I took some time off from blogging and social media in general last week to just have a “week off”. We homeschooled, but didn’t do as much as we normally would, and we also prepared for our little Thanksgiving. It was just me, Billy, and Wyatt, so I picked our favorite sides, cheesy potatoes and green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and then we made cranberry rosemary chicken and called it done. It was a good meal with my guys, but didn’t feel like Thanksgiving. I also had a terrible time baking! I dropped my pumpkin pie, my shortbread didn’t turn out, and Billy had to run to to the store early in the morning Thursday to grab a pumpkin pie so we had dessert. Lol. We did have two great family video chats with our families though so that was a bright spot in our day. Billy had to work Friday, so we put up our tree on Saturday and decorated for Christmas. Wyatt loves the tree every year so it is a happy occasion, always.
Read Last Week:
So this book was amazing and fully deserves all the love it receives. I ended up buying it and don’t regret it; it was fantastic and I can’t wait to read Winn’s next book. It was beautifully written, it made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me read parts out loud to Billy – definitely on my top ten of the year.
Reading This Week:
I love anything with a fox. And this looks perfect for my mood right now!
Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch version), GBBS, Agatha Raisin (again), and the Queen’s Gambit, which is amazing. When Billy and I were younger and frequented coffee houses all the time, there was sort of a chess thing happening at the time as well, and everyone was playing. We entered a tournament and I remember I beat one of the top guys and his friends were all you got beat by a girl! I am of course nowhere even close to Beth’s skill level in The Queen’s Gambit, but so weird that being beaten “by a girl” was a weird thing even when I was playing.
Wyatt is watching a lot of Molly of Denali, Wild Kratts, and Scout and Daisy these days. I have to admit, I love all of those cartoons too…
And that is about it from my corner of Michigan right now! Stay safe everyone.
And then finally, the books recommended to me on my Ask the Experts post!
Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster – Stargazer
Blue Mind by Wallace Nichols – Monika at Lovely Bookshelf
Atlantic by Simon Winchester – Words and Peace
Hell Ship by Michael Veitch – Shelleyrae at Book’d Out
Nathaniel Philbrik’s Heart of the Sea – Brona
The Folk Keeper by Billingsley – LexLingua
The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett – Array
In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides – Array
Under the Sea Wind and The Sea Around Us, by Rachel Carson – Rennie at What’s Nonfiction
Last week got away from me! My husband had to work a million zillion hours and it was me and the five year old ALL WEEK and WEEKEND… so not much mommy alone time, and when I did get it, I was zonked. I hope to catch up on reading everyone’s posts this week. I have really enjoyed reading everyone’s nonfiction loves this month, and can’t wait for next year!
It’s been a few weeks since I linked up here. A lot has happened, including the loss of my uncle – and when I am upset I usually can’t read, so I haven’t had much to say for a what are you reading link up.
I still haven’t read anything but I do plan on starting a book today, fingers crossed. I have been participating in Nonfiction November though, and have been really enjoying it! I have added so many books to my TBR.
Reading This Week:
I have heard so many good things about this book, and I am looking forward to starting it.
Sherlock (I’m obsessed!), Dawson’s Creek reruns on Netflix, The Great British Baking Show, Death in Paradise (although now my favorite ever Detective is gone! and I swore I wasn’t going to watch it but I did and it made me sad) Wyatt is watching Wild Kratts and Molly of Denali a lot lately – and I find myself watching right along!
And that is it from around here! Stay safe everyone.
I was so excited to start Owl Week! Our whole little family loves owls so this was fun for all of us. We actually did this last week, but I am behind on posting – this week we worked on one of our Heritage Studies, Scotland! I will share about that next week though. (We always do a special unit study in addition to our regular curriculum)
Many of our activities were based around reading, which is my kind of activity. I love book and activity tie in, and there are so many great owl picture books out there! I used some old favorites, and found a few new ones!
First we started with Owl Babies, one of the cutest little books out there. We read the book, and worked on the flip books I downloaded, which were super informative and fun. Then we created some Owl Babies inspired art! (always always Wyatt’s favorite part)
The next day we read Owl Moon, which if you haven’t read it is one of my favorite books ever, about a father and child on a cold silent winter night, looking for owls. We completed some work pages I found online, then created an owl moon artwork. I cut out the silhouette and he did the moon, face and glued it all together.
We spent the rest of the week reading, looking at different types of owls that live all over the world, having a poetry and book teatime with my mom and niece, crafting, and watching owl videos. We finished up our week with our very own owl prowl at the park! We met up with my cousin and his girls, my brother, SIL, and niece, and my friends and their two girls. We think we may have heard an owl straight away but other than that, nothing. It didn’t matter though, it was a beautiful night for a hike through the woods with with friends. And sadly, it was our last for a while as we all agreed to not hang out for a while, even masked and distanced outside, due to our surging COVID numbers. But, for the night we had fun and felt free under the dark canopy of trees, the kids playing, Wyatt hooting trying to call owls, and everyone seemed happy. So not a bad night to end social events on at all.
This year my friends and family have really leaned in to staying at home and finding ways to use this time – through creative projects and hobbies, to learning useful skills, and filling our spaces with life and things that make us happy and smile. These newfound passions are making their way onto holiday gifts lists in my circle, and I wanted to share with you a few of these ideas! (Amazon links are affiliate links, and marked with an *.)
A little bit of peace and happy
Crescent Moon Soap Making Set: This year I learned to make soap and I am loving it! I love the creative aspects, as well as the functional and resourcefulness of it. I love just going to my little stash that I have made and picking out the next bar that we are going to use. Brambleberry has a ton of kits and project suggestions for every interest. I love this crescent moon though..
Embroidery Kits: Ok so..there are three here. My favorites honestly, and the ones I added to my list for Billy to choose from. I hope to learn to embroider this year and these just seem so pretty. Wild and Free || Web || Moons
A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year: I have a book that is a poem for every night of the year, and we enjoy reading our poem every night. I think this would be a lovely way to start the day! *
Soapstone Carving Kit: My brother is a whittler, my stepdad was a whittler and woodworker; is there any more peaceful sounding endeavor? This soapstone kit looks like a great place to start.
Freshly made? Yes please
Handmade Sourdough Crock: The men I know have embraced cooking and food production this year, and this sourdough crock is gorgeous. King Arthur Flour has a few different versions, some that even include sourdough starter as well!
Bread Accessory Kit: I love this kit, it contains so many items for such a great price! A lame, a whisk, a bread bag..all for less than $25.00! *
Mead Making Kit: This is totally a Billy item. He wants to learn how to make mead and this kit makes it look easy! *
Things are growing
Wooden Propagation Station: Anyone else plant obsessed these days? My friends and I have started buying plants and sharing cuttings with each other. I am patiently waiting for my new cuttings to get here and I need one of these stations myself!
Marimo Moss Ball: Something else I am currently in love with. These marimo balls are so cute and can live for years and years, and are said to be lucky. Check out the website, it is worth reading and exploring!
Mushroom Kit: Grow your own mushrooms! We eat so many mushroom recipes over the fall and winter, that it would be handy to have some just ready and available in my own kitchen. (For a fantastic dinner, try the Mushroom Polenta from Rabbits and Wolves..) *
The Basics of Cozy
Men’s Pendleton Slippers: Billy hates having cold feet (well, I guess everyone does) and I love these slippers. They look perfect to slip into on those cold mornings and out of as well in the evening at bedtime.
Sackcloth and Ashes Blanket: I have one of these blankets (Camp Lake) and I love it. It is so soft and warm and bonus – the company donates blankets to homeless shelters!
Le Creuset Tea Mug: Also something I own and it is hands down my favorite to use, even with its little chip. It just has the perfect shape for holding, you know what I mean? It’s just a little thing that makes me happy everyday. *
Tom’s Plaid Slippers for Women: Because plaid is perfect in the winter. I like to wear slippers that are more fitted, probably because I am sort of klutzy and need my footwear to not give me anymore reason to trip. I like how trim and neat these look!
There are always subscription gifts as well! Cratejoy has a ton of ideas, and you can always buy a patreon for a year subscription if there is a maker they like to support! Also, gift cards for restaurants are a great idea for this year. We aren’t dining in but we are supporting our local eateries by ordering takeout!
I realize some of these suggestions are a little unusual, but so is 2020. I wanted to throw some of our loves and ideas out there, even to just get the ball rolling if anyone was looking for ideas! Even if these are not the items you are looking for, you may find the perfect thing on one of these websites!
I am a nonfiction newbie. I really only started to read nonfiction in the last few years, and then this year my reading has been a little wonky and off. So, I am turning to you all as experts this week!
There are some books calling my name lately.. books set in areas near the cold coast of the Atlantic Ocean. I am not sure what this is about really. Maybe I have spent too much time reading woodland books, and I want to explore the deep. Maybe it is because I am a water sign, born in November, just a few days after the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in Lake Superior. My ancestors were shipbuilders in England before coming to America, and they continued to be shipbuilders here in Detroit; my great-uncle worked on the Edmund Fitzgerald, and my mom even attended the launch. So, maybe there is a bit of sea in my soul somewhere. (I did have a palm reader in New Orleans tell me I had been a ship’s captain who went down with his ship in a past life..) Anyway, I am making a list of books that fit this sort of profile and I have three on my list so far, and I would love any other suggestions before I dive in to this topic. (pun intended)
These are the books I have lined up so far.
Any other suggestions out there? I will take nonfiction, and fiction too! And on both sides of the Atlantic, not just the UK side. Anyone read these and have thoughts on them? I know The Salt Path is a big favorite, and I plan to read it very soon.
Thanks! I look forward to your comments and visiting your posts!
Last night, my Uncle Art lost his three week battle with COVID. He fought hard as he did his whole life when confronted with challenges but in the end COVID was the impossible hill. We couldn’t say goodbye, we couldn’t be with him, but he wasn’t alone, as a nurse with a huge heart, my sister-in-law’s sister, was working that shift and sat with him so that he wasn’t all alone. These heroes at the frontline don’t have the luxury of saying they are tired of COVID. They see the families and the devastation everyday. Thank God that my Uncle wasn’t completely alone.
I always had a special relationship with Uncle Art. My love of gardening was born in his yard, summers spent racing around then stopping to grab a peach from his trees, rhubarb and strawberries and blueberries, the strange magic of watching peanuts grow. We planted peanuts this year because my uncle did when I was a kid, and I thought it was so crazy that they grew underground. When I got older, and started planting my own garden, we would get together in January and have coffee and doughnuts and plan our gardens together, pick out seeds to share. He would help me start them, and then when fall came around, I learned how to can tomatoes and make jam with him. He was so capable and could do so much. He could quilt and knit and sew; he was a career plumber who designed the systems for some of the biggest buildings in Detroit. He was the Drum Major in Saint Andrews band, which is where my aunt and my mother met him, when my mom was just eight years old. (they were Highland dancers) He loved to tell jokes and watch hockey, played it too when he was younger. When Wyatt was born, Wyatt loved him from the start and would seek him out to sit by and play with as he got older, because Uncle Art liked to joke around with him. The last time we were able to see him was at Wyatt’s birthday in March – and now he is gone. I will carry what I have learned from him though, through the rest of my life and will teach Wyatt, and whenever I plant a garden or make jam or even bake, I will think of him.
This next part is from an old blog of mine, Quixotic Magpie. I spent a day learning how to make coconut tarts from Uncle Art, and blogged about it to his delight. He was so tickled to see it on the internet, and I thought I would reshare it.
My family is divided into two camps: The Coconut Tart people, and the Empire Biscuit people. Don’t get me wrong, we will gladly eat either/or, but..we have a preference for one or the other. I love a good Empire Biscuit, but Coconut Tarts are my weakness. My grandma made them every Christmas and it was the dessert I looked forward to the most.
My grandmother is gone now, but my Uncle Art has taken up the mantle, and baked the tarts for the holidays. Yesterday I spent some much needed time in the kitchen, learning how to bake these tarts. I have decided to share my love for these with all of you! Just note – I am not a baker, nor am I a food blogger. Lol. My tarts look a little more rustic than professional – I have not managed pretty food yet, just yummy tasting! Because these turned out awesome in flavor, if I do say so myself.
Surprisingly, these are not a health food! 🙂 They are fattening and delicious!
Ingredients for the gooey coconut filling:
3/4 cup sugar 1 can Eagle Brand condensed milk 1 tsp. vanilla 1/4 lb. butter melted 1 egg 3/4 cup coconut, firmly packed
For the pastry – my uncle’s version: 2 c. flour 2/3 c. butter flavored Crisco + 4 additional TB (my mom uses cold butter but I don’t know how much) a pinch of salt 2/3 c. water
Preheat the oven to 425.
We made the filling first, but I don’t think it matters which you start with. It was easy! Basically, just combine all the above ingredients in a bowl, and whisk until everything is mixed really well. You want to make sure you really incorporate the sugar, it has a tendency to want to sit on the bottom.
Next we made the pastry- this was a little bit more complex but not too terribly difficult. I just really hate getting my hands dirty. Bleh. You start by adding all the ingredients together in a medium to large size bowl- we used a vintage Pyrex one which I am sure was not bought vintage like mine were. Then I cut it in the Crisco using a pastry cutter. Once this was all cut in well, my uncle showed me the next technique, of making the dough all crumbly. I am not sure of the technical terms, but we called it making it crumbly.
This technique involved running it between his hands, using the friction to combine it and make it all crumbled into little balls, Once the mixture was all crumbly balls, we could easily roll it all together into a ball.
Ta-da!Once we had this nice round ball of dough, we split it into two balls. Next, we placed one of the halves onto a floured piece of wax paper to roll out. We also put another piece of wax paper over the top of the dough, so it was sandwiched between two floured sheets of wax paper. Then I commenced rolling. You want it nice and thin, but not too thin. Maybe 1/4 inch thick.
We had some little helping hands too. My cousin’s three year old daughter assisted me. Once it is rolled out, you can cut circles to place into the muffin tray. I would say the one my uncle used was about 4″ across. He said this was not perfect but it worked for him. So maybe the size of a wide mouth water glass.
Once you roll out all the dough and have cut the circles, you can start slowly placing them into the muffin tin. This part is the slowest, most laborious part in my opinion.
Mine were a bit messy but looked like this when I was done. A bit of a trick – instead of using your fingers to press the dough down into the tins and onto the sides, once you have it set in loosely, you can use a small lump of dough as a little press instead of your fingers. Once you have everything ready to go, you are ready to fill! Give that filling a good whisking again to stir up any sugar that may have settled while you did all this stuff with the dough. When finished, add about 2 TB filling to each tart. This is entirely up to you, how much is added. I just wouldn’t suggest all the way to the top, because then they will overflow during cooking. Pop them into the oven for about 15 minutes (12-17, but we did 15) until the dough is a nice golden brown, and the filling has a nice golden color as well. My uncle then covers his with a dish towel for a few minutes to trap the heat a little longer without baking.
Once they cool, enjoy! Perfect with a milky, sugary cup of tea. Yum!
And that is all there is to it! I hope I did an ok job explaining this – I didn’t realize how difficult it was to write down a recipe that is mostly conveyed by look and feel in our family. If you try to make them, let me know how it goes!
I think most of us are facing a different Christmas this year – one that looks a little less like our normal traditions. And while we may be celebrating differently, some of us may be choosing to shop differently as well. Maybe going into less stores and opting for more online shopping, like me – in which case I am thinking the sooner I get started the better, as shipping may be a little slower than normal. As I consider my list this year, I want to try to patronize small businesses and artists more than usual as well, since this year has been tough on makers, so I will be purchasing a mix of gifts for the littles in my life this Christmas, and trying to be mindful. Here are a few things that have caught my eye this year! (Just make sure to check shipping dates if something happens to grab you!) This list is geared for younger kids, and I am sure a lot of it will find it’s way under our tree or as a gift to one of my nieces.
Wooden Play Dough Stamps: These are so adorable! I love how sturdy they seem, and easier on little hands to push! Wyatt and all of his cousins are play dough fanatics and I can see them all having a good time with these. I linked to the woodland set, but there are a few others like dinosaurs and unicorns, sea creatures and mushrooms.
DIY Personalized Puzzle Kit: There is so much about this that I love. All of my nieces have non-traditional names and can never find anything personalized, and at least two of them love art and putting puzzles together. If ever there was a more perfect gift!
Preschool Sewing Kit: I actually bought this for Wyatt to practice with over the summer and he really liked doing it! I thought it was creative as well as teaching hand-eye and fine motor skills.
Personalized Baking Set: This one ships from the UK, so if you are not in the UK, make sure it can be sent to you and what shipping costs and time will be before ordering! I just can’t with it’s cuteness though.
Wooden Puzzle for Kids: So, I have puzzles on here twice… but they were so different I thought it would be ok. These are so cute and I am a fan of wooden puzzles for kids.
Wooden Toy Kitchen: Ok, so this is brilliant. One of the best things we ever bought Wyatt was his toy kitchen – but it is so big and takes up so much space in our house! He still loves it and plays with it everyday though so although it has its own area, it stays up. However, had I seen this I may have been considered this as an option! It is perfect for small spaces or even for people who may not want to give up house space for a toy kitchen.
Handmade Knit Fox:I am totally in love with this fox. We bought Wyatt a knit badger for Christmas his first year, and he still loves it and sleeps with it every night. His name is Henry and I am always afraid something will befall Henry and then where will we be. I am tempted to pick this fox up just in case.. (update: I had a different fox here originally, but it sold out so I added another)
Felt Mask for Pretend Play: The kids in my life love pretend play, and wearing masks and headbands and capes and clothes – and I thought this unicorn was super cute.
Felt Beard: This is definitely making its way into Wyatt’s stocking this year. Billy has a beard and Wyatt always pretends he has one like his dad’s – now he can have a play one!
Personalized Patches: I just think patches are neat. I like to get them and put them on Wyatt’s backpacks that we use for exploring.
Wooden Owl Pendant: I can see just about every kid I know wearing one of these. And they have different versions available as well!
Writings from the Wild: I love these monthly letters from the “wild” and so does Wyatt. I signed him up for this two months ago, and they are informative and beautiful – plus Wyatt loves getting mail so that makes it even better. It is inexpensive as well, only a few dollars a month, and right now they are having a sale, 15% off if you enter Christmas15 (off 6 or 12).
Letters from Afar: These are neat, and if Wyatt was older I would definitely get it for him. They look gorgeous!
Nonfiction November this week is all about book pairings, and I did mine on The Simplicity of Cider and The Cider Revival; however, when I was considering books for that particular post, I thought about adding a second pair and decided not too. I haven’t read the nonfiction half yet, although it is on my TBR for this winter. But then I got an email that made me change my mind. But, books first!
I loved this series by Nevada Barr, and my favorite was Winter Study, set in my own home state of Michigan. I love to read books set here, and I have always been fascinated by Isle Royale, it’s remoteness, and it’s animal inhabitants, especially the wolves. Then a few years ago while at the zoo, we talked to a few scientists who had a table set up about this very topic, the wolves and moose of Isle Royale. They had spent months there studying the population of both, their relationship, and all that good stuff. It was fascinating to talk to them, and afterwards I added this Rolf Peterson book to my TBR.
Which leads me to today when I received an email from the Wolf Conservation Center in New York. (we “adopt” a wolf there every year- this year we adopted Deven) This email was about a free webinar being given by Dr. Rolf Peterson, about the wolf restoration happening on Isle Royale. I just thought the timing was so coincidental, since I had just been thinking about this topic this week! I immediately signed up of course, and I am excitedly looking forward to it. It is November 19th at 6 pm EST, if anyone is interested in signing up as well!
I have always loved apples, apple orchards, cider, and all that goes with it, including Johnny Appleseed (whom we chose as one of our family heroes for Wyatt’s studies this year). Every January, we pull on our boots and hats, and troop outside to our suburban front yard, and wassail our apple tree. If our neighbors were to look outside during this time, they would probably think we were crazy. If they came out to ask what we were doing, I would offer them cider.
It was I used to reserve all of my cider drinking for fall. I even took a tiny poll last year asking my closest friends when they thought the cut-off for drinking cider was. This year, I decided I didn’t care and started drinking it over the summer, sticking to the more fun ones like Virtue Michigan Cherry, and Virtue Rose. Now it is finally fall and I am branching out into new cider territory, finding new ciders to enjoy.
I recently read The Cider Revival: Dispatches From the Orchard by Jason Wilson, and absolutely inhaled it. Usually it takes me a while to finish a nonfiction book. That was not the case this time. Wilson states that cider is familiar, American, not exotic. It is seemingly “genderless” in ways that some people might view wine drinking or whiskey drinking (not me, whatever floats your boat!) And once was the drink of choice in America, until Prohibition left cider orchards to decay and die off. But cider is having a revival, with craft ciders and cideries, pommeliers and more commercial brands are becoming more and more popular again. And I for one am here for it.
There was no way that I could read The Cider Revival without wanting to explore different ciders. So, I texted my brother and asked if he wanted to have a cider tasting and fire at his house this weekend, and he of course agreed, as they are cider fans as well. We only had the ciders available at our local liquor store to choose from, and while they are pretty varied, it was still limited to one four foot section in an otherwise enormous store. They are pretty cool though and will order anything, so we are going to explore that option next time. However, we had a blast tasting the ones we did have, and there were some definite favorites!
The lineup: From Virtue: Michigan Cherry, Brut, and Sidra de Nava; From Shorts Starcut Line: Pulsar, Magpie, Octorock, and Mosa; then from a local orchard, Broken Barrel.
We didn’t know how to do a proper tasting, where to start and where to finish, so we started with the more appley, dry versions and worked our way to the more flavored ones, and decided to end with Sidra, because it was the most expensive.
Billy: Hands down loved the Broken Barrel as his clear favorite, followed by the Michigan Cherry.
Me: My favorites were the Pulsar, which was mellow and dry yet had just a little more oomph that I wanted. My second favorite was the Michigan Cherry.
Chrissy: Chrissy had the same favorites as Billy, the Broken Barrel followed by the Michigan Cherry. She felt that the Broken Barrel was perfect, fresh tasting, and like pure apples. (she is right)
Devin: Again, Broken Barrel and Michigan Cherry were the winners.
Honorable Mention: The Mosa by Starcut Ciders. We all agreed it did not taste really like cider, but if you had to drink cider for breakfast, it was the one to choose. It was actually very delicious.
And the finale: The Sidra de Nava. I chose this one because it is a cider made in the Spanish style by Virtue Ciders, and I had read that Spanish ciders are pretty important in the cider world. I don’t know if it was just this one, but Billy, Chrissy and I did not enjoy it. It was too – astringent? I think Chrissy said it best when she said it smelled like nail polish remover. We even checked the bottle to see if had expired, as the three of us could not even drink it. Devin however liked it, but it was not a favorite. We will probably seek out a different version one day, hopefully an actual Spanish import to compare it too, but perhaps our palettes are just not ready.
We had so much fun, and we all felt so much more relaxed than we had felt in weeks. We plan on doing another tasting this next weekend, this time with craft beer. It should be interesting, especially since I am not a big beer drinker.
If you are at all interested in reading about cider, I highly recommend reading The Cider Revival. And then maybe have a little toast to the author over a warm fire on a chilly autumn night, for introducing you to a whole new world.