Winter Hikes

We are winter hikers; we wait all year to get back out there in the cold and snow. There is just something so invigorating about being in a winter wood, the chill temps, the quiet. On New Years Day, I walked the woods alone; Wyatt had fallen asleep in the car on the way to the trail, and Billy offered to stay back so that I could wander. The only sounds I heard were those of the birds, tweeting and chirping, birds of all kinds. Robins and cardinals and blue jays, various woodpeckers – a chipmunk ran in front of me, scampering into the undergrowth. I had my eyes scanning the trees, looking for the long – eared owl that has been spotted there, but didn’t see it unfortunately. When I headed back to the car, Billy told me that he had been watching all the birds as well, from his warm cozy seat. They were simply everywhere.

We took two more hikes that week, one at our favorite trail system, just to get outside and stretch our legs, get some fresh air. The woods were quiet that day, we didn’t see a single soul, nor see any signs of life at all. The birds and the animals must have been huddled up against the cold, wondering just what we were thinking, hiking around out there.

We also trekked out to Belle Isle one morning, and took a walk around the half frozen pond. It was like being in the Arctic, but not as cold and minus the polar bears. Although I did spy some tracks in the snow on the ice; can anyone identify them? I am thinking maybe fox, but identifying tracks is something I haven’t mastered.

It was a beautiful walk, almost magical near the marshy spots and the cattails.

And what better way to end a cold walk in the snow and ice than with hot chocolate and car snacks?

Currently…January

It is not just a new month, it is a new year! Here we go, 2021! It is time for Anne In Residence’s monthly Currently post where we answer one word prompts about different things we are doing and feeling. I always love the insight I gain from these, taking inventory of my own life.

First up – Beginning: Ugh so much! I am one one of those people who like a firecracker starts the new year off with a bang, off and running. I start out strong every year, and last year I was doing great but then we all know what happened. Lol. We are starting the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge, and also the Kids Moon Club again. I am also starting to plan our garden for the spring, and I am starting my “houseplant journey” as well, adding plants around my house, and I am loving it. I even bought a moisture meter, so I am feeling pretty committed. We also have a list of house projects we want to accomplish, wish us luck!

Feeling: Recommitted to our goals and values as a family. Hopeful. Slightly introspective. Inspired.

Organizing: Books, so many books. I just bought a new bookcase with a bench for Wyatt’s room, and happily spent time going through his books and organizing them all. I am also trying to organize our homeschooling supplies a little better.

Resolving: To be more patient. I am not the most patient person in the world, and I am working on that this year. I have infinite patience with children and animals, but in other areas of my life, not so much. And in fact, we always play a little game on New Years Day where we draw an animal and adjective from a hat and that is our word and animal for the year – this year I got patient bobcat. Not sure what that all means, but I can definitely work on patience. Wyatt and Billy got similar adjectives and the same animal – and they already embody them. Fearless Bear (Billy) and Courageous Bear (Wyatt). I am also resolving to try more new recipes this year. Last night I made foccacia bread and a Smoky bacon potato corn chowder, and they were amazing so I am off to a good start!

Wondering: Probably the same as everyone. Aside from the big wonder, I was also wondering the other day if we were ever going to have a non-cloudy night for skywatching events this year. Lol. Maybe this is our year!

Handmade Holiday Gift Ideas for Children

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)

Stocking Stuffers:

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!

Letter Subscriptions:

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!

Trip to the Pumpkin Patch

One of our most beloved family traditions every year is our trip to the pumpkin patch and orchard. We have been doing it since I was a little girl, when we would go with my cousin and follow it up with chili for dinner and cake to celebrate my uncle’s birthday. This year, it almost didn’t happen, for obvious reasons. But the kids have been studying pumpkins all week and we needed to find a way we felt comfortable going, if possible.

So we did! Billy, Devin, and Chrissy took a day off of work for our “field trip” this year, we got up early so we could arrive right when it opened, and we chose to go one of our favorite orchards, one that is a favorite because it is just about the pumpkins there. No rigmarole or fair like atmosphere – just an orchard, pumpkins, and for adults, a hard cider tasting room, where they make the cider onsite. We didn’t do any tasting this year but we definitely bought some to go.

We pulled up around the same time almost exactly, and headed off through the grounds, which we had all to ourselves. We kept our masks on, as good practice for the kids, and my mom as well, and maintained our distances although it was just us.

Well, us and this dog. He was with us our whole excursion and didn’t stray too far from my niece’s side. He lives there and decided to hang out with us.

It was an absolutely glorious morning – sunny, warm, a bit crisp. The perfect day for our adventure. We messed about in the orchard, laughed about our dog friend and honorary group member – we are the James Herriot Primary school after all..

Then we headed to the store area to shop for our gourds and pumpkins and all the good things. All the pumpkins were really up there so no picking through the patch for one but that is ok, much easier to lug them the two feet back to the car then all that way. We did have to run in to pay and to pick up our cider, and I also added a jar of honey from their hives to my order.

And the dog’s name turned out to be “Greater”. All Creatures Great and Small, anyone?

Happy Fall everyone!

A Misty Morning at the Orchard

Wyatt and I met my SIL Chrissy and my niece L. at the orchard yesterday, and I am so glad that we went. I was very nervous, it was 8 days post surgery and it would be our first outing too. I am glad I felt brave enough to say yes, because we had fun, despite the slightly damp day.

Chrissy and L. met us at the orchard at 11:30, and Chrissy masked up and headed into the store to grab out bags for picking while I stood between the cars and watched both kids. Then we headed back to the orchard, where they had row after row of apple varieties to choose from. Our little caravan of two headed all the way to the end before turning around and deciding we wanted to head for the honey crisp first. We parked and we put a blanket down as our base and went up and down the rows plucking the apples from the branches. The kids thought it was super fun! When we finished that area, we wandered over to the golden delicious and braeburn section, and added more apples to our bag.

Our bags were filling up and getting heavy, but we were not ready to call it quits yet. We had one more small section we wanted to check out, the winesap apples. I have to be honest, I am not certain what these apples are like but we liked the name. Wyatt was super tired by this point so I stuck him in the back of the Subaru to hang out with while Chrissy and L. explored the field across the way, looking at the pumpkins, looking so autumnal sprawled out in the dew among their vines. L. came bouncing back, filled with excitement and wanting to show me the baby pumpkin that she saw so Chrissy stayed with Wyatt while I followed L. across the little bridge to the pumpkins. And we saw some enormous pumpkins as well as some teeny baby pumpkins. I guess fall has arrived, at least to our part of Michigan! I joked with Chrissy too, that she looked like a character from a Jane Austen novel walking through the fields..

By this point all of our feet were soaking wet and squishy, so it was time to call it a day. I would have loved to have had a picnic among the trees for Chrissy’s birthday (did I mention it was her birthday?) but it was too gross. We loaded the kids up and headed back to the front, making a little stop at the pick your own flowers field, where we realized we had no way to cut a bouquet. I never realized that one day I would be standing in a damp field lamenting that I didn’t have a pocket knife, but there I was. (and I came home and added a pink Opinel to my Christmas list..I will never go without flowers again! Lol)

All in all, we had a great time. I am so glad that we went, despite my anxiety, because I really think being with family, a change of scenery, and the fresh air did Wyatt and I both a world of good. I am so happy that we were able to share in Chrissy’s day! And look at this happy face!

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!