After four hot sunny days, we were delighted on our last day of the trip to wake up to some real Maine weather—even if it did mean we'd have to pack up a damp tent. With four adults and five kids (and some trouble with Harvey last year!) we were a little nervous about how the pack-up would go, but we needn't have worried: they played wonderfully together and even helped gather the things. Lijah drank beer.
I don't think he liked it much, though.
With everyone cooperating it was easy to take down the tent and load up the car. For the first time ever I managed to pack as efficiently for the ride home as I had for the trip up, which meant we had plenty of space for our friends' air mattresses when they couldn't get them in their own—much smaller—car. Minivans are just the thing for camping.
Driving through the fog to breakfast was lovely.
As was breakfast itself: just nine of us felt like an intimate gathering. After breakfast we took a walk around town and acted like tourists.
Harvey knew what to do with a giant ice cream.
Down by the shore the boys put the cannons to good use.
Closer still to the water we spent a good long time playing and throwing rocks. We have ocean in Massachusetts I suppose, but it's just not the same.
All good things must come to an end, and eventually we hit the road. Not that we had far to go before finding something else fun to do: our friends the Stevenses were in Searsport, just an hour away, and like last year we met them for some playground and beach fun.
The tide was lower than last year, and the kids (and dog) enjoyed having a little sand to run on. Of course, it was still Maine so there were also lots of rocks.
And apparently Maine apples start to ripen in August; I'd foraged a few back in Bar Harbor that Leah enjoyed eating on the drive to Searsport, so when the kids noticed an apple tree right on the beach she knew what to do!
After the beach, of course, we went for ice cream.
The boys had all worked hard for days, and they were happy enough to nap as we drove west in and out of the fog. Our luck held and traffic was light—though of course you can never just breeze through Camden.
Our plan was to just make one more stop, at the McDonalds in Bath for dinner (they have an enormous play space), but halfway between Camden and Wiscasset we got a text from the V-Bs, who had left Bar Harbor several hours before us: their car had overheated and they were stuck in Wiscasset! Well, there are worse places, I suppose.
Only problem was, their car was at a garage a few miles outside of town. We stopped just over the bridge and Leah packed up supplies for herself and the kids so they could hang out while I picked up our friends and took them... somewhere. Leah's phone was out of batteries so we felt like pioneers as we made a series of contingency plans for how we would find each other again.
As it happened it wasn't any trouble: the car was borderline driveable, so I took Katie and the kids (just in case) and Tim drove the car back into town, where we planned to get dinner and wait for Katie's dad to come up and caravan with them back to Massachusetts. Just half an hour after leaving them, I found my family in the first place I looked.
I owed the boys prizes for various things—I can't always remember—so Zion came away with a couple of pirate figures, and Harvey chose a book on treasure hunting. Then we went to dinner, choosing Sprague's Lobster Pound over Red's Eats (not that any of us got seafood: besides the price, Zion was delighted to finally have the chance to order chicken and french fries, which would have been his first choice at the cafe every morning). They took their time with the food, but that wasn't a problem because we had to wait anyways—and there was plenty to see and do!
And then when we were hungry enough there was food.
As the sky began to darken Grandpa Bill arrived, to much delight from Nathan—two and a half hours out from Boston. His daughter bought him some crab cakes to show her appreciation. They didn't need us anymore, so—with hours of dark driving ahead of us—we turned sleepily towards home.
A good vacation; we'll do it again next year.
A moment from the week.
On Friday Leah and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by dropping the kids—all three of them—off with Grandma and Grandpa, and going for a bike ride.
With Leah feeling a little sick we abandoned our plans for a lunch date at the end of the ride, but it was still lovely to have a few hours to hang out together—and we being the way we are, we hang out best when we're moving. We did a little over 20 miles of hilly country roads, and it was all wonderful except for not being able to cross Route 2 at two separate points and having to backtrack to find a different way home. Our marriage is still strong despite that difficulty.
Then on Saturday we marked Labor Day a little early by inviting some friends over to labor with us. Work on the porch is proceeding apace, and we thought many hands would make it light. In the event only one other couple was able to come, but Leah watched the kids while the three of us carpentered, and we got the job mostly done before eating a considerable amount of meat.
Sunday saw a full morning of church followed by a 95th birthday party for Great-grandma Faye (that's Leah's grandma). The gathering was wonderful except that we were late and Faye angrily walked out of the group photo. But all three kids were lovely—once they'd warmed up, at least—and did us proud.
Today we did school, because why not?! But we also went to a barbecue all the way down in Brookline. It was fun, but... now we are tired. Good thing the long weekend is over!
This morning the boys were hanging around the bus stop and felt a little left out when the school kids all got on without them. Then finding a dead snake cheered them up.
At Harvey's suggestion, snake study made up most of our school time. We carefully observed color, texture—and of course size.
We noticed that the snake had eyes but no nose or ears; and eyebrows but no lashes. This particular specimen was also without teeth.
To finish up, Harvey did a scientific drawing of our specimen. With a little guidance he produced three views: the whole back, a close-up of the head, and detail of the underside.
The only problem is we didn't have any good ideas of what to do with the snake when we were done (besides feed it to the chickens, which doesn't seem scientific). I wonder if there's some way we could let it decompose so we could recover the skeleton whole. Now that would be a serious learning opportunity!
A moment from the week.
We had friends over to join us for schooling this morning, and Leah treated us to a lesson on Rosh Hoshana. The accompanying snack of apples and honey was just the thing, since we have plenty of apples around!
We got most of them on Saturday, when we headed up to the farm to celebrate Eliot's birthday. He and Zion had such a great time together that I didn't get any pictures of them; Harvey and Ollie are slowing down in their old age.
The hayride was lovely, but everyone was ready for it to be over so they could get their teeth on some apples!
We were allowed to taste one apple, according to the rules, but rules are made to be bent... especially when we did more than our share of helping the farm's bottom line by filling much of our half-bushel with drop apples. And how can you know what to pick if you don't taste?!
Our friends had to listen to my laments about the lost romance of the old-fashioned orchards, which have given way to pollarded rows of trees about the same dimensions as the high-bush blueberries at the same farm. And the fact that the whole thing was marketed to the casual outing crowd; it used to be about the apples, man! Of course, not even we could resist an opportunity for a family photo to commemorate the day.
Of course, while apples are good—who doesn't like apples?!—Lijah knows the real reason for a trip to the farm.
Happy birthday Eliot, and thanks for giving us a push to get out there to celebrate the (almost) start of fall!
We've been driving too much lately. Monday, for example: Leah and the boys went to Lowell for an appointment, then as soon as they got back Harvey, Zion, and I headed right back out to go grocery shopping. Yesterday we drove to the farmers market, rather than cycling—for the third week in a row. The car is convenient. We can get the boys places with a minimum of whining, carry everything we might need instead of having to plan more carefully, and save travel time on busy days. But it doesn't really feel good.
You don't even need to feel that all our driving is responsible for the Syrian refugee crisis to think the car is a bad deal. Kelly at Root Simple wrote a post the other day lamenting the death of a mountain lion, killed by a car while crossing I-5; starting with a look at the obfuscating term "roadkill", she builds to a resolute indictment of car culture and its cost to animals and people alike. One million animals a day killed by cars in the US—and those are the ones people bother to count—and over 30,000 people a year. Not to mention, "climate change, air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, habitat loss, urban sprawl, songbird harassment—all of the rest of indicators of the unspeakably high cost of the personal automobile."
As it is now, driving the car—or asking other folks to drive to us—helps us stay part of a geographically distributed community. We go to church in Cambridge, Bible study with friends in Arlington, and homeschool coop in Malden. We invite friends over from Lowell and West Roxbury. I don't want to lose any of those connections; but can I talk about changing the system if I can't make sacrifices like that myself?
Right now what we do is try to skip the car when it's easy to do so: when we're making trips in town, when we're not bringing the kids, when extra travel time is built into the schedule. But we're only trying: last week Zion and I took the car less than half a mile up to the library because it was raining. Pretty lame. Any suggestions?
Lijah is a pretty good kid, but in the interest of full disclosure I have to reveal a couple of flaws. One I remarked on again this evening is that he's a total sandbagger when it comes to eating. Most of the time he makes like he doesn't like eating food—like the very notion of taking nutrients in solid form is repellent to him—but then when there's cake in front of him the mask slips.
To be replaced, I suppose, by a mask made of frosting. (At the community dinner this evening he ate his own whole piece, and I had to fight him off to keep some of mine for myself.)
It's an excellent strategy overall, his apparent disdain; often we're so desperate to get non-nursing calories into him that we'll give in to his outrageous requests for, say, chocolate chips first thing in the morning. Or at least Leah will.
His other big issue is his out-of-control covetousness. It's not that he hoards toys—he can't, he can't think of holding more than two things at a time—it's that he only ever wants things that other people have. Never mind if he has an identical item in his hot little toddler hands, it's the one he can see someone else enjoying that he wants. And he wants it now! He'll never be happy again, ever, unless he can get it!! So powerful is the force of his desire that even our stubborn Zion often gives in, if only to shut him up. And then as soon as he gets... whatever it is, he immediately tosses it aside and moves on to the next thing he can't live without.
That would be annoying enough in a typical American household—there's a lot of yelling involved—but it's even more specifically galling for us avowed anti-capitalists. Here he is enacting the ritualized play of consumerism, repeatedly allowing himself to be swept up by desires whose fulfillment offers no release from the cycle of need. Its a total rejection of all we believe in!! But then, I suppose it is nice for him to get all that out of his system early.
(That he's a terrible sleeper is a flaw too, but it's one that's too raw—much too raw!—for us to talk about here.)
A moment from the week.
After counting down the days, we four boys were super excited when the morning of Bedford Day arrived. Which is good, because the excitement of the younger three made Mama's absence—she was out all day running a big mountain race—a little more bearable. So did pancakes.
We were up at the parade route in plenty of time to get a prime spot. As usual the kids all crept steadily forward to improve their chances of grabbing some of the candy thrown by nearly all the units in this particular parade; but this time Harvey and Zion were right up there with them.
They were brave in the scramble, too. Don't tell Mama how close Zion got to the wheels of some of those trucks! Even before the parade was over they got to enjoy some of the sweet reward.
Before the parade we'd scouted out the booth with the cheapest hot dogs ($2 instead of $3 each!) so we knew right where to go when there was nothing more to watch out on the street.
Low camera batteries prevented me from getting a shot of the karate demonstration, the highlight of the day for Zion, but when we made our way to the 4H area I remembered my phone in time to capture Lijah's delight.
Next up was the fire trucks, including the new ladder unit (of which the department is very proud). Here's Zion taking it for a drive.
There was also a mobile EMT training facility, with a practice dummy that was oddly fascinating to the kids...
After all the excitement and heat—it was baking in the sun—we were happy to head over to the library to buy some books at the sale and just relax. It's nice to see the whole town out and enjoying themselves; but I think I'm also glad that most people stay home the rest of the time.
Happy Bedford Day!
I am up in the middle of the night berating myself for not completing a marathon yesterday Well, that's not entirely true. I am up in the middle of the night because Zion came into my bed and woke up Elijah, and then Elijah woke up Zion, and then back and forth for an hour until I asked Zion to go back to his bed, and then Dan had a disciplinary moment with Zion over using the potty and me and Dan had a little argument about it, and then I put the baby back to sleep after that, and NOW I am berating myself about not finishing a marathon yesterday.
Because when your life is a series of sisyphusian struggles, night in and night out, completing small goals becomes arbitrarily important.
Anyway, I thought I would run this marathon yesterday.
I had a good running season 2014. I logged two 20 mile runs and at least a dozen half marathons. A tight marathon would have felt like a nice little cap on my accomplishments. More than that, a timed event that would have rendered "official" the work that's been heretofore private, shared only between me and the trail and my gps watch. Okay and also on Strava and Wellcoin. I'm not very good at the private thing. But STILL. I wanted someone to hand me a medal and say, "Well done, Leah, You've FINISHED something. At least today, at least in this very inconsequential area of your life." (They don't really say that when they hand out medals, I just in my mind imagine that they do.) So I looked up all the fall marathons in New England and narrowed the list to events on a Saturday within a 3 hour drive. There were two options. Both were trail races.
What's a trail race? I thought. That doesn't sound too hard.
"Rolling hills over foot trails in the beautiful Pittsfield state forest." Based on the website description it sounded positively relaxing! I'd be out and running first thing in the morning and back by the afternoon to help the kids get ready for dinner.
Or so I thought. This is what the Pittsfield state forest looks like.
The rolling hills mentioned in the website are up and down a 2700 foot mountain. To this lookout.
The path down follows a rocky riverbed.
It was a beautiful place to hike but a mother effing IMPOSSIBLE place to run.
By mile five my legs felt like they had gone ten miles. My back hurt, even though I can usually run three hours normal without feeling my back. By mile six I realized everyone was walking up the hill. In fact the name of the game seemed to be walking up hill. I kept looking at my watch and it kept telling me incredibly depressing things. Like: "15 MINUTE MILE!" and "You were crazy to tell your family you'd be done in four hours! You aren't going to finish this marathon EVER!!!!!"
Sometimes my watch went into auto-pause mode. While I was moving. Like as a little extra bonus fuck you.
By mile eight I had some hard questions to ask myself. Like, what do you do when you are right in the middle of a self inflicted disaster? What is important for decision making here? How much do I weigh my longing to complete something against my responsibilities to my family and/or the health of my knees?
I was not physically trained for the race I was in. I was a little nauseous and I had a stomach cramp which made me think I was not processing the lactic acid coming from my legs. Which meant I was working anaerobically. Which meant, for a distance event, I was DOING IT WRONG.
I had told everyone I would be running a four hour marathon. I had completely misjudged the course. And also my ability to jump into any physical challenge and come out swinging. My dad was planning to pick me up for lunch. My kids were expecting me home for dinner. No one, not least myself, wanted me out on that mountain I didn't know was a mountain for six fucking hours.
Strava says the elevation gain for the part of the race I completed was 2900ft. 2900 feet! I should have looked that up before I gave ultramarathon.com my credit card number.
I called my dad at three hours in and told him I was almost at the halfway point of the marathon. He had gone to an art museum nearby and was already on his way back to pick me up for the finish. He said something to the effect of, "What???" Which I took to mean, "What the honest to goodness fuck, child, you are always getting it wrong and disappointing me." I said, with as much emotional coolness as I could muster, that the race was too hard for me, that I should drop out at the half, that we should call it a day and go out for lunch.
It seemed like the smart move. It seemed like something a rational person would do. But when I came down the hill and the guys at the aid station were cheering I just waved them away and shook my head like, "No, you guys, you dont' get it. I didn't sign up for the half marathon, I'm actually just a quitter."
What if I had pushed through the second loop? Would I have fallen and destroyed an ankle? Would I be running through a different set of questions in my head? "Why do you hate your body so much, Leah? Do you want to be able to walk into your 50s? Is endurance athletics a redirection of a secret death wish?"
Instead I have these questions to torment me. "Why are you a perpetual failure, Leah? Why are you so quick to jump on any excuse out?" And just for misery sake, the kicker: "How can you justify eating so much, you disgusting fat pig, if you don't even finish your stupid marathon?"
When we let it slip that we homeschool, we get a lot of questions about details. "Do you use a curriculum?" is common. We don't, and often what we do is so far from what someone interested in "curriculum" would expect in an educational setting that I can't even think of how to respond. But sometimes it all hangs together to make it look like I know what I'm doing. Like yesterday.
On Sunday Harvey and I were talking about balancing and balances, so first thing Monday morning we set one up in the living room. We started with pairs of blocks and then moved on to a wide variety of other objects, comparing weights and noticing that size and weight aren't always clearly related. (And of course, part of the lesson was letting Harvey and Zion tell me that, when one side of the balance dipped, it meant that the object on that side was heavier). We learned that a small stone weighs about the same as 217 foam base-10 blocks—and less than Harvey's new wooden boat, a kit from Home Depot that he put together over the weekend. "Does that mean that my boat won't float?" he asked me (it had been an topic of discussion earlier). "I know stones sink..."
Before we dealt with that question, we had some math practice to do. Which because sometimes I plan ahead was totally tied in, and also gave Harvey a different way to think about addition and combinations.
A little bit later we took what we'd learned about weights outside to the wading pool. Harvey's intellectual hypothesis was that his boat would sink, being heavier than a small stone, but his common sense told him otherwise; and indeed, it floated fine. So did a big heavy piece of lumber, while very very tiny light stones sank instantly. I proposed an experiment using tin foil, which had the following results: a ball of tinfoil will float, the same size sheet of foil folded will sink, and a canoe molded out of foil—again, the same size piece—will be able to hold many rocks before sinking.
Leaving the pool to the littler boys, Harvey and I retired to the shade to think about what was going on. And it didn't take much hinting from me for him to realize that the important factor was the proportion of air contained within an object. That led us into a discussion of density, and memories of the helium balloons the boys got at Bedford Day helped us to imagine how even gasses could have different densities. For a more explicit demonstration, we looked at what happens when you combine water and oil, and water and honey: compared to water some liquids sink, and some float (we did the oil and honey in separate containers so the boys could drink the honey water when the experiment was over).
That was our school day yesterday. Today I painted the porch and the boys played hide and seek. It's homeschooling.
Besides homeschooling, our life has been consumed this week with party preparations: we're getting ready to host the social event of the season this Friday. And you're invited!
Like last year, it's officially to celebrate the kick-off of our church small group's fall season, but really we just want to celebrate fall by getting a bunch of people who maybe don't know each other together to chat and play and listen to music. Play music too!
If by some oversight you didn't get an actual, personalized invitation (and, you know, you live close enough to come and everything), send me an email and I'll fill you in with the details. It's going to be fun.
We found a bounce house for our party. The boys helped test it out.
There's plenty of food already waiting to be set out, with more to make tomorrow.
And if that isn't enough inducement, how about a brand-new homemade table?!
A moment from the week.
The party was wonderful yesterday evening, and we felt so blessed to be joined by so many awesome people.
Between the food, the bounce house, and the soccer equipment the kids had plenty to do, and they formed a wild pack in the back part of the yard. There was lots of music provided by both Grandpas and Katie Jones... and Leah and Harvey did their part too!
Lots of food too; that'll have to be represented photographically by some of the 56 hot dogs I grilled.
All together it was a great atmosphere under the lights and around the fire. Just the way to ring in the fall.
Only it seems like a shame to take the lights down already, as pretty as they are. And we have lots of beer left... anyone want to come over tomorrow night?
How many days do you start out in winter hats and end up with a swim in the pond? Yay for September.
It really was cold this morning. 34, according to the weather ap on my phone—though all the plants were fine, so it can't have been that cold for long. But we did dig into the closet to get ready for the drive to church.
But by early afternoon it was pleasant, or even hot, so the pond seemed like the place to be. Even when inertia kept us home until 4:00, we were still ready for some time in the water. A little time.
It was great being at the pond with no ropes and not many people. Harvey and I had plenty of space to splash and play in the water, and Zion had room to roam on the shore.
It was the place to be for two lovely hours. Fall? So far so good.
Lijah had his last early intervention visit this morning (at 7:15 it was certainly early intervention). A few weeks ago he had his annual re-evaluation and it turns out he can do all the things—especially talk, which was a little bit of a surprise to us. When you're following a pair of brothers who were saying full sentences before 18 months you've maybe got some unrealistic expectations to live up to. But the professionals know better, and they told us that he didn't need any more help from them. Which is good, I suppose; though you sure can get used to someone coming by your house once a week with a bag full of toys!
It seems like the biggest thing with Lijah is that he wanted more direct instruction in lots of areas than we had been giving him. I guess there were some distractions that kept us from paying as much attention to him as we should have? But even back when he was just a little guy trying to learn to sit up, he caught on super quick once the developmental specialist showed him how it was done. Then his PT taught him how to walk, and he learned to wave it play group... See, it does take a village: a village of professionals! We're very grateful.
When we first started posting about early intervention, we ran into angry objections from a (distant) friend who worried we were forever stigmatizing our little guy be revealing that he needed help. We never would have thought of that: our neighborhood pals are uniformly pro-intervention, and all happily shared their positive stories with us as we waited (not very long) for Lijah to get services. Which I think is how it should be. It's a weakness to not be able to accept help, and we feel only fortunate to have been in a position to be helped by the fine folks at Minute Man Arc. And it wasn't Lijah's problem anyways, it was ours! I feel like it would be wrong not to share our experience: believing that intervention is in any way stigmatizing will only keep people from getting the services they need.
So: Lijah needed help from early intervention, because his parents weren't giving him the feedback he was looking for. They helped him out! And now he's all our job again, but he can sit, and walk, and even dance!
And also distract bass players...