Among other things, I hoped that by taking a break from writing here I'd be able to get more sleep. I didn't, really. I did manage to start making the bed fairly regularly, so that's something. I don't know, though, if it's worth abandoning this record of our lives that we've been keeping up for almost 13 years now. Sure, I've written lots of junk. But it's also great to be able to remember things like little Harvey and Zion's imaginative play (ably empowered by Leah). And maybe, just maybe, it might be possible to write and keep up with basic cleaning chores. We'll give it a try.
With the wonderfully mild weather we've been having this summer we haven't done very much swimming. But there have been hot days that demanded pond visits. And besides the pond, in mid-July we also branched out a little to enjoy the water of the Concord River.
First up was a summer camp expedition to discover the banks of the river on the north side of town. Starting out across the street from Nathan's new house we plunged into the wilderness on a tremendously varied short hike that included woods, bogs and a stream, a fire road, a real road, and a horse meadow (unoccupied).
Following the well-marked trail we eventually made our way to Two Brothers Rocks, the spot where John Winthrop and Thomas Dudley placed the border to divide the immense plots of land each of them had been granted the King of England (isn't land ownership interesting?!). The rocks are notable as the earliest historical site in Bedford, but we were mostly concerned with their potential for climbing and eating on.
A couple days later the boys and I headed out to Walden Pond, only to find that it had closed for overcapacity minutes before we got there. So we went back through Concord to the North Bridge instead, thinking that we could at least wade in the water there and enjoy a picnic and cooling breeze. We did.
Of course, with the swimsuits ready and available and the water beckoning, it wasn't long before wading turned into something a little more immersive, as pictured here. There were plenty of other people around, but nobody else was swimming... I wonder why? Well, I stayed out too; but for my lovely boys water is is water, and we're sure glad to live so close to this river.
Next we need to get a canoe!
There's so much to do in the summer. With our sort of camp, I find myself with a house full of kids all day Monday and Tuesday, which is lovely—but it doesn't leave much time to take care of the house and yard. Still, I don't think I did too badly yesterday. Besides showing the kids—ours and the two visitors—a good time, I managed a little weeding, baked bread, made pickles, and made a cake. It helps that all five kids are wonderful human beings and interacted peacefully for the seven or eight hours they were together. They also made some money selling candy and cycled around 10 miles round trip, to and from the Farmers Market in Lexington. So they didn't do too badly either!
The cake came out good too: just the thing to end our long busy day, served on our friends' back porch as it started to get dark (you see why all three boys are still sound asleep well after the sun came up this morning!). I made up the recipe; it's based on this chocolate cake, which I've made a few times and which revealed to me that buttermilk and baking powder are magic for making home-made cakes rise almost like ones from a mix. We have lots of blueberries—four of the five kids here yesterday helped pick them last week—so I decided on a blueberry variant.
Here's the recipe.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a bundt pan with plenty of butter. In a large bowl, combine
2 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4th tsp. salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
In the stand mixer, mix at medium speed
3/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. granulated sugar
Increase speed to high and beat for five minutes, until pale and fluffy. Add one at a time, beating at medium speed after each one
3 large eggs
At medium speed beat in
2 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of one lemon
Mixing at low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts alternating with two parts of
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1 1/2 c. blueberries
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes.
For the glaze, combine in a medium bowl
1/3 c. melted butter
2 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Whisk until smooth and pour slowly over the cake, letting a layer dry before adding more on top (I didn't have time to maage that last part between getting back from the farmer's market and leaving for dinner at our friends' house... my one failure in an otherwise pretty successful day!).
When I was a young person, I briefly fancied myself a conservative. I don't think I had any reason for that besides appreciation for the way conservatives wrote. See, when you're only against things you can write beautifully cutting takedowns of any progressive program without having to think too hard—you find the sarcasm flowing easily and naturally. I say briefly; by college—by junior year in high school, even—I had come to my senses and become a vague radical idealist. I didn't get in any real arguments with anyone while I was experimenting with conservatism, so you might say no harm done—but in fact, I think that my writing has never recovered from the curse that admiring Rush Limbaugh for even a couple months brought down on me.
That's one reason why I don't write more about my socio-political ideas (loosely defined) even though I do think about such things from time to time. Even when I have a thought I really want to write about, and try really hard to express it in thoughtful, measured language, I find hints of my high school sarcasm emerging—and even more than hints. Consider this post about sustainable agriculture (especially the first paragraph).
OK, what's wrong with being sarcastic? Especially when the target of your sarcasm will never read your words? Well, besides being kind of rude regardless it's also, if you ask me, not actually thoughtful. I say above "without having to think too hard", and that's really how it feels to me: writing sarcastically, assigning a simplified (or false) position to your opponent and then dismissing it in equally simplistic terms is super easy. And it's super frustrating as well, for people who actually want to think about the issues at hand. "But, but, but..." they sputter, entirely justifiably. "You're ignoring vast swathes of data and argument in the other direction! What about..." and then you call them an ivory tower elitist. You know, for thinking.
Something else. Writing—especially simplistic sarcasm—tends to be closed and linear. And the way I write is especially so. I don't outline blog posts: I think of a topic and write from beginning to end. (That's what I did for 50-page papers in college too, so as much as want to I don't know that my process will change any time soon.) That means that, as I put ideas down as words, I'm necessarily narrowing the scope of my thoughts and my argument. When I come up with an idea—a topic—it feels broad and spacious and full of potential. As I write it gets more and more specific, until the end result is something like a butterfly pinned to a display. You get to see the colorful patterns on the wings—well, one side of the wings, until they get dusty and fade—but in no way do you get the full sense of the creature. A butterfly is to flutter.
Probably, the solution is to work harder. If I was more thoughtful and wrote notes and outlines, I bet I would have a better time capturing the complexity of my original thoughts. Or maybe I need to give up essays and start writing poetry...
I'm a big fan of cycling, and I probably do it more than average, but it's still rare that I go somewhere on the bike every day for a week. I managed it this week! It's a good feeling.
On Sunday the boys and I took a ride out to Fawn Lake with friends. Harvey fell hard on the stone dust path a tore up his knee, but we were almost there so we finished the ride anyway... and then rode home too, of course (with a stop at the burger place for supper). Monday was a summer camp day, and Bridget and I led 14 kids around to various fun spots in Bedford: Chip-In Farm, the playground, and the town's newest pond.
On Tuesday Harvey couldn't walk; he'd been favoring his leg the day before so he woke up stiff and sore. Eventually I persuaded him the he'd be able to loosen it up on the bike, and after a couple laps around our street he agreed. So then we rode five miles up to Lexington to go to the Farmers Market, and then five more miles back (with a friend each for Harvey and Zion too—our craziness it catching!).
Wednesday and Thursday I commuted to and from work. By Thursday morning I realized that I was headed towards a full cycling week, but Friday so much was going on that I didn't think about it until it was almost dark. When I remembered and headed out for a ride Harvey wanted to go with me, and we took a lovely mile-long spin around the block. Then today we rode up to the library and back.
Nothing much, all told. But it was nice to spend some time with the boys and their friends, and to eliminate some car trips for errands, and to feel well-exercised most days. I probably won't do it again next week, but I'm sure I'll manage it again some time.
We're getting geared up to start our homeschool school year; concurrently we're defending ourselves against critics of the practice. Well, not defending entirely, but... Yesterday morning I had a lovely conversation with a friend at church who questioned the socialization aspect of our homeschool program (it comes up a lot). She has a relative with kids in a small Christian private school, and she tells me that they haven't even heard of Oprah! Well, that is a cogent objection. I didn't think to tell her that, on the pop culture front, we're amply provided for by the weekly movie showing with Grandpa. The boys know all about movie properties I've never heard of myself. But I did mention that, never fear, they get lots of time to play with kids unlike themselves.
It's true they don't get to interact with other kids in a school setting. Our tiny homeschool group doesn't offer much in the way of social-economic-political diversity. The day camp group of 15 or so kids is limited to families who want their children going on multi-hour wilderness outings, only loosely supervised. But never fear: we have a great neighborhood for diverse social interaction! There are three families on our street with kids in early elementary school, including ours—and another couple around the corner. Playing with them our boys are exposed to a wide range of media consumption and plastic toy ownership!
And even more importantly, they get to mediate that interaction on their own. I suppose we do the occasional "play-date" with friends farther away, but for the most part when they want to play they just head out the door and look for someone to engage with. Sometimes I even kick them out! I think that's foreign to lots of school kids, especially during the school year. Besides not having a neighborhood as awesome as ours, lots of them are so exhausted by the day at school—not to mention occupied with homework and extracurriculars—that they don't have the energy to go out and just play. At best they might hop on a friend's Minecraft server for a while.
I don't mean to criticize—there's nothing wrong with any of that either. I just feel obliged to respond to the doubts of critics. And I have plenty of time to do it: both yesterday and today there were extended periods—hours!—when the boys were off somewhere playing with other kids... you know, socializing. I think they're doing alright.
One of the many books I took on our camping trip was Balanced and Barefoot, by Angela J. Hanscom. Super appropriate, since camping is all about the ways which, per the subtitle, "unrestricted outdoor play makes for strong, confident, and capable children." Among many other worthwhile points, the author notes that "going barefoot in nature helps develop normal gait patterns, balance, and tolerance of touch in the feet, all of which provide a strong foundation for confident and fluid movement." Check.
That is to say, they had plenty of time barefoot in nature—like they do. I actually made the two who were doing their own walking put on shoes to start both hikes, but both times they quickly decided they were too hot, and the footwear became cargo. The book suggests that outdoor play builds core strength and endurance; I don't know about the former, but over the two days of hiking we covered about six and a half miles, with something like 1800 feet of elevation gain. (Now that's a vacation!) Zion actually did more like six and a quarter miles—Leah carried him a couple times, for encouragement—but either way it was an impressive effort.
Since we've been back, they've dived right back into playing with their friends in the neighborhood. Lots of that play is outside—none of us parents wants a gang of eight kids filling up the house for long (of course, video games, pokemon cards, and play sets all exert a powerful indoor pull...). I do wonder, though, if the outdoor play that's happening on Beacon Street fulfills all the requirements Hanscom would look for in proper therapeutic play. For one thing, I think it might involve a few too many plastic weapons.
One of the things she talks about in the book is how using natural materials in play spurs kids' imagination and social-emotional development. Store-bought toys, the argument goes, have specific and limited modes of play—a toy car is a car and it's only supposed to drive one direction. To say nothing of a Batman Batcave play set. The problem is all those toys exist, and they exist in the houses of our lovely neighbors (and, yes, in our house too). How can sticks and pinecones ever hope to compete? There's a question of space, too; our woodsy play area is pretty small, here on our suburban lot. Most of the kids are old enough now they should be playing in the town forest less than a quarter mile away, but they aren't allowed to on their own.
I don't know what to do about it. Certainly, I have no worries our boys aren't spending enough time outside, and in nature. But I think they need more time to play in the woods. On my adult schedule, we do hikes—which they love!—but the limited play times available in hiking pauses isn't enough to start to develop complex interpersonal games. Although, now that I think about it... the last time we went to Fawn Lake on a summer camp outing the rocks above the pond turned into a spaceship and a pirate ship and I don't know what else during the half-hour post-lunch play time. We're going there again today, and play time will definitely be on the schedule. Maybe we're doing alright after all.
It turned chilly here overnight, and I welcomed the chance to turn on the oven to make croutons and simmer beans on the stove for hours and generally feel good about cooking. The garden is a disaster this summer, so I'm totally ready for cold weather to sweep it all away and let us get started on preparations for next year (which of course will be vastly more successful). The only problem we had with the morning's cold was that it took the boys like ten minutes to get into shoes and socks for our morning walk—how much easier to be barefoot all day and just walk right out the door! Never mind: by 10:00 it was warm enough that we had all shed our shoes for the rest of the day. It's still summer... but fall is on the way!
As I type these words it is, and I don't. I have a pretty good guess, but since Harvey disappeared soon after we got home this evening and Zion and Lijah headed out a little later, after some decompression time, I've had no solid knowledge of their whereabouts. Which is fine, right? The fact that they took off without worrying about letting me know where they were going surely has something to do with all that we've done to allow and encourage independence over the years.
Why independence? Well, I'm sure it's great that we're helping them become self-actuated problem-solvers who will go on to do great things; also it gets them out of my hair so I can do the dishes. But now they're old enough that I'm starting to consider a different problem: in all that time away from our happy hippy household, are they being too exposed to Bad Influences in the shape of their hooligan friends? Sure, right now it's only Pop Rocks, Pokemon cards, and video games, but can hard drugs be far behind—or even pool?!
I laugh, but of course there's a serious worry beneath my hyperbole. Lots of my life choices are pretty counter-cultural, and there's nothing more culture-following than a third-grade boy in public school. So there are moments of mild concern, at least, around things like Flavor-Ice consumption and name-calling. But then I figure that, to be real, independence can't be limited. My role is to tell the boys my own opinions and to try to help them make good choices for themselves—I can't make their choices for them. Luckily, they're good kids so it's not as fraught a process as it may be for other parents. Long may it last; so far I do see some connection between independence and responsibility, so I'm prepared to say, at least, "so far so good".
On my commute I pass by the DCR pool in North Cambridge, a lovely free community pool of off Rindge Ave. Lovely for a brief, fleeting moment of the year, that is—because in Massachusetts they open the outdoor pools in mid-June and close them again at the end of August. And to me, this summer, that time went by impossibly fast.
Of course, when I stop to think about it I did a lot of different things this summer. And Lijah is much more mature now than he was back when he first decided the coming of warm weather was no reason not to wear fleece pants every day (in many ways; he's still rocking the pants). But even as I intellectually appreciate the passage of time as marked in those ways, this summer felt like just a blink.
Maybe it's because we hardly went to the pond at all. It was hardly hot, and the boys were always playing with friends so and resistant to going anywhere. I don't think we swam more than three or four times. Or it could be the terrible state of the garden—I've been mentally hurrying along to next year since mid-July. Or maybe it's just that I'm old now. Against 40 years, two and a half months isn't much. Oh well, that just means that winter will fly by too, and before I know it I'll be planting again. I'm sure the six-year-olds enjoyed the heck out of that pool; as for me I'll be thinking about seeds for next year.