The rest of the summer

(This post is pretty heavy on photos. Just a reminder that if you want to see larger versions of them, to click on a photo and you’ll then be able to view the slideshow of that particular group of photos.)

Trying to catch up here with the backlog of stuff I have to share, I’m going to try to condense the rest of our summer activities into one post. Here goes!

In July, a few days after we got back from our roadtrip, our cousin Eva came for a visit. Her time overlapped with Bryan and Alexia and their kids who also came to stay for a few days. It was great to have them and to have the (younger) cousins have time to play together and just hang out (the older ones). There were trips into NYC for sightseeing, swimming at a friend’s pool, and a clothes shopping trip for me and Alexia. One evening Bryan and Alexia made an amazing dinner for us. I forget what it was called, but it was wonderful. Thanks for stopping by, guys!

(A bunch of these photos were taken by Bryan. Thanks for letting me pilfer them, Bry.)

We were also happy to host our friends, the Roses, for a night on their travels from Canada back home. It was a short visit, but lovely!

Ben had a pretty low-key 35th birthday, with the usual gift giving in the morning. He and I went to see a movie as my present to him, which is a pretty rare occurence for us, and as a result a pretty special treat!

The next few weeks were taken up doing proper summery things like swimming, bubble blowing, running through the sprinkler, eating watermelon, having playdates, playing games, and doing generally silly stuff (like catching a fly and putting it in a lego maze).

One funny thing: sometimes when the older girls set the table, they like to write names on napkins, which takes the whole meal up a couple of notches on the fancy scale. One time Esther took this a step further even, and came up with descriptions too. Esther’s description of Marica had me in the kind of laughter that’s uncontrollable but that you’re not allowed to show. Boy, these kids!

The kids also took part in  some sort of summer ‘camp’ each: Marica went to 3-night camp with her friend, Willow; Esther went to a week-long art camp in the mornings, and Laurelin went to the summer program at her preschool to get her used to the new environment. They also did a VBS (Vacation Bible School) at a sister church about 20 minutes drive from here, which they really enjoyed.

dsc_0839-large

Laurelin’s first day of preschool!

dsc_0890-large

VBS

In August we traveled down to Tennessee again, this time for cousin Hannah’s wedding to Peter Weston. It was a beautiful affair, and a delight to spend even just a little time with so many great family members. Hannah looked amazing in a dress that reminded me of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. (Peter cleaned up pretty well too.) I was glad that I could be helpful with the flowers and with some last-minute stepping in to help with the cake decorating. We were especially glad to be able to spend some time with Aunt Marti, and thankful that God was gracious upheld her throughout all the busyness and festivities of the weekend.

The Monday after the wedding, our lovely hosts, Mike and Paige, took us out on their boat for some fun. It was great getting pulled behind the boat in the tube, going crazy fast! Talking about Mike and Paige… man, these guys are fantastic. They were incredibly generous, kind and hospitable with their time, their home and much more. What a great example they are. I wish we lived closer to them!

After our tubing fun, we had one last visit with Aunt Marti and other family members. It was a precious time together, but not without some silliness too. See those amazing arm muscles that Eva has? Well, I got cocky and challenged her to an arm wrestle. I’m proud to say that we were a match — neither of us could get the other one down. All to say, I felt a little chuffed about that. :-)

dsc_0171-large

The day we got back the klutz in me misjudged a step at our friend’s house (the one with the pool) and I sprained my ankle really badly. The doctor reckoned I partially tore 3 ligaments — thankfully nothing was broken! — which meant that I had to be on crutches for the next 6 weeks, wearing one of those sexy black boots. I never realized just how painful a sprain is, and how insanely difficult it is for a mother to try and do just a few basic things around the home while hobbling around on crutches. Man! I’m so thankful for great friends who brought meals and helped out in other ways. I couldn’t have made it through without them! I was also thankful that I sprained my ankle at the end of summer rather than earlier — not that it’s ever really a good time, but hey.

Phew, if you got this far, you’ve done really well! Now just to catch up on autumn…

Our Veggie Garden

(Though perhaps a better title would have been My Veggie Garden, but I’m generously including Ben because he heaved heavy compost bags and helped with digging and building a frame for my beans.)

I decided that this year I’d like to have a veggie garden again after not having one for three summers. I built the veggie boxes myself, which really sounds more impressive than it actually is because they came in a kit set and I just had to put them together. I did, however, have to use a power tool — a.k.a. a drill — to build them. I planned and planted, watered and weeded and then we all enjoyed the harvest!

When we got back from our great two-and-a-half week long roadtrip, we were greeted by a veggie garden gone wild. Our kind neighbors watered our garden for us and the plants had grown phenomenally and produced a big crop!

We went from this:

To massive plants and this great harvest:

dsc_0749-large

Our garden continued to do well through the summer and well into the autumn. Not so much that we didn’t know what to do with it, but enough to keep in a good supply of good, healthy veggies freshly picked from our own garden. Does anything taste better than a carrot you just pulled out of the ground?

Here it is after it had started to slow down in the autumn:

As of now, in the middle of November, I still have a bunch of different herbs, swiss chard/silverbeet, and celery going, but I don’t think they’ll be around much longer. I love growing my own food — it’s so great to know there are zero pesticides or chemicals (though does anyone know how to deter those darn squirrels??), just old-fashioned good food!

I’ll leave you with this funny fella.

dsc_0044-large

He came to to a delightful end in our stomachs, along with his brothers and sisters who all got roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and sprinkled with some fresh parley. If I was a carrot, that’d be how I’d want to die!

dsc_0041-largedsc_0047-large

The Greatest Gift

A couple of years ago, I really enjoyed reading through The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp for Advent. This year I’m trying to be organized enough to remind you that if this is something you’d like to buy, now’s a good time, with Advent being just two weeks away and all! This is not a sponsored post or anything, I just really loved to book and wanted to share it with you guys!

I don’t have the ornaments that go with the devotional, nor will I have time in the foreseeable future to make any, but that doesn’t detract from the book at all, in case any of you were wondering!

Banana Cake with chocolate cream cheese icing

dsc_0267-large

I built a cake earlier this week. I’m doing really well at blogging about it while the cake is still in existence on the kitchen counter! I’m still playing catch-up with blogging about news from the summer, but I wanted to share this before it died in my drafts folder like so many other recipes. Excuse the bad lighting in the photos, it starts getting dark around 4.30pm these days and I had run out of good daylight hours before I was done with the cake.

At our place we have dessert on days starting with T and S, so dessert days come around pretty frequently. Sometimes it’s a piece of chocolate or candy, sometimes it’s ice cream. Recently we went on a bit of an ice cream streak, especially after discovering Trader Joe’s Pumpkin ice cream. It’s like eggnog and pumpkin pie had a baby that turned into ice cream. So good! Anyway, after a while Ben suggested that maybe we should have some variety in the desserts around here. I had a look at my fruit bowl and saw a bunch of very sad looking bananas — perfect for banana cake/loaf. There really isn’t any difference between the two, one gets icing and the other you slice up and eat with butter) — and I concocted this banana cake with chocolate icing using a mishmash of various recipes online. Poor Ben, it wasn’t quite what he had in mind — he’s not a cake fan! — but it turned out delicious nonetheless, and even he thought it wasn’t too bad.

dsc_0265-large

Cake

(I got this recipe from my sister in law, Elrike, and have tweaked it just a very little bit. The key to getting a moist but light cake is to alternately add the wet banana mixture and the dry ingredients a little bit at a time. Say goodbye to dense or dry banana cakes, this will become your go-to recipe like it has for me!)

½ cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas
2 T plain yogurt or sour cream
2 cups flour
1 ½ t. baking powder
¼ t salt
½ t baking soda
1/2 to 1 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly. Mash bananas; stir in yogurt/sour cream. Sift dry ingredients and add alternately to creamed mixture with banana mixture. Fold in nuts.

Spread in greased 9 ½ x 5 ¼ x 2 ¾ loaf pan or a 9″ cake pan . Bake at 350 degrees F for 45-60 min. Let stand 5 min.; turn onto  rack to cool.

Icing
(This makes enough icing to be able to cut the cake in half horizontally and to put a layer of icing in between the layers of cake as well as ice the outside.)

1 block of cream cheese
4 T butter
1 t vanilla essence
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 cups icing sugar

Walnut topping

1/2 c walnuts, chopped finely
1 T butter
1 T brown sugar
1 t cinnamon

After icing the cake, cut a circle out of a piece of paper that leaves an edge of about 2 inches of icing exposed. Lightly wet the exposed icing in case it has started to dry out (this helps the nut mixture stick better), then put the nut mixture onto the piece of paper in the middle and spread it outwards until it is all off the paper and in a nice ring on the outside of your cake. Gently press the nut mix onto the cake, and ta-da!

dsc_0263-large

Roadtrip ’16: Six Flags

For the last leg of our roadtrip home, we made a stop at Six Flags in the south of New Jersey. They have a program called Read To Succeed where the kids have to read a total of 600 hours in the year to get free tickets to Six Flags. Just kidding, not 600. Not even 60… SIX. Yes, for a mere 6 hours of reading the kids (and their teacher!) could get free entry to the park. I made them do those 6 hours as out loud reading because heck, they read more than 6 hours in a week!

It was a beautiful but HOT day. We split up according to our abilities to handle thrill — Ben and Marica went off and hit the crazy roller coasters, while I did the tame kiddie rides with the two little ones. Our most exciting ride was the Log Flume, and that was about as much as I can handle. I’m such a wuss!

Esther, Laurelin and I took a sort of animal safari tour (so gimmicky, but then it’s an amusement park, isn’t it?) and got to see many interesting animals.

After lunch we were disappointed to find out that all the tall rides had been closed because there was a thunderstorm within 30 miles (dumb protocols) and so we hung around a bit doing not much — you know, eating funnel cake, looking at people on stilts and attempting to do an inside ride that ended up way too scary for the kids — and were about to leave when we found out the rides had been opened again. That was nice, because that’s when I got my chance on that Log Flume Ride of Death, ha. We were glad the high rides opened because we wanted to finish off the day with a cable car ride, which we got to do. It was neat to see the park from the air!

And then it was time for dinner, which we decided to have outside the park to not pay through our noses for blah food. We went to Cracker Barrel, where we paid next to nothing for blah food.

On the way home we spotted an alien space ship cloud over Newark airport. They’re coming to get us!

dsc_0748-large

Roadtrip ’16: Chincoteague

After our stint in Charleston, we had a long but beautiful drive up to Chincoteague, VA. Our reason for visiting was because we had recently listened to Misty of Chincoteague on audio and loved the story, and seeing that it was sort of on our way home, thought it would be cool to stop and see the area. We stayed only one night — I wish it could have been longer! — but managed to see some of the things we learned about in the book: some memorabilia of the real Misty at the local museum, and we took a trip over to Assateague Island where the ponies roam wild. We even saw a licence plate of the Chincoteague Fire Department, who own the wild ponies and hold a Pony Penning day once a year near the end of July.

We had a lovely lunch at a little taco stand, and then followed that with ice cream at the Island Creamery, which apparently has the best ice cream in all of the US! It was very good, but we’ll have to go on an ice cream tasting mission around the US to verify whether this is true. Does anyone know how we could do this as a family and get paid for it?

On our drive inland we drove past the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, where we stopped to have a quick look at their visitor’s center. We had the treat to see two fighter planes take off right next to the road where we were standing. They were super loud! I think the Wallops Flight Facility is the second largest NASA rocket launch site (The Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral being the largest).

Then it was on to our last stop of the trip: Six Flags. Next time. :-)

Roadtrip ’16: Charleston, SC

It was with heavy hearts that we said our goodbyes after the Hoyt reunion, but it was time to start making our way home. Because Ben was in between jobs at that point, he could take off some extra time and we decided to take the trip back up a little more slowly to stop at a few places we were interested in.

Our first stop was in Charleston, SC, and it so happened that we were there over the 4th of July, which was pretty neat. We stayed downtown in the historic district and shamelessly did touristy things like perusing the craft markets and taking a horse carriage tour. The tour was very interesting and was mainly about the different buildings and architecture around town. I loved the planter boxes all over and got to take lots of photos of pretty houses. Charleston has a real charm about it (at least the parts we saw), and I just wish we could have stayed longer and seen more.

In the afternoon, Marica and I went for a walk through the market and had a quick coffee stop — it was nice to have a little one-on-one time as well as getting to peruse the crafts without a bored crowd trailing us!

For the evening on 4th of July, had a nice dinner of (supposedly) southern food–I had chicken and waffles–and then we walked down to where we could view the fireworks. We were pretty early, so we walked around a bit and took the kids to the playground. I looked up and saw some ominous-looking clouds and was kind of pushing to go back to the motel, but Ben was pretty positive it would pass over. Well, it did pass over leaving us rather wet, but was gone in time for fireworks! (I always forget how long that wait is for it to get dark enough for the fireworks to start… always feels like an eternity!) There weren’t any fireworks really close, but we could enjoy several shows in the distance across the harbor. I will not share my attempts at taking firework photos for your benefit, but there are some photos of us all hot and sticky and tired during the fireworks.

Charleston is so rich in history, I wish we could have stayed longer and done some historic tours like visiting Fort Sumter and a plantation or something. Maybe next time…