Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Get Out! Must-Have Gear for Outdoorsy Parents

Posted By on Tue, Sep 29, 2015 at 10:41 AM

Baby Elise at Kettle Pond in her hiking carrier - TRISTAN VON DUNTZ
  • Tristan von Duntz
  • Baby Elise at Kettle Pond in her hiking carrier
My partner, Tristan, and I are avid outdoor enthusiasts. We also believe time in nature is key for a happy baby. We want our 10-month-old daughter, Elise, to appreciate natural beauty and outdoor recreation. After all, she'll be part of the next generation of environmental stewards.

To that end, we've tried to raise Elise outdoors. She's been skiing, hiking and biking throughout her first year, and even comes along while we volunteer to build and maintain the trails in our local town forest. Through all of this, we have put many pieces of outdoor gear to the test. Below are six items we couldn't live without. 

Hiking Carrier: This is the most versatile piece of gear we own. It can go to the farmer's market, for a walk down the road, or up Mt. Mansfield. We use the Osprey Poco Plus and like it for its compact design, ample pocket space, water bladder holder, and easy-to-use and fully adjustable harness and strap system. We chose a model that comes with a sun shade and added a standard mosquito head net over the sun shade to protect Elise when the bugs are out. There is a special insert for smaller babies, too. (Before she fit in the hiking carrier, we just used a soft, structured carrier like the Ergo.) 

Puree Pouches: These pouches of pureed foods stash so easily and are very lightweight, making them the perfect trail and camp food. We always throw one or two — plus a bib — in our pack when we're headed out just in case Elise needs an easy meal in a pinch. 

Bike Trailer: As a biking family, we couldn't live without this. Thankfully, our friends knew that and scored us a used Giant Pea Pod. Other popular models are made by Thule (formerly Chariot) and Burley. The features we think are most important are zippered protection for the baby, including mesh screen and plastic window options over the front of the trailer, and an ample storage compartment in the back for baby gear. We added an infant sling and are about to upgrade to a baby supporter for older babies. Many models can also be converted to standard and jogging strollers and the Thule multi-sport carrier can become a ski polk in the winter. 

Bike Bottle: On our first few outings as a family, we forgot about water for Elise. Fortunately I could nurse her, but we now also carry water for her, which is especially important on hot days, and even cooler ones if you're going to be out for a long time. We were having trouble finding a cup or sport bottle that worked for her and traveled well without spilling in our pack. In a pinch, I let her have a try at my bike bottle and it worked. Now we carry one for her on all outings.  

Wool Base Layers: It's important to remember that children being carried on hikes or in bike trailers aren't moving, so they can easily get cold. Even in summer, we love wool for its warmth and the fact that it continues to be warm even when it's wet. On cool fall and cold winter days, we also use long underwear and a balaclava from Danish Woolen Delights. Patagonia also makes great capilene base layers for kids. And don't forget wool socks! Smartwool makes excellent ones for kids and babies. 

A Wet Bag: A zippered wet bag, like the kind used for cloth diapering, is perfect for all-day outings with babies. Without any fuss I can throw soiled and wet clothes and bibs into it, and keep it in my pack until I get home to do laundry. It can also be used to carry dirty diapers. I use a Bumkins bag that measures 12X14 inches and love it but there are many other brands, sizes, and styles available. The key is that it's small and waterproof. 

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ski-Swap Season

Posted By on Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 1:34 PM

South Burlington High School's Ski Swap
  • South Burlington High School's Ski Swap
The ski-swap season kicks off this weekend with the South Burlington High School Ski Swap from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, September 26. Below, SBHS Alpine Ski Coach Al Dworshak offers tips to help families get the most out of the swaps.

  • Get out all of last year's equipment and try it on. What still fits? What can be handed down to siblings? What is in poor condition? Make a list of things you need before visiting a swap. 

  • Arrive at the sale early for the best selection. If you prefer a more relaxed atmosphere, the afternoon is a great time to come.

  • When looking for skis, check them over from top to bottom. If the bases or edges have minor scratches, they can easily be repaired. If there are any gouges, or the core of the ski is showing (it's usually a different color than the base), they can still be repaired but it will be more costly. Make sure there is no delamination along the sides of the skis where the layers of metal, fiberglass and wood come together. Next, hold the skis together and look down at them from the tip, then look at them from the tail, to make sure they are symmetrical. Is the binding solidly attached to the skis? Make sure there is no rattling.            

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Home Cookin': Stuffed Baked Apples

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 11:42 AM

Just out of the oven - ERINN SIMON
  • Erinn Simon
  • Just out of the oven
Fall is officially here, and if you're anything like our family that means you've already been out picking apples at one of our glorious Vermont orchards. I consider pie baking a way of life, so I never worry about using up our apples, but I'm always looking for other delicious recipes for the giant red Macs that fill up my kitchen this time of year.

When I woke up the other morning and felt that familiar chill in the air, I knew it was time for a warm breakfast. So I came up with this recipe for oatmeal-stuffed baked apples. My kids went crazy for it. It's not quick enough for a school morning, but it is very easy. Give it a try this weekend!

Oatmeal Stuffed Baked Apples
(Serves 4)

2 large Macintosh apples, halved
1 1/4  cups whole oats (not quick cooking)
3/4 cup almond milk
4 teaspoons cold butter
4 teaspoons brown sugar
cinnamon for sprinking

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Words at Play: Revisiting Books

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Children often discover books they want to hear over and over again. Sometimes the book is a classic, like "Curious George" or "Where the Wild Things Are", but just as often an obscure picture book happens to catch a child’s fancy. I encourage parents and caregivers to read these book as requested. Picture books are works of art and nourish children in ways that are difficult to quantify. And repetition is comforting. The book that a child wants to hear again and again speaks directly to their needs at a particular moment in their development. Eventually they will move on to other books.

Even after reading a book many times, there is always something new to discover. In "Goodnight Moon", the mouse moves around the great green room and eventually eats some of the porridge on the table. The clock shows that it is getting later and later as the bunny gets ready for bed. The picture on the wall of the rabbit fishing is from another book by Ruth Brown called "The Runaway Bunny." I thought I had noticed all the important details in "Goodnight Moon," but recently someone pointed out that the little rabbit looks at the things in the room as they are mentioned in the book. For example, when the text says, “Goodnight bears, goodnight chairs,” the bunny looks at the picture of the bears sitting in the chairs. I have read "Goodnight Moon" many, many times, but had never noticed that detail.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review: Plant a Kiss

Posted By on Thu, Sep 17, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Children’s books often play into kids’ belief that unlikely things can happen.

The first time my daughters and I read the simple story, Plant a Kiss, it quickly gripped then 4-year-old Hadley’s imagination. We both enjoyed the rhythm of the lyrical words and the cute pictures of a hopeful “Little Miss” who “planted a kiss.”

As we turned the pages, we followed Little Miss as she nurtured her kiss with water and sunshine, waited, hoped and doubted until, eventually, a happy-looking, confetti-like substance shot up from the ground.

Little Miss, despite her friends' naysaying, decides to share her harvest with everyone. The book sends the message that sharing something can be just as exciting and satisfying as keeping it for yourself. 

The story is simple. There are never more than four words to a page and each picture is centered on a white background. Most of all, I liked the fact that the Little Miss had an idea and a little imagination. I liked that she doubted but persisted. And I liked that she didn't give into her friends' peer pressure.

As for Hadley, she was partial to the magical-looking growth shooting up from the planted kiss. A few weeks after we’d read the book, I was elbows deep in my flower garden and looked up to find her standing in a small, empty space in the corner of the garden, trowel in one hand and overflowing watering can in the other.

“Is this a good spot?” she asked, pointing to the empty corner plot.

“For what?” I asked.

“To plant a kiss.” And before I could offer a response, she began digging.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Get Out!: Two Tired Parents Go Hiking

Posted By on Wed, Sep 16, 2015 at 9:00 AM

The Telephone Line Trail in Groton State Forest is perfect for parents carrying little ones - SARAH GALBRAITH
  • Sarah Galbraith
  • The Telephone Line Trail in Groton State Forest is perfect for parents carrying little ones
Fall is my favorite time for hiking. There's something about the cooler temperatures, low-angle light, and crisp air that makes me approach my hiking shoes and backpack with increased vigor. Maybe its knowing that another winter is coming soon, or maybe it's just the season's beauty. 

Many of my favorite high-country hikes have been calling to me this month. I'm dreaming of the Mt. Mansfield ridge line, the Worcester Range, Camel's Hump and favorite sections of the Long Trail, like the Monroe Skyline from Lincoln Gap to Appalachian Gap. But a cranky 10-month-old who just got four teeth in succession has also got me dreaming of sleep. Getting my tired self out for a hike has been hard. 

The fresh air and movement is so good for my mental and physical well being, though. For those reasons, I've still been hiking but am selecting locations that are doable for tired parents. One recent gem was the Telephone Line Trail in Groton State Forest. The trail is near to some other favorite hikes like Owl's Head Mountain and Kettle Pond. But this mellower trail gave me my hiking fix without sapping the little energy I still have. 

I headed out with my partner, Tristan, our dog, Odin, and our daughter, Elise, in her hiking carrier on a recent evening after work. We parked in the Northern Parking Lot on Route 232 in Marshfield, and walked a connector trail that led from the parking lot to the Telephone Line Trail. Once on the trail, a smooth and even tread wound up and around a small hillside into a beautiful mixed hardwood forest. The path had both natural dirt and crushed gravel terrain. It was the perfect hike for two parents who are so tired they can hardly put one foot in front of the other, never mind navigate rocks, roots and stream crossings. 

The winding trail eventually meets up with and joins a double track road that leads to Osmore Pond, where weary hikers can splash some cold water on their faces. On this evening, we sat down on small boulders near the end of the trail so I could nurse Elise while our dog explored and Tristan investigated a little further down the trail. When Elise was done nursing and Tristan had returned, we packed up and headed back for the car. In total, it was less than three miles round trip.

On our way back to the car, our tummies were growling. We talked about warm fall dinners we could make when we got home, and decided on homemade mac and cheese, roasted carrots from the garden and applesauce. As we walked back through the fading light, listening to birds singing their evening songs, we showed Elise the branches of pine trees, a piece of birch bark and some fallen leaves. Elise held on to Tristan's hair, making motorboat noises and imitating our bear growls. We were still tired when we got home, but also invigorated to have spent time surrounded by nature as a family. 

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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Will You Go Out With Me?: Dance Like Nobody's Watching

Posted By on Thu, Sep 10, 2015 at 8:30 AM

Dripping sweat and covered in give-it-your-all at the end of class.
  • Dripping sweat and covered in give-it-your-all at the end of class.
Just when you think you know everything there is to know about the man you married, you hear these word come out of his mouth:  “Sure, I’ll take a Sh’Bam class with you.” 

Sh’ what now? Sh’Bam.

As in, a dance-y, aerobics class taught at the Edge in Williston. This adventure met our agreed-upon date criteria in every way — especially the “outside our comfort zone” check box. I mean, yes, I was a dancer in high school. But I’ve never been one who is inclined towards group fitness classes (excluding yoga, which really doesn’t even count). I think it’s because I used to dance that I find this sort of class makes me feel bad about myself when the steps don’t come easily.

Ryan has taken exactly one group fitness class — at SoulCycle in LA with a friend —  which he called “hilarious.” He has never taken a dance class, which is why I would have bet good money on him saying, “No flipping way!” to the Sh’Bam idea.

The day we were scheduled to go on our date, our daughter, Lio, came home from school with a fever and spots all over her body. Sh’Bam was postponed in favor of a trip to the pediatrician’s office. I thought for sure Ryan would reconsider in the intervening days, but when the next opportunity came around, he was still game.

Funny thing is, I was nervous; the kind of nervous I felt when my older sister and I went scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef and she was puking over the side of the boat the whole bumpy ride out there while we were supposed to be learning how to scuba dive. It was that special brand of nervous you feel for other people.

“We can do something else if you want,” I offered on the morning of our date.

“No, let’s do the Sh’Bam thing,” Ryan said.

Did I think Ryan wouldn’t be able to do it? That he wouldn’t pick up the choreography? And then what? He’d be frustrated? Big deal! The man can handle a little frustration. So where was this anxiety really coming from, I wondered.

One great side effect of nerves for me is that they temporarily turn me into a person who arrives early for things. We got to the gym 20 minutes before class started, which gave Ryan and me plenty of time to make jokes about being "that couple" that exercises together. As we laughed at our assumed ineptitude, I felt my nerves smoothing out and the little knot in my tummy coming undone.

“Do you get nervous before doing new things like this?” I asked Ryan. And in that moment, I realized we’d never had this conversation before. We’ve talked about how he feels before going on stage or appearing on TV, but those are things he’s used to. They’ve been part of his job for more than two decades. What about this sort of thing — where you’re not sure if you’re going to be any good? As adults, we don’t often choose to put ourselves in that position, though it’s something we did on a daily basis as kids simply because everything was new.

“Nervous? No. There’s nothing at stake, really. I’m uncomfortable but amused,” he replied.

Ryan was right. There was nothing at stake here and no reason to feel anxious. So I let go of any care or concern for how we were going to “do” in the class; I gained a better understanding for how my husband approaches new experiences; and I felt deep compassion for our children at this time of year when there’s new-ness around every corner at school. That’s a lot of bang for your date night buck, and the Sh’Bamming hadn’t even begun yet!

To prepare, Ryan and I awkwardly stretched our legs and did that thing where you hop and shake your arms around like you’re a boxer. When the instructor, Brad, donned his headset and fired up the Beyoncé, we were so ready.

Most of the other 20 or so women in the class had clearly been there before. They were at least familiar with the steps, and some even made it look easy. Brad called out each move in time with the Top 40 beats we were dancing to: "Tap two, step two, in 4, 3, 2, 1." I could feel my lips moving as I repeated his directions in my head.

The idea is to learn a different combination of moves during each song so that even newbies like us can start to feel like they know what's coming next. The steps start out really basic (walk forward) and get increasingly more complicated (step two, turn two, shuffle back, add in the arms!) as the class progresses.  

Over the course of 45 minutes, I spent about 17 percent of the time looking at Ryan to see how he was faring, but mostly I joyfully gyrated my hips and step-hopped my booty around that floor with a silly grin on my face. I definitely didn’t look anything like my heroes on “So You Think You Can Dance,” but I was having some grade A F-U-N.

And Ryan, man… he was shimmying with the best of 'em! Apart from the (very talented) instructor, he was the only dude in the room and he represented his gender well. His shoulders rarely relaxed and he was often on his heels when he should have been on his toes, but none of that mattered even a little bit. Every time I snuck a glance in his direction, I felt proud. See that man working it out to some Justin Bieber? That’s MY man!

Sh’bam happens every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Edge in Williston. It’s free for members. Non-members can take the class by paying the $15.00 guest fee.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Home Cookin': Fair-Style Fried Dough

Posted By on Wed, Sep 9, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Fried dough with sprinkles and powdered sugar
  • Fried dough with sprinkles and powdered sugar
I love fair season for one reason — the food.

When I was growing up, the warm days of early fall meant lots of festivals and fairs with amazing things to eat. I remember sausage and pepper sandwiches, fresh-squeezed lemonade, cannolis and — my all-time favorite — fried dough. I don't mean funnel cakes, which are made by drizzling pancake-like batter directly into hot oil in a swirly patttern. This is actual yeasted dough that's been allowed to rise once, fried in pieces and dusted with powdered sugar.  

In Endicott, New York, where I grew up, it's known as Pizza Fritte because it's traditionally made with pizza dough. It comes in a large circle about the size of a paper plate, and it's always dusted with powdered sugar. When my husband and I moved to Burlington, I was delighted to discover that a version of it existed here, known simply as Fried Dough and served up with a choice of sweet toppings. 

This year we missed the Champlain Valley Fair. We were all too busy with school and work to coordinate a family trip. I was feeling deprived of my yearly dose of fried dough, so I decided to give it a go in my own kitchen. Guess what? It was easy and fun. Now it can be fried-dough season any time!

I like this dough recipe because it comes out just a tiny bit sweet when it's fried — the perfect crispy, chewy base for honey and butter, powdered sugar, a chocolate drizzle or — my new favorite — sprinkles! 

Pizza Fritte
For the dough:
3 cups flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 Tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon olive oil

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the water and honey, then sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let sit for a few minutes until it starts to foam. Add the olive oil.

  • Add the flour and salt and, using a wooden spoon, mix to combine until the dough pulls together and away from the sides of the bowl. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until it becomes smooth and pliable.

  • Cover the dough with a clean, slightly damp towel and let it rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes.

  • Knead the dough a few more times, then divide into two balls. Cover both balls with the damp towel again and let them rest for another 15 to 20 minutes. After that, you can cut them up and fry them right away, or wrap them in plastic and refrigerate them for up to two days.
When you're ready to fry:

  • Heat about an inch of canola or peanut oil in a large heavy skillet. I used a 12-inch cast-iron one and it worked wonderfully. 

  • Cut the dough into as many pieces as you'd like. They can be small or large, and you can roll the dough out a bit to make the pieces flatter if you like. If you put chunkier pieces into the oil they will puff up a bit like doughnuts — not a bad thing at all! Get a cookie sheet lined with paper towels ready nearby to soak up oil from the dough when it comes out of the pan.

  • When the oil is very hot, use tongs to add your dough pieces a few at a time. Watch carefully. They only need 20-30 seconds per side! When both sides are golden brown, place them on the paper towels for a few seconds, then sprinkle with sugar or drizzle with your favorite topping and enjoy!

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YMCA Camp Abnaki

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Overnight camp for boys currently in grades 1-10, day camp for boys currently in grades K-4. Camp Abnaki has been on Lake Champlain’s shores in North Hero for more than 100 years and features rustic cabins grouped in villages spread out over rolling acres. Abnaki’s technology-free environment is tailor-made for…(more)

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