Saturday, August 7, 2010

Fair Days

     We went to the county fair yesterday.  All of us.  In case this sounds like a big "so what?" to you, let me tell you it was an accomplishment of nearly epic proportions for our family.   Our eldest son's autism will manifest itself as MAJOR social anxiety when it comes to outings that are unknown.   We had never been to this fair - so it was a big unknown.
      I grew up in Connecticut where we had "The Great Danbury State Fair" which my mother took us to many times.  (It is now a shopping mall - sigh).  I loved seeing the big animals, the flashing lights, the carousel.  I wanted my children to have similar experiences and memories which, in this technology driven world we live in, are getting tougher to come by. To this end, last year, we went to a local dairy festival - sort of a mini fair - some 4-H animal displays, some vendors, a hay ride and (I kid you not) a lawn tractor pull! This became our Waterloo when, after waiting around for hot dogs, our son asked to go sit in the van to wait. No big deal, he has done this before. When we arrived with the hot dogs, he was gone.  We looked. We called.  We got the security people in their golf carts to drive around searching for him.  They announce his name over the loud speakers and asked him to report to the game table. Nothing.  Finally, they closed off all entrances and exits to the festival until about 5-10 minutes later, he was found - at the lawn tractor pull (and you were wondering why I remembered that part so well)!!
     This event did not make the success of a trip to the county fair seem possible.  After a lot of coaxing, some strategic planning, and some tears - on his part and mine - our eldest joined us in the car.  Now this did not mean we all walked around and did everything together.  However, we started out together looking at the cow barns, and then my husband took the younger two to the midway for rides (both my daughter and my youngest son had never been on a ferris wheel), some skill games (read: we will skillfully take your money if you are game),  and greasy fair fare. My eldest and I saw every animal in the barns - some several times.  We pet all the horses, every cow but one, all the sheep, the goats, many of the pigs, a bunny, saw all the chicken including the pink one and the powder blue one.  We struck up conversations with some of the 4-H participants and learned the names of their animals, the animals' ages, and the numbers from all their ear ID tags. We fed sheep, gave hay to cows, and walked in more manure than I have done in many a year. For a solid two and a half hours we walked the barns, talked to some lovely farmers and even hung out with the Clydesdale for a bit.

        He loved it!

     After nearly three hours of fair fun, we all met up with the intention of going home. This was difficult since our youngest had seen a stuffed crocodile toy he REALLY wanted to win, but had no way of doing so as it was a very tricky game, our daughter really wanted a funnel cake and our eldest really wanted to stay with the cows.  Twenty minutes of negotiating the last edges of the animal tents, he and I walked through the midway with its flashing lights and increasing crowds getting him more and more agitated, and searched for the car.  Our daughter got her funnel cake, our youngest was allowed a chance to play a different game where children always get a prize (a suction cup bow and arrow set which he is very proud of) and we all made it home to eat dinner  by 8:30.
       Typical - no. Successful - oh yes.  Everyone did something they liked. All the fair entrances remained open the entire time we were there. My son and I made many new animal friends (thank you Penny the sheep and Bazooka the cow!) and everyone came back happy.  Even me.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer Salads

I love when food looks pretty as well as tastes good.  Summer salads are often so much prettier than winter ones.  Here is last night's example:

Boston and iceberg lettuces, red grapes, blue borage blossoms, orange nasturtium flowers, purslane
The flowers and the purslane were from our garden; the lettuces and grapes from the market. 

My husband looping a trailing vine of the winter squash up onto the trellis. As you can see in the left bed, I planted too many tomatoes, but after last year, I couldn't help myself.
     My garden is doing its thing - we are getting pretty good at going vertical - the nasty rose we transplanted/uprooted (which I am waiting for some rosarian to tell me was a rare heirloom) was on an old and somewhat rusty green trellis. Instead of ditching it, we gave it a new life for another season or two - before it rusts through - as a squash trellis.
Winter squash to the left of photo, cucumber and a small watermelon on the  right side, unmown grass all around, and husband in the center being silly. 
The two bean towers on the right are loaded, as is the bamboo teepee in front of them.  I went a little bean crazy!

Hubby being goofy under the hops vines. 
     I have to start researching beer recipes. The hops are doing very well this year, and we will have a crop of aromatic and bitter hops. So I will need to make beer soon.  I make wine, so I do not find the idea daunting, merely the taste testing.  I think most beer tastes like muddy swamp water, so I will depend on my husband and neighbors to let me know when I get it right!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Going to the Zoo

    My husband and eldest son are backpacking for a few days.  Last year he took our daughter.  Next year the youngest gets to go camping (not sure he can carry his own pack at his age).  So I thought it would be nice to do something fun with the two who stayed behind.  We went to the zoo.  There are two small zoos within about an hours drive from us.  I chose the one to the north - just a whim - eeny, meeny, mieney, moe, point to the paper and that's where we go.
    I went armed with Mapquest directions that had my daughter and I in stitches.  The zoo is in a town I had been to before, but I couldn't remember the way.  Well, these directions had us touring every small town and corn field, and with one exception, we were on no road for more than 6.3 miles.  A 60 mile drive took about an hour an a half, since we missed the turn off for two of the roads because they are not marked until you turn onto them. Hmm...
    The return trip, we dutifully started reading the reverse instructions and it was evident we were being led home by a different, yet equally circuitous route, so I threw caution to the wind and drove by the seat of my pants.  I am a person who generally does better with land marks than road names anyway, so it wasn't too bad.  At one point I thought I'd gotten us off track, but then a sign for the man who sells elk meat  appeared, and I knew I was still okay.  (Elk meat???) Three roads and an hour after leaving, we were home.
     But the zoo - what a sweet place. I have been to the Bronx Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, the Beardsley Zoo,  the Como Park Zoo in  St. Paul,  a few small European zoos, but I am afraid that in my young adulthood I was quite spoiled by going to school in MD and later living in DC.  There is nothing quite like the National Zoo - it is part of the Smithsonian system, free to the public, and in a word, magnificent.  However, this zoo is quite lovely. Part zoo, part garden/forest trail, they had a children's zoo which allowed us to pet and feed goats, sheep, and alpacas.  We saw the 3 pm feeding of the sea lions along with a short discussion of their care, habits and habitat.  This zoo is too small for pachyderms, but the two bactrian camels seemed to be a fine substitute.  There was even a Siberian tiger, which, I will admit, looked a little lonely, but healthy.
Siberian (or Amur) tiger

The alligators were a big hit with my son, especially when the male decided to raise its head, move it 6 inches to the right and shift the position of 2 of its feet while we were watching.  (They are not the most active animals on a warm summer afternoon!) The tortoises even chose this  afternoon to practice their mating techniques - my four year old thought it very funny!
Cotton topped tamarin
    The primates were few, but active and included two type of tamarins and white handed gibbons who hooted and howled at earsplitting volume.

 The reptile house has a surprising number of snakes and lizards. Another hit. I thought once around the zoo was enough, but before we left we had to see the tortoises and alligators again, the reptile house and stop to buy each child a small souvenir necklace
     We left the zoo and decided on a dinner with things we really wanted to eat. So a quick stop at the store and our day ended with herbed snapper, ambrosia, corn, and hot fudge sundaes for dessert. Perhaps no the most well balanced of dinners, but yummy, and sometimes that is okay too!