There's a lot of food in our house. Between the leftovers we brought home from Christmas dinner and the bounty from pot-luck parties yesterday and New Years Eve our range of options is wide. Maybe not quite as bountiful as the week after Lijah's birth, but not so far off from that! The difference is that this time we made at least some of the cornucopia, but with the work of cooking long done that doesn't make any difference now: we can still open the fridge and choose between turkey, ham, two kinds of mac-and-cheese, and tortellini, to saynothing of a variety of appetizers and the sides that go with all those main dishes. Also pancakes, waffles, muffins, sausages, and donuts, one of the pot-lucks having been a brunch. There are some cookies too.
The bounty seems like just another marker of vacation. We haven't needed to plan meals for the past several days, just like we've been off the rest of our regular schedule. But it'll soon all be gone—we'll either eat it or it will go bad!—and we'll be shopping and cooking again. Just as well; today marks the end of vacation in all the other ways (though we're still enjoying one more week with cousin Nisia!). The great thing about vacations is how great they are both coming and going!
We had thoughts at the beginning of this week of getting back to routine, but it didn't entirely happen. See, Nisia—the boys' only first cousin—was still in town. Her Christmas visit this year marked the first time we saw her in a year and a half, and there's no way we could go about our regular school schedule with her around. And around she was! When someone comes to visit all the way from Africa you need to spend all the time with them you can. She capped off the visit with a sleepover here last night. Tomorrow she's headed back home to Dakar, but we have assurances it won't be quite so long before we see her—and her parents, naturally!—again.
To mark her departure we took down our Christmas tree this afternoon. A day ahead of liturgical schedule, sure, but it seemed appropriate. We also wanted to get it out of the way before we had folks over this evening. Harvey and Zion were ok with it going away, but Lijah found that he missed it when he came downstairs and saw the empty space (and all the needles swept up). Sure, he knew the cleanup was happening—even took down a couple ornaments himself—but the sight of the empty corner still made him a little upset.
To be honest, that wasn't the only thing that made him upset this evening. Maybe he's missing his cousin already. He's certainly missing the sleep and quiet time that he didn't get when he and his brothers were playing with her every day! Good thing it's the weekend—quiet day tomorrow, with no vacation to worry about. Maybe we can even do some school on Monday.
I'm not sure, but it feels like in past winters the hens pretty much never went out at all. With the dark mornings I never felt like I had to let them out early, like I do in the summer; failing that prompt I pretty much kept them shut up all the time. With nine of them sharing the space now, though, I feel like I want them to get as much time in the open as they can, at least when there's grass showing—as there was this morning. With snow in the afternoon's forecast I was extra motivated to get them their pecking time before all the good pecking was buried. Only, the snow came a little early, and it fell fast.
I was distracted by moving around all the furniture in the house—a perfect snow day activity!—so I didn't think of the hens at all until nap time (2:30 these days, at our house). When I went out to check on them I found four inches of snow on the ground, two hens in their run, and seven cuddled up under the shed. It's dry and cozy under there, with just a chicken's-height of head-room, so it's their favorite place to hang out in inclement weather. Except, as I knew and they did not, the weather was going to get worse before it got better and I was worried they'd get stuck for the rest of the winter! So I had to get them out.
It wasn't easy; there's no way I can drive them out from under, even with a long stick (I did try), and they showed absolutely no inclination to put even a single claw out into the snow. So I trampled down a pretty good area out in front of the shed—the snow was so light I could get right down to grass pretty easily, and tossed out some scratch. Slowly, slowly a couple of the braver young hens poked their heads out. I threw a little more scratch a little farther away and waited. It took maybe five minutes, but eventually they were all out from under and far enough away from the shed that I could dart in behind them. Then I mercilessly drove them through the snow back to their coop.
Actually, I didn't need to drive them far: once they were actually in the snow they knew that home, where their food and water and nesting boxes are, was a better bet then back under the shed. But it was slow going. They ignored the path I'd tried to make for them and picked their way along the fence, as pictured above; with each step they hesitated, clearly reluctant to put a foot back down into the cold and wet. The older hens, who lived through the terrible winter a couple years ago, were the most indignant about it.
Oh well, sorry girls: the rest of the inhabitants of this household love snow, so we'll be wishing for lots more of it this winter!
We're still not back to our regular schedule—snow delayed Nelly and Nisia's flight out for a couple days, so we abandoned school work to go sledding with them. But the holidays are undeniably over, so it's past time to say a few words about how they went. For future reference.
We were a little distracted and scattered around the present preparation this year—most of us, anyways. After we got home from church at 10:00—from cleaning up and locking up, at a service where we also opened the doors and set up—I got to work on presents, as seems to be my tradition. New this year, Harvey joined me! The ship he was making for Zion wasn't done, so he wanted to put in some time to show he really does care.
Never mind how many things were unfinished, Christmas morning saw delight all around.
Of course, no one could be as delighted as Lijah after he got a gun and a giant candy cane in his stocking.
There were also lots of legos, the first batch of which had to be put together before breakfast.
After we ran out of presents for Lijah to open we packed up what we had left and headed over to Lexington. They had a few more there.
We spent a lovely relaxing day leisurely opening presents—the kids needed to pause and play with each new one extensively—and eating constantly. (We did take a little walk in the middle to keep from dying.) It was nice to get to spend Christmas with the Africa Archibalds for the first time in a few years.
The day after Christmas we celebrated Hanukah with the Bernsteins. It was also charmingly relaxed, as pictured previously. There were more legos, and more weapons for Lijah, so it was a success. Harvey handled the dreidel work with aplomb.
We hadn't planned anything for New Years Eve, but when friends asked us about it we told them they should just come over. Then we said the same thing to more friends, and some relatives. So we ended up with quite a few people and had a very festive evening—one which ended before 10:00, which was great. And some of the guests even helped to clean up, which meant we started the new year well-rested in a clean house. Expect great things from us in 2017!
Clean as it was on 1/1, we (which is to say Leah) put in some more serious cleaning time in advance of 1/2, when we threw a brunch party for relatives who had never visited us before—and one of whom cleans other people's houses as a hobby. There was some tension leading up to the event, but in the event it was fun and easy, and seeing nine Archibald cousins (well, second cousins... and some of them are DiBellas) running around was a great way to spend the bonus federal holiday day.
Then we just had a week of hanging out with Nisia and Nelly, which was super fun. And now it's now!
Before we said goodbye to Nisia and before all the snow melted (both today) we went sledding.
The light and fluffy snow of Saturday evening was much-stomped by Sunday sledders, so when he saw the hill Harvey was so discouraged he was about ready to head home. But I knew that some grass and leaves sticking up wouldn't slow us down any, because packed, sun-melted snow at 15 American degrees is about the fastest surface you could hope for. And so it proved.
Lijah stayed home with Grandma (and Cindy—thanks for the entertainment!) so I was able to concentrate on encouraging the bigger kids. And they all did great! Zion and Nisia stuck to the snow tubes (and the plastic toboggan with me), and took dozens of delighted runs down the big hill. They complained some about the walk up, but kept at it nevertheless. Harvey was fearless on both the plastic toboggan and the real one, which he got back on even after a ferocious crash into the stone wall at the bottom of the hill that left him with a scrape on his chin and a couple of sore teeth. If only we had been out after lunch instead of before it, we might have been there three hours instead of just one and a half.
Of course, I did some sledding too, and made it through the gap in the stone wall into the lower portion of the field by myself on the toboggan and with Zion on the plastic sled. I was pretty impressed with myself... I've still got it! Even Nelly took one run down, on a snowtube—she has video evidence if you don't believe it.
Nisia won't be back again til summer, but we hope the snow puts in another appearance—we had such a good time we'd hate for that to be our only sledding of the season!
We celebrated Martin Luther King day in song this morning. With four MLK- and civil-rights-related songs, we were able to think about a few of the important aspects of Kings life and of the broader movement. (We also sang "All the Little Fish", because of overwhelming demand from the audience.) That was the extent of our lessons today—I planned to do a little more, but then we were invited on an indoor sports date, so we lost the rest of our school time. But that's fine: I love Dr. King and am always excited to celebrate his day, but we really need to talk about civil rights every day, not just one Monday in January. So we'll do a little more more tomorrow.
Generally, our curriculum is pretty heavy on anti-racist, anti-colonialist, anti-dominant-power narratives anyhow. We love the Little House books, but we always make sure to talk about how Laura's descriptions of the Indians are totally a product of the prejudices of her day. Our Thanksgiving lessons give equal time to the perspectives of the Wampanoag people. And don't get me started on Columbus! We haven't talked much yet about the specifics of the African American experience, but you can bet what we have done so far hasn't been the slightest bit equivocal about the awfulness of the reality of slavery and segregation, or the fact that as white folks we still have lots to do to even begin to make amends and make things right.
Which is to say, my thoughts from 12 years ago still stand. Good heavens, we've been blogging a long time.
On Saturday evening the bigger boys and I accepted a friend's invitation to check out a West Virginia-themed event at a local church. Mountain music! Unhealthy food! How could we resist?! The reason for the theming was that the the church is sending a mission crew down that way and needed to raise funds, so naturally I expected to have to pay a couple dollars. But even with the best will in the world I wasn't ready to manage the $20 suggested donation just to get in the door. Isn't the cost of living a lot lower down there? 10$ should be fine. Once inside, we enjoyed some educational material about Appalachian poverty, kids crafts and coloring pages, a free cupcake from an everyone's-a-winner cakewalk (Zion didn't even participate and he still got a cupcake). And some good music, as pictured somewhere below.
Of course, just the cupcakes weren't enough food for the boys—never mind that they'd already eaten what I had presumed to be supper—so I splurged on a $6 kids dinner plate split between the three of us: a little pulled pork sandwich and a giant brownie. I also helped myself to some coleslaw, which was out on the table to go on top of the West Virgina-style hot dogs, but I think that was ok because we were meant to have a side anyway. Maybe? The young person manning the table was perhaps not entirely clear on the procedures. He also forgot to charge us—really, to record the charge on the piece of paper all the festival-goers had to carry around to record their purchases—so we could have eaten for free, but I'm an honest type (at least when there's no coleslaw on a table in front of me) so when the time came to "check out" I told them about the dinner and handed over my $6.
So $16 dollars for all the thrills of a fair at a suburban New England church. It may sound like I'm making fun—OK, I probably am, a little bit—but really, we love church fairs. And the money goes to a good cause, and it's probably not all that much compared to other entertainment options available these days. We just don't usually pay for entertainment, so it stings a bit when we have to. (At least we went in this time...)
And we had to again yesterday, when (different) friends invited us out to free play time at an indoor sports place in Tyngsboro. All three boys had a great time running around with lots of other kids and balls, sticks, riding toys, tunnels, and parachutes (and me—I did lots of running around too). It turns out Zion is pretty good at floor hockey!
It was all lovely, except that we had to pay $13 for two hours of fun. And then we had to clean up all the balls and toys so the soccer kids could come in and use the field! Any bad taste that detail might have left, though, was totally obviated when the woman who was running the place offered a packet of fruit snacks to all the kids who helped clean up. So the only issue was that I don't feel like I can be handing out that kind of money every day. Especially not two days in a row! Is that a crazy expectation these days?
It may be, but at least this morning the weather was fine so we got in a lovely long adventure in, totally free—well, besides the ice cream we bought. But that feels more worthwhile! Expect more of that story tomorrow.
The forecast yesterday morning called for rain starting in the afternoon and continuing through the next day, but the sky outside was shining blue and the air mild. Just the weather you want for a winter cycling adventure! So after a nominal amount of schoolwork the boys and I headed out into the wide world. Our ultimate goals were to visit friends' almost-new-house (pending inspection) and buy some Bedford Farms ice cream for a celebratory almost-new-house dinner. Of course there were lots of adventurous stops on the way—and, as is our habit, a picnic lunch.
That was at Fawn Lake, our first destination, which we reached after two and a half miles of riding on the sticky-mud-over-frozen-gravel surface of the Narrow Gauge Rail Trail. After lunch we explored along the shore, with Harvey and Zion mostly interested in finding a place to get out onto the ice. We don't need the news to tell us about the dangers of possible thin ice: it was plenty apparent most spots along the shore, with water spurting up from cracks if you so much as touched it. Of course, the danger there was only wet feet—still, something we wanted to avoid with miles to go before our journey was through.
With Harvey leading the charge we headed along a narrow path fringed by beaver-downed trees (all the remaining trees have collars of hardware cloth to keep them unchewed and upright). Towards the south end of the pond, in the shadow of the trees, we found an area where the ice was solid right up to the shore. There was even a hockey goal out there as a testament to the solidity of the surface. Harvey and Zion were delighted and headed right out to it; I stayed closer to shore with Lijah who, since our skating trip in December, wants nothing at all to do with ice.
The bigger boys could have stayed all day, but after promising them a return trip another day I got everyone packed up to head back out on the road. Well, not the road, exactly, since the next part of our expedition was to pioneer a route through the woods in the direction of our friends' house (almost-new). There were plenty of paths, all visible on the map; the only questions were a) which one would actually get us where we wanted to go and b) which one were we currently on. Neither was ever really clear. But the exploring was delightful all by itself, with twisty singletrack up and down hills that challenged Harvey and I on both ascents and descents.
Our cargo bike is wonderful, but it's not the most sure-footed off-road ride; and worst of all it has terrible ground clearance. Luckily Zion and Lijah were happy to run in the woods for those segments where I had to lift it over logs every twenty feet. We had maybe a half mile of that, and then just a little more on the road til we reached the house. The boys were disappointed we couldn't go in—not even in the yard—so we had a little discussion about what it takes to close a home sale. And we sure hope the closing goes well! It's always nice to have more friends in town, and nice for friends to go from 10 miles away to 3 1/2, especially when we can do three of those miles off-road (though to be honest, where they live now we can do 9 3/4 of the ten miles off-road, thanks to fortunate siting of the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway... but that's just a coincidence!).
After gazing at the house from the side of the street, we turned towards home—now riding along the not-entirely-comfortable shoulder of Rt 4. But the car noises and exhaust was bearable knowing that where the road gets into town a prize awaited!
All in all it was a wonderful outing, and we were more than ready to get home, right on schedule for nap time.
Last week a friend from church emailed Leah and me, together with a couple other folks from the community, to ask about homeschooling. She has a preschooler and is planning ahead. Leah wrote right back with some practical tips on writing and submitting a home education plan, getting hooked up with AHEM, and surviving 14 to 18 hours a day with your child without a break. I haven't said anything; nothing really came to mind. No more did it last week when a couple of moms at that church fair showed some interest—"what possessed you to start homeschooling?" one of them asked, before clarifying that maybe "possessed" wasn't the word she was looking for.
"I don't know," I answered. "I guess I just like hanging out with my kids?"
I'm not at my theoretical or philosophical best these days. I think the results of the election were kind of a shock to my system, and in reaction I can only conceive of keeping my head down and living the kind of life that seems good to me. Maybe trying to convince other people of things is always doomed to failure and strife.
That said, I do really think homeschooling is a fine idea. And people are interested in it; one of the moms at the fair said she thought about it for her kids at least once every year, when September rolled around and they were crushed by the idea of going back to school. But I don't really know what to say from an advocacy point of view—no more do I have any ideas about practical advice to offer to families interested in trying out the homeschool lifestyle. What it really comes down to, I think, is simple but maybe pretty radical change in the way we think about our relationship to kids and their relationship to acquiring information.
It's kind of like what Bike Snob said once about converting a mountain bike to a commuter. Someone asked him about it. I paraphrase because there's no way I'm going to search that blog, and maybe it was in one of his books, but basically his answer was: "ride it to work." How do you start homeschooling? Don't send your kids to school, and let them learn at home instead. Done!
I'm aware that that's not the universal model. Our public library carries Practical Homeschooling, a magazine full of curriculum reviews, guides to creating schedules that work, and fear-mongering about public school education. To the editors there homeschooling is serious business and hard work, but also something that can be solved by the application of existing methods (once you find the right one for your family). Tips are absolutely central to that mode of operation. But I don't have the energy for that, and if I wanted my kids to have to adapt to curriculum—or have it adapted to them—I'd send them to school where at least someone else would be doing all that work.
So maybe I need to come up with some snappy answers to help people who want to homeschool our way understand... and relax. If people are going to be asking me anyway. I've ordered some books on the subject; check back in a couple weeks.
Yesterday morning everybody was up around 7:00 and we had our pancake breakfast done with before 8:00, leaving us with plenty of time for cleaning jobs before we went out to the bus stop. It's been a while since the morning has felt so spacious, but the winter's drawing on and that old sun is coming up earlier and earlier. Evenings have felt luxuriously late for a while now; yesterday the boys were out until 5:30 and it was still just dusky when they came in.
The only problem with thinking about spring now is that we've barely had a winter! It hasn't been below freezing for several days, and the boys have completely forgotten about dressing warmly when they go outside. It's nice that they can just head out the door; less so when it does cool down some and we have to listen to them complaining that they're chilly when there isn't anything we can do about it! There's a little cold in the forecast the next couple days, and maybe even some snow. I do hope we get some more: one day of sledding in a winter just isn't enough!
I didn't really take any pictures this past week, so instead of moments from the week I'd like to present a few highlight moments from 2016. I looked back though all the pictures we posted on this blog in the last year, and picked my favorites—either for aesthetic reasons or because of how much fun the moment was (usually a mixture of both). I limited myself to three photos for each month, which was really tricky for some months. For others—July and November—the pickings were surprisingly slim. I think it's all pretty representative of the best parts of our year. Take a look!
The last couple days it seems inappropriate to post anything not related to the ongoing disaster that is our new presidential administration. I've been staying up late reading news and analysis and getting myself too worked up to sleep; we're going to have to start protesting so I can work of some of the rage. And also get out in the woods.
On Saturday the whole family snuck a way for a short hike up by the old reservoir. We were a little late for the morning's sunshine, but even under clouds it was lovely to be out all together. Lijah especially appreciated having Mama along.
I was surprised to see that, despite the crazy warm weather, the pond was still completely iced over. Unfortunately the ice was thin and totally rotten around the edges, leaving no way for us to get out on it. The boys still tried out every possible spot just to be sure.
Rascal is less cautious; he found a couple spots to "swim", and as we reached the end of our circumnavigation finally discovered a solid-enough spot to get onto the ice. Any thoughts we might of had about following him were dashed when he broke through on his way back to shore. We laughed; I don't think he minded.
It was lovely to be out getting fresh air and exercise. We'll have to do it again soon; when we're not downtown holding signs.
As promised, we went protesting yesterday. There won't be any kids at the midweek events unless the homeschoolers pick up the slack!
We drove to Arlington and walked in to the train station. We left home early enough that there was plenty of time to stop and check out the new ice on Alewife Brook (among many other diversions).
The train ride itself was delightful, and we were happy to spend most of it chatting with someone we know from church. Looking around at the thin Red Line crowd I wondered if anyone else was going protesting... it turns out that, no, they weren't. This was a smaller event than what we saw over the weekend.
But that's good: we wouldn't want to be overwhelmed on our first time out. The bigger boys got right to work making signs (the organizer had white posterboard available to supplement our cut-up boxes!), while Lijah watched and shivered. Not that he wasn't willing—but he only managed to draw a couple lines before his hands got too cold and had to go back in his pockets.
I missed getting a photo of Zion's beautiful abstract sign, completely colored on both sides, but here's Harvey's carefully staged protest display:
The sign was kind of a collaborative effort. The boys were having too much fun this morning to pay attention as I tried to tell them what we were going to do, so I wasn't surprised when Harvey said, in response some remark I made about the horrors of certain Executive Orders, "I don't really care about that." I told him he was a generally caring person, and would probably object to some of the specific implementations—he agreed. I also helped him spell "immigrants", so the I-turned-into-an-A towards the end is entirely my fault. It's hard to spell long words out loud while also intermittently chanting! Climbing up on the subway vent above everyone's head and making it look like his dog was just finishing up the sign was all Harvey, and he got an appropriate amount of attention for his efforts.
While it took the boys a fair amount of time to warm up to the act of protesting—no pun intended, but it was pretty cold!—they were totally unfazed by the city. There was lots to notice and remark on, and we would have been glad to explore more if we hadn't felt like we might freeze to death.
On the ride home I took a video of the bigger boys chanting "No Hate! No Fear! Refugees are welcome here!" It is kind of catchy. They say they enjoyed the outing and are excited to go to another protest. That's good: I think someone should be protesting every day. Maybe the next one we do will be bigger. A little rest first, though: protesting is hard work!