Here are some of the our top moments and images from 2019. 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 hard, because there were so many good moments. But you have to have some standards. Here's to lots more wonderful moments in 2020!
Our holiday season began back on December 19, when we hosted a solstice party for our homeschool coop friends. A little early, sure, but with the month's schedule full of events we needed to get it in when we could. And if you ask me it was a good day to do it since it was the coldest day of the winter so far (and since)—though some of the guests questioned why the first half of the gathering was a walk in the woods. I said that was the way to experience the dying of the year. Plus, it made our fire all the more welcome!
With the fire roaring I read everybody a solstice story, and then most of the kids ran inside as quick as they could and played in the warm house the rest of the time. That's fine, playing inside is also a traditional midwinter activity—moreso that marshmallows, probably, which is the only thing that kept any of the kids outside.
On the solstice proper we attended a wonderful caroling party bursting with Christmastime cheer and lots of good food (I was also bursting by the time we headed home!). We were among the first to arrive and also the first to depart, due to Lijah's tiredness; but that was fine because it left the rest of us, who did not fall asleep in the car, plenty of time to have our real solstice fire, the one in the actual dark. I promised the boys that they could stay up and keep the fire going all night or for fifteen minutes, whichever came first. As much as we all wanted to stay out longer, that was about right.
I wanted to go to the grocery store this morning. That was the plan, and it was a good plan, except for one thing: a little before we left I realized that I have no money to buy groceries, and no gas in the car, and no money to buy gas. So maybe a bad plan after all. The reason I don't have any money is that my wallet was stolen back on December 27, by a five-year-old. Of course, I didn't realize right away that it had been taken; I assumed I just misplaced it somewhere around the house. After a day or two I started to get nervous when I couldn't find it, then just when my nervousness started to reach a point where I was maybe thinking of doing something about it, I got a text with the following message:
Hey, I just got a call from my mom that she found your wallet at her house where [the child in question] was playing. I can almost guarantee she took it and put it in her pocket. I will be talking to her and letting her know she’s in big trouble.
Well, that answers that! So then I wasn't worried at all. But it turns out that I do need access to money from time to time—maybe less than some other people, but still at least once a week. And then I keep being surprised by the lack. Like, I could have gotten some cash from Leah this morning if I had thought about it. Now we're all set for shopping tomorrow. And I should have my wallet back by Friday at the latest. All in all, I think the story is easily worth a week without a debit card!
For our solstice party, and for our family reading in general, I went looking in the library for a good topical picture book. You know, there are tons of books about Christmas—you can read about Christmas from every possible perspective—but not so much the winter solstice. Last year we read The Winter Solstice, by Ellen Jackson, which is a fine book... but not a story particularly. Nor is it particularly poetic, which seems like a shame given the poetry natural to the season. But this year, when I checked in with Ms. Elaine at the Children's desk she was delighted to offer me a brand new book, which hadn't even made it to the shelves yet: The Shortest Day.
It's by Susan Cooper, the author of the "Dark Is Rising" series, and illustrated by Carson Ellis, and it's fantastic. Cooper's poetry doesn't come from careful word choice but from connecting with the power of the season, which is just what I was looking for a ceremonial read-aloud. And Ellis's watercolor illustrations are a great mix of down-to-earth realism and mythic fantasy—they made me think of a modern children's book version of William Blake. (She's also the author of a pair of picture books that I recommend highly: Du Iz Tak? and Home.)
Of course, I'd love it if some other good writers stepped up to tackle solstice stories. I mean, the magic! As it is, though, the people who care enough aren't very good writers and don't have access to real editors—there's a self-published book about the eight quarter and cross-quarter days at the library, but it's cringeingly awful. But at least now there's one winter solstice book. Maybe I'll buy it for next year.
I've written about our hens' winter cessation of egg production before, more than once, and I almost did again about a month ago. But this year the drought didn't last long, and it's even better to write about the return of home-grown eggs. We've had six already, all from the young hens—which I know because they never managed to secure a place in the henhouse for themselves and so laid them on the ground in what was meant to be the chick house annex, where they're still sleeping. Or were, until I closed it off: I can't be crawling in there every day looking for eggs. We have nesting boxes for that! We'll see if being denied any other option will get them sorted out.
Sadly, we now have only three young hens: one of them disappeared just before the new year. There's been a very bold coyote around, one that we're calling a wolf, because it's so big. I noticed the hen was gone when I went to let them out in the morning—they had been putting themselves to bed—and though I looked all around I couldn't find any trace of her. I can't imagine anything could take a hen on snowy ground without leaving remains, but a 50-plus pound wolf (if I were to take a guess!) would probably have as good a shot as anything. We're sad—the missing hen even had a name, thanks to Harvey's friend Jack. Penguin, you'll be missed—and so will your eggs.
Surprise update, January 10: Penguin has been found! A neighbor from the next street over came to tell us that she had a hen that had been living in her side yard—she'd been feeding it for the past week or so. So we went and got her... not without a struggle, since she clearly thought she'd found a new home. Now she's back where she belongs, and we're going to keep her—and all the hens—locked up for a couple days until she gets settled in again.
My parents traditionally observe New Years Day with a a visit to the beach at Plum Island. We've never gone with them before, but this year it was one of not so many chances for the boys to see their cousins, so we made it happen. It's not like it's ever too much of a hardship to visit a beach!
Because we can get out of the house quicker than some other people we made it up to Newburyport with over half an hour to spare, so we stopped at the Audobon visitor center at Joppa Flats. I'd never been in before—it's fantastic! We got to look through telescopes, play with shells and learn about birds, plus Lijah and I did some arts and crafts together. And there was a gift shop!
Then after a quick lunch in the back of the car it was off to the beach! It was pretty mild when we were leaving home, but with the breeze the beach wasn't mild at all—in fact it felt downright arctic. So I was dismayed to see that Lijah hadn't actually brought a coat, and we had a little lesson on the difference between coats and sweatshirts. Luckily, running with cousins is a warming activity so he survived. We took a nice long walk on the beach and admired the moderate waves. As cold as it was, many of us stayed comfortably away from the water.
But not everyone.
Harvey and Zion each got pretty damp, actually. But the wind dried them off very nicely as the walk went on! After they were done teasing the water the cousins enjoyed collecting driftwood and just hanging out together. It was a lovely time.
Then we finished up the afternoon by driving to Cambridge to go out to eat at a fish restaurant. Maybe we could have found one in Newburyport, but Grandpa had stayed back home in Middlesex County—he was nursing a cold—and he's the one with the money, so we had to find him before we could have dinner. All in all, New Years Day felt very well celebrated, and I'm glad we got to be part of the fun.
I'm not a fan of driving. As much as possible, I like to bike or walk—or failing that, just skip trips to places that are too far away. I don't take it to extremes: we use the car plenty, to go shopping, to go on homeschool outings, to see farther-away friends. But it's generally a priority to minimize our fossil-fueled miles. Of course, sometimes there are other priorities in life. Like playing Pokemon.
On Saturday, Harvey and I drove an hour and a half north to Rochester, New Hampshire, for a League Cup. Then we had to come home too. That felt like a lot of driving, so we figured we might take is easy Sunday. But then we didn't—we went to a League Challenge in Worcester that entailed another two hours, round trip. Five hours of driving in a weekend might not seem like anything at all if you're from Oklahoma or Montana, but it sure was a lot to us!
Of course, it wasn't all bad. If you discount the environmental impact, the cost of the gas, and the wear and tear on our lovely minivan (which with over 200,000 miles—mostly before us!—is nearing the end of its life), we had a great time road tripping together. We listened to music, we talked, and we sang. On the way home last night we enjoyed the sight of the giant, two-days-past-full moon rising in front of us. And when we were far from home we got to play cards with some great people that we can only see by driving all that way. So maybe it's worth it.
(I only wish I had remembered to fill the tank in New Hampshire, even though it wasn't even half-empty—they've got some cheap gas up there!)
It's been strangely warm around here lately. Very pleasant considered out of context, but hard for me to enjoy because of my existential dread around our changing climate. Also, I like cold and snow! And ice too. So before it warmed up last weekend we took a hike somewhere where I knew we could find ice to play on, and so we did.
Not all the ponds were frozen: even before it got warm it wasn't super cold. But the Old Reservoir in Bedford has just tiny inflow and outflow, and it's completely sheltered by hills and trees, so it freezes beautifully. Plus it's in the middle of a delightfully varied and hilly town forest, so getting to the pond is almost as much fun as playing on it. The boys were minutemen, and shot me about 800 times on the hike in (then I snuck around behind their last ambush and gave it to em good!). But when we got to the ice, martial valor was forgotten. We played some stick hockey, we drew in the thin layer of snow, and of course we slid. I prefer my feet for the sliding, but some of us can commit even more fully.
Because we expected that the ice would be going soon we made the most of it, and walked the whole length of the pond. That should hold our winter exploration longing for a little while... but I sure do hope it gets cold again soon!
Martin Luther King day is immensely important, but there are challenges around observing it with kids. With my own white boys, I want to help them understand the systematic racism that's been part of the history of our country, and how it continues to affect people now, without reducing the Black experience entirely to one of persecution. In the other direction, no more do I want to make Dr. King's legacy into a feel-good story about the power of love and positive thinking—the kind of message that lets spokespeople for the current president claim King would have opposed the impeachment effort as dangerous and divisive. Even avoiding those two extremes, any talk about non-violent resistance has to be balanced with the reality that non-violence is really hard, and that sometimes it feels like, to oppose oppression, violence should be the answer. Those are the things I'm talking about with my 10-, 8-, and 5-year-old.
I also read Martin's Big Words to my Kids Church class yesterday, and got a few different reactions. One boy, who's black, told me he didn't like the story because it's scary. Another, biracial, said it was boring because he's heard it a million times—"but there's a cool part when his house gets bombed!" About half of the kids had already heard the book in school, which seems good. But how many third-grade classrooms are equipped to handle the nuances the discussion requires?!
I wasn't sure how we were going to spend our Martin Luther King Day yesterday. I didn't have work, so I got to spend the rare Monday with the boys; but there was also no school, so I expected that they'd probably be playing with school-going friends. So we left our schedule wide open. As it turns out, all the school-goers made sure that they had every minute programmed so after a peaceful morning of games and historical study, we were all ready when homeschooled friends invited us to join them for some sledding.
There's not a ton of snow but it was plenty to give us a few good runs down the hill. That might have been it, but then someone had the idea to run a race. So we stomped out a finish line, then a start line past which nobody was allowed to push, then the race was on! I forget who won that first one, but it didn't matter because it was followed by another, then another, then another... A sixty-second timer to get back to the start line kept everyone moving briskly up the hill as well as down. And there were enough races that each of the five kids and two dads had a chance to take a win or two (of course, I took lots more than two). As seen above, Lijah was a full participant—at least, until he face-planted with a 13-year-old on top of him. Then he went inside. But we persisted! After the races ended we tried some group challenges, and were very proud to get all five of the remaining sledders first on one snow-tube and then on the toboggan.
Then when we finally called it a day there was hot chocolate with whipped cream waiting inside. Pretty good day!
The boys have been asking for squash soup for, like, a week. Squash soup and garlic biscuits, to be precise. But there were some snags in making it happen: most notably, the fact that we didn't have any squash. After four or five years of great squash crops we had a complete failure this past summer. Animals ate all the initial seedlings, then I wasn't able to get replacements in until much too late, so despite some healthy-looking vines at the end of the season only a single squash was able to reach maturity. Naturally we ate it a long time ago, along with all the ones I bought at the farmers market to compensate. So the centerpiece of this evening's soup had to come from Whole Foods, and sadly it wasn't that good. Not terrible, mind you—it's a butternut squash, how much could go wrong? But it wasn't bursting with flavor, even well-roasted, and it lost out to the celery in the final taste profile. So sad.
It's the time of year when we're starting to think of the new farming season. This year I'm teaming up with my friend Angel: she's going to order and start all the greens and things, and I'm going to do tomatoes and peppers. This is catering to our core competencies, and I expect it will make both our gardens stronger. After the dinner this evening I think I'll add winter squash to the list of things I start indoors, just to be on the safe side in case we get a repeat attack from the critters. Because you know we need our squash!
There are lots of places near us that are best explored in cold weather. Or only explored! One of our favorites is the abandoned cranberry bogs just around the corner from our house. The terrain back there is so swampy that even though I've gone back there lots of times I don't have a clear idea of how it all links up, so there are still surprises, and last week we discovered a quick way from our usual path into the bogs. Only the ice was terrible so we didn't risk it very far. After two or three real cold days, yesterday we were ready for another shot!
The ice was still a little nerve-racking, especially the stretches where the snow had melted into slush and then sort of refrozen atop the ice, leaving a strange textured surface where you'd be sliding for three steps and then suddenly sink ankle-deep. While we held onto the intellectual belief that there was strong ice under the weird snow, it was still startling to have the surface give way beneath our feet. But out in the middle of the bogs, the strong sun made the ice smooth and slippery and perfect for all sorts of fun.
Today we ventured out on a homeschool co-op hike. Despite some early interest it ended up just being us and the hosts, but that was ok: they were excited to show off their woods and the little group—just five kids and two adults—felt easy and relaxed. And their woods were worth showing off! There was little ice rink, where neighbors had dammed a stream to make a spot where you can skate around paths through the trees, with Christmas lights hung between them (I want to go back at night... it must look so magical!). There was a playground with fun climbing features made out of logs and tires. And there were big hills in between the marshy spots.
But the highlight of the outing was our last stop, on the shore of the Sudbury River. The river was frozen all the way across—and while we didn't venture out of the little cove where the path left us, there was plenty of good ice to play on. Because the river had been higher when it first froze by the bank there was even a pretty good slope of ice that the kids had fun penguin-sliding down, and when they got tired of that we played soccer with chunks of ice for way longer than I would have expected the kids to last (Lijah's breakdown came only after I said it was time to go home). And I managed to slide a piece of ice all the way across to the opposite bank.
And we still haven't fallen through once in the last two years!
This morning I was lying in bed thinking how much I missed having little kids around. I mean, really little: parents with teenagers might argue I've got two or even three little kids right now, but I mean more babies or preschoolers. That was our life for eight years, and then it wasn't any more. It's kind of sad! And then just about first thing after I get up, Lijah lost his first tooth!
Now, in and of itself that's a good thing. His loose tooth had been giving him trouble off and on for a couple weeks, and this morning it was especially bothersome. He was actually pretty grumpy. But then as soon as it came out he cheered right up: the excitement and the absence of constant tooth sensation made his morning 100% better. And we were excited for him of course. But I also felt a little wistful—if he's not my baby, who is?!
Zion also lost a tooth, the night before. It was his fifth or something, so much less exciting; but he was just as glad to see it gone. It came out in the middle of dinner, and after it stopped bleeding and he was able to take another bite he remarked on how nice it was to be able to chew on either side of his mouth again. For close to a month he'd only been able to use the teeth on the left; you should have seen him eating apples! His two front teeth on the top are almost all the way grown in, so he totally looks like a big kid.
Now don't get me wrong: there are wonderful aspects to having all these grown-up boys. We went to a classical music concert this morning, and nobody died or made a fuss in the quiet parts! But today at least I'm feeling that there's also something to be said for the little ones. If you have any that you need a break from, we're available to babysit!
Most Mondays mornings I'm completely exhausted, and today was no exceptions. That's because of the way our weekly schedule is structured. We start slow: our Mondays are generally pretty restful. I go in to work, and the boys get to hang out with their grandparents. Tuesday and Wednesday are our home days, where we can work on projects and do art, or go shopping or to the library. But then things start to ramp up. Thursdays and Fridays we do activities with our co-op, then the weekends are filled with activities, including running my Kids Church program and playing a lot of Pokemon. This week we added attending a concert on Friday morning, and I took all the boys out to Worcester on Saturday so that Harvey could play in a tournament. Yesterday Harvey and I went right from to church to another Pokemon event, where I was a judge, and then after that we had dinner at Leah's parents' house to celebrate her dad's birthday. All of those were good things. But the cumulative effect is a little rough.
The worst part is being so wiped out Sunday night into Monday means it's really hard to put together a good plan for the week ahead of time. I'd love to be able to have a moment to think about how we want to structure our time at home, what food I want to cook (and then what we need to shop for), and what kinds of fun projects we might want to get organized for. So while our weeks go fine, I don't feel like we're moving forward towards making things any easier for the next week.
At least there's one thing I know that I can do now to help... I'm going to bed!
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