At the library today, Harvey picked up the first volume in Rick Riordan's Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series. It follows on the heels of the five books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and the five books of the Heroes of Olympus series, all of which run three- to four-hundred pages, and all of which Harvey has read. It's not that I don't approve of the stories—I'm actually kind of excited to see what Riordan's take on Norse mythology will be, since we studied the Norse stories last year—but I can't help but think about all the other good fiction out there that Harvey isn't getting a chance to read. Oh well, even if Riordan keeps churning out the stories—and I have no reason to expect he'd ever stop!—Harvey can read a lot faster than the dude can write. So we're due for an opening in Harvey's reading schedule in the next couple weeks. Any suggestions for what he might like next?
I made muffins yesterday. Banana chocolate chip. The best thing about muffins is that you can have them for breakfast, and then later in that same day have them for dessert! It seems almost unfair. The cooler weather is is nice because it makes baking much more attractive: there's no downside! Over the past couple days I made oatmeal cookies, wheat bread, chocolate chip cookie bars, and the muffins. Hmm.. maybe there's a downside to my waistline? Here's the muffin recipe if you're interested, except now I'm using melted butter instead of oil. That's healthier, right?
Yikes, in checking that recipe link I see that I already made the same amusing observation this post is built around before, back in 2011. Oh well, I already wrote this much... let's hit the publish button!
One of our homeschool coop friends has just started a new enterprise running a woodsy adventure program, under the Timbernook brand, and yesterday we were lucky enough to be able to take part in a drop-in day she hosted. Well, the kids were lucky; as well as drop-in it was also drop-off, so I had stay away. The best I could do was watch and envy from afar.
I totally understand why I wasn't welcome. The whole point of the program is to let kids explore on their own—to see what they can do when nobody is there to tell them what to do or not to do. There were three adults on site, but their job was to provide the ingredients for adventure—building materials, tools, and a story to spark imagination at the start of the morning—and then step back and let the kids do their thing. If it weren't for those pesky insurance regulations they could have all gone to have a coffee or something.
So what did the kids do for four hours in the woods? Well, they report that it went by pretty quick, and I couldn't help but notice that Harvey and Lijah barely ate any of their lunches, so they must have been having fun! (they made up for the lack on the car ride home). They built some things out of pallets and cardboard boxes, they climbed on some rocks and trees, and they caught a lot of frogs (possibly the same few frogs lots of times; I'm not sure). They also did some painting, of their shelters and of themselves.
There were only a couple problems with their time there. Three of the nine kids who signed up didn't show—maybe the threat of slight drizzle deterred them. That meant that five of the six who were there already knew each other, which was rough for the one other boy, and also probably limited the range of activities a bit. Also the Archibald boys misunderstood the instruction to stay in sight of an adult—one of the program's two rules—and didn't know that by exploring further into the woods they could compel an adult to follow them. So they felt a little constrained.
But that just means we want to try it again, to do it right the next time! Watching the kids at play—from a distance—I was convinced that every kid should have at least one day a week in an environment just like this one. Unfortunately, our hope for taking part is complicated by the fact that the weekly program runs on Mondays, which is the one day I can't drive out that way, and also is a little expensive. But even if we don't solve those problems there are other drop-in days coming up, and we're looking forward to them for sure! If you want to check out the program for yourself, you can find out more at the Timbernook of Central Massachusetts website or their Facebook page.
I've been having to work harder to not run out of bread these days. The kids are getting bigger and eating more, and our fuller fall schedule means more packed lunches, so more sandwiches. Maybe we just want to eat more as the weather gets colder. Maybe it's a temporary blip. For whatever reason, baking a batch of two loaves once a week isn't enough any more. So the trick becomes finding time for a second baking day—and that's in addition to a couple times a week that I make sourdough bread (much beloved when it's hot out of the oven, but not much good for sandwiches).
My theory about making your own bread has been that it isn't actually very hard—it just requires being home for a certain amount of time in a day. To that I can now add that you need to know you're going to be home for a certain amount of time in order to be able to safely start the baking. While we certainly spend more time at home than the average American family, we also like to keep our schedule flexible, which has really slowed down my bread production. But needs must, so I'm working on figuring it out. If I get up early enough I can have it done by 10:30... that works, right?
I'm still using the same recipe I have for years and years, which you can find here. The only differences are that I've now started using melted butter rather than oil, I've increased the oven temperature to 360 or 365°F (though that may just be our oven) and 40 minutes is the shortest baking time I'd do... sometimes it needs a bit more.
Our chickens aren't having the best time of it lately. The main thing I feel bad about is how much time they've had to spend confined to their coop. See, the older hens are great about coming back when I call them, so a few months ago I though nothing of letting them out first thing in the morning, even if we were due to leave the house at 9:00 or something. They could get a few good hours foraging, then when it was time for the humans to hit the road they'd happily return to captivity for a treat of scratch. The four young hens aren't anything like that though. In fairness, it's because the coop is much less comfortable for them: the older hens bully them unmercifully. So there is no chance they're going to come back voluntarily. Instead, one of us—maybe two or three!—has to spend five to twenty minutes getting them all secured. Needless to say, that means I'm not as ready to let them roam.
Take this morning. Our plans included a mid morning trip to Costco and an early afternoon errand to the farmers market in Lexington. Even though the hens were awake by 6:30 and could have enjoyed three hours of early-morning frolicking, I didn't want to deal with the struggle when it was time for us to leave. The four hours before our next outing didn't seem worth it either. So it wasn't until 4:00 that we were finally ready to let them out. I feel like our schedule is a little full for the humans in the household—and look, it's even affecting the livestock!
We also lost one hen about a week ago. She was looking sick, and I figured she probably wasn't long for the world. I couldn't do much for her—our hens aren't at all comfortable being handled, so when I tried to examine her and move her to a more comfortable spot she freaked out, and I was afraid I was going to kill her trying to help. So I let her be, chilling out right outside the coop next to the compost pile, with plenty to eat. When I went to close up the coop after dark she wasn't there, so I figured she was better enough to have gone in with the others... but then in the morning she wasn't there. Or anywhere, that I've been able to find. We've certainly had chickens spend the night in the open before without anything untoward happening, so it's not like being outside the coop after dark is a death sentence—but I can only imagine that in this case an opportunistic predator was there ready to take advantage. It's sad; but then again, I don't mind not having to dig a grave. And I like foxes and raccoons fine, and they need to eat too.
But needless to say I like chickens—my chickens at least—a lot better, and I'm thinking about what I can do to improve their lot this fall. They may have been stuck inside—well, in their capacious run—most of the day, but I made sure to give them a big pile of straw to scratch around in before we left. Maybe I'll get a squash or a melon for them next time.
The last week in July we took our annual Bar Harbor camping vacation. It went well. We climbed some mountains.
We headed out on a Saturday morning—a little later than we have in years past because Leah had a meeting to go to before we left. That was fine, since it meant we had plenty of time for the best packing job ever; but we did have to deal with a little bit of traffic before we even left Massachusetts. Strangely, then it wasn't so bad through New Hampshire and southern Maine. With big kids in the car and an audiobook running we didn't need to stop hardly at all: just once at a rest stop for a bathroom break and then at our favorite beach in Lincolnville, which we reached at around four. It wasn't too hot out that far north, and though the kids put on swimsuits they didn't jump right in the water this year.
We were almost the last ones to reach the campsite, but that didn't matter since we're pros at getting set up and also we weren't cooking dinner. As always, the boys were delighted to be camping with their friends and jumped right in to enjoying the outdoor lifestyle. Did they go to the pool before dinner? I can't remember. They certainly may have!
The next morning we were up bright and early to play Pokemon—Harvey needed to get some testing in for Worlds!—and start a fire for breakfast. I made bacon and eggs. When everyone was fed and lunches had been made we headed into town, from whence we planned to catch the bus to the hiking. One small hitch in the plan: the Town of Bar Harbor really stepped up parking enforcement since last summer, putting up meters on all the main roads and "no parking" signs on the side streets where we used to park all day. We found a broken meter where we could safely leave the car, but it was a little while before our friends got theirs stowed away. Never mind, the bus is a joy and well worth the wait.
Our goal for the day was Dorr Mountain. As soon as we hit the trail Lijah, who had been doing a good bit of climbing prep, expressed his disappointment that the hiking was "just walking". And this on a trail that was going up at at least a 30° angle! Luckily I had picked the most interesting path available, so pretty soon there was plenty to distract his easily-tired feet.
While I moved along slowly to encourage him, Leah was racing ahead with the big kids. It was hard work! When they saw a signpost on a rocky ledge they figured it was summit-like enough to stop at for lunch, and when we caught up—at least 15 minutes later!—we agreed, even though we soon learned the summit was actually a little ways away.
With the benefit of rest and food, we made it there not too long afterwards and posed for the usual celebratory photos.
The way down was at least as challenging as the ascent, if not more so. It was pretty steep with plenty of rolly stones that made every step an adventure. Everybody was tired when we reached the bottom (and some were pretty grumpy!).
Luckily it wasn't far to the icy cold spring-fed pool at Sieur de Monts, just the thing to sooth tired feet; then it wasn't much wait til we got on the bus; then there was the pool to swim in and the dinner I cooked on the fire with chicken, mac & cheese, and—I was so excited to do this—hand cut french fries.
And then after supper, the kids got to take in a magic show. It happens every week at the campground, and it's been happening every week for years, so we could have watched it before... but we were never interested. It took Andrew having a 5-year-old to galvanize anyone to go. I think he regretted it, but the kids had a fun time. Katie came in towards the end, just in time to get volunteered to be sawed in half with a power saw.
And that was only just the beginning of the vacation!
This afternoon with the rain holding off I thought I could mow the lawn. Only, earlier in the day we had bought straw and marsh hay for the winter bedding (animals and plants, respectively) and the bales were on the lawn in front of the shed. When I went to put them away I found that the rack I built to hold the straw was broken—probably by kids playing on it. As I worked on fixing it I found what was left of the poor black hen, who had been eaten under the back of the shed. So I buried the remains. Then I raked up all the loose straw that had fallen through and around the slats of the rack over the past three or four years, then I finished fixing it. Then I put the four new bales away. Then I mowed the lawn. Although I had to take a break in the middle to do a recorder lesson, because it was time for that. Happily, the rain kept holding off the whole time, and the lawn got mowed! Maybe I won't have to do it again before the snow... because Lord knows I have enough else to do around here!
I work at a church, and when I'm there I make my lunch in the Ministry Center kitchen. Since lots of people share the space, there are labels everywhere to show where you can find plates and bowls, serving utensils, pitchers (and so you can put them away). There are also more pointed notes. Every time I use the sink I'm newly delighted to read the three line poem printed beside it in all-caps label font, each line on its own little sticker:
Do not leave dishes in the dish drainer
And put them away
It has a certain William Carlos Williams feel, don't you think? My favorite thing is that (as indicated by contextual clues) each line was added separately, later than the line above it. It's not the most frustratedly direct of the signs in that kitchen, but it's certainly the most delightful!
(Naturally, there are always dishes in the dish drainer. But never mine!)
A moment from the past week.
The best thing about the Honk Festival every October, besides the music, is how it lets everybody who wants let to just go out there with all their beautiful artistic energy. I don't like the phrase "let your freak flag fly," but it does kind of fit. I can't rock a tutu like some people, to say nothing of stilts, but I do love watching and being part of the action. And most of all I like watching the young people. Because some of them can really get into it!
The parade always has tons of young marchers, and yesterday was no exception: some playing instruments, some dancing, some in strollers... all getting to be right in the middle of things. The kids on the sidelines could get into it too, high-fiving politicians and clowns and petting dragons. And dancing.
Of course, for the real dancing action you needed to go to Davis Square on Saturday. I did, and I spent a blissful hour jumping around to the wonderful varied music of the Party Band and a slightly less blissful hour moving as much as I could in the middle of the crowd listening to the Young Fellaz Brass Band. I got there late for their set—they started right as the Party Band finished but a couple blocks away—and while I did my best to push my way to the front I was stymied about two rows back. If only I was a kid myself I could have just squirmed through, even among the musicians, like one girl did at the Party Band set.
Everybody loved it, of course. My own kids didn't make it on Saturday—they didn't want to leave playing with friends for the uncertain prospect of listening to lots of loud music and maybe being bored. I was sad to not have them there, especially as I watched all the other little hippy kids having such a great time, but then again I wouldn't have been able to do nearly as much dancing with them around. And they were there in force on Sunday for the parade!
The only sad thing about the day was that this year there were no bands playing Sunday in Harvard Square except on the main stage. The main stage is nonsense, completely packed up with people watching bands shuffle on and off for 15-minute sets; the hour-long side stages were what we've always enjoyed. Not this year. We did manage to catch 20 minutes of the charmingly-named "Bolschewistische Kurkapelle Schwarz-Rot," from Germany, and Lijah and I did a little dancing... but it wasn't quite enough. We're practicing music at home now, so we can start our own band. Seems good.
We sometimes get to play with cardboard boxes here at our house, and the boys have made some pretty cool—if short-lived—creations out of a single big box that we let hang out in the living room for a little while. But that's nothing like having a whole lawn worth of cardboard to work with!
Some friends from our homeschool coop invited us to do some cardboard construction with them (well, they invited the whole coop, but we're the only ones who could make it; we're good at cooperating) and they had saved up lots of boxes ahead of the event. All five kids had good ideas for things to do on their own with the bounty: a tent, a boat, an aquarium, a swing... My idea was to make a house, and I both proud and ashamed to say that I quickly attracted all three of my boys to be part of the work on the multi-room structure pictured above. It was pretty cool. I was sad I couldn't fit in it.
Of course, it wasn't all building. It was such a beautiful day that the kids also needed a chance for some play that was a little more active. Luckily cardboard boxes can fulfill that need as well!
This morning we went to a "poetry teatime". What a great idea! Tea and poetry are definitely among our favorite things. We were almost late because we were having so much fun reciting poems and song lyrics over the breakfast table. And I had to make muffins. Because I don't know that it's possible for homeschoolers to get together for anything without treats—thematically appropriate if possible. Three families came; that meant two kinds of muffins and some scones.
Harvey showed us something else about homeschoolers too. Despite having already read his chosen poem—"The Unicorn", by Shel Silverstein—out loud to his brothers before we went, he wasn't feeling it when it came time to present it to the group. Before we finished up he did read a shorter poem to everyone, but it wasn't until the kids he didn't know as well had left that he opened up and read "The Unicorn", plus a selection of other favorites. He does "The Unicorn" so good: certainly the most hip-hop-influenced delivery of that particular poem you'll ever hear from a child in Bedford.
The problem with school is that you have to do everything on somebody else's schedule. Do poems now. Don't do poems now, it's time for something else. Harvey was still reading from Where the Sidewalk Ends for an hour after the other kids were done with poetry and on to playing—mostly to himself, but sharing a few choice selections with me at the other parent there. Which was totally perfect for the way our time was structured... or un-structured, if you prefer!
Our host's younger daughter wasn't there: last week she started preschool, on her own strong request. So far she's enjoying the chance to be with friends in that environment, so even when offered the chance to stay home and be part of a totally awesome poetry/baked-goods extravaganza she told her mom she had to be at school. Clearly it suits some people better than others. I wonder if she'll keep liking it? And how much poetry do they do there?
There was a storm last night. A "bomb cyclone", apparently, that brought 55mph winds to Bedford, along with some rain. It didn't feel entirely cataclysmic as we experienced it, though things crashing did wake me up once or twice. Our power went out between 1:00 and 4:30 or so, but really, who needs electricity in the middle of the night? It was back when it counted. And none of our plants or trees suffered at all.
But that's not to say we escaped entirely unscathed! Our storm door in front blew around and got a little (more) banged up. Some water came in one of the downstairs windows. And most startlingly, the back door blew open entirely and the kitchen floor got soaked, as did my backpack which I'd left by the door. I know, I should have put it away—but you still don't expect to suffer a deluge! The bag was soaked through, my Pokemon card case was wet through... luckily, the deck box itself within the case kept out the water so my favorite deck didn't suffer any damage.
Lots of folks had it worse than us. 45 percent of Bedford households were still without power at 6am, and the schools had a two-hour delay to let the DPW clear the roads. At Harvey's friend's house around the corner a tree fell on their car—luckily missing smashing it entirely, but it's still not something you like to see. Then today was cold and wintery. Summer is over.. the season of storms is upon us!
Last year we got tons of apples from our Northern Spy tree. At the time I predicted, half in jest, that the bumper crop would mean slim pickings this year—in fact that's just what happened. Never mind, we got tons of Honeycrisps this year, which is what the people want, and there are enough Northern Spys to eat a few and make a couple of pies. I made the first one yesterday.
I have to admit I didn't feel totally manly as I rolled out this particular crust; the refrigerator repair guys working a few feet away put me off my game a little bit. But the apples were good ones, and the pie came out wonderful. Even better, when time came to serve it there was also a cheesecake and a gigantic (and wonderful) carrot cake, so there was some pie left for me and the boys to have for breakfast this morning.
It is hard sometimes to find time to write. The time that I usually manage it is after the kids go to bed; the problem with that, though, is that after I finish bedtime I need a good long time to decompress from the busyness of the day and concentrate on producing readable English prose (and Lord knows I don't always hit the mark even then). So of course my own bedtime is delayed, sometimes past 11:00.
Which 11:00 may be a perfectly reasonable bedtime for some adults! I've heard that there are sometimes things showing on the television—dramatic events, sporting contests—that will keep viewers up at least that long. But I don't think it works for me in the long run. My average day takes a considerable amount of emotional energy and improvisational thinking, and I need my sleep. So I have a new regime, and no more late-night writing.
Except for Zion, we're all pretty much early risers in this household. This morning Leah was up first and out for a run at 6:00. Harvey got up a few minutes ago and is now reading out on the front porch using a headlamp. Lijah is eating his pre-breakfast muffins on the couch. Can I do the day's writing work before the sun rises and I need to start getting breakfast ready? Only time will tell. But it should certainly be easier after 8+ hours of sleep a night, for a change.
Yesterday some of us had occasion to visit Whole Foods. We went by bicycle, and at least three people tried to kill us with their cars over the course of the 3/4-mile trip, so I wasn't in the best mood when we reached the store—which meant the things I dislike about it were more present in my mind than usual. Leah and I have a significant disagreement over what makes us feel comfortable and welcome while grocery shopping. She's a big fan of Whole Foods—she appreciates the high-quality produce and meat and the lovely ambience created by the lower lights and calming earth tone color scheme. Me, I hate those things.
Haha, no not really. There are things that are objectively very nice about Whole Foods, not limited to those I mentioned and how close it is to our house. But when I'm there I can't shake the feeling that I'm being suckered—that all the positive features of the place are just tricks to get us to spend way more for less food than we could get somewhere else. It doesn't help that WF used to be owed by a multi-millionaire libertarian and is now owned by Amazon, and that it came to us by way of buying up countless independent health food coops and local chains.
My favorite grocery store is Market Basket. I still like it even though the one we go to got much bigger within my living memory. There's no luxury or pretension there: the value proposition is just: here's some food, for the lowest prices you'll find it for. Lots of food. And there are lots of people there who want to buy it, and lots of cashiers and baggers to help make that happen. I love all that—but those things make Leah feel overwhelmed and anxious. We have a lot in common, but some important differences too! Luckily, getting the best groceries means going to both Whole Foods and Market Basket. The organic produce and (relatively) humane and sustainable meats at Whole Foods are much better than anything at Market Basket, and given our budget it makes sense to save something like $1.50/lb on butter. So she can handle the Whole Foods shopping while I go to Market Basket... and we can cement marital harmony by bonding over our mutual dislike for Stop and Shop.
Our maple tree gets color late in the fall; late and underwhelming. (Why couldn't the previous owners have put in a sugar maple in the middle of the lawn instead of a Norway maple?) As I look out the window now, though, it's browning leaves are colored orange by the rising sun and it looks as good as it's ever going to. Properly fall-like.
The waning days of the fall make me think of the failures of this past summer, yard-wise. One, we didn't use the hammock nearly as much as we should have. I always want to make sure it's put away when it's going to be wet out, and too often I was late putting it up again so fine days went by without anyone being able to use it. Worse, towards the second half of the summer I "temporarily" took apart the hammock stand to mow the lawn... and it never got put back together. Tragedy!
And speaking of mowing. Remember how last year I talked big about using the push reel mower all summer? Well, in the fall I got a working power mower so I could chop up leaves, then in the spring I thought I'd use it for the first pass over the fast-growing grass. That was it, the push mower never made it out of the shed all summer. The good news is the lawn is still in good shape—delightfully green. I was telling a friend the other day, "it's mostly weeds, but they're all perennial weeds so they hold their color!" But I did feel pretty guilty every time I started up that gasoline engine. Using a power mower is habit-forming, I think; you get used to those straight, even rows of cut grass and it's hard to go back to the more naturalistic effect produced by the push reel mower.
Oh well. At least we had many lovely adventures, and got to travel more than ever before, and spent lots of time swimming. Now we're looking forward to winter fun. And next summer will be perfect!
Last week at book club our hosts had a fire and lots of pears from their tree, so of course the kids worked on roasting pears over the fire (seen here). They discovered that it's quite hard to make them entirely delicious just holding them over the flames, but that wrapped in tin foil and cooked in the coals they came out pretty good. Yesterday it was our turn to host a book group with some of the same people—and the ones with pears brought some, so naturally there was a call to repeat the experiment. This time one of the kids asked for a skillet so she could slice the pears and cook them in butter. Unfortunately the fire was so hot the pear slices burned in the pan even faster than they would have over the flames; I don't think the sugar they added to the pan helped any. Then after they gave up on pears, the kids collected about a half-cup of iris seeds and toasted them in the skillet. Checking with online resources revealed that irises are actually fairly poisonous, so they didn't taste the seeds. Harvey also declined to eat the eggs I cooked in the same pan this morning, which maybe makes sense; but I can tell you they were as delicious as usual, and I haven't gotten sick yet. That was my experiment.
Leah was away last week from Wednesday morning to Sunday night, visiting exotic Oklahoma and Florida. During the day, her being away doesn't feel any different, but at bedtime the kids did miss her some. The hard part for me I didn't realize until later, until Monday morning when I was meant to be getting ready for work and getting the boys ready to go to my parents' house for the day. As the clock ticked past 8:00 without anyone dressed or fed, I realized that over the past five days I'd completely exhausted my ability to make anyone do anything. Including myself. When I let Leah know she very kindly offered to make me breakfast.
Happily, I didn't have a meeting yesterday so there was actually no time pressure. Eventually I did get myself going, fed two of the children and myself (somebody always wants to hold out for breakfast from Grandma), and even made myself a lunch. My arrival time was not disgraceful. Today Leah was back at work and I acquitted myself reasonably well: we did some art, made some bread, read some stories, and played a math game. Of course, my recovery isn't entirely complete—I haven't been able to make myself go to bed yet...
Yesterday was the last farmers market of the year in Lexington. We love the market, our source for veggies, fruit, meat, and chocolate croissants—we only missed two market Tuesdays since it kicked off for the year back in May. Although, as I said to one of the farmers yesterday, I'm also kind of looking forward to having our Tuesday afternoons back! We maybe could have done the shopping in just a couple minutes each week, but if feels like such an event that we rarely got out of there in less than an hour. And whenever we could we biked there; it's about five miles away, so nearly an hour round trip.
As the market comes to a close every year I always wish I could do more to stock up on produce. But truth be told I'm not even very good at storing and organizing the food we get from week to week, so if we did get something like 40lbs of potatoes they'd be sure to rot or be eaten by mice within a month. A root cellar, and the knowledge and attention to use it well, is a project for the future. Thank goodness there's the special Thanksgiving market coming up in a month, and then the bimonthly winter market...
We celebrated the heck out of Halloween today. Costumes and baked goodies at homeschool coop, visits from both grandmas (treats direct to our door!), a giant party at our house with all of the friends we hadn't already hung out with, and a family glow-stick rave to end the day. And of course the trick-or-treating.
A wonderful day. Happy Halloween everybody!