Yesterday evening we traveled to Lexington to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah with Leah's parents. It was a delightful evening. We did all the things: played dreidel, ate latkes and noodle kugel, and enjoyed a fire and the light of three menorahs (Zion didn't burn anything down when he knocked one over). The boys hunted enthusiastically for gelt, and were successful in proportion to their ages—and to the effort they put into actually hunting, rather than chasing their elders and whining. Suffice it to say that everyone got enough chocolate.
They also all got plenty of presents. Legos, stuffed Pokemon dolls, Pokemon cards for Harvey, and matching dragon onesie pajamas. No pictures of all three boys wearing them though, because Harvey's were mistakenly Adult XXL. He put them on anyways, but I told him he wasn't allowed to wear any garment where the crotch came down to his ankles. Oh! And they all also got coonskin caps!
I totally failed at being any part of the gift preparation myself, so I really shouldn't have gotten any presents myself. But I did! A book, some Pokemon cards, and a new food processor to replace my almost-broken-but-I'm-still-using-it old model. The only problem with that is I don't like change: I wish I could have the same one as before, but working! Why did they have to make the bowl release turn in the opposite direction? Why is the whole thing close to two inches taller? (I told Leah that when we replace this one in ten years we'll need to buy a new house, because the 2028 model won't fit under our kitchen cabinets). That said, I'm sure that the first time I use it to make bread crumbs and the blade doesn't immediately jump off the shaft I'll be completely converted. New is good!
Our Hanukkah is basically done for the year, but there are still seven more nights for folks who are really doing it right. Happy Hanukkah!
Last year as part of our solstice celebrations we made wreaths, and I was pretty happy with how they came out. This year I thought I'd get a start on the process a little earlier, so we could be thinking about Advent too. And decorating the house for December is always nice too.
Our friends joined us for the making, which we did out in the yard under a beautiful sunny sky. All it took was hemlock and holly from our trees, some wire—more wire than you would have thought, but still not that much in the grand scheme of things—and some ribbon. The ribbon was the problem: we had to get some more from CVS, and while biking there was delightful their prices were less so. $1/yard is a bit steep for 3/8 inch polyester ribbon if you ask me. Still, I'm pleased enough with how all the wreaths came out, and spending four dollars on a 16-inch wreath is actually pretty reasonable in the grand scheme of things. Plus we had fun!
Of course, we didn't manage to make the Advent/solstice wreath, the one to hold candles. And Lijah didn't finish the one he was making. He got too cold. More work tomorrow!
Our hens stopped laying for the winter a couple weeks ago, and I haven't totally gotten used to it. We've been buying eggs, but yesterday I used up the last three making french toast (Harvey's friend Jack slept over and we had to give him a good breakfast before we sent him off on the school bus!). We were planning to stop by the egg farm this afternoon on the way home from our outing, but then some friends said they could come over so we skipped the shopping in order to be at our house before them. And they stayed for dinner, which was great! But we still have no eggs. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact: I keep thinking of things to make and then remembering that, no, those things require eggs. Like, literally, I was shocked to realize our egg-less state two or three times in a ten-minute span. Tomorrow we'll get out to buy some. And the hens should be laying again in a couple months!
Fall felt like it raced by this year; I didn't do lots of the things I had hoped to do. Now it's totally winter, and the year is still racing. But at least the boys and I caught up with one fall task this afternoon: mulching the garden. Since it wasn't only me being slow and out of it that delayed my fall tasks—the weather was a factor too—other folks are still doing leaf cleanup, and it turns out they're happy to give us their leaves! (I've never talked to anyone else who regrets having a yard that doesn't produce enough leaves...). We imported four bags today, which was just enough to cover the remaining beds. The boys aren't always up for helping in the garden, but they were enthusiastic participants in the work today. I think the way I described the project to Lijah was just the thing to get him interested—I said we needed to give the garden beds their blanket of leaves. All three boys also had fun using garden rakes, and miraculously nobody was injured. And now I can feel like the garden is ready for the winter, and check something off my endless to-do list. Up next in garden projects: ordering seeds!
It's hard to believe that it was only a year ago now that I made my first forays into buying Pokemon singles online, in an effort to surprise Harvey and Zion with some good cards for Christmas. Looking back, I realize that the cards I picked out weren't really that good: I had no idea at all what I was doing. From that humble beginning we've seen the game of Pokemon insinuate its way ever-deeper into our lives, to the extent that the whole family spent this past Saturday on an outing to a comic store an hour and a half away in order to play cards for four hours. At least we also took a side trip to the ocean.
The purpose of our jaunt up north to Rochester, NH, was to let Harvey—and me and Zion too—play in a League Cup. League Cups are the second rank of tournaments in the world of competitive Pokemon, and Harvey was looking for some points to continue along his road towards the World Championship in August. He got em: his second-place finish was good for 40, giving him 122 so far for the season, out of the 350 he needs to qualify for Worlds. I dropped out of the Masters division competition after the Juniors finished up so we could do something else, so I didn't get any more points (and Zion finished fourth to catch up with me in the points table!) but never mind, I've also secured my first gig as a judge, at an event coming up at the end of the month. And also doing other things is sometimes good.
Since Rochester is kind of near the ocean—it's in the "Inland Coast" region of New Hampshire, though I'm not totally sure how that's a thing—we figured we could probably go find some water. Without any real plan in mind my memory for long-ago adventures and my unerring instinct for interesting places led us to the tip of New Castle Island in Portsmouth, where there's a beach, some rocks, and an old fort to explore. What could be finer?
The part of the fort we were allowed to explore was mostly an early-19th century structure, with thick walls, mysterious passageways, and cannon-ports looking out to sea. We could easily have imagined ourselves defending the approaches to Portsmouth Harbor from the British, except that it was exceedingly, all-consumingly cold. So mostly we ran around from one fascinating corner of the fort to another or climbed around on the walls. As long as we were moving we weren't freezing to death. Unfortunately some of the most interesting-looking passageways were blocked off, which was disappointing; at least the stairway to the more modern tower pictured above was only half blocked off, the caution tape having blown away a little bit. It was cold up there too. The only place where we were comfortable enough to pretend was the dungeon.
Had I been there in the fort in 1812 or whatever I wouldn't have minded a stay in that lock-up; much better than freezing up on the walls! In 2018 our car was pretty warm too, and we were happy after a little while to retreat there for our long drive home (almost long enough to finish our latest audiobook). Adventure successful.
We got our Christmas tree today. It's a good thing; I'm still amazed it's December already, so I've done basically nothing at all to get ready for Christmas. Having the tree up will hopefully remind me a little bit. We had a great time picking it out, and feeding the animals on the farm, but we did run into a little bit of trouble when it came to putting it up. See, we couldn't find our tree stand anywhere, not even after multiple searches through what felt like all parts of the house (and yard, and shed...). My mom stopped by to drop something off and told us she had an extra, so we went to pick it up... only to find when we got it home that it was too small and weak to support our beautiful tree. Trying to make it work took a good half hour before we gave up and headed out to the hardware store for a new model. Feels bad, but at least the tree is now up, decorated, and delightful!
Now we'll get to work making some presents.
Zion needed to visit the dentist this morning to have a cavity filled. It was actually his second try at it; last Wednesday he got as far as the chair before freaking out so much that the dentist wasn't able to get close enough to do the work. It's a little embarrassing as a parent, I think. Just like when we had to stop taking Rascal to the vet because the technicians were always afraid he was going to bite them. You feel it has to be some sort of reflection on you as a dog trainer / parent. At least Zion can be reasoned with to some extent. We reasoned with him to the extent of telling him he had to do this, that there was no option to not do it. That he was brave. That he didn't have to love every moment of every day. None of it was particularly convincing, but it was enough to get him into the car, into the building, and into the seat... and he sat still long enough to get the filling. Then he threw up in the car on the way home.
I totally understand his anxiety and discomfort. I am terrified of the dentist myself... not that I felt it would have been helpful to bring that up. It turns out he's braver than me! I probably do a better job brushing my teeth though, and I eat significantly less candy, so it balances out.
Leah took care of the dentist visit itself, while I enjoyed a quiet morning at home with the other boys (so it was her car that got vomited, ha ha). Then I took up the task of easing Zion back into the society of humans, which I accomplished by letting him sit on the couch for an hour, then feeding him lunch, then forcing him to come with us on a walk in the Minuteman National Park. He declined to fasten his seatbelt for the drive there; Lijah told on him, but I said I though that Zion had spent enough time that morning being forced to do things against his will and it was fair for him to want to make a few of his own decisions. We didn't get into a wreck, so that was fine, and then he had a lovely time on the walk and was happy enough to buckle up on the next leg of our trip. So a happy ending? Anyway, at least he won't get any more food stuck in that gaping cavity.
Some of the small portion of my life not devoted to being with my own kids is given to directing the Elementary Kids Church program at Reservoir Church in Cambridge. The first year I took on the role I thought it would be fun to put on a Christmas performance. It was fun: so much fun, in fact, that everyone just assumed we'd do it again the next year. So we did! Yesterday was our fifth such production, and it went off beautifully.
My idea with the show is to give the kids as much ownership of both the process and the product as I can. Originally I hoped they'd even write the script, or at least collaborate with me on it. That didn't happen, but every year I leave it open for the actors to make any changes that they want. And there have been a few! More importantly, the kids have also been responsible for creating all the props, scenery, and even costumes. Some of them take that responsibility really seriously! The last three years I've especially loved watching the kids who decide that they're going to be in charge of costume creation set up their space and invite the actors in for fittings. Even a first grader deciding that there needed to be a donkey in the show, and that she would be that donkey, didn't faze this year's crew in the least. I just wish I had taken a picture of the donkey suit!
Naturally, there was music in the show too. That's what I worked on, and Harvey and Zion joined me. We started the performance with a candlelight procession, singing "O Come O Come Emmanuel" (also traditional by this point), and did three other songs as well. Harvey was one of the two recorder players (the one without the solos..) and we had two kids on trumpet as well. All of the young musicians were super focused and enthusiastic this year, and it was lots of fun working with them.
As I slowly relaxed in the hours after the show, I had a thought about what made it so good. I've often admired kids' artwork, especially abstract pieces made by smaller kids. We have a beautifully spare piece up in our living room, created by Elijah Archibald age two, which is a great example. I've tried to make art like that myself, but I can't do it. The art comes out of the innocence in which it's created; if you're trying to do something like that, you can't. (Unless of course you're a talented artist in the modernist tradition, in which case you've put in years of practice and study.) Our whole play was like that. Considered by professional standards—or even polished elementary school play standards—it wasn't very good. But since the kids created it themselves, with their own mix of beauty and humor and seriousness, it was delightful. Wonderful. Perfect.
At least, I thought so. We'll probably be doing it again next year, if you want to check it out!
Last month when we were discussing the future of our homeschool coop I got carried away and said I'd organize a gathering in December to play board games. A couple days ago I realized we were rapidly running out of December, so on Sunday I sent out an email inviting everyone to come over this morning for play games, run around, and have brunch. I don't know if what the lateness of the invitation, the business of the season, or the fact that we just aren't that cool, but nobody took us up on it. Never mind! The boys and I enjoyed the quiche and the apple muffins (well, only Harvey and I had quiche actually) and spent a happy hour playing Dragonwood together.
It was fine. We do lots of things with other people; it's nice to not, sometimes. Still, it was a little disappointing. One of the reasons I hadn't managed to get the invitation out earlier was because I was worried that it wouldn't get an enthusiastic reception, and I wasn't interested in dealing with rejection. Given the choice I only want to invite people to things I know they want to come to! That's the best thing about planning with friends: you can establish first that, yes, you want to do something—then work on the details as you go. When I'm thinking about coop events I wish I could check in with everybody ahead of time about their availability and what they're into, but of course that's not how it works. So sometimes we strike out. Now it's someone else's turn to organize!
On Thursday we spent lots of time outside, enjoying in the beautiful weather: clear, dry, seasonably bracing but not frigid. As the boys helped me split wood we talked about how much we would need for the Solstice fire, and about how much fun it would be. Then yesterday the temperature shot up into the mid 60s and it rained all day. No fire; we had to content ourselves with lighting candles at the dinner table and sharing thoughts about the turning of the year. This afternoon everyone was busy with their own things—and I needed some time to myself—so I headed out to do a fire myself. Everything was still pretty soaked, so it was good and smoky and an interesting challenge to get going. Then I watched it for a bit and thought about new beginnings.
We studied historical solstice celebrations some earlier this month (to the extent that we could; the library isn't exactly full of appropriate materials). The picture book we read talked about how midwinter was a scary time for the ancients, not knowing if the sun was ever going to return. We thought that was silly: wouldn't anyone old enough to formulate that question have lived through enough cycles to start to see a pattern?! Let's not sell our ancestors short. But there's no doubt that midwinter is magical moment, full of mystery and promise. All the more so when it coincides with a full moon, like it did this year. I've had a tough time of it over the past year. Watching the fire this evening I have hope that something might be changing.