Connecticut

Birds and Beach

March 8, 2017: International Women’s Day

Morning coffee with sourdough banana chocolate chip muffins is a good mid morning pick us up. This snack is made better by watching the birds taking turns at the bird feeder. The bluebirds arrived this morning and joined the cardinals, purple finches, red bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, nuthatches, downy and red bellied woodpeckers. Even the chipmunk has come out to play in the morning’s first burst of sunshine.

Yesterday afternoon a goshawk circling the neighbourhood and crying his presence had the birds disappearing. Alex’s efforts at photographing birds were dashed even with Grandpa trying to call the birds in with his app.

We finished painting on Monday and had a bit of a rest day yesterday. I went for a six kilometre walk around the neighbourhood. It is the first time I have seen maple sap collected in plastic bags: long blue plastic bags with a metal cover over the top of them. The spile fit through the side of the cover.

While I walked, Brian cleaned the black concrete counter tops so that he could apply a sealant to them before we went to bed. The sealant is most odiferous, best to be as far away as possible after application. It was good to be able to leave windows ajar.

This afternoon the temperature rose to 12C, although with the off-shore breeze from Long Island Sound, it was colder than that. Brian and I enjoyed our walk on the beach at Hammonasset. Although the only birds we saw were seagulls, we spotted five seals at Meigs Point. We found the tour of the new visitors’ centre interesting and informative. Not warm enough for swimming!

We were so energized by our walk, we washed windows when we arrived back at the house. Brian and Alex went for a bike ride when Alex got home. I did more raking. Since then Alex has been doing his homework on the deck and Julie is riding her bike. Although snow is in the forecast for Friday, we are enjoying spring while we have it.

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Out for a Hike

Maybe spring has not yet arrived. Although the sun continues to shine brilliantly and the days are perceptibly lengthening, it was -6C today and the wind made it feel much colder. Nevertheless we enjoyed a hike in the bare woods of Cockaponset State Forest. Huge boulders are fun to scale especially Coyote Rock, so named, because Shawn saw a coyote there once. Alex is always eager to hike, Julie less so, but she does like climbing rocks and declared that she was having fun.

Julie is no slouch; she and Alex were playing pretend games outside for more than three hours before we went for a hike. Kids do not feel the cold! Julie likes to be in charge of the imagination games. Fortunately her big brother is usually willing to do her bidding.

Julie was the Carcassonne victor last night. We played with their new Christmas expansion. There are now many more tiles which makes the game last longer and creates a much larger medieval community with more points to score.

We brought our sourdough starter with us to Connecticut. I have been feeding it for the last two weeks. Brian wondered if it needed a passport. We made it across the border without one. I made some chocolate chip oatmeal muffins with it and now we have some bread rising. It should go well with the baked beans and ham that are filling the air with a wonderful aroma. Last night’s clam chowder was delicious, as usual. Grandpa makes great chowder.

Shawn and Agnes are sending us wondrous photos from Pompeii. Alex and I think we should plan a trip there too.

A Breath of Spring

Relaxing after raking. Yes, we have gone south, at least as far as Connecticut. There is no snow here unless you count a dish towel size patch of grey snow near Alex’s bus stop. He said there was a mountain of snow ploughed up on that corner that he and his fellow bus riders scaled while waiting for the bus, but the mountain disappeared a couple of weeks ago. Only the small patch resists melting. After yesterday’s downpour it has probably succumbed.

Plenty of birds at the feeders: tufted titmouse, purple finches, downy and hairy woodpeckers, chickadees. The snowdrops are out and the deep red hellebores are budding.

Our daily routine of yoga, golf and cross country skiing has been replaced with an earlier morning alarm so that our grandkids can be fed and watered and out the door early to catch their respective buses, one before 7:30 and the other before 8:30 AM.

Our new sports are cleaning and prepping the family room walls for a paint job, raking up winter’s debris and demolishing a playhouse set that had a serious leaning posture.

We still work yoga into our daily exercise, but walking may or may not happen before the kids come home from school. An after school walk around this hilly neighbourhood involves games of hide and seek as we walk or run or close our eyes and count to fifty. Actually my calves are still groaning from Monday’s nine times up and down the stairs at the Niagara Whirlpool. I do not think the sedentary drive for seven and a half hours on Tuesday was helpful for my leg muscles.

Thursday is pizza night and Grandpa will make an awesome pizza. We have already enjoyed a sushi snack. We have to dine earlier so that Julie will make it to her piano lesson and Alex to Scouts. We promised their parents we would not lose them, and we will also make sure they participate in their regular activities.

Last night we fit in a game of Carcassonne but I think we will have to forgo games this evening.

Still in Connecticut

Bye, Mom/Grandma! Have a good trip!

Bye, Mom/Grandma! Have a good trip!

Make your own track, the beech leaves have taken over.

Make your own track, the beech leaves have taken over.

Today was supposed to be departure day. We said our good-byes to each as he/she left for school and work. Alex hoped that UPS would not deliver Grandpa’s backpack until the afternoon; so, we would still be here when he got home. Alex got his wish. Brian had ordered a backpack from Sierra Trading on Saturday and had even paid extra for quicker delivery. Alas his VISA card encountered some fraudulent activity; so, his purchase was held up, then the route for delivery went through Kentucky where a snowstorm delayed it. The end result was the red 40 litre +10 Deuter Backpack did not arrive until noon today, by which time we had decided we would go for a ski and head for Niagara tomorrow. Brian is delighted with his backpack. Margaret and I will not lose him on the Camino. I am wondering why we did not order two of them, other than that I had wanted to try a Slim Line version and a slightly smaller pack. We have bought houses with less deliberation than purchasing a backpack!

Brian and I painted the upstairs hallway then had a coffee and watched the birds at the feeder while waiting for the backpack arrival. So the hall is the beneficiary of fresh paint and we were rewarded with viewing, bluebirds, tufted titmice, bluejays, doves, juncos, a robin and nuthatches.

A robin...wondering where spring is

A robin…wondering where spring is

Then we went crosscountry skiing in Timberlands forest nearby. Shawn was the only skier who had “groomed” a previously non-existent trail by skiing up, down and around. For the most part we followed his tracks although for some downhills we opted to create our own, to slow us down and avoided colliding with a tree. Snowplowing through deep snow was not an option. Likewise for uphill we had to resort to rigorous herringbones rather than running straight up as Shawn had done. The end result was that we had a great time in early afternoon sunshine and we were drenched in sweat; thus, we had sufficient exercise.

We picked up a selection of sausages for supper and buns and meat for sandwiches for tomorrow’s drive as well as corn chips to make more nachos for this evening’s appetizer.

Alex arrived home first on the bus, delighted to see us. He went straight to his room to do his homework then practised the cello for twenty minutes, entertaining us and his great grandparents on Skype. Alex has a well honed routine. Julie arrived by bus an hour later, with hugs and a request for yoghurt.  The three of us went sledding again, because Grandma had not yet had enough exercise today! Certainly -5C and sunshine with no wind is delightful.

It was great to have an extra day here!

Every Day Is Special

I am nodding off this evening at a very early hour. Shawn is preparing the kids for bed. Everyone has to rise earlier for school in the morning. I am feeling quite weary. Is it the cumulative effect of playing outdoors in winter sunshine for at least two hours a day for the past four days? It has certainly been enjoyable, but I am feeling fatigued.

Sledding together

Sledding together

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

As well as sledding and the fox chasing geese, we used our feet to trace out art in the snow. We are no doubt a long way from becoming famous snow artists, but we had fun. Julie and I created a house and Alex made a giant smiley face with the words, “I am watching you” hovering above it. For some very fancy snow art made by a person snowshoeing in Savoie, France, check out, http://www.mymodernmet.com

I was not overly pleased with our heart cookies. They were quite hard, tasty and almost all gone, but hard. It was a new recipe; so, today I used my tried and true chocolate chip oatmeal cookie recipe. Soft and chewy, the way I like them. Of course they were not heart shaped and had no sprinkles, thus not perfect!

Brian and Alex made a ring from a quarter with a new tool set Brian bought online for his father. They were testing it. They did not succeed in getting the exact ring size or in having the year of the quarter show on the outside, but for a first attempt they did quite well and now they know how to tackle a second one. If you have spare quarters kicking around, I know someone who is looking for quarters to turn into rings.

I painted the edges in the upstairs hall so that Agnes will be able to continue more easily with a roller. Room by room colours are changing in this house!

While Julie was engrossed in Minecraft, Alex, Brian and I played the board game, Settlers of Catan. It takes some time to set it up and we had to remember how to play. It has been a long time since last we played.

Everyone savoured Brian’s bread and chowder that was filled with clams, cod and lobster. Shawn brought home Poire, a pear cider from France, also delicious. I think I am starting to like cider more than wine, and pear cider more than apple cider.

Although there are many things we do the same in a day, each day is special. The time we spend together is made of small moments and kind words that we treasure. One of our joys today was watching a flock of bluebirds come to the suet ball and sit on the line awaitingtheir turn. I have seen bluebirds before but never so close and never so many. I told Julie that her great grandma, my mother, did not see her first bluebird until she was about eighty-five and we drove slowly around the concession roads close to where we live so that she could see one. Today we saw not one, but two flocks of bluebirds.

Bluebirds

Bluebirds

Presidents’ Day or Family Day

Since we are in the United States, it is Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday; so, those who work for the government have a holiday, and schools are closed, which means Julie and Alex have the day off and tomorrow too. In the past this week has often been a school break, but because of a proliferation of snow days in recent years, this year the schools are only closed for two days. The rationale is that these could be snow days; so, cancel the holidays now and open the schools rather than cancelling summer holidays in June.

In Ontario it is Family Day and everything is closed. It is a non-working day. Cobble Beach as well as other places had family events planned, many of them outdoors. We don’t know what kind of turn-out there was for outdoor events since at home the temperature was -30C and more than -40C with the wind chill. The right clothing is key! Brian has often done demonstration wood-carving at this event. This year he started a carving of a bear and one of a spirit. He told staff they could tell people the carver was taking a break or had gone for lunch. You can see Brian’s carvings on Cobble Beach’s Facebook page.

We had -12C, no wind and sunshine here in Connecticut; so, Alex and Julie and I had our regular snow adventures plus a second outing late this afternoon. It was definitely more beautiful in the morning sunshine. On the second occasion at 5 PM, Alex said, “Let’s go sledding!” Julie responded, ” I am only going out if Grandma goes out.” We went sledding…again! This morning we added to our snow fun by tunnelling in the banks. Alex improved on a previous tunnel he had made. Julie and I made a Julie-sized tunnel. I certainly did not fit in it, but Julie was able to have an entrance, exit and skylight. Julie added a green and red button to open the invisible door.

Shawn and Agnes went to work today. Brian gave a second coat of paint to the hallway and kitchen. The more difficult task which we tackled was removing the tape used to protect the woodwork. Unfortunately much of it was well baked on. After Alex tried for awhile, he said it was boring. He was right! He played Minecraft with Julie. I am sure if I had googled the topic, someone has found an easier way to remove old tape.

i prepared roast chicken with stuffing, sweet potatoes, cauliflower and salad for supper. Brian made baked beans. I made butterscotch pudding for dessert. After two spoonfuls of pudding, Alex said he really did not like butterscotch pudding. I then remembered him telling me in the summertime that he did not like butterscotch pie. I think there is something about the texture of pudding that does not appeal to him. There are not many foods that Alex does not like. He has a healthy appetite.

Every Monday morning I receive an email from Terry Hershey as I subscribe to his weekly Sabbath Moments. I always enjoy his writing. At this time of year, news from the Pacific Northwest usually finds Terry savouring the early signs of spring in his garden. This week he was cutting his grass, in shirt sleeves. We are a far cry from those special days. Nevertheless we have spotted robins in this neighbourhood the past couple of days. The robins must be wondering why they headed north so soon. There sure are not any worms available when yards are buried in three feet of snow.

Mid-February

The blizzard forecast for today in Connecticut did not really materialize, or at least not as I imagined it. We did have high winds as witnessed by the oaks swaying and groaning and about four inches of snow freshened the already white landscape. Blizzard to me means whiteouts but in the forested hills it is not the same as our flatter more open landscape at Cobble Beach.

Lots of space for trail blazing and hiding.

Lots of space for trail blazing and hiding.

This morning Julie and I made bran muffins with the very necessary chocolate chips. Everything is better with chocolate. Alex read Grandpa the instructions for installing the drain for the bathroom sink. Only one trip to the hardware store was necessary and everything works, no leaks. Agnes and Shawn went skiing. They don’t often get out together, just the two of them, and certainly not for skiing.

Monkey supervises muffin making.

Monkey supervises muffin making.

This afternoon Alex, Julie and I conquered the slopes again with sleds. I also got to slide down as well as carry a sled uphill. Today I opted for trudging uphill in the snow. I wanted to match Margaret’s exertion climbing 1500 steps in Hamilton. I am sure I did. And if that did not do it, more chasing of geese certainly did. We expanded our fox and geese paths to give the fox even more of a workout. My thighs feel today’s fun.

The fort is feeling fine.

The fort is feeling fine.

Agnes made an excellent sausage vegetable soup for lunch. Brian, Shawn and I prepared tonight’s feast. Everyone enjoyed a filling lasagna and salad. A scoop of coconut gelato and one of black cherry gelato was a very satisfying dessert.

I taught Julie how to play Hand and Foot. She beat me. Brian and I showed Alex and Shawn how to play. Alex and I won the first hand by thousands, but we have not got back to finish the game. Julie and Alex are engaged in Minecraft. A lot of chatter bounces back and forth as they play.

Before bed I take a few minutes to read a little of Tim Moore’s Spanish Steps, Travels with My Donkey. I am not planning on leading a donkey along the Camino, but you never know what Brian might do. I will encourage him to read the book. That should dissuade him of any such notion.

Valentine’s Day in Connecticut

Happy Valentine’s Day! Always a pleasure to spend time with people I love!

Cello practice

Cello practice

I think perhaps that 2 hours of playing with a ten and five year old in the snow might be more exhausting than four hours of crosscountry skiing. Although I started this day slowly with half an hour of Yoga Studio, the rest of the day has been busy!

Shawn made waffles while Brian fried Vermont bacon and we ate them with Kemble Mountain maple syrup. A nutritious delicious start to our day.

Julie protested that she hated winter and it took some convincing to get her dressed and outside. She preferred raising frogs on the iPad. Mostly she wants summer to arrive with days spent at the beach. I must admit I love those days too. Nevertheless, Julie donned her snow gear. Alex was already sledding. Shawn gave me some snow pants to keep me dry and warm. Minus nine Celsius was positively balmy compared to yesterday. The front yard is a great sledding hill with only a couple of trees to avoid. I did not slide down but walked down in foot deep snow and pulled sleds back up. After a few of these uphill killers, I opted for carrying the sleds up along the roadside. I know, not as much exercise! Mea culpa!

We took time out to make snow angels then went to see what we could do in the backyard. The snow was not good for packing; so, I shovelled out a fort and told Alex they would be able to build the walls higher when they had packing snow (“sticking snow” according to Julie). I pushed Julie on the glider while Alex pumped himself on a swing, sort of, since the snow was at the level of the swing seat.

Snow angels

Snow angels

Julie asked what we could do next. I suggested playing Fox and Goose. They did not know what this was; so, I showed them how to make a trail, again lots of stomping around in foot-deep snow. Although I talked Alex into being the fox, he soon caught me. My big boots were good for making me fall over in the narrow track. I got to be the fox, more than the goose. That was not such a great game for me to teach them! At least not for me. Julie thought it was fabulous and oh, wonder of wonders, the girl who hates winter wanted to stay outside when Alex and I wanted to go in. Naturally she wanted the fox to stay out too, but no, she did not want to be the fox. The fox convinced the little goose to come inside for hot chocolate and lunch.

While we were enjoying the fresh air, Brian and Shawn went shopping for oatmeal as well as paint and hardware for a bathroom reno. Agnes bought a sink and countertop and completed some work at the lab. In the course of the day, the bathroom received two fresh coats of paint and Brian installed the cherry vanity he made at home, the counter, sink and taps. Shawn took advantage of everyone’s busyness to ski 6.8 miles, the first crosscountry skiing he has done in a long time.

Cookie decorators

Cookie decorators

Alex, Julie and I made our heart-shaped oatmeal chocolate chip cookies decorated with lots of colourful sprinkles. We are now waiting for ribs and spaghetti squash to finish cooking. Wild rice and salad are ready, the table is set. Nachos have already been devoured. What board game will we play tonight? Or maybe Hand and Foot. We have a new deck AND a card shuffler!

Travelling in Sunshine

We are fortunate that our travelling days have been sunny under clear blue skies. Today it was especially important as the sun helped keep us warm on a very cold day. True to the forecast, we awakened to -20C with a windchill of -25C. We decided we did not need to go skiing. After a few yoga stretches we were reassured that yesterday’s skiing had not ruined us. From our bedroom, we could see the ski runs of Magic Mountain glistening, awaiting today’s skiers. Apparently downhill skiers are better protected from the bitter cold.

Lisa and Ken welcomed us to the breakfast table with plenty of choices: orange juice, tea or coffee, yogurt, fig or granola bars, cottage cheese and fresh fruit, crustless quiche with ham and cheese, toast with homemade plum jam, hot cereal, an assortment of cold cereal. The next couple who came in declared themselves vegetarian; so, they were offered scrambled eggs. Yesterday we had French toast made with Lisa’s multi-grain raisin bread. All delicious! As we ate we watched blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches and a downy woodpecker at the feeders. Lucinda, the very large, very long-haired cat watched the birds too. Our hosts had said they would remove the cat from the common areas if we did not like cats. We were happy to watch Lucinda make her rounds.

The sun created beautiful shadow patterns on the wooded hillsides and fields as we travelled first east then south to Connecticut. Long grey shadow branches reached across the snow-covered rivers. We stopped at the Vermont Country Store, mostly to take a photo of the old grist mill and the covered bridge, but we were drawn in by the charm of the general store. Inside was a plethora of food samples: local cheeses, flavoured mustards and cream cheeses, fudge and biscuits. One room of the store had floor to ceiling cupboards and drawers reminiscent of a very old apothecary shop. We bought some fine smooth Vermont cheddar and venison sausage, but the flavour I left the store with was a delicious lime cheesecake.

In Brattleboro we stopped at Grafton Village Cheese, another store we remembered fondly from a visit two year’s ago. We needed to sample many cheeses there after tasting one chili flavoured cheddar. It was too spicy for both of us. When something is too spicy for Brian, you know it is really hot. Effie’s biscuits were best at dousing the flames. We bought some Gouda and more cheddar then headed across the river to New Hampshire to buy liquor and wine where taxes are much lower than elsewhere.

We settled back into listening to more of The Pilgrimage as we drove through Massachusetts. We decided we had time for a stop at REI near Hartford and still arrive near Guilford in time to pick up our grandchildren from school. We did not buy any backpacks at REI but I tried on two packed with fifteen pounds each and after discussing backpacks with the knowledgeable salesman, I decided I wanted to try a different one that was sold out. The search continues.

Alex flew into my arms when I opened the doors of his school. Alex accompanied me into Julie’s school. Julie was not eagerly watching for us. She was engrossed in a game with a friend; so, my arrival was met with a frown. I grabbed a hug and once I lured her outside, her game was forgotten. Stories of valentines accompanied us home.

Alex practised the cello and Julie showed me how to play Minecraft on the iPad. We thought about making chocolate chip oatmeal heart-shaped cookies, but the oatmeal part was non-negotiable from Alex’s perspective; so, we will make these another day after shopping for oatmeal.

Our sunny day ended with family around the dining room table enjoying roast of lamb. Perfect.