Weekend Vibes..

We had a fantastic long weekend together – it was a nice combo of lazy and active. Lots of reading, sitting around, playing games, but also exploring – and even some socially distanced social time!

On Saturday a few friends and I got together for some 6-8 feet away drinks and conversation. I put on a dress, my new necklace, slipped on sandals and off I went. We even all brought our own beverages and glasses so that we didn’t touch things others had touched – and so Kelly didn’t have to wash a glass. It was so nice to just see their faces – and I was so relaxed, watching the birds. And this was the very first time I had been away from Wyatt since March 12. I probably could have curled up on the outdoor couch and taken a nap, I became so comfy. I have taken to naming my friend’s homes lately (I blame all that British tv), and I have decided Kelly’s house should be called Refuge.

Then Sunday and Monday we spent pond dipping, as part of our homeschooling for the week! This week is all about ponds and frogs so we were hoping to catch some minibeasts in our catch and release beach aquarium. We only managed to find an aquatic snail in the water, but we did spot a Northern Water Snake, two turtles, a Great Blue Heron, a ton of Red-Winged Blackbirds, heard a bullfrog, and a little American toad! We brought the toad home as our guest for a few weeks, then we will let her go. Wyatt has named her Uh-Oh. the funny part is my brother found a toad yesterday and brought it in as a pet for my niece (who named hers Cupcake). But it all started with Kelly who found one last week and brought it in to avoid the cold snap. Her toad is a beast! They named her Theodora.

Later Monday evening my brother invited us, my mom, and my sister-in-law’s mother over for a socially distanced bonfire. It was so very nice to be near my family again, even though I itched to hug them all! Again, we all brought our own drinks and cups. What a strange new world we live in. Regardless, it was so fantastic to see their faces and talk to them, and not through a screen! Wyatt was so happy too, and just kept pointing to everyone and saying “Wow”. It was his first time seeing his family in months, and even though we were apart, it was wonderful to be sitting and talking together.

It was nice to be back exploring and seeing people again, no matter how we had to do it.

My Lumberjack’s Birthday Party

So… after a week of birthday celebrations, we finally had Wyatt’s big family party! I have been looking forward to this for a while now, and while it always seems like a great deal of coordinating, we pulled it off! We had some help though from our family, which was a wonderful help!

Wyatt loves to be outside in the woods, and he also loves pancakes – so I thought that a lumberjack party would be fun! With a March birthday too, it works with the maple sugaring season as well! We planned with our local metropark (where we spend quite a bit of time, and have for over 16 years we learned recently!) to have Wyatt’s birthday party there, and one of their interpreters would do a maple sugaring demonstration for the kids as part of the party. Maple syrup, pancake cake, woods and nature – the perfect recipe for my kiddo’s party!

The metropark did such a great job, seriously. Before we even got there, they had the tables arranged, coloring sheets that were lumberjack and maple syrup themed, and little trees set to mimic the woods outside. They even had a stump (that I think was lacquered in the 70s) set up with dry erase markers to wish Wyatt happy birthday on!

However, the weather was beautiful and sunny and 60 degrees! Last year on Wyatt’s birthday, we all drove around in a blizzard. This year, a gorgeous spring day. Not that we were complaining! But we did change the plan – Kevin the interpreter suggested a nature hike with the kids instead, and we quickly agreed! The sap wasn’t running for him despite great effort, so it made sense for us to take advantage of the weather. And the kids and adults both had a great time!! We learned about skunks, birds, beavers, trees, maple syrup, and even spotted a fairy door in the tree.

By the time we were done, everyone was hungry! For our lumberjack meal, we served chili, rice (my husband’s family always eats chili over rice – I never had it like that until I met him and it is GOOD), cornbread, and macaroni and cheese for the kids. We kept it simple but hearty, because the cake was the food star of the event…

It was more golden brown in person, and it was delicious!!! It was deliciously vanilla and the perfect texture.

Everyone ate their fill and talked and caught up with each other, and the kids played and played. The sun was shining, and it was just such a great couple of hours. My lumberjack had a fantastic time and by the time we got home needed a nap, the sign of a great day when you are five.

Our Family UK Dinner

A few months ago, my brother and his wife (Devin and Chrissy) had the great idea of having a big family get together, where we would all bring dishes that are themed around the UK. So, where did this idea start? When Chrissy made a figgy pudding for Christmas then realized too late that it needed a million years to cook, and wouldn’t be ready in time for dinner!

Like many Americans, our family loves to talk about our ancestry. I am second and third generation on my mother’s side, and their foodways have been kept pretty tightly in our family. My ancestry is all huddled up in a little corner of the world apparently.

Broken down, I am 48% Irish and Scottish, 33% English, Welsh, and Northwestern European, 10% French, 7% Italian, and 2% Norwegian. My ancestors didn’t seem to stray that far from home. Homebodies I guess, like me.

Anyway, back to dinner! We were all really excited about this get together. The winter is so long and this gave us something to really look forward to. And we had so many different dishes to try! We all ate so darn much! I have to apologize for a lack of photos, I took really poor food photos – I guess it is not my forte. I did take a few humorous ones….

Chrissy and Devin really put a lot of work into this gathering! They made Rumbledthumps, which was absolutely delicious and my very favorite dish of the day! They also made potato stovies, and yes, that figgy pudding!

Chrissy’s sister made Corned Beef and Cabbage, and her mother made a vegetarian Irish Stew. My cousin worked hard on Yorkshire Pudding, which was a huge undertaking in our family, as my grandmother was the only one to really make it for almost our whole lives, and none of us have been able to replicate it since. He also made Irish Soda Bread, his signature bake. Chrissy’s father made an Irish Lentil soup, and my Uncle Art made meat pies. My mom chimed in with butter tarts and a custard pie, and Billy and I? Well ours failed. We were the weakest link! I had planned on making Cullen Skink, but could not find smoked haddock anywhere! I wasn’t sure if I could substitute another type of smoked fish, so I was scrambling at the end to find a different dish. I thought of Colcannon, but that is way too similar to rumbledthumps (which has the better name to be sure!). I thought of a beef stew, but felt like there were already a lot of stews and then the corned beef as well. So we ended up making Scottish macaroni pies – are these really a thing? I decided on them eventually because I thought maybe the kids would eat them.

We looked at old photos, and listened to bagpipe music – a fixture in our family, as my mom and aunt were Highland Dancers and my uncle was the drum major in St. Andrew’s Band in Detroit.

We had some drinks and some laughs and all in all, it was a wonderful way to spend a February evening, close together as a family, enjoying food, and reminiscing. I am looking forward to next year – and planning my dish now!

A Family Mini-Trip

Way back in December, I spur of the moment booked a mini-trip to celebrate Wyatt’s fifth birthday. We always go hiking for his birthday and visit a new nature center, it is a tradition – so for number 5 we decided to take the tradition out on the road. We head out west, to the west side of the state, at least once a year and so that is where we chose to roam this time.

We left early Sunday morning, and pulled into Saugatuck Brewery right around lunchtime, which was perfect timing. We had planned to eat lunch then hit the antique store that was right there as well, before heading to our airbnb. My brother has been telling me to eat at the Saugatuck Brewery for years and I finally made it, and now all I can think about is the macaroni and cheese I had! It was so good, rich and creamy and cheesy! I will dream about that macaroni until I get there again. Mr. Big Shot also loved his lunch, and ate like a machine! Billy and I also enjoyed two of their brews while we were at it; I had the Kolsch, he had the IPA, and we both thought they were pretty darn good!

After eating we explored the antique store, where I found a bunch of things I wanted but that would not fit into our car this time around – a vintage oak filing cabinet, a drafting table from 1953… but I had to leave them behind for someone else. I also found a great copy of Little House in the Big Woods but didn’t pick it up. By the time we were done prowling the store, it was time to check in to our house!

I had booked the most charming house in Holland, and I was so excited to get there and see it in person! We stayed at Cobblestone Cottage and it was a great experience! So clean, my number one requirement for staying anywhere! It was adorable and the kitchen was a dream. I highly recommend it to anyone thinking about staying in the area. We bummed around a little, letting Wyatt get some energy out, including playing the piano which he loved, then just did a little exploring the neighborhood.

The next morning was Wyatt’s birthday and we were really looking forward to getting outside together. The day was so perfect, sunny and warm, but first – presents! He loved all of his new things, but really loved the board game we gave to him, and wanted to play it immediately – Hoot Owl Hoot! It is so cute and teaches cooperation as there are no winners or losers, you play as a team. I thought it was a great game for a first board game!

After a quick round we headed off to find doughnuts and then to hit the trails at the Outdoor Discovery Center. Which was amazing!! They had so many different trails to wander along, and really great learning experiences and stops along the way – a Birds of Prey Center, a replication of an Anishinaabe Summer Camp, two great play areas, and the Nature Center itself. You could easily spend hours there with your child. And we did spend quite a bit of time there!

By the time we left Wyatt was exhausted so we headed back to our house for a bit. We lunched on pepperoni rolls that we picked up from the best bakery ever and watched a little tv, relaxing while Wyatt napped. When he got up, we shopped around downtown and had ice cream for dinner. Because I am that kind of mom.

We were leaving pretty early Tuesday morning, planning on getting in another hike closer to home, but still hit the bakery, drove to the beach and looked at Lake Michigan, and then did some additional shopping before leaving. And I even bought myself a few things! A boy scout mug and an old field guide for trees, that had a beautiful inscription in it.

It was the perfect low-key kind of trip we all needed. One to reconnect, disconnect, and just relax and be together. We loved the area, and even half-joked about moving out that way – I mean, we already have a punch card for the bakery, so we might as well! I am so glad that we went on this trip – the only thing that would have made it more perfect would have been to stay longer!

Winter Ponds & Snowy Walks

This past week winter decided to rear its head here in Michigan. We had freezing temperatures and even snow. It was a great week to study winter ponds with the Exploring Nature with Children curriculum – I was so pleased that the weather in Michigan cooperate with us. It was just a great week honestly – we had a lot of outside time, and had some fun inside too, with our indoor campout on Friday night!

We started our week last Sunday with a short hike around a bay in the Detroit River, and then around the small pond that is nearby as well. We were excited to see that it had frozen over since the last time we had visited this area, as the last time there was no sign of ice at all. We looked for signs of life around the pond, tracks in the snow, birds, animals, plants and talked about those with Wyatt a bit. We did find some interesting tracks and we are still just learning to identify these ourselves, so we made our best ID’s with the help of Google lens.

We decided that these were coyote and raccoon tracks, based on the Google ID and a little more online searching. Also, for the coyote tracks I did not see any footprints near them, from a person walking their dog. If you are better at identifying tracks then us, I would love your opinions!

Then Friday, Wyatt and I made our own winter pond. We talked about water freezes, what some of the animals that live in or around the water do when this happens, and then froze some things in water while we were at it to simulate a pond in winter. We also checked on it every hour noting the temperature and whether it had frozen or not yet.

Unfortunately after checking for 7 hours, it still had not frozen. The temperature would not budge from 33 degrees! It eventually did freeze but overnight so Wyatt did not get to see it gradually happen as I had hoped. But he did get to play with his frozen pond the next morning. He was a pretty dedicated little scientist though, and enjoyed checked the water every hour. He wouldn’t let me cheat and just look from the front door either, we had to go out every time lol.

Later that evening we had a indoor camp-out in our living room which was a super fun way to unplug. We set up his tent, laid down blankets, turned on our little electric stove, and read books by lantern light. Wyatt was seriously excited by the whole thing, it was cute. To be honest, Billy and I were so relaxed as well – it was quiet and warm and we were just having such a great time hanging out. We will definitely be doing this again.

Saturday morning after a breakfast of homemade pancakes, we threw on our winter clothes and headed outside, because it was snowing! It was the weather we had been waiting for all winter and we were so excited to get in the woods and walk through the falling snow. My brother and his family had the same idea and they had a beautiful walk, complete with wild turkeys, deer, and birds that ate birdseed from their hands at the nature center. We didn’t see anything on our walk, but enjoyed the brisk walk together, trying to catch snowflakes on our tongues.

It was the kind of weekend I love, with plenty of family time and hiking!

Puddles and Pinecones

Over the weekend the weatherman predicted torrential rain storms, flooding, and then to top it all off, ice. Well, it did rain, a very drizzly cold rain that did do a little flooding, and raised the rivers and creeks a little bit higher. We had plans to stay inside and do fun things there for most of the day and night, but..we couldn’t resist a little splashing in puddles first!

Wyatt wears AFO’s – braces for his feet to help him stand stronger when he is working on walking and standing. We love his braces, they are great tools to help him. But they also make it hard to buy shoes and boots, boots especially, as we can’t really manipulate his foot into one with the stiff braces. But we found that Butler boots have enough give in them that they slide fairly easily right over the braces – so we ordered him a pair of bright cheery yellow boots, his favorite color, and perfect for adding some sunshine to a dreary day. Then it rained and we got our wish to go stomp around in the puddles!

The cutest little stomp and splash ever!

While we are all excited that we found boots that work with his needs, Wyatt is more excited about the fact that he now has gumboots like the character and kids on one of his favorite shows, Scout and the Gumboot Kids! This very morning while we were watching one before school (they are short and perfect for a moment like this!) Wyatt went and got his boots out and started putting them on, just like Scout and the Gumboot Kids. Gumboots are another name for rain boots, or wellies, whatever you want to call them, and this show is adorable, with nature mysteries presented by a felt mouse in his own little cardigan and gumboots. The episodes are short, with a quick mystery that includes clues, and a mindful moment, which I am hoping to incorporate more of into our lives. The talented Jessie Farrell also provides the music and song for these episodes, with lovely lilting tunes that are so catchy that kids don’t even realize they are learning as they are singing along. As a companion to the Scout series, there is also Daisy and the Gumboot Kids, and Daisy is a crafty little mouse full of ideas for nature crafts. We love these shows and I love the inspiration they provide, while teaching Wyatt about all sorts of things – caterpillars and butterflies, space, agates, trees, dinosaurs are some of our favorites!

Not only is this series on television, they are now a series of books published by Firefly Books! We were lucky enough to receive a set of four signed books before Christmas, and now that the holidays are over, we really have time to spend looking through them together and talking about what we read. These books are beautiful, with full page artwork that captures the eye and attention, as page-size photos of the characters that Wyatt loves, solving the mysteries on paper within a book! Each book also contains two pages of field notes that relate to the mystery, mindful moments, and a nature craft. There is so much within the pages to inspire creativity and learning! We have been having a lot of fun with them. We also received a cute little coloring and activity book, a signed CD of Jessie Farrell’s music for the show, and stickers!

Today we spent some time reading through the books a little after school – Wyatt likes to “read” them to me too.

After we read about bird feeders and butterflies, I had a book and craft set up in the other room waiting for us.

We read the book, The Wooden Timekeeper, and talked about conifer trees, pincones, and the rings on trees, and how when you count them you can find the age of the tree. Wyatt really liked playing with the pinecones and petrified wood the best.

I showed him the pictures in the book of the craft, and let him choose whether we made an owl, bear, or mouse. My sweet boy chose to make an owl, my favorite! It was a group effort, with him doing the gluing while I helped out with the placement and cutting. We had a great time reading and making this little owl together! And look how cute!

Scout and the Gumboot Kids and the series, both on television and the books by Firefly Books are such a great resource for kids to learn, and entertaining and cute to boot! (yeah, see what I did there..)

Thanks to Firefly Books for the wonderful gift of the books, CD and extra little fun things!

1000 Hours Outside Challenge

We love to be outdoors – we always did, but since we had Wyatt, we have increased the amount of time that we are outside. We learned that it is so good for your brain and vision and just your whole health and body and healing to be in nature, and we were determined to take every available route to aid him in his journey. Sometime last year I learned about the 1000 hours outside challenge, but it was too late for us to attempt to make the 1000 hours. So, this year we are trying. I don’t think we will get there – we have our own challenges that we have workarounds for. But, I am curious as to how much time we WILL spend outdoors. I think just by trying we will achieve more outdoor time than if we hadn’t attempted this challenge.

The 1000 Hours Outside Challenge was the brainchild of a couple, Josh and Ginny, from the state of Michigan, actually even my own part of the state. We love the outdoors here in Michigan! They had read that the average child spends 1200 hours a year on a screen, which is crazy when you think about it. They hope to balance some of that screen time with time outside, and aim for about twenty hours a week. Right now, we are nowhere near that, but we hope to increase our time as the weather improves.

So this January, we were off and running, and have done three different hikes, and a small little walk in the snow. Our time spent isn’t much added all up, but the time spent meant more than just the minutes themselves – we had all that time together, soaking up the fresh air, the snow, the birds and trees, and all the goodness that lives outside. And all that family time!

We hiked through a lonely, cold marsh, where we were the only humans. When we stood silently, we could hear the wind rattling the bones of these marsh grasses and trees, and the din of the waterbirds, which lined the rails of the decking and dotted the gray waters. We were surprised to see no real ice, it was all open water pretty much still – it’s been such a mild winter!

We took a quick snowy walk around our neighborhood, and then another short jaunt through another marshy area. The pond here was just starting to gain a skim of ice, but it was utterly silent there, except for the lapping of the water onto the shoreline. This is where I found my turtle shell!

Then this past weekend we visited yet another more marshy type spot, which was weirdly snowy, icy, and muddy. We tried to be more observant of the small things we could spot here, and I found some air-breathing freshwater snails, while Billy spotted some bits of green and icy swirls. There is something to be said for being the only people in a cold woods – everything feels different, the quiet is just so big!

So, while we have not racked up lots of actual time on the clock, we have had many family adventures already. I can’t wait to see where the rest of the year takes us! And, it looks like my son is ready for whatever it brings!