As I mentioned yesterday, on Saturday we drove an hour away to pick up some flour (and go to the beach, of course). That's kind of crazy, I know. But here's how it happened.
First of all, we're not hoarding. The boys and I went to Costco back in the first week of March, and I deliberately didn't buy toilet paper. We had plenty! But the reason I was there was to buy flour—we usually buy our all-purpose flour at Costco, at a rate of 25lbs every month and a half or so. Maybe more frequently. Well, on that trip they were out. And a few days later Leah made it to Market Basket to find they only had one 5lb bag of King Arthur AP flour left. The pandemic hadn't even really started yet and our supplies were running low!
And that's just the all-purpose flour: there was a separate crisis in whole wheat flour stocks at Market Basket that predated the pandemic, so I was already feeling nervous about that. My one Market Basket trip of the pandemic time—alone! So strange going without the kids!—netted us 15 pounds of AP flour and 10 of bread flour, but once again no whole wheat. Last week's bread used up the last couple cups and was still whiter than we'd like, and the pancakes with all white flour were definitely not as good as we're used to. It was ever on my mind, which is why Leah mentioned it to her cousin (her mom's cousin, really) on the phone last week. Well, people in Leah's family get things done, which is why on Saturday we found ourselves driving down to the South Shore to pick up 30 pounds of whole wheat flour (plus some brown sugar for good measure).
So baking here continues apace. There's bread! There's cookies! Good pancakes! Of course, now the next worry is the AP flour again. It's really stressful not being able to run out to the store, and not being able to trust the store will have what you need. And we're down to four rolls of toilet paper left in the basement...
I've been enjoying not driving much the last couple weeks, but abandoning the car has meant less in the way of outings for me and the boys. Our local woods just haven't been that inspiring. But it doesn't need to be that way! Besides the tiny lot-sized swamp across the street, where the boys had a great time playing in the rain the other day, we have the Hartwell Town Forest near by and two or three other town woods within easy cycling range. On Wednesday we finally got organized for a quick afternoon trip and had a great time of it.
Our main motivation was actually making a run to Chip-In to get some more milk, but while we were out I thought we might do a little more adventuring. Sure enough, after a fun and fast ride through the woods to the store we were all ready to push keep going, so we rode another quarter-mile to the trail complex in the Mary Putnam Webber Wildlife Preserve where we walked and ran a tiny loop (and climbed some trees!). Then it was back to Chip-In, where we discovered that their Covid-19 hours meant they closed at 4:00... and it was 4:08. Oops. The boys were understanding, and we had a pleasant (if slower) ride home. The whole outing—which burned many calories and left us feeling like we did something worthwhile—didn't take much longer than an hour. So more ambitious trips are within reach when the weather gets a little better!
And the milk? Well, we did have to push oatmeal one day later on the breakfast menu, but we made another trip out to the farm yesterday and got there a full 20 minutes before closing time. No worries at all!
It's been rainy the last couple days and we're coming up on the end of three solid weeks of relative isolation, and there have been few moments of testiness. Like yesterday, when Zion and Elijah were playing at trading imaginary Minecraft items. Lijah was trying to get some tridents from Zion, who kept raising the price beyond Lijah's offers of uncountable stacks of emeralds. Eventually Lijah got mad and started yelling, and Zion protested huffily that he was just trying to do a fair trade. I was pretty unhappy, and told them so—with Lijah for going into a violent rage instead of walking away, and with Zion for provoking him. "I don't know how we're going to get along as a household," I told him, "if you can't even be generous with imaginary things that don't even exist!" It's safe to say that we're all feeling some stress.
Of course, there are also many lovely moments. Prior to that unpleasant exchange—which happened right around dinner time—the boys had been playing super well together. Their game with their stuffed animals was so harmonious that I silently cancelled some scheduled home education stuff to let it continue, and then I lost track of time and failed to tell them to get on Zoom for their daily group read-aloud (they made it a couple minutes late, when Leah noticed the time and alerted us). So we'll survive. But we do need to keep working at it.
This morning Leah sewed up masks for all the family—or, as the boys like to call them, templates (the templates were a couple days ago, but the name has stuck). Only they're wondering how much chance they'll have to wear them, because they're not allowed in stores or anything anyway. I've been hinting that before too long they might need them every time they go outside past our fence. Because yes, they are getting out—even seeing friends from the neighborhood from an appropriate six-foot distance. How can you not, especially on days as beautiful as today? Today some of their time was spent sitting some distance apart on the street and chatting, but Harvey, Zion, and Jack also did some cycling.
That's my favorite, because it means they have to stay safely apart from each other and their hands are busy and likely away from their faces. There's not really anywhere to go, but they didn't let that stop them. Harvey and Jack went around the block seven times, which by my calculations is over five miles of riding. Not bad! Harvey tells me he spent much of the time working on riding with no hands. I'm proud of him, but I kind of hope he doesn't get comfortable enough with it to be able to, I don't know, pick his nose while riding. See, those masks may get some use yet.
On Sunday afternoon I was feeling wiped out from a stressful morning of virtual church, so I wanted to do something that would be a bit of a challenge while not in any way resembling work that I had to do. Playing guitar was fun, but not quite pointless enough... then I had the idea to dig out the fiddle from the back of Leah's closet. She got it years ago—before kids—and we mostly forgot we even owned it, but it was there and still in fine playing shape. I rosined up the bow and squawked out a couple scales and tunes—about 15 minutes' worth, before Leah had had enough and came to show me how it's done. She hasn't played in a long time, but she's still better than me, so I retired to the guitar. Our repertoire wasn't wide (we did rock a duo on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"!) but still it was fun playing together.
Then today we took it up a notch—three notches!—by adding the boys to our ensemble. Harvey's been learning some chords on the banjo, and Zion and Lijah joined in on harmonicas. We played "I'll Fly Away", and it was fantastic. Although when I told Leah I was writing about it this evening she wanted to make sure there was no audio record of our playing. It'll be a couple weeks before we reach that point.
This morning I had to head out into the world, to pick up more chicken food at the feed store and do a picture book swap with a friend who lives out that way (we can't wait til our books clear quarantine and we can see what we got!). I wanted to do it in the morning and then be home in time to start the Kids Coop Zoom call at 9:30, and of course I couldn't leave before we did our morning work. Poetry is important! It seemed pretty doable until I got in the car at twenty of nine and realized that traveling in physical space actually takes time. Really! I had kind of forgotten. One of the reasons we got so busy last week—we're dialing it down now—was that, when you're only scheduling virtual gatherings, you can really cram em in. Friends want to play Pokemon online at 10:45? No problem, my work meeting that starts at 10 should be wrapping up right about then! This morning at 9:00 I was just reaching the feed store and had many miles to go before I could get home again. In the event, I made it—with one minute to spare!—but it was sure funny to me how unaccustomed I am now to, you know, actually going places.
I had kind of a tough Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we had somebody "Zoom Bomb" our church service—a ridiculous name for the kind of dumb prank that's unfortunately entirely commonplace on the internet. But lots of people on Zoom now aren't used to the internet, so they reacted very strongly to the intrusion. Besides making everybody on the church staff do more work as we struggled to plan a safer service for Easter, it also prompted lots more people to question whether they, or anyone, should be using Zoom at all. That question is very troubling to me for lots of reasons, the most salient being that I need to keep using Zoom myself, and I need other people to use it too, or else I might go crazy. So that made for a stressful week. Then on Saturday morning one of our chickens got taken by a fox or a coyote or something... we didn't see, but we noticed her missing a little later and we noticed lots of feathers all over the yard. I'm not always hit super hard when one of the hens dies, but this one was tough. I was feeling pretty sad to begin with, which obviously played a part. And then too in this pandemic time we were glad to always have plenty of eggs, including lots to give away to friends and neighbors; being down one hen won't cut the output too much, but with things as they are I still wish we had nine hens laying instead of eight.
Then despite all that, Easter was lovely. Maybe I'll write about that tomorrow.
Despite many moments feeling really busy lately, when I reflect on it we've also had more time to work on some things than we do in our regular life. We're all practicing music. Last week Harvey put in all sorts of work on cycling no-handed, and now can do it quite casually. Zion doesn't want to be left behind, so he's practicing too: he can now turn no-handed, though he's not solid on pedaling. Today Lijah also joined the bike work, though his hands were firmly on the handlebars as he practiced coasting on a bike with no training wheels. We're also doing ball sports. Several days of intensive run-the-bases games improved Harvey and Zion's throwing and catching quite a bit (in that case the competitive aspect led to lots more improvement than many hours of casual catch). The last couple days the lawn was too wet to run on, so we played in the street with the playground ball and practiced basketball passes and dribbling, and volleyball serves and passes (we have a long way to go on volleyball!). It's all very exciting!
As I mentioned, we had a lovely Easter day Sunday. It was sad not getting to church, but it also meant the morning was a whole lot less stressful. The kids didn't need to get dressed up, and planning for dinner was much easier when I knew I could keep cooking during church! And of course, we also missed having friends over to join in the egg hunt and share dinner. But we're getting used to this social distancing thing, and the boys made the best of it.
To be honest, the part about missing church that bothered them the most was missing out on the spread of donuts and pastries we've come to expect. So since I had some extra time—and wanted to make the day extra special, despite all the restrictions—I made some myself. They came out good.
I got them done just in time to start up the computer for my online Kids Church program. Unlike us, a few of the kids did dress up and I was glad to give them a chance to show off their finery! I showed off my donuts. Harvey and Zion joined me for worship for the first time—we sang Matt Maher's "Christ Is Risen", and they gave it all their energy and volume to make our rendition way better than the original. More punk for sure. When that was done we tuned in to the adult service (as mentioned, as I listened I worked on the scalloped potatoes). The boys were done with church and played Minecraft.
When church finished up we headed outside for the egg hunt. We own a whole grocery bag of plastic eggs, and we put them all out; and knowing the capacity of my offspring I actually hid them all this time. So the hunters were occupied for a good while (and needed a few hints from their parents to stay focused towards the end). We didn't have much candy in the house, but Leah ordered a bunch of little collectible eraser animals and they were a big hit.
Then it was time for dinner. After some debate we ended up getting a big ham; it was on sale (the little ones weren't) and besides, we're supposed to be stocking up to reduce the number of trips to the store. The boys were suitably impressed when they came to the table.
We ate maybe a tenth of it; we froze two pounds of the leftovers, and what we kept out gave us four or five meals over the last three days. The donuts didn't last that long.
When we first entered this shelter-in-place season, Easter seemed far away—and it was the day we initially let ourselves we'd be able to see a return to normalcy. Now the end of the quarantine seems farther away than ever, and our social distancing life is starting to feel like a new normal. So it was good to have a beautiful, celebratory, socially distant Easter celebration to show us that things can still be fun and exciting.
Between the sadness at losing one of our hens last weekend and the ever-growing longing for animal companionship shared by many members of our household, it was perhaps inevitable that some chicks are now living in our house. We've never had chicks in consecutive years before, but then again, everything these days is different than it's ever been before. I'm very pleased to see the chicks—because they're super cute, because I like eggs, and because the probable alternative was a hairless cat. (If Leah were still writing in the blog here she could defend her love for the hairless cats, but I'm not really a fan.) In other years our chicks made their first public appearance on the blog, but not in 2020; I haven't even taken any pictures of them yet. No, today's world calls for live video, so yesterday morning I set up a chick cam (over Zoom, natch) and sent the link out to everyone we know. That link isn't up now, because we have limited equipment and because it turns out Zoom isn't actually designed to keep a meeting running indefinitely with nothing happening, but if we figure out how to do a more traditional web-cam setup I'll for sure let you know.
Because this was a sudden decision we didn't order the chicks by mail, like we have in the past. Instead Leah went to the feed store to buy them—and because everybody else in the world wants chickens right now that was harder than it would have been in a normal year. She left the house at 6:00 yesterday morning in order to get to the store and line up before it opened at eight; when she got there at 6:30 she was number ten in line. Luckily she only had to wait in line in the snow—yes, it was also snowing yesterday morning—for an hour and a half before she was able to get out of there, because the kids folks at Erikson Grain Mill got going an hour early in order to avoid a possible riot in their parking lot. And she was glad, because she escaped just as the police were arriving to investigate what was backing up traffic on area roads. I kind of want to know how the situation resolved, but I'm happier to have the chicks.
The new members of our flock are a Black Copper Maran, a Barnevelder, and a Lavender Orpington. They're happily established in the office, where they can keep Leah company during her long days in the video-call mines and amuse (or confuse) her remote coworkers with their cheeping. The boys are desperate to play with them, which makes me nervous. Now we're looking into getting a dog.
As if this season weren't strange enough already—with everything cancelled, and days at home stretching endlessly while weeks rush by—on Saturday we woke up to snow falling heavily on the daffodils and forsythia (and, you know, everything else too). By mid morning there was a couple inches on the ground, and as we looked out the window the scene was decidedly not springlike.
The first part of the morning we contented ourselves with board games, and the older boys might never have gotten motivated to get out in the snow had not Lijah taken the first steps. Even without a promise of anyone to play with, he was heading out.
It wasn't too long before Zion also got suited up and joined him, and they played for about an hour—climbing on the snowy playhouse, throwing snowballs and regular balls, and making snow angels. They got very wet. Harvey didn't make it outside until Jack invited him out; they missed the best part of the snow but seemed happy enough playing in the light misting rain that followed it. Once they got launched they all got plenty of enjoyment out of just those few inches of snow. Not as much, perhaps, as the first-grader who told me in our Kids Church session yesterday that he and his family had built a snow fort (!), put certainly enough. After all, it is April!
Almost all the snow was melted by dark. Today we were back to our regular spring programming.
We've had some improvisational stay-at-home Patriots Days before, but nothing like yesterday! To be honest, it was hard to even remember that it was Patriots Day, what with the snow yesterday and the general lack of public signs of the festivities. Luckily, I happened to see somewhere that Lexington Public Television was broadcasting a replay of last year's early-morning reenactment, the one that starts at 5:30, plus lots of other content from Patriots Days past. We've actually never seen that particular reenactment, so we made plans to get up early to check it out. Many of us managed it.
Of course, there was some grumbling and some drama—just as if we were really there! Zion didn't wake up in time and was unhappy about that. He blamed me—fairly, I suppose, since when he told me that no, he didn't want to get out of his bed he actually wasn't really awake and I should have kept shaking him. And just like in real life it was very hard to make out what the announcer in the recording was saying, so even though we were in our (relatively) warm house, watching minutemen standing around for a quarter of an hour got a little old for the boys. They did enjoy it when things finally happened. Then immediately following we read Sam the Minuteman so Zion could hear a textual version of what he missed, and we could talk some about the context of the battle. Then the boys played minutemen and redcoats while I prepared our very own home-grown pancake breakfast. The complete Patriots Day experience!
Well, not entirely complete. Lexington TV had a full schedule of events that included a parade and a fife and drum muster, but by mid morning the stream was having all sorts of problems—we were getting just a couple frames per minute, which is not really enough to make out what's happening. But that was fine, because while it was lovely to have a little taste of the holiday, it's not really Patriots Day when you're stuck at home. And we did have some other things to do. Here's to better luck next year!
Because the job that I get money for has this season suddenly become at least a third video production I've been putting some time into learning how to do it better. Yesterday, I was practicing with some new tools while the boys made sock puppets with Leah, and in the afternoon those two projects came together. Rather delightfully, I think!
Even though it's still wintery cold—by our standards, at least—spring is on its way and it won't be long before we're planting in the garden. And there's already things going on: garlic, asparagus, and strawberries are getting started, and we're eating chives and spring onions. So I started to notice that we don't really have a fence right now. Fences are always a work in progress, but this spring is especially bad since in the fall I took down one segment as I was building the new deck and another to forward plans of expanding garden a little further around the back of the house. So we had some work to do!
The most important thing at this stage is to keep the chickens out of the garden. In the winter I don't mind if they're in there—I'm glad, in fact!—but once things start coming up they're just trouble. This year I didn't notice they were scratching in the strawberry row until they had pulled up probably half of the new plants I had put in at the end of the summer. That's pretty much taken care of now, with a reinforced fence between the lawn and the garden and a new chicken-proof railing along the deck. But of course they can still fly over the fence into the street and come around the other side of the house, so there's still more fence needed!
That's about half-done now, and in putting it up I had one of the finest moments in my (not very illustrious) carpentry career. I've made lots of gates and doors as our need for fences and sheds evolves, and most of them are pretty half-assed. These days I'm trying to commit a little more ass to things, so I took the time to measure and actually think the whole thing through, and I'm proud to report that the gate I created works very well indeed.
It doesn't really show in the picture, since it melds with the rest of the fence so seamlessly; you'll have to trust me when I tell you that it fits perfectly, opens with the touch of a finger, and swings closed on its own. A masterpiece. The only bad thing is that I've set myself a high bar not only for future gates but for the whole rest of the fence. More work tomorrow!
I've been staying up late the last few days or weeks. There's so much lovely stuff to do around here—playing, building, cooking—that it's hard to sit down to the computer to write until everyone else has gone to sleep (also it's hard for me to concentrate before everyone else has gone to sleep!). I have no illusions that posting in this blog is something I need to do, but I do enjoy having it as a record; and when I don't write in it for a length of time I have trouble getting started again. Plus I committed to doing this poetry thing, which I'm pretty happy with—but I haven't managed to get much ahead what I need to have done for each new day. And then of course I have a real job that I need to write for. But as I talked to Leah about it she recommended writing in the morning, so I went to bed at a reasonable hour last night... and woke up after six hours of sleep before 4:00, raring to go! Oh well. Rescheduling myself will take a little time.
The pandemic has changed many things about our lives, and one thing that has pretty much dropped out has been playing Pokemon. With events cancelled there's no reason to practice, we quickly get bored of playing each other with the same decks (and building decks with physical cards is such a pain we never want to do it unless we have to), and it's hard to play online when we're spending so much time on screens for other reasons. But we still love the game, which is why we were so happy yesterday to be able to organize a prerelease tournament for us and some friends.
Prereleases are semi-competitive events that take place every three months to introduce a new set of cards—or they did, before everything was cancelled. We haven't missed a set since Harvey started playing, so I was glad to be able to pick up a few prerelease kits online. Then we set up some Zoom meetings and some cameras—lots of cameras, since to play over Zoom with full human interaction each player needs two: a face cam and a downward facing one to show the cards. I built some stands to hold the cameras.
There were only two things to mar the fun of the day. The Archibalds didn't do so well—Harvey, Zion, and I only managed to win one game each (out of three). Oh well, more joy to father and son Bongiovanni who took home second and first place! And the recording of the event that we took through Zoom defaulted to speaker view, which means that the actual action of the games isn't ever visible in the recording. So sad. It would have been so fun to have that video record, which I was planning on cutting into a shorter video to share. I guess we'll just have to remember things in our minds like cave people. Well, our minds, and all these words I just wrote.
Here's hoping that the next time a new set drops we'll be able to play in a real card shop. But if not, I think we've got this virtual tournament thing pretty well figured out!
In my advanced age, I tend not to like watching things on screens. I never liked movies much, and I gave up on tv shows a decade ago. I stuck with sports a little longer, but not that much. There are exceptions: I'd watch the heck out of some competitive Pokemon, but of course it's all cancelled. So mostly when I want to stare mindlessly at a screen I have to find some words to stare at. But while I was staring at words sometime last week I was alerted to a series of videos—a "vlog", if you will—made by a pair of homesteaders in Sweden: Off Grid Life, the Talasbuan Vlog. And I like it!
The appeal to me is two-fold. Two and a half-fold actually. The content speaks to me, obviously. I totally feel wanting to do as much as you can yourself, and I enjoy watching other people learning—one episode they make pickles for the first time—and demonstrating mastery of tasks that I aspire to—like woodworking with traditional tools and techniques. And the pacing is just my speed, no pun intended. There's plenty of long shots of animals and scenery and people preparing food, and very little drama. The creators seem to be both very calm and understated people, so even real drama gets downplayed. I like that. And then, I appreciate the photography too! It's beautifully shot and edited, not just to tell the story but also—even more!—to share the beauty and delight of their homestead. As I'm learning my way around video I'm especially interested in seeing how they do it. You can expect some farm film from me soon.
As I watch, I can't help but think about the last internet family we were interested in following; their story didn't turn out so well (it actually got worse after Leah wrote that post; very sad). But so far in my viewing there are no signs of mental breakdown and tragedy, so I'm going to keep watching and enjoying!
As promised—theatened?—here is a farming movie. I made it in response to a prompt from church asking "in these pandemic days, what is giving you life?" Chickens are just a small part of what's giving me life, but they're the most photogenic part. I only had 20 seconds to show them off, and you better believe I used up all 20!
(With appreciation and apologies to Danny Barnes for the unauthorized music sample...)
I've mentioned before how strange it is to me—someone who grew up almost without toasting a single marshmallow—how often we make smores around here. Though I guess it makes sense. We like having fires, and what good is a fire without a marshmallow to toast, and what good is a toasted marshmallow without chocolate and graham cracker? All the practice means we're getting pretty good at it.
This spring we've made smores when it's beautiful and sunny, and we've also made them when it's wintery cold (and various weathers in between). Sometimes we need coats.
Last fall I built a new fireplace (the old one is still there, but the new one is bigger and—more importantly—closer to the kitchen). It doesn't look like much, but it gets the job done.
And of course, it doesn't matter what the fireplace looks like, because when the fire is going that's all anyone could have eyes for.
Our pandemic stocks include lots of marshmallows and chocolate. You can be there'll be lots more sticky faces this spring.