We celebrated Labor Day with a cookout this evening, like you do. We ended up inviting all our friends who moved to Bedford after long pre-existing friendships—which is, surprisingly, three families. It was kind of an impromptu affair, with just what food we could scrounge from the freezer or grab on a quick trip by the store, but everyone contributed and we ended up with a regular feast! I'm still recovering from over-consumption of both food and drink as I finish up the tasks of the evening. There are other areas in my life—running events at church, for instance—where even with official notice it's hard to get folks to bring something to share for a pot-luck, so it's so refreshing to be part of a community of friends where sharing food and work just comes automatically. Thanks guys, and happy Labor Day!
The party didn't go long—with the first day of school looming tomorrow everyone wanted to make sure to get home to bed at a reasonable hour—and it's just as well! We're planning on kicking off our own school year too, and despite all good intentions I find I still have a lot of planning and prep work to do. With that plus the dishes and bedtime stories and all I've currently blown past my hard make-homeschooling-successful bedtime by an hour and ten minutes and counting. Oh well, the school year is long; I'll have more chances.
We enjoy following the Bedford Public School schedule when it suits us. The buses came for the kids this morning, so we figured we could get going too.
With two big kids to get educated we need to be more focused than ever before. In the hopes of getting off to a good start we spent the last couple weeks building systems and previewing expectations. For day one, at least, it seems to be working.
Of course, we're flexible too. We squeezed in the morning's work around a visit to the doctor to get physicals for the two school kids, and then in the afternoon when it warmed up we took off for the pond.
Hey, all the work was done by then anyway! All but phys-ed, that is; some vigorous swimming was just the thing after all that mental effort. (Harvey showed us all how it's done by treading water for 66 seconds!)
We also went to the farmers market, picked my parents up from the train station, visited a library, and went out to dinner with friends. That's a homeschool day!
We're using Jonathan Bean's wonderful book This Is My Home, This Is My School to focus our thoughts a little bit these first couple weeks. We read it twice today and thought about the roles each of characters played in the homeschooling life of their family, as we talked about what homeschooling means to us. Then Harvey and I looked at the art, and tried our hand at our own version of Jonathan Bean's messy-on-purpose ink, watercolor, and pencil art. I'm pretty happy with how mine came out... Zion liked it too, so he took a picture.
You can ask Harvey if you want to see his. Suffice it to say, we all agree with the sentiments. Homeschooling 2017-2018 is off to a fine start.
God, you made the day and the night, the morning and the evening—I praise you for the wonders of creation. You made us, women and men in your image—I praise you for the strength and wisdom you have given us. You give us work to do—I praise you for work that is rewarding intellectually and financially.
God, please bless the world this morning: bless each person and their work and their journey to work this morning, and every morning.
Bless the walkers: give them a peaceful moment of quiet contemplation as they walk, and open their eyes to the beauty of your creation and the people around them. Help them feel unhurried and free from stress, and bring them to their workplace calm and refreshed and ready to begin the day.
Bless the cyclists: let them be attentive to the joy of using the greatest means of transportation ever devised, and free them from any feeling of hurry or competitiveness. Protect them from the dangers of distracted drivers and potholed streets, and bring them to their workplace safely, feeling fully alive and exhilarated after a lovely ride.
Bless those who ride buses or trains: give them a bubble of privacy and quiet space, even on the most crowded trains; at the same time, give them a feeling of connection and common humanity with everyone around them. Let each person fully enjoy the pause in their own effort to read, talk, text, or just let their mind drift—as the transit system runs perfectly and gets them to their workplace on time and ready to engage with the tasks of their day.
Bless those who choose to drive or need to drive. Fill them with them your peace, even in the most frustrating traffic. Help them to feel connected to the world outside their own car: to see other drivers and cyclists and pedestrians as humans that they can bless and wish well, rather than obstacles. Bring them safely to their destination, and touch them with a sense of your powerful love for them.
Bless all of us in our work of the day, and give us strength and courage to do it all again this evening.
In Jesus's name, Amen.
I have things I'd like to write. Over the weekend I officiated a wedding at a farm on a lake in New Hampshire. Yesterday we spent the day in Lowell exploring canals and museums and trolleys. Plus all the things from last week and before that I don't even remember. But there's not much time, it turns out; not even after the party ends for the day.
This evening we had nine adults and six kids (counting us all) over for dinner. I made chili, coleslaw, cornbread, and sourdough bread. Before that the boys and I cleaned the house (pretty much). Zion got stung by something so he couldn't do much cleaning. Before that we biked the nine-mile round-trip to the farmers market. That was after our lunch of hard-boiled eggs, cheese, roasted broccoli, and honey whole wheat bread hot out of the oven. We did school all morning (after chores and walking the dog around the block). Each of the boys wrote a story about the Lowell trip; Harvey drew a map of the living room; Zion counted dimes and pennies while Harvey timed himself on addition facts. When Harvey got frustrated he threw himself backwards and bumped his head pretty badly on the shelf. For breakfast we had biscuits and jam.
Somehow, in all of that, I didn't get a blog post written. Maybe I can copy Harvey's story in tomorrow. He's clearly way ahead of me.
Every season is busy in its own way. I'm delighted to be getting some serious time to do school with the boys, and to have the house cool enough to bake—you can tell how delighted I am by how I go on about it! Maybe once winter settles in we'll have more calm writing time. But I'm not ready for winter until I manage to do a couple building projects outside. So you can see there's a bit of queue. I want to write...
Since I'm technically a minister, it was only natural when one of the few unmarried couples among our friends asked if I could be the celebrant at their wedding. And since they asked more than a year ago, I said yes. The wedding was this past weekend.
The bride's family has a lavish farm estate in New Hampshire, so conveniently they didn't have to rent a place to hold the festivities.
The ceremony itself was on an island, one which is also an Episcopal Church. What a fine idea that is! There was plenty of room for the wedding party to stand around while we waited for things to get started.
Of course, the best part of an island wedding is the boat trip. There were pontoon boats to get us all out there the day of the ceremony, but for the rehearsal the day before I got to ride on one of the family's two Chris-Craft runabouts. Naturally for the wedding they were reserved for more important passengers!
The weather was beautiful throughout, but as the sun dipped behind the mountains temperatures at the cutting garden cocktail party dipped into the 40s, and we were glad to head into the barn for dinner. Sadly I had imbibed a little too much to give a truly memorable grace, but they let me eat anyways.
Besides the amazing food and interesting company at the rehearsal dinner (and its cocktails and appetizers) and the reception, I also enjoyed an early morning swim—including one trip down the wooden water slide running from the peak of the boathouse—and a delightful four-mile hike on the property. Oh, and a smores party on Friday evening! Of course, being a minister I had to work Sunday, so I missed dessert and dancing Saturday night—to say nothing of the farewell brunch on Sunday. Also, as lovely as it all was I would have enjoyed it ever so much more if my family could have been there with me. We'll have to get ourselves invited up there again one day.
There was only one unalloyed negative: the shoes I needed to buy Thursday evening when I remembered that I don't even own any sneakers without holes, to say nothing of respectable wedding shoes, were supremely uncomfortable. I was bleeding from one heel after just a quarter mile of walking. Thankfully, at a summer farmhouse wedding no one can complain about bare feet!
Congratulations Kyle and Margaret; here's to many years of wedded bliss! I don't know if I'll ever do another marriage, so I hope you enjoy this one.
For our poetry unit last year we spent much of the time talking about what makes a poem a poem—which is to say, poetic language. Unlike the year before we didn't actually read that many poems, because what tends to make poems interesting to the boys—rhyme and steady rhythm—isn't worth talking much about at this point. Instead, we read well-written prose, mostly in picture books, and noticed consonance and assonance, natural word rhythms, and figurative language. And it was totally worth it because now, a couple times a week, they point out poetic moments in the books we're reading. "That sounds like poetry!" they'll say.
This evening it was a bit from Winter Holiday, by Arthur Ransome. "A few of the oaks still carried some of the dried leaves of last year, which made a noise almost like water when the wind stirred them" called out to Harvey—or Zion, I forget which. Either way, somebody liked it and pointed it out. I enjoyed some beautiful language myself in What Forest Knows, which I read to Lijah this morning: "Forest knows fruit— / berries, nuts, cones / to seed new trees / and feed forest folk / through winter." And there's lots more where that comes from.
I think it's nice to notice that there's not a binary distinction between poems and not-poems. What poets do is pay attention to the sound of words and the way they fit together—but so do all good writers. Sound matters, images matter—to me at least. And, I'm delighted to say, to my children.
This past Monday we kicked off our social studies curriculum for the fall with a trip to Lowell. In third grade, to quote the standards: "Using local historic sites, historical societies, and museums, third graders... learn the history of their own cities and towns and about famous people and events in Massachusetts’ history." Since our farm-school co-op has third graders from Lowell and Bedford, we have two places to study. Lowell first!
This was an exploratory visit, which mixed a little bit of learning with a lot of playing (we follow the teachings of John Holt even in field trip planning). The visitor center of the National Historical Park was well provided with things to play on, including a replica trolley.
After playing with the controls, the kids were interested how they worked on the real thing, so we made inquiries. The wait was only as long as the 15-minute movie, so that was another educational opportunity (in particular, the adults received an education in how well the children can sit still in front of moving pictures). Then we ran to catch the trolley.
We would have had to pay to get in to the factory museum to see the looms in action; we'll save that for later. But the canals running all over town are free as the air, and we admired several of them. As designed, they look almost placid, so it's hard to get a sense of the power they carry... until you find the right viewing spot!
Up next in our unit, a technology connection as we try and make our own water wheels to harness the power of the hose. Coming Monday!
A few days out from the official start of fall, it seems like everyone in our neighborhood—everyone but us—has potted chrysanthemums adorning their front porches. Lot of them! Like they must have been on sale somewhere. Since I'm a contrary old cuss, I have some thoughts.
Now don't get me wrong, mums are lovely. We have a few in our garden, and I love the half-wild ones along the side of the bike path. They're a great sign of early fall; it's so wonderful to see flowers starting to bloom just as most of the others are fading away. The coppery and deep red ones in particular are great fall colors too. But!
Never mind how sad I find it when people buy perennials in pots—daffodils or tulips or easter lillies or mums—and then toss them when their "season" is over. That's their prerogative, and if I don't like it I can just grab the cast-off plants to put in the ground myself (I have, too!). But when you have these plants, forced and trimmed to within an inch of their lives, signifying fall... it just doesn't make sense! They're all greenhouse-grown; they could just have well been forced for any other time of year. And worse, the same way you get mums you could just as well have, oh, I don't know, petunias! That is to say, there's no horticultural reason for people to be buying mums—they're just doing it because that's what one does in the fall.
It's like the plastic pumpkins that have started to move from basements to front lawns over the past couple weeks. Why are pumpkins a sign of fall? Because they don't ripen until well into the fall, when everything else is dying. So it maybe doesn't make so much sense to put them out in early September when the sweet corn and summer squash and tomatoes are still going strong. There's nothing wrong with early pumpkins—either plastic or genuine—but their connection with the season is artificial and so less meaningful and interesting.
And that's true of so many things. We celebrate the turning seasons, but we're completely insulated from any real affects as they change. Our homes are heated and cooled to the same temperature all year round; our jobs are completely season- and weather-independent; we can eat watermelon and peas and raspberries all year round. So I guess it makes sense that we need to resort to artificial means to bring back some sense of seasonality. For sure, I agree that seasons are great! And to appreciate them even more, I suggest some slightly more intensive gardening: toss those potted mums into a hole and water them a little until it freezes, and they'll come back next year—at just the right time to celebrate the fall!
I hear from a reader who prefers to tell me things in person rather than comment that the chrysanthemum post might have been too harsh. I hear that! It's really about my own hangups—I'm glad I'm not in charge of anyone else, so they don't have to worry about my peculiarities. Or read my blog either, for that matter! Even in their pots all the mums will look nice once they bloom, which they'll do any day now... because it's fall!
We celebrated this afternoon with a lesson on the equinox and fall harvest festivals worldwide (our school work was this afternoon, because this morning we celebrated my dad's birthday... Happy Birthday Grandpa!). And this evening we totally ignored the reality of our ever-shorter days by staying up super late hanging out with friends. All very fun, only I'm a little concerned that we won't have the energy needed to for the real fall fun tomorrow, as we take in the Bedford Day festivities. Well, we'll be doing it either way! I'll most likely write about the day's excitement... if nothing else, it's better than complaining about other people's decoration choices.
Saturday was Bedford Day, and we celebrated it with more friends than ever before! The allure of our wonderful town is hard to resist; people we already know and love keep moving here. So naturally we got together to celebrate all Bedford has to offer.
Which turns out to be mostly lots of candy and kids desperate to get their hands on it. Last year I recall being a little calmer, but on Saturday everyone was full of energy and ready to charge into the scrum.
It was a little overwhelming, actually; there were some tears. I'm afraid it didn't show the town in its best light: no one could see the little ball players for all the chaos around them. At least no one got run over, though there were nervous moments in front of us. And with all the competition our candy haul was disappointing to at least two members of the family (I'm inclined to see that as one small silver lining).
Of course, the parade wasn't all bad. The trucks were as loud as ever you could want, and Lijah's friend Henry seemed to be completely satisfied. For his part, Lijah endured the little bit of gunfire from the Bedford Minutemen with greater-than-usual stoicism (though he didn't like it). And the Party Band was there to give us a few moments of good music.
Then after the parade we spent a delightful three or four hours at the fair. We watched the karate demonstrations—Zion is ready to sign up right now, especially after he broke three boards at the recruitment booth—and the fitness dancing. We bought books at the book sale and got balloons and bubbles for free. We ate our lunch from home, then supplemented it with brownies and cupcakes from the Episcopal bake sale. And the boys got to go in the fire truck. Zion enjoyed one special reward of fair-going with friends: another dad took pity on the middle-sized children's desperate need to play mini golf at $2/person, and funded them one round. Now that's generous!
We all had a great time. Even the great heat didn't deter us a bit (most of us; Lijah may have been slightly deterred in his fleece pajamas). We were so content that it wasn't even very upsetting to lose Harvey on the way out and spend ten minutes looking for him, only to hear from Leah that he made his way home on his own. All's well that ends well!
I'm reading a book called The Unsettlers, by Mark Sundeen. It's all about folks who chose to forgo most of the advantages of modern, industrial, capitalist existence, because they realize that those things are destroying any hope we have for survival as a species. In their view. Which I can't help but think has something to it. So I was very proud of myself on Sunday when I managed to travel everywhere I had to go—to church and back, to the playground, to friends' house for dinner; about 25 miles in all—by bicycle. And it was a hot day too!
Then yesterday morning our power went out unexpectedly in the middle of the morning. Unexpectedly—need I say it? I suppose one never expects a power outage, not in the 21st century United States. But in this case it was more unexpected than usual, coming as it did on a clear, calm, day. I suppose when a car hits a power pole, the electricity doesn't stand a chance regardless of weather. We figured it wouldn't be that much of a big deal; I just wouldn't be able to vacuum. Or do laundry... Never mind, we were going to the pond anyway. And the power came back on in time for me to make Lijah's chicken nuggets in the toaster oven (and not worry about letting the cold out of the freezer as I retrieved them). Ok, so I have a while to go before I'm ready to call myself real alternative...
Yesterday morning we walked the dog, like we do. As we were coming home at about 9:30 Zion was a little upset, and lagged behind on the sidewalk so he could be by himself. No problem; by the time we got home he was recovered and we were all ready to jump into school work together. Right in the middle of our drawing lesson, though, we were interrupted by a knock on the door. It was a cop!
It turns out someone had seen Zion walking "alone" along Hartwell Road, and when they reached the police detail at the permanent construction site around the corner they stopped to tell the officer there. I don't know what standard procedure is, but in this case whoever was in charge cared enough about it to send someone our way to check it out.
And even better, they figured out the address to look up—I suppose our neighbors on the force offered some information about our alternative schooling arrangements. Once he finally found our house—we don't have a number up any more—the cop was very kind and polite. He described what had happened, and I told him we had all been out for a walk, and he said he figured somebody had just been worried because it was after the start of the school day. Wanting to get things clear, I asked him what he thought of our sending Harvey down the street—the same street in question—to his friend's house by himself, like we do; he said he saw no problem in that at all. As far as I could tell, he was totally fine with the whole situation, and just checking on us to close the report or whatever.
Considering our lifestyle and looking to preclude future difficulties, I told him that we like to encourage our kids towards freedom and responsibility. He was fine with that. Then I invited him to let us know if anything we did ever made anyone important nervous. It could have been much worse, and once again it made me glad to live in a relatively human-friendly place like Bedford. For Eastern Massachusetts, at least, I think we're doing pretty good.
Here's hoping that's all our interaction with the police for the next year, at least!
Never mind that we're meant to be studying Lowell... when we heard of a class in pencil-making offered at Walden Pond on Monday afternoon there was no way we could miss it! It turns out that the folks there put on all sorts of awesome programs—if we had been paying attention we could have been enjoying interesting classes every day of the week. As it was, we were just in time to catch the last Monday offering of the month.
A lesson about pencil-making totally makes sense at the park: Thoreau's family were in the graphite business, and Henry was apparently an innovator in pencil manufacturing (as well as so many other things). The class was a little oversold—we didn't really get to make pencils, but we learned a whole lot about historical pencil-making, the Thoreau family, and life in the 19th century generally. And to be fair, the kids did get to make a pencil... by dropping a lead into a pre-drilled hole in a pre-sharpened bit of stick. Then they got to take their pencils home, which I guess is the important thing.
Of course, since it was a Walden Pond on a desperately warm early fall day, we also made sure to leave plenty of time for swimming with friends. Now that's how you do a school day!