It snowed last night, which felt right for the beginning of December. It started late afternoon, leaving Harvey and me with a pretty slippery drive home from Pokemon League, and kept on through the night; in the morning we were greeted with about 10 inches of heavy wet snow. The boys were excited to get out in it—especially Lijah, who hopped right into his new-to-him snowsuit and was first out the door by quite a while.
Not that everything was joy. While there was enough snow to cancel school here in town, it was mostly rain closer to the ocean so I had to go to work. The boys were torn between going to my parents' house, as they usually do on Mondays, and staying home to play with friends (with Mama, who was working from home for the morning). I ended up deciding for them, and nobody was happy. Yes, Harvey got to play with Jack; but he ended up in a neighborhood snowball fight and as I understand it both gave and received some unkind blows. And Zion was bitterly angry to see, as we drove towards Lexington, the snow changing to rain, and he showed his displeasure with some unkind blows on the back of my seat with his feet. Actually, I shouldn't say nobody was happy; Lijah was completely content.
When Harvey arrived Grandma took the boys sledding. She says their impressions were mixed, but judging by their level of tiredness this evening they must have had a least a couple good runs. The only exercise I got was shoveling—the snow better stick around long enough for me to have some fun in it!
Not counting leftovers, we had two solid Thanksgiving dinners this year. And best of all they were on different days! On Thanksgiving proper we went to my parents' house; they won the honor because my brother and his family were there too. They live far away, so we tend to see them just once a year at most. They're planning to come up at Christmas time too this year, so Thanksgiving was an exciting bonus! Since the Archibalds are old-fashioned folks we ate our dinner at 1:00. There was all the food you'd expect, and each of us boys had a different thing we liked the best. The early dinner time was great because it let us digest for a little bit and then head out for a walk while there was still plenty of light. A short walk—we weren't really up for much exertion. And there was dessert waiting at home. I made an apple pie.
On Friday we reprised the holiday with Leah's parents and brother. I was meant to bring corn bread, which was unfortunate because I'm not good at making corn bread and also because our oven stopped working briefly in the middle of the cooking. The delay meant I missed some playing and socializing time, but at least I wasn't late for dinner! I even got there in time to watch Leah's brother carve the turkey in the optimal scientific way, which was amazing. I should take lessons: I've never actually carved a turkey, but every time I try to cut up a chicken it's a disaster. This turkey, barbecued, was as tasty as it was well-carved. We got some of the leftovers too, and they were wonderful in sandwiches Saturday. I call this Thanksgiving a success.
I like to think we do pretty well for breakfasts around here. I've heard friends say that even cereal is too much trouble for them in the morning, so they limit themselves to a breakfast bar on the way out the door. None of that for us! Still, I come to understand that I still have improvements to make.
In our book club we're reading the fantastic Gone-Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright. I've read it lots of times before but I'm always glad for another go. Her sequel, Return to Gone-Away, isn't quite as good, but it's still plenty compelling enough for me to give it another run-through this weekend. And on page 29 I read the the following words:
Aunt Hilda's breakfasts were famous: varied and original, not just the ordinary plodding through of cereal and eggs and toast.
Eggs and toast ordinary?! Here I thought I was doing pretty well to get a hot breakfast with scrambled or fried eggs on the table four or five mornings a week. I do agree with her on the cereal though—at least so far as cereal by itself is concerned. So what would she have extraordinary cooks prepare? Here's Aunt Hilda's breakfast that day: "fresh orange juice, hot buckwheat cakes with butter and apple jelly, and bacon." Sounds good to me. Does anyone have a good recipe for buckwheat cakes? How about a suggestion for getting the kids to try them?
After a very busy day at our house, in which we hosted a segment of our new co-op for wreath making (11 kids in all), I was ready to go to sleep right after supper. To be honest, I was ready to go to sleep not to long after lunch, but it didn't seem appropriate to just abandon guests and children and retire to the bedroom, so I kept myself going. And then I kept myself going some more after supper, because the younger boys finally started writing.
Now, when I say writing I don't mean they were actually putting letters on paper themselves. Lijah can't really, yet—or at least you don't want him to, since it's tiring to not only tell him how to spell a word, very slowly, but also draw each letter in the air so he knows how to make it. And Zion's writing genius was stifled by my early attempts to make him write down his own stories. That was a mistake.
Happily, Lijah is unendingly creative; and having learned better, I now just do my best to capture his stories as they emerge and get them down on paper for him. It turns out that when I do it creates a positive feedback loop: he's tickled to hear his own stories and wants to make more of them. Mostly so far he's just done one page and moved on, but this evening he was inspired by Harvey's working on a comic strip (at the dinner table, but whatever) to string together eight pages of material featuring Thor, the devil, Wiley Coyote, Nuliujuk, and more. Not to be outdone, Zion created his own eight-page book. More coherent, if less wildly original, it's a story about a meteor crashing to earth and releasing a cloud of battling Pokemon.
All this creativity took place between 6:30 and 7:45, which may be early evening for some people but is definitely the center of the bedtime hour for us. So that was delayed. Worse, writing time also kept anyone from doing their kitchen chores, so after I got everyone tucked in bed at around 8:30—Leah is out for the evening—I had to come down and start the dishes. But I think it was worth it. Stories are important. I can't wait to see what they think of next.
Our homeschool co-op wrapped up a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, but we're not letting that slow our community gatherings down one bit. We're participating in one book group and leading another; plus, out of the ashes of our former co-op, which had been organized by AHEM (Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts; don't you just love that acronym?!), a new group is rising like a phoenix, bigger and better than before. So the last couple days we've spent lots of time engaged in some relatively organized activities, and it's been delightful (if exhausting).
Today, for example, we made butter. It was part of our Gone-Away Lake book club; we also made two kinds of jam and popcorn, did some art, and played outside. Oh, and finished reading the book together! I say "we", but in this context I'm mostly an onlooker—an assistant at best. Our friend Angel organized the proceedings and the kids did most of the work, though they did let me take a hand in the butter making. I've always wanted to paddle butter! It came out very nicely.
As I mentioned, we had our turn at hosting at yesterday's wreath-making event. I was out early in the morning shoveling off the new back deck (it doesn't matter that it's not quite finished, because I just left the snow on the unfinished part!) and clearing out the fireplace. It was lovely being out there in the sunshine with the fire crackling away (and smoking, but that can't be helped), and the wreaths came out great. It was super fun to see how different they were—big and small, neat and wild—depending on the patience and temperament of the creator. And all were well be-ribboned, thanks to a 70% off deal at Joanne Fabrics.
I made one on contract for Lijah, but I was running around too much to finish my own, the one I want to put on on the front of the house. Maybe next week will be calm enough for me to get back to it. I just need to get a little sleep first.
We don't usually get good snow in December, so we were extra excited when, on the first of the month, wintery weather arrived ahead of schedule. The forecast for Sunday into Monday was uncertain, with the rain-snow line wavering back and forth somewhere over Lexington; as it happened it was well to the east of Lexington Center, and our precipitation was all snow. Then on Tuesday we had a second storm; it was predicted to be over by noon but kept going strong until late afternoon. There was a lot of snow. And we enjoyed it! On Monday the boys sledded with Grandma (in the sleety Lexington snow). On Tuesday they romped and wrestled and snowball fought with schooled friends who were enjoying a second straight snow day. And on Wednesday I got to join in with the sledding, as we traveled to enjoy some beautiful powder on a Chelmsford golf course.
The winter weather was so beautiful that over the week I took almost a hundred and fifty pictures—more than I took in the whole month of November! (always a low month for photography, I find). Admittedly, 50 or 60 of them were burst mode pictures of the kids going off jumps on their sleds, but I also did my best to capture the winter's own artistry.
Sadly, today was warm and rainy and the considerable snowpack is melting away almost faster than it accumulated just a week ago. Oh, I hope more falls soon. As lovely as our yard and our town are all the time, they're even better under a blanket of white!
Every Tuesday we share a meal with the friends who make up what we still call "Bible Study" despite not having opened a Bible together since Zion was born. Call it eight years. But we still get together, and once there are no kids under five in the group we might be able to get back to the studying (that'll be three years from now, unless someone pops out another kid). Unlike our regular Friday evening gathering, which is always at our house and a pot luck, the Tuesday dinner rotates among four families (well, 4.25 counting 5th Tuesdays) who make up the group. So we get three free dinners out per month—but when it's at our house we have to do some work. Well, let me tell you, today I did extra.
Yesterday evening Leah asked me what I was planning to cook, since she was going to Whole Foods and cook pick up what was necessary. When I said I had no idea she read me the sale items for inspiration, and we settled on a pork loin. What is a pork loin? I wasn't entirely sure, but it sounded like something that could feed a crowd. (It may surprise you to know that I have never cooked pork; lots of bacon and ham, but no pork.) After some confusion over recipes—it turns out pork loin and pork tenderloin are not at all the same thing!—I figured out basically what I should be doing; and despite my not having a meat thermometer, which was strongly recommended by most sources, it seemed easy enough.
Of course, making a roast seemed fancy enough that I needed some top quality sides to go with it! Mashed potatoes, sure (and I had to do them with the food mill since Lijah didn't care for the lumps last time). Roasted broccoli so we'd have something green. Then in my searching for pork recipes I came across one for butternut squash with maple syrup and sriracha; I'd been wanting a new way to do squash! So I thought I'd try that as well. And then, since I forgot to feed the sourdough starter yesterday, I had to make yeast rolls too.
I have to say, while I'm not sure about pork—my ethical considerations are particularly strong when it comes to pigs—the meal came out so good I might have to shell out real money more often to repeat the experience. Certainly, it was worth all the afternoon's work and stress. Too often I get into a rut, just cooking the things I know how to and buying the same ingredients again and again. Rice and beans mostly. Which would have been fine with one of the young visitors: that's what he asked for when he saw what we had on the table. You can't please everyone all the time. But the evening's meal sure pleased me!
I thought we were impressive with our 22 people for wreath-making last week, but today our second co-op event just blew that out of the water with 35 people at our friends' house for a hot cocoa bar and board games. It was a little chaotic at times, but our hosts showed a perfect combination of elegant preparation and obliging equanimity as their house was being overrun, and everyone had a great time. How could we not, with this spread to greet us when we arrived?!
Zion and Lijah very briefly played some of a board game, played with their friends' toys, and romped in the snow outside. Harvey was convinced to join a Monopoly game and did that for three hours, questioning his life choices towards the end. At least he was winning when they had to stop! (naturally, they weren't able to finish the game). And we all drank lots of hot chocolate—even better, hot chocolate covered in whipped cream and other chocolate—and ate cookies. There was even something called "liquid truffle", which is basically hot chocolate but more so. Since the chocolate was basically the purpose of the gathering we jumped right into that at 10:30, so needless to say the kids weren't super enthusiastic about their lunches. Hopefully I restored them to health with soup for supper.
It was awesome to have so many people come out for the event. I now have 11 families on the co-op email list, and there was one other family there today who's not on the list yet. So I've got to feel that our efforts to build a learning community are going pretty well! Now all we need to do is find out how we can afford to rent a space that'll fit all of us...
Every year we have to renew the "keeping of animals" permit that says we're allowed to have chickens. As I understand it, the Board of Health wants to make sure that the livestock in town is being treated well and isn't making too much of a mess. Well, it may be that I don't fully believe in their mandate or could be that I'm just lazy and disorganized—maybe both!—but there has never been a year when I managed to respond when they reached out to me to schedule an inspection. Every year they start with a letter in October, then they follow up with a couple phone calls, one every three weeks or so. If I manage to answer the phone in that time I'm delighted to set up an appointment, bit if I don't—and I'm really not good about picking up the phone for numbers I don't recognize—I have a lot of trouble taking time to get in touch with them. And unfortunately the pressure to get the inspection done seems to fall mostly on their end. So this year the very kind inspector just showed up at our house on a Tuesday afternoon to make it happen.
Which was perfect! Even better than having to talk to someone on the phone! And the surprise inspection removed any stress I might have had about sprucing things up, but not in a way that left evidence of last minute work that might suggest I had something to hide. I think about those things. Nope, we run a tight ship here, and even without any warning (well, besides the two months of letters and calls...) our coop was clean and presentable and full of happy hens who have free access to food and water.
Still, I do feel a little guilty about not having things together. So I just made a reminder in my calendar: in 11 months it'll be time to make that appointment. Do you think it'll work?
I was awake in the middle of the night last night feeling lots of stress about quite a number of things, among them the fact that I've done almost nothing at all to get ready for Christmas. And that's despite knowing about it way in advance! It turns out there are quite a few things happening in December that keep me from devoting all my time to holiday prep. Today was another busy day, but we grabbed a couple hours between engagements to buy and decorate our Christmas tree.
I had told the kids earlier in the week that we might be able to get it Friday or Saturday, which to Zion and Lijah at least meant definitely Friday as soon as our book club friends left in the afternoon. Zion especially was practically vibrating with excitement. Only when I said maybe Friday I had been thinking that Leah would be home in the afternoon, and also that our kitchen would not have been destroyed by 13 people having lunch in it and then five kids eight and under doing chemistry with baking soda, vinegar, and canola oil (oh why did I give them the oil?!). But Leah graciously told us to go ahead, and the boys promised to work super hard on cleaning up while I strung the lights, and also there's torrential rain in the forecast for tomorrow... so we made it happen.
And I'm glad. The boys did do a great job cleaning up, and they put up most of the ornaments (I managed to get a few of my favorites up) without breaking a single one (the lightbulb that they broke was an unrelated coincidence). And now there's a major item ticked off my invisible to-do list, and the Christmas spirit in the house has risen by at least 45%. That'll help me get some presents made, right?
I love Christmas cards. I love getting them, and in the past I loved making them and sending them out. Or at least I loved having made them and sent them out; the process itself, though often enjoyably creative, was always stressful. And eventually it was just too much. For the last couple years, we haven't managed it at all, and it doesn't look like we will this year either. Which feels sad, and not only because, with us failing to reciprocate, the flow of incoming cards has slowed to a trickle. I'm kind of hoping to get a very simple design made and sent out to a select few before New Years, if not by Christmas itself, but even that might not happen; there's a lot I'm hoping to do in that time span! All that is to say: if you're someone who considers us a friend, know I that I sincerely wish you could get a card from us. And I'd love to get one from you! Maybe it'll inspire me for Christmas 2020...
The weather today featured what forecasters were calling a "wintery mix", so the boys asked if our trip to the library this morning could be not by bicycle. A reasonable request: the sidewalks can be pretty deadly in our neighborhood in regular snow, never mind an alternating mix of snow and tiny balls of ice. They asked if we could drive, but I didn't feel that would be in any way preferable. So we walked.
It was actually lovely. On the way up, the precipitation was mostly snow and there weren't many cars on the streets—"walking in a winter wonderland" indeed. Then coming home it was wetter, but also downhill. Even Lijah is a pretty good walker now, though he does complain some and drags terribly when I'm holding his hand. And it's lot more exercise than being on the bikes, where we barely even have to pedal coming home. So totally worth it. But man is walking slow! It takes us maybe 12 minutes to bike to the library, and well under 10 coming home. Walking was 45 minutes each way. Good thing we don't have anything else to do!
A couple weeks ago I picked up a cookbook at the library, Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich, thinking I'd get some inspiration for holiday treats. The only problem with the book is that, while it's designed like a glossy coffee-table book, there are only pictures for every fourth or fifth recipe! How does the author expect me to bake something that I haven't already seen in mouthwatering full-page illustration? Yesterday we tried it out for the first time, making "Rocky Road bars" (pictured on page 213) and they were delicious. So good, in fact, that after we left the last five with our friends who gave us dinner yesterday I had to make some more for dessert this evening. They came out even better the second time!
The recipe is super simple: just a graham cracker crust (with sugar added), topped with chocolate chips, marshmallows, and nuts. You hardly need a recipe for that! And yet, I never thought of it myself despite always wishing I could get marshmallows in cookies somehow. The key, I think, is baking the crust for 10 minutes at 350° and then adding the other stuff before baking for 10-12 more minutes at 375°. I don't know if I'll get to any of the other recipes in the book before I have to return it—we've got a little bit going on this time of year—but it's already changed our lives. Rocky Road bars are a keeper!
The advantages to hosting an event is that you can make everybody do all the things you like to do. So when we celebrated the solstice with our homeschool co-op today we started with a walk in the woods, then sat around a fire for a story, then had a gigantic pot-luck lunch, then came back to the fire to toast marshmallows. Well, some people toasted marshmallows: it was pretty cold out, so about half the group felt done with sitting around outside, even right next to the wonderful blaze I had created. Of course, there was also a good group playing on the roof of the playhouse, so it can't have been that cold.
Of course, the flip side of having a party my own way is bearing the brunt of the stress. Some families were ready for the walk and getting chilled while waiting for others to arrive and get their gear on. Some kids found the lunch table a little stressful (to be fair, it legit was—13 happy hungry kids can make some noise!). And everybody was cold at one time or another. I felt all that, since I wanted everyone to enjoy themselves, even with my idiosyncratic activity choices. It took me the rest of the day to recover. And that's with some significant help with the dishes from a couple of the parent attendees! Yes, it was lovely being in charge... and now I'm glad tomorrow's party is at someone else's house!
We got new couches today. I was a little sad to see the old ones go—I like things that I'm used to!—but the old ones were pretty broken, and the old ones are very nice, so it's really all for the best. And they fit great, and even give us a little more seating. The only problem with them really is that they still have that new furniture smell, which is not at all pleasant. I was looking forward to showing the couches off to our friends who came over this evening, and planning to mask the smell with the delicious aromas of pizza and yet more rocky road bars... but then our oven wouldn't turn on.
I'm not particularly extravagant, but doing Christmas right takes some money even at the best of times—so it's tough to think of adding another couple thousand dollars to our December bills. Leah is interested in fixing problems, so she's already scoping out the pre-Christmas sales at Lowes. I'm inclined to wait—"maybe it'll start working again!" I say. And in fact, in this instance it did. Once everyone had gone home we were talking about next steps; I turned it on to check one more time and it started right up. Leah cooked some tofu, and the pizza is in there now (a lot of good it'll do anyone at this point, but I didn't want to just throw away all that dough!). But it doesn't inspire confidence, having an oven that only works when it feels like it. I just wonder how much we're able to spend on confidence?
I took a vacation day today. From work—but that's not so special, because I only work like one day a week. No, I also took a day off from the kids! It's not that I don't like spending time with them—I actually love it—but sharing the house with them does limit what I get to do. So how did I enjoy the day? I did some woodworking, I wrapped some presents, and I went shopping. Thrilling! Also I watched some of the 2017 America's Cup semifinal matches on YouTube. But the best part of the day was the food. The boys like having breakfast at Grandma's so I had two meals to myself, and not only did I appreciate the silence I also got to prepare some things I wouldn't have had they been around: mushroom omelette for breakfast and salmon salad sandwich for lunch. The salmon salad was especially good. Why could I only have it in their absence? Because there was only enough for me! And now I get to look forward to a delightful vacation day with my family tomorrow, sharing food.
A blessed Christmas to everyone everywhere!
Our goal for Christmas this year was to make our celebrations joyful and relaxing, and I think we managed it. Of course, for our family relaxing includes getting up well before the sun—but that's how we like it.
The festivities kicked off with Christmas Eve dinner at my parents' house. Because they accidentally bought a smaller tree than they usually get we could even eat in the dining room! Then we headed to church for dessert and ornament-making—oh, and a Christmas Eve service too.
I don't know that my planning and preparations were any better than in years past, but I did have fewer presents all around, which meant I didn't have to stay up late wrapping like I often need to. Instead I spent the time cleaning the kitchen, which Leah appreciates just as much. As well as not buying as much this year, we also eased off on the homemade gifts, but there were a couple. I managed some mustard.
Harvey and I also did some woodworking: I made a picture frame for Leah and Harvey created a Pokemon jigsaw puzzle for Zion.
Zion and Lijah made tiny clay bowls for Mama and Grandma, respectively, which are as beautiful and charming as they are impractical. Of course, the most important making of all was the traditional breakfast spread of eggs, bagels, salmon, and donuts laid out by Grandma and Grandpa. Oh, there was fruit too.
After breakfast we opened presents, which was quicker than usual because Grandma was also feeling relaxed about the gift-giving. So there was plenty of time to get started on building all those Lego sets! Building a deck with the new Pokemon cards will come later.
I hope everyone else's day was as pleasant... Merry Christmas!