Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year in Review

As I sit here, early in the morning on a snowy New Year's Eve, I cannot help but think what an amazing year it has been! It has been a year filled with new friendships and losses of those we hold dear, of happy afternoons on the lake and quiet moments in the woods. I've created meals with friends and artwork with my son. I've hunted with my family and continued my knife sharpening skills at work (that's right!) I've giggled over silly stories and wept over emails. I've grown, I've learned, I have shared and I have loved.

What an amazing year it has been! It has been good. It has been challenging. It has flown by. And it is over! Goodbye 2011. You have been swell, but there's a new year approaching and I hear it's going to be bigger and better then you were!

Happy New Year!


Friday, December 2, 2011


There are a few things you should know about me: 

I am a huge fan of Christmas! 
I love decorating the house, cutting down a tree and hanging lights from the gutters. 
To start the Christmas season off, I dug up a pine tree from my mother's yard and potted it in an old bucket. When the holiday has past, she will return it to her yard, possibly in a new spot.
Today I have plans to go cut down a tree at a local tree farm to put in my own living room.
As geeky as this sounds, my theme is gold and cranberries this year. 
Once I've finished decking the halls, I'll make sure to share!

 I am enchanted by early morning fog in the Smokies. 
I enjoy watching the world transform from eerie tranquility to bright daylight.
It's even more fun to hike around while this transformation is in process.
You feel like someone's ghost is going to rise up from a rock along the old wagon trail.

 I love everything about snow.

 I have an iPhone. 
I have bangs and I wear glasses. 
I wear dresses with cowboy boots.
That makes me a nerd on so many levels and I am proud of it!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Our week in photos

My son in the front yard with my dear friend L.
Another week has flown right by. What a minute. Another year has flown by. My first born (and only) son turned four years old last week. What feels like a few months ago, I was changing diapers and dealing with midnight feedings.  Now, I have a walking, talking, amazing young boy sitting next to me on the couch who feeds and waters himself (most of the time).

who says you can't garden on your birthday!?
my grandmother's silver
To celebrate Bodie's birthday, we had a family gathering last Thursday evening. My amazing friend L. was in town for the weekend and helped me pull everything together. We spent most of the day rearranging the upstairs, setting two dining tables and prepared all sorts of savory, fall comfort food. The menu included bacon apple tarts, bacon wrapped waterchestnuts, apple pear salad, beef stew and cheddar biscuits. For dessert, a pumpkin spice shape with cream cheese frosting, shaped like a pumpkin, of course. Thank you, again, to everyone who attended. It means so much to us that you we're there to help us celebrate Bodie's special day.

A couple of days later, L. and I awoke early to go to the farmers market. We woke before sunrise, bundled ourselves up, and hit the square with thermal mugs in hand. We were greeted with warm smiles and friendly hellos at each stall we visited. I was in hog heaven ... the square was filled with pumpkins and gourds, from small, warty green ones to large, smooth orange ones. If I had a wagon, it surely would have been filled, since I have no impulse control when it comes to pumpkins. Once we completed a lap around the square and said hello/goodbye to the appropriate people, we set off to the airport for L.'s departure (or so we thought!).

The snow in New York City, L.s destination, kept her from making it any farther east then Detroit. So, seven hours later, we were welcoming her home again. To celebrate her return, we went and had sushi in Monona. We spent the evening secretly chucking about the waitress and trying not to drop dragon rolls into our cocktails. We spent the rest of the weekend catching up on the last few months, watching football and having an at-home fish fry. Eventually, on Monday morning, L. was able to fly out of Madison. We are all still in L. withdrawal and are greatly looking forward to her next visit.

After a few more days of work*, and running back and forth across southern Wisconsin, we arrive at today. I'm worn out, to say the least! I'm feeling a little bit rough around the edges. I need a message, a vacation and a cure for dog allergies. (Since none of those were instantly attainable, I settled on making a batch of ebleskivers, filled with leftover bacon-apple compote, and drenched in maple syrup. I swear, warm, homemade food can fix anything!)

the newest Hamstra
Which reminds me, did I mention, we adopted a dog this past week, too?! His name is Samson and he is a one year old golden retriever. He's been getting along famously with Harper and is quickly becoming Bodie's new favorite pup.

So, wish us luck! Maybe I can download an app on my new iPhone that can train puppies (and old dogs) (and little boys)!

*I cannot fail to mention this; I have been honored with the opportuninty to work at Fountain Prairie in Fall River. I've only spent a few days at the Inn so far, but I can tell already that I'm falling in love with the place. I'll be out there again tomorrow night to help prep a meal for Sunday, and even am helping plan an upcoming art show. This is the start of a pretty exciting chapter of my life. Hold on folks, it's going be a wild ride!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I went to the top of the world today, 
to see what I could find, 
and all I saw for miles and miles,
were things you left behind.
Your spirit was high up in the clouds, 
moving carefree through the sky.
Your voice whispered through the leaves,
saying 'sister, don't you cry.'
The river contained your courage, 
never knowing when to cease.
Even your laughter echoed
through a soaring flock of geese.

Your strength was in the trees,
growing taller every day
Your smile was in the sun, 
beaming down from far away.
In the sparrows you left curiosity, 
always seeming to ask us why.
And the hills held your ambition, 
reaching upwards towards the sky.
So even though you are now gone, 
your soul will never be, 
for I take it everywhere I go,
it is wild and 
it is free.

Written by Valerie Hein,
In memory of Benjamin Thomas Hein and Scott Thomas Peterson.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pumpkin Pickin'

A week or so ago I was lucky enough to sneak out to the country with a good friend of mine. E, Bodie and I braved the chilly, blustery autumn weather to go to a vineyard for a wine tasting, buy apples at a local orchard and buy pumpkins from a family-friend's farm.

At our first stop we tasted ice wine for the first time. E was sweet enough to splurge $7 on a glass shot of ice wine for us to share and get a taste. As sweet and decadent as it was, we couldn't justify paying $47 for a small bottle, so we stocked up on some of Wollersheim's other wines and hit the road feeling slightly out of place and under-wined.

On to our next destination: Ski Hi Apple Orchards. As we began the short drive between the two locations the sky let loose and it began to pore. We could barely see the road in front of us. We slowed our pace and arrived at Ski Hi just as the rain took a break. We ran inside, and quickly found out we wouldn't be picking apples today ... unless by picking we were thinking picking a bag of apples out of a pallet sized crate.

Needless to say, I grabbed a five pound bag of Spartans (to be made into a tart later this week) and another five pounds of Cortlands (which Scott and Bodie made into applesauce). I also grabbed a pint of cider to sip in the car and somehow managed to resist the caramel apples. (Speaking of which, I've been jones-ing for a caramel apple ever since. Add that to the to-make list!)

Just as we finalized our purchases, the rain picked up again so we dashed out to the car for fear of being soaked. We nestled the apples next to the wine and began our journey to our final destination: the pumpkin farm. This, by far, was the highlight of the trip for me. They had pumpkins in every make and model, color and size. Better yet, they were really inexpensive and allowed me to supplement my small pumpkin harvest. Bodie picked out a few tiny gourds and E found a bigger gourd shaped like a mushroom.

Several armfuls of pumpkins later, we had the last of the days purchases packed in the back of my truck. We drove back to Madison feeling completely satisfied with the days adventure. We were ready for a quick nap and then pumpkin carving.

Turns out, the wartier the pumpkin, the less likely it is going to be carvable. So we drew faces on some and carved them from others. I have plans for a the remaining pumpkins involving the drill and my printmaking tools.

Well, that's all I can share tonight. It's getting late and we haven't had dinner yet. I'm starving and need to see what Scott's up to in the kitchen. Not to mention, Bodie's birthday is this week and I have a dinner party to plan. Time to finalize the menu and the grocery list before I lose focus. Wish me luck!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sunday Morning

Sun streamed through the blinds.
Water bubbled on the stove.
Coffee steeped in the press.
Sausage sizzled and hashbrowns hissed.
Eggs scrambled in the skillet.
Plates emptied as bellies filled.
Shower felt like warm rain.
Clean, fresh clothing awaited.
Bike was packed and helmet was donned.
Pedals squeaked while leaves crunched.
Crisp wind made my cheeks rosy.
Wheels turned round and round.
Walked along while bike limped.
Enjoyed the sun twenty minutes more then normal.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


As each day passes I become more and more excited to realize that fall is on it's way here in Madison. The sugar maples have given in and started turning red, orange and gold. The students have returned to campus, turning my commute into a game of spot-the-most-rediculous-new-fashion-trend. Oh, and the temperature has been dipping into the 40s at night, forcing the windows to be closed and the down comforter to be pulled out of the closet (and me to cuddle a little bit closer to my honey).

I love everything about fall; wearing extra layers of bold patterned wool shirts, hiking through the woods to record the changing of the season and making big batches of chili in the dutch oven. Only this time of year can I fill my house with pumpkins (both for decorating and baking), put scare crows in the front yard and comfortably drink a caramel latte (ooh ... I could go for one right now!) Only in autumn, for the first time in my life for that matter, can I run out to my garden, grab a butternut squash, onion, chili pepper and basil and have half the ingredients I need to make curry.

Here's to enjoying piping hot cups of coffee on chilly autumn mornings. Here's to hopping on the cruiser and riding down to the farmers market for mums and pumpkins. Here's to sneaking away to your favorite spot to enjoy your favorite part about fall!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Garden Update #3

I got home from work at a reasonable hour this afternoon, with a reasonable amount of energy left (some, for that matter), and decided to take a walk through the garden. It is completely thriving right now. My cherry tomatoes are ripening faster then we can eat them (cherry tomatoes anyone?) and the onions are of harvesting size. The basil and sage are also continuing to produce many leaves, which are begging to be harvested. I'll most likely be making a giant batch of pesto towards the end of the week. Pesto anyone? My favorite corner of the garden is the pumpkin patch. Big fuzzy, green leaves are blanketing the back section of the garden, with 3"-6" pumpkins hiding in the shade. Just as I was hoping earlier this summer, the morning glories have reached the top of the trellis and have begun growing towards the center. My lilies have also bloomed, their pale pink blossoms brigtening of the side of the yard, as well as the kitchen table. Last, but certainly not least, are the sunflowers. One, in the back garden just bloomed, providing a new snack for some of the local bugs. My favorite, however, has not bloomed yet, and is over eight feet tall. It's rapidly reaching skyward, and has now even crouched over to reach out from under the roof overhang. As soon as it blooms, I promise to post a photo of it and me. Oh, and I bought a couple new pieces of yard art while on our last trip to the cabin. Two metal dragonflies are now watching over different sections of the yard.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Our Northwoods Adventures: #3 for 2011

Before I get to telling you about our latest escape to the cabin, I wanted to prove that the creative juices are still flowing. Scott salvaged an old cabinet door for me a while back and it's been waiting in the workshop since, hoping I'd be inspired to make something with it. Well, the inspiration came from our toothphick jar, of all things. It boasted the  same graphic on it's front. After masking and xactoing, I spraypainted the whole thing with metallic silver paint.  This will eventually be hung outside, on the south face of the house, where it will be able to reflect the afternoon rays.

As the title alludes, we went up north again. It was the most enjoyable trip so far this year! Flowers we're blooming everywhere, blackberries, raspberries and blueberries were ripening all through the forest and we had the most bountiful mushroom hunt yet.

Scott and Bodie spent hours on the pier, reeling in bluegills and throwing tennis balls for Harper. We roasted marshmallows, went swimming and tested the 4-wheeler.

We found lobster mushrooms, chanterelles, russula, and many, many more. Scott, Bodie and I we're approximately 100 yards from the trailhead when we came across the first cluster of them, and as we kept hiking we found hundreds of additional mushrooms. We harvested only those which we were certain were edible, and only enough for a meal or two.

Later that evening, Scott made the best dinner, it's highlight being the sauteed mushrooms from our hike in the forest.  After dinner, I paddled the lake in Scott's solo canoe (a boat I haven't paddled before but which I plan to paddle many more times ... it's super sleek in the water!).

While on the water, I was graced with another gorgeous sunset, directly over the cabin. What a great way to end to a crazy week. Four days in the northwoods with my guys. I'm such a lucky lady!

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Me: Scott, what's the difference between an annual and a perennial? 
( I'm making it a point of memorizing the answer and am using this as my reference. Anybody have a mnemonic device to help me remember this one? You'd think as a gardener I'd have this one figured out, but I'm not a Gardener, yet! With each summer I have to reteach myself the difference. )

Bodie: Mommy, what's this?

Scott: That wedding's on the 14th, right?

Me (rhetorically): Is it Tuesday Night yet? ('Cause that's when I get to stop thinking for a  few minutes ... dear god ... I hope!)

I'm mid-way through covering my bosses vacation to North-central California to go back-backing around Lake Tahoe and sight-seeing in San Fran. I'm not jealous (I've traveled that area many times, and love it, but am planning to visit other places), but I'm overwhelmed. We are at the apex of our peak season and a lot is happening at the store. I know everything is being handled, but there have been a few hiccups, causing a few things to be handled not so well. I need to put on my "Val the Conqueror" hat, but instead I'm stuck in my "Val the Vicious =( " hat. I was impatient at work, became a tad cranky and am in dire need of a long bike ride and comfort food (both of which will be following this post!!) 

I heard a song on the way to work with the lyric "good things come to those who wait" and I think I need to remember that tonight. If I have a good cry in the car on the way home calm down and breathe for a minute  this week will just zip by. Before I know it, it will be Tuesday evening and I will be sitting in this spot again, but this time I will have the comfort of knowing I have the day off tomorrow. I ain't answerin' to no one but Bodie, Scott and John ... and maybe my Mom!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Our Northwoods Adventures: #2 for 2011

If you live any where near me, you've probably had the pleasure of dealing with hot, sticky summer days. Yes, you should read a little sarcasm with that comment. I love warm weather; wearing sun dresses and wide brimmed hats, working the garden and paddling the local waterways, sitting on the deck, late at night, conversing with friends. I don't love high heat and humidity together, though, and am this close to being over summer. In order to fall back in love with summer, and get a couple of days without real responsibility, Bodie and I went to the cabin.

We packed my little Rav-4 with everything needed for our 2.5 day escape: bathing suits, towels, squirt guns and lifejackets, a tricycle and a butterfly net, fishing poles and tackle bags. We had a cooler full of goodies: hot dogs, popsicles, margaritas and juice boxes. We had earthworms and waxies, jigs and Rapalas, brand new pliers and glow-in-the-dark bobbers. If my small amount of planning worked, we'd be kicking back and utterly enjoying ourselves the whole time.

And, boy, did we ever! I baked fresh corn muffins for breakfast that we covered in honey (and I washed down with a bit of coffee). We made mini pizzas with naan crust coated with cheddar cheese, bell peppers slivers and fresh, home-grown basil. We ate our favorite guilty pleasure; $1.29 ginger snaps from the Winter Co-Op.

From the moment we arrived, and practically every waking moment after, we were down by the lake. The cabin garage stock-piles countless flotation devices; from sharks to inner tubes to noodles, we had it all. If I wasn't fishing for bluegill off the end of the pier, chances are I was floating on a gigantic circular raft watching Bodie try to catch minnows in his net or splashing around in the shallows.

I woke at dawn each morning and was lucky enough to witness Friday's sunrise. The humidity had finally broken during the evening and with it came a cool front and clouds. The lake was covered in rolling steam, the sun seeming to rise multiple times after each return from behind the clouds.

There is an amazing vintage hat collection at the cabin. Apparently the Hamstra family has the same fondness for head ware that I do. My absolute favorite cabin hat is Grandma Hamstra's straw hat, one I found hanging from a nail in one of the closets last year. It has a wide brim in the front but no brim in the back, so I can leave it on while lounging on my back on a floatie. Keep your eyes peeled for one, I need one of these hats for at home. Oh, and if you look really close, you can see some of the remnants of my bike wipe out. Sprain, sprain, go away!

The cabin and its surroundings gave us respite from the summer doldrums. We cooled ourselves in the crystal clear water of Perch Lake. We gulped deep breaths of fresh, clean air. We listened to the birds sing and watched the dragon flies buzz about. We let our inner-child take over and allowed ourselves to play, giggle, chase each other with squirt guns and take naps. We took pleasure in doing nothing at all. We grilled hot dogs and caught dozens of fish. We remembered what summer is supposed to be all about; fun. Oh, what I wouldn't give to feel like I do at the cabin every day of the year! Oh, to be a kid again! Oh, to not have to work! I guess I'll have to keep dreaming.