posts tagged with 'adventures'

two Monday outings

Lijah swinging high in the baby swing, brothers heading up a hill behind him

spring adventure in winter

To let Leah start the week off with some solid hours of paying work, the boys and I are doing Monday morning outings these days. It's wonderful for all concerned, especially since our Sundays now feature a lot of stressful child-care for Mama and a lot of stressful church management for me; we're quite happy to reverse the picture (and subtract the stress!) on Mondays.

Last week I took the boys out to Jam Time in Maynard, an indoor play space for kids one through six that features lots of great toys and climbing things. And a ball pit.

Lijah in a sunbeam in a ball pit

sunny ball boy

Everybody had a great time (though I was needed so little I wished I had brought a book along). The play structures were lots of fun for the bigger two—Harvey got some solid practice in on the monkey bars, Zion learned how to slide down the fire pole, and they both enjoyed the super-quick smooth wood slides. Lijah spent an hour or two playing with a fireman and some plastic horses, with a few breaks for more active pursuits. It was all wonderful but for two things: we were exposed to some strong gender-normativism from some of the other kids there, and it set me back $30.

Today it was back to free adventures. With the weather bizarrely warm—practically summery—there was no reason not to go to a real, outdoor playground, and since we also wanted to visit the Arlington library we picked Robbins Park in Arlington. Though its main attraction, the giant slides, were closed for winter, there was still plenty to do. While the school kids in their playground across the street packed what fun they could into their 15-minute recesses, we ignored the bells and whistles as we ran and climbed and swung (and had a picnic). The boys even made some friends, who in true boyish fashion started out as enemies—or attackers, at least. Not that it was so crowded we couldn't escape other people when we wanted to.

Lijah running down a big hill towards the playground

room to run

After a while it was on to the library for some quiet time, and then a toy store for some desiring time. We stopped in to see Grandma and Grandpa on the way home, a delightful end to a fine adventure (especially since they always give out snacks). All that, and we still got home mid afternoon, in time to do plenty of housework before dinner. A successful Monday all around.

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Concord in the cold

Lijah leading the other boys over the Old North Bridge

over the bridge

Yesterday morning we took an outing to Concord. I wanted to do some walking around outside, but given the sudden drop in temperature—after a warm rainy day that melted what snow we had the cold was a shock—I wasn't sure we could make it. But when I suggested the river there was a clamor of approval, so we gave it a shot.

Lijah's face in profile, bundled in the hood of his down coat

braving the wind

It was quite cold. The water and the exposure makes that bridge particularly chilly in winter, and yesterday was no exception. For at least 15 minutes, though, Lijah was good for it, enjoying the sight of the geese and a swan and charging over the bridge to see the "knight? knight? knight?" (actually the Minuteman statue).

a fledgeling swan in the shallows by the opposite bank

also enjoying the day

We saw one other person there the whole time. With the place to themselves Harvey and Zion played and played; I think they would have been happy to stay out lots longer.

Harvey and Zion playing a little way down the bank

boys at play

It's fun to watch what they get up to. Here they asked me if they could roll down the hill—of course I told them to go right ahead!

Zion and Harvey rolling down a short steep hill above the river

just not too far!

When Lijah reached his freezing point he let us know it, so we hurriedly decamped to the car (where he was mollified and refreshed with apple slices) and then to the Concord library, where we spent a pleasant hour or so playing with their legos and looking at books.

It was a good time all around, though all the cold and excitement took a lot out of the littlest one: it's not a long drive home but it was enough for him to drop off to sleep—and the car wasn't exactly quiet!—and he didn't stir at all when I brought him inside and tossed him onto the bed.

Lijah sleeping on his back in the bed, still wearing boots and coat

tuckered out for a winter nap

That's how every outing should end!

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latest discoveries

Yesterday the boys and I spent an afternoon at the Discovery Museum in Acton. It wasn't only that we needed more chicken supplies from the feed store down the street; I really want to expand their brains with the power of well-designed play!

Lijah and Harvey working in the life-sized play kitchen

play work

Last time I went was just with the two younger boys, who could spend all day in the "Children's" part of the museum. Harvey has other interests, and with him leading the charge we soon headed over to the other building for some Science Discovery. Happily, even Lijah likes science too: he was entranced by the heat camera, and watched his own rainbow form on the screen with delight.

Lijah looking at himself in the heat camera screen

"movie? movie?"

While I couldn't interest the older boys in a truly scientific investigation of what the camera revealed—like the fact that Harvey's hair is vastly more insulative than Zion's—they were amused to notice that their skin is in fact hot all over, and their clothes keep the heat in.

Harvey on the heat camera screen lifting his shirt to show his red belly

hot belly

There were also opportunities for personal growth. Harvey was brave enough to approach the woman running the pendulum-table spirograph to ask for a turn (and he wanted to make one as a present for Mama!). Zion got lost a whole level away from us and didn't scream or cry. And Lijah overcame a new-found fear of humidifier steam ("no smoke! no smoke!") to be able to spend a good half-hour in a room with a seven-foot-high water vapor tornado. Good times all around!

Plus, we picked up the chicken feed on the way home.

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November

bare trees and gray sky behind the Old North Bridge

gray light

I had a project to post something every weekday in October, and I did. Then I thought I could take a break in November. We've also been pretty tired out and some of us sick. But that hasn't prevented us from enjoying the November weather.

Zion's face poking up from a leaf pile

big pile

You'd never guess that iconic-type of fall image was actually taken on the sidewalk of a busy street. All the leaves fell at once this year, so there's pretty much a pile under every tree.

the three boys playing in a leaf pile on the sidewalk of a busy road

roadside entertainment

After that moment of fun and a short trip through Wilson Farm (ask Lijah about the llama...) we went down to Arlington to walk around the Reservoir. Around, and in some cases over: it's very shallow this fall. Still enough water for swans.

Zion and Harvey looking at a pair of swans on a pond

bird watching

The next day I took the boys to Concord. We stopped at the Old North Bridge—pictured at the top of this post—and generally got into things. Like trees.

all three boys up in a tree

trees make us smile

Zion was very excited to find a shiny button.

Zion showing off his brass button

see?

We thought it might be off a redcoat's jacket. There was one talking to tourists not far away, but when we looked at his uniform we saw it wasn't a match. Disappointing, but at least it meant Zion got to keep it!

As well as the bridge and its surrounds, we also explored the boathouse. I'd never been in before—I didn't know one even could saw that he could open the latch he didn't hesitate to invite the rest of us in. We had fun playing in the semi-darkness.

Lijah in the dim light of the boat house, by the just-cracked door

gloomy fun

The dock was fun too.

the boys at the end of the dock, looking into the murkey water

don't fall in

And at home, we even managed to enjoy—briefly—a fire out in the yard. It was Lijah who encouraged me—commanded me—to start it, and the two of us spent a lovely 15 minutes appreciating the warmth and light.

a fire in the grill, seen past Lijah's shoulder

toasty

November at its finest.

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weekend long ride

On Saturday Luke finally got me out to do a long ride with him. He started the day off by riding up here from West Roxbury, so he already had a lot of time in the saddle by the time I joined up; but with plans to go almost 50 more miles I wasn't sure if I was going to make it! We were headed out to the Haystack Observatory out in Westford, which meant plenty of fine fall riding along quiet rural roads.

Luke riding down a country lane

he knows the way

After 25 miles or so (and only one major wrong turn) we made it to the base of Haystack Hill and, eventually, to the top. It turns out they like to put observatories up high.

Luke riding towards a towering white ball

I think we found it

It being a Saturday the place was closed to automotive visitors, but there was a sign pointing to a pedestrian cut-through around the gate. We thought that could go for cyclists too.

Besides a pair of giant white orbs (the Haystack Radio Telescope proper, pictured above, and the Westford Radio Telescope) and one smaller orb (Haystack Auxiliary Radar; only a 40-foot dish) the site is also home to a couple of much more visually interesting exposed metal antennas.

the Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna and the Zenith Antenna, seen from across the parking lot

I'm sure they all do something

We deemed the Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna as the most photogenic for the purpose of our official posed bike shots; though I was challenged to get both bicycle and antenna in the frame.

my bike leaning against the fence in front of the Millstone Hill Steerable Antenna; with Luke and warning sign

proving I biked there

Because we kind of had to sneak in we were the only visitors, but the site seems like it would be at least moderately welcoming to visitors during work hours. Outside one of the buildings they had a pair of parabolic dishes with platforms in front of them; standing on one platform you could hear a whisper from the other, 30 yards away (just like the one at the Discovery Museum only bigger and better!).

They also had an apple tree, and, as is always the case, I couldn't resist trying one. I had some thought it might give me super-powers—you know, the radiation and all—but no luck. It was pleasantly sweet but soft and mealy, so I didn't finish it (the only disappointment of the whole outing).

me holding a red apple in front of the Haystack Radio Telescope

symmetry

Then it was time to head home. We chose a more southerly route in order to make a loop, and it took us through picturesque Concord.

a red barn (or garage) amidst fields and stone walls

well-kept rural landscape

We crossed the Concord River by way of the Old North Bridge, which merited another stop for a photo.

my bike leaning against the rail of the Old North Bridge

almost home

Then home, for a total (for me) of about 45 miles. There were definitely moments along the way when I thought I wouldn't be able to make it up the next hill, but after finishing up with three flat miles on the dirt of the Reformatory Branch Trail I was feeling good and would have been happy to keep going even further. And I didn't even get sore afterwards! So... 75 miles next time?

Thanks, Luke, for getting me out there!

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downtown by bicycle

I had a little extra time today between finishing up work in Cambridge and meeting Leah and the boys to hang out with friends in Arlington, so I hopped on my bike for a little extra ride. I thought maybe I could head downtown and go all the way to the ocean. That may not have sounded like a reasonable plan to Harvey ("there's an ocean in Boston?!" he asked incredulously, as I described the adventure afterwards) but, judging by distance alone, it was entirely reasonable—just like five miles away! Never having biked into the city, though, I overlooked one crucial point: it's a terrible experience!

Well, maybe not entirely terrible. But doing it as I was on a whim and without a well-planned route I exposed myself to all sorts of things that made for a not-so-fun ride. Things were fine as I started out from Rindge Ave down Sherman into Harvard Square. But east of Harvard—I ended up on Mass Ave, because, you know, you do—I was faced with a series of red lights that made me start doubting the whole enterprise. Over the river I was into Back Bay, which wasn't my original plan; I meant to cross the Longfellow Bridge, which is much closer to the ocean! Avoiding Comm Ave, I headed down Marlborough St, where four-way-stops every block—not to mention countless double-parked trucks—kept me from building up any momentum. And things got even worse when I hit Berkeley St, where, apparently, Marlborough's one-way traffic reverses! It was only with difficulty that I found a legal way around that didn't lead me onto Storrow Drive.

So there were navigation challenges; there's also the insanity of city drivers who, wherever the road allows, accelerate to maybe 30 miles an hour over a short block. That's tricky on, say, Arlington by the Public Garden, where I was trying to cross four lanes of traffic to make a left. Up Beacon Street I went to the State House, where I looked at the time... and made the decision to give up my quest. Caught in the crazy tangle of Old Boston streets, I was needing to look at the map on my phone at almost every corner, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to get anywhere in the time I had available—never mind getting back! So with many more map checks I made my way back down to the river and across the bridge by the Science Museum; if I was going to turn back before my objective, at least I'd make a good loop of it!

Across the river conditions improved right away—well, as soon as I got myself on the right side of the street. The cycling was fine on Cambridge St and I finally got into a rhythm and felt like I was on a bike ride rather than a mad orienteering expedition. Then I turned onto Beacon, where the paving is exceptionally bad. But Beacon took me up to Somerville Ave into Porter Square, where the green-painted bike lanes are a thing of beauty: a true paradise after the desperate struggle I'd endured. Too bad I could only enjoy them for a quarter of a mile before I turned onto Rindge and finished the loop (in an hour and ten minutes; I had plenty of time to spare).

I really ought to have taken some pictures along the way; there were many fine sights, and this is like the fourth pictureless post in a row here. But frankly I was too terrified and/or confused most of the time to be thinking about aesthetic concerns. The biggest problem was with navigation, and obviously if I knew the city better—or at all—I would have done much better there. But even if I'd been totally certain of my route, I'm still not sure it would have been a really pleasant experience. There are lots and lots of cars downtown—I can't imagine why—and when they aren't playing drag race on multi-lane roads they're stopped in traffic, so close to parked cars that you can't find a way to squeeze through. Add in the stop lights and the pedestrians (who are the smart ones—that's the way to get around the city!) and you start to question the sanity of the whole endeavor.

It was so bad that I need to try again one time to see if I can do it better.

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artistic outing

a stone bird sculpture; Harvey and Zion in the background

in the sculpture garden

On Saturday I took the boys out to Old Frog Pond Farm, an apple orchard that also has a sculpture walk.

a big egg-shaped porcupine-looking sculpture

porcupine egg?

As we pulled in the boys were delighted to see what looked like an egg made out of porcupine out on the front lawn, and we were instantly sold on the idea of mixing sculpture with apples. It was a chilly gray day, and the morning's light rain had just ended when we got there, so we had the place to ourselves. The woman at the sculpture side of things greeted us warmly, gave Harvey a map, and pointed us in the right direction... then we were on our own to explore.

Zion and Harvey walking in the sculpture park

a farm where they grow art

There were all kinds of pieces by a variety of artists, but all of them shared certain qualities—especially in how much they blended in to the natural (and agricultural) environment. Sometimes so much so that they were hard to spot!

an instalation: white plastic leaves in the oak tree

subtle

All the art was very approachable for the kids, and lots of the pieces just cried out to be touched. I'm not sure what the rules really were, but when things looked safe enough I didn't want to hold the boys back. Who could resist, say, this giant mancala board?!

Lijah checking out a giant mancala board

begging to be played with

The biggest piece on the walk was a rusty-brown teapot of a considerable size. We saw it right from the beginning but the path took us away from it, around a pond and through the edge of the woods. When we came to the end of the loop and saw it again the boys ran right up.

the boys checking out a giant teapot sculpture

the biggest sculpture

I was delighted to see it was made out of old leaves stuffed into a structure of chicken wire. Even more delightful was discovering, a little later, that the piece is called "Compost Tea".

detail of the teapot sculpture: leaves under chicken wire

that's what it's made of

I don't think I could pick my favorite of the sculptures we saw—I could barely restrain myself from posting pictures of all of them! There were eggs woven from twigs and carved out of wood; golden dragonflies suspended over the stream and a silvery creature emerging from the pond; suggestions of birds in pieces of branches and cast-off iron machinery; and a sacred circle of standing stones, to name just a few.

The walk was free (though we did pay the suggested donation, despite not being asked—I wouldn't have known about it if I hadn't read the website) so I thought we might support the endeavor by picking some apples... also Lijah was just about demanding it, since he could see them hanging on the trees. So we did.

Harvey and Zion picking apples, alone in the orchard

a real orchard, and all to ourselves

The only varieties left were two I'd never heard of, Green Crisp and another one I can remember. We got both, and it was nice to have to work to find good apples off of real trees in a real orchard.

Lijah walking back through the orchard, munching on an apple

Lijah approves

The only bad part of the day was we came home to find that Leah would have loved to come with us to the orchard, something I completely failed to realize. I'm now working on being a better listener.

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misery on the mountain

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.

a competitive field at the start of the race

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.

up up up

The rolling hills mentioned in the website are up and down a 2700 foot mountain. To this lookout.

what am i doing here?

The path down follows a rocky riverbed.

down down down

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?"

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a tale of two outings

On Friday the boys and I took a walk in the woods and marshes across the street.

Zion walking through tall brush

pushing his way through

The cranberry bogs we slid on last winter are all dried out now—for the summer or forever remains to be seen—so we thought we'd have an easy time of it, and maybe even be able to cross the brook for the first time ever. There were certainly some pretty sights along the way.

a pink flower

I should know what it's called

But there was also hot sun and bugs and, worst of all, vast stands of grass with tiny barbs all over its leaves. It's growing everywhere that in another summer would be wet, and pushing through it with the day camp group on Thursday we ended up with cuts all over our legs. Friday we had long pants, but Zion and sometimes even Harvey had to watch out for wounds to the arms. So when we reached the brook we called a halt for a snack and headed back, defeated.

the boys standing on the meadowy bank of Hartwell brook

as far as we could get

Still, it was a beautiful hike and we all enjoyed most of it.

Saturday we ventured into downtown Boston, against Leah's much better judgement, to take in a little bit of very loud music at the Copley Arts Festival.

Harvey eating an apple in front of the Copley Arts Festival stage

with snacks of course

Despite the crowds we were able to meet up with some friends who, settling in for the long haul towards the start of the day-long proceedings, had texted us where they were hanging out (sadly, we missed a different group of friends who were there at the same time). Being country mice, we didn't spend much time in front of the stage, instead seeking out some slightly quieter spaces with a little more room to play.

Leah and Lijah sitting on the steps of the empty fountain

not so crowded there

And of course, we also took in the sights of the big city.

Harvey standing on a pedestal, with Trinity Church and the Prudential Tower behind him

he's almost as tall as it

Half of the reason I wanted to go was to give the boys another trip on the train, the first since our adventure back in November. They were appropriately appreciative, even when tired out at the end of the day.

Harvey and Zion on the Red Line platform

the way home

Lijah turns out to be a big fan as well: he was shining with excitement and delight all the way there. That the same excitement kept him from falling asleep on the way home—despite a great and obvious need—until just before our last stop was unfortunate but maybe predictable. We'll give him another chance in a couple months.

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ice exploration

Harvey and Zion far away on a frozen pond among the reeds

slipping and sliding

The one upside of this cold snowless winter is that ice everywhere is in good shape. Harvey and Zion love ice when they can find it, and I've been telling them that there are some nice big ponds hiding in the marsh back through our woods. An expedition a little over a week ago failed to find them, but as the picture above—and the one I posted yesterday—show, we had better luck this week!

the boys walking down an aisle of ice towards a pine tree

ice explorers

The woods just around the corner from our house back onto a considerable area of wetland: wetland that is pretty much impassible most of the year. I can't believe it took me this long to think of exploring it when most of the water was safely solidified!

The areas of open water are actually the remains of old cranberry bogs, and though they're gradually silting up—they seemed much smaller than the last time I visited, oh, seven years ago (yikes!)—you can still see how there was once a series of long parallel ponds with dikes in between them. We found a passageway through one of the dikes.

explorers creeping through narrow path of ice cutting though a dike

sneaking through

Another sign of the artificial nature of the environment is the dead-straight course of Hartwell Brook, which for this portion of its run is really more in the nature of a drainage ditch. It flows straight from the airport, and when we found it almost completely free of ice I really hoped that was due to the speed of the current rather than any questionable chemicals washing downstream.

looking at the (very straight) Hartwell Brook, open water through the reeds

open water

Whatever the reason, the flowing stream kept us from crossing over, so we turned north along the bank. I was hoping to hit a path back into the woods from the other side to complete a loop, but the boys didn't know that; as we left the brook to push through the tall, maze-like reeds Harvey eventually paused to say, "I'm a little scared." What, doesn't he trust me to keep my head and sense of direction? Plus, if anything goes wrong there's always the GPS on the phone. Which I mentioned to him and asked if he wanted to cheat; he declined.

Zion pushing through tall reeds

can we even get through?

Eventually we pushed our way through to higher ground and found a faint trace of a path, but we still didn't have any idea where we were until we found footprints, and a hole in the ice where our friend Bruce broke through on the previous expedition. We were saved! The rest of the trip was easy and uneventful, except that I had to carry Zion and his hands got quite cold once he didn't have the exertion of keeping up with us to warm him. When we got home we had hot chocolate.

There's still more to explore back there; we'd like to make another expedition soon. Want to come with us?

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