Yesterday morning I was up early to let the chickens out before we had to go to church. As we were getting ready there was a tremendous burst of alarmed clucking from the yard—the sound the hens only make when they're running from something. I had just come downstairs so I was ideally situated to run right out the door, and right away I saw all the hens in panicked flight from a fox. Well, all but one, who was firmly grasped in its jaws.
Sure it was too late but determined not to let the fox eat my Buff Orpington, I dashed down the stairs, grabbing up a stick as I went. The fox headed for the woods with me maybe 15 feet behind, and it slowed only a moment to dive under our fence—but in order to fit through the gap, it had to let go of the hen. Who, to my complete surprise, hopped up and ran the other way! On the other side of the fence the fox paused, but when I went through the gate it took off again. I chased through a couple yards before giving up; I figured I'd do better to check on the victim!
Who turned out to be much better than I expected, than anyone would have any right to expect: a little shaken maybe, but otherwise unscathed. The Orpingtons are our fluffiest hens, and it very well may be that all the feathers kept the fox's teeth from doing any actual damage. A lot of them sure fell out—it looked like about two chickens-worth scattered over the lawn in three or four clumps.
We got all the hens into their run—it took some doing to find the last one cowering in the lilac bushes by the driveway—and I was a little disappointed to see the other hens didn't show the slightest bit of consideration for their sister who had just escaped, literally, from the jaws of death. She's pretty far down the pecking order, and as they squabbled for the scratch I tossed into the run they didn't hold back from pecking her away from her fair share. As we were leaving, she sensibly retired to the roost to recover.
I half expected to find her dying when we got back, but she was still fine; she was fine all day today—totally normal in fact, and not even much thinner for having lost so many feathers. So all's well that ends well—better, even, for the house sparrows and other little birds who snatched up all the downy feathers for their nests. I only wish I'd gotten a photo of the fox, who was a fine-looking specimen; as it happened I didn't really have time.
In the midst of the cool wet weather last week I noticed something thrilling: our fruit trees had flower buds. We have five apple trees and two pears, plus a couple of crab apples, and to this point only one of the crab apples had ever flowered. Considering I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to tree care I wasn't surprised, but it's still been a little disappointing every year—five years of disappointment. Well, in 2017 we're at least moving in the right direction, because all nine trees are in flower!
At just about the same time we have blooms on the the six-year-old Macintosh and Northern Spy apples, the four-year-old Honeycrisp, the three-year-old Golden Russet and Cox's Orange Pippen apples and Seckel and Moonglow pears, and the crab apples. The flowers might not be the most beautiful, but to me they're precious and delightful.
Now all we need is for the pollinators to do their work. It's a little disturbing how few I've seen so far—a subject for another post—but there's time yet. The weather looks like it'll be cool but not too cold for a while, and now that the rain stopped those bees can start getting busy. I wish we still had our own; it would be great to watch them in action. A project for next year!
Zion turned 6 today. It seems crazy that he's so big, but it also seems like forever ago that he was born (and celebrated with a double rainbow). We had a party with the grandparents on Saturday, then celebrated some more with our "Bible Study" friends Tuesday, then again with Grandma Judy and Grandpa David yesterday (where, after two days of cakes, not counting leftovers, he chose a popsicle for desert). So today didn't see any extravagant observances; instead Leah took Zion and his brothers on his birthday outing to Old Sturbridge Village. The big party with his friends is next weekend, and we hope the weather may be fine: he has a baseball theme planned. Who would have thought it. Happy birthday, Zion!
We've been enjoying the first rainy spring in what feels like quite a while. Everything is beautifully green and the season feels like it's just taking it's time in getting to summer. We're especially excited to see the ponds and streams fill back up after last year's drought. We've spent some good time at ponds, but hadn't had a chance to visit the Concord River in a while; today, on the way home from the feed store, we remedied that.
As expected, the water was high. The boys delightedly pointed out that our picnic spot last time was under at least two feet of water, and marveled at how many trees were awash.
The air was chilly and the water downright frigid, so no one was tempted to wade. But not to worry, we found plenty of other entertainments.
But of course the most interesting thing was the water—or, really, the intersection between water and land. The boys explored the marshy field where a tongue of the river had invaded, and we squished along damp paths that ended abruptly in lapping water (along the way we got a lot of practice identifying the baby leaves of just-awakening poison ivy). Nobody got wet, nobody froze to death, nobody fell too hard from the tree, and I got shot about four thousand times by three minutemen with rapid-fire repeating muskets. It was a lovely outing.
We got some mangoes on sale at Whole Foods the other day, and they were so ripe and delicious I couldn't think of anything but mango salsa. So that's what I had to make for our friends when they came over for supper yesterday. Since salsa isn't really a main dish it was lucky we also had some chicken breasts (free range organic chicken from ButcherBox!). I figured maybe I could manage some sort of pulled chicken for tacos, and was disappointed when an internet search turned up lots of recipes that started with, "Take a roast chicken...". Then I got over it and did just that, except I cooked the breasts in the skillet before shredding them and mixing in some adobo sauce and garlic powder.
For the mango salsa I did two mangoes, half a cucumber, cilantro, lime juice, and a big spring onion from the garden. I also made tomato salsa for those with more traditional tastes. And coconut rice—an Indian-y recipe from the Moosewoods cookbook, but one that seemed like it would go with mango—and plain rice. And then some flour tortillas. Oh, and some sour cream mixed with cilantro and lime juice. Rhubarb crisp with whipped cream for desert.
It was actually kind of an ambitious menu, considering I was also in charge of the kids and the cleaning with Leah at work. And Harvey came down with a little fever towards the end of the afternoon so he was in bed rather than helping rally the troops to clean up their toys. So we didn't get quite magazine-clean, and I kind of ignored the boys—fine, two were playing outside and one was dozing in bed—and I still wasn't ready when folks showed up ready to eat. Good thing they're old friends and were willing to make themselves at home while I finished up. I like to think the meal was worth the wait.. I enjoyed it, anyway.
Looking back, I've come a long way from the first time I made mango salsa way back in 2004. What an innocent I was; I didn't even have a clear sense of what a mango looked like back then. And I certainly didn't know how to cook. I'm a little better now. I wonder what I'll be making in 2026?
Every once and a while someone responds with alarm when Lijah walks out through the library doors without me. I try to respond appropriately for the situation so they don't call social services, but honestly? He mostly just likes pushing the button for the automatic door opener. He's not going anywhere—and he has plenty of good sense not jump off the 20-foot-wide expanse of sidewalk into the sparse traffic of the library parking lot, if that's what they're worried about.
Not all parents are so sanguine. A while ago I saw a mom with an elementary-age girl and a four- or five-year-old boy tell the boy, who had drifted maybe 10 feet from her as she and the daughter checked out books, "you're getting too far away!" And this evening a dad checking out at the same time as us had to momentarily abandon the desk to chase down his three-year-old, who was headed out the door.
They're our library friends, so I know that he has to deal with some questionable listening and occasional wandering from his two kids—maybe it was understandable that he wanted to hold them both tightly as they walked down the path to where their car was parked. That my own three kids had left before I finished checking out so they could get started reading their new books in the car probably wasn't the best example we could have set. His girl pointed out the disparity and he answered her, "that's because they're good kids".
I don't know about that, but I did appreciate that when I got to the car they were all in their seats and the two that can buckle themselves were buckled (books are a strong motivator in our family). I have to wonder, though, which came first: the good behavior, or the freedom to make good choices? Are some kids so crazy from their first moments that parents have no alternative but to constantly constrain them? I can easily imagine that being the case.
Our own boys each spent the first four years of their life unable to leave our side, so we didn't have to worry about telling them not to do dangerous things. I think that helped. And I think parents can even overcome their kids' foolhardy toddler-hood to give them independence as preschoolers, at least in the right environment; I'm pretty sure Jo and Eugene did just that with their oldest. But it does call for a certain amount of trust—both in your kids, and in the people around you not to freak out too much. It's probably worth it, though. After all, all kids should be able to be good kids.
Now that the kids are school age it's harder to schedule the birthday parties. Everybody has so much going on—and we want to make sure the important friends can come! So we waited a little for Zion's big 6-year-old baseball party. Saturday was the big day, and it was lovely.
The day was cool and overcast but the rain stayed away, and it wasn't so chilly that we worried about having the whole thing outdoors. Of course, nothing was going to stop the baseball game part of the affair. We played two and a half innings, and Zion loved the whole thing—even if he is a little more enthusiastic about batting than fielding.
All seven friends that he invited made it for at least a couple minutes, which was great. We moved up the cake-eating a little bit to make sure one early-departing guest could have his portion, which was fine with everyone.
I actually made two cakes, because I was halfway through a chocolate layer cake when I suddenly remembered Zion had asked for a yellow cake. Oh well, this way we could cater to all tastes. Plus there was vanilla ice cream from Bedford Farms, so nobody went hungry.
We actually ended up with a ton of food left over, because the adult attendance was lower than expected. And several of the kids barely touched the lunch proper—hot dogs and cole slaw—because they filled up on Zion's special request, Doritos, in the hour before lunch.
With the baseball and the cake out of the way we couldn't hold Zion off from his presents. So the last part of the party was playing with them: first a big game of wild catch with a new big fabric throwing disc, and then—what the birthday boy had been waiting for all day—with the new legos.
Zion reports complete satisfaction with the day; he has now been fully celebrated!
Once again, we had an exciting morning with the local wildlife. No sooner had Leah let out the hens than a fox dashed in to grab one. Hearing the commotion we drove it off empty-handed (-mouthed), but then I couldn't find the hen who had been attacked even after an extended search. After half an hour I was convinced there were two foxes in on the raid—or more!—and one of them had carried her away. Because it turns out we're surrounded by fox dens: there's one under our across-the-street neighbor's shed, and I've noticed another couple kits playing every morning outside a shed a few houses down through the back. Or maybe they're the same two, with a second home?
Happily, our poor hen had only fled the yard in panic, and before too long she wandered back in. Unlike last Sunday's victim, she's rather the worse for wear, with all the feathers missing from the back of her neck—clearly the Plymouth Rock breed isn't fluffy enough for complete protection. Still, I couldn't see any blood; and while she was clearly shaken for a while after the attack she seems to be entirely back to normal this evening.
It's a little stressful, I admit, having to be on guard like this. But the need for vigilance is at least motivating me to spend my early mornings outside, where besides getting to enjoy the loveliest part of the day I get to put in some serious work on the garden. Just the thing ahead of a day at the office (I don't have very many of those so I'm not really good at them).
I don't know much about foxes. Will they move on once the kits are big? Or will they all find homes around the neighborhood and continue to terrorize our flock—now with even more hunting adults? I don't have a plan in the latter case, except to keep up with the early-morning gardening when I have the energy, and when I don't leave the hens penned up until it's too bright and lively for foxes to be out and about. They might complain some, but as a creature with forethought and awareness I'm going to say that, considering the alternative, their temporary annoyance is something they ought to be able to bear!
Last week someone posted a notice to our church's "random" email list, which is open to anyone. "Care about making Massachusetts safe for immigrants? Are you a young person or want to support youth?" it asked. "Youth (of any age and supportive adults) will gather at the State House to advocate for passage of the Safe Communities Act. Join them!" I probably would have let it pass unremarked, but for a followup email that came through about an hour later. "Are we supposed to be posting controversial political topics on the Vineyard Church Random list?" wrote one Bryant Jones. "I would kindly ask for clarification on this as this event is highly left wing and offensive to some of us who love God and our nation." Wow! Well now I had to go!
We haven't done any protesting in a while and the boys are always up for an outing that includes a train ride, so after lunch on Tuesday we hopped in the car and drove to Arlington, then walked in to the train station (with a small detour to look at swans). The train ride was fine, though Lijah found it a little noisy and covered his ears the whole way. We got downtown with enough time to take in the sights before the rally was due to start.
Unlike our first protest, when it was icy cold, the day was blazing hot. While we weren't tempted by that fountain—it was a little icky-looking—we definitely would have waded in the Frog Pond had signs not forbidden doing just that. Harvey pointed out that the sign didn't say no swimming—clever boy—but we weren't really dressed for it. Plus, I wanted to get to the rally in time. As it turned out nobody else shared that priority, so we were able to snag the only shady spot available while we waited for the organizers to arrive.
They were only a few minutes late, and they jumped into action. We signed petitions and made silkscreened logos—we got to take some home—before the chanting and speaking part of the program started. I talked to one of the adult helpers and learned that the group was from a class offered by Somerville Parts and Crafts, a big homeschool coop. They'd started an activism program back in October to protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline; this was their final project. Who knew back in the fall that this would be such a good year for protesting?
The rally was written up on Wicked Local Somerville. Lijah and I are even in one of the photos on the article, though only barely; I think we deserved better since as far as I could tell we were the only unaffiliated family there. Which is strange; I don't know how everyone else managed to resist that email message!
(The train ride home was much quieter, Lijah would have me report, and the boys were delighted to have to stand nearly the whole way thanks to the rush hour crowd. They may have sung "Surfin USA" at one point. Then we finished the day with a lovely dinner with our East Arlington friends, which was just what I needed to recover myself from my protest-inflicted heatstroke. A good afternoon.)
That's what we were up to yesterday.
A couple of moments from the last week (a little behind schedule).
We had a tough week last week, so it was wonderful to be able to get away to the outer Cape, courtesy of Grandma and Grandpa Bernstein and their new house in Truro.
They bought it in early spring, and as summer neared they'd been working ever-harder at bringing it up to their standards and getting it ready to rent out come the high season in July and August. They invited us up for a trial run. It's a great place—plenty large but still cozy, with three separate clusters of bedrooms to make space for multiple families, and a wonderful series of decks and patios on all sides.
Of course, as much as we loved spending time in and around the house the real draw was the beach. The closest one was on the bay side, about a four-minute walk away. We all headed down there pretty soon after arrival, and spent a delightful couple hours running on the beach, playing in the sand, and very occasionally dipping into the water (it's still kind of wintery, even in the bay). The sand there is too coarse for building up, so instead I dug holes. I got pretty deep!
Grandma and Grandpa have a new puppy, as seen earlier, and we had fun playing with him and watching him romp and run (and lie in the shade of anyone sitting still). Rascal came along, and spent more time in the water than anyone else—and most of the rest of the time lying comfortably in the sand.
He did give into the puppy's entreaties to play with him for maybe 45 seconds over the course of the afternoon, but that was it.
The air was turning chilly as we ate our hamburgers and hotdogs on the deck so we went inside for desert, but we couldn't resist heading out through the big sliding doors one more time in the fading light. The boys played chase with the dogs up and down the sandy dirt roads around the house before we all settled down to watch the sunset.
We're not so good at sleeping when we're not in our house—and I guess not so much even when we are!—but we made it through the night and were restored to full energy with a pancake breakfast courtesy of chef Grandpa (with no baking powder in the house he just beat the egg whites extra hard). Breakfast was over by 7:30, but nobody had any trouble finding something to do as the morning inched on.
Of course, we can read at home! So even though the boys would have been happy to sit around until the mini-golf place opened at 10:00 I galvanized (forced) them into taking off early for a look at Atlantic Ocean over on the other side of the Cape. We stopped first at Marconi beach, where the stairs down to the water were closed. But we could still see and hear the power of the waves down below the bluff, and the boys were energized by seeing them as we explored the site of the first trans-oceanic wireless transmission.
Once we exhausted the possibilities there we headed a mile down the road to a town beach, where we experienced the waves directly (that's the picture at the top of this post). Harvey, Zion, and I were beside ourselves with excitement. But because of our golf date we couldn't stay more than a couple minutes, so we managed to drag ourselves away—not before making plans to come back soon! When we got to the golf place we found that, despite the published material, they actually opened at 11:00; never mind, the National Seashore visitor center was just down the street, and easily good for 45 minutes of entertainment. We visited the history museum, learned about shells, used the bathrooms, and generally enjoyed being tourists among other tourists. A pair of Asian tourists taking pictures with a selfie stick paused to watch me tell the boys to pose for a photo, and they fully approved of how the young Americans responded.
Then we went and played golf. I took a turn to wrangle the kids so Leah could devote her attention to the game, and I got them through 18 holes in record time (I was worried we'd hold up other groups, but I shouldn't have—we even managed to play some of the holes twice through!). They all had fun, even though Harvey was a little frustrated with his level of play and Lijah only hit the ball maybe three times. The appeal for him is apparently carrying it and the club around as he climbed on rocks and waded in the streams; well worth the $8 we paid for him to "play".
We went home for lunch—so nice to have a fully appointed house as a convenient home base!—before the bigger boys and I got into swimsuits for a second attempt at the real ocean. Never mind the hazy overcast moving in as the wind picked up: we were going to do this! And so we did.
We went to a beach in Truro this time, to save on travel time and avoid traffic, and the waves were even better there. Almost overwhelming, in fact! We did a lot of squealing. The cold was kind of overwhelming too, though the fun and delight carried us through for a while. There's something wonderful about splashing in the waves while the scant few other beach-goers huddle in winter coats with hoods drawn tight around their faces. It was very windy. Zion was the first to run out of internal warmth, and even two towels around him couldn't do much to bring his core temperature back up!
But it was worth it, we all felt. As we got in the car and turned the heat up full blast, Zion announced: "that was the best ever!" It sure was.
As I write these words on Monday evening it's crazy to think that was all just yesterday and the day before. After all that excitement—and there's lots I didn't write about, like playing ball, putting together a hammock chair, playing eight games of Uno, more reading (Harvey and I each finished two books)—and a full day with friends here at home today, it feels like about a week's worth of activities in the last two days. We're all tired. We left Truro after dinner Sunday so the boys could sleep in the car. They did, but none quicker than Lijah: he was out within a minute of getting into his seat, before we could even buckle him up.
And he slept the whole way home, and then all the way through the night (well, with one easy tuck-in around midnight). That's what a great vacation will do to you!