Halloween tricksters

The excitement over Halloween was higher this year than it's EVER BEEN in our family before. Harvey has reached the age of reason where he understands the excitement of trick-or-treating, the excitement of wearing a costume, the excitement of his friends coming over to GO TRICK-OR-TREATING IN COSTUMES, OH MY GOODNESS THE EXCITEMENT IS TOO MUCH.

Zion picked up on Harvey's energy, and it took a full hour to get them fully ready in their costumes. In a moment of brilliance I insisted that a bath was an essential part of transforming into a pirate. Then Zion ran around for a half hour in a pirate vest and nothing else. Once they were dressed it was no less crazy. Turns out pirates are difficult to photograph.



I also made myself a pirate costume. Unlike my children, I can stand still for a photograph.

would be sexier if the corset strings weren't elastic

I'm so happy with the way these costumes came out I'm thinking of starting a dress-up box for the kids so they can play pirates more often. Katie suggested the improvement of sewing the sashes to the vest to keep them in place. Of course! Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that? I only adjusted their sashes like fifty times while trick-or-treating. I'll have to fix that as soon as I figure out where in the house they stashed their sashes.

Though you can't tell from the photos, these costumes were the most complex ones I've made to date, even using "real" clothing patterns for the shirts and pantaloons. The fabric was rather cheap; I did it all with $20 of supplies, but then I spent $15 on the stockings to wear under the pants so I don't really feel that thrifty. (Also, stockings? WTF? Parents of girls put those things on their children all the time? It took me like ten minutes alone to get those stockings on my kids.) Dan's mom made a comment that sewing will get easier once Zion can wear Harvey's old costumes and I was like, "What are you talking about? They have to MATCH!"

After canvasing the neighborhood for candy we came back to our house for a big halloween bash. It was a bash in the sense that it was a smashing good time and also because the kids bashed the house into every kind of mess you could possibly imagine. We haven't quite dug out yet. Everyone here has a mega candy hangover. No wonder his holiday is scary!

storm something!


locally-made hurricane porn

On Tuesday we toured the hurricane devastation in Lexington. For our part the only devastating thing was that the farmers market we had biked to was closed. In an effort to keep up the kids' spirits we toured the fallen down trees on the public green.


conquering the heights

We also saw a tree that had already been sawed apart. Harvey tried with to put his foot up on the stump, lumberjack style, but it did not yield to him.

ehn ehn ehn

And we saw the big big holes that the branches of the tree made when they hit the ground.

woops! careful

By the library more trees were down.

too big to put in our house for Christmas

But the babes were getting tired so it was time to head home. We only had to ride under one fallen tree and over another to get there!


zion and his chickens

Remember the other day when I said that my kids are so wonderful they just play together and don't need me much at all? HAHAHA. That was a day-long phase. Which is good, I guess. At least my worldview isn't completely shaken.

Zion's been sick the past few days, so it was back to holding him near 100% of the time. Though, if Harvey was big enough to hold him we might be in competition. Zion loves that kid. He wakes up in the morning crying "Haaaaaavey." If Harvey happens not to be awake it's a challenge distracting him for a half hour. The other day I took him out with me to help with the chickens, and that seemed to be a stroke of genius because suddenly he was at home.

opening the door to let the chickens out

who let the chickens out? who who who?

Reminds me of anther picture we have on file of a toddler in pajamas and boots.

Harvey outside holding his Easter sheep

welcome happy morning!

Zion ran around after the chickens trying to pet one, but for some reason they kept running away.

zion chasing chickens

come back cluck clucks!

He felt more in charge when I let him help get the new feed. Then they came right over to him!

I'm the boss.

I usually prefer to feed and water the chickens by myself, since it's a lot of walking back and forth carrying heavy things - not the sort of thing that could easily give a sense of prideful gratification to a small child. Also I've got into the habit of being rushed — I used to have to finish all the chicken chores before Dan left for work because after he left I couldn't put down the baby for ONE SECOND. But that's not really true these days - Zion is 18 months today, after all - and if necessary I can leave him and Harvey in the house for five minutes while I get the water and they will not scream until they vomit, they will play legos nicely.

So, I guess I could let them help me once in a while. For the sake of good parenting, if not adorable pictures.


some political statistics that have nothing to do with tomorrow's poll numbers

Because I grew up in a politically liberal town, and because I do a poor job of socializing with people unlike myself, I have been saved the awful Facebook badgering that my friends have been complaining about in the run-up to this presidential election. I have not been confronted with any distorted pictures of the president with ugly font lettering superimposed calling him a socialist or some other term I might find flattering. I have been spared. Mostly Facebook has provided me with a steady stream of baby pictures or news that the remainder classmates are finally getting married. So it was with a naive level of shock that I read the following awful thing yesterday:

At Market Basket....and if one more white trash pos hipchecks me 1 more time theres gonna be an Issue! Also if you insist on using my tax dollars on your Snap card don't f%$&@*&$ wear chanel boots and rock your Michael kors bag or expect to get spoken too! This has been a service announcement by the overworked, underpaid and fed up...

(ed note: Thank God copy and paste worked on this, I would have had to hold my nose to re-type it.)

2 people like this. One says "Lol...so true." Another says: "don't forget about there (sic) lexus and/or mercedes are (sic) parked outside"

Now, it's not really a good use of one's energy to engage in political discussions via Facebook status updates, let alone in the COMMENTS of Facebook status updates. But since I have unlimited space here, on the blog, I'd like to shed some real data-driven light on the subject of SNAP benefits and the white trash who receive them.

1) Are you really overworked and underpaid? Maybe YOU should consider applying for food stamps. To qualify you must have income not greater than 100% of the federal poverty line. For a single person like yourself, that means you're taking home $931 a month or less. For a family of four, like us, we can make up to 200% of the poverty guideline and still qualify, that's $3842 a month. With no more than $2000 in savings. I know, doesn't it sound like living the dream?

2) SNAP benefits can only be used for food you cook at home, not prepared food or coffee or a party platter from the supermarket or anything like that. But thankfully, the DTA does not monitor the way you spend your other money OUTSIDE of the food stamps program. That $931 a month, when you're done paying rent and utilities and fuel for your lexus and/or mercedes, you're free to take it over to Marshalls and score some great deals on late-season Michael Kors. Those ugly bags are super cheap over there, I promise.

3) But as the dis-fluent commenter highlights, some taxpayers might worry that SNAP dollars are going to people who are not truly needy. Who are committing FRAUD as Sandy Martinez would have us believe in the one billion leaflets she's sent to our house this campaign season. Well, what does the research really show?

The USDA audit for 2011 showed an error rate in SNAP dispersions of 3.8%. The total amount the federal government spent on SNAP in 2011 was $78 Billion, which means SNAP fraud cost the country an estimated $3 Billion. (Those bitches driving their lexus and/or mercedes to Market Basket must be in among this group.) By contrast, the IRS estimates income tax noncompliance at 16.9%, which adds up to $450 Billion in tax fraud. For those of you who are innumerate or who read this paragraph like "cost the country an estimated BIG NUMBER... adds up to BIG NUMBER" I'll say it more simply: The overworked underpaid taxpayer is fucked nearly 150 TIMES HARDER by rich tax dodgers than by white trash pos'es.

Or to put it another way, the amount lost to tax fraud each year is over 5 times the amount spent on SNAP programs. Total.

But, you know, your scapegoat or mine.

And anyway, rich assholes don't shop at Market Basket, so they're less likely to get in your way at the checkout.


road use ranting

Today was the first snow-biking day of the season, though without any accumulation to provide difficulty it was pure winter-preview fun. I also took the first post-time change evening trip out in full dark, and that was less fun. I always feel, biking at night, that drivers are wondering why on earth I'm even out there, and thinking that, while of course they're very careful around me, it'd sort of be my fault if I got hit. Just like the feeling I get when I'm walking on one of our many sidewalk-less roads, or through a parking lot, especially with the dog or the kids. I don't belong there, in the domain of the cars! Why am I endangering myself and my dependents?! It's just not safe.

Here's the thing guys: they're cars, not bears or dragons or something. And you're driving them.

By which I mean to say, while I understand the drivers' perspective—cyclists or pedestrians are unexpected, and it may make them nervous to consider the potential danger—the responsibility should belong to the people using high-speed vehicles weighing thousands of pounds to make sure they don't run into anyone, and if they can't manage that they shouldn't be driving. In fact, I should be able to just walk into the middle of a major street and have traffic stop. Of course I'd be a jerk if I tried it—why should my convenience trump that of dozens of drivers—but we shouldn't assume that a mom whose kid gets killed by a car crossing the road is guilty of manslaughter in his death. That's just sickening.

I know that my position is a little unrealistic. Drivers just can't pay that much attention: they have to keep their eyes on other cars, listen to the radio, talk on the phone, pick up something they dropped on the floor... that kind of thing. But from my point of view, accusing a pedestrian or cyclist of foolishly putting himself in danger is a lot like blaming rape victims based on how they're dressed. Just like men have to be responsible for not, you know, violently sexually assaulting every alluring looking female in sight, drivers need to be in charge of not killing people around them with their automobiles. I'm not sure how we arrived at the point where that's a bold statement.

I'm not opposed to cars. We drive places too, as the situation requires. But when I'm driving I make sure to stay alert and give more vulnerable road users plenty of room. That shouldn't be too much to ask, and our public roads should be safe for anyone who wants to use them.


first snow!

In the middle of the day yesterday I looked up from the book I was reading to Harvey and gasped, "Oh! It's snowing!"


A half-hour later we had gathered all the snow things from various closets and the basement. Harvey practically leapt into his snow-pants, but Zion took a lot more convincing. Forceful convincing.

Here was Harvey out in in the first snow of the year. It was hard to photograph him standing still since he wasn't frolicking like he invented the word.

harvey in the first snow of 2012


Zion was not so sure about it.

zion in the first snow of 2012


He stood in the same spot for ten minutes watching Harvey and me jump around, then he started whining to go inside.

At the very least, it's a relief to know we have snowsuits and boots that fit both boys. Zion could use a fleece hat that says on his head; maybe I'll sew one for him when I clear the mitten-making material off the floor of the office.

Oh, and hurray for winter!


driving me nuts

I am trying to drum up excitement around here for taking our children to their first ever Nutcracker experience. A friend of ours has a child in a production, and that production has a school-day concert that's open to both school groups and home-schoolers. The whole thing is so severely discounted that the four of us could take the train into the city and see the show for a total outing cost of $60.

Dan is not as amazed by the "cheapness" of this as I am. When you don't really have any cash on hand, $60 is a lot more than zero (especially when we just told Harvey he could choose anything in the World Vision catalogue to give to a child in Africa, and he chose a $75 goat.) But it's THE NUTCRACKER.

There are certain things that are important to me because they are important, like faith, compassion, or environmentalism, and some things that are very important to me for no discernible reason. Taking my family to see the Nutcracker is one of those things. I have been dreaming of this since BEFORE I had children. I don't know what I imagine this will accomplish, starting an obscenely expensive holiday tradition, but the emotional side of my brain that does not respond to reason says that iT is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.

Of course it doesn't have to be this year. It could be in many years to come, with a female child yet unborn, that I sit down in a darkening theater, and as the lights go down and the music swells a tiny hand squeezes mine, a tiny voice says "Oh, Mama! It's incredible!"

I asked Harvey if he wanted to ride the train into the city to see a dancing show. I explained that we would park the car at the train station, we would ride the train for a long time, then we would walk to a theatre. We'd sit in seats facing the stage. An orchestra would play music and people would come on the stage and dance. Harvey got very quiet and frightened. Then he asked if he could ride the train somewhere else. Maybe the Children's museum.

I showed him a video clip of The Nutcracker on You Tube. He asked if he could see another. I showed him another. He asked if he could see another. I asked if he wanted to go to the show to see the dancers close up. He shrunk back as if I was asking him if he'd like to be eaten by sharks. "I just like my iPad" he said.

There are two things at play here. One is: the more important something is to me the more Harvey relishes saying No. The second is that he can't respond to pressure. Even if I don't mean to, when something is important to me I put a pressure on my line of questioning. Harvey cannot respond to performance pressure of any kind. Really. If he's singing the alphabet and stops suddenly and I say, "What's the next letter Harvey?" he shrinks like I've pointed a gun at him. And don't ask him his name, strangers on the street, or what he's got there that he's eating. What are you trying to BREAK HIM? He CAN'T HANDLE THE ATTENTION!

What to do? Well, like everything else I convince myself that it's not really important. If it were important, like faith or compassion, I would drill it into Harvey a million times a day from every angle front back and sideways so I know there's no way he'll miss it. The Nutcracker is not really that important. It's just another thing I'd like to do. At this stage in my life I don't do anything without my kids, so if I want to do something I need to make them excited about it. And if they're not excited about it there's not a lot I can do. Put it on an imaginary shelf for later or never.

At the library this evening I was flipping through a Boston Parenting magazine and noticed a Nutcracker preview at the Discovery Museum this Saturday. Where we happen to be members. I threw the paper in front of Dan. "There!" I said. "Nutcracker this weekend, free. You can't beat FREE can you?"

I asked Harvey if he'd like to see the dancers AT THE CHILDREN'S MUESUM. He couldn't argue with that one.


Gaining Ground

Last Saturday we went to an open house at Concord's Gaining Ground. Gaining Ground is a volunteer-staffed organic farm which supplies produce to local food pantries. We've personally sampled their cabbage, squash and raspberries, so we were excited to take a look at the operation. When we arrived a hand-full of volunteers were planting garlic, the last crop to go in this year.

no chickens in that house unfortunately. They're all headed to local hungry bellies.

Dan helped spread marsh hay over the garlic while the boys and I wandered about the farm. I enjoyed messing around in an empty bee hive - I've read so much about bee keeping but never actually handled the frames before. The children liked seeing the tractor (obviously) and were amazed by the wide array of tools being stored outside.

Harvey says: We have that shovel!

In the pavilion where the workers eat their lunch there's some kind of swing hanging from the rafters. It sinks with a spring when Harvey gets on, so I feel like it might be some sort of scale.

for swinging and weighing?

We chatted with some of the farm bosses and then explored a field they are allowing to lie fallow. They preserve the soil on their 17 acres with a combination of crop rotation, soil-fixing plants, and animal assistance. I asked if they used pigs to help with some of the invasive plants species and the farmer told me, "You'd be amazed at how much poison ivy they'll eat."

Zion in a field, hood up, looking at Dada and Harvey ahead of him

turns around to view his land

Even though our children were not their happiest or walkingest selves during this trip, I found the visit to the farm incredibly refreshing. Just being on a big farm, looking out over beautiful fields and all those tool-filled junky parts in between, it breaths peace deep into the restless parts of my soul. I know some people wish they could live by the ocean, and when I visited the painted desert with Oona she said "This is MY COUNTRY!" I'm not very moved by the ocean and less so by the desert, but set me up in a nice farm field where it smells like poo and the horizon is obscured by a row of trees and I feel like I've come home.

But lest I get too wistful driving back into the suburbs, I took a picture of the chore list they had posted in their volunteer pavilion.

too much to do

Spread compost in back 1/2 of middle field. Take the irrigation out. Paint composting toilets. And I shudder to think of what is indicated by the single line that just reads "barn." Yes, I may long for a farm one day, but my list of chores is plenty long as is.


The Nutcracker, part 2

We visited the Discovery Museum in Acton today for a reading of The Nutcracker in storybook form. Seven high-school-aged dancers in full costume illustrated choice parts of the story, each performing a ten-second routine when her solo in the ballet was mentioned. I felt bad they had to curl their hair and lace up their toe-shoes for just that, but I guess it's part of the marketing. Nutcracker tickets don't sell themselves in Acton/Boxborough.

you'll never take him alive, Mouster

The room was so packed that I was glad the program only lasted a half hour. We came ten minutes early, but even so Dan and I had to sit separately, with a child on each lap. I don't know how Harvey reacted to the dancers, and maybe it was better that I didn't see. For his part, Zion regarded the proceedings with little more than detached patience.

Harvey in the back looks a little interested, at least.

The storyteller did a wonderful job using pacing and inflection to make the story as magical as possible. But as she read, I noticed something. When Clara found herself in a sparkling ball gown, or when the nutcraker turned into a prince, there was an audible gasp of amazement in the room. But not from the children. The oohs and aahs came from the mothers.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a grown woman getting into a picture book. Nor is there anything wrong with a mother trying to get her child engaged in an activity that's happening now and only fleetingly. But this morning, on this outing concocted only to further my scheme of dragging my children to a nonsensical classical ballet, I worried suddenly. Are we, and I mean a societal we, are we well-meaning parents trying to concoct a magical fantasy world just so we can force our children to enjoy it? Do we want to manufacture wonder and excitement in a world where we are the chief wizard? Are we doing this to prevent them from finding magic in the real world? a world that is natural and messy and mostly outside of our control?

The Discovery Museum's stated goal is to foster learning through play, yet it is very difficult to let children play freely there. The way it's set up, in an old house with tiny rooms that can't see into each other and stairs right down the middle, a parent has to be constantly ordering and bossing to keep two children safely in sight. Also, there are precious few places for adult to sit down in the museum, so most parents end up hovering, "Did you see this? Did you see what this does? Put the ball down here. No the smaller ball. Not that one, the small one. Pick it up and put it in the chute. Look it made a sound! Did you see how it made a sound? Cool, huh? What does this one do?"

I'm not saying the kids get nothing out of it, I'm just saying they'd be better served looking at the toys on their own somewhere the parents could sit on a bench and get out of their way.

We let Harvey and Zion play in the museum for a while, something they liked approximately seven billion times more than sitting and watching dancers. Then we went outside to eat our lunch. While we were outside I noticed something. Harvey and Zion went to play in some bushes next to the picnic table. Where it was, you know, kind of dirty. Zion was trying to hide beneath the branches and Harvey was trying to climb on a limb way too weak for the purpose. And I thought: now This is wonderful. The plants that God made grow from the ground? That provide both warmth and shade and a natural play structure to boot? Do I want him to stop being amazed by these things so I can convince him that a chimera of tinsel and crepe-paper and overworked high-school students is amazing?

Because it's not. It's stupid phony cheap glitter wrapped around a kernel of beauty which is DANCE. And I don't what to share with Harvey a love of fakery or spectatorship or paying a lot of money for a fancy outing. I want to share with him my love of DANCE. I want him to know what it's like to reach towards the heavens like you're leaving gravity, to memorize movements your brain can't explain and then feel your body leap away from your brain on amazing auto-pilot, to jump and spin until you feel what joy it is to be alive... I want to give him dance. Not a nut already cracked, but the whole blessed tree.

And for heaven's sake I want to give him space. From me. Because my dreams are maybe not his dreams. And my needs are maybe too big for a three-year-old.

poised on the turning point between the past and the future

So no Nutcracker this year for my family. Maybe next year, or maybe I could just get the the root of my longing and take a dance class myself. With or without my children. A girl can dream.


Nutcracker, coda

Dan says I came down a little hard on the Nutracker, a cultural event that is essentially morally neutral, and I agree with him. I didn't mean to be quite so harsh. I love classical ballet, after all. What I meant to come down on was our demand for certain emotional responses at certain times, both in children and adults. In my life I remember times when I said, well, I should cry when I put on my wedding dress, or when I hold my baby for the first time, and otherwise be emotionally numb (er, I mean, "stable"). So when these happen and don't know what to feel, I feel like there must be something wrong with me. Then when I want to cry while reading Harvey a book I say to myself, "Must be on my period! So emotional!" This is no way to be a human, and I want to save myself from it as much as I want to protect Harvey.

In Harvey's case I can tell he feels a huge weight on him when I ask him to perform, either by "enjoying" something like a shared cultural experience, or by "learning" something (even just sitting in kids' church is pretty loaded for him). This is a great case for unschooling or even just relaxed pedagogical methods, though I'm taking a break from reading about pedagogy right now because it was turning me into a second-guessing judgmental asshole.

You see I can't write a simple message these days without going around the bend... must be on my period! Anyway, I just wanted to add that if you're taking your child to the Nutcracker this year I think that's WONDERFUL and I hope you really do have a magical time.


Halloween crafts

Hey, here's a post about halloween crafts half-way through November! No judgement!

Actually, I've been waiting for a day when I have five minutes to spare and no deep thoughts... today seems to be the day! So without further ado here is some other crap I made for Halloween.

To go with their pirate costumes I made Harvey and Zion matching treasure chest bags.

ready for (more) goodies

Harvey had been asking for a bag that he could use to collect leaves and sticks without getting the inside wet. So I lined these bags with some vinyl I had lying in the scrap bin. I told Harvey the bag could serve two functions, first to collect candy, and then after to collect nature treasures.

harvey carrying his treasure bag through the woods

so much to look at, what should I pick up?

He quickly filled it with sticks and leaves, but then quickly took them out again. Still too dirty, he said, even with the easy-wipe interior.

Sewing experts will notice that the sides of the bag are a little too floppy, and I should have added a stabilizing layer. I agree. But I didn't have any stabilizer on hand and I'm out of money for crafting supplies until.... (?) These were made solely with materials I had laying around. The fleece handle was pure laziness, though. I should have used a less stretchy scrap fabric for the handle. Even Harvey complained that the handle was stretcy. All I can say is I learned my lesson on laziness this time... maybe.

On the other end of the DIY spectrum, we got some little kids craft kits from Grandpa's work. They contained all the pieces to make these hanging bats. The hard part was tracing the kids' hands for the wings and cutting them out. Other than that, everything stuck together like stickers.

Harvey's is the one with the non-standard nose

I dislike craft kits as a general rule. My kids are at an age where have to do 99% of the crafting work for them, and if that's the case I'd rather work on something creative I want to do, rather than pealing the backs off of pre-cut stickers. Which is just to say I think it's not worth the money when I can jimmy up two treasure chests for free from my fabric scraps. That said, my kids LOVE pre-packed bags full of craft crap, and Harvey for his part LOVES instructions and knowing how something is supposed to look. So they had a fun time, even if it was a mama set-up, mama cut stuff, mama clean-up kind of thing.

And now that it's November, the photo is all that remains of those stupid bats. That I moved from the floor to the refrigerator seventy times before finally putting them in the trash. Hey, it's almost time for turkey crafts anyway!


Stuff that's going on right now

It has been a lovely few weeks. Halloween was the first day in a long time that I didn't get a fever halfway through the day, and it's felt like I've finally turned the corner towards health. Suddenly it feels like the sun is shining, the birds are singing, the earth is not a prickly painful obstacle course under my feet. And since I'm not so focused on surviving through each day, I'm noticing the changing stages in my children's development with delight and awe and not, you know, "Holy Shit how does this affect for my chores?" Here's some stuff that's going on in our house right now.

zion in a box by the clock

double hiding space

Zion is in love with boxes. I was dismantling this box for the trash, and when I got interrupted halfway through Zion climbed right in. Harvey is really into tents and forts, but Zion doesn't like something over his head. He prefers to play boat while Harvey plays Arc. Then Harvey shouts, "The rains will come in! The rains will come in!" And I say Zion doesn't mind the rain and Harvey looks at me like I've never picked up a bible in my life.

twin beds

what's all this then?

We did a big furniture shift in Harvey's room this week. I guess I should say Harvey and Zion's room? Well, the shift hasn't happened in our lives yet. I tried to put Zion down for a nap in the cars bed yesterday and the result was that he didn't nap all day. I don't know when he (or I) will be ready to make the switch. It's hard for me to kick Zion out of my bed without knowing there's another baby coming soon. Still, I want to give him space when he's ready and the boys are having immeasurable fun jumping from mattress to mattress.

Connected to this, there is no more crib to put Harvey in time-out until he calms down. There are no more time-outs. Instead I have long conversations with him about how his actions or emotions affect our relationship. Sometimes it even works.

harvey showing his artwork

portrait of the artist as a young man

Harvey drew his first really representational picture on the little magnet board our friends gave him for his birthday. I was amazed to watch him say, "These are the legs, these are the feet" and then draw them in mostly the right place. I wonder if the paper we put down on his table shifts around too much, and that's why the magnet board is easier. Anyway, it was very exciting to me, though Harvey acted nonchalant like, I'm always drawing things, Mama, don't be so CONVENTIONAL. Open your miiiiiiiiind.

Harvey and I read half of Stuart Little during Zion's nap the other day. Just when I thought he was getting bored and not paying any attention, Harvey said, "I want an arrow like the mouse had. Can you make me an arrow just like that?"

I tried to convince him we might cut one out of cardboard but Harvey was adamant that it wouldn't do an arrow's JOB in that case. So I found a piece of dowel and sawed notches on each end and glued a chicken feather in one end and something pointy in the other (I think it was a triangular bracket to keep a picture on the wall... I don't know, it was in the box with the nails.) When the wood glue had dried I handed the arrow ceremoniously to Harvey.

"The mouse had a hat," he said. "I think we could make one with card board and felt."

I complained that Zion might wake up soon and I didn't want to start another project, but Harvey offered to help me clean the kitchen first and once he had picked up all the pens from the floor what could I say?

While I was taping the top of the hat to the brim Harvey said, "Did he have a little mousey coat?"

"Focus Harvey," I said. "Eyes on the prize. Or we're going to have a long conversation about demandingness."

Here is Harvey in his Stuart Little costume. Sans coat. And he thought the hat was fine without the felt (phew).

harvey as stuart little

where books come to life!

On the days when I'm healthy I am so awestruck that I get to spend another day with these beautiful boisterous bundles of love. Even though they now both have arrows.


home-made halloween treats

If we're still posting about Halloween, I guess it's not too late to mention my small part in our holiday observance: upsetting recent local practice by bringing home-made treats back to trick-or-treating. Yes, after two or three years of threatening to I managed to get organized enough to bake and package cookies for Halloween. I even made a web page about it! All that took so much energy I'm only just able to tell you about it now.

wrapped and labled cookies in a bowl

they almost look store-bought

Why did I do such a thing? We wrote about it at some length on the web page, but the short version is that I don't like candy, and I like baking. That should be enough, shouldn't it? There are probably some sustainability concerns in there too, but I would be able to play that angle up more if I hadn't used approximately 18 yards of plastic wrap to get the product to look like something kids could begin to think about putting in their goody-bags.

And I was pleased that most of the customers we saw responded quite well, either with indifference or, in a few instances, excitement at being offered something home-made. Except for one case where allergies were a concern, I think that everyone who went for the candy rather than cookies—yes, we had candy as well, thanks to Leah and my mother and their concern for social norms—was from out of the neighborhood. It must be that all the local kids already know we're crazy hippies and aren't surprised by anything we do.

To allay parental concerns I included our name, address, phone number, and email address on the label—as well as the web page I mentioned above. We didn't get any calls; either nobody saw any problem with cookies in the Halloween loot or they just tossed them without bothering to contact us. Either way, my conscience is clear, and I'm ready to do the same thing next year.


cold-weather decision-making

This time of year, my baking process often goes something like this: It's cold in here. Let me turn on the oven. So, what can I make to justify that? No butter—grocery store tomorrow. Lots of pumpkin. How about pumpkin bread?

And so it was.

pumpkin bread

poorly lit by the florescents

Clearly a good choice: you see how much has already disappeared since it came out of the oven only a few hours ago.


back in concert

At an earlier point in my dad's life he was a professional rock musician. When I say "earlier" I mean "earlier than me." In the days when he was ripping up his voice covering The Who's Tommy, I was nothing more than a twinkle in my mother's eye.

I grew up seeing my dad as a rock star. He'd breeze through the kitchen belting out a 60s classic, and I'd pity other children whose parents weren't full of songs.

But even though he had nightly gigs singing lullabies to a packed house of moppets, my father had left his professional aspirations behind. He settled down to a stable career. He built a business and made a lot of money. It's brought him many long days of frustration or boredom too. Who knows whether the life of a professional musician would have been any better? He only got to live out one option.

In recent years my father has taken up singing again as a hobby. Through voice lessons and a lot of hard work he's regained the range that he lost over the parenting years. He's also made some contacts in the local music scene. One thing lead to another, and last Saturday he made his rock re-debut at Johnny D's.

he's back

As gigs go this was no small-town high-school idol; the concert was listed as the "must-see" item in Saturday's Boston Globe. And even though there were other acts filling out the bill, it was clear from the atmosphere inside the club that my father was the headliner. His family and friends alone took up almost half the seats in the venue. Some folks traveled from as far as New York and North Carolina just to see the show.

You see, we all always knew he was a rock star.

So how did he do? What can I say? He killed it.

tearing it up

His voice sounded spectacular, as clear as I remember it from when I was just more than a little twinkle. His musicianship with the band was spot-on. He worked the crowd like a pro. I felt really priviledged to be watching the whole thing.

babies enjoying the rock show

I had this thought when I saw my dad up on stage doing something he really worked hard for, making himself vulnerable. I realized that one of the big challenges of my adult life is coming to see my parents (and children) as whole people. I say this at the risk of sounding something like a sociopath, but sometimes I have a hard time ascribing to my parents the same range of emotion that I might feel personally. Or the diversity of motivation. As I work myself up trying to figure out whatever it is that they WANT FROM ME (parents and children alike), I tend to forget they themselves have complex minds and conflicting passions. Now that I am an adult and a parent and a person often faced with either-or choices, I see what it is that my father gave up to support a family. I feel both grateful for it and sad. I don't know, I guess this is the thing that I work so hard to teach my children called "empathy."

And now the video. This is the final song my dad played in his set, and it took a family effort to get it onto the internet. My brother shot the video with his fancy new camera, and Dan and I each almost broke our computers transcoding it. As my brother Jake wrote in an email about the video: "there's a nasty (or psychedelic) flicker in the video from the stage lights" so we apologize for that and hope you find it more psychedelic than nasty. We also credit Jake with the photographs above, about which he says, "Johnny D's presented some particular lighting challenges. Not only was it dark, which I expected, but there was a strong magenta light focused directly on dad's arm. I did what I could to give dad a human-looking skin tone." I share these quotes with you not only to credit him with his photography work, but also because they made me laugh out loud, and I really want to brag about how awesome my family is.

This is a song my dad wrote about how much it sucks to work at a day job. He sure has fun singing it, though.

UPDATE: two Archibalds have told me that they can't hear the lyrics in the song. Congenital deafness, out of my family in Jesus' name! But for their benefit and yours too, here are the lyrics:

Every morning I'm awakened
to the squawking on the station
of the radio alarm,
Oh Boy another day.
As she rolls in her sleep
although I never hear a peep
I swear I hear her say:
Why can't you ever stay for a while?
You act as if your life is on trial!

You're only given so much time
so use it up carefully.
You wouldn't guzzle down fine wine
so don't treat yourself so cheap
'cause at the bottom of the glass is your dreams.

I get into my car
and though I think I'm driving far
I'm just driving and driving
and not getting anywhere.
Then coming up from behind
although I never heard a sign
I hear a siren blare.
Well don't you take your foot of the gas!
There are always more cars you gotta pass.

You're only given so much time
so use it up carefully.
You wouldn't guzzle down fine wine
so don't treat yourself so cheap
'cuz at the bottom of the glass is your dreams.

The telephone is ringing
and the manager is screaming
that the factory production is always running behind.
The salesman's sweating
because the paycheck that he's getting
is depending on the closing of the deal on the line.
Well they'll do another study
how they're gonna make more money
with a corporate restructure
watch those stocks go on up!
Bu I'm struck by a question posed by the reflection
in my coffee cup:
How much longer can you keep up this pace?
There aren't any winners in this rat race!

You're only given so much time
so use it up carefully.
You wouldn't guzzle down fine wine
so don't treat yourself so cheap
'cuz at the bottom of the glass is your dreams.


Buy Nothing Day and Marie Antoinette

The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally known as Black Friday around here, in grim memorial for the hundreds of shoppers who are crushed to death yearly in their frenzied rush to snatch up holiday bargains. Increasingly, in the upper-middle-class hippy-esque circles in which we travel (I mean, literally travel: like, say, Lexington) it's gained another appellation: Buy Nothing Day. The idea for Buy Nothing Day has apparently been around since the mid-90s, but it's taking off big this year, whether in response to the ever earlier onset of Black Friday sales (now on Thursday!!) or thanks to savvy Facebook marketing by the folks at AdBusters. Us, we're not observing Buy Nothing Day specifically: being poor means that every day is a buy nothing day!

Seriously, at this point the idea of restraining yourself from purchasing anything for one day being considered a revolutionary act seems completely ridiculous to me. I do understand that part of the point of the program is to offer an alternative to Black Friday consumerism, in hopes of giving people an opposing narrative to the one that says they have to rush out Friday morning in order to save money on things that they'd have to buy anyways. To that extent, Buy Nothing Day as a kick-off to Buy Nothing Christmas (or Occupy Christmas, or whatever they're calling it this year) makes a little bit of sense. But that's not all they've got going on. Check out this marketing copy:

This November 23rd, go cold turkey on consumption for 24 hours see what happens you just might have an unexpected, emancipatory epiphany!

Buy Nothing Day is legendary for instigating this type of personal transformation as you suddenly remember what real living is all about you sense an upsurge of radical empowerment and feel a strange magic creeping back into your life. [ellipses very much in original]

And people are taking this seriously: on various corners of the internet I've read of people planning to go hiking, work on craft projects, play music with friends. All that and more will be made possible by not shopping!

I see a connection with the "Bedford Unplugged" program we've had here in town for the past several years, which is being observed this month:

"Bedford Unplugged" is an annual community initiative begun October 2004 to encourage families to pull the plug on electronic distractions and disconnect from overly busy schedules, and to connect with each other through activities with family and friends. It is all too easy to forget having meals with others, making conversation, or bringing people together for fun, games, and relaxation. "Bedford Unplugged" is your reminder to take a break from the hectic times for a day or more.

See how hard it is to be rich in the suburbs?! You have to be shopping all the time, and when you're not you're at soccer or playing on the iPad! Not us, though. Our times are actually far from hectic, probably because we're dramatically under-employed and can't afford to send our kids to any programs or shop at the mall even when there's a big sale (40% of whatever is still greater than 0, which is my budget for non-essential items at this point). But hey, that means we have time for family dinners and crafts and walks and music and all that other good stuff our neighbors are apparently having trouble with. And I'm totally serious about that: I love the trade-offs we've made in our life, and think that we're mostly coming out with the better end of the deal. Friday when I'm relaxing with family and friends I won't for a second wish I had the disposable income that would let me hit up the Best Buy.

What does all that have to do with Marie Antoinette? Well, remember how she liked to play shepherdess? When the affairs of the court grew too pressing to bear, she would retire to the country to live the simple life of a village maiden with no responsibilities but her flock of sheep. I get a little hint of that with our Buy Nothing, Unplugged month here: let's all pretend to be poor because poor people have it so great! And the thing is, I agree: when you have less money, you're free—or rather, forced—to think of other things to do with yourself, and most of the time those things end up being better. But I don't think it does any good to just make a day of it. I don't want to suggest that suburban liberals should be the first candidates for the guillotine when the revolution comes, but Marie Antoinette's example might just show that playing poor doesn't work as well as actually reconsidering your priorities and making some real changes in your life.

That's a little harder to sell in an add campaign, though. Too busy? Too stressed? How about quitting your job and spending more time with your family? Food stamps, heating assistance, and Mass Health will make up a surprising amount of your missing income! Sounds good to us; admittedly, it is a little harder to try for just one day.


winter gardening

A few years ago we enjoyed our last garden tomato with the Thanksgiving leftovers. This year tomatoes are ancient history (stupid late blight!) but that doesn't mean our garden is barren. As well as parsnips and herbs (there was no shortage of parsley for yesterday's turkey pot pie) we also have a considerable crop of greens still growing, on an experimental basis under thick row covers.

lettuce and arugula under a row-cover tunnel

in the tunnel

That there is two kinds of lettuce and some arugula; we also have kale, collard greens, and swiss chard, all of which is doing a little less well. But I just harvested a good bunch of chard this evening, having heard predictions of low-20s overnight temperatures, and if that alone is better than we've even done before for late-season greens.

It's not wholly a good thing, having vulnerable plants still in the ground at this late date. If I was like most Bedford gardeners I'd have everything all tucked in for winter and I'd be thinking about seeds for next year, instead of still worrying about freezes. I probably put in the lettuces pictured above a little too late; they didn't get big enough to harvest before it started getting cold at night, so we haven't eaten any of them so far. I think the better thing to do is to use row covers to extend the season on plants that are already harvesting: that way I'd feel like each extra day I kept them alive was just a bonus on top of what I'd already gotten. Ah well, timing is the hardest thing to learn in this business.

the garden seen from the porch: some rows mulched, some row-covered


Now if I had a proper greenhouse it'd be a different story. Even unheated, the one at Gaining Ground was maintaining temperatures that had to be in the high 80s or even 90s into the second week of November. No worrying in that case! Some day.


why we stayed home today

Harvey is going through a phase where it's hard for me to get him out of the house. Two weeks ago he LOVED going to the supermarket, but now it seems he can't be budged. He says, "Can't I just play here for a while?" and when that doesn't work he says, "I'M. NOT. GOING!"

I asked him this morning if he'd like to go to Market Basket and Joanne's. As a counter offer he said he'd deign to visit the museum. The one with balls. I said yes we'll definitely go to the museum Thursday or Friday but can we please go out on errands today? Harvey stamps his foot. I'M. NOT. GOING.

I could throw him in the car by force or bribe him with chocolate, but I don't think that's great parenting either.

Instead I'm calling this a phase and hoping it passes in a week or so. He went through a time at 18 months when it was hard to get him to do anything. We got in a lot of useless fights me trying to drag him to story-time. Then I decided that was ridiculous. Calm down and let him grow out of his crippling social anxiety. And he did, for the most part, so when it flares up again I'm trying not to be too concerned. Also he's going pee every 30 minutes. That may be a factor. But he says it doesn't hurt when he pees, and if his penis hurt I'm sure it's something I would hear about. So. Trying to be chill about staying in the house for long periods of time.

Perhaps I'm not chill enough. Perhaps I'm putting too much pressure on him. Because this morning I was singing Lord of the Dance:

I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees but they wouldn't dance and they would not follow me...

when Harvey interjected: "Maybe they didn't follow Jesus because they wanted to stay home."


"Maybe they wanted a day at home" he clarified.

My heart just broke into a million pieces. "No sweetie," I said, "the Pharisees didn't follow Jesus because they didn't want justice or equality. They wanted to hold onto their power. It had nothing to do with wanting to stay home. Staying home or going out has nothing to do with following Jesus."

Harvey looked at me blankly. And vulnerably and impressionably.

"Do you want to just stay home today, sweetie?"

Harvey nods his head.

"You can stay home and still follow Jesus, sweetheart. That has nothing to do with whether you go out."

"Okay" Harvey says, giggling. I don't know what he understands of anything, but he's happy I'm no longer asking him every half hour if he's SURE he doesn't want to go in the car to the store.

Look, playing in the house all day is not my cup of tea. I get really really bored looking around at more and more things that need my cleaning. BUT. That's just my preference. I wonder how many other things that are just PREFERENCES I'm trying to force on my kids like they're RELIGION. To say the thought makes me nervous is an understatement. It makes me downright terrified.


online shopping for moral qualities

I started a new rule today that Harvey is not allowed to look at any online stores. My mom asked us to go on her Amazon wish-list and show Harvey three play tents so he could pick out a color. He started pointing to unrelated items on the sidebar, saying he wanted cars and trucks and legos and other unrelated items. This is a bottomless pit that goes on and on forever; the internet is absolutely MADE UP of UNRELATED ITEMS.

These days I talk to Harvey a lot about "demandingness." As in, don't ask me for juice while I'm serving you toast. When I make a lego house for you, take a breath before asking for a garage. It's probably too much to expect him to notice my effort and care in his service, but at the very least he can learn some habits (like speaking in full sentences) that piss me off a little bit less.

In the same vein I have been scanning the mail for catalogues to file directly into the recycling. Do not pass Harvey, do not extract $100 dollars. But when the World Vision catalogue came a few months ago I couldn't be so harsh. I brought it to Harvey and Zion so they could ooh and aah over all the cute animal pictures. Then I heard my self say something dramatic. "You can pick out any gift in this catalogue to give to a child in Africa."

When I said it they were looking at a $30 flock of chickens. I didn't expect Harvey to jump at the $75 goat!

"$75 is a little bit expensive," I explained to Harvey (after I explained again very clearly that the goat would be going to Africa and not by way of our house.)

"I have some money in my piggy bank," he said. "I could give it to you."

Then he asked me to get down his piggy bank, and he asked me to help open it, and he pulled out a handful of nickels and quarters.

I tried to show him all homeschooly how many quarters makes a dollar, but he wanted nothing to do with putting them in stacks. He just kept grabbing handfulls of money out of his bank and handing it to me, as if to say, Not enough? How about now? Still not enough? How about now?

In the end we filled a mason jar with coins and took it to the coin-star machine at Stop&Shop. He helped me put them in and saw a receipt print out.

"Does the paper say about our goat?" he asked.

"No," I explained, "We have to put this money on the computer and buy the goat on the computer at home."

"Oh. Okay."

At home I made a big production of buying the goat online. I showed Harvey a video of a family whose goat had changed their lives.

"Is that the girl who got our goat?" he asked.

"No, they already have a goat." I said. "Someone like them will get our goat."

A week later a catalogue came from Episcopal Relief and Development. It also had a goat on the cover, held by another adorable African girl."

"That's the girl who got our goat!" Harvey exclaimed.

I was so bowled over by his joy and exuberance that I didn't stop to correct him.

I guess I felt pretty smug about Harvey's generous spirit. Until I noticed that every time he sees someone who looks African he now says, "Hey! She looks like the girl who got our goat!"

So. Is Harvey overwhelmingly greedy or overflowing with compassion? The answer is Yes. Or more truthfully, the answer is he's three and he feels every desire big big, whether it's selfish materialism or selfless generosity. And even these labels are false distinctions I create. Since money has no concrete value to him, why shouldn't he ask for everything he wants and everything everyone else wants too?

I try to teach him many things, but "the value of money" has been low on my list. To tell the truth I'm a little ambivalent about it myself. I want him to get excited about getting gifts, because it makes me happy. I also want him to abound in compassion. I don't hold those things in opposition, though perhaps I should. He certainly doesn't.


advent calendar

For the past two weeks I have been hard at work on an Advent calendar. That turns into a felt board. Made of very. small. pieces.

little guy

Come have some story time with me!

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."


Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end."

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

everyone must go!

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

in that country

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

they were sore afraid

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let�s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

we three kings

They followed the star until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.


Of course, when I tell the story to the children it'll be spread out over the month of December so they get a little bit each week. Each day there is a different felt character to find, and some days have bits of the story printed out as well. This is what it looked like laid out before I stuffed the pouches.

what a lot of stuff!

Well good thing that deadline is over! Wait, I have to make Christmas presents now???

Happy Advent!