Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Long Fourth of July Weekend. . .

(This post is dedicated to Nicky, my niece and BFF, who reads my blog and says her favorite posts
are the ones about the family, especially if there are lots of pictures. This one
has a record-setting number of pictures!)

It was a long holiday weekend (happily so), beginning last Thursday evening when Aimee, Josiah, and Avery arrived and ending yesterday (Tuesday) morning when Michelle and her children waved goodbye and headed back up the highway to their own home. Through the weekend, the house was full, busy, and often noisy, and I loved having all of my grown children and grandchildren here for an extended visit.

We spent Friday morning outside on the patio. Five-month-old Avery explored the yard with Josiah, excitedly grabbing at any plant or leaf within reach, while Aimee and I chatted and oohed and ahhhed over two of her new, beautiful vegan cookbooks. Aaron came over to the house to join us, and in the afternoon, we all went for a long stroll along a river path in a nearby park.

Because Josiah had to return to Portland to work on Saturday, Aimee and I spent a long, leisurely day together (with Avery, of course, who only made it more fun!). For breakfast, we ate oat-cornmeal pancakes with maple syrup and sat on the patio in the warming sun. Then we went to the farmers’ market. I missed the market last week and noticed a big difference in the produce this week. Carrots, turnips, beets, and potatoes have gotten bigger. Berries are making a more widespread appearance (so far, there are mostly strawberries, but some raspberries are beginning to find their way to the market, too). I bought some baby artichokes and am determined to learn to cook them, because I’ve always been intimidated by their armor and have avoided them. Some of my cookbooks have tutorials for trimming and cooking artichokes, and it seems silly to be daunted by a vegetable, so I determined to figure out how to work with them. (Added later: I now know that there is nothing whatsoever daunting or difficult about an artichoke!)

At one farmers’ market stall, huge bunches of basil were being sold for $1.50 each under a big sign that said “Pesto Making Time” or something like that. The basil was getting leggy and was clearly just beginning to bolt, but there were masses of beautiful leaves on each bunch, so I bought six of them. Pesto can be expensive to make, and I currently do not have the money to invest in it, so I made poor man’s pesto. Rather than using pine nuts, I used walnuts. And I didn’t use parmesan or any other cheese. For each batch of pesto, I simply processed 2 c. packed basil leaves, ½ c. walnuts, and ¼ c. olive oil with ½-1 t. salt. Then I measured ½ c. portions of the pesto into 1 pt. freezer bags and put them in the freezer. This may not sound like authentic pesto at all, but it’s tasty enough just as it is, and I can certainly add parmesan to it later (if I want to) or thin it with broth to eat with pasta. Mostly, though, I like to spread pesto on toast and top it with slices of avocado.

I also bought a little bunch flowers—consisting mostly of sweet peas—at the market. Buying flowers seems like a financial luxury right now, but occasionally I will do it because I’m copying the Dutch. I don’t know if this is true of them anymore, but I read years ago in Living More With Less that 2% of the Dutch national income is spent on flowers for the home. I love this spirit! Beauty matters.  And I have an especial fondness for sweet peas because they really are “sweet” without being showy. I’m not one for elegant displays of anything. I just like things plain, simple, sweet, and casual. Plus, I grew sweet peas in my back garden in England, and I always loved the way they climbed so delicately and spread such a lovely fragrance on even the lightest breeze.

When Aimee and I arrived back home, the two of us sat at the kitchen table with Avery, visiting while we munched on sugar snap peas and strawberries. We hung out in the kitchen while I made “healthy” rice krispie bars with peanut butter and chocolate chips (what else?) to have snacks on hand for holiday visitors, but between the two of us, Josiah, Aaron, and other visitors who stopped by, the krispie bars were gone before Michelle’s family or Melissa ever arrived.

Aimee and I spent the day playing with Avery and moved in and out of the open front door from the yard to the house throughout the afternoon. I’m a doors-and-windows-open kind of person when the temperature is pleasant (which it was on Saturday) because I like clean, fresh air blowing gently through the house. I love nature and fresh air and the outdoors so much that I bring it inside in whatever way I can. If I could design my own house, I’d definitely try to minimize strict delineations between outdoors and in.

It’s sweet watching Aimee with Avery because she is such a relaxed, gentle mother, and Avery is so curious and responsive.

Late Saturday, Aaron came over, and because I was feeling lazy and knew I was going to be in the kitchen for quite awhile that evening making pesto, I didn’t want to cook anything too involved for dinner. So, I fixed a big pot of Romano green beans (my absolute favorite kind) from the market with butter and lemon juice and let Trader Joe’s do the rest (a very uncommon thing for me to do). I simply heated a bag of their frozen “medley” of three kinds of whole grain rice, along with a bag of their spicy cumin chickpeas, and that was dinner. The strawberries were still in the center of the table, and by evening’s end, we’d eaten them all.

Josiah arrived (again) at 8 p.m. or so on Saturday evening, and by Sunday evening, both Melissa and Michelle (and her gang) had arrived. When I mention that my entire family is coming to visit, people often ask if I have enough beds and rooms for everyone, and when I reply that we all just find a place to camp out on the floor, I often get something like an, “Uh, oh,” in response. This always surprises me because doesn’t everyone do this (except for Martha)? We really don’t bat an eye at plopping on the floor with a pillow and blanket. Everyone brings their own bedding (and padding for the hard floor if they want it), and we are perfectly happy wherever we end up sleeping. I happen to have two mostly-empty rooms right now, so it was convenient to give one to Josiah, Aimee, and Avery and the other to Michelle and her gang. Melissa and I slept on the living room floor, and Aaron slept at his own apartment. I thought it worked out just great.

We decided to make Monday (the 4th) a low-key day with simple food. After tossing around a number of tasty-sounding ideas, we settled on something we rarely eat. Hot dogs. We added a large bowlful of cut watermelon, a pile of sweet corn on the cob pieces, and a super-delicious vegan potato and green bean salad to the table (the hit of the meal), and that was it. It was certainly plenty. For dessert, there were brownies (naturally sweetened—vegan again!—and pretty tasty).

Again, we spent the afternoon moving back and forth from indoors to out. In the early evening, the little boys waved (really smoky!) sparklers, and Aaron lit a few miniature fireworks for them on the driveway. All up and down the street neighbors set off little fireworks of their own.

Melissa and Aimee’s family needed to get back to Portland because they had to work the next morning, so we waved good-bye to them, and then Michelle and I drove Aaron home. On the way back to my house, we spontaneously pulled into the parking lot of a nearby shopping center to watch fireworks with a large crowd of people. We could see two different fireworks shows from where we stood.

Roman noticed an airplane buzzing along the sky toward one of the fireworks displays and began to worry aloud that the plane was going to get hit: “Oh, no. There’s an airplane flying straight for the fireworks. Oh, no! He’s going to get hit. He’s flying right into it! Yep. He did. He got hit. And look. Now he’s going down. See. He’s going down.” Roman didn’t seem overly alarmed by this and spoke with the emotional restraint of a seasoned television news announcer, so it was hard not to laugh (which everyone within hearing range did). We explained that the airplane really wasn’t close to the fireworks. It just looked like it was. And it wasn’t going to crash, either. To which his distracted and matter-of-fact replay was, “Okay then. Good.”

I don't know why this little one likes to stand on the table,
but that's where I repeatedly found her. She wears that pink
tutu skirt every day. She calls it her "pretty."

Tuesday morning, Michelle’s children found their way to the kitchen table, sat themselves down, and waited—a sort of passive communication of hunger. They ate breakfast while Michelle packed their things and loaded them into her car, and too soon, the last of my company was waving good-bye and driving away.

I began to clean the quiet house, but the day didn’t stay quiet for long because my sister came by to see if I wanted to go with her to scout strawberry fields for this year’s picking. Our usual field did not have a good growing season and won’t be open for you-pick. We ended up taking a long, enjoyable, scenic drive but we didn’t find a good place for berry picking (we have something in mind, though, that should work out well). Our little scouting trip took longer than expected, so when I came home back home the clock was moving toward late afternoon, and I still needed to go on a walk and take a shower. Before I could, though, another sister stopped by with her husband and my niece. They had free tickets to an evening baseball game and wondered if I wanted to join them. Sure! I’d had a number of busy days in a row, but when my siblings are in town, I will always take the opportunity to spend time with them.

One of our other sisters went to the baseball game, too, and, as usual, we all had a great time together. I just wish our fourth sister could have joined us. Whenever I’m with my sisters (and my brother), I feel so blessed to have such great siblings. They are my very best friends, super funny, and a blast to be around.

There have been many changes in my life in the past two years, some of them very difficult, but how could I ever complain when I am so abundantly blessed with the love of my own little gang and that of my entire extended family?


  1. Sounds like a fabulous, low-key visit! My 2 year old is always on the table, too ~ not sure what gives there.... love that sweet belly above her 'pretty'
    I love all the pictures (your home is charming!) but my very favorite is Liya leaning on the table ~ so precious!
    I'm so glad you are back to blogging!

  2. hot dogs plus vegan potato salad made me laugh out loud!! love it! beautiful photos as that Aimee is a "relaxed, gentle mother"...that is a high compliment.

  3. oh, susan...what an entirely lovely time you had. you ARE abundantly blessed. i ditto aimee's comment about hot dogs and vegan salad...hee, hee. and i also love posts with lots of pictures.
    hope the rest of your week is just as lovely.

  4. Susan, the pictures are lovely and your grandchildren are adorable. As you, quite rightly, mention,family are precious, precious blessings so what a perfect way to spend the weekend. Everyone looks so relaxed, glad you all enjoyed it.

  5. "The Momma," I love that picture of Liya leaning on the table, too! She is really funny about her "pretty." She asks for it first thing in the morning. I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures.

    Aimee, I know! Isn't it funny about the hot dogs, but I should say that the (mostly) vegan people ate vegan hot dogs! Aimee, though, didn't like them and said, "Josiah, next time, if we're going to eat hot dogs, let's just eat hot dogs." (She's not *entirely* a purist, but she's close.)

    Thank you, Megan. We had such a good time together, and I am so thankful for my family. I hope your week is lovely as well!

    Claina, thank you! I'm pretty crazy about those little grandchildren. We did have a very low-key, relaxed time. :-)


  6. I love seeing the pictures of your family and home, all lovely. I echo Aimee's comment that "hot dogs and vegan potato salad and vegan brownies" had me giggling. I am just like that! Also, very sweet compliment that Aimee is a "relaxed, gentle mother". It makes me want to know her.

  7. Yes, vegan food mixed with meat! It is pretty funny. :-) You would like my Aimee (as well as the other Aimee--who posts here--who I just love, too!). She is smart, funny, and a lot of fun. And a very sweet mother. . . I really think your personalities would get along well.

  8. Susan,

    Do some of your children live in the Portland area? I have a dear friend there who is just getting started homeschooling and is having a terribly hard time finding a group of other mothers with young children to be friends with.