this moment

Harvey and Zion in winter gear on the hammock

still hammocking

A moment from the week.

local hiking

Great Brook is a state park, and known locally for good hiking. But it's not the only place around here where we can get out in the woods away from people. A few days ago we went north (for about five minutes by car) to an area I know pretty well; today it was west to a piece of woods that I've explored just a couple times since we've lived in Bedford.

Since I've never gotten them lost for too long the boys trust me to lead them into unknown territory, and there's something fun about walking on trails when you're not sure where they're going to lead. (Fun for me, anyways; I don't know that the boys yet pay enough attention to know one bit of woods from another.) When you're navigating blind even small bits of protected land take on the aspect of expansive wildernesses.

Not that we were quite blind entirely: the last link above goes to openstreetmap.org, a great resource for local trail-finding. When I first discovered it I was amazed, for a couple reasons. First, it was really something to see all the little trails by my parents' house, where I wandered as a kid, marked down on a map for all the world to see: so fancy and official! And then, seeing the shear number of off-road paths available in the area was exciting—and inspiring of future expeditions.

But while the internet of maps let me know that there were trails in there somewhere, it didn't really help us with navigation on the ground (not least because the page wouldn't load on my phone in the middle of the woods; but let's pretend the expedition was eschewing technology deliberately). So there was a delightful frisson of risky exploration to each fork we came to. And even if we had had access to trail maps, there would still have been surprises, like the section of trail we came to that was completely covered by a daunting depth of water.

a pond where the trail should be

can't go over it... can't go around it...

It might look from that picture like we could just go around, but the whole area was pretty swampy and mostly under water—the trail just happened to go through a particularly low-lying section. And there was no way we were going back, since Zion had reached the complaining-about-cold-hands-and-mittens stage of the expedition. So, as Rascal ran back and forth through the icy water wondering what was taking us so long, we painstakingly inched a path around the deepest water—a path that included a 10-foot-long traverse along a fallen log. I carried Zion, but Harvey did a great job on his own!

It was all totally fun and exciting, and easily as rewarding as any destination we could have looked for farther afield. And we didn't see a single other person out there the whole time! You should totally check out the trails around you, if you haven't already; even if there are some local places that you walk frequently, I bet there are lots more you don't know about yet! And the best part is, you can bring a lunch.

Harvey eating a sandwich in the woods

just reward

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SKATEPARK!

I wanted to get out in the sunshine yesterday but the playground was not a compelling offer to my children. Aw mom, we've BEEN to that playground before. Well then, I asked, do you want to go to the skate park?

don't harsh on me, ma

Dan found some skateboards in the trash the other day. Or at least that's what Harvey tells me. They may have appeared unbidden on our lawn, that kind of stuff happens around here too. Either way, Harvey was delighted to try out his new ride. It wasn't until I was a half mile from our house pushing the stroller that I looked up at the scale of the ramps and I thought to myself: Golly. We should have brought a helmet.

zoom!

In the end we risked no head trauma, though Harvey did get a skinned knee and Zion screamed for several minutes that he WANTED HIS MITTENS!!! (I had left them at home because upon leaving he screamed for several minutes that he HATED HIS MITTENS. Luckily I'd brought bandaids.)

As the boys wrapped up their outing by running up and down the half pipe, I couldn't but notice the line of busses in the distance behind them. This, I thought, (minus the screaming... okay truthfully with the screaming) is the homeschool life.

the life

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adventures rural and urban

Living where we do we have a wide range of possible adventures close at hand. Last week, a friend invited us out to Great Brook State Park in Carlisle. Leah and I had been before, but not since Harvey was born, so we weren't really aware of the range of kid-friendly farm-visiting opportunities there were available there. But first we had a picnic.

Zion and a friend on a lawn with pond and farm behind them

a fine day for a farm visit

While the big kids and grownups ate lunch and ran around, Lijah enjoyed some quiet time on his own pulling up grass and biting on leaves and sticks. He can get himself around just enough that if he sees something interesting close at hand he has the means to obtain it for himself!

Elijah playing on the grass

almost-crawling freedom

After a bit we headed over to see the animals. There were cows.

a cow looking through the fence at the camera

moo?

Also present were sheep, goats, chickens, a duck, and many many pigeons (the pigeons were of the "wild" variety). There were horses around too; we saw several people riding, which was a much more exotic sight for the boys than the other livestock. There are farm tours at Great Brook sometimes, but not on November Tuesdays, so we had to stay outside the fence.

When we finally managed to tear ourselves away from the animals we took to the trails for a hike. You never know what you're going to get hiking with two- and three-year-olds (we had one of each in the party), but since it was so nice we launched ourselves on a pretty ambitious loop and didn't actually do too badly. It helped that there were lots of dramatic rock features for the kids to observe and climb: climbing energy is different than walking energy, and a couple minutes of strenuous climbing will restore your typical child for at least an equal period of boring walking. Harvey brought his new notebook along so he record his observations.

Harvey atop a pile of rocks in the woods, with backpack and sketchbook

observant explorer

Then yesterday we took off in the entirely opposite direction. On a day with steady rain that looked like it wasn't going to stop, I figured I could take the boys on a train ride: exciting and under cover! Leah dropped us off at Alewife and we took the Red Line to Park Street, where we changed to real(er) train and chugged up out of the tunnels on our way towards Newton.

the view out the front of a Green Line train on the D line

conductor's-eye view

When we felt like we'd seen all there was to see of the D line we hopped out, dashed across the tracks, and jumped on an inbound train not two minutes later. I did have enough time to snap a memento of our visit, a shot of the station at Newton Center... excuse me, Centre. A charmingly old-world structure to be sure.

the station at Newton Center in the rain

looks like a train station

Back downtown we emerged from the subway tunnels to discover that the rain had tapered off to a fine falling mist, leaving us free to explore the city aboveground. At the Library Main Branch we saw lots of tourists visiting but weren't able to locate the kids area or even any books, so we gave the place up for a bad deal (though it's just the place to go if you want marble walls; and we did also find a restroom, which was handy). Then across the street we were confronted with a real live skyscraper.

Trinity Church and the Prudential tower in the misty rain

sky scraper scraping

Harvey's theory was that a town as big as Boston ought to have a toy store somewhere, so I led the party in the direction of FAO Schwartz, only to remember along the way that the Boston location closed five or ten years ago. We looked in to the Marshalls that's now in about the same place, but it's toy selection was smaller than the boys are used to at our local store (have we written about our dealings with Marshalls? we should!) so we pushed on. No toy stores, but a tour of Boylston and Newbury Streets landed us at the Public Garden, where we fed pancakes to the ducks and then had to fend of their increasingly aggressive attempts to get seconds. Zion was seriously nervous; we were all much happier viewing the avian life of the garden from the safety of the bridge.

Harvey and Zion looking over the bridge railing at the duck pond

safe way for ducklings

There were lots of pigeons there too—very pleasant uniting theme to the two adventures!

When the rain started up again we ate lunch in the bandstand on the Common (sharing the mostly-dry space with some homeless folks) and then walked over to Park Street to take the Red Line back towards home.

Both outings were tiring but rewarding; both are worth doing again soon!

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chickens are too easy

Everyone should have chickens. As I tell anyone who asks (and some people who don't) they're a lot less work than a dog and need less room than you expect. And you get eggs, and the simple enjoyment of watching hens do their thing: a delightful mix of silly, beautiful, and dinosaur-like deadly. But this morning, as I ventured out into the cold rain to fill their food and water and give them some new straw bedding, I wished they were a little more work.

Not for very long, of course! This time of year is when the number of necessary trips out to the coop doubles to two, as I need to bring in the waterer overnight to keep it from freezing solid; and since I need to put the water out first thing in the morning, it also enforces a time-line on a chore that in warmer days I could do whenever I felt like it. (Yes, I also let the hens out in nice weather, and sometimes visit them just to hang out, but in the summer I don't have to.) So I'm more aware now than I was a week ago of my responsibilities to the flock.

But there's something valuable about having those sorts of responsibilities to take care of before you get going on the rest of your day. Sure, I actually need to leave home to work—to sully my hands in the business of commerce, if you will—but when I spend a few minutes pitching hay before I leave it puts the workday world into perspective: an interval in the middle of real life, rather than all there is. I suppose it doesn't need to be agriculture: you could probably get the same effect with a morning run or bike-ride, or by putting in some time on a musical instrument, or by baking something. Anything that's your own work rather than the paying job you happen to have fallen into.

And I say that as someone who likes his job, and doesn't even work that hard anyways! Today I wasn't even going to work: as I watched the hens in the rain I was looking forward to a hard day of "homeschooling" and riding the T all over the city with Harvey and Zion (more about that later!). But the chickens were still wonderfully grounding, and for a little while I wished they were enough work to give me that sort of feeling every morning.

Leah, maybe we should get goats!

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