posts tagged with 'neighbors'

socialization again

We're getting geared up to start our homeschool school year; concurrently we're defending ourselves against critics of the practice. Well, not defending entirely, but... Yesterday morning I had a lovely conversation with a friend at church who questioned the socialization aspect of our homeschool program (it comes up a lot). She has a relative with kids in a small Christian private school, and she tells me that they haven't even heard of Oprah! Well, that is a cogent objection. I didn't think to tell her that, on the pop culture front, we're amply provided for by the weekly movie showing with Grandpa. The boys know all about movie properties I've never heard of myself. But I did mention that, never fear, they get lots of time to play with kids unlike themselves.

It's true they don't get to interact with other kids in a school setting. Our tiny homeschool group doesn't offer much in the way of social-economic-political diversity. The day camp group of 15 or so kids is limited to families who want their children going on multi-hour wilderness outings, only loosely supervised. But never fear: we have a great neighborhood for diverse social interaction! There are three families on our street with kids in early elementary school, including ours—and another couple around the corner. Playing with them our boys are exposed to a wide range of media consumption and plastic toy ownership!

And even more importantly, they get to mediate that interaction on their own. I suppose we do the occasional "play-date" with friends farther away, but for the most part when they want to play they just head out the door and look for someone to engage with. Sometimes I even kick them out! I think that's foreign to lots of school kids, especially during the school year. Besides not having a neighborhood as awesome as ours, lots of them are so exhausted by the day at school—not to mention occupied with homework and extracurriculars—that they don't have the energy to go out and just play. At best they might hop on a friend's Minecraft server for a while.

I don't mean to criticize—there's nothing wrong with any of that either. I just feel obliged to respond to the doubts of critics. And I have plenty of time to do it: both yesterday and today there were extended periods—hours!—when the boys were off somewhere playing with other kids... you know, socializing. I think they're doing alright.

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sweet summer evenings

We've got ourselves a pretty nice neighborhood. The boys and I came back from the pond and had about half an hour to rest before school got out and kids came knocking looking for Harvey and Zion to play. I got to hang our with Lijah for a while, then Leah came home and spent some time with him while I made supper (timed to coincide with supper next door, natch). After we ate all three boys ran off to play so Leah and I could relax on the porch for half an hour before getting to work on evening chores—dishes for her, weeding for me.

And if that doesn't all sound a little to 50s-perfection to you: yesterday the gang caught a toad to play with. Life is fine here at midsummer.

February vacation

The boys have had some good play times this week, with friends freed from school by the February break. Just the thing when parents aren't providing any fun. On Monday, when I was stuck on the couch holding Lijah and letting him drip snot all over me, they ventured around the corner to Jack's house—"because we already tried everybody else and they're not home". That's several houses down and across the "big street" (speed limit 25, actual speeds, oh, 40...). And I didn't even have Jack's mom's number to check if they were home. So I gave Harvey a card with my number on it, and off they scootered. Not only did they make it safely, they stayed for four hours or so playing happily. Lijah got to rest and recover, and he was raring to go when we finally walked to pick them up.

Then yesterday we returned the favor by hosting the party at our house, for Jack and also for Nathan and Liam, whose dad also needed to get some work done despite the school vacation. So four big boys played inside and out, two toddlers took long naps, and two dads got to be productive.

My favorite part of the afternoon was when the two older boys invaded the kindergartners' game. After a little bit of yelling and whining, Zion explained capably and eloquently why he didn't like Harvey and Jack trying to take over; after a second, the big kids asked what they needed to do to join in the right way. Then they played superheros together.

Harvey and Zion and friends standing in the snow

vacation buddies

My least favorite part of the afternoon was just before dinner—of course everyone stayed for dinner—when all six kids were running around the house shouting at the top of their lungs, but what do I expect... it is winter, after all.

Let's see if we can keep the fun going the second half of the vacation week.

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that's more like it, winter

snow on the trees and everything else in the yard

sticky snow

The groundhog was right! Over the last week it finally started looking like winter around here, and we've been enjoying it to the fullest—or at least, as full as we can manage in between bouts of illness.

It started last Tuesday with a brief but intense fall of wet snow that caught us as we biked home from a mid-morning outing (to pick up some hot bar bacon from Whole Foods, if you must know). By the time we finished our lunch of bacon sandwiches the snow had changed to light rain—light enough that we didn't think twice about heading out to play in it. Even Lijah! The snow was amazingly sticky, and it was no work at all to put together a good-size snowman. He came out looking pretty cheerful despite the damp.

our snowman smiling

our genial snowman

I told the boys about a snow chair I made last time I'd experienced such great packing snow—long before any of them were born. Of course then we had to make one for ourselves. Because Lijah was getting tired of eating snow cakes we limited ourselves to a Zion-sized model.

zion sitting in a snow chair

cool and comfortable

As I put Lijah down for his nap the other boys spent some time using the snowman as a swordfighting dummy. I was pretty grumpy with them when I noticed—that was my snowman too!—so when they took their rest I rebuilt him out in the front yard. Those balls were so big I couldn't get them on straight, and when the temperature shot up the next day I was sure he wasn't long for this world. But he managed to hold on, and it turns out his lean was just the thing to prepare him for Thursday's blizzard.

our snowman through the blizzard

leaning against the blast

Folks talk about how summer is the best time for getting to know your neighbors, but I find snow storms are fine too. Tuesday evening Harvey helped the neighbors with their snowman, and on Thursday, with everyone home for the storm, parents and kids alike enjoyed playing together in the bitter blast. We shoveled with the neighbors on one side (then tossed a football around for longer than you'd expect given the conditions) then took a lovely adventurous walk with the family on the other. In a blizzard construction sites become magical wonderlands.

Harvey and friends climbing up a giant snow-covered pile of dirt

Harvey leading the pitch

On our way back from that walk we stopped in at another neighbor's house to say hello—they were surprised and charmed to see us, and it was just too bad we were too wet and exhausted for a proper visit. Too bad too that Zion and Lijah were to sick to venture outside at all... though on the other hand, snow days are also great for cuddling on the couch and watching shows!

The next day was Friday, and all the school kids had to go back to school; so it was a perfect day for us to go sledding. The wind was whipping the fine snow all over the hill and the trails were far from broken, so we were glad of our new-to-us giant snow tube, which glided wonderfully over all the powder. It was also a great place for Zion to rest when his post-illness tiredness caught up to him.

Zion relaxing in our giant snowtube

taking it easy

His fatigue and the biting wind meant we didn't stay too long out on the big hill, but on the way back to Grandma's house we found that the path in the woods offered some promising terrain for the toboggan, so we spent half and hour or so there. Harvey worked hard to get the plastic sled down, but it was our five-foot wooden toboggan that was best for the job: we managed a couple runs with all three of us of a hundred feet or so, around two big sweeping turns. It was great!

Harvey sledding down a path in the woods

where you have to steer

Saturday Harvey and Zion got to play with the neighbor we visited Thursday—a small investment in relationship building pays off big! They had a great time until Zion bumped his head and had to be brought home, then he and Harvey had a great time. Harvey was gone from 10:00 until 4:00—now that's a playdate!

With more snow in the forecast for Sunday we were a little nervous about getting to church—and more importantly getting home. The snow in Cambridge was wet and not really accumulating so we thought we were fine when we started towards home at 2:00, but as soon as we headed up the hill away from Cambridge things took on a more dramatic aspect.

snowy conditions on Rt 128

not so bad I couldn't take a picture...

It was pretty scary, and we were glad to get home and cuddle up for the rest of the day. Monday was another snow day, but the sun was out by mid morning so despite the whipping wind we could have had yet more snow fun... but there's only so much of that you can do in a row! Instead we visited a library.

The last couple days have been warmer again. I meant to write all this Monday, but Harvey finally came down with the stomach bug that got us all in sequence: Lijah and Zion Thursday, Leah Friday and Saturday, me Sunday night, and Harvey Monday night. So now we've all had it, and it's done. Quick, let me have some time to write before the next sickness strikes us! Zion had a fever at bedtime so we might not have long to wait...

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another midsummer

The solstice is a grand thing, and we did it right this year, but it's hard to really celebrate properly when most everyone else is going about their everyday business. But no worries, because we have a big national celebration of summer to share just a couple weeks later. We tend to head over to Concord for their charming festival—it has lots to recommend it, not least the fact that it's in the middle of the day. This year the bigger boys and I biked there; good thing we have a bicycle that can carry plenty of supplies.

Zion in the back of the blue bike with lots of gear around him

all packed up

And, just as important, a seven-year-old who can confidently ride the five-and-a-half miles there and another back, with plenty of energy left over for enjoying the entertainment on offer.

Harvey riding down a country road

Harvey's independence

Like the bounce house, which the boys jumped right into as soon as we arrived. I worked on setting up our tent, which I brought along to liberate us from the narrow band of shade at the side of the field, where most folks listening to the bands have to squeeze together. We really appreciated it on a warm day with blazingly hot sun; we also appreciated our packed food, including peas and raspberries fresh from the garden.

picnic in the tent: Zion with our nice array of food

our picnic in the park

I was a little worried about the tent being in people's way, and made sure to set it up at the far back of the field, but it turns out concern wasn't necessary: about twenty minutes after we arrived a large group showed up and put up this considerable edifice right in front of us.

tents set up in front of us

rival encampment

But that was fine because there was plenty to do all over the place. We played in the spray from a fire hose.

the boys ducking the stream from a fire hose

spray park

And explored a ladder truck.

the boys in the crowded cab of a ladder truck

how many firefighters go in there?

The boys rode a "train" all around the field—all by themselves, without making me squish into one of those little seats to go with them (like lots of other parents had to do—or maybe they really enjoy it..).

Harvey and Zion waiting for the

they don't need me

I was impressed by that, but even more when they decided they wanted to go through the interactive theater / obstacle course experience by themselves. They learned what it was like to be an early immigrant to Massachusetts.

Harvey entering the

entering into the experience

The immigrants had all kinds of adventures, including having to carry swine out of the maize fields.

Zion carrying a pink pig ball

pig portage

And of course we listened to music!

boys lying on the ground in the shade, right up near the band

Southern Rail, as tradition dictates

Lijah napped and lunched at home, then he and Mama joined us in time for some of the fun—and all of the italian ice!

three boys, with mama, enjoying italian ice

note how they picked red, white, and blue

Then we went back home, where we totally meant to lie down in the dark house for the rest of the evening—but then our neighbors invited us over to play and eat pie, so we did that instead. They had red-white-and-blue glow bracelets to share too, which was perfect: we didn't get to see any fireworks this year, but staying up until after dark to throw the glow things around was a fine substitute, and a great end to a fine celebratory day.

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chicken alarm

I've had some very productive mornings lately, thanks to my ever-reliable (at least at this time of year) feathered alarm clocks:

the chickens scratching in the garden before sunrise

chickens in the gloaming

I'm not sure whether their behavior is learned or innate, but by making an unholy racket every morning the hens get me up at an ever-earlier hour to let them out into the yard and give them a handful of scratch—at which point they mostly shut up for an hour or two.

There's certainly the possibility that, left unchecked, their predawn noise would wake up the kids in our house; but actually I'm more concerned about the neighbors. Our kids are up at 6 anyways most days, but I'm sure that our immediate neighbors keep more civilized hours. They're nice folks, and I wouldn't want them to take against us and our livestock any more than they already have.

Not that I've had any evidence that they've ever heard the early-morning chorus. In fact, a couple days ago our neighbors on one side had a problem with their car alarm, which went off at around 5:15—and kept sounding for long enough for Leah to get up, go next door, and ring the bell. They didn't hear the alarm, but at least they responded to the doorbell.

My post on facebook about the incident might have seemed a little grumpy—might even have seemed to suggest I'd let the hens make some noise in order to get back at those neighbors. Far from it! I only meant that I'd be less worried about chicken sounds now that I know a car alarm immediately under their bedroom window doesn't bother them. I'm still going to let the hens out though, just in case. And it's not so bad, getting to read or garden in the crepuscular peace.

Especially if I manage to get to bed before 10. Still working on that part.

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at the bus stop

kids getting on the school bus

iconic scene

One of the nicest things about homeschooling is the freedom we have in the morning to take things at a relaxed pace. Sunday mornings, when we do have to get everyone dressed and fed and out the door at a prescribed time, are always pretty stressful. Imagine if we had to get Harvey on the bus every morning! Since we don't, though, why can you find us out at the bus stop at least a couple mornings a week?

Well, to begin with it's a lot easier to make it out the door when we don't have to—the stakes are low. And of course we don't need to worry about packing up for a whole day away; we're just going to head back to the house in a couple minutes to do school or (much more likely) play. Plus our kids get up early anyways. So it's not such a challenge.

And not only is there not anything stopping us, the rewards for showing up are pretty high. We're building some homeschooling community—it's a work in progress—but our friends who homeschool are scattered all over the Greater Boston area. The folks who live near us send their kids to school and head off to work themselves, so if we want to connect with them the bus stop is the place to do it.

I particularly enjoy it because I'm not so good at being neighborly, naturally. I find it easier to assume that everyone else is busy and probably doesn't want to talk to me, so I don't make much of an effort to reach out to them. When everybody is standing around with nothing to do but yell at the kids not to run in front of cars, I figure it's safe to chat. Going to the bus we've met a new neighbor, and been able to learn a little more about our old ones. I do care about other people; it's nice to have a little bit of a chance to show it.

Plus it's good for the kids. Not only do they enjoy running with their friends playing tag or "Fishy Fishy Cross My Ocean" or "Jackpot" (we used call it "300"), it also gets em out of their PJs and outside in the fresh air. Then when all the other kids get on the bus, our day is well and truly started... and nobody has to waste seven hours of it at school!

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just some more snow

our house with lots of snow in front of it and lots of icicles on the eves

post-another-blizzard

Another week, another blizzard. I thought I'd become inured to the tremendous amount of snow we have around here and another foot or so wouldn't make much of a difference, but I actually laughed out loud when I first went outside after the snow stopped: it turns out that a foot of blowy snow on top of several feet on the ground actually makes a very big difference indeed. I've never seen so much snow. Here, for example, is our fence:

the tips our front fence's posts sticking out of the snow

a four-foot fence

It almost got covered in the last little-ish storm, then melted out a bit, but now it's seriously gone. Good thing the snow is the fluffiest powder, or else Rascal would just walk out of here! As it is he can't hardly walk at all: I threw a stick for him this morning and going to get it he entirely disappeared under the snow, like he'd fallen in water. That's a first. So he's not totally a fan of the conditions.

Neither are the boys, actually, but I forced them out when I saw our neighbors out sledding on the pile the plow made at the end of the street. Harvey came along first, and was soon part of a pretty good scene.

the neighborhood kids sledding on a plow pile

hill close to home

Snow is just the thing to get neighbors together. Besides taking my fair share of sled runs (and then jumps off the back of the pile into the deep powder, when we moved to that). As I shoveled I also chatted with more restrained (or dutiful) neighbors about the joys of dealing with so much snow. Harvey played and played.

Harvey launching on the big toboggan

carefully now

Eventually Mama came out with the smaller boy and the baby, and they had their own enjoyable time. Mama and Lijah watched the fun for a while, then after they went in Zion stayed out for a good while playing with the bigger kids. It was a good afternoon.

Zion, Mama, and Elijah out in the snow

snow family

Pictures don't really do justice to the scope of this snow event. It's pretty silly looking. The back of the house is especially ridiculous, but it was too dark to photograph well by the time I got back there with the camera. Maybe tomorrow I'll get some good shots. Unless you're all tired of snow already?

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my meadow lark

a view of the lawn showing mown and unmown portions

a study in contrasts

As the summer shifted slowly, fitfully into gear, I started to become aware of the necessity of mowing the lawn. In a moment of enthusiasm I brought out the push reel mower and took care of maybe a quarter of the grassy area before other necessities intervened; then between the painting and the rain it was over a week before I thought about the matter again. By that point the grass had gotten pretty tall—too tall for the reel mower to handle effectively. No problem: I do own a power mower. Only when I brought it out, it wouldn't start.

So I gave it an oil change and a new air filter (which of course took a couple days, as I had to get around to procuring said oil and filter). Still nothing. (As an aside, if Alan is reading this I'd be delighted to trade something—jam? eggs? tomato futures?—for some small-engine repair classes.) While my various failures continued the grass reached knee height.

Yesterday I did what I should have done right away, which is to ask a neighbor to borrow a working mower; and today hacked my way through the tangled thickets to restore a useable lawn. It's not that what we had before the mowening was unattractive, to us at least: the tall seed stalks were quite pretty waving in the breeze or jeweled with morning dew. But it wasn't really functional as a play space, and the neighbors were starting to wonder about us. Wonder about us even more, that is. Now, in the area of lawn care at least, we're once again safely within the bounds of suburban normalcy.

Well, almost. I did leave a little patch of tall grass as a nod to prairie restoration.

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blizzard day

harvey snowsuited against the blizzard

warm and dry amidst winter's blasts

It never snows but it pours around here: except for a few stray flakes the only snow we've seen this winter has been in blizzard form. This one was even bigger than the last one; over twice as big, in fact, if you go by depth of snow on the front walk.

our house with even more snow than last time

those piles don't look so big to me...

It's hard to tell from the photo, but the snow is pretty high on either side of the walk. I have hopes of constructing a multi-room snow house under the pile to the right and a toboggan run down the one to the left. (Harvey and I actually started the latter project this evening; he was understandably very reluctant to leave it to come inside to bed.) High enough that the neighborhood kids could perch happily up on it for a photo, and not one of them could get up there by themselves. The three-year-old (pictured center) was happy to give the little ones a push to help them get down, though!

the neighborhood boys on a snowbank

taking a break from shovelling

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