We will be spending lots of time this spring at the softball field. Bridget started playing recently and she is both enjoying it and doing really well. I'm pretty proud as I was a softball player throughout most of my childhood. Sadly, I cannot help her do most things -- I am terrified of throwing due to my shoulder's tendency to dislocate -- but Brendan's been a very good teacher. I don't know if it's her age or the sport, but she definitely seems more suited and to enjoy sofball more than soccer.
It seems like I just did this...
Last February, I grew tired of our design and blogging component, so I did a bunch of behind-the-scenes work on the site to upgrade the content management system and design. I thought we were set for a while.
Then, in December, we had a bit of an issue where the site got hacked and was spitting out links in search engines to pharmacy sites. Nice. After playing around a bit, I determined that the best course of action would be to wipe the slate clean and start over. This way I can upgrade Joomla again to 3.0, have a nice clean installation that hasn't been messed with too much, and we can move forward. I also took the opportunity to clean up our server.
As a result of this cleanup and upgrade, we've decided to remove the travelblog (because we haven't added anything to it in years) and photo gallery. I know the grandparents will be disappointed, but we've decided it was too much to keep up with, and that it would be easier to just select a few images and add them to blog posts, or people can just catch them on Facebook. Also as a result of this cleanup, all of the images in previous blog posts are broken, and we have no intention of updating them. Again, sorry.
I hope you enjoy the new streamlined brenandjess.com.
The cider has finished fermenting and has been moved to secondary -- to carbonate and to mellow. It is strong. It's about 10% alcohol at the moment and very dry and tart. We'll be sweetening one of the two gallons with some local honey (which should bring down the alcohol content) and leaving the other alone. It's going to be good. We should probably let it age much longer than we are planning, but it might be something that we try again. Because while I am not wearing a sling, my arm is still delicate and I can't be repetitively chopping apples. I've been trying to take it easy and so far so good. Next up though, Brendan is going to brew some Pumpkin Beer. Yummy.
I've dislocated my shoulder yet again.
It was the hardest to get back of them all.
The usual method of easing my arm down and it sliding back didn't work. Instead, the ER doctor had me roll on my stomach and hang my arm over the side of the bed. Then she tied ten pounds of weight to my upper arm and eventually, after a lot of patience and breathing, the muscles did relax and it popped back in. Still, there was a moment when I was worried it wasn't going to go back in.
We decided this weekend that we were going to expand brewing operations and make some hard cider. On Saturday, Brendan bought a large selection of hard ciders to try and also started working on a plan to make a cider press.
We won't be replicating our clear favorite cider -- Cherry Tree by Original Sin -- but we will definitely be buying more of that; so delicious!
Yesterday we priced apples in bulk at the Farmer's Market and decided that we'd go out to an orchard (about an hour from here) and do some major picking -- dropped apples are half price!
The kids were good sports about it. Johnny was not a fan of seeing or stepping on rotten apples but Bridget got pretty good at helping us pick. Four buckets and $22 later we had the raw ingredients.
Brendan spent the rest of the afternoon and evening building us a rig for pressing. It's just a simple frame and a bucket with holes, some circles of wood and a jack. This morning we tried it out. We chopped, processed slightly and then bundled apples in cheese cloth, put them in-between the wood circles and got to pressing. The kids were very excited at the start, but were quickly bored. We got about three presses in when we heard a crack.
We managed to get about half a gallon of cider before we had to call it quits to make repairs. The cider is pretty darn good though -- it's about 1/2 sweet 1/2 tart in the mixture -- Mutzu from the orchard, a few Jonagolds from the orchard and some Fujis and Red Delicious from the store. Brendan's out getting more bolts and we'll be starting back up again to get all the apples processed. Hopefully the ones we put in what I'm now calling the "Fermenting Room" (just a portion of a storage area in the basement that currently has two beers working) will be delicious come Thanksgiving/MuskoX-mas.
After replacing the top 2X6 beams and adding extra bolts and screws for strength, we went back to it -- this time just with Mutzu and Jonagolds.
I was a chopping machine! Things went much more smoothly.
And we ended up with about 2.5 gallons of very yummy cider. Plus, we got it all done before any bees showed up to our cider party.
Since we had nothing scheduled this past weekend, we decided to take a trip out to Shenandoah National Park and give camping another go. We planned on leaving Friday at 4pm and coming back home on Sunday. Our first camping trip was only overnight (we were home by 10am on Saturday) and at a park much closer to home. At the least, we figured it would be much cooler temperature-wise in the mountains.
In a move that was appreciated at the time, Brendan took down the car-top carrier as soon as we unloaded from the cottage a few weeks ago. This meant that our packing was confined to the back of the car and the dog would be riding at the kids' feet. We didn't anticipate this would be too much of a problem. Let's just say it was a learning experience and we learned the dog needs to be in the back of the car and the carrier on the roof. Not that he misbehaved, just that it would have been so much more comfortable for everyone.
The sky and the forecast turned a bit ominous on our drive out west. But it was not raining when we arrived at camp. It didn't look like it was going to hold for too much longer, so we opted to skip the trip to the campstore for wood and just use a BIC FlameDisk (basically a giant sterno) for cooking some burgers and dogs. The tent went up much quicker than last time and the kids and I made up some silly scary stories. Bedtime came early for all of us too. Just in time for the rain to start. At about 1am Bridget woke up and had to use the bathroom. And it was pouring. Thankfully Brendan wasn't about to reserve us a spot far away from a toilet. He took her down and they came back. Then Johnny woke up and was scared so he crawled into my sleeping bag with me, and naturally was squirmy and not really sleeping. Then Bridget woke up again and had to go to the bathroom again so I took her down. Then we convinced Johnny to go back to his own bed and sleeping bag. But he still woke up at least two more times. It was not the most restful night for any of us.
It was still drippy and rainy in the morning, so Brendan took advantage of a brief break to boil us some water for coffee/oatmeal while the kids ate cereal in the tent. It didn't stay dry for very long, but luckily there was a single umbrella in the car. After that we were all going slightly crazy, so we all got into the car and went for a long drive down Skyline Drive. We stopped off at a trailhead just before Big Meadows intending to hike down to a waterfall, but it ended up being one of the few trails that dogs are not allowed on. So we buckled up the (now very sad) kids again and headed down to the Visitor's Center at Big Meadows. It was pretty foggy still (because we were up high enough in elevation the whole time that we were inside the clouds. Down at around 1500 feet it was much clearer) but the ranger we spoke with assured us that unless there was thunder and lightening the Blackberry Festival scheduled for that day was still happening and she gave us a route we could hike with the dog and that would be easier on the kids that put us just at the bottom of the waterfall we had wanted to see.
The hike to the waterfall was much easier than the hike back. The trail was a well-maintained fire road and not hard walking at all, but the kids were just not having it. Somehow we did manage to make it back to the car in one piece.
Then we enjoyed some of everything at the Blackberry Festival: Blackberry lemonade, blackberry cobbler with blackberry icecream and blackberry pulled pork.
Of course that didn't seem to shake all the crankiness, so we took another drive towards Luray. It was a bit harrowing actually at a few intersections, the clouds were so dense that it was very hard to see. In town, it was much easier and we got a good look at the cloud cover that was surrounding us. It didn't seem to want to break any time soon.
Then came the difficult decision: do we stay another night or do we go home a day early? I was not looking forward to cooking dinner in the rain and then eating in the tent (again). And neither of us was exicted by the idea of another night of bad sleep. The kids were disappointed to leave, but really it was the best decision. One day we'll be able to camp for a full weekend.
We did take a different route home and came upon a distillery that we went into intending to take the tour. But Johnny wasn't thrilled by the idea from the start, so we backed out. We did buy two bottles -- one single malt whisky and one single malt spirit (in short: legal moonshine) from the store though we have yet to try them.
I always find rural Virginia stunningly beautiful, and whatever part we are driving through, I immediately want to live in. I am adding Sperryville to the ever-expanding list.
Of course, the sun came out yesterday and we pulled out another FlameDisk and made s'mores on the front porch.
We started out our vacation at the Lake. And one of the things we've enjoyed lately is heading to a smallish family amusement park in Erie called Waldameer. It's got a lot of kid rides and it has trees and it's not too big (or expensive). We take lunch and dinner with us, leave our cooler on a picnic table and go back to it as needed. It's relaxed and a good time. The week of the 4th of July, they were open on Monday (a day they are normally closed). Still, we were expecting the park to be crowded (as it was a holiday week) and it just never built up.
There are several roller coasters at the park. The first, a wooden one called The Comet, is one that Bridget rode last year. I am not one for rides generally speaking, but I decided why not. I'm trying to relax, roll with things and this seemed like a good opportunity. So Bridget, Brendan and I got on and it wasn't too bad. Not the best experience I have ever had, but not horrible either. Then, bouyed by this, Brendan convinced me to get on the Ravine Flyer II. It's still a wooden coaster, but definitely more intense. There are signs about how if you have a heart condition or are prone to strokes then DO NOT GET ON THE RIDE. Yeah, I was nervous. In line for the Comet was bad enough (I felt like I was going to throw up), so it was a good thing that the park wasn't crowded. We were able to just walk up and get on the Ravine Flyer II (in fact this was the case all day, Bren got on at least 6 times) so there was no time for me to get too worked up. So the ride was not something I want to experience again. I am solidly not a fan of roller coasters. But I tried. I will stick to Ferris Wheels and Merry-go-rounds thankyouverymuch.
Johnny had a lot of fun on just about everything. This ride in particular -- an old school kiddie ride with glittery metalic vehicles and a string to hold him in -- was his favorite of the day. But he tried everything with great enthusiasm. Except for the haunted house ride (which was too scary and he declared "I don't want to get on that again!" at the end), they were all successes. The tea cups couldn't spin around fast enough (I skipped that one) and The Hopper was perfectly hoppy. When we were riding the Scrambler (my personal favorite), he asked "Daddy make it go fast again?!".
Bridget tried everything she could, too. Even when she was a little scared (the Octopus and the Pirate ship) she hung tough. I am glad she's not afraid of trying things. She was almost tall enough for everything. Next year I think is going to be even more fun.
Here Bridget is perfecting her fake pout. I forget exactly why she was pretending to be mad, but it doesn't matter. I think if I Photoshopped that clown hat into a Santa hat, it would make a perfect Holiday card. It makes me laugh every time I look at it.
The day even ended on a spectacular note, Brendan won the kids ridiculously large stuffed animals at the Ring Toss (and really, who ever wins that game?!).
I must be suffering from serious vacation-brain still - I have written and re-written this measly post three times now. So here are a few pictures from a portion of our vacation. More later.
I went to check on the kids and discovered Johnny was not in the bottom bunk, but up with his sister*. Usually Bridget doesn't like it when Johnny climbs up into her bed. Maybe she was asleep by the time he made it up? Camp and swimming lessons have been exhausting for her this week, so I wouldn't be surprised. I may have been able to get away with taking a photo of them with the flash on but there is no way I am going to attempt moving anyone at this point!
*I expected to find him in the office looking out a window or causing trouble somewhere else.