a butterfly inside the chrysalis, so it will be a little while before it is done. In the meantime, I can’t wait to see if I find any more chrysalises and also how I can prevent the aphids from killing off these plants next year.

Travelogue: Road Trip to Michigan

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We’re back! We had a fantastic road trip adventure. We drove to Michigan and back with many exciting stops along the way. I can’t tell you how many miles we drove, but I can tell you we listened to 15 hours worth of audiobooks (a straight drive to our destination is 11 hours one way, so we didn’t listen all the time), counted 37 different U.S. license plates, went to Tim Horton’s 3 times, and bought many souvenirs.  Here’s the day by day travelogue of our family vacation road trip:

Day 1: Saturday.  We left NJ and headed to Pittsburgh. I lived in Pittsburgh for the year I went to library school (at Pitt) and loved it. I was pretty excited to see it again and reconnect with a library school friend.  I’d done this drive many times and good grief Pennsylvania is a wide state. It’s a six hour drive across it.  Unfortunately, part of the highway was closed, which added a fair amount of time to our drive and took us through rural mountainous PA. We also started the trip off on the right foot with a spontaneous stop at Roadside America, which I’d seen the signs for years and years. It’s a dim and dusty Pennsylvania Dutch tchotke place and we didn’t bother seeing the miniatures as we didn’t feel like paying admission. The reason it’s so notable from the highway is the gigantic farmer statues. I think they used to be attached to a wagon-hence the hunched posture.
Finally we made it to Pittsburgh and went out to dinner with my friend and her family. We ate a restaurant that I’d eaten at often and it was just as tasty as I remembered. Then we headed out to the Duquesne Incline, which is a fabulous car that goes up the side of Mt. Washington. Though I’d hoped for a nice daylight family photo, it was pretty awesome to see Pittsburgh twinkling and spread out below at night. The rivers look lovely, Point State Park fountain is lit up, and there was a Steelers game in progress lighting up the night. Through the binoculars we could even see a ref and some players on the field!
Sunday: The next day was hitting all my favorite places and showing the city to Paul, Clark, and Tabitha. I drove them through my old neighborhood, pointed out my favorite cafe, my apartment building, and places I used to go.  We had breakfast at an awesome breakfast place (which has apparently gained a bigger presence in the 15 years since I lived there and has several locations.) But the real eating highlight was eating Burnt Almond Torte from Prantl’s. It’s a heavenly concoction that this bakery is famous for and I ate it many times.  I’ve tried to recreate it myself, even. Conveniently it turns out that they now sell a bite sized version. So, while we waited for our table for breakfast (which was next door to Prantl’s) we stood on the street and I finally was able to bite into some real burnt almond torte. I nearly swooned it was so delicious. Oh, those crispy sugary almonds! Look how excited I was in anticipation!
My first bite of burnt almond torte in years-just as heavenly as I remembered

Beloved Burnt Almond Torte.
We parked by Phipps Conservatory-a beautiful botanical garden, and walked over to the Cathedral of Learning. The Gothic architecture in Pittsburgh and the historical buildings are really amazing.
the buildings of Pittsburgh are truly stunning

Inside the beautiful Cathedral of Learning
The Cathedral of Learning is owned by the University and does hold classes and lectures in it. But what is of note are the “international rooms.” These are rooms that completely-from floor to ceiling to doors to windows-made in styles and from materials native to particular times/places.
(I’ll add here that I was excited to see all this, but grouchy because a. my camera battery died b. my phone died. so, c. all pictures were taken with Paul’s phone and d. I was wearing my prescription sunglasses and accidentally left my glasses in the car so e. had to keep squinting at things/wearing dark glasses indoors.) From there we crossed the street to visit the Carnegie Museums of Natural History and Art.
I had the fondest memories of these museums and very high anticipation. My bus stop was in front of the museum, the library is attached, and I bought a membership and would often visit just one or two special things to see. Two things I especially fondly recalled were miniature rooms and a diorama of a lion attacking a camel and the Bedouin fighting it off. Both were still there, though there were far fewer of the tiny rooms than I’d remembered!

The kids loved the dinosaurs and rocks and minerals and really, it’s just a terrific natural history museum. Then, through a hallway and you’re in an art museum with a fantastic collection. Tabby exclaiming that she could totally make a Jackson Pollack:
Paul and Clark discussing one of my favorite Van Gogh paintings.
Discussing a favorite Van Gogh
I flitted around happily seeing all the things that had been favorites and was thrilled that both kids were pretty wowed by the enormous Monet waterlilies. We stayed until closing and then had the rest of the night just eating dinner and at the hotel. I would have loved to have just walked around my old neighborhood, but the kids weren’t up for it, so that was the end of our Pittsburgh time.

The next day, Monday, was our drive to Pittsburgh.  Waiting for us at the end of the drive would be our good friends, the Parks, who had moved away last August. We’ve missed them very much and couldn’t wait to see them again. They live in the thumb of Michigan and our route took us through Toledo. Clever Paul found that a highlight of Toledo is to eat at Tony Packo’s, which was apparently made famous by Jamie Farr on M*A*S*H. They serve a Hungarian style hot dog with a chili sauce, which you can also get atop spaetzle.
It was all incredibly delicious. And for a famous place, not to big, delightfully uncrowded, and we availed ourselves of their gift shop. Oh, and the thing there is that when celebrities visit (as they do) they sign hot dog buns. Hundreds of buns were on display.
Signed buns at Tony Packo's, including Wayne Newton, Alice copper, & art garfunkel
Finally we arrived in Michigan in time for dinner. Hooray! You might wonder what we did in the car all those long hours of driving. Well, I’m very fond of car games-I’m thinking of animal, I’m thinking of a person, etc. We only did a little of that because everyone else is hooked on audiobooks. So we finished listening to a wonderful book called Liesl & Po, then listened to another that I wasn’t that into, then we listened to a 10 hour book called The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, read by Bronson Pinchot. It’s quite amazing. Even if you don’t follow the story Pinchot gives Jim Dale a run for his money in terms of being the world’s best audiobook reader. His voices are incredible and hilarious and great for this series.  I also occasionally embroidered, we had ample drawing books and colored pencils, and we counted license plates (37.)
In Michigan we stayed with our good friends, Megan and David, and their four children. It was wonderful to be with them, and they are lovely hosts. The kids basically picked up right where they left off a year ago and spent a lot of happy time Minecrafting together and what-not.



Tuesday we went to Frankenmuth, which I had seen billboards for and heard about and was pretty excited to check out. It’s a Bavarian town in Michigan, and home of Bronner’s-the world’s largest Christmas shop. The town itself is very pretty-lots of flowers, fudge shops, etc.

And Bronner’s?

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland
And, oh my God, it was everything I could have wanted it to be. You’ve literally never seen so many ornaments in your life. And the organization! Unicorns over here, shop by color over here, desserts, fishing, camping, cars, professions, dogs, cats, angels, gingerbread, etc. We didn’t even see it all!
(We did have the unfortunate experience of accidentally leaving Tabby there. I was by myself for about 25 minutes, checked out, returned to the car where Paul was and he said “Where’s Tabby?” I replied “with you” to which he said “no she’s not.” Turns out that when I split from the group she came after me, but I didn’t know that, so Paul thought she was with me. She very cleverly remembered instructions and when we raced back inside we found her patiently sitting on a chair waiting to be found. Phew!)  Outside the building are gigantic nativities, Christmas greetings in all languages, a “Silent Night Memorial Chapel”, and gigantic decorations. Since our travel souvenir of choice is a pencil and a Christmas tree ornament we were pretty set.
The next day we all went to a beach on Lake Huron.
Lake Huron-vast
For East coasters seeing a Great Lake is pretty mind-blowing. It’s so big it might as well be the ocean, but it’s not salty and there are no big waves. (and for me I had absolutely no worries about crabs or sharks.) It was so restful to just sit in the water because you are not buffeted by tide and waves.
The whole gang self-timered at Lake Huron
It was a wonderful experience. After that we drove a little bit to Port Austin, which is on “the tip of the thumb.” (In case you didn’t know, Michigan looks like a mitten and there is a thumb.) There was a beautiful 1/2 mile breakwall that we all walked along.
The "tip of the thumb"
Then out for pizza and gigantic ice cream cones (they scoop them big and cheap out there in Michigan!) and a geocache.
The next day our friends went to work and we took our kids into Saginaw to visit a Japanese teahouse. That was very enjoyable, but overall Saginaw was kind of down and out and depressing. We ended up doing a bit of back to school shopping at some outlets. This was probably the only day we had frustrating getting lost, not following directions, huffing about and switching drivers. But even that turned out ok because I felt bad that I was so tense that when I drove past a bakery with the best name ever-Butter Crust Bakery-I pulled in and got us delicious (and cheap!) baked goods. After dinner that night we all drove out to get up close with one of the many windmills dotting the landscape.  Yes, wind turbines! Michigan was a big surprise to us–super flat, the roads are so long and straight you could see your turn a mile and a half away, and very remote. In the midst of the fields were all these gently turning, modern art looking, windmills. They were ENORMOUS.
Friday we bid a sad farewell to our friends. It was really great to just hang out with them, for the kids to play together, for the grown ups to stay up late watching movies and talking.


We planned our lunch time stop to coincide with driving through Ann Arbor, which I had visited once when I lived in Indiana.  We thought we’d stop at the famous Zingerman’s, but quickly changed our minds when we saw the line. No worries, though! Ann Arbor is a beautiful, lively, college city with ample great eateries and shops.  I wish we could have spent even more time there. As it was we ended up eating at a Vietnamese place where you ordered at a window and then hoped there was a chair available on the sidewalk. Oh my God, this was one of the best meals ever.
Then a little college town shopping, because where else can we get Clark a baja so he looks like a hackey sack player? Or a trio of instruments made in Bali, including a didgeridoo? (and yes, you do see that right-both boys are wearing Pokemon shirts.)
Finally we buckled back in and settled in for some serious driving, finally making it across Ohio and into Clarion, PA for the evening. We stayed at an Holiday Inn that features the at once best and worst hotel feature ever-a swimming pool inside that all the rooms face onto. Our room door was literally steps from the pool (which has a big dome over it, a “holi-dome”). Best because we immediately went swimming in the super heated pool. Worst because can you even guess how much sound carried and how incredibly noisy it was??
In the morning it was time to finally complete our journey and get home. But to the kids’ surprise (well, Paul told Clark) we weren’t quite done yet for half the way there we stopped for “lunch” but were really stopping at Knoebel’s Amusement Park! It’s an old fashioned amusement park in PA and really quite big. A lot of people camp at the campground that goes with it. And you don’t pay to go in just for the rides.
Paul & Tabby on a Ferris Wheel
And apparently you can bring your dog with you because tons of people had their dogs walking around the park with them. (Note: it rained on us and I did NOT have ponchos this time!) Tabby rode her first grown up type roller coaster with me-a wooden one that was extremely thrilling. She LOVED it! (The last 20 seconds were marred for me because Tabby’s shoe came off and it was brand new and all I could think was “of course.” Shockingly, the happy ending is that the shoe remained in the car with us!)

IMG_9896 We rode many other rides and had an especially happy ending of Clark (who is much more nervous about rides than Tabby and hadn’t gone on much) riding a rather terrifying spinning ride and ultimately loving it.  So after spending the whole afternoon there we finally finished the last leg of journey and returned home Saturday night.

Phew! It was a long and tiring week, with many hours in the car. Except for a few rough patches, we had a really wonderful time. This trip probably exposed the kids to more different parts of the country than they had seen before. We all marveled at the flatness of Michigan, the wonder of a Great Lake, and all sorts of other charming regional things we discovered. Hooray for summer road trips!

Caterpillars & Butterflies

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Last week we had the pleasure of watching over the chrysalises of three polyphemous moths.  Our friends had carefully taken care of the caterpillars, watched them eat and grow, and then build the chrysalis. Unfortunately for them they were on vacation when they were due to emerge, so we watched them. All three successfully emerged and flew off into the night.  They only live for three days-they emerge and then need to mate before they die.  These moths are beautiful and also HUGE.
Polyphemus moths

Polyphemus moth
Aren’t they pretty? Now here in our own garden we’ve had some happy caterpillar excitement. There are monarch caterpillars on the milkweed! The poor milkweed is positively ravaged by the aphids. I’ve seen two ladybugs out there, but I’m sure that’s not enough to gobble the thousands of miniscule aphids.
Aphid Eater
This morning I saw a great big fat monarch caterpillar and a medium sized one.
Monarch Caterpillar
A couple hours later I went back outside and sadly didn’t see the big one anymore, but did see not only a few teeny little ones, but also what I believe are the monarch eggs (a single egg that looks like a poppy seed on the underside of a leaf.) I do hope they survive and are able to make their cocoons. The butterfly garden has not looked especially beautiful or colorful this summer, so I’m extra glad that it has at least proven to be a good habitat. And the bumblebees are going crazy on the catmint.

In the vegetable garden the carrot tops are home to a few black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.
Meanwhile the rest of the garden looks dry and crazy, but filled with tomatoes.
The morning glories run rampant and glorious.
The Garden in Mid-August
And in the pumpkin patch there are lots of gourds, huge leaves, big yellow blossoms, and adorable jack-be-little pumpkins growing.
The Garden in Mid-August
The blackberries are winding down and my freezer is filled with gallons of frozen berries waiting to be made into jam and blackberry-infused vodka.

Patchwork Picnic Quilt

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Patchwork Quilt
It’s finished! I am in love with the patchwork scrap quilt.  I don’t know how many picnics it will see, though.
Patchwork Picnic Quilt
It’s super soft and cozy and I imagine it will be wonderful to snuggle under, bring on trips, sit on outside, and all sorts of things.  The inspiration for this quilt came from both a beautiful vibrant patchwork quilt of squares I saw on Flickr, and also the urge I’ve been feeling to make quilts with the scraps I have.  I chose to use straight up squares (the finished size is 5″ squares) and there are ten rows of ten.  I used only fabrics I had, and deliberately arranged them to be pleasing, but not necessarily coordinating.  I kept it bright and pretty and only used cottons (no corduroy, flannel, voile, etc.)  I decided to make a border and was able to use even more pieces, especially pieces too narrow to be squares. To bind it I used a lovely chambray I had for skirts for Tabby. The rather neutral blue is just right. I’m very proud of my nicely mitred corners.
I'm particularly pleased with the mitred corners
I did the binding in one day, staying up way too late so I could have it done for my arbitrary deadline of today. Mostly because I wanted to take pictures of it in the field down the road, on the big hay rolls. Yes, I trucked us all into the field for a photo shoot of my inanimate object.
who doesn't love climbing atop at hay roll and posing?

For quilting I did a diagonal line through the squares. Originally I thought I would quilt it more, doing another diagonal the other way to make an “X” through each square. That would give a denser flatter quilt, but I knew it would also lead to pulls and imperfections. I opted for the lines one way and actually really like it. Also, I usually go for a thread choice that’s not noticeable, but I opted for a hot pink thread, because why not?
Tabby with the finished product
It’s super soft and fluffy, but I’m sure it’s quilted enough to keep the batting secure. Speaking of soft–the backing. Liz mentioned to me she had a quilt that had a flannel sheet as the backing. I’ve used flannel in quilts before, but this gave me an idea. I had a set of flannel sheets from college that I loved. They were blue with polka dots and bunnies and so soft. I wore the pillowcases and fitted sheet completely out, but couldn’t bear to part with the flat sheet. Now the special sheet lives on as the super soft backing of this quilt and will get more use out of it this way. (You can see it in the picture of the mitred corner, above.)
I’m really thrilled with how this came out, plus it was a super easy satisfying quilt to make. Many of the fabrics were ones I used in aprons, some are things I had in my stash that I didn’t know what to do with. It makes me happy just to hold it!
Patchwork Quilt-finished!


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