The boys have never been to a barber in their lives, and Leah—never a frequent visitor to the salon since Harvey was born—eliminated any need for haircuts by dreading her hair nearly a year ago (by the way, she totally owes the world an update about that!). I've been the lone holdout, clinging to professional hair care despite hating to spend the money and never managing to make it to the barber until two or three weeks past when I absolutely needed a serious trim. I also just felt like a bad hippy; what, I could wear home-made clothes but I needed to pay someone to cut my hair? Well, no longer.
A couple months ago a friend gave us a home hair cutting kit that includes one of those clipper things like the barbers use which was the impetus I needed to give Leah the go-ahead to cut my hair. It came out fine—I didn't get any shocked comments or even curious looks, so I had to make sure to mention to several people that she had done it so they could be aware that I was moving yet further out of the mainstream of American existence. Today she gave me another trim; at this point I think I can safely say that my 30-year span of reliance on barbershops has come to an end.
What are the advantages of getting haircuts at home? Well, it saves money: we got all the tools for free and, even with just four cuts a year I was shelling out over a hundred dollars at the local barbershop. I can also get more frequent trims now, which means I don't have to get it cut so short each time. It's also a lot easier to fit a haircut into the schedule when we can do it right in the kitchen in 15 minutes, rather than turning it into an hour-long errand. And then there's just the matter of wanting to be counter-cultural: while I loved the barbershop I went to (and I totally recommend it to any non-hippy gentlemen who happen to live in the area) the more things we can manage to do for ourselves as a family or community of friends, without money having to change hands, the happier I feel about the way our life is going. So that's pretty cool.
I usually keep it pretty "real" on this blog, but even I, Mrs. talks-to-strangers-about-her-sexual-disfunction, have been a little hesitant about sharing what I'm up to these days. I started a bunch of new household initiatives in January, and I've thought about blogging them but put it off again and again. I don't know, I guess I fear coming off in an unfavorable light. If you knew what I was doing, then you might realize the horrible, terrifying truth about me:
I am not in control of my emotions.
I wake up every morning and say to myself: Today is a good day! Today is a gift! I will not, I will not I WILL NOT yell at my kids today.
Then four or seven or ten hours later, when I've heard the words "I WANT WHAT ZION HAS" for the thousandth time, something within me snaps and I am no longer nice preschool teacher mom, I am guilt-tripping Jewish banshee shouting: "I am READING YOU a STORY - you cannot ASK FOR FOOD while I'm IN THE MIDDLE of DOING SOMETHING ELSE FOR YOU - That is SO RUDE - If you can't figure out how to ACT NICELY to YOUR BROTHER I am going to have to DRIVE YOU TO PRESCHOOL so you can spend some time AWAY FROM US."
Or something similar. Than I feel bad and look for some chocolate to eat.
So at the beginning of January I decided to figure out what I could do to control my life better, in an effort to control my emotions. I started the Fly Lady cleaning system so I could no longer complain "I CLEAN ALL DAY AND WE'RE LIVING IN FILTH!" I read several books on supporting children when they're having psychological difficulties. (Thank you Leanna for this recommendation.) I started doing special playtimes with Harvey so he could feel extra attended to. I started going to bed at 8pm and keeping the computer closed during the day. That hindered my blogging, clearly, but if the house is more peaceful then it's worth it.
Oh, and there's the crazy diet.
Going around the interent is this month-long diet test to determine which foods trigger inflammation. Inflammation, the crazy hippies say, is linked to everything from weight gain to headaches, but I got bated when I heard it could be the cause of mood swings. So I spent two weeks freezing soups for me and normal food for the family, and I started THE PLAN (dun dun dun). I am eating nothing but veggies and chicken as I patiently test normal food, one item per day. So far I can add chickpeas, almonds, goat cheese and chocolate to my diet of chicken salad, but not rye crackers or coffee. I've been at this for a week. It's slooooooow going, and I still don't know about bread, eggs, and milk, which may be grounds for divorce if Dan thinks I'll avoid them in the future. But if it meant I could stop yelling at my kids? I'd do anything, ANYTHING. I'd live on carrot soup.
Meanwhile, I've been blowing up less often. I'm not the perfect patient person I want to be, but I'm not drowning in anger either. I enjoy my children a lot, but I'd like it to be more of the time. The job is so impossibly important. It's like they're little travelers from another planet. They're constantly looking at me and wondering: How do people act here on Earth? How can I fit in and do the right thing?
I hope I will answer well with my actions. Be nice. Be patient. Listen before talking. Smile and see what happens next.
I hope what happens next will be good.
This evening I'm enjoying eager anticipation for two seasons at once. I've spent time the last few days pouring over the seed catalogs (and their online equivalents), then wandering around the frozen garden trying to imagine where on earth I can put all the things I want to plant. My mind's eye is filled with visions of greenery, of beds and containers overflowing with abundant vegetative growth, of baskets of delicious tomatoes (my mind's eye skips over the hornworms). I'll order the seeds this weekend most likely, and then in a week or two the lights and the heater will be on down in the basement as the first sprouts of the 2013 garden season—they'll be onions—poke their little heads out of the dirt.
Of course, it'll be quite a while before anything gets in the ground outside, and we're reminded of that dramatically this evening as we face warnings for the Blizzard Of The Century that's apparently bearing down on us. The National Weather Service says we can expect 18-24 inches of snow, but that hasn't stopped blizzard-starved New Englanders from confidently predicting 30, 35, 40 inches of snow over tomorrow and Saturday. Even 18 inches would be pretty epic; 18.2 in Boston would be enough to put the storm into 10th place all time for Boston, knocking the December 2010 storm out of the top ten. I'm all for it. Unlike a December storm—that particular one marked the start of a crazy snowy winter where we never saw the ground until March—a February blizzard won't leave much of a long-term mark. It should be just enough to give us some fun snow adventures, and maybe get Harvey the snow-fort he's been dreaming of, before melting away to help water and fertilize my little seedlings. The best of both worlds!
It snowed a bit. After having been stuck inside for most of Friday thanks to driving fine snow with no accumulation, we woke up to this:
Clearly we couldn't go out that way, but luckily our house has more than one door, because the intrepid squibix family was ready for adventure!
We lasted a good five minutes outside. (That was the kids' fault; Leah and I had actually both been outside earlier to see to the chickens. You know you're real farmers when you have to shovel a path out to the livestock before you tackle the front walk.)
The snow stopped before lunch time, which meant we were able to take another trip outside, slightly longer this time. Harvey was well-geared up and ready for anything.
Zion hasn't yet grasped the connection between wearing particular items of clothing and staying warm, so he declined snowpants or mittens. He was... not entirely enthusiastic about being outside.
After we shoveled and played in the snow with friends, I hung out in the garden a little bit.
The poor chickens spent the entire day inside their coop, but when I came by they decided to take a look at the world beyond their door. It turns out they like the snow about as much as Zion does, and if any of them put a toe on the white stuff in was entirely by accident.
Ah well, hens and toddlers: it'll all be gone soon enough.
It turns out that our boys like snow better when the sun is out and the temperature is well above freezing. If nothing else that means they can eat it more comfortably, without having to worry about it sticking to their mittens. Good thing, because we have a fair amount of it around.
Not to say that all was wonderful in our outside adventures this afternoon; more whining was involved than I quite like, even with the positively tropical conditions. I turned down an invitation to go sledding with friends but when I felt how warm it was I regretted my decision for a moment. But only a moment, because trying to play in the snow with Harvey right outside our front door was aggravating enough: I wanted to Have Fun, because snow is Fun, and he wanted time to be able to make up his own mind on the subject. Which is entirely fair (though I would have preferred he work through things without the aforementioned whining).
It seems to me that this is yet another potential parenting pitfall, especially for parents like myself who never really grew up properly. "The things I like are awesome and you should enjoy them with me!" Actually, maybe that's a relationship pitfall in general. Thinking rationally, though, if there are things that I'm interested in doing I should do them for myself; and if I look like I'm having a good time than maybe someone else will join me. Which I did, and, eventually, he did. Behold our snow cave, 2013 edition:
Same style, same place as our 2011 version:
(Yeah, that's Harvey at 1; some confusion is understandable since in that photo he's wearing all Zion's snow gear.)
This time the snow was a little softer, so after he got involved in the process we expanded to a rear entrance.
Then snow in the boots and elsewhere put a stop to further work, but all in all it was a good time. Thanks, Harvey, for playing with me!
Lots of towns in Massachusetts didn't have school today because it's been so hard to get the snow cleared off of roads and sidewalks. In Bedford and Lexington, they decided they didn't care about sidewalks and went ahead with school anyways. I was glad because we can use the money, but from a sustainable transportation point of view I was disappointed, and all the more so when I heard teachers criticizing parents who walked with their children to school. "There's no sidewalk! They could've gotten themselves killed!" I refrained from shouting at them that cars aren't dragons, but I did calmly mention that some families might have just one car, or even (gasp) no car, and that "just driving" might not always be an option.
And of course, it shouldn't have to be. Yes, more people drive than walk so it's reasonable to clear the streets first; but at the same time, it's kind of a chicken-and-egg problem. If towns don't clear the sidewalks for two months of the year—or even build them in the first place!—they foreclose the possibility of anyone making an alternative transportation choice.
My coworkers suggested that parents without a car of their own should get a ride with a neighbor, or even keep their kids home from school. Both are great ideas (although I don't know that the administration would approve of the second one). But I have another idea. More people should, in the absence of sidewalks, walk in the street. Wear reflecting clothing if necessary, convoy with friends to make a larger, more visible group; but show up, and show drivers that they aren't the only ones with a claim to the road.
This time of year away almost no drivers are going to stop for a crosswalk outside of town centers: pedestrians just aren't on their mental radar when it's cold. But that doesn't mean I'm going to just wait passively until there's a break in traffic to cross? Of course not! I put myself out in the crosswalk—not jumping in front of cars, but making sure that they see me and see that I'm planning on crossing. Too many still respond only by swerving slightly to get by me without passing to close, but I consider it a positive educational outreach regardless.
Am I being a jerk when I make drivers slow down? Maybe. But any kind of social change will always inconvenience the current privileged group, and that's ok. There are so many reasons to walk rather than driving that we shouldn't let peoples entitled habits—or crappy infrastructure, or poor snow removal—get in the way of making changes right now. When enough people are walking drivers will pay attention; and towns will be sure to plow sidewalks just like they plow streets now, or else let the kids stay home.
We have spent a lot of time inside this winter, but that doesn't mean the kids are bored. Harvey leads Zion in imaginative play for several hours every day (broken up by fights and irritating parental intervention and meals, but still.) Whenever they start a new game I fight the urge to reach for my camera. On one hand I want to remember and, yes, maybe brag about these magical moments. On the other hand, it's not very respectful to my children to treat their games like "precious childhood stuff." Their internal world is just as valid as mine, more so perhaps since I mostly imagine scenarios for potential financial ruin where they envision themselves as intrepid pioneers. Here they are playing Little House, a favorite game these days. They both requested dresses with pockets so they could be Laura the first time she visits the town of Pepin. (She rips her pocket out filling it with rocks. It's in Little House in the Big Woods. A good story.)
They also like to be Pa and for this role they request a fiddle. At first I made them some cardboard fiddles, but Harvey complained that his wouldn't make noise and then I yelled at him for being ungrateful and then we had a fight about crafting and imagination and La La La this is how I fail hippy motherhood. Then I decided that cardboard stresses me out, one because it's never perfect and two because when I make playthings out of cardboard suddenly I have trash that needs to stay in the toy bin. So here is my new brilliant fiddle solution.
Take a sushi spoon and string it with two rubber bands. I put an extra rubber band around the top to hold the two "strings" in place. It makes noise, and when they're done playing I just take the rubber bands off and put the spoons back in the drawer. Yes, for some reason we have two wide spoons designed to spread sushi rice. I don't know why — I never purchased a sushi kit in my life, let alone two. But whatever; it works. Unlike the real life Ingalls family we're not minimalists.
Although the little house series features prominently in Harvey's imagination right now, the boys are into other books too. They had three straight mornings of playing Burt Dow Deep Water Man, strung out so long probably because I let them waste an entire box of bandaids on the project.
They likely would have played at it longer but I said I was done having cardboard boxes (Duh mom, they're BOATS) as permanent fixtures on the kitchen floor. Again with the cardboard. I'm such a kill joy.
But it don't matter too much though because any book is good for the imagination. If they don't want to act out the story they can play Mama and find something good to read to their babies.
And when that gets dull they find what I'm doing and ruin, I mean, join in with it. Here's Harvey riding on the vacuum while Zion cooks something on his play kitchen.
"Cooking" is how we describe his process for methodically grinding play-dough into the kitchen rug.
But I'm saving the best for last. Yesterday Harvey decided to play Bible Study. He had me and Zion sit on the couch and handed each of us a childrens' bible.
"Should we read the story out loud?" I asked.
"No, everyone reads for himself" he said decisively.
We looked at our books. Zion flipped the pages quietly. After a suitable amount of time Harvey looked up at us, ready to discuss.
"Let's talk about Jesus on the cross," he said. "I liked it!"
Harvey lost his nice handmade mittens from two years ago, so this winter he's been making due with store-bought-by-someone-else hand-me-downs from our neighbor, while Zion went with some fleece ones I whipped up on the sewing machine. Neither was making me smile, so my early February project was a new set of mittens.
The brown ones in the middle were a touch too big for Harvey, so I saved them for next year and knit him the green pair for now. Zion picked out the yellow/blue color combo and they fit him the first time round. Thank God, because it took me at least a day to knit each mitten, and that's provided I scale down the house cleaning to a minimal level. I like making things a lot, but my stress is moderated better by a clean house.
I made some slight changes to Zoe Mellor's pattern, knitting these in the round to avoid purling and nixing the right-side/left-side differences because seriously kids do not need sided mittens. And if I say that you know it HAS to be true, because I insist that my store-bought SOCKS have a right and left side. If they don't start out that way they GET that way.
Also, this year I braided sone mitten strings, which I highly recommend doing. All kids mittens should have strings and should be strung through jackets. Then leaving the house will be theoretically stress-free and easy. Here is Zion demonstrating his awesome new mittens on strings. You can see he is wearing his coat and ready to leave the house. Behind him you can see Harvey, who even though he said he wanted to go to the feed store and Dabblers has now removed 100% of his clothing and is lying on the furniture basking in his nakedness.
"i got no strings to hold me down," he would say. If I let him watch Disney movies.
I've mentioned recently on this blog that my children are a bit baby-crazy these days. The other night at the dinner table Harvey broke down crying and wailed, "I want another baby in our family!"
Harvey, I said, you can't wait seven minutes for pasta. I promise we'll have another baby some day, but you have no idea of the lead time involved.
In the mean time they have their baby dolls.
The baby dolls have become such a big deal this winter that I have taken to bringing them everywhere we go. I used to ask the kids if they wanted to bring a toy when we go out, but now I reflexively grab the babies and shove them in my purse. Heaven forbid we should arrive at church or Whole Foods and someone forgot that they wanted to hold their Pow Pow. That's what Harvey named his baby, "Pow Pow." Then he said, "What's your baby's name, Zion?" and Zion said "My baby Pow Pow." I can't say that surprised me.
As with other plastic toys, the babies came into our lives unbidden. Some boxes were passing through our home from Toys for Tots enroute to a friend, and one small box with a small baby accidentally slipped out where it could be found by Zion. That was the end of that - Zion NEEDED that baby doll (and after a week of very intense fighting it became clear that Harvey needed one too.) That, and a search on Amazon for "baby doll 7.5 inches" yielded twin babies with slightly different facial expressions. Though I would prefer they play with the hippy toys I sew for them, it warms my heart to see them caring for these dolls. They request empty bottles and bowls and spoons so they can feed the babies. They hand me books and ask if their babies can sit in my lap.
During the snow storm I knitted the twin sweaters you see Pow Pow and Pow Pow sporting in these photos. Harvey and Zion each picked out a color of yarn and then I spent three days stitching away at a pattern I downloaded from Ravelry. The pattern was made for an 8-inch doll so the sweaters are a touch big. I was too lazy to size down and truthfully I didn't think it would take me as long as it did. Dan says the babies can grow into them.
When I think about what I want to teach my children, there are a lot of things I would like to model. I'd like them to see me make things with my hands, to see me approach chores cheerfully, to see me pray for other people. I worry that I don't have enough time for crafting or for charity, that I spend all my time tending to the kids' needs and those of the kitchen. Yet as I worry about the things I'm not demonstrating well, this one success quietly slipped by me.
Over the past two years I have successfully modeled how to lovingly care for a child.
I mean, I guess since that's what I've been doing with 95% of my time it's good that the boys noticed. Either that or they were just born unbelievably sweet. Probobly both are a little bit true.
It turns out that the chickens aren't really fans of snow, and by this point they're pretty much done with it. Yesterday was beautiful and sunny, if not quite warm, so I encouraged them to get out and enjoy the yard (I had an ulterior motive; they haven't been laying and I though some sun and activity might restart the works). Two of the hens made the snowy traverse across the yard (pictured above) to reach the clear ground under the hemlock trees opposite their run, and once there they quite enjoyed themselves. Only when it was time to come home to roost they couldn't bring themselves to step back into the snow, and Leah had to go and carry them back across. We noticed the problem when the more timid of the hens, who never left the run, started making all kinds of noise; whether they were concerned for their friends' well-being or laughing at their predicament I can't say.
In any case, the hens aren't the only ones looking forward to spring. I ordered some seeds a few days ago and spent a couple hours this morning reading about gardens and dreaming of greenery. Then this afternoon Harvey and I planted a few seeds; I just couldn't resist.
We're nearly finished reading The Long Winter, which has been our constant companion for a little over a week now. I tell you, while our own winter obviously pales by comparison to the Dakota winter of 1880-1881, we were felt as chilled as Laura as we read about her blizzards and listened to our own little snowstorms blowing outside.
There were moments when we went outside and were surprised that it wasn't forty below here!
Right now it's nowhere near there, but warm and raining. Already late this afternoon there were a few little bare patches in the yard. It'll be a while yet before we can get at the garden, and the hens at their new grass, but our wait won't be nearly as hard as the Ingalls'!
When folks hear about our chickens, they—naturally—always want to know how many eggs we get. When they hear that, in the summer, it's three or four a day, they wonder what we do with that many eggs. While we do try and save some to give away (and hope to get more hens someday to make that even easier) the fact is it's not hard for us to use three or four eggs a day.
Aside from the baking, which can easily absorb a good half of the inflow, we do enjoy our breakfast eggs. Generally the boys and I go with either scrambled or fried—we tend to streaks of one or the other. I like my fried egg (sunny side up, of course) on toast, while Harvey prefers his directly on the plate with the toast on the side, because he can't cut it otherwise (he asks for "the dipping kind of egg", which in our household is not soft-boiled). Zion at this stage mostly just likes pieces of the white, since fried egg yolks are a little tough to grapple with by hand. I fry eggs in just a little bit of butter and keep the heat fairly low, so the whites don't get rubbery or very browned at all. Lots of salt and pepper on top at the end.
When I'm feeling fancy I whisk the eggs for scrambled in a bowl with a little bit of milk, and occasionally chives in the springtime (though Harvey's not really a fan). But you can make surprisingly good scrambled eggs just scrambling them in the pan in a good bit of butter; that's what I do when I'm making eggs on special request for a particularly persuasive child, or when we're making "eggs in a sandwich" and don't need the extra delicacy the milk brings. I like mine with cheese (American, natch), Harvey takes a half with no cheese, and Zion just want the egg part with untoasted bread on the side. It all works out well since our toaster can only manage three slices at a time, so I don't know what we're going to do in a couple months as the little one's eating advances. I also try and get by with only scrambling three eggs for the three of us, but already that's pushing at the edge of early morning starvation.
When there's leftover black beans I do enjoy making myself a breakfast burrito, a taste which no one else yet seems to share. One scrambled egg is enough, though two is a possibility as well, on top of some cream cheese spread on a tortilla; then the beans, reheated, and some salsa. The cream cheese softens wonderfully and it all tastes oh-so-wholesome and filling.
We only very occasionally do omelets, mostly as a special treat for Leah to entice her to join us for breakfast (the reason she's absent from all the deliciousness above is because she likes to get her chores done in the morning, and also because she tends to breakfast on soup or heaven-knows what else). Hard-boiled eggs are only if anyone wants to make egg salad immediately following, which in practice is only ever for summer picnics (and it turns out to be pretty hard to shell really fresh eggs that have been hard-boiled). Poached and soft-boiled are both awaiting exploration at a later date.
So when I see chicken-keeping coffee-table books (yes, that is a thing) with fully a third of their pages taken up with exotic egg recipes designed to deal with an expected surplus, I wonder if the authors are missing something (like breakfast, and dessert too). We don't have any problems in that direction here.
February means snow and rain, longer days and stronger sun, boys getting spring fever before its time. Plants, animals, and people here are all just almost bursting with desire to get going the business of spring.
I've always felt February vacation was kind of a waste. I heard a theory for the first time this year that it's meant to give everyone a chance to work through their various illnesses in private without further epidemics in the school buildings; more likely to allow folks who can manage it to get a summer preview in Acapulco (yes, people do still go there). I'd rather work at school through February when there's nothing else useful to do and have the week off in March or June, myself, but they rarely ask my opinion of such things.
The boys really are ready to explode outside. They're playing together really well the last few weeks—sometimes we don't need to interact with them for as long as 15 minutes! But often their play involves running around the house shouting at the top of their lungs, and optionally banging things; activities, in other words, that would be much better conducted out-of-doors. As yet it's still a bit too cold and snowy and wet for that (especially since Harvey often declines to make any clothes part of his imaginative games), but I recognize their energy and resist the urge to shush them or, alternately, to pick them up and toss them out. In just a few weeks that'll be an option!
*(1 John 3:23) Yeah, I know it's a little lame to use a scriptural reference as a title if it needs citing. I was really strapped for title ideas. Oh well, on to the post.
Yesterday Zion correctly identified Jesus in a book he hasn't seen before. "Dedus!" is what it sounded like when he pointed to the man with the halo and the outstretched hand. I felt a little surprised and amazed that he's been paying attention all this time while I smothered Harvey with religious information. And also a little fearful. We can't go back now. Now that he knows about Jesus he has the ability to reject Jesus.
Though that idea (does it have a formal name?) that only those who hear the Gospel will be judged for rejecting it — well, it's kind of silly. And impossible in the information age. And not supported by Romans 1:18-20, but I'm sure there's argument within the bible if someone wants to disagree with me.
At any rate, we're here now. There's no turning back. Both my kids now recognize Jesus, I'd better not give him a bad rap.
While I'm bragging about my angelic children, here's a sampling of some of the darling things Harvey has said this week:
"Jesus lives in heaven and in my heart. I know how he do's that. There are two Jesuses... wait, no.... I don't know how he do's that."
"I need you to play with us in the living room. Right now we're playing Seedling."
Me: "Harvey, did you and Zion eat all the cookies?"
Harvey: "They were so beautiful, we had to put them in our mouthes."
"No! Mama! We were having so much fun without you!"
I took advantage of a rainy day off yesterday to make marshmallows for the first time. I used this recipe from Alton Brown, which worked wonderfully except that the sugar mixture never got anywhere near 240°F, stalling out around 220°F. Worked anyways. Also, warm marshmallow is the stickiest substance I have ever worked with. Piping the mini marshmallows was something of a trial and I was really concerned I was going to end up like the non-Bartholomew characters in Bartholomew and the Oobleck.
Aside from the pint of minis pictured above (and several more that never made it into the jar) we also made about two quarts of big square marshmallows, some of which were subsequently dipped in chocolate. I wanted to take a picture of the chocolate ones for you, but the lighting was never right for a proper food-blog-type photo. Oh well, those things are totally unrealistic anyways; real cooking looks more like this:
And I'm not even going to show you the shots I took of the sink! But never mind the mess, the marshmallows are delicious and we'll definitely be making more another day.