Today I made sourdough pancakes and laundry powder. What do those two things have in common? Baking soda!
Ok, so maybe what they actually have in common is that unless you're a crazy hippy you've probably never even thought about making either of them, much less on a Tuesday morning; but the baking soda made me notice that I am a crazy hippy, so I wanted to comment on it.
We've been making our own laundry powder for a long time—or to be more precise, Leah's been making it. But I took over the laundry duties a couple months ago when she started working some out of the house, so when we ran out the other day the responsibility for making more fell on me. We use the recipe from Making It, written by the couple behind the Root Simple blog—it's just one part laundry soap (Leah still makes that, by a process unknown to me), two parts borax, and two parts baking soda. It works fine, it's cheap, and best of all it doesn't stink.
The pancakes are newer; I started with them because once you have a sourdough starter you need to keep making more sourdough starter, and there's only so much bread that one family can eat (especially when 50% of the adults are gluten-free!). But I keep doing it because they come out light and crispy and delicious, even with all whole wheat flour and less sugar and much less fat than my regular pancake recipe. The two younger boys don't like them much; I can't decide if that's a feature or a bug.
I don't really have a recipe for sourdough pancakes besides whisking an egg into a cup of happy starter, fed the night before, along with a tablespoon or two of sugar and a little salt. Then I dissolve some baking soda in water and fold it into the batter. You'll notice it's a fat-free food at this point, but I fix that by cooking each pancake in plenty of butter: I make sure to add more to the griddle for each batch.
I don't know about everybody else, but baking soda doesn't much feature in my more conventional baking. Too unpredictable. Who knows if a particular ingredient has enough acid to activate it and remove that horrible metallic-salt taste? An ingredient other that lactic acid-laden sourdough starter, that is. I really feel a connection to my homesteading forebearers of, oh, the late 1800s when chemical leaveners became widely available.
We do lots of odd things in our household, and not all of them require purchasing baking soda in bulk. But some do. It is a signifier, of a sort.
A few months ago, Leah was despairing of ever being able to do anything around the house. Liljah needed constant intervention: he needed someone to read him books, he needed someone to occupy him in play, and most of all he needed someone to be holding him and carrying him around. It was a challenge, especially for the Mama, vastly preferred for all of those roles. Things are better now though. Especially when his brothers aren't messing with his stuff (or distracting him with a more creative game) our littlest boy now has moments where he entertains himself for significant stretches of time. The only catch is, for the most part he can only do it while listening to the soundtrack from Disney's Frozen.
Our last big Frozen binge was in the summer, when the soundtrack album was accidentally the only CD that made it into the car for our trip to Maine. We learned all the songs then—oh, did we learn them—but since then the vividness with which they're seared into my brain has faded some. But just like how, for an addict coming back to the drugs, one hit can revive all the old cravings (or so I'm told), it just took one hearing of the soundtrack this winter to ensure that one or another of the songs would never not be stuck in my head. And we've had lots more than one hearing. I try to keep it under three per day.
I'm also trying to introduce new music that he might enjoy—or re-introduce old favorites, since brass band tunes would be vastly preferable. The Nutcracker would be fine too. So far no luck, but I'll keep on it. Today he didn't entirely reject Paul Simon's Graceland as an alternative to a second consecutive playthrough of Frozen.
I boasted long ago of how we managed to avoid kids music with a young Harvey, but we still got stuck with repetition. I suppose that, just as with foods, kids like to play it safe with their music. They like what they like! (And as an aside, Harvey is still a huge fan of Soul Coughing and specifically "Rollin", so in some cases at least they keep liking it for years.)
It's not that Frozen is bad, per se, it's just that there isn't much to it, especially after the 48th listen. And it's catchy, oh so catchy. Both Lijah and I are completely caught at this point, and only one of us likes it. But I like seeing him play independently, so at least for a little while longer I'm going to keep on playing "fo da fut time inna evah" whenever he asks for it.
Scenes and moments from the past week. We do more things than we have time to write about; photos help us remember it all!
Lijah turned two today! We celebrated his birthday with a big brunch bash yesterday morning (and well into the afternoon...). We couldn't get him to really focus on the preparations, so we just invited a few of his closest friends and age peers—who of course brought along their siblings and parents. So it was a pretty good show. I made a lot of pancakes.
This was the first time we've done a kids party with the entertainment planned for inside the house (yay for May and June birthdays!) so I was a little nervous, but in the end it all went wonderfully. Pancakes were perfect, because they keep coming off the griddle and you want folks to eat em up hot, so as guests arrived they could just grab a plate and dig in. Weighed down with up to five pancakes each (that was Taya), the kids were slowed enough that they didn't destroy anything. And then since the weather was fine, they ended up going outside anyway!
I won't always pull Lijah up and down the street in the wagon as many times as he wants, but it was his birthday! All the big kids delighted in the wide range of bikes and scooters we have available, but of course when you have not-quite-two-year-olds at a party, they don't always all feel like doing the same things.
Eventually we got everybody back inside for cake (and as an aside, it's a good thing the party was fun for Lijah, since it distracted him; before folks arrived he spent a solid two hours asking if he could start eating cake!). In the days before his party he expressed some trepidation about being able to blow out the candle, so he enlisted Harvey to help; as it happened he made a solid attempt at it, and then they did it together in fine form.
Then present-opening, which was such a scrum I could barely see what was happening—to say nothing of getting a good picture (the dubious best is featured in the weekly photo post from earlier). But when the crowds cleared—the big kids back outside, the littler ones to their various entertainments—he very much enjoyed exploring each present. Somehow along the way he lost his clothes, but that just means it was a great party!
The card he's holding there is maybe his favorite part of the whole birthday experience: it has a picture of some gangster/barbershop dogs (really! I have no idea), and when you open it it plays music. Shades of Harvey's delight lo these many years ago. I now know the song very well; the first line is the title of this post. How long to those batteries last?
Happy birthday Lijah, and here's to a great year!
I had grand plans for making this the best year of gardening yet at our house. It's only the second week of March, and they're already all in tatters. Turns out that transitioning to two parents working part time and dealing with a toddler who sleeps like a newborn negatively affected my abilities to focus on necessary early steps. Like ordering seeds.
Back in the fall I made a chart of the things I thought we should grow, ranking them by their interest to me as plants, by how much we actually eat the crops in question, and by how guilty I would feel paying for non-home-grown alternatives this summer. And I was delighted to see the first seed catalogs arrive in December. Only then I never had any time to really look through all those catalogs, and when February rolled around I just randomly threw together an order of whatever caught my attention in the five minutes I was able to concentrate on the project. I don't even know what I have; I've barely looked in the box yet.
I did get out the onion seeds, though, since I know you have to start them in February to make growing them worthwhile—otherwise they don't have time to get big enough. But my second, bigger, mistake, was deciding to build a new seed-starting setup, which of course necessitated tearing down the old one. And... the new one still isn't done. Maybe 15 of the onion seeds—sowed in such fine style—germinated just kind of sitting in the basement waiting for me to get my act together, and I assume the rest rotted. If those 15 survive to be planted out we'll call it a test crop.
In the meantime it's 70 degrees out and I don't have anything to put in the ground. Last year I vowed to start some cold-weather greens early, but I had no idea how early I'd need to do it to get a jump on this ridiculous weather. Not only do I still not have a seed-starting setup—if I did have one, it would have been colder inside it that out in the garden this afternoon!
I suppose all is not lost. I can still get a few tomatoes and peppers started, and direct sowing the greens in the next couple weeks would still leave me well ahead of last year, when there was still a foot of snow on the ground at this point. And I manured in the fall, and finally got supports up for the raspberries, two years after a falling tree crushed the first set. But overall my feeling is one of failure.
Oh well, there's always next year!
It's been warm the past couple days, but it wasn't so warm Monday when we took a short outing to Walden Pond. In fact, with the clouds and breeze and the damp chill it was downright brisk—perfect, to let us have the whole place just about to ourselves!
Of course, since the pond is our favorite swimming hole it would have been too much to expect the boys to see the water without trying to experience it more directly. It's a sign of how cold we all felt that Zion only got one shoe off—that, and a single toe in, was enough to convince him to wait at least a couple weeks before swimming. Harvey was a little braver, but even he only lasted a minute or two up to his ankles. Of course, then he kept his shoes off for the next half hour; he's made of sterner stuff than the rest of us (at least when it comes to temperature).
And we couldn't visit the pond without stopping by Henry's house, where the boys picked up their games from last summer with barely a hitch.
Of course Lijah's considerably more aware now than he was then, which he showed by giving Thoreau's statue a high five.
It took some doing with the automated payment machine, but we did manage to pay our $60 dollars for the year's pass, so you can expect to see a lot more lovely pond pictures over the next several months. Some of them without winter coats, even!
I don't like daylight savings time, on the whole, but I like a party. So I thought we could throw one to celebrate the last Friday evening when it's dark at 6:00 pm, before the clocks change this weekend. In order to honor the darkness we had to be outside, and my friends indulged me for quite a while despite the rapidly sinking temperature.
Besides the lights in the tree above the supper tables, I also illuminated our little patch of woods—and specifically decorated the three tree platforms we've built so far with lights, so the kids could play in them after dark. Unfortunately all the big kids—or at least, some members of their families—were sick this evening, so Harvey was the oldest present and Zion the second oldest. They still had lots of fun, of course, but they were happy enough with rocking wildly on the hammock. So that was a little disappointing.
But it was still a lovely evening, and even though I did eventually have to let folks go inside, there was ice cream inside (and brownies and caramel sauce!) so that was ok too. And in the absence of big kids I got to snuggle with some little ones who aren't mine, which was a very unaccustomed feeling!
The lights are still up outside too, so stop by any time to see them in action. The big kids will enjoy them, yet. It'll just have to be after 7:00!
Lamentably late, here are some moments from the past week.
Saturday morning at around 8:00 I heard some noise from the chickens out in the yard—noise that was alarming enough to send me running out to the porch. That was the correct reaction, because right there coming around the corner of the house in hot pursuit of a few of our hens was fox! I yelled for Rascal, who was still in his morning stupor: somehow hadn't noticed when the chase started in the backyard, and he took an unsatisfactory four or five seconds to get out the door after the fox. And then about half that to chase it out of the yard.
Two interesting things about this fox, the first one I've seen up close and personal in an adversarial situation. One, it was small: too small, luckily, to easily engage with a chicken. It was close behind three of the for several seconds but couldn't manage to get its jaws into any of them (and somehow it didn't go after the two who made bad course decisions and caught themselves in corners of the garden fence!). Two, it showed good situational intelligence. It pretty much ignored me when I came out, but left like a shot when it noticed Rascal. But then when it got outside the fence (the outer fence right now is just a reminder to any animals much smaller than Rascal) it realized almost instantly that he wasn't after it any more, and stopped to look back—look back mockingly, I'd say, though maybe it just had its tongue out to pant.
At that early hour there wasn't anyone else around outside, so the fox felt safe to trot slowly around the edge of our property, with Rascal keenly interested in its progress the whole way (it was moving so slowly I had no trouble getting the picture above; I just wish I had thought to grab my real camera). When it got to the back yard again, though, it ran into trouble: the fence is lower in the woods, and Rascal was enraged enough to jump it to rejoin the chase. That was the last we saw of the little guy, who knew to get out while the getting was good.
Not wanting Rascal running all over the universe, I put him on the leash and tried to get him on the trail—but given he's a sight hound not a scent hound, the results were unsatisfactory. There was so much fox smell around he just followed the trail back around the house, and there was no way we could figure out which direction the fox had taken off in. So that was the end of the story. A happy ending for the chickens, thank goodness, and they went right back to pecking and scratching... just as we went right back to enjoying our Saturday. And a mostly happy ending for the fox too, I suppose; as happy as I'm prepared to allow it!
It rained all day, and our farm-school coop was cancelled due to illness. Which is just as well, because we had a more-terrible-than-usual night here and were ready for a quiet day at home. The boys, that is; Leah was ready for a quiet day (or afternoon, at least) at work. And we all got what we needed, for a very pleasant day—I was so impressed with how well the boys entertained themselves all day. Of course we did a little school, but not too much: they were just too busy. There was some reading:
Lots of imaginative play:
And eventually, of course, some outside time:
The only crying the whole day came when I refused to instantly repair a broken plastic toy for Lijah, which ended his universe for 15 minutes until he threw down the broken fragments in his rage and when he wasn't looking I hid them and then he forgot what he was upset about and got involved in something else. That's parenting!
But really, the day went far better than I have any right to deserve, and I can take no credit for it myself. The kids are alright.
Zion wore green today, but only coincidentally: he was wearing green yesterday, and the boys in our house don't change their clothes with any great frequency. But since he doesn't go to school, no one commented on his green shirt, nor did anyone mention Harvey or Lijah's lack of verdant apparel. The fact is, I had no idea it was St. Patrick's Day until I got to work and checked in with Facebook (I have to use Facebook for work! really!) where I saw a banner wishing me the best of the day, along with dozens of photos of folks in green celebrating the holiday in all kinds of ways.
While I do kind of remember getting pinched as a kid for not wearing green to school (I've always been kind of oblivious) I wonder if St. Patrick's Day always used to be such a big deal. If not, I'm going to say that Facebook has something to do with the change. Certainly, Facebook is a great promoter of holidays—both the ones the site officially encourages you to celebrate (Mothers Day, say) and the ones that have grown through more natural social media (Pi Day). Now it doesn't work for me—I'm such a rebel that when someone tells me to observe a holiday I just ask, "why should I?!"—but for people who live joyful, connected lives it must be nice to have a central repository of reasons to celebrate.
And really, the more celebration we have going on the better, right? It's nice for days to be special, and it's nice for folks to be able to connect with each other through shared experience, either over social media or in person. So yay! Just know that there may be a few of us who aren't participating, thanks to obliviousness or obstreperousness or some combination of the two, and that's ok too. No pinches, please!
One of the things people wonder about homeschooling is socialization. Like, how are our kids going to end up normal human beings when we keep them away from the joyful interplay of the public schoolyard? They needn't worry. Certainly, lots of homeschool kids are odd; but since their parents are far enough out of the mainstream to consider homeschooling to begin with, I think it's fair to say that a good portion of their oddness is pure genetics. Because kids who don't go to school have lots of chances to interact with other kids—at least, ours sure do!
Take yesterday. In the middle of the day we ventured into Cambridge to play on the best playground in the world (one of em, anyways). Despite it being lunchtime on a school day there were other families there, and before too long Harvey and Zion found some other boys to play with. They started out with a half-hour together on the merry-go-round, then spent some serious time at the sand factory doing something.
I don't think they ever actually learned each-others' names, but that's not because they're homeschooled—it's because they're boys.
Then when we got home we had 45 minutes to rest before friends arrived—girls this time, for variety—to hang out for a few hours while their parents were at an appointment. They played and played, inside and out. Around supper time they were joined by more kids for our weekly community group gathering, including one boy who had never been to our house before. He was warmly welcomed by the rest of the gang, and was soon well-integrated into their play (that's him on top of the platform in the first picture above).
This afternoon the boys played with the neighbor kids and their friend—a friend who's name Harvey remembered despite only meeting him once or twice before (I take it all back!). Then later they went though the little woods to invite another neighbor to play—and then did play, outside and pretty much unsupervised for a couple hours.
All that activity is not atypical. So yes, there are certain aspects of school socialization that our kids are missing out on—but it's mostly the part around following directions from adults and transitioning easily. Working things out with other kids? No problem! Especially when you have all day long to practice it.
Moments from the past week, between and during rain storms.
I suppose we could have expected that after a winter as strange as the one that just finished spring might have some surprises for us too, and so it proved. We woke up this morning to about four inches of snow, with more falling fast. No dismay here, though: we were all delighted!
Lijah led the charge outside; we could hardly restrain him until after breakfast. I suppose he didn't think he needed breakfast when there was all that snow to eat.
Zion was happy to let Harvey and me go for a walk with Rascal, and after a few minutes playing with Mama and Lijah he settled down to a quiet game with the trucks (picking right up where he left off Saturday playing in the dirt).
And of course, Rascal loves a snowy walk more than just about anything else.
As soon as the snow stopped falling it started melting—or maybe even before. But there was enough that it's taking a little while, and there was still plenty for Lijah to snack on as we strolled through Concord this afternoon.
When wintery weather follows a nice warm stretch you worry some about the plants, but there's no call for alarm this season; this delightful surprise snow was just a momentary treat, but spring is seriously on the way.
Back before it snowed we visited the Alexander Kemp playground in Cambridge, and it was so much fun that you can see pictures from the trip in two of the last three posts here. It's a good playground.
Of course, there are many good playgrounds in the world, and a playground has to be really bad to not be worth visiting at all. The one we call our own here in town is absolutely nothing special, but we've still enjoyed endless hours of entertainment on it. But most playgrounds have an essential problem: their features are either boring or scary.
When you build a playground out of metal or wood, it seems like you need to design a path through it—to plan out how it's going to be used. If it's low, it's for little kids; to interest the bigger ones you build it up high. But to keep the little ones safe up high you build sides, except where there are slides or ladders. Kids are meant to go up the stairs (or ladders or climbing walls) and down the slides (or fire-poles). Big kids figure them out, and little kids can't do them at all (or can, and terrify their parents).
A notable feature of the Kemp Playground, just inside the gate, is a big concrete hill. There's a rope webbing up one side and logs embedded on another; some parts are steep and some less so. And there's a slide, but that hardly matters, because with a little sand the concrete itself is wonderfully slippery.
And the best part of it is there doesn't need to be any walls. Sure, kids can get hurt—two toddlers slipped and bonked their heads in the hour and a half we were there—but when they do it's a problem of technique rather than design. You can't fall far off a hill, so I felt totally confident letting Lijah go up and down by himself all he wanted. And the whole playground is like that, full of imaginative spaces that can be used lots of different ways—so they can be interesting without being too dangerous.
The other nice thing about the Kemp Playground is the way it sets up opportunities for kids to play together. There's a merry-go-round (set into the ground for sleekness and safety!), and the fun of a merry-go-round increases exponentially with the number of kids involved. And there are machines for moving water (closed in the winter, naturally) and sand.
After an hour of wild running and sliding, there's nothing like a half-hour of work with the sand to balance out the day!
The Kemp Playground is on Cambridge Common, right by Harvard Square. If you have kids, live in Eastern Massachusetts, and haven't been yet.. you totally should check it out.
We didn't go to church this evening—instead we hosted our regular Friday evening small group, which is now a mix of churchy and non-churchy folks. That was a good call—we had a great full gathering—but I did feel a little disappointed to miss out on a lovely moving service at our church where, more and more, we're figuring out how to make things lovely and moving. We tried to make up for the lack by visiting the Stations of the Cross at Bethany House.
Thanks Katie for inviting us, and for the picture above! Katie's church hosts an interpretive Stations every Good Friday, and we meant to go to that—only with the steady drizzle it was cancelled. So we just got the unlabeled illustrations (in very nice wood-carved semi-relief), but also had the place to ourselves. That was a fine trade-off for our rambunctious crew, who were more interested in statues and puddles than liturgy.
Still,we were all there, and they got the story; they know what's up. After the big boys had all run off I was looking at some of the pictures with Lijah, and asked him if he knew who that guy was. "It's Jesus," he told me. Yup. Then he went on, "Jesus dyin. Onna cross." Then I put him down so he could look at a tiny house and a fountain, and stamp in puddles deep enough to cover his boots.
I think all in all it was a good balance of "holiness" and regular life. I wouldn't have bothered to write about the day at all—it's way past my bedtime!—except for an terrific blog post I came across while failing to do the work that was keeping my away from bed in the first place. It notes an interesting coincidence: "2016 brings a rare occurrence this coming Friday — the coinciding of two very solemn observances, one fixed, one moveable: the Feast of the Annunciation, and Good Friday."
Apparently it happens every once and a while; John Donne wrote a poem about it.
Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
(There's lots more to the poem; read the rest of it at the link above). The post concludes with a celebration of the idea of liturgy, including the following:
It's a way of reading the Bible in dialogue with itself, with the ongoing tradition of which it is a part, and with the whole community of the faithful, out of which flashes of realization can emerge, sometimes slowly dawning on you, sometimes flashing out in startling clarity.
Yes. That's why, even when we skip church, we're always looking to let the liturgical spirit into our lives. I think we had a good Friday; I hope you did too!
Exclusively phone-cam moments from the week: early this week to make room for Easter fun tomorrow!
We'll have more about egg hunts and the boys in suits and who knows what, but all that will take some time. But the Elementary Kids Church art show is already delightful, and ready to welcome the festive crowd in a few hours. Happy Easter!
We had an exciting Easter day Sunday; so exciting I've only managed to summon the energy to describe it now. And I'm still not sure how much I have to spare! Of course, the boys started the day in brand-new suits.
Leah is a wonderful seamstress and produced a trio of lovely suits—the first time either Zion or Lijah have had jackets as part of their Easter finery. Harvey and Lijah both were very well behaved and sat still for their fittings, which is why their jackets hang properly. Leaving Leah behind for a few minutes to ready the house for a party later, the boys and I headed off to church to set everything up. That done, they got to work enjoying the craft tables.
Some of them, anyways; Zion wasn't so sure about the Easter-sized crowds, and he wasn't happy until he connected with his friend Eliot and they found a spot better suited to their energy level.
Harvey didn't seem to mind the hustle and bustle.
There was a service in there somewhere, but we didn't manage to pay much attention to it. There was too much going on, including special food.
And the Elementary Kids Church Holy Week art show, featuring Harvey's sculpture "Despair".
And, of course, anticipation of the egg hunt! Lijah was so excited he didn't think he could wait for it to start. The eggs were in there!
He had a delightful time and easily found his five eggs, but then things took a turn for the disastrous when he tripped and fell headlong into a mud-puddle. He was not happy.
He was also tired. So Leah took him home, while the other boys and I hung out through another service and then helped clean up. Leah was cleaning up at home and setting up a fantastic inviting party—and also hiding lots of eggs in the yard. We got home in time for me to hide a few more, then our guests started to arrive, ready to find them all. We held them off for a few minutes, then it was go time.
Due to their age and upbringing, some of the kids weren't sure what to do at an egg hunt, but they were all thrilled to be there.
We'd set up the party inside, but as we watched the kids run around after eggs it occurred to us that it was actually pretty nice out all of a sudden, so out came the food and chairs. It was delightfully spring-like.
The party went on for maybe four more hours, inside and out, and by the end we were filled to the brim with joy, friendship, and delicious food. We didn't take in much theology over Easter 2016, but at the end of the day it was pretty easy to feel that Jesus is alive!