Sunday, October 25, 2009

Fall Festivities, Jersey Style

While we had a lovely time in Vermont two weeks ago, there was one important step that we missed: the buying of a pumpkin. Since this is one of Carrie's favorite fall activities, pumpkin purchases must occur in some sort of autumn-ish environment; a grocery store pumpkin is unacceptable.

Therefore, we went on a trek to less-urban New Jersey today in search of a pumpkin patch and other fall goodness. Sadly, I have still not come across anything outside the FDL area that remotely mirrors the awesomeness of The Little Farmer (if anyone from FDL is reading this, please send me a pumpkin cream cheese muffin!), but that has not stopped my quest for the closest imitation I can find. We set out today for two places (DePiero's Country Farm and Demarest Farms) that promised pumpkins, apples, hayrides, and a bakery.

Here are the things I would expect/hope for in such an establishment:
  • Pumpkin patch (check)
  • Apple orchard (check)
  • Hayride (check)
  • Fall baked goods (check)
  • Caramel apples (sort of...see below)
  • Corn maze (sort of)
Things that I am indifferent toward but was not surprised by:
  • Refreshment stand/brat fry
  • Petting zoo
  • Face painting
Things that I would NOT expect to see but encountered today:
  • European import grocery store
  • Salad bar
  • Butcher shop
  • Seafood counter
  • Potato pancakes (right next to the cider donuts!)
  • Children's amusement park (including a dragon roller coaster)
I also was wholly unprepared for the crowds we encountered. New Jersey is just waaay too densely populated for its own good. The bakery at DePiero's had a "take-a-number" system in order to buy cider donuts; the trickiest part was getting through the crowd of people to get to the number dispenser on the counter. And an interesting observation: DePiero's had probably the whitest crowd of people I have ever seen anywhere in New Jersey, both customers and employees. While the area immediately around there is quite affluent and predominantly white, it's still only about a half-hour drive from the city, so the lack of racial/ethnic diversity surprised me a bit.

Back to food...I have discovered by observation here and in Vermont that caramel apples are not nearly so popular here as in Wisconsin, which I think is very, very sad. One of the places we went today had them, but they were A. in a cooler and B. wrapped in cellophane. Hell no. Caramel apples need to be stabbed in front of you and dipped in a vat of creamy, warm caramel, then rolled in delicious toppings and eaten as soon as possible. At worst they should be eaten when after the caramel reaches room temperature. But definitely not cold, and there definitely should be no cellophane wrapper involved. The northeast seems to be much more interested in candy apples, but I can't for the life of me figure out why someone would prefer a hard sugar coating over creamy caramel.

Sadly, there are no pictures from today's outing because I realized after we were already out and about that the camera was out of batteries. And that's really a shame because I would have liked a picture of us walking over the Garden State Parkway to get to a farmstand to contrast with the pictures of walking over Quechee Gorge in Vermont. Oh well.

Man, I want a caramel apple...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Old MacDonald had a standardized test

I read an interesting article in the New York Times today: A Moo-Moo Here, and Better Test Scores Later. It's a really interesting (and relatively short) article, so definitely check it out if you have a couple minutes to spare. But if you're too busy, here's my one sentence summary: A school in Harlem takes their kindergarten class to the Queens County Farm Museum (it's a working historical farm, not a museum of farm stuff) to teach them about farms so that they'll do better on standardized tests later in elementary school.

For anyone who wasn't raised in an urban setting (which I think includes the vast majority of people who read this blog), the kids' reactions are a little surprising (for example, 5-year-olds who didn't know that eggs come from chickens). But the whole article kinda makes me go "Huh?", not to mention "....huh."

For starters, it's astounding to me that these kids have no idea where their food comes from. But then I think about the environment that they live in and the fact that it's not so easy to make a connection between a Chicken McNugget and the bird it was named after. And these kids are just starting school, which means that most of their education up to this point was left to their parents, who were probably less inclined than their more affluent, white, suburban/rural counterparts to read books at home that included farms or farm animals.

But it's also astounding to me that the reason for this field trip was not to introduce kids to an important aspect of life or expose them to a new environment; the point was to help them do better on the standardized tests that they'll take in a few years. What does this say about the state of our education system? Why does everything have to be about the test? Why can't we focus on educating kids for life instead of prepping them for individual tests?

From a test prep standpoint, I can see why the teachers think it's important for kids to see a farm in person; most children in elementary school can't think abstractly enough to gloss over the units in a math problem (sheep, cornstalks, etc.) and just find the answer. But the fact that there are so many of these questions on a statewide test, in a state where half of the students are raised in an urban environment, makes me question those who wrote the test. There are certainly some serious class/geographical/race issues to be explored there.

I'm glad that these kids got to spend some time on a farm and learn about farm animals, but I'm saddened that this trip had to be justified as test prep. A current look at urban health issues shows that these same kids who don't understand where food comes from are also more likely to spend their lives eating junk food. Maybe a trip to the farm to learn about sheep and cows and chickens will plant a seed that will make them think more later? Or maybe the fact that I'm currently reading The Omnivore's Dilemma is making me overly optimistic on this point? Hard to say.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Catching up

Sorry for the long absence, but here's an update for all you adoring fans out there.

Carrie and I spent last weekend in Vermont. While we were there, the pumpkin hats that I'd been working on furiously for the last few weeks made their debut, modeled by the most adorable infants in all of New England.

What could possibly be cuter than that? :)

We had a grand time revisiting some of our favorite sites: Cold Hollow Cider Mill, King Arthur Flour, the Cabot Annex...and I got my annual Lake Champlain hot chocolate (with REAL whipped cream!) We also went to a couple new places: Wellwood Orchard (site of the above pumpkin picture as well as the most hilarious hayless hayride in history) and the Vermont Country Store, which in good VT tourist tradition, included a plethora of free samples.

The weekend before that, a friend came over for a field trip to the nearby Mitsuwa, followed by a sushi-making extravaganza. She taught us how to make inside out rolls (see my mad rolling skilz below):

We ended up with FAR more sushi than 3 people should ever consume in one sitting, but all of it was delicious!

This weekend was mercifully much less busy. We saw a couple friends on Saturday and then spent yesterday hiding out in the house avoiding the awful weather outside (thank goodness for Netflix, knitting, and the internet).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Liveblogging Packers vs. Vikings

At 8:30 when the real television coverage starts, I’m out of the room.
Carrie: Hurry hurry, I think it’s starting.
Me: Did they do the coin toss?
Carrie: They’re dancing on the field or something. And showing Favre's wife.

10 minutes later, after GB’s runner has just been brought down:
Carrie: Wait, I thought they had to kick….wait…dammit, did I miss kick-off AGAIN?! (it’s important to note that she was staring at the TV this entire time—it’s not that she was out of the room at the time or something)

A few minutes later:
Carrie: What does 1st and 10 mean?
Becky explains football basics to the “Vikings fan”

Sack/Fumble. Lame.

Much puppy chow consumption. Delicious.

Later explanations of punts, kicks, and the fact that a football field is 100 yards long.

Random friend request from middle school ex-boyfriend provides mildly amusing diversion.

Awesome catch by Finley...
Becky: Catch it catch it! Runrunrunrunrun! Faster faster faster! YES!!!
Carrie: No no no no no!

Rodgers gets sacked at the beginning of the second quarter:
Me: come on, come on! No...ARGH!
Carrie: Woo-hoo!
Becky eats more puppy chow.

TV: blah blah blah field goal range...
Carrie: What's field goal range mean?
(and I'm being unfair? Really? Has she ever watched a football game before?)
Carrie: It's funny the way you know the characters' names.
Me: You do know that they're written on the back of their shirts, right?
Carrie: Hey, I'm doing pretty good here. I'm following the ball and it doesn't even glow. AND I'm learning the rules. That's more than I've ever done in 26 years.

Cue strange commercial with heavily implied girl on girl action for a domain name website. Football is weird.

TV: blah blah blah trying to figure out what went wrong with that drive.
Me: What went wrong with that drive was that they gave the ball to the other team!

Stupid Vikings touchdown.
Carrie: Oh, my guys got a goal and I didn't even notice.
Me: You know in this sport it's not called a goal, right?

Rodgers gets sacked (again)
Carrie: Oooh, I'm sorry.
Me: You know you suck as a sports fan, right? :P

Vikings fumble and the Packers score...while I'm staring at my knitting. Damn, guess I'll have to watch the replay.

Vikings cheap touchdown. Lame. And what the hell is going on with the Packers defense?

Halftime. Blah blah blah, stop talking.

10:20 p.m.
Carrie: I think you're supposed to put times in when you live blog.
Me: Yeah, I know...I forgot.
So here you go, adoring fans. Timestamps.

10:25 p.m.
Managed to miss the start of the second half due to Halloween costume shopping for little people. Oops.

10:30 p.m.
Another Viking touchdown. Lame. Also, Carrie's feet smell.

10:45 p.m.
What the hell? How many times can you miss that one?

10:49 p.m.
WHAT?! How did he not catch that?

11:02 p.m.
This game blows. And I have way not gotten enough knitting done.

11:12 p.m.
TV commentary on the Metrodome about how dome stadiums are good for quarterbacks because the conditions are predictable and how great that is for a 40-year-old. Haha, dude's so old he can't deal with a little weather?

11:33 p.m.
Finally another touchdown! Let's try to not screw up the two points, mkay?

11:36 p.m.
Okay seriously offensive line, it would have been nice if you'd tried to PLAY tonight.

11:42 p.m.
Carrie: When I was little, I used to think that little clock thing was how long it was actually gonna take. And I was very disappointed every time.

11:52 p.m.
Boo. Here's my advice to the Packers: play better next time plz? Kthanxbai.

I'm sad that I won't get to see the game when the Vikings are at Lambeau. Oh wells. :(

In other news, I finished my knitting swatch and can finally order yarn for the next project. Woo-hoo!