non-Halloween report

Harvey and Zion in their monkey suits on the hammock

two little monkeys lying on the... hammock

The Halloween costume pictures didn't come out quite as well as we'd hoped. Harvey was a little excited the whole time and didn't keep still enough for the low light... just like a monkey, I suppose. Too bad, since Mama did a grand job with the costumes!

Zion in his monkey suit

this monkey stands still to be photographed

Zion's limited mobility was better suited to photography work. But then, he didn't know enough to look forward to the prospect of candy. For Harvey, it was enough to cause him to overcome his usual fear of speaking to other people or, you know, looking at them. At least in theory.

Harvey waiting on the street to start trick-or-treating

ready to roll

Because of course, he didn't get to try it out on more than a single foreign door. Oh well; if we do it again on Saturday we'll have another chance at the photos.

Not everyone's Halloween was postponed, though, and the two monkeys weren't the only Leah-made costumes out and about yesterday evening. Our friend Bridget requested a Yoshi costume for her oldest son, to complete a Mario-themed set. It came out pretty good too.

Bruce modeling the Yoshi costume indoors

striking a pose in preparation

You can see many more photos at the Stevens Family blog. I understand that Leah, pleased by the positive reaction to her creation, is thinking of making this a thing; we are now accepting orders for Halloween 2012.

Yoshi out trick-or-treating

in his natural habitat


terrible horrible no good very bad day

So. We have a two-thousand dollar fence that can't keep the dog in, and two exhausted children who can't nap, and maybe these things are related because in the middle of trying to put Zion to seep I find myself running down the street IN MY SOCKS holding a leash and a screaming baby because Rascal is CHASING THE NEIGHBOR'S CAR.

Also, I lost Zion's favorite hat on my errands this morning and it's enough to make me want to kill myself. Why does buying groceries have to be, like, a harrowing death march? So terrible that when in the car I noticed the hat missing I thought to myself I would rather be burned at the stake right now then get these two out of their car-seats.

Teething. I. haven't. slept. in. a. week.

That hat matched his snow suit even. It's enough to make you want to serve chocolate chips for lunch.

Some days are not so great.

UPDATE: Reclaimed the hat, and Harvey even fell asleep on the walk! So there is grace in the universe...


baby comparison: animal hats edition

Our two babies were both little darlings on their first halloweens. There's some resemblance between the baby sheep and baby monkey, isn't there? Maybe they have a common ancestor...

Harvey's first Halloween

Zion's first Halloween

I would have loved to get that sheepy hat on Zion but it never fit. That baby is a tank!

then sings my soul: how great thou art

We've been taking morning walks this week since Rascal can no longer let himself out to pee (since he then somehow lets himself out out to attack our neighbors.) Anyway, it's been a nice change from our normal routine. Harvey loves the short walks in the woods because he can walk all the way, and it gives him ample time to notice things like animal holes and fallen branches. Today it was all about the trail signs. Harvey spotted an orange arrow nailed to a tree trunk.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, "A man made that!"
"He sure did," I said. Then thinking that I would manufacture a clever teachable moment: "Who made the tree?"
"Uh," said Harvey, "Somethin else?"
"God made the tree" I said.
"Ooooooh," he giggled.

Moments later Harvey stopped at the foot of another giant trunk.
"God made that tree!" He shouted proudly
"Yes!" I sang, "Very good Harvey!"
He reflected for a moment... "And Rascal peed on it!"

Zion is half a year!

OH No! I can't write a post about Harvey on Zion's 6 month birthday!

zion kissing mama

baby love

Zion, ZiZi, ZiBo, Zi-bo-bear. I can't believe it's only been six months. It seems sappy to say something like "it feels like we've loved you forever." But then again what do you care? you're a baby.

No it seems fair to say that this much is true: you make all of us better. You taught Harvey to whisper, Rascal to wait, Mama to live in the moment. Thank you for being our baby.


school early and often?

Some time ago I happened to notice an opinion piece in the New York Times that suggests parents should send their kids to school as early as they're allowed to. If there's some leeway in the cut-off age, that is, the little tykes should not be kept out of school until they're more mature, but should be thrown into the fray as soon as possible: educational and economic logic demands it. Or so says the authors, one of whom is an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience and so might be presumed to be able to sustain rational thought. Perhaps not, as it happens!

Never mind the argument that delaying your children's start in school will mean that "their lifetime earnings are reduced by one year", a statement that assumes a wide range of premises I don't even want to address. What really caught my attention was the following:

In a large-scale study at 26 Canadian elementary schools, first graders who were young for their year made considerably more progress in reading and math than kindergartners who were old for their year (but just two months younger). In another large study, the youngest fifth-graders scored a little lower than their classmates, but five points higher in verbal I.Q., on average, than fourth-graders of the same age. In other words, school makes children smarter.

Yes. I certainly hope that first graders are making more progress than kindergarteners because they're being taught more. When those poor slow kindergarteners move up to first grade they'll, statistically, make the same progress as every other first grader. Or maybe a little less: note that the young fifth-graders scored lower than their older classmates. Assuming that "verbal I.Q." is even a real measurable thing (isn't "I.Q.", by definition, supposed to be unchanging?) and the study devised a means to measure it accurately, this means that by starting your child early you're actually denying him chances to learn. Statistically, if he were in fifth grade a year later he'd be smarter and better! (He would also, most likely, be more popular with the ladies.)

Perhaps the authors dismiss this, in accordance with the high valuation they put on lifetime income—more bank is a worthwhile exchange for less knowledge. But it's strange to me that they didn't even mention the potential trade-off. Perhaps they couldn't get it in under the word limit the Times gave them? That's why they should be blogging instead! (Is anyone still reading?)

The crux of the piece comes in the second half, where the authors draw on their neuroscience background to explain that "brain development cannot be put on pause, so the critical question is how to provide the best possible context to support it." That is to say, research shows that the brain is changing fastest in the first six years of a child's life, and therefore the argument is that children should be in that "best possible context"—school, natch!—for as much of that time as possible. This does not follow.

First, what about the initial 5 to 5.9 years of the child's rapid development? If school is really necessary to getting the most from those crucial years of synapse building I think that most of humanity pretty much missed the bus. I don't think that the authors want to take newborns away from their parents and subject them to scientifically-designed state-sponsored education—but why not, given their premises?!

Second, I would not be so quick to assume that school in fact is the best possible context for anything, except perhaps storing children and limiting the trouble they can get into (or rather, can inflict on the wider community). And I say this as a teacher and someone who is committed to the public school system. Yes, in most cases school is a great place to learn school things—how to write essays, different ways to solve multiplication problems, why Columbus didn't discover America—but I would suggest that those are not the primary concerns of five-year-olds. I didn't learn to read until first grade, and I'm doing fine now (though I don't want to talk about my lifetime earning potential).

A complicating factor comes in the authors' appeal to helping the less-fortunate:

Disadvantaged children have the most to lose from delayed access to school. For low-income children, every month of additional schooling closes one-tenth of the gap between them and more advantaged students.

I'm not quite sure what that means—whether the low-income kids need to have school to themselves to catch up, or if just being in school together with other students eventually levels the playing field. The following lines, which claim that moving back cutoff birthdays hurts poor kids, suggest the latter, but that's completely ridiculous: no matter when you start school you're going to get the same number of months there before you're done. Unless of course he's assuming that the poor kids are all going to drop out as soon as they can.

It all strikes me as a little paternalistic, actually. I agree that young kids have rapidly developing brains: that's the only point that touches on the author's area of profession expertise, and it's also completely common sense. But those brains don't need to be developing reading or income potential—they might just as well be working on language processing and motor coordination and spacial reasoning. Kids can get all those playing in a field with other kids, no "education" required.

Of course, I readily acknowledge that in certain circumstances "disadvantaged children" don't have the same field-related opportunities as other youngsters. And in some subset of those cases, the best real-world solution would be to get children who are otherwise languishing into kindergarten, or pre-K, or Head Start. But that's already happening. And overall, it is not correct to baldly assert that more school early is better. Even if, as a parent, you're only worried about lifetime income potential. Maybe it would be better to use that vital fifth year for some early on-the-job training!

[As an aside, in researching for this post I discovered a Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence Test from Psychology Today, which, of course, I had to take. Needless to say I totally rocked it, scoring in the 99th percentile. 99.97% in fact, if you want to be exact. Together, my internet-validated intelligence and my MEd degree trump Sam Wang's neuroscience doctorate and Sandra Aamodt's... journalism school experience, and let me conclusively say that this article is bunk.]


what I'm reading that you might want to read

For a while after becoming aware of the existence of Terry Pratchett I declined to read any of his books. I knew that they were British, humorous, and of the fantasy genre (loosely defined), a set of qualities that marked them in my mind as irredeemably dorky. It's not that I had any pretensions to non-dorkdom myself, of course; rather that, knowing my own lack of cool, I didn't want to risk associating myself with anything that would make that lack any more stark. Now that I'm grown up and not cool by definition that fear is gone, and I can confidently say that I've enjoyed almost every book that Mr. Pratchett has written.

Let this post count as a recommendation, if you're in the market for some clever writing. Pratchett writes books that are fairly funny, but they're not broad comedies; in all but his earliest books the humor spices up well-plotted stories that often also touch on mildly interesting questions about human nature and morality. The volume of Pratchett's output is also appealing, especially if you tend to burn through books as fast as I do. And, while nearly all of the books go together in the "Discworld series", it's not a sequential set like Harry Potter: nearly all the books are meant to stand alone as complete stories in their own right. Of course, the more you read the more you come to learn about Pratchett's bizarre universe, and the more fun each book becomes.

So yeah, if you're secure in your self-image and want a good fun read, there's your suggestion for the day.


almost perfect

our house, with Christmas lights, in the snow

cold and quiet

[Note: that picture is from last year. Don't worry!!]

Our house is practically perfect, especially in the summer. Wonderful light, great cross-ventilation with the doors open, and the big porch to expand the livable area. Come the colder weather though, there are two things I wish we had: a wood-burning stove and mudroom.

It's certainly not cold now—after our crazy snow day the weather has been positively balmy the last couple days—but the smell of wood smoke on my commute this morning made me think once again how much I'd like to have a cozy warm fire to gather around on evenings like the one in the picture above. Unfortunately, not only is there no way we can afford the stove and its installation, there's also not really a good place for us to put one if we could; we'd have to give up about half of the current seats in our living room, I figure. Oh well, we'll just have to rely on good old natural gas for the foreseeable future: less cozy but just as warming.

And I don't need to tell you why I'd like a mudroom, especially as the number of potentially muddy feet around here continues to increase. And it's not just boots that are troublesome: coats, hats, mittens, the occasional scarf... winter's demands on the wardrobe are severe. And unfortunately our wardrobe is located some small yet psychologically significant distance away from the door, which opens directly onto the living room. You can imagine, then, what the floor looks like after we've come in from a wintertime family walk. In the summer we can leave wet coats and boots on the porch to avoid overwhelming the interior spaces, but that's obviously not a long-term option in the colder months. Even more than the stove I know that a having the sort of space that can mediate between outdoors and in- is a dream that's not going to be realized anytime soon, but that doesn't stop me from considering what kind of addition we might put on to allow a mudroom; you know, after we win the lottery or whatever. I guess I'd better start buying tickets!

Still, even without those two longed-for luxuries, we have it pretty good—I can safely say I'm very much looking forward to winter, never mind cluttered floors and heat diffused through baseboard radiators!


little buddies

Zion and Nathan playing on the floor

Zion got to visit with his friend Nathan the other day, and they had some fun together. It was the first time since he's become mobile and interactive that he's hung out with another little baby—one roughly of his own age and developmental level—and he seemed to enjoy it. You'll note I posted the picture with Zion smiling; Nathan smiled too, but Zion wasn't looking at the camera for that one.

The adults had a good time too, and so did Harvey once he got over waking up in a strange place (he'd gone to sleep in the car), and then falling off the couch and bumping his head. It helped that he was served french fries for dinner.

[I apologize for the graininess and weird colors of the photo. I find it strange that there are people who comment positively on the iphone's camera. It is at least useful for documentary purposes.]


dog day

He doesn't get nearly as much press in these pages as he did before June 20, 2009, but Rascal isn't completely ignored around here. Today, for example, he enjoyed two long walks—one into town on the leash and the other running free in the woods—and a couple hours of outside time playing with Harvey and terrorizing the chickens. In between that he lounged on the couch or ate Harvey's leftovers. The pup is not doing too badly.

Zion's lovey

This is the part of the year where I suddenly get obsessed with projects that have nothing to do with Christmas. I know I know, Christmas is right around the corner, but I simply can't start the sweaters until I make a few upcycled pigs, some sock bunnies, a backpack for Harvey and new oven mitts. Because, you know, we made it through the last YEAR AND A HALF with crappy oven mitts, but another four weeks might kill us.

Not helping matters, Dan suggested last week that Zion might like a lovey: a soft blanket which he could cuddle with while he sucks his thumb. Of course Zion needed one. As soon as the thought entered my mind Zion needed that lovey so badly I packed the kids into the car that very afternoon headed for JoAnne's.

zion playing with his lovey

all I cares about is can I chew it.

I bought some fuzzy baby blanket material (some polyester variant; it doesn't pay too much to know) and some cotton ribbing for the edging. I figured the cotton was at least a natural fiber for the part that would most go in his mouth. Harvey liked the green fuzzy cloth I chose, but was appalled by my choices of edging. "They don't match together! They don't match together!" he screamed as I put the bolt in our cart. "Put it back!"

He continued to explain to me that the edging wasn't green. I'm glad he understands the concept of matching, but I've got some work to do on teaching him about "coordinating" fabrics. Anyway, something to practice.

Meanwhile, I got some practice making mitred edges!

lovey mitred edges

give it back!

Could use a little more practice still, it looks like. Although I'm sure they lie flatter when you're not using inch-wide knit ribbing.

Anyway Zion seems to like it well enough. He even used it for its intended purpose.

zion sucking thumb with lovey

the only way this could be more soothing is if mama was wearing me

Sorry for the lack of daylight photos. I'm not up to making craft porn these days... there are too few hours of daylight and too few days until Christmas!


apple-pecan muffins

We're about at the end of fresh apple season, sadly, but if you're anything like us you still have plenty of apples around and plans to get more. We never have enough applesauce made! Of course, we've also been eating our fair share, but even with our best efforts some of the eating apples have passed their prime, at least as far as crispness is concerned. Happily, apple muffins are a great way to use them up those mushy but still tasty Empires or Cortlands. Below is the recipe I made up over the last two-three times I tried to put apples in muffins; nothing special, but I like the results at least (Harvey complains about the nuts—sorry boy, not everything can have chocolate chips in it!).

If I were a real food blogger I'd have some awesome close-up pictures, but I'm obviously not. All the photogenic muffins were eaten long before anyone thought of getting a camera.

Apple-Pecan Muffins

Preheat the oven to 375° and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.

In a medium bowl, combine and let sit for 15 minutes or so:

3 small apples or two large, peeled and grated
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

In a large bowl whisk together:

1 cup white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat bran
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg


3/4 cup toasted pecans, chopped

To the apple mixture add:

6 Tpsp melted butter or canola oil

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold together just until all the flour is combined. Distribute evenly into the muffin tin. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with a mixture of:

3 parts white sugar
2 parts brown sugar

Bake for 18 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.


what's the best thing in the bible?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the worst thing in the bible. It's a fun topic of discussion for sure, but leaving it on its own gives the bible short shrift. Surely it bears notice that there are good things in the bible as well. Lots of them, I hope. Otherwise what on earth is the point of reading it cover to cover? My current favorite bit is the letter of Jeremiah to the exiled Jews in Babylon. (Jeremiah 29) You may have heard the pull-quote before:

"I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

It makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside, doesn't it? Lots of people feel this way it seems, because we have a mass-produced magnet on our fridge bearing those words. (We put it next to the magnet that says "Jesus was a Jewish liberal.")

Anyway, that's not the part I like. I like the part that comes before that:

"Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce... seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile... When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place."

Jeremiah had a harsh word for the exiles. They weren't getting back home for seventy years. That meant some of them weren't getting back home at all. But it's this knowledge that was supposed to bring them hope. "I know the plans I have for you..." says the Lord. YOU may not know them. YOU may not like them. But you're not the plan-maker.

Now stop being a dick to your neighbors.

We've had too many nights without sleep around here. Harvey needs changed at 2am for some reason. Zion needs to be awake at 4:30 so he can poop. I want to go to sleep every night at 8pm, but Harvey's sweet voice calls from the back of my mind saying "Mama you make my backpack?" It's not difficult to recall the sound; he asks about every five minutes when he's awake. Seriously, if he were asking me to buy something I'd probably smack him, but for some reason the nag to get sewing is endearing.

Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Don't worry about WHEN the big problems are gonna be solved. Maybe it'll be hard for a long time. It's not my business to worry about it. The hope and the future are part of God's plan, not mine.

harvey at 1 day old

Harvey at one day old

Harvey at 1 day old. When I had no idea what I was getting into.


mouse eviction, day 1

We know it's winter in our household when the kitchen drawers slowly begin to fill with mouse poop. And so begins our yearly ritual of transferring our household rodent population to woods of Carlisle. We deposited our first two at Foss Farm this morning.

harvey is sad at the mouse releasing

things would go better if you just did as I told you, woman!

Of course this outing is never without tears. Today it was because I refused to bring smaller cages to transfer each individual mouse from the big cage into the woods. I'm not sure how this scenario played out in Harvey's head, but clearly he needs some direct experiments in catching mice by hand.

After this brief illegal errant we took a pleasant walk around Foss Farm, with Rascal running like mad around other dogs and sometimes even obeying my commands to come back.

Zion was there too, but the only in-focus shot of him also captures my camera case. Sigh.

zion at the mouse releasing

i was there too.

The hats are last fall's project: in three months I made something like 5 hats using Drumlin Farm's undyed wool. The smallest one went to our friend Noah, but when his family moved to South Africa they gave it back. Not a lot of call for wool hats down there, apparently. As sad as I was to see a present come back to me, I'm very pleased to have two matching hats for the kids with no extra work on my part. There's even a 1-year size for next year, and Harvey's looks like it has some give.

harvey portrait at foss farm

little english looking lad

We played for a while in the horse jumping course. Harvey kept saying, "Can we stay here for a long long time?" And then when we were in the car, "Can we come here again some day?" We'll see how many mice we have, but probably the answer is Yes.


why do they even do that?

We've been getting a lot of comment spam lately; I'd apologize to everyone who subscribes to the comment feed if I weren't so sure it was just me. It makes me wonder who's behind this stuff, and how they rationalize it. Because basically, there's no upside for anyone: it makes the spammed blog look bad and drowns out legitimate conversation (in our case that's mostly between Leah and me but you know, the principle), and it also makes it harder for everyone to find what they're actually looking for on the internet. Do the spammers feel like they're doing evil but it's ok because they're doing it cleverly? Do they justify it by actually hating the internet and everyone on it? Do they feel that it's just a job and try not to pay too much attention? I'm honestly curious.

I've been deleting the spam comments as I see them, but there are large portions of the day when I'm not in front of the computer so they can build up a bit—though nothing like way back in the Moveable Type days. So I did some actual work and made it easier to delete comments in bulk from the blog. Whew. So nobody get out of control and comment too much, or I might think you're spamming. Keep it down to two or three comments a day, please.


food assistance

So I want to write about something that will potentially incur the wrath of the internet. Or at least our parents.

As you guys know, I was laid off from my job in August 2010. I had other options at the time. I could have stayed with the firm and taken a high-travel position, 50% on the road. I could have taken a workaholic position, 60 hours in the office. I didn't take either. I already missed my baby too much. I was happy for the layoff.

Last August my unemployment benefits ran out. We had hoped that the new school year would bring increased compensation for Dan, now the sole breadwinner. It didn't, but I felt like that was okay too. The one word I heard from God all summer was "You're going to be amazed by the ways I provide for you." And this has been 100% true.

I don't make a monthly budget because if I did I would despair. The fact is that we have more expenses than income, but we always manage to make it work. (I'm not talking about Harvey-needs-a-new-coat expenses; I'm talking about water bill expenses.) Since I don't want to send myself into a panic, I never make a budget. Instead, when each bill comes in I see how we're going to pay it. There's always a way. Sometimes we take money from savings, sometimes I sell things, sometimes friends and family miraculously give us money. Okay, so actually friends and family miraculously give us money A LOT OF THE TIME. Either way, I have indeed been amazed by the ways God provided for us. And since God is not only the God of water bills but the God of abundance, I've had wonderful things like JoAnnes gift cards and Target gift cards and Whole Foods gift cards that make feel we're really living the good life.

I intend to go on trusting God's provision forever, but I'm getting a little burned out with checking my bank account every time I go to the grocery store. Did the real estate tax come out yet? When does the student loan debit? Is there room in there for $50 worth of groceries? $75? It's a bit mentally exhausting at the moment when I'm also trying to get jackets and hats on two squirming children.

So I applied for SNAP (formerly called Food Stamps) in October. I have no moral qualms with taking government money because we pay our taxes brutally honestly. We forfeited $8000 of new house credit because it was a "family sale" and we couldn't bring ourselves to lie, even though they never would have known and other people were taking that credit who NEVER EVEN BOUGHT A HOUSE! At the very least the federal government owes us $8000 worth of food.

Look, it's free and there's no real estate tax assistance.

The problem with food stamps is that they go through state bureaucracy. I won't go into the long story but suffice it to say that it's taking a very very very long time.

On the other hand, the Bedford Food Pantry has a simple one-page application. So we started going there a week ago.

This is the part that I'm afraid of losing friends over. Gomn't money is one thing, but a food pantry is charity, which is something you're never supposed to accept, ever, especially not if you're white and formerly Jewish.

Some people will say we're filthy freeloaders, a household with two healthy adults with masters degrees. Some people will say we should just work harder and buy our own damn food. I won't argue with that. I'll just say that the issue is complex. We're all just trying to figure out what choices are best for our families. We intend to write more about this in the coming days — more interesting things like how many boxes of mac-n-cheese we're expected to consume in a week — so this post is more of a way of introduction. Please leave character assassinations in the comments and I'll address them as they come.


dis is a blog made out of words!

While I was changing Harvey's diaper the other day I was yelling something to Dan... something something David (I don't really remember.) Instantly Harvey perked up and said, "I LIKE David!"

"Who do you know that's named David?" I asked. Harvey doesn't have any David friends.

He just looked up at me like I was a moron. "David is made out of Grandpa."

He's into this things-made-out-of-things lately. We were reading a baptism book given to us by the episcopal church, and when it got to a picture of Jesus' baptism Harvey exclaimed: "That's God!"

"It sure is, Harvey! Great job!"

"It's God made out of Joseph!"

I was about to explain that he's sort of right, but then I realized it just looks like a picture of Joseph from another book.

"No, that's Jesus," I say.

"It's God made out of Jesus!" Harvey says proudly.

"Jesus made out of God more likely, but I'll take it!"

Later Harvey brings a hymn book to Dan and points to the crucifix on the cover: "That's God made out of Jesus!"

"More like Jesus made out of God," Dan says.

"I know," I say, "That's the second time I corrected him today. But we may need to have this conversation a few times..."


Inside the Food Pantry

For those of you who were raised like me, upper middle-class benefiting from a racially assured track to success (for short I'll call us UM...BRATS) you've probably never stepped foot in a food pantry. Well then, let me tell you what it's like!

How it works

At our local food pantry they pack the bags for you, so there's a lot of waiting involved. I go in, take a number from a helpful high-school girl, and go in an adjacent room to wait. After about a half hour my number is called, and I hand over my food pantry card in exchange for two paper bags filled with canned goods. It's different every week, but there'll be a mix of real food (canned vegetables, soup, plain pasta) semi-food items (mac-and-cheese, chewy granola bars) and non-food items (cup-a-soup, swiss miss.) I can't choose among the items while I'm there but I can bring back anything I don't want the following week. For example, Dan vetoed the instant popcorn and the swiss miss, since the former contained no real butter and the latter no chocolate.

Oh, and a single roll of toilet paper. We get that every week.

Wishing on a list

I also get to fill out a "wish list" each week. This is a list of extra items from which I can request four things. Last week I chose cereal, crackers, soap, and juice. I was hoping for something like cranberry juice that we could serve at bible study, but the apple juice we got only had apple juice concentrate as the third ingredient AFTER corn syrup, so Dan made it go into the "take back" bag. The crackers, well, I was hoping for Ritz or Triskets but ended up with matzah crackers. Beggars something something choosers. But the cereal was good old Market Basket brand Tasteos, so we came out ahead there.

The previous week I did better with the wish list. I chose cereal (and got name brand honey nut cheerios!), shampoo, conditioner, and tea. The tea was Tetley black tea which turns out to be good. And I surprised myself by just how happy I was to get a big bottle of shampoo and conditioner. Let me tell you, I've skated along for a long time with baking soda and hippy ideals, but when free shampoo was on offer I suddenly realized that I was REALLY EXCITED TO WASH MY HAIR!

Harvey, on the other hand, was most psyched about the cheerios.

Harvey with his hand in the box of Honey Nut Cheerios

"honey cheeeeos!"

But wait, there's more!

There's also a "free table" which contains fresh produce (sometimes) a million loaves of Panera bread, and a mix of things they're having trouble giving away. This is the most exciting part of the food pantry for me, because we've gotten the most valuable stuff there. A can of pumpkin, the exact same brand we use for making pie, lots and lots of baby food, a squash that Dan made into delicious soup, and a box of Gerber brand rice cereal which turned out to be the only thing Zion wants to eat. I'd been trying various homemade solids for him but he spit out all my apple sauce and mashed sweet potato. The rice cereal, on the other hand, got gobbled up right away.

Zion in his Exersaucer holding a spoon


All in all it's a pretty great thing, this food pantry of ours.


fall signs

Harvey and Zion playing in the leaf pile

looks like fall

It's been a strange fall around here, what with the snow storm and then a few weeks of really warm weather, but things are starting to look genuinely seasonal around here just in time for Thanksgiving. Admittedly, on Sunday when the picture above was snapped Harvey and I were barefoot—but close enough. It's cooled down nicely now.

The special Thanksgiving farmers market in Lexington this afternoon was another nice sign of the season. We picked up some potatoes, onions, winter squashes, and beets—nowhere near enough to take us all the way through the winter, sure, but symbolic of the year's last harvest. After that I suppose it's the grocery store again. Some day we'll get the root cellar working. We also picked up a tomato, at Harvey's request. Who am I to deny the not-entirely-seasonal desires of my offspring (although I do draw the line at taking the seeds out of it for him when we eat it—where on earth did he get that idea?!).

We also started out Thanksgiving eating this evening, or Leah and I did: Harvey was asleep, worn out from the market, and Zion's dinner was limited to mashed bananas, neither Thanksgiving-related nor particularly seasonal. We have nearly a week of Thanksgiving feasting planned, which is very much in the spirit of 1621 and also in the spirit of my instinctive desire to fatten up for the cold weather. Yet another important sign of fall.


music books

Harvey has discovered what sheet music looks like and where the hymnals and scores are kept. Now instead of just asking us to read him books, he asks us to sing them. I sometimes oblige; I do enjoy singing if I've had time for lunch and don't have anything else to do. The hymns I can generally manage, though the four-part oratorios are perhaps beyond my skill as an unaccompanied soloist. Do you think the boy knows the difference?

today I am thankful for:

The boy who fills each day with wonder

harvey at butterfly farm


The little snuggle-bug who keeps me warm

zion at butterfly farm


The man who makes everything possible

thankful for dan

always workin for mama

Thank you family for being my family.

(Including you, Rascal and chickens!)


uncles and cousins

Harvey and his cousin Nisia


We've been doing very well with the food so far this Thanksgiving—three or four meals of delicious Thanksgiving food a day for the last three days (we started early) and more yet to come. Family too: Harvey was very excited to see Uncle Jake yesterday (and everyone else too, of course), and today he was looking forward to playing with his cousin Nisia.



She lives even further away than Uncle Jake and is considerably younger, so he's only seen her once since she's been mobile enough to do any playing. She obviously made a big impression: "Oh... Nisia!" he says whenever he hears her name. "That's my friend!" From all appearances the visit was everything he hoped for. They played outside in the leaves and he showed off his chickens, and then they played inside and he shared his trains very nicely (although he did feel the need to mention aloud his understanding that she was not to take any of them home). The rest of us enjoyed hanging out with Uncle Tom and Grandma. All in all a very pleasant Thanksgiving weekend in-between-day.

Harvey and Nisia getting showered with leaves

try to catch one!


hands full of goodies

Our food stamp card arrived in the mail today! They made up for the long delay in processing our application by back-dating our benefits to the beginning of the process, which means that as of Friday we'll have something like $700 to spend on food.

Dan says to be thrifty and make it last, but I'm going to head straight to the produce section and buy some grapes. Lots and lots of grapes. And maybe a melon.

No! A pomegranate! I'll make these cookies!

Once we spend down the initial burst we'll have $288 a month to work with. That's less than the total we usually spend on food, but at least within shooting distance.

I am writing this so you guys can stop worrying whether we're getting enough to eat.

And now because this blog post is too short I'm going to write about something completely different.

I walked up to the post office twice today, first because I sold something on ebay yesterday and then because I sold another thing on ebay at noon, and I am all about getting my paypal money flipped into Christmas presents as soon as possible. Also the dog needed a walk and Harvey needed to stop destroying our living room.

I go out with the dog and the double stroller every day, and when it's nice out I like to count how many times I hear, "You've got your hands full!" If it's a particularly sunny afternoon I'm sure to hear it at least three times, and one day I made it to seven!

I don't know what it is about two kids and a dog that make people gape in amazement. My hunch is that most people aren't that practiced at walking.

I also hear "you've got your hands full" it at the grocery store, but there I don't have a dog with me and that's just confusing. I have my hands full? With TWO children? Doesn't, like, EVERYBODY have two children? I mean I guess LITERALLY I have my hands full, but so do you if you're holding a basket and a phone...

I'm so used to hearing "You've got your hands full" that I get excited when anyone says something different. So today was particularly excited to hear two different things! On the first walk someone said "That's a load!" and on the second walk "You've got quite a crew there!"

I really smiled at the crew reference because it makes me sound like a captain, as opposed to some kind of pack mule or something. I sure do have a crew! Wait a few years and I'll put them to work!

I have fantasies of forcing my kids carol to all the neighbors in matching Christmas sweaters, but perhaps I should keep these things to myself. I wonder if people will say something different when they see me walking with three or even four kids. I bet they'll just cross to the other side of the street.


occupy mommysville

This deal came into my inbox this morning. It made me feel kind of ill:

Despite all of the goings-on in the media, the only Occupy Movement you're concerned with is the one being staged by your offspring in the living room. Let them get their kicks elsewhere with today's deal at the Acrobatic Rock 'n' Roll Academy of Boston on Main Street in Waltham....

Let me rephrase your marketing copy, Rock 'n' Roll Academy, to get at what you're really saying.

When you gave birth to your children, the OB accidentally threw our your brain with the afterbirth. Now you could give two shits about world politics or social injustice. Or any adult thoughts, really. All you concern your pretty little head over is the pint-size demons running around your house. And boy, you'd love to stop caring for them for a few hours, wouldn't you? Seeing as you kind of secretly hate parenting? Good thing you're rich and can easily spring $155 for two months of dance class (normally $310!)

Yeah, Living Social, I guess I'm not the target demographic for this.

christmas preview: Harvey's backpack

I have a secret drawer in my closet filled with finished Christmas presents. (For those of you who weren't reading last year, it's kind of a thing for us to do home-made Christmas. We're both poor and over-zealously ambitious, you see.) My drawer not as full as I'd like it to be, but it's coming along.

things in drawer

lying in wait

You may well wonder who's that spotted friend peaking out from top. Let me introduce you to Harvey's new back-pack.

front of back pack

I can't wait to hug my Harvey!

He saw the examples in this book and declared that he wanted a back-pack that was both a penguin AND had spots. I fought him for a while saying it should only have spots, that a beak and wings and feet would make it too busy. Then I got over it. I do so like to make him happy.

back of back pack

so much edge stitching!

Here's the gratuitous strap shot. I started this bag just after Halloween, and finished it just after Thanksgiving. I cannot tell you how many hours exactly... somewhere between ten and thirty. There were a lot of details. And the fact that the iron lives in the same room as a sleeping baby.

ready for an infinite number of pennies

I had originally wanted to make him a backpack in September to celebrate the start of kids church, Harvey's first away-from-mama activity. Buuuuut there was fabric to choose, and then a zipper and buttons and strap adjustors to buy, and then strap adjustors to replace the first ones which were really belt adjustors, not to mention the ten to thirty hours of sewing. Now I'm just happy to have it done for Christmas. Every bone in my body is fighting the urge to give it to him RIGHT AWAY just to see the smile on his face. He can wait four weeks for the bonus Christmas excitement, can't he? CAN'T HE?

Yes, because if I get nothing else done the backpack will make him so happy.

But oh how I wish I had a shot of Harvey carrying it. Neither of us are good at delayed gratification.