cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (park)
7/20/2014 or thereabouts

As I begin typing this, I am sitting on the couch in the living room watching my kids play together. I do not anticipate being able to type more than a couple of sentences before I have to intervene, but you never know. The living room is reasonably baby-proofed, and Cassius and Theia are pretty good about playing with each other. Although when I took them to the baby storytime and playtime at the library, it was pretty easy to tell that Theia is more used to roughhousing than the other babies!
Last weekend was Phil's family's ATV weekend--basically a family reunion in their cabin in the woods.We drove up Thursday night and left again Sunday afternoon. This was Theia's first time; she was too small to appreciate it much. Mostly we tried to keep her from going places she shouldn't. This is a lot harder than it used to be now that she's a super-crawler. She spent a lot of time in a tricycle/stroller thing that my mother-in-law brought up for us, a lot of time being held, and some time crawling around on the playmat that we brought up for her--although the latter required a parent sitting beside her to keep her there. [And this is as far as I got with the couch-typing, alas.]

This is the first year that Theia has gone to Phil's family's annual reunion/ATV weekend at the cabin (of course it is, she's just barely 8 months old). She is in that stage where she's figured out how to propel herself across rooms at moderate speed, which made taking care of her in a non-childproofed environment quite a challenge. Dogs, slightly larger children, and mud-shellacked ATV riders carried all manner of debris into the cabin, so having her crawl around on the floor wasn't such a great idea. We did bring up (and forget to take home!) our play mat, so some of the time, I could plop her down on that and sit right beside her to keep her within its boundaries. Most of the time, though, she had to be held or strapped into the tricycle/stroller device that my in-laws found and brought up for us. She loved being wheeled around in that thing. We had to restrain Cassius' enthusiasm for pushing her around.

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After a pretty awful first night, she did quite well for the rest of the weekend. She produced her first tooth by the end of it! She and I slept in the "boys' room" at the cabin, and Cassius napped there. At night, Phil and Cassius slept in a tent out in the tenting area--which is now also the mobile home area, since three of the families now have mobile homes. It seems a little silly to get a mobile home to go camp on family land that's only a few hours' drive from home, but I do envy the theoretical ability to go driving across the Americas while you carry your home along with you like a snail. It would be a great way to retire. I could take a ton of photographs, write in different places, see different things. So much fun! Camping close to home, though, can be managed with just a tent.

Cassius got to ride an ATV with his Aunt Mariah, which he loved. In a few years, he'll be driving one himself, I'm sure. There were also two 8-week-old puppies that he got to wrestle with. As Phil says, a 3-year-old child and two 8-week-old puppies all in a puppy pile may be the pinnacle of happiness.

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We went for our long family walk in the woods, taking lots of photographs of the kids. One of the photos I took of Theia was of her wearing the same jacket and in a similar place as a picture I took of Cassius when he was about the same age. I think I took it from too far away, though. We shall see. I was trying to get a matched set of photos. Despite this (failure?), I did get some very adorable photos of both of them.

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Let's see, what else . . . My father-in-law, Doug, taught the older boys how to split wood with an ax, and nobody lost any limbs. The kids did lots of drawing, and the activities they got were slap bracelets and temporary tattoos (Cassius got a "pirate" cross-bones with a bow, and a green elephant.). Cassius and Asher had a lot of fun riding in the red Flyer wagon together or having Asher pull Cassius around the driveway. Once, while an older kid was pulling them, the wagon got tipped over and that resulted in skinned knees, a cut lip, a faceful of gravel, and much crying. Phil had a lot of fun persuading all the kids to go into the boat (in the woods) and pretend to fish. They all had to wear their life jackets, so it would be safe. The big meal event was a fish fry. My mother-in-law, Robin, even managed to make some that I could eat without risking the dairy/soy thing. In general, she did a superb job of making sure that I had something to eat at each meal. I know exactly how difficult that is, and I really appreciated it. This year's food contribution for me to bring was a salad, so I made a strawberry spinach salad thing with candied walnuts that turned out very well indeed. As you might have guessed, I'm quite proud of it. Usually I'm not very good at salads.

After ATV weekend, we went back home for a week before turning back around and driving to my family reunion (for the Yoder side) in Michigan. No, we're mostly not in Michigan, but it's a convenient mid-point for many of us.

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cloudscudding: Photo of Abra Staffin-Wiebe (park)
I improvised this salad for the ATV weekend/family reunion in Wisconsin. Lots of people liked it, so I thought I'd better write down something recipe-ish before I forget what I did.

Spinach and Strawberry Salad
Makes enough to fill up two large salad bowls. Leftovers do not keep well. Although this will still be tasty the next day, the salad will be quite limp.

Dressing Ingredients:
1/2 c. vegetable oil or canola oil
1/4 c. raspberry-flavored white wine vinegar
1/2 c. white sugar
1/8 tsp. cayenne
2 Tbsp. Penzey's Raspberry Enlightenment (or raspberry jam)

Candied Walnuts:
1/4 c. butter (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 c. sugar
3 c. chopped walnuts (about 2 small bags)
pinch of salt

Salad Ingredients:
2 bunches spinach
2 small heads romaine lettuce (volume should be about equal to the spinach)
1 1/2 boxes ripe strawberries

Dressing:
Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Candied Walnuts:
Grease two cookie sheets and set aside.

Heat skillet over high heat.

Melt butter. Add sugar and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until it is bubbling vigorously.

Add walnuts. Continue stirring constantly for five minutes.

Pour half of mixture onto cookie sheet. Immediately, working as fast as possible, separate walnuts as much as possible. Repeat with second half of mixture on second cookie sheet.

Let cool for ten minutes.

Using your hands, break walnut clumps apart.

Salad:
Rinse and dry spinach. Discard bad leaves. Chop off stems and discard. Chop into bite-sized pieces. Put in salad bowls.

Rinse and dry lettuce. Chop into bite sized pieces. Add to salad bowls.

Slice strawberries. Reserve 1/2 cup. Put the rest in the salad bowls.

Add walnuts or put aside for people to add on their own if allergies are a concern.

Use tongs to combine salad bowl contents. Try to keep all the strawberries from falling to the bottom.

Wait until 5 minutes before serving time, then add salad dressing to taste (there will be salad dressing left over). Use tongs to combine salad bowl contents again.

Get reserved strawberries and place on top of the salad.

Eat and enjoy! Bonus points if you remember to photograph it first.

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