<< August 2019 :: September 2019

moments from the week

our tent among others in a friend's front yard

front yard camping

A few moments from the past week, a little delayed because of our awesome sleepover last night!

Harvey and Jack swimming in a near-empty Walden Pond

we're still swimming; not many others are

boys enjoying ice cream outside Bedford Farms

summer camp finale

the kids watching a video on Samuel's phone at small group

our community gathering

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hard labor

We celebrated Labor Day today by doing some work. School starts here in Bedford tomorrow, and even though that doesn't have to mean anything for us I figure we can kick off our not-school year at the same time. The main reason for that is, with the other kids around all the time over the summer the boys and I don't get any time to do projects together; now that I don't have any competition I want to make the most of my time with them. So today we cleaned up the room that we variously call the playroom or the school room, depending on mood and time of day. It was hard work. Our boys have a life that includes many comforts and even luxuries, but one thing they're missing in our smallish house is a place to store their own stuff. Lots of it ends up on their desks, to the point that none of them—nor me either!—would have been able to find room for even a single piece of paper, should we have wanted to do some work. But not any more! Now all four desk spaces are a clean sweep from end to end. Plus the shelves are organized too!

In the afternoon I went into work to put together the classroom spaces for my Kids Church program. We met over the summer and everything was beautiful, but while we had a couple weeks off the floor and the rugs got cleaned, so everything was entirely disarranged. Before I had a chance to put it right the charter school we share our space with started up for the year, so I wasn't able to get into the classrooms during the week. So I had to labor on Labor Day. Three hours of work brought all kinds of improvement; it's still not totally ready to go, but it's a lot closer! And the boys were with Grandma and Grandpa all afternoon while Leah and I worked, so that was kind of like a holiday anyhow... especially since they also fed us dinner!

I don't know if we'll make it to the bus stop tomorrow morning, but I certainly feel ready for the new school year in all the ways it touches my family. Happy Labor Day!

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pokeweed ink

In early September we're always on the hunt for interesting, school-adjacent outdoor activities—so it's nice to have the pokeweed berries ripening just when we need them. Pokeweed, if you're not familiar with it, is a tremendous perennial weed that can grow to six feet high in one season. It produces clusters of dark purple berries, which apparently are mildly poisonous; no fear that we would ever eat them, because they smell pretty bad. What they are good for is making ink!

the boys writing with feathers dipped in pokeweed berry juice

history in action

We play around with Pokeberry ink every couple years or so; I thought I'd written about it here before but I couldn't find anything. Even though the quill pens didn't really work (if anyone can show us how they're ever supposed to draw up liquid into the quill, I'd most appreciate it!) but there's still something amazing about the beautiful opaque purple ink. This year we just doodled and painted on some paper; good for 45 minutes of engagement. In the past we've dyed fabric, which looked fantastic at first but which then faded to a sort of purplish-brown. The color holds enough, though, that I was sure to keep this an outside project. And it's a good thing that both of the mashers were already wearing purple!

Zion smushing pokeweed berries with a potato masher

first you get the berries and you mash em, you mash em..

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school at home

These days I try not to talk about "homeschooling"... more "home learning" or "home education". Because, truth be told, whether from ideology or from lack of organization we don't always do that much schooling around here. Historically our more traditional educational time has been concentrated around the first couple weeks of September, then we lose focus. This year we're laying the groundwork for a little more deliberate practice, while at the same time not trying to come out of the gates too fast. In one area, though, it feels a lot like school here—and that's the noise at the lunch table.

I don't know if you've ever experienced lunch in an elementary school cafeteria, but it's really something. Those kids are loud. And we've got three elementary school kids living in our house right now—for this year only!—so they're doing their best to approximate the environment. And not just at lunchtime either... I get them for three meals a day! Besides the volume I also get to enjoy all the repetition and deliberate stupidity of the best of elementary school humor. So fun!

In their defense, they're also capable of quite sophisticated humor, as well as lots of hard work and generally pleasant company. Except not always at mealtimes.

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playing superman's song

Leah sings to Zion at bedtime, and lately the songs he asks for aren't your typical lullabies (he also likes to sing along). Last week sometime she somehow got to singing "Superman's Song" by Crash Test Dummies, a band you may remember if you went to high school in the 90s. So then I got to enjoy a couple days of the boys singing it intermittently, which is how long it took me to actually realize what it was. When I finally did realize, yesterday evening after bedtime, I had to look up the chords so I could play it for myself on the guitar. And then of course I had to play it for the boys as soon as they woke up this morning, and then again a couple times throughout the day. The best part is I needed a capo to play it as originally recorded, but I don't have one... but I do have a pencil and a rubber band, which totally did the job. I still think I'll pick up a real capo the next time I go by the music store though.

This evening some friends were over for dinner, so naturally I had to give them a rendition as well. Since most of them are about my age we had ourselves a nice little 90s sing-along with tunes from The Cranberries, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Indigo Girls, and more! Also "These Boots Are Made for Walking", which isn't from the 90s but which is still fun. Note that everyone who answered when I asked about a song they remembered from high school was female.

After they left I had "Linger" stuck in my head for a couple minutes before "Superman's Song" made a comeback. I may be singing it to myself for the next week. Maybe by then I'll know the words!

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moments from the week

Harvey showing off his 5th grade sign

starting the school year

Moments from the past week.

Zion and Lijah sleeping in the tent

bonus tent sleeping

the boys playing on a playground in the evening sunshine

fall sunshine

Lijah in the hammock chair biting a shiny apple

apple and hammock season

the boys playing on the roof of our minivan

who needs a climbing structure?

Zion sitting down in a pond

almost swimming

Zion in coat and winter hat

getting cold in the mornings

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alternate art hike

On Friday we had big plans to go swimming at Walden Pond with lots of friends. Even when the day dawned gray and chilly with rain threatening we weren't deterred. However, we were absolutely deterred when we reached the pond and found it closed. With five kids in the car and another three planning to meet us in a couple minutes, we had to find something else fun to do! Luckily Concord's Hapgood-Wright town forest, featuring Fairyland Pond, was just down the hill. So we went there instead.

Zion wading in Fairyland Pond

any fairies in sight?

Not, actually, to swim. Besides the cold weather and cold water, it was also pretty muddy and weedy. It would have been enough to walk around and explore, but as it happened there was even more fun to be had: the woods was the site of an "Art Ramble" organized by the Concord Umbrella Community Arts Center.

the kids looking at a birdhouse-like structure with animals peeking out from the doors

art!

I love art, and I love it even more when it's integrated into the natural environment (like at the wonderful Old Frog Pond Orchard sculpture walk). And when you can play with it! Here are the kids climbing on a giant hand, and obeying my instructions for the picture: "give me the finger!".

kids climbing on a big hand sculpture holding up fingers

all the fingers

We spent the most time at the Clootie Tree, a metal tree-like sculpture where the artist invited people to hang strips of cloth on which they had written their hopes and wishes. It was just about filled up already, though the younger kids found some space to add their own cloths. I enjoyed reading some of the wishes already up there. My least favorite was the guy who wished for a job where he could make "boatloads" of money doing something people would respect him for, and my most favorite was, "I wish I had a different snack." I guess I like realistic wishes. Lijah's was not realistic: he wished that he was the bunny from Sing.

Besides the art, we also did some fun hiking. The woods is small but very hilly, so even though we didn't go far we got to feel like we were climbing mountains. And some of the kids felt like we had gone far enough that we were lost, which is always exciting. Also there was deep mud to play in. And of course, at the end of the walk, the kids who hadn't changed out of their swimsuits after the disappointment of Walden went in the pond. All in all, I think we were quite satisfied with the alternate activity.

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my strong young cyclists

Yesterday we biked up to the farmers market in Lexington faster than we ever have before. Zion was pushing hard in the lead the whole way, not letting us pass him and even trying to stay on the wheel of some unrelated adults who went by him. I'm sure Harvey could have gone in front if he wanted too—he has a lighter bike and more gearing—but he was feeling pretty relaxed so he didn't see a need. No, the one who was suffering to stay in the pack was me! These boys keep getting older and stronger, and while I'm certainly getting older the strength is more of an open question.

Of course, if I wanted to I could offer some facts in my own defense. Namely, I'm still carrying Lijah, who is also getting older and stronger and, more to the point, heavier. So maybe I should be proud of myself for keeping up with the youngsters on a 20 lb bike carrying has to be 50 lbs of kid and gear. That sounds reasonable.

Every second Tuesday of the month is Bike to Market day, when everybody who rides gets a two dollar coupon to use anywhere at the market. I gave mine to Lijah, and all three boys topped up the coupon with some of their own money to buy giant sweet pastries. Two of them really deserved that treat!

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cooperating

There's always so much going on in our lives that it's hard to feel like we're living with any kind of schedule. This week it's planning for the church retreat that we're headed out on tomorrow afternoon (preparation needed because I'm running the kids program..). But some school year activities are getting going without needing any help from us, and one of those is our homeschool coop's weekly Park Day. And boy were we excited to get out there today!

kids playing on a big dirt pile

dirt pile fun

Well, maybe it actually needed a little help from us. With rain in the forecast, I made the call that we were going for it regardless of weather. There's a pavilion at the playground; I figured if it was raining we could still meet there and hang out together, and if was absolutely bucketing down we could talk about somewhere else to go. Much easier than figuring out contingencies ahead of time. As it was, it was just drizzling when we got there and even the drizzle quickly trailed off, so the kids were free to have a great time running around together (and also sitting and listening to the adults talk, in the case of the older ones). With a couple new faces it felt like a strong start to our fall semester, and I was glad to get it going. We're looking forward to lots more fun Thursdays this fall!

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moments from the week

the boys swimming in the pond

the ropes are down at Walden

Moments from the past week.

Harvey drinking water from a milk bottle

hard work makes you thirsty!

Lijah playing in the mud with other kids at Park Day

mud party

Lijah and Kamilah lying on a wall having a chat

friends at a hotel

Zion and Lijah swimming in a hotel pool with an island in it

a pool with an island!

Zion in the midst of a sack race by a lake

sack race by the lake

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potluck competition

We had a church retreat this past weekend—well, some people in the church had a retreat. I took care of the elementary kids, which is to say two of my own three children plus about 25 more. Of course, I had lots of help and it was lots of fun, but it was also pretty tiring. On our way home we stopped at my parents' house for dinner with them and my brother. We got home around 8:15. Less than twelve hours later I had to leave to set up for my the regular Sunday kids program, with the added effort of unloading and putting away all the materials I brought out for the kids to use at the hotel. So you can see why I was struggling to find something appropriate to prepare for the potluck lunch I was invited to.

I didn't really think about it until yesterday morning, and then for a while I was about ready to just give up and go in there pleading exhaustion and overwhelmedness. But then all the other people who were going had been at the retreat too, and also I'm actually pretty competitive when it comes to food prep, so bringing nothing felt pretty bad. Then in the shower I had a brainstorm: I was going to have over an hour between the end of Kids Church and the lunch. If I mixed up some cookie dough at home, I could bring it in and stick it in the fridge at church—then I'd be able to wow people with fresh-baked cookies coming out of the oven just in time for dessert. Who would be able to top that?!

As it happened, people appreciated the warm cookies a great deal. But they were just one small part of a wonderful lunch that included salad fresh from someone's garden and rice and beans with peach salsa made from someone else's home-grown peaches—all served on a beautifully set table with name cards and wildflowers and artistically-strewn stones and peach pits (it looked cool, really!). So I couldn't stand out. Never mind, I'm happy just to have done my part!

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on Wednesday

The best thing about homeschooling is that, by Wednesday, when you're ready for a change of scenery... it's yours to go find!

the boys crossing the bridge to Good Harbor Beach

to the beach!

After just a little bit of work this morning, we headed up towards Gloucester and Rockport for an adventure. I had no firm plans beyond wanting an outing, and knowing we needed a bit more lumber for the new deck we're working on—and there's a Home Depot that direction too, so why not?! It's been a while since we visited the ocean in the northern part of Massachusetts.

There was some temptation to head to the same spot we spent so much time at on that last trip, since our memories of it were so positive. But I thought I'd check out the street parking situation at Good Harbor beach; and when I saw that it had opened up on September 15th we just had to stay. Our first try at exploring the beach was cut short by everyone needing to use the bathroom. On our second attempt we got down to the water, which was warm enough that we all had to go back to the car one more time to change into swimsuits. It was a lot of walking... but totally worth it!

Harvey and Zion playing in the waves

yay ocean!

For three of us, at least. Unfortunately, Lijah somehow got a nasty cut on his big toe yesterday, and crossing the bridge for the fifth time he stubbed it and it started bleeding again pretty good. So he wasn't as excited about getting wet. Instead he rested on our giant pile of gear.

Lijah lying on towels and backpacks

relatively comfy

While the water was warm—for the ocean in New England—the air most certainly was not. I don't think it got much above 60°F today, and at the shore there was a stiff breeze blowing the whole time. After a little while I headed back to cuddle with Lijah, so I was ready when the bigger boys were finally done in the water and needed some warming and drying (Lijah's towel was for warming purposes only, but he didn't want to be left out!).

the boys in towels and coats, looking cold

brrr!

We had lunches packed, but we couldn't eat on the beach: besides threatening to blow away all our food and containers, the wind also kept a constant spray of sand in the air to a height of about a foot. So we instead we went into Rockport to explore the rocks opposite the harbor from the breakwater, where we'd never been. It was just as windy there but there was no sand to blow around, and we were able to find a sheltered spot for lunch. Then we climbed all over the rocks and tried to take pictures of the breaking waves, which were quite impressive. Neither Zion or I—the two main photographers—managed anything especially good... but you get the idea.

Zion and Lijah on the rocks looking at the rough sea

on the rocks

Then it was time to go home. We were back by 2:30, with plenty of time to do the rest of the day's work and play with friends. Not a bad schedule!

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responsibility and its discontents

We're working on responsibility here, in all different forms. Like doing the work we're asked to do, and noticing and doing work we're not asked to do. I'm also trying to help the boys take care of their own stuff. Especially as we have more days with scheduled time out of the house, I want to make both the leaving and the time away run as smoothly as possible by having everybody pack their own backpack with all that they might need for the day. Oh, and I'm also trying to give Harvey and Zion, at least, enough money that they can practice making reasonable decisions with it. It's been working fairly well, but for Zion this afternoon it all went wrong.

We went to the park, and he did a great job bringing his bag with his lunch and things. Plus his wallet, which was just yesterday—to keep it from being lost—clipped on to the backpack. But then somehow, when we stopped at Chip In Farm on the way home, the pack was not in the car. Nor was it at the park, when we drove fifteen minutes back that way to look for it. Zion was distraught; I wasn't much better myself. He must have left it at the park, and I can't imagine who would have taken it in the half hour we were gone—but no more can I imagine where else it could be. Sad story. So now Zion needs a new backpack, and some new money, and some more practice with responsibility.

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at the National Zoo

A little while after we got back from Washington I was talking to someone about our visit to the zoo there, and she explained that she's not really a fan of zoos because she's not sure about animals in captivity. I can understand that. But if I were an animal and had to be in one, I think the National Zoo is the place to pick. Even the elephants had plenty of room to roam; given that, we really appreciated that a couple of them chose to hang out right by the fence where we came in.

an elephant

look at the elephant!

The landscaping and design of the zoo is wonderful for visitors and animals alike, and I'm so glad we had time to hang out there on the last day of our visit to Washington. We stayed for over three hours, and we could have been even longer. There were the charismatic mega-fauna like elephants and lions:

a lion snarling

an aloof monarch

There were cute little mammals like the fennec fox and... this other thing:

a fennec fox sleeping

cuddly

an animal of some sort in the small mammal house

photogenic, whatever it is

And there were playground and activities for the kids as they walked between the enclosures. One pathway let the kids experience a cheetah's stalking and pursuit of an antelope; here is Zion at the successful conclusion of the hunt:

Zion pretending to eat the leg of a wooden antelope

chomp

Of course, not everything was perfect. Like everything else in Washington, it was super hot—too hot for us. There was a great bee-themed playground that we were excited to hang out in—we saved for the end of our visit—but when we finally went to play there the heat coming off the rubber matting was just unbearable. So we sat in the shade instead. And we were sad not to see the pandas, who are kind of a main draw; one of them was working on having a baby and, rare as panda babies are in captivity, could not be disturbed.

But those downsides can't spoil what was overall a great experience. My favorite part was the sea lion exhibit, where I took this picture. Before we went friends who have been to the zoo before told us to bring a bottle, which we could use to attract the sea lions' attention, but we didn't even need it; one in particular seemed to be completely fascinated by his adoring public, and happy to pose for photos. And they had quite an audience!

lots of kids looking at the sea lion through the glass

see the sea lion!

One final note, if you're considering a visit. The zoo is built on a pretty significant slope (that's part of what makes the landscaping so interesting) and there are parking lots at the top, where the main gate is, and at the bottom. Not knowing what we were doing we parked at the D lot on the bottom, and that was absolutely the right choice, because it meant we walked up to the top of the zoo first and then back down to the car. If we'd done it the other way we actually might not have made it back, and I'd never be able to write these words. As it was we survived, and left the zoo in time to make it home to Bedford by 11:30 at night. What a trip!

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<< August 2019 :: September 2019